Thursday, February 28, 2013
Sunday, February 24, 2013
In Praise of Decay
One of the underlying principles of Jacobs' work is that the renovation (or gentrification if you prefer that term) downtrodden areas of cities cannot happen until the area hits a certain low point, it's "bottom". Once a neighborhood is nearly abandoned and the property values are at fire-sale levels, it's ripe for developers and gentrifying homebuyers to use a little money on purchase and a lot on rehab or construction... and for that to happen to not just one spot in the neighborhood, but lots of them. I currently live in one such revitalized neighborhood, Columbia Heights.
Columbia Heights wasn't so much a dangerous area, just... abandoned. There wasn't enough here for even criminals to be interested.
Columbia Heights 2004
Columbia Heights 2011
That's just one commercial corner; similar photos could be shown of all the nearby residential and mixed-use streets.
And before moving here, I lived on U Street from 17 years, which has a similar history. Part of this 'hit bottom' principle is that well-meaning attempts, usually by local governments, to forestall the degeneration of a neighborhood actually prolong the problem. By preventing the natural socioeconomic forces from degrading and then revamping a neighborhood, the 'biomic succession' by which a crappy, abandoned area becomes the new hip place-to-be can't take place.
Which brings us to the DCU. There are many characters that, like neighborhoods primed for gentrification, have hit bottom, became ripe for revamping and then roar back to vitality when some creators do a refresh. Vibe is a great example. Animal Man. Doom Patrol. Heck, the Bronze Age Batman (as much as I make fun of him) is the result of Batman having descended so far into camp (e.g., "Bat-Hulk') that he was ripe for Denny O'Neil's remake of him.
Gosh, the list gets longer and longer, the more you think about it. Wonder Woman. Dial H. Superman. Aquaman. The Legion. Supergirl. Barry and Hal had to DIE before they hit bottom and could be revitalized. A case could be made that the entire DCU itself is 'neighborhood' that got rundown and the New52 is its gentrification (which some people think, like real gentrification, robs the original place of too much of its native charm).
What I really want to talk with you about isn't those revamps; it's the efforts to prevent the characters from hitting bottom that delayed their revamps. For me, the most obvious example is: the entirety of Bronze Age Batman. But that's just me.
Shazam and Aquaman experienced about 20 years of such stop-gap efforts that you could argue actually delayed the characters from a proper revamp. There are others. Hal Jordan's 47 careers changes. Every version of Hawkman after the Bronze Age (except Palmieri's).
What characters do you think are currently receiving this treatment? Being prevented, by well-meaning but misguided attempts to keep the characters afloat, from 'hitting bottom' and then getting a decent and dramatic revamp?
Friday, February 22, 2013
Things That Should Have Bothered You (and Me) in Vibe #1
I can believe man can fly. I can believe a boy can get caught in a boomtube and acquire transdimensional vibration powers. I cannot believe, however, that in the last five years, no one -- including Cisco -- has tried to take Cisco Ramon's photograph.
Dramatic visual or not, "The Circus" is wrong on about 50 levels, not the least of which is humanitarian.
Does it seem a little odd that Armando is such a big guy in high school, while his brothers at that age are obviously much smaller? It happens, yes; but brothers usually have much similar builds.
I realize that this time around you had to make Vibe much less colorful than his original incarnation. But making Dale Gunn bland? DALE GUNN, THE MAN, THE MYTH, THE LEGEND?!?!?!?!
Gypsy's wearing shoes. I mean, character revamp is one thing, but what's the point of rebooting a character if you eliminate their defining characteristic? Re-booting; heh.
Krakkl? O RLY? You have a universal reboot and can allow/deny the readmission of ANY pre-52 character and you choose...Krakkl? With all the baggage it brings? There are about 17,000 other characters who could have been in that particularly shot without causing hypertime paroxyms; why not choose one of them?
Pariah? Repeat above paragraph.
DC really wants all their youth characters to have as little parental interference in their lives as possible, don't they? I guess in the DCU you don't need a permission slip when you sign up to be a freaking super-agent for the government.
Cisco doesn't ask, "How do you know that?", when told a specific parademon is the one who killed his brother? Come, now. Paco was smarter than that.
Can't we have shadowy government manipulators who are just that? Do they always have to be complete a-holes, too?
Thursday, February 21, 2013
Vibe #1: A Review
The same applies to Johns' having given a parent-killing origin to Aquaman. Although Aquaman actually has a Golden Age pedigree, almost no one has read any of those stories (where he punched holes in Nazi submarines), and popular perceptions of him come almost entirely from the Silver Age stories (where he set up fish hospitals).
[By the way, Johns isn't the only one operating in this mode; Azzarello offed Wonder Woman's mother pretty quickly as part of her re-branding as a demigod.]
Johns ties Vibe in extremely directly with Darkseid's attack that sparked the formation of the Justice League. This is so smart (classic, Johns-smart) that it almost hurts. The connection with Darkseid, the comic source of his power, and the fact that his power is completely unique immediately mark him as a major player, one that cannot be dismissed as a lightweight. Gee, a power that even the Martian Manhunter doesn't have; won't JJ be jealous!
It also marks him, as it did Cyborg, as 'natural' Justice League timber; just like the League, Vibe and Cyborg were 'created' by Darkseid's invasion. No wonder Darkseid's little outings never seem to get anywhere; he generates his own antidotes.
So it's clear what John's is doing: it's imperative that he make Cisco Ramon someone who (a) must be taken seriously and (b) is likeable. And everything in issue #1 is planned to do exactly that.
Has something been lost in the process? Certainly. Whatever else one might say of Paco Ramon, he was... colorful. Vibrant. Cisco Ramon is as bland as possible.
But that's not because Johns' can't do colorful. It's because he's trying to remake Vibe as an essentially DC-type character, rather than a Marvel-type character.
Let's see: a sassy, street-wise, chip-on-the-shoulder, former criminal turned good-guy-with-an-edge, who's an ethnic stereotype with accented English, with a single in-born superpower from which his codename (a single noun) comes, heavily glossed with some pop culture phenomenon. That's got Marvel written all over it. Start writing a list of Marvel mutant characters who fit somewhere in that description and let me know when you get tired.
As much as people (including me) wouldn't want to see it or admit it, the original Vibe failed for one main reason: he was a Marvel character in the DC universe. And, over time, the DCU, like an organism fighting off viruses, rejects such characters or remakes them in its own style. Johns is trying to make darned sure that this version of Vibe is organic to the DCU, a natural and necessary part of it, rather than part of some outside invasion of from Earth-616.
As much as I miss "Paco" Ramon, if doing that helps this version of Vibe survive and possibly flourish, then Cisco Ramon has my blessing.
Although I still like to see him dance at some point. Boy's got to be able to dance.
Things That Made Me Happy...
...in my comics this week.
Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Weather Week: Apex City
Weather Week at the Absorbascon wraps us with the weather in Apex City, hometown of the wacky Martian Martian.
Well, really, what can I say about the weather in Apex City that I haven't already said before?
It's always summer in Apex City because, as we know, Apex City is Florida. But that doesn't mean it doesn't have seasons; they look roughly like this:
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
Weather Week; Wet, Wetter, Wettest
At first I thought "Weather Week" here at the Absorbascon might come to a splashing halt with Aquaman. Aside from his brief stationings in New Venice and Sub Diego, Aquaman doesn't have a fictionpolis proper whose weather we can describe. I'm not counting Atlantis, of course, whose only 'seasons' would be Wet, Wetter, Wettest, and *glub!*.
But then I remembered that Aquaman's real domain isn't the ocean; as Geoff Johns has emphasized, it's the interface of the ocean with the world above. The real excitement in Aquaman stories comes from incursions from the oceanscape upon the surface world (e.g., the current Atlantean War) and vice versa (e.g., Black Manta).
In the monotony of the underwater world, Aquaman wouldn't experience seasons. Or much else, really, since the only people down there to protect are the Atlanteans, and they're a bunch of jerks, Aquaman's annoying country cousins from the wrong side of the watertracks.
Aquaman must be ecstatic every time he's called to duty in the world above the sea, where people actually need and appreciate his help. Those times, and his land-based homelife with Mera, provide both the seasons and the seasoning to Aquaman's life. I imagine it as looking something like this....
Monday, February 18, 2013
Weather Week: Central City
Since this is Weather Week at the Absorbascon, our point of comparison is meteorology. Weather-wise, Batman's Gotham City and Green Lantern's Coast City seem quite realistic given their generally understood locations. Superman's Metropolis is much less realistic, thanks to a pretty substantial winter-deficit.
But unquestionably the prize for Most Unrealistic Weather goes to Flash's Central City.
Of course; it's always Central City, isn't it? While Gotham and Metropolis are certainly odd in tone (Gargolyes! Bizarre transformations!), they seem functionally, structurally normal (for east coast cities). But the incomprehensible geography of midwestern metro-nightmare-plex Central City is legendary; the impossibly tall buildings that are always impossibly far away on the horizon leaving nothing but gigantic empty plazas, mile-wide sidewalks, and uncrossably broad streets. While Gotham City and Metropolis are normal cities dressed up in dramatic and odd costumes, Central City is completely otherworldly, defying all the principles of space-time, architecture, and urban design.
And meteorology. For quite some time, Central City has been consistently portrayed as a midwestern city.... WITH AN ALMOST TOTAL ABSENCE OF FALL OR WINTER. It is always spring or summer in Central City.
It's one thing for Coast City to have no fall or winter; it's on the California Coast, so that's not unusual. But Central City is in the midwest, where there's winter; lots of it, in fact. That Central City should be sprawling is at least consistent with what the midwest is like; that it should have no winter is completely unrealistic.
There is a reason, of course; as always, reality bends itself to accommodate the Flash. Central City has ridiculous geography for only one reason: it makes a better stage for displays of superspeed. Comics are a still-frame medium; there is no sense of 'time' other than the one we bring to it. In a temporal medium (like a movie), you would show superspeed by reducing the time it takes for Flash to do something. In comics, however, that's hard to convey, so the easiest way to 'shrink time' is
to e x p a n d s p a c e ; hence, the bizarrely expansive geography of Central City.
Similarly, that's why Central City (a midwestern city which should by all rights have BIG winters) has no winter. Because in comics, the thing most synonymous with winter is SNOW. And what's the main problem with snow? IT SLOWS YOU DOWN. Yep; you can't run in snow. Snow would be a major problem in a Flash comic; so, Central City has no snow and the closest thing Central City has to Fall and Winter are the occasion attacks by Weather Wizard and Captain Cold.
Friday, February 15, 2013
Weather Week: West Coast-ing with Hal Jordan
Hal Jordan's Coast City, as we know, is on the California Coast. So the seasons there are pretty much spring and summer. It's always good flying weather and Hal can drive with the top down. On the car, I mean.
Thursday, February 14, 2013
Weather Week: Worlds of Wonder
Batman (and the host of similar nonsuperhuman vigilantes) has his roots in pulp ficition and detective stories. Superman (and the host of similar superpowered adventures) has his roots in science fiction. Wonder Woman (and not too many characters that aren't directly related to her in the DCU) has her roots in ancient mythology.
Batman and Superman fight crime and supervillains. Wonder Woman fights monsters, foreign dictators, and lesbian hippy slave rings.
Even though one is the city mouse and one is the country mouse, Batman and Superman both live in big east-coast-style cities. Wonder Woman lives in...um...?
In this series, we've been looking at the season in the cities of the various big heroes in the DCU. It is was easy with Batman and Superman; we know where they live. But, unlike those two, Wonder Woman doesn't have one fictionopolis with which she is consistently associated. So figuring out the seasonal patterns in the place Wonder Woman lives is impossible.
Instead, then, we meditate on the fact that "Where Wonder Woman Lives"... IS her seasonal pattern. And a very complicated one it is, too. Whereas the seasons in Gotham City and Metropolis are easily represented by four rectangular panels of appropriate sizes, the kaleidoscope of Wonder Woman's every-shifting location is more like a crazy-quilt. Honestly, sometimes I wonder whether she's secretly chasing Carmen Sandiego.
- On Paradise Island
- In London
- In Gateway City
- On Mars
- In Boston
- At Eveland, the Antarctic Eden
- In Washington DC
- Hating I Ching
- In space
- On some Mystic/Mythical plane
- In Occupied Europe
- In Skartaris
- In Monaco
- Working at Taco Whiz
- On Saturn
- In a white pantsuit
- On Mount Olympus
- At Holliday College
- In Southeast Asia
- On Venus
Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Weather Week: Metropolis
Tuesday, February 12, 2013
Weather Week: Gotham City
Monday, February 11, 2013
BIFF BAM KAYO!
1960’s Adam West Batman: Will be getting its own Gravity Feed with approximately 12-18 figures. Release date TBD.
For those who can't translate that, it means:
Wizkids, the company that makes "Heroclix" (the comic book hero themed tabletop miniature game), is coming out with a small Heroclix set based on the 1960s Batman television series.
It hasn't been possible to create and market new merchanise based on the phenomenonally popular 1960s Batman live-action television series for forty years. The licensing was all tied up. But last year it was announced that all the necessary clearances had been gotten, deals were in place, and all was go. Since then the older generation of Batman fans have been breathlessly awaiting a possible avalanche of ancillary merchandising. Would the products be good or terrible? Would decades of repressed consumer passion explode in a frenzy of Batmaniacal buying? Or will an uncaring public shrug its shoulders, mystified at the sudden wave of memorabilia for a short-lived teevee show from five decades ago? Tune in next week, same bat-time, same bat-channel.
That Wizkids, which has built its empire on its licenses for DC and Marvel characters, should take advantage of the opportunity comes as no surprise. The question remains: what will be in such a set?!
There are several sine qua non figures:
Batman, Robin, and Batgirl ("Yeah! Whose baby are you?")
The Joker, The Penguin, The Riddler, The Catwoman.
That leaves between seven to eleven possible OTHER figures based on characters from the show. Hm!
The Grand Order of Occidental Nighthawks, baby! Subtract the umbrellas and these guys will make the perfect fodder for powing, zapping, and kee-runking. I hope to go with them there is generic Gunmoll, because they were essential parts of most of the episodes. I know it's a small set, but I'll be very sad (and the figures will be less thematically playable) without Goons and Molls.
Will we get Supporting Cast figures for the heroes as well? I can imagine a Commissioner Gordon figure and an Alfred figure. Although, I'm at a loss as to what their dials might be. Love those guys, but I'm not sure how well 'Displaced Hip' and 'My pills, my pills!' would translate as powers. Perhaps Commission Gordon will get Incapacitate ("Melodramatic Speech to Camera") and Alfred would get Support ("Sandwiches, sir?"). I don't think comic relief characters Chief O'Hara and Aunt Harriet will make the cut. I can't imagine them having anything other than, I dunno, maybe Perplex ("Impotent Outrage" and "Perpetual Befuddlement", respectively).
The REAL question is: other the obvious (the four members of the United Underworld: Joker, Penguin, Riddler, and Catwoman), will there be figures for other Special Guest Villains?! Because that is where it gets juicy.
As fabulously fun as all the above figurse can (and will, I'm sure) be, we've already got clix figures for those characters. Not the teevee versions, perhaps; but you can still make a Joker team or a Penguin team if you want. What you can't do right now is make teams around the characters from the show that are completely unclixed in any way, shape, or form (e.g., King Tut, Egghead, Louie the Lilac, Bookworm). Then there are the characters which existed before and outside of the show, but really only gained fame because of the show (e.g., Mr. Freeze, False Face, and the Mad Hatter).
Hero Must Haves
Criminal Must Haves
Likely Support Figures
Less Likely Support Figures
Less Likely Criminals
Louie the Lilac
Mr Freeze seems like a shoo-in. He's well known in other media, he was on the show repeatedly, and designing a dial for him is easy. Mad Hatter, same thing.
King Tut appeared numerous times and Victor Buono's unforgettably over-the-top performance is emblematic of the tone of the show. Vincent Price's Egghead, same thing.
Bookworm only appeared once, but, well... it was Roddy McDowell FTW. Besides who else in the set could get Barrier ("Giant Cookbook at 5th Cedar!")? Milton Berle's Louie the Lilac appeared twice, but his only obvious power is Mind Control ("Stupefying Aromatic Spray from My Boutonniere"), which would be too duplicative of the skill sets of Mad Hatter ("My Super Instant Mesmerizing Top Hat!") and King Tut ("ABU RABU SIMBU TU!"). Shane, dullard though he was, actually carried guns, which is darned threatening for a Batman teevee villains (unless you're carrying your Bat-shield). False Face's powers (Shape Change and Perplex) are just too passive-aggressive to make a good gamepiece and while the Minstrel might have some interesting abilities based on his expertise in sound and electronics he would still be too much of a support piece. I mean, the Minstrel never even fought; even the RIDDLER at least tried to fight.
Meanwhile, I better get cracking on some appropriate custom maps (such as Ye Olde Benbow Tavern, Police Headquarters, Gotham City Public Library, The Villains HideOut).
What do you want to see in such a set?
Thursday, February 07, 2013
Killer Moth Week II, #4: Does a body bad
But first, some happy business! When last we left them, Killer Moth had just cut himself to ribbons crashing his desperately flailing limbs through a giant glass window in order to escape another Batman beatdown.
Actually, this is a phenomenon in all superhero comics. It’s just particularly egregious in Golden Age comics, because in those days child mortality was so high that writers didn’t have to concern themselves much with continuity.
Yes, Bruce, I agree; whenever I'm part of a group of people held personally accountable for rare and valuable historical artifacts that are stolen right from under our noses the very first thing I think is: "DINNER PARTY!"
Stupid fop; no wonder no one ever suspects that Bruce Wayne is Batman. It would be like finding out the Matthew McConnaughy is Batman.
Green Arrow, on the hand, I would totally believe.
Bruce, brilliant detective that he is, manages to eliminate Homer "Captain Kangaroo" Forsythe and Abel "Did someone remember to trim the crusts off my watercress sandwich?" Howe as suspects because they're not covered in cuts. So it's down to Perry "Pickle-Ass" Winslow and Cameron "Milk, please!" Van Cleer.
"You; woman with two right hands; take my coat."
"Perry, I'm your wife!'
"Don't remind me."
Well, this being just “Frasier with more murder”, some ridiculousness happens that causes Winslow to be covered in sharp wounds, like an attack by the non-lethal Golden Age Mr. Zsasz or an exploding quire of fine paper or hysterical empathy for DeGrassi’s Ellie Nash.
Oh, wait, no; the aforementioned ridiculousness is actually ... Killer Moth!
What the hell's in those glasses? Sodium-19 on the rocks?
All those 'oops so and so is about to discover such and such's secret identity' games that Superman always played with Lois Lane? Yeah, Batman plays those with Killer Moth. So, Killer Moth=Lois Lane; put that in your conceptual calculator.
Once again Batman is stymied and unable to detectify whether Killer Moth is Perry Winslow or Cameron Van Cleer is Killer Moth. Why not just punch them both in the face and see which one feels most familiar? Anyway, all the directors sit down to have drinks after dinner and watch Winslow slowly bleed to death.
Killer Moth orders milk. M I L K. For anyone else you'd assume that's just part of the "I'm so effete, I couldn't possibly be a caped adventurer" routine. But Killer Moth actually IS a milksop.
So in case you missed the implication in Howe's dialog balloon (or just nodded off while he was blathering), the PRE-INCAN MOTH IDOLS WHICH SOMEONE TRIED TO STEAL TWICE ALREADY ARE STILL NOT LOCKED UP AND THERE IS A MOTH-THEMED VILLAIN ON THE LOOSE. No wonder there's so much crime in Gotham City; everyone there is really asking for it. "Let's walk home from the theater through this dark alley, Mary!" Morons.
Sure enough. while everyone is distracted because Winslow's finally bled out and keeled over, Cameron prestoes into Killer Moth to steal the remaining idols with Batman not far behind. They catch up with him in .... the Hall of Electricity.
By the way... one million candle power? Not as impressive as it sounds. Candles suck.
Anyway, Killer Moth shoots out the lights he can escape, and Batman has Robin turn on the giant black light bulb, just as if it's my brother's room in 1974.
Once again Killer Moth has escaped! And this time without falling off or crashing through anything.
OR HAS HE...!?!?
Batman had already deduced who Killer Moth was! But HOW?!
Science... and MILK.
Yes, folks, those are, in fact:
Sleep well tonight.