Friday, June 24, 2011

Captain Atom

Nothing ever came easy for Monica Adam. Growing up in the infamous Suicide Slum on the southside of Metropolis, it was even money whether or not Monica would live to see thirty. Her entire family had it hard - her mom was stuck in a stable if low-paying civil service job, her dad wasn't ever around. Monica wasn't the oldest child, but the way her older brother behaved, especially after falling in with one of the local street gangs, she might as well have been. Still, she fought the good fight - doing well in school, taking a job as a waitress to help the family pay bills and the mortgage of their tiny rowhouse, keeping her little sister out of trouble. It might not have been the best life, but she hung in there, at times daring to hope that junior college and an Associates degree would be in her future. If she got that, she could get a civil job like her Mom and...

And what? Grow up to be just like her? Living a life of quiet desperation? No, something had to change. Her brother Evan was making money, somehow, but Monica didn't want to be a part of that life. She'd seen too many people her own age chewed up and cast aside by the gangster lifestyle.

Then one day, an angel appeared: A TV camera. The Adams' rowhouse? Turns out that was the same apartment where a young Lex Luthor grew up. The reporter from WMET loved the idea that another young person was on track to escape the crushing gravity of Suicide Slum and make something of herself. Monica's frank response that no, it wouldn't be the same, she was no genius like Mr. Luthor, just a hard working American trying to do right in a so wrong world. People responded to her story and LexCorp, sensing a publicity angle, even stepped in, offering Monica a full scholarship to college.

But it didn't feel right to Monica to just get what she wanted, no matter how desperately she craved a way out of the Slum. She was too proud for handouts. What about her sister? Her mother? No, LexCorp, thank you, but I can't just leave them. So LexCorp, eager for the good publicity following an "unfortunate rollout," exapnded their offer. If Monica could get into college on her own, they'd buy the family's rowhouse from them for far more than it was worth. "Maybe we'll turn it into a Lex Luthor Museum," quipped the CEO in a soundbite, "But then we might end up turning it into a Monica Adam Museum as well."

So Monica scrambled to get into school. She applied for every scholarship she could find, saved every penny. The biggest break came when the US Army offered her a place in its ROTC Young Officers program. The sort of drive and determination Monica showed was just the sort of thing the Army was looking for in its new generation of officers. She accepted, LexCorp bought the rowhouse, her family moved to the suburbs, and Monica was off to college.

Studying science and engineering by day and leadership and tactics by night, Monica really took the regimented academic program. While she did not graduate top of her class, losing out to a four star general's son, a jerk that never seemed to have to work for anything and who never seemed to tire of putting Monica down, she did capture the attention of several high ranking officers. Given her background in science and engineering, perhaps she'd like her first assignment to be with the ARL, the Army Research Labs located outside of Phoenix?

Lieutenant Adam jumped at the chance. It wasn't until her plane was half way to New Mexico that she realized that she didn't consult her family about it. Though her Mom later said over the phone it was okay and that she was proud of her, there's still a ball of guilt over that tucked away deep in Monica's gut.

Years pass and Lieutenant Adam becomes Captain Adam. She enjoys her work, traveling the globe with a bunch of military eggheads trying to design the next generation of war tools. After the appearance of out of this world heroes like Superman and Green Lantern the unit refocuses its efforts into trying to recover and retroanalyze alien technology. It's hard work and Monica is tested like never before. No longer on the base or visiting various labs around the world, she leads one of the teams that is dropped into sometimes hot, sometimes covert, zones to recover suspected alien technology. While Monica and her team perform well, their quarry continues to elude them.

You can imagine Monica's shock when, upon returning from her first successful mission where her team located and reclaimed some sort of alien jump drive from the Amazon rain forest, she is confronted be her old tormentor from her school days. Now a Major with the Army's Special Branch, he's come to take the drive away, its clearance being jumped up above Top Secret. Thank you for your service, here's an insincere smile and a promise of a desk job somewhere boring and dead ended. Unless, of course, you want to join my team? If so all you'll have to do is come by my quarters at oh-eight-

Never. Monica punches him and storms off, intent on reporting the Major's behavior to the base commander. Enraged, the Major attempts to force himself on her, but she gets away, hiding in the chamber of the alien drive.

Which closes.
And turns on.

The last thing Monica sees before she is reduced to atoms is the Major grinning, arms crossed, on the other end of the thick clear portal. He makes no effort to help her. He just waves goodbye.

That isn't right. Monica worked her whole life to get where she is. She played by the rules. She threw herself into her missions. She could not let a, a grinning entitled thug get away with it. No. Not ever. The quantum field that is and is not Monica Adam pushes its was through the alien metal of the jump drive, the strange dilustel metal stretching around her like a second skin. In the chaos of her rebirth, the Major flees, running to his father to be hid from punishment in the Army's bureaucracy.

Rechristened Captain Atom by the military brass, Monica is given a new mission: Be the United States' first superhero, not just some costumed vigilante who happens to live here. Think of all the good you can do. Yes, unfortunately we will have to tell your family that you died, but we'll take care of them. Our friends at LexCorp have even promised to fund an "insurance payout" that will mean your mother can retire, that your sister can afford a future and your brother a decent lawyer.

And the Major? Well, yes, we have him in custody and there will be a full investigation surrounding the events leading up to your, uh, 'accident.'

So Monica Adam becomes Captain Atom. Her dilustel skin is nigh impervious to physical harm, bending and flowing almost like a living thing when controlled by her quantum field. She can use the field to fly, project beams of force, and even absorb and manipulate other sources of energy. If her skin is pierced, there is no explosion so long as the field remain stable. If her field becomes unstable, the dilustel will prevent a chain reaction until she can get things under control again. (Breathe easy, Topeka)

Captain Atom is a force for good in the world. Her military minders do wish she would take on some of the more covert operations that her skills would be perfect for, but Monica refuses. They'll just have to find another way. She's loyal to America and its ideals and those ideals don't include skulking around in the dark.

Luckily for the Army, however, a certain disgraced Major and his team of mercenaries have just returned from the Amazon with something very interesting in tow...

Captain Atom (15/52) will follow the adventures of Monica Adam as she continues to work to make the world a better place. She'll often play the role of peacekeeper in military conflicts, protecting innocents from the side-effects of armed conflict. She'll come into conflict with her arch-foe Major Force and other world power level villains like Black Adam, Vandal Savage, and Lex Luthor.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


So I guess reboot fever is alive and well at DC. The condition has advanced to the point that an individual issue of Superman (#712) that featured a Muslim superhero named Sharif (a modernized version of the unfortunately named Sinbad) was actually rebooted to become a story about Krypto the Super-Dog. I have no idea as to why the issue was swapped out, some are claiming production issues, others Muslim panic, but I really hope the reason is not the latter.

I certainly can't think of any other DC hero that's a Muslim. Well, that's not true. There's Nightrunner now, but he's a recent addition. Davood Nassur, aka Sinbad/Sharif, might actually be it. Does Ibn from Son of the Bat count? Probably not.

Anyways, thanks to the link about Sinbad provided by Mefite Halloween Jack, we know that he's a telekinetic and that he's from Metropolis. Pretty bland stuff. Actually, the most interesting part of his background is that Metropolis apparently has a "Little Qurac" which is actually kind of cool.

So let's keep that Davood Nassur is a Muslim American, born in Metropolis, with telekinetic powers. How did he get them? In the mainstream, it looks like he was born with minor TK abilities, but then got them enhanced by fallout from an alien invasion and/or a belt. So again, pretty generic stuff. Telekinesis is sort of the vanilla ice cream of the superhero world. This would make it really, really easy to have his faith be his defining character trait, something that I'm not too wild about.

The fact that Davood has these extraordinary abilities and decides to use them to help others rather than himself should be defining, not that he goes to a mosque instead of a church.

So let's jazz him up some. First, we'll make him what very, very few comic superheroes are: A good dad. Davood has a wife and three kids. He is a teacher at PS 435 in Metropolis. He's always had minor telekinesis abilities, but they were so minor he never really noticed them until after the accident. But thinking back, yeah, there were plenty of times when he played college baseball that he made spectacular catches. And his toast has never landed jelly side down.

The accident changed all that. Maybe it was just reflexive, an instinctual response to danger, or maybe the blow to the head he suffered after he got the kids out unlocked something. Anyways, after Davood Nassur saved seven children from a collapsing building, he's been different. While recuperating, he found that he could move objects just by thinking about it. As his body healed, his abilities grew as well. Soon he could bring the entire refrigerator into the next room, not just a soda.

His kids, two sons and a daughter, aged 12, 10 and 10 (Jafar and Padideh are fraternal twins, they often team up to make their older brother, Davood Jr, crazy) know about their dad's abilities and are the driving force behind him becoming a hero. Mom doesn't know, but she suspects something's up. To their young minds it's absolutely logical that Davood go out and fight crime. I mean, what else are you going to do with your time? Since the accident, money had not been a worry - there was insurance, a law suit, and a host of charitable donations that came in following news reports of Davood's heroism. So while Mom is busy running her florist shop, Dad should get out there and make the world a better place.

And so he does. At first concerned about his safety, plus the safety of his kids (secret identities and all, nobody wants a repeat of what happened to Hour Man) Davood constructs a sort of armored suit to fight crime in. It's functional, but the kids are concerned that it doesn't look very cool and eventually demand a re-do (thus mirroring the Sinbad to Sharif revamp). Even Superman, who Davood has worked with on occasion, points out that it seems like a waste to have a suit with arms and legs if he's just telekineticing everything anyways. So, in an unapologetic rip-off of one of my favorite Wild Cards, The Great and Powerful Turtle, Davood's suit evolves into a floating shell and he takes on the name Mikhail.

Still, he's only a part time hero. His family comes first and keeping the secret from his wife is not the easiest thing in the world.

Of course, he's not the only one in the family with a secret. Because as soon as they realized their father had powers, the Nassur children immediately started experimenting to see if they had unknown abilities as well. So far, Davood jr has yet to discovery any.

But when the Jafar and Padideh touch... something wondrous happens.


It is a dark and stormy night. But then again, it is always a dark and stormy night outside the Tower of Fate. Inside, the Tower's lone occupant sleeps fitfully, unable to find a true center due to troubling dreams. The Helm of Nabu sits alone on a shelf, a fire it can't feel crackling away in the nearby hearth.

There is a pounding at the door, frantic and booming, but it is lost to the thunder. The Master of Fate sleeps on, troubled dreams turning to nightmare. A woman's voice wails, pleading, "Let us in, let us in!" A man shouts to stay back, stay back.

But Fate sleeps on, trapped in a nightmare. Visions of past lives, past wearers of the Helm and bearers of the name Fate strobe through the dream. They are yelling too, pleading, begging. Is it prophecy? Memory? Tears and blood echo the rain on the windowsill.

Fate sleeps on.

Commotion now, the sounds of battle, metal on metal. Is it the dream or what is happening on Fate's doorstep? The shivering whine of a bolt of magical energy cannot be confused for lightning, not be lost in thunder to one such as Fate.

The Master of the Tower begins to stir, disoriented after such a long and restless slumber.

The woman screams again, her cry swallowed up by a deeper bellow of rage and defiance. By the time Fate is up and at the stairs that bellow has been cut short. Senses finally alert and alive, the Master of the Tower commands the door to be flung open. The sudden rush of wind causes the hearthfire to flicker and dance, the candles to blow out. For a brief moment the sound of weeping can be heard, but by the time Fate reaches the base of stairs, it too has faded, whisked away by wind and rain.

As Fate approaches the open door, a bolt of lightning crashing overhead illuminates the Golden Helm, searing the bloody tableau into Fate's mind. Just like the dream. Outside the tower a storm is raging, but as Fate crosses the threshold it ceases, just like it always does. Outside it is sunny and clear, a beautiful New England morning in Salem, Massachusetts. From the Tower's little island at the mouth of the Naumkeag, Fate can see the rest of the world pass by on its mundane business. But the mundane ignores Fate. Why shouldn't they? They can't see Fate's Tower. Should the residents and tourists just passing by the water's edge even think to look out at the little island, they'll see no Tower, at least not one of stone and magic. Instead, they'll see an electrical tower, bones of metal holding powerlines aloft. Not worth a second look at all.

Except for today. For there is a body on the little island at the mouth of the Naumkeag. A body of a man who died in violence and terror, killed by his own sword. Fate shows no emotion, extending the shrouding spells that protect the Tower to the rest of the island. If anyone had been watching at that moment, maybe a commuter on their way to work or perhaps the author of this piece who can actually see the island in question from his desk at his home in Salem as he types this, they would see the body simply fade away.

So too would the golden helmet, floating without visible means of support.

Nightmaster has been murdered on Fate's doorstep. Why?
A woman is missing. Who?

To find out, you'll have to read The Badge of Fate (14/52). Follow Fate's appointed agents, the magician Zatanna and layabout John Constantine, as they hunt a killer who is targeting former members of Fate's previous agents, the Shadowpact. The deeper the two delve into the magical side of the Drewniverse, the more questions they uncover.

Who robbed Dan Cassidy of his demonic nature? Is Zatanna's father really dead? Where is Detective Chimp? Will Constantine accept the Badge of Fate on a permanent basis, or will he simply repay the favor he owes Fate and leave? Who stole that black glass urn from Wesley Dodds? Why does Etrigan stalk the two investigators like a hungry wolf? Where has Neron gone?


So as I've mentioned, there's something going on with magic in the Drewniverse. Badge of Fate will be the main venue to investigate it, though we'll probably get some crossover with previously announced Wonder Woman and Aquaman. Zatanna and John will serve as our Mulder and Scully. We'll keep their origins (although in John's case we'll be mainstreaming a bit, just like DC is going to do when they import a version of him from Vertigo) and pieces of their shared backstory. Zatanna is the lead here, having been called in by the Helm to investigate the murder of Nightmaster. She is able to recruit John on the basis of their shared past (from personal experience, a woman in a tux and fishnets can also make me do about anything), the favor he owes the Helm for some unspoken assistance in the past, and the fact that John actually knew Nightmaster Back In The Day when they were both in bands. Maybe Mucous Membrane and The Electric played a few gigs together on some podunk tour?

Anyways, we'll have the two knocking on the doors of mystery in no time. In addition to the whole "we used to date" facet to their relationship, we'll also have some conflict over their use of magic. Both Zatanna and John feel like the other is Doing It Wrong, but that's probably par for the course for most magicians. Zatanna see's John as someone with a massive amount of wasted potential. John sees Zatanna as someone who was born into magic (homo magi) who never had to work at it, or deal with the price of power like he did. Maybe we'll be able to get into the magic-side of class warfare?

The Helm currently has no wearer, which means it's pretty much stuck on the little island for the time being. It can leave in dire circumstances, but for the most part it has to remain so as to maintain the Balance. If at some point the Helm finds someone worthy of it, it gains a lot more freedom in its movements. With no bearer, the Helm can only leave for, say 15 minutes at a time. With a "make-do" bearer, it can leave for longer, say a day or more depending on the wearer's natural magical ability, with the Chosen bearer, leave is much longer, weeks, but in the end the Helm and Tower are linked. This may be important in the future. The Helm itself needs little backstory - it's essentially The Fatman to Zatanna and John's Jake. The last wearer died in a way the Helm does not like to talk about, which is why it has been working through agents for the past several years.

Still, the Helm will be represented in the badge itself. I've always thought it looked a little badge-like anyways, so it seems natural to me that the cover of Badge of Fate #1 would be a slightly fish-eyed view from a door's peep hole of Zatanna and John come knocking, the former holding up her badge so the viewer can see it. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Lex Luthor

Lex Luthor, who haven't you been? Mad scientist, criminal kingpin, billionaire industrialist, white collar crook, government agent, real estate mogul, President, wastrel son. Far more often than Superman, Lex's villainy is reinvented every generation or so to reflect modern fears. So what fear will this archenemy of archenemies personify in the Drewniverse?

The fear of change.

Lex Luthor represents the toppling of old hierarchies, the replacement of decaying systems with new, the painful progress of mankind. He does not want to rule the world, he wants to tear it apart and rebuild as something better. The ends justify the means, so who cares if a few rules are broken or a couple of thousand people die for progress? Lex believes that though he may be called a monster today, he'll be regarded as a savior by history.

For our Luthor, I'm drawing on a variety of sources. The DCAU Lex Luthor is central, of course. I'm not sure I can imagine his voice without hearing Clancy Brown. I dislike the wacky real estate schemes of the Donner-based movies, no matter how many Oscar winners take the role. Sleater-Kinney's One Beat in his song. From the real world, we're drawing from change-the-world moguls like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and others who have changed the way our lives work through their products or innovations.

Luthor's early rise to fame should pretty much mirror Zuckerberg's - genius kid/young adult produces society changing product, becomes super rich. Sure, said kid stepped on a lot of toes and stood on a lot of shoulders to produce that product, but so what? Should he have just sat back and let all these disparate factors slowly congeal into something of value or should he have taken the reins and Made It Happen? Our Lex's genius is synthesis and systems. He can look at an existing system and easily identify flaws and inefficiencies. He can take seemingly unconnected technologies and combine them into something new. Lex is a scientist, sure, but he's a closer. You won't find him in the lab working on fundamentals or testing out some new theory, you'll see him in the lab taking the work of others and combining it in new and often terrible new ways.

Were it not for the arrival of Superman, Lex Luthor would have advanced humanity far faster than it would have done itself. This is why he hates Superman. It's not just that Superman's arrival on the public stage happened to coincide with a world-changing announcement from LexCorp, meaning that pictures of a man lifting a car above his head shoved stories of a cure for HIV (or something) far below the fold. It's that Superman represents this sort of folksy, traditional Golden Age wishful thinking that Luthor thinks is holding humanity back. These are not simpler times and we should not waste energy idolizing something who represents them.

That Superman is so idolized enrages Luthor. Take what Anthony Bourdain wrote about Rachael Ray and multiply it by a thousand. In Luthor's mind, people look at Superman and say, "I wish I could do that, but I'm not special like that, so I won't even try." It's not just a give a man a fish vs teach a man to fish scenario. Luthor not only wants the man to want to learn how to fish, but to learn how to make his own fishing rod and then improve on the whole process. Superheroes make mankind complacent.

What's more, superheroes tend to reinforce the established order of things, a total waste of their potential. They have capabilities lightyears beyond even what Lex's technology can produce and they spend their time fighting crime and rescuing people? Why? If saving lives is so important, why don't you go after the root causes? Gotham City sits near a major fault line, so don't wait for a huge earthquake, move the damn city. Stop playing cleanup and design a system that cleans itself.

Of course, Lex Luthor does not hate the idea of all super-powered people, just those that were born or stumbled in to their power. Those that reached out and took power are just fine in Lex's book. They represent that next step of humanity, those willing to take their future into their own hands. It does disappoint Lex to see these talents so wasted by society. Imagine what Dr. Victor Frieze could do if he did not have to resort to crime to finance his research. So through a labyrinth of shell companies and government contracts, Lex does his best to see that these geniuses get the funding and support they need.

In this way, Lex Luthor is really the Father of the Modern Age of Heroes. Most, if not all, of the science based heroes and villains of the Drewniverse owe their existence in some way to Lex Luthor. Bizarro? Created in a LexCorp's subsidiary lab. Power Girl? Created in association with S.T.A.R. Labs under government contract. Superboy? LexCorp again. Metallo? A Luthor Genius Grant got Dr. Vale most the funding for his work. The Atom got access to white dwarf star material from LexCorp. The list goes on before we even get into the 'accidental' creations like Parasite or Livewire or the Bang Babies whose powers stem from improper handling of LexCorp materials. Even Batman has some toys that owe their origins to WayneTech/LexCorp joint ventures.

Lex is interested in business only because he knows it still takes money to fuel innovation. He takes no interest in laws or regulations because he knows they only hold back exceptional people like himself. Since money and power helps him get around these lesser laws, he covets both, but will be happy when the day comes that he doesn't need them, when the world just recognizes that he is right and gives him whatever he needs. He sees no hypocrisy in putting himself ahead of the average person. Where he leads, others may follow, while they can only watch where Superman goes.

Luthor only comes into conflict with heroes when they stand in his way, which they do all too frequently. That probably has something to do with the fact that the law can't or won't touch him. Since the discovery that aliens walk among us, he has teams spread far and wide searching for alien technology. He doesn't truck much with magic as its use is not universally available to everyone, just homo magi (although, if some gene therapy that simulates homo magi qualities in homo sapiens could be developed...). He has no interest in running for office - why spend all that time and money for a demotion? When needed, he has access to bleeding edge technology and host of henchmen (Mercy!), hirelings, and mercenaries.

Over the course of the larger story arc, Lex Luthor will be right more often than not. Scattered through the various titles, we'll see mentions of the amazing advances LexCorp is making: cures for diseases, new energy sources, transportation innovations, communication technology, all that good stuff. Fighting Lex should lead to an internal conflict on the part of the hero. How can Jamie Reyes bring down the man who pioneered the asthma treatment that makes it so his sister can breathe without worry? Sure, Superman can bust into one of LexCorp's top secret labs, but to get there he'll have to go through the facility where they make Ma Kent's heart medication. This is the sort of thing that will wear down Superman's faith not only in humanity but in his own purpose. "So far this year, Superman, you have saved 135,686 people by catching airplanes and punching criminals. Meanwhile, I have saved over 250,000 by authorizing new research and signing a few checks. Do you really want to cart me away? You can lock me up and let me rot in prison, but I assure you the world will rot too."

This is the change the superheroes fear - that in a new world, there will be no need for them, that people would prefer to be lead by a callous and uncaring sociopath like Lex Luthor. He says he wants to help all of humanity better itself, but it's pretty clear he's willing to rip out all that makes us human to do it.

Lex won't get his own title - he's way too busy for that - but he will have features in the short-form oriented title, All-Star Villainy (13/52), that will focus on 4-6 issue storylines with villains as the main characters. He'll even figure on the side of the good guys in response to world-spanning alien threats like Brainiac or Darkseid. And if it turns out Lex Luthor comes out ahead after helping to save the world, who can really blame him?

He's got his eyes on the prize.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Flash

In a way, this whole mess is Flash's fault.

Not only can we pin the birth of the multiverse on Jay and Barry running to save the same construction worker, but by referencing older Golden Age characters a sort of proto-continuity was born. If Flash wasn't the first DC hero to routinely go backwards and forwards in time, then he certainly had the most frequent time traveler miles. Plus there's the whole Flashpoint mess that's leading up to DC's "don't call it a reboot" reboot.

Flash himself is a bit of a conundrum (and I'm talking Silver Age and forward Flashes here, so mainly Barry, Wally, and a bit of Bart). He is, hands down, one of the most powerful characters in the DC universe. His access to the Speed Force, a nebulous source of power and power creep, lets him do a whole host of things from punch with the weight of a white dwarf star to vibrate through solid objects and even into other realities.

And yet he spends his time fighting petty crooks armed with snow parkas and boomerangs. What?

I think Flash is afraid of his power. Of the A- and B-list heroes, only Flash came into his power by accident. The rest were either born that way or chose to become that way. Even C-listers like Captain/The Atom(s) sort of knew what they were getting in to before they ended up with powers. All Barry (and Wally) did was leave a window open in the rain. Barry's previous experience as being a CSI gives him absolutely zero leg up on how his powers work and how best to use him, just some motivation to use them to fight crime.

Barry is scared of what he can do. And the reason for his fear? The Speed Force.

Barry is not the first person (maybe the first human, though) to gain access to the Speed Force (say, .7 SU ago), but in the Drewniverse, he's certainly held onto it the longest by far. Most people when they get hit by that lightning bolt out the blue start running, testing their limits. Except there are none. They just keep going faster and faster, lost in the joy of velocity before eventually fading, subsumed into the Speed Force itself at some point of singularity. Then the force continues on, moving through time and space, until it runs into its next host. Then the process repeats itself. This has gone on since the beginning of time.

The Speed Force is the motive energy that keeps the universe running. That Barry still holds on to it and repeatedly shies away from giving himself over to it means that universe is starting to wind down, to wobble a bit like an out of tune motor. This isn't a dire situation - I doubt that even if Barry was the Flash for a hundred years that it would cause irreparable harm - but it could explain some of the other weirdness that is starting to crop up on Earth. Like a rock thrown into a pond, the Speed Force landing on Earth and stopping has sent ripples out into time and space. Maybe it was those ripples that turned a Kryptonian escape pod towards Kansas? Maybe it's that miniscule wobble they cause that's making a shrouded island to reappear before its time.

We're sticking with Barry Allen here, mainly because I used to watch that horrible Flash TV show with that guy who plays the jerky husband in all those Lifetime movies in the title role. I liked Wally in Justice League (the end of the Cadmus arc with Flash vs Braniac/Luthor still makes me fist-pump), but I think that minimal attachment portrayal works better in an ensemble cast than as a headliner.

That and we really need Iris. Iris West is what kept Barry from just running away into the Speed Force when he got his powers. His love for her keeps him grounded. When he pushes his power, it's her voice that calls him back, that lets him ignore that black-clad figure that beckons him on ever faster. With the power of my editorial fiat, I'd require that any depiction of Barry's powers from his point of view would have the Black Flash lurking somewhere, maybe hidden maybe not, in the panel.

So that's why Flash spends most of his time zooming around Central City splitting his time between Iris, being a CSI, and fighting the likes of Captain Cold, Captain Boomerang, Mirror Master, and the rest of the Rogues. For him to do more, to fight world-level threats like Brainiac or Mongol, is to risk sacrificing himself to the Speed Force. There are other speedsters in the Drewniverse, but none with real access to the Force (think sugar vs splenda - close but not quite). For example, Professor Zoom arrives from the future via a synthetic Speed Force he developed. He wants the Real Thing and through his attempts to usurp the mantle from Barry ends up teaching the hero a lot about the true nature of his powers. When Barry learns that holding onto the Speed Force is damaging the universe (an exaggeration on Zoom's part, but hey), he confronts the Black Flash for the first time (rather than just trying to ignore him as he normally does) and ends up striking a deal that will lead to Wally West getting speed powers like his uncle. Barry gets to feel like he's not helping to destroy the universe by refusing to run into the light, and Black Flash/Speed Force gets a crack at actually propagating itself. 

As for the rest of Flash's adventures, we'll have to work hard to keep his power creep tamped down. We'll leave the Time Treadmill parked in the garage and keep walking between universes to a bare minimum. He'll get his own title (12/52) and will appear in team-ups (Flash is faster than Superman) and whatever form the Justice League ends up taking, but he will not be allowed to be used as a hand-wavey "er, uh, Flash fixed it with the Speed Force?" escape clause for when big cross-over events get out of hand.

Because thanks to Flashpoint, that well's done run dry.

Heh. Run. I'm so clever.

Monday, June 20, 2011


King Orin, the Weeping King, rules the Undersea Kingdom of Atlantis from atop the Coral Throne. Though the currents carry his tears away, it is said that they permeate all of the capitol city, infecting it with the king's great melancholy over the death of his son at the hands of his brother, Prince Orm the Betrayer. Queen Mera tries in vain to rouse her husband from his sorrow, but it seems hopeless. Only word that the Betrayer, having taken the name Ocean Master when he went into hiding to avoid his brother's wrath, has resurfaced is enough to stir Orin's passions and send him howling into the depths, his fury for revenge implacable as a tsunami.

Queen Mera struggles to hold the Atlantean court together, her power undermined at every turn by the machinations of her half-brother Orm. The Undersea Kingdom is an empire in decline, its far flung outposts and provinces become more and more accustomed to ruling themselves without interference from Atlantis proper. Is Orm really the serpent coiling about the foundations of the kingdom, slowly and carefully eroding what took generations to forge? Or does the decay come from Above, from the surface world turning its greedy eyes and grasping hands towards the riches of the ocean depths?

Well, both, obviously.

The War Between Brothers has been ongoing for over a generation now. Orm's attempted palace coup failed, but not before he murdered Orin's son and heir in a hostage situation gone horribly wrong. Orm knew the death of his nephew was unforgivable and fled into hiding immediately after escaping the city. Years later, he knows he cannot return and would never be accepted as King, so he works from afar to undermine the central authority of Atlantis. If he can't be king, nobody can.

Meanwhile, the surface world continues its encroachment on the Undersea Kingdom. More than just pollution and over fishing, the surface dwellers want access to the vast resources of the sea. From oil to minerals to exotic compounds that can be extruded from the most alien of undersea life, the surface seems to want it all. "If they could drink us dry, they would," goes the Atlantean saying. Without the help from a strong central government, many of the provinces have been forced to defend themselves and their way of life against the greedy surfacers. In order to survive, some provinces have even fallen in league with them, assisting surfacers at the expense of their own undersea neighbors.

Into this crumbling kingdom at the cusp of civil war swims our Aquaman.

Now, you ask your average person who Aquaman is and they'll probably make a joke about talking to the fish or being the most useless of the Superfriends (behind even the dog), so this is one of those opportunities where we don't really have to be entirely faithful to the character. So blonde haired, blue eyed Arthur Curry is gone, replaced by the sunken, haunted Weeping King. Our Aquaman is from one of the more upwardly mobile provinces, Mu, located off the coasts of Japan and China. Mu was once a great undersea city-state in its own right before it was conquered by Atlantis back in the mists of history.

Our Aquaman was raised an orphan, having been left to die at the mouth of Deepwater Cavern when just a baby. Named Arata, he was found by the occupant of the Cavern, the water spirit/dragon Mizuchi. Back in the Golden Age of Mu, families would bring their first born to the Cavern to be trained by the dragon, a practice that had been long lost to time, its myth even corrupted to being a sacrificial act. So why did Arata's mother feel the need to sacrifice him?

Because he is Orm's son.

Back before the failed coup, when Orm was building his powerbase by touring the provinces and making sure that if there was a change in occupancy on the Coral Throne enough people would be cool with it, the Prince had a dalliance with a local girl in a village not far outside of Mu's capitol. He moved on before he learned that he was a father, but small towns being small towns, pretty much everyone else in the village knew. At first, they were okay with the idea of a royal bastard being brought up in the village. In time he would go to Atlantis and claim his birthright, probably a minor noble title or something, which would help the locals. But after the coup and King Orin's reaction, the villagers figured out pretty quickly that having Orm's son kicking around would be a great liability. So the village elders demanded the boy's mother sacrifice him in the Old Way in order to keep everyone appeased and the village off the King's wrathful radar.

So Arata grew up under the dragon's tutelage until he reached the age of eighteen, conveniently at the start of Issue #1, at which point he embarks on his quest to find out about his heritage, right wrongs, and generally swim the Earth like Caine from Kung-Fu. Given that Arata is able to communicate with all undersea life, a trait common to all descendants of Atlan, the semi-mythical first Wizard-King of Atlantis, word will begin to slip out that a new member of the royal family has surfaced. This will draw the attention of the warring brothers Orin and Orm, one out of some semi-twisted desire to rebuild his lost family, the other out of a desire to make sure there is no heir to the throne thus hastening the dynasty's collapse. Of course, once the truth of Arata's heritage comes out, the brother's feelings towards him will probably reverse, with Orm wanting to use his son in another powergrab and Orin wanting to kill his brother's kid the same way his own was killed.

So it won't be easy times for young Arata. Luckily, he's been trained pretty much since birth by a mystical force of nature, the Dragon Mizuchi. He's stronger and faster than your typical Atlantean, able to communicate (not command, that's for the King only) with all aquatic life, and has with him the water spirit Jiao who uses her abilities to assist her friend (think waterbending ala Avatar the Last Airbender (show not movie, natch)). Arata travels the seven seas following a trail of clues, a trail that will lead him through the Provinces as civil war ferments and eventually to the capitol city of Atlantis itself in order to confront the family he never knew he had. Along the way, he'll have to fight Atlantean ninjas, the savage King Shark, and even a black clad pirate who may or may not be a ghost.

Will he succeed? Only time and tide will tell. (11/52)

7/22/11 Edit - Here's a crudely drawn sketch made on my iPad with SketchBook Pro!
Aquaman, Son of the Seas