Monday, October 30, 2006

Golden Age Wonder Woman Week Begins

If this doesn't terrify you for Halloween, I can't imagine what would:
Are you ready for ... Golden Age Wonder Woman Week?


There are two types of people in the comic book world:
  1. those who knew immediately what "RFG" stood for in the title of this post and
  2. those who did not.

I'm one of the former and, if you're reading this blog, you probably are, too.

If I were younger I might have waited to see whether Wizkids would make these fanboy favorites, but I'm not certain I've got another 250 years left in me. So I tasked Totaltoyz with creating ...

As you'll remember, they came in second in our last Custom Heroclix poll.

I weep for their beauty. And they are going to be a butt-kicking team, I think, particularly in combination with either the Joker or the custom Amos Fortune I've ordered; bring it on, JLAers!

Four Out of Five Dentists Choose....

I need some help with a question:

during one Aquaman storyline, Neptune (or was it Poseidon?) gave him his trident.

What did it do? What happened to it?

Friday, October 27, 2006

Things That Made Me Happy...

in this week's comics.

  • In Action this week it became apparent that, thanks to decades of local property damage and alien attacks, the pigeons of Metropolis have become completely unflappable. That's Darwinism in Action.
  • The Daily Star scoops the Planet with photos of Superman saving Jimmy Olsen (again).
  • Clark Kent finally realizes just how impressive Ma and Pa Kent are.
  • In JSA Classified, Bane turns out to be lying (!) and Rick Tyler outwits him stylishly. I don't know who writer Tony Bedard is, but I now officially like him; he is a Disciple of Sundell.
  • In Secret Six, the innocence of Knockout is touching.
  • Vandal Savage's choice of "son-in-law"? Brilliant, logical, and I never saw it coming.
  • Mad Hatter kicking Dr. Psycho's ass. Yes, Dr. Psycho, you are sick and disturbed; but the Mad Hatter is five kinds of crazy.
  • Meanwhile, in 52 .... what is it with all the cannabilism in comic books lately? I blame zombies.
  • Good to see the Squid.
  • In Justice, Batman calls Superman on his BS ... finally!
  • Plastic Man calling the Elongated Man a useless, self-absorbed whiner ... finally!
  • Green Lantern's visitor and what he has to say about Hal's real weakness.
  • GODS, Krueger is good! He knows that Wonder Woman's inhuman perfection IS her flaw and is destroying her through her own feet of clay.
  • And AGAIN, Krueger knocks it out of the park with Aquaman, who is, as I've always suspected, the real leader of the Justice League.
  • Jim Krueger, you are a Golden Apostle of Sundell, and you understand DC's icons better than anyone else who's written the Justice League not only recently but perhaps ever.
  • Oh, what's with the giant ovoid creature in 52? Wow, I never saw THAT one coming!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Mama Spank

Far be it for me to be distressed at any non-violative reason that someone visits this blog. However...!

I'm now officially sick of the whole "oo, superheroes doing/threatening spankings!" thing. The image that people are looking for that leads them here is one I posted of Bruce Wayne gleefully spanking Dick Grayson (and NO I will not provide a link). And if I see someone coo about that damned Batman "papa spank" panel one more time... ! C'mon, people; you know it's tired once it's been in Wizard.

But, ever constructive, I shall, instead of just carping, give you all something ELSE to think about.
Here. Let me make that even clearer for you.

Happy now?

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Announcing All-Gay Comics!

Recently I won untold millions in a multistate lottery, and, rather than spend it on myself, I'm using it to create a new comic book, All-Gay Comics (or "AG" as it will be called casually). That's just the way I roll.

Rather than creating new characters, we'll be using the host of old ones left to the public domain by Ace Periodicals. That's because I have enormous respect for the Golden Age (and because that will avoid paying creators for the rights to their characterst). Blockade Boy is being hired to design them all new Mike Grell style costumes, but Fernando Albea will the regular artist on all books (he will be ghosted by a revenant Lou Fine). I have no writers lined up, but, with Abner Sundell as my guide, I guess I could just write everything myself ... just like my idols, Bob Kane and Stan Lee!

Chuck Dixon will be Editor-in-Chief.

Our goal at AG Comics is to return comics to their original purpose: making sure little boys turn out to be gay. For little girls we'll just reprint stuff from the Wonder Woman Archives.

This'll work out well, because that's what I got assigned to do at the last Homosexual Agenda Conference, and my "Queer Eye: The Animated Series" pilot got nixed.

Place your pre-orders now for the following titles...!

Lone Warrior

As you would expect from his name, "Lone Warrior" is brightly dressed in a star-spangled outfit and has a constant companion, named Dicky.

Both LW and Dicky have "W" scars on their chests (the story behind THAT will be told in a Very Special Foil Covered Issue). Dicky is publically billed as LW's "little brother", which, given their obvious generic disparity, is pretty iffy.

Their powers come from injecting themselves with "Power Elixir". At least, I'm told that's what the kids call it nowadays.

Oh, and that gigantic hand? Just wait until you see what it does to Dicky in the Annual!

Unknown Soldier

The "DL GI" has superstrength and invulnerability, but, more fabulously, the ability to spin in the air fast enough to create tornados.

He has a special friend, Danny Morgan, who limps, for some unknown reason.

Blockade Boy has been instructed NOT to alter Unknown Soldier's costume.

Mr. Risk

Mr. Risk is the "man who knows no fear". He's a good fighter and highly intelligent. He's seen here with his "faithful companion and servant", Abdul, who's extremely hot, even in bellbottoms and red pumps.

As part of an agreement I have arranged with the Department of Health, Mr. Risk and Abdul will be co-starring in series of PSAs on safe sex.

The Sword

Arthur Lakehas an alter ego: The Sword, known for packing pounding excitement in every page (the Sword is Mark Foley's favorite hero). When the Sword starts waving his weapon around, mouths fall open in amazement.

The Sword has a sidekicked named "Lancer". I'm working on their first movie deal with Falcon Studios.


Marvo the Magician has the power of illusion, which he can use with a well-timed flick of his wrist.

Marvo's sidekick is Tito, a superintelligent monkey. Of course, with his power of illusion he can make Tito look like anything, even, say, a movie star. It's best not to think about it.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


STILL the Greatest Villain of All Time...!

The Absorbascon Balloon Awards

Time for a little audience participation...

So unique is the comic book medium and the superhero genre, there are things people say in comics that you're not likely to read anywhere else.

In fact, during some periods, most of what comic book characters say isn't something you'd hear or read anywhere else. Unless the book is by Brian Michael Bendis, in which case the dialog could resemble any conversation you might overhear between two dim-witted and severely hard of hearing people trapped in a broken elevator.

"Push it."
"I said, 'push it'."
"Push what?"
"The button."
"The button. Which button?"
"What do you mean 'which button'? Any button."
"What good will that do?"
"I don't know. Just push it."
"Why don't you?"
"Why don't I what?"
"Push it."
"Push what?"
"The button."
"Which one?"

But I'm here today not to damn the prosaic but to praise the dynamic, specifically, the prose of the Silver and Bronze Ages.

I'm accepting nominations from you, the loyal readership, so please dig out your favorite nugget and submit it. The rules are as follows:
  • It must be from the Silver or Bronze Ages (meaning between the years 1955 and 1986, after the appearance of the Silver Age Flash and before the original Crisis).
  • It must be from a word balloon or thought balloon; narration boxes are not eligible.
  • It may be more than one sentence, but not more than one panel's worth of the balloons.
  • If possible, tell us who said it and in what comic.
  • Explication of the virtues of your nominee will be appreciated.
  • Preference will be given to quotes that are intrinsically stupid or bizarre, and not merely odd-sounding because they are deprived of context.

This will be an on-going project and once I've gathered enough submissions, we'll have a poll to determine the top Silver/Bronze Age quotes. If I get lots of submissions, I may sort them into categories; we'll see.

To give you a flavor of what I'm looking for, let's start with some of my own nominations:

1. "A manganese paravane! Because there's no time for anything else!" Metamorpho.

There's just an entire world of assumptions and enigmas wrapped up in this little package. Who thinks in terms of paravanes, let alone refers to them the way you and I would a paper clip or a coathanger? Why choose magnanese to make one? Is it one of the principal exports of Bolivia or I am confusing it with bauxite? Why does it take less time to turn oneself into a manganese paravane than anything else?

Metamorpho stories are full of such bizarre chestnuts and this one pretty much represents them all.

2. "Jonathan is a quiet-spoken young farmer who loves the girl, but he's getting severe competition from Gregg Halliday, a handsome smooth banker, who recently arrived in Smallville. The pity of it is that the banker is really a swindler who has hidden stolen bonds in a secret hiding place inside that statue of himself." Jor-El.

In most fiction, exposition is the coffee that helps keeps the plot zipping along. But the Silver Age didn't drink coffee; it drank only dark roast Columbian triple espressos with 8 packs of raw cane sugar per demitasse. There's more action represented in this one word balloon than in issues 0, 1, & 2 of the new Justice League of America and more questions raised than at a Marvel stockholders meeting. Why does Gregg spell his name with an extra G; is he actually from the planet Carggg? Where does Jor-El find time in his busy schedule of doom-warning to spy on Kansasites? Do alien cultures lack telenovellas, and instead use some impossible translight observational technology to watch The Real World: Earth, and, if so, are they secretly responsible for Judd Winick's continued employment?

Oh, and, of course, twenty-something bankers recently arrived in small farming communities who've already erected FRAKKING STATUES OF THEMSELVES IN TOWN. It's remarkable how often statues are a plot device in Silver and Bronze age stories....

3. "To prove how much I love you, I'm feeding the ostrich my old Superman pictures." Lois Lane.

That's how I always prove my love: by feeding pictures of my old boyfriends to ostriches. No one phrase could adequately represent the absurdity of the entire French Farce/ Love Polygon approach to the Superman mythos that was the Silver Age. But this comes close.

4. "What's that, Commissioner? A caveman -- sheathed in ice -- flying over the city? We'll be there right away!" Batman.

As previously discussed.

Anyway, you get the idea. Nominations are now being accepted!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Conversation with Abner Sundell

Because I posted an entry on this blog entitled "How To Write Superhero Comics", I keep getting hits from people who are trying to learn exactly how to do that. Those people don't need to be listening to me; they need to be listening to Abner Sundell.

Abner Sundell was a writer of pulps & comics; he's not exactly famous like a Kane or a Morrison, but he made a living. More Salieri than Mozart, he made not have created any JLA characters, but he laid down the law over 50 years ago on How To Write SuperHero Comics.

Let's take a look at some excerpts from his treatise and see how they reflect on the comics of today, shall we?

Sundellian Axiom 1.
All comic characters live in their own world to the complete exclusion of all other comic characters. Consequently, Batman, in his strips, is the total of heroic qualities; however, if Batman were to be compared with Superman, in the same story, Batman would immediately become a subservient character. Therefore the writer must create his own world for his heroes, a world in which the hero is the only hero.

Thank goodness poor Abner never had to write World's Finest or Brave & the Bold! This particular piece of advice is dated, a relic from a pre-"universal" approach to comic book characters ... but that doesn't mean it's entirely wrong!

In the heyday of World's Finest, for example, Batman was clearly outclassed by Superman. My favorite such moment is in the famous Composite Superman story, where the villain says to Superman: "Fight me? That's laughable. Try it and I'll break Batman like a doll!" Gotta give C-S props for telling it like it is.

Aquaman is a particular victim of Pale Comparison. Many people's exposure to Aquaman is confined to his stints with the Justice League/Superfriends, where he doesn't necessarily shine. It ain't easy to look impressive when the only people you're ever seen with are Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, and you're hanging out on their turf, not yours.

A favorite editorial trick to jumpstart a new character in a new title is to have an important hero guest-star about three of four issues in (usually Batman, Superman, or Wonder Woman; never Aquaman *sigh*). It's designed to get general readers to pick up the book and develop interest in the new character. I wonder, however, whether the strategy doesn't backfire, hurting more than it helps. The reader picks up the book for the guest-star and notices that, in fact, the new character pales by comparison, permanently denting the reader's opinion of him or her.

Axiom 1 is also the crux of the need for every hero to have his or her own Fictionopolis.

Sundellian Axiom 2
Comic heroes must be treated by their writers with respect. Too often a writer thinks, "Well, he's just another comic-mag hero, the kids have seen hundreds of them."
Hm. Let's just put this one write in the enevelope marked, "Special Delivery: Joe Quesada" and move on, okay? Actually, before we do, I'll note that many of my favorite characters fall into the Victims of Axiom 2 Category, such as Vibe, Aquaman, the Riddler, and Killer Moth. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with any of those characters; their principal problem is the lack of respect their writers have had for them.

Sundellian Axiom 3.
A hero must represent to the reader an image with which he can associate himself. Therefore he should be constructed as to be recognizable as a human being. He should have a home, or at least a setting. He should have characters to which to tie himself, friends, a father influence that makes him more understandable and sympathetic to readers. This explains the double identity formula adopted by most superheroes. Because once in uniform the hero becomes too perfect to have any human frailties, he adopts another character, much more human and understandable, so that the readers can know him better. In uniform Superman is far too perfect for one to associate himself directly with him. But as Clark Kent, a nearsighted guy who can't get to first base with Lois Lane, the readers can see themselves, and gloat in the secret that they, too, are really Superman.
It kind of amazes me how out of pride writers will flout conventions of the genre like this one: "That may be true for lesser writers and lesser characters, but my writing and character are different and therefore more interesting." Uh-huh. Well, short basketball players are different and interesting, too.

Flouting Axiom 3 has harmed several characters I like, such as the Martian Manhunter, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, and the Flash (and many more characters I don't like, such as most of Marvel's line; probably part of the reason I don't like them).

And by "flouting" I don't just mean "not having a private identity". One of the things that has helped Superman and Batman's popularity over the decades is the steadiness of their supporting cast, a virtue they enjoy as a result of being created in the days before every new writer felt it was his right, nay, obligation to complete change a character's context and supporting cast. If DC's editors had the cajones to say, "See these? These are the supporting cast for all our principal heroes and they will remain so for the next fifteen years," you'd be surprised how much that would allow those characters, and the heroes they support, to grow in popularity. "Creator freedom" is overrated; I think writers become more creative when the editors give them clearer lines within which they may color (and I think the last several years at DC are evidence of this).

Sundellian Axiom 4
This is the most neglected principle of story in the comic magazine business: too often a story ends "smack" with the climax action. The reader turns the page, anxious to taper off his story, and discovers himself on page one of the next story. The denouement is the breathing spell, the return to normalcy, the tying up of loose ends, explanations, coming together of the characters at the end of the story. It should not be neglected. It does not need to be more than three or four panels, a page at most. In the denouement the opening suggestions of the next story can be planted, so that the reader is instilled with a desire to purchase that next issue. This means more than just a final caption, it means that somewhere in the story we allowed one thread to run loose. In tracing down this thread we find that it is the forerunner of an entirely new story. Thus we have created a reason for sales of the next issue.

On the whole, most writers get this and do this, I think; am I mistaken?

Sundellian Axiom 5

A successful comic character needs more than just good action plotting. He needs constant character development that will keep him as interesting to the readers two years hence as he was in his first issue.

A good method of obtaining constant characterization is through the Dick Tracy, Terry and the Pirates formula of creation of sympathetic characters, from story to story, dropping these characters for three or four months, and then at a later date involving them in another story. In this way the constant reader feels that he has been rewarded for his faith in the magazine, and the transient reader feels that he has missed something, and perhaps this would be a good magazine to read steadily.

Golden Age writers weren't stupid. Neither were they fanboys of their characters, taking their long-term appeal for granted. They understood that (1) there had to be character development and (2) it was best done with ancillary characters so that the principal and supporting characters could remain recognizable.

Sundell Axiom 6
Villains must think and act in a spectacular manner, since if they are ordinary, all actions stemming from them are ordinary, and consequently the more cunning and clever they are, so the action of the story becomes more clever and cunning. As in all good writing, action stems from response of character to situation - so it must in comics.

Conceive a good villain and drop him into a mediocre situation, and if the writer is sincere, this well-conceived villain will develop a well-rounded story from his reactions to the mediocre situation. A comic lead story which depends on melodrama can be no stronger than its most melodramatic figure - therefore the importance of strong super-villains.

Axiom 6 is why I suspect that Gail Simone, who understands it, is secretly the illegitimate child of Mr. Sundell. It's also the basis for a story I desperately want to read: "Killer Moth and Cavalier Go Shopping At Wal-Mart".

Sundellian Axiom 7
These are characters who are vulnerable. These are the friends, and consequently the weak points, of the hero. While a hero himself cannot be hurt by bullets, these same bullets can kill his sweetheart. Thus suspense grows from danger in which important sub-characters are placed, not upon the dangers which threaten the hero himself - except how these dangers threaten him in relation to the accomplishment of his task, which very often is the rescuing of the sub-character.
Or the non-rescuing. Poor Gwen Stacy, Aquababy, & Spoiler.

Sundell Axiom 8
Boy and Girl Assistants, and generally uniformed super-assistants to lead characters, should be treated in the same manner as heroes. These characters must be written into the plot. It is insufficient to have Davey tail along with Magno and merely swing in on the action as just another fist. The story must be written that Davey serves a definite purpose. Each character must serve in some way to further the story. A character who is merely an appendage is useless, and while they may not be detrimental to the story, they certainly do not help it. Very often, while the hero is invulnerable, the boy or girl assistant is otherwise. Consequently, if properly used, the assistant can serve as an Achilles heel. Too much stress on this point only succeeds in making the boy assistant a millstone around the neck of the hero, and instead of being an heroic figure in the eyes of the reader, he becomes a bothersome one.

This is a real test of a superhero writer: how well they can walk this difficult tightrope in the use of sidekicks. Nowadays, the easy way out is taken and "sidekicks" almost never appear with the heroes they are theoretically attached to.

Except Robin. That's part of the reason Robin is so much cooler than other sidekicks; he can appear solo or with his principal without looking either too good or too bad. Oh, and Davey,too; we all know how exciting it is when Davey ably assists Magno.

Is it true that Brian Michael Bendis is working on a Magno & Davey revival?

Sundellian Axiom 9
Too often characters are introduced into a story by an incident and then allowed to drop out entirely. This is wasteful writing. In the April issue of Lightning Comics, the Eel destroys a ferryboat. For a panel or two we see a mother who has lost three sons in the action. She speaks a piece and a character is born with a strong motivation for disliking the villain, in fact a far stronger motivation than the hero has. But she is not utilized from that point on. This is a perfect example of bad writing. Due to this characterization of the woman, we create human interest. The readers waits expectantly through the entire story for the woman to reappear, and when she does not, he is disappointed.

Calling Esther Maris...!

Sundellian Axiom 10
Suspense in comics is not attained by placing the hero in mortal danger. The reader realizes that the hero will not be injured. Suspense is attained by creating a situation in which the problem is, not whether the hero will be killed, but how he will escape in jeopardy. Or how he can escape in sufficient time, to save those vulnerable beings who are also placed in jeopardy. Or how he can escape in sufficient time to frustrate the villain's plan, which is drawing to its culmination.

Do what I do. Carry this axiom printed out on 3x5 cards, and hand them out every time a skeptic scoffs at a comic book cliffhanger. It will save you SO much time in your day...!

Sundell Axiom 11
A writer of action should also consider that good writing style can often make a chase and a fight interesting in the written story. However, when translated to pictures, the same chase and fight become unimportant when buried an a magazine full of chase and fight. In writing comic action, the writer makes his setting of primary importance. All action taking place within this setting will be indigenous to it and consequently different pictorially from action that takes place elsewhere. In a steel mill, action will be conveyed through molten metal, swinging cranes, giant machines, etc. Aboard ship, action all take place in staterooms, engine rooms, around the rigging of the ship. Too much action loses its importance. In a room full of shouting men, no one is heard; in a room full of whispering men, the shouter immediately gets attention. Action therefore should be played against a background of other elements, humor, mood, suspense - so that when the action occurs, it is important.

They used to have this Axiom painted on the wall at Image Comics, I'm told.

So, do you really read (or "look at" I should say) those 10 page shaolin showdowns that keep cropping up in your comics? I know I don't; I just keep skipping to the first part where the butt-whooping is over and actual plot advancement happens...

Friday, October 20, 2006

Things That Made Me Happy...

in my comics this week.

  • Virtually everything Film Freak does, says, or simply is, in Catwoman.
  • The colored dot symbol Catwoman is using for drunken speech. Circles I've seen; but coloring them in is so much richer. I want a color coding system now; blue & purple means "Sad Drunk"; yellow & pink, "Happy Drunk"; red & orange, "Belligerent Drunk"; and so on.
  • Bruce Wayne, in Robin. If you think Bruce Wayne is a jerk, then you aren't reading Robin.
  • Martian Manhunter's art project in 52.
  • I demand that Wizkids produce a Special Collector's Set of Heroclix with Gladiator Giant, Dynamole, The Crimson Ghost, E.S. Pete, Fireface, Jack of All Trades, The Tornado Ninja, Lady Liberty, Immortal Bald Man in Armor, and Poledancer.
  • Skeets, kicking @$$.
  • Ah; NOW I see why Atom-Smasher went to jail...!
  • Ollie Queen's campaign manager; nice touch.
  • Is this the end of ... Super-Chief?!?!?!
  • J'onn's Little Plan That Backfired; oops.
  • The beauty of Matt Wagner's prose for Batman in "Mad Monk"; you deserve to read "Mad Monk" and its predecessor miniseries with Hugo Strange.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Hall of Handsomes

I've been asked to participate in "Beefcake Week" ... and so I shall, with:

The Hall of Comics Handsomes.

Ben Oda.

In case you don't recognize the name, Oda was the Japanese-American who pretty much
invented lettering. His is the mainstream of EC and DC's lettering styles, and he even taught the man who created the Archie house style of lettering. Ben was also really handsome.

Jim Lee.

You think Jim Lee's
art is pretty? Not as pretty as he! I have this recurring dream about him and Jimmy Fallon having their RV break down during a thunderstorm right outside my spooky castle...

Allan Heinberg.

Handsomest Jewish comic book writer that Oklahoma every produced. In this picture, he's using his sexovision to light the candles on the dinner table. So sexy even the Hulk went gay for him! Allan... call me.

Brian K. Vaughn.

The "K" is for "knockout"! Classically handsome, 5 o'clock shadowed, the master of the Head Shaved From Necessity is 10 times sexier than that goof Rosenbaum on Smallville. That face says, "Don't move! I've got mojo, and I'm not afraid to use it!"

Paul Azaceta.

Everything about him says, "You will abandon your current life and join me in what the squares call 'sin' in my bohemian artist's loft ... and you will thank me for it daily." I mean, just look at that woman's smile!

Paul Harmon

Creator of "Mora". Zowie! When the wind knocks down lighter comic creators, Paul will still be standing there, strong as a rock for you to grab on to.

Sean Chen.

Not even his constant coworkers can get over the beauty of artist and designer Sean Chen; their envy is palpable.

There are more, of course. But no such list would be complete without the ultimate comic creator man-babe:

The Madman Bob Kanigher.


Monday, October 16, 2006

Class, Dismissed

So, when exactly did the lower class take over comic books?

Comic books used to be a refuge from the grimy tedium of the workaday world. It was all about sitting around in your smoking jacket with your pipe in your study, reading about murders in the paper, and muttering out loud to yourself, "The time's not ripe yet to go after the Eviscerating Bandit -- but soon...!"

It wasn't just Bruce Wayne; all the old gang were stand-up regular upperclass joes. Sure Clark Kent was originally a farmboy, but in the Golden Age, he used to sport his tuxedo all around down, shufflefooting on high society dancefloors and getting grapefruits shmushed in his face by toothpick-chewing toughs. Alan Scott, engineer/broadcaster, stank of privilege, and his replacement, Hal Jordan, spent half his conscious hours in a white dinner jacket doing the samba with society swells.

Jay Garrick? Successful (if somewhat clumsy) chemist. Ted Knight? Never seen without a tuxedo and a nearby manservant. Ollie Queen? Wealthy gadabout.

But, somehow, somewhen, the world changed. NASCAR became a "sport"; poker became a spectator event on television; Las Vegas became acceptable; Target & Wal-Mart supplanted Saks & Bloomingdales. Men stopped wearing hats in the streets and started wearing them in restaurants. Women turned in their high heels for sneakers. Ties were replaced by bluetooths and gowns by jeans. People no longer aspire to higher class, but struggle to maintain a lower- class facade, no matter what their finances.

Back in the day, Carter Hall was an archeologically-oriented sophisticate; Ted Grant was a medical student, then a wealthy celebrity. Nowadays, Carter is some sort of barely restrained savage and Ted Grant is some beer-swilling Wolverine-lite, and a reader can only assume that criminals can literally smell either one of them from a block away.

Was it the younger generation's fault? Nowadays, people are permitted to call themselves college graduates who should be secretaries and chaffeurs, and, in any previous decade, would have been. But, Roy and Dick, wards of millionaires, never went to college? Donna Troy? Wally West? Kyle Rayner? Slackers, hanging out at coffee shops, instead of hitting the books. And don't get me STARTED on Jack Knight... The main next generation hero I'm certain went to college? Helena Bertinelli -- gangster's daughter.

In Gilbert & Sullvan's The Gondoliers, the Grand Inquisitor sings the story of king who promoted everyone in his domain, so that he would not be the only person enjoying wealth and privilege. The end result? Once the marks of privilege became commonplace, people disdained them, and sought out the styles and delights of the underprivileged.

That's the world we live in now. Our comic books reflect it.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Another Victim of Cephalopodaphilia

Not even the famed willpower of Alan Scott can resist...

SWEET SWEET OCTOPUS LOVEHe's still Alan, though, and, just as you'd expect, needs to make sure he's on top...

Friday, October 13, 2006

Missing Genius Found! Film at 11!

I found the genius I've long been missing ... and he wasn't on Oolong Island!

He was hidden in the back of a book I almost didn't buy, in a back-up story I almost didn't read...

I refer, of course, to Genius Jones.

There have been a lot of "kid genius" characters, but nobody quite like Genius Jones; I mean, how many characters' origin center around bookburning?

Genius Jones (a.k.a. "The Answer Man") was a young boy who became shipwrecked on a deserted island. Fortunately, the boat he was on contained a vast reference library, and, salvaging 734 of the books, he committed them to memory before making them into a bonfire to signal for help.

Books, by the way, were a pre-internet medium for the storage and cataloging of information; can you imagine?

Rescued, he returned to NYC and he set up a lab in the back of an old car, where, instead of selling lemonade like other kids, he offered to answer any question for a dime. Dimes went farther in 1942, you know.

Genius's real first name was "John", and (as I've said here and elsewhere), I've always wanted it to be "revealed" that he had met and inspired a newly-arrived Martian Manhunter toward a career as an investigator. Don't hate me for it; I was raised during the Rozakis/Thomas era.

He dressed like a superhero, acted like a detective, and looked like a kid's funny cartoon. He crossed genres, but the world is not always kind to such characters, and today Genius Jones is nearly forgotten. In fact, I haven't heard tell of ANY in-story references to Genius Jones since his last appearance in DC comics in 1947.

Until this week, that is, when he turned up in, of all things, the Dr. Thirteen back-up story in Tales of the Unexpected. The main story, starring the Spectre was full of "Expected": evil people doing evil things to good people, victims being punished for punishing their victimizers, befitting deaths, severed limbs, gratuitously evil gangs threaten to rape little girls (an annoyingly common trope nowadays); you know, the usual.

But the Dr. Thirteen story? Julius H. Schwartz! Let's see...

A pretentious prologue that mocks pretentious prologues? Incest dreams? Traci the Teenage Witch? The Premier of France? Survivalist cannabilism? Andrew Freakin' Bennet? Genius Jones?

And presiding over the madness, Dr. Thirteen, that wondrous inversion of expectation. Just as in our world, there are those who persist in believing in the supernatural despite the evidence to the contrary, in the DCU, there is Dr. Thirteen, who persists in NOT believing in the supernatural despite the evidence to the contrary. When I was a kid, I used to think Dr. Thirteen was stupid; now I think he's ingenious.

This was definitely a Tale of the Unexpected, and one you shouldn't miss. Kudos to author Brian Azzarello (as complemented perfectly by the clean art of Cliff Chiang); if this is a sample of his writing, I may have to see whether he's written anything else interesting ... .

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Cartoon Heroes

At Devon's suggestion, I gave "The Batman" cartoon another try, because, after all, Devon erreth not.

I'm glad I did! The show seems to have hit its stride. The manga (or is it japanime? Whatever...) influences seem to have been toned down. The addition of Robin is an enormous help (as I suppose it was in 1940); nice to see him as both The Kid Who Saves Batman's Butt and the Kid Who Batman Needs to Save While the Villain Gets Away.

The series seems to be leaning toward more tradition; in this most recent episode, down-and-out actor Basil Karlo was introduced as the new Clayface, which is as it should be. I also noticed the earsplitting opening "music" has been replace by an actual theme, one that subtly employs both the familiar bass lick and the "POW!" music stings from the 1960s show; well played.

All that's missing now is Two-Face, I think...

I also saw the Legion cartoon for the first time, and I liked it. Good characterization, good mix of people and powers, and young Superman's big ears are the cutest thing I've ever seen.

Initially, I wasn't keen on the idea of an android Brainaic 5. But then it occurred to me that when Brainaic 5 was introduced in the comics, it wasn't yet known that Brainaic was an android. An ersatz explanation (several in fact) was crafted as to how (and why) an android would have a humanoid descendent, but the entire thing always felt strained. Even for the Legion, where origins include space whales, electrified rhinos, and parents deceiving their children into thinking they're androids. Like it or not, it makes much more sense that B5 would be an android than that he wouldn't.

I was a little disoriented by the absence of Cosmic Boy; the cartoon Legion didn't seem to have a leader. Maybe they're better than the comic book version, and don't need a leader! Maybe it's time to face up to something: magnetic powers may have seemed like cool beans when the Legion was introduced, but they've become kind of passe. I mean, how much free-standing iron would you expect there to be in the 31st Century? Exactly none; everything will be plastic and polymers.

Speaking of the Legion... my current vote on the Supernova Mystery is that it's Mon-El. I've heard some interesting theories, including that it's Ray Palmer using his powers creatively (Ray's power comes from white dwarf star material ... the same thing supernovas are made of!). But in the most recent Action, Superman learns from the Auctioneer that there are three Kryptonians on earth, and I don't think he meant Krypto. Making the New Earth Mon-El a Kryptonian solves a host of problems created by concept of the planet Daxam; Mon-El would be a teenager with a smaller build, like Supernova has.

If so ... Mon-El was awfully rude to Booster Gold; why? It also means that One Year Later, Superman still doesn't know Supernova is a Kryptonian. That's seems unlikely, doesn't it?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Poetry Panel

Back in the day, literary analysis -- particularly of Latin poetry-- used to be my bag. When I treasurer of the Classical Association of New England, I won an award for my unique intepretation of the Monobiblos of Propertius, particularly a groundbreaking analysis of XXI "Tu, qui consortem". I'm sure you read my paper on it; probably changed your life.

I used to write a good deal of poetry, too, much of it well received; but I stopped when I realized I could only write SAD poetry, which, frankly, gets kind of depressing after a while. I mean, don't you think Dickinson would have been happier if she'd taken up stamp-collecting, and Housman clearly just needed to go out to the bars and get lucky with some soldier on leave?

Anyway, I think poetry (even sad poetry) is fun. That's why I miss it in modern comics.

I've joked a lot about 'heroic haiku'; but I know that writers never intentionally have the characters speak in haiku or, for the matter, any form of poetry. But there was a time when writers seemed more conscious of the need for their characters' prose to flow, to ring, to resound. As a result, their characters' speech wasn't necessarily poetry, but it was certainly poetic.

Then, characters uttered speech; now, characters speak dialog.

Sure, it's easy to make fun of the orations of Golden Agers and the exposition of Silver Agers; but isn't it more fun to read than the mumblings, cursings, and onamatopoetic vocalizations of current characters? Newsflash: people do not really say "*hrm*" or "*hk*".

If you get off on inconsequential Bendis-style verbal pong or Whedonesque serial snarking by JLAers pouring over prospective candidates, you are welcome to them. I'll be right over here, shouting things like, "Fire cranial cannon!" ,"Thought-robots! Seize them!", and "Pennies will be my crime-symbol!"

Yes, the modern dialog styles may, in fact, be more like the way people actually talk, more "realistic". But, you know, if realism were really one of my higher priorities... would I be reading a comic book at all?

Heroes and villains don't dress in an ordinary way, nor do they behave in a normal way. Why should they speak in a normal way? As a matter of fact, it strains my credulity when they do. That's right; when these characters I follow precisely because they do not dress or behave in normal ways are forced to talk like "normal people", it seems ....

unrealistic and abnormal. Oh, the comic book irony.

But this is all abstract so far. Here's a concrete example of the kind of prose I miss in comics:

It also happens to be the second Gayest Aquaman Panel Ever,
but that's merely a happy coincidence.

Don't bother commenting to me that it sounds weird and that no one talks like that. Weird? It sounds like a bad translation from Japanese. After Aquaman pwns these guys, I bet he says, "All your base are belong to Aquaman!" Yes, I know it sounds weird. It looks weird too. That's part of what makes it memorable. It's the reason all you people love Morrison so much.

No one talks like that? No one rides porpoises into battle, either, or wears orange and green in public. What's your point?

Relative realism aside, examine the panel for its poetry. Stressed (or "long") syllables are in bold;

  • Forth from the | waves bursts a | terri|fying |juggernaut | of justice.

I'll spare you most of the metrical analysis, but the basic rhythm of this line is the same one used in most ancient "heroic" poetry, dactylic hexameter. It's not perfect, but, hey, this ain't Vergil.

If you read English natively, you pretty much have to read the line with the stirringg rhythm above, unless you choose to emphasize "bursts", making it a long syllable.

  • Forth from the | waves BURSTS a | terri|fying |juggernaut | of justice.

The letterist certainly seems to be emphasizing the word, so "bursts" literally bursts out of the rhythm of the line, mimicking through sound the action it is portraying.

Which is impressively poetic.

  • I've oceans | of love for | you boys!

This is one of the greatest pick up lines ever. It's also poetic in fact, it's almost pure limerick. It's two successive amphibrachs (short-long-short) followed by an iamb; amphibrachs are the basic metrical unit in limericks and are used for "light and fun" poetry.

This is laughing Aquaman of the Golden Age, who is about to have a great time kicking your butt and predicting it to your face. The writer chose words whose meaning and rhythm perfectly conveyed Aquaman's battle-happy attitude.

That's poetic.

  • There he is | -- the | man of the | sea! | Run! | Hide!

If you're having trouble reading those in a nice flowing way .... good. That's the point. As an English-speaker, you can't read those words without it feeling disjointed, halting, stuttering -- exactly conveying the panicked distress of the bad guys on the docks.

That's poetic.

Make fun of Golden Age writers all you want for being "bad" or "corny". But they didn't write "normal" because they knew what they were writing about wasn't "normal". They knew how to employ, if not poetry per se, the tools and attitudes of poetry to convey information, set tone, and reveal character -- all in one word balloon. In the single panel above, they did it three times.

And you know what?

As a result, you'll remember this panel long after you've forgotten every other panel you see in your comics this week.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Catching Up With Arthur

The last time I was lucky enough to catch up with the King of the Seas was right before he was banished from his own book, but was looking forward to his new TV show. That didn't pan out, but as I've been hearing other rumors, and tracked him down again to see what I could find out...

"Sir, sir! Since the television show fell through, how've you been keeping yourself busy?"

"Well, now that you have so much free time on your hands, have you had the chance to read
Sword of Atlantis at all?"

"Indeed. The plot aside, what do you think of this sword-wielding fellow, the New Aquaman?"

"I've heard that your absence from your own book, your appearances in
Justice, and the buzz about you in other media has sparked readers' demand for your return. Have you yourself noticed?"

"It's been noted that despite having been killed and replaced, your old JLA buddies Ollie Queen and Hal Jordan have both come back..."

"Care to comment on the rumors that you're planning a comeback of some sort with your agent?"

"Would you want Kurt Busiek, who's been doing such wonderful work on Superman, to continue writing the book if you return?"

"Sorry, sir; forget I asked."

"Me, too, sir; and soon!"

Friday, October 06, 2006

Cavalier Reponse

Well, since no one else seems to want to talk about it, I will: specifically, what is apparently comics' newest gay couple, The Cavalier and Captain Stingaree (from the most recent issue of JLA, in case you missed it).

Ordinarly, I am, in principle, in favor of new gay characters or newly "gayed" characters, particularly if those are characters no one is doing anything else with anyway. In this case, however, I must confess I'm not happy that Brad Meltzer apparently thought it was funny to make Batman's two foofy swashbuckler opponents gay, and lovers to boot. Brad tends to get too "cute" with characters sometimes, and this is certainly an instance of that.

Besides, it's absurd. The fabulous Cavalier (Mortimer Drake) is a wealthy socialite and oddities collector with a distinguished Golden Age pedigree; stinky D-lister Captain Stingaree (Karl Courtney) is the one-eyed owner of a seafood restaurant, whose greatest moment was holding a football player hostage to protect himself in issue 6 of the original Secret Society of Super-Villains.

The Cavalier wouldn't even be seen with Captain Stingaree. Even if the Captain has hidden charms best left unmentioned on a family blog, the two would only stay in together, they would never go out together. I mean, really.

Not even I am gay enough to say,
"Let me advise you to attend to your own knitting!"

But I intend to work on it.

I also don't like the idea that Black Lightning is, apparently, blackmailing Cavalier with the threat of outing him. Good lord, the man's a costume Gothamite, not a member of some street gang. Who's going to give a flying that the Cavalier is gay? For that matter, who doesn't already think he is, for pity's sake?

To me, it only works if Cavalier is one of those queeny comedotragic "no one knows I gay and I can't risk ruining my career" types, whom everyone knows is gay. That is funny; that is realistic.

"I'm the Cavalier; no one must ever suspect I'm gay!",
says the bonnetted man flinging his lace hankie at a teenage boy.

On Earth Prime, this guy'd be in Congress.

The Cavalier is fabulous. He's one of those early "Anti-Batmans" they used to churn out in the forties; rich playboy who turns pointlessly to crime for sport, excitement, and the opportunity to wear a funny hat. Just like another one of our favorites here at the Absorbascon: Killer Moth!

The Cavalier is the zig to Killer Moth's zag, and, face it, they are ones who are obviously a couple (or were!). Can't you picture them shopping together? "Well, yes, dear, it is orange and purple and green ... but is it orange and purple and green enough?" They really do belong together.

It's no wonder that the two are often paired, as when they posed with for photos with the A-listers in Batman 292, during the famous "Who Killed Batman?" storyline:

Note Captain Stingaree in the background, legs crossed in pained jealousy:
"Some day, Cavalier ... you
WILL be mine."

As for Captain Stingaree, well, Scott Tipton's covered his brief moment in the sun thoroughly already. Cap's main plus is being the only comic book character I can think of who's a quadruplet. I mean, besides his three brothers, of course.

The JLA is not where we need to Captain Stingaree right now. I challenge the team who's writing Mystery in Space to work into their story a second fight between Captain Comet and Captain Stingaree...

Once that's done, what we deserve to hear is the story of why the Cavalier left his decades-long soulmate, Killer Moth, and started shacking up with Popeye the Supervillain.

Was it the Charaxes thing? I bet it was the Charaxes thing... . Love has its limits, you know.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Things That Made Me Happy...

in the comics I got this week.

  • Talking bulldogs, notwithstanding their physiological impossibility.
  • The Penguin & the Riddler hanging out together.
  • Lois Lane & Bruce Wayne hanging out together.
  • The Penguin & The Riddler hanging out with Lois Lane & Bruce Wayne.
  • The map of Ivytown and the reason it's crazy; every fictionopolis should have a map.
  • Dr. Zuel's Chinese food joke.
  • Mr. Zzz? Priceless.
  • Yappy little society dogs.
  • Jonah Hex; uncomfortably greying your black & white morality since 1864.
  • Forget Felix Unger & Oscar Madison; Felix Faust & Black Manta are the new Odd Couple.
  • The title of this week's 52, which is brilliant.
  • The Weird, god help me!
  • The Green Lantern Origin, which omits several unpleasantnesses, including the Yellow Ceiling Tile, The Heavy Yellow Lamp, and the Bar of Soap.
  • Doc Magnus, kicking robot butt.
  • Luthor's metagenetic irony.
  • Super-Chief.

In fact, the only real downside to this week's comics was that Panda didn't get killed. I'm looking on the bright side; it'll happen later, I'm hoping, and much more slowly.

What made YOU happy in your comics this week?

Monday, October 02, 2006

Signed, A Concerned Citizen of the Sea

"Dear Atlantean Child Services,

"I am writing to urge you to take action to save an Atlantean child I feel is at risk: the Curry baby.

"I'm forced to call him 'the Curry baby', because, as far as I or anyone else in the neighborhood can tell, his parents haven't even deigned to give him a proper name. None of us has even heard them call him anything but 'Aquababy'; had these been land-dwellers, I can only assume he would be called 'Dirtchild' or 'Mudbaby'. Should they procreate again (Poseidon forbid!), I have no doubt the child will be named 'Hydro-young-un'.

"This 'Aquababy' is continually allowed to wander off or is otherwise misplaced; local seacow milk distributors reserve a permanent place for it on their cartons!

"Often, when the parents are gallavanting about the seascape frollicking with the fauna, they dump the child in the care of his uncle, a drunk-driving reprobate and convicted felon.

"When they do deign to handle their own child, they pimp him out like a performing seal at public events for gawking airbreathers. How can you permit this? Are we less civilized than the landlubbers, who at least have child labor and Coogan Laws?

"In private, these reefbillies think nothing of exposing the child to their dangerous 'Jackass-style' pasttimes.

"Which, I might add, many of us suspect involve illegal drug use.

"They have even been witnessed exposing the child to shocking, wind-warping art movements that will undoubtedly permanently pervert the child and erode its sense of values.

"I shudder to think how the child's nutritional needs are being addressed, if at all.

"Is it any wonder that the child has already begun to lash out at its torturers? Surely, we have an aquatic serial killer in the making!

"It's my understanding that this family -- despite being what I can only call
'white flotsam' -- is well-connected and has political pull. Is that what's keeping you from acting?

"I urge you to intervene soon, not just for the sake of the child, but for the sake of our community. I have no doubt that if you do not act, some concerned citizen may be forced to take matters into his own hands and things could get ugly!


B. Manta"