Friday, April 08, 2005

Are the Charltonians Making Their Exit?

Are DC's rights to the Charlton heroes about to expire? The flurry of work around some of the Charlton properies seems like desperate attempts by DC to use them while they can...

Didn't it seem odd that the JLU cartoon used Captain Atom twice (or was it three times?) almost immediately?

Didn't it seem odder that they did the same thing with the Question?

And hasn't the Question gotten an unusual amount of "airtime" in the JLU comic book? He just had a whole issue of it to himself ... as did Blue Beetle just a little while ago.

Is it coincidence that Nightshade is in the "Day of Vengeance" miniseries? Gee, I wonder whether she'll survive!

Why bother introducing, in his own miniseries, this "Breach" character, who's so very much like Captain Atom?

Wouldn't DC want to give the best known Charltonian, Blue Beetle, the opportunity for a big splashy farewell? And they did.

Speaking of which, Shazam now has the Scarab. Will that magical relic be a 'victim' of the Day of Vengeance story?

Notice how Sarge Steel has been kind of phased out of DCU happenings, even though he was a big player for quite a while?

What would possess DC to suddenly do a revival of Son of Vulcan in a whole miniseries? And to give him a kid sidekick (a character that would then be owned completely by DC)?

I don't know exactly what I think about all these...coincidences. But I have an idea what the Question would think!

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The Joker, On Style

"Hmm! And that gives me a tremendous idea -- an idea that only the Joker could think of! Ha ha! Slapsy, go out and get me some baking dough, a picture frame, some firecrackers, and some barrels of red paint!"
The Joker
, "The Wizard of Words"

He is the ultimate so many ways! But by far his greatest virture as a villain is his style: the clothes, the clues, the theme crimes, the joy he takes in his work. Other villains scheme painfully for years and ruin their lives just to have their revenge on one person (that reminds me, must visit Animal-Master in prison). But for the Joker, a stick of chewing gum or discarded soda bottle will inspire a series of heists that net him millions of dollars, force Batman to wear a French maid's costume while spanking Robin with a hairbrush, and increase tooth decay in Gotham by 12 percent.

In the hands of a regular criminal, even the robbery of Fort Knox can seem quotidian. In the hands of the Joker, the robbery of hot dog stand can become a work of art.

All because of style!

The Difference between DC and Marvel

Yes, there is a difference. Coke is a cola. Pepsi is a cola. Coke and Pespi do not taste alike; most people drink one and not the other, and the people who do drink them indiscriminately are usually waiting for what they really want, alcohol.

When I read on-line pablum about, "I just enjoy whatever, and shouldn't we all just read good stories wherever they are written, and I don't think there is a difference, and I want to read a cross-over where Iron Man dates Power Girl, and why can't we just all get along?," I want to take an uzi into a bar and slay a score of second-rate villains in a hail of bullets. But I don't. Why? Because that's a Marvel thing to do, and I'm a DC person. It says so in the blog title.

One of the examples of the Difference Between DC and Marvel is in their panthea (or pantheons, if you're allergic to Greek plurals).

The Greek Gods, the gods of tragedy, are the gods of the DCU.
The Norse Gods, the gods of opera, are the gods of the Marvel.

We see lots of gods and godlings in the DCU: fun, forgotten ones in Vertigo, ham-handed manques like the New Gods, decorative dieties like Rao tossed about the universe like theurgic throw-pillows to spice up alien cultures. But for the most part, the "gods" in the DCU means Zeus & Co. Yes, the Greek Gods, the gods of founders of Western Civilization, the people who brought you self-government, logic, and couple other useful concepts, like: tragedy. Now, not every DC story is a tragedy, of course. But if you set aside the "gosh, that's sad and icky" part of tragedy, its underlying tenet is that what happens to you, your fate, is the usually the result of your own character, not just random happenstance.

Batman's "fate" isn't thrust upon him by a cruel world that fails to understand him. Bruce Wayne could, at any point say, "Well, this is fruitless! Alfred, pack my bags, buy a Caribbean island (if I don't already own one), and tell Silver St. Cloud I'll meet her there for brunch!" But he doesn't, because his character is otherwise.
Superman isn't enfeebled by the mistrust of a xenophobic society, forcing him to hide as a mild-mannered drudge. "Gosh," Superman could say, "I think I'll rule the world today, then write about it in my gigantic steel diary using my fingernails." Because of his character, Superman chooses (like Cinncinnatus) to rise up above other people only when it is necessary to protect society; otherwise, he chooses to live among them as equals. Whatever "tragic fate" these and other characters suffer stems from their own virtues and flaws (which usually aren't fatal, unless you were a member of Justice League International, like Ted, Tora, those foxy French sisters, and Amazingly-Brittle Man).

But Marvel's gods are the Norse ones, who, in our culture, we know mostly through opera. It's fitting; Marvel is about personal drama, people thrust into extraordinarily roles and situations (usually against their will) by life's vicissitudes (you know, errant chromosomes, cosmic rays, radioactive spiders, and such). It's opera, not tragedy, because you are watching people suffer unjustly, to see how they stand up to it all (like on Fear Factor).

DC's message? You are responsible for protecting and improving yourself and society, so toughen up for that responsiblity.

Marvel's message? You better be tough, because you're going to have to suffer many things in this world that you're not responsible for and can't improve.

Both messages are completely true, of course, which is why each company does speak effectively to so many people. But, in my eyes, DC's message is designed to inspire and Marvel's message is designed to console.

And I know which I prefer.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

The Animal-Master, On Purpose

Drab little peons, staggering mindlessly to your next task, like mechanical drones! Oh, sorry; ahem, I had a wad of villainly caught in my throat.

Ah, that's better. Still the point remains valid: a life without purpose is a life without meaning. But who knows that better than villains? Such as "the Animal-Master", a criminal lion-tamer whom Aquaman unknowingly strands on a desert island during his getaway...

"I must live ... to revenge myself on Aquaman! ... How long must I suffer from thirst, hunger, and the burning sun? B-but I must hang on so that I can have vengeance! I must destroy Aquaman for what he did to me! I-I made it! You hear me Aquaman? I made it! I-I don't know how or when...but I'll g-get my revenge! You'll pay for ruining my plans!"
The Animal-Master, "Aquaman Duels the Animal-Master", Adventure 261, June 1959

Regular saps find staying alive enough of a reason to stay alive (certainly when we're stranded on desert islands). The Animal-Master finds a greater purpose.

Escaping from the island? No, he stays there a whole year, although when he finally throw out a message in a bottle he's rescued in a week (Aquaman's fish buds look for stuff like that).

Opening a moneymaking wildlife preserve? No, even though he's found and could therefore claim ownership of an island where leopards, lions, elephants, water buffalo, and (since this is DC) gorillas live.

Overcoming, through steady practice, what is obviously a severe stuttering problem? N-no!


As you might have guessed, that didn't work out. So what do you think the Animal-Master says as (I kid you not) a school of flying-fish carry him off to prison in a fishing net?

"I-I'll get you for this, Aquaman! Some day, after I finish my prison sentence, I'll have my revenge!"

Kanjar Ro, on Humility

Despite their Confidence, most true villains are pretty darned humble, so humble that it gives me a special glow all over. Take, for example, the original bug-eyed bandit, Kanjar Ro:

"Ah! My super-brain now understands all the mysteries of nature and the universe!"
Kanjar Ro
, "Decoy Missions of the Justice League!"

Okay, Kanjar Ro may not sound particularly humble. But consider: a guy from some distant planet suddenly acquires an understanding of all the mysteries of nature and the universe. Which is a lot. Yet instead of using those powers to end suffering on a thousand planets, earning the grateful devotion and love of every sentient being he encounters, and making himself the most exalted creature that ever lived, Kanjar Ro chooses immediately to humble himself by 'sailing' to Earth in his moronic-looking cosmic boat to have his hiney whooped by the Justice League.

The more impressive and powerful you are the more important it is to be humble; but, of course, that's one of the mysteries of nature and the universe that Kanjar Ro understands!

Black Adam, on Confidence

"At last, I've reached Earth, after flying for 5000 years from the farthest star, where I was banished by old Shazam! The world is certainly different today than what it was when last I knew it! But I will conquer and rule it!"
Black Adam
, "The Might Marvels Join Forces!"

Wow! Even though you have the power to level mountains, and an old guy in a dress and sandals poofed you off to a distant star. Even though you're entering the world that harnessed the power of the atom and your idea of technology is the inclined plane. Even though you are so naive that you are about to be defeated by Uncle Dudley, perhaps comicdom's most death-deserving buffoon (not counting Stan Lee).

Still, your third sentence after arriving on Earth is: "But I will conquer and rule it!"

*sniff* If we all had that kind of confidence, think what a world this would be!

The Latest Big Tree

I grew up in a household that had a total of 13 dogs. As an adult, I interact with between 70 to 100 dogs every work day (not counting the ones I live with, and the less said about them, the better). In short, I have had a lot of opportunity to experience canine behavior.

When a new tree is planted in area common to lots of dogs, it's a very big event. Many dogs will try to "make their mark" on the tree by pissing on it. The more thoroughly they urinate, the stronger a message they feel they are sending to all the other dogs who will inspect the tree and the collected "smell comments" on it.

Spend a lot of time with dogs, who like us are strongly social, hierarchical, and pack-driven, and you will see how similar people's behavior is, once you scratch off the veneer of our intelligence. For example, in the comic book world the latest Big Tree is, of course, Countdown to Infinite Crisis. It is, in fact, the central tree in DC's new grove, soon to become a forest. It's the most important tree planted since Crisis on Infinite Earths.

So, naturally, every good comic-reading dog has decided that, in order to make their mark and show off for all the other dogs, they have to piss on it. And the stench streaming from their little weblogs is fierce! Yet every time Jeph Loeb's pukes up onto the sidewalk some half-digested pieces of the worst of the Silver Age that he found rotting in the sun, these same dogs run over to roll in it gleefully, hoping some of its stinky aura will adhere to them.

Dog have great astuteness; if they bark, pay attention. But do not take their advice on comic books. As a human being, feel free to look up and admire the majesty of the tree, its powerful roots, its far-reaching branches, its striving to great heights. Don't waste your time sniffing the droppings of those whose world includes only those things right under their noses.