Comic Talk: Black Lightning: Year One- Jen Van Meter & Cully Hamner

I knew nothing about Black Lightning before DC released an animation short featuring Black Lightning's daughters needing to go to school, and he's fighting something but needs to get home to get his girls off to school. I saw it and thought "DC's trying to develop a black hero? Fantastic!" and wanted to know more about him. 

I don't remember why I chose this book. I like the Year One concept because it introduces new readers to a world without the weight of decades of back story, and villains that stretch forever and bog everything down. They're usually a one off, contained narrative, you know stories will continue but you don't need to know anything to be able to enjoy what you're reading. They do the job, they tread familiar ground for established fans but are easy for new potential fans to get into. 

But what I like. I like that as a hero Black Lightning has a family. So many heroes are alone with so little to live for or a real thing to fight and protect. Superman focuses on Lois and the Daily Planet. Spider-man on Aunt May, Gwen or MJ, and the Daily Bugle. Batman is on his own and maybe Robin sometimes? Iron Man fights for Pepper, but so many heroes are single bachelors, or dating or married without families to care about.

 At his core, Jefferson Pierce is a family man. He has a loving mother, wife and daughter, a hard but caring sister, her kind of deadbeat husband. There are people who know who he is, what he's doing and they care just as much as he does. They understand he has a power that can be put to so much good and in this book they do as much as they can to help him and to not end up as targets of the wrath of the 100. 

I like that he's written not as a stereotype. He's a solid family man (currently, I guess a divorce happens after the second daughter is born, but he retains custody later on), educated an educator, and a successful athlete. He speaks proper English and not some insulting lesser English. He was and athlete and pushed himself because he knew no other way to deal with the electrical build up in his body. It's not explained in this book where his powers come from, according to wikipedia, in Year One he's a metahuman and he just does. In other continuities he has a device that creates the electrical energy. (I do judge a little because he's a black dude with electricity powers (were they just used as a way/excuse to 'light' dark skin in  shadows in comics?---nah)).  He proves himself to be a valuable and good person as a positive local role model as he, as Jefferson Pierce, works to fix the Metropolis Southside after it was attacked by The 100, a gang that had a crazy magic-villain leader. 

He comes into town as a positive role model, he's working to improve the lives of these people, partially because of person guilt of 'abandoning' the town but also because he wants better for his students than their high school prostitution or gang lifestyle. He wants to prove to them that they're worth the effort and the energy and that they can do something good with their lives.  

I like that when Clark Kent shows up to figure out who Black Lightning, and later one to help, that the book doesn't become about him showing up to save the day or being super integral to everything. The old-world magic in the 100 is too toxic for his kyrptonian body and his powers are diminished, so the book is really about improving a community from the inside. I like how the bigger story is an overarching positive way to fixing something broken, not just by bringing in new resources but working to strengthen it from inside and giving people the hope and belief that they can live better lives.

I did get a little lost while reading the book. Every issue in the 6 issue mini that make up the book is narrated by a different character, his wife, a clean cop he knows, Pierce himself and Clark Kent all lend their opinions and observations of the situation. Those get confusing because they're one overarching idea for the 22 pages of the issues, but the panels are interspersed with the current dialogue. As I was reading I just stumbled over the dialogue versus the 'voice over' because both were important, but they're both being read so I'd read from one VO sentence into a dialogue sentence and would just get turned around.  I don't know if it was me or the comic being a little ambition with having that much go on. I don't read heroes that often, but I can't think of too many modern comics that have that type of 'this is how I saw the situation' type of thing going on. It's better than older comics where there's a giant caption box explaining the art in the panel.

On Cully's Art.  

I was originally not into it. It might just have been the thing of settling into a design because art evolves every time you pick up a pencil. It shifts, improves, changes. Maybe I just got used to the style for the book. I love the designs of everyone. I love how Black Lightnings costume functions and how simple it is. His true Hero costume may be kevlar and other armor but it's a tee shirt, leather jacket, jeans and stylized fold-down boots. The bottom half of the costume feels very early comics and is on the skin -tight side, but the idea of the costume is good. It's realistic clothing, and I like that the mask is connected to a wig so his identity is really concealed. I also like how it's presented to him. He starts out running around in a hoodie and jeans. When he admits his nightlife to his family they present him with his new Hero Armor. They're in on it, they're supportive, it's great.

As a black comics reader, even though I might not identify with many presentation of black characters in media, I did like seeing a world populated with different types of black people. Each was a character, each had ones and desires. It may be the 'bad' side of town, or the 'black' side of town, but the motivations that many characters had for what they were doing were apparently, the negative roads the kids were heading down were a product of the only things they saw. But design wise, there's more than one type of black person, in hair style, in fashion style.  

It's just such a good book. Give it a read, I was excited to pick it up every time I had the chance. It touched on a not often explored part of the DCU, and it shows that Dc can be not horrible to black characters. It shows a world realistically populated with important male and female characters who do good for the story. I think that both Jen and Cully did wonderful jobs and I'd love to read more of their interpretation of this character. I'd also love to see more of the DC animations done of Black Lightning, I hope he gets his own show, it's be boss. The black DC characters I know of who are have been in cartoons are Cyborg (I only know him from Teen Titans), Static Shock, but Black Lightning as a DCAU show could be another positive black hero, but also an adult and not just another child doing things. 

Pacific Rim (2013)

I went fromm knowing nothing about this movie to being all about it. Seriously. 


Back in October or November when the first trailer or teaser was released I wasn't in on it, but all of my twitter stream were about it. Their lives had changed, they all had boners (I happen to follow a lot of dudes... why are their dicks the first thing to respond to stuff??) so I finally decided to watch it to see what the hubbub was was. My interest was piqued. 

I liked G Gundam. It's the only Gundam series I watched, but I'm cool with the idea of mecha anime so I was kind of jonsed for it, but as the release date rolled around I did what I always do, I didn't look at anything. I'd kind of forgotten things. i wanted to see it because Idris Elba, mechas (jaeger) and giant monsters (kaiju).  In the theater I fell in love with Mako Mori, Charlie Day got a resurgence of love from me, as did Burn Gorman (whose name I always forget. I want to call him Simon, was that his name in Torchwood? I just feel like his name should be Simon...) and Ron Perlman. I was cool with the lead white-dude (Charlie Hunnam), I have a new love for Clifton Collins Jr, but Idris has my fangirl heart is a death grip from his sympathetic squint - fantastic!  Also, Black Dude as a lead hero in an action movie like this.

I feel like Ramin Djawadi did a great job with the score, and whoever mixed the music into the movie did a great job of not calling attention to it. One track sounded a little Iron Man-y, but I might have been too into the movie to notice that after a while, but I think it mostly had it's own flavor as a score.

Going back to people of color, since a lot of this movie took place in Hong Kong I loved the global aspect to the cast. There were some Russians, Americans, a lot of English/GB/UK, Australian dudes and a lot of Asians. Many were nameless and filled in crowd scenes, I feel there could have been more women mechanics in those scenes (never enough women in movies but better than most). It fails the Bechdale test but the women are portrayed as being strong even when emotional. Mako has drive, she has her own motivation and agency. The Russian female, we don't get to see her as much as it seems like some people online would have liked to have seen her, but she was also cool. I've heard a rumor that more was filmed and shown the Chinese and Russian pilots than ended up in the movie. I hope it's true and that it ends up on the Blu-Ray/DVD. I also would have liked for there to have been more black people, but it's a condition with me. I like gender and racial diversity.

Addressing the women in the movie, I liked that there's never a glamour shot of them. Mako is shown as being emotional, enraged, confident, enthusiastic and shocked, but there's never a slow pan  of her in skimpy or sexual clothes. We get to see Charlie Hunnam like that - twice even - all shirtless and muscular. Fully suited or in their casual clothes Mako and the other woman (I forgot her name, she piloted the Russian Jaeger) aren't reduced to being T&A for the audience. Hell, the movie has the thinnest whisper of a romantic element but it mostly focuses on the fact that these fucking kaiju are trying to tear shit up.  

I've been looking at collateral damage in spectacle movies a bit more and paying attention to it more recently. Here the jaeger pilots initially seem to try to avoid fighting the kaiju in the cities and try to save as many lives as possible. I can't imagine how much structural damage has happened over the extended timeline of the movie (there is one major time jump, but kind of 2 because the first 10 minutes set up everything else.) you'd think after battling the kaiju for about 10 years they'd stop building skyscrapers but you need to punch through a building and avoid a Newtons Cradle somewhere.

Some other stuff i liked: there's not time spent explaining the jaegers, at all. The first one was built in 14 months and we're told why they need 2 pilots. No time is extended to how they work, or the mechanics of them. There are some small - not quite throw away- lines about what they're made of, but it's kind of just there was the need and then they were. I don't really care how they work, they exist and they have crazy-mecha magic-weapons. I'm happy at that.  

I don't remember who I saw comment on this but it's true, there is more heart than I expected. It is about stopping the kaiju from destroying everything and taking over earth, but there is believable emotion baggage on the main dude, Mako and with Idris Elba. The support scientists played by Day and Gorman both get their moments to be right and wrong and support one another on their wacky side adventure. This movie is about teamwork and supporting people. Countries put aside ages old disputes to defend the planet from an intruder. Each jaeger is piloted by a team, then there are the numerous crews below them keeping them alive.

I think the last thing I'll bring up that I loved it that there was humor. It wasn't so much 'ha ha irony!' it was 'this jaeger is being this kaiju with a ship'. There were some small visual gags, and some humorous quips but it wasn't like Iron Man (especially 3) where they went out of their way to have levity. It was a bit wry, kind of like 'this is our life and if we don't try to laugh a little we'll never stop crying because this is fucked'. I might be explaining it wrong, but I do want to see it again. There are things you pick up on during subsequent viewings of a movie, I want to see those things.

I was so into this movie that when the theater got dark and it got going I was leaning forward the entire time. I didn't need anything to keep my hands entertained, which happens if things feel slow for me. I laughed I cheered, I felt my heart race with the drama and action. I was game for it all. I even told someone to put away their phone and was prepared to fight about it, but he acquiescenced and I was able to just enjoy the movie.

Was it perfect, of course not, but it was really damn good. And I want to see it again. I'm glad I have the art book because the kaiju and jaeger designs are amazing and I just want to look at them and love the people who worked to make them look so fucking cool.


Addendum: July 16

I want to issue an addendum to what I had to say about Pacific Rim because I was letting certain biases I have cloud my ability to accept some things as being different from so many other spectacle movies. 

Over the past few days Coelasquid has been arguing against the criticisms that people have had about Mako and Raleigh's characters. She has explained why Mako, a character I liked, was a strong character and more importantly showed how Raleigh isn't a shitty cliche white hero.

That was my bias, I thought he was just a boring white hero-dude because so many movies revolve around the Young-ish White Hero who just comes and and heroes it up everywhere. I did notice and like that he defended Mako and she was never reduced to a Damsel in the movie, or an object. But I thought he was bland because he wasn't an asshole, but it shouldn't be revolutionary for a hero to be a hero to everyone. Many other characters in many other pop culture pieces go through a traumatic experience and fall into depression, alcoholism, drug abuse, sex abuse or whatever self-flagellation the character feels they deserve. Raleigh starts off as a jaeger pilot to be a rockstar but more importantly to help people and even after the accident he's still trying to protect and help people by building the Wall that's supposed to block the kaiju from the American west coast. 

Coelasquid, or someone she reblogged said it: Raleigh isn't a brash asshole (Tony Stark, Bruce Wayne), he defends his female partner without seeing her as a sexual object, (Tony Stark, Bruce Wayne, James Kirk, a lot of movies...most movies tbh), and he admits that he's fucked up which is commendable for hero white dudes who are always right (hey there Tony and Bruce! You two are the same dude in so many ways but that's another essay).

I wasn't just not giving Raleigh a chance to be a Good Dude, which he is, I was also too excited to cheer for the characters played by actors I liked. I want to see Idris Elba in more stuff, I liked the comedic dynamic between Charlie Day and Burn Gorman i really want to see their drift slowed down to understand them better, I loved Rinko Kikuchi even before I read her credits and remembered she was in The Brothers Bloom. I was excited for the kaiju and the jaegers and the stronger depictions of characters who so often fall into bad stereotypes that I didn't give the the main character the same joy. 

Some of coelasquid's posts and reblogs on Pacific Rim, they're more spoiler-y than what I think I've said and they address why Mako's not a weak character, something I didn't need my mind changed on.

Raleigh's Not Boring

Intentionally Corny

Raleigh's a Good Dude pt2

Sequel/Prequel some additional information about Pacific Rim

Why Mako's Not Weak

Mako and Raleigh respect one another

Explaining why Raleigh's character arc isn't shit


Webseries Talk: EastSiders (2012-2013)

Spoilers, blah blah blah - EastSiders is also ongoing, but I have seen the first 6 episodes (everything that's been released so far) -- All episodes on LogoTV - sorry but I think it's location locked. 

EastSiders is about morality, emotions, relationships and is a fantastic drama. I'd call it a soap opera, but it's big, expansive and over played, it's small and about emotional hurt and pain. Gay couple Cal and Thom start having trouble after Cal learns that Thom has been cheating on him. Cal's best female friend Kathy is in a relationship with Ian and they’re having rocky times because Cathy seems to be reticent to depend on Ian, but Ian seems to be the type to lasso the moon for her.

The show starts the morning after an End of the World party that friends of Cal and Thom were throwing December 2012.  Cal has learned that Thom had been cheating and confronted him about it. As an audience we're dropped right into drama as Cal and Thom decide to stay together after Thom's deception has been found out and he breaks it off with Jeremy, his piece on the side. 

At first, you're rooting for Cal who is the one who was wronged in this relationship, but it becomes more than that as the show progresses and these characters become more than Cheater/Cheated-on/Cheated-With. Little is known as of episode 6 of Jeremy other than he can't give up either Cal or Thom.

But wait, Cal was cheated on by Thom with Jeremy but they now know one another. When deciding to meet the man he hates, Cal ends up drinking with Jeremy as they discuss Thom and while inebriated they fool around together. This makes things more complex then Cal being the wronged party, he has not wronged Thom and admits to hating himself and Jeremy.

Cal is conflicted, he’s now not a victim of cheating, but now a cheater with the same man he was his lover cheated on him with. Cal wants to see himself as being the morally correct party and holds himself to that standard of the hurt party in the relationship. Cal wants to stay with Thom out of spite, they’ve both been wrong and wronged so he feels justified that he and Thom ought to stay together with their personal injuries. Not too long later, while at work in an art space, while having a celebratory drink with his boss, Cal kisses him which leads to them sleeping together. This is after Cal has expressed immense joy over someone buying one of his prints and exclaiming “Someone on the Internet likes me.” This shows how little Cal likes himself as he seeks out men other than his boyfriend for validation. He’s conflicted and he falls from being a ‘good person’ to being a more complex and wrong person as the series progresses. He seems to sleep with people then push them out of his mind, as if thinking that if they don’t acknowledge what happened then it didn’t happen and there’s nothing to be responsible for.  After sleeping with Jeremy instead of addressing the ramifications of his actions, Cal runs away. After sleeping with his boss, who Cal only just learns is married, Cal runs away instead of facing the reality that he cheated on Thom again. Cal seems to have issues with engaging and actively fixing problems that are his fault. When Thom is the one who is wrong Cal is very gung-ho about making Thom feel bad about cheating on him, and feeling bad about his place in life. When Cal is the one who wrongs Thom he does what he can to avoid addressing the problems either by drinking or helping Kathy with her problems. Cal seems to be open to cheating on Thom when drinking, but also seems embarrassed and likes to pretend he's done nothing wrong. He's already expressed a dislike of himself, so maybe he's just trying to feel like someone wants, or needs him. As Cal explores and questions Thom’s commitment to their relationship, Kathy, Cal's best friend plays out long dramas in her head, reaching conclusions without all the facts and doesn't take her boyfriend's feelings to heart as much as she should.

The night of the End of the World party is near Kathy and Ian’s anniversary, he tries to be a good boyfriend by giving her a gift, which happens to be a ring. In Cathy’s inebriation she believes he’s proposing to her and spends the next day (or so) thinking she’s engaged to be married. She plays out the drama, the risks and rewards of being married in her head and to Cal instead of talking to Ian and getting a straight answer. This is cleared up and not long later Kathy realizes she’s pregnant and does the same thing of going to Cal instead of Ian to discuss her future plans. Ian as far as he’s be characterized, is a good guy. He seems to be kind, compassionate, a good friend, he tries to be a good boyfriend, so it’s difficult to see why Cathy is to reticent to go to him when she has a problem.

I’m thinking Kathy is afraid of a lot more than they ever lets on to, at least to Ian if not all of her friends. She expresses fear about she can’t be getting married and why she shouldn’t be having a baby, but she never seems to discuss this with Ian. I think she’s afraid of losing him so she wants to keep him at a steady distance, either to keep from getting to attached so she can cut and run, or she’s afraid he’s going to break it off and she’ll be subjected to more pain. What she does makes me feel really bad for Ian, he hasn’t been shown to be anything other than devoted and honest, so her dishonesty and how she jumps to conclusions in her fear is really unfair. Kathy decides to abort the baby she would have had with Ian and never tells him, he finds out in the worst way they he could have been a father, but the joy he expressed for a hot minute at this thought seems to crash that much harder after he learns that there was never a discussion with him. She might have still come to the same conclusion, but at least he could have known.

 I think her choice to get an abortion is handled in a respectful manner. She's reticent before the procedure and unlike her cavalier to introspective emotional arc when she's drinking and making the decision with Cal, then she's despondent after the procedure. Seeing another woman say she's keeping her baby, Kathy seems like she regrets the decision, and this is something I like about the show. I like how the show plays out how the decision weighs on Kathy and her uncertainty after it's all over. It's not an easy decision and I'm sure many women think long and hard about it, either way after getting one and if they decide not to get one. It's not played as if after the procedure that Kathy feels at peace with everything and confident, she's still uncertain and afraid of the adult world facing her. She's afraid of seeing Ian and then telling him what she decided to so.  She acts like she's always confident and competent, but she's afraid. This by no means makes her a weak character, but it shows how conflicted she is and how difficult life is. She dives head first into her mistakes then fearfully addressing the problems of her actions while recovering after (literally in this instance).

With Cal having started kind of morally as a protagonist in the show not much is currently known about Thom. He's a bartender, he cheated on Cal but regrets it. He's called a bad guy and characterized in the series by mutual acquaintances as a 'bad guy' but so far he's tried to be upstanding. After breaking things off with Jeremy he avoids his calls and texts, spending more time at work or with Cal to prove that he's a changed man. Jeremy is still acting very much the interloper, by going to both Cal and Jeremy's workplaces to try to maintain contact with two people who have decided they want nothing to do with him. Jeremy seems to be obsessed with this, maybe because they were his most recent partners, or their life drama is that alluring that Jeremy can't quit them, he keeps trying to make a place in their story. I'm not sure what Jeremy's MO is, he has expressed enjoyment of both Cal and Thom, when talking with a friend about it Jeremy doesn't know what he wants or what he expects by attempting to continue any sort of relationship with either. 

I look forward to the new episodes every Tuesday, posted at 3pm EST. I like that I can't really predict how the characters are going to act, I can kind of guess what's going to happen but it doesn't feel like I  can see the dots ahead while connecting them to get to the conclusion. I have a few possible conclusions, but nothing feels set in stone, I look forward to seeing how everything either comes together or falls apart. The entire show is about shifting morality and how characters actions change who they are and what their worth is. I don't know what I want to have happen, I don't know who I want to end up happy in the end and who deserves to get their comeuppance.

 I like how realistic things are being handled, that these stories are plausible, have probably happened (maybe not all at once in the same friend circle), but I like how the connections and how people interact is the important thing. How and why people hurt each other, it's greater than sexuality. This is a story about people and failure, and possibly redemption, it depends on how open ended it is. 

Correction: I spelled 'Kathy' incorrectly and have fixed it

2012 Life Review

I was psyched to write this a few weeks ago and I've mentally considered and written part of this, mostly I was trying to remember what happened back in January. Not that long ago but still twelve months ago, and a lot has happened.

I started 2012 with a kiss on New Years, the first time that has that has ever happened, a New Years kiss, not kiss in general. It was nice, random and entirely unexpected. I soon returned to my adoptive home of Norfolk, VA to begin my final year of college with painting, drawing studio, digital art and figure. I fell into a rhythm of life, fairly calm and somewhat ready for things. I had a roommate, no job and was content enough with my life. I can't recall anything remarkable happening until the New York trip with the art department. I had so much fun doing the tourist thing, my family never does the tourist thing when we go to New York, it was great to go to the museums. It was fun to go on a trip with people like that and to go on a little city adventure. I got to meet Jonathan Ames, I was so fucking nervous but it was still amazing. I didn't get to say everything I wanted to but for someone like me from Virginia, I don't often get to meet people I like or idolize. 

Summer started, I was in senior show and advanced print. I went to so many art shows and local bands, taking my camera to almost every one. It's always fun meeting touring bands like that, intimate shows in basements and apartments. So foreign to my life and so fantastic.

This year I branched out in the podcasts I listen to which has had a positive influence on my life. I listen to Marc Maon, Nerdist, Mental Illness Happy hour, sex Nerd Sandra, Sklarbo County/Country, One Photo Reviews and so many others. The comedy podcasts did of course provide laughs but they also educated me on comedy and introduced me to comedians to look out for and people to try, I've broadened my entertainment past the comedians on TV an I now keep an eye out for people on tour.

I went to my first comedy show with my brothers in august, Godfrey performed in Baltimore and I actually noticed the types of jokes he told and understood now they're different from other comedians. It's weird. The following week I got to see and meet Mike Phirman and Paul and Storm. That was fun, an evening of musical comedy and silliness. It was really special and put my on a high note before I started my final semester of school. 

I was taking glassblowing, drawing studio and figure. Glass blowing was scary and amazing, it was really cool to create something like that, it's so communal, as opposed to solitary drawing, it was a tiring and energizing break from my normal. I'm so glad I took that class.

My first big thing from the fall, I got to meet Adam Warrock, MkHill, TribeOne and Jesse Dangerously, they performed with the local Nerdlucks and it was so much fun, a fantastic show. It was cool to meet and chat with someone you know from online, put a real face and interaction to someone. I took so many photos,  and i was able to be as enthuiastic as I wanted with no embarassment because everyone else had just as much fun. I hope they tour near enough to me again so I can see them again.

This show as like an appetizer to the following weekend when SPX happened. It was almost magical reality being at Small Press Expo and getting to talk comics. I loved meeting Joe Hunter for the first time in real life, much taller than I expected, that's okay. I made new friends with Phil Khan, Christopher Williams, Lee Cherolis, Jeremy Bentley, Perry, Krishna and a few other cool cats. I got to meet some of my webcomic idols, Danielle Corsetto, ,Yuko Ota, Ananth P...?, Jeph Jacques, Tyson Hesse and i met a bunch of new comic creators and so many fantastically nice people. Darryl Ayo, Sylvian M, Missy Lasko-Glass. The person I internally freaked out meeting was Dean Haspiel, I'm still glad i didn't fangirl freak out. I met Joe Infurnari and missed out on really meeting the Hernandez Brothers of Love and Rockets creation fame. I had a blast, I dream of being on the other side of the table soon, but until then I'm working on some minis to print and give out. So many comics. Delightful!

Back in Norfolk I remember my emotions crashing because of some terrible women's health related politics and then I fell back into going to class and drawing my minis for my senior show. 

In glass we had the De La Torre brothers as visiting artists, they were so fantastic to meet, inspiring and in general really fun people. I'm grateful for being able to meet them and watch them work.

I don't remember much of October. I woke up, sat down to draw, cat napped and drew some more. I went to glass because it was different and new, skipped my other classes and got my work done in time for a Hurricane Sandy to roll past the east coast and destroy New York.

It was a weird time. i got my books printed, put on my show and sold my first comics, it was a nerve-wracking  experience. I'm glad I've moved past my first show, I'm not sure how much I'm looking forward to any other shows but I survived my first one. November was excited with the presidential election and i moved into December ready to graduate and be done. I was ready to be done with school the night I had my show, I spent a lot of anxious, nervous and creative energy on my show. After it was done, everything felt less pressing. It was nice to end the year with low stress as opposed to the usual high stress finish. 

I graduated and I felt no different. I don't know if it hasn't sunken in yet or if so little has changed that I don't notice how different things feel. It kind of feels like a never ending summer, I don't have a job yet so I've been grinding on watching Buffy and renting movies and things for the past few weeks. I've been filling my time with ingesting creations, not creating as much. I'm working and planning new things I just didn't have the drive for a while. I've drawn some gifts I really like for people, that's been cool. 

This graduation year was so much better than 2007 when I graduated from high school. Read my post on my educational experiences to see what i mean. My future is blank, I have my dreams and plans for years from today but what I'll be doing in 6 months, no clue. It's kind of exciting, we'll see where things go.