Friday, August 5, 2011


Who’da thunk that a character with such a confusing premise would have such a muddled backstory, huh? Two-people-fused-int-one-with-atomic-powers-who-is-also-a-fire-elemental is not an easy premise to swallow, and that’s even before you get to the hassles of cancelled series and unfortunate participation in muddled crossover events.

So what will we keep for our Firestorm? Let’s keep the dual natured aspect of his powers, which will be refocused more on the atomic than the fire. So no fire elemental nonsense. That was sort of tacked on in the comics after Swamp Thing made elementals cool again. Firestorm will be playing with elemental forces, however, and his hair will remain on fire, so we don’t really need to change his name.

Through the “Firestorm Matrix” our hero is tied into the elemental forces of creation and change. This explains his ability to alter matter, he’s providing the energy required to cause atoms to slip their bonds, change elemental structure, and then recombine into new molecules. He does not create matter, just the energy required to alter it. Unchecked, his power would probably cause a cataclysmic meltdown, warping the area around him into new and unstable shapes. All it would take would be one atom out of place and foom, nuclear reaction. We’ll keep the prohibition against altering organic matter, pinning the possibly deadly feedback on the problems of messing with active chemical reactions, like the sort that’s going on in a living body all the time.

So it’s a good thing Firestorm has two minds on the case. When joined, there’s an active and passive mind. The active is in control of Firestorm’s body and most of his power. The passive appears as a floating ghostly head (one of the character’s most striking imagines, I think. Flaming hair does not make you standout - floating heads do) and can control a small portion of Firestorm’s power. The rest of the secondary’s attention must be focused on the Matrix because, Schrodinger’s Cat-style, the reality of its existence depends on it being perceived. 

I like the duality of the original Raymond / Stein pairing - young student full of energy and questions paired with knowledgeable scientist full of wisdom and experience, so we’ll be keeping that setup. We won’t be keeping Ronnie and Martin, though. Instead, we’ll be taking a student/professor pairing from the University of Cape Town, South Africa. Lwazi Silongo, a promising young student from the lower middle class suburbs of Cape Town, will be our youthful element. Lwazi’s father was a player in the anti-apartheid movement. Once that system of oppression finally crumbled (although its ghosts remain), he settled down and became a teacher, hoping to educate the next generation of black South African leaders. Lwazi grew up in a stable, happy family. Although he avoided the despair of poverty that weighs on so many other of is countrymen, Lwazi’s father was not the sort to ever let his son forget just how good he had it.

Our professor type will be played by Dr. Martin van Riebeek, head of theoretical physics at Cape Town University. His family does not exactly have a happy shiny history, especially in relation to apartheid, and he may have done some things in his youth that he is not proud of today. He hired Lwazi on as a lab assistant and expected great things of the boy.

Well, before the accident, of course, which will be happening with Issue #1 of Firestorm (#38/52).
So it turns out back in the Bad Old Days, South Africa researched and successfully built several working nuclear weapons. When the old guard lost power, elements within the government hid some of these weapons away in order to prevent “lesser men” from gaining access to them. When one of these experimental devices is found beneath a disused lab, it causes a big to do. Worried that moving the device could set it off, it falls to Dr. van Riebeek to give it a look over before the military is comes in to decommission the device. Of course, he brings in his best assistant to help out.

That night, while Martin and Lwazi pour over the device, Something Happens. The experimental nuclear device somehow gets activated and the pair have to work together to stop it from taking out the city. Though the lab is on lockdown, it soon becomes evident that there is someone else in the building. A saboteur? Another student? Military observer? Whomever it is, it's bad news. The good guys manage to barricade themselves in the lab, intent on sacrificing themselves to stop the explosion. Of course, rather than getting radiation poisoning, they end up gaining the ability to fuse together into the hero known as Firestorm.

As for the saboteur? She's affected by the meltdown too, but in a different way. Killer Frost's atomic power is more about stasis and heat-death, the omega to Firestorm's alpha. She mainly manifests this via cold-oriented powers as she's limited when compared to Firestorm - without that second psyche keeping an eye on the Stasis Matrix (or whatever), she couldn't, like, cause the heat death of the universe. But if she could trick Firestorm into recreating the accident while she has a willing participant on hand... that would be something that Frost and the organization she works for would be very, very interested in.

When joined, Lwazi and Martin have access to each other's memories and experiences, so there will be some awkwardness when Lwazi finds out about Martin's unwise youth. Martin prefers to be the secondary personality - while staring at the Matrix he's getting access to the secrets of the universe, much more interesting than punching some chilly bitch (even if she is his niece - duh duh duhn). There will be some addiction allusions in Martin's interest in the Matrix. Lwazi will be the main character for the most part, idealistic and hoping to do good for the world. Compared to Captain Atom's Lawful Good, Firestorm will be more Chaotic Good, willing to break laws in order to do what's right. This will bring him into conflict with other elements of the Drewniverse's Africa, from old power structures to nation states torn apart my civil war. Part of Firestorm's arc will be a Spider-man like discovery of the ties between power and responsibility. 

In time, Firestorm will join the Justice League, but that's a few years down the road.

Thursday, August 4, 2011


Like many minor heroes, Huntress has gone through a few iterations over the years. She began life in What If?-ville as the daughter of Batman and Catwoman (which I guess makes her Batman, Jr's half-sister? Stay gold, Super Sons, stay gold), but eventually made it over into mainline continuity as Helena Bertinelli, mob-daughter-turned-revengeress.

For our Huntress, let's keep the basic origin story: eight year old daughter of a crime boss sees her family murdered by rival criminals, pledges revenge on the whole organization. We'll be keeping her Catholic, but will also be moving her heritage to the cartels of Central America. What can I say? I'm a sucker for Catholic girls. Although, we'll be giving that bared midriff costume thing a miss. I mean, if Batman wears a big symbol on his chest to bad guys shoot at that, rather than his head, a noticeable bare stomach, no matter how good it looks posing, is probably not the smartest tactical move.

Anyways, after Helena Vasquez's family is murdered before her, she is whisked away by loyal family bodyguard Sal. With the bulk of the Vasquez fortune either seized by rivals or locked away in a trust fund that will come to Helena upon turning 21, Sal is forced to do some nasty things to nasty people in order to collect on funds outstanding. Not able to trust anyone with caring for Helena, he's forced to bring her with him as he travels the world collecting on debts. Over time, this becomes his main occupation, one that Helena takes a willing part in.

Helena enjoys tracking down crooks with Sal, that she's doing so at the behest of other crooks doesn't phase her much. Sooner or later they'll piss off the wrong person and will need to be 'dealt with' too. Criminals may be able to avoid the official law, but they can't avoid the law of the jungle. The comeuppance that these people experience at the hands of Sal and Helena are perhaps the only consequences of their criminal lifestyle that they will experience anyways.

This keeps her going for several years, learning the tricks of the trade from Sal (ala The Professional) until Sal himself is betrayed and killed by an employer. Helena, who is now 19, snaps. Her rage is only heightened when it turns out that the hit was put in motion by the same rival crimelord that killed her family. Turns out there is some sort of criminal merger in the works and the new guy in charge is demanding his associates clean up any loose ends. Once she emerges from her initial bloody fugue state and starts to work her way up the criminal ladder, Helena find progress slow going. People just aren't afraid of her, no matter how much she hurts their bottom line.

It's around this time that she hears of Batman (say, .5 SU ago) and his war on crime. Criminals seem really freaked out by the presence of a 'cape' so Helena thinks to mimic the Bat's success on her own. She starts laying plans, assembling connections and resources, in anticipation of her 21st birthday when a large chunk of the remaining Vasquez fortune will become available to her. When she turns 21, she gets herself a few presents - a costume, cutting edge equipment, and revenge on the man who had her family killed.

Fast forward now to Issue #1 of Huntress (#37/52) and Helena Vasquez is continuing her one woman war on crime. For the past several years, she's been focusing on the peripheries of Black Mask's expanding criminal empire. We join her as she comes to Gotham, ready now to strike at the top. This will be easier said than done, of course, as not only will she be facing off against Mask's hired thugs (both human and extra-human), but she'll come into conflict with the Batman himself. He wants Black Mask taken down too, of course, but he also understands that if he does that, the resulting power vacuum would lead to a gangland civil war that would tear Gotham City apart.

At the end of the first arc, Batman will have succeeded in talking some sense into Huntress. "This is my town and you play by my rules. Learn them or leave." Taking that advice to heart, understanding that she knows very little about how Gotham's madhouse of an underworld is set up, Huntress takes on a sidekick of sorts - a young boy named Tommy Monaghan - who has been through some serious crap of his own.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Who Wants to Live Forever?

Turns out, a surprising percentage of the DC Universe does. Setting aside characters who will not die of old age as a subset of their powers (Superman, Manhunter, Wonder Woman, Plastic Man, Black Adam, etc), there are still quite a number of people whose main schtick is immortality running around the DC Universe.

And most of them, it seems, are villains.

This makes sense to me. If comics are aimed at youth, then certainly the enemy should be age? Ra's al Ghul, Vandal Savage, General Immortus, and Felix Faust are pretty much grampas it's okay to punch. In contrast to heroes who are ageless due to their vitality, these guys won't shut up about how old they are. "I was conquering nations while your ancestors were still living in bogs!" is a line you could see each of these four saying. "I don't have to beat you, Luthor, I'll just out live you," is a line you probably wouldn't hear Superman say (even though that'd be a hella burn).

It's always a bit weird to me that these guys would want to come into conflict with superheroes in the first place. After the first thousand years of life or so, shouldn't you have moved beyond that whole "rule the world" instinct? I mean, if you're a few millennia old and your ambition is to rule the world, not having done so at least once is not exactly a great indicator as to your competence. "I'll get to it tomorrow," sighs Felix Faust as he opens up another tub of Sorcerer Chow.

One possible reason why your immortal ass has not move from couch to Throne of the World is that there are a bunch of other immortal assess out there gunning for the same seat. Thinking about it, that's probably a good thing. Without some conflict in your life that you can't simply wait out, forever must get pretty boring. Maybe that's why these four seem to go out of their way to clash with superheroes? Just for the novelty of it.

Anyways, it seems to me that immortals with a vested interest in the fate of humanity/Earth would not always be bad guys. There are, after all, some good guy immortals in the DC universe - Merlin, Shazam, Mitch Shelley, and Doctor Mist. Both good and bad immortals would want to, say, keep Earth safe from an alien invasion. While the bad guys might want to keep humanity penned up under their control, that at least implies that they want to keep us normals around.

Another common thread between immortals seems to be the use of agents and secret societies and the like. Ra's has his League of Shadows, Vandal has the Illuminati, and even the wizard Shazam operates through the agency of Captain Marvel. Folks like Doctor Mist who don't have a few go-fers hanging about them are the exception, not the rule (although I guess it could be argued that the Global Guardians was his). If you are a fan of conspiracy theories like me, it doesn't take long to realize that with all these secret and not-so-secret organizations running around that you'd end up with a cultist under every rock, a man in black lurking in every closet. That could get overcrowded, pretty fast.

So let's say that the immortals of the Drewniverse are at least somewhat organized. There is an elite club as it were for folks who will live forever. We'll call it the College of Immortals and membership comes with certain responsibilities. First, if you are going to be an active player in The Game, there are certain rules you have to follow (don't blow up the world being #1). Second, you are free to not play The Game, but that means you can't meddle in what's going on - sort of like a snowball fight where bystanders become combatants the moment they pack a handful of snow. This allows some immortals to free themselves of The Game and go off and do their own thing (Merlin would be an example of this - he's out of play at the moment, visiting dreamland from his stasis in a tree). There are probably some rules as to membership - you need to be at least X years old, born on Earth of at least half human parentage, etc. - that would rule out some of our more active immortals for membership (Superman and Manhunter ain't from 'round here, Wonder Woman was made not born, Mans Plastic and Resurrection still need to be around in another 150 years before they get nominated for junior membership, and so on).

Immortals who do not join the College would be crushed (we're talking chained up and thrown into a deep underwater trench here). Forever is simply too important to have unlicensed immortals running around. Immortals cannot strike at each other directly - Ra's and Vandal will not be brawling on the roof of Notre Dame, sorry. But their agents can, so League of Shadows vs Illuminati Men in Black squaring off against each other in the alleyways of Gotham? You bet. Heck, while they do that, I wouldn't be surprised in their bosses are sitting together in some five star restaurant reminiscing about the old days and what a doof Hannibal was.

So what's the motivation here? One-upsmanship for a start. Also, and this is probably more important, each member of the College wants to gain enough power to be able to betray the College and do away with it. Even the Good Guys would rather there not be a College out there encouraging evil dudes to visit pain upon an unknowing humanity - they'd rather topple the organization and get rid of the evil dudes. This constant conflict creates a nice level of stasis on the part of the immortals and encourages them to reach out to newer heroes and villains in an attempt to get an upper hand over their ageless rivals.

I wonder if there is a title in all this? I suspect there is, but I also suspect that it's been done, called 100 Bullets, and won a bunch of awards. Pity.

Instead, let's go with Resurrection Man (#36/52), even though that's against my better judgement - Dan Abnett should be writing more Gaunt's Ghosts books, dammit. We'll keep Mitch mostly as envisioned, with the major modification being his age. Rather than just now finding out that everytime he dies he's promptly resurrected with a new powerset, we'll have him not only aware of the power, but shirking it. Come Issue #1, he'll just have become old enough to qualify for membership in the College. He picked up his resurrection habit sometime in the period when Gentleman Ghost was neither a ghost nor a gentleman, but has been avoiding using it for some time, hoping that if he dies of old age, he'll die for keeps.

No such luck. When he opens his eyes on his death bed, having passed away at the ripe old age of 126, there's Vandal Savage looming above him, smiling, in his hand a parchment with Mitchell Shelley's name already written on it. "Welcome to your forever," Savage says, earning an enemy that will haunt him through out time. Abnett and Lanning can then take it from there.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Booster Gold

I love Booster Gold's modern rejiggering. It was Booster Gold v2 that brought me back to DC from Marvel. Or at least, it was the run that brought be back to "modern" DC comics from reprints of Silver Age madness. It's ironic in that Booster Gold showed me that DC comics didn't have to be ALL CROSSOVER CRISIS ALL THE TIME, even though his story dwelt a lot on revisiting previous crossover crisiseseses.

But then Booster Gold, the lil comic that could, got noticed by the baleful eye of DC editorial and before you knew it, he was wrapped up in crossover messes again. Ungh. How often did they need to bring Ted Kord back? We get it. He and Booster were buddies. But there was another Blue Beetle at the time that needed the support. Imagine taking on a new job after your precursor retired only to have them keep "popping in" for the next few years, at which point everyone you're working with flocks to them instead of you.

Ungh. I like Ted and all, but sometimes the dead need to stay dead (or in their own time).

Anyways, at the recent ComiCon it was not Dan DiDio's reaction to be called out on the dearth of female creatives in the new line that made me sad. I was already sad about that - my only tenuous comics connection is that I went to college/LARPed with G. Willow Wilson (CLAN TREMERE 4 UNLIFE) back in the day and she deserves her own mainline comic if she wants one. No, the thing that gave me a case of the NuSads was his statement that there would be no backdoors for the relaunch/reboot, specifically that Booster Gold would not know/travel to anything in the past.

That blows.

Seriously, it's turning back the clock on one of the freshest takes on an old also-ran character. Booster went from showboating, self-promoting egotist to timecop whose cover is that he's a showboating egotist then back to just being a jerk again. The idea that Booster had to be a bit of a punchline in order to keep his personal time stream safe from future/past meddling was genius. To take that away for the sake of showing how SRIUZ BIZNZZ they are about the reboot is silly, specially when we know that they're not. If DC was serious about the reboot, Batman wouldn't be allowed to chug on as he has been, Morrison or not.

So here's the deal, Booster Gold. I'm opening up the Drewniverse to you. Any version of you is more than welcome to show up, from the showboating Classic Booster to the even more dickish Smallville Booster to the fetishy gender-swapped version, as your continuity-streams collapse, Boosters Gold (#35/52) will be there for you.

The main character will be the Booster Gold we know and love, direct from an escape from DC circa Flashpoint. He and his team (Rip Hunter, Skeets, etc) will make a daring escape from their collapsing continuity in Rip's Time Sphere. Adrift like some sort of metaphor for DC comics, they will eventually find Boosters', a sort of Restaurant at the End of the Universe venue, built by an alternate incarnation of Booster Gold. Like all the Boosters that eventually end up there, our Booster is able to make a deal - his group can use Boosters' as a base of operations in exchange for gathering certain energies (chronocontinuitons) for the owner, an incarnation of Booster Gold from the Red Son universe named "The Gold Standard" (he got out when communism was taking over the world).

Chronocontinuitons are generated and gathered from important events, thus necessitating Booster to travel not only through classic, NuDC, and Drewniverse time, but into elseworlds and neverworlds in order to witness "world changing" happenings. Obviously, we'll be getting pretty meta here and not bothering to limit ourselves to just DC comics. Booster Gold, Booster Girl, Skeetster Prime, and Rip Hunter, Jr. all traveling to the Amalgam Comics Universe to take part in the creation of Dark Claw? You betcha. Fiddling with Heroes Reborn? You know it ("Why does this look so familiar?" Booster asks. "Everything old is new again," replies Rip Hunter.). Booster Gold and The Goon team up to fight Anung Um Rama in a combination boxing match/drinking contest? Please.

Of course, in between the fun, we'll learn that there is a secret conspiracy afoot at Boosters' where somebody may not exactly be who they claim to be and are instead another character, lying low until the time is right for his revenge.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Sword Of The Atom

Ray Palmer is one of the few superheroes who avoided having it way too rough in the Grim Grittiness of the 90s. This was corrected with interest *puts on sunglasses, YYYYYEYEEEEAAAHHHH!!!* in the past decade when his wife went nuts and killed a beloved character's beloved wife.

Anyways, I've already added Ray to the Justice League line-up. And I'm sure people have noticed that outside of the Trinity, I'm pretty reluctant to have characters exist in multiple books at the same time. I think that sort of setup just gets way too messy, way too fast. I don't mind guest appearances or anything, it's just that the amount of character juggling that needs to happen for a character to consistently show up in multiple titles is the sort of thing that hastens a reboot.

Back to The Atom. I've always liked Ray's powers. Should I have powers beyond the ken of mortal men foisted upon me, I'd be totally happy to get Atom's size and mass manipulation powers. There's not a lot of obligation to use these powers overtly for good. The great power and responsibility of a Kryptonian powerset would be more hassle than it's worth. SuperDrew, they'd say, why don't you use your powers to save that train? Stop that war? Beat up that jerky alien with three eyes? But the Dratom? What would they expect him to do? Deal with a particularly aggressive squirrel?

For Ray Palmer, the downside to having a powerset that I like is that I've spent more time thinking about their implications. Where does The Atom's mass go when he shrinks? How does he breathe when smaller than an oxygen molecule? If he shrinks quickly, will the resultant vacuum suck his now tiny form into the air? The answers to these questions and more can be summed up by "It's just comics, Drew, don't think about it too hard. Plus there's a white dwarf star in the Atom's belt. Duh." Later explanations of the Atom's power involves him shifting his mass into another dimension when he reduces and pulling matter from the same place when he grows.

That act will be what starts off Sword of the Atom (#34/52). Ray Palmer, as is his wont, shrinks down to fun size to travel across telephone lines, one of his signature abilities and also one that demonstrates a lack of understanding of how our telecommunications systems work nowadays, but hey, comics everybody. During the trip, something goes wrong, but not disastrously so. Well, not disastrously so to the Ray Palmer who emerges happy and healthy on the other side, popping out of a telephone with some quip about traffic being a bear today or something. "I had to re-reduce on my way over," he'll say off-handedly, "Sorry I'm late." No big deal.

Except it is a big deal for the other Ray Palmer, the one who ended up emerging not from a telephone in Justice League HQ but into a new dimension entirely. For that guy, things are about to get weird. Floating in a psychedelic void, Ray attempts to locate some solid ground to get his bearings on. He futzes with his size and mass, shrinking down further in hopes of finding a molecule to settle down on.

Instead, he finds an entire world.

In the original Sword of the Atom, the world Ray finds is one of those standard neo-medieval ones that populate comics. Corsets, you see. We'll up the age of our Morlaidh to make it a pre-modern Elizabethan setting, so flintlocks and sabres as opposed to broadswords and horned helmets while retaining the all important bodice demographic. Ray lands amongst the people of Morlaidh right at the height of a cataclysmic civil war. Not only are the heavens on fire, spitting giants down upon the innocent gods-fearing yellow-skinned folks, but there's a war of succession on going between a Queen and her upstart cousin. The Queen is legitimately the ruler, but as she has rejected the Tenants of Faith in favor of science, the powerful Church has instead backed her cousin, claiming him to be the rightful heir to the throne. 

And when I say "giant" I mean it - Ray's belt is on the fritz and the smallest he can initially get would make him roughly 12 feet tall. In gratitude for him saving the lives of some of her subjects from the ongoing turmoil, the Queen grants Ray access to her primitive-yet-just-decent enough lab in order to try to fix his belt. Ray has to start from square one for a lot of his tools and the Queen (and some no-doubt shift advisers) get the benefit of learning a whole lot of new technology (some of which is put to work against the forces of the Church by an over-eager suitor which immediately backfires). Anyways, Ray gets his belt working again, sort of, and manages to shrink down to normal size relative the rest of the Morlaidhians right before the lab explodes.

Is it betrayal? A Church spy? Ray's knocked out for some time. During that period, his belt goes missing, so he's stuck at his current size. But it turns out that when he shrank down from being a giant, he only brought his size down. His mass, density, and proportional strength are still at 12 foot tall levels. This will come in handy as the Queen has also gone missing anda bunch of the locals are blaming him (as, it turns out, they should - Ray's size changing is what causes the tumult as he steals mass/space from the surrounding area, but it'll be some time before that's fund out).

So Ray Palmer, slightly nerdy scientist who had a powerset that did not really demand heroics, is now thrust into the role of a hero. He'll pick up some of the same tricks he's seen his Justice League associates use ("I'm just pretending to be Batman." "Who is Batman?" "Nevermind.") as he quests out to rescue the Queen and locate his belt. While the former will be done over the course of the first arc, the latter will take some time, years in fact. Ray will have a life of adventure (and eventually love when he marries the Queen) before locating his belt when at The Most Interesting Man In The World age. He tinkers with it, fixing it, but never uses it until his Queen dies of natural causes. Then, having fixed the cataclysmic flaw, he uses it to grow back up and out of the strange matter universe and back into his own.

Appearing thirty seconds after the other Ray Palmer did, way back when the first split happened. Mass and size are not the only things the belt dilates, you see. So now there is a second, older, and more grizzled Atom running around. Will he be a friend or foe? Consider that the first Ray's belt puts the second's adopted home in jeopardy, that's hard to say.

All this before Ryan Choi even shows up. We'll save him (and Al Pratt and Atom Smasher) for the Atomic War crossover event. Flash has his own Family of Speedsters, after all, so why can't the Atom have a similar setup?