Monday, October 31, 2005

Carving-Man Begins

Yesterday I sat down with a pattern, a pumpkin, and my Swiss Army knife. This, my first attempt at a jack o'lantern, was the result:

Next year, maybe the Batman TV show logo.
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Saturday, October 29, 2005

A Personal History Of (Mostly) Failed Halloween Costumes

Halloween is my favorite non-religious holiday, mostly because it taps into these various geeky interests. Also, my birthday is November 1, so even if I had a crappy Halloween, the next day would almost inevitably be better.

When I was a little kid, my grandmother made our costumes. One of the first was a Brachiosaurus -- basically a yellow jumpsuit with a tail, and a mask for the head and neck. The eye-holes were at the bottom of the neck, so with the stuffed dino's neck and head towering a good two feet above my own, it effectively doubled my height. It was also tremendously hot, but I didn't mind.

Later, when I was about 9 or so, Granny made me a really rockin' Spider-Man costume, very faithful to the comics, and comfortable enough to just wear around the house (which I didn't do ... that often). Most of it was one piece, with boots, gloves, and a mask that I soon lost. A couple of years later, Granny and I collaborated on an X-Wing flight suit of which we were both deservedly proud.

Many years later, as a first-year law student in 1991, I went to the school's Halloween party in a Starfleet outfit and claimed to be "Commander Bondurant" of the Starfleet JAG. The puzzled, almost pitying stares this produced soon taught me that sometimes it's better to just wear the suit without putting too much thought into the backstory.

Case in point: my buddy Sam, also a 1-L, came as Peloquin from Nightbreed, with red skin, elaborate makeup, and snake-like hair. Unfortunately, the Nightbreed-illiterate crowd thought he was supposed to be Native American:

Random person: Wow, what a great Indian costume!
Sam: No, I'm Peloquin, from Nightbreed!
RP: ???
Sam: It's this horror movie, and Peloquin's this monster....
RP (backing away carefully): Oh, okay....

After a while, Sam just sighed and accepted the compliments on his "Indian costume."

Second year I went back to the law school Halloween party (Sam did not) as Luke Skywalker from Return of the Jedi. The costume was pretty good, although I could only find a red lightsaber. The only embarrassment was having another classmate put a cowboy hat on my head and call me "Garth Vader," and that wasn't so bad.

For a couple of years I rented some appropriate period clothes and went as Sherlock Holmes, but without the cape and deerstalker cap, people just thought I had come from a wedding.

In 1996, a few years out from law school, I was Clark Kent for Halloween. I bought a Superman costume, modified it to make it a little more sturdy, sprayed my hair black, and put on a suit and tie over the costume. I wore a white shirt, so you could see the "S" underneath, but it was pretty dark at the party and I ended up taking off the street clothes. It was a good idea (and I wore all of the costume, including cape and boots, under my clothes), but not very practical.

After going as Luke again in 1997, I was out of ideas for Halloween '98, and ended up going as the Malcolm McDowell Mr. Roarke. I had a black suit and yellow tie, and sprayed my hair white. Apparently this made me look more like either my grandfather or Bill Clinton, both of whom were undoubtedly more familiar than the '98 "Fantasy Island" remake.

At this point I vowed never to be without a decent Halloween costume, and in the summer of 1999 found a seamstress who was making Phantom Menace-era Jedi robes. However, because mine didn't arrive until December, I would have to wait to debut them until Halloween 2000.

And so it came to pass that, five years ago yesterday, I ventured out into the cold October night for what turned out to be an appointment with destiny -- for at that party, I met the Best Wife Ever. The outfit was a good icebreaker, and it probably also answered a lot of questions about just how big a Star Wars fan I was. (As my cousin later put it, "So ... she knows.")

Now, we just rack our brains trying to find her a costume every year....

Happy Halloween!
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Thursday, October 27, 2005

New comics 10/26/05

Pretty good crop this week, starting with Captain America #11 (written by Ed Brubaker, art by Steve Epting). However, before we get started in earnest, let me just say a few words about Marvel's new ad-saturation policy:

It stinks. (Stinks!)

The first ad in Cap #11 is on page 2, and it's a double-page Honda Civic spread. I know superhero comics would love to be taken as seriously as Newsweek, but having the same ad layout isn't exactly the right way to start. Remember the good old days when pages 2 and 3 could be used for a spectacular action scene, not a sensible sedan?

There are 48 pages between the covers of Cap #11, and 24 of them are ads. (Two pages are devoted to an ad for Dan Slott's new Thing series, Marvel's circulation statement, and the letters page.) Moreover, including the Civic ad, there are three double-page spreads. There are no two-page spreads of artwork anywhere in the issue. In fact, there's not a page of story in this issue that isn't right next to an ad. Is this Marvel's way of getting me to wait for the trade -- not just for the higher price point, but also so it doesn't have to fool with juggling pages to avoid those troublesome two-page spreads? It's a good thing the story works within these hideous restrictions.

And work it does, relating the history of the Winter Soldier between bookends showing General Lukin's and Cap's reactions to his file. I'm not going to say much more, except that Brubaker and Epting have convinced me they'll do right by this character, whatever his fate. It was worth slogging through all the commerce.

By contrast, Defenders #4 (written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis, art by Kevin Maguire and Joe Rubenstein) opens with six straight pages of story before the first ad, and it has two double-page spreads. (Then again, it only has 10 pages of ads. Clearly Marvel hates America, or at least its musclebound avatar.) Reading the issue, with its twisted versions of Marvel heroes, you'd think I'd be reminded of the evil Super Buddies from G/DM/M's "I Can't Believe It's Not The Justice League," and you'd be right. Regardless, for the anti-team book, it's doing very well, and I'm anticipating the conclusion.

Speaking of anticipating the conclusion, Legion of Super-Heroes #11 (written by Mark Waid, pencilled by Barry Kitson, inked by Mick Gray) finds our heroes split up and trying to regroup after the devastation of last issue. It was good enough to hold my attention for another month, but beyond that I'll have to give the series more thought. This goes into the omnibus-review pile.

JLA Classified #13 (written by Warren Ellis, drawn by Butch Guice) sends the League to Hell, where they fight demons to a standstill, or some other ambiguous result. Meh.

Flash #227 (written by Joey Cavalieri, pencilled by Val Semeiks, inked by Livesay) starts up a new story arc involving a dark alternate future (oh boy) and the new church Wally's in-laws are attending. It's better than it sounds, although I don't know how well Livesay's inks go with Semeiks' pencils. Everything seems just a little ... off. Anyway, I"m sure the alt-future is tied to the church somehow, and it's not a bad beginning.

Adventures of Superman #645 (plotted by Greg Rucka, scripted by Nunzio DeFilippis & Christina Weir, pencilled by Karl Kerschl and Renato Guedes, inked by Wayne Faucher and Guedes) takes place just before Infinite Crisis #1, so there's OMACs a-plenty and lots of Wonder Woman neck-snapping footage. Parasite's with (a) Luthor, Lois is back in Umec looking for her shooter, and Superman learns more clues about Ruin. Good stuff, much like Rucka winding up his Wonder Woman storylines to get them out of InfC's way. The art is also uniformly good, although I wonder -- with so many creators working on this book, the burden seems to be on DC to say the editors didn't change at least half of it.

JLA #121 (written by Bob Harras, pencilled by Tom Derenick, inked by Dan Green) was decent. Turns out I don't really miss the "Magnificent Seven" JLA as long as the lineup contains stalwarts like Green Arrow, Black Canary, Green Lantern, and Aquaman. After an interlude with the Key, the not-the-JLA decides to visit Nightwing and enlist him in case Batman goes really nuts. The issue comes together in ways which are not surprising, but after the past few months' chaos that's not so bad. The art was better this issue too. In terms of angsty JLA breakups, I'd rate this as only slightly more painful than the post-"Rock Of Ages" reorganization.

Finally, I had to laugh upon seeing the cover to the week's best book, Mike Allred's issue of Solo (#7). First DC nixed his Adam West cover, and the Mr. Miracle cover which replaced it (now on the inside front cover) has itself given way to Wonder Girl. The issue is a self-proclaimed "love letter" to DC books of the '60s and '70s, especially Teen Titans, Doom Patrol, and Batman. In fact, I had thought the original Batman cover was 86'ed by DC because they have issues (including legal issues) with the Adam West TV show, but the main story is, in effect, a deconstructed episode of that show, including the actors, sets, and Batmobile.

Cynics will laugh bitterly at the none-too-subtle message of that story, a devastating critique of ... well, everything DC's been doing with its main line of superhero books for the past 18 months. Some may well say that this is DC's sop to its aging fanbase (as opposed to the young whippersnappers who like the gritty), and the exception that proves the rule. However, as an eternal optimist when it comes to these kinds of things, I'd like to think "Batman A-Go-Go" shows that DC is comfortable with even the most diametrically opposed symbol of its current editorial tone. Not that it's perfect, but its heart is in the right place.

The other stories are more superficial, but again, I could tell Allred just wanted to cram as many classic DC characters into his Solo issue as he could. This becomes literal by the end of the last story, which itself is a bit of wish fulfillment. Still, Allred is a great cartoonist, and the focus is on him, not literary merit. Like I said with the Darwyn Cooke Solo a few months back, buy this book.
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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

New comics 10/19/05

We begin this week with Green Lantern Corps: Recharge #2 (written by Dave Gibbons and Geoff Johns, pencilled by Patrick Gleason, inked by Prentis Rollins and Christian Alamy). It features two plots: one group of GLs visits Mogo, the antisocial Lantern introduced by Alan Moore; and a pair of antagonistic trainees (one from Rann, one from Thanagar) gets assigned to protect a boring shipping route. Neither rises much above standard super-hero fare, but both tie into a larger story involving galactic politics. Besides, I've always liked the Corps for its tremendous potential -- not just to show how different characters would use a power ring, but for its political and legal implications. Still, I have two complaints about the issue: the art seems sloppier than it was in #1; and since when does Thanagar have a reptilian race?

Batman #646 (written by Judd Winick, pencilled by Shane Davis, inked by various people) felt very familiar, since once again it revolved around the Batman/Red Hood/Black Mask triangle. By the last few pages a new player has been added, and that itself makes the story more interesting, but we're going on a year since the Hood's been introduced and there's only so far Winick can draw out the tension between him and Batman. Apparently the next (sorely missed) Batman Annual will wrap things up, but how long until then? I did enjoy the issue, since much of it was a well-done set piece involving Batman, a couple of scared hoods, and a bomb needing defusing. Davis' art was fine, although I hope Doug Mahnke isn't gone for good.

Meanwhile, Batman: Gotham Knights #70 (written by A.J. Lieberman, pencilled by Al Barrionuevo, inked by Bit) was okay, I suppose. It advanced the Alfred/Hush/Clayface plot significantly, even with some exposition about the nature of Clayface. By the way, that itself reminded me of Lieberman's recent Poison Ivy storyline, because it too seemed to spend a lot of time in laboratories wondering how to replicate/cure a villain's condition. Like the Poison Ivy story, this has been better than Lieberman's usual meanderings, although that's not saying much. Not that strict adherence to continuity is a requirement for me, but I do wonder about a series which picks up threads from other Bat-titles and doesn't get much going the other way.

Superman #222 (written by Mark Verheiden, pencilled by Ed Benes and Joe Prado, inked by various folks) was better than I expected. Lois finds herself the target of an OMAC after having a fight with Clark. Both get to be journalists, which is nice, although it too contributes to the tension. Lois' beef is presented well enough that I actually wondered whether splitting them up might not be part of the Big DC Plan after all. In other words, some good character work peeks through all the fight scenes. The different pencils are virtually indistinguishable to my casual eye, and they seem preoccupied with the shapely forms of Lois and her new assistant, if that's an enticement to any of you.

Seven Soldiers: Klarion #4 (written by Grant Morrison, drawn by Frazer Irving) was also basically a big fight issue. Klarion and his friends and neighbors repel invaders from the world above. The art was fantastic, and the dialogue was good, but that's about it for the plot. Like the other 7S miniseries, it's To Be Continued....

Astro City: The Dark Age #4 (written by Kurt Busiek, drawn by Brent Anderson) concludes Book One (the Silver Agent story arc) by using familiar superhero elements in an unconventional way. An invasion from Monstro City interrupts the Silver Agent's death sentence, and in the melee the brothers we've been following resolve their personal issues. However, the plot isn't really the point of the issue. Busiek is more concerned with cathartic emotional release, whether it be that of the public, the brothers, or even the reader. The Silver Agent's fate is simply the catalyst for that release. Busiek and Anderson do a great job of building the tension, piling on more and more developments and using those familiar elements to good effect. There is a twist of sorts at the end which may come off hokey, but I thought was satisfying regardless. Bring on Book Two!

I had been thinking about dropping Star Wars: Empire (#36 written by Welles Hartley, pencilled by Davide Fabbri, inked by Christian Dalla Vecchia), but Part 1 of "The Wrong Side Of The War" was very good. Picking up from last issue, the Empire is pacifying the resistance on Jabiim, allowing us to focus on Imperial Lieutenant Sunber. Sunber cares about his men, even the cloned infantry. He is also torn between duty and his feelings for the Empire's prisoners. This probably telegraphs his character arc for the rest of the story. Still, telling it from Sunber's perspective was a nice touch, and the art effectively portrayed all the familiar Imperial hardware mowing down resistance. A final revelation concerning a very familiar Star Wars character was an especially pleasant surprise. I'm looking forward to the rest of the arc.

Finally, She-Hulk (vol. 2) #1 (written by Dan Slott, pencilled by Juan Bobillo, inked by Marcelo Sosa) was just as fun as I would have expected. A time-travel case inspires Shulkie towards a unique jury pool, but along the way there are a couple of fights, a few Avengers, and a jab or two at the comics industry.

She-Hulk is a funny book, and not just in the literal sense. Because it's about a superheroic attorney, much of its humor comes from its perspective on How Things Work in the Marvel Universe. (Shulkie's researchers use comics alongside their casebooks, for example.) Accordingly, it's a style of realism that, to a certain extent, repudiates the more serious, allegedly more "mature" style on display elsewhere. Naturally, I don't expect She-Hulk's style to set the company-wide editorial tone anytime soon.

Speaking of which, as you know I have not read any of the Avengers/House of M stuff, so I have no frame of reference for Shulkie's flashbacks in this issue, but I didn't think that was detrimental. To me that's part of the charm of any superhero book -- if the cliches, references, and motifs are used properly, the reader can accept them for their effects without having to know everything about them. (See also Astro City, above.) Slott's pretty good at doing that, which is why I feel comfortable reading one of his Marvel books without being drowned in continuity. One of these days he'll slip up, but I hope I'm not there to see it.
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Tuesday, October 25, 2005

All Together Now: "Snow"

“Snow,” the five-part Batman:  Legends of the Dark Knight story which just concluded two weeks ago, is eminently predictable.  Its major character arcs deal with three well-established tropes:  his relationship with the police, his relationship to assistants; and the origin of Mr. Freeze.  Because “Snow” takes place early in Batman’s career, we know how each of these arcs should end.  However, writers D. Curtis Johnson and J.H. Williams III, and artist Seth Fisher, invest enough charm in “Snow” to overlook its predictability.  The plot is therefore secondary to the characters and to the story’s overall tone.

Naturally, Fisher’s art and Dave Stewart’s colors are key to setting “Snow’s” distinctive tone.  Unlike the overwhelming majority of Batman tales, the art and colors are bright.  Batman’s cape, cowl, and gloves are a lighter shade of blue, instead of their usual deep blue or black.  Fisher draws Batman with the yellow-ovaled chest symbol, giving him a bit more color.  Fisher also draws Batman’s costume slightly baggier than many other artists.  It looks even more homemade than the David Mazzuchelli model.  Although some might think this makes Batman goofier, it really drives home the point that this Batman is just a guy in a suit who needs allies, assistants, and friends.  He’s not the hyper-competent Batman of the mainstream books, or even the typical “Year One”-era LOTDK Batman who only makes occasional mistakes.  Instead, this is a Batman trying to live up to the reputation he’s already begun to acquire.  Fisher’s portrayal of him doesn’t over-emphasize his vulnerability, but from the very beginning of part 1 it certainly doesn’t hide it.

The story itself follows two intersecting tracks.  Discovering the disadvantages of working alone, Batman puts together a team of operatives to help him build a case against a local gang leader.  Meanwhile, Dr. Victor Fries juggles his cryogenic research with his wife’s deteriorating medical condition.  When Batman’s team gets in the way of the police once too often, it drives a wedge between Batman and Gordon.  

“Snow’s” big innovation is the Bat-Team, a collection of misfits who were never happy at the FBI, the military, or even Radio Shack.  While they are enjoyable enough in the context of the story, they didn’t leave much of an impression with me individually.  There’s the Jaded Soldier, the Cool Profiler, the Fat Electronics Nerd, the Shy Analyst, and the Ex-Con.  Each gets a clever recruitment scene with Batman, and each gets a chance to contribute.  At the end they haven’t quite bonded with Batman, but they’re all friends, so that’s something.

That sounds like a negative, and to a certain extent it is, but considering Batman, Alfred, Gordon, and Freeze, really there’s not much room in “Snow’s” five issues to give the Bat-Team any more depth.  It’s better to say that they’re a unique addition to the story, and they serve the larger purpose of advancing Batman’s character arc.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they showed up in Johnson & Williams’ dearly departed Chase series, or if they somehow contributed to the formation of Agent Chase’s Department of Extranormal Operations … but I digress.

“Snow” was a fun Batman story with a clever way to explore the character’s tension between being a loner and surrounding himself with associates. It’s bright, colorful, and even cartoony without straying far from Batman’s dark roots.  It shows that there are interpretations of Batman which need not fall into a certain grim blend of Tom Clancy high-tech and James Ellroy noir.  I hope it gets collected, but if not, it’s worth seeking out.

Batman:  Legends of the Dark Knight #s 192-96 (August 2005-December 2005) was plotted by J.H. Williams III and D. Curtis Johnson; scripted by Johnson; drawn by Seth Fisher; colored by Dave Stewart; and edited by Joey Cavalieri, Harvey Richards, and Andy Helfer.
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Monday, October 17, 2005

Rampages will live! Rampages will die! And the comics blogosphere will never be the same!

With the closing of Graeme's Fanboy Rampage! after only two short years, comics' little corner of the Internet is poorer tonight. In its way, it was as essential to the comics blogosphere as "The Daily Show" is to TV news. It poked fun at the self-important and self-serving, but at its core was a real love of comics. Although Graeme and his army of commentators (including such pros as Gail Simone, Darwyn Cooke, Neil Kleid, and Kurt Busiek) never suffered fools, neither did they put on airs; and for that Fanboy Rampage! was special.

Clearly a lot of work went into putting the site together, day in and day out, so I can understand why Graeme wants to take some time off. However, I hope that's all it is. There will always be a place where no Newsarama or Wizard item is safe ... where no message-board inanity goes unmocked ... where no press release escapes unparsed ... in short, there will always be a place for the Rampage!
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Sunday, October 16, 2005

Housekeeping, and a Were-Rabbit question

I have updated the "Great Curve Manifestos" part of the sidebar to include all my posts since July, right up to tonight's.

Also, tonight we saw the very enjoyable Wallace And Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, apparently without the usual 15 minutes of previews. Since we got there late, and I was stuck getting snacks, this meant I missed the Madagascar-inspired short which opened the show. (That didn't bother me, because I have no interest in Madagascar.) Anyway, my question is this: did anybody else see W&G sans previews, or was it just our Regal theater in Newport News?
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Friday, October 14, 2005

Meanwhile, back in my chosen profession...

... I have passed the Virginia bar exam.

Thanks, everyone, for letting me take that time off in the summer to study; and thanks for coming back. Comics are more fun than lawyering, but lawyering is better at paying the bills. Now I get to be a lawyer in Virginia too.
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Thursday, October 13, 2005

New comics 10/12/05

Beware of SPOILERS, although I'm trying to avoid discussing them.




Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #196 was the last part of the "Snow" arc, so I'm adding it to my omnibus-review inbox.

Action Comics #852 (written by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning, pencilled by John Byrne, inked by Nelson) was a strange little Halloween-themed Spectre story wherein Superman must decide whether to protect Lord Satanus from the Spectre. It doesn't amount to much at the end, besides allowing Lois a last visit with the ghost of her father, so I thought the most interesting aspect of it was its relative normalcy. Except for the Spectre's current predicament, it could have come out of Satanus' last heyday in the Jurgens/Ordway/Stern '90s. I take that as a good sign for the Superman books, at least for the moment -- a brief respite in the midst of all the other strife.

Speaking of which...

Villains United #6 (written by Gail Simone, art by Dale Eaglesham and Wade von Grawbadger) provided the most satisfying conclusion of the four lead-ins, probably because this miniseries ties into Infinite Crisis the least. The revelation about Mockingbird's identity got a nice twist, and while there were some unexpected deaths (in the "I thought _____ was more valuable to DC" sense), overall they made sense within the context of the story. VU was a story about unsavory people, regardless of Catman's attempts at nobility, so the laws of crime fiction had to be followed.

Firestorm #18 (written by Stuart Moore, pencilled by Pat Olliffe and Jamal Igle, inked by Simon Coleby and Rob Stull) bills itself as an OMAC tie-in, but it really follows up on 'Stormy's escape from last issue's Villains United-related predicament. Anyway, he defeats an OMAC in such a way that one wonders whether it will be applied to the other 199,999. More important, though, is the fallout in Jason's personal life, which will be familiar to anyone who's read a few Lee/Ditko Amazing Spider-Mans. We'll see how long the new status quo holds, since the next-issue blurb promises big changes. I am still confident that the book is in good hands.

For an issue which apparently starts a new Justice League era, JLA #120 (written by Bob Harras, pencilled by Tom Derenick, inked by Dan Green) was decent enough. The threat of an escaped Arkham Asylum inmate bookends Aquaman's memorial service at the old Secret Sanctuary cave. Of the Big Three, only Batman shows up -- in daylight, even -- and soon fingers are pointed at him as the mastermind behind destroying the Watchtower. This is nothing new, given the events of the past year, but I hope it's among the last of these types of scenes. Derenick's art is fine, although his figures start breaking down towards the end. I don't know if that's meant to convey the members' tempers, but it ultimately came off sloppy. Anyway, it could be the start of a good story, now that all the preliminaries have been addressed.

And since all its preliminaries are out of the way, Infinite Crisis #1 (written by Geoff Johns, pencilled by Phil Jiminez, inked by Andy Lanning) was pretty good. Pulling together all of the lead-in elements, Johns and Jiminez establish the theme as "everything is in the toilet and the Big Three have split up." That may be enough for a new reader who's picked InfC as her first DC comic in 20 years, but clearly this is meant for someone who's done his homework. Besides its lead-ins and the original Crisis on Infinite Earths, InfC contains references to Kingdom Come, The Kingdom, and even the classic Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons story "For The Man Who Has Everything". That last carries with it a bit of irony, since it was (in a small way) a celebration of the Superman/Batman/Wonder Woman relationship, and quite the opposite is happening here. As for the technical aspects, Johns' dialogue is sometimes off, and Jiminez' figures are sometimes a little distorted, but overall not a bad beginning. It may well have been worth the wait.
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Friday, October 07, 2005

Men In Green

How much do the people of DC-Earth know -- I mean really know -- about the Green Lantern Corps?

We readers know that the GL Corps is billions of years old and consists of thousands of sentients patrolling the universe on behalf of a few dozen immortal beings. However, as far as Joe DC Sixpack is concerned, "Green Lantern" is just another super-guy's name. There was a Green Lantern in the '40s and '50s, but he retired. When the superheroes started appearing again en masse, a younger Green Lantern with a different suit was one of them. Since then, there have been a few more GLs flying around. For a while there were several in a California headquarters, but that didn't last long. Then there were three, including two in the Justice League; and for a while after that there was just one. (The old guy came back too, but with a different name.)

I tend to think it is better for the average DC denizen to think of a Green Lantern as just another superhero, because the truth is kind of mind-blowing on its face. The average GL has a broad mandate to keep the peace in its sector, and is answerable only to a small group of blue-skinned immortals, the Guardians of the Universe. While the Guardians do punish abuses of GL power, one can only imagine what it would be like to get on their bad side, even for a minor offense.

Imagine -- you're sitting around, minding your own business, when suddenly a green energy sphere scoops you up and hauls you across space to Oa. There it's explained that you are like the proverbial butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil, and if something isn't done about you, there will be tremendous consequences for your galaxy. Naturally, this all comes out of the Guardians' well-used brains, and they're the ones passing sentence on you.

It makes sense, therefore, that on Earth "Green Lantern" is just another superhero. From that perspective, defeating Star Sapphire isn't part of the ongoing struggle between factions of the Guardians' race, it's only a super-fight.

However, it is somewhat odd that Hal Jordan's new supporting cast includes a few military pilots. I'd imagine that the military keeps a very close watch on every Earth-based GL, because it knows any one of them could call down dozens, hundreds, or thousands more. I also wonder if the governments of Earth (and other planets too) have established extradition treaties with Oa, to make it simpler to transfer Star Sapphire or Sinestro from a terrestrial maximum-security prison to an Oan Sciencell. Probably not -- and I bet that troubles those governments even more, not knowing for sure even where these dangerous beings are headed.

The Guardians' jurisprudence doesn't appear to have changed since they originally sentenced Krona. If they determine you've done something wrong, that's it. You might get a trial, like Arkiss Chummuck, but the Guardians themselves pass judgment and carry out the sentences. (Moreover, Chummuck was a GL himself, so the trappings of that tribunal -- including defense counsel -- might only have been available to GLs. I don't remember Krona or Sinestro being represented.)

Clearly all this asks both the reader and the GLs to put a lot of faith in the Guardians. That's provided fodder not only for Hal's various rebellions, but also for more philosophical stories (mostly in the Denny O'Neil '70s and the Gerry Jones '90s) about the Guardians' fallibility. Regardless, the basic Green Lantern Corps setup hasn't changed since its introduction. Maybe Green Lantern and the new Recharge miniseries will address these issues, but they too seem focused more on the idea of GLs as policemen or soldiers than of the Guardians as judges.

Getting back to the original thought, I also hope the GL writers exploit this idea of "hiding in plain sight." It would add an air of mystery and might provide some more dramatic tension. (Cary Bates' Captain Atom used a similar premise to good effect.) Sure, the Justice League accepts that Kyle, John, Guy, and Hal have to answer to the Guardians, because as beings of great power themselves, they're used to taking those kinds of relationships on faith. However, I have a feeling that if the public were confronted with the whole truth about the Guardians, they'd be a lot less charitable towards the GLs in their midst.
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Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Idenfinite Crisis at about the 2/3 mark

Here's a new-comics-day essay which doesn't talk so much about the new comics. I did read the final issues of Rann-Thanagar War, OMAC Project, and Donna Troy, not to mention the new Wonder Woman (which follows the conclusion of OMAC, although nothing warns you to read OMAC first), so it looks like Infinite Crisis is just about ready.

This whole strange digression into grim 'n' gritty started last June with Identity Crisis. Now the start of the payoff is right around the corner -- but Infinite Crisis won't be over until April 2006, and then the magic will continue until April 2007 with the 52 sequel/spinoff/tie-in. By next April or May, the new status quo will be revealed, and if Mark Waid is to be believed it will look less gloomy -- so whatever of the grim 'n' gritty remains for the 52 flashbacks to tell, it should be tempered by the current books' lighter mood. Still, all that time...!

On one hand I have to admire DC's ambition. Tearing down and rebuilding its core characters ought not to be a simple affair, and DC may well feel like the process was botched when they did it the last time. On the other hand, though, reading all these books over all these months has been exhausting. Today I was glad for Gotham Central, a really great end to the "Dead Robin" storyline. It featured a classic Batman scene to boot. In a perfect world, GC would set the tone for the Bat-books, instead of being an exception or aberration. Of course, GC can afford to use Batman to maximum effect, because it doesn't have to deal with him every issue.

Really, it's the "every issue" part that gets to me. Since last June, the whole Identity/Infinite Crisis paradigm has been harder and harder to escape. Parts of it have been fun, and parts have been unpleasant (either in content or execution, or both). Moreover, DC must feel that what it has planned is so radical as to justify all the buildup -- kind of like the continuity gymnastics Geoff Johns performed in Green Lantern: Rebirth.

One suggestion has been the return of the DC Multiverse. In light of DC's strict no-takebacks policy in the late '80s and early '90s, having one of its characters even acknowledge the multiverse has been something of a radical act. Zero Hour couched its alternate timelines carefully, to avoid setting up circumstances where they could easily be accessed. Likewise, Hypertime was introduced as the continuity equivalent of the good china -- you needed special permission to use it, and only for special occasions. If the multiverse is coming back, even without altering the main post-Crisis DC timeline, that would be yooge.

I like the multiverse, and not just because I'm a crusty old dope who apparently belongs to DC's core demographic. The concept allows DC to exploit fully its 60-year publishing history -- even more so than Elseworlds, because it doesn't close off the alternate timelines or make them prohibitively difficult to access. However, DC also put a lot of effort into streamlining its stories 20 years ago, and I doubt it will reverse all of that with Infinite Crisis.

Whatever happens, at the end of the day, I just want the Earth(s) featured in DC's books to be an attractive escape from our dreary old Earth-Prime. I hope it's not a long wait until next April.

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Sunday, October 02, 2005

Follow the money

Tonight the Best Wife Ever and I saw Serenity. We both enjoyed it quite a bit, although the last act gets rather intense. (Let's put it this way: more than once I was reminded of the upcoming Doom movie.)

Many of you have probably already made up your minds about whether to see it. I will say that a healthy affection for "Firefly" is helpful going in; but otherwise that's about all the review you'll get. Instead, for me Serenity represents a new, or at least less conventional, way of doing the business of entertainment.

"Firefly's" entire history seems to have been dependent on cult followings. The first cult consisted of Whedon fans who the Fox Network assumed would give the show a chance. Fox Studios produced "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" and "Angel," but for WB and UPN; so "Firefly" was Fox's opportunity to keep those Whedon fans to itself.

When "Firefly" developed its own following, which became vocal after the show's quick cancellation, Fox was still able to profit from it. Almost immediately after the show went off the air, Whedon was championing a DVD set of all the episodes -- including ones unaired in the U.S. -- and a sequel of some sort. The DVDs helped grow the ranks of "Firefly" fans, and made the sequel more likely.

Such secondary-market salvation isn't unprecedented. "Star Trek" expanded its audience in post-cancellation syndication. Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery got a sequel on the basis of its home-video rentals, not its box-office grosses. "Family Guy's" DVD sales earned it a second life on the Fox schedule. However, "Firefly" had such a short run that the risk seems greater and the potential reward smaller. Fox isn't even in the picture anymore -- Serenity is a Universal release.

All this makes me curious about the whys and wherefores of Serenity's existence, and how low the bar for its success has been set. It may be that Universal doesn't expect big box-office returns (it made around $10 million this weekend, against a $39 million budget), and is counting on DVD sales to bolster the movie's profits. (After all, what "Firefly" fan won't want to complete her DVD collection?) In other words, Serenity may have mass-market appeal, but if I were a studio executive, I would have run the numbers on various alternative revenue opportunities before agreeing to make this movie.

Again, I'm no economist, but to me flip-flopping the markets seems to be the new direction for entertainment. The trailer advertises the movie, and the movie in turn advertises the DVD. The secondary market is becoming just as important as the primary one, assuming that hasn't already happened. (If trade paperbacks are supposedly the future of comics, are DVDs the future of movies and TV?) Accordingly, the success of Serenity may be judged on a curve that is more generous than we think.
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