Saturday, December 03, 2022

Publishing House of Mysteries

As I mentioned yesterday, CBR is constitutionally, DEFIANTLY wrong, so this latest bit should be no surprise.  I suppose none of what CBR does along these lines should surprise me. The whole clickbait/generic lisicle style is pervasive on internet topic sites of any kind; it's just the one that algorithms shove in my face most frequently, due to the topics.

It's not that I merely disagree with any of the opinions implied, but rather that there ARE no opinions really implied. These are not lists or positions taken by, say, an actual blogger/vlogger with their own vision.  Those might be interesting or engaging. Rather, CBR's articles might as well all be titled "Most Publicly Recognizable Examples of X" or "Assertion that Throwaway in Recent Issue is a Permanent Continuity Change" or "Everyone Has Forgotten An Important Thing That Is No Longer Even Remotely In Continuity If It Ever Was".  

But the linked article, "10 Biggest Mysteries in DC Comics", is just face-punchingly mislabeled, when it is, at best, "10 Most High-Profile Reveals That Were Actually Retcons."  It did, however, jog me into considering the legitimate question: 

What are the 10 "biggest" mysteries in DC comics? And by "mysteries" I do NOT mean "unanswered questions" like the Joker's real name, the Phantom Stranger's origins, or how DID the Giant Penny in there, anyway. 

[Any replies addressing those issues will be deleted.]


I mean, you know, ACTUAL MYSTERIES.  

Like the kind Ace Investigator SPEED SAUNDERS used to solve.

Things that are mysteries to us and to some of the characters, things that they and we are challenged to solve (fairly or not). You know, real Kay Daye, Christine Ariadne stuff. 

I'll concede, I doubt I can even LIST ten, so I'm asking in advance for YOUR help. No matter how years later you may read this, please add any good ones you think of. Because otherwise all people will think of BS like "Hush". P.S. Don't list "Hush", which not merely some BS, but some ****.

I can think of plenty of crappy DC "mysteries": Identity Crisis, Long Halloween, Hush, Zero Hour (Who is Extant?), Every Silver Age Story With A Mystery Hero, Terry Sloane's Murder, The Joker's Daughter, The Wild Dog Mystery.  But what were the good ones? And why aren't there more of them?  I mean, DC does stand for "Detective Comics", after all.


Our nation needs Ace Investigator Speed Saunders again.


Here are some that I remember as definite positive stand-outs.


Who Killed Myndi Mayer?

This was certainly among the most affecting mysteries I have ever read in comics (don't spoil it for anyone).  Myndi Mayer wasn't a disposable walk-on or side character.


Myndi Mayer was a substantial supporting character, an ongoing, vibrant, and unique member of Wonder Woman's cast at the time.  She was a Strong Female Character of a sort, in the sense that she was an independent, successful businesswoman (she was Wonder Woman's publicist), but she was no angel, which was refreshing for a WW character.  She was grounded in a way that innocent Diana, new to "Man's World" in those days was not, and she made helped her transition from Paradise Island possible for Diana and believable to us.

That really should be the function of WW supporting cast-- grounding her -- whether they be an Etta Candy, an I Ching, or a Hoppy (not the bunny, the fast food worker).

But Myndi was found one night with a bullet in her head and the mystery was:

And quite a mystery it was.  It was AWESOME because it was the LAST thing you expected from WONDER WOMAN. But there she was: stuck in a murder mystery, the victim a close friend of hers, and she was unable to punch something or just magically lasso everybody into confessing. Eventually she DID solve the mystery and because of all those things it was incredibly impactful. And for other reasons, but you deserve to read it yourself.  

I can honestly say there is no mystery in comics that affected me more. There are still occasions, forty years later now, where some real world happening will prompt me to say: "Hm; Who killed Myndi Mayer, indeed?"


Who is Sensor Girl?

Although this mystery probably OBSESSED me (and everyone else) more.  I assured you nobody obsessed as much over all of the things on CBR's list COMBINED as they did over this. People LOST SLEEP over it!

I know because I kept them up talking about it.

It's a Legion of Super-Heroes' mystery and LSH LOVES mysteries, almost all of which have the form "Who is?"  But this is the greatest LSH "Who is?" mystery of all time.

Sensor Girl was a character who joined the Legion but kept her identity and the precise nature of her powers secret.  This violates, like, 47 of their little Constitutional Rules, about which they are quite fussy. But Saturn Girl says "I vouch for her", which immediately ENDS that subject, because nobody-but-nobody in the Legion crosses Saturn Girl.


You... do not want to cross Saturn Girl. Or doubt her.
Or suggest that that costume makes her look trampy.
(from Legion #90, a very memorable issue from Tom Peyer's very memorable run)


Sensor Girl was a mystery that stumped the most intelligent person in the DCU: Brainiac 5.  

Who has a 12th Level Intelligence, in case no one has mentioned it yet this issue.


Most people thought she was Supergirl. Her demonstrated variety of powers did seem consistent with that theory, but she seemed to have weaknesses inconsistent with it.  I knew it wasn't Supergirl because she had this flair about her that Supergirl could never have. Supergirl was a sad sack; Sensor Girl was a big old drama queen.

With a wicked pimp slap.


Eventually, Brainiac DID figure it out because, well, he's the most intelligent person in the DCU and that IS his power in the Legion so, how else could the story end?

He also pointed out that the answer was obvious and that you were an idiot for not figuring it out, because making you feel stupid is his other power.

But the real story is: with no internet hive-mind to solve it, this mystery OBSESSED anyone who knew anything about the Legion and was a high-point for Legion obsession and if you know anything about the Legion, you know that obsession is, um... well, knowing anything about the Legion and being obsessed with the Legion are pretty much the same thing, aren't they?


The Geoff Johns' Mysteries 

Geoff Johns is basically Nancy Drew or, if you prefer, a Solo Hardy Boy.  Geoff tells a very particular type of mystery, one especially designed to reward comic history aficionados.  A Big Event is building in one book or across many (or perhaps... on a television show); it's got lots of players and several appear to be driving the events. But it doesn't QUITE all add up.  

And you can't quite tell whether that's just, you know, how it's written or whether ... there's something else.  So MUCH comic book writing has big plot holes that we accustom ourselves to not questioning too much. Comic book roads are full of plot holes, so we've equipped our mind-cars with such extra shock-absorbers and heavy tires that it's easy to overlook it when we really DO run over a dead body.

Unlike Ace Investigator Speed Saunders,
who ALWAYS notices these things.


Geoff Johns takes advantage of that and ALWAYS hides things right in plain sight...right in our blind spots.  There is always Something Else, and that Something Else is always a Piece of DC History He Remembers Which You Forgot.

Blackest Night?  Nekron, refugee from a blacklight poster. Who even READ that first story?!


JSA: Darkness Falls? Ian Karkull, who fought Dr. Fate. Twice.

 
I mean, only ROY THOMAS remembered Ian Karkull.

Doomsday Clock? Dan Didio.
Oh, I mean, "Dr. Manhattan". Dr Manhattan screwed up the DCU.

You can think of others; you get the idea.  I love 'em, but they are all sufficiently similar that I lump them together.  I'm not being dismissive; it's the kind of thing that a Brad Meltzer tries to pull off but can't.


Watchmen

Speaking of Watchmen, it is ... a lot.  So much to think about. It's been part of our comic book history for so long that it's easy to forget--especially if you weren't alive when it came out--that it was, first and (at least apparently) foremost, a MURDER MYSTERY: who killed The Comedian?  But I still remember discussing the theories with my boyfriend at the time.  

I remember keeping him up all night talking about it.

I don't remember whether I or anyone else was surprised at the time. It's not like there were any 'bad guys' to choose from after all.  


Australian Lex Luthor Junior

I wasn't sure whether to count this as a mystery per se, but "Who is Australian Lex Luthor Junior and whose side is he on?!" was a definite PUZZLE of GREAT power during its time. 

And it's time was LONG.  It was SO long. That was what sold it.  No one could believe that DC had the attention span to hoax us that long. But in those days, the glory days of The Superman Triangle Comics, they did indeed.  They convinced their entire readership that Lex had died and been replaced by his illegitimate son from Australia. Over time it was impossible to believe this person


was this person



There was so much to like about the new Lex.

Possibly more than we can imagine.


In a way, he was still a challenge to Superman, even though he was a GOOD guy, not a bad guy. He was a challenge by BEING a good guy. Supergirl became disenchanted with Superman and became Lex's girlfriend, enchanted by seeing what he could do without even any powers.  Superman, with his minimalist approach to intervention, looked like a slacker compared to Junior's proactive approach to improving Metropolis. It seemed as though DC had decided that was a new, mature tack for the concept of "Lex Luthor" and really had throw out the scheming greedy egoistical big-brained madman of the past.

But in fact...


THEY SAVED LUTHOR'S BRAIN

Still one of the greatest panels in comics.

The whole thing was just so damned... COMIC BOOKY. In a GOOD way. They just WENT THERE. And it was GLORIOUS to realize you had been lovingly duped for OVER TWO YEARS.  DC can't even go two years now without a crossover that reboots the entire mutliverse, let alone stay the course on this sort of thing.

Can you image DC doing anything like that now? :-)


But enough of my remembrances: what are YOUR favorite mysteries from DC comics?

Friday, December 02, 2022

Comic Book Rant

The website, I mean; CBR. Oh, that's right, it's supposed to stand for Comic Book Resources. I think you'll understand how I could make that error.


Why

HOW 

is it always wrong?


Superman

Batman

Dazzler (how bad is it, when I'm complaining about Dazzler being misunderstood?)

Superman

Robin

Green Arrow 

Batman

The Joker (the title alone made me want to punch someone off a bridge)

Superman

Batman

Namor (I resent being made to think about Namor)

Superman

I mean, maybe not ALWAYS. 

But not for lacking of trying,  it seems.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Peter Parker & I

 Well, apparently, for once in my life ...

Looks like Hellam to me.  Peter's been to Hellam and back.

I can finally identify with Peter Parker.


My guess is he ordered the scrapple at the 'Round the Clock Diner.

Monday, November 28, 2022

And the Oscar goes to...

The key to our previous story (Per Degaton's first story, The Day That Dropped Out Of Time), was that Alexander the Great was the great defender of Western Civilization whose victory over the Persian forces of King Darius III at the Battle of Arbela had to be preserved by the JSA, lest all of the world's modern inventions and technological wonders (like pavement, I say with great sarcasm) start to disappear.  

Would it have killed them to call it,
"The Day That Time Forgot"?


The great Alexander, defender of Greek ideals like democracy and The Single Most Important Man In History, was very grateful for the JSA's assistance and gave them a nifty keepsake of his gratitude.

"Alex, when you say 'you', is that a singular 'you', or a plural 'you'?
 It's ambiguous in English, you see..."

Which they couldn't store at JSA HQ, since that has NO trophies, as everyone knows, so Alan hung it at home. In his bedroom.

So, there are obvious problems with this rose-colored view of Alexander, a Macedonian king (highly hellenized through his tutoring by Aristotle) who conquered Greece because, you know, he loved it so, and who used that love as an excuse to punch Persia in the nose repeatedly as revenge for its having tried to conquer Greece a century and a half earlier, Persia's King Darius all the while begging to be left alone. I mean; Alex stole Darius's MOM, even.

But we'll waive that, since this is Golden Age JSA, not a Marvel Comic where heroes have to be shown to have feet of clay.  No, the real issue here is writer John Broome's portrayal of Alexander as a hero at all when ALEXANDER THE GREAT IS PART OF GREEN ARROW'S ROGUE'S GALLERY.

Five years before the the Justice Society faced off against Per Degaton in All Star Comics #35 (1947), the Soldiers of Victory went up against Dr. Wilfred Doome in Leading Comics #3 (1942).

We're just gonna call that "Jupiter" thing a Google Translate issue.

I mean: even in the Golden Age, how could anyone take a villain with a ridiculous name like "Dr. Doome" seriously?


Because "Long Island", "New York" and "1942" are concepts you will understand, along with English.


Wilfred was yer basic Ugly Mad Scientist With A Time Machine, except his was a temporal fishing rod, with which he grabbed historical world-conquerors to join him in conquering the present.

Writer Whitney Ellsworth made no bones about it: Nero, Genghis Khan, Napoleon, Julius Caesar, and Alexander the Great were SUPERVILLAINS of history.  


Hey, Gaius; when you wrote De Bello Gallico, you lost the right to criticize anything as BORING.


I REALLY appreciate Ellsworth's refreshing moral clarity here.  These were not Great Unifiers or Complicated Figures; there were Military Conquerors of Every-Effing-thing They Could Find and we call those people supervillains, period.

Kang The Complicated Figure

And, in the long run, what's the SUREST way to stop ANY supervillain, past or present?

SPEEDY, THE ROY WONDER

Boy, is that one red foot of Roy's in that final panel the best detail or what?  

The key to ruining any supervillain is: pitting them against Speedy and Green Arrow. Not because Speedy and Green Arrow are that GOOD, mind you. Rather, because Green Arrow villains are immediately damned to forgotten obscurity, no matter how much of the planet they may have conquered at some point in history.

"I WOULD RATHER RATHER LIVE A SHORT LIFE OF GLORY
THAN A LONG ONE OF OBSCURITY!"
said the man who's about to become a Green Arrow villain.

I am NOT going to replay this story; it's exactly what you'd expect from a Soldiers of Victory story. Or a Golden Age JSA story. Or even most Silver Age JLA stories.  Each of the mastermind's surrogates is dispatched on an Evil Task, is defeated one by one by a different hero, then activates their recall buttons to return to History where they belong.  Alex The Gee is assigned to get radium from the Florida Everglades and Green Arrow to stop him.

Points to Ollie for knowing that Alexander employed archers (mostly Cretans), to greater degree and effect than previous Greek forces, but it's still a stretch.  Given his uses of the sarissa and hypaspists, the Shining Knight would be more on point.  Ollie, like a dog, just hears what interests him.

I bet you think "Alexander The Great fighting Green Arrow for Radium in the Florida Everglades" can't get any more absurd as a premise.  
It can. Do not underestimate the Golden Age.

If you are wondering why there is a bunch of radium to be stolen in the Florida Everglades, it's because that's where Prof. Geppetto the Little Old Scientist is making radium-powered robots.

Like ya do.

How Roy Thomas never got his hands on Leo Starr to make him founder of STAR Labs, I will never know.  Anyway, the robots are all strictly mindless automata, except for one, who thanks to some unexplained imperfections, is sentient, speaks, and has a wacky sense of humor, which is treated as a mere comic relief annoyance rather than science's greatest breakthrough (other than Dr. Doome's Time Grapple). 

From the makers of "Holmes and Yo-Yo", "Living Doll", and "Small Wonder",
it's "That's Our Oscar!", Fridays at 7 on ABC.


It's all wacky good Golden Age fun! Especially when...

Alexander The Great (tm) MEGO Action Figure (catapult sold separately)


ALEXANDER KILLS GEPETTO WITH A CATAPULT.  Dang.  Leo Starr didn't even LOOK Theban.  Must have registered with the Medizing Party in his youth. Having killed a defenseless old puppetmaker, Alexander works out his comedy routine with Oscar.

"Sex and sleep alone make me conscious that I am mortal."--Alex T.G.
Lest you think that Alexander was not as much of a pompous ass as he is being portrayed here.


He uses the robots to capture Green Arrow, which he immediate regrets. because who doesn't immediately regret meeting Green Arrow?

OMG THE CATAPULT

THIS is the real reason G.A. was sent to fight Alexander: comic book irony.  Ollie enjoys archery, sure, but nothing but nothing compares to the joy he gets out of using:

THE ARROWCAR CATAPULT!


Okay, it's not often I root squarely for Ollie, but the only way that could be funnier is if the robot landed on Alex or that were Alexander himself bouncing off the ceiling.  Green Lantern may get hit by ceiling tiles, but Green Arrow hits the ceiling tiles with YOU.

Anyway, then Speedy executes Alexander The Great.

"Toil and risk are the price of glory." Alex T.G.


Nah, Ollie saves Alex's life.

Alex should be glad this isn't first-season Ollie:
"YOU HAVE FAILED THIS CITY-STATE!"

There is painful "humorous" badinage between Oscar and the Archers, but then Alex does the ONE thing you NEVER expect from a Green Arrow villain: he returns.

"I do not steal victory." Alex T.G.


Then Alex decides to have the robots REND THE BOWMEN LIMB FROM LIMB.

Add "radium-powered robots" to the list of 1001 Ways to Defeat Green Arrow.

The point I am making here, btw, is: Alexander The Great is a ****.  But Alex gets saucy with Oscar, who, after all, has a mind of his own; Oscar rebels, releases the archers, helps them defeat the mindless robots, and they rout the murderous Macedonian.

"The end and object of conquest is to avoid doing the same thing as the conquered."  Alex T.G.


Alex, tries to escape, but is cornered by swamp critters, cuz this ain't Macedonia.

"People are like snakes! You can give love, affection, affection even feed them, but at a certain moment they will end up biting you, because it is their nature."  Alex T.G.


Then there's a page worth of Ollie disguised as a robot shooting various swamp reptiles with arrows, just to fool Alex because.... frankly, I think it's just to embarrass him. It was a big tactic in the Golden Age.

“Every light is not the sun.” Alex T.G.

Crestfallen, Alexander presses his recall button and goes back home to 333 B.C.E.  

“When we give someone our time, we actually give a portion of our life that we will never take back.” Alex T.G.


I didn't really want to recount even this part of the story in this much detail. But this all happened, from Alexander's perspective, two years before he met the JSA.  Which leads me to my theory:

BEING A GREEN ARROW VILLAIN IS SUCH AN UNPLEASANT AND STRESSFUL EXPERIENCE THAT ONE DAY OF IT COMPLETELY CHANGED ALEXANDER THE GREAT, THE MOST IMPORTANT MAN IN HISTORY.

When he met Ollie, Alex was a young punk supervillain, who had never known defeat or humiliation. He had never met anyone who was a bigger **** than he was.

Then he met Roy. 
And Ollie. 
And Oscar.  

Like Scrooge meeting the Ghosts of ****ishness Past, Present, and Future.  It was a transformative experience so powerful that it turned him into the gracious champion of Western Civilization whom the JSA meet at the Battle of Arbela.

So, everything is explained except. 

"Roy, can you reset the atapultc-ay everl-ay...?"


What happened to Oscar?  That's the last seen of him. He runs, of his own volition, on radium, which has a half-life of 1600 years.  Oscar should, 80 years later be padding around the Florida Everglades, cracking wise and overthrowing potential world-conquerors.  

My personal theory is that the simplest explanation for why we have heard no mention of a sentient radium-fueled robot living in Florida for the last eighty years should be obvious to any long-time reader of this blog:



Oscar moved to Apex City, where no one gave him a second thought.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Per Degaton, Part 7: "We Are Undone!"

 In dystopian 1957, Per Degaton and Kale RULE. Literally.

Not metaphorically. Only Kale rules metaphorically.

But as you can see, there's trouble in dictatorial paradise. The Change is become unchanged, and any MINUTE now that phone could ring to announce the launching of SPUTNIK. Degaton's in deep kimchi, because something must have gone wrong (or, from our perspective, RIGHT) back at the Battle of Arbela in 331 BCE.

Not SULTAN, you hick. Try "Khshayathiya Vazraka," or just "Shah" if you're pressed for time. I mean, I ASSUME you're speaking Ancient Persian that's being translated for the readers' sake, cuz I know Darius didn't speak English.


At first things were going perfectly wrong, with Degaton's Diabolical Forces machine-gunning the Macedonians (who, btw, are already outnumbered five to one). Even Alex The G himself can't rally against that!

Hey, YER MAJESTY, you may wanna ixnay on the emocracies-day, seeing as how you got rid of all that when you subjected Greece to Macedon. Just ask the Thebans! Oh, that's right; you killed them all and burnt the city to the ground.

But then the JSA show up to un-ruin everything!

Assignments. Of course. The JSA is never too disheveled to omit the assignment process.

Sure, Johnny Thunder may be a moron. But he's still a man of his time and knows to SHAVE and fix your BOWTIE before going into battle.

Then comes the moment that nowadays would launch a thousand fanfics.

Naturally, Alex is INSTANTLY SMITTEN by Alan.
Don't weep, Alex; looks like there's a world left to conquer after all!



I give a lot of credit to Golden Age writers, seriously, for knowing that the value of heroes is inspirational.  The JSA don't win the battle simply with superpowers (it's why Jay was de-powered first, you'll notice); their heroism inspires Alexander's troops and THAT is what turns the tide of battle.


I'll concede that Atom's a small target but how it's harder to hit hulking HAWKMAN than a clay pigeon I cannot imagine. The element of surprise is more powerful than Special Metal.

The Macedonian forces win the battle and Alexander summons the JSAers to his tent to thank them properly.

"Oh. Alan. All your friends came, too.  
How... nice."

Here he engraves and signs the shield with his thanks; the very shield they are playing back this entire story on like a DVD thanks to Wonder Woman's magical past-o-meter.

"In fact, I'll keep it under my pillow. Alex.
And think of you every night I look at it."

THEN THEY DISAPPEAR. But you can probably guess why, because you are a modern person who has read time travel stories before.

Explanatory Floating Head of Wonder Woman would be a great meme.

Once they're back, Wonder Woman hits the Google Translate button on her Magic Sphere.

"Are you SURE it didn't say, 'Love, Alex'?"
"Yes, Alan."

So Per Degaton, in classic comic book irony, is back to square one, as a harmless dishwashing lab assistant.

I like to imagine that, à la Pinky & The Brain, this happens every night for Degaton, and that every time we see him is just his next work day, so that from his perspective, even though it's 80 years later, he's still only worked for Professor Zee for a week or so.  That's why he's always the same age.

Which leaves us with the real question: 

WHAT  HAPPENED TO KALE?!?!?!


P.S. Yes, I am aware that there is a SERIOUS CONTINUITY CONTRADICTION between this story and CRITICAL HISTORY OF AN ICONIC DC HERO who does not appear in this story.  I want to assure my readers that not only I am aware of this issue, I will soon bravely tackle it, with a hot take that will split the internet, and possibly the membership of the Classical Association of New England of which I am an alumnus, asunder. Prepare yourselves accordingly.