Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Reboot Now

So, I’m sure you aware of the MYSTERY shrouding the DCU after September when Flashpoint wraps up, and that some kind of ‘bombshell’ announcement is planned for early June.

Many theories have been posited, from the bland (“So and so will be the new creative time on Icon-man!”) through the hopeful (“DC will announce a JLA movie!”) and idiosyncratic (“Vibe will be the new Protector of the Earth!”) to the preposterous (“DC will stop publish monthly comics”).

Okay, I confess: the Vibe one was mine.

But consensus centers around the idea that the DCU will get a universal reboot. Much of the discussion consists primarily of reactionary eye-rolling (“DC is addicted to universal reboots!”)… and much of that is deserved. However, much of it also seems to miss an important point:

DC has never had a universal reboot.

Oh, it’s shut down some non-working programs with Task Manager, and cleaned out its cache a couple of times. But an actual reboot? Nope.

After Crisis of Infinite Earth and Zero Hour, there were a few changes to backstory (“The Kents are alive!” “Wonder Woman wears sweaters!”), but for the most part the whole DCU pretty much picked up in medias res and moved on. Except for Superman and Wonder Woman, we didn’t watch any characters “start over” again. And as for Infinite Crisis, well, the only thing that came of that was a run on CVS for aspirin to recover. Morrison succeeded to some degree, in that he convinced me that the Anti-Equation did exist; except it was titled Infinite Crisis, which convinced me that life was meaningless and sapped me of my will to think for myself; Morrison likes that.

The closest thing that DC has ever had to a universal reboot wasn’t really announced and was, well, a “soft reboot”: the Silver Age. “The Big Three” kept a thread of continuity—too much momentum there to waste—but everything else got restarted. Of course that was easy to do since… everything else had stopped. During the dark interregnum between the Golden and the Silver Age, virtually no superhero comics—the pillars of DC continuity—were being published, other than ‘the four superfriends’ (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman; and I guess Green Arrow, but we all know Green Arrow doesn’t count). DC created a whole new DCU, including a new Flash, a new Green Lantern, a new Hawkman, a new Atom, some freaky Martian, and a modernized “JSA” (now named the “JLA”) practically overnight.

And that was exciting! So was the reintroduction of Superman and Wonder Woman after COIE. I, the reader, was right there in on the ground floor for this ‘new’ but familiar character. They kept their iconic value—reclaimed it, really, by shedding years of accumulated literary dross—and began new adventures with fresh interpretations of their familiar foes and friends. Whether you liked all the decisions that were made in the process is beside the point; the approach was the right one.

Think of some of DC’s most exciting multimedia projects since COIE: Batman the Animated Series, the Justice League Unlimited, The Batman movies, the Teen Titans cartoon, Batman: Brave& the Bold. A huge part of the fun was… the starting over. Watching this new version of the DCU reveal itself and evolve bit by bit.

I’m hoping DC has the cajones to do a real universal reboot. They might pick up new readers; older ones like me will stick on; it’s the middling ones, the ones who can’t imagine a world without a “Nightwing”, who might bolt. But DC has got to do something to make their stories more accessible. Mainstream comics have long since given up on the principle that “every comic is someone’s first”; instead they cling desperately to the principle that “this comic must NOT be someone’s last!” This gives us an endless cascade of ‘can’t miss’ cliffhangers to keep dying addicts addicted, rather than an endless parade of new stories to keep new readers interested. That parade is EXACTLY why fans love most of the multi-media versions of the DCU: stories that are enriched by having knowledge of DC history, but not dependent on it.

Wouldn’t it be nice if DC were bold and brave enough to take that approach to their monthly comics? I think it’s time.

Heck… I’ve been waiting for it since 1986.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Heroclix Map: the Theater

Well, even though I took my issues of 1983's "The Daring New Adventures of Supergirl" with me to Carnegie Hall last weekend, turns out I was too busy to get much work done on them. Imagine.

That's me, announcing on the Carnegie Hall stage. Yes, really. And all I could think was... "My god, now I know how Dazzler felt!'

But I did manage to get this project completed, in honor of my Carnegie Hall debut (which raised over $170,000 for Sendai/Tsunami relief, I'm happy to say)....

"THE THEATER" map for Heroclix!

It takes advantage of the new expanded rules for elevated terrain; the theater itself is level 2 elevated terrain, the street and the orchestra pit are level 1, and the box seats and tech catwalk are level 3. The front lobby has windows (windows can be 'broken' with an attack of two) and the stage curtain is special orange terrain that blocks line of sight but not movement (it appears green in the photo because what you see is not the final version of the map).

So many wonderful scenes can be replayed as games on this map! The bid for Batman's secret identity from the Englehart run. The Joker taking Pagliacci's place. Two-Face holding up the entire auditorium while his face is projected on the screen. Dazzler at Carnegie Hall!!!

If you want a copy of "The Theater", just send me your email address and I'll be happy to send you the file.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Show Must Go On!

The rest of our discussion of "Supergirl vs. The Gang" will be delayed; I'm leaving this morning for New York City to both perform and MC at Carnegie Hall.

Yes, really. If you want to know how you get to Carnegie Hall... well, I'll tell you when I get back.

Anyway, meantime ...



Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Supergirl #4, Part 2: The Gang's All Here

Well, when last we left literary pinball Supergirl (in Paul Kupperberg's 1983 Supergirl #4), she had recently been retconned to be a 19 year old psych major in Chicago.

Looks like Supergirl's not the only one who got retconned.
Apparently, 1983 Chicago's been attacked by the B13 virus. Or
Frank Gehry.

In Chicago, Supergirl, in her secret identity as Linda Danvers, lives with her wacky supporting cast, The Oppressively Square Parents (Mr. & Mrs. Danvers), The Ethnic Stereotype Landlady Who Seems to be Comic Relief But Who Suffers from Secret Poignant Sorrows (The Widow Berkowitz), and The Irresponsible But Lovably Trouble-Prone Actor-Neighbor (Real-Life Person John Ostrander).

It would all seem like some Young Women On Her Own sitcom, a "That Girl" for the '80s, were it not for pesky supervillains like...


Yes, they are really called "The Gang". What did you think the "G" stood for?

When I showed my friend Noah "The Gang" and told him what they were called, he slapped his forehead and said, "That's imbecilic. The only way a group like that-- or any group-- would call themselves 'The Gang' would be, I dunno, if they'd hung out together as kids in school."

Perceptive on Noah's part, then, since that is exactly their origin. Four kids from the Southside of Chicago wanted to avoid falling into a life of criminal desperation like their schoolmates, so they focus on sticking together, and working their tails off to become... supervillains. Well, that makes sense!

So, who do you think "The Gang" would work for, huh? Who...?

The Gang works for... "The Man". Yes, really. I'm not sure whether Kupperberg was actually trying to write a story, or whether he was just composing the first draft of the "TV Tropes" wiki while awaiting the eventual invention of the internet. The man was a visionary.

The Gang are classic "crime groupies", and true to form, each one is a uni-dimensional cut-out character. Specifically, the Goliath, the Bruiser, the Brains, and the Mentalist (two strong stupid guys with physical powers and two clever women with mental powers).

The "Goliath" guy pictured above is Kong. Yes, like the canine chew toy. If Superman were around he'd just stuff him full of peanut butter and throw him to Krypto. I'd buy that comic!

The "Brusier" guy is named Bulldozer. Why...?
Another satisfied graduate of the Benjamin Grimm School of Elocution.

Really, what kind of idiot power is being able to run at stuff and crash into it with your head? Maybe that makes you an
A-class villain in the Marvel Universe, but in the DCU it just makes you the head-butt of a lot of jokes.

People do not talk this way, nor should they. "The Name's" is another Sure Sign of Bad Comic Book Writing. If you are reading any piece of literature and you see a sentence that begins with "The name's...", put it down immediately. Preferably in the garbage can.

The "Brains" of the Gang is named "Brains". But you probably guessed that already.

Apparently, her power is speaking pretentiously, since that seems to be all she does. That, and hair-modelling like she's in a Wella Balsam commercial. No, really, her hair is this ... this thing in and of itself. At first, you think you're just perceiving it in mid-swoosh as she's moving, as in the panel above.

No crime in that. Why, '90s characters regularly relied on their swooshing ponytails to counterbalance the weight of, well, whatever was in those pouches on their thighs.

But that's not it at all. It actually just juts out from her head, stiffly. All the time. Like... like a giant glob of saltwater taffy.

Okay, I desperately want to see this woman fight Night Girl.
Dueling extensions at 20 paces!

Not only does she have amazing Gumby-hair,
but each of her breasts is a commissioned Army Captain.
Eat yer heart out, Power Girl.

And the "Mentalist" character is "Mesmer". Have you ever heard anything so painfully obvious...?

Flash Fact: you can hypnotize anyone if you connect a mini-fan with a color wheel!

"You want I should"? What native Chicagoan talks that way? Nu, what are you now, Mrs Berkowitz's daughter? By the way, Mrs Berkowitz's daughter is, in fact, a supervillain, but a different one (the cosmically powered Blackstarr); but that's another story entirely.

"Mesmer" is another example of Bad Comic Book Writing: "Painfully Obviously Codenames". If I were a supervillain with, say, super-bulldozing-with-my-head powers, I would codename myself something vague and obscure like "Doktor Planiermesserundeckmesser", or "Captain Jordan", or just plain deceptive like "Diaphanoso". While the hero was trying to puzzle out my high-fallutin' mystery powers, I'd sock him in the gut with my cranium. But super-head-butting-powers characters rarely go in for the element of surprise and this one is no exception...



Eyes wide, fanboy; this is what it's like to "boff" Supergirl. For me, it's the sound effect and the expression on her face that really make this panel. Ordinarily, this is the place where I'd offer some kind of crack... but it looks like Supergirl's already got that covered. At least, I hope she has it covered; hard to tell with hotpants.

So, anyway, the incredibly generic foursome of stock figs from the crime groupie box manage to defeat Supergirl, with her god-like Kryptonian powers, twice in the same story, courtesy of Mesmer's mind-whammy.

Not that Supergirl can believe it. Frankly, neither can I.

Wow, Supergirl's nearly infallible, just like her cousin. And just as modest.

Oh, and just in case you were thinking ill of me for my corny title for this post...


Honi soit qui mal y pense!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Supergirl #4, Part 1: The Actor-Neighbor et al.

If you want to understand why I stopped reading comic books in the 1980s, you need look no farther than Supergirl #4 (for which we have Paul Kupperberg to blame).

This is 1983, and Supergirl/Linda Lee Danvers was a 19-year-old psychology college student in Chicago.

This, of course, was after she'd already graduated from the stateless Stanhope College with a bachelor's degree in nothing apparent, worked as a television camera operator in San Francisco, went to grad school at Vandyre University for drama, became a Florida high school guidance counselor (for nowhere is an understanding of drama so essential as in a high school guidance counselor's office), then became a soap opera star. Then, while she was on the way to super-aerobics class, a bad guy killed her, probably for her headband. After which, her story gets REALLY weird.

None of this makes any sense, but that what we've learned to expect from Supergirl, one of the DCU's least stable characters and the symbol of powerlessness against the vicissitudes of fate. Supergirl is a kite in a tornado, a ragdoll in a tsunami, a pinball in the arcade of life.

I imagine that being Supergirl is kind of like living in a "Quantum Leap" episode,

Oh boy.

...except you don't bother trying to understand the situation or assume that you're where you are for a purpose. You just hunker down, beat up any obvious bad guys, and try to make it through the day (or, as my friend Benari would call it, "deployment").

Anyway, in Supergirl #4, Supergirl finds herself living, well... here:

View Larger Map

1537 West Fargo Avenue, Chicago IL Hey, she's metro-accessible! Groovy.

Anyway, her supporting cast includes her stereotype Jewish-mother landlady, Mrs Berkowitz:

Who's a great waltzer, by the way.

her stultifyingly boring parents, the Danvers'z's

What could please a college student more than to find her parents, unannounced, hiding in her apartment?

and her wacky irresponsible actor-neighbor...

wait for it...

Yes, John "Suicide Squad" Ostrander, a former Chicago actor, started writing for DC Comics in 1986... three years after he became one of Supergirl's neighbors. There really aren't a lot of occasions where the multiversal barriers get holes punched in them large enough to suck someone out of the DCU and into our ("the real") world, but clearly that's exactly what happened to John Ostrander. This, of course, makes no sense at all; so I blame Supergirl.

Here Ostrander - the original Ostrander the comic book character not the later Ostrander the comic book writer - is seen using the phrase "hello dere", the catchphrase of a comedian whose floruit had been 10 - 20 years in the past by time this story was published. In comic book writing, this is called "hip". It's also one of comics' Sure Signs of Bad Writing ("Outdated Comedy Catchphrases"). You'll be seeing more of those signs as we read the rest of this story.

By the way, did I mention that Ostrander was an actor?

And did I tell you that Ostrander was an actor?

Oh, and, in case you forgot:

Ostrander was an actor.

I can never figure out whether stories like these were written this way
  • just in case the reader's mind is drug-addled,

  • counting on the fact that the reader's mind is drug-addled,

  • or because the writer's mind is drug-addled.

Anyway, actor-neighbor Ostrander has run afoul of a crayola set of "crime groupies" that Supergirl already tangled with earlier in the story.

I can't wait to introduce you to these guys in my next post.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Superman and "The Incident"

I've been asked to say a few words about "The Incident" in Action #900.

This is a subject that many are speaking on, and I'm not confident I have much unique perspective to bring to bear on it. Nevertheless....

I'm not going to weigh in at all on the legalities of citizenship, the nigh impossibility of "renouncing" it, or international law's distaste for permitting anyone to be "stateless". I could write a book about that and, at one point in my career, actually might have.

I will however make two points. The first is one I have seen elsewhere: it's nice to know that Superman still matters. After 900 issues of Action and 70 years in the media, Superman matters enough that when Superman makes some kind of political statement, the world pays attention.

Many are saying, "This is overdue, a sign of our changing times; it's about time we cast aside the antiquated, jingoistic view of Superman as a champion of 'the American Way', whatever that means!" Many others are saying, "This is inappropriate, a sign of our moral waywardness; if anything, it's time for us to reaffirm the American Way and Superman as its champion."

Which leads me to my second point.

Superman 'renouncing his citizenship' (whatever THAT is supposed to me) so he can oppose a foreign dictator is exactly the kind of kick-ass crazy crap Superman was created to do.

Have you ever actually read a Golden Age Superman story? Like the one where he violently breaks into the Governor's Mansion? Or the one where he drags a party of rich folks down into a coal mine to experience the plight of their workers? Or the one where he tells off the police commissioner for being soft on illegal gambling? Or the one where he hoists the leaders of two warring European nations onto a mountaintop, and tells them to duke it out to settle their differences, while their armies stand down?

Superman was the honey badger of the comic book kingdom. Golden Age Superman was a bad-ass, anti-authoritarian, rabble-rousing, reformist, interventionist, loose cannon. He did whatever the heck he wanted to, just to stand up for the little guy, to oppose tyranny, to right wrongs. He didn't care about violating the rights of others, or moderating his use of power.

He barged right in and made things right where they were wrong, and if you got in his way, you got your toes stepped on. Too bad for you, and your car that he just crashed into a nearby mountain.

Superman, in short, didn't stand for the American Way; he WAS the American Way. And it's nice to see that he still is.

You and I may not like it; you and I may not agree with it. But don't try to tell me it's "not what Superman is about" or that it's "out of character".