Friday, August 19, 2011

Animal Man

So after hitting on the champion of The Green yesterday, it should be little surprise that we're hitting on his Red equivalent today.

I think I have more good feelings about Morrison's run on Animal Man than I do about Moore's Swamp Thing simply because I didn't know much about Animal Man going in to it. I knew who Buddy Baker was, that he was some dude with animal powers, but beyond that, very little. But then, wasn't that the point of the British Invasion of DC comics? To take some of the "Hey, That Guy"s of the setting and flesh them out? Of course, what Morrison ended up doing was fleshing out his own concept of comics much more than he did Animal Man. Unlike Swamp Thing or Sandman, who became richer characters for their exposure to Moore and Gaiman, Animal Man sort of dwindled afterwards, the high school quarterback whose best days were far behind him.

Still, after "I Can See You!" there's really nowhere to go but down, back to being just another comicbook character again.

Unfortunately, we'll have to put Animal Man's meta-adventures behind us for the time being. We're building a stable universe here and we need a solid fourth wall, dammit! Buddy's origin remains largely the same - family man gets weird powers from aliens. In our version, Buddy gets his powers around the time he marries Ellen. Rather than off hunting as a teen, we'll have him encounter the aliens while separated from the rest of his camping party while on his bachelor weekend.

So why him? Simply put, the aliens just wanted to ask for directions. Unable to communicate with Buddy, they use a device to open his mind up to the field that permeates all living creatures. The theory here being that, if the human's mind is open to said field, the aliens should be able to communicate with him telepathically. Except they didn't plan for the amazing strength of Earth's Red field. Like I've said before, Earth's Red and Green are leaps and bounds more developed than similar fields on other planets. The aliens certainly did not expect that to happen, nor did they expect Buddy to flip out and slaughter them, rending their ship apart with his bear (heh) hands.

Yeah, so the Red was a bit unhappy at having a champion it didn't pick (natural selection and all that) thrust upon it - it was fine with Vixen - and it expressed its displeasure in messy, messy ways on the visiting aliens. Still, Buddy is a part of it now, no going back.

Buddy adopts his superhero persona of Animal Man for a time. We're talking, say, just over a half a Superman Unit ago. He fights local crimes and uses his powers to draw the abilities of nearby critters, unaware of the real potential of his powers. The Red isn't much for training, after all, so it takes an encounter with Vixen to really get a handle on what he can do. There's not a whole lot of time for that, however, as Ellen is pregnant and asks her husband to give up his dangerous hobby in order to ensure that he'll be there for their child. It's sad for Buddy, but he complies - seeing someone who can do everything he can do, only better, was kind of dispiriting. He retires, though he does keep using his powers, slowly working through what they are and what they can do, in secret.

Retirement is short lived, however. During a family trip to the city (let's say, Metropolis), the Baker family is caught up in one of the supervillain-caused disasters that make property values so low. Buddy leaps into action, using his powers to not only save his family, but other innocents nearby from being hurt as collateral damage as Superman battles, let's say, Metallo. A shared glance with his wife is the only permission he needs before he joins the fight, saving Superman and helping to contain the villain. Afterwards, Superman thanks Buddy in the presence of his family, laying on the whole "great power, great responsibility" guilt trip that he does so well. This causes Ellen to relent and Buddy is able to become a hero again.

So that's where we start with Issue #1 of Animal Man (#47/52). Buddy has been given spousal permission to become a hero again, but on the condition that he receive training so that he can do things as safe as possible. Of course, this means Vixen re-enters the picture, something that Ellen is not too pleased about (Vixen will be filling the role of Starfire from the recent DC comics). She trusts her husband when he says he's not interested, but is worried about that trust being tested by a predatory supermodel-slash-superhero with the ability to pump out pheromones like there's no tomorrow. And I don't want to make Ellen sound like a jealous shrew here - she has a right to be concerned. The Red is keen on the idea of two of its champions mating, perhaps starting a new line of superpowered humans, in an attempt to get a leg up on its Green rival. There are, after all, slight variations to Vixen's and Animal Man's powers - she can assume some physical traits (claws, etc) but is limited to living creatures only. Buddy's the reverse - he can get the bite of a Tyrannosaurus, but not the actual jaws. Both can tap into other human abilities (and 'aliens who have been accepted into the field' like Superman), a secret that Vixen warns Buddy to keep close to his chest indeed and use vary sparingly - assuming the powers of a sentient being also brings in their thought patterns and that way lies madness.

So there's Animal Man! His first story arc will be pretty conventional, standard Journey of the Hero stuff, picking up at the Supernatural Aid (Vixen) stage. It seems that the alien species whose members gave Buddy's powers to, and were murdered by, him want some answers. Buddy doesn't remember the slaughter, though, thinking he came upon some alien crash in the woods. And on top of that, he's got agents of The Green and newborn Grey to worry about.

Still, all that must pale in hardship compaired with raising a 6 year old daughter.

Who is starting to develop powers of her own.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Swamp Thing

Again, we tread on hollowed ground. There have certainly been more famous, better written, and more world changing comics than Alan Moore's Swamp Thing, but I don't think there has been any comic as hallowed. Swamp Thing is sacred ground, a comic that reduced most Top 10 lists to Top 9 before they ever get written.

So let's kick over the baptismal font, pants the wizard in his cave, and reboot Swamp Thing.

At his root (heh), Swamp Thing has a pretty basic premise: Plant Monster. While that might not seem like much, it was enough to spawn Swamp Thing's brother-by-another-mother, Man-Thing, a year earlier, the Heap decades before, and shambling mounds, the D&D monster, years later. Clearly, the idea of some sort of primal plantlife aping humanity has some draw.

So how much of it can we change? Moore has already beaten us to the punch with his reveal that Swamp Thing was not a man who became a plant, but a plant who thought it had been a man. Our Swamp Thing will still be Alec Holland, a living breathing human, but the shambling plant creature that is Swamp Thing will be no more than an animated shell.

Alec Holland lies dreaming in the depths of the swamps. He chose to lay there, to rest and dream, following the death of his wife at the hands of her uncle's mad quest for immortality. Anton Arcane had trapped the previous Swamp Thing, using the creature's connection to The Green to attempt to upload his own consciousness to the world and thus live forever. When Abagail found out that the heap of plant matter she and her husband had been studying in the lab was actually a living, thinking being, she attempted to free it. Arcane stopped her with lethal force. Seeing his wife's passion through, Alec granted the vivisected Swamp Thing it's wish to die, ending it, severing any chance Arcane had of using it as a vessel to immortality.

Once a human touches The Green, though, it changes them. The Green simply does not let go. Alec's dreams began to change. He dreamed of his dead wife, which were understandable, but she told him things that were not. Abagail Arcane is part of The Green now and Alec can go to her in his sleep. The Green's touch, or rather its firm backhand, also affected Arcane - he can no longer consume plant matter without it making him violently ill, spores and pollen provoke allergic reactions to the Nth degree, and even touching a simple leaf causes him to break out in hives.

Lead on by the plant-ghost of his dead wife, Alec takes on the mantle of Swamp Thing. Not wishing to subject its new champion to the same fate as its previous, The Green does not change Alec into a shambling mound. Instead, it grants him the ability to shape his own mossy golem from plant matter while he sleeps. Swamp Thing can appear almost anywhere there is sufficient plant life, controlled remotely by a dreaming Alec Holland (the implications of this and of Alec's growing dependance on plant-based sleeping aids that allow him to "stay under" longer will be explored in the series). Alec is an agent of The Green now, its knight in shining tuber. Guided by the ghost of his dead wife (is she real? a hallucination?) Alec works to defend The Green from its greatest threats, Anton Arcane (who has found a way to disrupt the harmony of The Green) and The Red.

Yes, that's the same Red that gives heroes Animal Man and Vixen their powers. Remember that The Red and The Green are rivals and it's that conflict that drives each to improve themselves. Think of them like England and France in the middle ages. Sure, they'll team up against an external threat (the Ottomans, say, to torture the example), but most of the time they're at each others' throats. Consider that The Green has other agents, ones that are widely regarded as villains like Poison Ivy and The Floronic Man. So what happens if Vixen tries to stop Poison Ivy from, say, turning a populated city block of Gotham into a new rainforest? Swamp Thing could easily be called in to assist the villainess. Alec will have to walk a fine line with his duties to The Green on one side and his basic humanity on the other.

Still, for the first story of Swamp Thing (#46/52), we'll keep the focus on Arcane, who due to The Green's curse, has had to turn to other options to achieve his goal of living forever. Weirder options.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Camelot 3000

First up, sorry for the spotty posting schedule. August is the month where I realize that the idle days of summer are almost over so take as much vacation as humanly possible in order to prevent madness come September. Still, only 6 more titles to go after today!

Back in the early 80s, DC went out on a limb and tried something new: the maxi-series. Today, we'd look at Camelot 3000's limited 12 issue run as nothing so strange. There are a host of titles today conceived and written as finite stories, rather than the ongoing sagas most conventional stories become. Some of these limited series sort of shift into the later category as they become popular before overstaying their welcome (Marvel Zombies, I'm looking at you), while some unlimited series suddenly get limits due to poor sales.

One interesting thing to note about Camelot 3000 is that as an out-of-continuity run it is in some way a precursor to titles like Gaiman's Sandman or the rest of the Vertigo titles. Of course, for our reboot of Camelot, we'll need it to be in-continuity, otherwise it wouldn't actually be part of the Drewniverse. This raises some problems- the series can't be set in the future (for the same reason Legion titles can't) and it would need to have a story engine capable of driving the plot on for more than 12 issues.

While I recognize characters like Knight and Squire exist (and may still exist in the Drewniverse, were it not for the riots in London. The idea of a hoodie-wearing yoof being taken under the wing as the Squire of an upperclass Knight had some attraction.), having a host of dudes running around with swords doing battle would stick out like a sore thumb in a modern setting. Plus, I would be concerned that they wouldn't stay their "own thing" for long - we'd end up with Superman/Arthur teamups. So we have to find a way for our Camelot to be of the Drewniverse, but not totally part of it. Tricky, tricky.

Turning to recent history, this of-not-part status has recently been achieved in the death/rebirth of the New Gods. Darkseid the planetary tyrant was reborn as Dark Side the crime boss, for example. We're skipping that in the Drewniverse, obviously, as we have Intergang running around supplying weapons to the criminal element and Barda running for her life from the Furies, but surely we could take the idea that there is a secret world, a secret struggle that exists just a half-step from our own? We could even tie in a few legacy DC characters, giving them roles in the Secret World of the Drewniverse.

At the conjunction of secret worlds and Arthurian characters sits the works of Tim Powers, specifically The Drawing of the Dark, Last Call, Expiration Date, and Earthquake Weather. I heartily recommend the first two (ED and ER are demi-sequels to Last Call). The Drawing of the Dark is about beer, Arthur, and the battle between East and West set in the Siege of Vienna during the 16th century. Last Call is about the battle to become the spiritual king of the American West via a mystical card game. Both works focus on the symbiotic relationship between a king and the land. When one prospers, so does the other. When one falters, the same.

Hey, that sounds a lot like Uncle Sam, the embodiment of the American Idea, that's been running around the DC universe with the Freedom Fighters for several decades. I think we have our hook!

Okay, so something that our Founding Fathers understood was that for a nation to succeed, it needs some sort of mystical zeitgeist to provide a sort of spiritual underpinning to the idea of national identity. So after winning the Revolution, they were quick to use their Masonic rites to establish an embodiment of their new nation, otherwise they'd risk getting rolled over by the identities of the other nations whose tired and hungry would become Americans. So it was not enough for the Americans to beat the British and then defend against later counterattacks, they also had to somehow defeat the idea of Rule Britannia and then keep her out. Otherwise, the nation would naturally drift back into the English fold. Britannia herself was defeated (or at least, kept from meddling too much in the Revolution) by the involvement of French and Native American zeitgeists that the Founding Fathers were able to rally/bribe to their cause when those allies physically joined the fight. Obviously, these zeitgeists got the short end of the stick as a reward for their troubles - the French power was changed by contact with the revolutionary ideals and soon split into the triumvirate of Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité while the Native American spirits got sort of stomped on.

Anyways, Uncle Sam, or at least the Spirit of America who would become Uncle Sam was created. The Founding Fathers didn't quite grasp what they were doing, so the door through which the spirit entered our world remained open, thus allowing future incarnations to enter and take form. I'm not sure what these entities are, although the whole "beings shaped by will or belief" does sound pretty similar to Ion and Parallax and that set. Something to think about for the future - what if there is indeed an Entity sleeping beneath the Earth and it's these national zeitgeists that are bleeding off its power, keeping it down? So the End of Days would really be a one-world government, which would kill off the zeitgeists and rouse the slumbering Outer God.

Still, that'd be far in the future. For the time being, let's focus on our Arthur, Uncle Sam. At this point in America's history, we've moved beyond the Once and Future King days of Young Wart and into the more established period of the Chansons de Geste where the knights of the round table go out and do great deeds, fight great evils, and love great loves. So our Uncle Sam rules his Court of America from his mountain fastness located in Mount Rushmore. He's still advised by his Merlin, the ghost of Benjamin Franklin, who helped bring him into the world in the first place.

His knights represent cultural movements, geographical identities, and other American concepts and they travel the nation questing for adventure in their own particular idioms. The knights and courtiers don't really change, but they do evolve over time. So Lancelot, a cowboy representation of the American West, doesn't ride a horse anymore - instead he has a motorcycle. Kay, Arthur's older irascible brother and representation of New England, has been a John Adams-like gentleman farmer, a whaler, and is currently a Southie bravo straight out of The Town. Guinevere is the Heartland and when she fell out of love with her Arthur, the nation suffered through the Dust Bowl.

Mordred is a greasy lobbying politico, the worm at the heart of court. The Black Knight, who in Arthurian legend chained his wife up, was the incarnation of slavery and was defeated by Percival, freedom, who has been an abolitionist and civil rights leader on his quest for the American Grail (aka the American Dream). Galahad came into existence as a suffragette and continues to strive for women's rights and equality between the sexes ("Never shall a man take me hence.." begins the inscription on her sword). Gawain, who is both tamer and steward of the the Green Knight that is the American Wilderness, has shed his Teddy Roosevelt mustache for the dreadlocks of an eco-warrior. Tristan and Isolde, the Mississippi and Delta, continue their love affair, and the knight seeks to redress the wrongs visited upon his love. Dagonet, the court jester, is a reality TV star of Jersey Shore proportions (That's Dago-dot-net, yo). Gareth is industry, Bedivere is science, and so on. Each character will have abilities, sometimes supernatural, in accordance with their particular idiom.

Obviously, in the comic, we'll be changing the names where we can. Lancelot's role as the Vigilante could be a surprise reveal kept until later. We'd let Vigilante appear in other comics as a guest or team-up, while in Camelot (#45/52) he'll be spoken of as "out questing." Other characters, such as Mordred, could appear in other comics with little need to reveal who they really are.

Our point of view character will be a newly incarnated zeitgeist - she'll start her existence as a street urchin named Lenore before it's revealed that she's Sir Pellinore, spirit of the quest. Her incarnation will be a direct result to the inclusion of superheroes into the American cultural mindset and as such, she'd have a pretty decent powerset - strength, speed, durability, and most importantly, the ability to locate people and objects, which will quickly make her in demand both at court and in the Drewniverse at large.

Story-wise, we'll be looking to Sandman for inspiration and titles such as Hawk and Dove for commentary. The fundamental question of this title is What Makes Up America? And while I can see how this may be a big question for comics to tackle, given all the recent fooferaw about new Spider-Men, Superman's citizenship, and so on, I think there is at least room in comicbook pages to ask the question.

Monday, August 15, 2011


One area where I think DC has a leg up over the Drewniverse is in its backing off of this being an actual reboot on their part. This allows them some degree of mealy-mouthed spin which leads to some characters being rebooted entirely, while others are barely touched, their histories intact yet weirdly compacted. I don't think this will make for a solid continuity going forward, but hey, if a reboot brings in the bucks, why would they want to build their castles on anything but sand? The reboot can be an annual event like the CrossOver Calamities of Marvel with the added benefit that it doesn't require a whole lot of in-story justification behind it.

Truly, the Age of the Infinite Reboot is upon us. It will be an age of chaos and change. This is not a bad thing, mind you, we do need our shake-ups to keep things from stagnating. I wonder, though, how long until things begin to follow the Marvel approach of The Truth being what people see on the big screen, not what's happened in the comics for the past umpteen generations. I spent a good amount of time this weekend watching Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes above the plaintive wails of my teething son and noticed that the Robert Downey Jr version of Tony Stark is already starting to crystallize. With no Justice League cartoons or other DCAU shows in production right now, comic versions of DC characters may be losing headway to their silver screen'd counterparts. It's all in flux.

So speaking of flux, let's look at the Batwoman. She's been up in the air for some time, having been wiped away by editorial fiat and Infinite Crisis then reinvented to controversy. Hell, even the status of her comic's publication has been in flux for a few years, issues seeming to come out based on the strength of J.H. Williams' covers more than anything.

Let's keep that flux and confusion going with the Batwoman of the Drewniverse. That is to say, our Batwoman is not Batwoman. She's Hourman. But does that matter? There seems to be a need, both in the setting and in our comicbook shops, for there to be a Batwoman. So when a caped and cowled figure shows up in Gotham City soon after Batgirl's retirement, the media is quick to say, "Ah! There she is! It's not Batgirl any more, it's Batwoman!"

Of course, that's completely incorrect. Barbara Gordon is off trying to decide if she wants to be a space cowboy with the rest of the Lantern Corps. Chandra Chaturvedi did not come to Gotham City to become the new Batwoman. Hell, she had been calling herself Garuda as she stalked the night in her native Mumbai, seeking the criminals that caused the destruction of her laboratory and the death of her coworkers. Still, you can get a lot more done in Gotham with a bat-prefix than without, so it did not take much to let the name stick.

Anyways, let's dial it back a bit. Dr. Chandra Chaturvedi worked for the second largest pharmaceutical company in all of India. She was a hotshot researcher on whose shoulders her company's hopes of becoming number one rested. When she developed a new drug, a miracle drug, if you will, that seemed to increase the user's physical stamina to peak human potential, she was all set for fame, fortune, and maybe even a Nobel Prize. Imagine a drug you could give to a patient in recovery that would speed healing, one you could give to firefighters or rescue workers (and yes, even soldiers) that would give them the edge they need to get in and out of dangerous situations in one piece. Sounds great, right? Sure, you can only use it at for an hour or so before it flushed itself from your system and sure, you had to wait at least another hour before taking another done lest the toxins build up and cause you harm, but an hour of power is better than none, right?

Totally right. Unfortunately, it turned out that there already was a super-drug out on the market - a little serum dubbed 'Venom' and the folks that controlled its production and distribution were not exactly thrilled at having a widely released competitor. Turns out the chemical composition of the two products was pretty similar. Hrm. Strange, that.

So her lab is attacked, her coworkers killed, and Chandra resorts to taking her own drug in order to escape. Big explosions cover up the fact that the raiders stole research and patent information and everyone assumes Dr. Chaturvedi died in the "terrorist attack" as well. After escaping and finding her own home ransacked, Chandra returns to her company's HQ to try to figure out what the hell is going on, only to see several of the same men who attacked the lab hanging around HQ like they belong there.

That night, Chandra returned to HQ with the help of her remaining supply of her miracle drug. Breaking into the lab, she discovered that her research was being funneled to the makers of a drug codenamed VENOM and that it was they who demanded that her research be shut down. At that moment, Garuda was born, named after the mythological winged enemy of venomous snakes everywhere as Chandra swore vengeance on those who not only killed innocent people, but stole her research and perverted it for their own gain.

Eventually, the trail lead to Gotham City where coincidence and an over-active tabloid media renamed Garuda as Batwoman. By the time we hit Issue #1 of Batwoman (#44/52), Chandra has moved on from Gotham and is temporarily set up in Opal City on the trail of one of the button men of the criminal organization she's been fighting. While she has amassed a good amount of crimefighting gear over the years (Bruce Wayne is generous with his resources and seeing how he has no use for armor cut for a female at the moment...), she still needs lab access to make more Miraclo. Currently, she's set up at a clinic run by one Dr. Beth Chapel, exchanging time spent helping others in return for lab access. Beth also serves as nice sounding board to let Chandra get her backstory out.

And gee, I wonder what will happen to Dr. Chapel when Copperhead decides to go from hunted to hunter?