Friday, December 28, 2007

Things That Made Me Happy...

in my comics this week.

Tovar the Lava King, who is the Sensational Character Find of 2007. Read Blue Beetle, people.
The Return of Bat-Mite (oh, and for those of you too young to remember: Zur En Arrh).
Animal Man is apparently so cool that he can use solar panels to reflect sunlight rather than absorb it. Amazing!
Fat Zatanna. I love you, Fat-anna.
Of course, it's always good to see Jean Loring...
Batman slapping Snapper Carr in the face. Even better is why Batman slapped Snapper Carr in the face. Brad Meltzer, look out!
The Red Bee begins her takeover of the world. Excellent.
Challenger-Lady seeing herself in print. Creepy. Meta-creepy.
Hal Jordan making whoopee in a green bubble in mid-air, while at work. And you people think he's stupid!
Hawkman and the Atom, together again for the first time.
Jaime Reyes' father staring down armed goons with nothing but his balls o' pure steel. Read Blue Beetle, people.
Uncle Sam's one-page backstory Young Jonny Reb and Billy Yank? Fascinating.
"The Arkham Institute for Emotional Disorders." Heh.
Biting a mummy? Never would have occurred to me.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Anachronoslides

As New Year's Eve approaches, the television wells with Years in Review, Top 100 Programs, and other "let's consider the sequences of history" shows. In order to avoid those, I was watching an old Star Trek rerun, the City on the Edge of Forever... .

I know, I know; not exactly the way to avoid pondering history!
So I curled up with my Edith Keeler action figure (NRFB), bracing myself for when she talks about going to a Clark Gable movie, even though in 1930 (when her episode occurs), Gable had not yet been anything but an extra.

Anachronisms like that
really burn me, particularly when they are so very unnecessary. Even in the pre-internet world, it could have been easily avoided, you'd think. Oh, well, Star Trek episodes were, after all, made on $47 dollars, kitchen utensils, and whatever odd S&H Green Stamps they had lying around.

Oh, but the episode held in store for me a worst temporal slap in the face! I hadn't noticed it when I was younger, because I wasn't as familiar with old music then. As Kirk and Keeler stroll along on their first date, the radio plays the Guy Lombardo rendition of "Goodnight Sweetheart". At first, I just did a double-take; then I realized what was wrong and I winced.
Goodnight Sweetheart was written in 1931... the year after the year in which the episode was set. It got worse as they continued to use a modified version of the tune as Keeler's "theme song" throughout the episode. Oh, the pain!

Comic books, of course, have these kinds of problems with anachronisms. But comics books have a particular problem with anachronisms that are all their own. Thanks to their sliding timeline, comic books that start out with perfectly normal cultural references wind up, over time, being riddled with anachronisms. Not just the technological ones (like the glaring absence of mobile phones and the internet) that clearly set stories too far in the past. But cultural ones, too... .

Do you remember why Harvey Dent's face couldn't be fixed right away? Because the only sufficient skilled surgeon, Dr. Eckhardt, was trapped behind enemy lines in Germany. Remember how Batman & Robin escaped from the Penny Plunderer? Using
a steel penny, a type made only in 1943-1945 and readily available only in the years right after the war. I'm most familiar with such examples from Golden Age Batman stories, but I'm sure you all could list many more.

Marvel, which makes such contemporaneous pop culture references much more often, is even more susceptible to such "anachronoslides", be they major (Tony Stark's war record) or minor (characters in an issue of Dazzler are attacked at the
premier of Star Trek: The Motion Picture). Funny, how the "major" anachronoslides are easy to forgive whereas the "minor" ones seem so painful.
"DAZZ!!!!!!"


Similarly, when a current writer needs to write about an event in a hero's past, it can be a challenge to avoid any contemporary references that pin it in a particular time. This is usually most striking during flashbacks on early Batman & Robin stories (and, to a lesser degree, Green Arrow & Speedy). Superman and Wonder Woman were quite formally rebooted, so there are basically no flashbacks to their Golden or even Silver Age stories; we know "for a fact" that those are not the adventures of the current versions of those heroes.

But with B&R and GA, there's an unbroken continuity, and there are repeated references to their Golden Age adventures (and if you wish to debate that, read
this before you do). It creates a feeling that Batman and Green Arrow are older characters than Superman & Wonder Woman. Even with Superman and Wonder Woman, however, references to the Bronze Age (usually found in Justice League stories) are a little tricky. These pre-reboot stories seem older than the characters that are in them!

One of my personal pet peeve anachronoslides is DC's insistence on continuing to link the JSA to World War II. They've gone to great lengths to 'magic' away their ages, but it's still a patch job (don't start to think too hard about Mathilda Hunkel's timeline, now!). And it's unnecessary; the JSA didn't actually have a direct role in WWII. As I'm sure I've mentioned before, the JSA didn't really fight Hitler; they fought Fritz Klaver. Their job was to hold down the fort at home while the war was fought, and they dealt mostly with saboteurs and fifth columnists. The JSA's origins could just as easily be retconned as heroes from the 1960s or 1970s without too much heartbreak. For me, anyway.

But that's me.
What are the anachronisms and anachronoslides that bother you most in your comics, and what would you do to remedy them?

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Have a crazy Christmas!

I don't know what you got for Christmas, but here's what I got (from Dale of Totaltoyz).


Yes, that is indeed

JEAN LORING WITH CIGARETTE STAND WIELDING ACTION!

AND

THE MADNESS OF QUEEN JEAN!


I'm going to join them on a team with the Jean Loring Eclipso and beat the pants off an all-Atom team...

Monday, December 24, 2007

Where's the Council of Nicea when you need them?

During this season, lots of people talk about the Bible more than usual (without, you know, actually reading it). And, with the Final Crisis (whatever it may be) looming, it's also a time when lots of people are wondering what will remain in DC continuity.

So I thought I'd save time by talking about both at the same time.

The Bible, you may already know, wasn't all written at the same time, was written by lots of different people, and has been subject to periodic reboots and continuity debates (sometime with almost as much fervor as those concerning comic books). In fact, it wasn't originally "The Bible singular", but "ta biblia", the books plural (in Greek). Only later, in medieval times, did it start being referred to as a Latin singular biblia. In other words, the Bible is a Showcase Edition, not a graphic novel.

Back in the early days of Christianity, it was kind of like the Silver Age, and people wrote whatever crazy colorful crap crossed their minds ("Last night, I had a revelation/ imaginary story /elseworlds!") and didn't worry much about how it all fit together. Along came a new Editor in Chief, Emperor Constantine (who was kind of like Dan Didio, only with an even bigger nose) who decided that Dogmatic Christian continuity needed a housecleaning and ordered a big writers/editors conference called the Council of Nicea (with the superstars of the day, Geoff Johns/Eusebius of Caesarea, Mark Waid/Athanasius of Alexandria, and Grant Morrison/Eustathius of Antioch).

A lot of books didn't make the cut , and for many of the same reasons stories get cut of out comic book continuity. Sometimes, it's because they were because those books were written as infracontinuity. Infracontinuity is what I call stories that are not really designed to move the main character's storyline forward, but rather, fill the storyline in, e.g., by telling stories about the character's past or beginnings (ponecontinuity), or by expanding on the details of previous told stories (microcontinuity).

One of the types of infracontinuity that usually annoys me is that which zooms in on a supporting, or even throwaway, character to become a centerpiece of their own story or mythology. This a particular bane of fanfic; why, there've probably been more stories written about Kevin Riley than Sherlock Holmes. Maybe there's a real term for it I don't know, but I (rather meanly) call it "servocontinuity", because the plot "slave" becomes the plot master. Virtually all of Sandman after Gaiman left is servocontinuity (I mean, really; Merv Pumpkinhead the Mini-series?!)

The Book of Enoch is very much in this tradition. Enoch (a seventh gen begat-ee of Adam) did next to nothing in the mainstream Bible, but somebody wrote him his own book anyway (kind of like Michael Reaves' Shadow Hunter). If Enoch were Jimmy Olsen, then the Book of Enoch is Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen (with the visit to heaven part being written by Jack Kirby). The Nicean Council wisely decided not to include it because it was too wacky and would have interrupted the overall flow of the Bible's big story; judging by Countdown, Dan Didio & Co. would have re-written the Bible around it.

The Gospel of Mary is, of course, Supergirl. Neither of them made it during the Nicean Council of 1986. I mean, you know; she's a girl. We can't have her around on any sort of equal footing with boys. Let's brand her inaccurately as a prostitute or an incompetent who has to be hidden away in an orphanage as a 'secret weapon'. Then, if she still won't stay dead/in her place, we'll let Peter David and Jeff Loeb ruin her.

One of DC's most troublesome ponecontinuities is the Adventures of Superboy, or, as it was marketed outside of the U.S. to the early Christians, The Infancy Gospels of Thomas. Ah, the wacky Silver Age hijinx of the Infancy Gospels...

Jesus uses his superbreath to make the clay ravens fly away. The people of Smallville are afraid that Jesus will wish them into the cornfield. Jesus flies back through the time barrier to prove that he didn't kill Zeno Luthor. Jesus uses his heat vision to weld a child's foot back onto his leg. When Pete gets bitten by a snake on a camping trip, Jesus uses his superbreath to blow the poison out and zaps the snake with his heat vision. Oh, and when Jesus went to visit S.T.A.R. labs in Jerusalem and fooled his parents by leaving a Jesus-robot at home in his place...! What a scamp.

But, both Superboy's and Jesus's childhood adventures don't gibe very easily with the idea of their adult versions coming out later and making a splash. So, those, too, did not make the cut.

The Gospel of Nicodemus, with its story of Jesus's descent into Hell is, I suppose, The Death of Superman, and yet another example of the superior discretion and discipline of the Council of Nicea compared to the DC editorial board.

If Kingdom Come is (quite intentionally) DC's Revelation of John, then Peter's Apocalypse is The Kingdom; less dramatic, less wacky, more clinical and detailed rather than conceptual and evocative.

Leptogenesis? Hm. I guess that would be COIE/52, where the story of Krona and the Tower of Babel explains the creation of the multiverse, and the Chosen Characters realize they need to separate themselves out from the unclean Marvelish versions of themselves. And like, 52, it was a weekly! I suspect the reason it didn't make the cut is because of those crazy-stupid stories about angels "commingling" with humans, producing Giants That Walked The Earth. I mean, nobody wants the New Guardians and Millennium in continuity.

Really, it all poses interesting questions about what criteria you use to determine what becomes canon, whether the story is the Greatest One Ever Told or the Greatest One Ever Told. I have a pretty good idea what criteria the Niceans used. DC? I'm not quite sure... .