Thursday, April 09, 2015

The Bridwell Migraine

I have a headache.

It's not just any headache. It's a very rare and particular kind of headache.  The kind that you can get only from reading certain comics. I have a Bridwell Migraine.

Most of you, I assume, have no idea who E. Nelson Bridwell was. He was, by all accounts, a nice man. And he worked for Mort Weisinger and anyone who worked for Mort Weisinger -- the J.Jonah Jameson of Earth-Prime-- deserves your love and understanding.

He did some pretty neat things. He worked on the Batman Anthology and those wonderful DC 100 Page Super Spectaculars that gathered up lots of classic old stories. and exposed an entire generation of readers like me to the glories and terror of Golden Age comics. He created the Inferior Five, one of the earliest superhero parodies and wrote for Captain Carrot and the Zoo Crew, a later parody.  He co-created Angel & The Ape and the Secret Six.  Biggest contemporary keeper of the Superman mythos, he's the guy who sat down and actually made the Kryptonian language follow some sort of pattern rather than just being randomized squiggles.  For you fans of the Justice League International, he's the co-creator of Fire and Ice (or, as they were originally known, Green Flame and Ice Maiden).   Heck, he wrote the initial run of the Super-Friends comic book, which reintroduced the Awesome Human Flying Fish; that ALONE qualifies you for comic book sainthood.

Even if you look like a Bond villain.

And yet....

these great accomplishments are rooted in the same Bridwellian ability that also makes him a name of dread and terror: E. Nelson Bridwell was the original Continuity Cop.  He loved comics, cared enormously about ironing out apparently inconsistencies in stories, and was obsessed with having disparate and distinct DC own IPs interact with one another.  Also, he couldn't write his way out of paper bag.

The ancients, you know, didn't really think in terms of people being 'good' or 'evil'.  Rather, they thought of people as 'ordinary' and 'great', with great people being capable of both great good and great evil. In this sense, E. Nelson Bridwell was clearly a great person, for, while he responsible for some wonderful DC products, he was a guilty of great 'artistic evils'.  Here's a small example:

The person responsible for this perverted doggerel should be deprived by civilization of access to
fire, word, and any writing implements for life.

You'd almost have to be a serial killer to have written these.

When Bridwell writes a story, it's like someone emptied a box of Heroclix on the table and said, "Use all of these." In this case, they include Flash and Jay Garrick, Blockbuster, Batman, Earth-2 Robin, Bulletman and Bulletgirl, Superman, The Shade, Mr. Scarlet & Pinky, ibac, Green Lantern and Alan Scott, Ibis the Invincible.Wonder Woman, Dr. Light, The Penguin, Hawkman and Hawkgirl , Johnny Thunder, The Weeper, Green Arrow, Spy-Smasher, the Joker,  King Kull, King of the Beast-Men, Queen Clea, Mr. Atom, Brainiac, the God Mercury, the Wizard Shazam and Captain Marvel.

Yes, that's Blockbuster, Queen Clea, The Penguin, and Ibac, palling around like the cast of "Friends".
Only E. Nelson Bridwell would do such a thing.

Yes, Mercury in swimming trunks, riding the Batmobile through space, with Jay Garrick in the backseat.
Or,as Bridwell called it, "Tuesday".

I remember reading this story when it came out in 1971.  Even as a little kid I knew it was disturbed  and way too full of STUFF (although I got a kick of meeting characters new to me, like The Weeper). As kid you are used to things not making a lot of sense to you, but trying to read this multi-issue as an adult gives me a Bridwell Migraine. 

 It's one of those stories typical of giant crossover-casts, where there is a Big Bad who secretly arranges for subsets of mix heroes to sequentially fight subsets of mixed villains in various locations.  The heroes keep beating the villains at these seemingly random encounters and say 'yay, we have won!", then you cut away to the Big Bad going, "Ha, they think they have won, but little do they realize this is but one part of MY plan to win!"  This then happen 8 to 80 times in a row.  You know the drill.

That's Pinky beside Inappropriately Condescending Robin.
You may not recognize him because his hair has been turned into diamond. It's hard to explain.
I would ask Batman to explain, but he can't talk, because his jaw has been turned into steel.

Let's put Bridwell aside for a moment, because I could pick on him and this story all day. Bridwell is an early and bright red example of a  phenomenon that would come to take over comics: the continuity-obsessed fanboy author.  

Such authors aren't as interested in telling new stories as they are connecting or reaffirming old ones.  They aren't trying to expand the literary universe, they are trying to fill in what they perceive as gaps. They are less creators than they are repairmen of continuity cracks, apologists for the dumb aspects of the stories they treasured as children, colorists intent on re-tinting the candy-color characters of our youth into an adult-friendly sepia-verse.  They idolize their heroes too much; they revere them too much to handle them directly, and prefer to leave them in the original packaging.  

You know their names as well as I do.  They are more to be pitied then censured; most of us placed in the same position would naturally do that same thing.  But it's helped contribute to polarization in writing styles at DC. You have the Fanboys, who are too afraid to play with the toys and can't write for anyone who doesn't already know and love the characters, and the Man-Boys, who don't know how to play with the toys without breaking them, can't put them back in the box and can't write for anyone who does already know and love the characters.  But they are a subject for another day.

The point is DC editorial is CAUGHT between these, the Scylla and Charybdis of Continuity, and Convergence is the result.  And just like Scylla and Charybdis... we'll have to see what survives and comes out on the other side. 

Monday, April 06, 2015

Brainiac wins

You may have noticed I'm reading a lot of old comics lately, specifically, Martian Manhunter stories. I have to drink up those espressos of comic book crazy, because of the comic-drought: the two-month regular-comics hiatus caused by DC's move to the West Coast and the concomitant Convergence event.

And now Geoff Johns can finally sleep at night.

I won't follow Convergence slavishly; it seems too much like a fanboy 'X versus Y" exercise to me.  But I'll be getting some spotty issues, just to see some old friends in them (like the Legion, who've become rarae aves in the New52, which we're not supposed to call it anymore).  

There are certainly criticisms to be made of DC for needing anything even remotely like a reboot so soon after loudly creating the "New52"; I hear  them, acknowledge them, and accept their validity.  That said, I'm (comparatively) happy that DC (sort of) realizes their mistakes (which we're not suppose to call them). and is willing (under business duress and public pressure) to so something (although we don't really know what and it's probably the wrong things and/or not enough).  

I'm delighted that DC has built in a diegetic reason for the shake-up.  I've never really forgiven them for stupidities like Doomsday the Living Plot Device or the ersatz COIE (Crisis on Infinite Earths) Cast (The Monitor, the Anti-Monitor, Harbinger, and Pariah, or, as I like to think of them, Al, Peg, Kelly, and Bud).  

Krona is Buck, in case you were wondering.
Or maybe Marcy.

So instead of creating some crazy crap to make all this Convergence stuff happen, DC is just using the crazy crap they already have around. Specifically, Brainiac.

This is pure genius; why? Because Convergence is an exercise in fan fiction, in giving in to the obsessive hoarders of comic continuity and cannon. And because Brainaic is the symbol of geeky, obsessive collectors.

You can make him as scary looking and as powerful as you like, and lord knows DC has  tried over the years.  

Apparently a 12th-level intellect lets you make Sixth-Grade puns.

But, at heart, Brainaic is still this:

Bottled cities lose value if they aren't kept in the original packaging.

 A geek.  A hobbyist. A collector of miniatures. An ant-farm manager.  A guy who builds ships in a bottle.  Who's so lonely he talks to a monkey.


Even when they dress up Brainiac's motivation as "I MUST HAVE ALL THE KNOWLEDGES", it's just making him a trivia geek rather than a collectibles geek.  The effect is much the same.

He's an Android; of course.

Brainiac is us, people. At least, the part of us that it more interested in preserving comics in whatever we deem their 'classic' state of affairs.

Using Brainiac as the diegetic version of us obsessive fanfolks is, therefore, clever and appropriate. Regardless of the outcome of the story, the very existence of Convergence is proof that "Brainiac" has won.  

Sunday, April 05, 2015

The Martian Manhunter is no dummy!

When last we left J'onn J'onnz, thanks to the dedicated but unobservant Mr Bean and his Martian Manhunter Museum, some Apex City criminals have deduced the alien atlas's weakness: FIRE!

"Because what a squad car of armed officers really need to help them deal with a gang of flame throwing bandits is a pretty-boy detective who never uses his gun and would never ever think of just shooting them in the leg!"

By the way, the answer to yesterday's question is...

THIS is what a flame-throwing helmet looks like:

Kind of makes 'the Human Flame" seem less impressive, doesn't it?
And that is NOT easy.

One can only assume that the cops in the squad car -- and the car itself -- were completely burn to a crisp by the Hothead Gang, because they are nowhere in evidence when the Martian Manhunter arrives on the scene.

When polled, Apexians listed 'offshore banking' as their second favorite personal finance innovation of the last 50 years, right after 'meteor/falling object insurance'.

Given what he's facing, sure death by flame, J'onn sure is striding with remarkable √©lan right toward it.  

Whuhuhwhat!??!?! C'est impossible!  Somehow the Martian Manhunter has become ....impervious to flame?!

Meanwhile....we've found the squad car.  Right in the path of the onrushing getaway car!  Probably got delayed by the confusingly detailed Apex City roadmaps ("Wait, there was supposed to a red mailbox at 237 High Street, and I didn't see one, are you sure this is the right road, Chauncy?  And now there's a BLUE one, for chrissake, stop the car and ask a non-policeman for directions!")

"Martian high-speed"; which looks a LOT like flying, but, somehow, isn't.

So instead of making a withdrawal, the bandits themselves get the station house!   

But how did J'onn survive the flames?  Why, with the help of the very source of his troubles, of course; the Martian Manhunter Museum!

So, J'onn can phase OTHER things through walls too? Of course he can.  When he wants to.

Where we discovered that J'onn was using... A DUMMY.

A remote-control, motorized dummy.  Even though we had zero reason to believe earlier that it was either remote-controlled or motorized.  Or that J'onn had the control.  Or that anyone would make such a thing out of fireproof plastic.  Or that there WAS a plastic that it is completely impervious to the heat of three acetylene torches.  Or....oh, never mind.

Martian ventriloquism. If you didn't see THAT coming, you haven't read enough comics.
It doesn't matter, J'onn will never use that power again.
J'onn treats superpowers like teabags; I mean, yes, you CAN reuse them but.... eeeeewww!

Naturally, seeing the potential utility in such a crimefighting aid, J'onn makes an arrangement for Mr Bean to supply him with a large number of fireproof Martian Manhunter robots, which he then stores in his Caribbean Fortress of Aptitude for emergency uses.  

LOL, just kidding!  That would make way too much sense.  Having used the 'power' of a fireproof robot duplicate once, J'onn would never think of doing so ever again.

How lonely does it get being the only Martian on earth? VERY lonely.