Saturday, May 13, 2006

The Joker

It was strange in a way that nothing of its kind has ever quite been:

the Joker.

Not the Joker; The Joker, a series starring the Clown Prince of Crime that lasted only 9 issues some 3o years ago.

The Joker was part of the DC Explosion (now known more commonly by its cacophemism, "the DC Implosion"). Now, it's one thing to make an out-and-out villain the star of an on-going series; this was the first time DC did so. But to do so with DC's most infamous and utterly irredeemable villain?


To star in his own comic, the Joker had to make the biggest character shift of all: going from antagonist to protagonist. He's not the only character who had trouble making this shift, but we'll talk more about that as a broader phenomenon later.

Joker had to go to Serial Killers Anonymous to star for the duration of his book; why, he barely killed 2 or 3 people, I think, during the whole series. Well, at least one of them was an innocent nightwatchmen, burned alive by a trick cigarette lighter; that's gotta count for extra points.

Boy, don't you hate it when a perfectly bad villain is ruined, defanged just so they can have their own series?

The stories ranged from Bad to Embarrassingly Awful, although some of the bad ones were fun, in a crazy sort of way. Fun guest stars, too: Luthor, Sherlock Holmes (!), the Scarecrow, the Royal Flush Gang, Catwoman.

You'd think that the only meeting between the Joker and the Creeper (that I know of, anyway) would be one of the greatest stories in DC's history (Joker #3). It is, in fact, perhaps the worst story I have ever read (and I've read the JLA Detroit) and proof positive (if further proof were needed) that Denny O'Neill really just cannot write. In one of DC's least comprehensible editorial decisions of all time, THAT was the story they chose to include in the "Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told". I can only assume they let the Joker himself edit that volume.

The series was hobbled by the Comics Code; at the end of every issue, the Joker had to be caught or his imminent capture implicated. If you think Arkham seems like a revolving door to you now, you should have seen it in 1975-76; the Joker had a secret hideout beneath his cell at the Asylum (mostly so he could watch TV, it seemed).
And the art, well, just by looking at the covers you can watch the deterioration. Such a pity; imagine what such a series might be like today.

But the series had many ludicrous joys, such as the Ha-Hacienda, the Ho-Ho-Home-on-Wheels, crooked entymologists, mind-swapping, pet hyenas, and, of course, the Shadrach/Mischach/and Abendego of Denominated Henchman, Southpaw, Tooth and Blue-Eyes.

Maddeningly, the tenth issue of the Joker was never published. According to the letter columns, its story was to be titled "99 and 44/100 Percent Dead!", and it was to guest-star ...

the Justice League.

I cannot for the life of me imagine what that story would have been.

But I have lain awake nights for the last 30 years trying to.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Composite Composition

I've seen some pretty creepy things in comics: Vertigo horror scenes, Jonah Hex body counts, and the costumes designs of Todd McFarlane.

But I have never


seen a panel that creeped me out more than this one, a panel that still haunts me decades after first seeing it:

That's not the Joker in the foreground; it's the nightmarishly powerful Composite Superman himself, disguised as a statue of the Joker housed in the Batcave.

You can criticize the drawing technique and anatomical accuracy of the Old Comic Masters all you want ... but they understood composition. Oh, yes.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Ultra-Dynamo's Super Power

Must ... have ... DRAMA!

Starman, as always, delivers. Dr. Doog, easily recognizable by his trademark Yellow Bathrobe of Doom, prepares to throttle up the old Ultra-Dynamo.

Even one such panel from the brilliant Jack Burnley can serve as a primer on Creating a Dramatic Comic Book Panel. Light from below and use chiaroscuro. Use severe changes in font size to impart power to phrases. Catch characters poised just on the verge of action. Mysterious machinery in the background is good, particularly if it has a hyperbolic name and unspecified powers. Proximity is frightening; always place evil nearby, such as in the next room.

But what really interests me in this panel is the use of the word "super power". It hasn't become one word yet, and it isn't being applied to a person's abilities. Still, it's the first use of that phrase I can remember (it's from April 1941); are there any earlier ones that you know of?

Hal's Revenge on Me

1. Unlikely coincidence; or

2. The Big Monkey website has achieved a rudimentary sentience based on my own consciousness; or

3. Hal has used his ring to access the Earth Prime internet and monkey with my business website.

You be the judge:


What's worse than Marv Wolfman's dialog?

"Kal-El was asleep when his world exploded. His only memories were
of shifting back and forth in the soft, protective confines of his
mother's womb, dreaming of the gentle sounds she made. They were
encouraging songs and tender coos that let him know how much he was
already loved. As she sang, he knew her hand would gently brush
against her swollen abdomen then come to rest on his small, bulging
stomach. He anxiously waited for that all-too-brief moment, hoping
that very soon he would look into her eyes and let her know he loved
her, too."

His prose. Well, not really, but almost. In case you're wondering that's from the forthcoming novelization of Superman Returns. Who in their right mind let the DC's worst writer in the last 30 years novelize Superman Returns? Was Bob Haney not available?

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Spin-Off Heaven!

Inspired by Blockade Boy's amusing catalog of the contents of Tony Stark's briefcase, I'm soliciting your help in compiling a list of what one-shots and miniseries from the whole Infinite Crisis hoo-ha we demand from DC. Because, heaven knows, one can never have too many ancillary tie-in books. As my Great-grandmother Ostendorf used to say, "When you milk a cow, milk it dry."

Here, in no particular order, are my Top Ten IC Spin-offs I Feel I Deserve for seven months of faithfully shelling out sheckels to watch Old Superman and Crazy Superboy act like self-centered jackasses:

1. "Waughed Out!", with every excruciating detail of the Venom-doped, V9-hopped Penguin's breakout from Blackgate.

2. The Rolling Head of Pantha, the Animated Series.

3. Limbo Boys Power Happy Sharing Time, the 500-page manga novel of what really happened when Alex Luthor disrobed in order to share his power with Superboy Prime.

4. The Power of Nyuck!, a Parobeckian romp in which Black Adam joins with Captain Marvel and CMJunior to form a Three Stooges tribute act.

5. Dr. Psycho's How to Control Friends and Eliminate People, in which Dr. Psycho embarrasses characters that readers take too seriously, then makes them jump off a building. C'mon; tell me you wouldn't enjoy seeing Deathstroke think he's a chicken... .

6. The Secret Sex. DCU's mysterious cadre of superpowered drag queens raid the closets of the recently exploded Looker. But what is Alan Scott's real agenda...?

7. DC's Fiction 500. Every issue is a mock annual report from one of DC's fictional companies, featured so charmingly on the 52 website.

8. The World Famous Mr. Orca, a light-hearted domestic comedy about a geeky amateur detective, his buxom supervillainous wife, and their circle of wacky gay friends.

9. Full House, the on-going adventures of Amos Fortune, his gal pal Roulette, and their rowdy brood of Royal Flush Gangsters.

10. The Green Lantern Bore, a monthly series with nothing but scenes of the 50 GLs who guard Superboy Prime talking to each other about regulations, sector gossip, and how their butts look. I won't buy it, of course, but I want the GL fans to suffer... . More, I mean.

Care to add any to the list...?

The Plot Threads of Damocles

Okay, it's been years now, but thanks to Mike at Progressive Ruin, I can't hold back any longer.

Mike points out that there's a dangling plot thread in Superman and one in Swamp Thing that drive him crazy. My personal plot thread of Damocles is the one where Lois's mother has a fatal disease for which -- duhn duhn DAH!-- only Lex Luthor has the cure. Once idea that was established, it was completely forgotten. Did Lois's mother die? Did Superman pull an all nighter with Kelex at the Fortress, whipping up an miracle drug? Did Lois put on a French maid's costume and table dance for Lex just to save her mom? I will never know.

Abruptly abandoned subplots, unsolved mysteries, and disappearing characters are the annoying manifestations of one of my big gripes with today's comics: writers are changed too frequently and editors do t0o little to ensure continuity when the shift is made.

In fact, sometimes change becomes the point. i understand that this may lead to a short-term spike in sales, but it damages the long-term mythmaking of the character. Much of the Batman and Superman mythoi were developed during long periods with the same writer/editor. Nowadays, a writer is brought on to tell "his arc" and then shuffles along.

This may work for more established characters like Batman and Superman, but this phenomenon keeps undercutting the long-term development of characters like Wonder Woman, Flash, Hawkman, and Aquaman. Wonder Woman and Flash change their entire supporting cast every time they get a new writer, for goodness sake.

"Aquaman" is now the common name of what is essentially four of five different characters (Topo's Pal, the King of Atlantis, Hookhand, Waterhand, and Sword Guy), putting "his" fans at odds with one another. Now, that kind of thing can happen with a Batman, too ("I like happy Batman"; "I like psycho Batman"), but I feel that those difference are more ones of degree than of kind.

In the Green Lantern realm, instead of letting a character grow, editors just replace him with someone else. 1940s Entrepeneur/Action Hero Alan Scott is replaced by 1950s/60s Company Man Hal Jordan is replaced by 1970s Liberal Rebel John Stewart is replaced by 1980s Bad-Ass Guy Gardner is replaced by 1990s Party Boy Kyle Rayner.

When a good writer is tasked to revitalize a character (like GA, GL, Hawkman, et al.), what do they do: they go back and start at the last point when the character was the result of long-term consistent mythmaking. Hal Jordan has to be brought back to the Top Gun shtick, Ollie Queen returns to millionaire philanthropist and civic figure, and Hawkman becomes Carter Hall, tough guy archeologist.

Is it so hard to learn a lesson from all this? Do not change the myth; the long term problems it causes for the character outweigh the short term gains.

Instead, expand the myth so that it contains more elements that more people can identify with. Batman remains a popular figure because he can credibly be Detective Batman, Streetfighter Batman, Superhero Batman, Spooky Batman, and Head of the Batman Family from one moment to the next without it seeming too jarring; Batman is all those things.

Anyway, back to what this post was originally supposed to be about (which is basically stolen from Mike...):

what are the dangling plot threads for your favorite characters that have been driving you crazy all these years?

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Prison Rhythm

You've been framed. For murder one.

You're in prison, with no resources. What do you do?

If you're a hero of Batman's calibre ...

you haiku.

I've got to prove I'm
innocent. What's that noise there?
The stone--sliding out ... .

What haiku would you compose to comfort Bruce or describe his situation?

Monday, May 08, 2006

Lancelot Links

The Rolling Head of Pantha and Captain America are neck and neck.
So to speak.

What do you want from Batwoman?

DC's Fiction 500.

FCBD pics from Georgetown.

Artist Wanted

My friend Charlie at Xion Studios needs an artist for his comic book. Could that artist be ... YOU?!

  • Wanted: penciler, pref. cartoony/animated/Bruce Timm style, but will accept submissions from just about anyone
  • Pro or amateur
  • The comic is likely to be published through Image, though that is not set in stone.
  • Need to see covers/splash pages, and at least 5 sequential pages
  • Prefer images be zipped or stuffed into a single file & uploaded at this site or emailed to this address.
  • More info to be posted at Xion in the near future!

Attempt Ninety-Seven Unsuccessful

In titling a previous post, I refered obliquely to Tim Drake's (Robin's) on-going attempts to reproduce the cloning experiment that created Connor Kent (Superboy).

Today, however, it occurred to me that it's quite possible -- even likely -- that Tim is not trying to create a Superboy clone.

Connor was Tim's best friend, true enough. But Superboy was created by Lex Luthor to be a weapon, and he was. Through some vague sci-fi "pre-programming", Lex was able to control Superboy to attack his foes. Superboy broke Tim's arm, in fact. One remembers things like that.

Furthermore, while Superboy Prime was a million times more powerful than Superboy, it was still a Superboy whom Robin watched kill scores of editorially unnecessary Titans, ensuring the everlasting fame of the Rolling Head of Pantha. One remembers things like that, too.

In the year before OYL, Superman, the logical person to stop a Superboy run amok, has been powerless and out of commission. Meanwhile, the Brotherhood of Evil has been stealing cloning technology and personnel, ostensibly to make a new body for the Brain, but with who know what other goal in mind.

I don't think Robin is to trying recreate Superboy.

I think he's trying to make sure no one else can.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Everything's Archie

I understand the multiverse. I understand hypertime. I understand dog behaviors, ancient Greek poetry, subatomic theory, Jungian archtypes, Silver Age science, and the popularity of Tony Danza. Such is the power of my mind that, with a bit of application, little is beyond its understanding.

Riverdale, however, is far, far beyond my comprehension.

My free comic on Free Comic Book Day, you see, was the Archie 65th Anniversary Bash. Light. Fun. Cheery. Or so I thought ... !

But first -- kudos is deserved by the publishers of Archie Comics, who (unlike all the other companies, I believe) actually created a comic specifically for the event with the sole purpose of introducing to firsttime readers the essential characters and elements of their line. If all companies did that, FCBD could be more focused on introducing comics to new readers rather than giving free comics to old ones.

So what if it looks like it was written and drawn in a day? They still did it. The Archie Comics group doesn't rely on the fact that its stuff has been around for 65 years; it knows there's always a new child who's not yet read an Archie book, and aimed its offering at them. No wonder the Archieverse remains strong.

Strong, but mind-boggling. Take for example, the Mysterious Box of Nothingness:

Some sort of indicia box whitened out to prevent resale? That's what they'd like you to think...!

Or does Archie's excitement over his bash have a corporal manifestation so prodigious and pronounced that an enormous bowlderizing box is required to obscure it? It would certainly explain the fervency of Betty and Veronica's dedication.

Or is it a visually symbolic commentary on the emptiness at the heart of the Archieverse? "Archie is hollow," the box says, "composed only of literary boundaries of plot that contain no meaning, no continuity, no core."

This interpretation is certainly reinforced by the impossibly achronal appearance of Li'l Archie beside his teen counterpart: "Archie is beyond time and space. Archie is the empty centerpoint of a null zone where all normal reference systems are negated." Spooky, huh? I think Archie's in league with Supergirl.

Only the Null Box allowed me to perceive the meaning of the panel below. I read it several times with a vague feeling of disorienting unease, but after several hours of zen-like contemplation of the anti-space circumscribed by the Null Box I finally noticed what was bothering me...The Bobbsey Twins. The Bobbsey Twins were created in 1904 and their books were published with diminishing popularity up through, say, the 1970s. That was 30 years ago-- in OUR universe. What kind of highschooler today would naturally refer to the Bobbsey Twins? Why is this fella, Beaucoup Hairgel or some such, talking about the Bobbsey Twins as if anyone is going to understand?

Because the Archieverse, the Null Box says to us, is not bound by time and space, only by its own plot devices and narrative needs. Like Shazam's Rock of Eternity, the Archieverse is equidistant from all points of space/time; the Archieverse is the home of God/Archie; everything really IS Archie. Shudder.

Remember Josie & The Pussycats? Long tails, and sharps and flats? Yeah, I thought I did, too, with their cute little pussycat costumes. Until I realized....
The---the tails. The ears. Oh, ye gods of Olympus, they're REAL.

Aahh! The Pussycats aren't wearing costumes, they're some sort of nightmarish hybridized catwomen, like the illicit offspring of Mary Marvel and Tawky Tawny! And ... no one seems to notice. It's incomprehensible...!

And it gets worse.

Okay, there's apparently a band called "The Veronicas". Kind of weird, but no weirder than there being a band called the "Archies", I guess. But, wait, wait ... the "Veronicas" ...

are real.

I -- I don't understand. I can't -- Are they real people comic-bookized to promote themselves? Are they a fictional group being portrayed by live actors? Are they ambitextuals? And, hey, how could the Archies have had a number one hit when they aren't real? My understanding of reality -- it breaks down when confronted with the Archieverse. The nature of God/Archie is beyond the scope of the human mind.

Thank goodness, here's a familiar face: Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Nice, safe, familiar Sabrina. But, what's she doing in this panel? Why, she's -- she's imagining her own forthcoming makeover as a Manga character.
She is actively metacommenting on her own transtextual conversion into manga; it's mind-boggling! And to her it's .... SIMPLE. NOoooo! Et tu, Sabrina?

Wait a minute. I think I get it now: The Archieverse is some sort of plot to break down the barriers between the real and the unreal, crippling the minds of our youth, possibly explaining the moral and psychological decay of society since Archie's arrival in popular culture.

Of course! The erosion of the fourth wall, the impossible dreamlike imagery, the intentional violation of the concepts of space/time and identity; the Archieverse is comics' most insidious nest of SURREALISM.

But who could be responsible for this deceptive madness, this threat to the sanity of society?

It's been obvious all along, staring us right in the face:


Someone call the Boy Wonder!

Archie and Dali attacking your sense of reality, personally.