A Fact-Check for the Four-Color World

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Congressman Collins

While the congressional politics on Smallville may be disputed, there's one real-life congressional race that I can take a pretty firm stand on. That's because I'm running for it.

That's right, I, Loren Collins, have decided to run for the United States House of Representatives for the Fourth District of Georgia.

You may have heard the Fourth District mentioned in the news lately, as it's the home district of Cynthia McKinney. Two years ago I took a stab as a write-in, but didn't see it through to the end. I'd been planning on making another try at it this year, but learning that another blogger beat me to the punch really set a fire under me. I'm even going to attempt the petition that's necessary to get my name on the House ballot, even though no independent candidate in Georgia has succeeded in doing that since the requirement was created in 1943. It may be a lost cause, but like Jefferson Smith said, lost causes are the only ones worth fighting for.

My campaign site, VoteLoren.com is up and running, albeit incomplete (and ad-supported) at the moment. While few if any of you may live in my district, I sure could use some good word of mouth. *hint, hint*

Displayed rather prominently on the site is the Bull Moose logo, which was created by none other than this blog's other chief contributor, Jim MacQuarrie. Not only do Jim and I share a great deal of politics in common, but he's officially registered with the state of California as a Bull Moose. (Alas, he politely declined my suggestion that he run for President as the party candidate.)

So this is my new project for the next several months. I expect it'll be fun. Any suggestions or words of wisdom? Or do you just think I'm flat-out crazy? : )

Monday, April 24, 2006

The Legend of Zorro

I watched The Legend of Zorro on DVD this weekend, and while it may not be a comic book, as something of a proto-superhero, I think Zorro is fair fodder for this blog. The points I'm about to make aren't exactly novel, as they've been observed by other reviewers, but I felt like bringing them to the attention of others.

I'll go ahead and warn that the following contains some minor spoilers, but nothing too significant. Besides, I wouldn't really recommend the movie (just rewatch The Mask of Zorro), so I'm not too concerned about spoiling it.

In this sequel, Zorro goes up against an Illuminati-esque organization which is intent on throwing the United States into turmoil. Their plan involves providing the Confederate Army with a large supply of nitroglycerin, which will distribute it among the troops and utilize the explosive in an attack on Washington D.C.

As stated in the movie's opening scene, the film is set in 1850. We can even pinpoint the exact date of the film's climax as September 9, 1850, the date California joined the Union. The error here was noticed by many a moviegoer: there was no Confederacy in 1850, nor would there be for another decade.

Even if one ignores all the references to the Confederacy and imagines this was only exploiting America's conflict over slavery, it still doesn't work. Maryland was a slave state in 1850, and the District of Columbia didn't abolish slavery until 1862. Attacking a slaveholding city located between two slaveholding states would be an odd way to strike a blow for other slave states. This would've been concurrent with the Compromise of 1850, which temporarily lessened America's conflict over slavery, making it an even odder time for the South to revolt.

Also, when Zorro first stumbles upon evidence of the villains' scheme, he finds a map of the United States, which the camera focuses on. Strangely, the map looks rather modern, showing all of the present-day boundaries for U.S. states. A map of the United States circa 1850 would have several territories, and should instead look like this:

There are plenty of smaller anachronisms, but these two were the ones that struck me as egregious. It would be like telling a story about the American Revolution in the 1760s, or the U.S. fighting Nazis in 1930. Given their obviousness, one wonders how no one involved in the production managed to catch the errors. And yet the villains' entire plot is based around this massive historial blunder. It's not a good sign of quality writing.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Senator Kent

Several months back, John Schneider's old Dukes of Hazzard co-star Tom Wopat guest-starred on Smallville as Senator Jack Jennings, a long-time friend of Jonathan Kent. This bit of guest-casting turned out to be more than a one-episode stunt, as it kicked off an ongoing subplot of Jonathan Kent running for Jack's seat in the Senate.

Jonathan ended up winning the election, beating out Lex Luthor, but he died on the evening of the election. The Governor of Kansas then offered Jonathan's seat to Martha Kent, who accepted.

Since the beginning of this storyline, there has been continued confusion over which Senate Jonathan Kent was elected to: the Kansas State Senate, or the United States Senate. Personally, I feel convinced that it's the former, but for the sake of argument, I thought I'd present the evidence for both sides.

U.S. Senate
- Jack Jennings was treated more like a U.S. Senator than a state politician.
- In "Lexmas," future Jonathan was treated more like a U.S. Senator than a state politician.
- There's not much power in being a Kansas state senator that would attract Lex to run.
- There's not much power in being a Kansas state senator to attract Lionel to donate thousands of dollars to Jonathan's campaign.
- State senate races don't tend to have the huge budgets that Jonathan's campaign did.
- State senate candidates rarely run TV ads.
- If they do run TV ads, they definitely don't run them statewide, as Lois said the ads were.
- Jonathan's rally in "Fanatic" would be normal for a U.S. Senate race (maybe even a little big), but would be obscenely huge for a state senate race.
- There would not be a "Students for Lex Luthor" group at Metropolis University if the campaign was for the state senate seat for the Smallville area.
- The news coverage of Jonathan's win in the election is more in line with a U.S. Senate race.

Kansas State Senate
- Lex is too young to run for the U.S. Senate, as the Constitution requires candidates to be 30.
- Jonathan would be a natural candidate for a local race, but would be out of his league in a federal election.
- Neither Lex nor Jonathan appeared to physically campaign outside of the Smallville area.
- Neither Lex nor Jonathan participated in a primary, which would be unlikely for a U.S. Senate race.
- There was no public debate, which would be unusual for a U.S. Senate race.
- The election took place in January, and not November.
- No one, including now-senator Martha Kent, has mentioned ever going to or needing to go to Washington D.C. Only Metropolis has been mentioned.
- Martha made a local foster mom her first Chief-of-Staff, and then made Lois, a college-dropout coffee-shop waitress, her second Chief-of-Staff. That's rather lowbrow for a national office.
- Martha referred to herself as a "state senator" in last week's episode.

I think the evidence definitely leans in favor of the state senate (particularly the fact that Lex is legally barred from running for the other). The evidence in the U.S. Senate category is persuasive on its own, but every bit of it can be chalked up to ignorance or hyperbole on the part of the writers. I believe they wanted to write about a local race, but didn't know how to accurately portray one, and so they ended up giving it the trappings of a much bigger election. The only serious inconsistency when it comes to the state senate is Lex's motivation, but it's not like the writers of Smallville have been terribly consistent when it comes to his character as of late.

Anyone care to disagree?

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Moving, and Moving Fast

As I mentioned in passing in my last post, I moved last weekend. For almost the last two years, I've shared a house with my brother (my grandmother's old house, to be precise), and as he is getting married next month, it was time for me to find a separate abode.

So now I'm living in Atlanta, in a one-bedroom half of a duplex. Best of all, it's very conveniently located to the MARTA subway station, so no more vehicle commuting for me. I hate commuting, and it's why I avoided downtown for so long.

Anyhow, one consequence of my move is that my 'Net access has been a wee bit interrupted. I haven't set up a new service provider yet, and even if I had, my computer is still back at the old house. So until that's resolved, any text-intensive posts (like my She-Hulk series) are on hold.

But that doesn't mean I can't write about smaller things, and there's one I wanted to mention today. Without internet, I've watched a little more TV in the last week. I saw Boston Legal last week, and I caught my first episode of Conviction on Tuesday.

Both of these episodes shared an element that I've raked some comics over the coals for using: the astonishingly speedy trial. In Boston Legal, they had a civil suit get to summary judgment, and criminal bigamy case go all the way to jury trial, all within the week or so that the two main characters were on vacation. In Conviction, they had a murder case go from death to jury trial in what seemed like a matter of days.

Suddenly, a Manhunter or She-Hulk comic where a case takes three or four weeks to get to trial seems downright leisurely by comparison.

On Law & Order, where the characters' private lives are left alone and events aren't dated, one can presume that each episode spans months, and that episodes overlap. But when character-based B-plots are introduced, those can't be dragged out in the same way. Unless a writer can afford to have his story jump ahead months at a time, or drag out a case for multiple episodes or issues, the chronology has to be compacted. It's an instance where realism runs contrary to the dramatic demands of a story, and compromises must be reached. I still feel a week is unreasonably fast, but a month is definitely tolerable. This is a position I'd been moving increasingly toward, and seeing some worse offenders finally tipped the scale.

I still plan to mention in passing when a story speeds up a timeline, but it's not something I plan to dwell on again. I just hope no one tests my patience by emulating TV and offering up a Wednesday trial for a Monday morning crime.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

A Plea for Help

If you follow comic news, then by now you've probably heard about the Siegel/DC Superboy legal battle that saw some action last week. The Siegels' suit alleges that Smallville infringes on the copyright of the character of Superboy, a copyright that the Siegels (and not Warner Brothers) own.

With that question at issue, the case has the potential to be the greatest comic-related lawsuit since a federal judge declared in 2003 that the X-Men are not human.

Given the subject matter, and some aspects of the story that I'm a little unclear on at the moment, I thought it would be worthwhile to put together an piece on the issue to share here. The history, the copyright issues, my opinion, etc.

Unfortunately, the thing that's stymieing me at present is a lack of resource material. I'd like to get my hands on two things before I attempt to opine at length on the issue. I haven't been able to find either of these, and I thought it best to just ask if anyone could point me in the right direction. What I'd like are:

1) The 1947 decision that declared that Jerry Siegel owned the Superboy copyright. I'd prefer to get the full-length decision, but if anyone knows the citation number (e.g. 616 F.2d 42) or the actual case name, that would help me find it at the library.

2) Judge Lew's summary judgment decision from last week. He issued a written decision, and Variety and Newsarama managed to quote it some. I'd like to see it for myself. This is guaranteed to not be at the library, so I'll have to get it online somehow.

Any help?

Sunday, April 09, 2006

LA Times on Superhero Science

The original article apparently saw print a couple of weeks ago, but it showed up in my paper today. So enjoy:

L.A. Times: An (Un)Caped Crusader for Science

Could an overdose of gamma rays really transform someone into the Incredible Hulk? Was Superman defying Einstein's theory of relativity when he flew faster than the speed of light?

While other UC Irvine science classes dissect sharks or explore plasma physics, Professor Michael Dennin's seminar analyzes comic book superpowers.

In recent weeks, students in his Science of Superheroes course have investigated Batman's utility belt, pondered gravity on the planet Krypton and designed their own superpower concepts that would use existing or envisioned technology.

The 10-week class is part of a University of California program that aims to expose freshmen to unfamiliar topics and majors...

Dennin, 39, a UCI physics professor, said the goal of the seminar was to use pop culture as a hook to introduce such concepts as black holes, cloning, life on other planets, quantum mechanics and Newtonian physics.

"Many students have a fear of science," Dennin said, "but if they come at it from a different angle, they sometimes find out they're interested in the subject and take more classes."...

And the class's textbook? It's Lois Gresh's and Robert Weinberg's The Science of Superheroes. Once I'm settled in (I'm in the process of moving right now), I think I may need to finally check that book out for myself.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Read She-Hulk #1 for Free

I updated my list of free online comic books the other day, adding material from Marvel, Image, a whole series of #1's from Alias, and a few other scattered offerings. I also put together a trade paperback index that details what tpbs you should check out if a particular issue proved interesting. If you follow a link and buy a book from Amazon, I get a little share, so please feel free to build your personal library.

In the course of this, I was reminded that She-Hulk #1, which I reviewed below, can be read for free at Marvel's Digital Comics site.

So if you haven't read She-Hulk, go ahead and give it a try. There are two other issues, #5 and #8, available for free online too. And while you're at it, you can always sample another Marvel title, like Brian K. Vaughan's Runaways or Ed Brubaker's Captain America.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

She-Hulk #1

She-Hulk #1
Writer: Dan Slott
Artist: Juan Bobillo

Synopsis: She-Hulk, working for the NYC District Attorney's Office, has a big case against one Mr. Paxton, whose company improperly stored antarctic vibranium, causing a warehouse collapse and potentially endangering the health of people who lived nearby. In the middle of her closing argument, Shulkie is called away on an Avengers mission. The judge declares a recess, and after she helps to defeat MODOK (and Frostbite, assuming anyone cares about him), she returns and finishes her case. The jury returns a guilty verdict in mere moments.

But the celebration doesn't last long. The judgment gets tossed because of the potential prejudice that She-Hulk's heroism had on the jury, and as a consequence of that and her other misbehaviors (which are depicted in the issue), She-Hulk gets fired. At issue's end, though, her career problems are solved when she's offered a position with the prestigious firm of Goodman, Lieber, Kurtzberg & Holliway...but the job offer is for her alter ego of Jennifer Walters, and not for She-Hulk.

Analysis: Before reading Dan Slott's She-Hulk series, my only exposure to the character was in issues of John Byrne's Sensational She-Hulk that I'd bought out of discount bins. That was a very fun series, but Byrne did pretty much nil with his protagonist's legal side. About the most he did was to establish that she worked for District Attorney Blake Tower, which would be the same job that she loses in this issue.

(Quick question about She-Hulk: throughout the issue, Shulkie is depicted wearing glasses. Should this be taken to mean that despite all of her gamma-induced gifts, she still has poor eyesight?)

Most of the law and trial seen in the issue isn't terribly plot-relevant, but is mostly there as scene dressing. The only details on the "Paxton case" are those that we hear from She-Hulk's own mouth, so it's a little hard to pin down exactly what the case was supposed to be about. My gut reaction was that it didn't seem like a case that an Assistant District Attorney like She-Hulk ought to be handling. Its "Erin Brockovich"-esque elements make it sound more like a civil matter than a criminal one, and even if there's some kind of regulation involved, it'd probably be under the EPA or some other federal jurisdiction, and not the NYC DA's office. Then again, the details are vague and we are talking about the handling of a fictional metal, so it's entirely possible that the MU's New York has a statute on the subject. There's just too much to speculate about.

Perhaps the biggest oddity in the content of the trial comes on page seven, when She-Hulk's talking to her boss prior to trial. They discuss a witness that she plans to call, a witness that she says will "blow this case wide open." But three panels later, she's in the middle of her closing argument. What happened to the whole middle of the trial? It's clearly the same day, and She-Hulk is still wearing the same, seriously inappropriate courtroom attire:

(Aside from the low-cut peasant blouse, what this panel doesn't show is that She-Hulk is also wearing tight red pants. She's well-dressed for clubbing, but not for court.)

She doesn't finish her argument, though, because she breaks it off when she gets an emergency Avengers beacon, and announces to the court "I'm going to need a brief recess. I have to go...save the world." The defense objects, but the judge responds "For the sake of the greater good, Avengers business must take precedence," as She-Hulk vaults herself out of the courtroom to fight MODOK.

After the case is over and the verdict's won, She-Hulk returns to work the next day to get some bad news from her boss. The defense attorney dropped by out of "professional courtesy" to inform the D.A. that the defense "just successfully got a mistrial" on She-Hulk's case. It seems that since She-Hulk's recess activities involved saving the lives of everyone on Earth, then that gave her "undue leverage over [the jury] and would explain their speedy verdict."

First, a few nitpicks. A couple of pages earlier, the defense attorney asks the judge if there are to be any special instructions to the jury, to which the judge replies no. If you've ever served on a jury, you know that jurors get a mind-numbing set of instructions before they get to deliberate. Many of these are standard instructions, used verbatim for typical cases. But often there are also special instructions that are requested, to clarify certain details. The nitpick here is that it's usually the attorneys who propose special instructions for the judge's approval, and not the judge who imposes them of his own initiative.

A "mistrial" is when a judge ends a trial prior to a verdict being reached. Such as when there's a hung jury, or when a witness states some excluded evidence. Here, there was a verdict reached; a guilty one. The judge could toss the verdict for a good reason (as happened in the Todd McFarlane/Tony Twist case, but it wouldn't be called a mistrial.

And if the judge were going to toss a verdict, he wouldn't inform only one side of his decision to do so. In other words, D.A. Tower shouldn't be getting word of the judge's decision from opposing counsel.

However, I have to disagree with Tower's sentiments about this being a "dangerous precedent," and take the judge's side on this. Instant verdicts are guaranteed to raise suspicion. The prosecutor announced to the court, including the jury, that she had to go "save the world." The judge seemingly agreed with this (I think he holds some of the blame for letting this happen the way it did), and She-Hulk did go on to save the world. Given how that scene played to the jury, and given their near-total lack of deliberation before reaching a verdict, I'm definitely inclined to agree that the jury was prejudiced by She-Hulk's conduct.

That's not to say that there's no way to avoid these types of conflicting situations. It would be relatively easy to arrange for such emergencies. If She-Hulk got an Avengers beacon in mid-trial, she wouldn't blurt out heroic declarations in the jury's presence. She'd calmly ask to speak with the judge (along with opposing counsel) either at the bench or in the judge's chambers, where she'd explain the nature of the emergency. The judge would declare a recess, without telling the court exactly why, and She-Hulk would quietly and professionally pack up and leave.

And to be on the safe side, make sure the jurors are instructed to stay away from news reports. If a juror learns too much, he gets pulled and an alternate juror takes his place on the panel.

One would hope that Jen's new firm has arranged for such a contingency. Because even though subsequent issues depict Jen as the attorney in the courtroom, she could still get a call to duty and have to leave abruptly.

Next issue: Jen Walter's career with Goodman, Lieber, Kurtzberg & Holliway begins, and she takes the case of a superman suing over his origin.

Saturday, April 01, 2006


It's no Archive Edition, but I'll happily take the trade-off when it comes to price.

Written by Keith Giffen, Robert Loren Fleming and Paul Kupperberg
Art by Keith Giffen and Bob Oksner
The Bug is Back in this comprehensive volume, collecting stories from DC COMICS PRESENTS #52, 59, and 81; SUPERGIRL (Vol. 1) #16; ACTION COMICS #560, 563, and 565; AMBUSH BUG #1-4; AMBUSH BUG STOCKING STUFFER #1; SON OF AMBUSH BUG #1-6; and SECRET ORIGINS #48! Also included is the full run of another Giffen master of mirth, THE HECKLER #1-6!
Advance-solicited; on sale October 31 • 560 pg, B&W, $16.99 US