Friday, October 17, 2008

Trope Hunt: Artifacts

Over at TVTropes.org, the "tropers" have made great strides in identifying, defining, labeling, and enumerating examples of the many tropes one finds in the plots of TV shows (as well as other other storytelling media).

As you'd expected, this kind of taxonomy is right up my alley, particularly when applied to comic books. So, occasionally I'd like us to take one of these tropes and discuss its occurrence in comics we know and love (oh, and in Marvel comics, too).

The first one is The Artifact, which TVTropes defines thus:

Describes an unfortunate situation where a character or gimmick seems to no longer fit with the mood or design of a story according to a writer, but is kept because there seems to be no way for the writer to get rid of them without causing some serious disruption . Sometimes it's due to being tied in closely to the mythos or that The Artifact has just been around so long that removing it seems like overstepping bounds. And if it's due to pure fan popularity, the producers probably aren't going to push it out in any case for no reason.

The longer running a continuity is, it seems to me, the more likely it is to have one or more Artifacts. So, superhero myths -- which in some cases go back 70 years -- should be full of them.

But are they?

Batman & Robin
Alfred the butler; butler? Well, the wealthy do still have servants, although they are less likely to have the whole 'live-in' staff. Is Alfred an Artifact?
The Haley Circus. I think traveling circuses (except for les de Soleille) are not quite the phenomenon they once were. And the idea that racketeers would be willing to kill to get a piece of the profit from a traveling circus? Yipes. For that matter... do people really have wards any more? Is Robin's entire origin an Artifact?

Superman
Small farm? Great metropolitan newspaper? A circus strong man costume? Again, is the entire origin an Artifact? Oddly, some of the elements of the origin seem less Artifactual to me than they did in the 1970s. Why is that?

Wonder Woman
Ugh. The military boyfriend. The girl's college. The marching band uniform. My god... Wonder Woman herself is an Artifact of the DCU. No wonder writers have so much trouble with her!

Flash & Aquaman
Oddly, their Silver Age origins seem pretty Artifact-free. Even Green Lantern's does, although "test pilot" isn't quite the high profile profession it once was.

What do you think of these possible Artifacts, or others you've spot in the DCU?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Things That Made Me Happy....

in my comics this week.

  • Jefferson Pierce, bug-zapper.
  • Rodger dodger? Really?
  • "It must be love."
  • Miss...uh... Woman.
  • What Linda has in mind (despite the preceding mistake in reversed word balloons).
  • Best Mount Rushmore joke ever.
  • If I wanted to pick a safe place to jump to, Hal Jordan's head would not be it.
  • The Rogues being ... dumb? evil? twisted? enough to think that killing Kid Zoom makes up for killing Kid Flash.
  • It's not all about you, Supergirl.
  • Tragedy must not be random; it must be calculated.
  • "If you had an orifice I'd kiss it or rub it or something."
  • A mayonnaise jar.
  • Finally, I understand why Pied Piper would be a conduit for the anti-life equation.
  • "Mock me at your peril, woman."
  • Starro + Chemo = Thing of Beauty.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Shield: Who He Is, and How He Came to Be, III

And now the final segment of the origin of ... THE SHIELD!


When last we left the Shield's origin, Joe Higgins, having discovered the secret of the SHIELD formula, strapped himself down on the Table of Pain and Pleasure for 12 hours to become THE SHIELD.
Forget exploding planets and bats in the study. THIS is an origin panel, people.

With no one to witness it except his faithful sidekick, the Green Chinese Lamp, Joe Higgins transforms into THE SHIELD. Even more amazing, the fluoroscopic rays interact with the chemicals to dye his blank costume into an American flag pattern, to which he need only add stars.

What are the odds?

Joe tests his powers as the Shield using every-day objects you find around the house, such as....


The Flame Room
The Kodak Insta-matic Machine GunThe Crushy-Walled Room and International Shadows Project InstallationAnd, last but not least...
the World's Largest Open WindowNo doubt a souvenir of his Dad's stint in Cy Coleman's Defenestration Follies of 1940.

Now confident in his superpowerhood, the Shield reveals himself to J. Edgar Hoover by changing clothes in front of him. And, no, I will not show you the panels; this is a family blog.


This is followed by an extended sequence of setting a trap for bad guys, then beating the crap out of them and hanging them off flagpoles, in order to reach the Big Bad: Hans Fritz.

As previously mentioned, the action quotient in Shield stories is high, but the level of discourse is not. So when Fritz escapes via a trap door (inGENious!), the Shield has clearly not yet prepared himself with a signature saying (as I have).
"Hey!" Joe, you really are a stupid American swine.

So, Joe simply kicks in the trap door with his famous pointy-toes of justice, then goes skittering along the underground passageway looking for all the world like Penelope Pitstop running from the Hooded Claw:

Then the Shield captures Hans Fritz in one of the great comic book sequences of all time...


First of all, to get out of the passageway, Joe doesn't just remove the exit door with his superstrength. No, no. This is THE SHIELD we're talking about here. To the Shield, there's only one way to deal with such an obstacle:
If Geoff Johns does not at some point reveal that the Shield is related to Hal Jordan, it shall be a tragically missed opportunity.

Follows then the Shield's patented "running leap at a plane taking off" maneuver.
Washington trivia: During the '30s and '40s, there were entire neighborhoods where all the buildings were yellow, orange, and lime because no one could afford any other colors.

The villain, however, is unimpressed and says the Golden Age equivalent of, "So, hang on the plane; whatever, dude." Then the Shield pulls another Shieldtastic trick that ranks just below setting himself on fire and launching himself at an enemy ship:
Props to you, Joe.

Maybe somebody else has done that, but I've never seen it. And did they do it with their legs, while humping a nosecone and snarking? I think not. The Shield rocks, people.

Having captured the men who framed his father, Joe offers his on-going services to J. Edgar Hoover, who accepts, provided Joe passes his "examination". Ahem.
Subtext? What subtext?

And so was born.... THE SHIELD.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

If This Week Had Been a Comic Book

Here's what would have happened.

  • Aquaman saved a manatee but using his aquatic telepathy to guide it to safety in a few opening panels, but afterward was immediately called away to deal with a shadowy undersea conspiracy, the introduction of a new magical threat to Atlantis, and rumblings of a political uprising against his throne, none of which were resolved before the end of the issue, which Dan Didio then announced was the last one in the series.
  • When his spaceship was struck by a ring from outer space, Richard Garriott was transformed into a Red Lantern all of whose constructs are first-person shooters designed by a large anonymous on-line gaming community.
  • A set of live-action films about the candidates in DCU Decisions was released, which, although thoroughly ignored by actual movie-goers, received lots of attention from great metropolitan newspapers.
  • ViewTube started showing full episodes of the '60s cult classic, Space Cabbie.
  • While the Justice Society stormed Vandal Savage's stronghold to halt his plot to crash the American economy as part of a scheme of world domination, Bruce Wayne had Alfred activate the "Save the World Economy" contingency plan, which involved Lucius Fox writing a check to stabilize the stock market, shore up the world banking system, and continue R&D on Spawndex, the material from which Batman's cape is made.
  • Green Lantern's attempt to halt forest fires result in the destruction of seveal small towns, but do expose a hidden facility by an alien race never before mentioned in any issue, while Flash puts out the fires in one or two panels.
  • Kate Spencer would -- somehow -- be involved in the defense -- or prosecution -- of a prominent Senator, which would bring here into contact with the Freedom Fighters, first in conflict then in cooperation, and would be saved by a giant-sized Uncle Sam from an attacking mecha sent by the Senator's secret backers, Intergang. No trial memos would be involved.
  • Media watchers would reassert to no one in particular that television series are still alive and kicking, despite the growing trend of more and more people to wait the DVD Collection.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Jay, the Distinguished Flash


As I discussed in a recent post, I'm all for the Return of Barry Allen and the Humanization of Wally West. By "Humanization", I of course mean "the Slowing Down to the Speed of Sound". Kind of like how Confederate women used to refer to the war as "the Late Unpleasantness".

There are a few reasons for my position. First and foremost, naturally, is that the changes reassert the Dynastic Centerpiece Model (my pet theory, which originally sparked the creation of this blog) among the Flash family. Second, Wally's transsuperhypermegaultrametaspeed was -- and always has been - - a storykiller. Third, the original Flash (Jay Garrick, currently starring in the Justice Society of America) topped out at between 700 and 1000 miles an hour. Frankly, if that was good enough to Jay, it's good enough for Wally.

But, most pertinently for this post, returning Wally to his '80s era speed limit helps distinguish him from his principle, Barry Allen. This, then, brings us to the real point of my post.

We know how they'll distinguish Wally from Barry. But how should they distinguished Jay from Barry (other than merely being older)?

Well, a look at some of the original Flash stories gives us plenty of good ideas of how to write a Jay Garrick who's not only different from Barry Allen, but more in keeping with his original characterization...



Jay was rather snarky. Pardon me, as he was a Golden Ager, it would be called "being a wiseacre". This was one of the ways (the many, many ways) that Golden Age characters expressed confidence. Most writers wouldn't dare write the venerable Jay Garrick that way now, but I think it's a perfect way (one of many, many ways) to distinguish him from his fellow Flashes. Let Jay be "the Wiseguy Flash".

Jay was kind of spooky. And he used to use his speed to gaslight people or just scare the bejeezus out of them. This is not something Wally and Barry do, and it's a great schtick to give Jay. Let Jay be "the Spooky Flash".


Jay threw metal shards shaped like lightning bolts at people. Tell me that wouldn't shake you up. It also gives Jay what Heroclixers call "a ranged attack". Let Jay be "The Flash Who Throws Stuff at You".



Jay had his own visual style for superspeed. When Jay runs, let it look like this picture, like he used to. In fact, each of the Flash speedsters should have a different visual look to their superspeed. No, it doesn't make any sense. Not at all. But it looks cool. Let Jay be the "Pencil Line Flash".

Jay was a one-dollar whore. Just kidding! Jay used to steal clothes, borrow clothes, and generally denude people -- guys, really -- at superspeed all the time. There's a clothes-gag in almost every story. What a charming eccentricity to have, particularly in a gentlemen of his years. Let Jay be "the Haberflasher".


Jay sang. Well, really, all Golden Agers sang. And, yes, that includes Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman. Within continuity, there are only a few Golden Agers remaining (e.g., Jay, Alan Scott, and Ted Grant). Alan's got a bit too much gravitas for public crooning and I can't imagine Ted's got much of a singing voice. Let Jay carry the torch, or rather the microphone, for the Singing Heroes of the Golden Age. Let Jay be "the Singing Flash".


Jay had a thing with "Mister". He called people "Mister Killer" and "Mister Kidnapper". He called inanimate objects "Mister". People called him "Mister Flash". Sure it was probably just a characteristic of Golden Age writing style, but, gosh, it sounds odd today. It's a charming anachronism. Let Jay be "Mister Flash".