Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Mystery of Kotter versus Mrs. Harper

Indulge me for a moment on two subjects: Mama's Family and Welcome Back, Kotter.

Mama's Family had its roots in a classic series of poignant but amusing skits on the popular and long-lasting Carol Burnett Show. When cancelled on its original network, it pioneered by switching to national, first-run syndication (which many people erroneously think was first done by Baywatch). It starred a gifted comedian who was also a talented singer (Vicki Lawrence had a number one hit with That's the Night that the Lights Went Out in Georgia). Her co-stars included Rue McClanahan (as her sister Fran) and Betty White (as her daughter Ellen), who left the show to become enormously famous in the Golden Girls. The show won an Emmy for costume design. 117 epsisodes; 7 years.


Welcome Back, Kotter, on the other hand, starred an unknown, mumbling stand-up comedian with virtually no resume and a handful of unknowns. It's shining light was "Mr. Woodman", the maniacally cynical Vice Principal played by John Sylvester White ("I went away for awhile, but now I'm back...."), whose last acting job before he died, by the way, was on Mama's Family, playing Mr. Vogleman of the Raytown Travel Agency ("It's good day at the Raytown Travel Agency, how may I help you?").

Its principal gas was overused catchphrases and a trunk full of dusty Borsch Belt vaudevillian jokes. Even its "star" barely appeared in half of the episodes in the final season (of which there were only four, with a total of only 47 episodes). And Allan "Bubba" Kayser (left) was and is fifteen times hotter than John "Barbarino" Travolta (right).

Yet Kotter remains (comparatively) well-known; it spawned lunchboxes, comic books, novels, and even boardgame. Ice-Cube is set to star in the movie version next year (let that sink in).

Mama's Family? Nearly forgotten.


Why? Actually, my real question isn't, "Why Kotter, not Mama's Family?" And I'm certainly not trying to make the case that one (or either) is a great comedy (or even a good one). But, on paper, it would look as though Mama would have great long-term influence than Kotter; but it doesn't.

My real question is, What causes similar inequities in any medium?

There was (until recently) only one story with the god-like Lady Cop; god-awful Azrael's series lasted 100 issues. The original Firestorm had only 5 issues, but he's become nearly iconic; Impulse had 75 (mostly) marvelous issues and look what they did to him. The Martian Manhunter never got beyond 36 issues. Jimmy Olsen? 222 issues. Tomahawk had an astonishingly 140 issue and almost no one even remembers him.


Why do some series last and others not? Why do some with scads of issues have almost no impact, while some short-live series resonate still today?

Friday, December 29, 2006

Ali's Health Club for the Soul

This is a villain we need to bring back:

ALI.
Behold the face of evil.
Well ... the upper face of evil.


First of all, he's an Arab. Once upon a time, Arabs were mostly employed as literary Ethnic Comic Relief or Monster Fodder. You know; the shaky guy whom the Mummy attacks after he's killed the Unnamed Watchman. In Wolf-Man movies, the role goes to a Cockney or a Scot; in Vampire movies it's the Bulgarian toady; in American movies, it's the Black Guy.

Anyway, nowadays Arabs aren't attacked by movie monsters, they are movie monsters. People are afraid of Arabs (or anything remotely like them), so it's a perfect time to capitalize on that fear by bringing back Ali (and this guy, but that's another story).

Second, he preys only on the rich. Now, the fact is, most crime is poor-on-poor violence. But, face it, that's just not sexy. Mr. X snatches Mrs. Y's purse and gets away with ten dollars, two credit cards, a hairbrush, and a lipstick. Yawn; I can read the paper for that.

What I can't read in the paper is Prof. Byzantine's plans to use trained water fowl to halt traffic on Seventh Avenue while his men, disguished as Shriners, fake an outbreak of Legionnaires disease at the Zilvervissen Arms, providing him with the 15 second distraction he needs to replace the Reade Ruby with a paste substitute during the gem exhibit transfer at the Afval Museum. For that, I need to read comics.

Ali preys only on the rich. The filthy rich. Who tread poolside gravelpaths made of the crushed spirits of the myriad myrmidons they have enslaved. Who don't even have the decency to stay in their peacock-lousy penthouses, but must flaunt their superior station by "slumming", as they sashay down filthy darkened alleys wearing their white ties and pearls. Pearls! They're just asking for it.

Ali will punish them.

For their sins.

Oh, the comic book irony.

Long before john Doe in "Seven".

"Why me? Because it is my life's work."

Long before John Cramer in "Saw".

"Punishing you for your sins is my business, Mr. Rockley."

Long before Pinhead in "Hellraiser".

"I understand; I am a colletor myself ... of millionaires."

But not before the Spectre, of course.

Bruce Wayne, master of the witty comeback.
Nice suit, though.


Sure, Ali is evil. Sure, he's collecting millionaires for a profit. But he steals from them with delicious comic book irony. He replaces his victims with his own men (because we all know how easy disguise is in the Golden Age), who reverse the sinful behavior of the captives, all to Ali's benefit.

In fact, when the millionaires are rescued, their captivity has opened their eyes to their sins, and they each pledge to turn over a new leaf. Except Bruce Wayne, who's a hopeless layabout.

But even Bruce Wayne is changed, and learns to punish sin "the Ali way".

Long before there was Frank Miller in "ASBARTBW"... .

Just kidding! That was the substitute Bruce Wayne. Not that Dick ever suspected that, of course. It was the Golden Age.

The real Bruce Wayne (as Batman) does catch Ali-fever, however. When he captures Ali, he and his young sidekick laughingly torture him until he's nothing but skin and bones.

"This'll inspire the boys at Gitmo, eh, Robin?"
"And how!"




Bring Ali back, DC. A thin, bitter, Ali bent on revenge, and wearing that same saggy, Moroccan waiter's outfit.

And send him ... to Star City.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Phantom Stranger Dynasty!

As a result of buying the Phantom Stranger Showcase, I've been posting a lot about PS here lately. How could I not? He's mysterilicious.

Devon suggested to me that I apply the Absorbascon's patented "Dynastic Centerpiece" model to Phantom Stranger; and so I shall!


Dynastic Centerpiece: The Phantom Stranger

Although there are lots of mystic DC characters, I don't think any of them really have a dynasty built around them. Oh, there are hints of it: Blue Devil and Zatanna each have "kid sidekicks" or "junior counterparts" in Kid Devil and Zatara. But there aren't any full-blown dynasties, and maybe that's part of what's kept such mystic characters on the periphery.

You'd think that one of the mystics who hangs out with superheroes regularly, like a Dr. Fate, would be the best bet for building such a dynasty. I submit the irony that the Phantom Stranger -- one of comics' pre-eminent loners -- comes the closest to becoming a Dynastic Centerpiece. After all, he is a member of Justice League... .


Junior Counterpart: the Ghost of Vibe

Just kidding! Still, how fabulous would it be to have a ghostly breakdancing Puerto Rican gang member as the Phantom Stranger's junior partner? Answer: Very. I can just picture PS giving one of his sententious orations while Paco mockingly vogues behind him.

My actual nomination is a different ghost entirely: Deadman. Like the Stranger, he wanders around, mucking about in other people's private lives, then moves on. He makes a nice contrast, too; the Phantom Stranger appears to be just a man with lots of supernatural sound and fury, whereas Deadman is a very regular, plain-talking guy who just happens to be a ghost.



Female Counterpart: Madame Xanadu

Like the Phantom Stranger, Madame Xanadu has no apparent past. Whereas the Stranger always seems to know what is happening, Xanadu, a fortune-teller, specializes in knowing what will happen.

And, like a good female counterpart, Madame Xanadu has a sassy independent streak. There aren't a lot of people who stand up to the Phantom Stranger; she's one of them.


Kid Sidekick: Song the Buddhaboy

Song is the young Tibetan flautist whom PS saves from falling off a cliff. He's a tough customer, he's devoted to the Stranger, and his brother's the Dali Lama, which might occasionally come in handy.



Black Sheep: Dr. Terry Thirteen

It's actually pretty obvious, when you think about it. The "Black Sheep" isn't bad per se; he's just the person who swims against the very grain that the rest of his dynasty swims with.

No one fits that description better than Dr. 13. He reduces the most supernatural-appearing situations to common phenomena; the Phantom Stranger, on the other hand, lends a mystic importance to even the most mundane of settings.

Besides, Dr. Thirteen has always been associated with the Phantom Stranger. In fact, the Phantom Stranger was originally a supporting figure in Dr. Thirteen's stories, a relationship that reversed itself when the PS got his own series in 1969.


Civilian Companion: Cassandra Craft

Cassanda Craft is the blind seer who took the Phantom Stranger home when he got his clock cleaned in the Manhattan subways. PS can navigate the mountains of Tibetan and battle demons, but can't manage to avoid get mystically mugged on the Manhattan subway.



Elder Statesman: Dr. Occult

Elder than the Phantom Stranger? What on earth does that mean, when no one knows how old he might be? Well, that might be meaningless within the comics, from our perspective lots of characters are older than the Phantom Stranger, since he first appeared in 1952.

Dr. Occult first appeared in 1935. In a sense, he was the Golden Age's "Phantom Stranger": an (apparently) normal man with (comparatively) normal clothes but great (and vague) mystical powers. He's the ideal person to serve as the "Elder Statesman" of the Phantom Dynasty.


Animal Companion: Detective Chimp.

We already know they're friends; it was Bobo who saved the Phantom Stranger when the Spectre turned him into a mouse. One function of an Animal Companion is to add a lighter, more "human" touch to a hero's dynasty; Bobo's earthiness would be a helpful counterbalance to PS's famous portentiousness/sententiousness.


Authority Figure: ????

First off, let me clarify something for those of you of certain generation: no, by "????" I do not mean Malachi Throne.

What I mean is I'm not quite certain who this should be. In our model, the Civilian Authority Figure is non-superhero who contacts the dynastic centerpiece and asks for help or otherwise helps spur action. Think "Commissioner Gordon". Who on earth (or elsewhere) would serve as the Phantom Stranger's Commissioner Gordon?

At one time, I would have been tempted to put John Constantine in this role. That was his original role in the Swamp Thing saga: directing Swamp Thing (or others) to mystic troublespots without so much engaging in the action himself. But I'm pretty sure that, as a headliner with a title of his own, he's pretty much grown beyond that.

Ah, but there is another character! He's currently unused, doesn't participate in things first hand, and has a history of calling in others to tackle situations. And he lives in Georgetown: Baron Winter. Like PS he appears normal, but his origins are shrouded in mystery. Unlike PS, who can never stay in one place, Baron Winter has to stay in one place: he's magically trapped in his own house.

Baron Winter would be a good Commissioner Gordon for PS. That is, if such a thing is ever necessary, given that the Phantom Stranger is famously self-actuating. Part of what makes the Phantom Stranger cool is that he simply shows up in a place where he's needed. It's one of his powers.


Contextualizing City: LOL!

That's just not the way the Phantom Stranger rolls. The whole world is his city.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Merry Clixmas

The list of characters appearing in the next set of DC Heroclix figures (called "Origin") was made public knowledge yesterday (see list below).

Numbers 1- 78 are "REVs"; those are (usually) one sculpt that appears on three different levels of dial (Rookie, Experienced, and Veteran), each with its own stats and powers. The last twelve are "Uniques"; they have only one dial.

#01-03 Blackhawks (Stanislaus/Hendrickson/Blackhawk)
Well, this will make Devon happy. This is a clever use of the REV. Instead of each level representing a different stage of one person's career, they represent different persons wearing the same uniform. I happened to know Totaltoyz is working on a custom Lady Blackhawk you can buy to complement these guys.
#04-06 Phantom Lady
I'm guessing the R and E versions will represent the original streetfighter Phantom Lady; not being very powerful, those would be lower point figures, explaining why she's in the second lowest slot. Perhaps there will be a high-point Veteran who is the new Phantom Lady in all her extradimensional glory.
#07-09 Robotman (Cliff Steele)
Ah, Cliff Steele, DC's answer to Ben Grimm. I assume he'll just be a "tank", with powers like Charge and Superstrength. I hope against hope that he'll be wearing a jacket and boots like Morrison put him in; somebody who originally had a human body would feel funny running around naked even after getting a robot body instead.
#10-12 Ray
Will the sculpt make creative use of translucent plastic? I'm assuming the Ray will bring Flight and Superspeed to the Freedom Fighters team, which will help put them on the map figuratively and literally.
#13-15 Wildcat
Another gift for Devon. I'm curious what's on his dial that would make his Rookie worth more points that the Ray or Robotman! I hope they give him something clever like Enhance or Support; something that gives him value to his teammates, rather than just a slugger.
#16-18 Damage
Yay; I always thought he was so hot; there aren't a lot of short guys in comics. I used to think he just blew up, but judging from the recent issue of Justice Society, he's got Superstrength and Toughness too. Will his team abilities be Titans on the Rookie, Outsiders on the Experienced (the Outsiders Team ability, which has to do with immunity to Perplex, is being shared by the members of the Doom Patrol), and JSA on the Veteran? I hope they use his purple and orange costume; I liked that one.
#19-21 Halo
Sigh.
#22-24 Mano
Another potentially cool use of translucent plastic for his head bubble. Giving the extraordinary power of his hand, I'm thinking he'll have Quake and Exploit Weakness. Now we'll have all of the Fatal Five except for Tharok, and the Brainiac Unique can fill in for him until he arrives.
#25-27 Shadow Thief
I cannot imagine how bizarre this sculpt might be. But finally we have some Hawkman villains to work with! And I can't wait to pit him against Manhunter or Firestorm.
#28-30 Knockout
Another "Chick Brick" with a boring "tank" dial. Still, she'll be fun for those all-female games we sometimes play.
#31-33 Copperhead
Can you believe a loser like Copperhead getting a clix, let alone being this high on the list? I tell you, that guy must have a great agent.
#34-36 Question
Almost certainly will have Stealth and Perplex, a deadly combination that you previous had to resort to the Atom or the Martian Manhunter to get. I expect to see him lurking around the board a lot. I wonder how a team with him, Captain Atom, and Blue Beetle II would do?
#37-39 Animal Man
Like Vixen, he'll probably have one dial that's Aquatic, one that's Airborne, and one that's Grounded. Most players will flavor the flying one, but I'll be all over the Aquatic. Yet another figure to join Aquaman's finny friends on the water map. It will also be a natural teamed with Adam Strange and Starfire (and probably the only way she'll see play at my house).
#40-42 Cat-Man
Further proof of the existence of the gods, or, at least, of Gail Simone. Like Copperhead, his Rookie will be marked as a Batman Enemy, so he'll be helping Catwoman out in my Gotham games.
#43-35 Booster Gold
Booster was in the first DC set; he was the ideal "taxi" for carrying around other figures (like Blue Beetle). But he didn't have many powers on his dial, and that made him less than thrilling (the Rookie was famous for having no powers at all!). This new one could have all sorts of powers, including Imperviousness, Defend, Deflection, Ranged Combat Expert, Force Blast, Quake, Charge. The real question is: will Skeets play any role in this figure?
#46-48 Atom
There was a convention-exclusive Atom with a kick-ass dial for only 50 points, but it had no sculpt on it because you couldn't see the Atom. Cute; cheap, but cute. This REV version will surely have some fun sculpt, maybe something that shows him in the act of shrinking. I hope they capture some of his "leap and smack" action with powers like Leap/Climb, Charge, and Combat Reflexes. Throw in Stealth and Perplex and this could become one of the most popular figures on the board.
#49-51 Mirror Master
This is one of the two DC characters people talk about in discussions of "hard powers to duplicate". But apparently they've done a good job. I'm sure he'll be annoyingly hard to hit, and full of Perplex and Phasing. Ordinarily, we don't allow using more than one figure of any particular character in a game, but I'm sure we'll make an exception for the Mirror Master! The Flash family will have to face a whole team of Mirror Masters at some point.
#52-54 Triplicate Girl
This is the other figure people talk about in those discussions! But if they made Madrox, they can make Triplicate Girl. I'm intrigued by the fact that she's so high on the list, meaning her Rookie isn't a low-point figure; I expected her to be in one of the lowest slots. I'm guessing that means Perplex on the front of her dial. The Legion is staring to be really interesting as a Heroclix team!
#55-57 Supergirl
They already did a Supergirl; I believe she was one of the first DC pieces with Running Shot. But she was marred by a low defense value; if you Outwit her Invulnerability, she falls over like a drugstore spinner rack. I just hope they don't waste one of the new versions by giving it the Outsiders Team ability.
#58-60 Hawkman
Maybe they should just call this set "Devon's"; the only thing it's missing is Lady Cop. There was a Hawkman in the original DC set, but he was, frankly, more like Sitting-Duckman. He was always the first to get knocked out, no matter what game he was in. Wizkids apparently set out to fix this problem. His placement high on this list (and some secret inside knowledge I have) tell me that this Hawkman will be feeding lots of opponents their teeth. I hope he has Regeneration courtesy of the Nth Metal!
#61-63 Wonder Girl (Cassie Sandmark)
Her absence has been keenly felt on every Wonder Woman team I compose. I look forward to seeing her zappy lasso in action (perhaps as Exploit Weakness). I'll be unhappy if she has no range; the zappy lasso should be worth at least a range of two.
#64-66 Cyborg Superman
I had little interest in this character until he became part of the GL rogues gallery. Now the Manhunter robots can go on a team with him and beat the snot out of Hal Jordan. Beating the snot out of Hal Jordan always makes for a fun evening.
#67-69 Steel
Thank goodness! The Steel from the original set is still playable, dial-wise, but it's famously ugly. The new one should fix that, because John Henry is a right purdy man. Since it started Heroclix, Wizkids has gotten more clever and subtle in their dials. Nowadays, a smart fighter like Steel might start with heavy combat stats, but later down the dial turn into more of a support player, maybe even have Outwit or Enhancement.
#70-72 Mr. Miracle
I've little love for Fourth Worlders, but even I will enjoy seeing Mr. Miracle with Big Barda on the board. Besides, with Phasing, Flight, and a high defense, he'll make a good utility player on JLA teams (but only ones with JLI-era figures!)
#73-75 Mon-El/Valor/M'Onel
Oh, yes. Now the Legion is a very different team.
#76-78 Green Lantern/Sentinel
Personally, I was hoping for at least a Rookie Alan Scott that wasn't too powerful. Someone who won't completely overshadow a Wildcat. But his placement so high on the REV list makes me think I won't be getting that.
#79-81 Shazam!
There have been two Unique Captain Marvels, but an REV is overdue. Simply placing "the wisdom of Solomon" (as represented by Outwit) at different places on his dial, changes the figure's gameplay considerably. And it can always be spiced up with a "Billy Batson" click somewhere on the dial, where Cap is powerless and vulnerable.
#82-84 Martian Manhunter/J'onn J'onzz
JJ already has a Unique, but there's way too much going on with him to be represented in just one dial. Really, I'm hard pressed to think of a power you couldn't put on his dial. And REV will give lots of different flavors of J'onn to choose from.
#85 Starman (Ted Knight)
This thing better rock the drama. I plan on using it to kick Ultraman's teeth in. This, along with the next one, is what will make it finally possible to field a reasonable JSA Classic, with Starman, Sandman, the real Green Lantern, the real Flash, Wildcat, Hippolyta, Hourman (repainted), Hawkman, and Dr. Fate.
#86 Sandman (Wesley Dodds)
It really doesn't matter what it does, does it? As long as it looks really cool standing with Dr. Mid-Nite.
#87 Blue Beetle III
Maybe seeing this figure in action will give me some kind of handle on just what Blue Beetle can do. Still, it will never match the fun of using the original Blue Beetle figure to force-blast opponents off of rooftops.
#88 Mr. Mind
I just sleep easier knowing that there's a Heroclix of a mass murdering Venusian worm with glasses. Don't you?
#89 Jakeem Thunder (and T-Bolt)
This figure will crack the Heroclix world. With an insanely high defense that it can share with other JSAers, Jakeem is going to be a staple on every nigh-undefeatable JSA team from here on in. I'm also thinking it will be a transporter with Phasing, so it can carry other figures around. And how can it not have Probability Control?
#90 Gentleman Ghost
Translucent plastic, please! Another hard-to-hit Hawkman foe to hang out with Shadow Thief. Another step closer toward my longed-for all-Hawkman game. I'm predicting that once the new Hawkman is available, the old Hawkman figures will become very popular again, being used as generic Thanagarians. I've already prepared for GG's arrival; I bought some ghostly Horroclix figures to use as his ghost goons.
#91 Vandal Savage
Another Evil Mastermind dial that probably won't translate very well, like Kobra and Luthor. He'll have Regeneration, but you may have to ask yourself the question, what are you regenerating for?
#92 Johnny Quick (Crime Syndicate)
This will help make the CSA more interesting and leave us only one step (Power Ring) away from replaying Crisis on Earth-3.
#93 Negative Woman (Doom Patrol)
Gee, I didn't think anyone even remembered Negative Woman. She'll seem a little odd working with Rita Farr; what's next, Celsius?
#94 S.T.R.I.P.E.
Not a fan of Frankenstein Junior, but it will look fun with the Rookie Stargirl.
#95 Batman (Golden Age)
A lower-point Batman (like the one in the Icons set) will be lots of fun and see lots of play, particularly against the classic Batman Enemies. Besides, I'm hoping the sculpt is really spooky.
#96 Superman (Golden Age)
Now, this will be interesting. A Superman whose power aren't overwhelming. Leap/climb instead of flight; probably no ranged attack. Expect to see him frequently paired with the Golden Age Batman and the Icons Robin on "World's Finest" teams.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Comments for Christmas

There are many things I want for Christmas. An announcement about Vibe: Sword of Detroit. A Chuma the Afrobot action figure. A crushed velvet cape.

But there's something I want that only you can give me. It's the same thing every blogger wants: comments.

If you've ever written a blog or anything like it, you know how much of yourself you put into it. Nothing is more depressing to a blogger than birthing a post that then receives no comments. Is it any wonder that so many bloggers throw in the towel when they get the sense of performing to an empty house?

A lot of people don't comment on past posts because they think the time to do so has passed. Not so at the Absorbascon, where the posts are truely timeless. I get notified of every comment made, regardless of whether the post is recent or not.

Below is list of posts I made that I poured my heart into (or, at least, took the time to type) that never got any comments. Boo hoo!

You can fix that by giving me... Comments for Christmas! Nice ones, if it's all possible. And this is the chance for all you hundreds of lurkers out there to reveal yourself and give me a shout!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Why We Love the Phantom Stranger VI



or, The Phantom Stranger versus the TSA

"Name?"

"What is a name? A quick sound lost to the wind; only a man has subtance, not his name, and I am just a man. No name can capture who I am -- who anyone is -- any more than naming a wave can trap it on the sand."

"Name."

"I have been called many names. Whether you call me 'Mister', 'Friend,' or 'Hey, You' will not change who I am or what I am to you. Call me what you will."

"Got it: 'Mr. Frend Heyu' . Domestic or international?"

"The trials of life are myriad and dwell in each man's heart; the world's darkness knows no borders and where it goes, I follow, hoping to bring light."

"International, then. Did anyone not known to you personally give you any packages to bring on board with you?"

"No one is a stranger to me, though to all others I myself must be one. Such is the path I walk."

"Great. Business or pleasure?"

"To paraphrase the author, 'mankind is my business'; all its affairs are my particular concern, from the smallest of moral choices to the grandest of righteous battles, and my only pleasure, to assist, in what way I can, those faced with such troubles."

"I see; business. Do you have any baggage?"

"Like all men, I carry my past with me, but I choose not to trouble others with what is, after all, my burden. It is my fate to bear it alone, for I remain ... a stranger."

"Okay, just a carry-on then. Anything to declare?"

"The darkness of evil can never truly conquer as long as at least one remains to bear the light of good."

"Nice. Coach or first-class?"

"In this outfit?"

"Right; first-class, then."

"Please step through the metal detector, Mr. Heyu. Okay, the ... the things on your opera cape seem to be setting it off. Please remove it and put it on the conveyor, oh, and the medallion, too."

"LOOK INTO MY EYES."

" * . Oh. Why don't we just use the wand. Please raise your arms. There we go, thanks, Mr. Heyu. Enjoy your flight."