Sunday, December 31, 2006

Should auld acquaintance be forgot...

At the insistence of the guy who feeds my addiction, I've decided to do a big end of the year post. I'm separated from most of my collection, so this is pretty much from memory, and limited to what I bought and read over the course of the year. Here goes!

In the category of Limited Series...
Most surprising: Beyond! Beyond! was a fantastic little tale that, amid the hubbub of Civil War, was a nice reminder of how comic crossovers (especially Marvel comic crossovers) used to be. It's short, heavy on the melodrama and the emotion, and still a lot of fun. Plus, you didn't need to buy the whole Marvel catalog to get the whole story. I was more than a little upset at Gravity's death, because I really liked the character and his miniseries, but the end seemed to suggest that his story's not over yet. I can't wait to get this in trade format.

Most disappointing: Civil War. I'm sure I'll get lambasted for this. It's not that Civil War is the worst miniseries out right now, but it's the one which most squandered its potential. It has fantastic art and a good idea, but what could have been the best Marvel crossover this side of "Acts of Vengeance" has become everything its authors said it wouldn't be. Long-established characters are acting wildly out of character, there's no consistency between the related comics and the main series, the plot is haphazard, and worst of all, it's a 'real-world political allegory' with absolutely no shades of gray. Millar has taken the worst parts of bad political allegory and fused them with the worst parts of superhero crossovers to make something that sure looks nice, but with a plot that simply doesn't hold up under its own weight. And whether it's in two months or a year, eventually we'll see Wanda Maximoff magic it away, when we could have seen real status quo change to the universe.

Worst (tie): Martian Manhunter & The Trials of Shazam. I simply couldn't choose. Between these comics we have the most half-assed lame attempts to make major unpopular characters relevant that I've seen in a very long time (way back to armored Daredevil and peek-a-boo costume Invisible Woman, I daresay). With Martian Manhunter, the heart and soul of the Justice League has been given the world's worst makeover, saddled with unnecessary new Martians, and told "everything you know is wrong" for the gazillionth time. Yes, let's make a character popular by taking away everything that makes him recognizable and unique, that'll work. Utter crap. And Trials of Shazam? Ye gods, let's take the most shining-bright happy-go-lucky character in the history of comics, and turn him into a dark, brooding, soul patch-wearing mystic on an idiotic quest. Oh, and we'll get Judd Winick to write in some of his trademark "missing the point" and "misogyny" to boot. Just bad, bad comics.

Best: Secret Six; Runners-up: Beyond! & Marvel Zombies. Secret Six has been one of the most consistently entertaining comics ever since it was Villains United. I want to continue reading it well into the end of time. Please, please, make this an ongoing.
I've already said my piece about Beyond!, but I'll say that Marvel Zombies would have this top spot easily if not for the lame ending. It just kind of...petered out. And over the course of like the last three pages, too. Even so, it's a fantastic mini, with a great idea behind it, and you better believe that I'll be picking up the Army of Darkness tie-in prequel.

In the category of graphic novels...
I'll admit, I haven't read many OGNs this year. So, while I'd like to say that "Pride of Baghdad" is the best, I haven't even cracked open Cancer Vixen or Mom's Cancer or American-Born Chinese or 1,001 Nights of Snowfall or even Pride of Baghdad, which I only just bought. So I can't make an intelligent decision here.

But as far as trades go, there's only one choice for the best: Absolute Sandman Vol. 1. It's so big and beautiful...I can't wait for them to finish the series.
Close runner-up is Absolute New Frontier, mainly because it doesn't quite have the same stack of special features, despite being a beautiful and complete story.

In the category of regular comic series...
Most disappointing series: Justice League of America. This isn't to say that it's the worst series, not by a longshot. But it seems like it has compiled all of the bad tics of Meltzer's writing into a muddled, plodding mess. Meltzer can tell solid superhero stories; his work on Green Arrow was top-notch, and despite everything, Identity Crisis turned out to be a pretty good story. It was a bad mystery and a terrible foundation for the new universal status quo, but it was a good story. Meltzer understands the characters, the relationships that drive them, and the need for heart and soul and emotion in addition to action. He has a knack for making minor characters interesting and for exploring previously unexplored but natural elements of superhero existence (like planning for your death in "Archer's Quest"). Morrison's JLA was epic and plot-driven, Waid's was character-driven, Kelly's was theme-driven, and Meltzer's had the potential to be relationship-driven. Unfortunately, none of that has really made it into JLofA. Instead, we have Vixen's anime-inspired animal naming, superheroes who can't use each other's codenames even in battle, Red Tornado's over-the-top (even for comics) melodrama, and decompression that would make Brian Michael Bendis gasp for air. The action has been decent, but it doesn't nearly make up for the fact that the trinity has been playing Overpower for five issues. And the fact that we won't even have a team until after the halfway point really drives the point home. This could have been a fantastic series, if an editor were willing to tell Meltzer to speed things up, to pay attention to codenames, and to realize how ridiculous Vixen's dialogue is (honestly, even the cartoon just showed an animal-shaped aura around her, this isn't Bravestarr). But Meltzer's a superstar, and superstars don't get edited, and that's not a good thing.
JLofA isn't the worst series around. I still buy it, I still hope that every issue makes up for the previous ones, and I like some of the story twists, and the last issue was pretty solid, but damn I hope it picks up soon.
And please, for the love of Rao, someone realize that "Reddy" is dumb once, but the third time on the same page, it's idiotic. When you've got everyone else calling each other by their first names, why not "John"? Why "Reddy"? Oy.

Most surprising series: All-New Atom. I resisted All-New Atom at first. It was partially because John Byrne was on it, and I haven't been thrilled with Byrne's work for some time now. Part of it was that I really kind of like Ray Palmer, and a big part of it was that I really didn't care for the story in Brave New World. Which is no surprise, since I don't think there was a decent story in the whole book. But, at the insistence of my supplier and after rave reviews across the blogohedron, I broke down and picked up the back issues. I promptly subscribed and I haven't looked back since. All-New Atom is just about the perfect book for a science geek like me, whether it's for the weird mesh of science and magic in Ivy Town, for Simone's top-notch research, or for the name-dropping of people I really like and respect like Penn Jillette, James Randi and Phil Plait, alongside a who's who of DCU fictional scientists. And while I certainly won't be mourning the loss of the irascible Mr. Byrne, I have to say that his work here was a marked improvement over the awful, awful work he did on Action Comics. All-New Atom has been a fantastic series, and I can't wait to see where it goes from here.

Worst series: Flash: the Fastest Man Alive. This should come as no surprise. Quite a few bad changes came out of IC/OYL. The death of Superboy, the senseless defection of Cassandra Cain, the dropping of "Captain" from Captain Comet's name, but none have been quite so absolutely moronic as the passing of the Flash mantle to Bart Allen. At least the others could be justified by the new story options they opened up or something like that; so far there hasn't been a story--nay, a single panel--to justify making Bart the Flash. We lost more than just Bart's fun, whimsical nature (which took a beating in Teen Titans, but more due to maturation than editorial edict). We lost two good characters (Impulse/Kid Flash and Wally) and a fantastic supporting cast (Linda and the rest of Wally's family, the Speed Force crew), and what did we get in return? A brooding, boring, paint-by-numbers superhero, further hindered by some of the worst plotting, sloppiest art, and mind-numbing dialogue in professional comics. Wally would have fit in so well with the post-IC DCU. Between him, Catwoman, Batman, Superman, Black Canary, and now Wildcat, superheroes' children are the new fashion. They could all share a daycare service. But instead of that new, interesting angle on superheroics and parenting, we get...this. I hope Marc Guggenheim improves this book (he could hardly do worse, but they said the same thing about Bruce Jones taking over Nightwing from Devin Grayson), but with Bart remaining the Flash, I kind of doubt it. Until then, though, I won't be wasting any more of my money on this garbage. Congratulations, messrs. Bilson, DeMeo, and Lashley, for printing the worst comic of the year!

Best series: All-Star Superman; Runner-up: 52. All-Star Superman has delivered six of the best issues featuring the character since Alan Moore was involved. Somehow mixing Morrisonweird™ with Silver Age craziness and Frank Quitely's flawless art turns out to be the recipe for the perfect Superman series. I really could gush about this for pages without saying anything new; suffice it to say that this is one of the few books I look forward to rereading. There's always something new to admire, in writing and art, in an issue of All-Star Superman.
I feel hesitant considering 52 in the "best series" category. It's had bumps and lulls and bad issues, and sometimes it feels like none of the plots are progressing (or only a few are, while others stagnate), but I look forward to reading every issue every week, to the point where waiting seven days for the next one is difficult. It's been a very long time since I've been able to say that about any comic, let alone one with as much to like as 52. And in a year where a high-profile bimonthly title only managed a single issue, any comic that could present 34 quality issues in one year, without any delays or resolicitations, is a major achievement. Kudos, 52 team.

Best single issue: There were a lot of strong contenders for this title. I could have easily looked through All-Star Superman, Y: The Last Man, Fables, Runaways, or any number of other series for some well-written, well-illustrated awesome issue. I could have been somewhat disingenuous and picked Seven Soldiers #1, even though I haven't reread it, I haven't reread the miniseries, and I'm fairly certain I didn't understand it. But there's one comic that stands out in my memory, and since I'm doing this thing by memory, I'm going to go with that. And that comic is The Thing #8. The superheroes (and assorted villains) of the Marvel Universe meet at Ben Grimm's place to play poker, and along the way we hear about Ben's Bar Mitzvah, we wrap up the various plotlines still hanging at the end of the too-short-lived series, and we learn of a battle where the Thing and Squirell Girl defeated the Bi-Beast with smelly garbage. All this and absolute hilarity really make this an excellent display of the fun, entertaining, heartfelt comics Marvel is capable of doing, when they're not striving for half-thought realism and spider-totems. When Civil War is gone and forgotten, The Thing #8 will still stand out as one of the most pure fun comics in Marvel history.

Character of the Year: Superman. It's been a banner year for Superman. We finally received the renaissance that has been promised nearly every year since 2000 (or before). All-Star Superman stands head and shoulders above most of the other comics on the shelves; Up, Up, and Away gave us the best eight straight issues of the Superman books that I've seen...maybe ever. Kurt Busiek has brought his sense of character and action and plot and everything else to make Action Comics, then Superman, simply incredible, and despite some disappointment, Johns and Donner are turning in quality work as well. Not to mention Pete Woods, Adam Kubert, and Carlos Pacheco, who have each lent distinctive looks to the titles. Meanwhile, outside of comics, young Superman has shown up in a new animated series alongside the Legion, Smallville's Clark is forming a Justice League, and we've finally been able to get the Donner cut of Superman II. Not to mention the rest of the special features and whatnot associated with the new Superman movie releases. The '40s serials are finally available on DVD, as is the first season of Justice League Unlimited. It could have been a better year for the Man of Steel; there could be a little better editorial control of Action Comics, and more people could have seen The Best Movie Ever. But, he made it back to the big screen (and the huge screen, in 3-D no less!) after too long of an absence, and that's a major accomplishment. And in The Best Movie Ever, no less. 2006 has been a red-letter year for Superman.
And that letter is "S."

Artist of the Year: Mark Bagley. Bagley's been my second favorite Spider-Man artist since he was on Amazing way back when (my favorite is still John Romita, Sr.). This year, Bagley hit 100 consecutive issues on Ultimate Spider-Man, which to my knowledge is a pretty punctual book. His work has become the standard non-movie image of Spider-Man on bookbags, t-shirts, and folders, and for good reason. He's a top-notch artist, who can do action and emotion equally well. He knows Spider-Man, and he can make the weirdest contortions and flips and whatnot look totally natural. It'll be sad to see Bags leave USM, especially since the book is so defined by his style, and despite his own great skill, Stuart Immonen has some big boots to fill. But, if it's anything like the last time Bagley left Spider-Man, I doubt it'll be too long before he's pencilling webs again. Thanks, Mark, for all the fantastic work.

Writer of the Year: Gail Simone. I didn't think a whole lot of Gail Simone coming into the year. I didn't much care for the revamp of Rose & Thorn, and I was underwhelmed by Action Comics (though more for Byrne's art than her writing) and her Teen Titans fill-in. But now I repent my earlier folly. I kneel at Ms. Simone's feet and chant "I'm not worthy" in my best impression of Wayne Campbell. Up until a week or two ago, I was buying three Simone comics monthly: All-New Atom, Birds of Prey, and Secret Six (which just ended). Besides those, she's got Gen 13 and Welcome to Tranquility coming out regularly, and she's been on Action Comics, Villains United, and JLA: Classified over the course of the year. I think she's averaging four or more books a month, with punctuality and quality intact, and that's a major feat. Besides her terrific comics work (and it is terrific, it's among the most terrific comics work being done today), she somehow manages to frequent the blogohedron and various messageboards. I'm not sure how she does it, though I suspect some mixture of sleep deprevation and a Time-Turner, but I'm glad she does. Gail Simone's a fantastic writer and a fantastic person, and far more deserving of a "Person of the Year" nod than certain editors in chief. Congratulations, Ms. Simone. Keep up the good work!

I couldn't possibly list everyone and everything that has stood out to me this year. Just let me thank everyone who has worked on the comics I've mentioned, everyone who's worked on the comics I buy and haven't mentioned, the fine folks at Tim's Corner and Stand-Up Comics for feeding my addiction, and everyone who reads this blog through infrequent updates and my feeble attempts at humor. I really enjoy doing this, and I hope to provide more quality blogging, perhaps on a more regular schedule, in 2007 and beyond! Thanks, one and all, and Happy New Year!

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@#$!ing Blogger

Yeah, so my long end-of-the-year post, due to a broken tag, decided to go off into blog limbo, and I'm out of time to rewrite it. I guess I'll pick it up later tonight and backdate it, but this really torques me off.

Happy New Year, everyone.

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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Remember, no man is a failure who has friends.

I didn't manage to get much done for Monomyth Month. I haven't finished the increasingly late bloggiversary posts for Kalinara, Diamondrock, and now Jake Bell. I didn't manage to watch either Christmas Vacation or Scrooged. But I did finish one of my holiday plans, I did complete one of my traditions.


I learned what a wonderful life I have. Have a great new year, everyone.

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Monday, December 25, 2006

Monomyth Month: Happy Holidays!

Isn't it always the way it goes...you make all sorts of grand plans for the holidays, and eventually they all peter out? Well, at least one thing's going well: I've got two holiday-themed Monomyth entries for you here today! Both ought to be familiar, both have been the subject of songs and television specials, and both are Christ figures! How about that?

Of course, I'm talking about Jesus of Nazareth and Frosty the Snowman!

Such a groovy guy.Let's hit up ol' J.C. first. Away in a manger, no crib for a bed, Jesus was born to yon virgin Mary and her husband Joseph, who apparently had fairly little to do with the proceedings, comparatively. His birth was heralded by a multitude of angels, who appeared to certain shepherds in fields where they lay. This son of God by name was born under a star of wonder, which guided three kings from the orient (as well as a small boy with a drum) to pay tribute to the infant king. Meanwhile, King Herod of Judea, feeling threatened by the childlike emperor, orders the massacre of all the children in and around Bethlehem under the age of two. Joseph proves his worth by spiriting his family away to Egypt before this slaughter, after being warned by an angel. Jesus grew up fairly inauspiciously, except for an incident in a temple when he was seven, and we don't hear anything about him until he's a grown man.

He is baptized, whereupon he is told by a spirit (in the form of a dove) that he is the son of God (Call to Adventure). This incident is presided over by John the Baptist (Supernatural Aid), and Jesus promptly heads off to the desert for forty days. There, he is tempted by the devil, but he does not give into temptation (Crossing of the First Threshold). He returns (Rebirth) and performs the occasional miracle before heading back to his hometown, where he is driven out by an angry mob (leading him to the Belly of the Whale). He meets up with some apostles (including an Ally/Shapeshifter by the name of Judas Iscariot) and travels around, preaching the word and performing miracles. At some point, he meets Mary Magdalene (Meeting with the Goddess) who achieves a special position among Christ's followers. Some time thereafter, he shares a last supper with his men, then went into the garden of Gethsemane to pray for guidance ("I only want to say" that it's the Atonement with the Father and Apotheosis). He is betrayed, tried and beaten (The Ordeal). He is crucified and dies (Crossing of the Second Threshold), after which he is buried, but is resurrected a few days later, after which he ascends bodily into Heaven, fully man and fully god (Master of Two Worlds), promising to return someday.

I realize having written that that the cycle might work better if the "First Threshold" were set at his arrival in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, so just pretend I said that instead.

On the Raglan scale, Jesus's score really depends on who you talk to. His mother is a virgin (1), his father is supposedly descended from King David (2), he is conceived without sex or Original Sin (4), is the son of a God (5), Herod makes an attempt on his life at birth (6), but he is spirited away to Egypt (7). We are told almost nothing of his childhood (9), but upon maturing he goes to his future kingdom (10), where he becomes king (13), reigns uneventfully for a little while (14), prescribes laws (15), loses favor with his followers (16), is driven from the throne (17), and meets with a mysterious death (18) at the top of a hill (19). He is not succeeded by any children (20), and his body is placed in a tomb, not buried, and disappears later (21), but there are loads of holy sepulchres and other places in his name (22). That's a solid 18, but one could argue that he satisfies #8 (reared by foster parents in a faraway kingdom) because of his childhood in Egypt, and #11, after foiling Satan's plans. I guess there could be dispute over 2 and 22 as well, but in any case, he's got a pretty high hero score.

And on the Christ figure traits, I think we can safely say that Jesus satisfies most of 'em. A heroic hat trick! Rock on, Jesus!

Be excellent to others, as you would have them be excellent unto you.

Thumpitty thump thump.On to our next hero! Frosty's story is a little easier to compress, thanks to the fine folks over at Rankin-Bass. On December 24th, some children start building a snowman, using a corncob pipe, a button nose, and two eyes made out of coal. They top it all off with a top hat discarded by the terrible magician Professor Hinkle. There must have been some magic in that old silk hat they found, because when young Karen (1) put it on his head, he began to dance around (4, The Call to Adventure). Professor Hinkle takes back the hat (6), but Hinkle's magic rabbit, Hocus Pocus (Supernatural Aid), steals the cap back and returns it to Frosty. Frosty comes back to life, though he is incredulous that a snowman could be alive (Refusal of the Call). He comes to terms with this new status quo, but realizes that the sun is hot, and begins to melt. The children suggest that he go to the North Pole, where he won't melt (7), and they head off to the train station. On the way, they encounter a traffic cop who impedes their path, but they pass by (Crossing the First Threshold). Frosty, Karen, and Hocus get on the train in a refrigerated boxcar (Belly of the Whale), with Hinkle in hot pursuit. Frosty takes his friends out when he realizes that Karen is freezing, and they trudge through the harsh forest (The Road of Trials) searching for someplace warm. They encounter woodland critters, who are preparing for their Christmas celebration and Santa's arrival, and the critters build a fire for Karen (14). Hinkle catches up with them and blows out the campfire, demanding his hat (The Ordeal). Frosty and Karen flee (17, Flight) and come upon a greenhouse, where Karen can stay warm. Hinkle locks them inside the hot greenhouse, hoping to retrieve his hat after Frosty melts. Meanwhile, Hocus brings Santa to find Frosty and Karen, though the snowman has melted into a puddle (18, Apotheosis). Santa explains that because Frosty was made of Christmas snow, he can't ever really disappear. To demonstrate this, he opens the door, and a Christmas wind blows in (Rescue from Without). Frosty reappears outside the greenhouse (Crossing the Second Threshold), and Santa defeats Prof. Hinkle. Santa takes Karen back home, and takes Frosty back to the North Pole, though the snowman returns for a parade every year thereafter (20, 21, Master of Two Worlds).

And Christ parallels? Wow, are there Christ parallels. Frosty is in agony (melting), good with children (naturally), self-sacrificing (to save Karen), uses humble modes of transportation (marching here and there, all around the square), spent time in the wilderness (with the woodland critter Christmas!), created some aphorisms ("If I spend too much time in here, I'll really make a splash"), died but was resurrected, had 'apostles' (the group of children), was very forgiving (he didn't harbor any ill will toward Professor Hinkle), and was unmarried. Not to mention that he was born on Christmas Eve, persecuted, and ascended bodily into the North Pole, promising that he would return again someday. People sometimes consider the difficulty of teaching children about the gruesome story of Christ's persecution and death, and I think Frosty makes a pretty good introduction to that. Either way, he makes a darn good hero, and a perfect end to this Christmas post!
Happy birthday!

Happy Holidays, everybody!

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Sunday, December 17, 2006

Happy (Belated) 2nd Bloggiversary, Comics Should Be Good!

I'm going to do something a little different for the people over at Comics Should Be Good. Usually I fill these short little posts with links to all my favorite posts, but there's two years worth of content over there, and the vast majority of it is indexed by tags.

No, instead, I'm going to thank the Comics Should Be Good guys, for inspiring me to start this here Fortress of Soliloquy. Way back in June 2005, I had just recently discovered comic blogs. I mean, I'd been reading Newsarama and Comic Book Resources and the Superman Homepage regularly for quite some time, and I started reading The Fourth Rail a few months prior. But that late spring and early summer, I started finding actual honest-to-goodness comic blogs, and I liked what I saw. The Absorbascon and Suspension of Disbelief were some of the first ones I checked regularly.

And Comics Should Be Good. I liked Comics Should Be Good for their clever terms (like "Paternalistic Continuity") and their humor, and of course, for the then-fledgling "Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed." But when it came to "mature" comics, specifically of the "Identity Crisis" sort, I didn't like them. In fact, I disagreed pretty vehemently. I've changed my views quite a bit since then (not the least of which because of this), but at the time I felt like I was the only person in the whole of comic fandom who liked reading in comics what I could watch in Law & Order. And that became my fourth post: a defense of "mature" comics storytelling and an attempt to debunk the notion that this was a new development in superhero comics, basically directed at the CSBG crew. There was a period of time where I felt a kind of rivalry toward Brian Cronin; you know, that kind of polite resentment where you respect someone and like some of their work, but really, really don't like what they have to say? Like that.

It didn't last long. What can I say? Brian's a fantastic guy and a better blogger than I'll ever be. Plus, he taught me how to truncate my posts. Eventually, I learned to stop worrying and love Comics Should Be Good. And I was reminded through this that I could disagree with someone and still enjoy what they have to say.

But Brian Cronin's not the only member of the Comics Should Be Good crew. If I ever stop being dead to Greg Burgas, perhaps he'll accept my saying that I think he's one of the most consistently entertaining people in comic blogging. I frequently disagree with his reviews, but he's a fine writer, whether at CSBG or at that other blog of his which I read frequently. Plus, we share the musical love that dare not speak its name.

And there's the rest, and I feel like a heel saying that. But, I don't check the bylines before I read the individual posts, so anything I say about Greg Hatcher, Bill Reed, Harvey Jerkwater, and Chris Burton's contributions to the blog would be somewhat less than sincere. Suffice it to say that CSBG is one of the best blogs around, and they therefore are among the best bloggers around. By the time their third Bloggiversary rolls around, I'll have something more substantial to say.

And Comics Should Be Good is one of the best blogs around. It has great commentary, good reviews, and awesome features like the aforementioned Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed to the always entertaining Judging Books By Their Covers to more recent features like Watching the River Flow and Snark-Free Corner. But you know that already. If you're reading my blog for the comic content, you already know about and frequently visit Comics Should Be Good.

Happy Bloggiversary, guys, and thanks for the inspiration. Keep up the good work.

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Friday, December 15, 2006

DC: Denominator, Common

There's a lot of negativity going around this season. Seems like the One Year Later buzz has died away, and people are feeling let down. Grant's Batman hasn't been his most brilliant work yet. Justice League of America is going to spend the next three issues sitting around a table looking at real estate guides trying to pick out a new headquarters. 52 got boring. Richard Donner's Superman...well, you know. You might be thinking "gee, Tom, we know you didn't like the Donner Superman, and you've made your feelings about Martian Manhunter and Trials of Shazam pretty clear. You're probably all full of snark on the rest of the comics out there, too."

Not on your life. I don't know if I could honestly say that my pull list is better than it's been in years, but damn, it's good. I guess I'm reading a different 52 from everyone else, because I read through it every week and immediately anticipate the next. It's been a long time since there was a comic that I had a hard time waiting a week for, let alone a month, but 52 has me hook, line, and sinker. I want to see the big space battle. I want to know who Supernova isHow many special people change? (clearly not Mon-El, I like Ray Palmer for it, though the Eradicator makes a lot of sense too. So does the new Starman, especially given Steven Wacker's statement that Supernova's identity would be revealed in an issue #1. And of course, there are any number of Booster Golds). I want to know what the hell's going on with Ralph. I want to see what happens with Intergang and the Question and Renee. I want to know what's up on Oolong Island. I want to see more of the Great Ten. I want to see the fall of Black Adam, and the further fall of Lex Luthor. Yeah, there have been bad issues, and it dragged a little for a few weeks, but on the whole it's juggled this vast net of storylines fairly well. And it's clear that we're heading downhill at this point. We're over the hump, and now things are really starting to happen and come together.

What else am I buying? Well, Gail Simone's comics, for one (two, three). I only started buying All-New Atom a few weeks ago, and I only started reading it yesterday, but it's fantastic. It's nice to see the DCU showing some scientists who are scientists first, not superheroes or plot devices or madmen. Birds of Prey did what I wanted to see the JLA do following the Crisis, and went to a kind of BoP Unlimited (a fantastic idea), and much as I'm going to miss Black Canary, the transition has been pretty seamless, and somehow I doubt that she'll be completely absent from the book. I love Secret Six, and I hope there's more in store for the team; I want to keep reading it, and I really want it to be successful enough for a Gail-penned "Adventures of Dr. Psycho" spin-off.

We've already been over my deep affection for Will Pfeifer, and the OYL gap has only improved Catwoman.

Batman's first arc kind of petered out (and maybe it's just because the DCU has a surplus of sudden children these days), and Grant really kind of phoned in that last issue, but the issues preceding it were pretty cool. Plus, I want to see where this plot is going, because there's no way it's over. And in a month or three when he finally comes back, we'll have a nice Joker story to look forward to.

Does this man look like a midnight toker to you?Meanwhile, despite a hiccup or two, Detective Comics has rocked hard. Aside from the cheesecake of Dr. Isley and the awful fill-in issue, this represents just about everything I could want from a Batman comic. And why not? Paul Dini was one of the minds behind the cartoon that gave me everything I could want from Batman. He's written better Joker stories, and even a better Joker holiday story, but this is a better Joker than Judd Winick's, at least (damning with faint praise, I know). I'm not super-big on the way he was drawn, but it's tough to capture my preferred Joker in a non-Animated-style comic. This is, I think, the closest any comic Joker has come to sounding like Mark Hamill in my brain though, and that's a good thing.

And then there's Kurt Busiek's Superman, which people keep complaining about for some reason. I honestly don't understand why; it's fast-paced, and the "Days of Future Past" story, while cliché, is done well and plays with the conventions in an interesting way. Plus, Arion! Friggin' Arion! I don't see how people can love what Grant Morrison does in All-Star Superman and not love what Kurt Busiek's doing in Superman. Kurt's playing more in the 70s-80s style storytelling sandbox, but there's still a very classic, old school feel to the book.

Shadowpact continues to be solid, fun superhero storytelling with fantastic characterization. Supergirl waffles still, but now it's between "mediocre" and "kinda good" as opposed to "crap" and "really crap." Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes doesn't seem to suffer from that shortcoming. Manhunter is back, and if you're not buying it, then you are on shaky ground to be complaining about the quality of DC's output. Wonder Woman, when it comes out, is decent at the very least, and even a mediocre Geoff Johns/Richard Donner Superman comic is still better than all the Chuck Austen, Stephen Seagle, Joe Casey, Brian Azzarello, and Mark Verheiden crap that came out over the last few years. And Justice Society of America appears to be everything that its higher-profile daughter book isn't. Even Checkmate, that punching bag of the reviewers everywhere, is pretty good.

Maybe people expected too much from OYL; DC hyped it as a radical change to everything everywhere, and a few months later, it seems not so much. But it improved the Superman books (well, okay, we made lateral motion from Rucka's book, which was awesome), it improved JLA (say what you will, but I'd rather read Meltzer's bridge club league than anything by Austen or Claremont), it improved JSA (which was floundering by the end), it improved Green Lantern (in some ways, for a little while), it improved Nightwing (...eventually), it improved Batman and Detective comics (greatly), it improved Catwoman, Manhunter, and Supergirl. Legion, Birds of Prey, Firestorm, and Blue Beetle haven't suffered any, and I can't vouch for Aquaman before the gap, but I read it now. I keep hearing great things about Uncle Sam & The Freedom Fighters, Robin (despite the Cassandra Cain nastiness), and Mystery in Space. It gave us Shadowpact and All-Star Atom, Secret Six, and 52 of course. We lost a lot of quality on the Flash (even from that last story arc, which is saying something), and we lost quite a bit on Wonder Woman. Teen Titans lost momentum before the Crisis, but has mostly wandered aimlessly since.

So what does it all add up to? Mediocrity, more than likely, especially if one considers the bottom-of-the-barrel crap like Trials of Shazam and Martian Manhunter. And OMAC. And what did we have before? Mediocrity. I think, considering everything, we've really balanced out to average, and what more can you really expect? OYL didn't give us a grand new era of unprecedented quality. Some books, sure. I'm more excited about Superman than I have been in years. And I haven't bought multiple Batman books regularly since Bruce Wayne: Murderer. The quality has shifted from some books to others; Nightwing has received a reprieve, while Flash has received a death sentence, but if you expected DC to experience a sudden renaissance of quality without firing Bruce Jones and Judd Winick, well, maybe you were being just a tad naïve.

I don't think DC's any worse off now than it was a year ago. If anything, thanks to the addition of 52 and Shadowpact and the like, it's improved a little. Don't mistake the post-event blues for some real drop in quality; so the changes didn't live up to the hype, but that's the way it goes. I've been reading comics for most of my reading life, and the changes never live up to the hype. I mean, if nothing else, with OYL we got real, honest-to-goodness, lasting substantive status quo changes out of this event; Batman's no longer a brooding jerk, Supergirl has some personality, the Atom has a good comic, and Helena Kyle's not going back in the bottle anytime soon. That's more than you can say for almost any other crossover. Everything else just tends back toward the middle...and is that really so bad?

I've got three bloggiversary posts and several monomyth-related things in the queue for the weekend, so keep an eye out. And stop having bloggiversaries in December! Gosh, don't you people realize how hard those are to write?

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Grand finale

Darkly Dreaming DenouementThis season, all the other comic bloggers are watching Heroes. I haven't seen a full episode of the show yet; I haven't seen an episode of Smallville since before they introduced Cyborg. I've missed out on the new episodes of Scrubs, I've never seen The Office, and the only game show I really care about is when Tom shows up on 1 vs. 100.

But I've been watching Dexter religiously, and I have been blessed for it. I've already waxed ecstatic about the show, but I just caught the next-to-last episode of the season, and I'm really, really, really glad I couldn't watch it Sunday or Monday. Because, as hard as it's going to be to wait until Sunday for the conclusion, it would have been a lot harder if it was two days ago. I can't remember the last time I was so excited to see a finale.

Actually, I can, but knowing it was going to be the last episode of Justice League Unlimited made it more than a little bittersweet.

So, yeah, Dexter rocks.

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Monday, December 11, 2006

Placeholder

No, I haven't forgotten about Monomyth Month (so named since I've now missed two Mondays). I'll have oodles of Campbellian and Raglanian goodness for you later in the week. Still haven't gotten any suggestions (besides Robin Hood) yet.
I also haven't forgotten that Kalinara and the Comics Should Be Good guys are having bloggiversaries this week. Congrats to both sites, and I'll have belated entries drawn up in a few days (though Kalinara, ever the enterprising one, has pulled a "Mike Sterling" and done my job for me).
Sadly, it's finals week, and that means I have less than zero Blogging time. Try to figure out the math in that, I'll join you again after Wednesday.

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Saturday, December 09, 2006

Character recycling

I don't know who this guy is supposed to be.

Dude...put on a shirt.
I know that he appeared in the newest New Joe Fridays at Newsarama, though Joe Quesada didn't. I know he's appearing in a new series by J. Michael Straczynski. But that's about the extent of my knowledge.

Oh, wait, I know one more thing: his previous profession.
No, there are no other pictures of this guy on the Internet. Yes, I had to capture it myself. Yes, I'm well aware of how sad that is.

Maybe you don't know Rigger, but I recognized him immediately. Growing a moustache, working out, and dressing in the foppish, poorly-conceived remnants of someone's Renaissance Faire costume doesn't change the fact that this guy once aided and abetted the eco-crimes of one Hoggish Greedly, longtime foe of eco-friendly superhero Captain Planet. I'm not certain how he made the jump to mainstream Marvel continuity, but I would advise Marvel Comics to be wary of this character. He is wanted under international law for assisting in convoluted, often purposesless crimes against the environment. Rigger is considered armed (with pollution-spewing weapons) and moderately dangerous; should you encounter him, do not approach, but call your local Planeteer offfice immediately.

Remember, when it comes to bringing eco-criminals to justice, the power is yours.

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Jonesing for Johns

I was just talking with Eric last night about how lackluster Geoff Johns' regular books have been lately, specifically Teen Titans. I mean, the Titans' biggest stories involve betrayal, but those stories are big because the betrayals are unexpected. That, and because the Titans are like a family; their team is voluntary, brought together neither by necessity (like the League) nor by legacy (like the Society), but by a common situation and a need for companionship. Betrayal hits the Titans the hardest because their relationships are more personal than the relationships have to be in something like the League. The Titans' betrayals have been by long-time team members, trusted friends, family members, etc. So, when they get betrayed by a character we met two issues prior, it doesn't hit real hard.

A few days ago on a post on Ragnell's blog, I asked "why do both [of Johns's] other major comics [i.e., Teen Titans and Green Lantern] have to have basically the same plot (piled-on emotional gravitas leading to an inevitable major confrontation)?" By this, I was referring to GL's current situation--piling on hatred from the GLs, fallout from Parallax, distrust, being a POW, drawing the ire of the Global Guardians and Rocket Reds, drawing fire from the world governments, and now Star Sapphire, inevitably leading up to the invasion of the Sinestro Corps and Hal's lowest point, from which he would rise again and defeat everyone, saving the people who distrust him and proving himself once more, in a plot I called "The Spider-Man Structure." I was also referring to the Titans' current plot, which seems to be "one former member snubbing the team after another, while tensions and distrust mounts between the members, and another betrayal threatens to tear them apart" leading up to the confrontation with the Titans East, where inevitably the team will reach its lowest point, torn apart and defeated, then come back to defeat their foes and be more united than ever before.

And you already know my feelings about Action.

So, when I read through Justice Society of America #1, I was like "yes, this is the Geoff Johns I remember!" Silly me, I didn't realize that he was saving all his awesome character work for this issue. JSofA #1 was fantabulous, from start to finish, without exception. I love the new Starman, I love Maxine Hunkel, and that last page? This is the Geoff Johns I enjoy reading, this is the Geoff Johns I really haven't seen since he became coordinator of the universe.

You have renewed my trust in you, Mr. Johns. Now, if you could just even out the other books a little we'd be set, and my pull list would be damn near perfect.

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Monday Monomyth: The Basics (Part 2)

In this mis-named installment of the Monday Monomyth, we'll be looking at the work of Lord Raglan and the model of Jesus Christ. Heavy stuff. By the way, if I accidentally type "Ragnell" instead of "Raglan" at some point, chalk it up to muscle memory.

The Raglan Pattern
Lord Raglan, when reading the story of Oedipus, noticed that the beleaguered king shared many characteristics with the stories of Theseus and Romulus. He followed this pattern through over a dozen other mythological heroes, then put it to the test with several more, to some high degree of success. All told, the Raglan Pattern consists of 22 separate traits, and each hero is given a score based on how well they fit.
In contrast with the Campbell Monomyth, the Raglan Pattern focuses more on the Hero and less on the journey.

The pattern, then, is as follows:
  1. The hero's mother is a royal virgin;
  2. His father is a king, and
  3. Often a near relative of his mother, but
  4. The circumstances of his conception are unusual, and
  5. He is also reputed to be the son of a god,
  6. At birth an attempt is made, usually by his father or maternal grandfather, to kill him, but
  7. He is spirited away, and
  8. Reared by foster-parents in a far country.
  9. We are told nothing of his childhood, but
  10. On reaching manhood, he returns or goes to his future kingdom.
  11. After a victory over the king and/ir a giant dragon or wild beast,
  12. He marries a princess, often the daughter of his predecessor, and
  13. Becomes king.
  14. For a time he reigns uneventfully, and
  15. Prescribes laws, but
  16. Later he loses favor with the gods and/or his subjects, and
  17. Is driven from the throne and his city, after which
  18. He meets with a mysterious death,
  19. Often at the top of a hill.
  20. His children, if any, do not succeed him.
  21. His body is not buried, but nevertheless
  22. He has one or more holy sepulchres.
--Lord Raglan, The Hero: A Study in Tradition, Myth and Drama, p. 174-75
Oedipus, not surprisingly, scores 21. Theseus gets 20. Heracles warrants a hefty 17. Raglan states at the end of his laundry list that:
It may be added that although several of the incidents are such as have happened to many historical heroes, yet I have not found an undoubtedly historical hero to whom more than six points can be awarded, or perhaps seven in the case of Alexander the Great.
So, how about Jesus Christ? Well, depending on who you listen to, he ranks somewhere between 16 and 19. By my count, he satisfies 1 (virgin yes, royal depends on who you talk to), 2 (well, descended from a king, anyway), 4, 5, 6 (Herod), 7, 9, 10, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22. That's eighteen there; you could say that resisting the devil's temptations constitutes a fulfillment of 11, and that being raised in Egypt constitutes fulfillment of the "far country" part in 8, so scores can vary a bit.

The Christ-Figure
Now, if there's one thing we can absolutely, definitely classify Christ as, it's a Christ Figure. Christ figures abound in literature and myth, particularly in Western literature for some reason, but many in fact predate Christ. So, why do we call them Christ figures if he wasn't the first?
Part of it stems from Western-centric thinking, part of it stems from the fact that (for better or worse) Christ is the most well-known of the Christ figures, and thus is an easy reference. You have to do significantly less explanation to say why some character is Christ-like than you would to say someone is Mithras-like or Apollo-like.
Unfortunately, I don't know of any texts dedicated to the study of Christ-figures. I'm sure there are some, but I haven't read them. So, for my hard-and-fast list of Christ characteristics, I turn to the eerily-named Thomas Foster and his ever-useful text How to Read Literature Like a Professor. In this handy-dandy book on literary interpretation, he includes a list of common Christ-like traits. No Christ-figure conforms to all of them, after all, then they'd be Christ, but it's not usually too difficult to tell when it's intentional (and lit crit being what it is, we can always argue that the authorial intention doesn't really matter).
  1. crucified, wounds in the hands, feet, side, and head
  2. in agony
  3. self-sacrificing
  4. good with children
  5. good with loaves, fishes, water, wine
  6. thirty-three years of age when last seen
  7. employed as carpenter
  8. known to use humble modes of transportation, feet or donkeys preferred
  9. believed to have walked on water
  10. often portrayed with arms outstretched
  11. known to have spent some time in the wilderness
  12. believed to have had a confrontation with the devil, possibly tempted
  13. last seen in the company of thieves
  14. creator of many aphorisms and parables
  15. buried, but arose on the third day
  16. had disciples, twelve at first, although not all equally devoted
  17. very forgiving
  18. came to redeem an unworthy world
--Thomas C. Foster, How to Read Literature Like a Professor, p. 119-20
Foster repeats himself a bit with a "you might be" list a little later, but adds a couple more points which were omitted.
  • unmarried, preferably celibate
  • wounded or marked in the hands, feet, or side (crown of thorns extra credit)
  • sacrificing yourself in some way for others (your life is best, and your sacrifice doesn't have to be willing)
--p. 122

That's quite a list. There are all sorts of characters I could subject to this treatment; the classic (who is discussed at length by Foster)is Santiago, the titular old man from The Old Man and the Sea, but I hated that book. So, how about this guy...
Rub this image to see his affiliation!
Optimus Prime!

Good with children? I think Spike Witwicky would attest to that. Self-sacrificing? You betcha; Optimus led a fight against members of his own species to save us poor humans. He tended to use himself as transportation most of the time, that's pretty humble, right? He was as forgiving as any '80s cartoon hero, in that he'd always give someone a second chance, and he'd team up with the enemy if necessary. He (and several other Autobots) drove on water in at least one episode, he had disciples out the tailpipe, and his lack of any apparent genitals means that he was probably celibate, despite the existence of sometimes-girlfriend Elita-One. Wilderness? He led the Autobots into the unknown reaches of space in search of fuel, ending up on prehistoric Earth. Devilish Temptation? In the events that led directly to his rebirth as Optimus Prime, the young Autobot joined up with Megatron's gang, and paid dearly for it. Aphorisms? "Freedom is the right of all sentient beings," "all we need is a little Energon and a lot of luck," and of course, "Autobots: transform and roll out!" And in his final, brutal battle with Megatron, he's wounded twice, in the side.
And the Autobots laid him in a sepulchre, which was a space-barge filled with robot corpses, and set it adrift. But when they visited this gravesite, they found that Optimus's body was missing, and he arose in the third season, and was received unto Cybertron where he ascended to leadership once more.

And, just for the heck of it, how does Prime fare on the Raglan scale?
2: The "father" of Optimus Prime (specifically, the person who gave him the Matrix of Leadership and remade his form from Orion Pax into Optimus Prime) was Alpha Trion, the first of the Cybertronians.
4: He was born of a damaged robot, the first Cybertronian, the computer which made all Transformers, and the Matrix of Leadership, which contained the essences of all past Autobot leaders.
5: Vector Sigma's about as close to god as the original cartoon got.
9: All we know are the events leading directly to his "rebirth."
10: He returns to the surface of Cybertron after becoming Prime,
11: where he defeats Megatron and
13: becomes the leader of the Autobots.
14: Since war is the norm, Optimus's four million year leadership of the Autobots was relatively uneventful.
15: If we can consider "Freedom is the right of all sentient beings" to be a law...
17: He's driven from Cybertron because of the need for Energon.
18: Some time later, he meets his death at Megatron's hands
19: on top of a hill
20: and neither of his successors could be said to be his children.
21: His body is sent into space.
That's about a fourteen, it looks like. Not bad, Optimus! Now, at this point, you might be saying "but, Optimus Prime isn't a Christ figure. He wasn't crucified, and he certainly didn't die for anyone's sins." And you're right, in a way. Prime's not Christ, he's Prime. Of course the details aren't going to match up. But I'll let my doppelganger Mr. Foster explain:
Many times I'll point out that a character is Christlike because he does X and Y, and you might come back with, "But Christ did A and Z and his X wasn't like that, and besides, this character listens to AC/DC." Okay, so the heavy-metal sound isn't in the hymnal. And this character would be very hard pressed to take over Savior duty. No literary Christ figure can ever be as pure, as perfect, as divine as Jesus Christ. Here as elsewhere, one does well to remember that writing literature is an exercise of the imagination. And so is reading it...Whatever we take away from stories in the way of significance, symbolism, theme, meaning, pretty much eanything except character and plot, we discover because our imagination engages with that of the author...At the same time, this doesn't indicate that the story can mean anything we want it to, since that would be a case of our imagination not bothering with that of the author[.]
On the flip side, if someone in class asks if it's possible that the character under discussion might be a Christ figure, citing three or four similarities, I'll say something like, "Works for me." The bottom line, I usually tell the class, is that Christ figures are where you find them, and as you find them. If the indicators are there, then there is some basis for drawing the conclusion.
--p. 123
That's it for this installment. Now that we've covered the basics, we can jump right into the heroes themselves. I may wait 'til next Monday, or I may just make this Monomyth Month instead of Monomyth Mondays. Anyway, we'll visit two characters next time, though I can't quite say who just yet. If you've got suggestions, fire away!

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Happy Bloggiversary, Mike Sterling's Progressive Ruin!

Um, so, usually when a blog I read regularly and really enjoy has a Bloggiversary, I put together a post that's light on text but heavy on links to articles they've done in the past that I really enjoy.

Well, Mike Sterling, ever the industrious blogger, has gone and done my job for me. And of course, with three years of high-profile comic blogging experience under his belt, he has done it far better than I ever would have.

I could gush, but I'll just say that every day, I find something at Progressive Ruin that I enjoy. And I've never even really gone looking through the archives. I'd say you should go if you haven't been there, but who am I kidding? Everyone in the comics blogohedron has been to Progressive Ruin.

And for good reason.

Mr. Sterling, you are an inspiration to us all. Keep up the great work!

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Monday, December 04, 2006

Monday Monomyth: The Basics (Part 1)

You might have noticed that there was no Friday with Freakazoid! last week. This was intentional, after the fact. I've decided that, since December is a month dedicated to celebrations of various sun (and son) gods, and since many of those gods conform to the Monomythic Hero Cycle (and related Hero models), and since I already get a bunch of hits for Monomyths despite never really discussing it, it seemed a good time to implement a new weekly feature.

Also, what with the dearth of Freakazoid videos on YouTube, I may just prolong the life of my only other regular feature.

So, to start things off, I'm going to briefly (yeah, right) run down the characteristics Joseph Campbell's Monomyth, Lord Raglan's Hero, and the literary Christ Figure, all of which will be considered throughout the rest of the month. Today we'll be covering the Campbell contribution, and I'll hit the other two a little later in the week.

The Monomyth
"A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man."--Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, p. 30.
That's it folks, it's as simple as that. Onto the next thing.

Dude, Man-E-Faces has nothing on this guy.What, that's not simple? Okay, fine. The Monomyth consists primarily of the Hero Cycle, a plot that recurs in mythology and fiction all over the world. A hero begins in his homeland, where all is at peace, except perhaps the Hero, who may feel ostracized, outcast, or different. This is usually because the Hero was born under special circumstances, or has had a significant childhood. The Hero then experiences a Call to Adventure, which may be an event or may be a literal calling, and often the Hero will initially Refuse this call, entering the Reluctant Hero stage. Eventually the Hero accepts the Call to Adventure, because otherwise there wouldn't be much of a story. The Hero receives some sort of aid, often a weapon or device, usually supernatural, usually presented to the Hero by a mentor. Having received this boon, the Hero crosses the First Threshold into the land of the unknown, the land of darkness, usually vanquishing a Threshold Guardian in order to pass. The threshold might be literal or more figurative, and the guardian may become an ally to the Hero after he passes this test. Following this, the Hero descends deeper into the land of darkness, facing various tests in the portion of the cycle which Campbell called "The Belly of the Whale." These tests often take place underground or in the underworld, but always occur in the land of the unknown, the land alien to the Hero. Despite the odds and various doubts, the Hero passes these trials, moving the plot onward. As the Hero faces these seemingly impossible tests, they are accompanied by helpful allies, though among those allies may be an untrustworthy 'shapeshifter' who actually seeks to hinder the hero's progress. The Hero faces temptation on this journey, often in the form of a lover, and the Hero must choose between this pleasure and the completion of the journey.
This leads ultimately to the Ordeal, where the Hero faces a Nemesis (dark mirror image of the self) or encounters some other major event (often a battle) which causes a change in the Hero's character. This change may be an epiphany, it may be an expansion of consciousness, or it may be a literal physical death and rebirth. It is this event that leads eventually to the Hero's apotheosis. Following the major Ordeal, the Hero receives some reward, possibly in the form of greater wisdom or enlightenment. This reward is often called the Elixir, and may be key to the Hero's return home. Of course, there's always the chance that the Hero doesn't want to return, in which case there is a Refusal similar to the Refusal of the Call. Eventually, the Hero decides that home is the place to be. This proceeds to the Flight, where the Hero ascends out of the darkness of the unknown world, usually at a fairly quick pace. During the Flight, the Hero might face more trials, or the same trials faced during the descent, but will overcome them with the knowledge gained from the previous ordeals. This culminates in the crossing of the Second Threshold, where the Hero defeats the final Guardian, achieving mastery over the world of darkness. The Hero is reborn into the familiar world of light, forever changed (sometimes having literally become a god), and bringing the Elixir or enlightenment from the world of darkness which improves life for the Hero at home. This act proves that the Hero has achieved mastery of both worlds, the world of common day and the world of supernatural wonder, and can thus be at peace.

There are a few other points that Campbell included, some of which have been reinterpreted in recent years (for instance, when he came up with "Woman as Temptress," his sexist Catholicism was showing--many now just go with "Temptation"), others which are more or less subcategories. Following the trials, the Hero may meet the Mother Goddess, who offers love and/or some greater boon or purpose. During the trials the Hero may meet with their father, and must come to reconciliation with him. At some point, the Hero will often dress as one of the enemies. But these aren't quite as important to the cycle as the other points.

That's a lot to take in, I know. So, I'll put it into more familiar terms.Your father wanted you to have this when you were old enough, or he would have if he weren't on fire when I took it.
Luke Skywalker lives on peaceful Tatooine (land of common day), but wishes for something more. Little does he know that he is the son of a Queen and the Dark Lord of the Sith (Special Birth). He ends up with a couple of old droids, one of whom contains a holographic distress message (Call to Adventure). R2-D2 runs off, and Luke chases after him with C-3P0 in tow, eventually catching up with the Astromech droid in the desert. He plans to go back home, so Uncle Owen doesn't get too mad (Refusal of the Call). He encounters Obi-Wan "Ben" Kenobi, who gives him his father's lightsaber (Supernatural Aid) and tells him the truth (sort of) about his father's life, and about the Force. There's some more call-refusing ("Look, I can take you as far as Anchorhead. You can get a transport there to Mos Eisley or wherever you're going.") as Luke whines his way through the Reluctant Hero phase, but eventually (thanks to the slaughter of his Aunt and Uncle) Luke accepts the Call. The group cautiously approaches Mos Eisley Spaceport, a wretched hive of scum and villainy, where Obi-Wan fends off Ponda Baba (Crossing of the First Threshold), and they meet the smuggler Han Solo (Ally/Shapeshifter), who shot first. Luke and the crew head off into space (The Belly of the Whale) where they face various trials (Imperial Star Destroyers, Luke's Force training, "that's no moon, that's a space station!"). They head into the Death Star, rescue Princess Leia (Meeting with the Goddess), while dressed as Stormtroopers (Wearing the Enemy's Skin), and ultimately encounter Darth Vader (The Ordeal). Obi-Wan dies, leaving Luke feeling alone and giving him new resolve to beat the Empire. They retreat with the Princess and the Death Star plans in their possession (Flight with the Elixir), and make their way to the Rebel Base. Eventually, they head out to take down the Death Star. Using the knowledge he gained through his trials, specifically of the Force, and with some help from his allies, Darth Vader is defeated (Crossing of the Second Threshold), and thanks to the Death Star plans, Luke is able to destroy the Death Star (Return with the Elixir), and returns home (not his literal home, but the "home" of being on-planet again) to the world of the familiar, having achieved Mastery of Both Worlds. He is happy now, no longer feeling the pull of adventure as he did before these events unfolded, he has achieved enlightenment and is at peace.

It all fits so well...why, you'd think George Lucas wrote Star Wars with Campbell in mind specifically.

Oh, wait. He did. Nevermind.

Coming tomorrow: Lord Raglan and some other Lord!

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Shirley Walker: 1945-2006

I just learned that Shirley Walker, the composer behind the fantastic scores for Batman: The Animated Series, Superman, Batman Beyond, and many other shows and movies, died Wednesday from a brain aneurysm.

Ms. Walker was a talented and prolific composer, who worked on some of my favorite series, and the soundtrack for Batman: Mask of the Phantasm remains one of the best CDs in my collection. If her IMDB page is accurate, she was working on the direct-to-DVD DC: New Frontier film, and I hope she was far enough along that some of her amazing talent makes it into what will certainly be a great film.

Goodbye, Shirley. You will be sorely missed.

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Sunday, December 03, 2006

Zo(d)inks!

What with reimaginings and revampings being all the rage these days, here's one I want to see:

The Zod Squad

Pokolistan Zod, Azzarello Phantom Zone Zod, and the new improved General Zod team up, forming a nigh-omnipotent band of homonym-bearing supervillains, bent on world domination. They are led in their quest by the ghostly disembodied head of the pocket universe General Zod, whom Superman killed years ago.

Unfortunately, as our villainous heroes soon discover, taking over the world isn't as easy as it's cracked up to be. After getting roundly defeated by the heroes of Earth, they decide to conquer other worlds, honing their skills and working their way up the hierarchy of inhabited planets.

But on each world, they end up sidetracked by some crazy mystery, which they must solve before they can make with the mayhem. They travel from planet to planet in a tie-dyed spacecraft, solving mysteries, recruiting soldiers, killing heroes, and subjugating the populace, as the almighty Zod Squad!

Come on, tell me that idea's not at least as cool as General Zod #4 and the Donner/Johns cut of Superman II.

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Saturday, December 02, 2006

I got hit by a Minx Car

Maybe it's just because I have a penis, but it seems to me that the buzz about Minx is absolute proof that comic fans are never happy about anything, ever.

So, if you've been under a rock for the last couple of weeks, DC has launched the Minx line of graphic novels, designed to increase readership among teenage girls. The Minx line will initially feature seven titles. Here's the text from Newsarama, with truncated creator descriptions:

* THE PLAIN JANES (May 2007)
The story of four girls named Jane who are anything but ordinary. Once they form a secret art gang, the girls take on Suburbia by painting the town P.L.A.I.N. - People Loving Art In Neighborhoods. [Writer: Cecil Castellucci; Artist: Jim Rugg]

* RE-GIFTERS (June 2007)
A Korean-American California girl learns that in love and in gift-giving, what goes around comes around. [Writer: Mike Carey; Artists: Sonny Liew, Marc Hempel]

* CLUBBING (July 2007)
A spoiled, rebellious London girl conquers the stuffy English countryside when she solves a murder mystery on the 19th hole of her grandparent's golf course. [Writer: Andi Watson; Artist: Josh Howard]

* GOOD AS LILY (August 2007)
What would you do if versions of yourself at ages 7, 29, and 70 suddenly became part of your already complicated high school life? [Writer: Derek Kirk Kim; Artist: Jesse Hamm]

* CONFESSIONS OF A BLABBERMOUTH (September 2007) When Tasha's mom brings home a creepy boyfriend and his deadpan daughter, a dysfunctional family is headed for a complete mental meltdown, compliments of Tasha's blabbermouth blog. [Writers: Mike Carey, Louise Carey; Artist: Aaron Alexovich]

*WATER BABY (October 2007)
Surfer girl Brody just got her leg bitten off by a shark. What's worse? Her shark of an ex-boyfriend is back and when it comes to Brody's couch, he's not budging. [Writer/Artist?: Ross Campbell]

*KIMMIE66 (November 2007)
This high-velocity, virtual reality ghost story follows a tech-savvy teenager on a dangerous quest to save her best friend, the world's first all-digital girl. [Writer/Artist?: Aaron Alexovich]
And the two major complaints seem to follow thusly:
1. There's only two female creators: Cecil Castellucci and Louise Carey.
2. The name has negative and sexual connotations.

I can't really speak to #2. I agree, to some extent, and the phrase "you saucy little minx, you" pops into my head. But, it's a term that hasn't been vogue for what, sixty years? When I hear the word "minx," I might think of a black-and-white "doll" with "moxie" and "spunk" who smokes a cigarette, has a "beauty mark," and slaps men when they get too "fresh." It's not a terrible image, really, it speaks to strength and beauty and mystery and confidence, in addition to sexuality. And it's a better name than "spunk," which, unlike "minx," has taken on different connotations since it was popular.

But I digress, and I kid. Reclaiming the word "minx" seems like it would be neither difficult nor unrewarding. It's vaguely onomatopoeic, it sounds bright and sharp and positive. And, as I mentioned before, it's not popular, which means attaching a new connotation to it wouldn't be difficult. And it fits thematically, for good or ill, with girl-oriented products like "Bratz." Now, personally, I think the word "brat" has almost universally negative connotations, and the Bratz dolls themselves look slutty and creepily inhuman, so among its similarly-named companions, Minx is a step up.

As to the first problem, I would say that there are four female creative forces on this line (counting editors Karen Berger and Shelley Bond), but that's nitpicking. I'd also say that one does not have to be X to tell good stories about X, or to tell stories that appeal to X. Joe Kelly, who, so far as I know has never had a child suffering from cancer, told a damn good vignette about just that in Action Comics #800 (better than Jeph Loeb's story of the same tragedy in the backup to Superman/Batman #26, despite his experience with the matter). As Neil Gaiman said, through William Shakespeare, "I would have thought that all one needs to understand people is to be a person." Despite things like the color of our skin and the stuff between our legs, we're all pretty similar. All it takes to write a good story, no matter who it's about, is being a good writer. If we all followed the old "write what you know" adage, the only books would be autobiographies. I don't think one needs to be black to write about black people, or a woman to write about women, or a man to write about men, any more than they need to be a child to write about children. It's obvious that having the experiences that come with being those things will inform an author, and will lend a realism and credibility to the story that wouldn't otherwise be there, or would have to be reasonably fabricated. I'll even say that it would be arrogant and offensive for a white person to write a story which focuses on the trials and tribulations of being an oppressed black person. It'd be similarly offensive for a man to write a story that centers on the difficulty of womanhood. But most stories with characters from one minority or another are stories about people, and you don't have to be anything but a person to tell those stories, no matter what people populate them.

I'm not going to go into what sorts of comic books teenage girls like, because no matter what I say will be anecdotally and individually false. What I will say, though, is the only way any comic will appeal to a wider audience than the niche market that comics currently cater to, is by getting out of the isolationist, dark, snooty, elitist atmosphere of most comic shops. Few comic shops are welcoming to women; most comic shops are fairly unwelcoming to all newcomers. I loved my last LCS to death, and I shopped there for over ten years, but I remember when I would walk in there as a kid (and as a young teen) how the older guys who hung out there all the time got quiet and tried not to look like they were putting their porn and "mature" items out of view. I've seen the atmosphere of comic stores, and I've seen comic stores with no atmosphere whatsoever, save coldness. They're places where the people who were bullied and shunned in High School can go and be in charge, and be among their 'own kind' and support each other.

They're Fortresses of Solitude.

And that's intimidating to neophytes. I don't blame anyone, regardless of gender, for being uncomfortable in comic stores. But it's because of that sort of atmosphere, that 'I don't know how to act around women' or 'there's a girl in the clubhouse' feeling, that helps keep girls out of comic stores. And so, the comics that most girls buy are ones they can get outside of the comic shops--i.e., the bookstores.

So that much, DC's doing right--marketing directly to the stores with slightly-larger-than-digest graphic novels. And at the head of it, they have Karen Berger and Shelley Bond, heads of Vertigo, who have (at DC anyway) probably had more experience with gender crossover material than anyone else. Despite showing up on all the moronic "buy this for your girlfriend" lists, Vertigo offerings like Sandman and Y: The Last Man have had a great deal of popularity among women, greater apparently than the offerings from the mainstream capes-and-tights DCU. So it's a no-brainer for two people with decades of experience finding talent that appeals to people of both genders, to be heading up this imprint.

And Johanna Draper Carlson has addressed some of the more practical reasons for the lack of female talent, namely that monthly books pay better (understandable for a new imprint; after failures like Matrix Helix Comics, I can imagine why DC would be cautious about this sort of experimentation), and that some creators didn't want to be pigeonholed. I'd say that's understandable; female creators are rare in the industry, and I imagine some fear that if they start writing "comics for girls," it'll become the new stigma--female writers can only write comics for women. Sadly, I suspect that if the majority of the talent on Minx were female, that would be the resounding cry from the blogohedron. As the quotes on Johanna's post mention, this is meant to appeal to the people who frequent the YA aisle of your local bookstore, and said aisle is full of gender diversity. As long as these books are good, the genders of the creators shouldn't be a concern.

And what if all these books had female creators, and the line tanked? What would that say to the "bottom-line" people? What would the fans say? That DC picked these people for their gender, not their skill, as if girls would rather read things made by girls than things of quality? At least this way, if the first batch of titles doesn't do so hot, they have the opportunity to ramp up the line with more female talent, more talented talent, and try for a second wave. And if that's more successful, chalk it up to girl power.

So, what we have from Minx is a collection of titles designed, despite the genders of their creative teams, to appeal to teenage girls. The manifesto of the line is that it shies away from the fantasy and superheroics and horror that define DC's other imprints, though that seems rather arbitrary to me (I'll get to that in a moment). We have some hot creators, a good mix of indie and mainstream talent, and no one can say that a line with Mike Carey and Marc Hempel isn't trying for high quality. We have a name with mixed connotations that, hopefully, will take on some new ones as a result of the line's success. It's an attempt to tell quality stories that can appeal to young girls through their availability and through the fact that they're relatively free of the nerd-icky of normal comics. Maybe it's just me, but finding fault with that smacks of nitpicking perfectionism.

That being said, I do have a bit of a problem with the stated purpose of the Minx line, specifically Karen Berger's statement that "Again, these are stories about real girls in the real world. There are no genre or fantasy aspects to it." Now, it seems to me odd that a book like Kimmie66, a "virtual reality ghost story" about the "world's first all-digital girl" and thus clearly science fiction of some sort or another, wouldn't be considered a "genre or fantasy" aspect. And, since one of the implicit goals of this line will naturally be to get a new audience interested in some of the other things published by DC, and considering the apparent popularity of fantasy manga, it seems like it should be natural for this line to have some of those genre and fantasy aspects.

But, this is the beginning of what will hopefully be a long and successful life for Minx, and I can understand their trepidation regarding those "geekier" aspects of comics, the things that might turn young girls off. So, hopefully in the future, we might see something akin to Marvel's "Mary Jane" series or something to compete with the more fantastic manga out there, things that could serve as the 'gateway drug' to mainstream DC comics (while, naturally, being good comics on their own).

As a male comics reader, and thus as someone clearly outside the target audience for this line (but one who will probably end up checking out at least a couple of these titles), I know a few things I'd like to see. First, I think this is the perfect place for a new Amethyst series, and I think the graphic novel structure would hold up better than the demands of a serialized monthly, which high fantasy comics struggle with. I also think that the manga Wonder Woman pitch that's been making the rounds looks fantastic. I don't read manga, but I think I'd have to check that out. It's a novel approach to comics' most enduring superheroine, and those tend to be hard to come by (though I suppose this could fit just as well or better in the CMX line, but it seems like Minx is getting more attention, the sort that this book would deserve). I think this would also be a good opportunity for DC to employ the trademark they took out on Chloe Sullivan, with a Nancy Drew/"Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane" take on Smallville's pluckiest reporter and her encounters with the weird (including the superpowered object of her affections).

But, that's for another time, and another purpose (namely, getting more people interested in mainstream comics). Up until the line can handle that sort of thing, until it proves itself sturdy enough, I wish Minx the absolute best of luck. Even if it isn't perfect, it's a step in the right damn direction, and to damn it already seems foolish.

And I'll totally be reading Good as Lily.

Hm...seems like this post is still missing something.
Ah, right, of course!
Just watch the hits roll in!

It's been way too long since I got linked, anyway.

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