Saturday, July 23, 2011

Black Manta

Back in the Aquaman reboot, I suggested that our Black Manta would be a pirate ghost. Again, keeping in mind my lack of ability, here he is:

Black Manta

More a weapon than a villain, Black Manta is the ghost of a pirate who was betrayed by his crew. Those knowing The Words and willing to spill their blood into saltwater can summon Black Manta to do their bidding. Silent and implacable, Manta's rippling form gives the impression that something is peeking through at our world from the land of the watery dead. Can Arata defend himself against this adversary, or will he be forever haunted?


A doodle from last night.

I had been pondering Wonder Woman villains and wanted her to have her own dark shadow type. Morrigan is a 2000 year old Celtic mummy. Diana disturbed her soul while in the underworld and now the warrior woman has risen from her bog for vengeance.

Thanks to USA World Cup goalkeeper Hope Solo for posing.

Friday, July 22, 2011


It's been awhile since we've touched on the more mystical side of the Drewniverse, so in honor of the 100+ temperature currently causing birds and small mammals to burst into flames on the sidewalk, let's talk about Hell.

Hell and its denizens have a pretty muddled past in the DC universe. The Comics Code prevented a lot of demons and ghosts and damned souls from showing up too frequently in the setting, but of course, Jimmy Olsen found a way, defeating the devil by feeding him angel food cake during one of his many batshitinsane head-trauma storylines. This was pretty par for the course for the devil's early appearances - all horns, no cattle. After the Code eventually crumbled, the legions of the damned began to work their way into the universe in fits and starts. Toss in Alan Moore's later mystical ramblings and the DC/Vertigo split, and you end up with Hell as a setting that's just as mixed up as the rest of the universe.

First thing's first - there is a Heaven and Hell in the Drewniverse. While this then implies there's a Judeo-Christian God as well, we'll be following the long example set down by simply not thinking too hard about that. We'll keep it at Heaven and Hell are dimensions close to us, each ruled by a host of powerful beings who have some connection to humanity via the soul. I have not decided whether or not aliens have souls. This is an important and weighty decision, one that will require much more beer to resolve.

Hell, or at least the Hell that corresponds to Earth, is a twisted mirror of our own planet. Maybe this can tie into the Why Is Earth So Special? question we've been toying with. If you as a dimensional traveler discover a realm that happens to be laid out much like another, you'd think the two linked. If you found two realms linked to a common one, you'd think the one in the middle was pretty dang important. Could it be the fields that draw Heaven and Hell so close to us? Possibly.

Anyways, at some point in the depths of mystical history, there was a rebellion in Heaven and the losing side got cast out and ended up in Hell. We'll twist on Milton a bit by saying that Lucifer and his group were not technically the rebels. They were ambitious, sure, but think of them more like forward thinking folks whose plans got way too big for their britches and ended up being taken out by the more conservative traditionalists. This, I think, helps explain why the demonic always seems to be fiddling with humanity more than the angelic - the former are just more proactive by nature.

Still, history is written by the victors, so for all intents and purposes, Lucifer and his gang were the rebel angels and they ended up in Hell. Except Hell was not empty when they showed up. Still pissed off from what they saw as a betrayal, the fallen angels (now devils) subjugated the locals (demons). The Devil/Demon distinction is important, almost like a class thing like Patricians and Plebeians in ancient Rome. Neron is a Devil, Trigon is a Demon. Anyways, after years of battle, things sort of settled down into a tenuous peace. A new government came into being and eventually even social mobility (via souls) became possible.

Hell is controlled by the Triumvirate, a ruling body consisting of three infernal powerhouses. The current Triumvirate is:
  • Lucifer - The First Fallen, Lord of Light. He's the David Bowie incarnation straight out of Sandman and Lucifer. Defacto ruler of Hell by writ of power.
  • Azazel - Prince of the Bottle, Archdevil of the Thorned Path. The most recent addition to the Triumvirate, this devil won his place, usurping the devil Neron, by being one of the first to truck with humanity as more than just a source of souls. His daughter Nada mated with the hero Champion (now known as the wizard Shazam) to produce the surprisingly powerful Lord Satanus and Lady Blaze.
  • Beelzebub - Lord of the Pit, Magister of the Infernal Bank. The highest ranking demon in Hell, Beelzebub has his bloated fingers wrapped around the infernal economy. He's the Crassus to Lucifer's Pompey and Azazel's Caesar. Cautious, Beelzebub tends to operate through demonic agents like Nergal or Nebrios.

Of course, there are other factions within Hell that rise and fall over time. Some of the ascendant powers currently include:

  • Belial - The Smiling One. Facilitator of the Infernal Circles. Smooth and charming, this devil is the father both of Merlin and Etrigan. Perhaps powerful enough to claim a spot on the Triumvirate should one of the three falter, he has said that he doesn't want the headaches that come with the job.
  • Trigon - Thane of the Borderlands. Watcher of the Worlds. A demon who aspires to godhood, Trigon is the ruler of a savage expanse of Hell. Though powerful, he's viewed as uncivilized, a barbarian whose armies are nonetheless much valued by the infernal powers. Bound to his realm when the fallen angels invaded, he seeks his freedom to destroy as is his wont.
  • Neron - The Crooked Candle. Prince of Lies. Once Neron sat at Lucifer's right hand, but some act caused him to lose favor. Only three beings know what that act was, but neither Lucifer nor Neron nor the Phantom Stranger are talking about it. He has recently returned from his self-imposed exile with a new consort, Lilith, to reclaim his dominions that his lord steward Asmodel had kept for him.
  • Abaddon - The Hungry One. Devourer. One of the demons that refused to bow to the new order thrust on Hell by the fallen angels, Abaddon swims deep in the Pit, devouring all those it encounters, shitting them out in new and more terrible forms. Is it building an army down there? Beelzebub says things are well in hand.
  • Eclipso - God's Wrath. Vengeance Upon All. If Abaddon is a demonic predator, then Eclipso is its fallen counterpart. Once Eclipso acted as God's Wrath, but he went too far and lost the job to The Spectre. As the Songs of Heaven still hum beneath Eclipso's skin, he is best able to cross the veil between Hell and Earth, sometimes ferrying others for a price.
  • The Demons Three - Tripontiff of the Leaden Tower. Seers of the Underworld. Abnegazar, Rath, and Ghast are partially seers, partially spiritual leaders of the inhabitants of Hell.
There are other powerful beings, devils, demons, and worse, who make their homes in Hell, but those above are the current movers and shakers. When building a powerbase in Hell, it's common for devils and demons to venture up to Earth, but sometimes that has disastrous effects. I mean, who'd want to get bound to an Arthurian knight? Or a stunt man? Still, the rewards often outweigh the risk, so they still come.

Still, after all that background, it'd be a shame to waste it all. So rather than wait for the infernal to come to the Drewniverse, let's send a person down there. Faust (#31/52) is the story of Sebastian Faust, son of the corrupt sorcerer Felix Faust, who was given power at a young age when his father sold his son's soul for power. Lucifer, the devil called in for the deal, was annoyed that his time was being wasted by something as trivial as this ("This is much more Neron's forte. Why couldn't you have called him?") twists the deal and gives the power Felix bargained for to his son.

So it's no huge surprise in Issue #1 when Lucifer summons Sebastian to Hell to perform a favor. In return for his soul, Faust must solve a murder. Lucifer's. Someone has killed Lucifer in his role as Triumvir. While this doesn't mean that Lucifer is dead or anything (he's fine), it does mean that he's no longer in charge of Hell. A vacancy on the Triumvirate is a scary thing as it means the chance of civil war is pretty high. Last time, Lucifer was able to hand-pick Neron's successor, which kept things pretty stable. But, having been removed from his role in governance, he can't do that this time around. Think about the phrase "The King is Dead, Long Live the King" - though the person who was king is dead, the office still remains. Now reverse it and you have what's going on here.

Faust has a host of suspects from the lists above. The demons like Abaddon have always resented the devils and would love to kick out the fallen from Hell entirely. Old enemies in Heaven, such as the angel Zauriel, still exist, as some wounds of war never heal. Neron certainly wants a seat at the Big Table again. Sebastian's dad is not the sort to forgive a slight. And don't forget how Lucifer once abdicated his rule in the DC universe itself. Could this be more of a suicide than a murder? Plus there's the whole how that needs to be figured out, which will likely tie into the failing veil of magic that Zatanna and Constantine are looking in to in Badge of Fate.

Questioning the living and the dead, the saved and the damned, is bound to piss some people off, so young Faust will probably have to pick up a sidekick/bodyguard to help keep him safe. What he uncovers will no doubt shake the spiritual foundations of the Drewniverse and could actually lead to one of our 5-7 permitted Big Events.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


Ah, clones, is there anything they can't do? I mean, besides make a decent Clone Saga or Clone War. That's beyond them fersure. But besides that, clones are the go to plot devices of the modern comics universe.

Having usurped the role of "Whoops, this guy turned out to be popular but we killed him off" stand-ins from brothers (both twins and not), clones are one of the core reasons why DC needs so many reboots. How many times has Luthor been cloned? There must be dozen extras of him sitting in tubes ala Venture Brothers just waiting for release.

I'm not one to talk, of course. I already have a bunch of clones of Dr. Niles Caulder from Doom Patrol running around, plus we have Bizarro and Power Girl as the first two clones of Superman (although the latter has some Atlantean thrown in for good measure). I'm not sure it's possible to keep clones out of comics nowadays, so who am I to stand against the tide?

Enter Superboy, the third clone of Superman. To be clear, cloning Superman is no easy task. His Kryptonian DNA is very hard to replicate by itself in the lab, thus the twisted creature that is Bizarro. The next advance in Superman-cloning technology was largely funded by the government in partnership with LexCorp. Gerard Shugel was able to make a more stable clone by blending Kryptonian DNA with Atlantean, the latter's adaptability being just the thing needed to bridge the gap. The Superboy project, however, is all Lex Luthor. Using his genius at synthesis, being able to take elements of super-science from a myriad of sources and somehow get them all to work together, Luthor was able to substantially reduce the amount of Atlantean DNA needed for a stable clone. Not the most humble of people, he then inserted his own.

Like usual, Luthor's pride is his downfall. While he succeeded in giving the clone his own analytical abilities, he also managed to give it a great deal of his own stubbornness. In theory, this would not have been a problem (brainwashing and Kryptonite control rods go a long way towards keeping super-clones under control) had the clone not developed additional powers.

So what are Superboy's powers, anyways?

Well, like Dad #1, he's a solar battery. He stores up energy from our yellow sun to power his extraordinary abilities. Because he's young (like, very young), he's not had as much time to store up power, so his super-abilities are of Superman 1938 levels. This means he can heft up cars, run real fast, leap an eighth of a mile, and stand up to most things south of an artillery shell. His further powers like flight, freezing breath, heat vision, and his sensory abilities will develop over time. When and if he reaches his full potential for his Kryptonian powers, he'll still not be as powerful as a true-blooded Kryptonian (Superman, Supergirl, Zod) or even the other clones, Bizarro and Power Girl.

Still, if it takes him an extra minute or two to fly to the sun and back, I'm pretty sure nobody will hold it against him.

In the regular DC universe, Superboy's unforeseen power is "tactile telekinesis." As I mentioned in the Sharif entry, telekinesis is the vanilla ice cream of the superhero world, so I'm not so thrilled about keeping that. I do like how in his early appearances, Superboy was able to take apart mechanical objects, reducing them to individual components with a touch. So we'll keep that, but we'll leave out the idea of force shields and the like. Instead, let's use Superboy to tie in to the notion of the Grey I theorized about back in "Why is Earth So Special?" Just as Poison Ivy can tap into the Green and use that connection to control plants, so shall Superboy be able to eventually do the same with machines.

One wonders, was the glitch that gave Superboy that power a true accident? Or was it a nascent intelligence manipulating things to its benefit? You can bet we'll be exploring that.

Still, before we can do that, we have to get Superboy out of the lab, which will be his first act in Superboy (#30/52). Like we said above, the LexCorp lab is particularly able to deal with his Kryptonian powers, so he'll have to use his other gifts in order to get free. While his ability to manipulate mechanical objects will be really helpful when it comes time to pick locks and open sealed gates, it's his gifts from Dad #2, Lex Luthor himself, that will help the young clone escape.

For a Luthor, it's not hard to notice the flaws in systems. Or even the flaws in other people. So we open Issue #1 with a well timed escape plan, ala Neal Caffrey's escape in the first episode of White Collar (a younger Matthew Bomer would make for a good Connor Kent), with Superboy pretty much walking out of captivity. The more I think about it, the more I like the idea of a conman Conner. Normally, it's his Superman side that is highlighted in his depictions, not his cunning Luthor-ness. But if you think about it, you have a genius who is on the run from a powerful organization, a young man who has zero context for how people are supposed to act in the real world outside of what observations he's able to make. So his only option is to fake it until he makes it, blend in as much as possible, and then use his other abilities outside the norm to achieve his goals.

Sounds like a conman to me.

Conner's name? It was picked almost at random - he noticed that the night manager of a motel had a dead son named Conner, so he picked it at check-in to play on her sympathies so she would look past the fact he didn't have any ID on him. Would Conner run to Superman or the Justice League? Maybe not - we'll place Supergirl's arrival on Earth a bit prior to Superboy's escape. Thus, Conner would be able to see Superman's attempts to change Kara into a hero like him (I remember the spats my sister and father got into when she was a teen, I can only imagine the same involving superpowers would be writ large - "But I don't wanna join the Titans!"). As someone who grew up in a vat with one dad already having a whole lot of plans for him, maybe Conner wouldn't want yet another dad trying to mold him into something he's not. Plus it would reverse the angst we're used to - normally, it's Conner who wants to be accepted by Superman, not the other way around.

So what would Conner's goals be? Hard to say. We'd be starting the first arc like The Fugitive with Conner on the run from Luthor's hired trackers (has to be Deathstroke in the Tommy Lee Jones role, right? Maybe supplemented by some B-lister Luthor creations like Metallo or Parasite). Once he catches his breath, we'll have him try to turn the tables on Luthor, maybe to get some leverage to force Lex to give up the chase (maybe something to do with the easy cloning facilities Lex seems to have access to?). Conner could assemble a team of similarly ethically vague experts on his travels towards this end - they'd be the updated Newsboy Legion. In the end, Conner would want to be in a position where he can be the one to determine who he is and not feel obligated to follow the examples of his two dads.

Toss in the mystery behind the Grey, the problems of being a clone, a few guest appearances by other luminaries of the Drewniverse, and I think we'd have a comic that could stand on its own and not just be a younger, skinnier Superman.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Godspeed, Comic-Conmonauts

Living on the wrong coast with a soon-to-be one year old, the chances of me making Comic-Con before it completes its full metamorphosis into Buzz And Previews For Movies Con are pretty slim.

Think kindly of me as you wander the halls and booths. No doubt there will be a flurry of DC Reboot information flowing out of the event. Already we're hearing about the young Superman of Action Comics who, like his counterpart in Smallville, cannot fly. (I'll let that comparison speak for itself.)

Anyways, name drop this blog as much as possible. A beer for anyone who brings it up in a Q&A session!


I have a confession to make. I'm not a huge fan of Jim Lee's art. I'm not even a sort of fan. I don't hate it or anything, it just doesn't excite me at all. Maybe because it still smacks of the excesses of the 90s that drew me away from comics in the first place - cross hatches and pouches and pockets and lots of busy, fiddly detail. He's no Rob Liefeld, true, but I find his figures a bit overmuscled and expressions bordering on constipation.

And what's up with the whole "armor lines" deal on the new DC costume designs? Ungh. Batman, I get. Flash, though? Maybe... Superman? I'd accept the whole "these represent Kryptonian battle armor" line if Supergirl's corresponding outfit did not have glaring thigh-gaps.

Anyways, this is a long way of getting around to one of the elements missing from the Drewniverse - Jim's Kidz, aka the Wildstorm Comics refugees. I never read those comics, have no idea who the characters are, and so don't feel quite right trying to reboot them. I look at the names of some of these characters (Team 7, which includes Cole Cash, star of Grifter) and am instantly lost amongst generic names (Topkick, Backlash, Slaphammer, Adjectivenoun, Verbverb, ASSEMBLE!!!) and vague powers. So that means I'm out Stormwatch, Grifter, and Voodoo.

Obviously, the only way to fill the gap left by some creator-owned characters is to create a few of my own.

Meet Michael Janos. He's a nice, well meaning boy who grew up in the tired but proud row houses of Opal City. Ever since he was born, Michael has never been sick. This suited his mom fine, as after multiple miscarriages, she prayed and prayed and prayed for a healthy son. Someone must have been listening.

Mike's dad worked the docks, just like his dad before him (we're all agreed that Opal City is essentially Baltimore, right?). Totally salt of the earth type, honest and hard working. He picked up extra shifts in order to make sure the Janos family could stay in their home and Mike had a shot a college, never letting his age get the better of his duty to his family. One day, when Mike was sixteen or so, there was an accident and his dad fell, hurting his back. There was lots of worry that the family was ruined. With a bad back, how could his dad work? The doctors, who were not the best of what a cut-rate HMO system had to offer in the first place, were no help. Maybe Mike's dad would get better and could go back to work, maybe not. Insurance and disability funds could only go so far.

It was at a tearful family meeting, sitting around the kitchen table, that Mike first realized his power. Mike had never seen his father cry before, but as his dad tearfully admitted that the chances of Mike going to college were getting slim, that he felt like he failed as a father, his son reached out to him in comfort. Father and son both felt the warmth spread from Mike's hand. His father's pain disappeared. A later visit to the doctor revealed a miracle.

He was healed.

That night, Mike couldn't sleep, his thoughts racing. True, he had never been sick before, not even when the chicken pox swept through his school. Heck, his mom and dad never seemed to get sick either. Sure, they might get a sniffle, but that'd pass real quick. The next day, Mike, who felt fully rested even though he did not sleep a wink, sneaked a peek at his teacher's attendance records. The students who sat near Mike? Far fewer absences than those who sat farther away. Something was up.

Looking for confirmation, Mike faked illness and took a trip to the school nurse's office. There he found a girl who had "accidentally" cut herself and was also waiting for the nurse. Holly Robinson was slightly older than Mike, a grade ahead and a new transplant from Gotham. She didn't think much about the boy who offered to take a look at her cut, but when he laid his hands on it and the warmth flowed and the cut healed up like it was never there, she took notice. "You have to do something with this," she said, eyes wide, "People need you."

So Mike became a quiet, unknown hero. Holly would drag him to the emergency rooms of local hospitals, clinics, and even the subway to use his power. When there was an outbreak of the bird flu, Holly practically threw Mike into the breech, sending him bumping up against pretty much anyone they saw cough so that he could accidentally touch them and heal them. Every time Mike used his power, he got a little bit stronger. It didn't take long for his folks to catch wise to what he and his now girlfriend were doing. Mike's dad knew plenty of people at the docks who only worked part-time and therefore lacked health insurance. He got in on the act as well, arranging for Mike to meet his coworkers, shake their hands, heal their woes.

But where does it stop? A year later and Mike was being brought to meet the families of his father's coworkers. Holly was dragging him down to the sketchy parts of town where sad faced women sold themselves to johns. Mike's schoolwork suffered - how could you justify math homework when there's a sick kid that needs you? College was looking more and more improbable. Mike began to worry about his future. How could he make a living without college? He could get a job on the docks, sure, but with an ability like his, shouldn't his time be spent helping others rather than unloading shipping containers?

It was Holly that came up with the solution. There are people, she reasoned, who could afford to pay for Mike's services, people who had money, people who didn't want to go to a doctor. How she knew these people, Mike was not clear on, but he followed her lead. She let some of those women on the street know that if someone got hurt and needed to be patched up to give her a call - no questions asked, cash only. By night, Mike became a backstreet doctor, operating anonymously, patching up the wounds of thugs and criminals. By day, he walked the streets of Opal City, quietly healing those he met.

The money was good and it let Mike treat his family and girlfriend to things they might not have otherwise had. A new (used) car for mom, a nice TV for dad. Presents for Holly - jewelry and the like (which he'd pretty much have to do, considering that every time they had sex, no matter how much protection he wore, Holly became a virgin again - think about it). The rest he squirreled away for a rainy day.

But no good deed goes unpunished. It wasn't long before some local crime lord, a rising star named Roman Sionis, decided that having a personal wonder doc all his own would be beneficial for his criminal enterprise. He wanted to put Mike on an exclusive retainer. The money would be even better than what he was making ad hoc, but he'd only be allow to heal who Roman wanted, when Roman wanted. Deny access to the Healer to his rivals, Roman figured, and they would eventually dwindle, meanwhile his own troops could be more brazen with their acts, always assured that any harm done to them would be washed away soon after.

Mike refused. Roman punched him in the face, but that didn't do much. "I can take the pain," Mike said, and Roman tried to make him a liar. With knives. Hammers. Fire. Mike did not know how long he was left in that warehouse dungeon, but he took the pain, his body healing itself as fast as it was hurt. He did not really need to sleep or eat, his ability seemed to take care of that. When Roman changed tactics and threatened Mike's family, though, he knew he had to escape. It was a grizzly affair. Mike did not know if his hand would reattach itself after he cut it off. It didn't, but a new one grew back by the time he stole his way out of the building.

Getting to his family was a close run thing. He barely made it there in time. Giving his mom and dad all the money he had squirreled away, he begged them to run for it, seek help, start a new life. He even held off some of Roman's thugs as they burst their way into the little row house. Do you know how hard it is to fight someone if your very punch leaves them better off than before you took a swing at them?

It is with Mike's defense of his family that we pick up with Issue #1 of Healer (#29/52). His goal is simple: find Holly and get the hell out of Opal City. But where is she? Why was it so easy for her to set up that underground medical operation? How did Roman's thugs find Mike's house so easily? He never said who he was when he was held in that warehouse. The first arc will cover Mike's escape from Opal City, the possible betrayal of Holly, and eventual confrontation with Roman Sionis. It all ends poorly for the crime boss and he is forced to flee Opal City and head north to Gotham, scars hidden by a black mask.

Healer will serve the same role as the Wildstorm refugee Voodoo - a new point of view character through which readers can be introduced to the Drewniverse. He'll be traveling America looking for Holly (alternately missing her, suspecting her, then missing her again), helping out where he can. I envision some tense moments as he encounters other heroes and villains. Black Mask still wants him and has a bounty on his head ("I realize I approached you the wrong way last time, kid. I don't need your permission to use your gift. We'll just keep you chained up in a dark, dark cage and will only drag you out into the light when we need you. I wonder how long your forever will be?"). Other villains and even some government agencies see the advantages in having a miraculous healer on hand too. Hell, even some superhero teams want to get him on board.

All the while, Mike's ability continues to grow. What happens when one of Black Mask's bounty hunters gets a little too overzealous and puts a bullet between Mike's eyes? Will anything let Mike escape the curse and obligation of his gift?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Poor Dick, always the sidekick, always living in Batman's shadow. I'm no help, I admit, as I'll be starting off chatting about Nightwing by talking about Batman. I'm sure I'll be forgiven, though, half of the Internet is afflicted by the same need to talk about Batman.

Batman has, I think, the largest host of villains in the DC Universe. Or at the very least, he has the largest group of known villains. This is in large part due to his constant re-emergence in the popular culture, his TV shows and movies, but I suspect it is also due to the higher quality of villain Bats encounters. By higher quality, I mean that there is a sort of twisted bond between Batman and his rogues which leads to more engaging storytelling. As I've said before, Batman villains all are dark reflections of some aspect of Batman. Joker is a different reaction to One Bad Day, Penguin is the Son of Privilege Denied Happiness, Catwoman is Idle Ability, Scarecrow is Fear Internalized, and so on.

There is a second tier to Batman villains as well. These characters are also reflections of Batman, but rather than twist some internal character trait or What If of the character, they're just fit dudes in fancy suits, usually with an animal theme of their own. Killer Moth, Catman, Copperhead, etc. Their What If concept is nothing like "What if Bruce Wayne let his fear take hold of him and rule his life?" but instead more akin to "What if Batman was a bad guy? Also, moths." These guys tend to be just interesting enough for a battle here and there, but not so much as recurring threats. Looking over the list of Batman villains on wikipedia it's easy to spot these also-rans. Just look for the "And then Neron gave them powers" - if your characters is so meh that it takes a satanic stand-in to jazz it up, it's already too late.

And in addition to all the villains who are in some part Batman, we have a host of heroes who want to be Batman as well. Batman, Inc is just the latest example of this trend, but the Batmen of All Nations concept goes way, way back. Hell, even Green Arrow and the first Blue Beetle are rich dudes in suits fighting crime for some reason (this also helps explain why I went with a fixie-riding lower-tech Arrow and the Jaime Reyes Beetle).

All this before we even get to the Elseworld versions (Owlman, Gaslight, Egyptian, Vampire, Beyond, etc).

Into this over-saturation of bats walks Dick Grayson, the one guy who, when it comes right down to it, has the biggest claim to be a Bat-knockoff. But by the time he does so, assuming the mantle of Nightwing, it's too late. He's like number 63 in an ongoing series. Batman himself doesn't help much. At least Flash and Green Lantern had the good sense to die/retire often enough to give others a crack at the job. But not Bats! He just gets shoved into a Lazarus Pit every so often in order to stay fighting trim and then just keeps on trucking. On those rare occasions when he's actually out of action, poor Dick still doesn't get a break. Instead, we have Battles For The Cowl and jerks with fireswords running around.

And when Dick does get to be the one real true Batman, he has to do so with Bruce Wayne's actual son as his Robin. Talk about a ticking clock.

So it's no wonder Nightwing is so pissed off. For Nightwing to function as a crime fighter, he has to remain in Batman's shadow. Funding requirements alone require that Dick not piss off Bruce too much. Kevlar-weave body suits and bird shaped boomerangs don't just grow on trees and it's not like Dick spent a whole lot of time learning the ins and outs of investing. Hell, Nightwing doesn't really even have his own villains, does he? He's got a lot of leftovers from his time as Robin, both under the Bat's wing and as a member of Teen Titans, but nobody to call his own. I guess this a common problem of all sidekicks (although Roy Harper has his own nemesis, smack), but as the greatest of the DC sidekicks, you'd expect Dick Grayson to come out with at least one.

It is this quest for legitimacy that we'll be focusing on in Nightwing (#28/54). In the Drewniverse, Batman has already had the same sort of impact he's had in the conventional setting. There is a host of dudes out there running around with the "Driven Expert Mystery Man" motif attempting to be the Batmen of Crime. So rather than join the Teen Titans (No way would Terrific let a Bat-plant into his Titans anyhow), our Dick will spend his gap year hunting them all down and beating the crap out of them.

This will be a bit of a twist on Batman's normal MO. Rather than stopping the crime, Nightwing will be more focused on stopping the person. That a crime is stopped as well will be a happy side effect. Nightwing doesn't care so much that Killer Moth is escorting a shipment of illegal weapons from Metropolis to Star City. He just wants to bust Moth. And will do so. On a train. Speeding through the mountains. With his fists.

By beating these evil Batman analogs, Dick will be in effect proving himself as being more than Batman's shadow. Each one he takes down is a statement - "Look, I'm better than (this) Batman." Our Dick does not hate Bruce or anything, he just hates that his growth in his chosen vocation is stunted by his prior career as Robin. Bruce (who is still funding this quest, remember), gets someone out there defending, in effect, his brand identity. It's hard for a man who is dressed like a bat to strike fear into criminals if they are used to working with guys dressed as moths or snakes or cats or whatever. He also sees this world-spanning adventure as being akin to the sojourn he took before he even put on the cowl. Remember that Bruce walked the Earth for awhile before becoming Batman. While he sent the young Dick Grayson around the world to train with similar masters, the whole thing was planned. It was a packaged coach tour of Europe compared to a backpacking wander. He sees it as important for Dick's development. Always with a plan, that Batman (also, if you consider that his Outsiders exist in part to take down Justice Leaguers, wouldn't he also plan for someone to be able to take him down should the need arise?).

From the perspective of someone who is rebooting a universe full of familiar and obscure characters, Nightwing's quest also has the advantage of providing an easy path to introducing the wealth of minor villains that populate the world. Of course, the quest will grow over time as Nightwing starts to pick out common threads raveled around his defeated foes. This will lead to bigger and better enemies (Deadshot, Deathstroke) as well as introducing the League of Shadows (I prefer Shadows over Assassins) as a force within the Drewniverse. The goal here is to build Dick Grayson/Nightwing up as his own character, Robin no more.

Monday, July 18, 2011

War Stories

There's just no place for war comics nowadays. First, the reader base just isn't there. We're now generations separated from the last big armed conflict and the smaller military actions that have cropped up since WWII don't make for good mainstream comics fodder. Either they're too morally ambiguous (Vietnam, Iraq II), too quick (Iraq I), or way too depressing (Afghanistan) to be the subject of a comic that, in theory, kids would want to buy.

Plus, if you think about what war looks like in a world populated by superheroes, you end up with a quite different beast than what we're used to. Soldiers take on more a support role as Captain Atom or August General In Iron assume their places on the speartip. There are no doubt great stories that could be told from the perspective of a common grunt, but I'm not sure how well a title could sustain itself if there are heroes doing amazing things always just off panel. The temptation to give the main characters superpowers is just too strong. Think about the "Cops in a World With Superheroes" genre - Powers et al - and then think bout how it didn't take long before Deena ended up with powers or Walker regained his own. Even Gotham Central ended up with a few of the detectives becoming heroes.

And the less said about the Blackhawks' one time reboot, the better.

I guess this is why mercenaries are so popular as a subject matter. With mercs, you get a small cast of characters, each invariably the best at what they do, fighting using conventional weapons. By sticking with smaller conflicts, mercenaries avoid the problem of "Why not just call in Superman?" that larger battles have. Mercenaries also feature more of the anti-heroes modern comics seem to love.

Problem is, they're boring. They've been done before in both comics and in movies (and in movies based on comics which were in turn based on movies). Gee, will this ragtag band of anti-heroes draw a line in the sand and make a stand for something? Whoops, three o'clock, time for the employer's inevitable betrayal. The steps required to make a bunch of hard-bitten mercenaries sympathetic characters are almost ritualized at this point. Also, I've never understood why governments who have put so much time and money into training a particular soldier would let them go into business for themselves.

Still, DC has a legacy of war comics and I feel obligated to fit at least one in (the Real Reboot has two - Blackhawks and Men of War aka Sgt Rock Returns). My requirements are pretty high, though.

  1. Good guys must be good guys, not anti-heroes forced into doing good by circumstance.
  2. No betrayal by overseers/employers.
  3. Team cannot take a support role to superheroes.
  4. Conflict must be ongoing and take place in modern day.

It's circumstances like this that make me miss Marvel. There, at least, you have a bunch of totally silly military outfits who can battle away at each other no problem. SHIELD vs Hydra? Why the hell not?

As for the rest of the historical DC war comics lineup, we have Enemy Ace and Haunted Tank in addition to the Blackhawks and Easy Company. Problem is, in my mind, characters like Sgt. Rock or Hans von Hammer are just so tied with their particular wars (WWs II and I, respectively), that they don't fit my requirements above. This is not to say that I wouldn't consider a mashup of the two, an Enemy Ace featuring a pilot haunted by the ghost of Sgt. Rock, but I figure by the time you get to the point where the ghost of Alexander the Great is commanding the last man to die in World War Two to help out his granddaughter who has just become the first pilot of an experimental superplane, you've passed the whole point of having a conventional war comic in the first place.

So I guess we're going with Blackhawks (#27/52). In the Drewniverse, the Blackhawks are a specialized taskforce of the United Nations peacekeeping force. Though they operate under the aegis of the UN, they also have private funding of their own (if a country wants to help out, but can't commit troops due to international politics, slipping a few buck to the 'hawks goes a long way). Their main function is the supply, protection, and extraction of non-combatants in war torn areas. So if there is a civil war going on in some country, the Blackhawks are the people called in who make sure the civilians not involved in the fighting are protected, not forced into joining the conflict, have adequate medical supplies, and if things are too dicey, able to get out. As to be expected from a Blackhawks title, the team is equipped with cutting edge technology and features an international cast lead by Polish-American Bartholomew Jastrzab.

Looking over my requirements, that takes care of #1. However you may feel about the United Nations, I don't think they are the type to betray one of their own peacekeeping forces, so we should be okay for #2 as well. Superheroes can appear in cameo roles, but I don't see many getting involved in a support role of caring for refugees on a full time basis. Combine this with the Blackhawks' cutting edge planes and other tech obviating the need for superpowers, and we're all good for #3.

Now, we just need a war.

Starting a fictitious war is not as easy as it looks. Given the freakouts over Muslim anything in DC lines, that rules out the middle east. Though the Blackhawks are an international team, I am a bit uncomfortable sticking them in a Darfur situation in Africa - too many connotations of Western imperialism. So the best bet will be amidst the crumbling remains of the old Soviet Empire. Belarova is a fictitious country that emerged out of the ashes of the old USSR. Despite the early promise of freedom and liberty, the young country was simply too rich in natural resources to let develop on its own. It didn't take long for a dictator to come to power, a former communist general who ruled with a fair, if iron, hand. However, the general died recently under suspicious circumstances and without his presence keeping a lid on things, different factions within the country have emerged. After a scandalous election featuring wide-spread corruption, these factions have burst into open war. Unfortunately, these factions don't have a geographical aspect, so you can't just carve up the country and call it done.

So while the elite of Belarova struggle, the common people suffer. Into this theatre fly the Blackhawks, tasked with not only trying to limit civilian casualties as much as possible, but also to keep the conflict from spilling over the borders. It seems that there is some outside influence at work in Belarova and shadowy groups are providing the factions with funds for arms and mercenaries. So not only do the 'hawks have to worry about conventional conflicts, but there's also a Black Ops aspect to this fight as well. Other nations are hesitant to get involved in the struggle, so it's pretty much just up to the UN's Blackhawks to keep order, operating off an aircraft carrier dubbed "Blackhawk Island."

Blackhawks itself will feature episodic stories interwoven into a larger narrative (think Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts) with multiple POV characters from Bart "Blackhawk" Jastrzab all the way down to new recruit Buddy Blank. Stories will include air combat, Black Ops sniper duels, Alamo-style last stands, and all that good stuff. Because of the day and age, we'll have to focus on the human cost of war as well, which will be a common undercurrent to the stories, ala Band of Brothers. I doubt the end of the Belarovian Conflict will be a clean one and I'm sure we'll see some fallout from what happens here elsewhere in the Drewniverse.