Saturday, March 29, 2008

Things That Made Me Happy...

in my comics this week.

  • Miss Cosmos. I tell you, Palmiotti and Grey know how to make crazy fun comics, whether is the wackiness of Freedom Fighters or the gallows humor of Jonah Hex.
  • A happy ending for Buddy Baker.
  • The JLI reunion in Blue Beetle was a thing of beauty (particularly Guy's theory about it).
  • Kid Devil in bondage! Could have done without the blood, though.
  • Okay, so now that I've read that Eclipso story again, I'm positive: The Phantom Stranger totally did Madame Xanadu.
  • Young Jack Jordan made me laugh.
  • Happy Terrill became one of my favorite characters in the DCU in just one issue.
  • I swear to god I thought Hal was about to become a male prostitute... .
  • "Okay, lady, that kind of crazy talk automatically makes you the enemy."
  • Rampaging multi-headed monsters attacking the Pentagon.
  • So that's what Khaji Da means; simple, but clever.
  • Adam Strange finally told the Rannies that they stink.
  • Hal Jordan fighting John Stewart; nice one.
  • Paco's Heat of the Moment; zowie!
  • Jim Shooter is really good; read the Legion.
  • "Housekeeper!" B5 is a funny guy.
  • Well, I see the "Gothcorp" origin story is now cannon.
  • Hi, I'm Lightning Lad, for Maxwell House!
  • Jaime Reyes continued to be adorably awesome this month.
  • Okay, props to Grant Morrison for the purpose to which he put the "sickly infant universe of Qwewq". Yep; "this is going to change everything."
  • Lex Luthor's reading matter.
  • Wait; so, he just saved the Earth by ... mailing Batman a letter? Excellent.
  • "There's no blood on hands; I licked them clean." Eclipso is a funny guy.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Where in the World is the Martian Manhunter?

Inspired by the Martian Manhunter, I've been doing some detective work.

As you may have noticed, I've been spittin' out the custom Heroclix maps lately. It's my version of knitting. Embracing the principles of democracy, I've been polling the people to find out who they want a map for, and the on/off leader has been...

the Martian Manhunter.

Clearly, not only is the Martian Manhunter real, but he has the Martian Power of Vote-Fixing. Why he's been in the lead I cannot imagine other than the theory that his fans are SO delighted by his inclusion in, well, ANYTHING, that they're texting one another furiously to keep him in the lead (possible buying new computers just to do so; MM fans are hardcore folks).

This is what I get for embracing democracy: a lung-crushing Martian bearhug. Now, I have to put up or shut up and design a Heroclix map for the Martian Manhunter, wherever the heck he lives.

Impossibly daunting task, you say? Indeed. That's why I'm all over it. None of this Z'onn Z'orr hoo-ha; I'm not even gonna fall for the "Middleton" recon. The Middleton thing is only from 1988 (virtually yesterday when you've got as many rings in your trunk as I do) and there is no way J'onn's Silver Age adventures took place in Colorado.

How do I know this? Detective work. Well, actually it's more like basic literary research. I read the entire Showcase Presents: Martian Manhunter volume. Several pieces of evidence arose:

J'onn's city is on the ocean. The ocean, the docks, "Shore Road"; Silver Age MM stories repeatedly make it clear that the City is on the sea. And it's a part of the sea that has sharks... .

J'onn's city is somewhere warm. There is never a hint of snow or cold. People don't even wear overcoats. Of course, that could simply be because a fire breaks out in J'onn's city every 7 minutes.

J'onn's city is somewhere normal. You know. It's not like, in Texas, or anything. Cuz that would show. Now there are some hints that it might be in California, such as two stories in which movies are being filmed in the City. But hey, I passed two movie shoot locations just today, and I don't live in California.

Besides,there's a much stronger piece of evidence than the filming:
baseball. The local baseball team in J'onn's city? The Flamingos. Obviously, a tropical, Caribbean town.

That leaves only
ONE possible conclusion: J'onn's Silver Age adventures take place in Florida. Insane, but true. As Sherlock Holmes said, "when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." If you want to believe in Middleton, fine, embrace Frank Delano's wise conclusion, that J'onn left his original city and moved to Middleton later.

The name of this Floridan city? It's never explicitly stated in his stories. But I must deduce one anyway. So I culled all the names of businesses and locations within in the city, to look for clues there.

In J'onn's city, there are at least FIVE major businesses name "Apex":
  1. the Apex Warehouse,
  2. the Apex Paint Co,
  3. the Apex Loan Co.,
  4. Apex Movie Studios, and
  5. the Apex Art Gallery.
Now, we know, from a real world perspective, that "Apex" is a generic company name that the authors of these stories clearly got into the habit of using as a default, probably without considering the cumulative effect. But, within the logic of the text (to the degree a Martian Manhunter text can be said to have any "logic") why would there be five wholly dissimilar businesses in the same city with the same name?

Answer: J'onn lived in

THAT is my conclusion and I'm sticking to it.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Iceberg Lounge

Ah, the Penguin. So underappreciated.

While I don't discuss it here often enough,
I'm a big fan of the Penguin, and think he doesn't get the respect he deserves from modern writers and readers, who don't take him seriously enough.

This is ironic, since a big part of the Penguin's original schtick was "No one would take this funny looking man in evening wear seriously", a fact he frequently used to his advantage. Most people underestimated the Penguin, and he made fools of them of because of it. Batman, however, wasn't fooled, because (1) he's achingly smart and (2) people who dress like bats know better than to judge by appearances.

Well, the Penguin did effectively fool many others-- unfortunately that includes many of the people who've been writing comics over the last twenty years. As a result, the Penguin's frequently been written as a comedic foil or a weaselly stoolie rather than a serious threat (the Riddler has suffered similarly from a lack of understanding by writers, but don't get me started on that). Weak writers can only use hypermuscled heavily-armed "bad-@$$" characters as threats; weak writers need characters with obviously strengths, because it doesn't require them (or their readers) to be clever. Strong writers enjoy exercising their literary muscles proving that an effete little fat man or a triangle-headed geek in a leotard can be a threat, even to Batman. Strong writers delight in characters with hidden strengths.

Chuck Dixon brought a fresh approach to the Penguin in I guess it was 1995 when he re-imagined him as a not-so-reformed supervillain turned "legitimate businessman", and owner of a posh nightclub, the Iceberg Lounge, which served as a front for his nefarious doings. Fresh, I might add, does not mean completely novel; the exact same thing happened some thirty years earlier on the Batman television series (Dec. 7, 1966, "The Penguin's Nest"):
Robin: It sure is a shame, Batman. A restaurant with such terrific chow turning out to be a mere front for some criminal scheme.
Batman: Look at it this way, Robin. That $100 cover charge is pretty stiff. Penguin's "terrific chow" is hardly within the budget of the average worker.
Robin: Gosh yes, you're right, Batman. All the needy people in the world, all the hungry children.
Batman: Good thinking, Robin.

In fact, the Penguin did something similar in the Golden Age, once in "Birds of a Feather" Batman #11, Jun/Jul 1942 (his third appearance, in which he opens a 'honest' casino in Florida), and again in "The Penguin's Nest", Batman #36 Aug/Sep 1946 (on which the television episode was based).

Dixon understand that the Penguin was a smart guy and an old-time operator, a Batman-style crook with flair and gimmick, not a superpowered Firestorm supervillain (although he could swing that way, when he wanted). Parlaying his infamy into PR for a high-class joint that could both provide him with legitimacy and give him a front for criminal affairs is exactly the kind of thing the Penguin would do.

Good thing, too, for although Dixon meant for the restauranteer/crimelord concept to bring respect for the Penguin, other writers took the restaurant more seriously than they did its owner. Thus, the ICEBERG LOUNGE has become a permanent part of the Gotham City landscape, one of those places that always exists no matter how many times it's destroyed (like the Daily Planet building or the Flash Museum).

As in comic books, so too in Heroclix, where the Penguin also has gotten no respect. In fact, his clix is almost legendarily bad. But all the major Batman villains will get remade in the special all-Batman heroclix set this July, and some of them made again in the larger, villain-oriented "Rogues Gallery" set in the fall. This means at least one if not two new, and almost necessarily more useful, Penguin heroclix figures are coming our way.

So I want to prepare for those Penguins (and other Gotham City folk) by giving us all a new map for them:

Click on map for a penguin's eye view.

No place is cooler than the Iceberg Lounge! Using this picture as inspiration,

I tried to capture some of the elements commonly used to depict the Iceberg Lounge: the pool in the middle, the icebergish sculpture in the pool, the ship shaped dancefloor, the polar decor. I didn't have the ability to put a tuxedoed dance band on the sculpture, I'm afraid, but I was able to substitute with some actual penguins.

I threw in some special rules for windows and doors (which are long overdue on standard Heroclix maps anyway). You wouldn't think an all-white room would be an easy place for stealth, but with clusters of tables serving as hindering terrain and some balcony seating for leap/climbing, it's a pretty Batman-friendly map. Can't wait to have Batman and Robin leap to the top of the pool sculpture and hurl some batarangs at tuxedoed goons. And who knows, with all that water, maybe Aquaman might join in the fun!

Still, the elevated terrain is pretty exposed, so it's not exactly a dark Gotham rooftop; beware. The Dynamic Duo might need to duck for cover into the upstairs bar ("They may be drinkers, Robin, but they're still human beings and might be salvaged.")

Note that the Penguin has his own private dining area, upstairs near the bar where he can oversee everything. Because, you know, he would. In fact, if you could see the map at full size and detail, you'd see he's about to chow down on a big plate of sushi. Yes, really.

Later, I think I'll expand the map to a 3x3 version that includes the hidden areas of the Iceberg Lounge: private dining for wanted felons, the casino, the Penguin's office and armory. Or perhaps instead I'll make another 2x3 map that's a generic gambling joint. Then it can be a stand-alone map OR can be placed to the right of this map to serve as the Iceberg Lounge's hidden back rooms.

Remember, there's always more to the Iceberg than meets the eye! But for now I wanted to see how you like this version. And please be kind; it may not look like much, but it took of lot of trial and error to get the look I was going for.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Teenagers from the Future

Are you going to the New York Comic Con in April? I'm not, but I'll be there in spirit.

Actually, I'll be there in print. I'm one of the essayists in a new anthology that will be released there:


It's a meaty tome, with 350 pages (!) about the Legion, its members, and its place is history (and the future). It's from the perspicacious folks at Sequart (they make books about comics for smart people), and edited by the blogosphere's own Tim Callahan. If you're unconvinced that the Legion is an essential part of the DCU, this may be the book that convinces you otherwise. If you're already a Legion fan, then it's a must-have since it's the book LSH-lovers will be discussing for the next one thousand years.

After it's premiere at the NYCC, it'll be available for sale on-line at Amazon and such. And, if you buy a copy, book a flight, fly to DC, metro over to my neighborhood, then walk to my house, I'll sign it for you. But call first; I could be out walking the dog.

My essay makes the case that the JSA and JLA, contrary to what many think, are extremely different in concept and that it was the Legion that showed the transition between those two very different groups. In essence, the gap between the Elders of the past and the Primes of the present was bridged by ... the Teenagers from the Future.

Check it out!

Why We Love the Phantom Stranger Some More 4

As mentioned last week, the Phantom Stranger has some pretty bizarre sexual tastes.

But, really, you have no idea how strange.

Monday, March 24, 2008

As With Our Heroes, So With Our Politicians

As you probably know, I live in Washington, D.C., where, instead of sports, we have politics. Sure, there's fewer teams, and the outfits aren't very colorful, but it can still manage to entertain....

In this morning's
Washington Post, columnist Howard Kurtz ponders why the media continue to pretend that Senator Clinton might yet become President Clinton.

But that's not the interesting part right now... .
What is interesting is this statement he quotes by the New Republic's Michelle Cottle:
I like a commander-in-chief who can keep his/her emotions under control -- possibly even under wraps -- and who is a damn site more dignified and qualified for the job than I, my friends, or any other Average Joe. I want a president who is better than I am, not one who makes me feel better about myself. That's what Oprah's for.
Hm. Sound familiar? It's the exact same basic reason I have for preferring DC over Marvel. It's what I assert is the essential difference between DC and Marvel: DC tries to give you heroes who are better than you are and Marvel tries to give you heroes who make you feel better about yourself.

Since it's unlikely that Cottle stole that idea from me (although I'm sure she reads here; hi, Michelle!), and I know I didn't steal the idea from her, I'm guessing we're both perceiving the results of an underlying phenomenon in American society (at least, current American society).

So, that said, Absorbascommenters, please give me your opinion:

Does the kind of comic books one likes correspond with ones political leanings or how one chooses a candidate?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Why We Love the Phantom Stranger Some More 3

Because, in a Phantom Stranger story, anything can happen.

Really. Anything.

Like, say, for example...


Now Hal'th thore, too!