Saturday, May 19, 2012
Biting the snakehead
I was going to add some 'homoerotic subtext' patter to caption this comic book cover, but, really...
What could I possibly say that could make this worse...?!
Friday, May 18, 2012
Meditations on DC Nation "Vibe"
As a number of my faithful readers have pointed out, this Saturday Vibe returns to popular culture in a DC Nation Short all his own on Cartoon Network. Can Vibe: the Musical be far behind...?
It is as I have maintained: Vibe is inevitable. And now his time has arrived.
Note well: this portrayal of Vibe is accurate, unrevisionist, and completely UNAPOLOGETIC. Even I was unprepared for its bracing Vibetasticness.
The creators could have opted for one of Vibe's later, more sleeker, abstract, simpler, "cooler" costumes. But they didn't.
Here is Vibe as he first appeared in 1984:
Here is how he appears on the DC Nation Short.
The outfit is essentially the same--including the yellow harem pants--with some understandable simplifications making it more appropriate for animation. If you look carefully, you'll notice the little Vibe fan beside him in the clip below is wearing elements from Vibe's other, later costumes: nice touch, DC.
It gets bolder, actually. Note from the clip below that Vibe's hobby-- breakdancing--isn't ignored or even glossed over in favor of his streetgang connections: it's the crux of the episode.
Believe it or not, those dance sequences are, for the most part, ones that Vibe was actually portrayed as doing in the Justice League comics of the 1980s. That's RESPECT, people. Also, did you notice what Vibe said? "I'm going to shake things up." Now look again more carefully at the cover to JLA #233 above.
This is glorious. I have said repeatedly that DC comics tend to go off the rails when creators become embarrassed about DC's characters, usually worried they aren't "edgy" like Marvel characters are (supposed to be but aren't really anyway). This DC Nation short says quite clearly, "Yeah, this is Vibe. You don't like him, fine, go read the Spectre."
Now, you can make fun of breakdancing all you want (probably because you can't do it). While you're doing so, chew on this:
- Step Up $65M
- Step Up 2: $58M
- Step Up 3: $42M
- Breakin' : $38M
- Breakin' 2: $15M
- You Got Served: $40M
- You Got Served 2: $10M
EVEN "You Got Served 2"--which sports a non-coveted and fairly rare ZERO PERCENT rating at Rotten Tomatoes--earned $10M at the box office.
It may seem silly to you, but the concept of ritualized dance/display as an alternative to actual fighting isn't a "fad"; it's commonplace throughout the animal kingdom. Vibe's background as a streetgang member is neither coincidental nor incidental. Breakdancing was the mechanism by which he turned from being a criminal into, eventually, a hero. Dance is just like sports in that respect: an organized ritual "battle" that can be used to constructively channel young men's competitive aggressive energies while rewarding pro-society values.
I am also delighted that the DC Nation folk allowed Vibe to 'self-contextualize'. You know how the Toons in Roger Rabbit brought their own 'cartoon physics' with them even in the human world? Ever notice how Batman sometimes manages to be a big black slab with two white eye slits even when he's in a well-lit satellite space-station? This is allowing characters to self-contextualize, to carry along with them the context that generated them, and in which they make the most sense.
In this case, they are allowing Vibe to "self-contextualize" by giving him an animation style consistent with when the character was created.
The DC Nation Shorts are not made with one overall 'house-style" (as were, say, the Batman/Superman/JL Animated Series). Observe the difference in art between these two DC Nation Short designs:
Super Best Friends Forever
Black Lightning and Family
Each has an individual style and contextualizes the characters.
Note what the DC Nation folk have done in the Vibe short: they have used an animation style based on cartoons of the 1980s. Here's two stills from '80s cartoons (G.I.Joe and Defenders of the Earth) to illustrate my point (particularly for those of you who weren't around yet to watch cartoons at that point):
I think you can see how the style of the Vibe short is much more like these 1980s cartoon than it is like the animation in the other DC Nation shorts; Captain Planet could walk right into the Vibe cartoon and you wouldn't bat an eyelash.. Choosing to contexualize Vibe this way is a decision that is at the same time bold yet sensible, and a healthy sign that DC's own genius is in full renaissance.
And everyone will learn to love Vibe. Some of them for the first time.
Thursday, May 17, 2012
Highly Unthreatening Gangster Names
Nowadays self-professed "gangstas" name themselves with bizarrely infantile epithets that make them sound like hookers, rather than bad-asses, names like "Little Pony".
Back in Batman's early days, he fought REAL gangsters. They weren't tattooed striplings with their pants hanging off their butts like ten-dollar rent-boys at last call. They were men. Ugly ugly men in ugly ugly suits. With ugly ugly names like "Shovel", "Knuckles", and "Machine Gun".
They had their own rules about coming up with your gangster name, but even that system wasn't foolproof. Some of Batman's early gangster foes just didn't take the whole self-naming process seriously enough, and their careers suffered correspondingly. Here, then, are a few of the
LEAST THREATENINGLY NAMED GOLDEN AGE BATMAN GANGSTERS:
Look, "Chick" is a fine moniker if you're a cartoonist, or jazz musician, or a baseball player. But face it, "Chick Miller" is not a name that's going to send a shock of fear throughout the denizens of the underworld. Heck, it wouldn't scare the denizens of my mother's Zumba class. And once word gets around that Chick does the Wiggly Dance at his cell door like a go-go girl suspended above a '60s dance floor, his criminal career is pretty much finito (along with his future as a potential scoutmaster).
"So, guys, who should we trust with location of the swag while we're waiting for the heat to cool off? Weasel? Weasel it is then!" Remember mothers, when you name your son "Weasel" you've pretty much doomed him to eventual hit-and-run by a big black sedan with no license plates.
That's MISTER Fink to you. "Join me and my boys," Hal offers; "be part o' the Fink Gang!" M'yeah, no, I'll pass on that, Hal. When your name is Fink you are NOT going to be a successful gangster, even if your minions get over the subliminal "This guy will rat me out to the cops in the blink of eye" feeling that the name Fink would surely generate. The above panel is a perfect example: Hal Fink fails to kill Batman and Robin because he's too stupid or sloppy to remember to turn off the water spigots when he washes his hands.
Really, when your name is "Fink" there are quite a lot of professions -- like politics or the military -- that probably aren't in the cards. Fortunately, there's always education and the law.
"Hm. I'm afraid my natural effeteness renders my appearance inapposite for my chosen career as a criminal capo. Sometimes I wonder whether I should have invested in Charles Altas's system of Dynamic Tension rather than the Franklin Pangborn Program of Coded Fastidiousness. Perhaps I should adopt a compensatory sobriquet to imbue my person with a frisson of menace? But what--?!"
Suddenly, a baguette flies through the window.
"That's it! I shall become... FRENCHY BLAKE!"
Oh, and in case you haven't guessed, that's actually Batman behind that door, and in the next few panels he slaps Frenchy around like the bitch he is, then dangles him out the window upside down with a silken cord wearing a sign that says, "I AM BATMAN'S HO!" Golden Age comics were stern reading, folks.
As titter-worthy as Chick, Weasel, Fink, and Frenchy are, the one that wins the prize hands down for Least Threatening Gangster Name is surely...
Sad part is, there is at least one of you reading this right now who just said, "OMG, THAT'S MY NEW DRAG NAME!"
Tuesday, May 15, 2012
At room temp'rature
If you are familiar at all with those wacky creations of DC's late Silver Age, the Metal Men, then you've probably seem them do their standard "introposition" spiels.
Whenever you see them do this (they do it in almost every story), you barely pay attention because it's become so formulaic. Particularly Mercury's "did I ever mention that Mercury is the only metal etc." routine.
So would you notice if it were...
I'M MERCURY THE
ONLY METAL THAT'S LIQUID
AT ROOM TEMPERATURE.
I'm assuming Mercury pronounces "temperature" with only three syllables, because, well, that's how everyone pronounces it.
We all know Mercury's the snooty one, but don't the other Metal Men deserve their own haikus? Can you write them each their own haikus of self-introduction?
Sunday, May 13, 2012
The Shield Brings it Home!
When last we left the Shield, he had tracked down the baseball racketeers to their well appointed suburban home and was killing them one by one by picking up bullets that bounced off him, then throwing them back at them at about, oh, 800 miles an hour. And yes, I checked the math.
So, despite the racketeers protestations that they were "ready for the Shield" they are dying pretty steadily by his hand in a hail of hand-tossed bullets. Maybe by 'ready' they meant "I've already signed my Last Will & Testatment": "...and to Lefty I leave my brass knuckles, the regular ones I mean, not the really nice ones, which I want my mom to have."
Oh, ho, I spoke too soon! Having sacrificed the requisite number of goons to the Shield's ballistic sadism, the Racketeer Boss employs the Shield's personal kryptonite: a secret button.
There's always a secret button in a Shield story. He falls for it every time.
Usually, the secret button lets the bad guys escape. This time, however, it's for capturing the Shield. There's just one tiny flaw in the plan...
BWAAHAHAHAA! Your big plan for capturing the Shield is... a vertical version of the Table of Pain and Pleasure?! LOL, that's like throwing Br'er Rabbit in the Briar Patch! The Table of Pain and Pleasure is how Joe Higgins became the Shield in the first place. "You disappoint me, Adrian. The Table of Pain and Pleasure didn't stop Joe Higgins. Did you think it would stop ME?"
Got give Joe credit for going along with the gag, with his Munchian "Oh, no, not the Briar Patch!" look.
Wow. Vertical Table of Pain and Pleasure attached to a rotating wall, spinning into a steel room that fills up with solidifying liquid lantholum? These racketeers are not merely prepared, they are extremely oddly and specifically prepared. Perhaps they were expecting Dynamic Man.
"If you know any prayers, say them!" What are the Shield's prepares when he assays the Table of Pain and Pleasure? I'm guessing it's something like:
Now I lay me down to play
I pray the dom my soul to flay.
If I should cry beneath my top,
I pray my safe-word makes him stop.
In any case, it is a pretty smart trap for the Shield, since it takes into account that he's invulnerable. However, it doesn't take into account just how oomphy he is and he oomps his way out of the trap with one might pelvic thrust:
Oomp, there it is!
Then it's just a quick pointy-toe jaunt along the local power lines to catch up with the bad guys' car.
One reason to run along power lines: it certainly gives you a sense of perspective.
Naturally, the Shield then does what seems like the perfectly logical thing (to him):
Leaps into an open manhole. No, no; in the street, I mean! Get your mind out of the sewer!
You just know he's pointing his toes, even though you can't see it.
This is just an excuse for the ridiculous Shield-y stunt of hoisting the bad guys' car as it drives over him.
Oh, and threatening to kill them. A true Golden Age hero should never pass up an opportunity to threaten to kill. Followed by a bit of torture to elicit a confession:
In the 1940s the courts weren't too fussy about how you got a confession as long as you got one.
And with very little fuss, other than the immolation and explosion of several major league baseball players and the poorly dressed corpses of a handful of racketeers that the Shield manually shot to death, all's well that ends well.