Saturday, February 04, 2006

I am Curious (Black) Week, 1

"I am curious (black)" is the 1970 Bob Kanigher story in which Lois Lane (with an assist from some Kryptonian tech) becomes a black woman for 24 hours. Yes, DC titled the most famous issue of Lois Lane and one of its best known socially relevant stories after a Swedish porn film. Who says comic books take themselves too seriously?

This is a story that's been talked about again and again and again and again and unfairly criticized here. And it's easy to make fun of it (and, yes, we will make fun of it). But too often people turn up their snotty post-modern hipper-than-thou noses at its bronze age goofiness and heavyhandedness. "Tee-hee, that was their idea of a race story; how quaint!" At least in 1970 somebody was willing to talk about "the color problem", instead of nowadays when society seems to have agreed to pretend that all black people grow up on the Cosby Show. Odds are, people who trivialize this story don't remember what 1970 was like.

Well, I, for one, stand up for this story. It was trying to make some points, and it did. I defy any of you modern scoffers to write a better story that demonstrates hubris denuded, two-way racism, urban decay versus community spirit, the lures of crime and drugs versus the rigors of self-respect and self-reliance, the unity of species, the heroism of the common man, freakish alien Superman "passing" as a white human, and people overcoming cross-cultural suspicions. In 14 pages. Do it. Oh, and heat vision; you must include a "gangsters being astonished at their melting guns" scene.

Note the stunning efficiency of the set-up panel. The plot is set up and while "Little Africa" is not the subtlest or most realistic name for Metropolis's black ghetto, remember this is being written by the man who created Dr. Domino. The artistic values lie not with subtlety but with clarity and efficiency (that's a general rule in older comics). Through her words and stance, we the readers (many of whom are kids, remember) understand immediately and unequivocally that Lois is being a conceited, pompous poseur.

If there are any doubts, look at Clark, who's got his patented look of Kryptonian disapproval that says, "You morally repulse me, foolish human woman-child, and if you'd ever shut yer yap I might have married you years ago. Better change to Superman and keep an eye on you, ready to save your silly ass and watch you learn yet another painful lesson while I chuckle and wink at the readers."

Naturally, Lois goes to the hood and gets snubbed by schoolkids, a perambulator-pushing parent, a tenement-dwelling single mother, and a limping blind old woman. The only person who even acknowledges her existence is an itinerant Angry Black Dude, whose personal mind-slaves carry him around a platform so he can lecture them at various streetcorners (and, boy, were they relieved when he got a blog instead). My favorite one is the guy in the beret who's visiting from Metropolis's Little Gayborhood; he's clearly much less interested in demonizing Lois than in picturing the guy with glasses naked.

For the record, the Dude's name is Dave Stevens, one of the whitest names imaginable. Is Kanigher that trapped in the conventions of bland comic book names or is he being intentionally ironic? Who can say?

This section of the story has been criticized for not justifying the black characters' animosity as a natural result of their poor treatment by the white majority, to which I say "piffel". First, when Lois becomes black we experience that poor treatment first-hand through her, the character we already are supposed to identify with. That's a lot more efficient and real than pages of blathering about the historical background of society's ills. Second, Bob Kanigher is not interested in justifying any kind of predjudice. Period. If you want comics that justify bad behavior rather than inspiring people to rise above it, then go read Marvel.

Anyway, this being a Lois Lane story, Lois wheedles Superman into changing her temporarily into a black woman so she can get her story. More on that, later...

BHM 4: Kid Quantum II

As long as we're in the 31st century, let's say hi to Kid Quantum II, and her publicly visible thighs. Maybe it is a black thing, and I just don't understand....

Frankly, I don't remember her name, but her brother was James Cullen (Kid Quantum I), a conceited jerk whose overconfidence got his necked snapped by a giant spider (I guess Wonder Woman doesn't make it to the 31st century). His "timefield" powers came from his belt, and when it failed the Legion passed its "member's powers must not be machine-dependent" rule. Apparently somebody had to die for them to think of that, so maybe common sense has atrophied by the 31st century (probably due to dependence on machines).

His sister internalized similar "quantum powers" after a series of dangerous and painful experiments on herself. Comic books are full of people who perform a series of dangerous and painful experiments on themselves. So are cemeteries.

I don't know much about Jazmin (that's her name: Jazmin) except: her "stasis bubble" powers are annoying vague and physics-defying, even for a Legionnaire; she was a good leader; she's from Xanthu (of course); she and Cos used to shag together (which automatically gives her my admiration); her heroclix figure rocks, with triple incapacitate.

Oh, and she has hoop earrings. Gotta love that. Visit the Museum of Black Superheroes!

Friday, February 03, 2006

BHM 3: Tyroc


Ah, Tyroc. Or, as Devon of Seven Hells once called him, "Loud-Black-Man Lad".

Legionnaire Tyroc is from the other dimensional island of, um... Marzipan? Marsupial? Something like that. It was basically Brigadoon for Blacks. Guess that's how the 30th Century dealt with busing; who can say?

His power-- well, clearly his power is erotic fashion. Tyroc's from the Grell Era Legion, where everyone got their costumes at Dream Dresser. And he works it. He's part of the whole "Guys With Thighs" costume phenomenon (see Tempest's ridiculous outfit from yesterday). I used to think there was a "thing" with needing to show black heroes' manly thighs of mighty mahogany. Now I realize it's just because nearly every black male character was introduced in the 1970s. Or maybe Marzal (that's it: Marzal) was a tropical extradimensional island, and really hot? I mean, that's the kind of outfit I wear when it's hot.

Anyway, Tyroc's power was, um, screaming. No, really. Tyroc would scream and then ... things would happen. Whatever the story required. I mean it wasn't like he screamed "woman get me a sammich" and then a sandwich appeared; that might have been funny. Instead it was "YAHH!" and then he flew. Or things blew up. Or he got a better long distance rate or a better price on a muffler. Whatever. Just be glad Cary Bates isn't writing comics any longer. Hey, I know I'd be screaming bloody murder if Cary Bates were writing me.

People with sonic powers usually don't fare too well in comics, which (SFX notwithstanding) is a silent medium, and Tyroc was no exception. He hung around the Legion a bit, screamed at some bad guys, then went black to Black Brigadoon, later to be wiped away by Zero Hero. But in my mind he's partying with Vibe and Dazzler at the Marzal's hottest discos...

Visit the Museum of Black Superheroes!

Eye Scream

I'm not sure I've ever mentioned it before, but I love the Legion. It's the most DC-ish of the DCU, what with its wacky Silver Age extended continuity, and the most Marvel-ish as well, with its one-power teenagers and their little high school dramas. Shouldn't everyone love the Legion?

I guess that's what DC is counting on for its new LSH animated series, being jumped on current episodes of JLU (for which we get the scene below, courtesy of the wonderful Legion of Super Heroes Blog):
Which leads to the point of this post: I'm terrified of the Emerald Eye of Ekron.

I guess I was just at the right age when I first saw the Fatal Five, who were presented, matter of factly, as scaring the Legion. Five beings who could take on the whole Legion and usually fight them to a standstill? Yipe.

The Emerald Eye. It's a disembodied, floating eyeball of unknown original. Ick. That's bad enough. But it use to kick Superboy's butt regularly. The pre-Crisis Superboy. Shudder.

Although next to nothing is known about the Emerald Eye, despite it being featured in many stories, we do know that it exists in the 20th Century (Garrin Bek of L.E.G.I.O.N. had it for a while). Why doesn't DC dig it out and throw it against the Green Lanterns? They might know no fear, but I sure would!

My nightmares are not haunted by the Joker, or Darkseid, or Anton Arcane. It's always the freakin' Emerald Eye...

Are you, too, afraid of the Emerald Eye?

Thursday, February 02, 2006

"Eeek!"

"No, thanks, miss!" I have to remember that line...
The little gem at left from the recent Day of Vengeance special lends even more credence to my theory that Blue Devil is basically Hellboy's gay little brother.

Okay, we've already show in previous posts that Zatanna's a slut and Blue Devil's a big old queen (see the scene at left for another example of that). But I didn't think we'd find
evidence of both in the same place:

Could BD look more
mortified and unresponsive in panel 3? I'm not sure how.

I'm pretty sure he never called her...

NAME MY MONKEY!

Name the monkey in Big Monkey Comics' logo and you'll win a $50 gift certificate, redeemable at one of our stores or even on-line! For details see the

Big Monkey Comics Big Blog.

BHM 2: Tempest


No, not that Tempest; the other one.

Joshua Clay, like apparently all black American characters in comic books, came from the mean streets of somewhere and got involved in gangs. He got in trouble with The Law, and was given the choice of jail or enlisting in the army, a concept so wrong I scarcely have the strength to discuss it.

Anyway, he joined the army, served in Vietnam, became a medic, under duress discovered his "trusty power-blasts", and deserted. Busy guy.

He was a "reluctant hero", a schtick black characters often get stuck with, either because it's supposed to be more realistic or because black people are supposed to be more selfish than white people; who can say? But here he's seen at his most gung-ho in 1994. Hey, I'd be reluctant too, if I had to wear that outfit.

Note from his dialog that, like most underprivileged urban black gang members, Josh was a big fan of "Forbidden Planet". Gee, you'd think that comics were written by geeks, wouldn't you?

I really liked Josh. Grant Morrison, oops, I mean the Chief shot him to death for no apparent reason in an issue of Doom Patrol. Grant Morrison's too good to use other people's characters, you see, unless he changes them wholesale....

"Let's put on a show!"



Oh, dear.

Poor Little Miss Marchy-Boots.

So lonely on her man-less island, her exhibitionistic impulses drive her to

"put on a show"

for passing boats of seamen.

Oh, Diana -- I am so sure you do.

Is it any wonder Hippolyta couldn't wait to get rid of her?

Get help, Diana, please...

Meet Our Custom 'Clix Candidates!


If you haven't weighed in yet on our current poll to determine the next custom heroclix I'll commission, please do. For those of you who are new here, below is a rundown on those candidates, their past history on this blog, and why they are on the list.

Orca the Whalewoman. Batman has fought some stupid villains in his day, but former G.I.Joe scribe Larry Hama was determined to surpass them all with the likes of Allie the Gator Girl and Orca the Whalewoman. Fan outrage was off the charts and Orca got Hama fired. The now legendary Orca the Whalewoman symbolizes the power of fan feedback and the internet as a medium for fandom. But she looks really cool and would be fun in an Aquaman-centric game.

Dr. Domino is a character so ludicrous that, although he appeared in only one Wonder Woman story, the Absorbascon once devoted an entire week to him. Crazy Bob Kanigher created him out of whole cloth to throw at Wonder Woman right after she regained her powers and went to work at the UN. Dr. Domino personifies the creativity of "Crazy K", is the patron saint of all object-headed villains, and represents the position that things don't have to make sense in order to be entertaining. He the DCU's closest equivalent to Dr. Doom.

The Red Bee. If that name doesn't make you smile or sigh, then you're not a DC fan, folks. The Red Bee actually is the creation of another comic book company, whose characters DC bought en masse at a fire sale. For the most part, he's no sillier than the better known Green Hornet, but once you've used a trained bee named "Michael" as your sidekick, it's hard to recover the public's respect. The Red Bee teaches us that, in comic books, it is better to be remembered for being ridiculous than not to be remembered at all.

The original Red Hood. Are there people reading about the new Red Hood (Jason Todd), who don't know that the original Red Hood was a backstory created in the 1950s to explain the Joker's deformity? The original Red Hood was simple but striking: a guy in a tuxedo wearing a featureless red helmet that protected him from changes in the environment. The original Red Hood story is painfully crappy; the Joker himself is an afterthought in his own origin. But the Red Hood stands for the idea that a crappy mythic element, given enough love over time, can evolve into something useful.

The Mist is the arch-enemy of the most dramatic of all heroes, the Golden Age Starman. The Mist is a testament to the power of a strong visual (the floating head) combined with over the top Republic Serial villainy. The Mist shot his own daughter dead while she was holding her baby and reminds us that pure evil never goes out of style.

Scipio: Sword of the Absorbascon is our parody of the controversial forthcoming series by Kurt Busiek, Aquaman: Sword of Absorbascon. Sorry, Kurt! It's all in good fun.... besides, the dog looks really cute in a cape. The Sword stands for the idea that "anyone can criticize; the challenge is doing so in an entertaining way".

Joe Coyne, the Penny Plunderer, is seen here at what is clearly not his finest moment. Three-time loser Coyne went round the deep end one day and decided to base all his crimes around pennies as a theme. For a couple pages, Joe actually gave Batman a pretty hard time, but was finally undone by his own obsession, yet another victim of comic book irony. But you know that giant penny in the Batcave? That's Joe's. Just goes to show you, it doesn't matter what your thing is in life, if you go all the way with it, you'll have an impact. Or go to the electric chair, like Joe did.

Breakdance-fighting Vibe (with pop-and-lock action!) is our totem character here at the Absorbascon. A Puerto Rican kid from the Detroit ghetto, Vibe could shatter concrete with his vibratory powers and hearts with his rakish charm. Despite a bad background and environment, he had an irrepressible joie de vivre, but it didn't save him from a tragic, lonely, meaningless death, the first Justice Leaguer to die on duty. Vibe stands for all potentially great characters doomed by the circumstances under which they are introduced.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

BHM 1: Black Manta


Black History Month here at the Absorbascon begins with everybody's least favorite role model: Black Manta.

Originally, Black Manta was just one of those characters that Bob Haney cobbled togetherfor Aquaman out of nothing at all: Villain in Diving Helmet.

Years later, somebody finally had him take the helmet off, and we got to see that he was black. Part of Manta's motivation, he reveals, was that, having given up on the idea of equality for black people on land, he hoped to form a more equitable society underwater.

Sometimes this gets misinterpreted as black separatism, but Manta always seems to have some white guys in his gang. In recent issues of
Aquaman, those white guys seem really stupid; I think the Secret Society is forcing some Affirmative Action on our man Manta and these dumb crackers are Goon School dropouts.

Poor Manta got stupidly monsterfied in the "Underworld Unleashed" crossover (just like his white counterpart, Killer Moth), but Rick Veitch fixed that and brought us back the real Black Manta.

Far as I know, Black Manta's real name has never been revealed. Part of the groovy mystery of it all or just another example of a black character getting short shrift? Who can say?

People sometimes make fun of Black Manta because he got a less then stellar rep during his days on the Superfriends. But for me, Manta's got the "autobuy" power: if Black Manta's in it, I buy it. He's the first villain ever really to strike a personal blow against a hero, when he killed Aquaman son. As such, Black Manta was the herald of our New Era of Villainy. He's also the "highest-ranking" black villain in the DCU.

So show Black Manta some respect. Or else.

P.S. Visit the Museum of Black Superheroes.

Clue Number Three...


You think you're tight with your friends and colleagues?


Ollie recognized Wonder Woman when no one else did. Wonder where he's looking.

Well, no. You're not. Not compared to the Silver Age Justice League,
who always speak in sequence.
"Some fun playing catch with comet, wasn't it, Superman?"
Shut up, Hal, you snotty brown-noser. You're embarrassing Barry, and poor Clark's practically crawling under the table. Thank gods Daddy Batman's there to give the kids a distracting parlor game.

Do you think it's easy to speak in sequence in a group of 4, 5, 6, 7, even 8 people? It's not. Finishing one another's sentences? Creepy.
Like, old-married-couple creepy.

Oh, Snapper. I don't know what we'd do without your peppy cheerleaderism. Move to Detroit, I suppose.

So tight your evil anti-matter universe counterparts can do it, too.
"Special preparations"? Apparently, Owlman is the only CSA member not embarrassed to shop at the Pleasure Palace.

So tight you'll wear one another, unconscious, in your tiara.
That's tight.

"Speaking of twenty hours--" What are you, Hal, a game show host now?


Completing each others very thoughts. In sequence.
In civilian identity.
Shudder.

Note that they're on vacation, and don't know the others are there and they're STILL doing it. Really really creepy. Not quite "hitting on your underage Kryptonian cousin" creepy, but close. I think J'onn used to make them do it; you know, play with their minds, like his little puppets. Then they found out. One bic later, JJ's not in the League any more.


Yes, folks ... it's one of
THE TOP TEN CLUES YOU'RE IN
A SILVER AGE JUSTICE LEAGUE STORY:

Serialocution.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Haikuesday with J'onn J'onnz



J'onn was distracted when he composed this somewhat klunky haiku from our recent post on "Marshalation", one of the Top Ten Clues You're in a Silver Age Justice League Story.

As soon as my full
strength has returned I'll make short
work of those Bee-Men.


You know what to do...!

Monday, January 30, 2006

My Kind of Artist!

Okay, Kurt Busiek, I relent!

I'll support ANYTHING you want to do with Aquaman ...


as long as you let Fernando Albea draw it. Aquaman: Sword of Hooters, anyone?

But (semi-)seriously, folks ... is this the guy who needs to draw Black Condor, Uncle Sam, et al., or what? You could relaunch all of National's characters this way. Just imagine the Red Bee or Firebrand in Fernando's hands! Yee-ha!


Huhn. That's funny...



Kyle really doesn't look all that different, does he?

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Abalone Ranger

I have, with all due respect to the craft of Kurt Busiek, strongly disapproved of the new "sword of sorcery" direction for the Aquaman title (not "for Aquaman", since Aquaman himself's not going to be in it). But why?

Naturally, some of it is just personal taste, but I think there are some objective reasons as well. But, first, some background on my personal "comic book theories".

There are, pretty much, only five of what I call "Goldens"-- DC heroes who, having survived the Wertham-driven putsch of comics, continued more or less untouched
through the Golden, Silver, and Bronze ages.

Those five are
Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Arrow (*snort*), and Aquaman. The first three survived on the strength of their popularity and malleability of tone, and the last two survived as back-up features sneaking under the radar (or, in Aquaman's case, sonar). Any other characters were discontinued, dramatically reimagined by Schwartz, or both. Their resultant high Q Rating is why these characters were chosen to be "The Superfriends". Except, of course, for Green Arrow. I mean, really. One can only handle so many Plastic Cat Arrows without getting scratched, you know.

One of the secrets to their success is versatility. The Trinity of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman have an advantage that we're so familiar with that most of us no longer even notice it: each one has a diverse set of abilities. Batman can do anything humanly possible; Superman can do everything else. Wonder Woman was saved from being just a strongwoman by some clever additions, such as the plane, the lasso, and her persuasive abilities. Conceptually, their powers aren't just physical but are perceptional as well (Batman's deduction, Superman's senses, Wonder Woman's lasso of truth). Practically, they have short-range abilities (ZOWIE!) and long-range abilities (the batarang, heat vision, the lasso).

This broadness helps make them adaptable to a variety of situations, storylines, and tones. As any Heroclix player can tell you, it's much better to have a strong all-around figure on the board than a Johnny One-Note. Non-DC characters with similar diversity of power have also shown staying power. Spider-Man is a brilliant example, with his hyperstrength and agility, wallcrawling, high intelligence, webshooters, and "spider-sense"; a nearly perfect ensemble of powers. It almost doesn't matter what they do with Spider-Man, so cool is the very idea of being able to do what he can do. ... Almost.

A narrower range of powers often means less success, in comic book battles, on the Heroclix board, or in the court of public opinion. Green Arrow and Green Lantern are basically ranged fighters (one of the reason the writers have Hal Jordan get hit on head so much; he's vulnerable only at close range). To make Black Canary and Flash more viable, they got the sonic scream and the "tornado-making trick", which give them the ability to fight from a distance.

One-noters like the
Atom don't fair so well. While Aquaman has a good mix of physical/mental and short/long range abilities, he has a limited sphere for using them (as a million not- so-funny comedians like to remind us). An additional problem for guys like Atom and Aquaman is that, pound for pound, there's not that much crime at the molecular or submarine level.

Result? Such characters are harder to carry off as traditional
"yes, Commissioner, I'll go after the Checkered Gang at once!" kind of superheroes. Sometimes this drives writers to try to change the conditions the hero operates under; Will Pfeiffer's Sub Diego and, before it, the now-forgotten New Venice were attempts to give Aquaman a more familiarly urban context for crimefighting, allowing for a more conventional approach to the character.

Sometimes it drives them to change the hero's genre all together. Julie Schwartz recast Golden Age adventurer Hawkman and crimefighter Green Lantern as space characters. Or, if a character's not working as a traditional superhero and already has some elements of the fantastic, try the "sword & sorcery" genre: hence, Sword of the Atom and Sword of Atlantis.

While such moves may breathe in some temporary life, they aren't sustainable solutions, I think. Just ask Jonah Hex. And before some of you object about the success of the Silver Age Hawkman and Green Lantern, I'll point out that the current popularity of these characters is based solidly in bringing them back down to earth with a more superhero/crimefighter feeling to them.

Personally, I
like Aquaman as an underwater Batman/Superman, because, well, I like Batman and Superman. But I do understand the impulse to take a difference approach with him. I think "sword & sorcery" is the wrong direction, however, because it takes Aquaman farther away from the realm of ordinary human existence, making him feel (to me) less relevant. Part of Aquaman's problem is that he's too far removed from our regular land-based existence; taking him farther away is literally moving in the wrong direction.

If Aquaman's genre is to be changed it should be changed back to (what my friend Glen has pointed out to me was) its real, original genre: Western.

"Scipio's finally flipped!" you're thinking. Hold on! By "Western" I don't mean guns and tumbleweeds in the American plains; those are just the externals of the genre. I mean, the storytelling essentials: small isolated town with a problem, bands of bandits, corrupt politicians, impoverished working families, the mysterious avenging stranger who rides in to save the day appearing out of nowhere.

Read early Aquaman; it's a Western. Aquaman has no real base of operations, he mostly wanders the sea, suddenly coming across situations that require his talents. He rallies the local townfolk / sealife to repell the threat. He sails off into the sunset.

This is part of the reason Aquaman's has virtually no Rogue's Gallery; that's really an urban crimefighter schtick. Aquaman's more of a Jonah Hex. Without the guns. And the scar. Okay, maybe he's more of a Lone Ranger, but you get the idea.

Aquaman, back in proper "Western" mode, is a perfect vehicle for interesting one-issue stories, which can be set anywhere the sea is. Aquaman has a power almost everyone (other than sharp-eyed Grant Morrison!) has forgotten; thanks to his telepathy, he can speak the language of anyone he's talking to. He's the perfect worldwide sea-going busybody.

If you need a model for how this is done, just watch old episodes of "Shazam!" or "The Incredible Hulk", which for practical reasons abandoned the standard superhero model in favor of a Western-style, Lone Ranger motif... .