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Failing to deliver: a look back at DC’s Zero Month

October 30, 2012 5 comments

DC Comics Zero Month

One of my favourite elements to any superhero is the origin story, because every origin is necessarily a traumatic, often emotional event of self-discovery that serves to define our soon-to-be hero in an exaggerated yet familiar way. When DC Comics announced that September 2012 would be Zero Month, I was excited – and not just because I love pictures of people bursting through paper. DC was pausing its various storylines for one issue to step back and tell the reader where each character came from in the rebooted New 52 universe.

The New 52 reboot was itself meant to make comics more accessible. Everybody knows Bruce Wayne is Batman from movies and TV, but if you haven’t been reading over 50 years of Batman comics, you wouldn’t know that, before the reboot, Dick Grayson (the first Robin) was now Batman, and that three other boys have had the Robin name and the green tights to go with it since Dick’s graduation. DC Comics set things back to square one, and invited new readers to come into a world not burdened by crossovers and continuity changes and new timelines and alternate realities and magic and… there are probably more weird things I’m leaving out.

The reboot got me. I signed on for Batman, then I stretched out a bit and tried some of the other titles. You can easily snag a dozen comic books (one year’s worth of issues) and get caught up on a series. It was all so accessible. When Zero Month hit, I figured it would open up even more. I could pick up a #0 issue and read a character’s origin, and if I liked that character, I could drop into whatever story they were doing for #13 because I’d now know where that character was coming from.

I must’ve bought 20 issues. It was insane. There are 52 titles, by the way, so I did pretty well. I read the characters I knew like Batman, Superman, and the Robins (all four of them). I read the ones I didn’t know but wanted to, like Wonder Woman, Animal Man, and the Flash. And after reading all of them, I was sorely disappointed by how many stories were lead-ups and flashbacks to set up #13 issues, and how many more were old takes on old material.

Remember Batman Returns, when Michelle Pfeiffer got pushed out a window and a bunch of cats licked her back to health (or something)? That’s what Catwoman did in poor style, before teasing at the end that issue #13 would reveal “Selina Kyle’s TRUE origin!” I fully expect them to say she was raised by cats as a child, or that the cats who licked her back to health were genetically advanced super-cats. I’m going to keep my imagined origin story there, because this one was terrible.

Do you know who the Green Lantern is? You’d better, because Green Lantern #0 doesn’t give us the first GL’s origin. It takes a new guy and throws him into a galaxy at war, where everyone has a power ring of a different colour and every page looks like a Skittles wrapper. You’re safer watching Green Lantern: The Animated Series if you’re looking for a fun story.

Batman isn’t interesting because he’s a billionaire with a lot of gadgets. Spider-Man isn’t beloved because he’s acrobatic. Superman isn’t compelling because he’s invincible. We can connect to these characters because they’ve got something more to them, something hidden, a secret identity and a painful history that only we, as observers, share in. Bruce Wayne lost his parents. Not only did Peter Parker never know his parents, but he lost his Uncle Ben and Gwen Stacey because of his actions. Superman may be physically invulnerable, but he is an alien and an orphan, and the people he cares about are his vulnerable point.

Very few of these stories gave us a look at the hero’s vulnerable point. They were more prequels than origin stories. And that’s not to say that they were all bad. Batman #0 was a great heist story showing Bruce Wayne’s first interaction with the man who would be Joker. But that’s a prequel, not an origin.

Batwoman was my favourite of the month, perhaps for the very reason that she isn’t burdened by decades of origin stories and convoluted continuity. She’s pretty much a blank slate, and writer/artist J.H. Williams succinctly showed us what makes Kate Kane tick in this issue. We see her pain when she is kicked out of West Point for being gay. We see how lost she becomes, and how the idea of Batman lifts her up and gives her a new purpose. We see her train with her father. We see her become a superhero. And that’s what this was supposed to be about, wasn’t it?

Batwoman #0

This is an origin.

This one page is what Zero Month should have been about. It’s got everything you need to know about Batwoman. You can see the glamour of the masked vigilante from Kate’s perspective, and if you’ve seen a panel from Batwoman, you know just how beautiful this comic gets when Kate is wearing that costume. We’ve seen Martha Wayne’s pearls bounce in front of Bruce’s eyes countless times; this is Kate Kane’s moment of rebirth, and it’s the first time you’ll see it.

Read Batwoman #0 and you’ll know what the character is about. Animal Man offered another good origin on an obscure hero, while Flash decently set up the character for those who don’t know anything about him beyond the fact that he can run fast. Unfortunately, most of the other stories look as much into the future as they do into the past, and they can be confusing for the uninitiated.

We’ve had another month of comics since Zero Month and the storylines soldier on, many off the backs of Zero Month’s setups.

If you’re looking for a tight origin story for a character you’re interested in, you’re far from guaranteed that if you pick up one of these Zero Issues.

Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut a progressive move by developer BioWare

October 27, 2012 1 comment

Mass Effect 3 Extended Cut

Video game developer BioWare’s release of its Extended Cut for the wildly popular but controversial Mass Effect 3 represented a surrender to the power of internet fandom the likes of which we haven’t seen before. Maybe you’ve asked for your money back after seeing a bad movie at the theater, but have you ever convinced the director to reshoot the ending to suit your tastes?

That’s exactly what happened with Mass Effect 3, BioWare’s sci-fi RPG shooter game built around a system of moral actions and consequences.
Read more…

Yes Rasta lawsuit threatens repurposed art, internet memes

October 26, 2012 Leave a comment
Canal Zone Richard Prince

An image from Richard Prince’s “Canal Zone”.

Intellectual property, copyright infringement and the very existence of internet memes are at stake in a multi-million dollar lawsuit over some repurposed photographs.

French photographer Patrick Cariou wants to see American artist Richard Prince’s “Canal Zone” series destroyed because, he contends, Prince’s reuse of Cariou’s photos was done without the photographer’s consent.

In 2000, Cariou published a book of black and white photographs called Yes, Rasta which contained – you guessed it – pictures of Rastafarians. Then, in 2008, Prince found the book and cut it up, scribbled on it and pasted it back together to create a series of images that would become celebrated pieces of art in their own right. Cariou sued Prince and demanded that the paintings, some of which had already been sold for millions of dollars, be destroyed. He won the case in March 2011.

Cariou Yes Rasta

A photo from Patrick Cariou’s Yes, Rasta book.

In Cariou’s view, the issue is not that Prince reworked the photos, but that he did it for personal profit. The “Canal Zone” images are valued in the millions of dollars, and Cariou contends that that worth is built off of the value of his own images. He also believes his work has been damaged by Prince’s use of it.

Prince contends that he simply put together images of the real world in a different way, and did not steal Cariou’s art. His defense leans heavily on the principle of fair use, which allows copyrighted material to be used without permission for commentary, research, news reporting and search engines. He contends that his pictures are a commentary on the original.

Prince defended the photo below to a judge. “He plays the guitar now. It looks like he’s always played the guitar, that’s what my message was.”

Yes Rasta guitar Patrick Cariou vs Richard Prince

Patrick Cariou’s original photo (left) and Richard Prince’s reworked version (right).

Prince basically gave these Rasta men the Jimi Hendrix experience, and he’s been doing this sort of thing for years. Many other artists do it too – it’s the equivalent of writing your own motivational poster on the internet. “I had limited technical skills regarding the camera,” Prince told Art Forum Magazine. “I had no skills … I used a cheap commercial laboratory to blow up the pictures … I never went in a darkroom.”`

drunk baby demotivational

10 minutes with Photoshop produces similar results.

With Cariou’s 2011 victory, Prince was ordered to destroy the paintings. The artist has since appealed that order and both sides eagerly await a decision.

The whole case has some media heavies tugging at their collars. Google, Getty Images, the Warhol Foundation and others filed briefs at Prince’s appeal. Google took a neutral stance, Getty favoured Cariou and the Warhol Foundation took Prince’s side. The fact that they came out at all shows how much this decision might resonate.

Was Prince wrong to appropriate the photos without permission? Does Cariou have a legitimate argument that “Canal Zone” has damaged his reputation? And is it right to destroy Prince’s art if it is found to be illegal?

Keep an eye on this one. It could affect your next Google search.

Woolly mammoth clones, fur coats one step closer

October 20, 2012 Leave a comment

Woolly Mammoth

There’s a bounty out there for the first scientists to successfully bring an extinct species back to life. It’s called the Jurassic Park X Prize, and a team of South Korean and Russian scientists may finally have all the ingredients they need to take a shot at dino-loot.

If you’ve read the headlines for the last decade, maybe you’ve asked yourself, “Why bother with a mammoth? Why not clone something we made extinct?” Or, if you’re like me, you’re asking, “Where’s my Jurassic Park? I can’t stand watching Jeff Goldblum waste away on Law & Order. Let’s get him back in the game!”

Jeff Goldblum Chaos Theory

“Let me tell you about chaos theory.”

The woolly mammoth is the best bet for cloning something that has been extinct for thousands of years. DNA is the real issue; finding full strands of ancient DNA is nearly impossible, since the stuff falls apart after about 500 years.

That’s bad news for anyone banking on the old mosquito in amber Jurassic Park trick. Under ideal conditions, DNA is completely destroyed after 6.8 million years. The oldest known sample is half a million years old, and that’s just an intact DNA sequence from a bird bone; in order to clone something, scientists need living cells. They also need a surrogate animal to grow the cells, and it has to be an animal similar enough to the clone that the combination will work.

An elephant makes love to a pig

This combination will not work.

The mammoth is the only animal that might provide scientists with everything needed to make a prehistoric animal clone. It lived in subzero temperatures in northern Russia. When it died, it often died out in the cold. Many mammoth corpses were absorbed by the tundra, flash-frozen and sealed away for thousands of years in pristine condition. Unlike the dead dino bones, the mammoth stands a chance of offering a fully preserved, living tissue sample for scientists to work with. On top of that, the mammoth has a modern day cousin in the elephant, making the search for a surrogate mother a short one.

Elephant and Baby

“Mom, I’m getting hair in funny places…”

The science of it works like this: take an egg from an Indian elephant’s womb and remove the nucleus. Think of it like removing the yolk from a chicken’s egg. Now you’re left with an empty egg. Next, take a cell from the woolly mammoth and bond it with the empty egg, more or less replacing the old yolk. Give it some Petri dish love, a little time, let it start to grow and then put the embryo in the surrogate mother. Scientists have done it successfully with mice, goats, dogs – just about everything you’d find on the farm. Nature combines half the genetic info of the mother with half the info from the father; cloning nullifies the mother’s contribution and lets the injected cell use 100% of its own genetic map.

Scientists have been combing northern Russia for a long time in search of a dead mammoth with some living, frozen tissue that can survive the thawing process. In September, they finally found one: a frozen baby mammoth, with just the tissue sample they need to start making some really hairy babies.

Baby Woolly Mammoth Mummy

“Are you my mummy?”

The baby mammoth was found near Yakutsk in northeastern Russia, where Russian scientists have been coordinating with South Korean scientists to make the cloning happen. It’s also where the woolly mammoth lived when it was alive and, perhaps, where it will live again. But what are the consequences of bringing an extinct creature back to life?
When a new species is introduced to an ecosystem, it can be tough to see all the effects it will have. Just ask Australians about the cane toad, which was introduced there for pest control. The cane toad population exploded shortly after its introduction, and it ate everything it could reach on the continent. But the mammoth, unlike the cane toad or, let’s say, the velociraptor, doesn’t pose much threat to humans or the ecosystem. They’re simply too large for their population to get out of hand. TThe hairy creatures would stick to their Siberian homeland, and for the Russians who live there, it wouldn’t be hard to see them coming. And, if our ancestors truly did help hunt them to extinction, they probably taste pretty good, too.

The chances of turning a herd of woolly mammoths into a tourist attraction are pretty slim. Granted, seeing a prehistoric beast twice the size of an elephant would have some appeal, but Yakutsk, Russia is famous for two things: having a territory on the Risk board game, and being the coldest city on earth.

Mail Order Russian Bride

Also, Yakutsk has brides looking for American love.

Bringing back an extinct species would be a tremendous scientific achievement, but the implications and impact go beyond what any one person can fully account for. Is it playing God to resurrect an extinct species? What will we do with the mammoths if we can produce a sustainable population? Will mammoth fur become a fashion statement? Can I finish this article without a Ray Romano reference?

Manny from Ice Age

Absolutely not.

Mike Milbury, hockey’s shoe-wielding bandit

October 18, 2012 1 comment

Brandon Prust vs Milan Lucic

Hockey and fighting – big deal, right? Put a bunch of angry Canadians on skates and a fight is bound to break out. Above you’ll see New York’s Brandon Prust about to get filled in by one of the meanest NHLers around these days, Milan Lucic. That happened last season, and there will be more of that when the NHL resumes. It happens all the time. But it’s never happened like this.

The spark:

On December 23, 1979, the Boston Bruins were at Madison Square Garden to take on the New York Rangers. The Bruins beat the Rangers 4-3, but because they’d had so much fun doing it, they decided they wanted to continue after the buzzer. The Boston players started a typical post-game melee that soon became anything but typical when a fan decided to get involved.

Rangers fan John Kaptain rolled up his program, leaned over the low glass and swatted at Bruins tough guy Stan Jonathan, cutting him under the eye. Then, in Jonathan’s words, “I put my stick up to protect myself, and he just took it, and I can’t be hitting no fan with a stick, really, eh, so I just let him take it.”

Yes, the man is Canadian.

The madness:

That was enough for Boston’s Terry O’Reilly. He climbed into the stands and the rest of the Bruins followed him, because they couldn’t leave their teammate at the mercy of a scared-shitless spectator with a hockey stick. O’Reilly grabbed Kaptain but others in the crowd hauled him off. Soon the whole Bruins team was beating up the crowd at Madison Square Garden.

Amid the chaos, the fan with the deadly program ran like hell, but he didn’t get away.

Boston defenceman Mike Milbury was among the Bruins climbing the glass, and he managed to chase down Kaptain. Milbury knocked Kaptain down, ripped off Kaptain’s shoe and started beating him with it while I security guard tried to stop him.

Bush shoe throw

He may have inspired this.

Security swarmed Milbury, but not before he got in a few good whacks.

Mike Milbury beats a fan with his own shoe

He’s under there. Somewhere.

The aftermath:

The Bruins were separated from the fans and put on their team bus. They needed a mounted police escort to get away from the arena because fans were trying to tip the bus.

Mr. Burns

“Are you saying ‘Booo’ or ‘Bruuu-ins’?”

Milbury’s post-playing career has been as highlight-filled as his shoe-beating heyday. As a general manager in the early 2000s, he led the New York Islanders to their second-worst regular season winning percentage in the franchise’s 30-year history, then salted the earth by trading away future stars Roberto Luongo and Zdeno Chara, among others, before getting canned twelve years too late. He is now (surprise) a broadcaster for ESPN and CBC. But he hasn’t gone soft; he’ll still drop the gloves on any punk ass twelve-year old dumb enough to mess with him.

Mike Milbury laughing

Class act, all the way.