Saturday, September 03, 2005

Ten Questions

I need some dumb questions answered; can any of you help me?

1. So, what can Tempest do, exactly?

2. Which villains have law degrees?

3. Why weren't people mad at Marvel for the "Sentry" hoax?

4. What idiot decided that Two-Face's movie theme song should be in 3/4 time?

5. How many years now has the Flash storyline been running in circles?

6. Am I the only person who remembers that Batman trained Vibe?

7. What are Koryak's powers and how do you know?

8. Have you noticed that most young heroes aren't college-educated?

9. When the Legion cartoon starts soon, can we forget the current unpleasantness that is LSH?

10. Why doesn't DC sell copies of the map of Gotham?

The Penguin's Fine-Feathered Finks


As we did recently for the Joker, I want to compose a gang for the Penguin. I suppose it's more of a mob, really; after all, the Penguin has substantial organized crime interests to be maintained, along with legitimate businesses.

The Penguin is fairly unique among Batman enemies. For one thing, he's sane! He's been everything from a JLA- battlin' supervillian to an unscrupulous but legitimate businessman. I've seen him fight Firestorm to a standstill yet get beaten up by Harvey Bullock. I've seen him kiss babies as a mayoral candidate and sell them into slavery as a crimelord. The Penguin is a renaissance villain. Unless, you're in Vertigo or the 3oth century, there's always a way you could fit him in your story if you wanted to.

So, the Penguin needs lieutenants of the same ilk, not just a bunch of superpowered nutcases with bird names. And they need to have specific roles in his criminal empire, like so...

  • Killer Moth (the protection racket)
  • The Monocle (weaponization)
  • The Cavalier (fencing operations; c'mon, you know it works...!)
  • Mr. Freeze (R&D)
  • Killer Shark (smuggling)
  • Firefly (arson and insurance fraud)
  • Count Vertigo (international acquisitions)
  • Brutale (enforcement)
Most of these guys could pass in legitimate society; Killer Moth, the Monocle, the Cavalier, and Count Vertigo are rather high society, in fact, and just the kind of people the pretentious Penguin would want to surround himself with.

Killer Moth's original role was a protector ... of criminals. Working for the Penguin, he could run the protection rackets the keep small businesses from interference by criminals and small criminals from interference by police.

The Monocle, back from Limbo thanks to Identity Crisis, need something to do. Anyone who can turn a friggin' monocle into a weapon is obviously an armament genius, so he's in charge of adapting weaponry for use or re-sale.

The Cavalier; okay, apart from the horrible pun, fencing does make sense for him. He's a high-class millionaire who knows where to get valuable items and who will pay for them. Besides -- who do you think taught the Penguin how to swordfight with an umbrella?

Mr. Freeze? Some may bristle at the idea of a villain as important as Mr. Freeze working for someone else. Just think of it as his dayjob; he's a subcontractor. Victor makes mayhem with the best of them, but his activities don't usually seem very profitable. Cold-suits ain't cheap, so someone's got to be paying his bills. Freeze was a brillaint scientist and I'm sure the Penguin could come up with projects for him. Besides, thematically, I love those two guys together.

Killer Shark you probably don't remember, but he's an Aquaman foe, a smuggler (dressed in a shark costume, of course). What a perfect choice to head up the Penguin's smuggling operations and cause some occasional conflict with Aquaman. It also allows for appearance by a host of sea-scavengers, including Black Jack, Orca the Whalewoman (you're welcome, Devon!), and THE AWESOME HUMAN FLYING FISH.

Someone should be putting Firefly's destructive talents to good use, and the Penguin is the man to do it. And who else is going to give a snooty foreign ex-con like Count Vertigo a job, huh? Headquartered now in Bludhaven, wouldn't the Penguin use a little local muscle as a bodyguard? So Nightwing's foe Brutale gets a job (as does any other killer, for a fun guest star).

Black Mask is cute and all, but having him "run the Gotham Underworld" when there are people like the Joker and the Penguin around seems, well, temporary at best. When Black Mask falls (if his latest drubbing by both the Joker AND Batman isn't already his end), something needs to replace him, and I think coalitions like the ones I've described for the Joker and the Penguin are just the thing. Think of them as mini-Secret Societies...

Cool McCool


As long as it's Saturday morning....!

Today I praise Bob Kane's greatest creation and contribution to human society.


What? Bat who? Nope .. never heard of him. Don't be silly; I'm talking about Cool McCool, people! If you don't remember him, read on. If you do, visit his discussion board for emotional support about his absence.

Star of his own cartoon show for three years, Cool was part James Bond, part Maxwell Smart, and part Inspector Gadget. He tended to spoonerize, wore a bright yellow trenchcoat, and was loaded with gadgets, including his moustache radio. Just like his contemporary, Bat-Fink, Cool had two catch-phrases:

"Danger is my business!" and "It'll never happen again, Number One!"

"Number One" was his boss, never fully seen on camera. Cool spent a lot of time apologizing for his mistakes in Number One's office ...

I've never said "Danger is my business", but I've often said, "It'll never happen again, Number One!" My life plan includes marrying the first person who recognizes the phrase when I use it. I'm hoping this post will better my chances of matrimony.

Confusing and creepy to my young mind was the fact that Cool fought a VERY familiar rogue's gallery, which included the Rattler (Copperhead), Jack in the Box (the Joker), Madcap (the Mad Hatter), the Owl (the Penguin) and the Pussycat (the Catwoman). Originality was never Bob's long suit, huh?

He had a, um, cool car: the Coolmobile. And he had a, well, cool theme song:

Ohhhhh Double O. C-double O. C-double O-L. C-double O-L Mc. Cool, Mc Cool. Danger is his business.
The Owl is flying high, frightening to the eye. The Rattler is nearby, Cool is on the fly. Danger is his business.
Madcap's back in town, yeah bought Cool a crown. Boxes are a-poppin', Cool is kept a-hoppin'. Danger is his business.
That's Hurricane Harry, with all the wind he can carry.
Oh that cool's the coolest, Danger is my business.

Naturally, the animation is of its day, but it was actually a pretty clever parody. It's available on DVD, but only in British countries, just like Batfink.

Aqua-Teen Hunk Force


This is Alan Ritchson, who'll be playing young Aquaman on "Smallville".

Yeah.

He'll do.

And "Vibe! The Movie, Meng" takes one step closer to reality...

Friday, September 02, 2005

Shadowface and His One-Eyed Sailor


Hm. The man with the receding hairline and carefully crafted man-shadow says he won't go down.

Hard to believe, if you ask me.

His one-eyed friend saucily wagers he can change his mind, ho ho!

Why doesn't shadowface want to go down for his one-eyed friend?

Ah! I know! Perhaps he doesn't like seamen...

Anyway, my money's on Popeye, folks.

One last thing; this is a Robin the Boy Wonder story, folks!

A Full House for the Joker

What do you think Batman would do if he were chasing the Joker to his hideout, and turned a corner to find the Joker's new gang:

Harley Quin
Punch & Jewelee
The Madmen
The Harlequin
a new version of The Joker's Daughter
The Prankster (sorry, the only decent Prankster page is in Spanish)
The Mime (a one-shot Max Allan Collins creation, but still available!)
The Royal Flush Gang
Double Down

Run for his life, that's what he'd do.

As mentioned in previous posts on "the Rungs of Villainy", "Dynastic Centerpieces", and "Johnsification", I think the DCU would be more fun if some of the minor characters floating around homelessly were connected to some of the more major characters. So, using that principle, I'm going to build some gangs around some of my favorite villains, starting with the Joker.

I think it's already obvious why the group of characters go naturally together and would be a threatening group and an interesting read. We might also get a real sense of the Joker as the criminal mastermind he used to be in the Golden Age, not the jibbering wack-job he's sometimes portrayed as. I happen to think that if he's written well, we can have our cake and eat it, too.

"But Harley Quin has grown and is out from under the Joker's thumb and she'd never blah blah bah!" Uh-huh. How's that working for her? One brief cancelled series later, her "new persona" has rendered her unusable. Just return her to her "classic" self, and bring her back to life, I say.

Nothing says wacky like Punch & Jewelee. Unmoored from their Charlton origins with Capt. Atom and Nightshade, these seldom-used characters are more daft and less effective than the Joker and Harley. Their perverted "rather TOO happy couple" would provide comic relief, taking the pressure off the Joker/Harley relationship, and letting the other gangmembers be as dark as needed.

The Madmen? These old Blue Beetle villains are too bizarre to be left bouncing around in the background! Visually stunning, but undermotivated, they'd be perfect as nameless underlings for the Joker.

The Harlequin, the Prankster, and the outre Double Down are underused, underappreciated villians of Green Lantern, Superman, and the Flash respectively. Some screentime as trusted lieutenants of Mr. J and their profiles will skyrocket, giving them enough oomph to be seen occasionally as independent operators. Plus, the smiling guy gets some super-powered help!

The Royal Flush Gang. Any version. D'uh!

The Joker's Daughter. A child of Bob "Wacky" Rozakis, the Joker's Daughter was so much fun people are STILL talking about her 30 years later. Give in, DC! Give us the Joker's Daughter, I don't care how you do it. Just put her in the original outfit; there are few comic book images more disturbing than a woman dressed as the Joker!

The Mime. Okay, she was AWFUL in her one appearance. All the more reason to dust her off, give her a new personality and stick her with Mr. Laughapalooza. To satisfy those who prefer a more independent Harley, she could be the Joker's silent squeeze.

I'd love it if the Red Hood could be brought into the mix. But somehow I can't see that happening with the current version...!


Thursday, September 01, 2005

Johnsification

If you watch all those cleaning, reorganizing, and remodeling shows on TV (and I do, because it's much easier than cleaning, reorganizing, or remodeling), then you learn that "everything in your house should have a place, and if it doesn't, it shouldn't be in your house."

That's some of the spirit that's been behind the "Character Donation" series the Absorbascon has been doing jointly with Seven Hells. That, and, of course, anti-Marvel snark; we're only human, ya know.

A similar impetus drives the "Rungs of Villainy" and "Dynastic Centerpiece" series. By analysizing the mytho-structural context of function-driven identities in comics' Manichean etho-sphere, we deepen and enrich our understanding of the artform, its conventions, and, perhaps, how it reflects ourselves and our society. Or maybe it's just funny. Take your pick.

Anyway, we are just following DC's lead, I guess. They've got their writers taking all the "old" characters lying around, rearranging them and using them in new and interesting ways. If you sent yourself a tachyon-email to about 10 years ago and told your past self that the Calculator and Cat-Man would be breakout characters of 2005, your past self would just laugh and delete it.

So many who read comics -- or, at least, those who write about reading them -- seem to think that creativity is about creating new characters. They fall over for every trendy little "Girl 13" or "Fallen Angel" or "Breach" some frustrated novelist pulls together (no offense meant, really, to those particular characters; replace them with others in your mind, if you want!). They make fun of icons like Superman and Batman, as old, empty, tapped out. Some people always want what's new and different, not because it's necessarily better, but because they are people intrinsically dissatisfied whatever is or went before, and who think the grass is always greener on the other side of the origin. They keep "small press" small; all those new characters they revere one minute are abandoned when the new flavor-of-the-month comes along ("Dude, aren't you reading 'Pistachio Girl and the Sprinkles'? I've never read anything like it!").

They're the same people who can read Ayn Rand without laughing or puking (ain't that right, JP?). They worship individualism and independence, failing to see that greatness can be achieved only in a larger context than us, the context of society as a whole. People disconnected from their society don't really amount to much, I think. If a man living alone on the moon makes a masterpiece, who gives a flying? He is a tree, falling in a forest.

So it is with comic book characters disconnected from the larger context of their "comic book universe". DC toyed with this idea in the original JSA and early "cross-pollination" between titles, but Marvel first carried it to its logical conclusion: anyone in Marvel might interact with anyone else in Marvel, tune in to see it! Of course, putting them all in Manhattan was overkill, but that's a different discussion.

And what are DC's best writers doing lately? Ellis, Simone, Morrison, Johns, et al.; they're revitalizing existing characters from DC's stable -- it's enormous, nearly ENDLESS stable of characters. So many that DC actually could give away the 365 characters that Devon and I will nominate as "donations", without it causing more than a slight bump in their overall storytelling. Making up new characters for the DCU, at this point, isn't a sign of creativity; it's a sign that you lack the creativity to do something new with any of the existing characters.

.I'll label this process of creative re-use "Johnsification" after its greatest practitioner, who takes broken pieces of DC's past and turns them into some fine-looking mosaics! His use of Ian Karkul to explain Obsidian's powers; of the shared Egyptian basis for the Hawkman, Dr. Fate, and Captain Marvel myths; of a common explanation for Hector Hammond and the Shark, which ties them to Hal through his USAF and sci-fi connections; these are merely a few recent examples. And what fun it all is, delighting longtime readers while enticing and amazing newer ones!

That's a "trend" Seven Hells and the Absorbascon are happy to join in on! We'll suggest "Johnsifications" ourselves from now on, and label them as such, proposing groupings and connections of existing DC characters we think would enrich the mytho-structural context of the DCU's etho-sphere.

Or that would simply be fun.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Creepiest Post You've Ever Seen!


Hm, looks from this cover as if Hal Jordan is superpowerless except from the waist UP, this time.

And poor Hector Hammond.
So lonely. So depressed. So horny.

Ordinarily, I frown on company crossovers (I believe, along with Sonny Bono and Debbie Harry, "Segregation now; segregation forever!"). But in this case I'm moved to make an exception.

I think Hector and Modoc should date.

Yes, Hal is a man-babe and everyone wants him, and Hector is totally into him. But I can't imagine Hector putting up much of a fight when Modoc looks him in the eye and says, as he does in this panel:

"Those who know me know that Modok shall not be denied!"

Whoosh! It's enough to make a body SWOON (even if that body is mostly a giant head).

How CUTE would they be! They could go hat-shopping together, share a romantic Kirby-dot-lit dinner of nutrient-gruel (with Modok seductively spoon-feeding Hector), and then repair to Modok's hip high-tech bachelor pod, where he could prove that, in fact, he's not designed ONLY for killing, wink wink, nudge nudge.

And, the best part is, all Hector has to do is what he does best:

Just lie there.

The Power of Introposition


Face it: the best you can hope for is being a supporting character-in-law.

You have no superpowers, Olympic-level abilities, or leotard/cape combo outfits with your emblem emblazoned on them. You don't even have an emblem.

What's more, you don't know anyone who does. If you're very lucky, you're someone who knows someone else who does. If so, you're a supporting cast member for a member of somebody's supporting cast. You're Boris from "Steel"; you're Terry Berg's boyfriend; you're Marsha Mallow.

But take heart, for you are not without abilities of your own! Supporting characters-in-law have the power that many walk-on characters have, a highly specialized form of exposition called:

Introposition -- the ability to synopsize your personality and story-function with one word balloon.

In the panel above, Marsha Mallow and Kristen Cutler (whose names certainly help) use their power of introposition to quickly establish themselves as the Fat Comic Relief and the Self-Centered Bitch. Both of them, in one panel.

The economy! The tersity! The simplicity! You think comic book writers love to write characters that can move planets? No, they do not. What they love are characters with the incredible power of introposition.

Can you imagine a person in real life walking up to you and saying, "I'm Marsha Mallow! Too many calories, no will power -- and a new diet every week!" It would be AMAZING. People who would basically speak in "personal ads". You would know immediately everything you'd ever need to know about them, how you should treat them, and what to expect from them. How much better society would be!

Here's my challenge:

  • You've just walked on panel and have to "introposition" yourself to the other characters within the space of one word balloon. How do you summarize your personality and role in life's storyline...?

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Bob Kanigher

If you don't know who Bob Kanigher was, you deserve to.

He wrote and edited for DC for about a thousand years, particularly Wonder Woman, Flash, and the Justice League. He created (deep breath!)...

Black Canary
Star Sapphire
The Rose and the Thorn
The Trigger Twins
Poison Ivy
Rex the Wonder Dog
King Faraday
The Metal Men
and based on his own substantial war experience,
Johnny Cloud
Enemy Ace
The Haunted Tank
Capt. Storm
and, yes,
SGT. ROCK.

He was also a stone-cold, ripped, military man-babe.

You go, Bob!

Haiku Tuesday: Dueling Haikus of Death

You think you've seen this post before, but you haven't! I've discussed Vibe's horrible death recently, but there was something I didn't notice about it until it was pointed about to me by an observant commenter ("Jeff R.", in fact):

the Ivoid kills Vibe in flawless haiku.

"I have been ordered
to murder you. I am not
programmed for failure."


Creepy as that it is, its creepiness is badly compound by an even stranger fact:

Vibe replies, with his death gasps ... in haiku.

"No! Get 'em off me!
Get 'em off! I can't breathe, damn
it! I can't==oh, god.."


Brrr. Creepy.

What haiku can YOU compose either about this little death scene or to serve as substitute haikus for theirs? Even haikus unflatterable of Vibe will be accepted!

Although I can't imagine anyone wanting to write anything unflattering about Vibe....

Monday, August 29, 2005

Dr. Domino's Balls



I don't really care who this guy is. Or what his powers are.

I want him in the DCU.
We need him in the DCU


We DESERVE him in the DCU.

Oh, and these guys, too.


They can all work for Dr. Domino!

Character Donations 86- 91


Our next set of Character Donations to Marvel come from frequent Absorbascommenter "Totaltoyz" who reminded us of them in his comments on Sinister Sidekicks:

"In the late 1970s revival of Teen Titans, that blip on the radar between the original series and the one with Starfire and Cyborg, Two-Face employed a gang of super-powered identical twins! Their names were Sizematic, Flamesplasher, and Darklight. (No, really. I'm serious). When the Titans first fought them, they had the powers of growing to giant size, projecting flames, and creating darkness, respectively. When next the Titans met the villains they thought they were ready for them, but were caught off-guard when the villains used the powers of shrinking, projecting water, and creating blinding light! Then they learned that there were two sets of villains, and their boss was none other than Two-Face, the father of one of their own members (and the less said about that, the better!)."

Did Totaltoyz make this up craziness? Oh, no; only Bob Rozakis could do that. While I don't like much of Bob's work, Wacky Rozakis gets some serious points from me on two accounts. (1) He clearly doesn't take comic books too seriously. (2) He's the only person other than I who would write the phrase "each wearing thematically appropriate pointy tiaras". You go, Bob.

NEVERTHELESS. The compound-noun names? Twins with the unlikely but conveniently complementary powers? That pretty much spells out "Marvel mutant villains". So these six villians with only three names among them get sent to the Marvel Universe where they will make a fine little group, Double Trouble, probably motivated by society's unreasonable persecution of twins.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Rungs of Villainy: the Crime Groupie


Let's see; so far on the Rungs of Villainy, we've looked at the Innocent Dupe, the Blackmailed Accomplice, the Faceless Fodder, the Nameless Underlings, the Unwitting Patsy, the Denominated Henchman, Sinister Sidekicks, and the Forgettable Moll.

Beyond all these is
the Crime Groupie.

The Crime Groupie is part of a tight gang with other costumed crooks, usually with a complementary mix of powers. You can recognize the archtypes a mile away, like a tarot spread of the Un-Major Arcana of Powertypes: The Empath, The Ninja, The Goliath, The Magician, The Mentalist, The Blaster, The Transformer, The Teleporter, The Shadowcaster, The Gunster, The Gadgetmaster, The Succubus, etc.

Crime Groupies are a study in the utility of diversity. Their diverse set of powers give them an advantage in a fight, but their group identity generally blocks the members from advancing to successful solo ventures. Crime Groupies are the comic book criminals' equivalent of boy-bands; occasionally, a member will attempt a solo career, but it seldom succeeds.

If you'll look back at some of our Character Donations, you'll notice that some of them are Crime Groupies. Standards for being a Crime Groupie are rather lower than those for stand-alone villains, don't you know. Remember Maxie Zeus's "Olympians"? If you do, try to forget them, as I did (therapy IS expensive!); if you don't, DON'T ASK. Shudder.

Which brings up another feature of Crime Groupies. They are very often introduced as tools of a real villain, who's outsourcing some villainous task. Amos Fortune, Cong. Bloch, Dr. Light -- guys like that hire or create a group to go attack somebody: "Destroy Ferris Aircraft!"; "Crush the Teen Titans!!", "Bring me the head of Joe Quesada on a platter!".

Later on, some deluded writer, wanting to make his mark, mistakes what is essentially a bunch of Free-Range Sidekicks for a real Villainous Supergroup (you know, like the Fatal Five or the Keystone Rogues), much to everyone's embarrassment. So the writer puts two of them in a romantic relationship, give one pangs of conscience about a criminal career, makes another slightly crazy, and give one a secret agenda or a vendetta; they call this "characterization". We call it "unpleasant". Previews calls it "The Secret Six."


The most distinguished Crime Groupies are, it almost goes without saying, the glorious Royal Flush Gang. We, they, and the writers have accepted them for what they are: an Unavoidable Concept.

No one cares who they are (since they are composed of a different set of people in almost each appearance),what their powers of the day are (they'll explain them, out loud, in battle when they use them), or what their motivations might be. They simply are. They must be.

As a nameless new member notes in a recent issue of Villains United, the idea of a poker hand come to life, whizzing around on flying playing cards is intrinsically cool. The rest is details.

In abandoning all pretense of being anything other than a collection of interchangeable Crime Groupies, the RFG has become the greatest group of Crime Groupies ever. In embracing humbleness, the Royal Flush Gang has achieved greatness.

It's quite inspiring, really....