Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Profiles in Comic Book Courage: Cable

Comic books are filled with peripheral characters. It's the nature of the art. Your characters, A and B, need a crisis in order to use their super powers. Therefore, the writer creates C. C can be any number of things: a villain, a character in need of intervention, even an offspring of A and B who was sent to the future in order to save his life but has now returned with their own agenda. Some of these characters never make it about C status, some never make it out of that issue. This is the profile of one such character, whom, had it not been for some excellent writing and determination might have been relegated to the margins of A and B's biography.

Cable was a character who could have been very easily dismissed. He is the very picture of 90's excess that we associate with the Liefeld era. The man was devoid of personality, had a back story that makes Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure sound plausible, and oh so many pockets. Cable ripped into the pages of the 90's X books wielding a gun the size of a coffee table, a glowing eye, and very loosely explained cybernetic implants. Cable should, by all rights, be appearing in the quarter bin with G.W. Bridge, Gen 13, and Maverick. Why is it then, that Cable has managed to sustain his own book in this far more discerning age of comics (thinks about last line, decides to leave it.)?

The first answer and the most obvious is his ties to the doomed Summers Legacy. Being the son of Cyclops and Jean Grey implants you in the Marvel U like few other things. Cyclops and Jean were often the characters we loved to hate growing up. In a house full of Wolverines and Icemen, they were the adults. Cyclops was the guy that told you not to jump on the couch and Jean was the woman who wasn't your mom but felt entitled to tell you to eat your vegetables. Yet their lasting appeal comes because despite all of their discipline, they are the two characters with the least control over their powers. When the glasses come off, Cyclops is a human hand grenade. The moment Jean really taps into her powers, she runs the risk of becoming a telepathic nuke. How can a guy with those two as parents not be compelling.

The real problem the Marvel U has had with Cable is finding his voice. Cable has infinite potential and infinite discipline. He has a Messiah Complex that tells him he can prevent the future that spawned him. He has his mother's compassion, his father's need for structure, but kept ending up keeping company with the most ludicrous of characters. Cable and Deadpool was fun, but it was always really Deadpool and Cable. So what is the voice of Cable?

Duane Swierczynski has given Cable the voice that makes him worth reading. The Cable of the current series is John Wayne with cybernetic implants, he's a telepathic Shane, he is that blond stranger who helps those in need, despite being just the sort of man that's after them. Swierczynski's Cable is a soldier without a country, dedicated only to the one Hope that can keep the world from being the way he knows it will be. See, the Nathan Summers I know is the one who is willing to give his very last breath to make sure he's never born.

He fights a war without end to prevent a war without end. This is Cable.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Call of Duty and the Fate of the Art

So, everybody's talking about Call of Duty now. I knew it would be like this, I just didn't realize it would be...well, like this.

I should start by saying that I haven't played the game, not a big COD fan, honestly not a big military strategy fan. So, I was first alerted to the "disturbing nature" of some of the game's content through a BBC article early on the day of release. Maybe I'm a strange sort of news listener, but what caught my attention wasn't the brief review, it wasn't the overwhelming controversy of content, it wasn't even the sound clip of people being gunned down by terrorists in the game. What caught my attention was the guest they brought in to talk about it. They were presenting a "downside" article so they needed someone to defend the game right? Who would they get? Designer? Director? Head of the Studio? Any member of Infinity Ward would certainly be acceptable. Even and EA rep would be expected?

They went with politician. Not just any politician, an MP. That would be like pulling Jim Jones, representative from Ohio to talk about the game. To me, this is clearly unacceptable.

Say Oliver Stone's new movie is coming out, say it's "Natural Born Killers" in which you are put in the shoes of two serial killers slaughtering their way across the country. Say there's a controversy and someone is taking shots at his movie. Would it be alright to have Rep. David Price (R-North Carolina), go on tv or the radio to defend the movie? I for one, would expect a reputed news program to bring on Oliver Stone, or perhaps the script writer Quentin Tarantino, or perhaps Actor Woody Harrelson to discuss why he took the part. This is the way you treat an art form.

Yet, during this interview, I heard them repeatedly make reference to the fact that video games "weren't just for kids" and "ought to be judged on the same level as film". If that's true, why does the video game community not get a voice in this discussion? Fringe cultures remain fringe as long as they have to continue telling everyone that they're not a fringe culture. See, it doesn't matter how many times newscasters, politicians, or bloggers say that video games are an art form. Until the creators have a voice in the argument about their creation, the conversation is a joke. Just from the tone of the conversation, it was clear that neither the newscaster nor the MP had played the game. I doubt the play video games at all. Who would accept a review by a reviewer who had not read the book or seen the movie they were reviewing?

Of course, next week the articles will be on Assassin's Creed 2. No one will mention the crazy amount of research, detail, and narrative prowess that the Ubisoft gang put into their art. These "newscasters" who report on the next big threat to our children will not have played the game, they will not have done their research, and they will not take the time to profile the creators. Of course, someday, someone will make a movie of the game and it can be openly dismissed as a movie based on a video game. The only solace I take in this is that, being an English major, I know that once upon a time the novel was in this same boat. This art form though, has gone from incomprehensible ping pong games to complex multi-character narrative sandbox games in thirty years. Give it another twenty, people will be making lists of the "Great American Video Games". Who will be our Hemingway, our Fitzgerald, our Harper Lee?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Shout Outs

This entry in my semi-irregular blog is going to be devoted to the people who have made getting into the comic book biz a pleasure for me over the last few months. I don't really know how many people read this and how many of those don't already know these people, but here goes:

I'm going to start with a guy I just met this weekend at the Charlotte Comicon but is fresh on my mind, as I've been reading his stuff. His name is Gabriel Dunston and he publishes his own web-comic over at www.pod-comic.com called "Pitt of Despair". It's a journal comic and definitely not as depressing as the name might lead your to believe. Gabe's a really nice guy with a really funny comic and if at all possible I'd love to throw some business his way (not that I really have any to spare).

Of course, I might never have met Gabe if it weren't for the folks at Bitter TEA Studios, Derek and Nikki Davis. We had the great fortune to get the table next to their's at the Baltimore Comic Con and I knew we got good people from the get go. If you like a good webcomic with a regularity which is largely uncharacteristic of webcomics, Derek and Nikki are great.

I was also fortunate enough to meet Troy Hasbrouck of Jester Press in Baltimore. Like Bitter Tea, Jester operates out of the Charlotte area. Troy's operation is more like ours in that he goes the traditional comics route. Jester publishes the "Night" and "Shades of the Night" comics, which feature all the thrills of both the supernatural and crime genres.

Also, a big thank you to Jon and Alan at Ultimate Comics for stepping up and selling our book in their stores. Making a book is a wonderful experience, but once you have it you're left with the question of how to sell it, which is honestly outside my area of expertise. If you're reading this and you haven't picked up a copy from one of their three stores, I command you do so now! They may even be letting us do an event in their store next month, so hurray for that!

Finally, I want to thank all of the people who have so far been good enough to review the first issue of "The Order of Dagonet". It has been a labor of love for Jason and I and don't think for a second that we don't soak up every bit of love that comes back our way. The sites are all listed on the Order of Dagonet press page and I have to say that not one of those sites sucks. I was already reading them before they reviewed my stuff.

I know I said finally before, but it wouldn't be a real shout-out if I didn't include my new brothers: Charlie Harper, Jason Strutz, Franco, and Ethan Wenberg with all of whom the force is strong. Everybody likes to say artists are flaky, but these are guys I can always count on.