Monday, December 26, 2005

Five Things I Love about Christmas

5. Special Christmas Installments: When they're done poorly, they tend to be fun. When they're done well, they tend to be meaningful and deep. Whether in comics or in television, when a series stops to do their Christmas special, it's usually a breath of fresh air. I'm not talking about Hallmark made-for-TV movies or bands or sitcoms that reunite to do some cheesy Christmas special, either. I'm talking about the Batman episode "Holiday Knights," or the Justice League's fantastic "Comfort and Joy." I'm talking about the JSA issue where Ma Hunkle dresses up as Santa Claus, the JLA issue where Santa joins the League, the Superman "Metropolis Mailbag" specials, the one where Clark and Lois get gifts for the League members, heck, even "The He-Man and She-Ra Christmas Special." They might not all be well-written, they might be more sugar-coated than usual, but they're always bright and shining and optimistic, and there's always some enjoyment in that.
4. Gatherings: It's always nice to see family and have an excuse to eat a bunch of good, homemade food. Some people may have low levels of tolerance for their families, I sometimes certainly do, but there's always at least some good to be found in a big family gathering.
3. Christmas Carols: Contemporary Christmas music often sucks, but I enjoy most of the carols, as long as they're not done by lame Easy Listening artists trying to make a buck. Getting together and singing "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" or something classic like that is a nice way to get into the spirit of togetherness and celebration. I may not buy into the subject matter of most of the carols, especially the older ones, but I can enjoy the music and sing along with everyone else. It's nice to find common ground somewhere with religious people, even if it's just that we can both enjoy "Good King Wenceslas."
2. Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Humans: Because sometimes it's hard to believe that there's even the possibility. This season of life and celebration and brotherhood and sharing and giving is a boost to the optimistic spirit. Even hardened cynics can imagine a light somewhere at the end of the dark tunnel of human conflict. If this season can inspire people to set aside their differences just for a day, then it offers hope that it could be two days, or seven, or a thousand. If only every day could inspire that hope.
1. Christmas Movies: I'm about to start up "It's a Wonderful Life," a movie I first watched only three or four years ago. It's now one of my few Christmas traditions, along with "Scrooged" and "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation." But no matter your movie, be it Frosty or Rudolph or the Grinch, be it He-Man or the Justice League or Buddy the Elf, you can count on a good Christmas movie to give you that warm fuzzy feeling more than any other type of film. The best ones are the ones that don't focus on Santa Claus and Jesus, but on normal people, or events that only obliquely relate to Christmas. What does "A Christmas Carol" really have to do with the holiday? Aside from inspiring typical Christmas themes of hope and humilty and generosity, there's really nothing particularly Christmasy about the Scrooge story. "Elf" and "Christmas Vacation" are about togetherness and family. And what about "Ghostbusters II"? No one remembers that as a Christmas movie, but it is. And New Yorkers unite together to defeat cynicism and hostility for the good of the world. It seems that, the less a Christmas movie has to do with Christmas as a holiday (like "Jingle All the Way"...ugh) or the regular cast of Christmas characters, and the more it has to do with the positive themes of the season, the better it ends up being.

So, I'm going to watch "It's a Wonderful Life." Tomorrow, I'll be eating gyros, seeing a movie, and gearing up for wisdom teeth removal on Tuesday. Tonight? Tonight I say "Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night."

And I really do mean "to all." Enjoy your solstice festivities, whatever they may be, and bask in the wonderment of being alive. And tomorrow, when the stores are mobbed with post-Christmas capitalism, remember that "peace on Earth" stuff, remember the spirit of the season, and do something small to make the world a better place. A lot of Christians may be off their nuts, a lot of others might be as well, but there's something to be said for that "love thy neighbor" stuff. Make every day a day of togetherness and giving and caring; it might make Christmas a little less special, but that's a small price to pay for peace.

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Saturday, December 24, 2005

Five Things I Hate about Christmas

I know, I know, I'm saying "Christmas" throughout this column. Don't mistake that for some sort of endorsement of that holiday over, say, Chanukah or Kwanzaa or Saturnalia. I'd like to buy into the idea of a "universal" Christmas, a unifying spirit of peace on Earth and good will toward everyone. The same sort of Christmas that they might celebrate on an alien world like Eternia.

Might solve a myst'ry, or rewrite hist'ryWith that out of the way, you don't have to belong to any specific denomination to say "Bah, humbug!

5. Crowds: I hate the way that every place I go 'round this time of year is packed with people. I like to hang out at Borders, but even Borders is subject to the Christmas swarming. I stood in a line yesterday that wound all the way back to Political Science. Nothing is sacred, no place is safe from the hordes of last-minute shoppers. Honestly, why are there so many? Do people just not watch calendars? It's not like Christmas sneaks up on people.

4. Hallowgivinmas: Okay, sure, it's a common complaint, but Christmas has been marginalized. Most major world religions celebrate something at Winter Solstice; it's supposed to be a time of renewal and rebirth and hope. It hearkens back to a time when many people wouldn't make it through the Winter. You get to Solstice, and the nights don't get any longer. You're over the hump; if you made it this far, it's all downhill toward Spring and Summer. This is a time to celebrate life and being alive. This is what and why everyone should celebrate at Solstice. Instead, we start Christmas the day after Halloween, draining any meaning and wonder and hope out of the season. Christmas should be the bright, shining spot in the dull grayness of Winter. Starting it early makes it synonymous with that grayness, with that hopeless bleak despair. Making it synonymous with cold, remorseless consumerism and materialism instead of life and wonder and hope certainly doesn't help that situation. No wonder suicide rates go up at Christmas.

3. The Fakeness: I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that Christmas shouldn't be a time when people set aside their differences and fill themselves with warmth and joy and love and kindness for their fellow human beings. People should do that the whole year, not just at Christmas, yet people seem to think that holding the door open or helping someone with their packages or letting someone pass them on the freeway in December makes up for acting like a creep for the other eleven months. That's the sort of fakeness that I hate. A veneer of niceness doesn't change the crappy person underneath. That, and I hate fake Christmas trees. We've used a plastic tree of one form or another for several years now, and I absolutely hate it. I always remember Lucy Van Pelt's pink aluminum Christmas Tree, and how much I miss the smell of pine and the real needles and the generalized genuine-ness of an honest-to-Rao Christmas tree.

A wonderful, awful idea4. Schmaltzy Christmas Music: "Christmas Shoes" might be the worst, but there's plenty of bad Christmas music. Anyboy band or easy listening star who decides to revisit the classics falls right into this category (except maybe Harry Connick, Jr., but that's just because's he's a crooner born in the wrong time). Also, anyone who fails to realize that some Christmas songs have been sung definitively. I realize that Nat "King" Cole probably wasn't the first to sing "The Christmas Song," but anyone who's heard him sing it knows that he should have been the last. That song belongs to Cole, now and forever, just as "White Christmas" belongs to Bing Crosby and "You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch" belongs to Thurl Ravenscroft. No one's going to improve on those. Any attempt will be a pale imitation. Why set yourself up for utter failure? See also: people who cover Beatles songs.

5. "A Christmas Story": Jesus Christ, if I never see a frame of "A Christmas Story" again, it'll still be far too soon. I think I've seen it all the way through once, and I hated every excruciating second of it. I don't know why people love this movie. I don't see any appeal to it. When it's not vapid, it's obnoxious. Yet, for some reason, TNT plays it for 24 god-forsaken hours every Christmas, and I have to remember not to surf anywhere near that station. I hate this movie with a passion that burns deep in the heart of my...uh, heart. I would sit through "Christmas Shoes" on a loop for a solid week before I ever willingly watched another second of that dreck.

And yet, every time I hear one of those nearly-as-awful Ovaltine commercials on the radio, suppressed memories of this movie bubble up into my brain like bad shellfish. Ugh.

No, not ugh. Bah! Bah humbug!

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Mithras is the reason for the season!

I'm getting tired of Christmas already. This is, I think, in part because I'm flat broke and I don't have money to buy presents for my family and friends. It's also because of that damn GRE swallowing up my birthday weekend. It's also because of a generalized lack of time to devote to Christmas-type activities. I have not yet gotten to watch any of my traditional Christmas movies ("National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation," "It's a Wonderful Life," "Scrooged," and "The He-Man/She-Ra Christmas Special," classics all); my only real contact with the Christmas world at large has been through the (ridiculous, idiotic, diversion tactic, moronic, half-baked, ignorant) "War on Christmas," and through the deluge of Christmas music just about everywhere.

I like Christmas music in general. Sometimes I'll break out my Christmas mix disc in decidedly non-Christmasy parts of the year, when the mood strikes me. Most of it's really cheesy, but sometimes I hanker for a hunk o' cheese. When the holidays come around, it's a nice excuse to listen to some great songs, and some bad covers of great songs (honestly, people should have stopped recording "The Christmas Song" after Nat King Cole. That's the definitive version, no matter what came before. Anything else is a pale imitation.), and some really awful, awful music.

Anyway, several years ago, I bought a Beach Boys Christmas Album (the Beach Boys having, at one time, been my favorite band, and the album having been, at the time, very cheap), and heard a couple of their original songs that I'd never heard before. One of these songs was "Little Saint Nick," which I eventually learned was not about Santa, but his sleigh (christened "The Little St. Nick," which makes you wonder if the Beach Boys thought symbolically at all). I heard it after that occasionally, usually lumped in with other "hip" Christmas songs on Oldies stations (along with, say, "Wonderful Christmastime" and "Blue Christmas"). It never struck me as a particularly popular song.

Cue 2005, and I start hearing "Little Saint Nick" every time I walk into a store. Sometimes 2-3 times in an hour. My friend Jon and I have had some long discussions about our increasing hatred for that particular song, due to its total overexposure. It's never really seemed like a classic song, but every store or station trying to look hip or trying to play something that's not Trans-Siberian Orchestra has picked up on that hip new 40-year-old song. Once in awhile, it's a servicable tune. It's nothing absolutely terrible (though it sounds a little too much like every other Beach Boys car song), but when you hear it several times a day and start really paying attention to the lyrics, like "she'll walk a toboggan with a four-speed stick" and "with a ski for a wheel" and "Christmas comes this time each year," you start to see how dumb this song really is. And I sincerely doubt that Santa "spends the whole year working out on his sled."

Much to my surprise, the prevalence of "Little St. Nick" this year isn't just a regional thing. Scott over at Polite Dissent has noticed it too.

I think I heard part of "Christmas Shoes" while flipping through the radio stations in the car the other day, but Chris's comments about it made me decide to check it out in detail. Oh dear god. I missed the second verse because I was laughing so hard. I can't believe how sugary and blatantly sentimental that song is. Poor Dickensian child with a heart of gold, dying mother, cynical Scrooge, Jesus, a gift from the heart, a children's choir, and a reminder of the meaning of Christmas? Had there had been a lost puppy or wide-eyed kitten, I would have gone into diabetic shock. Already I think I'm developing a cavity.

I think I originally had a point to this post. Unfortunately, I'm finishing it now, on Christmas Eve, having not looked at it for like a week. For the record, I got fed up with Christmas back on the 14th. Now it's just giving me gas.

I've got at least one more post for this solstice holiday evening, a final grinchy "bah, humbug" before I get all sappy tomorrow. Enjoy!

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Thursday, December 22, 2005

Prophetic visions!

I wrote this last night:

"Oh, and Will Pfeifer on post-OYL Catwoman? From Newsarama:

NRAMA: Did she have to take a new identity because she was grievously injued and required long-term treatment?

WP: No, but she did require medical treatment...

Medical treatment, as in "prenatal care," as in "epidural," as in "giving birth," as in "poppin' one out."

Catwoman's gonna have kittens. And you doubted me. Fools!"

Only to read this on Newsarama this morning:
WP: Yes, now that the birth announcement has been printed by Wizard, apparently I can reveal the big news that half of cyberspace already guessed. Selina is indeed having a baby.


Newsarama said that Wizard "let the cat out of the bag," but I'm far above such crude jokes. Except, you know, the kitten thing. Anyway, this just proves that even a stopped clock is right twice a day. Next, I predict that the architect behind the whole Crisis is, in actuality, Argh!yle, evil master of footwear!

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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

A Dumb in the Family

Cue Infinite Crisis predictions!

Let it never be said that I don't criticize DC. Also let it never be said that DC has enough stones to say "no, that's a really dumb idea" most of the time.

Case in point: Jason Todd as Nightwing, post-OYL.

She's a harbor chick!Check out panel 4.

The first image is the cover to the first post-OYL Nightwing issue, the second is from the Batman Annual coming the same month.

I never knew Jason Todd as Robin, except after his death and replacement by a better character. I should have a soft spot for the character, since his creator, Max Allan Collins, is from my area. I don't. I've known Jason Todd primarily in three capacities.
Jason Todd: The Corpse: Kind of a stiff (ba da bump). Never was real important, 'til recently. Though "A Death in the Family" was pretty good.
Jason Todd: The Grim Reminder/Plot Device: Is someone attacking Batman's family? Watch him get overprotective as he thinks about how each of his loved ones could end up bludgeoned by the Joker with a crowbar! Does Bruce need a little motivation? Watch him stare longingly at the display case containing Jason's costume, then move forward with new resolve! Want to make a symbolic point? Have someone destroy that display case! Is Tim Drake feeling overly secure? After walking by that case, watch him brood about the Robin he'll never be!

Once in awhile, I'll say that Norman Osborn was a greater threat to Spider-Man dead than he ever was alive. This is because Normie was a pretty lame character, but his death gave Spider-Man no end to the graveyard scenes where he would walk away meaningfully in the background while Norman's grave was in the foreground as a grim reminder of how far someone would go to destroy Spider-Man's life. As a villain, he was a decent threat. As a corpse, he was a reminder of Spider-Man's failures, of how his life affects others, and of the importance of a secret identity. Jason Todd works in a similar fashion. Dead, he's an icon. He wasn't much of a Robin, but he's a perfect symbol of the cost of Batman's war on crime, and a symbol of why Batman needs a family around him. In comics, Arthur Miller is wrong. Some characters are worth more dead than alive.
Jason Todd: The Red Hood: If they were going to resurrect Todd, I'm glad they did it this way. He's like Batman, but more brutal, and you're hard-pressed to disagree with his methods. He's a good foil, because he's just a hair over that line that Batman won't cross. Bruce trained him to be the next generation of Gotham crime fighting, and that's exactly what he has become. Except the next generation is "more extreme" and doesn't see the same distinctions that Batman's "establishment" does.

Any of these, from what I've seen, is better than Jason Todd: Robin. And all are better than Jason Todd: Creepy Adult Robin. So why, after making a name for himself, is Jason Todd taking up Nightwing's role? Seems silly for someone who wanted his own identity to further follow in the footsteps of another former Robin. Unless Dick becomes Batman and decides to play nice with Jason, but that seems both unlikely and retarded.

Of course, I could be wrong. Maybe it's a coincidence that Jason Todd and Nightwing have the same distinctive dagger in two Bat-books in the same month. It could be a coincidence that Winick talks about the Outsiders going underground, unbeknownst to the big heroes, and does the dirty, brutal work that they won't do (and that Red Hood will). It could be that Nightwing kills Jason, then goes to New York. But that seems almost as strange.

So, what say you? Does Nightwing become either a killer or a different former Robin? Is there just an abundance of wavy daggers in the DCU come March? Who stole the cookie from the cookie jar?

Yes, you.

Then who?

A little note: I'll be avoiding the comics blogohedron until I pick up the new Infinite Crisis issue. Hopefully, that'll be tomorrow. If not, then this blog will go unupdated for several days, and no one will probably notice. Happy holidays!

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Friday, December 16, 2005

How could I dance with "The Other"?

Remember when I said I'd be buying "Spider-Man: The Other: Evolve or Die" in TPB form? Yeah, not so much.

See, here's my guilty little secret, folks. I spend a lot of time at Borders, just kind of bumming around. One of the things I like to do there is read Ultimate Spider-Man trades. I don't have the money to buy 'em in the TPB format, and I don't have enough interest to collect the hardcovers (though I'll get more of those giant Barnes & Noble hardcover collections if they make 'em), but I like the series enough to read it. I'll polish off book 12 on my next visit. Do I feel a little bad about this? Sure. Would I feel more bad if Bendis didn't take six issues to tell a two-issue story? Absolutely. That's the main reason I don't buy it in floppy form. That, and the fact that I couldn't get in on the super-rare early issues.

Anyway, I've taken to flipping through "The Other" while on these little Spider-jaunts. I haven't read a full issue yet, but I've skimmed the majority of them. Today, out of urgent morbid curiosity, I read the least friendly Spider-Man book I could imagine being published under the "Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man" banner.

I liked JMS on Amazing Spider-Man. He brought back MJ, he brought back the old title logo, and he let Aunt May in on the secret. I liked the totemistic stuff, too. I thought it was really interesting. Ezekiel fascinated me, though I thought Morlun was too close in name and design to Morbius. JMS was fantastic for Spider-Man. I even liked the weird killer moth chick. But eventually, the pacing and the constant disregard for continuity, as well as the pointlessly idiotic stories about undead Hulk gangsters and long-lost high school buddies who could have easily been replaced by the Molten Man, really soured me on the title. I dropped after they blew up Aunt May's house, but it had been a long time coming. Peter David would have drawn me back, if not for the garbage crossover that's going on.

So I flip through the issue today to find one-eyed Peter Parker dying, but also somehow becoming a killer spider creature, with stingers and sharp teeth and a red eye, who eats Morlun's head. In front of MJ. And then dies.

And this is supposed to be a good thing.

I realize that there's, like, five more parts to the story. I realize that Peter's not dead. But I think I see where this is going: idiotic new powers (I sense...spider-vision and spider-stingers, which were such a grand idea when Scarlet Spider came up with them), and maybe even a physical mutation to correspond with his change of costumes (i.e., he'd change forms when changing to Spider-Man, even if it were just that his eyes went red and teeth became sharp). I see perhaps Peter leaving MJ and Aunt May, having either become disgusted with himself, or become so different physically and emotionally (turning into a murderous spider-creature will do that to you) that he thinks it would be better that they belive him to be dead. I see a stupid new costume. I see a complete rejection of Spidey's science background, in favor of more retarded magical, mystical gobbledygook. I see the vampiric form of J. Michael Straczynski sucking every last ounce of fun out of the Spider-Man mythos, the same fun that Paul Jenkins tried to keep alive for awhile (with stories like the one where Pete and Ben go to the Mets game, or with the poor kid with an imaginary Spider-Man), and that Dan Slott and Mark Waid picked up on (in Spider-Man/Human Torch and She-Hulk, and Fantastic Four, respectively).

Here's what I want from Spider-Man:
*Give Dan Slott a major Spider-Man book. Give Peter David and Paul Jenkins the others. Forbid participation in ridiculous crossovers, and disregard all Straczynskian magical crap.
*Take Spider-Man out of the major Marvel Universe for a year. He rescinds his Avengers membership, sets Aunt May up in a nice part of the suburbs, and gets a plush apartment with MJ, somewhere quiet and in a decent school district, where Spidey naturally teaches.
*Get him the hell out of the New Avengers. I know I already said that, it deserves to be said twice. The line is "catches thieves just like flies" not "catches Thanos just like flies." Spider-Man does not battle large, world-conquering menaces. He cleans up the streets and cracks jokes against Stilt-Man and the Gibbon.
*Put him back into science. No more stingers, no more organic web-shooters, just a young man and his spider-sense and his prowess with an Erlenmyer flask.
*Make him happy again. Sure, Spider-Man's life is usually kind of a downer. He's all saddled with guilt, and whatnot. But at the end of the day he's an optimist, and despite everything on his shoulders, he has a wife that loves him and he gets to spend all day swinging from the rooftops. I've done it by proxy in video games, there's no denying how fun that is.
*Give him a supporting cast. Anyone seen Robbie Robertson lately? Liz Osborn? Flash Thompson?
*Make Spider-Man fun to read. The book should be fast-paced, suspenseful, heartwarming, and funny. Peter Parker's life is high drama; Spider-Man's life is action-comedy. Is that so much to ask for?

As for "The Other"? Looks like some more reading for that comfy chair in Borders. If that.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2005

If ever, oh ever, a Wiz there was

Hey, I got that new Wizard too. I realize I'm behind on talking about it, but with the DC solicits out, I think I can examine Wizard's "quiz" a little more accurately.

Before I begin, though, I must note that Wizard has gotten both more expensive and much thinner. With only 15 pages of price guide (each one taken up with a half-page joke or comparison or article), it's as though they've stopped even pretending to be a guidebook. These year-end issues used to be like three times this size. I wonder, who is buying Wizard at this point? Because, if the smaller size and lamer jokes are the magnitude of corners that must be cut to make up for printing costs, then I don't know what the draw is anymore.

It's also nice to see them fellating DC for a change. Not too much Marvel-blowing this issue. Only about half. The fact that they rated Infinite Crisis over House of M seems like a big change from the past. Also, they praise an Image book! Not one of the big two, not a Valiant title, not something by the original Image founders! I was a little shocked.

What's that? Oh, the quiz. Here are the right answers (and by right, I mean not).

Q1. Which heroine will give birth in '06?
A1. Wonder Woman, Power Girl, Catwoman, Oracle

Gonna have to say Catwoman. This would explain why Selina Kyle's no longer going by her own name (perhaps Selina Wayne? No, she probably is using an alias to protect the baby), and why she's not in the leather. I can't imagine Power Girl or Oracle giving birth at this point, and Wonder Woman would need divine intervention for it, since she hasn't had a steady boyfriend in years, and I can't imagine her just getting knocked up.

Q2. Which one of these heroes will be stripped of their powers?
A2. Superman, Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Green Lantern

I'd say Superman, given the cover to the title formerly known as Adventures of Superman, but it looks like Supergirl will be losing her powers temporarily too (at least, as long as she and Power Girl are in Kandor). It'd explain the need for a flight ring when she joins the Legion, too.

See, I could see Superman losing his powers for the duration of the one year gap. I can see Supergirl losing her powers in Kandor (despite the fact that Kandor's not a bottle Kryptonian city post-Crisis), but I could see Wonder Woman actually get stripped of her powers by the gods.

Q3. Who will become mayor of their crime-riddled city?
A3. Wally West (Flash), Dick Grayson (Nightwing), Bruce Wayne (Batman), Oliver Queen (Green Arrow)

Apparently, it's Green Arrow, who's gone back to wearing that dumb, pointless hood. As Mia pointed out, it's not like he goes to any length at all to protect his secret identity, why bother?

Q4. Who will have amnesia and be unable to tell friend from foe?
A4. Martian Manhunter, Aquaman, The Atom, Elongated Man

I think I answered this one already.

Q5. Who will take the mantle of the most powerful hero in the DCU?
A5. Booster Gold, Animal Man, Green Lantern (Kyle Rayner), Earth-2 Superman

I like Ragnell's point that "mantle" just means "name," and Ion was the most powerful DC hero at one point, so it could be Kyle Rayner without actually changing his costume or getting those god-powers again. I'd like it to be Animal Man, but I don't think Morrison's going to go back to writing a monthly. It's either Kyle, or it's Earth-2 Superman becoming the god/intelligence of the modern DCU.

Q6. Which hero will become a criminal in the eyes of the world?
A6. Green Lantern (Hal Jordan), Superman, The Flash, Captain Marvel (come on, Wizard, his name's not Shazam, his title is).

Could be Superman. What if that's why he's "targeted"? Is that why Metropolis is "saying goodbye" to him? But that seems cliché. I think Captain Marvel's the most interesting idea in this one. Maybe his quest to rebuild the Rock of Eternity and find Shazam puts him at odds with the government. Maybe he gets blamed for the destruction in Gotham. Maybe Black Adam's reputation is cleared up through his governing in Khandaq, and Cap's opposition to him paints him as a villain. I think, though, it'd be interesting to see Billy, Mary, and Freddy as fugitives, running from the law and relying on their wits and the wisdom of Solomon to get by. Superpowered teenager runaways? Could be a good series, maybe we could get Brian K. Vaughan to write.

Q7. Which one of these heroes is the only one who'll be around after 'Infinite Crisis'?
A7. Wally West (The Flash), Conner Kent (Superboy), Guy Gardner (Green Lantern), Dick Grayson (Nightwing).

Wally isn't dying. I could see him giving up the costume, but he'll stay alive. Conner, too, might hang up the "S" temporarily, or even take Superman's mantle, but he's not biting the big one. With the high profiles given Dick and Guy lately, I can't imagine either of them getting bumped off. My bet is that they'll all be around, in one form or another. Rumors put Grayson in the batsuit, though the cover art shows what appears to be an older, more putty-faced Batman. I'll hazard a guess and say Guy will be the only one unchanged by IC in this group.

Q8. Which superteam won't survive 'Infinite Crisis'?
A8. JLA, JLA, JLA, JLA

To be replaced with either JLI or JLU, more likely the latter, as a recognition that there are no more 'strings' in the DCU.

Q9. Who's about to become the U.S. military's secret weapon?
A9. Cyborg, Wonder Woman, Red Tornado, Green Lantern (John Stewart)

Cyborg looks like he's sticking with the Titans, so that seems unlikely. Wonder Woman might do it as part of a plea bargain, but it seems out of character (unless they're going for the old-school powerless Diana Prince, super-spy stories again). John Stewart's ex-Marines (right?), so he seems a prime choice, but I'd be willing to bet Red Tornado.

Q10. Which villain will destroy an entire country and kill millions in 2006?
A10. Brainiac, Sinestro, Black Adam, Vandal Savage

Looks like it's going to be Vandal Savage, though I could see Sinestro (as head of the Manhunters) or Brainiac (can you say "shrink ray?") too.

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Saturday, December 10, 2005

Meanwhile...

In eight hours, I'll be taking the Physics GRE. Once my anus stops bleeding, I hope to start updating a little more regularly. I've got some posts on Erik Larsen's column from last week, and the new Wizard, to talk about.

Meanwhile, it's nice to see that one of Wizard's multiple choice questions has been answered. Kurt Busiek talked about the new Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis series today, with an accompanying sketch by Jackson Guice. Seems like the guy there in that image, despite having two hands, looks a lot like Arthur. Yet Kurt says it's a totally new Aquaman, an "outsider to Atlantis," who is "unsure of his role and just who the good and bad guys are in all this." He also said:

It [Aquaman's long history/continuity] all happened, it's all still out there. Mera, Tempest, Koryak, Cerdian, Lorena ... we're not throwing anything away, even if we don't necessarily use it all right away. And we're not killing Orin (the current Aquaman), not making him a villain, not scrapping him -- in time, he'll turn up in the series again, and his story is anything but over. We're actually giving him something new to deal with, some issues to wrestle with that ought to be a lot of fun.

Wizard said that one hero would have amnesia and be unable to tell friend from foe. We have a new Aquaman who looks like Arthur, and pals around with Superboy villain King Shark, while coming to Atlantis as an outsider who doesn't know the score. Arthur's not dead, his supporting cast still exists, and there's unrest in Atlantis? Orin has lost his memory (possibly due to the machinations of new supporting cast member and mysterious wizard, the Dweller in the Depths) and comes to Atlantis with a new, fresh viewpoint, trying to unite the kingdom...or destroy it.

Sword and sorcery plus science fiction plus superheroics? Sounds like an underwater He-Man, which puts it right up my alley. I'll check it out.

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Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Dung Beetle?

I take it you'll be sitting in the Smoking section, sir.Seen the new Blue Beetle? I kind of like the costume, and I think Keith Giffen and Cully Hamner will probably give us a really interesting series. I've never really heard of Hamner before, but from this picture I get a little Tony Harris or Phil Hester vibe. Very sharp lines and good use of color. I do have a few problems with it though.

First, this new costume violates the Ron Frenz Rule of Costume Design. I'm not a Frenz fan anyway, but I find the rule hilarious and useful. Uselarious, if you will.So, uh, is that it? Not very creative. Cully Hamner may have the design down, but as soon as he's gone from the book, the costume will either change, or will become horribly inconsistent. There's a lot of little designs to keep track of, particularly on the mask.

I'll grant that this is a big step up from Dan Garrett's costume. Dan Garrett wore little more than a blue jumpsuit with red gloves. And a skullcap. He wasn't the most distinctive-looking character, and I'm more than a little glad that he hasn't done much in the last several decades.

Yee-hah!But Ted Kord? Damn, that's a good costume. That's an "if it ain't broke" costume.

See, I'm going to start with the assumption that Steve Ditko designed the Spider-Man costume, and that it wasn't cover artist Jack Kirby. Starting from that assumption, we see that Ditko, among other things, was a damn good costume designer. He understood how to make costumes that were simple, made good use of color, and still stood out and felt timeless. Dr. Strange? Timeless. Spider-Man? Timeless. Ted Kord looks as good now as he did forty years ago.

Well, ignoring the big hole in his head, anyway.

Did they ever tell Cardiac he was under arrest?I don't see this costume being that sort of timeless icon. I see it looking a little too much like 90s Spider-Man villain Cardiac. Change the white to black and replace the giant Liefeld shoulder pads with a beetle-esque backpack, and you've got something like Hamner's beetle.

Finally, what's with all the black? Isn't OYL a move away from all "dark 'n' gritty" comics? I suppose if he's going to be caught up in all the crazy magic stuff that the Shadowpact will be dealing with, a little darkness (or a lot) would fit the tone of the book, but I think most people think of the Blue Beetle as a happy-go-lucky jokester. This guy, if he were smiling, you'd never know.

Of course, it also looks a little like the Kingdom Come design for Blue Beetle. With Nabu taking over the Fate garments, it appears that we're moving toward the KC future designs again. I wish we'd stop that, I thought that trend was over years ago.

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Crisis on Infinite Luthors!

Here there be spoilers!

I don't want the world to know.
I don't want my Six to show,

Two Luthors have I.
I pretend I'm King Arthur,
But I'm Mr. Blue.

I wear a suit of armor,
Stalk Kara too.


God, that may be the absolute worst mangling of Lou Christie ever. Ever. Let's forget about that and think instead about the quandry that has been posed to us by the finale of Villains United.
One would think that, after Mark Waid pulled the same trick with The Flash several years back, I'd learn to pay attention to eye color. Then again, Lex Luthor has been so inconsistently portrayed in the last several years that a changing eye color would only be par for the course.

Hey, that's Mark Waid's fault too! Good for you, Mark Waid!

Okay, that's not fair. Mark Waid just made him horribly inconsistent from the Lex Luthor we've known for years. You know, the subtle, Machiavellian genius, as opposed to a madman who would stage a fake Kryptonian invasion. Jeph Loeb, on the other hand, gave us a Machiavellian genius who somehow suddenly became a battlesuit-wearing psychopath who pumped himself full of Kryptonite and Venom (somehow forgetting the body he lost to Kryptonite-induced cancer).

By the way, have they changed the style sheet for Lois Lane yet? Or at least said that the purple irises are contacts?

Anyway, as you well know by now, we've got two Luthors running around the DCU. One is the blue-eyed business-suit-wearing leader of the Society, who claims to be from some other reality, while the other is the green-eyed battlesuit-wearing "Mockingbird," leader of the Six. There's a good deal of speculation as to which Luthor is which and from what, so I figured it'd be useful to do a run-down of the various potential Luthors. Think of this as an all-Luthor edition of The Dating Game.

Luthor number one is Pre-Crisis Earth-2 Alexei Luthor! Alexei is a dashing red-haired European with stunning blue eyes. Among his major accomplishments are attempting to entangle all of Europe in a minor war, and getting killed by Brainiac in Crisis! He helped introduce the Earth-2 Superman to the dangers of Kryptonite, and ladies, he's single!

Luthor number two is Pre-Crisis Earth-1 Alexander "Lex" Luthor! Lex shows us all that bald is beautiful, and his hi-tech weapons tell you that fat is too! Lex's striking green eyes betray a boundless intelligence, which led him to great acclaim as hero of the planet Lexor. When not dressed in prison grays, he often dresses in a purple-and-green ensemble. Tragically widowed, Lex is on the rebound, and when he comes at you with his green armored bodysuit, how can you say no?

Luthor number three is, fittingly, Pre-Crisis Earth-3 Alexander Luthor! Alexander accentuates his distinguished bald head with a sharp red vandyke. Dressed in reds and blues, to match his facial hair and eyes, Alex is the sole hero of Earth-3, who was wiped out along with beloved wife Lois. But not before sending his only son through the vibrational barrier to Earth-1. See that, ladies? He's compassionate!

Luthor number four is Post-Crisis Anti-Matter Earth Lex Luthor, a wealthy philanthropist who dresses in green armor and fights against the dread Crime Syndicate of Amerika. Not only is he a good guy, but his heart's always in the right place--on the right side of his body!

Luthor number five is the Post-Crisis Man of Steel Lex Luthor! Having starred in (at least) high-profile stories like Man of Steel and Superman: For All Seasons, Lex is another green-eyed cueball cutie. Wealthy adventurer Lex Luthor is a thrill-seeker who has faked his death, come back as a clone with luxurious red hair, deteriorated and destroyed Metropolis, come back better and fitter than ever, thanks to some soul-searching (and selling!), rejuvenated Metropolis, and completed a successful candidacy for President! He's a technological and tactical genius and a mastermind of the first degree, whose turn-ons include small-town diners and big-town reporters; his turn-offs include aliens, mild-mannered reporters, and Sidney Happersen.

Luthor number six is Birthright Lex Luthor! With pale green eyes and a shiny bald head, Lex is a reclusive scientific genius with a short temper and a near-obsessive fascination with a dead alien planet. He's rich, he's single, and he's insane, but at least life wouldn't be boring.

Luthor number seven is Lex Luthor: Man of Steel! Lex is blue-eyed and has a thing for robotic superhuman brunettes. He's good to his employees, he's wealthy, and he's not afraid to cop a feel on a miniseries cover.

So who's who? My guess is that Mockingbird is "Man of Steel" Luthor, who disappeared after "Public Enemies," and has popped up in Teen Titans and Supergirl. Society Luthor is "Lex Luthor: Man of Steel" Luthor, who I would guess is also "Birthright" Luthor despite their differing eye colors. Society Luthor is more of a team player, while Mockingbird prefers smaller, more elite teams, like his Injustice Gang.

Evidence for: Brainiac's not in the Society, instead working with MoS Luthor, who has had the majority of contact with him in the past. Only one of the Luthors consistently appears in a Battlesuit, and MoS Lex has shown his penchant for armor in the past. Society Luthor is from another reality, but needs Pariah to tell him about the Multiverse, which any of the Pre-Crisis Luthors would know about.

Evidence against: Everyone from Luthor's Injustice Gang is in the Society, except the Joker. Battlesuit Luthor has frequent contact with kryptonite despite the fact that he lost one body to the element.

Other evidence: Apparently Battlesuit Luthor is suffering from some sort of mind-control or alteration. This seems to support either Brainiac or Despero (here, second bullet point) as the architect of this Crisis.

Who's who? Only Infinite Crisis will tell!

P.S.: Deepest apologies to Lou Christie and his estate.

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Clarification

The previous post title, "Just a Piece of S" should read like "Just a Piece of Ass" (how writers treat Supergirl), not "Just a Piece of S---" (the quality of Loeb's writing on Supergirl).

That is all.

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Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Supergirl: Just a Piece of S

Women's suffrage, what's that?I think I've figured out the problem with Supergirl, and it's a problem that various versions of the character have been victims of. The big problem is in her name, "Super-Girl." People like Jeph Loeb write Supergirl as if her name were the sum total of her character. She's super, like Superman, and she's a girl.

In other words, they see an S-shield plastered on a pair of breasts and nothing else.

So we have some versions of Supergirl who are defined by whom they're dating. We have Supergirls who spend their time designing new costumes or crushing on Nightwing. Don't ask me, I'm just a girl! Tee-hee!Many writers seem unable to give Supergirl a distinct personality that can't be described as "well, she's super, and she's a girl." It's not too difficult to see how writers fall into that trap. If you make her too strong, willful, opinionated, and self-sufficient, she becomes Wonder Woman. If you make her too naïve and wide-eyed, she becomes super-damsel-in-distress. If you make her too grown-up and independent, she becomes Superman with breasts. If you make her too young and lacking guidance or motivation, then she becomes a sidekick. Writing Supergirl is walking a tightrope line over a deep pit of utter redundancy. If you make her too extreme one way or another, she becomes some other character, and there's nothing to make people buy her book over someone else's, except for the S-shield.

This problem is doubly compounded in the modern era, because of two other characters who have filled aspects of Supergirl's life: Power Girl and Superboy. Superboy became a viable character through years of well-crafted stories by Kesel and Grummett and Co., based around a central idea of "NOT the adventures of Superman when he was a boy," tales about a character who had many of Superman's powers and was learning to cope with the mantle that he'd taken somewhat selfishly, but also used his powers to have fun, pick up girls, and be more than a little self-centered. It was a Superman growing up around bad influences, without the careful guidance of people like the Kents. Kon-El has grown up a great deal since his first appearance, and that's a testament to the character's staying power and depth, but any Supergirl who displays the same teenage tendencies toward self-centeredness, or take on a more brooding attitude, is going to read like something we've already seen before.

Much of the same can be said for Power Girl. She's another character who has achieved a startling amount of depth, but more through a committee of people who loved her character and tried their best to give her a personality and a place to belong. Power Girl has had to deal with various crises of identity and how to cope with her incredible powers (fickle though they may be). Today, she's confident and sensual, but still a little insecure.

With those two, plus Wonder Woman and Superman himself, it becomes that much harder to write an interesting, original Supergirl. This isn't to say that it's impossible, mind you, but it seems like the best portrayals of Supergirl have needed some kind of hook, something that sets them apart from the rest of the Super-family.

With a costume that bright, how secret can you be?The Secret Weapon: When Supergirl first debuted, she became Superman's "secret weapon," ostensibly so he could bring her out only when absolutely necessary, allowing time to train her in secret, and for her to grow up semi-normally. I admit I haven't read much from this Supergirl era, so I don't know how good the stories were, but seeing how the modern Superboy chafes at spending any of his time in a civilian identity, I can imagine some good drama developing from a situation where even Supergirl's public (read: superheroic) identity is a secret one. Rebellious teenager Supergirl uses her abilities in secret to help others, in-between fighting world-shaking threats at her father figure cousin's beck and call. Like a more cosmic Smallville, except with Superman as semi-bad-guy, the parent/authority.

The current Supergirl looked at first like she'd go this direction, but then Superman introduced her to the superhero community at large on the next page or so.

Mae: Not much of a Supergirl, after she arrived in our universe, the Matrix Supergirl went through a period of readjustment to humanity following a breakdown. The Kent family raised her secretly and helped her become a human being again, and what's more, a superhero. In the meantime, though, she was childlike, insecure, and repeatedly looking for acceptance and identity, whether or not that identity was her own. A thankfully short-lived time for Supergirl, but it helped establish that version of the character, and it gave her quite a bit of personality and motivation.

Earth angel, Earth angel, the one I adoreEarth Angel: I would say that Peter David's take on Supergirl was probably the most original and interesting the character has ever been. By distancing her both from her confusing past as Matrix as well as from Superman himself, David was able to give her her own mythology and supporting cast. He linked her in with Hebraic mythology, Shakespeare-era fairy tales, and a whole bunch of DC's less well-known magical elements, giving her a really rich tapestry to play from. Divorcing Supergirl from Superman in terms of Kryptonian heritage, powers, science fiction, and even wholesome past and attitude, turned out to be the best decision ever made for the character.

Of course, not all the hooks have worked. For instance...
Is there anything creepier than seeing Superman between Supergirl's legs?Supergirl from Another World: So, the Time Trapper created a pocket universe for the Legion of Super-Heroes to travel to, in which they encountered a Superboy who would go on to become Superman, who served as the Legion's inspiration. That Superboy accidentally released three criminals from the Phantom Zone who laid waste to his Earth. The Lex Luthor of that Earth, a hero, cloned Lana Lang and gave that clone super-powers, including telekinesis and shape-shifting, and sent her to the real universe to recruit Superman's help. After that mission, she came to the real universe to stay, and became Supergirl (eventually). And that's the simplified version, that's not even including the gray Superman and Draaga.

What's with the Abe Lincoln beard? Honestly.Lexy's Girl: Same Supergirl, slightly later. Lex Luthor faked his death and returned in a cloned body, claiming to be his own illegitimate Australian son. This new Luthor appeared to be a decent guy, and eventually he ended up dating Supergirl. This led to her being defined entirely by the fact that she was dating Lex, to the point of defending him to anyone who would speak poorly about him, and then to storm away in a huff. When she found out that he'd been both playing her and cloning her, she got understandably upset, and the writers decided to give her a temper and a mean streak. Now, it was an understandable situation for going a little nuts, but it didn't make her any more interesting.

AAAAAAAHHH! Make it stop! MAKE IT STOP!Cir-El: Even if her name didn't sound like "cereal," Cir-El was easily the dumbest, worst Supergirl ever. Worse than the one Jimmy Olsen wished for. The whole "I'm your daughter from the future" thing was lame, and we all knew it would end up being totally false. Couple that with one of the most obtusely confusing stories in recent memory, and a costume so ridiculous it made the Red Bee look like a fashion plate, and you've got the makings of the world's worst Supergirl.

Unfortunately, the current Kara's gunning for that very same title. Inexplicable Red Sun bursts vs. Greater power than Superman? Giant amorphous "S" vs. Midriff top? I'd still give it to Cir-El, but just barely.

Dude, she's like, 15. That's neither healthy nor normal.So far, the newest Supergirl has been a central figure in something like 12-15 issues, and she still has no personality. She's been turned evil, sure. Twice. The extent we've seen of her personality is that she wants acceptance, doesn't like Batman, and has a crush on Nightwing. She's also got a fairly hot temper. Seems like she'll fight just about anyone, anywhere, at any time, if they rub her the wrong way.

Oh, and claustrophobia. Can't forget that. She's not brash and impulsive like Superboy, she's just easily provoked. She has an uncanny ability to make everyone around her instantly hostile and aggressive, even when it's wildly out of character. That's not good characterization. Teenage characters often get enveloped in weird drama, but usually because of doing typical teenage things or having typical teenage personality quirks. Supergirl's not a typical teenager in any fashion (but we'll get to that).

So Loeb has given us a character who is interesting mainly because of the mystery surrounding her--is she good or evil? Is she really Kryptonian? Why is she stronger than Superman? Why does Krypto hate her? She's falling into the "Wolverine Syndrome" pit already, avoiding the various pits of redundancy in order to just succumb to awful writing. She has no personality to speak of, so once these mysteries are resolved, there's nothing left to make her interesting. That's not giving us a powerful Supergirl character.

Of course, the art hasn't helped. Drawing this ostensibly 15-year-old girl like she's a 23-year-old anorexic supermodel (who can somehow find spandex jeans) has sexualized and matured her, and either Loeb and other writers are picking up on that, or they're just writing her poorly, because since she first crawled out of her spaceship, she hasn't once spoken or acted like a teenager. Maybe it's because she's an alien and has been indoctrinated by the Amazons, but giving her two different alien heritages has only served to utterly divorce her from humanity. You may recall me saying above that Peter David was the best thing to happen to Supergirl ever, and that's in no small part due to the fact that he helped forge a stronger connection between her and humanity. Making her alien to humans, alien to modern civilization, and alien to the superheroing world, without developing any supporting cast to connect her to anything at all, has made her generally inaccessible. I trust Rucka, who seems to understand strong women and teenagers both, to make the new Supergirl readable, but in another writer's hands, I could easily see her becoming a radioactive living deus ex machina. No writer would know what to do with her or how to handle her, and she'd only appear to help people out of problems or further complicate them.

It's the Kryptonian Pride Parade!And it's just that sort of situation that led Peter David to take her away from the Superman cast and give her an identity of her own. I love the way comics keep regressing under folks like Loeb and Waid; characters who were interesting and deep are replaced by characters who are more like they were in the Silver Age. Yay.

The best thing that could be done for Supergirl at this point would be to give her a unique supporting cast. Take the Justice League-types out of her life for awhile, and let her get some guidance from others. Maybe she should hang out with Natasha Irons and Steel. Maybe she should bond a little with Superboy, once he stops PMS-ing. Maybe she should find herself a couple of other teenage girl superheroes who can give her a secret identity and help her deal with the double-life. Might I suggest Cissie King, Greta, and Anita Fite, late of Peter David's (much missed) "Young Justice" series? They also have ties with Wonder Girl, and it seems like Supergirl ought to find a good friend in another superpowered young lady with Amazon connections, despite how uncharacteristically jealous Cassie got in that recent Supergirl issue.

I expect Rucka to do good things with this version of Supergirl. I just wish Loeb had given him more to work with. Like a supporting cast, or an established personality. Instead, we have superpowers and girlie traits, and that's well below the bare minimum of what should be expected from a year's worth of new Supergirl.

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