Thursday, September 29, 2011

Things That Made Me Happy...

in my comics this week.


Well, that's ONE way to solve your costume storage problems. Team up with Blue Beetle, any one?
Carter as a linguist/cryptologist.


  • Barry's nerdgasms.
  • Of course Barry has a lab in his apartment.
  • See?! I'm not the only person who doesn't like Iris.
  • Pushy, impatient Iris versus slow, methodical Barry.
  • Nice visual effects! SPLASH!
  • Strong neo-urbanism and urban renewal vibe! This seems to be a theme all across the DCU. It's appeared in Superman, in Batman, and now in Flash. I approve wholeheartedly.


  • Aquaman leaps onto tall buildings with a single bound (or two).
  • Oh, and he tosses buses around, which is the modern equivalent of punching through submarines.
  • "Screw Atlantis and all the jerks who live there; better yet, forget Atlantis, let's screw each other while making a life on land." Boom; Aquaman is back on track.
  • "Responsibility". You can complain all you want about Geoff Johns' putative bloodlust. Nobody can reinvent a character's backstory/motivation in two or three panels like he does. He is by far the most efficient re-inventor in all of comics.
  • "I don't talk to fish; fish can't talk; I control their tiny brains with my aquatelepathy." Again, boom.
  • Jeez, bloggers are all insensitive assholes, aren't they?
  • Aquaman hair is perfect. All the time. And it gets noticed.


  • Daily Planet 2.0. This whole approach is brilliant and the script does a great job of showing journalistic synergy across media.
  • Morgan Edge as NOT a total bastard.
  • Lois as the kind of person who leapt at the chance to get on camera and who is more about the flashy exclusive.
  • Perry as a silver fox (woof!).
  • Clark as the in-depth interview reporter, more 'old-fashioned' rather than 'mild-mannered'. Who, unfortunately, writes florid, drippy, non-reportery prose (because, well... comic book writers are not reporters).

All-Star Western

  • One's a hideously scarred morally ambiguous bounty hunter; one's an effete Oedipally fixated physician and budding psychopath; together they fight crime!
  • Polyglot psychokillers who leave clues in Latin.
  • Mayor Cobblepot. I don't think anyone made me smile as much as that one. It's something I've been waiting for for years in the mainstream DCU, yet it came as a complete surprise, and bodes well for the use of the Penguin in the New DCU.

Justice League Dark

  • Speaking of Latin... people dying from a sudden hailstorm of books written in dead language. Yay, that's the weird side of DC that I've been waiting to see again!
  • Having supersenses isn't always a benefit, is it, Clark?
  • Superman versus a blizzard of old teeth.
  • Starting with the recurring threat of crazy Junie Moone is just the right way to start for this title!
  • Shade. When I heard the line up for this team, I thought "ugh, not Shade the Changing Man, why don't they let that rest?" Now that I've read it, he's the member who interests me the most.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

If This Week Were a Comic Book

it would have gone something like this.

Caused by a recent alien attack, super battle, or attempted theft by the Injustice Society, cracks in the Washington Monument were repaired by a small crew of superheroes from different titles, probably using something like heat vision, in one panel, while discussing some other much more important problem.

On a trip to Italy to visit relatives and shatter the foreign roots of Gotham's mafia using only a crossbow, Huntress rescued Amanda Knox from a courtroom trial, using a smoke bomb and a grappling hook. Leaving behind a thumb drive full of exonerating evidence, a bound and gagged Ivorian, and three guards with arrows stuck in their firing shoulders, Huntress's parting words to the court were, "I'm bad and I'm drawn that way."

Famously transgendered vigilante The Predator flopped on Dancing with the Capes, afterwards eviscerating competitor Ricki Lake. Bouncing back from the experience after emergency surgery at STAR Labs, Lake announced, "This weight loss will help me get into my wedding dress!"

The Daily Planet reported that hundreds were saved from injury in Shangai, when Superman just happened to be in the subway to prevent some trains from crashing. For reaction from the Great Ten, who were doing nothing at the time, see related article by C. Kent.

Weather elemental Typhoon attacked Manila, but was dissipated by the Red Tornado. No one died, clean up was accomplished in several hours by an army of unidentified sponge-wielding porpoises and octopuses, and several neighborhoods were made over into Venetian-style water parks with high tourist appeal.

A 14 year old girl becomes an unwilling internet pin-up. Investigation narrows to IP addresses in Coast City.

Congress avoids take over by Checkmate
during argument over funding the Bureau for Meta-Human Affairs. "Must we go through these near take-overs every few months," Senator Graft asked, "This should not become business as usual."

China launched its first spacelab, while the Great Ten stood by doing nothing. Great Ten leader August General in Iron commented, "We wish our comrades Shining Space Lady and Companion Who Dies Horribly the best of luck in their mission."

LinkGovernor Christie vetoes tax credits for Red Hood & The Outsiders. "This is not the kind of image of dollars should be supporting," Christie opined.

After a failed override by an international cabal of scientifically advanced evil-doers, a NASA satellite fell into the Pacific Ocean, unearthing yet another dangerous undersea mystical artifact from a previously unknown civilization, causing a tidal wave that shipwrecked a callous billionaire on deserted island, and activating the meta-gene of a nearby Palau fisherman, who is now named "Diall-Chad" and was last seen wearing a dayglo spandex version of his regular native costume, shouting "MERKONG!" at local large-scale trawling ships before destroying them. The JLA reports delegating all these issues to Aquaman.Link

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Batman: Death By Poetry

How bad-ass was the Golden Age Batman?

So bad-ass that not only would he kill you...

he'd do it with haiku.



Do not mess with Batman.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

I have new Custom Heroclix Maps for Sale!

For those of you interested in Heroclix, three more of my maps are now for sale at Posterbrain.


The Abandoned Church and Graveyard

Heroclix has a good many spooky characters but nowhere particularly spooky to play them (except for one stunning unimaginative graveyard map that came out with the Blackest Night set).

With the church and graveyard walls in the way, this is a hard map to get around. It favors characters with Leap/Climb or Phasing. As it happens, a lot of spooky characters have those powers. It's almost as if I'd planned it that way!

The Ocean Platform

This map is designed as a fun battlefield for ocean-based teams versus land-based teams. Perhaps you Flashpoint fans can use it to pit the Atlanteans against the Amazons.

Ye Olde Benbow Tavern and the Dark Side Bar

Serious fans will recognize the names of those two less-than-reputable establishments. Ye Olde Benbow Tavern was the HQ for the United Underworld in the 1968 Batman movie and the Dark Side Bar is a pub for supercriminals that appeared in Justice League International.

The left side of this map shows the first floor of each establishment, each of which has a secret room for their high-class clientele, joined by a secret passage; supervillains in the back, henchmen in the front! That's pretty much how I'd recommend setting up the game, too. Heroes should always have to wade through some mooks before getting to the Big Bad.
Several staircases and fire escapes lead upstairs to...

the roof of the buildings, represented by the right side of the map. Nestled on the rooftop are two more secret rooms; a small villain hideout-for-one and a meeting room for henchmen. And, yeah, I know there are no bathrooms, but they are kind of tedious, never see any play and take up valuable space on the map; it's a game map, not an architectural blueprint.

The "Dark Side" map features the orange borders that mark entries through a door or curtain; they block line of sight but do not block movement.

One of the features I like most in the more recent Heroclix sets is the double/triple start dials, which give one figure more than one starting line on its dials, with different point values for each. It's like getting two/three figures for the price of one, and allows you to 'scale' your game; you can play Superman as a one-man team of 300 points or as a 150 point tentpole for a larger force. It's an ingenious compromise between the scalability of the old REV (Rookie, Experienced, Veteran) system and the one-character/one-slot method of getting as many different figures in a set as possible.

I decided to something similar with this map and make it scalable, because, frankly, regular maps are often just too darned large for the games I play. When Heroclix was designed, I'm pretty sure its creators expected there to be more figures on each team than there usually are nowadays. In its early stages Heroclix was modeled off of its company's previous tabletop games, a Dungeons & Dragons type and a Futuristic/Soldier type. Both these games tended more toward swarming tactics, with lots of lower point characters duking it out on a big field. They were battle games.

But, as a game with licensed superhero character, Heroclix was a different animal. For several reasons, it doesn't favor swarming, and is more a fight game than a battle game.

In Heroclix, the choice was no longer between putting a bunch of Orcs or a Mage on your team; it was between using 10 Thugs or ... Superman. Guess who won? It wasn't just a question of strategy any longer; it was a question of personality. All the 'characters' in MageKnight (the D&D game) and MechWarrior (the Futuristic game) were made up out of thin air, with no back stories or any literary basis at all. They were, essentially, just figures, not characters. This meant choices on what to play would be based solely on tactics, since players didn't bring to the board any 'emotional commitment' toward any of the characters.

Face it, it doesn't matter what dial you give a Doomsday figure, I'm not going to play it, because Doomsday was STUPID. Is stupid. Always will be stupid. No matter how many writers try time and again to turn a plot device into a character, Doomsday was just a giant McGuffin. But make a Vibe figure, even one with an uncompetitive dial, and I will do whatever it takes to make that figure work on one of my Heroclix teams. Not that Heroclix has actually made a Vibe figure. Even though his powers are substantial and he retains high cultural recognition more than 25 years after his death. And forcing me to have two custom Vibes made. Not that I'm bitter, mind you.

Using licensed characters introduced another new factor: verisimilitude in team composition, or, as it's usually called in Heroclix, "comic book accuracy". Putting the Joker, Robotman, a Parademon, and three Weather Wizards on one team might make tactical sense, but it makes ZERO comic book sense. Putting multiple figures of most characters (with certain exception, like, say, Mirror Master) simply goes against the grain of any decent, comic book reading American and reduces the game -- meant to simulate comic book conflicts -- into a soulless series of clicking dials. If you're the kind of person who has Superman holding a Nurse or Researcher figure in front of him as a meat shield to protect himself from attacks, then you don't deserve to be playing Heroclix, and you might as well be playing Mage Knight or MechWarrior. Except you can't, because those games collapsed years ago, in large part because no one who played them had any emotional investment in the characters.

The makers of Heroclix have gotten progressively smarter about ways to increase the "comic book feel" of game and the comic book accuracy of the characters. Instead of having to represent each character using a standard set of powers ("Super-Strength", "Hypersonic Speed", etc.), they now also employ "special powers" that can represent unusual and unique abilities. Lower point figures are confined to 'generics' or 'minions', with special attributes that favor using them in groups, or with a particular character.

Original Heroclix maps were 3 foot by 3 foot, which even the manufacturers realized was silly-large for most Heroclix games; now their standard maps are 2 foot by 3 foot. But the end result is still that the maps are often a bit bigger than needed. Most of the time, the space is used not for battle but just to keep the figures far enough apart at the beginning of the game so that there's time for the players to maneuver into position rather than suffer death-by-blitzkrieg. So, I've been trying to make maps that are "scalable", like the "Dark Side" map where you can play the whole thing as a "split-level" map or just confine the battle to one half and ignore the other. In fact, you can pretend one on the buildings is all locked up and play on just one level of one building; I've intentionally designed them so that the geography allows teams to have a closer initial placement without enabling a 'blitzkrieg' attack.

I think this idea of scalable maps is a good one that will help keep my maps fresher and more versatile for games. If you have any ideas for a good setting for such a scalable map, let me know!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Things That Made Me Happy...

…in my comics this week.

Wonder-head-butt!!! I was dumbstruck with awe at the sight of Wonder Woman head-butting a centaur this week. Now we finally know why she wears that tiara (and why it’s clearly NOT a princess-y tiara). It wasn’t just the head-butt itself that was over-the-top fabulous. It was the little smirk on WW’s face beforehand that said, “Heh, if this stupid centaur thinks he can step on Wonder Woman THAT easily, he’s got another think coming, and now I’m perfectly positioned to latch onto him with the vise-like grip of my mighty Amazonian thighs and head-butt the Hades out of him… thank the gods I’m not wearing pants!!!” And, yes, that’s why she doesn’t wear pants – for the same reason she doesn’t wear sleeves. Although she does wear arm-bracelets and a choker that appear to be designed so that she injures herself through any sudden motion. Tough lady.

The team has struck just the right note with Wonder Woman herself. Yes, she is butt-kicking warrior. But she’s also gentle and wise without being saccharine (“I could take that key right out of your hand; but…”); powerful without being overpowering. Honestly, this is first time I’ve read a Wonder Woman comic and thought, “Hey! That’s Lynda Carter!”, and I mean that as a whole-hearted compliment.

Azarello and Chiang knocked this one out of the park. This is how a book with gods & monsters should read; creepy, gory, spooky. The Incendiary Trio of Prophecy, the Rolling Head of Flicka, the Caduceus Key. It was like reading an issue of Gaiman’s Sandman, and I mean that as a whole-hearted compliment.

Bat-computer-linked Bluetooth contact lens with facial recognition and lip-reading software? YES, PLEASE! Look; I love it when Batman bops someone in the head with a batarang as much as you do. But he deserves some post-Australo-Aborginal tech, too, don’t you think? I mean, other than the Batmobile? And those contacts are enormously practical, like a little digital nomenclator sitting right on your iris! PLUS, they allow the author to use them as expositional caption boxes; genius. AND they allow for the whole “Sir, we got an anonymous tip that Grissom’s men are cleaning out Axis Chemicals” routine. You know, Ollie’s stepping up the tech over in Star City – oops, I mean SEATTLE *eyeroll—so Bruce needs to up his game. These contacts and the “CSI gloves” he uses are exactly what is needed.

Batman is Detective. Don’t get me wrong; Detective #1 was certainly… interesting. But it was all “Batman mixing it up with pointy-stabby naked Joker”. If that sort of thing is going to be in a Batman comic at all (and I’m not sure it SHOULD, since I’m fan of Murderous Joker but not of Violent Joker), it should be in Batman and not in Detective. Meanwhile, this first issue of Batman read like, well … what an issue of Detective should be. It had Batman using forensic science on the fly and in the field, Batman making deduction, clues both clever and dramatic, and one HECK of cliffhanger mystery. THIS is Batman comic I REALLY want to keep reading out of interest, not obligation or devotion. And on top of that, an intelligent, civically engaged, outgoing Bruce Wayne with plans to renovate Gotham is honor to his parent memory. THIS is the Bruce Wayne we needed during No Man’s Land. And I mean that as a whole-hearted compliment.

It’s all about Brainy. Ah, the Legion! The one comic that has always prided itself on a continuity-based impenetrability that makes the Iron Curtain of Time look about as solid as the protoplasmic slime that remains after touching Glorith’s hourglass of devolutionary radiation (how’s that for an obscure Legion-history-based metaphor!) . Naturally it makes perfect sense to me. Happy to see the Legion still explains very explicitly the ONE thing that the casual reader is most likely to already know or to be able to deduce: what the Legionnaire’s names and powers are. But that’s okay… because that’s really all you need to know in a Legion story… the rest just kinds of works itself out as you read. The future’s supposed to be a little mysterious and vague, after all. The Legionnaires are efficiently and traditionally characterized. Cham’s about stealth and subtlety, Mon-El is about the power/responsibility equation, Colossal Boy’s about being an oaf, and Brainy is about Brainy Being The Smartest Person in Any Room. As for Ultra-Boy, he’s still a beefy bad boy, but they show him using his vision powers as much as his other ones; that’s good, since those are the ones that keep him from being just a Flying Brick. The new recruits didn’t seem like very interesting additions, but who knows, maybe they’re just typical Legion cannon fodder; I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing Dragon-Face (or whatever her name is) get offed. Naturally, the Legion is (as always) “woefully under-manned and under-powered due to our recent losses”, including, apparently, the little-mourned Earth-Man. And I don’t mean that as a whole-hearted compliment.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Rage of the Red Absorbascon....!

I’ve been slowing let the new DCU sink into my bones before I sink my fangs back into it (um… except for the two posts where I already did). For the record, I support DC’s decision, I think they are doing the right thing in principle, and in practice most of their continuity have the whiff of commonsense about them. Some decisions are certainly not consistent with my tastes (Darkseid? Deathstroke? Eyeroll.) But that’s to be expected. No version of the DCU is going to be entirely to any one fan’s taste; if it were, it would probably only have one fan, which is not a good business model.

That said, it’s time to comment on some of things I’m not liking, spewing forth my carmine bile like Dex-Starr the Red Lantern Cat.

Mr. Terrific. Gainluca Gugliotta: put down your pencil… step away from it slowly and keep your hands in the air; you are under arrest for crimes against art. Usually I’m not fussy about art (at least I do not think of myself as being fussy), but the art in Mister Terrific is, frankly, unacceptable. No one should be drawn with a neck that looks like I could personally crush it in one of my tiny little hands. How much worse is it when that person is Karen Starr? At times many of characters have an odd, warped look, something like those caricatures that street artists draw; I had to double check to make sure that this work was paid for by DC and not the WPA. It was as if the artist had been possessed by the ghost of Gene Colan, then fell down drunk with inspiration and drew everything from the perspective of someone who can’t get up off the floor. I thought Mr Terrific was supposed to be hip, not FULL OF HIPS. HIPS EVERYWHERE. Giant hips. Thrusting at you, shattering the Fourth Wall. Great Shades of Elvis! Of all of the art styles I might have encouraged to be used for Mr Terrific, Pelvic Transquartomuralism was not on the list.

Static Shock. Hey, the new Spider-Man is black! And by that I do not mean Miles Morales in the Ultimate Universe. I actually mean DC’s Static, who is so annoying with his” juvenile patter while fighting in the Manhattan (and not Dakota) skyline” routine that I wanted to jump into the comic and expose myself to some dangerous chemicals or radioactive experiment, just so I could become a supervillain long enough to punch him in the face. This saddens me. I liked the cartoon show a lot; I really wanted to like this new Static and his book (particularly if DC is sacrificing Black Lightning from continuity just to give this kid breathing room). But honestly, I do not anticipate continuing to play money to subject myself to this comic. Although recent developments suggest I may wish to delay that decision.

Suicide Squad. DC, I call you cowards: that is NOT Amanda Waller. Part of the reason I loved Amanda Waller was precisely because she wasn’t an aerobics instructor wrapped in spandex. As I’ve said before: there are fat people in the real world. Many of them are accomplished, powerful, interesting, influential; just like “normal” people. Once upon a time, DC had a place for those people in its world, too. But fat people must now be condemned and cannot serve as positive role models, because, well, gosh, any decent person simply doesn’t get fat. So long, Etta Candy the Solid! Good bye, Amanda Waller the Hefty! If we permit you to exist, it’s only after a trip to the same Fat Farm Alfred Pennyworth got sent to, all those years ago.

Stormwatch. I was so curious how the Wildstorm Universe characters would be come across as integral parts of the DC universe, rather than being stuck in their other dimensional shtetl . And now I know: BADLY. Suddenly, they all seem… ridiculous. Most of them have absurdist hypostatic powers that are pretty much just like the magick-y style powers of Golden Age heroes that let them do whatever the heck the writer wanted them to do. When J’onn J’onnz is most normal, realistic character in your book, your book has a problem. Or perhaps I should just say, “I have a problem with your book”, which is trying so hard to have been written by Grant Morrison I can see the strain on every page. It will be a shame if comics only gay-male couple + the freakin' Martian Manhunter isn't enough to keep me interested in a comic. But a shame it may have to be... .

Batwoman. Okay, I have nothing bad to say about Batwoman. So what if I can barely follow her zany backstory, even though I read all her previous issues and should know her backstory already? Batwoman is just … beautiful. It is what comic book art should be: it is stylish, uses the medium fully, and does so in service of the story. And Batwoman herself? Pretty much the best character design ever. Long after DC’s new found obsession with kneepads, functionality, and collars is forgotten, Batwoman will still look exactly as she does now: Red and Black and Fabulous all over.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Super Set!

For those of you who don't already know, Wizkids is just a week or so away from coming out with its latest set of figures of Heroclix (the superhero table-top combat game), a set focused on Superman (see set checklist poster below)

Please take down that "Doors of Georgetown" poster on your dorm room wall
and replace it with this; thank you.

Because Superman's rogues gallery is interstellar-but-less-than-stellar, the set is naturally going to have a lot of figures I'll have zero interest in/never play/give away to someone. You know, figures of characters like Lobo, Manchester Black, Darkseid, Magog, Doomsday, and Imperiex. I mean, Imperiex... really.
DC, if you me to continue to take your villains seriously, please stop designing them like something that Rita Repulsa would send against the Power Rangers.

But many other figures will be welcome additions to my "Superman" box of Heroclix figures, including villains (like Silver Banshee, Live Wire, Lex Luthor with Hope and Mercy, the Phantom Zone villains, the Composite Superman and a Libra to pair up with my custom Human Flame against the Martian Marshmallow), a passel of Legionnaires (Brainiac 5, Sensor Girl, Starboy, Invisible Kid, Sun Boy, Earth Man, and sprockin' Matter-Eater Lad, of all people), and some lovable wacky supporting characters (depression-ridden suicide Element Woman, guilt-ridden genius Steel, professional victim the Human Target, crippled schizophrenic Gangbuster, and manipulative mind-controlling murderous despot Max Lord). Yet STILL no Jimmy Olsen; really, DC/Wizkids, what are you thinking...?!

In addition to all the Superman figures, there's also a new Aquaman, Flash, Wonder Woman, and a "The Bat-Man" in the Superman set; a very welcome surprise. I have been frustrated at times trying to compose JLA teams (I mean the REAL JLA, of course, not a haphazard hodgepodge of also-rans like Gongorilla, Green Flame, Aztek, and *urkgh* Geo-Force) because it seems as though there is always one of the Big Eight (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Flash, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, and Vibe) who's not been remade recently enough to have a dial that's on par with the others. Even though these new figures are "Flashpoint" alternative universe ones, they probably are not so bizarrely out of whack with the Earth-1 versions that I cannot treat them as such. And, although I haven't seen his dial, the Aquaman sculpt has "Ass-Kicker" written all over it.

Some of figures may not see much play in my Superman games (like Bruno Mannheim and Intergang Underboss minions) but may find use elsewhere. I'm not a fan of Intergang itself, but I like anything that can be re-purposed to beef up my Gotham mobs.

VERY interested in what I hear about the OP Kit (the prize support give to tournament venues for "Organized Play"), particularly the Special Objects (3D objects that are placed on the board and have an effect on gameplay). A rainbow of power batteries, (the 3D Special Objects in the last set) I can do without; but a rainbow of frickin' KRYPTONITE? Oh, we've been waiting ten years for THAT...

Green Kryptonite, sure, that's easy to imagine how those will work: some combination of canceling the powers or changing the combat stats of any figure with the "Kryptonian" keyword within a certain range. But it doesn't stop there; there will be Red Kryptonite, White Kryptonite, Jewel Kryptonite, Gold Kryptonite, and X-Kryptonite. That's simply insane! My mind is a-whirl trying to imagine how the effects of those types of Kryptonite will be represented in gameplay.

Gold K will be like Green K, but more serious with less range. I would think it would do no direct damage, but cancel out all powers, making Superman et al. more vulnerable to attack. Red Kryptonite, well, that's where the real fun would be. It should come with eleven different (primarily absurd) possible effects, determined by roll of the die, that last only one turn!

But those others? That's where my mind stumbles badly. White K; what the hey? The only sensible effect I can imagine is letting it damage Swamp Thing and the Floronic Man. Jewel K; I dunno.... maybe granting mind control to the Phantom Zone villains?And X-Kryptonite? Well, short of providing us with a secret Streaky clix we don't know about, I cannot imagine what the heck Wizkids is going to have X-Kryptonite do. And why on Earth-1 did they make three extremely obscure versions of Kryptonite but not make BLUE K, which could be used against the Bizarro figures? It's all surpassingly strange.

Apparently, a Superman Fast Forces is headed our way in December. A "Fast Forces" is a mini-set, usually containing some of the most universally recognizable characters from the previous set and its theme, but with variant dials; such self-contained mini-sets are designed to be more accessible to beginners to the game. That will be a nice addition I think, since the dials are more likely to be all-around versions of the character rather than ones whose dials are driven by particular storylines (like the All-Star Superman version of Lex Luthor, whose dial makes no sense if you don't know that story).

While I'm happy about some of the figures, I'm still overwhelmingly mystified by some of the omissions. No Prankster but a Queen of Fables? No Jimmy Olsen, Perry White, or Lois Lane, but a Seven Deadly Brothers? The one-off Composite Superman who was a poor man's Amazo rather than the classic god-like Composite Superman with all the powers of the Legion who was the first villain to hands-down with no debate utterly defeat the World's Finest with next to no effort? Another remake of Bizarro (there have been five versions already) when there's never been, say, the Atomic Skull or Atlas or Rampage?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Green Arrow #1 Review

Oh, DC, with your New 52… how I hate you. Because you have ruined one of your most deeply established characters and in the process, you’ve done the unthinkable:

Made me like Green Arrow.

Oh, the mortification! It’s inescapable. Everyone where I go – on the subway, in line at the grocery, standing on the zip-line platform – people casually strike up conversation, as one would, by innocently asking, “So, what did you think of Green Arrow #1?” What can I say? I cannot lie (even though that’s clearly What Superman Would Do). I admit it: I liked Green Arrow #1. Further I liked Green Arrow himself in Green Arrow #1. Sigh. I suppose this is the end of an era.

As I’m sure you’ve already read elsewhere, this version of Green Arrow is basically the love-child of Steve Jobs and James Bond, which is a great combination. What you may not have heard (if you’ve not read the comic) is that he’s got two principal assistants in his secret lair who help him do his “Green Arrow stuff”. They are key, and I’ll tell you why. First, they are slightly annoying in their “intropositioning” and slightly cartoony in their roles as Ideological Symbols. I can’ remember their names – something suitably moderne and Gen X-y, like “Fazner” and “J’mongahela”. The days when characters were named “Bruce and Dick” or “Wendy and Marvin” are long over, I suppose. But, really, who would want assistants named “Wendy and Marvin”, anyway? Anyway, Fazner is the pacifistic weapons designer (“I don’t want to hurt anyone!”) and J’mongahela is a hard-ass computer whiz (“Can’t you just blow these crooks up and be done with it?”).

These characters are annoying naïve and extreme. And making them Ollie’s assistants is nothing short of brilliant… because they are the avatars of Ollie’s Annoying Past Personae. Fazner is Liberal/Naïve/Self-Righteous Ollie (1970s-80s) and J’mongahela is Murderous/Vicious/Impatient Ollie (1990s-2000s). By creating scapegoats for these past aspects of Ollie’s personality, DC is still giving us those viewpoints in Green Arrow, but positions Ollie as the person in the sensible middle ground (a ground he hasn’t occupied since the Silver Age).

[Okay, I looked up their names. J'mongahela is actually "Naomi", which is a comparatively normal name. Fazner, however, is actually "Jax", which is, somehow, even more ridiculous than Fazner.]

Allowing Ollie to appear reasonable and caring without being self-righteous is a milestone. DC has spent the last 40 years trying to make Green Arrow (originally just a Batman knock-off) different and distinct. That's wise. Unfortunately, in the process they made him thoroughly unlikable. That's not wise.

So Jax and Naomi, while annoying (how many times have I used that word in this post already?!), are a Necessary Annoyance, and I welcome them as means to a new, likable Ollie.

Speaking of necessary annoyances, let's talk about "Doppelganger", "Supercharge", and *snort* "Dynamix", the--well, I guess I have to call them 'villains'-- that Green Arrow fights in his first issue. Continuity may be gone, but tradition isn't, and this motley crew hews to one of DC's oldest and strongest traditions: That Green Arrow Villains are LAME.

In all fairness, they aren't really 'villains' (more like Crime Groupies, one of my Rungs of Villainy), and, to his credit, Green Arrow himself points this out. To their faces. If Green Arrow is going to fight lame villains, at least he's wise enough to know that and Golden Age-y enough to indulge in appropriate smack-talk toward them. And, frankly, the whole thing seems oddly realistic (I mean that in a comic book sense). Face it, not every bad guy who has, gets, or purchases superpowers is going have the intelligence or ambition to be a Real Villain. Some them will just be annoying punks. Annoying, again. And somebody has to deal with them; it's actually a pretty good niche for Green Arrow to occupy. History notwithstanding, Green Arrow's not really Justice League material, nor does he need to be. Let him shoot arrows at the small fish in the barrel! That can be no less of a contribution to daily society and no less entertaining then hitting Kanjar Ro in the face with a boxing glove arrow.

Still; these three yoboes are terrible. Doppelganger a pretty girl who can become really ugly and grow and extra head and extra pair of arms (and probably some extra strength); she wouldn't even make it into the Legion of Substitute Heroes if she worked hard at it for the next 1000 years. Supercharge has respectable powers, but he's basically a low-watt Electro without a costume. It's *snort* Dynamix, that really gets me though. First of all: Big Strong Scary Black Guy. Way to strike a blow for diversity, DC; and in Green Arrow, no less, the book about vigilantes beating the crap out of people that sensitive liberals are most likely to read. Second, he's named Dynamix, which (beyond being just a silly codename) is the name of my ex-boyfriend's aerobic music company. THEN they go out of their way to make him say he doesn't dance. What kind of person who doesn't dance names himself "Dynamix", for disco's sake? Ollie should have just hired Dazzler to kick this guy's ass.

So we have three losers, with bad codenames and no costumes or goals, whom Green Arrow captures in five minutes. Way to go, Ollie! Of course, it doesn't get truly priceless until the last-page reveal where they are broken out of prison by a larger farrago of ungainly crime groups including:

  • The Tube-Top Twinz, because twins are hot,
  • Frosty Looking Emma Frost Knockoff Lady,
  • a poorly dialogued Vibe-manque named "Rush", undoubtedly with some superspeed power;
  • Wolf-Boy (Jimmy? Is that you?!);
  • Karate Kid (except actually Asian),
  • Lady Who Looks Like Wonder Woman and Dresses Like Wonder Woman and Looks Like She's Going to Rip You In Half (whom I'll call "Sunder Woman");
  • and the love-child of Beast, Wolverine, and Billy Barty.

Zowie; somebody send Mike W. Barr a royalty check! Honestly, one look at those badly dressed bohunks and I'm longing for the return of The Gang. Looks like Green Arrow's metier will be fighting the unwashed and undignified hordes of super-losers who litter the new DCU; and who better?

Honestly, though, this new Green Arrow deserves a better class of criminal. Should Ollie be fighting Despero single-handedly? No. But if DC wants us to take him seriously and give him respect, they can't keep throwing H Dial rejects at him ("You're no match for my fluoride arrow, King Kandy!"). Fix this, DC, and quickly. Because my need to laugh at Green Arrow can be satisfied through decades of back issues without buying new ones. Remember that any good jumping off point is also a good jumping off point.

One more thing: WHERE IS STAR CITY?! Why on Earth-1 has DC saddled Green Arrow with Seattle again? Especially since (as everyone from the 31st Century knows) Seattle will fall into the sea within the next ten years? Let Queen Industries be centered in Seattle, fine; but put Ollie, his "Q Core" (which remains almost completely unexplained, by the way), and Green Arrow back in Star City.