Friday, April 22, 2005

Mynah Problem


Atom37
Originally uploaded by Scipio1.
I've been called to task for omitting someone from my Dynastic Centerpiece treatment for the Atom: Major Mynah.

You remember, of course. During an adventure in Cambodia, the Atom saved the life of a bird, whose wings got broken, but Ray had Hawkman devise for it mechanical wings powered by cosmic rays so the bird could fly very fast indeed, which he did in further adventures whenever Ray rode him around. Oh, and he talked, because mynahs do, you know.

I don't know what drugs Gardner Fox used, but I'm glad they are now illegal.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Charlton Conspiracy Solved?

Devon, who erreth not, may have solved the Mystery of the Disappearing Charlton Characters.

At least, it's the best theory I've heard so far!

But don't believe me; judge for yourself at his blog (linked at right), "If You Had A Brain..."

The Atomic Dynasty!

It’s time to give the Dynastic Centerpiece treatment, in which we surround DC heroes with a ‘dynasty’ of characters to improve their iconic status, to the Atom, who, as you may have heard, has had a spot of trouble lately.

To those of us born in the previous century, the themes around the concept of the Atom are pretty clear: Science. Tinyness (and its opposite). Blowing Stuff Up.

Dynastic Centerpiece: Ray Palmer, atomic physicist. Duh.

Junior Counterpart: Al Rothstein (Atom-Smasher). Change his name to Leviathan or it will sound very weird. Al certainly could use some mentoring, wouldn’t you say? Beside, Ray lived in his ear for a while, so they know each other.

Sidekick: Grant Emerson (Damage). As the son of the original Atom, he’s a must. DC’s not doing anything with him and a kid with that kind of power needs an adult superhero around.

Elder Statesman: Because the original Atom’s not around, we’ll fill in with Daniel Dunbar (Dyna-Mite). Last seen hanging with Old Justice, he’s got a power-punch (like the original Atom), he’s a science-hero (like the current Atom), and he blows stuff up (like Damage). Besides, DC needs to make amends for replacing his brain with Hitler’s in the “Golden Age” Elseworlds. Emily Post frowns on replacing people’s brains with Hitler’s.

Black Sheep: Josh Xan (Mongrel). Angry guy with an angry name. At large since the Bloodlines crossover debacle, he’s worked repeatedly with Hawkman (like the Atom), zaps stuff with his hands (like the power-punchy guys, only it’s “darkforce” from “negative mental thoughts” because he’s ANGRY), and used to work for a shadowy government agency, which is always a useful plot device. He brings both sex appeal AND comic relief because he wears every single signal of rebelhood in the DCU (ponytail, earring, torn jeans, black tee, motorcycle gloves, Lobo-like belt buckle, and ratty trenchcoat). And did I mention that he’s angry?

Female Counterpart. The mysterious Doll Girl (sadly, Elasti-Girl is spoken for). Unlike the rest of this gang, she’d actually have a workable secret identity, so they could do some stealth work.

Civilian Companions. Several natural choices. Colleague Prof. Alpheus Hyatt (the Time Pool Guy). Paul Hoben, Jean’s former partner, who, in a pinch, knows how to use the size-belt. Norm Brawler, the Atom’s biographer. Supergoober and technogeek Snapper Carr, who could rent a room in Ray’s house.

Romantic Interest: No, not Eclipso. Enrichetta Negrini, Ray’s former lab assistant from Italy. She should be a fellow instructor by now.

Contexualizing City: Academic Ivy Town and its metropolis, toney Calvin City.

Authority Figure: Chief Baxter is the historical choice, but a science-type is needed, too. Maybe Kitty Faulkner at STARLabs?

Funny Fat Friends: Nobel-prize winning physicist and Kid Flash’s grandfather, Ira West. He’s not really fat, but he’s absent-minded and that’s funnier.

Animal Companion: A trained bee? Just kidding. Besides, any animal companion would eventually eat Doll Girl. It would, however, amuse me if Ray had an ant farm.

Obligatory Guest Stars:

The Human Bomb, still alive and ticking since 1942. Picture him and Damage stumbling around while Atom and Doll Girl are trying to do espionage; priceless.
Elasti-Girl. Admit it. Like me, you desperately want to see Al Rothstein get pimp-slapped by a 50-foot B-movie actress wearing kicky purple go-go boots and gloves.
Mr. Terrific. He have Ray have already worked together, and Ray doesn't make him play nurse like Dr. Mid-Nite does.
Hawkman. Ray's best friend. He's also a bodybuilder in a mask and a leather harness. Visit any time, Carter.
Aquaman. If somebody filed a patent on your DNA and Ray Palmer were your friend, don’t you think you’d call him?
Green Arrow. Who do you think helps him build those stupid trick arrows?
Elongated Man. Hmmm…on second thought, that would be rather awkward.

The Atomic Dynasty! Now's there's a group whose adventures I'd tune in for. It's the most fun you can have, without an ant-hill sized kingdom of yellow-skinned warrior folk!

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Name That Hero!

My day of vengeance on those who derided me has arrived.

In our last installment of this game, in which readers are challenged to identify what hero said a stupid quote and why, Devon (who erreth not) over at "If You Had a Brain" made sport of me for the ease of my question.

My colleagues laughed at me. The fools. The utter fools!

Identify the author of this quote, sucka:

"OORNGH LLN RHGGGN!"

This hero, by the way, apparently "became versed in every language ever spoken."

Anyone? Devon?

Audition Tape: Cascade

"Hi, I'm Cascade, but you can call me Sujatmi Sunawaparti (if you practice saying it). If you don't remember me that's because I'm one of those 'international' heroes DC makes up to pretend that all its heroes aren't in the U.S., and then forgets about. Remember the funeral scene when Sue Dibny died? I wasn't in it.

"Anyway, I'm your basic Fighter Against Unjust Tyranny Type and I'm from Indonesia where Unjust Tyranny is one of our principle products. Today I'm auditioning for the part of:

Female Counterpart to Aquaman

because I have the power to transform 'any part or all of my body into water, can psychically control large bodies or water, causing them to take simple shapes'. At least, that's what the DC Encyclopedia says, where, by law, all characters in Justice League Quarterlies must have entries.

"To help complete his Dynastic Centerpiece model, Aquaman needs a Female Counterpart, which he hasn't had since Mera went wacko (again). Well, except for that hydrotramp Dolphin, but the less said about that little scandal the better. And Aquagirl doesn't count because she's a Kid Sidekick....

"I could accompany Aquaman on land missions, supplying him with water whenever it would help. Under the sea, I could stay in my water-form, which would make me stealthy and hard to hit. Like Mera, I can shape and form water (although not as well as the evil Eel). I also wear a tight scaly bodysuit like Mera; it's a water-power thing, you know.

"Please rescue me from obscurity, Aquaman Creative Team. I just know I could be part of the Aqua-Team!"

More Hawkman Villains!

I believe Hawkman's future (as a character) becomes more secure with each passing issue (although I don't know what sales are like). Why? His Rogue's Gallery. Three years ago, who even knew he had one? Now they are already larger and cooler than Superman's entire collection of enemies. Then again, even Marsha Mallow is cooler than Superman's enemies....

The creative team has made it clear: anyone who's fought Hawkman even once is fair game. I almost fainted (I'm that kind of guy) when Thought Terror appeared in this month's issue.

For those who don't know him, I stole, er, unearthed from the DC Message Boards this synopsis of his only previous appearance (Flash #4!):

THE THOUGHT TERROR
The Thought Terror was working as a seer in the Futurists Club, where he would interpret the future for people with readings that seemed to always come true. One man was told he would start drinking and then be hit by a car. Carter Hall (better known as Hawkman) came upon the staggering man on the street and managed to prevent him from being run over. Taking the man to his home, Carter discovered that he wasn't drunk at all. Meanwhile, the driver of the car that nearly hit the man reported back to the Thought Terror that he had failed, which infuriated the villain. He had been making a fortune reading people's futures (at $100 per question), when he was actually just hypnotizing them into doing what he says will happen, along with a little outside help to spur things along (such as the car).


Carter, intrigued by what has happened with the man, sprang into action as Hawkman. Taking with him a gladiatorial net, Hawkman captured the driver of the car and took him to his headquarters, where the driver spilled all the information about the Thought Terror's operation. He said that he and the other lackeys didn't revolt against the Thought Terror because they were afraid that they would be hypnotized and killed.

Hawkman took to the skies again, this time with a metal shield, after being warned to watch out for the Thought Terror's mesmerized men. As he dashed into the villain's lair, he was assailed by the men, who were hypnotized to not feel pain, so they couldn't be felled by normal means. Hawkman was taken down and imprisoned fairly easily. The next morning, Shiera came to Carter's house and the Thought Terror's man told her where he had gone. When Hawkman noticed her outside, he flashed a message with his reflective shield that warned her about the Thought Terror and told her to bring a blowtorch to cut the bars of his cell. The Thought Terror entered just as he had finished his coded message and took his shield away, saying that Hawkman would die of starvation or madness in that cell.

That night, Shiera brought the blowtorch, and gave it to Hawkman through his cell window. The hero proceeded to burn through the hinges on the door, freeing himself. He then started tying up the mesmerized men one-by-one, and discovered that his shield had been taken to the Thought Terror's private room. After retrieving the shield, he held it in front of him as he advanced on the Thought Terror, who was attempting to hypnotize the hero into thinking he was a harmless idiot. Unfortunately, the Thought Terror saw his own mesmerizing reflection and lost his own reason. The underlings came out of the spells they were under and returned to their own lives, as did the driver and the first man. The Thought Terror was sent to a lunatic asylum.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

High-Carb Companions

Where did all the fat people go?

One of our favorite toys here at the Absorbascon is the "Dynastic Centerpiece" model, that is, the idea that DC's iconic characters become iconic partly because a 'dynasty' of other characters with prescribed roles (e.g., "Kid Sidekick") are built around them.

One option in the model used to be The Fat Friend. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say "Funny Fat Friend", for these figures were almost always played for laughs. Batman had Alfred (yes, he was originally quite the tubbo and was strictly comic relief), Jonny Quick had Tubby Watts, Plastic Man had Woozy Winks, the Legion had Bouncing Boy, Green Lantern Alan Scott had Doiby Dickles, Wonder Woman had the (relentlessly fabulous and unrepentently fat) Etta Candy. Even Lois Lane had a Funny Fat Friend, her roommate Marsha Mallow (who you'd think had to have been Silver Age, but, no, we're talking 1970s, folks!).

Where did they go? Alfred went to a fat farm (no, really ... he did), Tubby disappeared, Woozy has been covered up by DC in a desperate attempt at superheroic legitimacy for Plas, Bouncing Boy has yet to be seen in this week's Legion reboot, Doiby Dickles is living on a distant planet (it was a Young Justice story; anything could happen), and Etta, the worse victim of the anti-fat conspiracy, went on a diet, got married, AND disappeared (only to return last month in a WW cameo). Marsha Mallow? Not sure; I think, using the fortune she made on Ebay by selling her name to the highest-bidding drag queen, she hired a gigolo who digs Big Beautiful Women and moved to Santa Prisca to avoid taxes. I'm sure I saw her as a background figure in a "Question" story once....

Now, maybe the reason for their disappearance is simple. Maybe DC got rid of them because comic relief characters went out of style, or because having Funny Fat Friends was too much like making fun of fat people, which isn't cool. That's all understandable. But Funny Fat Friends served their purpose in the Dynastic Centerpiece model and I think we've lost something of value with its absence.

Funny Fat Friends were pretty darned intrepid. Spunk is not reserved to those with Olympic-level musculatures, and the F3s made that clear. Woozy Winks, in his passive way, was almost as powerful as Plastic Man. Doiby Dickles was a serious scrapper, and Etta ... ! Woe betide any fool goosestepper who tried to take on Ms. Candy. Just for giggles, she'd beat the snot out of you, paddle you in front of her girlfriends, and make you sing "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles", all while eating a box of chocolates. Woo-woo, indeed.

Funny Fat Friends (F3s) didn't suffer from "negative self-images." They respected the heroes without being slavishly in awe of them. They didn't question their own ability to contribute to any venture, despite being paired with people who could use their magic rings to overturn battleships. On the whole, they enjoyed their adventures, a luxury our stone-faced hero sometimes didn't have. Okay, so they weren't very funny by our standards. But they were fun!

Funny Fat Friends weren't funny because they were fat. Oh, sure, they would occasionally use their heft to their advantage in a tussle, but no one thought lesser of them for it. In fact, they showed that Fat (and otherwise imperfect) people could still be quite cool. Hey... they hung out with the world's greatest heroes; how much cooler than that do you get? Etta Candy is 900 times cooler than Snapper Carr (heck, Marsha Mallow was cooler than Snapper Carr).

Even more realistically, they showed imperfect people existed. When's the last time you saw someone in comics without a washboard stomach? When's the last time you met someone with one? In the real world, people built like Killer Moth and Dr. Light wouldn't be supervillains, they'd be supermodels.

With the loss of the F3s, we lost from our stories their message:
You don't have to be super or perfect to be confident, make a contribution, and have fun.

Name that Store!

Dear Readers; help!

A friend of mine is opening a comic book store here in the Mid-Atlantic region and he is looking for good names for it (names not yet taken, I might add!).

The current favorite among our circle is: "Giant Monkey" Books & Games.

Any other ideas? What would you name a comics cum games store?

Messner-Loeb's Legacy

As many DC comics fans will already know from the internet buzz, former DC writer William Messner-Loebs has fallen on hard times. Operatically hard times. Out of work, in an auto accident, short one arm, with a mobile home that became unliveably infested by mold (before it was stolen) and a wife critically ill in the hospital, Messner-Loebs is the target of an industry-wide relief effort.

M-L is remembered mostly by DC fans for his work on Wonder Woman, Flash, and Impulse. Some have unkindly dismissed him as "the man who made Wonder Woman a fry-cook." You may not agree with some of his plotting choices, but let's give the man his due!

M-L recognized Wonder Woman's most serious flaw: because her reboot left her with no civilian identity, WW had become almost impossible to relate to. He took steps to humanize her and for that I applaud him.

In the Golden Age, writers used a pretty consistent formula: hero gets involved in a situation through his/her secret identity, reaches an impasse that would stymy an ordinary person, than changes in his/her heroic identity to overcome it. This is the so-called "adolescent power fantasty" that drew readers to most Golden Age heroes. This formula has taken a bad beating in the post-Crisis DCU; I get the sense that writers now perceive it as superfluous plotting, but it was what made the heroes seem human and allowed readers to identify with them. Messner-Loebs realized the human touch was missing and strove to restore it in his stories.

Similarly, it must be noted that M-L created the backbone of the current Flash mythos, whose glory has accrued mostly to other writers. He removed some of the severe limitations on Wally's power. He gave Wally confidence to come out of Barry's shadow. He put Wally back in Keystone (he had been in NYC, in case you'd forgotten). He gave Wally some friends: Chunk (a marvelous character DC has abandoned) and Piper (whom M-L gave new vitality by revealing that he was gay). He introduced Linda Park.

Of course, like any sensible person, I hate Linda Park. NOT the Linda Park that M-L created. She was a feisty anti-Lois Lane, a critic of the Flash who came grudgingly to respect him. It was only in the hands of later, wussier writers that she became (for no apparent reason) Wally's "beacon of love that anchors him to humanity blah blah blah"... the Linda Park that all right-thinking Americans despise...

Messner-Loeb realized what so many writers do not: heroes have to be human. Not weak; just human.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Name that Hero!

This is the first installment of our new game: Name that Hero!
Since we love comic book quotes here at the Absorbascon, we'll give you a quote and you have to figure out who said it...and why.

To inaugurate the game, we'll start with what I (and many others) consider the single worst DC comic book quote ever:

"Step away from the lobster-trap."

From its depths English can birth monstrosities so abhorrent that the mind recoils at their perception. "Step away from the lobster-trap" is one of them.

What DC hero would have said that and why?

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Zor on Style

"Fool! Time has made me your superior! I leave you now, to bring real anguish!"
Zor, untitled Spectre story


The economy of words, the minimalism of effort, the curt dismissal, the casual cruelty. Other supervillains would have (and have) gone on and on about what an imbecile the hero was, or how through aeons of exposure to the eldritch magicks of Dimension Q their power had waxed immeasurably, or prated in excruciating detail about the why and how of their revenge.
Not Zor. Because Zor had style. And still does, one supposes, since he was last seen frozen in an immobility beam for all eternity...