Saturday, October 04, 2008

The Jersey Shore

I'm currently in the distant land of Wildwood, a wonderful little resort town on the Jersey Shore, for a singing competition (hence my sparse posting).

If' you've never been, know that Wildwood is the kind of beach town that almost seems the fictional ideal of such a place, like Coney Island or Palisades Park. The boardwalk, the amusement piers, the crab shacks -- all of it is eerily semi-abandoned in October. This time of the year could only with great generosity be called "the shoulder season", and the number of open lodgings and eateries is far outweighed by the locked buildings and shuttered establishments.

It is, in fact, a giant ghost town, and therefore, creepy as all get-out. Particularly when the first comic book you ever bought was...

Batman 251

In the summer of 1973, my family was at the shore. Either there on or the way, I bought Batman 251. I'd certainly read other comics before, and I may have bought myself other comics before then, but this is the first occasion I can actually remember buying the comic book for myself with my own (allowance) money.

If you've never read it, Baman 251 (1973) had the story "The Joker's Five-Way Revenge", which is pretty significant, as far as single issues go.

TJFWR was one of the first issues of the O'Neil/Adams run on
Batman, which redefined (or, perhaps more accuratel, re-established) the character as a dark creature of the night, at home among supernatural elements as well as gritty crime drama.

TJFWR was the first story to really portray the Joker as INSANE, not just, you know, kind of flamboyent. This story is the greatest turning point in the Joker's history, and is the source of his every portrayal for the last twenty-five years.

TJFWR also set a new standard for the Joker's cruelty and disregard for human life. Once you've seen the Joker push an old man in a wheelchair into a shark tank-- well, anything seems possible after that. And that's not just for the Joker. This story recalibrated how an entire generation of comic book readers defined "evil".

TJFWR introduced (and removed) the character of Bigger Melvin, one of the Joker's five intended victims in the story. His chase scene with Batman in that issues is so classic that it was homaged, in its entirety, in the most recent issue of

The issue is not without flaws: for example, subtley is not a virtue of O'Neil's writing. But Adams' art remains unforgettable: the image of Bigger Melvin thinking,
"My troubles will soon all be over," while a starkly lit Joker lurks right behind him is a masterpiece of ironic comic book terror.

But, in addition to all this, the story had a great impact on me because the Joker's hideout is at -- you guessed it -- a closed down facility on the boardwalk during off-season, and the beach is a prominent plot point in the story. As a result, the story inextricably linked the image of an abandoned beach resort-- a place of happiness gone dark and sinister -- with the image of a clown gone bad. Together, those images cemented in my mind the concept that, in the words of
Batman: The Animated Series, "the brighter the picture, the darker the negative."

That's the kind of power that a strong comic book story can have, even decades later. If you have a story like this to it, what is it, which comic book story gave it to you, and why?

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Shield: Who He Is, and How He Came to Be, II

When last we left our hero, THE SHIELD, his dad got blowed up real good in the Black Tom Explosion and he was being raised by J. Edgar Hoover. Yes, really. As crazy as foreign saboteurs blowing up munition ships off the Jersey shore sounds, it's even crazier because, well, it actually happened. Who said comics aren't educational?

Comic books have a long tradition of heroes being inspired by their parents' dying words.
  • Uncle Ben's "With great responsibility, comes great whining."
  • Jonathan Kent's "Whatever you do, son, don't marry Lana!"
  • And, of course, Thomas Wayne's "AAAAAAARGGHHkkk --*thud*!"

So it was with the Shield, as Joe Higgins' father leaves him with the immortal words:
"Anatomy formula S*H*I*E*L*D! Carry on, Joe!"

Put that on your tombstone. Oh, and I really wish we would have gotten a thought balloon from J. Edgar here: "Now the boy is all MINE!"

Now, any normal person would simply conclude that the Black Tom Explosion had left shrapnel in Lt. Higgins' brain, causing death-bed dementia. But the Shield is no normal person! He, instead, proceeds to waste 12 to 15 years and three large panels becoming a presumptuous chemistry geek so he can "carry on".

Even after he gets his Ph.D. in chemistry, Joe is still laboring to complete his father's experiment.

Told ya so.

In his quest, Joe employs the most advance scientific equipment of his day, including:

the Bikini-filled Bingo Dispenser

the Bio-magnetic Lobster Trap

the Table of Pain & Pleasure

the Perspective Device

the Atomic Plant Hanger

the Flying Static Balls

and the Device That Renders Boyfriends Unnecessary.

This hoo-hah proves useless, of course, because all great superhero origins are capped by an utterly random moment of self-realization, like a bat flying in a window. The Shield's moment comes as a hallucination induced by pipe-smoking the weed he grows on his coffee table.

Inspired, Joe dons the latex sex gear he wears only to church on Sundays, grabs some topical poppers, and heads to the Table of Pain & Pleasure.

What could have caused this inspiration (I mean, other than all the chemicals Joe messes around with)? Can you imagine..

He saw this:


I really don't have the intestinal fortitude -- or, rather, the "innervation" -- to examine the so-called Anatomy Formula SHIELD.

Suffice it to say that since the next step is... ...

to rub his Dad's improved formula on those parts of his body and lie still under a strobe light for 12 hours, I am simply dying to know how he rubbed in on his HEART, his LUNGS, and most titillatingly, his SACRUM.

I'm betting that it somehow involved using the Device That Renders Boyfriends Unnecessary....


Things That Made Me Happy....

in my comics this week.

  • Why Jonah wears the uniform. Of course; that makes perfect sense.
  • Brain stem nannites.
  • Krona's... footprints? That's hilarious.
  • Bigger Melvin. My god, I almost fainted when I saw Bigger Melvin. He was in the first comic book I ever bought... And the drainpipe/chase sequence couldn't have made me happier.
  • Suddenly, the current JLA story is a lot more interesting than I thought it was.
  • I just love Lois "Fastlane" Lane, even though I'm obviously not supposed to.
  • Imagination is the 5th Dimension.
  • You'd think the "cactus in the face" scene would be in Jonah Hex, but it isn't...
  • Tatters the Junkyard Sidekick.
  • Batman R.I.P is now one issue closer to be over; yay!
  • Hal and Ollie beating the snot out of each other.
  • "Carol's dead?" Even when he's written wrong, Two-Face is still a great villain.
  • Loved seeing Grant Morrison's Yellow Alien being exposed.
  • Cameron's unexpected news.
  • Dinah beating the snot out of Hal and Ollie.
  • Okay, even though it didn't do anything but sit there, just know that there's a robot dog in Manhunter makes me happy.
  • Ha, very clever; Bruce Wayne does what Batman mustn't.
  • "Ya can die now." God, I love that man.

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.