Friday, July 8, 2011

Green Arrow - Art Attempt

Still can't draw and the wine sure didn't help. Here's Green Arrow, cartoony-style.

Fight'n crime? Yeah, I was into that before it went mainstream.

Deadgirl - Art Attempt

I can barely draw, but work was pretty slow today, so...

Deadgirl, Ghostly Avenger of the Drewniverse

Let's call it a proof of concept.

Deadman (sorta)

When I was first re-getting in to comics by raiding my college roommate's trade collection, one of my favorites was Kingdom Come. Alex Ross's art drew me in first, of course, but the dense collection of characters kept me locked in. This was pre-Wikipedia days, so I didn't have an easy source for "Who the hell is that?" research. I knew who the Bigwigs were, but the minor characters could have been formed out of whole cloth for all I knew.

One of the minor characters that appealed to me was Deadman. I loved the image of the skeleton in the loose tights performing the role of a sort of maitre'd to the deceased. I knew absolutely nothing about the history of Boston Brand and being a poor college student with beer to buy was not really able to go delving into his back issues.

Still, Deadman stuck with me. I like the idea of a superhero who became such after suffering through the tragedy that normally sets off others on the path to heroism when it happens to others. Dick Grayson and Bruce Wayne didn't die, they just watched their families do so. Barry Allen and Vic Stone came close to death after their accidents, but didn't follow through. So that makes Boston Brand unique, if not a bit of a prodigy as normally you need to be a hero for a few years before your inevitable death and resurrection.

In my previous writing blog, now dead for over a year, I rebooted Deadman, sorta, as at the time he wasn't quite dead yet anymore due to the events around Brightest Day. I figured a character named Deadman should actually be a dead guy and not some resurrection delivery guy. So having dug up my old notes, let's revisit re-reboot Deadman!

Or should I say Deadgirl?

Madison Malloy is your average popular high school student. Bright, pretty, outgoing, all that good stuff. She moves in the popular circles, does student government, captains the school's field hockey team, has a nice boyfriend, and pretty much has a great life ahead of her. The only thing that really separates her from her peers is that she has two moms, but even that isn't really a big deal. Neither Madison, nor her younger half-brother Jake (their moms took turns being the biological parent), have felt any ostracism or hate or anything from their fairly liberal suburb of Keystone.

Anyways, everything is going great for Madison. She's been offered early admission to her first choice college (Metropolis U! The big city, y'all!), was elected class Vice President, has a decent part time job that's not in food service, and even inherited a car! Yay! But then Something Happens. Friends suddenly turn on her. Vicious rumors start circling, calling her a slut and a cheat. Teachers who would have backed her up and offered her support previously now roll their eyes and tell her to stop her whining.

There is some sort of scandal over the funds for a dance and Madison is blamed. Even though she is innocent, the school completely turns against her. She's stripped of her class office, her field hockey team refuses to have her as captain any more, and her scholarship is suddenly in doubt. Her boyfriend dumps her and starts to add rumors to the mill. High school becomes toxic and Madison is bullied left and right. Even the community seems to be turning on her, suddenly taking issue with her moms' lifestyle choice. This causes strife at home, the unspoken implication that the chance in opinion is fallout from Madison's behavior.

Madison's world is crumbling around her for reasons she can't understand. At first, she throws herself into proving everyone wrong, going out of her way to be even more helpful, even nicer, but that just seems to backfire. She tries to get to the bottom of things one-on-one with her friends, but they barely have time for her and certainly don't want to be seen with her. Even her brother backs away. She is alone.

So when Madison's body turns up, few are surprised. The community mourns the passing of a troubled teen, the loss of a great girl with so much potential. Some blame the high school bullies, but they just rally around the twin "well, it was her fault for being that way" and "we're just kids" defenses. Privately, they're shocked, whatever antipathy they had towards Madison fading, but their lawyers tell them to keep a united front if they don't want to throw away their futures too. Madison becomes just another high school suicide.

Of course, Madison didn't kill herself. Yes, she did drive down to the railroad tracks after a particularly bad field hockey game, but she did that all the time, just to sit and think and maybe cry a bit at the mess her life had become. One minute, she's turning off the car and putting it in park, the next....



But the more she flits around in the blackness, the more she starts to resent what has happened to her. She understands on some fundamental level that she's dead and that's not fair. Sure, her life sucked at the end there, but it's high school. High school always sucks. She had an entire life ahead of her, a life she could throw herself in to and never need look back. So when the Light comes, becoming her closer, offering eternity, she rejects it, turning away from it. No. She will get her life back.

And then she's back at the train tracks. She barely has time to notice her chalk white skin when a train approaches at high speed, barreling down on her. She throws her hands in front of her face, but the train just moves through her like she wasn't there. After it passes, she realizes that she's not standing on the tracks, but is floating a foot above them. There's a car idling by the tracks, occupied and waiting for the barrier to raise so it can continue on. Madison floats towards it, but the driver doesn't see her. Instead, he just puts the car in gear and drives through her like she wasn't there.

As the car nears, she catches a glimpse of her reflection in the windshield. Her blonde hair has turned black, her skin white. Shocked eyes have no pupils, just kohl-rimmed blanks. She seems to be wearing some version of her field hockey uniform, now turned red and black. She yells at the driver to stop, floating after the car and eventually overtaking it, even though it's going something like 35 mph now. She waves her hands, nothing. She tried knocking on the window, but her knuckles pass right through the glass.

Frustrated, she brings her arm down on the roof of the car. Suddenly, her field hockey stick is in her hand, its end glowing with a flickering reddish light and BANG it hits! Madison is shocked, the stick fades away, and the driver pulls over by the side of the road to see what happened. He just shrugs, assuming it was a rock or a bird or something that made that little dent, then continues on his way.

Madison drifts back to town, not knowing what she'll find there.

Deadgirl (#23/52) will follow the adventures of Madison Malloy as she attempts to discover the circumstances behind her death. Think Veronica Mars if Veronica was the one who died, not Lily. She'll slowly discover the extent of her powers - she's invisible and intangible all the time, can focus her will through her field hockey stick in order to move objects, and can even possess people, though this takes a lot out of her. She'll get some help from the living from her brother Jake, who can for some reason actually see and hear her (but only in reflections).

The events around her death will turn out to be mystical in nature, so when Madison notices the same thing happening to another girl that happened to her, she realizes there is a clock on solving her murder and bringing the guilty party to justice before another girl loses her life. Dark Angel is a ghost like Madison who feeds off the despair of young women in order to prolong her own undeath and fuel her power. Her schemes will reveal a larger ghostly world to Madison, so once she solves her own murder she'll have something to branch out to in later stories.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Adam Strange

Poor Adam, fish out of water. Not only is Adam a stranger in a strange land when he makes the Zeta beam'd trip to Rann, but as a character he's really a creature of the scientifiction past, like John Carter, Buck Rogers, or Magnus, Robot Fighter. He represents a sort of jetpacked art deco future that never happened. All our science fiction heroes now live in cramped quarters and swear a lot. And if they find a robot, they don't punch'em, they fuck'em til their spines glow.

So can we fit Adam Strange into our brave new world?

Originally, Adam Strange was an archaeologist who while onsite at some dig in Peru gets zapped by a beam from space and whisked away to the planet Rann where he performs feats of daring do and woo. Now, I know a few archaeologists and while they may hardy folk from hunching over in a hot pit all day, they tend to be at least 4 fingers short of two-fisted individuals. So that job's out. Besides, archaeologist (like mercenary) is one of those over-used comic professions (seriously, there's a wikipedia page for everything) so if we can get away with not using it, so much the better.

What can we use instead? We need a job that allows for international travel, preferably in the southern hemisphere (zeta beams require line of site and you can only see Alpha Centauri in the south), that places more emphasis on adventure than research. I mean, if an archaeologist was transported to a distant world, wouldn't their first impulse be to study it, rather than bang its women? Priorities, I know, but that's why there are so few archaeologists.

And that's an Archaeologist Fact.

Luckily for Adam Strange, I watch way too much television and know that there is a job out there for him that fits the bill. It involves international travel, adventure, and teaches the skills needed to survive in sometimes hostile lands. Even better, it's a job where you could conceivably go missing for periods of time and people would think it normal.

The job I'm talking about is Basic Cable Survival Expert. Bear Grylls, Les Stroud, Dave and Cody, Myke Hawke (tee hee), the list goes on and on. So let's do that. Adam Strange, ex-commando, hosts the survival adventure program Strange Wilderness (shut up. it's my wife's favorite movie) on the Adventure Channel. I'm making him Australian because the two-fisted, I Know Best, bravado Strange exhibits comes off as imperialistic and jerky from an American while merely quaint from an Aussie. Not that it makes a huge difference - rest assured that Gambit-style gumbo-gumbo-m'chere "accents" are banned from the Drewniverse. Anyways, Strange travels the world showing how to survive in dire circumstances. Sometimes he's accompanied by a camera crew ("Bear Style"), sometimes he goes it alone ("Stroud Style"). One day while out on one of his solitary expeditions, he gets zapped by the zeta beam and whisked away to the planet Rann.

On Rann, Strange finds a highly advanced if somewhat stagnated society. I won't go as far as Alan Moore did to make them all sterile or whatever, but let's just say that there is a strong cultural disinterest in physical labor. You don't build things with your own two hands, you tell a robot what you want and then it directs other robots who build it. Rannians are not fat or lazy or anything - medical science has taken care of the former while the later is more of a 'been there, done that' type of ennui'd worldview. The Zeta Beam was only made because the Rannians were bored and the act of exploring the universe and meeting new peoples smacked of effort. Why not just build a device that can bring the rest of the galaxy to Rann?

So when Adam Strange, the first zeta beamer, shows up on Rann, the people are quite taken with him. Rannians shower him with gifts (active stuff they don't want, like jetpacks and space suits), and some of their more forward women throw themselves at him. He gets into scrapes and conflicts with some jealous factions, folks who don't like how his active behavior could change the status quo. In a way, his first trip to Rann is a lot like what he does on his TV show - even down to the point where some of his fights and encounters are actually staged for others' viewing pleasure. "Say, I wonder if that Strange fellow would do well fighting a robotic simiape?" "Good idea, old chap. I'll have Buildo bodge one up. Should it have laser eyes or fists?" "Laser fists, most certainly."

But all things must end, including the effects of the zeta beam. So Strange is given some coordinates of where to be on Earth at what times so that he may come back and visit and have more adventures for the people of Rann to enjoy. High fives all around, have a great summer, see you next year. Adam Strange embarks on a dual career as a reality show star on both Earth and Rann, right?

Not really. You see, you can't just be shooting beams into space and expect others not to notice. And in this case, one of those others is Brainiac. Oops.

Adam Strange's second visit to Rann does not go as well as the first. We open Issue #1 of Adam Strange (#22/52) with his arrival on a planet under attack by Brainiac. Rannian reliance on technology is a huge weakness here as many of their systems get infected by Brainiac's control protocols pretty quickly. The people of Rann literally do not know how to defend themselves from an attack on this scale and so turn to Adam Strange. It takes many zeta beam visits, but at the end of the story-arc, Strange manages to defeat Brainiac.

The victory is not without a cost, though, as it turns out that the zeta beam has not only been pulling Strange across the lightyears, but across time itself. It's like fifty years (or more?) in the past on Rann, so when Adam Strange gets all "that's how we do things on Earth, you damned tin can" he's actually telling Brainiac about humanity's existence. From there, it's just a simple matter of following the zeta beam's trajectory to bring one of Earth's biggest threats home (perhaps with a pit stop at Krypton, which is on the way). Strange won't find out about the time difference between Earth and Rann for a bit, maybe when a Green Lantern tells him he's seen old statues of Adam Strange all over the otherwise desolate planet Rann. "Yeah, that planet was abandoned years ago - nobody knows what happened to the population, though."

Still, that's a storyline for a different day. Following the defeat of Brainiac, Strange's adventures on Rann will involve trying to rebuild a now fractured society, prevent all an all out Rannian civil war, and dealing with some weird alien life that escaped Brainiac's ship when it crashed. "Adam, could you be a dear and do something about that sentient tornado while we rebuild our civilization? Cheerio."

And there's Adam Strange. As a character, he'll develop from a two-fisted, slightly roguish ne'er-do-well into an actual hero. Once he learns about the Fate of Rann, he'll go a little nutty, but hopefully that's just another problem that can be worked out with a jetpack and a fist full of energy beams. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Titans

One tricky thing about rebooting an entire universe at once is that you lose out on the ability to use character development to produce changes to the setting. With a reboot, you don't see the wind-up, you tune in just as the pitch has been thrown. While you can suss out what happened to lead up to the pitch, how important it is based on the current state of the game, and so on, you do miss out on the drama of the wind-up.

I think it is this lack of wind-up that has made me roll my eyes at Cyborg's inclusion in the new Justice League. Maybe I just underrate his powers, but without the in story development that helps show how/why Cyborg joins the team, he's just not tall enough to ride that ride. While I think that Cyborg would be a useful addition to the Justice League (they need a tech guy), I'd be concerned that he'd be relegated to the role of Dude Who Pilots The Plane or Watchtower Repair Technician, both of which are not-so-great roles for the teams only obvious minority.

Moving Cyborg to the Justice League just feels like a demotion. So let's keep him a teenager in the Titans. I'm striking the 'Teen' part from their title as, based on current Titans storylines, that 'teen' label does not really apply for most the team. Also, there's that whole thing about kids wanting to act older than they are, so no 18 year old would want to join a "teen" group.

In the Drewniverse, the Titans are sort of Superhero College. It's where you go after you've done your time in public school or if you need just a bit more supervision while you come to grips with your powers. Keeping with the Giant T Shaped Building theme, the 'headmaster' of our Titans is Mr. Terrific. He's older, sure, but his role is more Charlie than Angels. He provides guidance and support to the Titans and takes care of the stuff that your average teen wouldn't even have cross their mind.

A fair play RA, if you will.

Terrific started the Titans let's say three years ago. He keeps an eye (orb?) on heroic happenings and will invite young heroes to join. Titan membership is seen as a path to Justice League membership, as was the case with Star Girl, who recently "graduated" from the team, but that promotion is not guaranteed. For example, Starfire or Raven might be able to punch at the Justice League level, but Beast Boy? Not so much.

Anyways, here's our roster, largely informed by the Teen Titans animated series:

  • Cyborg - The longest serving member of the team and field leader (Cyclops to Terrific's Xavier). Victor Stone was a promising athlete who was severely injured in an accident. His father used his access to STAR Labs/LexCorp technology to restore his son (much of the same technology that went into Metallo went into Cyborg). Vic was pretty unhappy at the transformation, mainly because he wasn't consulted and felt that his dad picked having a freak over a cripple as a son. This lead him to walk away from his family, at which point Mr. Terrific approached him, filling the mentoring father figure role Vic needed.
  • Starfire - A Tamaranean Princess, Koriand'r was exiled from her home planet due to the machinations of her sister who wished to clear he lines of succession for herself. Headstrong and impulsive, our Starfire is much more the "Red Sonja in Space" of her original incarnation and less of the "tee hee I don't know I'm hot" Dream Girlfriend she later became.
  • Raven - Only begotten daughter of Trigon, Scourge of the Deepest Realm, Raven was whisked away from her father's clutches at an early age so that she might not grow up to be the vessel with which he shall use to conquer our own dimension. She grew up in a pocket dimension, but fled to Earth when Trigon showed up. Trigon is pretty much pacing at the gates to our reality now, a problem that Raven (and Agents of Fate) will have to deal with shortly.
  • Beast Boy - Not the original! The original Beast Boy/Changeling is a prisoner of The Brain, captured amidst the aftermath of the fall of the original Doom Patrol. This Beast Boy is a clone of the original, a plant (literally) being used by The Brain as part of its schemes- shades of "The Judas Contract" here. Over time, the clone will start to degrade a bit, his transformations becoming a bit "goopier" ala Clayface.
  • Blue Beetle - Jaime Reyes! Yay! Jaime was actually brought to the Titans (by Wonder Woman, no less) to be trained. I really liked Beetle's reboot, so don't really feel the need to change to much about him.
  • Static - Probably the best known of the Bang Babies, Static (Mr. Shock if you're nasty) was pulled into the team after being a bit too enthusiastic about his heroing. He's extremely capable and very confident in his abilities, so Terrific sometimes struggles to get him to play well with others. He'll be filling the role of Robin to some extent.
  • Supergirl - The most recent addition to the team, taking the place of Star Girl. There's a bit of resentment at her recent inclusion as pretty much everyone is aware she's "slumming it" with the Titans until she's called up to the League. For her part, Kara is trying to make the best of her life on Earth (I don't like the "she doesn't care about people" version of Supergirl - she's supposed to be a character readers identify with, not hold at arms length!) and gives everything her best, earnest effort. I'll have more on her in a later entry.
And there we go! Can you what Mr. Terrific is doing with his roster? No white dudes is pretty obvious, but more than that, we have young heroes that come from pretty messed up family backgrounds (notable exception being Jaime) and upbringings. The theory is, if you take a group of young people with no real family ties and build them a family, you can create a bond that will be hard to shake in the years to come, even long after they leave the team.

Now, can you guess what one of the world's smartest people will do with a unified team of superpowers? That feels like a mighty big lever to me...

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Spectre

There are heavyweight heroes and then there is The Spectre. Seriously, this guy is a pain to write for in any sort of meaningful continuity. As a nigh-limitless Spirit of God's Vengeance, Spectre has all the same problems people tend to levy against Superman - he's boring because he can do anything, and because he acts with the will of God, he's automatically justified in anything he does. Attempts at a serial narrative would just becomes repetitive as each story would follow a distressingly similar arc: Bad Dude Does Bad, Gets Away With It, Spectre Intervenes, Ironic Punishment Occurs.

Ungh. Lettuce and cottage cheese indeed.

So in thinking about The Spectre's place in the Drewniverse, I'm thinking of a character that should be treated like the shark in Jaws - unseen until the last minute. Being constantly on the page would rob the Spectre of its power as Serious Business in the setting. The Spectre can't have its own title, but it can play a role in shaping the future of the setting. And I'm aware of the his/its weirdness here - the bonded Spectre/Jimmy Corrigan/Crispus Allen character for the comics is the 'he' while the unbonded Spirit of Vengeance is an 'it.'

In thinking about the Spectre's past exploits, we see a lot of deus ex machina behavior. The only thing really checking his power was the Comics Code's prohibition against blood and guts. So we got a lot of 'turned into an object then destroyed' scenes as a way around that. I agree that limiting the power of the Spectre is a Good Idea - otherwise you'll have to start jumping through hoops to explain why it doesn't simply avenge all injustices, thus leaving the rest of the JLA sitting around with nothing to do. "Hey, Batman looks like there's a bank being robbed- oh, right, I forgot in a world with a brutal force of vengeance actively stalking the planet, you'd never become Batman as Joe Chill would have been turned into, I dunno, an ice sculpture and melted at a Wayne Family Charity Benefit."

But if we can keep the ghost in the machine and have vengeance visited by proxies of the Spectre, we might have something. Imagine Jimmy Corrigan, Gotham City homicide detective. Gotham is a notoriously corrupt town, so being an honest (or even mostly honest) cop is probably an exercise in futility. How can you bring down the Bad Guys when they can buy off a judge or psychiatrist so easily? Instead of getting them off the streets, all you really do is shunt them to Arkham for 3 months or so before they are announced 'cured' of some mental disease or defect that they paid a doc to rubber stamp them with in lieu of going to trial. And that's only if the crook would make it to trial in the first place! Evidence has a way of walking off in Gotham.

So Detective Corrigan starts receiving anonymous messages from a mysterious benefactor. These messages give hints as to the guilt or innocence of current suspects, the relative trustworthiness of Corrigan's fellow cops (including partner Renee Montoya), and other breadcrumbs of information that help him get to the bottom of certain crimes. It doesn't take long before Montoya starts to suspect that something's up - Corrigan may be a good cop, but he's not a great one, you know? She begins to question the leaps of logic that he's able to make getting from Crime A to Suspect B. Is someone using Corrigan as a tool to help purge the city? There were rumors that Commissioner Gordon had a secret task force of incorruptibles that got shut down a few years back, maybe this is the new iteration of that? Or maybe it's The Batman, feeding information to Corrigan regarding crimes he's just too busy to deal with? Or could it be a crime boss using his police connections to target rivals?

Question, questions.

While Montoya starts to get to the bottom of her partner's suddenly improving clearance rate, Corrigan is dealing with his own quandary. He's becoming more and more trusting of the messages he receives, often to the point where he knows but is not able to prove who committed a given crime. So what then? Is it acceptable to frame up a crook for a crime he didn't commit because he got away with one he did? What about simple vigilante justice? If the courts are demonstrably corrupt, why not just skip them all together?

To add to this ambiguity, we'd be keeping it vague as to whether or not it's an outside force that's informing Corrigan's investigations, or maybe some sort of psychic ability he has. So if Montoya manages to get access to Corrigan's email (with the help of Jack Marshall, a hacker she knows), for example, it would appear that Corrigan sent the incriminating information to himself at some point in the past. Aware that his partner is on to him, Corrigan finds he has to branch out and starts to reply on his old partner, Slam Bradley, now a PI after being drummed out of the GCPD after pissing off the wrong politician.

So what's going on here and what does it have to do with The Spectre? Obviously, The Spectre is the force sending messages to Jim Corrigan. Prevented from taking a heavy hand in the mortal world, the Spectre entity can only work through proxies. The proxies it has chosen for itself are Jim Corrigan, Renee Montoya, Jack Marshall, Slam Bradley, Helena Bertinelli, and _______ (We'll leave the last one open for the time being, pending how I slot some other street-level detective heroes in future reboots). It is bringing these secret six agents together in order to free it from its prison. What's keeping it there? The litanies and rites contained within the Crime Bible, a holy book at the heart of a Gotham-based criminal sect.

So the Spectre does not start out with a title all its own. Instead, it starts as the guiding force of Secret Six (#20/52), which in itself will be a miniseries with a limited issue run (24?). The Return of the Spectre (Vengeance Unleashed?) would actually be a future Big Event in the Drewniverse (along with Darkseid, Conqueror and The Wrath of Zod) that we'd use to move the continuity football a few yards forward. I'll talk more about the use of these Big Events in the future, but for the time being, we'll assume that they are not the giant time-sucks we've come to expect form the infinite crisising we've had for the past few years from DC. They are more mile markers than anything else - with the vague nature of time in comics, we'd be able to date random one-off stories as being between certain events if we need to.

What's more, Secret Six will give us a chance to build up the backstories of future heroes like Montoya's The Question or Bertinelli's Huntress. I think that in order to keep a sense of youthful energy, we need to have new characters constantly being (re)added to the continuity. The New Hero On The Scene is a great POV character for new readers and using some of these classic fourth-tier heroes in those roles would give older readers something to look forward to as well. Secret Six, because it takes place in Gotham, would also be a great vehicle for introducing the rebooted cast of villains surrounding Batman. Otherwise, it'd take like seventy kajillion years to get them all out across the various Bat-titles.