Monday, February 28, 2011

Team Miller!

It's Frank Miller time! We've looked at the hero teams that might be assembled from the work of two classic Silver Age artists - Kirby and Ditko - but only one Modern Ager - John Byrne. So it's only fitting we turn to the Modern Age again, to one who really put his stamp on comics in the 80s and like it or not, paved the way for the 90s. Everyone tried to do anti-heroes, but arguably, Frank Miller was the first and the best. The SBG thus presents...

Frank Miller's Goddamn Outsiders!These guys are HARD CORE. Led by the future Dark Knight, Daredevil, Elektra, Marv, Miho and King Leonidas fight the grim and gritty fight through the whole of history. It's bloody, it's nasty, and it probably won't last long.

Martha Washington wanted to get in on it, but she seems to be on Gibbons' team instead. And if the team could have included his writerly projects as well, she would have been joined by Wolverine, Carl Seltz, Robocop and maybe both the Goddamn Batman and the Year One Batman. But I've that up to you in the comments.

Reign of the Supermen #131: Superman, Honorary Avenger

Source: JLA/Avengers #3-4 (2003)
Type: Crossover anomalyIn 2003, Kurt Busiek and George Perez did a better version of DC vs. Marvel, and in fact a better Crisis than any since (or possibly including) the first. JLA/Avengers is what a big crossover event should be like, and the fact that it's a cross-company crossover makes it all the more magical. It doesn't end in Amalgamation, but the Marvel and DC universes do co-exist at a dimensional intersection for a while (incredibly, Busiek makes this an awkward one-night stand between Eternity and Kismet), and Captain America lends Superman his shield. And then for a single page, Supes wields Thor's hammer and brings in the Power with a capital P.

I could probably write a while swathe of articles based on this project (which IS in continuity, since Krona's cosmic egg was seen again), but if I stick to Superman for now... Anyone else notice that Supes and Cap are the two who are best attuned to their home universes, to the point of becoming really edgy when in the wrong one? And since these guys are the oldest of each present, it makes perfect sense. Like Cap, most Marvel heroes are "ordinary men" (at least in some ways), lower powered but full of heart. They live in the real world of World War II and American politics. And like Superman, DC's heroes are bigger than life, epic in scope, and live in iconic cities that never were. Cornerstones both.

JLA/Avengers would be cool even if it only had the Perez artwork going for it. That is has a resonant story that pays tribute to both comic book worlds and what makes each one special... that's the proverbial cherry on top.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

This Week in Geek (21-27/02/11)

Buys

I got quite a few DVDs this week: All-Star Superman (of course), Hard Core Logo, The Guild's 4th season, and in the Asian cinema column, The Lady Hermit and Ong Bak 3. I also got the Doctor Who Season 5 soundtrack, and the latest issue of my favorite fanzine, Enlightenment, came in the mail.

"Accomplishments"

DVDs: I've been watching an episode of Kolchak: The Night Stalker now and again for a few months and finally finished its single season this week. Darren McGavin reprises his role as Carl Kolchak - a journalist who stumbles onto supernatural events but is never believed - from two previous tv movies for 20 episodes in '74 and '75. As the season progresses, some of the threats turn out to be real howlers (that crocodile man is funkayyyy!), but the show finds its sweet spot in the many zany guest characters that show up. Kolchak is surrounded not just by weird events, but weird people too. It gives the series a wit that keeps it fresh today, and I wish its descendant, The X-Files, had shown half as much sometimes.


Fatal Contact is a Biblical allegory... about underground boxing in Hong Kong. No, really. It is. Even if accidentally so. On the surface, this is a Jackie Wu Jing vehicle with truly awesome fight scenes, melodramatic subplots, and an ending that isn't quite earned. But not 5 seconds after it ended, we were quickly spinning off a web of allusions to both the Fall from Grace and the Life of Jesus, sparked by our contention early on that the apple-eating girlfriend was the devil incarnate. Think what you like, but Wu Jing gets spiked with nails, the film's Judas commits suicide after the betrayal, and a lifeless Madonna weeps. The more you look at it, the more obvious it becomes. Not that the director mentions any of that in his commentary or interview. The DVD also features interviews with members of the cast, all of Dragon Dynasty's usual quality, much of it in English, and almost a half-hour's worth of Wu Jing's training (bit long). It Is however missing the deleted scenes promised in the commentary and apparently on the Hong Kong DVD release. Too bad, as it would have included a cut fight scene.

Audios: Big Finish's 100th numbered Doctor Who CD is called, simply "100" and features the 6th Doctor and Evelyn in four short stories by some of BF's top writers. Jacqueline Rayner's "100 BC" is a humorous tale having to do with Julius Caesar's death. Evelyn acts ridiculously, but it works in the context of the comedy (Rayner often sacrifices character for comedy, and it works about half the time). "My Own Private Wolfgang" is a silly idea by Rob Shearman, guest-starring John Sessions as Mozart, and it's a timey-whimey hoot. Joseph Lidster's "Bedtime Story" is the weakest story on the disc, perhaps because it's so serious compared to the rest. It concerns a family curse based on an old superstition, but it left me cold. "The 100 Days of the Doctor" by fan favorite Paul Cornell pays tribute to other Big Finish Doctors by having the 6th track down a virus that is killing him in both his past and future. Don't expect actual cameos, but he does look on himself from afar, and Cornell's tongue is firmly in cheek through the whole exercise. A clever and cheeky bit of fluff. Overall, a fine package in the style or Circular Time. The audios are very good at short stories and should do more.

The 8th Doctor is off on his own with Lucie Miller, but what about his old team of Charlie and C'rizz? Absolution is a strange science fiction story that sees that team start to unravel. Scott Alan Woodard has some good, epic ideas, but I'm afraid anything that puts C'rizz front and center is going to leave me yawning. The character never worked for me, and his evolution into something more seems to come out of left field. The guest characters are no more engaging, and even Robert Glenister can't save this story from the oubliettes. I do like the final scene in which Charlie has had enough (to be continued), but that could have been tacked on to any story, really. Absolution wants to be huge and at the same time personal. It only cursorily succeeds, and the parts are better than the whole.

Colin Brake's The Mind's Eye is a 5th Doctor three-parter about plants that trap you inside a realistic dream, putting both Peri and Erimem through fantasy lives that are part-joy, part-tragedy. Owen Teale (the cannibal from Torchwood) is excellent as the scientist who helps the Doctor rescue them from their dreams. A strong audio, then, with proper twists and turns, though the cliffhangers are perhaps not very convincing. There's a second story filling up the 4th episode's slot, Mission of the Viyrans (by Nicholas Briggs), introducing a new threat that I'm told reappears in other Big Finish stories. It's creepy as hell, but I don't think I understand the ending. Perhaps I need to hear their next appearance to get it. It's also an odd one because it happens after Erimem's departure, which hasn't happened yet. This is another team that's about to be dissolved so Peri can join the 6th Doctor in the Lost Stories line. But Erimem has one last story to go, which I'll get to probably next week.

Alan Barnes created Charlie in Storm Warning, so it's fitting that he should send her off in The Girl Who Never Was. You know, the best departure stories are those that instantly make you miss the character, even if you thought it was well past due that they should leave. Definitely the case here. It's a timey-whimey story - appropriate for a girl who came aboard the TARDIS as a living paradox - with plenty of twists and the Cybermen thrown in for good measure. And because it knows you know it's a departure story, it has fun teasing you with just what Charlie's final fate will be. It seems that every few minutes, you're going, "so that's what happens to her". Feels like every possible final fate is covered and yet it still manages to surprise you. Good fun and most importantly, well-written characters. Charlie finds the charm she had in those early adventures, while the Doctor is desperate to keep her traveling. Well played, Mr. Barnes.

Books: Respecting my New Year's resolution (1 book every 2 weeks), but only barely, I read Jacqueline Rayner's The Sontaran Games, a "Quick Reads" novella about Sontarans testing human athletes. As with much of Rayner's written work, it's a bit silly and the happy coincidences pile up until you can't be sure the Doctor was really any GOOD. However, it passes by quickly and unlike some other Quick Reads I've sampled, stuff actually happens and keeps happening throughout. I've felt that, sometimes, the writer for these wrote a single encounter (if you'll permit the RPG vernacular) and padded out the front to make it a "whole" story. Rayner is big on incident, and each chapter propels you to the next cliffhanger. So it's entertaining, if slight.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
II.ii. The Fishmonger Scene - Tennant (2009)

Reign of the Supermen #130: Bizarro No.1

Source: Action Comics #254 (1959) to Superman vol.1 #423 (1986)
Type: Bizarro
I thought about doing a joke post all in Bizarro-talk, but Bizarro is just too important to popular culture to brush him off! In fact, you'd EXPECT a Bizarro-talk post here, so I'm doing the OPPOSITE of that. (Convinced yet?)

Now of course, Bizarro appears before Action #254, having his roots in Superboy #68 the year before, and soon showing up in the newspaper strip. Those Bizarros'll get their day, but the Bizarro who would one day wear the #1 medal to set himself off from the other Superman duplicates he created really starts in Action 254. Inspired by Professor Dalton's work from Superboy 68, Lex Luthor recreates the duplicator ray that created the teen Bizarro and uses it on Superman. He loses control of the good-hearted Bizarro though, and the poor creature, Frankenstein-like, spends some time helping people and trying to commit suicide. Until he sees Lois Lane and falls in love, that is, and hilarity ensues. Lois will fix everything by duplicating herself a Bizarro-Lois. The imperfect doubles leave Earth to find their own place in the universe and the rest is history.

Bizarro will be a villain, a pest, an ally, a monster, and a clown. He'll get his own back-up strip in Adventure Comics and his own cube version of Earth filled with all manner of craziness. His place in mainstream popular culture was no doubt assured by well-known Superman fan Jerry Seinfeld. We all remember the episode of Seinfeld in which Elaine goes out with Bizarro-Jerry who has an entire Bizarro entourage and even a Bizarro statue in his apartment. Everybody has a Bizarro version of themselves just as everybody has a Lex Luthor. That person who is just like you in most ways, but opposite in every way that counts. I had this crazy kid who somehow showed up everywhere I did - same comic book shop, same shelves at the library, walking behind me a ways whistling obscure songs I thought only I knew - but who was a hyperactive, asocial pest. Well, maybe not THAT opposite. Your Bizarro-you SHOULD freak you out. That's the whole point. A cautionary tale. A dark mirror. And for some of you, an ideal one (you know who you are).

Another legacy left by Bizarro is the unavoidable arguments about what "opposite" means in any given Bizarro story.

Superman's continuity is unbroken between the Silver and Bronze ages, and so is Bizarro's. We get to say goodbye in a rather touching sequence in the pre-Crisis Superman's last story, "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?"
"Opposite" taken to a chilling extreme. It took Bizarro 27 years to accomplish what he set out to do in his very first story.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

What If... the Vision Had Conquered the World?

A What If? story that coincides with my personal entry into Avengers comics back in the 80s, a minor classic that had the Vision become the Internet. Not that we knew what that was yet, but we'd seen War Games. We knew what it MEANT. Except we really didn't. Anyway, this issue presents not one, but two possible outcomes to the proposed question. In the first, things go amazingly RIGHT (1). On the other, terribly WRONG (2).

What If vol.2 #19 (November 1990)
Based on: Avengers #254
The true history: The Vision ties into every computer in the world, but the Avengers talk him down his tree (yes, that's a computer pun, just not a very good one).
Turning point: What if the Avengers failed to convince the Vision to not take over the world's computers?
Story type: Multiple choice/New World Order
Watcher's mood: Aerodynamic collar
Altered history: (1) In "Utopia", the heroes and governments of Earth are powerless to stop the Vision from taking over its computers. Of course, Viz just wants what's good for us, as he explains in his address to the United Nations, a speech that includes this bit of wisdom:
How can I disagree? Soon, he's got Captain America dismantling nuclear arsenals, X-Factor feeding the poor, Black Panther developing Africa, Reed Richards providing cheap power for the world, and Thor restoring the rain forests. Everyone has access to the Vision for their education, and after a few years of very boring comics, the world is united under one very difficult to draw flag.
I mean, the maple leaf is hard enough, but humanity's DNA strand?! Too much. It apparently doesn't stop us from going into space and by the 22nd century, we're following the adventures of the Cosmic Avengers.
Thor is still alive. Starhawk knows the Avengers brand is stronger than the Guardians'. We've also got the genetically designed Commander America, Jhen the Gammazon who is a clone of She-Hulk, the Tachyon Torch (referred to as both an android AND a descendant of Johnny Storm), and Irondroid (who, despite the "droid" in his name, is a flesh and blood guy). Everything's great on Earth, but now they're brushing up against the Kree and the Skrulls and war breaks out. But the Cosmic Avengers defeat them with the power of Commander America's unhinged jaw...
...and the populations of both worlds revolt against their leaders, bringing a new era of peace to the entire universe. Earth, you've done it again!
(2) In "Dystopia", Genosha teleports a nuke into New York to destroy the Vision's mainframe as soon as he tried to take over their stuff.
But by then, he's everywhere. However, it does mean most of the Marvel heroes are dead, economies collapse, and wars break out. Viz allies himself with four supervillains - the Mad Thinker, Doctor Doom, the Supreme Hydra and the Kingpin (what, was he on holiday when the nuke hit?) - to get Earth's nations back under control. They all accept his deal, hoping to take over at some point. At least they're good for creating android armies with which to subjugate humanity.
The Vision becomes ever more a slave to pure logic, and lets Earth become a fascist factory. By the 22nd century, it's become an empire still ruled by the Vision, as well as Doom's clone, the current Supreme Hydra, and the Mad Thinker who's put his brain in an ape-like android. They destroy the Shi'ar and then have to face the combined might of the Kree, Skrulls and Badoon. Well, no problem. First, the Vision viruses himself into the Kree Supreme Intelligence.
Then, he gets the Skrulls hooked on some kind of drug. And finally he takes the Badoon's females and babies hostage. Logic wins the day, I guess. Which way would you rather Earth be remembered?
Books canceled as a result: All of them. Utopia's would be extra-dull, with perhaps Cosmic Avengers remaining to tell of future stories. In Dystopia, everybody dies, and even the future is bleak.
These things happen: While the Vision never took over the world, the Internet did. And used it to send me penis enlargement ads. Does that count?

Next week: What if the Amazing Spider-Man had not married Mary Jane?
My guess: Joe Quesada never considered a jerk!

Reign of the Supermen #129: Cyber-Link Superman

Source: Superman & Batman: Doom Link (1995)
Type: Elseworlds/ToyThe problem with Superman? Not enough accessories! At least, that's what toy developers seem to think. Actually, they seem to think that of the entire spandex set. We've all seen those action figures with plastic attachments or alternate looks that have nothing to do with the comics, right? Remember Total Justice?

Well, in the case of Kenner's Cyber-Link Superman & Batman Action Figure Two-Pack, the accessorized action figures came with a short Elseworlds comic that gave a back story for the accessories! That's a pretty neat idea! In the Cyber Link universe, a kryptonite meteor slammed into the Earth, spreading radiation and resulting, over time, in the loss of Superman's invulnerability. Now, Planet OnLine News Service correspondent Clark Kent wears Cyber-Link armor that creates synthetic invulnerability as... THIS GUY!
Superman! And escalation being what it is, this leads to every hero and villain on Earth to wear similar armor/accessories. Gotta keep up with the times!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Reign of the Supermen #128: Half-Superman

Source: Action Comics #290 (1962)
Type: Red K TransformationSo Superman is looking for Krypto in deep space and finds him chasing a comet with a red kryptonite tip. This zaps both Kryptonians so that the side facing the comet is de-powered. The pink is just for our benefit and isn't visible to others.

So of course, this becomes a story about Lois Lane trying to prove Clark Kent is Superman. OF COURSE, I SAY!

See, a tiny meteor makes a little cut in Superman's vulnerable left side, and Lois notices it on Clark's neck. So he CAN'T be Superman! But what if she finds the same cut on Superman? He puts flesh-colored adhesive on it, so okay, but then she spends the entire day following Superman by helicopter as part of a story, so she notices he's using only one side of his body. So Superman has to work extra hard not only to accomplish all his "scheduled" feats, but also to hide his disability from Lois!

The Silver Age Superman is a really busy guy. Not only does he keep a job at the Daily Planet and presumably (there's no evidence of it in this story) keeps Metropolis crime-free, he also helps build a bridge, tests explosive shells for the military, and creates live special effects for a movie crew. Throw in screwing with Lois, and he's got a couple of full plates! For example, that movie thing. He's got to guide burning blimps to safe landing zones. So of course, with one side vulnerable, he has to build himself an artificial steel arm!
But Lois is on to him!
In the end, it all comes down to a final test in which Lois cuts a lock of hair from Clark's head on his left side, and then Splinter Cells herself to Clark's right side while he takes a nap.
Snip! Thank God Superman knew she would do that and put his clothes on backwards and crafted a mask of the back of his head.
THANK GOD, I SAY!

Movie Marquee Friday: They Who Wear the Crown

Explosive confrontation between like-minded monsters...High-tech explanations may be necessary...

It's important to brand your cough...

That western twang...

Gothic Gutenberg letters herald a new religion...

Deco knowledge of the man never let us see his plan...

Under the umbrella of power, struggling for independence...

Of desert headaches and modern warfare...

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Task Force X Retirement Files 016-019

The Freedom of Information Act keeps on giving, and I give right along with it...
Files 001-003 - Files 004-007 - Files 008-011 - File 012-015

Subject: SpeedyProfile: Prominent sidekick
Powers: Unbelievably good archer and drug expert.
Mission: Eliminate Colombian drug kingpin Xavier Cujo and destroy his coca fields and transformation plants.
Chance of survival going in: High. Though Speedy is a character that's not unused to shockers, it was highly unlikely that the story's "special guest star" was going to be killed in the pages of a non-Titan or non-Green Arrow book.
Retirement: ASSOCIATION ENDED. Contracted for a single mission through a collaboration with drug enforcement, Speedy was never going to stick around. (Suicide Squad #12)
Final report: Roy Harper went on to reject his bow and arrow to become Arsenal, then picked them up again as Justice League member Red Arrow. More recently, a controversial story line had him lose an arm and his daughter, and be driven back to his addiction. He comes out of it once again as Arsenal. At times like these, I'd like to think he wished he'd died on that suicide mission.

Subject: Javelin
Profile: Lame Green Lantern villain
Powers: Gimmick javelins.
Mission: Break Nemesis out of a Soviet jail.
Chance of survival going in: Low. An under-developed 80s Green Lantern villain, Javelin not only has a lame gimmick, but it's very close to Squad regular Captain Boomerang's lame gimmick. The only thing that could save him was if Justice League International were the Squad's main opponents rather than, say, the Rocket Red Brigade or the People's Heroes.
Retirement: RELEASED. Javelin is so lame that he's never shown again after the following panel. Not in any group shots. Not anywhere. He apparently survived Booster Gold's cutting remarks. (Suicide Squad #13)
Final report: To be continued! Javelin was apparently jailed again because he works with the Squad later. OPEN FILE

Subject: Enchantress
Profile: Suicide Squad regular
Powers: Spellcasting.
Mission: Break Nightshade's brother out of Hell.
Chance of survival going in: Low. Things seemed to be building towards the death of the Enchantress, her host June Moon, or both. It seemed that the character was growing more dangerous with every appearance, and June had been getting a lot of panel time, building a relationship with mission instigator Nightshade. The Enchantress also seemed an ill fit for the gritty stories Suicide Squad was trying to tell.
Retirement: NEUTRALIZED. Enchantress is pulled out of June Moon by Nightshade's possessed brother. June would slum around Belle Reve for a little while before leaving for good. (Suicide Squad #15)
Final report: After 11 years (our time), June Moon returned to the DC Universe, apparently having been institutionalized at the Ostrander Mental Institute (hardy har). She was reintegrated with the Enchantress entity and would eventually return to monthly comics as a member of Shadowpact.

Subject: Captain Cold
Profile: Flash Rogue
Powers: Cold gun.
Mission: Eliminate or capture the Jihad during the terrorists' very public attack on Manhattan.
Chance of survival going in: Good. Perhaps the fact that Barry Allen wasn't among the living might have given DC leave to kill some of his most prominent Rogues, it became less and less likely as the comic went on and Cold was revealed to be a real badass.
Retirement: RELEASED. After two missions rather than the agreed one, Cold had more than enough credits for a get out of jail card. (Suicide Squad #18)
Final report: With Barry Allen's return, the Rogues' Gallery have been propelled to top tier villain status again. Captain Cold is their leader.

Next time: You can expect some deaths.

Reign of the Supermen #127: Super Mage

Source: Countdown to Adventure #3-4 (2007)
Type: Alternate EarthMember of the League of Shamans on Earth-33. He is Kal-El, Master of Kryptonian magic.
And he gets chumped by both Forerunner and Dark Angel.

That's one less Earth to keep tabs on, then.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Reign of the Supermen #126: Icon

Source: Milestone Comics, esp. Icon #1-42 (1993-1997)
Type: AnalogNot two days ago, at the much too young age of 48, comics writer Dwayne McDuffie died from complications following surgery. I'm shocked and saddened and my thoughts go to his friends and family. The only thing I can do is pay tribute to the man and his legacy. And he's got a big one.

His pet project, the Milestone Comics imprint at DC, allowed him to take on the lack of diversity in superhero comics by creating a number of series headlined by black characters, comics that lasted for the better part of five years! Hardware, Static (which went to cartoon), Shadow Cabinet, Xombie, Blood Syndicate, and Dakota City's analog of Superman, Icon, showed there was a place and market for minority heroes. Or perhaps rather that it wasn't important what color your skin was or what your ethnic background was, you could be a hero, one that readers found engaging no matter what THEIR ethnicity was. Even confined to their own universe, they still managed to thrive and are still fondly remembered.

I suppose I should talk about Icon a bit, since he's today's Reign character. Icon fills the Superman niche in the Dakotaverse by being a strange visitor from another planet with powers not unlike those of the Man of Steel. Of course, the details differ. Icon crash landed on Earth in 1839 and took human (baby!) shape to blend in, copying the DNA of his adopted mother, a black slave. He stayed out of history's way, waiting for Earth's technology to catch up with his pod's so he could leave, but committing random acts of charity here and there. When the heroic age arrives, he is rumbled by a young woman and gets himself a costume and a higher profile. That young woman becomes his sidekick, Rocket, and that's the most crucial thing about Icon, you see. There's no reason to do a Superman analog book unless you want to tell a Superman story that cannot be told in the pages of Superman. Icon is the story of what would happen if Superman had a sidekick. Just as it mellowed Batman, so will it affect the hyper-conservative Icon. Which brings up something else McDuffie will be remembered for: The range of character he brought to the paneled page. There isn't a stereotypical black character in the Dakotaverse, because they're all different, just like flesh and blood people are.

I find it sad that despite Dakota City's characters having recently been integrated into the mainstream DC Universe, we haven't seen much of them at all. In an era where DC especially has been accused of "white-washing", with many minority heroes being killed and/or replaced by white ones, here they were also bringing a wealth of quality non-white heroes to its pages... and then, failing to use them. Dakota City might as well still be on another Earth. Maybe DC will do some kind of homage to the man and his creations, but it shouldn't be yet another mini-series or badly supported series like they had with the Archie heroes (and possibly now the THUNDER Agents), other properties brought in with Milestone Comics. I want more than that. I want Hardware on the Justice League. I want Static in the Titans again. I want Icon and Rocket to team up with Batman and Robin. I want to get to a point where I'm not thinking about them as Milestone characters, but as DC characters. As I do the Freedom Fighters, or Captain Atom and Blue Beetle, or the Marvel Family.

And I can't let you go before mentioning two other things Dwayne McDuffie was responsible for, in fact two of my very favorite comics-related things EVER:
1. Damage Control. This hilarious Marvel comic has been at the top of my list of books I wanted to see on a regular basis for, like, ever. I know I've mentioned it before in these pages. The two original mini-series back in the 80s were pure awesome, and it was great to see another one a couple years ago. Really, I don't know why Marvel didn't commission one after every cataclysmic crossover event.
2. The Justice League/Justice League Unlimited cartoons. For my money, the finest superhero cartoons ever made. McDuffie's role as a writer and script editor for the series was a huge one, bringing his particular talents - making large casts into distinctive characters - to the forefront. His work for animation was so good that it made his return to such comics as Justice League of America disappointing in comparison, which was probably not fair to him. He continued to work with the WB's animation team, his adaptation of All-Star Superman coming out on the day of his death (or today, in many markets).

Dwayne McDuffie. Now, THERE is an icon.

Nicholas Courtney (1928-2011)

My Five Round Rapid salute to the one and only Brigadier.You will be missed, sir.