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July 19, 2006 

Introduction 

Greetings, my friends - both old and new.  This column right here is called “Preachin’ from the Longbox” and I’m your humble comic book advocate, Britt Schramm.  Since the column’s surroundings as well as the URL have changed, I thought that this would the perfect time to move PftL into a second volume.  But don’t worry; even though QSE is considered the evolution of the old MPS site, there won’t be any type of evolution going on here.  I’m still gonna write about comics my way, not because I have to answer to a new authority figure.  So, watch out, Mr. New EIC, your time will come within these here columns real soon.

Now, without that unnecessary intro out of the way, here’s this week’s column:


This week’s sermon - “The Beginning Is The End Is The Beginning”
 

A couple of weeks ago, I was left home alone with a list of To Do’s from the wife.  Now, I don’t know about you but being deafened by a house that is devoid of the usual loud electronic noises and laughing little voices is very unnerving, especially when you have grown oddly fond of it.  

After placing the aforementioned Honey Do list firmly in hand, I had to do something to make the house seem more “alive” (for lack of a better word) and that led to only one thing – to find some background noise on to help me maintain my cleaning focus as well as to make the house not seem so vacant.

I went through all of the possible alternatives in my head.  Music was my first choice but since I’ve stopped turning to terrestrial radio for my musical enjoyment and really wanted to keep my CD collection fresh for the daily work commute, that option was instantly scratched off the list. 

(And by the way, when did AM/FM Radio get the lame moniker of “terrestrial radio”?  Is it because of the whole satellite radio “revolution”?  If that’s the case, then shouldn’t satellite radio be considered “extra-terrestrial radio”?  Or is that label only reserved for the newest technological advancement in radio - Digital FM or that damn cute but overly wrinkly Phone Home midget?  Really, am I the only one who questions this stuff?)

With radio out the door, my decisions boiled down to cable and DVD.  Although I dig having the whole cable hook-up, the whole ordeal in trying to find something on the tube during the weekday mid-morning that isn’t a) nails-on-the-chalkboard irritating or b) moronically stupid is harder than you may think.  And after cycling through half of the channels, I had to cut my losses and make the command decision that there was nothing on the old idiot box.

I was left with putting on a DVD.  Now, thanks to my pre-children days (and having a Best Buy within walking distance), I have in my possession a decent sized collection of DVDs.  The problem is finding the right balance of playing something that is good enough to allow for repeated viewings but isn’t so visually stunning that I’ll stop whatever I’m doing in order to watch the scene that is playing like a drooling moron.  

There are only a few select movies that I feel make this cut.  Movies like:

  • “Almost Famous” (although I am guilty of lingering a little too long during the Penny Lane topless scene but I’m only human)
  • All of Quentin Tarrentino’s movies (except for the Kill Bill series because they’re so damn pretty to watch)
  • “Ford Fairlane” (I’ve already given my explanation for that one)
  • “When Harry Met Sally” (because I have a some sort of Meg Ryan-in-the-late-80’s fixation)
  • And, of course, the Jersey Trilogy (hey, I was a fan first before I started writing here).

All make the grade for that kind of background chatty noise that I need to prevent my most notable trait – procrastination – from rearing its ugly head.

The Batman, duh..But also, around the same time (even serendipitously, you might say), the first season of The Batman was released.  And being the hardcore Bat-fan that I am, I was able to budget my allowance (don’t ask) for this purchase.  So, rather than reach for a tried-and-true DVD from the aforementioned list, I reached for Disc 1 of The Batman: Season 1 and plopped it into the Pioneer DVD tray.

Again, half of my mind was occupied with cleaning and I may have whiffed too many noxious fumes but I want use this column to make the following declaration.  ”The Batman” is just as good as “Batman: The Animated Series” and here’s why:

First, the Bat-costume is a great spin on the various designs from the Batman: The Animated Series but with some minor tweaks.  The now classic Black on Gray suit still solid but putting the oval back into the Bat chest symbol (as well as reverting the utility belt back to the old “tubular” design) brings back some of the iconic heritage to the character.  But it’s the little changes like shortening the ears, making the eyes more oval and rounding out the forehead in an attempt to make the cowl sleeker and more like a helmet plus the introduction of the Bat-Wave PDA that bring the whole costume together.  Sure, it’s hard to go against the breakout and very stylish design that eventually lead to changing the costume of the DCU Batman but this one is pretty solid.

There’s not that simulated “retro” look within any of the show’s design elements.  Don’t get me wrong; I’m a huge fan of B:TAS.  But some of the shows seemed to try too hard to be generically retro.  If you get a chance, watch at a B:TAS episode and take a look at the cars, the clothes, and the buildings.  If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll see that by going “retro”, the shows come off older than they really are.  The Batman is doing what I like to say all of the time – living in the now.  

I like that the creators went for a more subtle anime approach versus a two-thirds anime hybrid like the way Teen Titans has become.  Using some speed lines and slightly adapting the characters’ appearance and nuances keep the show relatively grounded in American comic lore while still showing that the Bat-franchise is acceptable to interpretation.  FYI - there’s anything wrong with the Teen Titans show, as I like it well enough.  But some days, I just can’t handle how Beast Boy reverts to some mocking anime character.  Call me an old fart, if you want.  Another step away from some of the literal anime influences is the removal of Chief Rojas (a stereotypical angry police chief in some of the anime DVDs that I’ve seen) after the end of Season 1 and the re-introducing Commissioner Jim Gordon in Season 2.

I also like the interpretations of the Bat-villains since they’re not bogged down by years of continuity like B:TAS was.  Seeing Catwoman as an anime-infused version of Jim Lee’s recent redesign was nice to see and modifying Mr. Freeze into a mutant was a deft touch.  But, again, the creators didn’t go overboard with the changes.  The Penguin, Firefly and Poison Ivy are more or less the same character that is in the books.  Although I still find it somewhat disturbing to see the Joker without shoes but hey, he’s crazy so that fact kinda fits his modus operandi.

Another way that The Batman is on par that B:TAS is in the excellent quality of voice work for the show.   No, that’s not a slam against Kevin Conroy, Luke Skywalker, Efrem Zimbalist Jr. or Bull from “Night Court”.  But it’s hard to compete with the gaggle of actors that are on “The Batman” like the newest Commander William Adama, X-Files’ Mitch Pelligi, comedian and self-admitted comic nerd Patton Oswalt, SpongeBob SquarePants, uber-hottie Gina Gershon, the Villain from “Highlander” as well as Bat-alumni like Adam West (who also voiced the Grey Ghost on B:TAS), Eric Matthews from “Boy Meets World” (who voiced Batman Beyond) and the dearly departed Frank Gorshin.  Whoa, I think that I may have been wrong earlier.  This cast of supporting voice actors actually slays Batman: The Animated Series.  But fans of B:TAS can take some consolation.  At least the majority of their voice work wasn’t done by Ted Knight.  True, the guy is a television legend.  But don’t tell me that during those Saturday Filmation cartoons back in the day that you didn’t picture Ted Baxter in his WJM Channel 12 blazer staring blankly back at you.

Although, I’ll admit that there have been some recent setbacks to the show.  I hate hate HATE the new theme song for Season 2, which sounds like a bastardized mashup of epic proportions comprised of the first season’s theme song (brilliantly composed by The Edge) and the theme song from the Jack Lord classic TV show, Hawaii Five-O.  (If you don’t know Hawaii Five-O, you should crack a history book every occasionally, kid.  You might learn something.)  I might be alone on this one but the theme from Season 1 kills any Bat-Theme that was made before or will be made in the future.  I’m not trying to be controversial; this is just factual knowledge.  And while I understand the inclusion of Batgirl was done to inject some estrogen into the show as well as to explain the addition of Jim Gordon, I’m really not digging her in this series.  She seems like an amalgam of Robin (natural acrobat) and old school Bat-girl (computer whiz).  Her costume is with the oversized eyes is just too odd-looking.  Okay, so I’m a hypocrite but that’s nothing new.  By the way, did I tell you that I hate the new theme song?

Aside from those slight hiccups, I can’t see for the life of me why people hate the new Batman series so.  I’ve read the very unflattering “Amazon.com” reviews for the DVDs and wondered if they’re watching the same show that is on My TiVo’s Season Pass.  My friend Steve told me that I didn’t like the three-quarter profile, which is the same style that was used on the Jackie Chan Adventures cartoon (Jeff Matsuda was key player in designing and conceptualizing both shows) and I can understand that argument.  It does take getting used to seeing.  But the real problem with the complaints is that the show is not a direct carbon copy of the wonderful and hallowed Batman: The Animated Series.  Again, you probably won’t find a bigger fan of that series more than yours truly.  However, I refuse to let the spectre of that show cloud my judgment concerning “The Batman”.  Once people take those blinders off and let go of their pre-conceived misgivings about “The Batman”, they should begin to see what I’ve been seeing all along – a show that is still ground in Batman-mythos yet still moving forward.  As I always say, “Live in the Now, people!”
 

The PftL Mailbox

Matt M. dropped a huge ass letter in the mailbox a couple of months ago concerning the “Dreaming in Digital” column.  To keep the column as short as possible, I’ve decided to post just an excerpt:

“I happily download comics because I cannot afford to buy comics. That’s the simplest answer. One can make lots and lots of arguments about the illegality and the unethical behaviour of downloading comics, but I think they are predominantly forgetting that it is not theft because I am not taking the original method of creating profit from the hands of the creators or the corporations. In a digital world in which people copy and paste all the time (ha), I think the industry must must must catch up to my downloading speed. I download comics all the time. So many that I haven’t even read half of them yet…..This is my point: the qualitative argument for downloading information. I will resort to purchasing comics only if the quality is up to my standards. I’m not idiot: quality is far more relative than morals. Who am I to judge the professionals? Well, unfortunately, the power of my dollar is the judge. I choose to buy Grant Morrison (GM), therefore GM becomes the next writer of Batman. Excellent. There’s a comic I will buy. But until the rest of comicdom catches up with the Scottish scribe (along with Gaiman, Millar, Slott, Moore and others), I will be downloading comics…I could go on, as I’m sure all comic fans could, but I choose to stop here.”

PftL:  Matt, thanks for writing.  While I didn’t really get into the legalities of the current practice of P2P sharing of scanned comics, I’d still like to address your comments.  I totally understand your current financial crunch but it just seems like your justification is flawed.  Any reproduction of that copyrighted material, no matter what form the output is – digital or otherwise, is still regarded as stealing.  I don’t see how the act of downloading a scanned comic is not considered taking money that you would’ve spent to purchase said book out of the hands of the creators or the corporations, as you put it.  I could see if it was something like a network share with read-only access or a license for a one-time reading of the issue, which would be very similar to reading the book at the local store.  But once the file is downloaded, it’s there until someone deletes it.  Maybe I’m just being obstinate but it still sounds like pilfering.
 

The PftL Moment of Irony

Now, this is not about the “Black Fly in Your Chardonnay”/Alanis Morissette-type of irony.  Here’s the scenario.  At the end of March, an interesting email arrived into the old inbox from a top writer in the industry and in the subject line was a request to peruse his new creator-owned book.  No problem, so I thought, until the email was opened and a link to a PDF of the preview was imbedded in the body.  This was only a couple weeks after I had written the abovementioned “Dreams in Digital” column in which I describe in some detail that I’m not a fan of reading comics that are expressly made for print in a digital format.  I’ll be honest; not only did I chuckle about this coincidental email but ironically, I actually read the PDF comic.  And it was so good (the comic – not the format) that I went ahead and bought the comic when it finally hit the stands a few months later. 

The writer (in case you were wondering) – Dan Slott

The book – Big Max (Mr. Comics)

The lesson here is not that the comic book medium is going to a digital format sooner that anyone thought.  It’s the fact that I’ll read almost any comic book that is offered gratis.  Creators, I’m talking to you.


Three Comics to keep your eye on this week:

  • Eternals #1 (Marvel) – Neil Gaiman + John Romita, Jr = Must Have.  That is unless it’s like 1602.  Then, it’s more like Must Wait for the Trade.
  • Flash, The Fastest Man Alive #1 (DC) – How will DC explain this one now that Wally West and Bart Allen are out of speed juice?  Hopefully, the story will not involve BALCO or HGH.
  • Uncle Scrooge #355 (Gemstone) – In honor of my new EIC (Damn, I couldn’t make it through the first column.  I’m such a suck-up!)


The Wrap-Up

I would like to dole out a little dap to a couple friends to the PftL scene: 

  • Big Ups to former MPS honcho Chris Ryall and the Hope to his Crosby, Scott Tipton, for getting a solid plug for Comics101.com in the latest Entertainment Weekly (the one with the metrosexual Superman on the cover.  Keep up the good work, gentlemen.   
  • And congrats to Keith Giffen on getting his new column, As If I Care, up and running on Wizard Universe.com (http://www.wizarduniverse.com/magazine/archive/giffen.cfm).  I only hope that he won’t make it look too easy.  Us regular Internet Columnist Joes gotta have something to hang our hats on.  I’d like to give him a piece of advice that the first industry pro gave me when I first started out at Moviepoopshoot (and I’m paraphrasing here) - “Try not to fuck up too badly.” 

Lastly, I’ll exit out the door with a one-page back-up gag from the first issue of “Ursa Minors!” a June release from SLG Comics.  The subject matter is one that we should all be familiar knowing; old jokes and all.  Although I didn’t know that a possible chink in Mr. Smith‘s armor would be the inability to down a nice frosty cold one.

Yoinks - Kevin Smith Bots Attack

That’s it.  I’m off the Longbox this week.  Thanks for reading.  And don’t forget, kiddies; Keep your bags & boards together and your continuity straight.

-britt

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