Saturday, October 29, 2005

Mite or Right?

The internet is torn in half between Bat-Mite and the Riddler!

A bitter battle is raging between the Dark Mite and the Prince of Puzzlers right here at the Absorbascon. They are neck and neck in the current quote of the week poll; have YOU voted yet?

Bat-Mite, using his extrauniversal viewpoint as a fifth dimensional being, comments wryly and metafictionally on his banishment from current continuity. He could fix whatever dissatifactions we have with the grim and gritty DCU, but we the readers banished him for exactly that reason. His omniscience has rendered him powerless. Dude; deep! A simple paradox or an ironic condemnation of the post-modern era of cynical disbelief? Is he laughing at us because he is the mastermind between Infinite Crisis, heckbent on returning Batman to his kid-friendly '60s self?

In fact, the Riddler himself would probably vote for Bat-Mite's quote, since it's exactly the kind of multilevel puzzle he enjoys. But the Riddler's quote is metafictional as well. The Riddler personifies the Comic Book Plot as Intellectual Challenge rather than splattery slugfest. If Bat-Mite condemns the loss of whismy, the Riddler condemns the death of Bloodless Battle. Those of you who say you miss Batman The World's Greatest Detective (tm), shouldn't you vote for the Riddler? Do you think the Riddler is taking a jab at the Joker (and the entire modern theme of Psychokiller Who Commits Murder As Art)?

Which do you miss more in comics, whimsy or intellect?

Remember, regardless of who you vote for, Michael Allred is the winner, since both of those quotes come from his recent issue of "Solo".

Mira!

Mera. Do you love or hate her?

Mera was introduced into the Aquaman mythos rather cheesily, I'd say (Action 517-519). She came from a previously unmentioned, insufficiently explained, and never again explored "other dimension" where she was the princess/queen. Through some Silver Agey "science as magic", she came to Earth and suckered Aquaman into leading an extradimensional political rebellion to regain her throne. Then she immediately abandoned her throne to shack up with the big A, cut off from her dimension for a comic book forever (meaning, until a writer needs her to go back).

A clumsy and forced introduction! I assume the writers wanted to introduce a romantic interest / female counterpart for Aquaman. They figured to be appropriate for him, she'd have to be a royal waterbreather, but since there were no other royals in Atlantis and no other cities under the sea ... . Read the fine print in the "Post-Crisis Universe Declaration": There is only one universe in the DC Universe (except for the antimatter universe, and any other dimensions required by the origins of particular characters, such as Mera, the runaway bride from Dimension Glub-Blub).

They cleverly gave her a power that was complementary to Aquaman's (her "hard water" powers, a form of hydrokinesis, explained casually as "something everyone is her dimension has"). Too many dynasties have members whose powers are too similar to those of the Dynastic Centerpiece. It wasn't a problem in the Batman Dynasty, where there were differences of style and degree among the members. But it was a big headache for Superman, who had to compete with a teenage girl, a dog, a monkey, and a city full of ant-sized relatives all with the same Nth level of Superpowerfullosity. You can say Superman is stronger than they are, but when they can all move planets, break the time barrier, and shrug off any attack, it has little practical meaning.

So the writers were smart (still are) in giving Aquaman companions with different abilities. Unfortunately, over time, Mera's powers began to seem less like a complement and more like competition. Aquaman could summon a sea tortoise to ram you; Mera could crush you (and the tortoise) where you swam using a giant water hand. Who do you pick for your team at recess?

Then they had a baby who could do the same thing. Right after he's born, "Aquababy" kicks Aquaman's butt with a water-construct. Sentiment be darned; Aquaman was about to be shown up by a toddler; as if he didn't have enough trouble getting respect already! "Hello, Black Manta? This is Editorial; we have an assignment for you. No, no, you're gonna love this one...."

Babies are always trouble in comic books. We can overlook adults who don't age, even kid sidekicks who don't age. But babies? Do know when Arthur Jr. was born? October 1965. You know he died, still as a toddler? July 1977. I don't care how you feel about Aquaman; he shouldn't have to help change diapers for 12 years (under water).

This is why comic book babies are always magically aged, hidden until they are semi-adult, killed, or hypertimed into nothingness. And if you don't believe that, then you throw a little Kinderparty for Aquababy, Cerdian, Metamorpho's baby, Plastic Man's son, Lana Lang's baby, Perry White's son, Power Girl's baby, Arsenal's daughter, and Donna Troy's baby, and see who shows up. Some day, Wally's twins (once they disappear) will band all the Limbo Babies together into a Milkcarton Brigade that the WB can animate and air right after the Baby Looney Toons.

Anyway, Aquababy's demise began Mera's "Crazy-Ass Hydroharpy" Era. Mera goes crazy. Mera can't exist in our dimension any more. Mera goes crazy again. Mera is kidnapped to another other dimension. Mera goes crazier. Mera is enslaved by sorcerors. Mera needs a face lift. Mera can't breath water any more.

Mera's your basic needy ex, isn't she?

And yet....

She's a fabulous underwater "drag queen" like some fans like, complete with tiara, lip-syncing hard water action, and enormous red hair. She's Wet Phoenix, Submarine Maxima, Underwater MJ, , Bathospherian Batgirl, Aquatic Knockout, and the Looker of the Sea. Remember, blondes are supportive but ineffective allies; brunettes don't know your secret identity; black haired girls are seductive enemies; redheads are fiery troublesome love interests. That's just how life is, folks.

Thanks to Mera, Aquaman was the first hero to get married and the first to have a child, and those were part of what distinguished him from other heroes. Heck, he was the first one to even have a functioning on-going romantic relationship (until Mera started going wacko weekly). And now that she's being written sympathetically and removed from the water (making her powers irrelevant), she's starting to grow on me. I don't hate her any longer, but I don't love her yet. If they're sensible enough to leave her as Arthur's ex and not try to get them together (again!), she could be a fun and unique character.

What do YOU think of Mera?

Friday, October 28, 2005

Unprepared for Armageddon


As a comic book reader, I am so unprepared!

I don't like Captain Atom. I know nothing about "the Wildstorm Universe", other than the part of it, the W.I.L.D.Cats, is usually the punchline to some joke by people who read more comics than I do.

So, you'll forgive me if I was unprepared to enjoy Captain Atom: Armageddon.

I should not have been unprepared, because I seem to like the writing of its author, Will Pfeiffer. At least, I really liked his revitalization of the nearly dead (but iconically huge) Aquaman.

Why did I like CA:A?

In one or two pages, Pfeiffer explains Captain Atom's origin, gives him an actual personality, positions him uniquely in the DCU (right before he leaves it!), explains the backstory to his current situation and takes it somewhere. That page or so did more to interest me in Captain Atom than everything else published about him in the last 20+ years since he was acquired by DC from Charlton.

Pfeiffer introduces the characters of the Wildstorm Universe, well, without introduction. They are simply there, doing what they do, confounding Captain Atom and me. That utter lack of exposition is refreshing, intrigues me into trying to understand the world Cap't A finds himself in, and pleasantly forces me to identify with Captain Atom.

Captain Atom's charmingly naive comment, "I won't hurt you; I'm a superhero!", and the reaction it gets perfectly communicated the difference between the DCU and Wildstorm. I think that's one of things I like about Pfeiffer's writing: he uses the story to convey information, instead of conveying information in order to tell a story.

I have no idea who Giuseppe Camuncoli is, but I love his art; beautiful stuff. The fact that I've never seen it before creates what is, to me, a unique look for the Wildstorm Universe; that's almost reason enough to stay tuned.

I don't know whether you will like Armageddon; but I did.

Simon's Snake


Simon Stagg, genius,

is the greatest comic book character of all time.
Here's one of the many reasons:


Pet snake. BIG pet snake. Slithering with symbolic power.

Such a snake can choke even a big strong caveman like Java!

The most fabulous thing about the whole scene?
The snake is never mentioned, before, during, or after.
It's a just a throwaway.

Just what the heck was Bob Haney on, anyway?

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Robin vs. Wolverine

Hm. I'm guessing neither Robin -- nor author Gail Simone -- thinks much of Wolverine:


Heh heh. Nice one, Gail.

I want a thought balloon for this panel:
"You are a smelly, semi-inebriated, hairy little murderous backwoods pedophiliac freak with a ridiculous haircut and a tobacco addiction; I am the Sensational Character Find of 1940 and 65 years later kids still think I'm cooler than you -- even when Rob Liefeld draws me and my hair has turned blue."

Left Elbow

In the Mikado, the generally unattractive Katisha concedes that her left elbow is nonetheless attractive, and the people come for miles to admire it.

Like Katisha, some stories, although bad (even horrible), may still possess portions that are good. Unfortunately, the quality of their goodness is upstaged by the quantity of their badness and they often go unnoticed or at least unremembered.

For example, do you even remember this scene?


It's nearly the quintessential "Batman and Alfred are a Great Team" page. Batman knows what needs done; he knows Alfred can do it at the drop of a hat; Alfred can and does. Alfred starts to follow Batman's instruction even before Batman finishes them; truly a Dynamic Duo.

What's more, the scene is in a story that's considered fairly famous. Or, rather, infamous.

Recognize it yet?

It's from "Orca the Whalewoman", a story so legendarily bad that it caused heads to roll, readers to defect, and cetologists to riot in the streets (okay ... I made that last part up).

"Left elbow" scenes trapped in bad stories are like babies tossed out with the bathwater. Look back at some of the worst stories you can remember; you might be surprised what little gems they contain and discovering them may just recharge your joy in comic books. And that's important, because our faith in comic books is like any kind of faith; we renew it daily.

Hal's Horny Haiku

Oh, Hal!

Nowadays, when you want to find out about someone you're obsessed with, you simply google them (just ask Chris Arndt about that!). But in the long ago days, before the internet, researching people was pretty darned difficult.

So back in the day, Hal Jordan, who never hesitated to use his powers for his own benefit, must have had a ball using his omnipotent power ring to suss out the 411 on every little tavern maid and stewardess (and they WERE "stewardesses" back then) he fancied. Why, here's our vigorous hero now pouring out a powerful thought impulse ... huh, I'll bet!


"Power ring, tell me
about the girl! I want to
know all about her!"


Phew! "Lonely superheroes who talk to their weapons, next on Oprah!" Between the caption, Hal's balloons, and the creepy close up, I feel the need to shower myself clean.

I can't remember whether Hal gets to "know" this girl (wink wink), but I'm betting he does. They don't call him the Emerald Mountie for nothing: he always gets his girl.

Oh, yeah -- this is what passes for Heroic Haiku when you're Hal Jordan, I guess.

Care to outdo Hal's horny haiku yourself?

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Battle of the Batmen


I was pleasantly suprised the other day, when I stumbled across "Batman versus Dracula", the first animated movie based on "The Batman" cartoon.

I haven't been perfectly thrilled with the series. It's not wildly off-base (like Batman Beyond), but I'm uncomfortable with some of its (mis)characters, such as monkey-feet Joker and a Devitoesque Penguin, and the vaguely asian stylings and references. So I wasn't prepared to enjoy Bruce versus Vlad.

But enjoy it I did! Sure, there were some silly scenes (like risible "lipstick on your platter" one) and it's not exactly a mystery who "Prof. Alucard" is. Hey-- it is a kid's show; if I'd been an adult when the 1960s live-action show was on, I probably would have throw myself in front of train from shame. But I was a kid and I loved and millions came to love Batman because of it.

  • Batman versus Dracula had wonderful fight scenes with some incredible visualization of some of Drac's abilities. It seemed to combine the best of Japanese animation with early German expressionalist film-making (two great tastes that tasted great together, I might add).
  • Alfred had fabulous character moments. You haven't lived till you've seen Alfred do a spit take, folks, or spout lines like, "Suck on this!" Alfred rocks.
  • Batman was a lonely billionaire, a brilliant scientist, a masterful combatant, a solid detective.
  • And it was very creepy.

So much to my own suprise, I recommend Batman versus Dracula. Go figure!

Whose your daddy? Luthor is.

Everything Darkseid knows about being evil, he learned from Lex Luthor.

Quivering, shaved-headed minions?
From Luthor.
"Darkseid is" existential slogan?
From Luthor.
Heavily-featured, giant faces of "The Leader" everywhere?
From Luthor.
Death-dealing eye-beams?
From Luthor.
Ticking off Superman?
From Luthor.


PLUS, Luthor could do COOL stuff with visualization of vocalizations.

I simply must learn to talk that way.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Character Donation #105: Checkmate

A new Character Donation; because YOU (or, at least, one of you), demanded it!

Checkmate.

Face it; shadowy extragovernmental agencies with cute names are very Marvel. SHIELD! AIM! I assume it's because Marvel's heyday commenced in the anticommunist spy-crazy days of the 1950s and 1960s.

DC is more about apparently boring but dangerously intrusive government bureaucracies like the Bureau of Metahuman Affairs and the Department of Extranormal Operations. Plastic Man was an FBI agent, for pity's sake. Perhaps because DC's roots are in the agency-crazy New Deal era?

Checkmate. The snazzy shiny high-tech costumes. The crushingly heavily handed overuse of extended chess metaphor (Hellfire Club, anyone?). The lack of apparent sources of funding. The lack of apparent purpose (until Max Lord came up with one!). Marvel, Marvel, Marvel.

After its aborted series (which not even the starpower of Harvey Bullock could save), Checkmate languished without portfolio until becoming, through an editorial fiat of convenience, Max Lord's Evil Inc. That its featureless and unknown cast could so easily be recast as the Grand Order of Occidental Nighthawks shows how redundant and out of place it is in the DCU.

Marvel, however, would have a ball with Checkmate, and there's always another side to be taken in the Us Versus Them Versus Them Versus The Other Guys Marvelverse.

DC, don't try to reanimate the corpse of uninteresting Checkmate; send it Marvel, where it might make a rather interesting zombie.

Properly Humorous

Lured by self-absorbed curiosity, I have succumbed to what appears to be

*shudder*

a meme.

"the Wit
(52% dark, 30% spontaneous, 0% vulgar)
your humor style:
CLEAN | COMPLEX | DARK


You like things edgy, subtle, and smart. I guess that means you're probably an intellectual, but don't take that to mean pretentious. You realize 'dumb' can be witty--after all isn't that the Simpsons' philosophy?--but rudeness for its own sake, 'gross-out' humor and most other things found in a fraternity leave you totally flat.

I guess you just have a more cerebral approach than most. You have the perfect mindset for a joke writer or staff writer."


0% vulgar. So you see, then: the octopus humor isn't for ME, it's for you.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Top Makeover from Crisis?


1. The DC Universe.

Before?

A tidy multiverse, where compatible, complementary characters were groups together in large but clearly separate "drawers", each simply labelled with an alphanumeric in a vast filing system. Most important stuff was filed in the two top drawers (1 and 2) for ready reference, with a few others drawers for less frequently used "files".

Like any good filing system, it was adaptable and expandable. Whenever too much material might accumulate so as to clutter your main drawers, you could take out the older materials from the files, and put them in archive files in another new drawer, and start you main drawers afresh. In this way, all the old materials were still valid, still available for use if necessary, but didn't get in the way of your main, "daily use" files. Anyone who knows how to file his own comics books can figure it out. How tidy.

After?

A big garage with all your stuff in it, unprioritized by order of importance, with whatever you used last lying on the top. Things get easily lost and you can't tell whether what you're looking for still exists or was thrown out at some point. Since the mess merely gets rearranged, and never really put in any permanent order, there's no way to get any sense of forward progress. Worst of all, every month adds more stuff, adding to the confusion. No one, even if they are familiar wih everything there's ever been put in the garage has any hope of making much sense of it.

Well...

some makeovers work out better than others.

Sweet Sweet Cetacean Lovin'

She was big, black, and beautiful: Orca the Whalewoman.

Whoosh! Now there's the antidote a brother needs to the gumbified spaghetti-girls of the DCU (no names, please!).

Poor Orca. So unloved, so unappreciated, both on Earth-1 and Earth-Prime.

Orca was kind and generous, creating and maintaining local soup kitchens in downtrodden Gotham neighborhoods. Orca was intelligent and educated, with a Ph.D. in Marine Biology and the science to casually convert herself into a whalewoman -- and back -- in her leisure hours. Orca was beautiful, with Rubenesque charms that even steely Batman could scarely resist:

There's just that much more to grab on to and love, huh, Bruce? After years of dating anorexic starlets, skinny photojournalists, and underfed event planners, Bruce can't wait to wrap his loving arms around a woman of substance, dorsal fin notwithstanding.






My goodness, Bruce! "Calling Dr. Light! You're wanted for a consultation!" Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised at Batman's attraction to the unusual; one can only overhear so many JLA satellite conversations about sweet sweet octopus love without becoming curious about the charms of the sea.

Now, Orca did have her problems. She suffered from one of comics' most dire conditions, Eponymous Destiny. I mean, if you live in the DCU and your name is "Balin" and you're foolish enough to become a Marine Biologist specializing in cetology anyway -- well, you're asking for it. Treatment by writer Larry Hama resulted in complications: Combat Bloviation, the inability to stop talking at length about your motivations while fighting. When it developed into full-blown Combat Dialecticism, infecting Batman with extended audience-free debates about justice, society, and class conflict during table-breaking fight scenes like the ones above, triage was required.

To save Batman, both Orca and her creator Larry Hama were purged through Hypertime Therapy. In fact, if you look closely on page 146 of Crisis on Infinite Earths, you can see Larry in a crowd scene, about to be wiped out by a wall of anti-matter. Sad, really, but necessary.

Bring Orca back; Aquaman needs a crack at her!