Sunday, August 14, 2011

The way we look to us all

It was a slow day, and the sun was beating on the soldiers by the side of the road...

These are the days of tantrums and meltdowns, this is the terrible twos.
It's time to leave the park, but she doesn't want to go. It's nearly lunchtime and I still need to pick up some groceries before we settle in at home for the afternoon nap. There was an issue with an older girl who was grabby with the toys in the sandbox which led to a struggle over a shovel.
"Okay, it's time to go," I pick my daughter up and she screams. I carry her over to the stroller and explain that we have to go to the grocery store (a trip she usually likes) and then go eat lunch.
"No! I don't want to!"
We fuss with the stroller, but she twists and writhes. I throw her over my shoulder and push the stroller awkwardly with one hand. I abandon the shopping without a second thought and starttoward the northeast corner of the park, toward our place. She continues to flail and scream. Every few yards she wrestles free enough to start sliding down, so I have to stop, set her down, chase her, throw her back over my shoulder. It's awkward enough in front of the other kids and parents. But we have to go past the congregation of smokehounds and boozers who've claimed the corner of the park nearest our street.
For the most part, these people keep their distance from the playground. We've probably been to the park hundreds of times, and I can count the altercationsbetween the two solitudes that I've seen or been part of on one hand. Three of those have been me asking them to burn their reefer a bit further from the sandbox, and they've always been accommodating. When my daughter was smaller, she used to blow kisses to the people sharing a bottle on the east side benches (she blew kisses to everyone for a few weeks the spring she was 1). People are people, it's a public park, and I don't begrudge them their mostly out-of-the-way spot to spend the day.
I see a couple of dudes hanging at the bench along the path, smoking, yakking on their phones. Whatever. I hold on tight and try to get past them as quickly as possible. My daughter is still screaming, still thrashing.
Beyond pushing forward, I don't react. There's no point. She's lost in her fit and won't hear me anyway. It's embarrassing in front of the other parents and humiliating in front of people without kids. I know what they're thinking, I used to think it too. My face is hot and throbbing. I'm tired and cranky too, I whisper in her ear. Let's just get home and it will be okay.
We get to the edge of the park. I set her down for a second to get my bearings before we approach the crosswalk. It's a busy enough street and sometimes we have to wait a while for any cars to let us pass. I'm having a hard time negotiating the stroller and the howler. She howls and slaps at me. "Enough!"
She stops to catch her breath before launching into another howl and in the eerie, eye-of-the-storm calm I hear: "Why don't you get your brat out of here!"
I throw my daughter over one shoulder and turn my head over the other, finally given an outlet for the burning shame and frustration. "Why don't you go fuck yourself!"

I'm immediately aware of what I've just done. I had been embarrassed by my daughter's behaviour, but now I'm ashamed of myself. A woman on the other side of the crosswalk is looking at me. As we cross, she smiles sympathetically. I carry my daughter up the hill to finish her tantrum behind closed doors.
A day later, I'm picking at the florist on my way home from work. My daughter's not the only one in our family who can be unreasonable and awful to be around at times. I don't even know what I get, African Violets, maybe. A small, colourful arrangement. I take them to the counter to pay for them, and there's the woman from the crosswalk.
It's a big city, but a small neighbourhood. Especially when you spend most of your time in the company of young children. She must recognize me. I don't know, maybe she doesn't. Maybe when people see me out with my daughter, they remember her more than me. I'm like that with my neighbour. He's introduced himself at least twice, but I have no idea what his name is. His dog, on the hand, I know her name and I know her age. He seems like a really nice guy and I'm too sheepish to ask his name again, even though remembering his dog's name but not his is a totally sympathetic and possibly endearing thing. I've had that conversation in my head every single time he says "Hi, Emmet" when I pass him on the street.
The florist must know, as all florists can't help but know, that men don't buy flowers in August because they're proud of themselves. She must know that I've said something shitty to my wife and that I'm putting in some, however token, however clichéd, effort to say, "hey, I'm not completely self-centered." She must think I'm a horrible person.
Maybe it's time to move.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Since Nobody Asked...

Part of what's exhausted me on most of the DC books that I once enjoyed so much is that they've all become so self-reflexive & insular. Their subtext, if they have any, is themselves. One of the last Teen Titans books I read (circa Infinite Crisis) involved a literal Revolving Door of Death! And of course, Watchmen and DKR were loaded commentaries on superhero comics (as is Grant Morrison's Batman saga), but they also had loads to say about REAL LIFE! Especially Cold War paranoia, the gift that kept on giving--superheroes as nuclear proliferation; Frank Miller had Sovietstate-sponsored Superman vs. quintessentially American capitalist rugged individualist Batman; Alan Moore gave us Dan Dreiberg's dithering liberalism and Adrien Veidt's aggressive interventionism on the left vs. the obviously psychopathic rightwing vigilantes Rorschach and the Comedian. These were comics about comics, yes, but they also spoke to world in which they were created.DC recently announced that in September, they will be relaunching all of their superhero titles from issue #1 with fresh, younger takes on all of their characters. I've suspected this was coming since just before 2005's Infinite Crisis, when DC started really ripping into its own past and undermining much of the history that gave its ongoing stories such fantastic emotional weight. Dead sidekicks were resurrected, unknowable secrests were revealed, Batman started wearing a yellow oval around his chest insignia again, a lot of stuff was just clean foolish.
But there was a clear attempt being made to clear out the cobwebs of history. At the respective ends of both Infinite Crisis and 2008's Final Crisis (echoing the events of 1985's Crisis on Infinite Earths) the DC Universe was remade with mostly cosmetic changes. After Infinite Crisis, for example, it was revealed that the people of Superman's home planet Krypton had dressed in white flowing robes rather than the red tunics we saw them wearing in 1986. I'm actually not sure if there were any retroactive changes following Final Crisis. I don't think most of the people who write DC Comics even read that one.
And then there was the bizarre All Star line of comics. They sold like gangbusters and they were loaded with novel meditations on the Superhero's place in the modern world. But they were fraught with production issues, and DC didn't even try to spin the excitement over them into anything else.
Anyway, they've been tinkering around with the idea of of starting over for at least six years, and they're finally doing it. Sort of.
The information they've released about the new comics indicates that the continuity of their two best-selling lines of superhero comics, the Batman and Green Lantern titles, will remain fairly undisturbed. And I'm like, OH REALLY?
Because if you're going to go to the extreme of restarting Action Comics, the single most important comic book series in the history of comic books, from #1, but you're not actually starting at the beginning of the story of the DC Universe, that's pretty much total bullshit. Basically, it's the same thing DC did following Crisis on Infinite Earths 25 years ago. Some things (Superman, Wonder Woman) were totally different, some things (Green Lantern, the Flash) simply carried on. Some, like Batman, were a hodgepodge of new and old.
Here's how I would do a DC relaunch.
Start with just two titles, Action and Detective, and keep them fairly true to their historical significance. Superman first appeared in Action Comics #1, and that's where the story of superheroes should begin: The first public appearance of Superman in Action Comics #1. That's the Big Bang moment for your brand new fictional universe. Superman emerges, world in awe. After the first storyline is complete, you can launch Superman #1.
Batman is slightly more problematic. He didn't show up until the 27th issue of Detective Comics. So you launch Detective, but keep it Batman-free until #27. That gives you just over two years to build up Batman's mythos. Open the first issue as Batman: Year One opened, with Bruce Wayne returning to Gotham after his years abroad spent training to fight crime. Let him have costumeless adventures, let him fail and learn and grow into the Dark Knight. Give him 26 issues to figure it out. And then, on the last page of issue #26, let the bat fly through his window, ushering in his destiny. Think of the excitement you'd create by withholding Batman's first appearance. Comic fans would go nuts. Or you could even put Detective out weekly, if you don't want to wait two long years to sell Batman comics. Make it an anthology, showcase the street-level characters that will populate the new DC Universe.
Heck, make both Action and Detective weekly anthologies for their first two years, showcasing the flashy sci-fi heroes (Adam Strange, Green Lantern, etc.) in the former and the gritty urban heroes (the Question, Black Canary, etc.) in the latter. Have those be the only regular DC superhero comics on the shelves for at least the first year. That's a real commitment to your fresh start.
I, frankly, have no idea what to do with Wonder Woman. The tried and true method of bringing the character back to its roots that's worked so well for her male counterparts is problematic because, well, her roots are problematic.
Obviously, DC didn't ask me and they're going their own way on this. From what I've seen, I'm not hopeful. But I haven't really been following DC comics that closely the last three years anyway. Grant Morrison's Action Comics looks promising, especially since in his excellent and chatty new book Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human he repeatedly refers to early Superman as a socialist, and I can't wait to see how that plays out. Everything else, though, I don't know, not my thing.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

sick of arguing with white dudes on the internet

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation thinks Ignatieff shouldn’t get involved in health policy questions.

That's what QMI Parliamentary Bureau reporter Daniel Proussalidis wrote. I quoted it on Twitter, then spent most of yesterday afternoon arguing semantics with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
Derek Fildebrandt, National Research Director, chastised the Liberal leader for commenting on Vancouver's Supervised Injection Site, claiming Ignatieff had no jurisdiction to speak to the matter as healthcare is a provincial function. CTF's man in Alberta, Scott Hennig, via his Twitter feed, hounded me for an hour over the business.
I asked Hennig several times why the CTF had remained silent over these many years as Stephen Harper has waged an unnecessary wasteful and lethal war against Insite, yet jump in to dismiss Michael Ignatieff's comments on the subject.
Fildebrandt, perhaps, was not privy to Ignatieff's comments, which did not mention setting healthcare policy, and in fact showed respect for the provinces' jurisdiction over healthcare:
This is about harm reduction, and so we strongly support Insite. And as it proves its worth and as other provincial health systems adopt the valuable lessons learned at Insite, we would support its expansion, yes.
But the Canadian Taxpayers Federation wanted to dismiss Ignatieff's comments. I asked Mr. Hennig several times why the CTF refuses to speak out against Harper's shameful war on Insite and received no answer. I asked Mr. Hennig who the CTF's "supporters" are, again no answer. I asked Mr. Hennig if the CTF would draft a letter stating its belief that healthcare falls under provincial jurisdiction and therefore the federal government's Supreme Court battle to shutter Insite is unconstitutional and wasteful of taxpayers' money. He refused. The CTF says that federal leaders should not comment on provincial health policies, and yet tacitly condones by their silence Stephen Harper's jurisdictional interference in BC with regards to Insite. They apply their supposed principles inconsistently, and only when it benefits their ideological allies.

Their "cut taxes at any cost" ideology has infected municipalities across Canada, hobbling municipalities' ability to sustain even the most basic needs of infrastructure. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation is a right-wing think-tank without the think and without the tank. When they turn their self-interested eyes toward healthcare, we should all be worried.

Monday, January 31, 2011

5 Simple Rules for Filming My Superman

They did it. They finally did it. Damn them all to hell, they did it.
They cast the role of Superman in the Zack Snyder take on the Man of Steel that will be filming in Vancouver this summer. I dunno, some British guy. But I guess that means that they're actually going to go ahead and make a Superman movie for the 2010s.
Okay, look, I thought Snyder's Watchmen was a joylessly pedantic adaptation that mostly missed the point of the Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons series. Patrick Wilson was pretty good as sadsack superhero Dan Dreiberg, but then I'm a sucker for sadsack superheroes. I do respect Snyder's high regard for art direction, but come on, dude, even Tim Burton always ties his eye-candy to his movies' themes.
Snyder will be at a disadvantage here, compared to his previous comic book adaptations. Both The 300 and Watchmen were based on graphic novels (in Watchmen's case, it was a 12-issue series that was subsequently collected in the graphic novel format) that Snyder clearly used as storyboards for his film. But there is no Superman graphic novel. Oh sure, there are graphic novels that tell stories about Superman, but what's the greatest Superman story? What's Superman's Dark Knight Returns or Year One (both of which have been pilfered by Chris Nolan for his Batman movies). Where's Superman's "Death of Gwen Stacy"? Which story, in Superman's nearly 75-year history stands out as the perfect distillation of Superman's essence? There are certainly some popular favourites, "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" and the unimaginatively-titled "All Star Superman" come to mind. But it's unlikely either will be directly adapted for Snyder's talkie.
For one, so soon after Superman Returns, I don't think anyone is eager to have the word whatever in close proximity to the character. Second, "Whatever/Tomorrow" is a Supermanic Götterdämmerung, a Last Days of Chez Supes, that imagines an ending to Superman's story. That's no good for a big budget sequel machine. Third, who wants another round of Alan Moore whinging about what's been done with stories he wrote a generation ago?
All Star Superman, in its full glory, could be adapted as a trilogy of films. There's certainly enough story there. But that's not going to happen, since an animated adaptation will be coming straight-to-DVD (or whatever format things go straight to these days) sometime this year.
Interestingly, All Star Superman also concerns the final adventure of the Man of Steel. Most superhero mythos find their most iconic stories in characters' Secret Origins. But a great part of Superman's appeal is his endurance, his reliability, the longevity of his exploits. Superman was not only around for my childhood, and my parents' childhood, but also my grandparents' childhood--or at least their early adolescence. Of course, my daughter is already a Superman nut. And so it goes. We take Superman for granted, and it's generally good that we do. That's the kind of character he is. When writers seek to affect poignancy within a Superman story, it's more often than not his demise that drives home his significance. Ever since 1961--in a story written by Superman's creator, Jerry Siegel, no less--DC Comics has been wringing pathos and bathos out of sending off to arm-wrestle Great Caesar's Ghost. Like Lex Luthor says, "cry your hearts out, folks!"
But Zack Snyder probably won't kill Superman. Not in the first movie, at least. I get it, and mostly, I support it. Here are five things I would like Snyder to keep in mind as he constructs a new Superman film:
  1. Do Not Stare Directly Into the Superman - One of the best developments in the Superman mythos is that his incredible powers are derived from our yellow sun. This isn't just pseudo-science mumbo-jumbo, this is poetry. Like the sun, Superman, as a concept is huge and nearly all-powerful. It's from his light that all other superheroes get their resonance. It's too much! You hear things like, "Superman's too powerful, it makes him unrelatable," a lot. That's a load, but, hey, no one says your audience has to relate to or identify with Superman. That's what his supporting cast is for. Filtering Superman's light through the lenses of Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen allows for all kinds of depth and resonance and all that stuff that changes readers (or viewers) into fans.
  2. Lois Lane, Spell It Right - When was the last time there was a great Superman movie? Well, that would be the last time there was a great Lois Lane. Margot Kidder gave us a Lois Lane that was as potent a character as Superman. Why would a man with powers and abilities beyond those of mortal men fall so hard for a mere Earth woman? Because she's everything he hopes he would be without those powers: fearless, devoted to ideals like justice and truth and driven to make a change. This is your most important casting decision. Off the top of my head? Rashida Jones? Who else? Parker Posey? Why not?
  3. Superman is an Archetype - You know what kind of story you should try to tell with Superman? A big one. Lay on the metaphors, bring on the allegories. Get operatic! Superman doesn't just have ideals, he is an ideal. Let Batman, Spider-Man, Wolverine, or even Kick-Ass play to our insecurities, they're great at it. Let them explore the darkness within, let them be complicated heroes on a journey to discover and define their own morality. But Superman will not work as an antihero. Yes, he may brood over the loss of his entire planet, a culture and family he'll never know. He may, in private, question whether he's up to the task of saving the world. But Superman must be super. He must use his powers and abilities for good, for that is his greatest power, goodness.
  4. The Best Superman Story is All of Them - Remember what I said in the last rule about telling a big story? Forget it. Don't tell a big story. Tell a million little stories. One of many reasons there are few great superhero movies is that comic books are a serial medium. Comic books have traditionally translated better to episodic media like radio and television where characters aren't expected to develop at the same rate (if any) as they would in film or a novel. Of course, movies have become more episodic over the last dozen or so years. Nonetheless, Superman is impervious to character development like his skin is impervious to bursting shells. Again, this is why he has such a great supporting cast (especially Steve Lombard!); they grow and change and suffer because Superman can't. They are the workhorses of the serial melodramas that Superlore is built on.
  5. That's Why They Call Him Superman - You can't put Superman into a grim, cynical world and force him to navigate the shifting ethics of uncertain times--outside of an origin story, that is. Whatever world Superman inhabits has got to be a greater, more optimistic place than this one right here that we live in for one simple reason: Superman lives there. He's the best at what he does, and what he does is very nice. A genuinely super Superman must change the course of humanity's destiny merely through his power of super-influence.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Red (Tape) Scare

EDIT/UPDATE, AUGUST 2012: BFK is actually a cool guy, with whom I disagree on a few big things but see eye-to-eye with on many big and small things. So stop calling him names in the comment section, okay?

I don't usually get into it with people on the Internet.
On Twitter, yesterday, I said:

So the gov't of Sask would rather take its cues from anti-tax lobbyists than the SK Supreme Court?

in reference to the Saskatchewan Party proclaiming "Red Tape Awareness Week" on the same day its Justice Minister said he would try to find a way around the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal's ruling that provincial marriage commissioners may not refuse service to gay and lesbian couples. Okay, Mr. Wall, we get it, you don't like unions of any kind.
This morning, I saw a little blue dot under the "mentions" heading on my Twitter homepage. A fellow named Brian F. Kelcey, who self-identifies on the the Internet as a "professional troublemaker" (I'm still listed as a Hobo-Detective on the Internet--I investigate the disappearances of pies from windowsills, my fee is one pie, no refunds if I discover that I myself am the perpetrator, I'm the best there is at what I do), has seen my Tweet and says he doesn't understand why I would connect the two events. After some back and forth in which Mr. Kelcey continues to claim to not understand why, in an election year no less, it's worth taking note of whose counsel the ruling party heeds, he tells me that he knows better than I do and I back the fuck off.
But I'm wondering, who is this guy and why did he respond to my Tweet in the first place? Does he have a Google-Alert set for "anti-tax lobbyists"? He might, considering that Manitoba's Hansard service records him as representing the Manitoba Taxpayers Federation in 1996. Further digging around shows that he also did PR work for the disastrous Harris Government in Ontario around the turn of the century. He also runs a blog called "State of the City" where his bio states he's a fan of "20th Century noir fiction", so he can't be all bad.
A closer look at my own Twitter algorithms show that the original Tweet was reTweeted by none other than the CFIB, who where the ones I was suggesting were too cozy with the Saskatchewan Party in the first place.
Is it Kelcey's job to hang around on Twitter all day waiting for someone to badmouth the CFIB and its initiatives like "Red Tape Awareness Week" (which, um, sounds like exactly the kind of bumfluff a real taxpayers' watchdog group would be watchdogging against)? Probably not, and I don't want to begrudge a guy or gal for earning a living, or defending his or her beliefs on the Internet.
But I have to wonder why someone with such strong ties to anti-tax, anti-union, anti-regulation lobby groups like the CFIB and Canadian Taxpayers Federation would devote so much effort to distance such entities from the weirdo, religious right that they helped put into power in Saskatchewan.

mp3: "Dance to the Beat of Moody" by ESG