Thursday, November 30, 2006

Against All Odds

I didn't earn thisI never want to type again.

I think I came into Tuesday a little over 20,000 words shy of 50,000. Maybe more than that. I've written more in the last week than I did for the entire rest of the month (as my profile bar graph will clearly demonstrate). I love those first 30,000 words, though. They represent something real and neat, and the next 10,000 words might be some of my best writing ever. But those last ten thousand? Those last ten thousand, and a couple thousand besides, are the product of today's work. One full chapter is almost entirely unnecessary filler. The final chapter contains a rough outline of what I wanted the final scene to look like, but it's caught up in a torrential downpour of padding. And then, just to round out the last 1500 words, there's an epilogue that I considered doing back when I thought this might be a comedy, which now goes completely and utterly against the tone of the novel, and really doesn't even fit into the continuity. And when I discovered, after two pages of stupid epilogue, that there were still 200 words needed, and it was something like 11:20, the characters broke the fourth wall, and I broke it right back at them.

But I can honestly say that the few extended quotes I used actually do have something to do with the novel. So, I don't feel like I cheated with those. At least, not much.

But, now, I'm going to leave my computer chair and find out what the rest of my apartment looks like again. If I don't post anything for a couple of days, it's because my hands have fallen off.

(Yes, I'm being melodramatic; I just finished writing a book about the Apocalypse, how else could I be?)

Making Action Comics look much better

You know what sucks? The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive. I mean, I didn't even drop the last series during that awful, awful last arc. I've bought every issue of this current new title, hoping with each one that the story would get better, and after that little glimmer of promise in the Kerschl-drawn issue, I thought maybe my hopes had been fulfilled. They hadn't. This is easily the absolute bottom-of-the-barrel worst book I buy each month. And this latest issue was doubly terrible, from inconsistent art to a lame, continuity-lax recap of the events that led to Bart becoming the Flash, to the cheeseball ending line. What utter and disgusting crap.

So, I'm no longer buying this book. I know it's getting a new creative team in a few months, but I haven't been shown anything--anything!--to suggest that having Bart as the Flash is a good idea. And if you can't sell me on the most basic concept of the book after six issues, then there's a good chance that it's a bad #$@&ing concept.

The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive is a bad comic. Do not buy it. Force DC to realize that 'angsty teen trying to fill the shoes of his predecessors and being all depressed about it' is not only clichéd (especially for the Flash), not only antithetical to the whole Flash dynasty that has been established over the last several decades, not only goes against everything in Bart's character, but is far, far, far less interesting than 'can even the fastest man alive juggle superheroics, a job, a wife, membership in the JLA, and newborn twins?' which should have been the direction after Infinite Crisis. But, instead of trying something new and playing with the toys they had, they decided to walk one of the most well-worn paths in comics and pretend it was revolutionary.

So, DC, you just lost a loyal Flash reader. Good job.

Monday, November 27, 2006

On Bizarro Blog, us do opposite of all blogohedron things!

Bizarro #2I love Kurt Busiek's Superman.

The Geoff Johns/Richard Donner Action Comics? Not so much.

Analogy time: Anyone remember the electric-era Superman Red/Superman Blue storyline? One element of it that didn't get quite the amount of attention that I think the writers wanted was that the split Supermen had different personalities. Superman-Blue became uptight, methodical, calculating Felix Unger, while Superman-Red was wisecracking, lazy, sloppy Oscar Madison. The thing was, it wasn't until they ramped up the Felix-ness of Superman-Blue that you really noticed; I mean, he acted pretty much like Superman. With Red, as soon as he started wisecracking like Spider-Man, you knew something was up. Blue had to become even stiffer than the stick up his butt before you noticed that he wasn't just Superman.

That's kind of how I feel about the current Superman comic situation. The collaborative "Up, Up, and Away" storyline was fantastic, mainly for its examination of character, and all the great character moments. Sure, the action was well-done too, but it was the character moments that kept the story afloat. Especially as it bore some striking resemblances to The Best Movie Ever.

Now, with the authors split, I think I see who contributed what to the story. Kurt Busiek put in his intimate understanding of the characters and his ability to reconcile everything into a coherent story, while Geoff Johns contributed his encyclopedic knowledge of modern comic history and his love for the Superman movies.

So, we have Kurt Busiek writing the Superman-Blue book. It's a comic that looks and acts so close to Superman that you'd really have trouble seeing how it's different. He's got a little bit of nepotistic continuity going on, but it's not blatant, and I for one would love to see more of the Power Company wherever possible. But it's been interesting, if leisurely-paced, and I want to see where everything's going. So far, it seems like Kurt wants to touch on all the classic comic hallmarks in a new way. We've had the big superhero team-up against a giant cosmic entity, we've had the ex-girlfriend who re-enters the hero's life and brings trouble with her, we've had the misunderstood monster battle, and now we've got the magical prophecy and the dystopian future. Oh, and the mysterious über-powerful mastermind behind the scenes, too. Kurt's getting his silver age groove on in a very different way from Morrison (and in a very similar way to Will Pfeifer, now that I think about it), and I dig it. I dig it a lot.

And we have Geoff Johns and Richard Donner writing the Superman-Red book, the one that, right off the bat, seems a little 'off.' Maybe it's the way Superman refers to humans as 'them,' or the way he talks to his (oddly youthful) parents as if he doesn't really know them, or the way Bizarro acts in general, but it seems like Action Comics is adrift in the same "not quite continuity" that kept me from really enjoying "Trinity" and was just one of dozens of strikes against "For Tomorrow." Okay, Geoff, Richard, I get it. You love the Superman films. I love 'em too, I love 'em to death. They've got their flaws, but they're fine movies. I even loved The Best Movie Ever, and I'm sure your super-kid is tapping into that. But...can't we try something new? Or, if we're going to try something old, could we at least pay some attention to continuity?

I mean, Bizarro's a perfect example. Since his re-introduction in the Emperor Joker story, Bizarro has been very consistent: ridiculously powerful, not too bright, talks backwards. He's not exactly a homicidal maniac, and certainly not the brutal monster I just read about, he's a semi-goofy character. There are plenty of monster-villains around, Bizarro's always been either goofy or sympathetic and misunderstood, and that's something that allows him to stand out as somewhat unique. There are any number of dopey superpowered brutes running around the DCU, and it wouldn't have taken much tweaking to replace this Bizarro with Solomon Grundy or Blockbuster or Doomsday or Mammoth or Shakedown. The DC's littered with those guys, but there's only one backwards-talking grinning sorta-villain anti-Superman. Taking that away from him makes him anonymous.

And there's the whole thing with Jor-El. I don't remember whose blog I was reading recently, but they were talking about the strange Jor-El fascination that some people have, and how his story ended when he pressed the launch button. The guy was a sperm donor. Clark Kent has a father, and he's neither Kryptonian nor dead. And the Superman of the DCU, the Superman of "Up, Up, and Away," who clearly saw himself as Clark Kent first, is not an alien living among humans, he's a human with the powers of an alien, and that's a very important distinction. Consulting Jor-El's ghostly hologram while talking to Pa as if he doesn't really know him...that's not the DCU's Clark Kent. It might be the Clark of some other medium, but not the comics, not as he's been established since Byrne and re-established OYL.

Speaking of things established by Byrne and re-established OYL, what bug crawled up Perry White's butt? Clark Kent's not the dopey, klutzy milquetoast of the movies, and Perry's not such a jerk that he'd wonder what Lois sees in him. He's known the couple as individuals for years, and he knows full well what she sees in him. Just a few months ago, Perry was complimenting Clark on how put-together and on top of things he's been recently (and then threatening to fire him for getting distracted and unreliable again). Did Clark's backslide cause Perry to forget all his good qualities? To forget that he and Clark are friends?

And then, we get (is it a spoiler at this point? It came out almost a week ago, right? Well, stop reading if you still care) General Zod. And Ursa and Non, of course. And it seems like they must have met Superman before, but unless the movies are comic continuity now (and they shouldn't be), we've never seen that story.

But I'm not entirely opposed to General Zod and the Kryptonian criminals, at least, not on principle. I've got a post draft waiting in the wings about how much I hate General Zod, but that'll wait (though not for too long, not with Zod's recent re-emergence). It's just...Lex Luthor, super-kid, crystal Fortress, holographic Jor-El, Kryptonian's all pretty well-worn, and recently-worn, territory, isn't it? Does Donner really want us to think that he's only got one Superman story in him, and so he has to keep telling it?

It's not like this is a bad story, but it suffers from a lot of easily-corrected continuity issues, which shouldn't be showing up when continuity-god Geoff Johns is co-writing. Would it have been so hard for Geoff to say "well, the modern Bizarro talks backwards, and we should really give some reason for his change in attitude," or "Superman considers himself human first, and Kryptonian second, so referring to humans as 'them' is really kind of out of character," or "hey, since we're naming this kid with a 'C. Kent' name, we really ought to mention Superman's recently-deceased 'son', admittedly my favorite Teen Titan. I'm not saying we should name the new Super-kid 'Conner,' but someone should mention it. Maybe Clark could then look a little morose and say 'no, it's too soon' or something like that," would any of that have been so hard?

So, hopefully Action Comics-Red will shape up a little with the next couple of issues. Donner's new to comics, and if the trend continues, by the end of the next issue he'll really have kind of gone through the plots of the movies he's already done, so maybe the next few issues will be more tight, more original, and more in-continuity. It's not a bad comic by any means, even a sub-par Johns Superman book is still better than a lot of the comics I read, but it's the overall quality that makes the flaws stand out. And since this is the Superman book with hype, it looks bad that Busiek's quiet little comic is better. Not as bad as it looked when Rucka's underpromoted Adventures of Superman was 20,000 leagues better than Azzarello's overhyped "For Tomorrow" arc, but still bad.

By the way, about the "freezing fire" thing, I think people have misinterpreted the scene. The frozen swirls don't look like flames, they look like plumes of gas, which suggests that Superman's burst of super-breath was cold enough not only to solidify the melted pavement that erupted around Bizarro, but also to instantly solidify the smoke. It's a suspension of disbelief (and physical law) scene, but not nearly so bad as 'freezing fire.'

Sunday, November 26, 2006

An open letter to Will Pfeifer

Dear Mr. Pfeifer,

I've been absolutely adoring your Catwoman run, and the most recent issues are no exception. I could lavish all sorts of praise on your excellent character work, your fast pacing, and your overall sense of fun, but that would take far too long, and would inevitably lead me to discuss in great detail how much I miss H-E-R-O, which for awhile was one of my favorite books on the shelves.

But I'd rather focus my attention on one specific aspect of your most recent story arcs: the Film Freak. Many in the blogohedron have criticized this run, calling the Film Freak all sorts of nasty names. I have a distinct love for the character, though I'm not certain if it's because he has an encyclopedic knowledge of movie trivia (something I aspire to, a little), or because he reminds me of the (admittedly stereotypical) film snobs I've encountered several times in my life, and it's nice to see them get a little vicarious comeuppance.

But what I really like about Film Freak is the purpose he's served in this story. Throughout the current arc, Film Freak has acted as a narrator, punching like Superboy-Prime at the fourth wall, but never quite managing to break through. Even so, his running commentary on the events as they transpired was metafictional brilliance, and his over-reliance on film clichés (coincidentally ones that also happened to be comic clichés) combined with that metafictional streak turned what otherwise was an excellent Catwoman arc into something greater.

It became a parody of Grant Morrison, and to some extent, the modern DCU as a whole.

Let us begin with Film Freak. While it would be natural to assume that the character's monochromatic pallor is a result of a lifetime of watching movies in darkened rooms, devoid of exposure to sunlight, and consequently a physical feature to tie him to the black-and-white movies that are the subject of his obsession, we cannot overlook that a very similar artistic style was used when Grant himself graced the pages of Animal Man. But this artistic flourish is the least of Film Freak's connection to the Seven Soldiers scribe. I've already discussed his tendency toward metafiction, through his narration and deliberate manipulation of the plotline, playing with a tactic that has come to be primarily associated with Morrison's writing. Furthermore, despite working in the medium of film (or perhaps because of comics' associations with that medium), Film Freak is very much a Silver Age comics villain, straight out of an old issue of Detective. He sets a giant gorilla loose on the city (a mainstay of the Schwartz-era DCU), he sets up a bomb with a ticking clock and broadcasts a clue to the city (and the hero), but best of all, he does it all with the same gimmicky flair that one would expect from the 1960s Joker.
What this all adds up to is a character who employs metafictional elements as well as pulling in standard comic fare from the Silver Age. His attempts to dress up his actions with classic movie dialogue (similar to the way intertextual thematic elements litter works like Animal Man, 52, Sandman, and the like) give his story the feel of something new and 'highbrow,' but there's no disguising the fact that this is a by-the-book Silver Age superhero adventure.

Except, of course, that it isn't, as Selina reminds him in the climactic scene of issue #61. The Film Freak's Silver Age antics are antiquated. And, where we expect to see a colorful battle, filled with back-and-forth superhero/supervillain banter, ending with the hero racing against time to disarm the bomb as the villain escapes to fight another day, instead we receive a brutal beating at the hands of Catwoman, whose 'banter' is "Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!" She derides his methods, his flair for the dramatic, and ends his film by stomping his face into the floorboards.

And calling him "geek."

And so the silliness of the Silver Age, the same wacky fun that fueled the last several issues, that drives All-Star Superman and danced around in Seven Soldiers, met the brutal boot of modern comic realism.

And Selina's right; Film Freak was the height of geekiness. He traded the outside world for cinematic escapism. He dredged up ancient genre history as a part of his ancient genre scheme to thwart a superhero and achieve immortality of a sort. But what does this say as a pastiche of the Morrison era of comics? Perhaps that it's okay to reminisce, it's okay to play Smarty McMetafiction and wax self-referential on the conventions of the genre, but there's got to be more to comics than smug retreads of the old school.

And indeed, as the filmstrip panel borders fade away, so too does the escapism of the conventional Silver Age plotline. Zatanna is shown to be fallible yet again, and the battered Slam Bradley shows up in Selina's apartment to force the truth about her child, while Film Freak lies unconscious with his head in the floorboards.

Is this it? Have you, Mr. Pfeifer, condemned the sensationalistic primary-colored action of the modern Silver Age, in favor of the harsh realism of the modern comic? Has he outright dismissed Morrison's metafictional Silver Age-inspired comics as nostalgic navel-gazing geekery? Has he smashed the collective head of fandom into the floorboards with a leather boot?

Indeed, I believe you have not. After all, the audience would be negligent to see anyone but Film Freak as the more entertaining character (at least, from a classical comics perspective) in this final battle. He makes with the witty banter, the monologuing, the grand gimmick schemes, and Selina's response is a boring, mundane, gritty admonition of his methods. We are forced to see the dissonance between her proclamations that 'this is the real world' and the bright, vibrant sound effects, stereotypical hallmark of the Silver Age superhero. Selina does not appear to be the character the audience, the geeky superhero-loving audience, is meant to like. Indeed, if her methods are the alternative, exchanging melodrama for brutality, then who among us would choose to walk with her? We saw that world, it was the 1990s, and it was unpleasant.

No, I believe that the final-page spread, with a scarred, battered, almost Sin City-esque Slam Bradley, holding the unblemished, brightly-colored, wide-eyed innocent Helena Kyle, represents, as the last several issues of your run have represented, the real ideal: a world in which gritty realism and innocent Silver Age wackiness can exist side-by-side. After all, that seems to be the hallmark of your run: the ability to seamlessly mesh the realistic issues of motherhood and illegal vigilantism with the classic superheroics of guest stars like Zatanna, and the classic supervillainy of the Film Freak. Modern Age meets Silver Age in the pages of your Catwoman, and I think neither you, nor your fans, would have it any other way.

So thank you, Mr. Pfeifer, for this symbolic, metafictional look at the state of the comics industry today. I look forward to the next issue, and to the next inevitable appearance of Film Freak. Knowing that you put so many layers into the story really enriches the experience for me, and I can't wait to see where the story goes next.

Tom Foss

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Next, I'll be discussing the oeuvre of Mr. Rob Schneider

A brief exploration of the career of...
And I am the Duke of Ted
Keanu Reeves.

Things Keanu Reeves has played convincingly.
Things Keanu Reeves has not played convincinglyWe now return you to your regularly scheduled program.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Black Friday with Freakazoid!

Let this video give you a glimpse at some of the horrors I have seen on this day.


Thursday, November 23, 2006

The Rocket Shoes

You've all heard "The Christmas Shoes," right? The worst Christmas song ever made? The schmaltziest song ever recorded? Well, after reading a fun parody of it, I decided to try my hand at making the perfect comic book version.

Yeah, "perfect" isn't what I have right now. What I have is a couple of versions of the chorus running through my head. There's "The Christmas 52's"...
Could you hurry, sir?
Charlie says there's not much time
He's been sick for quite awhile,
And I cannot see his smile,
ba da da da da da da
If Charlie fights Mannheim, tonight.
And there's my Green Lantern version, though I'm not sure who's supposed to be singing it...
Sir, I need to get this ring
To Hal Jordan, please.
You see, the world's at risk and a Lantern's going to die.
Need to hurry, please,
Abin doesn't have much time.
You see, his ship crashed into the ground,
And Jordan is the one he found,
And I want him to be powerful
If Hal meets Sinestro tonight.
Terrible, right? Well, that's where you come in. Everyone with a sense of rhythm and a few poetic bones, take a shot at turning superheroics into a saccharine contemporary Christmas song. I'll post the entries 'roundabout Christmas time, and we'll all have a good laugh. Sound like fun?

I knew it did. So get to it! Fill up on eggnog, and let's pass this Christmas meme around like a bad fruitcake!

Edit: I'd be a terrible person if I let this post go by without linking to Chris's post on this song from last year. I may still be a terrible person, but at least now I've got a link to the ISB in this post.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Killer Serial

Oh, Miami Star! I read it in the weekly Miami Star!Anyone else watching (and loving) Dexter? The serial-killer-as-hero idea is one I had a year or two ago, after reading a couple of the Hannibal Lecter books, but I may have to shelve it after seeing this series, since it's almost exactly what I would have done, only light years better. It's funny, it's intriguing, it's well-acted, and the last-second cliffhangers make Brian K. Vaughan look...well, no, BKV still pretty much looks amazing. But the cliffhangers here are well done also. Uh...yeah.
Anyway, it's not often that I'm able to really figure out a mystery as it unfolds, so when I predicted the reveal at the end of tonight's episode in the first ten minutes, I felt pretty damn good about it. And it's not because of bad writing, mind you, this mystery's been building since the pilot.
I'd like to read the novels that the series is based on, but it seems like the plots are pretty close, and I'd rather not spoil the rest of the series for myself. But that's a relatively minor inconvenience--it's nice to be so interested in a series that I'm upset when I can't get enough of it.
I'm not totally sure where I'm going with all this. I guess I just wanted to pimp my new favorite non-Law & Order primetime drama. It's a fantastic series, and if you can watch it (and you can--the first two episodes are available for free on the website), please do so. It's a scream.

In the room women come and go / Talking of Michelangelo

I think, perhaps after editing out my desk and my Escher print, this will become the blog logo. Whaddya think?
Twisted Masterpiece Theatre

Friday, November 17, 2006

Friday with Fanboy!

"Oh golly gee boy."

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

You know who I'm with...

I still think I could do a better Civil War, but this panel went a long way towards redeeming it in my mind.
I'm with Stingray!
It's not much, Marvel, but it's a start.

DC Comics I'd Write for Free: Martian Manhunter

Don't mess with this man's Oreos.Okay, so it's not a "My ideal" post, but that's forthcoming. Most of my current ideas for J'onn are better suited for this sort of post anyway.
The folks in my previous post on Mr. J'onzz had a lot of neat ideas, most of which revolved around stripping away most of J'onn's powers, or at least emphasizing them in a different way. Now, much as I think it'd be interesting to read about a ghostly grim detective-superhero who hunts criminals because their minds hurt him, that doesn't really jive with my impressions of Martian Manhunter (although it would make a really neat Spectre comic). When people talk about J'onn these days, there's really only one phrase that's consistent: J'onn J'onzz is the heart and soul of the JLA. The last MM series screwed up twice with this fact. First, it took him out of the JLA setting, but then it only really used superheroes for his supporting cast. It had the brilliant idea of exploring his many disguises, all over the world, yet never really developed any supporting cast in any of those places. It talked about J'onn's pre-Modern Age superheroic career, but never really did anything with it (despite the way it intimately connected him to the DEO and Cameron Chase). It tried to give him a rogues' gallery, but after goofy missteps like Bette Noire and Antares, it mainly just stuck to Justice League villains. It went in-depth into Martian history, detailing the psychic plague that killed the Green Martians, the origins of the White Martians, and the connection between the Martians and the Saturnians, but...well, it was boring. Really boring.
So we've seen the mistakes that previous series made: bad Rogues' Gallery, supporting cast of superheroes, overfocus on alien heritage...basically, all things that fail to make the character human and relatable. All things that the current series has in spades. So, it seems to me that the best thing to do would be to do pretty much the opposite, but to do it in a way that retains J'onn J'onzz as a character.

First, we strip down his backstory to the essentials, and we can blame it on a Superboy punch. Without doubt, the best Martian Manhunter has ever been was in the JLA animated series, and in New Frontier. So let's take some cues from that, shall we?
J'onn J'onzz was a Manhunter on Mars, which was essentially their equivalent of a police officer. Due to the nature of Martian society, however, this meant mostly keeping the White Martians and alien visitors in check; the peace-loving Green Martians rarely broke the law or caused disturbances. The telepathic Martians were all connected mentally, all thoughts shared in a public mental network; only when they sought privacy did Martians cut themselves off from the collective, and then they usually still maintained connections with their family, or only cut themselves off for short periods of time. Martians were not used to silence. Martians each had a "public" form and a "private" form, as detailed in the last series, and lovers merged their forms, connecting both on a psychic and physical level; this could be sexual or merely comforting, depending on the relationship between the participants.
Eventually, a plague struck the Green Martian population, spreading through the merging that was normal to Martian life. J'onn cut himself off from the collective as H'ronmeer's Curse consumed the Martian race in mental and physical fire. He hoped to save his family from death, he tried to find a cure, but his daughter K'hym became infected at school. He chose to cut himself off from his family, while his wife M'yri'ah comforted the girl, and both were consumed in H'ronmeer's flames. J'onn watched Martian society collapse around him, until every last voice was silenced, and then he wandered the silent orb, performing funeral rites where he could, trying to find survivors. Days, weeks, years later--driven slightly mad from the silence, J'onn couldn't be sure--he was ripped from Ma'aleca'andra by Dr. Saul Erdel's transportation beam. The doctor suffered a fatal heart attack shortly after J'onn's arrival, but not before communicating to him a warning to stay away from fearful humans.
J'onn was lost, confused, lonely, and angry in this mid-1950s America, but there was one tiny bit of hope. He could hear it, a soft undercurrent of mental activity, like a half-tuned distant radio station. The people of Earth were not telepathic, but he could still hear them, he could still hear more than the silence, and it was slightly comforting to the alien.
J'onn lived in Erdel's laboratory, educating himself on human society by telepathically learning their language and watching television. He left the place invisibly on a few occasions in those early days, trying to observe these strange humans in their natural habitat. Martians knew of life on this world, but were forbidden from interfering with it after the great crime of the White Martians. As such, he had given humans little thought. After a week or so, the police came, responding to concerns about Dr. Erdel's sudden diappearance. J'onn hid, but among the officers who discovered the scientist's body, he could hear something, a voice slightly louder than the rest, standing up in the undercurrent. Denver Police Officer John Jones, barely more than a cadet, who had a difficult time keeping his lunch down when he saw the body, was very slightly telepathic, though he likely did not know it. J'onn was intrigued, and so he shadowed the officer.
Several years passed; John rose through the ranks to become a detected, unknowingly assisted by his own latent telepathy and his invisible alien companion. J'onn felt a kinship with this man, another officer of the law, and while he had initially latched onto him for some remnant of the companionship of his people, while he had tried to remain aloof and separate out of fear of being hurt emotionally, he had really grown to care for Jones. So, when an unexpected ambush left John Jones dying in J'onn's arms, the Martian took his form to continue the investigation and bring his would-be killers to justice. He continued in the John Jones form for years, gaining a reputation for being efficient and insightful, but also cold and humorless. He tried to keep himself from getting too close to anyone emotionally; everyone he'd been close to had died, and he was afraid of losing anyone else. He worked as a police officer up until he found himself falling in love with his new partner. He could not bring himself to make that jump again, and so he finally laid John Jones to rest.
After this, he bounced around from identity to identity, keeping himself moving so he could not develop deep emotional connections with humans. This lasted until Superman appeared, and he saw that humans could accept aliens. So, J'onn became the Martian Manhunter, and was an instrumental figure in starting the JLA.
And things here proceed much the way we know them. The Justice League gave J'onn a family, something he had not had since leaving Mars. Moreover, he did not have the same worries about this family; they were not vulnerable the way that his other families had been. Finally, after decades on Earth, J'onn J'onzz began to loosen up. He gained friends, felt a new connection to humanity, and developed a deep love for a certain sort of cookie. Through all the incarnations of the JLA, all the ups and downs, J'onn stuck with it. Initially, it was out of fear and co-dependence; J'onn felt that he needed the League, but eventually as he became stronger emotionally, as he developed, it became the League that needed him.

So, that's quite the backstory, but you wouldn't need to know that. You'd just need to know that J'onn is a Martian, a family man, and despite being a fantastic detective and one of the most powerful beings on the planet, he can still be overcome by the tiniest flame. His fear of fire has shifted back and forth over the decades, and recently it has tilted back toward physical rather than mental. Fire is once again his kryptonite, and not his phobia.

So, that brings us up to the current day. J'onn has taken some time away from the League, away from his pervious identities, and away from Martian matters, in order to forge the bond with humanity that for so long he avoided. He has now had the experience of decades of human contact and many human friendships, and feels comfortable opening up to the people of Earth in a way he never has before. John Jones strolls into the sunny Los Angeles suburb of Forest Bay and settles down in a cozy little subdivision, opening up a private detective agency in the city.

Why L.A.? Because there ought to be more west coast superheroes, and because it takes J'onn away from the JLA and mainstream DCU heroes, while still keeping him in range of the DEO and that source of conflict (need I remind you that a different Manhunter operates out of L.A.? And that she's good friends with one Cameron Chase?). Besides that, suburbia, as far as J'onn thinks, is a far better way to connect with humanity. After all, he'll get to know his neighbors, rather than just being in a sea of anonymous people. He's wrong, of course, but that's what happens when your only exposure to suburban life is 1950s television.

There's more to it, naturally. J'onn was drawn to Forest Bay, feeling a malevolent alien presence there. His job on Mars included keeping the alien population under control, and old habits die hard. When a routine surveillance of an unfaithful husband turns up a Lovecraftian cult trying to bring an alien god into our dimension, it suddenly becomes apparent to J'onn that there's more to the suburbs than meets the eye.

The plot and cast ought to be pretty straightforward, in a way. I see it as part sitcom, part Silver Age superhero madness, part "Men in Black." Among the people in the neighborhood are a team of undercover DEO agents masquerading as a slightly-too-normal family, the alien cult of J'lss'wrz the Unfathomable, a small but active chapter of a certain gentlemen's club with unconventional views about race and the flammability of crosses, and John's next door neighbor, a single mother trying to raise two normal children (one of whom is half-Daxamite). John immediately runs into conflict with the LAPD and the FBPD; he ends up with a somewhat-unwanted partner/Girl Friday; and he discovers a district of L.A. populated by displaced aliens trying to get by on Earth, a district which exists under the strict scrutiny of the DEO, which brings J'onn into conflict with them. Being one of the few black people in the suburban community raises a few unwanted conflicts as well, and teaches J'onn a little bit about the uglier side of human nature. He joins a support group for people who are the last survivors of their respective homeworlds, a tongue-in-cheek poke at the sheer number of "last sons" floating around the DCU (Maxima, the Omega Men, J'onn, Superman & Supergirl, Fatality, Guy Gardner). He quickly discovers a fundamental truth about humanity: everyone has secrets, and people are never quite what they appear to be on the surface.

And occasionally, we'd have a done-in-one flashback to some of the J'onn's adventures in the old days, as he sought something to remind him of home and family. Like when he found faith healers in 1960s Argentina using technology from an ancient White Martian outpost to work their miracles (with disastrous results), or when the Justice Experience fought their Earth-2 doppelgangers, or when he masqueraded as a farmhand in a small Kansas town, in hopes of finding proof of an alien spacecraft that may have crashed there years before.

So we have Choco-munching detective/superhero John Jones, trying to get in touch with his human side in suburbia, and to find closure to his life on Mars. Meanwhile, he finds himself surrounded with alien weirdness, human secrecy, and more than a little supervillainy, and tries to find his place in all of it. It pays homage to his long history in the DCU, explores the conflict between his human and alien natures, and leaves plenty of room for detective work and superheroic action. Doesn't that sound a little more like J'onn J'onzz than "brooding leader of angry Martian refugees"? Sure, it's stealing a little from Shadowpact and X-Factor, but those are good, fun comics for a reason. And hopefully the dissonant combination of aliens, secret societies, superheroics, and suburbia would make for a fun, interesting comic.

And I'd write it for free.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Friday with Freakazoid!

What's interesting about this clip (and about some others, but this one makes it explicit) is that it's directed by Scott Jeralds, director of the "Krypto the Superdog" series, and artist on the related comic. It also features David Warner, who played Ra's Al Ghul in the Batman cartoon.

"Oh look at the things I seen this on cartoons around go-whoa-whoa!"

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Martian Mind@*%$er

Is anyone reading the new Martian Manhunter series and thinking "yeah, this is exactly what I want from J'onn J'onzz"?

Is anyone reading the new Martian Manhunter series?

Because when I think of Martian Manhunter, I don't think of "moody Skrull-chinned embattled leader of a cabal of fugitive Martians, trying to bridge the gap between two groups of people who distrust him." I don't think "evil government agencies trying to kill and experiment on incredibly powerful aliens for no apparent reason, and honestly thinking they can hide it from one of the three most powerful people on the planet." I don't think "soul patch-wearing tattooed magic-wielder going through Lion-O's Anointment Trials to obtain individual powers from vaguely redefined gods so he can become a superhero whose name is no longer regulated by complicated copyright laws."

...Uh, sorry. Mixed up my terrible 'new direction spinning out of Brave New World' series for a minute there.

I look at this series and I see some of the most hilariously awful costume design since the "pouches, mullets, and asymmetry" days of the '90s. I see yet another confusing rewrite of Martian history. I see a wildly out-of-character J'onn J'onzz. I see artwork which often hinders the story, either through its weirdness, its stiffness, or its decisions to show or not show things which would give some context to the narrative captions. I see inconsistent use of Martian abilities, which have not been defined for new readers, and have not been clarified for old ones. I see superheroes conspiring with a corrupt government agency to take down a friend, which seems to suggest that some lessons went unlearned in the recent Crisis. I see nothing to tell me "hey, you should be buying this. This is the Martian Manhunter you've always wanted to see."

I don't think Martian Manhunter should be brooding, moody, and violent. I don't think he should be universally reviled (what is this, the Marvel universe?), I don't think that someone who loved his family so dearly could honestly say "of all the human emotions I have observed, revenge is the only one not foreign to my people." I don't think this new series is doing anything for J'onn's popularity (certainly not any more than his last series), I don't think this new revamp will stick around much longer than the miniseries, particularly if another writer decides to use him in JLA or another series where he can have a major role. I don't think that another failed miniseries, another failed new direction, another failed reimagining, will do anything but make DC less likely to take a chance on a solo series for J'onn in the future.

You know what I do think? I think it's time for another "My Ideal" post...
Yes, I'm aware that the post title has nothing to do with the post.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Gestalt Theory

Not too long ago I got in a bit of a tiff on someone's blog (Kalinara? Ragnell? Someone I check frequently) with one of the guys from the excellent 4thletter blog, by inadvertently calling Marvel fans immature (long story), and suggesting that DC was generally more literary. At least I wasn't making a joke about the President and the troops (zing!).

Anyway, a question occurred to me the other day: does Marvel have an equivalent of Sandman? How about Alan Moore's Swamp Thing? See, despite the editorial separation of Vertigo and the mainstream DCU, the membrane 'twixt the two is at least semi-permeable. Swamp Thing was instrumental in the death of Zatara, Zatanna dated John Constantine, Martian Manhunter met Morpheus (in the moonlight!) and Dr. Destiny used Dream's crystal as the source of his power, and then there's Animal Man, who jumps back and forth more than almost anyone. Almost, because Phantom Stranger, Deadman, and Etrigan the Demon have a tendency to pop up in both 'universes' almost equally.

So, while the DCU wheeled about and did their things, early Vertigo comics bolstered the mainstream universe by giving it a distinct and deep mythology, developed through some of the best comics ever written.

And, so far as I know, Marvel really doesn't have an equivalent. There are great Marvel stories to be sure--The Death of Captain Marvel, Squadron Supreme, etc--but few are really tied into the fabric of the universe. I can't think of any that have the same scope, the same intent, as the Moore and Gaiman and Morrison work at DC. And maybe this is where I made my me, one of the best things about DC is the tapestry, the universe as an entity, with all its history and mythology and epic scope. Marvel's greatest strength, on the other hand, is in great single stories that build on character tapestries. You could cut Spider-Man off from the rest of the superhero community, and you wouldn't lose much (these days, you'd gain quite a bit), because Spider-Man's strength is in his personal history, not in his relationship with the rest of the Marvel universe. The same could be said with any single hero or small team--break the Fantastic Four away from continuity, or the Avengers, or the X-Men, and just tell stories about their characters (and rogues) for a year, and the stories really wouldn't suffer. In DC, characters are defined by their relationships to other superheroes as much as they're defined by their own lives and supporting casts. Imagine a DC without the World's Finest team, or the Trinity, or the Brave and the Bold team, or GL/GA, or GA/Hawkman, or GA/Black Canary. Suddenly, it's a much less interesting universe. Marvel's strength is in the individual; DC's is in the sum of its parts.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Things I learned from comics: Vocabulary

You may or may not know that I'm currently in Grad school, seeking a teaching degree (and it looks like I'll end up certified to teach English, Math, and science (specifically Physics) to any Junior High or High School student around). Well, I recently came across this passage in one of the books for my "Teaching Reading" course:
Hayes and Athens (1988) explain that we encounter more of these rare words [words beyond the 10,000 or so words that adults tend to use in their working vocabulary] in printed text than we do in oral speech. In fact, adults, when talking to other adults, will use about 17 rare words for every 1,000 words. Adults, when talking to a 10 year old child, will only use about 11 rare wortds for every 1,000 words. Television shows offer about 22 rare words per every 1,000. However, a children's book uses 30 rare words for every 1,000; an adult book uses 52 for every 1,000; a comic book (Yes! Archie lives!) uses about 53 rare words for every 1,000; and a scientific paper uses as many as 128 rare words per every 1,000.
--Kylene Beers, When Kids Can't Read: What Teachers Can Do, p. 197.

How about that, comic fans? Ranked just below scientific papers in use of rare words. That's an accomplishment, to be sure. And I doubt that this is counting "incredibly rare words" like "absorbascon" and "materioptikon" and "Khund" and "Cyttorak." You know, the gigantic vocabulary of made-up words that we use in casual conversation. Now, those of you who've been reading comics since childhood will see this passage and say "yeah, I knew that already." That's what I said. Back when I was significantly younger, when I'd actually hear about comic books "rotting my brain," I could point to the words I'd learned on the four-color page as an example of the intellectual value of floppies. Sure, I'd heard Skeletor and Megatron say "annihilate," but it wasn't until I saw it in a comic book that I knew how it was spelled. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. I learned the following words from comics, and this is just off the top of my head:
  • Megalomaniac
  • Monomaniac
  • Lecherous
  • Corps
  • Corpse
  • Quicklime
  • Quasar
  • Impervious
  • Praetor
  • Rogue
  • Coriander
  • Womanizer
  • Privateer
  • Legion
  • Ferro
  • Spawn
  • Vermin
  • Gamma
  • Irradiated
  • Arachnid
  • Temporal
  • Metropolitan
  • Darkroom
  • Chivalry

And on, and on, and on. If I could paw through some of the comics I read as a kid, I could triple that list, perhaps more. Every mad scientist's monologue, every discussion of arcane technology or costume design (where else do you learn something like "epaulet"?), every magical incantation or superpower explanation was o'erteeming with new and unfamiliar words for my spongelike young brain to absorb. Comics helped me become the word nerd I am today. I suspect that it's much the same with most people who read comics in childhood, especially those who continue to do so today.

Et tu? What did you learn from comics?

Friday, November 03, 2006

Friday with Freakazoid!

This may be the beginning of the end for "Fridays with Freakazoid!" since the amount of Freakazoid! videos on YouTube has severely decreased due to copyright violations. I'll keep mining the 'Tube until I can find a decent free video compressor program.

"Happy little narwhal."

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The stuff of nightmares...

Okay, I don't think I'll be sleeping tonight. Anyone else see the new Playstation 3 commercial? Holy crap.

You know, I really don't think "creeping the hell out of the consumer" is an effective way to get people to buy your product.

Oh God, it burns, it burns!

The Many Loves of Clark Kent

So, the recent introduction of Clark's latest former girlfriend, Callie Llewellyn, to the Superman mythos got me thinking. For someone who's supposed to be kind of a dork, for someone who's been associated with one (at most, two) woman for the last sixty-plus years, Clark Kent has had a lot of ex-girlfriends show up.
Lana Lang: The first, the girl who didn't get away. Lana's gone through a lot, mostly because no one seems to know what to do with her, and it's only gotten worse recently with her divorce from Pete Ross. I'm glad she's the head of LexCorp, it's a neat idea and a good move for her character, I just wish she wasn't the perpetual tragedy.
Lori Lemaris: Lori was Clark's college girlfriend, who also happened to be a mermaid. Being a telepath, she discovered Clark's secret, and being a nice guy, he kept hers. She disappeared, and was thought dead, but surfaced years later while Clark and Lois were engaged. Her husband, the sorcerer Ronal, went more than a little nutso, and accidentally gave her the "Splash"-inspired ability to develop legs whenever she was dry. She crashed with Lois for awhile in an Odd Couple-esque plotline (current fiancée + oft-naked ex-girlfriend = DRAMA!), then became a museum curator, and disappeared for awhile. Last I saw, she had been in Atlantis when it got sent back in time, and thus had aged 15 years. I think she might have been shown during Spectre's rampage through the undersea kingdom, so her current status is MIA at best.
Simone DeNeige: Clark's post-college French girlfriend, who had a flair for the dramatic and superficial. She got hired by Franklin Stern to pump up the paper's failing circulation, and then ended up being Clark's boss when Lex bought and subsequently closed the Daily Planet. I don't think she's been seen since LexCom faded into obscurity, well before the B13 virus hit.
Wonder Woman: The first of Clark's superheroic romances, he was plagued with erm...'romantic' dreams about the Amazonian warrior, until they worked together, and he planted a wet one on her. They agreed then and there that it wasn't going to work out, and have been good friends ever since. Well, except for that whole "Sacrifice" thing, but that never really led anywhere, as I recall.
Maxima: While their relationship was typically pretty one-sided, Kal-El hooked up with the Almeracian monarch while under the influence of the Eradicator. I seem to recall, however, that she found an excuse to break off the relationship during that storyline.
Ice: Tora had more a crush on Superman than anything else, but there was a sweet relationship between the two, for the brief period that they were both on the League before Superman died.
Obsession: Yeah, she wishes. Next!
Callie Llewellyn: We don't know much about her just yet, other than that she's a brilliant scientist, specializing in unique or alien biology, and that Clark met her while traveling the world. The lingering question of how much she knows about Clark's abilities suggests that she'll be increasing in importance while Busiek's still on the book.

And I think that's all of the post-Crisis romances. Pretty sure, anyway. Clark Kent's more of a lothario then people give him credit for. Gosh, it really seems like I'm forgetting one...but who?

Ah well. Someone'll figure it out.

Happy Day of the Dead!

Here's Oingo Boingo and the late Rodney Dangerfield to help you celebrate All Saints Day!