Monday, May 25, 2015

Week of 05/25/2015

Cuba Needs Its Glasnost
I suppose that sooner or later I’d have to talk about Cuba.
Little island 90 miles south of the Florida Keys, yet it’s the source of so much pain, so much misery, and so much orchestrated drama!
The big news, in case you were hiding under a rock, is that President Barack Obama wants to “normalize” relations with the Cuban government.  That means bringing back the embassy, ending the economic and travel boycotts, and basically letting people go to and from there.
On the face of it, that sounds fair.  I mean, we’re supposedly the only ones boycotting Cuba right now.  And it’s not like we have anything to genuinely fear from them in the 21st century.  We have more to fear from Cobra... oops, I mean al Qaeda... than we do from Cuba right about now. 
What, are they going to flood the market with Cuban cigars?  Send tobacco to a hypocritically hypersensitive nation that treats smokers like lepers?  Right!  What else?  Empty out all of the asylums and give us the loonies?  Oh, wait, that leaky raft already sailed.  Send us the drug trade?  Oh, wait, the other Latin American countries already do that.
I mean, come on guys, the only reason why Cuba was such a threat to us was because of the fear that they’d get nuclear weapons from the Soviet Union.  The Soviet Union isn’t around anymore, and Russia can’t even control its neighbors, much less try to export anything to Cuba that could start us down the “Dr. Strangelove” route.  In fact, the only thing Cuba’s been bringing in of late is our suspected terrorists so they can be held in the Yankee Gulag once known as Guantanamo Bay.
Now, understand that my father served in the Navy and was actually involved in the two major incidents concerning Cuba.  He was there during the Bay of Pigs fiasco – the one where some of the history books still claim we weren’t involved in – and he was on the USS Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. (DD-850) during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  And I think that my father’s recollection of those events have helped me get a better understanding about what do to with Cuba than, say, the average cable news viewer that only gets what the political consultants tell them to think.
When I think of Cuba, I can’t help but think about its former sponsor, the USSR, and what happened to it.  And I think that what the Soviet Union went through, Cuba now needs.
So what brought down the almighty Soviet Union?  Well, obviously they couldn’t keep up with the Cold War.  It was a game of attrition that they ultimately lost.
But before that, there was Glasnost.
Glasnost was the policy started by Soviet Chairman Mikhail Gorbachev.  “Glasnost” is Russian for “publicity”, and Gorbachev used it to bring in a period of transparency for the government in the hopes that it would end rampant corruption and abuses of power.  In the terms of saving the government, it failed miserably.  But what it did do right was it helped open the eyes of the Soviet people to what was out there.  It allowed people to look at this supposed “ultimate evolutionary phase of society” and saw that it did not live up to the rhetoric.
Think about it.  If not for Glasnost, there would’ve been no Boris Yeltsin.  No Yeltsin, no uprising that would ultimately collapse the Soviet Union.
And let’s get brutally honest here... that is precisely what Cuba needs right now.  Cuba needs its own Glasnost for it to move forward.
Now I know the critics – and there are plenty of them – are looking at this idea and are saying “Yes, but what about the Castros?  They’re still in power.  And they have a horrendous human rights problem!  When will they be brought to justice for what they’ve done over the decades?”
And you’re right.  They’re still in power.  And they’ve done some really bad things in the past.
But you know what else?  That’s really on us.
We screwed up on so many levels with Cuba that it’s not funny.  We created the conditions for Fidel Castro to take over.  We put in the government that Castro overthrew.  We screwed up in trying to get rid of him when we could, and then we agreed after the Cuban Missile Crisis that we would supposedly stop trying to do that.  We took in all of the people that would otherwise overthrow Castro, and didn’t really give them an incentive to go back there and fix things.
Think about it.  All of the people that could’ve been a threat to the Castro Brothers were either in prison, dead, or sent to the United States.  And there’s been no effort on the part of the refugees to go back there.
So... what, are we going to wait until the Castro Brothers die off?  They’re tough old farts.  You know this.  And even if they did manage to shuffle off this mortal coil, what’s to say that some family member or some underling wouldn’t just keep the status quo going?  Remember, pretty much everyone that would have wanted change is over here, in America.  What you have over there are the people who tolerate the Castro Borthers and aren’t seen as a threat.
You want that to change?  Open the doors.  Let the Cuban people see what they’ve been missing all these years.  Let them trade in their beat-up 1950’s vehicles with 21st Century ones.  Bring in McDonald’s and Wal-Mart and Master Card.  And then ask them if they still want to maintain a 19th century German fantasy that was pushed by 20th century idealists and try to compete when the rest of the world – including “Mother Russia” – is a whole century ahead of them.
And if you think about it... what better justice would there be than to see the principals of the Cuban Revolution see with their own dying eyes that what they struggled for all these years would be rejected?  That won’t happen if we just wait for the Castros to die off.
Change is not easy.  And it doesn’t really happen overnight, despite what you may think.  But it has to start somewhere.  It just doesn’t come out of nowhere.  You may not like that it’s coming from Obama, but you need to accept that someone has to do it, and since we helped to create the problem all those years ago, it’s fitting that we are the ones to get the ball rolling.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Week of 05/18/2015

DC: You’re Still Doing It Wrong
Comic book creator Gerry Conway recently did something that not too many people would have the courage to do.
He actually apologized for something he said.
Conway had initially issued a scathing article about the policies of DC Entertainment when it came to royalties over the characters that Conway created.  Specifically the character Caitlin Snow, otherwise known as Killer Frost, who is currently seen on the CW series “The Flash”.  Although Conway’s version of the characters is not the same as currently seen in the comics, and certainly not the same as seen in the TV series, Conway believed that DC did owe him some money in royalties.  DC, however, said this was a “derivative” character, and thus not enough to justify paying royalties.  This was the same justification DC issued when it came to another one of his more famous creations, the fan-favorite (and mine) Power Girl.
Conway pointed out that DC has been on a tear of late turning long-established characters created by artists no longer associated with the major publisher into “derivative” characters, supposedly so they wouldn’t have to pay royalties to their creators anymore.
“According to DC, Sterling Gates and Derlis Santacruz didn’t create Caitlin Snow,” he said on his Tumbler account. “Don Newton and I didn’t create Jason Todd. Ric Estrada and I didn’t create Power Girl. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster didn’t create Superboy. Bob Kanigher and Carmine Infantino didn’t create Barry Allen.  These characters just appeared out of nowhere.  But the money for their exploitation goes directly into DC’s bank account.”
Since that scathing accusation, Conway has been in touch with DC brass, and apparently had a “Come to Jesus” meeting with them so now he’s saying that the DC people are supposedly trying to do right by him.
“While I stand by at least one of my basic points... I need to walk back pretty much everything else, especially my characterization of the motives of the men involved in developing, explaining and implementing DC’s creators equity program.”
Well I’m glad you had your “Come to Jesus” moment, Mister Conway.  But that still doesn’t fix the other problems that DC has with the people that have been reading and appreciating the comics over the years.
Let’s get brutally honest here... while DC Comics (and DC Entertainment) have been doing a bang-up job on TV when it comes to their newer live-action shows (except for “Constantine”, and that I blame directly on Comcast-owned NBC), their comics have been failing on so many levels.  They may try to do right by Conway, but they aren’t doing right by the readers that pay for the comics that they can then pay royalties to people like Conway, never mind generate the fan base that will then watch and support those TV shows.
This isn’t a recent fail, either.  This is something that has plagued DC like a cancer for years, slowly eating away at its readers, and causing them to smack their foreheads in frustration.  These are things that haven’t really been addressed, simply imposed on and told they need to “accept”.
Here are the key problems that need to be addressed.
Eternal Crisis Syndrome: Yes, “Crisis on Infinite Earths” was a ground-breaking and all-important storyline that allowed DC to hit the “reset” button and fix some problems that were decades in the making.
Unfortunately they have not stopped using the “crisis” storyline, nor have they stopped hitting that damn “reset” button.
In fact, it’s gotten worse.
Overlapping Crisis Storylines: First there was the “Fifth Week” problem, when a special “crisis” would manifest itself simply to fill a “fifth week” release schedule.  Then there was the “Fifty-Two Week Crisis” idea, spawned from the “52” miniseries, which told a little bit of the story every week over a 52-week period.  But while the original “52” was designed to fill in the gaps over a missing year, the “Fifty-Two Week Crisis” idea was transformed into a build-up to yet another “Eternal Crisis” story.  The first one of that idea was “Countdown”, which became “Countdown to Final Crisis” and led into “Final Crisis”. 
But one special build-up wasn’t enough.  There was also “Amazons Attack”, which led into “Countdown”.  And then there was “Death of the New Gods”, which was also very loosely connected to both “Countdown” and “Final Crisis”.  Oh, and let’s not forget “Countdown: Arena”, “Countdown to Adventure”, “Countdown to Mystery”, “Countdown Presents The Search for Ray Palmer”, and “Countdown Presents Lord Havoc and the Extremists”.  All of which tied into “Countdown” and led to “Final Crisis”.
Most recently there was “Future’s End”; a weekly mini-series that turned into a springboard for the current “Eternal Crisis” event, “Convergence”.  Not only that, but there was “Earth 2 – World’s End”, in which the very same Earth 2 that DC Comics re-imagined and defended was unceremoniously destroyed and some of their characters ended up being dumped into the main story arc of “Convergence”.  Why?  Apparently it’s “because shut up!”
Oh, but that Earth 2 is not the actual Earth-2 that readers remember.  Somehow that got saved as part of “Convergence”. 
Then there is...
Disjointed Side-Stories: Again, this isn’t new.  “The Kingdom” had several side-stories that really had no connection to the main storyline but used characters from “The Kingdom”, which was based off the classic “Kingdom Come” miniseries. Basically anything that could be used to further develop a main story was split off into side-stories, which readers then have to buy to get the full story.
Wanted to know how Batman got Wonder Woman’s lasso needed to free the Justice League in “Forever Evil”?  Go buy “Forever Evil: A.R.G.U.S.”.  What happened to the Teen Titans after confronting Johnny Quick in “Forever Evil”?  You have to read their comic series to find out.
“Convergence” has actually gone one further in coming up with multiple side-stories based off characters and settings from DC’s past – the very settings and characters that fans loved and wanted back – and then dropping them off on a strange world where they have to fight other characters from other past stories in order to survive.  And they don’t appear to be connected to the main story in “Convergence”.  A lot of these appear to be “fairy tale” sendoffs, giving readers a chance to say good-bye to their characters. 
Remember when Lois Lane was happily married to Superman?  Well say good-bye to that and congrats to their new baby and we’ll now return you to the dysfunctional barely-existing romance of Superman and Wonder Woman, and to Lois Lane’s eminent douchebag move of exposing Superman’s secret identity to the world.
That bring us to those...
Radical departures: Remember when Lois Lane was a professional journalist?  Kiss those days good-bye with her outing of Superman as being Clark Kent!  Oh, and he’s back to wearing jeans and a tee.  And he has a new power which expends all his energy so he’s human for twenty-four hours.  And he can’t fly anymore.
You want a flying Superman?  Well there’s Val-Zod... yes, a dark-skinned Kryptonian named Zod... or perhaps you’re looking for Calvin Elliot, President of the United States, who bears a striking resemblance to Barack Obama, and was the Superman from the “Multiversity” miniseries.  Or maybe you want the Hispanic-raised Superman also named Zod in the forthcoming “Justice League: Gods and Monsters” animated movie?
Remember when there was outrage over Wonder Woman wearing pants?  You’ll beg for those days as she’s now going to be wearing super-complex battle armor.  Or maybe you want the red-haired New God version of Wonder Woman from “Gods and Monsters”?
Bruce Wayne is dead, but Gotham has a new Batman... and it’s Commissioner Gordon in anime-style Gundam armor.  Or perhaps you want a vampire Man-Bat from “Gods and Monsters”?
Remember Wally West?  Well he’s not ginger-haired anymore.
Oh, and remember Power Girl?  Not the same busty blonde young woman that Conway created.  Now she’s a sassy teenager who is neither blonde nor busty.
It’s almost as if the DC hierarchy is saying “Okay, you want your favorite characters?  Well, we’ll bring them back, but on our terms only and we’ll pervert them so you’ll never be able to connect them to the characters that you remember!”
And that’s the part that still makes me wonder if this is all part of DC’s plan to not pay royalties to people like Conway.  It certainly explains the ongoing effort to redefine and remake old characters into completely different ones.  Conway may be content with what DC is doing, but I’m certainly not, and I suspect I’m not the only one either.
And then there’s one more thing that DC has been doing that they really need to stop.  And that is their...
“Hunger Games Fetish”: When DC re-launched their “New 52”, one of their first cross-title storylines was called “The Culling”.  It took three groups of DC characters and pitted them against each other in one-on-one battles for survival.
In other words, it was their first attempt at reenacting “The Hunger Games” series.  And it sucked.  It was a waste of time and money and it ultimately did nothing to help advance the characters involved.
Well that’s what the side-stories for “Convergence” are.  They’re all “Hunger Games” stories.  Each “city” that was preserved is told that their champions have to fight the champions from another “city” in order for that city to “survive”.  If they refuse, then their city is destroyed along with everyone there.  If they lose, then their city is destroyed along with everyone there.  In other words... “Hunger Games”, with Telos as President Coin.
Now it’s one thing to go to the “Hunger Games” plot once.  But to use that same plot again on an even larger scale when it failed the first time around, that’s just laziness. 
I get that DC Comics needs to make money.  They’re a big corporate entity and part of an even bigger corporate conglomerate.  But they’re not going to do that if they continue to alienate the very readers that have been supporting them all these years.  That’s precisely what they’re doing with these continual and overlapping “crisis” storylines, with radical departures that seem to have no reason behind them other than “because shut up”, and side-stories that seem to be nothing more than a naked grab at more revenue for people that look for answers to those already-confusing “crisis” storylines.
It’s strange that the comics are failing the fans when DC’s live-action TV ventures are doing so well.  If they keep this up, maybe the TV writers will end up working for the comic publishers. Then at least there would be something that the fans could come back for.