Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Comics (Including the Online Debate Back in 1985 Over the DC Universe!!)

Batman fighting a girls’ school (as written by Grant Morrison, author as well of Supergods, about which more in the days ahead) may seem a bit tawdry (and not so unlike some evils alluded to in yesterday’s punk-filled entry), but extreme measures are called for these days to lure young readers away from the vast Barnes and Noble “Teen Supernatural Romance” section, seen in the pic above taken by Dan Greenberg.  DC Comics has other plans as well.

Tomorrow’s a big day for the company.  After decades of shrinking sales (something like a million copies a month for the most popular books back circa WWII and at best 100,000 or so now) but gradually improving film adaptations, they’re starting all their series over from issue #1 beginning with Justice League #1 tomorrow (followed by fifty-one other #1s in September alone), presumably aiming for a new clarity and simplicity in the basic premises of the series and enabling new readers to hop aboard. 

An extreme editorial move if ever there were one (as my “Month of Extremists” nears its end) – and an excuse to raise several comics-related points (the rest of you are excused):

•The opening paragraph of this article is a reminder that the real world keeps getting more comics-like (and may whet your appetite for next year’s Amazing Spider-Man movie from Marvel).

•If DC is going to revise characters, I suggest starting with Aquaman’s archfoe Black Manta.  There’s something deeply wrong about the fact that he looks and behaves like a pretty stock villain but has as his origin (A) having been a kidnapping victim left resentful of Aquaman (and the sea) after a protracted period of being sexually abused on a boat, (B) also/or hating the violent treatments with cold water he received while being an autistic child, (C) and being a drug dealer for a while before (D) being mutated temporarily into a manta-man and (E) ending up (at least pretending to be) an angry black nationalist who wants black people to live in the ocean (the ocean that he hates).

If they make up a new origin for him now, I will not call it the wrong thing to do.  As it is, I almost wouldn’t blame a liberal jury for acquitting him of all past crimes (including killing Aquaman’s son) so long as he underwent psychiatric treatment.

Worse, how can they not give a character called Manta some kind of cape?  It’s insane.

•Speaking of psychological damage, here’s a fascinating real-life retcon: the producer of the movies Look Who’s Talking and C.H.U.D. II (a film that appears in the punk encyclopedia I reviewed yesterday) suffered brain damage (after making those films, just to be clear), was in a deep coma, and a decade and a half later has a condition that makes it impossible for him to make superficial movies.

•For the many fans fearful that DC, even with a fresh start, will never be able to keep its ostensibly-coherent fictional universe’s continuity straight, this interview snippet pointed out to me by Jacob Levy is not encouraging:

[Interviewer:] Have you guys had to modify at all your version of Wonder Woman to mesh with the version of the character in Geoff Johns and Jim Lee’s Justice League?

[New Wonder Woman writer:] I don’t worry about that stuff.  I don’t know, it must be okay, I haven’t heard anything!  [Wonder Woman artist Chiang laughs]  No one’s come to me and said, “Hey, you can’t do that” yet.

•In the rebooted Justice League International, it appears the hero Booster Gold will now be a Canadian, and a female character will appear who has been dubbed a “foxy Margaret Thatcher” by Rich Johnston.  If only that were the actual plan.

•I believe it was the profoundly wise and manly Carl of Aqua Teen Hunger Force (who I also noted in yesterday’s entry) who told a time-traveling robot that purported elements of Carl’s personal history seemed contradictory and received about as good an explanation as we’ll likely get from DC if anything goes wrong. Here is the heartwarming scene.

•Terrifyingly, online debates over changes to DC Comics continuity have been going on – in almost exactly the same terms – not just since, say, Hypertime was introduced in the late 90s but SINCE 1985 WHEN THE CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS SERIES WAS ACTUALLY IN COMIC SHOPS!!!  And thanks to Google Archives, we can still read those conversations (as noted by online commenter ADMwriter)!

It’s like finding footage of oneself in childhood saying something identical to what you said last week.  And Professor Zoom thinks he can time travel?

(Maybe it really is best that we move on to 90s nostalgia now.  And, much as it pains me, so I shall, in just two days.  Let the word go forth.  Farewell, Duran Duran.)

•That 1985 series cast such a long psychological shadow, with
its depiction of multiple DC realities clashing, that I notice a BleedingCool.com columnist, without going into any further detail, says about two years ago he heard an ESPN commentator respond to the observation that two different NBA players were using the nickname “Superman” by going into a “detailed” explanation of the Crisis on Infinite Earths.

•Since Earth-2 will apparently once more be a prominent part of DC reality – and is being reimagined by writer James Robinson, the truly petty fanboy question at this point would of course be: WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR THE MERGED "JUSTICE SOCIETY INFINITY" OF EARTH-2 SEEN ONCE THREE YEARS AGO??!? THAT WAS MY FAVORITE TEAM!

•Thank you to Diana Fleischman for noting this post about the war being waged by second-rate comic book artists against accurate depictions of breasts

What makes me sad is that comics artists are at liberty to draw any way they want – and they still draw women who seem to have implants from Hell.  They could be drawing the most perfect natural boobies in the world.  It’s frustrating not so much sexually as artistically (in the same way that comics in general often frustrated me as a kid for sticking to simple earthbound plots when they could so easily do stuff more spectacular than Star Wars and Dante’s Inferno combined in every issue without adding a cent to the production costs – it’s not like having God appear in a comic costs extra special effects money).

The sad truth may be that comics artists – despite most of them affecting machismo in a New Jersey way – don’t encounter any more real-life boobies than I did way back when I first started reading them as a kid (and assumed the artists and writers themselves led lives of glamour and abundant comics convention groupies).  Then again, maybe they’ve drawn so many cyborgs that they simply have no preference for nature over the impossible. 

•Amanda Conner is a female comics artist who has drawn many a large breast but also this disturbing toilet cover featuring Power Girl as a gift for a DC writer.  It is not yet clear if Power Girl exists in the reality springing into existence tomorrow, but we will always remember this toilet cover.

•In related news, I see Christina Hendricks – as you know, the voice of Lois Lane in this year’s All-Star Superman video – has a role in the car-noir thriller Drive out next month.  The mid-century tough-gal vibe of Lois would serve her well in this film as well.  I think she was on some TV show about advertising, too.

•Even as DC Comics launches a new era of same-day digital comics tomorrow, government is pushing in the opposite direction: BrianLehrer.TV last week showed a shocking clip of Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. angrily denouncing the iPad because it may make paper-based publishing jobs go away.  (Dear God, the wagon wheel industry may fade away as well!)

Kudos to Lehrer for buttoning the clip with the simple observation that Jackson himself had recently called for a constitutional amendment promoting digital equality in part by giving every child an iPad.  Do not listen to politicians.

•Tomorrow’s transformation of DC reality (in Flashpoint #5) will hinge on the speedy character the Flash, who seems more timely than ever as we develop shorter attention spans.  I just saw a TV ad that (completely non-ironically) pitched a speed-up-your-computer service by asking, with a tone of worry, “Is your computer running slowly?  Does it take more than three seconds for your e-mail to load?”  If it did, I imagine that would be like being roasted over a hot spit for eternity.

•At some point, they really have to have Flash fight gangsters called the Flash Mob.

•I don’t know if DC even cares, but next month happens to be the fiftieth anniversary of the “Flash of Two Worlds” story that introduced the multiverse.  Good timing.  Poor Flash’s reward for enduring all that time is to have most of his supporting cast erased from reality tomorrow, though (at least for now).

•Even geekier thought: Newsarama's summary of a recent DC New 52 panel notes super-briefly that Hawkman’s no longer from Egypt.  I didn’t expect that, since there was talk of an Egypt-based film project with him – but I suppose Egypt can once more be Earth-2 fodder.

•If all the main Earth’s accumulated outer space continuity is gone, by the way, they will never get a chance to use what I thought was the logical name for the recently-integrated populaces of the planets Rann and Tamaran, namely Tamarann.  If displaced Thanagarians continue to live among them, call it Tamarannagar.  If they’ve still got people from Throneworld, to which the Rannians were at one point displaced, among them, just call it Thramarannagar.  So elegant!

•I wonder what the odds are of ambiguity arising over whether Shade and Opal City are on the main Earth or Earth-2?  Perhaps we need a Shade/S.H.A.D.E./Shade the Changing Man crossover mini taking place on Earths 2, 10, and 0, respectively, to clarify things. (S.H.A.D.E.’s leader, Father Time, does alter his appearance like the Changing Man, after all, and deal with an organization full of secret agents.)

And I wonder if the main Earth will prove to be Captain-Marvel-less and Freedom Fighters-less as well.

•Marvel and DC should do an Iron & Steel miniseries in 2013 when Iron Man 3 and Man of Steel (and little else) hit theatres.  Other truths may be noted as they are revealed to me.

•From what little we know so far, it almost sounds like the entire grim DC Universe timeline up to the present (as depicted starting tomorrow) may just go like this:

2005: Batman: Year One (Batman begins, coincidentally)
2006: Batman: Year Two
2007: Batman: Year Three; Superman debuts as “socialist” hero; Justice League forms and fights Darkseid’s sadomasochist army
2008: Batgirl shot and paralyzed; second Robin bludgeoned with crowbar, later goes insane
2009: Superman dies temporarily (does not marry)
2010: Rape victim Sue Dibny and father of third Robin murdered; fourth Robin (or at least Stephanie Brown) may have seemed to be tortured and murdered
2011: zombies tear out hearts of various heroes; murderer of third Robin’s dad resurrected; Swamp Thing kills several corporate executives

•NOTE: Comics writer Grant Morrison tells Rolling Stone he was horrified by Identity Crisis, the miniseries responsible for the rape and two of the murders above.  Grant’s a sweet guy, I think (more from me about him soon, I hope).

•DC’s reboots have nothing on McDonaldland’s, though.  Check out the Grimace and Hamburglar “Characters” descriptions (and transformations) in this Wikipedia entry.  And, by the way, I always remembered the extra set of Grimace arms as a kid and wondered where they had gone.

Planet of diamonds discoveredI’m not even sure I can think of a supervillain audacious enough to steal such a thing.  What need has mighty Galactus for diamonds, for instance?  Unless: he needed a lens for a giant laser capable of destroying galaxies!

•Greg Rucka (of all people!) vs. the presumption that “gritty” = most artful – and vs. the deeper cynicism that view sometimes belies (in a blog post about superhero movies).

•In the mid-80s, comics universes nearly merged – not in the Crisis but in the form of a DC/Marvel merger that was seriously considered in 1984.  Check it out.  Stopped by fear of anti-trust suits.

•Ethan Van Sciver, the co-writer of the DC Comics series The Fury of Firestorm (who also draws the series’ eye-catching covers) – a vocal “Jeffersonian conservative,” if you know what I mean – had to skip a Canada comic convention because security here in the U.S. wouldn’t let him exit North Carolina in time due to a one-letter typo in his ticket.

•Wonder Woman’s costume is being changed in a way that most fans would regard as slight but is seismic.  No, I am not referring to the fact that they keep changing their minds about whether she wears long pants or shorts.  I mean that after decades, they have switched from having her accessorize in gold to having her accessorize in silver, which anyone adept at paletteing will tell you is all but physically impossible.  However, the gods have granted her superpowers, so I guess we’ll all get used to the new order of things, seen here.


It’s a gestaltic thing, but now I almost find myself rooting for the #1s to contain as many gratuitous references as possible to the fact that these characters have mostly never met before, never been to an alternate universe, haven’t been married, heard only yesterday that a place called S.T.A.R. Labs is opening, etc., etc.

The cleaner the slate of superhero history, perhaps, the less opportunity for lazy writer/editor assumptions to occur about the retention of (conflicting versions of) history.  A clean break with the past was always the (hypothetical) path of least resistance for avoiding continuity errors, and maybe this could/should yet become that time.

Something as simple as having the evil Darkseid say in tomorrow’s Justice League #1 that he’s never encountered any other gods, for example – or that he hails from Olympus – could go a long way toward affirming the revolution.  Better “A revolution, yes!” than “A revolution maybe, we’re not sure – keep reading and we’ll get back to you about whether there’s been one.”

On the other hand...at a recent comics convention, one of the DC panelists reportedly referred to the new world as one that hasn’t seen superbeings for a very long time.  A mere nod to the new medieval series Demon Knights...or a hint that many of the WWII-era “Golden Age” stories could potentially come creeping back in?  If the latter, it may not be time for revolution but instead for conservation.  If merely the former, then I say smash the system completely.

P.S. It’s not just me that sees analogies to Burke and anarchism here, right?  These basic truths plainly recur in different contexts, like Batman occurring across the multiverse.  It’s not my fault.  And as you may know, some argue that the young version of Burke was covertly anarchist anyway – operating in shadows, as it were, like the early Batman – and writing his Vindication of Natural Society with more than half-serious intent, before adopting his eventual Whig secret identity and joining the Justice Parliament as if he’d always been an upstanding and conservative member of the community. 

Come to think of it, I had a Twitter conversation today partly involving a guy who uses the handle ToryAnarchist, and I’d bet he’s with me in thinking anarchist-Burke and traditionalist-Burke aren’t so hopelessly at odds.

More tomorrow, though, on political extremism – and the new era of civil debate that I shall soon usher in in Williamsburg. 


What version of the Justice Society of America would you use in their new Earth-2 adventures?

After all, at the very least you have the following options:

--Earth-Two as we remember it

--Earth-Two using the survivors of Robinson’s Golden Age miniseries

--Earth-2 with the Justice Society Infinity

--the final Earth-0 lineup from this year

--a fresh start using a pastiche team that has existed for generations

--a fresh start using a pastiche team that has existed only for a few years

--a fresh start using a pastiche team that begins right now with new origins

--a fresh start taking place in WWII

--a fresh start that takes place today but uses a lineup essentially identical to the one that lived in WWII on Earth-Two (including Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman)

--a fresh start today with the WWII-style lineup absent Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman


And on top of that you need to answer the question: Where does the new Shade series take place?  (Earth-0 or Earth-2?)  And is there a Jack Knight?  Where does he live (and what has he experienced)?

To be honest, recoiling from the sheer daunting complexity of the question inclines me to say: do the simplest thing.  Start today with a pastiche team that begins now, and just see where the story leads.  No precise expectations that way.  No legacy to manage.  (And no prior meetings between Shade and anyone.)

It’d be crazy – at a time when new readers are sought – to struggle to preserve a history that now stretches across three or so contradictory Earths.  Just do something new that is aesthetically and dramatically coherent.

I would further err on the side of having no redundant or legacy characters – that is, there will only ever have been one Hourman, for example – and would not even have any characters redundant in name/motif with those on Earth-0.  Thus no Flash, no Green Lantern, no Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Hawkman.  Let Earth-0 do those.  Earth-2 should claim exclusive right, by contrast, to (a new yet familiar) Starman, Stargirl, Shade, Spectre, Ultra-Humanite, etc.

And we should watch the new origin stories of these characters unfold in the present before our eyes as if they’ve never been seen before.  Justice Society: The Motion Picture, as it were.

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