Saturday, September 01, 2007

Least Likely to Change: Wonder Woman

Ah, Wonder Woman.

Like our previous subjects, Superman and Plastic Man, her externals have changed little, if you allow for changes in hairstyle. Her costume is a little different (Is it an eagle? Is it a W? Is it their lovechild?), but then again, it always was. Like many heroes in the Golden Age, her costume was in flux and would sometimes vary in its particulars.

At some point, however, her breasts became large; I think she had work done. Pre-Crisis, Wonder Woman was never portrayed as busty, and she works much better as a character if she isn't. I suppose it's a legacy of the '90s. But in essence, she's still highly recognizable as the same character she was in the Golden Age.

And yet (again like Superman and Plastic Man), she has somehow turned into the opposite of what she was supposed to be.

The Golden Age Wonder Woman was funny. Wait, let me correct myself; she had a sense of humor. Whether it was funny or not, is a matter of taste. Like most Golden Agers, she made fun of people as she beat them up. In fact, she was wickedly sarcastic, more so, I think, than contemporary male heroes. Every time she ripped a vault door off its hinges or bent a gun barrel, she would invariably make some snarky crack like, "Oh, I'm sorry, I had no idea these were so flimsy ... in Man's World." Maybe that's why they originally chose Joss Whedon to direct the movie.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more serious well-known comic book hero nowadays than Wonder Woman, with all the warmaking, and the mother-conflict, and the neck-snapping, and the monthly Dr. Phil episodes with Circe. Oh, sure, there have been attempts to show she has a sense of humor like a normal person, but generally these seemed forced as if the author simply feels obliged to show that WW is a well-rounded well-adjusted person, and therefore must have a sense of humor. Phil Jimenez actually told us once that she had a great sense of humor and that she told a knee-slapper of a joke.
Naturally, he never showed us this; he simply told us, making it meaningless. You really just can't write, "Hey, so and so is a hilarious person. I'm not going to show you any evidence of that, you'll never see them being funny, but you should just take my word for it." I find it amazing that when comic book artists (whom one would expect to be focused on showing rather than telling). are allowed to write they usually TELL you things rather than SHOW them to you. It's comic book irony, I suppose. Or perhaps simply more evidence that artists are generally bad writers.
As lamentable as the lack of a sense of fun or humor is in most modern characters, it's particularly painful for Wonder Woman. Batman can get away without being fun, because his job is to look freaky, scare people, and beat up muggers. Wonder Woman? For pity's sake, she's wearing a tiara, a majorette's costume, and a lasso. She darned well better be fun, because if not, she's ridiculous. And to have a nearly humorless character as DC's symbol of feminism? Not the best move.

As previously shown (and told) on this blog, Golden Age Wonder Woman was all about the whole zany bondage/submission thing that her creator, William Marston, was focused on. Really focused on. Fixated, really. Nightly, I'll be bound.

Modern Wonder Woman is not about that. That's good; no arguments with that change. But it is a change, and an enormous difference between the Modern and Golden Age versions.

But the major difference between the Golden Age Wonder Woman and the modern one lies elsewhere. In the Golden Age, in a time of war, Wonder Woman was about peace. In the Modern Age, in a time of peace, Wonder Woman is about war.

Sure, WW walloped "Nazis and Nips" during WWII; she came to Man's World specifically because of the war, and that was her job. But she was an emissary of peace, and an apostle of a better way. She represented, literally and figuratively, the Power of Love & Wisdom versus the Power of Aggression, Athena & Aphrodiate versus Mars. That's why Marston's freaky bondage stuff makes a certain kind of (really twisted) sense. The female powers of Love and Wisdom were to halt and incapacitate the male tendencies toward War and Aggression.

Granted, what Wonder Woman offered was often what we would call Tough Love. But that was what Marston believed in and the times called for. But the ability to, the goal to, the need to overcome the enemy not simply with force but with your ideas was central to Golden Age Wonder Woman. The Amazons had "Reformation Island", and an entire place devoted to reforming people Wonder Woman caught. Wonder Woman's wicked foe, Paula Von Gunther? Reformed by the tough love on Reformation Island; they even gave her an extreme makeover so she would no longer look evilly Garboesque. Reforming aggressive men, reforming passive women, reforming warmaking societies, always done by showing people a better way where the sexes are treated with equal respect and Passion is yoked by Wisdom and Love; these were the recurring themes of Golden Age Wonder Woman.

In the Golden Age, the Amazons (and their emissary to Man's World) brought Americans promise of peace and the hope of a better way of doing things. In the Modern Age, they bring Americans Amazons Attack and good guys fighting good guys, like in a Marvel comic. They are no longer positive examples, but negative ones. They are dupes, who allow themselves to be misled by an addled and irrational leader under the sway of evil influences into a war on foreign soil, for no apparent gain and with little apparent provocation. Amazons, go home; Americans can provide that example themselves, thank you very much.

Perhaps Gail Simone will be able to change all this, since she, at least, knows how to write women as people and heroes as heroes. But for the moment, Wonder Woman is nearly the opposite of what she originally was in the Golden Age.

P.S. Were the 1930s/40s such a different time than this one, that at least three heroes should evolve into the opposite of their original selves?

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Things That Made Me Happy...

in my comics this week.

  • Eric Powell's drawings of Superman in Action. Superman hasn't looked that normally sized -- and yet more masculine -- since the Golden Age.
  • Zatanna's Talking Gate.
  • Someone's kidnapping the Justice League members? Okay, that's excellent.
  • The Forerunner's origin was much more interesting than I would have anticipated.
  • Four Horsemen was also better than I would have expected, and I'm delighted to see something done with Veronica Cale.
  • Poor Megan. She really is alien, isn't she?
  • I... I've never really seen anyone throw an airplane before.
  • Bizarro vision? Brilliant.
  • Driving with Bart.
  • I was right about Athena. I know my gods, people.
  • The dirty, stinking Rannies firing Adam Strange. In public. Priceless. And so very typical. Dirty, stinking Rannies.
  • I glad somebody remembers what Buddy Baker's real job is.
  • Hey, Lobo body-shaves; hot!!!
  • Eddy Barrows, your drawing of Cliff Baker's face during the final hug is one of the great masterpieces of comic book art.
  • "Mr. Wayne, are you hurt?" I want more scenes like that and fewer of heroes using first names in costume.
  • So, is Everyman, like, the new Clayface?
  • Even for Geoff Johns, that's a heck of cliffhanger.
  • Jimmy's sunburn.
  • Adam Strange's buddy, whose life expectancy, I'm betting, is comparable to that of Jessica Fletcher's friends.
  • How obviously BAD Wolfman's part of Teen Titans No. 50 is. Perhaps, now that it's right beside modern Titans, some more people will be able to see it!
  • Now THAT is Deus Ex Machina, just as it should be.
  • I note that Robin was written much more appropriately--and politely-- by John Rogers in Blue Beetle than he was in Titans in the scene that appeared in both. I hope DC notices it, too...
  • These Four Horseman are a lot scarier now than they were as big tinkertoys, huh?
  • Picking up Connor from school.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Keep Your Head in the Game

My original plan for today was to post my next "Least Likely to Change" installment, but something happened today to change that.

Today, I received in the mail my latest shipment of customized Heroclix.

Dale, whom you will recognize as frequent commenter "Totaltoyz", made me a nice group of clix that Wizkids hasn't gotten around to making you and probably never will.

I got Argus. I think he's an underused part of the Flash Family, as in both the comics and Heroclix, that team could use somebody who has a schtick that isn't dependent on superspeed. He's on an Azrael dial. After all, what else can you do with an Azrael?

I got the Rainbow Raider (surfing the spectrum with stolen painting in arm), because, well, it's funny. Besides putting him on an Experienced Halo amuses me. I enjoy dissing characters I don't like by stealing their dials for demeaning customs. Especially Halo.

I adore the Busiek-style Prankster (armed with Kryptonite Custard Pie). He's on a very capable 107 point Joker dial, so he'll be a very worthy addition to the new Superman enemies coming out in the Justice League set.

I also got Mr. & Mrs. Menace, the Sportsmaster and the Golden Age Huntress. I love those two. We'll see how well they do against Rookie Alan Scott and Rookie Wildcat!

I got Dr. Impossible (because I helped name him), hilarious prehawkified Northwind (because he's just so fabulously faggy), and, of course, the Awesome Threesome of Torpedo-Man, Magnet-o, and Claw (because they are, ipso facto, awesome).

Oh, and just to give Aquaman a spot of extra trouble, I had "Devil Ray" from JLU made to act as an evil sidekick for Black Manta.

I even got a set of four G.O.O.N.s (surely you remember the Grand Order of Occidental Nighthawks?). Each wears a black derby and a turtleneck that says G.O.O.N. on it. They carry such deadly weapons as brass knuckles (nice touch, Dale!), pistols, a black round bomb that says "BOMB" on it, and an umbrella. Caped Crusader beware!

Ordinarily I would thank Dale for his amazing work (really, the pictures don't do these things justice) by email, but this time I am moved to do so publicly in a post. You should check out his Ebay page and order some custom clix of your own!

Dale also told me he was going to include a special gift to me for free, in appreciation for my support of his work. He tried to prepare me by saying that I should really by sitting down when I opened the box, or at least have someone at hand to assist me to the couch.

Naturally, I privately pooh-poohed this warning; you know how artists are about their work. My mistake. I did, in fact, stagger to couch with this surprise figure in hand, gasping for breath. I don't have a camera good enough to take a photo of it, but perhaps Dale will provide us with some.

It's 23 points. It has Charge and Leap/Climb. It has four clicks of life. Well... not life, really.

the Rolling Head of Pantha.

The "Superman Prime" Revenge Squad (6 figures at 697 points)

ID Name Points
J085Martian Manhunter
le027Veteran -Power Girl
U081Veteran Black Adam
le066Veteran Superboy
jl101Rolling Head of Pantha

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Haikuesday with Green Arrow

Well, the Green Arrow Year One and Black Canary mini-series keep pushing me toward the belief that Ollie Queen just may be a hero after all, and a workable one.

After all, could anyone but a hero speak in such casual heroic haiku at such a critical moment, guiding a fellow hero on the proper path?

But if you kill him,
he can't suffer anymore.
Is that what you want?

Nice one, Ollie!

What is YOUR haiku celebrating Ollie Queen new heroic evolution?

Monday, August 27, 2007

Least Likely to Change: Plastic Man

Judging from the poll in the sidebar, it seems that the majority of you think Plastic Man has changed the least since his Golden Age incarnation.

I couldn't disagree with you more.

Sure, he looks pretty much the same, adjusting for change in drawing styles since the Golden Age. But, in my opinion, he couldn't be more different. In fact, I think he's the character who's changed the most. He's become the very opposite of what he originally was...

the straight man.

C'mon, now, raise your hands; how many of you have actually read a Golden Age Plastic Man story? More than one story? More than five?

Most readers' current impressions of Plastic Man are not gathered from work done by his creator, Jack Cole. Their impressions come from his appearances in the Morrison JLA, his Kyle Baker series, his occasional crossover cameos, or, at oldest, his '60s series and Brave & Bold appearances.

None of those are anything like the original Plastic Man. Sure, his powers were wacky. His sidekick, Woozy Winks, was wacky. His villains, heck, his entire world was wacky.

But he was not. Plastic Man wasn't crazy, and seldom joked, except in that wan way of battle-banter that all Golden Agers favored. Part of the genius in Cole's creation was juxtaposing a fairly straightforward heroic type again a world more like "Fun Comics" or "Percival the Cop" than like Metropolis or Gotham. It was the dynamic marriage of the new superhero comics with the old "sproing-take" humor comics that was the basis for Plas's adventures, and his popularity.

The humor came not from Plastic Man being a wacky goofball, but from his comparative deadpan in his crazy world. Plastic Man wasn't meta-referential absurdism; it was camp. Plastic Man wasn't Jim Carey; he was Adam West.

Plas was, in essence, the straight man in his own series. Almost no subsequent writer has been able, or even tried, to duplicate this effect. It's understandable; it's the natural consequence of
putting him in "our" modern comic book world of superpowered rapists and deformed child-torturers. In order to keep this current world seeming "normal", writers have taken all the wackiness that used to surround Plas and tried to stuff it in him.

He's an elastic character, yes, but not that elastic. It simply doesn't work, so as a result, Plastic Man always seems forced, unfunny, out of context, and generally annoying. All this is done in the service of making the current comics remain "serious". But, naturally, the effect is the opposite. As soon as Plastic Man appears, you are are reminded through his commentary that, ehn, it's just a comic, there's nothing really at stake, don't take anything that happens to heart as significant.

Recently, writers have realized this problem and have therefore begun to ground Plas as if he were a Marvel hero, with personal problems, an illegitimate son, crises of conscience. All of this leads to the further Death of Whimsy and Dearth of Fun in comics, and only serves to spoil, not deepen, Plastic Man. I mean, really; shades of Speedball. Except for his look, Plastic Man is now nearly completely unrecognizable as the same character as the Golden Age version.

If you want Plastic Man to even remotely resemble what he was in the Golden Age, you need to take him out of the more serious center of the DCU and put him off at its wackier edges, such as the Shadowpact, the Doom Patrol, the All-New Atom, Dr. Thirteen, and the like. Let him be the character that takes the craziness seriously, like he did in the Golden Age. Let Plastic Man not be zany, but rather the symbol of zaniness. Reposition Plas as the straight man against all the DCU's zaniness, and he would bounce back in no time.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Dirty Cop

As previously promised, it's time to begin revealing the Goon Tokens for Heroclix that I've been making using photos of our readers here, generously donated. We'll be showing you a big size version for viewing enjoyment, then a small size that's just right for copying and printing out.

First up is B902, the Dirty Cop. Its stats are based on the Harvey Bullock token. It may seem a little pricey for a token, particularly since it's a slow target (with a sluggish Speed Value of 5) and an easy one to hit (with a Defense Value of 14, even figures that throw like sissies could hit this guy with rock after a couple tries).

But he's got a decent Attack Value, the ability to shoot at two targets at one and does two clicks of Damage, which is all darned good for a token.

Plus, he's got one extremely rare and very powerful advantage for a token: the Police Team Ability, which increases the Attack Value of any adjacent comrades. Add to that his Defense Power of Toughness (which allows this tough guy to shrug off any attack that only does one click of Damage). Together, those make him the perfect piece to put right beside your main villains, particularly ones that have Mastermind, because it makes them immune to any one-click attacks.

And who will be playing the Dirty Cop?

Detective Allan Mott isn't just a Dirty Cop, he's the Dirty Cop.

The lack of tie. The leather jacket with upturned collar. The seedy cheaters. The 'yeah, I didn't shave today, what's it to you, buddy' look on his face. Shudder.

How did this guy ever get on the force, let alone make detective? Sherlock Holmes could spot that criminal cranial development from miles away. And smell the booze, no doubt.

One look at him and you just know that last words he ever hears are going to be, "Hey, Mott; think about the future!"

I don't where he works; Hub City, I assume. And he probably only moved there because they closed Bludhaven.

But now he works... for you! Or, at least, for whatever villain is paying his "extra" salary this month. Probably Dr. Psycho or Two-Face; their dials would work well with his.

Please note that the Dirty Cop has a Silver Ring, meaning that it is a Unique. You can only use one of each Unique on a team, so you can't surround your villains with a horde of Dirty Cops. Because despite what they tell you on TV, Dirty Cops are still thankfully rare!