Archive: Spotlight Prologue: Notes on a Phenomenon

With one Power Pack entry this week, I thought I’d give the weekend archive post a little break from that action. So, how about some shameless self-promotion? Here’s the prologue to Spotlight:

Liam Ramsey. Digital Recording. July 5.

The world’s pre-eminent super-team has everything. Looks. Power. Respect. And a guaranteed career life-span of exactly five years.

When their five years are over, they’re done. They pass their power onto the next Big Winner and take back the life of a non-powered human.

Which isn’t to say they go back to normal. I mean, take a look at Josephine. After her five years as Psionica, Josephine translated her experiences into the biggest self-help book in the country. Her New York Times best-seller landed her the biggest talk show in the nation. Oprah who?

And Branson.  His good looks and natural charisma were setting hearts fluttering even before he became the shape-shifting Mammalian. Now he’s up for an Oscar, for criminey’s sake.

Of course, five years in the super-hero spotlight doesn’t guarantee fame. Jimmy–Void, Spotlight’s youngest member to date–found his experience did him little good. Poor kid wound up in a gang and died in a drive-by only three years after his stint as a hero.

Then there’s Cherice, A.K.A. Sonar. The E! True Hollywood people and VH1’s Behind the Music are still in arbitration over who gets the rights to that torrid little tale of former-hero-gone-wrong.

These are, of course, extremes. Not everyone goes in trying to be a star. There’s Henry, who didn’t even take a flashy sobriquet (much to the dismay of Spotlight’s publicist, I’m sure). Henry felt it his duty to serve. He did his time, saved lives, then moved back to the small town in South Dakota where he grew up. Married his high school sweetheart and started a little Mom and Pop restaurant with her, they say.

People join Spotlight for their own reasons. Their experience as a hero helps or hurts them, or merely makes for nice stories for the kids–all as befits the individual. Some are climbing toward something, some are running from something. No one can predict how The Stone will choose, but choose it does.

It’s choosing today, and you better believe the whole planet’s tuned in.

Originally published at Spotlight


The Natural State of Idiocy

And there once again came a time when attempts to bend over backwards for new ways to say “gays are icky” and mask it as intellectual debate turned into this, from an interview with Cardinal Francis George:

We didn’t invent marriage. The church didn’t invent marriage. The state didn’t invent marriage. Nature gives us marriage. The Chinese are not Americans, and they’re not Catholic. They know what marriage is. Where did that come from?

This goes in so many directions, I think this one’s got to be another rapid-fire response. Form of: ravenous rant!

I know it’s a tad confusing, since we call ourselves “The United States of America ,” but we aren’t the only state in the sense you’re using it. The fact that the Chinese are not Americans, besides being a ridiculous amount of duh, does not mean that they didn’t have a state to establish their marital rites and institutions. Actually, the fact that you’re calling them Chinese, and thus labeling them with a collective national identity, pretty much means they have a state. If you’re going to prove that marriage isn’t a state construct, you’ll need to do better than just picking a different state.

If your go-to for proof that marriage is universally defined by a monogamous, heterosexual paradigm is to say “everyone else thinks so, too!” you’re more than a little off, there. Even if you want to argue the historical accuracy of reports of societies which allowed for same-sex unions, multiple societies have historically and unambiguously supported polygamy. If it’s some kind of universal constant that everyone recognizes, I’m missing how those societies aren’t part of the statistical set?

And just so we’re clear, let’s be honest about the fact that historically, even in Judeo-Christian nations, marriage was far more often a matter of property exchange in the beginning. Dowries weren’t just super-generous gifts. They were payment, whether the man was buying the woman or the family was paying him to take her. They also served to bolster relationships between nations, but that would suggest the state-that’s-not-America is involved, and that’s a false logic, right?

But enough about that. Let’s buy everything else you’re selling here and go right to the heart: Marriage comes from nature? From nature? You mean, the nature where male seahorses gestate children? Where hermaphroditic earthworms 69 each other? Or did you mean like bees, where the queen essentially reproduces via orgy? Well, let’s at least look at mammals, I suppose. You know, where monogamy is actually one of the rarer mating behaviors, and same-sex behaviors have been observed?

I know! Primates. Primates are the part of nature which is closest to people (though we should stop short of using any word that sounds like evolution, just to be safe). Primates must clearly be the example of marriage that nature has given…What was that? A gorilla male can have how many females spawn his offspring? A female chimp mates with how many males when she’s fertile? Oh! Oh, my.

Well, I suppose you can at least be happy you didn’t have to pay for that chimpanzee slut’s birth control, huh?

(via Joe.My.God.)

When You Aren’t Even Looking For It

I’m doing research on The Americans with Disabilities Act and similar legislation as it pertains to prison inmates, since it relates to a recent epiphany I had about a character in a story. I think I’ve found what I was looking for in that regard, but while I was looking, I stumbled across a Department of Justice ruling from May of this year regarding violations by a prison in Pennsylvania:

[T]he Justice Department issued a findings letter detailing the results of its investigation into the use of solitary confinement on prisoners with serious mental illness at the Pennsylvania State Correctional Institution at Cresson in Cambria County, Pa. The department found that Cresson’s use of long-term and extreme forms of solitary confinement on prisoners with serious mental illness, many of whom also have intellectual disabilities, violates their rights under the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

There’s a lot to digest from that opening paragraph alone. Because this isn’t just a ruling about the use of solitary confinement in a prison. It’s a ruling about using it on mentally-ill inmates. And not just folks with mild sociological trouble, but “severe mental illness.”

That there is one person suffering from severe mental illness in a prison is fairly disturbing to me. That there are multiple prisoners hits me as even more wrong.

And, the statement goes on to discuss, this case is leading to a widespread investigation of Pennsylvania’s prison system in general as regards prisoners with severe mental illness. So it’s not like the Cresson institution is unique. There are apparently enough “severe mental illness” inmates across the state to warrant a statewide investigation.

It’s a frightening reminder and implicit condemnation of the state of mental health care when there appears to be a basic assumption at the federal level that prison populations throughout any state are apparently characterized by multiple, severely mentally ill inmates.

You know, when I read about Arkham Asylum, there’s also a guy who dresses up like a bat to serve justice. I just don’t expect this kind of thing in a world without Harley Quinn and The Penguin.

Maybe an Epiphany in the Well Metaphor Would Work Better…

Epiphanies are a lovely thing, most of the time. They’re a ridiculous gift from the ether when you’re stuck on a story. Even when you aren’t, they’ll have a tendency to open up a story in a way you hadn’t previously conceived. Don’t depend on them, of course. If your sole method of construction is writing via epiphany, then you’re in for a lot of heartache. They are, at the best of times, just nuggets of something awesome. Awesome ore, if you will. So, even good epiphanies have to be smelted and refined and shaped and polished until they’re actually something worthy of anything.

Hey, look at that: metaphor epiphany. Let’s play this gold thing out and see where it takes us.

What brought me here in the first place is that, every once in a while, you see that glint in your lantern light that points you to a vein, and you howl a bit in the echoey dark of the mine of a story because dammit: motherlode. And then you take a look around, and you realize: if you dig right in now, the whole bloody mineshaft’s going to collapse. You have to add the supports, here, and probably dig a parallel shaft. It’s the only way for it, really, because if you don’t, you’ll just be buried in a pile of rocks.

So there’s that. Had myself one or two of those epiphanies as concerns Spotlight. They open up a lot of fun potential stuff, but it’s way down the line. Part of me just wants to jump right there, but the other part realizes that none of that (*waves at the shiny vein of gold*) will work if I don’t get everything else in place, first.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think the intermediate stuff is a slog. Good FSM, if I did, I should shelve the whole thing now, because no one would even be around for the shiny new vein of gold. I’m just very excited for the new shiny, is all, and I’m a bit impatient.

Also, my understanding of mining is really awful, so I’m fairly certain that metaphor went wrong in about a dozen different ways.

Not to Ruin the Joke…

I’ve been following Mike Sterling since … I think we’d call it “back in the day.” Always a worthwhile, humorous mix of insight on comics and comics retailing. Always a must-read, even when the jokes are at the expense of one of my favorites. As in a recent post on the current back issue market:

Yes, it’s great that Power Pack #27 is listed as being $3.00, but does anyone care? Is someone going to rush into the shop demanding to buy Power Pack #27 Right! Now! Unless I’m completely out of any copies of Power Pack #27, and if the copy is still in brand-new condition, and if I can get it cheaply enough, I’d buy it. Maybe.

Here’s the thing: I long ago gave up the idea that my comics collection would be worth much of anything financially. I’ve never been good at choosing “solid investment” comics. Mostly because investment comics seem to be predicated on a whole lot of factors that rarely, if ever, apply to my own comics-buying decisions.

Take that issue of Power Pack, for example. I’m fairly certain that sad little price bump has to do with elements like the Wolverine and Sabertooth guest appearance, and the issue’s place in the “Morlock Massacre” event. As far as I’m concerned, though, the real reason someone should want that issue–and the reason why I’ll think about selling my own copy when I’m six feet under–is that it has one of the most heart-wrenching examples of grief I’ve read in a comic book.

Let me set things up a little, here. Earlier in the issue, Power Pack found Leech’s adoptive mother (who was the kids’ own “special grandmother”), slaughtered by The Marauders. Franklin Richards, recently back from space with the Power kids, believes his own parents have run off on an adventure, and not even noticed his absence.

As the other kids are waylaid by X-Factor asking about them, one scared five-year-old boy fighting his own abandonment issues is left to do his level best to explain death to another young boy who only recently had anyone to call family at all.

The older Power kids try their best to do better, but it’s still children trying to tackle mortality. It’s sloppy and messy, and all goes south as quickly as you might expect.

Even know-it-all, pre-teen me got weepy reading this whole sequence. Okay, I got more than weepy. I was a sobbing mess. Seriously, there was such an overwhelming amount of wrongness with the world in just a few panels, and I wished more than anything that Louise Simonson would pull one of comics’ magical non-deaths here. Please. I don’t want to see Leech cry anymore. Hell, even now I tear up re-reading that echo-y, soul-wrenching cry of a child begging the world to turn back the clock:

(panels from Power Pack #27. Words Louise Simonson, Pencils Jon Bogdanove, inks Al Gordon, colors Glynis Oliver)

Nattering: White Collar

I’ve been watching White Collar off and on via the Netflix for a while (I just finished season 2). And, while there’s some Scooby Doo going on with the longer-running conspiracy plots, I’m more than happy to put up with that because there really are what seem like unique and nuanced relationships at play within the main cast.

The series conceit is that Neal Caffrey (Matt Bomer) is a wildly successful con man/forger/thief1 who’s made a bargain to work with Peter Burke (Tim Dekay), the only FBI agent who was able to catch him. Odd couple / cop-and-crook teamups aren’t new, and like I said, I’m not always convinced the actual crime plots make quite as much sense as they should, but I keep coming back to it for a lot more of the little things which seem to buck the normal trend for characters.

Caffrey and Burke are a nice counterbalance, here. Most of the time, it seems like one half or the other of these cat-and-mouse teamups is always the brunt of the joke. Usually it’s the “good guy.” There really does seem to be, however, a push and pull at play with these two. They’re evenly matched, and while occasionally one or the other takes the upper hand and pulls one over on his opposite, it never lasts long. You never get the sense that Burke caught Caffrey just because he was lucky; he did it because he’s good at his job and because he recognizes Caffrey’s weaknesses in a way few others can.

It’s not just those two characters who surprise me in nice ways. When one of your leads is meant to be a charming, stylish, seductive type, it’s really easy to fall into the classic Bond idiom where everyone with a set of breasts fawns and drools. Don’t get me wrong: there are still times Neal plays that card, but he can’t usually get away with it as involves the main female characters. Or, rather, he only gets away with it if they’ve decided to let him.

One of the early events in the series involves Caffrey, put up in a seedy hotel by the FBI, charming his way into a posh upper story apartment (complete with designer wardrobe) in the home of a wealthy widow, June Ellington (Diahann Carroll). Burke is horribly concerned at first that Caffrey’s going to rob her blind, but it becomes almost immediately obvious that June knows exactly what kind of person Caffrey is. She just likes him anyway.2

Burke’s wife, Elizabeth (Tiffani Thiessen3), is another of the women taken with Neal. She, like June, is more than aware of Neal’s criminal proclivities but likes him anyway. It doesn’t stop her from letting him get away with things, mind, especially when she thinks what he’s trying to get away with will wind up helping her by-the-book husband in the end.

Speaking of the Burkes’ marriage, that’s another little gem I’ve enjoyed. Beyond the hooray-for-independence fact that Elizabeth has a high end party planning / catering company, making more than a good living for herself, there are all these little and not-so-little moments between Elizabeth and Peter that don’t feel like hoary old cliche relationship stuff. They aren’t the Cleavers, but neither are they that horrible comedy-relief trope of the long-suffering husband and his nagging wife, or the Perfect Beyond Measure Goddess and her Bumbling Other Half. And they genuinely like each other, warts and all.

It’s in the little things that I think that comes across, this intimacy and partnership. There’s a scene in season two where Elizabeth and Peter are at a dinner party with someone Peter and Neal are looking into. The suspect (Billy Dee Williams, because why not, right?) reaches to put away a photo album he’s not keen on Peter seeing. You see where this is going, but what’s really nice about this moment is that it’s not “Peter gets Elizabeth’s attention, and Elizabeth jumps to help.” No. Billy Dee Suspect moves toward the photo album, and Peter and Elizabeth look at each other simultaneously, then they both do their bits to get a look at the album without even sparing more than that eyebrow-raise between them. Why is that so awesome to me? Because this isn’t one of them nudging the other. This is two people who know each other so well that they don’t need the nudging. It’s instinctive. The look isn’t them imparting any information other than I know already know what you’re thinking.

There’s more, including Burke’s right-hand female agent, Diana (Marsha Thompson), who likes Neal but will put the smackdown on him if it looks like he’s going to hurt Burke. Neal’s con-friend Mozzie (Willie Garson), who distrusts all authority but, much to his own chagrin, has developed a respect for “The Suit” (Burke). Everyone has just enough mild suspicion of nearly everyone else that things are always interesting without being tiring. There’s really only a short way the “Will Neal return to his life of villany?” stuff can go, so it’s nice that they found this balance.

Don’t get me wrong: there are some pieces of the puzzle that don’t work. Like I said, the long-running conspiracies which move through the season have turned into a bit of an Ouroboros, and things just never work well when the plot calls for a lot of Things Blowing Up–not least of all because the green screen work on those scenes is shaky at best. Also, never look too closely for Neal’s GPS anklet, as it has a tendency to only appear when the plot requires someone to see it. But I do think, so far, that the sum of the parts adds up to something I’m interested in seeing more of.

Besides, there are worse things a show can do than channel its Scooby side once in a while.

1. While I give the show credit for pushing against tropes, it’s still television, so there’s a lot of narrative synecdoche going on with Neal. Much like every science geek being good at every science, Neal seems to be universally awesomesauce at all non-violent criminal enterprises.
2. We later discover that June’s husband had his own sketchy past, with the suggestion that June’s wealth may not have come from entirely legitimate means, either. I can’t honestly recall if they mention that early on. I think there may have been a brief mention of his having been in trouble in his younger days, but that definitely expands into his having been a sort of proto-Neal in later episodes. Possibly the writers realized that Diahann Carroll was being wasted with nothing more than “someone’s here to see you, Neal” walk-ons.
3. Yes, the one who used to have an added Amber. Make your Saved by the Bell jokes. I’ll wait.

Archive: Powerblog: Rage Against the Dying of the Marvel

(cover of Power Pack #11. Pencils June Brigman, inks Bob Wiacek, colors Christie Scheele)

If Marvel’s super-hero universe is the vehicle with which Simonson explores the many pitfalls and dangers of the adult world, the choice in and of itself comments on Marvel at the time. Power Pack’s battle is not only to maintain their own altruism and hope, but to save those same things for super heroes in general.

This was a time when young heroes didn’t band together for the sake of justice or to emulate their adult hero counterparts; they were born from experimental heroin. It was in the midst of Claremont’s long, dark slog from a horrible future past and the titular dark saga for which he is perhaps best known. Wolverine was in his prime. Frank Miller was tearing Daredevil’s life apart. The Watchmen were on the horizon, as was the Punisher, and the Dark Knight was set to return. Comic books were Serious. They were Growing Up, bub.

Simonson, bucking the trend, put children, both literally and figuratively, at the heart of her book. And in doing so, she had a means of commenting on the darkening of Marvel and comics super-heroism in general. Simonson understood the natural inclination for the genre and the material to grow in different directions, but Power Pack’s constant struggle to be heroes without being monsters embodied another struggle: the fight to let super-heroes grow up without letting them outgrow the world which spawned them.

In Power Pack, Cloak & Dagger regained a small share of their innocence, the Morlocks found a new way to define their harsh family, the New Mutants got to be kids again. Hell, the X-Men (even Wolverine, for goodness sake) learned that there were sections of the world who didn’t hate and fear but rather accepted and admired them.

Original version published at Trickle of Consciousness