Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Look at him... Ah, bless.

I have a confession. I have a soft spot for slightly tarnished franchises. This is fairly evident if you spend enough time with me. I have only one team I cheer for that could be considered a "front runner". I have some favorite characters that everyone else loves, but for the most part I gravitate towards slightly quirky fare. I guess I shouldn't say quirky, but more along the lines of under appreciated, at least in my own mind. Things like Flash Gordon, The Phantom, Iron Fist, Doctor Strange etc...

I run across franchises that once enjoyed massive popularity only to fall out of favor on a large scale and I take them in and obsess over them. I read up on the history of the character and creators. I buy the best stories I can find that epitomize the greatest attributes of those characters. Obsessive/compulsive may be the best term, but I'd rather look on it in a kinder fashion. One of the great benefits of this is my mind is then filled with an absurd amount of new information that helps to further decimate opponents at trivial pursuit, the downside being that any remaining mathematical skills slowly decay and crumble.

Recently, I have indulged in Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter of Mars series. One of the greatest advantages to getting in on this series is that the real estate for the ground floor is dirt cheap. Pretty much all of Burroughs' work is old enough that you can get large collections of it for a song on the Kindle. Being a Sci- Fi/Fantasy fan, the John Carter name has always been in the back of my mind, but I have never explored his World in the way I have some of his pulp counterparts like Conan, Buck Rogers, and the previously mentioned Flash Gordon. Following the chronology of my life, a lot of it is due to the fact that Carter never enjoyed the full renaissance in the 1970's that many of the other characters did. Frank Frazetta did covers and interior illustrations for many literary editions just as he did for Conan, and Marvel Comics had even put forth their own comics adaptation. Nothing really took though. Conan's literary reprints aided by Frazetta's art caught on like wildfire scoring a long running, equally popular comics franchise as well as a hugely popular film adaptation. Flash Gordon got an animated series and a big budget film that went on to cult classic status. Buck Rogers got his own cult-level television series. Many things have derailed Carter on his way towards a massive public appeal, but all of that may change sooner rather than later.

Much like The Green Hornet, Carter is currently undergoing a renewed surge of mass media revival. Dynamite Entertainment is launching a brand new comic series based on Burroughs' series called Warlord of Mars. The biggest news and possible game changer in terms of popular adoption of the series is the Disney film adaptation of the first novel in the series. A Princess of Mars now being called John Carter of Mars is in production and being directed by Andrew Stanton of Pixar. Stanton is the mastermind behind Pixar classics Finding Nemo and Wall-E. Although he has no live action feature credits, his work as a storyteller on those two masterpieces alone won him this prime slot on what Disney is hoping to be their new adventure franchise.

The story of John Carter, the gun for hire trying to rebuild a life after serving in the Confederate army during the American Civil War, only to be mysteriously transported to Mars is the touchstone for all Sci-Fantasy franchises. Burroughs began serializing the stories of his hero in 1912. Without him, we do not have Buck Rogers, which begat Flash Gordon, which begat Star Wars, which begat my almost chemical dependence like compulsion of giving money to George Lucas. Through tricks of fate and poor decision making, Carter never enjoyed the wide spread popularity that would have ensured every little boy growing up today had at least one John Carter action figure along with dvds of past films and TV series.

Burroughs wrote an astonishing 12 novels in his 'Barsoom' series. The amount of material, while repetitive in structure is dense in characters and atmosphere. It makes the extrapolation of the series into other mediums almost a no brainer. Tarzan is obviously Burroughs most popular creation, but it very well could have been Carter. In the 1930's, MGM approached Burroughs to create an animated feature based on John Carter and his adventures. They would have beaten Snow White to theaters as the very first full-length animated feature ever. Instead, according to the John Carter Wikipedia entry, Carter's Mars was deemed outlandish and too hard to sell to the conservative midwest audiences. Tarzan got the nod, and ultimately flourished as a franchise with numerous film serials and a television series as a result. The decision looks silly in the wake of the success that Flash Gordon enjoyed as a film serial. Granted, Flash Gordon's use of fairly humanoid races made it's translation to a film far more accessible than Carter's 15 foot tall Green Martians and White Apes, Carter still enjoys the same level of swashbuckling adventure that make all his descendants so wildly thrilling. One can only wonder how different the modern pop culture landscape would be if Carter had indeed beaten Snow White to theaters.

So yes, I am in full grips of Mars mania. As the actual research of Mars continues to grow exponentially, it may make the John Carter series seem dated as does any future-based franchise that never quite meets the reality of a modern world analogue like 1984 or 2010. However, Disney is willing to give it a shot, and come June 8th 2012, expect the mouse house to roll out one of their biggest tents to showcase this much loved cult classic. Other film adaptations of this series have died on the vine, but with Disney putting their full weight behind one of their strongest creative minds, John Carter may finally make his triumphant return to Earth.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Fire is not your friend Alan...

I have been wanting to comment on Alan Moore's recent interview over at Bleeding Cool for a couple of days now, but I find myself riding the reaction to the reaction at this point. I just responded to Tom Spurgeon's column on the subject and wanted to share
my reaction

Basically, Alan Moore granted an interview to Adi Tantimedh regarding the current situation regarding of the status legal rights to Watchmen. This is an ongoing saga and the events below are only the latest in a long line of events that has seen Moore distance himself from an adaptation of his work in any form, distance himself from DC altogether, and recently to announce he was retiring from the comic industry as a whole. Moore had come forward before San Diego Comic-Con to announce DC had offered to return the full rights to Watchmen in exchange for signing off on any future Watchmen projects that would be completed by other creators on contract with DC. There was small amount of confusion as DC/WB already own full rights to Watchmen and would honestly never need his permission to go forward anyway.

The interview has caused quite a bit of uproar due to a number of accusations from Moore regarding DC's tactics in acquiring Moore's consent to various Watchmen projects as well as him belittling the current crop of artists and writers working for DC. I viewed Tom's article as more of a defense of Alan's mindset given the DC's treatment of the writer over his career. He argued that Alan should not be mocked or dismissed as crazy due to some personality traits and various rumors regarding Alan's personal life. While I agreed with Tom to that point, I could not agree with the nature of Alan's own tactics and treatment of friends and peers. As I generally push for clarity on all sides of an argument I wrote this regarding my own opinions of the interview:

"Hi Tom

I just wanted to take a couple of moments to respond to your piece which was itself a response to the interview with Alan Moore.

While I agree that Alan should never be dismissed out of hand, or mocked for that matter, I am beginning to lose sympathy for the man simply because he chooses to denigrate his peers while self admittedly ignoring the medium. I enjoy Alan Moore's writing and I have long been a supporter of Alan's stance to separate himself from adaptations of his work. "From Hell" and "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" were terrible, and I certainly wouldn't want to be associated with them either. However, despite the history of problems between Alan and the DC/WB publishing hierarchy, the conversation has become increasingly one-sided.

Alan's beef is decidedly personal now and is taking form in an ugly one-sided exchange. His arguments are becoming increasingly narcissistic. I think DC killing Steve Moore's Watchmen adaptation has more to do with a marketing decision than any axe Paul Levitz and co. may have had to grind with Alan's phantom stranglehold over the property. He hangs Dave Gibbons and Steve Moore both out to dry making them look like pitiful characters, one to be pitied for his innocence and tragedy, there other to be loathed for his greed. If a friend of mine decided to eschew all tact and discretion in the face of a 25 plus year friendship, I don't think I could tolerate it.

Then he continues to throw baseless potshots at DC regarding their level of talent and marketable properties. While you dismiss it as a simple smack talk, he simultaneously insults everyone he has worked with in the past and in the present. Somehow Neil Gaiman, his good friend, and who still has a favorable relationship with DC is not top-flight talent? I am not suggesting Neil would ever consent to write a Watchmen sequel, I am merely using him as the best example. Am I to assume Frank Quitely and Grant Morrison are merely barrel scrapings? It irks me as a fan to be sure, but ultimately, I find that it sounds exactly the same as any person who has spent a lifetime in an industry and has decided that no one who comes after should bother even attempting to breath his air. It is petulant and uncalled for. For a gifted writer, he has chosen craven words. Why not just say what he really means and tell them how small their genitals are?

It ends up being a generational argument. We look fondly on the past and degrade the present and future. "Well I remember when..." only works when you continue to try and understand the contemporary landscape which Alan has chosen to ignore. It is also a horrible argument in consideration of the fact that Moore made his bones on characters that someone else created and that he attached his name to, not the other way around. Even Marvelman/Miracleman, Watchmen, and the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen are built on the backs of creators who, because of their creative output, never saw their lives improve to the extent that Moore did.

I am not suggesting DC is an innocent party. Every artist or writer working in comics today can probably lay out some kind of disagreeable circumstance they have encountered with a publisher of any level. However, DC is in a place where it would be inappropriate to respond. Alan Moore can say whatever he likes in the knowledge that DC and Warner Brothers in particular would never condone a one-on-one war of words with a single creator. The maxim "bad press is still good press" is absolutely absurd in that kind of situation. It would certainly help to have some clarity though. While Moore may believe that these are facts without repudiation, others may weigh in with a vastly different vantage point. As I said, I don't believe DC is lacking in responsibility for questionable tactics but I also do not doubt that Moore has his own share of blame to hold. We do not have solid facts, we have only Alan Moore's perception of events, his suppositions and assumptions. It is easy to take the side of the single man against the monolithic corporation, but it is getting to the point where Moore is eroding his own foundation. Moore's inability to hold the moral high ground in the press only serves to embolden his detractors. "

Look, to wrap this up I like Alan Moore as a writer, but lately I have found it very difficult to support him in his ongoing quest to destroy anyone who so much as breathes on his work. If I had had my books turned into horrible films like "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" I would want to wash my hands of the whole thing too. His actions are beginning to resemble a scorched policy by which no one but Alan Moore is righteous, and none shall sully his legacy. His insults towards Zack Snyder during the run-up to the Watchmen film adaptation were irritating, but ultimately pointless. It seems he is no longer satisfied with merely reacting. He is now engaging in a proactive barrage against anyone who takes money from DC comics. As I said in my letter, it feels hypocritical when he spent most of his life using characters that were not his to begin with or were analogues for characters he wanted to retool. You think Bob Kane liked Batman and Robin directed by Joel Shumacher?

I don't think Alan Moore is crazy, but I think he should stop kicking people off the island before he is the only one left on it.