Friday, August 19, 2005

Batman Begins - Part Two: Dressed to Chill

A recent comment on my earlier post about Batman Begins has me thinking more about the costume itself, and I realized in responding that I've got another post's worth of opinion to share.
Now, I love the film, and this is by no means grousing on what I think is a near-perfect effort, but I am in the camp that wishes they'd had the guts to forgo the body armor introduced in the 1989 Batman film.

The problem I have historically had with the Bat-armor is similar to the one that Sandy Collora (director of the Batman: Dead End short) has - which is that there is no body armor currently available capable of deflecting bullets that still leaves one flexible enough to do karate. Sandy argues that you are faced with a suspension of disbelief either way - either that a man can fight sans armor and survive or that a super-armor has been developed that doesn't exist in the real world. Similarly, I've always felt that Batman relied on fast moves and close combat instead of armor, and, in fact, the Batman Begins filmmakers seem to understand this too, as evidenced when Henri Ducard tells Bruce, "You know how to fight six men. I can teach you how to fight six hundred." Lucius Fox's later statement that the armor can stop anything but a direct shot also suggests they are actually "playing down" the armor of previous films, where their choice to keep Batman to the shadows reflects their understanding of his M.O. (Side note: I do like the heavier cape of some of the Batman films, which suggests that the cape itself may have some defensive qualities. Capes are impractical, yes. But you can't dispense with Batman's, so I'd like to see a martial art worked out specifically with that in mind, incorporating his cape into the combat in a way that made sense - both defensively and offensively.)

My second problem with his use of armor goes back to my analysis of his primary motivation - which you know from my previous post I conceive of as his (selfish) need to prove to himself that death cannot catch him unawares no matter what the situation. The use of armor negates the threat, and therefore, fails to feed the psychological need that compels the character in the first place. Simply put - it's a cheat. Recall again the line from Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns when Batman switches off the (rubber bullet firing) guns of the Batmobile, stepping out to face the Mutant Leader because, "he has exactly the type of body I wish he didn't, and I honestly don't know if I can beat him."

My third objection to the armor is that it is a strong connection to the previous franchise, whereas every other aspect of this film is a relaunch. The armor was the invention of the 1989 Batman (along with the unfortunate misconception that the Joker's mouth is frozen in a grin - a mistake that prevented Nicholson from using the full range of his facial expressions, and one which I hope the filmmakers will forgo for the next film in this new franchise. But I digress...) It was interesting to watch the statements released to the press before Begins was released. The studio was officially calling the film a "prequel," while the filmmakers, possibly cautioned about dismissing the previous franchise too openly, hemmed and hawed about whether it was a prequel or a reboot. However, their inclusion of Joe Chill as the murderer of Thomas and Martha Wayne (as opposed to the Joker) is an obvious indication of their intent to separate from the Burton/Shumacher monstrosities - and their allegiance to the continuity of the comic books - and it's even possible the body armor was a studio-insisted upon aspect of the production they were not allowed to challenge.

However, despite all of the above, I am slowly, grudgingly accepting the necessity of armor in a world where street gangs can have access to military grade weaponry, and if armor we must have, appreciate the attempts in Batman Begins to justify it as cutting-edge prototype technology. Furthermore, while no such armor currently exists, every day our technological world makes it a more credible fiction than it was in 1989. I am also a big fan of the animated spin-off Batman Beyond, so much so that I wouldn't object to that story becoming part of official DC continuity, and since that future Batman relies on a high-tech suit decked out with sensors and weaponry, it necessitates a gradual evolution from the current cloth suit to the future suit. In fact, something of the sort is already happening, as witness the computer-assisted vision and armor plating of Jeff Loeb and Jim Lee's recent two-part graphic novel, Batman: Hush.

One thing I'd really like to see incorporated into the live-action suit is the traditional white eye slits. I was hoping they'd forgo the black eye make up in favor of something like the plastic eye-bubbles used in the recent Daredevil film (the only aspect of Ben Affleck's costume I liked actually). Spiderman showed us that you don't have to have an actor's face visible at all for him to emote or for the audience to connect with him emotionally. And masking the eyes might actually lend Batman a psychological advantage and add to his intimidating visage. (It also makes it less likely that close associates like Rachel Dawes will recognize him.)

As to the cape - absolutely it should detach from the cowl. One of my favorite visuals is still the Denny O'Neil penned, Neal Adams draw desert swordfight between Ras Al Ghul and Batman, where Batman removes his shirt and cape but retains his mask. Also, the cape should fasten in the front, under his neck, not at the shoulders, so that it can hang down straight in front and completely cover him.

As to the yellow oval, revisionist history/fan opinion holds that it was added when Batman began his formal relationship with the police and was meant to reflect the Bat Signal, so its absence is justified here. Personally, I prefer the black and grey outfit to the blue and grey one, though it would be nice to see the actual blue and grey of the comics on the screen one day - just to see it "brought to life" somewhere other than (and hopefully more convincingly than) the old Adam West series.

A word on his height - Batman's height in the comics has long been established as 6'2". Of all the actors to portray him on screen, only two are this height - Adam West and Christian Bale. But Bale's Batman isn't heavily muscled. He's much closer to Bob Kane's original idea of the "acrobat-man" or Neal Adams renderings than he is to Miller's Dark Knight. (His temperament is closer to the O'Neil Batman as well.)

Finally, a few years ago, at the San Diego Comic Con, I met a guy in a Batsuit who I actually thought look the part. Both the quality of the suit, and the physique of the person inside, simply worked. Standing next to this Batman, it was the first time in my life I actually believed that someone could wear the costume and not look silly. This in broad daylight too. In fact, this guy was actually a little intimidating. And I'm not sure but what I didn't like the mask better than any of the movie versions. The utility belt could use some work, and I'd certainly go for a non-reflective grey for the tights, but otherwise I think this costume is spot on. And his torso should amply demonstrate to Hollywood producers that they can dispense with those sculpted latex muscles once and for all if they have the right actor in the part. Click on the picture for a larger view and see if you don't agree with me.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Life After WorldCon

Well, I’m sufficiently over my jet lag (which I’m told by several folks doesn’t exist and is purely psychological) and caught up enough on emails & busy work that I can hammer out a con report. This one was the 63rd World Science Fiction Convention, held at the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre in Glasgow, Scotland from August 4th to 8th. This is a rotating convention, held in a different venue each year. Last year was held in Boston, next year will be in Los Angeles, and 2007’s will be held in Yokohama, Japan. Overseas cons usually draw less than the 5,000 to 6,000 attendees of American ones, but I’m told this year’s drew a very respectable 4,100 folks (approximately).

I arrived at 7am Wednesday morning, and forced myself to stay up 38 hours till midnight Glaswegian time so as to be on the right schedule with everybody else, whereupon I slept till 9am and felt reasonably well the rest of the week. But this was as difficult convention to work. Ordinarily, World Cons are held in one central hotel – with maybe two or three ancillary hotels, all conveniently located. I can usually plant myself in “the” bar in the evenings and trust that everyone I need to talk to will amble by at some point. But this convention, the conference center was between a river and a convoluted octopus of highways and on and off ramps, and unless you were smart enough to get into the small adjacent hotel called the Moat House (I wasn’t – it having sold out before I’d even clued in), you were a cab ride away across the octopus in one of some ten or so hotels scattered throughout Glasgow. This meant that we had to cab it to the SECC in the mornings, stay all day, and cab it back in the very late evenings, making this a very hard day. To make matters worse, the Moat House had two bars, fore and aft, functionally impossible to negotiate between without going outside, but the official “party” hotel was the Hilton a good cab ride away, so there were at least three different locations where people gathered in the evenings. This, coupled with the spread out nature of the convention, meant you really had to work to find everyone you needed to see, and, indeed, I never found several folks I was hoping to meet up with. (Additionally, there was nothing else in the way of bars or restaurants in the immediate area, so I saw very little of Glasgow despite three excursions detailed below.)

Despite all this, I did managed to locate our international authors fairly quickly, and must say that the best aspect of the convention for me was spending some real time with Ian McDonald, Keith Brooke, Martin Sketchley, and Joel Shepherd, all of whom I met for the first time. (It was wonderful to see Justina Robson as well, and John Meaney is always a pleasure). The highlight was definitely hanging out with Martin and Joel, neither of whom were anything like I was expecting. (To write such sex and action-packed, turbo-charged adventure stories, Martin Sketchley is extremely quiet, exceedingly polite, and soft-spoken. Think a mild-mannered David Byrne.) We all got on famously and I look forward to a long working relationship with all of them.

Thursday night Chris Roberson’s policy of convention bar etiquette paid off. Chris’ M.O. is to pick one member of the wait staff, treat them well (something sadly not all con attendees do), and appoint them our single waiter for the duration. This time he picked Lauren, only two weeks into the job, and by week’s end she was refusing further tips, giving us all free drinks, and serving us after hours while turning everyone else away. That's Lauren on the left, along with John Picacio, Chris Roberson, and Yours Truly. Well, Thursday night she recommended a restaurant in town, which, although they were booked up, themselves recommended The Ubiquitous Chip down a cobble-stoned alley across the street. We were joined by authors Jay Caselberg and Laura Ann Gilman (former senior editor of Roc turned novelist), as well as my good friend Paul Cornell (excellent British author, also writes for television, including Coronation Street and Doctor Who) and his wife Caroline Symcox. In addition to wonderful conversation, I must say, the Ubiquitous Chip served the only good meal I had all week. I’ve also developed a fondness for “black pudding” – to my wife’s horror when I told her upon my return. (Google it if you don’t know what it is.)

Friday afternoon, Alan Beatts of Borderlands Books (one of the finest genre bookstores in America) hosted a Pyr signing. On hand were John Meaney, Chris Roberson, and Fiona Avery. They are pictured right, along with Alan himself and John Picacio. Alan would like to make the Pyr signing a regular feature of World Con, for which I am very honored. I lived in San Francisco in 2000, and of all the things I miss about that city, attending Alan's readings and events is probably the thing I miss the most.

Friday night was an adventure in itself. I’d been asked by John Parker of MBA literary agents to join him and a group of about twelve people for dinner at a Chinese restaurant called Loon Fung in downtown Glasgow. But the adventure arrived when he phoned to say dinner was being pushed back, and could we meet him at a private party being hosted by PanMacmillan at Borders Books. The party was fun – and everyone was there, but crowded and with bad beer. However, no sooner had we (Martin and I) arrived than Parker disappeared to another party, appointing Justina in charge and asking us to follow shortly. This one was held in a private upstairs room of a bar called TigerTiger. The party was fabulous, but, of course, John Parker was nowhere in sight at TigerTiger, though our game of “chase the white rabbit” continued when he called from the restaurant to summon us on. Loon Fung was unexceptional (hence I’m not bothering to hunt up its url), but was worth it as I got to spend a relaxed hour or so outside the con talking to John Meaney and his wife Yvonne. John is still the nicest person I’ve ever met and one of the top science fiction authors working today in my admittedly-biased opinion.

Saturday morning I was on a well-attended panel entitled “Not the Hugo Panel” about who should win the fiction awards (verses who would). I was quite flattered to be asked, as my fellow panelists including Gordon Van Gelder of the Magazine of Science Fiction & Fantasy, Charles N. Brown, publisher of Locus, and Ginger Buchanan, executive editor of the Penguin imprints Roc & Ace. The general consensus was that Ian McDonald should win in a just world, and I was pleased to be able to mention our edition of his novel, along with Mike Resnick’s upcoming collection New Dreams for Old (as two of the short stories to be included therein were on the Hugo shortlist for “Best Short Story.”)

Saturday night I attended the best party I’ve ever been to at one of these things, thrown by Harper Collins’ Australian imprint Voyager. Chris Roberson, Allison Baker, John Picacio, Martin Sketchley, and Pyr & Voyager author Joel Shepherd came along. But what made it was the venue, “the Tall Ship at Glasgow Harbour,” a converted sailing vessel build in 1896, later converted to a freighter and given an engine, now a dance hall with kitchen and bar. As we boarded, we were given a pirate kit which contained pirate hats, pirate eye patches, and, for a lucky few, swords and hooks. I didn’t get the latter, but did manage to grab a necklace and some gold dubloons, which sadly were solid plastic and not the chocolate I was hoping for. (That's me with Martin Sketchley and Joel Shepherd on the left.) I was also able to catch up with English novelist Graham Joyce, and meet his wife and adorable children. I was also able to indulge my newfound fondness for black pudding (have you googled it yet?).

Sunday was a panel entitled “Where is the Heart of Genre”, addressing the question of whether short fiction or novel-length fiction drives science fiction today. I was on alongside Analog editor Stanley Schmidt (editor of the oldest running SF magazine), authors Harry Harrison and Ian R. MacLeod, and critic Paul Kincaid. Sadly, my role as moderator kept me fairly subdued, as this was a topic I felt I had quite a bit to say on. The panel went alright, but was in a huge space with a raised stage, and the combination of bright lights and four hours sleep the night before made it not as exciting as it could have been. Later in the Moat House bar, the aforementioned super barmaid Lauren came over, asked me “Can I get you anything?” and when I declined, told another drink-seeking famous author to his face, “You have to go to the bar for service!” Lauren really did make an unexceptional bar exceptional! If her boss is reading this - give her a raise!

Sunday night was, of course, the Hugo awards, made more thrilling this time by my first ever attendance of the before-hand reception and the after-hand “Losers Party”, made possibly by virtue of my being John Picacio’s date. The reception featured some really nice Glaswegian smoked salmon, along with other good finger food, and I was able to catch up with several authors, among them China MiĆ©ville, Kelly Link, Christopher Rowe, Benjamin Rosenbaum, and Ian McDonald. (Pictured left are Campbell nominee Chris Roberson and Hugo nominee John Picacio.)

The Hugos themselves were quite interesting, the SECC’s Armadillo theatre being the nicest venue I’ve yet attended the ceremony in. Authors Paul McAuley and Kim Newman were splendid MC’s, preparing an hysterical speech that attributed the awards to French writer Victor Hugo (as opposed to Amazing Stories editor Hugo Gernsback) and projecting an alternate world in which France developed the atomic bomb first due to the influence of its “fiction philosophique,” going on to dominate the world through an army of automatons who will execute any gauche enough to serve red wine with fish.

Of our folks up for awards, only Mike Resnick and Jim Burns won. (John Picacio did take a Chesley award at an earlier ceremony, for a cover he did for a Tachyon Press trade paperback). Mike’s “Travels with my Cats” took Best Short Story (to be collected in New Dreams for Old along with his other nominee, “A Princess of Earth.”) Jim Burns is the artist for John Meaney’s four novels, Paradox, Context, Resolution, and To Hold Infinity. I met him earlier in the convention, along with his agent Alison Eldred, both of whom were very nice, and they both had glowing things to say about Pyr.

But it was at the Losers Party afterwards that things got interesting. You see, Ian McDonald was up for Best Novel. Now, very predictably, that went to Susanna Clarke’s bestseller, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell. The book was Time Magazine’s pick for Best Novel of the Year, as well as the pick from BookSense. It took her ten years to write, weighs in at over 800 pages, and had sold film rights and foreign language rights in 30 countries before it even appeared in the US, so there was no way this 800-pound gorilla wasn’t going to win. (And I am very happy for Susanna that it did - make no mistake.) But up against it and River was China MiĆ©ville’s Iron Council (the finest fantasy novel I have ever read), vanguard SF writer Charles Stross’ Iron Sunrise (who also had two nominations in the Best Novella category, one of which won), and bestselling Scottish author Iain Banks, (huge in his home territory). So when I learned that River of Gods came in second behind Jonathan Strange, and trailed by only a few votes, I was blown away. This can only mean good things for Ian in future.

Poor Martin Sketchley, who had managed to sneak onto the private bus after the Hugo Ceremony, couldn’t get in the party. By the time we smuggled him out an invitation (donated by Paul Cornell), he was gone. Chris Roberson did spend the rest of the evening getting folks from the bar outside into the private room, but Martin had called it a night. I did spend a late evening with Liza Trombi of Locus and Jetse de Vries, co-editor of the new Interzone, and this proved to be one of the highlights of the whole con for me.

Monday was the Pyr panel. In attendance were Keith Brooke, Ian McDonald, John Meaney, John Picacio, Justina Robson, Chris Roberson, Joel Shepherd, and Martin Sketchley. They were all crowded onto a stage on one side of the room, with Yours Truly at a podium on the other side, and a big screen between us. The room was packed to capacity with about 60 people. I gave a talk with a PowerPoint presentation, showing our second season titles and artwork from our third season. Then each of the authors said a few words. Then we opened the room for questions. Of all the panels I sat on or attended, this was the most lively, with a lot of enthusiasm, questions, interest, laughter, and even a thunderous ovation for my rapid-fire description of Martin’s The Affinty Trap. Which - with pseudo-spoilers - went something like: “Bruce Willis’ character from the Fifth Element is interrupted in his pre-credit sequence rock-climbing vacation for his Mission Impossible 2 assignment, which is that George Bush slash Barron Harkonnen of Dune wants to send him to kidnap the empathic metaphor from Star Trek: The Next Generation. But along the way, the lead falls under the grip of her pheromones and they have wild Species 2 cocoon sex before absconding to Babylon 5. Then, when George Bush slash Barron Harkonnen kidnaps her back, Willis has to team up with the riffraff outside Judge Dredd’s Megacity for an assault on Bush’s fortress.” All delivered in one run-on sentence burst, thank you. Now breathe.

Afterwards, I talked with Steven H. Segal, publisher of the upcoming Earthling lifestyles and culture magazine, and then pronounced the con well and truly done. As everyone else was too tired to move, Allison Baker (who was horribly sick but adventurous) and I left everyone behind and heading out in a cab in search of a real Irish pub (we found two), and some real Guinness (sadly, it was being served “extra cold” everywhere now, as a ploy to attract stupid young people who won’t drink it properly room-temperature. I learned for the real stuff I must now go to Dublin, but what we found in the pubs was at least better than what the hotel bars served). Along the way, we spotted a real blue Police Box, one of only 12 still in existence, and, of course, the model for Doctor Who’s time traveling TARDIS. Chris, who refused to budge from his Moat House bar seat all day, was well and truly mortified when he learned that he missed it. Sadly, neither of us had our cameras with us so this fan-produced model of the interior shall have to suffice.

And that's all folks. All in all, it was a fantastic convention.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Prepare for the Infoquake

Next summer, we'll be debuting a brand new novelist named David Louis Edelman. David is a web programmer and computer trainer, who has worked with the U.S. Army, the FBI, and the World Bank. His novel, Infoquake, isn't really like anything else I've ever read. First of a trilogy, Infoquake is a novel of science fiction business, set several centuries hence in a very detailed future world, and can only be described as Dune meets the Wall Street Journal. I'm very exciting about the book and really interested to see how it is received. But before the first volume comes out next July, David will be promoting the Jump 225 trilogy on a special website which launched earlier this week. He'll be growing the content throughout the year (and beyond), but you can already get a taste here.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Wiki Willy Wonka

I am immensely flattered. An editor at Wikipedia wrote me last week and asked if he could use the plot summation from my earlier post "Golden Tickets to Hell" Willy Wonka- Tour Guide of the Abyss" in the Wikipedia Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory entry, along with a link & a credit in the "external links" section. I must say that I am amazed at the scope of the blogosphere sometimes.