Agent of Change

A Blog by Cory!! Strode, who really should write something interesting here.

Archive for the month “May, 2016”

DC Rebirth: A Meta-Review

DC Rebirth was a good comic and I enjoyed it. It hit all of the warm fuzzy moments I wanted to see, pointed out why I quit reading DC in the months after the New52 and has me interested in where they are going. In that regard, it worked, and everything else I am about to write is really stuff that doesn’t much matter if they follow through on the promise of this story. Much like when Johns wrote Green lantern Rebirth, it made me happy. It was like when an old friend shows back up in your life.

I missed the DCU.

Even during the 90’s, and some truly terrible comic runs, I had a fondness for that universe, and people like Mark Waid kept it from getting completely “grim and gritty”. Then, with the New52, I drifted away as the characters just didn’t interest me any more. DC was run by a bunch of 90’s Marvel editors, and the books read like 90’s Marvel comics and my feeling at the time was, “Well, they just aren’t for me anymore. That’s OK.”

But now, Wally West coming back seems like the moment in Green Lantern Rebirth when Hal Jordan came back.

Now, let’s talk about the Meta-problems.

First – Using the Watchmen characters as the plot device bothers me, just as much as the Before Watchmen books that now gather dust in bargain bins. The characters weren’t created to have a life beyond their novel. Much like how I don’t want to see spin-offs and prequels to Citizen Kane or Casablanca, some stories just aren’t made to be franchises.  Besides, do we want to see Batman and The Comedian Tracking down a team-up between Joker and Moloch?

Second – At the time Watchmen came out, both DC and Alan Moore touted it was the most creator rights friendly contract ever written, and a year after the comic went out of print, it would revert to Moore. We can argue about the merits of the contract, as Moore was thinking it would be like other comics where it was published, maybe a collection came out and it went out of print and no one knew it would stay in print for 30 years. But DC deciding “Screw it, let’s use the characters in a big super-hero punching story” should continue the exodus of creators to working on the stuff they own and control themselves.

Third – The blame that darkness in superhero comics of the last 30 years, and how it overwhelmed the books at DC on Watchmen is bullshit.

Let me repeat that. It. Is. Bullshit.

Yes, Watchmen was influential. Yes, it kicked up the expectations of comic creators beyond the “give me 15 pages of fights and 3 pages of soap opera”. Yes, it showed there was an audience for mature storytelling. But Watchmen wasn’t a “Let’s do super-heroes who kill!” book, it was a SF story based off of the premise that what happens in a world where super-heroes exist. The scientific advancements, the complex legal and political issues all of it tied in. It wasn’t just “They kill people.”

I call Bullshit.

Especially from a writer who wrote stories where people routinely got their heads punched off for shock effect.

The reason comics got dark is because writers didn’t understand what was being done in mature comics. They didn’t understand that the Mature aspect of Mike Grell’s Green Arrow wasn’t the sex and violence, it was the realism of a man shooting actual arrows, a complicated love life and dealing with middle age. The mature aspect of Hawkworld by Tim Truman wasn’t the blood, but the politics and prejudice of Thanagar.

You want to blame someone? Easy, blame the editors who wanted the books to be dark, serious and grim. Blame the writers who didn’t know how to inject drama into a story. Blame the artists who gave that blood and grimaces and didn’t allow for a smile or sunshine.

It isn’t hard to do comics that are hopeful and bright. You just have to hire creators who will do them and get out of their way. There are a LOT of stories that deliver thrills, suspense, action and the like without it feeling like you’ve been dropped into a mine shaft of darkness surrounded by nightmares.

How about doing it?

I’ll loan you some Mark Waid Flash trades so you can get a couple of examples from a time when everyone wanted to write like Alan Moore.  I can also give you some copies of Saga, Squirrel Girl, Secret Wars (the new one), and an avalanche of Jack Kirby books.  Hell, read some Carl Barks Uncle Scrooge comics.

 

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Nerd Post!!

LOTS of nerdy news today that has kept my social media feeds jumping, so here are my takes on it. YMMV:

Captain America Plot Twist in the new first issue – I am shocked at how many people are taking this as a RetCon of major proportions, a betrayal of massive proportion and on and on and on… Folks, this is the shock start of a long storyline, although I have pretty much put the pieces together as to where they started setting it up. It’s like saying that “The X-Files is completely stupid now that Jesse Ventura and Alex Trebek are the TRUE Men In Black.” Don’t get mad because there is a plot twist in the first chapter.

DC Rebirth – Again, first part of the story, but I am concerned that they have opened the door to stupid crap like Silk Specter teaming up with Harley Quinn for wacky adventures. It will all boil down to a simply statement: Will the editors at DC hire good talent and let them tell good stories, because that is what has been missing from DC, IMHO.

Comixology’s “Netflix” style program – Looks like it’s just the starts of series that you can read for the $5.99, kind of like the low priced first issues everyone has been publishing lately. It’s an interesting start, but how do creators get paid? If it is just the first trade, is it worth the monthly fee? Too many unknowns here, but I will admit I love Marvel Unlimited with a passion.

WWE Smackdown going live on Tuesday with a hard brand split – I like this idea. Since the brand split went away, Smackdown has been the “follow-up match and afterthought show. I am worried that the roster is thin, and that Smackdown will get the 2nd tier talent, but done right, this can be fun. When Heyman was running Smackdown, the show was great and with the new talent coming up from NXT. However, the current roster is already thing, and the people running creative seem to struggle with putting together decent stories that people like. So, I am cautiously optimistic.

NONE OF THESE THINGS ARE IMPORTANT. However, I have opinions.

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Rex Cityzen

Internet friendships are a different kind of friendship, but anyone who says they aren’t real doesn’t understand the nature of friendship.

In about 1999-2000, I joined the internet message board Barbelith. It started as a message board for the comic The Invisibles, but eventually became a community. So many great things spun out of it. Friendships, creative projects, artists, writers and heavy duty thinkers. It was not a message board for “me too” people and we continuously challenged each other to try harder, think deeper and BE better. I have a large number of on-line friendships that spun out of those times, and while I was involved with other message boards before and after, up until 2006, when it started to fade, it was my internet home.

One of the friendships from there was with Rex Cityzen.

Rex was smart, funny, thoughtful and cared about people. After Barbelith faded, we maintained our internet friendship on MySpace and then Facebook. We had each other’s phone number, but we never called one another, just texting back and forth. Usually funny stuff, but sometimes serious things about fatherhood, relationships, comic book conventions and other things. The stuff of friendship. Connections.

The last year or so, he had had health scares and I checked in when I heard about them. I would get worried when he would post things that sounded defeatist or down, and the last long discussion we had was when a trip he had planned went off the rails. The last real discussion we had was when Prince passed away as we were both big fans.

The podcast I recorded after Prince’s passing went from a discussion of how Prince had affect my life to the importance of having your estate in order, as one of my friends who was one of the big people in the Minnesota Comics scene passed without a will, and his son is still sorting things out two years later.

Rex texted me after listening to the episode:

“Listened to the podcast, a bit morbid, no? I know you love everyone, but you can’t dictate other people’s finances.”

I can’t say that we were best friends. Hell, half the time I wished we had more time to connect.

I woke up this morning to hear he’d passed away.

One of the phrases that people use all the time now is “I can’t even.”

Right now?

I can’t even.

Thank you for the years of friendship, the times I laughed at what you wrote and you telling me you laughed at what I wrote. Thank you for talking to me about fatherhood and comics and music and meeting our heroes. The world is a smaller place today.

Fuck. I can’t even.

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Dude, do you even SHOP for comics?

The Star Tribune newspaper her in Minneapolis has a column about comics. I know, right? A daily newspaper in a major market giving column space to talk about funny books? Guess they want us nerd to start reading more than the movie listings.

They have a write up on comic books every week, and this one was an article by Joe Gross: And you can read it right here if you’d like.

The central premise of what he writes is encapsulated in this sentence: What was once a form that prided itself on being fast, cheap and out of control is now intellectual property worth millions, subject to the sort of five- and 10-year planning that would impress an aging Soviet.

Dude, do you even go into comic shops?

Yeah, Marvel and DC now have long range planning both story-wise and publishing-wise because they are businesses. Like it or not, they have to meet certain sales markers and corporate goals like any other arm of a media company. They build to big events because sales show it is what fans want, and when they are done right (Secret Wars, Civil War, Crisis on Infinite Earths, etc…) there’s nothing as fun and entertaining for a long-time super-hero fan than seeing a BIG EVENT where LOTS OF CRAZY STUFF HAPPENS.

But to claim that the entire art form is nothing but those sorts of events now makes you look like an uninformed moron.

Marvel has books like Ms Marvel, Squirrel Girl and The Vision which might tie in with big events peripherally, but are a singular vision of the creators involved. DC has similar books like Batgirl and their Vertigo line with books like Art Ops and Astro City.

And that’s the mainstream.

Head a little further down the rack and you get that 70’s style super-hero stuff with Savage Dragon at Image, mind blowing stuff like Captain Victory and the galactic Rangers, explorations of art in the new Grant Morrison edited Heavy Metal, the excellent storytelling of Saga, the batshit insanity of I Hate Fairyland and so on and so on and so on. Hell, Badger’s back and is just as nuts, but reads much better.

Get out of the Marvel and DC aisle if you are looking for stuff that is fast, cheap and out of control. There is more diversity in comics content since the Golden Age, the level of craft by the creators is higher than it’s been in ages, and there is pretty much something for everyone from kids comics to genre breaking art that demands more from the reader than most mainstream novels.

Oh, and if you want that 70’s stuff where they were making it up as they went along, you can always buy the trades of the old stuff. I doubt you’ve read it all, and while it hasn’t’ aged all that well, you can go back and get your nostalgia fix. It’s OK.

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The things I am thinking about today:

  • Donald Trump has been pretending to be his spokesmen since the early 80s under terrible fake names, has been a guy who thinks of women only as sex objects when he interacts with them, insults and threatens the leaders of countries who are our allies and admires the leaders of countries that are our adversaries. Your Republican Presidential Nominee, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to The End Times.
  • DC Comics has unveiled its new logo and people have opinions on it. Opinions. On a Logo. How do they feel about the font in the company e-mails?
  • I completed 15 hours of live video podcasting and didn’t have a complete meltdown on camera. That puts me one up on everyone employed by Fox News, so I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.
  • I should have ended the broadcast by singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”
  • If you got that joke….you’re old. Deal with it.
  • The last 6 years have been a very different life for me. The podcast has thrust me into interacting with people in a different way than before. More honest. More open. In my last relationship, the woman I was with kept telling me I was mysterious and would constantly ask if I was hiding something. I see myself as fairly honest and open, but over the last 6 years, I realized that I do keep a lot of what I think to myself when dealing with people in person. I listen more than I talk, I ask them to share more, but I don’t offer up…and people loved to be asked about themselves so that they can talk about themselves. I don’t know if it was a defense mechanism or not, but I was happy to have them tell me about themselves rather than tell them about me. I don’t share emotionally because I feel that no one really cares about that, they just want to be validated. So, in podcasting, I do share parts of myself, but I don’t really have anyone who I share everything with.
  • And that’s just the way it is. Neither good nor bad. It just is. Make of that what you will.
  • If you want a President who stays up all night responding to 12 year old Twitter Trolls, I think we’ve got a candidate for you.
  • The Bernie Sanders supporters really make it so I don’t like that fact that I support him. It reminds me of fans of Depesh Mode in college, I like the music, but I hate the fans so much, I don’t want to listen any more.
  • I deal with this more often than I’d like, but my co-workers are talking about dating and show such incredible callousness and disregard for the actual human beings they are in relationships with that it makes me wonder why anyone even tries to make it work. We are all junior high students with money and no curfews.
  • Although, I would put up with someone who said that about me behind my back if they would spend time with and treated me as if they gave a shit to my face. I’m pretty shallow like that.
  • I am plotting out a grand novel that takes a series of character through a group creative process in the 50’s because I want to explore the similarities and differences between that sort of thing then and now. I also have a very diverse cast of characters who will bounce off of each other well. The book will not follow normal novel structure, but instead will be spaced over 5 years, with each section being a different “season” of the radio show they work on. It is big, ambitious and outside my grasp. And it’s time to try that.
  • I like breakfast cereal and would eat it all the time for every meal. But I don’t keep any in the house now because it’s too easy to just eat a bowl of it than make something healthy.
  • You would think that being godless, I’d be an existentialist. However, more and more I tend to see us all as one, and when we actually give a damn about each other, our lives are enhanced. When I do go to a church, the only part that resonates for me is turning to your neighbor to share “The Peace Of God.” Just turning to each other and wishing each other well. Why is that so hard for us as a species? Are we just hardwired to be competitive assholes and it takes years of work to become empathetic and decent hairless apes?
  • Heh. Hairless apes. I love that. First read it in Howard the Duck by Steve Gerber. Fuck, I miss Steve Gerber. And John D McDonald. And days off. But mostly Steve Gerber.
  • I need to do this more often.
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How I work

Location:
Near Paisley Park, MN
Current Gig:
The Producer for 4 different podcasts on the Solitaire Rose Network. I also have two real world jobs, one in an office and one in a group home from developmentally disabled adults.
One word that best describes how you work:
Stories
Current mobile device:
LG G4, which is already out of date, I hear.
Current computer:
A trusty old PC and a bare-bones laptop
What apps, software, or tools can’t you live without?
Open Office – I need a word processor for everything I do it seems. I also rely on Skype and Audacity for creating podcasts. Everything else is browser based.
What’s your workspace setup like?
I have an old rolltop desk my Aunt gave me ages ago, and I need to go through the drawers and start getting rid of the things in them, since I rarely open them. The top of the desk is cluttered with notes, tsotchkes, a shot glass of jelly beans and a glass of soda.
What’s your best time-saving shortcut or life hack? Do you automate something that used to be a time sink? Do you relegate email to an hour a day?
I treat mixing a podcast the way a chef puts together a meal: Mise en Place I have all of the sound file I need open and ready to drop in. I listen to the audio, cut out what needs to be cut out, tighten things and drop in the extra sound stuff. Usually while multitasking on writing up episode descriptions, website tweaking and answering e-mail.
The other big time saver for me is to do the up front planning. My co-hosts do things seat of their pants, so I am the one who has the show format, keeps people on track and does all show prep.
What’s your favorite to-do list manager?
Remember the milk. EVERYTHING is on it. 
Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without and why?
My tablet. I read a lot of comics, and moving to digital has made my life easier because I can read them pretty much anywhere. Plus, I have videos on it for watching at the gym, my to-do list and all of my other electronic crutches.
What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else?
Empathy. I think I am a good interviewer because I have a good read on what people want to talk about and what they are uncomfortable about, and knowing if what they are uncomfortable about is something that will make it a good interview or not.
What do you listen to while you work? Got a favorite playlist? Maybe talk radio? Or do you prefer silence?
If I am mixing a podcast, I have to listen to that. Otherwise, if I am writing, it’s music, and usually movie soundtracks, which is a horrible cliché, I know. For anything else, I am listening to podcasts. I am an information junkie and am always feeding my brane.
What are you currently reading? A novel, comic book, website, magazine?
LOTS of comics, and am still on a Atlas kick now that so many of them are on Marvel Unlimited. When I was in my teens and 20’s, I was a big EC guy, and EC fans trash the Atlas stuff, but while the Atlas stories are pretty much what you would expect from 50’s horror/western/monster comics, some of the art is incredible and I am enjoying learning about that era. I am reading the Travis McGee novels again and the magazine I adore that isn’t comic book related is The New Yorker.
How do you recharge?
Science documentaries and the like. The damn things are like crack to me. I don’t watch a lot of TV anymore, but I actually like to watch professional wrestling for fun. I also enjoy going to the gym because I HAVE to concentrate on what I am doing. I also am a self-taught meditator.
What’s your sleep routine like? Are you a night owl or early-riser?
Terrible. I have been grabbing a lot of “sleeping overnight shifts” at the group home I work at, where I sleep on their couch, wake up if the awake staff needs help and then rush home to clean up for my full-time job. Left to my own devices, I go to bed around 2 am and get up around 8 am, but that’s not hwo the working world works.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? Doesn’t have to be work or productivity-related.
“You need to love her unconditionally.” I was starting a relationship and it was the first one I had been in for a long time and I asked a friend what I could do not to screw it up. Why is it the best advice? Because I didn’t just apply it to that one person, but in all aspects of my life. Love unconditionally, forgive constantly and remember that every day above ground is a good day.
 

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