Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Witless Dictionary #17--House Of Baked Beans

Y'know, usually I like to rotate the Witless Dictionary entries around a bit more than this, but sometimes inspiration just hits you and you have to strike while the iron's hot.

Today's entry comes straight from this fortnight's podcast from the fine folks at House To Astonish, in which Al Kennedy says the following about Watchmen, and why it's ultimately self-defeating to adapt the comic into the film. I will attempt too transcribe it, but it's best if you just go ahead and listen yourselves.

Anyways, here's the quote:

"Al, you can't build a house out of baked beans, and I would go away and build a house out of baked beans. and I would say 'look, I've done it!' and you'd go 'yeah, but it's be rubbish.' It's technically do-able but you wouldn't wanna live in it."

And so, with a little finessing we arrive at:

House Of Baked Beans--Any idea that is blown up to be daring and unprecedented and unexpected, but it's less because it's a brilliant idea that somehow no one thought of before and really more because no one else would be stupid enough to think it's a good idea. To paraphrase Chris Rock, I could drive a car with my feet, but that doesn't make it a good fucking idea.

Examples of this would be Dr. Doom wearing armour made out of his girlfriend's skin, Tony Stark being turned into a living Bluetooth device, Dr. Light becoming Goatee McRapeypants, Infinite Crisis, Superman 2000, All-Star Batman and Robin, The Dark Knight Strikes Again, and the entirety of Chuck Austen's run on Uncanny X-Men.


Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

I hold the minority opinion regarding Dr. Doom and the Amazing Skin-Color Dreamcoat - I thought it was a brilliant revitalization of the character. Prior to Waid's run, Doom was practically an anti-hero, and I never agreed with that interpretation: you can't be noble and fair-hearted while constantly plotting to kill your college roommate's family over some misfired experiment.

And using the girlfriend to remake Doom as a mystical enemy was also a clever twist, because it exposed one of Reed's few weaknesses - his inability to adapt to non-scientific circumstances. Suddenly Doom's operating on a whole new level, and Reed was totally helpless.

I honestly think that was the only time I ever thought of Doom as a truly impressive villain.

Frank Miller deserves a special column all to himself: no one can waste paper like him. :)

Kazekage said...

Maaaaan . . .I probably ensured I will need glasses for the rest of my life when I rolled my eyes so hard when that came out.

I beleive my exact reaction was "God save me from Mark Waid trying to be 'edgy.""

And it wasn't anything that "new"--from time to time, some writers had tried to work in that Reed was studying magic, but it was one of those things that never got much traction because well, the FF never much does magic stories (the Agatha Harkness stuff aside)--they're science heroes and pretty much always have been.

As to Dr. Doom being a less noble character--well, you don't have to flay anyone's skin off--just write him like the bastard he's supposed to be, already.

Mind you, there is a question to be considered that Doom's peculiar sense of honour is exactly the thing that sets him above the typical mad scientist villain, so . . .yeah.

Doom's big moment for me is Simonson's Reed/Doom battle across time (and every page of the comic and even the cover)--I thought it personalised the Reed/Doom rivalry very well and did an amazing job of exploiting what you can do in comics.

I have a Frank Miller column ready to go, but as it depends on one of the most hideously inappropriate (yet true) metaphors ever, there is a question of taste to be considered. . . ;)

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

But it wasn't about Reed - it was about Doom switching tactics because he couldn't out-tech the Four. I liked the novelty of that jump from science to magic, especially given how effectively Doom took the team apart and was ultimately defeated by his own hubris.

There's a broader context to that interpretation, though; it was part of a whole movement to revitalize Marvel's old-school villains. Right around the same time Doom was doing the voodoo he do so well, Magneto was taking power steroids and tearing Manhattan apart, the Kingpin was launching his final (at the time) attack on Daredevil, the Red Skull was conspiring to "buy" America... one of the Jemas administration's last hurrahs.

The problem with giving him a sense of honor is that lesser writers can (and frequently will) use this as an easy out. You've got your nemesis at your mercy? Let him go because he's not at full fighting strength. It's practically an Evil Overlord cliche.

Now I'm really curious. What's the metaphor? :)

Kazekage said...

But Doom had used magic before, so it sort of had its thunder stolen from the beginning for me. Full marks for the intent (and giving him a credible win) minus several million for execution.

And also, while I applauded the movement then to revitalise some of their older-school villains, as we've seen, at the end of the day, there's going to be a new issue of Daredevil on the stands (for instance) so the "final" battle with the Kingpin means little on its own.

Or he's not worth it, or whatever. The problem is, it's a worthwhile trait . . .it's just been abused too many times, really. If it had been retired for a bit, it might have some of the proper impact when it was hauled out of the mothballs.

Instead, he calls Ms. Marvel fat now. Thanks, Bendis!

You asked for it ;) : "Ever since Lana Lang's teary-eyed exultation of Batman in The Dark Knight Returns, Frank Miller has been furiously beating off to the concept of violence being the only respectable solution to society's ills. You'd imagine doing that for 25 years some chafing might be involved."

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

I don't recall him ever being so effective with it, though. Scarring Reed, switching Sue and Johnny's powers, trapping Franklin in Hell... it was pretty exciting.

I think Phase 2 of that initiative was to take the older villains out of play and introduce some new characters... that was right about the time Jemas was ousted and suddenly Magneto came back, the Skull came back, and now Kingpin's back.

I suppose the problem there is that, aside from Doom, the Four don't have much in the way of charismatic, interesting villains. So he keeps showing up, and gets more and more watered-down each time.

Don't get me started on Bendis' treatment of women lately. We'll be here all night. :)

Wow. Now I really want to see that commentary!

Kazekage said...

Well, maybe he hadn't carried it to the ultimate extent, the fact that he had already robs the story of some of its punch and exposes the whole "skin armour" business as a feeble prop. To me, anyways.

Which was fine, but I think even if Jemas had stuck around ultimately we would have rolled back to the older villains, especially as crazy as the fans-as-creators are for them. If they're not and I'm wrong, I ask you, why exactly is Norman Osborn in charge of everything in the MU?

Well, the problem with the FF villains for the most part is, being explorers, they're minor to major plot complications, or, through constant revisiting, become familiar and usually, not villains anymore (the Surfer, the Inhumans) It's OK at first--they're explorers and as the unknown becomes more known, then it's no longer threatening.

Well, it's fairly reprehensible, innit? I think--and you may call this hyperbole--that Bendis god-awful portrayal of women and treatment of women in his work does more to slur the gender than all the 90's bad girl comics piled up in a nice big pile.

If only I can slide out from under my funk, I'll do it up! :)

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

We're probably overlooking one very important factor: I wasn't a regular reader of "Fantastic Four" at the time (still not, really). Sure, I knew about Doom and the Richards family and so on, but I'd never felt interested enough to follow the monthly.

So for me, Waid's version of Doom really worked: it took the character down a path that I'd never associated with him.

In fact, I'd say that was the one great success of the Jemas administration: the comics that were being produced at the time may have been a bit iconoclastic, given Jemas' disdain for the excesses of the genre, but they were also excellent jumping-on points for lapsed and unfamiliar readers. I really appreciated being able to dive right into "E Is For Extinction" without needing to know about the Crimson Dawn or the Neo or Onslaught.

Granted, that model's not ideal for pleasing the more devoted fans, but seeing as how that approach helped me get back into the Marvel Universe after an eight-year absence, I can't complain.

Osborn is in charge of everything because Brian Bendis is under the mistaken belief that for people to care about superhero stories, their world has to suck as much as possible.

That's actually a fairly recent development, though - Bendis used to write female characters quite well (ie: Jinx Alameda, Jessica Jones pre-pregnancy, Ultimate Mary Jane... hell, even Ultimate Aunt May). Not quite sure what's happened since then.

Kazekage said...

I never did either, really. The last two times I read more of FF than an issue or two every few years was the run where the Thing had is own FF (with the Torch, Crystal, and Ms. marvel) and the Walt Simonson run, which was frankly pretty impressive. Apart from that . . .I had something of an idea of what went on, but I wasn't a hardcore reader by any means.

True--in the X-Men's case, that they were able to raw a line under all that rubbish without having to blow up the continuity was frankly amazing at the time. I'll be grateful for that more than anything. Though the Jemas era replaced that kind of self-indulgence with it's own kind soon enough.

It's just . . .silly. Osborn was never Machiavellian on the scale neccessary for this kind of thing. It smacks of Undeserved Push from the highest rafter. Also, he dresses like an Iron Man made from candy canes.

I'm going to say--encounter with a haunted vagina.

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

That's still substantial contact with the series canon, though. I should refine my earlier comment to mean that it was ideal for readers who only knew about these characters through... well, I don't know if osmosis is the proper term given the subject matter, but you could certainly know who the Fantastic Four and Doctor Doom were without ever reading the book. And those preconceptions get challenged in Waid's run.

With the benefit of hindsight, I think I could've forgiven the Jemas era its indulgences given that what followed was a regime that toed the line to the point of utter lunacy.

Well, Undeserved Push is Bendis' forte: just look at the Hood. (Or don't, for your sanity's sake.)

Of course. It's all Jim Balent's fault! All roads lead to Tarot! :D

Kazekage said...

I suppose, but really, couldn't he have done that without the skin armour? It seems like such a silly prop that you could tell the story just as well without it.

I could, except so much of the Jemas era was awful, awful stuff, especially when he flipped 180 to "I'm going to get editorial off everyone's backs so they can concentrate on making good comics" to "No, do it this way and take six issues so it makes a nice trade." And sadly, history has shown the wrong lessons have been taken to heart and the worst impulses nurtured.

Can I not, please? I can;t take a Keebler Elf seriously as a crimelord. A fat guy dressed as an owl? No problem, but this. . .

He's definitely at the centre of this web, isn't he? :)

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

My reading of that is the skin armor's meant to be contrasted to metal: Doom's embracing tools that are alive (and messy) rather than the ordered and clean machines he's usually associated with. A bit simplistic, of course, but it's the Fantastic Four.

Far be it for me to defend his more odious actions, but I suppose in retrospect the writers who jumped ship to DC got the worst of the bargain: Jemas interfered with format but not content, while DiDio seems determined to singlehandedly dictate the mandates for every major storyline across the DCU.

Oh, for the days when being a crimelord meant you could sit across a table from a hero and gloat that he couldn't touch you, rather than beat up half-dressed women for the sake of your "rep".

Shh, don't mention webs around Jim Balent or he'll get the idea to change Tarot's wardrobe to transparent spiderwebs... (if he hasn't already)

Kazekage said...

Kind of a ham-fisted metaphor, that. But it is a Mark Waid story we're talking about here . . . ;)

Well, Jemas interfered with content in that he seemed determined to undermine books that were successful but that he personally didn't care for it. We didn't get him personally dictating plots, but that was more because he got deposed, I imagine.

Yeahhhhh . . .I mean, the whole point of having your hero against a crime boss was that he was a common hood, but one you couldn't touch (for whatever reason) who also had the potential to make your life hell. It's an effective way of ratcheting up tension. Notice how I didn't say anything about pistol-whipping women anywhere in there?

That would, as I understand it, mean that Tarot would actually have to put something "on," Diana. ;)

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

Precisely. :)

I don't know... I did find myself agreeing with the principles behind some of his directives (ie: no crossovers, no variants, prioritizing accessibility and therefore doing away with the navel-gazing aspects of continuity porn, and just generally trying to do new things). On the other hand, the man had absolutely no impulse control and never knew when to shut up.

Compounding the tension is the fact that if the hero set aside his morals for ten minutes, he could easily use whatever superpower was at his disposal to kill the crime boss right there. This might not apply to Daredevil, given that Fisk thoroughly pwned him when they fought in "Born Again", but Spidey could've done the job.

Does the mask count? :)

Kazekage said...

The problem is . . .for all the sense he made, he had so many other drawbacks, which makes him . . .well, pretty much like every head guy at Marvel, really. I think it's inevitable that whether you work there or read their books, one takes the good with the bad. However, Jemas' bad would have been a bit easier to take if he'd just . . .well, not been the Golden Hammer so bloody much.

Very true, which allows you to ask questions about the limits of what a hero can (an should) do. In fact, that's pretty much what happened when Spidey went through the whole Sin-Eater thing . . .

Not really--though she wears that more than most of her outfit.

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

Conversely, it'd be nice if Dan Buckley actually did something, since he seems to have all but handed the administration of the company to Joe Quesada. Not unlike asking Mario to guard a mushroom store.

The problem with that storyline is that you obviously knew what Spidey would do - it's hard to explore issues of moral ambiguity when the protagonist in question is thoroughly, inherently moral (wife-selling to Satan nonwithstanding).

Ugh. :(

Kazekage said...

Yea, I'm not altogether sure what it is Buckley does, other than being Not Bill Jemas. Having Quesada minding the store without Jemas to balance him out and constantly plating favorites hasn't really worked out, has it?

Well, the Sin-Eater story worked around it by pushing him into Angry Young Man territory and making him question that. Unfortunately it's kinda a one-note deal.

Female empowerment!

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

I'm pretty sure his job description reads something along the lines of "Sit in this chair and play Solitaire until 5 PM. Repeat daily." He doesn't seem at all involved in any aspect of running the company.

I'd expect as much from Spider-Man, given that he's still using that Great Power line forty years later...

Kazekage said...

I once wondered if they just found a bunch of photos of one dude on a stock site and made up an identity to go with them and he doesn't exist. This sounds ridiculous, but then Joe Quesada's ridiculous and look where he is.

Which has kind have been hijacked as the primary engine that drives his character, rather than Spider-Man, despite being the thing that killed Uncle Ben and generally screwed up his life, is his escape from his life as Peter Parker and a vehicle by which he can express the best traits of his nature.

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

Also: that one picture of Dan Buckley with the feathery crown? Probably just a random shot of some guy at Mardi Gras after too many tequilas...

There should be an Abuse Spider-Man meme somewhere. Seriously, they just announced over at Heroes Con that Spider-Man would be getting the crap kicked out of him by his rogues' gallery, to which I see "And how is this different from any other Wednesday?"

Kazekage said...

That's the picture I think of every time Buckley's name is mentioned, actually. And it does seem like just some random dude, doesn't it?

That's the problem--it happens so often that even that's become rote and mechanical now.