Friday, July 03, 2009

The Death of John Jones

Okay, as mentioned, Vol. 2 of the Martian Manhunter Showcase is in some ways even crazier than the first one; but why?

It's clear that the editorial/authorial powers realized they'd painted themselves into an uncomfortable corner. They'd created a nearly infallible character whose powers were a mash-up of Amazo, the Composite Superman, and the Phantom Stranger. His only weakness was the most absurd one any character has ever had. Yellow? Wood? Those at least had some sort of ad hoc logic to them. But the Martian Manhunter's vulnerability to fire defied not just physics, but sociology and common sense. Fire has no radiation-like "emanations"; at a distance, there's no difference between fire and any other heat source. The Martians built a high-tech society without... fire? Maybe they used "Martian vision" to melt metals or just finger-snapped machines out of thin air, like they do ice cream cones?

PLUS, this super-scientific society has no way of rescuing one of its people, even when it's established early on that they know he's on earth? No, it's obvious that the Martian Manhunter was a rather hastily cobbled together character, and a difficult one to write. Despite J'onn's godlike powers he spent most of his time fighting crooks in hats, and laughable losers like the Human Flame, Mr. Moth, and the Human Squirrel. His only substantial challenges would come from other planets like the Venusians or the Martian Mandrills (yes, really). Something had to be done.

The recognition that J'onn's powers were out of literary control led to one early limitation: exposed to a chemical by a Martian bad guy (B'rett, as I recall), the Manhunter could no longer use his powers while he was invisible. Not only did this prevent the obvious question ("Why doesn't he always remain invisible as matter of course during combat?"), it forced him to 'come out' and become a public hero.

In Vol. 2, the Martian Manhunter even started to fly as a pure and simple power, whereas before he always had to suck or blow himself into the sky. And now he even had a superpowered sidekick (more on that subject later) to help him.. Something beyond the 'invisibility limit' was required.

The writers (well... writer, really) came up with an idea: J'onn's 'Martian powers' worked only when he was in his "Martian form" (although this was in direct and stark conflict with every previous Martian Manhunter story). Now, when in any other form, he had only the powers of that other form (and, of course, his power to shape-shift!). This helped a bit at first... JJ kept having to disguise himself as humans, and in so doing became as vulnerable as they are.

Unfortunately, the concept kind of backfired; when face with a superior adversary, the Martian Manhunter could simply assume the form of his opponent... and did.

So they killed him off. Not the Martian Manhunter, but John Jones, his civilian ID. He was "killed" when he and a car were eaten by corrosive cloud being. Things like that happen in Apex City.

Rather than concoct an escape story or one of those Clark Kent-style "Superman saved me when you weren't looking, Lois!" yarns, the Martian Manhunter simply said, "Huh, oh well. So much for my carefully constructed private life, my friends, and my job. What's for lunch?"

But this coincided with a move for MM. He no longer needed his job as a detective because he was no longer in Detective Comics. Now he'd be the back-up in House of Mystery (which was, at that time, a sci-fi title, not a horror title), so his adventures became more mysterious and less detective-y. Enter the Idol Head of Diabolu, a magical Pandora's box that spit out a different, crazy magical threat like clockwork once a month....

to be continued.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Objectifying Hal's Head

I just love the Hal Jordan heroclix figure. Thanks to a wise use of the "special power" mechanic, he slices, he dices, he makes Julienne fries. Best thing? He can take a wallop almost as well as Goofy.

So, in honor of Hal Jordan generally and of his heroclix figure in particular, I've designed some new objects to use when he's in the game.

Objects, by the way, are tokens used in the game to represent, well, objects. There are two basic kinds of objects: light (marked by a yellow border) and heavy (marked by a red border). Three of each are placed on the map at the beginning of each game. Light and heavy, by the way, are relative terms; a gumball machine is a "light" object, for example. That's why only figures with the Superstrength power can pick up regular objects on a heroclix map. A light object adds one to the damage dealt by a character attacking an adjacent foe, and a heavy object adds two. You can also throw them at opponents, which is fun but usually a waste of a good object. Once used in an attack (successfully or not), the object is "destroyed" and removed from the board.

There are also "special objects" (marked by a blue border), each of which has its own special rules. Most of the "official" special objects are tedious techno-crap that must appeal to Marvel Heroclix players: Structural Integrity Field Generators, Kinetic Absorbers and Accelerators, Dynamostats. I know what a gumball machine is; what the hell is a dynamostat?

ever. I'm from DC; where are the objects we need? Giant typewriters. Manhole covers. Stuffed bear heads. You know.... the stuff we actually see in our stories. Not only do we deserve more DCish objects, certain DC characters cry out for peculiar objects of their own. And no character says "peculiar object" more than Hal Jordan & His Amazing Head.

We've already created tokens for two of the greatest object-foes of Hal's head, the Yellow Ceiling Tile and the Heavy Yellow Lamp. But Hal deserves more.

Stalactites (Heavy Object) Face it, a good 17 percent of all the action in DC comics takes place in a cave somewhere. For pity's sake, DC has had spelunkers as cover headliners.

An Oscar (Light object)
Who needs Billy Crystal? Let Hal host the Academy Awards every year and just wait to see who klonks him on the head with Oscar, how, and why. You know you'd watch.
Mjolnir (Heavy object)
Only Superstrength is required to wield it; after all, this is DC, where everyone is worthy.
Underwater-rifle Butt (Light object)
Must be placed initially on water terrain.
The Toy Airplane (Special object)
Hal's head, like any great character, has both range and variety. One of the particular glories of Hal Jordan's head is that it can survive a blow by Thor's hammer, but can still be felled by the likes of a deliciously embarrassing toy airplane. Like Hal's head, the Toy Airplane comes with its own special rules!
  • May be wielded by any thematically appropriate villain (such as Toyman, Trickster, or the Joker);
  • may be thrown up to the villain's full range;
  • ignores all powers and abilities of Hal Jordan;
  • clear line of fire to Hal Jordan is not required,
  • does no damage but Incapacitates Hal.

The Space Owl (Special object)
Truly, Hal getting hit in the head by the Space Owl is one of comic book television's 113 Greatest Moments (which also includes the first appearance of Huntress's breasts in live action, the Joker versus Scooby Doo, and Alan Ritchson in wet angry bondage). Some evenings I just curl up on the sofa with my lapdog and my laptop and put the "Magno-beam-guided Space Owl Hits Hal on Head" sequence on infinite loop and nod off to the soothing sound of a space owl hitting Hal's head again and again and again like waves on the shore... . Usually, that's after a finite loop of Alan Ritchson in wet angry bondage, but that's another story. Ahem, anyway, the Space Owl comes with same rules as the Toy Airplane.
"The Sign" (Heavy Object/Special object)
This object can be wielded just like a regular heavy object. But it's more fun to leave it in place because of its special rules: Hal may not destroy "The Sign" with a standard attack, but as long as Hal can make an action and is not within range to attack any opposing figure, Hal must fly headfirst to "The Sign", destroying it, if it is in within range of his speed value. Just have Dr. Polaris or Sinestro park their car within shooting distance of the sign and wait for Hal to show up!
Porcupine Bladders from Space (Light Object)
Um, yeah, those pretty much throw me for a complete loss, too, Hal. But we've got to have them, mostly because I just like saying "porcupine bladders from space".

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The Lesbian Desert

I'm been a big fan of the new Batwoman since her introduction. I've been delighted that she was going to headline Detective Comics and that Renee "The Question" Montoya would be her back-up. I've been thrilled with the actual product; I keep re-reading this month's issue of Tec, simply because it's darned beautiful.

The story worked for me, too. I was no fan of the whole "Church of Crime" routine that was part of the 52 muddle, but it makes a good and logical focus for Batwoman. Plus, the creative team has immediately given it exactly what it needed: a costumed wacko. I mean, this is Gotham, after all.

I appreciated greatly the Question seems to focus on "small" crimes and mysteries (if a person being kidnapped and sold into bondage can be considered "small"). The Question shouldn't be fighting Dr. Polaris or even the Penguin; helping one person at a time is perfect. And if she happens to break up a slavery ring that's been funding drug smuggling from Santa Prisca that's part of the Penguin's deal with Kobra, well, that works, too. Because cracking down on "small" crimes can have an impact on the larger level in the real world, too. You don't lead to shoot laser beams out of your eyes to make a difference.

That said...

As a gay man, I am disappointed. Lesbians are everywhere in comics nowadays. Lesbians are falling from the trees. At Big Monkey, we have a "Fortnightly Fave" display, where every two weeks we feature some literature based on a common character or theme ("the Flash", or "vampires", or "space"). We could pretty easily to do a "Fortnightly Fave" display on "Lesbians" (Grace from the Outsiders, Scandal Savage from Secret Six, Maggie Sawyer who used to be in Superman and used to be in Batman, Detective with two starring lesbians, Strangers in Paradise, I Was Kidnapped By Lesbian Pirates from Outer Space)

But... as Kathy Griffin would say, "Where are my gays at?"

Lesbians and gay men aren't interchangeable and (outside of political necessities for unified action) don't consider themselves a group. Lesbian characters don't satisfy a gay male reader's need to see characters easy to identify with any more than male characters satisfy a female reader's desire for female role models in comics.

I realize that a gay reader complaining that there are no gay characters isn't exactly original. Heck, reader of Type Z complaining that there are no characters of Type Z is a basic bitch-blogging formula. But the increasing prevalence of lesbians is making the absence of male gay characters even more glaring.

DC has, what, Obsidian? Obsidian, who is often portrayed as mentally unstable, when anyone (other than Marc Andreyko) bothers to portray him at all? The deranged Pied Piper? The *snort* Tasmanian Devil, who was intended as (and remains) basically a joke character and gets a cameo every three years or so?

Jeez, DC... Marvel is outdoing you. Wiccan, Hulkling, and Northstar do stink of overwrought romance comics, but, hey, that's just Marvel being Marvel. Unless I'm wrong... have they all been killed off already?

Is DC worried about readers disliking gays in comic books? Are lesbians okay, because, you know, "at least they're hot for the fanboys"? Is DC worried to offend gays with a poor portrayal and so is just steering clear of doing so altogether?

Here it is, DC: I no longer care what the reason is. It's reached a point whether I'd rather have Estrano back (yeah, you heard me; I went there!), than to have Obsidian as the one small gay male oasis in a desert of lesbians.

It's probably too late, but here's your chance:

if Inferno is not gay, I'm calling you out as homophobes, DC Comics.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Haikuesday: JJ and the Bear

We all know that J'onn J'onzz's Justice League Detroit had repeated trouble with bears.

I think it was J'onn's fault;

Bears do not like J'onn, and vice versa.

Let's see.... at this point each of those thousand dollar bills is worth an equivalent $6500 current dollars, each of which will then feed a homeless person (or, as we called them then, a "bum") for at least-- well, let's just say J'onn's impromptu wealth distribution scheme here is going make for a lot of happy hoboes in Apex.

Ordinarily, I'd guess that this is just Mother Earth rejecting the presence of an extraterrestial alien like the Martian Manhunter, hoping to destroy him by spewing forth chthonic monstrous ursines to attack him (under the guise of a bank robbery). But, sadly, this is no uprising of Nature against the Unnatural; it's just another average bank robbery in Apex:
Wouldn't you like to have been at that gang meeting? "Well, yes... we could knock over that filling station while wearing stocking caps... or we could.. build a giant mechanical bear and use it to rob the bank while we're inside it wearing suits and ties! All in favor...?" I'll say this for the denizens of Apex's underworld; they've got a zest for fun and clearly think of crime as some sort of avant garde performance art.

Even JJ himself is overwhelmed by the Silver Age lunacy of it all...

The Apexians, being more used to stupidity than J'onn, observe it all with a placidity that still leaves them able to comment on it in haiku:
Look! The bear's leaping
off with an armful of one
thousand dollar bills!

Why haiku can you compose to celebrate the madness of the giant mechanical bear?

Monday, June 29, 2009

Pep 25: At the End of His Rope

"Okay, that just tears it!," the Shield thought. "The Hangman's really getting on my nerves.

"These two pug-ugly yoboes should have been hanged this morning, but weren't because the prison noose went missing. Gee, I wonder where that went... nice necktie, Hangman! Thanks for letting the Zebra Brothers here survive long enough to attack this nice Republican trophy wife!

"At least my exceedingly woundable sidekick Dusty & His Starched Cape are handling the one with the gun, so that I, who am invulnerable to bullets, don't have to. But now this quaking con is gonna carve up Miss Twin Peaks like a Christmas ham, unless I--

"Sweet Betsy Ross! Dang you all to heck, Hangman! Just how the heck do you keep on dropping in from nowhere?! Did you jump out a plane? Can you give a guy a warning, because while you're pouncing down to save Little Red Writhing Hood I'm stuck here walking like an Egyptian in the middle of the prison-yard and totally extraneous to the action, except as a decoy....

"Just whose comic IS this, anyhow....?!"