Ballad of a Bikini Cowboy

So, you are interested in "Bikini Cowboy" and saw my name all over the wiki submissions we have, eh? And you are probably asking yourself just exactly what a cowboy (or, in this instance, a cowgirl) does with a surfboard in the Old West. Well, dear reader, allow me to show you.

First, a surfboard is handy for shielding horseback riders fleeing from a house that was just ignited into a fiery inferno by magical flour dust.

Second, a surfboard is super handy for digging for water - provided you have a little boy with the ability to divine where water is in the first place.

Finally, a surfboard is perfect for sliding down a ravine and into your arch nemesis - again, provided you have access to one of these.

Perfectly logical, when you think about it.

Now, there is another use that gets shown in the book but it isn't necessarily an intended use. Whisky Jill, our protagonist, gets strapped to it as a sort of crucifixion. So, while it is a use, it shouldn't really count because I am sure she wasn't carrying it around just in case she got crucified by some crazy preacher.

In the end, nothing is more satisfying than using your surfboard to do this:

Yeah. While I love this book, I have no idea what happens in it.

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Do Not Read Tarot

Now let me tell you this: Nobody should ever read “Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose.” It is terrible.

I don’t know why I decided to start this series when there is already so much good stuff out there for me to read. Stuff that I am behind on. Stuff that I would love to read. (I'm looking at you, “Walking Dead.”) Maybe I got excited that there was so much wiki work to do. Maybe I’m a fan of ironically doing stuff. Maybe I’m a guy and I like cheap thrills that involve well-drawn dames. Maybe all of these are correct and I know exactly why I started reading this series.

Presentation

Let me first address the quality of the comic itself. It lacks. For some reason, Jim Balent allows the colors to be so dense. It’s typically all dark and blends into itself. (Later stories to lighten up considerably.) To make matters more frustrating, he uses dark fonts to narrate against a black backdrop. This can be very difficult to read, especially with my digital copy.

In addition to dark hues, Balent opts at times to do without panels. Check out the picture below and try to make sense of: 1) how to view the flow of the story, and 2) what is even happening? I’ve read this page multiple times and I still have to walk myself through it all upon viewing it again. (I’d tell you what is going on, but it is so stupid.)

Panel

The Girls

Granted, Balent is very talented at drawing. Especially women. Anyone looking for a cheap tease could at least enjoy the first ten issues, as Balent seems to find joy in showing as much of his ladies as possible without actually showing all of his ladies. For instance, that blue witch chick in the previous Panel picture, she’s wearing a spiked chest thing. (“Chest thing” because it isn’t a bra and it certainly isn’t a shirt.)

The tease, while fun, doesn’t always make sense. Please look at this picture of Tarot:

Unsanitary!

She has just finished a bath, put on a robe (belt and all), and entered the kitchen with a man she just barely met. Then she sits on the counter and, for some kinky reason, removes her belt and sits her butt on the counter while talking to the stranger. So, she exposes herself to him to sit on the counter and then re-robes upon getting off the counter? This makes no sense.

Another example? If I must. Remember the blue witch from above? Remember how it looks like her boobs are bleeding? Well, it’s because she takes her huge, spike-chest-thinged boobs and does this to a man:

Unlikely!

How in all the world did she do that? How could she aim spiky nipples so expertly into that dude’s eyes? His eyes are way too narrow for her nipple range. Ah, she’s a witch. Right…

I like good-looking girls. I don’t like pandering. These instances, a brief sampling of tons more, are pure attempts at pandering to a male audience.

The Problem

But who cares about a stupid comic that panders to sweaty young men? Well, I do. Jim Balent himself has claimed that he hopes that “Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose” will inform people about the mystic arts, as well as the empowering of women.

Come again? I can see the mystic arts education, as Balent sprinkles lore and rites throughout the book, but he does so while exploiting women, not empowering them. The examples already cited are just the beginning of the slippery slope. Not only does Balent use sexy women in his books, but he abandons all auspices of portraying them as a tease and goes full-blown nude after the first arc or two.

I could to a laundry list of how Balent goes out of his way to make every woman in his book be as naked as possible (like a fairy that zaps everyone’s clothes off during an “innocent” sledding excursion or when a bad guy cuts off all of Tarot’s clothes in a fight and then she spends the entire next issue standing around in the fore naked while considering the meaning of life while the bad guy is getting drowned in the background) but I’ll stick to the most egregious example:

In one of the filler issues (#54, to be exact) that blue witch from above finds herself trapped in a fairy tale book. She hates fairy tales because the women in the stories are always so dependent on a man to make their lives better. She sets off to empower these fairy tale women. Allow me to spoil the book by stating that she merely convinces each character to go naked. Yes, now they are empowered! Enjoy your body! That’s where you true strength lies (says every frat boy at a wet t-shirt contest on Spring Break). So, if you have ever wanted to see Cinderella, the Little Mermaid, Red Riding Hood, or Snow White naked then check this issue out. It is clearly why Balent wrote it this way.

To make this issue more absurd, Balent makes the Little Mermaid’s tail begin below her knees. Why?

Un-thought out!

To draw a mermaid thong.

The End

I started reading this series. I stopped after the first two arcs. The writing (which I didn’t really cover) is trite and atrocious. The art denigrates into pure smut. And the worst part? Balent’s wife approves every issue – she is the production assistant.

(On another note, do you think the Little Mermaid was made to look like Balent’s wife, Holly Golightly? You gotta click on the pictures.)

Also, Balent seems to be shooting himself in the foot by showing such sexy witches in his books. He encourages photos to be sent of fans holding a sword. He prints these photos (of women) as his Broadsword girls. Some of these photos are nudes. Most of these photos are of incredibly unattractive witches with swords. (No, I will not reproduce one of the pictures here.) So, witches are misunderstood but Tarot will fix that. But then, Tarot is a misrepresentation. Lame!

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Who Pirating Hurts: Copyrights

A few weeks ago I participated in a forum in which comic book readers weighed in on the ethics of pirating. I couldn’t help but notice a severe misunderstanding as to what rights are ultimately being infringed upon when comic books (or any form of media) are pirated. I hope to shine a bright light in this area to make the topic absolutely clearer during this two-part written excursion.

Background

For starters, the United States Congress is granted the power in the US Constitution “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” (Article I, Section 8, Clause 8. Yes, we used to capitalize everything.) 17 U.S.C. Chapter 1 was passed to enumerate the protections granted to a copyright holder.

And what exactly is a copyright? A copyright is a protection for artistic ideas that have been made available to people. To get one you basically need an original work/idea embedded in a method of tangible expression that can be observed or enjoyed. (Paraphrased very loosely from 17 U.S.C. § 102.)

How do you get a copyright?

Original Work

The Stalk has not helped cure my fear of spiders at all.

The idea must be an original. In our comics context, let’s take Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’s “Saga.” I can’t envision anybody who reads it being able to point to any other media source and say: “Direct rip-off of such-and-such!” I mean, where else are you going to find an oddly sexy death-dealing spider lady? You could probably divine influences from certain aspects of the book but can you find these exact characters, exact scenarios, exact everything anywhere else? Nah. No way.

The bar for original expression is pretty freaking low, too. All courts and Congress require is a “modicum of creativity.” Modicums are pretty small. In addition, courts recognize that they are not proper critics for art. Almost anything – almost – can be considered an original idea.

Tangible Expression

The idea must be able to be enjoyed or reviled. Examples of tangible expression include movies, books, music (written and recorded), and even some dance routines. Back to “Saga,” Image prints the book for you to purchase somewhat monthly, as well as an option to collect many stories in one volume via trades. In addition, your computer lets you see the story unfold on many-sized screens.

Registration

Lastly, isn’t there some registration that must be done to get the copyright? Nope. Not at all. Work is copyrightable as soon as it is reduced to a form of media. That’s right: As I write this my copyrightable material expands. This very sentence is copyrighted. This next sentence is going to be copyrighted as I write it. Go ahead, join the fun and write down an original thought and enjoy the fact that you have a copyright.

Registration is basically a way to give notice to the world that the owner will sue you into the ground if you even think about stealing their stuff. That © is no joke. Also, if you want to sue for perceived infringement then you need to have registered your work. So, even if “Saga” weren’t federally registered it is still protected by copyright laws. (A look inside each issue shows it is registered while recognizing some fair use rights.)

Despite the disclaimer, this is an example of "fair use."

Protection

Since we have tackled the copyright granted to “Saga” (in a very watered down sort of way), what does this copyright get these and any other creators? Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples have several rights granted upon putting their work to paper. First, they have the right to make a copy of “Saga.” They have obviously chosen to do so since our wonderful staffers are able to review them. This creative duo also has the right to make derivative works based on “Saga,” which means that they could make the story into a dang movie if they wanted. They also have the right to sell their originals, copies, and derivative works in any legal way they see fit. Lastly, they have the right to publicly display their work. (All taken from 17 U.S.C. § 106.)

Here’s the kicker: These rights are exclusive unless permission is given. You don’t have any of these rights in their work. Say you buy a copy of the first issue. You DO NOT have the right to make a copy to give away to others – like allowing your copy to be pirated/file-shared. (Lending is fine. Sadly, giving out your online account information is not fine. See my blog on digital comic rights.) You DO NOT have the right to come up with different ways of telling the story, like making your own faithfully adapted commercial short film. (Fan fiction and YouTube videos can be interesting exceptions.) You DO NOT have the right to sell copies you make of your bought copy. You can sell your copy. You can trade your copy. You can burn your copy. You cannot sell copies of your copy. You DO NOT have the right to post copies in public – like scanning and posting full pages online. (Which, by the way, is completely against our site rules for users and which the staff can do because they have permission.)

Copyright owners - not faceless victims.

In sum, the creators have the constitutional and statutory right to disperse their work in any way they see fit. Vaughan and Staples have decided to release “Saga” through Image. This is, so far, an exclusive deal. They also release the books digitally online in accord with an agreement Image has with various digital producers and peddlers. Anything you do that goes against these enumerated laws is infringing upon the rights of the creators. Screw the bottom line – you are taking rights away that are to solely belong to the team of Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples.

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Making Cobra Commander Worse

Only recently have we wiki editors been allowed to add comic-based series to the database. I have taken on the project of adding the GI Joe series from the eighties and it has been a fantastic trip down memory lane. It is completely hokey. The jokes are terrible. And sometimes the animation is unintentionally erotic.

Couple this picture with this dialogue (which is actually said by Baroness at this time).

"You get Lady Jaye out first you might double team me. If I get the Commander out first we will definitely jump you." Yikes.

Then there is this scene where the Cobra Commander has Scarlett by the throat while she is shackled to the wall. The animators could have had him release her and drop his hand in any direction. The artists chose this one:

Don't tell me that was unintentional.

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Where Have All the Mole Men Gone?

The Mole Men from the Tick

Speculation abounds as to why "The Tick vs. The Mole Men" is not included in the DVD collection of the first season of "The Tick." Of the thirteen episodes, only twelve make it. Two theories have sprung up since the DVD release involving copyrights, both of which are unconfirmed because they don't hold much water.

Real quick, a copyright is granted upon the creation of an original work of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. (See 17 USC §§ 101-122 for allusions to the law, as I don't want to site everything. This isn't a law review article.)

The first theory was that one of the characters too closely resembled Cindy Crawford. Here she is in a 1992 Pepsi commercial:

The Tick episode in question certainly does poke fun at this ad campaign. Here is a still from the episode in which Mindy Moleford does a commercial for Honesty Cola. I have included the parodic text to show the reader the light-hearted barbs being sent at Cindy.

"I’ve been drinking Honesty Cola almost as long as I’ve had my mole. In fact, drinking Honesty Cola is what’s made me an internationally famous, beautiful, supermodel. Honest."

At the DVD release, people wondered at the missing episode and the answer seemed to be that there was a copyright issue that needed to be dealt with. Some people assumed that Cindy Crawford, less than happy with her portrayal, was angry and somehow prevented the episode from airing. This has been refuted by a few sources and it is easy to see why. The character of Mindy Moleford is a caricature of Cindy Crawford and the message is actually a great commentary on using beautiful people for commercials to sell things. And, as the Tick describes commercials: "Brace yourself while corporate America tries to sell you its wretched things." The law fully allows copyrights to be exploited for the sake of commentary and parody, as long as these arguments are valid and not veiled in an attempt to simply use other people's stuff for free. (*cough, cough, "Family Guy.") So, even if the lovely Ms. Crawford were upset about Ms. Moleford she would have little legal recourse to stop the episode from being on the DVD.

The next big idea concerned the House of Ideas. Yup, people think that Marvel has something to do with the episode being left off. This also has to be wrong.

For copyright infringement, there has to be copyrighted material that is actually reproduced. If something is similar then it must be in such a manner as to not confuse consumers to avoid copyright infringement.

This is Marvel's Mole Man and the Moloids, or Subterraneans. Mole Man is a single, human man. The Moloids are odd, well, I don't know what exactly.

The characters from the Tick? Actual moles; one is a king. And they are completely docile.

So sure, there are similarities, like they all live underground, but that's about it.

On top of this, Marvel doesn't have a registered copyright on Mole Men. (A copyright must be registered in order to bring an action for infringement.) The holder of the Mole Men copyright? Would you believe some of the guys at Hanna Barbara?

Back in the 60s, there was a show called "The Herculoids." In one particularly terrible episode, Markon, the king of the Mole Men, tries to invade the surface (with two Mole Men). Here is Markon:

Here are his idiot minions:

A defense to copyright infringement is that someone created their version wholly independent of the supposed source material. With Mole Men, this could be a solid argument. Moles live underground and, if in the version of men, could want to explore other places. And they could feasibly be ruled by a king, as dictatorships are widespread in all types of societies. Sounds fine... except that Christopher McCulloch was involved with the questionable Tick episode.

Christopher McCulloch co-wrote "The Tick vs. The Mole Men." He also wrote an episode of "The Venture Bros." ("Twenty Years to Midnight") in which the Herculoids are mentioned. It is clear that there is a chance that he saw the Mole Men episode to act as inspiration for the Tick episode he wrote. That is typically all that is needed to show copyright infringement.

So there you have my theory as to why "The Tick vs. The Mole Men" has been left off the first season DVD. Hanna Barbara does not like the similarities. Let's get this rumor out there and give Cindy and Marvel a break.

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What a Terrible Idea!

I would like to think that advertising has come a long way since 1949. Since, well, because we don't advocate kids taking on bank robbers with fake guns. It helps that we don't see many bank robberies. But it also helps not having ads like this.

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Revolutionary Graveyard

I recently moved to Boston to pursue a legal master's in tax at Boston University. You don't care about that. For my birthday today I decided to head downtown and see some of the historic sites. One that stood out was the Granary Burying Ground with its bevy of askew tombstones.

I felt eerily odd as I walked through between these cracked and broken headstones and I couldn't figure out why. Then I recalled the first story arc of the latest Deadpool series where Michael the Necromancer (where has that guy been lately) exhumed all the former presidents to re-revolutionize the United States. At one point, George Washington resurrects an entire graveyard of soldiers to join his cause. I couldn't help but think of that well drawn, creepy scene as I walked amongst all these dilapidated tombs.

Then I learned an odd little something. At one point, this graveyard was swampy. The earth would get so moist that the ground would sink and dead bodies would float around the land. They ended up reburying some corpses four-people-deep in the dryer spots. So not only did I recall a fake story to creep me out about these people rising from their graves, but an actual part of history relates how the dead did come forth in very unpleasant ways.

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Sharknados

"Sharknado" was amazing, in a "holy crap, look at that thing on that guy's face" type of way. But who had the idea first?

Try Power Pack in 1985, written by Louise Simonson and drawn by Brent Anderson.

But who did it better?

Yeah, I'll take a comic over terrible CGI any day. Then again, there was this...

Gotta click on this one.

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Simply Great Panels, Number 5

I normally hate expositive comics. The 80s were a rough time. Too much talking. Too much inner monologue-ing.

But I can't help it, I love this next scene. It may be that I am reading the latest FF and get a better sense of Leech. It may be that Iceman has a simply absurd pose. It may be that Timeshadow looks like he is holding in a mighty piss. (Who the eff is Timeshadow?) It may be that I just had too much Dr. Pepper when I read this. Regardless, I love this scene.

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Why You Should Be Reading Uncanny X-Force

I’ll say this right up front: You should be reading Sam Humphries’s Uncanny X-Force.

Now let me do something counter-intuitive and completely bash Marvel for just a moment.

Dear Marvel,

Please admit that you have no idea on how to market this book. Your solicits are quite misleading. For starters, Issue 8 mentioned Puck liking jerky. Who cares? He’s not even in the issue! Also, the Love Pentagram? Who is the fifth member? Because pentagrams have five points, not four. (Count them: Psylocke, Fantomex, Cluster, and Weapon XIII. Are you counting the King Champagne?) And someone from the X-Past is playing chess across Los Angeles? We haven’t been in LA since Issue 6.

Also, you need to stop calling Uncanny X-Force a team right now. There is no team. Psylocke and Storm did a favor for Wolverine that resulted in a team-up with Puck. There has been neither a subjective nor objective decision by anyone anywhere to keep this group together as a team. Cluster and Spiral are shown as part of the “team,” but they have been side characters so far. So, this isn’t a team book and it makes things so confusing when you sell it as such.

Do, however, continue to release this book because it is fantastic.

Signed,

One renegade champion (Renchamp)

The Series

*Spoilers may abound past this point. In fact, they most certainly will.*

Honestly, I bought the first issue of the latest Uncanny X-Force based on the cover alone. It was gorgeous. A new team of these sweet, mostly fringe characters was going to be fun because you could tell stories that didn’t have to conform to much of the main continuity (though I do love me some continuity).

The issue itself was a pleasant surprise. The art by Ron Garney was top notch. The colors popped. I expected a typical introductory story that explained backstories and whatnot, but Sam Humphries simply began telling a story. It was unapologetic. For me, I didn’t know why I liked it at first, but I think I ultimately decided that this approach was a breath of fresh air. My hand wasn’t held with too much background. I was thrust into the story. It was fun.

The following issues have all followed a similar format. Humphries just tells his dang story. The reader is rewarded for sticking with the series by huge reveals that never feel forced because Humphries takes his time and makes things known when they should be known. Some people call this series too slow and not forthcoming enough with answers. To them, I question whether they have ever read a novel by Charles Dickens. (Did I just compare Humphries to Dickens? I don’t even feel weird about that. I should. I don’t. Let’s continue.)

Absolutely.

The series has already seen a few different pencilers but each has brought something special to the books they have touched. Of note, freaking Adrian Alphona. His mindscape scenes are gorgeous. Even more so, his depictions of Paris in Psylocke’s past. Alphona oozes sexy with his brash lines and devil-may-care attention to important details. (These are not real artistic phrases, but they seem to explain the allure of his work on recent issues.)

Holy Gorgeous, Batman!

How to Read

One thing I have learned is that you really have to soak in each issue. The art should make you want to anyway. Most issues tell the story in episodes or vignettes. You get one or two pages of story here and one or two pages of story there and then another one or two pages of another story way over there. Then you bounce back and get some longer scenes and then yet another story for a page or two. You really need to keep the ducks in a row because Humphries is weaving together this very intricate tapestry of events. In sum, you must read slower than you want. The action and story move along at a decent pace but the structure takes some absorbing. (Issue 6 was really intense to follow. A story was being told about the past in the present with a scene from the future thrown in before the past's story is over in the present. Very cool approach, but you have to think it through.)

The Tapestry

Now, allow me to show you a picture that I think personifies what Humphries is doing with this very cool yet puzzling series:

Cage dancer Magneto!

Take a look. There aren’t just girls dressed as lady heroes (every teenage boy's dream?) but male heroes. (I am personally offended that Domino is not represented.) It is explained that some guys like this sort of thing. Really? Because I see a female version of Legion and Juggernaut and both are kind of creepy. But hey, who am I to judge these fellows? (I will judge that Wolverine girl because I’d be afraid she would really have claws and just maul the crap out of me.)

Humphries seems to have an agenda about really getting into people’s minds. Things never appear normal and he takes his time showing interesting facets to each character. The mind delving is obvious early on when Storm and Psylocke go delving into Bishop’s mind. After a few issues, I can’t think this is the only mind on trial. Why did Psylocke let Demon Bear into her psyche? There has to be something going on with her to let something with the appellation “demon” to be allowed in her head.

Taking it further, Humphries seems to be enjoying the three-Fantomex paradox. Which one has Psylocke’s best interest at heart? Is Cluster really the part of Fantomex that feels? Is Psylocke being manipulated by Weapon XIII into wanting to kill Fantomex?

The big thing I sense with this incredible Fantomex web of emotion is that one doesn’t know if things are just being misdirected with the characters or if the misdirection is also happening with the reader. Are we seeing everything there is to see? We never see Fantomex with Psylocke without his mask - how can we know he is telling her the truth when she can't even read his mind to tell? I have a feeling that there must be more going on than we can know at this time. The best part, Humphries strings the reader out while reserving these revelations for the best possible time.

Even further into minds, Humphries gets into the reader’s mind by blasting them with revelations you never thought possible. In the very first issue, Fantomex kisses Cluster. What? This seemed like it could have just been a talking point for the water cooler. Why would the two possibly do this? Was it fanservice? Was it a cheap attempt to get readers interested? Turns out with Issue 8 that there was a lot more to it than any of this and it actually makes a bit of sense. (Not total sense. Humphries doesn’t work that way. I’m sure the next issue [or five issues down the line] will adequately answer this.)

Then came this bomb: Cluster and Psylocke locking lips. Really, Humphries? What is going on here!?! Was this an attempt to spark controversy? I don’t think so. I think this is where Humphries is playing his biggest mind game. Can you honestly accept the tale as told that Psylocke would spend two days in a hotel room with Cluster? As for me and my very, very conservative roots, the answer is yes. I can. It is very adequately explained through a few issues that Psylocke doesn’t quite know which Fantomex has actual feelings for her. Technically, they all do, as they all fell in love with her when they were one. But which houses the true love? The bigger question comes to light as each Fantomex makes their case: Could any ever truly have those feelings or was that misdirection too?

The beauty is that we don’t know. Humphries is doing too good of a job at dropping crumbs to be readily eaten up by readers.

As I mentioned before, this book should be read by everyone. It is complex. It is lovely to look at. It is vastly different. And it is not a team book. Yet. This is simply a book that has a fantastic niche. So, go get it.

Cluster owns the best line of the series so far.

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