Capital and Bestsellers

The Huffington Post is excited about the wealth manifesto Capital In the 21st Century

The top story on the Huffington Post right now is the success of an unlikely bestseller, a translation of the French Economist Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century.

What interests me right now is the quoted sales figures. Jia Lynn Wang of Wonkblog is ecstatic about the numbers.

The book has sold about 48,000 hardcover copies and 8,000 to 9,000 e-book versions, according to Susan Donnelly, sales and marketing director at Harvard University Press, the publisher behind the English-language version of the book. (The book written originally in French and released there last year.)

There are presses cranking it out in the United States, India and Britain, and the book is in at least its fourth run. Even though the book was already a hit in its native France, it’s now taking off among English readers around the world, said Donnelly. She expects that sales in China, Hong Kong and Japan will also soon follow.

As a comic book fan, I acknowledge the need to grow the market when estimated sales just over 50,000 are enough to get an issue into the top 25. So, it always surprised me to see a reminder of the problems of the rest of the publishing industry. And nothing highlights that as much as the runaway success of a title with sales in the mid five figures. I’m sure it’ll sell more with the feedback loop of all the current media coverage, but it showcases the level of attention we’ll give to something that ultimately reaches a limited number of eyeballs.

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The Infinite Spider-Man: Commitment To Change And Other Alternatives

The Commitment to Change in Amazing Spider-Man #28 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko

An obvious question about retcons is why it’s necessary to preserve elements of a series’ existing status quo? Why shouldn’t writers and editors embrace earlier developments? So, I considered the “Commitment to Change” approach, as a contrast to the Illusion of Change. The conclusion was that change for the sake of change is harmful for a character that’s been around for a long time, and the same is true of an approach of choosing the preferences of current fans, who may be ready for something different, over the interests of future readers, who would have certain expectations about what they’ll find in a Spider-Man comic.

Considering how the series could develop over the course of the coming years raised the question of whether Spider-Man could be replaced by a new generation of Marvel heroes.

A regular Marvel Universe version of Miles Morales was one potential alternate, although it wouldn’t be the same as Ultimate Marvel. Ben Reilly was another possible substitute. Marvel would have to figure out how to bring him back first.

Another significant question was whether Spider-Man’s story should be allowed to come to an end. Which leads to the question of what type of ending would be the most appropriate for the character, a guy who doesn’t tend to get the girl at the end of the first act.

Death and divorce were considered as alternatives to One More Day. Writer Kurt Busiek had argued in favor of a particular method of depicting a divorce. It was one of several potential compromises.

Ultimate Crossover

I considered whether Peter Parker’s private life matters and if there’s even a point for the creative team to focus on anything other than the action- adventure aspects of the series. A related suggestion was to give the supporting cast members the interesting private lives. I was not in favor of either idea

I considered the argument that the book could be made less like Archie, although that seemed to be based on a misunderstanding about a storied from of serial fiction. The next argument was whether the book should be less like a soap opera. And the Spider-Man comics have been influenced by both

There was also the suggestion that there could be two titles set in different universes, with different outcomes for the characters. And that readers had other places to get their Spider-Man fix than just the regular series. And that there was no need to distinguish between the “real” Spider-Man and other versions of the character.

A final claim I was considered was whether the only problem was in the quality of writers, rather than anything to do with the status quo. Or perhaps the problem is that the writers should have devoted more energy to one particular supporting character.

The Infinite Spider-Man is a series of mini-essays regarding Marvel’s options for the future of the best character in comics.

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The Infinite Spider-Man: One More Day

Marko Djurdjevic's One More Day close-up of Spider-Man's hands.After reflecting on retcons in general, I considered what exactly Joe Quesada accomplished with One More Day. How did it change the history of the characters? What was the explanation for those changes?

A deal between Spider-Man and Mephisto to save Aunt May’s life was central to the story, so that led to two main questions. Was Mephisto written out of character? I looked at his early appearances, and it seemed to fit his motives and power set. Would Peter Parker have taken the deal? Two things convinced me that he would have: The extent to which he’ll value the lives of others, especially in Paul Jenkins’ work, and his explicit willingness to sacrifice himself for Aunt May in other comics.

The mechanics of time travel were also considered, as I reviewed whether the depiction of time travel in One More Day was consistent with other Marvel Comics, and if those changes should have been more significant.  That led to the question of whether the alterations were adequately explained. Did the infamous comment “It’s Magic, We Don’t Have to Explain It” reveal a carelessness about the revisions to the franchise? To what degree had Marvel succeeded in clarifying what had happened? This is emblematic of a difference in priorities between fans, who want to see detailed examinations of the fallout of various developments, and comics professionals, who prefer to move to the next stage and their own stories.

The next step was determining the effect of One More Day on the pros. Could writers be scared away from the Spider-Man comics? Did it make the backstory of the characters too confusing? Does it hammer the point that their contributions could be too easily erased?

Most of the focus on One More Day was with the last two issues. I considered its merits as a story, and the extent to which that was significant. How much did it matter if One More Day was good?

Peter Parker punches Iron Man in One More Day

There were a few other complaints about the story that I considered. Some thought that it was too similar to an arc from Geoff Johns and Scott Kolin’s run on The Flash. At least one smart-aleck asked what would happen if The Simpsons jettisoned the kids so that Homer could be single. A common complaint was that someone else in the Marvel Universe should have been able to save Aunt May. The writer seems to have disowned the story. Some readers had the impression that there should have been more consequences to the retcon, while others argued that twenty years of Spider-Man comics no longer mattered. There were two final questions about the protagonist: Does it matter if Peter Parker would have been the type of guy to get married? Does something feel off with Peter Parker?

Finally, I noted how what followed OMD represented something different from before, a flexible approach to continuity. This fit changes in the industry, and reminded me of the best comic book of the last decade: All-Star Superman.

The Infinite Spider-Man is a series of mini-essays regarding Marvel’s options for the future of the best character in comics.

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Estonia In The Media

With Putin’s aggression in Ukraine, Estonia’s in the news. The Daily Beast had a profile on President Toomas Ilves‘s efforts to fight back against Putin.

So, where should the West focus its attention?

Ilves’ eyes light up and he repeats one word: “Banks,” he says. “Banks.” The American sanctions have targeted one financial institution so far, Bank Rossiya, described by the U.S. as “the personal bank for senior officials.” But such measures could go much further. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the United States developed a complex and stringent system for applying economic sanctions to target terrorist funding. Ilves would like to see the same sort of tools deployed against many of the banks doing business with the Russian government and Putin’s cronies.

Ilves also raises the idea of reviewing Europe’s recognition of Russian passports as “trustworthy travel documents.” A key element of Moscow’s game plan in the territories it wants to take is “passportization,” the cynical—not to mention illegal—distribution of Russian passports to citizens of other countries. That’s what it did in the Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the run-up to the 2008 War. Earlier this month it did the same thing in Crimea. “If it were some other country that was a passport mill, there would be a reaction to that,” says Ilves.

Russia had compared Estonia’s treatment of Ethnic Russians to the treatment of ethnic Russians in the Ukraine. National Review‘s Andrew Stuttaford defended Estonia on this.

The reason that there is a large Russian minority in the east of Estonia is that that region, essentially situated around the city of Narva, was ethnically cleansed by the invading Soviets at the end of the Second World War. The Estonians who lived there were either killed in the fighting, murdered, deported or driven into exile, something that Moscow seems curiously unwilling to acknowledge.

Overall, Estonia’s ethnic-Russian minority — today around a quarter of the population (down from around 30 percent at the end of the long Soviet occupation) — live far better, and enjoy much more in the way of political freedom than Russians across the border in Russia itself. Indeed, the younger generation (or so I was told during the course of a visit to the largely Russian-speaking town of Sillamäe 18 months ago) have something of an advantage over their Estonian peers. They have a better grasp of Estonian than young ethnic Estonians have of Russian (the language of the former occupier) giving them a useful leg up in the employment market of what is de facto, if not de jure, a bilingual country.

That ethnic Estonians insist that their small country retains Estonian as the sole official language is neither shocking nor surprising. This scrap of territory is the only land that Estonians have left to call their own — and that only just. The fate of three vanished or vanishing languages — Old Prussian, Livonian and Ingrian — in their own neighborhood serve as a constant reminder of what could lie ahead for their own tongue.

eesti kaart_1500x1494_

Daniel Berman argues that Narva is a likely target for Putin.

That corner may lie in the city of Narva. Nestled between Russian territory on three sides, the city has played a large role in Russian history. It was Russia’s first major port to the West in the 16th Century. It was here in 1701 that Peter the Great was decisively beaten by the Swedish King Charles XII in the opening battle of the Great Northern War, eventual victory in which would establish Russia as a leading European power. Finally, it was the site of a major Soviet victory in the Second World War.
If Narva shares the sort of historical links with Russia that inspired such a strong attachment in the Crimea, its demographic links with Moscow are even stronger. 94% of the population is Russian speaking, 82% of whom are ethnic Russians, compared with only 4% who are Estonian. That compares with a figure of only a little over 60% in Crimea. Even more worryingly, Narva is a major symbol of what is one of Estonia’s largest domestic problems, its effort to reduce the size of its Russian minority population through the mechanism of denying a substantial percentage of its residents citizenship. Despite lying within Estonian territory, only 47% of the population possesses Estonian Citizenship. Almost as many, 36%, hold Russian citizenship Finally, 16% are stateless. Having grown up in Estonia, they have no claim to citizenship in Russia or anywhere else, but Estonia has denied them citizenship. As a consequence they exist in a legal grey area, able to move to some degree within the EU, but unable to work or travel outside it except to Russia. Its hardly a surprise then that Narva has an unemployment rate north of 40%, and one of the highest HIV rates in Europe.
On examination there, Putin’s political position regarding Narva is far stronger than it was in the Crimea. Narva is more uniformly Russia in population, has more cause for discontent with Latvia than the Crimea had with Kiev, and his moral argument is genuinely strong. By contrast the West’s case is far less – there is no strategic or economic value in the city, the Estonian government’s treatment of the local population is indefensible, and the locals, especially those who are stateless, have much to gain from Russian support, not least citizenship somewhere, even if its within Putin’s Russian Federation.
In effect, if the West did feel Crimea is worth fighting for, fighting over Narva would be an act of madness. Or it would be an act of madness except for the minor issues deriving from Estonia’s membership in NATO and the EU, most prominently NATO’s Article Five requiring the United States and Europe to defend Estonia’s independence, presumably within its existing borders regardless of what it does within them.

 

In lighter news, the Guardian covered a development in an Estonian soccer match.

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal considered what would happen if we developed the ability to communicate with other universes. The President had an important question for her counterparts in those universes.

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal Estonia

It isn’t the webcomic’s first reference to Estonia.

20071101

Ten million people have watched a Youtube video of  Sara “smoukahontas” imitating what Estonian sounds like to foreigners. Granted, the vast majority of them were probably interested in the other languages she imitated.

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J. Jonah Jameson Image Dump

 

With Great Power #5 021

Amazing Spider-Man Annual 16-39

Mayor Jonah

Amazing Spider-Man 25 Jonah Wins

Amazing Spider-Man 53 Jonah

Amazing Spider-Man 64 Crazed Jonah

Amazing Spider-Man Annual 1 Crazy Jonah

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Christ And Film

Last-Temptation-Scorsese

The impressive box office of Son of God has led to renewed discussion about the depiction of Christ in film.

M. P. Turner of the Daily Beast didn’t care for the most recent films or earlier cinematic takes on new testament material, as evident in his piece “Why Are Jesus Movies Always Lame?”

But the movie’s flaws, the numerous cinematic nuances that caused me to cringe or snicker or roll my eyes may not be entirely the moviemakers’ fault. “Jesus” isn’t exactly the easiest story to retell, especially when Christians are the audience that a filmmaker is targeting. That right there might be Downey and Burnett’s biggest mistake: they catered their film to Christians. They formed a Christian board. They met with pastors. They attempted to create a movie that would please everybody, from Catholics to Baptists, from Pentecostals to Presbyterians. And that’s why their film sucks. Because more than poor acting and cheap special effects, Christians are quite possibly the biggest reason why Jesus movies are usually terrible, boring, and contain no elements of surprise.

The guy’s wrong to say that films about Christ are always bad. I liked Passion of the ChristLast Temptation of Christ and Pier Paolo Pasolini’s The Gospel According to St Matthew. But it’s still worth considering why there aren’t more great films about one of the most significant people who ever lived. This got me thinking about whether there could be a religious film similar to Lincoln, a recent prestige picture about a figure whose approval rating is roughly equivalent to Jesus.

One aspect of it is the Hollywood talent pool. A lot of creative types aren’t Christian. The director of Lincoln is Jewish, while the screenwriter and lead actor are agnostic. People who don’t believe in the divinity of Christ are less likely to be be interested in telling a story about someone else’s religious figure, while believers are going to be suspicious about any such effort.

Someone who doesn’t believe can obviously still make a great movie, and have an interesting take on the material. The Gospel According to St Matthew is on youtube for anyone who needs confirmation of that.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h7ewh5k5-gY

Another problem is that it’s tougher to take historical liberties with the divine. It’s understandable why Christians are less likely to stand for it, but that makes it much more difficult to tell a good story in a two hour film. Some Christians will argue that their preference for reverence to the text is equivalent to calls for general historical accuracy in film. But there’s greater opposition to small changes in religious films.

Lincoln featured invented congressmen, to emphasize the types of backroom deals that led to the passage of the thirteenth amendment, and a made-up encounter between the first lady and Thaddeus Stevens. These changes served the story, although it wasn’t absolutely historically accurate. There will be greater opposition when adapting what many believe to be the word of God. What one man considers to be extraneous another considers to be an essential truth.

As a result, the options of directors and writers. are rather limited. They can focus on something narrow as in The Passion of the Christ, take a financial hit, go low-budget, or opt for something bland and inoffensive.

Tasha Robinson of the Dissolve noted the unease religious filmgoers have with anything but the most conventional take on the material, as evident by the response to Last Temptation.

It seemed to me then, and still does now, that the protests were largely based on a deep-seated discomfort with the idea of portraying Jesus as actually human, with human flaws and needs, even in a fantasy crafted by the devil to tempt Jesus away from the divine plan. In fact, there’s been a strong cultural feeling that portraying him with anything less than the formalized, airless, heightened tone of classic Biblical epics like King Of Kings or The Greatest Story Ever Told is the equivalent of open mockery.

A counterargument to claims that creative types are hindered in the ability to make a living telling artistically satisfying stories derived from the bible is that the church has historically been a patron of the arts. However, there are major difference between film and paintings. The latter medium is generally cheaper, with less need to reach a wider audience to recoup losses. An occasional work of art may be mass-produced with copies reaching millions, but the majority never gets that far, a luxury not allowed for most films.

A longer narrative requires some controversial decisions, inherent in telling a story with a complete beginning, middle and end. A single image allows a viewer to supply the context which can differ based on one’s religious doctrine and understanding of the source material. It’s also easier for a viewer to ignore works that he or she doesn’t agree with. A two hour film at twenty four frames a second doesn’t allow that luxury.

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The Infinite Spider-Man: Retcons

 

Amazing Spider-Man Annual 5 Parents

A good chunk of the Infinite Spider-Man essay series was devoted to the question of retcons, since One More Day changed major details about the wall-crawler’s backstory. His marriage to MJ was erased, the world forgot about his secret identity, and one supporting character came back from the dead.

Back in 2006, I realized that a retcon would be necessary to make some changes to the status quo of the Spider-Man comics. My first guess for what the storyline would be like was a cosmic reset involving Loki.

That entry led to a consideration of retcons in general, as fans are divided on the topic.
This was followed by an analysis of some of the complaints about retcons.
The question of whether retcons were too convoluted, and made it too difficult to follow comic books, merited its own entry.

Fans have been used to retcons in the past. In that context, I looked how “Parallel Lives” changed major details about significant Spider-Man characters. This was something that was generally accepted by Spider-Man readers, even if there’s been some notable opposition, particularly from writer Dan Slott.

Amazing Spider-Man 60 Life Sucks For Spidey

I considered the utility of retconning “Sins Past,” the story in which Spider-Man met the children of Norman Osborn and Gwen Stacy. Thinking about Sins Past led to to the question of whether Gwen Stacy’s death should have been reversed. Bringing back Gwen Stacy would have been a consequence of the retcon JMS wanted to do, so his plans were compared to the story that was published.

A few fans wanted Baby May’s fate to be retconned. I disagreed with them.
Some readers wanted Aunt May to be killed off. I disagreed with them, too.
Although I didn’t mind the return of Harry Osborn.

The Infinite Spider-Man is a series of mini-essays regarding Marvel’s options for the future of the best character in comics.

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