Posted in Comics, History, Marvel, Review

Marvel Comics: The Untold Story by Sean Howe (2012)

History can often be written in a fairly boring, and straight forward manner. This happened, followed by this, leading up to what you already know. Often, it can feel like a text book, forcing you to focus like your studying for a test. Even when the subject is something of interest to us, you can find ourselves feeling bogged down by information that feels flavourless. Almost redundant.

With Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, this is never an issue.

When diving into Marvel Comics, we find a delightfully well written book, that comes off as inviting and invigorating as a genuine Marvel comic. Presenting what could be mundane facts and events, as earth shattering moments in history. Culminating in what we know as modern-day Marvel. While it’s tempting to simply focus on the larger figures, such as Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko. Howe uses interviews, statistics, reports, articles, and a wonderful writing style, to breathe life into the mythical Marvel Bullpen, while shedding light on the cut-throat industry as a whole.

Covering a pre-World War II industry, right up to modern day Marvel, as part of Disney. It’s hard to find an aspect of Marvel’s history that Sean Howe does not cover.

While set out mostly in chronological order, the use of time skips or jumps in places, work to emphasise the importance of figures or events. Through it, you can gain a greater appreciation for Marvel, as well as feel a slightly different perspective on some of the figures or events. Stories from different time frames, or events within the comics, become stronger, when you begin to understand the reasons behind choices.

While the book may seem intimidating, given its massive size, with almost 500 pages. It’s manner and style make it easy to read, not only with how it’s written, but with the way it sucks you in. Engrossing you within the history of such an important company within the industry.

For those with little time to read, the book is accompanied by a wonderful 18-hour Audio Book that truly immerses you while on the go.

For those curious of Marvel’s fascinating history, or simply want something engaging to read. Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics: The Untold Story is a wonderful read. Truly worthy of your time, and attention.

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Posted in Anime, Discussion, History, TV

Serial Experiments Lain and McLuhan’s Global Village

Serial Experiments Lain is a series that begs to be interpreted. Premiering in 1998, Lain is a slow paced, and surreal series that many describe as ‘ahead of its time’. Written by Chiaki J. Konaka, the series acts as a look at our relationship with the internet, and Konaka’s prediction of what the 21st century will look like. Many celebrate the series for how forward thinking it is. Incorporating themes of reality, identity, and communication, while exploring computer history, conspiracy theories, and computer history. While it’s plot comes off as complex, given it’s slow pacing, unusual imagery, cyberpunk styling, and synth/electro-pop soundtrack, the series has gathered itself a cult following. With many dedicating their time, to unravelling the meaning of Lain.

coalgirls_serial_experiments_lain_04_1008x720_blu-ray_flac_260d7cf9-mkv_snapshot_03-14_2011-08-17_06-45-39The series follows Lain, a shy young girl with an inability to communicate with her peers. When a classmate commits suicide, she learns of a mysterious email going around the class from the deceased girl. Having no knowledge of computers, barley checking her emails, she finds herself driven by curiosity. She goes home and finds the email waiting on her barely used PC. Reading it, she finds herself having a conversation with the deceased girl. She tells Lain that while her body maybe dead, she still lives online in the Wired. Asking Lain why doesn’t she join her. Be free in the net. From here, the series becomes Lain’s journey exploring the net, watching the lines between reality and the Wired blur, and finding her place in both.

It’s clear, even from a cursory look at the series, Konaka had his eyes firmly set on the evolution of computers and technology. The series features multiple references to Apple. It’s slogan being “Close the world, Open the nExt”, referencing the NeXT company. It’s ‘to be continued’ slates at the end of episodes, featured a blue and red Be, reminiscent of the logo for Be Inc. The robotic voice heard throughout the series, uses Apple’s Synth Speech synthesiser, specifically the ‘Whisper’ setting. As well as the appearance of Lain’s first computer in the series, resembling a red version of Apple’s Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh. Episode 9, “Protocol”, explores throughout the episode the history of computers. Detailing figures, projects and devices such as Vannevar Bush, Ted Nelson, Project Xanadu, and the Memex. Serial Experiments Lain is certainly a well-researched, and thought-provoking series.

What’s interesting, is how well the series can be used to explain and explore Marshall McLuhan’s theory of the Global Village. Spoken about in both the books, The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man (1962) and Understanding Media (1964), the Global Village comes out of McLuhan’s teachings about media always extending one part of ourselves. For example, a car extends our legs, and television extends our eyes, ears and sense of touch. With the Internet, or at least McLuhan’s prediction of the internet, he describes a system that extends our central nervous system. Creating a Global Village, populated by everyone. A way for us to stretch our consciousness across the planet to communicate with others. This can be seen not only with the deceased classmate, but also with how Lain and others appear while online. The random appearances of online entities in the real world, further blur the line. Questioning how far consciousness can be spread, as well as the boundaries of the physical and digital worlds.

Lain-002-20160202Throughout the series, the humming of electricity from telephone wires, reverberates through the screen. Reminding us of the Internet’s consistent presence. Essentially buzzing all around us every moment of the day. If our consciousness is extended through this Global Village, and its existence is all around us. Then the story and strange occurrences within Serial Experiments Lain, could very well be possibilities at some point. If we could truly expand our consciousness, as McLuhan says, to the point that we could leave our physical bodies. Then, wouldn’t the opposite also be a possibility? Expanding something from the internet, to affect the real world.

This is certainly not the first time McLuhan’s work has been touched on in popular culture. A notable, and highly relevant example in this situation, is David Cronenberg’s Videodrome in 1983. The digital prophet within the films plot, Brian O’Blivion, parallels McLuhan not only in appearance, but in his teaching.

While Serial Experiments Lain spends a large amount of time explaining the history of computers and the internet. Predicting the likes of Anonymous with ‘The Knights’, and even touching on conspiracy theories. Konaka seems to have hidden far more academic influences within his work than it initially seemed. Turning what could have been a largely forgotten, and somewhat uncomfortable series. Into a highly relevant, and teachable show, that is still being spoken about and examined almost 20 years later.

Posted in Anime, British Comics, Comics, DC Comics, Discussion, Evangelion, History, Superheroes, TV

Deconstruction without reference – Watchmen and Neon Genesis Evangelion

In any medium or genre, there are titans. Stories and creators that are looked upon as the very best examples of what that medium or genre can be. When a genre or medium has been around for a while, it’s natural to find works and creators that start to question why it exists. Why do we read and follow superhero comics? Why do we watch and enjoy giant mech anime?

To deconstruct something, is to tear it apart to reveal and expose the subject’s weaknesses. To understand and explore its flaws, inconsistencies, and tropes. To literally take it to pieces. However, what happens when the deconstruction becomes the celebrated work? What impact does the work have, when it’s the first thing recommended to new readers or viewers?

Both Watchmen and Neon Genesis Evangelion are held up as master works of their medium and genre. Watchmen appears on Time Magazine’s Top 100 Best Novels in the English Language. The BBC Culture section, even refers to the series as ‘The Moment Comic Books Grew Up’. Taking apart and examining the superhero genre. Exploring the characters, motives and world, through the lens of a murder mystery. Many regard it as one of the greatest comics ever written. While others, including the books writer, Alan Moore, see it as more than a little overrated. Regardless of the opinion you have on the series, it’s hard to deny its impact, both in and outside the medium. DC Comics have even found themselves leaning back on to the books popularity and world for their storylines “The Button”, and “Doomsday Clock”. Neon Genesis Evangelion holds a similar reputation. Praised as one of the best and most influential anime to come out of the 90’s, let alone of all time. Evangelion is a cult classic, that takes apart the Mecha genre of anime. Exploring what drives the characters, the creation of the giant mechs, the EVA’s in this case, and what it’s like to face the end of the world.

Many ‘must-watch’, and ‘must-read’ articles suggest both of these are top contenders in their fields. Giving multiple reasons for why every fan of both mediums should see them. Many also suggest them as entry level material. This raises the question, what’s the point of a deconstruction, if the audience has no idea what is being deconstructed?

To use Watchmen for a moment. Readers walking into Watchmen for the first time, who have no grasp on the superhero genre of comics, or very little. Will find themselves confronted with the story of a group of apparently former heroes who grew old. When one is killed, the rest take it upon their selves to learn why, as well as dealing with their own everyday lives. However, as Walter Hudsick puts it in ‘Reassembling the Components in the Correct Sequence: Why You Shouldn’t Read Watchmen First’, using Watchmen as an introduction to Superhero comics, is a grave mistake. Watchmen is built on the very history of comics. Its characters are stand ins for specific characters. Dr Manhattan, Nite Owl II, The Comedian, and Ozymandias acting as replacements for The Atom, Blue Beetle, Peacemaker, and Thunderbolt respectively. The world’s history mirroring real world comic book history. Superheroes coming to prominence before a war, thriving through, only to begin to fade in the years after. The in-universe comic of The Black Freighter acting as a stand-in for EC Comics horror line. Even the comics very core as a deconstruction of Superhero literature predates Watchmen’s creation. The likes of Larry Niven’s Man of Steel, Women of Kleenex, Harvey Kurtzman and Wally Wood’s Superduperman!, and Roger Mayer’s Super-Folks, are all sighted as highly influential works in the industry. The influence of Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex showing itself in the relationship of Dr Manhattan and Silk Spectre II for example. The further you dig into comic history, and the more ingrained you are within it, the more you get from Watchmen.

With Neon Genesis Evangelion, we see a slightly different, but equally valid problem. When it comes to Mecha Anime, that is the focus. The Giant Robot battles. The pilots are children or early teen. One or two of them have family who worked on the project that created the robots. There is massive destruction to cities, and the heroes are praised regardless, because they defeated the big bad that episode. That happens when we take this apart and play it as real? We get broken people. Children told that the world rest on their shoulders, that if they don’t do their job, then everyone they know or love will die. Children struggling with depression, anxiety, and inferiority complexes. Haunted by the deaths caused just to write wrongs. A father who is so focused on his work, that the very child he calls upon to save the world, he has driven away and alienated to the point of cruelty. A world population suffering due to the destruction even the battles cause. Adding to that, Evangelion takes apart even anime wide tropes of the ‘submissive but attractive girl’, and the ‘hot headed and tempremental bomb shell’ with Rei Ayanami and Asuka Langley Soryu respectively. If someone approaches Evangelion, without an understanding of Mecha anime, or even anime tropes, then how are they expected to make sense of it, on top of Evangelion’s already confusing nature?

When approaching a deconstruction, with no understanding of the base. Part of the meaning is loss. The comments the creator is making on the subject, fall on ignorant or deaf ears. While that is never meant as an insult on the audience, it’s worth wondering why we recommend such material before a proper introduction? A new reader approaching the material, can certainly enjoy it, and in many cases, it leads to them discovering the very source material they need. But why is it the first point of call?

Posted in Anime, Comics, Discussion, History

Akira—How the World Fell in Love with an Incomplete Masterpiece

In 1988, the world was treated to the stunning marvel that is Akira. Critically acclaimed, and celebrated the world over, Akira has become a staple of cult cinema and anime. Based on the seminal Manga of the same name by Katsuhiro Otomo, and more commonly referred to as the stack of phone books most collectors of such material have in the top corner of their libraries. The film has garnered much respect for its visuals, style, and compelling story. It was revolutionary in its creation, even from a technical standpoint. Having all new colours created for the process of cell colourisation, particularly in the films numerous nighttime scenes, and its use of pre-recorded dialogue, something that while standard in the west, was and still is, consistently uncommon in the east.

However, it is a possibility that you could refer to the film as an unfinished story. To those that have only seen the film, and haven’t sacrificed the necessary time to dive into 6 phone book length tomes, the film comes to a close with the discovery of Akira’s resting place, and the country in ruins, as Kanada and Kei ride off to their future. In reality, however, of the 6 books, Akira is found at the end of Book 2, and the country is brought to its knees in Book 3. While the film is written and directed by the manga’s original author, his story was not complete when the time came to turn his tale to the big screen. In fact, Akira started its publication in 1982, and didn’t publish its final chapter until June of 1990. 2 full years after the film was in theatres. At the time of the film’s release, only 4 of the 6 books had been released, leaving the audience at a similar situation in both media. While reworking his story for the big screen, Otomo found himself with the answer to how to end his now colossal saga. Essentially, what started as an adaptation became the inspiration for the material being adapted. Quite possibly one of the most paradoxical sounding feedback loops I can concoct.

For an American, or rather Canadian example, it may be best to compare it to the likes of Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. I don’t imagine you’ve heard too many comparisons between Akira and Scott Pilgrim before now. The writer and artist for the original Scott Pilgrim comics, Bryan Lee O’Malley, was approached for the film rights after only the first book, strangely enough also of 6 books. While O’Malley didn’t have as much involvement as Otomo, with Edgar Wright taking the lead on the film, he did help in guiding and plotting the film. However, at the times, he still didn’t have an ending for his comic. Much in the same way as Otomo did, his work on the film guided him in shaping his final book, and ending the story of Scott Pilgrim in the print format. The final fight with Gideon Graves, while ultimately different in both mediums, was a film creation that made it’s way back into the original format.

The real fun part of adapted work is the fan outcry. The arguments as to whether or not the new work is faithful to the original, or whether the original author would be happy with the changes. But with this, as I seemed to put it before, paradoxical sounding feedback loop, the barrier between the original and the adaptation blur. We are left with products that could not be created without the others existence and vice versa. At the end of it all though, we do get two versions of some great stories.

The 1988 Akira film is currently available through Manga Entertainment on Blu-ray and DVD. Both Subbed and Dubbed, though I cannot recommend the original Streamline 1989 dub to anyone due to its heavily stilted acting. If you are so inclined to listen to the English track, always indulge in the 2001 redub, starring Johnny Yong Bosch and Joshua Seth. The Manga is available through Dark Horse Comics, with a stunning new edition due for release in October of 2017.

Posted in Batman, Comics, DC Comics, Documentary, History, Marvel, Spider-Man, Superheroes, Superman, The Flash, Video, X-Men

Spotlight on: Nerdsync Productions!

While the properties are everywhere in the 21st century, comics are still one of the hardest mediums to get started with. Especially if you want to dive into the mainstream stuff, such as Marvel and DC. With the use of the internet, you can make the job a little easier for yourself. You can look up character history, cool stories, and maybe get an idea of what you want to read. But it can still be over whelming, with nearly 100 years of comic book history. Enter, YouTube! Through YouTube, it’s never been easier for you to stumble across great comic book content. There are countless Comic Book channels, giving you brief histories of key characters. Run downs of major or recent storylines. Tips on collecting and preserving. Even channels doing fun comic related games, and dares. All you have to do is quickly type ‘comic book’ in the YouTube search engine, and there you go! However, these channels can start to blur together after a time. The same brief histories, of the same characters, feeding back the same information till you can recite it from memory.

Enter Nerdsync.

Since launching their first Comic Misconceptions video on March 26th, 2013. Scott and the Nerdsync crew have worked hard to deliver quality, fun and informative videos for everyone. It doesn’t matter if you are a well-read veteran, who can recite ever single Lantern oath from memory. Or a movie going fan, who wants to break into the source material. Nerdsync breaks down their material to be completely accessible to even the newest of readers. Beyond that, their choice of subject is far and wide. Giving nice little twists on the now stable Comic Book/YouTube formula. You want a history of Superman? Not only will they give it to you, they will go through the real-life reason for his creation, and the story behind that. When a film comes out, and every channel is scrambling to bring you a funny story or origin relating to the characters involved. Nerdsync proves their nerdy worth by talking about science, history, mythology and psychology. There is a reason why the Nerdsync slogan is ‘helping you grow smarter through comics’!

The show’s host, one Scott Niswander, brings a fun, passionate and energetic feel to the show. Encouraging his audience to get involved, create their own content, and start discussions. The show prides itself on its community of ‘loveable nerds’, banning together to help pool together resources, create on going jokes, and sometimes, just taking to the internet to spread their love of comics. Over the 4 years since Nerdsync burst on to the scene. Other shows and creators have taken to the channel, and added their own little segments, connecting to their own work. Giving us an even greater variation, to an already wonderful channel. We have Hass with Comicana, bringing us insightful looks at how comic pages work. Exploring the flow of panels, pacing and tone, using recent books, and well-known classics. We are given a dose of legal history with Joel in Super Suits, breaking down the insane history of comic book lawsuits. Not to mention the fantastic cameo and cross over appearances from the like of Auram, Ricky of Stewdippin, and Mike of PBS Idea Channel.

What makes Nerdsync stand apart, is its dedication to education through comics. In the world of academic, comics have a surprising and glorious history. They have been the subject matter when talking about so many real-world events. Including politics, genetics, physics, mythology, and pseudoscience. While these concepts, books and papers, may seem dry and none accessible to outside readers. Nerdsync delivers compelling, interesting, and outright fun material, that inspires and entertains the audience. It’s hard to deny the number of comics, characters, theories, and principles you will be exposed to, without realising it. And, you will enjoy every second of it.

“Holy here we go again Batman!”