Thursday, November 17, 2011

Adventure Time!

It's Lovecraft Time!
Well, I figure if they can do it with Fionna and Cake, why not Phin and Zeke? Phin is short of Phineas, of course, and Zeke is Ezekiel, two wholesome Lovecraftian names. Phin and Zeke live in the Eldritch Kingdom where they help out Princess Niggurath by protecting her against the constant incursions by the Nice King, a stuck up fellow with a strange obsession regarding reforming princesses. Occasionally, they hang out with Marzilkael the Wayward Angel (don't let her halo fool you - she's just as wicked as the rest of the bunch) or just wander the Land of Ia searching for that which man was not meant to know.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Tarot Tuesday: The Empress and Emperor

Whoops. I had a nagging suspicion yesterday that I had forgotten something but I just couldn't figure it out.

We're up to the Empress now, who of course is Wonder Woman. Who else could be described as a "daughter of heaven and earth," especially now in the Nu52 where it's been revealed that she's actually Zeus's daughter. I'm not a big fan of that turn of events, by the way, as it takes away one of my favorite aspects of Wonder Woman (that she's essentially a golem) and replaces it with what is pretty much Hercules' backstory. This means we can look forward to a slew of godly daddy issues that were already covered in recent memory by Marvel's Hercules titles. Given that Herc once punched someone into a Hell taken straight from the third panel of The Garden of Earthly Delights to the sound effect 'BOSCH!' I'm not sure Wondy can top that.

Still, in my preferred version, being a clay statue that has had life breathed into it by the gods still satisfies the "daughter of heaven and earth" description. Her outfit even matches - we're talking diadems and stars here, stuff that Wonder Woman has in spades. Despite being the most magical of the Big Three, Wonder Woman traditionally doesn't seem to deal with much magic. Sure, there was Circe, but her magic was pretty much straight out of the "zap you're a pig now" tradition. No real mysteries or mystical understandings, just good old fashioned punching and light bondage.

The Empress is a mother figure, which Wonder Woman, being the First Among Female Superheroes is as well. In post-Silver Age times, Wonder Woman has been an inspirational figure, laying the groundwork for more female superheroes in comics, while her TV version is considered a gay icon. Both the Empress and Wonder Woman are passionate figures, much more prone to action than introspection.

In order to make up for yesterday's slackerdom, let's toss in a bonus card - The Emperor. My iPad woes cost this series its pictorial back-up after all, so why not let loose on the throttle?

The Emperor, the King of the World, is Aquaman.

Aquaman, as ruler of the oceans that cover the majority of the planet, is pretty much the defacto ruler of the world. That he doesn't meddle with surface governments is akin to the USA not meddling with Canada too much. Yeah, we all know you're up there, just keep it down, will ya? Don't make me come up there, Atlantis' Hat. In addition to the sheer size of the oceans, remember also their vital role in the ecology of the Earth. Without the green algae that produce most of our oxygen, we'd be kinda fucked.

The Emperor represents stability. And though we've seen a few different versions of Aquaman over the years, from harpoon-handed-grizzled-warrior to swashbuckling bravo (The Brave and the Bold's version is by far my favorite), there has always been a certain stability to the character:

He's the butt of a lot of jokes.

Aquaman, though he doesn't, will forever suck. Too many standup comedians, animators, and cartoonists have seen to that. Even his recent reboot wasted a lot of time trying to make him look good, which is sort of pathetic in a "yeah, I have a girlfriend. She lives in Canada - you haven't met her" way. Even the Brave and the Bold Aquaman is a comic relief character to a certain extent.

Just as the Empress and Emperor are linked thematically, so are Wonder Woman and Aquaman. Beyond being stuck together in the invisible jet more often than not in Superfriends, both are important members of royal families based in semi-historical (Greek) inspired fantasy monarchies. Even the shambling travesty that was Flashpoint recognized that there was a connection between the two when it promptly set the Atlanteans and Amazons at war. Were I to plan out a Kingdom Come style What-If future of the DC Universe, I'd probably have Diana and Arthur get together long before Diana and Clark. As the other Big Name heroes fade away or leave the planet, it's up to Wonder Woman and Aquaman to take stewardship of the world, to help protect the entire planet even as humanity heads to the stars. Wonder Woman can speak with the animals, Aquaman talks to the fish - who better to watch out for the rest of the Earth that we leave behind?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Tarot Tuesday: The High Priestess

Bit of a disaster this weekend. I foolishly decided to upgrade my iPad firmware to iOS5. My SketchBookPro files seemed to make it through the upgrade, but after the first sync the entire app went away. Foom, three weeks of future sketches and five months worth of past doodlings wiped out.

Still, we forge ahead. Perhaps we're tempting the gods and fates by playing with the building blocks of the future? Who knows. All I know is I need a weekly reason to post to keep this blog active.

Anyways, the High Priestess is representative of learning, wisdom, virtue, knowledge, and intuition. There are some signifiers for a lack of patience in there too when reversed.

She is, of course, Lois Lane.

So why Lois? Why not one of DC's other female characters? Well, to me, Lois has always been a questing character. She's out there trying to get the scoop, to uncover what was covered, to reveal what was done in darkness. Unlike the Magician, her discoveries are more external than internal. I don't think Lois is a very introspective character, but she does have that whole quest for understanding thing going on at a very intuitive level. What the Magician works to understand, the Priestess just sort of does. How many times has Lois sort of stumbled her way into peril?

And then there's this quote: She represents also the Second Marriage of the Prince who is no longer of this world; she is the spiritual Bride and Mother, the daughter of the stars and the Higher Garden of Eden. She is, in fine, the Queen of the borrowed light, but this is the light of all. The Second Marriage here is, of course, the Earth-2 and preBoot marriages to Superman/Clark Kent. Lois's borrowed light is that of Superman - her relationship with the Kryptonian gives her so much more cache in the DC universe than you'd expect from someone who doesn't wear tights.

Also, I think it's important that the 'understanding' cards like the Magician, High Priestess, and later the Hierophant be human characters bereft of powers of their own. That alone rules out other candidates like Wonder Woman or Zatanna who were born/made with their powers. You have the Magician who is a sort of self-made seeker for understanding, the High Priestess who is the understanding savant, and then the Hierophant who is more the dogmatic seeker who understands via synthesis (betcha you can guess who that'll be now, huh?), which sort of sets up a nice triad that I had doodled out but lost.

We're also keeping to the date of creation here, but I suspect that'll go by the wayside before long. Lois predates Diana by several years and Zatanna by decades.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Tarot Tuesday: The Magician

Can there be any other candidate than Batman for the role of Magician?

1. The Magician (Batman)
Sure, I guess there could be - actual magic users like Zatanna or Dr. Fate being the prime alternative candidates - but for a card that represents skill, willpower, dedication, and a good deal of self-improvement, I think Batman's the one. Maybe it's just me, but The Magician has always been an aspirational card in the tarot deck. That is, when you get your first deck and you're just shuffling through looking at the pictures, The Magician is the dude you want to be.

Same thing with Batman. Given his Just A Guy status, he's certainly the most identifiable of the classic DC heroes. In the twisted logic of not-real realism, people think, "Hey, with an unlimited budget and total dedication, I could be Batman too." Of course, we can't and being Batman is just not a practical way to fight crime in the absence of comic book villainy, but still, we dream.

Just as we dream of being granted access to the mysteries of the universe via a deck of cards we picked up at a Border's going out of business sale. Step 1: Pledge Self. Step 2: ?????? Step 3: Become Batman and/or Magician.

Batman is the Magician because he worked for his abilities. Sometimes he had to be a bit cunning in obtaining the training he desired, but he built himself from the ground up, something that gives him a unique inward looking perspective on himself and his role in the world. Contrast that to Zatanna, who is a Homo Magi (ie, born with her powers) or Fate whose powers stem from his magic helmet.

So we go with Batman, sitting alone at his computer, hidden away in the sanctum sanctorum that is the Batcave. The keyboard is his altar, the tap tap tapping of keys his sacred litany, and the display on screen his revelation.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Arkham City and Twisted Mirrors

So I started playing Arkham City this week. Well, I started trying to play Arkham City at least. Save Points are the bane of the Dad Gamer's existence. You never know when you'll have to deal with your kid getting his head stuck in a shoe, waking up in tears from a previously sound sleep, and so on. Toss in the constant looming threat of Mom commandeering the TV for required teenage vampire viewing, and you're left with 15 minute play sessions.

And when the game only saves after/before long cut scenes, that really, really blows. I may restart the game on Easy just so I can move quickly through the beating up mooks portion of the game.

But as a video game interpretation of a comic book? The game's pretty good. I like that villains left out of the first game, presumably because they were not insane enough to be locked up in Arkham, are out and about in City. I admit a fondness of The Penguin. There's been some complaints about the treatment of women in the game, namely Harley's horrible outfits and Catwoman being called 'bitch' a lot. I agree that Harley's introduction was sad - look, the camera is going to be pointed at your outfit, Harl, so there's no need to draw attention to it via dialogue. I have not progressed far enough to encounter the Catwoman stuff in bulk.

It's strange going from Arkham City to watching an episode of Batman: the Brave and the Bold. The switch happens when the toddler is unleashed (head freed from shoe) due to violence concerns, but I dunno about that. City is so dark, I doubt he could tell if someone was hitting someone else. Meanwhile, Brave and the Bold punches are often in slow-mo, back-lit by a primary color halo. Still, there's the whole bitch thing and given the rate West is picking up new words, that's one I'd rather he not start busting out.

The dread responsibility of a parent, I know.

Anyways, after finishing Season 1 of tBatB, my mind is currently wrapped up in thinking about The Injustice League or Crime Syndicate or whatever the heck they call the Evil Versions of DC's main heroes. I still think about that old Chuck Klosterman piece about Archenemy vs Nemesis and it makes me wonder - are the negative versions of heroes better archenemies (flat out foes) or nemesi (dark reflections too close to home)? Basically, archenemies would never encounter each other without a fight while nemesi could have a super-awkward HBO-style dinner together.

For example, I think Batman and Owlman would get along. I mean, they would be seething at each other the entire time, but I suspect they share enough common traits that a few hours together would not be a horrible debacle.

On top of that, I wonder if the negative reflection characters should simply have the same powers as their primary, just used towards nefarious ends, or should they be entire reimagings? Basically, should we just be slapping a goatee on these folks, or should we allow them to have developed along another path? If we do the latter at what point do we diverge? What details do we change?

Let's use Superman as our example as he already has a few evil versions. There's Ultraman, the gangland style Boss of Bosses evil Superman from Earth-3, Bizarro, a twisted caricature of Superman, and even to some extent the various totalitarian Supermen like the leader of the Justice Lords or even Red Son Superman. Each of these versions have similar powersets but differ in origin. Heck, the Justice Lords version has the same origin as regular Superman, except that he went through some tragedy that lead to a major rethink.

So if I had to come up with an Earth-3 'evil' Superman, what would I do? Tricky. Baby Kal-El being found by different people who do not inspire him like the Kents did has been done to death. So instead, I'd have our Kal-El come to Earth fully grown from a non-exploded Krypton. As a baby, Kal's dad indeed thought Krypton was going to explode and loaded his firstborn into a rocket. When Krypton didn't blow up, though, the baby was recovered from orbit, Jor-El was locked up in an asylum, and Kal grew up in an orphanage, the Balloon Boy of the planet.

Growing up, Kal entered the Science Academy, determined to wipe the stain of his father's name from his family's legacy. Except he wasn't working in the physical sciences. Instead, he became a sort of sociologist-psychologist with a focus on studying how people react to calamity. So when he discovered the existence of Earth, a world of no import populated by people who were psychologically very similar to Kryptonians, he went out to "run some experiments." The fact he developed superpowers when bathed in the light of Earth's yellow sun was just a happy accident - Kal had come with a bevy of deadly Kryptonian devices.

Rather than an evil Superman who cares about material goods and power (Ultraman), is a unfocused force of destruction (Bizarro), or a misguided zealot (Justice Lord/Red Son), we have a Superman who cares more about himself and his theories than anything else. He is divorced from humanity the same way a research scientist is divorced from her lab rats. He operates with a secret identity so as not to affect the outcomes of his experiments, not because he wants to live any closer to the people. He is, pretty much, an uncaring godlike figure who tests man for his own ends. Contrast this with Luthor, who for all of his crimes, at least has a faith in humanity (his). If anything, this evil version of Superman is closer in spirit to Brainiac.

Would this version join an evil Justice League? I doubt it. But that's because I don't think an alternate Earth where the baddies are winning would ever create such an organization. Sure, after they won they might (ala Wanted), but I can't see the Villain of Tomorrow signing up with a bloodthirsty Amazon who wishes to wreak vengeance on a Man's World that responsible for aeons of oppression or a guy who dresses like an owl out of hatred for his parents' weakness in the face of a gunman. I can't see them wanting to join up either, let alone the tyrant that lives beneath the ocean or the intergalactic mercenary with a Power Ring.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Tarot Tuesdays: The Fool

So after a harrowing September-bleeding-into-October, I'm hoping to get things back on track by instituting a few regular features round here. One of them will be Tarot Tuesdays, where I doodle up a DC hero as Tarot card and talk a bit about why that character is a good fit. This feature was inspired by some of the discussions I've read regarding the cards featured on Justice League Dark covers.

We'll be starting with the Major Arcana and working our way through them. The Minor Arcana will probably be done in batches when I'm too lazy to draw. I'll be using Rider-Waite as my main inspiration, mainly because that's the deck I'm the most used to. I used to scam cupcakes in middle school with my strange psychic abilities and a tattered Rider-Waite deck (I also had a set of loaded dice I'd use to grift for chips, but that's a tale for another day), and since that was also the time when I first started reading comics, there's a sort of mental link there for me.

Let's get started with Card 0, The Fool.

0. The Fool. (Superboy)
Superboy stands on the roof of the Kent family's general store, bindle in hand, Krypto the Super-Dog nipping at his heels. The sun shines on his back as he prepares for adventure.

Vertigo did a tarot deck a few years back that cast John Constantine as The Fool, but I'm not so sure about that. To me, The Fool has always been about beginnings and John seems much more concerned with Endings (solving things, wrapping up loose ends, righting wrongs, etc). So I went with Superboy. And not just any Superboy, but the Silver Age version (as indicated by the presence of the Kent's General Store and Krypto).

Waite writes "With light step, as if earth and its trammels had little power to restrain him, a young man in gorgeous vestments pauses at the brink of a precipice among the great heights of the world" which covers young Clark pretty well, don't you think? His precipice is not a physical one, as falling is of no concern to him, but his future. About to leave Smallville for Metropolis, Superboy is about to step out of the innocent chaos of his small-town exploits and into a more world-defining role. Krypto wants him to stay and play, perhaps knowing in the more serious world of Superman, there wouldn't be much of a place for a super powered dog. He has a bindle because that's totally something that Silver Age Clark would have.

On the positive side, The Fool stands for new beginnings, new adventures, new opportunities, unlimited possibilities, pleasure, potential, and passion. Inverted, he represents rashness, plunging ahead without thinking, and thoughtlessness. If you've read some of Superboy's adventures, young Clark was not always the type to think things through (blow to put out a fire, make an enemy for life; make a crack about a how women are poor UFO drivers, get turned into a girl; etc.) and this brashness tended to backfire more often than not. He's clearly not thinking things through here, as protecting his secret identity is probably made harder by hanging out on the roof of his parents' store.

The Fool is a pretty potent card and I wanted it to be represented by a potent character. While Superman himself would be an obvious choice for the lead-off card of the deck, being the first superhero and all, he doesn't quite fit it anymore given the weight of popular culture that now hangs around him. Superman is confident, knowing. Though his arrival opened up worlds of possibilities, he gives the sense that he knows how to navigate through them. Superboy doesn't give that impression, so if we take him in his Young Clark form (as opposed to clone or worlds-adrift jerk versions) we get all the benefits of opening with Supes with none of the Big Blue drawbacks.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Visions of Superman

So last week, I wrote a confusing bit about the difference between a reboot and a reinvention, inspired by Dresden Codak's popular images. Since then, Aaron Diaz has done up a Legion of Doom and a Bat-Family version.

In discussing these renderings with fellow Internet Comic Nerds (Metafilter Local #108296, Go Fight'n Beans!), it's pretty evident that many of these reboots are entirely new characters. A reboot needs to happen from the same starting place as the original - turning Wonder Woman into literally a living statue (although DC is now doing away with that idea) or Superman into a shape-shifter, while neat, are not reboots. I'd totally read a comic based on those characters, mind you, and I do think that they can say something about the core themes presented by the originals, the same way Gruenwald's run Squadron Supreme is a meditation on the Justice League's role in the world.

That and it's just plain fun to reinvent and reboot iconic characters like Superman. By doing so, we get a better understanding of the main character and discover, contrary to popular opinion, that some of the old warhorses of superhero comics are not boring at all. One recent twist we've seen on Superman is in Action Comics. Morrison wants to bring Superman back to his social justice roots, so we start to see Superman as a sort of socialist, maybe even communist (Marx, not Stalin) figure.

Thing is, when it comes to Superman-as-Communist, most re-imaginings are much more hammer than sickle, which doesn't make sense to me. Sure, Superman in his workboots lifting heavy things, lending his union brothers a hand, is a cool image, but shouldn't Superman, who was raised on a farm, who is powered by sunlight, be much closer to the agrarian end of things?

Superman does not make stuff. He is not industry. He does not create new societies or build things in his image. No, Superman tends to things. He makes sure that humanity has what it needs to grow of its own accord. He removes blight and vermin when he sees it, but he does not reshape society to completely prevent it.

Superman is a farmer and humanity is his crop. For the most part, he stays out of the way to let us do the growing. If he were a more industrial figure, he'd be building and reshaping society, smelting a more efficient order by the sweat of his brow and the heat of his laser vision. He could end hunger and crime and mass-produce a sort of utopia, but he does not, just like the farmer in the field does not kill an under-performing plant. Instead, he tends to the crop and tries to see what is causing the poor yield. He has faith that the plant, humanity, will grow the best it can given the opportunity.

A traditional farm is a vast ecology, one complete with crops and animals, just as the Earth is. For a chilling Fortean twist, pause for a moment to consider whose farm the Earth is. "The Earth is a farm. We are someone else's property," wrote Charles Fort. Does that mean, at some point, Superman will harvest us? Will humanity be lead to the slaughter? That certainly puts Lex Luthor's feelings on the man in perspective. Maybe that explains why Luthor is kept around - he's about as close to a talking pig as Superman-as-Farmer would get. Certainly, he'd be worth more at market than the rest of us.

But who is buying?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Reboot vs Reinterpretation

So big thanks to Don who last week in the comments pointed out that Aaron Diaz of Dresden Codak fame took a shot at rebooting some DC characters and has completed a version of the Justice League. It's pretty neat stuff and you should check it out (Cyborg as Moss from IT Crowd is a huge plus).

But is it a reboot? I'm not sure it is. This is not a bad thing, mind you. But it did set my brain a'whirlin. I've been mulling this over for the past week, trying to suss out exactly what constitutes a reboot of a character as opposed to a reinterpretation or reinvention or reimagining or reimaging. Party time at Casa De Drew, believe you me.

I'm still coming to grips with how best to explain this, so please bear with my extremely tortured golf analogy.

So let's start with the Platonic Ideal of a character. That's the Core Concept. The Core Concept should be simple, pretty much a sentence long description. Superman would be something along the lines of "A heroic outsider who lives among us and protects us with his marvelous powers." Batman would be "A wealthy scion who has dedicated his life to avenging a past tragedy."

Now, around this Core Concept we build a shell. This shell is the Presentation, basically how the Core Concept is shown to the world. In comics, this manifests itself in art and backstory and powers and so on. It is why Superman and Martian Manhunter, who share the same Core Concept, are different characters. Both are heroic outsiders living among us protecting us with their powers, but one is from Krypton and the other Mars.

We now have the golf ball that is our character. In order to get any use out of the ball, we take it to a golf course, put it on a tee, and take a swing. The hole, whether it's a par 4, whether it has a water feature or a sand trap or whatever, is the setting we've placed the character/ball in to. Of course, this being a golf course based on an ongoing series, the hole is a troubling Par Infinity, as if the ball makes it to the hole, the game is over and the character ends. (Like the last hole in minigolf.)

So what is a reboot? It's picking up the ball and walking back towards the tee. The ball stays the same, but how it interacts with the course changes. So while you may hit the ball towards the same spot it landed previously, you'll never get it exactly there, and pretty soon, you're experiencing an entirely different hole. This time round, you might end up in the rough or miss the sandtrap entirely.

A reinterpretation? Changing the Presentation Shell around the Core Concept. So in a way, Martian Manhunter is a reinterpretation of Superman. Which, I think, makes sense given the character's history.

By changing the starting tee and course, you get your What Ifs, your Red Sons and Gothams by Gaslight. If we need to stick to the 're' theme, let's call it a re-imaging. 

You can change both the shell and the course and still have an iteration of the same character, but this would be a reinvention. For example, Hyperion of Marvel's Squadron Supreme is a reinvention of Superman. Different presentation, different experiences, but same Core Concept.

You can't up and change the Core Concept without ending up with a different character entirely, but the Core can change/evolve over time. Sometimes, though, you can't even change the presentation of the character without changing the character as a whole - popular culture simply has made the shell too thick to crack. Superman can fly. Period. Everyone knows that. A Superman incapable of flight is not really Superman. Even though Clark has had his feet on the ground at least three times in recent memory (Smallville, the Grounded arc, and most recently Action Comics #1), it was made clear to the reader/viewer that he'd be able to fly again eventually. Permanently dialing Superman back to his original, leaping incarnation simply would not (pun intended) fly nowadays, no matter how many supercars you give him. Right, Nic?


This hard shell only really applies to Big Name characters. You can change all you want about minor characters and get away with it. Well, usually, right Halle?

Looking over not only Aaron's reboots, but many of my own, I see a lot of reinterpretations and reinventions. Again, this isn't good or bad. On my part we have an Aquaman who is not the King of Atlantis, a Batwoman who is not a bat, and an Adam Strange who hosts his own reality TV show. Aaron has a Flash who views his powers as a curse, a Superman who has a third secret identity, and Wonder Woman as a living statue.

But I hesitate now to call them reboots.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The More You Type 'Crisis' The Weirder It Looks

While we are starting aprx five years into our heroes' lives, we are focused on the characters present and future, and past histories will be revealed as the stories dictate. Yes, there have been "crisis" in our characters lives, but they aren't exactly the Crisis you read before, they can't be.
- Dan DiDio

Good! Finally, DC commits to something concrete about their "new" universe. I'm not sure anyone can really be surprised by this - if the point of the New DC was to streamline the continuity, ditching the broad, often more confusing than clarifying, Crises (Crisises?) is exactly what is needed. Reboots require commitment and in this one instance, it looks like DC is not trying to have its cake and eat it too.
Except, of course, this causes problems. Because DC was wishy-washy over the recent events of Batman, a large part of which was based on Bat's "death" at the eyes of Darkseid during Final Crisis, we're left with a compact and confusing backstory. So why did Dick take over the Batsuit, then? Where the hell did Jason Todd come back from if he wasn't punched back to life by Superboy Prime in Infinite Crisis? These are not the sorts of questions you want to spend time on if you are a forward looking writer, but they're ones you're going to have to answer as they were recent events that have impacted the current story. (Proposed Solution: Batman banged Catwoman so hard it shook the walls of reality and brought Jason Todd back to life. Not only does it fit with the depressing turn Outsiders has taken, but it explains why you could see his wang on that one cover - as a mystically reborn child of Batman, he's got a fair bit o'Pan in him, he is now the Mystical Penis Driving Itself Into The Core Of The DC Univ... i'll stop.)

You can't shut the door on past history while leaving the window open. If you want to revisit or allude to great past events in your comic's history, that's fine. The Ultimate line in Marvel did this a lot with mixed results, usually good. Sometimes it was a nod to the fans, sometimes it was a fake-out built on fans' expectations of history repeating itself. In either event, it was often enough to get new readers on board with characters' backstories.

We get our round of #2s tomorrow. I'll probably download Action Comics, Animal Man, Swamp Thing, and OMAC. I'm wondering what it says about my masculinity that there's nary a heaving bosom to be found there. Of course, if you want to weigh in on what's going on with the New 52, you can do so here with a Nielson Survey.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Deadgirl #1

Following up yesterday's art attempt, here's another. Keeping with my pattern of revisiting similar subjects, it's a re-vamped version of Deadgirl, the Deadman reboot I proposed awhile back. With all the recent controversy around DC's treatment of women in comics, I admit I'm a bit hesitant to champion a female character who is killed in the first page of the first issue, but given that the series' main storyline is about her trying to discover the identity and motive for her murder, I'm hoping that can slide.

Madison Malloy, Dead and Not Loving It.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Green Arrow #1

Inspired by the good folks over at DC Fifty Too, I figured I'd give my Green Arrow reboot another go. Given that I'm doing a bespoke, hipsterish take on Ollie, I figured it would be best to evoke one of the most loved indie rock albums of all time. Standard warnings about my inability to draw apply.

Green Arrow Reboot, Issue #1

Friday, September 23, 2011

Outrage Fatigue

"When fans are angry, we're selling comics."
Tom Brevoort, Executive VP, Marvel Comics

I don't think any of us expected the DC Reboot to be without controversy. The fundamental nature of a reboot means that amongst all the changes, there will be stuff that the fans don't like. Like the quote above says, that's a plus for the industry. Just think of all the free mainstream publicity Marvel got off of not only killing Ultimate Spider-Man, but rebooting the character as a minority. Pundits were flipping out, stories were printed in widely read newspapers, and sales prospered. Hell, even DC's pre-boot controversy of Superman renouncing his citizenship made the headlines. I bet that sold some comics as well.

Both these instances represent change causing controversy which in turn sells comics. Change To Sell is pretty much the mantra behind the New 52 - new costumes, new numbering, and new backstories abound. The poster girl for this philosophy is probably Batgirl as she's the character who has gone through the most change, casting off her chair and Oracle persona in favor of a return to her crime punching roots. I'm not a huge fan of the change, my librarian nature preferring the dedicated, behind the scenes hero Oracle to the building-swinging Batgirl, but I don't hate it. I can see why some people would want Barbara Gordon to walk and curiosity about the change (and controversy) caused me to buy Batgirl #1 upon release.

The anger over Barbara walking is the "good" sort of controversy that sells comics. However you may feel about the loss of a disabled superhero or trying to wipe away the stain of how Barbara was treated in the 80s, you could at least see some logic behind it. Even from a business perspective, having a walking, fighting Batgirl makes sense - it's only a matter of time before she gets her own movie, so the Idea Factory that is the modern comicbook best get to work now giving her her own identity and story engine.

There is a bad sort of controversy, though, one that goes against the quote above and actually does not sell comics, even though it makes fans plenty angry. This controversy may have aspects of change to it, it's not a change at its core - it's just more of the same.

I'm speaking, of course, of the treatment of female characters in the New DC. Changes abound here, but they are not core changes, just the logical extension of how female characters seem to be treated in comics. Harley Quinn to Juggalo, Amanda Waller to Tyra Banks, Starfire to fuck machine, all these "changes" represent a fundamental adherence to the idea that females in comicbooks are eye candy first, participants second, and characters a distant third. The anger felt by fans here isn't a "How dare they do THIS!" type outrage, it's a "Ungh, so they did THIS again?" type disappointment. The anger comes from the feeling that opportunity has been wasted, that there was a chance here for real change that was cast off in favor of more of the same, but somehow worse.

That anger is not the anger that sells comics. That's the anger that keeps comics on the shelf and makes potential customers roll their eyes as they walk by, tired of dealing with the pornification of the genre. I'm a guy and I don't want to buy these comics - I can only imagine how the Rule 63 Drew would feel.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Waller Redux

So in my previous post about Amanda Waller, the Second Most Powerful Human in the World, I mentioned nothing about her, er, size. See, in previous incarnations, Waller had always been presented as a stocky figure at best. Like many people who were introduced to her via Justice League's DCAU, I've sort of assumed that CCH Pounder is not only the voice of Waller, but a good representation of her physical appearance.

I guess DC thought differently as they rebooted Waller's figure from Pounder straight on through Angela Bassett (who played a version of Waller in Green Lantern) to a figure more in line with comicbook stereotypes: svelte-yet-curvey-with-a-bit-of-cleavage.

I'm not a fan of the change. Not because of what it means about sizism or whatever (I'm a white dude, so my backpack is pretty full I guess), but because what it means for the character. My Waller is someone who has worked for everything she has, who has played the system and won. SexyWaller is a different creature than that. Not because she wouldn't have worked hard or anything, but because instead of playing the system, it's much easier for her to play the individual. In my reboot, Waller totally manipulated the institutional mandate to have more people of color in middle management positions. That's how she got her start - she saw a need, filled the need, entrenched her position, then found another need ("Checkmate") and repeated the process.

New Waller could do all that too, I guess, but if she retains the same ambition as the Classic version, wouldn't she resort to using all her assets to obtain her goals? A top button undone could get you an extra five minutes with a department head. Accepting an invitation to an afterwork drink could get you even more. That definitely adds a sexual aspect to the character, one that wasn't really needed before.

I am reminded about the changes to the artwork in Greg Rucka's Queen & Country. The Tara Chace that started the series had this sort of tired strength to her, something that came through pretty clearly in Steve Rolston's art, something that was lost when Leandro Fernandez took over later and she became this exaggerated sexual caricature of a female. Big Tits Chace was not an agent who would have to slink through a checkpoint hoping for the best, or if she did slink, it would be in a form-fitting little black dress. It just killed the character (and the series!) for me.

Will this change to Amanda Waller do the same? It's too early to tell. I've read some wishful comments where people hope that she regains her stature throughout the course of Suicide Squad, but I don't think that would be in line with the character. Waller is not a person who lets go of what she has - if she has a good figure, she'll be on the exercise bike three hours a day to keep it. If DC chooses to address this, I bet we'll see a soliloquy along the lines of Power Girl's boob window defense ("I never found a symbol that fit me, so I left it blank!") where Waller talks about how she was a fat kid and worked every day yadda yadda yadda. Of course, this means that Waller actually gives a crap about what other people think of her, something that seems weird in a person who is totally okay with torturing captives, performing live human experimentation, and writing off thousands of people as "acceptable losses." I hope they don't do this as it means Waller would be admitting weakness to another person, something she just doesn't do.

As Classic Waller worked her way up the ranks, her figure probably didn't help much, but I think that once she got to the top, it certainly does. The resolute, matronly bearing of Amanda Waller would be a comfort to panicky presidents and a warning to other department heads who think they could cross her. In my mind's eye, Waller isn't obese or anything, she's strong, resolute, stubborn and her art should reflect such.

One of the strengths about the comics medium is how art can define characters in a way text never could. Changing the depiction of a character, even if nothing about that character's background is changed, changes who that person is. Care must be taken and artistic details have to be thought through just as much as backstories. "Shaking up the character" is just not enough reason to re-do the art. It's not like there's a shortage of only theoretically anatomically correct attractive women in comics, so recasting a character to join their ranks actually makes her stand out less.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Action Comics #1

So after some technical (and meteorological) difficulties, I finally downloaded Action Comics #1.

And it's pretty good!

So I'm not going to talk about it. Well, sorta.

Instead, I'm going to talk about a recent episode of the FX show Louie and hopefully use that to bring things back to Superman and Action Comics #1. Spoilers follow, natch.

In the episode in question, Louis CK, a comedian, travels to Afghanistan to entertain the troops. Now we know by virtue of him being the main character of the show which bears his name that while his experiences in a warzone might change him a bit, they will not do so drastically - he'll not get shot, his chopper won't crash, he won't witness a bloody sacrifice on the part of a soldier. If any of that happened, the show would become a much different thing, and while I wouldn't put it past Louis CK to try something like that, it would only be cartoony-style where a Bad Thing Happens one week and the next nobody ever talks about it again. This would undercut the gravitas of the episode and I don't see Louis wanting that.

So how does the show get the audience to feel anxious as the invulnerable main character travels through dangers that cannot harm him?

They give him a duckling.

Turns out, right before Louis got on the plane, one of his daughters stashed away a baby duck in his luggage. They were watching the baby ducks as part of a class project and in order to prevent her dad from being lonely on his trip, the daughter put one in a box and packed it away in his bag. Louis discovered the duck (and a note) pretty much upon arriving on base. Because the duck is important to his daughter, he now has to protect and care for it. However, we the viewer know from previous exposure to Louie that the show has absolutely no problems going dark. No matter what Louis-as-character might feel for the duckling, Louis-as-writer/director will not hesitate to kill it in a horrifying, depressing, or horrifically depressing way.

And there's our tension. We know nothing will happen to the main character, but the duck is fair game. Because the duck is little and cute and helpless and has the love and tears of a pretty blonde girl backing it up, we immediately don't want anything to happen to the duck.

What's more, because Louis is on this super-macho base surrounded by soldiers (even his co-performer is an ex-Ranger), he feels the need to hide the duck. He doesn't want anyone to know about it for fear it will change their opinion of him (and it does - when he reveals the duck to the cheerleader he's trying to make a connection with, it totally changes her opinion of him). So in a way, Louis develops this secret identity. This only serves to heighten the tension as we watch his bag with the duck tucked away in it gets tossed around, carried on a helicopter, and even possibly placed in the middle of a firefight.

Eventually, the duck is revealed during a tense standoff between the soldiers and some locals with guns. The antics of a man desperately trying to chase down a waddling baby duck relieves the tension of the scene and also the tension of the duck. We know then that the duck lives and later, we see it make it home.

So what's this have to do with Action Comics #1? Well, first off, we know Superman is invulnerable. Not just by the fact that invulnerability is sorta his schtick, but that he's the main character in a flashback comic. I hit on this briefly in my comments on Justice League #1 - there's no tension when we know the characters will survive and thrive, either because their name is on the cover or because it's a flashback. This shifts the focus of the story from "Will The Character Make It From Point A to Point B?" to "How Does The Character Make It From Point A to Point B?"

Justice League did not answer this question very well. I mean, it tries, but it does so by rote, like if you memorized the answer to an essay question the night before and just copied down on the test the next day. Maybe it will get better at answering this question in later issues (#1 feeling like the first 5 minutes of a Michael Bay movie and all), but I'm not sure. With all those characters running around, the need for massive dialogue info downloads is pretty high. This info-spew makes it feel like that answering the question is not very high on the list. "How Did The Justice League Form?" "Darkseid attacked, duh."

Action Comics #1, on the other hand, makes it very clear that it's all about answering the question "How Did Superman Become Who He Is Today?" The whole comic reads like it will be focused on Superman's growth.I mean, he's not able to leap a tall building in a single bound, he's not faster or more powerful than a speeding bullet train. Even more, and this might be wishful thinking on my part but it brings us back around to the duckling, it seems to realize that just answering that question is not enough to make for a good story. We need the tension to make the action scenes work. I mean, sure, it was great to see the Jimmy Olsen references ("best friend," Jimmy's cellphone ringtone), but it was better to see him become a duckling again, that frail and fragile creature whose name is not on the cover who could get hurt during the course of the story.

Now, the chances of anything actually happening to Jimmy is pretty low, but I think that the danger to the character is there. Think about it. This is, what, a 5+ year flashback? Jimmy's entire character is based on his naivete, his earnest need for adventure. Will that foundation still be there in five years? If not, will there be any need for Jimmy? Something could happen to him (not to Lois) and Superman could move on as normal.

Still, to hedge my bet, I'll point out the existence of Clark's landlady and the potential cast of characters who live in his building. Those people, unknown before Issue #1, are definitely ducklings. As is the named cop from the opening scene and the corrupt businessman who seems to be in cahoots with Luthor. Something could happen to all those people, even if (maybe especially if) they are built up and developed over the course of the next several issues. Something will happen to these ducklings that will lead to Clark developing not only his powers, but his identity as Superman.

There were no ducklings, not even false or potential ones, in Justice League #1. There was just some required action and required information being spewed.

So yeah, Action Comics #1 is pretty good. I wish they had lead with it on August 31st.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Living In A Digital World?

There are downsides to digital distribution, of course. And I'm not just talking about the whole 'you are only buying access to a comic' thing. The weather, for example. It's been pouring rain here the past few days which means I've opted to leave my iPad at home, thus putting off any attempt to read or download this week's batch of New #1s to read on the train. (Action Comics is probably the only one I'll go into blind. It'll take some buzz to get me to look at Batgirl, Swamp Thing, or Animal Man). I just can't bring myself to risk a pricey electronic toy on a commuter rail full of dripping, leaning passengers.

So instead I wiled away my (delayed and slow) train playing King of Dragon Pass on my iPhone and pondering digital comics.

Why the need to tie new, digital comics to old, paper comics? If we accept the conventional wisdom that comics are if not a dying medium, then certainly not a growing one, why try to emulate them? The structure of comics, that is the panels and art and word bubbles and so on, is fine to emulate - change that too much and you either have animation or a short story. But the distribution? Why do I have to wait until Wednesday to download my comic? Comic stores have to wait because of the vagaries of the shipping process - because things ship to different locations at different speeds, there needs to be a common release date. Otherwise, well, uh..

Otherwise, I'm not sure what happens. Distribution is pretty much handled by a single entity and shipping rates would be the same for similar geographical locations. So the two and a half comicbook stores in Harvard Square would, in theory, receive their stuff all on the same day. Would it be the end of the world if stores in, say, San Francisco got theirs a day earlier? Spoilers can't be an issue - comics are pretty consistently spoiled online pre-release and nothing has burst into flames yet.

Maybe it has something to do with how sales are counted? But that can't be a driving reason behind Wednesdays, can it? It has to be one of those Traditional things that sprung up after the switch to the Direct Market that pulled comics from drug stores and newstands and sort of ghettoized in specialty shops, the sort of weird arcane tradition that we need to shed if we want comics to re-enter the mainstream as more than movie inspiration or videogame tie-ins. Assuming we can't shed the tradition in the physical distribution of comics, why can't we get rid of it in the digital?

Surely, it would be in DC's favor to have people browsing their app multiple days of the week. Given how my iPhone's Facebook and G+ icons get swarmed by little red numbers over the course of a weekend, I'm pretty sure there's the ability to notify readers that a comic they are interested in has a new issue up, thus mimicking one part of current comics distribution, the pull list, that can actually work well depending on your shop.

One of the things that will help prolong comics is re-integrating them into readers' everyday lives. Divorcing digital comics from Wednesdays while taking advantage of the medium's ability to notify readers of new issues would help to do so. That way, you don't have a Special Day that you must remember to check for new comics. Instead, readers can notice new things they are interested while they are in the middle of other tasks - check to see if the train is running late and then find out that a new comic is available for download. A few taps and it's downloaded and life goes on, except now with comics!

Hell, it could even be a selling point about digital comics that they come out first. That'd help defray the sting of price matching, for sure. Set the 'Comics Week' as being a Thursday to Wednesday with the last day being the day that physical issues are released while allowing digital editions to become available in advance. If you wanted to keep the hype-potential of set 'release dates' then you could tie certain days in with certain titles, so Saturday becomes Baturday and Sunday is the Last Sunday of Krypton or something equally hoaky.

Basically, if I now don't have to go to the comicbook store on Wednesday to get my new comics, why do I have to wait until Wednesday?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Goodnight, Fing Fang Foom

Goonight, Fing Fang Foom
In the great green tomb
There was a danger zone
Around Fin Fang Foom
And a picture of-
The stars aligning with the moon
and there were three Avengers, dodging dangers
and a lot of henchmen
and Fantastic stretch’en
and the Mandarin’s rings
Shooting at things
And a bomb and a kick and an agent called Nick
And an Old Man Logan whose claws were going ‘snikt’

Goodnight tomb
Goodnight Fin Fang Foom
Goodnight stars aligning with the moon
Goodnight fights
That go kraka-thoom!
Goodnight rings,
You deadly things
Goodnight Avengers
and goodnight dangers
Goodnight Thor
and goodnight Four
Goodnight thunderclap
And goodnight Cap
Goodnight bomb
And goodnight kick
Goodnight Mandadrin
Goodnight Nick
And goodnight to Old Man Logan whose claws were going ‘snikt’
Goodnight stars
Goodnight air
Goodnight True Believers everywhere

Friday, September 2, 2011

Rebooting Justice League #1

Heh. Best laid plans of mice and men and all that, but I had hoped to get into some non-DC content, particularly looking at the reboot done to the Marvel Avengers for the TV show Avengers: The Earth's Mightiest Heroes. Obviously, I didn't have a lot to do while we waited out the sturm und drang of Irene over the weekend.

But after yesterday's review of Justice League #1 followed by reading some other reviews and comments, I wondered how the hell I'd go about pulling off this opening salvo of DC's New 52. I think what stuck in my craw was a comment I read on Comics Alliance that asked, if the the characters in Justice League #1 were no-names rather than Batman, Green Lantern, and Superman, would anyone really care? Would they be interested in what was going on?

That thought just wormed its way into my brain. I couldn't see any reason that comic would be anywhere close to a success if it was Matban, Leen Grantern, and Mupersan headlining (Good thing they didn't use Wonder Woman, eh? But then why was she and Flash and Aquaman on the cover? Hurm.). The more I pondered (and I had plenty of time to last night due to the recent discovery of a ghost in our 150+ year old house), the more the setup of the comic bugged me.

For a company that claims it wants to move forward and create new legacies (and fans), Justice League #1 sure did stand heavily on the shoulders of the past. While this might be great for an fan like me who knows what the hell a parademon is, it means that there is a huge reference not available to new readers who have only seen a few DC movies or played a few DC video games right off the bat. If one of the reasons for a reboot is to make things more accessible to new or casual readers, then this is a problem.

Had I my druthers, I'd have avoided an origin story entirely. If the decision was made to back away from an actual, hard reboot, then why not use the freedom of legacy that offers? You could certainly refer to the origins of the Justice League in the initial arc, probably to explain who the hell Cyborg is as he'd be the least known of the seven. I'd plot the story around the return of Darkseid, that evil space tyrant whose attempt on Earth five years ago brought together seven of Earth's greatest heroes. Cyborg would have been the POV character, as opposed to Batman. We could get the facts about Vic early on by making him the one who has been the most gung-ho about keeping a watch out for Darkseid, giving him a chance to talk about how the initial attack was what set things in motion to make him part machine (parademon attacks Vic's Dad at STAR Labs while Vic was in the middle of chewing him out over missing important football game. Dad realizes what a heel he's been just as his son gets mortally wounded trying to save him.) and how he felt like he could have done more in the ensuing struggle against Apokolips ("I felt like the weak link, Diana. I promised myself that next time, I'd be the whole chain."- Oh no! EmoBorg is creeping in here too!).

This would give Cyborg some early scenes of being cool to help warm him to new readers. It would also put him in a leadership role when Darkseid returns, as he's been learning all he can about the villain for the past five years, and would let him reference the group's original encounter by contrasting how this time was different. So five years ago, Darkseid attempted to take over the Earth on the cheap. He started by sending emissaries and saboteurs. Superman, as a Kryptonian, got an Emissary ("Great Darkseid demands that you follow the ancient Kryptonian Compact and refrain from involving yourself in this matter. Go find yourself another planet of toys to play on."), as did Aquaman ("Surrender now and you shall be allowed to live as a Client Ruler, O Lord of the Planet."), and Wonder Woman/Themyscira ("This does not concern your kind. The days of the Old Gods are done. Leave now and cling to your memories awhile longer."). Green Lantern got flat out attacked, as it'd be in an interstellar invader's best interests to get the Space Cop out of the way fast. Batman and Flash responded to attempts by Darkseid's minions to take out high science WayneTech labs and Cyborg was caught in the middle of a similar attack on STAR Labs.

The heroes rallied together, defeating the invaders, and everything is hunky-dory, natch? Well, except that was really more of a probing strike and the Big Invasion is beginning in Issue #1. As the arc progresses, the original seven rally some additional allies (the 8 auxiliaries), and we go at it. We'd still have plenty of time to get the character beats and conflicts out there, but would skip over the inevitable "Heroes Fight On First Encounter" trope that's just a huge waste of time nowadays. (Hint: The answer to "Who would win in a fight, _____ or ______?" is always "The one whose name is on the cover. If none, then each scores a point, but it remains a tie.")

If we're already treading on the legacies of these characters, then starting up a five year in the past origin story seems kind of a waste. It just has no impact - we know the heroes win five years because if they didn't, there'd be no now, right?

So my Justice League #1 would open with Cyborg and Lantern chasing down a parademon in Gotham. This draws the interest of Batman, who gets involved  and things snowball from there. ("My city!" "But we agreed the League would deal with any more sightings of Darkseid's soldiers," replies Cyborg. "It's just one," points out Lantern, "They've been popping up at random ever since we kicked ole Stoneface back to Apokolips five years ago. Left overs." "No," says Cyborg, "Not this time. This feels different." "He's right," Superman suddenly says, dropping into view, a dead parademon in each hand, "We need to get the League together on this."). By the end of Issue #1, we should have the entire team of seven assembled. Maybe Aquaman or Flash don't get many lines, but still, they'll be in the damn book that they're on the cover of.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Justice League #1

Okay, so after some technical difficulties, I was able to download Justice League #1. This is the first single issue ongoing comic I have purchased in some time. I've used the DC iPad app to buy arcs worth of issues (Power Girl, Red Robin, Flash: Rebirth), true, but never for a comic I'd have to wait an entire month to find out how it ends.

And after reading Justice League #1, I'm reminded why.

This is not a slam on the content of the comic (scroll down for that, I think), but on the time/value proposition a new comic offers, particularly a new digital comic. I'm honestly not sure it is worth buying new single issue digital comics. Don't get me wrong - the comicXology-powered DC app is great. I like being able to zoom in on a panel and then just swipe from frame to frame. Everything displays clearly.

It's just that, for my 4 bucks, there doesn't feel like a whole lot of meat there. Given the DC app's brief wonkiness when it came to the purchase (buttons not registering taps, then suddenly registering a bunch all at once - I almost bought the comic like 12 times), it took longer to download the comic than to read it. I guess I can accept that, comic issues are supposed to be a brief luxury, but when compared against other brief luxuries in the same price range (ie, a beer), I find something lacking. Maybe it's the fact that it is so easy, so quick (barring app-chokes) to download an issue? Previously, buying comics would be an entire experience - you wander down to your local shop, you browse not only the comic you're interested in, but others as well, you maybe chat with other fans. Even if you spend only 4 bucks, you still get at least 15-20 minutes of distraction, about the amount of time it takes to drink a beer.

I'm actually a big supporter of digital media. I'm a Kindle early adopter and even bought a bunch of them for use in my library. I'll avoid most of the pros and cons here and will instead focus on the amount of time spent with the product. The difference between paying the same price for an eBook and a Real Book and the same price for an eComic and a Real Comic is that the former will still get you a good set three or four hours of enjoyment. To pare down the amount of time experiencing the comic, though, really shines a light on how expensive a hobby it is. And once you have people thinking about money, you have them soon thinking about quality.

Thinking about Justice League #1 now... Man, that must have been a hard comic to write. Seriously, think about it. First of all, it's the opening salvo of a make-or-break proposition for your entire comic line. Even before the first word is written or line drawn, you know the comic will probably be your best selling comic of the past five years. Sure, some of that is speculators and collectors, but hey, if I actually bought it, then that must signal something. Second, because it is the first issue of a brave new world, there's going to be a lot of information to communicate with the reader. Third, because it's a flagship, you need there to be enough action to hook the reader. Fourth, because it's a reboot of familiar characters, unless you are doing something really wacky, people are already going to be familiar with the characters, so could be pre-bored with some of the information you need to deliver per point 2.

I think Justice League #1 succeeded in needing to do what it had to do, but I'm not sure it was a good comic. There was a pretty big disconnect between dialog and action. While "two characters run down the hallway and say expositiony things at each other" is a longtime staple of comics, it's pretty jarring when that hallway is replaced with "jumping from rooftop to rooftop in pursuit of a paradaemon." Hallways and corridors have magical properties in comics - they always are just as long as the conversation. Gravity and gunfire? Not so much, especially since we just had a similar chase presented almost wordlessly.

It was neat to see old (Kirby) favorites like parademons, Mother Boxes PINGing, and a literal Darkseid shoutout (If the reboot brings back the New Gods, I'm all for it). I really liked the parademon - especially the way fires seemed to be consuming it from the inside out (mirroring the firepits of Apokolips). The Batman/Green Lantern dialogue, as I mentioned above, was pretty forced. There was a lot of information that needed to be presented to the reader in that exchange. Honestly, I wonder if it would have been better to move that whole "Gotham WHERE I AM FROM is mine and Coast City WHERE YOU ARE BASED is yours" bit, plus the Batman-Swipes-Lantern's-Ring schtick to the ride over to Metropolis later in the comic.

The whole Cyborg thing, though, ungh. That could have been missed. It was a huge downer (Vic's Dad Is Too Busy For Him! Weep For Vic) right in the middle of the action. But since Cyborg is pretty much only appearing in Justice League, I guess they had to put his development/origin somewhere, especially to explain why he's in the League in this iteration.

The art was fine, but since I'm on record as not being a Jim Lee fan (his drawings are too line-y, his costumes too precise for what I think should be big, broad action), that's faint praise. I admit I had to reread the opening a few times just to figure out what the hell Batman was shooting at the helicopters. Hell, it took a few reads just to figure out he was shooting at them in that panel rather than vice versa. Turns out the short answer was "smoke bombs" but the long answer was "not very effective smoke bombs" as they only managed to obscure one out of three choppers and no doubt contributed to their later crash. And why Bats would think smoke would be a great tool to use against vehicles with giant fans on their tops, I dunno.

I expect the rest of the arc in Justice League to be more of the same - doing the required stuff to get the required people together to fight the required battle and form the required League. For me, I wish they had started the series in the present with the League already formed. "Why Did The Justice League Form?" is not a very good question to ask in comics - it formed because its name is on the cover, because it is expected to exist. "How Did It Form?" is a better question, but when we know that it's a given that it did form, it's not a very pressing one. "Why Is The Justice League So Important?" is a whole lot better, one that I hope they get around to answering. When I order a pizza from Dominos, there are a lot of questions that can come up - what's on the pizza, what route does the delivery guy take to get here, when will it show up, etc - but the really important question is why the hell do I keep ordering Dominos when there are so many other pizza shops out there?

The Justice League, like Superman and Batman, is a standard. With a rebooted universe, DC needs to establish why the hell it's not just a standard but the gold standard for the setting. As the first comic of the NuDCU, this is the foundation the entire endeavor is based on. I guess that's why I'm a bit harder than I expected I'd be on the comic - little cracks now can mean huge problems later on.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

To Wednesday!

So the Big Day is finally here. I swung by my local shop yesterday (it was my birthday and I had some gift cards burning a hole in my pocket) and they were already lining the battlements with Justice League #1s.

I had hoped to download a digital copy via the DC Comics app this morning, but it wasn't available yet. So the Old School John Henry style traditional delivery method (go to store for midnight release) beat the fancy new steam engine (digital download) yet again.

Anyways, most comics sites will be a flutter about this single book today. I wonder if we can keep the hype up every Wednesday, or will Reboot Fatigue set in? I sure hope not! This blog has been in stealth mode these past three months and word seems to be getting out thanks to a nice shout-out by Jon over at DC Fifty-TOO, who had the good sense to get a bunch of awesome artists together to draw the covers of their own takes on what DC's New Era should be.

More "What I Did On My Summer Vacation" is incoming. Until then, take a look at the Titles on the right. My favorite solo titles of the Drewniverse? Sam Simeon, Vampire Hunter; Deadgirl; Manhunter; Adam Strange; and Aquaman! Ensemble Titles? Badge of Fate; The Outsiders; Secret Six; and the Lantern Conspiracy!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

What I Did On My Summer Vacation - Part 2

Cast of Thousands doesn't even begin to cover it. So DC and I redid a mere 52 (!!) comics. Looking at those 52 titles alone, let's think about how many characters we're dealing with. A quick spitball makes, on average, about three main characters per title. That's accounting for ensemble titles (Justice League, Tean Titans, etc) and titles who repeat the main character (Detective Comics/Batman, Action Comics/Superman, etc). That gives us 156 main characters, each with their own powers and personalities, any one of which would totally change our understanding of the world should they emerge fully formed from one of their books ("The Reverse Gumby" - DON'T GOOGLE THAT).

But that's not all! Each title has at least two supporting characters. These are the Alfreds, the Lois Lanes, and so on that give our main characters someone to talk to. Were it not for Alfred, Batman would be spending long nights just typing away at the Bat-Computer, the reader bored to tears. (Note to self: Batman Without Alfred the next Garfield Without Garfield?) That gives us another 104 characters to toss into the mix. Again spitballing, we're up to 260.

But what is a comic hero without her villain? Tame, directionless. So that's another 52 villains. But what villain goes it alone? I mean, have you seen how many heroes there are out there? That'll be another two Named Henchmen (Think Harley Quinn, Lex's Mercy, and the various hirelings and assassins at the Big Bad's beckon call, mercs like Deadshot or thugs like Metallo) per villain. 156 more active characters are tossed into the mix. 416 unique characters all up to something, every month.

How the hell do you keep track of all those people? I can barely remember what I'm supposed to be doing next weekend. Well, you can cheat like I do and have a wife who is good at remembering things like that, or you can do what the big comic companies used to do and get a Continuity Keeper. From my understanding, though, past Keepers were very much the low folks on the totem poles in their relationships with their employers. If Big Name Creator wanted Awesome Man to show up on the fifth moon of Bulkrang, even though he was supposed to be in the Lower East Side rebuilding launderettes for charity (man the 70s were weird), then there wasn't a hell of a lot the Keeper could do about it.

What's more, given that 'Dude Who Sits Around Reading Comics For A Living' is within the Top Ten of Fantasy Nerd Jobs, if the lowly Keeper messed up (or got a mess up pinned on him), there would be a horde of applicants baying at the doors, resumes in one hand, torches in the other. A quick peek around the internets shows that many comic fans, the posting, commenting types like yours truly, really do care about this sort of thing. Sure, it's an easy sitcom nerd stereotype to have some loser spout off about how Awesome Man must build launderettes on the moon or whatever, followed by a nudge of taped glasses and a snorking chortle, but I think even the most casual of reader wants some internal consistency, a grounding logic in their comics. We're willing to accept that a man can fly and a woman can turn invisible, please don't make us have to accept that they are in two places at once (unless they're Madrox).

So what does this mean? It means we need stronger editorial control in comics. Not just the control needed to keep writers from blowing up Australia or artists from deciding that Wonder Woman would be all about the bouffant, but the fine motor control that keeps things on an even keel. It means that someone needs to keep track of what all 416 characters are up to on a monthly basis.

It all means we need to rein in our creators a bit.

I'm thinking of a story I remember reading about the creation of the Elongated Man. See, he was tossed into the Flash because they needed a dude with stretchy powers, not remembering that DC had acquired the rights to Plastic Man four years earlier. Now, I would argue that the setting is better for the inclusion of both Mens Plastic and Elongated, but that's beside the point. There are already 416 characters that need to be tracked, written, and developed into three dimensional people the reader can believe in. Care must be taken in the introduction of new characters lest that number swell up up and away.

There is also the matter of Power Creep. Now, coming from my gaming background, Power Creep means that a latter supplement or edition of a game will have more powerful options than the latter. The best example of this is Rifts, a roleplaying game where in the first book you can make street samurai and rogue scientist, but in later ones you can make tattooed Atlantean vampire hunters who could take the full brunt of an atomic blast and walk away (and that's before they get into their five headed dragon power armor that can level mountains by accident). Just like Sam and Dean beating the Devil from last entry, one has to ask, where the hell do you go from there? If you introduce a mercenary character, trained in the deadly martial arts, to fight Batman in issue #50, that character will of course lose. So in #60, you bring in a merc who is not only trained in the martial arts, but has laser swords. After the Dark Knight dispatches that one, you roll around to Issue #70 where you introduce a merc who is not only a martial artist, not only has laser swords, but is also part robot. And a princess. Of an entire nation of robot ninja laser fencers.

In comics, old characters, even minor ones, never really go away. Witness Batman, Inc. to see what I mean. Each iteration of Character Who Can Go Toe To Toe With Batman For Six Pages is still with us. And if you try to be economical and merely upgrade existing characters ("Paging Mr. Neron... Mr. Neron to the white courtesy phone..."), you still end up with Power Creeped up folks.

Now, creep of all kinds - character numbers and character power - is inevitable. That's fine and dandy and part of the genre. It just needs to be managed very, very closely. That's one of the reasons I think comic settings should be put on a clock and periodically rebooted. It may not be fun, but there needs to be a firm editorial hand playing the role of Mom while the rest of us kids have ours with the understanding that, at some point, things will go too far and then...

Well, as the man said, Mom's comin' round to put it back the way it aught to be.

Monday, August 29, 2011

What I Did On My Summer Vacation - Part 1

One of the things that has given me pause over the past thee months of rebootening is just how hard it is not to skip the meal and go straight for dessert. What I mean is, it's pretty tricky when sketching out a story or setting to not just skip over the worldbuilding and go straight for the shock reveals. Maybe I'm just horrible at keeping secrets, or maybe, like most comic fans, I'm just a sucker for a dramatic moment. We like the oh snaps, oh shhhiiiiiii, and shit just got reals moments we find it comics. The monthly pamphlet format like'm too as it's physically set up to deliver a shock or story beat every sixteen to twenty pages or so.

But this raises a concern - what if the love for shock reveals, surprise deaths, and weirdness ex machinas that works so well on a tactical level in comics is what's killing them on the strategic? Because that's what the Big Crossover Events are, just those last page reveals writ large across the setting. I don't think any setting can withstand a constant barrage of reveals, each one ramping up the imagined impact more and more. Blow up a planet? So last month. This month, it's a solar system. Then a galaxy. Then a multiverse. Pretty soon, we have a Michael Bay movie of a setting, just blurry motion and random explosions. Thing is, Bay movies end. In theory, comic settings should go on forever.

To switch nerdity gears for a moment, let's spoil the season before last of Supernatural. So the show is about two brothers who fight monsters and demons and ghosts and stuff in a neo-gothic American heartland that looks a lot like Vancouver. Fine with me. Sam and Dean traveled up and down the backroads, fighting evil and sometimes fighting (their forbidden love for) each other. And then they went and saved the world from being destroyed by the Devil. And the archangel Michael.

And it was the worst thing that could have happened to the show. My wife and I just sort of stopped watching. After all, once your characters save the world from the Devil, where the hell do you take them from there that still going to have the same level of danger or excitement?

Thus the problem with our current state of Nothing Will Ever Be The Same Again events. Now, I'm not saying they can never happen, but that they cannot keep happening. If Nothing Is Ever The Same Again every six months, then we lose the stability of our setting, that baseline of 'normal' that stories revert to, and that costs us. It costs us in attention, in identification with characters, and even strains our willingly stretched suspension of disbelief to the breaking point. Why bother trying out a DC comic this August when you know everything changes this Wednesday? Does it matter that Character X dies? The dead could be returning from their graves next year. Besides, who hasn't spent a little time dead on the four color funny pages?

Problem is, and here's me trying to bring this back to something I learned this summer, not going for the fast thrill is hard. Keeping a world organized and believable within its own fantastic elements is really hard. We've moved beyond the days when it was assumed that comic readers only had a two year memory, we can't just wait out our screw-ups. That big reveal on page 22 might be really awesome, but it could also be a tipping point that kills a comic dead within a year.

Again, I'm not saying that we shouldn't ever do anything big or ambitious or shocking in our comics, but that we should focus more than we have been on keeping everything running smoothly and logically. If this means less explosions, so be it, as that's space we can use to examine our characters. A few more breaths between saving the world would let our characters interact, develop, and become more like real people than someone who can shoot lasers out of their eyes has any right to be.

So as I start to read the NuDC that'll be blasting its way onto my iPad this Wednesday, I'm not going to be looking for big story elements, but stable story beats. I hope others do the same and vote with their wallets. I'm fully aware that not all of the 52 will survive the year. I'm just hoping that the ones that make it are not the ones that go for tactical explosions and nonsensical reveals that will burn us out on danger before five years is up. Instead, I want the ones with a stable base, a story engine that can generate interesting tales, and three dimensional characters to make it.

Because otherwise, once all the flash and bang is done, there might not be anything left.


Argh! The JSA has been reborn, hurled back and to the left into the warm embrace of a reconstituted Earth-2. This is both a Good Thing and a Bad Thing.

It's Good because it keeps the legacy characters that make up the Justice Society of America around. I like the JSA and what it became over the past generation or so - Golden Age characters who inspired the heroes of today and train the heroes of tomorrow.

It's Bad because they are rebuilding Earth-2 to fit the JSA in. This is fire DC is playing with. I don't need to get into how the whole 'multiple alternate Earths' thing is pretty confusing for new readers. My wife once took a look at the cover to an Infinite Crisis book, saw that there were two Supermen, and asked which one the clone was. To have her be even vaguely interested in superhero comics is astounding - that vague interest faded away the moment I mentioned alternate Earths.

Now, I have nothing against What If and alternate Earth stories myself. I think that Superman: Red Son is one of the best Superman comics of the past umpteen years. But Red Son was a closed system. Just like The Nail or Secret Identity, it worked best as an Elseworld story. It would not do to have Soviet Superman popping up in our mainstream continuity. Thing is, I know that it will not be long before Earth-2 JSA folks crossover into Earth-1. Why?

Power Girl.

I am both surprised and not at all surprised about Power Girl's popularity. Looking at the searches that bring people to this blog reveals a whole lot of interest in Power Girl, interest that the Powers That DC-B cannot ignore. If she exists with her JSA pals on Earth-2, fan interest will bring her over to Earth-1 pretty quickly. It will not be long before we end up with Power Girl as continuity-adrift refugee from between worlds again. Which means there will be a longing to get her home, soon followed by a crossover, and then likely by some sort of Crisis that will bring the rest of the JSA folks over to the main continuity.

It'll happen, it's inevitable.

I mean, it's comics after all.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Jimmy Olsen

It seems fitting to wrap up the Drewniverse's 52 with Jimmy Olsen. Not only has Jimmy been the victim of many, many, MANY self-and-Superman inflicted "reboots" in his career, but the character himself was sort of rebooted in continuity early on in the dawn of Action Comics #6. See, previous to that, Jimmy was an unnamed "office boy" who existed in crowd scenes at The Daily Star. It took his appearance in the Superman radio program to give him a name and a voice. In a way, the current DC reboot is just one of many that have been washing over the setting since its birth, changes to in-comic continuity inspired by out of comics factors. We've seen it again and again over the years from kryptonite to Harley Quinn, the DC universe yawns wide to gobble up new takes, new ideas, and new characters that emerge from popular culture.

Is it any wonder things become so convoluted, so quickly? One practically needs a roadmap or a change log or something to keep track of what is "real" and "imagined" in these fictional stories.

Jimmy Olsen, Reporter (#52/52) will be that log.

Before I get into the nitty gritty of Jimmy, I need to mention another red-haired comicbook character who served, in a way, as the inspiration for Jimmy's role in the Drewniverse: Archie Andrews. Now, all I know of Archie comes from reading the same two Archie Digests that were left at my dentist's office the same summer I got my braces installed some, ungh, twenty years ago. Which is to say, I know Archie has some woman troubles, a friend who may or may not have a horrible eating disorder, and gets up to a whole lot of hijinx. So many, I've always assumed, that they've had to publish them in digest form. I had never seen actual individual Archie comics, but I assumed there were out there, lots of them. So many, in fact, that a reasonable person would be like "Whoa, slow down, just give me the bare bones so I can keep up" and thus the digests. Too busy to keep up with the kids of Riverdale in all (I assume) three hundred and twenty five Archie titles? No problem. We've summed everything you need to know up in this digest for you.

Yes, I know this represents a fundamental misunderstanding of what a digest is, but hey, I can be pretty thick sometimes. I only figured out a few years ago that The Gambler from the Kenny Rogers song of the same name actually died in the song. Likewise, I had assumed for years that a digest was just an abbreviated summation of some other body of work - Reader's Digest offered paired down editions of classics and email message groups had a daily or weekly digest feature.

Anyhoo, with the Drewniverse (and DC) featuring some 50+ monthly titles, it would be foolish to expect the average reader to buy them all. Sure, as publishers we'd want them to, but in reality not many people have a $150 monthly comics budget. With that much monthly output, it would be really easy for readers to get lost, to fall behind, and to give up in frustration. We don't want that. We want a way for the hardcore to follow the setting and the casual to be able to pick it up and put it down on a whim. If the story is good, the casual reader will keep buying. If not, we want to make sure they have an easy way to reengage with the setting to get caught up when they want to give it another shot. I'm thinking here of some comments Jason Mantzoukas of the How Did This Get Made? podcast made when discussing the Green Lantern movie - Jason knew who the Green Lantern was, considered himself a fan of the Green Lantern (especially his The New Frontier incarnation), but had no idea what was going on with the character recently beyond some colored rings stuff.

You know, I bet the same sentiment could be true for many, many potential DC comics buyers. We enlightened few on the internets are pretty aware of the current state of our comicbook settings, even if we never buy the books. I never read House of M, but I could summarize it for you (and even do a longer description than "Bendis wanks into a sock for 8 issues" - I KEED I KEED). But the average potential reader who doesn't spend their days surreptitiously sneaking peeks at Comics Alliance or iFanboy will know little about what's going on. Hell, for all they know, Spider-Man is black right now. Jimmy Olsen, Reporter would give the lapsed fan an easy way to pop into the setting to see what's up.

So what do we proud, we few, we forum lurkers get out of Jimmy Olsen? We get our official register of continuity. #52 will be the method of editorial story control over the setting. With the big name characters appearing in multiple books (no matter how much I've tried to limit it), who did what when can get pretty muddled. In steps Jimmy Olsen. If it's mentioned in Jimmy Olsen, it's in continuity. Events that happen outside of it still happen and are still in continuity, but it takes a mention in Jimmy Olsen to get it nailed on, immutable (barring time travel, natch). So Superman could fight an army of levitating Bigfoots (Bigfeet?) in the north in Superman and that's totally real and totally did happen, even thought the same month in Justice League, he's busy pushing a War World out of orbit around our yellow sun. It would be up to Jimmy Olsen to set how that order of events happened, to smooth over any unfortunate story consequences that may have sprung from that. That way if, to take a totally random example, a writer decided that Superman would give up flying in favor of hassling drug dealers, Jimmy Olsen could dial that back with a mention of "the rumors that Superman has given up flying are unsubstantiated. Heck, I saw him fly by just last week!"

Yeah, we're Schrodinger-ing continuity here some, but then again, every comic ever has done that. All things being equal if Batman #5 states that a giant ocean liner sank off the coast of Iceland while Superman #5 says that the same ocean liner was actually stolen by Ocean Master, there needs to be a third party comic, one who speaks with the Voice of Thunder, back by editorial fiat, to bring things into line. This would hopefully prevent these continuity clashes from snowballing, just like they did over the decades that brought us Earths 1 and 2. Hopefully our editorial staff will have enough control over our writers that this continuity correction will be more of a gentle nudge rather that ZOMG WHY DID YOU KILL WONDER WOMAN?

Also, given that this is a reboot where certain things may or may not have happened in the past, we'll need a house organ to state what's what when it comes to backstory.

This is a lot of responsibility to place on one title's weedy, tweedy shoulders, I know, but I think Jimmy can take it. Jimmy Olsen, Reporter will be a book divided into parts. Each issue will feature a stand-alone Jimmy Olsen story, one where he encounters and interviews major players of recent comic events. So he could be kidnapped by thugs and rescued by, say, Huntress which would give us a chance to establish her recent timeline in regards to the rest of the Drewniverse. Or he could have a stunned jailhouse interview with Lex Luthor where the billionaire decries the slanders and lies levied against him ("Uh, Mr. Luthor, to be fair, the weapons used in the lab break-in had the LexCorp logo on them, so a lot of people will think you are responsible-" "Mr. Olsen. My LexCorp logo also appears on a line of hand lotions. Am I therefore responsible for what you do with those late at night in front of your computer?" "Uh, er, I think we're done here." "Quite.").

Jimmy's legacy of transformations would be continued in this part, when needed. Who better to get the scoop on Sam Simeon than Gorilla Jimmy? Bizarro would certainly talk to Bizarro Jimmy ("Me am best enemy!"), just as the Amazons would prefer to speak with Leslie Lowe.

The second part would be for more basic information dumps and would take the form of Jimmy's blog and attached message board. This would allow us to quickly cover some background information without waiting for Jimmy to get around to interacting with the major players in the events. It would also be the haunt of a certain Super-fan, who could use the venue to continue his bellyaching.

The third would be totally out of continuity and would consist of information regarding upcoming issues of other titles, new graphic novel releases, and so on. It'd be ad content, sure, but then again, considering that Jimmy Olsen, Reporter shouldn't cost more than two bucks tops (one is better, free is best, but I know little about publishing costs for comics), it should be okay. A low price point is a must for this comic. We want people to get into the habit of picking it up every month, even if they are not huge DC fans, just so they can be in the loop as to what's going on.

And there we have it. 52 comics in three months. Whew. I'll have more to say on this project next week, including my favorite reboots, things I've rethought, and my general process, but for the time being, please feel free to browse the now complete title list to the right!