Wednesday, November 26, 2008
(You know which ones I mean.) Today, we will look at Batman 681, and an extended review/ramble on the new DC Cartoon series, Batman: the Brave and the Bold.
Batman 681. By Grant Morrison and Tony Daniel. This issue marks the final chapter in the "Batman RIP" sequence. And I know with the "Final Crisis" event currently going on at DC, it's internet-fashionable to rag on the perceived obtuseness of Morrison's work. But honestly.... I'm really not sure what happened. There's the Black Glove revelation, some cool moments such as Batman's death-defying moment and Nightwing's escape, but... I don't know. It's missing that "moment," that revelation that makes it all worthwhile. Rather than being left with the feeling that we've entered a bold new era, I'm just left feeling... that's it? That's what's supposed to change things? There's no real drama here--the only thing really at stake doesn't seem at stake at all. There may be huge reveals, and layers within layers of meaning I just don't get, but it seems like Morrison's just obscuring a picture that doesn't really show us anything we haven't seen before, and certainly doesn't live up to the hype.
Batman: Brave and the Bold. The Brave and the Bold is something of a legacy title at DC, so I'll try to do it some justice by telling what I know about it, and making the rest up. In the 60s (70s? 80s? Before I was old enough to be literate, at any rate), Brave and the Bold was a DC Showcase title in which each issue featured two DC heroes teaming up. The series stopped years ago, but a new volume started up more recently, still featuring the ever-changing cast, but trying to maintain an overarcing story. The first arc was a big success, in my opinion: it managed to rotate through a huge cast, stay true to the individual characters, and still tell a cohesive story of epic scale. Since then, the title seems to have fallen into hard times. I'm not completely sure, and far too lazy to check, but I think it may have been cancelled. (Person of Consequence: not just uninformed, but willfully uninformed. It's the effort that makes the difference.)
More recently, the new DC cartoon Batman: Brave and the Bold began this month on the Cartoon Network. It's following the Brave and the Bold format of rotating partners, but one side of the partnership is decided: every week, Batman will team up with another DC character to fight evil. (Or go shopping, or anything else. It's not set in stone.) I think this decision is a really good one for DC--if for no other reason that they save big money on voice actors, since there's only one voice that HAS to be there. More signficantly, if the series is going to be a showcase for the DC Universe, and change on a weekly basis, it's a good idea to have a single anchor character, a known value that serves as the "known." In the DC stable, there's basically two characters that EVERYBODY knows: Batman and Superman. Superman wouldn't work, simply because of his established power levels. He certainly has the justification for travelling into the exotic locales, but every week, they'd have to justify why the most powerful man on the planet needs help.
Batman doesn't have that problem. It's perfectly conceivable that Batman could ask for help--not because he needs it, of course, but because it's convenient for him. With Superman, extra people just get in the way. The early episodes have also used Batman as the authority figure--he knows what's going on, he figures out the situation, and the other character has to follow his lead. This works quite well as a story-telling technique: it casts the other character in the role of the uncertain fish-out-of-water, which makes him/her the POV character for the viewer, and serves as a quick and easy way of connecting the viewer to unfamiliar characters. This could change as the series goes on--in fact, reversing the situation so that it's Batman who is out of his element is the logical, if temporary, inversion of the formula--but it works for now. (And frankly, it would be hard to justify Batman acting like he's out of his element. We're two episodes into the series, and he's already shown sangfroid while walking through an alien armada and strolling around Dinosaur Island on the hunt for a sentient gorilla. The guy's not easily phased.)
Batman is voiced by Diedrich Bader, probably best known by adults for his role as Oswald on the Drew Carey Show. He has done a fair bit of voice acting though, so he's not new to the genre. He's certainly not the first guy I'd think of to do Batman, but given the tone of the show, they're going for a lighter, more easy-going Batman than most incarnations, so while it takes a few minutes to get used to, he fits. I think a lighter Batman is a good move for DC--given the brooding Batman of The Dark Knight, the recent lunatic in the comics, and even the dour figure that appears in the other animated series, a move towards a more kid-friendly (and just friendly period) version will protect the line for the next generation and indoctorate a whole new set of fans for the caped crusader. (They still call him that, right?)
So after all that, how's the show? Good. Surprisingly good. Again, we're only two episodes in, but it's been promising. Episode 1 has Batman teaming up with the teenage hero Blue Beetle to fight aliens, with Beetle learning a valuable lesson about being a hero. Episode 2 has Batman teaming up with former criminal turned Plastic Man to fight Gorilla Grodd at dinosaur Island, with Plastic Man learning a valuable lesson about being a hero. (But a different lesson.) Yes, there's a definite gear towards children, but it's not so dumbed down that it can't be enjoyed by all ages. It certainly doesn't have the epic scope of the Justice League Unlimited Series, and it still has a way to go to reach Dini's Batman: the Animated Adventures level, but it's good, it's holding its own, and here's hoping it gets better.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
The real kicker? As my brother pointed out, I had access to another phone. I could have phoned the cell. Instead, my thought process went so far as to reason: "I don't have a cell phone. I can't make phone calls." So, under this plan, my next step would be to obtain the grad student phone list, and call someone else to get them to phone my cellphone. (I needed the grad phone list b/c I didn't have any of the numbers, except on the cell phone.) I'll say it again: I reasoned that I couldn't make phone calls myself THEN I STARTED A PLAN CONTAINING THE STEP "CALL UP FRIEND ON PHONE." Gaahh.
Anyway, I got the phone back, and I went home. Between the phone debacle, and a frankly terrible mark in the blog class, it was a pretty down-south day. So, as per my prerogative, I am postponing my "Comic Book Wednesday" segment to Thursday.
But, Person, you say, how can it be Comic Book Wednesday on a Thursday?
Because I said so, that's why.
Now I excuse me while I spend the next 24 hours pondering why all my possessions seem to have a deep-seated urge to throw themselves away from me.
UPDATE: Aaaaaand Today's Tuesday, which means no comics anyway. Thank you and good night!
Saturday, November 22, 2008
That's when I figure out it's 6:00 PM. I have just slept for fifteen straight hours. So over the past three days, I have then slept, on average, my regular amount. So much for any work I intended to do today. By this rate, I'll be back to my regular scheduled sleeping by, oh, January or so.
Later Days. (Which I will probably sleep through as well.)
Friday, November 21, 2008
Even though I didn't get a wink of sleep, the night itself was amazingly productive. I finished all the marking I had with me, I read a half dozen or so recaps of Gossip Girl on televisionwithoutpity.com (honestly, the poster's analysis is pretty much a piece of literature in itself), I found a promising paper for my Mandeville essay, I chatted briefly with a friend online, I finished the daily Killer Sudoku puzzle, and I read a chapter or two of a few scholarly books and about half of Iain Banks' Bridge. It's not quite sci-fi, it's not quite surreal, and it sure as hell doesn't fit any other casual category (unless, and pardon my French, you consider "mindfuck" a category. In which case it's the prototype.). More on that (maybe) when I finish it.
So, yeah, as far as these things go, it was a fairly productive 10 hours between nine and seven. Not the usual nine and seven I associate with productivity, but there you go.
As a matter of interest, U of _______ has a much more active night life than U of Someplace Else. I'm not talking about the bar hoppers or the janitor force (they're about the same, or at least, I'd imagine they'd be the same if U of Someplace Else was closer to more bars). At about 11 or so, I headed down to the Math building's lounge, which I knew was full of comfy couches and such. And I was not alone. There were people sleeping, people working, and people talking all night long, from 11 till four, when I went back to a different building so I could use the computer lab. And while it was nice to just be around people, it was also nice to be specifically around good old, introverted, of course we're up at 3:00 am Math people. I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but I did my BA in mathematics and english. So much of the mathematics has faded away--I doubt I could tell a Hermitian from a Hamiltonian these days--but I still feel like there's some connection between me and my mathematical bretheren. I imagine it says a lot about me that I find math, of all things, as this enticing, romantic subject, but I guess that's the road not taken for you. At the same time though, I've done enough near grad-level math research to know I really, really don't want to do grad-level math research. For now, I'm where I belong.
And now that I can get into my apartment, that's true in more ways than one.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
And for those who are comparing this to the last horrible occurrence, this is the part last time around when I became full of self-doubt and other unpleasant sentiments, wondering if I do this sort of thing to myself on purpose. And I'll admit, I went there this time too, briefly. But I got over it. I was swearing, and sulking, and generally making the other people on the sidewalk take the long way around, when suddenly it hit me: this sort of thing really does happen to me all the time.
So why should I make a big deal out of it?
There are a few good things about this, after all. One: I can be grateful that I didn't go through with my plan to put my memory card on my keychain (I thought it would be easier to keep track of that way. Ironic.)
Two: this time, I managed to safely lock my bike up in my office, so I don't have to worry about it being stolen. (Granted, that means I'm locked out of my office, but if life gives you lemonade, there's going to be some lemons.)
Rather than sulk and moan, I should embrace the circumstances. I've full access to my bank account, warm clothes, an ID, and a bookbag full of students' papers. (Ok, that last one is not proving useful.) There's a campus full of nooks and crannies to situate oneself in for an evening, and, thanks to a library that doesn't close till 11, I've got some good reading material (Iain Banks, Anthony Burgess, and, since it's an evening for risks, the complete short stories of JG Ballard, whom I have never previously heard of). (There's also a whole string of bars nearby, but somehow getting drunk with strangers and no means to get someplace safe after is a little TOO adventurous, know what I mean?)There's an adjacent 24-h convenience store, and now I've got a pack of 32 vanilla wafers for the amazing price of $1.49. Hello, supper!
So yes, come tomorrow there's going to be some trouble with a poor night's sleep, department keys that need replacing, a body in need of a shower, and clothes in need of changing, and if I DON'T get ahold of my landlord, the weekend is going to be not-so-great, but for now...
Now is good.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Invincible is a series published by Image, written by Robert Kirkman, and (usually) drawn by Ryan Ottley. It follows the life of its titular character, Mark Grayson. At the start of the series, he's the teenaged son of Omni-Man, the world's greatest superhero, and at our first glimpse, his inherited powers have just kicked in for the first time. What powers are those? Your basic Superman set: super-strength, flight, and invulnerability. From there, the series follows Mark as he grows up, heads to college, and learns the superhero trade. There's some fairly major plot twists that I don't want to give away, (do NOT start this series with a volume that comes after number 3) but I will say that the attention Kirkman gives to Mark and his supporting cast--especially his mother--goes above and beyond nearly any superhero comic I can name.
The usual comparison for Invincible is that he's a modern-day Spider-Man, and I can certainly see the similarities. Mark goes through the same process of growing into his role, and growing up in general. But I think that this comparison does an injustice to the nature of the series. Mark is not Peter Parker; there's no shy awkward phase to overcome, and he's not the wise-cracking jokester. Most of all, Mark's powers guide the series in a different direction. If Spider-Man can be summed up by the maxim "With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility," then the theme of Invincible goes one step further--"Power Corrupts." This difference presents itself in many ways-- first, there's the graphic violence, which is the only thing holding the book back from a full recommendation among the younger set. This isn't a comic book series where death is taken lightly; people are killed, and killed brutally. The kind of power Invincible yields has consequences. And given the level of power, it's only natural that the title keeps returning the nature of corruption. Spinning webs is one thing, but when you're that much better than the average human, what is there to keep your humanity? Given the nature of mainstream comics, it's an issue that can't really be fully explored (not if the characters are to remain marketable), so it's nice to see it addressed here.
And it's certainly not something you're going to find in Spider-Man.
So it's a testament to to Kirkman that even while the characters around Invincible succumb, his own struggle manages to feel real and important. Mark starts with a sort of naivety, and even after he goes through a half dozen different hells, he still stays a decent (and equally important, believable) guy.
Admittedly, this comic doesn't have Fables' cast of thousands, or Scott Pilgrim's sheer insanity, or Yorrick's quest for self (although the last one comes closest). But it's a good story, and at issue 54, it's not over yet.
I grew up in a rural area (for future purposes, let's call it Where Else). And every now and then, something happens to remind me of the perspective that background has given me. One such reminder occurs once a year, regularly, like clockwork. In any sizable modern city, the system of electric lights at night is fairly elaborate, and fairly powerful. For any cloudy night after a substantial snowfall, those lights bounce off the snow and the entire city radiates with this unearthly glow. You can grow up in a city and still be aware of this glow, but to really appreciate it, to recognize that it isn't always there, to acknowledge the full "unearthly" part, I think you really need to spend a few winters in a small prairie town with nothing but black skies and white horizons.
As a kid, I found the whole thing pretty unnerving, and whenever the family stayed at my grandparents' house in Somewhere Else, I'd be sure to pull down the blinds in my room to escape it. Admittedly, while I still sleep with my blinds down (I've become one of those that needs absolute dark for nocturnal sleep), I've changed my mind on the city glow, to the point where I not only tolerate it, I kind of embrace it.
And yes, I'm aware that it's not fully a good thing. It's a tremendous expenditure of power, it's a sign of our modern dependency on technology, and on days when the sky isn't so clouded, it's a form of pollution that keeps us from seeing the stars.
But at the same time, it's more than that. It's the light in the darkness, the shout to be heard. It's a sign of the city, it is the city. When the clouds obscure us from the sky, when the snow obscures us from the earth, when the night obscures us from the day---
The city glows. The people sleep.
And wait together for other times, and
Saturday, November 15, 2008
And that's where my "uncomfortable" factor starts to seep in. I've done a lot of autobiography and digital technology reading from this course, and one thing I've noticed is that both areas tend to involve personal narratives in a way that most other scholarly papers really don't. Being raised on the whole "there is no 'I' in essay" school of teaching (I'm totally claiming that phrase, and plan on unleashing it to year after year of undergraduate), I've got something of a problem with this approach. Maybe that's why I'm more comfortable analysing fiction--the defining trait about fiction is that it's not real, so it's easier to detach yourself from it, a bit.
Anyway, the Lassoued and Efimova essay struck me because, even in this area, it's a lot more personal than most, to the point where I felt like I was eavesdropping on a private conversation. They're basically articulating how and why they came to know each other. On the one hand, it's all slightly uncomfortable-feeling, but on the other hand, I appreciate that this is what it's all about: the way social and private and public and everything else can get blended together when people create new forms of communication. It's a paper documenting their relationship, but at the same time, it IS their relationship. Like this blog: it's writing about my life, but it also, in some hopefully not at all depressing way, IS my life.
Not to mention the more you study this sort of thing, the more it paralyzes you towards writing about it. Clearly, I'm going to have to do a half-dozen or so comic book reviews just to regain some perspective.
Hope everyone likes Wolverine!
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Seriously, I think the evaluation, even as impromptu a one as this, is a good idea. Even if I don't get any useful feedback, it's still interesting to see how the student's experience of the subject has differed from mine.
Jumping to a new topic: Biking home today, I saw a furry, four-legged creature with a tail running across the street, and my first thought was "My God, that's a big squirrel." It was a cat, an animal that, excepting the similarities described above, does not really look like a squirrel. The surprising thing for me, though, was that "squirrel" was where my mind immediately leaped. Three or four months ago, my first instinct would have been "cat." At some point since moving here, "squirrel" became my normal, go-to reference for a furry animal, and a cat running around free became relatively unnormal.
This lead me to think about "normal" in a more general context. I don't want to go overboard with this, but the experience drove home how much "normal" is a subjective, even transitional, experience, and made me wonder what other definitions of normal have changed for me without me even noticing. As my definitions change, does it mean my identity's changed as well? And what am I potentially leaving behind?
Points to ponder. Later Days.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
The good news is, you can never burn a grilled cheese sandwich so badly that ketchup can't fix it.
On to the reviews...
No Heroes 2. By Warren Ellis and Juan Jose Ryp. This came out last week, as I was kindly reminded, but better late then never. I notice that the cover proclaims this is not a comic book, but "A Serialized Graphic Novel." Clever marketing move, or pretentious quibbling? Anyway, this issue has less action than the first one, but considering Ellis' strength is clever dialogue and big ideas, the change is more or less an improvement. Basically, Carrick Masterson takes Joshua to the Frontline base, and asks him whether he really wants to be a hero or not. Some more of the Frontline history is fleshed out, and there is a pervading sense throughout the comic (sorry, serialized graphic novel) that something is going to go very bad, very soon. I'm still impressed with Ryp's style and framing; major scenes, including a bloody two-page fold, are rendered more potent just because they jump out of the boxes and squares. Now that a few more of the pieces are falling into place, I think I enjoyed this issue more than the previous. I want to see where this goes next.
Teen Titans: A Kid's Game. By Geoff Johns, Mike McKone, and Tom Grummett. For something different, today's long section is a largely forgotten selection from 2003. The Teen Titans are one of the DC properties that seem to be in a constant state of rebooting. The idea is simple enough: take all the teenage equivalents of heroes, put them on a team. Hijinx ensue. My own familiarity with the Teen Titans extends mainly to being a fan of the cartoon show, and its pseudo-anime style. To give you a taste, here's a link to the theme song. You're welcome.
So I'm not really used to the darker tone presented here. My main problem with the book is that it's not particularly accessible to outside readers. Yes, there is a character glossary in the back--although since there's no table of contents, you wouldn't find it until after you finish reading, so I'm not sure how useful it is--but the general context of the series is tiptoed around a little more than it's explained. Two previous superhero teams, Young Justice and the Titans, had just disbanded after Donna Troy, the original Wonder Girl, was killed by a renegade Superman robot. (You know, the robots Superman used to keep around to convince people that he wasn't Clark Kent. In retrospect, he really should have done a better job decommissioning them. Hindsight.) Teen Titans is an attempt by the older Titans--Beast Boy, Starfire, and Cyborg--to create a support group for the younger super heroes: Robin, the new Wonder Girl, Kid Flash, and Superboy. This volume has the heroes band together to fight Deathstroke, who is possessed by his son, Jericho. Again, there's an accessibility issue. While new readers won't left entirely in the dark, to understand the history these characters have with the Titans, you've got to be an old school fan.
Still, aside from the continuity issue, Johns' writing is good, and is characterization is great. Most of the focus is on the younger titans, but everyone gets a moment in the spotlight. It's worth reading for the spot-on Robin alone. If you've got a soft-spot for teenage superheroes, or you're familiar with the Titan's history, or you're just a skeevy perv who likes Starfire's costume (or lack thereof:)
Give the volume a try.
Or just listen to the theme song again.
When there's evil on the attack
You can rest knowing they got your back
'Cuz when the world needs heroes on patrooooooooool, Teen Titans GO!
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Onto the book!
Tigerheart is essentially an adaptation to Peter Pan, in which the main character, Paul, travels to Anyplace (the Neverland analogue) to find a new baby sister for his mother.
An adaptation is a tricky thing, and an adaptation of a children's story is even trickier. To reach the highest level of success, it needs to appeal to the children audience, but also to adults who experienced the original story when they were children. Luckily, Tigerheart satisfies both.
Narratively, the book hits an interesting (though compelling) note. The tone is fairly unusual for a Peter David book; it focuses less on jokes and amusing dialogue than usual, and feels more like a very erudite and deeply reflective children's book. (With a lot of fight scenes and action sequences, in case anyone thinks they'll get bored.) David's showing some impressive versatility here.
As you might gather from the use of "Anyplace" over Neverland, David has chosen to use his own names for the various characters in the story, to the point where he reimagines some traits altogether--for example, it's Captain Hack now, with a hatchet for an arm, and he was eaten not by a crocadile, but a giant sea serpent. While this is kind of a risky move, I think it really pays off; David emphasizes that these characters have grown bigger than their names, into archetypes and ideas--while at the same time acknowledging that everyone has a different picture of them in their heads. Morever, the story is of such high quality that misgivings are put aside. I can't honestly remember ever sitting through the Disney movie, or reading the original book, but I still felt some sort of nostalgia. It kept coming up in David's dead-on portrayals of Wendy, Tinkerbell, the Lost Boys, and the (ok, this is where the book shows its age) Indians, and new additions like Paul and Captain Hack's Sister (Slash, of course) feel like they've been there all along. "The Boy" may or may not be an exact duplicate of Peter Pan, but after 200 some pages of pirates, shadows, and adventure, I really didn't care.
Tigerheart is one of those rare books that truly deserve the label of "all ages." It's insightful, clever, and fun. It may not be perfect (the narrator is a little grating, at times), but it's a good read.
Two hatchets up.
Sunday, November 9, 2008
Anyway, on to the main topic. Four years ago, for reasons that deserve a post of their own, I started running on a regular basis as a form of exercise. And I think it's gotten to the point now where it's a part of my identity; even if I stop running for a week, or even a month (which, sadly, has been known to happen), I still think of myself as a runner. I don't really have a problem with that. Running seems like the sort of activity a person can be proud to claim.
Note that I don't refer to it as jogging. I'm not entirely sure why. It's a little bit pretentious, I know, but jogging seems like a hobby, something you do more to keep up appearances than because you like doing it. To me, running is a lot more than that. Yes, it keeps me in shape, and yes I do brag about it (in peak shape, I can do 10k in about 42 minutes. See? perfectly at peace with the bragging.), but the parts I really enjoy are the other things. It's a great way to let the mind just drift while the body does its own thing; running is about as close as I get to meditation, and I would argue that it's actually pretty close.
It's also a nice way to push one's own boundaries, and get to know your surroundings. I like to vary my route considerably. While it does mean getting lost a lot, I know the ins and outs of _______________ a lot better because of it, and when it comes to pushing limits, getting lost for an hour or two is a great way of learning that yes, I can run for an hour or two straight.
For me, running is also a solitary engagement. I've gone running with roommates and siblings in the past, but our paces are so different that it's kind of hard to work it so that everyone gets a good workout. I've thought about joining a running group, but part of what I like about running is doing it on my own time and at my own speed.
Last: with winter fast approaching, running takes on whole new dimensions. Usually, it's easiest just to give it up entirely for a month or two. I really want to keep it up this year, and I'm still too chicken to check out the U of _______ gym, so we'll see how it goes.
Today's run: 4 degrees Celsius. Spitting rain and mild wind. Not particularly pleasant; should have worn gloves. Good call on the bunny hug.
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Invincible Iron Man 7. by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca. After the destruction of the previous issues, Tony Stark AKA Iron Man is at his breaking point. Good thing Spider-Man has swung in for a good old fashioned team-up. Good lord, is it ever. Among others, the pair fight the Big Wheel. No one, no one, says "Wacky 70s hijinx" like the Big Wheel. Fraction also uses the team-up to its full extent. Spider-Man, with his recent past literally stripped away, makes a perfect advocate for the good old days when heroes teamed up and fought bad guys. Iron Man, on the other hand, can't get past his responsibilities at SHIELD, the aftermath of Civil War, or any number of events that define the current Marvel universe. It's a wonderful, almost meta commentary on how comic books have evolved, and whether where they are now is a place worth going to. Fraction ties this all together with a comparison to Cliffton Pollard that maybe, maybe is reaching a little. But it's got the Big Wheel. How can you hate a supervillain whose sole purpose is to burst (roll) into a room in his ridiculous costume spouting something like "You can't fire me! I'm the Big Wheel!"
You can't. You just can't.
Final Crisis: Resist. by Greg Rucka and Eric Trautman. Checkmate survivors rally together to plan a desperate last ditch attack on Darkseid. A good issue, and, depending on what's done with it, an important issue in the overall Final Crisis story. It's showing the kind of desperation that an event this big SHOULD be doing a lot more of, and and doesn't get too boggled down in the details. If you've been following Final Crisis, you should be able to follow this, although to get the most out of it, you really need to be a Checkmate fan. Trautman's art is a little rough, but doesn't detract from the story.
X-Men and Spider-Man 1 of 4. Christos Gage and Mario Alberti. In this first issue set in the halycon pre-Gwen Stacey's death days, after Kraven the Hunter declares Spider-Man a mutant on national television, Spider-Man and the X-Men team up to fight him and a mystery villain. Ok, it's the Blob. The six - on -two fight goes pretty much as you'd expect, but a second mystery villain shows up about a decade early, which creates some interest for issue 2. Alberti's art is a little distracting, but Gage does a good job utilizing both the X-Men and Spider-Man's early characterizations. The only thing I don't think they quite answered is why--rather than a fun trip down memory lane, these characters have gone so far from this point of history, it's rather jarring to see things "as they used to be." A flashback series needs a clearer framing for why this story is worth telling, and so far, we've just got a mild hint.
X-Men Manifest Destiny 3 of 4. Manifest Destiny is basically a miniseries about telling minor stories about various X-Characters--so a pretentiously big title with very small ambitions. The first story is a continuation of Iceman's fight against Mystique. Iceman explains how he got out of the last cliffhanger, then gets into a new cliffhanger. Continued next issue! In the second story, we get Graymalkin's mutant origin story, which is the usual prosecution, but with a bit of buried-alive-by-your-father added on. And in the third and best story, the X-Men try to cheer Colossus up after the certain death of his girlfriend Kitty. Aside from the fact that, as one character notes, Colossus has pretty much been depressed continually for the past ten years and nothing's really done any good, and the fact that Wolverine probably isn't in character when he's spearheading a "feel-good" movement, it's the kind of minor teammate plot that I wish the X-Men series proper hadn't given up years ago in exchange for nonsensical stories involving hippies and gender-swapping super villains.
Each entry seems to be getting progressively longer. I think it's wise to stop with three.
Anyway, for the pleasure of the masses:
The first issue in constructing the blog was choosing which blog server to use. I chose Blogger not because of any analytical consideration of the various servers, but because the majority of the blogs I read used it. This choice, made quite cavalierly at the time, suggests an awareness of online community on my part and even a faint indication of my early concept of audience: most of the people I knew as bloggers used Blogger, hence, I could best precipitate interactions with them by doing the same. In contrast, the choices of blog title and blog handle were extremely calculated. I wanted a title that appeared witty and clever, but could be construed as generally as possible. Experimental was an indirect reference to the class-project impetus of the blog, and Progress was meant to be a mild, tongue-in-cheek mockery of the idea that the blog would progress to a set goal. Taken together, Experimental Progress could mean virtually anything and thus, in terms of practicality, meant nothing. Only in the context of the rest of the site could the intended meanings be attributed. In essence, the title of my blog was a supplement to the content.
The choice of my blog handle, Person of Consequence, is slightly more complicated; while it tries to invoke the same sort of contextual tone as the title, it also arises from my own personal notions of online privacy and self-protection. My personal experience with other bloggers is that few used their real name, and only a small fraction used more than their first name. I decided to follow suit. While there are certainly enough “Michael”s in online existence to avoid easy identification, I chose “Person of Consequence” both to further obscure my identity and to adopt a more flamboyant title. My devotion to anonymity was somewhat questionable; while I avoided proper nouns and place names in my blog posting, in other avenues I was a shameless self-promoter. Hiding on my blog was fine, but I felt no compunction in repeatedly advertising my blog in my Facebook account, nor in emailing the link out en masse to the members of the blogging class. In her studies on blogging, Kennedy concludes from interviews with her subjects that they felt “a distinction between being anonymous and feeling anonymous” (“Technobiography” 130). To this observation, I can further add that my own desire to feel anonymous seemed to travel a one-way street. While I feared readers who stumbled onto the blog transgressing into my pre-existing social networks, I encouraged members from those social networks to participate in my blogging process. At the site’s inception, at least, my feeling anonymous and safe extended only to feeling anonymous among those with whom I did not have a pre-existing relationship.
Autobiography scholar Phillipe Lejeune places crucial importance on the inclusion of a proper name to the author of a text: “The entire existence of the person we call the author is summed up by this name: the only mark in the text of an unquestionable world-beyond-the-text... [the name] is linked, by a social convention, to the pledge of responsibility of a real person... a person whose existence is certified by vital statistics and is verifiable” (On Autobiography 11).
An autobiography, he goes on to state, formalizes this relationship by unifying the author, subject, and protagonist into one “real person,” by means of the autobiographical pact. This definition creates new areas of discussion regarding my handle choice. First, in terms of the medium, the blog is not as complete a unit as the written text Lejeune describes. My own blog is awash outside links and references, from the discreet headings provided by Blogger to my own included links to various other sites depicting lists of urinals or voting stratagems. But while these references indicate a world-beyond-the-text, they do not provide what Lejeune would argue is the true pact between the auto biographer and the reader: they do not prove that the actual text of my blog represents authentic, actual events. Though it is in no way part of the actual blog text, my proper name still provides a verifiable confirmation of my blog, but only to a select audience, those who were lead to my blog through prior established relationships. To those who have reached Experimental Progress through other means, the veracity of my posts is met through other criteria, more specific to the blog form. The subjects in Kennedy’s blog trials felt that they still possessed anonymity despite baring very specific factual information because this information was revealed in the context of the blog. In an inverted relationship, I felt that blog readers would accept my posts without verification because of blog social conventions towards respecting anonymity in bloggers. Lejeune’s social convention that links responsibility of the text to a real person is still present, but it applies differently to different aspects of my audience.
The notion of a divided, fragmented audience suggests that even attempting to create a unified persona in the context of a blog will be fraught with difficulty, and this has indeed proven to be the case. When I was first beginning the blog, one commenter suggested that he or she “definitely recommend getting StatCounter set up on here. Then you can counter-stalk all the people who are stalking you” (“Let’s Get Things Started”). I followed through on this comment, and the results immediately showed a sharp divide in my reader demographic. One group of readers consisted mainly of acquaintances and friends who had been lead to my blog through existing social connections. The other group consisted of those who came purely to peruse my comic book reviews, in the regular “Comic Book Wednesdays” feature.
The feature itself was included on Experimental Progress only through great hesitation on my part. Out of all the possible blogging topics I considered, I felt that it contained the least genuine life-writing, since it was not about me at all, but a critical examination of comic books. Paul Hodkinson, in his essay “Interactive online journals and individualization,” examines the evolution of the online goth culture from close-knit forums to more loosely connected blogs (“Interactive online journals”). Unwittingly, my comic book posts had tapped into a similar subculture, one devoted to comic books. Simply by my choice to make my blog searchable on Google, my comic books entries were found and linked by both dedicated Fables fans at Clockwork Book and by the publishers of the comic book No Heroes, Avatar Press. The “real-life” book posts were often of a more personal nature. While not quite what Laurie McNeill refers to as an extremely “localized textual world” that appears on first glance to wallow in banality from an outsider’s perspective (33), posts such as “Not a Good Start” and “Wait, what time is it?” both involve contexts more easily recognized by those who have established a pre-existing social relationship with me. The two distinct audiences made me uncomfortably self-conscious of the purpose of my blog. Who was I writing for?
I continued both types of posts for the duration of the blog, but I felt uncertain which one I should devote more effort towards, which one would cultivate the best audience. In a nutshell, which “type” of writing was more popular, the comic book feature or the “real life” entries? The answer hinges on one’s blog-based definition of popularity. The comic book audience was more numerous, and infinitely more varied; according to StatCounter, this audience included people from India, Brazil, Italy, and other distant locales, all of them led to my site as a result of the comic book community linking. On the other hand, to date, none of this audience segment has posted a single post within my blog. Without StatCounter, I would be entirely unaware of their presence, demonstrating the impact that inclusion of such technology can have on the blog’s development, and on my perception of its development. MacNeill notes the typical blogger’s extreme desire for feedback (35); the only feedback I received from the comic book audience was their presence. Furthermore, it was difficult, if not impossible, to determine what percentage of these readers were repeat readers, or merely came to read a single review and then left the site forever. My “real life” audience provided more concrete commentary and suggestions that guide future blog entries, and I could measure their continued involvement in my blog through repeated commenting. I found I was unable to choose which measure of popularity was preferable, and taking steps to further secure either of these audiences felt like abandoning the other.
In addition to audience, I also felt fragmented in terms of overall tone. The tone within Experimental Progress determines the audience I could expect, and my conception of the audience frequently colored my tone. Originally, I felt a tongue-in-cheek, lightly sarcastic tone was necessary to work against the formal, structured purpose for the blog, and this tone was present in everything from the title to the “About Me” section: “As part of my course work, I'm constructing this blog. So every word I write in it, and every word you write in it, will be finely combed for intent, routinely searched for rhetoric, and dissected into pieces until all possible meaning has been extracted. But try not to be self-conscious about it.” The warning to not feel “self-conscious” was a warning to myself as much as to the reader; by approaching it in the style of a joke, I hoped to relieve some of that anxiety.
I tried to keep the tone consist as the blog developed. Further entries such as “Bathroom Humour” and “Life is Weird” continue an emphasis on joking, light-hearted topics. Even my choice of images reflects this tone. Kress and Van Leeuwen describe several image interpretation patterns common in Western culture and the larger world. The templates of Blogger itself follow these patterns: the Blogger heading is located at the top of the page, suggesting its status as the ideal, and my own blog as the reality; more significantly, the format of the blog emphasizes what Kress and Van Leeuwen call a “margin-centre-margin” structure (211), with the blog entries in the centre as the main purpose, and made everything else, from previous posts to the“about me” section, marginal. As a personal choice, I tried to eschew anything that differentiates my images from the rest of the text, and instead integrate them as closely as I could. To date, my blog contains ten images, half of which are found in “Comic Book Wednesday” posts. Nearly all of these images are intended either to be humorous in themselves, such as the birthday-capped Gaskell in “Birthday Wishes,” or complement a humorous observation, such as the Tim Horton’s cup in “Coffee Cup” and the sink photos in “Bathroom Humour.” The images I included act as supplements to a broader context.
But at times, it struck me that trying to stay consistent in this tone seemed to undercut not only perceived notions of formalized structure, but my own attempts at self-expression. In “Self Reflexive,” I constantly interrupt larger ideas with parenthetical asides, building to the final set of parentheses: “Very special music plays in the background to ensure everyone realizes that Person of Consequence has learned an Important Lesson. He bows, and the stage curtain closes slowly. The applause light flickers on.” The drippingly sarcastic conclusion virtually attacks the notion that any serious conclusion can be made. Even the reflective essay that I felt indulged in the fewest humorous digressions, “Politics Talk. Worse, Canadian Politics Talk,” is sandwiched between a self-deprecating title and a flippant conclusion: “See you at the Conservative majority in two weeks!”. My tone seemed to indicate a secondary split inside my blog, between serious discussion and a light-heartedness I appeared unable to avoid.
My blogging experience came to embody two different splits, one dividing audience and one dividing desired content and tone. In terms of audience, much of the split arose from my interactions with the comic book reading community. Since I felt that the comic book posts were of a different nature than the “real life” posts (a separation I felt was so critical that I was willing to create the divide between comic books and “real life” in the first place), I resolved to keep them separate. The general format of Blogger made separation apparently simple: I could create distinct posts for both audiences and allow them to pursue what they found interesting. However, upon closer examination, the two were not as divided as I thought; both sets of entries clearly contained text directed towards exactly the audience I thought I was excluding. In “Wait, what time is it?” and “Not Soy Good,” I explain my provincial origins and vegetarianism respectively, details that my pre-established audience all ready know. In the Comic Book posts, I frequently explain elements, such as X-Factor being “a team of mutant private investigators” (“Anti-Life Equation”), that would be superfluous for my comic book readers, but necessary for my other readers. This writing extends to off-putting comments such as “if you don't know what that means, you're standing in the wrong line,” as they are ultimately aimed towards helping the non-comic book audience members—albeit helping them by suggesting that they come back tomorrow. Despite the concerns I created by being overly attentive to my StatCounter, my blog functioned in a manner similar to those Hodkinson describes: it allowed me to engage larger communities, while also making entries that were “significantly more varied and individually distinct” (636). The inclusionary measures suggest that while I am aware of my fragmented audience, I was also trying simultaneously to integrate them as well.
In a similar fashion, my tone was not actually contradictory to my intent in my more serious posts; rather, it allowed a new venue for analyzing the text. Just as the “self-conscious” reference in my “About Me” spoke towards my own feelings of self-consciousness, the tone in the other entries signaled deeper involvement with my writing, and often reflect my awareness of audience . References to “Bathroom Humor” and oatmeal cookie martinis in “Not a Good Start” attempt to create a comical preface to dull the edge of the personal self-examination that follows. The mocking conclusions to “Politics” and “Self-Reflexive” arise from a concern that my audience may find the preceding too judgmental and alienating; rather than undercut the message at hand, such utterances are meant to enforce a camaraderie with the readers and a unity with the greater blog whole. The result is a tone that remains somewhat consistent throughout the blog, but is used for entirely different purposes in different areas of the text.
To say that my understanding of Experimental Progress and the resulting self-interpretation have progressed from fragmentary to unified is an oversimplification. No matter how inclusive I make individual entries, there is still a noticeable and sharp divide in my audience, and despite the new associations it may create, a constant tone can be detrimental to deliberate attempts at self-expression. Rather, I believe that the blog has shown me how unitary and fragmentary conceptions of the self can exist and be expressed simultaneously. Even the format of the blog—individual, highly specialized posts with specific titles, mixed with links, keywords, and an overarching uber-text—lends itself to both a fragmentary and unitary reading. The result is an increased understanding of how different links can be created, combined, and separated to create something that is at once familiar and new.
 In fact, Lejeune’s statement that the proper name is the “only” mark in the text of an unquestionable world-beyond-the-text is hyperbolic, in a printed or electronic context.
 “Bathroom Humour” and “Prisoner’s Dialectic,” respectively.
If anyone's still reading this, the Works Cited is available on request. Please do not request it.
Sunday, November 2, 2008
From this vague description, you can probably tell that this is not an area in which I am well-versed. That is because I spent the first few decades of my life in a province where we don't do this sort of thing. (We don't allow strip clubs either. I'm pretty sure it's for different reasons, though.) So even though I've been hearing lots of announcements of the "time to change the clock" sort of effect, it wasn't until I turned on the TV and was an hour early for my Sunday show that I realised "hey, this affects ME." And honestly, it has proven pretty shattering to some self-definitions. Prior to today, I was one of those smug westerners who didn't have to worry about silly things like daylights saving. And now... now I'm not sure what I am. I still feel not quite "Eastern" enough to identify myself with the current province of reference, but today has driven home (poor choice of words) that the old one will not suffice either. Sure, I can identify myself as Canadian, but then, as I understand the matter, I need to affiliate myself with beer commercials and their distorted, alienating view of masculinity. (Someone remind me to do that post one day. It'll be fun!)
So, to the ex-Flatlander province dwellers out there, howsabout sharing some stories concerning your approach to this crisis of self?
Saturday, November 1, 2008
The question for today is what happens to this blog afterward. In a lot of ways, I think that's the most interesting part of this study; out of the fifteen or so blogs created for the course, how will they change once the original imperative to create them ends? In most cases, I assume that the change will be the end of the blog itself, deleted, aborted, or otherwise cast adrift into the electronic void.
But not Experimental Progress! Nosireee, I have determined that I do indeed like the sound of my own voice, and as such, this blog will continue long past any sensible expiration date. Here's my bold, decisive vision for the future:
- More delving into the minutae happenings of my life. What's the status of my toothbrush? Do I wear boxers or briefs? (No.) What did I have for breakfast? Tune in and find out.
- Related to the boxer issue, I will also continue the exploration into--for lack of a better term--my inner self. If past entries are any sign, these explorations will blur the line between uncomfortable and insightful until the two are irrecoverably linked.
- Reviews. I snuck the comic book review section into the blog, but the professors specifically warned us about turning the blogs into "what I'm reading" sort of affairs. While I understand their reasons for doing so, I think this dismisses a potential source of "writing the self." If we're going to go so far as to consider items such as a personal profile and the questions on a fill-out form as potential sites for personal definition, then certainly there's a lot be gained by the review process: what is reviewed, what connections are drawn, what cultural background is implied and articulated through the reviewing process. And all that is a very complicated way of saying that starting next week, I'm going to be talking more about video games, books, and TV shows.
- Random thoughts. Did Pope deliberately write in such a manner as to be obscure as possible for future generations? Does the pineapple really count as a fruit if it's on a pizza? Are there any Disney Characters that could legitimately beat Bugs Bunny in a fight, or at least fight him to a draw? Mainstream Disney; keep the genie in the bottle.
- I should clarify that last one. It means I'll be posting more random thoughtsn not "here are a bunch of random thoughts." I mean, they are random thoughts, but they're meant to indicate the quality of future random thoughts, not stand as random thoughts as their own. And not all random thoughts need be in the form of a question, although there is no set rule prohibiting that construction.
- Future posts may contain more rambling.
Oh, almost forgot, the last thing future blog posts will cover:
- The reason I end every post with "Later Days." Yeah, now you gotta stick around, don't you?