Tuesday, June 27, 2006

On Friends Being Friends

The other days, I hitched a ride home with my boss at work. The nice thing about spending time with my bosses and co-workers is that most of the time (at least to my experience) they don't talk shop. They share tips on work with me, what with me being the new guy and all, but for the most part they like to talk about life in general, things outside the practice of law, and I welcome it.

Anyway, we got to talking about how I like to hang around with an old friend from law school who happens to work two buildings away from mine. We're pretty much updated on each other's professional lives; when the crap hit the fan (or at least I thought it did) at the office once, I called her up and we met at a nearby coffee shop while I vented. She found out about it before my wife did, which my wife didn't like very much.

Upon hearing this anecdote, my boss, himself a married man, shared a bit of advice though this is certainly paraphrased: avoid having "special female friends." Another way of putting it, I guess, would be that there shouldn't be any woman that I feel more comfortable talking to than my wife. There shouldn't be things that I can tell another woman that I can't tell my wife, especially if it's stuff about my wife. It hit me right away that he was right, even though, thank goodness, I hadn't reached that rather dangerous threshold just yet. But the fact that I had told another woman about something rather personal (I was feeling really crappy at the time and needed someone to listen) before my wife, who was just a cellphone call away (we're Sun subscribers, so I can't use the old "saving my load" excuse) was not good.

It hit me: how many married, or "involved" people have "special friends," that is, people they tend to approach with something before they talk to their significant others, sometimes, even without ever going to their significant others? How many people have someone like this in their lives, whether it's people they knew before they were married or people they met afterwards? Thinking about it, it's not the healthiest thing one can do for his or her own marriage, so why do so many people do it? Depending on the closeness one feels to this "special friend" it can really be a dangerous proposition. Like my boss said to me: she's still a woman.

I guess the rule of thumb, really, is avoid stocking up on things you can't tell your spouse, and not just the big no-nos like affairs and vices. I mean little things, like things that annoy you about her or him. White lies are no good, especially if you find some other outlet to bitch to about the truth.

I tend to understand why women who used to be "special friends" (but not girlfriends) with certain guys tend to shy away once the guys get married. That is a good call, even though the situation doesn't always call for them to drop out of sight altogether.

I guess the bottom line, really, is that I should be able to talk to my wife about ANYTHING. Right now, fortunately, I still am.


Some time after I had left the PCGG, I was thunderstruck to learn how the folks in charge had basically fucked everything up for the valiant Haydee Yorac and her crew of commissioners. Essentially, it turned out all she had done was to take wads of cash from the pockets of one set of thieves only to transmit it to the pockets of another. It was frustrating enough to make her quit, and maybe even kill her, I don't know. God rest her soul, poor woman.

Just as with the PCGG, I left the Supreme Court about six weeks ago with no baggage, with no ill will against anyone, and with no regrets whatsoever. I just felt it was time to move on, but at the same time I'm glad I was there for as long as I was. I was proud to be part of such a fine institution.

It makes me sick to the bowels of my being, therefore, to see the current Chief Justice milk his position for as much media exposure as he can possibly get, largely at the expense of the credibility of the institution.

The way Art Panganiban postured on the death penalty just before its abolition by Congress speaks rather ill of his credibility as a magistrate, much less as the head of the highest court of the land. He claims there was no impropriety to what he said, and that he should be free to express his own opinion.

Well, Mr. Chief Justice, here's the thing: your personal opinion finds its way into some of the country's most important decisions and resolutions. Your opinion, in many instances, has the force of law. Your opinion can shape lives or break them. Your opinion doesn't belong to you right now: it belongs to the Supreme Court.

I think this guy is in the wrong line of work, really. He should have his own talk show, whether or radio or on TV. He is a glory hound unlike any there ever was. Put next to his most immediate predecessor, the eminent Hilario Davide who guarded his own convictions closely when asked for his take on issues of transcendental importance. The guy showed dignity and composure. His successor is kind of like a circus clown with the way he carries on.

All of 2005's bar passers must know of his little slide presentation during their oath-taking, a solemn occasion that is supposed to be part of the Supreme Court's official business. Instead, the chief took the opportunity to tell his sad sob story growing up, which, I've told, is notably exaggerated in some portions. Incidents like that made me glad I passed the last bar during Davide's term. The stinker of it is (for those who were there, anyway) that no batch after this will ever have to endure such annoyance because Panganiban is stepping down in December.

Some comment has been made about how generous Panganiban is with the bonuses he lavishes on Court employees. Well, of course he can be generous; it's not exactly his money he's giving away now, is it?

I don't know if I'll ever work at the Supreme Court again, as much as I liked it there, but I do know one thing for sure: I'm definitely not going back while Panganiban is still in charge.

Friday, June 23, 2006

On The Eternals Issue #1

I'm not particularly sorry I didn't get to meet Neil Gaiman when he was here in the Philippines. It's not that I have anything against him, but as soon as I heard how many people went to have their stuff signed by him I realized that I would have spent an entire working day (or more) to have about eight comic books signed, and not even my particularly prized stuff.

Previous to yesterday, the only Gaiman stuff I had was his second Death miniseries (The Time of Your Life) and his four-issue Stardust illustrated, serialized novel (I can't bring myself to call it a comic book or a graphic novel, because it really isn't one). I rather enjoyed the latter and am happy to report that it's being made into a feature film.

Still, there was something about the way he wrote that made it feel somehow distant from everything else I was reading at the time. Granted, it was better written (because folks like Mark Millar, Brian Bendis and J. Michael Straczynski hadn't started writing mainstream just yet) than the other stuff, but it feel real-world, like a lot of the dialogue in the Death books. It somehow felt surreal, otherworldly.

Eternals changes that somewhat. In a nutshell, it's about a race of immortals who have, for the most part, forgotten who they are, that walk among men, specifically the men of the regular Marvel Universe. We see most of the story through the eyes of Mark Curry, a young New York intern whose life takes a strange turn when blond-haired, golden eyed Ike Harris shows up in the hospital restroom one day to tell him that he is a being of fantastical power. Other characters who show up are Sersi, a flightly New York party planner whose dialogue reads just a touch like some of the lines of Death in The High Cost of Living, the mysterious Druig, weapons R&D expert Thena, and tweeny TV star Sprite. Still, this particular issue is all about Mark and Ike, who share most of the issue's conversations.

And it is here that Gaiman plants his foot firmly in the real-world nature of the Marvel Universe. I never bought Marvel: 1602 because the neither the premise nor the art grabbed me enough to entice me to spent a small fortune on all eight issues. It was too out there, and like I said once before felt like it was designed to pander to Gaiman's penchant for the strange.

Eternals is still a fantastical project, by that logic, but at the very least it still has the "real," modern world as its starting point. And Gaiman's dialogue straddles the line between fantasy and reality. He gives the everyman a point of view in Mark Curry instead of populating his world with a whole bunch of strange characters.

As for the art, my reverence of John Romita Jr. has sometimes bordered on the idolatrous. I guess that statement pretty much says it all.

In the course of his thirty or so year career he has actually gotten very little of the respect that is due him. He did remarkable runs on X-Men, Spider-Man and Iron Man in the 80s, but he didn't enjoy the superstar status that was lavished on the likes of Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane and (gasp!) Rob Liefeld. In the last twenty years he has worked with as many cookie-cutter hacks as he has really good writers.

The only other time a book of his was treated as an event was in 1993 when he and Frank Miller came up with Daredevil: The Man Without Fear. His work on that book was really something special, which was why it boggled my mind that for years after that he was paired up with some at best mediocre writers like Scott Lobdell, Howard Mackie and Dan Jurgens. Arguably one of Marvel's top talents, he was really getting the short shrift: his books were getting printed on toilet paper and colored by people who were either autistic or blind or both. John's stuff looked like shit, in short, even though his talent still shone through occasionally.

It was a good thing that Joe Quesada, a fellow illustrator, finally became Marvel's editor-in-chief because as one of JR Jr.'s biggest fans, he finally started giving him the "props" (as the rather irritating slang goes) he deserves. He paired him with the vastly talented J. Michael Straczynski, gave him a phenomenal coloring team in Dan Kemp and Avalon Studios. He was also generous with his praise for the man in all of his interviews where JR's name came up. Anyone who's seen the extras on the Spider-Man DVD will know what I'm talking about.

Still, before this project, Johnny never seemed to recover the vibe that had made Man Without Fear so special. He'd come close a few times, but never quite hit it out of the park the way he had before.

That's all changed with issue #1 of Eternals. The illustration, the storytelling, the rendering (which is not something John is famous for) are out of this work. Credit goes of course to the stellar inking team of Danny Miki and Tim Townsend, as well as the brilliant palette of colorist Matt Hollingsworth, but their efforts wouldn't mean anything if they weren't inking or coloring such ebullient, outstanding pencils.

In short, this is a great start to what promises to be a very entertaining series. The only thing I didn't like was how they shoehorned the current Marvel line-wide event Civil War, into the story. Although I am a self-professed fan of that particular series, I felt that the little nod to Marvel's ongoing continuity took me out of the story somewhat.

Flaws notwithstanding, though, I'm certainly on board for all six issues.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

On Spider-Man Unmasking

Considering how many posts in the past I've devoted to comics, even those I hadn't read at the time, I don't think I'd be able to live with myself if I didn't write even just a blurb about the fact that my favorite superhero of all time has, in the pages of Marvel Comics' Civil War #2, revealed his secret identity to the public, at a press conference, no less.

To make a long story short, Peter Parker shows his support for Tony Stark(aka Iron Man), who in turn is the point-man for all superheroes advocating the Superhero Registration Act that was introduced in issue #1, by showing that he is not afraid to reveal himself to all. In the course of a concurrent issue of Amazing Spider-Man, he has a conversation with Mary Jane and Aunt May about all the repercussions of his revealing himself, and essentially, they talk him into it.

The attention this move by Marvel has generated is quite massive. Not since the death of Superman has a comic-book character gotten this much mainstream media exposure for reasons other than the box-office performance of his latest movie adaptation.

Of course, the naysayers are saying that it's bullshit, that it's completely out of character for Peter, and that it will all be voided down the line anyway by some simple story device (considering the vast range of superpowers that Marvel's characters have).

I say it's actually a good idea.

Although I am a self-confessed Marvel fan, I am not a Marvel apologist. They've had some pretty terrible ideas in the past, a lot of them having to do with Spider-Man. The clone saga comes to mind, as does the notion of Norman Osborn retroactively siring children by Gwen Stacy, as well as the whole John Byrne retooling of Spider-Man's origin. Yep, they've come up with some real stinkers.

But this isn't one of them, not in and of itself.

This isn't like the death of Superman, which no one (myself included) realized was nothing but a huge marketing gambit on DC Comics' part. There are a number of reasons for this.

1. Mark Millar is a much better writer than Dan Jurgens.

2. Steve McNiven is an EXPONENTIALLY better artist than Dan Jurgens.

and most importantly...

3. When Superman died (as would be the case with any character) there were only two directions to go: a) keep him dead or b) bring him back. The only creativity involved, really, was how to bring him back. I know there was the whole big deal about it being a great opportunity to introduce "cool new characters" like Steel (whose true redeeming value is that he killed Shaquille O' Neal's movie career) and Superboy (whom DC recently killed, strangely enough), but really, there really wasn't much else to do but bring him back.

By unmasking Spider-Man, Marvel has opened the door for all kinds of stories to be told. There are so many directions they can take the character that it can boggle the average fanboy's mind. Even assuming some future writer or artist manages to put the genie back into the bottle at some point, these stories will still have been told, and their impact will still have been felt, certainly by Peter himself, who may realize, depending on what he goes through from here, that it wasn't such a good idea after all. The gravity of his decision will not be diminished, especially if he suffers for it in the meantime. And in the meantime, readers will get a glimpse of what Spider-Man's life would be like if all his enemies, not just kooks like Norman Osborn, knew who he was when he took of his tights and who he went home to at night.

THIS has POTENTIAL. I don't know if Marvel will fully exploit that potential, but it's undeniably there.

And to think, Civil War is only on issue #2...of SEVEN.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Heh Heh, You Know What They Say About Imitation...

The people responsible for making and marketing Superman Returns are doing absolutely everything right, from hiring one of the best comic book movie directors out there to the magnificent trailers they've cut for it. I fully anticipate enjoying the movie consummately and without any of the reservations I felt about X-Men: The Last Stand (and writing a glowing review of it, too).

That said, I've made a couple of observations about the movie, having followed its online (and onscreen) trailers pretty faithfully (though not so obsessively that I was willing to pay good money to see trash like Poseidon) that put a different kind of smile on my face.

Anyone who knows me knows that I have been a fan of Spider-Man for almost as long as it took to get a Spider-Man movie made (very minimal exaggeration there). I was practically rabid when the first Spidey movie broke box office records and became the highest grossing movie of the new millenium back when it was released. I am a fan of both of the web slinger's onscreen adventures, in particular Spider-Man 2.

Having seen SM2 as many times as I have, I've noticed a lot, and I mean a lot of similarities between its storyline and general craftsmanship and that of the upcoming Superman epic.

For a quick rundown: In SM2, Mary Jane was engaged to John Jameson, son of Daily Bugle publisher Jonah Jameson. In SR, Lois Lane is engaged to the nephew of Daily Planet editor-in-chief Perry White. In SM2, Peter Parker/Spider-Man struggles with his own frustrations. In SR, Clark Kent/Kal El/Superman struggles with the fact that the world apparently doesn't need him anymore (although in SM2 part of his problem is his decision to turn his back on the world even though it does need him).

Admittedly, Singer and company have made no secret about their dilemma of how to make Superman relevant to an audience that has warmed up to angst ridden heroes, foremost of whom would definitely be Spider-Man. But I didn't think they'd even go for similar plot devices.

Even the superficial similarities are there: Sony Picture Imageworks, the company that is making Superman fly on the big screen for the first time in almost twenty years, is the company that enabled Spider-Man to swing through Manhattan. I mean, they could have just as easily have gone with ILM, or even the new king of the visual effects roost Weta Digital, but they went for SPI, based largely, if not solely, on its track record with iconic superheroes. A close look at Superman's spandex shows that there's a certain texture to it, the way James Acheson designed Spider-Man's tights in a very peculiar way.

It's particularly gratifying for a Spider-Man fan like myself, in the same way that Pepsi lovers must have loved Coke's flavor shift twenty years ago, to see the makers of Superman trying to make him more like Spider-Man to sell him these days. It's funny considering that if Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster hadn't come up with Superman in 1938, Spider-Man, in all likelihood, wouldn't even exist. Even the most fanatical Spider-Man devotee knows that. In the same sense, the original Richard Donner Superman served as a huge inspiration for Sam Raimi's Spidey movies. I guess it's cyclical somehow, the way George Lucas was inspired by Japanese epics to make Star Wars, which in turn inspired a lot of Japanese anime and manga creators to make a whole slew of space-epics over the next several years.

The marketing push for Superman Returns has it poised to be potentially the biggest movie of the year, and not the runner-up to the Pirates of the Caribbean sequel a lot of people were predicting, and if the movie is anywhere near as good as the trailers are, it will truly deserve that title. Still, it gives me an odd sense of satisfaction to know that no small part of the movie's success will spring from all the lessons the filmmakers learned from the trails blazed by Sam Raimi and his Spider-Man crew.

Also, if Superman Returns should go on to break records, it'll be with some eager anticipation that I'll wait for Spider-Man 3 (out next year) to top them. Hehehe...