Friday, July 29, 2011


Sorry, dear Reader, about the piss-poor proofreading of late. Normally, my MO is to fever-dream out the raw test of an entry on my train ride home, bang it into legibility while making sure my one year old son does not try to lick a socket, and then publishing it from work after a quick proof-read.

Looking back today, I'm seeing many flubs. This is what is delaying my book deal, I assume, so I just want to say that, uh, ut was intentionalk? Theatersh of the realz?

Oh, wait, no. I have ham hands.

Thursday, July 28, 2011


I admit I am walking down hollowed halls with a good deal of trepidation, for today I tamper with the King. I've avoided messing with characters from Jack Kirby's Fourth World for a few weeks now, but with only 20 titles left in my reboot, I need to get started sooner rather than later lest I run out of space. I love Kirby's later works for the gonzo "fuck it, let's do this" pacing of his stories and weird concepts that seem to be half-based on pop psychology and half based on fever dreams.

Of the original Fourth World set, Mister Miracle was the longest running. This something I've always found odd as Miracle (and don't hate me for this - you'll have plenty of time to hate me when I get around to the Legion, that other hallowed DC setting subset) always felt like a pretty weak character to me. Yeah, I get that he's the heir to a planet and all, but his escape ability always sort of rubbed me the wrong way. Death traps are pretty common in the superhero world and of course the guy whose name is on the cover will probably be escaping them without coming to permanent harm, so why make a guy whose power is essentially that? It'd be like calling Batman "Winning Man" and giving him the power of always being victorious. Yeah, we know Batman will win in the end, but we don't want it spelled out on the page, yanno?

So instead of Scott Free let's focus on his beloved, Big Barda. At the start of Barda (#33/52), she's still the leader of the Female Furies, that elite group of Darkseid's enforcers tasked with their master's bidding by Granny Goodness. Unlike some of her subordinates, she's not in the job for the ability to cause pain or subjugate others, she's in it for the fight, for the testing of her mettle against others. Working for a monster like Darkseid does not bother her so much - she knows that those fighting for something that the believe in, something they're willing to die for, will put up the best fight possible. She enjoys struggle and conflict and head-to-head clashes.

Until one day, when Barda learns the Dark Secret at the Heart of Apokolips, something that Darkseid is willing to kill one of his most valuable assets for in order to keep it on the down-lo. I'll spoil it now, though. Forgive me, my dark lord!

So you know how Apokolips' most defining feature are the giant firepits? Well, it turns out that Darkseid's ongoing pogrom of shoveling Lowlies into them to keep the fires going, thus powering his planet's dread technologies, is just a ruse. There is another power source chained down deep in the bowels of the planet. In a way, I guess you could say it's one of the Old Gods, but it's not Thor or Mercury or Quetzalcoatl or anything. It's a being like ones we've seen before back in the one of the Green Lantern entries, a Lovecraftian Outer God, captured by Darkseid and held captive. Just as the Council of Oa uses the Lanterns' rings to bleed off Ion's power, the jets of energy that spurt forth from Apokolips bleed off the Captive's.

Darkseid definitely does not want word of the Captive getting out. Not only does it breech some peace accord with New Genesis, but it would bring the Lanterns right to his door (He knows their secret). Darkseid simply is not ready to square off against the combined might of New Genesis and the Lanterns, plus whatever other allies they bring with them. While he can harness the Captive's power to fuel his technology, he doesn't quite know how to simulate the Lanterns' rings yet. And besides, would he really share that sort of power? This is Darkseid we're talking about.

Instead, Darkseid is going for a larger game, one that Barda stumbles on to. He's looking for a way to control these Entities - the Captive, Ion, Parallax, and even the "sentient" one known as Nekron (he's our Nyarlathotep)- and bend them to his will. How will he do that? Say it with me, brothers and sisters:

The Anti-Life Equation.

That the Anti-Life Equation can also be used to control normal sentient beings is a nice plus. "Living under the control of another isn't living, man" is also a pretty good cover as to why the equation is called that. But really, the Entities are anti-life, they're stuff that was left over from the moment of creation, bits of Void forced into forms and driven mad because of it. The equation would give Darkseid control over all of them, not just the Captive, but Ion and the rest too. That's Universal End Game stuff right there.

So Barda sees something she should see. She doesn't quite understand what she saw, the scope of it coming up as Scene Missing in her memories, but the knowledge of Darkseid's plan is definitely locked in there. This way we can stretch out the discovery of the Entities across the Drewniverse. Basically, Barda sees the Truth And Everything, blacks out, and when she wakes up, her boss is now trying to kill her.

Barda then has to escape from Apokolips, a task for which we can bring Scott Free in on. She can certainly bust in to places, so she's able to rescue Scott from the Infinite Prison he's trapped in. She's familiar with him because she's one of the people that always ends up rounding him up when he does make it out of the Infinite Prison, so their initial relationship will be pretty rocky. Over the course of the first arc, the pair will escape to Earth, which is bad news for us humans as it means Darkseid will up his meddling there. Previously, he'd just been supplying Intergang with fancy new weapons, but with Barda on Earth he'll have to step up his game. With powers like Metron watching, though, and Earth's native superheroes hanging around, he can't go in omega beams a'blazin'. It would raise too many questions. So instead he'll send in his agents like Godfrey and Desaad to do his bidding. Things will, of course, ramp up, leading to the arrival of New Genesis folks like Orion and the eventual clash between Superman and Darkseid. And it's not like Orion is going to be too keen to help out Barda anyways - she is a creature of Apololips and was until recently a loyal servant of Darkseid.

So conflict and fighting abound! Just the sort of thing to keep Barda happy.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Amanda Waller

If you say the words "affirmative action" within 100 feet of Amanda Waller, the chances of you suddenly being transferred to an outpost in the Antarctic suddenly become pretty good. This applies even if you don't actually work for Waller, the government, or a company that even has any outposts near the South Pole. Say the wrong thing? Well, looks like Burger King is opening up a franchise to feed the penguins and you've been selected as its first Assistant Manager! Your bags are packed and your flight leaves in twenty minutes.

When it comes to powerful humans who don't dress up in pajamas or like nocturnal critters, Amanda Waller is probably the second most powerful mortal on the planet, just behind Lex Luthor. So how did a woman who grew up amongst the run down rowhouses of Opal City become more powerful than presidents and kings?

Hard work and pissing the right people off.

Early in her career, Waller was very aware of what sort of asset she was to government. Her story, her background, her education, made her a very attractive prospect. She hated herself for doing it, but she used the fact that she was a black woman to her advantage, spooking the normally pasty white power structure into getting her in the room in order to present a diverse facade. She told herself that she was using her background the same way those Old Boy snobs used their family connections, but still that left a bad taste in her mouth.

So once she was secure in government, taking on a series of Assistant Director positions within the Executive branch, she decided to stop playing ball. Waller felt she had more to offer than being a photo on page two of the departmental newsletter. She had the ideas, the drive, and the intellect to make things happen. She started rocking the boat, making waves, and all the other cliche'd bad things one can do to piss off a static system. The system responded - not able to fire her without looking bad, they just promoted Waller to a position where she could not cause much trouble.

That position? Director of the Special Executive Task Force, aka Task Force X. It was perhaps the best thing that could have happened to Amanda Waller. The Powers That Be thought they were shutting away in a little known, little used ghost department. The Task Force had been around since before World War II when it was used to run both covert and diplomatic operations that the US Government would find... distasteful. Need to negotiate a trade deal to sell off a bunch of munitions to an unpopular Nazi regime? Call X. Need to have that same load of munitions disappeared a year later? X again. They have access to a pool of high quality, disposable, experts who can get almost any job done.

After the was, Task Force X's sun began to set. Much of their purview was usurped by new organizations like the CIA. By the time Amanda Waller took over, they were reduced to pretty much running a suicide squad of special operatives, plucking the worst of the best from federal prisons, strapping a bomb to their neck, and sending them out to probably die in pursuit of a pardon.

For Waller, this wouldn't do. She knew she had been stuck in this department to keep her out of sight and out of mind. With the crumbling of the Wall and the end of the Cold War, there wasn't much call for her suicide squads any more. Still, she initiated a full court press, recruiting new operatives left and right. One of the first and best recruitments she made was Rick Flag, Jr., son of one of Task Force X's previous directors. Flag brought with him a sense of legitimacy, a memory of a bygone age when America knew it was doing right even when it was doing it the wrong way.

He also brought with him his father's journals, each filled to the brim with interesting, embarrassing secrets that the US Government would not want getting out. Blackmail is such a dirty word, but there isn't any other for what Amanda Waller did to the government. Increase Task Force X's funding and recruitment operations, otherwise some certain factoids might slip out into the diplomatic world at just the wrong time. Her recruitment efforts broadened to include foreign operatives, terrorists and partisans and the like. Their added knowledge made X more useful to the government, which increased the organization's standing, which increased its funding, and so on and so on.

Of course, running secret ops only goes so far, especially in this modern one superpower world. With no Red Menace to task missions against, X soon reached its zenith.

So to keep playing the game, Amanda Waller made up an opponent.


Like the conspiracy of Foucault's Pendulum, Checkmate did not exist until Amanda Waller gave it a name. Knowing that a shadowy organization of vague aims was better than an easily identified foe, she began to slip mentions of the enemy organization into her reports and briefings. 'We do not know who these people are,' her reports stated, 'or even what they want, but they seem to have capabilities way beyond our own.' Her case was strengthened when Superman made his first appearance. 'We cannot confirm the Metropolis Incident is not part of Checkmate's agenda. Further investigation is required.' Her funding was doubled the next day.

Before long, Waller began to see reports of Checkmate activity that she did not plant. On one level, this worried Waller - her creation had taken on a life of its own and was out of her control. On another level, this excited her - her agency had a purpose now, her position secure. She was able to tie in her experience dealing with "individuals of special or unusual abilities" to expand X's remit to cover the newly emerging superheroes as well. If in the days following the appearance of Superman the government had known just how many people in tights would be running around in a mere ten to fifteen years, it never would have tasked Waller's agency with the responsibility of watching and recruiting them. But by Issue #1, it's too late. Waller's organization has grown to Too Big To Fail status, encompassing other groups such as Cadmus, the DEO, and even the Human Defense Corps.

Checkmate seems to have matched X's growth, solidifying into an actual agency under the aegis of the United Nations. Waller has even met an operative in Checkmate's employ, an experience that was both enlightening and frustrating. Likewise, her agents in the field often run into their Checkmate counterparts, sometimes working together, sometimes now.

Task Force X (#32/52) will be an anthology of sorts. Each arc will focus on a different group within X, from the Suicide Squad to the Human Defense Corps. The idea here is to test the waters for possible spin-off titles. The first arc will feature a suicide squad run by the Assistant Director for Operations Flag and their attempts to track down an AWOL ex-Task Force agent named Patrick O'Brian. Something happened to O'Brian in the field and he seems to have gone rogue and declared a one-man war on the agency. Later arcs will include the Human Defense Corps holding off an alien incursion centered on a disused criminal hideout and a face-off with their counterparts at Checkmate.

Monday, July 25, 2011


Kneel before General Dru-Zod, Hero of Kandor, Protector of the Kryptonian Race!

Zod will not be starting his life in the Drewniverse as a true villain. When I say he's a hero of Kandor, that's true. Brainiac's attack on Kandor almost destroyed the city - were it not for Zod the alien collector would have a bottle of rubble, not a fully-realized urban environment. It was Zod who rallied the city's defenses and even lead a few counterattacks on the invader.

Once Kandor fell, Zod took on the role of protector of the city, leading the remnants of the local Military Guild as a sort of defacto police presence. His no-nonsense approach to keeping order helped to keep Kandor from just crumbling into a panic of riot and decay. After all, somebody had to do the hard job of keeping the population steady, allocating resources, and so on.

The more he thinks about it, though, the more Zod realizes that he was betrayed by the bureaucrats and politicians of Kandor. They were the ones who came to terms with Brainiac, who agreed to submit their homeland to the humiliation of being reduced in size and left to sit on a pedestal somewhere like some sort of trophy. They are the ones who knelt to Braniac, not Zod. Yes, his insurgency against the AI would likely have been doomed, but at least the people of Kandor could have died in honor, not trapped like insects. That Dax-Ur, the elected leader of Kandor, has been playing a long game with Brainiac, trading Kryptonian secrets for his city's longevity, doesn't impress Zod at all.

Zod gets his chance to dwell on this betrayal, and many more both real and imagined, when he's put forth as the first test subject for size restoration. After Kandor has been wrested away from Brainiac and safely stored in Superman's Fortress of Solitude, Supes and the city's scientists begin to work on a solution to the fixing the city. One early option is to use the strange physicals of the Phantom Zone to alter the spacial properties of the city and thus restore it an its inhabitants to size. Since the laws of time and space are different in the Zone, it's theorized that by setting up modified Phantom Zone Projectors could embiggen Kandor in one fell swoop.

Well, they're sort of right, as Zod will learn to his misfortune. Nominated as Envoy, Zod steps through the Phantom Zone portal in the Kandorian lab. Though the portal, it's easy to see Superman, standing in front of a similar one in his Fortress. Heck, Zod can even see little Kandor sitting on a pedestal next to Superman. All he has to do is walk some ten steps through the Zone and foom, he's out and restored to normal size.

Yeah, about that. Turns out the laws of time and space are well and truly messed up in the Zone. What looked like a mere ten paces is actually thousands and thousands of miles - the scale of the exit portal just made it look like it was normal sized. And the few seconds that pass for Kandor and Superman while Zod crosses through the Zone? That's millennia for Zod. Thousands and thousands of years of Zod walking alone through a flat, barren landscape towards a giant, smiling image of Superman. Zod never tires, never gets hungry, never changes or ages in that time, but he is left alone with his thoughts.

By the time he reaches the exit, Zod has gone mad and sane and back again a few dozen times. He's had nothing to do but dwell on the circumstances that brought him to the blasted plain of the Phantom Zone. Clearly, he was picked for this punishment by those kneeling scientists and politicians of Kandor. They knew this would happen. Superman knew too. See how he mocks Zod? Standing there with that vacant, human smile on his face. If Zod was in charge, things would be different...

Zod gets out, his size restored. He also starts to develop the customary powerset that all Kryptonians get beneath our yellow sun - first thing Superman does when Zod steps through is to bring the General "into the light" in hopes that would restore any lingering traumas from passing through the Zone. When he and the Kandorians learn about Zod's experience, they are shocked. Clearly that approach will not work.

It will not take long for Superman and Zod's relationship to devolve. Their first fight takes place, what, weeks after Zod comes to Earth? Zod may be better trained in combat, but Superman has had more experience with his powers, so the first few conflicts are a draw. It takes the involvement of the rest of the Justice League to really see Zod off, but then the best they can do is chase the General off of Earth. Zod retreats to Mars' moon Phobos where he sulks and starts to build his own base of operations. His plan? Revenge on Superman and the craven fools of Kandor, the restoration of his loyal soldiers from Kandor's Military Guild, and finally the conquest of Earth as a new home for the Kryptonian people. The Earthlings can stick around, of course, provided they kneel.

Zod is a villain of the Drewniverse, but like Black Adam, he'll be one of those villains you can negotiate with. In return for freeing two of Zod's loyal supporters, maybe the General will help out when Mongul shows up with the host of Warworld to bust some heads? "Both of them are insane," Superman says, "But at least Zod doesn't want to destroy the planet. We don't have a lot of options here." This is how Ursa and Non get free, each undergoing a similar (though substantially reduced due to advances in technology) experience as Zod.

Superman feels a log of guilt over both Kandor (one of the reasons the Justice League exists is to free up Supes' time to work on Kandor) and Zod. This may be why he limits his response to Zod to exile as opposed to imprisonment or death.

Zod, waiting for Superman's arrival.