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.