Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Can you answer "The Captain Atom Question"?

The “Captain Atom Question” concerns the incorporation of characters from pre-existing literary universes into another, larger literary universe, once their original universe is gone.  The question is: can this be done successfully?

My answer is essentially “no”.

Among the various literary media, this phenomenon is pretty much confined to comic books.  Comic book companies go defunct for various reasons and their intellectual property—their characters—get bought by another company.  

Usually this company is DC.  DC, you see, is a compulsive hoarder; “I could use that character some day!  I paid good money for that!  It’s going to come back in style just you wait and see!”  Occasionally, it reaches Crisis proportions and there’s an intervention where some nice folks from reality TV come in, negotiate to get rid of DC’s old crap by enticing it with new living room furniture (“There’ll be room for NEW characters, DC, sweetie!”), and clean house.  Then DC immediately starts filling the house with crap again.  Repeat cycle.

This, by the way, is in contrast to Marvel. It’s not a hoarder; it’s an obsessive-compulsive that spends all its time putting things in order.  It writes guidebooks that tell it how tall everyone is and classifies them by how much weight they can lift, sketches out all possible permutations of its universe with “What If?” stories, (“What if… Iron Man had had EGGS for breakfast?!”) and insists that all of its stories are part of one big *ahem* perfectly organized consistent continuity (despite any evidence to the contrary).  If DC is Oscar Madison, then Marvel is Felix Unger.

Sometimes even they get confused, however.

So, every time there is a publishing yard sale, DC goes out bargain hunting with a reticule full of one dollar bills and snaps up collections of old characters as if they were beanie babies.  The Shazam family of characters, the Wildstorm stable (the Authority et al.), the Milestone properties (Static, Icon, Hardware, Xombi, et al.), the Quality characters (Plastic Man, the Ray, Black Condor, Manhunter, Phantom Lady, the Human Bomb, Uncle Sam, Doll Man, the Red Bee), the Charlton heroes (the Question, Blue Beetle, Peacemaker, and Captain Atom, for whom this question is named)—all these are characters the DC acquired by lot at going-out-business sales.

With one possible exception—Blue Beetle—DC has tried repeatedly to incorporate all these characters in the DCU…and failed.  That exception was mostly confined to using Blue Beetle as comic relief, and even that success was spotty at best.

Other attempts to use such characters as comic relief have been mostly....

As a general rule, these imported characters simply don’t “take”.  Like transplanted plants, they simply can’t survive well enough outside of their native soil.  Back in the heyday of the Multiverse, DC seemed to accept this fact. Rather than try to bring these niche characters into the searing sunlight of the superfriends’ world, full of its  Underroo trees and constant crossovers, DC recognized them for the hothouse flowers they were and kept them isolated in their own hermetically sealed environment of alternate earths.   If the Freedom Fighters made sense in World War II, well, then, DC gave them an earth where WWII was still going on.  If the Shazams required talking tigers and worms to thrive, then give them a world that has them.

"Segregation now; segregation forever!"

You can try to claim that “DC just didn’t try hard enough because they didn’t care about someone else’s characters”, but I’m not buying it.  DC has repeatedly moved heaven-1 and earth-1 to get its readers to care about Captain Atom and consider him part of its pantheon, to no avail.  

Batman does NOT salute.  Let alone salute Captain Atom.

To incorporate Shazam, DC has tried a host of solutions, from surrounding him with every possible shiny toy from his homeworld, to aiming him at kids, to giving him several grim’n’gritty make-overs.  

Whatevs, Billy *eyeroll*.  Not even Geoff Johns can make you 'cool'.

I say that, for whatever reasons--call it vibrational frequency, if you will--such imported characters cannot work. Like transplanted organs they require great pain and effort in the form of constant editorial doping just to keep the host universe from simply rejecting them. So, perhaps, more precisely, it's not that they absolutely cannot work, but that the energy and effort required to do so is well beyond the point of diminishing returns from the character.

You are welcome to try to prove me wrong.

DC sure hasn't.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Haiku for Penny

On a spring Haikuesday, what could be more calm or peaceful than an evening's stroll with ones dog in a quiet statuary garden where--

"What will I call my terrifying human-faced lamb/mummy/dog hybrid?  I have it; Penny."


Hawkgirl has always been an odd sort, but her--well, I'll just call it a "pet", and leave it at that--really takes the prize.  Dr. Moreau himself wouldn't have spared it.

Sired by Anubis violating the Paschal Lamb and birthed deep within a pyramid in Egypt's Uncanny Valley.  "Penny" is, as previously discussed, one of the most disturbing (pre-internet) images from the hand of man.

Disturbing enough to render Hawkgirl's haiku nearly unrecognizable!


By the way, Penny runs away from Hawkgirl, who goes to search for her at the end of the story. She is never found.  Penny, I mean.  Thank Ra for small favors.

What haiku can you pen to commemorate the terrifying aspect of this zombie Lambchop?