Wednesday, August 31, 2011

RPG Talk: Do They Have the Bomb?

There was a time (last year?) when I had a hat filled with non sequitur topics for role-playing-based posts. I'd asked readers like you to challenge me and they did. Just found that hat with one last topic in it... North Korea nukes! Talk about a challenge...

Ok, here goes. What strikes me about North Korea's WMD capacity is that over the last decade, there's been a "do they or don't they" feeling hovering over them. Just because they say they have the bomb, doesn't make it so. And even reports of a test don't mean it's been entirely successful. But do we dare to call their bluff? How do we translate Supreme Leader Kim Jong-il's strategy to the role-playing arena?

New School Idea: The Deterrent Bluff
Definitely one for GameMasters who like to give their Players some measure of control, this narrative device could also be used in Old School games as a way to counter (but also encourage) the dreaded Total Party Kill (TPK). Here's how it works.

First you need a proper set of circumstances. The PCs must be up against incredible odds and face a powerful foe. It's the climax of a grand story and they're at the enemy's gates. He's got a apocalyptic weapon at the ready, the Eye of Sauron opens, Darkseid's just figured out the Anti-Life Equation, Doctor No's gonna detonate the Earth's volcanoes, SOMEthing. Personal stakes will do just as well for more intimate games: The hero's sister is held hostage, a virus is threatening to take away her superpowers, again something that would drastically change the campaign. The threat must be spelled out. There must be a BLUFF on the GM's part. Or is it a bluff? Only one way to find out... you have to call it.

The PCs enter the scenario and discover the villain was telling the truth. The threat is real, the odds almost insurmountable. And maybe they win the day. They often do! And likely as not, the consequences of their failure is so high, they might even have had help from the Powers That Be(TM), i.e. the GM, who would lose his campaign world if he let the bad guys win, or lose his cast of players if they all die. RPGs being what they are, it all might hinge on a dice roll, and most GMs will have done a little "fudging" to keep hope alive. But say you didn't need to. Let's say the heroes DON'T win. What happens? The sister dies, the world ends, the heroes would get a state funeral, except government's been taken over by the super-despot. The GM gets to describe the consequences of failure as they happen, the whole damn campaign-ending story.

Don't worry. It's just what COULD happen. In the case of a massive apocalyptic failure, the PCs can decide to sacrifice something (that's up to you - huge amounts of Story Points, a full level, any XP coming to them, even have a to choose a character to die heroically). The GM decides if the sacrifice is adequate. When a price has been settled on - and it should be painful - the action picks up again at the point where the threat was proven real. It now isn't. The apocalypse machine breaks down, the heroes are actually 15 minutes early, the cure to the virus doesn't go down the drain, SOMEthing. What's important is that this time, the PCs have a fighting chance. You can keep them on their toes and change some of the endgame's details (after all, the doomed rehearsal was all in their heads), or you can allow their foreknowledge to create the opportunity to change events (now that they know about the monster that killed them all, they lay a trap for it and survive, for example). Make sure they pay the toll though. They did "cheat" death.

It's not the kind of trick you should use every game, but it could prove a fun and unusual narrative device used sparingly and at the most extreme of moments. They can walk away from a nasty turn of events, but they'll have to go all in to prove their hunch that Ol' Jong-il doesn't have the firepower he claims to have.

Reign of the Supermen #315: Victorian Superman

Source: Project: Rooftop (2011)
Type: Fan-made ElseworldsFollow the above link for the other half of Matthew Humphreys' Victorian World's Finest.

Two things I particularly like: The baby blanket turned into a sash by Mother Kent. And that those boots never go out of style (well, except this week).

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Famous Last Words

As we say goodbye to the DC Universe As We Knew It this week, I thought it might be interesting to check out our poor, about-to-be-rebooted heroes' last words before Reality put the key in lock and the chairs on the tables, turned off the lights, and reopened with a new sign over the door (though not under new management). I'll be waiting for you at the end with a box of tissue or a stress ball, your choice.Batgirl: "It's only the end if you want it to be." (Batgirl #24 by Bryan Q. Miller)

Batman (Dick Grayson): "All that's left to do is hang our hats, belly up to the bar, and be ready for what comes next." (Detective Comics #881 by Scott Snyder)

Booster Gold: "This is so weird. Like the only thing I know for sure... is that I gotta get me a new suit." (Booster Gold #47 by Dan Jugens)

Gotham City Sirens: "Nothing prepares you for the end. All we can hope for... is after everything is over... and the darkness has claimed us... there will finally... be calm." (Catwoman in Gotham City Sirens #26 by Peter Calloway)

Green Lantern: "This isn't how it's supposed to end." (Green Lantern #67 by Geoff Johns)
Justice League of America: "Try as you might, I can guarantee not everyone is going to forget you." "That was fun, Dick, and I'm glad I got to do it with you." "Me too. It's been a blast, Don, but all things must end. Ready?" "Sure." "Okay." (Dick Grayson and Donna Troi in Justice League of America #60 by James Robinson)

Justice Society of America: "What do we do now?" "What we do. What we always do. We go on. We rebuild. We endure." (Jesse Quick and Jay Garrick in Justice Society of America #54 by Marc Guggenheim)

Power Girl: "Okay, boys. Let's go over this point-by-point and you tell me just exactly what the hell this was all about. And don't leave anything out. After all, we've got all the time in the world." (Power Girl #27 by Matthew Sturges)

Red Robin: "It's my city now if I want it to be. Not Dick's. Not Bruce's. Mine. But to make it that way... to make it right... what will I have to become? So many choices... but what will be my decision..?" (Red Robin #26 by Fabian Nicieza)

Secret Six: "I couldn't sway, slow or stop them. So they went out the hard way." (The Huntress in Secret Six #36 by Gail Simone)

Superboy: "But now I know I'll never be normal. I was born in a test tube in a lab. I wear a costume and fight bad guys. And my friends aren't normal either. But maybe that just means I'm not so different after all. I'm Superboy, and this is Smallville... and there's nowhere I'd rather be." (Superboy #11 by Jeff Lemire)

Supergirl: "People like Supergirl, they have a way of sticking around. But you and me... just... don't forget me, okay?" (Supergirl #67 by Kelly Sue DeConnick)

Superman: "I married you Clark, but I dedicated my life to truth long before I met you. I'm not going to turn my back on that even if it does mean losing you." "And that's why you never will." (Lois Lane and Superman in Superman #714 by Chris Roberson)

Teen Titans: "Old. New. It doesn't matter. As long as there are Titans, we will have a tower. Titans together. Titans forever." (Red Robin in Teen Titans #100 by J.T. Krul)
Wonder Woman: "She will always be her daughter, Diana of Themyscira. Live or die, we will remain Amazons. And I will always be Wonder Woman." (Wonder Woman #614 by Phil Hester)

Zatanna: "mralA kcolc og ot lleh." (Zatanna #16 by Adam Beechen)

Reign of the Supermen #314: Titano

Source: DC One Million 80-Page Giant #1 (1999) and Superman vol.2 #708 (2011)
Type: Alternate futureYour Superman Squad Member of the Week!

What's this? A regular feature inside a regular feature? Worlds within worlds, baby! Titano, the future Protector of Gorilla City carries not one, but two legacies on his broad shoulders. Superman's, of course, but also that of the giant ape with kryptonite vision he is named after. He is apparently the largest member able to walk into the Fortress of Solidarity, but some are even bigger. Gee, get them a big door, won't you?

Superheroes + Apes + Gigantism = What comics are all about

Monday, August 29, 2011

New DCU: Canada Gets a Boost

The recent announcement that Booster Gold will be rebooted as a Canadian in New 52's Justice League International has generated mixed feelings in me. On the one hand, it's about time the DCU got itself some Canadian heroes. I'd say Booster would join the Young All-Stars' Flying Fox, except that the character hasn't been seen SINCE Young All-Stars and has likely been erased from continuity. But while I want to be a proud Canuck here... Booster Gold? BOOSTER GOLD? If there ever was a more American concept for a superhero, I don't know what it is. A disgraced football star (with all due respect to the CFL, football is really more a part of American culture) from the future who started his career as a glam & glitz, corporate capitalist, celebrity hound. That's an American stereotype, not a Canadian one. Sure, Booster's come a long way since then, and I'd be proud to call him my countryman, but aside from saving some hockey players in the 5th issue of his original series, nothing about him ever sent out a Canadian vibe.

Of course, if I indulge in some honest national soul-searching, I have to admit that there are plenty of Canadians who fit his profile. The more socialist tendencies of my country are eroding away while Harper keeps an address on Sussex Drive, and American culture continues to filter through (filter! ha! like anything actually gets "filtered" at the border!). Canadian identity is a difficult thing to define, especially in opposition to American identity. I know it when I see it. I feel it. But I can't quite explain it. Canadians do come in all shapes, sizes, colors and creeds, and any member of the JLI could theoretically be given Canadian citizenship (while keeping their own culture, so Vixen, Rocket Red et. al count). I guess I'm responding to what's ICONIC about Canada and about superhero comics. And Booster Gold and Canada do not share any iconic traits.

So who COULD be retconned into a Canadian hero? Good question. If the idea was to make the JLI more international, then there are still two Americans on there. Guy Gardner might have been a candidate (does it strike you as right that all four Earth Lanterns are Americans?). His hard right politics might have pegged him as an Albertan Harper supporter. Too bad Ice is Norwegian, because her powers definitely lend themselves to Iconic Canada. If DC had been really crazy, they'd have put Metropolis on top of Toronto, the city that was used as its model, and made Superman an adopted Canadian (Saskatchewan is a better Kansas than Kansas).

Aquaman raised on the shores of Atlantic Canada? We've got PLENTY of lighthouses here. Our fauna might make it a nice home for Animal Man. Our native quirkiness might inspire heroes like Blue Devil, Aztek or the Heckler. Or if it's the politeness aspect you think is us, I notice they don't know where to put Fawcett City anymore. Doesn't the Marvel Family strike you as Canadian? Even a few villains to join lonesome Plastique would be nice. I'd take Crazy Quilt at this point (that's a sort of Canadian Mosaic joke).

I don't know who I'd import exactly, so I'll leave that up to you and the comments section.

Reign of the Supermen #313: Superman Predator

Source: JLA versus Predator (2001)
Type: VillainJohn Ostrander, with Graham Nolan and Randy Elliott, crafts a crossover story that is way better than it has any right to be in JLA versus Predator. It's about the Dominators manipulating the DNA of a group of Predators to make them the perfect assassins to take down the Justice League. Each has an armor and powers themed to take on a member. After some trouble - and the Martian Manhunter getting his head cut off and put on a spike (good thing he can put his brain in his chest) - the JLA prevails by exchanging partners. Except Superman.

"You'll forgive me but I really am the only one suited to take on my Metapredator!"

Sometimes, just sometimes, Superman talks like he doesn't need to be in a team. Well... can't argue with results.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

This Week in Geek (22-28/08/11)


Because I enjoyed Tim Callahan's Grant Morrison: The Early Years, I was disappointed (though understanding too) that he didn't feel he had enough of a handle on The Invisibles to even attempt a second volume of critical analysis. Patrick Meaney steps up with Our Sentence Is Up: Seeing Grant Morrison's The Invisibles. Snatched it.


DVDs: Guy Ritchie's Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels is the precursor to his star-making Snatch, and just about as stylish if not as slick. While Snatch is a lot of fun, I also thought it was overwrought, overcomplicated and gimmicky. Lock Stock is more raw and indie, and its story is easier to follow, and is all the better for it. The underworld dark comedy of errors is about four friends who end up with an unpayable debt at the poker table and endeavor to steal what they need. And then there's the antique guns from the title, and a massive stash of weed, and six groups of people who have or want one of the other or all of them at any given time. Good fun, though I'm glad Ritchie eventually dialed down his style in later films like Sherlock Holmes. The DVD has a short, marketing-based featurette and text screens that instruct you on how to understand and speak "rhyming cockney". By the end, I could at least do the former.

Books: Finished Book 3 of the Elric Saga (as determined by the DAW/Berkley series) , The Weird of the White Wolf, and as with the previous book, it actually features three short adventures. In the first, Elric returns to Melniboné and more or less wipes out his ties with Book 1. The second sends him on a quest to find an ancient book. And in the third, he faces a God of Chaos. All three (and the non-Elric prologue as well) share a theme. In each, the hero is led to adventure by a woman. The prologue would have her be untrustworthy, but this is ambiguous. Each story in turn features treachery, but it can't be laid at the woman's feet, at least not directly. The book also introduces Moonglum who looks to be a fun and useful companion for Elric, who up until now has been switching every couple stories. While I would have hoped for a more unifying narrative, Moorcock's prose and imagination have kept me reading. However, I'll have to take a break to wait for the next three books to arrive through the mail.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
III.i. Briefings - Fodor (2007)
III.i. Briefings - Tennant (2009)
III.i. Briefings - Classics Illustrated

Reign of the Supermen #312: Superman Squad

Source: DC One Million (1998), All-Sar Superman #6 (2007) and Superman vol.2 #707-708, 714 (2011)
Type: Alternate futureIn All-Star Superman, which was supposed to be off-canon, Grant Morrison brought back the Superman Squad, a team of Supermen descended from or inspired by Superman from across all space and time who banded together to defend the time stream. You've seen a few members on this blog and you'll likely see a few more. When I say "supposed to be off-canon", it's because Morrison tied it into his DC 1,000,000 concept, linking it to the proper DC Universe (RIP 1986-2011). Did All-Star's events actually occur in standard continuity, or was the Squad inter-dimensional as well as pantemporal? Jump a few years to Chris Roberson's Grounded.

I have to say: Chris Roberson is my kind of insane. Not only does he bring back the Squad, but he builds on it to the point where it could have been a great spin-off in a non-rebooted world. And wait. Not only does he use the Squad, he reveals that the meeting in All-Star happened. A version of it? Certainly, they couldn't have come for Jonathan Kent's funeral since he was alive recently. Listening to Roberson speak on the War Rocket Ajax podcast this week, he seems to regard continuity through the lens of his own version of hypertime. He says we've been following the same character since Action Comics #1 because even in the Byrne era - which was a complete reboot - he remembers the Crisis - which the previous version experienced first hand. It's a timeline that keeps shifting (shades of my Continuity Bottle), but he doesn't always remember that unbroken history. Perhaps being in the "Still Zone" outside space and time helps him to remember his own parallel histories. Perhaps it's like remembering the Crisis.

One of Roberson's best ideas is that of the Fortress of Solidarity (great name), a place where the Supermen can go to hang out with each other. We meet a lot of new Men and Women of Tomorrow there, but I won't spoil them yet. I've got to think about the future of Reign! In the closing chapter of Grounded (and of Superman volume 1 - choke), we learn that Superman actually started the Squad, for surely, it's what the Supermen of America evolves into.

The Squad, as imagined by both writers, is the ultimate expression of the superheroic legacy, the concept that has driven the DC Universe unconsciously since the Silver Age and more overtly since the 80s. Though the Marvel Universe has spawned replacements, families and like-named heroes, it never really gave off the same vibe. Some of their heroes were part of legacies, but that wasn't what the MU was about. The DCU - at least as we knew it - was. They had a vast number of superheroes from the 40s who inspired or even mentored younger heroes right up to today. The most important and recognizable heroes had sidekicks who dared go out on their own as part of the Teen Titans or even their own series. Many of them replaced, at least for a time, their masters. And 1000 years in the future (and 850,000 years after that), new heroes took their inspiration from that same root. After Crisis, this became even clearer, with a third Flash taking to the streets and helping train a younger model, even as the Golden Age original was running beside him. And at the very end of this "Legacy era", we have multiple Batmen running around and a Squad of Supermen protecting space and time. We no long have to wait to follow in our master's footsteps, we can in fact earn the right to walk right next to him or her.

The pendulum swings. The Golden Age heroes return to their own Earth, and contemporary heroes find their inspiration elsewhere. Everyone will be younger, less experienced, LESS INSPIRING. The legacies are dead and those that survive are suspect. DC has decided that legacy equates with an insurmountable opacity - "How can new readers get caught up when the story started in 1938?" - and that it had gone as far as it could with the legacy idea.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Cat of the Geek #125: Black Cat

Name: Felicia Hardy
Stomping Grounds: Marvel comics (since 1979)
Side: Variable, currently good
Breed: Human
Cat Powers: Luscious. Acrobatics and fighting skills. Agility-granting earrings (why would I make that up?) and other equipment dubiously hidden in her skin-tight costume. Bad luck powers.
Skills: Eat 2, Sleep 6, Mischief 9, Wit 6, Driving Spider-Man crazy 7
Cat Weaknesses: Bad luck powers hard on her relationships. Temperamental. Hates your secret identity.

Reign of the Supermen #311: League of Supermen

Source: Superman Annual vol.2 #8 (1996)
Type: Alternate futureLong after the Earth was dead, on a colony world seeded by humanity, Superman's mantle was taken up by the League of Supermen. Among the treasure brought from the home planet, the first settlers found a recording of Superman's consciousness and bits of his DNA. This "essence" could manifest as a hologram, and would go on the lead a group of bio-engineered Supermen from his Shrine. The first League looked like this:
But this story isn't about them. Rather, the current crop of Supermen each have one of Superman's powers, though genetic modifications hasn't yet been perfected. Those powers are always on and carry a curse as well. The roster is made up of:
-Pounder, whose super-strength will crush anything he caresses.
-Flyboy, who might just float away during his sleep.
-Heat, who must discharge solar energy through his eyes rather often lest he accidentally fry someone.
-Shield, the indestructible man who feels nothing, nothing at all, ever.
-See-Through, you must wear lead lenses or else forever see the world as guts and gears.
In the course of the story, they take on two rookies whose abilities are derived technologically:
-Speed, her suit makes her super-fast but takes a physical toll.
-Tempest, whose collar gives him super-breath, though he must be careful not to inhale and burst his lungs.

David Micheline's story (as drawn by a bunch of artists) is respectful of the Superman legend. Though holo-Superman seems to have gone bad and started to build a giant weapon, it's all a ploy to make the League rebel and destroy his matrix. He has sensed that his lack of physicality has made him start to go insane and he gives up his existence before it's too late. And the League continues, for while Superman's essence is gone, his spirit lives on. On that unnamed planet. Somewhere out there. In days yet to come.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Kung Fu Fridays in September

Another month, another Kung Fu poster and selection. And a nice one too. September is almost entirely dedicated to my absolute favorite martial arts choreographer/director - Lau Kar-Leung (also known as Liu Chia-Liang, above). A lover of all twelve weapons of Shaolin, there's there's nothing like watching one of his fights and realizing we've gone 12-16 moves without breaking the shot. So what have I got all picked out for those crazy enough to land at my place on a Friday night?

Executioners from Shaolin - AKA Executioners of Death (which strikes me as the same kind of title as Doctor Who's Deadly Assassin), this Lau Kar-Leung film features the character of Pai Mei made famous in North America by Kill Bill (which we've just re-watched... LINK!) Lo Lieh and my man Gordon Liu star.

Martial Arts of Shaolin - Does it smell like a theme in here? The only collaboration between film director Lau Kar-Leung and actor Jet Li, I'm smelling the awesomeness well in advance.

13 Assassins - Our only break from Lau Kar-Leung, this 2010 Japanese flick based on a true incident set in the waning era of the samurai. So let's go kill an evil lord, shall we?

Mad Monkey Kung Fu - And we're back to my fetish director (who also stars), along with Lo Lieh, my young auntie Kara Hui and in his first starring role, Little Monkey Hsiao Ho. I'm really splurging, which means I'll have to put in a little more Chang Cheh in October. It's just not the same.

Yes, I skip a Friday, but I'll be working and most of my crew will be at the Frosh Week Mega-Show where I'll be doing so. September indulges us by having a fifth Friday to spare!

Reign of the Supermen #310: Supermen in Training

Source: Superman vol.1 #151 (1962)
Type: HoaxA bunch of middle-aged and older men in Superman costumes, accomplishing feats of super-strength? OUTrageous! But here's the truth of it...

It all starts when Jimmy Olsen sees an old man in the super-suit try to lift a bus and calls Superman. Supes soon arrives and the poor guy tells the story of Krugg's Gym, where an elixir gives you super-strength for an hour and only inside the gym. Why he thought he could lift a bus OUTSIDE the gym is uncertain, but the guy can't be very smart if he can't smell the obvious con. And at 300$ for 10 easy lessons, someone's making cash off the grift. So Superman puts on a fake mustache and shows up at Krugg's as Horace Mopple (Matches Malone, it ain't), pure weakling in search of a "hero of the beach" scheme. He immediately recognizes Krugg as "Soapy" Kryle with his Most Wanted Vision, a swindler wanted in the next state. To his super-senses, the con is obvious. The weights are hollowed-out cardboard, the punching bags are loose, etc. Clark has looking weak down to an art.
Before his first lesson can begin, a German professor rushes in with his improved elixir. Turns out Krugg is letting him believe his stuff works because he needs the steady stream of vitamin drinks, but plans to skip town before he has to pay him. While Superman has enough to arrest Kryle, this is the Silver Age, so he has to do it by hoaxing the hoaxer. HAS TO. He drinks from the elixir and then ruins a perfectly good suit.
Next, he uses his real powers to make it seem like the elixir is so improved, it actually works.
He also uses various powers to simulate Kryle's own powers after he drinks it to make sure Horace isn't a "rare glandular type". Kryle thinks he can now make a lot more money, so he runs to the professor's workshop to get more formula. Superman's beaten him to it and super-disguised himself as the professor after having super-explained the situation.
When Kryle arrives, he claims to have perfected the elixir even more and flies around to prove it. Kryle stands to make millions, so he happily pays the "professor" thousands with a check made out to money (enough to pay back all the marks he's conned). Kryle takes a big drink, and Superman makes him fly out the window with his super-breath. He blows him all the way across the state line and into the arms of waiting policemen.
Needless to say, he can't fly away again no matter how much he flaps his arms. Superman stifles a laugh. The end.

And now you know... the REST of the story.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Logopolis: The New 52 Mastheads

Being a brief and hopefully pithy look at DC's 52 mastheads to adorn its 52 Relaunch series. (Note that they are in the same order as the spoiler image - sort of alphabetical and bafflingly, not.)Action Comics: It's the classic design currently used and harking back to the 1930s, but with one innovation - placing the word "Comics" over the A's underlining shape. It works.
All-Star Western: One of the better ones, the wave in the weather-worn words and the red sheriff's star making a typical Western logo more dynamic.
Animal Man: One of two logos with claw marks (the other is Catwoman), that feature did sometimes appear on Buddy Baker's earlier series. The spiky Gothic font, however, makes it look like a werewolf book.
Aquaman: DC is pushing the sharp "A" belt-buckle and it works as a design element. Is the "Q" supposed to be a little fish? I like the title's soft, subtly wavy shapes, but it's not quite iconic.
Batgirl: The Bat-titles almost all follow a similar theme, that of the background bat symbol (but never the same exact one). Batgirl's is probably my favorite, distinctive and at once sharp and vaguely feminine.
Batman: I don't really care for this one. The letters try to follow the basic bat shape, but it makes Batman seem crazy and unable to write legibly. When I look at the various shapes created, it just looks haphazard to me.
Blue Beetle: Circuit lines imply technology and the scarab armor. I could do with more insect flavor.
Blackhawks: The Blackhawk logo is welcome, though always invites comparison with the hockey team's. Otherwise, it's pretty ugly. The words have been shot up, but it's not really clear. Just optical detritus. And splitting the word into two creates confusion. Are they the Black Hawks or the Blackhawks?
Batman and Robin: No change. It's a good logo. It's expressive and expands to include both names. It's even a little retro, with the eyes and shorter ears.
Batman: The Dark Knight: The series so young, you can't believe it's rebooting. Well at least its logo isn't. Sadly, I dislike as much as I ever did. Its jumble of letters struggle to complete a bat-shape cut in half is clumsy at best.
Batwing: I like the sharp and dangerous letters (though the "B" is borderline), but I don't know why the bat symbol if cut up into sectors. It seems to be SOMEone's design fetish because it occurs on other logos as well.
Batwoman: The bat-logo that sets itself apart from the pack and I'm not sure why. While I've accepted this as Batwoman's logo, largely because it fits her artist's aesthetic, what happens when he leaves the book? Looking at it objectively, it's a mystifying thing, strange shapes and lightning bolts. The more I think about it, the less I like it.
Catwoman: Edgy and scratchy, it fits Selina well. Feminine and curvy, but sharp and spiky. Beware the bloody scratches of the "W".
Captain Atom: I'm wondering how its radioactive effects will look on any given cover, but this is a fairly cool one.
Birds of Prey: Like Batwing, this one's checkered for no discernible reason. Ultimately rather simple, despite the beak/talon shapes.
DC Universe Presents: You know, I've never been a fan of the current DC bullet, with its single spinning star, so the full DC Universe logo in the same style likewise leaves me cold. Worse, that smaller "presents" inspires diminishing returns. A front-heavy monstrosity.
Deathstroke: As with Blackhawks, the split into two words doesn't do Death Stroke any favors. Otherwise, it's a faded heavy metal t-shirt of a look, which is pretty appropriate to the character, actually. Those extra vertical strikes through certain letters rarely work though.
Detective Comics: I really like the bat and how it's flying in from the side, and that saves the words themselves, which are relatively plain. There's a pulp feel here which suits the book.
Demon Knights: There might just be one too many claws on the letters, but the fantasy effect is well rendered nonetheless. Nice "O".
Flash: Not quite as dynamic as I would have hoped. Looks more like it's shrinking than speeding away. And the "The" cutting into the "F"... ugh. In the fact, the whole font is a horror.
Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E.: I wish the Seven Soldiers' more "monstery" Frankenstein logo had been kept. The focus is more on the techno/military aspect of the series. Looks ok, but a bit plain.
Fury of Firestorm the Nuclear Men: Those concentric circles add some motion to what might have been another ugly font (looks like the Flash, but works better by virtue of the character's more technologically advanced origins). I do like how Firestorm is sandwiched between smaller words. Achieves a kind of balance.
Green Lantern: No change. The rounded letters of the GL logo will show up on all four related titles. I guess it works well enough, slick, modern and science fictionny.
Green Lantern Corps: Again, no change from the current title. A little bit more techno, and the GL symbol more integrated.
Green Lantern: New Guardians: It's starting to get boring. The third of these new GL logos, and the first new one, uses the same font, but stretches it here, skews it there. I generally dislike it when the logo is flying away from me like that. Note that the GL symbol is not used, since this will showcase different Corps.
Green Arrow: Why does it remind me of an aviation company? The "A" has a little cap, but the rest of the letters are very square and retro-industrial. I essentially like what I see (and relevance may depend on what the interpretation of the character actually is), but the "O" is problematic. It seems divorced from the masthead. Maybe if the color wasn't too bright?
Grifter: Pure junk. Strategically placed bullet holes in pudgy metallic forces, oh and some blood trickling down. With that big blood dot atop the "i", it's silly indeed.
Hawk & Dove: Lacking any kind of dimensionality, this one's a rather ugly, clumsy design from a bygone era.
Savage Hawkman: A cluttered mess and difficult to read too. The hawk symbol might be interesting if it wasn't obscured. The "v" shape the letters have been forced into makes the logo hard to look at. Disappointing.
I, Vampire: Looks about right. A scrawl in blood is what you'd expect from a vampire book and it will likely look distinctive among other DC books.
Justice League: A most bitter disappointment. It looks like a banner for an ad, but not like a distinctive and attractive cover element. Just a play on very ordinary fonts, at an odd angle that makes me queasy, it's a far cry from every other JLA logo EVER. It has NOTHING to say about the concept of the Justice League. Nothing at all.
Justice League Dark: The other two Justice League books find a way to subvert the mother logo, but they're still stuck with those disappointingly arid fonts. Dark's bloody scrawl adds dimension and interest, though I fear it'll be too high and eat up a lot of cover space.
Justice League International: What are those? Continents and oceans? Can't quite place the geography. Still, a good effort at making the Justice League logo interesting. The fact that all three use the same look does make me wonder if they are linked somehow, though their solicitations don't seem to say so. If they aren't linked, then it's a mistake to use the same fonts.
Legion of Super-Heroes: Let me talk LSH first here, because Legion Lost is a derivative. I like this new Legion logo. It takes its roots in the past, with the huge interlac "L", but firmly brings it into a technological future.
Legion Lost: Awkward. Why is the "Lost" so huge and dirty? What are they trying to say about this Legion spin-off? Or are they trying to attract Lost fans? I don't know. The two elements don't really play well together.
Men of War: Simple, but classic. Harks to the original war book of that name (with a stronger "of"), and will work as a block of solid letters or as a more textured ("camo") logo.
Mister Terrific: The worst masthead of the lot? The "T" with Terrific's face in it stops being a "T" and you're left with Mister Errific. A piece of over-designed silliness that actually affects legibility.
Nightwing: The bat symbol returns (Dick will never be his own man now), possibly in an effort to sell Nightwing to the rubes. The way the end letters curve to follow the bat gives the logo a nice, edgy spin. Bit heavy metal, but it's better than any Nightwing logo I remember.
OMAC: The big block manages to evoke a number of relevant ideas. The letters run into one another, like OMAC is an entire army in a single man. There is circuitry and perhaps Brother Eye. The blockiness relates to OMAC's toughness. Do I love it? Not especially. But I think it works.
Red Lanterns: A sharper edged version of the Green Lantern logo, as used during Blackest Night. Nothing new here.
Red Hood and the Outlaws: Because of the Outlaws name, there's a hint of the western in the choice of font, though I doubt it'll relate to the series as such. The bat symbol is used cleverly as the holes of the Hood's two "o"s, keeping a marketable relationship with Batman, but it never really rises above its ordinary font choice.
Resurrection Man: That's almost the original logo and I'm glad to see it again. The hand thrusting through the fresh grave (much cooler than the silhouette of a man, the mystery, the variableness of the letters and of the hero. It says it all.
Suicide Squad: Somehow, it works. I say "somehow" because it goes so far with the bells and whistles that it really shouldn't. Again with the sector lines. Bullet holes. A sniper's rifle leaning on it. A couple letters another color without real motivation. And not only is the "Q" in crosshairs, but there a re extra crosshairs at the lower right corner. When is it too much? Not quite yet, apparently. But it's not far off.
Superboy: The entire Super-family gets to use their classic logos. You can't update a true classic. I just fish they'd thought the same thing about the characters themselves...
Superman: Superman Classic for me. None of that New Formula Superman.
Supergirl: And again.
Swamp Thing: And yet again! Swamp Thing's had a number of logos over the years, some filled with plant life, others piling on the creepy. The original was just right and it's nice to see it again as Swampy goes back to his roots. (Damn, didn't mean to make that pun.)
Static Shock: Lots of energy, which makes the logo more exciting than the usual electric lettering, but what's that little flower? It's not on his costume anywhere. Strange element.
Stormwatch: All the characters on the first cover seem to have an orb on their chests. The sun, the moon, Mars. The logo has one too (Earth?), something bright sectioning it. Simple and classic, it is way better than every other Stormwatch logo I've ever seen.
Teen Titans: Horrible. "T" is a letter with its own personal indentation, and having them start two words, boxed in like that, unbalances the whole graphic. What is the use of those three bars except constipating the logo? And that "A" looks like it's dropping a brick. Ok, THIS one is the worst of the lot.
Voodoo: Another logo with fangs and/or claws. Whatever.
Wonder Woman: The font's on the ordinary side, but the little wings are cute. I suppose the scratches evoke Diana's new role as monster slayer.

Of course, some of these will look better on actual covers, while others may look worse. Not long to wait now...

Reign of the Supermen #309: Superman, Sky Hero

Source: Marx Toys (1977)
Type: ToyClick to double the image in size where you can read the amazing ad copy. I just want to see a couple things:
1) There are three other Sky Heroes available, but you know, only Superman can actually fly.
2) They capes deploy after you throw them, but I guess no one told the licensees that two of their heroes didn't have capes.
3) Also, I like that they flaunt its ability to "dive". They mean "crash", don't they? Bless.

Did anyone have one of these when they were kids? Did they in fact work as advertised?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Learning to Fly - Position 8: Backwards

Being a series of vignettes aimed at educating the super-powered reader about the various possible permutations of the flight posture.Though the position shown above looks a lot like simple Air Diving (Position 2), it's a matter of perspective. Powdered Toast Man actually flies feet first, i.e. backwards. Unusual to be sure, though heroes with 360 degree vision may see this as a viable - and surprising! - alternative to the standard style. Squashed bugs will be on your feet, not on your face, not to mention that pesky dry skin resulting from friction.

And before you think that only PT Man uses it and that it is thus "silly", be aware that it occurs in nature:
So theoretically, it's part of Animal Man's arsenal. And there's nothing "silly" about him.

Reign of the Supermen #308: The Leader

Source: Lab Rats #4-6 (2002)
Type: Alternate futureLab Rats, John Byrne's short series about troubled teens drafted by the "Campus" to test unknown tech, wasn't particularly amazing, but it did have some fun ideas working for it. Issues 4-6, for example, has the Rats run a time machine 50 years into the future. As it turns out, breaking the laws of physics creates a universe-wide cataclysm. The Metropolis of 50 years hence is in complete ruin, though it's far from the worse place on Earth. As I will now spoil for you, when disaster hit, Superman was struck with amnesia and found by persons unknown - or to be more obvious than Byrne, by Luthor. And now three generations of Luthors have kept Superman thinking he is the "leader" of a group intent on finding Superman and punishing him for allowing all this to happen. A leather armor with an ugly mask and grains of kryptonite in the seams is really all it takes for the leader to never find out who he really is.

The cycle of unconscious self-loathing is broken when a wizened Jimmy Olsen allies himself with the Rats and shows Superman his original costume. And it's just in time, because aliens angry with Earth for, you know, blowing up time and everything, have just arrived. Superman convinces them to stop destroying our rubble for 12 hours while the Rats return to earlier in their timeline to prevent the launch that destroyed the world... by ramming into the machine with itself before they're ever called in. Timey? Meet Wimey.

And that's another "old Superman" from an alternate future. It could have been its own series.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

French Lesson: Batman and Robin's Trip to France

I almost don't have to tell you by this point: English translated into very bad French in comics is a MAJOR pet peeve of mine. Not only because I'm a francophone myself, but because we live in a Global Village where such resources should be easy to find for writers and artists. Not software resources, HUMAN resources. People who speak and write French. And hey, American comic book people, RIGHT HERE ON YOUR CONTINENT! Alpha Flight has shown that IT'S POSSIBLE to do a language justice, so why don't you want to play the game, Batman and Robin #26?

In this story written by David Hine and drawn by Greg Tocchini, Batman and Robin meet up with France's own Batman, Nightrunner. The Louvre has been turned into an artistic disaster zone the liked of which France hasn't seen since Mr. Nobody and the Brotherhood of Dada ate Paris with a painting. That's all well and good. A problem crops up when Hine introduces Skin Talker, a crazy supervillain whose skin can manifest posthypnotic commands... all in French. If you can call it French.The first dermatographic, for example, strings together three words in a call to orgy. I guess it's not meant to a coherent message, but even in that, it's flawed. "Tuer" and "Manger" are simple enough. "Kill" and "Eat". Of course, if they're commands, they should be in the imperative "Tuez" and "Mangez". So it's really more "To kill" and "To eat", which makes less sense. The third word, "Bisou" is completely ridiculous. It's baby talk for a kiss, most often used to refer to a goodbye kiss on the cheek (like saying "kiss kiss!"), but not a verb. I think the intent is to make the hypnotized victims have sex, as "bisou" comes from "baiser", which (in France especially) is a verb that can mean that as well as "to kiss". How the translation came about is a mystery to me.

Skin Talker's next message is syntactically challenged:
"Fais ce que voudras" is missing a subject there. It means "Do what you want", but there's no "tu" ("you"), and the verb is in the future tense, so he's just telling us to "Do what would be wanted". Whatever that means. The phrase does occur in such works as Dumas' Three Musketeers. It is an archaism that means "Do what you will". What I find strange is that Dick Grayson Batman still knows how to translate it:

"Do what thou wilt"? First of all, French doesn't even have an archaic equivalent to those "Shakespearean" pronouns. If we accept that "Fais ce que voudras" is an archaic/poetic phrase (and it is), why wouldn't Dick translate it into modern English? If I hand him some Latin, does he translate it into Olde English? So it's strange. Doing a little research, the first relevant hit for "Fais ce que voudras" is Celine Dion's 1986 single "Fais ce que tu voudras", which Wikipedia translates as "Do What Thou Wilt" (does she have an English version of the song?). Are we to believe Hine's French comes from Celine Dion songs? And that he still forgot a pronoun? Better to believe he's a Dumas fan... but then I call foul on Dick's spot translation.

Writer David Hine takes me to task in the Comments. Check it out.

Reign of the Supermen #307: Superman of Earth-15

Source: Countdown #30 and #24 (2007)
Type: Alternate Earth
A world where General Zod became Superman. A world so peaceful that the heroes of the Justice League retired. A world where Zod was content to take care of his wife and unborn half-human child.

A world destroyed by Superboy-Prime, along with all its characters.

Because there's nothing that kid won't ruin.

Monday, August 22, 2011

5 Supervillains You Perhaps Didn't Know Were in the Movies

Hollywood's increasing output of superhero movies tends to generate the same kinds of discussions, consistently among them, "Who will be the villain?" Movie goers will recognize the names as well as the comic book fans - the Joker, the Green Goblin, the Red Skull, Bullseye... What many movie goers will not know however is that there are far more supervillains on the big screen than they think! These might be references "for the fans", or characters being groomed to show up later in the franchise, and might even escape the attention of actual comic book readers. Here then are five such characters and their shots at the big time...

The Lizard (Spider-Man 2 & 3)Following a mention in the first Spider-Man film, Peter Parker's one-armed teacher, Dr. Curt Connors, would make appearances in both sequels (played by Dylan Baker). In the comics, Dr. Connors created a regenerative agent that regrew his arm but turned him into the animalistic Lizard. This is his last chance to show up on this list because he's set to be the main antagonist in the Spider-Man reboot film in 2012, this time played by Welsh actor Rhys Ifans (Spike in Notting Hill). That's some pretty crazy casting...

Mr. Zsasz (Batman Begins)
The criminal being tried by Rachel Dawes and who later escapes during the Arkham break-out to threaten her (played by Tim Booth) is very much from the comics. In the film, he "butchers people for the mob". In the comics, Victor Zsasz is a serial killer than murders entire families and leaves them in lifelike poses. He marks each kill with a cut on his body. You'd think a non-costumed character like that would be a one-off, but he captured the readership's imagination and has made frequent appearances since.

The Floronic Man (Batman and Robin)
The scientist played by John Glover who gives Bane and Poison Ivy their powers in the terrible, terrible Batman&Robin, Jason Woodrue, started out life as a plant-inspired criminal in the pages of The Atom way back in 1962. In the 70s, he used a serum to mutate himself into a plant man during which time he faced the Flash and Green Lantern. He would later turn up in Alan Moore's Swamp Thing and even become a hero (as "Floro") as a member of the New Guardians. He fell off the wagon again in the 90s and has been a thorn in the side of various heroes, mostly Batman. It's amazing to me that in current continuity (well, for the next week anyway), Woodrue has been made responsible for Poison Ivy's creation. Because movies are more widely seen than comics, it's frequent that movie mythology is imposed on comics continuity. But Batman and Robin's? REALLY?!

Arnim Zola (Captain America: The First Avengers)
The most recent example of a comics villain hidden in plain sight is Arnim Zola, the Red Skull's scientific sidekick in the new Captain America movie (played by the Dream Lord himself, Toby Jones). This crazy-ass Jack Kirby creation from 1977 is a former Nazi with a synthetic body whose head is a camera and whose chest is a tv screen broadcasting his face. I doubt we'll ever see a "grown-up" version of Zola in the movies, but imagine if we did! (Arnim Zola also appears in the David Hasselhoff's Nick Fury Agent of SHIELD TV movie as a wheelchair-bound Dr. Strangelove wannabe.)

James Gordon Jr. (The Dark Knight)
A recent ark in Detective Comics has turned Commissioner Gordon's little boy, James Jr., seen in The Dark Knight being threatened by Two-Face, in the "Peter Pan Killer". Who knew that Two-Face would leave such a mark? In the comics, James is a heavily disturbed individual who has always had a lack of conscience and who may or may not have spiked Gotham's baby food to create natural born criminals in 20 years time. Nathan Gamble should return to the role when he's an adult in my imaginary Batgirl & Robin film.

Maybe you have other favorites? I'm also compiling a list of comics supervillains who showed up on tv. I'll let you know what I find.

Reign of the Supermen #306: Buggy Superman

Source: DC Comics Presents #81 (1985)
Type: Red K transformationTo best market the Ambush Bug mini-series, the Bug showed up in DC Comics Presents not to team up with Superman, but to switch places with him, all thanks to a ball of Red K found on the golf course. While the real Superman is trapped inside Ambush Bug inside a cell inside the Fortress of Solitude...
...Ambush Bug struggles with his new Kryptonian powers.
And defeats Kobra - of all people - so resoundingly that:
But the Crisis was about to hit anyway, so Kobra didn't have anywhere good to go to. It's really Ambush Bug #0, do track it down!