Saturday, September 15, 2007

Least Likely to Change: Black Canary and Batman

Batman or Black Canary?

It's a pretty easy choice, actually. Black Canary is still very similar to her Golden Age version. Same outfit for the most part, same martial arts schtick. There are a few differences, of course.

Controversial though this decision might be, I don't count "Dinah Lance, Junior" as a different person from the original Dinah Lance. She's her daughter only in a retconnish way, kind of like how John Byrne made the current Wonder Woman the daughter of the one in WWII. In fact, she's just a different generation's version of the same person. I've noticed that you almost never see Dinah with her mother; is "Senior" dead now? And I mean, really; know how many women name their daughters after themselves? Zero. Only men are that vain and uninterested in fostering sense of individuality in their children. And don't bother giving me any real-life counterexamples of women with the same name as their mothers; it won't prove me wrong, it will just prove that those people are really, really weird.

No, Dinah doesn't "lose" because she's a replacement. It's for other reasons... .

The modern Black Canary has a superpower; in the Golden Age, she didn't. That's such a powerful difference in kind that almost nothing else matters. It happened, you'll recall, when she "migrated" from Earth-2 to Earth-1 . It may seem cool or perfectly natural for her to have a power now, so many years later. But at the time it was one of the most painful examples ever of "Ironic Superempowerment", the phenomenon by which unpowered characters just happen to acquire superpowers that just happen to fit with their previously chosen name or identity.

She's pretty much the same otherwise, but she's 'traded up' a good deal. She still has a macho jerk for a boyfriend, but now he's a superhero macho jerk. She still has a daughter who could follow in her footsteps, but she didn't have to quit her career on go through anything like, you know, childbirth, to get her. She's still a respected hero in her own right, but is now also known for her leadership in Birds of Prey and the Justice League. Black Canary's changed a lot, and, unlike most of her contemporaries, she's changed for the better.

This brings us to Batman, who I think is our winner. And how does Batman win? The same way Batman always wins.

By cheating, of course.

I'd been avoiding trying to tackle the issue of how different the current Batman might be because I couldn't figure out exactly what "the Golden Age Batman" meant. A lot of people think it just means "the dark and eerie figure of the night", the lone avenger of Gotham. Not so.

Smiling Batman, happy Batman, Robin's partner, deputized by the Commissioner and awarded a diamond-encrusted police badge? That happened in the early 1940s, folks; the Golden Age. In fact, that corner was turned, in my opinion, in "The People v. Batman", Oct/Nov 1941, Batman No. 7, in this very scene:

The nice thing is that, while Batman became Smiling Batman early in the Golden Age, he never forgot how to be scary. For example, in the panels below, B&R find themselves in a corrupt town where they can't work with the police. "That's okay, " Batman says. "We'll do in the old fashioned way and just scare the bejeezus out of 'em.""By reverting to our earliest technique-- cracking the nerves of the underworld. Remember the bat costume's origin and how the press described it? 'A dread shadow that silently stalks the nocturnal corridors or crime.' "

And so he does.

This is the Batman who, as a bad guy fell to his death from a skyscraper construction site, said to his little boy sidekick, "Quick, Robin! Snap a picture!" Do you really want to know what he means by "or else"? Shudder.

Anyway, my point is that Batman's entire literary history has been the process of weaving back and forth between the two sides of his Golden Age personality: Smiling Batman and Frowning Batman. And I love the statement above that it's a conscious tactic that Batman employs. Batman is neither crazy nor a fool, but a master of psychological warfare. He's accessible when he needs to be and implacable when required.

That's what he was in the Golden Age; that's what he is now. Least changed? Batman

Friday, September 14, 2007

Comics Teach You Heroclix

...and vice versa. Sometimes when you see a comic book battle, you get that sense of, "Oh, X just won the battle because the writer wanted them to, not because they could really beat Y." And sometimes that is true.

But playing Heroclix has given me a different way to read comic book battles that often makes the matter clearer for me. Maybe I'm just projecting, but I suspect that a lot of DC writers play Heroclix, too. I've noticed more and more that comic book battles have very clear strategies going on in them. Rather than "let's all run at Amazo", it's "take out his legs so he can't run; then take out his eyes so he can't attack from a distance". Maybe it's just better writing, but sometimes the scent of "Heroclix" is so strong on the strategies that I'm convinced that the game is influencing not just my reading, but the actual writing. And I like that; it makes of any battle seem more reasonable, and less like authorial fiat.

Let's take an example. Just for fun. Let's all open our copies of the Justice League of America Wedding Special No. 1.







On Firestorm's turn, he just attacked and kayoed Killer Frost, so he gets an action token.

When a figure moves or makes attack, it gets an "action token" (just any little marker you care to use; at my house, we use colored beads) to show that it did something. A figure can only make one action per turn, and his team only gets a certain number of actions per turn. There are some types of actions that do not count toward all of that; those are called "free actions".

Now it's the Injustice League's turn. Uh-oh.

Well, it's pretty clear that with Killer Frost out of the way, Firestorm's planning on attacking Luthor & Co. soon. Oh, no! Firestorm is powerful! Are our villains doomed?

As if.

Luthor uses Outwit to cancel Firestorm's defensive capabilities. In fact, he pretty much says, "I used the power of my great intelligence to cancel out your powers."

Luthor has Outwit on his first click. Outwit often represents that a character is so smart, clever, or ingenious that it compensates for their not being superstrong or superfast.

Outwit lets you cancel out a power that an opponent has as long as you're close enough and nothing's in the way of your view to him. Better yet, it is a free action, so you can still attack somebody after you use it.

Being smart is a good power.

Then Luthor Blasts Firestorm, doing three clicks of damage. Firestorm's now on his fourth of seven clicks of life. Ouch.

The Attack power that Luthor has on his first click is called Psychic Blast. It's rather a misnomer, because sometimes it represents psychic powers and sometimes it doesn't.

The goal of attacking an opposing figure is to do it damage (which turns its dial to later, often lower, levels of power, and closer to its last click of life). Some figures have defensive powers that reduce the amount of damage they can take from a successful attack by an opponent. The value of P-Blast is that its user can ignore any damage-reducing powers that its victim has. That way, physically powerful characters like Superman can still be damaged by somebody with psychic powers (like Despero or Starro), magical power (like Mordru or Dr. Fate), the ability to 'mess with your head' (like Scarecrow) ,or just the smarts to figure out a way to do it (like Lex Luthor or OMAC).
The Joker Outwits Firestorm's offensive capabilities...

Like Luthor, the Joker has Outwit on his first click, because, while's he not the same kind of scientific genius that Luthor is, he is a criminal genius nonetheless.

Actually, in the comic book, Luthor cancels all of Firestorm's powers, but Heroclix don't quite work that way. So we are 'interpreting' this scene as the Joker and Luthor cancelling out Firestorm's attack and defense powers.

As it turns out, canceling Firestorm's Attack power is kind of overkill, because the Joker's about to make it impossible for Firestorm to act all. But the Joker is an overkill kind of guy.

... then Incapacitates him.

Figures aren't really supposed to act two turns in a row. They are supposed to "rest" if they acted on the previous turn, and after resting for a turn, the action token that was on them comes off.

If they do act again before that action token is cleared, it means they are pushing themselves. So when they get a second action token placed on them, they take a click of damage for pushing themselves to act. And no figure with two action tokens on it can act of its own volition; it must 'rest' on the next turn.

A figure with Incapacitate can, instead of making a regular attack, 'incapacitate' a foe by adding an action token to it. This makes it either painful or impossible for the foe to act on its next turn. It's a great way of damaging really powerful figures or rendering them helpless while your more powerful allies attack it. It represents ensnaring, impeding, or otherwise debilitating a foe, rather than trying to do them immediate harm.

Firestorm already had an action token from attack Killer Frost, so when he is Incapacitated, he gets a second action token, takes a click of pushing damage, and is incapable of retaliating or running away on his next turn. Firestorm's now on his fifth of seven clicks of life. Gulp.
Sure enough, it's a classic Incapacitation "Set and Spike". While Firestorm is helpless to act or escape, Cheetah Charges at him ...

Normally, a Heroclix figure has to choose between moving or attacking. But some powers (often called "move and attack powers"!) let you do both.

One of those powers is Charge. It lets you run up next to an opponent and attack him. It tends to represent that you can fly up and hit people (like Superman, Wonder Woman, or Hawkman), that you're darned fast but not quite superfast (like Aquaman and Martian Manhunter), or that you've practiced the whole combat thing a lot (like Batman or Bronze Tiger).

and attacks with Blade/Claws/Fangs.

The basic amount of damage a figure can do on a successful attack is determined by its Damage Value. But that can be increased by other powers (such as Perplex, Close Combat Expert, or Ranged Combat Expert). One such power is Blades/Claws/Fangs; if your attack is success, you get to roll one die, and whatever turns up is the amount of damage you did. It's literally a crap shoot, but usually it's worth taking the chance. It represents making a lucky hit in a vital spot and that stabbing somebody is usually a lot more damaging than just hitting them.

In this case, Cheetah rolls to determine the BCF damage and gets, say, a three. Firestorm takes three clicks of damage, putting him past his last click of life. Firestorm is kayoed.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Things That Made Me Happy...

in my comics this week.

  • "Drusilla"? Nice. Very nice.
  • Yes, Gar, we're all mortified by J'onn's giant head.
  • Best "Using a live yeti's intestines as a bungie cord" scene ever!
  • So, who is that sitting beside Scarecrow?
  • "Your enemies, the Accordians."
  • Her brother? Duh; of course he is (half-brother, really)! Why didn't I think of that?
  • "Lethal force authorized".
  • The Joker defines comedy.
  • If there's anything cooler than shattering a jeep with one kick, it's shattering a jeep with one kick in heels. What the heck are her boots made out of, anyway?!
  • Amazing Boy.
  • Okay, I haven't laughed out loud that hard at a mummy since... well, the last time one showed up in Countdown. Mummies are the new zombies.
  • Decapitation by stick?! Maybe I need to start reading Wildstorm!
  • Guy Gardner having to tell someone he's straight.
  • Batman hiring strippers.
  • Freddie Freeman's soul patch makes him hot. Me, too.
  • "I was just trying to raise money for film school!"
  • The new anti-Trinity of the Joker, Luthor, and Cheetah
  • Only Booster Gold would have figured out that way of 'defeating' Sinestro; sheer genius.
  • Please tell me that's Geo-Force's corpse. Because that would be just too fitting.
  • Wildcat beating the snot out of Wildcat.
  • John Stewart's a lot beefier than Hal Jordan.
  • That Kyle and Jason instinctively hated each other immediately.
  • Whatever happened to ... Goth?
  • No matter what McDuffie claims, that's a parody of Meltzer's JLA, not an homage, and it is a wicked one. Good for you, Dwayne.
  • Black Adam's magic word-association game.
  • Using speedsters as bread crumbs.
  • The cameo by Dr. Thirteen & Co.
  • That's T.O. Morrow in the corner. Uh-oh.
  • The JSA riding a fire engine. That is the JSA, people.
  • "No man escapes me!" He's still the funniest character in comics today.
  • "Of course I've had maple syrup, Maxine... but on pancakes?!"
  • The original Black Condor .... at a BACHELOR PARTY?!?!?!?
  • "Get your hands off my husband!"
  • So ... Booster Gold inspired the Sinestro Corps?
  • The JLA Wedding Special is darned funny. At first.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Least Likely to Change: Aquaman

I blame many things. I blame Atlantis. I blame King Arthur. I blame the people at DC, all of whom should know better. I blame Aqualad.

But I sure don't blame Aquaman himself.

Oh, how Aquaman has changed. The Golden Age Aquaman was powerful and confident. Golden Age heroes always seemed to have the confidence of experience, right from the get-go. Perhaps that's because, though they were new as heroes, they were still men. Unlike the Earth-8ers, the little twenty-somethings DC keeps giving their titles to, Peter Parker's Revenge Squad against DC. The current Aquaman (whom DC had the nerve to name Arthur Curry, just like the real one) is yet another Young Person Struggling to Find Himself and His Place in a World He Never Made. Golden Age heroes weren't struggling to find themselves; they were struggling to help others. Golden Age heroes didn't live in a world they never made; they made the world, or, at least, re-made it.

Can the current Aquaman punch through a battleship? Does he command the creatures of the sea? Is he as at ease out of the water as he is in it? No, none of the above.

The original Aquaman had only a tangential connection to Atlantis, and owed his abilities to the efforts of his father and his own hard work; to him, Atlantis was "lost", and he made his home in one of their old abandoned temples. Although I'm no fan of the current Aquaman, I'll give his creator much credit for wanting to return those elements to Aquaman. Atlantis, I think, is where everything started to go wrong.

Aquaman "discovered" Atlantis in the Silver Age, and it became both his Krypton and his Metropolis. In short order, Aquaman went from being the King of the Sea, who protected humans from crime and difficult on the ocean, to being King of Atlantis, protecting Atlanteans from humans. It was a fatal error, and one that has slowly poisoned reader's ability to identify with him ever since.

Here's where I share an ugly secret. I have gone on and on the blog about the success and importance of the Dynastic Centerpiece model, woven theories about how it should be applied to characters who don't have it, and criticized writers for not understanding it.

Well, you know what? The Dynastic Centerpiece model killed Aquaman, just as surely as video killed the radio star. His Contextualizing City took over the plots, his Sidekick infected the tone with negativism and powerlessness, and his Female Counterpart (even his infant son!) was arguably portrayed as more powerful than he was. So, long before it had gone so far, that editors and writers decided to scrap the character entirely, he was a pale version of his Golden Age self.

The Bronze and Iron ages weren't any help either. Constant comparison with other heroes on Superfriends damaged his rep, his storyline became a soap opera rather than an adventure, his origin was savagely slaved to magic and porpoises, his involvements in international politics and war became increasingly Namorian rather than Aquamanly, his hand got chewed off, his powers became magical (as did those of his Sidekick), until finally it was such a mess that DC thought it best to let Kurt Busiek try to return Aquaman to some of his original schtick (plus several enormous helpings of Conan's).

For the record, Devon disagrees with me, but only because he's not really counting the current Aquaman as Aquaman, saying that "the real Aquaman will be back", the one who took care of Sub Diego. I'd like to have that kind of faith, but I'll believe it when I see it. DC's blown, even blocked, several opportunities and attempts to bring back the real Aquaman. Oh, he's been sighted (most recently in Alex Ross's Justice), but he until he's the current version of Aquaman and Artie Junior is either his Youthful Counterpart or dead, you won't find me voting for Aquaman as the Least Changed from his Golden Age version...

Monday, September 10, 2007

Least Likely to Change: Green Lantern ?!?!?!?!

I mean, really; is there anyone who thinks the modern Green Lantern is the Least Changed from the Golden Age version?

According to our current poll, there are. Talk to me. Explain to me how that's possible. The number of votes Green Lantern should have is ZERO, people!

In the Golden Age, the Green Lantern was Alan Scott, the sole person who became the inheritor of a lantern made from a strange mystic meteorite that had fallen to Earth thousands of years ago.

Three times would the meteorite flame. Once to bring Death, once to bring Life, once to bring Power. The first time it, um, killed some bad guys, I think. The second time, I remember quite clearly, it cured someone of insanity. The third time was when Alan Scott found it, and it granted him the power of the Green Lantern.

The creator of Green Lantern said he was inspired by his seeing train engineer use a red lantern to signal "stop" and a green lantern to signal "go" (a coding system auto traffic signals still follow). Alan Scott was to be a modern Aladdin, and the lantern his magic lamp. And, contrary to what anyone tries to tell you, the ring and its wielder were originally vulnerable to any substance in its natural state, such as a rock or a piece of wood. Bullets, being of a man-made alloy, were stoppable. That made a (fairy tale-ish) kind of sense, since the ring was some kind of nature magic. Only later did this vulnerability get narratively narrowed to wood, because, wood being plentiful, was most often used to fell Scott.

The modern Green Lantern is an entirely different person. And concept, really.

Alan Scott was always portrayed as a very successful engineer, later radio broadcast, later broadcast executive. Alan Scott was a leader, in both his professional and heroic roles. And as Green Lantern, he intentionally designed a bizarre costume to freak people out. He lived in Gotham. Green Lantern was creepy.

Hal Jordan? Not so much. Hal's only creepy in a "Yeah, wiseguy... she's my daughter!" kind of way.

No, really; I intend no offense to Hal. TRUST ME, if I want to make fun of Hal Jordan, you'll know it. But Hal was always portrayed as a maverick and professionally troubled. In the Green Lantern Corps, he was portrayed as a star, or an MVP, not "Team Captain". Flash, Aquaman, Superman, Batman, Black Canary-- they've all been portrayed as leaders of the Justice League. But not Green Lantern. In fact, in JLA Year One, the very idea that Hal should be in charge was played as a joke.

Oh, and the Corps. The essential concept of the ring/lantern has changed. It used to be mystical. It was like a living thing, a thing of flame, which could used to do a wide variety of whatever-the-plot-required stuff, but was very seldom used to make concrete objects. The modern Green Lantern? A cold, hard computer, that displays analyses, forms "constructs" of, well, something green (Solidified light? Plasma? Whatever). It's weakness (when it has one) is a bandwidth in the electromagnetic spectrum. Instead of it being a one-of-a-kind item, there's now one in every cosmic CrackerJack box from Oa. Green Lantern isn't a secret identity, it's a title or a job, like "Marshall".

Alan Scott was his own man, trying to wield responsibly an enormous power that was his and his alone. He still is. Hal Jordan (and his ilk) are disposable flunkies, cosmic deputies using power borrowed from their alien bosses, symbols that we live in a police protectorate galaxy (and why nobody's punched Green Lantern's lights out on that basis alone, I do not know).

The only modern age hero I can think who's less like his Golden Age counterpart than Green Lantern is...

the Atom.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

The Gunman

Next in our on-going series of goon tokens to assist your villainous Heroclix figures is the classic Gunman.

The Gunman gets its stats from the Sarge Steel pog (and very nice stats they are, too, particularly for only 8 points).

Perhaps you don't want to spend a 100 points on tokens every game, but there are worst investments than a handful of Gunmen. Don't underestimate the amount of damage some Gunmen can do to the host of figures without any damage-reducing powers. Black Lightning, Alan Scott, Mister Miracle, Batman, Halo, et al.-- they could all get shot by the Gunman.

Halo. Repeatedly.

And who is our charming model for this token? The Gunman is Michael "the Mutt" Conway, who's currently wanted on multiple counts of Assault with a Deadly Weapon and Generally Looking Really Mean. You wouldn't know it to look at him, but Mike's a thespian. Of course, if you call him that to his face, you'll be eating bullets for breakfast.

Mike earns a really nice living using human beings for target practice, but he still shaves his head with a broken bottle, not to save money, but just because he likes the feel of it.

Mike the Mutt looks like he lives in a bad neighborhood, but there's one nice thing about it: no squirrels. Not any more.