Sunday, August 31, 2008

Face me!


I am now on the Facebook; my sons, Ramon and Paco insisted.

Anyway, befriend me there, if you wish, as well as Big Monkey Comics.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Which Earth is this anyway?

Well, the folks at MTV wasted no time in spoiling whatever glory I might have felt from being among the Comic Blog Elite.

They sent an email to the CBE folks trawling for "young people obsessed with a pop culture phenomenon", to convince them "this was their chance to be heard" on some new freak-show designed to make their viewers feel better because at least they aren't, you know, that guy who dresses up like a Klingon.

On the one hand, this is great validation for CBE. On the other hand, it's still demeaning that producers looking for obsessed fanboy freaks to make fun of go straight to comic book bloggers. It was so upsetting, in fact, that I spent my entire evening last night bitching about it to my life-sized mannequin of Vibe, ruining an otherwise lovely candlelit dinner for two.

Of course, among our own little troop, it's easy to admit that our fondness for comics has colored our worldview. Heck, that's part of their purpose!

But, sometimes -- admit it -- you can forget for a second just which Earth you're on...

The other day, I glanced at some text in an ad for a certain backpack line named Velocity 9, and, before I could realized what it was, my first thought was

"Great Rao, Vandal Savage's drug cartel has reached Earth-Prime!"

How embarrassing.

I remember another from quite a few years ago. A distraught friend call me on the phone to break the news to me: "Princess Diana is dead!" I replied, "Um, yeah, sure. I know that already, Michael. But don't worry, she'll be back within a year or so, I'm certain."

So, I've shared some of MY "Which Earth is this, anyway?" moments with you. Now, it's your turn. When have you suddenly caught yourself confused or miscommunicating because your head's just a bit too close to the staples in your comics?

Friday, August 29, 2008

How Tough is the Shield?

So tough he eats hand-grenades for breakfast.
Every morning.

So tough he beats sharks.
With chains.

So tough he sets himself on fire.
Unafraid to flame in public.

So tough that his best friend is
J. Edgar Hoover.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Well, I was going to post about the Shield again today.

But THIS, I believe, takes priority (at least, for some of us).

I've known this for a while, but was sworn to secrecy. Now that it's been leaked by others elsewhere, there's no real point in trying to keep quiet...


001 WHITE MARTIAN (generic)
002 MANHUNTER (As in "No Man Escapes The")
004 THE QUESTION (Renee Montoya)
023 WONDER WOMAN (Diana Prince)
036 ZOOM
041 FRANKENSTEIN (from 7 Soldiers)
042 VENTRILOQUIST (w/Scarface)
044 YELLOW LANTERN (Bizarro)
048 BIZARRO #1
056 THE FLASH (Jay Garrick)
058 CHANG TZU (aka Egg Fu)
BITB Clix: 061 THE CLOWN PRINCE OF CRIME - Joker escaping Arkham Asylum

101. Crispus Allen (as Spectre)

PRIZES: "No Man's Land" Event dial prize for Winner, Fellowship and Envoy, as well as an exclusive "Bizarro World" BFC card and "The Asylum" map for all players (up to 16)!

Naturally, I have a lot to say about this.

But I'd prefer to save it for your own comments...

Things That Made Me Happy

in my comics this week.

  • Hawkman's expository soliloquy.
  • Brainiac 5 doing, well, what only Brainiac 5 can do.
  • The perfectly logical explanation of why Superman (et al.) are better than their anti-matter countparts.
  • How can anyone not be able to tell the difference between the waltz and the cha-cha?
  • Hey, looks like Gog took the same classes on Divine Retribution that the Spectre took.
  • "I'll walk with Gog"; that would make a great song title!
  • That is almost exactly how a dog thinks.
  • What Geoff did with Lance. As ALWAYS, Geoff's plan seems obvious in retrospect, but you never, ever, ever see it coming!
  • "Ding-dang".
  • The Lyapunov terminus boundary. In a frickin' comic book.
  • Of course; that's who Enigma is.
  • I don't know who Wonderdog is, but I feel I owe him a great debt of gratitude.
  • The magic wand joke in Spider-Man. Nice one.
  • How to represent "helium voice" in a word balloon.
  • Thank you, Robin, for not acting like there's nothing else going on in your other books.
  • You know, I'd want a dog like that... if I didn't already have one.
  • "Yes, I know my own name, thank you." Occasional real-world reactions to expository exclamations can be refreshing!
  • Oh, grife, Kin'thea is falling for the charms of Garth, and I think I am, too.
  • The ending to Teen Titans Year One is... odd. Disturbingly.
  • Ultraman is still a moron.
  • The pantry at Legion HQ is unusually ... well stocked.
  • Well, really, the only good thing I can say about that is: I got to see Geo-Force's throat get slit.
  • Aqualad's showercap. Particularly since it took me a full minute before I asked myself, "Why is he wearing a showercap?"
  • Okay, I shouldn't find "Anti-venom" brilliant; but I do anyway.
  • "Shut up. No questions. Do as I say." Really; how can you not love that man?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Big Monkey Heroclix Token Postcard

Ah, now this one I'm proud of. It's not just decorative, it's functional (that is, if you play Heroclix).

This is an oversized Big Monkey postcard, with 15 tokens you can cut out and use in your Heroclix games! They are designed to go with my new full-size Heroclix map of the Big Monkey store in the District (you'll see that later, I promise, once it's available to buy from Xion Games).

All these tokens are people and things you might find at Big Monkey.

The Light Objects (in yellow) include:
  • Spinner racks, with some loose comics nearby that you just might recognize;
  • a Heroclix table, with my own "Iceberg Lounge" map on it;
  • our famous sale table, where fortunes have been won and lost;
  • and our beloved Civilian Bench, where the comic book pilgrims deposit their significant others while they pay their respects at the Big Monkey. It's the Wailing Wall of comic books, and if you look closely you can see a girlfriend lying on it unconscious, overwhelmed by the rarefied atmosphere of high-level comic book discussion at Big Monkey.

The Heavy Objects (in red) include:

  • Bookcases, spilling over with quality trades and hardcovers;
  • A file cabinet, container of sub files; "the perfect container, the container of all our hopes for the future";
  • The picnic table (it goes outside on the rooftop deck behind the store);
  • and the safe, where fortunes are stored and hopefully not lost.

The Special Objects (in blue) include the Absolute Edition and the Rare Issue. Either may be picked up by any figure in the game.

The Absolute Edition grants whoever carries it Deflection, because it's thick enough to deflect mere bullets and blasts of ill-defined energy. If an attack against the holder of the Absolute Edition succeeds, the Absolute Edition absorbs one click of the damage and is removed from play.

The Rare Issue grants whoever carries it immunity from long-range attacks, because no comic book character would risk harming a rare issue. If a close combat attack against the holder of the Rare Issue succeeds, the attacker takes the Rare Issue as his own. The Rare Issue cannot be destroyed; it's been bagged and boarded, you see.

The Big Monkey Bystanders (in brown) include:
  • The Customer, as portrayed by the charming Lauren Martella, head of the Big Monkey Women's Discussion Group;
  • The Player, as portrayed by the avuncular Tom Price, Wizkids Envoy and host of the on-going Big Monkey Heroclix tournament series;
  • The Staff, as portrayed by the angelic James Rambo, host of our fortnightly Crime Alley Cinema night.
All these bystanders have the Big Monkey Team Ability: no figure may attack them if they have the opportunity to attack some other figure instead. This should keep them on the board a good deal longer than your average meatshield.

It'll be a while before I get them back from the printer, but when I do, maybe I can mail you one (for a modest PayPal fee to cover expenses).

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Foes of the Shield

Sadly, the Shield doesn't have much in the way of named villains or supercriminals. He mostly fights nameless evil spies from two fictionations, Stokia and Nordica. Oh, look, here he is ethnic-profiling two Stokian spies ...

"Good gravy, the O'Dares are hijacking the plane!"

Hmm. Two tough looking, nearly identical guys with receding hairlines, in intimate but animated, handwaving conversation, wearing brightly colored outfits, while traveling together on an airplane in adjoining seats. See, I would just assume they were gay, not Stokian, proving the Shield is cleverer than I. Unless, of course, these are gay Stokians, or perhaps Stokia is a gay country entirely. You know: "I'll Stokia, if you'll Stoki-me, too."

The Stokians have a real way with words, and are experts in the Bee Ay Bay code:

Nice outfit, sister Stokey; International Male convinced you that would work, huh?

As I say, the Stokians have a way with words, but it doesn't always make for the best Smack Talk (for most Stokians that means saying, "I'm going to give you SUCH a slap!"). After all, I'm hooked on the hi-octane villain talk comics are known for. I'm used to villains who say things like:
Compare to those espresso shots of villainspeak, this is pretty weak tea:

"Oh, and Lincoln's dead, too! So there!"

Worst part is, this sort of taunting just lowers the level of intellectual discourse between hero and villains, diluting the force of their use as metaphors for conflicting concepts of societal self-organization.

See? I told ya.

Neither are villains impressive when they gather like grade-schoolers in their Garanimals and play at having "big adventures".

"Then we'll make a snow fort and throw snowballs at passing girls!"

Still, he does have one really cool set of enemies...
the U.N. Peacekeeping Forces.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Things That Made Me Happy

... in my comics this week.

  • You deserve to get the joke on page 10 of Legion of Three Worlds, so know your Interlac.
  • The Joker playing with a new toy line from Mattel.
  • The cover of Robin.
  • Well, the "Speed Force" is now officially magic, as far as I'm concerned.
  • "You missed."
  • Interactive Olsen hologram: "I'm guessing you're asking about the enemies of the Legion?"
  • Who IS Red Robin? I love a mystery!
  • R.J.'s entrance; R.J.'s exit.
  • Batman versus the cement.
  • The Clayface cave. Very clever.
  • Superman's proposed solution to Superman Prime, which only he would dare come up with.
  • "I will be free!" Really, if you're not buying SuperFriends, you're missing out on some of the best characterization of DC's icons in years.
  • Hey, isn't Jason's plan the same one that got Stephanie in trouble during War Games?
  • Findster. Ebuy. Macintech. Youspace. I just love DC's Fortune Faux Hundred companies.
  • The Joker as an actual gangster, not just a psychokiller. Refreshing.
  • Catwoman disguising Superman as ... well, himself, essentially.
  • Crediting the writer and artist together as "storytellers"? Classy. A little ambiguous, but still classy.
  • "Make Wonder Woman's Invisible Plane". Adorable.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Shield: Cons

He has the annoying habit of crowing about his recent tricks. In song.
I hate when guys do that. Unless it's me.

The Shield can't hold his breath forever. Wussie.

He's kind of doppish, as we say where I'm from. Zo darn doppish, in fact.

I skipped the part afterward, where he crashes through the tree. Yes, really.

The Shield is not particularly, shall we say, observant. In this scene, he pushes a bad guy out of the way, and then stand their reading files without noticing the man piling up explosives behind him. Next time, he needs to leave the Ronco Electronic Ear at home and spring for some handcuffs instead...

Gotta love the flying, but otherwise undamaged furniture; the Hotel Braganza must get all its stuff from This End Up.

Monday, August 18, 2008

For You Heroclix Folk

Suddenly, I'm looking forward to the new "Arkham Asylum" Heroclix set very much...!

A Batman who sits hidden on the edge of a roof (From Among...) eying a foe, cancels the foe's defensive ability (Outwit), increases his own damage (perplex), throws down a free Smoke Cloud beside the enemy (Dark Knight), then charges to attack him (From Among) under cover of the smoke cloud... all in one turn?!?!?

It's a dream (or nightmare) come true!

The Shield: Pros!

As promised, I will now teach you what you need to know about... THE SHIELD! Remember, this guy is one of the old MLJ heroes who's going to be introduced into the DCU proper via Brave & the Bold.

He can scale walls and was doing it 22-years before Spider-Man was created. He scales them by... um... okay, I have no idea how the Shield is able to simply...
adhere to sheer walls. Force of will, I guess.

And he keeps doing it. Which is very very odd. Why? Because he could simply LEAP to the top of a building instead. More on the leaping later.

He has an electric ear, just like on the commercials. He likes using it a lot, although it never really seems to work. Kind of like that Popeiler or juicemaster you get on QVC and are too proud to give up on. It's kind of endearing.

The Shield is a master chemist. No, really, he's got a PhD and everything.
He'll be perfect to tend bar at the DC Holiday Special!

Unlike many heroes, he's an exemplar of cranial sturdiness:
This man needs to be partnered with Hal Jordan immediately.

He does this... jumpy thing. Usually at planes. FBI 1, TSA 0!

Oh, and he's fireproof. More on that...

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Justice League of Arcana

We superhero fans love our supergroups. Our publishers know this and so they sometimes cobble together teams to satisfy our appetite that wind up being pretty unsatisfying. You ever go to one of those events where you think there's going to be a buffet, and what's actually offered is a variety of h'ordeurvres? That's how I feel reading the likes of Infinity Inc and Outsiders.

But that's not my point. I've always like the idea of a sort of "Mystic League of America", a supergroup of mystics formed along the lines of the JLA/JSA. I thought DC had this concept locked when they created the Sentinels of Magic, but they never ran with it. Even worse, they went instead with the Outsiders of Magic, the Shadowpact; on the whole, readers didn't go with them.

Why didn't/doesn't this idea fly? Is it because, unlike the spandex crowd, magician's powers are too vague and indistinguishable from one another? Too little interest in magic characters?

I picture a group very much like the Sentinels of Magic, but narrowed down a bit. More like the classic JLA rather than a JLU of magic (because perhaps early over-expansion of the Sentinels watered down the concept and hindered its popularity; a club to which everyone belongs doesn't have a lot of perceived value!). I'd even make sure there was a bit a parallelism going on, like so.

Dr. Fate, in for Superman
Phantom Stranger, in for Batman
Zatanna, in for Wonder Woman
Tempest, in for Aquaman
Blue Devil, in for Green Lantern
Deadman, in for Flash
Dr. Occult, in for Martian Manhunter

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Dark Knight: The Joker

As we've been discussing, in Dark Knight, most of the characters face moral dilemmas and struggling with violating their own principles. Many are the ways, large and small, in which the persons of the drama betrayal themselves, others, and the principles they profess. But none of the betrayed the principles they profess more than ...

the Joker.

The Joker, as portrayed by the late Heath Ledger, is very convincing liar. So much so, that I've noticed that he managed to deceive lots of people in the audience as well. "Oh," I hear people saying, "the Joker was such a force of chaos! He represents anarchy!" Um... yeah.

What part of "It's all part of the plan?" did you not get?!

Yes, the Joker does represent chaos ... in a way. But I'm astonished at how many people seem to have overlooked the fact that the Joker's brand of "chaos" requires enormous amounts of complex and detailed planning. The opening bank robbery scene ALONE is a masterpiece of clockwork scheduling. Watch the film; right after he says, "I kill the busdriver," the Joker steps a bit to one side. He's getting out of the way of the incoming bus. That presumes he knows exactly when and where it's arriving.

The list is almost endless. Planning on the reactions that send people to the ferries. The bombs and their detonations. The burning fire truck blockade. Getting captured. His one phone call. Batman is the one who's improvising in this story; everything the Joker does is coldly calculated in advance.

And that includes his carefully crafted persona. Hanging his head out the car window like a crazy dog, "I just do whatever comes into my head," playing the unpredictable lunatic. Did he convince you? That was all part of his plan, too.

He professes to be an agent of chaos, but he's actually a mastermind of order. But, in fact, he has a clear agenda, and goes to great lengths with elaborate plans to make his point. It's a great way to write him and very consistent with his original portrayal, in which advance planning was his forte and how he stayed a step ahead of the police.

The Joker's goal is make all the other characters in the Dark Knight betray and abandon their old principles. But in order to do that, he must betray and abandon his own, and much more severely than they do. To be what he says he is, he must be exactly the opposite ... and keep you from noticing it..

Somehow, however, I think he'd be okay with that.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Things That Made Me Happy

... in my comics this week.

  • Ah. The old "second identity-module set up in case of psychological debilitation" routine. Makes sense. Not really worth all these issues, but still it makes some sense.
  • "Money is easy. Answers are hard."
  • Alfred & His Shotgun versus Booster Gold & Co. Guess who wins?
  • Tom Tresser gets groomed. And looks really hot during it.
  • Batman's cape in Batman Confidential deserves it own miniseries.
  • The Club of Villains doesn't seem quite as threatening as they did in the first splash panel.
  • I'm pretty certain I've never seen Superman throw up before.
  • "Henchmen are for wussies."
  • Batgirl's high heel destroys reality as we know it.
  • Okay, I know the blue jay wasn't supposed to be funny. But it was HILARIOUS.
  • It's raining ocula; hallelujah! Where's the Corinthian when you need him?
  • Sarge Steel's diary has a very interesting prose-style, doesn't it?
  • The Bat-Radia made me laugh.
  • The Girl Sentries versus the Bonfire Girls.
  • I'm pretty certain I've never seen Mojo throw up before. Certain not that.
  • "Gnats and nuisance," is my new favorite phrase.
  • They weren't aiming at Connor.
  • Eddie Brock's cancer is gone. Interesting.
  • Cottus. Always good to see a classical monster, even if only in cameo.
  • "Whatever you do, don't upset Hippolyta."
  • Supergirl versus Cat Grant's boobs.
  • So, is that the first time the Narrows has been mentioned by name in comics proper?
  • Hawkman fighting an ape in a bustier. Um, the ape, not Hawkman.
  • The Moth Signal, and all that comes with it.
  • I'm really really starting to adore Donna Troy. I guess I really am gay.
  • Super-deep-throating is a rarely used power.
  • "But one guy at a time just doesn't do it for me." Really, it gives a whole new meaning to the name 'Bulls-eye'.
  • Superman versus a big monkey. I like big monkeys. Particulary ones that are correctly named.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Dark Knight: Bruce Wayne

I have to say I was very impressed by the, well, the sanity with which Bruce Wayne was written/portrayed in Dark Knight. I mean, really; if Batman's not sane, what's the point of pitting him against the Joker at all?

One of the most distressing Bat-trends in the last 20 years has been the revisionist Batman-is-crazy craze. The worst problem is that younger readers seem to be unaware that it's revisionist at all; they think it's just Batman 101: "He dresses up like a bat, of course he's crazy!" The idea that Batman is -- like the scores (hundreds?) of other costumed crime-fighters in the DCU -- not only perfectly sane but impressively so is utterly alien to many of them. I blame Marvel.

It's clear in both Dark Knight and its predecessor, Batman Begins, that Bruce Wayne is a highly rationale person, choosing his M.O. carefully and with a purpose in mind. Dark Knight also makes it clear he's ready-- anxious, even -- to abandon the Batman schtick if it appears that the regular instruments of justice can get and keep the city on an even keel. In fact, as mentioned in previous Dark Knight posts here, that seems to be what everyone in the film is hoping for. Well, everyone except the Joker.

Make no mistake; this is not the revisionist Bruce Wayne who has to be the Batman, and is merely Batman's tool. This is the original, the real Bruce Wayne, who's quite capable, even willing not to be Batman if there's no pressing need for him to be. The fact that this Bruce Wayne is quite willing to sacrifice Batman is made concretely clear at least twice in the film. First, it is not "Batman", but Bruce Wayne who winds up saving the life of Coleman Reese -- the man who could end Batman's career. Christopher Nolan doesn't do things like that by accident. Second, Bruce Wayne risks ending Batman's career by letting his alter ego take the murder rap for Two-Face, instead of favoring Batman's own ability to continue his crime-fighting with public approval.

But, as also mentioned in previous posts, Bruce Wayne's use of the Batman identity creates a moral dilemma for him. It does help get the regular crime situation under control; Dent & Co. almost have it licked and are ready to ermanently break the back of organized crime in Gotham. The dilemma is that the concept of the Batman -- the law-enforcer who colors outside the lines and breaks the rules to accomplish his goals -- also leads to the concept of the Joker -- the law-break who colors outside the lines and breaks the rules to accomplish his goals. Why, it's like something Two-Face would come up with, isn't it?

Batman does solve the ordinary problems, which starts to make him unnecessary; but he also generates extraordinary ones, which starts to make him necessary. Bruce Wayne is darned if he does and darned if he doesn't.

Batman confronts another irony in the Dark Knight: just as the Joker has confirmed for Batman his resolve not to kill, he chooses to take the rap for Two-Face, gaining a reputation as a killer. This is an even bitterer pill for the viewers than for the characters; we "know" Batman doesn't kill and the whole thing is just wrong. Gordon and Wayne's use of the Batman identity causes an escalation in the crime war (as personified by the Joker) that breaks Dent, promotes Gordon, and criminalizes Batman. It's not just an unfairness to the characters; if feels like an unfairness to us, and that's part of the emotional impact of the film.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Dark Knight: Two-Face

Now, I've thought often about the character of Two-Face; he's one of my favorites. In fact, I've written about him on this blog several times. Unlike most people, what I was anticipating in the Dark Knight film wasn't Ledger's performance as the Joker (the trailers were pretty solid clues about that), but Eckhart's performance as Two-Face, and what the script would give him to work with.

Yes, Ledger's take on the Joker was very important and powerful. But the Joker's reputation as a solid character didn't necessarily rely on Ledger doing well. If Ledger had not acquitted himself so finely, it would have been taken as a reflection on Ledger, not the Joker. But Two-Face needed to be done well in this film to establish a broader public reputation as a serious Batman villain. He may be almost as famous as the Joker within the comic book world, but the only exposure to him most people have had is Tommy Lee Jones' performance in Batman Forever, which didn't really do the character justice.

But how do you do a character like Two-Face justice? First and foremost: don't portray him as a split personality. He wasn't portrayed that way when he was introduced, and to do so vastly oversimplifies and weakens the character. The Ventroliquist/Scarface is a split personality. Harvey Dent is a man whose concepts of morality have broken down and Two-Face is the man who forges a new concept of morality to work from. As I have said before, Two-Face isn't Harvey Dent's problem, he's Harvey Dent's solution. And, with unexpected wisdom, Christopher Nolan wrote Two-Face exactly that way. That alone makes the Dark Knight a great film in my eyes (although, there are certainly many other reasons, as well).

Note only did Dark Knight's Two-Face meet my high hopes it exceeded them; it taught me something about Two-Face, it gave me a perspective on him I'd never had before. Someone finally showed me that Harvey Dent is a perfectionist and a control freak.

Gordon's men aren't "pure" enough for him, even though they're helping Gordon and him clean up Gotham. His effort to clean up Gotham gangs isn't just about justice, it's about tidiness and control. Remember the courtroom scene with Rachel, where he plays -- lies, really -- about letting Rachel take charge of the case if his coin comes up tails? It won't, of course, because it's a two-headed coin. It's rather a cruel trick to play on her; I mean, is that really an appropriate thing to do to ones co-worker and fiancee? Dent uses the coin as a mechanism of control, or, as he puts it, he "makes his own luck". He doesn't believe in luck, or fate, or chaos; only control.

And, like a good attorney, he works the law to his advantage, redefining justice in a way that suits his purposes. The biggest example is the hat trick of the use of RICO laws against the Gotham gangster. His pointless grilling of the asylum lunatic he captures is another; "This is craziness," Batman points out, "you can't control it through sheer force of will." But even trying to gain control of the Joker situation by claiming that he is Batman is an example of Dent's need to control everything with his own plans.

Now, I'm not saying that's bad per se; but it doesn't work out perfectly well for Harvey, does it? In his comic book origin, it's the scarring of his face that sends him around the bend, as a perfectionist pretty boy like Dent isn't well equipped for such a thing (if anyone is). In the filmic origin, it's the essential unfairness of what happens to him, his own failure, that undoes him. He did everything he could to control the situation; but he couldn't. He couldn't "make his own luck", and he doesn't know how to handle a world where he can't be in control. Thus, the Joker easily seduces him into adapting by abandoning control of his decision and abrogating them to a flip of his coin.

The coin releases Dent from further moral dilemmas. It creates a form of "justice" -- or, at least, the fairness of even odds -- that seems more adapted to this world he now sees he cannot control, where justice cannot always be forcibly imposed. It's not something he's tied to, or controlled by; it's something he uses to relieve himself from the burden of controlling the world. The relief is very evident in the scene where he put a gun to his own head to decide whether he lives or dies to pay for his role in Rachel's demise. There's no tension at all in the decision, it's no more difficult for him then deciding whether to shoot Batman or Gordon's kid.

Of course, Two-Face isn't an entirely different person than Harvey Dent, and how he uses the coin is proof of that. I remember being shocked when the coin spared Maroni; "Wait," I thought, "Is Two-Face just going to let Maroni go with equanimity? That's hard to believe!" Of course, he didn't. Having abided by the coin flip, he immediately redefined the process to get his own way, and shot Maroni's driver (thus killing Maroni). Two-Face, like Harvey Dent, still works the system. He still manipulates others and the world, he's just let go of controlling himself.

Friday, August 08, 2008

The Shield: Prepare!

I am going to finish my series on the Dark Knight film, with posts on Two-Face, Batman, and the Joker. But before I get to that, here's a hint of what's to come after that.

If you followed the news from San Diego, you know one of the big news items was the announcement that DC would be introducing the old MLJ heroes, like the Shield, into it mainstream continuity.

Who is this "Shield"?, many of you will ask. He just looks like a Captain America, or Wonder Woman in drag. Wrong; it's the other way around. Captain America looks just like the Shield; Wonder Woman is the Shield in drag. Yep, the Shield was introduced 14 months before Cap and 23 months before Wonder Woman. He was even 6 months early than Uncle Sam (uh, the one in the comics, I mean).

He was the first patriotically-themed American superhero, though few of us have heard of him and even fewer read any of his stories. Who has read some of his stories? Funny you should ask, because it's amazing the things you can find in the Back Forty of the Big Monkey storage tesseract... .

So, I've read some Shield stories. And I'm prepared to tell you Who He Is and How He Came To Be. I will tell the pros and the cons of the Shield. I will show you his foes. I will teach you to fear his Ultimate Foe. And you will come, as I have, to love the Shield and to await his advent in the DCU with happy excitement.

I'm prepared; are you?

Thursday, August 07, 2008

The Dark Knight: Commissioner Gordon

Gary Oldman is so good as Commission Gordon that you don't really notice him at all. And, yes, that's a real compliment.

You can tell Oldman is outstanding, in short, because he doesn't stand out. It's a good trick, since of all the characters in the movie, his is perhaps the moral center.

Like Harvey Dent, he's a law and order kind of guy. Like Batman, he's not afraid of unorthodox approaches to a problem. But the closest character of comparison for Captain, er, I mean, Commissioner Gordon, is Assistant District Attorney Rachel Dawes.

Both Dawes and Gordon are civilian law enforcement officials who are faced with a choice between ordinary and extraordinary methods of justices, as represented by Harvey Dent and the Batman, respectively. For Rachel, a choice must be made; you can't have your cake and eat it, too, and her romantic relationships with Harvey and Bruce highlight this dilemma.

But, for all his being a good guy, Gordon isn't an idealistic; he's a pragmatist and an opportunist. He doesn't see Harvey Dent and Batman, and what they represent, as two things between which he must choose. He sees them as two useful tools for accomplishing his mission, each with its pros and cons. To Gordon, Harvey Dent (ordinary justice) and Batman (extraordinary justice) are just two sides of the same coin.

The script makes a point of positioning Gordon as more flexible, less extremely hard-nosed than Harvey Dent. It's kind of subtle, but several times he and Gordon are in conflict about the fact all the men is Gordon's hand-picked unit don't have exactly spotless records. That's unacceptable to Harvey Dent; after all, you're either all-good or all-bad, right? Small wonder the cops call the unforgiving Dent "Two-Face" behind his back.

Gordon's a bit more practical than that. The issue is underlined later when Detective Montoya, oops, I mean, Ramirez, confesses how she was suborned by the gangsters when in desperate need for Money For Her Sick Aunt May (or some such). Is Ramirez a bad guy? No, she's essentially a good guy trying to cope with bad circumstances (like many citizens of Gotham). Gordon understands that better than Harvey does.

Gordon's real test isn't choosing between Harvey Dent and Batman (which he doesn't do). It's in deciding to fake his own death and in cooperating with the conspiracy of silence about Two-Face's misdeeds. But even in those decisions it's just about having to hurt his family and his friend Batman in the process, not any intrinsic moral principles.

James Gordon, pragmatist; he bends his principles, so he doesn't worry about breaking them. That's what makes him successful in the films and makes him the character most immune to the Joker's various machinations in the film.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Things That Made Me Happy my comics this week.

  • There were dogs all over Manhunter this week, which is good, because, while there are dogs all over the place in real life, you seldom see any in comic books.
  • Nightwing and the god of fractions.
  • You're pretty much asking for it, if your weapon has to be plugged in while you're fighting.
  • Supergirl plays guitar?
  • Walt Disney goes off the deep end in Comic Book Comics #2. Why aren't you reading Comic Book Comics?
  • Jonah Hex versus the blueberry pie.
  • Uberfraulein, indeed.
  • Okay, even though this is the same "Darkseid takes over the Earth when we're not looking" plot that Morrison used just as incomprehensibly in his JLA run, Final Crisis #3 will still be remembered well because it returns both Barry Allen and the real Aquaman.
  • Thor survives.
  • Spoiler's secret is a doozy, and I wasn't expecting it.
  • Supergirl sews?
  • "There's no basement in the Alamo."
  • There he is: the mysterious new Aquaman, looking exactly as he should and riding a giant sea horse. Of course, I might have preferred that his historic first words not be "Article X?"
  • Suicide Squad? Okay, that's a surprise.
  • Based of Hush's opinion of Zatanna, I think he reads this blog.
  • Supergirl paints?
  • Obviously, the most evil of the Evil Gods is the one who did Mary Marvel's hair.
  • "This is highly implausible ... yet poetically appropriate!"
  • Supergirl's designing herself a new costume!
  • Two-Face, finding an evil way to do something good.
  • Mr. Tawky Tawny-- still a sharp dresser.
  • That's ... quite a lot of firewood, Jonah.
  • The connection with the Scarecrow has finally made this character remotely interesting; nice move, Paul.
  • Wait... did the Human Flame just call something "gay"? BWAHAHAHA!
  • "I'd know that aura anywhere."
  • Lex Luthor, renounce science? Somehow, I don't see that happening.
  • Jonah Hex versus the Bible.

Monday, August 04, 2008

The Dark Knight: Rachel Dawes

Ah, Rachel, Rachel, Rachel.

Poor Rachel. Because unlike most of our other major characters, Rachel doesn't exist. Rachel's not real. That is to say, she's not a part of the DCU.

And the universe has a way of taking care of things that don't fit in continuity, doesn't it? "Rachel Dawes" ain't an MJ Watson. I mean, it's not like anyone would ever dare take MJ's relationship with Spider-Man out of continuity!

Poor Rachel also had the misfortune of being portrayed first by an actress who wasn't very good and then by an actress who isn't really as attractive as she needed to be for the role. Of course, MJ has the same problem; it was just the same actress each time.

Rachel also had the problem of choosing between a gorgeous famous wealthy crimefighter and a gorgeous famous non-wealthy crimefighter. Throw me in that briar patch, please.

Of course, in a film like the Dark Knight, Rachel's dilemma isn't just a matter of personal choice. Her choice between Bruce and Harvey symbolizes the city's choice between extraordinary justice and ordinary justice. Ordinary justice is what the city is striving for. Bruce is hoping throughout the film that extraordinary justice (Batman) is just a means of getting the system back on track, so that ordinary justice can take over.

But the temporary means to an end have a way of turning into permanent methods of operation. Indeed, that's the very thing that Lucius Fox fears from Batman's use of the bat-sensor-web. And Batman's hope is in vain; extraordinary justice doesn't, in this case, lead back to ordinary justice, it leads instead to extraordinary injustice (the Joker). Once that's in place, extraordinary justice isn't merely an option, it's a necessity for survival.

Like the city, Rachel is grateful for Bruce/Batman, but doesn't want to embrace him as her permanent way of life. She longs for the normality, the stability that Harvey Dent represents (as does the city). She wants Bruce to represent that, to give up being Batman, but she realizes that's simply not going to happen (or, at least, she's not willing to wait until it does). Girls swoon for the bad boy on the motorbike, but they want to tame him eventually. If they can't, they almost always wind up marrying the stable, less dramatic guy.

Of course, that's simply what Harvey Dent represents; it's not what he is. He's not stable because the regular system of justice isn't stable; its stability rests on on the overall stability of society. The regular system is dependent on rules and underlying assumptions about the wholesale goodness of people (or, more cynically and perhaps more accurately, most people's innate understanding that the stability of society is more important to their well-being in the long-run than any short-term gains they might make in undermining it or breaking its laws). When that apple-cart is upset by an outside force (the Joker) and the stability of society is threatened, ordinary morality can breakdown (just as it happens with Harvey). Indeed, it's why society permits us to kill during war.

In the end, Rachel makes the only sensible choice: she chooses ordinary over extraordinary. Unfortunately, when living in an extraordinary world, the sensible choice may not be the right one.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

The Dark Knight: Coleman Reese

Coleman Reese is the weaselly blackmailing Waynetech employee whose name you probably didn't catch. That's how minor a character he is.

And, yet, in a film that spills over with moral dilemmas, his is perhaps one of the most severe, realistic, and resonant for regular people.

He knows his Big Boss is up to something, and it's something quite big. He decides he wants a cut for being a silent parent in the Batman secret.

It's all well and good to sit on the other side of the screen and label Reese a bad guy. After all, Batman is the good guy, Reese threatens Batman, therefore Reese is a bad guy. But if you found out your boss was Batman, what would you do? Nothing? Start sewing a Robin costume in your own size? Ask for hefty raise and the freedom to never work again?

Like Fox, Reese isn't someone Bruce Wayne chose to bring in on the secret; he just figured it out. Fox, of course, just happens to go from being fired to being the head of Waynetech; not a bad recompense for keeping the secret a secret, is it? Doesn't Reese deserve to be compensated, too?

That's certainly what Reese thinks. He's not really out to stop Batman. He just wants his silence to be part of the blacklined Batman budget that the Wayne business can easily afford. It's blackmail, of course. But, Batman of all people should know that if you break the law (like, by being a vigilante) you make yourself vulnerable.

Foxy Lucius calls the young weasel's bluff. "Dad" doesn't save your ass, he just warns you when something you've done looks like it's going to bite you in the ass. "Hey, Bruce; got another problem for you to deal with over here! Good luck, son."

But then Reese has a moral dilemma. Expose the Batman or keep quiet? What is his responsibility to society? Remember, it's not just a matter of undoing a vigilante; by this point in the action, the Joker has committed to killing someone every hour that Batman's identity remains secret. Technically, by revealing Batman's identity, Reese is saving lives, potentially more than Batman is saving. Isn't that his civic duty? Reese would go from being a blackmailer to a hero; but the result would be that the Joker's terrorism would have succeeded.

Before that happens, however, Bruce Wayne goes to great lengths to save Reese's life. Reese thinks first and foremost of himself, and when he realizes that HE needs Batman to save him as much as everyone else does, he chooses to clam up. He suddenly is reminded that Freedom To (expose Batman or get money for his silence) is always and of necessity secondary to Freedom From (the threat of destruction to himself and society).

Of course, that's the very hub of society's issue with the need to protect itself from crime and terrorism (and a central theme of the movie). They don't want their own freedoms curtailed in the process of protecting them from danger. "How dare Batman take the law into his own hands! How dare I be required to show documents! How dare Batman and/or the government listen in on my cellphone!" And, if the Joker (or another terrorist) kills you or destroys the society that protects you from predation, how much does that really matter?

By the way, did you think that whole scenario with the RICO indictments was just showy fun? Nuh-uh. What's one of the things RICO is most commonly used for by law enforcement and government agencies?

To justify wiretapping.

Yes, the more you think about the Dark Knight, the more it has to say ... .