Thursday, March 26, 2015

"I do not love thee, Captain Atom..."

Dear DC Comics,

No one likes Captain Atom.  

Not because you haven't tried to make us, though. DC has abandoned scores of interesting and at least mildly popular characters since the Crisis, including some with small but very passionate fanbases.  But DC never gives up on Captain Atom.  No matter how many times we do.

Nyeah, with great power comes great boredom, got it, got it.

And, oh, how you have tried!  You gave him a new origin.  You gave him his own series (more than once, I recall).  You put him in JLI,  You laughably made him the leader of all of Earth's superheroes during an alien invasion crossover.  And when the most recent Heroclix set, "Superman/Wonder Woman" was teased, five figures were shown: Superman, Wonder Woman, Superman foe Lex Luthor, Superman ally Krypto the Superdog, and... Captain Atom. OF COURSE. Because the kids, they ALL love Captain Atom.

"Whoa! I was going to pass on this set, because who wants clix of Superman, Wonder Woman, Lex Luthor, and Krypto. But CAPTAIN ATOM?!  Take my wallet!'
Said absolutely no one on earth.

"Captain Atom is one of the most powerful beings on earth!" "Captain Atom is potentially more powerful than Superman!" "Captain Atom is the model for Dr. Manhattan!' "Captain Atom has fewer cavities and 32% more whitening particles!"

Please stop.  It doesn't work.  We don't care how hard or how many ways or how many times you try to convince us we should love Captain Atom.

"Cary Bates! THAT'll fix the problem!"

Captain Atom is a tool. Or a traitor.  Or a dupe. Or a pompous ass.  Or a hothead.  Who cries when defeated by a pickle jar.  And we don't like him.

I just TOLD you what you were, Captain Atom; jeez, try to keep up.

Captain Atom doesn't have a dedicated fanbase. He doesn't have a fanbase at all. Even that ne-er-do-well hipster slacker poseur layabout Jack Knight has a fanbase. Even G'Nort has a fanbase.  There are NO Captain Atom fans.  There are, at best, a Set of People Who Didn't Mind Him All That Much in That One Thing They Saw or Read for Some Other Reason.  You want to know how unloved Captain Atom is?  He doesn't even have a Facebook fanpage. And if he did, it would be called "A Set of People Who etc."  

Plus,  the only remotely interesting thing he ever does is blow up.
 Even Captain Atom knows when he's not wanted. Why doesn't DC?

I get it. You paid good money for him at the Charlton yard sale and you want to get your money's worth.  Plus, he hardly had any wear and tear on him, so he should have lots of good use left in him.  You just keep trying him on with every outfit you have in the hope of finding the right one. But it's really obvious that that's what you're doing.  Captain Atom is not an organic part of the DCU.  If he didn't exist or you didn't own him, absolutely no one, writer or reader, would be saying, "You know, we need a character like THIS."

Captain Atom worked well precisely once, ten years ago, when he was trapped in the Wildstorm Universe, where suddenly he seems like a shining beacon of goodness and common sense in that effed up world. Whose characters, I note, you have since tried to incorporate into the main DCU, failed, and are now spinning back out into their own continuity, where they belong.

That should be a clue; give him another universe of his own.  He and Blue Beetle COULD be the Superman and Batman of a Charlton Universe.  You could spend your energies trying to have more than one potential movie franchise--,er, I mean, comic book universe going at the same time. it's worked well with Earth-2, hasn't it?  Run with that.

Adding insult, while you're spending all this time and effort pushing Captain Atom on us, you ignore The Atom, who everyone likes.  But that's a post for another day....

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Monday, March 23, 2015

Superman Comes Out

My reaction to Clark Kent revealing to his roommate and colleague, Jimmy Olsen, his secret identity as Superman?

Well, it's about time.

Golden and Silver Age Superman was a pretty lonely guy, with no one who knew his secret and no one to confide in.  Although the Golden Age Superman was too manly too discuss it out loud. Or care, really.


It's the reason that whenever you think of a DC hero pondering his situation via thought-balloon, you almost invariably are thinking of Superman. Batman talked to Robin and Alfred and that old police guy with the mustache.  Wonder Woman talked to Etta and the Holliday Girls and her mother and the Amazons and, well, Wonder Woman never shut up, basically.

About bondage, mostly

Superman had no one to talk to, so readers were shown his inner monologue a lot.


This contributed, by the way, to  his tendency more than his colleagues to break the fourth wall; with no one to talk to, he talked to us.

"Instead, send that money to the Superman Super-Fan Club, to fund our campaign to put my face on the quarter!"

You seldom caught Batman talking to the reader.

Except in a Superman story. P.S. Superwoman's a dick.

In case you never thought about it, it's also one of the reasons the Batman/Superman friendship was so important in the Silver Age; Batman was the only person Superman had to talk to (because who wants to talk to Supergirl?)

Hey, Rob; ixnay on the Upermansay, okay?

One of the most important changes John Byrne made for DC when they rebooted Superman after the Crisis was to have his parents still be alive. Many of today's readers were raised with the idea of the Kents as living touchstones of Superman's humanity and morality.  But since Superman's re-reboot in the Latest Crisis, his parents have been dead; they died in a car crash, a solid reminder to readers that Superman can't be everywhere and fix all problems (and that not all problems are caused by supervillains or long-dormant diseases embedded in buried pirate treasure).

Venal, greedy Martha! Killed by your own dreams of avarice, just like in some "Twilight Zone" episode.
You had it coming, lady.

In the Silver Age, Jimmy Olsen was Superman's Pal-- Superman who lied to him every day of his life.  And for no reason, really.  The stated reason that Superman never confined to anyone who he was is that doing so might endanger their lives.  C'mon, Jimmy's life was already in constant danger from being Superman's Pal.  How could anyone's life be MORE in danger than Jimmy Olsen's?!

Never a dull moment, eh, Lucy?

No one has known quite what to do with Jimmy Olsen since Crisis.  Heck, it's easy to make a case that no one knew what to do with Jimmy Olsen BEFORE the Crisis; that's why he was always being made to swallow noxious foreign substances with bizarre results.  Like Jack Kirby.

Clark's reveal to Jimmy takes two problems and turns them into one solution.  It gives Clark someone to relate to as BOTH Clark and Superman who knows his secret, and gives Jimmy and actual narrative function in Superman fiction.

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"Why not?" Uh, where do I start....?!

Friday, March 20, 2015

It's Vartox's world and you just live in it

Oh, there were so many things recently that almost moved me to post here:  the craziness on "The Flash" show, the Batgirl Cover controversy, the reveal of the Composite Superman heroclix dial, Clark coming out to Jimmy....

but, no.  THIS is the thing I could not remain silent on:

Presumably, Connery was not available.






One can only assume that the silent majority of millions of Vartox fans somehow put aside their vows of silence to demand that their beloved idol finally be given his due on television.

I'll say this for the showrunners: it is, in a way, pure genius.

First, Vartox is superpowerful and a physical challenge for Supergirl, if they fight... withOUT needing to be a Kryptonian.  Not easy to come by.

If only I had superspeed and superreflexes or could fly, so as to avoid his hyperstrength!

Second, Vartox is firmly rooted in the Superman-universe but is NOT a classic Superman villain (such as the Toyman or Metallo).  Nor WOULD he be used in any form in a Superman video-venture.  

You will NOT see this scene in "Man of Steel II". Or "Man of Steel XXII", for that matter.

Third, Vartox is often portrayed as a sort of macho jerk.  That's not a bad foe for a female empowerment figure like Supergirl. 

Vartox also talks like Julius Caesar.

Fourth, Vartox has a separate history with Supergirl-parallel Power Girl.  

It takes balls to shush Power Girl.
Pity he's about to lose them.

Fifth. No matter what they choose to do with him or his backstory, there is NO ONE who will object.  Because no one cares enough about Vartox to do so.

Cary Bates has done many, many things that other humans could not, would not, should not do.
Looking at this and saying "a perfect foe for Superman!" is high on the list.

Sixth.  If they manage to make Vartox cool, or interesting, or fun, or, well, anything other than just Vartox, it will (once again) prove just how good the showrunners  (who also do Flash and Arrow) are.  It's like these people look for the stupidest thing in the mythos they can find just so they can embrace it and raise it as their own child, thus redeeming it (e.g. Multiplex and the Rainbow Raider have already fought the Flash on teevee).  

Captioning this... would be complete overkill.


Friday, March 13, 2015

The Silicon Age Theory

Has time sped up?

In the previous century there developed a fairly stable pattern to the DCU.  It wasn’t pre-planned but occurred as a natural outgrowth to the rhythms of society.  Roughly every 15 years, as generation of childhood readers “aged out” of comics’ readership, the DCU would be rebooted.

It wasn’t ever put that way, and there were always other ostensible reasons for the change.  The Silver Age started “when it was time to bring superheroes back” after their popularity fell during the post-War/Wertham  years. The Bronze Age started when “a more serious world needed less frivolous superheroes, ones more quote unquote relevant”.  The Iron Age started when “the DCU became too complicated for new readers”.  The subsequent Age (more on that later) started when “people wanted a brighter, larger universe”.  

Perhaps.  But more generally, DC comics move from one “Age” to another when:

In the Golden Age, heroes and villains shot and maimed and killed in Dick Tracy world of bright colored and wide-eyed corpses. Corpses EVERYWHERE, stinking up the streets like ginko fruit in the District of Columbia.  The Depression/War years were not for the squeamish, either in the real life or the comics.

Remember, kids; Captain Marvel fought zombies before your parents were born.

In the Silver Age, people had had enough of all that unpleasantness, and DC’s heroes and villains obligingly put down their guns and engaged in elaborate games of wits, one-up-manship, and thematic tomfoolery with an expanded cast of pets, pals, and gadgetry.  

Green Arrow and Speedy collect their wits? Jeez, how long IS this story?!

In the Bronze Age, faced with social unrest and societal self-doubt, readers found that all that ridiculous, so heroes and villains became relevant, disagreeable, and fallible.  Green Arrow’s heyday, for obvious reasons.

All sympathy, Bronze Age Batman lets you stay unconscious on the first date.

As a result, readers headed toward the Iron Age with a bunch of crabby, crappy heroes (I’m looking at you, Stupid Bronze Age Batman) who lived in a bizarre Silver Age wonderland of weirdness, and the tension between the two had grown laughable.  The time had come to clear the board completely, and the Iron Age eliminated all the previous piled up continuity for a total restart.  Except for Batman, really. Because he’s Batman.

But since then, readers have been hit with repeated reboots of the DCU. In DC’s first 47 years, it had, essentially two reboots; in the last 30 years it’s had at least five (depending on how you count them).  

Is time –and our comic book media cycle--speeding up?  Are reboots coming more frequently because readership is smaller and more volatile? Are attention spans shorter?  Has DC simply become addicted to reboots because, like a rat pushing a lever, they get the delicious cheese of a sales bump each time they do it? Are they just screwing up reboots because they've lost the ancient art of doing so correctly and comprehensively?

Well… all of those are true to at least some degree, no question.  And it does look bad if you look at it this way, assuming that each reboot heralds a new age:

But I currently look at it a different way.  One that is enabled by no longer equating a ‘reboot’ with a change of Age.  The shift from the Silver to the Bronze Age was dramatic; very dramatic.  But, technically, there was no ‘reboot’ (as they are now called) between the two.  In fact, though this will defy the expectations of many, I would make the case that, despite the huge change between the Golden and Silver Ages, there was no reboot between them either.  Yes, we got a new Flash, Green Lantern, and Hawkman; but they had all been discontinued for some time.  The characters that were still in print (Batman, Superman, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Green Arrow) pretty much continued their adventures without much of a hiccough. Were there a lot more gorillas and aliens on their dance cards? Of course.  But there was no clear break or repudiation with the past.  

If you think of it that way then the only changes of Age that really coincide with a reboot is pre/post-Crisis (from multiverse to universe) and pre/post-Infinite Crisis (from universe to multiverse).  The other ‘reboots’ are just continuity jiggering. And a lot of that is of the kind that used to be done without renumbering and fanfare (a new costume, a new status quo, a new city or supporting cast, or casually just forgetting stories that don’t fit any more).  This used to be done all the time (either out of necessity or apathy) and during the Hypertime period DC came out and said as much.  The DCU, they posited, was a Heraclitean river; you can’t step into the same version of it twice.  

I submit that the ‘real’ history of the DCU looks like this:

We are now approaching the second furniture-shuffling-style 'reboot' of what I now call the Silicon Age (characterized by the return of the multiverse and the rise of digital comics and superhero cinema) ... pretty much right on schedule.  I predict it will last for another 7 years, when the next real change of Age will come and comics will start to be written by and for people who don't remember a time before the internet.


Thursday, March 12, 2015

Jeerings and Solicitations

Wonder Woman
Because X-23 is so enormously popular!


We finally remembered Superman used to be sexier in 1939!

Superman/Wonder Woman
They're back and they're bad-ass.  
They're angry and ready to have sex about it!

Superman/The Tick

Because this is effing HILARIOUS.

Harley Quin
We put our psychotic kewpie doll killer on every cover for no reasons other than to appeal to sex-starved fanboys...but that's not enough! Nor is just ONE Harley Quin, so we've xeroxed a fleet of them for everyone's possible fantasy.

If the sensational character find of 1940 can't make you read spy comics, NO ONE can!

Turns out no one likes Fish Mooney in COMICS either!  The leathery spandex is in the mail, boys.

Professor Zoom is back! Because Flash must fight nothing but anti-Flashes, fake-Flashes, evil-Flashes, etc. forever!

Green Arrow
After 70 years at about 20 attempts, we finally learned how to make Green Arrow work... from the CW!

Green Lantern
He's a rebel, Dottie; a loner!
Hoodie Hal with his bad-ass biker's glove of power.  Why didn't we ever think of making Hal a bad-ass hooded guy before...?!

We know you liked BTAS 20 years ago so we're teaming Bullock and Montoya for the first time. Again!

Because a Deathstroke who can only defeat entire Justice League is so LAME and 2000s, we'll give you one who's coming to kick the ASSES OF THE GODS, OMGXXX!

Because someone finally sent us a member saying metrosexuals are OUT and lumbersexuals are IN!

Secret Six
Because quirky people need SOMETHING to read and what the heck else would we do with Gail Simone!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Newer 49

So, today we finally got a clearer picture of just what DC is doing after the Big Stall (I'm sorry, I meant "Convergence"), from this interview with Dan Didio et al.:

When June arrives and DC Comics launches 24 new titles while shaking up the status quo on it biggest characters, there will be two major points of emphasis: A new weight on story, and a drive for different flavors.
“We’re updating the line, but selectively,” said co-publisher Jim Lee. “So rather than having 52 books all in the same continuity and keeping a universe that’s tightly connected with super-internal consistency and one flavor, we’ve broken it up. We’ll have a core line of about 25 books that will have that internal consistency and will consist of our best-selling books, but then the rest of the line of about 24 titles will be allowed to shake things up a bit.”
In short, you could call DC’s June (and July; as six of the 24 new titles — Cyborg, Dark Universe, Martian Manhunter, Mystik U, and Justice League United — will debut one month later) a “soft relaunch” of 2011’s 'New 52.'" The New 52 started 52 DC titles over with new #1 issues and a single universe.
Old guard titles such as Batman, Superman, and Justice League will continue—with major changes promised in all three, including an “all-new Batman” who appears armored—and be joined by standbys such as Harley Quinn, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, and more
And there is much excitement over new titles with different points of view such as We Are Robin (a “crowdsourcing” of Robin), Prez (about a teenage girl elected President of the United States), and Bizarro (a title dedicated to Superman’s highly imperfect double).
DC will give readers a massive free sample, with 8-page stories for all 49 books, ongoings and new #1s both, available in May titles. The 8-pagers will also be made available for free via DC’s website and digital partners such as comiXology. DC’s Free Comic Book Day, Divergence, will consist of three pivotal 8-page stories.
“The Batman 8-pager will change the status quo of Batman, the Superman 8-pager will change the status quo of Superman, and the Justice League 8-pager will set up the Darkseid War,” said DC Co-publisher Dan DiDio. “So each one of those will have ramifications, as people will expect.”
After the May 2 Free Comic Book Day, 8-pagers will continue in DC’s books throughout the month. “People [will] get a chance to read these books, see the different styles of art, read the different types of stories, and see how we plan to interpret our characters in a new way,” DiDio said. “And hopefully, in doing so, they’ll get excited about the new books when they come out in June. I think this is a necessary tool, and really so valuable to inform out what we have planned for all these books. It gives everyone a chance to sample them in advance before they hit the shelves.”
And when they do, Lee is confident people will see something different.
“We’re really asking the creators to put story and character first, and really focus is on canon, rather than continuity,” Lee said. “By focusing on canon, which is really the stories that matter, the best stories that we tell with these characters that have really got elevated, that’s the history we want to create around these characters. This is an attempt to re-focus the line, focus on story, and let the creators tell their stories without necessarily being confined by the restrictions of ‘continuity,’ which I put in quotation marks.”
DiDio clarified canon versus continuity.  “Perfect examples are if you look at something like Dark Knight Returns or Kingdom Come, which were outside the realm of our normal storytelling,” DiDio said. “Those stories became so powerful that they started to work their way into the continuity. We still have a shared universe, we still have a shared space where these characters can interact. But the main goal is to allow each of these characters to exist on their own, build their own sense of story, their own sense of direction, their own supporting casts, and their own audiences. And when you do that, you build a much stronger foundation for the DC Universe, and ultimately what happens is that as you start to see what works, you can bring audiences and concepts together to expand and cross-pollinate.”
DiDio said that some of that cross-pollination is built on recent DC successes. “You see a book like Black Canary coming out, which expands out of Batgirl,” he said. “There was a sensibility in Batgirl that people got excited about, so we expand that there. Same thing when we see the success of Harley Quinn, we bring that same team over to Starfire. We want to build on success and build outward.”
“Building outward” can sometimes involve building something that’s not right up your own alley.
“When you are overseeing a line like Dan and I do, you have to realize that not everything is going to appeal to your own personal taste,” Lee said. That’s a challenging part of the job. So you have to trust your editors. You hire your editors for their taste, their relationships, and their ability to curate content. And I think they’re done a masterful job for June.”
DiDio thinks the author’s voice is of greatest import.
“What I looked for in talking to [creators] was point of view, something to say,” he said. “I think that’s important these days. My greatest fear is that everything’s getting homogenized. These people have a hunger for these projects, a real passion. I go to Mark Russell on Prez, and he has a hunger for the story he wants to tell. And he feels he has the vehicle now to present what his concerns and interests are through these characters. And when I hear that passion, I get excited.”
“For every Bat-Mite and Bizarro, there’s going to be a Section 8 and an Omega Men, which are probably the hard-hitting side,” DiDio said. “And we’re going with every shade in between. We have to go out and sell every single title individually. Which is what we want, because each book is its own entity, with its own sensibility.”
“[Writer] Garth Ennis probably last worked at DC…10 or 12 years ago?” Lee said. “Him coming back with a book that is just a kind of dark, humorous take on the DC Universe is, well, Garth doing what you expect him to do. And it’s great to have that kind of tonality back in the lineup.”
And in today’s “synergy” world (Hello, Arrow and Flash TV shows!), DC says they’re guided by their own compass.“The material inspires the TV shows,” DiDio says. “The comics here, they set the tone. They don’t attract the same size audience that the shows or the movies do, and we’re aware of that. But what we do is we inspire the people who create those TV shows and movies to look at what we have and use the material that we create to fill their stories. We have to be the leaders. We can’t follow the other medium. We have to be ahead of everybody else.”
Lee sees a tangential link between the different branches of DC Comics and Warner Bros., but stresses that the tail can’t wag the dog.“When we have a character like Black Canary rising to prominence in the Arrow TV show, rather than trying to mirror what they’re doing there, we just want to produce the best version of that character possible,” he said. “I think most fans realize there are multiple versions of anything they’re watching. I mean, the movies get rebooted, there are different actors, different origins…the idea that there’s only one version of that character has really broken down.”
While so much of the focus is on 24 new titles, DiDio stressed to the ongoing creators that their imperative was to step their ongoing game up…and shake things up there as well.  “Every team was challenged, saying, ‘You’ve got to rise above all these new #1s. You’ve got to do something that makes your book stand out. You can’t sit back. Take this opportunity, and do something cool in the ongoing books right there,’” he said. “We’ve got some major storylines in place. The Batman story is going to play across the Batman books. The Superman story is going to play across the Superman books. The Justice League story is going to have little one-shots and things like that that build around it and support it.”
But DiDio also stressed that a line-wide crossover is not in the cards at this point.
“The last thing we want to do right now is cross over a bunch of books while we’re letting them form and shape and find their audience,” he said. “We spoke to the creators and we told everyone we’re giving them some running room to establish themselves and establish the books.”
For his part, Lee hopes the new establishment looks different from the old.
“June is about breaking down whatever perception people have of DC Comics and the DC universe and really just going for broke,” he said. “We should be doing all sorts of different, crazy ideas.”

Allow me to interpret....

DC now perceives some of the mistakes it made in its New52 relaunch and wants to recover from them (without saying "that was mistake").

DC recognizes crossover burnout among readers.

DC recognizes crossovers have been hampering their writers too much.

DC admits that it's not really good at maintaining continuity and that it's probably not that important since readers only care about the stories they really like.

DC realizes that an environment of constant crossovers requires being good at maintaining continuity.

DC recognizes that, on the whole, readers are more interested in good stories than in continuity. Or at least, readers and potential new readers who are not aging fanboys.

DC can't help but notice that its teevee shows are knocking it out of the park for both new readers and long time fans

DC's embarrassed by that, or realizes that it should be.

DC is therefore trying to wake up and stark leading the pack on interpretation of their IPs, rather than just being a farm team for Warner Brothers.

DC comics do NOT set the tone for their characters, but they really need to at least look like they do.

DC realizes that they were wrong to have focused in the New52 on simply producing a variety of genres--all of which had the same tone and style.

DC realizes that they were enforcing that tone and style for the sake of a continuity, which people don't care as much about as they thought.

DC, having watched Arrow and Flash, now recognizes just how easy it is to vary the tone of similar source material and how that variation can be a source of Art that is both more interesting and accessible.

DC realizes that, on the whole, it has too many eggs to put in one basket and that a diverse portfolio is a healthy portfolio.

DC realizes that, some 70 years later, the Golden Age writers were correct in giving each characters its own 'world' to inhabit, creating a shared world for them to interact in only when necessary.

How much they UNDERSTAND all these things remains to be seen....
DC, I will see you on the other side of the Convergence.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Aquaman and the Others

Well, Aquaman & The Others has ended.

Prisoner of War must smell like a platoon of dead guys.

No one is more interested in Aquaman getting his due than I.  So I was very excited for him to get a second title.  He'd never had a second title. Heck, usually he doesn't have a FIRST title.

There are many ways they could have gone with a second Aquaman title.  It could have been an extra-continuity anthology title or an alter-continuity 'for-fun' title; that's worked well, for example, with Wonder Woman, who has one of each (Sensation and Wonder Woman '77).  Imagine a title where you could still read stories about Sub Diego, or Thanatos, or even A.J. Curry; imagine a title where you could watch the Marine Marvels  and Tusky take on Queen Vassa or the Lizard People.  


But DC is interested in consolidating Aquaman's brand, not diversifying it.

That's why they choose an actor who looks as much like Aquaman as possible. 

So it makes sense that they would try to establish him as a leader on his own, independent of his royalty.  One can only suppose the model for Aquaman & The Others was Batman & The Outsiders: iconic hero leading a loose group of new or secondary characters with no common background.  It probably wasn't the best model to choose...

The Outsiders were not there to make Batman seem cool or become popular.  Batman defines both those terms already.  He was there to increase their visibility and street cred.  And even that didn't work well.  Metamorpho and Black Lighting, both of whom had history, power, and pedigree to be on better teams (such as the Doom Patrol or the Justice League) always seemed like they were slumming.  Halo? Looker? Geo-Force? Yes; well, we can see how well they've done since then.  

It's the Trinity of Fail!
P.S. Did Looker always fly with her arms and legs spread, crotch/boob first? Because that's a bit on point, even for Looker.

Only Katana seems to have stepped to a new level (specifically, "The Level Where You Can Be Used After the Next Reboot or in Another Popular Medium Rather Than a Forgotten Character Forever Tied to a Well-Meant Experiment of a Previous Era").  

Aquaman & the Outsiders gave Aquaman no pre-established heroes to lead; it wouldn't have worked with with the new continuity.  But it posited that Aquaman, when he found out he was the real King of Atlantis, said... "Hm, no, thanks."  Kind of makes Orm seem like less of a jerk, doesn't it?  Instead Arthur went off wilding around the globe with a disparate band of adventurers whom he met by..
whom he met at...
whom he met when.. .

Okay; I give up. Are we supposed to know or even GUESS how a Brazilian jungle woman, a cosmonaut who lives on the moon, an aged American super-spy, a middle eastern prophetess, and Hispanic Ragman all met and became colleagues? Let alone why? 

Sure, the same could be said about the Scooby-Doo Gang, but it's easy to figure it out:
they all live in the same bus.
And what a generic group they were.  I'm fond of them as individuals and grew to (mostly kinda) like them in the series.  Their ethnic diversity was nice, but they were pretty clearly a half-baked boy band of stock figures: Jungle Woman, Superspy, Soldier Man, Cosmonaut, Seer Lady, and Mystic Girl.  Not an A-List boy band, either; the Others are more like "O Town".  Nobody seemed care to enough to give them more imaginative names than 'The Operative" and "Prisoner-of-War" (or, for that matter, "The Others").  But what do you expect from Dan Jurgens, the man who created Doomsday The Living Plot Device?

Not that there was anything wrong with O Town, mind you.

Somehow through Aquaman's royalness, this group discovered ancient relics of Atlantis missing for some 10,000 years and then... divvied them up and kept them.  I guess that's how The Law of Sea Salvage works but, those things really clearly belong to Atlantis. Specifically, to its king: Orm.  I guess you can say that since Arthur is really the king, they are his to do with as he sees fit on behalf of Atlantis. But giving them away to auslanders really shouldn't be one of his choices, particularly once he does return to take the throne.   

Perhaps then it's just being consistent when he gives each of the objects to the person who can use them least.  The guy who already lives in space gets the helmet that lets him live in space; the spy who can espionage into anything gets a key that lets him do the same; the lady who has visions gets the widget that lets her see them in HD; the close combat soldier gets shackles that let him force blast everyone away, and the jungle woman who hates ever leaving her jungle gets the amulet that lets her teleport anywhere in the world (or the moon).  Oh, and the king of Atlantis gets the trident that lets you be king of Atlantis.  

It's never really explain, that I could tell, WHY those relics were made and in that form. Okay the key is a key, the trident is a scepter slash magical bazooka; some make sense.  But why did Atlan make chained shackles that go boom? Pretty convenient for a character named "Prisoner of War" to come along, eh?  Why make a helmet that lets you breath in space or underwater?  Neither of those things were really much of an issue, I should think.  I wanted to read the story where Atlan enacted his master plan that involved using each of those items to retake the throne of Atlantis; did someone forget to tell it?

Then at the end of the series, after they have all proven they don't really need the devices to do their thing, and about to go their separate ways again, Aquaman lets them keeps the relics of Atlantic (which, as the series took eleven issue to show, are NOT safe in their hands).

Perhaps at some future point, the Others will blossom again, and more fully.  Many characters and groups have short, inauspicious beginnings that laid the groundwork for later comebacks and revisions.  The original run of Firestorm was just five issues (not counting the story in Cancelled Comics Cavalcade); now Firestorm's on live-action teevee.   

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