Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Vampire Venn Diagrams

As a self-professed Buffy addict and reluctant reader of Twilight, it was only a matter of time before I gave in to the multiple recommendation of trusted friends to watch CW's hit series The Vampire Diaries. Thanks to Netflix watch instantly, I've quickly made my way through the first two seasons and I'm enjoying the guilty-pleasure indulgence. I am hooked by the story of feuding Salvatore brothers Damon and Stefan as they vie for the affections of human teenager Elena. There are also witches, wolves, and evil doppelgangers to keep things interesting. My initial assumption about the series was that it was for pre-teens too young to watch True Blood and needing something to follow-up their Twilight binge, but I now appreciate the show for what it is: a love letter to the teen horror romance genre. The writers of the series have seen what was done before and have upped the teen high school dramatics to the max. One may mistake the obvious influences as proof of lacking originality, but I suspect the similarities are not beyond the show's creators. It is more likely that they are fully aware of the borrowing and use it as a way to hold a mirror up to the genre's more ridiculous (and frequent) aspects. The original Vampire Diaries books were written by L. J. Smith in the early 90's, and though much has been changed for the television adaptation, the main concept is still pre-Buffy, pre-Bella, and pre-Sookie. That makes this teen protagonist vampire story ahead of its time. Since good artists borrow and great artists steal, here is a quick guide to all of the best overlaps from TV's hottest teen-vampire-romance-high-school-drama-horror-fantasy series.

Love Triangles

We'll start with the most obvious thing that Buffy, Bella, and Elena share: complicated relationships. Each story has a love triangle that features one human girl caught between two supernatural suitors, usually against her own common sense. Each possess a dangerous element, whether it's Buffy's Angel who could turn into evil Angelus, Twilight's Edward finding Bella both attractive and appetizing, or Stefan who has an unstable ex-girlfriend and equally unstable brother Damon. None of these relationships scream "healthy" but the alternatives usually aren't much better. Former companion to Angel's evil Angelus, the vampire Spike is literally soulless. Vampire Diaries' Damon is manipulative and quick to murder. Bella's Jacob may be the only sane alternative, and considering he is a werewolf he still doesn't fall in the realm of "normal". One thing is for sure, no ordinary human is much competition for the affections of the women in these vampire franchises.

Broody Beaus

The furrowed brow. The piercing eyes. The hair. These guys have a lot more in common than a weakness for underage girls. Each one carries around the same amount of guilt for being a vampire, and this quality seems to make them irresistible. Did I mention each has had 100 years to brood? They have been miserable for most of that time until meeting their mortal mates. They also pull the same "I am too dangerous, I must leave" routine at one point (or more). Dangerous and controlling? Winning combo! Though she later forgives him, at least Buffy sends Angel to hell for his lapse of morality.

Bad Boys and The Women Who Love Them

Damon and Spike. So many similarities. Both are ruthless killers, quick tempered, and each has an insatiable thirst for human blood. So why are they so damn attractive? These boys are damaged goods, but they are convincing at hiding what lies beneath the surface. The heartbreak they felt as humans  manifests in their sadistic behavior as vampires, their rage inspired by their loss of love. Rather than self loathe, they self medicate. This makes it all the more moving when they attempt to change their ways for the love of a human. But 100 years of murderous habits don't go away over night, ladies.

Mystical Small Towns & Their Unwitting Inhabitants

Where there are vamps, crazy stuff goes down. The local communities seem none the wiser in Mystic Falls (Vampire Diaries), Sunnydale (Buffy), and Forks (Twilight), though each town has a long history with the supernatural beings that frequent their villages. Animal attacks are popular explanations in all three series. Angel, the Buffy spin-off, is the only series that keeps it real in Los Angeles where crazy stuff goes down and no one notices because "Hollywood!"

Veggie Vampires

Every girl that dates a vampire has to tell themselves the same lie: He's different cause he only eats animals! And each one of these vamps falls off the wagon at some point. This adds to the appeal of the "bad boy" character. Spike and Stefan are inspired by their love to fight their murderous nature; Angel and Edward were already yearning to retain their humanity before falling for a human.

Yes, Sire!

Behind every brooding, reluctant vampire, there is usually a sexy, manipulative vampire that sired them. Darla (of Buffy) and Catherine (of Vampire Diaries) each created their vampire companions out of a twisted sense of love, but mostly because these guys were hot and could prove useful. Being a vampire also allowed these women to amass great power when the era of their births (the 15th / 16th centuries) would have denied them opportunities as humans. These vindictive creatures come to discover that their self-serving habits don't prove effective in protecting them from feelings of abandonment when their creations eventually spurn their love.

Witchy Best Friends

Bff's that can hold their own in a fight with vampires? Kind of handy to have around. Buffy's trusted friend Willow is loyal no matter what, even when Buffy makes questionable decisions. Bonnie on the other hand has a much harder time accepting Elena's choice of companions, and for good reason. Her family history keeps her from ever fully trusting the vampires and this makes her a valuable person in Elena's life. It would be nice to see her struggle with the responsibility of her Wiccan gifts as Willow does in season 6 of Buffy.

Vamps vs. Wolves

Image courtesy of Draw For Me
by Jeremy Kron
The vampire / werewolf rivalry is not a new concept to the horror genre, but it is one that is reinforced by these three series. Both Twilight and The Vampire Diaries make these creatures natural enemies that are deadly to one another while Buffy portrays werewolves as cursed humans rather than soulless demons. Since the Buffyverse is inhabited by many more demonic creatures, there is a a much greater spectrum of moral ambiguity amongst them (especially in the Angel series).

Strong Female Leads That Aren't Entirely Defined By Their Relationship

Whoops. Guess Buffy kind of has a monopoly on that one! I felt the need to point this out since this is one area where Twilight and The Vampire Diaries fall short. Buffy isn't even the only strong woman in the series either. Willow, Faith, Cordelia, and Anya each have distinct character arcs that do not begin and end with "meets boy, falls in love." Though Bella and Elena do exhibit admirable qualities, they play the damsel in distress a little too often, nor do they make great role models for how a teenage girl should organize her priorities (aka dangerous vampire boyfriend above all else). I'm hoping The Vampire Diaries will surprise me, but that will only happen when I ask more questions of Elena besides "Which vampire will she choose?" Buffy may have super slayer abilities, but she's the only female lead that makes being a human girl look bad-ass.

Not every Buffy fan will love Vampire Diaries, nor will every Twi-hard be bowled over by the Whedonverse. But I do believe that these series share enough similarities to check them out if you are a devoted fan of one (or possibly two). Buffy fans will love the over the top relationship drama of The Vampire Diaries, and if you are team Spike, you'll love Stefan. Twilight fans will enjoy Buffy for the element of forbidden love, and they may be pleasantly surprised by how much a strong female lead can add to the story. And lastly, if you are a fan of The Vampire Diaries, consider this series a gateway to a whole world of horror / fantasy genre television shows, books, and comics. Vampires are just the start as you may find yourself watching Dr. Who and reading Sandman sooner than you think.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Under The Radar: 2011's Best Geek Gifts

So you know your girlfriend / best friend / co-worker reads comics and enjoys various nerd cultural phenomena, but you have no idea what to get them. Sound familiar? It's tough. These are the people that are most likely to buy themselves that highly sought after collectible. They know what they want, and that makes your job as gift giver a tough one. No fear! Here are some suggestions that will have your loved one feeling thankful and hopefully surprised. Enjoy more gift ideas after the jump!

The box says it all: "A Taste of TNG in High Definition." This is a perfect gift for several reasons. It will not be released until January, so you know they won't have it, and it's something that not every Trekkie will get for themselves, but they will enjoy nonetheless. This sampler collection contains three classic episodes of Next Gen, the first to be re-mastered for blu-ray. Paramount will surely release a complete series of TNG on blu-ray in the future, but it will probably be astronomically expensive at first. Until then, this is the perfect gift to make that wait a little easier. Since this gift won't arrive before Christmas, here are some suitable alternatives / additional items:

You may be familiar with Brandon Bird's work and not even know it. Several of his pieces are "internet famous", and all of them are wonderful works of art that will make unique gifts. Bird's work spans a wide range of subjects from his recent Jurassic Park piece to Law & Order: SVU portraits. These go beyond fan art as each print is memorable, humorous, and eye catching. Give your friend a print of "Nobody wants to play Sega with Harrison Ford" and it will sure to be a conversation starter. There is plenty more to buy on his site as well, with some of his pieces available as t-shirts, lunchboxes, sticker adventure sets, and coloring books, too.


Etsy users are kind of a geeky crowd. There's even a section called "geekery". Just searching for Doctor Who items resulted in 3,098 returns. There is a good chance your loved one doesn't have these item (they aren't mass produced) and with so many options, you're bound to find the perfect gift. Here are a few favorites:

And though this is not from Etsy, it is my all time favorite fan made Doctor Who t-shirt design from Threadless:

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Marvel Cancellations: Smart Business or Proof of Insanity?

It has been widely speculated how Marvel would respond to DC's New 52, especially with DC dominating media attention and market share in the last three months. Would they do a "revamp" of their line as well? Would they try to use their new parent company to gain a wider audience? Would they keep calm and carry on? We may now have our answer with recent announcements that Marvel is canceling several of their lowest selling series, yet offering just as many issues as last year.  Instead of offering a wider variety of titles to appeal to more readers, Marvel's (continued) strategy will focus on "double shipping" their flagship character titles each month, forcing loyal customers to spend more and make up for Marvel's loss in short term sales.

As of late, I've found it hard to find the time to write about comics. I have been reading plenty, but few subjects seemed pressing enough to motivate me to make the time to voice my opinion. The month of October I failed to make Halloween costume suggestions or spooky reading recommendations, and come November, my lack of writing had become habit. It's unfortunate, but this recent change was the motivation I needed to get back on schedule and talk comics. I just wish it was something fantastically positive rather than a shitty marketing change that has me talking.

The (un)official announcements were made several weeks ago, but now with February's solicitations set, it is confirmed that X-23, Ghost Rider, Daken: Dark Wolverine and Black Panther: The Man Without Fear have all been canceled. PunisherMAX will also be "ending" as opposed to getting canceled. Marvel has no official press release regarding these cancellations and most fans found out following sad tweets from the book's creators. I'm assuming Marvel failed to bring attention to these cancellations  because the headline would read something like this:

"Marvel to Cancel Female / Black / Bisexual Superhero Titles"

That's one way to read the news, right? X-23 and Ghost Rider are the only current ongoing female headlined superhero titles. Daken is the only headlining character that could be described as "not entirely straight", and Black Panther certainly isn't the only black character, but he's only one of two with his own title (Miles Morales has very recently joined those ranks). So for those keeping score, of Marvel's solo superhero titles to be released after the cancellation of these titles:

18 = White Male Dudes
0 = Women
1 = Minority
(and even that title, Ultimate Spider-Man, won't see a release in the month of February)

Marvel does have three titles headlined by female characters, but none of them are in the capes crowd with Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, Anita Blake: Circus of the Damned - The Scoundrel, and Northanger Abbey. I guess Marvel does have a place for female characters, and that's in the adaptations of other works. The majority of Marvel's titles are team books / minis (they add up to around 20 releases for February), and female and minority characters do show up in these, but with the almost always guaranteed white straight male majority.

Two observations here: one, this doesn't reflect the real world. Two, this doesn't even reflect the readership. Instead of doing something risky like, I don't know, investing advertising and making it a priority to increase readership for these lesser-read titles, Marvel has made it clear that they are abandoning the readers on their fringe. The ones that look at the shelves in the comic book store and don't see themselves reflected on the covers of these books. The sales don't lie, they should cater to the loyal throngs of readers picking up three different ongoing Captain America titles, right? If short term sales are their only goal then yes, Marvel is doing exactly what they should. Trimming the fat and making a leaner line of books that produce more of "what sells" would seem smart, only they don't have anything to gain. This is all about maintaining the status quo, not expanding readership. Much of what I am saying could also refer to the "New 52" as DC has not shied away from stating that males age 12-30 are their target audience (not sure who else would buy Catwoman these days), but hey at least they have something to offer me as a reader with Wonder Woman, Batgirl, and Batwoman. I happen to like male superheroes, too, but the comic book market is not in short order of readers like me. I already buy what they are making. If Marvel and DC have any hopes for the long term health of the market, they have to start making comics that appeal to the people that aren't buying their books already instead of trying to get their current readers to buy more, or bringing in "lapsed" readers.  Creating books featuring more females, minorities, and just plain different characters is a start. Until then, Marvel is just reinforcing the view that heroes may come in all shapes, sizes, colors, or creeds, but they are only interested in telling the stories of one kind of hero.