Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Correcting an oversight

There's a comic book creator whose recent work has impressed me and I've failed to mention it, but today I correct that oversight.

That creator is, improbably, Chip Zdarksy.

Now, I have said plenty of bad words about Zdarsky's work and every word was much deserved.  I take none of that back. In fact, I'm going to start by adding a few more...

His recent "Gotham War" trivializes itself by driving by utilizing the old "Batman Frazzled Beyond His Limits" and "Batman versus Everyone Else" motifs that are somehow both trite and out of character for Batman.  He draws semi-arbitrary lines and puts Bat-characters on either side of moral/stragetic debate in the War Against Crime.  Because, you know, nothing says IMPORTANT drama than heroes, especially ones who work closely together, FIGHTING ONE ANOTHER rather than, I dunno, criminals and because someone still thinks he's writing for Marvel.

It also included silly Morrison-manqué touches (such as the Batman of Zurh-An-Arrrh), laughable plot-twists (like Vandal Savage BUYING Wayne Manor, without Bruce knowing), false deaths (courtesy of Clayface), and... the list goes on.

In some ways, the execution of this storyline simply couldn't be worse.  

But I refuse to let that blind even me, hard-core Zdarksy anti-fan that I am, to the fact that:

the STORYLINE is nothing short of g-d brilliant.

The storyline, in case you have not been following it, is essentially that Catwoman siphons away all the goons that populate the gangs of all of Gotham City's kooky costumed criminals.

DVD: Filmation's The Adventures of Batman Finally Comes To DVD -
The Joker! Clown Prince of Crime!

The Penguin! Pudgy purveyor of perfidy!

and the cool, CRUEL, Mistah Freeze!

Et al., of course. 

She does so to teach them to work ON THEIR OWN as BETTER criminals but NON-VIOLENT ones who target only "worthwhile" scores (that is, to say, rich people).  And violent crime PLUMMETS in Gotham.  

This is so brilliant, for a variety of reasons, even typing it makes my teeth hurt. Here's a few.  This is old-style, Golden Age plotting, where Our Criminal Of The Month has Some New Scheme, Theme, Or Tactic.  This is the **** that MADE most still-used Golden Age villains FAMOUS in the first place.  "The House That Joker Built"; "The Penguin Takes a Flyer Into the Future"; the Beauty Shop of Elva Barr; old comics were FULL of plots where 'some new wrinkle' would be brought to bear against Gotham (or Batman). Instead of having each of these schemes performed by The Ugly Suit gang or some such throwaways, writers used already familiar and popular costumed criminals as the perpetrators.  This made the stories more memorable because of the colorful criminal and made the criminal more memorable by showing, through a new gimmick, that they were more than one-trick ponies.

Detective 128 – The Joker's crimes in reverse | Babblings about DC Comics
What do crimes in reverse have to do with THE JOKER?
Nothing. Absolutely nothing. It's just an amusingly ironic idea that popped into his head one day.  This is the secret to Batman's longtime villains' longevity: their versatility.

Catwoman running a "school for larceny" is exactly such a scheme.  The Golden Age teams with stories about masterminds who run 'academies' where they teach criminals to Rob Better or who sell 'foolproof' crime-plans to members of the Ugly Suit Gang.

The Faginesque  "Crime College" from Batman #3

As this excerpt from a 1982 story ("The Academy of Crime") shows, the phenomenon was not confined to the Golden Age.

So, look, that aspect of the plot is by no means original.  But Zdarsky is using the Golden Age method of putting this otherwise generic plot under the banner of the Catwoman.  This is another part of the brilliance of the plot: it is rooted firmly in Catwoman's historical characterization as being a THIEF who avoids KILLING.   The plot is character-based.

In Catwoman's case, however, she's not doing it (solely) for profit or power.  It's also her way of FIGHTING CRIME... with CRIME.  She's doing it to help keep Gotham City SAFE.  That's not only NOVEL, it's shear genius.  Catwoman is remaking Gotham's underworld in her own image and IT WORKS, because it has drained away all the raw goon-power that Gotham's kooky criminals

The Single Best Sequence of FILMATION BATMAN | 13th Dimension, Comics,  Creators, Culture
Look out, criminals! Here come...
Batman and Robin!

are dependent upon to cause all the mayhem that they do.  This is painfully clever. As readers, we are just accustomed to assuming the goons are available in plentiful supply to these people; they are just part of the scenery.  Zdarsky smartly goes right to the heart of that assumption and turns it against that: does that HAVE to be the case? What if it's NOT, and what could deplete the supply? And his answer is original and (comic book) realistic; not the reformation or capture of all these goon, but rather their empowerment as independent operators. 

It's also brilliant because, of all people, Chip Zdarsky finally is the writer WHO GETS WHAT CATWOMAN IS.  Catwoman is not a hero; Catwoman isn't even an anti-hero.  She's a criminal, but a practical one with a conscience.  Only simplistic writers (and readers) think that characters must either be All-Good or All-Bad.

BATMAN THE GOLDEN AGE Omnibus Volume 9 – Buds Art Books
If only the Batman mythos had some character that could serve as a constant reminder of this fact.

Zdarsky has some of Batman's team slowly being seduced to Catwoman's way of thinking; violent crime is down, and the victims of the new wave of thefts are, frankly, people who are not objectively harmed by the loss of their excess property.  

Jason Todd Stealing Tires
Three guesses which member of the Bat-Family is most attracted by Catwoman's approach.

And it frees up the Bat-fam to focus on more serious crimes if they simply 'wink and nod' a bit to what Catwoman's doing. What's not to like?

After all, what harm can it really do...?

Batman, naturally, finds plenty to not-like.  Batman is very good at finding things to not-like.  He rightly points how indulging crime, of any type, will not have good results and how inevitably this democratization of crime will lead to unplanned and unpleasant results by those clumsier than Catwoman. Which, you know, is exactly what does happen. Because Batman doesn't do "wrong".

13 GREAT THINGS About Filmation's 1968 BATMAN Cartoon | 13th Dimension,  Comics, Creators, Culture
" protect life, limb, AND PROPERTY as Batman and Robin".
Bruce wrote that himself; doesn't want anybody stealing his Batman stuff.

Too many writers like to depict Batman as stupid or blinded by obsession. But Batman is simply the adult in the room. He is not swayed by your magical thinking, he knows there are no easy solutions. The World's Greatest Detective and has no trouble deducing the mess that will inevitably result from Catwoman's plan.

Batman is the adult in the room.
If you just remember that, every story with him in it makes a lot more sense.

Batman-- despite the "I'm Batman"reputation-- has a much more realistic sense of his limitations than Catwoman, in her criminal egotism, does.  Zdarksy uses this conflict to drive a wedge between the two characters and IT'S ABOUT DAMNED TIME SOMEBODY DID.  Golden Age Batman knew it; Adam West's Batman knew it; heck, even Robert Pattinson's Batman got it: Batman and Catwoman have essential worldviews that render them incompatible.  Are they hot for each other? Do they lurve each other? Maybe; who cares? They truly have--have had-- "irreconcilable differences" for some 80 years and cannot be together as a result.  

JSA Gotham War
There is only ONE reason for Batman & Catwoman to finally "get together" and it's Huntress and Geoff Johns has ALREADY plopped her back into existence (as he does, when motivated), so that reason is GONE.

For that ALONE, Zdarsky deserves my, and everyone's, thanks.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023



Now, THAT is something to talk about!

The last time that anyone heard from Jean Loring, she had been stripped of the power of Eclipso (this was after her failed attempt to seduce the Spectre, but it's really best if we just don't go there right now) and fell to her death in the Atlantic Ocean, where she was eaten by a shark.

Poor, innocent shark; doesn't stand a chance.

And by "last time" I mean "last time we saw her alive".  Naturally we saw her LATER after she was dead in one (or two?) of those "Every Dead Character Comes Back as The Evil Dead" crossover events (probably Blackest Night).  

Jean was one of the few characters substantially DOWNGRADED by becoming a Black Lantern.  I remind you that in her heyday she terrified not merely entire civilizations but ENTIRE PLANETS.

I was very disappointed at the time; it was the first and only confirmation that Jean actually WAS dead. I was expecting (hoping?) that she would just pop up alive someday declaring that she had landed ON the shark, which was thereupon knocked unconscious, and then ate the shark.  

Like that guy in Watchmen nobody remembers,
except Jean would have no remorse at what she had become.

That pretty much put a stake through the character's heart.


Courtesy of Geoff Johns, who bends DC reality to his will like a steroidal Fifth Dimensional Imp, she has just popped in the pages of Justice Society as if nothing had ever happened.  And by "nothing" I mean her murder of Sue Dibney, in a wholly unpleasant story that every reader would like to pretend never happened.  But Geoff Johns knows that Jean Loring as a deluded, homicidal lunatic is just too darned compelling a character to leave in back issue dustbins. So back she is, no explanation required.  She is back simply because the DCU is more fun WITH her than without her.

The name "Cold Coast" is absolutely perfect.  As is that IMPOSSIBLE view of the moon, chosen to evoke Eclipso, and the fact that all asylums in DC simply have to look Like That.

Say what you will; nobody can encapsulate a character as efficiently as Geoff Johns, who does it here without even SHOWING Jean.

She's being interviewed by neo-Dr. Mid-nite (Beth Chapel), who you'll remember was one of the most notable victims of the earlier Eclipso in the grand, extremely over-the-top Eclipso crossover of 1992.  Like Jean, Beth is back from the dead because, well, that's just how Geoff Johns wants it.

You'd think Dr. Mid-Nite would use a voice recorder, rather than a note pad as if she's the Silver Age Lois Lane, Gal Reporter.

But Jean Loring is still focused only on Ray "The Atom" Palmer.

This panel, you may note, is an homage to her "oh GOD Jean is STILL INSANE" panel in the prestige story-that-will-not-be-named.

You remember Ray Palmer, of course...

The man whose marriage proposal she turned down AT LEAST 56 TIMES BEFORE WE EVEN MET HER. The man she cheated on after they were married and then divorced. Which is not at all consistent with her obsession, but such is crazy.  Who knows why on earth she's so fixated on him.


Dr. Mid-Nite, Junior, stupidly asks her who she's talking to, even though she literally just said his name, and if you are going to interview JEAN LORING, you darned well know who "Ray" is.  

Skipped those electives in Psychiatry, huh, Dr. M?

Jean has a worldview.  And she's committed.

And if there is anyone who deserves to be committed, it's Jean Loring. Dr. Mid-Nite doesn't even HAVE lapels.

So, although Jean is still the wacky deluded gal we've all come to hate and fear, she is ALSO still the Uber-competent person she always was. As a brilliant attorney, she has always had a way with words.

A randomly chosen example.

Not your average prolix barrister, she had a penchant for pithy, piercing remarks.

Pictured: pithy and piercing.

So I SHOULD have been on the look out for her to mark her return to comics with some virtuosic display of dialog. But I was so overwhelmed by her return, that I completely failed to notice this (until loyal and longtime commenter CobraMisfit pointed it out to me):

I still love you, Ray.
That's why I'm waiting for you.
I'm waiting right here.

Yep. Perhaps the most flawless and beautiful COMIC BOOK HAIKU I have ever featured here on Haikuesday.  And Jean made it seem so normal, so natural, I never even noticed.

Your turn, now! What beautiful haiku can YOU compose to celebrate (?!) the return of Jean Loring to comics?

Friday, September 08, 2023

Things That Made Me Happy in My Comics This Week: Justice Society of America #6

I read Justice Society #6 this week.  

Apparently in #5, which I read but have already forgotten, the Villain Who Couldn't Be Stopped and Who Kicked All Our Asses Simultaneously was stopped by the Heroes Trying Harder All Together.  But that's how EVERY Geoff John's plot (certainly those with the JSA) ends.  It also ends the other way every (possible) Geoff Johns' story ends:

with Courtney being right.

Because Stargirl shits g-d marble, as we all know. Because it took Stargirl to come up with the radical idea of the JSA taking time-displaced Golden Age side-kicks under their wing. I'm sure that wouldn't have occurred to Mister Terrific, one of the DCU's three smartest humans, without her help.  He was probably on the verge of sending them to Granny Goodness.

But that sort of thing aside, I enjoyed the issue (as follows).

The Stranding of The World's Phinest.

Power Girl's in the mix, too, for different reasons, but I forget whether Johns did that, and, regardless, it didn't happen in the pages of this Justice Society story.

When Geoff Johns wants A Baby, he is (unlike many writers) PERFECTLY capable of throwing out The Bathwater.  And in this case the Baby is Helena Wayne (NOT Bertinelli).  Johns does not shy away from the crux of a character, no matter how stupid or inconvenient it may be, he makes that crux his battle standard.

Geoff Johns knows darned well that the FUNCTION of the Huntress character is to be the daughter of Batman and Catwoman; if she is not THAT, she serves no purpose.  So that's what the Huntress is.  From a future she has now wiped out by her (heroic) actions in the present, and to which, therefore, she cannot return. Fin. 

Sensible Batman.

Johns' Bruce Wayne is sensible, calm, and supportive.  Because of course he is. Batman is a Golden Age hero, after all, although we forget to think of him that way.

He's going to help this Helena lady, who is not his child at all (even though her father WAS Bruce Wayne), because it's the right thing to do.  In a way that doesn't smother her and keeps her out of his hair, but, jeez, one unsolicited offspring whose creation he wasn't involved in is MORE than enough.  Amusingly, Johns' even has Helena mention the current Batman storyline where he's running around like a basketcase fighting his own family, in stark contrast to His Normal Self we see here.  Johns loves to troll that sort of thing.

Flash back.

GJ has just dumped a passel of Golden Age sidekicks into the present. Obviously lots of their stories will have to do with the difficulties of adjusting or making themselves part of current families and dynasties blah blah. 

But Flash hasn't got time for that nonsense.  Judy Garrick returns and when his dad remembers her, everyone else does, because it's Jay Garrick and that's just how it is.


Steel's Ancestry.

You're his great-uncle, numbskull. It's not exactly a "post-War" concept.

This one is interesting to me.  It's unique because it's kind of backwards.  The sidekick isn't getting iconic oomph from a connection to a Golden Age hero; he's GIVING Golden Age oomph to a Modern Hero.  John Henry "Steel" Irons has zero connection to the Golden Age.  His roots go EXACTLY to the Death of Superman story, which Golden Age fan GJ knows is a weak point for any character.  So he's inserting this fellow (he hardly looks as if calling him a "kid" is appropriate) into Steel's PAST as a way of connecting Steel to the Golden Age.  Might as well; no one else has ever been able to figure out what to do with Steel, a literary conundrum that has stumped even the likes of Shaquille O'Neal.

Justifiable Rudeness

There is little I hate more in comics than the Gratuitously Unpleasant Character. Like, well, any character being written by Roy Thomas.  And the last place such a character should be is in the JSA or its derivatives.

One of the many Things Roy Thomas Didn't Understand, since none of his characters can get through two sentences without being ****s.

So obviously "Salem", the stupidly named and snide protégé of the Golden Age Dr. Fate, Kent Nelson, has been my least favorite of the rediscovered sidekicks. At least until GJ explained WHY she is like that.

She's rude in order to keep people at a distance so THEY DON'T DIE BY HER CURSE.  That's some Greek Tragedy stuff, right there.

Simple. Elegant. Rooted in the character's origin.  You don't have to always like WHAT Geoff Johns is doing to appreciate the sheer EFFICIENCY with which he does it.

He COULD have tried to streamline Dr. Fate's history. But he didn't. Because it's messy and that's just now a core part of the character.  

The Red Bee's Legacy

"As insane as it sounds" is Geoff Johns' credo.


M I C H A E L.

GJ knows that Michael, THE ABSURDITY of Michael, is at the crux of the Red Bee. Johns doesn't shy away from that as a stupid embarrassment, he embraces it with the fervor of a post-War lover returning to his beloved.

So Michael, who apparently is not only hyperintelligent BUT AGELESS, is there to greet his sidekick in our time.  Because all you need for the Red Bee is Superior City, a hero in a ridiculous costume (which this girl CERTAINLY qualifies as), and... Michael.

I like to imagine that Michael occasionally does lunch with Detective Chimp and Rex the Wonder Dog.  Very quiet lunches. Until Robbie the Robot Dog shows up.

Thursday, September 07, 2023

Things That Made Me Happy in My Comics This Week: Blue Beetle

I read Blue Beetle #1 and it pleased me.

Paco and Brenda are back.  

I, for one, am happy Paco is still "disgusting".

You can do a lot of things with Blue Beetle.  But if you are going to use Jaime Reyes, you need Paco and Brenda.  They are to Jaime as Lois & Jimmy are Clark (although, of course, they are nothing like Lois & Jimmy): essential supporting characters.  They barely appear in the issue, but the brief appearance is so on the spot, it's as if they'd never been gone.

Ted Kord as Jaime's Mentor.  

Ted is not focused on his ship; he's focused on Jaime.

The series begins with Ted Kord serving as Jaime Reyes's mentor. I don't think that has any historical precedent (that I have personally read, anyway).  Jaime was created precisely because Ted Kord was off the table (with an acute case of Being Dead).  But Jaime and Ted are a very natural pairing; Jaime's (and the series) respect for Ted Kord are off the charts, not only as he appears and acts in the present, but how he serves his role in the Blue Beetle lineage.  

This is, shall we say, called into question by a unknown interloper who encounters Ted and, um... leaves him a bit worse for wear.  NOT dead (yet), as I have seen reported in the media, because dead people aren't still talking.  I hope Ted gets better soon, because in just ONE ISSUE, the creative team re-established him beautifully and I would hate to see that go to waste.  Jaime deserves Ted and, frankly, so do we.

Jaime as a leader.

If that doesn't warm your heart, why read comics?

Jaime, whether he wants to be or, now has to be a leader. Not just of his soon-to-be-discussed sidekicks, but to the community of Reach-related extraterrestrials who (for some reason) are now living somewhere in intermittent seclusion in Palmera City.  That's too much responsible for a college freshman to have to deal with (in addition to have superpowers)... and that is exactly the kind of problem Jaime deserves as part of his stories.

Respect for Legacy

That sort of thing (using Classic foes and acknowledge past iterations of the heroic identity) is easy to take for granted now in DC Comics. DON'T.  Recognize, appreciate, and reward it, because it didn't used to be a given at.  Some of us still remember Jared Stevens and even if you don't, it wasn't that long ago that DC was run by someone eager to obliterate as much of DC's history as necessary to install his 5G creations (and their ilk) in those characters's place.  Never take respect for history for granted.


I love it when people speak in LOGOES.

"Colleagues" or "lieutenants" might be technically more accurate descriptions of Dynastes & Nitida, but... it's comics. They're sidekicks.  I have little idea who they are (surely introduced in Jaime's graduation one-shot), but I get everything I need about them from this appearance.  They have powers that are similar, but lesser and not identical to Jaime's, they are less expert and prudent in using them, so Jaime is their leader.  They work well as complements to Jaime, in how the look, what they do, and what their personalities are like.  It's almost as if the creative team knew the wisdom of positioning your main hero as the centerpiece of a dynasty of characters!


Mistakes are made by the characters in this issue.  Jaime has insufficient control over his lieutenants; they have insufficient control over their powers; Ted Kord gets in WAY over his head against a foe, despite all his gadgetry.  Too many creators are terrified to let their characters be anything less than Perfect Combatants and Strategists.  But superheroes are characters with a LOT of power; if they are too perfect there is no suspense.  The only character who gets to be perfect is, well, Batman, a benefit HE gets because he's otherwise powerless.

The art.

That art is nearly Golden Age in its solidity and simplicity.

I was worried after glancing at the Blue Beetle graduation one-shot that Blue Beetle as a property had fallen irretrievably into the uncanny valley of anime-style, with the big jagged mouths and single pop-eyes, like someone just couldn't shake the effects of loving Invader Zim.  And while there is SOME of that herein, it's a spice not a main dish (as the above snips make clear).  I'm especially pleased by how Ted Kord, with his simpler more abstract costume design, is allowed to seem exactly like what he is: a simpler character from a different time (but still appropriate to this one).

Thursday, August 31, 2023

Ten Things I'm Sick Of

 1. "Bat" & "Cat". It's a stupid, childish attempt to Sound Cool.

Zdarksy. Of course.  Who else would think imitating Tom King is a way to sound cool?

2 & 3.  Japanese Manga's weird fetish/obsession for nymphettes in sailor costumes and Corgis/Shiba Inus.
It's creepy in its relentlessness. Why can't they fixate on circus boys in swimming trunks, like normal Americans?

4. The continued Wink&Nod sexualization of Catwoman.

"Uncovered"; oh, it's not naughty ambiguity, it's a genuine exploration of her as feminist anti-hero icon, blah blah blah.  At least in the Golden Age when she wore a split-skirt and plunging neckline, they were more honest about it.

5. Yaoi.
Look, I suppose we gay people have a right to creepy trash as much as anyone, but I don't have to like it.  If this stuff is even FOR gay people, rather than just female readers who get off on watching male characters treat other male characters as badly as female characters are usually treated.

6 & 7. G'nort. And "swimsuit issues".
Who is this FOR?! People who fetishize grown-up circus boys in swimming trunks?

You know, the Fat Funny Friends of the Golden Age may be mostly gone, but don't convince yourself that the contemporary equivalent, the Lore-Riffing Parody Meta-Character (I'm looking at you, Dr. Quinzel) is any way more sophisticated (OR funny).

8. Oh So Clever Parodies/Satires/Homages that try to excuse themselves by lampshading that that's what they are.

Although ever time you DON"T lampshade it, some fool who missed the joke will inevitably start to take it seriously (e.g., Lobo, Sentry, the Extremists, the Watchmen), and, inevitably, that will include not just readers but writers.

9 & 10.  Chip Zdarsky and The League of Overused XXXtreme Batman Tropes.

"Batman descends on Gotham City, full of rage and force, more driven than ever to save his home. But the new landscape has turned friends into foes. Can anyone stop his reign of terror? Should they? The Gotham War continues in this second chapter!"