Monday, May 25, 2020

Ceci n'est pas Wizardo

Okay, I simply cannot STAND it any longer, and if no one else cares, I STILL DO:



I understand, deeply, the wish for the Atom to have a more robust Rogues Gallery.  But continuing to perpetuate the falsehood that this figure is Wizardo and that Wizardo is a foe of the Atom is simply shoddy scholarship and must be stopped.  

Let us look at the story where Wizardo -- the real Wizardo -- appears (as well as this guy in the astronaut suit): "The Riddle of the Two-Faced Astronaut" (The Atom #6, May 1963).

Just to prove I didn't make that title up.

That  "two-faced astronaut"? THAT is the guy in the astronaut suit.  His name is Peter Venner...

OR IS IT...?!?!?

See the guy with the characteristic ugly drawn-by-Gil-Kane mug, in the bowtie? THAT, people, that is Wizardo.  He is a stage magician.  

Peter Venner is his assistant; he's not a real astronaut.  It's just the theme of the magic trick.  Remember, this is 1963 and space exploration and astronauts are delightfully new for the public. 

Venner is just there for an astronaut-themed version of the old disappearing act by Wizardo, who is not a foe of the Atom but an old friend of Ray Palmer.

Jean Loring's "How EASY it can be to make someone disappear!" face.

Silver Age heroes were a lot like Jessica Fletcher; they had hordes of unmentioned Old Friends who would pop up at a moment's notice to spark a plot, never to be heard from again. Except unlike Jessica's friends, they didn't die.  I cannot imagine the circumstance under which a young physics student became friends with an older stage magician, but I'm sure there's slash fic about it somewhere.

The plot thickens when magician's assistant Peter Venner is accused of robbing a nearby bank.  It's actually a company with a cash payroll, but that's gibberish to any modern reader, so I'll just call it a bank for ease of comprehension.

That's Chief Baxter of Ivy Town. He's a moron.
It must be MAGIC, Chief Baxter. Moron.

Chief Baxter manages to use his words enough to explain what appeared to have happened.

If "in a glen plaid suit" didn't make you laugh, why are you even reading this blog?

So, painfully obviously, nobody actually saw Peter Venner do anything. They saw a guy in an astronaut suit, and, as I can tell you from my days hanging out at space bars, all guys in astronaut suits tend to look alike.

Except for Val Kilmer, because BATMAN LIPS.

Wizardo  (who is Ray's FRIEND not his ENEMY, I reiterate) explains how the "disappearing act" works to show that suspecting Venner is moronic, CHIEF BAXTER.

So, what do you imagine Wizardo DID during that deadtime on stage?
Ten minutes is a LONG time for the audience to just stare in silence at a big globe.

If Venner IS the bank robber, then he's a moron, because he's wearing the most identifiable outfit imaginable: an astronaut suit and a fake ray gun. This is the Atom's Ivy Town, not Martian Manhunter's Apex City (which actually is a center for space exploration on the Florida coast, where one might reasonably see an occasional man in an astronaut suit).  If you REALLY wanted to go about unnoticed in Silver Age Ivy Town, you should probably wear something common that would blend in with everyone else.  Like an orange glen plaid suit.

Regardless of whether Venner is a moron, Chief Baxter IS a moron, and so:

Criminal attorney Jean Loring knows: gloves leave no fingerprints. 
Especially on flamethrowers.

Always desperate for attention, Jean Loring never met a case so stupid she wouldn't take it (like the time she defended a swan in court as her client). And so, the show must go on:

Wha-hat?! ANOTHER man in an astronaut suit?!
To quote Tom Kalmaku, "What goes on? What goes on?"

So there is the real robber, who, you might notice, is ALSO a moron.  If he'd simply taken the night off from astro-robbery, there would be no evidence to suspect anybody BUT Venner and our fake fake-astronaut would be in the clear.  Moron; he's the perfect nemesis for Chief Baxter.

Naturally, Ray shows up and atomizes this guy.

This is just like that Twilight Zone episode with Agnes Moorhead. Except in reverse.

Sigh. Cuz you need nature's most awesome source of energy and the power of The Atom to defeat a guy lumbering around in a fake astronaut suit.  You're six foot, 180 lbs, Ray; just walk up and punch him in his moronic astroface.  This story, by the way, perfectly illustrates why the Atom never really took off as a character: too many of his stories don't really require him to be the Atom at all. This is a "Roy Raymond, TV Detective" story, and not a very good one at that.

As it turns out, when they pull his mask off it's Old Man Withers, the caretaker at the amusement park.  

Or Howard Crane, the Stage Manager.
Something like that.

The guy does have a super-power, though: FASHION.

Not enough super-seamsters in comics, nowadays, that's what wrong with 'em.

So, I'm going to skip the part where Stage Manager and Super-Seamster Howard Crane manages to escape the Atom and tries to rob the post office, where he mailed the loot to himself, because it's just too painful. Instead, let's skip right to the gratuitously sexist wrap-up, where Jean Loring decides to change out of her circus aerialist costume into something less ridiculous.


Note again: that's Wizardo (no real name given).  He's not an enemy of the Atom, he's a friend of Ray's.  His assistant, Peter Venner, the guy in the normal fake astronaut suit, is not an enemy of the Atom.  His stage manager, Howard Crane, the guy in the reversible orange glen plain astronaut suit, isn't really an enemy of the Atom, either; he's just a moronic super-seamster who made the mistake of working for an old friend of Ray Palmer.  The Atom has (nearly) nothing to do with it.

So, Comic Vine and Fandom database, et al., stop blindly parroting one another without actually doing the most basic original research. 

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Heroclix Customs: The Island, Captain Squidd, and the Sea Sleuth

Heroclix doesn't have any maps that have underwater elevations, which are important when you like Aquaman as much as I do, so I have made one:

I labelled the Island because I get easily confused.

It works mostly like a regular map with elevations except that the three lowest elevations (Deep, Mid, and Shallow) are water terrain.  All Heroclix figures can muck about as normal in the Shallows: Walkers have their speed halved and Flyers float above the water.  But the Mid and Deep levels are underwater only so only Swimmers can go there.  And, of course, one can swim in 3D, so no ladder or stairs are needed to get from one elevation to the next.

The topmost level is the Island itself; it's the same elevation as the Shallows, but is not water terrain.  The Island has some vegetative hindering terrain on it.  There's a handful of squares where Aquaman's finny friends can't get to you but... he still can.

Whom might you find in the environs of the Island? Well, perhaps my custom Captain Squidd figure:

You probably don't remember Captain Squidd because he appeared only once, but he made quite an impression.

On Aquaman, at least.

He sits, oddly enough, on the Roland Daggett dial from the BTAS Heroclix set; mostly that's so he can generate pirate crewmembers.

It's all about creative exegesis.

You might also find on this map another character you've never heard of:  Phineas Pike, the Sea Sleuth. 

Phineas Pike, Sherlock of the Sea, was a sort of Alfred-like supporting character for Golden Age Aquaman. His schtick was that he was a consummate expert on everything maritime, but didn't know how to swim.  Comic book irony.

As you can see, I gave him a more reasonable color palette, because, LORDY, old comics are garish.

He sits on the dial of some minor Marvel villain:

A stealthed perplexer with empower and enhance?  Oh, yes, Phineas Pike may be goofy but he'll be a solid support figure for Aquaman & Co.  

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Heroclix Customs: Science Square and The Prankster

Not all villains rob banks; more and more, they steal tech.

So I made this map of "The Science District":

The commons area is decorated with a fractal pattern (because that sort of math-y stuff underlies all of science) and a few interactive exhibits of a various vaguely scientific types.  Not a lot of opportunity for terrain-based tactics but that's not really Superman's style and this is definitely for him and those flying people. 

Although I imagine this as being in Metropolis, it could be in any of the DCU's major fictionopolises.  It's flanked by buildings for some of DC's major corporate players in tech: Kord Industries, Mercury Labs, Lexcorp, S.T.A.R. Labs, WayneTech, Queen Consolidated, and PalmerTech.  The flying drone/ship is just for pretty.

Whom might you find on such a map?  Perhaps the Prankster, with a sculpt made on HeroForge:

"It's a gift, Superman, just for you...!"

This sculpt sits on the wildly unpredictable (yet surprisingly affordable) Obnoxio The Clown dial:

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Heroclix customs: The Museum and Aegis

Time for some Heroclix!

Here is a new custom map I made for a generic location: The Museum.

They are easier to rob at night, you know.
This map is based on a real place: The Oriental Museum at the University of Chicago.  

Museum Floor Plan
Not pictured: museum stuff.

On my map, the display cases serve as indoor blocking terrain.  Walls and displays are not allowed to be destroyed. Because art.

The circles at the northern edge of the map are for placing Loot (an option I have developed for play).  

Whom might you find in the Museum? Perhaps Wonder Woman's brother, Jason, protecting some classical artifact.

They never gave Jason a code name.  

In fact, they never even gave him a surname. 
Very rude.

It's not a perfect match for his comic book costume, but one does what one can:

He looks a little young here, but he's Diana's twin so they are same age. 

Jason's time in comics was short and mostly just an excuse to inflict some pain on Wonder Woman when he betrayed her to some New Gods nonsense.  And then changed his mind as soon as someone pointed out that it was rude.  Very CW.  I hope a writer will bring him back some day; Wonder Woman really needs a broader dynasty and "the only male Amazon" is a great concept.

This sculpt was created on and ordered from HeroForge 2.0.  

I have placed it on this dial, a very good one for protecting others: 


They never gave him a surname or a codename, so I had to do that myself.

In the most obvious way possible, I might add.

Given how protection-oriented the dial is, "Aegis" seemed the right choice.

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

This may be the best thing that's happened to DC in my lifetime

Is it possible that the coronavirus shutdown is the best thing to happen to DC in my memory?  

That may seem like an insane assertion.  The quarantine has wrecked production of the films, shows, and periodicals that star, and therefore keep popular, the DCU's intellectual properties--their characters and the worlds they inhabit.  The distribution system is in ruins, the direct market collapsing, and brick and mortar stores in ICU.  The situation is so bad that Newsarama, with little of substance to report on, has resorted to publishing its own fan-fic about its fever fantasy of a DC-Marvel crossover event.  It's like watching someone hallucinate in a sensory -deprivation tank. It's hard to imagine a worse situation for comics to be, other than perhaps being directly outlawed or so severely censored as to be gelded (and comics already survived that quite nimbly during the Comics Code Authority Era).

And yet. 

DC is now engaging directly with its readers, finally liberating itself from its shotgun marriage to Diamond Distributors in 1995.  

It's unheard of! At least to any 35 or under.

In that process, DC has resorted to publishing online through its "Digital Firsts" format some comics that were written not for the direct market but for the general public.

And the difference is striking. In a good way.

I have bought these 'new' Digital Firsts and they make me feel like a drowning man finally getting air.  

A good feeling, as Green Arrow has recently taught us.

Why do I enjoy them?  Because they aren't slivers of some year(s)-long arc by some auteur determined to leave the character "as you never seen them before" in some narrative experiment.  Because, although the stories make reference to and take elements from the DCU's long history, they don't rely on the reader's knowledge of it.  Because the heroes are recognizably on model.  Because their adversaries, while definitely villainous, are shown not to be gratuitously so, but to have worldviews and motives that are made evident, consistent, and the cause of their behavior.  Because the heroes are in interested in finding out whether they can defeat the villain by winning the war of ideas, by getting them to change their worldview to mitigate their misbehavior, and failing that, to punch the crap out of them.  

But even sympathetic Batman....

... is still Batman.

Because they are short comics but complete stories. Because they only cost 99 cents and feel worth their cost, for a change.

Because I am buying them; and reading them; and enjoying them; and talking with my friends about them.  Because if someone asked me for something to read to help them get into comics, I could give them these, rather than ones 50 years old or expressly written for children with juvenile art-styles.

Because in one Aquaman story, they reintroduced and modernized the Sea Devils and had them wind up becoming part of Aquaman's larger dynasty of justice-seekers.   In another, they introduced Black Manta with his backstory completely synopsized, brought the Mermazons into continuity as a throwaway, and set a battle at the hilariously named Museum of Unnatural History.

Because they have been fun, and funny, and wise, and exciting, and witty, and sad. Passionate without being overdramatic, instructive without being didactic, action-packed without being incomprehensible.

In short, they are being written in the way comics were when popular cultural adopted them are as our common mythology, as if every comic might be someone's first and therefore making it possible a person to START reading comics at any point and feel welcome.

It is my fervent hope that through the cold turkey of quarantine, DC will have been able to kick its addictions to non-stop crossovers, reboots, epics, and character deconstructions.  All they have to do is keep writing comics like these, comics like I thought people had forgotten how to make, and they will have my devoted readership again.  And just maybe some new readers, too.

Tuesday, May 05, 2020

Superman No. 36: Inscrutable

I understand many things. Quantum physics.  Greek plays.  Modern art. The works of Bach.

You know what I don't understand? This cover:

I'm sure Grant Morrison has planned an unpublished mini-series based on it.

I've been contemplating this cover for 50 years and it remains inscrutable and semiotically inaccessible.  Not even a bursting shell can penetrate its meaning.  I even stared at an original copy in person to make sure there wasn't some foil-based double-imagery built in that I couldn't perceive that had news-stand owners and seven-year-old boys laughing their heads off.  Nada.

Why is Lois Aunt Fritzie?  Why is she holding a tiny hammer like Dr. Maxwell?  Why is Superman dirty-sanchezing an icemaker?  Why does Lois keep bananas in the refrigerator? And on the floor?  Did she label those jars herself? Does ace investigative reporter Lois Lane put up preserves?  Why is Superman in her kitchen? What is he laughing about? Why is Lois angry?  Is that a ham, or part of Lois' latest victim?  Did old-timey fridges even HAVE icemakers?  Why is Superman letting ice cubes spit out and melt on the floor?  Why is there an apple on the floor? Is the apple a surrealist inclusion? Is the entire cover a surrealistic exercise? Doesn't Superman have anything better to do? And how can Lois not realize the man one yard from her nose is her closest co-worker?

If you can explain, you 50 years smarter than I.

Monday, April 20, 2020

The Seven-Part Sequence

If you have ever enjoyed any of my "Week" posts (like the Green Arrow vs. The Pirates Week that precedes this post), you may have assumed that the number of posts in a "Week" is arbitrary, or simply chosen to match a seven-day sequence.

It's not.  It happens to coincide neatly with that, yes, and that is very convenient for me.  But, in fact, the underlying reason is how Golden Age stories (and often ones from later eras) tend to be structured: in seven parts.

0.          Splash Page
1. Act 1: first prep
2. Act 1: first encounter
3. Act 2: second prep(s)
4. Act 2: second encounter(s)
5. Act 3: final prep and encounter
6.         Denouement

That's the template for many a comic book tale.

0. The Splash Page

We number the Splash Page as "0" because it's technically not part of the story.

Remember, during the Golden Age, a comic book usually contained more than one story, sometimes many.  So the cover couldn't necessary be used to convey the information about any one particularly story within.  The cover was therefore often a generic representation of the contents of any one story:

More Fun Comics (1936-1947) #78
This scene does not appear in this comic.
WARNING: The comic contains Green Arrow. Do not read while operating heavy machinery.

Thus each story has its own individual inside cover: the splash page. The splash page is 'the cover of the DVD'. it tells you:

who the protagonist is (LOGO!),

what villain or challenger he will face (The Black Raider pirate ship!),

and shows you a literal or metaphorical drawing an example of the conflict between the two.
This scene DOES appear in this comic.

1. Act 1-- Prep for First Encounter.

The protagonist (hero) and antagonist (villain or situation) are introduced separately. They are doing their Own Things; but they are usually aware of each other.

The villain is doing crimes, and in the process we learn his Methods and Motives.  For example, "This is Pirate Captain. He steals at sea using an old-style ship"

Method: a rakish robber-craft leaving flaming destruction in her grim wake.
Motive: mad dreams of lawless looting in the evil brain of the pirate chief.

or "I was a penny-ante crook but now PENNIES WILL BE MY CRIME SYMBOL."
Joseph Coyne | Headhunter's Holosuite Wiki | Fandom

If he is a villain we already know, we learn 'his new angle'. For example, the Joker is bored; something innocuous inspires him; "I shall commit crimes... IN REVERSE!"

Pictured: hysteron-proteron.

This is common in Golden Age Batman stories. It's how they kept Batman's rogue's gallery both fresh but consistent.  This is in contrast, to say, Dick Tracy storylines, where the villain gets one schtick, one story, and then dies.  Badly. Like the one who got eaten by rats.

"It's what I do."

During the Prep for the first encounter the villain is probably not planning on an encounter with the hero and is, ideally, currently avoiding it. This, of course, may not be true of a returning foe, such as the Golden Age's greatest villain and ultimate evil clown,

Adventure 113 – Green Arrow vs Bull's-eye | Babblings about DC Comics

Bull's-Eye (a.k.a. Leapo The Clown).

During the Prep for First Encounter, the hero, meanwhile, is doing one of two things;

chilling in their private life

If the hero is Green Arrow,
"chilling" is always done while sitting.

or patrolling/stopping basic crimes.

This is before the first encounter with archfiend
Cousin Jane and her weapon, Junior the Bad Baby.

The earlier a story is, the more likely the hero is chilling.  Golden Age heroes hung around in sportcoats and smoking jackets a lot.

Learning about the villain's crimes in the news,

Pictured: the Golden Age news medium of "wuxtry".

hearing about them from Mr. Authority Figure,

"Then maybe we can pop into Ikea on the way back and get you a normal lamp."

or getting wind of something through Society Connections or a Personal Experience.

Pictured: a personal experience.

This is because in the Golden Age, heroes were less likely to be portrayed like policemen who go on patrol.  They were usually portrayed more like fireman; they trained to assist when an unusual "crime fire" broke out.  This is why the Golden Age Justice Society hang out around their big round table having milk and cookies, but the Bronze Age Justice League has members with godlike powers sitting in a satellite on monitor duty.

Because of his close relationship with the police, Batman was on the cutting edge of the idea that a hero would "patrol" his city.

Even if only to get out of the house.

This why his stories often open with him stopping some crime unrelated to the main villain; so often, that this trope is named "The Batman Cold Open."

In any case, either the hero makes the decision to tackle the villain / investigate the situation

"But when we do... I will be wearing THE most fabulous cape."

or circumstances throw them together,

"Post card"; just google it.

which brings us to the next stage.

2.  The First Encounter

The hero deals with the encounter per usual, but 'per usual' doesn't work. because of this villain's methods or motives.

Joseph Coyne (New Earth)/Gallery | DC Database | Fandom
"No one has ever just THROWN something at me before!"

The hero is caught unawares and the villain gets away (with or without accomplishing his goal; that doesn't really matter).  This is the end of Act 1.

3.  Prep for the Second Encounter(s)

During stage 3, we separately see both the hero and villain take stock of the situation again after their first encounter:

"Two-face let the hostages go?"
"The Joker had the flowers rigged!"
"The Catwoman was there in disguise all along!"
"It seems our thief has pennies, on the brain, eh?" 
"...Well, NOW we know what to expect next time."

Armed with this new knowledge, the heroes feel better prepared for the next encounter, sometimes preparing countermeasures; "next time we'll be on the lookout for that, with our bat-copper-alloy-repellant!"

Or sometimes they set up a lure for the villain so they can control the time and place of the second encounter:

"We'll place a fake story in the newspaper about the Van Landorpf emerald that Penguin can't resist!"

Thought I made that up, didn't you?

The villain does the same. "oh-ho! Batman's on my trail, is he? Well, wait till he see what I have in store for him!"

4. The Second Encounter(s)

In the Second Encounter,  the hero and/or villain employ countermeasures developed as a result of the First Encounter.

Pictured: countermeasures.

Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't.  They do not result in the villain being captured;  BUT they sometimes result in the hero getting captured.


Depending on how many pages the creators have to fill, there may be more than one 'second encounter'.  The second encounter can be dragged out easily because it's the battle of wits between the hero and the villain, just as long as the outcome is slightly different each time.

"You'll kick my ass in a completely different way this time!"

For example:

  • First Encounter: Villain gets away with loot.
  • Second Encounter A: Hero countermeasures work; villain loses loot but gets away.
  • Second Encounter B: Villain countermeasure works; the hero is captured. or the villain gets away with the loot.

This is how the hero winds up in a death trap which the villain doesn't stick around to monitor.  The villain's real goals (loot, revenge, etc.) are elsewhere. Killing the hero was never the goal; the hero is just an impediment to the villains' real goals.

What could possibly go wrong?
It's not like you can make a telephone out of two pennies and a box of spices!

5.  Act 3 -- The Final Encounter.

In Act 3, the action is accelerated. Sometimes there is no prep and the hero's countermeasures finally work; or the villain does not prep because they don't expect the hero to escape capture, and a result, the villain is defeated.

The Giant Penny and the Penny Plunderer: the enduring legacy of a ...

Or dies.

Bull's-Eye pulling an undignified but effective exit.

The Joker, ALWAYS copying Bull's-Eye. Sad.

Often in some ironic way.

Hail. And farewell.

6.  The Denouement.

This brief ending is the bookend to the Splash page, and accomplishes the return to normal status.  We see the hero pondering whether the villain is dead.  Or we see the villain going to or in jail.

Hat and all.

Or the heroes discuss the outcome with Mr. Authority Figure, or among themselves back in the domestic setting.

Shut up, Ollie; you are no Adam West.

"If only he hadn't done X!"
"I guess that the end of him."
"It'll be a long time before we see him again!"
"That's what you get for doing crimes."
"Boy, I need a rest after that!"
"I am happy that's over with!"
And those are the seven sections of a regular Golden Age story (and many that follow in later ages):

  • 0. Splash Page
  • 1. Prep for first encounter
  • 2. First encounter
  • 3. Prep for second encounter
  • 4. Second encounter(s)
  • 5. Final Encounter
  • 6. Denouement.