Thursday, February 28, 2013

R.I.P. Damian

I suppose it’s appropriate for me to blog about the demise of Damian Wayne.
I’ve made no secret about being opposed to the concept of Damian Wayne from the very beginning. For one thing, he’s the son (creation?) of Talia, daughter of R’as Al-Ghul I’ve never been a fan of R’as Al-Ghul, an eco-glossed Fu Manchu who has limitless resources and time and never manages to accomplish anything.   Except for his gratuitous plot-device of daughter, who exists solely to inappropriately fall for Batman (whom she barely KNOWS) and alternatingly betray him and her father, as the plot requires.  While guys like the Penguin manage to rob banks with umbrellas, R’as Al-Ghul, who lives on the other side of the planet and already knows Batman’s identity, not only never gets away with anything (even a liquor store heist) but routinely dies in the process and has to take a bath in Denny O’Neil’s ridiculous re-start button, the Lazarus Pit.  It’s like O’Neil watched Peter Seller’s The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu before it even came out (1980).  Sacrilege though this may be to those of you who bought into R’as at an early age, but I’ve always felt he was wildly out-of-place and rather an embarrassment to Batman’s Rogues Gallery.  Which, I note, includes the likes of Killer Moth, Crazy-Quilt, the Eraser, and Dr. Double-X.  So that’s saying a lot.
Another strike against the concept was that Damian was Batman’s illegitimate son.  O RLY, Batman?  You managed to escape over 9000 death-traps but still managed to knock some girl up? Nice.  Now, I think this may have been retconned somehow due to the concentrated timeline of the 52DCU, with Damian being a clone rather than a little bastard.  Which, if true, is somewhat better.  But it still seems like sort of desperately flailing for a way to invigorate the franchise: “Now Batman has an illegitimate son/clone!”  To me, Damian was like a Bat-mite with a bad attitude and no magical omnipotence.  I mean, his head’s even the same shape.  This is the sort of ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking that Morrison does that so many people admire.  Me, I’m no big fan of that kind of ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking.  It doesn’t make me think “Grant Morrison’s an innovative genius”; it just makes me think “Grant Morrison’s the new Bob Haney, and constitutionally incapable of coloring between the lines because he lacks authorial self-discipline (or editorial discipline).”  If I wanted to read stories where Batman has a brain damaged brother, or Superman has a hunchback brother, or the Saga of the Super-Sons, I’ll just go back and read those, thank you.
Many of you will think I’m just a Morrison-hater and I’ve given you plenty of reason to think that.  Yet, I was not just a fan but quite a booster of his early work for DC and I remember his Animal Man and Doom Patrol issues both well and fondly.  But it’s one thing to give an imaginative writer a bunch of broken, nearly discarded minor characters and letting him see what he can make out of them with some glue, glitter, and LSD. It’s quite another to watch run wild when he’s given the keys to the DCU’s—the industry’s—two best known and most durable characters, battering them repeatedly into incomprehensible wrecks (the Black Glove, Infinite Crisis, the current Superman storyline; the list is longer).  Grant Morrison does not play nicely with toys and put them back in the box for others to use.  His track record on previously existing characters is pretty consistent: he does his patented ‘wildncrazy’ stuff with them until he’s squeezed as much wackiness out of them as he wants, then leaves a mess for someone else to try and fix.  I’m overstating a little for effect, but almost every time he’s done with a character or team, they have to reboot them in some way and back out of whatever blind alley he’s lead them down.  That’s not really being a team player and building a character for the future.  Morrison is a wonderful writer… of Elseworlds. And he's popular because... a lot of people like Elseworlds.

Damian’s introduction didn’t help endear him to me, either.  For those who coo how cute it is to watch his hardened little heart soften as he matures through his relationship with his mentors, I say (again): he tried to kill Tim Drake and he beheaded the Spook.  Yes, that was before the reboot; and I assume those particularly incidents are no longer in continuity.  But you’ll forgive me if those incidents made an indelible impact on me as to who this character was and what he was about.  The idea of one of our heroes having a murderous, violent son is interesting… but I think James Gordon Junior fills that role quite nicely.  Plus, you don’t see Commissioner Gordon putting Junior out on the street as a rookie cop, do you?  Damian needs/needed MASSIVE THERAPY, not the opportunity to attack criminals nightly.  “Damian Wayne” is bad enough; Damian as Robin is insane. And the whole ‘cute’ reversal of Robin being the hard-ass while Batman tempers him?  (1) Not so cute.  I prefer my ‘smart-mouthed’ kids on television sitcoms, where I don’t have to watch them. (2)  This idea is like one of those SNL skits that’s a funny idea, but becomes excruciating when it goes on too long.  Like, for more than two issues.  (3). To begin with, I missed the part where a bitter, violent child is either cute or funny.
And forget Batman for a minute.  Bruce Wayne, trillionaire, suddenly has an illegitimate heir?  Who is the son of one of Batman’s enemies, whom Bruce has zero reason to know?  People like to laugh at how ‘obvious’ it was in the Silver and Bronze Ages that Bruce Wayne was Batman.  What do they think of Damian’s impact on Bruce’s secret identity?
Honestly, the entire Damian Affair gives me headaches far more painful than those from Bob Haney stories. At least you knew Bob Haney was playing in his own Haneyverse, and that the rest of DC authorial and editorial would ignore whatever he was doing. But the Cult of Morrison has ensured that this (admittedly interesting) Elseworld-ish story has promulgate far, long, and wide across the company publishing.  Even when the opportunity to wrap the whole thing up but simply not have Damian in the New52 presented itself, all regular timelines deferred to Morrison’s. 
Far be it for me to wish any character ill.  I don’t want to see any character beaten/shot/stabbed to death brutally, certainly not a child (particularly by his mutant clone, which is a damning metacommentary about Damian being his own worst enemy). 
But I cannot say that I will miss Damian Wayne.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

In Praise of Decay

I'm a fan of the work of Jane Jacobs, godmother of the neo-urban movement, who gave the U.S. and entirely new way of looking of cities that flew in the face of almost all contemporary wisdom at the time she wrote her seminal work, The Death and Life of Great American Cities.  A lot of my friends are also urbanists, city-design types, mapmakers and transportation planners.  It's one of the reason that the fictionpolises of the DCU are one of the recurring themes here at the Absorbascon.

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.

That's what this is. Or it's Two-Face hideout.

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

A lot of people who don't know the character are probably going to think he's a Mexican-American. Particularly the way they have him say "You want me to be a ...border cop?!" They should have made it clear that he's Puerto Rican (a very different culture).

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

Well, well, well.

Vibe #1.  Who would've thought? 

On the whole, this set-up issue is clear and goes down the checklist of Things To Accomplish To Put This Character Back On Track. Geoff Johns has stacks of those checklists lying around the house, I bet.

This version of Vibe is given some comfortable distance from his still-toxic pre-Crisis version by giving him a different version of his name: Cisco Ramon.  The new name "Cisco" and the original one "Paco" are both nicknames for "Francisco".  If a new Dick Grayson were being 52ed today, I'm sure they'd call him "Rich" instead.

Vibe is given a relative-killing origin; that's nearly a sine qua non for a Johns revamp.  Not a criticism; just stating a fact.  He introduced parent-killing backstories for Hal and Barry when he brought them back as Green Lantern and the Flash.  Most analyst think that's 'modern-style bloodthirst' on Johns' part. I disagree; I think it's the opposite: it's Golden Age bloodthirst.  I have no doubt it was to make them feel a bit more like Golden Age characters Batman and Superman than fluffy Silver Age reduxes. 

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.

Cisco Ramon neither chooses the name "Vibe" nor his costume; both are imposed upon him by his handlers at DC's current leading Shadowy Agency That Deals With Superheroes, A.R.G.U.S.  So, if you don't like either of those, Johns renders Cisco himself blameless.

Gone is the original's backstory as a gangmember. This Vibe is squeaky clean, cooks for his father (note the single-parent family), is trying to save money to go to college, and is trying to keep his own little brother on track. 

Gone is the original's foolhardy bravado.  This Vibe -- even though his, well, earth-shattering power is pretty clear and gets clearer through the issue -- is surprised that anyone would seem him as a potential superhero.  The original Vibe thrust himself upon the Justice League Detroit and this one has to be recruited and coerced into joining the JLA.

Gone is the original's joie de vivre and breakdancing ebulliance.  This is Vibe is sober and down-to-earth, thanks to a very different origin.  Cisco Ramon is perhaps the least flashy Puerto Rican in the continental U.S. 

Brushing aside the specifics of why, Paco Ramon had two main problems as a character: people didn't take him seriously and people didn't like him.

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... my comics this week.

  • Vibe #1; period.  More on that later.
  • “I’m Element Woman and you’re The Awesome!”
  • Atlantean scepter-sticks of power; collect ‘em all!
  • “No; the other right!”  Bwahahaha; character-based classic.
  • Vulko kind of makes you realize how scary it would be if Alfred had his own agenda, doesn’t it?
  • U.M.P.  That's now part of my comic book vocabulary.
  • Steve Trevor is… a sturdy fellow. Woof.
  • Oh, so, that’s why Catwoman.  That reason makes sense. But it would make much more sense for… KILLER MOTH! HA! HA!
  • Hey, Zatanna finally remembered she could freeze the water by just saying something!
  • Looks like the Atom’s had some work done, eh?
  • Well, that's one way to get her to wear shoes.
  • J'onn is creepy. And kind of crazy.  Just like I always said.
  • Uh-oh.  "Taken 3" won't be starring Liam Neeson, will it?
  • Vulko’s motivation.  Yeah, that’s what I figured.  Typical Atlantean thinking.
  • Pemberton. VERY mysterious.  And that's not the star I would have expected to see.  Star Girl may be more interesting this time around.
  • Finally, a reasonable justification for the “let’s look at photographs on a desk” routine when team-picking (which stopped making sense after Mission: Impossible went off the air).
  • Well; that’s a sad but fitting punishment for Ocean Master.
  • Aquadog!

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

You know, when you're comparing things in the realm of comic books, it can be very difficult to determine what's "most unrealistic."  Flying, invulnerability, heat vision; yes, those are rather inconsistent with our understandings of physics and biology.  But that idea that one of the world's richest and handsomest men would spend his nights dressed as a bat and beating up muggers in alley is psychologically unrealistic.  It all depends on your point of comparison.

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.

So the seasons in Coast City are--just like Hal--pretty simple.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Weather Week: Worlds of Wonder

Oh, Wonder Woman.  You are so ... different.  I'm not talking about her gender.  In many ways, that is the LEAST of it. 

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 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. 

  1. On Paradise Island
  2. In London
  3. In Gateway City
  4. On Mars
  5. In Boston
  6. At Eveland, the Antarctic Eden
  7. In Washington DC
  8. Hating I Ching
  9. In space
  10. On some Mystic/Mythical plane
  11. In Occupied Europe
  12. In Monaco
  13. Working at Taco Whiz
  14. On Saturn
  15. In a white pantsuit
  16. On Mount Olympus
  17. At Holliday College
  18. In Southeast Asia
  19. On Venus

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Weather Week: Metropolis

In this series, we're examining the weather in the DCU's fictionopolises (starting yesterday with Gotham City).
When I first had this idea, I thought, "I can just go through every single story set in each city to which I have access, mark down the apparent season based on visual clues, tabulate, and look for patterns!'
Then I thought, "Sh'yeah, as if!  That's a job for my fleet of post-docs."
Then I realized, "Oh, wait; I don't have a fleet of post-docs."
So, my 'analysis' of the seasonal ratios in the various DCU cities is cobbled together purely from my own recollections of stories I've read. Now, that is a fairly large sample, but perhaps my own impressions of the weather in those stories is distorted.  After all, unless the weather is part of the plot, the creators don't usually bother with making it any particular season at all.  Unless they're John Byrne. 
A lot of artists take the easy way out and have the same characters wear pretty much the same thing all the time.  For example, in the pre-Crisis DCU, Clark Kent was famous for wearing the same blue suit/red striped tie combo every day for about, oh, 40 years. 
"And I'm not coming back until YOU stop wearing those stupid public underpants and get yourself a proper mandarin collar on your shirt!"

Some of those habits stem from the origins of comic books as a medium for children thanks to The Golden Rule of Color Conservation.  It states that whenever convenient, characters should wear the same colors in their civilian identities as they wear in their superhero identities; it makes them easier for the readers to identify.  Golden Age Dick Grayson did this a lot, and Clark Kent's habit of wearing a blue suit and red tie comes from the fact that Superman wears a blue outfit with red accents, too.
Bruce Wayne: easy-going guy, good sense of humor, fun date. 

Even when the color carries no semiotic signifigance, it's just easier for artists to draw the same character the same way all the time.  Bruce Wayne wore the heck out of that nasty brown suit yellow shirt combo in Batman The Animated Series, until he swapped it out for the black suit red tie look when his eyebrows got all frowny. 
Bruce Wayne: Uptight, dour, control-freak. With tiny, tiny feet.

John Byrne is not one of those lazy artists; he's the opposite, in fact.  Sure all his people look the same, with their giant lipless frog mouths brimming with explanations of how their powers work.  But their clothes!  John Byrne believes that no one ever wears the same outfit twice.  In John Byrne's DCU, the clothes donation bins are full to bursting all the time.
Therefore, John Byrne makes the seasons change in his stories not because it is relevant to the plot, but so he can draw different clothing.  He'd have been happy as a pig in slop if he'd been working back in the day on Katy Keene.
In fact, without John Byrne, I'm not sure Metropolis would have even seen winter. The only time I can remember seeing winter in Superman’s city was when John Byrne was writing it. He really bit down hard on the idea that, "okay, sure, Metropolis is an expy for Chicago," where it's cold and windy a lot. 
Wherever Metropolis is, it’s seldom been imagined as being in the south or somewhere winterless; yet winter is almost never seen (except for, of course, an occasional Christmas story, because it’s ALWAYS snowing in Christmas stories). 
As a result, I visualize Metropolis's seasons as something like this:
Spring is definitely the season where Jimmy undergoes amazing transformations;
In Summer, Superman can often be seen loosening fire hydrants so that, say, poor hot children can play in them, endangering thousands of lives if a fire breaks outin one of their homes.
In Fall, Superman remembes he owns a superpowerful dog and take him for a romp.
In Winter, Lois Lane runs around in ridiculous runaway winterwear and Superman answers his mail at the Metropolis post office. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Weather Week: Gotham City

I’ve had weather and the seasons on my mind lately, for several reasons.  One, I live in Washington DC, where the weather is always on everyone’s mind.  The District is at the confluence of all the weather patterns that happen on the east coast (cold air from the north, warm air from the south, and whatever ridiculousness blows in from the west) and therefore has nearly randomized weather that changes very rapidly.  The most impressive thing about this phenomenon is not the meteor-illogical aspect, but the social one. Despite the fact that in the 25 years I lived in the District the weather has always been like this, Washingtonians are always surprised by the weather (regardless of what it is) and vaguely huffy that Mother Nature  has dared to inconvenience the center of federal  power.  “How can we be having snow/rain/drought/heat wave/cold snap/fog/cicadas… in the DISTRICT?!”  Of course, in their defense, here those things can all happen in the same week. 
Still, you’d think most people would eventually get used to it.  When we finally colonize Mars or Venus, I just assume the bulk of the colonists will come from the DC-metro area because we’re the only people accustomed to that kind of weather.
Two, I’ve recently purchased the Seasons expansion for EA Games' digital human ant-farm, the Sims 3, which adds weather to the Sims' previously unseasonal existence. While it doesn’t affect actual gameplay very much other than adding more ‘stuff’ Sims like to do (skating, making igloos, bonfires, seasonal holidays) it makes the game much prettier, more realistic, and helps add variety (Because Snowflake Day is not like Spooky Day at all!).
As a result, I’ve really started to notice and contemplate the weather in DC comics, specifically, the seasonal calendars of its major fictionopolises. 
Gotham City, which you kind of expect to be extreme in some respect (because Gotham City is extreme in most respects, is actually rather normal, weather-wise. By 'normal' I mean it seems to have the four seasons characteristic of mid-atlantic seabord cities.
It is quiet easy to picture Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter in Gotham City, because we have seen them. They all get play in Gotham City stories and fairly evenly.  Particularly compared to other fictionopolises where certain seasons are simply unheard of.  Not only can you easily picture Batman & Robin running around Gotham City in all four seasons, you can do the same for most of their major villains, too, because you have probably seen them doing it. 
Oh, there are certainly some preferences.  I can’t recall lots of Penguin stories that seemed to be set in summer or Riddler stories set in winter.  But on the whole the Gothamites are a year-round bunch.
I've tried to visual the seasons in each of the major fictionopolises. Here's what I came up with for Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter in Gotham City.

Yep.  Nice evenly distributed seasons, with terrible danger in each.  Welcome to Gotham City.

What's the weather look like in Metropolis?  Tune in tomorrow to find out!

Monday, February 11, 2013


This morning I read an announcement I've been eagerly anticipating for some time:

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!

I hope for the sake of game play (and color) that there is generic goon to serve as cannon fodder on villain teams.  The villains of the show were famous for always having a small gang of goons, often thematically dressed.  There probably aren't enough figures in the set to permit individual goons for each villain (glorious though that would be). But I'm at least expecting and hoping for these guys:

Vote for Pengy; he's our man.

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

Criminal Generics

Likely Support Figures
Commissioner Gordon

Less Likely Support Figures
Chief O'Hara
Mrs. Cooper

Likely Criminals
Mr. Freeze
Mad Hatter
King Tut

Less Likely Criminals
Louie the Lilac
False Face
The Minstrel

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

Do you know what this image is?

You do not.  But you will. And when you do the memory of it will haunt your nightmares forever.

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.

That fool!
This brings us to what I call the Golden Rule of Casual Causality. One of the characteristics of Golden Age comics is that, even though you can do “X”  a thousand times and have it produce result “Y” every time,  at some point you can do “X” and it will produce result “WTF?!”.  It's like every single thing that happens is actually one of those complex math statements where for ONE VALUE ONLY you wind up with "WTF?!" and for all other values it's just fine.    

(x3+ 4x2 +x) / (x/4-13)

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. 
Batman and Robin, for example, break through windows pretty much daily, much to the dismay of Alfred and the delight of the Gotham glazier industry.  Honestly, I’m not sure they know any other way of entering a room.  And, of course, they are unharmed every time.

"I'd like a grande of dark roast to go!"
"Decaft or regular, sir?"
But when Killer Moth does it, it’s immediately obvious that he’ll be sliced to ribbons, even though he’s even more fully garbed than Batman (and certainly than leg-baring Robin).  Perhaps it just because, well, he’s Killer Moth.  Of course he’s going to fall miserably at something that Batman does effortlessly every day. 
Regardless, Batman reasons that at the upcoming social event for Museum Directors Who’ve Recently Lost a Fortune in Pre-Incan Moth Idols he’ll be able to spot which one is Killer Moth by looking for some sort of cuts on his person.  Because apparently these social events always end up in an ass-baring orgy, I suppose.

Tonight the part of Robin will be played by young Peter Falk.

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!

 "I, Killer Moth, am so clever! I cannot help admire myself, just as others do! HA! HA!"

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.

You did realize there would have to be giant light bulb at some point, didn't you?

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.

"Dude; that poster looks freakin' amazing now...!"

Once again Killer Moth has escaped!  And this time without falling off or crashing through anything. 

OR HAS HE...!?!?

Because who would notice the Mothmobile in a swanky suburb?

"No, wait, the mask is attached to my eyeballs and---AAAAAIIEEEEEEE!"

Batman had already deduced who Killer Moth was! But HOW?!  

Because SCIENCE!

Science... and MILK.

Yes, folks, those are, in fact:


Sleep well tonight.

Starro's baby portrait, courtesy of Tad Williams.