Friday, November 30, 2007

Friday Night Fights

Happy birthday, Keith Giffen!

Superboy and Supergirl would love to celebrate, but first they've got to give Darkseid a message ...

... the 20th Century says "have fun getting sucka-punched!"

(Also, the future belongs to Bahlactus!)

[From "Darkseid," in The Legion of Super-Heroes vol. 1 #294, December 1982. Co-plotted and pencilled by Mr. Giffen, co-plotted and scripted by Paul Levitz, inked by Larry Mahlstedt, colored by Carl Gafford, lettered by John Costanza.]
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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Thursday Night Thinking

Hal Jordan gets a lot of grief for all the head injuries he's sustained, but as this sequence shows, he still gets some productive use out of the ol' noggin.

I call that THINKING, Diamondrock!

[From "He Who Slaughters!" in 5-Star Super-Hero Spectacular, a/k/a DC Special Series vol. 1 #1, 1977. Written by Denny O'Neil, drawn by Joe Staton, colored by Liz Berube, lettered by Ben Oda.]
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Sunday, November 25, 2007

Sunday Soliloquy

Had a great Thanksgiving with my wife and parents; thanks for asking. Sorry that meant no blogging for the past week. Still, back in the swing of things now, so let's get movin'.

* * *

Back at Thanksgiving 2002, the Justice League and Justice Society had to fight not only tryptophan, but a couple of uninvited guests....

... with bad table manners to boot! Hey, Despero, we put out the good napkins so people will use 'em!

[From JLA/JSA: Virtue and Vice (2002), written by Geoff Johns and David Goyer, pencilled by Carlos Pacheco, inked by Jesus Merino, colored by Guy Major, lettered by Ken Lopez.]
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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Sunday Soliloquy

This was going to be my Friday Night Fights entry, and I guess it would fit the current theme. After all, Batman's been sucka-punched by love...!

The best part of this page isn't the ghostly images of Bruce and Silver, or the cool efficiency with which Batman takes out his frustrations. No, for me it's that closeup of one almost-wild eye in panel 3. You see that look in Batman's eyes and you know someone's getting a beating.

[From "The Coming Of ... Clayface III!" in Detective Comics #478, July-August 1978. Written by Len Wein, pencilled by Marshall Rogers, inked by Dick Giordano, lettered by Ben Oda. Recolored by Rogers for this reprint.]
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Friday, November 16, 2007

Crisis On Definitive Earth

Dick Hyacinth's list of complaints made by superhero fans includes this observation:

It seems to me that the most vocal online fans are the ones who feel the greatest attachment to specific characters. So you get a lot of complaints that Intellectual Property X is written out of character, or that Storyline Z violates some musty story from the complainant's youth. In its more extreme forms, criticism informed by such notions of ownership seems like nothing more than cross checks against the fan's preconceptions of how the character(s) "work." If the comic meets these expectations, it's good. If not, it's bad.

In general, I don't disagree. I also agree that we commentators should want to reward "good comics" as a rule, without regard to their place in a larger corporate-owned "canon." However, I don't know that it's possible to discuss corporate superhero characters without taking into account "how they 'work.'"

Dick mentions the Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four and the Lee/Ditko Amazing Spider-Man as the pinnacles of creative achievement from Marvel, and also better than anything DC has ever published. For me to debate that would be beside the point. However, each book continued past the departure of its original artist, and each enjoyed some measure of success without that person. Considering the "Marvel Style" which Stan Lee and his collaborators pioneered, and the persistent debates over "who did what," I think it's safe to say that neither book was the same. Still, Lee, the other "parent" involved, kept writing both books, keeping them from being farmed out entirely to new people.

What does that mean for our evaluations of the Lee/Romita Spider-Man and/or the Lee/Buscema FF? Are they exploitative, even in part, because Romita isn't Ditko and Buscema isn't Kirby? Is Lee's position in Marvel's management structure a factor in our analysis? Where did Stan's loyalties lie -- to the work, created in collaboration with Kirby and Ditko; or to his corporate responsibilities? I don't know the answers to all of those questions. We might come down on the side of the work, in order to keep it in its purest form. However, since Lee was still involved, isn't there at least some sense that he wants to do right by the characters?

Before we go on, I'll acknowledge that these various problems can all be avoided simply by leaving the work solely in the hands of its creator(s), and no one else. Thus, Fantastic Four would have ended when Kirby left, and Spider-Man when Ditko left, etc. However, that's not the situation which faces us today. It seems to me that if we enjoy Intellectual Property X, we should want to honor the creator(s) who brought IPX to us in the first place. That may well entail judging the current work against the original work.

I've written previously (based in part on plok's exhaustive series) about the transformation of a creative endeavor into a corporate property. As I see it, the original creators by definition lay the ground rules for "how the characters work." Taking that point to its extreme, Lee and Kirby, working together, could never have written the FF "out of character," and the same goes for the Lee/Ditko Spider-Man. (Note, though, that this wouldn't have stopped them from producing low-quality comics, or from producing comics of a significantly different tone, tenor, whatever. Let's keep this simple, though.) By the same token, after one collaborator left, an "out of character moment" would be possible. Indeed, the main function of the new collaborator(s) would arguably be to ensure that the characters never have any such anomalous moments.

That tends to devalue the contribution of a John Romita or a John Buscema, and if we are interested in maximizing creative expression we don't want to do that. Thus, at some point, Spider-Man must stop being a "Ditko" character in order to become, at least in part, a "Romita" character. Repeating this process long enough, and with sufficient numbers of people, and Spider-Man does take on a life of his own. Nevertheless, every Spider-Man story may in theory still be measured against the original Lee/Ditko run, because those issues comprise the "definitive" work. Later works may be just as influential -- Simonson's Thor, Miller's Daredevil -- but the later people are still doing riffs on someone else's creation.

It's a little more complicated at DC, because DC started exploiting its characters earlier and across multiple media platforms. The Superman radio show added a number of elements to the character, and the Batman serials likewise affected the comics. The current Superman and Wonder Woman books seem especially far removed from their Golden Age adventures. The scope of Superman's adventures has been expanded geometrically from where they were in the late '30s, and I'm pretty sure no mainstream Wonder Woman comic wants to get close to the sexual politics in those '40s stories.

More to the point, though, DC's characters have been so franchised-out that the original works no longer seem as relevant. Batman is the exception which comes most quickly to mind, but although the dominant Batman paradigm has been in place since 1969, it followed at least two decades' worth of stories which are today considered far "out of character."

Accordingly, you can't look to Siegel & Shuster for Superman guidance the way you can look to Lee & Kirby. Instead, depending on who you ask, the "definitive" Superman is Christopher Reeve, or Alan Moore's Supreme, or Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely's All-Star. In other words, it's the Superman which most closely approximates an ideal aggregation of qualities. Because, by and large, DC can't point to a series of canonical works like Marvel can, it has to traffic more in these Platonic ideals, and there's where it gets into trouble.

If we look to the work of the original creator(s) for inspiration, guidance, and/or a qualitative baseline with regard to a particular character, with DC we arguably have to look to multiple sources. Siegel and Shuster laid the foundation for Superman, but at some point the character stopped being theirs, just like Spider-Man stopped being a Ditko character. This is not to say I don't get a particular primal charge out of the original Siegel and Shuster stories, and it's not hard to connect one of those stories with, say, an Elliott Maggin/Curt Swan issue, but that connection covers a lot of distance. Christopher Reeve was performing Elliott Maggin's version of Clark Kent. Grant Morrison is riffing on the Weisinger era. All of Superman starts with Siegel and Shuster, but not everything goes back to them immediately.

So whose creative vision is being honored by the Superman stories of 2007? Hard to say; and that leaves room for argument. The problem with DC's characters -- and it may well be a problem with Marvel's too, but I'm not as much of a Marvel scholar -- is that today's fans think they know just as much about Superman, or some other Intellectual Property X, as today's pros. I certainly can't speak for all superhero-comic fans, but I'd be willing to be that many see themselves on equal footing with the pros in at least two ways: both groups start with the same access to the texts, and thus to the "rules" of a particular longstanding character; and neither group can claim to have created that character. Those contentions may not be defensible, but I do think they exist. Thus, the character exists independently from its creator(s), the current creative team doesn't have an absolute claim on it, and its corporate owner is only out to make a buck -- so who else is going to stick up for the character's best interests but a fan?

Again, I'm not saying I feel that way. I'm not saying the majority of superhero-comic fans feel that way. I honestly don't know. However, I'm guessing that such a line of thinking could reinforce fan "attachment," "entitlement," whatever you want to call it. Obviously everyone's happy when the latest issue of Intellectual Property X matches up with the generally-accepted consensus about what makes a good IPX story. When it doesn't, though, we see appeals to "continuity" and/or charges of being "out of character." To me, fans of corporate superheroes have just substituted this comparatively nebulous notion of a "definitive" Intellectual Property X for the work of the original creator(s). Today those characters "work" because they've become aggregations of details which have accumulated over the years. They're almost more products of evolution than intelligent design ... but that's just a facile comparison. It's late and I don't want to get into another long discussion.

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Friday Night Fights

Look at Deadshot's shiny, shiny helmet....

See that little shadow on the back?

That means he just got sucka-punched!

Go see Bahlactus for more of the same!

[From "The Deadshot Ricochet," Detective Comics #474, December 1977. Written by Steve Englehart, pencilled by Marshall Rogers, inked by Terry Austin, lettered by Ben Oda. Recolored by Rogers for this reprint.]
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Monday, November 12, 2007

New comics 11/7/07

We begin this week with Supergirl #23 (written by Kelley Puckett, pencilled by Drew Johnson, inked by Ray Snyder), which I bought mostly out of past loyalty to these creators. By now these Supergirl relaunches have an air of "This time for sure!" about them, so I'll also admit to some morbid curiosity. In that respect I wonder if it's a bit of black humor that the cover has our heroine going up in flames....

Anyway, the issue itself is an enigmatic bit of decompression which starts and ends with a mysterious box delivered to Supergirl's apartment. After a brief, but funny, chat with Batman about the box, she's called away by Superman to help him and a squad of Green Lanterns stop an interstellar war. Things don't quite go as planned, but her reaction -- and the role of the box -- aren't quite explained, thereby theoretically encouraging us readers to come back next month.

Should we, though? I'm more intrigued by the storyline than I am by the title character, and I'm not sure that's a good thing. From what I can tell from this issue, Supergirl's kind of a spaz. She zones out when the GLs brief her. She's apparently responsible enough to have her own (spacious, nicely furnished) apartment, and that magazine subscription in her hand indicates she's put down some roots, but how old is she supposed to be -- late teens? Early twenties? What's her "secret identity" like? (Judging by this week's Superman, she doesn't have much of one ... but that's this week's Superman.) She's got all the powers of Superman, so how does she use them differently? In short, why should I care about her enough to pay $2.99 (plus tax, minus folder discount) every month?

Well, the art is quite good. Johnson and Snyder do meticulous work. I'm not entirely sure about their Supergirl anatomy, but that could just be an optical illusion from the costume. There's a long, wordless stretch in the second half of the book, and they handle that pretty well too. Like I said, I'm intrigued by the story, and this issue was good enough to make me want to see more. However, if I'm going to make a long-term commitment, I'd like to know more about Supergirl herself.

As for her cousin, Superman #670 (written by Kurt Busiek, pencilled by Rick Leonardi, inked by Dan Green) finishes up "The Third Kryptonian." It's a good conclusion to what was a somewhat predictable but still enjoyable arc. Busiek hit most of the "moody loner" character beats with Kristin Wells, including the "only out for herself" one. However, the issue is mostly action, which Leonardi and Green do nicely. I also like their Supergirl, who looks about five pounds heavier than Johnson and Snyder's; and their Power Girl, who looks about ten pounds lighter than, say, Michael Turner's. Anyway, the basic plot is that the Head Bad Guy has all kinds of weapons specifically designed to kill Kryptonians, so Superman and his allies (including Batman) have to figure out inventive ways to counter them. It's all fairly straightforward, although it apparently sets up a sequel and at least one other future story. That's not really a criticism, because I haven't been this consistently pleased with a Superman writer in a long time.

Countdown #25 (written by Paul Dini and Adam Beechen, pencilled by Ron Lim, inked by Jimmy Palmiotti & John Stanisci) finally checks in with the cliffhanger that closed out Firestorm, lo those many months ago. That's the bulk of the issue, and it's entertaining and somewhat satisfying. However, the other "check-in" scenes -- Jimmy and Mary Marvel on Apokolips, and Piper and Trickster escaping from Deadshot (?!?) -- are kind of lame. Art is good throughout, and I would expect no less from an old hand like Lim.

I was curious about The Search For Ray Palmer: Red Rain (written by Peter Johnson, pencilled mostly by Eric Battle and Angel Unzueta, inked by Derek Fridolfs, Vicente Cifuentes, and Jonathan Glapson, with a few pages drawn by Kelley Jones) because I enjoyed the "Bat-Vampire" trilogy by Jones and writer Doug Moench. However, this has all of the grue and none of the grim nihilism. It's not a very attractive book, mostly because it tries to ape Kelley Jones' style without much success. The colors (by Art Lyons) are muted and muddy, like a red filter has overlaid everything. The plot is moderately diverting, since it involves this Earth's Dick Grayson (and, in a small role, Barbara Gordon), but even that feels like something of a departure from the original material. The Batman/Dracula: Red Rain book was creepy precisely because it was set in a Bat-milieu that could easily have been the character's regular title. However, this special's Dick and Babs are just characters with the same names. What's more, our Challenger heroes really can't do anything to affect this Earth's status quo -- they can only introduce us to it and move on. Therefore, nothing of consequence happens. Unless you just like seeing alternate versions of familiar characters put through penny-dreadful situations, you don't need this issue.

In the regular Bat-books, "The Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul" begins officially in Robin #168 (written by Peter Milligan, drawn by Freddie E. Williams II). If you've seen one of those "Bad Seed" kinds of movies, where no one will believe the good kid who knows the evil kid's evil, that's about how Tim must deal with Damien. Also, Batman rescues Talia from what is apparently her bandage-enwrapped father. It's kinda unremarkable, except for the hints at the mysticism (Nanda Parbat, the Sensei, etc.) behind Ra's' return. Williams' work is fine; Robin is lean and muscular, and Batman is appropriately chunky.

The romance, or whatever it is, of Ryan and Doris "Giganta" Zuel is the best thing about (The All-New) Atom #17 (written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Mike Norton, inked by Trevor Scott). I found myself rooting for the two crazy kids despite the fact that she's a little unhinged. The weird androgynous villain (at least I think "he" and "she" are the same person) was hard to figure, but that's a good enough mystery for two issues. Norton and Scott turn in another fine issue. They work about as well with Simone as Nicola Scott did on Birds Of Prey, and considering how much I like Nicola Scott, that's high praise indeed.

I bought Welcome To Tranquility: Armageddon #1 (written by Christos Gage, drawn by Neil Googe and Horacio Domingues) out of loyalty to the regular title -- only one issue left, apparently -- and it was just okay. Basically, it focused on Tranquility's Captain Marvel-analogue, but let him stay "in costume" the whole issue, as opposed to his regular role of deus ex machina. Also, the time-travel involved in showing us the alternate future also made our hero's role that much more confusing. In short, he flies around while others tell him how bad things have gotten, and then he forgets about everything and the issue is over. It was kind of like the Ray Palmer: Red Rain issue, above, except without the muddy art.

Fantastic Four #551 (written by Dwayne McDuffie, pencilled by Paul Pelletier, inked by Rick Magyar) looks like it kicks off this creative team's last arc, involving a set of time-travelers bent on stopping Reed from saving the world. It ends on a heck of a cliffhanger, and it ties into Reed's "room of notes" from Civil War. That's not a lot in terms of plot, but it's executed well.

Howard the Duck #2 (written by Ty Templeton, pencilled by Juan Bobillo, inked by Marcelo Sosa) gets closer to its roots, as Howard and Bev must deal with Howard's sudden celebrity following his smackdown of the hunters last issue. Most of the issue finds Howard on a yelling-match talk show, and that goes about like you'd expect, or maybe a little worse. I might be easily amused, but I did like MODOT (Designed Only for Talking) a lot. This is not a bad miniseries by any means, even if it has a lot to live up to.

Finally, the satire is presented much more deftly in Groo: Hell On Earth #1 (by Mark Evanier and Sergio Aragones), in which Groo's bumbling leads to eco-unfriendly consequences. I'm not sure how this can be stretched out into four issues, but if the rest are as clever as this one, I definitely won't care. The latest Groo tale finds everyone at the top of their particular game, especially Aragones and colorist Tom Luth. Those two complement each other perfectly through Aragones' exquisite backgrounds and two-page spreads. This story aims for a broad scope and even an epic feel, and succeeds admirably.
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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Sunday Soliloquy

And now, a villain who desperately needs the sartorial touch of Blockade Boy:

Yes, it was the '70s, but bell-bottoms and platform shoes? For an ancient mystical creature who allegedly brought down civilizations? Really?!? Maybe the clothes are meant to keep his victims awake during his speeches....

(sigh) "A place where nobody dared to go," indeed.

[From "When Fall The Mighty," All-Star Comics #62, September-October 1976. Plotted by Gerry Conway, scripted by Paul Levitz, pencilled by Keith Giffen, inked by Wally Wood, colored by Carl Gafford, lettered by Ben Oda.]

P.S. Zanadu is also the name of a fine chain of Seattle comics shops which I am sure have nothing to do with this ill-dressed bad guy.
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Saturday, November 10, 2007

Denny O'Neil, Neal Adams, and The Armies of the Night

When I heard this morning that Norman Mailer had died, I thought immediately of Green Lantern #79. It's the fourth issue of Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams' "relevance" run, where Green Arrow was brought in to shake up GL's establishment worldview. This particular issue found the two on opposite sides, with Green Arrow posing as a legendary Native American spiritual leader. The dramatic climax comes in the form of a fistfight, but O'Neil ups the emotional ante by setting the fight to Mailer's prose.

Along with writers like Tom Wolfe and Hunter Thomposn, Mailer was considered one of the first of the "New Journalists," who sought to bring the techniques associated with novels into mainstream journalism. His book The Armies of the Night (1968) was about his experiences surrounding the 1967 march on the Pentagon.

I'm a little embarrassed to admit I've never read Armies of the Night, or anything else by Mailer. Sorry I can't provide more context.

However, the point is not that Green Lantern #79 is improved by the addition of Mailer. (One wonders in what context the square, conservative Hal Jordan would have read anything by Mailer without first being exposed to Ollie's preaching.) Rather, the incorporation of Mailer quotes is perhaps the best example of the earnest pleas at the heart of these GL/GA stories.

In 1970 the '60s were over not just chronologically but spiritually too. Still, these stories are bubbling over with the energy, idealism, and (yes) naivete of a youthful true believer. Just as the New Journalists wanted to make their reporting seem like novels, so O'Neil and Adams wanted to blend superheroes and social concerns.

More significantly, though, the Mailer quotes read to me like Denny O'Neil inserting himself into the story in a more active role than simply the narrator. Sure, he's preaching, but he's also pleading with the reader, in a display that today we might call "too emo." However, it doesn't come across to me as pretentious, precious, or arch -- instead, it's more like Denny's attempt to engage his audience. It's not hard today to see the original GL/GA stories as overwrought and broad, but rarely do we see such nakedly personal appeals come through so clearly on the page.

It was also, I feel sure, Denny's attempt to get his readers (including his college-age readers) active and involved. In this respect The Armies of the Night represents something more than Mailer's meld of autobiography and reporting -- it signifies any number of movements in which a young person could be productive once he put down the comic. I enjoy a lot of modern superhero comics, but I'm hard-pressed to think of one which consistently tries to make its readers think about their world, and thereby make them (and it) better.

So rest in peace, Mr. Mailer, and thanks for your contribution, however small or indirect, to a run of superhero comics whose heart was definitely in the right place.

[Scans from "Ulysses Star Is Still Alive!" in Green Lantern #79, September 1970. Written by Denny O'Neil, pencilled by Neal Adams, inked by Dan Adkins, lettered by John Costanza. Color reconstruction for The Green Lantern/Green Arrow Collection by Cory Adams.]
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Friday, November 09, 2007

Friday Night Fights

Why is the Kree-Skrull War considered a classic?

Sucka-punches all around, of course!

No wonder Bahlactus ate the Skrull homeworld....

[From "This Beachhead Earth," The Avengers vol. 1 #93, November 1971. Written by Roy Thomas, pencilled by Neal Adams, inked by Tom Palmer, lettered by Sam Rosen.]
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Thursday, November 08, 2007

Thursday Night Thinking

You're a rookie crimefighter looking for a big credibility boost. Suddenly the opportunity literally falls into your lap.

Time for some serious THINKING--!

If the same scene were to play out today, I'd put even money on a) Batwoman taking a peek under the mask and b) getting a good dose of one of the costume's countermeasures.

That's in a mainstream Batman comic, mind you. The Frank Miller version would definitely be NSFW.

Diamondrock is deep in thought!

[From "The Batwoman," Detective Comics #233, July 1956. Written by Edmond Hamilton, pencilled by Sheldon Moldoff, inked by Charles Paris. Color reconstruction for Batman in the Fifties by Lee Loughridge.]
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Next, Tonight's Lottery Numbers

In the September 13 Grumpy Old Fan, I said this:

[T]he Old New Teen Titans could do worse than to re-establish themselves as DC’s answer to the Defenders, an ad hoc non-team composed of old friends who just like working together. It could even be a twenty/thirtysomething version of the “adventurer’s club” I thought would be good for the Justice Society. George Perez once described the Titans as “sitting around a table waiting for a safe to fall on them,” but as long as the Titans’ Tower utilities are paid and someone sweeps the place out every couple of weeks, who needs a purpose?

Now Judd Winick, writer of the upcoming New Teen Titans revival, says

The way we’re going about it though is that they’re not actually a team. There’s not going to be anyone on monitor duty, there’s not going to be meetings and roll calls – they basically are coming together because they are together....

So, the thrust of the book will be that this is a group without being a group. They are a team without associating as a team, because they’re more than that. They have a lot more history. No one is getting in anyone else’s face about who’s the leader, or who will do this or that. The adventures that will occur, and the missions that they will go on will come from one of them needing some kind of help. Somebody will be working on something, and they could use some backup from their friends.

Even a blind squirrel finds a nut now and then, I guess.

P.S. Just to be clear, I am the squirrel.
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Sunday, November 04, 2007

Sunday Soliloquy

The New Teen Titans kicked off its second year with a three-issue "Search For The Doom Patrol's Killers" arc. (Yes, there was a time, not all that long ago, when the Doom Patrol was most famous for being dead.) Of course, all the Titans had parental issues, so this gave Gar the chance to explore his.

Gar spends most of the arc out for the blood of General Zahl and Madame Rouge, the DP's old enemies. He even gets what he wants, after a fashion; and so learns a valuable lesson. Take it away, Raven:

"Bloodthirsty Gar" would show up again, most notably right after the events of "The Judas Contract." For a while, though, he coped pretty well.

[Scans from, respectively, "Revolution!" in The New Teen Titans vol. 1 #14, December 1981, and "The Brotherhood Of Evil Lives Again!" in issue #15, January 1982. Written by Marv Wolfman, pencilled by George Perez, inked by Romeo Tanghal, colored by Adrienne Roy, and lettered by Ben Oda (#14) and John Costanza (#15).]
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Love ... exciting and xenophobic!

Inspired in part by Siskoid's Trek recaps, and mindful of Shaenon Garrity's "Drunk and Watchin' Star Trek," I've been working my way through the 24th-Century series. Friday night was "The Dauphin," TNG's second-season look at Wesley Crusher's first lurve. Yesterday, I watched the "remastered" version of TOS's "Metamorphosis," and noticed some parallels. Naturally, I share these with you.


"Metamorphosis" first, because it offers more to discuss. Kirk, Spock, and Bones are ferrying diplomat Nancy Hedford back to the Enterprise in a shuttle. Comm'r Hedford was negotiating a peace treaty when she suffered a billion-to-one hit from a deadly virus. Without the Enterprise's sickbay, she'll die. However, the non-corporeal Companion pulls the shuttle down to a planetoid where 21st-century Earth pioneer Zefram Cochrane has been living for the past 150 years. He's told the Companion he'll die of loneliness, and since the Companion has been keeping him alive all this time, the rest was easy.

Cochrane tells our heroes he communicates with the Companion non-verbally, but Kirk literally sees more: in the sparkly, effervescent way the Companion's energy-form surrounds Cochrane, Kirk can tell the Companion loves Cochrane. This is confirmed when the universal translator lets Cochrane hear the Companion's "voice" for the first time -- it's a female voice, and that (dun dunn!!) wasn't programmed into the machine! ZOMG!!!

This is where things get a little screwy. Because the Companion is now demonstrably and objectively female, Kirk basically sings the "K-I-S-S-I-N-G" song to Cochrane. Cochrane is all eww gross, shut up!, and sounds very segregationist when he accuses the Starfleeters of having loosened their morals over the last 150 years. He wants nothing to do with a non-corporeal chick who's warm for his fleshy form, and it makes him more than ready to leave the Planetoid of Eternal Life.

Now, I thought that bit of characterization was appropriate. However you look at it, Cochrane's the guy who basically made the Federation possible. That doesn't mean he has to be a champion of diversity. In fact, I could see the Cochrane of Star Trek: First Contact having this attitude, which is also reminiscent of the Peter Weller segregationist character from the final "Enterprise" two-parter.

No, my problem is with Kirk's attitude, and the plot points it reinforces. First, I'm a little shaky on the idea that "male" and "female" have their own brainwave frequencies that can be analyzed by the universal translator. Second, and more importantly, female + male doesn't necessarly = romance. The Companion could also be a mother-figure, a gender-neutral guide, or even just half of a symbiotic relationship. Yes, I know Star Trek was groundbreaking for subverting audience expectations about space aliens, and making the Companion a relatively benign entity was part of that (see also "The Devil in the Dark," another Gene L. Coon script, where the monster is really a mother), but the way "Metamorphosis" gets there involved a couple of large leaps of logic.

We're not done yet, though. The dying Hedford has heard Cochrane's protests, and she starts to weep. Turns out she's an unfulfilled career woman who's never known love, and here he is rejecting it --! Fortunately, Kirk's been talking to the Companion about how her relationship with Cochrane is doomed. The upshot is, since the Companion's not human, she can't really love Cochrane. He's basically saying "if you love him, and by the way you'll never be 'able' to love him, if you get my meaning, set him free." Actually, if I remember right, Kirk says the Companion needs a soul, not necessarily any other body parts.

Kirk's thinking is that love sometimes expresses itself in sacrifice. Well, the Companion's actual sacrifice involves merging with Hedford so that both can continue to exist. Hedford gets to know love, because now Cochrane can love both her and the Companion; and thus the Companion also gets to have her love for Cochrane returned. The episode presents this weird arrangement as very sweet, and it is, in a way. At least everyone looks happy as the shuttle blasts off for its rendezvous.

So about twenty years later, TNG produced "The Dauphin," the tender story of a young planetary ruler, Salia, and her shape-shifting bodyguard who can totally whale on Worf and make him like it. I probably hadn't seen this episode since it aired, and honestly I was not looking forward to it, but it's a lot better than I remembered. "The Boy" is immediately taken with Salia, and she with him, probably because he's the first teenage boy she's seen in a long time and vice versa. Wil Wheaton does "smitten" quite well, and there's also a great little scene where Riker and Guinan quasi-flirt. However, as we know, this relationship is doomed, not just because she's got a planet to rule but also because she's a shape-shifter too. When Wes finds out, he gets all pissy and hurt, accusing Salia of toying with him and not giving her the courtesy of saying goodbye. However, his better impulses take over, and he sees in the end that she's really a non-corporeal being. He finds her energy form very beautiful, but in a completely platonic way, and goes off to Ten-Forward to cry in his chocolate.

Again, I watched "Dauphin" the night before "Metamorphosis," so couldn't help comparing the two; and again, I think "Dauphin" comes out ahead in its attitudes towards women. Indeed, "Dauphin's" Anja, the bodyguard, gets all of the "protective," parental aspects of the Companion, and it's Anja who Worf et al. must find ways to control. Maybe that's part of it -- there's no possibility of confusing Salia's role in the story. However, I'm more willing to give "The Dauphin" a pass because Wesley's attitudes are the erratic, unformed gesticulations of a hormonal teenager. I expected more from the adults of "Metamorphosis."

Thinking about "Metamorphosis" today, though, Cochrane actually ends up with quite the non-traditional relationship. True, seeing the Companion anthropomorphized in Hedford appears superficially to be the thing which confirms his love for her, but it could also be a sign to Cochrane of the extent of the Companion's sacrifice. Not to get all religious here, but the Companion was willing to give up her normal existence to be with Cochrane as a human. The X factor here is Hedford, who a) seems to fit the career-woman stereotype and b) has no reason to love Cochrane beyond the fact that he's literally her last chance to ever know love. I guess I feel the most uneasy about her place in the triangle.

Still, I presume they all lived happily ever after....
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Saturday, November 03, 2007

New comics 10/31/07

Just for the heck of it, let's start off this week with a "why not?" purchase, Mythos: Fantastic Four (written by Paul Jenkins, art by Paolo Rivera). I love the FF, and Jenkins and Rivera probably do too, but beyond serving as a kind of generic introduction to the team, I don't really see the point of this book. Last year the First Family miniseries attempted to bridge the gap between the plainclothes adventurers of the first couple of issues and the celebrity superheroes to come. This retelling of the origin changes a number of elements but obviously has to leave the end result the same.

Accordingly, there's no real drama in the story beyond the pathos of becoming superhuman, and even that is glossed over. Indeed, the current editorial revision of making our heroes actual American astronauts, who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, sucks away another source of tension. Yes, we all know they're not "racing the Commies" anymore, but Reed and crew defying the government to go into space isn't just a plot point, it's a character-builder -- as is Reed's culpability in the accident itself. Both are absent from this version. Apart from all of that, though, the book is put together well, except Reed looks a little bullet-headed in spots and Ben's eyebrow-ridge is a bit too sharply defined at times. I'm tempted to say the most fun thing about the issue is the very last page, a cutaway drawing of the Baxter Building done up all photo-realistically.

Another impulse buy was Superman Confidential #8 (written by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning, pencilled by Chris Batista, inked by Cam Smith), the first part of (yes, another) retelling of Forever People #1. In other words, it's Superman's first full-blown encounters with the New Gods, and I think it's more successful than Mythos. Batista draws a lithe, dynamic Superman, and Smith's inks and Jason Wright's colors make this a good-looking book. Abnett and Lanning bring in other Fourth World/early '70s characters like Morgan Edge and Victor Volcanum. Not much new ground is broken, but this kind of continuity-porn is what I expected SMConf to deal in, so in that respect, good job.

Here's the thing about calling something "52 Aftermath" -- 52 ended six months ago. I don't disagree with publishing Crime Bible #1 (written by Greg Rucka, drawn by Tom Mandrake) on Halloween, and I enjoyed it, but let's be clear: if you read 52, you know good and well what the Crime Bible is. If you didn't, wouldn't the title Crime Bible be at least somewhat attractive, even without the 52 brand? (I swear, all this unified trade-dress is getting out of hand.) Anyway, CB plays out like a late '60s-early '70s urban-paranoia horror movie, with Renee "The Question" Montoya investigating some poor schmuck's blundering across a secret society. I enjoyed Rucka's unadulterated take on Renee, and I thought it worked well to bring the reader into the story via the schmuck and not her. Mandrake's work was quite good this issue, and better specifically than his Batman fill-ins from earlier in the year.

At the risk of sounding hypocritical, I don't have as much of a problem with the title of 52 Aftermath: The Four Horsemen (#3 written by Keith Giffen, pencilled by Pat Olliffe, and inked by John Stanisci). Four Horsemen is generic enough that it might need the 52 qualifier. This installment reveals a lot about a certain former JLA mascot's recent association, and Giffen has some fun with that. In fact, this story has a lot of Greg Rucka influences, the more I think about it, and the presence of frequent 52 penciller Olliffe makes it feel the most connected to said miniseries. It needs to get moving, though -- the 4-H Club takes a pretty good shot from Superman this issue, but now we're at the halfway point and time to get serious.

Countdown to Mystery #2 has a pretty good Doctor Fate story (written by Steve Gerber, pencilled by Justiniano, inked by Walden Wong) and a so-so Eclipso one (written by Matthew Sturges, drawn by Steven Jorge Segovia). The Eclipso story involves the corruption of Plastic Man, and therefore tries to be both wacky and edgy. It does not succeed. The art is fine, but maybe that's the problem: it's appropriate for your average superhero-influenced Plastic Man story, but not for a harrowing inversion of all that's good and right about an inherently goofy character. It comes across pretty overwrought.

The Doctor Fate story finds him learning on-the-job how to cast the right demon-defeating spells. However, it also establishes just how far down the socio-economic ladder he's fallen, and what he needs to do to get back into a barely-normal life. This does not include a mystic golden helmet. Accordingly, I don't get the feeling that this Fate will be joining the Justice Society anytime soon. Not that he won't eventually -- why else would he have been brought back? -- but if DC Editorial keeps him true to this characterization, it'll be a while. Thankfully, the mundane concerns of this Kent Nelson are compelling enough to compete with the magic.

The lead story of Countdown To Adventure #3 (written by Adam Beechen, pencilled by Eddy Barrows, inked by Adam Ferreira) was pretty entertaining, albeit a little disconcerting. I didn't expect to see a kill-crazy kid slice open Starfire's thigh on page 3. Everyone in San Diego and on Rann is going crazy with Lady Styx fever, so naturally they're out to get Starfire and Adam Strange. Like I said, it's entertaining, but it feels a bit redundant too. I also don't like having Ellen Baker suspect Buddy of having fallen in love with Kory. It strikes me as a well-worn plot element which might appear to make sense, but which reinforces certain stereotypes. Clearly Ellen is frustrated because for a year she thought Buddy was dead, and now that he's back he's brought this golden space-goddess with him. If "Friday Night Lights'" Coach Taylor had brought Starfire back to Dillon from TMU, I expect Tami would be a little upset too. However, Ellen's in danger of becoming a cliche, and that's what I don't want to see.

Countdown #26 (written by Paul Dini and Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti, story consultant Keith Giffen, drawn by Scott Kolins) was an exposition-riffic attempt to pull all of the various subplots together into a larger narrative. However, it chose to show all of the excitement through the riveting device of ... watching it on television. Yes, it's Third-Hand Theater -- we mostly watch the Monitors as they watch what's really important. Of course, you could argue that what's important is the Monitors' decision to "go to war," which I suppose will be pretty exciting assuming it happens in the pages of this title and not 25 weeks down the road. By the way, I think Black-Suit Superman, about to execute the Luthor of Earth-15, is our own Superboy-Prime who somehow survived the Sinestro Corps War. Hey, if Kyle's OK, why not him too?

There's nothing really wrong with Batman #670 (written by Grant Morrison, pencilled by Tony Daniel, inked by Jonathan Glapion). It doesn't have the stylistic zip of "The Club Of Heroes" or the over-the-top frenzy of Morrison's other arcs. However, it does have solid, dynamic characters in Batman, the three forgotten super-vixens, and Damian. I'm sure those more versed in Morrisonia could fit said trio and Damian (again in the Robin costume) into the taxonomy of heroes and wannabes explored in "Seven Soldiers," but I can only say they seem part of the same "here's our costume; we're super" paradigm. I thought the art was good, and reminiscent of Andy Kubert, but a bit flat, especially in the Ra's al Ghul scenes. Daniel does draw a good Batman, though.

I decided to drop Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes (#35 written by Tony Bedard and drawn by Dennis Calero) after the first issue of this arc, so I'm three issues removed from that one. On its own, though, this isn't bad -- a fight between Atom Girl, Shadow Lass, and Wildfire, with Brainy helping the Legionnaires from afar and Drake's brother likewise guiding him. Meanwhile, Supergirl, Lightning Lad, and Saturn Girl find Evolvo Lad and prepare to fight him. I was only a litlte disoriented, so that's a positive. Art was fine, if a bit muddy and blocky. Best thing about the issue was also a little incredible -- 31st Century technology will still let Atom Girl do that old trick?

"That other" Legion shows up in the long-promised Action Comics #858 (written by Geoff Johns, pencilled by Gary Frank, inked by John Sibal). It begins with a great little three-page sequence which takes full advantage of the Superman origin as DC's version of the Nativity. It also incorporates that quasi-cinematic "DC Comics Proudly Presents" approach to credits, and even includes a splash page with a pinup of Supes himself. With this team having drawn the Superman-analogue over in Marvel's Supreme Power, there's also a wink to that series' paranoia. I have only minor complaints about Frank and Sibal's work: for some reason, Clark has an overbite; and many characters look a little wild-eyed, especially Lightning Lad. Also, I liked the two-page spread of the Silver Age Legion, but boy do they look Caucasian. I know that's the way things were in the '60s, and I wasn't looking for it, but it jumped out at me. If the Legion is the agent of diversity and tolerance, it's come a long way since then. Overall, though, this issue was a good setup and it's gotten me excited about the rest of the arc.

Finally, I bought Biff-Bam-Pow! #1 (by Evan Dorkin and Sarah Dyer), because I love quality humor, especially dressed up in pop sci-fi duds and incorporating lots of monkeys. I actually liked the "undercards" more than the main event, but it's all good. Also, don't miss the back cover, cleverly advertised on the front cover!
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Friday, November 02, 2007

Friday Night Fights

Happy 80th birthday, Steve Ditko!

For more sucka-punches, Objectivist or otherwise, always bet on Bahlactus!

[From "Nothing Can Stop The Sandman!" in The Amazing Spider-Man #4, September 1963, by Mr. Ditko and Stan Lee, lettered by Sam Rosen, colored by Andrew Yanchus.]
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Thursday, November 01, 2007

Thursday Night Thinking

You're not sure Green Lantern is on the up-and-up, but his temples aren't grey. How can you know he's gone bad?

THINKING, of course!

Special bonus panel: willpower knows no height!

Short and sweet this week, Diamondrock!

[From "Decoy Missions Of The Justice League!" in Justice League of America vol. 1 #24, December 1963. Written by Gardner Fox, pencilled by Mike Sekowsky, inked by Bernard Sachs, lettered by Gaspar Saladino, color reconstruction for Justice League Archives Vol. 4 by Tom McCraw and Rick Taylor.]
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