My Pop Culture Ups and Downs

So as I sit here today miserable from my stochastic allergies which have decided to strike, I think about some of the current trends in some of my favorite realms of geekdom, namely the Star Wars universe and Marvel comics.  There are some great things happening, which I am very excited about, as well as some things that I’m not at all happy about and which in fact slightly infuriate me.

First let’s talk about the good.  Star Wars.  My favorite sci-fi universe in film, television, and comics.  I can not get enough Star Wars, and thankfully things are on a major upswing for us loyal Lucasites.  There of course was a great deal of grumbling during the prequel years, some of it justified I will admit.  However one thing I will argue is that Uncle George is not the money hungry tyrant some fans make him out to be.  From everything I can tell he is an excitable story-teller who has a plethora of yarns to spin in the epic universe he has created, and he enjoys pushing the boundaries of film making especially in the special effects department.  Has George Lucas in the past pushed progress too much to the overall detriment of story?  Perhaps.  But that’s not what I’m getting at, the point I am making is that I believe George Lucas’ true strong suit lies in the production aspects of his projects, not in the directing chair.  His ability to guide the design and art teams that bring his projects to life is phenomenal, he has a vision and he is able to get that across.  He puts out great ideas and places the right people in charge to bring it about, with a guiding hand that does far more good from a distance, with all due respect to him. 

Well anyway such is the case with The Clone Wars series.  This show has been very surprising, and continues to bring out the best of the Star Wars universe even as it continues to expand the epic sci-fi landscape.  Initially I was rather upset by the continued riffing on the whole Clone Wars aspect of the movies.  I thought the Tartakovsky Clone Wars was great, and was a little peeved they were going to more or less do away with the events of that series in order to create this CGI weekly cartoon.  I was also a little annoyed that Lucas wasn’t focusing on the long-awaited live action Star Wars show which is to take place between Episode III and IV.  All that being said the Clone Wars is awesome.  Not only have the storylines continued to evolve and experiment with different genres and aspects of the Star Wars universe, but the animation and art of the show has really grown more detailed.  The characters have evolved and have gradually come closer to their appearances in Revenge of the Sith.  And of course everyone is interested to know just what will become of young Ahsoka Tano, apprentice of Anakin Skywalker.  Surely there isn’t enough time between Episodes II and III to fully train the padawan into a full Jedi Knight?  Mysteries abound.

At the same time however mysteries are being revealed.  In the second half of this third season of the Clone Wars (which I have yet to see any episodes of, I’m waiting for the DVDs) we will get two cameos from two major Star Wars personalities.  First in an upcoming two-part storyline we will run into Captain Tarkin, yes that Tarkin, future Grand Moff and head of the Death Star, Wilhuff Tarkin.  Then in the multi part season finale Ahsoka runs into everyones favorite wookiee, Chewbacca.  Frankly I think Chewie’s uncanny ability to have run-ins with major players in the galaxy at key moments is a bit overplayed, and though I am more eagerly anticipating the added screen time of Tarkin, this wookiee cameo is also a welcome one.  Anything that ties the prequels closer together with the original movies is ok in my eyes.  The love and breadth of understanding director Dave Filoni and his team have for the Star Wars universe is immense and I have respected their ability to interpret the galaxy far, far, away as they tell their new and exciting stories.

Captain Tarkin as he appears in the Clone Wars


Now onto the bad . . . .

Marvel comics, my first loyalty when it comes to comic books, seems to be losing some of their foresight when it comes to storytelling and strategizing for future book sales.  They recently snuffed the Human Torch, bringing the Fantastic Four down to three.  This attracted a small amount of media attention, but nowhere near the amount when Captain America was killed off.  Without pause I thought this was a stunt, pure and simple.  Captain America’s death was something special, quite epic, and with a great amount of expert buildup to the event as executed by the awesome Ed Brubaker.  I couldn’t even tell you who’s witting FF at the moment.  Granted I have been out of comics for a while, due to monetary restraints, but the point is this came out of left field.  There was no previous buzz about the current Fantastic Four story arc, no tremendous waves of fans flocking to the series like Brubaker brought back to Cap.  A stunt pure and simple.  Now I know that these stunts are expected regular occurences in comics, I get it, and some times they even work and make for a good superhero tale, but I think not here.  Here’s how I see it.  FF sales were slumping.  Sue Storm died in a one-shot alternate universe issue recently, so can’t kill her, too expected.  Thing died in the Straczynski run of FF, so can’t kill him again.  No one cares enough about Mr. Fantastic (except me, love that character), so “Hey!  Let’s kill the Human Torch!  Ok sure.”  Blamo, team shattering event that will change the FF forever (aka sell a few books.)  But wait that’s not all!  What do we do when a new book is introduced OR when an old book is slumping?  That’s right send in Spider-Man!  Just a few days after Johnny’s death Marvel announced Spider-Man would be rounding out the FF (which now stands for “Future Foundation?”)

Now Marvel tells us this death will bring about some good, exciting new storylines dealing with the ramifications of the Human Torches death.  They try to convince us this isn’t a stunt, but rather a needed sacrifice in order to tell great stories.  Ah, bullshit.  Stunt!  Stunt I say!  And here’s the proof!

Yeah that’s right Marvel clearly and loudly declares that they intend to kill more major characters in the coming months, all in the name of sales . . . . er, I mean, story telling and the creative process!  

Things like this work for creating storylines in team books like the X-Men.  When Jean Grey died there was a great deal to write about with that scenario.  But unlike the X-Men, the Fantastic Four is not a team, they are a family.  The comic is based on a static roster of four characters who the readers have come to enjoy and expect to see when you read the Fantastic Four.  Characters in team books, come and go all the time.  The Avengers are always knighting new members into their ranks, Chuck Xavier is replacing X-Men left and right.  The Fantastic Four however, is the Fantastic Four, and is not the same without the Invisible Woman, Mr. Fantastic, the Thing, and the Human Torch.  The Fantastic Four don’t need stunts, they need good stories, and good adventures.  When I see something along these lines happen to a book such as this, I simply shake my head and think “Lazy writing.”  It’s always easier to take a chainsaw to a piece of wood then a pocket knife, but with the knife you can take your time and carve something cool to look at.

And PS they have just shown the first pictures of the FF + Spider-Man’s new costumes.  Awful.  That is all!

Ugh . . . .