Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Haiku from Diamond

My Diamond representative actually sent out a haiku about September ordering:

tuesday haiku:

restless retailer

functions quickly to finish

order form due today

-natalie tusa

Monday, September 29, 2008

Dr. Polaris Returns, and What It Means

It's time to talk about Dr. Polaris.

Actually, that's a needless statement; it is always time to talk about Dr. Polaris. I mean, just look at him; hear him. Dr. Polaris is villainous style personified.

In case you didn't notice, Dr. Polaris has turned up again, in the pages of Blue Beetle. And if you haven't noticed, start reading Blue Beetle.

There's been some debate over whether this is the "real" Dr. Polaris. I hereby declare this debate meaningless. Every once in a while, DC kills a villain (or even a hero) for some shock value, usually as part of some crossover event. They're replaced for a while, perhaps, by some one dramatically different: of a different race, gender, costume, powers, or M.O.

Usually, it doesn't last, at least, not if the original villain was worth was his salt (which chances are he was if he was significant enough to be a "surprise death"). Almost inevitably the spirit of the original villain reasserts itself. The new version becomes like the old one, or a third version silently appears with little fanfare and simply takes his rightful place.

The first example of this that comes to my mind is the Mad Hatter, but I'm sure you can name many others. But with his most recent appearance, Dr. Polaris has become an exemplar of another villainous attribute: gang-lordism.

Back in the day (that means the Golden Age), people (and by people I mean villains) had gangs. Those were the days. Now, I'm not just waxing nostalgic for matching thematic costumes and Brooklynites in derbies and turtlenecks. It's the sheer practicality of it that I'm applauding.

I don't care what kind of gadgets or superpowers you have: if you really want to get anywhere you need an organization. It's sheer practicality; you gotta sleep sometime. And, if you're a supervillain it's hard to go for a stroll to the corner store; you need people to do this for you.

This concept faded, sadly, in the Silver Age. I blame the Flash Rogues. Everything became a battle between super-abilities, and thugs in horizontally striped shirts and newsboy caps didn't quite make the cut.

But this spread. Non-powered villains like the Joker and Two-Face started to become sole actors, limiting the scope of their danger.

The way in which Dr. Polaris has returned is a heartening signal that this trend is reversing. Writers are starting to realize that even superpowered villains work better if they're portrayed as the principals surrounded by a larger web of evil that they control. In Blue Beetle, Dr. P is first introduced as a ganglord. A very hard-edged ganglord. He's not in costume, and he's running his criminal organization ruthlessly. He's using teenagers as guinea pigs, giving them limited magnetic powers with which to commit crimes for him. And only when push comes to shove does he break out the Polaris-costume and start killing left and right.

Why is this good? It makes the villain seem smarter. It makes the conflict relevant to regular citizens. It makes the confrontation with the hero a climax, not an opener. And it reminds us that many of these archcriminals didn't become villains because they were "super"; they became "super" because they were villains.

Why Magnus is Better than You at Work

I mean, really; what did YOU accomplish today?

Plus, he's more modest about it.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Our Discussion Board!

Sorry, I've been rather busy getting ready for two away shows, three home concerts, and a competition!!! Meanwhile, I'd be delighted if my readers would consider becoming fans of my comic book store, Big Monkey Comics, on Facebook.

I've set up a Discussion Board there, with topics for many regular comic book series. Perhaps there are topics we've brought up here at the Absorbascon that you'd like to discuss further, but the post that started them gets shoved down by new posts. No problem! We can create topics for those on the Big Monkey Discussion Board. Just let me know there!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


I'm foregoing my usual list format for Things That Made Me Happy this week, so as to make a focused impression:

If you can read Superman this week without crying, then, frankly, you have my pity.

That is all.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Invitation to Guest Night

Here apropos of nothing is a video invitation to Guest Night at my chorus. In case of you are in the area...

Saturday, September 20, 2008

All That No Longer Glitters

Although I haven't mentioned it before, I've been reading a *gulp* Marvel miniseries. Why? Because it's The Twelve, which is about Golden Age characters that Marvel inherited from its days as Timely Comics, but hasn't used. I love the zaniness of the Golden Age and am always interested to see how its characters are portrayed.

"Interested", however, is not always "happy"; what I've read in the Twelve has not met my hopes. When I first heard about The Twelve, I thought, "Oh, good; a shot of Golden Age goodness for Marvel. That's just what it needs!"

As I've mentioned before, Marvel's heroic roots are in the paranoid pessimism of the 1950s/60s (the Silver Age), whereas DC's heroic roots are in the cockeyed optimism of the 1930s/40s (the Golden Age).

This fact colors everything each company does. There are literally thousands of examples, but I'll recap just one from this season's biggest crossovers. In the DCU, zillions of heroes fight a seemingly hopeless fight against Evil (or the Depression, or the Axis; it's all the same) but never give up. Meanwhile, in the Marvel World, disguised aliens infiltrate our world and turn heroes against one another. It's a nearly perfect example of one of the essential paradigmatic differences between DC and Marvel: DC heroes are in conflict with villains, while Marvel heroes are in conflict with one another.

I was hoping that having a fresh infusion of Golden Age blood from
The Twelve would, if not lighten, at least brighten up Marvel a bit, where only poor Captain America remains to carry the torch of the can-do-ism that characterized early comic book heroes. Boy, I'd hate to think what kind of place Marvel would be if they ever allowed that character to be killed off! I was hoping that the Twelve might bring to Marvel the same kind of grounding, of nobility, of wisdom that the Justice Society has brought to the DCU since DC decided to stop being embarrassed by its Golden Age, and ended the JSA's exile in limbo.

No such luck. I hoped -- because I'm a DC fan, and that's what we do. But instead of playing to my hopes, Marvel spoke to my worst fears. Members of the
Twelve are delusional, or racists, or self-hating Jews, or vain popinjays, or minions of Satan, or woefully unable to adapt to the present. Rather than being inspirations from the past, they are used to affirm that people have always been as shallow, screwed up, and chaotic as they are now (at least, as they are in the Marvel World!). Not only are the Twelve not being used to burnish the present, they are, instead, being used to tarnish the past.

They're trapped in a
Watchmen-lite murder mystery, more Marvel heroes in conflict with one another, rather than banding together against external threats. Sure, I'm disappointed. Much as it might surprise you, I don't want to not enjoy Marvel Comics. If their worldview were more upbeat, I might be able to enjoy them, and I was hoping the Twelve would be a step in that direction. Alas.

But that's not what really bothers me. What
really bothers me is that the Twelve is being written by J. Michael Straczynski. J. Michael Straczynski is also the person slated to introduce another set of Golden Age characters, the MLJ heroes, into DC continuity. And that includes the Shield, whom I would like to see in all his goofy Golden Age glory, broad-jumping onto moving airplanes, setting himself on fire, and breaking into song at inappropriate moments, not fighting other heroes.

I do not consider the
Twelve a good sign. But I am still, of course, hopeful.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Flash Forward

I want to devote an entire post to my reply to my esteemed colleague Kelson of the Speed Force. Ordinarily, I'd reply to a comment in comments, but the issue at hand is significant enough that I think it merits broader treatment.

In yesterday's post, I teased about some changes to Wally West's status quo that I applaud and which I think are key to his future in a World With Barry Allen Back. While I only teased, Kelson's gone into detail about the issue, and has moved me to do the same, so, if you haven't read Flash 244, you may want to do so before you read the rest of this post.

That said, I concur with Kelson: this was a good issue and a great start for the new creative team. Many things happen that follow up on Wally's success in using his power to save his children and stabilize their previously precarious condition and powers. Principally, Wally discovers that his old condition -- the one that used to prevent him from running faster than the speed of sound -- has returned.

This development is a logical one (at least in that it's based on the character's history rather than "a wizard did it") and I think it's essential. I'm enthusiastic about it, but others, particularly fans of Wally, are more concerned. In his comment on my post yesterday, Kelson said:
I'll agree that what's going on with Wally makes sense -- in the context of the current storyline.

I don't see how you think it will "save the character going forward into his new era." For one thing, being "the slow Flash" doesn't seem like a particularly compelling role when the main Flash will probably be at top speed.
I understand the concern, but here's my position. There are plenty of compelling stories that can be told at under 770 mph. During most of the era that I actually enjoyed reading Wally's adventures, that was his top speed, and I certainly never thought of him as slow. We know that, as a practical matter, he seldom traveled any faster than that in the city anyway, because of the danger of sonic booms.

The ability to move at the speed of sound seems like enough to me. Top speed ever recorded for a running human, about 27 or mph. The winds in a tornado rarely exceed 250 mph. The world's fastest train tops out at 300 mph. Commercial jets seldom go faster than 560 mph. The average speed of a 9mm bullet is under 700 mph. That would make Wally West 28 times faster than the world's fastest normal human, able to generate winds faster than a tornado, more than twice as fast as any train, faster than non-military planes, and faster than a speeding bullet. Works for me; I just need the Flash to be the Fastest Man Alive, not the Fastest Thing Imaginable.

Of course, with Barry back, Wally will not be the Fastest Man Alive any more. But he'll have tricks at his disposal that Barry doesn't have. As the most recent story shows, Wally still has his ability to share (and, presumably, siphon) kinetic energy. That's a very significant power, which, along with his new top speed, will help distinguish him from other speedsters, and give him a unique role among the Flash Family. And that is what each of them will need in order to survive (as characters) now that Barry has returned.

If you've ever tried to play an all-speedster Heroclix team, you know that, while superspeed is a great power, a group of combatants with the same power isn't as fun or effective as a group with different but complementary powers.

It's a common problem in heroic dynasties: how to have a group of characters who's abilities are clearly related, but not too redundant, and appropriately tiered. Success in doing so leads to successful dynasties; failure to do so is a major obstacle.

For example, the Batman family have similar abilities, but different enough. Most readers figure out that Batman is most likely to hit you with a batarang, Nighwing's most likely to do a sommersault over your head, Robin's most likely to hit you in the crotch with a stick, Batgirl's most likely to karate chop your Adam's apple, Batwoman's most likely to stick a heel in your eye while doing something fabulous with her cape, and Ace will just snap your ankle then crush your trachea-- dogs love to do that.

Aquaman was ruined by this problem (and many others); he was doomed from the moment it was obvious his wife and baby were more powerful than he was. The Green Lanterns don't have different powers, but pains have been taken to give them different styles. The Superman dynasty would require a separate post to explore this issue, but suffice it to say that when your teenage cousin's cat is as powerful as you are, has no weaknesses, and can beat the crap out of the Legion of Super-Heroes, you're going to have an image problem.

It's clear that DC hopes to revitalize the Flash by revitalizing the Flash Dynasty. Not only will we have three Flashes (Jay Garrick, Barry Allen, and Wally West), we're likely to see the return of Bart "Impulse" Allen and I'm also rooting for Max Mercury, who used to be among the best characterized of the whole darned lot of them. Even if we don't include Liberty Belle (whom we're all trying not to think of as Jesse Quick), that's a lot of speedsters. In order for them to be most compelling, they need different personalities, styles, and, ideally, versions of their basic power.

I'm hoping this change to Wally is a big step in that direction.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Things That Made Me Happy....

in my comics this week.

  • How much of an idiot must you be if Hal Jordan, of all people, calls you an idiot twice in one issue?
  • Superman bites the umbilical.
  • The Joker isn't a pathetic lunatic, but rather an evil genius. And a master of the art of the unexpected.
  • Foot massagers, heated seats, and silk toilet paper.
  • If Red Robin is who I think he is, then wouldn't Robin recognize him?
  • I knew. As soon as I saw him stretch his hamstring while still in costume, I knew. It makes so much sense. And it makes me so very very happy, even though it will make many of you very very angry. And, whether you like it or not, it's what's going to save the character going forward into his new era.
  • "Think. Happy. Thoughts." HiLARious!
  • Alfred suggests jalapenos.
  • The Riddler is left-handed?
  • Bully for Willingham & Winick, who seem to understand Lois Lane better than most!
  • The explanation for the dome over Argo City.
  • Mary's lightning round.
  • "Commit some actual journalism"; heh, before Perry was an editor, he was a great writer!
  • Finally, someone remembers where Ragman lives, and what he's like. But shouldn't "cui bono" have occurred to Robin earlier...?
  • The bottle-city of Metropolis would make an excellent snowglobe.
  • Psst! Robotman.... you're not in the Justice League!
  • "Butterscotch! Baloney! Schnauzer!" is not a paragraph I ever expected to read, not even in a comic book.
  • It's always good to see the map of Gotham being used.
  • They just ... aren't capable of realizing it's Clark, are they? Points to you, Grant.
  • Gangbuster admitting that Hawkman is really hot.
  • Jason Bard, being really hot.
  • "What do you do when fate happens fast than you expect?"
  • Officer Slaughter.
  • "I have not felt pleasure in over two hundred years. Thank you."
  • Excellent Robin cover.
  • Normal Osborne was so marvelously evil this week it was awe-inspiring!
  • Killer bees. Killer bees are always good.
  • Psst! Robotman ... you've got a human brain. It doesn't have "recorded memories"!
  • Captain Marvel versus the fire hose.
  • She's right; Lex really is an idiot, isn't he?
  • OMG! OMG, OMG, OMG... it's Ulysses. I loved him. I've been waiting to see him again for almost 15 years now. YAY!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Haikuesday with Dr. Sivana

Let's pause to savor how bad Judd Winick's dialog for Dr. Sivana was in the most recent issue of Green Arrow / Black Canary.

Okay, I get that many younger writers are really just writing fan-fic, and so love to pull characters out of the DCU's left field to solve their plot problems, rather than sticking with toys closer to them in the sandbox. But, really, this reads like an issue of the DC Challenge.

Wait, so, Ra's Al Ghul was actually Shado, with some flimsy explanation given as the charade? Why not just put in an honest caption box that says, "Yeah, this'll be a great surprise reveal to the readers! No one will guess it! Take that, Geoff Johns!" When her son was dying of leukemia Shado naturally sought out.... Dr. Sivana?!?! World expert on, um, leukemia? Disease? Destroying Captain Marvel?! Who used Plastic Man's blood to ... cure leukemia? Repair brain damage? And the thing he wants in return is.... killing Green Arrow? I'll believe a man can fly, but my credulity needs an injection of Plastic Man's blood to make these kinds of stretches.

Anyway, if you're going to use Dr. Sivana, please have him be recognizable as such.

Winick starts off with Dr. Sivana speaking appropriately: "I will say you've piqued my curiosity"; "You travel in circles that are not unknown to me." Yeah, that's about right. But it degenerates pretty quickly...

"You guys"? "Peepers"? "Whack"? "Doesn't fill my glass"? "Screws with Green Arrow?" "Kick your asses"?

Raise your hand if you want Dr. Sivana to talk that way. Those with your hands raised, go buy some Marvel comics.

I get that writers sometimes feel the need to modernize characters a bit. But when and why did "modernization" come to mean, "I'll write this character as if they were in the cast of Friends or Buffy"? Perhaps it's an attempt at greater realism (very common among those who are concerned that, although they love comics, they aren't "cool" enough, and are desperate to make them -- and, by extension, themselves -- cool enough for hoi polloi).

I hope it's not an attempt at realism, because no one I know talks that way. At least, no one I know for very long. And, as I have mentioned before, it isn't "normal" to have comic book people talk "normally". They aren't normal; that's part of the point. They don't dress normal, they don't act normal, why on earth would they talk normal? A pig in a dress is still a pig, and having one of literature's most traditional mad scientist figures talk like a castmember on the Real World just seems incongruous and inappropriate, not "realistic".

The tragic part is, I can spy the soul of the real Sivana, desperately struggling to maintain some dignity and assert itself through such atrocious dialog. At one point, he even manages to squeak through a somewhat disjointed but still technically correct haiku:

"Y'see, that's funny.
You think you have me at a
disadvantage. What?"

Poor little guy. Shame on you, Judd Winick, for making me sympathize with the World's Wickedest Mortal. Readers, rally to my cause! Help Dr. Sivana express himself in haiku as he rebels against being forced to speak inappropriate dialog! Here's my own offering:

"Winick's dialog
angers Dr. Sivana.
Heh heh. Heh heh heh."


P.S. By the way... "vanytes"? Okay, I understood Chemoids, and Molemen, and Doombots, and Un-Men, etc. But why the heck are plasticized ninja generic figures called "vanytes", and why isn't even a hint of explanation given as to the etymology? And don't tell me Sivana wouldn't stop to explain, because that is exactly something Sivana would do, particularly since he prattles at length in this scene about how and why he made them. So, is it pronounced "van- nights"? If so, I'm dumbfounded. If it's pronounced "van ee teez", then it's straight Middle English (Like Wycliff's "Vanyte of vanytes, seide Eclesiastes, vanyte of vanytes, and alle thingus vanyte"), and (I assume) a meta-commentary on why writers like Winick do things like this.Still, they would make great Heroclix low-point generics, with plasticity and a bit of regen. Fun!.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Put Away that Hot Dog Cart!

The Big Monkey Bystander Token Postcards have arrived!

If you'd like one, just PayPal me $1.50 to scipio.garling@verizon.net, with your mailing address, and I'll put one in the mail to you!

Marvelous New Series

"Is it a bird? Is it a plane? It's No Heroics

An ITV sitcom about superheroes who bitch and moan"

Gosh darn! Marvel wins AGAIN!

Friday, September 12, 2008

If This Week Had Been a Comic Book

Recently, I talked about the occasional momentary confusion that major comic book geeks can have when they forget which earth they're on. In effort to help solve this problem, I'm trying out this new feature, "If This Week Had Been a Comic Book". ITWHBACB highlights the differences between our world and the comic book world, by noting how the week would have gone if we were living in the comic book world.

The Birds of Prey would have revealed that a female vice-presidential candidate was, indeed, a genetically altered female canine, under the control of Prof. Milo's female daughter, Monroe Milo.

There would have been no observations of 9/11, not because heroes would have prevented it, but because two such hideous and featureless buildings would never have been drawn by a self-respecting comic book artist to begin with. Except in Central City, where no one would have noticed that they were missing.

Oracle and the Calculator would have joined forces to purge the Anti-life Equation from Google Chrome.

Aquaman -- the real one-- would have used controlled bursts of sea-water to extinguish the Chunnel fire and plugged the holes with giant tortoises until permanent repairs could be made, thus thwarting Vandal Savage's scheme to take over the world by slowing down the European economy.

Hurricane Hannah and Ike would have been redirected by Weather Wizard toward Central City, as part of a plan to rob the Sundoller at the Keystone Coffee Pier, but the potentially incredibly destructive hurricanes would have been dispersed by two miraculously non-destructive counter-tornados generated by Barry "Flash" Allen and Wally "Mid-Flash" West.

The political crisis in Zimbabwe and the Zuma trial in South Africa would have been solved, somehow, by Vixen (with secret help from the Bronze Tiger) and an improbably young and sexy black international troubleshooting U.N. diplomat who was Vixen's never-before mentioned first husband when she was modeling in, oh, let's say, Paris.

Wonder Woman would have led a parade against Sanlu Milk Company.

Wayne Enterprises would have bought Lehman Brothers Holdings, not because of its intrinsic value, but to save its employees' jobs, beating out a bid by Lexcorp, which intended to sell their body parts to scientists on Apokolips and Prof. Milo's female daughter, Monroe Milo.

S.T.A.R. Labs in Central City would have activated its new Large Hadron Collector (because where else would you put something that big?). It would, in fact, have caused an unanticipated disaster such as:
  • the creation of miniature black holes, that would mostly suck in people rather than other matter, which the JLA would stop, and the people, instead of being crushed into their constituent atoms, would have been rescued by Zatanna, Vixen, and Red Arrow.
  • angering a tribe of sub-atomic warriors who use miniature black hole cannons as weapons, whom the Atom would have to defeat.
  • alchemical cascades that spread elemental changes through the surrounding area like a plague, which Firestorm would have to stop.
  • the discovery that "dark matter" is a personified force that would then threaten to consume all bioenergy in the area, which would have been defeated by the JSA, but not before critically injuring the Ray, and, unbeknownst to his teammates, turning comic's only regularly recurring openly gay hero secretly evil. Again.
  • a new color of kryptonite.
  • the re-retro-re-creation of the Multiverse.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Shield: I'm not saying he's GAY, exactly...

Ah, making old out-of-context comic book panels seem really really gay.
Too easy? Too unoriginal? Too sophomoric?


This really needs to be on a tee shirt.
On the back.

Dude, you run JUST like Wonder Woman. And don't worry, dear; I'm sure the soldiers will wait for you.

The Shield is a notorious tease, particularly toward wealthy, older men. What is he pointing at?

I've never heard it put this way before:
Hey, love ain't all roses and candy, ya know.

I mean, really; a home tanning salon, with tan accelerator. And... restraints?
I bet that "medical book" is Physique Magazine.

The Shield tells the story of this panel:"So, there I was, jaunting along the balance beam, bringing the flaming pomegranate cosmos to the party, desperately late because Timothy and Benjamin forgot they were supposed to pick me up (again!), when I suddenly notice the self-absorbed little queens speeding past me in their Fortwo Coupe, with their two Pomeranians yapping at me through the window..."

Dude, if you want to get in to the Crew Club, just show your pass. You just KNOW he's pointing that foot in the same way he runs.

Oh, god, OF COURSE he deejays. And mixes it up against his rival, "Count Zongarr", in deejay battles.

What was that, Shield?
After your dad died of internal injuries,
you were raised by *snort* J. Edgar Hoover?
Um, yes, Lieutenant, I'm sure they believe you were *snicker*
by that Brazilian soccer team.