Saturday, February 29, 2020

Dusty Contrails

The whole world knows that DUSTY, The Spectacular Boy Detective, is the side kick of America's favorite superhero, THE SHIELD.  But who is he and how did he come to be...?

"Mr. Jordan? Are you alright? Dusty, he seems to have hit his head...!"

The answer lies in Pep #11, whose cover reflects with uncharacteristic accuracy the Action Detective Adventure within, for....

Dusty's first story also introduces THE VULTURE, 
the Shield's only recurring villain.
Who is not, for the record, the Master Criminal of All Time.

Assigning FBI Agent Joe Higgins, a.k.a. The Shield, to any case involving airplanes is a questionable idea since the Shield hates airplanes and they ALWAYS malfunction when he's around. Sure enough...

This is what we in aviation call "a malfunction".

Tragically, this malfunction is witnessed by the son of one of the crewmembers (and a shockingly large number of bystanders on the tarmac in clear violation of federal regulation).

Stupid NTSB never gives you time to grieve properly.

Turns out this is Dusty, The Boy With No Last Name.

What indestructible material is Dusty's dad's suit made out of
and why isn't the whole plane made out of it?
Must be a fibro-metallic suit of his own invention.

We learn quite a lot from these panels: the importance of cervical support for corpses, the central role of cargo in normal plane explosions, Joe Higgins' extremely odd sense of humor.  The most important thing we learn that the Shield is big fat liar because his father died in the Black Tom ship explosion of July 30, 1916, off the Jersey shore. But I guess "exploding" is a broad enough category, parent-death-wise.

WAS he, Dusty?  Did you do research to deduce that? 
Do you have ANY supporting data?
Some boy detective YOU are.

Another Golden Age orphan boy. It's just like that quote from The VelociPastor (2018): "So your parents died, Doug. It's what parents do. They die on you."  

Gotta hand it to Joe Higgins: since his early days, Joe's gotten better at consoling little boys who've just seen their parents die in front of them at a public place.

I mean, A LOT better.

Soon enough -- immediately, in fact, Joe's buttinsky girlfriend Betty Warren (and her usual ridiculous hat) are in trouble on the other side of the airfield, where saboteurs are saboteurizing the REAL plane-object of their saboteurism (because blowing up the first plane was just a distraction, you see).


Joe's sympathy must be quite the tonic because, Dusty, an orphan of 30 seconds, has already processed his grief and realized that, since there's no longer anyone concerned for his well-being, he can do any damned-fool thing he wants, like tackling armed adults.


Meanwhile, Joe's stood quietly aside to let Dusty work through his grief in the time-honored way: by fighting for his life.  But once Dusty starts using PLANES as a weapon, the Shield cannot resist the urge to do likewise.

The Shield cannot resist the urge to fight crime by damaging planes.
It's just who he is.

With less extreme violence than usual, the Shield coerces one of the thugs into revealing who is behind their acts of sabotage....

 Betty is SUCH a snitch. "Teacher, teacher! Timmy was the one who blew up the plane!"

But before he can tell us everything:

Just like poor Adelaide in "Velocipastor" (2018).

The sabotage-gadget BOOMS, killing the thug, and possibly mussing the Shield's hair.

Yep; Dusty's a detective, alright.

WHO is behind the sabotage? WHO killed Dusty's dad? WHO is the Master Criminal? Oh, wait, that's right: it's the Vulture.  More on him tomorrow...

Thursday, February 27, 2020


Now that we are starting a new post-DiDio era of Hope & Possibility, I want to lay out some of my requests to DC early on in case there is some sort of 'first come, first serve' policy. Again.

High on the list?  Stop trying to force us to love the following characters and sell them as the Sensational Character Finds of Insert Year. Because we don't and they aren't.

Captain Atom.  I know I have already devoted lots of words to how much I get sick of Captain Atom pushes, but it's still not enough.

Vixen.  Look; it's not Vixen's fault that she's a stupid semi-sexist, semi-racist Storm knockoff. But she is.

Luke Fox. Why not give Luke Fox a SON?! And he can be... whatever we need at the moment! They keep throwing that liver against the wall, but it slides down eventually.  He works on teevee on Batwoman where he's just Lucius Junior or Sexy Cisco.  But stop trying to shove him in a cape. Besides, forget, Luke, what about DUKE? You forgot about Duke, didn't you? Again? DC could make Duke ("The Signal") Thomas work... but they keep turning to Luke instead.

Firefly. Poor man's Heat Wave. That wasn't Firefly's original schtick; the Golden Age firefly was a LIGHTING expert.  That's unique. That's challenging.  Everybody needs a freeze villain, we all accept that.  Everybody does NOT need a fire villain.

Katana. Such a lazy character, literally named after her weapon.  Somebody had to remind me today that she was in the Suicide Squad movie, because I'd forgotten.  Stop trying to force this colorless Kill Bill reject on us.

Cassandra Cain and Lady Shiva.  Martial artist ass-kicking Asian lady. It's trite, it's trope-y.  Cassandra had an okay run, but she's just another failed Batgirl-manquee. If they were serious about her, they'd put her in Batwoman's supporting cast.  But they aren't.  They just gave her a costume and a pathetically lazy codename because they were afraid of fan semi-outrage if she disappear. Or just went to therapy.

Geo-Force.  I am not even going to bother to waste any words on this one. It's Geo-Forced.

Deathstroke. Generic evil Captain America mercenary. A one-eyed mercenary; obviously the creation of someone who's never fired a gun.  He's colorless at best and absurd at worst.  There's a reason Deadpool is a joke, people.

Red Hood.  There's a reason people voted to kill off Jason.  RESPECT THE VOTERS. Also, stop trying to make 'anti-heroes' work in the DCU. They belong at Marvel.

OMAC. OMAC is stupid. OMAC has always been stupid. I mean, OMAC made a little sense in his original story but...stop making characters that Kirby told a story with into something they aren't.  If you have to change the concept so much that all the remains is the look and the name, why bother? Similarly...

The New Gods.  Aging Kirby fanboys (creators, mostly), get OVER it. I know you liked his art, so you fell in love with his work before you realized how stupid it was, but he's DEAD now; move on.  The New Gods are goofier than pretty much anything else in DC Comics (except the Green Team and Goody Rickles, but guess why THAT is).  I am not embarrassed when non-comics fans ask me about things like Grodd, or the Doom Patrol, or Killer Moth. Or even Green Arrow. But the childish fairytale New Gods -- or, rather, the fact that creators insist on taking them deadly seriously -- make me EMBARRASSED to be a comics fan.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Things That Made Me Happy...

... in my comics.

Last week, I wished for Two-Face to join the latest party in Gotham, and, boy, did I get my wish this week in the latest issue of  'Tec.

Not only did Two-Face come back, but he did so in full gangster style, Twins, rare coins, double-shots, flipping to make a decision, bimodal personality; the works. But that was just in the first page or two.  After some actual forensic work by the World's Greatest Detective (with, like, bullets casings and blood analysis 'n' everything), the Two-Face story takes a great leap toward the unknown:

Any similarity to Catholicism's dualistic dogma is entirely intentional.

Two-Face has formed a cult based on his unique philosophy and I am THERE for it.  Of all Batman's classic rogues gallery of non-powered villains, Two-Face has always been the most non-powered. Catwoman has her cat-gear, the Riddler spits out death-traps, Penguin is armed to the teeth with umbrella-weapons, and the Joker, like some kind of toon, can pull whatever Acme device out of his clown-pants the writer wants.  Two-Face has always had, um... guns.  Like any gangster would.  So for him to WEAPONIZE his weird worldview? Aces.

Meanwhile, in Shazam, there's lots of fake-outs and deceptions revealed BUT the real thing is: Mr. Mind has released the Monster Society of Evil.

And they CLOTHES SHOP together.

I can't see this without imagining pounding drag-queen runway music blaring from King Kull's boomstick.  That made me happy.

Elsewhere in her eponymous comic, Wonder Woman is doing that usual thing she does where she fights someone while telling them they shouldn't be fighting.  She's judge-y like that.   But she's fighting VALDA, the warrioress from Arak Son of Thunder.  

Luornu Durgo and Reep Daggle do this co-splay all the time.

Why? I have no idea and I don't care. Just as happened with all the magic characters in Justice League Dark, someone realized that Wonder Woman is the perfect dumping ground, er, showcase for any old sword & sorcery characters they have lying around.  That made me happy. I like when comic characters are, well, organized in a sensible way, just like they are in DCUOnline. Dynasty building!

The final issue of the H Dial maxi-series came out and it was a superb summation of the story and its lessons (as well as completely -- yet coherently -- insane).  

I think they held this 'til DiDio was gone.

If you haven't been following this maxi-series, then pick in up in trade the second you can, because you deserve it.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Things That Made Me Happy... my comics this week.

Much to my surprise this week, I bought five DC comics and actually liked them.

Even BEFORE Dan DiDio was fired.

Matt Fraction's Jimmy Olsen was its delightfully, deepeningly insane self again.  This is not only a great way to write Jimmy Olsen, it's the ONLY way to write Jimmy Olsen. 

If you don't think that's funny, you don't deserve to read comic books.

This week's Aquaman gave us an ailing Mera, squabbling Atlanteans, a new explanation for someone's powers -- all of that's pretty standard BUT we got a baby out of it, so I approve.

"We'll name her... Aqua5G."

I thought the whole "Mera's pregnant/will she miscarry?! Stay tuned, same Aqua-channel!" thing would go on forever as an 'arc'.  But it just... happened. Like things used to happen in normal comic books.  That made me happy.

Meanwhile, in Gotham, things aren't going well because, well, that's how you know it's Gotham.  Bruce is rebuilding Gotham without, apparently, telling anyone what it will look like (which is hilariously unrealistic to me, a Washingtonian); Alfred is still dead again; and Gotham's non-united underworld (Joker, Penguin, Riddler, Catwoman, and, I hope at some point, Two-Face) are caught up in some ancient plot they once had which is starting to blow up in their faces and it has something to do with this guy:

Not certain; pretty sure he fought the Doom Patrol, though.

This is "The Designer" *snicker*, who apparently got caught flat-flooted by a last-minute invitation to the Villain Cotillion and had to cobble together a costume by breaking into the prop room at the community theater.  

JUST to hammer home the Doom Patrol joke, you understand.

Now, any well-read Batman fan will realize this is just a combination of Alan Grant's "Destroyer" storyline from 1992 and the Mike W. Barr's "Paul Sloane" storyline from 1987. But 20+ years is enough time passing to make a redux acceptable. Is this story so far any good? Probably not, but at least it's good FUN.  And it acknowledges that Catwoman used to be a MAJOR VILLAIN, rather than just Batman's moll. That made me happy. 

By the way, DC: stop "de-clawing' all the DCU's greatest female villains (e.g. Catwoman, Harley Quin, Poison Ivy) to make them into faux-edgy anti-heroes.  It's both tedious and sexist.

Meanwhile, in Justice League, Robert Venditti effortlessly accomplishes the sine qua non for any JLA story (which most JLA stories sorely lack): a credible threat that makes sense based on the existing universe.  The Eradicator backed by lead-immune Daxamites wants to use them to make Earth the new Krypton by eradicating humans. That's simple, clear, sensible (in a supervillain way) and an unquestionably JL-level threat.  

Polite Superman is the best Superman.

Flash not being honest with his teammates about his current power issues is stupid and out of character, but, um, somehow Dan DiDio is to blame, so I'll overlook it for now.

Speaking of Dan DiDio being to blame, this issue of Brian Bendis's Legion of Super-Heroes was... not completely incomprehensible.  That's an improvement. That made me happy.  Sure, the Interlac is still more comprehensible than everything else but Bendis is laying a fairly solid foundation that his successors (may they come soon) can built on top so that we can ignore his work. I'm all for that.  

Perhaps Bendis should be barred from English and confined to Interlac.

Seriously, while Bendis's dialog remains superhumanly annoying, the plot elements seem solid. Origins for each of the three Legion founders, origin of the Legion, an RJ Brande who doesn't look like the Monopoly guy; all this will work going forward. When someone else is writing Legion.  What he's doing will need to be done better later by someone else, but it won't need to be UN-done.  

Except for Rose/Thorn. That's just silly.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

"May God bless and keep Dan DiDio..."

In Fiddler on the Roof, the rabbi is challenged to give a proper blessing for the czar of Russia (who was no friend of their Jewish community), to which the rabbi archly replied, "Of course: 'May god bless and keep the czar... far away from us!"

Well, likewise, may the gods bless and keep the czar of DC Comics, Dan DiDio, who has presided for 10 years over a vibrant period of the DCU.  And I mean that in the same way real estate ads describe dangerous and distressed neighborhoods as 'vibrant'.

Vibrant, like Hub City. And we all know the source of this rot.
We've known it for years yet we don't do anything about it.

Some of that vibrancy is inherent to our times; although the intellectual properties owned by the comic book industry are now powerful currency, that doesn't always help the bottom line of comic book publishers. Some of it, however, lies squarely at DiDio's feet.  Not only do many DC readers feel this way, it appears DC's masters did, too. DiDio was posting on DC's behalf and meeting with creators Friday morning and "no longer with DC" by Friday evening, which doesn't sound like a conscious uncoupling to me.

Pictured: conscious uncoupling.

A lot of great things happened at DC during DiDio's tenure, such as the amazing work on Hanna-Barbera properties like the Flintstones, Snagglepuss, and Scooby-Doo.  Dan DiDio could have stopped lots of creators from doing interesting, innovative, thoughtful, and entertaining work, but he didn't.  The pattern of his decisions suggest that he was very receptive to change and experimentation.

Which was, perhaps, the problem.

Our flaws are often merely the flipside of our virtues and I suspect that was the case with DiDio.  In the same way that DiDio didn't stop good things from happening, he didn't stop bad things from happening, either.  By bad things, I mean things like:

  • the Destruction AND THEN Befoulment of Wally West (I don't even LIKE Wally West and I know how very wrong that all was);
  • nerfed Bart Allen's unique personality, aging him up to become the Flash, and then vanishing him 12 months later;
  • Tom King and his Crimes Against Batman (does anyone REALLY need ME to expound on this, when the entire internet has it covered?);
  • the unpardonable MESS of "52" and "Countdown", which really just should have been renumbered as continuations of 1985's DC Challenge;
  • preventing Batwoman's wedding because "heroes aren't supposed to be happy";
  • driving out steady professional types like Greg Rucka, Len Wein, Mark Waid, and Geoff Johns (writers interested in what they can do for a character) and handing flagship characters to idiosyncratic 'auteurs' like Brian Michael Bendis, Grant Morrison, Tom King, and Scott Snyder (writers interested in what they can do to a character).

People have been describing this as 'the end of an era', which it is. But that isn't the "DiDio Era"; it's the "DiDio versus Johns Era". Like some sort of real-life Anti-Monitor and Monitor, DiDio and Johns have been waging a barely disguised universe-threatening battle over whether the DCU would be positive or negative.

And you know which one you'd swipe right on.

You can trace it through nearly everything that's happened in the last 10 years. The New 52 versus Rebirth.  Wally West the symbol of hopefulness versus Wally West PTSD-crippled mass murderer.  Dark Multiverse versus the Metaverse. Eventually, Johns, realizing that his power over DC's characters in mass media gave him greater influence than DiDio's power over them in comics, left DC Comics for DC Entertainment.  And without Johns to counterbalance DiDio's negativity, DC Comics became sour enough that readers finally started to spit it out rather than swallow it.

Dan DiDio doesn't seem like a bad person who wants bad things to happen to damaged heroes.  But he does seem like a dumb person who thinks that is what makes comics interesting.  Like many (so, so many) creators at DC, he's infected with Marvel-Envy, thinking that DC's characters need to be overwhelmed, unhappy and put-upon, damaged, distressed, disturbed, and alienated to be, ya know, COOL and popular like Marvel heroes.  Totally blind to the fact that historically, DC's characters were cool in a different way; they were cool precisely because, despite personal adversities, they were NOT any of those things.

DiDio's not bad. He's not even bad at his job, I think. He simply doesn't get DC.  Here are a few examples.

He wanted to KILL Nightwing / Dick Grayson. Who thinks that way? Is there a more beloved character in DC comics?  Who even comes up with the IDEA of killing the Sensational Character Find of 1940, let alone pushes it so hard that Geoff Johns simply flat-out REFUSED to do it?   
Do NOT mess with Dick Grayson,
'cuz he'll make it look like an accident.
He wanted the Spectre to kill Shazam because Shazam "doesn't fit in with the rest of the DCU".  Is Shazam a unique and unusual property? Yes. But if you can't even imagine that he can be made to work in the DCU somehow then your view of the DCU is too narrow for you to be in charge of it. 
Well, Dan, Billy's still working within DC.
And you're not.
He gave the Phantom Stranger an origin. As Judas the Discipline. I can think of nothing that so clearly shows how deeply someone doesn't understand the DCU as that.  He managed to besmirch the Phantom Stranger, Western Civilization most awesome character, as a damaged, tortured, fuck-up tied to a particular religious system.  That's a tragic level of stupidity, right there.   
Dan DiDio not pictured.

At the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con, DiDio showed how little he gets readers:

“We do these Facsimile Editions where we reprint older issues of comics including all the old ads and stuff…and in some cases these are selling more than the new comics with these characters. People are more interested in buying the stories from 30 or 40 years ago than the contemporary stories, and that’s a failure on us. We should be focused on moving things forward, always pushing the boundaries and finding new stories to tell. That’s how we’ll survive and grow this industry.”

DiDio assumes that people fall back to reading older stories because the new ones aren't "moving things forward, pushing boundaries, and finding new stories to tell."  What he really means is that people are reading old comics because we aren't forcing them to forget about continuity and the history of who the characters are and what they are like.  The perceived antidote is to wrest by force the idea of what those characters are from the dead claws of nostalgia.

You're too late, Dan; it's been done.

But the way to get people to focus on the tree's seasonal blossoms isn't by tearing up the roots.  People don't read comics starring characters who've been around for 80 years because they are aching to move things forward and push boundaries.  Nor do they read them simply out of nostalgia.  They want to read stories that depict familiar characters in familiar ways but in a new story or a new situation.  The value of character familiarity and consistency is that, for both the creator and the reader, the focus can be on the story and its plot.

Which often require a LOT of focus.

It seems like the modern assumption for why a comic book isn't more popular is that something is wrong with the character, so the character must be changed.  Does it ever occur to anyone that maybe your stories just suck?

Truth hurts.

Two of my favorite series this year have been Sholly Fisch's Scooby-Doo Team-Ups and Matt Fraction's Jimmy Olsen.  That's certainly not because Scooby-Doo or Jimmy Olsen are favorite characters of mine.  It's because those (really good) writers took those characters at their ridiculous face value and wrote stories that, rather than try to change the characters, actually take full advantage of who and what those characters are.  I wish more modern writers would give that a try and stop wasting everyone's time trying to put Their Stamp on the characters.

Sassy Sombrero Superman never really got the chance he deserved, though.

If you want to write comics where you can do anything you want with the characters, then create those characters.  But iconic, flagship characters are worth more than any individual creator; Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman are known much more broadly than anyone who writes or draws them. They always have been and always will be.  So preserving and cultivating the character should be the priority, rather than indulging the writer. Heck, you could probably pick one and switch it to on-spec writing. "Hey, everyone; submit us a story for Heroperson that colors between the lines of their existing world."  You would get 12 interesting stories a year, from different perspectives, memorably unique, none of which had to be part of an 'arc' or 'change the character forever', and it would probably show more continuity that DC can manage with its golden stable of auteurs.   The reason that doesn't happen is that DC is convinced the creator fame is what lures readers to buy comics. Well, I guarantee you anyone reading Superman or Legion now is doing so despite Bendis not because of him.

Although he was great in Human Centipede 2.

Not understanding such principles is at the core of DiDio's failure. DiDio's leadership at DC often went awry because it didn't combat these negative and chaotic tendencies.  I am no fan of Marvel's Stan Lee, god knows, but I like that Lee wasn't hampered by being a fan of comics; he simply published them.  He was enough of a realist to know that, in his own words, "comics survive not on change but on the illusion of change", something that DiDio wasn't woke enough to understand.

If I like Stan Lee more than I like thee, then,
it's fair to say I don't like thee very much.

I am told that Dan DiDio loved comics; but loving something doesn't mean you know how to do it well. Now that he's no longer in charge, a new era can begin.

My question is: will this new era (with or without the new '5G' timeline) be a repudiation or a repetition of DiDio's mistakes...?