Second Life: Television Finales Are Not the End

The end of the television series does not mean the end of the story. Recently the trend is to continue shows as comics. Television series are often costly, but comics can be made for a fraction of the cost. This allows for a wider range of stories to be told.

The poster children for the comic book continuation are Buffy and Angel. Both were popular shows, but had run their course, not to mention required higher budgets. What makes these cases unique to others is the comics are still considered seasons, each consisting of 25-40 issues. Angel only had one, Season Six, to wrap up the many loose plot points. This is, in part, because it was published by IDW, while Buffy was published by Dark Horse. When  acquired by Dark Horse, Angel was incorporated into the Buffy seasons as Angel and Faith.

Which leads to Buffy Season Eight. This was not a great season, being quickly overwhelmed by the amount of characters, or the slayer army introduced at the end of the television series. Where it did succeed was in the scope of stories. No longer were there limits on what monsters could be presented, or stories told because of budgets. The writers and artists visions were fully realized.

Season Nine was fantastic. It returned to its roots and focused on a select number of characters. Where Season Eight showed the crazy monsters allowed in comics, Season Nine took a simplistic approach, addressing the issue of a world without magic. Now the characters were the stars, allowing for development and showing another strength of the comic medium. Not all stories need to be grand.

Dark Horse has allowed other television shows to live on. One of my favorites is Avatar: The Last Airbender. It does not follow the season format, but contains mini-arcs continuing the television series. We see how Aang grows into the role of Avatar, Zuko’s search for his mother, and Toph forming the metal bending school. Unfortunately, some of these stories are predictable since there is a television sequel, The Legend of Korra, but are still enjoyable. The Legend of Korra will also be getting a highly aniticipated comic book sequel, picking up where the television series left off.

Buffy and the Avatar comics are interesting examples for one was a live action show and the other was animated. Reading Avatar is sometimes weird, because it is drawn in the same style as the television series. Being used to seeing the characters and locations animated sometimes makes it hard to fully enjoy the comic series. Buffy is the opposite, and became significantly different when converted to comics, getting a unique feel and gaining an identity separate from the television series. I read Avatar and wonder, why aren’t the images moving?

What’s in a Name?

When someone talks about Fox’s Last Man on Earth, I automatically wonder, Where is the Y?

Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan is a critically acclaimed graphic novel. The premise, all animals with the Y chromosome have died, save for one man and his pet monkey.

The title is fascinating. It is simple, and can have multiple meanings, none of which have been confirmed by Vaughan. The title makes you think, with different interpretations adding more depth.

Y is for Y chromosome.

This one is fairly straightforward. The Y chromosome has all but disappeared from Earth. Women are left in charge, attempting to make sense of the genetic genocide. Some want to figure out what happened and fix it; others want to let the human race die out. They actively seek out the title character, Yorick, to kill him. This quest to either save or destroy the human race is the driving plot of the series.

Y is for Yorick.

Yorick is the main character, named for a Shakespearean character in Hamlet. You may know him as the jester who is exhumed from his grave.

“Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy; he hath borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is! My gorge rises at it. Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft. Where be your gibes now? Your gambols? Your songs? Your flashes of merriment, that were wont to set the table on a roar?” (Hamlet, V.i)

Poor Yorick only gets eight sentences to his name in Hamlet. Aside from the Y connection, why would Vaughan pick an obscure Shakespearian name? Granted, there are not many other characters in Shakespeare’s plays that have names starting with Y. The plays are important to the story, as Yorick’s sister, Hero, is named for the character from Much Ado About Nothing. There are other references throughout the series.

The name is poetic. Yorick in the play represents the morality of man and how death claims us all. He is the character not allowed to be seen, only his dirty skull. Yorick in the graphic novel was not claimed by death, while everyone else of his gender was. He is the exception to death claims us all, and is seeking to create life. He travels the United States to find scientists, to understand why he survived and maybe find a cure. The man who should have symbolized death becomes hope, promising future life.

Y is for whY.

Whenever I read the title, it becomes Why the Last Man? Why is Yorick the only survivor? Why did this happen? It may just be the brain not used to reading single letters in sentences, human nature to turn things into questions, or our need for answers and understanding.

The maddening thing is we never really find out why he is the last man. Sixty issues are spent following Yorick as he tries to understand the new world, and why he was spared. Some explanations are given, but none are definitive. We are left always asking why? The why isn’t important to the story, for focus is on the characters and not the event. No destination means we follow only the journey.

Y is for anYthing.

Y can be anything. It could be yes, affirming Yorick is indeed the last man. In some cultures Y means peace, questioning whether the world is better with almost no men. A little stretch, but the letter looks like a barren tree, symbolizing death and the possibility of rebirth. One letter can have many different meanings.

Maybe it is one of the above mentioned, maybe it is all, or maybe it is none. Without Vaughan confirming there is no way to know. Each reader picks their own meaning.

I will always ask, why the last man?

Endings are a Privilege

There’s no sound but the turning of the page.

Flip. Flip. Flip. Flip.

The speed intensifies only to slow. The distinct sound grows quieter. That stubborn page slightly stuck to the back cover is all that remains. The page hardly makes a sound as it turns. None are to follow as the back cover quickly snaps shut, closing a series.

There is sadness and satisfaction when a series ends. No one wants to say good-bye to a series they enjoy. Every month the nerd runs to the comic book store to pick up the latest issue of their favorite series, or if you are like me every few months when the trade paperback comes out. The same happens across all media. Fans eagerly awaited the next Harry Potter book, and movies were once in a golden age of midnight shows. They always want more, so when it ends it feels like something is lost.

Endings are a rarity in comics. While despised they are equally welcomed. These series tend to have one writer, one voice who guides the entire story. There are no retcons, nor gimmicks to increase sales. A good series is given the privilege of ending. The critically acclaimed Fables saw its final issue this summer. Sales were high and the series was popular, but the writer, Bill Willingham, felt it was time to end. He told his story and I applaud a writer who knows when a story is done.

I have been fortunate to enjoy a number of endings. The most recent was The Unwritten by Mike Carey and Peter Gross. The story is not important, only that it ended and unexpectedly. Carey places numerous twists and turns in this final volume and by the time you reach the end you know It had to be like this. You may not be happy with it, but often the best endings create that feeling.

Definitive conclusions are often demanded in finales and there is anger when there isn’t one. The outrage at The Soprano’s finale is one example. The genuis here is it allowed everyone to finish the story how they wanted. The Unwritten ends in a similar fashion. Story points are wrapped up but that sneaky last page does not allow the story to end. Instead it opens the possibility for more that you know are not coming.

Another of Carey’s series, Lucifer, ends in a similar way. The final panel promises a new journey but there is none. It becomes our job to figure out how the story will continue, through fan-fiction or our own private endings. I love a happy ending and always imagine these open-ended stories heading that way. (Note: Vertigo just announced a new Lucifer series at SDCC. Takes place in the same universe, but is a reboot to tie into Fox’s forthcoming television series. The original run remains concluded.)

The danger of open endings is giving readers the power of the writer. Not all stories lead to a happy ending. That’s why I also appreciate the endings of The Sandman, Watchmen, and Death Note. Plot points are wrapped up but leave room for possible sequels, though not required. Death Note is a favorite of mine since there is no happy ending. There is no option to create one in your mind, preserving the writers’ vision.

When Heroes Fall: Hal Jordan

I have a confession to make. I love a hero’s fall from grace story. The one where the hero may never recover. Books as After the Cape, Irredeemable, and Ultimate Doomsday  all explore the fallen hero. These stories are the most human,  showing a hero is fallible and suffers like anyone else. Their fall is tragic since they are the best in their respective worlds, making it more meaningful and shocking, for most are human in the end.

Hal Jordan was the greatest Green Lantern.  He received a power ring from the Guardians of the Universe. Fueled by willpower, the ring makes anything possible. His duty was to protect his sector of space and be an extension of the Guardians’ will.

Hal’s hometown of Coast City was destroyed while he was off planet. Seven million people died. Blaming himself, Hal attempted to use the limitless power of his ring to bring them back. The Guardians stopped him and tried to take his power. Hal was misguided, but the Guardians could not understand his grief, causing him to snap. One of the Guardians would later comment, ‘Our greatest champion, yet we did not stand by him in his need. Our unwavering adherence to our edicts prevented the slightest compassion.’

Emerald Twilight chronicles Hal’s journey through space to reach the home world of the Guardians, Oa. Once at Oa, he absorbed the power belonging to all Green Lanterns. Thousands of Green Lanterns suffocated in space as a result. Hal became Parallax and had god like powers.

All heroes fear failing to save the most. They will do anything to correct past mistakes. Every act performed by Parallax was to revive Coast City. He was willing to sacrifice his remaining family and friends to bring back those he failed to save. Parallax was stopped in Zero Hour when his best friend, Oliver Queen, shot him in the chest. Readers who have witnessed friends falling apart and hurting others can understand Oliver’s struggle and decision.

Hal’s fall was not absolute, making it more tragic. He committed atrocities but was always trying to be a hero.

“I only wanted to fix things and look what happened. It’s not supposed to be like this. What happened to Coast City, all those people. I should have stopped it. I should have saved them. I’m a hero, that’s what I’m supposed to do. So I tried to change everything – Coast City, the Corps, everything. Put it back. Put it right. Unless I can do that, I can’t be a hero. I’ll be. . . I’ll be one of the bad guys.”

In Final Night he ultimately gave his life to save billions. But this was not Hal Jordan’s end. His soul bonded to the Spectre, the Spirit of Vengeance. To atone for his sins he would host another being with god like powers. By seeking vengeance for the dead, he would work towards redemption.

Until it was retconned.

Green Lantern sales dropped after Hal Jordan snapped. Green Lantern: Rebirth is the first and best Green Lantern story I have read. If Hal Jordan was coming back as a Green Lantern this is how it had to happen. Parallax became a fear parasite that latched itself onto Hal’s soul, influencing his actions. His sudden changes had motivation and showed how some characters were able to forgive him. A deeper mythology was built that still effects Green Lantern stories.

After reading preceding stories, I felt cheated by the retcon. It undercut all Hal’s efforts for redemption by sacrificing his life and becoming the Spectre. His very human struggle with denial, bargaining and madness was blamed on a separate entity, making it less human and relatable. Numerous characters still blamed Hal for Parallax but eventually forgave him. One of the greatest tales of a heroes fall from grace was retconned away.

Evaluating the Nerd

“Jane Tyler is a self-proclaimed nerd seeking to spread knowledge on all things comic book.” @nerdyjanetyler

“Growing up I was surrounded by comics.” My life has been a crazy string of geek culture, starting with card gaming. From there grew my love of comics.

To say comics are only a reading habit would be an understatement. They are part of my identity. It might sound silly to some, but comics helped me when I was going through some bad times. I devoured stories. I picked them apart to find hidden meanings, to find my relationship with the characters.

Some are very human. Some dealt with the same issues as I.

“Peter Parker was like me. He was only a few years older and had issues in school, often called a nerd. More importantly he made mistakes. The death of Uncle Ben is a constant in all Spider-Man universes, showing the mistakes we are capable of and the hardships in the wake of death. From these beginnings came one of the greatest heroes, one of the greatest humans anyone could ask for. Repeatedly he tried to make his city safer, to fight battles others were afraid to fight. In doing so he suffered. He lost family and friends but gained new ones and carried on with life. As he grew I grew and in no time we were the same age, thanks to the nature of comic book aging. The issues he dealt with became more relevant as I navigated high school and dealt with personal loss. He wasn’t Spider-Man, he was Peter Parker, my friend.”

This beat is my beat. All the thoughts I have on comics. All the knowledge I accumulated other the years. Some of it is just repeating events that happened in stories. Most parts are the scholar taking over, analyzing and sharing my thoughts and feelings. Connecting stories together to build a narrative, to build an understanding of characters and struggles.

I do not limit myself to comic books. The movies and shows they spawn are equally important, and how each presents different topics. In cases, the comic book is the best method for telling some stories.

Time is still needed but these are the articles I want to write. I am conveying all the thoughts locked away in my head.

My beat deserves a voice. I just need to work on mine first. I often feel I am not clear. Whether I am writing informational for a wiki page, or discussing why superheroes fear the retcon. My thoughts can be a mess. I think in never ending sentences, and connect dots between information other people do not have. Already I am working on breaking up sentences and thoughts, so other people can follow them.

I am concerned I am too much of a geek. But I don’t want to spend my time explaining every detail. Writing about storylines instead of their meaning.

With my Ender’s Game article, I am uncertain if it makes sense to someone who didn’t read the book. I wound up including a brief summary.

“Ender’s Game, published in 1977 as a short story and novelized in 1986, tells the story of children as they train in a space military school. Their task is to beat the Formics, or buggers, an alien race Earth has already fought wars with.”

Was this even needed? Was it enough?

When I tweeted how “Superheroes fear the retcon” did it make sense? I posted an article shortly after but am concerned I am overlooking a description.

It is probably a concern I will always have. It is reassuring then when I write an article about the comics code am told it is relatable. That it was easy to understand. Thank you Futura.

I want to continue developing my voice. Writing articles on how characters are more human then we think, about the parallels that exist. I want to also discuss manga, for in the global age it is equally important to American comics. These articles may move away from how characters are relatable and look at broader issues. Why are manga arcs longer? What is the relationship to anime? I don’t want to limit myself and want to share all the thoughts I have on comics that are missing online.

 

 

 

Birthright Wikipedia

I was excited when I found a Wikipedia article yet to be written. I used the layout and voice found in many other comic book articles to maintain consistency. This article is about a comic book series and provides general information about it. Some details are vague since contributors try not to spoil newer comics for readers. After a few years they will provide more plot information.

* * * * *

Birthright

Birthright is an ongoing monthly comic book series published by Image Comics and Skybound. The comic was created by writer Joshua Williamson and artist Andrei Bressan.[1] 

First published in October 2014, Birthright focuses on the disappearance of the Rhodes family’s youngest son and his shocking return.

Plot

What started as a game of catch in the woods ended with a parents worst nightmare. The disappearance of Mikey tore the Rhodes family apart. But a year later he has returned, though not as the child he was. Twenty years have passed for him in the mysterious land of Terrenos, along with battles with fire trolls, razorbeasts and dragons. Now he seeks the help of his family to close the doors between the two worlds, or see both destroyed.[2]

Characters

Earth

Mikey Rhodes – the chosen hero of prophecy and the carrier of the birthright. Kidnapped on his tenth birthday, Mikey is destined to save the land of Terrenos from God King Lore. A year later he returns to his family as an adult to close the doors between the worlds, but there is more he is not telling.

Brennan Rhodes – Mikey’s older brother. Reluctant to believe his brother returned as a warrior adult, but joins him on his quest to find five mages hiding on Earth.

Aaron Rhodes – Mikey’s father.  Becomes a depressed alcoholic when everyone believes he killed Mikey. He is the only one to unconditionally believe Mikey returned as an adult and will do anything to protect his children.

Wendy Rhodes – Mikey’s mother. Divorced Aaron when she believed he killed their son. Refuses to believe in the return of Mikey and bases all her decisions on hard fact.

Brooks – detective and family friend in charge of Mikey’s disappearance.

Terrenos 

The Gideons – group of winged warriors including Rya, Shavo and Ansari.

Rook – an Orc like being who has been searching for Mikey to be Terrenos’ hero. Serves as mentor to Mikey and seeks to overthrow God King Lore.

God King Lore – the antagonist of the series. His goal is to conquer all of Terrenos and Earth. Uses the power of the Nevermind to corrupt souls and make them do his bidding.

Kallista – the Pale Rider. Once a member of Rook’s team, now serves God King Lore and continuously hunts Rook and the Gideons.

Development

Joshua Williamson first conceived Birthright in 2006[3], years before his acclaimed Ghosted series. He loved the stories where children went to mystical lands, but always wondered what happened to them upon their return.

“As a fan of adventure and fantasy stories as a kid… it was always great seeing these young kids going on amazing journeys to far way magical lands. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Peter Pan, Explorers, The Neverending Story, Wizard of Oz, Flight of the Navigator. But there were never any real consequences to those adventures… What happens when you come home from this great adventure? What do you do next? How do you go back to normal life? Those thoughts lead to my obsession with the idea of destiny. If your whole life has been about one moment… one thing that you had to accomplish… what do you do after it is over? How do you go on knowing that the main reason you were born is finished?”[4]

Reception

Birthright has received generally positive reviews from critics, with a 9/10 rating from Comic Book Roundup[5] and 5/5 stars from Comic Vine[6]. Comic Book Resources praised issues #1 and #5 for their surprising plot twists and Bressan’s artwork[7][8]. Katy Rex of Comics Bulletin loves the unpredictable nature of the issues but feels the parents are not interesting or believable.[9]

Collected Editions

Title: Birthright Vol.1: Homecoming

ISBN: ISBN 978-1-63215-231-2

Release Date: March 4, 2015

Collected Material: Birthright #1-5

Publication Information (side bar)

Publisher: Image Comics and Skybound

Schedule: Monthly

Format: Ongoing series

Publication date: October 2014 – ongoing

Number of Issues: 8

Creative Team

Writer(s): Joshua Williamson

Artist(s): Andrei Bressan

Colorist(s): Adriano Lucas

Letterer(s): Pat Brosseau

Creator(s): Joshua Williamson, Andrei Bressan

References

  1. “Birthright”. Image Comics. Retrieved 2015-06-18
  2. Birthright Vol. 1: Homecoming
  3. “Birthright shows what happens after the epic heros journey”. IGN. Retrieved 2015-06-18
  4. “A missing boy returns to claim his birthright”. Image Comics. Retrieved 2015-06-18
  5. “Birthright #1”. Comic Book Roundup. Retrieved 2015-06-18
  6. “Birthright # 1 Review”. Comic Vine. Retrieved 2015-06-18
  7. “Birthright #1”. Comic Book Resources. Retrieved 2015-06-18
  8. “Birthright #5”. Comic Book Resources. Retrieved 2015-06-18
  9. “Birthright #5 – Hang on for the final reveal!” Bloody Disgusting. Retrieved 2015-06-18

Stamp of Approval

I had intended this to be a sarcastic piece – calling for comics to follow the old Comics Code Authority (CCA) rules of 1954. While outlining I started to think of arguments for the CCA and found one I want to address seriously.

* * * * *

The CCA was self-regulation by the comic book industry to prevent government regulation. This was during the time of Seduction of the Innocent and the blaming of comics, especially horror comics, on corrupting youth and causing juvenile delinquency. The rules were strict but started to lose power in the 1970’s when changes were made. Without these changes works as Watchmen or The Dark Knight Returns would never have been published. In 2011 the CCA was officially dissolved — with many publishers adopting their own rating criteria years prior.

Some of the old rules are now ridiculous. The originals did not allow sympathizing with evil or misdeeds — no portraying law and its enforcers negatively — could not use the words horror or terror — etc. One of my favorites is no use of vampires or werewolfs. Once allowed they had to relate to the classics read in school systems. This is why when Marvel wanted to include vampires they simply used Dracula and many other early vampires were modeled after him.

What got me thinking was the seal of the CCA. Every approved issue would have the seal on the top left or right corner. Parents trusted the seal. It was a sign their children could read the issue and not be mentally scarred or turn delinquent. It was the rating. It was standard across all publishers. It was constant.

As time went the seal no longer meant safe for children as the changing rules took into account adult readers. Publishers stopped caring about the CCA and started to implement their own rating system, if one was implemented at all.

Here lies the problem, not everyone had a rating system. One of my favorite ongoing series is Invincible published by Image Comics. It is classified as SUPERHERO and early issues are child friendly. The covers are brightly colored and it tells the story of a teenager discovering his superpowers and learning to be a hero. Everything about these early issues scream My child can read this and wants to.

Then in issue #7 there are guts and decapitations. In issue #10 we see the hero’s father rip a man in half and in issue #12 thousands die. With each new issue the violence builds. Not very child friendly. The violence in this series rivals that of The Walking Dead or 30 Days of Night – often being more graphic and gruesome. Ratings were implemented after pressure from retailers for issue #81 – eight years after initial publication — but were hidden on the back cover. It is the same case with The Walking Dead – the series is classified as Mature (18+) but initially was not rated.

I looked through my collection and found numerous instances of no ratings. Even trade paperbacks with issues from the CCA era gave no indication of acceptable reading age. In these collections cover pages are also omitted, removing the seal from the issue and the inherent trust. Publishers cannot assume readers or buyers know all comics released during specific years followed the CCA.

In the digital market place the ratings are not listed as they are with films and parents or children buy based on the cover image and the few sentence blurbs. How are they to know the rating of the book? How are they to know a brightly colored Superhero book is misleading?

Even in stores hardcovers and collected editions often come sealed. One cannot flip through them to see if they are appropriate. The rating should help give an idea but they are hidden or missing from many books. Ratings also have a bad habit of changing and vary between the publishers.

Did you know DC collected editions do not have any ratings? Did you know most Marvel comics are rated T+? Did you know Invincible switched ratings from Teen to Teen Plus?

To provide a better understanding here are the ratings for a few publishers:

DC Ratings

Everyone (E) – All ages

Teen (T) – 12 and older

Teen Plus (T+) – 15 and older

Mature (M) – 17 and older

Marvel Ratings

All ages

A – 9 and older

T+ – teens and up (once suggested as 13)

Parental Advisory – Intended for adults only

Max: Explicit Content – ONLY ADULTS

Image Ratings (based on DC ratings)

Everyone (E) – All ages

Teen (T) – 12 and older

Teen Plus (T+) — 16 and older

Mature (M) – 18 and older

There is no consistency in ages – leading to confusion. Some of the Marvel ones don’t even give ages and instead generalize.

I don’t like a rating system for comic books. I was hardly aware there was one until this week. A rating system can be a good guide and I can see why someone would want it. The problem is it is all over the place. If one follows the rating and uses it to judge appropriateness then it is confusing, for all publishers have their own system and have trouble following it.

The CCA was not a great moment in comic book history but it provided a unified rating system. Films and television shows have standard ratings so why not comics?