Friday, April 29, 2011

What Kids Don't Know: Bizarro, Part II

As we were discussing in our previous post, Bizarro's change in personality and powers when he returned in Superman #306 are examples of the Bronze Age grim-ification of the DCU.

Silver Age Bizarro was just a wacky misfit, as the in-story recap relates:

Glorifying the flawed... the misshapen... the perverse! This was... Wizard World.

But the Bronze Age story makes it very clear that "Bizarro has changed; he wasn't a threat before but now he is." Note that in the panel below, Superman implies that he used to be superior, power-wise, to Bizarro (who was, after all, "imperfect"), but now Bizarro is his equal or superior.

And this must be true, because Superman is nearly infallible, you know.

This is also the point at which Bizarro's heat vision and freeze breath got "reversed", surprising him and Superman both.

Notice anything about Bizarro's speech patterns, kids? They aren't "opposite". Bizarro says exactly what he means (albeit "imperfectly"). Only later, during the Post-Crisis Iron Age, did writers hamper Bizarro with the annoying affectation of "opposite speech", which does nothing but confuse the reader. If anything, it makes Bizarro seems smarter than us, since he understands what he's saying and we don't. DC; please start that; me am love brilliant Bizarro opposite speech.

Anyway, Bizarro was suddenly stronger, stupider, and a lot more emotionally volatile.

And, therefore, a lot easier to start using as an actual villain:
This story was published in 1976.
Bizarro joined the Secret Society of Super-Villains in 1977
and the Legion of Doom in 1978.

So Superman decides to get the bottom of this mystery, and find out why Bizarro thinks his world is gone and what changed his powers. Which I'm sure Superman will, because Superman is nearly infallible.

While the Bronze Age may have changed from the Silver Age in tone, in other aspects it was nearly indistinguishable. For example, in its reliance on utterly stupid hand-waving plot devices. Like... cosmic clouds.

Yes, I am confused; and don't call me "Patience".

Well... that explains EVERYTHING! At least, it does if you're Superman. Who's nearly infallible, you know.

Turns out Bizarro flew through a "cosmic cloud", which changed his powers, caused a mirage that made it seem as if Bizarroworld had been destroyed, and altered Barak Obama's birth certificate to read "Born in the U.S.A.". It's just amazing what cosmic clouds can do; just ask Reed Richards.

Oh, and another thing didn't change from the Silver Age to the Bronze Age. Superman was still a total... oh, what's the word I'm looking for?

"Great Rao, if I'd know it was that easy to get rid of her,
I'd have given this bozo his own room at the Fortress."

Jeez, Clark; that's TMI about your love life with Lois.

When aren't I glad to see you? Try "1:05:31P.M.", you dick.

I was right, as usual. Because I'm nearly *sigh* infallible.
And yet, my face (pictured at right) is STILL not on the quarter.

Anyway, you'll remember that all this hullabaloo started with a big fight involving the Toyman at the Metropolis Coliseum. Now, I'm sure you think of the Toyman as another innocent hold-over from Superman's Golden & Silver Ages; you're probably thinking, "Wasn't his murder of Cat Grant's son (
Superman #84, 1993) the first time he ever even killed anyone?"

No. No, it wasn't.

In this very story Toyman kills a host of guards and policemen as part of the battle at the Coliseum.

"Poor Winslow! Being alive, unlike all his victims, whose surviving friends and families I'm not thinking about at all! Why? Because I'm just too focused on all the ... the ingratitude of it all. Ingratitude toward ME. What's WRONG with you people?!"

Thursday, April 28, 2011

What Kids Don't Know: Bizarro's Powers

Every modern DC reader knows how Bizarro works; he's a dangerous anti-Superman with some reversed powers, like freeze-vision and heat breath.

But What Kids Don't Know is that that wasn't always the case; and that the change was specific and intentional. For that, we'll have to take a look at Superman #306.

For Rao's sake, Lo-Lo; invest in a pantsuit.

It's easy to see why writers want to use Bizarro as a villain. First and foremost, they can have no qualms about portraying him as Superman's equal, who can fight him to a standstill. Besides, he's a colorful and unpredictable character, engaging for the readers and challenging for Superman (qualities that Superman foes do not always have in abundance).

But before Superman 306, Bizarro was more an annoyance than a villian. He was that Big Dumb Dog who doesn't know his own strength and knocks stuff over (like, say, your guests) at a party. The main threat wasn't that he would fly around killing people; it was that he would expose Clark Kent's secret identity or become, um, too chummy with Lois, let's say.

Once he had a whole planet of his own (Bizarro World, or "Htrae") to muck about on, Bizarro became mostly comic relief or even (in desperate straights) an ally Superman could call on. Because being the most powerful super- being on Earth and having a bunch of super-powered robot duplicates, a supercousin, an entire city full of microscopic superallies, and a dog that can bite through steel is not always enough, you know.

Bizarro's original schtick was that he was "imperfect", and "imperfect duplicate" of Superman. He wasn't "the opposite" of Superman, just a badly defective version. His grammar was fractured, his features craggy and white, his intellect impaired. Defective ... not opposite. His powers were the same as Superman's and his costume was the same as Superman's (no, his chest logo was NOT reversed).

Bizarro the Well-Intentioned Buffoon, however, got played out and pretty much disappeared after 1965. But the seeds of what would become of him later were sown in the first line of the 'constitution' of Htrae: the Bizarro Code. "Us do opposite of all earthly things!" This became the basis for Bizarro becoming less an "imperfect Superman" and more an "anti-Superman", who could believably be a part of the comics' Secret Society of Supervillians and television's Legion of Doom (both of which happened in the Bronze Age).

What Kids Today Don't Know is that the move to make the DCU a little less goofier and a little more threatening isn't something that happened suddenly or magically with Crisis on Infinite Earths. Marvel ex-patriate Marv Wolfman did not invent tragedy, folks; the Greeks did.

Darkening the DCU in fact was one of the major thrusts of the Bronze Age. Oh, it may not seem like it to a fan of the Golden Age, where corpses lay at the entrance to every alley. And it may not seem like it to a reader in the modern era, where severed heads fly around like it's the Pantha Family Picnic. But don't be one of those ignorati who lump the Golden, Silver, and Bronze Ages together as one big happy innocent "Pre-Crisis" romp; the shift in tone between the Silver Age and the Bronze Age was HUGE.

In the Bronze Age, goofy sidekick Snapper Carr betrayed the Justice League to the Joker. Robin left Batman. Speedy, one of the original Golden Age sidekicks, got hooked on heroin. Martian Manhunter was deemed so ridiculously and irredeemably Silver Age that he was given a bus ticket off planet and virtually disappeared. An evil (or at least really tacky) conglomerate bought the frickin' Daily Planet, people. A depowered Wonder Woman tortured prisoners and used an uzi. The Flash was tried for murder. I mean, really, folks. What else do ya need to be able to see it? Hal Jordan having a sexual relationship with a 13 year old girl?! Oh, that's right; he DID.

So when Bizarro was reintroduced in the Bronze Age, all was not wacky fun and games. As we shall see in my next post... .

Monday, April 25, 2011

Why do people live in Gotham City?

Gotham City is always portrayed so bleakly (at least during the post-Crisis era), that it's a wonder anyone lives there.

In the 1960s, we knew why people lived in Gotham City. It was always sunny with fair weather (except when Mr Freeze was in the neighborhood). The museums were brimming over with interesting exhibits of mammoths stuffed with postage stamps and priceless collections of Etruscan snoods. Despite a large population, the traffic was so great that even the Batmobile could roar unimpeded down the streets at its top speed of 40 mph. Unless, of course, there was giant cookbook or giant umbrella blocking the way at 5th & Cedar; but that's what detour signs are for, after all.

But in the 1970s, Gotham City became New York City. I mean, yeah, it always kind of was, but it was ... very different. It had seemed smaller, more colorful and contrasty, and cleaner. This was true even in the 1940s, when Gotham was clearly a dangerous place. But it wasn't just "NYC in the DCU". Heck, the giant props alone told you that.

However, when the Bronze Age started, it became important to editors/writers to distance Batman from his campy '60s image. One way they did this was to identity Gotham City very closely with New York City. If Gotham City was in a Bronze Age story, you can bet that a caption box mentions at least once that it was "a city of 8 million people" (or 10 million, depending on the year). Whoa, that's WAY bigger than Gotham City as I knew it! How the heck does Batman get around? Certainly not by swinging around rooftops, because Gotham City was suddenly characterized by hundred-storey skyscrapers everywhere. Those are very impractical for swinging around on, because you can't reach one building from the next (believe me, I've tried, which is how I got that scar on my forehead). That's a skyline like New York City... not like the Gotham City we knew, where all the action took place on the rooftops of medium sized office buildings, atop abandoned factories, and within construction sites.

Now, the "What Kids Don't Know" here is that in the 1970s, New York City had a pretty bad image problem. It was having a difficult time with budgets, crime, cleanliness, civic apathy; Manhattan in the 1970s wasn't exactly the Wonderland it is today. And the big burg's problems were magnified under the lens of popular culture. If you want to know the picture that most non-New Yorkers had of the Big Apple in the 1970s, rent "Escape from New York", "The Warriors", "Fame", "The Panic in Needle Park", or "Taxi Driver".

It was no coincidence that the "I love NYC" campaign was begun in the late '70s, by a city leadership desperate to polish up the town's image and improve tourism. And so they did, helped by an amazing turnaround for the city in the '80s and '90s. Times Square used to be "Crime Square"; but nowadays, even Anderson Cooper spends his New Year's Eve there.

Gotham City, however, went the other direction in the post-Crisis era. As New York City became brighter and shinier and more giant-propish, Gotham City became darker, grimy, and more squalorifferic. Writers indulged in an escalating arms race to portray Gotham as, well, crappier and crappier. The advent of *sigh* the ridiculous "Bludhaven" exacerbated this game of civic limbo, with each city trying to outdo the other in its irredeemability. Eventually, Bludhaven "won" by being wiped off the map by Chemo, which I chose to view as a very amusing meta-statement. The Silver Age pretty much told the Iron Age, "Okay, enough is enough, and we're going to have one of our most absurd characters put an end to this right now." Once again Silver Age inventive lunacy trumps Iron Age "gritty realism". But not before Gotham City had upped the ante by having not-one-but-two plagues, an earthquake, and a federal condemnation and cordoning. Because that's realism.

In the Geoff Johns era we know live in, where the DCU is shinier (except for the occasional decapitation-caused bloodspurt -- and even that is a lovely shade of red), a brighter Gotham City is long overdue. We can discuss that further and when we do, this may be food for thought...

Why Do People Live in Gotham City?

Economy. In short, the economy of Gotham City rocks. It practically oozes money. It must, because, unless you're a thug, you're probably a millionaire. You can't swing a Jokerfish in Gotham without hitting a millionaire square in the face. Its diversification is prodigous, it's an economic rainforest; you can get anything you want in Gotham City, and probably wholesale (including purple kangaroos). Ask yourself what kind of economy can fritter away money on working giant props atop every friggin' factory, and you'll see what I mean.

Real Estate. Have you noticed you no longer read that "city of 8-10 million line" in every Gotham story? Say what you want about the "No Man's Land" storyline, it certainly paved the way for a leaner, meaner Gotham City. But the city isn't physically any smaller so... there's lots of property. Property is cheap is the most economically powerful city in the DCU. Its a buyer's dream there. Everybody -- including desperadoes -- can afford a nice big apartment in a high rise (unless the story requires them to be an improverished orphan, who'll just wind up being swept up at some point into the largess of the Wayne Foundation anyway). And no matter how bizarre your hideout is, it doesn't attract attention because it's lost in the sea of realty. Abandoned warehouses, theaters, and factories, why you can practically buy them on Craig's List in Gotham City.

Culture. C'mon, this goes without saying. Metropolis, it has lots of science and Superman tschotskes, but that's it. Even Metropolis museums are all 'natural history' museums, existing only to house that one piece of kryptonite meteorite from Ethiopia they've all got. But Gotham City? It drips culture. There's a museum or a theater on every corner (as evidenced by the fact that, though one appears in every other story, it's never the same one twice). Famous writers, like Kaye Daye, live there; hipsters throng to Gotham Village; there's a charity ball every night of the season. It's a hub for theater, cinema, and performance art. Heck, I almost assume that that's why so many super-criminals live there: their bizarre appearances and shenigans are camouflaged by the prevailing weirdness.

Pedestrianism. Gotham City is designed as a pedestrian heaven. In Central City, people have to drive to their mailboxes; that's why you never see any people in the those giantic empty public squares where the Flash is always doing battle. But in Gotham City, people do not drive; they walk everywhere. Even if they are gadzillionaires coming home from the theater. The streets of Gotham are full of people, but empty of traffic. Which is why the Batmobile still never gets stuck in traffic. The only other people are the roads are armored car drivers and villains driving through the pouring rain on their way to kill all their former gangmembers.

Crime. Here's a statement that will crack the internet: Gotham City is comparatively free of crime. Before you freak out (particularly you youngsters raised on the idea that "Gotham is the Most Dangerous City on Earth-1"), think for a second. What kind of crime do we actually SEE in Gotham City? Murders, mostly. And it's mostly criminal-on-criminal violence. As long as you don't happen to get caught in the crossfire, or become the victim of some psychotic deformed villain, it won't affect you at all. Gotham City has crime of high "quality" not crime in high quantity. Street gangs, muggings, break-ins, home invasions, store hold-ups, etc. -- nearly non-existent. Why?

Because regular criminals are terrified to operate in Gotham City. You wanna rob a gas station where the Jokermobile might just happen to be gassing up? No. And eventually you're going to be "made an example of" by some supervillian or themed gangster, or get sucked into the thrall of goonhood where you'll be cannon fodder for some mastermind. There are no old criminals in Gotham City. For those of you who doubt this theory, remember that, to some degree, it's already in continuity. It's canon that Ye Old Crime Families were driven out of Gotham City by the costumed weirdos that followed in Batman's wake. Truly, Gotham City got the "better class of criminal" it deserved.

But if you're a regular person in Gotham City, you are statisically MUCH less likely to be a vicitm of crime than citizens elsewhere. Of course, if you do become a victim, you will suffer much more horribly (say, being eviscerated while alive or laughing yourself to death or being thrown into a vat of acid). But that's just part of Gotham's natural extremity... and charm!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Carnival of Doom

Where do evil clowns come from?

Why, from a Carnival of Doom, of course. So why don't we have Heroclix maps that go there?

The number of cheery and chipper Heroclix maps depresses me. The Asgardian Afterlife, shiny flying saucer crashsites, sparkling outer space with its twinkly little lights... BAH! I blame Marvel. And Jack Kirby.

The real world is not full of shiny Kirby machines and flashes of ill-defined "energy bursts". The real world is full of carnivals of doom, and crime alleys, and abandoned umbrella factories.
Well, at least the real world in the DCU.

So I threw together (actually, toiled endlessly, but that doesn't sound as impressive) this "Carnival of Doom" map. There was an evil carnival map in Horroclix but it was, frankly, boring and nearly featureless.
Not so my Carnival of Doom, which features the bumpcars, the merry-go-round, a haunted ballroom, a midway stage, a freakshow, a watery Tunnel of Love, and the Hall of Mirrors. Lots of places for your dark and eerie figures of the night to go chasing after deranged killer clowns and circus freaks.

If you are interested in the original file, I'm happy to send it to you.