Thursday, July 31, 2008

Supermonth: Whence "Smallville"?

Anyone know when Lois started calling Clark by the nickname "Smallville"? I think I first encountered it in "Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman," but I'm not sure if it premiered earlier than that.

In any case, I like that it has since been adopted as a multi-media Lois trope. It is, somehow, particularly illustrative of her character, I think.

Input?

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Supermonth: Straightforward Reviews I

I've been wracking my brain, trying to figure out if I've ever dropped a book based on the solicitation before. I don't think I have, but it's possible. In any case, as of this week I've done it at least once, with Superman/Batman #50.

In case you don't remember, the solicitation text for said issue was the following:

Isn't breaking the phone booth Underdog's schtick?SUPERMAN/BATMAN #50
Written by Michael Green & Mike Johnson
Art by Ed Benes
Cover by Ethan Van Sciver
Variant cover by Ed McGuinness & Dexter Vines
Celebrate fifty blockbuster issues with this extra-sized extravaganza as we reveal the untold tale of Thomas Wayne’s meeting with Jor-El and how it shaped Gotham City’s future! You don’t dare miss this one!
The past was just prologue for this latest adventure of the World’s Finest duo as an ancient Kryptonian artifact is uncovered, unleashing past and present dangers that may alter the duo’s future. Not even the guest-starring Titans will be able to save them! This issue also features a variant cover by the original SUPERMAN/BATMAN art team of Ed McGuinness & Dexter Vines!
Retailers please note: This issue will ship with two covers. For every 10 copies of the Standard Edition (with a cover by Ethan Van Sciver), retailers may order one copy of the Variant Edition (with a cover by Ed McGuinness & Dexter Vines). Please see the Previews Order Form for more information.
On sale July 23 • 48 pg, FC, $3.99 US

I called up my shop on Wednesday, after seeing that this book had been released, and reminded them to pull the abomination out of my stack.

And then, masochist that I am, I bought it anyway. But for the second time in the series 50-issue run, I've dropped my subscription to Superman/Batman, and it's going to take a lot to get me back.

It's no shock that I came into this issue with certain preconceptions--namely, that the idea of Thomas Wayne meeting Jor-El is absolutely frigging stupid.

And in that regard, the issue didn't disappoint. It was precisely as inane and nonsensical as it said on the tin, if not moreso. And I say that as someone who enjoyed the idea of "Kryptonite Doomsday" enough to buy up the whole previous arc, which I thought was pretty good (especially for "Superman/Batman").

Here's the basic plot run-down: we open on Thomas and Martha Wayne driving through Kansas, discussing baby names (Thomas is sure they're going to have a daughter). They see a light in the sky which crashes down in a field off the side of the road. Naturally, Thomas stops the car and goes to look at it, finding a crystalline probe, which he naturally reaches out to touch. There's a flash of light.

In the present day, Batman, Superman, and the Justice League are rebuilding Smallville after Kryptonite Doomsday's rampage from the previous issue. You know, for a small town in the middle of Kansas, Smallville gets destroyed an awful lot, especially when most of the attacks aren't even done with the knowledge that it's Superman's hometown. There are a few little gags thrown in, some of which work, some fall flat (yes, Michael Green and Mike Johnson, we've all seen that Jim Croce song referenced in Superman before). While Batman and Superman's internal monologues highlight just how different Smallville and Gotham are, some kid comes up to Superman with a metal doohickey that they found while picking up. It activates when Superman touches it, which in turn wakes up a giant robot which had apparently been stored in a box in the Batcave. Batman gets an alert from Alfred and takes off in his plane, arriving to discover that all the technology in the cave has been removed. A distress signal from Nightwing confirms that he (and the Titans) are being attacked by the Borg-Batcave.

We cut to the battle, where Cyborg promptly gets assimilated and begins speaking in Kryptonese. Superman shows up on the scene, Kryptonese apparently being like a dog whistle to him, and destroys the animated majority of Batman's crimefighting arsenal. The Wayne Enterprises accountants are going to have a field day. Superman picks up a shard of...something...that "looks just like the crystals in the Fortress" (except it's yellow, and the Fortress is white/blue...I guess colors could escape a guy who can see the whole electromagnetic spectrum). Batman reaches out to touch it, and there's another flash (technically, a "FWWAAAASHH").

We find Thomas Wayne, standing awestruck, on Krypton. Crystal spires, symbol-emblazoned banners, and a big red sun in the sky. He's accosted by police officers, but Jor-El shows up and calls them off. Superdad takes Batdad back to his home in a vehicle that looks an awful lot like the DeLorean from "Back to the Future II." I did say this was a "brief" recap, didn't I? Oh well, anyway, the World's Finest Dead Dads chat about their unborn children, Jor-El muses about worlds he could send his son to, and eventually Thomas convinces him to send Kal-El to Earth. Superman and Batman wake up and independently verify (through the Fortress computer and Thomas Wayne's hidden journal) that their vision was of real events and their dads actually met. Tom Wayne explains that he spent years tinkering with Jor-El's probe in secret, and used the technological advances gleaned from it to bring Wayne Enterprises back from the brink of bankruptcy, then buried it in the cave; Jor-El gives a fairly stock speech about how he hopes Kal will grow up with a good family and eat his vegetables or something. Superman and Batman get together, profoundly altered by their experiences, and...scene.

I don't even know where to begin. Can I put out the call to writers everywhere that we need to sweep this into the dustbin of forgotten continuity until Grant Morrison III digs it out and tells confusing stories about it in 2057?

First, Thomas Wayne was a medical doctor. How on Earth was he supposed to be able to dissect and understand advanced Kryptonian technology? Why didn't Batman, the world's greatest detective ever wonder how his company managed to bounce back from bankruptcy right before his birth? Why didn't he notice the sudden influx of amazing technology from an unknown internal source at about that time? If Thomas Wayne buried the probe in the cave (along with his journal, explaining it), why was the crate containing both things just sitting out in front of other crates on the floor of the Batcave? It's not like it broke out of a wall somewhere, it was sitting more or less on top, like it had just been put there. Apparently, the World's Greatest Detective has never noticed the strange crate sitting across from the giant dinosaur. But Alfred's kept it in tip-top condition; there' not even any fading on the warning stickers.

Meanwhile, this really implies that Jor-El had an awful lot of foresight. His son's not yet born, but the rocket's ready and he's picked out a planet to point it at. It's implied that he sent the probe years before Clark's rocket (although that bit is questionable; it's not clear how old he imagined Clark would be before he found said probe). Even so, with all that time, why couldn't he build a slightly bigger ship? You know, maybe send a couple more kids with? Or his wife? He tells Thomas Wayne that Kal will be "the only survivor of Krypton," but with that much time, he could have probably rectified that. Maybe given a bit more of a hand to his brother and niece, who actually believe his theories about Krypton's destruction. Maybe it's just me, but I always thought that the somewhat rushed nature of Superman's survival was somewhat key to the story; it provides a reason for a wide variety of questions that are raised by the whole situation. When he knows this far in advance--not only that Krypton is dying, but that he's going to send Kal and Kal alone away from the planet--it makes him look like kind of a dick. I guess it runs in the family.

There are other problems with the story; having Batman walking around in the daylight in Smallville suggests that he's not even trying to keep up the whole "urban legend" thing anymore. The interactions between the Titans ring hollow, both of the battles (the animated Batcave and some villain holograms in the Fortress) feel totally tacked-on and unnecessary; the latter one is barely even justified. And the whole issue is a sequence of unlikely all-too-convenient events leading one into the other. The entire issue is one big string of "Really? Really?"

And the last act is devoted to refuting the possibility that this is just a dream or a hallucination or a simulation by the probe, as if to say "please, please don't render this discontinuity, it actually happened! I mean it!" When the last third of your story exists primarily to justify the ridiculousness of the first two-thirds, it tends to be a bad sign.

I'd tell you to avoid "Superman/Batman," but I have a feeling that that's not novel advice.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Supermonth: Supertropes I Hate: Jammies of Steel

Most of these "Supertropes I Hate" posts come from my long history of reading Superman comics. Things build up over time, starting as niggling little annoyances and building up to grating on my every nerve after seeing them used and overused for twenty years.

Not this one. This one has bothered me since the very first time I read about it, at least as far as I can remember: Superman's Indestructible Costume. Why the hell would Superman need an indestructible costume?

Roll it back a bit, since this might come as a surprise to some people. Back in the Silver Age, Superman's parents had the foresight to wrap him in multicolored blankets when they sent him off in his rocket. Space is cold, don'cha know. When the Superbaby got to Earth, wrapped in swaddling blanets, both he and his bedclothes were indestructible. The classic demonstration panel of this has Pa Kent shooting Superbaby's blankets with a shotgun while they're hanging on a clothesline (incidentally, I couldn't find that image, or related ones, through Google; still, I know that there's at least one Silver Age comic that recaps the whole costume origin on a page or two. Anyone able to track it down would be entered into my awesome book).

Ma Kent, who is apparently a miracle-worker with a sewing machine, made baby Clark's clothes out of those blankets (a blue t-shirt and red shorts, as I recall). "But Tom," you may ask, "how in the world could she do that if the fabric couldn't be cut?" Why, it's simple really: Clark separated the fabric into thread with his heat vision (and presumably made the appropriate pattern cuts as well). Now, put it all together: as a toddler, Clark Kent used precision heat vision to make his indestructible blankets into workable material for clothes.

Let's pause there for a moment: why would baby Clark need indestructible clothes? I know that the Kent Farm is traditionally in a perpetual state of financial trouble, but were they so cheap that they couldn't buy cotton fabric someplace? Does this mean that little Clark had only one outfit? Does being indestructible also mean that it never stained or got smelly? Did they make Clark's diapers out of the blankets as well? These kinds of questions kept me from playing sports as a kid.

As Clark grew, skinflint Martha Kent continually altered his clothes to fit his changing frame. Eventually, Smallville must have gotten a Kohl's or something, and Clark's blanket-descended wardrobe was relegated to his work-wear--namely, his Superboy costume. Those poor, abused, oft-altered fabrics were somehow transformed into an indestructible skintight uniform with a cape, complete with boots. The belt, as I recall, was cannibalized from Clark's spaceship. Clark continued to wear this costume, which I recall was merely stretchy enough that it grew with him, into his adult years as Superman.

Somewhere in all that, my childhood B.S. detector went off. I could accept super-dogs and shrunken cities, I could accept translight flight and Matter-Eater Lad, but as a kid reading those old Superman comics, I could never get over the indestructible costume. Why would someone who's indestructible need a costume that was also indestructible? Isn't that totally redundant? Couldn't Superman do just as well by giving the fabric to the army or the Metropolis police station or Batman or someone who actually might have a use for bulletproof fabric?

Not that it would do much good, it seems. If the fabric is so stretchy that it's skintight over Superman's muscles (and may have even simply stretched to fit him as he grew from Super-boy into Super-man), then its bulletproof nature would be kind of useless even to someone who wasn't indestructible. Let's say Batman tries on Superman's costume and goes out to fight some criminals. They take a shot at him, and he figures the bullets will bounce right off, right? Wrong. They're going to plow into the costume just like they'd plow into Plastic Man or Mr. Fantastic. The fabric isn't rigid, it's stretchy, and it's going to stretch right into Batman's squishy chest as if he had been wearing a T-shirt. Depending on how stretchy it is, it might slow the bullet down a bit, or snap back and throw the bullet out (again, a la Plastic Man), but it's not going to make the bullet bounce off Batman's chest like it does off Superman's. Superman's chest is rigid, so the stretchy fabric doesn't give, and the bullets ricochet harmlessly away. Now, held right, the cape might provide some protection, but in the Silver Age Superman's cape was long if it reached his calves. The kind of flowy, Batman-esque cape you'd need to deflect bullets with that fabric simply wasn't possible with Superman's Silver Age outfit.

And then there's the problem of alteration: how much blanket fabric was there? Are there still teeny toddler tank-armor outfits in the Kent attic? Or, as I thought was suggested, were Kal-El's baby clothes reused in making the Superboy/Superman uniform? How does that even work? Is the cape simply meant to cover up the place on Superman's back where his toddler t-shirt has been re-stitched into the larger fabric sample? If the artists were using their noggins, they would have colored Clark's baby outfits mostly in yellow. Then the readers could reasonably assume that the reason there's so little yellow in Superman's costume, despite the blankets being presumably of the same size, is because all the yellow fabric was used in his since-outgrown toddler clothes.

Thankfully, for years, I didn't have to deal with this crap. John Byrne, about whom my feelings are generally fairly negative, gave us some great innovations with the 1986 Superman revamp. Among them was the decision to give Superman's costume a purely Earthly origin. Superman had several costumes, designed by the Kents, all made from conventional fabrics. And it was good.

Then, 2003 rolled around, and Mark Waid (about whom my feelings are generally fairly positive) gave us "Superman: Birthright," a lame unvamp of Superman's origin that restored, among other stupid things, the indestructible costume made from baby blankets. And I wept tears of consternation, since I'd thought that idiocy consigned to the same dusty limbo as Beppo the Super-Monkey. Mercifully, I don't think anyone's actually mentioned this since those early Birthright issues; even Mark Waid apparently forgot, since toward the end of the series, Superman's indestructible costume got largely destructed. The post-hoc rationalization, as I recall, was that Supes had several costumes, but only one was made of the original indestructible material (which leads us to ask...why?).

And why is the question of the day. Specifically, why would the costume be indestructible in the first place? Okay, in the Silver Age, it seems like everything from Krypton, with the possible exception of Kryptonite, was indestructible--the people, the fabric, the plants, the glass and metal in Superman's rocket, etc. But they hadn't really put a whole lot of thought into how the powers worked; gravity and the yellow sun were involved, and that was about it.

Nowadays, that excuse doesn't fly. Granted, the mechanisms of Superman's powers are two parts technobabble and one part handwaving, but there are some things that we understand pretty well. As I discussed in the red sun post, Superman's cells collect and store solar energy, and that energy powers Superman's abilities, including his indestructibility.

So, why would a fabric exhibit the same indestructibility? If it's synthetic, there's no real excuse (unless it's just indestructible as a product of advanced Kryptonian science, but then there's no reason for the common sub-tropes that it's rendered normal by Kryptonite or red sunlight).

If it's natural--made from Kryptonian plant or animal material, like cotton or silk on Earth, then there's some possibility. Kryptonians' solar-absorption might be a trait that goes back as far as the common ancestor of Kryptonian humanoids and the local vegetation (or insects, or whatever the fabric comes from). But if it's dead matter, why would it continue exhibiting the indestructibility?

The possible answer to that lies in the Post-Crisis explanation of Superman's invulnerability--that it at least partially results from a passive skintight telekinetic aura that surrounds Superman's body; the aura kept fabric close to Superman's skin from getting damaged or dirty (except, of course, in situations extreme enough to push back or break through the field). When Superman died, the residual energy stored in his cells kept the aura up and strong enough to keep Cadmus scientists from conducting an autopsy (and cloning experiments). So, dead Kryptonian organisms can keep up the indestructibility. However, as was implied with Superman (though never really stated outright, but it's because of this remaining stored energy that they were able to bring him back to life), this effect is temporary and only lasts as long as the residual energy lasts (and since there's no usage for strength, vision, or other more energy-intensive powers in this case, that could be quite some time). There's no indication that the body continues to absorb new solar energy once dead, though, and to do so wouldn't make sense.

So here's the rub with that understanding: the fabric would never have absorbed yellow sunlight in the first place, having died under Krypton's red sun. Which means it still makes no sense to have an indestructible costume.

And all that can be negated if Superman's costume is alive. And that way lies madness.

Of course, the bigger "why" question is the meta-one: why would anyone think that Superman needs an indestructible costume? The only answer I can think of is that if the costume's indestructible, then the artists don't have to worry about keeping track of damage done to it from panel to panel. That might have been a decent reason in the Silver Age, but it sounds like artistic laziness today. It's also unnecessary; Byrne's solution was the best of both worlds, allowing the costume to stay intact most of the time, but also allowing for costume rippage when it would look dynamic. Any time the "indestructible" costume gets ripped, it makes you wonder why they ever made it "indestructible" in the first place.

No, in order for me to accept an indestructible costume, you'd have to provide some indestructible suspenders so I can hold up my disbelief.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

Signs I've been watching too much Doctor Who

Every time I see Eric Roberts in something--which is a lot, given his appearances in Law & Order reruns, "The Dark Knight," and now something on Showtime--I say "Hey, it's the Master!"

Which reminds me, I need to review that movie at some point.

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Brave and the Blue

Okay, so this looks awesome, and I bet it'll be tons of fun.

But, um...isn't that the theme song from The Tick?

Except, you know, done with instruments.

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Supermonth: Super-News

So, there's some kind of convention going on on the West Coast, and all this news that totally could have been revealed at Wizard World is coming out. And it's almost all good...and a lot of it is about Superman.

First, there's New Krypton. Holy crap, am I excited about this story. I was skeptical at first, but the idea of plopping down a Kryptonian city with the population of Berkley somewhere on Earth sounds better to me the more I hear about it. And I cannot tell you how happy I am that the triangle numbers are returning. In fact, the only thing I don't like about all this is that Supergirl is getting yet another new writer. I'm enjoying the Kelley Puckett run, and I knew it was ending, but I really wish she'd get some stability. The fact that the writers have come together for a two-year plan at a Super-Summit really makes me happy and optimistic about the future of the Super-books.

Also, I like that they're using the Byrne-designed Kryptonian outfit (among others). I always liked that look.

Milestone is coming to the DCU! The old Milestone series are getting collected in trades! Dwayne McDuffie is reintroducing Icon in the pages of Justice League of America! Static may be joining the Teen Titans! Awesome all around. In fact, the only possible problem I have with this is that McDuffie's run on JLofA has been derailed by crossovers every other issue, it seems, and this might feel like another one of those. I honestly hope this ends up actually being a story arc rather than a one-off crossover preview like the Tangent Comics one.

Now I have to track down those last fourteen issues of "Icon."

There's nothing Superman-related in the announcement of an ongoing Zatanna series under Paul Dini, but I'm excited about that nonetheless. And, no offense to Zatanna, but it'll be nice to get back to Batman in Detective Comics.

Superman news a-go-go. Geoff Johns mentions Superwoman, who I imagine won't be Kristen Wells (Busiek pretty much covered that anyway), but hopefully will have something like her kickass costume. Johns gushes a bit about Lois (which makes me happy, especially given "Final Crisis" #2). It's good to hear that John Henry Irons will be appearing soon (Infinity what?); I'm ambivalent about the return of Doomsday, and well, you know how I feel about General Zod. But a return of Zod may herald a return of Chris, and I really liked Chris.

I still haven't gotten around to watching the Wonder Woman trailer (or "New Frontier" for that matter--that's part of my plan for tomorrow), but I'm excited for February regardless. About the only thing that doesn't make me happy is that they're doing a two-disc special edition of "Superman: Doomsday," which means I'll have to seriously consider whether or not the special features are worth buying the flick over again.

All in all, pretty exciting. It's a good time to love Superman. Um...unless, you know, Libra's after you. In which case, good luck.

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Supermonth: Forgotten Favorites I

I've been reading Superman comics for an awfully long time now. Along the way, I've found more than a few stories that seem to have fallen through the cracks--stories that I always enjoyed, but have never been reprinted or given any particular acclaim. I'll be spotlighting a few such stories here, and I'll be starting with one that always sticks out in my memory.

"Identity Crisis"
July-August 1996
Adventures of Superman #536, Action Comics #723, Superman: The Man of Steel #58, Superman #114.

The body swap story is a staple of sci-fi and fantasy. Seems like every cartoon, most comics, and several movies get around to it sooner or later. The event is generally preceded by some variant of the phrase "you wouldn't last ten minutes in my life," and the whole thing is an exercise in seeing what it's like in another person's shoes. The status quo is restored after both parties have learned an important moral lesson that other people may not have it as easy as it looks.

Sometimes that story's fun. Sometimes it's an interesting way of exploring the characters' relationships. More often, it's a paint-by-numbers morality play. But occasionally the writers do something different with the standard plot, putting familiar characters in very unfamiliar situations and seeing how they react.

"Identity Crisis" is the latter.

I would totally buy a poster of this cover.After a brief introduction that establishes one of the story's themes (the trust Superman inspires in the general public), we move briskly to Brainiac, strapped to a gurney in Lovelace Psychiatric Hospital, which is apparently just outside of Gotham City. Exactly how many nuthouses does one town need? Although, if Gotham goes through wards the way that Bruce Wayne does, it's not that surprising that there'd be three or four in the vicinity.

Anyway, it appears that the Brainiac personality is dormant, and Milton Fine, the mentalist whose body Brainiac has possessed and turned chartreuse since his introduction into the post-Crisis DCU, is in control. That is, of course, until the psychiatrist briefly remarks that there's a teenager in the hospital who has delusions of being Superman. Suddenly, Brainiac breaks free of both mental and physical restraints, and hatches some devilish plan.

After making some movement with the current subplot (Lois and Clark broke up; I'm reasonably certain it's because Clark accidentally checked "maybe" on her "Do you like me?" note), Superman has to go fend off the illusion of a mental hospital flying over the streets of Metropolis. After declaring to the panicked crowds that it's not actually a hospital, but instead an elaborate illusion, multiple onlookers state matter-of-factly that they'd trust Superman over their own senses. That, ladies and gentlemen, is trust. Surely it can't be misused!

You know what happens next: Superman goes after Brainiac, Brainiac does his brainy-action, and suddenly Superman finds himself in the body of 15-year-old Chas Cassidy, a seizure-prone kid with delusions of Kryptonianism. Brainiac, naturally, has taken over Superman's form, upgrading brains from Milton Fine's fragile human model. He quickly finds out that being a Kryptonian is harder than it looks, as he can't use his telepathic mojo through Superman's skull. Not that that really helps Superman, who exits the issue in the arms of two abusive guards on his way to electroshock therapy.

Now, here's where the story could have taken a very interesting turn, exploring what effect this trauma has on Superman's own mental state, and the various problems associated with ECT, but that could very easily have become a polemic. Instead, the next issue begins with a recap, and Superman shuddering at the thought of enduring another bout with electricity that once would have merely tickled.

In the meantime, Brainiac is exploring the world with his amazing new senses and powers, but he eventually discovers that even Superman's brain has a storage limit. Playing on the public's trust, he's able to organize a massive televised conference as a front for using the Metropolis populace as a giant jump-drive.

Superman--powerless, imprisoned, thought crazy, and wracked with debilitating seizures whenever he gets particularly excited--relies on his wits, his contacts, and his knowledge of Metropolis to give the abusive guards a bit of comeuppance and escape from the hospital, beginning the trek back toward force-field-contained Metropolis. This leads to a great scene where, to avoid being recognized when his picture shows up on the news at a bar, Superman-in-Chas grabs a pair of glasses and slicks his hair back. Old habits die hard.

The story proceeds as you might expect, albeit with a great little battle and some nice character work at the end. I'll let you track it down, since my synopsis doesn't do it a whole lot of justice, and since I doubt it would cost you all that much in your local back-issue bin. There's some great art (Curt Swan and Dick Giordano!) and some very '90s art (some other people whose names I only vaguely recognize!), but the real treat is something I didn't realize until I re-read the story tonight: the writers, Tom Peyer and Mark Waid.

When I get stuff signed at conventions, I try to go for unconventional books, stuff that might stand out from the crowd. I chatted with Gail Simone about "Rose & Thorn" #1 at Wizard World this year, and I gushed at Will Pfeifer about "H-E-R-O" last year, if that gives you any indication. When I make it to a con where Mark Waid's appearing, I'm bringing this story. Good stuff.

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Friday, July 25, 2008

I have returned (sorta)

As you may have guessed from the restoration of the Freakazoid favicon, my computer is up and running again. Well, one of them anyway. Depending on how things go with the other one on Monday, you may expect to see a long screed against a certain local computer service business that I might hope shows up high in the list of hits on popular search engines.

But, while my hard drive is running on all cylinders, my cranium is not. I used all of my mental prowess in the arduous task of figuring out the whole favicon thing again, so now I'm vegging out in front of "Veronica Mars" Season 3, which isn't nearly as bad as I was led to believe (although bits of that casino robbery episode did feel kind of phoned-in). Supermonth blogging will resume tomorrow evening, with a review of one of my old favorite stories, and possibly another quasi-liveblogging.

Until then, well, it's still Friday somewhere, right?

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The hardest drive of all

So, I've rapidly gone from owning two computers to owning zero, effectively. My desktop is still at the repair shop, employees of which keep saying they're going to call me back. So far, all communication for the last six weeks or so has been initiated on my end, and I'm getting just a little sick and tired of it.

And, in the meantime, I wiped my laptop and re-installed Windows Vista, only to find out that the problem was, as expected, with my hardware. The new hard drive should arrive within two business days; until then, I'm reduced to using the computers at work in-between clients. I mean, I could re-install all the drivers and key programs onto my broken hard drive, and then figure out how to let it back into my wireless router, but that's just a bit more work than I'd like to do. Especially since I'm going to have to do it all over again on Friday.

So it'll probably be silent running here for a couple of days. Just imagine I'm trying to avoid the Reavers or something.

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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Supermonth: Hearing a flea sneeze...

Surprisingly enough, I don't mind that super-hearing breaks pretty much every physical law related to sound.

What I do mind is that my laptop's on the fritz for some reason, while my desktop's at the same repair center where it's spent the last month-plus. Not only that, but a lightning strike knocked out my Internet access for the majority of today. Just letting you know why posting's slowed down, and announcing that Supermonth will bleed over into August as a result. Just imagine that I'm flying circles around the Earth to turn back time.

With any luck, my computer access will work out within the next day or two. Until then, I can't wait to spend hours on the phone with tech support!

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Friday, July 18, 2008

Taking a break from Superman Month

...to give you my first impressions of The Dark Knight.

Holy crap. That was intense. I'm a little disappointed there wasn't anything after the credits, though.

Also, that trailer is the first thing yet that has made me even slightly want to see "Watchmen."

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Supermonth: Supertropes I Hate: Super-Ventriloquism

When things like Wizard list Superman's dumbest powers, Super-Ventriloquism tends to fall near the top, right above "amnesia-inducing Super-kiss" and below "Super-hypnotism." Also, "Super muscle control that allows him to look like other people and somehow change his hair color" falls in there someplace.

I'm not even sure how this was even a power. Sure, Superman learned how to throw his voice. Even if he could throw it really far and really convincingly, how is that super-ventriloquism, as opposed to just ventriloquism? Do things become "super" just because Superman is doing them? Or does he need to be doing them in some super fashion, like really fast or at a really long distance? Inquiring minds don't give a damn want to know!

It'd be easy to scoff at a power like this, to dismiss it as some relic of the Silver Age. And we could do just that, sweeping it under the same rug where we swept Beppo the Super-Monkey. Unfortunately, it's not that simple. Take a look at this panel from the 2005 "The Question" miniseries.

A stupid power by any other name still super-smells.

That's Superman, as you may have guessed, explaining to the Question how he's able to talk to him from across town. Sure, they dress it up in some fancy jargon, but it's still very obviously super-ventriloquism. In fact, it's worse, because it's the idiotic power of super-ventriloquism dressed up in even more idiotic jumbled science. It's been awhile since I did acoustics, but I'm pretty sure sound doesn't work that way.

The worst part is that it's utterly unnecessary for Superman to have a power that allows him to communicate at large distances. Strangely enough, we all have that capability, without the need for superpowers--just radios, walkie-talkies, cell phones, and so on. Was it really that much easier for Superman to figure out a way to laser-focus his speech at the Question (and hope no one got in the way of the sound waves) than to find out his phone number or commlink frequency or something? Or to contact J'onn and arrange a telepathic link? Really?

Granted, this miniseries was bizarre and confusing all around, and seems to have been largely (if not entirely) forgotten. Even so, the fact that someone has used super-ventriloquism non-ironically in the last five years is cause for alarm and despair. We must all band together to make sure that the idiocy of super-ventriloquism never darkens the page of a Superman comic again.

Also, super-kissing.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Supermonth: The Game of Tomorrow (Part 1)

In my many years of reading comics and playing video games, I've naturally gravitated toward titles that combine the two. Nine of the twenty-nine games I currently own are explicitly based on comic properties. Besides those, two are Viewtiful Joe games, which borrow liberally from comics, and two are Transformers games, which have their own ties to comic books. And that's just for the PS2 and Gamecube; I've played everything from "Batman Returns" to "Iron Man and X-O Manowar in Heavy Metal."

And somewhere in all that, I've played the vast majority of games that feature a certain cape-clad Kryptonian. And I can say with some honesty that I've found something to like in every one of them that wasn't on the Atari.

Note to readers: I have never played "Superman 64."

There are a number of problems involved in writing interesting stories about Superman, since he can't be harmed and can basically do anything. All these problems are compounded when making a Superman video game. Game designers have to strike a balance between capturing the feel and power of the main character and providing a challenge to the gamer. It's a tough tightrope to walk, and some games do better than others with it. In the vain hope that some game designer will see this, I'd like to explore how games have accomplished these things in the past, and what might be improved upon to create a better console game for the Man of Steel.

To start, let me lay my biases out here: I've been playing a lot of "Superman Returns" on the PS2, and while it's not a perfect game--or maybe even a great game--it does some things better than any of its predecessors. I recently started playing "Superman: Shadow of Apokolips" again, my previous favorite of the available titles, in order to get some comparison. There are fantastic aspects to both games, and I really wish I could combine them both (with aspects of some other great superhero games, like Ultimate Spider-Man and Hulk: Ultimate Destruction) to create one of the best superhero games of all time. Anyway, noticing some of the differences between the games has given me some perspective on the whole matter.

So, without any more of this already-protracted introduction, let's get started, and let's start at the deep end. The superpower that provides the most problems to game developers is obvious: Invulnerability.

The first and most important thing that any Superman game has to wrestle with is how to convey the character's invulnerability without making him completely unkillable. "Superman" for the Sega Genesis apparently armed all the villains with Kryptonite weapons, which had the unfortunate side-effect of making Superman look powerless. Other games, like "The Death and Return of Superman" and the Superman arcade game, have mostly just ignored this aspect of the character. "Shadow of Apokolips" gave Superman a fairly speedy health recovery, while "Justice League Heroes" waved it away with Batman saying "Careful, these robots can hurt even you" (also, I think Superman did have more health points than the other characters to start with). But "Superman Returns" came up with the best solution, one which respects Superman's personality as well as his powers: instead of giving Superman a health meter, they gave Metropolis one.

Hearing about this innovation was what convinced me to buy the game. It took me a little while to figure out the in-game justification for the mechanism (it's not necessarily counting down to the destruction of Metropolis, it's just a metric of the property damage and loss of life in the area surrounding Superman), but I think it's handled fairly well. In addition to this bar is Superman's stamina bar, which functions as a combo power and health meter--draining it doesn't kill Superman, it just makes him unable to use vision or breath powers until it refills, or it knocks him down for a few moments.

Ideally, giving Metropolis a damage meter should cause the player to have to think like Superman--be careful about using your powers too wildly or you'll end up destroying things, draw battles away from heavily-populated areas, tend to civilian casualties, and so on. "Superman Returns" makes some effort to accomplish this, but there are a lot of problems with the execution.

The biggest problem is precision. If damaging the city is a concern, then the player needs to have incredibly tight control over Superman's abilities. Target lock should be strong, there should be no delay between hitting the buttons and activating or deactivating the powers. Superman Returns has a real problem with this, at least on the PS2, which results in a lot of flying or running into walls at high speeds, heat-visioning things after the target has moved, and punching uselessly at the air. All this ends up leading to Superman doing more damage to the city than he really ought to. This kind of system should require you to be careful with the powers, but when the controls force you to be reckless, the consequence is a bit frustrating and self-defeating.

The civilians are another problem. After most events, there are a few innocent bystanders lying on the ground in your battlefield, calling for help. If you pick one up, nearby (though curiously stationary) ambulances show up on your radar. Run or fly the injured civilian to the ambulance and the city regains some health.

It sounds like a great idea, but there are a variety of problems with it that need to be ironed out:

  • Stupid Civilians: I realize that crazy stuff happens every day in Metropolis, but people shouldn't be nonchalantly walking through the middle of a battle between Superman and half a dozen hideous monsters. I've had bystanders walk between me and my target while I'm punching them. The start of an event should send civilians either running away or standing around gawking, either of which could put them in danger, but shouldn't result in me having to walk around them to punch the monster.
  • Someone Call 911! Sometimes, especially if you've done multiple events close together in the same region, the ambulances never appear. You pick up your civilian, but you're eventually forced to just drop them on the sidewalk somewhere. The ambulances should always be nearby (and active!) after a battle. Besides that, there ought to be a hospital or three in Metropolis, rather than just a bunch of generic skyscrapers.
  • Where'd They Go? Depending on how far away the ambulances are, chances are you only have time to ferry one civilian over to them before the rest of the injured bystanders up and disappear. This has two major problems: one, it undercuts the thematic component of giving Metropolis a health meter by suggesting that there aren't major consequences to being careless; two, it makes it really difficult to restore the city's health meter after a big battle, since you don't get a chance to help more than one or two people.
  • Butterfingers: This relates back to the problem of precision. It's hard to actually pick up the civilians in the first place. You tend to grab at the air two or three times before the game actually recognizes that you're trying to pick someone up.
  • Let's Take This Outside: There are a few stock phrases that populate superhero battles. "Hit 'em hard and fast!" "This ends now." And, of course, "We need to take this fight away from the city," and variants thereof. It would be nice to have the option and ability to lure and/or carry the villains away from populated areas, to draw fights into parks or dumps in order to minimize property damage.
Some of this would be fairly simple to implement, some would be a little more sophisticated, but they're all necessary to make the "city health meter" work. And the city health meter is the best solution I've found to the invulnerability problem.

I understand the stamina meter, and it works well in Superman Returns. Yes, Superman's invincible, but that doesn't mean he never takes a beating. The stamina meter allows Superman to be knocked down, disoriented, and taken briefly out of the fight. The only problem with it is how quickly it depletes from using heat vision and other long-range powers. It's not as rapid as the super power meters of previous games (Shadow of Apokolips, for instance) but it still occasionally becomes a problem when it doesn't seem like it should be. It needs some finesse, but overall I think it works very well, and is a good complement to the city health meter.

Over the last twenty-odd years, a variety of approaches have been taken to the problem of invulnerability, and most have failed miserably. It seemed for awhile that a quickly-replenishing health meter was the only viable solution, but Superman Returns' primary innovation solved it by moving the focus away from Superman almost entirely. A little tweaking is necessary to make it really work to its full potential, but the foundation of a solution is finally in place. Hopefully the next Superman game will follow suit.

Next in this series: Events and Encounters.

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Supermonth: Lois and Clark Liveblogging

I've been meaning to start this for a few days now, but I wasn't quite sure where to start. My plan is, every couple of days, to "liveblog" the premiere of one of the various Superman series, some of the films, and possibly some key episodes along the way. So, to kick things off, I'm going to blog and review one of the very few of these premieres that I actually watched when it first aired: the first episode of "Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman." Follow along at home!

  • 0:00 - I like the way the title sequence proceeds, running the credits in front of the S-shield. It gives the premiere more of a cinematic feeling, and it doesn't present any spoilers the way that running a normal "scene montage" theme song opening might.
  • 1:20 - We begin with very little indication of when this is taking place. It's obviously in Metropolis, but the 1950s taxi makes one wonder where everything is going. Are they going to recap Clark's rocket landing? If so, why is Metropolis involved?
    I'm not actually asking, but I imagine that might have been the purpose for the first-time viewer.
  • 1:40 - The bearded guy who got out of the cab is entering the Daily Planet offices, treating us to a wide-angle shot of the newsroom. My initial reaction was that this would result in some kind of bomb/shooting threat early on, which conflicted with my fuzzy memories of watching this show years and years ago.
  • 2:00 - But it quickly becomes clear that the bearded guy is Lois in disguise. Jimmy recognizes her (from behind, wearing a ski cap) and helps her take off the fake beard and moustache, which calls into question why, if his observational skills are so keen, he can't figure out who Superman is. Lois, of course, had been undercover for a story about a car theft ring.
  • 2:55 - Perry enters, with his southern-fried accent. I remember that bothering me a little as a kid (especially as he got Flanderized into an overpowering Elvis obsession over the seasons). He demonstrates a sense of humor, Lois demonstrates competence and independence, and the Planet staff demonstrates a sort of camaraderie that we don't see much in adaptations (or even in the comics).
  • 3:27 - Jimmy is clever and ambitious, Perry wants him to write obituaries. I remember this being a big change in how Jimmy is portrayed in popular media; most of the time he's a kid, a cub reporter. Here, he's still young, but obviously older than we usually see him, and significantly more confident and competent. Still, brash and ambitious enough to get into plenty of trouble.
  • 4: 30 - We get our first look at Dean Cain's Clark Kent, literally fresh off the bus, carrying a beat-up old suitcase with his initials in chipping, tarnished gold on the side.
  • 4:44 - This is one of the two scenes I remember from the premiere the first time it aired--Clark stopping the bus with his bare hand, saving a string of clichéd pedestrians that included a mom with a stroller and two nuns (good thing he wasn't trying to get rid of a bomb). Naturally, in the hustle and bustle of Metropolis life, only one woman notices Clark's amazing feat. I've always liked the image of his handprint pressed into the bus's bumper.
  • 5:45 - A homeless-looking guy with a package wrapped in brown paper rushes to Lois's desk talking about things going to explode. You know, if you're trying to alert reporters about urgent news, this is not the way to do it.
  • 7:08 - Cat Grant sounds a bit like a drag queen. I'm not sure why they decided to go "sleazy prostitute" with her character for this show, but I seem to recall that Morrison did the same over in All-Star Superman.
  • 9:49 - Clark's interview is interrupted by Jimmy, then Lois. Perry makes an effort to introduce Clark to the latter, but she's clearly more interested in talking about her lead. It's a suitably awkward way to bring the characters together, and to set Clark up as a bit of a doormat.
  • 10:37 - Clark being rejected at his interview is an often-repeated theme in retellings of the Superman origin, but not one that generally gets much notice.
  • 10:55 - Ma and Pa are introduced. I remember always liking Callan and Jones as the Kents, and I'm glad this incarnation decided to keep them alive. In fact, I think this is the first TV series to do so, following the post-CoIE status quo.
  • 12:15 - The first flying sequence. Clark lazily (and rigidly) rises up off his bed to fix a flickering lightbulb. The effect comes across as more than a bit stiff.
  • 12:53 - And now he's pacing on the walls. It's a good image, although the effect is a bit obvious, thanks to Cain's movements.
  • 13:42 - Lois enters her apartment with a large brown bag of groceries (I'm on alert for oranges!) and calls out for Lucy. I didn't remember that Lucy was living with Lois in this series. How long did this last?
  • 14:34 - Some really heavy-handed exposition there, with Lucy explaining to Lois about her relationship problems. "You've gotta stop scaring them off, Lois. You've gotta stop being so smart all the time, so intense!"
  • 14:51 - "Lois, I just want you to meet a super guy." Oh, bad.
  • 15:52 - And Lois is crying in bed, watching a tape of a soap opera. Because what every strong, independent woman wants is a cookie-cutter romance. Maybe it's not quite that bad, but they've spent the whole episode showing how strong and capable Lois is, and now she starts bawling at hammy actors saying stuff like this: "Tonight, my body is yours. But my heart, my heart beats only for one man." Either it's undermining, or it's trying to demonstrate that the strength is a front to hide the troubled, lonely person inside. Either way, it's a bit of a crock.
  • 17:15 - We get to see some covert demonstrations of X-Ray and Heat vision. The former looks pretty good (though it'll be hard to top the MRI-vision of "Superman Returns"), the latter not so much.
  • 18:18 - Clark's a theatre fan. If I thought this would come up later in the episode, it'd be Chekhov's Chekhov.
  • 19:07 - Wow, that's an old-school laptop. Clark sets it smoking with some super-speed typing. And naturally, he gets the job after turning the story in.
  • 20:18 - Some pretty bad effects on a space shuttle fire. I mean, maybe I'm being a bit harsh on the '90s, but it's very '90s.
  • 21:13 - Good ol' fast-talking Lois. That seems to be a recurring trope in media adaptations of the character.
  • 23:18 - "Space Station Prometheus"...it's probably just a coincidence, or a similar thematic allusion, but I like how often Prometheus turns up in Superman stories.
  • 26:30 - And now Drag Queen Cat is dressed like Elektra. Or possibly someone in a roller derby.
  • 28:30 - Lois asks Clark out, Clark plays coy. I like how well-dressed Clark is in this; again, it's taking a cue from the comics at the time, where Clark's awkward nerdiness was downplayed.
  • 30:15 - We get a decent flying sequence that's ruined a bit by too much flourish, and then an obvious green-screen that's ruined by a bad super-speed effect.
  • 33:15 - Wow, mentioning that they don't know if Clark can "have a family" this early on? That's really cutting to the chase. I remember that being a major plot point in the last season or so, but I didn't realize they'd bring it up yet.
  • 33:56 - Jimmy lists some of Lex's biographies--"Rags to Riches," "The Self-Made Billionaire"--so it looks like they're going with the Suicide Slum foster kid origin for Lex, another post-Crisis innovation (as far as I know) and one that I wish survived a bit more than the "Smallville" version that's been creeping in since "Birthright."
  • 34:09 - John Shea's Lex Luthor. Not one of my favorite versions of the character; I can't recall him ever really seeming threatening.
  • 34:34 - Lois says "Lex Luthor" and there's a crash of lightning and thunder. I guess it does sound a bit like "Frau Blucher."
  • 35:00 - Seeing Lois gets a rise out of Clark. Literally. A nice, clever little character bit.
  • 35:39 - I've never really liked the "Lex loves Lois" trope. It was a major plot point in "Ending Battle," and I thought it felt shoehorned-in then, too.
  • 37:08 - Clark takes a bit of a trip around Lex's weapons room. The scene reminds me of a similar one in the 1989 Batman flick. I like that Lex compares himself to Alexander the Great. Nice showcase of his ego and megalomania.
  • 30:49 - I don't know, I guess I just like Lex better when he's slick and malevolent, not so much when he's just smarmy.
  • 39:48 - Surprisingly good hologram effect.
  • 41:25 - Someone in a turban sends a cobra in to kill Lex, but Indiana Luthor stares it down. It slithers away, and apparently the snake charmer works for Luthor, and this has been planned? It doesn't make an awful lot of sense, unless Lex is trying to prove to his servants what a badass he is. Or gets a thrill out of near-death situations. Not sure exactly what kind of character development they're going for with that bit.
  • 43:55 - I think Cat Grant took her hairstyle from Ron Perlman, circa "Beauty and the Beast."
  • 45:29 - Maybe John Shea just reminds me too much of Don Adams. It's something in the voice and inflection.
  • 48:00 - Would an actual meal from China include Fortune Cookies? Lois is right, though--it wasn't a fortune, and I don't like "aphorism cookies" either.
  • 50:55 - I like Clark's feelings of helplessness at being unable to prevent their informant's death. It's a nice setup to eventually putting on the costume. I'm glad they're going for a slow build-up to the superheroics, doing the "covert guardian angel" thing. It seems that decompression wasn't invented in 2000.
  • 51:21 - Beefcake!
  • 54:51 - "The Congress of Nations." The '60s Batman movie had the "United World," and Doctor Who's UNIT had to recently change their name from "United Nations Intelligence Taskforce" to "UNified Intelligence Taskforce." Why can't TV shows use the United Nations?
  • 59:59 - Oh great, Clark's a stalker in this too. Then again, when Lex Luthor is taking Lois home, it's probably best to be worried. Still, floating outside her window to eavesdrop? A little creepy, Clark.
  • 1:02:02 - There's a neat thematic thing going on here. Perry's expressing some skepticism ("Let me get this straight") about Lois and Clark's story that the Prometheus station is being sabotaged and that the rocket will explode, based on their interview with Samuel Platt (the informant who died earlier), "a man who was banned from the scientific community." Ignoring, of course, that the scientific community isn't in the habit of banning people, there's a nice parallel between this and Jor-El's predictions about Krypton. An unbelievable story about an impending explosion, a respected scientist scoffed and kicked out of the scientific community, and such. It's not blatant enough that I can say it's definitely intentional, but it's neat to think about.
    It's also nice to see Perry playing it safe; any real editor would be worried about libel in that kind of situation, and asking for "hard facts" is totally warranted.
  • 1:04:33 - I somehow can't see Lex Luthor wearing a rugby shirt. Particularly the sort of red-and-blue number that would have been in Clark's closet on "Smallville."
    Look at me, talking about "Smallville" in the past tense. Wishful thinking, I guess.
  • 1:06:05 - Lois just beat up a reject goon from a a Chuck Norris flick.
  • 1:08:20 - Perry follows Clark into the Storage Closet, interrupting his jump out of the window. An awkward conversation follows, in which this exchange occurs:
    Perry: Um. Well, I guess I'd better be getting back.
    Clark: Yes sir.
    Perry: When are you coming...out of the closet?
    Clark: Soon, sir. Very soon.
    Well, I guarantee there's a joke I didn't get in 1993.
  • 1:09:10 - Strangely, Clark's more intimidating with his underwear on the outside of his pants.
  • 1:16:17- And we come to the other scene I remember from this episode's first airing, the costume tryout montage, set to Bonnie Tyler's immortal classic, "Holding Out for a Hero." Strangely enough, I'm pretty sure I've had a soft spot for this song since before this episode aired.
  • 1:16:20 - I actually like some of these costumes. It would have been neat, though, if some of them had been copies or sly shout-out versions of other established heroes. Sure, it would have been campy, but trying on a red and yellow-lightning-bolt costume and saying it's "too flashy" or a red-and-gold one with a short white cape that's "too cheesy" would have made for a fun scene. There's one that looks a bit like a Captain America costume, but I'm not sure it's intentional.
  • 1:17:43 - Oh my god, that Superman costume has nipples! No, wait, it's just tight. They used the "S shield came from Krypton in the rocket" bit, which has grown on me in the last several years. They never really attach it to the costume though. It just kind of shows up there. Maybe it's iron-on.
  • 1:20:11 - And Lois is stowing away on the space shuttle. It's actually really neat how many elements this story takes from the '80s and '90s Superman comics. It's clear that they made that a specific effort.
  • 1:21:00 - At least Clark used a door on his way out.
  • 1:22:24 - I like Superman's little hop through the door of the space shuttle. It's reminiscent of how George Reeves would jump into the scene to make it look like he was landing. It's nice and dynamic, if ever so slightly goofy.
  • 1:23:30 - "I'm...a friend." I love that this line has become so emblematic of Superman's introduction. Was "Superman: The Movie" its first use?
  • 1:25:05 - Superman's cape is sure doing a lot of flapping about in space.
  • 1:25:34 - Perry: "I still don't believe it--a man who flies." Nice callback to the movie tagline.
  • 1:25:51 - The first "Great Shades of Elvis" utterance. Superman carrying Lois in through the window is a decent effect, but his "I'll be around" line falls way flat.
  • 1:27:23 - Superman gets a name, and makes his first confrontation with Lex Luthor. The gray mock turtleneck is the first thing Lex has worn in this episode that really looks like something he'd wear. With the possible exception of the tuxedo--but even that seemed a bit off.
  • 1:29:12 - "By the way, if you need to find me, all you have to do is look up," quips Superman, in a nice callback to Lex's earlier comments about taking the high ground and liking that everyone in the city had to look up to him.
And that's the end of it. I'll admit, Dean Cain wasn't quite as good in this as I remembered him being, but it's also the first episode. His Clark is actually pretty good, but his Superman frequently came off flat, and there's not much effort to make the two characters distinct. One of the great things about Christopher Reeve, Brandon Routh, even Bud Collyer, is the effort they put physically and vocally into making Clark and Superman distinct. It takes that extra step to sell the secret identity, and this doesn't have that. Consequently, the "how can no one notice it's the same guy" complaint is particularly salient here.

The show has a distinct '90s feel, which is unsurprising, but it also feels a lot like the comics of the era. I like that, largely because I like the '90s Superman comics, but your mileage may vary.

They made some interesting casting and character decisions. Making Jimmy older and more wise-ass than naive kid was a good choice; making Cat Grant into a cougar, not so much. Perry works well here, and Ma and Pa Kent are great. Lex Luthor's a bit of a misstep; he's too much the playboy, not enough the mastermind or the ruthless businessman. Even when he's just killed his hapless lover, he doesn't feel menacing or even frighteningly aloof. He's just...bland.

And then there's Teri Hatcher, who's one of the best Lois Lanes we've ever had. A damn sight better than Margot Kidder, this Lois really set the stage for Dana Delany in the animated series, and even Erica Durance in "Smallville." Kate Bosworth would do well to steal a bit of this Lois's fiery personality for the next Superman flick, and that's coming from someone who didn't mind her performance in "Superman Returns."

The plot felt like it was "Man of Steel" #1 as written by Brian Michael Bendis. It didn't have the same sense of humor, per se, but it was structured in a similar fashion to the first few issues of "Ultimate Spider-Man," particularly with the extended Clark/Lois plotline. The show made a good choice to start in Metropolis rather than Smallville (or on Krypton), and that sets it apart from most adaptations. It also sets the mood for the show, which is trying to be more of a "Moonlighting"-style urban romance/comedy/drama than the typical superhero show.

Overall, it holds up a lot better than I expected. The effects are nothing to write home about, even in the '90s, but everything else is pretty spot-on. I think I may have to continue watching this even after Supermonth is over. I fully expected that my fond memories of the show were the result of rose-colored nostalgia glasses and an easily-impressed childhood, but the show actually works pretty well.

I may, however, stop watching before we get to the frog-eating clone Lois years. No amount of nostalgia can make me think that was good.

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Supermonth: Supertropes I Hate: Icecube Breath

Super-breath is easily one of Superman's lamest powers in the modern age. Unlike other ridiculous abilities, from super-kissing to super-ventriloquism to super-weaving, which have mostly been mercifully forgotten, super-breath is pretty much constant.

And you know, it makes a good deal of sense. Someone with Superman's strength and his increased lung capacity should be able to blow things with a great deal of force (no snickering!). And I won't dispute that. It's a lame power, but it's also really only a corollary power; it's not a primary ability like "super-strength" or "flight," it's an ability that results naturally from a combination of primary abilities. It's a side-effect power. And I don't really have a problem with that--in fact, I think comic writers ought to be more aware of side-effect powers. If I ever end up writing a Barry Allen Flash book, there would be a lot of exploration of that sort of thing--but that's a "Comics I'd Write for Free" post that I haven't written yet.

Getting back to the point, my problem is less with the "moving air with great force" aspect of super-breath and more with the "flash-freezing things by blowing at them" aspect of super-breath.

See, on the surface it makes sense. When you have a hot cup of coffee, or a hot spoonful of soup, you blow on it to cool it off. Similarly, when you're hot and lack air conditioning, you turn on a fan, which blows air at you, which cools you off. Therefore, blowing on things cools them off. And if you have someone who can blow really hard, then they ought to be able to make things really cold, right?

Yeah, not quite. There's a reason you don't hear about towns being frozen solid after a tornado plows through. See, when something (soup, coffee, skin) is hot--specifically, hotter than the air around it--it transfers heat to the surrounding air. This cools the hot object and heats the air. Of course, now the air is warmer, so the temperature differential between the hot body and the air is smaller, so there's less heat transfer.

The solution: move the warm air out and replace it with cool air, which will then absorb more heat from the body. Repeat. It's called convection, and it's the principle behind blowing on food and buying fans in the summer.

There's a limit, though: you won't be able to cool the hot object any lower than the temperature of the cool air you're blowing at it. I imagine we've all been in the situation where you've got the fan on, but it just feels like it's blowing hot air around. If the air's too hot to allow any significant heat transfer from your body, then the fan won't do much good.

So, if I'm recalling my thermodynamics correctly, Superman's ability to freeze people is somewhat limited by the temperature of the air around his target. Unless it's a really, really cold day, he probably won't be able to make the person more than a little chilly. Even if it were twenty below zero, he'd be blowing for quite awhile before they froze to the degree of solidity that Superman routinely accomplishes.

Please, feel free to correct my science if I've made a mistake.

I can think of some technobabbley ways to get around this--some sort of biological internal super-cooling mechanism (I think The Science of Superman suggests that he has a superconducting nervous system, which would likely require just such a mechanism) that cools the air close to boiling point before it leaves his lips--but it seems a bit unlikely, desperate, and rife with undesirable side-effects (what's Superman's normal body temperature? Can he control the temperature of his breath? Does he have some really hot organ processes to balance this out so he feels normal to the touch?). Which will make it kind of odd when I say that even this--Superman freezing villains in their tracks--doesn't particularly bother me. If I'm reading a comic and he freezes someone/thing by blowing at them, I rarely even bat an eye at the implausibility.

No, what I started this post to talk about, what really grates on me, is when Superman's using his freeze-breath on some hapless foe, and somehow they end up encased in a block of ice.

The exact situation varies; sometimes it's a jagged ice sculpture in the rough shape of the villain's body, other times it's a full-fledged ice cube, a solid rectangular block straight out of a (Pup Named) Scooby-Doo cartoon.

I can suspend my disbelief for villains flash-frozen solid by convection alone. I can suspend my disbelief that someone could somehow survive that sort of treatment. I can't quite see some crook frozen into the middle of an ice cube without wondering where the heck did all the ice come from? Is it normal ice, frozen water? If so, where the heck did that much water spontaneously appear? There's certainly not enough water vapor in the surrounding air to create that much ice; are Superman's lungs filled with vast amounts of fluid for just this purpose? Or is he somehow freezing the gases in the air through convection alone? Besides this seeming absurd on its face, why isn't there a solid stream of frozen gas leading from his lips to far beyond the trapped criminal? Nitrogen (which makes up 70-some percent of the air) has a freezing point just above 63K--63 degrees above absolute zero. Is Superman really able to bring atomic motion to a near-standstill by exhaling?

These are the kind of thoughts that keep me up at night.

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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Supermonth: Imitation is the finest form of flattery

Superman's got a lot of look-alikes. Even just in the DCU, there's Mon-El, Captain Marvel, Ultraman, and arguably Ultra Boy. Branch out a bit and you find Hyperion, the Sentry, Samaritan, Apollo, Supreme, Maxi-Man, and so forth.

So, who's your favorite? Which knock-off Kryptonian tops your list?

I'll answer somewhere in the comments, methinks.

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Monday, July 07, 2008

Great Moments in Superman Villainy: New Insect Queen

It's no secret that Superman's rogue's gallery kind of sucks, especially for his prestige as a superhero. By my count, only Wonder Woman has a worse importance to amount of notable villains ratio, with four (Ares, Dr. Psycho, Cheetah, and Circe). Superman's already paltry rogues' gallery has the added difficulty of being mined for villains for other heroes and the DC Universe at large (Lex Luthor, Mongul, arguably Darkseid). So, I applaud most attempts to expand Superman's villain library.

But I applaud doubly when the new villain works, especially as well as the new Insect Queen.

Do they make Raid with Kryptonite?Kurt Busiek recently hatched the new villain over in "Superman." Nominally, she's based on Lana Lang's Silver Age superheroic identity. Because, you know, everyone was a superhero in the Silver Age. I expected, for some reason, to really dislike the three-part Insect Queen storyline, (perhaps because the covers and whatnot reminded me of Marv Wolfman's terrible 2001 storyline, "Infestation") but it turned out to be pretty darn good.

Making Lana Lang the new CEO of LexCorp was a bold move, but it has really allowed her character to develop and gain distinction apart from Clark and Pete. This story showcased that growth, managing to integrate "wife/mother Lana" with "Clark's ex-girlfriend Lana" and somehow come up with "strong-but-troubled independent woman Lana who is seeking to bring closure to her past and move forward as a person."

But this post isn't about Lana, it's about Insect Queen. There's a lot to like about her. First, she's got a body based on Lana's, which even she comments gives her some curious stirrings with regard to the Man of Steel. This puts her in a bit of the old Maxima position, the villainess with a crush on our Man of Steel. In fact, the love/hate relationship this sets up is one of the more intriguing things about neo-Insect Queen; sure, we've seen similar relationships before, but in this case it's essentially an exaggerated version of Lana's own feelings. On one hand, the flame's never quite died down for Lana, and she's spent her whole life chasing after him. On the other hand, she's upset--with him and herself--that there's no way to get him out of her life and jump-start the closure process, and there's no way with him around that she can seem to progress past high school.

Granted, Insect Queen's version is a bit more simplistic--"He's in my way" vs. "He makes me tingly in my thorax"--but it has a similar root and it bears exploration.

Besides that, there's the thematic parallel: Clark was rocketed from his homeworld as the last survivor, the only hope for the continued existence of some shred of Krypton. Insect Queen was rocketed from her homeworld for being one too many (only one queen allowed at a time) and was one of many hopes to expand her people's hive-empire.

Plus, there's the plain old cool factor: a villain with her own private army of bug-Borg, and the capacity to make more from infected civilians, and to clone more besides. Between her and the wide variety of soldier-types among her drones (limitless possibilities, culled from your local Entomology textbook), they've already shown themselves able to hurt Superman and create superpowered insectoid clones of him. And she's got four arms!

At the very least, there's at least two good stories with her clash against Queen Bee and her team-up with Hellgrammite. I'm pretty sure there's more than that yet, and I for one can't wait to see them.

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Sunday, July 06, 2008

Supermonth: Man of Fashion!

So, Project Rooftop did a costume redesign contest for Superman. There are some real gems, and a lot of designs that would look great in an Elseworlds story. Check it out!

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Saturday, July 05, 2008

I need a TARDIS to take me to Christmas

Spoilers pretty much immediately for the "Doctor Who" season finale. You've been duly warned.
The song ends.Russel T. Davies needed an editor, that's for sure. This has got to have been the weakest finale story of the last four seasons, which is doubly sad since this may have been the best season yet.

Which isn't to say that the story was as terrible as some of the message boards would suggest, but there's an awful lot of chaff left on the wheat of the story. Things would have moved much more smoothly if we'd cut the Shadow Proclamation, Project Indigo, and Jackie Tyler. There could have been a little less cross-pollination, too; I like "Sarah Jane Adventures" and "Torchwood" as much as the next chap, but I imagine the guest appearances were probably lost on some viewers. And you know, if we're going to have a crossover, couldn't we do it right and have Maria there as well? After all, she is the POV character for SJA.

If they'd dumped a bit of the baggage, the story would have proceeded a lot more smoothly. We wouldn't have wasted the Shadow Proclamation on a throwaway scene that did very little to move the plot forward and served to suggest that this big name of the past four years was a toothless bureaucracy. We wouldn't have wasted so much time on character moments that did nothing for the plot--specifically, those involving Rose and Martha's respective mums. Martha particularly has gotten such short shrift in her guest appearances that she really deserved more time to shine. Her part in "The Stolen Earth"/"Journey's End" was better than anything they'd given her since "Last of the Time Lords," but it would have been nice for her to have a bit more screen time.

Oh, and Harriet Jones? Yeah, all that set-up for a twist didn't really lead anywhere (yet). More unnecessary bits tacked onto the story to justify an over-bloated cast list.

And for an episode so keen on guest appearances and continuity, I could have done with a bit more of the latter, to be honest. The Doctor has a flashback sequence to everyone who's died in his name (and some who haven't), but his memory only extends as far as the last four seasons. Sure, a montage of every heroic sacrifice in Doctor Who's last forty-five years would have taken half an hour on its own, but surely there are some folks from the past who are more significant than the nameless flight attendant from "Midnight."

Then again, I hesitate to think what the reviews and comments would be like if they'd shown a clip of Adric in the middle of this.

And then there's the end, with Donna. You know, I really liked Donna. I still like Donna. I like Donna an awful lot. I can't wait to buy a Donna figure (whenever they put one out in something other than a parka). I would be quite happy with Donna sticking around for another year or two or three. To be honest, it'd be nice to go a little longer without someone doing the shocked TARDIS walkaround. I can't tell you how much I wanted her to crack open that big honkin' ring and suddenly remember that she was Romana. Instead, she got the tragic mindwipe, a fate worse than death to everyone but poor, oblivious Donna Noble.

I've been very negative so far, and I shouldn't be. Being the worst of four season finales may be praising with faint damnation, since the last three finales have been so darn great. This story falls around the same quality as the Sontaran two-parter from earlier this season, certainly better than "The Idiot's Lantern" or "Daleks in Manhattan." Davros is spot-on brilliant, and the Daleks get to be menacing again right up until Donna scrambles them somehow (still, defeat-by-technobabble is better than defeat-by-rug or defeat-by-stairs). I've watched Davros's last two appearances over the last couple of days, and he's much better in this one than in either of those (especially "Revelation of the Daleks," wherein nothing made much sense).

And the acting was generally pretty darn good. There were lots of character bits that caught me off-guard--Rose being unaware of what she'd done to Captain Jack, Davros's history with Sarah Jane, and so forth. The dynamic between Rose and Martha was great in both episodes, even though they only really came into contact once. And the Doctor, as always, got to make his great stern face while making all the tough decisions. I'm so very, very glad that we have another year or two of David Tennant, and I really wish I could make a trip over the pond to see him and Patrick Stewart in Hamlet. Any chance that show will go on tour to Chicago?

I'll admit, I'm a bit let-down by this finale, and a lot of that disappointment could have been cleared up by clearing away some of the unnecessary bits of story. For a season that has wowed me no less than ten previous times (with the one exception being "Midnight," an episode that was great by any standard, but left me a little flat for no apparent reason), I can't fault the finale too bad for falling short of the mark. It would have had to top "Forest of the Dead," after all.

This does leave me chomping at the bit for the Christmas special though, since I'm sure it'll be better than the finale here. Smaller cast, likely a one-off companion, and no doubt less pressure to end on a major high note. Oh well, I've got stuff to tide me over for the next five months. There are dozens of serials that I haven't seen, there are some Big Finish dramas that look interesting, and I've been meaning to watch "Scream of the Shalka" for months. I'm sure the time will go by quickly enough.

So, what's the over/under on when Donna makes another guest appearance? I give it until the end of Moffat's second season.

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Supermonth: The American Way

In honor of Independence Day (still a few minutes left in it), I thought about doing a long post exploring the values and ideals which inform the nebulous third corner in Superman's personal moral trinity.

But I realized that one of those ideals is democracy, so I put it to you, the readers. As you recover on the 5th from a day of fireworks and barbecue, stop by here and tell us what "the American Way" means to you, or what you think it means to Superman.

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Friday, July 04, 2008

Conversations

I've been hoping to get around to my Wizard World Chicago recap post before all my memories of the event are long gone.

  • First, I should mention the crew. I went again as an employee of Stand-Up Comics, who patiently tolerated my frequent excursions from the booth to make bunches of purchases. The main staff comprises Eric (visit his new blog!), Pat, and Brian; among the rest of the cast were the two Amandas (fiancées to Pat and Brian), Jon, Bekki, Ben, my dashingly handsome counterpart Craig, and frequent visitors Jim, and Paul the Canadian. We shared the booth with Joe and his folks, who were primarily selling Star Wars stuff. This is just for ease of understanding when I mention names later on.

  • On the complaint front, there's a major lack of organization. I spent the majority of Saturday waiting in one line or another for no good reason. Eric, Pat, Bekki, and I lined up early on Saturday to get tickets to the Gotham Knight screening, following some official who repeatedly said "I am the end of the line." Something got confused along the way, because we ended up getting about halfway, where security people told us that we had to go to the end of the line. After about twenty minutes of confused bickering, a stout Wizard staffer with an incredible moustache set things straight with a combination of a New York accent and friendly intimidation. We got to the front to find plenty of tickets for the show...

  • Which led to the big "Gotham Knight" cluster@$%!. Why give out tickets to an event if you're going to give more tickets than seats? I realize that the hundred-plus people standing probably made for great photo-ops for the comic press, but it was a dick move to make that many people stand through a feature-length film after making them stand in line for tickets that morning, and then making them stand and walk through an existentialist absurdist nightmare of a line all the way around a circle of hallways to get to the screening room. The asininity of this is expounded by the fact that the entire thing could have been avoided by numbering the tickets and seats.
    I spent a good portion of the screening on my knees; my legs and feet simply couldn't take it anymore. At least a lot of people cleared out before the panel; there's no way I would have been able to stand through that as well.

  • I might not have been so sick of being on my feet during "Gotham Knight" if not for the fact that Wizard wasn't the only group with organization problems. See, the Rebel Legion and the 501st Legion put together a game called "Droid Hunt." You picked up a "Droid Hunt" lanyard and tag from the 501st and wore it all day. If a Stormtrooper (or Imperial Guard, or other Empire-themed person) approached you and asked you "How long have you had these droids?" you had to turn over your lanyard, and you'd get a raffle ticket in exchange. To counter this, you could pick up a Jedi Mind Trick card from the Rebel Legion booth (or one of their operatives, including a very authentic Obi-Wan Kenobi); when the Stormtrooper asked you the question, you could give them the Mind Trick card instead, saying something snarky (like "These aren't the droids you're looking for") and keeping your lanyard for a little while longer.
    Unfortunately, there were problems. The rules (apparently including the fact that the Stormtroopers and Co. couldn't get you if their helmets were off) were not spelled out anywhere. This includes the rather nebulous point of the game. See, as we came to find out, the raffle ticket was the only way to win a prize, so there really wasn't any point to keeping the lanyard; in fact, it was better to get caught. Either way, you'd be trading the lanyard in for a raffle ticket in order to get a chance at a prize at the end. The booths had no way to keep track of who had gotten lanyards and/or raffle tickets already, so it was easy enough to just start right back up after getting caught. It was also easy to get multiple Jedi Mind Trick cards, which apparently only existed to slightly hinder your ability to win a prize.
    So at the end of the contest, they had the hundreds of people who'd played gather around the tiny 501st booth, creating something of a giant honkin' fire hazard, as they called out raffle numbers with absolutely no voice amplification devices or way to weed out people who were no longer in attendance. This was a bigger cluster@%$& than the battle of Hoth.
    The worst part though was this: the only sure way to lose the game was to win the game. The only way to get in the raffle--the only way to win prizes--was either to get caught by the Stormtroopers (which any sane person would see as "losing") or to have the presence of mind (and take a wild guess) to visit the booth before the raffle crowd formed and turn your lanyard in for a raffle ticket. There was no extra prize for people who kept their lanyards the whole time, no incentive to do so. So the two young kids who came into the massive crowd shortly after the raffle started, asking what they should do if they "didn't lose" and brandishing their lanyards, probably got to leave with nothing more than the lanyards themselves. Couldn't they have printed out posters or certificates or something at least?

  • Which isn't to say that the game wasn't fun. It was; a lot of fun, in fact. It was a bit like Lazer Tag without the guns. Those of use playing took ridiculous steps to conceal our tags while in our booth, and to avoid the Stormtroopers on the floor. We got more than a bit paranoid...at one point, Bekki and I were walking around when I spotted a pair of Troopers up ahead and flat-out panicked. I grabbed her arm, shouted "cheese it!" and ran. We turned a corner and almost ran into an Imperial Guard. Really got the blood pumping, that one.

  • The best part of the game, though, was after Bekki and I managed to each collect two Jedi Mind Trick cards. We went immediately from cautious to cocky, strolling past a Scout Trooper without a care. Eventually we ran into the Imperial Guard again, who had his helmet off. He tried to be all smooth: "Hey, do either of you know the time? Maybe you could read it off those droids."
    "Maybe you could put your helmet on if you're going to ask that," I said.
    The Guard, whose hands were full with a helmet, force pike, and various other things, said "But I can't talk when I have my helmet on."
    I said "I don't see where that's my problem." I watched for a moment or two as he tried to juggle all his stuff, until Bekki said "This is when we leave." We turned around and swaggered off.
    Our poor scarlet punching bag followed behind, still struggling with his mask. "Then this is when I follow you," he said.
    Bekki whipped out a Mind Trick card, and I did the same. "That's okay, because these aren't the droids you're looking for anyway," she said, never even looking back.
    "Well, if you're gonna do that, I at least have to take the cards."
    "That's fine," I said. "We've got tons."
    All that made the later brouhaha much more tolerable; it was worth all the standing and dumbassery that we got to screw with one of the Emperor's Elite Guard.

  • "Gotham Knight" was really cool. It's done Animatrix-esque, with a different animation style in each of the six vignettes (and in one, Batman looks like a member of G-Force). That's a bit jarring at first, but it results in some gorgeous sequences, and the stories are well-written and acted. Plus, new Kevin Conroy Batman is always a plus.

  • Better still was the panel following the film. There were an awful lot of inane questions asked by people who were either the most stereotypical of fanboy nerds, or by people who hadn't actually thought about what they were going to say before getting to the microphone. Bruce Timm basically confirmed that the next big animated DC Video project was "Wonder Woman," he suggested that either "Sinestro Corps War" or "All-Star Superman" had a very good chance of getting made, and when asked whether or not there'd be a Justice League (Unlimited) movie, he replied with a coy, sing-song "maaaaaaybe." So that's pretty cool. Just make sure you go and buy "Batman: Gotham Knight" on DVD, Blu-Ray, On Demand, and iTunes on Tuesday, July 8th.

  • I managed two off-the-wall autographs this year. On Friday, I caught DC VP of Sales Bob Wayne in the DC booth while I had my "Time Masters" trade in my bookbag, and asked him to sign it. While folks were looking for a pen, the other guy at the table asked "so, you read this? And you still want him to sign it?" During the chit-chat, Wayne said that apparently they can't do a sequel because he'd have to market something that he wrote himself, which would be a conflict of interest. Wonder how they released the trade, then...
    Anyway, on Saturday I managed to catch Dan Didio in the booth, and asked him if he could sign something for me. I missed him the last year, and didn't have anything the previous year (though Brian got him to sign a DC Nation column while we were waiting in the Geoff Johns line), but this year I happened to have a copy of "Superboy" #94, Didio's first issue as writer. He groaned, "Oh man, that's not fair! That's just mean!" As he signed it, I believe I heard him muttering "it's a sad day." At any rate, he's a very nice guy, despite his reputation.

  • Interesting thing I saw #1: Brian Michael Bendis getting interviewed by Word Balloon in the entrance to the Men's room. From what I heard, Bendis had followed a Stormtrooper in there to find out how they managed to go.

  • Interesting thing I saw #2: Chuck Dixon at a table in Artist's Alley, with one person talking to him. Anyone know how that resignation thing happened? The only rumor I've heard was that it had to do with Dixon's double-standard heteronormativity.

  • Every year, there's at least one booth near us playing music. This year, the selection was better, but also way more scatterbrained. Sometimes it was smooth jazz, which was really bad for staying awake on Friday morning after no sleep; sometimes it was Michael Jackson. And sometimes, for some reason, I ended up with random songs stuck in my head. I had to ask at one point if someone had been playing "Candle in the Wind," because it was running through my brain for half an hour.

  • On no less than three occasions over the weekend, once due to Ben at dinner on Sunday, I had to give myself a little meatspace spoiler alert. Bekki, you see, is a big Firefly fan; I am too, but I just haven't gotten around to watching Serenity yet. So, every time she got to talking with someone about the series, I'd hear "I can't believe they killed--" and immediately run away with my hands over my ears. Apparently the second time this happened, Bekki's conversation partner said "Sorry, I didn't realize your friend hadn't seen the movie. But he really needs to get on the ball."
    Despite falling off the ball one night at the hotel (we tried to watch it, but fell asleep an hour or so in), I'm proud to say that the ball has been gotten on, and I more or less successfully avoided (or forgot) spoilers for three years. And I can't believe they killed--

  • I am the scourge of zip-ties.

  • As if you didn't already know, Art Baltazar and Franco (of Tiny Titans fame) are awesome. I spent some time at their booth on Saturday and watched Art draw Robin for a kid dressed as Robin, and a disco-dancing Skrull for someone else. I'm pretty sure they were the only people doing sketches that involved crayons. On Saturday, they were dressed in matching Hawaiian shirts and straw hats; on Sunday, they dressed as Superman and Jor-El from the movie, complete with ridiculous wigs. I'll get pictures up, including the sketch Franco did for me (for a dollar!), within a couple of days here.

  • I didn't hit up any of the panels this time around; part of it was because I felt like I'd spent too much time away from the booth as it was, part was because things just didn't really draw me. The only ones that were really appealing were the Geoff Johns vs. Brian Bendis clash of the titans, and the game of Win, Lose, or Draw between professional artists. There should be more fun panels like that, rather than groups of creators avoiding giving answers to questions about the event du jour.

  • Speaking of panels, there's another point of disorganization. If you're going to schedule multiple things in the same room, you ought to include time to enter and leave. The panel schedule ran 1-2, 2-3, 3-4, in the same rooms, as if nothing would run over time and everyone would vacate instantaneously. I mean, isn't that "event planning 101"? Leave time for the mundane things?

  • Con food = terrible. The pizza was like day-old mall Sbarro's.

  • There's an interesting relationship between organization, price, and selection at the various booths at the con. If a booth has a great discount, chances are they have either poor selection, or poor organization. If a booth has great organization, chances are their discount is laughable or their selection consists mostly of titles no one wants. This year was better than the previous two in that regard; it seems like more people realized that half-off (or better) trades were a major draw. I spent a good portion of the last two years' conventions digging through the very poorly organized boxes at the franchise of 50%-off trade booths that are there every year, but managed to find much better pickings elsewhere this year. Sure, the half-off franchise might have more titles, but it's a better use of my time to go someplace that understands alphabetizing and takes credit. Heck, even Graham Cracker Comics wised up and brought some discount trades.

  • I'm doing most of my shopping on Thursday next year; at least one item I bought this weekend nearly doubled in price between Thursday and Sunday, and I was kicking myself for not getting it earlier. The conventional wisdom (pun intended) that Sunday has the best deals and prices seems not to be the case.

  • No offense to the guy, but I thought Warren Ellis was thinner. Like, I pictured him as Brian Azzarello with Alan Moore's hair. He is...not.

  • Sadly, Chase Masterson is no longer particularly attractive. It's less the weight gain, more the really bad plastic surgery.

  • The "Incredible Hulk Retrospective" panel with Lou Ferrigno sounded like it might have been the most depressing hour at the con. Though the "Image Founders Panel" with everyone but Jim Lee was a close second.

  • Manga selections, as far as I could find, were really poor all around, which kind of surprised me. Was the con just too close to A-Cen or something? My brother gave me a list of things to look for, and I didn't find much at all.

  • Thing I learned: Monkey Punch is the author of "Lupin III," not a series of the books. The little brother got a few duplicates, I'm afraid.

  • It occurs to me that the only "Heroes"-related things I saw were toys and the occasional trade.

  • There's not much to eat in the greater Rosemont area. This was especially surprising on Saturday night, when everything we could call closed at ten. Ten!

  • Thing I learned: it is a bad idea to mix a klutz who talks with his hands and a restaurant entryway where waitresses pass by with plates of food. The inevitable result was a broken plate, spilled hot wings, and ranch dressing all over Pat's Chuck Taylors. Mea culpa, all around.

Boy, that's long. I think that'll do it for now. If I remember anything else, I'll post it along with the pictures in a couple of days. Thanks again to the fine folks at Stand-Up Comics for giving me a spot in the booth and not getting too upset at my frequent absence from it. I hope we're able to do this again next year!

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