Monday, November 29, 2004

Crisis Plus Twenty

Rich Johnston talks (as does Fanboy Rampage!) about a possible sequel/follow-up/attempt to cash in on Crisis on Infinite Earths:
Remember a few months ago, Lying In The Gutters mentioned a new Crisis series for 2005 by Geoff Johns and Phil Jiminez?

Well, I've just received a few more details. Trouble is they're being disputed. Let's see.

I've been told the whole of the DC Universe will jump forward by a year. All the titles will have completely new setups as a result, and the new Crisis series will gradually explain what happened to leave all the characters in the state they are after the year gap.

And that the first books to launch out of that will be the previously mentioned Superman by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely in August, Batman by Jim Lee and Jeph Loeb, and Wonder Woman by Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver.

But despite the story being well sourced, someone else equally well sourced is throwing water over it. And not just over the possibility that the new books don't spin out of Crisis 2, but that the book is about something else entirely. Or am I just hedging my bets?

Either way, definitely expect shock and awe for whatever emerges from whatever Crisis turns out to be. And expect to see DC titles dominate the charts for a fair few months.

The big-name, fan-favorite aspect of the ostensible new creative teams was the first thing that struck me about the rumor. Of the three pairs mentioned, only Morrison and Quitely's Superman would be a step up. In fact, Morrison on Superman has been a cherished fan rumor probably since he left JLA; and I remember specifically hearing a similar rumor just before the current Super-teams were announced. Supposedly Lee and Loeb are prepared to do another six issues of Batman, but that too has been the subject of rumors -- namely, that their six issues would kick off a new Batman & Robin series. Finally, I doubt that Johns and Van Sciver, talented as they are, would sound good to anybody who (like me) has been enjoying Greg Rucka and Drew Johnson on Wonder Woman this past year.

In other words, even without the disclaimers, I'm not convinced this is on the level. Still, in some cases the alternative would be worse.

A global restart of every title is hardly appropriate in light of such universe-redefining events as Identity Crisis and Green Lantern Rebirth. The "everything starts a year later" plan is less sweeping, and might work, but only if it too isn't seen as a perpetual company-wide crossover. The failures of superhero lines from such companies as Malibu, Dark Horse, and CrossGen illustrate the difficulty of launching a shared universe all at once. Something like 1994's "Zero Month," where right after Zero Hour each of DC's books got an "Issue #0" to attract new readers, would work better.

By the way, just because I mention Zero Hour doesn't mean I am endorsing the idea of another time-twisting crossover which reopens the Pandora's box of retroactive continuity. I thought DC's editors had learned not to canoodle around with the timeline after the first round of characters were restarted in the wake of the original Crisis. Then came 2003's Superman: Birthright and this year's "the original never happened" edition of Doom Patrol. Somewhere there is a happy medium between slavish adherence to every jot and tittle of a previous story, and throwing out all the rules in the service of good drama, but not only has DC editorial not found it, it seems to be flailing wildly between extremes.

But I digress. Just because 2005 is the 20th anniversary of Crisis on Infinite Earths, it doesn't mean that DC has to reinvent itself all over again. The company's already put out the obligatory hardcover collection, so why not a "Post-Crisis Crisis"? How better to honor the event that made "continuity" a dirty word than to let avowed history buffs like Johns and Jiminez try to make some sense of it?

Then, if they have some time, let 'em take a crack at Doom Patrol.
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Wednesday, November 24, 2004

New comics 11/24/04

No clunkers this week. Even Superman #211 was decent. I can't quite explain it, but I feel almost that this storyline might start to make some sense after all. Don't quote me; I want to go back and read the other issues, but stranger things have happened. The issue itself is a fight between Supes and Wonder Woman which comes off about as well as the Supes-Batman fight in "Hush." In other words, pretty exciting, but still a plot stunt. I wish the script lived up to the art. Here's an excerpt from page 5.
SUPERMAN: ...Forgive me. I told you a lie.
PRIEST: Sure. I absolve you in the name of --
PRIEST: Well, most confessions are just that. You're getting more human by the minute.
I'm guessing Brian Azzarello meant to convey that the priest wasn't going to give Superman the full confession liturgy, since "forgive me" was sufficient, but that still felt awkward. Azzarello also has Supes crash a manned helicopter into the Fortress of Solitude, which obviously seems excessive and unnecessary (not the least of which because it's his own Fortress). One last thing about the art -- this is the first issue of a comic I can remember in a while where the center two pages aren't an ad; and it would have been the perfect opportunity for a two-page spread, but no such luck. DC probably doesn't care in the long run, because two-page spreads all look the same in the collected edition no matter where they appear. By my count there are still 5 more chapters in "For Tomorrow," so we'll see if Azarello and Jim Lee can pull it all together.

Batman #634 was a real winner. Don't believe the cover -- it's written by Andersen Gabrych and drawn by Paul Lee and Brian Horton, not the Judd Winick/Doug Mahnke regular team that starts next issue. Anyway, it's Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson, and Alfred Pennyworth winding down from "War Games." Appropriately titled "Decompression," it's a lot of sitting, talking, and exposition, broken up with action scenes involving Batman and Onyx. Oh, if only Mr. Gabrych could have written more of "WG...." I'm not familiar with the art team, but they deliver a suitably moody issue -- lots of blacks and thick lines, like Tommy Lee Edwards. Hopefully these guys will get more Bat-work in the near future.

Flash #216 continues the Identity Crisis dovetailing, as Wally and Zatanna confront the Top. There's some fighting and a neat bit of misdirection towards the end, so this was one of the book's better issues. The last panel conveys Wally's giddy happiness, but if you're not charitably inclined, it just looks goofy. I think that sums up how I feel about this whole storyline -- it's competently done, but there's enough to pick apart if you want to. Case in point: for the fan-turned-writer Geoff Johns, making a new story out of old continuity is apparently a big deal; but he doesn't try to reconcile the Marv Wolfman view of Wally's parents (they made the Cleavers look like the Bundys) with the Bill Messner-Loebs view (dad was evil and mom was intrusive). There are fewer scenes which try to establish the Rogues as refugees from a Tarantino movie, which is nice; and I like Howard Porter's art. Maybe after Johns' long-promised "Rogue War" story is over, the title will find its sense of fun again.

Adam Strange #3 found Andy Diggle and Pascal Ferry embracing the character's pulp sci-fi roots, as Adam is captured by Thanagarians. Ferry gives the hawkpeople a more armored, less exhibitionist look that I haven't quite seen before, but which is instantly recognizable apart from the big wings and bird-symbols. While the plot isn't overly surprising, it's managed with ease and style. What a fun miniseries!

Finally, Green Lantern Rebirth #2 takes the reintroduction of the GL Corps in an unexpected direction. I expected Geoff Johns to have done a lot of homework for this book, and he seems to have put some rather disparate pieces together. The issue suggests that the green Oan energy has metaphysical, dark-side/light-side underpinnings which affect those who can feel fear differently from those (like old-school GLs) who couldn't. Ethan van Sciver and Prentis Rollins' art is still as detailed as it was last time, but somehow it's not as precise. Not to say it's not good, just that issue #1 was better. The highlight for me was a yooge fanboy moment towards the end. Even as someone who thought Hal has been managed poorly over the past 10 years, I was approaching this miniseries with trepidation. Thus, while Johns has exceeded my lowered expectations so far, he's done so to such a degree that he may well have produced a classic of continuity-based reinvention. Don't worry, these are all compliments.
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Tuesday, November 23, 2004

From me to you, some Thanksgiving corn

It's been raining and cold here for the past two days, which hasn't helped my mood. There are still about 6 weeks to go in 2004, but I feel pretty confident in saying that this year will end up being pretty disappointing. I include in this sentiment ordinary frustrations with the state of the world; but closer to home, I made a job change that hasn't worked out either financially or in the area of professional satisfaction. Thus, once again I am questioning what it is I really want to do with my life. Naturally, I have to face these issues at Thanksgiving.

I am thankful for many things -- a loving wife and family, a decent career, and a (mostly) trouble-free life that must be guided by divine providence -- and while this weblog is certainly an indulgence, it's been a real treat getting to know all the denizens of the blogosphere. This year I'm definitely thankful for you readers and the courtesy you've shown me these past few months. In the same vein, I'm thankful to the TrekBBSers who have endured my ramblings for nigh-onto the past 3 years, and who helped shape the writing style presently on display. (Sorry I haven't been around there as much, folks.) Fandom is a strange and wonderful organism, and discovering its mysteries has been great fun.

As it happens, for the last couple of weeks my Bible group has been reading Ecclesiastes -- a book which encourages us to relish what we have and remember that it all comes from the same source:
Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God has already accepted your works. Let your garments always be white, and let your head lack no oil. Live joyfully with the wife whom you love all the days of your vain life which He has given you under the sun, all your days of vanity; for that is your portion in life, and in the labor which you perform under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going (Ecc 9:7-10).
Yes, it's kind of a backhanded book, but it does provide some existential comfort:
As you do not know what is the way of the wind, or how the bones grow in the womb of her who is with child, so you do not know the works of God who makes everything. In the morning sow your seed, and in the evening do not withhold your hand; for you do not know which will prosper, either this or that, or whether both alike will be good (Ecc 11:5-6).
This summer I took some time away from the office, stepped back a little from the practice of law, and started taking a semi-serious look at whether another kind of work should occupy the rest of my life. (Call it a 1/3-life crisis, I guess.) This blog was a part of that look -- sow that seed liberally, remember -- and while it hasn't made me any money, your support has made it rewarding. The seed found good soil, you might say.

Thanks again to all of you for helping this little corner of the Internet grow, and for giving me the confidence to keep tending it. I'm looking forward to it providing many years of comfort, in all kinds of weather. Happy Thanksgiving!
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Saturday, November 20, 2004

Continuity Porn On "Enterprise"

Last night's "Enterprise" kicked off a three-part story which looks to address the prequel show's (shall we say) unique interpretation of the Vulcans. It was written by longtime Star Trek novelists Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens. I've not read all of the R-S's books, but have read enough to know they love reconciling the different strands of Trek lore. This episode, "The Forge," did just that, incorporating scads of trivia from Surak and T'Pau to the mental disciplines (including the katra), the inner eyelid, the sehlat, and even a hint of the Romulan connection. It came just short of a Unified Theory of Vulcan, but it never bogged down in exposition.

I probably don't need to tell you how thrilling this kind of thing is for a longtime fan of any large, complicated universe. Not only does its cohesion make the universe seem more real, but it also at least gives the illusion that it can be explained to the neophyte. (Imagine my happy surprise when, during the last 3-parter, the Best Wife Ever mentioned "the Eugenics Wars" before a character could!) I think this is a big part of the reason fans revere writers like Kurt Busiek, Mark Waid, and Geoff Johns for taking what we already know and making something new out of it.

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Friday, November 19, 2004

Supremely Plodding

From the bootlegged Marvel solicits for February:



Pencils & Cover by GARY FRANK

What does the most powerful being on the planet do when he finds out he’s been manipulated and that his whole life is practically a lie? How will Hyperion react — and what does that mean for the rest of humanity —and the government that’s organized these deceitful machinations? Another pulse-pounding issue from the architects of the Supremeverse!

I'm sorry; did I miss the issue where Hyperion forgives his government masters for lying to him? It must have been after he invaded that Army base in #9 and confronted the General responsible for his upbringing. Otherwise, why would this glacially-paced series be asking the same questions six issues later? Ye gods.

It's hard to imagine a better argument against decompressed linear storytelling than Supreme Power. Which would you rather read -- a story about a twisted Justice League which has ended up ruling the Earth, and you learn its history in flashbacks; or a series which spends so much time establishing its setting and characters that you're not quite sure what its premise even is?

But why should I spend more of my precious words on this when I can just let the second SP paperback's Amazon listing (which sounds like it came from Marvel) do the talking?

The heroes have arrived. You've watched them grow. You've learned their secrets. And now, you're about to see them change the world... for better or for worse! When a god-like Hyperion discovers that his whole life has actually been an elaborate government-made lie, his reaction could mean the end of the Earth! Do the world's other super-powered beings have any chance at stopping Hyperion if the truth sends him over the edge? Collects SUPREME POWER #6-12.

This isn't just "writing for the trade," it's writing the same plot as the trade. Good grief. And Marvel wants $2.99 for the monthly issues, because Heaven forbid you might miss something important.
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Thursday, November 18, 2004

New comics 11/17/04

Apparently it was Evil Alternate Timeline week at DC, thanks to both Superman/Batman and Teen Titans. I know that alternate timelines are 90% of the time worse scenarios than the regular timeline -- otherwise, why would they be alternate? -- but why do the heroes more often than not turn out to be fascists? (This isn't a new meme, either. All of DC's 1991 Annuals were based around the tyrannical future of 2001; and in 1993, Dan Jurgens did it in his short stint on Justice League America. As it happens, Scott is also concerned about time-travel stories.)

Anyway, prepare to clutch your chest in horror as I give thumbs-up to this week's Superman/Batman #14! You'll figure out who the villains are soon enough, and it could turn out to be a steaming pile, but it's a suspenseful setup to what could well be an entertaining romp through DC history. The "heroes" of the piece are revealed on the last couple of pages, and I'm excited to see them work together. I don't know why he did it, but for some happy reason Jeph Loeb has dialed back the infamous dueling narrative captions; and Carlos Pacheco draws a very pretty book. This has a lot of promise, and if the rest of the story is as good, I will wonder why Loeb didn't put the same kind of effort into the first 13 issues.

Teen Titans #18 continues the "Titans Tomorrow" storyline as the Teen Titans uncover more of the Old Titans' history. The centerpiece of the issue, as indicated by the cover, is a fight between Old Tim and Teen Tim. There are more cryptic references to a "crisis" that somehow turned our heroes into amoral arbiters of totalitarian justice, and I was disappointed not to see any more nuance than "the world is an evil place and we have to be just as bad." I'm reserving judgment until next month's conclusion, but the fact that the last page appears to duplicate an upcoming episode of the "TT" cartoon gave me a little pause.

Batman: Gotham Knights #59 is a standalone story about Mr. Freeze and Batman trapped under ice while a collapsed building burns around them. It's by the guest team of Robbie Morrison and Charles Adlard, so it's well-crafted; but I don't know how consequential it is. Much of the dialogue is of the "we're just the same on the inside" variety, with each saying the other is too cold (in the impersonal sense). Batman does show a bit of humor, which as you know earns points with me.

JLA #108, by Kurt Busiek and Ron Garney, continues the Kryyme Syndicate (hey, that's how I wish they'd spell it) story by focusing entirely on the Syndicate. Busiek does play spot-the-allusion (referring to the "Loring Gang out of Ivy Town," for example), but the only time he gets too cute is when he makes the Mirror-Lucius Fox a ... what? Gangsta? It's dangerously close to stereotype, whatever it is. He does a better job re-establishing the interactions between these evil versions of the JLA, and adding (I think) the notion that they keep their Earth a little chaotic simply so they won't get bored. Garney draws a suitably creepy evil Earth, and he has a good grasp of the Syndicate. Since the villains end up attacking the Weaponers of Qward, the issue runs the gamut from "business as usual" to more cosmic battles. Hopefully next issue they'll actually meet the JLA again.

Fantastic Four #520 continues (or starts, depending on whether you believe the cover) the Galactus storyline, which sadly will be Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo's last on this book. As the group deals with Johnny being Galactus' new herald (and having switched powers with Sue to boot), there are a couple of flashbacks to earlier episodes in their relationship. Reed yells more here than he has in a while, which is a little jarring but not out of character. Meanwhile, aboard Galactus' ship, Johnny gets a graphic demonstration of just how powerful he has become. I can't say I'm crazy about this storyline, but it's handled with what has become Waid and Wieringo's trademark flair, so I'm enjoying it while it lasts.

Wonder Woman #210 finishes the "Stoned" arc with a one-on-one fight to the death between WW and Medousa at Yankee Stadium. That's pretty much the whole issue. The fight is broadcast on global TV, so there is the possibility that whoever watches could catch Medousa's gaze and be turned to stone. Of course, this means that Diana must fight Medousa without doing the same thing; and the measures she takes range from clever to "holy crap!" This incarnation of Wonder Woman has been a global icon since the beginning, but Greg Rucka has planted her firmly on the international stage more than possibly any writer she's had since George Perez. Drew Johnson does a whale of a job showing that both combatants give as well as they get. This title evokes for me the glory days of Simonson's Thor.

Rucka also wrote Adventures of Superman #634, his second Mr. Mxyzptlk story. As with the first one, I really hope these end up having some point. This time Mxy puts on a Superman costume and runs riot through the DC offices (represented in photos of editor Eddie Berganza and honcho Mike Carlin). His industry in-jokes aren't that funny, and his role in the actual story is basically to give Superman a breather from fighting the Parasite twins. Of course, this is because he's an omnipotent being and could provide a deus ex machina ending to the whole thing. Rucka clearly has a vision for Wonder Woman; too bad one hasn't coalesced so far for Superman.
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Monday, November 15, 2004

Star Wars Ate My Brain

Since the new Revenge of the Sith trailer signals the beginning of 6 months of Star Wars hype, here are my thoughts on how everything we've seen so far fits together. This is entirely from the movies, because I don't have time to read all the novels, comics, etc.

At the time of The Phantom Menace, some 12 years before the end of the Old Republic, the Jedi Knights have about 10,000 members scattered around the galaxy. The Jedi are governed by a 12-member Council, which itself is apparently headed by Yoda and Mace Windu.

The Jedi have developed many rules. Children who grow up in the Republic are tested for their Jedi potential; and if they pass, they're presumably taken from their parents at a very young age (at 9, Anakin is already too old) and given several years of training. We see Yoda administering lightsaber training to these "younglings" in Episode II. "Taken from their parents" is an important part of the training, because the Jedi Code seems to forbid any kind of emotional attachment beyond simple friendship. We will see that Anakin gets into trouble precisely because he forms these kinds of attachments.

Once the youngling-training is complete, the "padawan" is apprenticed to an experienced Jedi Knight. (There are three Jedi ranks -- Padawan, Knight, and Master -- but ordinary folk use the generic "Jedi Knight.") The padawan then spends several more years learning from the master. When the time is right, the padawan takes "the trials." Passing the trials earns the padawan the rank of Jedi Knight.

The evil counterparts of the Jedi are the Sith. About a thousand years ago, around the time the Republic was formed, the Jedi had fought their last battle with the Sith. Conjecture around the time of Phantom Menace's release stated that once there were a number of Sith, perhaps comparable to the number of Jedi; but infighting (literally) winnowed down the ranks to two -- a master and an apprentice. The basic nature of the Sith pretty much guaranteed that master and apprentice would share an uneasy truce, with one always looking to pick off the other. Still, there would always be only two, because the master and apprentice would gang up on anyone who tried to challenge them.

There are other beings in the galaxy who know the Jedi arts and are neither Jedi nor Sith, but by and large the movies aren't concerned with them. This accounts for Asaaj Ventress, the bald woman in the "Clone Wars" cartoons.

Both the Jedi and the Sith tap into the Force, a mystical energy field created by all living things. Say it with me: It surrounds us, and penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together. The Force has a "will," a good side, and a Dark Side. In a gross physical manner, it can be manipulated for good or evil by those who have been properly trained.

The differences between the good side and the bad involve states of mind. Anger, fear, and aggression lead to the dark side. The dark side is also "quicker, easier, more seductive," but its users pay a price, becoming "consumed" by it. By contrast, the good side is described in terms of peace and calm.

A life-form's access to the Force is facilitated by the much-reviled midichlorians -- microscopic creatures who live in symbiosis within one's cells. Apparently, the more midichlorians you have, the greater your access. The Old Republic's Jedi considered midichlorians an important factor in deciding whether to train potential padawans.

Into this mix comes 9-year-old Anakin Skywalker, a mechanical prodigy who has built (among other things) his own protocol droid and his own pod-racer. The immaculately-conceived Anakin lived with his mother on the distant planet Tatooine, away from the influence of the galactic superpowers. When the Jedi Qui-Gon Jinn discovered Anakin, he sensed a yooge amount of Force potential, and sure enough, Anakin's midichlorian count was higher than Yoda's. It turns out that Anakin is the "Chosen One" who's destined to bring balance to the Force.

But wait -- what does that mean? In hindsight, we see that Anakin does bring balance in at least one sense: he allows the Republic to become a totalitarian Empire and hunt down the Jedi Knights so that there are only two Jedi left. While the Jedi Council is hesitant to train Anakin, the fact that they allow his training -- and apprentice him to the relatively green Obi-Wan Kenobi (the late Qui-Gon's apprentice) -- shows that clearly they're not concerned about Anakin turning on them and imposing an iron will upon the galaxy. This can't even be explained by the resurgent Sith clouding the Jedi's precognitive powers, because the prophecy itself was known to the Jedi before the Sith's re-emergence.

This leaves us with the probability that "balance" is, all things being equal, a positive development, even if the prophecy itself is as vague as it seems from the dialogue. George Lucas has said "balance" refers to Anakin coming back from the Dark Side -- but how does that help the Jedi or, for that matter, the galaxy as a whole?

Because midichlorians are themselves life-forms, one of their primary functions is to reproduce. Thus, they will tend to favor behaviors which encourage their reproduction. Qui-Gon theorized that the midichlorians were somehow responsible for Anakin's immaculate conception. If this is true, then Anakin was ultimately destined to serve some greater purpose for the midichlorians. Obviously, one of their biggest needs is to ensure their own survival as a species.

Putting this all together, it would seem that the Force, through the midichlorians, immaculately conceived Anakin as the Chosen One who would bring balance; thereby facilitating both the prosperity of the midichlorian species and the ability of all living creatures to access the Force. Why, then, would Anakin seek to destroy those individuals with the highest midichlorian counts?

The answer lies in the practices of the Jedi Order itself. Anakin explains to Padme that the Jedi forbid attachments in favor of a sort of universal compassion. In other words, by not allowing themselves to be "attached" to anyone, the Jedi can't "play favorites." We see this not only in Obi-Wan's refusal to allow Anakin to go back for Padme during the Battle of Geonosis, but also in Yoda's discouraging Luke to break training and rescue Han and Leia from Bespin. Obviously Jedi are also forbidden to marry. This is not to say that Jedi can't have friends or show emotions. Obi-Wan weeps when Qui-Gon dies, warmly embraces Dexter Jettster, and calls Anakin "a good friend." Yoda also speaks of "old friends long gone."

However, Anakin's history shows him moving from one strong attachment to another. Leaving Tatooine in The Phantom Menace, he misses his mother; and by the time of Attack of the Clones Obi-Wan is like a father to him. His mother's death starts his slide towards the Dark Side, and his romance of Padme further distances him from the Jedi Order. All the while, he moves closer to Palpatine, who encourages Anakin's feelings of superiority. Decades later, the sight of his son tortured by the Emperor in Return of the Jedi snaps Anakin back to the good side and gives him the strength to kill Palpatine. Thus, emotional attachments are both Anakin's downfall and his salvation.

There was no way Anakin was going to be a normal Jedi. Being born outside the Republic, the Jedi didn't find him until he was 9 years old. He didn't receive the years of training that "younglings" did. Instead, he went straight to being the apprentice of a just-promoted Jedi Knight. Again, and perhaps most importantly, he wasn't able to sever the bond with his mother that other Jedi apparently could. (I still think one of the most pivotal moments in the cycle comes when Qui-Gon uses the Force on the "chance cube" to make sure Anakin -- and not his mother -- is freed by winning the pod race. Qui-Gon isn't content to let the will of the Force decide, and I wonder if the Force doesn't have some karmic retribution in store for him.) In a very real sense, the Force didn't reward Anakin much for being its instrument.

Luke's history of attachments is almost a parody of Anakin's. Like Anakin, Luke never knew a real father, and has an idealized version of one -- first as a space-pilot and then as a Jedi Knight ("I want to learn the ways of the Force and become a Jedi like my father"). Luke feels responsibilities (and probably attachments) to his aunt and uncle, but these are negated when the Empire kills them. By this time, though, he has started to bond with Obi-Wan, no doubt transferring some of those pent-up ideal-father feelings to him. Luke is never alone -- when Vader kills Obi-Wan, Luke has started to form friendships with Han and Leia. Luke's desire to save his friends causes him to battle Vader unprepared; and Luke' s anger with Vader for suggesting Leia could be turned to the Dark Side fuels an explosive attack which nearly sends him over the edge. What brings him back is the idealized vision of his father, coupled with the potential he still sees in Vader -- "I am a Jedi, like my father before me." What saves his life is the love he shows to Vader, which inspires Vader to return to the good side.

Therefore, both Anakin and Luke are all about attachments, but for the most part Luke's are celebrated while Anakin's are punished. Of course, Luke doesn't know any better. He received even less training than Anakin, had no formal apprenticeship, and probably only got a crash course in basic Jedi skills during his short time on Dagobah.

Still, Luke doesn't know because neither Yoda nor Obi-Wan told him. (If they did, we didn't hear about it.) I know that's because Lucas hadn't invented the Jedi Code yet, but remember, the originals now have to build on the universe developed for the prequels. Even now, Yoda's warning about Luke leaving early sounds more like pragmatism than a denial or disapproval of Luke's attachments. In fact, both Yoda and Obi-Wan discount the possibility of Luke turning Vader back to the good side, wanting him to reach his full Jedi potential before ever facing Vader.

All of this makes me think that the Jedi Code accumulated over time not so much out of the will of the Force, but for the good of the Jedi Order. Having Anakin be the Chosen One who ends up destroying the Jedi reinforces this notion that the Order had stagnated, and was itself in danger of becoming arrogant or even corrupt. Even if that hadn't happened, though, the Jedi might well have died out as a result of their own practices.

Again, for purposes of this discussion I am assuming that the Force does not favor its Dark Side, but that the midichlorians act in their own self-interest. All things being equal, the midichlorians wouldn't favor the Dark Side either, since it tends to lead to the deaths of their host bodies. (A Sith could "farm" living beings for their midichlorians, but so far we haven't seen that situation.) Along the same lines, the midichlorians probably aren't too fond of the "no attachment" rule, since it would prohibit reproductive acts for those Jedi whose cultures link reproduction to romance. In the straight-laced Star Wars galaxy, I'm guessing that's true for many cultures.

Jedi are obviously not incapable of having children with each other, but it would seem to indicate expulsion. Obi-Wan comments to Anakin in AOTC that his "commitment [is] not easily broken," which allows for the possibility that it another attachment, such as a marriage, would break it. Contrast that with the end of Jedi, which finds Luke's sister Leia ready to settle down with former skeptic Han Solo. As the daughter of Anakin Skywalker, Leia should have a fairly high midichlorian count herself, and her union with Han seems certain to produce children who will form the next generation of Jedi. (Of course, this is exactly what happens in the novels and comics; and even Luke gets married, but that's outside our discussion.)

So the bottom line is that Anakin was sent to enslave the galaxy for 20 years, and participate in the deaths of millions, or even billions, just so he could have children who'd overthrow him, and thereby allow future generations of Jedi to breed? Kind of looks like it. At least, that's what I believe the most practical application of "the balance of the Force" to be. Hey, survival of the fittest isn't pretty. Besides, while the midichlorians are acting in their own self-interest, maybe the Force really wants to share itself with more people than just the Jedi. Allowing those with high midichlorian counts (i.e., Jedi) to breed with more normal beings is as good a way as any to insure that everybody "feels the Force," even a little bit. This is what I think is meant by "balance" -- not the balance between light and dark, necessarily; but shifting the balance of power from an elite group to the populace at large. There will be Jedi in the future, but they won't be so removed from those they protect.

I realize I'm dodging the whole issue of Anakin's redemption, much like I avoided talking about Hal Jordan's insane killing spree. The short answer is that at least in Anakin/Vader's case, clearly his religion allowed for his redemption. He had done his job, and the Force rewarded him with the same kind of afterlife existence it granted to Obi-Wan and Yoda. Besides, he didn't have much in the way of happiness during his life, spending the last 26 years of it trapped in a cybernetic life-support system.

Honestly, I don't expect Episode III to address the deeper metaphysical issues. I think Lucas prefers to leave that to what's already been seen in Return of the Jedi. However, at the very least I don't believe Revenge of the Sith will be exclusive with anything outlined here. That's better than nothing, right?
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The Incredibles vs. The Polar Express

The Incredibles has made, and will probably continue to make, lots more money for Pixar and Disney than The Polar Express, its fellow holiday-period animated movie. I'm no movie-industry analyst, but clearly a big part of Incredibles' success is its pedigree -- people love Pixar movies, and many times, the Disney marketing machine is irresistible (in the juggernaut sense).

Still, even without the marketing, Incredibles (which I have seen) just looks friendlier and yes, "cuter" than Polar Express (which I haven't seen). I know that PE was created using the next phase in "Gollum technology," and it's an incredible technical achievement, but that's not why people go to movies. If The Polar Express had been animated more traditionally, I feel certain it would be a bigger hit.

Superhero comics have to be careful not to follow the same allure of technique and "realism" as The Polar Express. To me the striving for realism is more of a defensive argument that superheroes do too matter and can so tell dark, depressing stories that aren't all "Pow! Zap!" fight scenes.

Right now the superhero books which give me the biggest kick are Fantastic Four, by Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo, and Wonder Woman, by Greg Rucka and Drew Johnson. While both sets of creators have produced some ho-hum issues, FF is more often than not a zippy pastiche of wit, slapstick, familial relations, and sci-fi adventure; and WW melds the character's roots in mythology with modern-day diplomacy and traditional superheroics. Both books are at least superficially grounded in the "real world" -- Waid had the Fantastic Four try to institute "regime change" in Latveria, and Rucka has shown Diana at the White House -- but both err on the side of fantasy and thus don't limit themselves unnecessarily.

Contrast that with the Batman line, which tries so hard to live up to the legacy of Frank Miller (and live down the legacy of Adam West) that it ends up ignoring all the Giant-Prop-type fun stuff which made the character popular in the first place. Leave it to Grant Morrison -- in a JLA book, mind you -- to invest Batman not only with a "sci-fi closet," but also with the Knight and the Squire, a pair of groupies (for lack of a better term) straight out of the '50s Bat-books.

From what I can tell, the Polar Express movie is a weird hybrid of live-action movement and computer-generated imagery. Its technology frees its creators to make fantastic scenes, but that technology also limits its characters to what the human actors can portray. In this way it can only be a more vivid depiction of live-action. Its human characters aspire to look "realistic," not like stylized animated humans. Because The Incredibles is full-on computer-generated animation, it is less restricted and more viewer-friendly.

Likewise, superhero comics shouldn't try to be a weird hybrid of other media -- they should stake out their own territory and occupy the field. I know this isn't a groundbreaking thesis, but it bears repeating.

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Regrets, I've had a few...

(By the way, thanks Blogger for being completely inaccessible last night.)

Re-reading Identity Crisis #s 1-6 on Saturday, and doing Internet "detective work" over the weekend, it's become clear to me that I wasn't reading the right comics growing up. Otherwise I'd have this whole thing figured out.

For example, while I knew that the Calculator appeared in a series of Detective Comics backups in issues 462-67, in which he fought individual members of the Justice League before a big team-up/throwdown with Batman in #468, I was more focused on collecting the Englehart/Rogers/Simonson run, which started right after the Calculator issues. (By the way, Calc fought IC stalwarts Elongated Man, Atom, Green Arrow, Hawkman, and Black Canary.) So I haven't read the Calculator issues, to say nothing of the whole arc, since their publication in the mid-'70s.

Lucky for me I was reading Justice League of America back then, and today still have the issues referenced in IC #3, which by their ads took place right around the time of Iris Allen's murder. However, I wasn't reading Flash, so I don't know how much of this "Captain Boomerang body-switching" hoo-hah comes from the comics of that period.

Finally, while I was paying enough attention to Suicide Squad to pick up the issues dealing with the Justice League's investigation of Ray Palmer's death, I didn't otherwise read SS. If I had, I might have been aware that Blacksnake, a rogue agent who used Ray's size-changing technology, was killed in the issue after the "Atom arc" ended -- so he couldn't be the IC murderer. I would also have known more about the character of Nemesis, another Batman back-up feature (this time from Brave and the Bold) revisited in Suicide Squad. Like the Human Target, Nemesis was a master of disguise, and spent many an adventure impersonating someone else. Nemesis (a/k/a Tom Tresser) also had an evil twin, whose deeds inspired Nemesis to "balance the scales of justice" by doing good.

I'd like to think that someone -- maybe even the twin -- is using Nemesis' skills and equipment to impersonate Ray Palmer on the last couple of pages of IC #6, but then I ran across someone named "Metamorpheus" (?) who was also a Suicide Squad shape-changer. At that point I figured if Brad Meltzer would use characters as obscure as Bolt, Slipknot, Merlyn, and the Calculator, Metamorpheus wasn't out of the question either.

I still think the whole thing is a big blackmail plot designed to use the knowledge of their secret identities to control the heroes. (I did get that from those few Atom-related SS issues I read.) It could even have been a holdover from the Luthor administration, in the same vein as the "Bruce Wayne, Murderer?" scheme. The killer does seem to be appropriating the styles of different Suicide Squad members (Dr. Light, Slipknot, Captain Boomerang, Atom), so it makes sense that s/he got the technology from the government's files on the Squad.

Regardless, while I might revisit Identity Crisis in the few weeks before #7 comes out, I'm willing to throw up my hands and admit that Brad Meltzer read more DC comics of the '70s and '80s than I did. I don't think there's any shame in that. Obviously, reading more DC comics provided more of an opportunity to make its shared universe cohesive and "real." The idea behind Dr. Light's "conversion" came from Meltzer's observation that he was a criminal mastermind in Justice League and a nitwit in New Teen Titans. Meltzer has reconciled those disparate interpretations by saying Light was lobotomized.

I'm not saying I'm any less of a fanboy that Brad Meltzer, either; far from it. It's just funny to me that as much effort as I've put into catching up with the back issues of Justice League, Green Lantern, Batman, and Detective over the past several years, I just wasn't interested in the comics Identity Crisis spends more of its time referencing.

Now, if someone wants to lend me those old Flash and Suicide Squad issues, I'd be happy to take another crack at this....
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Saturday, November 06, 2004

Must There Be A Supergirl?

Johanna comments on Superman/Batman #13:

No matter what's been done to her [...], people still feel an unexplainable attraction to the idea of a young blond female Superman. Maybe this try, the fifth? effort in the last few years, will last.

I'm with her. Now that Jeph Loeb and Michael Turner have returned Superman's cousin Kara Zor-El permanently to the DC universe, what is there for her to do?

Introduced in Action Comics #252 (May 1959), the original Supergirl started out as Superman's "secret weapon," developed into a sometime sidekick, and at the time of her death 26 years later was her own person, equal in power and ability to her cousin. I was never much of a Supergirl scholar, and didn't follow her beyond her appearances in the Superman books. If it weren't for Who's Who, I probably wouldn't have known she had a solo book in the 1980s. Therefore, my frame of reference for her is in relation to Superman; but in my own defense, it may well be that many fans' frames of reference are similar.

Accordingly, it seems like Supergirl's biggest contribution to the Superman mythology was her relationship with him. As an actual blood relative, she was the only other human survivor of Krypton to be a regular and friendly part of his life. This gave them a unique, special bond which made her death in 1985 that much more painful.

In one respect, her death was a sign that Crisis on Infinite Earths pulled no punches. Superman would have been killed had Supergirl not saved him; and the Anti-Monitor was powerful enough to kill a nearly-omnipotent Kryptonian. Supergirl's death also signaled the "back to basics" movement which characterized the immediate post-Crisis DC books. If Superman really was the last son of Krypton, DC was saying that had to mean something; and it meant further that no one but Kal-El should have survived. Period, paragraph, end of story.

Accordingly, the cover of 1988's Superman #21, showing Superman pressed into a wall by the red-booted woman who threw him there, was supposed to raise hackles in those Superman fans who knew that no way, no how, "read my lips," would DC bring back Kara Zor-El.

Of course, DC wasn't bringing Kara back. Instead, this Supergirl hailed from a "pocket universe," whose Superboy died in battle with our Earth's Legion of Super-Heroes, and could no longer protect his adopted planet from the villains in his Phantom Zone. The pocket Earth's Lex Luthor created a "protomatter" duplicate of the deceased Lana, endowed her with super-powers, and sent her to our Earth to bring back Superman and stop the Kryptonian criminals. After the fight, Superman brought this "Matrix" Supergirl -- the sole survivor of her universe -- back to live on the Kent farm.

Matrix, who could change shape, posed as Clark while Superman took an extended trip into space, but by 1991 decided she liked being Supergirl on a more permanent basis. She protected Metropolis during Superman's apparent death, and got suckered into a romance with Lex Luthor's heir. Beyond those plots, a miniseries which separated her from Lex, and a brief stint with the New Titans, nothing much was done with her.

However, in 1996, Peter David literally fused Matrix with elements of the pre-Crisis Supergirl to create a quirky, funny version of the heroine. The focus shifted to Supergirl's new "secret identity" of Linda Danvers, a wild young woman who was engaged in shady doings before waking up to find she was Supergirl. If that weren't enough, Linda soon discovered she was an "Earth Angel" with a divinely appointed purpose and new powers to boot. Linda was somewhat world-weary, which distinguished her immediately both from Kara in the early years and Matrix in the immediate past. Instead, she was presented (much like the Jack Knight Starman, come to think of it) as a reluctant hero with a legacy thrust upon her.

Linda's final story arc teamed her with Kara Zor-El, just landed on Earth by an accident of Hypertime. Linda ended up taking Kara's place in the Earth-1 timeline, eventually falling in love with Superman and marrying him. The cost of setting everything right -- including returning Kara to her own history -- compelled Linda to give up her Supergirl identity and hide herself away, never to be seen again. (Fans immediately speculated that Linda became the title character of Peter David's new Fallen Angel book.)

Almost immediately thereafter, though, Steven T. Seagle and Scott McDaniel introduced a new Supergirl (the third, by my count) in the pages of Superman. She was Cir-El, Superman's daughter from the future, and if I had paid closer attention to Seagle's time-twisting mechanics and ultimately confusing storyline, I could tell you more about her. Anyway, at the end of the storyline (around Superman #200), she was gone too.

And now Kara's back, a fresh-faced innocent with a bare midriff and Amazon combat training, ready to be -- what? Perky in the cause of justice, I guess. Because she's Superman's newly-discovered cousin, he immediately bonded with her and sought to protect her. Never mind that this Superman hasn't emphasized his Kryptonian heritage nearly as much as his ancestor; or that until very recently, Krypton was portrayed as a cold, emotionless society which wouldn't have produced the wide-eyed naif presented here. No, this Supergirl seems assembled from a wish list of retro-Silver Age sensibilities, and her relationship with her cousin established by fiat.

Of course, I can understand how the old Silver Age trappings are coming back. I didn't mind the changes Mark Waid made to the revised legend in Superman: Birthright. I just resent the idea of Kara Zor-El springing forth whole from the head of Jeph Loeb. The story was conceived to bring Supergirl back, and the justifications came later.

This Supergirl obviously doesn't have the decades of history her Earth-1 counterpart did. This is not to say that she won't -- but I'm not sure that this married Superman, with the Kents still alive, has the emotional need to bond with her. So much has been done with him to establish his connections to Earth, and contrast them with the distinctly alien Kryptonian culture, that it would be a stretch now simply to assume that Kara can provide, and Kal needs, the same kind of bond.

Speaking of Birthright, it may now be editorial policy that Krypton is/was closer to its Silver Age incarnation than its Byrne revisions. Ironically, that also undermines the effect this Supergirl could have had. Imagine a "Supergirl From Krypton" story where Kara is a true child of a Byrne-style Argo City. Byrne's Krypton was well-meaning at best and intent on "bringing order" to Earth at worst. Instead of a grumpy Batman who doesn't like Supergirl because he hasn't been able to figure out everything about her, we could have had a Batman who is legitimately concerned she's the herald of an invasion, contrasted with a Superman who attempts to "humanize" her as his upbringing did for him. The fact that this was so clearly the "real" Kara Zor-El removed a lot of suspense from the story, because DC wouldn't do anything bad to her again, would it?

I'm not opposed to a young woman with Superman's powers and heritage; I'm just not sure what kinds of stories she can tell. I almost hope that DC uses this to cajole Peter David into bringing Linda Danvers out of retirement. It was Linda's bond with the other Kara which drove her out of super-heroing -- how will she react to seeing this new Supergirl flying around? That's the story I'd like to read.

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Thursday, November 04, 2004

New comics 11/3/04

Yesterday was a pretty light day -- JLA Classified, Detective, and Superman/Batman. Apparently Astonishing X-Men and Star Wars: Empire also came out, but somehow I didn't get either and I haven't missed them.

I want to start with JLA Classified #1. Boy, did this feel good. There was very little of substance -- just a big fight between the Ultra-Marines and Super-Gorilla Grodd -- but a lot of it set my old geezer heart a-flutter. To me it took the elements of a '60s Justice League of America story and didn't quite update them as much as extrapolate from them. Grant Morrison takes probably his biggest liberty with Batman, giving him the sci-fi gadgetry you figure he would have had if (as in the '50s and '60s) he were traveling into outer space and through time on a regular basis. Morrison also reintroduces the Knight and the Squire, a pair of heroes from the '50s Batman's "Club Of Heroes." (The CoH was a kind of United Colors Of Batman, with every country having its own version of the Caped Crusader. The last time any of these folks showed up in a DC book was as Kingdom Come in-jokes.) What I love about this issue is that Morrison doesn't try to deny Batman's goofier adventures, he embraces them. Ed McGuinness' art also seems more disciplined here than it did in the Superman or Superman/Batman books. It still has a lot of energy, but it's more focused.

The Batman-centered week continued with Detective Comics #800, the last for a while by the team of Andersen Gabrych and Pete Woods. (There's also a moody backup by new writer/artist David Lapham, coming on board next month for a year's tour.) The story is a routine tale of Batman tracking drug dealers, but it highlights how Gotham City has changed in the wake of "War Games." I've talked before about the dopey "urban legend" conceit, so I'm glad it's officially gone. This issue plays on the new "public outlaw" Batman, with onlookers gaping at the Batmobile and the authorities openly skeptical of Batman's motives. It also catches us up with the various Batman family members, allowing Batman a few actual human moments with Barbara Gordon, Jim Gordon (who calls him "son"), and Catwoman. Again, I hope the Bat-office allows its hero more of these types of character bits. To me they're more "realistic" than the standard "Batman is a jerk" paradigm.

And finally, there's Superman/Batman #13, finishing up the Supergirl saga. I'll skip the running complaint about Loeb's dueling narrative captions and just say that this part felt very forced and anticlimactic. The arc's basic plot was sound -- Kara Zor-El comes to Earth and everybody wants to decide her future for her -- but the execution left a lot to be desired. Also, who could have guessed that Amazon formal dress involved bare midriffs? S/B is very frustrating because its heart is in the right place, but it is so eager to explain itself that all the joy is sucked out. Both this Supergirl story and the JLA Classified arc include elements familiar to longtime fans, but where Loeb takes pains to delineate them, Morrison throws them in without stopping.

I don't know why, but I still feel compelled to pick up Superman/Batman every month (or, more accurately, whenever it comes out). It's a guilty pleasure, I suppose, and the ideas behind it are good. Loeb has a year left on the book, so on balance it's worth it to me to see where he's going with his 25 issues. I wonder if the next writer will bring in the Super-Sons.
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Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Okay, Let's See If I Can Relate THIS To Comics

Haven't quite stopped to catalog them all, but it feels like this elections' results have produced in me every negative emotion possible. Therefore, I am looking for something positive out of the next four years, at which time I will probably have to deal with the impending presidency of Jeb Bush.

Anyway, here's the comics part.

Is a President's second term good for comics? In other words, a second term indicates a certain amount of comfort and security on the part of the electorate. Does a creative mind react to that state of relative ennui by trying to shake it up?

Roosevelt's second term (1937-41) saw the birth of the superhero. Eisenhower's second term (1957-61) came at the beginning of the Silver Age. Nixon's second term (1973-74) was arguably too short to produce much that was noteworthy (Kirby had already finished his "Fourth World," and Marvel was entering its "dark" period), but I could be wrong. However, Reagan's second term (1985-89) definitely produced a reaction in comics, with Watchmen and The Dark Knight being the most obvious examples. Clinton's second term (1997-2001) may be too close to our own time to judge, although it was in the middle of the "anti-grim-&-gritty" phase.

I'm not sure how to deal with two other Presidents, Truman (1945-53) and Johnson (1963-69), who served out the terms of their late predecessors. You could say that their (re)election signified the same kind of satisfaction on the part of the electorate, but the 1948 and 1964 elections were the first time they'd been at the tops of their tickets. Truman's second term would have been from 1949-53, and Johnson's from 1965-69. I can't think of anything off the top of my head, but it was a late night and early morning....
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Monday, November 01, 2004

Let's see how I can relate this to comics...

It's my birthday! Today I am (gasp!) 35 years old.

Looking around the Internet to see what was noteworthy about November 1, I found that Larry Flynt, Marcia "Mrs. Krabappel" Wallace, ILM's Dennis Muren, Lyle Lovett, and Toni Collette (among others) share my birthday. Also, while my sainted mother was recovering from delivering me, "Suspicious Minds" hit No. 1 on the Billboard chart. Wikipedia also tells us that November 1 saw the public debuts of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling, Othello, The Tempest, and the Aricebo Radio Observatory; and that ten years ago, George Lucas put pencil to yellow pad to begin developing the Star Wars prequel trilogy.

Today would also have been the 124th birthday of the legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice. He was famous for the kind of florid, yet elegant, prose that would be right at home in the old NFL Films highlight reels, not to mention the pulps and early adventure comics of the '20s, '30s, and '40s. I wonder if "faster than a speeding bullet" and "criminals are a superstitious, cowardly lot" owe anything to Rice's columns?

The phrase "it's not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game" was adapted from one of his poems. That's a good bit of advice, especially on your birthday!

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