Not Naming Names

For whatever reason, I’ve been re-reading comics from my youth lately that could charitably be considered as “mid-level” in terms of both quality and relative importance to the publishing lines to which they belonged when they were release, and it’s left me with less of a nostalgic attachment than I would have expected, but instead a simple question: Whatever happened to shitty, pointless superhero comics?

Don’t get me wrong; we’re still surrounded by shitty superhero comics today. Just go into any comic book store and you’ll see more than you can shake any number of sticks at. I’m not arguing for a second that we’ve stepped into an era where every single superhero comics is inherently good in any real manner (although I’d argue that even the worst have a level of quality that’s somehow above the worst of days gone by, somehow. Don’t ask me why, it doesn’t really make sense if I stop to think about it).

What I really mean is, in re-reading all these comics from the 1990s, I was struck by the number of times I read an issue that didn’t seem to have any kind of intent behind it other than “let’s just try and get through another month together.” Stories in which nothing happens, sure, but also where there’s no actual attempt to tell a story with a beginning, middle, or end — or even some form of continuation of a bigger idea. Stories in which there aren’t really any ideas, in fact, just creators desperately and clearly trying to get to the end of their page count for the month.

And all of this is happening in series where the central character has… no real personality…? This is a particular problem to superhero comics, I feel, and especially superhero comics from the 1980s and ’90s, where central characters were almost intentionally bland copies of the Spider-Man template, because that’s what creators grew up reading and loving; they’re reactive, passive-aggressive quip machines who complain about situations but end up doing the right thing eventually and magically save the day. But there’s nothing to them, beyond that. They’re just… there.

None of this should be taken as condemnations of what were, to be honest, comics that probably should be condemned; I enjoyed them for what they were, relics of another time and another approach to comics that I grew up with but can recognize with some distance now. More than anything, it’s recognition that we’ve lost something in today’s superhero comics: a celebration of mediocrity and hackwork that, in so many words, I kind of wish we could see back to some degree.

Still, Still

It was, in retrospect, a moment of innocent optimism that led me to believe that losing momentum was going to be a good thing when we got home at 2:30am on a Sunday, after just over 24 hours of travel. (Well, a lot of that included an extended layover in JFK airport, but you know what I mean.) My head at the time was exhausted, sure, but also buzzing the way it does after I’ve been on the go for too long, as if it was literally in motion despite what the rest of my body was doing. I felt dizzy and tired, and I remember thinking to myself, finally, we get to stop. I get to stop for awhile.

Turns out, that wasn’t a good thing, after all.

Don’t get me wrong; not traveling has been great — as much as the UK trip was filled with good things and family and a lot that I’m already looking back on fondly, it felt like almost constant motion: even on the rare occasions when it wasn’t a day when I was traveling somewhere or about to, my brain was in the mode of, “okay, but in a couple of days, we have to catch this car to get to this airport” and so on. Not having that in the back of my mind for the last few days as I write has been wonderful.

The problem is, I’ve realized that I’ve also lost the momentum of my everyday life, and that’s a hard one to deal with. It’s not simply the jet lag, which took a couple of days to arrive and then stuck around like a bad smell; it’s that I spent the first week or so back struggling to get through my workday, because I’d lost the weird rhythm that I’ve become used to. That week off — actually just three and a half days, as it turned out, but a lot happened in those three and a half days — broke all the everyday magic spells I’d unthinkingly constructed to travel through the day easily, and everything for those days just felt impossibly, unreasonably hard.

“I’ve lost momentum,” I’d tell anyone who asked, feeling the irony in those words even as they came out my mouth.

Stay Home

Continuing with the confounding of expectations on the UK trip, I embarrassedly confess that I expected the Scottish leg of the visit to have been far less emotional on every single front; I knew, of course, going in that it was a flying visit (literally, if you consider how we arrived and left): we flew in Tuesday afternoon and left Friday morning, which is far shorter than it sounds initially. Realistically, that translates into just two days there with timing a little bit fuzzier around the edges. That was, of course, not that long, but I still figured something was better than nothing, and it’s not like we could have gotten away with extending the trip any longer than the 11 days it was already lasting — there’s a home and a family to tend to back in Portland, after all.

The bit I didn’t expect, honestly, was how much I wouldn’t want to leave by the time Friday rolled around: how painfully short the visit to reconnect with family would feel, and how much I’d want to stay and talk more, hang out more, just be there with them for longer. It’s not just my two sisters I’m talking about, obviously, but their spouses and offspring — all of whom are actual people now as opposed to the babies and kids they were the last time I was there. (More than a decade ago, to put it in context.) We had dinner on Tuesday, and spent all of Thursday together, as well as Friday morning — Wednesday we spent in Glasgow, again catching up with people I hadn’t seen in a decade-plus — but it didn’t feel like enough time.

I left them at the airport, more than slightly heartbroken, and happy that plans are already in place for a November return. (Another work-related UK trip.) We’ll do Zoom calls in the meantime, just as we have done over the past few years while I’ve not been able to visit, but now I know how unlike the real thing that is. I left Scotland with this need to return, with this sadness for stepping away, again.

(And no, my accent genuinely didn’t get any stronger during the visit. Who knew?)

The Man From

Airports are liminal spaces at the best of times, by design; they’re very literally places where you’re meant to pass through almost frictionlessly — with the obvious exceptions of security and check-ins, of course. Having recently traveled back from the UK in a trip that included an extended, unintentional layover of nearly seven hours, I can report that John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City might be the most liminal of all spaces.

By somewhere around the end of the second hour in the airport, I was lying on the floor, my head propped up on one of my carry-on, staring at the stenciled graphics on the ceiling above me. We were only meant to have three hours or so there before boarding the next (and final) flight on our journey home, but the fates had decided otherwise. Within minutes of checking bags and being told, “Your flight is on time, get through security and head for Gate 9,” the board displayed an update: the flight was suddenly delayed 90 minutes. That wouldn’t be the last update throughout the evening.

At some point — hour three, perhaps? Hour four? — it just felt as if I’d always been there. By that point, even the concept of “there” felt like a malleable one: I went into a store for a snack and saw the “I[HEART]NY” logo everywhere and had a brief instant of, Weird. Why would they do that? before remembering, that’s right: I’m actually in New York at the moment, kind of. The idea of any place existing that wasn’t JFK just felt… almost impossible.

Eventually, the plane left, and so did we. But if you told me that it was all a fantasy, and that I really was still there, lying on the floor and wondering if I’d ever leave, I might actually believe you.

In The Wee Small

If I’m honest, I’m not sure if I could have properly described any particular expectations for the Star Wars Celebration portion of the UK trip ahead of time. I knew, for example, that I was likely going to have to deal with jet lag, and I also knew that it was going to be an unusual show to cover; I went to Star Wars Celebration in Chicago a few years back, and I remembered that it was a very odd beast — a show very much weighted towards the beginning of events, opening with a big panel that would break the biggest news, with everything getting progressively less interesting to non-Star Wars fans as it went on.

I also, thanks to my optimism, suspected that it would be a light show, so to speak — one where there wasn’t that much to cover, and with a five-person team there, I’d find myself with lots of free time to go exploring London. Such optimism, as it turns out, was not matched by the reality of the situation, which arguably saw me more present at the show than most shows I’ve attended in recent years, thanks to an unexpected wrinkle that emerged just before leaving for the UK: Morning Queue.

As the name suggests, Morning Queue is helping the lines of con-goers enter the show in the morning. It’s not part of my job description, technically, but Popverse is owned by ReedPop, who organizes SWC for Lucasfilm, and we were all invited to help out on Morning Queue this time around. I’ll be honest: I actually really enjoyed the couple of days I did it; there’s something genuinely fun for me in helping answer people’s questions and directing them to whichever line they needed to stand in depending on where they were going first. If nothing else, the people watching was second to none.

Unfortunately, there’s a drawback to Morning Queue: in order to get there on time, I had to leave the hotel at 6am, which meant getting up around 5 so that I could shower and get ready… all of which happening while I’m struggling through jet lag which was waking me up around 2 or 3 after a few fitful hours of sleep. In other words, Morning Queue and jet lag conspired to keep me utterly exhausted; by the time I’d finished that, it was time to head to my first panel at 10am, and then I’d be working through until 6 or 7 at night. Factor in travel time — or simply just delays for whatever reason — and it was around 8pm when I’d get back to the hotel, giving me just enough time to eat room service for dinner, then go to bed, to get up at 5 the next morning, and do it all again.

The end result is, by the time the show ended on Monday evening, all I’d seen of London was the route to and from the hotel and convention center. Not quite what you’d want from one of the world’s greatest cities, to be honest.

You Can’t Go

If you’re tuning in hoping to read about my trip to the UK, bad news; I’m writing entries ahead of time again, so you’ll have to wait… an indeterminate time, I guess…? (Just because I’m writing them ahead of time doesn’t mean they’re going to run in the order they were written; I’m not that linear, which is a fancy way of saying, “I’m bad at organization.”) That doesn’t mean that I’m not thinking about the trip, which is still a week away as I write, though. Specifically, I’m thinking about the prospect of going back to my childhood home for the first time in… what, 15 years or so?

To be clear, I’m not sure how much of my childhood home still exists, per se. My parents sold it when they were both alive, a handful of years after I’d moved to the US and my sisters had both moved out, and the last time I’ve even seen it — from a car as we drove past it, quickly — it looked as if the three-storey house had been split into two separate apartments with an external stairwell added to the side. It was a weird thing to see in passing, as if someone had drawn over a memory quickly and carelessly.

Since then, I’ve longed to go back and see what’s actually happened to the house. I’ve done the Google Earth thing, of course, but that’s not the same as actually being there. There’s something about the light of Scotland, a quality that feels different than the light in the US; I want to stand in front of the house in that light and… be there, whatever that actually means. I want to get as close as I can to the experience of going home that I felt every time I did it when I was in school.

If that’s even possible.

Throw to Weather

I’ve been watching the first season of The Morning Show recently. Mostly, I started because (a) Chloe’s been traveling, meaning that I can’t watch any of “our shows” which leaves me needing to find something else to entertain myself while she’s gone, and (b) I like the idea of the show in theory; I’m a sucker for stories about the media that try to tread that fine line between drama and comedy and feel as if they have things to say about The Human Condition as well as The Media. That it’s informed by Top of the Morning, a book about U.S. morning shows and the politics that go into their making that I particularly enjoyed way back when, just helps matters. On paper, The Morning Show is very me.

In practice, that’s not so true. It’s clear that the show means well, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into good drama or good television, especially when the meaning well overshadows everything else onscreen. Watching The Morning Show feels, repeatedly, like the work of people who watched Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom and thought, “Wait, what if we just did that, but stripped out the attempts at comedy? What if we just did the bits where they’re very convinced that they’re making Grand Statements About Life Today?”

(There are many things that The Newsroom did wrong — not as many as Sorkin’s earlier Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, admittedly, but that’s not saying much — but the shitty comedy was honestly not one of them for me. Did the jokes always land? Oh God no, not in the slightest. But did I appreciate the effort? Every single time.)

Worse yet, The Morning Show‘s attempts to share Grand Statements are handled clumsily, leading to a season-long #MeToo storyline that includes a scene where the abuser in question rails against his former best friend and co-host of the titular TV program at the heart of the series that America isn’t ready to “accept women’s complicity” in men’s abuse. That’s right! Not all men, some women too, get it? (Steve Carrell, bless him, tries his best with some genuinely bad material throughout.)

And yet, I stuck with it. Partly because, what else am I going to watch, and partly because, well, the show might not be great, but I really am a mark for the source material. That’s going to keep me there for some time… even if the prospect of a second season about the COVID outbreak feels a little daunting, as I head into it.

Boom, Shake The Room

If you’re wondering how the UK trip is going so far, this was the most explosive moment of last Friday. And I mean literally explosive.

Who needs to recharge their phone, right? Or, you know, have a working power adapter that can keep everything else working properly in this country?

You Can Make It If You Try

I am, famously, terrible at taking compliments.

I used to believe this was part of my societal make-up purely from coming from Scotland, a country where it’s far more accepted — and arguably more fun — to take the piss out of yourself as a defense mechanism than to boast of your accomplishments… or, really, acknowledge them in any real manner, outside of a noncommittal shrug and attempt to quickly change the subject. And, don’t get me wrong, I’m sure that’s a significant factor in the who I ended up being today, because how could it not…? However. However.

I’ve had conversations with other people from Scotland, and elsewhere in the UK, about our inability to take compliments, and how we navigate it; I’ve also had conversations with a number of Americans about the same subject, and the ways in which the British method — essentially, just deny everything and pretend that whoever said the complimentary thing is objectively wrong — might actually be rude when you really think about it. And through all of this, I kept thinking one thing: there are some compliments I’m actually okay with.

Specifically, they’re compliments about things that come second nature to me; things that I don’t even think of as being worth noting, never mind complimenting. I am, for whatever reason, good at liveblogging or livetweeting events; I’ve been complimented on that many times, most recently at Emerald City Comic-Con earlier this month, and when that happens, I find myself surprisingly able to say thank you, and move on. No dissembling or argument; I just acknowledge it and say thank you.

What’s the difference? I’m unsure. Is it that if I don’t try, I don’t feel self-conscious if something notices me? Perhaps, but that just makes me embarrassed to consider. Maybe that’s more of the Scottishness that I hadn’t thought about coming out.