The Superversive in Tabletop RPGs: Why Is It So Rare?

There aren’t many tabletop RPGs, or supplements thereof, that are clearly or explicitly Superversive. However, many such games (and the official settings sold so eagerly for them) contain that potential. The publishers explicitly sell their games, and those settings, with a slant of “Be the good guys against the bad guys!” Yet it is increasingly rare for actual Superversive play to occur, something that’s been a known issue in gaming forums and sites for over 20 years.

Well, there IS an explanation. Dragon Award winner Brian Niemeier made a post his blog today regarding this sort of discussion as it applies to the Big Two of the American comics world, D.C. and Marvel. As those two big giants routinely miss the point, so do their fellow travelers in the tabletop gaming world. As I know first-hand that SJWs in comics, gaming, film, television, and SF/F publishing all network via the convention scene it’s not hard at all to see how this moral malaise spread to all of these cultural subsectors.

(Brian’s post contains the over-arching conversational thread, and I encourage you to read it before you come back here, because I’m explicitly building upon that thread as it relates to Superversive RPGs.)

There are two key observations to be had here. The first is by Jeffro Johnson (said here):

If you want people to employ traditional virtues in service of civilization, they first have to be able to imagine them. Heroism and romance were suppressed specifically to make it easier to destroy a people. The poindexters hold loyalty in contempt and sneer at sacrifice. They think goodness is for chumps. And they have held the reigns of culture for decades.

By the time that Dungeons & Dragons exploded into the mainstream around 1980 (there’s that timestamp again), this degree of cultural subversion had already occurred. If not for the brief turnaround in the zeitgeist by films like the original Star Wars through to the mid-’80s (e.g. Flash Gordon, Krull, Raiders of the Lost Ark) the degeneracy would have concluded well before the turn of the century. Instead, one last generation had the opportunity to have the Superversive shown to them in their early years.

In short, without examples of the Superversive to fire our imaginations, many of us will never even think to play that out in our fantasy adventures when we play tabletop RPGs no matter how well either the rules or the settling allow for it– and that, right there, is a major factor for why explicitly Superversive tabletop RPGs such as Pendragon remain niche games in a niche hobby.

Following that aforementioned thread, this observer nailed why the very publishers that comprise the thought-leaders in tabletop RPGs constantly undermine the Superversive potential of their own creations:

But they can’t imagine that. Reason number two is because of their self-imposed lifting of hypocrisy as the “ultimate” sin. It is better to not have a code at all than to have one and fail to live up to it. This is reflected in the method by which they try and tear down icons – hell, they even said it in Spider-Man 1 (Toby MacGuire), “the thing people like best is to see a hero fall.” (Paraphrased). They cannot fathom that the (a) the purpose of a code, even an unreachable one, is to set a goal for all people to strive to achieve, and (b) that you can’t live up to it all the time is because we are flawed, fallen, and human. However, (c) that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stop trying.

I’ve seen this first-hand. They can’t conceive of it at all. The non-stop mockery of virtue, of the pursuit of a moral or ethical standard, and the misunderstanding (often willfully so) of what “hypocrisy” means all contribute to this subversion of the ostensible claim to “heroic adventure” (which they also misunderstand).

You see this in the long-form when the rules for games in strongly moral settings, such as Star Wars, keep getting watered down to allow for that demoralization to feed upon itself at the table. You see this in the creep of their Pink Slime amorality into their rules and settings, and the pushing of clearly subversive messages (i.e. yet more virtue-signalling) into every part of their business output- product and service alike.

While there are some people left in tabletop gaming who haven’t been fully converged, most long ago bent the knee and drank the demon’s blood- they are part of the cult, and they hate you. This is why the Superversive is rare in tabletop RPGs: they hate it. Don’t give them your money, or your children.

Just as readers closed their wallets and walked away from The Big Two in comics, and do so to the Big 5 in SF/F, this is necessary in tabletop gaming. Close the wallets, and walk away from Omelas- it’s YOUR child they forsake.

(And yes, this is much the case for videogames as well.)

Signal To Noise

Ever wonder why you are having such a hard time getting along with that once-dear friend who is now on the far side of the political Great Divide? This post might help bridge that knowledge gap.

noise noise_signal-mlab1_png_pagespeed_ce_b_GTiE6tAg

These illustrations are from an article on cameras that can be found Cambridge In Colour

Many years ago, I was playing in a roleplaying game known as The Corruption Campaign, along with my friend Bill of Doom. (Not to be confused with Uncle Bill).

Bill and I were involved in tricky negotiations some arrogant aristocrats (Princes of Amber). Sometimes, these went well. Sometimes, they went badly. But, after a while, I began to notice something.

Bill’s character, Stormhawk, was not a bloodthirsty guy, but he talked like an American. If Stormhawk disagreed with something, he would announce with almost no provocation, in a booming voice, “Kill them all!” or “Nuke them from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.”

But he very seldom did attack anyone who was not an outright enemy.

On the other hand, if he liked something or offered someone help, he was very sincere, and he meant what he said.

The aristocrats we spoke with were exactly the opposite. They would make flowery comments that sounded kind or flattering, but they meant nothing by them.

But if they breathed a word of a threat, they were deadly serious, and they meant to carry through.

They thought we Americans were crazy, deadly people.

We thought they were insincere flatterers.

Why?

In radio, there is a phrase called signal to noise ratio. It refers to the difference between the desired information ( the signal) and the amount of background interference (the noise).

The problem Bill of Doom and I had when confronting the arch princes was: Incompatible definitions of what was signal and what was noise.

You see, to Stormhawk:

Kindness: signal

Threats: noise

But to the princes:

Kindness: noise

Threats: signal

The lessons learned playing this game (Don’t think D&D. Think “wandering around in your favorite novel with regular moral twists) have proven helpful in our modern world, because what I see when I watch my friends on different sides of the political spectrum is:

Incompatible definitions of what is signal and what is noise.

Let me give an example. Let’s say there are two young ladies, Hanna and Annah (Nice palindromes there, Annah and Hanna, but now that we’ve got across the point—that they are just the same thing in reverse—I’m going to write the first one Anna, for simplicity.)

Bear with me here. This is only an example.

Hannah is pro-life. To her, life is holy. She cannot understand how someone could murder a baby, at any age. Or how they cannot care for these helpless little ones who cannot speak up for themselves. She tries to make it clear to everyone she speaks to, but to her dismay, some folks out there seem to care a great deal about lesser life forms, but they don’t care about babies!

How could this be?

At first, Hannah just speaks to her cause, but people keep throwing the environment in her face, more and more. They care more about falcon eggs than they do about real living human beings—even if they are not breathing human beings yet.

Hannah gets so mad that she blogs: Look, I don’t care about the stupid falcons. They could all die for all I care! We’re talking about babies!!!

Next we turn to Anna.

So…Anna is an environmentalist. To her, nature is holy. She cannot understand how someone could mistreat this beautiful world—that we all have to live in! Or not be concerned for these poor creatures who cannot speak up for themselves. She tries to make it clear to everyone she speaks to, but to her dismay, some folks out there seem to care a great deal about producing more humans to mess up the environment, but they don’t care about falcons becoming extinct!

How could this be?

At first, Anna just speaks to her cause, but people keep throwing anti-abortion arguments in her face, more and more. They care more about unborn lumps of cells than they do about real living and breathing creatures.

Anna gets so mad that she blogs: Look, I don’t care about the stupid humans. They could all die for all I care! We’re talking about falcons!!!

Now, on that particular day, Hanna happens to read Anna’s blog, and Anna happens to read Hanna’s blog. Each had written a long piece supporting their side, but the end of the piece was the lines in bold above.

Two weeks, two months, two years later, what is the result? What has each young woman come away with?

Hanna doesn’t recall that she lost her temper and dissed falcons. She only remembers her impassioned plea for unborn life.

Anna doesn’t recall that she lost her temper and dissed human beings—after all, she is a human being. She only remembers her impassioned plea to save the helpless falcons.

But what do they remember about the other person’s blog? Only the last line.

Why?

Because to Hannah—babies are signal, and falcons are noise.

While to Anna—falcons are signal, and human beings are noise.

Ever wonder why the opposition—whatever side you are not on—only ever seems to attack and quote the outliners on your side? The most horrible folks? The most obnoxious comments? How they never seem to get the point? How the throwaway line you, or your favorite blogger, tossed off when you were pissed off is repeated everywhere, while the strongly-reasoned arguments are ignored?

This is why.

To them, that throw away line is signal—because its on the subject they care about. To you and your blogger friend, it’s noise.

So, next time you feel the urge to bridge the endless gap—and maybe talk to that crazy lunatic on the other side who used to be a bosom buddy—try this simple trick:

Pick the lines the other person says that upset you the most. Ignore them. Just pretend that they are not there. Pretend that they are static. Noise.

Because, chances are, that to him, it is just noise.

And you’ve been missing the signal, tuning it out, all along.

Then, listen closely to whatever he seems to think is the most important part–even if it sounds like mad nonsense to you. NOT, mind you, what he says at loudest volume—that is likely to be noise, too—the part he speaks about fervently or with reasoning.

From there, you can often find a bridge, a common point of agreement—because at the very least, you now know what the important issues actually are. To use my first example: you are speaking kindness to kindness or threat to threat.

Even if you can’t agree, at least you will be talking signal to signal, instead of noise to noise.

It’s difficult, but after a few tries, you’ll be a champion Great Divide bridger in no time.

Give it a try.

And if you run into trouble—you absolutely can’t find the other guy’s signal—don’t hesitate to swing by and ask for help.

If nothing else, it gives me a chance to prove that roleplaying games are good for something after all.


The Superversive in Tabletop RPGs: GURPS Lensman

There was a time when Steve Jackson Games made a lot of supplements for the GURPS line that served to adapt influential or popular SF/F books into something viable for use as a tabletop RPG setting. While the choices were necessarily constrained by both internal budgets and licensor friendliness, we got a few gems here and there- and none coruscate more brilliantly than Gurps Lensman.

For people who were not around when the Lensman series was in its heyday, or missed the reprints, you would not believe how far into the Memory Hole this series went until recently. When this book got published in 1994, there was at least one whole generation (if not two) that never heard of these books or knew of what great influence they had on SF in books, comics, film, and television world-wide. I was one of that many, and I could not find a copy of any of them in any local store for love or money. This was a close as I got.

And with this supplement, I had everything I need to fully engage with a Lensman’s perspective- to see it all the way someone granted the power of the Lens (and the duties that come with it) does, to do all that they do, and to risk all that they risk in defense of something figurative and literally bigger than themselves. This isn’t just partaking in the things that build, sustain, and invigorate a culture into a civilization; this is being one of the very pillars of Civilization, a load-bearing pillar upon which the fates of billions–even trillions–rests. Far beyond being a Knight in King Arthur’s court, this is what being a Jedi should be (but isn’t).

Despite the issues that every GURPS edition has with high-powered milieu, this supplement does do the setting justice. Sure, you can play something other than a Lensman, but that’s not why you have this supplement: you’re there for being Civilization’s greatest agent, advocate, and champion. It’s no different than not playing a Knight in Pendragon. Even if you don’t care for GURPS, what’s here will be transferable to the ruleset of your choice; the technology notes are often in real-world (Imperial) units or otherwise giving real-world referents so you can easily make this work for you at your table.

If the Amazon link above doesn’t have what you’re willing to pay, go try directly from Steve Jackson Games; they may have it in PDF at a price you’re willing to accept. Either way, if you’re into tabletop RPGs and seek out ways to play Superversive games, you’re a zwilnik to not have GURPS Lensman in your library.

A Beethoven Retrospective

(This is a months old reprint of an article on my private blog, which is, shocking as it may sound, much more cynical and polemical than how I write here most of the time. I thought it made a lot of sense here, and I thought of it again after reading Mr. John C. Wright’s article on beauty. As it so happens, I’m still teaching myself the piano. And, alas, still bounce off of classical music hard.)

Currently I’m teaching myself the piano; I’ve owned one for a long time now (paid for by me and transport paid for by my parents as a gift), but never learned it. I’m attempting now to stubbornly turn a new leaf and start improving myself, and learning piano is a good start to that; it’s also a good way to correct problems with procrastination. Dedication is needed. My school year looks to be packed and extremely difficult, so I’ve decided I will cut out all recreational pursuits except for piano, which is really only recreational in the sense that it’s not school related. Either way, this will ensure everything I do during the school year will be productive in some way or another.

In light of this, I’ve decided to try to take another shot at listening to classical music. I’d taken a couple of cracks at it in the past, but much as with classical novels, I’d always bounced off. But, not this time! I’ve decided to start with Beethoven, who of the few I’d tried to listen to I was always fondest of. He combined technical precision with pure emotion beautifully.

“Might as well go big or go home,” I thought, and started right in on Beethoven’s 9th Symphony; I imagine if I’d asked I would have been told not to start with something so ambitious.

I’m still glad I did. “Reviewing” the ninth symphony is sort of like reviewing “The Iliad” or “Paradise Lost”; what can you really say? It surely has to be the pinnacle of western music. I’ve listened also to his Moonlight Sonata, his fifth symphony, and Fur Elise, and the third symphony (Eroica, one of the most influential pieces of music ever, apparently) is on in the background right now. But nothing has quite matched up to the brilliance of the ninth. I don’t connect well with classical music, as I’d said, and this was no exception – but the sheer ambition and brilliance of the work is undeniable. How somebody conceived something like this, and actually had the technical skill to write it down and coordinate it into a cohesive whole, is utterly mind-boggling. I can’t even imagine it. And he wrote it when he was completely deaf! How is that even possible?

Beethoven is a fascinating guy, though of course by now most people probably know that. He really is inspiring, though. I always found it very moving and telling that the final great piece that Beethoven, a man who at one time considered suicide due to his declining hearing*, wrote was the Ode to Joy…and the final piece that Mozart, by all accounts a much happier and buoyant man, wrote was a Requiem.

This is a bit unfair, as Beethoven did write other things after the symphony, and the Requiem Mozart wrote was commissioned by somebody else. Nevertheless, the fact that the ninth symphony was written by a deaf man who once considered suicide is, as far as I’m concerned, nothing short of a miracle.

*I found his Heiligenstadt Testament very moving and inspiring.

The Fate of the Furious: A Superversive Review

On one level, The Fate of the Furious is the easiest movie to review:
1. Great fun. and 2. Leave your brain (especially the part that understands physics) at home

And now, folks, your seatbelts (HA!) because I will try to make this post deep. How deep? Glad you asked. I’m going to take the recent discussion of what qualifies as superversive fiction and apply it to this movie. If you’re rolling on the floor in fits of laughter, I don’t blame you. But stick with me here. Just because something is lowbrow, doesn’t mean it can’t be superversive, at least in part. And if we can see superversive elements in this piece of schlock, maybe they would become easier to identify elsewhere. Thus, let the experiment begin!

Aspiring/Inspiring. Our heroes are far from being role models, that’s for sure. But are they reaching for something higher? Are they attempting to improve the world, what little of it is in their control? The opening segment includes a prolonged drag-racing sequence that ends with Dom Toretto acting with both generosity and honor towards a person who really deserves neither. Much later, when the villainess questions why Dom seemingly rewarded the man who tried to kill him, the response is, “I changed him.” Does it work like that in real life? Probably not. Thugs don’t choose to join the side of light because of one event, not commonly anyway. Is it possible? Yes, I suppose it is. Is it something we’d like to occasionally see in our art? Absolutely.

Virtuous. I can see how this requirement can be viewed as problematic at first glance, but we need to remember that superversive heroes don’t need to be perfect. They do, however, need to know right from wrong, and more importantly, the story itself must be clear on the matter. An advantage of a well crafted dumb action movie is that the central conflict is very clear. The good guys are… maybe not all that good, not all of them, but they are working for a good cause. And the villainess Cipher, played with obvious delight by Charlize Theron, is as cold and vicious as they come. Her purported justification sounds vaguely noble from throwing around words like “accountability,” but at no point are we sympathetic or thinking, “Well, she’s kind of right…” Nope. Not even close. In this story, shades of gray are non-existent.

Heroic. This one is easy. Unlike in some of the other entries in F&F franchise, the protagonists’ motives here are mostly pure: family, loyalty, honor and oh yeah, saving the world. There is revenge mixed in for some, and an opportunity for a second chance for others. In particular, Deckard (Jason Statham), a villain from one of the previous films, is at first hard to accept as one of the good guys, but he does redeem himself in one of the more spectacular and absurd scenes in a movie that’s full of them. In the end, they all rise to the occasion and do what they must to fight evil, no matter the cost. Additionally, in what to me is the stand-out moment of the movie, Letty bets her life, without hesitation, for a chance to reach and save her husband who appears to have gone rogue. It plays much better if you know the history of these characters, but it’s powerful in either case.

Decisive. Again, easy, as per requirements of the genre. The protagonists don’t have time to agonize over their choices, in part because there aren’t too many. Saving the world is a non-negotiable goal. While there are heart-breaking scenes, we see not a hint of the modern “why me?” angst that has infected even many of the superhero movies. They hurt and they grieve, but never stop moving towards the goal.

Non-subversive. You’d think a movie in a franchise built around essentially glorifying outlaws would be subversive by definition. Not so. This entry in particular has a villainess whose main intent is destruction of the current order, but there’s even more than that. In one of the obligatory Villain Exposition scenes, she’s intent on convincing Dom Toretto, the man who values family and faith, that he is wrong in his priorities. It’s not enough for her to use Dom’s skills. She has a need to destroy who he is, to prove that his life has no meaning, and by extension, no one’s life has meaning. This is an important point. If life is of no value, if family, faith and honor are but an illusion, then mass murder is a perfectly acceptable stepping stone to one’s goals. The villainess is a nearly perfect embodiment of subversion. She would not, in fact, be out of place in an old-fashioned fairly tale, from the time before our culture has developed a need to understand, justify, and sympathize with villains rather than to advocate and celebrate their unconditional defeat.

There were other things that are remarkable on that front. For all the banter and joking around, there’s not a hint of irony when it comes to good old fashioned values. Dom talk constantly about family as if it’s some kind of magic mantra needed to pull him back to the light. (One reviewer commented that at times the movie has a feel of a GOP convention, with the word “family” being mentioned over 50 times.) They pause before a meal to say grace. Crosses figure prominently, both in the visuals and once actually in the plot. Two young hot-blooded men are courting an attractive woman, but that’s where it stays. There is no obligatory danger-inspired hookup, but on the flip side, no blanket rejection of men or romance either. It’s a small scene, fun and light-hearted, but also old-fashioned. And in the end, for all the ridiculous special effects and action, I think this is one of the reasons the franchise has endured. These movies entertain and amuse without tearing down, and they leave you, if not inspired, at least satisfied with a simple tale that shows the world working mostly as you know it should. Not so bad for a piece of dumb action after all.

Maine in The Princess Bride

Today, instead of a throwback, we have a new article by S. Dorman, who has been an occasional but long-time contributor to the Superversive Blog.

The house of Steven King
in Maine

he first thing I noticed about The Princess Bride was its intriguing frame. I was taken in both by the narrative frame, telling how it came to be written, and by the fantasy novel’s conceit that it was based on an early 20th-century story which was itself based on older versions. Apparently William Goldman and the author S. Morgenstern were treating this old tale, in part, as satire. I wanted to know: was this frame a sham? Was it real, a guess, a farce?

I began reading William Goldman’s The Princess Bride, S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of Love and High Adventure for the first time earlier last year. I’ve wanted to read the novel and watch the movie for years. Then I found an online offering of Mythgard Academy a perfect opportunity to do both in community with an enthusiastic scholar.

Two paragraphs into this piece you may be wondering what this has to do with anything Maine. Often I begin a piece wondering how it’s to be fitted together and given unity, but here I discovered how to make it work—on coming to the novel’s addendum, written in the late 1990s, entitled, “Buttercup’s Baby.” In real need of its rather desperate framing, it’s a truncated story, which cannot even be called a novella. Did you know there was a Princess Bride connection to Maine? That latter section of the novel is where we find it.

It turns out that the notorious spookster, Mr. Stephen King, is in some way connected to this fantastic sword-and-sorcery—through his ancestry (no less). (As is Mr. Goldman himself.) And you must know that the master of horror is a Maine author. I can testify from experience that Bangor, Maine is one spooky place. And that the Bangor International (yes!) Airport is another. You don’t want to go walking through either after dark without someone like Mr. King to hold your hand. Please keep this in mind if you ever have to travel from one nation to another via this famous connecting airport and its dim and spooky old-town-sinking-down into the Penobscot River Valley nearby. Remember, this Gothic metropolis figured as the nearest town in the initial isolated coastal, glam-vampire soap opera, Dark Shadows (famously ushering in the current sexy vampire craze). Dark Shadows featured Jonathan Frid as Barnabas Collins. Beware.

Frames are one way a writer triples his fun in writing. And it’s apparent that this author was rolling on the floor of his study even as he wrote. Entertainment all to the good—he must from time to time, as all writers must, wrestle with writer’s block. But, this time, blockage is the reason for the rolling around.

(The Princess Bride in the early 1970s was a time when American writers did not roll around in cafes because there were no cafes then. Only coffee shops and diners. In Maine the inhabitants of diners would frown and make no eye contact if someone started rolling around between the booths and lunch counter of, say, Moody’s Diner on Route 1. If it happened in Bangor they might suspect Barnabas Collins had something to do with it and quickly leave, dropping a dime on the table and hastily settling up with two bits at the cash register. You don’t neglect to pay even if you are scared out of your mind. It is expected. In fact, I’ve heard it said you’re not even to enter any kind of establishment in this state without buying SOMETHING.)

Apparently, as a child, Mr. Goldman was introduced to S. Morgenstern’s story by his melancholy and perplexed barber father. Even though the story’s setting is quasi medieval—even pre-medieval, say, the dark ages—the Barbers do not figure in the story of the Princess Bride except in this rather oblique reference. Instead, readers rely on “The Machine” with its frightening blood-boiling gadgetry—and the Bangor International Airport—for the terror they are willing to endure that Mr. Goldman might at last complete his profound and massive struggles with writer’s block. I’m a writer myself. I know how these things play out. You should see my study after I get done with one of these essays. Or the Nomad Cafe in Norway, Maine. Yes, there is a Norway, Maine. Unlike Florin’s rival city-state Guilder, it’s not just some made up frame meant to deceive you the reader.

Mythgard Institute is also not made up in order to tear down a writer’s block. It’s a real Tower of Guard meant to look out over the sea through a very great distance. It is not rubble for academics to paw through after its demolition.

Mr. Goldman, though a very tolerable writer, had to—I say HAD TO—humble himself and approach the great Master of Horror in the Bangor Maine International Airport, begging for the opportunity to retell Buttercup’s Baby as a complete story… because the publisher (who held rights) wanted to give it to…. Yes, the bloodsucking publishers had lost faith in Mr. Goldman, presumably because of his now infamous colossal writer’s block … and had given these precious rights, along with the baby and its bathwater, to—Mr. Stephen King.

Why would they do this?! you ask. (I presume here. I presume you are still with me even though my framing appears to be bogus and I’m dragging out this awful essay by stuffing it with excessive wads of heavy padding. Why doesn’t she just get on with it? you’re saying. Again, I presume. You aren’t saying any of this, are you? Really I’m just making this up? You’re just in my head. I’m only imagining you, right?

In other words, you’re not really laying down your tip and slowly backing away. (You will, of course, stop nonchalantly at the cash register on your way out.)

So why would those publishers do that too poor Mr. Goldman after all his success, in which, btw, they shared?

In the Bangor Airport, Mr. King chastised Mr. Goldman for being afraid to do his research properly in Florin, where all the materials of this old story are neatly filed and collated and cross-referenced, lexomically analyzed and algorithmically vetted; and where the real landscape, ancient fortresses and towers, pathetic hovels still stand for the writer’s scholarly or fictive paws.

“Why is it, Bill,” said Mr. King (they knew each other from before; having worked together on a screenplay about another writer smitten with writer’s block and tied up by some maniac woman inside a spooky mansion in Beverly Hills, California right next to the LA Regional Airport).

“Why is it that you’ve got the gumption” (Yes, he used that rather old-fashioned word that nobody knows what it means any more) —”You’ve got the gumptions” (in the plural so we can know which part of the anatomy he’s really talking about) —”Why is it,” (etc.) “that you’re here in the Bangor International Airport, but you’re scared to get on a plane to go to Florin to research your heritage and the rest of this story? Tell me. Why is that?”

So that’s my essay on framing Maine in The Princess Bride. Since I presume much here, and no one else is raising a hand to stop me, I’d better just block myself there for now.

Dorman writes speculative Maine, and Otherworld science fiction. Her current-world story, “Pilot of Varying Lights” is slated for the June issue of Sci Phi Journal.

 

Sex, DC Comics and wtf?

Lately, there has been a lot of discussion on comic books, be they from Jon del Arroz discussing the politicization of Marvel comics, or JD Cowan’s discussion on how bereft of ideas comics have been.
My problem came in with their “New 52” in 2011. This was a particularly stupid idea after they had already created 52 new alternate universes in their 52 storyline — which was a 2006-2007 story line that was actually quite good, focusing on the B-list superheroes, and giving them a chance to flourish, and even starting new, and popular, storylines. It was even character-driven.
So of course they screwed it up within four years.
But I knew they went off the rails when they decided to “reboot” characters for sex value.
I have already discussed my opinion on sex in writing.  I’d say my opinion on sex in general is very Catholic, but since no one understand that, I’m not even going to bother. However, I can sum up my thoughts on sex in fiction very easily: who needs it? We all know the mechanics. What possible reason is there for a blow by blow description? Pardon the pun, but you know what I mean.

I’ve written a few sex scenes …. by “few” I mean two, and they were in the same book.  However, the “sex scene” was in someone’s dream, and the protagonist was having a conversation with his dead wife through most of it. The sex was incidental, and mostly has to do with the fact that she was killed on their honeymoon.  The second sex scene was so vague, any less detail would be as clear as a Salvatore Dali painting, only with words.

Yes, I brought in Dali to an article on sex. I’m weird. However, there is a point.

Even during these scenes, there’s no blow by blow description. (I’m going to stop apologizing for that phrase, just roll with it).  They aren’t necessary, unless someone’s writing porn.  Even something as intimate as noticing a tattoo on someone during sex doesn’t necessitate that much detail — the audience does not need to know what specific act the individual was doing when s/he noticed the tattoo.  It’s sex. Nudity happens.  Next chapter.

In the case of DC Comics, they decided to go back to the 1990s, where the artistic style was summarized as “Big boobs, big guns.” The current version seems to focus on women and sexuality, with an overemphasis on the sex.

Take, for example, the character of Starfire. She’s an alien with red hair, green eyes (and I don’t mean with two green irises, I mean the entire eye is green), orange skin, with measurements somewhere in the 36 DD battery range.
Normally, I would stop reading at green-eyed redhead (I grew up with a crush on the female lead in Riverdance, leave me alone).  The character has always been sexually relaxed, it was mostly a cultural thing.  And, for the most part, it was used properly — as comedy.  For example, in the classic Crisis on Infinite Earths, Starfire walks in with Nightwing, meets an old friend, and introduces him as “This is Nightwing, my lover.”

Nightwing’s reaction is such that you suspect he’s glad that he has to go and face the end of the world.

And that was it.  One panel. Move on. It was played for comedic effect. The alien culture was very much what is referred to as “serial monogamy.” Starfire would FALL IN LOVE with a fellow and they would actually have a relationship. Sadly, today, the most startling thing about this is that she fell in love first, THEN started with sex.

DC decided to fix that.

OW! MY BACK!

When they rebooted everything with their “New 52,” DC spent far, far too long on having Starfire posing.

And by posing, I don’t mean “for seducing the guy she’s targeted for seduction.” I mean in weird, contortionist-like ways that are only useful for modeling.

Modeling what, I’m not entirely certain, but, still ….

What was the point of that scene?  Aside from “we’re pandering to hormonal males who can’t buy Playboy“?  Anyone? Anyone at all? Bueller?  Bueller?

“Baywatch” has its own comic book now?

Someone ran out of room for a plot in this issue, didn’t they? Starfire is a woman who can quite literally level city blocks.  And DC decided to dedicate a whole page to her trying to jump someone’s bones, with another page dedicated to “Gee, she looks good in a bikini.”  Really? They couldn’t think of something she could blow up?

Notice I have not pointed out her barely there costume.  The “reasoning” is that she absorbs solar energy through her skin, and the less she wears, the more surface area is used…..

Funny, twenty years ago, when Superman just came back from the dead and needed an enhanced recharge from the sun, he had to wear a form-fitting black suit to increase his solar intake.

But then, that was before 300 and chiseled, CGI generated 8-pack abs were “in.”

Also strange: she needs to bear more skin for more solar energy absorption, but she wears thigh-high boots, covering a lot of that surface area. If her powers honestly worked like that, it’s time to invest in sandals.

So, to recap: Does this entire setup tell us anything about the character? Nothing new.  Does it add anything to the plot?  Is it amusing? No and no.

If we’re lucky, comic books last 32 pages, without counting the ads.  If we’re not, it’s more like 25 or 27. But they’ll blow anywhere from 6%-10% of the book having Sunfire posing?  Who the hell is writing this crap?

This is the very, very short version of just some of the stupidity in this issue.

For the rest of how stupid this issue was, see the review below, or at the original webpage.

 

But then, things got even worse. How?

Enter: Catwoman.

Yup, the one in the really tight-fitting outfit.  As opposed to Halle Berry, the one in no outfit … that was more CatHouseWoman than anything else.
Granted, in some ways, I think Catwoman’s outfit is more practical than Batman’s — there’s no loose fitting articles of clothing to be caught on nails, screws, the vents she crawls around in, etc.  And, leather is good in knife fights. Batman’s outfit seems to have only recently made the cape practical, but I don’t keep up with these things.

The cat burglar and antihero has had an on again, off again relationship with Batman since Julie Newmar played her in the 1960s Batman tv show.  Maybe longer.

But, no, decades of jumping Batman — sometimes literally — is apparently, too subtle.

Let’s have a full-on sex scene!!!!

Really?

Yes. Really. They went there. 

Then again, I have a problem; I look at these images, and my first thought is “Why is her skin green? Has she been hanging out with Poison Ivy too much, or is it really odd mood lighting?”

So, what, exactly, does this entire sex scene add?

Another two to three pages eaten up by something that could probably be implied in one panel, and — oh, yeah — the next issue is called …. wait for it …. The Morning After.

Nope, still too subtle.

A whole splash page?

What do these pages add?  Oh gee, Catwoman is taking his gloves off with her teeth. She’s a little frisky …. um, she dresses up in skintight leather and carries a whip, I think we got that part.

So …. what was the point of this exercise? Obviously, they’re going to continue this as a story line into the next issue.  Good for them. So what? Why did they need two or three pages on this? Any one of you out there, reading this article right now, could have come up with a way to tell the audience that, yes, they are copulating. I suspect you could have done it in … what, half a page? With some internal monologue?

That a “professional author” has done it this pathetic.

Obviously, someone at DC has decided that its readers are either (a) functionally retarded, and subtlety would go over their heads, (b) too young to get legal access to get this stuff on their own or (c) the author used to write fan fiction before this.

The author, Judd Winick, is one of the masterminds behind resurrecting Robin #2, Jason Todd — who was so despised, fans voted to have him beaten to death and blown to kingdom come.

Winick’s brilliant idea: resurrect Todd, and make him crazy. So, I suspect we can’t expect too much from this guy. His claim to fame also seems to be LGTBQ awards and praise.

In short: this was no way to treat halfway decent characters. Catwoman has had a long run by dancing on both sides of the law, and living in a gray area that makes her more interesting than Batman at times … and more sane (I think Batman was on his fourth nervous breakdown before the reboot, last I checked).  Starfire, for all the oversexed portions of her nature, has been entertaining for reasons other than that — she had a run on Infinite Heroes, where she had some great character moments, and anytime the oversexed nudist part of her came out, it was a source of quick entertainment, and then we moved on to the plot.

Pity DC comics has no memory.

This was only the beginning of DC’s New 52. Is there any surprise that this “All-New” format is already going the way of the dodo? Seriously, DC’s massive, world-shaking events had reshaped the universe repeatedly, up to 2011. Then they screwed it up, and they are desperately trying to undo all of it. They started their series with lowering their standards, aiming for the slow, the stupid, and the shallow. I would even say that they were subversive, but that would require DC to put some thought into it. It started stupid, and it will end in stupid.

DC should have aimed higher. They may not be scrambling right now to fix everything.