Saturday, September 20, 2008

All That No Longer Glitters

Although I haven't mentioned it before, I've been reading a *gulp* Marvel miniseries. Why? Because it's The Twelve, which is about Golden Age characters that Marvel inherited from its days as Timely Comics, but hasn't used. I love the zaniness of the Golden Age and am always interested to see how its characters are portrayed.

"Interested", however, is not always "happy"; what I've read in the Twelve has not met my hopes. When I first heard about The Twelve, I thought, "Oh, good; a shot of Golden Age goodness for Marvel. That's just what it needs!"

As I've mentioned before, Marvel's heroic roots are in the paranoid pessimism of the 1950s/60s (the Silver Age), whereas DC's heroic roots are in the cockeyed optimism of the 1930s/40s (the Golden Age).

This fact colors everything each company does. There are literally thousands of examples, but I'll recap just one from this season's biggest crossovers. In the DCU, zillions of heroes fight a seemingly hopeless fight against Evil (or the Depression, or the Axis; it's all the same) but never give up. Meanwhile, in the Marvel World, disguised aliens infiltrate our world and turn heroes against one another. It's a nearly perfect example of one of the essential paradigmatic differences between DC and Marvel: DC heroes are in conflict with villains, while Marvel heroes are in conflict with one another.

I was hoping that having a fresh infusion of Golden Age blood from
The Twelve would, if not lighten, at least brighten up Marvel a bit, where only poor Captain America remains to carry the torch of the can-do-ism that characterized early comic book heroes. Boy, I'd hate to think what kind of place Marvel would be if they ever allowed that character to be killed off! I was hoping that the Twelve might bring to Marvel the same kind of grounding, of nobility, of wisdom that the Justice Society has brought to the DCU since DC decided to stop being embarrassed by its Golden Age, and ended the JSA's exile in limbo.

No such luck. I hoped -- because I'm a DC fan, and that's what we do. But instead of playing to my hopes, Marvel spoke to my worst fears. Members of the
Twelve are delusional, or racists, or self-hating Jews, or vain popinjays, or minions of Satan, or woefully unable to adapt to the present. Rather than being inspirations from the past, they are used to affirm that people have always been as shallow, screwed up, and chaotic as they are now (at least, as they are in the Marvel World!). Not only are the Twelve not being used to burnish the present, they are, instead, being used to tarnish the past.

They're trapped in a
Watchmen-lite murder mystery, more Marvel heroes in conflict with one another, rather than banding together against external threats. Sure, I'm disappointed. Much as it might surprise you, I don't want to not enjoy Marvel Comics. If their worldview were more upbeat, I might be able to enjoy them, and I was hoping the Twelve would be a step in that direction. Alas.

But that's not what really bothers me. What
really bothers me is that the Twelve is being written by J. Michael Straczynski. J. Michael Straczynski is also the person slated to introduce another set of Golden Age characters, the MLJ heroes, into DC continuity. And that includes the Shield, whom I would like to see in all his goofy Golden Age glory, broad-jumping onto moving airplanes, setting himself on fire, and breaking into song at inappropriate moments, not fighting other heroes.

I do not consider the
Twelve a good sign. But I am still, of course, hopeful.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Flash Forward

I want to devote an entire post to my reply to my esteemed colleague Kelson of the Speed Force. Ordinarily, I'd reply to a comment in comments, but the issue at hand is significant enough that I think it merits broader treatment.

In yesterday's post, I teased about some changes to Wally West's status quo that I applaud and which I think are key to his future in a World With Barry Allen Back. While I only teased, Kelson's gone into detail about the issue, and has moved me to do the same, so, if you haven't read Flash 244, you may want to do so before you read the rest of this post.

That said, I concur with Kelson: this was a good issue and a great start for the new creative team. Many things happen that follow up on Wally's success in using his power to save his children and stabilize their previously precarious condition and powers. Principally, Wally discovers that his old condition -- the one that used to prevent him from running faster than the speed of sound -- has returned.

This development is a logical one (at least in that it's based on the character's history rather than "a wizard did it") and I think it's essential. I'm enthusiastic about it, but others, particularly fans of Wally, are more concerned. In his comment on my post yesterday, Kelson said:
I'll agree that what's going on with Wally makes sense -- in the context of the current storyline.

I don't see how you think it will "save the character going forward into his new era." For one thing, being "the slow Flash" doesn't seem like a particularly compelling role when the main Flash will probably be at top speed.
I understand the concern, but here's my position. There are plenty of compelling stories that can be told at under 770 mph. During most of the era that I actually enjoyed reading Wally's adventures, that was his top speed, and I certainly never thought of him as slow. We know that, as a practical matter, he seldom traveled any faster than that in the city anyway, because of the danger of sonic booms.

The ability to move at the speed of sound seems like enough to me. Top speed ever recorded for a running human, about 27 or mph. The winds in a tornado rarely exceed 250 mph. The world's fastest train tops out at 300 mph. Commercial jets seldom go faster than 560 mph. The average speed of a 9mm bullet is under 700 mph. That would make Wally West 28 times faster than the world's fastest normal human, able to generate winds faster than a tornado, more than twice as fast as any train, faster than non-military planes, and faster than a speeding bullet. Works for me; I just need the Flash to be the Fastest Man Alive, not the Fastest Thing Imaginable.

Of course, with Barry back, Wally will not be the Fastest Man Alive any more. But he'll have tricks at his disposal that Barry doesn't have. As the most recent story shows, Wally still has his ability to share (and, presumably, siphon) kinetic energy. That's a very significant power, which, along with his new top speed, will help distinguish him from other speedsters, and give him a unique role among the Flash Family. And that is what each of them will need in order to survive (as characters) now that Barry has returned.

If you've ever tried to play an all-speedster Heroclix team, you know that, while superspeed is a great power, a group of combatants with the same power isn't as fun or effective as a group with different but complementary powers.

It's a common problem in heroic dynasties: how to have a group of characters who's abilities are clearly related, but not too redundant, and appropriately tiered. Success in doing so leads to successful dynasties; failure to do so is a major obstacle.

For example, the Batman family have similar abilities, but different enough. Most readers figure out that Batman is most likely to hit you with a batarang, Nighwing's most likely to do a sommersault over your head, Robin's most likely to hit you in the crotch with a stick, Batgirl's most likely to karate chop your Adam's apple, Batwoman's most likely to stick a heel in your eye while doing something fabulous with her cape, and Ace will just snap your ankle then crush your trachea-- dogs love to do that.

Aquaman was ruined by this problem (and many others); he was doomed from the moment it was obvious his wife and baby were more powerful than he was. The Green Lanterns don't have different powers, but pains have been taken to give them different styles. The Superman dynasty would require a separate post to explore this issue, but suffice it to say that when your teenage cousin's cat is as powerful as you are, has no weaknesses, and can beat the crap out of the Legion of Super-Heroes, you're going to have an image problem.

It's clear that DC hopes to revitalize the Flash by revitalizing the Flash Dynasty. Not only will we have three Flashes (Jay Garrick, Barry Allen, and Wally West), we're likely to see the return of Bart "Impulse" Allen and I'm also rooting for Max Mercury, who used to be among the best characterized of the whole darned lot of them. Even if we don't include Liberty Belle (whom we're all trying not to think of as Jesse Quick), that's a lot of speedsters. In order for them to be most compelling, they need different personalities, styles, and, ideally, versions of their basic power.

I'm hoping this change to Wally is a big step in that direction.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Things That Made Me Happy....

in my comics this week.

  • How much of an idiot must you be if Hal Jordan, of all people, calls you an idiot twice in one issue?
  • Superman bites the umbilical.
  • The Joker isn't a pathetic lunatic, but rather an evil genius. And a master of the art of the unexpected.
  • Foot massagers, heated seats, and silk toilet paper.
  • If Red Robin is who I think he is, then wouldn't Robin recognize him?
  • I knew. As soon as I saw him stretch his hamstring while still in costume, I knew. It makes so much sense. And it makes me so very very happy, even though it will make many of you very very angry. And, whether you like it or not, it's what's going to save the character going forward into his new era.
  • "Think. Happy. Thoughts." HiLARious!
  • Alfred suggests jalapenos.
  • The Riddler is left-handed?
  • Bully for Willingham & Winick, who seem to understand Lois Lane better than most!
  • The explanation for the dome over Argo City.
  • Mary's lightning round.
  • "Commit some actual journalism"; heh, before Perry was an editor, he was a great writer!
  • Finally, someone remembers where Ragman lives, and what he's like. But shouldn't "cui bono" have occurred to Robin earlier...?
  • The bottle-city of Metropolis would make an excellent snowglobe.
  • Psst! Robotman.... you're not in the Justice League!
  • "Butterscotch! Baloney! Schnauzer!" is not a paragraph I ever expected to read, not even in a comic book.
  • It's always good to see the map of Gotham being used.
  • They just ... aren't capable of realizing it's Clark, are they? Points to you, Grant.
  • Gangbuster admitting that Hawkman is really hot.
  • Jason Bard, being really hot.
  • "What do you do when fate happens fast than you expect?"
  • Officer Slaughter.
  • "I have not felt pleasure in over two hundred years. Thank you."
  • Excellent Robin cover.
  • Normal Osborne was so marvelously evil this week it was awe-inspiring!
  • Killer bees. Killer bees are always good.
  • Psst! Robotman ... you've got a human brain. It doesn't have "recorded memories"!
  • Captain Marvel versus the fire hose.
  • She's right; Lex really is an idiot, isn't he?
  • OMG! OMG, OMG, OMG... it's Ulysses. I loved him. I've been waiting to see him again for almost 15 years now. YAY!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Haikuesday with Dr. Sivana

Let's pause to savor how bad Judd Winick's dialog for Dr. Sivana was in the most recent issue of Green Arrow / Black Canary.

Okay, I get that many younger writers are really just writing fan-fic, and so love to pull characters out of the DCU's left field to solve their plot problems, rather than sticking with toys closer to them in the sandbox. But, really, this reads like an issue of the DC Challenge.

Wait, so, Ra's Al Ghul was actually Shado, with some flimsy explanation given as the charade? Why not just put in an honest caption box that says, "Yeah, this'll be a great surprise reveal to the readers! No one will guess it! Take that, Geoff Johns!" When her son was dying of leukemia Shado naturally sought out.... Dr. Sivana?!?! World expert on, um, leukemia? Disease? Destroying Captain Marvel?! Who used Plastic Man's blood to ... cure leukemia? Repair brain damage? And the thing he wants in return is.... killing Green Arrow? I'll believe a man can fly, but my credulity needs an injection of Plastic Man's blood to make these kinds of stretches.

Anyway, if you're going to use Dr. Sivana, please have him be recognizable as such.

Winick starts off with Dr. Sivana speaking appropriately: "I will say you've piqued my curiosity"; "You travel in circles that are not unknown to me." Yeah, that's about right. But it degenerates pretty quickly...

"You guys"? "Peepers"? "Whack"? "Doesn't fill my glass"? "Screws with Green Arrow?" "Kick your asses"?

Raise your hand if you want Dr. Sivana to talk that way. Those with your hands raised, go buy some Marvel comics.

I get that writers sometimes feel the need to modernize characters a bit. But when and why did "modernization" come to mean, "I'll write this character as if they were in the cast of Friends or Buffy"? Perhaps it's an attempt at greater realism (very common among those who are concerned that, although they love comics, they aren't "cool" enough, and are desperate to make them -- and, by extension, themselves -- cool enough for hoi polloi).

I hope it's not an attempt at realism, because no one I know talks that way. At least, no one I know for very long. And, as I have mentioned before, it isn't "normal" to have comic book people talk "normally". They aren't normal; that's part of the point. They don't dress normal, they don't act normal, why on earth would they talk normal? A pig in a dress is still a pig, and having one of literature's most traditional mad scientist figures talk like a castmember on the Real World just seems incongruous and inappropriate, not "realistic".

The tragic part is, I can spy the soul of the real Sivana, desperately struggling to maintain some dignity and assert itself through such atrocious dialog. At one point, he even manages to squeak through a somewhat disjointed but still technically correct haiku:

"Y'see, that's funny.
You think you have me at a
disadvantage. What?"

Poor little guy. Shame on you, Judd Winick, for making me sympathize with the World's Wickedest Mortal. Readers, rally to my cause! Help Dr. Sivana express himself in haiku as he rebels against being forced to speak inappropriate dialog! Here's my own offering:

"Winick's dialog
angers Dr. Sivana.
Heh heh. Heh heh heh."


P.S. By the way... "vanytes"? Okay, I understood Chemoids, and Molemen, and Doombots, and Un-Men, etc. But why the heck are plasticized ninja generic figures called "vanytes", and why isn't even a hint of explanation given as to the etymology? And don't tell me Sivana wouldn't stop to explain, because that is exactly something Sivana would do, particularly since he prattles at length in this scene about how and why he made them. So, is it pronounced "van- nights"? If so, I'm dumbfounded. If it's pronounced "van ee teez", then it's straight Middle English (Like Wycliff's "Vanyte of vanytes, seide Eclesiastes, vanyte of vanytes, and alle thingus vanyte"), and (I assume) a meta-commentary on why writers like Winick do things like this.Still, they would make great Heroclix low-point generics, with plasticity and a bit of regen. Fun!.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Put Away that Hot Dog Cart!

The Big Monkey Bystander Token Postcards have arrived!

If you'd like one, just PayPal me $1.50 to, with your mailing address, and I'll put one in the mail to you!

Marvelous New Series

"Is it a bird? Is it a plane? It's No Heroics

An ITV sitcom about superheroes who bitch and moan"

Gosh darn! Marvel wins AGAIN!