Monday, May 13, 2019

8 Match-Ups I can't believe haven't happened yet

1. Red Bee versus Killer Moth

I picture a LOT of slapping. Followed by making up and shopping for leggings.

2. The Inferior Five versus the Secret Six

I have zero doubt that the IF would beat the tar out of SS, even if only by accident.

3. The Legion of Doom versus the Legion of Super-Heroes

I assume LoD would win, but only because the Riddler would find some loophole in the Legion's Constitution.

4. Mogo with Mogo

Naturally, they'd be fighting the Planet of the Apes.
You're welcome for that.

5. Gleek with Zook 

GODS, I hate space-monkey-things. Maybe they would hijinks each other to death.

6. The Falcon and the Vulture  versus Hawk and Dove

Before you bet on the heroes because they are 'super', remember that they can't fly.  Air superiority, baby.

7. The Octopus versus the Shark

Well, sure, one is a hyper-evolved killing machine with super-telepathic powers and the other is an escaped convict with an open fish tank in his floor.  But, hey... don't underestimate the power of tentacle hats and self-delusion.

8.  The Phantom Stranger with Secret Squirrel

How they missed THAT opportunity during the DC/Hanna-Barbera crossovers I will never understand.

There's room for two MORE to make it a Top Ten list; what are YOUR suggestions...?

Friday, May 10, 2019

Hate-Watching Alex Danvers

I'm not really into 'hate-watching' a teevee show; it seems a little silly. There are so many wonderful things to do and see, why spend time watching something you hate?

SO many wonderful things.

Still, I can't pretend I'm immune to the appeal of watching something because it's ... non-ideal. After all, some -- okay, fine, MOST-- of the movies I watch are terrible horror films I enjoy precisely because of their imperfections.  But I don't HATE them for that.  

In fact, sometimes I am overwhelmed by a near-religious awe at how MIRACULOUSLY bad some are.

And there are shows I watch that I generally like but which have characters in them I can't bear, characters I just LOVE to hate.  Not villains; people you are supposed to like, in theory, but whom the showrunners have made unlikable.  I would mention Iris on The Flash, but of course, she's been supplanted by her idiot daughter, Nora, a character so continually and constitutionally wrong-headed that she could ONLY be the child of CW Iris&Barry.  

My name is Nora West-Allen, and I'm the fastest fool alive.

It's Supergirl that takes the cake, though.  In fact, it takes forty of them. And that's terrible.  Because it's got the ultimate hate-watch character:

Alex Danvers

She's smart! She's sassy! She's spunky!

I'm not sure which one this is supposed to be.

She's a brilliant physician!  She's a butt-kicking ninja!  She's a supersoldier/secret agent!

She's a Brill Creme model!

I (kind of) get it. The showrunners felt they needed Supergirl to have a human female confident (so they gave her a sister, which she has never had in comics) and chose to make that character sufficiently uber-competent so that Supergirl wouldn't overshadow her.

Unfortunately, despite the continued assertions in every episode that Alex is "the best person I know for the job" and "the most [insert positive adjective of human qualities] person I've ever meet" by virtually every character who's known her for even two minutes, Alex Danvers is a living trainwreck of a human being. 

I think that dress tells you everything you need to know about Alex Danvers' decision making ability.

All the time.  And it's not only constant its omnidirectional.  She can't make decisions in the field, at the office, with her family, to her friends, in her love life.  Alex is in a constant state of emotional turmoil and indecision.  It's like an evil cabal of misogynistic writers got together and said, "We're going to insert a secret asset into the Supergirl show: someone who, at every opportunity, will send the message that women, no matter what their external accomplishments, will always be emotionally unstable and unreliable."  Is Vartox a show consultant?!?

Now, I know what some of your are thinking: "Alex is a normal human, they have doubts, it's great to show that strong people are not emotionally invulnerable blah blah blah."  And maybe you can excuse some of Alex's (endless) stumbles that way.

But it's constant and repeated.  Alex lies to her sister about her work. Alex is dating Maxwell Lord. Alex has trouble admitting she's gay. Alex gloms onto LITERALLY the first lesbian she meets and whine her into being her girlfriend.  Alex suddenly wants children.  Alex doesn't know the first thing about her girlfriend and is shocked by everything she learns about her.  Alex can't live without {cast member].  Alex can't get along with [cast member].  Alex doesn't believe she can help Kara / do her job / run the DEO / make the hard decisions / sleep with Sarah Lance. I mean, who DOESN'T sleep with Sarah Lance?!  

Alex is the perfect self-sabotaging character, because no matter what happens on the show, Alex Just Can't Even Right Now, even when what happens is something SHE fought for.

It's not, Alex. Not if you're in it, too.

Alex Sanders, how I love to rant at the television at you!  You may not be able to order a dessert without having an existential crisis and mental meltdown, but you HAVE been able to teach me how enjoyable 'hate-watching' can be!

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

The Additive Approach

This morning I read #5 of Geoff Johns' (latest) Shazam series (rooted in the character's current cinematic continuity). In so doing I gained insight into GJ's approach to characters that hit me like, well, a bolt of lightning.

How "Shazam Blam" is not the name of some band, I do not know.

Fantastical Shazam has always been an odd concept to try to fit into the regular DCU.  If regular is a word that can be applied to the home of Bat-Mite, Jonah Hex, Wild Dog, Kanjar Ro, Swamp Thing, Starman, and Green Arrow.

Or even JUST Green Arrow.

So just as he did with his renovation of Aquaman, Johns has focused on expanding the "subuniverse" to which the character is native.  As he gave Aquaman seven undersea kingdoms to immerse himself in,

That's for those of you who only saw the movie.

so too has he given Shazam the Seven Magic Kingdoms to thunder around in.

Eh, why bother to come up with a new idea? I mean, what are the odds that the public is going to be paying attention to Aquaman AND Shazam at the same time...?!

This is a bit pat and predictable, but in Issue #5, where Billy's siblings Freddy and Mary are sentenced to death in the Wildlands, a place of talking animals where humans have been hunted to near extinction, Johns does his classic trick of hitting you in the face with something you obviously SHOULD have seen coming but didn't (because he lulled you into a false sense of security by being pat and predictable).

Pictured: Pat and predictable

In the Wildlands, we learn that tigers, having betrayed the cause during the Great Animal Revolution, are essentially political prisoners, considered untameable and unworthy of integration into animal civilization.  Including this one:

Who is cruelly stripped of his clothes (the symbols of being civilized):

"I just had this suit tailored."  There is only ONE tiger in the DCU who would say that (or, for that matter, say anything):

the clothes-conscious Tawky Tawny, one of Billy's best friends from the Golden Age.  

This is a great test passed. If you can't make the likes of Tawky Tawny and Mr. Mind work, well, then, you probably shouldn't be messing with Shazam in the first place.  That sort of inbuilt weirdness and whimsy is part of what keeps Shazam from becoming just another grim and cynical superhero.

And what kind of terrible person would want that?

This is classic Johns' character revivification in action: pare a character down to its core historical characteristics recognizable to the public, embrace those aspects of the character, and built outward from them.  But with his introduction of Mr. Tawny in the Wildlands, I finally noticed something unique in his approach to bringing back characters....

A regular writer working on a such a character usually says

"What can I change about the character to make them fit into our existing universe?"

Geoff Johns, however, asks a different question:

"What can I change about our existing universe to make the character fit into it?"

His approach isn't subtractive (lessen the character), it's additive (expand the universe).  A simple example is "the emotional spectrum" for Green Lantern, which, in retrospect is just a logical rearrangement and extension of concepts that were already in the DCU.  With seven colors. And seven emotions. Because... seven.

Geoff Johns, I publicly dare you to bring back the eight-themed Octopus;
WITHOUT chopping off one of his tentacles to make it seven.

I've criticized GJ for his awkward storytelling before. Oh, sure, there is almost always an ultra-clever reveal, but too often motives are vague and the plot is some variation on 'then it gets even WORSE and now our hero(es) can't possibly win, except, now they DO, for no discernible reason other than that it is time for them to do so, and um, is this story over now or-- OH LOOK something mysterious is happening elsewhere that must be the beginning of another story!"

Literally every issue of JSA.

But with this reintroduction of Tawky Tawny, I've decided to let go of my annoyances at GJ's storytelling. Because Johns ISN'T a storyteller; he's a mythmaker.  He (re)creates the worlds and characters that make great storytelling POSSIBLE.  

People talk a lot about Great Writers and the Great Stories they write and how Nothing Else Matters If The Writing is Great.  If you ask me, great writers (and great stories) come and go.  What do you REALLY remember better: individual stories about heroes or the characters and the world they inhabit?  Stories are told once.  Characters and their worlds, however, go on; I tip my hat to writers, like Johns, who make sure that they do.  

Thursday, December 27, 2018

The Haf-and-Haf Controversy

Well, I have avoided it since the beginning of this blog, but now it's ineluctable; it's time for me to weigh on the Haf-and-Haf controversy. Which, if you aren't familiar, goes as follows...

In 1931, Chester Gould created a comic strip about "Dick Tracy", a hard-nosed and intelligent detective in an unnamed metropolis, who fought many colorful gangsters and criminals.  Enormously popular, Dick Tracy was adapted repeatedly into various media, and collections of his early adventures in the late 1930s helped bring readers to the new medium of standalone 'comic books', rather than just newspaper 'comic strips'.

For Dick, it was a Tuesday.

Although Dick himself was painfully straightforward, his surrounding world was bizarre, violent, and unforgiving.  

"Well, I DID lose my tie clip, now that you mention it. 
The one Tess bought me, too."

For many decades until his retirement in 1977, Gould churned out a never-ending parade of weird (and improbably named) foes for Tracy.  While these foes frequently had convenient first-level characteristics (it's not hard to imagine, for example, what Tracy villains "Flatop" and "Pruneface" look like), those were often coupled with oddly unrelated quirks: Mumbles was a guitarist and recording artist, Mr Bribery had a fondness for roses and shrunken heads, and The Brain was never seen without his ocarina.

And the Brain Hat. But that goes without saying.

Yes, long before manatees started working for Seth McFarlane, they were hard at work for Chester Gould, generating random characters and situations for Dick Tracy to deal with.

But in 1966, Gould created a character using someone other than the manatees as inspiration:

Haf-and Haf.

This is not original Gould art. Somehow it's even more terrifying.

In the internet age, this shameless rip-off of Batman villain Two-Face would have been loudly damned the second he was introduced.  But Gould created Haf-and-Haf in 1966, when fandom was disjointed, had no collective medium like the internet, and Harvey Dent hadn't been seen in comics for 17 some years.  

When asked about the, ahem, similarities in a later interview, Gould said he wasn't aware of Two-Face and had been inspired by the 'half and half' diary product. Which, clearly, is the most ridiculous and patent lie a cartoonist has ever uttered.  

Spend some time trying to figure out how he wound up with the left half of his face in the acid if he was the driver of the truck.  I'll wait.

Just like Two-Face, Haf-and-Haf's origin has him scarred in an accident with acid.  And, even though Haf-and-Haf has no obsession--or even interest in--the number 2, his name is:

REALLY, now.
TWOla TWOzon?! Ugh; how obvious could it be?  The only reason to name him that is if Two-Face is your inspiration.  

Also, Batman and Dick Tracy--both modern detectives in a big city fighting weird criminals--were commonly compared. No one can believe that Gould was unaware of Batman's rogue's gallery.  In fact, this was 1966 when live-action Batman began on television and EVERYONE was paying attention to the Caped Crusader.  In February of 1996, this episode aired:

The villain was a female stage magician.

"Stop taunting me, Evol! You know I abhor violence!
All I ever wanted to be was a poor, but honest, magician!"

Guess who Haf-and-Haf's love interest was?  That's right: Zelda the Great, a high diver at the same circus where he was a sideshow attraction.  You know darned well Gould was tuned in, same bat-time, same bat-channel, every week.

Everything about her was terrifying.
But especially the cocktail dress.
Despite everything I've said and all the evidence, there is one fact on the other side of the argument that's hard to ignore: Chester Gould, an odd duck even at his best,  was... not always, um, all there.  In his later years, he sometimes wasn't sure what decade he was in.  And in 1966, his 'Moon Period" was already in full swing. Dick Tracy, who historical fought gangsters like Big Boy and Flattop, was now flying around in air car and his son was marrying "Moon Maid" one of the humanoid creatures who lived in Moon Valley. On the Moon. So... you know.  If there was anyone who could have created Haf-and-Haf without remembering accurately where the inspiration came from, it would be Gould.

Haf-and-Haf, unlike, well, virtually all Dick Tracy villains, actually survived his Gould-era encounters with Tracy.  That meant when Max Allan Collins took over the strip in 1978, eager to bring back some classic foes or their legacy characters, Haf-and-Haf was one of the first.

Whatever Gould may or may not have understood about the similarities between Haf-and-Haf and Two-Face, Collins was completely aware.  Collins, after all, is the comic book writer who gave us the tire-stealing 1-800 version of Jason Todd, whose father was killed by Two-Face.

"Dear Diary; today I cited 'created Jason Todd' as evidence that someone knew what he was doing."

Collins himself deemed Gould "innocent" of plagiarism in creating Haf-and-Haf. As he said in 2010, 
"I questioned Chet about Haf-and-Haf and Two-Face. He claimed, convincingly, that he didn't know about the Batman character. He paid zero attention to Batman, in fact paid little attention to the work of other cartoonists, living in his own TRACY-centric world. Certainly he considered Batman an imitation of Tracy, basically Tracy and Junior in costumed drag.  He told me this sitting at his breakfast table in his kitchen and showed me the Half-and-Half creamer containere he was using on his cereal to demonstrate where the idea came from."
[If you are using half and half on breakfast cereal, you are definitely not right in the head.]

That's probably why Collins didn't hesitate to bring back Haf-and-Haf.  Collins at least gave Haf-and-Haf a new angle; thanks to his circus background he was now an animal trainer. Training animals for crime of course.

Guy who looks like Two-Face uses trained crows to steal purses.
Yep; sounds like Dick Tracy, alright.

I remember this version of Haf-and-Haf, because I was a kid reading 'the funnies' at the time.  And even then I remember not being able to wrap my head around what a blatant rip-off he was of Two-Face (one of my favorite Batman villains).  

You know, "Two-Tone" Tuzon woulda worked; ya coulda just left it at that.
I found the style of the late artist Rick Fletcher mesmerizing. Still do.

I'm pretty sure that that version of Haf-and-Haf eventually got shot (to death).

Sure looks like it. But he gets better.

After Collins left Dick Tracy in 1992, there was a, um. non-ideal interregnum where the strip was written and drawn by ...others.  But in 2011,  the strip underwent a dramatic refurbishment under the new creative team of talented uber-fans Joe Staton and Mike Curtis, and I've been reading it daily ever since. I don't always understand or agree with what's going on it, but, hey, it's Dick Tracy, it doesn't need my understanding or approval and if I sass it, it just might appear in a cloud of gun smoke and shoot me in the face. 

BUT.... Staton and Curtis have now done the unthinkable (yet inevitable). They have brought back Haf-and-Haf.  

Tuzon seems to be talking to himself about fate, with a real-time interactive split-personality. Imagine!

And here is where it gets... complicated.

Staton and Curtis have re-styled Haf-and-Haf as... Split-Face.  Under ordinary circumstances, this would be an unpardonable lunge toward making the character a Two-Face clone.  But, this is the world of Dick Tracy and there are no 'ordinary circumstances.'

There has never been a Split-Face in the Dick Tracy strips...but there was one in Dick Tracy films.  Split-Face was the serial killer slasher in the first "Dick Tracy" film (1945).  

You get points if you remember the time Mike Mazurki played Ginger Grant.

Acknowledging the cinema Tracy as part of their world, Staton & Curtis are basically merging the characters of Split-Face and Haf-and-Haf.

The real mystery is why screens in the Tracy-verse are always shaped like nightmasks.

On the one hand, this is an absolutely brilliant way of re-inventing Tula Tuzon in a more usable way, while employing elements already part of Dick Tracy's history.  Staton & Curtis are extremely inventive in re-introducing as many parts of Tracy's history back into their world in a refreshed, coherent way as they can. Dick-Tracy-coherent, I mean.  Their work at world-(re)building is truly impressive and because of it Dick Tracy is the only comic strip I follow.

On the other hand, this is BY FAR the most explicit Two-Face ripoff of all time.  S&C don't have Gould's excuse of having no idea what they are doing. They aren't following in Collin's footsteps by trying to take the character in a direction away from Two-Face.  They are, in fact, quite knowingly shoving the character toward duplicating Two-Face as much as possible (Haf-and-Haf was never shown as mentally unstable before, let alone as a split personality).

And, despite all this writing about the controversy, I am still... of two minds on the subject.  Which may be appropriate but still gives me a headache.

What do YOU think?