Thursday, November 07, 2019

Today I Fix: Green Lantern


You can be part of the problem or part of the solution. And I can think of no icon-level character more problematic than Green Lantern Hal Jordan, so with an assist from Absorbacommenter Cobramisfit I set about fixing him.




The essential problems with the (current) Green Lantern mythos are:


  • Green Lantern has become all about the Corps;
  • Therefore it is too space-based and space is hard to identify with;
  • as a result, Green Lantern's terrestrial rogues gallery has atrophied;
  • Hal is not the centerpiece of any sort of dynasty, plus
  • Hal is an idiot.

Green Lantern has become all about the Corps. Would anyone even try to deny this?  There are 3600 (or there used to be) other Green Lanterns, and every writer seems to determine to introduce one ("Who's even WEIRDER than the last one! Space, emmiright?").  And every single one is more interesting than Hal (although he is the prettiest).  Huge effort has been expended by creators over the years trying to make the Corps (and their internal politics) more and more INTERESTING to us (include Geoff Johns' introduction of the Rainbow Corps).  I declare those mostly a failure. The Corps is ... tedious.

In addition, it's a gazillion sentients with the same powers as Our Hero. Sure, there were always a few Super-folk running around the DCU, but never THOUSANDS of them.

Unless you count the Superman Emergency Squad and all the inhabitants of the bottle city of Kandor.
Which we don't.
For some reason.

Sure, many writers have tried individuating the GLs by trying to make the case they all use their powers in different WAYS, blah blah.  Pfft; shovel faster.

Shut up, Hal.
The magic lamp that is the Green Lantern ring has been shown to do any number of ridiculous things (including accidentally turn Poor Tom Kalmaku into a seagull).


"What goes on?" is a much better catchphrase than "jumping fish-hooks', so run with it, Tom.

It makes you wonder why Hal didn't just turn every opponent into a seagull and rename himself "Green Seagullmaker".


Image result for tom kalmaku seagull
Probably because even a seagull is more competent than Hal, so turning opponents into seagulls would -- somehow -- backfire against him
But the fact remains that almost invariably it's just used to make 'green energy constructs'; who cares WHAT those constructs are?


God knows, Hal doesn't care.

Look, stop shoving so many Lanterns down our throats.  It only dilutes the concept and makes it evern harder to view Hal as special (except in the sense that, you know, he takes a short bus to Oa).

GLs are basically like wild west federal marshalls (IN SPAAAAACE!).

Image result for hal jordan as cowboy

I have watched more than my share of old western shows and flicks, and I can't recall any one where the federal marshal has an exciting trip to Washington/Oa to attend a meeting with all the other marshals to discuss how they are going to deal with, um, widespread prairie dogs infestations or the like.  Marshals are one person by themselves dealing with crap on the frontier (as in EARTH). You can acknowledge the Corps with references and an OCCASIONAL sojourn, but focus on Hal doing his ring-thing on Earth.

Yes, on Earth. Stop making the same mistake with Green Lantern that is often made with Aquaman: spending too much time on the part of his job we can't identify with. With Aquaman, that is, of course, Atlantis.  With Green Lantern, it's space.  It's hard enough to get Americans to care about real-life events in real-life countries-that-aren't-the-USA.  Don't make Aquaman and Green Lantern that much less likely to interest readers by focusing on events so far removed from the world at hand.

While on Earth, focus on Hal's Earth-based foes. Hector Hammond, Karshon the Shark, Dr. Polaris, Black Hand, Sonar, the Tattooed Man.  They are pretty formidable and more has been made of stupider villains, for sure.  Re-purpose a few appropriate villains, like, say, Dr. Light, as Lantern rogues and they'll get a new lease on life. 


It's not that hard, people.
Unlike Hal's head.


Heck, Rainbow Raider, who uses COLOR to control EMOTIONS is pretty much made to order for Hal.


Image result for rainbow raider i believe in me
As do we all, Roy.  

Speaking of the 'emotional spectrum', the Corps of Another Color can be used to solve another problem: the lack of a Green Lantern dynasty.  As mentions, as part of the Green Lantern Corps, Hal is just one of many equals.  Use the Spectrum Corps to solve that.  Willpower is in fact what we use to keep our emotions in check and may sure they benefit us rather than hold us back.  Let that be the relationship of the Green Lantern Corps to the other ones. Make a unified Lantern Corps, with the GLs being in charge.




Then replicate that on Earth. Hal is the GL and in charge of a team of Other-Color Lanterns. Let Guy be the Red One, Jessica be the Yellow One, and so on. You can have a bunch of familiar characters as Lanterns, with a natural different spin on their abilities, and have Hal coordinating them as the central figure in a heroic dynasty of Lanterns.

But, you wisely interject, how can you do that when Hal is, well, not the brightest Lantern in the sky? Okay, fine; Hal's an idiot.  The solution for that is pretty simple: let Hal be an idiot.

Or more accurately, dismiss intellectual acuity as some sort of absolute virtue or sine qua non of being a superhero. 

SO many heroes are hypergenius scientists. In their DOWNTIME.  Superman puttering about his Fortress of Solitude inventing robots that -- somehow -- have his powers and are functional AIs that can not only pass the Turing Test but pass it AS SUPERMAN.  Batman inventing, well, anything he needs in his never-ending war against crime.  


Image result for batman batarang x
Even the amazing BATARANG X, painted red for stealth.

Wonder Woman, lest you forget, invented the Purple Healing Ray.  Barry Allen invented the Comic Effing Treadmill.  Aquaman didn't invent Serum X but he did guide the project and at least Arthur went to college, where he got a degree in marine biology.


Image result for AQUAMAN IN COLLEGE
And where he was vice-president of Hillel.

The only thing Hal Jordan ever invented was the boxing glove.


Image result for hal jordan boxing glove
Don't tell him otherwise; it would break his heart.

So, LET Hal Jordan be a, um... 'non-intellectual'. Shouldn't non-intellectuals have a high-level hero to look up to?   Besides, the only kind of intelligence Hal needs is EMOTIONAL intelligence.  He should have a natural understanding of his feelings and the feelings of others, be able to check and channel those.  That should be the quality the Guardians are looking for in Green Lanterns.  Remember that originally in the Silver Age they were looking for people who were fearless.  Such people are often not the brightest.

By the same token, stop trying to shovel the hooey that Hal Jordan is THE GREATEST GREEN LANTERN OF THEM ALL.


Image result for hal jordan stupid
To be fair, he's a pilot, and they are used to be strapped in during flight.

Hal Jordan doesn't need to be the BEST Green Lantern of them all. He's not the best one; he's just the most typical one.

Hal's a military man, picked for a paramilitary space police force.  Hal is solid. Hal is reliable. Hal doesn't overthink things and isn't crippled by doubt and second-guessing. Hal doesn't question orders needlessly, stays focused on his mission to the exclusion of distractions, and has a disregard for his personal well-being when it gets in the way of the mission.  Hal's confidence lets him do things that others couldn't (regardless of whether it is well founded).  And sometimes his out-of-the-box thinking saves the day because he never learned where the box was to begin with.


The point here is not that Hal took ten hours to figure it out.
It's that he WOULD.

These aren't bad qualities; they are good ones.  This kind of fortitude and doggedness are exactly the qualities that more intellectual types often lack and whose absence holds them back.  They are among the qualities that military and police forces rightly prize and we should honor Hal Jordan for having them, rather than focusing on the fact that he could never invent something as amazing as Batarang X.


Image result for hal jordan slipping in a shower
Or safely take a shower.

There's a reason they picked Ryan Reynolds to play him rather than Jake Gyllenhaal.  Does Ryan Reynolds strike you as an intellectual? No. Is he very good at what he does? Yes; and is likable while doing it.  

Do the above and let Hal be Hal... and Green Lantern will be fixed.  



Friday, October 18, 2019

Friday, October 04, 2019

Continuity

Well!



Isn't THAT an interesting and surprising bit of news?

In case you don't recognize it, that's the new comprehensive timeline of the DCU continuity as presented by DC at the New York City Comic-Con this morning.

I didn't see that coming; but not because I wasn't told. I mean, sure, DC has talked plenty about how Major Crossover Events X, Y,  and Z, will "all make sense in the end" and are part of "a coordinated plan to reorganize the DCU". It simply never occurred to me ... to BELIEVE them.

And why should it? After all, DC always says that.  They said that when they initiated the Silver Age. 




And when they shifted into the Bronze Age.



And after had the Crisis on Infinite Earths.





And Zero Hour.




And post-Flashpoint.




I'm sure I missed a couple but you get my point.

This time the approach seems more methodical; there's a color-coded grid even!  The problem with reboots, as a rule, as that they are more focused on what they are getting rid of than what they will replace it with.  At least today's announcement (and accompanying graphic) suggests that DC's thinking more seriously this time about how the new road behind leads to the new road ahead.

I hope this doesn't turn into an orgy of unorganized creative outpouring; remember Voodoo, OMAC, Earth-2 (*shudder*), The Ravagers, Talon, Team 7, Threshold, Stormwatch, Demon Knights, and Grifter? If not, well, good for you; I don't blame you.  Under Dan Didio they managed to screw up the Phantom Stranger. How do you screw up the Phantom Stranger?! 


Getting a new reboot is like getting a new puppy.  Everyone is so excited about seeing it do things in a cute way and for the first time, and it's so small and harmless and innocent.  But because it's so cute and its editors don't want to break its spirit (because it seems just so HAPPY running around!), they don't train it when they need to, to inculcate workable longtime behaviors, patterns, and expectations. One day all the readers in the neighborhood suddenly realize that you have a DOG that, through no fault of its own, is a large utterly out of control mess and they stay away from visiting your house.


"Let's name him 'Damian', cuz he's such a little devil!"

I'm grateful for DC's commitment to editorially reorganizing their continuity's past stories.  I'll be more grateful for their commitment to do so with their future ones.







Friday, September 13, 2019

Riddler Redux(es)

In his 1972 novel Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino said: "The city is redundant; it repeats itself so that something will stick in the mind."

The same could be said, I suppose, of the DCU.  As I recently noted, its "Apex Lex" storyline The Year of the Villain (I can't be bothered to remember what it's actually supposed to be called, because nowadays the number of concurrent world-changing crossovers exceeds the number of characters I follow) is just a redux of the 1995 storyline Underworld Unleashed.  But this sort of repetition occurs at not only the macro-level but the micro-level as well.  Characters get rebooted or have a 'transformative experience' that (at least in theory) improves them.

Problem is that, through editorial carelessness, nobody makes sure that writers are aware of and adhere to the update. Consequently, the character quickly reverts to its pre-update self and has to be re-updated.  DC keeps doing this with the Riddler, and I am certainly not the first person to notice; even popculture listicle sites notice.

The Riddler is a, if not THE, classic 'gimmick villain'.  This makes him an easy short-hand for (what is often incorrectly viewed as) a more innocent time in comic books.  As other characters get stronger or darker, he is updated to match, but eventually some writer can't resist him as short-hand and portrays him as a hopelessly outdated feeb (often to improve the impression made by some flavor-of-the-month villain that only an 11-year-old could take seriously).

The Riddler was a nearly forgotten character (having appeared only TWICE, in 1948) until Frank Gorshin made him threatening on television.

Even BATMAN couldn't remember him.

You may find it funny to call him (or anyone) from that show 'threatening' but he is BY FAR the most genuinely threatening and terrifying villain on the show (despite being so physically slight) because he is clearly both brilliant and bat-shit crazy.

That's a person who would give Hannibal Lecter nightmares.

But that was an actor-based energy imparted to the character that writers didn't manage to capture going forward.  Not only did they not continue it, they ruined it.  The Riddler's schtick was made to backfire on him in the comics when it became established lore that he "suffered from a compulsion to give clues" before committing crimes, a "fatal flaw in an otherwise brilliant criminal."

Batman #179 "The Riddle-less Crimes of the Riddler" (1966)

Bill Finger (the Riddler's creator) got it;
Gardner Fox didn't.

Proof that Silver and Bronze Age writers didn't always understand what made Golden Age characters work....

Originally what made the Riddler awesome was that he was SO FREAKING CONFIDENT that he happily gave out clues to his crimes, secure in knowing that either you wouldn't figure them out (the Gotham City cops) or if you did he was STILL smart enough to get away with it if you tried to stop him.  This is a common trope in the Golden Age; it's in the Joker's first story, you'll recall.

The Joker's clues were... pretty straightforward.

Like many Golden Age villains, the Riddler aims not to simply steal but to INTIMIDATE. The costumes, the props, the branding, the braggadocio, the clue-giving; Golden Age villains knew that law-abiders were a superstitious cowardly lot so instead of trying to hide themselves they tried to be publicly intimidating.

Pictured: GOLDEN AGE CONFIDENCE!

They weren't sneak-thieves; they were technicolor gangsters, trying to bully citizens and cow both the cops and lesser crooks. A character like the Riddler didn't fail as a villain because of his schtick; that's what MADE him an intimidating villain and not just another nameless gunsel in a cheap suit.

Megamind gets it.

But later writers didn't understand this principle and made the Riddler seem less a mastermind than mentally crippled.  They turned his schtick into his weakness rather than his strength; he was no longer 'so mentally strong he could give clues to his crimes', but rather 'so mentally weak that he HAD to'.  This lack of understanding has led to the endless Riddler-cycle we find ourselves in, where the Riddler has to continually be re-established as a threat after being portrayed as a goofy failure.

Neil Gaiman uses him to represent that era as innocent, portraying him as an aging relic in charge of other aging relics (Secret Origins Special #1, "When is Door", 1989).

Away? No, you were in Doug Moench's "When Riddled by the Riddler" (Batman #362, 1983), robbing a live taping of the gameshow 'Enigma', after which you hijacked the Lakeside bus until felled by bat-gas.  Really, look it up.

Denny O'Neil further diminished the Riddler badly with his portrayal in The Question #26 "Riddler's Romance" (1989).  This was a criminal waste of an opportunity to position the Riddler as a sort of 'anti-Question' in the DCU; but heavy-handed O'Neil couldn't resist the opportunity to portray the Riddler as a goofy poser in order to make his favored character, The Question, seem oh-so-philosophically superior.

Guess which of those characters you are supposed to think is cool.

I will spare you the details;
the cover is already more than you should have to experience.

This went too far and the collective unconscious of the metaverse (apparently) struck back by giving us the most vicious version of the Riddler yet.  One year later, Peter Milligan has him use his riddles to trick Batman into accomplishing tasks (including performing an emergency tracheotomy on a baby who is choking on a ping-pong ball-- STILL one of the most disturbing things I've seen in a comic) ...

Ladies and gentlemen, Batman slitting a baby's throat; sleep well tonight!

needed to raise a DEMON to give him occult power, with the express purpose of becoming a more 'mature' villain. [Batman #454, "Dark Knight, Dark City, Part III", 1990.]

Unlike the ping pong ball in the baby's throat, it didn't stick. 

The backsliding began quickly, because, really, who wants a demonically inspired or empowered Riddler?  In 1992, Batman: The Animated Series re-cast the Riddler as an aggrieved video game designer.  Despite the perfect voice-casting of John Glover as the Riddler, "aggrieved videogame designer" simply doesn't strike fear into the hearts of citizens. The BTAS Riddler, sadly, never seemed as cool as The Clock King. THAT guy was cool. The BTAS Riddler seemed like a smart but otherwise normal guy pretending to be villain. There's a reason he wasn't around for episodes like Almost Got 'im and The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne: he simply wasn't a professional villain on the level with the others.

The 1995 film Batman Forever, although re-energizing the Riddler's iconic status, continued the Riddler's backslide.  Jim Carrey is a man of a great talent but he's not the person you hire to make a character seem serious, impressive, or threatening; he's the actor you hire to make your characters seem weird and unhinged... and easy to laugh at.

To answer his question: Yes, that WAS over the top.

By the time Jeff Loeb (*shudder*) concocted (the word 'wrote' simply doesn't work here) the Hush storyline (Batman #608-619, "Hush", 2002-2003), he could readily portray the both as a pathetic unworthy relic ... and then pretend to fix it himself by having the Riddler be the secret mastermind. Which is Loeb's idea of a 'mystery', I suppose. But the only effect was reinforcing the image of the Riddler as an easily ridiculed joke; that was the only thing that made the ending 'a surprise'.  Particularly since the absurd mummy-faced Tommy Eliott character  beats the Riddler to a pulp leaving him a brain-damaged homeless man.

Judd Winick ignored this completely when briefly pitting the Riddler against Green Arrow in 2004 [Green Arrow #34-#39, 2004]. Winick (without actually writing a good story, of course), did demonstrate that he got the Riddler better than most.

His Riddler used over-the-top theatrics as a form of misdirection away from his actual goals.

But then almost as soon as it was over, human society agreed collectively and silently to forget pretty much everything Judd Winick had done with Green Arrow (and any other character). His mostly-on-target portrayal of the Riddler was the baby-without-a-ping-pong-ball-in-its-throat that got thrown out with the bathwater.

Elsewhere, 2005's The Batman cartoon (which gave a lot of new and, um, unique takes on classic villains) gave us an emo/goth Riddler.  I'll grant that it was an interesting look and take on the character but, in the final analysis, that Riddler was just a pathetic self-deluding puppy in love.

That just LOOKS painful, ya know?

That same year, Shane McCarthy tried to fix the mess that Loeb had made of the character by giving us what everyone calls "the metrosexual Riddler", in a story that sees the Riddler go from a homeless and addlepated shell of his old self ...

That's the Riddler. No; the one in the hoodie.

... to a slick plastic-surgery-ed sharpy.  (Legends of the Dark Knight #185-186, "Riddle Me That", 2005.)


Call me 'sweeheart' again and this will turn out however you want it to.


Honestly I liked the Metrosexual Riddler because (1) he seemed threatening and (2) he was indeed metrosexy.  But it was not to be, because another (this time Infinite) Crisis popped up in 2006.

Crises are the roombas of the DCU; sure, they clean your house's floor on a regular and programmable basis, but they do so unthinkingly and without fixing anything at any higher level.  This particular one put the Riddler into and then out of a coma, but now... REFORMED as an annoyingly vain attention-seeking private detective (because, I guess, Ralph Dibny was on vacation or something).  That, by the way, was a routine that had already been done the first time the Riddler was revived, during the Silver Age.

A throwaway bit in a single Silver Age naturally becomes a several year arc in modern comics.

Eventually that got old, and because well-known card-carrying villains are more valuable than quirky annoying supporting characters, something exploded in 2010 to give Riddler head-trauma which restored him to his 'normal' criminal self.

As head-traumas so often do.

As mentioned by this iFanboy article, Riddler was back on the road to greater villainy...

Batman #705 (2011)

...until, of course, that was all cut short by the next multiversal reboot, the New52.

Are you sensing a pattern? Anyway, in 2014's "Year Zero" storyline, writer Scott Snyder went to great lengths to try to set the Riddler aright as a character is simultaneously a bit weird and goofy, attractive but not unnaturally so, annoying, and terribly terribly dangerous.

Nimble.  Casual.  Annoying as heck.

In this story, the Riddler basically kidnaps the entirety of Gotham for a good chunk of time, and he is NOT easily overturned.

The fact that the Riddler never seems particularly threatening is PART of the threat.
Golden Age writers got that about villains.

This was followed with Tom King's "The War of Jokes and Riddles"(Batman Vol III, #25-32, 2016). King's version of the Riddler's was essentially the same as Snyder, but with a bit more of the metrosexual flair re-injected.

Self-induced question mark chest scar; chicks dig those.

King, like Snyder, portrayed the Riddler as a very serious threat. In fact, he's portrayed as the obvious competitor to the Joker for Gotham City's top villain when all the other villains are forced to side with one of them;  such is the respect given pure intelligence.

As you have noticed from previous posts, I am no fan of either King or Snyder, but I'll give them this: as far as the Riddler goes, THEY GET IT.  And I thank them for treating him with respect.

Which, of course, didn't last long.  Because, as they say in the comics, "MEANWHILE"...

In a one-shot special this week that is part of current "Year of the Villain" storyline,



even our new Riddler is (yet again) presented (by writer Mark Russell) as a loser because of his schtick:



who comes to realize that he's a loser and needs to leave behind the trappings of his past villainhood to grow. Again.

He wouldn't need to do that if you hadn't portrayed him as a loser in this story, you know.
His last two storylines had him take over all of Gotham almost effortlessly and fight the Joker to a standstill in an all-out war for dominance.

I am afraid that through all this ping-ponging between goofy and threatening, the Riddler has become accidentally symbolic of DC's insecurity about not being taken seriously.  Marvel, whatever their faults, does not have this problem; they simply COMMIT to the idea that patently ridiculous characters like wingy-footed Namor and scenery-gobbling Dr. Doom are serious, powerful threats, any goofiness notwithstanding.

TOOT!


I'm afraid that DC is trapped in a pattern where every writer on the Riddler has to either show that "yeah, ha, look how GOOFY he is!" or "I can make him SCARY instead!"