Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

TMNT Entity, as a blog of note

Saturday, June 1st, 2013

In my ongoing pedantry I’ve been stuck on the idea (since I learned of it, probably from Elliot S. Maggin’s Superman novel Miracle Monday, I think) that the word “fan” meant “fanatic”, which meant there was a distinct difference between “I like this” and “I am a fan”.

So while I’ve certainly watched most of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle cartoon shows, and a high percentage of the episodes I can definitely tell you that I am not a fan, as I never watched all of them.  I really really like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  It’s a great concept and it sprung from a comic book back in the early 1980s and from there it because three live action films from New Line, a cartoon from Fred Wolf Films that was both UHF syndicated and aired on CBS in later seasons simultaneously, a FOX children’s cartoon show made with non-union voice actors whose primary jobs were dubbing Japanese anime released in this country, a FOX Kids live-action television series made by the producers of the Power Rangers, a syndicated daily newspaper comic strip, a comic book series from Archie Comics spinning off of the 1980s cartoon series, an anime, a comic book series from IDW, a CGI-animated film, a straight-to-television animated film, prose novels for children, a Nickelodeon-owned CGI-animated cartoon series, a ton of action figure sets, each released for a different children’s cartoon series,  and that does not include all of the licensed merchandise like lunch boxes, mugs, t-shirts, tooth brushes, underpants, etc. Knowing that sounds like obsession.  Sadly remembering that information off the top of my head is how my brain works.  It collects and retains knowledge of useless stuff I learned decades ago with amazing retention of detail.  I think it’s a learning disorder because I’ve been meeting people lately and I swear that despite the familiarity they show I don’t even remember their faces (it’s probably less rude to be honest and ask how we last met rather than lie to them even convincingly).

Now because I like TMNT, a lot, but am not an actual honest to goodness fan, I only read TMNT Entity on occasion.  Mark Pellegrini is a fan, as in fanatic, and I will not fault him for it.  (And why should I fault him for it?  I’m a fan of Spider-Man and Batman, and certain eras of Star Wars and Transformers).  The man seems to have taste and his knowledge of the subject seems immense.  He is also extremely well-read in terms of the given material, as well as enough other things that we don’t have to worry about him not knowing if something is based off of something else.

I’m holding back a little, in part because there’s something else of his I want to praise later and give that more time.

As it is while Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as a franchise is certainly well-known among cable-watching children today, and adults who were children in the eighties and nineties, with a viewing audience that sadly dwarfs the reading audiences of major comic book series, it is all still based on an series of comic books that were published by Mirage Comics. They were created by Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman, at first as a spoof of Frank Miller’s Daredevil and then as an action adventure series with a side of comedy.  The average intended output was six issues a year and whose average actual output was four issues a year.  I’m fairly certain that as it was an independent comic book with that distinct flavor it sold less than Superman and X-Men and perhaps the people that were readers of only the Big Two back in the early eighties did not know it existed.  Or maybe they did.  I was born in 1981, what do I remember?

From the Mirage Comic was licensed a cartoon series and spun from that cartoon series was a comic book series published by Archie Comics, licensed from Mirage, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures.  So an independent comic with an erratic output beget a daily cartoon show beget a monthly comic book.  I’m fairly certain that the audiences for the two comics were such that it was not an actual competitive product, any more than the Super Friends comic was a competitor of the Justice League of America.

The Mirage Universe version of the Turtles made many many canonical appearances not simply in their own regular comic book (of which there were three volumes, or four depending on who you ask), but in various anthologies and Micro-Series one-shots, as well as numerous back-up stories.  In fact whenever Mirage published a reprinting of one of their issues they made certain that new material was included, usually back-up stories which fit into the overall continuity.

This makes recognizing/establishing a continuity of these characters a formidable task at best.  But the writer of TMNT Entity did it, right here.  Now as fascinating as I find the whole story, both of how the comic was made, how the company worked, and the events of the characters themselves, I still am not a fan of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series, or any of the franchise as a whole.

But I liked it a lot.  I watched every episode I could as a kid. I thought the action figures were cool.  And so the TMNT burnt into my brain.

Your fictional robots are not humans but should have human qualities

Sunday, December 23rd, 2012

From a February 2007 interview with James Roberts by

There is a danger of making a Transformer too human; ultimately, they are alien life-forms, and robotic ones at that. But the TF mythos endures because of the characters, and that wouldn’t have happened unless fans could – at some level – identify with those characters. From day one we’ve heard about the ‘heroic’ Autobots and the ‘evil’ Decepticons – the two sides are defined by very human qualities. I also think that any society, even one comprised of shape-shifting mechanoids, is shaped by politics, race relations, economics, ethics, questions of identity and so on. Transformers society is no different, and that was something I tried to get across in Eugenesis. Notwithstanding the above, you have to try to constantly remind readers that these characters aren’t human. As a rule of thumb, if you can swap all the Transformers in your story for humans and still tell the same story, it’s not working. The non-human aspects of these characters – their long, potentially endless life-spans, their concept of pain, their attitude towards non-mechanical life, the way they can modify their bodies, their ambiguous origins… it’s all endlessly fascinating.

James Roberts currently writes Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye for IDW Comics. A long time ago he wrote and self-published a fanfiction prose novel called Eugenisis.  The work was good enough and appreciated enough that eventually he writes for the property professionally.

My Father’s Day Gifts to Myself

Saturday, June 11th, 2011

Amazon package arrived today.  Guess what’s inside?

  1. The animated Legion of Super-Heroes Vol. 1-3, which is now packaged together for $17 instead of sold individually for $15 each.  (I don’t know why they won’t do season sets anymore.  Obviously, they want to shake us down for more cash per individual disk, but I’m not buying them because of that.  If Legion, or Brave and the Bold, were sold in a complete set, I’d have bought it!)
  2. Green Lantern, Emerald Knights.  Sweet!  Expect a review shortly.
  3. Rifftrax: Shorts-a-poppin.  Should be good as always, especially when it has a young Dick York in one of these movies.
  4. Andy Barker, P.I. – Poor Andy Richter cannot catch a break.  This series is funny, but just too odd to make it on Network TV.
  5. Opus, 25 Years of His Sunday Best – I have all of the Bloom County and Outland books, but I never got to read the “Opus” series, plus the strips are reprinted larger and digitally recolored, so this is worth it.

Thanks so much, honey…for letting me buy these for myself!

Who is Earl Norem?

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

When I was a child I owned a couple of Transformers Kids Stuff Big Looker storybooks. Sentimentality and giant transforming robots aside these particular books came with vinyl records playing the audio for the story.

I owned When Continents Collide which can be seen as fairly terrible. The visual of the oil drilling oil ship has been stuck in my head for over twenty years but for some reason I remember it being alien and cool and not human and incongruous to any plot or setting. Oh well. I’m not going to read it again so I don’t have to worry about nostalgia betraying me. My memory is so shot on this it might have come with an audio cassette tape and reconciling memory and reality does not bother me.

The first book, which does interest me, is The Battle For Cybertron, and that did come with a vinyl record. Despite some wacky scale issues the book has something I appreciate now more than as a small kid: the violence. Well, I loved violence in my fiction then but the graphic art presentation is something I appreciate more than then. When you grow up with a cartoon as the typical storytelling format you never see He-Man behead someone with his Power Sword and very rarely does and Autobot or Decepticon get a hole blown him or circuits torn out.

The man responsible for the violence in the art is Earl Norem. This interview reveals how he remembers almost none of that stuff because as an 81-year-old retired professional artist he has had a long life of turning in decent art in exchange for a living. He is also a World War II veteran; that is more impressive.

Here is a gallery on the Transformers wiki.

The Hobbit, Soviet style!

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

Here’s a link showing a Soviet era translation of The Hobbit, complete with illustrations!

Also included, a Russian TV production of The Hobbit!
As an aside, judging from the first vid, I never pictured Bilbo being the same size as Gandalf…

Resurgence of piracy

Sunday, April 12th, 2009

There is obviously a resurgence of interest in piracy due to the recent capture of a USA-flagged ship and the hostage situation with the ship’s captain that happily ended in his rescue just this morning.

Many of us, of course, still think of pirates in terms of 1700s brigands in tall ships with parrots, bandanas, striped shirts and eye patches, hoisting the Jolly Roger and keelhauling their victims. I remember watching the movie The Phantom and rolling my eyes a bit at the mention of his ancestor’s oath to fight piracy.   It’s an okay film, saved by the dedicated performance of Billy Zane and the thigh-high boots on an unknown Catherine Zeta Jones.  I liked the movie.  But pirates?  It’s a bit hard to make that relevant, isn’t it?

Dangerous WatersHowever, some years later, I heard the author of “Dangerous Waters” on the radio, and the interview was so intriguing that I picked up the book as a gift for my dad.  The book explains how piracy has never fully gone away.   The author was surprised to learn this in person, when his craft was raided by a species of criminal that he thought was extinct: pirates.

Modern laws make it a very profitable enterprise for many third world ruffians.  Many companies would rather pay exorbitant ransoms rather than having to mess about with training their crews to fight pirates (or equipping them with security personnel), and some ports have strict laws that don’t allow arriving boats to carry weapons.

Maybe a modern-day Phantom dedicated to fighting pirates could take on their modern counterparts.  I know I’d buy that book!

Interesting note:  When I went out to Amazon to find Dangerous Waters, I discovered that this six-year-old book is now in the top 1000 books.  What’s more,  it’s currently #2 in the category “International Security”, #5  in “Current Events – Terrorism”, and #9 in “Politics – International Relations”!  That must be a nice little windfall for author John S. Burnett.

The Arthur Effect

Monday, June 25th, 2007

The Arthur Effect is the process in which the things that make an intellectual property unique are smoothed out in order to gain a wider audience. For example, the original Lee-Ditko Spider-Man was a very angry and moody young man. He lived in a moody, atmospheric world and fought bizarre villains, like the Vulture and Doctor Octopus. He resided with his Aunt May and was very lonely.

After Ditko left, Peter Parker moved out of his aunt’s place and became damn near gregarious. Bland, “normal” villains like the Rhino or the Kingpin were more likely to crop up than the more colourful ones. The mood of the title under Romita was more romantic, both in terms of interpersonal relationships– Peter now had a real honest-to-God girlfriend– and in terms of storytelling: big, Kirby-esque superhero battles.

In short, everything that made Spider-Man Spider-Man was gone, and as a result, he became more popular. The Spider-Man of the hit Sam Raimi films is Romita’s– not Ditko’s.

I call this the Arthur Effect because of the Marc Brown character, Arthur Read the Aardvark. In the first book, Arthur’s Nose, he looked like this:

Arthur, unhappy with his long aardvark’s nose, goes to Dr. Louise, the rhinologist (who is, naturally, a rhino). In the end, he decides that he likes his own nose the best: “I’m just not me without my nose!”

But now let’s take a look at a more recent book in the Arthur series.

What happened to his nose? The whole point of the first book– that we should accept, and celebrate, the things that make us different– is completely invalidated by the rest of the series. And it’s this noseless Arthur– more bear than aardvark– that makes up the bulk of the series, stars in chapter books, has his own television program, toys, oversized plush dolls, backpacks, lunchboxes, stationary, music cds, and posters. Nothing differentiates him from all the other cute, cuddly children’s book characters– and so he’s more palatable to a wider audience.

I’m not saying this is always a bad thing, nor is it always a direct result of trying to capture a wider market. Because of the Comics Code, the friendly Silver Age incarnations of Batman and Superman are vastly different from the brutal Golden Age originals. And in the case of Superman, I think that’s an assest: no one wants to see him hurtling war criminals like javelins.

With these rough edges and quirks gone, they became more acceptable to the mainstream audience, and more-or-less codified the concept of the superhero. Really, the Arthur Effect is one of refinement.

But what a character or story might gain in beauty, clarity, and thematic unity– all very attractive to the widest possible audience– they often lose that most mysterious and precious of things: vitality.