Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Reboot #... I Stopped Counting

So Schrödinger's Cat is out of the bag: DC Comics is rebooting its entire line in September as a result of the Flashpoint event.The details are murky at best, but here's what we (think we) know:
-The story lines in all current titles will wrap up by the end of the summer.
-All titles will be rebooted to #1, including Action and Detective.
-Some origins will be completely re-written, while others will only be tweaked.
-The new books will catch up with at least some of DC's iconic heroes much earlier in their careers.
-The only new book that's been announced is Justice League #1 by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee. It stars (younger versions of ) Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and Green Lantern (Hal Jordan). For some reason, they all have the same collar, which is strange for characters who are really solo stars. Johns says he wants to focus on the interpersonal relationships.
-Jim Lee spearheaded the redesign of at least 50 costumes (which might explain it).
-Other rumors: Wonder Woman by Grant Morrison with Phil Jimenez, OMAC by Scott Kolins, and a Legion Lost book that's unrelated to the previous series by that name, and the possibility that Superman and Wonder Woman will hook up.
-The new DCU will be "more diverse".
-The relaunch will feature 52 #1 issues.
-Unrelated to the reboot, DC will also launch same-day downloads of the comics.

And now, my undigested thoughts...

Gut feeling
You know it's not my first and it likely won't be my last. I was a comics reader when the first Crisis happened, after all. How will this one differ? Back in 1986, I think we were on the cusp of a new way of writing comics at DC. New Teen Titans was doing well using the Marvel model, for example, but more established comics were perhaps wallowing in a more traditional style, the Superman books especially. The Crisis allowed books that were doing well and were "modern" (in general, this means they were a little more "psychological" or grounded in real world relationships) to go on, while books stuck in a Silver/Bronze rut were rebooted to great success (Superman and Wonder Woman in particular). Other books handled it in other ways, sometimes catching up late (Hawkman), sometimes giving way to replacements (Flash, Justice League). Rebooting some of the pillars of the DCU rebranded the era, no disputing that as we still say pre-Crisis/post-Crisis, and made the universe more coherent with titles that had already "moved on".

The question today is: Are we once again on such a "cusp"? I'm not really feeling it. Further, if the reboot is line-wide and no stories are to continue, then we have no books that can used as an example of what the new DCU is meant to be. With Geoff Johns as creative director, given his predilection for the pre-Crisis universe (see his Superman, Legion, Flash, etc. tweaks), a return to those days (at least in set-up) is perhaps likely. Snell may be closer than he thinks when he posits that the Crisis might simply be undone. However, that doesn't speak to tone so much. I can't, at this point, see how comics story telling could be re-invented, especially not when the creative force behind the reboot is the same that's been restructuring the universe since Infinite Crisis. It feels more like a commercial decision at this point. Comics aren't selling so well, let's go after a new market (the downloads) and new readers with well-publicized entry points.

52 #1s
52 has become an important number at DC, seeing as it's the number of Earths in the new multiverse, something that's been true but largely ignored for the past couple years. 52 worlds, 52 books. Surely, it doesn't mean that each new #1 will take place on a different Earth! It's highly unlikely that the four (known) heroes of the Justice League won't also star in their own books which will be chronologically simultaneous with the team book. However, finally using the multiverse is a good idea. And I don't just mean that they could finally put the Marvel Family on the right track and on Earth-S (which a reboot could do anyway). I mean that it could allow DC to downplay the shared universe aspect of their comics line. Think about it. If fewer books share the same continuity, they become more accessible to new readers, which seems part and parcel of this whole strategy. Titles would cross over less often, big events would be confined to smaller families of books (DC had success with the Sinestro War, for example). The door would still be open to big events because it would still be a shared multiverse. Such a move might also reduce the continuity baggage of the DCU, for example by sending all the Golden Age/precursor heroes to Earth-2. While the post-Crisis DCU was all about Legacy (which Wally West was emblematic of, and Batman Inc. is the ultimate result of), the post-Flashpoint universe could explore a different (and less continuity-loaded) theme. If the heroic age started in the 2000s, it voids the question of why there were apparently no heroes from the 50s to the 90s, a gap that's widened considerably since 1986. There should now be a Silver Age Earth where those sensibilities and heroes can be explored. Reducing the heroic population of Earth-1 wouldn't be a bad thing (either by voiding or shunting them off to another Earth). It's a crowded place, and writers just don't care if they massacre half a dozen of them every few months.

Another point: I don't think the fact that there are 52 #1s in September will mean they will launch 52 new titles. Likely, there will be quite a few specials in there that give characters their new origins. This is not unlike something I recommended just prior to Final Crisis, though I didn't advocate a complete reboot - just that origins/DC History be redefined following the event (which turned out to be unnecessary).

What doesn't make sense here
I don't know when they hatched this plan, but DC seems to be in a constant state of rebooting. and there are things I don't get. For example, why did Johns just bother with retelling Superman's origin for the umpteenth time if it would all be null and void a year later? Why reboot (or retroboot) the Legion? Why bring back Ray Palmer as the Atom? How does this tie into the finales of both Gen Lost and Brightest Day? JLI: Coming soon! Well, IS IT? Is there an Earth where the current continuity happened and where JLI and Swamp Thing will take place? Why do you need to resurrect Aquaman, et al. if they can be alive in the new continuity anyway (except to make them marketable, I suppose)? Is this why Batwoman's monthly has been held up? Or that new and now useless Who's Who? On the flipside, why did Doom Patrol end so suddenly, in the middle of a story arc, if they could just have given Giffen a couple more months to end it?

On the other hand, some of the risks DC's taken with a few books make complete sense if they were going to end it all in August anyway. Batman Inc., Wonder Woman's alternate reality, Superman's long walk of shame. The first of these worked and the others not so much, but no biggie. It'll all be null and void come the fall.

Sorry to see you go
Though DC's communications office implies that its current output is "not being told for current audiences" (which is as ridiculous as it is dangerous - in my business, we call that malpractice), current readers of course have their favorite books. Dick Grayson as Batman (in particular Synder's take in Detective). Secret Six. Batman Inc. Tim as Red Robin and Steph as Batgirl. Lemire's Superboy. Superman's marriage. Booster Gold protecting history (I guess he fails). It's unlikely any of these will make it through the transition, either because they're too continuity-dependent or because they aren't the iconic version of their respective characters. And can the Legion even survive another reboot? The new DC universe will likely be simpler and more accessible, but it won't be as rich, at least, not for a while.

I'm not particularly excited about the Justice League announcement, nor the fact that Jim Lee redesigned so many costumes. He did the new Wonder Woman we all hated, right? I mean really, let the creative teams assigned to whichever book handle their own redesigns. If all it's going to be is throat-chokers anyway... who cares? Not particularly a fan of Jim Lee's designs, so I just don't see the point.

Still stuff to hope for
Of course there is. I remember the original Crisis as something exciting. Well, not the event so much, which was all red skies and crossovers, but the resulting new Earth. The re-invention of Superman in particular enthralled me. And there ARE books and franchises that don't work at the moment. The aforementioned Superman and Wonder Woman are going nowhere fast, just as was Wally West as the Flash. Teen Titans doesn't really work despite bringing some actual sidekicks into the team. Hawkman is as damaged a character as ever. The JLA is a mess. And the Marvel Family can't even support so much as a working Special.

However, I'm more interested in what will be ADDED rather than removed or fixed (because those fixes could have been done without a complete reboot, and might still suck). The potential for using other Earths is interesting to me, and I like the idea of a Golden Age Earth, and a Silver Age Earth where the legacies (Wally, Kyle, Dick) actually did bear fruit later. Earth-S. Earth-X. Charlton-Earth. I'm all up for those, but I want to see them IN USE, not as background. It would be interesting and exciting, I think, if some continuing titles took place on Earths other than Earth-1, where not only different characters, but different TONES were explored. Maybe that's what the DC Retro experiment is about?

I wonder what "more diverse"means though. The Justice League, as pictured, is just a quartet of white people (the complete image, revealed later, has Flash, Batman and Cyborg, so one black man). Are we to believe heroes of color/ethnicity/sexual orientation will have continuing series? Or will the output itself be more diverse? We currently have a western in Jonah Hex, but might we see some military comics (like Sgt. Rock), fantasy (like Amethyst?), sci-fi (Adam Strange?) and horror (Swamp Thing)? Perhaps genre-busting in superhero comics themselves instead. The Suicide Squad or Checkmate could have an espionage feel, while a Charlton-Earth based Question series could be a noir police thriller. The OMAC book seems part of that. Who know? But if they ARE going after a whole new market, they might attempt to get people who 1) have access to electronic media and 2) are interested in different genres. I'm sure there are many. It would be natural to try to appeal to fans of Harry Potter, Pirates, Jason Bourne, etc. who would never think of walking into a comic book store. If there is such diversity in the offing, I would applaud it, but its success would come down to proper marketing.

Wow, that's a long emergency post. At this point, anything's possible, but we'll probably come back to this subject as things get better defined.

Alpha Flight 0.1: A Canadian Perspective

Let me preface by saying I'm glad to see Alpha Flight up and running again, and with the original cast (except for Puck - booooooo!!!) to boot. I'm equally juiced that Canada's premiere (read: only) super-hero team is being handled by Greg Pak & Fred Van Lente, two writers who very seldom do wrong in my book. However, neither of these guys is Canadian, and... it shows? Well, that's what the present article aims to uncover. What did they get right? What did they get wrong? And fellow Canadians, don't be shy about chiming in. It's a big country and I've never been west of Winnipeg or east of Antigonish.

Election Day. So to start with, the story takes place on May 2nd, which indeed was the date of Canada's last election. Though the Marvel Universe claims to be OUR universe, except with superheroes, it's gotten farther and farther away from it in recent years. So while Obama is the president of Marvel's USA, and there seems to be an economic crisis, etc., Canada just elected a completely fictional party. That's fine, it's a comic book trope, and since our elections aren't on a fixed time table, you could conceivably put a fictional parliament in power, defeat it and have another election a few months after the last. And if you want to be political about it, the so-called Unity Party could be a sly pastiche of the current Conservative party in power. [Short history: When Alpha Flight started, there were really only three parties expected to win seats at the Federal level - the Conservatives (akin to the US' Republicans), the Liberals (similar to Democrats) and the New Democratic Party (bit more to the left). Eventually came the rise of more regional parties - the Bloc Quebecois in Quebec and the more right wing Reform party in the West. Reform tried to grow in size and changed its name to the Alliance, and when the Conservatives were soundly defeated by the Liberals, the Alliance absorbed the Conservatives and took their name, finally establishing enough of a foothold to win an election. Though until the last election, they were always a minority government. Prime Minister Harper's reputation is 1) that he's a robot and 2) that he is Canada's answer to George W. Bush, complete with media smokescreens, military agendas and let's cut taxes at the expense of social programs policies.] So this Unity Party could represent the current Conservative regime if you like (though quite possibly the writers never intended it). The leader is undoubtedly a supervillain in disguise (robot or otherwise), the party's name refers to an alliance of parties, and no one can understand why people would vote for them.

Now let's look at the top of the first page:
Montreal. Yeah, this is where we get in trouble. Now YES, Montreal has the largest concentration of English-speaking people (Anglophones) in Quebec, so this exchange could definitely be held in English. We'll have to accept that Officer Mackenzie has that Scottish name because, well, that's Snowbird's secret identity. Again, no reason why someone with that surname shouldn't live in Montreal. What IS wrong in this picture is the English-only sign in the window. In Quebec, Bill 101 prohibits the use of English-only signage (or any non-French language signage), and in fact, bilingual signage that uses a non-French language more prominently. Super-hypnosis or not, there's no way a federal party would try to win seats out of Quebec by using English signage. Because this is comics, I would expect an iconic representation of Canada, so I have to question the use of Montreal in this sequence as opposed to another Canadian city. Citizens of Quebec seeking unity (as opposed to sovereignty) is not iconic. It's entire possible, especially in the more multi-cultural city of Montreal, but it feels wrong on an iconic level. Like having a scene all about pedestrians in Los Angeles ;-).
Grand-Lac Victoria Indian Settlement. Exists and is situated in Quebec, near Val-d'Or. The reservation is home to the French-speaking (oops) Algonquin community of Kitcisakik. Its 430 inhabitants do not actually have a hospital.
La Grande Dam Power Station. Exists, in the sparsely populated North of Quebec, off James Bay. It is NOT anywhere near the St.Lawrence River!
Canada's SWAT Teams. Police departments in Canadian cities of course have SWAT Teams, but they aren't called that. For example, Toronto has an Emergency Task Force, while Vancouver has an Emergency Response Team. As we're in Quebec here, that truck should be marked G.T.I. (Groupe tactique d'intervention). AmCan, if it had referred to a real company, would either produces ball bearings or, since this is Montreal, work in imports or offer financial services. The AmCan energy conglomerate seen here is fictional.
The French. The entire book could be "translated from the French", dissipating my Quebec-centric criticisms. However, there is actual French dialog in the book, so there's no universal translator at work. And it's some of the best French I've ever seen in an American comic! On this blog, I grumble a lot about bad French in comics. It's like DC and Marvel have Babel Fish on staff. Terrible! But Alpha Flight 0.1 contains absolutely NO errors, horrendous syntax nor bad grammar. This is nothing short of an achievement! Yes, I realize there are just a couple of sentences. (I do have to say Purple Girl/Persuasion is lucky everyone understands her commands in English... why yes, I have been known to beat a dead horse.)

I'm happy to see the original Alpha Flight back for another run, but I'll be keeping my eye open for more discrepancies between my Canada and Marvel's. And you too can be an unofficial member of the Comic Book RCMP (ou de la GRC de la b.d.). If anything bugged or enchanted you about the comic, or if my this very post contains inaccuracies, report it in the comments section!

Reign of the Supermen #223: Elastic Superman

Source: Mego Super 8 Elastic Heroes (1979)
Type: ToyBased on Kenner's Stretch Armstrong, Mego created its own line of Elastic Heroes that, yes, included a Plastic Man. When did Superman ever have elastic powers? Well, why not find yourself a chunk of red rock or something and play out your very own Silver Age fantasy? That's if you can even FIND one of these anymore. And even if you could, the stretchable rubber will have become brittle. There are only half a dozen of these guys left near anything resembling mint condition, and even those rarely have the removable cape, the cape's "S" sticker or the box itself.
And Superman was one of the most produced in the line (which included, in addition to Plastic Man and Batman, Spider-Man, the Hulk, Casper, Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck)!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Amalgamonday Confession

Inspired by THIS:While you enjoy this Amalgam of Star Trek and Firefly, allow me to confess one of my repulsively geeky habits. This kind of amalgamation is something I do all the time as a mental exercise. Any show or franchise that has an ensemble cast, I eventually and inevitably put that cast on a Federation starship (usually TNG era) named after the corresponding show. It really doesn't have to be science-fiction. Captain Bartlet of the USS Republic? Check. Captain Phelps of the USS Impossible. Likewise. Captain Jack Harkness of the USS Torchwood (everyone's potentially a redshirt!). Captain Buffy Summers, youngest Captain in Starfleet, of the USS Sunnydale. Captain Donaghy of the USS Rockefeller (NCC-30). They've all existed in my head space.

Hi, my name is Siskoid and I'm a capital-G Geek.

Reign of the Supermen #222: K'L'L of the Wolves

Source: Superman Annual vol.2 #6 (1994)
Type: ElseworldsA different kind of Amalgam, in this Elseworlds Annual, the Superman myth is combined with the Jungle Book, and why not? Both are about orphans raised by beings inferior to them.

It takes a while for his powers to manifest, of course, and in that time, he does acquire a scar from the tiger Khan. But by the time he reaches adulthood, he's grown from a Mowgli to a Tarzan, playing with his jungle friends without fear of being hurt. Khan ends up as a cloak. And then the man-pack arrives and kills his adopted mother. An animal attack ensues and a legend is born, a legend that attracts the likes of Lois Lane, Sir Richard Burton and Lex Luthor. Both men have designs on Lois, but when she meets K'L'L - whom she renames Clark - it's love at first sight. She even gives him incentive to learn English.
A jealous Luthor discovers the precious jewel he "liberated" from a primitive tribe can incapacitate the jungle man, and he captures everyone (including a lot of Clark's jungle friends) and brings them back to England. Well that was a mistake. Lex's plan to assassinate Queen Victoria is foiled and he is defeated. In epilogue, Burton recounts the tale to one Rudyard Kipling, K'L'L is knighted and becomes Sir Clark of Kent...
...and he and Lois have super-kids.
Ooh, that's gonna ensure the British Empire never dies...

Sunday, May 29, 2011

This Week in Geek (23-29/05/11)


Spring Splurge 2011 continues: I bought various DVDs, including Much Ado About Nothing (see below), Red vs. Blue Recollected (containing seasons 6 through 8), Batman: The Brave and the Bold Season 1 Part 1, Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol, and a couple films from Asia, Hana (Japan) and Daytime Drinking (Korea). And inspired by the approaching release of the Tintin film, I looked at my collection and noted I was only missing two albums, so I ordered and got those too (Les Bijoux de la Castafiore and Vol 714 pour Sydney).


DVDs: Miguel Sapochnik's Repo Men seems a (retroactive) precursor to the world of Blade Runner, and it's fairly easy to imagine Jude Law and Forest Whitaker's bio-tech repossessors as Deckard's, or the Union as Tyrel Corporation's. However, the noir is replaced by black comedy and the ambiguous mind-twist is far more obvious and explicit. While the premise and actors are strong, and the makers mostly resist the studio's manipulations, it still falls down, I think, because of its over-use of gore. I don't have a weak stomach by any means, but there's so much of it, it can still make you queasy and detracts from the overall tone of the film. And while there's even more of it in the unrated version (also included on the disc), that version is still better than the theatrical, restoring some logic points and John Leguizamo's entire role to the film. The commentary track by the director and writers is truly entertaining, funny and enlightening, and made me appreciate Repo Men all the more. There are also deleted scenes and special effects montages, both with commentary tracks.

I was waiting for some kind of special edition DVD of Much Ado About Nothing before converting my old VHS tape to a better format, but it never came and the bargain bin whispered sweet nothings into my ear. And for whatever reason, it's my favorite Shakespeare adaptation of all time. Watching it (for the first time in widescreen), I found I could do practically all the lines, right down to the sound effects. I'm surprised my VHS tape never snapped. So no real surprises for me (though one piece of funny staging was revealed through the wider screen), still the same awesome performances (let me praise Emma Thompson and Denzel Washington especially), the same idyllic setting, the same pastoral feeling, the same Shakespearean verve. Familiarity breeds ecstasy, in my case, and I was joyously weepy throughout. The only extra is a short featurette that talks to many of the actors, but remains quite slim. "Making of" is not what I would have called it. "What actors think of working on it" would be more accurate.

Dave was on the flip-side of The American President, so if I wanted to put the DVD on the "flipped" shelf, I had to watch it. Not that that was a chore. Like The American President (though two years earlier), Dave plays on the myth of the ethical presidency (not to say it's not possible for a world leader to be someone who does the right thing, but it's just not how they are normally perceived). Dave is a presidential look-alike hired to double for the president (both played by Kevin Kline) when the prez has a stroke and falls into a coma. It may not have the verve of The American President, but it does have a lot of heart, an all-star cast and a well-constructed plot. It just doesn't have a very interesting title, is all. Aside from the trailer, this cheapie DVD has a few slides' worth of "production notes" and that's about it.

I have always had immense affection for City Slickers, but it was doubly interesting to watch it now, while I have the characters' age and am at that point in my life when I should be having a midlife crisis. This is a film that gets better with age, and its mix of comedy, dramatic heart and western tropes is sheer genius. The DVD extras were made in 2008, 17 years after the film was, giving them a retrospective feeling. The commentary track features Billy Crystal, Daniel Stern and director Ron Underwood, and is fine indeed. The rest of the extras amount to more than an hour's worth of material, talking with surviving cast and crew, with particular attention given to the writing, with a cute if unsatisfying bit about Norman the cow, and a couple of commented deleted scenes. The "Collector's Edition" is a great package, especially at the price it usually goes for. This is a DVD I'm likely to pop into the machine on a regular basis.

In 2003's Warriors of Heaven and Earth, a rebel pursued by an Imperial agent, though circumstances beyond his control, finds himself escorting a priceless artifact to the Tang capital. The story is part history, part legend, and though I can see why the brief supernatural element was controversial with audiences, it's really no more jarring than similar stuff in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Some of the fighting goes on a bit long - it's dynamic but not precise - there are still some surprising set pieces, and the characters are universally interesting and likable (even the villains). I wish the unbearably cute Zhao Wei had more to do, but that's my only real complaint. Where the film particularly shines though is its use of locations across the Silk Road. China's landscapes are so DRAMATIC, it's incredible. Medieval Asia Minor is evoked, giving the movie its own unique feel. As far as extras go, there's a Chinese pop video and a 25-minute making of documentary with an irritating and condescending Hollywood narration. There's some interesting information and behind the scenes footage, but it's buried among the narrator explaining the story and telling us that a green screen won't be in the final shot. You don't say!

Doctor Who's Terror of the Autons has its iconic Auton moments (the evil troll doll, the killer chair), but its plot is far from satisfying, especially the cursory resolution that'll make the end of most of the RTD era's episodes feel like Lord of the Rings'. But that's not really what Terror is about. Terror is about introducing new cast members to the UNIT "family", including Jo Grant, Captain Yates and the evil Master, and in that regard, the story succeeds admirably. All three (even Yates) are quickly welcomed into the audience's collective heart, their characters drawn efficiently and affectionately. For such an important story on a continuity level, I'm surprised the extras are so slim. There is a 20-minute feature on the Master, which is fine, but not one on Yates or Jo. The making of is an odd duck, using Terror of the Autons to compare Classic and New Who. It sometimes succeeds, but it's often apples and oranges. Aside from the usual commentary track (Letts, Manning and Courtney are good), photo gallery, etc., the only other extra is an 11-minute piece on plastic and why it's so terrifying (in this story).

I also flipped Batman: The Brave and the Bold Season 1 Part 1, which includes the first 13 episodes of this awesome animated series. As with the first WB era (Batman/Superman/Justice League), DC continuity is again re-imagined to wonderful effect, especially so because B&B gives love and attention to characters that have either been dead, much abused or too long ignored in the comics: Aquaman (until recently, deceased), the All-New Atom, Jack Kirby's Green Arrow, Elongated Man, Red Tornado, and Ted Kord, who gets a better send-off than the one Max Lord gave him and paving the way for the current Beetle. It's a series where anything can happen, like Batman teaming up with Jonah Hex in a teaser WITH NO EXPLANATION GIVEN NOR REQUIRED! Huge fun, and I think most of you knew that. It's just that I hadn't seen any of it as yet. There's no reason to compare it to the earlier animated Batman series (plural) because it clearly defines its own identity, with nods to the comics, films, and shows of the last 70 years thrown in to make us geeks smile and clap.

New Unauthorized Doctor Who CCG cards: 5 new cards for the End of Time mini-set, including a homage to the late Nicholas Courtney

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
II.ii. The Players - Zeffirelli '90

Reign of the Supermen #221: Titan

Source: (1st) Comics Greatest World: Golden City (1994)
Type: AnalogEvery superhero universe, it seems, needs its Superman - the invulnerable, super-strong, god among men who flies to the rescue, cape flapping behind him. For Dark Horse's mid-90s attempt at its own shared super-hero universe (Comics' Greatest World - Dark Horse being very confident right out of the gate), that meant Titan. However, despite the powers and overall look, Titan seems to barely qualify as a Superman analog. His origin does not make him a visitor from another world, nor does he have a meek secret identity (even if he was bullied and abused as a kid). However, he was still sold (in-world) as an "American icon", and Golden City is built on the Metropolis model (just as Arcadia is loosely based on Gotham). If there's a "Superman story" told here, one which can't easily be told with the actual Superman (the function of analogs), it's that Titan falls from favor, and the symbol for a new era is hero newcomer Rebel. The writers may have been telling a Rise of the 90s story, like that of Kingdom Come, though at the time it read like the PR Victory of Booster Gold, with whom Rebel shares some traits. The downward spiral would turn Titan into a villain and ultimately cost him his life.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Cat of the Geek #113: Snowball II

Name: Snowball II
Stomping Grounds: The Simpsons
Side: Good
Breed: American shorthair
Cat Powers: Good relationship with family dog. Once saved Homer from a burning treehouse.
Skills: Eat 4, Sleep 9, Mischief 4, Wit 2, Being Siskoid's favorite Simpsons character by virtue of acting like a real cat 10
Cat Weaknesses: Replaceable. Dr. Hibbert's Mercedes-Benz G500.

Neither Snowball I nor all the Snowballs after II will receive their own entries. That would just be ridiculous, something this blog never is.

Reign of the Supermen #220: Pre-Crisis Ultraman

Source: (1st) Justice League of America vol.1 #29-30 (1964)
Type: Alternate EarthEarth-3! Where everything is OPPOSITE to our own Earth-1! NO, it's not Bizarro World! It's where Columbus was an American who discovered Europe! Lincoln killed President Booth! And Spock has a beard! On Earth-3, there is no Justice League, there is only the Crime Syndicate of America!
And its Kryptonian leader is Ultraman! No, not the Japanese one! And in the spirit of Silver Age Oppositeness, Ultraman (AKA Kal-Ul)'s Krypton did not blow up, but he was still sent to Earth as a baby by his father Jur-Ul, who no doubt couldn't stand the sleepless nights. Kal-Ul encountered kryptonite in space (I'm sure it's just Jur-Ul trying to shoot the rocket down) and is changed by it. On Earth, he grows up gaining a new power each time he is exposed to kryptonite. How? OPPOSITE!!! And when he comes into adulthood, he helps found the Crime Syndicate and they take over the world! Eventually, that gets boring, and that's when Ultraman develops a new power - that of seeing across the dimensional barriers - and he peeps the Justice League, finally a challenge.
Or not. But then the JSA comes in from Earth-2 and the entire Syndicate is trapped in-between dimensions by the original Green Lantern. And there they stay for almost two decades (our time). An escaped Ultraman has another Earths 1-2-3 encounter with the Supermen and Luthors of all those Earths (DC Comics Presents Annual #1) that gets him back into the interdimensional slammer. And then there's an All-Star Squadron/JLA crossover in which the Syndicate teams up with Per Degaton. No luck. And the Crisis on Infinite Earths finally does them in, Earth-3 gobbled up by anti-matter energy (the OPPOSITE of what happened to Earth-1, no?).

Ultraman's known powers by the time he got erased (*developed on panel):
Imperviousness to magic*
Flame vision*
Telescopic vision
Microscopic vision
Interdimensional vision
Super ventriloquism
Super hypnotism
Sealed systems

Ultraman would return of course, first in Animal Man's Crisis II story, and then as a rebooted character. But that's a story (or two) for another day. I mean night. Yeah, night. And not a story, a... a portrait. And not another... THINK OPPOSITE! ...That's a portrait for the same old night. THERE!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Movie Marquee Friday: French, Irish and Chinese

White like the tag on an unclaimed piece of luggage...
Blue like spinning asphalt under your car...

Making you wait...

Riding off to better use his weapons...

The library dressed in cool neon...

So ancient is the story, words turn to hieroglyphics...

She hides behind pseudonyms...

Dripping with the blood of your enemies...

Reign of the Supermen #219: Checkered Superman of Earth-6

Source: Ambush Bug Year None #1 (2008)
Type: SpoofAn example of Ambush Bug's absurdist humor, the Checkered Justice League - or rather, Just Us Cats of, Like Coolsville - were minions of Go-Go Chex, a similarly checkered villain who called everyone "Wonder Chick". They came from Earth-6, where it was always the Swinging Sixties and Bob Haney wrote all your dialog. The checks were a reference to DC's checkered banner in use around this time.

Why DC Comics from the 60's have a checkered header?
Answers.com says: It was just the way that they were made.

GROOVY INSIGHT! See you tomorrow, Daddy-O!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Inaction Figures: The Monolith

I love how the packaging proclaims "ZERO points of articulation"!

So yeah, in the category "Most pointless, yet totally awesome action figure", I have to nominate the Monolith from 2001 and 2010*. I only wish they had a bigger one scaled to make my Beast-Man figure evolve into He-Man. And if you're going to recreate The Year We Make Contact, the 12.99$ price point may prove prohibitive. This really isn't a cost-effective army-building "figure".

Model scaled to different figures... lower price-point... Here are three more ways to improve the Space Monolith:
-Built-in sound chip to recreate the film's angelic voices and droning WombWombWombWombWomb
-Choice of playsets: Violent Monkeys, Discovery One Crew, or Astronaut Dave & Extra-Vehicular Pod
-Actually being full of stars

*For sale on ThinkGeek.

Reign of the Supermen #218: Marvel's Clark Kent (and the Thor Question)

Source: below - Thor #341 (1984)*
Type: HomageThe Thor movie made me go back to Walt Simonson's run - still my favorite run of Thor after all these years - and look what I found! After Thor returns from the space mission that introduced us to Beta Ray Bill and did away with Don Blake, the God of Thunder goes to Nick Fury to get himself a new secret identity (SHIELD - your one-stop shop for fake IDs). There, he bumps into... Clark Kent and Lois Lane?! A fun - and surprisingly overt - homage to the first superhero of them all, just as Thor takes on an alias that forces him to wear glasses, the very best disguise of all.

Now a little time ago, someone asked if I was going to treat Thor as a Superman analog. I really wasn't, but the question deserves exploration. Thor, like Superman, was sent to Earth by his father when the son becomes a savior of the human race (so yes, that makes Thor a Christ figure). Both have (or have had) a civilian identity who was a weakling (Don Blake has a lame leg, while Clark Kent is a weakling act). They both have a red cape, and at times during the film, yes, I was reminded of Christopher Reeve flying. But is that enough to make Thor a true analog of the Man of Steel?

For one thing, Thor the mythological figure predates Superman by centuries. Were Stan Lee and Jack Kirby thinking of Superman AT ALL when they simply adapted myth to their superhero universe? The exact changes they made do smack of Supermanism. Thor is sent to Earth to learn humility and is trapped in a human identity that's not unlike Clark Kent's. But is Asgard merely Krypton in disguise? I think there are enough elements from Superman's story not found in Thor's to dispel the notion of the latter being an analog of the former. Thor's mythological roots are closer to Wonder Woman's, while the thunder and lightning symbolism finds a better parallel in Captain Marvel. Thor's descent to Midgard bears only a superficial resemblance to Kal-El rocketing to Earth as a baby, and the two stories may only share a common mytho-source. Thor is a God sent to Earth, so closer to the Christ story, while Superman's story seeks to create a new myth based on Science, one that finds its ultimate expression on Jack Kirby's Fourth World (so it's interesting "the King" created or co-created both the New Gods and Thor). One was raised by human parents, the other came into his humanity as a fully-formed adult. One was sent here to save his life, the other as punishment. The more one looks - at his rogues' gallery, attitude, powers, motivations, supporting cast - the more the characters grow apart.

Fact is, all super-heroes will have a things in common with Superman (if only that they are "super-heroes") and the tropes made popular (though not necessarily started) by Superman, such as secret identities, capes, and alliterative names, will find their way into many character premises. Superman and Thor, their respective universes' power houses seem easily matched, and it was a damn shame they weren't paired in the old DC vs. Marvel series, nor amalgamated until Thor was finally combined with the Electric Superman in Unlimited Access. Perhaps the writers recognized that these two weren't really analogous to each other. Then again, you might disagree. See you in the Comments section.

*UPDATE! Lois and Clark also made various other Marvel appearances, most if not all of which are chronicled on Scans Daily. Check it out! WORLDS COLLIDE!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Torchwood: Miracle Day Trailer

Oh man, I can't wait for July 8th!

Some notes (I haven't spoiled myself, nor plan to, so I'm coming to all this fresh)...
-A Starz Original Series. LOL!
-As expected, both Gwen and Jack are back, and the former is delightfully badass. Shooting bad guys while holding a baby? That's some crazy John Woo s***, right there!
-"Miracle Day", like "Children of Earth", promises a single-plot, intense mini-series, which I think is Torchwood's sweet spot. At 10 episodes though, it's twice as long as Children of Earth... unless it all comes out the same with shorter "American-sized" episodes?
-Seems like what's happening to those people isn't unlike Captain Jack's own undying condition. It'll be interesting to see how he interacts with them and if there are any links to it.
-Ooh, Dollhouse's Dichen Lachman!
-Even more ooooh, Six Feet Under's Lauren Ambrose!

Even as I contemplate the end of Doctor Who's Series 6.0 in a couple weeks, I can't help but be comforted by the promise of a new Torchwood series!

Reign of the Supermen #217: Pulp Superman

Source: Elseworld's Finest #1-2 (1997)
Type: Elseworlds
In the 1920s, Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne fulfill their respective destinies while struggling against nomadic cult leader Ra's al Ghul and Nemo-figure Alexi Luthor to find the lost city of Argos and the fabled Godstone artifact said to be housed there. It's an underrated Elseworlds story that for once uses Lana instead of Lois as Clark's romantic interest, and even finds room for Bibbo. The Godstone is, in fact, the Eradicator, and it will reveal Clark's strange dreams to be true. And explain his amazing abilities. This is a pretty badass Clark Kent!
This, however, is just a dream:
Still, I wanted it to be real.

Hopefully, I'm not its only fan. Anyone else?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Amanda Waller's Summer Side-Project (Part 2)

Continuing last week's retirement files for the Shadow Fighters, the team assembled by Amanda Waller to fight Eclipso in the villain's monthly series. The whole thing ended in a victory for Earth's heroes, and though the Justice League, the Spectre, the Phantom Stranger and a couple of losers like Prism (who?!) participated in the final battle, they were never Shadow Fighters, so won't get a spot here. But first, let us end the bloodbath that started in Part I.

Subject: Commander SteelProfile: Retroactive Golden Age hero
Powers: Cybernetically enhanced physical abilities
Mission: Free the South American country of Parador from Eclipso's stranglehold.
Chance of survival going in: Low. If the Character ever had any glory days, they were far behind him. A WWII hero created in 1978, then integrated into the All-Star Squadron, Henry Heywood would later become the grandfather of Justice League Detroit's Steel, an elderly hero by this point portrayed as being out of his depth.
Retirement: DECEASED. Killed by Eclipsos while trying to protect Major Victory's back. (Eclipso #13)
Final report: Still dead, though his legacy lives on in the JSA's Citizen Steel, another of his grandsons.

Subject: Peacemaker
Profile: Charlton hero
Powers: Military training and various non-lethal and lethal weapons
Mission: Free the South American country of Parador from Eclipso's stranglehold.
Chance of survival going in: Fair. Though the only Charlton headliner not to ever star in his own DC monthly, there was potential in his premise (a man who would commit acts of violence in order to ensure peace), especially in the violent 90s, but perhaps the character had been taken too far, madness-wise, to still remain viable.
Retirement: DECEASED. His helicopter is destroyed while fighting Eclipso's armored division. We later see his charred corpse. (Eclipso #13)
Final report: Christopher Smith's death was confirmed when his soul was featured in Day of Judgement. Others would take up the mantle, including Mitchell Black in the Charlton-centric L.A.W. A Peacemaker using the Christopher Smith identity appeared in the new Blue Beetle series, before changing to Black, and then to a new name, perhaps an indication that DC Editorial had lost track of each Peacemaker's death.

Subject: Chunk
Profile: Former member of Flash's supporting cast
Powers: Teleportation and an extra-dimensional space inside himself he can shunt people and objects to
Mission: Accompany Justice League to Parador to cleanse the world of Eclipso.
Chance of survival going in: Fair. A beloved minor character, the only reason writer Robert Lauren Fleming used Chester Chunk may well have been because he had affection for him. Why else even THINK of Chunk? However, beloved minor characters also make for shocking deaths (see Creeper).
Retirement: RETIRED FROM SHADOW FIGHTERS. Chunk survived the final battle in Parador. (Eclipso #18)
Final report: Chester Chunk presumably continues to work as a "removal specialist" in Central City. I am not aware of whether or not he finally married Wally West's old girlfriend, Connie Noleski.

Subject: Bruce Gordon
Profile: Sometime host of Eclipso
Powers: Foremost expert on Eclipso
Mission: Lead Justice League to Parador to cleanse the world of Eclipso.
Chance of survival going in: Good. Unless DC was interested in destroying a villain they had just elevated to the A-list, there was little chance of Bruce dying. Either this was going to end with Eclipso trapped once again in Bruce (not the case), or he would be out there and Bruce would need to stay alert to fight him (the case). Either way, Gordon looked to be part of the equation.
Retirement: RETIRED FROM SHADOW FIGHTERS. In the short term at least, the nightmare seemed to be over for Bruce Gordon. (Eclipso #18)
Final report: Though Eclipso would use other hosts, in time he would return to Bruce Gordon. Most recently, Eclipso has been using Bruce as a host in his bid to "kill God". The Justice League is taking care of it, but thanks for offering.

Subject: Mona Bennet
Profile: Member of Bruce Gordon/Eclipso's supporting cast
Powers: None, though she has used an armor tricked out with sun guns
Mission: Accompany Justice League to Parador to cleanse the world of Eclipso.
Chance of survival going in: Fair. Just the right person to kill to give Bruce Gordon a victory that feels like defeat, and as Mona had been going over the edge recently, quite a possibility.
Retirement: RETIRED FROM SHADOW FIGHTERS. Mona Bennet survived the final battle and announced she was pregnant with Bruce's child. (Eclipso #18)
Final report: Mona Bennet seemed to have been killed recently when Eclipso took control of Bruce Gordon. It is unknown if this is indeed the case, or what happened to their child.

And that's the cheery ending to my Shadow Fighters Files! Other members of the team, like Nemesis and Nightshade continued to serve under Amanda Waller, so their retirement parties will just have to wait...