Friday, June 10, 2011

The Trinity: Wonder Woman - Part 1

Wonder Woman is a character I've fiddled with (mind out of the gutter) before on MetaFilter. The difference between that reboot and this one is that in former it was a reboot of just one character. Now, it's an entire universe.

I'm going to get one thing out of the way to start: it's hard for a guy to write about Wonder Woman. Heck, it's been hard for me to even read about Wonder Woman. I tend to read most of my comics in trade form, usually at a bar or coffee shop. I won't go out in public reading something whose cover is 95% cleavage. Power Girl exists only as a concept to me. But I say it's hard for a guy to write about Wonder Woman because of the way too easy and not all that realistic (or interesting) crutch of Themysciran Women Are All Man Haters. Look at Amazons Attack or whatever the hell is going on in pro-castration Flashpoint to see what I mean.

I don't like it not just because it's so damn predictable, but because it paints females literally as some other race, full of Secrets No Man Was Meant To Know. Blerf. Amazons are people too, actual characters with individual opinions, not some generic We Hate Wieners party line.

But coming from an island full of warrior women is a big part of Diana's background, so we better start there. Themyscira is a mystical island somewhere in the world. Its exact location moves, but originally it was off the shores of Greece. The island itself is populated by women. The reason for both these things are as follows.

So back in Ye Olden Timeopolis, Themyscira was the scene of a horrible tragedy. The island had always been a bountiful one and pretty happy. So of course, its jerk neighbors started to invade. And invade. And invade again. Sometimes invasions would overlap with invaders fighting invaders. The locals saw their island wrecked by this time and time again. So a pretty strong military movement began. Everyone, man and woman, was to be trained in the arts of war in order to defend their home. After a few stunning victories over the invaders, the bad guys started to get wise. Raids decreased and Themyscira started to relax. But what was really happening was the bad guys were getting organized, rallying around a Xerxes-like figure. The resulting invasion was unlike the ancient world had ever seen. The island put up a good fight, but eventually fell, its military wiped out and its citizens doomed for the chopping block.

With only a few dozen citizens, women all, remaining, the survivors prayed to Hera for the strength to save their people and their land. And they got it. Their god granted them strength and speed, each became the epoch of human ability. To use a Marvel reference, imagine a few dozen Captains America. The women escaped and began a guerrilla campaign against the occupiers. Furies who would strike in the night. But even once they freed their land, they knew they could not rest. So many tribes and kingdoms had participated in the invasion that surely in time one of them would seek to reclaim their prize. There were so many and they were so few, it would take lifetimes to wipe away the memory of Themyscira.

So they prayed again and received Hera's Second Gift: The women of Themyscira would each live lifetimes. The Furies sent out teams of women from the island, each tasked with erasing all memory of their home from the rest of mankind, with seeking vengeance against those that had assisted in the murder of their people, and to ensure that someday, they could live in peace again.

So the women went out and were successful. It was like some ancient world version of The Ring: learn about Themyscira and whoops, Fury at your door. It took years, but in time they did it, the existence of Themyscira reduced to a myth. Their job done, they came home, bringing with them people from all nations whom they had encountered on their journeys to help repopulate the island. Well, some did. Two factions started to develop: women who brought back those who through no fault of their own learned about the island and those who would just kill them.

Soon it was discovered that females born of these unions would also inherit Hera's Gifts. The men wouldn't. So while they would age normally, their sisters and mothers wouldn't. An Amazon can live hundreds of years, their age slowing down to a crawl once they hit their early 20s.

This lead to a bit of conflict on the island. Obviously, as the ones who were having children, the Eumenídes' numbers started to swell. The hard line Erinnýes on the other hand had no kids because they killed rather than bring back those that found out about the island. So they began to leave the island to conduct mating raids of their own (you can imagine what happened to the dad once the deed was done) in order to come back and increase their own numbers.

So a birthing arms race began, numbers growing and growing, as 50% of the babies didn't pass away of old age in 70 years. Conflict was inevitable, and civil war broke out. It was a horrible affair, women killing women, with the Erinnýes also attacking sons and husbands. After the bodycount stacked up too high, a truce was called. The leaders of both factions prayed to Hera for some way to protect their homes from the outside world.

And so Hera's Third Gift was given. The island would fade into the mists, safe for hundreds of years. And so it did. The surviving Themysciran formed a new government, a sort of constitutional monarchy lead by a queen. The queen would be one of the surviving original women. Sort of an Authority By Paradise and only these women would actually remember what things were like in the Good Old Days.

Things started off well, but in time the island's isolation meant that the menfolk would all die off, just bred out of existence. Luckily, the island would decloak off of some shoreline and the women could go out, meet some fellas, and ensure the survival of their race all before the island returned to the mists for another three to five hundred years.

But over time, this began to cause conflict as well. With half the population not dying off, the island began to struggle to support itself. Some called for a ban on leaving the island next time it appeared, but others demanded the right to have children or fall in love or even just travel that everyone had always enjoyed whenever the island appeared. (This is Ye Olde Myth Times, so don't worry about how long this goes on.) Eventually a compromise is set. There is a strict limit on the population of the island, so only so many women would be allowed to leave the island. This process would be done by lottery with the number of women allowed to go based on current population levels. The island stays uncloaked for a generation or so, so it's not like a Mad Mad World race to get off the island/

So people got some kids, the island floated around history, and zoom zoom zoom. The Amazons still aged, of course, and death could occur by accident or crime, so eventually the originals began to pass away. The last of the originals is the current queen, Hippolyta.

The island fades back into the world sometime during the Middle Ages. The traditional lottery was held, the lucky women head out (let's say to Camelot, why not?) have adventures, meet some new folks, and bring back a few new faces. Hippolyta didn't get the red bead in the lottery, so people are starting to wonder what the hell are they going to do without their queen, without their direct link to the past? Some are starting question why they even need to come back to the island in the first place. Still, maybe Hippolyta will meet someone brought back to their island or one of their grandkids and we'll have an heir, right?

Nope. She doesn't meet anyone that makes the grade. Obviously, given the origins of Themyscira the Queen just going out and assaulting some dude is pretty frowned upon. Word that the Queen of the Amazons is looking for someone better than human, the gods and half-gods (and even the guy who organized the initial conquest of the island in the first place) start to position themselves as possible fathers to future heirs. It's starting to become a big political to-do.

Worried about the strife and potential conflict if she does not produce an heir, Hippolyta prays to Hera again and asks for one last gift. Some way for her to have a daughter who can be her heir, who has the memory and ethos of the island's original inhabitants, and who can lead them into the future. And also, Hera, please, let her have a child to love.

So Hera bestows her Final Gift and guides Hippolyta in the creation of her daughter from love and clay, sand and tears.

A girl named Diana.

Wow. That's pretty long and we just got to the birth of Wonder Woman. Should I have explained about the time of dinosaurs who would eventually all die and turn into oil? Probably not. One of the neat things about Wonder Woman is that because she isn't widely known in popular culture outside of the Linda Carter TV show, there isn't as much set in stone. After the by the numbers versions of Supes and Bats, I couldn't help myself. So how does all this backstory fit in with an attempt to keep the continuity light? Read more in the next entry!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Trinity: Batman

As a historical note, the first comic book I ever bought was a Batman comic. In it, he battled the KGBeast who was upset about Earth Day supplanting Lenin's birthday as April 22nd's claim to fame. Oh, and he wanted to assassinate Reagan. But I really think it was the Lenin's birthday thing that drove him. It's a good thing Bats locked him away in a sewer, though, as the Beast would have no doubt moved on to other people born on the 22nd, thus depriving the world of David Luiz's marvelous hair.

Anyhoo, the Batman. Like Superman, Batman is one of the core characters to the DC universe. It's that whole idea that the role and abilities of Batman are actually obtainable to the average reader. He's not an alien fueled by the yellow sun, he's not a magical being blessed by the gods, he's just a guy in a cape with several billion dollars worth of toys and one really bad day. I admit I would have squandered Batman's upbringing were I in his shoes, become a creature closer to Billy Madison than the Dark Knight.

So let's keep out Batman on track, shall we? Parents gunned down in an alley, Joe Chill, pearls. Young Bruce Wayne grows up an orphan with only his family butler Alfred and dog Ace for company. He's an angry kid, gets into fights at boarding school, and arrogant to boot. By the time he's 16, he's done with school and school's done with him, but hey, that's fine, because it's around then that he gets the crap scared out of him by a bunch of bats flying in through a window. Thus the idea of the Batman striking fear into criminals and his world-hopping sojurn of training begins. He'll travel, learn, then return to Gotham to test out what he learned on the local criminal element. If he find he's missing something, he goes out again for more training.

To me, this is an important part of why Batman does what he does. He's constantly testing himself. It's not just vengeance or anger or whatever, but a constant need to improve. If his parents had not of died, he'd have become a surgeon, a mogul, an Olympian, a physicist, and possibly all the above. Their deaths gave him a direction for his energy. Without that focus, he would have been adrift, moving between field after field until eventually he had a mental breakdown. Gee, I wonder if there are any other characters in the DC universe who are amazingly good at what they do, but also mercurial and more than a little bit mad?

So going by Superman's timeline, let's say that Batman was actually active in a fully recognizable Bat-form roughly two years before Superman's picture hit the front pages. Although, Batman is a bit older than Superman, but he's still within the same age range. Like Superman's adventures with the Legion as Superboy, Batman had some younger adventures during his walk-the-earth, trial-and-error period, but they're not important right now. Batman arrives on the world stage maybe a month after Superman, his picture taken by reporter Vicki Vale. "Gotham Has Its Own Caped Crusader" the headline reads.

The arrival of two guys in tights and capes fighting gangsters starts to bring the wackier criminals out of the woodwork. Poor Gotham gets the brunt of the costumed whack-jobs as you need to have actual superpowers to make a go at crime in Metropolis. But they are also drawn to the Batman for some reason. In one of his many court-ordered therapy session at Arkham, Jervis Tetch supposes he came to Gotham because at heart he is a fearful person. To conquer that fear, he had to conquer the Bat. Batman scares the crap out of the ordinary criminals, so only the extra-ordinary remain.

Speaking of Batman's villains, it is a rule in the Drewniverse that all Batman badguys must be a foil or twisted reflection of some part of Bruce's identity. I think this is the rule at DC as well, but who knows. Still, that'll be fun to get into when we start to reboot the villains.

So as we come to Issue #1, Batman is still maintaining his dual life as Bruce Wayne, millionaire playboy. WayneTech, formerly known as Wayne Industries, is a twisting octopus of a company, holding many subsidiaries with diverse interests such as military, space flight, food production, transportation, and so on. CEO Lucius Fox has kept the company growing for years. Maybe WayneTech is not growing as fast as LexCorp, but investors generally consider the Gotham-based company a safer investment. Bruce Wayne is a majority shareholder in the company, although outside of random visits, he usually lets things run without seeming to meddle.

At the start of Issue #1, Batman is about to be without a sidekick. Dick Grayson took up the mantle of Robin just over 1/2 a SU ago and the tights are starting to wear thin. He feels that he's learned all he can in Gotham and is chomping at the bit to go out into the world like Bruce did when he was that age. Barbara Gordon has already given up her mantle as Batgirl at the request of her police commissioner father. Something Happened, you see.

The Batcave is beneath Wayne Manor and it's chock full of tools, toys, and trophies. When not prowling the streets of Gotham, Batman spends most of his time down there working and training. He would prefer to be alone, true, but he has learned over the years that if he really wants to improve himself, he needs help. Thus the sidekicks ("Sometimes you learn more by teaching others how than just doing it yourself.") and team-ups ("Chance to see a nigh-legendary warrior woman fighting style in action? Please.").

I don't like 100% grimdark Batman, but we're not going for Adam West here either. Jamie Hyneman dry humor, perhaps.

And on that mental image of a walrus-like mustache drooping from beneath the cowl, I leave you. Again, a pretty standard origin for Batman with the real fun coming in the villains, the stories, and the thing I'm looking forward to the most, who will be the next Robin?

The Trinity: Superman

Superman is perhaps the hardest character to deal with in a reboot precisely because he needs to be the most stable. He is the yardstick of not only the DC universe, but superheroes in general. Everybody knows who Superman is - he's a saint of popular culture next to Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny.

And people don't like it when you mess with their saints.

So the common way to tell an "interesting" (aka post-modern or meta of whatever) Superman story has been to create some analog or alternate Superman. And there is a brickton of those dudes. We have the DC "What If?" Supermen (Soviet, All-Star, Earth-2, Ultraman, etc), rival company Supermen (Captain Marvel, Hyperion, Sentinel, The Samaritan, Omniman, Invincible, Irredeemable, etc), and even super-spoofs (That Will Smith movie, AMIRITE?).

This practice completely suck the opportunity for good Superman stories out of the character. How cool Morrison's All-Star Superman would have been in main DC continuity? (Answer: It would have been tragic-cool) Clearly writers want to write Superman stories, but they (and the publishers) feel that anything too weird would be too damaging to such a core character. Of course, then the publishers turn around and make him a blue electric guy or part robot so what the hell do I know.

Anyways, for the Drewniverse (ha), we'll be keeping Superman in his sacred role. He's the measure. Moreso, he'll be our Alpha and Omega. In our setting, Superman is the first widely known hero. Sure, there were Mystery Men and secret government squads and the like Before Superman (BS), but it was a photo of Superman, hefting a car above his head, that introduced the world to the superheroic age.

But in keeping with not getting too wrapped up in pre-Issue #1 continuity, we'll keep that exact timeframe vague. It was 10-15 years ago that young photographer Jimmy Olson got the snap. Keeping with the measure, we'll use that vague period as a unit of time, the Superman Unit (SU), for describing other character reboots.

But enough about that. Who is the Superman we start with? Same guy we've always known. He's somewhere between 30 and 45 in that Hollywood leading man style and has been active as Superman for about a third of his life. He did play at Superboy a bit in Smallville, but nothing we would have heard of - his Superboy adventures would be pretty much in the future as part of the Legion, not vexing Pa Kent with his indestructible bottom. This helps explain how Superman was pretty much immediately able to step into his role as hero - he interned as one in the future. But that's a reboot for a different day.

Superman has been married to Lois Lane for 1/2 a SU. He maintains his day job as Clark Kent, mild-mannered human interest/feature writer for The Daily Planet. There's rumor around the office that Lois made him give up his foreign correspondent position as a condition of marriage, but Jimmy, Cat, Perry, Steve, and the rest can't agree if it's because Lois was worried about Clark's safety gallivanting around warzones or that she didn't want him overshadowing her investigative journalism.

Superman spends most of his time in Metropolis, but does nip off to the Arctic to putter around his Fortress of Solitude. The Fortress has been around for just under a 1/2 SU. It was actually Lois's idea to make sure her husband has a place where he can indulge in his curiosity, tinker around with Kryptonian technology, and generally relax away from the weight of the world. She suggested it after the Noodle Incident that lead to her learning Clark's real identity in the first place. "Maybe you should test your Trans-Dimensional GravInjector away from population centers in the future, honey. Also, I'm not sure how I feel having a beast made of living knives in the basement."

Speaking of identity - Clark is the real person. Superman is the role he takes on to inspire others, but they're the same person. None of this Clark Kent is Superman's condemnation of humanity bullcrap. If Superman wanted to comment about how humanity sucks, he'd just leave the planet. Because for all his powers (and he has all the ones we're used to) and limitless potential, Superman does have a finite resource: his faith in humanity's inherent goodness.

It's this faith that will slowly wind down over the course of this reboot. As Superman was the Alpha of the Drewniverse, so shall he be the Omega. When he loses that faith in humanity, he stops being Superman. How he loses it, I dunno yet. What happens when he does lose it, I'll leave for Future Drew (me, wrapped in tinfoil) to figure out. Does he take over the world? Does he just leave? Does he die? Find out in 10 years.

But that's a ways off. In the meantime, Superman has villains to fight, the main one being Lex Luthor. That inventor turned corporate plutocrat is also the source of many of Superman's lesser enemies - Metallo, Bizarro, Livewire, Parasite, and so on. Keeping it brief here as each of those could be an entry in their own right.

Other reliable rogues are those jerks at InterGang who are supplying superweapons to Metropolis's criminal effort. You can't rob a bank in that town without at least one sonic cannon or phasic chassis and have a hope of getting away. They also have the resources to stage tragic accidents that will draw Superman away from your heist. For a fee, of course. Where do they get those wonderful toys? It is a mystery...

Lastly, there's Brainiac, that universe-wandering, society downloading, planet destroying robot jerk. His appearance was Superman's first big Save The World moment (.7 SU or so ago). It is from Brainiac that Superman found out a lot about his Kryptonian heritage. Before that, kryptonite was just a glowing green rock that messed Supes up. Now he knows it's chunks of his dead homeworld. Brainiac enjoys taunting Superman with what he knows about Krypton, sometimes claiming to be the one who destroyed it, sometimes saying he tried to save it, although the citizens of the Bottle City of Kandor recently rescued from Brainiac's ship say otherwise. Superman is working to restore the city, with the current theory being that he could use the Phantom Zone's weird rules of time and space to re-embiggen them. Once he gets the Phantom Zone Projector working, he'll likely try it out on a Kandorian volunteer, the hero Dru-Zod. (Spoiler: It does not go well.)

As for the rest of Superman's supporting cast, Supergirl has yet to arrive. Superboy is still in his test-tube, but the timer is almost done. He's actually the third in the attempt to clone Superman (the first being Bizarro), but we'll leave that story for another day.

So there's Superman. Pretty vanilla, I know, but looking over this brief, I see at least three big storyhooks and a handful of medium-sized ones, and that's even before we start introducing other superheroes to the world.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Trinity: Introduction

It's DC. That means you have to start with Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. It's just the way it is. Even though Green Lantern has, I think, eclipsed Wonder Woman in the popular culture at the moment (incoming movie vs failed TV pilot), she's still one of the Big Three and thus gets prime of place.

Because the Trinity are pretty much the core of the DC universe, we need to start with them. Once they are in position, hopefully the rest of the characters will fall simply and easily into place around them.

Hah. Right.

So why are these three so important? Well, Superman was literally the first modern superhero (yes, yes, there's a lot of debate about this, I read Men of Tomorrow too), Batman is the aspirational evolution of the noir mystery man, and Wonder Woman is, well, a girl.

Urf. That's the second faint praise of Wonder Woman so far. I promise I'll make it up to you, Diana. But seriously, having a female lead hero in the 1940s is a pretty Big Deal. We may not get the same sense of how groundbreaking a character she is in this modern age of refrigerators, but I digress.

Anyways, the next three posts will be about Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman - who they are and what they're up to come the start of Issue #1.

Reboot, Reboot

So I guess I need to approach this with at least some attempt at logic. Reboots are not easy things to pull off, let alone pull of well. I mean, it didn't work out well for New Coke and I suspect that comicbook publishers are somewhat below megalithic beverage corporations in terms of stick-to-itiveness.

Let's start by looking at the general anatomy of a reboot. These things happen in two parts. First, you have the decision on the part of the creators/publishers to reset or retcon parts or all of their creation. Then you have whatever happens in story to achieve said reset. So Judd Winick slips Geoff Johns a sawbuck and Superboy-Prime punches Jason Todd back to life. Or whatever. You know you're in the midst of some form of reboot when you have characters saying "Actually, I..." or "Now I can reveal that..." or Johns takes up writing duties.

I kid because I love, Geoff. More Booster Gold, please.

Anyways, this format works because it pre-answers the longtime reader's continuity questions about what the hell just happened. Didn't Joker kill Jason Todd? Well, actually, you see what happened is Clayface blah blah blah.

For the little stuff, it makes things easier for comicbook writers who go to conventions. This way, they get to brush all the "In issue #231, Hyperman says that he doesn't like fish, but in #549 he takes Bustier out for a seafood dinner! What's up with that, Mister Writer, huh? My suspension of disbelief is just destroyed by this flying man with laser fists suddenly liking fish after he said he didn't!" comments aside. "Well, remember that in the Forever Crisis storyline, the very foundations of reality were shaken when Gaspode the Delicious Boy sacrificed himself by leaping into the maw of Memnoch with a quantum grenade. This is where Hyperman's deep abiding love of fried clams came from. Doi."

For the big stuff, like Jason Todd coming back to life, this lets writers surprise longtime readers with a shock reveal. ZOMG it's Jason Todd! WTF, brah?

I guess this helps keep long running series fresh, but it is also the exact sort of thing a reboot designed to make things more approachable for new readers should avoid. The hell do I care that Jason Todd is alive. I just picked up a comic about Batman. He was totally fighting this dude with a red hood who was sort of like Batman, except he killed badguys. But then Red Hood took off his mask and everything got all weepy. The hell? Just punch the guy, Batman!

It does not matter to the new reader that Jason Todd's career as Robin ended pretty much the same way Carly Smithson's musical career did (via phone poll, not crowbar). See what I did there? American Idol circa 2008 reference. Topical. And if you think that a reference to a three year old failed TV gameshow contestant is dated, imagine how dated a reference to a sidekick who died 17 years before is.

So the new reader then has to be taken out of the story and have all this past history explained to them. Ungh. Weren't superhero comics about adventures and daring-do? Why am I getting this history lesson? There's a huge difference between exposition that sets up the plot and exposition that retroactively justifies it.

So you know what? For my reboot, no in story explanation as to why it happened. Skip Flashpoint. Who cares? The whole point of the reboot is to make things move forward, so why waste so much time looking back at the past? Who cares as to why everything is different-but-the-same now? The characters certainly don't. These are people who have to deal with alien invasions, mind controlling gorillas, and possibly turning into a robot at a moment's notice. They've probably learned to accept all the changes that come with living in a comicbook universe long ago.

The only people who care are longtime readers. Readers whose numbers are dwindling. Readers who are not the target for the reboot in the first place. And really, pissing them off is probably a good idea. "When fans are angry, we're selling comics," says Tom Brevoort.

So fuck'em. Number 1s all around. Let's reboot this shit.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Drew's Infinite Reboot

Okay, so DC in their wisdom has decided that it's about time to reboot their entire universe. I guess this is something that happens to comicbook companies of a Certain Age, like buying a Porsche or getting really, really into freeform jazz, but whatever. DC needed it.

One of the main reasons DC says they are doing this for is that as they currently stand, DC Comics are nigh-on unreadable. Wait. No. They don't actually say that, but the implication is pretty strong. Basically, they've embraced their role as a content development factory for Hollywood and therefore feel like they need to start everything afresh, wipe away eighty years of continuity, and re-introduce their characters and setting in a form that's more palatable to the modern reader/production company.

Again, this is totally fine. I admit that I don't read DC comics very much because they are simply too hard to follow. Every other month there seems to be yet another countdown to yet another crisis promising that nothing will ever be the same again. I guess this works well tactically if your goal is to sell comics, but as an ongoing strategy, it totally blows. Think about it. In the DC Universe during the past decade, we've had cities destroyed by exploding chemical men, people turned into blue punk rock cyclopses, and America invaded by a semi-mythological race of warrior women. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people had to have died because of these events.

Just how the hell are writers supposed to top that? "Hurry, Superman, this is the biggest threat we've ever faced! You'll need all the strength you can muster!" "Really? More strength than the time I BLEW UP PLUTO?" "Er. Maybe not that much." 

So yeah, once you have main characters messing up horoscopes for everyone ("Ah, you were born as Virgo entered the House of Floating Debris. No wonder you suck."), you've gone too far and you need to dial it back a bit. But, according to Comic Logic, you can't just do a Skinner Gambit and have everyone agree never to mention Certain Events again under Pain of Torture, you need to do a reboot.

So the people who spent the past ten years getting the DC Universe into another fine mess, are going to restart things, presumably to get the universe into still yet more messes.

Well, if they can blow up, restart, and blow up the multiverse again, then so can I.

Welcome to Drew's Infinite Reboot, the likely sporadically updated blog where I pitch a revised DC Universe.