Comic Books Through the Ages, According to Me

Several posts back I talked about the new age of comic books, the current era, which has been quite unique in its style and media presence.  I called our modern comics era the Mercury Age due to its fast paced storytelling and penchant for drastic change.  Today however I would like to go through and further define the various stages of development of the comic book industry as I see them, and offer up my suggestions for the eras that have for the most part gone undefined.

The Golden Age of Comics– 1930’s to early 1950’s

The Golden Age is very familiar with most comic book fans, it is the age that started it all.  The Golden Age produced many of the icons of comics that are still around today, characters that are pillars of the entire industry.  Detective Comics was the powerhouse of the day, and established the indelible style of that company.  I would describe this era as a highly imaginative time where creators worked hard to set their characters apart from other heroes.  However though the character designs were very stylized and unique the plots of this era seem fairly interchangeable.  Initially almost all superhero characters dealt exclusively with street level crime, gangsters, corrupt businessmen, etc.  Even supernatural and science fiction elements that were employed by villains dealt primarily with petty crime or personal gain.  During the time of World War II comics of course gained a very distinct patriotic tinge, practically becoming propaganda.  This worldly shift in tone lead to a larger scale in the stories being told.  Having the comics take place overseas or showing heroes aiding the war effort on the home front helped broaden the superhero scope.  Inspired by the media of the time this era can best be described as radio dramas with pictures, heavy on narration and very flat, interchangeable stories.  Though the individual heroes were quite outlandish there came to be a general pattern which most comic books ascribed to.  With the advent of television this style of storytelling became less and less popular.

Golden Age Green Lantern before the changes of the Silver Age

The Golden Age Comics: Radio Dramas with pictures.

The Silver Age of Comics– 1950’s -1960’s

After a short lull in comics after WWII when there was no longer the need for such enthusiastic patriotism there came a reinvigoration of comics with a new focus; high adventure in the atomic age!  New characters were popping up all over with origins dealing with radiation and scientific achievement.  Old characters were being altered and reinvented, doing away with vague mystical elements and tweaking powers and origins to include more plausible, science based logic.  The cold war and the space race kick started some of the most outlandish and memorable tales in comics history.  The mysteries of space and the wonders of atomic power fueled the imaginations of comic book writers and the nation as a whole.  Fear and wonder during this time were also put to use selling alien invasion stories and horror comics.  Several comic book publishers rose and fell during this highly creative era, which saw the rise to prominence of Marvel comics which had its own golden age during this Silver age.  Here is where the concepts of continuity and the development of in-comic universes began to solidify.  The various publishers tightened their focus while at the same time widening their scope laying out their own distinct views of the world as it was in their comic book stories, during this period there was a discovery through storytelling.  The comic book industry was still figuring itself out and didn’t exactly take itself serious, but there were crucial developments in style, art, and writing.  Overall I would describe this era as high concepts, with low execution.

The Fantastic Four propelled Marvel Comics into the Silver Age

The Bronze Age of Comics– 1970’s – early 1980’s

An important time in comics.  This era saw a greater development of the comic book industry and its established characters.  During this time writers spent a great deal of time explaining earlier concepts and aided the various universes to flesh themselves out with a great sense of continuity.  There was a desire to experiment during the bronze age.  Established characters were put into new and unusual circumstances and new characters were introduced who had more socially relevance, continuing the evolution of the stories told in comic books.  A new time of zaniness emerged, reminiscent of the Golden Age, but with a much greater self awareness.  There was a more satirical tone during this time, with more social commentary not often found in comics prior.  Social change and political unrest were rampant in the country at this time and though these issues are not always directly addressed in the comics of the Bronze Age there was a much greater use of comics as a platform for addressing cultural concerns.  The two major comic book universes at Marvel and DC were broadened to their greatest scope.  During this time comics start to become a more commercial outlet featuring movie comic book adaptions and other comic book tie-ins.  The comics of this time range from street level crimes, to interstellar wars, to mystical realms, and classic horror stories.  There are many new developments during this time but the major work of this era deals with building up and reinforcing the established comic book universes, while at the same time providing greater insights and cultural awareness.

The Bronze Age brought humanity to the super human

 

The Tarnished Age of Comics– 1980’s -1990’s

Here is where we get into uncharted territory, this time period is most commonly referred to as simply the modern age of comics, which I believe at this point is a bit passé.  Here begins a time of pessimism and realism in comic books.  The same familiar comic book universes that were established in the decades prior were now given a distinct patina across their once shining exteriors.  During the tarnished age the comic book industry starts to mature, due in part to an increasingly older readership.  Comics are no longer simply kids stuff and those who read comics as kids continued reading and were interested in more complex stories.  This is an age of darker tales, more realistic premises, dynamic events, and humanistic plots that do not shy away from depth, complexity, or social commentary.  Continuity becomes more important than ever and a new generation of readers and writers delve into angsty character driven plots.  This period is also tainted by company arrogance from the big comic publishers, which are at this point are becoming large corporations.  This era saw the height of the commercialism of comic books and the extensive use of variant covers, and special rereleases to boost sales.  Fueled by the booming collectors market for older comics publishers believed they could make a substantial profit by encouraging their readers to buy up the plethora of exclusive and “hard to find” printings that were being cranked out.  This lead to a comic book collectors bubble of sorts which eventually imploded discouraging comic fans and nearly bankrupting the bloated comic book industry.  This of course lead to a rise of new upstart comic publishers that attempted to break away from the corporate mindset of the old guard at Marvel and DC allowing their writers and artists to retain all rights to their creations and allow for a wider range of subject matter and grittier, more mature reads. Dark Horse and Image comics are byproducts of this era.

One of the most memorable moments of the Tarnished Age

The Mercury Age of Comics– 2000’s to present

This is the age that is still in development, an age like no other.  I call this age the mercury age due to the fast paced mutability of the comics industry nowadays.  Comics are now completely corporatized; both DC and Marvel are now parts of enormous corporate media conglomerates.  The smaller comic book publishers like Dark Horse and Image are now firmly established as the alternate choices for fans who are tired of the “same old thing” while also providing some of the most creative and dynamic comic books and graphic novels.  Independent comic writers now gain substantial popularity and notoriety, so much so that they are highly sought after to be part of the creative teams on titles at the big two publishers, effectively turning the tables on the once dominate superhero genre.  In the mainstream DC and Marvel universes small intimate character driven stories are all but forgone in favor of larger cross title arcs that have a wider impact.  Few titles, even books based on single superheroes, actually deal with just one hero instead they incorporate any number of various characters from across their respective universes.  Characters are dealt with more realism than ever.  With the advent of the internet and the fast paced flow of information in our modern day, comic books have learned to adapt along these lines as well.  Superheroes no longer simply fight crime, the characters are portrayed with a great sense of self awareness and the characters are written with more concern for how they are portrayed in the media and with a greater understanding of manipulation of information technologies.  At this point there seems to be a greater inkling that everything has already been done in the superhero genre and so therefore the landscapes of the major comics universes need to be shaken up.  This is one of the most prominent features of the mercury age, change, death, events, additions, and topsy turvy stories that skew the idea of the status quo and continuity dominate the comics landscape.  To make things interesting and to develop original plots creators seem urged to tear apart the established universes, and effectively deconstruct the superheroes.  However the changes made in these events are often inconsequential, fleeting, and either quickly reversed or completely forgotten about almost immediately afterward.  Congealing and separating like mercury.   

Event books dominate the comic book landscape of the Mercury Age

 

Independent comics take their place in the industry during the Mercury Age

As I’ve said these are simply my thoughts on the subject, and though I might seem to be casting some kind of judgment on certain time periods, I’m really not.  I can respect all points in history of the comic book industry and I understand that it is a constantly evolving and changing medium that will/must find new ways to attract more readers.  Also these definitions are of course in broad general terms and there are countless examples of titles from each era that go against those generalizations.  If you don’t agree with what I’ve laid out here, or have some additions/corrections you’d like to make, feel free to leave me your thoughts in the comments.  Since there is probably no chance that I will ever be able to contribute directly to the developing comic book universes, maybe there is a chance that I can indirectly affect the business by defining these previously undefined eras.  So if you agree with what I’ve got here do me a favor and start dropping the phrases “Tarnished Age” or “Mercury Age” into your everyday conversations with your fellow comic book fans and when they give you a confused look just pretend like it’s an established thing, and that they should already know what you mean.  I don’t need any credit, let’s just get this started!

That is all!

Victories in the Yard, Defeats on the Page

 
 
 

So now it’s time for a bit of personal blogging, the kind of inane writing that no one really cares about but almost all bloggers do at some point regardless.  I’ve been busy with various things recently and haven’t had time to write up any interesting blogs so let me instead tell you what’s been keeping me away.

First off today is my wedding anniversary.  The little lady and I have been married now for four years!  There have been some anniversary related things I’ve had to get together and plan for so that has taken up a bit of time this week. 

On the writing front I’ve hit a bit of a rut.  My current project is turning out to be more of a struggle than I anticipated; actually just one part of it seems to be troublesome.  This new project will be a series of short stories that are loosely connected.  The first story however seems like it’s dragging on too much, I feel like if I keep going at the pace it currently has it will either be too long for a short story or too short for anything else.  We’ll see I suppose, I need to make some better notes about what I’m doing with it, write up a solid outline and a breakdown of each part before I really try to get back into it.

Also I got my first rejection letter from a literary agent this week, that was pretty exciting.  I more or less knew they were a little too big time for me, but I wasn’t completely sure and figured I’d give it a try.  The thinness of the returned self addressed stamped envelope was pretty much the giveaway that there wasn’t anything too splendid inside.  Upon opening it I found a standard issue form letter rejection.  Although it would have obviously been awesome to read something else, I wasn’t too downtrodden about the rejection letter, as far as I’m concerned it’s still pretty cool actually.  It most likely won’t be the last one, but it means that I’m putting my stuff out there and at least trying to get something published, and just the possibility of that is enough for now.

Here at home when I’m not writing or pandering to a pair of puggles I’ve been out in the yard working on my new yard project this year.   Our backyard is really in pretty good shape and quite spacious for a suburban dwelling but there has been one huge eyesore lurking around back there that I’ve been contemplating getting rid of for quite some time.  It is at the very back of the yard on our patio, I believe it was at one time a brick fireplace and/or grill.  What’s left of it was in crumbling ruins when we bought the house, basically only the base of it which rose about three feet high and was about four feet square.  As if that wasn’t bad enough there was a huge pane of glass placed on top of the thing about six feet square and three quarters of an inch thick.  The glass had actually been some kind of window, and a window of some renown at one time because it was etched with the words “Kent State School of Nursing” in a circle around the college’s seal.  We knew that the woman who owned the house before us was a nurse, so we assumed she must have gone to Kent State, and that when they changed the name from “school of nursing” to “college of nursing” she had some kind of connections that hooked her up with the old window.

My new project

 

With the big glass laid across the brick fire pit we guessed they used it as a table to sit around out at the patio, except the huge plate glass top was so huge it took up most of the patio.  That, combined with the fact that all of it was very ugly started me off on my plans to see to its undoing.  Last year we had someone come out who could smash the glass portion of it and haul it away.  After having to spend a few afternoons picking up stray shards of glass out of the grass I sort of regret not doing it myself, I had a very specific plan in mind to prevent the glass from getting all over the place, but then again I also would have been stuck with a tarp full of broken glass, so I suppose it was worth it just to have it hauled away.

This year however my sights have been set on getting rid of the brick hell hole that remained.  The brick base was of course filled with the remains of the original fireplace which meant I was about to come into possession of a great many bricks.  Several thoughts sprang to mind, maybe I’ll make a brick walkway, I could outline the entire yard in bricks, line all the flower beds, the front beds, the whole front yard even, everything lined with bricks.  It would be great.  The only problem was that most of the materials I found piled within the walls of the base were broken chunks or bricks encased in mortar.  So there went my grand plans.  There were however enough viable bricks to follow through with a few of my plans.  As you can see in the pictures below that I’ve taken with my phone.

Here’s an example of what I’ve done to put some of the bricks to use

 

A small covered area to store firewood for our fire bowl, made from a slab found in the brick pile

 

And finally in yard work not my own I spent this past Monday assisting my cousin Eric who was removing the back steps at my grandparents house and replacing them with a ramp to make it easier for them to make it to family functions when and if they feel up to it.  He had a pretty solid plan in mind and he did his research into what he wanted to do, I simply held a few boards and tightened some bolts.  It was cold as hell and pissing rain the entire day but we had a good time and I dragged one of the puggles along to run around the nice fenced in backyard, she however spent most of the day inside sitting with the grandparents after getting a bit too wet for her liking.  I didn’t get to help finish that project but the ramp is now all done and looks awesome.

The finished ramp at my grandparents house

 

Anyway it’s been a busy couple of weeks and I’ve had a great deal going on and a shit ton to think about so maybe when things slow down I can get back to pining over Babylon 5 or reciting my favorite planets from Star Wars.

That is all!

Masters of the Universe: Caverns of Fear

Have you ever spent hours working at something only to realize when you’re done that it was all just a waste of time?  Yeah well I just had that happen to me.  Whompers.

I was at my parent’s house the other night and I came across a cassette from a read along He-Man book entitled Masters of the Universe: Caverns of Fear.  A very compelling title to say the least.  Well anyway I had the brilliant idea of recording the tape to my computer and making a simple movie of it to post and share here on my blog, why not?  I didn’t have the book but I was able to find scans from the pages on He-Man.org and so I was set, all I needed to do was time the page images with the recorded audio and I’d be in business!  So I did that, I recorded the tracks with a little editing at the beginning and end to cut out the cassette play button noise then just added the pics and stretched them out to go in time with the narration.  Although this is all a pretty simple project it took an hour or two, I’m only working with Windows Movie Maker and it’s not the smoothest of tools.  Anyway I get it all done up, publish it, load it to YouTube no problem.  Then I decide to do a quick search to see where it would end up in the hierarchy of search terms only to find that, yep, you guessed it, there were already about three other versions of Caverns of Fear up on the site. 

Ah well just goes to show you that there are very few original thoughts.

Regardless I had a good time putting this together, looking over the pages and nostalgically reminiscing about my homemade Masters of the Universe adventures and the memories of reading this book as a kid.  At the time when He-Man and the Masters of the Universe was hitting it big (1983 or so) I was still rather young and wasn’t playing with those types of toys, but just a few years later when I was about 5, I was lucky enough to be the recipient of an entire MOTU collection including Castle Greyskull!  Some older kids who were friends of the family were getting rid of a bunch of their toys and somehow I was lucky enough to be next in line for the hand-me-downs.  I still don’t know how or why this happened, but I was of course extremely appreciative, and this encouraged me to add to the collection afterward asking for He-Man toys for all major gift giving holidays.

In my mind this was my basement playroom as a kid.

 

Toys have always been my thing, as a kid I loved setting up complex play landscapes in my basement with opposing bases set up across from each other composed of officially licensed toy accessories and my own homemade additions.  Filling the expanse between such fortresses were epic battlegrounds populated by vehicles, cardboard ramps, innocent bystanders (usually some other random toys who somehow became part of the storyline) and the discarded weapons, unattached arms, and other carnage one would expect to find in such an environment.  This was the case not only with my Masters of the Universe toys, but my Ninja Turtles, Transformers, Star Wars, Crash Dummies, and whatever other toys I dealt with.  However I believe I can trace it all back to He-Man and his pals and their unexpected arrival on my doorstep, it was like a real life Toy Story moment.

Ah childhood memories.  I guess it’s not really just a childhood memory, seeing as how I still collect Marvel Legends and Star Wars toys to this day, some habits die hard.  I don’t know what it is about cool action figures, but I’m a fan and they only keep getting better and cooler as time goes on!

Maybe in an upcoming blog I’ll talk about how I’ve recently discovered that I had the worst Transformers as a kid, really.  But that is a topic for another day, in the mean time take a look at my redundant video compilation of the Masters of the Universe: Caverns of Fear!  Enjoy!

A favorite Transformer of mine as a kid, though now I realize he is pretty lame as far as Transformers go.

That is all!

My B5 Mission

So here it is, another Babylon 5 blog post from me.  I’m sure you might be getting sick of hearing me go on and on about this defunct sci-fi franchise and I promise I will try and make this my last B5 post for awhile, but I just have a few more things to say about this series.

As I mentioned before I was overjoyed to hear that all five seasons of Babylon 5 are available to watch on Netflix now.  Unfortunately the show only saw a brief life in reruns due to some sort of distribution rights dispute that effectively shut down syndication of the series.  For years I relied on VHS tapes that I recorded from television with the commercials edited out in order to spread the word on the show.  Even that approach, or showing the series on DVD, requires finding time to meet up and watch all five seasons, episode by episode.  It’s often difficult to find a time when that works for both parties.  You of course can lend out your copies to friends and family, but as I grow older I more and more take the position of “Neither a borrower nor a lender be.”  I know I still have movies and games floating around the house that I’ve borrowed from friends years ago, and there’s always a slight pang of displeasure when I am without a lent item for extended periods.

The Babylon 5 station

Now however, thanks to modern technology, all of that is a thing of the past at least when it comes to spreading the word on Babylon 5.  Ironically I myself do not use Netflix, the wife and I are currently crunching numbers in an attempt to save money, and though it isn’t that expensive, it does all add up.  It’s on our list however and I’m sure we will catch up to the rest of the world shortly.  This development though does mean that I can finally conveniently and efficiently urge my friends and anyone else I know with Netflix to watch the show.

I am taking up a personal crusade to prosthelytize Babylon 5.  I really believe there has not been a show to equal its scope and level of storytelling.  I love the franchise and the Babylon 5 universe, and unlike other major sci-fi franchises like Star Wars and Star Trek, Babylon 5 needs a bit of a fanbase boost because it seems to be slipping further and further away from the pop culture spotlight (doubtlessly due to the aforementioned lack of syndication.)  BUT I also do not want to overhype it.  I hate when that happens, when you get all pumped up for something listening to others talk about, and you go in with enormous expectations that can’t be met.  If you have never seen the show I don’t want you to take a look at the first season and think “What the fuck?  He was praising this?”  So here are a few things to keep in mind:

1-The effects, for the most part, are bad.  At the start of season 1, the special effects can be blocky, slow and a bit awkward.  You have to keep in mind though that this was an upstart low budget series.  This isn’t part of a big franchise like Star Trek where they can use the legacy of the show, and established fanbase for larger budgets for graphics and effects.  Like Babylon 5 itself in season 1, the effects department was just getting off the ground and starting from scratch.  Thankfully as time goes on the overall look of the show improves tremendously.

2- The show is dorky.  In case you weren’t aware the show is a sci-fi series which, on occasion, conforms to the stereotypes of the genre and has a few dorky moments.  A couple of bad puns here, an alien penis joke there, you know, those old chestnuts.  Though actually as the series goes on those lighthearted “dorky” moments really help reflect the heavier, darker, and more epically mature moments in later seasons.

The show does have a lot of genuinely funny moments

3- The show is thick with continuity.  Babylon 5 isn’t a show you can pick and choose episodes with, in fact I often compare it to LOST in that respect when talking with people about the show.  Sure you’ll get the idea if you just jump right into season three, but there will be plenty of moments where you find yourself completely out of the loop, asking yourself “Now who the hell is that guy, and why is everyone so pissed?”  Without following the continuity of the show you really lose a great deal in regard to the development of the characters which is crucial to the show, and which I’d say is the best part of Babylon 5.  Which brings me to the good things about Babylon 5.

This show is unlike anything else in television, as far as I’ve seen.  The characters in the show grow and evolve with each episode and through every season.  No character is static, or two dimensional.  They are given quite a bit to deal with on screen and there are a plethora of rich personal histories that are alluded to, and referenced which help flesh out the characters.  When I say “the characters” I don’t mean just the main characters, the stars, the heroes, I mean every character on the show.  The side characters, the recurring characters, the comic relief characters, they all evolve as the show goes on.  You find as you watch Babylon 5 that your opinions of characters drastically shifts, and are often completely turned upside down.  The entire Babylon 5 cast is made up of cast of complex individuals working through their issues during the intrigues and immense storylines of the series.

Aside from the characters, the setting for the show, the B5 universe itself, is also deep and well crafted.  There is a sense of history in the universe that is seen through the characters and the plot.  There are political tensions and feuds between various interstellar governments tracing back through these fictional histories.  There is a strong sense of realism, emotional honesty, mingled in through the high tech unreal world of Babylon 5.  In a way the political tones and issues portrayed in Babylon 5 were ahead of their time, I would go so far as to say that J. Michael Straczynski was the first television writer to capture the feel of the post 9/11 United States, before 9/11.  Which is a huge credit to the political savvy of the show.  Thinking about it now, with its themes of corrupted media, distrust of outside cultures, misuse of military power, government conspiracy, and so much more Babylon 5 is more timely now then when it was originally aired.

My last bit of praise for Babylon 5 simply goes to the writing.  The only word I can think of for the writing is epic.  The best description of the show I’ve read was that Babylon 5 was a novel on television.  That is exactly it.  A novel with a huge story arc, dozens of tangents, and varied and complex themes.  The show changed my expectations of television and of the sci-fi genre.  In a way the show changed how I viewed politics and science, encouraging a better understanding of both.  The best thing I’ve taken away from the show however are dozens of memorable chunks of dialogue.  From sharp tongued one liners to eloquent dramatic soliloquies, Babylon 5 has them all.

The character of Michael Garibaldi is one of the best examples of the series writing

So overall my mission now is to create more Babylon 5 fans out there.  Why am I doing this you might ask.  Because I believe in the show?  Because I respect the creators and actors?  Because I hope to share the series message of realism mixed with hope?  The answer is yes to all of those I suppose, but I believe it is all pretty simple, and much more selfish than that.  I’m looking for more folks to talk about the show with who enjoy it as much as I do.  Perhaps I hope to prove to myself that I have been correct in devoting my fandom to the series.  If others out there like it, then maybe that means I have been right to spend so much time following the adventures of a band of fictional warriors and politicians in space.

Isn’t that why fans of any ilk band together?  Whether it’s TV, movies, sports, don’t we all get together not simply to enjoy the subject of our fandom, but perhaps to reinforce to ourselves that we are not alone?

That is all!

Dr. Zaius Facepalm

     You might not know this (or care) but there is a new Planet of the Apes movie on the horizon.  Supposedly this will be a new “reinterpretation”, “reimagining”, or whatever you want to call it of the origin of the Planet of the Apes.  There are some interesting actors attached to this apes remake including James Franco, Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy), Andy Serkis (Gollum), John Lithgow, and Brian Cox just to name a few.  News has recently popped up on several entertainment sites that the movie’s release has been pushed up, from November of this year to early August.  There are all kinds of opinions already about this movie, most of them negative, and you’re about to hear mine!

     First off let me just say that I am an avid Planet of the Apes fan.  All five of the original movies left quite an impression on me in my teenage years with their scope and twisting continuity.  I spent a good two years of my life obsessing about the apes movies and digging into their mythos.  Those movies had me thinking differently about the sci-fi movie genre, and hell, movies in general.  From my interest in the Planet of the Apes, and Charlton Heston I went on to discover a greater love for movies from the 60’s and early 70’s, especially other sci-fi outings like Soylent Green, West World, and the Andromeda Strain.  The one thing that hit home with me, although I probably didn’t fully grasp it at the time, was the social commentary delivered in the planet of the apes movies.  Complex, thought provoking themes that were mingled throughout what some consider to be a schlock premise.  The futility of war, the arrogance of mankind in the face of nature, the destructive power of nuclear weapons, and all the intricate and ambiguous overtones that go along with those things.  Long story short, I appreciate the Planet of the Apes series for what it is and what it was trying to achieve.

Charlton Heston, Linda Harrison, and Maurice Evans as Dr. Zaius

     Now onto this new Rise of the Apes movie.  When I heard the first hints about this movie, and read that James Franco was involved I was pretty excited.  For the most part Franco has been making some very smart, calculated movie choices and seems to really take an interest not only in giving a good performance but the content of the script as well.  Of course we all remember the last “reimagining” of the Planet of the Apes under the direction of Tim Burton.  Now I love Tim Burton and most of his body of work, but that was not a good apes film.  It was a soulless outing that relied exclusively on the novelty of talking apes in a world turned upside down, and offered up nothing in the way of thought provoking storyline other than vague themes of overcoming oppression.  It was like Gulliver’s Travels, without the satire, just a few trips to some zany places.  I still don’t think Burton’s apes can be completely admonished though.  The makeup, costumes, and sets for that movie (as with most of Burton’s movies) were fantastic, visually it kept what was great about the originals and improved upon it.  But visuals and special effects was never what the Planet of the Apes was about.  It wasn’t a technically difficult sci-fi movie in the vein of 2001: A Space Odyssey or Star Wars, its strength was in its message.  The talking apes weren’t supposed to enthrall the crowd with the mere spectacle of their presence on screen, these creatures that thought so highly of themselves and their post apocalyptic culture were meant to make us look at ourselves and think about our behavior and its impact on the world as a whole.

     When it comes to Rise of the Apes, there are seemingly already several things stacked against this ape production.  First off is the moving up of the release date.  You might be thinking, “But hey it’s coming out earlier, that’s a good thing right?  We’ll get to see it sooner!”  Ah, not really.  If anything it implies that the studio doesn’t have much faith in it and will move it up to a time when the summer movie heavy hitters are dying down, eliminating competition while keeping it away from the more intense holiday movie season. 

     Secondly there’s the talk that the apes in this movie will be CGI, or motion capture, or some other kind of digital effect.  The Planet of the Apes movies are known for, in fact heralded for, their ape-man makeup.  Eliminating this element of the franchise seems wrong, almost shameful.  Regardless if such complaints are simply nostalgic or old fashioned the fact that the movie is now moving up its release date also means they have three less months for finishing those complex effects, which means it will be rushed, which of course means it will most likely be crap. 

     Third.  This movie is an origin story, the name Caesar has been thrown around and was at one time part of the title (Caesar: Rise of the Apes.)  The plot of this “new” origin has been described as: a young super intelligent chimp, Caesar, rallies his comrades and other apes to revolt against their human captors.  Ok sure, sounds alright, except it really means this movie isn’t a true reimagining of the origin, it implies that it is more or less a remake of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, the fourth segment of the original apes saga.  In Conquest of the Planet of the Apes two of the apes from the timeline of the first two movies escaped the complete destruction of the world and are hurtled backward in time to the era when Charlton Heston’s character first left on his mission (stay with me).  There the surviving apes are questioned with curious suspicion and misunderstood, flip flopping the premise of the first movie in a very creative way.  Those apes of course are inevitably killed by an arrogant world that fears them, but they have a baby who survives and who is the subject of the fourth movie Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (pause for breath).  In that movie chimps and other apes have replaced cats and dogs as the world’s most popular pets, the now fully grown evolved ape from the future has been renamed Caesar by his benevolent master.  Soon Caesar embraces the legacy of his parents and more or less teaches the domestic, slave apes to be more self reliant and fight for their freedom thus completely altering the entire timeline of the Ape Multiverse in the process changing the way the apes actually rose to prominence (shew!).  That movie completely sent the whole concept of the Planet of the Apes in a new direction while still bringing along the previous social and political issues of the other movies.  This remake of Conquest, which Rise of the Apes seems to be, looks to be trying to utilize that innovative climax of the fourth movie, without the crucial continuity of the other films.  Without having all the information about this film, Rise of the Apes sounds to me to be more of a Planet of the Apes rip off, rather than an actual part of the franchise.  It’s almost as if the producers decided that they wanted to take the peak of the action from the original saga and redo it in a modern style.  That idea of starting in the middle of your story might have worked for George Lucas and Star Wars, but the real impact of that peak in Conquest of the Planet Apes is lost when taken out of context, and we are left with what will most likely be another vague tale of generalized oppression as with the Tim Burton movie.

     And lastly, speaking of not having all the information about this film, where is the information about this film??  It is now coming out in August of this year and we have very little information, images, script details, or anything else even remotely promoting this movie.  That is perhaps the biggest clue that this movie will be terrible.  From where I’m sitting it looks like the studio (Fox) is going to put a minimum of effort into promotion, move it to a timeslot that has weak competition, and simply hope for the best.  With such low expectations from the movies producers how can I be optimistic?

This lackluster photo is one of the only images currently out from Rise of the Apes.

     I will however defiantly do my best to keep some hope out for this film, I love the Planet of the Apes series and I really think there is some potential left in the message and tone of the original movies.  I would also like to see a sci-fi movie reclaim the genre’s place in legitimate cinema.  Too often these days sci-fi movies are simply dull, action and effects driven “summer movies” with not much to say.  If Rise of the Apes can bring back sci-fi that also has a message, that means there is also still hope that there is a movie going audience left who aren’t all glassy eyed morons mesmerized by big explosions, thoughtless dialogue, and CGI goofiness.

(Not that those elements don’t have a place at the movies, but when that seems to summarize most of the movies out there, things start to seem bleak.)

That is all!

Human or not, Charlton Heston knew how to handle any leading lady.

Star Wars Episode VII: Cry of the Fanboys

     Everyone knows I am a huge Star Wars fan.  I live and breathe Star Wars.  I know the movies by heart, I can name just about any background character in every scene, I know the comics, and I read the books.  I own the ewoks movies and have both the ewoks and droids cartoons on DVD.  I even have a bootleg of the Star Wars Holiday Special (gasp!).  It is fair to say that I have an extensive knowledge of Star Wars that goes far beyond the depth of the films alone.  I however don’t know everything.  I wouldn’t say that I am an unparalleled expert in the Star Wars mythos; doubtlessly there are many others out there who know more about the ever expanding galaxy far, far away than I do.  For instance I have not read every single book in the now extensive Star Wars library.  There are just some that don’t interest me, and it’s tough to keep up on the ones that do.

The Thrawn trilogy are some books almost all fans praise

     One of the biggest things going in Star Wars today is the Clone Wars series on Cartoon Network.  I have loved what they are doing with this show and I have really grown to enjoy the creative team that is involved in bringing this aspect of Star Wars to the small screen.  Lead by director Dave Filoni the show has only grown stronger as far as I’m concerned, in both look and story.  After a shaky start with the release of the less then stellar Clone Wars movie they have continued to surprise me with the quality and depth of the developing tone of the show. 

     The Clone Wars has really brought to light a tremendous new niche in the hefty Star Wars EU.  For those who might not know “the EU” is a term used by Star Wars fans, and others, to refer to the Expanded Universe of the franchise, i.e.; the aspects of Star Wars that are not explicitly detailed in, or are altogether separate from but remaining tied to the universe of, the Star Wars movies.  To call the movies canon and everything else EU is not exactly correct though, because every officially published Star Wars work is considered canon, though subordinate to the six movies, and the whims of George Lucas himself.  The EU started small with a few spin off movies, a run of comics, and several book trilogies and has exploded into cartoons, video games, several ongoing comic books, and hundreds of novels and reference books.  It is safe to say that today the material of the EU far outweighs that of its parent films.

The legitimacy of the canon from the Droids cartoon is on shaky ground.

     Well the Clone Wars cartoon has proven to be something of a unique outing for the EU in that the canon of this particular show seems to have a greater weight to it due to the direct involvement of George Lucas.  This cartoon is a strong collaboration between Dave Filoni and his team and George Lucas and his extensive resources.  I would go so far as to compare this project to Lucas’ days during the Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi where Uncle George stepped out from the role of director and instead focused his attention on story and overall look and feel of his universe as executive producer.

George Lucas and Dave Filoni

     This “word of Lucas” canon vibe of the Clone Wars has rekindled a fierce EU vs. Canon debate that has been brewing amongst Star Wars fanboys for decades.  Strictly from my personal take on the whole thing it seems like some people are Star Wars fans, enjoying the high adventure and sci-fi/fantasy blend of the movies while others are fans of sci-fi, who happen to enjoy Star Wars more or less because of the sci-fi elements of the movies.  I could go on and on about this debate but my feelings are George Lucas runs the show, he created Star Wars and allows the EU to even exist, Lucas giveth and Lucas can taketh away.

     For the most part Star Wars fans have eagerly embraced the Clone Wars, but there are a few things that have ruffled the feathers of the EU purists.  The first major issue that I became aware of was a three episode story arc in season two that featured the planet Mandalore and the Mandalorian warriors which are fan favorites.  Of course the Mandalorian lineage provided Boba Fett with his training and distinctive armor.  As we all know, any time Boba Fett is involved Star Wars fans go ape shit and express their very adamant opinions about the character.  In fact allow me to take a second to talk directly to the Boba fans out there.

     Hi gang, personally I like Boba Fett, he’s a cool character, and he’s got some nice armor but enough already!  Put an ice pack on those Boba boners and get over it!  There is nothing in those Clone Wars episodes that ruin Boba Fett or his history!  The information that deals with Boba Fett is given by the episodes villain who does nothing but lie and deceive about his activities!  Clearly he wasn’t a fountain of truth, and because he was trying to hide his criminal activities he of course is not going to link himself with a known criminal such as Jango Fett.  So what if Jango’s blue color scheme is part of a group called Death Watch?  They’re still Mandalorians, and Mandalorians who have taken up the battle armor of their people in an effort to reclaim their warrior past!

"Ugh! Now my cross stitched Fett family tree will have to be completely redone!"

 

Sorry, just had to take a moment and share a few thoughts with those fans. 

     Another more recent tid bit that has people all worked up is the death of Jedi Master Even Piell in one of the latest episodes.  Master Piell is not one of my favorite Jedi.  He appears in Episode I and did not return for Episode II and to be honest I didn’t give him much thought, I never liked his character design and his backstory was “blah.”  But apparently his death in the show went against an EU depiction of his death (although there is some vagueness in these claims) and fans are up in arms about this.  Some fans are waiting to see how Dave Filoni will try to explain it and wondering why they would so blatantly go against the EU.  For more on this development check out this discussion thread on wookieepedia.com HERE.  A little ridiculous.

This guy = controversy

     Once again I state that George Lucas can and will do whatever the hell he wants to do and he should be allowed to.  This is his playground; just because he let someone else build a sand castle doesn’t mean he has to let it stand forever if it gets in the way of him building an even cooler sandcastle that a greater number of people can enjoy.  Frankly the EU lost me after one of the earlier books tried to tell me Boba Fett’s real name was Jaster Mereel.  First off why would Boba Fett need a secret identity?  He’s not a super hero.  And second that’s a terrible name.  All of that has been retconned nicely these days, even fitting in with the whole Death Watch fiasco.

     I don’t want it to seem like I am not a fan of the EU stuff, I really am, but I am also comfortable with the fact that the EU does not have the final word on Star Wars, George Lucas does.  There is a lot of good EU works out there, I especially enjoy the comics.  There is also a great deal of bad EU stuff out there, and I’m sure fans of the EU would argue that there are a few bad Star Wars movies out there as well.  My personal problem with the EU comes down to the writers trying to write Star Wars as a strictly sci-fi genre by detailing the aspects of hyperspace travel, or trying to discern the illogical ranking system of the Empire.  For me Star Wars EU is at its best when it takes something familiar and interprets it through a Star Wars filter, taking into account the equal parts sci-fi and fantasy.  Dave Filoni and his Clone Wars team understand this.  The Clone Wars has allowed Star Wars to put its spin on the horror genre, giant monster movies, westerns, and much more.   Essentially that’s what Star Wars is all about, the movies were not wholly original in their concepts, they are full of old school high adventure fantasy, gritty noir gangster and war films, and serialized hits like Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers.  Lucas took all those elements and transformed them into this new imaginative universe.  It was his execution and the interpretation of his ideas that was important.  If you try to later breakdown that universe through EU works it just gets tiring and stops being exciting, especially when it loses that fantasy sense of the unknown.

Anyway enough ranting for now, I’ve gone on far too long!

That is all!

Armor Alone Does Not A Knight Make

     I recently read David V. Barrett’s book entitled Secret Societies, which I would highly recommend for anyone interested in Masonic legends, history, or esoteric spirituality.  It is a very well written book that covers a wide range of groups that are considered “shadowy” or “secret.”  One thing I especially liked about the book is that the author takes a very straight forward approach.  When he has facts he cites them, and when something is not solid, or comes from a second hand source he lets the reader know.  Just a very well researched, well put together read that presents the information without taking any specific stance.

Secret Societies by David V. Barrett

     One concept, brought up later in the book, which I found interesting was the idea that certain groups that were religiously persecuted such as the Cathars managed to embed their philosophies and spirituality into outside sources so that some aspects of their ways could continue on after their specific organizations were disbanded or destroyed.  One example of this the author brings up is Tarot cards.  Some believe these ancient mystic tools have their origins with the ancient Egyptians.  Others feel there is some type of magical connection between the iconography of the cards and the human pyche.  The author however more or less dismisses these ideas in favor of a more mundane scholarly development for the Tarot pack.  Barrett suggests that the Tarot deck was designed as a library of sorts to explain certain esoteric beliefs and practices, preserving these ideas under a guise of symbols and riddled images.  Thus these concepts remain laying in wait for curious minds to unlock the greater ideas within, similar to the riddles and images written down by the medieval alchemists. 

     Barrett of course goes into a long detailed history, making a strong case for himself by presenting a progression of various methods used to preserve ancient spiritual traditions that would otherwise be lost.  One of the evolutions of this practice of hiding “forbidden” truths in plain sight particularly piqued my interest however.  Towards the very end of the book Barrett posits that the familiar and varied tales of King Arthur and his knights of the round table may in fact be yet another example of esoteric ideals preserved in popular culture, here they are even shielded by a wholly Christian context and symbology.

The knights of the Round Table

 

     To paraphrase, Barrett puts forth that Arthur and the romanticized version of his knights of the round table are actually a parable-ized transference of lost esoteric beliefs that were deemed forbidden by the doctrines of the church.  Barrett claims too much effort is spent in our modern day attempting to strip away the stories of the Round Table in order to discover the true historical King Arthur, when in fact that was never the point.  Arthur gave the authors of the day a place to flesh out their beliefs and concerns, and was not a bunch of French writers glorifying the history of an English king.  One small part of Barrett’s much deeper theory is the concept of chivalry which plays such a large part in the Arthurian cycle.  Chivalry, as Barrett reminds the reader is a guide for knights to do good in society and be passionate men of god, a concept that was quite unheard of among the warrior class before the formation of the Knights Templar, which are figures repeatedly brought up in the book, and that chivalry in the Arthur stories is actually a preservation of the Templar teachings.  Accordingly Barrett implies that the themes of courtly love do not intend to place women on a pedestal but rather make them equals, such as they were in the Cathar society, where women could be members of the priesthood and were wholly equal until the church deemed it heresy and wiped them out.  The idea of courtly love and a non-physical romance between men and women also harkens to the older Gnostic ideas that the physical world is evil, that everything that most people believe to be right is actually a lie, and that the god of the bible is in fact the devil blinding man to the true god beyond.  Some Gnostic sects believed that mans best path was to live ascetic lives, not to reproduce, and instead to allow our souls to be released from the material realm.

The Cathars were a widespread esoteric sect deemed heretics by the Catholic church and subsequently wiped out.

 

     All of this is far more complex, and doubtlessly seems muddled and confused as I try to retell it here but it is all very interesting, that is if such topics interest you.  The one concept about the Arthur stories that I found particularly revealing was the idea that the tales of King Arthur were actually, despite common conceptions, very anti-church.  They were of course not free of religious themes, but rather against an organized, specified form of it.  Just as the knights were all part of the Round Table they each were on their own very personal, individual quests that originated from it.  Thus Barrett unravels the parable of Arthur as one that reinforces the idea of spiritual beliefs, esoteric thought, and individual enlightenment while at the same time rejecting impersonal dogmas, organized oppressive religion, and such titles as Christian, Jew, or Muslim.

     Lastly the hinted return of King Arthur from the misty halls of Avalon is reminiscent of the hope for a return to a free, individualized spiritual world with a renewed interest in esoteric ideals where individuals are wholly removed from organized religion and open once more to the older paths of higher thought.

Sir Bedivere and the dying King Arthur by John Duncan

     Whatever you believe personally, if you have an interest in the occult, secret societies, or religious development I once again highly recommend David V. Barrett’s Secret Societies.  It was at the very least informative and thought provoking.  For me personally it gave me something new to think about and analyze the next time I am reading some of my favorite Arthur legends.

That is all!