Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Committee Work!

When last we left

J'onn had grounded the Apex City Chamber of Commerce Vigilante Committee's Heli-grappler (an impossibly modified Sikorsky H-34), but the APCoCVC's Chairman, the prosperously portly Mr. Weems, remained undaunted. 

You know why he doesn't arrest them?
Just how many tickets to the Policeman's Ball do you think the Chamber of Commerce buys, huh?

Mr Weems has more than one means of unusual crime-fighting instrumentality as his disposal, thanks to his R&D director, Mr Lee, and he intends to use them.

And his next target; the insidious BIFF HIGGINS!

You know, I could spend a long time trying to come up with a less sinister or threatening name than "Biff Higgins" and still fail.  Who's his moll? Muffy Peterson?  

Biff Higgins doesn't sound like a shadowy criminal lieutenant.  He sounds like some sort of chino-draped J.Crew model who spends all his time hanging out on his personal yacht.

Wow, that's just how I pictured Biff!
Muffy's looking a little rough, though.

What a shock. Biff Higgins, hanging out on his personal yacht.  Who will net this (allegedly) criminal fish? Why, the crew of the S.S. Apex City Chamber of Commerce Vigilante Committee, under the command of Captain Chairman Weems!

Wow, snagged, Biff's really flying through the air!  Uh-oh.  That's not good. That's an unauthorized incursion in the restricted air space of Apex City, which is the sole domain of... the Martian Manhunter.

"Well, I COULD have stowed away invisibly on either boat.  Or disguised myself as a crew member.  Or have grown to gigantic size like I did that time a car had to drive over my butt on the bridge, and just PICKED up one or both of the boats.   But...it's a nice day for a swim. And I have nothing better to do."

I like to imagine J'onn just swimming around off the coast for 24 hours waiting for some vigilante-based action.  Anyway, instead of interfering directly using one of his powers, JJ does one of his 'domino routines'...

That's a water barrier, J'onn; even when Mera makes those they only last one turn.
All that free time and you STILL can't learn how Heroclix works?!

J'onn just loves making giant waves to solve his problems.  Must have grown up near the canals.

Apparently water is strong enough to snap steel cable.

"Fortunately, there's no way a man suddenly forcibly tightly bound in a steel net hurtling through the air away from his boat could possible drown quickly at sea right after a giant wave!  Let's get you business gentry back to safety; wouldn't want you to miss the Policeman's Ball, which is next month, by the way."

Weems and his Vigilante Committee lost Higgins, but there are lots of good fish in the sea.  One jangle later, they get a great tip as to where they can find the big crime boss himself!

"Thanks for that anonymous tip, person I don't know but am fully confident is sincere and not misleading or trying to trap me!

Several things here to note.  First,  "Fangs" Frazer is not currently indicted or warranted. He doesn't need a 'hideout'; he's a free man, just like Yacht Guy and Yellow Convertible Guy.  That's precisely what makes the vigilantes...vigilantes. Second, is it intentional comic book irony that the hoodlums all look like respectable citizens and the vigilante businessmen all look like hoodlums? Third, everywhere in Apex has a specific location.  If you read Batman, Superman, etc., stories of this period, you seldom read any addresses. Hero-man just says "I've located their hideout" or "I know where they'll strike next; at the Diamond Exchange".  In Apex City, everything gets named and google-mapped.

So, armed with this unquestionably reliably information from an anonymous informant, the Vigilante Committee enacts its plan to get the Martian Manhunter, an alien detective with 13 senses, off their back by having Weems' chauffeur drive a limo filled with dummies of them elsewhere for him to follow.  What could possibly go wrong?

For some reason, Mr. Lee kept insisting that they call the dummies "Life Model Decoys".

"Fangs" Frazer,  however, is no stranger to comic book irony. He, of course, is the one he gave them the anonymous tip so as to lure them into a trap!

For first degree pestering, the penalty is death.
Apex is a zero-tolerance town.

And with J'onn miles away following a car full of dummies! 

OR IS HE...?!

"Moving" mind you; not "flying".  Although how one moves in a suspended circle without flying is,like most MM powers, an incomprehensible mystery.
Note also that J'onn isn't BLOCKING the bullets. Because he's not bulletproof.
We think. It's hard to tell. It may be that being bulletproof has just never occurred to him.

Fortunately for the Vigilante Committee, J'onn evaded their ruse by using the one power no one would expect him to use:


"Ha, ha! Take your filthy human paw off me, you overfed jackass,
before I destroy you with some previously unmentioned power!"

Sadly, it turns out to be just another power that J'onn uses only once, forgets about and then never uses again!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Down with vigilantes! Up with hoodlums!

Gather around, kids, because J'onn J'onnz has an important lesson to teach you:

Aren't they a DCU country/western band?

vigilantes are BAD.

Vigilantes, you see, are unauthorized people who take the law into their own hands. People without any of the regular training and boundaries, like graveside oaths, capes, or the ability to extract gold from seawater with their minds.

"Well, of course, we need a COMMITTEE.  We're businessmen-vigilantes, not SAVAGES."

Naturally, "John Jones" (who, remember, kids, is a duly authorized officer of the law under this fictitious identity and false background he created to disguise the fact that he's an extraterrestrial) is assigned to keep tabs on the Apex Chamber of Commerce's Committee for Vigilanteism, because, when you have 59 different superpowers for fighting crime, you tend to have a clear desk.

He'll need it, because this isn't your average Chamber of Commerce Vigilante Committee. 

"How you do get your weapons so unusual, Mr. Lee?""Ancient Chinese secret!"

That is a Vigilante COMMITTEE, kids.  Lavish homes.  Business suits all around.  Books organized by color.  Weapons made on spec.  This is the APEX CITY Chamber of Commerce Vigilante Committee and they are using their substantial wealth to get specially made 'unusual weapons'.  This is in a town where crooks ride around robbing banks in giant mechanical bears.  The mind boggles as to what an Apex Citizen considers an 'unusual weapon'.

And I'll say this for the Committee; they're proactive.

It is fair to say that I know a LOT more helicopter pilots than most people do.  Nevertheless, I am hard pressed to say how "a copter would seem to be challenging a CAR to race".
Helicopters aren't really about 'racing'.

Myeah, sorry, Jeff; you ain't showing 'em nutthin'.  That's no ordinary helicopter being piloted by some teenaged drag-racers. That's the Apex City Chamber of Commerce Vigilante's Committees' CLAWCOPTER!

"OOOOOoooooo! The CLAW....!"
Gotta hand it to the Apex City Chamber of Commerce Vigilante Committee;
they are already doing better than Hal Jordan could.

Convertibles. Giant Pennies.  There is nothing a comic book helo can't pick it.  Note, by the way, that our well-heloed businessmen/vigilantes have a highly illegal private jail.  There must be an abandoned particle accelerator in Apex City somewhere.

Naturally, JJ is driving by at that moment. Because what else has he got to do?

"Upholding the law!? Dude, we're upholding a CONVERTIBLE!"

Ooo, those nasty vigilantes are breaking the law and breaking it hard, hard as any hoodlum. That's... kind of hot.  And J'onn will have none of THAT, thank you. Apex City is his town, by H'ronmeer, and  nobody gets to pull ridiculous helicopter-style crap but him. So J'onn puts a stop to it by, well, pulling some ridiculous helicopter-style crap of his own.

That's... not quite how helos work, J'onn.
Or running. Or gravity. Or...oh, never mind.

These men just grabbed a moving car off a road with a helicopter, J'onn (and painted it RED, without even ASKING).  Unless they're filming Fast and Furious XXXII: Death from Above, they ARE breaking the law.  To say nothing of an astonishingly long list of FAA regulations.  Just change back into Detective John Jones and arrest them before ICAO hears about this.  You're not Superman and they aren't Lois and Jimmy and you don't have to "teach them a lesson".

Well, perhaps there's hope. Maybe this failure will make them listen to reason so the Martian Manhunter doesn't have to keep following them all the time.

Or perhaps not.

Silly Apex City Chamber of Commerce Vigilante Committee Chairman Weems!  

  1. He's 'the Manhunter'; following people around all the time is what he DOES.
  2. He's also Detective John Jones, which means he has nothing else to do, because he works in Apex, whose most notorious criminal is the Human Squirrel (and he's retired). 

Besides, there is ONE thing and one thing only that ALWAYS catapults the Martian Manhunter into action: CRAP HAPPENING IN THE AIR.  

Meteors. Falling safes.  Spaceships.  Giant waves. Toy planes. Flying rings. Floating objects.  Crazy bullets. Falling buildings.  The Martian Manhunter is the Gravity Police, buddy. And why? Because this early Martian Manhunter has every conceivable power except one: HE CAN'T FLY. 

And NOBODY gets to do something the Martian Manhunter can't do. Nobody.  Not in HIS city.

Next up: Biff Higgins! Eastview Drive!  Vigilanteism with puppets! So stay tuned.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

"I do not love thee, Captain Atom..."

Dear DC Comics,

No one likes Captain Atom.  

Not because you haven't tried to make us, though. DC has abandoned scores of interesting and at least mildly popular characters since the Crisis, including some with small but very passionate fanbases.  But DC never gives up on Captain Atom.  No matter how many times we do.

Nyeah, with great power comes great boredom, got it, got it.

And, oh, how you have tried!  You gave him a new origin.  You gave him his own series (more than once, I recall).  You put him in JLI,  You laughably made him the leader of all of Earth's superheroes during an alien invasion crossover.  And when the most recent Heroclix set, "Superman/Wonder Woman" was teased, five figures were shown: Superman, Wonder Woman, Superman foe Lex Luthor, Superman ally Krypto the Superdog, and... Captain Atom. OF COURSE. Because the kids, they ALL love Captain Atom.

"Whoa! I was going to pass on this set, because who wants clix of Superman, Wonder Woman, Lex Luthor, and Krypto. But CAPTAIN ATOM?!  Take my wallet!'
Said absolutely no one on earth.

"Captain Atom is one of the most powerful beings on earth!" "Captain Atom is potentially more powerful than Superman!" "Captain Atom is the model for Dr. Manhattan!' "Captain Atom has fewer cavities and 32% more whitening particles!"

Please stop.  It doesn't work.  We don't care how hard or how many ways or how many times you try to convince us we should love Captain Atom.

"Cary Bates! THAT'll fix the problem!"

Captain Atom is a tool. Or a traitor.  Or a dupe. Or a pompous ass.  Or a hothead.  Who cries when defeated by a pickle jar.  And we don't like him.

I just TOLD you what you were, Captain Atom; jeez, try to keep up.

Captain Atom doesn't have a dedicated fanbase. He doesn't have a fanbase at all. Even that ne-er-do-well hipster slacker poseur layabout Jack Knight has a fanbase. Even G'Nort has a fanbase.  There are NO Captain Atom fans.  There are, at best, a Set of People Who Didn't Mind Him All That Much in That One Thing They Saw or Read for Some Other Reason.  You want to know how unloved Captain Atom is?  He doesn't even have a Facebook fanpage. And if he did, it would be called "A Set of People Who etc."  

Plus,  the only remotely interesting thing he ever does is blow up.
 Even Captain Atom knows when he's not wanted. Why doesn't DC?

I get it. You paid good money for him at the Charlton yard sale and you want to get your money's worth.  Plus, he hardly had any wear and tear on him, so he should have lots of good use left in him.  You just keep trying him on with every outfit you have in the hope of finding the right one. But it's really obvious that that's what you're doing.  Captain Atom is not an organic part of the DCU.  If he didn't exist or you didn't own him, absolutely no one, writer or reader, would be saying, "You know, we need a character like THIS."

Captain Atom worked well precisely once, ten years ago, when he was trapped in the Wildstorm Universe, where suddenly he seems like a shining beacon of goodness and common sense in that effed up world. Whose characters, I note, you have since tried to incorporate into the main DCU, failed, and are now spinning back out into their own continuity, where they belong.

That should be a clue; give him another universe of his own.  He and Blue Beetle COULD be the Superman and Batman of a Charlton Universe.  You could spend your energies trying to have more than one potential movie franchise--,er, I mean, comic book universe going at the same time. it's worked well with Earth-2, hasn't it?  Run with that.

Adding insult, while you're spending all this time and effort pushing Captain Atom on us, you ignore The Atom, who everyone likes.  But that's a post for another day....

Monday, March 23, 2015

Superman Comes Out

My reaction to Clark Kent revealing to his roommate and colleague, Jimmy Olsen, his secret identity as Superman?

Well, it's about time.

Golden and Silver Age Superman was a pretty lonely guy, with no one who knew his secret and no one to confide in.  Although the Golden Age Superman was too manly too discuss it out loud. Or care, really.


It's the reason that whenever you think of a DC hero pondering his situation via thought-balloon, you almost invariably are thinking of Superman. Batman talked to Robin and Alfred and that old police guy with the mustache.  Wonder Woman talked to Etta and the Holliday Girls and her mother and the Amazons and, well, Wonder Woman never shut up, basically.

About bondage, mostly

Superman had no one to talk to, so readers were shown his inner monologue a lot.


This contributed, by the way, to  his tendency more than his colleagues to break the fourth wall; with no one to talk to, he talked to us.

"Instead, send that money to the Superman Super-Fan Club, to fund our campaign to put my face on the quarter!"

You seldom caught Batman talking to the reader.

Except in a Superman story. P.S. Superwoman's a dick.

In case you never thought about it, it's also one of the reasons the Batman/Superman friendship was so important in the Silver Age; Batman was the only person Superman had to talk to (because who wants to talk to Supergirl?)

Hey, Rob; ixnay on the Upermansay, okay?

One of the most important changes John Byrne made for DC when they rebooted Superman after the Crisis was to have his parents still be alive. Many of today's readers were raised with the idea of the Kents as living touchstones of Superman's humanity and morality.  But since Superman's re-reboot in the Latest Crisis, his parents have been dead; they died in a car crash, a solid reminder to readers that Superman can't be everywhere and fix all problems (and that not all problems are caused by supervillains or long-dormant diseases embedded in buried pirate treasure).

Venal, greedy Martha! Killed by your own dreams of avarice, just like in some "Twilight Zone" episode.
You had it coming, lady.

In the Silver Age, Jimmy Olsen was Superman's Pal-- Superman who lied to him every day of his life.  And for no reason, really.  The stated reason that Superman never confined to anyone who he was is that doing so might endanger their lives.  C'mon, Jimmy's life was already in constant danger from being Superman's Pal.  How could anyone's life be MORE in danger than Jimmy Olsen's?!

Never a dull moment, eh, Lucy?

No one has known quite what to do with Jimmy Olsen since Crisis.  Heck, it's easy to make a case that no one knew what to do with Jimmy Olsen BEFORE the Crisis; that's why he was always being made to swallow noxious foreign substances with bizarre results.  Like Jack Kirby.

Clark's reveal to Jimmy takes two problems and turns them into one solution.  It gives Clark someone to relate to as BOTH Clark and Superman who knows his secret, and gives Jimmy and actual narrative function in Superman fiction.

"Why not?" Uh, where do I start....?!

Friday, March 20, 2015

It's Vartox's world and you just live in it

Oh, there were so many things recently that almost moved me to post here:  the craziness on "The Flash" show, the Batgirl Cover controversy, the reveal of the Composite Superman heroclix dial, Clark coming out to Jimmy....

but, no.  THIS is the thing I could not remain silent on:

Presumably, Connery was not available.






One can only assume that the silent majority of millions of Vartox fans somehow put aside their vows of silence to demand that their beloved idol finally be given his due on television.

I'll say this for the showrunners: it is, in a way, pure genius.

First, Vartox is superpowerful and a physical challenge for Supergirl, if they fight... withOUT needing to be a Kryptonian.  Not easy to come by.

If only I had superspeed and superreflexes or could fly, so as to avoid his hyperstrength!

Second, Vartox is firmly rooted in the Superman-universe but is NOT a classic Superman villain (such as the Toyman or Metallo).  Nor WOULD he be used in any form in a Superman video-venture.  

You will NOT see this scene in "Man of Steel II". Or "Man of Steel XXII", for that matter.

Third, Vartox is often portrayed as a sort of macho jerk.  That's not a bad foe for a female empowerment figure like Supergirl. 

Vartox also talks like Julius Caesar.

Fourth, Vartox has a separate history with Supergirl-parallel Power Girl.  

It takes balls to shush Power Girl.
Pity he's about to lose them.

Fifth. No matter what they choose to do with him or his backstory, there is NO ONE who will object.  Because no one cares enough about Vartox to do so.

Cary Bates has done many, many things that other humans could not, would not, should not do.
Looking at this and saying "a perfect foe for Superman!" is high on the list.

Sixth.  If they manage to make Vartox cool, or interesting, or fun, or, well, anything other than just Vartox, it will (once again) prove just how good the showrunners  (who also do Flash and Arrow) are.  It's like these people look for the stupidest thing in the mythos they can find just so they can embrace it and raise it as their own child, thus redeeming it (e.g. Multiplex and the Rainbow Raider have already fought the Flash on teevee).  

Captioning this... would be complete overkill.

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Silicon Age Theory

Has time sped up?

In the previous century there developed a fairly stable pattern to the DCU.  It wasn’t pre-planned but occurred as a natural outgrowth to the rhythms of society.  Roughly every 15 years, as generation of childhood readers “aged out” of comics’ readership, the DCU would be rebooted.

It wasn’t ever put that way, and there were always other ostensible reasons for the change.  The Silver Age started “when it was time to bring superheroes back” after their popularity fell during the post-War/Wertham  years. The Bronze Age started when “a more serious world needed less frivolous superheroes, ones more quote unquote relevant”.  The Iron Age started when “the DCU became too complicated for new readers”.  The subsequent Age (more on that later) started when “people wanted a brighter, larger universe”.  

Perhaps.  But more generally, DC comics move from one “Age” to another when:

  • the initial readership for the current Age has suffered enough attrition  to make a change a worthwhile or necessary risk; and/or
  • the zeitgeist has changed sufficiently that it demands a change in tone that’s difficult to accomplish in the current age.

In the Golden Age, heroes and villains shot and maimed and killed in Dick Tracy world of bright colored and wide-eyed corpses. Corpses EVERYWHERE, stinking up the streets like ginko fruit in the District of Columbia.  The Depression/War years were not for the squeamish, either in the real life or the comics.

Remember, kids; Captain Marvel fought zombies before your parents were born.

In the Silver Age, people had had enough of all that unpleasantness, and DC’s heroes and villains obligingly put down their guns and engaged in elaborate games of wits, one-up-manship, and thematic tomfoolery with an expanded cast of pets, pals, and gadgetry.  

Green Arrow and Speedy collect their wits? Jeez, how long IS this story?!

In the Bronze Age, faced with social unrest and societal self-doubt, readers found that all that ridiculous, so heroes and villains became relevant, disagreeable, and fallible.  Green Arrow’s heyday, for obvious reasons.

All sympathy, Bronze Age Batman lets you stay unconscious on the first date.

As a result, readers headed toward the Iron Age with a bunch of crabby, crappy heroes (I’m looking at you, Stupid Bronze Age Batman) who lived in a bizarre Silver Age wonderland of weirdness, and the tension between the two had grown laughable.  The time had come to clear the board completely, and the Iron Age eliminated all the previous piled up continuity for a total restart.  Except for Batman, really. Because he’s Batman.

But since then, readers have been hit with repeated reboots of the DCU. In DC’s first 47 years, it had, essentially two reboots; in the last 30 years it’s had at least five (depending on how you count them).  

Is time –and our comic book media cycle--speeding up?  Are reboots coming more frequently because readership is smaller and more volatile? Are attention spans shorter?  Has DC simply become addicted to reboots because, like a rat pushing a lever, they get the delicious cheese of a sales bump each time they do it? Are they just screwing up reboots because they've lost the ancient art of doing so correctly and comprehensively?

Well… all of those are true to at least some degree, no question.  And it does look bad if you look at it this way, assuming that each reboot heralds a new age:

But I currently look at it a different way.  One that is enabled by no longer equating a ‘reboot’ with a change of Age.  The shift from the Silver to the Bronze Age was dramatic; very dramatic.  But, technically, there was no ‘reboot’ (as they are now called) between the two.  In fact, though this will defy the expectations of many, I would make the case that, despite the huge change between the Golden and Silver Ages, there was no reboot between them either.  Yes, we got a new Flash, Green Lantern, and Hawkman; but they had all been discontinued for some time.  The characters that were still in print (Batman, Superman, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Green Arrow) pretty much continued their adventures without much of a hiccough. Were there a lot more gorillas and aliens on their dance cards? Of course.  But there was no clear break or repudiation with the past.  

If you think of it that way then the only changes of Age that really coincide with a reboot is pre/post-Crisis (from multiverse to universe) and pre/post-Infinite Crisis (from universe to multiverse).  The other ‘reboots’ are just continuity jiggering. And a lot of that is of the kind that used to be done without renumbering and fanfare (a new costume, a new status quo, a new city or supporting cast, or casually just forgetting stories that don’t fit any more).  This used to be done all the time (either out of necessity or apathy) and during the Hypertime period DC came out and said as much.  The DCU, they posited, was a Heraclitean river; you can’t step into the same version of it twice.  

I submit that the ‘real’ history of the DCU looks like this:

We are now approaching the second furniture-shuffling-style 'reboot' of what I now call the Silicon Age (characterized by the return of the multiverse and the rise of digital comics and superhero cinema) ... pretty much right on schedule.  I predict it will last for another 7 years, when the next real change of Age will come and comics will start to be written by and for people who don't remember a time before the internet.