Wednesday, December 19, 2007

New frontiers in meta hype

-So I watched the new Batman trailer (still haven't seen the Iron Man trailer, though). Heath Ledger looks creepy enough, but he kind of sounds like he's channeling Daniel Day Lewis' Bill the Butcher from Gangs of New York. And there are so many explosions. Explosions are so boring. Can't we have more knife fights instead? The opening moments of the trailer suggest a heavy knife content for the movie, but after that it's all rocket launchers and bombs. Here's my ideal Joker-Batman action sequence: Joker poisons Batman, then tries to stab him. A delirious Batman tries to avoid being stabbed. I bet that would have been a lot cheaper to make, and the Joker would have been a lot scarier.

-Marvel is providing real-time coverage of its latest creator summit, and it's kind of interesting who isn't there: JMS and Mark Millar. Tom Brevoort cites scheduling differences as the reason for their absence, but it's still interesting in a symbolic kind of way. I don't think either of those guys are going to be a big part of the company's future going forward, yet I have a hard time imaging them fitting into DC right now.

Also interesting are those who are in attendance. Some of them are no surprise: Jeph Loeb, Brian Michael Bendis, and Ed Brubaker are always at these things. Dan Slott's been involved in the past too, I'm pretty sure. I'm not so surprised to see Greg Pak among the names, given the success of World War Hulk. I'm not a huge fan or anything, but it's kind of nice to see a guy who's worked his way up from Marvel's amateur hour Unlimited line up to this lofty position. Allan Heinberg is also there, which I'm guessing is more a function of the WGA strike than anything. And I guess one of his characters from Young Avengers will be pretty central to this upcoming Skrull thing. The question on millions of Newsarama readers' minds: will they dare give him a new assignment? And if they do, will fanboys root for the WGA strike to continue indefinitely? Finally, and most interesting to me on a fannish level, Matt Fraction is there. I think Fraction could be a big asset to Marvel--not just as a writer, but as a Grant Morrison type figure who provides interesting ideas at these kinds of retreats. Superhero comics could stand to be a bit more Fraction-centric.

But the very most interesting thing of all is the very fact that Marvel has decided to post its own "coverage" of this event. Obviously it's mostly intended to hype the Skrull storyline for next year, but there are other, possibly unintended, PR benefits as well. Marvel's coverage really emphasizes the heated discussions over the major plot developments for the coming year (a few of which are hinted at--and yes, they mostly involve Skrulls). With the constant mentions of all the writers present, and indications that nothing is being decided without a pretty spirited debate, one can't help but be reminded of constant reader complaints about "editorially-driven" content. The summit coverage might be Marvel's attempt to refute this notion--it's not just Quesada making these decisions, see, but Greg Pak, Ed Brubaker, and Allan Heinberg as well. The other side of the coin is the notion that all major plot developments are well-vetted before showing up in the pages of your favorite Marvel funnybook. So when you see the latest bizarre plot twist in a Jeph Loeb comic, bear in mind that Matt Fraction and Dan Slott bear some responsibility for it as well. They had their say at the creator summit, after all.

One thing that's missing so far is that sense of camaraderie that Marvel usually tries to play up. For previous summits (at least the ones I can recall), "coverage" was handled by Newsarama, usually in the form of a Joe Fridays interview where Quesada would put various creators "on the line" with Matt Brady. And there would be many jokes about Millar's accent, Bendis' lack of hair, and Quesada's waistline. There's none of that so far, but that doesn't mean it's not coming. I should think Marvel would be eager to reestablish an air of chumliness after the minor PR disaster brought about by JMS' public statements about One Day Later.

I don't know if anyone looking to glean information about the plots of upcoming Marvel comics will get anything out of Marvel's summit "coverage," so don't bother if that's what's interesting to you. If you want hints at infighting or backroom politicking, this isn't worth your time either. But if you're interested in how Marvel tries to present itself to hardcore comics fans, this might not be the worst use of your time.

-I watched the first episode of VH1 Classic's Seven Ages of Rock, and much yelling at the television ensued. The episode--the first in the series, mind you--started in London, c. 1962. The narrator (Dennis Hopper) told us that British teens didn't much care for the safe, sterile rock and roll coming out of America, but did like the blues quite a bit. And it was okay for British kids to like the blues, cause they didn't have the whole race issue hanging over their heads. We then move on to the Rolling Stones, then the Yardbirds, and then I quit watching because it was time to eat dinner and I didn't want to scream at the TV all the way through it.

Here's a partial list of people who were never mentioned during the first half hour of the first episode in a series whose title suggests that it's a history of rock and roll: Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Elvis, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Everly Brothers, Bo Diddley, Carl Perkins. And here's one more name that was not mentioned, and I want you to bear in mind here that the narrative thrust of the first episode was that British rock and roll was a product of working class kids' identification with Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, and the like: the Beatles. Yes, this documentary was insinuating that the Beatles had little or no place in the development of rock and roll in England.

My wife did a little research on the series, and found out that it's a co-production with BBC. I guess that explains the (totally asinine) "rock and roll started in England" premise of the first episode, but it doesn't really explain the absence of the Beatles, does it? She also tells me that there's some uproar over the lack of any Led Zeppelin coverage thus far. Well, I could kind of see that coming--the segment on the Yardbirds implies that the group went on to do warmed over Herman's Hermits type material after Eric Clapton left. The Rolling Stones segment was pretty irritating as well--I don't know how you can talk about the formative years of that group without mentioning Chuck Berry. But there were images of a pack of wolves chowing down on a some kind of carcass while Howlin' Wolf was playing. And that's what rock and roll is all about, after all.

So maybe a more apt title for this special is The Seven Ages of Rock for Which We Have Footage. Despite all my yelling at the television, I do recommend watching the series just to hear Ginger Baker dissing the Stones in general and Mick Jagger in particular. That's pretty entertaining.


Johnny B said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Johnny B said...

I was irate when reading the list of omissions, mostly because I kept thinking "That's who the Beatles and Stones and Kinks and so on listened to in the first place!"

But then I read on and saw where the Beatles weren't mentioned to speak of, and I understood. Sure, the Blues guys were mighty important- but they were just part of the picture. I guess nobody wanted to sail the immense seas of legal red tape that involving the Fabs would entail.

Which pretty much invalidates the whole thing as far as I'm concerned, unless they're trying to perpetuate the story that Fleetwood mac and the Yardbirds were the history of British Rock 'n' roll...

Sean said...

I caught the beginning of the VH1 special and was gobsmacked too, but then I grokked that they're trying to differentiate "rock" from "rock and roll," a phrase they never use. That actually makes sense.


Dave said...

I kept wondering what Batman was doing on Judge Dredd's ride -- slap a eagle-and-shield on the front of that version of the Batcycle, and you pretty much have a Lawmaster.

Remember, kids -- Batman's well-known antipathy towards guns only applies to small arms.

Dick Hyacinth said...

Sean, I'd noticed the use of "rock" instead of "rock and roll" myself, but this still seems like a pretty weak documentary even on those grounds. The thesis of the series, assuming this distinction is meaningful, is that British rock distinguishes itself from rock and roll based on its heavier blues component. Even if this is so, surely the equation is "rock and roll + blues = rock" rather than "blues + British cultural milieu = rock."

And that's not even getting into the absence of Led Zeppelin and the Beatles.

Brad R. said...

Ah yes, but the baby boomers don't much listen to fifties rock, now do they? Gotta pander to the demographics, dammit.

Ken Burns's abysmal "Jazz" miniseries had similar incredible omissions. Since Burns didn't know about jazz before he started work, he brought on Wynton Marsalis as an advisor. So the entire thing had Marsalis's take on the music.

Which, it turns out, fixates on Louis Armstrong and ignores the entire Afro-Cuban jazz movement (which was freakin' enormous and hugely influential). The series spent more time on Louis Armstrong's funeral than Miles Davis's career. (For non-jazz fans, an equivalent would be spending more time on Jerry Lee Lewis's first marriage than the entire career of the Beatles.) Horrible. It was only useful should you feel the need to scream at the teevee for a while.

Joel Bryan said...

Things like that VH1 docu make me glad I live in Japan and can only get vicariously semi-angry at it. Not having seen it, I can't go off on it but they're treading in areas I probably know more about off-hand than their entire "research" staff learned after a month of work.

Just the whole "sterile rock" statement is enough to send my mind into essay mode. While it's true American rock at the time was largely moribund I sincerely doubt acts like Cliff Richard were much of an alternative.

Leaving out the Beatles (for whatever reason) is a the singular omission that sinks it, however. I can't even say "Nice try, VH1, better luck next time." If this were a term paper it'd get no more than a D based on this alone.