Thursday, August 31, 2006

Nextwave: The Anti-Comic Book

Ever remember thinking how ridiculous Cable leader of X-Force, looked with his oversized rifles, which looked more like phallic references than anything else? Did you ever wince at how excessively macho Nick Fury has always been portrayed? Did you ever scratch your head at how many superheroes in comic books in general preface their names with "Captain?"

Did you ever think that this and so many other foibles of comic-book storytelling would be great material for lampooning?

Well, Marvel did, and instead of coming up with one of yet another iteration of the stylistically weak "What The-?" which is kind of like a "MAD" kind of publication, they've come out with Nextwave, which features actual, mainstream Marvel characters, albeit 3rd tier ones, and an actual, topnotch creative team in writer Warren Ellis and artist Stuart Immonen, neither of whom tries to portray their characters with any particular exaggeration from the norm (although Ellis does occasionally).

There's nothing deep or earth-shaking about this book; it's simply about a group of b-list superheroes who worked for a government agency known as the Highest Anti-Terrorism Effort (H.A.T.E., for short, a riff on S.H.I.E.L.D., just as its chief, Dirk Anger, is an analogue of Nick Fury, who Marvel wouldn't allow Ellis to use because they have other plans for the character) and decided to go rogue when they found out that H.A.T.E. was actually being funded by a terrorist cell.

There have been seven issues so far, and each story-arc takes only two issues, so each new story is an accessible, easy read. The art is crisp and clean, and it's how Ellis makes fun of Marvel conventions, and so much fun how Marvel allows him to do so. It's a comic book for anyone who's winced at so many of these strange storytelling devices Marvel has evolved over the years, and it looks great too.

And it has a theme song, believe it or not. If you don't believe me, check out myspace.thunderthighs or something like that. It's a scream!

The Mystique of Manila

It's funny; after I left the Supreme Court last May, I figured I had had my fill of old Manila (as opposed to Metro Manila, that is), that I had seen enough of the city to last me a lifetime and that whenever I would go there to pick up my wife from her M.A. classes or file a pleading with the SC, I would go with a "been there, seen more than enough of that" air.

Strangely enough, even though I've been there a number of times since I moved jobs, I still feel that affinity towards it that made working there such a pleasant experience for me.

I don't miss my job; with due respect to the people I worked with and for over at the High Court, in the four months I've been with a law firm, I feel I've learned much more than I did from a year and a half with the judiciary.

But I still enjoy driving along Taft, through Paco, and along Roxas. I enjoy driving through Lawton and occasionally through Intramuros (though I never really did have any occasion to go there even when I was with the Court, except to attend a seminar once).

In short, even after a year to soak in the sights and basically get sick of the place, I still feel a sense of enchantment when I set foot in Manila, for all of its flaws.

Makati is kind of growing on me, which is good considering that I'll probably be there for the foreseeable future, but I feel good knowing how much I still cherish one of my favorite things from my childhood.

Brings to mind the classic Hot Dog song...Manila...Manila...

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Whoa, Where Did That Come From?

The Philippine Daily Inquirer is a funny newspaper. I don't actually read it on a regular basis, and although I find its columnists on the whole to be intelligent, I gave up on their consistent and rather redundant anti-administration rants a long time ago. Call me an old fuddy-duddy but I still prefer the relatively more sedate work of Amado Doronilla and Max Soliven.

Imagine my shock when one of these older, more sedate writers, retired Supreme Court Justice Isagani Cruz, suddenly wrote, of all things, a diatribe against homosexuals.

Scant weeks earlier, they had published a really badly written article about bullies (that I trashed in a post on my barkada's blog), but this new piece really just blew my mind. More than anything else, the guy really showed what an old fart he is.

Understandably, the gay and lesbian community, as well as their friends, were all over him like horseflies on a turd. Fellow Inquirer columnist (and now officially outed member of the homosexual community) Manuel Quezon III called Cruz a hatemonger and steeped his discourse in a healthy amount of history to bolster the point.

By way of a retort disguised as an apology, Cruz defended his Constitutional right to express himself, and cited the likes of Voltaire and Oliver Wendell Holmes. Big mistake, considering that regardless of the fact that (to the best of my knowledge) he didn't actually finish college, dear old Manolo is quite well-steeped in all forms of history, having majored in it for quite some time. I was his classmate in 1994.

Quezon's rejoinder (wow, who thought I'd be using the word 'Quezon' to describe anything other than the city I live in?) was, as could be expected, rich in historical reference, and brought to light some rather unsavory revelations about both historical luminaries: apparently they were both bigots. Yes, you can express your hatred, he said, but being a member of the oppressed minority, I have a right to object.

The people calling for Cruz's head are understandably upset, but at the end of the day, they're all of them idiots.

I have a lawyer friend whom I've known since college (going on...what? Ten years now?) who is quite comfortable with his own sexuality, and even lives with a doctor. It's kind of like Will Turner with a boyfriend of equal professional stature. I showed him Cruz's article, especially since he found it hard to believe at first that it could even have been written by someone whose work he admired, and upon reading it, he simply shook his head and said, in not so many words, "the guy's getting senile."

And that's pretty much the best way to take it, really.

About six or seven years ago I encountered similar narrowmindedness from the geriatric set. I was hanging out in the house of my great-uncle (my grandmother's baby brother) because I was about to take out my two young cousins to see a movie. It was lantern parade season in UP, and for this reason my great-uncle, without any provocation from me, started ranting about how immoral the whole concept of the oblation run was. In retrospect, it was a bad idea, but I engaged him (translated: pinatulan ko siya) in a discussion, at first a calm one, about how basically no one was really hurt by the whole affair, and how everyone involved was pretty much an adult anyway. My great uncle would hear none of it, and became even more strident. As a result, our "discussion" degenerated into a shouting match, with him slinking off in dejected defeat when I basically had him beat out in terms of sheer volume. This gave me no satisfaction, however. My victory tasted like ashes.

I couldn't really care how respected Cruz is. He's over 80 years old and is more liable than most people to say asinine things. It's a fact of life. He's just having trouble adjusting to the way the world is changing, and is lashing out in the only way he knows how, really. The best thing to do in this situation would be just to leave an old man to his ramblings rather than calling for his blood. The people doing so, gay or straight, are inevitably putting themselves in an unfavorable light.

What people don't seem to realize is that he may have done the gay and lesbian community a huge service by putting the spotlight so squarely on them; next year, they have a solid chance of electing their first party-list congressmen.

My advice: when Danton Remoto and the other party-list representative win their seats next year, they should give Cruz a big-old thank you for shooting them into the stratosphere.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Late Comics, Part 2

Whoops, look like I spoke too soon about Steve McNiven, the artist of Marvel Comics' Civil War. It seems the book has hit a speed bump because of his inability to come up with the latest issue on time. Issue #4 will be pushed back a month, while issue #5 will be pushed back three months. With the revised schedule, the series should wrap up in January as opposed to the originally planned November.

I'm hardly pissed about it, seeing as how I found it to be a minor miracle that he was able to come up with such good work three months in a row. Admittedly, I'm not exactly happy about it, but I'm not about to burn my local comic book shop. It's a bummer, sure, but not the end of the world.

It blew my mind, therefore to see the tsunami of venom that swept the message boards of the site that broke the news about Civil War, Newsarama. People were slinging all kinds of shit at Marvel (which may have been deserved, even if just a little) and the occasional little shit was taking cheap shots at Mark Millar or McNiven, who most certainly do not deserve it, given their sterling output. The problem, I think, with the internet is that every moron with a keyboard and an opinion, no matter how poorly thought out, can shout as loud as he wants with all of his horrible spelling for everyone to see. Oh, well, maybe I'm just a masochist for reading that drivel.

The funny thing is, it's actually good news that so many people posted, simply because it shows how massively popular the series is (Civil War #3 is now officially the highest selling single, regularly-priced American comic book of the millenium in its first month of release). Marvel may have miscalculated McNiven's ability to turn in a comic book on time, but they were dead on about the magic he brings to a book, so I for one, am glad they're doing everything they can to keep him working on the book (rather than bring in a fill-in) at his own pace (rather than having him rush his pencils) even if it means taking a hit from fans and retailers. One needn't even threaten them with "it'd better be good" because judging from the first three issues, it almost certainly will be.

I remember feeling distinctly disappointed at how, in his X-Men days, Jim Lee's work had a tendency to taper off in quality towards the end of a story arc. The guy's art would be fantastic in the first couple of issues then start to look scratchy and rushed towards the end. Well, in his early Image days he cured that by working at his own pace, with evenly spectacular art. Granted, he's taken this to an insane extreme with All Star Batman and Robin, but at least he, Bryan Hitch, and now Steve McNiven are good, solid examples of why it's sometimes worth it to incur a month's delay or so on a book. It's much, much easier to forgive a late artist, especially a meticulous, talented and apologetic one than a little prick of a writer (I think we all know who I'm talking about) whose reaction is often to blow off his fans who ask about his work.

I guess I can sympathize with how upset fans are about the delay, because the two thousand tie-ins are also going to be similarly put on hold so as to avoid potential spoilers, and I especially sympathize with the people who sell the comic books because this could hurt their sales, at least in the short term, but overall I find it comical how people are reacting the way they are, considering that I'm sure most of them are going to buy Civil War #4 anyway.

I guess one thing that really pisses me off about these internet fanboys is the painfully obvious double standard they have between Marvel and DC. Marvel puts a truly wonderful book on hold for a month so that they don't have to sacrifice quality, and people cry for blood. DC/Wildstorm announce that Jim Lee will come out with a new Wildcats series in September, which is strange considering he hasn't even finished one six-issue story arc of ASBR a full freaking year after the first issue came out, and everyone still licks his ass like it was made of ice cream. What a crock of shit, really. I guess the only consolation I can take is that sales of ASBR seem to be genuinely suffering because of Lee's and Frank Miller's abject slowness. I find myself genuinely hoping that Wildcats #1 debuts at the bottom end of the charts because of how pissed off people are with him. At least then I'll know that lateness is punished because it's just genuinely unpleasant, not just because Marvel does it.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Katulong Blues

About three years ago the maid of my uncle, who happened to be my next door neighbor as well, came screaming to my mom's house about how my mom's maid had ripped her off to the tune of several thousand pesos---money the poor girl had saved up for several months. After a day-long investigation which involved some intensive interrogation and some physical abuse at the hands of some really butch female Barangay official, some of the money was recovered, but through it all, the girl never admitted anything, even when money which was way, way beyond her monthly salary was recovered from her person.

It was a sad thing, true, and naturally my mom fired the disgraced maid (which was unfortunate for me and my wife, because her sister was my son's nanny at the time and we went through several replacements in the months that followed). The one thing that really stuck, though, was how the girl stuck by her story even when all the evidence was pointing to her. On the one hand, I thought "well, maybe she figures that by denying it till the end, she can hang preserve that one shred of doubt in the mind of her accusers" but on other hand, it just seemed so incredibly stupid on her part and got me thinking "maybe she figures that if she repeats the lie enough times, it'll become the truth." I was hard-pressed to believe that anyone could be that stupid, and figured that she was simply crafty enough to be the former.

I eventually forgot about the whole thing and moved on (and out of my mom's house).

Recently, however, I found myself confronting the question once more: is the maid caught red handed stealing something being extremely smart...or extremely stupid by denying the deed even with evidence staring her in the face?

After two very unhappy weeks, Theia and I had decided to send our year-old baby's nanny back to the agency from which we had gotten her. The girl was sullen, self-indulgent, and with a work ethic grossly disproportionate to the somewhat prohibitive rate quoted by the agency. Oh, and she was spectacularly ugly, to boot. My wife had disliked her from the moment she saw her, but the woman running the agency had practically begged her to take the girl off her hands, all but refusing to show my wife any other possible yaya candidates.

After two weeks and repeated notification that we wanted a replacement, we decided we had had enough and were in the process of helping this girl pack her things. Previously experience with missing items every time a maid would leave had prompted a new practice on our part of doing at least a cursory check on the maid's things before she would leave. This particular time, the task had fallen to my wife, and lo and behold, she recovered three CDs from this girl's bag. Two of them could have passed for hers, being generic, sing-along CDs one could have purchased at any record bar, but the third kind of stood out.

It was Michael Nyman's original score for Jane Campion's Oscar-winning film The Piano. I have, in the last fifteen years, amassed a considerable collection of movie soundtracks, but this acquisition had filled me with considerable pride at the time I had made it. I had found this CD in some hole-in-the-wall record store in Virra Mall, back in its labyrinthine firetrap days, and had been delighted to snap it up.

This girl claimed that these CDs were hers, having been given to her by her aunt or friend as pasalubong from Hong Kong. My mouth bobbed open and shut at this explanation, but only for a moment, after which I proceeded to scream the most filthy obscenities that sprang to mind at her. Through all of this, however, she seemed remarkably poker-faced.

At my wife's urging (she was doing a remarkable job of playing "good cop" to my "hysterical cop") I decided to check my CD rack to see if, indeed, this was actually hers. Sure enough, the CD was gone, and in short order, so was my temper. My last attempt to keep my cool involved me telling the girl, calmly and in the vernacular, "I'm going to take our CDs back and pretend this didn't happen," at which point she merely and calmly reiterated her story, that the CDs were hers.

I swear to God I almost put my fist right through her face. I would have done her---and the world---a favor, all things considered. Fortunately, I managed to get by screaming more obscenities before we drove her out of the village and dropped her off unceremoniously where she could get a ride, as opposed to taking her back to the agency as we had originally planned before finding out she had planned to cart of several of our belongings.

It really amazes me to think of how tenaciously the woman clung to her story. Someone told me that lying is like second nature to these people, and if it really has developed into some kind of subculture, that really makes me fear for our future. We talk about the Flor Contemplacions and the Sarah Balabagans of our country with abject sympathy, but we have to ask ourselves, with this current wave of domestics, a great many of whom are barely educated and apparently some of whom have a truly distorted values system, will those who get thrown in jail over theft or child abuse or some other crime they claim not to have committed even deserve that sympathy? It makes me wonder...