Saturday, June 17, 2006

Professor Radium

For those of you enjoying the total insanity that is "Battle for Bludhaven", I need to draw your attention to Professor Radium. You know, the guy who looks like a green Hugo Strange.

The rest of the characters being reintroduced in the BFB are crazy Silver and Bronze Age commentaries on the post-WWII nuclear era. Prof. Radium is not.

I'm guessing Prof. Radium was a Joker fan, because he does that whole "look in the mirror with horror" scene, then goes bonkers and does the Joker's patented "YMCA dance while surfing" maneuver. Gotta love Gotham.

BFB is Prof. Radium's first appearance since his original one in 1941. I love stuff like that. If you don't, well, then you're missing a big chunk of the fun of DC.

His real name is Henry Ross, and his hobby was inventing radium-based serums that can bring the dead back to life. If only Gotham had had Heroclix; think how much needless waste of life could have been avoided if wackos like Henry spent their evenings trying to understand how to apply the Pummel Feat Card to figures with CCE instead of performing ill-advised scientific experiments.

Anyway, Henry figured out how to bring dogs back from the dead.

Look at those first two panels; that's art, people.
Golden Age artists may not have been as technically adept as modern ones, but they had a compensatory sense of style and composition that was nearly overwhelming. Are there any panels in any of the comics you bought this week that will impress or even haunt you like that second panel above? I don't think so.

You go, Henry. As a dog lover, I salute you, and note that here on Earth Prime we are just beginning to figure how to do what Henry did over 60 years ago. Now, go re-read the first pic in this post, the one from BFB; clearly, Henry lost a dog or two tragically as a child and that left a lasting impression. Dude loves dogs, and his first thought for any science or technology is, "How can this ease the lives of dog-owners?" Henry's A-okay in my book.

Sadly, his bosses don't believe in Henry's reanimated zombie dogs because he performed his experiments in the dead of night when no one was watching and might have substituted lookalike live dogs for the dead ones. In fact, they fire him for stealing thousands of dollars worth of radium for his unauthorized experiments. Fools! The utter fools!

Naturally, Henry's next step was:

(A) Repeat the experiment with credentialed witnesses.
(B) Publish a paper on his research and call for external verification.
(C) Prove that the zombie dogs were the original ones through DNA comparison.
(D) Post an mpeg of his reanimation experiment on YouTube.

Since this is the DCU, the answer is obviously (E):Later, Henry blames the radium for driving him crazy.
Personally, I'd say that began when he thought it was a good idea to drink a bottle of something green, labelled "poison" with three Xs on it. Where was Mr. Yuk when Henry needed him?

See, this is why I never became a full-fledged scientist; I just don't have the right mindset. That idea would never have occurred to me.

So Henry kills himself and leaves a note for a colleague on the bottle labelled POISON XXX saying, "Shoot me up with this gunk after I'm dead." This being a comic book, the colleague immediately does so, instead of, say, calling the police or shrieking like a little girl. Yet more evidence I don't have what it takes to be a scientist.

Which may, in fact, be fortunate for me, since soon after Henry reanimates, he begins to glow with radiation and accidently irradiates to death the very colleague who brought him back to life. Oops; one less card to send at Christmastime, though.

But Henry "Professor Radium" Ross is equal to the emergency and develops a wonder cure for himself based on the non-existent chemical Volitell, which you can tell from its very name is an expensive drug found only at hospitals that Henry is going to have to start stealing to control his condition.

But first, a quick stop off to kill his girlfriend!

Stories used to be so much more gosh-darned efficient .
We've not seen this women before, the only way we know she's his girlfriend is through context, and she is not mentioned again. Yet she exactly serves her literary purpose of heightening the villain's personal Greek tragedy. I think modern writers are afraid that if they write scenes this efficiently, readers will have heart attacks because the plot's advancing too quickly.

You know, every time I hear someone whining about the "women in refrigerators" thing or the Rolling Head of Pantha "problem" with modern "bloodthirsty" writers, I feel like sending them every Golden Age panel where people die unceremoniously in the most horrible ways with barely a second mention. Because in a Golden Age story, there's an average of one per page. Men, women, dogs, children; I tell you, they used to drop like flies.

Fortunately, the Golden Age Batman gets one of his ridiculous hunches, something he does, oh, about once a story. These hunches are invariably correct; the GA Batman was a precog on a level with Agatha in Minority Report. If Batman says, "I have a hunch, Robin, that tonight an embittered ex-Nazi scientist may release a plague of robotic cicadas that will devastate the South American cocoa crops," then you dang well better stock up on Hersey bars, pronto, buster. No wonder Bruce Wayne does so well in the stock market.

Read enough stories and you'll notice that inspiration often comes to Bruce when he's undressing in front of his youthful ward. Who can fathom the mysteries of precognition? By the way, rumor has it the descendants of Batman are the first colonists on Naltor; it's all a plot by Evil Skeets, I'm told.

Sure enough, Batman's hunch is correct and out pops Henry in a startlingly unattractive containment suit. Henry, cornered by B&R, does what anyone with the deadly power of radioactivity literally at his fingertips would do:

Ouch. So much for the "descendants of Batman" theory.

...shoves a table into Batman's crotch..

Surprisingly lithe in his bulky containment suit, Henry shimmies down the drainpipe, which he destroys with his radioactivitiosity to prevent the Caped Clods from following. Remember, this is not the modern Batman, who's 102 rippling rockhard points of Leap/Climbing, Outwittish Willpower; this is the Golden Age Batman, who's more like the 47 point Icons starter set Batman, and faints if you throw the Gumball Machine token at him.

At this point, Batman does some fancy lab work to figure out that Prof. Radium is, in fact... Henry Ross! Thank gods Gotham City keeps on file the fingerprints of all civil service workers; no really, that's what Commissioner Gordon says. Yikes.

CSI: Gotham City. You see, Batman used to be a detective. Crazy idea, huh?
Poor Robin always used to nod off during these parts and had to hold his head up to stay awake.

Why didn't Batman or the police just read the article in the paper that said, "Wild-Eyed Civil Servant Fired for Stealing Massive Amounts of Radium"? Probably because it got bumped by one of Batman's silly "Trap Notices", I'll wager.

You see, Batman & Robin naturally did what they ALWAYS do: put a fake notice in the newpapers to lure the villain into a trap. In the Golden Age, the Gotham papers would reserve at least two or three columns per issue, just for Batman's little fake stories. I can just hear the Editor going over them: "Jeez, this one's got Mrs. Van Landorpf planning to wear her emeralds with tweed, ferchrissake; yeah, like the Penguin's gonna fall for that. I think he's letting Robin write these things!"

Just as naturally, Henry falls for it. They always fall for it. Except for the Penguin, who's too smart for that crap.

Anyway, Batman & Robin, now wearing insulating rubberized versions of their costumes for protection, face off against Prof. Radium at the shipyards because it (A) looks dramatic (B) provides plenty of props to fight with (C) offers lots of opportunity to fall. Which is, of course, exactly what Henry does, right into the (C), which further proves that he's a Joker fan, 'cuz that's just what the Joker'd do.

Of course, there's just one little loose end... the zombie dog.

What happened to Henry must have happened to the dog he reanimated. So where's Rusty the Radiumhound? And why...

is he not kicking this "dog" 's little canoid kiester?!

Friday, June 16, 2006


Oh my gods! I was SO worried!

Black Adam, who can fight Captain Marvel to a standstill, has the power to knock over a building with a wave of his hand, and can move at hypersonic speed,

attacked Hal Jordan!
Then suddenly I realized: he hit Hal in the head.

Phew! What a relief!

Thursday, June 15, 2006

A Visit to Dr. Hunter's Lab

There are many delicious and delightful incidents in this week's comics, but this post will focus on only one: Booster Gold's visit to Rip Hunter's lab in 52 Week 6.

There are a lot of visual elements and possible clues in Dr. Hunter's lab and I thought some of our readers would appreciate a little help deciphering some of them. I know I would!!!

The Video Screens

Not much mystery here: five historical periods / incidents are portrayed. President Lincoln with General Grant in the field during the Civil War (the U.S. one, not Marvel's). The arrest photo of Ethel Rosenberg, who along with her husband was convicted and excuted as a communist spy. The voyage of Columbus. Pop singer Elvis Presley. The Boston Tea Party. A dinosaur, which in DC could be from just about any point in history; personally I like to think of it as the robot dinosaur that Batman & Robin fought on Dinosaur Island, even though it's not.

The Broken Bubble

That's a damaged Time Sphere (a.k.a. Time Bubble), DC's most traditional method of Time Travel. The Legion used one; Rip Hunter used one; heck, even Ma and Pa Kent used one. The Kents were much hipper than people give them credit for.

The Clocks and the Lock

None of the other machinery seems recognizable or significant, except for the many clocks, all of which show approximately 11:55. It's uncertain from context whether the clocks are stopped at that point or whether that's simply the time that Booster arrives. A clock at 5 to 12 is one the famous symbols associated with Alan Moore's Watchmen, and its countdown to destruction. That could be a coincidence ... but I don't think there are a lot of coincidences in 52.

Skeets points out that the time lock on the door is set for midnight Jan. 1, 52 BC. This seems to be one of the series' many gratuitous "52" references, as that date is of no historical significance. The closest date of historical significance is the murder of Public Clodius Pulcher by his bitter political enemy Titus Annius Milo. I never liked Clodius.

The Papers

In the numbered pages 51, 53, 54, 55, and 56, conspicuous by its absence is, of course, page 52.

One sheet has the address "520 Kane St."; that's the address that the Question and Montoya were staking out, where their little run in with the monster occurred. It's my personal belief that this will somehow relate to Kathy Kane, the new Batwoman.

The "Named Papers" all seem to relate to characters whose relationship with continuity is questionable...

The "Infinity Inc." paper refers to a short-lived superhero group of JSA legacies who had a series in the 1980s, many of whose members are still familiar to readers today (e.g., Obsidian, Jade r.i.p, Atom-Smasher, Mr. Bones).

"Casey the Cop" was a humor feature in early DC comics (first appearing under that name in All-Funny Comics #3 1944), including Detective Comics, Batman, Action, and Adventure.

"Silverblade" was a 12 issue miniseries started in 1987 by Cary Bates and Gene Colan about a movie swashbuckler come to life.

The "Sun Devils" was a 12 issue space opera miniseries from 1984-85, which was Dan Jurgens' first assignment at DC. At the time in had no apparent character or plot connections to the rest of the DCU, but Jurgens later made a passing attempt to link it in "The Last Sun Devil" (Superman #86, Feb. 1994).

"Spanner's Galaxy" was another DC out-of-continuity space opera miniseries (6 issues) from 1984-85, by Nicola Cuti and Tom Mandrake.

The Chalkboard

This is where the real action is.

"TIME IS BROKEN". Dr. Hunter seems concerned about discontinuities and incongruities in the timeline; that's consistent with the prevalence of notes in his labs about elements of DC publishing history that have a questionable relationship with the DCU proper. This phrase also tells us that Rip isn't a Heroclix player, or he would have said "Time is borken."

"Dead by lead?" Lead, ingested in certain quantities, is poisonous to humans. But in the DCU, this is most likely to refer to the fact that natives of the planet Daxam (who gain similar powers to Kryptonians under a yellow sun) are hyperallergic to lead and even the trace amounts in most atmospheres will kill them. This "allergy" was discovered during the Dominator-led attack on earth (in the "Invasion!" crossover event). From our perspective it goes back to the first appearance of Mon-El, whom Superboy mistook for his brother. Things like that used to happen to Superboy and Superboy a lot in the Silver Age. Like, monthly. Anyway, Mon-El (correct me if I'm wrong) has been conspicuously absent from the current Legion of Super-Heroes.

This could be a reference to Mon-El's absence, particularly when combined with two other clues on the board: "I'm not kryptonite" and "It hurts to breathe". I have no other speculation on those two clues and the nearby "2,000 years from now" only confuses the matter, because we know nothing of the DCU 2000 years into the future (although it might be an intentionally confusing way of referring to 2000 years into the past -- but that seems unlikely).

"Further time is different." I have no particular insight here except the obvious: Rip seems to be commenting that either the future is not what it's supposed to be, or the very nature of time has changed ... or both.

"The four horsemen will end her rain?" Assuming that Rip doesn't have a spelling problem, this is a pun on "reign". But who "she" is and why she can be said to have a "rain" is beyond my imagining. The Four Horsemen is a bibical reference associated with the apocalypse, the end of all things.

This is the first of the Three Incomprehensible Clues; the second is "He won't smell it", which might be a reference to the olfactory powers of Animal Man. The third is "the reach the reach the reach"; your guess on that one is as good as mine, since I don't have one.

"Find the last 'El' ". Ordinarly, this would be a reference to Clark Kent (Kal-El). However, "last" is double underlined, and there is a possibly related clued on the second half of the chalkboard: "What happened to the son of Superman?" From Rip's viewpoint, is the "El" line supposed to continue into the future and is the son of Superman the missing link in the chain?

"The Tornado is in pieces." Surely a reference to the most recent destruction of the Red Tornado, part of whom is lodged in Mal Duncan's chest. Is that the meaning of the "sonic disruption" reference? No. No, that must refer to inappropriate absence of the incomparable Vibe from the current DCU. Yes. Yes, that's it. Vibe will return.

"Time Masters> Time Servants". Not much clue there, except that "Time Master" was always Rip Hunter's "title". Perhaps time in the DCU is not so easy to master as it once was, eh?

"The Scarab is eternal?" and "Where is the Curry heir?" are pretty clearly references to the new Blue Beetle and Aquaman series. As for "Man of Steel", I suspect that John Henry Irons may have been infected with Luthor's new salable metagene, and may wind up more akin to Colossus than Iron Man before everything's done. Have we seen him in OYL yet...?

"Who is Super Nova?" is one of the mysteries of 52. I suspect this Super Nova will turn out to be the real Booster Gold and the one we are currently followed is a leftover from a future that no longer exists, which is why Rip Hunter suspects that the temporal incongruities are "all his fault". It's important to remember that Booster Gold's significance is twofold. Within the DCU, he is the only character (I can think of), other than Bart Allen, who is from the future. Metatextually, Booster Gold is the first new character of the post-Crisis DCU and therefore a symbol of the destruction of the multiverse.

"Who is Diana Prince?" is a witty turn on the "who is Donna Troy?" trope and hinges on the return of Wonder Woman's secret identity (buy WW#1, people!).

"Don't ask the Question. It lies." That's rather disturbing. As a character, the Question is about the search for truth. But why refer to the character as "it"? That's creepy, unless there's an actual "question" that Hunter is refering to. Except of course questions cannot lie, since they make no assertions of truth. Hmmmm.

"Im Mortal Savage" refers to the newfound mortality of Vandal Savage being played out in JSA Confidential, which may be inconsistent with Hunter's understanding of the future.

"The Secret Five" refers, I'm assuming to depletion in the ranks of the Secret Six, so dramatically about to be filled by the Mad Hatter.

"The old gods are dead, the new gods want what's left." On the surface, it would seem to refer to the withdrawal of the Olympian gods from this plane and the currently missing "new gods" of Kirby's Fourth World, who, like crazy loud relations, will surely show up when it is least desirable.

"Where is the Batman?" could be a simple reference to Bruce's absence from the scene during his trip with Dick and Tim. Or could it be a reference to his absence from the days of the JSA? We did just see "Batman's ghost" in JSA, after all. "Who is the Batwoman?" Well, if you don't know that by now, you're probably not reading this blog.

"Te versus (Au +Pb)" Now, that's juicy. Te is the symbol for Tellurium: Element 52. Au and PB are elements 79 and 82, but it's probably not their numbers that are signficiant. Au is Gold and Pb is Lead. This might refer to the now inoperative Metal Men of Doc Magnus. But given the rest of the board, I'm leaning toward some connection to Booster GOLD and the "dead by lead?" clue.

Oh, and exposure to Tellurium will give you "garlic breath"; could that be the "He won't smell it" reference?

"Someone is monitoring. They see us. They see me." Well. I suppose there's a new "Monitor" in town.

"I'm supposed to be dead?" Yes, Rip, you are; you died in your own miniseries in the early 1990s, I think.

"The Lazarus Pit RISES." I don't care what this means, as long as it doesn't mean the return of Ra's Al Ghul. Yawn.

"Khimaera lives again" I'll assume this is a mistransliteration of the Greek word rendered as "Chimera" in Latin, the hybrid monster defeated by Bellerophon. I'm hoping it's a new name for ... the Composite Superman!

"World War III" and "When am I?" Rip's obviously worried about where things are headed and his current placement in things. But I wonder ... perhaps he isn't worried that WWIII is coming. Perhaps he's worried that it ISN'T. WWIII was a part of pre-Crisis fact in the DCU, after all..

"OTHERS?" Hm. Other people who realize history is askew?

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Paula's Patience and Planning

It's time for the return of one of my own favorite features, one that I started this blog with:

Villainous Virtues

Why, anyone can take inspiration from the greatness of DC's heroes. But there's an art to allowing DC's villains to inspire you to virtue.

Today let us take an inspiration from that most, um, lovely of Wonder Woman's foes, Paula Von Guenther, who will teach of the Importance of Patience and Planning:

Can you believe Hitler fired this woman? Wonder Woman's not the only fool!

A sure-fire plan for crippling America's fighting forces for the Fuehrer in only 20 years. And it only cost 7 million a year in 1942 dollars. Without Wonder Woman to foil her plot, the U.S. forces in Vietnam would have consisted of rickety bleary-eyed dwarves. Paula might have even survived lung cancer long enough to see the day...!

You inspire me, Paula! Any great enterprise, like the slow hobbling of an entire generation of soldiers, requires Planning and Patience.

Oh, and a willingness to invest.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Champion of Themyscira

Okay, maybe everyone knows about Pendant Productions already, but I just discovered them yesterday. They do audio drama (what someone of my years would call "radio shows") starring various characters, including the Wonder Woman.

Woman Woman radio shows; how fabulous is that? Now, it's radio drama, not Shakespeare, but it's wonderful old-fashioned fun by people who obviously care a lot about the medium and the characters.

There's Superman and Batman, too, but those have to compete with the professional versions of those heroes in cartoon and the movies. On the Wonder Woman shows, you get to hear Ferdinand the Cook, Cassie, the amusingly bitchy Ares, and the hiLARious comedy duo of Circe and Dr. Psycho.

Here's a shout out, by the way, to Pete Milan who plays Dr. Psycho; Pete, you rock -- Mr. Waterbury would be proud. I'll never eat Pop-Tarts again without thinking of you.

Check it out! You've got to love something where Diana eats cheesecake and says things like:

"You could put out a cookbook; it would be great for the public image of minotaurs."

And if you want to compare this modern amateur radio drama to original professional radio drama, then do!

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Is the blogosphere lopsided?

I am not asking this to start a fight; I am not asking this to be mean to Marvel. Trust me, if I want to be mean about Marvel, I do it openly.

But... is the comics blogosphere terribly lopsided or is it my imagination?

I've been wondering this for some time, so yesterday I looked at the last 100+ blogs to ping themselves at Simple Weblogs. I found only 6 that were talking about a Marvel comic or property.

Now, granted a lot of what I waded through was cat-blogging, focused on such entertaining and vibrant comic book related topics as the author's gastroentiritis, the basement repairs, chicken recipes, the author's unrealized art/story/script/comic book store/comic book event/comic book company, some game for armless aliens called "soh kur", television, and yes, cats.

But a lot wasn't. And the bulk of those posts that directly concern a mainstream comic are about a DC comic.


I can think of a host of blogs that are, for the most part, DC-centric. I can't think of very many that are Marvel-centric. I used to assume that was simply because I only am looking for DC blogs, not Marvel ones. The fault lay in me, not the blogosphere.

I no longer think it's that simple; I think the comics mainstream blogosphere is strongly lopsided toward DC. The more I look, the more it looks like DC is the northern blogohemisphere and Marvel the southern one. There are lot of possible reasons for that.

I have one friend who tells me Marvel readers are too self-absorbed to write blogs. Well, maybe, but I kind of thought being self-absorbed was a requirement for writing a blog, not an impediment.

I've always thought that, overall, Marvel readers are visually focused and DC readers are verbally focused. To put it, another way, Marvel readers look at the pictures and DC readers look at the word balloons. That's not a dig, by the way; I often find myself having to slow down and backtrack to understand something in my comics because I was only reading the balloons and just glossing over what the art was depicting. Anyway, maybe DC people are more "wordy" and therefore more inclined toward the blog-babbling?

Or perhaps Marvel readers have actual lives and can't be bothered with the tedium of blogging because they're out taking pictures for their local tabloid, fighting alcoholism, shopping for unstable molecule outfits, or struggling for acceptance in a world that doesn't understand them?

Could be that only DC readers are pompous and self-important enough to feel the need to pontificate on every little jot and tittle of DC's product, including absurdly intensively "theme weeks" where they try to wring every possible chuckle out of three panels from a 40 year old throwaway story written for 9 year olds.

Clearly, an absence of Marvel blogs is not due to a lack of popularity; Marvel's sales are as high as ever, and still usually outstrip DC's.

So tell me true: am I mistaken? Is there more balance between DC and Marvel than I realize? And if not, why not?