Yes, I realize I'm way behind at this point. I'd set aside this past weekend to catch up, but a combination of illness and a bunch of schoolwork has absorbed my time like a bathroom rug. I will finish the next 11 entries, and in fact I've started all of them, but it won't be until after Wednesday. I started the month with a deficit of posts, and that gap has only grown. Sorry, folks.
Monday, February 26, 2007
Yes, I realize I'm way behind at this point. I'd set aside this past weekend to catch up, but a combination of illness and a bunch of schoolwork has absorbed my time like a bathroom rug. I will finish the next 11 entries, and in fact I've started all of them, but it won't be until after Wednesday. I started the month with a deficit of posts, and that gap has only grown. Sorry, folks.
Saturday, February 24, 2007
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
I love Vixen. And unlike some, I've never really read any of the Detroit era Justice League.
I know where you think this is going. "No, I first encountered Vixen in Justice League Unlimited, where she was John Stewart's rebound girl after Shayera left. This put Vixen at an immediate disadvantage; the viewers wanted John to be with Shayera, they were supposed to be together, and Vixen was standing in the way of that. She was a usurper; she could have been a cop-out character. But instead she was a strong, likable character; in a lot of ways, she was more likable than Shayera. She certainly wasn't as abrasive or combative, and she had this calm, effortless elegance about her. You got the feeling that she could be in pitched battle with Kalibak, and when it was all said and done, she wouldn't have a hair out of place. It's not that she'd be worried or concerned about such a shallow thing, just that when she was the only one left standing, she'd still look pristine. We wanted her to be the "bad guy," the "other woman," the vicious harpy who stole John away from his true love. But instead, she was a nice, normal, charming person, and we could all see what John saw in her. She won us over, and it takes a strong character to do that."
But that's not at all what I'm going to say. No, in fact, I first found Vixen in the pages of Grant Morrison's Animal Man. And like every guest star in that book (with the possible exception of Freedom Beast, but that's a post for another day), I thought she was fantastic. Moore's Swamp Thing drew connections between DC's magical and horror characters, Gaiman's Sandman had a way of uniting the DCU's different mythological and religious elements, and Morrison's Animal Man united the animalistic elements. Vixen was basically co-headliner for several issues. She was a stark contrast against Buddy Baker. Vixen was more confident, more competent, and more practical than the book's star.
In a very real way, she was the "comic book" counterpart to Buddy. Animal Man was a fairly normal guy with a normal family. He wore a jacket over his costume so he could carry things; he drew his powers from a Sheldrakian newage morphogenetic field. He fumbles in battle, often stumbling on something that works rather than following through on a plan or engaging in clever banter. On the other hand, Vixen is a supermodel with a perfect body, who wears little more than a spandex superhero outfit, is great in battle, and derives her abilities from an ancient magical artifact. Mari has essentially the same powers as Buddy, but her appearance, her attitude, and her power source all adhere to more traditional comic book conventions.
Having set up the dichotomy of character, Morrison puts them into separate simultaneous situations. While Buddy's busy dealing with the weird yellow metafiction aliens, Vixen is locked in combat with a doppelganger of sorts. She is repeatedly injured in ways that ought to kill her, but heals immediately and continues to fight, without any fanfare whatsoever. The point of the juxtaposition is clearly to make a statement about traditional superhero comics, and about how Animal Man diverts from and subverts those conventions (and it foreshadows Buddy's meeting with Grant at the end of the arc, where he also fights a transparent doppelganger as an example of traditional comics storytelling). Superhero comics, Morrison seems to say, are all about endless battle without consequence. The heroes and villains are based on a black-and-white view of the world; the characters operate on a formula--one pure, flawless hero, one villain who is a corrupted version of that hero. The battle never addresses any real issues, except symbolically. Meanwhile, Buddy is a normal guy; when he's injured, or when his family dies, it has a real effect on him. When his history is rewritten on the fly, it has a major effect on his life. He assaults social and ecological issues more often than megalomaniacal supervillains. He's not your average superhero, and maybe the average superhero shouldn't be either.
Then again, Vixen's not exactly the "average superhero" either. Sure, compared to Buddy she's a lot more traditional, but that doesn't make her Captain Cliché. She's a firebrand, she's strong and independent, and hopefully when Brad Meltzer stops writing her, she won't look like an idiot who has to announce what powers she's using.
According to a variety of websites, she's also DC's first black superheroine. They got themselves off to a very good start.
Sunday, February 18, 2007
I loved Young Justice. The book ended tragically the same month as Peter David's Supergirl, and within a year of Superboy and Impulse, all comics I loved dearly. In fact, I was ticked that YJ was being killed to make way for Teen Titans. Sure, TT was great in the beginning, but it was a completely different book. Young Justice was fun, and while Teen Titans was good (up until right after "Titans Tomorrow," I'd say), it wasn't as fun as Young Justice. Somewhere in the angst and the epic plots, it lost the fun character interactions and the sense of innocence that characterized Young Justice.
It lost something else, too: half the cast. Slobo died, Secret lost her powers, and Arrowette and Empress have been floundering in comic book limbo. Which is really a shame.
See, Anita Fite's father is one-half of Fite & Maad, agents of the All Purpose Enforcement Squad (A.P.E.S.); her mother was a vodoun priestess; her name is a pun; naturally, she had a fantastic combination of combat skills and magic. According to Wikipedia, she also has a bit of the Anti-Life Equation floating around her brain, but either I didn't read that issue or I blocked it out along with the rest of "Our Worlds at War," one of very few major crossovers to which I own every single part. She's got a funky costume, she's got a staff that turns into two swords, she has that 'cheerful personality that masks the disturbing parts of her past and the nature of her powers" thing going on. In other words, she's a very versatile character. So why isn't she on some team?
Hey, Titans, you know Ravager and Raven? Why clutter up your team with two girls whose names are so similar, when you could have Empress? She's a more efficient use of character, combining Ravager's fighting skills and desire to be accepted with Raven's magic and angst! You'd be stupid not to take her!
Hey, Shadowpact, Nightmaster and Blue Devil are cool and all, but you really need a woman who can hold her own in hand-to-hand magic combat. Enchantress and Nightshade are cool and all, but they never really get their hands dirty. Recruit a girl who can tussle with the best of them!
Hey, Batman, aren't you miffed that there are all these teams running around without someone working for you? Don't you want to keep tabs on the new Suicide Squad? What about the Secret Six? How about (Rao forbid) the Outsiders? Sure, you kind of screwed the pooch with Cassandra, but there's a perfectly good Empress around, just waiting for your phone call. She's got the stealth skills, the fighting prowess, and I know how much you hate magic, but it certainly gives her an edge. Plus, she's not really well-known enough to be spotted as a hero. She could be your whited-out eyes and pointy black ears in any of these teams, and we all know that you know how to reach her.
Oh, Catwoman, are you looking for a babysitter? I know someone with oodles of experience! Poor Anita Fite lost her parents, but they were reincarnated as infants! They're a little bit older than Helena by this point, but she could sure use some playmates her own age, don'cha think? Plus, what better security could you have than a girl with vodoun guardian spirits watching over her? I'm sure you can work out a fair pay schedule, just give her a call!
Okay, if you want to know how awesome Empress is, if you really want to see why she deserves a spot in any team in the DCU (have we seen her picture on the JLA table at all?), I really only need to recount one of her adventures to you. See, Anita? She survived a date with Lobo.
Friday, February 16, 2007
Something a bit different for this post. Even though it's a couple of days late, numerically this falls on Valentine's Day, and so it seemed appropriate to discuss a couple. And no black comics couple has received more attention recently than Storm and Black Panther. This works well for a couple of reasons: I haven't done a Marvel character in a few posts, and while I've been trying to keep things pretty even between the big two, I tend to know more about DC characters, and more DC characters in general. Also, while I like both Storm and Black Panther individually, I don't know enough about either one (at least, from the comics) to do a full single post on each of them.
So, we'll begin with Black Panther. I remember the first comic I read with him: Avengers #356 (well, technically he appeared in #327, which I had earlier, but only for a panel). I think the only person I knew in that incarnation of the Avengers was Thor, and maybe Hercules. Everyone else was a cipher to me. At the time, a good portion of the members were wearing brown leather jackets, Thor was bearded while Hercules was clean-shaven, and the Vision was plain off-white. Okay, so I actually prefer the white Vision to the more motely version, but even so, out of that group, it's not hard to see why someone with a costume so simple as the Black Panther's would stand out. Jack Kirby knew what he was doing.
But I never really followed him. I mean, I was intrigued by the mystery of the Coal Tiger, I thought the Black Panther was cool, but I never really followed any of his series. I've read the first five issues or so of Christopher Priest's run, and I enjoyed it, but that's about the extent of my exposure to Black Panther. That, and going out of my way to unlock him in Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, only to be sorely disappointed in how such a badass character could be so easily and consistently killed by cronies. But I like Black Panther; I like BP in the same way I like Aquaman: the idea of a superhero who is also the leader of his own nation is really, really intriguing, but the actual comics about it just don't quite hook me. I'm going to continue reading the Priest stuff, and hopefully I will eventually feel that hook (suck it in suck it in suck it in if you're Rin Tin Tin or Anne Boleyn), but it just seems like the narrator character and the funky chronology of the book is keeping me from connecting.
I'd like to say that I'm more familiar with Storm, and when I started this post, I thought I was. But despite following various incarnations of the X-Men in various eras, it seems I always manage to pick it up when she's not on the team, or in the book that I'm reading. On the plus side, this means I missed out on the whole leather-and-mohawk phase, but on the minus side, it means I've missed out on the comic book Storm. I know she led the "Uncanny" team while I was reading the adjectiveless book (I have an issue with the Shadow King to prove it). I feel immensely sorry for Ororo that she was laboring under Chris Claremont in the horrendously-named X-Treme X-Men while the rest of her team was experiencing the Morrison renaissance. And so far, despite the name of one of her Marvel: UA costumes, she hasn't shown up in Astonishing X-Men yet.
But I like Storm. I think she suffers a bit from the Of Course She Is syndrome, what with being a street thief and a princess and worshipped as a goddess and a Mutant and the child of sorcerers and from a special African tribe and a good fighter, oh but she's flawed because of her claustrophobia. Of course she is. But Storm has the regal attitude to back it up, and they usually gloss over her days as a street urchin.
Most of my knowledge of Storm, I realize, comes out of the old animated series (because if it came out of the movies, I'd conclude that Storm was a stiff actress who has a habit of chewing scenery). There, Storm was regal without being unapproachable or naïve, and powerful without being unsympathetic. One of my favorite elements from that series was her romance with Wolverine, not because it necessarily fit the characters, but because it developed so naturally and so gradually, and by the time it became explicit, it just felt right.
And in my estimation, that's really the key to a good fictional relationship. It has to feel natural. Take, for instance, John Stewart and Shayera Hol in the Justice League cartoon. The relationship between the two built up slowly, the tension increased, the attention paid to their friendship increased, until it seemed inevitable. Batman and Wonder Woman had a similar thing in the same series (though it never quite became explicit), and in the Joe Kelly run on JLA (where it did, but didn't become serious). I think when it comes down to it, there are a few factors which increase the length necessary for a relationship to feel natural:
And it's this, rather than (as Mr. Hudlin suggested) the fact that it was a black couple, that caused much of the uproar with Black Panther and Storm. Here, we have an A-list heroine and a high-B-list to low-A-list hero hooking up, seemingly very suddenly, and rushing headlong into marriage. I know they retconned a relationship into Storm's history, but retcons rarely if ever help anything feel natural.
But I haven't read much at all of their relationship, except during the big deference kerfuffle from a few months back. And since it doesn't look like this will be retconned into a ploy orchestrated by Starfox anytime soon, I wish the best of luck to Marvel's most regal couple.
I honestly don't have much to say about Cyborg. This is not due to a lack of familiarity with the character. Nor is it due to a lack of affection for the character. No, quite the contrary. I don't have much to say about Vic Stone because words fail to describe his supreme awesomeness. In my experience, there are three Cyborgs:
Cyborg, Flash supporting character: This was probably my first long-term exposure to the character. Left more or less floundering after the end of Titans (or leaving the team, I'm not totally clear on which is correct), Vic was pretty close to having it all. His new Omegadrome body was a mixture of a clone of his original self and a liquid metal alien technological form, which meant he could switch easily between being almost totally human, and being almost totally mechanical, with all the benefits of both worlds. The liquid metal tech granted him amazing versatility and adaptability, and even allowed him to take a form similar to his classic look when in battle (except upgraded from silver to gold). This fact proved tragic when Vic got infected by the Thinker (along with most of Keystone), which deactivated the Omegadrome and brought him back to the old status quo. You had to feel for Vic, to have all that taken away from him yet again. But he soldiered on, helping to found the new Teen Titans and guide a new generation of heroes.
Cyborg, Christopher Turk: The animated Cyborg is far and away the most entertaining character on the show. Most of the time he's got a happy-go-lucky (if overly competitive) attitude, but he's also a loyal friend and a brave warrior. While I haven't seen all of the episodes of the series, it seems to me that Cyborg's the focus of most of the poignant, heartfelt episodes. Whether he's dealing with his own perceived inadequacies and physical limitations, infiltrating H.I.V.E. and befriending some of the members, or falling in love in the distant past, Cyborg is the go-to guy for emotional gravitas. Part of it certainly stems from his tragic beginnings, but part of it comes from the same understanding which fuels most episodes of "Scrubs": there is a balance between comedy and tragedy, and achieving that balance increases the emotional impact of both. No other character on the show, not goofy Beast Boy or brooding Robin or withdrawn Raven or bubbly Starfire, walked the line between comedy and tragedy more often and more effectively than Cyborg.
Finally, there's Cyborg the Titan: no longer a teen, Vic Stone has become the mentor to the Titans; even when elder members Starfire and Beast Boy were on the team, Cyborg was clearly the guiding hand, the mentor figure, the veteran. He's not so much a father to the younger members as a coach and a friend, which fits well with his athletic background. He's showing these kids how to be heroes, and moreover, how to be a team. When he was offline, comatose for the One-Year Gap, the team was lost, and still they came to him for guidance. They say that the Martian Manhunter is the heart and soul of the Justice League, but the League can still function and exist without him. The Titans simply don't work without Cyborg there to guide them. When he joined the team, he needed them for the security and support they provided. Now, they need him for the same reasons.
Vic Stone is part man, part machine. Sometimes one part has dominated the other, and he has long feared that he was no longer truly human. Yet he shows time and time again that he is the most human member of the Titans. Perhaps it's a bit cliché, but it never seems to get old.
I guess I had more to say about Cyborg than I thought.
Thursday, February 15, 2007
What can I say about Mr. Terrific?
I've listed pretty much all of the characters I'll be talking about this month on a sheet of paper. Like I said on the first day, I've picked ones who, for one reason or another, I really like and connect with. Even so, a few stick out as favorites. There's a reason I started with Ron Troupe, after all, and I've always loved Cloak. But when I look at this list, there are just a few who stand out as my favorites. Mr. Terrific is absolutely one of them (as for the others, besides Ron, I think you know who they are, and they'll be coming up a little closer to the end).
I honestly don't know where to begin. Should I mention that I love Mr. Terrific's costume? Because I do. I never really cared for Terry Sloane's outfit (though I also never read many comics featuring Terry). I mean, not many people can pull off a red, green, and yellow color scheme--unless they happen to be from New Genesis. But Michael Holt's another story altogether. It's modern, it's fairly simple, it's a nice bridge between the old '90s leather jacket, non-costume costumes, and the traditional tights. The T-mask looks good and works well (and has been used very effectively by various artists), and the T-Spheres add an element of motion to the character even when he's not moving. Very nice.
Mr. Terrific's got great powers. I mean, he's a normal person on one hand, but on the other he's the peak of human athletic ability and the third smartest man in the world (and I'd say that's an arguable distinction). For some people, those powers would be unbelievable, but Michael pulls it off with aplomb. He's a genius, but he's not arrogant, he's not condescending, he's not dour and dreary...basically, he's not a jerk about it. In fact, quite the opposite; I'm reminded of that scene at the beginning of Obsidian Age where Hawkgirl and Captain Marvel are tapped by Batman's emergency system to join the new JLA, and rather than being upset at not being picked, Mr. Terrific's flattered that Batman copied his T-Sphere design. He's a nice guy, and one without any serious emotional or mental problems, to boot. In a medium where most genius scientists suffer from insecurity, inattentiveness and absentmindedness, anger issues, paranoia and mental breakdowns, low self-esteem, god complexes, vanity, chemical dependence, and a host of other neuroses, it's nice to have one or two who are well-adjusted and emotionally stable.
Of course, no mention of Mr. Terrific's abilities would be complete without discussing the T-spheres, and his technological invisibility. The T-Spheres are versatile little devices which can project holograms, create laser grids, act as cameras, allow Michael to fly a la Mr. Miracle, and basically do whatever else the plot demands. And the 'invisible to all technology' ability has been used a bit inconsistently (less so if we assume that he can turn it on and off at will), but to good effect in Infinite Crisis and the tie-ins. The full extent and application of this power has yet to be realized, but in my estimation there's at least one locked-room murder mystery and one team-up with the Doom Patrol or Metal Men to be had.
For those who may not know, Michael took on the Mr. Terrific identity after his wife (and as he found out later, unborn child) were killed in a tragic car crash. For a long time, Michael remained single, with the apparent (though to my knowledge, unstated) reason of being faithful to Paula. While that was touching, it's also good to see him moving on (further demonstrating his emotional stability), as evidenced by his romance with Sasha Bordeaux. Sure, it's inevitably going to cause major problems, given their opposite positions within Checkmate, but it still seems like a healthy relationship.
And speaking of Checkmate, how often do you find a character with a leadership role in two major groups? And he's not a bad leader, either, but an effective, well-liked leader. It's another situation where he could have easily been turned into the modern Brainiac 5--a closed-off, obnoxious genius who is so far above everyone else that he rarely deigns to consider them--but instead he's very human and very down-to-earth.
As you probably know, Mr. Terrific is one of comics most outspoken and well-known atheists. As far as underrepresented minorities in comics go, "out" atheists are pretty close to the bottom. And there are more than a few writers, methinks, who don't quite know how to handle this. I can think of at least two stories where his position is treated as a flaw to be corrected, where he has "found religion" for one reason or another. Heck, in Infinite Crisis Ragman more or less called him stupid for not seeing the existence of God. In a world where magic can be shown empirically to exist, where the Spectre has served on the JSA, where angels and demons routinely battle in the cities, where you can commune with the Greek or Roman pantheons if you so desire, some would say that it's hard to maintain a position of disbelief. Yet, Michael always returns to his rational skepticism, much to the joy of the nontheistic readers.
And despite sometimes having writers who don't quite understand what to do with a godless superhero, Mr. Terrific never falls into the 'angry atheist,' 'dour disbeliever,' or 'condescending contrarian' stereotypes and strawmen. As representation goes, atheists could hardly ask for a better model (more models, certainly, but not better).
Mr. Terrific is a confluence of minorities; he is a black atheist scientist non-powered superhero government agent, who nonetheless manages to be a three-dimensional, well-rounded character in every aspect. He never falls prey to the societal stereotypes or the comic book clichés that surround him. I'd say that such fair representation is miraculous, but somehow I don't think that's the right word.
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
Angstrom Levy is freakin' awesome.
Well, I suppose that would be more accurate as "was" freakin' awesome. But you know how those dimension-hopping genius supervillains are, always coming back from the dead as clones or alternate universe counterparts or whatever. If I know anything about Kirkman, and I don't, then Levy will show up again at some point.
In case you're one of the three people who doesn't read Invincible, let me lay it out for you: Angstrom Levy was a pretty normal guy, who also happened to have the power to travel between alternate dimensions. He wasn't a bad guy; in at least one world he was even a member of the Guardians of the Globe. He commissioned the Mauler twins to build a machine that would transfer the memories of thousands of his alternate universe counterparts into his brain, so that he could travel between the alternate universes more safely. Invincible interrupted the process and fought the Maulers, and hundreds of alternate universe Maulers, but Levy told them not to kill the young hero, because he didn't want his blood on his hands. When the battle started going sour, Levy got up to intervene, taking off the apparatus's helmet. This triggered a huge explosion which apparently killed most of the Maulers, and left Levy a freak with brain matter growing down his back. He remembered giving the order to kill Invincible, and recalled the teen damaging the equipment, thus causing the accident. And so, Levy swore to take his revenge on Invincible for turning him into a monster.
It's a classic origin story, with the twist that he didn't suffer from any pathologies or obvious flaws before entering into his experiment (unlike certain vain European doctoral students and proud scarlet-coiffed mad scientists). I'm not entirely sure how Kirkman does it, but he manages to take these very classic comic book elements, whether it's Invincible's Peter Parker-esque attitude or the JLA-like heroes of the Guardians of the Globe or the origin stories of the villains, and makes them feel new and fresh and fun. It's really the greatest strength of the book.
Of course, Levy jumped ship to a more advanced universe, hoping they could cure his condition. They enhanced his strength and gave him a snazzy academic vest ensemble, but couldn't do anything about his bulging gray matter. So, of course, he moved the whole "revenge" plan forward. He found Invincible's mom and baby half-brother, held them hostage, and toyed with the superhero by tossing him through dimension after dimension (including the Marvel universe!) to soften him up. With his mother threatened, Invincible snaps, attacks Levy, and fights him across the multiverse until he beats him into a bloody smear on a desert world, having overestimated Angstrom's strength and durability.
Angstrom Levy was charming, intelligent, and chillingly evil, and I suspect that Invincible's guilt over killing him in a fit of rage will be a recurring theme for some time.
Right up until another brain-backed Angstrom Levy pops out of an interdimensional portal, with a dozen Invinci-kills under his belt and looking for number 13...
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
Jason Rusch has fought an uphill battle. I mean, no one wanted a new Firestorm. Ronnie Raymond had just been brought back into the limelight through the Joe Kelly JLA when he got unceremoniously dispatched in the oft-maligned Identity Crisis. Jason pops onto the scene with a new series, a familiar name, some unfamiliar twists on his powers, and all of fandom against him.
He hasn't fared much better on the production side, either. His first writer brought back Ronnie Raymond in the old Prof. Stein role, then killed him off again, for reals. The second writer revamped the supporting cast, gave Jason a new venue, brought back Prof. Stein, and really ramped things up...until Infinite Crisis caused the book to stagnate a little. Right before the OYL gap, things started looking really good, but things slowed down again shortly after (those last few issues, though? Wow). Now, Dwayne McDuffie's taking over for a final arc, with the promise that Jason will pop up in a team book afterward. The title's been through more artists than you can shake a stick at, and nothing seems to have raised its popularity.
Which is really too bad, because Jason's a fantastic character. He started out with little income, an abusive father, and little understanding of his amazing new powers. He was naïve, inexperienced, and prone to mistakes. He was a good kid, but he wasn't a born hero. He was a scared, troubled kid trying to do the best he could, and wearing a pair of boots that were far too big. He's gotten significantly better since those early days, and the guidance of Prof. Stein and Firebird has contributed to that quite a bit. These days, he's a little more comfortable, a little more confident, and a little more joyful.
Part of the character's strength has been one of the books' weaknesses. We've seen Jason deal with a lot of things all at once. It seems like every arc is burdened with about a dozen subplots, from tension between Jason and his artificially-aged teleporting clone girlfriend to trying to find Professor Stein to trying to juggle Jason and Lorraine's lives while also being active as Firestorm to Jason's issues with his dad, his mom, his school, and his job. All this tension is great for character development, not so much for readability.
Jason Rusch is a good character. He's not Superman, he just tries to do the right thing with the power he has. He's been burdened with a legacy he never wanted, expectations based on a character with years of experience, legions of angry and apathetic comic fans, and an unstable creative team. It's sad to see his book end, just as it's getting to a place where all the characters have finally found their respective niches, but I know that wherever he lands, he'll make the most of it.
I've been trying to end these posts with a short summary of the character or brief powerful words of praise. For Jason, though, I feel something different is necessary: I bought this Firestorm series to see what happened to Ronnie Raymond. I stuck with it out of habit and hope to see Ronnie again. I never thought I'd like Jason, and I certainly didn't give him much of a chance at the beginning. For that, I apologize, because Jason deserved a first chance.
Yet, even without it, he won me over. Good luck, Firestorm. May you land on your feet.
You've got to feel a little bad for Night Thrasher. The poor guy just can't seem to do anything original. And certainly not for lack of trying, either. He's not Marvel's only skateboarding superhero. In fact, he's not even Marvel's only skateboard-based technological genius black superhero. He's not the only person to lead a superhero team based on a reality show. He's not even the only reality show superhero team leader to wear a specialized suit of armor. He's not the only black guy to be killed in Civil War, and though he was the first, he certainly hasn't seen the attention or outcry, whether in or out of story, that Black Goliath received. Dwayne Taylor didn't get a symbolism-laden superhero-studded funeral. In fact, he'll probably be remembered in the Marvel Universe for incompetently leading an inexperienced team into battle against a foe who was out of their league, resulting in the deaths of a bunch of innocents.
Not even Night Thrasher's origin is original. Stop me if you've heard this one before: a wealthy child witnesses his parents' gruesome deaths, and so dedicates his life to achieving the peak of human athletic ability, so he may avenge their deaths and fight for justice. By day he runs a multibillion-dollar foundation, but come nightfall he outfits himself with a special costume and weapons and gadgets of his own design, to combat the forces of evil. And people say that Black Panther is Marvel's Batman.
But Night Thrasher, despite a lame-ish name and a dated gimmick and a derivative origin, still managed to be a good character. He spent a good deal of his time wrestling with his shortcomings and with the expectations of others. He had a team who needed him to be an experienced leader with an unwavering moral code, he had a creepy foster mother who wanted him to be a source for greater power, a business that expected him to be a competent and active CEO (while also unaware of their dealings with A.I.M.), and eventually he had a super-powered ward who wanted him to be a guardian and father figure. It's no wonder he had a temper, no wonder he was so often on-edge, no wonder he struggled.
And yet, this embattled young billionaire superhero managed to be one of the New Warriors' best characters, and was an eight-year-old Tom Foss's favorite member of the team. In a book which, when I started reading it, boasted Darkhawk, Speedball, Nova, and Silhouette, that's saying a lot. Looking back, I think a lot of it has to do with that awesome costume (which got progressively less awesome with each change), as is the case with a lot of my most beloved characters. But now I appreciate Night Thrasher for the realism of his position. He is what young Batman should have been: temperamental, moody, unsure, and stressed to the breaking point. Losing one's parents in a brutal attack at a young age is not good for one's emotional health. Dedicating one's life to revenge doesn't usually lead to a well-adjusted person. Being a rookie superhero as a young man does not make for great confidence. And none of that is very good for producing a well-developed and unyielding moral code. It's hard to lead people, it's stressful to run a company, even for someone who's been doing it for years. Dwayne was what, early 20s when he founded the New Warriors? That's going to take its toll on anyone, and the writers recognized that. Night Thrasher was flawed, like any young hero would be.
And yet, he led his team against the nigh-omnipotent Sphinx. He fought against Terrax the Tamer, former herald of Galactus. He helped Thor against the unstoppable Juggernaut. And every time, through his guidance, the New Warriors prevailed. The Marvel Universe may remember Night Thrasher for "incompetently" fighting Nitro, a villain who was "out of his team's league." I'll remember him as a young man who dedicated every facet of his life to making the world a better place, a man who saved the world a dozen times, and has been all but forgotten for it.
But someday, the revolving door of the Marvel afterlife will spin once more, and Civil War's first mistake will be undone.
I'm torn by The Power Company. I remember when the series came out that I thought it was this blatant publicity stunt, with the old '90s tactic of releasing a bunch of guest-star-studded one-shots to drum up support for a new book (Slingers and Team Titans, anyone?), and more or less refused to buy it (I seem to recall that there was some financial reasoning there too). Somehow, I neglected to notice that, in addition to featuring one of my favorite artists (Tom Grummett), the book also boasted the amazing writing talents of Kurt Busiek. I guess at the time I hadn't read Marvels or Astro City, so that's a bit forgivable, but today I'd snap that up quick.
And, in fact, I have snapped that up quick, and this is where the tearing comes in. I mean, as nice as it would have been to support such a fantastic and original series, as nice as it might have been to be the one reader who breaks the camel's back and forces DC not to cancel, it's also nice to pick up all but, like, four issues of a series for $.50 a piece (and not more than $2.00 for any single issue).
But that's neither here nor there. The point is, Power Company was a great series with a great premise, and one of these days I need to actually read the last six issues or so. And the shining star of the series was the team's leader, Skyrocket.
Lt. Celia Forrestal is a little like someone took Carol Ferris, Hal Jordan, and Iron Man, and stirred them into a big pot. Her Naval career was hampered by her gender and race (and certainly not her top-notch piloting skills), and when her parents were killed by the evil Scorpio organization, she took their experimental cybernetic Argo Harness and became a crimefighter.
Unfortunately, being a superhero doesn't exactly pay the bills, and seven years into her Skyrocket career, Celia's wallet was really feeling the pinch. Then, Josiah Power approached her to join his heroes-for-hire firm. She took the gig somewhat reluctantly, but unable to refuse an opportunity to both help people and keep herself fed.
So Skyrocket became the de facto field leader of Power Company. Of the members, she was the only one with the actual desire to be a superhero, and the experience to back it up. Sure, the other members had reasons for helping people and being on the team, but they were musicians and stunt doubles and assassins first, superheroes second. Skyrocket was the team's conscience, their strong moral guidance.
Of course, she was also human, and humans tend to be imperfect. Skyrocket wasn't simply Jiminy Cricket, she was a normal person who somehow had to unite five other people with wildly different goals, attitudes, and personalities, into a cohesive force with a coherent moral vision. When Josiah Power was comatose, she had to take control of the whole organization, and all the pressures that came with it. She didn't particularly want the job, she didn't particularly like a lot of her teammates or their carefree attitudes, but she stuck with it, earned their respect, and made them effective.
In other words, Skyrocket was a leader, and a damn good one too.
Monday, February 12, 2007
It's not hard to make a case for implicit racism in the character of Hobie Brown. I mean, you have a black man who merges technological prowess and a job as a window washer into a career as a costumed cat burglar called The Prowler. I mean, "The Prowler"? It practically screams "white fear." And if someone were to know only Hobie's race and alter ego, they might come to the conclusion that he was perhaps a step above Ebony White.
Thankfully, when we judge Hobie by the content of his character, we find someone significantly more admirable. Like 95% of comic book scientists, Hobie Brown's inventive genius went unappreciated. To support himself, he worked as a window washer, and used his skills to design and invent several items which would make the dangerous job easier. Of course, his boss wasn't interested, and eventually he was fired for daydreaming on the job. Angry and frustrated, he adapted his equipment into the perfect set of tools to become a costumed supervillain, and decided to rob the Daily Bugle to prove his worth and support himself.
Of course, robbing the building where a superhero works isn't quite as easy as it sounds, and Peter Parker caught the Prowler in the act. During the ensuing scuffle, Pete got knocked out the window, and while he was able to use his powers to save himself, Hobie was convinced he'd accidentally killed the young photographer. Feeling guilty and hoping to redeem himself, the Prowler lured Spider-Man into a trap, hoping to defeat him. Of course, Spider-Man won, but realized after hearing his story that Hobie was a good kid, and a lot like himself. He hung up the Prowler costume, and when he put it back on, it was as a hero.
I first encountered the Prowler in Amazing Spider-Man #365, a comic I've mentioned at least once before. Like the other stories in that extra-sized issue, I read the hell out of the Prowler back-up, and I loved the character. I'm not entirely sure what drew me to him, but I know that I can find dozens of Prowler drawings in my old sketchbooks. He's only had a handful of appearances, including a bout with paralysis back in '96. Like so many powerless costumed vigilantes, he got better, though to my knowledge he hasn't donned the old green-and-purple since.
The Prowler's kind of a mishmash of comic book clichés turned on their heads. He's a hero, but he wears a costume colored in the villains' palette. He was an underappreciated scientist who didn't ultimately use himself in some crazy experiment. He was frustrated, proud, and a little vain, but didn't ultimately become a supervillain. He had all the normal troubles, sure, but by the time I knew him, he was also happily married. Hobie Brown's a pretty unconventional hero.
Why he hasn't been seen in years is beyond me. He'd be the perfect character for Peter to double-date with. He'd be the perfect character to consult with all those technological quandaries that Peter occasionally finds himself in. He's an interesting married superhero with a brilliant mind for technology...he and Spidey ought to hang out regularly.
Maybe when all the Civil War dust settles, when Peter is in need of a few friends, he'll look up our dear Mr. Brown, and the Prowler will stalk the New York skyline once more.
Sorry for the absence. I spent Saturday participating in what will hopefully be remembered as a major event in American history (and black history, of course), and I've had company for the last couple of days besides, so blogging has fallen a bit by the wayside. I'll be caught up before the end of Tuesday, though, and that's a promise.
Wednesday, February 07, 2007
DC Comics has its share of badass characters. Most would put Lobo up pretty high, and Guy Gardner's a natural choice. Of course there's Deadshot, and Hitman, and even Green Arrow. Heck, DC has comics' first badass, the freakin' Batman (no, Namor isn't a badass, Namor's a petulant child). But there's one woman who out-badasses them all: Amanda "The Wall" Waller.
The Wall's full legal name is Amanda @#*!in' Waller. Chuck Norris trembles at the sound of her voice. She gives the Spectre the willies. And despite having no utility belt and no amazing combat prowess, she can stand toe to toe with Batman and not flinch. She's indomitable.
And despite my high opinion of this particular White Queen (much cooler than that scantily-clad bitch Emma Frost), I've not read a whole lot of comics that feature her. I first saw her during the President Luthor storyline, where she didn't do a whole lot, and frankly I didn't know who she was. After that I picked up the Legends miniseries, where she has a minor role, and a few more-or-less random issues of Ostrander's Suicide Squad, of which I need to read more. I'm buying Checkmate now, but she hasn't really had the chance to be the ball-busting bureaucrat that we all know and fear.
No, my real introduction to Amanda (@#*!in') Waller was through Justice League Unlimited, and the amazing vocal abilities of CCH Pounder. Amanda Waller was the shining star of the fourth (second?) season of JLU, walking between good and evil along the razor-thin tightrope of utilitarianism. She was a charming, intimidating foil, who never quite became a villain. It's not often that a series, whether comics or TV, can successfully pull off the depth necessary to carry a "whose side is she really on" character, but JLU made it look easy.
Besides, we all know whose side Amanda Waller is on: her own. And it just so happens that that's also the winning side. And it's no wonder why: she's a short, overweight, normal human woman, but she can surprise the World's Greatest Detective and stand steadfast against invincible demigods. Amanda Waller has nerves of steel, and possibly several other figuratively metallic organs. Her only powers are intimidation and resources, but she manages to rank as high as the Justice League, if not higher, in terms of capabilities. Badass.
I'd say more. I could come up with a list of "Amanda Waller facts" that would show Chuck Norris just what kind of wimp he really is, but I'll just let her awesomeness speak for itself.
That, my friends, is Amanda @#*!in' Waller.
Tuesday, February 06, 2007
Sorry folks, no Black Comics post today. I'll make it up with a double-post this weekend.
In the meantime, this is an open thread to discuss your own favorite comics characters of color. So far, I've addressed Ron Troupe, Cloak, Chunk, Bloodwynd, and Alex Wilder. Who else should make the cut?
Monday, February 05, 2007
If you haven't read Runaways yet, this is your one and only Spoiler Alert. Also, why the hell haven't you read Runaways yet?
Okay, with that out of the way, here's what every Runaways fan knew was coming after reading that warning: Alex Wilder was the best villain ever.
Well, maybe not "best ever," but he was a perfect villain. Maybe I'm just bad at predicting things, but I never would have guessed that he was the traitor. Not in a million years. After all, he was the one without powers, he was the leader, he put together the Runaways, and he was the one who wanted to be a super-hero. He was the last person you'd expect to be the villain, and he was my favorite character on the original cast.
And that's what made him such a wonderful villain. We want to believe, especially reading a medium known for bright colors and stark contrast between good and evil, that we know who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. It's great when a character throws us for a loop in that regard, but it only really works when it comes about naturally. And that's the best thing about Alex's story: it all made perfect sense. His character arc led inexorably into darkness, and I'm sure I'm not the only one who followed him every step of the way.
That's the really frightening thing about Alex Wilder. He showed us the cunning, shrewd, cold, calculating, charming, attractive side of evil.
And we liked it.
Sunday, February 04, 2007
Chyre and Morillo are all right. I mean, they're decent enough characters. And Pied Piper was great, even when he was vaguely evil (or something) after that whole Top storyline. But my favorite Flash cast member, from the first time I read about him, is Chunk.
Chester P. Runk was a genius physicist who developed a matter transporter, which imploded and became a part of his body. He became a living black hole, capable of sucking matter into another dimension. After a couple of bizarre tussles with Wally West, the two became friends.
I've only read a handful of issues with Chunk, including the Geoff Johns story where the black hole inside him threatens to devour all of Keystone. It was a nice way to bring back a long-lost cast member, and to show all the fans that he's doing quite well for himself.
I really don't have much to say about Chunk. I mean, it's no secret that I love superpowered physicists, and I love the Flash and his supporting cast. Combining the two can only lead to success. Hmmm...hey, Marc Guggenheim, I have the perfect cast member for you! His sheer awesomeness might be just enough to pull that book out of the gutter!
I mean, even a living black hole can't suck as much as the last seven issues.
Sigh...I miss Wally, but I really miss Chunk.
Saturday, February 03, 2007
What can I say about Bloodwynd? Well, he's the only character I know who made his first appearance fifteen issues after he joined the JLA.
See, Bloodwynd popped up shortly before the whole Doomsday debacle, and in fact participated in that battle. He was powerful, drawing on the souls of the damned for a variety of abilities. He was quiet and mysterious, which made other Leaguers (specifically Blue Beetle) a bit suspicious. And for good reason, because as Ted found out (just before getting beaten into a coma), Bloodwynd was actually Martian Manhunter.
It's not J'onn's fault, though. See, there actually is a Bloodwynd. His ancestors were slaves held by the cruel plantation owner Jacob Whitney. The slaves performed a ritual each night for a month, in order to create the magical Blood Gem. They imprisoned Whitney's twisted soul in the jewel, and they passed it down from generation to generation, and from generation to generation it became more powerful, drawing on evil and darkness, and driving its protector to crave the same. Eventually, all this evil built up into a creature called Rott, who sucked Bloodwynd into the jewel, and then took over Martian Manhunter, all in a ploy to take the power of the Ray and escape his crystalline prison. Needless to say, he was defeated and reimprisoned, and the real Bloodwynd was released, to finally meet the team he joined months before.
I personally lost track of Bloodwynd after that; but he's only made a handful of appearances since then. It's not hard to see why: the word "blood," the "y" instead of an "i," and the mysterious dark magician angle all mark him as a creature of the '90s. It's pretty clear he was supposed to be an Image-style character, from the flowing cloak to the weird asymmetrical jewelry he wore.
But, unlike most Image characters, I thought Bloodwynd was interesting. Sure, his origin kind of marks him as the black Ragman, but his powers are more like Dr. Strange's. Besides, how many necromancer superheroes does the DCU have? And when's the last time Sebastian Faust did anything? In Bloodwynd, we have a character whose very nature forces him to walk the line between the light and the dark, to constantly choose between vengeance and redemption, and to fight the dark temptations of the burden that fuels his powers. Ever since the Spectre got back into the full-time vengeance game, there hasn't really been anyone playing the conflicted mystical redeemer, and that's Bloodwynd to a 'T.' Plus, despite the jewelry, he has a distinct and very snazzy costume.
With Captain Marvel steeped in brooding introspection, Dr. Fate's helmet bouncing around the universe, and the Spectre sucking it up in his own comic, I can see where Bloodwynd might not be ideal for a solo series right now. However, he's a visually interesting character with a vaguely-defined, yet interesting, set of magical powers, and he's about as close to a blank slate as you can get with a character who has been established for fifteen years. He's crying out for a revival in Tales of the Unexpected or Shadowpact or Dr. Fate.
Hopefully, some enterprising writer will give him the attention and exposure he deserves.
Friday, February 02, 2007
In honor of St. Groundhog's Day, I present a hero that I had planned to wait on. See, this is one of my favorite characters in comics in general, and especially at Marvel, so I wanted to build up to this. But, due to the holiday, it only seemed fitting to talk about a character who has some experience with shadows, which means our second spotlight falls on Tyrone Johnson, also known as Cloak.
Cloak (and his partner Dagger) have a lot of marks against them. Their origin story is one cliché and contrivance stacked up on top of another, in the Mighty Marvel fashion. Ty Johnson fled his poor neighborhood in Boston after his speech impediment accidentally caused his best friend's death (which would give him and Black Bolt something to talk about if not for, well, you know). He ends up in New York City, where he befriends the naïve, wealthy, beautiful blond runaway Tandy Bowen, and the pair was kidnapped and used to test a new kind of synthetic heroin, which triggered their latent mutant genes, and they developed opposite yet symbiotic powers. How conveeeeenient.
But, despite their origins, Cloak and Dagger have always had a special place in my heart. I'm not sure where I first encountered them, though I suspect it was as guest stars in a Spider-Man comic, but they grabbed hold of my youthful imagination. I mean, sure, they're kind of a package deal, but Cloak's easily the more interesting of the two. After all, Dagger's still pretty normal, and she's far more well-adjusted. She even works well solo. Cloak, on the other hand, is troubled and troubling. He speaks in the sort of Byronic prose you expect from someone like Jason Blood, always talking about the darkness which threatens to consume him and everyone around him. And he isn't kidding; Dagger's still more or less human, but Cloak is a living conduit to the Darkforce Dimension. Most of the time, he lacks a corporeal body, and both the darkness within him and his inner demons are quite literal. It was long before I ever picked up an issue of Sandman that I saw Cloak talking in black word bubbles with white text, and just knew that it meant he had the sort of deep, intimidating voice that would send chills down James Earl Jones's spine.
The same goes for personality. Dagger's pretty cheerful, pretty normal, But Cloak is like a walking mass of passions. He's quick-tempered, protective, and moody to the extreme. And that goes double if you're talking about Dagger. Ty and Tandy's relationship is one of the most unique in all of comics. Cloak needs Dagger, but feels guilty for that; he's very protective of her in an older brother sort of way, but he's also distant and inaccessible, probably because he feels the need to protect her from himself. And they cap it all off with this boiling sexual tension, though they never (to my knowledge) have actually been romantic. And that's part of what sets this relationship apart; Harry and Sally haven't slept together yet.
What it all comes down to is this: Cloak and Dagger have the most well-developed Beauty and the Beast relationship in comics. And like nearly every Beauty and the Beast story, the Beast is far more intriguing.
Thursday, February 01, 2007
And unlike Monomyth Month, I'll actually follow through with this one. Every day I'll be posting a brief profile on one of my favorite black comics characters. I realize there's some potential for tension when a clueless white kid tries something like this, so let me assure you that I'm not just rattling off popular characters. I've picked out twenty-eight characters of color who I like, respect, and follow, and while there will be some obvious folks on the list, I think there should be more than a few surprises as well. Hopefully I can treat this subject and these characters with the respect and attention they deserve.
So, to start things off, I'll talk about a character who is quite near and dear to my heart, Ron Troupe.
We all know the cop-out characters, the out-and-out jerks whose primary purpose is to make our beloved main cast look better. Jean-Paul "Az-Bats" Valley was a cop-out character; his entire tenure as Batman was to show how much better Bruce was at the job. Simone DeNeige was a cop-out character when she ran LexCom, after Luthor dissolved the Daily Planet. Remember when that jackass Admiral took command of the Enterprise while Picard was on a secret mission, and kept butting heads with Riker? Yeah, he was a cop-out character. These are the short-lived characters who prompt the main cast to say "this never happened when X was in charge," or "it's times like this when I really miss Y." Sure, these characters are occasionally necessary, and it's always nice to shake things up and remind the readers why they like the main cast in the first place.
Even nicer, though, are those rare occasions when someone comes in like a cop-out character, but actually turns out to be really likable. They aren't bad people, they aren't grossly incompetent, in fact, the only thing the reader can hold against them is the fact that they aren't the main character. This new figure is filling a niche that was once occupied by a long-standing character that the readers know and love, and despite themselves, the readers realize that it's not the new character's fault that they have big shoes to fill.
Ron Troupe was the new guy. After Doomsday's rampage, Clark Kent was presumed dead. Reluctantly, Perry White gave Ron Clark's old desk and position, needing to fill that vacancy with someone talented. The audience had every reason to hate neophyte Ron for usurping the job of Clark Kent, but...Ron was a good guy, and it really wasn't his fault that he was put in such an awkward situation. It wasn't his fault that Superman was (mostly) dead. And so he did the best he could, and we grew to respect him for it. DC took an opportunity to show what a great, invaluable reporter Clark Kent is, by filling his spot with someone incompetent and incapable, but instead they took the more difficult route. And because of their effort, we got to watch Ron Troupe go through the gauntlet of fan judgment and come out all the better for it.
If that story sounds somewhat familiar to you, it's because of another recent character who was put in a difficult position of trying to fill in for a protagonist, who could have been a cop-out jerk, but instead was a responsible, likable, respectable human being. His name was Richard White, and I sincerely hope we haven't seen the last of him.
Anyway, Ron has rarely taken the spotlight in the Superman comics. He had a few chances to really shine against racist supervillain Bloodsport (II), sure, but the only time he really took center stage was during his tumultuous courtship with Lucy Lane. The two had to contend with Sam Lane's overprotectiveness, Ron's sister's prejudice against interracial dating, and eventually an unplanned pregnancy. And hoo-boy, you better believe that brought the heat down. If I remember correctly, at the time Ron was between jobs and was doing volunteer work at a shelter, and I don't remember if Lucy had been working or not. The couple ultimately decided not only to keep the baby, but also to get married. The two managed to get by fairly well after that, and Ron stuck with his volunteer work (even turning down a job at the Planet, I seem to recall). After that, Ron, Lucy, and little Sam disappeared for awhile, finally popping up again in Rucka's run on Adventures. Ron had apparently rejoined the Planet staff, and who can blame him? Metropolis rent is expensive.
Despite such little face-time in the last fifteen years, Ron's been pretty well-developed. He's opinionated (with that firebrand sort of attitude that characterizes at least one other Metropolis reporter), he has unwavering moral principles, and he's never afraid to get into dangerous or uncomfortable situations, whether it means standing up against the Aryan Brotherhood or calling the interim Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Planet (a cop-out character if ever there was one, and in Ron's first appearance, no less) a "dick." He's faced hardship and tension, he's been put into situations that might break another man, but Ron has triumphed over it all (even if those triumphs were mostly off-panel). It may seem like damning with faint praise to call him the third best reporter in Metropolis, but it really is quite an accomplishment. After all, his competition consists of the world's luckiest woman, and a man with super-senses who can type a million words a minute.
It's hard to not admire Ron Troupe.