Sunday, July 30, 2006

Reasons to read "Manhunter" #14

In issue #14 of Manhunter, Kate's old friend, Cameron Chase, begins an, um, "interesting" relationship with Kate's technical assistant, Dylan, who also acquires a new roommate, Mark Shaw, one of the previous Manhunters.

The most enjoyable comics -- or, television shows, for that matter -- are ensemble efforts, rather than solo performances. I've often felt that one of the things holding back the popularity of characters like post-Crisis Wonder Woman, Aquaman, the Flash, and the Green Lantern(s) is the continual turnover of their supporting casts.

Not that those characters are unpopular! But not like Batman and Superman, who've enjoyed comparative stability in their supporting casts for 60+ years.

One of literary devices that helps cement an ensemble cast, even one built around a central player, is the fact that the cast have relationship not only with the central player, but with one another.

Manhunter's supporting cast, one by one, develop relationship of various types with one another. That's one reason that I recommend that you...

Buy Manhunter.

Pog Candidate Profiles

This is for newer readers who might not recognize all the candidates is our Customer Heroclix Pog Poll.

The Buddhist Monk refers to the guy who revived Eel O'Brien after he becomes Plastic Man; everyone else has an explanatory link.

Marsha Mallow 7 votes
The Kryptonite Monkey 8 votes
The Rolling Head of Pantha 18 votes
Buddhist Monk 6 votes
Lefty the Starfish 5 votes
Gail Simone 19 votes
"Railroad" Porter 3 votes
The Yazz 4 votes
Thought Slaves 8 votes
Fat Momma 5 votes
Rusty the Radium Dog 9 votes
The Superman Whipping Doll 11 votes
Black Lois Lane 18 votes
Wally the Walleye 5 votes
Nightgirl's Bouffante 6 votes
Mike Zagari 1 vote
Salvador Dali 9 votes
The Amorous Space Gorilla 9 votes
Chic Carter, Ace Reporter 3 votes
Willi Van Dort 12 votes

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Slick Chick Nicks Pick

"Which Custom Clix should I have made next?" poll results:

  1. Jimmy Olsen 50 votes
  2. The Royal Flush Gang 35 votes
  3. Max Mercury 25 votes
  4. Professor Radium 22 votes
  5. Hugo Strange 21 votes
  6. Angle Man 19 votes
  7. Dr. Polaris 19 votes
  8. Black Hand 12 votes
  9. Amos Fortune 12 votes

What IS it with Jimmy Olsen? The kids today, they love the Jimmy Olsen.

I'll be having all of these figures made, eventually. But it does my heart good to see the high placement of the Royal Flush Gang-- no doubt as a result of their recent gripping storyline by Steve Englehart. Ahem.

Max Mercury is clearly a sentimental favorite for all us Impulse fans, but I'm delight that Professor Radium squeaked ahead of his better-known competitors. Such is the rejuvenative power of "Battle for Bludhaven".

Actually, this entire matter has inspired me to encourage Totaltoyz to produce an entire "Special Collector's Set" of nothing but Jimmy Olsen clix. You know:

  • Wolfman Olsen
  • Porcupine Olsen
  • Speed Demon Olsen
  • Elastic Lad Olsen
  • Aquatic Jimmy Olsen
  • The Cosmic Brain Olsen
  • Turtle Boy Olsen
You KNOW people would buy it.

I got yer Gunn right here...!

Okay, speaking of the JLA-Detroit, this is long overdue.
Put some Gunn in your Heroclix game! I put him on teams with Vixen, Zatanna, Aquaman, the Martian Manhunter, and my custom Vibe (or when I'm feeling special, my custom Breakdancing Vibe.) If you want, you can use

the Special Dale Gunn Rules:

  1. No female pieces in the game are allowed to (non-sexually) attack Dale (with one exception).
  2. Any female opponent in close combat with Dale is not able to breakaway (but may still be carried away, force blasted, or suffer knockback).
  3. Vixen and Zatanna may not move adjacent to each other if Dale is within their line of sight.
  4. If Dale comes into their line of sight when they are adjacent, Vixen and Zatanna can attack only each other until separated by teammates or line of sight to Dale is blocked.
For maximum enjoyment of the Dale Gunn pog, tape it to the underside of your car hood for one week before using, store it in a humidor full of inexpensive cigars, and play an Isaac Hayes CD while using him in the game.

Friday, July 28, 2006

I Love You, Stan Lee!

Gods help me. Gods save me. Gods forgive me.

I loved "Who Wants to Be a Superhero" last night.

And when I say "I loved it", I don't mean what you probably think I mean.

I don't mean loved it in a snarky post-modern ironic way: "titter titter, watching these prancing popinjays make me feel so superior in that I am a geek of taste and decorum!"

I mean "loved it" as in, "I am fighting back tears witnessing the sincerity of Fat Momma as she unhesitatingly abandons her own interests in order to help a crying child."
What can I say?

I'll admit there were some amusing "comic book ironies" that keep my snarkier self amused. For example, watching Stan Lee of Marvel Comics, home of Wolverine and the Punisher, lecture some poor meatslab schlub that "Heroes do not kill people, they help people!" Or the fact that none of the contestants knew what "excelsior" meant. Heh, that made me swirl my brandy a bit.

I hadn't planned on watching the show. I was busy doing something else and it just happened to be the next show that popped up on the telly. So I was quite shocked to find myself amused, engaged, and emotionally committed almost immediately. But why?

  • The show cleverly focuses not on "power and abilities" of the heroes manques, but on their moral character. People may tune in to watch the geeks in shiny lycra, but to the degree the show helps viewers focus past that aspect of "superheroes" and look deeper toward the concept of being a hero, I applaud it.
  • Lee is an uncompromising but reasonable critic of their moral fibre. Kind of like the Spectre in a golf sweater and overly-tinted trifocals. Dude basically calls one girl a tramp and tells one loser to "wipe that smile off your face"; righteous. I half expected a giant pair of scissors to appear out of nowhere and start cutting them into paper dolls.
  • The cheesiness and faux competitive structure that is so grating on most "reality shows" actually rings weirdly true in the superheroic setting.
  • It's teaching me respect for the crazy stuff our comic book heroes need to do just to do their "job". Phone booths notwithstanding, it really isn't easy to find a place to change into your costume quickly!
  • You get to see real life metaphors of characters we read about finally getting their comeuppance. "Booster Gold" gets thrown out for being greedy, "Wolverine" gets told that what he does is neither pretty nor appropriate, "Impulse" gets told that life is not a game.
  • Some contestants understand that being fun and campy are NOT incomparable with sincerity; in fact, it is merely its necessary flipside. "Jump into my arms, little girl, and I'll carry you there!" Major Victory, you are my hero!
  • LOVE the "Lair"; must redo my house immediately to look JUST LIKE THE LAIR.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Vibe me!

It would be impossible to replicate the horror of the Justice League's Detroit era, its crabby mischaracterizations, its plots that are somehow simultaneously outre but still tedious, and its brainstomping dialog...

were it not for Steve Englehart.

Even though in his brief run on Batman years ago, Englehart managed to mischaracterize the Joker as an impractical loon rather than a brilliant but incidentally homicidal criminal mastermind and the Penguin as a clue-dropping Riddler clone, I am still going to choose to believe that his current arc in JLA Classified is an ingenius homage to the original awkwardness of Vibe's Jay El Lay, rather than just bad writing with drawn out meandering plotting (plodding?), unrecognizably unpalatable versions of well-known characters, and harsh entendre-driven dialog that makes you sorry you know English.

That choice made... let's revel in how expertly Englehart has mimicked the incomprehensible mess that was the Detroit League! Except, of course, for Vibe, who was aces.

Speaking of aces, this final (?) installment of "Game of Chance" begins with Scooby and the Gang hiding out in a cave from a forest fire started by the Royal Flush Gang. Is the fire an ingenious trap laid by the RFG to disable the only contemporary leaguers with power, intelligence, and experience (the Martian Manhunter and Aquaman)? Ah, no, actually. Queen just forgot to stamp out one of the cigarettes she been constantly smoking through the arc. No, really.

Anyway, J'onn is focused on the most important thing: WHERE has the Royal Flush Gang gone and IF they are nearby WHICH version might they be facing? Apparently, J'onn (and Englehart) forgot that an issue or so ago, the JLA killed two of the original gang and then let the other two go, actually stopping Vibe and Steel from going after them. And, since the gangs are essentially indistinguishable and rely on the same power of "stellaration", it makes no strategic differnce which gang it might be. It's not like the readers care!

It's followed by a cute scene where J'onn sends Vixen and Gypsy to scout ahead (because they're intelligent, prudent, and less likely to blunder their way into a conflict) while making Steel and Vibe stay behind (because they're too loud, aggressive, and stupid). J'onn, you are SO sexist! At least we get a cute panel of Vibe being petulant.

Adorable. Of course you're sneaky, sweetie. And the oufit helps.

Gloriously, this is followed hard upon by an entire pulse-pounding page of Aquaman ...

wait for it ...

falling down.
I haven't been that excited since Aquaman found a comb in JLA 242!

Next we learn that the Martian Manhunter lied to them all about their camping trip, which was really just an excuse for him to have the time and opportunity to read their tiny little minds. Sadly, I can't label this an Englehartian mischaracterization of the Noble Martian Manhunter. J'onn's just a creepy snoop who plays headgames. J'onn's always been a creepy snoop who plays headgames.

Then we find out that animal-avatar Vixen plays little naughty games with the "furries" on the weekend:

A lot of guys feel that way, Vixen.

Actually, she's "channeling the powers of Grizzly" because she's in a cave. Apparently she and "Grizzly" are on a first name basis; I wonder, did she know Mr. Chocolate, and, if so, what was his first name?

Anyway, she follows that up with one of the JLDetroiters trademarks: the Apropos-of-nothing Sententious Assertion of Self-Definition ...

"I am the life of Africa -- for better or for worse."

I would say it's for the worse, if true. Are there a lot of grizzly bears in Africa, Vixen?

Have you ever paused to think about what a photo shoot with supermodel Mari (Vixen) McCabe is like? I picture it something like a scene out of Zoolander: "You're a monkey Derek. You're a monkey. Dance, monkey, in your little spangly shoes. Mash your cymbals, chimpy. Dance, Derek, dance." Hm... actually that sounds more like a date with Vibe.

Cut away to Gypsy who, stealthed, is running through the cave in her bare feet (because that's how she does everything), doing an extended interior monologue of Apropos-of-Nothing Sententious Assertions of Self-Definition about being "Roma" and "some of us gypsies have special powers that not even Zatanna could know" and how "J'onn with his telepathy cannot read my thoughts for I have gypsy thoughts."

Um, actually, "Gypsy", your name is Cindy Reynolds, your parents aren't "Roma", you grew up in a suburban Michigan cul-de-sac, which you left when no one would pay attention to your essay on A Tale of Two Cities, and you ran away (apparently, without shoes) to Detroit, where you were a street-thief whom Chuck Dixon dressed look like Cyndi Lauper. (Does Englehart not have access to Wikipedia? Or the DC Encyclopedia? Or Ridelin?) So if Gypsy is thinking any of things that Englehart puts in her thought balloons she is stark raving delusional.

Anyway, so she runs into Amos Fortune who's telling the RFG they're not going to be "stupid hearts or clubs" any more (which is really good, since, um, they were spades or clubs), and magically remodels them into Living Tarot Cards of Doom.

And, no, I did not make that up. Who could? I mean, other than Englehart?

Then, the JLA attacks the RFG, but, more importantly, J'onn J'onnz swears.

The Martian Manhunter swears.

JJ has done some pretty odd stuff over the years. So odd that it's really hard to say that anything's out of character for him (wait till you get a load of his new miniseries!). But having JJ swear is unimaginably out of character and if I had lain awake for 3 nights trying to come up with the least likely things for him to do or say, it still wouldn't have occurred to me to have him swear. Englehart is some kind of genius, I say.

Well, at least we get to see Vibe's Gary Coleman impression:

That is so cute. If I were Mr. Drummond, I'd adopt Vibe in a heartbeat.

Naturally, in the midst of the fight, King falls over dead from coughing (which in *kof* case you *kof* missed it, he's been *kof* doing in every *kof* word balloon for *kof* four koffin' issues) which causes the rest of the gang to start having heart attacks. At this point in the story, I can only ascribe everything about this story -- plot, characterization, dialog, and DC actually printing this comic-- to the effects of stellaration, because it defies all odds and logic.

Oh, and in other developments ...

We learn that "vibe" is a verb, baby.

Vibe me!

While the RFG is kicking the JLA's arse and the cliff in the cave (that's a BIG cave) is collapsing, the inevitable happens: a bear attacks the JLA.

Hey, Vixen, Grizzly called; he wants his powers back.
Oh, and I'm here to tell you the bear is not the only one freaked by this battle

Bear attacks; it's a Detroit thing.

In other ursinological news, we learn that bears do urinate in the woods, and, if possible, on Aquaman:

Urine ... same constituents-- as sea water-- kept me alive -- to help my team...

Well, apparently Vixen not the only one into all sorts of freaky stuff.

So, as the issue ends:
  • The RFG loses the fight,
  • we learn that Vixen is "in love" with Steel (even though she was sucking face with his godfather, Dale Gunn, about a week ago and hitting on the local preacher as well... oh, and has barely said 5 words to him in the entire JLDetroit run),
  • we find out that Gypsy has precognition and knows how Vibe and Steel are going to die but doesn't warn them about it (because, like Supergirl, she doesn't believe you can change the future, so I guess it's good she didn't figure out Despero was going to kill her parents, huh?),
  • but it's all okay because, well...

Vibe is still irresistible to any and all.

P.S. Note the joyous news that the story is CONTINUED IN THIS WEEK'S JSA CLASSIFIED.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Loving Grant

Ordinarily, I share with you the things that made me happy in all the comics I bought for the week. But this week, I will focus exclusively on Grant Morrison's first issue of Batman.

As regular readers know, my admiration for Morrison's work is not without qualifications. In fact, I've called quite a lot of what he's written total crap, incoherent ravings passing themselves off as profundities. So, suffice it to say, I'm not given to praising Morrison as some kind of reflex action, as many readers seem to be.

That said ... I LOVED his first issue of Batman this week, including:

  • The Joker's sense of theatrics.
  • The Joker's pumps; where does he get those wonderful shoes?
  • The Commissioner's sense of humor.
  • Alfred saying all the things that only Alfred can say.
  • A Talia that actually, finally, seems evil.
  • Kirk Langstrom finally remembering how to dress.
  • Upside-down dinosaur statues encased in green lucite as art.
  • Alfred's taste in literature.


So how bad is it ...

when even Power Girl...

thinks you're a brazen hussy?

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Marvel Musings?

Blogger's not letting me post the pics that were to form that backbone of my post today, so instead I shall ask for help understanding Marvel.

1. So how can Dr. Blake be Thor? I don't get it; is it a Billy Batson thing, or what?
2. Red Ghost and the Super-Apes is the most fabulous thing imaginable. Why are they not seen more? At DC, they would have their own mini-series; in Archie comics, they'd be a band with a number one hit and a Saturday morning cartoon show.
3. I give up; why DOES Namor have little wings on his feet? They're really creepy.
4. Where does the Fantastic Four's money come from? Does Reed rent his dimensiotraversifying equipment to Walmart and Starbucks so they can find new territory?
5. Since She-Hulk is more intelligent and less aggressive than Hulk, how come nobody complains that she's a sexist character?
6. What's with the cows? I have my own theory, I just want to hear yours.
7. In DC, it pretty much goes without saying that if you have electromagnetic powers it make your brain a little (or a lot) crazy (Dr. Polaris, Frankie Kane, Praxis, et al.). Has anyone ever suggested that might be Magneto's problem?
8. Does Dr. Doom have a girlfriend? I think it might help. He seems like fatherhood would do him a world of good.
9. Ghost Rider. Does he ... always look like that? Does he disappear like the Phantom Stranger or does he just live in SoHo?
10. Pardon my crude curiosity, but exactly HOW did the Vision and Scarlet Witch have kids? I'm not following that one at all.
11. Marvel had some rocking cowboy titles back in the day. Did they ever have a similar line of space comics, or has space stuff always been part of their superhero line?
12. Is there no equivalent of DC's 31st Century in the Marvel universe?

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Flash Fiction

As mentioned before, I don't write about the Flash much, and that's not just because of the agoraphobic horror that is Central City/Keystone. It's because he has the Slowest Stories Alive. And I use term "alive" loosely.

I think part of the reason for that may be a simple tactical error in storytelling.

If you read Golden Age stories, you'll notice that they are, for the most part, told from an outside third-person perspective. Oh, sure, you get to peek in on some heroic thought-balloons, but more often the character would say what they were thinking aloud, sometimes to nobody in particular. As odd as that may seem, it seemed less odd to Golden Age writers than giving us readers the ability to continually read characters' minds. So mostly the viewpoint in Golden Age stories was that of the omnipresent narrator, a feeling reinforced by the frequent use of narration boxes.

Uh, Ted? Who exactly are you talking to? Are you violating the fourth wall? Why are you talking about yourself in the third person?
Are you talking out loud to ... yourself? And why were people suprised when you wound up in a sanitarium?

Then in the Silver and Bronze Ages, as our heroes became more individuated and personalized, the story began to be told more and more from their perspective. This had advantages, of course, allowing stories that depended more on character and not entirely on plot. Yet, like all things, its pros came with cons.

One downside was the apparent erosion of writers' ability, willingness, or (at the very least) need to tell a story and reveal character through word and action (which is how we perceive the real world), which is lot harder than resorting to emotive thought balloons.

Many have praised the storytelling in the animated series universe (both on TV and in comics) for its fresh takes on old characters and situations. But often they fail to notice that the "freshness" in the animated stories comes also in part from its focus on telling the story from 'the outside', without (many) thought balloons or their voiceover equivalents. The revelation of character comes almost entirely from word and action, with plots chosen to complement those revelations. In that way, the animated series storytelling is more like a Golden Age story than a modern one.

That's all very interesting, but what's it got to do with the Flash? Simple: once you start telling Flash stories from Flash's perspective




From our outside perspective, the Flash speeds up. But from his perspective, everything else slows down. When actively Flashifying, the Flash operates in a world that moves achingly slowly. That's the environment his stories happen in. They are ... the Slowest Stories Alive. If there is any character whose stories should offer only brief glimpses of the hero's perspective, it's the Flash.

Imagine, if Flash stories actually raced along at the breakneck pre-decompression speed of a Golden Age tale. Isn't that the kind of high-speed excitement that speedsters fans are really looking for when they read about the Fastest Man Alive?

But apparently "slow" is not enough; the Flash must be tedious as well.

Now Bart Allen, former symbol of youthful comic book fun, has been sucked in to the role of slow-moving, self-doubting, thought-balloon-burdened angstmonger. Oh, look, it's cheery Dick Grayson turning into morose Nightwing all over again! Who thought that was a good idea?

The Flash used to be good SilverAge pseudoscientific fun (which, as Gail Simone is showing with the Atom, can still be done right now). But then Barry eventually got sucked into personal troubles and Iris dying and Fiona and the trial and ... hey, they cancelled Flash.

Then Wally's title began, and he was adventurous and a bit devil-may-care, and then after a while he got sucked into personal troubles and Linda and the speed force and villains with coke addictions and ... hey, they cancelled Flash.

Now Bart's title begins with him losing any of the fun he had being Impulse or even Kid Flash, and starts off with personal troubles and a half-baked love interest and the speed force and...

Hey, at least I'm enjoying Green Lantern, Atom, and Wonder Woman.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Doom Patrol The Movie

Doom Patrol: The Movie.

I ... I just keep saying it. Hoping that, if I say it often enough, it will become comprehensible somehow.

"Doom Patrol... The Movie"

I don't know, it's not that is oxymoronic, exactly, just ... hard to wrap my tiny brain around. It's like saying, for example, "The Appeal of Guy Gardner". I accept that it exists, but can't understand what it might be.

But there is going to be a Doom Patrol film, so I'd better start getting used to the idea. Perhaps you can help by offering casting suggestions for this, er, "Doom Patrol: The Movie". Assume that the roles include at least:

  • Beast Boy
  • Elasti-Girl
  • Mento
  • Negative Man
  • Robotman
  • The Chief
  • (possibly) M'sieur Mallah & the Brain

Please confine your suggestions to actors who are physically appropriate for the role. I say this specifically because ever time I read a "let's cast a movie thread", people make lots of suggestions for actors who would have been perfect for a role about 15 or 20 years before (because they know those actors from movies made then). You know, ridiculous suggestions like "Jack Nicholson as the Joker" (oh, snap!).

It's also important to take general physical condition into account when casting spandex-clad heroes; it's not like anyone's going to cast "David Ogden Stiers as the Martian Manhunter"; I mean, that would be crazy.

Please also factor in race ("Michael Clarke Duncan" as the Kingpin"), accent ("Dolph Lungren as the Punisher"), and acting chops ("Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane").

Friday, July 21, 2006

Ten Things

Ten Things I would find more enjoyable than 52's back-up series, 'the History of the DCU starring Donna Troy' ...

1. Jimmy Olsen in a dress.

2. A Day in the Life of Halo.

3. The Spectre and the Phantom Stranger watching the corpse of Orca the Whalewoman rot, with dialog by Brian Michael Bendis.

4. A reunion of all the characters from Bloodlines.

5. The History of Ill-Conceived Characters Created When Editors Were Sleeping, starring Donna Troy.

6. Proty's Penthouse Party.

7. Week after week of Alfred silently polishing the silver at Wayne Manor and dusting the Batcave.

8. Prose-only Lobo/Major Force slash fiction.

9. Gypsy getting a pedicure and foot massage.

10. Reprints of every time the Red Tornado has blown up.

And you....?

Party Favor

Mercy! Last night's Big Monkey party was a rockin' good time! In addition to the staff, there were 52 guests; what more could a DC fan ask? "Busboys & Poets" was a nice venue, with delicious food and fun special drinks for us, including "Big Monkeys" and "Secret Identities".

I was happy the "Dramatic Reading Contest" had full and avid participation! There was more drama in that room than in a Starman Archive Volume! The winning speech was one by the Anti-Monitor in Crisis on Infinite Earths. The runner-up was the Penguin's "bowling pin" soliloquy from "Penguin Takes a Flyer -- to the Future!", and tying for third was an interpretation of the Purple Hood's incinerator speech from the Starman Archive and Mirage's "the time for pretense is over" scene from his second appearance.

Though I was emceeing, I still got to participate, providing the voice of menaced Doris Lee in the Mists's "Band of Living Shadows" scene!

There were a lot of people there and I was kind of busy, so if I didn't get much of a chance to talk to you, I apologize. But if you're a reader of this blog and showed up at the party, my thanks; and please pop over to the Big Monkey site and leave a comment about the party there for our digital scrapbook!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Things That Made Me Happy...

in this week's comics (and some o' last week's).

Cascade. Oh, so delighted to see her in last week's 52. I know her only from pouring over the DC Encyclopedia in search of water-based characters who would be good custom clix for my Aquaman-centric ocean map games. Hanging out with Black Adam isn't the best sign, but it keeps her in play so that some day she can find a home in the Aquaman title. Maybe by then the real Aquaman will be back in it, too.!

Dr. Psycho versus Manhunter. Is Doc P a bit overused right now? Perhaps. But given that he was absent from comics for DECADES, I don't begrudge him the screen time. Besides he's consistently and unrepentently vile; we deserve more villains like that.

Command D. Of course -- how else would something as rug-chewingly crazy as Battle for Bludhaven end except with Command D?

Bye-bye, Bludhaven. Wish I could say I'll miss you, but from the very beginning you were nothing but a parody of Gotham.

The Wolfman is a monster that kills once a month. Happy to hear that Marv Wolfman's run on Nightwing is just a few filler issues. Wolfman, the "creator of Nightwing", is, as far as I'm concerned, the Man Who Ruined Dick Grayson. But you knew that already. He is the exact opposite of what that character needs right now.

Vibe's cameo in JLA #0. Thanks, Brad!

Batman borrowing a book from the library on Themiscyra. Second best moment in JLA #0.

Captain Atom's "new outfit" at the end of Battle for Bludhaven (which apparently lots of younger readers didn't understand). A nice easter egg for us fanboys though!

Freedom Fighters. I have to agree with Devon (who, after all, erreth not): if you read only one comic book this week with strong social commentary using metahumans as a metaphor, then let it be Freedom Fighters.

Robin's great relationship with Batman. But I'm with Alfred; I mean "The Clash"? Harrumph!

Querl Dox calling Vril Dox stupid. Well, who else can get away with it?

The Legion's Supergirl. DC; can we please allow this version of Supergirl into the 21st century?

The crazy-@$$ silveragedness of the 31st century. Yes, this week we learn in one expository word balloon that the earth shifted its axis of rotation so that Australia became the south pole, rendering Antarctica liveable, where one city eventually got giantified by Bizarro-Brainaic's Enlargement Ray, and that's where Colossal Boy comes from: a city of giants living in Antarctica. Oh. Well. Of course! That's how the 31st century should be...

The art, particularly the inking, in Robin.

Doll Man's opening scene. So sweet it made my teeth hurt.

Finally, someone is going to get rid of Major Force. Who keeps thinking it's a good idea to bringing this cheesy, cartoonishly violent bowling trophy back as character? Let him go this time, please.

Uncle Sam is coming and somebody's gonna get a whoopin' out by the toolshed.

Sue's hats. Lots of them.

The Question, retooled to resemble more his JLU version (really, the only version that's ever been truly popular).

Batwoman. Batwoman skulking. Batwoman throwing batarangs. Batwoman crashing through windows. Batwoman's majorette baton of doom. Batwoman kicking ani-men butt. Batwoman making a quick exit. I don't know whether Renee is in love in Batwoman, but I sure as heck am!

What Flash discovered for the Big Three at "the Hall". Make no mistake: there are some ideas so good, you just can't kill them, folks. Thanks again, Brad.

Vibe's Rogues Gallery

The fight does not end when we die.

No, the fight goes on. We do not lie about the afterlife strumming zithers and drinking wine coolers. The afterlife is a brighter better version of here, without stopping to go to the bathroom.

And, so, Vibe fights on in the celestial realms, unimpeded by Ivoids (soulless things that they are).

But ... whom does Vibe fight? Who constitutes Vibe's personal Rogue's Gallery in the afterlife?

Doctor Polaris, for sure. Any other suggestions?

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Gracias, meng!

My special thanks to webhero Art Williams, who created the Absorbascon's new logo!

Art -- chu not sad; chu bad!

Reasons to read "Manhunter" #13

In issue #13, we discover (among other things) that the original Manhunter's dog was actually a robot.

A robot dog. Love dogs; love robots; love robot dogs. Somebody really needs to give Cliff Steele a robot dog named Robby; that's what the Chief needs to work on in his lab.

Okay, now the whole "robot dog" thing was made up in some previous Manhunter run, so no points for that. And the only time we actually see this robot dog is in flashback and when it gets "killed" by being thrown through a window. Negative points for Injury to the Dog motif (thought, in fairness, it's just a robot).

BUT. There's an off-line robot dog. And a tech-master named Dylan hanging around. I am convinced, as an article of faith, that if this series is allowed to continue, Dylan will repair the robot dog and it will become Kate Spencer's sidekick.

I like Batman. JLA's fun. But face it: there's no chance books like that might feature a robot dog sidekick. In Manhunter, it's not only possible, but if it happened you wouldn't bat an eyelash. And that is one of the reasons I read Manhunter.

Buy Manhunter.This is Robby, DC's original robot dog.

What YOU can do for ME

I'd like you to do some things for me. I feel I can ask for these since I didn't get any of the things I asked for last year. Well, except for the thought-slaves, and I had to buy those for myself.

1. Read the new interview with incoming-JLA writer Brad Meltzer that Devon has posted at Big Monkey. Perhaps it will help you deduce the new line-up...

2. Vote in my new poll on who you want most to see in the new JLA.

3. Write my local newspaper (the Examiner) and ask the pop culture writer to do a story about either the Absorbascon or Big Monkey, particularly if you live in the DC metropolitan area. Feel free to site and link to particular examples of their respective fabulousnesses. The paper has specifically, publically asked for suggestions about websites and comic-related stuff to be covered, so don't worry that you're coloring outside the lines.

4. The Examiner is groovy, because it covers comics every Wednesday, at least one or two full pages. The City Paper is not groovy, because it does not. Please write the City Paper , explain to them why they need to report on and review comics to remain hep (or hip -- whatever you kids call it nowadays) and ask them to do so, particularly if you live in the DC metropolitan area.

5. My friend and frequent Absorbascommenter Jon Hex (a witty guy of good taste, except for his foolish decision to attend the San Diego Comicon instead of the Big Monkey Party on Thursday) has a new blog; do pay him a visit and say hello.

6. The highlight of Thursday's Big Monkey Party will be...

the Dramatic Reading Contest.

Contestants will be given a panel or two of the kind of prose that you can find only in comics. Then, when the panel appears on the screen, they will go to the mike on stage and do the best delivery of the lines they can. I have about 11 of these ready to go, but I have a feeling I could use some more. And, because I own no Marvel comics, I have no selection featuring Dr. Doom, who, I'm told, talks like Dr. Domino night and day (and sometimes in his sleep). If you have any panels that would be good for the Dramatic Reading Contest, please e-mail them (or, better yet, just a link to where they are on the internet) to me.

7. Three of best enjoyed events here at the Absorbascon were Widowmaker Week, Dr. Domino Week, and Real Word: Detroit, starring the Detroit League. ALL of those came about because somebody had some stupid Bronze Age comics they were willing to give to me. If you have a stupid Bronze Age DC comic you'd like me to make fun of (and that you don't need back), send it to me at

Scipio Garling
c/o Big Monkey Comics
1419-B Wisconsin Ave. NW
Washington DC 20007

And if you don't have any, remember: you can buy some at Big Monkey Comics Ebay store!

Monday, July 17, 2006

The Fourth Wall is Angry at You

Violation of the Fourth Wall, the literary barrier between an audience and the entertainment they are viewing, has a long and distinguished history. When did the Fourth Wall become a sacred taboo in comic books? Probably when publishers realized their audience wasn't children any more... .

Once upon a time, comics treated the Fourth Wall as a feature of the medium, not an obstacle. If it was a wall, it at least had a window you could occasionally open or wave through.

During the Golden Age, when kids were watching the Superman cartoons and serials at the cinema, the comic book versions of Clark and Lois go to the movies where one is playing. Suddenly Clark realizes that the cartoon will reveal his secret identity to Lois, so he has to engage in all sorts of super-shenanigans to distract her from what's on the screen. Madness.

In Golden Age Batman comics, whole pages would be set aside for Batman & Robin to talk to us kids directly about the Evils of Crime. Or How to Run a Scrap Drive. Or the Importance of Flossing.

As we've mentioned before, comics used be to full of stuff like Wildcat being inspired by Green Lantern comics and Barry Allen collecting comics of Jay Garrick's adventures. Heck, when Jay left the JSA, the characters openly talked about it being because he'd now gotten his own title. Mindboggling.

Superman's Silver Age winks to the reader while still in the story are a staple of the character (so much so, Grant Morrison had to revisit it at the end of the wacky DC 1,000,000 storyline). In fact, if you'll check the Filmation cartoons of the 1960s, you'll notice the Superman frequently does "the wink" at the end of his episodes during an aside to the audience, but Batman and Aquaman never do.

Check out the Showcase Presents: Teen Titans. The "Titans Cave" is hidden behind a billboard for ... the Batman television series. According to the cover at left, Batman himself used to enjoy watching his own show.

In the Bronze Age, in-story "winks" and other Fourth Wall violations seemed to peter out (although occasionally Batman and others would still take a page out of book to chat with us about other comic books and characters that might interest us). But, in another sense, the Bronze Age shattered the literary barrier between this world and the DCU by revealing that our world ("Earth Prime") was simply one of the many worlds in DC's "multiverse".

This wasn't just an abstract idea; "Earth Prime" people (Gardner Fox, Elliot Maggin, Cary Bates, Julius Schwartz) would sometimes get mixed up in a multiversal crossover and appear as actual characters in the stories they were writing. Creepy. Really, anything with Cary Bates is creepy, fourth wall or not.

It was an odd idea, but not unprecedented. For example, Golden Age creator Jack Cole featured himself once in a Plastic Man story. In the late Silver Age, the Madman Bob Kanigher actually called Wonder Woman's supporting cast into his office and retired them. IN PANEL. Freaky.

But, at some point, the Fourth Wall got angry and locked its window. Earth-Prime was no longer our world, but just another one of DC's fictional worlds, home of the Boy Who Created the Rolling Head of Pantha, and a few other great characters. If superheroes did PSAs in comic books, they talked to the Earth-1 children drawn in front of them, not to the readers. Superman stopped winking.

The hardening of the Fourth Wall is responsible for the demise of two other devices formerly common in comic books: the Narration Box and the Editor's Note.

Personally, I miss those absurd little boxes that told you exactly what was happening in the panel, as if, somehow, you couldn't see it, or were listening on the radio. I'd rather see a suprapanel box that says,


than have a character be forced to say unnatural things like,


And I certainly don't want to have to figure all that out from just looking at the pictures. Pictures are for Marvel readers. I mean, maybe the gorilla is undereducated and unaware of the historical significance of the swastika; maybe somebody got Sam Simeon drunk, slapped an armband on him and shoved him through the window. Please don't leave me guessing, DC; that kind of Moral Ambiguity is for Marvel readers; bring back the Narration Box.

The Editor's Note also was deemed "tacky" during this period, so nowadays we're left wondering things like,

"Hey, I am supposed to believe Superman can weld a brick building back together in one panel while talking to Jimmy Olsen?"

Yes, reader; yes, you are.
Editor's Note: Just as a furnace first softens, then hardens clay, so Superman's heat vision joins the building's cracks, sealing them with a sudden blast of super-cold breath.
Oh, well; okay, then. Why, Barbelith would evaporate if DC brought back the Editor's Note. And, you know, I'd be okay with that.

During this period (which, I suppose, we're still in), there were rare moments of transquartomuralistic address (such as the end of Impulse, where Bart's dog gives the series' farewell speech to the reader).

But, unlike instances of the literary device from previous ages, most modern transquartomuralisms are intended to startle. They aren't gentle waves from the characters, they're more like slaps in the face. Grant Morrison uses them regularly; in fact, some have criticized him for overusing the device or abusing it as a deus ex machina (as in the end of his run on Animal Man).

The "tabooeyness" of violating the Fourth Wall is actually heightened by its current, principal "acceptable" uses: the Fifth Dimensionals imps, Mxyzptlk and Bat-Mite. Those characters have evolved so that doing the impossible is now part of their essential nature. As a result, every time they violate the Fourth Wall, it's a kind of backwards reaffirmation that it can't be done.

Transquartomuralisms of any kind remind the readers that what they're reading is a fiction. For those who want to lose themselves in that fictional world for a while, that can make escapism more difficult. They know the DCU isn't real, but they don't want the DCU itself to acknowledge it. In real life, we do not "turn out to the audience" (except, I suppose, when we pray). So, when comic book characters do, it can (for many people) damage the aura of realism in the story.

Kids are very into pretending. INTO it. They have no shame in it and understand (intuitively if not intellectually) what it's for: an outlet for emotions and exercise for the imagination. That's why work geared at kids (like Peter David's) isn't squeamish about violating the Fourth Wall, because kids want it broken. I like to read about Robin; kids like to pretend they are Robin. It's one of the reasons that Archie Comics freak me out so much; because they're still written for kids and delight in, not exactly smashing, but smushing the fourth wall, in ways that, as an adult, my mind just can't handle.

I know what degree and kind of transquartomuralisms I want: I want Narration Boxes (when fun), and an occasional "Flash Fact" or "As seen in" from the editor, but any other "violations" confined to the 5th dimensionals, for whom such things are perversely in character.
What about YOU, dear readers? Do YOU want to see more violations of the Fourth Wall? Write us and let us know!