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Batman: Arkham City
Comixology page on Stan Lee's How-to
Recent Books of Interest
Batman: Arkham City: Special Issue by various creators (DC)
I'm assuming this issue must have also been intended as a giveaway to promote the well-received Arkham City game
currently being played on consoles everywhere. How else to explain the ad on the back for the game
itself? (Though note this isn't the actual "prequel" comic/miniseries which hit newsstands last spring). Since
my son received his copy as a bonus for buying the game, the sale had already been made. Maybe they needed to
fill back cover space. In any case, this is a mini-anthology, mostly plotted by longtime DC animation producer
Paul Dini, and scripted by Derek Fridolfs, with the help of various artists (including the hard-workin' Ted
Naifeh on a Riddler vignette). The truth is, it's not exactly great Batman material -- it only makes sense
in the context of the game you're about to play; nothing really pays off on its own. Maybe the stories
can't: You're not supposed to get to the big reveals until you earn them during gameplay (about which,
more in the main column), but if we're in the age of "cross-platform" media and storytelling, how can
you make the secondary/tertiary "platforms" (in this instance) pay off more satisfyingly on their
own? There's a nice fight between Harley Quinn and Robin, btw, but this brings up another interesting
question, comic continuity-wise: Are the game stories (and therefore the comics) even "canon"? And again,
more on that question in that big chunk of text to the left.
Stargazing Dog by Takashi Murakami (NBM)
Back in the 70's when I was growing up and reading a lot of film criticism, one of the recurring phrases
from the then-giants of the craft (the Pauline Kael/Stanley Kauffmann-era) was Rex Reed's "I wept," which
was often used satirically. Well, dammit, I wept, reading Stargazing Dog, which is what the book is designed
to make one do, in the manner of a Spielberg film about cute aliens. After all, it's a dog story -- and one
that ends in dramatically poignant manner (as revealed on the opening page, so I hope that wasn't too
much of a spoiler). Actually, it's two stories. In the first, main one, a middle aged divorced man (see
how I related?) falls entirely through society's cracks, emotionally/financially, and is left homeless
with the dog his now-estranged daughter once brought home. And it is the dog's unwavering love and faith
in desperate times that makes the story -- a hit (and soon-to-be film) in Japan - so moving. Appended
to this is the tale of a "social services" investigator, who tries to reconstruct what happened to the
man, and dog. And in so doing, recovers a lost, canine-infused memory from his own past. "We are all
stargazing dogs," he concludes, after his revelation of the heart. Well, yes, if we can manage to be
open and trusting enough. Always a trick in hard times. Now go play with your dog.
Stan Lee's How to Write for Comics (by Stan Lee) (w/ colleagues) (Watson-Guptill)
The book whose continuity sections sparked this half-month's column (over there, to the left!), this
can serve as a useful overall guide for someone who's never written a comics script before -- perhaps
that young scribe on your holiday list -- and needs to know the basics about act structure,
formatting, etc. It's not so much written by Lee, as presided over by him, as he drafts various colleagues
to weigh in on the topics at hand. Terrifically illustrated (though entire sequences of finished pages
might have been helpful, rather than single inserts), you'd do well to include the paperback version
(at least) in student writing classes. Heck, I have a unit on comics writing for a YA fiction class
I'm teaching, and will probably deploy this book for that particular evening.
Continuity in a Discontinuous Age
Copyright © 2011 Mark London Williams
So Stan Lee has a new how-to book out, How to Write Comics (see sidebar), which makes more sense, really,
than his earlier How to Draw Comics, though given the way he moves through the material and presents his
ideas, he could get away with being a non-artist, since he acts almost more like a compiler, or editor -- quoting
from colleagues, interviews, even his own earlier works, as well as citing numerous examples from comics biz
pages (and not just Marvel's) of what it is he's talking about.
The volume, I would say, isn't definitive, but is a good overview if you've never read about comics-writing
before; act structure, script layout, plot and subplot, et al. But what struck me for the purposes of this column
were the sections he had on "continuity."
He addresses the idea of "continuity" in three short sections: "Continuity vs. Retcon," "Continuity as Albratross,"
and "When Continuity is Vital."
The "vital" section is mostly an interview with Brian Bendis, who says it's important to do your homework (citing
his use of the fairly obscure Molecule Man in a recent Avengers tale), and also notes that at least half the
audience will be reading tales and arcs in collected paperback from. Thus, even the most skillful "recapper"
will want to be aware that future combined editions will mean those recaps occur every 20 pages or so -- with
no month-long interval separating them.
But I was more interested in Lee's ideas about continuity being an albatross, a discussion which continues from
the section on "versus Retcon."
I'd been wondering about this since my son's recent marathon weekend playing Arkham City at my house. I haven't
played it -- sadly, I don't seem to have whole weekends to be immersed in single narratives (which may explain
all those unwatched back episodes of the I-know-it's-laudable Breaking Bad).
I would occasionally check in on him, when I wasn't running around with his younger brother, and watch a few
scenes at a time from what was, essentially, an epic/interactive made-for-console Batman movie.
There came several "reveals" toward the end, after he "played through" (which somehow makes me think I'm writing
about golf), which I won't mention here. There were a couple of interconnected revelations, involving a certain
key villain in Bruce Wayne's world, that made me wonder about the whole idea of "canon" or "official" continuity.
We've seen it broken (similarly, in this instance) in movie versions before, but comics seem to be in increasing
states of internal contradictions about continuity, in part, I suspect, because no one thought they would last
this long or become this popular. I mean, in the 30s and 40s comic characters came and went -- who the hell
knew we were talking about billion dollar IPs here?
So the first thing is -- and this is the problem with James Bond stories too -- is how do you actually
have "continuity" for characters introduced 40, 50, or 70 years ago?
I mean, you don't. They exist in that permanent fictive bubble, where Bruce Wayne is always thirty-ish, yet
costumes, styles and technology change around him. Superman, being immortal, kinda, might be easier to
explain. But then if continuity were "realistic" he'd experience the horrors of staying the same age, while
all those he loved constantly aged around him, and faded into oblivion.
As Lee says, "since the 1970s, the continuity of the Marvel and DC universes has been a work in progress,
constantly being modified to suit the needs of the moment." Which makes sense. Either superheroes -- the
mortal ones -- age like the rest of us, or they don't, existing in the numerous "tall tales" we enjoy over
the seasons of our own lives.
Sometimes with the "retconning," you can just cut the Gordian knot, like DC's doing with "the New 52," (or Marvel,
really, with "The Ultimates") and start over. But the question is, why pretend at all?
Why are there "Elseworld" stories, or those outside "regular" continuity, when the regularity is itself entirely
contrived and artificial?
It's all "elseworld," of course. Not that we don't want the comforts of familiarity as well: The Joker needs
to be reliably psychotic, Wolverine still needs to smoke cigars and say "bub" (or is that The Thing!?), etc. What
makes the stories really interesting is when our expectations of character/behavior/outcome is defied (though
for a lot of comics, for a long time, the comfort came in simply having those things reinforced).
You can only have "expectations" if there's been some kind of continuity -- some basis for building those
expectations. But when an enterprise goes on for decades -- like franchise comics -- we have things like,
as Lee says, "some retcons get(ting) retconned by subsequent creative teams -- such as John Byrne revealing
that Queen Hippolyta traveled back in time to adventure as Wonder Woman, explaining why the Justice Society of
America roster included the Amazon Princess only to have Infinite Crisis undo that revelation -- which
can only make your head hurt."
In the case of Batman, we already have separate narrative arcs for the movies (which themselves are separate from
each set of movies/TV shows made), vs. the games vs. the comics. The "comics" would seem to be the "official"
versions of these stories, but why go to all that trouble? Why keep making everyone's head hurt?
Perhaps comics should only go for short arcs, self-contained adventures. Villains or heroes die at the end of these
arcs. Perhaps they're brought back later. No, it's not a cheat -- it's just a different tale.
It is, after all, a quantum universe, one that potentially -- according to increasingly far-out physics
theory -- contains all possible outcomes for situations. So instead of having to "explain" "logically" why
the Earth-5 superhero is the one who the 60s-era events happened to, why not just have fun with the characters?
These are commercially-owned mythological beings, true. But they are still mythological beings. And since so
many of them look like Adonis or Persephone, remember, those particular demi-gods are routinely reborn and renewed.
Otherwise, just wait until we're in the middle of this century: We'll need a newer 52, a more Ultimate Ultimates,
because all those 100-year-old heroes will still seem largely the same, while the world -- and its writers and
artists -- roil in change around them.
Mark London Williams wrote the Danger Boy time travel series.
Info on what he, or the books, are up to can be found at marklondonwilliams.com.
Did we mention the first one is back out on eBook, and is only 99 cents!?
gets Twittery @mlondonwmz.