Saturday, February 17, 2007

My "feminist" moment

"OH ADAM'S EGO, THEY'VE DEPOWERED ANOTHER STRONG FEMALE CHARACTER, WHY DOES DC HATE WOMEN SO MUCH!?"



Oh. Sorry.

Had a moment of what's passing itself off as "feminism" nowadays...

Friday, February 16, 2007

The Joker Made Me Laugh Out Loud

I don't chat about the Joker much. That's not because I don't respect the character; I do. He's almost flawless. Immediately comprehensible, a perfect archtype, and phenomenally adaptable, the Joker is one of the great character creations not merely of comics, but of all literature.

That, of course, is why it's not necessarily to write lots about him. Everyone knows it; everyone gets it. But there is one thing I want to ask you:

What's the funniest thing the Joker's ever said or done?

Now, by funny I don't mean "sardonically wicked or wackily crazy so that it perfectly captured his demented sense of humor". No, I actually mean funny as in, "hey, that made me laugh, out loud, for a long time."

The Joker can be funny, not just to himself but to us. That's part of what makes him so disturbing; we'd really rather not get the Joker's nihilistic sense of humor, but sometimes we can't help but understand why he finds certain things funny.


"Pardon me, sir. May I ask: by any chance,
is your refrigerator running?"



Playing the Joker must have been a dream come true for Cesar Romero, a big old queen who for most of his career was typecast as a Macho Latino and stuck playing the Sullen Latin Lover Who Doesn't Get The Girl. Finally, a chance to flame away and the burn the house down while doing so!

His joy in finally being free to fully flaunt his fabulousness was irrepressible and shines through his every moment in the role. If there is anything gayer than him patting his hands together while going, "Ooo-hoo-hooo ... deLICious!" I've never seen it (and trust, folks, I've seen my share, and quite a lot of it in the mirror). His Joker isn't driven or tortured: he's having the time of his life, just as Cesar was.


Who's this sleepy-eyed young hottie, smelling sweetly of the Morning After?
Cesar Romero!

Ooo-hoo-hooo ... deLICious!


So it's no surprise to me that my own best "The Joker Made Me Laugh Out Loud" moment came from him. You may remember it...

The Joker brazenly pops into Commissioner Gordon's office to let him know he's currently stealing the priceless carrera marble statue of Justice in front of Police Headquarters (almost everything in Gotham City was "priceless"; no wonder there's so much crime there). Sputtering with indignity, Gordon huffs, "Stealing 'Justice'? Have you no scruples, man!?" To which, the Joker gently replies as if to a little child:

"Oh, Commissioner, the cash value of scruples is zero; I prefer carrera marble."


Perhaps you had to be there, but I swear that once made me laugh so hard I thought I would need oxygen.

What's your "The Joker Made Me Laugh Out Loud" Moment?

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Hell-oclix

My brethren, I seek to warn you that Hell hath arrived on Earth, and it cometh in three flavors.

Blueberry


Cherry


and Pineapple

The traitorous god of the Old Testament who promised with the rainbow never to destroy mankind again now sendeth a rainbow to lay waste to humanity: Halo the Heroclix.

This is how it endeth, folks. The Three Flavors of Evil. The Brides of Abnegazar, Rath, and Ghast. The Powerpuff Hurls. The Triadic Popsicles of Doom.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Dinosaur Rule

There's a dinosaur in the Fortress of Solitude.

I know this because I bought the Action Annual, within which is the two-page spread of the Fortress of Solitude. Within which Superman has a Hall of Trophies. Within which there is a dinosaur.

Just like the one in the Batcave. Only orange.

Now, this is fascinating to me. There's no story that I know of that would result in Superman having a dinosaur trophy. Is it, like Batman's, a robot dinosaur? Is it a real dinosaur, stuffed? Is it just a statue of a dinosaur, and if so, what the the heck is it doing there? We know how Superman just loves statues. And there are other statues in the picture, including ones of the JLA and of the Legion of Superheroes (which, by the way, should never ever by left out by an open window). So I'm guessing it's just a statue.

But why? Is Superman a copy cat? "The Batcave looks so cool, and my stupid Fortress looks like a Tastee Freez shack. Maybe I should get a giant quarter? With my own face on it? No, wait ... a dinosaur. An orange dinosaur."

No, Superman's too, well, unaware to try and be cool by copying Batman. If Superman cared about being cool, he wouldn't be Superman (or even Clark Kent). So this means there is only one possible explanation for why there's a dinosaur in the Fortress of Solitude.

It's a rule.

Yes, at one point, in some JLA meeting back in the Silver Age, while everyone was nodding off during one of Wonder Woman's tedious lectures on parliamentary procedure, some wag slipped through a motion that all member's private headquarters must have a life-size dinosaur of some sort. Probably Green Arrow. Because he's a sarcastic SOB and is rich enough to buy a used Tyrannazoid from the Museum of Nazi Robotics for a lark and shove it an unused corner of the Arrowcave, because, after all, no one ever visits the Arrowcave. Except Solomon Grundy, and he's not exactly what you'd call a severe critic of interior decor.

So, I'm personally assuming that the one in the Fortress is the same dinosaur suit with the fake kryptonite teeth that "killed" Superboy when the Legion was stranded on a planet and had to make a rocketship out of rocks while faking Superboy's death. Why they had to fake Superboy being eaten by a dinosaur with kryptonite teeth, I can't remember or imagine, except that it's in the Legion by-laws that at least one member must be cruelly deceived by the others in every adventure. Lightning Lad slipped that one past the other members while they were nodding off to one of Saturn Girl's condescending sermons about parliamentary procedure.

But where did the other members get their dinosaurs?

Aquaman probably snagged the one that Thanatos attacked Mera with, and had it stuffed with seaweed by a horde of obsequious octopodes (or whatever collective noun they travel in) for proud display in the Aquacave. "Now there's a yarn worth re-telling," Aquaman booms out when he notices visitors staring horrified at the stinkysaurus. "Did I ever tell you about my battles against Thanatos?" Meanwhile, the guests are trying to figure out whether they can hold their breath long enough to get to the surface if they make a break for it...

The Flash Museum, no doubt, has the mummified corpse of the hypersonic super-intelligent other dimensional dinosaur that he worked with in the JLA Archive Volume 4. Probably has its own exhibit, including photographs of the Flash with his wife and eggs. Visiting the Flash Museum is probably like drowning in strawberry milk and I bet Captain Marvel has a lifetime membership there.

Wonder Woman, unlike the guys, has some taste. Undoubtedly, she just ordered an Amazon flunky named Artzankraftia to produce a twelve-foot carrera marble statue of herself as "Dinosaur Woman" from Episode 16 ("Island of the Dinosoids") of the Legendary Super Powers show (you know, the one where Darkseid was always trying to hook up with her). Wonder Woman is no fool; she can use Robert's Rules as a deadly weapon and knows how to work a loophole to make herself look fabulous. As a dinosaur.

Green Lantern, being a total goober with no dinosaurs in his own Rogues Gallery, probably stole Tyrano Rex, the evolved dinosaur he fought with the JLA and Tommy Tomorrow in DC Special 27 in April/May 1977 and pretends it's, you know, his. Probably keeps the corpse in his basement, draped in his high school letterman's jacket and holding a empty keg near the foosball table.

The Atom? Heh, I can just hear it now: "Oh, I shrunk one and brought it back through the Time Pool. It's on that homey polymer molecule over there about seven microns. You can see it, can't you, Superman? Tell them!"

Oh, yes, Superman says, it's a real beaut, and winks at the camera.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Heartless Haiku

Oh, dear.

This will not do. This will not do at all.


This poor distraught girl. When I first saw this cover, I didn't realize what was happening, I just knew it was something strange. Then it hit me: this crestfallen person is trying desperately to express herself in haiku. But she's so upset she omitted the middle line and winds up spitting out:

Supergirl's stolen

kisses will cost lives.


How tragic. Just as Supergirl has ripped out this woman's heart, so too she has de-cored her haiku.

Help this poor woman by supplying your own haiku for her to say or describe the situation.


P.S. Ganglords have clubhouses? Who knew!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Keeping Company

There's a project I'd love to get off the ground, but I can't really see myself having the time to make it happen: a list (or index or wiki or whatever you kids use nowadays) of the companies and organizations in the DCU. So I'm going to talk about it here; maybe someone will take the ball and run with it.

When talking about comic books, we often focus on the main characters. But as important in its own way is the world that is built around them.

In the early Golden Age, superhero comics were often like stripped-down bare-stage plays. Who cared what Clark Kent's boss's name was? He's just a mechanism for setting Superman into action. You can read the entire Starman Archive and not know what city Starman lives in, because it's never mentioned. Anything other than the main character was a potential distraction and treated as such. Try and imagine reading a superhero comic book today in which essential supporting players and the host city aren't even named; it just wouldn't happen and if it did, you'd be darned puzzled by such a "strange" artistic choice.

This changed as the Golden Age blossomed. As characters become stronger and more popular, they no longer need a empty stage in order to stand out. Writers started fleshing out the supporting casts, and natural impulse led them to develop (consciously or not) the Dynastic Centerpiece model we like to talk about here. To some degree, this works and is good. But things can be carried too far ... .

Creators started to use the stage scenery as a mechanism to magnify the central characters, and supporting casts, conditions, and cities grew like weeds. From the spare stage of Greek tragedy we got in the early Golden Age, the height of the Silver Age gave us an overwrought opera production, whose baroque stages dripped with Supercats, Wonder Tots, and Bat-Mites.

Tales of the Bat-Signal!

The Many Loves of Lang Lang!

Wonder Tot Meets Nubia!



Okay, okay; Wonder Tot never met Nubia. But that's only because no one thought of it.

The whole thing went a bit over the top, enough that even the long-standing characters with powerful iconic voices had trouble being heard of the loudness of their scenery.

Part of moving from the Silver Age to the Bronze Age was backing away from character-specific scenery in favor of broader contextual backgrounds for the entire DC "universe". Less time was spent detailing "The Adventures of Commissioner Gordon's Pipe!" and more on exploring the Justice League and the Justice Society, its counterpart on "Earth-2" (a mechanism for placing current "continuity" in the larger context of old comics stories).

When Marvel came crashing onto the scene in the Silver Age, it taught DC (or reminded it of) the value of giving characters individual personalities and of placing them all into the same overall context, a "universe" where any character might potentially interact with another. DC had explored these possibilities already, but it had a post-hoc flavor to it. Yes, big characters might appear together frequently, but some major scientific or sociological discovery in one title (say, a secret city of superscientific gorillas or an attack by an alien armada) would be virtually ignored in every other. Marvel helped DC understand that readers were interested not just in the characters but in the entire world that contained them.
Mythbuilding creators get this. Comic books, Star Wars, Buffy, Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, professional wrestling, soap operas: their value lies not primarily in the intrinsic worth of their individual episodes (Lord knows!) but in providing an epic/mythic universe in which those episodes take place and contribute richness and meaning. That what many readers are looking for: not mere stories (which one can watch in Lifetime movies or read in SF anthologies) but myths.

Many people crave not merely entertainment, but context, framing devices to help us understand and connect with the world around us, particularly when that world is complicated. They will create them, whether it's through ancient aetiological myths, Bible stories, medieval epics & ballads, or Batman: The Animated Series. People may not be able to take the whole world in with their minds, but it becomes easier to know what to do when you can simply ask yourself, "What would Jesus/Superman/Brian Boitano do?"

I think that is in fact what many people condemn as "geekiness": not reading such stories per se but using them as a framework for understanding the world. Well, you know what: screw them. They're mostly people who have given up on understanding the world, who have no need for a moral or conceptual framework because they don't make moral decisions or choose their ideas; they let others do that for them. Much easier to float through life on the wave of humanity, pausing occasionally to laugh at guys speaking Klingon or debating Supergirl's hemline. Which is too high, by the way.
Meanwhile, back in the Bronze Age, DC's attempts at building little worlds around each character and building one world around all of it had been started at different times and were hard to reconcile. When it all seemed to have past the point of diminishing returns, DC decided it would be easier to start fresh, and reboot itself with Crisis on Infinite Earths.

The putative housecleaning of Crisis on Infinite Earths cleared the stage for many characters, particularly ones like the Big Three. Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman were stripped of as much baggage as possible and put on to bare stages to begin their stories anew in what I might as well call the post-Crisis "Iron Age". Over the last 20 years, a slow realization seemed to develop that too much had been lost; the bathwater may have been dirty, but darned if some of its babies weren't cute.

As broader, brighter elements -- none more stunning than the JSA, which had been shunted off as an embarrassing relic at the beginning of the Iron Age -- began to return, everyone seemed to realize we were in a new world, one which DC formalized through the exercise of Infinite Crisis, and which I'm currently calling the Platinum Age, because it shines like silver but ain't as cheap.

The goal in the Platinum Age (at least, I hope) seems to be to merge the best elements of the previous ages, such as
  • the deadly seriousness of the Golden Age ("Oh, look, Robin; another pile of dead bodies."),
  • the personalization and whimsy of the Silver Age (*Chuckle* "Brainy suggests we have Protty disguise himself as a young Krypto so that Superboy will never realize that Jimmy Olsen was once his baby-sitter on Krypton, which might upset the time-stream!"),
  • and the cosmos-spanning, satellite-filling crossover context of the Bronze Age ("I couldn't make the League's adventure against Star-Breaker because I was visiting my mother on Earth-2!" *Editor's note: See "The Canary Cries At Midnight!", in Supergirl 123).

The ratio and nature of that mix you prefer pretty much defines who you are in the universe of DC fans. In the Platinum Age, some readers are shocked to see decapitations and rapes, because they thought we were returning to the innocent Silver Age. Others are displeased by the new existence of dogs in capes. Some resent "being forced to buy other comics" to fully understand the broader context of the comics they regularly read; others rejoice in projects like 52, Brave & Bold, and Justice League Unlimited, books where the entire DC Universe itself is the star. The most I can say to people who are utterly astonished that an entire universe wasn't reconfigured exactly to their liking is "relax, find the parts you like and enjoy them, and don't stress about the rest."

This is rather a long way round the barn to this point: one of the contextualizing things that I most enjoy is seeing companies and organizations mentioned in various titles. It's a nice low-key way of connecting everything that doesn't require lots of cross-reading to get the feeling all your favorite characters are living in the same world. DC knows this: Sundoller, Lexcorp, Stagg Industries, the Sunderland Corporation, Big Belly, Smilin' Bess, Ferris Aircraft, Soder Cola versus Zesti, STAR Labs; these are the background signs that help us know we're in the DCU, regardless of which hero is thrashing which villain in foreground.

Some of these are recent, but I'd love for DC to take advantage of their wealth of history to "revive" even more companies. DC's Golden and Silver Age stories are a wonderland of chewing gum companies, piano factories, chemical plants, radio stations, newspapers, and vague family-owned conglomerates (I mean, what the heck did Ollie Queen make his money in?). I would love for there to be a place or person that collects this all, where every time I could check to see whether Consolidated Corn has every been mentioned before and, if not, to add it to the list. I'm sure that some writers would take advantage of it and drop by whenever they need to insert a tuna processing firm into their current storyline.

Anyone willing to bell this cat?