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Nexus Graphica: Amazement, Fear and Fastballs

Greetings, dear reader.

Rick explained the origins of “Nexus Graphica” in his reboot column last month — in fact referring to our original chat where we came up with the title, I discovered that my predilection for cutting prepositions was, well, predilectin’, even back then.

Which, given my sideline as a journalist, is no surprise. I’m always trying to cut those preps when and where I can.  Though I guess “sideline” brings up its own conundrums: Am I a journalist moonlighting as a novelist, or is it the reverse? Or am I a writing teacher who does both? It probably depends which of those particular hats has last paid for a bag of groceries.

I’m in the thick of novel composition as we speak, along with a couple of scripty projects. One of those is a long-gestating comics project with artist Douglas Potter, and another is…a script. In the L.A. sense. There’ll be more about these in future columns, as conditions, release dates, et. al., warrant. I was hoping to tie in the journalism side of things to this month’s column, since my “beat” as they used to say, in those pre-bloggy, newsprint days, is “showbiz.” Hence my being based in L.A. (Or perhaps it’s because I was in L.A., it worked out that way. Chicken, meet egg.)

I’m wrapping up some Award season coverage, which generally means trips to the Visual Effects Society Awards and the Oscars, and writing them both up. That doesn’t automatically translate into Nexus Graphica material, though in recent years, it has, given how superhero franchises have dominated visual effects awards — until recently. And now, after last year’s Life of Pi, and this year’s Gravity, one wonders if a “routine amazement” effect is settling in with big screen adaptations of superhero fare.

By which I mean: Though Iron Man 3 was nominated in that category, and while the various flukes of release calendars means we may have more capes & cowls in the next couple of award show cycles, you’ll note that superheroes have now taken their place alongside fantasy and “sci fi” offerings — i.e, other nominees like the latest Hobbit, and Star Trek offerings — as a genre where one of the demands is that the story is supposed to at least look amazing.

This is now implicit in audience expectation. It’s not a surprise, but a given, for your ten, fifteen or twenty-plus-dollars of ticket tariffing: “Well, of course that’s a talking dragon! Well of course that’s a Klingon homeworld! We know that! What kind of story you got?”

This is not to say that best stories necessarily win Oscars in other categories, but they seem to inform some of the perception of VFX work now.  What’s really amazing is to have a believable tiger in a raft, or animated bodies and space suits rendered around the faces of Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.

The idea of pitching a superhero film simply because “you’ll believe a man can fly” is now consigned to various dustbins of history (along with things like, say, a stable climate). So if we’re blase about being shown superhero powers on screen, does this mean the stories will be getting better?

On that note, I had hoped to see The Winter Soldier installment of the Captain America franchise by press time here — to at least talk about it in a general way — but alas, the screenings weren’t early enough. Word is that the story in that film is what makes it distinct. We will see.

Because I’d hate to think “comic book tentpole movie burnout” could be creeping up on me (or perhaps you, dear reader and audience member), but it might. The challenges of how to keep those capes fresh in comics are now the challenges of how to keep them fresh on screen.

However, when I’m next at-bat here, it will be May — since Rick and I alternate months — and anyone who wants to will have seen (and probably finished discussing) The Winter Soldier by then.

And superhero-wise, everyone will be thinking of the new Spiderman and X-Men installments anyway.  Interestingly, though, it’s a pretty safe bet that while either of those could be a likely Oscar nominee for their effects, neither will probably win.

After all, you already know a man can fly.

Meanwhile, spring’s other business is baseball, and Rick and I try to read some baseball-themed comics whenever we can. That is, when we’re not IMing each other about either the Giants’ prospects (my team), or the Astros’  (his team).

If it’s “weird baseball,” even better (which is actually what I’m working on with Mr. Potter, but I get ahead of myself — by a column or three). One new baseball-themed story crossed our virtual transom, and while it wasn’t “genre” in terms of fantastical elements, it was certainly baseball-y.

All Star is written and drawn by Jesse Lonergan, from NBM Publishing. It’s a 90’s-set tale. (Wait — when did “the 90’s” become “the past?” I had children in the 90’s!) Mark McGwire is making his PED-fueled run at Mantle’s season home run record, and in Vermont, a talented young pitcher named Carl Carter is about to write his ticket out of his small town, straight from his high school team to a college scholarship. If, that is, he can get through that last small-town summer, and his own self-mythologizing. (Though as we learn, the mythologizing in this case may not only come from the “self.”)

This is character study stuff, and doesn’t break new ground in terms of story ideas, but it’s well rendered, and brings up echoes of not only Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, but the now too-seldom-thought-of 60’s-era British film (and novel) The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner.

In fact, if All Star did nothing else but allow me to reference that Alan Sillitoe work, it’d be a success in my book. But Lonergan — who spends big chunks of this story away from the baseball diamond — is very good at rendering baseball play in comic form. If you’re looking for a good read en route to seeing your local nine this spring (or summer), this is as good a bet as any.

Meanwhile, in an alternate timeline where baseball isn’t even discussed, we have the Federal Bureau of Physics, Vol. 1  from Vertigo, written by Simon Oliver and drawn by Robbi Rodriguez.

Baseball probably shouldn’t be discussed, or even played, in the story’s universe, since the laws of physics don’t quite work the same way. What do you about infield flies when the effects of gravity can be suddenly reversed in local “bubble universes?”

The conceit of FBP, however, isn’t simply an examination of “A World Where,” as the movie trailers have it (in this case, “A World Where the Laws of Physics Can No Longer Be Relied Upon”), but of the misadventures of Federal Bureau charged with handling the various anomalies as they crop up.

Indeed, even this would be in a “well, we already know a man can fly” vein, since we’ve seen this in X-Files, Men in Black, and other “agency”-driven stories. (Heck, I even take on DARPA in my Danger Boy books.)

The most interesting thing about FBP actually, is the politics surrounding the agency, which puts this book right back into our universe: someone is trying to create an incident to embarrass the agency at budget-making time, in order to “privatize” the physics-policing, and turn a shared, public-sector service into something only, or mostly, available to the well-heeled.

Sound familiar?

There may more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy, but “realpolitik” works the same in most timelines. It’s what’s causing all the social fraying in this one. And it’s the best aspect of FBP. I hope they push the manipulated-anomalies (and bureaucrats) angle even more in Vol. 2, to keep the story lifted beyond “black hole of the week” material.

My favorite read of the past month or so, though, is one that’s still incomplete. I refer to Afterlife with Archie, a new zombie series, where Jughead’s skin may be withered and bone-drawn, but by God, he still has that crown on his head. I have a soft spot for the undead (having just finished a manuscript dedicated to ’em, though my agent is hearing that NY kidlit editors are insisting that kids themselves are no longer interested in reading about zombies. No, I don’t get it either), but even as a chronicler of such post-life adventures myself, I will concede there are certainly many of them around these days.

How does one distinguish oneself from the shambling pack?

Which makes it more amazing that Archie somehow offers a fresh take on them (if we can use the words “fresh” and “zombie” in the same thematic essay). After hearing such great word of mouth, I finally caught up to now hell-wrought Riverdale with issue #4.

What surprised me is the depth of the thing. By which I mean, the comic appears to resist the much easier path of being ironic and superior to the material. Instead, there’s something that you realize is too-often missing from horror in written or filmed form: a genuine, even wrenching, sense of loss. A doff of Jughead’s skin-stained crown to writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and artist Francesco Francavilla for such evocative material.

Granted, this issue does that, in part, by going “Old Yeller” on us, with a boyhood pup in flashbacks that becomes a staunch, four-legged defender during a zombie incursion. (Note that animals can wind up “undead” here too — a nice touch to post-corporeal cosmology.) But there seem to be genuine emotional stakes involved. Much as I might like “Sugar, Sugar,”as a well-crafted piece of 60’s pop, who knew Riverdale could ever deliver that? I plan to keep reading.

And of course, showing up here, in leap-froggy fashion with Mr. Klaw. Beware the Ides of May, for I shall see you again then.

About Mark L. Williams (3 Articles)
Mark is the author of the "Danger Boy" time travel books, and various forthcoming zombie & monster tales in prose and comic form. As a journalist, he covers Hollywood and its discontents for "Below the Line" and other publications, and teaches storytelling at Disney's Creative Academy, and other venues. Find him on Twitter @mlondonwmz
Contact: Website
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