Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Why I Hate Saturn*

Land of Confusion*And by "Saturn," I mean "the Multiverse."

I hate the Multiverse. I hate it with the burning passion of the infinite suns that light its pitch-black skies. I want DC to play home to one Earth. Just one. Not two, not five, certainly not X, and not Infinity.

I know when it first started, too. It started with Who's Who Volume IV. I didn't own the comic until recently, but someone I knew in 3rd grade, knowing I was a comic fan, brought it to class a couple of times, and I absorbed its wealth of information. This was my first exposure to the Calculator and Calendar Man! My first glimpse at Captain Marvel! My first look at Changeling! And, sadly, my first induction into the world of the DC Multiverse.

"Why are there two Catwoman entries?" wondered my nine-year-old brain. "When did Catwoman and Batman get married? They had a kid? Catwoman's dead?"

I didn't understand the concept of Earth-2, and to be fair, I really didn't have much context for it. That would have been 1992-93, and I didn't start actively reading DC until December of '92 (though I have the sneaking suspicion that Who's Who crossed my path in the Spring of '93). But I have since encountered plenty of material on the various Earths, and I feel very secure in my utter hatred for their existence.

I don't like the idea that there could be more than one of Superman in a fight. More than one of Batman seems like overkill, especially given the existence of Nightwing, Oracle, and Robin. The Batman family of Multiple Earths could potentially include Batman-1, Batman-2, Robin III/V-1 (since Tim is the 3rd and 5th Robin), Robin-2, Nightwing, Huntress-1, Huntress-2, Catwoman-1, Catwoman-2, Batgirl II-1, Oracle, Bat-Girl-2, and Bat-Woman-2. Superman's family? Superman-1, Superman-2, Supergirl III-1, Power Girl, Superboy-1, Superboy-Prime, Krypto-1, Krypto-2, Steel I, and Steel II. Four of them are each nigh-omnipotent.

I don't like splitting up the universe and the dynasties. The best thing about the original Crisis is that it gave us a generational DCU. Superman wasn't the first, last, and best Superhero, he just kicked off the modern age. There was a whole generation of heroes before him, and there's a new generation coming after. That's one of the things that makes the DCU so unique: it's all about family and pantheons and legacies. That wouldn't be the case if each generation operated on a different Earth.

When Hypertime came along, I had a similar reaction, until Superboy's "Hypertension" storyline and the Flash's "Dark Flash" arc proved to me that it could work. Hypertension established that crossing barriers in Hypertime was really freaking dangerous, and took a hell of a lot of power. It wasn't something that every super-speed schmoe or human vibrator could do on his or her own.

Sidenote: The Human Vibrator will soon show up as arch-nemesis to the Birds of Prey.

"Dark Flash" established the more important point that crossing Hypertime barriers was dangerous to the universe. It caused other Hypertime anomalies to leak through and build up until something got corrected, or until whole universes ate each other.

Hypertime also makes more sense in a quantum fashion, where every choice spawns multiple new tributary universes, and there isn't necessarily a single "right" one.

But Hypertime won me over through underuse and hyperregulation, so it wouldn't become the trick-of-the-week parallel universe MacGuffin.

You want to know the biggest reason, though? I hate explaining it to people. I'm a bit of a DC history buff, and people know that, so I get questions. Especially about Superman. And more often than not, the answer to those questions starts with "yeah, originally, before they restarted his history in '86." Which inevitably leads to a convoluted answer to their original question, as it was in pre-Crisis and as it is now.

So, when a friend of mine starts discussing a story she read some time ago where Batman and Catwoman got married, and asks for further info on that, I have togo into the whole history of Earth-2, what makes it different from Earth-1, and all that.

Explaining DC history post-Crisis is hard, but it's not nearly as hard as trying to explain pre-Crisis stuff, or things that bridge the gap. I don't like doing it. It's prohibitively confusing to newcomers and non-fanboys.

Meanwhile, the heroic dynasties add to the mythoses. They give characters legacies and history. They give the universe cohesion and a rich tapestry of history. They make sidekicks make sense.

I want DC to stay the universe of families and dynasties, not the universe of redundant characters, superfluous worlds, and one-sided battles.

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Nurse, could you prep Ms. Storm's refrigerator?

So apparently they're killing the Invisible Woman. Because, you know, she hasn't been through enough with spending years as the most useless member of her team, having several life-threatening pregnancies, one of which resulted in a miscarriage, and being the object of lust for an Atlantean and the megalomaniac in the iron mask. That's not even counting the whole "Malice" split personality thing, where she becomes an evil dominatrix.

Those molecules must be more unstable than we thoughtThe first time I followed Fantastic Four was around the same time that they decided to kill off Reed and Dr. Doom. It was also around the same time that they gave Sue that hideous die-cut costume (sorry for stealing the image, Marionette).

The next time I got into Fantastic Four was around the same time that they decided to give Doom armor made of human flesh, then kill him again.

After killing him, they decided to kill the Thing. And they killed Galactus too. Everyone got better, except Galactus and maybe Doom.

That was just a year or two ago, now they're killing off Sue. I guess Johnny's the only one who hasn't yet had a trip in a pine box. Maybe that's the big event of 2007.

I just wish that Marvel would stop killing off major characters for no reason, only to bring them back and assert "dead is dead, starting now." Especially when those characters have young children (even though Franklin's been four or five for fifteen years). The Fantastic Four is a family, stop making it a family plot.

Goodbye, Sue. See you in a year or two.

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Thursday, February 09, 2006

Suspenders of Disbelief

I think it was Jon who clued me into the inherent impossibilities of Superman wearing his costume under his street clothes, but I can't for the life of me find the post where he mentioned it.

Anyway, my ultra-cool Superman 13" doll (yes, doll. Action figures don't typically come with a change of clothes) finally arrived, and I can now personally attest to the wardrobe difficulties that must plague Superman on a daily basis. Perhaps he stores his cape in a pocket someplace. Perhaps he keeps his belt and boots in a desk drawer. But there is no way that that man can wear a jumpsuit, briefs, a belt, a cape, and a pair of boots underneath socks, pants, a tucked-in shirt, the undershirt he'd require to keep that big red 'S' from showing through his white shirt, a belt, socks, and a pair of wingtips. It's simply not possible.

My theory? He wears the skintight shirt, possibly pants, possibly briefs (I'm not quite willing to concede that the pants and briefs are separate items) under his clothes. His boots are similar to Spider-Man's (no hard sole), and he keeps them folded up in a pocket or something. The belt's trickier, but the cape is folded up (through a method he learned from Barry Allen) in the buckle.

The figure itself is pretty cool. There are parts of the head sculpt that I'm not too keen on, and the coloring on his face makes him look a little sickly, and I can't figure out how the heck his feet are supposed to fit into his Clark-shoes (or, for that matter, how he's supposed to fit into his boxers). But overall? Freakin' awesome. He even comes with a copy of the Invasion! Daily Planet issue (the full-sized version of which I picked up at a recent comic sale).

And being able to strip Superman naked has already led to countless minutes of way-too-funny homoeroticism.

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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Skrullduggery

This guy makes J'onn J'onzz positively peach-colored with envyOkay, so the Super-Skrull has all the powers of the Fantastic Four, plus the regular Skrull shape-shifting abilities, right?
So, isn't Mr. Fantastic's power pretty redundant? Skrulls can already stretch; does Mr. Fantastic just give the guy more stretchability?
And I imagine the Thing's powers give him strength, but does he need to be rocky to use that (or any invulnerability he may gain from Ben's powers)? Since he's a shapeshifter, can't he just turn the rock into normal-looking skin and retain the powers?

Or is the Super-Skrull somehow lacking in the shapeshifting department?

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Marvel Comics I'd Write for Free: Quasar

I'm not a Marvel Zombie, really. Not anymore. I can't say why for certain; I guess I just like my heroes a little more iconic and primary-colored than Marvel typically offers. Sure, I love Spider-Man as much as anyone, but most Marvel comics just don't draw me in the way they did when I was younger.

That doesn't mean I don't still love some Marvel characters, and it certainly doesn't mean I don't have ideas. Thus starts a new feature here at the Fortress: Marvel Comics I'd Write for Free. I'm sure a DC version will pop up eventually.

So, the first Marvel comic I'd write for free is...

What, no Kirby Dots?

Quasar

I don't know much about Mr. Wendell Vaughn, Protector of the Universe. I've read maybe three issues of his title, and I think I've seen him in a half-dozen appearances altogether. But, man, look at that costume! That's one of the best costumes in comics, period. I've read more about Wendell than I've ever seen him in comics, and he really intrigues me. It'd be easy to write him off as the Marvel Universe Green Lantern, but he seems more than that. He's the Protector of the Universe; he alone has a jurisdiction that, in DC, is now patrolled by 7200+ space policemen.

And yet, he seems like such a nice, down-to-Earth, happy-go-lucky fellow.

So here's my proposal for a Quasar series: superheroic space opera meets Robert Kirkman or Dan Slott. "Green Lantern Team-Up," if you will. Wendell Vaughn is like Spider-Man without the bouts of depression and insecurity; Kyle Rayner without the vanity, brashness, and arrogance. He's always smiling, always helpful, and always friendly; the kind of guy you'd absolutely hate if he wasn't so damn likable. With his Quantum Bands and his fantastic costume, he patrols the spaceways, getting involved in every sort and scale of cosmic pandemonium.

I'd want to ape the Kirkman/Slott style of fun one-issue stories, building pieces of some greater story arc. Quasar would naturally be facing various moral and ethical dilemmas, the "scratch the surface to find social relevance" sort of sci-fi that seems sorely lacking these days.

But my favorite part of this idea would be the Earth trips. To close off each arc (i.e., once per trade), Quasar would make a trip back to Earth (since most of his action would take place in outer space). He'd inevitably get involved in some crazy brouhaha, face the running joke that the Avengers roster is totally different from the last time he visited, and he'd cap off the trip with chili dogs with Spider-Man.

Cosmic adventure. Superheroic fun. Hilarious action. Chili dogs. And I'd do it for free.

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My ward Flechette is a junkie!

If you think this costume's embarassing, wait'll you hear my name!Why is Green Arrow's sidekick named Speedy? Shouldn't Speedy, by any logic whatsoever, be the Flash's sidekick? Don't get me wrong, I much prefer Kid Flash, but "Speedy" has very little to do with arrows. Has the name ever been explained?

Same with Toro. How did the original Human Torch end up with a sidekick named Toro? Toro should have been a Contest of Champions Hispanic bull-themed hero, not a kid who spontaneously combusts. "Toro" has absolutely nothing to do, as far as I can think of, with being on fire.

Bucky doesn't appear to have buck teeth, nor does he typically ride horseback. Why did Crimson Avenger have Wing? Shouldn't Wing have been Hawkman's sidekick? How lame must it have been to charge into battle saying "You'll never stop TNT and his trusty sidekick, Dan!"?

Robin has been explained (and makes at least some greater sense in light of Kane's initial idea for a "Bird-Man" character). Batgirl, Supergirl, Bulletgirl, Wonder Girl, Kid Flash, Aqualad, etc. all make immediate sense. What the heck is up with the rest of the sidekick brigade?

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Saturday, February 04, 2006

J-J-J-Jaded

Better times, better costume.This seems like a good time to use the "below the fold" spoiler warning.

I really liked Jade, too. At least she and Kyle got one last team-up.
Ragnell predicted Jade's death way back in November. In the comments section of that post, I made the following prediction:




Kyle used his powers as Ion (ugh) to recharge Jade's abilities.

Jade dies, and Kyle is somehow unable to save her (loses his ring, loses charge, something). However, in death, she passes her powers on to him. He leaves the Corps, feeling both that he has failed them and that they have failed him (the tragedy that Marz talked about), and tries to rebuild his life on Earth. When he was starting out as GL, Alex's death hovered over him constantly. Now, every time he uses his new powers, he is reminded of Jade and his failure to save her. Alan Scott won't speak to him, and Obsidian wants his head on a platter. All this, and more, as Kyle Rayner tries to make a new name for himself...and that name is "Ion."

Ye gods, she looks like she borrowed a costume from the '70s Legion!Much like my prediction about Catwoman's impending kittens, and much unlike my prediction about Despero's role behind Checkmate, this one came true in style. I knew she was gone as soon as she started talking about being "together" with Kyle there.

Granted, it doesn't look like Kyle's leaving the Corps (quite the opposite, in fact), nor does it look like he's destined for Earth or that Alan harbors any ill will toward him, but I called that pretty well, didn't I?

Of course, major props go to Ragnell for predicting the whole shebang in the first place.

Not happier times.Hey, anyone else remember that Jade was raped? Me either. Well, she was molested as a child, at least. Add another one to the morbid list.

Originally I was going to end the post here, but I figured I ought to talk a little about Jade first. I liked Jade. I thought she was a cool character, long before I ever read a comic where she was a regular character. I liked her old Infinity, Inc. costume, and I don't think she's had a costume since then that was nearly as good looking. She was an example of power internalization done well (her brother's powers, less so). She made a good love interest for Kyle, right from the first time I picked up a Kyle GL comic (because it had Jade nekkid and Obsidian on the cover, and that combines far too many of my favorite things). I thought it was stupid when they started giving her plant powers, and I knew she'd be getting her abilities back 'round the time of Ion. I fully expect her to be alive again within five years.

I'll miss Jade 'til then.

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Friday, February 03, 2006

100

You can't really tell, but that's supposed to be Spider-Man on the cover thereAnniversaries are important to comics. So important, in fact, that we make up anniversaries in order to celebrate them.

Case in point: when I started up a subscription to Amazing Spider-Man, the second issue I received was #365, Spider-Man's 30th Anniversary issue. It had been 30 years, to the month, since his debut in Amazing Fantasy #15. The event was commemorated with an extra-sized issue (which made me promptly fall in love with Mark Bagley and the Lizard) that had a holographic cover, re-enacting the cover scene from Amazing Fantasy #15 in stunning rainbow-colored 3-D.

Ten issues later, the book celebrated another anniversary of sorts: the #375th issue. It was doubly special, because it also marked the 30th Anniversary, to the month, of the publication of Amazing Spider-Man #1, the first issue of Spider-Man's first ongoing series. Venom guest-starred, Peter's parents "returned," and the event was commemorated with a shiny semi-holographic cover of some sort.

This is not all that uncommon. Comic books like to celebrate. #1 issues are, naturally, big deals. Any issue that ends in More than one zero is, as well, cause for celebration. Major year dates (any character's XXth anniversary, naturally) and issue number multiples of #25 are nearly always significant. ASM had only fifteen issues prior to that 30th Anniversary bash released #350, an extra-sized issue in which Erik Larsen departed as artist, and a bunch of people did pin-ups in the back. Also, I believe Dr. Doom was involved, and Uncle Ben showed up as a concussion-induced hallucination of Peter's.

Holofoil and Bagley? How can I go wrong?In other words, #375 being the anniversary of ASM #1 wouldn't have mattered, they would have celebrated anyway. It just gave them the excuse to use a holographic cover twice in the same year.

These days, it's so difficult for a comic to gain a foothold that even 10th, 12th, 20th, and 24th issues are being celebrated. Part of this, naturally, comes from the "writing for the trade" trend, which would suggest that issue #10 or #12 is probably the end of a major story arc. There's a certain sadness in this, but it has led, at least in part, to the end of the holo-cover-every-week syndrome that plagued the '90s. And, of course, one could make the case that celebratory issues have greater meaning now, since most comics today don't make those impressive double-zero milestones.

This raises an interesting question: Where does Clark buy new glasses?Of course, if they'd stop ending and restarting long-running series, that problem wouldn't be so significant. After all, are Amazing Spider-Man or Fantastic Four selling any less now that they've returned to their original numbering schemes? I'd be willing to bet that the 500th issue extravaganzas of those series would have far outsold another #33 or something. The last few weeks have seen the final issue of The Flash and the death throes of Wonder Woman and JLA, the former two series well into the 200-issue range. We know that both of them are receiving relaunches in the near future, as is JLA, which has around 125 issues under its belt. Superman is being cancelled, only to (according to rumor) be replaced with Superman: Confidential, another #1 to add to the pile.

I started my Superman subscriptions (yep, I still receive Superman comics via mail) in 1992. Since then, I've seen one new quarterly series (Superman: The Man of Tomorrow), two new Maxi-Series (Superman: Metropolis and Superman: Birthcrap), countless mini-series and one-shots (Hunter/Prey, Doomsday Wars, Day of Doom, Superman Red/Superman Blue, Superman Forever, Superman: Legacy, Save the Planet, etc.), one new (semi-)regular ongoing series (Superman/Batman), and now the cancellation of two regular series (Superman: The Man of Steel and Superman). I know the subscribers make up a pretty small chunk of comics buyers, but does DC realize how much it screws up the math to try to split up the remaining issues of one series among the other three? Sigh, it's a pain in the butt. I think, once my subscriptions finally run out, I have at least one extra issue of Action coming. Of course, the cancellation of Superman might even that problem out, if "Superman: Confidential" doesn't take its place in my mailbox.

Anyway, the point is that there's the perception that #1 issues sell better than higher issues; that large numbers intimidate people. Poppycock, I say. Honestly, did the high numbers prevent people from picking up "Hush"? I say thee nay.

Of course, not every comic can have Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee working on it (thank goodness for small miracles) to boost sales. I can't speak to the factual truth of that perception, so I'll let it go, but I sure like seeing #500 more than #1. Everyone gets a #1.

I own a bunch of these anniversary issues, from various series. Like I said, there's one every 25 issues almost guaranteed. Typically those issues contain major changes that are eventually undone, or are the culmination of major storylines, which usually restore some sort of status quo. Off the top of my head...

Remember this trend? Even Guy Gardner got one of these covers!Action Comics #600: Superman and Wonder Woman kiss, ending any chance of their eventual relationship up until Kingdom Come.
Superman #75: Killed Superman. He got better. Came in a black polybag with all sorts of goodies.
Adventures of Superman #500: Superman and Pa Kent meet in the afterlife during Pa's near-death experience. Also introduced the four wannabe Supermen. Came in a black polybag, the cover had some sort of inexplicable plastic clingy thingy.
Superman #82 and Adventures of Superman #505: Not anniversaries, but respectively contained the end of the Reign of the Supermen storyline and the restoration of Superman's costume and status quo. The former had a chromium cover, the latter a holo-foil one. All hot on the heels of that polybagged AoS issue. If that's not a little excessive, I don't know what is.
Superman #100: Kicked off the "Death of Clark Kent" story, where Superman gave up his civilian identity due to the machinations of the Green Go--er, Conduit, a villain who was really kind of wasted.
Action Comics #700: somewhere in the "Fall of Metropolis" storyline. Metropolis fell down. It got rebuilt. Repeatedly.
Superman #200: Mercifully ended Stephen Seagle's reign of terror on the title, killed Cir-El, caused the greatest sigh of relief ever breathed by Superman fans, right up until Chuck Austen left the book.
Superman: The Man of Steel #100: Introduced Superman's second post-Crisis Fortress of Solitude; started a tradition of Mark Schultz being the only writer to understand that Fortress.
Wonder Woman #100: Killed Artemis, restored Diana as Wonder Woman, got her to give up the half-jacket and bicycle shorts.
Flash #100: Killed the Flash, introduced the Speed Force (which lasted what, 125 issues? That's quite the status quo alteration).
Flash #200: Brought Wally's kids back, answered the question of the new Capt. Boomerang's parentage.

So, what are your favorite anniversary issues? What changes managed to stick around? What was undone within a year?

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