Saturday, July 08, 2006

Comicbooks and Movies and Manga and Media

Recently I've been stopping by the comicbook store and reading comicbooks again. Surprisingly enough, north american comicbooks are still being published, the generic superhero storylines from DC and Marvel. I've pondered the decline of the north american comic book in the past. Less and Less people in North America seem to want to have anything to do with comicbooks, they've got a nerdy stereotype to them, probably due to the fact that the major comicbooks sold in stores and shops are still Superhero comics. Certainly there are less well known comics out there, independant stuff thats interesting and decent quality. But Superheroes still own the north american comic culture. That, to me, is one of the reasons I think comics are seen as trash entertainment by the general populace. What is with the north american obsession with Superheroes? Spider-Man is a great character, batman is also interesting, Superman has a new movie out. All three characters get reasonably good box office numbers as films. But how many times can you read a comicbook where Lex Luthor is fighting superman in some sort of robotic suit? It just gets monotonous. These characters are owned by companies, and their four colour lives are dictated and manipulated by marketing people. In contrast, the Manga and Anime industry in Japan seems to have a lot of independant (and unique) creations more in the forefront than anything else. To be sure, they have elements of superhero comics. Dragonball Z could basically be seen as a Japanese answer to Superman (Adopted super powered alien grows up on earth and is incredibly powerful) , but if you watch it they aren't really superheroes in the same sense, wearing spandex and fighting crime. Gantz is a fascinating Manga about people plucked from just before death by a strange entity and forced to fight aliens/creatures that the rest of us cannot see, almost like a live action video game, the characters are given suits by the creature Gantz and sent on missions to destroy creatures living amongst humans. Are they superheroes? They have powers that transcend humans with their suits and guns, so they're definitely super, but are they heroes? Well they have saved people from the alien creatures, but they're not necessarily doing it for any noble goal other than that they're thrust into the situation and forced by the mysterious Gantz character to fight and regain their lives if they win enough points. These two examples are the closest to what we think of as superhero comics in North America. Manga covers a broader spectrum from Sports stories to horror to love and romance stories to comedies. And they're popular. But in North America comics are seen as a waste of money, or from the viewpoint of the major American movie studios, a test ground for popular movies. However, the independant artist and writer is unlikely to meet as much success as the average Manga artist might (I mean of course critical success and not necessarily monetary success). I postulate that the media being under the control of backwards thinking robots that don't take too many risks might be why.

We seem to be living in a society where culture and interesting things are eschewed for conformity. A recent article on the globe and mail had (though not necessarily comicbook related) an article about a local movie called 'Death by Popcorn: The trajedy of the Winnipeg Jets' entitled 'Who's killing Death by Popcorn'?, about a local Winnipeg group of folks known as L'Atelier national du Manitoba. These creative guys have gone around the city posting 70's posters of Guess Who musician Burton Cummings with the words "Stand Tall" on abandoned buildings. The first time I saw these things they immediately cheered me up, not knowing why it was being done (They just adopted his amusing 70's visage as their logo or calling card or something) I have yet to see the film (though I wish I could get a DVD copy or something!) but the article is about how they managed to salvage old media that the company CTV - Owned by Bell GlobalMedia, was throwing out. Old video footage from the 70's and 80's. Historic Winnipeg cultural stuff was going to be destroyed. So these guys salvaged this supposed 'trash' and made a few films out of them. Now that the film has been entered into a Toronto Film Festival Bell GlobalMedia seems to be angry that 'their' 'trash' is being used without their permission. Whats disturbing is that our government is being influenced by these media interests. Newspapers, Music Cartels, Media Cartels all owned by the same government granted and backscratched corporate types, who want to stifle the next age in creativity by adapting crippling copyright legislation that will destroy anything creative, destroy the public domain, make it so that if a wedding photographer is hired for your daughters wedding you don't own the rights to the photos (and you hired him and paid him!) make it so that you can't create a HD-DVD on your home computer without pointlessly expensive technology rather than Linux. These Cartels want to own everything and meter is out to us and tell us which hootie and the blowfish or some other crappy band to like today. Which bad movie we should be watching. Force us to run Microsoft Windows because we can't reverse engineer it. Sell our souls even moreso to the american entertainment machine, who are the ones really pushing for these disgusting copyright reforms, as they are the ones who benefit since they have the leverage of having one of the largest english speaking media markets out there. And yet, the disneys and Warner Brothers of the world would never allow some story about the Winnipeg Jets to appear in american theatres.

Yes, that is my conclusion, we are at a crossroads here in Canada with regards to copyright and patent legislation, and how our country stifles creativity amongst the creative. And Canadians are very creative people if given a chance. Yet the Liberals wanted to sell us off to the American Media interests, and the Conservatives, though slightly less corrupted and influenced by the media, still are interested in adapting a new copyright measure just as the Liberals here were. Yet both the tories and grits and even those idiot hippies in the NDP are equally ignorant about this issue, and equally frightened of it becoming an issue (They want this selling out of our culture through international treaty to be done quietly and gradually so that we dont notice our rights, as few as we have, being trickled away just as they have been stateside)

In any case, having postulated about why things media-wise are currently in the state they are in here in North America culture-wise, we now go back to comics. Comicbooks seem to be getting mildly interesting again to me. Especially my favourite superhero of all time, Green Lantern, or more specifically Guy Gardner, the brash complicated jerk of them all. (Though I do like all the Green Lantern Corps to some extent) The Green Lantern Corps as a sort of collection of space sherrifs has always appealed to me. For a time, as a gimmick to increase sales (which are probably worse off now as a result of the gimmick than improved) DC Comics destroyed the concept of the Green Lantern Corps, and Guy Gardner, who had his own comicbook at the time, was forced to go a peculiar character change whereby he was made into a half-alien hybrid that could morph weapons from his body. While not a bad idea in itself, the idea of turning him into an alien was idiotic. Guy Gardner was the most human of the Green Lanterns, in my opinion, having suffered brain damage, trauma, deceit from a close friend (Hal Jordan, his Green Lantern predecessor), being used by the Guardians of the universe, and later the destruction of the GL Corps at the hands of Hal Jordan (Probably Guy was the only person in the DC Universe not particularly surprised by his actions).. in any case, the group mind at DC didn't want Guy to have anything to do with the Green Lantern Corps anymore, but he was a popular character in his own right. So they gave him a backstory of being descended from aliens. I never got over that, and the comic just eventually ran out of steam as a result of what I believe to be this basic premise. And that, coming full circle, is why I think comicbooks and media in general have gone into decline in north america. Committee group based story writing, shock value for the sake of it. And yet, I have to give DC credit for realising their mistake after one and a half decades, and making Guy Gardner a green lantern again. Yet, here again there is no explanation other than that his DNA was being rewritten by the Green Lantern ring? Why?! Certainly I'm a creative enough person that I could speculate that he never was an alien at all. Listen, he had no powers until he drank from some strange vuldarian bowl of water and all of a sudden he's a vuldarian? Preposterous. Guy Gardner used the ring to keep himself artificially younger than his age and physically fit. Other Green Lanterns have done the same to lesser extents. So, the vuldarian thing he drank probably simply reacted to his DNA as a result of being altered and unreadable by Oan technology, namely the power ring. There, a simple excuse for the warrior years and his being a Green Lantern again. Also , he had a villain named Dementor who claimed to be his brother. What if this villain was a creature from the Alan Moore penned storyline which featured the Demons of Ysmault? He certainly looked like them and has impressive powers. What if he had some connection to these characters chained up by the guardians on a far away planet. I think such a premise would write itself, explain why the Guardians are wary of Guy Gardner the character (they wanted nothing to do with him until the Crisis on infinite earths storyline made healing him and giving him a power ring necessary.. why?)

Well, if you're not a green lantern fan, the previous paragraph is probably nonsense to you, but nevertheless that's what got me thinking about the sad state of affairs in regards to modern media and politics. Yes, Guy Gardner's status in the DC Universe has me thinking about the DMCA and culture and (though I didn't talk about it) the european union and downtown Winnipeg, but I'm not going to go into that today. Perhaps some other time.

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