Friday, February 29, 2008

Mama mia!

Pardon, in advance, the extreme strangeness of this post.... Last night, I dreamt, quite vividly, that my mother had unbeknownst to me, been signed to write a comic book about a racecar driver/superhero, and that she had modestly begun to do so, with great success, without mentioning it to me.

That's pretty odd. Even for a dream.

But all day, it's made me wonder: what kind of comic book would my mother write? My mother has a rather dry wit and likes dogs, so I imagine her character would have a Rex the Wonder equivalent as a sidekick to utter Wildean canine commentary on the action. Any, it all makes me want to ask you two questions:
  1. If you could pick a comic book for your mother to write, which one would it be?
  2. If your mother created her own comic book, what would it be like?

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Things That Made Me Happy...

in my comics this week.

  • Jaime Reyes, naked in a holding cell. Sigh!
  • Of all the times Desaad's gotten killed, this was my favorite.
  • The New Clock King!
  • Well, at least when Geoff Johns writes Hercules out of character, it's amusing!
  • Jaime Reyes, naked and bleeding, escaping an alien spaceship while making a Treasure of the Sierra Madre joke.
  • Well, I have no idea what Morrison's jibbering about in Batman, but he gets points for referencing both Batman's hallucination in Robin Dies At Dawn and the old story where Commissioner Gordon got demoted to beat cop.
  • Ray Palmer in costume. I bet you forgot that he's always wearing it and it only becomes visible when he shrinks. PU!
  • The brick-like subtlety which with LIGHTNING and Jakeem THUNDER are being thrown together. Oooo, maybe there's a storm a-comin'!
  • Jaime Reyes, wearing Blue Beetle goggles.
  • The guy wearing Wonder Girl's panties on his head.
  • Do yourself a favor and buy Dynamite 1. Very Watchmen-esque.
  • Wildcat's memories of "the Golden Age" in JSA Classified.
  • Traci Thirteen's amusing and dramatic cavalry entrance.
  • Many-headed headless creature thingie in Freedom Fighters; very Alan Moore.
  • Attack of the Legion of Substitute Heroes, via school bus!!!!
  • Hey; they just blew up Apokolips, didn't they? Maybe I'll never have to type that stupid name again...!
  • Lightning Lad's sleepwear. Rowr!
  • Jaime Reyes's dad shooting aliens with an auto-rifle.
  • Black Condor being a pain in the ass. It's a concept that really works for me.
  • The prissiness of Element Lad. Thank you, Mr. Shooter!
  • Earth-Man is a great villain. He's the new Composite Superman!
  • Jaime Reyes saying "those words", which I thought no one would ever hear again; where is this heading...?!
  • Happy Terrill's makeover, via comic book Red Bull!
  • Oh, my god, Black Lighting really does have a wife! For a while, I thought he was producing those children from his forehead, fully grown and armored.
  • Jaime Reyes's priorities: "Pants. Then spaceship. In that order."
  • Is it my imagination or are Piper's last ramblings the lyrics of a Dazzler song?
  • Prank phone calls to Batman.
  • The Ted Kord reference on the cover of Blue Beetle.

Really; why aren't you reading Blue Beetle? From now, I will only speak to people who are reading Blue Beetle...

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

"There's a Skrull in my sub...!"

Today, I am announcing my intention to read...

Secret Invasion.

From some company called "Mar-vel". I think they're a Timely imprint.

Anyway, you may be wondering why I decided to sign on in advance for this particular ride. Several reasons...

While I've certainly read Marvel comics, I've never read any of its big crossover events. Such events seem more important to the Marvel Universe than in the DCU. Marvel Events seem like small-scale affairs that still have a real longer-term impact on the regular storylines. DCU Events are generally ENORMOUS in scale, but have little real long-term impact (other than sparking "Yeah, he was dead, but that was before Event Z" conversations and lines of collector figures).

The subject is intriguing. Civil War seemed like just another hero-on-hero slapfest; typical Marvel situation where the heroes' problems are not with villains and serious outside threats, but lie with their inability to get along with one another or with normal people.

In many ways,
Secret Invasion is just such a Marvel-ous story. It's about an inside threat, not an outside one. Friends turn out to be enemies. It's a story stemming from paranoia and fear of betrayal; the emotions of adolescence and the Cold War, the fertile soils in which Marvel found root and grew.

So what's the difference? Mystery.

As I've mentioned before, one of the reasons I prefer DC to Marvel is that DC storylines tend to be detective/crime stories. Secret Invasion seems like more a mystery; Who is a Skrull? Now, perhaps that will all be revealed straightaway and the whole event will simply unravel into another slapfest among heroes (some of whom will be wrongly accused of being Commies, er, I mean, Skrulls). After all, that's what happened in Marvel's greatest "mystery event", Identity Crisis, which began ostensibly as a mystery with intimations of an outside threat, a matter quickly overshadowed instead by internal conflicts among heroes and their supporting casts.

My interest in Secret Invasion is that it seems to work in reverse. What began as an internal conflict among heroes -- Civil War -- may be revealed to be, in fact, the result of machinations by an outside villainous threat (the Skrulls, finally being used to their full potential). Instead of raising questions about characters acting uncharacteristically, it may answer them.

Of course, you may find the whole concept a cop-out, thinking it sad that what was once an honest exploration of societal and political conflict among well-meaningpeople with varying viewpoints will degenerate into a sci-fi B-film about fighting Little Green Men.

Maybe. But I'm also thinking it's going to be a lot more fun... .

Monday, February 25, 2008

Atom Rant

Can we talk about Captain Atom today?

I'm no longtime Captain Atom fan. I mean, really; are there any? Captain Atom, like the most of his Charlton Comics brethren, is a one of the DCU's red-headed stepchildren. For writers as well as readers, it's been hard to figure out what he's like, let alone where belongs in the DCU.

If you want a sense of how far DC was from knowing who these characters were and who they wanted them to be, (re-)read Crisis on Infinite Earths. Could Ted Kord have been a less pleasant hero? "Can the telethon, pal; you got our donation. I'll join your gabfest." Could this person be less like the Ted Kord of the Blue Beetle series, let alone of the one of the JLI?

Captain Atom, on the other hand, was simply damned by faint attention. I read his own series for a while, but still never got a sense of his personality. As far as I could tell he was a Air Force officer but dumber than a grunt and the only sparkle he had was from his skin. He was Hal Jordan without the charm. Or the ceiling tiles.

But I learned to adore him when they sent him on his Grand Tour of the Wildstorm Universe. Out of the shadow of the DCU's mainstay icons, he truly shone (and not just because of his skin) like a beacon in the dark world of Wildstorm. He became more than a superhero for me; he became a hero. He was powerful, righteous, intelligent, resourceful, passionate, and reasonable. Most important, he was a tower of morality.


Someone remembered that he was supposed to be the bad guy in Zero Hour, before that surprise was spoiled by leaks and then abandoned (for a replacement patsy too ridiculous to be named). And so it was decided that he was to become Monarch (as he was supposed to have been the first time).

I was disappointed by the decision, but resigned to it. Because it they went to the trouble of shining up Captain Atom to new heights of herodom, the tale of his fall into universe-threatening villainy would surely be Shakespearean in its pathos.


Captain Atom goes from being the shining example of heroism in the Wildstorm Universe to a masticator of scenery and master organizer of a multiversal army of worldkillers? Because of....what exactly? Some trouble in Bludhaven? No; no I don't think so.

I want a better explanation, DC.

I demand one.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Parental Trinity

We are used to thinking of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman as "the trinity" of DCU. That's based on their being the three most consistently iconic and well-known of DC's characters. But it's more that just that, isn't it?

DC, being DC, isn't content to simply say, "These are our three most popular characters." DC seems to intuitively understand that for mere characters to be actual icons, they need to stand for something. Not simply the generic Good Guy message of "Be Good and Beat Up Bad Guys", but something unique. But since their acknowledgment as the Big Three, editorial attempts (whether conscious or not) have tried to distinguish among Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman as three points of a conceptual triangle.

These attempts have met with varying degrees of success. The differences in outlook and style between Batman and Superman have been beaten to death so thoroughly in so many places -- for that matter, on any single page of Superman/Batman -- that I have no desire to retread them here. Attempts to shove Wonder Woman into that tightly bound conceptual dyad have been spotty and rung less true.

One of the most promising attempts was position here in direct opposition to both Batman and Superman over the killing of Max Lord. Batman and Superman, whatever their differences in style, are both very much products of our society. As vigilantes, they are willing to use their abilities to bring criminals to justice, but not to carry out punishment, which is in the purview of society as whole, not an individual. Wonder Women is a classical hero from an entirely different society; they kill monsters and threats to civilization.

But even that distinction seems to have broadly overlooked. Besides, it's not really a "triangle" in any meaningful way; it's just Wonder Woman's worldview versus The World's Finest's. Regardless, I myself have my own perceptions of the differences between them, and likely you do, too. One I would like you to consider is how the Big Three represent three different models of the nuclear family.

To put it more directly,
  • Superman is the child of two parents.
  • Wonder Woman is from a single-parent family.
  • Batman is an orphan, raised with no parents.

2, 1, 0. This is a real, built-in difference among the three characters. It's not one that's been superimposed through later interpretation; it's part of their origins.

In some ways, this basic difference resonates through their characterizations. Batman, the orphan, is all about building a family. You know: adopting circus kids, street urchins, the neighbor's kid, the neighbor's kids' girlfriend, mute loonies and religious nutjobs, lost dogs, wayward librarians, obsequious imps, mechanically-minded hunchbacks, even Halo and Geo-Force. Whoever. Batman's like the Old Lady With the Houseful of Straycats.

Forget all that "long figure of the night" BS some writers try to hand you; Batman is the character, who, almost immediately after he was introduced, abandoned that shtick to hang out with a kid in green pixie boots.

For obvious reasons, Batman does not take family for granted, and, of all the Trinity, has been best at forming a (rather non-traditional) family and acting as its head.

Wonder Woman, on the other hand, is the child of quite literally a single-parent household. As such, she was clearly raised with independence in mind. Wonder Woman has been good at making friends and colleagues, but, unlike Batman, she's never seemed moved to form a family around herself.

I can count on one hand the number of times I've see her paling around with Donna, her sister. She's been seen with Wonder Girl (Cassie Sandsmark) often enough, I suppose (though it's certain nothing like a "Batman & Robin" relationship). But much of Cassie's training was farmed out to warrior-nanny Artemis. As this last issue of Wonder Girl made clear, Wonder Woman's focus has always been helping Cassie become an independent woman and warrior, able to choose her own path, rather than treating her as a sidekick or a partner.

Superman? Well, I've never really forgiven him for unceremoniously dumping both Matrix (look that up, kids!) and then Superboy (who was genetically his SON, for Rao's sake) on his parents. But recently I've softened on that, as a result of insights gained from reading Kurt Busiek's stories where he and Lois have essentially adopted the orphaned Chris Kent. Clark is from a two-parent family, and that is his irreducible model of family. It simply wouldn't occur to him to try to act as a single parent to either Matrix or Superboy; a child needs two parents, Clark would feel. Only now that Superman has a wife does parenting seem like an option to him.

So, while the members of the Trinity represent different models of family, there is something those models all have in common: they are built around the idea that family is more than just blood. Batman and Superman lost their birth parents; Superman was adopted by other, Batman adopts others. The youngsters they have charge of aren't their blood relatives but they've made them their sons. Wonder Woman was created by her mother, but not born of her; her "sister" isn't really her sister by blood and neither is the new Wonder Girl.

Whatever else they may represent, the Trinity stand for the idea that while families come in different mode, they are made by choices and time spent together, not just genes... .

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Things That Made Me Happy...

in my comics this week.

  • Batman wearing a bubble helmet. Gotta love that.
  • Gee, with Vixen able to copy all the powers of the other JLA members, it's almost as they're trying to convince us we won't need the Martian Manhunter any more, huh?
  • Wonder Woman's earrings are now part of Green Arrow's Rogue's Gallery. I don't think I've ever even liked Green Arrow before, but, for today at least, I love him for saying that...
  • Oceanus? Long time, no see!
  • Orion being clever and relying on Superman's intelligence rather than his strength.
  • Wonder Girl's mom used to hook up with the Olympian? Hot.
  • The Return of Queen Killer Shark.
  • Aquaman's little lesson about companionship to the young sidekicks. Aquaman formed the Teen Titans!
  • Wait... so does that mean Misfit's power is ... MAGIC?!
  • Speaking of the Martian Manhunter... as we've noted before, it's never enough for J'onn. That's why he decided to make himself the only hero on a planetful of supervillains. Couldn't he have just been satisfied with the Human Squirrel and the Human Flame?
  • I don't think I've ever been the least bit afraid of Wally West, in any way. Until he said... "One more time, Jai?" Now, that is scary, folks.
  • Extraterrestrial robot yetis.
  • Live Wire, living up to her potential.
  • Speaking of the Human Flame... you didn't miss his cameo in Brave & the Bold did you?
  • Batman seeing through Waller like a pane of glass while Wonder Woman and Superman stand there like slack-jawed super-apes.
  • Meeting the Silent Knight; never heard of him before!
  • "Ohhh-kay." I think that's the first time I've ever liked Red Tornado!
  • The JLA's fight with the Suicide Squad basically being, "Get out; now." Just as it should be.
  • The amazing image that came to my mind when Red Arrow said there'd been a strange Vibe between him and Vixen lately...! Ay, papi!
  • The Golden Eye of Effron. Shudder.
  • When Wonder Girl finally talks with Wonder Woman and gets, not want she wants to hear, but what she needs to her.
  • Good riddance! And if I never see him and his ridiculous portable harness with built-in Astro-Glide, it'll be too soon.
  • Aqualad, getting soundly dissed by the cool sidekicks, like the big-headed, purple-eyed, ichthyophobic freak that he is.
  • "Couldn't find his earrings." Funniest sentence you'll read all month.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Who Do You Trust?

do you trust to save us from
the Terrorist Threat (tm)?


Obama wades onto an enemy shore, stripped for action
and armed with nothing but Hope
and some hastily cobbled together domestic policies!


McCain's principal weapons in the War Against Terror (tm)
are Grit and a daily can of spinach.

You vote for whomever you want...

but I'm voting for:


Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Absorbascon Reads Spider-Man, AGAIN!

It's been a while since I last read Spider-Man, so I thought I would catch up on him by reading Spider-Man 550... .

Well, not too much seems to have changed. It's not like they did anything weird or drastic with him, like marry him off , replace him with someone else, or have his secret identity exposed.

He does seem to have graduated from high school, though he still has that bizarre love-hate thing with
Flash Thompson, the jock who he either wants to become or to marry.

Only two things seem to have changed, really. First, Peter Parker appears to have had lasik. That's good; I could never figure whether Spider-Man was running around half blind or whether he took his mask to the optometrist and had prescription lenses put in. Second, the old lady hunchback is gone. Maybe she died? You'd think they'd make a story out of that instead of just having her be missing. I guess the Spider-Man editors don't care much about continuity.

Oh, a third thing: he's got a new boss at the newspaper. That's good; the old guy always seemed like a silly caricature from a long-gone era. This new guy is much more believable and modern. He has high standards for his own business conduct, but they're impersonal. He'll never yell at you or try to cheat you, but neither will he remember your name. Renaming the Daily Bugle the "DB" may seem silly, but it's pretty accurate. I remember when
Young Miss became YM and Metro Weekly became MW (and, yeah, I read Young Miss; it's hilarious). As for the new boss, Dex Bennett, it's pretty goofy to make his initials the same as the paper's. Who's gonna name a magazine after themselves? Except, you know, Forbes. Or Oprah. Or Rosie. Okay, never mind that. But, really, it's typical Marvel heavy-handedness; I mean, why couldn't he do something subtler and more realistic, like build a gigantic office building in the shape of his initial?

Okay, so, bizarrely, Spider-Man is stunned that someone doesn't know what the Apollo is, but he has no idea what Lexis/Nexis is. Peter Parker, smart guy, science whiz, works at a fricking newspaper. Who later manages to use an anonymous internet server to send a tip to the police. We're supposed to believe he's never even heard of Lexis/Nexis.

From this I'm guessing that writer Mark Guggenheim is at least 65 years old. I also suspect, based on what seems to be intended as "humor" in much of the book, that he was reared by Catskills circuit comedians. Or maybe he's intentionally writing
Spider-Man this way. It's almost as if this Spider-Man were from another time, long ago, like when Joe Quesada and I were just tykes.

"I'm an idiot." Hey, you said it, Spider-Man, not me. Spider-Man is apparently the world's worst detective. When he finds the building plans to the Apollo Theater at the bad guy's hideout, he doesn't even Google it to discover that the Mayoral Debate is being held there that week (sponsored by-- who else? -- his employer, the DB). As if he wouldn't already know that. Batman would know that already. Heck, Woozy Winks would know that already.

I very much appreciate that it has editor's notes, "Meanwhile" boxes, and the like. But it's really bizarre and annoying that they make metatextual references and directly address the reader. Why, it's almost as if the writers/editors thought comic books were for children!

The surrounding cast? Not so impressive. So there's a redhead female crimefighter who calls Spider-Man "Tiger". Oh, and she's codenamed ... wait for it ... "Jackpot". Uh-huh. More Marvel subtlety. Plus, there's YET STILL ANOTHER ADDITIONAL ONE MORE Goblin knockoff. With the
Abstract Noun Codename that's been standard issue at Marvel for 20 or 30 years now. But, really, could it get worse than... Menace?!

"Hey, Mis-ter Wil-son!!!"

It's got some good things going for it, though. A nice, fast pace, accomplished with numerous short scenes. Nice art with great coloring. Seems fairly accessible to the casual reader. It references
Dazzler #5; Dazzler references are always worth a few points.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Conceptual Hall of Shame

Well, my recent mention of Kenny Braverman met with some understandable acrimony here at the Absorbascon. Inspired by this reaction, I inaugurate a new occasional feature here at the Absorbascon:


which will (dis)honor those comic book tropes that set off (or should) a reader's Automatic Crap Detector (or, as I like to call it privately, my "Spider-Man-villain sense"). Our first inductee is, of course,

A close friend of the hero from school or childhood is retconned into the hero's past, sometimes with a role so disproportionately large that it seems ridiculous that we've never heard of the character before. The former friend returns at what seems like a completely arbitrary point in the hero's career to wreak revenge for some real or imagined slight or injury.
The poster children for this weak-kneed trope are Tommy Elliot (Hush, from the Batman mythos) and Kenny Braverman (Conduit, from the Superman mythos).

Strong characters build their power and significance from the ground up, over time. As the saying goes, they win their reputation the old-fashioned way: they earn it.

Many (if not most) of the great villains were not introduced as Great Villains. They were introduced simply as villains, and through the intrinsic strength of their initial concept, deft handling by writers, and a unique dynamic with their foe, they become Great Villians through continued appearances. Even if they never appear except in opposition to the hero, they still stand on their own as characters; if you subtract the hero, you can still picture the villain with his own motivations, out doing evil, perhaps fighting some other hero. Such villains stand in opposition to their foe (which makes them seem like challenges for the hero to overcome) and are not dependent on him (which makes them simply feel like plot props).

Weak writers love to shortcut this process. They attempt to imbue their new pet villain with immediate and powerful significance by shoehorning him in as an important personal friend from long ago. Rather than let the villain prove himself as a threat, the writer gives him an instant "unfair" advantage, like knowing the hero's secret identity The logic of their motivation is murky; why have they chosen now and not earlier to strike, and why not simply announce the hero's secret identity on YouTube? Because the writer isn't really interested in this guy as a independent entity, the character is smothered in vagueness (motive, powers, codename, final dispensation). Because such villians are really props, they usually only have one story in them (and not a very good one, at that) .

Warning signs for this Shameful Concept are:

  • Unlikely continued use of diminutive first name from childhood (e.g., Kenny rather than Ken or Kenneth)
  • Vague and weak motivation against the hero (I can't even remember why Kenny disliked Clark so wildly)
  • Knowledge of the hero's secret identity or other personal weaknesses
  • Vague powers and abilities, whose source or origin is sloughed over
  • Nearly random noun for codename (Tell me "Hush" and "Conduit" don't sound like someone picked them out drunkenly from a dictionary during the DC Holiday Part and challenged a fellow writer to build a character around them).
  • Vague and inconclusive ending to their storyline

Don't be confused; there are villains who share some superficial characters of such crappy MacGuffins, but are actually decent characters. Not all old friends who become villain deserved to be tarred as "Vengeful Childhood Friends".

Exempt from condemnation are the Silver Age Lex Luthor, because DC went to such lengths to make it work that they actually kind of succeeded, and the Green Goblin(s?), because he wasn't retconned and his development as a villain was contemporaneous with his role as a regular member of the hero's supporting cast. Similar to Luthor, Two-Face was made more interesting on Batman The Animated Series by inserting a friendship between Harvey Dent and Bruce Wayne (and, later, Batman). But both Luthor and Two-Face existed on their own and stood as strong independent characters before their relationships with the hero were "backdated".

Anyway, there must be other clear examples of this Conceptual Shame than the awful "Hush" and "Conduit". Who are they...?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Things That Made Me Happy... my comics this week.

  • I was really surprised how enjoyable it was to watch Mary Marvel bite off someone's nose! May the Rolling Head of Pantha bless you, Mary!
  • I really liked both Gotham Underground and Salvation Run this week!
  • "That was ill-advised," is now a candidate for Greatest Understatement of the Year.
  • Brother Eye is ... eating Apokolips? That is freaking hilarious!
  • So... you do realize where the name "Boodika" comes from, don't you...?
  • The Origin of Solomon Grundy. Pure genius.
  • Okay, the whole "how Ollie got a son that we'd never heard of" thing makes a lot more sense to me now.
  • The baseball. Of course. The baseball. I stand in awe of you, Kurt.
  • Wonder Woman can perform marriages simply because she's the god**** Wonder Woman.
  • "Time-traveling deviants." This is my new favorite condemnatory epithet. The next time tourists are blabbing loudly on the Metro rather than sitting there silently staring into space like you're supposed to, I shall turn upon them savagely and hiss, "Time-traveling deviants." That'll show 'em.
  • Wait, so now Connor's half black instead of half Asian? Is this like when Kyle turned out to be half Mexican?
  • Oh, my god, Ted actually used his silly light gun!
  • "Caution will not help you now."
  • Dan Garrett is a very cool person. Honestly, it's nicer having him back than Ted.
  • Ape on ape violence!!!
  • My comic books made me look up a word today. I love it when that happens.
  • "Everybody say cheese!" I do not like to think about the Joker's photo album.
  • I really never thought I would ever see the name "Kenny Braverman" occur in any comic book. Ever. I almost fainted.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Kinda Haikuey

See? Now, this is why I read DC rather than Marvel!

In Marvel, even beings of godlike power are sniveling, adolescent whiners (yeah, I'm lookin' at you, Galactus and Silver Surfer).

In DC, even lowly delivery boys getting beaten up by Batman can still muster the wherewithal to throw a haikuiform retort!


In a dark alley
bat suits and cat suits don't look
all that different.

Can you compose a haiku to celebrate the poetic glory of DC's citizens?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Threat of theTwo-Headed Pog!

Ask 50 Heroclix players what they think the most exciting piece is in the new Heroclix set, Crisis, is and you might get 50 different answers. Fans of the New Teen Titans will be excited by the Fearsome Five or Trigon; the Metal Men will tickle the fancy of Silver Age buffs; Batman's large following might focus on new versions of Nightwing, Batgirl, and Robin.

But, I think there should be no argument about what the most exciting piece is in the new set: it's Congo Bill.

First off, well... it's Congo Bill, people. He's one of our guest columnists here at the Absorbascon, and we love Congo Bill, so much so that I actually designed my own custom Congo Bill token (assuming that Wizkids never would!). But it's more than that... .

Sure, it's cool to have a pog that represents such an obscure and bizarre character, a jungle explorer who can swap bodies with a golden gorilla. Plus, the crazy mechanic for showing the body swap is loads of fun! But the real excitement lies in Wizkids' introduction of the first two-sided character token (which, we'll just call "pogs" from here out, just for convenience's sake).

Many people don't like "cardboard" in the game, and I understand that. But as long as it is part of the game, I want it to enhance my gameplay by allowing the standard, 3D figures to better represent the comic book characters they're supposed to.

But pogs haven't done that. In some ways, they'd done the opposite. Unless your interest in Heroclix in purely in the mechanics of the game and you have no feeling at all for its comic book theme, you should cringe to see Superman using Lian Harper as a "meat shield". Surely this isn't what Wizkids originally intended with pogs. Of course, it's not the only time Wizkids has introduced a mechanic that had unintended results...!

Their low-point cost and one-click lifespans make pogs ideal as "mobile terrain" for protecting more valuable combatants. Unfortunately, that's thematically at odds with using them to represent innocent bystanders and the loved ones of heroes.

They would, however, be thematically perfect to represent certain kinds of generics. This is particularly true for villains, who are supposed to use lesser teammates and goons as meat shields!

Generics have pretty much disappeared from the game as the valuable slots in sets are being used to represent as many named characters as possible. I think we all do appreciate that we're getting so many named characters in our sets; still, I think a few properly chosen generics could really help spice up the game and add to its "comic book feel".

That's why Congo Bill offers such exciting possibilities for other two-sided pogs, particularly in the next planned DC set, Rogues Gallery. Wizkids! Please make ALL pogs two-sided from now on!

There are several ways WK could continue to use two-sided pogs in the Rogues Gallery set to bring interesting generics to the game.

First is the simple "reversible pog" with one generic on on one side and a totally different one on the other side. This is an opportunity to give us two pogs for the price of one. A "Cop/Criminal", for example, would be welcome for those Gotham City games! Villains need goons to back them up (or, more commonly, stand in front as cannon fodder). Why not give us a two-sided pog with a low-tech goon on one side and a high-tech foot-soldier on the other? That way, both the Jokers and the Luthors of the world will have the lackeys they need.

Second is the "two-click" pog, that starts on "Side A" but gets turned to "Side B" when the character takes a click of damage. Such a pog could be used to represent a villainous goon, the type of character who's sturdier than a regular bystander but not in the same league as the 3D characters. "Side A" might be wearing armor, thus meriting Toughness, which is "destroyed" when damage flips the pog to its "Side B". It could even be used to achieve effects that a regular dial couldn't (as the Congo Bill pog does). For example, "Side A" might represent an armed criminal, who has a ranged attack; "Side B" might be unarmed with a range of zero. A lower-point figure on your team would then be useful for "disarming" and picking off such pogs, freeing up your major combatants for more important battles.

Third is the "transformative" pog, which shows a character changing into something else. The Congo Bill pog is a perfect example, but others are possible. Why shouldn't a mad scientist have a robot pog available, which, upon being kayoed, flips over to become a heavy object or even an immobile bomb that has Pulse Wave or Quake? Green Lanterns might be able to use "living construct" pogs, that flip over to become barrier or rubble tokens. I can imagine a Woozy Winks pog, that can't be kayoed (since being unharmable was Woozy's magical power), but simply flips back and forth between its two different sides until Plastic Man leaves the board. Why, you could make a whole slew of transformative pogs for Jimmy Olsen alone!

The new Rogues Gallery set is bound to give us new and improved of many traditional villains. Wizkids, forget the Feat Cards and Battlefield Conditions for a set, and fill it with some "specialty" pogs to complement those bad guys (and others). Attack plants for Poison Ivy. Mind slaves for the Mad Hatter (and other Mind Controllers). With some clever thought put into it, a two-sided pog could even be used to represent Two-Face's coin. Heck, pogs could provide finny friends for Aquaman, avian pals for Hawkman, bats for You Know Who, tigers for all the feline characters, and gorillas for, well, just about anybody.

What would you like to see done creatively with such pogs in Heroclix?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Terrible Trio

Do you watch The Batman cartoon? At first, I wasn't too happy with it; but about the time Robin was introduced, it got quite good. Really, sometimes it's almost just like watching BTAS again. If you haven't checked it out recently, you may want to give it a try.

Last week, I watched it, and was delighted to see a new take on The Terrible Trio.

The original version of the Terrible Trio were three "themed" criminals: The Shark (who committed crimes at sea), the Vulture (who committed crimes via the air), and the Fox (who crimes were grounded or underground). In fact, they were exemplars of the Pure Theme School of character creation. They had no backgrounds (other than vague scientific expertise), no motivations other than greed, no personal distinctions other than their costumes. And those costumes themselves were triumphs in purity of theme: simple business suits and giant animal heads. Facing the Terrible Trio is like some bizarre surrealist dream, where you're in battle against a law firm composed entirely of Egyptian gods and former school mascots.

Like the Mad Hatter
, they began as began as the simplest of characters, based almost completely on a visual and a one-note theme. And, as with the Hatter, time and variant versions would add to their complexity.

In their first outing (Detective 235 Mar. 1958), they hadn't yet earned their collective name as the Terrible Trio, and were simply called the Fox, the Shark, and the Vulture. That's rather a mouthful, so when they made the second (and final) Silver Age appearance (Detective 321 Nov. 1963), they were dubbed the Terrible Trio.

Names have power, and, thus dubbed, the Trio became one of those Unavoidable Concepts that turn up again and again in comics (like the gloriously absurd Royal Flush Gang). The characters essentials were set:
  • The land-sea-air theme
  • The three animals
  • the animal heads
  • Expertise that corresponds to the "animal totem".

The version of the Terrible Trio that appearance on Batman the Animated Series, followed on and added to these elements. Insert of being evil scientist, they are wealthy young troublemakers who are alienated from common society. They adopt the identities of the three animals and wear the animal heads to commit their land-sea-air crimes. Each one is inheritor of wealth founded on particular industries (the Fox, mining; the Shark; shipping; the Vulture, aviation), which is an interesting twist on the expertise that corresponds to the animal totem.

The Terrible Trio that fought Dr. Mid-Nite is his mini-series were more like the original version, in that they were middle-aged crime lords rather than just irresponsible young troublemakers. And these members of the Trio actually bore a physical resemblance to the animal totem whose name they bore.

A rather grim version of the trio showed up quite recently in last year's Detective Comics 832.
But, since all of the Trio didn't survive, and these were clearly the Trio who fought Dr. Mid-Nite, the original ones may very well still be around. Their costumes, in fact, were seen not to long ago in an issue of Catwoman. I'm sure we've not seen the last of the Trio in comics.

Meanwhile, as I began by mentioning, a new version of the Trio were on a recent episode of The Batman. They were disaffected young people, as were the ones who appeared on BTAS. But, instead of being wealthy wastrels, these were collegiate social misfits. They had animal heads, alright, but not masks; they were were-creatures, who transformed themselves intentionally to get revenge on their tormentors. The plot device that made this possible was none other than the stolen formulas of Dr. Kirk "Man-Bat" Langstrom, cleverly linking the Trio's story with another part of the Batman "myth". Who knows whether something of this version might find its way into the comics?

The on-going evolution of the Terrible Trio, of the kind of growth the myths have, and that I enjoy noticing in comic book characters. Myths that have variant versions often evolve through a dialectic whose synthesis is a broader, richer version that incorporates the variants, in what's called mythic synchretism. Batman, for example, has pretty much had a different version every decade. Every time he appears in other media -- really, every time a new writer writes him -- he's being written as some kind of composite of some of all of those previous versions.

If you just see this as "inconsistent characterization" or "disregard for continuity" you may be being short-sighted. In the long term, it's how mythic characters evolve and keep themselves vibrant, relevant, and rich with possibilities. It's why they have a long term.

Who is your favorite character and how, if it all, have they enriched themselves through the mythic synchretism of their various versions?

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Tempest in a Teapot

You know, for an ichthyophobic, big-headed, purple-eyed freak....

he turned out pretty well.

Congo Bill's Revenge


I made a custom pog a while ago of Congo Bill, because, of course, Wizkids would never ever make a pog of Congo Bill.

And yet they have.


I'm speechless.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Things That Made Me Happy...

in my comics this week.

  • Okay, if you'd told me Jonah Hex was going to be about a gay lynching, I wouldn't have believed you. Thank you, Palmiotti and Gray, from reminding readers that gay people weren't invented in the 1970s, and that they are just as human as anyone else. I could say more, but I think I'll hold my tongue instead.
  • Also, hats off to Palmiotti and Gray for keeping Jonah Hex the morally ambiguous Two-Face of the West, who is at once completely non-judgmental about some things and utterly judgmental about others.
  • An actual, honest to god Editor's Note in Teen Titans Year One.
  • Speaking of which, Aquaman's and Flash's dismissal of their sidekicks were perfectly and efficiently calculated to prey on the insecurities of each boy.
  • Darkseid playing Heroclix (and using the new Crisis set, it seems).
  • As of this week, I subscribe to Nightwing, which seems to have gone overnight from one of DC's worst books to one of its best.
  • I've often wanted the body of Black Condor, but it never occurred to me to steal it!
  • Ryan's dog's butt to the rescue!
  • Aqualad versus the squirrel. I really want a poster of that.
  • Hippolyta versus Granny Goodness.
  • Jonah Hex versus a ten-dollar whore with a heart of gold.
  • Black Lightning surprises us with another daughter ex nihilo! Jeff sure knows how to keep busy. So, um, does he have, you know, like, a wife, or does he just zap the ground Zeus-wise and grown daughters spring up fully armored?
  • Okay, was that Hawkman saying, "Your tattoo is pulsating?" If so, that's kind of hot.
  • Jonah Hex wasn't the only morally complicated comic this week. Justice League Unlimited features a very interesting story by Dan Raspler about trust, recidivism, & good intentions gone bad. It's the kind of rich character study that used to be in comics in the 1940s, and doing it with a member of one of comics' most two-dimensional characters, the Royal Flush Gang, was genius.
  • The return of the Tweeds.
  • Nightwing and Superman's photo op.
  • Mary Marvel calling someone a six-foot baby giraffe.
  • We finally get to understand what's been going on in Ivy Town!
  • Ryan Choi in his underwear, covered in syrup, and tied up in a lasso. I'll have what she's having!
  • Do not let Starman order the pizza.
  • Do not mess with Topo.
  • Do not shaft the Mad Hatter.
  • Nightwing drops in to thank Bruce.
  • Am I mistaken or is something very odd about the weather in Teen Titans Year One? Are we being reminded about Mister Twister for a reason...?
  • I like Amazing Man's outfit. At first I thought it was silly that he wears that serape-thingie without a shirt, but when your power requires you to touch stuff, showing skin makes sense.
  • Thank you, art team on Teen Titans Year One, for remembering what color Aqualad's eyes are supposed to be.
  • I guess now Hippolyta's got a new island of Amazons Lite. That's good; it helps keep Wonder Woman unique, but still gives her a homeland.
  • Travel stickers on Jakeem's suitcase. I wish DC sold those.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Green Arrow Minus Green Arrow Equals Nothing

Let's talk about this, shall we?

We all know I'm not the biggest Green Arrow fan in the world. In fact, I'm sitting in my study with my dog, and it's still fair to say that I'm not the biggest Green Arrow fan in this room.

But I do enjoy Black Canary/Green Arrow, and how the book has help humanize and redeem him for me. I have always been kind of peeved how his absentee fathering of Connor Hawke has been sloughed over or whitewashed. This most recent issue tackled it head on, and showed that, no matter what anyone else thinks about it, including Connor, Ollie feels guilty about it, and deservedly so. That's once of the most decent, human things done with Green Arrow for some time.

That said, I am cheesed by the hacky plot non-resolution of Connor's shooting. He's not dead. But neither is he alive.

Boo! Hiss! Get off the fence! The only thing in the middle of the road is roadkill!

Honestly, I have no strong feelings about Connor himself. If someone had ever had the guts to make him gay (or stopped a certain someone from preventing him from being gay), I might care more. But they didn't.

Sure, I like him more than I like Ollie, but what human being wouldn't? Connor was calm, loving, fun, competent, etc. But for the most part, I just think of him as another failed "Earth-8" style replacement for a Silver/Bronze Age icon.

He is, however, a GREAT Heroclix figure.

Sadly, I feel that Connor has been offed, at least partly on account of the cruelties of the Dynastic Centerpiece Model (which longtime readers will recognize as one of my pet concepts). DC has been (re-)building a dynasty around Black Canary (Female Counterpart) and Green Arrow (Centerpiece). Red Arrow (Junior Counterpart), Speedy II (Youth Sidekick), Black Lightning (Ethnic Counterpart); they all had a place... .

But Connor didn't. Red Arrow fills the Junior Counterpart slot, and with some 60 years of seniority, isn't easily dislodged from it. Connor literally had no role to fill in the Green Arrow dynasty, once his original role (as replacement Centerpiece) was taken from him.

Personally, I think that's a mistake. One of the slots in the Dynastic Centerpiece Model is the "Black Sheep". I think that's where Connor should have fit in. Not because he's the "naughty" version of Green Arrow. Quite the opposite; Ollie's the jerk, so Connor made a perfect "white sheep", so to speak. In the same way Wonder Woman has a Male Counterpart (Hercules, by they way) in her dynasty rather than the regular Female Counterpart, in the Green Arrow dynasty, Bad Boy Ollie Queen would have a "White Sheep" in his family: Connor Hawke.

Usually he was written that way, too. Why wasn't that enough to warrant keeping him? I guess Judd doesn't read my blog (*Silver Age sob*!).

But setting all that aside: killing him is one thing. Bringing him back from death's door (which has been done several times already) is another. Repairing his body but leaving him brain dead as a result of some absurd "poisoned bullet" macguffin, however, is nothing. Unless Winick goes somewhere fantastic with this (like he did with Ollie getting stabbed in the throat by his bride on his wedding night), it seems like a grand cop-out. Show of hands if you're confident Judd's going to go somewhere fantastic with this...!

Let's see, as I recall the recent storylines for Black Canary and Green Arrow, they've been:

  • "Humanize the Series Principal #1 by showing his reaction to losing someone close" story, when Dr. Light & Co. blew up Ollie's house and everyone in it;
  • "Humanize the Series Principal #2 by showing her reaction to losing someone close" story, when she thought that the girl, Sin, was dead.
  • "Humanize the Series Principal #2 by showing her reaction to losing someone close again", when she seemed to have killed her husband, Ollie.

Was it necessary, wise, or imaginative to follow those immediately with a "Humanize the Series Principal #1 by showing his reaction to losing someone close" story, where Green Arrow loses Connor?

Does Judd really only have one story to tell us? If that's the case... well, I enjoyed it the first three times. Now, it's time for someone else to write a different story... .

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Preparing for Crisis

Not all Heroclix players are interested only in huge donnybrooks; I'm a big fan of 200 and 300 points games without any flying bricks.

With the new Crisis set comes out (VERY soon!), I'm already thinking about fun little team to compose. Such as...


Back in the day (that means the Silver Age), Aquaman and Green Arrow could not get enough of each other, and were showing up in crossover stories constantly.

Okay. It was more like twice.

But those things were rarer then (outside of World's Finest), and they loom large. Okay, fine. To me, they loom large.

So, putting Aquaman and his sidekick (that big-headed, purple-eyed, ichtyophobic freak, Aqualad) on a team with Green Arrow and the original Speedy (The Boy Whose Indian Origins Have Been Forgotten) is irresistible to me.

It's also not a bad power combo. The Arrow guys have long-range powers; the Aquaguys have short-range powers, like Charge and Superstrength. Green Arrow and Aqualad both have stealthy powers, so Aquaman and Speedy can use them as cover. Not an unbeatable team, but workable against another 200 point team (that's not teeming with superspeed, invulnerability, or stealth).

Unfortuantely, while the 70 point Aquaman is a fun dial, but the sculpt is that of Artie Joe, the Fake Aquaman. Oh, well. You can swap him out for the Starro-Slave Aquaman if you want; he's the Real Aquaman, he's also 70 points, and if you don't look at his echidnodermic puss, he looks great.

Naturally, anytime you use Green Arrow, you want to use the 50 point one; he's SO much better the 42 point one it's not even funny. But there are only so many points to go around on a 200 point team!

For some further fun, throw in the Starro Slave version of the Flash (70 points) and the forthcoming Kid Flash (45 points), swap out the 42 pt GA for the 50 pt one, add a GL and you get...

Okay, I'm cheating again; the 80 point GL is Kyle Rayner, not Hal Jordan. But, heck just put Hal's sculpt on it, and you're set for some Silver Age Fun. Or, you can use the Starro-Slave version of Hal Jordan; that's only 70 points, and you can add 10 points worth of Feat Cards. Or, if your really into it, add Itty, Kiki, and either an Octopus or a Jellyfish.

OR, if you'd like to take it to the next level, lose the pogs and go for:


Then throw them up against


Friday, February 01, 2008

We're doomed, Gulliver.

Do you remember Glum?

Probably not, unless you are of "a certain age".

During the Golden Age
of Hanna-Barbera (1968 - 1970), there was a show called the Adventures of Gulliver, an animated version of Gulliver's adventures with the tiny Lilliputians. It was one of the cartoon features on the live-action "Banana Splits" kids show.

Now, the show had some interesting Lilliputians (such as Bunco, Eager, and the unfortunately named Flirtacia), but everyone who's seen the show remembers one of them much more than the others: Glum.

Voiced by the great Herb Vigan, Glum was the most pessimistic cartoon character of all time. Glum made Bad Luck Schleprock look like Richie Rich. Glum made Eeyore look like laughing Little Audrey. Once you've
heard it, you never forget the pitiless, hopeless sound of Glum announcing flatly,"

"We doomed. We'll never get out of here alive."

Ironically, the voice of the can-do Gulliver was none other than Jerry Dexter -- the voice of Aqualad from the Filmation cartoons. I say ironic because Aqualad is the "Glum" of the DCU.

I have, most of you recall, mentioned this little failing of Aqualad's before. But I'm not sure everyone believes me... .

Now, we could blame Aqualad's doom-saying on the writers and the exigencies of story-telling. Aqualad's pessimism is part of his function in any Aquaman story, because Aqualad is mostly there to make Aquaman look good.

Whenever something happens, Aqualad has no answer for it or understanding of it. Aquaman figures it out. Whenever they are threatened, Aqualad announces that the problem is unsolvable. Then Aquaman solves it. Aqualad is used merely as a literary device to cue the readers on what their attitudes and viewpoints about the hero should be. "Neither you nor young Aqualad can see a way out of this; but Aquaman can. Isn't he cool?"

Poor Supergirl served a similar function for a long time for Superman. Read the Silver Age Supergirl stories; the basic schtick was that Supergirl's existence had to be kept secret because she didn't know how to use her powers while still keeping her civilian identity secret. She had all of Superman's powers and abilities, but wasn't able to use them with adult wisdom and restraint. Thus, the Man kept her down, shackled by her brown artificial pigtails to her broken metal bed at the orphanage.

Aqualad (as I've mentioned before) is the not really the underwater Robin; he's the underwater Supergirl. Just like Supergirl, he has all the powers of his mentor. Yes, including telepathic command of fish. What he lacks isn't power, but wisdom, ingenuity, and a can-do attitude.

And, if scanning time and post space allowed, I could show you about a 1000 panels of Aqualad saying, "What's happening?" or "What are you doing, Aquaman?" Poor Aqualad never seems to have the slightest idea what's going on (unless it's impending doom; he recognizes that right away).

Robin and Speedy got treated much better than this. Often, they were the ones who pointed out what was going on, and their mentor would come up with the solution. Or, as soon as their mentor suggested a course of action or began one, they would pipe in immediately with, "I get it! By aiming out framarang arrows at the dynamo, we can create a field fluctuation that will draw their bullets off target!", or some such.

But Aqualad was always defeated, surprised, duped, and afraid. It wasn't his powers that made him a fifth wheel in the Titans, I think; it was his unshakable characterization as a terrified incompetent goofus that did it.

Is this a necessity? Is it, by now, intrinsic to Aqualad's character? Do the transdimensional vibrations from the Earths of the DCU simply not permit Aqualad to be portrayed as competent? Or is it because, having created a unique niche among sidekicks (former and current), it's the only hole into which the Aqualad peg fits squarely?

Sleepy-eyed cutie Phil Jimenez tried to bad-assifying Aqualad with his "Tempest" transformation. Regardless of the relative merits of that attempt, that characterization hasn't seem to catch fire. Maybe it's just me, but my principal memories of Tempest are:
  • Tempest gets pwned by Vandal Savage and stuffed into a kamikaze Rocket Red suit;
  • Tempest accidently turns himself and Aquaman into fish.
  • Tempest's revelation that Aquaman was physically abusive (!!!!)
  • Tempest being "whipped" by his wife, Dolphin, who was his mentor's ex-girlfriend ("Next, on Jerry Springer...!)
  • Tempest losing his powers and his ability to breathe unaided underwater.

Not the best track record. Perhaps there are other "Tempest rocks" stories that I'm overlooking, but, even so, it's fair to say Tempest hasn't been and isn't afforded the same kind of respect that Nightwing, Red Arrow, Wally West, and Donna Troy get. Or, for that matter, Jason Todd.

Should this be Aqualad's fate? Is Aqualad (I can never call him "Garth" without laughing) best as the uniquely Unsuccessful Hard-Luck Ex-Sidekick? Should Aqualad be redeemed as part of the (inevitable) return of the original Aquaman?

What do you think should be done with Aqualad?