Sunday, January 1, 2012

When One Door Closes...

I was going to make this announcement last year, but ironically enough, I just didn't get the time to do it.  But the first day of the year feels like the right time to do it, anyway.

Long story short, I'm closing up shop on "House Rules!".

True.  We've had a pretty good run here on the home site.  But it's been a long while since I've been able to devote the time that I wanted to spend keeping up with the blog.  A handful of revivals have been tried, but they kept seeming to fall short.  So I've decided to turn the page on this blog.

Did I say this blog?  Yes, before you start to shed too many tears (and seriously, you better not have been close to doing that...), I should elaborate and explain what my real plans are.  Starting with... well, right now, my main blog site for all things everything will be Planet Houston.

I admit, that it's a short move.

So why am I bothering?  It's a silly idea, but I've decided to make an upgrade to how I present things on the old interwebs.  I wouldn't necessarily call it a branding, but I've decided to push a site name more personal (and more connectable) to me.

What This Means

It means that effective immediately, Planet Houston will be where I post my news, reviews, rants, and other assorted ramblings.  It goes without saying that the plan is to be a little more proactive with the posting of said items.  Facebook and its convenience has made me a little lazy when it came to updates, but I'm going to try my darnedest to produce actually worthy content on a regular basis.

I apologize for my harsh language.

What This Does Not Mean

This does not mean that the horrifically inactive Planet Houston Podcast is dead forever.  It is still in hibernation, but the new usage of its page does not mean that it can't return. It just means that if it does, it will be sharing space with other articles.

Also, House Rules! is not going away, either.  I have no plans to erase this website, and it serves as a nice archive of everything that has come before.  In fact, I'm about 99.9 percent positive (maybe more) that the House Rules! name will remain around in some form or other no matter what I do.  I'm that attached to it.

So that's that.  I'm not going to get overly nostalgic when the truth is that there isn't a tragedy occurring.  Still, this old bird has had an adventure or two.  And the small handful of friends that I've had supporting it have been pretty worthy company.  More than worthy, really.

So thanks for all of the kind words, laughs, tears, and most important fun that we've shared over the past few years.  But believe me when I say that it's not quite over yet.  I'll see you over on the Planet.

On to the next big thing...

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Very Odd Lot Christmas...

I remember last year around this time.  I was just barely getting my feet wet with the Odd Lot Comedy Troupe. I wouldn't describe myself as a nervous wreck, but I was still "the new guy" in the group.  Well, one of the new guys, anyway.  I wouldn't say that I lacked confidence, but I definitely was less sure of myself as a performer then.  Still, the gang was always more than supportive and even accepting of me.  And I think that because of that, I was able to relax more and over time, become a better asset to the group in general.

Christmas is a special holiday for the troupe for several reasons.  For one, the holiday represents a marker of sorts for the group.  One of the original performances of the group proper was an improv rendition of A Christmas Carol.  We recreated the self same tale (more or less) for last year's holiday show.  I still have fond memories of the occasion.  Me as Ma Cratchet.  Gabe as my disturbing, substance addicted daughter.  The unsettling, rather itchy wigs that glued the whole thing together.  Eventually, we both died.

Good times.  Good times.

For another thing, the show forgoes the  standard format of a regular show and includes as many members of the group as possible.  Something really special always happens when all of us are together.  Seriously, I think something mystical might actually happen when more than six of us are near the stage at one time.  Some rogue demon of mirth and/or merriment may well appear, sending forth flames of joy and gnashing bones in the spirit of comedy in its truest form.

Happy Holidays.

This year, we are forgoing the official retelling for a more traditional holiday special.  Well, maybe "traditional" isn't the right word for it.  It's hard for us to do anything that's truly traditional.  But the theme of holiday cheer and frivolity will still ring true.  There's guest stars, there's music, and there's bound to some huge laughs along the way.  I daresay that within the first five minutes of the show, you'll be more than reminded just how diversely funny and talented a group of people the Odd Lot are.  To say more would be to give surprises away, and that's best served for the time that they are set... to... surprise you.  Yeah, that makes sense.

And I wouldn't be surprised to see that old familiar Christmas tale rear its head at some point.  I don't think we'll be able to help ourselves.  But we'll see.

And if you bring an unwrapped toy for Toys for Tots, you can get in for free.  You give a gift to someone else, and receive laughter.  It's the third greatest gift (shame on you if you don't get that reference).

The Odd Lot Comedy Troupe presents its final performance of the year: The Odd Lot Christmas Special.  Monday, December 19th (that's tonight) at 8PM at Muse Arts Warehouse.  Admission is a $5 suggested donation or a gift donation to Toys for Tots

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Women in Comics - Part 1: "What a Girl Wants..."

So I got to reading Laura Hudson's commentary on the... ahem... interesting new turns that took place in several of the "new DC universe" comics this past week.  The stories in question involved two female characters, Starfire (in the pages of Red Hood and the Outlaws) and Catwoman (in the pages of... well... Catwoman) and have been the source of considerable buzz for the company. 

I'm not going to go and rehash every single point that Hudson made in her article.  Her points stand fairly strongly on their own, and I think her perspective gives them that much more impact.  I can't possibly speak for female readers or fans myself.  I can only speak as a male with what I'd like to think is a firm (if limited) understanding of what women might appreciate from their fiction.

I've heard the arguments concerning this, and I figured I'd address a few here.  Forgive me if this gets sporadic, but it covers a few more points than the Superman article I wrote a few weeks ago...

"Women should be able to be portrayed as sexual beings.  And they should be allowed to express that sexuality freely."

Hell, yes.  I am more than in favor of that.  But before you start reaching for the high five or making your pig noises, let me elaborate.  This should be done as a further enhancement of characterization, not at the expense of it.

I have fought countless net wars defending She-Hulk's validity as a character and her honor versus the dreaded "s-word".  Why must a woman be considered a slut simply because she chooses to have sex - and you know how the rest of that argument goes.  Aside from the double standard, it's just a cheap, senseless joke to imply that being "easy" makes her less of a character.

But along similar lines, sexual freedom needs to be explored in a somewhat respectful manner.  Dan Slott chose to cover She-Hulk's perceived promiscuity from a realistic angle, having her (and others) occasionally question her freewheeling activity as a sign of a potential problem.  Of course, in the end, she still allows herself to engage in sexual activity, but within the context of the story(ies), there is a certain level of accountability.  And really, it never even came up as much as people act like it did.

But my main point is that at the end of the day, the character isn't defined exclusively by their sexuality.  You know, just like how it works in the real world.

RE: Starfire "Starfire is an alien.  Why can't an alien have an alien view of things like sex?"

Again, yes they can.  And I'd welcome a new, fresh, or even inventive take on a character.

But there should still be a character there.  In particular, re-envisioned characters should have enough cues to appeal to their old fans while still offering something new to new readers.

What then is this new Starfire offering us in Red Hood and the Outlaws?  T&A?  All due respect, but that isn't a new thing.  But on top of that, we get... well, very little else.  What we were shown was a cold, detached, functionally disinterested woman whose only primary interests are wrecking people's #&*$ and having sex with the nearest available target.

That's nothing like the character that we have come to know and love.  In fact, it misses one of the key elements of Kory's existence: passion.  She has always been a passionate person.  She fights ferociously, yes, but for her friends and for causes that she believes in.  And yes, said passion translates into physical affection as well.  But not as some half-interested, recreational tryst with the nearest appendage with a pulse.

To clarify this further, I'll cite the example of the Teen Titans animated series.  The show made the choice to display the characters on the team as actual teens, most likely to be relateable to their target audience.  But what's funny is that their version of Starfire still feels like Starfire.  The core of the character, a positive, passionate, alien girl, remained and was, heaven forbid, entertaining.  Heaven forbid any of the kids (or adults) that watched that show try to check her out in this new incarnation.  They'll probably be left wondering what on earth happened to the character they thought they knew.
Remember that one ep where she bagged everyone in Titans Tower?  Yeah, me neither.

To add insult to injury here, this new comic version of Kory is literally a shell of how we remember her.  According to the story here, Kory barely remembers her old teammates in the Titans as anything but a blur of memories, and looks at humanity in general as just a flash of sights and sounds.  So she dehumanizes all of humanity, and then goes so far as to treat these unimportant, unmemorable life forms as sex toys.  Man, that's compelling characterization.

If you really had to have an alien character fit a bill like this, why not use a new alien?  Or heck, dig up Starfire's sister, Blackfire?  She is literally the @-hole version of Starfire, and retooling her for this "team" would have made some sense.  It would still be an empty, piss-poor character that I didn't care about, but at least it wouldn't be a mischaracterization of someone I do care about.

RE: Catwoman "Catwoman and Batman have 'done the deed' before.  What's the big deal?"

An argument like this ignores the bigger picture.  The issue of Batman and Selina's relationship isn't the problem here.  It's more or less a matter of the presentation.

Unlike Starfire, I do see Selina as a bit more of an impulsive or sexual creature.  So, in theory, if they wanted to "spice" her book up a little, then so be it.

But did we really need this?  It's one thing to imply that Bruce and Selina have a sexual relationship.  It's another to hint that it's a little kinky here and there.  And it's another entirely to show them going at it, costumes and all, as the climax (pun intended) of her first issue.  This isn't the time or place for this kind of explicit imagery.  Especially not in a book that isn't specifically targeted to mature audiences.

I mean seriously, people.  I usually have to turn off my Safesearch to find an image like this.  But it's actually the last page of the book:
At least they were tasteful enough to leave out the prerequisite grunting noises...

I've learned to overlook some of the larger oversights of the past decade.  The killing and subsequent razing of the corpse of Sue Dibney comes to mind (again, all done without any sort of mature content warning).  But as you continue to target older audiences, you alienate an entire younger generation that you could be reaching.

And that's to say nothing about the image you set in your books about females in general.  It's like you either don't understand or don't care about the female demographic.  What is a young woman... heck, any woman supposed to think when faced with what you present them with as an idealized female hero?

And forgive me, since I know there are likely many examples of less controversial and better rounded females making the rounds in some of your titles (more on this soon....).  But are they being talked about right now?  Are you even pointing to them as part of your press spin?  Or are you trying to milk the "controversy" for as much publicity as you can?

"A new universe means characters should be allowed to be reinterpreted in new ways."

This is a reasonable point to make in some cases.  The problem with this argument when used as a blunt force hammer is that it becomes a blanket statement for defending bad decisions with character choices.  "It's a new world, so why can't people be empty, vapid shells of their former selves?"  See?  doesn't sound so logical and sensible when you put it that way.

I think the main issue that has come from the way females have been presented in several of these new titles is exactly what Hudson states: the women are not women.  Yes, they've got the lady parts to prove it, but you know what I mean.

 Let me speak on behalf of at least myself (if not what I would hope was a majority of the men on the planet) when I say that the oversexualized, free ranging image of a woman portrayed by so much of mainstream comics world (and specifically by DC in these titles) is not what I want in a woman.  Not even a fantasy woman.  And even if I did, I wouldn't necessarily want or expect that image to be displayed as the mainstream theme of a major publishing company.

At the end of the day, these are your characters belong to the company.  They can and will do whatever they want with them.  The readers, however, do have an attachment to them, and you as the writers, editors,etc. have an obligation to show them a level of respect.

There is a fine line between making things intriguing and making a spectacle of your stories just for the sake of doing it.   All of the people touting how cool and great it is to see your characters whoring themselves out and mounting each other mid-page should not be the group you're attempting to reach in this new, dynamic universe you've been pitching.  They will either get bored and abandon you or eventually force you to raise the stakes to the point where you alienate every other type of reader.  Even if that remains profitable, wouldn't it be that much more profitable if you could appeal to both groups without completely abandoning one of them?

That's about all I have to say on the matter.  For now, anyway.  When I revisit this in Part 2, I'll talk about one of my favorite female characters, and why she somehow never seems to get the respect that she deserves.  Seems to be a lot of that going around lately...

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Where Have All the Cowboys Gone...

I'm briefly reminded of an episode of Greatest American Hero. In it, Ralph Hinkley is excited to find that the actor that played the Lone Ranger on television is coming to town. He excitedly tells his friends and his students about it, going so far as to arrange a field trip to hear the Lone Ranger speak at the local mall. Ralph, unable to properly express what he loves so much about the Lone Ranger, ends up blindly repeating the same statement over and over again: "I grew up on this guy."

Over the past few months, DC Comics has been talking about rebooting its comics continuity (or in simpler terms, starting again from the beginning). Along the way, this means new tweaks and origin stories for many of its characters. And among the most directly affected is the Man of Steel himself, Superman.

Now bear in mind, we haven't seen a ton of what this new Superman is like. Most of our information at the moment is a limited appearance in issue one of Justice League, and a few previews and interviews connected to the upcoming Action Comics #1.

Action in particular will spend time covering the history of Superman and his early crimefighting days. The reaction to this new version of Superman appears to be polarizing. People seem to either love or hate the changes, which involve having Superman be a brasher, more direct, and cocky hero (at least initially). I've heard the reasoning behind why someone should be excited about these new changes, so I decided to list out some of the more popular "pro" arguments and my reaction to them.

PRO: "In Grant we trust..."

Probably the simplest and most easily understood of the pro arguments. With Grant Morrison running Action Comics, he no doubt brings with him a solid fanbase of supporters. Said supporters (I refuse to derivatively call them "fanboys" since every artist has them...) will follow the title simply because they love Morrison's work. And no matter how different or even controversial a story might seem at first, they will stick with it, because they know eventually he will pull it all together in a way that they will enjoy.

Here's my singular issue with that: I don't fall into that category. I respect Grant Morrison and the massive body of work he has accumulated. But for me, I've always been 50/50 when it comes to liking his work. For every really enjoyable creation or story he's created, there's one that leaves me scratching my head. And no matter how many times people tell me that they make more sense on multiple readings, I just can't find the drive to reread his stories more than once. That's just not the kind of storytelling I'm looking for in my comics.

PRO: This Superman is more "relatable."

I've heard this one a few times. Basically the argument is that this new Superman that doesn't always play by the rules and isn't a "boy scout" is more human. People can find a connection to him easier because he acts "like they would if they had the power of Superman."

What this argument neglects, however, is that part of Superman's character strength is that he is beyond reproach. He is above the corruption and moral ambiguity that most of us would suffer from. And this is good. Because a person running around with that much power and not enough restraint would be horrific for so many reasons. And really, they wouldn't be the hero that the world would look up to, and they certainly couldn't become the icon that every hero in the known universe aspires to be more like.

On top of that, you lose the impact of one of Superman's greastest enemies: Lex Luthor. A core element of Lex's character has always been that he harbors an inborn jealousy of Superman. Not just of the raw power that Superman possesses, but of the incorruptible moral fiber that Superman has. Lex resents that such a being exists, as it contradicts everything Lex has learned or been taught about the way of the world. If nothing else, Lex secretly wonders, "Why him? Why not me?"

Creating a flawed Superman presents a chink in the armor. It's a glaring hole that Lex can use to turn the entire public against Superman. Heck, half the world will be against Superman right off the bat, because Superman is not the walking paragon of righteousness that he normally would be. And to me, that's kind of a shame.

PRO: This Superman will grow into the hero we all know and love. And it will be fun to see that happen.

Don't get me wrong. It's a timeless story, and when well told, it's an enjoyable one. A hero, initially well intentioned but misguided in their actions, learns to overcome their own personal flaws and become a better person. And by doing so, they become a better hero.

It's a good story. Very Greek. I'd even say I love to see that journey in a hero. Problem is, that isn't Superman. It's not his story, and it doesn't fit him. On top of that, I've actually seen the story done with a guy that has an 'S' on his chest. His name is Superboy. And given his background and history, it does fit him.

The thing is, you don't tell a good Superman story by making him human and then finding a way to make him great. You tell a good Superman story by letting Superman be great, and then finding a way to bring out his humanity. There's a subtle, but important difference there.

And if you must tell a story where Superman shows his mortal failings, then it's just that: a story. A single arc or standalone that highlights that he's having a bad day/week/whatever. You don't give him an "I used to be an ***hole" phase that he will never be able to live down.

PRO: This version of Superman is more like the way he was when he originally premiered.

Ignoring that the character premiered virtually a lifetime ago (and that's considering good luck and healthy living...), there's nothing that inherently says that reverting a character to its original form is the most logical course of action. Exploring it is always an option, yes, but implying that it's somehow the natural thing to do - a logical evolution of a character - makes no sense.

Otherwise, why have we seen a relatively untouched Batman as opposed to a "reversion" to the gun-toting, villain killing hero that was part of his early days? If that had happened, no doubt the Bat-fanbase would go ballistic to screams of, "Batman would never do that! That's not what Batman is!" Which leads me to...

PRO: This new look will probably bring in new readers and increase sales.

Sales are an important factor in any business. And it would be crazy to expect a company, even one in an artistic medium, to trade potential sales over some sense of artistic integrity. Obviously, if you think you can make more sales, you make a change.

The question then becomes what happens to sales once the flash and sparkle of the initial issues wears off. Will older readers who were turned off by the new changes come back and help support/boost sales? If you decide to change Superman gradually back into the more noble, "less relateable" character that kept your new readers away, will they stick around or jump ship? No one can say for certain, but it's been my perception that the end result of dramatic changes for the sake of creating new interest is usually a return to the status quo, both story-wise and sales-wise.


So what does all this mean? Well... nothing. At the end of the day, I'm just one 30-something guy with an opinion and without a crystal ball. For all I know, a decade or two from now, people will be whimsically talking about Superman's Boy Scout phase in the same breath as they do the period that Superman juggled planets and constantly antagonized Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane. And whether the world will be a better place (or DC will be better off financially) because of that, I can't say.

But for me, I kind of feel the way that Ralph Hinkley did during that episode of Greatest American Hero. I'm just staring off into space, trying to explain to a bunch of kids why it should even matter at all, and finding that the only argument that matters to me is, "I grew up on this guy..."

Sunday, August 21, 2011

"... in twice the time Jack Bauer has..."

This weekend I had the good fortune to check out the showing of the submitted projects from this year's 48 Hour Film Project. It was interesting to see what the various participants came up with in just two short days. In truth, the most difficult task I found myself with was reminding myself that these films were produced in that short a time span.

It was easy to get lost in the moment and want to be overly critical of some of the submissions. Weird camera angle here, dangling plot there. What was the point of that shot again? But then, I found myself reminded of Midsummer Night's Play Festival. Yes, it was fun. Sure it was chaotic. But in the end, the challenge (and overcoming it) was the thing. In just twice the time that we had to put a stage show on, these people created a film.

I won't argue which was harder to do. Both have their specific quirks and requirements. But I have to believe that, all things being equal, there's a certain level of security that the stage provides. People are (I think) far more willing to suspend their disbelief when they know the magic is happening right in front of them. And I have to believe that the triangle of writing/filming/editing is probably slightly more hectic than writing/directing/acting. If nothing else, filming certainly holds more potential for chaos.

So I have to tip my hat to everyone that successfully completed the challenge (even those that might have crossed the finish line a little later than they should have). With the small mountain of things that could have gone wrong along the way, it was definitely an accomplishment to have created anything, let alone a legitimate short film feature. And each and every one was entertaining in its own way.

All in all, it was a great experience. It's the type of thing I could definitely see myself getting involved with next year.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

"Bloggus Resumus!"

I don't normally talk about my adventures with the Odd Lot Comedy Troupe, but after last night's Harry Potter show, I felt like sharing a small snippet of the insanity that transpired.

Being based on a wizard school, you can imagine that spells flew fast and furiously in last night's show. And of course, not all of them would be Hogwarts approved. Here is a short list of several of the spells cast by me during various points of the show, along with a brief explanation of why said spell was cast:

"Admittus the Truthus!" (as the bad cop half of a wizard interrogation)
"Police Harrassicus!" (when said interrogation went bad)
"Winnus Snackus!" (to the lucky winner of the Odd Lottery, teh brave victim of said interrogation)
"Needus Paternicus!" (I need an adult)! (while being held by Lord V)

Note the list might have been longer, but being cast as Ron for most of the show meant that my wand was repeatedly taken from me for safety reasons. Speaking of which, here's a brief list of incantations that I didn't get to use, along with a brief explanation for why they were never spoken:

"Logicus Prevailus!" (because really, that spell would never work)
"No more cryus, Pantsus Dryis!" (because Ron kept getting his wand taken before he could cast it)
"Arvydas Sabonis!" (not used because I'm likely the only one that remembers a forward from the 1990's Portland Trailblazers)
"Coffee-us Hottus!" (because the bad wizard cop never needed a cup of coffee)
"Ala, Peanut Butter Sandwiches!" (simply because I forgot; and the world is a worse off place because of it)

And note, this is just the stuff that I was responsible for. You can imagine that the rest of the gang got just as crazy at various points in time.

So if you haven't been to a show yet (or just need an excuse to show up), make sure that you find the time to stop by. Next week is our audience participation show, and it goes without saying that the more, the merrier. So Audience Returnicus! Or Checkus UsOutis! Or... you know, I'm just going to stop now.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

"...are all that I'm taking with me..."

I've been getting a mad crazy amount of sleep this week. That's not the update, but it's more of an indicator of how much of my life was being taken up by the prep and subsequent performances of Bay Street Theatre's production of Boys Next Door. The wrap-up of the show last week was every bit as bittersweet as I expected (although the cast party this Tuesday was truly epic... who knew Bill Cooper had such an epic Buddy Holly in him?).

"Bittersweet" would be the word of the day for this story. I'm really happy to hear that so many of the people that came out to see the show enjoyed it. I even ran into someone randomly tonight that told me I had done a good job. I wouldn't have expected that (the getting recognized by someone on the street, that is; I'm slowly learning to accept praise as a good and normal thing.).

It reminds me, though, of what so many others have said with regard to the show. Until we actually got feedback from the performances, I don't think that the word I would have attributed to the show would have been "bittersweet." After all, there are plenty of humorous moments to be had with the characters. And while there are quite a few sad or even tragic moments, I'd like to think that they are outweighed by the positives.

And yet, so many people have said how sad parts of the show have made them. Many people, my friend Tina included, have mentioned how they were moved to tears at points. I wouldn't have expected that. I guess somewhere along the way with all the repetition of lines and movement, it was easy to tuck the overall emotional impact of the show into my back pocket. And while I may have joknigly said so at one point in the production, it wasn't my goal to make people cry.

But it's nice to know that so many people were able to be touched by the show. It's really, refreshingly surprising, and a wonderful thing to take away from the end of tough, but fulfilling production.

Still, "bittersweet" is the word of the day. Bittersweet that our success came at the expense of so many tears. Bittersweet that what became such a heartwarming experience could not be shared with more people. Bittersweet that it will likely be a while before I attach myself to a project like this again.

But remember, even in the bittersweet, there is still some "sweet". Perhaps I'll try to take more of that with me as time goes on.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Wrapping Up The Boys Next Door

I find myself going into the final week of performances for Bay Street Theatre's The Boys Next Door, and it has been a phenomenal experience. It's been a silly, stressful, melancholy, funny, crazy ride, and I've loved every minute of it.

When I accept a role in a show, there's always part of me that quietly wonders what I'm getting myself into. I've only been in a few productions since returning to stagework about a year ago. And while I'm fairly confident in my abilities, it's still a little daunting to put my talents to the test.

It's always a strange point in the show's run for me. The desire to finish the final few runs of the show are tempered with the bittersweet realization that soon it will all be over. Part of you wants the show to go on, while the other part of you is quietly planning what, if anything to do with all the extra hours in the week you're about to get back.

But most of all, I find myself really proud of the show that we've put together. I'm usually not one to get all sappy about a show (and I'm still not), but I really find myself wanting to share the experience with others.

(And I'm not just saying that because everyone that's come to the show already absolutely loves it and it's given my confidence a huge boost. Although I'll admit that fact doesn't hurt...)

So if you have a few spare hours this weekend, and happen to find an extra buck or two in your pocket, take the time to check out our last few nights of the show this Friday and Saturday at 8PM. And if you can't make it for whatever reason, try to help get the word out about the show. Your friends and family will thank you for it. I hope.

(What? My confidence can't soar forever.)