2015/08/21

Ant-Man


Very happy that I saw Fantastic Four first and then Ant-Man, it was like going from canned tuna fish to broiled sea scallops, Ant-Man was WAY better! Not that the characters were really deep or complex, but both movies contained corporate villains that wanted to steal what the heroes had and make a profit off of it, but the Ant-Man villain was much less a routine, by-the-numbers bad guy and had at least some semblance of human-like motivations.
One of the founders of Marvel Comics, Stan Lee, usually makes a small cameo appearance in Marvel films. He didn't appear in the third Fantastic Four, but did appear in Ant-Man.
Special effects in both films were completely credible. The art of doing those has progressed enormously.

2015/08/14

Fantastic Four

I had heard some pretty awful things about the new Fantastic Four, all of which were unfortunately true. Problem is, the characters were invented in 1961, the first movie came out in 2005 and the second one in 2007, so it's not like people didn't already know all about the premise of the show. The writers changed a few details. For instance, Sue Storm is adopted by an African-American dad, so her brother Johnny is also black. Doctor Doom in the comic is a combination scientist/sorcerer and ruler of an Eastern European country, here he's just a transformed thing that was once a person. 
An idea here is that instead of going into near outer space to gain their powers, they go to another dimension. It really bothered me that Sue worked on outfits with which the new dimension could be safely explored, but unlike with the actual Moon landings in real life, where we had a pretty good idea as to conditions up there, the characters here never send monitoring equipment on ahead, so no one had any idea of what conditions in the other dimension were like, so Sue is basically working in the dark. She has no idea what she's designing the suits to be able to guard against. 
I hate to use the word “cartoonish” to describe the villains in this, but it really fits. Very, very shallow, one-dimensional characters. Yeah, if I were writing this, I'd spend about 10 to 15 minutes on the origin and the rest on a real action thriller. They spend the entire movie just doing the origin.  

2015/07/25

Second Clinton vs Third Bush


Jesse Ventura ran a list of how Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush are two peas in a pod.
My responses:

1. is interesting. I ran a search on “hillary clinton entitled” and the first two pages of results are solidly hard line right-wingers. Not surprised to see that lefties don't see her that way, but interesting to see that middle-of-the-road people don't see her that way, either.

5. False equivalence. There's no evidence Clinton is hiding anything by having used a private email account. I didn't agree with her doing so once I heard about it, but her supervisor didn't object to it. Bush has not hid anything so much as he's made selective disclosures of his email. He's been completely silent on many very important subjects, but if his brother doesn't get subpoenaed then he won't either.

9. Good to hear they both believe that climate change is a real and serious thing.

10. Clinton has kept away from loudly and forcefully criticizing the TPP, but she certainly hasn't praised it either, so I wouldn't count her as a supporter.

13. Green groups are divided on how close she is to the oil industry. “Her environmental record as secretary of state from 2009 to 2013 includes launching a global initiative to reduce emissions of soot and some greenhouse gases, though not targeting carbon dioxide, the main culprit in global warming.”


Interesting piece, but I wouldn't regard it as the final word. Yes, there's some tension between her commitment to stop global warming and her oil industry ties. Certainly worth following to see how that plays out.

Update: This is a very hopeful sign. Clinton makes a strong bid to support renewable energy. A very good thing in any event, but especially good concerning her oil industry ties.

2015/07/18

Comics and popularity



So I was scanning an old comic (Spider-Woman 37, 1981), scanning allows me to save an electronic copy while passing on the paper copy, and I see that it has circulation figures. Back in those days, the shops ordered as many comics as they thought they could sell and returned the unsold comics to be pulped. Nowadays, they order as many as they think they can sell and how they deal with the extras, well, that's their business. As there's a healthy back issue business (A customer can purchase an issue printed years ago, sometimes an issue will be sold and re-sold a few times), the issues often sell long after their usual time on the shelf has expired.

So I see that for Spider-Woman (Her title was being written by the acclaimed X-Men writer Chris Claremont and drawn by Steve Leiloha*) the average number of an issue printed was a bit over 283,000, the average number of issues actually sold was over 127,000. So I figured, hey, with all of these superhero movies out and with Spider-Woman having been revived (The first series ran from 1978 to 1983 and she started off again in a new series in 2009), the sales for today's Spider-Woman must be pretty good.

I looked at the sales figure for May of this year and was surprised to see that it was a little under 30,000. Granted, it ranked at number 75 out of all the titles and the list had almost 400 titles on it (Knights of the Dinner Table was ranked at 396 with not even 2,500 issues sold, various zombie titles, Grimm Fairy Tales and God Hates Astronauts all sold in the plus-275 rank and all had below-5,000 sales) and the really big-selling titles selling over 500,000 in the case of Secret Wars and almost 150,000 in the case of Star Wars, with issues ranked from six to 16 selling from 120,000 to 80,000. A 1981 issue of the Comics Journal (number 64) shows 109 issues on sale for that month.
As they say, the lead actor is frequently just a handsomer version of the director. Hmm, the artist is half-Hawaiian.

Has the popularity of comics declined or have they stayed about the same? I think one could make a pretty good case that comics have remained roughly the same in popularity and that buyers have just spread out to purchasing many more titles, but as I was told when I tried to sell off some old issues, TV shows, video/computer games and other electronic amusements have bit very deeply into the popularity of printed comics. So I think, overall, superheroes are much more popular, but the actual printed comics are at about the same level of popularity.

Update: It makes sense that price would have an effect. Marvel Comics went for $0.50 in 1981 and go for $3.99 today. The InflationCalculator says $0.50 in today's dollars would be $1.31 now. So Marvel makes an extra $2.68 today, over and above inflation. Is that a good deal for the consumer? Actually it is, as it means both better paper and better printing, but it also probably more than enough to push a comic out of the price range of more casual buyers and thereby lowers the number of issues sold. 

*Comics are drawn first by a penciller, who often collaborates closely with the writer, and is then inked so that the lines will show up for the printing plates. The inker can have a serious effect on the finished artwork. Leiloha had been an inker for many years before taking up the pencilling job on Spider-Woman. So although he was new to the job of pencilling, his work was well-known to comics fans

2015/07/17

Ted & Ted 2


Saw that Ted 2 was playing in the theater and regretted that I never saw Ted. Finally caught Ted on cable and just saw Ted 2 tonight. There are rules for fantasy films. The characters can exhibit fantastical, amazing abilities and characteristics, but the rules have to be applied consistently and the story has to ring emotionally true. The dialogue has to sound like what people would actually say. In this regard, the Ted films pass with flying colors.

2015/06/05

Mad Max: Fury Road


Very cool! Takes place entirely in a desert except for a few spots here and there. No real buildings anywhere and the one tree we see in the whole film doesn't survive (not that anyone wanted to destroy it, but hey, y'know?). Lots and lots of specialized vehicles and as no one wanted to fall off or get left behind, it was kind of like it was taking place at sea, with a few islands every now and then. And yes, I've seen all three of the earlier episodes.

2015/05/20

Between rock and hard place


Senator John McCain (R-AZ) complains about Obama's approach to ISIS. Problem is, McCain is in kind of a bind. On the one hand, Iran is acting against ISIS on the ground in Iraq. ISIS is a truly awful, terrible outfit that commits atrocities. We're conducting active hostilities against them, bombing them very frequently. Iran is the entity we're negotiating with about their not-yet-built nuclear weapon and is supporting many not-friends in the Middle East. Iran is also actively conducting hostilities against ISIS (A point that Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) appeared to be very confused on a while ago). McCain wishes to replace Iran in Iraq with American “boots on the ground,” but Americans are very unenthusiastic about getting back into a war in Iraq. A Quinnipiac University poll (18-22 Nov 2014) asked respondents: "Do you think the United States military should have combat troops on the ground in Iraq or not?" The response was that only 37% of the public is in favor of that, 55% said no. 
 
Speaker of the House John Boehner is also very unhappy and is also in a bind. He's very unhappy with the draft AUMF that President Obama has proposed for authorizing a war against ISIS. Also, “For years, Boehner and other GOP leaders have complained that Obama is an out-of-control tyrant, hell-bent on ignoring the Constitution and amassing excessive power in the executive.” So, Boehner's statement on the situation is: “President Obama should scrap his war powers request to fight Islamic terrorists and go back to the drawing board, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Tuesday.”

But why is the President the one who has to “go back to the drawing board”? Why can't Congress draft and pass its own AUMF? There's no obvious reason that anyone is able to see for Congress to delegate this job to the President. Yes, it's a difficult process, with lots of clashing priorities. That doesn't get Congress off the hook. Boehner is a Speaker “with a large majority in the House at his back and a longing for historical significance in his heart, Boehner is determined to be remembered by history as someone who did something.” But in order for a legislator to be remembered as a significant figure, that means doing the hard work of governing, not just slacking off and expecting others to do your work for you.

ISIS and Iran and the unwillingness of the American people to re-engage in Iraq makes for a tough, hard-to-resolve situation. It's not difficult to see that there are no quick and easy and simple, expedient answers. It appears that the Republican Congress and Senate are both so used to simply saying “No” to everything, they've forgotten how to do the hard work of governing.