Monday, February 24, 2014

Review of Ms. Marvel #1

As usual when I try to write a review with something I have this tendency to overthink it. I want to sound really brilliant and insightful hoping people will be impressed and want to keep reading everything I write and share my writings with others. I just want people to like me, dammit. And therein lies the reason why the new Ms. Marvel is relatable. She just wants to fit in.

But trying to fit in as a teenager can be a tricky thing. Kamala Khan comes from a conservative family. Yeah, hers is a Muslim family, but that does not make them any more or less religious than anyone else. Muslims are not the only ones who don’t want their daughters staying out late and partying with the others kids. And they certainly not the only ones who want to keep their teenage daughters away from teenage boys. Her name, religion, and families’ nationality are an obstacle in the harsh world of teenage culture. But her biggest issue to being accepted into the popular crowd isn’t her background. She could rebel against all that. Her biggest problem is self-created. She is a fan girl. Though the jury is still out on weather being a nerd is a choice or something we are born as. Again, anyway…. Kamala writes fan fic online about the Avengers, which apparently has almost 1000 votes on (not real)

Ms. Marvel #1 introduces us to this new hero who has a ways to go to figuring herself out. And she just wants the popular kids to like her. Her family likes her, and loves her. But they are her family so that doesn’t count. She also has a friend, who is a boy, who likes her. He just can’t say it and she just can’t see it. Ah the clich├ęs of teen life. We do not get to see Kamala as the new Ms. Marvel in this first issue. But it does a good job of showing us who Kamala is. She is Peter Parker before he was Spider-Man. Ms. Marvel has a long journey ahead of her. And like a lot of us when we are teenagers (and sometimes as adults), what she wants does not turn out the way she thinks.

It's a great start and since her story is her own and not yet part of a larger continuity, I would recommend this to anyone who wants to start reading a comic.

Thanks to my wife for helping me focus my thoughts. You can read her thoughts on Ms. Marvel # 1 here: OwlAllowIt: My thoughts thoughts that occurred after reading Ms. Marvel #1 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Spinoffs and other things that should happen

Spinoff series are nothing new and in some cases they become more popular than the originals. And as fan fiction shows us, there are plenty of stories and characters we wish would get their own series. Here is a few I wish would happen. I might be dropping some SPOILERS if you are not familiar with these shows. And I know, I know, I listed three Doctor Who spinoffs. But if you have seen Doctor Who, you would understand. It lends itself so well to spinoffs. There have already been three to my knowledge.

Time Bandits (Doctor Who)

It came up a while ago that while at an event for the CW’s Arrow series, John Barrowman and Alex Kingston met and thought it would be a good if Captain Jack and River Song had their own spinoff. Fan reaction was pretty much, “DO IT!”  You know this series would be all kinds of fun. The title Time Bandits already belongs to a cult classic film that I am a fan of, but honestly, it just feels right if this did become a series.

Valkyrie (Doctor Who)

While on one of his many adventures, the 10th Doctor had a daughter. Well, kind of. His daughter is actually a clone of the Doctor who was also programmed with military training. Jenny was born both a Time Lord and a soldier at birth. After it seemed like she died, Jenny returned to life and set off on her own adventures in space. But we never heard from the character again. Seems like there should be a story there. As for the title, it is apparently a Time Lord tradition to not use their given names and choose a name for themselves. Valkyrie seems like a good name for Jenny. Kinda interesting side note, David Tennant later married the actress who played his daughter on the show, Georgia Moffett.

The Paternoster Gang (Doctor Who)

Madam Vastra, Jenny (different Jenny) and Strax. A Silurian (reptilian race), a women from Victorian London, and a Sontaran (a cloned soldier race). They have been a topic of possible spinoff for a while and even the 11th Doctor himself, Matt Smith, has voiced his approval for this. They consult on crime and mysterious things in London the regular authorities can't handle. Vastra and Jenny are married and Strax is their slightly psychotic assistant. Aliens solving crimes in Victorian London sounds interesting to me. Though technically Strax is the only alien. The Silurians are native to Earth and predate humans.

Star Trek: Akira (Uh… Star Trek)

At some point Star Trek will return to television. Why not with characters we know. Nog, the first Ferengi in Star Fleet proved himself as a capable officer. In an alternate time line he was even shown to be a Captain in command of his own ship. Why not make give him command in a new series? As for the ship? A new class could always be made up, but why not use a design that we only got to see a little of and was a nod to an anime classic, Akira. The Akira class was developed at the same time as the U.S.S. Defiant also in preparation for action against the Borg. U.S.S. Akira has a nice ring to it. But no matter the ship or the crew, we need a new Trek series on the air. Oh, and for the hardcore nerds, I know the picture is not of the Akira. It's the USS Thunderchild. But it's the best picture I could find of an Akira class.

Alpha (Dollhouse)

Dollhouse is just one of those shows that didn’t get much of a chance. Plus it was created by Joss Whedon, before he was given The Avengers, and it was on FOX so it seemed like it was destined to be canceled. Alpha, played spectacularly by Alan Tudyk, was a serial killer who integrated all of the personalities (and their abilities) that he had been programmed with over time and rebelled in a violent fashion. While he started as a villain, the final episode, which took place in a dystopian future, showed that he had become an ally to Echo, the series heroin played by Eliza Dushku. Alpha was intelligent, highly skilled, prone to violence, and funny. We’ll never get a new episode of Firefly, but maybe we can get a new series from Joss Whedon with a Firefly alumni.

Gender roles in comics and sci fi

“It’s important for little girls to know not every story has to be a love story and for boys to know that soldiers aren’t the only ones to triumph in war.” Guillermo del Toro said this during an interview last summer when promoting Pacific Rim. It’s an important statement that can be applied to the discussion of gender roles that is not just going on in the worlds of science fiction and fantasy, but in the real world as well.

I have been trying to wrap my head around this topic for a while now. Every time I have tried to put my thoughts into words, what I was writing just felt awkward. Now, hopefully I can make my point in an eloquent and diplomatic fashion. And I can’t go on without giving credit to some of the people I follow on Tumblr (The Mary Sue for example) for posting some great points and fantastic articles and information.

So what is my position? Let me start out by telling you about a situation I’ve had to deal with, and from what I’ve seen, others have had similar experiences. Just this past weekend my family welcomed a new niece into the world. In the days leading up to that my wife and I were doing some shopping for baby cloths and whatnot. There is literally nothing nerd related that we could find for girls. All the cool stuff was in the boys sections. And primarily, all the girls stuff was in pink. Not that pink is bad. I have nothing against pink as a color. But why is it a girls color? The more I read about how gender roles are marked to us from birth, the more it weirds me out. It gets worse for girls as they get older. Mostly girls stuff and toys are about being feminine and pretty. Again, noting wrong with that, but girls like stuff that go boom too. Things for boys are more “masculine” and adventure oriented. And god forbid if a boy likes and wants to play with the “girlie” stuff. Society is getting better about letting kids and people feel out and build their own identities, but lets face it, we still have a ways to go.

But there are signs of hope. I recently bought Ms Marvel #1, the first new comic I’ve purchased in years I might add. I enjoyed the comic. It was funny, I related to the character, and if I had a daughter, I wouldn’t have any reservations if she wanted to dress up as the new Ms Marvel. Look it up if you have not seen the new costume already. I’ll be posting a full review of the comic later. But back to the point, Marvel has launched a superhero that boys and girls can look up to and relate to; who’s drawing power is not going to be how tight or revealing her costume will be. Sure, it’s obvious body issues will be discussed, going by the end of the issue, but we all have those. And the story looks like it will be one of Khamala Khan (Ms Marvel) becoming comfortable in her own skin, rather than becoming what pop culture views as what a female hero should look like. This also reminds me of when I was at San Diego Comic Con two years ago. During a women in comic panel (I forget the exact title) a teen girl asked when there was going to be costumes that would be age appropriate for the under 18 fans.

This is the point where my train of thought tends to break down and I struggle to solidify what I’m trying to say. So let me go back to Guillermo del Toro’s quote and simplify it even more. Not every story has to be a love story. Boys and girls should be told that. And especially when it comes to younger characters. And to ad on to that, if there is a love story, it does not have to be the man saving the woman. Nor does the woman have to look like the typical feminine damsel in distress. Girls can look and be tough too, just as men can be soft. I was in the Army. I know this. And while we are on the subject, it doesn’t always have to be Adam and Eve. It can be Adam and Steve or Eve and… What rhymes with Eve? But you get my point. Which is… (and I admit it got a little jumbled there)

We should not restrict kids and people to predefined roles, gender or otherwise. We are born wired specific ways, though life experience can either enhance or short circuit us. Girls can “act” like boys and still like boys. Boys can “act” like girls and still like girls. And if girls like girls or boys like boys, that is okay too. We all need to find our own way and do our best not to get in the way of other peoples journeys.

My apologies for this getting a tad unfocused.

Sci Fi Expo AAR

I have some tough love for the Sci Fi Expo.

I feel I have to state that this could just be a one time experience and that even established conventions can have bad days.

This was my first time at the Sci Fi Expo of Dallas Comic Con. I expected something run fairly well since I have been to Fan Days, another Dallas Comic Con event, twice and there were no issues. Maybe this was just an anomaly, but this ended up being my worst con experience so far. I think the issue was primarily the fact that they did not expect the drawing power of Doctor Who, specifically the fandom in attendance for Karen Gillan, aka Amelia Pond.

First off, my wife and I did the smart thing and preordered our wristbands. Doors opened at 11 am on Saturday, which ended up being very cold and windy. Anyone without VIP admission was forced to stand out in a windy parking garage, preorder or not. While I understand VIP does come with its privileges, such as early entrance, volunteers yelling at fans to go outside does not make for a good experience. In my humble opinion, they could of at least under the circumstances of bad weather let people in to an area outside the dealer floor, where there was space, and even perhaps let people enter the dealer room to get out of the cold. Especially when there was plenty of kids present. The VIPs still had VIP seating and VIP autograph line cuts that would make their higher admission worth it. I’m pretty sure the sellers would not have minded a captive public around their tables an hour earlier too.

The next fumble came in the handling of the autograph line for Karen Gillan. They ended p having two section of the line that winded back and forth and then a third section that snaked along a wall. Again there were volunteers yelling out contradictory information. The apparent solution was to sell tickets for her autograph. Everyone in line would buy a ticket, pick the photo they wanted signed, and then go to the back of the line. Once every one in line had purchased their ticked, theoretically the first person to buy a ticket would end up first in line again. In practice, the line order got jumbles here and there and volunteers were not giving consistent instructions. To top it off, the pushed everyone through in rapid fire, forcing Karen Gillan to not only not have time for any kind of personalization with the autographs or moments with her fans, she only had time to sign her initials on the pictures before another photo was pushed in front of her. Part of the time she didn’t even have time to even look up while she was signing. She was also only there on Saturday and had to fly out that evening. Again, con organizers failed at anticipating how many fans would show up and did a poor job of adapting. There was also a security guards who did little to make the situation better. My wife rhetorically asked “Why does everyone have to yell?” When we were walking away after getting our autograph. The security guard who was directing people away apparently had to put his two cents worth in by saying out loud, behind our backs, “That’s what we do.” Adding comments to an already tense situation was not appreciated. The next day, the con’s organizer apologized, but didn’t mention specifically what the apology was for.

There was some good that came out of the Sci Fi Expo. On Saturday, Arron Douglas was great during his panel. Like everyone else I have seen from Battlestar Galactica, he seemed very appreciative of his fans and enjoyed entertaining them. He even led everyone to mass Tweet Wil Wheaton, “Frack You.” Next was the Defiance panel with the Tarr family, Tony Curran, Jamie Murray, and Jesse Rath. I first saw them at the Defiance panel during San Diego Comic Con last year. Here they had more time to talk and they all were great. They acted like a real family and took pleasure in embarrassing each other. One of the great moments of the panel was when Jamie Murray invited a fan, cosplaying as her character Stahma, up on stage to take pictures with her. Next was the Doctor Who panel with Karen Gillan and the seventh Doctor, Sylvester McCoy. This was another great panel with Gillan and McCoy enjoying each other’s Scottish company and entertaining their fans. Gillan even posed for a selfie upon request from a boy cosplaying as Mat Smith’s eleventh Doctor.

On Sunday, we just made it in into the room for Carl Urban’s panel. He escorted onstage by a cadre of Judges in full uniform and dismissed them with a salute. He didn’t need a moderator and jumped right into fielding questions. Carl Urban has a great sense of humor about his long career and the roles he had taken. He is also very appreciative of his fans. One girl asked for his autograph and he invited her to autograph the inside of is jacket. The next panel was for Peter Weller, who can be intense. Some may know that he is an art history professor, and sitting in his panel at times felt like being in class listening to an intense lecture. Not in a bad way though. Weller is very intelligent and is very interesting to listen to.

I should also mention that I was able to get a great deal on two comics I had been meaning to purchase. I know, buying comics at a comic convention. Such a novel idea. I won’t say what I bought or how much was spent, but Joe Kopra of Beacon Comics (here is the link to the store) treated me very fairly and I really appreciated it.

While this con experience was not the best, out of 3 cons I've attended from Dallas Comic Con, this one was the only one that disappointed. I've had a good time at two their Fan Days cons. It could have just be an anomaly all things considered. Hopefully things go better at the main Dallas Comic Con in May.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

How Marvel Could Make Worlds Collide

Ever since Marvel successfully launched The Avengers, fans have been wondering how many more of the comic publisher’s characters will join the cinematic universe. All this wondering increases every time Marvel announces more characters going up on screen or on one of its television shows and when Marvel reacquires the rights to some of its characters. But what about its characters who have franchises with other studios? Spider-Man is firmly in place at Sony and Fox will likely never give up the X-Men or the Fantastic Four, especially now that Xavier’s students and the FF are on their way to their own crossover film. Sony is also building on its success with Spider-Man by spinning off a Venom and a Sinister Six movie. Each studio has its own universe that its characters live in and there will likely never be any kind of crossover unless rights to the characters fall under one studio. If that were to happen, the studio would probably be Marvel and let’s be real, it likely will never happen as long as Sony and Fox can keep making money. But what if all the studios decided the potential for LOTS of money outweighed the risks of trying to combine their properties? How would that work? There are ways to do it that would stay true to the comics.

The Marvel cinematic universe has the best tools for a crossover. Establishing Thor and Asgard already opens up the world of dimensional and cosmic travel. Marvel and even DC have different universes where different events and characters run parallel and have crossed over. The Asgardians could have an object that has not appeared on screen that could open a door to the worlds of Sony or Fox’s characters such as a cosmic cube. There is also Doctor Strange who could open or discover doors to other dimensions. They could also use the Infinity Gauntlet or a combination of one or more of the Infinity Gems to bridge the worlds. Marvel having access to more characters and objects than the other studios has the greatest ability and leverage to make worlds collide.

At this point, Peter Parkers universe lacks the tools to travel to a different universe. And there is no real precedent for Spider-Man on his own to go to different worlds. Yes, he has taken part in cosmic events, but Spider-Man’s mythology has never been dependent on traveling in space in time. With only the second film on its way, this world at Sony is young in comparison to what Marvel and Fox have. So things could happen but any key stories and moments in Parker’s future are all earth based.

While the world of the X-Men does not have as many cosmically powerful forces that could cross worlds as Marvel, there are tools that have not been used or mentioned. The most obvious is the Phoenix Force which never did get shown at its full power. The X-Men in a way are re-booting with First Class and the coming time travel epic, Days of Future Past. They could theoretically retcon the Phoenix being cosmic in origin as it is in the comics. My vote however would go to using Magik, aka Illyana Rasputin, Collosus’ little sister. She is a sorceress and can teleport by traveling through the demonic dimension of Limbo. This is important because Limbo can open up to other dimensions where different versions of the X-Men have been found. Limbo could open up a doorway to Spider-Man’s world or even the world of the Avengers. This option would work even better since Marvel will be launching Doctor Strange onto the screen and he could be used in conjunction with Magik for a supernatural/mystical tale. But there is also the Fantastic Four option. Reed Richards is no stranger to opening portals to other places.

Technically, all the tools are there for these studios to create crossovers if they wanted to. Chances are, at least parts of them want to, but there are legal and financial hurdles to cross that are tricky. More than likely, we will never see an Avengers level crossover between all these characters. That would be a lot of characters to write for and make the story viewer friendly. Worlds could crossover on a smaller lever however in the form of something like a Magik/Doctor Strange film. And that is not to say a crossover with only a few of the characters or only two of the studios would not be as huge or entertaining as the Avengers.