Monday, 23 January 2012

Agent Marc Saunders: Sweden Gets Its First Superhero... or Does It?

In November last year, a friend of mine shared a link to some interesting news on Bleeding Cool. The headline was "Sweden Gets Its First Superhero" and, as I am both a Swede and fan of the superhero genre, my interest was naturally piqued. However, I had some reservations from the start, which I will return to shortly.

Agent Marc Saunders is written and drawn by Mike Berg (a.k.a. Mikael Bergkvist) and inked by American inker extraordinaire Joe Rubinstein, and the first issue introduces Marc Saunders, a superpowered secret agent working for the US. The premise, which ties into strange meteorites and political upheavals (all revealed in the first issue), is really quite good, but the execution does not fully deliver. While there is nothing wrong with the artwork (I definitely enjoy Berg and Rubinstein's visuals), the language leaves a lot to be desired. Often dialogue and captions read like poor translations from English to Swedish, which is needless to say quite sad for something being promoted as Sweden's first original superhero comic.

The second issue might be a slight improvement in that department, but instead falters in its storytelling, which is often fragmented and confusing. I dare call myself an experienced comics reader, and the amount of times I had to skip back and forth in the second issue to follow the plot (and sometimes failing because necessary linking information was not to be found) was embarrassing. And this is really sad, since there is a really good premise here and some real artistic talent at work.

Returning to the idea of this being Sweden's first superhero and my reservations towards this claim, I think it is worth noting that there has not been any lack of superhero parody and comedy on the Swedish comics scene: there is Kapten Stofil (Eng. trans. Captain Fogey), which I have yet to read, and a great deal of Johan Wanloo's stuff, from Örn Blammo (Eng. trans. Eagle Blammo) to De äventyrslystna karlakarlarna (Eng. trans. the Adventurous Manly-Men) and beyond, certainly qualifies.

I also do not find it insignificant that Agent Saunders is neither a Swede nor situated in or connected to Sweden. Granted that Sweden might not be the easiest country to situate serious superheroics in (a large country with a small population hardly lends itself to extravagances á la DC or Marvel Comics), but if Swedish writer Jan Guillou could create a Swedish James Bond/Jason Bourne type Swedish agent active on an international arena, one may wonder why Agent Saunders could not have been given a similar Swedish grounding. At least if he is to be called Sweden's first superhero.

But the latter is a minor quibble. Especially compared to the more serious problems with language and, more recently, with storytelling.

At any rate, I will support the effort at least one more issue. Because it is a good premise there, and of a kind we do not see nearly often enough over here.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Friendship and Social Media: Human Behaviour beyond Technology and Virtuality

So, I am back (more or less), somewhat delayed by a nasty cold, and to top it off, this is not the post I had planned to post next. But bear me with me.

Yesterday, I accidentally stumbled upon a youth column in one of Sweden's newspapers in which Mona Jasim argues that true friendship is not to be found on Facebook and that is why she has left. Now, granted that this is a youth column (I will return to some aspects with regards to that), but this is not the first time and place where I have seen this kind of argument posted. And I never cease to be amazed by them.

Why would social media per definition guarantee friendship, or exclude it? Or, for that matter, be the only factor causing inflation in the concept of friendship and what it means?

In my lifetime thus far (i.e. including long before the internet), there have always been people who have had wide circles of loose acquaintances and people who have had a few very close friends. In some cases these two types of people have in actuality been the same individuals. That is to say, the one has never excluded the other.

Physical presence (seeing a person's face, hearing a person's voice, etc) no doubt often makes truly getting closer to people easier, but when it comes down to it, the most central thing is to find a space (real or virtual) where each party feels safe enough to converse more freely and dare to open up to the other. That is it. Now why would this not be possible to achieve within the frames of FB's services? And why would daily communication with acquaintances (and friends) not lead to deepened relationships with them?

At the end of the day, I always get the feeling that people who write columns and posts like that mostly express their own inadequacy to interact with other people virtually in a meaningful way. Which leaves us with the question whether it is actually a sound basis for a general definition of a diversified contact medium.

Returning to the issue of the column in question being a youth column (this time), an old colleague of mine asked whether we really needed to attribute any weight to it. After all, it was directed to young people, many of whom, in his words, have an addiction-like relation to FB. However, even if I had not seen the argument elsewhere often enough before, I do think we have to question the wisdom of trying to get youngsters to abandon technology like social media rather than teaching them to use it constructively. This type of technology, and whatever follows it, is not very likely to go away. Virtual interaction between people is, and will continue to be, necessary in a global community. It does not mean that we cannot question how we use it, but the latter also requires of us to question if how we use it is defined by the medium or by ourselves.

Far too many people talk about all the dangers of virtuality – be it anything from wanton and wasteful escapism to criminally fraudulent behaviour – but few seem to stop to consider the fact that most of these things (sometimes admittedly to differing degrees) existed long before humankind entered the pathways of virtuality. Scams like the Nigeria letters are not new to the internet; the internet is simply a new mode of distribution. And there is a difference between the two.

Case in point, when I was a child, no one would have ever considered telling us that getting a pen pal somewhere in the world would be a harmful or wasteful prospect. In fact, it was quite often encouraged, because it offered the opportunity of us getting to know new people, and perhaps even new cultures in the process. Needless to say, really, the idea of pen pals is not entirely without its dangers. Letters can of course be used for fraudulent purposes, or for just wasting away precious time on surface connections. But then again, it can be used for deeper communication too, as ages of collected correspondence gives evidence to.

Perhaps Mona Jasim would have been better off showing her readers ways in which social media can be used constructively to communicate more deeply with people. But then again, as stated above, it may well be the case that people who write columns and posts like that mostly express their own inadequacy to interact with other people virtually in a meaningful way.