The Watchtower of Destruction: The Ferrett's Journal - September 4th, 2005

September 4th, 2005

September 4th, 2005
09:39 am

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A Vaccine For Whedon Syndrome

Comic books run on misery and angst.  This is understandable, since the rule of any story is "The characters are not happy until the story is finished."  That's how drama works; you put someone you like in a terrible situation, and watch them work their way out of it.  Since a comic book is an episodic story that only ends when it's cancelled, that means that every hero exists in a state of continual suffering. 

Moments of complete triumph are rare, and usually only happen at the end of a famous writer's run where he's stepping off voluntarily - as opposed to most writers, who are rudely shoved off when the sales drop.  Since Famous Writer has time, he says, "Fuck it, I'll give this character the ending I'd give him if this comic was finished tomorrow."  So there's a huge, five-issue battle involving bloodshed, anguish, and possibly death, with the last two pages serving as all the happiness your favorite superhero is ever going to get.  And even then, there is a box in the last paragraph that promises, "NEXT ISSUE: WRITER X APPEARS TO HEAP MORE TROUBLES UPON THIS SAD BASTARD!"

There have been comics devoted to characters who purport to be happy, but they usually come off as callow and unbelievable.  Sure, I suppose it's possible to fight the minions of evil all day and whistle merrily at night, but in practice the writing seems like some sort of MAD Magazine skit where a hero traipses through a field of dead bodies, making wisecracks about how life is cheap. 

Unfortunately, that means that most of the comics these days are about either nothing, or about endless agony.  It may be good agony, finely-tuned, with a dollop of enjoyment in the pages, but you'll never get to see your hero have just a good day. 

Which is why Ultimate Spider-Man Annual #1 may well be my favorite comic ever written. 

Viewed from one vantage point, it's not a particularly good comic book.  There's one battle, and its as perfunctory as it seems, without even the slightest doubt of who's going to win it.  There's a lot of talking heads, with two characters indulging in the traditional Bendis-style dialogue, where they repeat themselves ad infinitum and speak in half-chewed phrases.

But from where I stand, it's a pitch-perfect outline of a complicated situation: Spider-Man goes on a date, and everything good happens on it.  As Ice Cube says, "I can't believe, today was a good day." 

The setup's pretty simple: one of the other Ultimate Universe teenager super-heroines (whose name I will not mention here, mainly because my wife has not read it) has been dumped, and calls up Spider-Man, who she's met in the past.  They get together, and it turns out that Peter Parker - who's also been through a bad breakup recently - and she have a lot in common.  They spend the day bonding.

That's it.  The good thing is the dialogue, where more is said in the silences than in the text.  It's perfect in getting the way that teenagers speak, that sort of connection that's so powerful because hell, you're both going through school and dating and fighting crime you don't have to finish the statement.

The connection also makes sense, as frankly the superheroine in question is a good foil for Peter - who has, frankly, been going through a raft of shit lately.  Ultimate Spider-Man has been close to shark-jumping lately, recycling plotlines and extending issues into nothingness, but occasionally it still has moments of absolute brilliance, nailing the whole teenaged experience so thoroughly that I wonder whether Bendis was peeking in my classroom back when I was seventeen. 

The only sad part is that I know it won't last.  For one thing, comic books are sadly predictable - a writer will take the character out in some bold new direction, and no matter how good the current situation is a lesser writer will go, "Wasn't he dating Jean Grey in the beginning?  Yeah?  Well, he should be again."  No matter how far you try to stray from the roots, whatever relationships that have been established in the first ten issues or so are usually immutable.  Peter's destined to be with Mary Jane, whether she's right for him or not. 

Furthermore, every comic suffers from Whedon Syndrome, which is the nasty habit of stating boldly that "NO RELATIONSHIP MUST WORK."  If you have a happy couple lurking around somewhere, they must end in breakup or death because OMG that's drama.  Most writers aren't good enough to create a plotline where the hero is besieged on all sides but has a supportive girlfriend back home, so they inevitably go for divorce and heartache to pile it on from all angles. 

One bad writer gets 'em back together, the next breaks 'em up.  How many times have the Fantastic Four disbanded?  Well, now you know why.

So I know this relationship, which I think is fantabulous, is doomed.  Bad things will happen.  They will turn out to be really not right for each other, or The World will intervene, or Peter will cheat on her with Mary Jane.  But in my mind, for this one moment, Peter will be dating this dazzling new girl forever, fighting crime and school and Nick Fury but able to count on her when he needs her. 

It won't last, but let me dream. 

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(52 shouts of denial | Tell me I'm full of it)

TimeEvent
09:04 pm

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The Grampop Memorial Party

Wow.  I could not have imagined such a send-off for Grampop.  There was absolutely no undertone of sadness, no weeping, no silent moments where we considered the dead - instead, about thirty family and close friends simply gathered to eat, talk, coo at the great-grandchild, and watch old home movies.  We discussed Grampop, sure, but it was a celebration of life in a way that didn't feel forced. 

We knew he was a great guy.  We didn't feel the urge to shout it to the heavens, desperate to ensure that he lived on; our Grampop was in our bones and blood and the way we talked, and we knew he'd be with us forever.  So instead, we chowed down on chocolate chip cookies and spoke of him fondly.

As a gift, my cousins came up with the idea of a scrapbook.  Everyone was asked to come up with their own page, and we all wrote down our memories of my grandfather, plastered it with pictures, and then gave it to my grandmother, who was in good spirits.  Here's what I wrote.


I have thirty-six years of memories to comb through, and none of them are of just Grampop.  Oh, he's scattered throughout my memories like stars in the sky, but trying to come up with memories of "Grampop" is like trying to separate the white from an egg. 

I suppose there are grandfathers who you can remember as individuals, standing off alone on some rocky beach while the wind whipped through their hair majestically - but I can't envision Grampop without his family and friends around him.  He was a hub around which the Steinmetzes revolved, the center of almost every social gathering.  All my memories are of Grampop with Grammy, Grampop dancing with a crowd of people at a wedding, Grampop sitting on the porch at one of his innumerable parties, a white cap on his head, talking and smiling and watching the sea. 

My Grampop was a man who had taken so much care to arrange his life that it seems almost disrespectful to try to extract him from it.  You went to his house in Rowayton and you were surrounded by all the things he loved, from the ebb and flow of the saltwater tides washing through the reeds out back, to the coffee cans full of rusty washers and nails he planned to use in projects some day, to the reels of home movies stashed underneath the chairs.  That house was a tinderbox of memories; it had seen so many parties and Christmases, each one stuffed with relatives and friends chatting amiably, that even the footworn rug or a model of Volkswagen Beetle on the fireplace could spark fond reminiscences.

He had such a clear idea of how he wanted to live his life.  He organized everything and everyone to be a part of it with such confidence that I can't imagine any other way he could be. 

It's hard for regular ol' parents to become icons of unconditional love, because, well, they're in charge of raising you.  They dish out both rewards and punishments, and get the inevitable resentment.  I can remember times my Mom and Dad were furious at me, but I look at the span of time I spent with my Grampop and he never once raised his voice to me.  The closest he got to irritated was when I squirmed up closer to the TV, blocking his view of the news programs, and he chided me in that gravelly voice of his, saying, "Ya know, Billy, you make a better wall than a window." 

He let me burn things, the only man in the world who would indulge my love of fire.  He'd show me how to pile wood and newspaper into the fireplace, letting me press my face so close to the flames that my cheeks were hot and tender for days afterwards.  We'd throw old paper plates and magazines in while Grammy fretted about burning down the house, and sometimes I had the distinct feeling that if I asked to burn, say, a couch cushion just to see what it looked like when it caught fire, my Grampop would cheerfully go along with me. 

But when I was eight, I used to go over every weekend, and I would watch the Donnie and Marie show with my grandparents, dancing frantically in my underwear for their entertainment as Marie warbled, "I'm a little bit country." When I was fifteen and filled with that exhausting paranoia that comes from knowing that you are one misstep away from being the uncoolest kid in the whole wide world, I still told my friends about dancing half-naked for my grandparents, because it was such a happy memory that nobody was going to stop me from sharing it. 

He had tricks of the trade.  "A trick of the trade for ya, Billy," he'd say, and then share some nugget of wisdom, a walking fortune cookie.  For a long time, I thought that he had a big list of official Tricks of the Trade stashed away in a poster somewhere, and today I had heard Trick #189; for years I kept pestering him for a new Trick, trying to collect the whole set, until it finally occurred to me that the Tricks of the Trade were just whatever bit of folk wisdom came to mind that day.  He was usually right, though. 

It's hard to imagine him gone because he's still around me; the family he created and bonded so tightly still gets together every month or so to chat on couches and eat Carvel ice cream cake and listen to music.  Everything that was so essentially him to me is still there, and I look out the door, wondering when Grampop's going to show up and join the party. 

He's around here somewhere, so close I can touch him.  I just know it. 

(14 shouts of denial | Tell me I'm full of it)

TimeEvent
09:24 pm

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Jesus, That's Creepy
What happens if you put a Pacific Octopus in a tank with a shark?  Well, you'd think the octopus would be safe thanks to its camouflage and its ability to hide... but the end results are not pretty. 

(Thank you, Laura Lemay, for giving me nightmares.  Incidentally, yes you need RealMedia to open this - I had to reinstall the fucker, which is annoying as all hell - but it is so worth it.) 

Current Mood: scaredscared

(37 shouts of denial | Tell me I'm full of it)

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