Thursday, March 29, 2012


This isn't really the point of my post, but, as follow-up to my previous post on Batman-as-theater-actor, I share these two panels from the new Batman #1:

In which Dick asks Bruce for a review of his acting, and refers to Alfred's acting lessons.

But the real reason for my post is the following panel from the most recent issue of Justice League. It just hit me that I have never agreed with any single panel more.....

Present Day Baltimore: STAY AWAY!!!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Bat-theater and Super-Circus

Comparisons of Batman and Superman are a staple of “comic book literary analysis”. While only the comicscenti can consider, say, the measureless variety of the glory of VIBE, almost anyone who lives within a 100 miles of toilet paper can talk about some of the differences between Batman and Superman.

And about 50 percent of them DO. If I had dollar for every time I’ve read a newspaper article explain that Batman is the archetype for all non-“powered” heroes and Superman the archetype for all “powered” heroes, and every time someone has shared with me the “Gotham=NYC by day/Metropolis=NYC by night” observation, I’d be using the interest my fortune generated to run a personal MegaMillions lottery, every week.

Still, just as “every issue is someone’s first”, every person must discover the Batman/Superman dichotomy for himself, and so it’s an issue that always bears re-examination. My observation today certainly stems from all the regular contrasts between the two World’s Finest, but it’s still one I’ve never heard anyone make in quite this form:

Batman is the theater;

Superman is the circus.

Batman’s professional theatricality is well-known. His origin included pondering what costume he should wear for a frightening appearance. His “disappearing act”, that he uses on even his closest allies. The needlessly dramatic Bat-Signal. As Ra’s Al-Ghul says in the current Batman film trilogy, “I see you took my advice about theatricality a bit... literally!" Batman is a stage performer, waiting in the wings, timing his entrances, and even taking a bow. Like any actor, he is essentially a regular person, who makes himself extraordinary through his dramatic role in a plot, usually as the protagonist against an equally threatening antagonist. And, just like the theater, a Batman story is generally a night-time affair. Anyone else remember where Bruce's parents were right before they were killed...?

If Batman is theatrical, then Superman is circensic (that’s “circus-y” for you less Latinate types). It’s no coincidence that his costume is based on that of a contemporary circus performer; Superman is, at his most basic, a circus strong-man.

He can lift things that you cannot. Like the magic mentalist, he can “see through solid walls”. Like the aerialist, he can fly through the air with the greatest of ease. Although, Superman wears a costume, he’s not wearing to scare you or even to impress you; he’s wearing it to signal “I’m working now.” Like the circus performer, Superman’s attraction is really just What He Can Do That You Can’t. He is NOT an ordinary person, and his extraordinary deeds don’t really require a plot at all. Not surprising, then, that the Superman’s ringmasters – writers – often don’t feel a strong need to build a plot around him; some breezy persiflage that draws attention to the incredibility of what he’s about to do is sometimes all you’ll get. That’s a lot harder for the “directors” of Batman’s plays to get away with.

Like Batman, Batman’s villains lurk in the wings of Gotham preparing to make a dramatic entrance, followed by a quick exit, lest the curtain fall on them at the Act’s end. As characters, they are not aware of the audience, only of the other actors in the play. Most of what Batman does isn’t seen by the citizens of Gotham, just by us from beyond the Fourth Wall. Most of what Superman does IS seen by the public; that’s almost the point. Superman foes, they usually just burst into the center ring of Metropolis (or high above it), in broad daylight. They are well aware of their audience: the gawking spectators below, yelling, “Look! Up in the sky!”

And the Man of Steel, with little other prologue needed, leaps into the ring to accomplish the superhero equivalent of bending the steel bar, pulling the locomotive with his teeth, or lifting the elephant.

Since the only thing required for his act is a
Great Feat That Needs Accomplished, the ringmaster often does away with even an antagonist for Superman. He’s just as likely to be dealing with a natural disaster or technological accident as with a real “villain”. That almost never happens with Batman; people don’t watch theater to see actors fight forest fires, they want to see characters in personal and ideological conflict with one another. Small wonder that Superman’s villains are generally considered less developed, motivated, and compelling than Batman’s.

I have mentioned in a previous post that in the Fleischer cartoon, Superman never talks; he is man of Action, just like a circus performer. Batman, however, as a stage actor, needs to talk; heck, what do you think Robin was really for? To give Batman someone to talk to about the plot.

Superman’s supporting cast includes, essentially, other ring-performers (Supergirl,-dog,-monkey,-horse, -cat,-boy) and “ringmasters” (that is, reporters, whose job is mostly to point at other people doing stuff: “Hey, look! Another great Superman story for the front page!”). Batman’s supporting cast includes a former actor (Alfred) and the police’s media frontman (Gordon). And…

Robin, the Boy Wonder. Which helps us realize why Dick Grayson, circus aerialist, was the glue that held the World’s Finest team together. Dick Grayson is the intersection of Batman’s theatrical approach and Superman’s circensic approach. And in fact numerous comic book stories have made the point that Robin/Nightwing is kind of the intellectual offspring of both Batman and Superman’s approach to things. If the New52’s Dick Grayson could be written always with that in mind, combining the best of both world’s finest, Nightwing could become a breakout star of the reboot.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Cast in Bronze

It occurred to me that some younger/newer readers might not recognize some of the Flash's current supporting cast.

Patty Spivot, his new love interest? Not so new.
Patty was introduced as Barry's lab assistant in September 1977, actually.

As Enrichetta Negrini was to Ray "The Atom" Palmer, so was Patty Spivot to Barry "The Flash" Allen (specifically, the Sexy Female Colleague Who is the Hero's Intellectual Equal But Not His Girlfriend and is Around Largely to Make the Girlfriend Jealous and Make Readers Think There's an Actual Change to the Status Quo Possible, But Really There's Not).

Captain Darryl Frye? Well, he's also from Flash's Bronze Age (appearing first in May 1980). He was comedy relief who hero-worshipped the Flash. He was also, well--how do I put this in a loving and supportive way....? He was...

a total lunatic, who dealt with his mid-life crisis by trying to become a costumed vigilante "Captain Incredible".

People talk about the Silver Age as "that time of wackiness" in comic books. To which I say, "Balderdash".

The Bronze Age's deep, all-pervasive, underlying absurdity was far more insane than the showy splashes of zaniness in the Silver Age. In the Silver Age, your boss/authority figure would only become a costumed vigilante temporary because he was being affected by mind-controlling alien fruit (1961) or to defy the mayor's orders and jerk Vicki Vale's chain (1957), because that's always fun. You know... normal reasons.

But in the freakin' Bronze Age, people smoked super-cigars (1974) and got hit on the head and reversed their own alter ego (1978). These things, unlike mind-controlling alien fruit and adopting a costumed identity as an F.U. to the mayor, are just insane. And Captain Frye was very much part of that.

Oh, and Captain Cold's sister, Lisa? In her modern incarcation, her job, like many a relative written by Geoff Johns, is to die tragically and inspire her family to greatness (in either Good or Evil). But in the Insane Bronze Age, she was -- wait for it --an ice skating themed villain, the Golden Glider.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Tonya Harding of Bronze Age Earth-1. Wait, did the narrator actually just call her skates "uncanny"...?!

Which is, of course, insane.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Haikuesday with the Trickster

Poor James Jesse.

Is he a victim of the reboot? It's unclear; he's not been mentioned as one of "Captain Cold's gang of rogues", but the presence of Axel Whathisface in the Flash certainly means that James Jesse is not currently operating as the Trickster. Yet he must have; how else would Axel have "inherited" the title and the gadgets?

Is James Jesse dead? Or reformed? Or still in prison?

Really. How do you deal with a crook who might very well be giving you money, rather than taking it?

Jesse occupied a unique place among the Rogues as the unpredictable wacko, and its not a role you can pass to another one of them. Meanwhile, Axel's pretty weak sauce; is Geoff Johns preparing for the original Trickster to make a dramatic comeback at some point?

Because there is no way that little punk Axel could make a getaway on soap bubbles...

WHILE haikuing about it.


They are made of a
special type of soap which will
hold you, as you say.

What haiku can you compose in praise of James "The Trickster" Jesse?

Friday, March 09, 2012

Heroclix Map: The Egyptian Desert

The Egyptian desert is a great locale for Heroclix battles. Many characters--such as Captain Marvel (oops, sorry, I mean, "Shazam"), Black Adam, Isis, Dr Fate, Metamorpho--have Egyptian origins or connections. And many heroes with no organic links to the Children of the Nile still have had aegyptian advenures, such as Wonder Woman versus the violent Bana-Mighdall, Batman versus mad King Tut, and Josh Bernstein versus megalomaniacal Zahi Hawass.

So here's a Heroclix map of the Egyptian desert! There's a dig site, a campsite, a quonset hut, some desert vehicles, and a little pyramid. They provide hindering terrain, some elevated (well, "negatively elevated") terrain, some interior terrain, and some blocking terrain. Just a little bit of everything.

This isn't the most elaborate or beautiful Heroclix map, but it does have one usual characteristic that I've been experimenting with: it's modular.

As you can see above, you can split the map into six equal segments without intersecting any objects or terrain features. As a result you can cut the map into those segments, then rotate and rearrange them in any way you wish to form a valid Heroclix map. So, instead of ONE map, you get...let's see, um.... 134,596? Something like that. I think. A lot, anyway. Much more than one.

There are certainly flaws with the concept. Even though the segments are as different from one another as I could make them given the setting, I'm not sure how much rotating or swapping the segments would actually change the gameplay. Also, while none of the objects are split by the segment cuts, the underlying sand pattern IS, and that's going to be noticeable when you shuffle the segments.

Still it seemed like enough of a novelty to want to share and to see whether any other such modular maps would be of interest to other players.

Read "Night Force"

It must be "Earth-3 Week" here at the Absorbascon, where everyone's behavior is the opposite of normal. First, I joined forces with Archie Andrews. Now, I'm telling you to read something by Marv Wolfman, of whom, it is fair to say, I am not generally a fan.

But as you may have noticed, DC has pulled out a surprise in the Second Wave: the return of Night Force.

Night Force was a horror series in the 1980s, written by Marv Wolfman and drawn by Gene Colan (of swimmin' with the Sea Devils fame). Make no mistake; I despise all of Wolfman's superhero work. But I'm a sucker for some Night Force, I'm afraid... .

When Night Force came out in 1982-83, I was out of contact and unaware of it until re-emerging into this place of existence in the late '80s. I stumbled on it at some small local comic book convention, probably hooked by the fact that the action centered here in Washington DC (where night Force's main character, Baron Winter, lives).

Baron Winters is, frankly, a hokey collocation of occult tropes. Past shrouded in mystery. No first name. Undeterminable age. Anachronistic clothing and habits. Can't leave his house under any circumstance for some unknown reason. Amoral manipulator. Talks to his pet leopard, Merlin, a LOT, and seems to think that Merlin talks back. Mysterious mansion that serves as some sort of null point in space-time (and where Zatanna's father died, very dramatically). Handpicked task of force of unwitting pawns, one or more of whom will die.

Trite? Sure. But, curse Wolfman, it works and I fall for it completely. It might become insufferably formulaic in the long run (like, say, the Pretender, whose every plot evolution could be timed with a stopwatch)... but, of course, it won't have a long run. It's a seven-issue miniseries, and you probably don't want to miss it.

Even though there was much in the original run one could disparage, it had impact and stuck with you. Despite being a bit hackneyed, Night Force was a pivot point in the transition from DC's '70s-style horror to the birth of the "Vertigo-verse". If you are liking "Justice League Dark" to any degree, you'll want to read the new Night Force, because, while Baron Winters hasn't been and never will be a big player on the psychic scene, he's a fixture, a sort of neutral Switzerland in the occult landscape. If you want to be an aficionado of the DCU's non-super-side, you need to be able to find your way to, and around, Wintersgate Manor. Although not, perhaps, the way out ... .

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Politics Make Strange Bedfellows

Politics –and similar exigencies--make strange bedfellows. Like the time Bronze Age Batman and the Joker and teamed up to solve the Penguin’s “murder” in Brave & the Bold. Or the time Lex and Superman worked together to fight famine in Africa in Heroes Against Hunger. Or when Captain America joined with Hitler to fight worldwide currency inflation. I forget which story that was.

Anyway, thanks to I find myself similarly wedded to the unlikeliest of bedfellows: Archie Andrews.

Thanks, Slay Monstrobot, for exposing this.

As longtime readers of the Absorbascon will know, Archie Andrew is my bĂȘte noir. His slow banishment of the heroic Shield from the pages of Pep, his mental enthrallment of the youth of America, his apostlehood of surrealism in comics—the depth and breadth of his evil are unfathomable and illimitable, unbounded as they are by either space/time or the Fourth Wall.

Yet, politics find me arm-in-arm with my Arch-nemesis in solidarity against… One Million Moms, who are boycotting Archie Comics and Toys-R-Us, which is carrying a comic in which Riverdaler Kevin Keller marries his boyfriend. First, a new editor’s notes. I do not know that there are actually one million moms in One Million Moms; I rather doubt it, the same way I’m not really concerned about any threat from Insane Clown Posse or The Butthole Surfers. Also, in the “present day” continuity of Riverdale, Kevin (like the rest of the Archie gang) is a highschooler, with limited dating experienced due to having moved around a lot with his military family. “Kevin’s Wedding” is an “imaginary story” of the future, just like the “Archie Marries Betty” and “Archie Marries Veronica” comics. I will also add that I am opposed to Kevin’s marriage because the story depicted him as a wounded veteran marrying his physical therapist, which is all kinds of professional wrong and which, as we have learned previously here at the Absorbascon, is the road to perdition.

That said, I am obviously not against gay marriage generally or against the general concept of Kevin getting married. Even if I were, I hope wouldn’t take the same stance as this pressure group/rock band One Million Moms ™. Because, even if ‘gay marriage’ is a thing you don’t like, it is still a thing that is happening in the real world—quite a lot—and as such is fair game for inclusion in comics. Of course, rape and murder happened quite a lot in the real world, but I wouldn’t want those in Archie Comics. But if you want to put gay marriage in the same box as rape and murder, One Million Moms, then further discourse on the matter would probably be fruitless. Meanwhile, good luck influencing Toys’R’Us, who I can only assume don’t give a darn what mothers thinks, or their brand name wouldn’t be a grammatical and orthographic horror-show.

By the way, if you get the chance, buy Kevin Keller #1; not only was it kind of touching it was freakin’ hilarious, particularly the Kevin’s Almost First Date and Reggie Gives Kevin a Makeover parts.

What I am really interested in talking about is NOT Kevin Keller, but about the fact that Archie—friggin’ ARCHIE—is leading the mainstream comic book pack on social issues. It’s great, and we should applaud the Archie Comics folks for their efforts to be modern, relevant, but still wholesome. What bothers me is that my preferred comics genre—DC’s ‘super’ titles—are so far BEHIND the curve in representing the realities of gay people being part of modern society.

Don’t get me wrong; I have been very happy to see that the Legion folks stepped right up to the plate and unabashedly portrayed Lightning Lass and Shrinking Violet as a couple (a tradition from the Giffen Five Years Later Era). And, of course, Kate Kane has her own title as Batwoman, where her personal and romantic life is very much integral to the story.

However, I cannot help feel that in the New52—so far—it feels like we have taken a step backwards in the portrayal of gay people from what preceded. In the Old52, we could at least point to a handful of gay men in the DCU; admittedly, no one as high profile as Batwoman, but still there were some. There is, to my knowledge, no one to point to in the New52. Naturally, the whole new DC universe is still unfolding and new characters (and old characters newly recast) are being revealed every week, so my observation may simply be premature. But, even if there are no main characters who are gay men, I’m still looking for some sign that gay marriage—a growing modern reality that even Archie Comics has acknowledged and incorporated into its universe—exists in the DCU. I’m not looking for a “Very Special Issue” about it; I don’t think it merits it. But as one occasionally sees straight married couples in the DCU during the course of a plot, one might expect also, at some point, to see a gay married couple as well.

I am aware that the issue is not without controversy in ‘the real world’. I am also aware that superhero comics, on average, do not court social and political controversy. However, I am also aware that DC didn’t wait until integration and ‘miscegenation’ were no longer issues before showing black Americans with white ones in their stories; or am I wrong in that?

I remember looking at the DCU when I was a kid as a more advanced placed, both scientifically and sociologically. Is that no longer the case? Am I now living in a world that’s ten years ahead of the DCU, instead of the other way around?

Archie Comics has always been about preparing young kids for the world they were going to grow into as teenagers. Is DC Comics now just about preserving for adults the world we grew up in as kids?

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Haikuesday with Gene Colan and the Sea Devils!

Ah, the Sea Devils, the Homines Superiores of the Sea, the Demigods of the Deep, the Untersee Ubermenschen. I've always marveled at the Sea Devils, who, as repeatedly mentioned here at the Absorbascon, are paragons of humanity, as capable and impressive as the Challengers of the Unknown are incompetent and stumble-footed. Yet they get so little respect; why, they don't even have a page of TV Tropes (where even
Small Wonder has a page).

While excited for the new directions that the creative team is taking with Aquaman, I was sad to see that Aquaman's hinted "former team" will turn out
not to be the Sea Devils.

It's a pity. The Sea Devils are your classic four-man band (The Leader, The Girl, The Muscle, The Kid), a sort of underwater Fantastic Four without superpowers (other than super-awesomeness). They'd have been perfect "back-up singers" for Aquaman's adventures that preceded his discovery of Atlantis, and I would have loved to see the New52 Aquaman become the tentpole for the reintroduction of all DC's oceanic heroes. Alas.

The Sea Devils were so incredible, that, like Mr. Mxyzptlk or The Phantom Stranger, they pretty much do whatever they want, including violating the Fourth Wall...

and otherwise ignoring the barrier between their world and ours. Why, here's their own comic book artist-- Gene Colan -- joining them on one of their underwater adventures.

Wow. That's... wow. Could Namor or Dracula have dragged Gene Colan in their world? I don't think so.

Let alone induct Gene Colan into the joys of sweet, sweet octopus love?

I think not.

Speaking of "Wow", that's the name of the haiku that the amazing Gene Colan spouts as he and the Sea Devils escape one of their hourly close-calls.

We got away just
before that ancient ship was
swallowed up again!

Such is the ennobling effect of the Sea Devils on all who surround them, elevating them to the heights of human achievement, including casual haiku in the face of near destruction. What haiku can you compose in honor of the Sea Devils or Gene Colan?