Friday, March 01, 2013

Fisch on Friday: Show-off

Sholly Fisch, as I've mentioned, is one of my very favorite writers.
The panel below is one of  the many reasons why.

It's his version of the classic JLA story (Justice League of America #10 (March 1962) where the Leaguers tried to prevent three very powerful magical artifacts from falling into the wrong hands.

In this scene, Flash and Wonder Woman have gone to retrieve one of the artifacts, the Bell of Uthool, from a Himalayan mountaintop.  Flash naturally assumes he'll get their first because he's the fastest man alive. 

He doesn't.

Thanks to Sholly Fisch, there's more personality in that one panel than some entire issues that other writers have penned for Flash or Wonder Woman.

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?