Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Toonami: 1997-2008

Okay, this is going to be a little more freeform, a little less structured, and prolly more like the average teenager/young adult's blog post...maybe.

So a couple weeks ago I heard Toonami aired its last "transmission". I decided there and then I'd do a blog post about it, but I just now mustered enough energy to give a fuck.

Seriously. I read it in an article on Newsarama and the headline read "Toonami Dead". Really? If you think Toonami REALLY died September 20th, 2008, then I've got some Lehman Bros. stock I want you to buy. No, fuck that. Toonami died April 17, 2004, the day the idiots at CN decided to move that shit to the weekend.

In doing so, Cartoon Network managed to piss all over its relationship with pretty much every anime publishing company out there. Gundam SEED bombed on the weekends (well it sucked but then so did G and that did okay), killing Gundam's mainstream popularity once and for all in America--pissing Bandai off.

They went from airing Yu Yu Hakusho on the weekdays and getting actual fucking ratings to going on the weekends and doing so poorly they ended up sticking it on the death slot at 5 fucking AM. Brilliant. Now you've pissed off FuNimation.

They had Naruto and OF COURSE that did well for a while especially since they actually bothered to advertise it, but then they went and manage to fuck up every shonen series they did aside from that--Zatch Bell, One Piece, Prince of Tennis AND MAR. Yeah--MY Toonami made a piece of shit like SD Gundam work (at least in that it, y'know, actually got to fucking finish). C'mon, you fucked up MAR?! Along with Naruto and One Piece, MAR should've been helping to usher in a new generation of anime fans.

Instead you just managed to get all those except Naruto canceled and do you know why? Because it works better when you air a shonen series daily and right after school. Good job, guys.

I don't know who made this decision but I'm insulted. Toonami was once the dominating force of Cartoon Network. It would air EVERY day after school for sometimes two, sometimes three hours. By 2000 it was airing on Saturdays from around 9 or so till 3AM in the morning, airing pretty much every series they'd ever acquired in that time span. By late 2000 they'd taken over the midnight hour by airing their two most popular shows uncut, allowing older fans to see the series the way they were originally created.

Hell, by 2001 or 2002 it had even taken over Saturday mornings with Toonami: Rising Sun, and yet somehow in 2004 they took away every ounce of dominance it had and suddenly it was just "Adult Swim Junior".

I hate to sound like one of the politicians talking about how I knew that wouldn't work and how I pointed it all out "two years ago"...but I did.

And everyone ignored me. They told me it was better off this way. That a few seconds of blood and more risque language was worth the popularity it HAD to lose when it went from being the block you watched right after you got out of school to being a pathetic lead-in to AS. They told me that and now the block--something that plays almost as huge a part of my memories as my grandmother's house where I spent most of my youth watching said block--is now canceled.

I was right. And I'd feel bad for being right except they HAD every chance to bring it back to its former glory. What a lot of people may not know is that Toonami wasn't Cartoon Network's first after-school block. They'd had such a block since the channel's inception back in '92, but none of them stuck. It wasn't until Toonami that they finally hit on a winner that managed to last as long as it did.

Then they moved the block away from where it shined and replaced it with Miguzi, which was about as short-lived as the blocks that came before Toonami. It should've been obvious--if not then, then CERTAINLY when Toonami hit their 10th anniversary, that it was time to let the King reclaim its throne.

They COULD'VE given Toonami a two hour block from 4PM EST to 6PM EST, weekly. Then given it Saturday and Sunday mornings from 6-10AM EST to make up for the fact that Adult Swim now has control of the night.

But they refused it again and gave fans like me--who literally grew up with the block--one of the most lacklusters anniversaries possible and moved on, pretending as if all was well. And yet within a few months after the anniversary the block was shortened from its hefty four hours (which half-assedly made the fact that it only aired once a week worth it) to a paltry two. Like most fans, I expected that to be a temporary thing until some new anime were willing to try their hand at being quickly processed and canceled, but (also like most fans), I was wrong. It was just their way of getting us used to the idea of cancelling the thing.

Now CN's left Adult Swim in charge of its anime, which is like leaving the world's most insecure homophobe with the decision of whether or not to throw out his gay son. (If you couldn't tell, its way, way gone. Hence them starting over with CG, Guardians, etc...) And the new kids animation block will be...y'know what? I don't care. I'm not a kid anymore, and most American animation these days sucks more often than not as its too busy pandering.

As far as Toonami being dead...GTFO with that shit. Toonami died years ago. Its just that most people were either in complete denial or too fucking stupid to admit it.

(And people want me to dismiss fansubs...yeah I'll do that when networks stop being so moronic.)

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Comics as a Medium?

Y'know, I hear a lot of talk about comic books being a storytelling medium, and I guess it is. I mean, certainly in a technical sense it is, but practically? I.....really don't think so. Granted, you can certainly use it to tell any kind of story you want. It'll be cheap (compared to the cost of doing a movie or a television show, at least), and it'll come with pretty much NO limitations, not in censorship or in the sense of budgetary concerns. You'll never be told "you can't do that; its too expensive" in comics. (Not unless you're going to slap a REAL gold cover onto your comic, at least....)

However, as many creators have noticed, unless you're doing superheroes, you're probably not going to be that successful in comics. Most people claim that's because people are just used to reading superheroes and don't want to change their habits, and that's true, but--let me offer another reason: Its because superheroes really only reach their full potential inside of comic books.

I know that's a ridiculous statement considering the early 90's Batman show, and this decade's Batman Begins and The Dark Knight (does anyone notice a trend there...), but its the truth. The superhero genre loses so much of what makes it fun when it leaves the printed page. I could of course, spend all day listing reasons that are both obvious and generic (the stories get neutered, the transition from comic to cartoon or movie can often look stupid, Hollywood never seems to know what to DO with most characters and mostly makes a good movie by dumb luck), but I'll just point out the two major reasons:

1.) Inevitability of Quick Cancellation - In the movie industry, after three films most people hear about a new entry and go, "Why won't they let that series DIE already?" Cartoons get 52 episodes--65 if they're REALLY popular and then they're canceled, as its more profitable to create a new series and launch a toyline for that than to continue the currently running one. Neither of these prove themselves very useful when adapting characters that often have ongoing comic book series numbering in the 300s, one of the largest being Action Comics, which will have run 870 issues this Wednesday.

Of course, don't get me wrong. Some of those 870 should never, EVER have been published. The same goes for any superhero. That said, nearly EVERY superhero worth his weight has an iconic run--one that exemplifies everything about that character, from its villains, to its supporting cast, to showing why that character is even important in that comic universe. And nearly ALL of those runs are longer than 52 issues.

Take Peter David's run on Hulk, for instance. A more psychological take on the character, revealing that the existence of the Hulk is linked to trauma Bruce Banner suffered as a child from his abusive parent, and even going so far as to get rid of the Savage "Hulk SMASH!" persona entirely and replacing him with a "Merged Hulk" that possessed the strength of Savage Hulk, the cunning of the Gray "Mister Fixit" Hulk, and the intelligence of Bruce Banner. Lasted over 100 issues.

Or try Mark Waid's Flash run (pun not intended), one of the first times the character experienced intense popularity, and in which we got to learn exactly where the character got his powers from (the Speed Force), and what the hell the Speed Force WAS. Lasted nearly 100 issues, and was followed by Geoff Johns' run on the the character which showed fans exactly why Flash's Rogues Gallery was cool. Another 60 issues.

Speaking of Geoff Johns, he is currently creating an epic take on the character Green Lantern. Sure the initial story about one GL's redepemption after his fall from grace, his battle against his greatest enemy Sinestro as he wages war on the universe, and his eventual battle against what appears to be death itself is only 60+ issues...but he uses over 40 years of Green Lantern continuity to tell his tale, which even if you stripped out all the useless/stupid shit would STILL be about 150+ issues worth of material.

Hell, even ROBIN has managed an iconic 100 issues of interesting storytelling. ROBIN, folks. Batman's fucking sidekick. Even if it WAS after he got out of the fairy boots and fishscale underwear, he's STILL Robin. If he can do it, for fuck's sake any superhero can--they just haven't had the right writer to give a shit about them yet. And I could go on to list other characters (Impulse, the Teen Titans, the Legion of Super-Heroes, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Avengers, Captain America and many more), but I think I've hammered my point home.

(By the way....even Aquaman. Yes, the one that talks to the fishies, has gotten 47 issues--and probably would've gotten longer had it not been for editorial problems.)

And none of this--NONE of this--factors into the equation the likelihood of someone coming on to the same character and giving them ANOTHER iconic run. There's a reason these characters have lasted so damn long, and they're never going to shine in an industry as fickle as movies, or in one where it doesn't matter how many people watch but how many people buy Day-Glo Batman.

2.) The Shared Universe - Last year my friend and I went to see Spider-Man 3, opening weekend. When it got to the big, climactic fight at the end, my friend leaned over to me and said: "Where the hell is the Fantastic Four? Or at least Daredevil! They ARE fighting in Hell's Kitchen."

And THAT was from a normal person, people. Not like me, who reads comics every week and checks comics news sites daily. The fact is, what makes superhero comics shine are the fact that they all take place in one wide universe where you can see anyone team-up with anyone. Not just one time team-ups either. There are entire story arcs done with team-ups, which you may see in a cartoon (see Spider-Man: TAS' two-part team up with the X-Men) but up until just recently was simply NOT GOING TO HAPPEN in a movie.

Nevermind the giant summer event crossovers they do where you see pretty nearly everyone. Yeah, fans SAY they don't like it, but that's a joke. They bitch and bitch about it on forums but when the new one comes out they sell like gangbusters and make the Top Ten in sales consistently.

Neither cartoons nor movies really have the freedom comics possess to adapt these two factors, and that's why comics continue to sell even though you have movies and cartoons which can bring voices and music and big explosions and all those things comic books can't do. Are comics a medium? Yeah, but they're a medium that's basically adapted to tell superhero stories.

...Or, you know, stories LIKE superhero stories. One of the greatest experiments in indy comics of recent memory, I feel, was CrossGen comics. They seemed to be set up much like a superhero universe would--with ongoing tales told with a number of characters, set in the same universe (though on different worlds, during different times, and with different genre). And though we never got to read it, it was implied that eventually all the characters would come together in a big crossover. Of course the CrossGen experiment eventually failed, but near as I can tell, sales were less of a reason than distribution problems.

One can only wonder if another universe designed in the way superhero universes are, but done without superheroes, would perform.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

So I noticed something today...

Okay, one thing you don't know about me is that I can talk about one thing or be thinking about one thing, and then suddenly I'll end up on something that's seemingly unrelated. My mind works weird--I got it from my mother. The only person who understands what its like to think like that is my girlfriend Ehlana, who thinks in the same seemingly-but-not-really-erratic-way. (One of a long list of things we connect on.)

Anyway, my friend and I were discussing good comic runs today and because of that I found myself looking at an old article by Christopher Priest discussing black characters and getting black readers into comic shops, and while I was reading it something hit me. I'm an anomaly.

Well, that's not really anything new but nevertheless. I mean, by virtue of being myself I've managed to transform cousins my age and black friends I have into probably not agreeing with this...but really one look at a hip-hop forum or enough time spent around people who don't hang out with me regularly and I realize that article is mostly correct.

There ARE black people who seek out solely black superheroes. Myself? They tend to range from offensive (Luke Cage) to "eh" (Black Lightning) to being cool but not really anything like a favorite (Black Panther), and only one to my knowledge actually makes it to awesome (War Machine). More often than not, I find myself gravitating towards the "white" superheroes.

Its not because I'm trying to pretend I'm not black (this tan don't wipe off, remember folks?)--I just find other characters (who happen to be white) cooler. Take Steel, for instance. He's a Superman wannabe. That's not an insult--that was the point of his creation. His, Cyborg Superman's, Superboy's, and Eradicator's back in the 90's after they'd killed Superman off. But in making him an armored Superman wannabe, he loses his connection to the crazy super sci-fi shit Superman does (see All-Star Superman). And, unfortunately, while he DOES gain the chance to allow for doing awesome tech-ed out stories, the way they've portrayed his suit in the 10-15 years or so since his creation makes it seem like you could build it out of shit you find at a junkyard. So he could be DC's Iron Man, but they passed that chance up when they made him different by making him seem like a "working man's Iron Man", when if Grant Morrison's JLA is to be believed, he could build a suit that could crush Tony's armor like papier-mache. Still--the bottomline is I'm better off reading Superman and Iron Man.

Or look at Green Lantern John Stewart. Admittedly, in recent days Stewart has been pretty cool, but look at his past. Because he got so arrogant early on, he ended up letting a planet die. I'm sorry but that doesn't look good on your Hero Resume. But even without that, Alan Scott (who wins by virtue of being a Hero since World War II without quitting or deciding being evil would be more fun) or Kyle Rayner (who's far more creative with his ring) are far more interesting to me.

And then there's the fact that when you're trying to make them relateable to black people, they end up not being relateable to me. They all tend to have grown up "in the hood", or in some inner-city neighborhoods or something like that. See, I can't relate to that. (Not that it matters, because I care more about looking up to than relating to, but we'll get to that.) I grew up struggling too--I still am, but I never lived in the hood. I've also never lived in the suburbs--I grew up in a medium-sized house ten miles from my town out in the country.

Which is probably why, if you're talking relateability for me, I resonate more with Superman. I know what its like to be an outsider. I remember being a child and listening to the kids talk to each other about coming over to one another's houses because they lived next door or across the street from one another. I never got to know anything about that, since my closest neighbors were trees, so it always felt like I was on the outside looking in.

But its not about relateability to me, its about who I can aspire to, and most black heroes fail with that. I won't blame racism or comics for that or whatever--its the fault of my own race. When I talk to people of my color, it kinda saddens me. They don't wanna hear about high fantasy. They don't wanna hear about science-fiction. They wanna talk about gritty, street stuff. Drug lords, life on the streets, wars and shit. Basically, they want their own life a bit more dramatized (more bullets and explosions), blown up and put on the big screen, the small screen, and the printed page. (Granted, to be fair so are white people, as there's something about this day and age that makes people pine for uber-realistic street shit.)

Its a concept that's far, far beyond my ability to understand. I don't wanna hear about the shit I'm dealing with. Dramatized or not. I want to get as far away from that shit as humanly fucking possible. Distant galaxies. Alternate worlds and universes. Magical races and powers and weapons and theories that make your mind bend and twist itself till it looks like a gooey, grey pretzel. That's why you can't market Luke Cage towards me. The only time I go down to Earth is when I need a momentary breather from the crazy shit. But you CAN market Kyle Rayner and his giant manga robots with huge emerald missile launchers blowing up Rage Lanterns. I jump at that shit, and I await the day when everyone else does too.

(As a sidenote I'm not sure how I feel about the idea of putting black comics at places where black people are likely to be to get them sold. I mean, its more money for the industry so yay, but at the same time I'm of the opinion that you know where you need to go to buy comics if you want them, and it ain't at Li'l Wayne's CD Signing. Also, as a person who was first drawn into a comic store as a child by the wondrous displays they put up, I can pretty concretely say if they put up pictures of a whole bunch of black superheroes I'd be more likely to turn away due to feeling pandered to, and since I'm not a female Republican, I don't care much for pandering. I will agree that its all about atmosphere though, since people are more likely to stay in comic shops--which are all just big clubhouses where you can buy comics, really--if the people around are friendly.)