Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Green on Green Violence in poetry

You know, it's funny how comic books continually expand your suspension of disbelief. Once you accept a man can leap an eighth of a mile or keep himself aloft with Martian-breath, you hardly notice when he starts flying. It's like boiling a frog.

Once you accept that there's a five-square mile blast area in the middle of Star City and a magical White Lantern that brings things to life, why, it only makes sense that the Lantern could -- and would -- bring life back to the middle of Star City. Life as in a gigantic old-growth style forest. In the shape of a huge star. Of course.

Given that, why shouldn't there be in the middle of the forest one Big Daddy Tree? That has a 'white lantern' tattoo? And that can talk telepathically? It only make sense!

When such a tree talks, well, wouldn't you kind of expect it to occasionally choose to express it....

in haiku?

This is not the Green
you will burn; this is not the
forest you will raze.

Leave it to a tree to include nature imagery in its haiku! What haiku does the White Lantern inspire YOU to compose today? Share it with us now...

Friday, September 24, 2010

Where does Batman vacation...?

In Florida, of course, like everyone. But Batman always goes to...


While in Apex City, Batman was asked to be a judge in
the annual Gertrude Stein Memorial Poetry Slam...
but he declined.

Probably goes there because he likes the weather in Apex. Hangs out with his pal, the Martian Manhunter, having lots of glum together. During the day they lurk about casting ominous shadows on sunbathers and handing out leaflets on skin cancer: "It isn't my job to judge them," Batman tells J'onn, "just to stop them." Sometimes the Phantom Stranger drops in, just to get together and prevent some laughs.

They stay up at night watching CSI: Miami reruns with the sound turned off, while they take turns riffing film noir voiceovers: "It was a hot and sticky night in the City of Flamingos, hot and sticky like a overweight drag queen's dress shields at Aqua."

Anyway, like any sensible man, I pattern my life as much as possible after Batman's (WWBD?)

So I, too, am in South Florida/the Keys this weekend with my very own manhunter. Catch you when I get back.

IF I come back!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Superman's Persona Cycles

Character development is one of the important tools of fiction. Plot development makes sure the things happen in a story. While that is all that really needs to happen in a story, the events of the story gain more significance if they actually have an impact on the characters. Character development makes sure the things that happen in a story have an effect on the characters.

Character development is easy (or, at least, non-problematic) when your characters are meant for a one-time story (a short story, a novel, a movie). You can have events that change them quite dramatically. But for extended formats (television series, movie sequels, monthly titles) it's much harder to have a character develop again and again and again.

When your character stars in 1 to 6 stories a month for 70 years, it can be very difficult indeed.

And, so, whether by accident or intention, a natural means has evolved by which writers & editors can simulate character development with

the Persona Cycle.

We've outlined the idea of the persona cycle before, but it deserves a deeper look, which will be doing in weeks to come with some major iconic characters (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash, Aquaman, Green Arrow, and the Martian Manhunter).

Okay, sorry... I'll correct myself: "some major iconic characters AND Green Arrow."

We'll start with Superman. If you choose to comment, please do not move on to other heroes whom we will cover in later chapters, class. Save it till then.

Superman has at least two obvious aspects along whose spectrum he cycles: The Alien Aspect and the Authoritarian Aspect.

The Alien Aspect is how Kryptonian-oriented his stories are. We all know that Golden Age Superman had only passing reference to his being from another planet, and those were just hand-waving to explain his superpowers. Even better known is how Krypton-crazy his Silver Age exploits were.

I know your first thought was "AWESOME WALL POSTER!"
You just know you are eating this up.
Don't fight it; just don't tell anyone.

The Authoritarian Aspect is, well, it's Superman's 'suck-up' factor. How much does Superman rebel against / represent authority? In the Golden Age, Superman was a sort of 'super-activist', breaking in the governor's house, dragging socialites down into coal mines, and knocking down slum with his bare hands. Compare that to, say, his portrayal as a presidential errand boy in "Dark Knight".

Is Superman a citizen of Earth or a Kryptonian visitor? Is he an extra-legal agent of reform or the ultimate American cop / boy scout? Of course, the answer to either question is a resounding "yes".

Clark Kent (a character in his own right) also has at least two such aspects: The Awkard Aspect and the Agro Aspect.

The Awkard Aspect is pretty simply: how much and what kind of a goof is Clark Kent?

In the Golden Age, Clark wasn't clumsy or naive in the least. He was a hip urban reporter. But he was a milquetoast. Now, that's by Golden Age comic book standards. All it really meant was that Clark didn't hit people in the face at every possible opportunity, and didn't resort to violence as the first step in problem-solving.

Clark being "mild-mannered".

In the Golden Age, people hit each other in the face a lot.

Ever wonder why your relatives in all those old family photos look so ugly?
Well, now you know.

What Golden Age comic books called a milquetoast you and I would call "normal'", "sane", or "civil". For example:

Does this guy seem like a milquetoast to you?

In the '50s television show, Clark wasn't wussy in the least. He was thoroughly confident, in fact. Clark on "Lois & Clark" and "Smallville" was certainly never a loudmouth, but he was certainly much more sassy than sissy. In comics of the 1980s and '90s, Clark wasn't awkward at all (as long as you embrace the Mullet Retcon). In the 1970s, Clark Kent the Klutz was the stuff of Awkward Legend.

The Agro Aspect isn't talked about too much, but I think that's a shame. That Superman bridges rural and urban American is essential to his popularity. Golden Age Superman may have been raised on a farm, but you wouldn't know it to look at him. He was a sharper dresser completely at home in the Big City, who went out on the town in evening wear; and what's more urbane than an investigative city reporter? But Clark Kent of the 1990s was very much a farm boy, running (flying, really) back to Smallville at the drop of a hat to stare out into the fields. Each version of Superman decides how much to play up Clark's rural beginnings.

Think of these various aspects as sliders on a big mixing board of character. You can create a whole different version of the character every time you reset the sliders to different places. Add in more sliders (say, "Running After / Running Away from Lois", "Use/Restraint of Power", etc.) and you start to get a sense of how much can be done vary Superman as a character while still keeping him recognizable.

And 'moving the slider' can be done without a jarring reboot. Superman spent last year off-planet on New Krypton, at the far "alien" end of the spectrum. Now that's being followed by Superman's realization that he's grown out of touch, so he's walking America, saving elderly poor folks, playing basketball, and fostering civic improvement.

This is part of why Superman (and any similar long-term character) works. He can cycle back at forth along various aspects over the years, being always recognizable but never quite the same twice.


Monday, September 20, 2010

Pep 34: Upstaged!

Under ordinary circumstances, The Shield would probably be just staring up at the sky and thinking, "How the heck did Rorschach manage to colonize the MOON? Damn that man's publicity manager!"

But the tribal tattooing of our moon is literally upstaged by a closer horror: the freakin' Hangman occupying the foreground of a Pep Cover. Meanwhile, poor The Shield is so shocked to be relegated to a Dusty-in-the-distance shot that he's dislocated his jaw in open-mouthed astonishment. "What th--?! This is MY comic, you finheaded freak!! And what have you done with Dusty's CAPE STARCH?!?!"

It's all part of the "Quiet Revolution", of course, by which the Evil One, the Living Avatar of Surrealism, the Hell-God Andrews will make Pep his domain. The Big Reveal will be that the Hangman was in the pay of the Riverdale mob all along, undermining The Shield's position and authority in preparation for the takeover. As Darth Vader is to Emperor Palpatine, so is the Hangman to his lord and master, Archie Andrews.

"Go, Hangman, and do my bidding!"

P.S. Oh, yeah, and also the usual Pep cover regulars of a bound chick in a red dress, menaced by syringe-wielding Nazi vampires, two great tastes that taste great together.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Wonder Woman's hobby

And what does Wonder Woman do in her spare time, kids?

That's right, you remember....!


Lynda Carter will be Grand Marshall of this year's Washington AIDS Walk.

Marching out in front.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Barry Allen defeats Genre Blindness

This panel...

is the beginning of the end.

The end of what? The end of innocence -- or at least, or genre blindness -- in comic books.

Genre blindness, as any fan of the TV tropes wiki knows, is the obliviousness that characters have toward the conventions of their own genre of fiction. Horror characters always head toward suspicious noises instead of away from them, rom-com characters deem endearing the kinds of stalker behavior that a real person would get a restraining order against, and DeGrassi students never notice that every time they say "whatever it takes", they are doomed to some horrible fate, failure, or embarrassment.

DeGrassi's "Drew"
I'm guessing that in this case "whatever it takes" would be
about three pomegranate cosmos
and a promise not to tell anyone the morning after.

As the flux capacitor is to time travel, so is genre blindness to genre fiction.

For decades, comic books pretty faithfully inked between the lines of their own genre blindness. Villains created death-traps rather than just sniping a hero, supporting characters saw nothing odd about middle-school kids spending their nights fighting gun-toting gangsters on rooftops, and heroes just assumed the villain must have drowned when he fell in the Nearby Natural Body of Water.

Yup. That's right, Robin;
we'll never see that pesky "Joker" fellow, again.

Genre blindness was nearly absolute in comics. Until...

a police detective decided to act like a real police detective.

Barry Allen, forensics expert, decides
to follow a line of supply to locate a suspect.

Yup. Barry Allen decided to take a more "real word" approach to tracking down perps.

Oh, everyone makes fun of Barry. Lord knows I do. He's a milquetoast, he's a geek, he's totally whipped by the ultimate shrew, Iris "Just Plain Mean" Allen.

And yet, Barry Allen is the DC man who sets trends, breaks boundaries, and flouts all rules.

Who led the return of superheroes to the front of comicdom and started the Silver Age? Who actually crossed the line and killed his archenemy? Who routinely flouted all laws of physics, even beyond the normal "accepting the superpower as real" rule, in nearly every story? Barry Allen.

Sorry, folks. We all love the Big Three, but on the whole they don't set trends, they just reflect them.
You never saw Barry Allen going in for this sort of pop-culture folderol;
Superman simply does not know shame.

As far as the medium goes, "the Trinity" simply aren't leaders. Conceptual innovation usually starts with edgier, less valuable properties, and spreads upward. That's a thesis we may very well explore later.

Certainly, the Trinity didn't blaze any trails away from Genre Blindness. Heck, they embraced Genre Blindness like a warm blanky. Genre blindness requires them to ignore the fact that, hey, those purple suits, and cat-shaped planes, and killer umbrellas.? The villains must get them somewhere; if we can figure that out we'd have a lead on finding them.

What would the Big Three do to find their enemies? Batman would have put a fake notice in the newspaper about the priceless Van Landorpf emerald being on public display as a way to lure the Joker/Penguin/Catwoman out into the open. Superman would have left Lois or Jimmy find the foe, probably by getting attacked. Wonder Woman -- oh, heck, she would have been off marching with the Holliday Girls, don't fool yourself. Nazis can't resist attacking all-girl college marching bands. A lot of guys are like that, actually.

It was Barry "the Flash" Allen who decided to take a more 'real-word' approach to finding his foes. Barry Allen just asked the same kind of question the police might ask in the real world: where did the crook get that wacky one-of-a-kind outfit? They must have bought them somewhere and if we can find out where, we can trace our way to the perp.

As goofy as this sounds -- particularly since Barry himself doesn't have anyone else make his superbly tailored and elaborate costume -- it is still a casting off of a genre blindness. As such I think it was the first step toward the world of comics we know now, where writers constantly apologize for or subvert the conventions of the genre.

What do you think?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Penitentiary Haiku

You are not Bruce Wayne.

And you know why you aren't Bruce Wayne?

It's not because you're not a polybillionaire. Or an Olympic-level athlete and the world's greatest fighter. Or the world's greatest detective or multidisciplinary scientific genius .


You are not Bruce Wayne because of this.

If you were falsely imprisoned for murder, and the only person who could prove your innocence was, well, you, you would whine and cry and sob.

And most certainly you would not casually express your situation ...

in haiku.

I've got to prove I'm
innocent--what's that noise there?
The stone--sliding out--

What haiku can you compose to celebrate the coolness that is haiku-spouting Prisoner Wayne?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Your Shield against errant AI

Old Glory versus Robots That Eat Old People's Medicine for Fuel

I told you we'd get back to The Shield.

See, what you civilian-types don't know is that, among the Pentagon's vast warrens is a secret bunker where I have a small team of experts applying their skills to craft me (um, oh, and the nation, too) a veritable army of custom clix. Why? Well, let's just say that some pretty unlikely things happen when appropriations bills have to get passed at the last minute, particularly when I'm the one controlling the deciding pocket borough.

Do you remember you the cover of Pep 1? Well, my crack customizers at the Pentagon do, so they crafted this astonishing reproduction, in which The Shield cracks apart a rockem-sockem with just one punch. Have you ever seen a more beautiful custom? Makes an American proud.

The Shield resides on a re-purposed Bulleteer dial (because, you know, it's not like I'd every play the Bulleteer). He makes a great sidekick for Wonder Woman or Uncle Sam, and, all in all, is great cannon fodder to send out in the forefront of your Heroclix forces.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

"Well.. hardly ever!"

Note to the Dove World Outreach Church
in Gainesville, Florida:

is NEVER a good idea.

ALMOST never.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Pep 33: Nazis LOVE their opera

Hey, look, Dusty's back!

And doing what a young boy should: hurling legs-spead into the face of evil. Missed ya, kiddo!

In true "Pep" fashion, this cover has glowing yellow skies and some awesome 3D effects. The teeny weeny Nazi toy soldier in the far background, Dusty and his black snuggies in the background, the ever-charming Hangman in the mid-ground, and in the foreground, giving what-for to the dental hygienically-challenged, is our hero, The Shield. But we'll get back to him later... .

Wait, just what is the Hangman doing? OMG, that's so unfair, attacking poor Jesse James as he's trying to get to the opera with his date. Hey... that's not Kat Von D!!! Well, whoever that poor woman is, I applaud Jesse for taking a sword to that overly constricting dress. "Stupid hangman," Jesse grunts, "capes --are so-- last year!"

P.S. Don't believe the hype: the whole country is NOT talking about Capt. Commando.