Thursday, June 28, 2007

Crazy Eight

So, I got tagged. Here is, as Kim Possible might say, the "sitch."

- I have to post these rules before I start.
- I have to tell you eight facts about myself.
- I have to tag eight people to participate.
- I'm supposed to leave a comment telling them they're tagged and to read my blog.
- And the tagees need to write their own blog post, telling us eight things and posting the rules.

On wit' da facts!

1. I've never been outside of the United States. I've never even been as far west as the Rockies. I love traveling, at least in principle, but I never seem to have the time and/or money to do so. I'm hoping to rectify that in the near future; at the top of the list of places I'd like to go are New York City and London. I'd like to make it out to D.C. again, too, since I wasn't able to see everything I would have liked to the last time I was there.

2. I don't drink alcohol, smoke, or do any kind of recreational drugs. I never have, and I never plan to. Being around cigarettes gives me a headache pretty quickly, and I'm a little too sensitive to it. As for the rest, my reasoning matches up pretty well with James Randi's (about halfway through).

3. I think the Marvel Zombies gag has more or less played out. "Dead Days" was so tedious that I left it on the shelf, the tie-ins have gotten progressively more desperate and tacky (the Spider-Man/MJ statue? Ugh), and I'm even beginning to tire of the Army of Darkness crossover. Time to lay this undead horse to rest for a few years, and find some other gimmick to milk.

Incidentally, though, the Marvel Zombie universe is still less depressing than the 616.

4. I watch "What Not to Wear." There, I said it. My quasi-roommate Colleen watched it a lot our Senior year of undergrad, and slowly but surely I got turned on to it. I don't go out of my way to see it, but if it's on, chances are I'll watch it.

5. I thought Transformers was going to royally suck, since it is a Michael Bay film, but the more previews I see, the more psyched I am to see it. I think it'll be stupid, to be sure, but I think it's going to be fantastically entertaining.

6. It bothers me to no end to see people like Brad Meltzer writing awful comics like Justice League of America #10, when I don't even know how to break into the damn business. I know I could do better than that, and I'd love nothing more than to get the chance to prove it, but I have no idea how to start.

7. I'm reading very little Marvel these days, but I'm really enjoying Spider-Man/Fantastic Four. Somehow, it has been absolutely everything I could have imagined it being.

8. I'm realizing more and more how great it would be to switch to drawerboxes for my comics, rather than the great white tower that I have to dismantle any time I want to get to the "S" books. It's just that the drawerboxes are so damn expensive. I'm sure I'll eventually make the transition, but it's looking to be later rather than sooner.

As far as tagging people, I honestly don't know who's been hit and who hasn't. If you're reading this and you haven't been tagged yet, consider yourself tagged.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Thursday Night Thinking!

It's that time again, time to get introspective...TO THE EXTREME!!!!

...Okay, not so much. But here are three of the Endless to get the wheels turning.
D, d d, d d is such a very nice letter...

Incidentally, it's also apparently my Bloggiversary. To mark two whole years of sporadic posts, unfinished series, and broken promises, I present you with a second image, one of my favorite scenes from all of The Sandman, and that's sayin' something. Wish I could have found a better quality scan, though. Click for a larger image. Then, turn off the computer, go outside, and take a good long look at the stars. If you can't see them where you're at, drive a few miles down the road until you can. Just stand up or lie down and stare at the vast, silent beauty of the cosmos. Learn the meaning of the word "awesome."
So dawn goes down to day. / Nothing gold can stay.

Here's to another great year at the Fortress.

Really? That's it?

Let me tell you a little story. Way back in 1999, I went to see a small independently-funded film that you might be familiar with: Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. I came out of that film with a pretty positive impression, which would change greatly as the years passed. But that's pretty much beside the point.

One of the subplots in the film involved Senator Palpatine, a man who curiously shared the surname and actor as Emperor Palpatine from the later films. Senator Palpatine's rise to power occurred as a mysterious and sinister cloaked Sith Lord named Darth Sidious--who also looked and sounded like the later Emperor--plotted with the Republic's enemies. On the surface, it was pretty clear that Palpatine and Sidious were the same person. There was a coy air of mystery hovering over the subplot, but both were played by the same actor, and we knew that Emperor Palpatine, who shared that distinctive surname, sure looked a lot like Darth Sidious. The connection seemed obvious.

So obvious, in fact, that I thought it was a trick. I was convinced leaving the theater and until shown otherwise, that the second film would contain a twist, that Senator Palpatine and Darth Sidious weren't the same character. Maybe the films would pick up an element from the various books, and the Senator would turn out to be the clone of Sidious, a puppet used to conduct public dealings. Maybe Sidious sought to assassinate and replace the Senator. But it was so obvious that the two were the same person that I was certain they wouldn't be.

As it turns out, I just gave George Lucas far too much credit. The coy air of mystery was an apparition, and the plot decided to stay close to the careful and obvious, refusing to give us any of the Empire-style plot twists that we'd come to expect from the franchise.

The same thing basically happened with Jeph Loeb's "Hush." Tommy Elliot was the only new character introduced in the story, besides the enigmatic villain. He was a plastic surgeon and the villain wore bandages. He was a childhood friend of Bruce Wayne's, and the killer was intimately aware of Bruce's secrets. Even when Tommy was apparently gunned down in an alley, it was incredibly obvious that he would turn out to be Hush, which is why I was so certain that he wouldn't. I'd read Loeb's other Batman mysteries, I'd read his other work, and the man knew how to do a twist, or so I thought. Instead, the plot followed on to the obvious conclusion that Tommy Elliot was indeed Hush, and thus the most boring character in Batman's rogues gallery since The Eraser.

Running into the sunset.Cue "Flash: The Fastest Man Alive" #13. That may have been the single most telegraphed death in the history of comics. I mean, honestly, "Superman" #75 had a gravestone on the cover, and yet you still couldn't be sure if they'd really kill him until you unfolded that last gatefold page. This Flash issue was begging for a twist at the end, and yet despite all the talk about changing the future, despite all the openings and options for someone else to make the big sacrifice, they decided to end it with the titular character being beaten to death. Maybe I just give writers too much credit, but when you've got a story like this issue, it seems like the logical progression would be to tease the audience with the obvious death, then tear the rug out from under them, simultaneously entertaining them and giving them an upbeat, hopeful ending. But what do I know, they don't pay me to write.

I can understand this ending, though. It was almost necessary. Bart Allen was a broken character, and had been ever since he came out of Infinite Crisis. Just take a look at his backstory: the grandson of Silver Age Flash Barry Allen in the 30th Century is raised in a simulated world due to his hyperaccelerated metabolism, and is brought back in time by his grandmother to be cured of his condition and to learn responsibility from her nephew, Wally West. Bart is taken under the wing of Max Mercury and develops into a competent-but-brash, happy-go-lucky teen hero, who eventually is forced to contemplate his own mortality, and to grow up fairly rapidly after a battle with Deathstroke. He wears the mantle of Kid Flash for some time, then helps drive Superboy-Prime into the Speed Force, where he spends four years (sort of) in another dimension (I guess) and comes back as a 16-year-old in a 20-year-old's body, wearing Barry's costume, with the Speed Force threatening to destroy him from the inside out.

Born in one Crisis, broken in another.He returned from Infinite Crisis with several gimmicks too many, and it was clear that the writers didn't know what to do with them. First, it was clear that they didn't know what to make of their change to the Speed Force status quo; they eliminated the dangers caused by using it fairly early on. Second, mucking about with his age had left him with a basically unwritable personality. An immature-but-intelligent 16-year-old in the body of a 20-year-old? The best course of action would seem to have him be awkward, emotionally stunted, and immature; instead they moved him away from mentor figures, had him living on his own, gave him an adult girlfriend, and put him in a position in the police academy, all things which served to give the impression of age and maturity. That wouldn't be necessarily so bad if they had crafted a clear personality for him. Somehow, this Bart was neither the impulsive, ADD-afflicted, goofy character he was in his youth, nor the more introverted, speculative, emotionally distant character he became in Teen Titans, but a competent, experienced hero trying to juggle work, a social life, and superheroics in a world where all three kept colliding, while also trying to fill Barry Allen's shoes.

If that sounds familiar, it's because we've run that track before, after the last big Crisis. Having stripped Bart of the personality traits and supporting cast that made him distinctive, the only way you'd be able to tell him apart from Wally was the hair color. And the repeated references to him being "a 16-year-old in an adult body," despite the fact that he never acted or thought like a teenager. In another stunning case of telling, not showing, in the Mighty Marvel Manner, we had other characters dictate to us what we should have been able to tell from thought captions, dialogue, and actions. That's just sloppy.

Take good care of him, Barry.Bart, quite simply, has been lost since Infinite Crisis, in a sea of discarded or largely ignored plot points, unexplored cast and status changes, and wasted potential. I'm not sure, given where they left off after the Crisis, that this could have been an interesting book. The "young hero trying to fill his predecessor's shoes" motif has been done to death in the Flash comics, and has been done better than this recently in books like Firestorm and, to a lesser extent, Blue Beetle. The "hero with powers that are a danger to himself" angle has also been tread in the Flash storyline, and was rapidly forgotten in this new relaunch. The "hero training to be a cop" arc was done better in Nightwing, and this book didn't seem too concerned with exploring that aspect of the character. The "hero who is younger than he looks" was a staple of the Superboy comics for awhile, but had some potential; unfortunately, Bart acted and sounded more like he was a 35-year-old trapped in a 20-year-old's body. With de-aging pretty much out of the question, they didn't have much choice but to kill him off.

And how about the ending to JLofA #10? They didn't give Wally a funeral, because they "knew he'd make it." Guess it sucks to be Bart; the other heroes apparently had no such faith in his recuperative abilities. It's not as though being bludgeoned to death is the hindrance it used to be; just ask Jason Todd.

So, in the end, I'm fairly happy that Bart got a nice clean break and that the Speed Force was released. I wish Bart could have gone out in a blaze of glory, rather than in the midst of a one-sided battle. I'm very happy that Wally and his family returned (even though the twins being older means that my dream arc, seeing Wally try to balance superheroics with being a stay-at-home dad, will probably not come to pass). I'm not happy that Editorial has shifted its sights away from the Giffen-era JLU and has moved on to killing off Young Justice. Slobo was the first to go (and was dissed by Didio, saying that Lobo wasn't supposed to be a joke, or something), then Kon, now Bart. Aside from Robin and Wonder Girl, the rest of the characters have been consigned to comics limbo. When's the last time the Ray or Snapper Carr showed up? I know Empress has appeared something like twice since the end of the series, and once was miscolored.

You know, the Kid Flash costume was already one of the best costumes in comic history, but somehow they actually improved it.Naturally, whether the writers at DC know it, they've left a back door open to bring back Bart. He didn't use the ability much after "Our Worlds At War," but Bart had the power to create avatars of himself; energy clones that he could send through time and reabsorb. Kind of a Negative Man-meets-Jamie Madrox ability. One of these scouts shows up in our time, having been lost in the timestream. Some event (Bart's death, releasing the Speed Force, bringing back Wally, etc.) solidified the avatar, made him essentially a physical copy of Bart, and shocked him back to this time period. Naturally, he'd have no memorty of the events of Crisis; depending on when the avatar was retroactively created, they could wind the clock back to Teen Titans' Kid Flash, or to the days when he was Impulse. I think the latter would present some interesting conflicts and stories; now, suddenly, Bart is significantly younger than his friends, and hasn't gone through many of the difficult, character-defining moments that they have. He'll have to be informed about Conner's death, the Crisis, and the subsequent events, including his own untimely demise. Meanwhile, Tim and Cassie will be forced to deal with the fact that Bart has returned, while Conner remains dead, and will be sadly reminded of the happier times before their lives turned morose and crappy. Naturally, Impulse would join the Teen Titans, though he'd constantly be trying to turn it back into Young Justice; I imagine he'd form a quick rapport with similarly-cheery Miss Martian, and the group would begin to clique along age lines.

But that's a story for another day. Unlike Jay, apparently, I don't expect Bart Allen to stay dead for any length of time, not when there's a backdoor like that to be exploited. For now, though, I mourn. Bart Allen, Impulse, Kid Flash, Flash: we hardly knew ye.

Keep running!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Am I reading this correctly?

Smooth move, Interlax.
Maybe there's a flaw in my Interlac TrueType font, but when I run that through MS Word (and my own knowledge of the alphabet), I get "Tle Villain is tle Lero in Lis Own Story," or, since none of the letters have the capital bar, "tle villain is tle lero in lis own story." Now, I realize that in Interlac, "h" and "l" are very similar letters, but shouldn't someone along the line notice that the letters in the middle of "villain" look exactly like the letter at the beginning of "hero"? When you're writing in a non-Roman-character font, you ought to be taking extra care to make sure that things are spelled correctly; otherwise, you end up with stupid mistakes like this.

Has this been happening all along? Is this just the first I've noticed it? Or did someone drop the H/L ball for this issue (or would that be the "bahh for tlis issue")?

Also, what's up with Wildfire being Red Tornado? When did that happen? Wikipedia's entry on Wildfire doesn't mention it at all, and it doesn't seem to make sense given Wildfire's origin, power set, and whatnot.

But, aside from all that, fantastic ending. Too bad it's such a kick in the crotch for the other big finale this week.

Edit: Just thought I'd let David Brothers, --J--, and Erin Palette (and anyone else who's interested) know that I posted their questions in the comments to this post, so they can make with the interviewing.

DC Comics I'd Write for Free: War of the Gods

Although I'd call it Crisis of Faith. "War" is such a Marvel term. So, I never read the original "War of the Gods," but by all accounts it's one of the worst crossover events in DC history, if not comics history in general. I think the idea was that the Greek and Roman pantheons fought each other, and in the end were merged together. Sounds riveting, right?
I got to thinking awhile back about religion and deities in the DCU. One of the best things about the DCU is its mythology. Somewhere along the line, between Rao and Rama Kushna, DC managed to develop its own vast and nuanced mythological tapestry, beyond just co-opting the pantheons of dead religions. You've got the Elementals, the Endless, alien pantheons, but the big one is the Order/Chaos duality. Dr. Fate, Hawk and Dove, Phantom Stranger, Princess Amethyst, Arion, Mordru, all connected...apparently some big Order/Chaos crossover war was supposed to go down at some point. When it didn't, the conflict between Order and Chaos got absorbed into the greater fabric of the universe.
So, the only known remaining Lord of Order following the Infinite Crisis is Amethyst (not counting Billy Batson, who has yet to grow into his role as Shazam's replacement). Magic is wild and untamed, and it's up to her to hold the fort. Sure, there are a few remaining Agents of Order, but they lack the power and scope to effectively stand against the overwhelming chaos of this Tenth Age of Magic.
With chaotic wild magic running rampant, you'd think the Lords of Chaos would have declared victory. And indeed they would have, if there were any of them left. As it stands, only one remains. The Child, longtime nemesis of Amethyst, is an ageless Lord of Chaos in the body of a child, a dark mirror to teenage Amy Winston in the adult body of Amethyst. Though chaos reigns in the world of magic, neither he nor Amethyst really have a foothold in the Tenth Age, and he knows that she will be martialing her forces to restore order to the universe. The only course of action is clear: he has to beat her to it. The time is ripe for Chaos to take the control it has sought since before the dawn of time, and lo, the universe will be consumed with entropy. Life and death and time will be meaningless, and the Lords of Chaos will be made greater than gods, greater even than the Seven. To that end, he enlists the help of two of the most chaotic beings ever to walk in this plane of existence: Loki and Robin Goodfellow.

These two chaos-bringers craft a plan, a grand scheme in which even the mightiest of gods will be mere pawns. Loki traverses the worlds of Midgard, disguised as various mortals, sowing the seeds of doubt and certainty among the mortal population. He whispers into the ears of thousands, "you don't need faith; you know God exists. The Spectre, that angel from the Justice League, they prove it," "maybe Christianity isn't the right way. Ares and Wonder Woman fought in these streets, and what about those New Gods? When's the last time Jehovah showed his face on Earth?" or "Superman's not a god, and he's beaten so-called angels and demons before. Maybe all the religions are wrong, maybe these gods are just aliens or something, not deities to be worshipped."
Meanwhile, Robin Goodfellow takes a more immortal route. He visits first the gods of dead worlds, reminding them of their lost grandeur. "Mistress X'Hal, once you were the most feared goddess in this sector. You juggled worlds in the palms of your hands. Now, even the few survivors of Tamaran cannot find the time or effort to follow the old rituals, to engage in prayer and tribute to you," "Poor Rao the Forgotten, you have but two children left in this universe, and they barely see fit to use your name as an epithet. They say that you were duped by Despair, that she might feed off your eternal misery. They say you couldn't even get her advice right, and that only sweetens the taste," "Where is H'ronmeer? I came to this place seeking the glorious and terrible Lord of Fire, not these cold embers masquerading as a god."

And so it begins. The gods of forgotten worlds and lost cultures decide that they deserve better than dwindling into obscurity. They want power, and that means they need respect and fear and tribute. Naturally, given the species and religious diversity, many of these gods set their sights on Earth. Other gods oppose this interference; their ways are meant to be mysterious and invisible to mortals. The remaining members of the Quintessence are split on the issue--Highfather and Ganthet stand against those who wish to meddle in mortal affairs, Zeus recalls his long-lost glory days, and hopes to restore them. The Phantom Stranger, as he is wont to do, sides with neither group, instead deciding to stand with humanity and help the mortals who will inevitably be caught in the crossfire.

All this, and one deity appears to be missing. Zauriel returns to the Silver City for answers. What he finds shocks him. The Presence is silent, and there's a rift in the angelic host the likes of which hasn't been seen since the Rebellion. The angels are totally without guidance, and are torn on the issue of interfering in the world of men, and further torn on whether they should oppose the other gods in general, or become yet another faction seeking praise and faith from their dwindling followers.

The gods begin their assault, so to speak. X'Hal threatens the Tamaranean survivors to worship her or be killed. Starfire rebels, but finds that her sister has become X'Hal's newest high warrior-priestess.

Rao pleads with Kal-El and Kara, but his Last Son rebukes him to stand with humanity. Kara, though, looks into the red sun and sees the warm glow of home and the promise of power and glory to eclipse her brother. She accepts the offer, with the promise of a New Krypton bestowed upon her in return for obedience. Her first orders: to reunite the Cult of Kon-El, and to turn their beliefs toward a greater emblem. What happens when dozens of lost, emotionally unstable human teenagers find themselves gaining abilities far beyond those of mortal men?

H'Ronmeer finds audience with J'onn J'onzz, but the god of art and fire and death cannot triumph with only one adherent, particularly one with loyalties as divided as J'onn's. So he frees the White Martians from Stasis...

And this is to say nothing of the multitudes of Earth gods. Olympus is torn apart by civil war, with the Wonders caught in the middle. Thor is rampaging through Scandinavia, battling Frost Giants as he tries to reignite the long-dormant viking spirits in the modern Norwegians. He is unaware of his mischievous brother's presence in this world. The gods of India have staked their claim, while Pele rises to seek new sacrifices.

And gods spurned or forgotten begin revoking their gifts and bestowing them upon others. Lobo tries to kill the 99 gods of Czarnia, but slightly less than midway through the massacre, the remaining 48 get angry and revoke his amazing abilities. The now-powerless Lobo must chase down the human biker gang who ride with the Main Man's enhanced strength and regenerative abilities, and then must contend with the gods of his dead culture. Long-forgotten gods of inquiry and innovation find no home on logical Colu, so they bestow their gifts on scientists across the universe, for good or ill. The Green Lantern Corps finds itself divided when thousands of its members are forced to choose between the Guardians and the promises of their worlds' deities. Will the Guardians declare themselves gods? Will they join the fracas?

Earth's Elementals feel the danger to the planet, and rise up to quash it. Animal Man, Red Tornado, and Swamp Thing, among others, find themselves drawn into the struggle to preserve Earth, even at the cost of humanity.

And in the middle of this pandemonium, Neron seeks the throne of Hell, and will usurp as many souls as possible in order to attain it.

Compared to mortals, the Justice League and their allies are like demigods. But what can they do against omnipotent forces? Will they discover the truth behind this chaos before the universe falls into entropy? Will they find a way to pacify the countless gods of thousands of worlds before Earth is torn apart? How will the DC Universe overcome its...Crisis of Faith?

Naturally, this would be a massive crossover, requiring all sorts of long-term planning. Ideally, it'd spawn a number of spin-offs, like a Lobo miniseries, a Zauriel book, an Amethyst series, and maybe even a new Aztek. It'd require a major suspension of the wall between DC and Vertigo and various blessings from Neil Gaiman to reference and potentially use various members of the Endless. I certainly wouldn't mind seeing the matter bleed over into books like Hellblazer for a tie-in or two, just to remind the Vertigo-ites that they're still intimately tied to the DCU. With a detailed plan and the right creative teams, I think it would make for an interesting look into the grand mythology and theology of the DCU, with potentially wide-reaching repercussions. Of course, it'd never see the light of day.

...But I'd write it for free.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Thinkin' 'bout tomorrow...

So, a veritable flurry of news has come down over the past several days, between solicits from both companies, convention reveals a-plenty, and Lying in the Gutters. Spoilers are coming, hard and fast!

So, let's start with The Flash. The series started off on the wrong foot and broke an ankle or two under Bilson and DeMeo's overhyped and underperforming first arc. Guggenheim took over, and I hear things got better. I have the full pile of Guggenheim issues waiting in my "read" pile, so I can't speak for myself. Then again...
...So, I just read the run so far. It's okay, and certainly better than the previous run, but it relies a bit too much on prior knowledge of the characters (particularly Val, Bart, Inertia, Pied Piper, and Iris). It's nearly all action, with little time spent on supporting cast or the status quo. Given the recent revelation, it's pretty clear why; the title went almost straight from its meandering first arc which introduced some new aspects to the character and new cast, directly into the finale, which had to close the dangling plot threads. I'm a little psyched to see the next issue, just to see how it plays out (I predict: Bart survives, because someone else [Iris, Val, Inertia] takes the Speed Force into themselves and is taken by the Black Flash. Alternately, the Black Flash takes the Speed Force and dies, releasing the energy back to where it belongs). The biggest failing of this arc is the failure of the whole Bart-as-Flash idea so far: there's not only very little in the story or narration to suggest that this is the same character who once was Impulse, but there's absolutely nothing to justify his place as The Flash over Wally or Barry. Aside from a few brief references to his past as Bart Allen, all the narration in this could easily have been Wally's.

So, now Mark Waid's taking over, and the book is being renumbered to coincide with the previous series, as if this whole series never happened. Waid's cryptic remarks to watch the current storyline in JLofA, coupled with Scipio's predictions suggest a return of Barry Allen. It would be somewhat fitting, given that the Return of Barry Allen is probably Waid's most memorable story from his previous run on the title, and I'm all but convinced that "The Lightning Saga" will end with the resurrection of the Silver Age Flash.

However, Rich Johnston reveals that Wally and his family are returning, and while that might be an oblique reference to Uncle Barry and Aunt Iris, I tend to think that Waid might be returning to the characters he's most familiar with. If that's the case, then I'll be on Flash for as long as possible, despite my mixed feelings about Waid's previous work. Though I really dislike Daniel Acuña's art, and that's almost enough for me to give up the title even before it begins.

Now, remembering back to Waid's tenure on the title before, Barry wasn't really a character. He showed up often enough, but he was a McGuffin in spandex, a drive-by deus ex machina. While I could understand Waid bringing Barry back, to expand on his previous Brave and the Bold series, I tend to think that the answer is somewhere between Scipio and Johnston. Wally will be the focus of the new Flash series, while Barry ends up in one of the many Countdown books that are debuting, or possibly in the JLofA.

So, where to next? How about JLofA? Dwayne McDuffie, of JLU fame, is stepping up to the plate, and suddenly I can't wait for Brad Meltzer to leave. Not that I could wait before, mind you, but now I really want him gone. McDuffie is a no-brainer for the title. Now we just need "New Gods" by Karl Kesel, and I'll be in heaven.

On the flipside, Bob Wayne declared that the Milestone characters aren't on one of the 52 Earths, which seems like a poor move to me. I'd love to see the Milestone characters return, maybe even tussling a bit with the JLA, and McDuffie's precisely the guy to do that.

Back to Countdown, I'm of mixed opinions on the various series spinning out. I think I'll be passing on Countdown to Mystery. I like Dr. Fate, but the last couple of miniseries attempts with the character have left me flat. I really liked the Hector Hall incarnation of the character, and I'm not thrilled about another new/old face under the helmet. That, and I couldn't care less about the new Eclipso.

Countdown to Adventure is right there on the razor's edge. I love Animal Man and Adam Strange, I'm ambivalent about Starfire, and Forerunner is kind of a dumb character so far. Given how less-than-thrilled I am with Countdown proper, I'm a little less than iffy about picking up any of the spinoffs. The prospect of Nazi JLA, though, is almost enough to cinch it for me.

Countdown: The Search for Ray Palmer is in similarly shaky territory. I've missed Ray, and I like the idea of a tour around the new Multiverse. I like the idea of a new Challengers of the Unknown Beyond--I liked it after Zero Hour when the original Challs were bouncing around the timestream, I liked it after Kingdom when the Challs were trying to navigate through the dangers of Hypertime--but Donna Troy, Jason Todd, and Kyle Rayner? We have a character who was never supposed to exist and has been a point of boredom and confusion ever since, a character who people paid to kill who has floundered since a decent resurrection arc, and a character who has alternated between being universally loathed, generally loved, universally tolerated, and generally mocked. I don't know if there's enough oomph in the story to justify the leads.

Speaking of Kyle Rayner, what's up with the solicitation for Tales of the Sinestro Corps Presents Parallax #1? "In this initial installment, the writer who introduced Kyle, Ron Marz, dissects what led Kyle to his downfall and explains the
Parallax entity." People are rampantly speculating that Kyle will be possessed by the yellow dragon-worm you love to hate to become the new Parallax. My guess, given that Kyle's going to be a Challenger from Beyond and that he's back in the crab mask there, is that he ends up relinquishing the Ion power, and somehow Parallax gets it.

Quick thoughts for the 52 spin-offs:
Black Adam: The Dark Age: No.
Booster Gold: Yes.
Crime Bible: Maybe. Ask again Later.
Four Horsemen: No.
Infinity Inc.: Yes.
Suicide Squad: Raise the Flag: Maybe; definitely in trades.
Bonus! Wonder Girl: Probably not.

From the Countdown solicit: "Karate Kid battles Equus," which I assume means the would-be Wolverine from the awful Azzarello/Lee "For Tomorrow" arc in Superman, and not the stage play where Harry Potter gets naked. I guarantee the latter would be more entertaining; that particular phrase sets of the blazing klaxons of a "Boredom Alert" in my head. I'd hoped that "For Tomorrow" was filed away in the never-neverland of continuity limbo. Countdown, you really want me to drop you, don't you?

Anyone else find it funny that Newsarama claimed it was Jason Todd fighting Dove on that cover? Seems pretty clear to me that it's Owlman.

From the Metal Men #2 solicit:
“Whenever one body exerts force upon a second body, the second body exerts an equal and opposite force upon the first body.”
—Newton’s Second Law of Physics
No, Newton's Second Law of Motion states that "The alteration of motion is ever proportional to the motive force impressed; and is made in the direction of the right line in which that force is impressed." Or, more succinctly, F=ma. You're thinking of Newton's Third Law, which is commonly phrased as "for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction."
This shouldn't be confused with Asimov's Third Law, which says "A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law," or Clarke's third law, "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

Bling bling!Green Lantern #23 has my favorite cover of the new batch of solicitations. Freakin' awesome.

Welcome back to the chopping block, Teen Titans. I liked the future team once; I'm not thrilled with seeing them again, unless they're going to explain that Superboy became Superman because he ain't dead anymore.

That seems to be about it. Come back tomorrow when I address Marvel. Am I thrilled? Am I bummed? Or do I just not care anymore? The answer may surprise you!

Warning: Long, Rambling Post Ahead!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Thursday Night Thinking!

Now, here's a weekly meme I can get on-board with! Remember those halcyon days when Peter Parker was a consummate thinker.
That's right, MECHANICAL web-shooters!
Hats off to Diamondrock!

Views and Interviews

So there's a meme going around, and I've volunteered. Five questions, with meme details below:

1. You're trapped in a burning building, but you can contact one hero for help. Your two choices are Spider-Man or Batman. Who do you call?

Spider-Man. While Batman would probably be just as effective, if not moreso, Spider-Man has superpowers, a better attitude, and would be totally willing to lay down his life to save me, even if I'm just some dude in a burning building. Batman's confidence means he probably wouldn't even consider being harmed in the fire, but Spidey would consider it every time.

2. You've somehow been transported into Clue: The Movie! You're drawing straws for pairs to search the house. Who are you paired with?

I just watched that (again) a couple of weeks ago! I'd want to get paired with Mr. Green, since he turned out to be the good guy (at least, in the "here's how it really happened" ending). Incidentally, more movies should have alternate endings in the theater.

3. The Anti-Monitor is coming to destroy your world! Luckily you happen to have a spare "Cosmic Treadmill" lying around and can escape. But you'll be trapped on that other earth forever! To what earth do you flee?

New Earth, natch. It may be occasionally ravaged by derivative world-eaters, vaguely racist bald aliens, and hordes of hot warrior women, but at least it'd be fun. Plus, I could live in Metropolis and see Superman, and that would be beyond fantastic.

4. You're stranded in a war zone. Things don't look good. Which ex-vet will you choose to watch your back: Wild Dog or the Punisher? (and explain why!)

Wild Dog. I don't know much about the character, but I know we're both from the Quad Cities, and that would give us something to talk about. Besides, I dig the Casey Jones motif. The Punisher, on the other hand, is just a little off his rocker. He's too brash, too cocky, too trigger-happy, and too unnecessarily popular.

5. You're in the Old West, there's a bounty on your head, and Jonah Hex has tracked you down. He asks you if you have any last words. What are they?

"Dude, seriously, you went to the future? And you never thought to do something about your hideous scarring? Poor choice."

Now, it's your turn:

1. Leave me a comment saying, "Interview me."

2. I will respond by asking you five questions. I get to pick the questions. (They probably won't be the same ones you see above!)

3. You will update your blog with the answers to the questions.

4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the same post.

5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.

I'm tired of General Zod

Kneel before--ah, I give up.General Zod is not a good Superman villain.

People have such fond memories of "Superman II," of how awesome Terence Stamp was as the villainous Kryptonian mastermind, of how bone-chillingly cool it was to hear him spit out those three infamous words, "Kneel before Zod."

People also think that Tim Burton's "Batman" was the pinnacle of celluloid superheroics. If people would actually go back and watch those movies, they'd find just how unreliable memory can be, particularly when blinded by the primary-colored glare of superheroes on screen.

The line "Kneel before Zod" has a lot of cool potential. Jay proved that in "Mallrats." It's just a shame that only Jay has ever used that potential. It's not that Terence Stamp is a bad actor, he was just working with what the script and director gave him, which was a catchphrase. I don't think a scene goes by where he doesn't say "kneel before Zod" or "kneel before me." Used once, it's "Luke, I am your father." Used twice, it's "Snakes. Why'd it have to be snakes?" Used as often as Zod uses it, it becomes "Yeah, that's the ticket!" or "Simmer down now." A cool line becomes watered down into a lame catchphrase.

So people remember Zod as a badass, when he was actually kind of lame and one-dimensional; I think people recall the cold, calculating, menacing villain from the first few minutes of "Superman: The Movie" as if he retained that sort of power throughout the sequel. I wish he had.

Now, the Donner Cut of "Superman II" remedies quite a lot of this. Zod doesn't overuse the phrase, and comes across as a stronger villain because of it. But until a year ago, the only person who'd ever seen the Donner Cut was Richard Donner, and yet Zod's reputation as a menacing, intimidating villain, rather than an impotent pull-string doll, has persisted for twenty years, against all logic.

In the post-Crisis universe, especially in recent years, it seems like every writer with a major storyline has tried their hand at recreating Zod. There was pocket universe Zod, Phantom Zone fake Krypton Zod, confusing Pokolistan Zod, and even more confusing Phantom Zone "For Tomorrow" Zod. More recently, Busiek and Johns mentioned Admiral Dru-Zod in "Up, Up, and Away," and now Donner and Johns have introduced Zod and his cronies yet again (but we'll get to those later). I guess there's been a Zod in "Smallville," as well, but since I'm still somewhere in the last episodes of the Fourth Season, I haven't quite run into him, and don't particularly care. Each of our previous Zods had some potential for coolness, each one got their requisite "kneel before Zod!" speech bubble, each one turned out lame. I personally thought that Pokolistan Zod was pretty cool, but they decided to kill him rather than have an evil superpowered monarch running around in the DCU. I guess that would horn in on Black Adam's schtick.

Three dead Zods, one left floating out in the Phantom Zone, and who knows which ones are still in continuity? Why is every Zod, at least in the modern era, a miserable failure?

It's a combination of factors, really. The first is feasibility: a murderous villain with the exact same powers as Superman is too dangerous to keep around, too hard to write stories about. You know, it's the same complaint that you hear about Superman so often, except with a little more reality behind it. Superman is among the most powerful people on the planet. He has taken over the world on at least one in-continuity occasion. What would stop an evil Superman from doing it himself? How many people would he kill? What could the DCU do to stop him? As cool as the idea is, it just defies a little too much logic. We saw what happened with this scenario in the four-color abortion that was "World War III," and even there Black Adam was bound by some sense of honor and morality, eclipsed though it was by his rage. Imagine if instead of anger, he'd gone about his task with cold ruthlessness and calculating intelligence. It'd make for a (potentially) fantastic story, but not for an ongoing character. They'd have to depower him (as they did in "Superman II" and with Black Adam in "52"), kill him (as they did with Pokolistan Zod) or imprison him where he can't escape...for now (as they did with the Phantom Zone criminals, Cyborg Superman repeatedly, Doomsday repeatedly, and Superboy-Prime). Essentially, we'd end up with a villain that you can only pull out every once in awhile, who is super-powerful and causes a major universe-wide event every time he escapes. Such a villain either becomes tedious (because every takedown ends up being roughly the same) or watered-down to the point of uselessness (see: Cyborg Superman, Doomsday).

This isn't to say that you can't have powerful villains. After all, Zod's whole point is that he's a dark mirror of Superman, with the same powers and an evil streak. We've got that character in Bizarro, with one caveat: Bizarro's lack of intellect and backwards thought process are enough of a hindrance, and his intentions usually aren't so much "evil" as "poorly-conceived," that he doesn't become difficult to accept as a character. We recognize that there are reasons why he hasn't made a bid for world domination, why he doesn't rampage through Metropolis on a mindless killing spree (or at least, he didn't until Johns and Donner got hold of him). Such reasons don't exist in Zod. The super-powerful evil characters tend to require some obvious flaw or defining character trait that keeps them from being unbelievable; Doomsday was mindless, Cyborg was enraged and vengeful and relatively fragile, Black Adam has a strict code of honor, Darkseid doesn't concern himself with the petty affairs of mortals, etc. Zod, given his powers and intellect, given his defining drive to kill Superman and rule the universe, given his ruthless efficiency and his complete lack of ethics, has no such restrictions on his behavior, and our disbelief-suspenders break under his weight.

The second problem is Superman's rogues gallery. There's Lex Luthor, Brainiac, Metallo, the Parasite, Bizarro, Kryptonite Man, Mr. Mxyzptlk, uh...Toyman, Prankster, Silver Banshee...Live Wire...Bloodsport...and we're already into C-List territory. Superman's list of enemies has always been kind of anemic if you omit the Fourth World characters. There's the mental villains (Luthor, Brainiac) the physical villains (Metallo, Parasite), the magical villains (Silver Banshee), and few (if any) who can provide both a mental and physical challenge to Superman. Sure, Luthor keeps pulling out the armor, but when's the last time Superman and Brainiac got into a fist-fight? When's the last time Metallo displayed something like intelligence? Mr. Mxyzptlk comes close, but he can only show up every 90 days, and he lacks ambitions beyond screwing with Superman. These days, Mxy's not even really malicious (and don't get me wrong here, I hope the Rucka characterization sticks, because it's the best development Mxy has seen since the Simonson/Bogdanove days).
So, the writers exhaust their story options with the A- through D-listers in the first few issues, consider reviving Intergang, consider a trip to Apokolips, and eventually settle on General Zod. Why not? He's a smart guy, but with the same powers as Superman! How can you lose?

Then, inevitably, they do lose, because bringing in an iteration of Zod paints the story into a corner. He has to die, get depowered, or get banished to the Phantom Zone, or to some equally out-of-the-way prison, all of which has been done before, recently and repeatedly. And then you're left with trudging out the A-list villains again and repeating the cycle.

The other problem is nostalgia. Nostalgia has built General Zod into not only a cool character, a badass, but also a major part of Superman's rogues gallery. Before "Superman II," he was a footnote in Superman history. Even afterward, thanks to Byrne's purging of the Kryptonians, Zod didn't show up until Superman killed him, and then stayed a ghost and a memory for years after. Recently, for whatever reason, people have started seeing Zod as an essential part of the Superman mythos, and a character that every writer has to put his spin on. Maybe it's because of the fact that, at any given time, there is no Zod running around active in the DCU (since they always end up killed or Phantom-Zoned), or because of the limited nature of Superman's villains. Maybe it's because the Cyborg Superman has been gone for several years, except for the recent appearances in Green Lantern.

There's a thought. Pre-Crisis, there was a steady stream of Phantom Zone villains to menace the Man of Steel. Post-Crisis we had an early Zod, whose visage haunted Clark for a few years. Then Cyborg hit the scene and became the evil Superman du jour. Cyborg was another character who they set up as a "big story" villain, but who invariably had to be taken care of in a relatively permanent fashion at the end of the story. He was destroyed in Engine City, he was tossed into a black hole, he was merged with the Source Wall, he was trapped in the Elite's spaceship and dropped to the bottom of the ocean...I'm blanking on how they 'killed' him at the end of "Superman/Doomsday: Hunter/Prey." It's a shame that so many of their fights have gone the same way, because he's a villain with a lot of potential. They've never really done much with the fact that his fleshy parts have Superman's DNA, and they've barely examined the extent of his ability to control and inhabit electronics. The best story I can remember featuring him, except for the whole Reign of the Supermen saga, was one where he disguised himself and started teaching art at some high school. No supervillainy, except that he told the students how much he disliked Superman, and more or less why. Then, of course, big blue busts in and 'rescues' the children, looking more than a little like the villain that Henshaw made him out to be.

Anyway, at least Henshaw always had an out. He could be imprisoned or whatever, sure, but his ability to transfer his consciousness to electronic devices allowed him a perfect escape clause. One that the Zods simply don't have. We can accept "my consciousness hitched a ride on a passing space cruiser" a lot more easily than "a black hole/nuclear explosion/transdimensional warp breached the Phantom Zone, and we just happened to be there!" Who needed Zod when you had the Cyborg?

But, the Cyborg got overused to the point of severe lameness. By the time he showed up in "Ending Battle" he was a joke, and was dispatched without fanfare. With Cyborg out of the picture, writers turned to the next best option for a dark mirror of Superman: Zod. And so we ended up with a long and meandering plot about the superpowered ruler of Pokolistan, which ended in a weird and anticlimactic battle and the revelation that the Metagene is powered by the yellow sun, which has been mercifully forgotten.

So, when it comes down to it, is there anything salvageable about General Zod? I'll admit, I had high hopes when the newest version showed up. See, one thing I like about Zod is that he fits in well with the Superman-as-Christ-Figure Monomyth model. See, Zod is only Superman's enemy by default; his real beef is with Jor-El. The things that seem to stay fairly consistent between versions of the Kryptonian General Zod are the fact that he was a high-ranking officer--perhaps even the highest-ranking leader of the Kryptonian military--and he led a rebellion against the ruling body of Krypton, hoping to usurp the council's rule. With his rebellion thwarted, Zod and his cohorts are punished, condemned by Jor-El to eternal living death in a realm that he discovered, that he essentially made, the Phantom Zone. Once Zod escapes, he finds that he is unable to exact his revenge upon Jor-El or to seek the thrones of Krypton, so the sins of the father are visited instead upon the Last Son.

So, if I haven't made it obvious enough, Zod is a Lucifer figure in our little allegory here. Lucifer, the left hand of God, rallies a third of the angels to do battle with God and usurp his position. God condemns Lucifer and his angels to Hell for eternity. Eventually Lucifer ends up trying to tempt Christ in the desert, offering him the world. Following this model, the perfect Zod story would feature the General offering Kal-El a space in his dominated world, and Kal-El naturally resisting.

And now, we've got a return of our Lucifer figure, and this time he has a son, who has been effectively adopted by Superman, who has recently returned from a lengthy absence. We've got a rather interesting Armageddon scenario here, or we would if the writers and artists would ever get their act together to finish the damn story.

Anyway, that's my favorite thing about Zod, that it ties in so perfectly with the whole Monomyth thing, which is one of my favorite things about Superman in general. I know people probably get kind of uneasy when I talk about this sort of thing, if only because of how clear it is that Superman is a Moses figure, especially given his Jewish origins. I'll have to do a post on that, delving deeper into the Monomyth and the various connections between Moses and Jesus (and Superman, natch). Short answer: you can't be a Christ figure without being a Moses figure; Moses is a Monomythic hero, and all Christ figures are a subset of the Monomyth. I've seen some pretty convincing cases made online for the idea that Superman is less "Christ figure" and more "Jewish concept of the Messiah," and while I have yet to do the requisite research there, it seems pretty solid.

I've gone off on a tangent again, haven't I? Back to the main thread, I think it would be interesting to increase the similarities between Zod and Superman, to make Zod more of a "through the glass, darkly" character. Imagine, for instance, that Superman defeats Zod and his cronies, and turns the Phantom Zone projector on them. Ursa and Non are condemned to eternal nothingness, but something goes wrong with Zod. Perhaps he's got a shard of Jewel Kryptonite in his pocket. He vanishes and awakens to see a world of stark, empty whiteness around him. He sees Ursa and Non with him, floating in the empty void, but then has a seizure, a sudden spasm, and finds himself in Siberia, alone and freezing. His essence is split between two worlds, the Phantom Zone and our realm, just as Kal-El's essence is split between humanity and his Kryptonian heritage. Earth-Zod suffers from partial amnesia, and his powers are greatly diminished (Golden Age Superman levels, or slightly less). Phantom-Zod blacks out for long stretches of time, and remembers his time on Earth only in a haze. But split though he is, forced to walk among humans and Kryptonians, he is still driven by the same megalomaniacal desire, the same zealous quest for dominance and revenge, even if he can't quite remember what he wants revenge for, or who from. Zod uses his abilities to gain prestige and recognition in the small, isolated, decimated towns in which he has found himself. He begins building an army, gaining territory, developing his own tiny nation-state. General Zod could be something like DC's Dr. Doom, I think, pulling a few ideas from Pokolistan-Zod. And while Superman remains more or less oblivious to the fact that his most powerful enemy is still active on Earth, Zod is beginning to put the pieces together. And meanwhile, this split between realms is threatening to tear both our universe and the Phantom Zone apart.

I think a story like that could salvage General Zod's character, turn him into something other than a one-trick pony. I like the idea that floated somewhere near the edges of the Action Comics Annual story, where Zod is something of a religious fanatic (persecuting Jor-El for heresy, for instance), and it would be interesting to see a semi-amnesiac Zod forming a militant vaguely Kryptonian cult, especially one with a mad-on for Superman. But in any case, this kind of story would introduce some weaknesses into Zod's character, allowing him to remain active in the universe without being a total disbelief-breaker. And we could build some new rogues out of it; some kind of creature might be spawned from the breach between realms, an entity of Phantom Zone energy with wisps of personality from Zod and other criminals in the Zone, for instance.

And I'd write it for...oh, sorry. Wrong type of post. Anyway, to sum it all up, Zod's not the great badass villain that everyone seems to remember. In fact, he's really pretty lame. He's got some potential, but it doesn't quite outweigh the fact that he's too powerful and too belligerent to be a regular recurring villain. He needs some characterization and some weaknesses if he's going to be anything more than an Event-villain.

And it would be nice to bring him up to "regular recurring villain" status. Superman has enough Event-villains, and even counting them, his rogue's gallery sucks. It is, quite frankly, one of the worst in comics. Superman needs some new villains, and good ones this time. Ones that aren't so-mysterious-that-no-one-cares, like Ignition, or vixens-with-hearts-of-gold, like Encantadora and Scorch. Obsession was nice, while she lasted, and there are a few other recent creations who could reasonably become recurring villains, but we need some new blood in the Superman Revenge Squad, because characters like Riot and Barrage simply don't cut it, and never really did.

But please, if you must use General Zod, try your best to do something new with him. Because we've all seen "Superman II," and we don't need to see it all play out the same way again.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Web problems

So over the course of the past several days, my Internet service has been discontinued once, repaired, and essentially demolished. My room connects with a sickly signal about once an hour for three or four minutes, just long enough to give me hope that it's back on. So, I'm afraid it may be a few days before I have any more posts of substance.

In the meantime: does Spider-Man's organic webbing ever run out? Does it have the exact same properties as the webbing he developed years ago? Does it still dissolve after an hour and whatnot? I'm not warming up to the idea, mind you. I still find it stupid as all hell, I'm just curious how they've explained it.