A Fact-Check for the Four-Color World

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Gimme Some Sugar

Prison Break

I've been a big fan of 24 since the beginning, so after hearing plenty of good word on the show, I couldn't pass on the premiere of Prison Break last night. Like the reviews said, it was very good. And like the reviews said, fully enjoying the show does depend on how well you can suspend your disbelief on some matters.

One such matter that wasn't mentioned in any reviews I saw was one that I found being debated on the Fox message board. It's the show's treatment of Type 1 Diabetes. The disease's treatment is somewhat central to the execution of the show's premise, but according to at least a couple of diabetics, the show's depiction is pretty dissimilar to the real experience in important ways.

Amusingly, there are also plenty of replies from people saying things like 'Get over it, it's just a TV show.'

If you want a comic connection, I can only offer some tenuous analogies. The show's main character is an uber-planner who I've seen called "Batman lite" for good reason. That character's brother is played by Dominic Purcell, who was also the superhuman title character of the late John Doe. And another character is supposedly the legendary D.B. Cooper, who is one of the few real-life criminals who has the sort of mythic status of a supervillain.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

What's Up, Kahndaq?

JSA #56 by Geoff Johns & Don Kramer

Now that we're halfway through the eight-month series of "Infinite Crisis" crossovers in JSA, it seems as good a time as any to look back on one of the biggest lasting events in recent JSA history: Black Adam's conquest of Kahndaq.

In my next post, I'll be taking a look at the trial of Atom Smasher in #76. This post deals mostly with the events of "Black Reign" that set the stage for that trial. And due to the nature of the subject, I must admit upfront that my comments here will be a lot more subjective than is typical for this blog. There's plenty of opinion and politics involved. But it's something I feel strongly about, and it's important background for Atom Smasher's tory.

Kahndaq is yet another of DC's fictional nations, a Middle Eastern nation situated (according to #56) along the northern coast of the Sinai Peninsula:

Strangely, a map of the country seen in #57 doesn't show a coastline, but rather appears to display a landlocked nation. Go figure.

Kahndaq is also the homeland of Captain Marvel's rival, Black Adam. The country was burned to the ground by Vandal Savage around 1600 B.C., and Adam's wife and children were killed in the process. (The capital city of Kahndaq, Shiruta, is named for Adam's late wife.) In the current day, Kahndaq was ruled by a Saddam Hussein-esque dictator named Asim Muhunnad.

Adam assembled a team of JSA associates to assist him in overthrowing Muhunnad. They fought and killed a great many of Muhunnad's men, and when they finally confronted the dictator himself in his palace, Black Adam asked Atom Smasher to kill him. Atom Smasher complied, and carried out the order with a single resounding stomp.

The JSA talks a lot about how much they disapprove of the actions of Adam and their other former allies, but there's the occasional reference that they are not alone. From #57: "Many foreign powers are already denouncing the invasion of Kahndaq. None acting on its yet." Given that Atom Smasher was later put on trial for his participation, it would seem that someone in government seriously disapproved.

As for myself, though, I can't bring myself to see anything that would merit international outrage. Now if Adam had been a supervillain taking over a country for his own personal gain (like, say, Magneto invading Australia), I'd see plenty of room to be nervous.

But the important difference I see here is that Black Adam is himself a Kahndaqi. He was born in Kahndaq and he and his wife and children lived in Kahndaq. He still considers himself a citizen of Kahndaq after 3500 years. And I don't see a Kahndaqi overthrowing a Kahndaqi government to be an outside invasion. Rather, I consider it to be a coup.

And the thing about coups is that they happen all the time, and the world typically doesn't bat an eye. A power-hungry dictator overthrowing an elected government is probably going to attract some negative responses and resolutions, but I'm not sure when the last time was that the international community actually got personally involved following a coup.

Yet here it seems like the U.S. and the rest of the world is chomping at the bit to condemn Black Adam. There's nothing presented to suggest that Muhunnad was anything but a total monster. And there's also every indication that the Kahndaqi people welcomed Adam as a liberator and praised him for saving them Muhunnad and his men. There's a reference to there being a small number of supporters of the former dicatator, but the overwhelming evidence is that the people of Kahndaq love Black Adam.

So if everyone's happy, why are other nations (including the U.S.) so anxious to condemn what is arguably an internal Kahndaqi matter? Is it because of Adam's history with villainy, and in spite of his Justice Society tenure? Is it because instead of an army of regular men, he fought with a handful of costumed metahumans? Is it because the rest of his team was from places other than Kahndaq? (Only two, incidentally, were American-born.)

Were international laws broken, as the JSA would seem to suggest? It's hard to say. International law is a very murky thing, and is rarely binding on anyone. If Adam and his team were acting on behalf of a state, then it could be an illegal act of aggression, but there is no external state. Most of the team are free agents, and Adam is a Kahndaqi fighting for control of Kahndaq. Although there may be some treaty that could be applied, it's hard to imagine the international community wanting to get involved. Killing Muhunnad might have crossed a line, but we hear these international condemnations before anyone outside Kahndaq knew that had happened.

Still, as I said above, this can all be fairly subjective, and there could be extenuating DCU circumstances that would get states this riled. And that brings me to a little editorial complaint I have.

I thought Johns did a good job in "Black Reign" of presenting both sides of the case for Adam's actions. I find myself largely sympathizing with what Adam did, but I also see the JSA's point that he may have gone too far in some places (such as Brainwave's mental manipulations). However, while both arguments are there, the way the story and its follow-up, "Black Vengeance," are structured, and the way all the characters other than Adam react, they all support the argument that Adam was wrong. Hawkman even goes so far as to make Atom Smasher doubt his own sanity by making him hear voices (courtesy of the Atom) that attempt to induce guilt. The story makes Adam unusually hostile in order to set off three issues of fighting, and at the end of the second arc in #75, he's left looking something of a chump. He saves Atom Smasher's life, and then the JSA steps in and announces that they're taking him away for treatment.

And it doesn't help that Black Adam is back to hanging out with the out-and-out baddies over in Villains United. The reason given for a national leader spending his off-time with supervillains is that he's interested in Kahndaq's security, but that's merely leaning on the unusually excessive reactions I critiqued above. Somehow, Adam was provided a textured and sympathetic position, but ends up being treated like a villain anyway. I feel let down.

A lot has been said about DC trying to paint its heroes in greater shades of gray, so I find it ironic that the development that has most appealed to me is Geoff Johns' efforts to paint a former villain with more gray. I'd much rather read about Black Adam and Atom Smasher's time in Kahndaq than about a Batman who manipulates crime scene evidence.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Bruce Wayne, Defendant

Walter Olson's Overlawyered.com is a great blog that I don't read nearly often enough. It's devoted to sharing and exposing the excesses, absurdities, and injustices that have come to be all too common in modern civil litigation. Things like the Cincinatti jury that found a couple to be 70% liable for the stabbing murder that their son committed. Or the European bus service that is suing carpoolers for "unfair competition."

But there's one article in particular that should be of interest to readers here, and that is Olsen's take on Batman Begins. I had a couple of critiques of the film, but he treats the movie as an exercise in issue-spotting. And he comes away with more than a half-dozen bullet points, with everything from potential tort liabilities (a la "The Incredibles") to clear violations of securities law:

Overlawyered.com: "Batman Begins": Bruce Wayne, Defendant

Do I think it's nitpicky? To be honest, yeah. Some of the items (especially the first and last) I believe fall squarely within a sensible suspension of disbelief. But it's certainly informative, and reminds us of the real-life complications of superherodom.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Guest Post: The Bronx is Up and the Battery's Down

And now a guest submission from my good friend Morts, proud Yankee and author of What Were They Thinking?.


That’s Not New York (Or "Why More Artists Need Photo Reference")

Now, I love George Perez, really I do. I loved his and Busiek’s run on Avengers, which the image below is taken from:

Image hosted by Photobucket.com

But that’s not New York.

The wedge-shaped building there is the Flatiron. If it looks familiar, that’s because it’s been in scores of movies, including Spider-Man, where it filled the role of the Daily Bugle.

Here are a few good photos of the Flatiron.

See any massive landmarks over to the left of it? Like, say, a certain building known from such films as King Kong and Sleepless in Seattle? Perhaps one that begins with 'E' and ends with 'mpire State Building'?

Didn’t think so.

Y’see, The Flatiron is on 23rd Street between Fifth and Broadway (right near Cosmic Comics – Hi Mark!). If you stand facing the Wedge bit of the Flatiron, as in that image, you’re facing downtown.

The Empire State Building, seen to the left of the Flatiron in this panel, is uptown, on 5th Avenue and between 33rd and 34th Streets...and to the right of the Flatiron.

In fact, here’s a great shot that shows JUST how “off” that panel is. That photo was taken by someone standing in front of the Flatiron’s wedge.

So basically, either some super villain has undergone a fiendish plot that entails twisting the Flatiron 180 degrees, or George Perez hasn’t been to NYC in a long, long time.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Howdy, Duty

Ex Machina #13

I had jury duty this week. And to my surprise, I got picked. Lawyers tend not to leave other lawyers on the jury, so I was happy to get the experience for once. It was a civil case, involving an electric company meter-reader who got attacked by the defendants' dogs. He was suing for $50,000 (!!) in pain and suffering damages.

Unfortunately, the trial lasted less than two hours. We made it through the opening statements and about half of the direct examination of the first witness before the witness said something prohibited. The jury gets sent out of the courtroom and about twenty minutes later, the judge tells us that she's declared a mistrial and that we can go home. Now it looks like I may never get to be on a jury.

Then again, jury selection can result in some surprises. Like the mayor of New York City getting selected for a trial jury in the latest arc of Ex Machina. As it was with mine, his case is a civil matter, but involving a lawsuit over a bag of poo.

As should probably be expected given Brian K. Vaughan's predilection for factoids, the latest issue (#13) gets the New York jury selection process down pat. For civil cases they begin with a jury pool of twelve, and each side gets three preemptory strikes (allowing them to cut whoever they want), for a final trial jury of six individuals. It plays out exactly that way in the issue. Either he did his research or he has served on a New York jury.

Vaughan even grasps the rationales that attorneys make when deciding who they want on a jury, and shows how both parties could readily believe a given person would favor their side. Jury selection is all about trying to predict individuals' biases and prejudices. That's what "voir dire" (Latin: "to speak the truth") is for; asking potential jurors questions in order to get a hint of which way they might vote in the end.

And it may be mentioned next issue (in fact, I'd almost bet on it), but New York civil juries do not have to reach a unanimous verdict. If five of the six jurors agree, that is sufficient for a decision.

The judge says the plaintiff is "suing the proprietors of the Randcliff Deli on Houston for negligence and emotional distress after she allegedly found an open bag of fecal matter in their salad bar." Mayor Hundred responds with "Aw, [f-word]" under his breath. I sympathize with him. There was a time when civil lawsuits required actual injuries; you sued somebody if they hurt you somehow. But now we can have evolved cases that can only involve emotional distress without any other kind of injury. Granted, most states still require that there be some sort of physical injury in order to sue for 'negligent infliction of emotional distress,' but New York isn't one of them.

So here we have a woman who merely saw (and maybe smelled) a bag of poop, and she's suing. Given the costs of litigation, one can probably assume she's asking for compensation in the four-digit range. All for seeing poo. To be honest, I'm not sure how likely it'd be for that to meet the requirements for "serious" emotional distress. But I know how I'd vote on that jury.

We don't see any of the trial except for the closing arguments. (A wise decision on Vaughan's part, since the content of the trial isn't important at all.) I wonder if a couple of the comments made would be admissible, but that's some serious nitpicking. I can't say for certain, but I imagine that New York allows the plaintiff to give the first closing argument and then to make a rebuttal statement after the defense's closing, so giving the plaintiff's attorney his "parting shot" is probably correct too. I am a little surprised that the attorney is shown to be sitting while making that final statement; attorneys always stand when they speak to the jury.

That's an artistic error, though, and the one thing in the issue that I can point to as being definitively wrong is another artistic detail. It's the same mistake that Kyle Baker made. The American flag should always go on the right of the judge or speaker, but they're backward in every panel. I almost blamed this on Tony Harris (a fellow Georgian, btw), but then I realized that it was actually the colorist's mistake. So I'm looking at you, J.D. Mettler. :)

When the trial ends, one of the jurors says "That was more like Night Court than Law & Order." How true that is of so much of what our courts see.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Where Winick Lost Me

Green Arrow Secret Files & Origins

I've mentioned it a few times, but the time has come to explain why the lead story in this comic is so aggravating.

As the story opens, Ollie and Connor are practicing shooting at long distance targets, "placed about as far away as I could but still make them out with the naked eye," which leads into this conversation:

Connor: We should be using long bows for this.

Oliver: You carry a spare long bow around with you in the field?

Connor: I have a collapsible one, yes.

Oliver: Really? Blasphemy. You can't possibly get the same tension from your Swiss Army-knife toys than an actual bow.

Connor: Join me sometime in the 21st century. I'll show you some adaptations that would make your trick arrows look like buggy whips.

Stop. Rewind. Let's go through that again, with some editorializing from yours truly...

Connor: We should be using long bows for this.

Me: Really? Why? Do you think a "long bow" is called that because it's used for long shots? You should be using compound bows for this. Of course, at the distance suggested here, the targets should be lying flat on the ground, and you should be shooting way up in the air to create a parabolic arc. There's no other way to make that range.

Oliver: You carry a spare long bow around with you in the field?

Connor: I have a collapsible one, yes.

Me: Say what? Do you mean a takedown? Yes, there are two-piece takedown longbows, but most longbow shooters are pretty much purists; they want the one-piece, as Ollie says. And nobody calls them "collapsible" except people who are utterly ignorant of the sport. Oh. Wait.

Oliver: Really? Blasphemy. You can't possibly get the same tension from your Swiss Army-knife toys than an actual bow.

Me: Um, that sentence isn't even English. Aside from that, "tension"? What tension? Who talks about tension in archery? Ollie, have you ever shot a bow before?

Connor: Join me sometime in the 21st century. I'll show you some adaptations that would make your trick arrows look like buggy whips.

Me: "Adaptations"? Sounds like B.S. to me. You're just trying to pretend you know what you're talking about, aren't you?

And so on.

Next page, we're informed that the boys are shooting "the length of several football fields." Okay, sure. Olympians only shoot at 90 meters (about 100 yards), but we'll take them at their word... that is, until we get to the next page, where Connor can actually see a 3/8" thick arrow hit the approximately-5-foot-diameter target, when we were just told that they could barely make out the targets. I didn't know super-vision was among Connor's gifts. (Of course, if they had any supervision, they wouldn't be engaging in this silly game anyway... har!)

Eventually, the boys get to the point of the scene, which is a segue into yet another of Winick's tales about a demon attack, which amazingly enough, only has one really dumb archery moment. But before we get there, Connor allows as how he has "about a thousand arrows to get to here," so he has plenty of time to hear the tale.

Indeed he does. Any archer knows that fatigue sets in rapidly if shots are taken too close together. It takes about 20 seconds for the lactose buildup in the muscles to dissipate, so any smart archer will pace himself. In tournament settings, archers are permitted two minutes to shoot three arrows, but let's assume that Connor is used to shooting an arrow every 30 seconds (10 seconds to shoot, 20 seconds to recover before taking the next shot). So he's going to take 500 minutes at least to get through those arrows, or in other words, 8 hours and 20 minutes. I hope they packed lunch.

That doesn't include the time it will take to walk back and forth the several hundred yards (a mile is 1760 yards) to collect their arrows. Assuming that their quivers hold 50 arrows (a not unreasonable number, considering my quiver holds about 18 max). they're going to make that walk 20 times at least, round trip, for a grand total of about 10 miles. Walking at a brisk pace, they cover 3 miles an hour, so in addition to the 8:20 shooting time, add another 3:20 walking time, for a grand total of 11 hours and 40 minutes at the range. I hope they packed dinner.

But I digress.

So now Ollie is into his demon story, replete with all the usual silly archery mistakes (gravity-defying arrows that suspend themselves in the air without any support, arrows on the wrong side of the bow, balancing the arrow on the tip of the thumb, drawing the string up over and behind the ear, and so on), but the really egregious part is coming. Ollie has to make a shot at a really long distance over a ravine, and he strains to do it...

"God... I hope... I don't snap the bow... before I get the shot off... it's just... such... a long... one..."

Tell me, Ollie, have you ever shot a bow before?

A big part of aiming a bow is what they call "anchor." This means putting the hand against the face in a certain spot, the same way every time. this functions like the rear sight on a rifle. Without a consistent anchor, accuracy is impossible. When making a long shot, one does not draw the bow back further (which would be impossible anyway if he's shooting properly; the drawing is done with the back muscles and there's only so far they can move); one would switch to a lighter arrow or heavier bow, or one would simply aim higher and allow gravity and inertia to do the work.

So Ollie finishes his story, and the boys set off on their quarter-mile hike to collect their arrows... with full quivers on their backs. Dunno about you, but if I were going to shoot that far, I'd go ahead and empty the quiver before I went and collected the arrows. But that's just me. I guess they like long walks.

Or more likely, Judd Winick engages in hyperbole in order to hide the fact that he doesn't know the first thing about the central fact of his main character, and can't really be bothered to find out.

In any case, that's the last Green Arrow story I'll be reading until he's gone.

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Monday, August 15, 2005

Green Arrow's Specialty Arrows

Green Arrow Secret Files & Origins

Eliot R. Brown has established himself as the go-to guy for "realistic" (or at least plausible) diagrams and explanations of superhero equipment. Sadly, in his Green Arrow Secret Files & Origins piece, he really drops the ball.

Most of his diagrams look pretty good (except the bow, but we'll get to that), but it all falls apart in the text, mostly because he didn't do any research into archery terminology or techniques. Examples, beginning with the most trivial and proceeding to escalate in importance:

Thoughout the article, he refers to arrows being "notched." The word he's looking for is "nocked." Similarly, he consistently refers to bows being "pulled." Bows are not pulled, they are drawn. Archers speak of a bow's "draw weight;" they do not say things like "a custom pull of 125 pounds." Aside from the erroneous use of "pull" there is the question of what a "custom pull" might be. But that is the least of the problems with the bow description.

As I said, the various trick arrows sound mostly plausible, and fall well within the bounds of "suspension of disbelief:" that is, we'll all agree that they'll work, simply because they have to work for the sake of the story. The bow described here does not pass the test, simply because a real bow would perform better than the ones that Brown has made up out of thin air. Listen up...

"A traditional bow of the gentle recurve type, 46" overall. Constructed of maple hardwood with rosewood handle, the limbs are laminated fiberglass and are very quick with a custom pull of 125 pounds."

The accompanying illustration shows what appears to be a one-piece bow, but the text clearly describes a "takedown" bow, or in other words a bow that can be taken apart for storage. But that's just the beginning of our problems here.

"A traditional bow of the gentle recurve type"-- There's no such thing. There are traditional bows and there are recurves, and never the twain shall meet. A recurve bow has the reversed curve at the ends, a traditional does not. Aside from that, there's no such thing as a "gentle recurve" bow. It's either a recurve or it isn't. "Gentle recurve" is analagous to "sort of pregnant." Which leads to the next problem...

"46" overall"-- No way. When my daughter was 8 years old, she shot a 54" bow. Now, there are some short bows, but they would be more like the mongolian horseman's bow, with a VERY deep string height (distance from string to handle). A normal recurve would have a string height of around 9 to 10 inches, while a horseman's bow might be 12"; Mr. Brown shows us a bow with a height of about 1".

Let's do some geometry, shall we? An average archer's draw length (distance from nock to arrow rest at full draw) is 29", which is the length at which bow weights are calculated (add or subtract two pounds for each inch longer or shorter). I think we can all agree that Ollie is above average. I would estimate his draw length at 30 to 32" (the longest draw length I've ever seen is 36", which is the longest arrow shaft one can buy without having them custom made, and that guy is very tall with disproportionately long arms). We'll go with 30" which is about right for a six foot tall guy, and it makes for nice round numbers.

Now, the bow is said to be 46" tall. The riser (handle) is not flexible, and it would normally be 24" tall, but we'll agree that this one is 16", again, just for the sake of round numbers. That leaves us with 30" for the limbs, or 15" each, which is about 6-8" short of what a normal limb should be. The problem now is that the string is normally 3 to 4 inches shorter than the bow, which is what causes it to be curved in the first place. Since this is supposed to be a "gentle" recurve, let's say that we have a 44" string. Okay?

Now, remember Pythagoras? The guy who prattled on about triangles? He's about to bother us a lot. Suppose Ollie draws his bow; He needs to extend it to the point that the back of the arrow (on the string) ends up 30" away from the point where the arrow sits on the bow. Here's an illustration:

Image hosted by Photobucket.com

Notice that as the bow is drawn the limbs bend and the string forms an angle roughly equal to about half the distance from nock to handle. Hmm. The string is only 44" long, so that only gives us 22" on each side of the arrow. What angle will that string have to be at in order to reach 15" (half the draw length)? Are those tiny limbs going to be able to reach the other 15"? I don't think so. The bow described here can't possibly have a draw length of more than about 20" and it certainly can't have a draw weight of 125 pounds.

If that's not bad enough, Brown then goes on to describe an "impromptu bow":

"This impromptu bow, made of found components, uses a table leg for the handle-riser system and a spring steel center surrounded by a segmented armor sheath for the limbs. Pull is estimated at around 80 pounds."

Say what?

If I were going to improvise a bow, I certainly wouldn't try to create a takedown one. A one-piece bow would be a lot simpler and might actually work. Find a 6 foot piece of a straight, long-grain wood such as maple or ash, build up a handle out of duct tape, and braid a string out of dental floss, and you're set. Certainly a lot easier than scrounging up lengths of "spring steel...surrounded by a segmented armor sheath", which is just the sort of thing everybody has lying around their house. For that matter, why bother with the armor segments? They add nothing to the bow's operation at all. A length of steel roughly an inch wide and 1/8" thick would make a pretty good impromptu bow.

But then, the rest of Green Arrow Secret Files & Origins is chock full of material for me to write about. That ridiculous first story by Judd Winick, for example. Unlike the subjects of my previous posts, in that story all the fault lies with the writing rather than the art. But that's for another time.

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Sunday, August 14, 2005

What Were They Thinking?

I apologize for failing to post any new material for the past few days. Life just got a little hectic; nothing bad, just unanticipated distractions.

So in lieu of new material from myself, I want to share a friend's comic blog that you may not have discovered yet. From my buddy Morts, I give you:

What Were They Thinking?

While this blog focuses on realistic absurdities, Morts shares those of a more practical variety. Namely, the unintentional humor to be found in comics of years past. Everything from sexism in "The Avengers" to the heartlessness of the Silver Age Batman. It's all good, clean fun (except, that is, when it isn't clean).

Wednesday, August 10, 2005


Yesterday I made some long overdue updates to my Gotham Central Roll Call. New faces (like Takahata), old faces (Bullock), and one (Corrigan) who I increasingly suspect is a one-man 'Infinite Crisis' tie-in in development. It's now at 28 recurring cast members, but if I'm missing any, let me know.

I also tweaked the layout of the page, so it'll not only be easier on 800x600 screens, but should print out better. In case anyone likes reading GC with reference material.

And in what I imagine is news to some and old news to others, the recurring character of reporter Simon Lippman looks suspiciously like Greg Rucka:

... & Robbers

The Firefly Pinyinary has your Chinese translations for Serenity #2.

So now you can learn how to drop the f-bomb in Mandarin.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Odds and Ends

I've caught a few instances of fact-checking from others in the past few days, one historical and two geographical. I haven't even seen two of the items myself, but they still seemed insightful.

From Dave Van Domelen:

New Warriors #3 (of 6) - There are no cacti fifty miles from Wichita. Especially on the busy interstate leading there from Salina. Even if I didn't already despise Skottie's art, this would be a good reason to at least dislike it.

From Sk8maven, with regard to a line in JSA #76:

Early on, 'Hawkman' says, "In the seventeenth century...I learned to use my mace." Well - maces ARE NOT seventeenth century weapons and they weren't still being used by then. By then it was rapiers, pikes and matchlock muskets.

And from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, in its movie review of "The Dukes of Hazzard":

The screenplay's laziness escalates from annoying to insulting when Bo and Luke visit Atlanta and "Five Points University." The movie's version of the city — probably shot at the Warner Bros. Ranch — looks about as much like Atlanta as Sheboygan does Paris.

For the record, the "Dukes" movie was shot in Louisiana, and LSU was used for the University scenes. In any case, the AJC gave the movie a D-.

And one last thing, I've finally posted a scan of Ulysses Klaw in my Wakanda post below. So if the name didn't register a face, then now you can compare for yourself.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Quiz: What's wrong?

Alex Ross paints Green Arrow

Instead of writing another lecture about it, I'll ask you: what's wrong with this picture?

Post replies to the comment section.

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She's getting worse.

Young Avengers #6 cover
In the comments section of my last post, someone helpfully posted a link to the cover of the next issue of this series, which features young Kate front and center. I've cropped and enlarged it so we can take a closer look...

Image hosted by Photobucket.com

Well, well, well... where to begin?

First, as was noted in the comments section, she is drawing the bow by squeezing the nock between her knuckles, an impressive act of strength but not such a good shooting technique. Second, her finger is on the arrowhead at full draw, which is a safety issue, and one that would be unnecessary if she weren't holding the bow sideways and actually tipping it almost upside-down. Speaking of upside-down, so is the arrow; the index fletch is pointing toward the bow. And of course there's the matter of her useless gloves again; where is the protection for the fingertips?

But the big issue is really glaring. First, she is drawing the string up over her shoulder. Think about it; how does she get the bow into that position? She has to hold it with the string on the outside of her bow arm, then rotate the bow sideways 90 degrees and then draw the string up over her shoulder. Why is she doing this?

Try it yourself. Stand up and mime holding a bow the normal way. Now rotate the imaginary bow to the position shown here. Naturally, the string hand would rotate to be palm-up and would want to drop down somewhat. Under no circumstances would the position Kate is using be remotely safe or comfortable.

While we're at it, the flowing scarf is a big safety issue, as is the halo of gravity-defying hair. When we give beginner lessons at Pasadena Roving Archers, we have been known to hand out ponytail holders to people with long hair. You really don't want hair or clothing to get tangled into the string.

Just as a matter of form, there's no point in drawing the bow without first straightening the bow arm.

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Puttin' on the Ritz

When I went to the comic shop this past week, there were not one but two issues waiting in my box that featured criminal trials. One was the trial of Atom Smasher in JSA #76, and the other was the long-awaited trial of the Silver Agent in Astro City: The Dark Age #2. I'll be addressing the former in a future post (or two), but both contained a particular image that irked me.

I've talked before about comics showing criminal defendants wearing jailhouse jumpsuits at trial. Barring the ignorant and/or foolish defendant, this doesn't happen in the real world. They may not dress well (and in fact, they often fail to appreciate the importance of looking presentable to a jury), but the state cannot force the defendant to appear at trial in jail clothes. And it's even older law that the state cannot shackle or restrain the defendant at trial, unless the defendant cannot otherwise control himself.

Have you ever seen a trial scene on "Law & Order" where the defendant was wearing jail clothes? No. In fact, the defendants are often well-dressed, because they're reasonably intelligent and their attorneys are typically shrewd. Murder trials are serious deals, and any decent defense attorney is going to make sure his client looks as good as possible in court.

But when Kobra goes on trial for murder:

or the Shadow Thief:

they look, to the jury, like criminals. Because they're dressed like criminals. It's the same problem in both issues I bought this week. Here we see Atom Smasher at trial:

and the Silver Agent:

In all fairness, there's a small loophole in the Silver Agent case. Various state courts rejected compelling defendants to wear jail clothes at trial as early as 1946. But it looks like the Supreme Court didn't weigh in on the issue until 1976, and the Silver Agent's trial is set in 1972. It would mean that Astro City was behind the times, and that the defense attorney didn't do a better job of protecting his client's interests in a life-and-death case, but it's still legally possible.

(In fact, I'm a little curious where the Silver Agent's attorney is. The narration describes the prosecutor making an opening statement, so presumably that's who is shown. I guess he's blocking our view of the defense attorney at the table behind him.)

But as for Atom Smasher, he's not only wearing the jumpsuit (I wonder where they got one in his size), but handcuffs as well. Double wrong.

There is one good thing I can say about all these comic book trials, and it's that at least the defendants are being tried as "Carl Sands" and "Al Rothstein" and so on. They're not wearing their costumes in court and it's their real identities, and not their costumed identities, that are on trial. This is a welcome improvement over the old 'Trial of the Flash,' where a costumed Flash was on trial for several issues before there was a sudden revelation of his true identity.

But the thing with the jail clothes ought to end. If the scene is some sort of pretrial hearing (and frankly, those don't get shown in comics very often, because they're dull), jail clothes are OK for a defendant who's being held in jail. But if it's a trial, then jail clothes and restraints are a huge no-no. It's a simple and universal rule, and it is oh-so-easily avoidable by artists. Just draw the defendant in a suit and tie. It's that easy.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

It's not all in the wrist....

Young Avengers #5

So another archer joins the ranks of comic book bowslingers, and once again, she can't shoot straight. Y'know, it almost seems Marvel is doing this on purpose now, just to tick me off. How else can you explain that most recent cover of "House of M"?

Anyway, this one just crossed my path: In the last issue of Young Avengers, neophyte superhero Kate Bishop, who seems to be some sort of amalgam of Hawkeye and Mockingbird, nocks up an arrow and takes a shot at Kang the Conqueror. Leaving aside the many obvious flaws in her form, she makes the shot, and one of her team-mates asks how she did it.

"It's all in the wrist" she says, "If we survive this, I'll show you."

Cue laughter.

No, miss, it's not all in the wrist, unless of course you mean "it's all in keeping the wrist completely out of it." Neither wrist is involved in archery at all.

We'll start with the bow hand. The bow should be placed on the meaty part of the base of the thumb, so that the bow handle falls neatly into the web of skin between the thumb and index finger. The goal here is to provide a firm, solid pillar of bone upon which to rest the bow. The bones of the forearm should be directly behind the bow, the bone of the upper arm directly behind that, then the shoulder blade and collar bone, all in a nice straight line with no sideways movement. Some archers (US Olympian Jane Dykman, for example) go so far as to have an indicator mark tattooed onto their bow hand which lines up with something on the bow handle, to make sure they are holding the bow in exactly the right spot. They will also use a bow-sling to secure the bow to the hand so they can relax the fingers and not grip the bow at all. The wrist has no function at all as far as holding the bow is concerned.

Moving to the string hand, again the wrist does nothing. In fact, one of the primary lessons archers learn is to NOT use the wrist. The back of the hand should be flat in line with the forearm with no bending or movement of the wrist at all.

Having Kate say "it's all in the wrist" is about as accurate as having her say "it's all in the hat." There are any number of things she could have said-- it's all in the fingers, eye, follow-through, mind, etc and so forth-- but the wrist is not among them.

Once again, I will repeat my standing offer. Any comic book artist or writer who wants to get it right is welcome to contact me for free archery lessons and fact-checking. macq@monkeyspit.net will reach me.

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Monday, August 01, 2005

Guns, Germs, and Vibranium

As of late, I've ended up absorbing a little more ancient history than is usual for me. I watched Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel documentary on PBS, and I'm also finally working my way through Larry Gonick's The Cartoon History of the Universe. Both, in their own way, deal with the evolution of civilization. Gonick basically tells the story of what happened, and Diamond's theories go towards explaining why it happened the way it did.

Also this past week, the first arc of the new Black Panther series wrapped up. Author Reginald Hudlin's take on the Panther's homeland of Wakanda is that it has long been both incredibly isolationist and scientifically advanced (as illustrated by Kirbytech in 19th century Wakanda). Here's how Hudlin explains it:

"The basic tenet of the character is that there is this African nation named Wakanda and they have this amazing super-science. So I said why do they have this amazing super-science? They have it because they were always more advanced then the rest of the world. Now that is not such a farfetched notion because its historically true that there are certain African tribes that had metal alloys while people in Britain were still living in caves. So let’s build off that historical truth that you have people that were scientifically far advanced then the rest of the world and that head start was never broken. They kept their lead and they kept moving faster then the rest of the world in terms of scientific growth."

It sounds reasonable enough on its face, but the more I've thought about it, the more I see the flaws in the explanation. This approach to history doesn't much resemble what I've been seeing. It all comes down to the conflict between advancement and isolationism.

In the real world, secluded cultures are never ahead of the outside world; rather, they tend to be rather primitive by comparison. They may have certain particular innovations, but for the most part their cultures haven't changed much for centuries or longer. Diamond, for instance, spent a lot of time in Papua New Guinea, a largely isolated culture where life remained much the same for millenia.

As for advanced fictional countries, the greatest of those is undoubtedly Atlantis. But Atlantis was supposedly a center of commerce and culture, not at all isolated and exlusionary. The Hyperborea of the Conan tales was both well-off (though not particularly scientifically advanced) and largely isolated, but it also owed its success to magic. Oh, and the continual use of slave labor.

Scientific innovation is like any other commodity: it depends upon trade to grow and develop. For instance, the ancient Greek empire was built by initially borrowing the ideas of other cultures, particularly the Phoenicians and the Egyptians. History is all about people improving on other people's ideas.

Isolationism, on the other hand, is the enemy of advancement. As Wakanda spent centuries fighting foreign influence, it was also resisting foreign innovations. One small country managed to continually outpace the entire rest of the world in every field for centuries on end? Not just unlikely; it's impossible. It's possible the Wakandans were surreptitiously importing ideas and technology over the years, but if that's the case, then they weren't truly isolationist. It also would mean they spent centuries taking only one side in the trade of scientific knowledge (importing but not exporting). And bringing in foreign discoveries sort of undermines Hudlin's history.

Plus, according to Diamond's theories, the sub-saharan Wakanda would be at a developmental disadvantage due to its geography. Being in the tropics, it couldn't as easily benefit from the farming advancements first made in the Middle East. Staples like wheat, corn, and rice wouldn't grow in central Africa, and the area doesn't have any large native animals that can be domesticated for food and labor. Without those advantages of the land, Wakanda would be hard-pressed to have started off in first place.

Now might be a good time to point out that Jared Diamond bears an uncanny resemblance to the old-school Ulysses Klaw:

Wakanda does have one factor in its favor, which would be vibranium. Could it be to T'Challa's homeland what magic was to Hyperborea? The fantastic factor that spurred a civilization ahead? It's certainly more plausible than Hudlin's 'one-step-ahead' theory, but it also rips out the heart of his historial approach. If Wakanda owes its age-old status to its one-of-a-kind (well, two-of-a-kind) miracle metal, then all the talk of conquest and whatnot is superfluous. Wakanda just got geographically lucky. Not that there's anything wrong with that, since as Diamond suggests, so much of human history has revolved around who was geographically lucky.

But the downside to either approach is that if you want the defining characteristics of a fictional nation to be isolationism and innovation, then the result won't be science fiction. It'll just be fantasy.