Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The X-Men Are A Little Racist.

You may recall that Marvel ran into a little trouble back in 1998, when an issue of Wolverine had been inadvertently misletterred so as to include an ethnic slur.

I’ve heard a few versions of the reason behind the introduction of the insult, which interrupted the flow of the dialogue so suddenly and out of left field that it seemed less like any sort of intentional race-baiting and more like a particularly malevolent text message auto-suggest feature gone horribly awry.

The most common variation of the story was that Wolverine’s equally savage nemesis Sabretooth had been described in the original script as “the assassin known as Sabretooth”, which had then been corrected in the margins to read “the killer known as Sabretooth”, and the letterer had been rinsing his eyes with lemon juice and managed to read the scribbled note as “the kike known as Sabretooth” at which point he rather amazingly decided “oh, okay, got it, let me just add that in there la-de-da”. And then everyone at Marvel editorial went to bed for the afternoon so it slipped past all the proofreading that was supposed to be going on there but sure as hecky hay wasn’t.

No one would have said anything and everyone would've laughed but,
shit, they didn't notice that Kitty Pryde was in the room until it was too late!
The publishing of the unintentional slur ended up raising less of a stink and more of a snicker, although Marvel was a little red-faced at having the impeccability of its editorial reputation rather openly hindenburged (mind you, this was no surprise to those of us who read the inside-cover issue summaries which were running around the same time, and which were rife with misused homophones, grade-school grammatical and punctuation errors and so many noun-verb disagreements that it could’ve counted as the most contentious company-wide crossover in Marvel’s history).

Also, I may be misremembering this, but didn’t they bring in a rabbi to preemptively absolve the company of any wrongdoing? This was contemporaneous with the whole “Superman saves the Jews but forgets to call them Jews and what is a ‘Hall O’Cost’ anyway” debacle over at the Distinguished C, so there was a lot of potentially ruffled feathers conceivably requiring speculative smoothing.

For my part, I was less surprised by it happening if just because the X-Men were a little bit of a politically incorrect bunch long before this, and there had been some slurs flung around having nothing to do with lettering errors and crossed wires. Basically, what I’m saying is “Warpath? Really, Warpath?” and also “Wolverine hates black people.”

Going back to the early days of the All-New, All-Different X-Men, the characterizations of the individual X-Men were still being settled (rather delightfully, for instance, those early stories were setting up a rivalry between Wolverine and Iceman, of all people). In one early appearance, Wolverine escorts Storm to her old stamping grounds in New York’s Harlem. Concerned about her safety in such a rough neighborhood, Wolverine is frustrated that Storm has refused to allow him to accompany and protect her from conceivable danger, and he makes no bones about from whom precisely he was expecting to protect her:

"Buck Henry, for instance."
Not to worry, though, as when Ororo finally wanders into her old apartment and finds it converted into a shooting gallery for heroin addicts, it’s luckily one of those comic book drug dens populated entirely by white people.

Wolverine is a couple hundred years old at this point, so I’m not surprised that he’s comfortable busting out archaic slurs – I’m gonna buy a round if I can find evidence of him using the terms Gyppo, Quashie or Sawney. I mean, Marvel trotted out the same slur a few years later before realizing that dubbing the black sidekick to their new Captain America “Bucky” might have been a tetch insensitive.

There’s very little profit in figuring out the answers to this ponderable, but if you did sit down and try to determine which ethnic group most consistently gets the saw in mainstream comics, I think Arab culture is going to give you a run for your dinar.
It’s only within recent memory that all Arab characters were represented in comics without being dressed up like Jamie Farr in Cannonball Run, or that they weren’t colored with a charcoal-purple skintone better suited to Goofy Grape or a scratch-and-sniff sticker.

Keep in mind, too, the relative culture-blindness involved with creating Arabic super-heroes and super-villains, such as Marvel’s The Arabian Knight, who wore a Sikh turban and flew around on a Persian carpet and oh who was Egyptian. Likewise, the super-villainess The Asp, an Egyptian “exotic dancer” (I haven’t read her origin story, but I bet they mean “belly dancer”), colored a lovely slate-grey, whose real name was “Cleopatra Nefertiti”. This is like naming an American character “HOT DOG YANKEE HOLLYWOOD” or “MARILYN MONROE WHITE HOUSE”, it’s just cultural reference in an expulsive rush.

The X-Men also don’t let’em get off easy, specifically during this adventure from X-Men Annual #2 (from the pre-All-New All-Different days, when they were just the Same-Old, As-They-Were X-Men) involving the Living Pharaoh/Living Monolith.

Scott “Cyclops” Summer goes to Egypt with some of his fellow X-Men to rescue his brother, Alex “Not Quite Yet Havok But Working On It” Summers. Attracting the attention of the local constabulary, the X-Men are confronted by a camel-riding cop who rather sensibly orders all participants in this midnight hootenanny of the weird to return to HQ for some pertinent questions about who laser-beamed the pyramids in half. Cool, level-headed Scott Summers make such-and-such a reply, something along the lines of “Well, as much as I see your point of view, I must respectfully disagree” or “Now now, before tempers begin to flare”, or something more like:

Classy.
Tune in next week where I complain about how bad the Scottish were portrayed in the classic Captain Marvel vs The Monster Society of Evil (not really*).

*I mean, they were, but so was every ethnicity in the Golden Age ever, so I'm not gonna talk about it here.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Dare I Say It? Superboy ... GOES APE!

Brace yourselves ...
So, picking up where we left off with super-powered anthropo-pest Krypto Mouse, here’s to the Teen of Steel’s more-than-frequent encounters with your average, everyday super-powered ape (Latin name: Gorilla Kryptonicus, commonly known as the “African Plains Fire-Shitting Ape” or “Super-Magilla”).

How often does the Last Son of Krypton find himself in a situation which leaves glowing-green super-poop bursting against his spandex dickey? Well, here’s a handy chart from Superman Family #165 which covers just the essentials, and which is actually used in lieu of the periodic table in some Kansas district schools.

"...and does anyone know the atomic number of Titano? Class?"

Missing from this chart is Yango, the Super-Ape from Krypton (and also Superboy #172 “World of the Super-Ape”).

Pa Kent ain't the brightest
tool in the basket.
The story begins with a retelling of what is possibly the most-frequently told story in comics – the story of how Superman came to Earth! Still, you can forgive them telling it again because, this time around, they also need to explain how a super-intelligent Kryptonian gorilla drag-raced him all the way across the universe in the process.

After a slightly Doolittlized re-rendition of the traditional “yokels found a durn sputnik” origin of the Babe of Tomorrow, the story takes us to Africa, where poachers are being vaporized or abducted or just plain disappearing without a trace in the commission of their crimes. Stumped – and giving a good goddamn for some reason which fucking escapes me – local authorities summon Superboy to help them crack the impenetrable mystery.

Feel free to make your own joke about
Madonna or Brangelina here...
It’s a good thing too, because if you ever doubted the sneakily analytical mind of Superboy, prepare to be astonished at the depths of his capacity to deceive. Deciding – for, again, some goddamn reason which fucking escapes me – that the gorillas are somehow involved, Superboy engineers a cunning plan to make the gorillas give up their secrets. Waterboarding. The Boy of Steel uses a hollowed-out gorilla skin borrowed from a taxidermist friend to disguise himself as a wounded gorilla, and I can’t tell you what a relief it is to finally have an opportunity to write that sentence about someone other than myself.

Aping (haha) a wounded gorilla, Superboy is collected by a passing clutch of noble primates - Luckily for him they weren’t just horny and opportunistic – and take his apparently injured form to a hidden cave carved out with super-creepy monster faces and a big glowing red orbs (which Superboy chokingly acknowledges remind him of the sun of his home planet, just in case it escaped us).

Inside, Superboy finds some of the abducted poachers – and YANGO, SUPER-APE from KRYPTON, who has AN AWESOME JUMPER and RAD TASTE IN HEADGEAR and also SPEAKS FLUENT KRYPTONIAN and still somehow the thing where Superboy dressed up in a gorilla suit was the weirdest part of this story. I’ve been reading comics for too damn long.

Whoa, Superboy hardly ever uses the "K-Word"...

Yango and Superboy engage in a mighty tussle, trading powerful blows and lashing out at each other with torrents of heat vision, and probably all the gorillas in that cave should have died because of the volcano-hot temperatures. The battle ends with Yango whipping Superboy around by his cape and flinging him into the night like so much poop. I leave it to your discretion to decide whether - by subsequently escaping into the timestream - Superboy was conducting a tactical strategic retreat for the purposes of gathering intelligence or if the chicken-shit beat super-cheeks at breakneck speeds BUT whatever the case, there he went.

He can't take it there!
Painfully assembling all the clues – Yango has super-powers just like his, speaks Kryptonese, worships a red sun – Superboy manages to thickly eke out the conclusion that Yango too comes from Krypton! Who says Batman is the world’s greatest detective anyway? Make way for Superlock Holmesboy!

Turns out Superboy is right, and he travels back to the halcyon days of everything he ever knew or loved being blowed up into radioactive cinders to witness Kryptonian super-scientist and noted anthropologist Professor An-Kal wrapping a tiny gorilla baby in swaddling clothes and swaddling rocket. “You must not die with this ungrateful planet’s* passing,” he tells the insensate, sleeping baby ape, “Not after the years of intensive conditioned-cybernetic brain-programming I’ve devoted to you since birth!” Of course not! Then he does what all scientists do with the hard scientific work of a lifetime dedicated to the advancement of human knowledge – he launches it randomly into space.

*Hey, what did the planet ever do to you? Besides blow up.

"Because I hadn't thought of it until now?
Thanks kid!" ZOOM

ANYWAY, so Superboy goes back to the present (well, the past, still, I guess, if he’s SuperBOY) and he and Yango end up becoming best buddies and Superboy promises to spread the word about Yango’s good works and then he flies away and never so much as thinks of the guy again. In his defense, he probably got distracted because he turned into Super-werewolfboy or met the teenaged Hawkman or something as soon as he got back to Smallville.

SOON THEREAFTER – about a year later, in fact, in Superboy #183 a slight variation on the theme is visited in the pages of a story titled “Karkan The Mighty - - Lord of the Jungle!”

I’ve been pretty good about not referring to gorillas as monkeys, but I’m going to willfully abandon this so I can describe this story as RED SON ... but with monkeys. WHY DON’T YOU PUT ALL THE BANANAS IN A BOTTLE?

Gosh, I dunno Pa, it wasn't there yesterday on
your way home from the store ...
Baby Kal-El’s rocket, in this imaginary story, decides to muddle Superboy’s inspiring history with a birth certificate controversy, landing the mighty tyke in the wilds of Kenya rather than the sun-bleached and boring-as-sin farmyards of Smallville. It makes you wonder, you know? I mean, if he’s really an American citizen and not a native of Kenya, why won’t he come forward with a legitimate Kansas state certificate of live birth? I mean, come on people, let’s keep fighting for the truth, you whackjobs

Anyway, because there aren’t apparently any people in Kenya, Superbaby is found, adopted and raised by gorillas, taking the name Karkan and wisely hiding his junk – first under a leopard print tunic and later under the swaddling blankets from his Kryptonian rocket, meaning that even though he lived his entire life in the deepest, darkest forests of Africa, he still knew how to dress like Rick James.  Civilization will out, you know.

This is almost exactly like Tarzan meets Avatar or Dances With Wolves meets Gorillas in the Mist, only with a head injury and fetal alcohol syndrome.

Yeah, that is messed up.
Eventually, wild trappers show up in the jungle – I should clarify that by ‘wild trapper” I mean they trap wild animals, not they are trappers and they are just fucking out-of-control or anything. They’re not trappers gone wild. They ARE, however, divided into the mostly good trappers (who attempt to save a bunch of their trapped animals from a flood, and certainly there’s no way they could have simply been protecting an investment, no-o-o-o-o, they cared about those baby cheetahs and ibixes and all the other infant animals destined to become comfortable slippers) and the one bad trapper, Karl Something-or-the-other (who is so evil he doesn’t even get a last name).

Karl comes complete with a pretty, good-hearted niece named Toni, and I applaud the creative team for not naming her Laura Langley or Loretta Lincoln or Lisa Lampenelli or some other double-L combination which takes the already-stretched series of coincidences and throws them off a bridge.

Karl manages to capture Super-Karkan (there’s kryptonite, of course), has his amusingly named native servant Tarugi tie up and cage the wild super-teen, and then gets on a boat back to America in order to … sell … tickets … to see a … half-dressed, illiterate white boy feeling ill and turning a little green. I honestly don’t quite understand Karl’s plans here, but suffice it to say that Superboy is on a boat and that’s what passes for a story here so far.

All right, now this Superboy-monkey story is getting sexy...

Toni helps rescue Karkan, Karkan flips over the boat, he tries to go back to his gorilla chums but they encourage him to follow his dreams of moving to America’s east coast and becoming a stand-up in the highly competitive Boston club scene, and then he flies off with Toni and we sort of hope he understands that she’s not got super-powers too so he doesn’t fly into space with her or something, because he doesn’t speak English and she probably doesn’t speak phoney-baloney ape yammer.

For instance, "the reacharound".
You know what this story is, besides a surprising way for a bunch of grown men to exercise their skills as writers and artists? IT IS A MISSED OPPORTUNITY, because a story – in canon – presented only a year earlier already established that Yango The Super-Ape’s rocket crashed in Africa at the same time Kal-El’s rocket was crashing in Kansas, and so either they could have teamed up super-intelligent Yango and dumb-as-bricks monkey-talking Super-Karkan for an amusing buddy cop action-comedy set in the deepest wilds of Kenya OR EVEN BETTER Yango could have landed in Smallville and been raised as Jonathan and Martha Kent’s exceptionally large and hairy son. All dodging Lana Lang’s attempts to prove that meek mild Yango Kent is actually the mighty and powerful SUPER-APE, playing with his super-kitty, using super-sign language to tell Mister Rogers how much he loves him. It writes itself!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Continuity Comics Part One

Karaoke night is going all sorts of downhill.
Neal Adams is going to leave behind him a fairly complicated legacy.

On the one hand - and just to begin with - Adams completely revolutionized the look of comics. Realistically rendered and more reminiscent of advertising art than cartooning, it’s arguable that the entire ouvre of “issue” stories (Green Arrow/Green Lantern being not the least of which) would never have been possible without Adams having changed the game. It’s not only a matter of his being the hand which illustrated Denny O’Neil’s ground-breaking, socially conscious story arc, but that tackling such an ambitious target would have been unthinkable without the gravitas lent by Adam’s previous work on other more traditional books.

In addition, Adams has been a tireless advocate for creator’s rights – his ceaseless efforts were undoubtedly pivotal in acquiring recompense for Siegel and Shuster from the DC offices, to name only the most public example. He’s put pen to page for at least a dozen timeless classics of the industry, and has been at the center of an ever-burgeoning font of young, new creators for more than the last thirty-plus years. All gold star stuff, to be sure.

On the other hand, he’s helped Stan Lee develop those puzzling hockey-playing superheroes, gave us Skateman, and has devoted a surprising amount of time and energy to some ding-dang theory about how the Earth is made of expanding funny-foam and that’s the reason your bedsheets never stay tucked in. (In a true moment of “What exactly is in this for him, again?”, he’s gone so far as to create an animated tutorial over expanding Earth theory, so … enjoy that, I guess).

The good obviously far outweighs the bad, but this is comics fandom and comics fandom loves to eat their own. Take for example how many so-called admirers and fans of Watchmen spit pure venom at Alan Moore because he kept them from having a stuffed Rorschach to sleep with at night. Also note how quickly they turn on creators who have the audacity to take their employers to court over ownership of intellectual property, how they sneer at every writer who fails to kowtow to continuity, and everything ever said by every comic book blog on the internet since all time forever – particularly this one.

In the “Against” column of Adams’ career, we can add Continuity Comics.

This is honestly what passes for "award-winning
dialogue" in a Continuity book.
Emerging from Adams’ Continuity Associates – the studio he founded with Charlton and DC Comics editor and illustrator Dick Giordano, and which launched the careers of dozens of “Crusty Bunkers” (Continuity associates and employees, including Walt Simonson, Terry Austin, Howard Chaykin and more) – Continuity was admittedly ground-breaking in terms of improving the lot of creators’ rights. Then again, so was Atlas-Seaboard, and that’s damning company for any dinner party.

Continuity managed to hold a complicated and tumultuous flight path for ten years, debuting in 1984 and kicking up dust with a stuttering two-point landing a decade later. In the interim, they were a company typified by some absurd shipping delays (One of their earliest, maddest titles – Armor – shipped thirteen issues in SEVEN YEARS), unrivaled gore and flamboyant T&A, and an editorial policy-cum-inhouse advertising scheme apparently overseen by a hyperactive thirteen year old with a word processor, a palette of Jolt cola and a fourth-grade literacy level.

The company’s house style, for better or worse, was a strict emulation of Adams’ own style – the process included Adams himself editing, adding to and correcting pages by hand, so that practically every book enjoyed his direct intervention. This put the comics grandmaster’s guiding hand on the rudders – and I’m speaking strictly non-sexually, here – of Mike Deodato, Bart Sears, Esteban Maroto and a passel of other quality draftsmen. Unfortunately, all of this prime comic capability too often ended up hidden swamped under scripts left soaking wet with rambling nonsense and behind gimmick covers – bagged, carded, heat-sensitive, chromed and "indestructible", in turn.

More on that in subsequent articles but, for now, here’s a rundown of some of the Continuity regulars…

Well, this is a sensitive portrayal.
CRAZYMAN
Not in a particular rush to win any awards for a sensitive portrayal of mental illness, the ‘superhero’ Crazyman (more of an in-the-field operative for a troubleshooting private corporation, as a matter of fact) is actually unfortunate lunatic Danny Brody. Unable to manage his emotional extremes, Brody occasionally flips out into violent, uncontrolled rages – and freed of the concerns of physical trauma, he taps into a well of seemingly inhuman strength and a terrific resistance to pain. I pause here so you may add your own Charlie Sheen joke.

Brody’s corporate handlers drop him into troubled hotspots under flimsy pretenses – it’s in this manner that you get a throwback portrayal of a corrupt African dictator in Crazyman’s 1992 debut issue, a caricature some twenty years past its expiration date - and wait for him to flip out on the bad guys.

It’s crass stuff and like I say - there’s no accolades from the Mental Health Provider community waiting in the wings, unless “accolades” means “truncheons”. Somewhere amidst Brody’s constant screaming, arm-flailing and subsequent spasms of mewling regret, you’ll find a tortured Prisoner homage and a recurring gag about ripping a woman’s eye out of the socket. The same woman, and the same eye, in fact, each time. Oh, and is it worth mentioning that she’s his friend and partner, and would be probably a love interest if most Continuity comics weren’t chaste in the most objectionably adolescent manner possible? It probably is.

It’s hard not to wonder if Crazyman was inspired at all by Mike Baron’s The Badger, a nonetheless-gonzo yet more skillfully managed book when it came to balancing the line between wacky superhero action and the legitimate pathos of the psychologically afflicted. But then again, Crazyman’s such a tortuous read that it might actually have been inspired by a forty year stretch in a Chinese jail.



There's our guy!
MEGALITH
On the other side of the spectrum from Crazyman’s undisciplined, premium-grade spazzing-out, there’s Joe Majurac – MEGALITH! Megalith is pretty much the dumbest name in comics, especially when you realize he could’ve been called “Menhir” or “Ziggurat”, which are pretty damn cool … by comparison. However, I guess they don’t have “Mega” in the name and I sort of suspect he was either named on the principle of how everything in the late Eighties and Nineties had to be “EXTREME” or alternatively “It’s like a monlith … BUT A THOUSAND TIMES BETTER!”

Young Joe is a hard-working, hard-studying farmboy who – like the 6th century wrestler Milo of Crotos – lifts a newborn calf every day of its life until he’s able to lift an entire steer. This comes in handy if you want to be a server at Golden Corral.

I hope he's only
LIFTING that thing.
Eyeing him as a potential Olympic athlete, a shadowy organization lures him away from his family to a hidden German castle where, after years of oppressive training, they try to sell him to another country for THEIR Olympic team! The dirty sneaks! But ho, look out, Joe has conveniently mastered some weird phony-baloney thing called the “Mind-Body Link” and that means something something super-powers and he escapes. Yay.

I actually have a real soft spot for Megalith, even if he did spend an inordinate amount of time in his early appearances hanging out with those jackoffs Armor and Silver Streak.



Butt.
SAMUREE
“Samuree” is apparently Japanese for “Man this thing rides up”.

An orphaned American girl who ends up on an isolated island of Japanese martial arts experts when the USAF transport plane carrying her explodes or something, Samuree is a testament to the old saying that if a woman wants to compete in a man’s world, she’s got to do everything a man can do but in Eighties’ power-suit shoulder pads and a vinyl thong. Just like Ginger Rogers.

Samuree predates just about every other gratuitously hot ninja babe who populated comics in the late Eighties and beyond (although she’s preceded by Elektra, who arguably started the whole bizness), and unfortunately it’s difficult to discuss her outside of that. The interior of Samuree’s books were crotch shot after buttshot after copious flashes of hot (underage, I might wanna add) skin, and the interior of Samuree herself was damn near on display what with the most serious cameltoes in comics.

There’s also the small matter of the name – Samuree is not a real word, I didn’t have to tell you that, you already know there’s no such thing as a female samurai. AND I have to mention that she’s not even a samurai anyway, she’s a ninja, which means her name probably should have been Ninjette, or to keep it properly thematic Ninjeree, which frankly doesn’t sound like a superhero at all but more like a place where ninja parents take their ninja kids for ninja playdates.


Next up in Continuity Comics Part TwoMore character summaries, the absolutely insane in-house ad strategy from Continuity and something about this dumb garbage:

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

DC Comics' Most Pointless Deaths...


"...and No More Lonely Nights."


Over in the Gone&Forgotten Tumblr, I’ve started an occasional series of entries entitled “Dan Didio Loves Death” (and its partner tag, “Geoff Johns is Hungry for Blood” ... and also the mostly unrelated "The Bulleteer Doesn't Fly" because THE BULLETEER DOESN'T FLY, PEOPLE), a showcase of the rampant death, destruction and degradation which has typified DC since Didio took over as Executive Editor in 2004.

Most comics have, of course, always invested heavily in violence and destruction in order to create drama – not just superheroes, but also westerns, science fiction, sword and sorcery and also not just anything within the over-arching adventure genre but also often in books whose focus was intended to be biographic, historical, inspirational or comedic. Criticism of this violence is also nothing new, and obviously has had little effect overall on the industry – pre-Didio DC specifically is notorious for the invention of a corpse-stuffed refrigerator which handily and tackily cut the fledgling Green Lantern Kyle Rayner’s supporting cast down by one for a cheap pop and a tragedy-based emotional gravitas awarded to a character who – despite being the high-profile successor to a highly popular predecessor -was effectively a cipher.

Here, cat-slappin' action like you like
it, happy now?
The comics industry was asked to learn a lesson from the uproar and continued distaste over that scene, and DC exercises their subsequent education with more gore and blood and stuffed corpses than you can shake a stick at*.

(* I didn’t do a “shake a dead cat at” joke on purpose, please don’t wreck it for me)

What makes Didio’s tumultuous turn at the helm (and putting aside the argument as to whether he's individually personally responsible for the phenomenon) remarkable is the frequency and haste with which characters are offed, and for such little reason. There’s a philosophy of “putting the toys away” which has helped make DC comics what Neil Gaiman once impressively observed was the largest story ever told by humanity – Didio’s DC seems dedicated to breaking as many of those toys as possible, faster than they can build new ones, and shrinking the potential for new stories with every exploded face.

There are a lot of elements of this open to discussion in terms of story development and narrative theory and the general psychology of conflict and gender and such, so while I could go on at length about this (and do, over at the Tumblr, despite my best intentions) I try not to, as I find that it sort of winds me up – and not in the Secret Wars II way, not in the manner of Kitty Pryde and Wolverine or Captain “Split” Marvel, where the stories are so inspired yet inept or cluelessly enthusiastic or generally enjoyable for how thoroughly they miss the mark.

Three different villains in three different
titles during the same month back in
2009 all made references to wanting to
rape Supergirl. That's not grim-and-gritty,
 that's the sign of a fuckin' problem. 
They don’t wind me up in the way where it’s easy to find the humor in it, but rather they wind me up in a way that disappoints me. It’s a pretty common refrain - among those of us in the last few generations who have reached a respectable similacrum of adulthood - that so-and-so “raped their childhoods”, that because some form of entertainment wasn’t exactly like we remember from our youth, it was therefore a betrayal and is bad, regardless of the fact that a new generation will remember these remakes and reimaginations from their childhoods when they are our ages and obviously it’s all subjective.

I promise you, that isn’t my complaint – I don’t want to read comics which are exactly like the ones I read when I was a kid. For one thing, I’ve already read those, I want something new. For another, I’m an adult now and I’m looking for more emotionally and structurally complex comics. And for yet another reason, most of those comics weren’t very good – if comics in 2001 were exactly like the comics of 1981, I might walk into DC’s Countdown:Arena and let two bigger, meaner versions of me from some grim alternate universes slaughter me off-handed – what would be the point?

I wouldn’t mind the death, destruction and degradation if only it had some purpose in the storyline – I wouldn’t mind a hundred thousand deaths or the massacre of an entire nation (well, I’m in luck!) if it made even one character feel sad for more than a panel.

So, what follows is what I am sure is an incomplete list, but of those which stuck out to me in recent memory of the most meaningless deaths in the DC Universe as of late. Add your own, we could make a list long enough to been seen from space and to have its face punched out through the back of its head by Black Adam.


Meet the new Kryptonians - Dead-El, Deceased-El,
Asphyxiated-El, Blowed Up-El, Knifed In The Gut-El ...
100,000 Kryptonians
The Superman story arc New Krypton brought back the original bottle city of Kandor BUT – in an admittedly unexpected twist – immediately enlarged the city, sparking a culture clash between one hundred thousand newly re-displaced and freshly super-powered Kryptonians and a planet full of normal humans ill-suited to accommodate the unexpected guests.

There’s obviously no limit to the potential of a story which suddenly introduces a metric shit-hiaz*of flying transients – at the very least, you’re bound to see some new heroes and villains and some stunning cultural clashes and investigate a weird and previously unknown world.

But no, the villains were pretty much Zod and Brainiac, the heroes were some Metropolis regulars and the culture was a rigorous caste system with some obvious inequities we readers could stomp our feet and go “boo” at.

Naturally, it’s still pretty remarkable that we were introduced to as many as a dozen assorted new Kryptonian faces out of that 100,000, since the subsequent series were dedicated to blowing up anywhere from a few dozen to a couple hundred at any given moment. And just to make sure that no Kryptonians escaped the devastation, almost all the survivors asphyxiated en masse in space. Boom.

So: 100,000 potential new characters, a year of comics in a multitude of series and the whole point was a bunch of super-corpses in space. Hooray for comics!

(*It’s the only unit of measurement I remember from the original World of Krypton miniseries. It’s liquid. So. That’s grosser)


And for your birthday, we got you ... being royally
screwed over. Make a wish and blow out your wife!
Ralph Dibny
It pains me to have the former Elongated Man on this list, because I have to admit that I was one of many who bought the hype and became emotionally involved with Ralph’s character arc in the ambitious although flawed (yet still underrated) series 52.

A Silver Age staple and superheroic take on The Thin Man, the crime-solving adventures of Ralph and his globetrotting heiress wife Sue are fondly remembered by a lot of comic fans. The serial detective format of the stories didn’t translate into the Bronze Age and beyond, but a lot of writers found purchase in the portrayal of the couple as a bickering, buoyant pair of partnered romantics.

SO BRING ON THE MURDER! Ralph and Sue undergo a trial separation in the form of Sue’s freshly murdered corpse being set ablaze just before she gets the chance to tell him that she’s pregnant. Oh, and it was also Ralph’s birthday, no kidding. And Firehawk stole his wallet. I’m kidding about that. And this too: Superman farted on him also, I guess. Why stop with the misfortune there? We’re only an issue away from retconning a rape for Mrs.Dibny, after all, let’s rub some salt in this shit.

Ralph spent a year in the series 52, and I’ll spare you the many twists and turns and sidetracks which he encountered – like I say, for all its flaws, 52 is a helluva read, so you might owe it to yourself to check it out – but will cut to the chase: In the end, Ralph and Sue are reunited in death and are partnering up once again as … RALPH AND SUE DIBNY, GHOST DETECTIVES!

All’s well that ends well, right? And there even seemed to be some real potential in the premise of a deceased detectives solving supernatural crimes – well, there was, but the Ghost Detectives thing fizzled. Ralph’s and Sue’s next big moment came cackling in the pages of Blackest Night, where they murdered Hawkgirl and Hawkman with maces. C’est la vie.


"Dear Sirs, this letter is to inform you that you are to
have your asses handed to you on the following date ...
The Three Dimwits
The Golden Age Flash was occasionally bedeviled and/or assisted by a trio of comic relief caricatures of the very popular Three Stooges. Going under assorted names – but most frequently under the collective sobriquet “The Three Dimwits” – the characters Blinky, Winky and Noddy were effectively harmless and all but forgotten comic characters.

Since passing the mantle of the Flash on to Barry Allen, Jay Garrick’s comic sidekicks only made a sparse few appearances, the last before their final appearance being all the way back in 2000. In 2009, James Robinson added them to the prodigious body count of his Cry For Justice series, alongside a bunch of gorillas, Global Guardians and other tertiary supporting characters.

The point of their brutal murder seems to have been to give veteran superhero some sort of additional motivation to do good – probably unnecessary since Garrick has been doing the superhero thing for more than seventy years. It’s like deciding in 2011 that television host Guy Fieri needs a reason to look like a shaved, greased ewok – he’s already doing that.

Back in the days of Animal Man, Grant Morrison postulated the existence of a comic book limbo where characters who’d fallen out of publication disappeared, awaiting their calls back up the ranks. It’s slightly funny and slightly embarrassing to imagine Winky, Blinky and Noddy being summoned to Limbo’s county line, being asked to step back into continuity. “You’re needed”, says an authoritative editorial voice, so they step up from Limbo into the hyper-reality of comics … and return less than five seconds later, newly murdered and subsequently re-forgotten…

*sad trombone*



Haha, yes it is.
The All-New Atom
To be fair, I wasn’t all that big a fan of the “all-new” Atom – he resembled the “Same-Old” Atom a little too much for my tastes. The leap from Golden Age Atom and pint-sized pugilist Al Pratt to Silver Age Atom and super-physicist Ray Palmer described a dramatic distinction. Meanwhile, Modern Age Atom Ryan Choi is (like his predecessor) a physicist from Ivy Town who wears a red-and-blue costume and shrinks. Yawnsville. OH BUT HE’S ASIAN I forgot. Worlds of difference.

Still, I didn’t want him brutally beaten and murdered, especially just to give gravitas to Ray Palmer – again, who’s already had character motivation for the last fifty years – and a supervillainess who murders with the heat from her va-jayjay. I’m not even kidding. God, I have a headache.

What makes Ryan Choi’s recent assassination so puzzling is that he’s been a frequent guest on the very popular Batman: Brave and the Bold cartoon, the primary source of media which is turning the current crop of kids into the fans of tomorrow. Just like the movies, television shows and cartoons of my generation’s youth informed our perception of a (Richard Donner-inspired) Superman, (Tim Burton-inspired) Batman and (Super Friends-inspired) Justice League, so too will Brave and the Bold form a lot of kids’ expectations about the comics they’ll be reading in a few years (and hopefully into adulthood).

To that end, they’re going to be a little surprised at their anglo Atom and even moreso that Aquaman is glumly hucking undead sea animals out of the waves…



"Just bein' a good guy, here, sittin' in my
good guy chair ..."
The Nation of Bialya
There is a rumor that, as 52 came to a close, Didio allegedly stuck his hand into the carefully simmering stew and demanded some big “event” storyline. Given the bloodiness of the big event – the plodding World War III - and how it upset the carefully-built house of cards up to that point, I’m comfortable taking that rumor at face value.

Furious at the leadership of the nation of Bialya for personal injuries and an invasion of his home country, Captain Marvel-baddie Black Adam goes on a super-speed murder spree. He manages to rack up an impressive genocidal bodycount of TWO MILLION people inside Bialya’s borders with his own two fists before the super-heroes of the world gather to curtail his afternoon-long indiscretion. That’s what we call focus.

Black Adam’s subsequent punishment was exceptionally mild and, for that matter, short-lived, but what made the storyline intolerable is that, somehow, the character came out of it still treading the line in DC’s decade-long is-he-or-isn’t-he love affair with the question of whether Black Adam is truly a villain or just a good man making very hard decisions.

I can answer that question for them: HE KILLED TWO MILLION PEOPLE. IN AN AFTERNOON. I can barely get my laundry put away in an afternoon, I’m going to have to call anyone who can kill in the seven digits before Judge Judy a go-getter for badness. Which he would be, you know, if all those deaths had a point beyond shock and gore …


Cute kid, right?
They smooshed her under a brick.
Lian Harper
The infant daughter of former Teen Titan Roy Harper and international assassin Chesire (it’s complicated), killed with tens of thousands of others – both showcased and not – in the godawful Cry For Justice.

Ostensibly, Lian Harper was killed so that Roy Harper – a former heroin addict – would have sufficient reason to backslide, lending the character a certain amount of gritty conflict as he struggled against the allure of drugs. Of course, he’d also just had his arm amputated and replaced with some exceptionally uncomfortable, phony baloney robot prosthetic and his mentor had killed a dude and also he’s apparently got erectile dysfunction (Thanks comics. Thanks for letting me know that) and, you know, he’s a professional recently promoted to the pinnacle of a pretty high-stress career where maniacs shoot at you all the time and also one other thing oh yeah he’s a former goddamn heroin addict.

So he had more than his fair share of reasons to pick up the needle once more, and the death of his daughter not only wasn’t really necessary – it was bad writing.

Obviously all of these horrible things happening to Roy Harper in turn are awful, but they also make him a man who has nothing to lose – and, frankly, with that being the case, I don’t see why he shouldn’t shoot up. If Lian Harper were still alive, then we’d have the potential for an interesting story – a man having suffered a crippling injury and struggling with a persistent addiction, but he has so much to live for in the person of his daughter, whom he loves more than life itself. Can our hero battle back his demons for the sake of his daughter and her best interests?

Good stuff there, potentially, but it’s moot now because she’s been smooshed dead. Roy Harper is literally a character with nothing to lose and nothing to live for, so … fuck him. What’s the upshot of him beating his addiction and becoming accustomed to his prosthetic and being able to get his wood up again (THANKS COMICS. THANKS SO FUCKING MUCH FOR THAT)? Narratively speaking, there’s nothing except what will probably be a poorly-received by-the-numbers four-issue miniseries, so that’s just … that’s just great.


That's actually a pretty good fuckin' question.

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