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!"