Thursday, August 31, 2006

Say a prayer in the darkness for the magic to come

You fall down a well.

It’s a long fall and you should be dead when you hit but for some reason, you’re not. You’re not even hurt. But you’ve fallen so far that you can’t see any light above you. It’s pitch black where you are and you’re completely blind. It’s cold and it’s wet; the ground underneath you is covered with three inches of very cold water with a sluggish current to it, and everything you touch is covered with slime.

Without sight, your cone of perception is brutally truncated. What you hear is distorted by echoes and distance, yet sound, and touch, and smell, and taste, are all you have to rely on. There is no comfort here. If you lie down, you’ll drown. You’re shivering, and in pain, and quickly exhausted.

For some reason, you don’t die. You’re often sick, you’re never comfortable, but there is food down here, and sometimes, other people fall down here, too. You make connections, and form a society. Eventually you, or some of the others, have children in this hellish place. They grow up here, without light, without warmth, without ever knowing the sensation of having dry feet, of being able to sit or lie down, of color or heat or decent tasting food.

You and the others who have fallen down here try to teach your children of the light and warmth above. You’ve always tried to find a way back up there, and you want your children to keep trying too, because it’s so much better up there, with the sun and the wind and the light and the heat, with comfortable furniture and dry clothes and beds to sleep in and working electricity and all that other stuff that you yourself by now can barely remember, that seems like some distant dream you only imagined. But to your children, it isn’t even that; it’s a fantasy, a myth, something unreal and unimaginable.

And your children have children, and those children have children, and the stories of the upper world and all its wonders becomes a legend, and then a myth. The cold wet darkness is all they know. They’ve never known dry feet, something soft and warm and dry to sit or lie on, the open air on their faces, the warmth of sunlight, the pleasures of sight, the smell of a rose, the sensation of silk. They’ve never been comfortable, they don’t sleep well, they cough and shiver constantly, and they’ve never known anything better, or different. They have no idea what life is supposed to be like.

This is what they know. This is all they know. They are no longer even aware there is anything else above them. Sometimes one of them takes up the old legends that are still whispered with great fervor, and repeats them, and others follow that one or another, for a while. But they embellish and embroider what their ancestors told their ancestors long ago, and it all ends up distorted and exaggerated and wrong. Their quest to find the upper world is futile and hopeless; they don’t know what they’re looking for, nor would they know what to do with it if they found it. How do you find a shaft in the ceiling of a pitch black chamber you can’t reach? How do you ascend once you find it?

This is life, at the bottom of the well.

* * * *

There is a hypothesis I’ve encountered in a few different places – Alan Moore’s Promethea for one, and, just lately, here.
This hypothesis basically posits that solid matter – the entire material realm as we know it, including our bodies and everything else in our world that we are aware of through our physical senses – is a perversion of the universe’s natural state.

Solid matter is wrong. It’s a crystallization, a warping of the very fabric of existence, that should never have taken place. We cannot imagine what the universe is supposed to be like, because somehow or another, we’ve become trapped in this horribly hardened shell that isn't supposed to be here. The energy that is our essential essence is imprisoned here, and we cannot find our way out, back to the higher realms where we are pure energy, and have freedoms and powers we cannot even imagine while we exist down here… at the bottom of the well.

Did something do this, or did it happen by accident? Were we deliberately imprisoned here in this dark, cold tar pit, or is it simply an unfortunate entropic event we were caught up in? We have no way of knowing. But here we are.

We cannot even conceive of what life used to be like for us… what life is supposed to be like, any more than the children of darkness at the bottom of the well can conceive of light, and warmth, and dry feet, and being able to lie down and sleep. Life unending, .life as free energy, life untrammeled by insane, perverse, irrational limitations like linear time and finite space. Life where we go wherever we want to go, see whatever we want to see, do whatever we want to do. Life where we are always part of a greater whole, where we are never alone, where we are utterly free, all the time, for all of time. Life as a single licking flame in the vast Cosmic Pyre, perhaps, or a single note in the infinite Universal Symphony.

We can’t imagine it. But it’s our birthright, and those that haven’t been trapped here with us in this horribly slow chunk of entropic amber probably look at us the same way we would look at those poor people living at the bottom of the well, if we became aware of them. They can’t imagine how we can put up with it – the aches and pains of a physical body, being slow and getting old and not being able to go where we want to, to be whatever we want to, the instant we want to go there or be that. Being born and reborn, again and again, into these flesh and blood cages that befuddle our thinking with strange chemical secretions and limit our perceptions and make us slow and blind and deaf and stupid, that cut us off from each other and make us mean and vicious towards each other.

They can’t understand how we live down here, in the cold and the wet and the dark.

Maybe once in a while one of them, braver or stronger or kinder than the average, climbs down to the bottom of the well, to try and help us out. But while they’re down here, they’re blind and cold and wet, too, and all they have to help us with is the knowledge of where we are, and what the world above is like, and how to get back up there. But they can’t carry any of us back out; we have to climb up ourselves, and they can’t really point to where we need to start, we have to find that ourselves, too. And what they’re saying to us sounds like madness, because we’ve never known anything but the cold and the wet and the darkness. And we’ve made accommodations down here, a lot of us like it down here; we’ve found ways to make our lives down here in the cold wet darkness more tolerable, and running around looking for a mythical hole in a mythical ceiling leading to a mythical shaft we’d have to climb up into a mythical upper world where everything is supposedly better, but still, so incredibly, unimaginably different that, frankly, we find it alien and frightening… well… it’s just too much trouble. It’s not that bad down here. We’re used to it. We have our little pleasures, our creature comforts. Sometimes, briefly, we’re even happy.

Down here. In the cold, and the wet, and the dark.

At the bottom of the well.

* * * *

The link I embedded in the middle of this will take you to a very strange thread indeed. Someone calling himself The Insider, purporting to know what is actually going in here in the reality we all inhabit, offered to answer any questions anyone wanted to put to him/her. During the course of the discussion that ensued, the Insider advised that Earth was 'a prison, and worse' and gave some practical advice on how to escape -- basically, we need to eschew and avoid all material entanglements, and we need to specifically be aware of a list of very specific traps and entanglements that keep us down here, being reborn over and over again, instead of ascending back to the world above. These are things like food & drink, sex, the Internet, social relationships with other people... everything, it seems, that makes life worth living down here.

I don't know what to make of it. But the Insider's last words to us haunt me still --

Thank everyday the Good One where everything has it's beginning for Being, for It's Divine Law providing you with a chance to return to your original state, the realm you truly belong to, for It's power of Necessity applying the justified corrections that you experience everyday.

Praise the Higher Beings who operate according to the One's Divine Law, which are manifestations/emanations of the One, for providing the means of Life in all areas, sustaining them and providing these means for your benefit, guiding you to the release and more.

When addressing Divinity (read again) be careful to articulate well, do not demand, tell, beg, order, suggest, ask… which are abhorrences, just state and do your duty.

Understand the questions I raised by answering you, I said more than you read, pass it on.



Return to where? Return to who?

Heads up

Probably stupid, but you never know. I came across this in a comment thread at Rigorous Intution, so, you know, take it for what it's worth to you:

This latest posting is important enough but the reader must know that neither of the parties are identified, although their telephone numbers are. One, the A party, is calling from a telephone located inside Washington’s plush Hay-Adams hotel while the second, the B party, is using the main telephone number of the United States Attorney’s office in New York City. It should be fairly obvious that one of the parties, the one in Washington, has some connection with the staff of the Vice President. The call was recorded on August 18, 2006 and I am only showing a portion of it. The rest of what was a 20 minute call is filled with trivia.

A @ 202 638-6600 (Washington, D.C.)

B @ 212 637-2200 (New York City, N.Y.)
A: Of course you never know what is serious, what can happen, what will happen and what is only wishful thinking. But there is enough there….

B: How much have you actually seen…or heard? I mean factually, not just latrine rumors.

A: Plenty. In a twisted way, it makes sense. I suppose it does. Anyway, I have nothing to do with it and just knowing about something in advance is not a crime, unless someone can find a paper or remember a conversation that is.

B: Before the fact.

A: Right. That’s why I say you and your family should leave your nice Big Apple place about the ninth of October and go visit your relatives in Arizona. Then you can watch it on CNN.

B: How long a vacation?

A: Why not a week either way?

B: And you? Any vacation for you? But you don’t have any kids or plants to take care of.

A: True but Georgetown is pretty safe. New York won’t be. God knows what kind of chemicals will be in the air and a good wind coming from Jersey could bring some nasty surprises. Isn’t it better to be safe than sorry?

B: Sure. But packing up means stories to everyone and I would have to be cool and collected about it. The kids would miss Halloween parties if I stay long enough and there is school to consider. I suppose I ought to call home and get them to invite me. I can’t just drop in on them.

A: No but try not to sound concerned. How long since you’ve seen them out there?

B: About a year, give or take. I’ll start on this right away. Will you be involved?

A: Shit no. I told you I want to know nothing about all of this and…

B: No, no, no….I mean will you have to go down there?

A: No. I’m not important enough. He might not even go. He will probably put Bush up to going to show the flag as he could say, while he does what he’s been doing for six years now and that’s running the country. No, he’ll stay right here and make sure he can keep his eyes and his hands on everything. I know he’s been writing speeches and policy statements on this because I’ve seen several when I have been filing.

B: Does he know you look at things?

A: Christ, I hope not. I just smile and look admiring and once in a while, I get a brief smile or a nod. He wants so much to be the real President but it will never happen. Too many people hate him. He’s not all that bad privately but officially, he’s a real Beria, if you know what I mean. Competent, very much so, and cold as ice. Jesus, he really does not like Bush at all. I have heard him say things about him…he thinks he’s a basket case. You know, it’s funny because when he put himself on the ticket, he had no idea Bush would be such an intransigent nut. But he’s been waiting for real power for years and now that he has it, he’s not going to blow it. I don’t know why he just doesn’t cash in his stock options when the term is over and retire and write books. He’s got a really bum ticker and he could go at any time.

B: Quadruple bypass, right?

A: Oh yes, and he takes more pills than a hippie.

B: Then why does he care?

A: His precious party might lose everything he has worked towards for so many years, that’s why. If they lose in November, don’t forget, there could be investigations and I can tell you what with the stock business and the hidden bank accounts, he’d spend his last years in a Federal jail somewhere.

B: They think they’ll never get caught…

A: Or die. Anyway, you know enough not to tell your wife or anyone else about this heads up, don’t you. Two ways to get secret information out. Telephone and tell a woman.

B: My wife isn’t that way at all but I take your drift. I say nothing. But won’t one of the perps get sloshed and tell some cunt about it? Or his priest?

A: Don’t worry about priests. They’re using Jews for this one, like the last time. I think it’s rabbis, not priests.

B: They were involved in 2001…

A: Yes and they passed it on, knowing nothing would be done. And no one is going to nail them on this one because they can snitch about the last one. Hell, they’ve been using that one for leverage for five years now. They’re smart assholes, I’ll give them that.

B: Why that target and not something like the Liberty Bell? Or they could blow up a plane with a lot of top Democrats on board, right?

A: If the refinery goes, you can see and hear it in your apartment. No damage to New York but plenty of dramatic fireworks. Keep the media busy for months. At least it will be better than the Aruba adventure. You have to keep the number of in-the-know people down to about three. The hebe guy running this operation is from DC originally and Interpol is after him for his operation down under. Linden is right on the water and it’s easy in and easy out…if they’re lucky. Oh, and here’s a nice touch. They want to leave a dead raghead behind, like some guard shot him. I mean someone they have in jail, over there, not here, with a long record of militant activity and I mean well-documented. And one of my man’s people will accidentally discover him nice and dead with all kinds of fake evidence in his pockets, for certain putting the blame on bin Laden. And that’s a joke because bin Laden has been dead since ’03.

B: Did we ice him somewhere?

A: No. Kidney failure in a paki hospital. He makes a good boogeyman. You know the drill: If you don’t vote for us, the rotten, weak faggot Democrats will take over and bin Laden will rejoice and kill all of you.

B: It has worked before as I remember. Red Alerts and duct tape.

A: And then we can have real Red Alert days, just before elections.

B: As usual. Not to change the subject but how do you think the immigration votes will go? My people live in Tucson and they are worried sick about all of the beaners shooting each other over drugs. What will happen?

A: What do you think? They supply our friendly agribusiness tycoons with slave labor so we make a lot of noise and do nothing.

B: McCain…

A: He’s a nut. I guess being locked up in a zipperhead jail in solitary for five years snapped him.


Editor’s note: Bayway Refinery is a refining facility used by ConocoPhillips, located in Linden, New Jersey. This is the northernmost refinery on the East Coast of the United States. The oil refinery converts crude oil (supplied by tanker) into gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel, and heating oil. As of 2006, the facility processes approximately 238,000 barrels per day (BPD) of crude oil, producing 145,000 BPD of gasoline and 110,000 BPD of distillates. Its products are delivered to East Coast customers via pipeline transport, barges, railcars and tank trucks.

The facility also houses a petrochemical plant which produces lubricants and additives, a polypropylene plant which produces 775 million pounds per year, and has its own railway container terminal and heliport.

Linden is a City in Union County, New Jersey. Located southwest of Elizabeth, a few miles from New York Harbor. Together with Elizabeth, Linden is home to the Bayway Refinery, a ConocoPhillips refining facility that helps supply petroleum-based products to the New York/New Jersey area.

See our Inside the White House archive:

A Complete Copy of the Voice of the White House from TBR News April 18, 2004- December 29, 2005

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My opinion? It strikes me as unlikely that something like this would leak beforehand, and we've seen quite a few similar things over the last few years that turned out to be false alarms. But, still. If it happens, at least, I'll know it isn't whatever the media is telling me it is... and so will you.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Just a Little more Anarchy

Time on my hands + scanner + JLA SHOWCASE = more retarded putative humor!!! YAY!!!

Okay... that's all you get for now. Next time... WEREWOLF BY NIGHT! Be here! Aloha!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Doin' nothin'...

...and pilin' it up.

The semi-legendary Bobby Lightfoot has made drive bys to my blog and SuperFiancee's. I wouldn't expect him to be a regular commenter on MY blog... whatthefuk does my miserable geek blogging have to offer to a man of his jaded, cosmopolitan tastes... but he couldn't do any better than to hang around my baby's place a little more. (Nor, for that matter, could any of the rest of you. Eyes slideways, spuds.)

Bobby's a frickin' brilliant writer, so y'all should certainly check out his blog, but go there prepared to experience the fuckin' F word a great deal.

By way of an apology for being so straight up unjustifiably mean to me recently in her comment threads, a certain (entirely justifiably) guilt stricken fangirl blogger has put a couple of links to some of my recent work here at one of her blogs. This has driven a lot of traffic my way, although she now seems to be over it, so this sudden spike of strangers' attention has recently subsided once more. It was nice while it lasted, though, and I appreciated the gesture.

That offer of your ovaries to the guy doing All Star Wonder Woman is still pretty weird, though, Ragnell, and I swear to sweet baby jebus, if you came across a fanboy blogger spraying similar spittle towards Gail Simone, you'd take an axe to his ass in public. "Oh God, Gail Simone, I want to marry you, if you won't marry me, I want to impregnate you with my child, NOW!! NOW!!! NOW!!!" See how creepy it gets when you switch the polarity? Calm down, honeychile. I know you don't like me, but wisdom can come from any direction, even the ones you present your ass to.

Tomorrow is my interweek day off, and while I have some floor maintenance to do at home before the avalanche of SuperKids comes thundering back from the patriarchial abode on Sattiday, I'll still find time to have some more fun with scanned JLA Archives panels. Yay! Eventually I may move on to scanned Werewolf by Night panels, or even scanned Avengers panels, if I get bored enough. You've all been warned.

round here... we're carving out our names...

Swear to GOD, this is the best I can do here. The. BEST. I. Can. Do.

It's sad, I know.

See, I could break out the Paint program and draw something insane that no one would comment on, and that, in fact, would make most of you back slowly away from your CRT, while hoping to God the movements you think you're seeing in the corners of your line of sight are just imaginary, or dust motes, or some shit. But my one supervisor is still here, and will be here for the rest of the day, and when she comes by my cubie and sees me with the Paint program open, she gets all snarky and says "You aren't supposed to be using that". Which is like, "Bitch, it's ON MY COMPUTER, is baby Jesus crying right now because I'm using this?" But I can't say that. And I don't need the hassle. So, I can't do that. So, no insane cartoons for you all today.

Stress is just SO MUCH not saying the things you really NEED to say when some jack ass gets in your shit for no sane purpose whatsoever.

James Wolcott is such a fabulous writer, I don't know what the fuck he's saying more than half the time. But I do love to watch him strut.

But then, at the end of his latest post, after he goes up, down and sideways on Entourage with a chainsaw, he turns right around and slams that kerosene powered baby right through Deadwood's torso! Fucker!

Say what you want about Entourage, but keep your dextrous digits away from my Dave Milch shows, Wolcott. Don't make me come over there.

James Howard Kunstler is someone who's writing I like, and for someone who says he's a liberal, he takes a pretty war-like, pro-Israel stance. After going around the left blogosphere and reading everyone else out there screaming at Israel in regard to all the frickin' Lebanese and Palestinians they keep blowing up, Kunstler's perspective is certainly different, and sometimes, to someone who still likes Israel as much as I want to, a breath of fresh air.

Of course, Kunstler has also declared that conspiracy theories about our government letting 9/11 happen are just paranoid bullshit, and unfortunately, he's stone fuckin' wrong about that. But that doesn't mean he's wrong about the oil running out; it simply means that the wisest and most cogent among us can be willfully blind to the truth when a lie is much more comforting. Man, do I understand that impulse.

Roy Edroso went to London recently (or he's still over there, I dunno) and he's been writing a lot lately about British art and British beer and I don't know what the fuck all else. I wish he'd get back to pulling the wings off rightie bloggers, 'cuz all this high falutin' literary horseshit gives me a case of the ass. But he's a brilliant writer anyway, so check his shit out.

John Rogers is another fabulous writer who simply refuses to kiss my ass, enough, or, really, at all, on his blog. I hate him for that, and for being a better writer than I'll ever be, but I'm a spiteful, spiteful man. (I'm being hyperbolic here. I imagine most of my small audience realized that without the footnotes, but a few of my lurkers ain't so bright. I really admire Mr. Rogers talents greatly, and honestly don't expect him to admire me back, as he don't know me and I have no accomplishments in the writing field -- or any other -- that he or anyone else could possibly acknowledge as admirable. And I'm okay with that. Now we're moving on.)

In his latest post, Rogers is on about pretty dead girls the media is ignoring, mostly because they're soldiers in our military who died in Iraq, and for some reason, our media doesn't like to embarrass the Administration by covering stories like that. I mean, God forbid American citizens, or the American government, should care about its women in uniform getting killed for no fucking reason at all.

Last but not least, over in one of her comment threads, my ex girlfriend Laurie (yeah, so I dated a penguin in college; it was an experimental time for me) admits she's reading my first novel, Universal Maintenance. Let me know if you figure out who the Patron is, Opus. And, say, you didn't actually BUY a frickin' copy, did you? I hope not, that Publish America edition is WAAAAAY overpriced. (I tell this to everyone I think may even be thinking about buying a copy, because it's true and I hate to take advantage of the few friends I have, or let Publish America do it, the cads. Still, I find it enormously flattering when people go ahead and do it anyway.)

And Blogger just did its best to screw me out of this entire post by locking up when I tried to post it, but being wise in the ways of lousy no good free support software, I'd copied the whole thing to a Word doc before I made the attempt. So, Blogger tried to save you from the tedium of reading this nonsense, but it failed miserably, and now you're stuck. Sorry about that.

Hey! Go read SuperFiancee's blog! It's way better than this one.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Cheez wiz

Here's why I would never, I mean NEVER, unless someone's life depended on it, play in an actual HeroClix tournament:

Wizard World Chicago 2006 Top 8 Forces

1. John Pauly (The_drubber)
V Ghost Rider (Fantastic Forces) with In Contact with Oracle
E Black Knight with Alpha Flight, In Contact with Oracle, and Protected
R Domino
V Mockingbird with Alpha Flight and Vault
R Dr. Mid-Nite with Nanobots

2. Rich Barrientos (LoNg-ShOt)
E Superman Robot with In Contact with Oracle, Nanobots, and Protected
E Batman (Icons Starter) with In Contact with Oracle and Protected
R Lockjaw with Double-Time
R Red Tornado
R Domino
Lian Harper bystander

3. Isaac Junk (Sublime1)
V Hawkeye (Fantastic Forces) with Alpha Flight, Heightened Reflexes, In Contact with Oracle, Nanobots, Protected, and
Trick Shot V Lockjaw with In Contact with Oracle and Protected
E Lockjaw with Protected (x2)
U Oracle

4. Joel LaPresta (joeldad)
E Joker (Icons) with Armor Piercing (x2)
R Lockjaw (x2)
E Lockjaw
R Dr. Mid-Nite
Lian Harper bystander (x2)

5. Spenser Davison (Ledhead)
U Flash (Legacy) with Armor Piercing, In Contact with Oracle, Nanobots, Protected, and Sidekick
V Lockjaw and In Contact with Oracle, Protected, and Sidekick
R Domino with Sidekick
Lian Harper bystander with Sidekick

6. Cory Taylor (DrDoom007)
U Flash (Legacy) with Armor Piercing, In Contact with Oracle, Lazarus Pit, Nanobots, Protected, and Sidekick
E Lockjaw with In Contact with Oracle, Protected, and Sidekick
U Oracle
Lian Harper bystander (x8)

7. Chuck LaPresta (mysterio107)
E Joker (Icons) with Armor Piercing (x2)
R Lockjaw with Protected (x2)
E Lockjaw with Protected
Lian Harper bystander (x2)

8. Kimberly Dyer (snowleopard)
V Bullseye (Sinister) with Protected
E Batman (Icons Starter)
V Jinx
E S.H.I.E.L.D. Sniper (Sinister)
V Mockingbird with Thunderbolts
V Cheetah with Nanobots

This is crap. I mean, THIS IS CRAP! Two Lockjaws? Bullseye and Batman on the same team? EIGHT FUCKING LIAN HARPERS ON ONE TEAM?

These people should be beaten into jam, with each other's hipbones.

I swear to God, I cannot understand the point of having a game in which the game pieces represent certain specific fictional characters, if the way one wins in competitive play is to completely ignore everything about those characters except the numbers and colors on the figures' dials.


Dead AND wooden

Okay, I'm still waiting for the Season Finale of DEADWOOD.

I watched something on TV last night. It seemed to be sort of like DEADWOOD. (spoilers coming, bail now) Al was certainly back in rare form, knocking his own minions unconscious and cutting the throats of relative innocents for no particularly good reason at all. But I was led to believe there was going to be some big shoot out between Hearst's Pinkerton goons and Al's coalition of the willing -- his own desperadoes, augmented by Wu's chinks and a band of bad asses recruited by the drunken Hawkeye (which included, we were told, a midget who was hell with a knife). I was looking forward to it. And yet, in the end, rather than fight for the right to... well... not kill Trixie OR one of his other whores, Al wimped out, Hearst got on a stage and left town, and the increasingly more erratic and deplorable Cy Tolliver ended up stabbing the odious Leon for no good reason at all, apparently to fulfil the mandatory 'one of the regulars has to die' compulsion Dave Milch seems helpless in the grip of.

Last and certainly not least, as SuperFiancee noted with some outrage, the friggin' theater troupe ended up contributing absolutely nothing that would have justified the endless toll of time and celluloid wasted on them to date.

As nearly any of the characters in this show might well note -- this was a fuckin' gyp.

So I'm still waiting for my Season Finale of DEADWOOD. In much the same way I'm still waiting for REVENGE OF THE JEDI.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

League time

If you read SuperFiancee's blog (and if you don't, you're a chump, I mean, straight up), then you probably already know that she's spent this weekend spoiling me rotten. Which is fine with me, but, you know, sometimes I like to spoil her rotten, and she always fights me on it, way way more than I do when she wants to spoil me. And, anyway, she pretty much spoils me rotten all the time.

Anyway, she went over to a local video place on Friday to get ANGEL: SEASON FOUR on DVD. The local TBS station had been showing it in syndication, but we forgot to tape it sometime last week, and ended up missing out on about six vital fourth season eps, so, after she absolutely forbade me to just order a set from a cheap DVD site for her (money is tight these days, and has been for months, and will be for months to come, it looks like), this was what we ended up doing. And while she was over there picking them up, she snatched up the first season of the JUSTICE LEAGUE cartoon for me, too.

Plus, Saturday we stopped off over at Great Escape and along with a few other items, I picked up Brad Metzler's JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #1.

So, it's been pretty much a Justice League weekend here in Castle Anthrax. (I know, I know, could I please stop mixing my geek references? The blog title is from BUCKAROO BANZAI, I'm the Highlander, and now I call where I live Castle Anthrax? What's WRONG with me? Well, let's just say SuperFiancee does a pretty good imitation of bad, wicked, evil, naughty Zoot when she's a mind to, and move on.)

On Metzler -- I heard so much trash talked about IDENTITY CRISIS, the miniseries that put Metzler on the map, that I had pretty much decided I never needed to read it. For some reason, I had it cross associated in my mind with another miniseries that had come out from DC at the same time, and that I had also heard was dreadful, called HUSH. And while I'm fairly certain that HUSH really is appalling and I pretty much never will actually read it, I ran across a copy of the IDENTITY CRISIS collection at the library a month or so ago, so I took it out, and I read it, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was actually excellent.

I may have liked it better than most fans because I'd heard spoilers and thus knew what the big suprise ending was before I even started reading the series. Virtually every bad opinion of the series I heard went something like "It was actually great until that last issue, but the last issue was so bad it made the rest of the series suck, too". Which I can understand -- I feel much the same way about the fifth season of BUFFY, which is fabulous up until the last five episodes or so, but those last five episodes are so truly bad that they nearly wreck the entire preceding season.

Anyway, I liked IDENTITY CRISIS fine; within the context of a metareality like the DC Universe, I didn't find Metzler's final solution to the series' locked room mystery to be particularly difficult to believe or accept, and I was delighted to discover that Metzler himself is a fabulous writer with an intimate knowledge of DC continuity, including Silver Age continuity, an obvious love of and respect for DC's older characters, and a lot of natural talent for writing naturalistic, and often quite funny, dialogue. He also excels at that thing that is, in many ways, the essence of writing established characters well -- he can, apparently effortlessly, take cliche situations and very familiar characters and present them to us with a new twist, or from a completely unexpected angle, in such a way as to make us see those situations or characters in an entirely different light.

It's something that writers like Alan Moore, Geoff Johns, Neil Gaiman, Tom Peyer, Steve Englehart, Roger Stern, Alan Brennert, Steve Gerber, Gail Simone, Greg Rucka, and Kurt Busiek all do with varying degrees of expertise and success, and I was delighted to be able to add a new name to that roster of comics scripters. Which was why, when I heard Metzler was going to be writing a new JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA title, I was determined to buy it.

To date, we've actually seen two issues of the title: #s 0 and 1. Neither has been a disappointment to me, despite the fact that in both issues, the 'present day' action has been pretty much confined to Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman sitting around in a cave somewhere yammering about whether or not there should be a Justice League, and if there should, who should be in it.

Issue zero flashed back and forth between past, present, and future. The future events were all vague, and the sort of thing that someday writers on the title can pick up on and flesh out, or completely ignore, as suits them. We know there's supposed to be a funeral for someone that will, again, break up the League; we know the League will be getting a new satellite HQ, we know Hal Jordan will be getting married and Wonder Woman will be getting engaged (to a man, even). Even more fun, for me at least, was seeing the past flashbacks -- we got to see Batman's initial reaction to the League's first adventure (and thus, have confirmed that once again, Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman have all been restored to their rightful status as charter members of the League, and not only that, but the details of the League's origin story seem to have been restored, as well, to what they once were). We got to see Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman all reacting with varying degrees of horror and approbation at the inception of the stupidity that was the Detroit League. We even get a glimpse of the three's amusement, as Wonder Woman and Batman recount for Superman how Batman punched Guy Gardner right in the jaw during the even more appalling period when the League was little more than a situation comedy under Giffen, de Matteis, and Jones.

But all that was just prelude. In JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #1, we get... well, we get all kinds of riches. We see the Metal Men again, albeit briefly. We see Jefferson Pierce having a conversation with the Signalman in a bar, which, honestly, I thought was just cool. Kathy Sutton, the Red Tornado's long time squeeze, comes off as a real, four dimensional human being for the first time EVER -- Metzler is such a good writer, he can even put in three flash back panels full of terrible Len Wein dialogue and still make the characterizations work. Now that's talent.

There were a dozen other fabulous little bits in the book -- Hal Jordan's interactions with Roy Harper, Superman's assessment of just why Batman wants Captain Marvel in the League so badly, Vixen's confrontation with a couple of shapeshifters in a Hub City bar, a throwaway line about Batman taking a look at the circuitry in Superman's Legion flight ring, a flashback scene to Red Tornado's first 'death', cameos by Boston Brand and Felix Faust... an enormously dense flood of background material, all of it handled deftly and surely, without a false note sounded anywhere.

But the real joy of the issue, at least for me, was Red Tornado's transformation into a flesh and blood human being. Yeah, you could get pissy about the details if you wanted to (although I'll point out, all the details we were told by 'Boston Brand' could be lies; it's pretty obvious someone is going to a great deal of trouble to vacate the Red Tornado android body for their own purposes, and they could have whipped up a human body for him through other means and then made up a more innocent story to assuage Tornado's conscience at taking it over), but what works for me is how well Metzler conveys the emotions here -- the feelings Tornado has about at long last being fully alive, the amazement his lover and his adopted daughter both feel at realizing that, for the first time, his hands are warm as he touches them.

I've been a Justice League fan for a very long time, I've read hundreds if not thousands of Justice League stories, and all my life, Red Tornado has been a forgettable, even regrettable character, one whom I could seriously see myself applying Byrne's derisive 'toaster' label to, given just a little bit more impetus. And yet, with this issue, Metzler has, quite literally, made the character real for the first time. He's made him human... on every level. And if that was all this issue had, I'd have been enormously satisfied, and eagerly looking forward to seeing what else Metzler has in store for this version of the League.

But there was so much more.

I honestly can't see how Metzler can continue to provide us with this level, this depth, and this breadth of characterization and story content in each issue, but I'm sure looking forward to watching him try.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Chick Fight!

I hear (well, read, I'm talking about the Internet, here) a lot of talk lately about how badly women are exploited in superhero comics. So, let's take a look at that.

Women in superhero comics are undoubtedly portrayed unrealistically. Their physical appearances are distorted to a nearly grotesque degree, making them exaggerated visual clichés of adolescent male sex objects. Their behavior is even worse; what personalities they have are generally rudimentary or even vestigial, and the roles they occupy are always subordinate to any male superheroes, and for that matter, most other male characters, they appear with.

Throughout the history of superhero comics, female characters have played these demeaning, humiliating roles. Non super powered female supporting characters are simply there as arm candy and plot fodder – “Gosh, Superman, Lois and Lana have both been captured by Lex Luthor’s X-Androids!" This represents, essentially, the entire feminine gender reduced to the status of ongoing nuisance which the hero has to deal with, over and over again. (Lois Lane herself may very well be the epitome of the misognystic witticism "women -- can't live with 'em, can't kill 'em". In Superman's case, apparently, he can't even let her die, either.)

Super powered women, on the other hand, fall near-universally into two subordinate categories in superhero comics – The Inevitable Girl in an otherwise all male superhero team, or The Distaff Version of the Stronger Male Superhero, i.e., Captain Hero With A Boob Job. (Some characters, like the Wasp, fill both categories; she began her career as a weaker version of her senior male crimefighting partner, Ant-Man; a bit later, she also became The Inevitable Girl in the original line up of the Avengers.)

So, on the one hand, the visual portrayal of nearly all women in superhero comics is distorted and grotesque, clearly designed to fulfill the sexual fantasies of the predominantly male readership. In addition to this exaggeratedly libidinous graphic depiction, pretty much all women in comics, with super powers or without, remain in subordinate, supporting roles to stronger male characters.

It doesn’t take a master’s degree in rocket science to understand why this is now, and pretty much always has been, the norm in superhero comics – the sub-genre is entirely designed for, and largely supported by, adolescent males of all ages. To the adolescent male (whether he’s 14 years old or 44), this bizarre and absurdly unrealistic depiction of femininity represents on some very basic, emotional level the ‘ideal woman’ – always sexy, perhaps often annoying, but presenting no real problems or difficulties that the competent, dominant male in their lives can’t solve relatively easily, through straightforward confrontation with the inevitably weaker and inferior forces of obfuscatory evil.

Is this a demeaning portrayal of women in general? I wouldn’t argue it. In fact, I think you could fairly cogently make your case that it’s demeaning for everyone involved; any man who honestly believes that the first forty years of so of Lois Lane’s appearances accurately represent female behavior to any degree is pretty frickin’ stupid. Further, any man who understands that real women aren’t like Lois, but wistfully wishes they were, is beyond stupid and well into a level of emotional retardation nearly transcendent of actual human behavior… but I won’t deny that guys like that also exist... and give the rest of us a bad name, too.

But, still… I think it may be worthwhile to note at this point that, just as pornography demeans both the men AND women who appear in it, so too do comics offer an equal opportunity to both genders for exaggeration and distortion of physical appearance and psychological behaviors.

Which is to say, the men in comics don’t exactly resemble me, or any of my geek buddies, either.

Assuming that the vast slab like chests, brobdignagian shoulders and deliriously ripped musculature of comics’ super powered male mesomorphs are, to any sane or rational eye, at least as distorted and, from a realistic point of view, grotesque, as the similar and equitable anatomical exaggerations hung on all the female characters (and pointing out that the relatively few female superhero fans in the audience seem to enjoy admiring Green Lantern’s ass as much as the vastly greater number of male fans out there like to look at Power Girl’s magnificent gazongas), we’re still left with the insultingly subordinate roles female figures invariably assume in superhero comics.

So, even if the overly sexual physical caricaturing ends up being a wash, as it is just about equally applied to either gender, we're still left with how generally annoying the women in comics are, or how inferior the gender roles they tend to play are in comparison to what the guys get to do.

It’s also worth noting, as we move along, that the present day scarcity of superwoman in comic books does not represent how things have always been. In Comics Golden Age (circa World War II; as with the Silver Age, no two scholars can agree on an exact date range when the Golden Age began or ended) there were a plethora of super powered women in comics, few of whom were in any kind of super team and very few of whom had anything to do with male superheroes. Male superheroes were far more numerous, but still, characters like the Blonde Phantom, Phantom Lady, Black Fury, Sun Girl, Venus, and Miss America abounded in those more innocent times… along with other females more clearly derived from male predecessors, like Namora and Batwoman.

Exactly why the World War II era of comic books features so many independent superheroines, and why the post war era saw most if not all of those independent superheroines either vanish altogether, or sink into the same kind of subordinate roles supeheroines still seem mired in today, I could not tell you. It may well have something to do with the fact that in WWII, women stepped up and took over most of the predominantly male roles in both society and industry, out of necessity as the vast majority of men were serving in the Armed Forces… and this seems all the more valid as an observation when one reflects on the quick backlash against this widespread feminine liberation that occurred when the men returned to civilian life after WWII and literally forced women back into their subordinate roles as domestic helpmeets and support personnel in the work force (secretaries, waitresses, cashiers, etc).

This would seem to very closely mirrored in superhero comics, with the vast majority of superheroines simply vanishing, and those that remained (Wonder Woman and Black Canary, most noticeably) serving in turn as Inevitable Girls to the Justice Society of America, and, just to rub their noses in their post war lack of status, the team’s Recording Secretary (presumably because they were the only members lacking a penis, and thus, the only ones who could knew shorthand and could take dictation).

Interestingly, Wonder Woman and Black Canary remain to this day pretty much the only female survivors of comics Golden Age, making one wonder if the inevitable lesson to be derived from this is that, in the male dominated world of superhero comics, if a girl wants to survive, she has to go along to get along.

It’s also worth noting that Wonder Woman and Black Canary are, between them, decked out in two of the skimpiest and most sexually provocative costumes seen throughout the skanky, skeevy visual history of superhero comics. They’re also among the most unrealistically visually portrayed characters ever. Wonder Woman, being an artificial being given life by the gods, can, one supposes, have monumentally massive mammaries if the predominantly male deities she derives her powers from want her to have them, and somehow or other, they won’t get in the way when she power dives onto a villain from a thousand feet in the air, or twirls her magic lasso in front of her at super speed to generate a gale force wind. We can make the same statements for her ridiculous high heeled knee boots – she’s a supernatural being; if she can somehow fight while wearing these things, well, the gods move in strange and mysterious ways, and so too can their mystically animated homunculi.

No such excuses can be contrived for Black Canary, who is supposed to be one of the premiere female martial artists, acrobats, detectives, and gymnasts on the planet. Female athletes who operate routinely at this kind of superb athletic physical level do not have gigantic hooters; in point of fact, they generally have very low percentages of body fat and any breasts they may have are miniscule or nonexistent.

Beyond that, the finest Olympic level athlete in the world would have difficulty doing acrobatics, much less martial arts, in three inch heels. Ginger Rogers is famous for having done everything Fred Astaire ever did, backwards and in high heels, but I suspect even Ms. Rogers would have found it nearly impossible to vault through a warehouse window, kick a hood in the jaw, flip over his still falling body into three of his buddies, and pummel them all insensate, all while wearing three inch heeled floppy buccaneer boots and fishnet stockings – and all while trying to keep her blonde wig from falling off, too.

Do these two superchicks owe their longevity at least in part to the sheer sexiness of their costumes, however unlikely it is that they would be able to actually physically function as superheroines while dressed in, or, more likely, falling out of, such damfool outfits? Well, I wouldn't rule it out.

But, again, if women in comics are shown with grotesquely unrealistic anatomies, men are as well. This is an inherent part of the art form; comics, like most of our entertainment, are about fantasy projection and wish fulfillment. If we didn’t want to be those characters, or at least, hang out with them in their fictional realities for a while, we wouldn’t cough up the green for their adventures.

To sum up – superhero comics are created by a predominantly male creative group and for a predominantly male consumer base. Their essential foundations are fantasy projection and wish fulfillment. Realistic portrayals of these characters, male or female, would cause the commercial death of the subgenre. I like superhero comics, and I even like them to have a certain level of credible internal consistency and versimilitude to them, yet I have no desire to see Batman popping steroids, nor did I particularly enjoy the era where Blue Beetle had a gigantic beer belly, despite the fact that I have one myself (although, as I don’t drink alcohol, it’s more a milk and Pepsi belly, actually).

Female comics fans may continue to clamor for female characters in superhero comics with more modest mammary endowments and who do not dress like topless dancers at the beginning of a three song routine, but the commercial reality of comics precludes the modification of such details, and that’s just how that is.

If we men don’t feel our gender is being sexually exploited by its universal representation as ‘beefcake’ in these four color rags, it seems to me that female comics fans (who certainly don’t seem to mind the beefcake, either) could lighten up a little bit about the cheesecake, too. But, women tend to have different perceptions of sexuality than men do, and in this regard, we may simply have to accept that this particular sub-genre of graphic art is now and always has been predominantly created for (and by) and consumed by males… and leave it at that. Or, as I noted before, declare it a wash and put it behind us.

However, one thing we do not have to accept is the ridiculously limited, and generally subordinate, roles that female characters play in superhero comics. This isn’t the 1950s any more. If superwomen can be empowered in the 1940s, when all the men were off fighting overseas, they can certainly be re-empowered and re-liberated from demeaning, supportive, derivative gender roles in 21st Century superhero comics.

Which is to say, it’s time and past time for the creation of some super powered women in comics who aren’t either (a) simply there to cook and clean for the guys who make up the rest of their team, or (b) who aren’t simply carbon copies of stronger male characters with tits penciled in on a lightbox. And to that, I'd add (c) who don't necessarily have to prove they're as 'good as any man' by using their powers to win battles and solve problems in exactly the same way as all the super powered men do.

DC, at least, has some strong superheroines in its line up of comics, with the WONDER WOMAN and BIRDS OF PREY titles. Gail Simone’s SECRET SIX also has some fabulous women in it who are neither Inevitable Girls nor Captain Heroes With Boobs. And lately, with much more naturalistic writers on the character, even Power Girl – the ultimate “all I got is my hooters but damn ain’t they somethin’ boys” superwoman if ever there was one – has been displaying a lot of personality nuances never previously suspected. So there’s hope for superwomen, at the one time National Comics, anyway.

Marvel’s treatment of women in their superhero comics has always been pretty embarrassing, however. Even when Marvel's male writers try to empower women, as Chris Claremont did all through the 70s, 80s, and 90s, they tend to overreact to an embarrassing extent, creating not so much a credible and realistic portrayal of femininity within the context of superhuman serial fiction, but rather a tapestry of vastly over-aggressive, near sociopathically emotionally independent chicks-with-dicks whose personalities are all entirely interchangeable (“We don’t need no stinkin’ MEN!”) and who can generally only be told apart by carefully scrutinizing their costumes, as well as by noting the different kinds of (almost invariably phallic) weaponry they’re hauling around, in hopes of running into some godawful male they can ruthlessly thrust it into or fire it off at.

Still, all of Claremont’s ultramacho chicks were members of predominantly male teams (all his female X-Men), or were supporting characters in male superheroes’ books (the Daughters of the Dragon). The only solo superheroine title Claremont ever wrote was Ms. Marvel, and she was essentially Captain Marvel with a boob job, and her book didn’t last all that long, anyway.

Jim Shooter, of all people, once rather famously addressed feminine roles in superhero comics in an issue of AVENGERS (#172, I'm pretty sure) where he had Wonder Man think admiringly of Ms. Marvel that she wasn’t like all the other superheroines he knew, in that she didn’t ‘just strike a pose and point’ – her confrontational style, in which she got right in there and smacked the crap out of the bad guys, was ‘like a man would!’

This seemed to lead directly to a decade or more of superheroines who were far more physically confrontational than had previously been seen in comics, women like the Huntress at DC, and the She-Hulk at Marvel, who did indeed ‘get in there and punch... just like a man’. Even Wonder Woman’s ‘fighting style’ became much more physically aggressive and confrontational after her male counterpart so openly admired Ms. Marvel's head knocking capacities. And this was all just a reflection of similar movements that had been going on in TV for ten years at that point, ever since Emma Peel started kicking brawny male attackers into submission on the British AVENGERS… a trend which culminated in the 90s ‘girl power’ shows like BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, ALIAS, XENA, and LA FEMME NIKITA, to name a very few.

What Shooter, Joss Whedon, and most of the other male writers of these various female battlebots seems to fail to understand is that women are generally not as confrontational or violent as men are. Female superheroines, if written realistically, would be far more likely to employ their superhuman faculties in less aggressive and physically combative ways to resolve the same problems and conflicts that male superheroes invariably attempt to bludgeon insensate. Even female superheroines with very physical abilities, such as Ms. Marvel and She-Hulk, would probably be far more likely to use their strength to manipulate their environment in such as way as to incapacitate their opponents, than they would be to simply wade in and try and beat the holy christ out of their foes. Men tend to be more violently confrontational than women largely because of male testosterone levels, and male superhumans tend to be violently confrontational to fulfill male power fantasies.

All of which is to say, female superheroines in general would be far more likely to try and intellectually outwit their opponents, than they would to attempt to establish dominance on their opponents by beating them into a comatose stupor with a mid size sedan. I’m not saying there wouldn’t be exceptions to the rule – Tigra, for example, might well be more physically confrontational than a normal human woman would be, due to a more animalistic nature – but a woman as generally intelligent and rational as Carol Danvers, it would seem to me, should be far more likely to pick up a giant metal object and use it to restrain a powerful opponent, than she would be to simply fly in and club said opponent into paralytic submission.

This basic dichotomy between how men and woman approach problem solving is one most male writers seem to have little to no concept of. Thus, how male writers tend to script superheroines illustrates an essential problem with creating powerful superheroines who can exist in their own right, independent of the support of any male teammates or surrogates – unfortunately, the average male comics writer generally cannot (or will not) write them so they seem genuinely or recognizably feminine, and the average male comics fan doesn’t really like manly, aggressive, testosterone poisoned superdudes who have tits and vaginas. The same vague male discomfort with powerful women that doomed Tasha Yar early on in Star Trek Jr.'s run also augers poorly for the success of aggressive, physically powerful, extremely violent superwomen.

If we’re going to show some liberated, powerful, realistically portrayed superheroines in superhero comics, we have to find a way to make these characters appeal to female readers – and not just the female readers we already have in superhero comics, but to a vastly expanded audience that would include new female readers, as well. We can't simply create powerful female characters who are little more than clones of powerful male characters, when those powerful male characters primarily resolve conflicts through violence. The dynamic doesn't work well for women; it tends to make them unattractive to most of their target demographic, male or female. We have to find a different model for the modern superheroine, if she is giong to have any commercial success.

Marvel, unfortunately, seems locked into the extremely confrontational, good vs. bad, knock everybody through a building, pick up the car and HIT him with it style that Jack Kirby perfected forty years ago. And locked into it as they are, they don't seem to be able to do anything else with their characters, even their few female ones. There's no reason, for example, why we couldn't have a sorcerer supreme who is a woman, or a female scientific genius who has equipped herself with an array of futuristic inventions of her own creation, or a distaff star-soarer with cosmic awareness -- however, it just never seems to occur to Marvel's editors, or writers, that a woman can not only fulfill those roles just as well as a man, but perhaps even better.

In point of fact, neither Marvel nor DC has a single female scientific genius that I can think of... and given the number of male scientific geniuses in both superhero communities, this strikes me as being a really rather embarrassing lack.

DC, at least, seems to have hit on one approach to creating better superheroines – hire talented female writers to write good, credible, plausibly feminine superheroines. To this I’d add, a few talented female comics artists might be welcome additions to superhero comics, as well… although again, I’d caution; if said female writers and artists go nuts and start depicting their superheroines extremely realistically, in both their behavior and in their appearance, a lot of the escapist appeal of the superheroic continuum is going to be lost.

This may not be a terribly bad thing. It could simply mean that a comic like BIRDS OF PREY would no longer find a predominantly male audience, assuming that all the characters had more realistic measurements, the Huntress stopped dressing like a ho, and they all spent more time gossiping about who is dating who in the League and the Society and the Titans and what happened last night on GILMORE GIRLS, and using their brains to win battles instead of their martial arts prowess (something the character of Oracle does pretty much 24/7 now, anyway... but only because she's paralyzed from the waist down, and therefore, no longer can go out and kick the living bejesus out of the bad guys, the way she did when she was Batgirl).

However, if that were to happen, the theoretical title would need far more support than the current crop of female superhero comics fans could provide; or, rather, it would need to dramatically expand that female superhero comics fanbase.

For myself, I simply enjoy good, nuanced, credible characterization. Having recently read Gail Simone’s first BIRDS OF PREY graphic collection, I found, as usual, that Simone is a terrific writer, but I also, for maybe the first time since I read Alan Brennert’s brilliant Secret Origin of the character way back in 1986, found myself really believing in Black Canary as a person. What did it? Well, Simone had Canary and Huntress exchanging dialogue about the rigorous diets they had to stay on to maintain their figures – something that would have to be true of most superheroines, but that just never seems to occur to male writers – and, even more credibly, at one point Black Canary talked about how she occasionally feels all bloated and puffy while out on a case with the JSA. Again, this isn’t the sort of thing male comics writers tend to be knowledgeable of, but it immediately made Dinah much more ‘real’ for me.

So, to the extent that a female comics writer can make female comics characters more credible, I’m all in favor of it – as long as she can write male comics characters well, too. On the other hand, if Norah Ephron started writing JSA, I’d have no interest in the book; Ephron may write her female characters well, but anyone who thinks that (a) guys really want to nail every chick in the world, even the homely ones (as she had Billy Crystal state in WHEN HARRY MET SALLY) or that guys cry at the ending of THE DIRTY DOZEN (a completely retarded bit of male stereotyping she put in Tom Hanks’ mouth in SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE) shouldn’t ever be allowed to write any male character I care about.

As for the rest of it, though, well, superhero comics are inherently unrealistic, and that’s part of their charm. They are also, at least right now, a genre created, consumed, and supported almost entirely by males. Until that changes, I wouldn’t expect to see anything else change… and as a male myself, well, the only change I’m ever in favor of is better writing. But, hey, I like the good girl art as much as anyone else… and I really can’t see anything wrong with that, either.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Just a Little Anarchy

Foolish things to do with a scanner and a copy of SHOWCASE PRESENTS JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA on a day off when I should be out in the sunshine somewhere...

This last one takes a little more prep time, but hopefully the kicker panel makes it worth it...

Once again, you gotta click on 'em to read em.

With apologies to Gardner Fox and Mike Sekowsky, of course...

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Evolution's next steps?

Who would you prefer to be replaced by... super-racoons ? Or super yellowjackets?

Everything but the best

Here's something interesting about my job:

I started here about 11 months ago. It's my third call center job. I don't like call center jobs any more than any of you do (or would, if you had one) but in my previous call center experience, I'd discovered that I can generally be a pretty good customer service rep if I have to. And when I say that, I am measuring by the only standard that makes sense to me, which is, that I make the customers whom I provide service to pleased that they called and got me to help them.

This job has been a struggle for me, much more so than either of the previous two call center positions I'd held. Oh, I'd gotten into trouble at both previous jobs, and maybe someday I'll relate some of those anecdotes -- the one where a supervisor took down a poster I had on my cubie wall, before I came into work, put it face down on my desk, with a little note on it advising that it was 'inappropriate', and I didn't know the supervisor was or even that they were a supervisor, so I put it back up again and refused to take it down until someone advised me as to what would happen if I didn't, is kind of amusing -- but still, I'd been able to do the jobs there.

Where I'd run into trouble was not with actual customer service, but with mickey mouse internal call center procedural bullshit. (My call center job previous to this one ended for reasons that readers of my previous blogs know well, which had nothing to do with my actual job performance, and everything to do with my boss and one of my co workers being psychotic bitches. But we'll move along from that.)

This job has been really hard for me, and I just haven't been able to figure out why. Part of it, no doubt, is that I simply don't like most of the customer base I'm servicing here. Our product is somewhat complex, those who use it tend to be affluent folks trying to avoid paying some of their taxes, and a great many of them have serious entitlement issues. It's not that every call I get is from an asshole, but, well, the asshole ratio is higher than at either of my previous jobs, and I start out with less tolerance for it. So, that's been a struggle.

But, still, I'm a good customer service rep and a good guy (in my opinion -- your mileage may vary, but I may well think you're an asshole, too, so that pretty much works out even) and it's really bothered me, trying to figure out why, every time I turn around, I've got my supervisors on my ass about yet another goddam thing I'm doing wrong, and why it often seems to me that this job is dangling by a thread, and on any given day I could come in and find a security guard waiting by the front desk to confiscate my ID, hand me the Cardboard Box o' Doom (which would have all the personal items from my cubie packed in it) and escort me back out into the parking lot.

But then I started to really reflect on it, and I remembered a few things.

When I was still in training for this job, they had a really, really busy day, and asked my class if anyone wanted to volunteer to go on the phones. I said okay, and even though I hadn't even finished my training, within my first hour on the phones, I got a 'kudo'... a customer praising me to one of my supervisors.

Now, that's not that uncommon; people here get kudos all the time, and in fact, I got two more over the next several weeks. But I sure haven't gotten any recently... and that strikes me as strange. In my previous call center jobs, I got them pretty frequently.

More significantly, though, within my first week on the phones, I made a participant so happy with me that she actually baked a cake and dropped it off for my entire team. (None of the rest of them would eat it; they seemed to semi seriously be afraid she might have poisoned it. This attitude pretty well exemplifies the kind of relationship we generally have with our customers here.)

Now, the cake wasn't poisoned, it was delicious. I took it home and cleaned it up pretty quick, with the willing help of the SuperKids. But the reaction of my team members pretty much showed that this was pretty much a unique response in the history of the call center. And in the 10 months I've been here since, I've never seen anything like this repeated.

This would seem to indicate to me that when I first started here, I was giving pretty exceptionally good customer service. And, given that no one is baking cakes or even giving me kudos for a long, long time now, something must have changed.

What? Why am I having such a hard time here?

Well, about three weeks after I got here, I got pulled into a small conference room with two of my supervisors and a hideous troll like creature from Quality -- you know, one of those appalling people who, if they were slightly more competent, would be working in the secret police of some third world country somewhere. Quality's job at every call center in the world is to snoop on your calls and make sure you're, well, 'providing quality service' is what they say, but what they really mean is, 'toeing the company line'. As we'll see.

I got slapped from one end of that conference room to the other by these people. I wasn't documenting my calls properly. I wasn't offering the survey. The Quality troll was especially concerned because she had heard a 'recurring tone' in my voice that she thought could cause me difficulty in the future (although it hadn't as yet).

The 'not documenting my calls properly' turned out to be especially absurd. See, we are under strict orders to document every single call we get, without exception. But the software we use to do this will only file calls by Social Security number, or some other similar unique number that the participant may give us. And the calls I wasn't documenting were calls in which people were refusing to give me any kind of ID number, mostly because they were either wrong numbers, or because some people simply will not give you their SS number over the phone, and when they do that, we can (and are required to) still offer to answer general questions that don't require specific account information. Which I was doing.

And I WAS documenting the calls, or trying to, but the first six times I tried to do what we were trained to do (put in 999999999 instead of a social) the calls wouldn't save. So, I gave up on it, because it didn't work.

Those were the calls that the Quality troll couldn't find documented in the system. So I explained that I tried to doc them, and it hadn't worked. And then was treated to one of the most comically ludicrous displays of supervisor stupidity I've ever witnessed (and I've worked at at least a hundred different jobs, so I've seen some really astonishing stupidity on the part of supervisors):

BIG BOSS BETTY: They put in nine 9s, right? When they get that kind of call.
ME: Doesn't work.
QUALITY TROLL: I always heard they were supposed to put in nine 8s.
SMALLER BOSS SAMANTHA: I remember it was supposed to be nine sixes.
BIG BOSS BETTY: Did you try nine 8s? Try nine 8s. That should work.
SBS: I don't know. I think it's 9 sixes.

I have, since then, tried 9 frickin' everything. Nothing works. What I've concluded is, the system simply won't record documentation for a call without a unique number on it, and they could tell us that, but they don't want to. They don't want there to be any calls which are exceptions to the 'doc everything' rule. So, instead, they tell us to doc everything, even though you CAN'T doc those calls, and then, when they don't find documentation, they call you in once and scream at you about it, just to keep people from figuring it out.

Or, alternatively, they have their heads so far up their asses they can count the wrinkles on their colons, and have no clue how their own software works. Which, when you've worked as many jobs as I have, you'll learn not to rule out as a possibility for any batch of supervisors anywhere.

So, after that particular laugh fest, I went back to my cubicle with an entirely different perspective. I was no longer all that concerned with helping my customers. I was, at that time, still a temp trying to get hired permanently, and it had been made plain to me (without anyone ever specifically stating the principle, mind you) that making the customers happy wasn't going to help me much, because the customers didn't make hiring decisions. What I had to do was make Quality happy, while actively avoiding making my customers unhappy.

Now, any of you who have ever worked customer service, or even called customer service, will understand that there is a subtle but profound difference between 'making someone happy' and 'avoiding making someone unhappy'. If you're the customer on the other end of the line, it's not a subtle difference you're going to be pleased with, either.

Since then, I've been called on the carpet regularly by my supervisors, and sometimes, it's been because a customer complained about me, and okay, that's always a problem, even if the customer in question is insane and there's simply no way we can give them what they are insanely demanding, you still have to try to find a nice way to tell them that. And occasionally, when I'm dealing with insane customers, well, I don't.

But most of the rest of the time, it's for completely bullshit internal procedural stuff, like, well, at what point in the call I ask for a daytime phone number, and whether I'm asking for an email address from the participant or confirming back the email address we already have, or idiotic nonsense like that. And here at my current job, we have a lot of idiotic nonsense.

And this, more than anything else, is what I think I'm having such a huge problem with -- because here, all the internal nonsense that I have to adhere to is so much more important than actually providing quality customer service.

Anyone reading this who works in a call center will know what I mean; this is pretty much the way it works at all of them... but it just seems worse here.

So when you call customer service and you feel you're getting jacked around or that the person on the other end really doesn't seem to care about giving you what you feel you should be getting -- well, chances are good that the person you're speaking to is more concerned with dotting all their i's and crossing all their t's and making sure that whoever is currently eavesdropping on their call gives them a passing grade. What they're concerned about as far as YOU are concerned is giving you just enough help to keep you from complaining about them to their supervisors -- and even there, if you complain, but a call review shows that the CSR did everything they were supposed to, they won't get in any trouble.

It's a fucked up system, but, well, we live in a fucked up world. Welcome to mine.

The way they were

With the JLA momentarily back in the spotlight, I figured I might as well post these -- I drew them a long time ago, but they're still just as funny as they ever were (however funny that may actually be.)

Yeah, you gotta click on 'em to read 'em. Sorry. I'm a chatty bastard.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


I did not know this. But we all should:

[E]ven beyond its transparent unjustness, the damage to the integrity of the Constitution, and the dangerous precedents it set, the internment of the Japanese-Americans was an unfathomable waste. It demonstrably undermined the war effort, and proved not to be worth a penny of the billions of taxpayer dollars it wasted.

In addition to the hundreds of millions of dollars the actual enterprise itself cost -- rounding up 120,000 people by rail car and shipping them first to “assembly centers”; building ten “relocation centers” in remote locales, and then shipping the evacuees into them; maintaining and administering the centers for another three years, which included overseeing programs to help internees find work outside the camps; feeding the entire population of internees during this time; and then helping them to relocate near their former homes once the camps closed -- there were millions more in initial reparations costs, and then hundreds of millions more in the later reparations approved by Congress in the 1980s

At the same time, the Japanese population on the Pacific Coast actually was responsible for the production of nearly half of all the fresh produce that was grown for consumption on the Coast (the Japanese also shipped out a great deal of produce to the Midwest and East). Indeed, Nikkei farms held virtual monopolies in a number of crops, including peas, green beans and strawberries, and a nearly 80 percent of the lettuce market.

When these farmers were rounded up and interned, a handful of enterprising whites decided to try running their farms with the hope of making a killing from the crops. But labor was so short that not one of these enterprises lasted beyond about five weeks, and none of them had a successful harvest. Nearly all of these farms lay fallow for the next four years. This major loss of production of fresh vegetables clearly harmed the national war effort, and played an important role in triggering the rationing that came during the war years.

Rationing in WWII came about largely because of racial profiling.

Shouldn't we all know that? Shouldn't it be taught in, like, grade school?

It should. And we should all read Orcinus regularly, too.

My life at work

Got this email from my boss today.

D* * * *n ,

You are asking for a home telephone number at the beginning of your call and a daytime telephone number at the end of the call.

Please stop this process immediately and going forward ask for a daytime telephone number at the beginning of the call and copy and paste to call doc.

I think that pretty much says it all.

Superman and the Outsiders

Okay, that's not quite fair. In fact, this is a pretty decent line up for a JLA team, with only a few exceptions. Unfortunately, those exceptions are, well, exceptional... as in "Jesus mother of God! What the fuck is THAT loser doing in MY Justice League?"

Bats, Supes, Whatta Woman, Hal, Red Tornado, Black Canary... these are all fine. Dinah needs to put her cool little tuxedo half jacket back on, but that's my only gripe there. These are all Silver Age JLA members, or at least, their mostly idential Modern Age doppelgangers, and I have no bitches with any of them.

Speedy/Arsenal/whatever the fuck Green Arrow's sidekick calls himself these days... okay, I don't mind him, either. He's waaaaay better than that Conner punk we otherwise might have been stuck with. So I'm okay with him.

Hawkgirl -- well, I don't see the point; she works better in JSA, since she's a very different version of the recurring Hawkchick character specifically created for that series. I guess it's good to have one of the Hawks over here, though, and I like the character, so I don't have much of a problem with her.

But... then....


What the FUCK?

Look, I know, the League has had worse members. All you need to do is merely whisper the names "Vibe" or "Gypsy" to bring that home hard. Which may be the problem I have with this character, since Vixen was also a (terrible) member during this (terrible) period, which I keep trying to forget, and/or hoping has been wiped out by some retroactive cross continuity time-warping sales stunt, but which Steve Englehart is currently in the process of assuring me is still considered a valid part of Justice League history, which makes me want to beat my head against something for five or ten minutes at a time.

Still, I think my problem goes beyond even her lamentable association with the worst of all possible eras of the Justice League. I think at least some of my problem with this character comes from the fact that she's an atrocious and dreadful and appalling and terrible and horrible and awful character. I mean, she's a black chick, with, like, animal powers. For the love of Christ. And she gets her animal powers from this magic jungle totem she wears around her neck. And in her secret identity, she's a super model, who also happens to be a hot shit international espionage agent who has worked in the past with the Suicide Squad! Holy shit! If we need a really offensive ethnic stereotype who gets their powers from an idiotic magical necklace this badly, why not just yank Superchief out of limbo and put HIM in the team?

And then, of course, there's the last guy on the team -- Black Lightning.

Say it again, under your breath. Roll it over with your mind. Savor it. In a continuum littered with truly wretched super-code names, if someone were to make a Worst Name Ever list, however many entries ended up on it, surely, surely, this name would always have to have a place of honor.

Black Lightning.

Black Lightning is Jefferson Pierce. A wizened, street savvy survivor of the DC Ex/Implosion of the early 70s, when National Comics first tried to near monopolize the limited space on drugstore spinner racks by adding several dozen new titles to their publishing schedule overnight, and then had to cancel all of them at once when the paper shortages of that period hit them in the corporate schnozz like hard left jab from Muhammed Ali. Originally created and written by Tony Isabella, Black Lightning is apparently the reason Tony, who is very nearly the whitest looking man in the history of the universe, nonetheless identifies himself ethnically as black.

Black Lightning would have long since sunk into a well deserved obscurity if only Mike W. Barr (who, I'm pleased to report, has actually sunk into a well deserved obscurity) hadn't pulled him back out of Limbo and shoved him into the roster of BATMAN AND THE OUTSIDERS, a briefly popular, terminally mediocre design-it-by-the-numbers team from the late 1980s. BATO was set up to adhere to the formula of several other more successful superteam concepts of that era, said formula which originated, most likely, with the All New, All Different X-Men, who were actually composed of about half old, obscure mutant characters no one had ever previously cared about (Thunderbird, Sunfire, Banshee, Wolverine) while the other half of the squad were, indeed, All New All Different characters Dave Cockrum had salvaged from an old sketchbook he'd done when he was drawing LEGION OF SUPERHEROES.

Obviously, the formula worked, as all those All New All Different X-Men Cockrum came up with are still around to this day, except for Thunderbird, who blew up. Given such a successful formula, you'd expect a lot of imitation, and if you'd be right, too. BATO was, at that time, only the latest in a successive string of attempts to create similar superteams, whose rosters mixed older, obscure, unsuccessful figures with bold, new, original character designs.

Along with Metamorpho and Batman himself, Jefferson filled out the requisite "established characters" half of the team formula. His all new, all different teammates were three goobers named Katana, Halo, and Geo-Force. Later on, this line up was enhanced by the drop dead gorgeous Looker, leading to a lot of fanboy fantasies about lez threesomes among the Outsiders babes, but unfortunately, no worthwhile stories. In fact, if you translate "no worthwhile stories" into Latin, you could very accurately engrave it on Black Lightning's family escutcheon... or, better, on his tombstone, but now is no time to go off into raptures of the deep. Let's stick to our muttons, however repulsive THAT sounds.

It occurs to me that I'm spending way more time on Black Lightning than he could ever conceivably merit. So, let me just add that his powers are -- he is very very fast (but not as fast as an actual comic book super speedster) and kind of a martial artist (but not as good as an actual comic book martial artist) and he can throw around lightning bolts if he's recently licked a battery or something (but not as well as an actual comic book superhuman who actually throws around lightning as an actual super power can). Getting the picture? He's a mediocre character with mediocre powers and a really stupid name, and if there were actually a just and decent God in our or the DC Universe, then Tony Isabella would be riveting sheet metal somewhere in Detroit right now or at least he would have been way back when he otherwise inflicted this cretinous creation on comicdom in general.

And now, Black Lightning is in the Justice League.

And, apparently, bald.

To an extent, this is Hal Jordan's fault. (Black Lightning being in the Justice League, I mean, not Black Lightning being bald. Hal could certainly have made his hair fall out if he wanted to, but that kind of childishness is much more in Guy Gardner's line.) Hal is back in the Justice League, which pleases me, as he's the best possible Green Lantern and the JLA should always have one in it. But because they put him in the Justice League, that means they can't also put in John Stewart, who is, as a general rule, DC's first fall back minority token character.

See, if you're at Marvel or DC, you always have to have a token minority in all your teams (Batman and the Outsiders had two; Black Lightning and Katana, who was, of course, Japanese), and with John Stewart ruled out, well, that doesn't leave too many minority characters to choose from over in the Original Honkey Universe.

Yet, one of the rules of Mandatory Minority Integration Into All Superteams is that you always want to try, if at all possible, to make your tokenism deniable. You can do this one of two ways -- either you can double up on your minority representation, by, say, including an ethnic chick character (you get the twofer there, so when people say "she's a token", you can at least say "Yeah, but she fills TWO token slots", so that makes it better), or, you can carefully select a character who is actually kind of cool, and useful to the team, and that people actually like, to be your token.

Pretty clearly, if you got John Stewart in your team, well, nobody is going to say "Geez, HE's lame, what the hell does HE do, he's got, like, some dumb ass magic sword and the ability to turn himself into stone; pretty obvious he's only there to be a token". No, John Stewart is a moving unit; he's got a power ring and he knows how to use it. He is that rarest of things at either mainstream superhero comic book universe, a minority super character who is also very powerful, and undeniably cool.

But, as I said, we got Hal, so we can't have John. And you gotta respect that; JLA has never exactly been a team of balance, but still, how many people with omnipotent bling do you need in any roster? Unless EVERYONE on the team has that power (see GREEN LANTERN CORPS), there's not much point in duplicating your MOs that way.

But, without John, let's face it: the DC Universe is pretty much bankrupt of cool minority characters. And you know that's true, because, well, quad era demonstratum, they ended up putting Black Lightning in the team. How desperate are you for a token minority when you slide your finger down the list, tap a couple of times, and then say "Yeahhhh... okay... what the fuck"... at BLACK FRIGGIN LIGHTNING? Desperate enough to bone Ann Coulter while stone cold sober, I'm thinking, and that's pretty goddam desperate.

But, again, Black Lightning is SO lame that the tokenism of including him on ANY roster is terrifyingly blatant. And you can't have that, not unless you're going to have Henry Peter Gyrich, or maybe Sarge Steel (they're pretty much the same guy; one just has prosthetic hands) show up and say "Okay, you guys need a coon, so here, you HAVE to take Black Lightning". In the absence of that, you need some other minority to take the curse off Black Lightning, and, well, if we reach even further down in the barrel (you wouldn't think there was anything further down under Black Lightning, but, hey, you live and learn) well, you pretty quickly come to Vixen. And she is a two-fer, you know, she's black AND a chick, so, okay, now the choice of Black Lightning doesn't look quite so contrived and politically correct.

Now, any or all of this could have been avoided if either the Martian Manhunter, or the Red Tornado, had decided, way back in the Silver Age, to take on human guises that weren't skeevy white guys. I mean, think about it. Red Tornado is a humanoid robot who disguises himself as a human being in his secret identity; the Martian Manhunter is a frickin' alien who shapeshifts into a human semblance in his. Either of them could have chosen to be black, or Asian, or Indian, or Native American, or latino, or frickin' Innuit, for that matter. But they didn't, and because of that, they can't count as minorities, so, we end up stuck with Black Lightning and Vixen. In the frickin' JUSTICE LEAGUE. And it's just awful, but that's the deal.

Now, in closing, I understand that a few other fans out there have commented on this new line up on their own blogs. One comment I've heard is that Hal Jordan doesn't belong in JLA, because JLA is John Stewart's book.

I don't know. On the surface, this just seems so retarded that if I hadn't read it first hand on this other blog, I'd be tempted to doubt that even a Modern Age fan could possibly formulate something so idiotic. But, Modern Age fans continually astound me; there seems to be literally no limit to their squalling, childish, petulant, narrowminded, shallow, and just plain generally dumb ass dumb assedness. So, having seen it, let me respond to it:

The JLA isn't any one character's book. While there are certain characters that certainly belong there, always, and there are others that should never, never, never appear between a JLA cover other than as brief comic relief during some humorous Try Out Day sequence, or while getting their asses kicked by the REAL JLA, the name of this book has never been JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA featuring COSMIC GUY, or anything like that. John Stewart is a fine member of the Justice League, but the League only ever needs one Green Lantern at any given time, and if you want a Green Lantern and you can get Hal Jordan, well, that's where your recruitment drive ends. When you can get the best, you don't trifle with the rest.

Beyond that, Hal is a charter member of the Justice League. John began his career as a superhero substituting for Hal, after Hal managed to slip on a bar of soap and knock himself unconscious. (It must have been yellow soap, or his ring would never have allowed it.) Now, this may certainly mean that John's debut was hardly Hal's finest hour, but it also inarguably means that John only gets to play in the major League when Hal is unavailable, either because he's unconscious in his shower stall or at the far end of the Universe beating up Sinestro or dead and wearing a bathrobe as the Spirit of Jebus. Any time this isn't true, Hal gets priority. That's just how it is.

I realize that it may not seem fair; Hal, after all, has his own comic, while John has to share space with 15,000 other Green Lanterns over in GREEN LANTERN CORPS. But, you know, that's life. It's also not fair that frickin' Kyle Rayner gets his own comic and John doesn't. Bitch to Ron Marz about that one.

I'm also given to understand that Red Tornado sucks hard and should never, ever, EVER be in the Justice League. There is certainly some validity to this point of view; after being initially created by Len Wein as a pretty blatant rip off of a Roy Thomas android at Marvel, and then being crapped all over by Gerry Conway in an even more blatant imitation of that same Marvel android's 'secret origin', even I have to admit that the Red Tornado is one prohibitively fucked up gringo. Nonetheless, regardless of whether or not he's the Tornado Tyrant or DC's last Air Elemental or the Golden Age Human Torch or a floor polish and a dessert topping, he was a Silver Age member of the Justice League, and he wasn't one who was either created by or inducted under Gerry Conway, so if he wants to be in the League, he gets to be in the League, and that's the end of that.

And we could still get lucky with Black Lightning and Vixen, because, you never know. Brad Metzler does like to kill off old characters...