Saturday, April 28, 2007

Aquamanifesto


To my readers,

I apologize now for that the fact that I am about to rant. Rant, rant, rant!

Comments will not be turned off for this post, but I would prefer your comments be directed somewhere more useful than to me...

Specifically, to Dan Didio. [That, by the way, is a link to the Aquaman Message Board; I don't know how else to contact him.]

First, some disclaimers. I really like Dan Didio; he's the best thing to happen to DC in decades. I
love what Dan Didio is doing. He's showing what a company can do with an actual editor at the helm, and, in my lifetime at least, DC has never been better. There will always be stumbles and fumbles, particularly when a company is doing so much on so many fronts. I understand that and I think that I am, on average, much more forgiving than most fans. If a book's not perfect, I'm fine with that; lord knows, the comic books we grew up with were actually pretty crappy, but we learned to love their characters anyway.

I also understand that he and his crew are not going to refit the DCU in exactly the way I would want it, jot and tittle. There are plenty of characters and situations I'd prefer were being handled differently (Donna Troy, the Outsiders (past and present), the Flash, and, of course, Vibe); that's always going to be the case. I also realize that the way you want things isn't always what's best for you!

That said, I have also learned that DC is responsive, on the whole, to feedback from its readers, and is charmingly willing to cheerily admit when it's made a mistake and then fix it. I've also learned that, in life generally, you can't expect to get things you want unless you're willing to ask for them or work toward them. And so....


Dan Didio, I want Aquaman back. The real one.
I joke a lot on this blog. So much so, that sometimes people can't tell whether I seriously like/dislike something, or whether I'm just taking a position for the sake of argument. Have no doubt, I'm thoroughly sincere about this one. If this be "fan entitlement", then so be it. But I must correct my friend and colleague the Fortress Keeper; I didn't complain loudly because Kurt Busiek tried to revamp Aquaman; writers do that all the time, and I only started to like Aquaman so much because Will Pfeiffer was allowed to revamp him. I've complained loudly because Kurt Busiek replaced Aquaman.

As I've argued before... On the whole, replacements do not work.
Sure, I liked Kyle Rayner. But Hal Jordan came back, and needed to. For that matter, Alan Scott came back. While DC continues to burn through Flashes, Jay Garrick remains popular and (as everyone knows by now) Barry Allen is coming back. Connor Hawke, Artemis, Azrael--the DC Encyclopedia is littered with the evidence that replacements do not work long-term. Sure, some good can come of them eventually, but often than not they become awkward baggage, the red-headed stepchildren of their respective dynasties.

You (or, rather, DC) is going to bring him back anyway.
Let's see ... when hasn't DC brought back the original version of a character? Green Arrow, after he died? No. Superman, after he died? No. Batman after his back was broken? No. Wonder Woman (pick up a time!)? No. Green Lantern, after he died and became a different freaking replacement character? No (and see "Alan Scott" above). The Flash? Well, there's a reason that stores are being told to order extra copies of an upcoming issue of Flash and that they're doing a two-month Flash promotion and publishing a "Greatest Flash Stories Ever Told", and I kinda doubt its for Wally. Hawkman? No. The Atom? Well, I adore Ryan and he doesn't seem to be going anywhere, but dont'cha think "The Search for Ray Palmer" is gonna find Ray Palmer? Blue Beetle? Ah, Blue Beetle doesn't count, because there was no Blue Beetle is DC's comics of the Golden, Silver, or Bronze Ages. The Doom Patrol, the Legion, the JSA? No, no, no. Thank god no writer ever had the bright idea to replace the Phantom Stranger with a hip, young, inexperienced version of himself or I'd be listing him here, too.

The real Aquaman will be back and it's only a matter of time. Stop wasting our time and get to it.

Replacing Aquaman with an even weaker character is a stunningly bad idea.
Look, I'm well aware that different people prefer different takes on Aquaman. But the Pfeifferites, PAD People, the Veitchians (are there any Veitchians?), the Finny Friends, the Sub Diego Lovers, the Pro-Atlanteans-- I daresay there's one thing that all the fish-schools of thought on Aquaman would agree on: his problem has never been that he's TOO powerful.

"Yeah, the ability to control fish is way too daunting,"
all the writers never say, "I just don't know how to write an Aquaman who can survive outside of the water for over a hour. Please, Dan, let me replace him with a weaker knock-off. I can't handle a guy who used to punch holes in battleships during WWII; I'm sure what readers really want in a hero is a kid who seems continually lost, needs a sword to defend himself, and is weaker than the ever-popular Neptune Perkins."

Wasting character recognition is a bad idea.
I really don't care who chooses to mock Aquaman; his classic version is an extremely recognizable character / commodity. Iconic status, Q rating -- these are cultural and marketing gold, and anyone willing to throw them away is a fool. This kid with black eyes, shoulder pads, and a sword? He ain't going on anybody's Underoos (and all that that implies). Or, if he does, those Underoos will wind up in the same warehouse where DC stores its excess "Superman Blue" t-shirts.

Distancing Aquaman from the heroic model is a bad idea.

I'm not just talking here about my pet theory, the Dynastic Centerpiece Model. I'm talking about what I -- and I think most readers -- want: not heroes who spend all their time trying to "find themselves" and "understand the role", but ones who are secure in themselves and know instinctively that their role is to use their abilities to help and protect others and society as a whole. I mean, if that weren't true, DC's most popular character would be the Martian Manhunter. I'm not a big fan of Alex Ross, but if DC has forgotten (after the depredations of Conway, Peter David, McLaughlin, Veitch) how to depict Aquaman as a real hero, all they have to do is ask Ross, co-author of Justice. For that matter, they could just watch a couple episodes of the '60s Filmation cartoon of Aquaman.

Wandering too far from a character's original conception is a bad idea.
Another comic fan, an old friend, taught me this important lesson: The answer to most problems with a character almost always can be found by going back to the original conception of the character (which is what caused the character to become popular and iconic in the first place). Kurt Busiek tried to do this but focused on the first origin of Aquaman: that he was raised on land, not in the sea. Yes, that is better than the silliness of being raised by porpoises. But you can't just replace Aquaman with a different character with the same name and the original origin.

Why? Because the origin of a character is not the same thing as the original concept. Though we make a big deal out of origins now, they started out simply as tools to get the hero as quickly as possible to his status quo.

"Oh, uh, why is Superman super? Well ... he's an alien! And they were all super! Okay, maybe they weren't; maybe it was just because their gravity was heavier! No, no... okay, maybe it was because of ... a difference in solar energy! Yes! That's it!"

The reality is, Superman is not about his origin. He's about his original concept, that is, what he can do and what his job is. Superman's slogan isn't "On Earth as it was on Krypton!"; it's "This looks like a job for Superman!"

When Superman became "Superman Blue" his origin didn't change, but he was taken away from the original concept of the character. So, naturally, the change failed. No one cared that it was still Clark Kent; it was no longer Superman. In fact, Superman Blue failed so spectacularly that when Superman was returned to his original concept, no one cared that the whole thing was never explained, so relieved were they to get back the hero's status quo.

Simply giving us a new version of Aquaman with the same origin as the first version is not going back to the original concept of the character. Painting with a broad brush, I'd have to say that the original concept of Aquaman is:
"Superstrong, supertough, really fast-swimming guy who controls sea creatures. Though he lives underwater, his work focuses of the interface of ocean and land, like beaches, islands, and the surface of the sea. There he keeps people safe and fights crime, with the approval of society."

Basically, Aquaman is a superlifeguard, a super-marine. With really fabulous hair.

Wandering away from this concept -- keeping him underwater all the time, weakening him, depriving him control of sea-life, portraying him as a Namorian crabby foe of surface-dwellers, giving him a Silver Age-y "one-hour weakness", giving him magical powers -- waters down the simple power of the original concept: a man who is a powerful master of the sea-going environment.

Why is this simple concept so powerful? First, because it IS simple. The most powerful concepts -- literary or not -- usually are. Second, it's powerful because it's about being powerful. People sometimes deride comic books as "power fantasies", a criticism I find laughable. "Power fantasy" is essentially redundant. People don't generally fantasize about being less powerful or less competent, now, do they?

Fantasy provides relief from things that make us feel powerless in our daily lives and (one hopes) inspires us to become less so. Things like, say, urban crime (Batman), an uncaring society (Superman), war and aggression (Wonder Woman), the sky (Hawkman), the pace of events (Flash), larger forces (the Atom), ceiling tiles (Green Lantern), and the sea (Aquaman). Not only are they not made powerless by such things, they are sometime empowered by them. Batman uses darkness and fear to his advantage, for example, and Aquaman is not merely at home in the sea, he is more powerful there than elsewhere. This "Arthur Joseph" fellow seems less at home in the ocean than Judy Walton, and it kind of goes without saying that the real Aquaman would kick his butt in about 4 seconds (Judy Walton, 30 seconds; Marsha Mallow, holding her breath, 60 seconds).

Can we please forget about this character who's supposed to have the "right origin" and get back to the character who personifies the original concept instead?




Dan Didio; it's pretty clear that Tad Williams wants to do you a huge favor and bring back the real Aquaman for you. Heck, in issue 51, he has Mera and Wonder Woman basically state that.

Please do US a favor:

let him.

Friday, April 27, 2007

The Spectre

Most of you think of the Spectre this way:

Or this way:


But I choose to think of him this way:



And I always will.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Waid Down

Usually, I try and focus here on the positive things in my comics, things I enjoy, rather than degenerate into a crabfest, as is so easy to do on-line. The degree to which I succeed in this goal is, of course, an entirely separate matter! And I don't hesitate to speak out strongly in favor of things I would enjoy IF they were in my comics (e.g., Vibe, the Real Aquaman, a Penguin who's more than a punching bag, a Two-Face who is not a split personality, et sim.)

But today I just have to share my confusion: how can I love some of what Mark Waid writes but hate most of it?

This is very hard for me, because one of my favorite comics of all time is his JLA Year One series. Of all the trades I own, it's one of the few I have read over and over. Oh, the plot's a little wacky, but it's a Justice League story and their plots almost have to be wacky. But Waid did an amazing job of depicting the personalities of the principals (Hal Jordan, Black Canary 2, Barry Allen, Aquaman, and Martian Manhunter). In fact, he pretty much set the standard for how most people currently perceive those characters.

And, of course, Mark Waid created Impulse, the Character Who Put the Fun Back Into Superhero Comics. I've given away thousands of my comic books over the years. I have every issue of Impulse I ever bought. With Impulse, Mark Waid made me laugh and cry, often in the same issue. Impulse alone would put Mark Waid in the forefront of my favorite comic creators.

Brave and the Bold, though some of its dialog is bit heavy-handed, is an absolute hoot and I love Mark Waid for making in a joyous romp across the DCU what could have been the most ungainly mess since the "DC Challenge".

Mark Waid was one of the principal writers of the Silver Age, the Most Fun Crossover Ever Written.

And yet... .

  • Could I hate Kingdom Come (and the infestation in the DCU it has turned into) more? No, I don't think so.
  • The current Legion is the only one in the last 35 years I'm not enjoying.
  • Ever notice I never discuss the Flash? Waid wrote it for eight years and I hated every minute of it.


Can someone explain how I can love and hate one man's work so much?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Things That Made Me Happy...

in my comics this week.

  • Flying penguin missiles. Really, if you aren't reading Blue Beetle, you deserve to. It's not only a great read, the art's beautiful.
  • Alan Scott versus Grandfather Clock.
  • Guy Gardner versus the Ultra-Humanite.
  • Firestorm's ingenious defeat of Kalibak and then the Parademons. I wish more of you had read Firestorm!
  • Mr. Mind's makeover.
  • Finding out the answer to "52 what?" And the answer! bring them on!
  • Oh, by the way-- I TOLD YOU SO; Skeets is innocent. Or was, I guess.
  • Well! Hippolyta sure wakes up crabby, doesn't she?
  • Robin's ongoing man-crush on Superbo-- Kon-El, the Hero Whose Named Must Not Be Spoken.
  • Hal Jordan's brilliant tactics in Justice. Yeah, you heard me.
  • Batman & Friends fighting "the nightmares of the Arkhamites".
  • The Rolling Head of Abraham Lincoln!
  • The EXTREMELY interesting set of statues in the Fortress of Solitude (including the fabulous Sensor Girl) and Superman's speech explaining them.
  • Wait, wait ... did he just throw up Batman's utility belt...?!
  • I really can't imagine Wonder Woman calling anyone "Mom"; but it did make me laugh!
  • At least Geoff Johns knows how to write Geo-Force as the pompous undeserving jackass he is.
  • The Rolling Head of Detective Lenahan! Really, why aren't more of you reading Catwoman?
  • Well, based on Black Lightning's comments to the president (and some other info), I guess the Hall of Justice is on the site where (here on "our earth") sits the Holocaust Museum. Not exactly, where I would have picture it, but at least its in DC where it belongs.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Monday, April 23, 2007

Great Corpses: White Guys, White Sands, White Gas


Hello! Rolling Head of Pantha here to share with you one of most traditional, wholesome elements of comic books ... a fresh corpse!

This is a personal favorite of mine. Oh, there's a lot to be said for slapdash impersonal gore, like, say, having your head knocked off by an insane Superman, well, knock-off. But fresh corpses are so much more meaningful when love and family are involved.

This one deserves a little set up...


Once upon a time, a highly-educated father loved his son so much, he took him with him on an exciting work-trip to the mysterious ancient land of Egypt.

But, as the archaeologist was hard at working exploring an ancient temple, his son wandered off, like a bad boy.


Rather than stay with his smart, hard-working, loving father, this boy wandered off and became entranced by the commanding eyes of a tall bearded older man. Much much much older ...

Oh, that's a mistake! When an older stranger asks you to swing his lever, little boy,
you should go running back to your daddy.



The white gas that reanimated the old man had another effect, less salutary.

Yep; it de-animated the Old Man.


Yes, that's the naive young Kent Nelson, Nabu of the Questionable Bedside Manner, and ...

the fresh corpse of Sven Nelson,
whom his son just unintentionally killed.


Don't worry! It's okay; Kent's young and bounces right back!


Hm. Perhaps I overestimated young Kent's resilience.


In any case, the next time you feel like complaining about death and killing in your current comics, just remember the little boy Kent Nelson, who killed his own father with the help of a creepy old Egyptian guy, and then they buried him in the middle of the desert.