Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Crisis On Infinite Earths in the Front, Party in the Back!

DC Comics is taking a lot of criticism for its announced washbucket full of upcoming redesigns* - and rightly so. The redesigns so far range from the downright stupid (I'm looking at you, Harley Quinn. Seriously, I can't stop looking, I don't know when the trainwreck will end) to the plainly underwhelming (Hi Firestorm!) to the merely unnecessary with one or two decent ones thrown in just to keep us on our toes.

*...from, for instance, the fine folks at Project:Rooftop (including Your Humble Editor his own damn self). Watch me say mean things about Deadshot and a turtle!

You would think - given all the high-hattin' haberdashery hubbub and sneering sartorial sideswipes - that DC Comics had never undertaken some unpopular redesigns of their characters before, BUT OH HOW WRONG YOU'D BE! It wasn't so long ago - you know, a couple of decades really, but in the geological terms taking into account the overall age of the Earth, more like "mere seconds" - that DC updated its characters for the tumultuous Nineties. Strap down your mullets, let's take a quick look at Who's Horribly Dressed in the DC Universe...


BLACK LIGHTNING


I'm not even sure where this costume appeared, if it appeared anywhere, but thank goodness they got rid of Black Lightning's ridiculous afro ... in favor of a hightop fade. "Whew", you suspect the editorial team was saying to themselves, "At least THIS hairstyle won't seem catastrophically out of date in a few years!" And then to make it extra-relevant to the youngsters, they've got Lightning throwing the horns. "OZZZZYYY! *bzzzzt!*"




THE CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN


I don't know anything about Tim Sale as a person or whether he's a decent guy or gives blood to orphans (sometimes they come collecting it door-to-door, all in mason jars stacked in a little red wagon), but I do really want to sit down with some fans of his some day and ask what the heck the big deal's supposed to be? This guy keeps getting big, fancy graphic novels and high-profile color-themed prestige format series (and THAT'S not getting old!), and ... why? It looks like he inks with a sausage. Did you see that cover he drew for the debut issue of the otherwise excellent Solo series? Pencils got erasers, Tim. 

Anyway, the Challengers were given a new look to get themselves into the updated, edgy and more serious Nineties, and I think we're all on the same page these days that when we say a comic is "more serious", we mean it's "exceptionally more ridiculous than it's ever been before." Big guns, a sort of haunted "produces porn movies in the basement" look for Prof, a buzzcut and at least one character started off the series dead. Maybe. I recall about zero percent of this, so let's pretend they all opened an ice cream stand and this is a joke card they sent out for Christmas...


ELEMENT WOMAN (Girl, whatever)


Element Woman gets her own giant-sized Who's Who page and THIS is the image they choose? Poor girl, this must have been like getting your senior yearbook photo on the first day of your period and also you had a pube between your front teeth.

Allegedly, the Element Woman story from Sandman was written because several other DC authors had "misused" Neil Gaiman's character Death in some of their comics. Rather than considering the possibility that he had opened himself to misinterpretation by neglecting to craft any coherent sense of the character's motivation, her personality (beyond "babbling nitwit") and the scope of her powers and authority, Gaiman decided to pen this single issue vignette to set the record straight - and then used Death in a vague throwaway which didn't answer any questions at all and trod less ground than they'd trod with the character earlier.

Besides, Neil Gaiman had used Element Woman as the focus of the story only because it was a character he could off without anyone's panties getting in a bunch. Somehow, when other authors line up Z-List cannon fodder, they get pilloried. When Gaiman does it? Oh the magic of storytelling and the stories of dreams and dreams are the greatest stories ... blech. I liked her better when she was up on Metamorpho's jock, because Bob Haney is GOLDEN.




FIRESTORM, THE NUKULAR MAN


Honestly, when considering the unsightly carnival of spilled condiments and a grease fire which constituted Firestorm's original costume, this is hardly worse. However, the part of Firestorm's costume that everyone hates on ... okay, excepting the puffy sleeves ... is the fiery head. How does the fiery head work? Where's his brain? Does it crackle and pop while it burns? Why is it dumb? Who is the dumb guy who made it? So many questions.

So Firestorm 2.0 not only gets a BIGGER fiery head ... like, the Jim Henson Studio and a fly-gang of sixteen and every spandexed metal band of the Eighties amount of fiery head ... but he also gets colorful little accents on his wrists and his feet. Just above his TOES on his feet. And a collar. His wallet is probably on fire too, and his car keys. I bet he comes home and the DVD player and his family photo albums are all made of fire. This guy cannot get ENOUGH of the FIRE!


THE WANDERERS (They wander 'round 'round 'round 'round ...)


The Wanderers were some sort of ancillary super-team which operated in the 30th century alongside the Legion of Super-Heroes, and were given a makeover because before this they were all just wearing clothes and we all know how stupid wearing clothes is. It doesn't help that they've posed them like an intergalactic frat party, but then again I'm not sure what would help. Maybe amnesia, so I don't have to remember having ever seen these outfits.


FIRE


Okay, look past the Adam Hughes art for a moment - I know it's difficult, inasmuch as there as two pretty significant impediments in your path - but look at this and answer a question for me: From what country does Beatriz "Fire" DaCosta originate? That's right: Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation. She's the Secretary of the Interior, as a matter of fact!

Probably what sticks out for me most in this costume (think clean thoughts, chums) is that belt. I had three girlfriends in high school who wore that belt, and one who had that hair. None of them burst into flames, but I could nominate at least two of them I'd like to see that happen to oh ho, ho ho ...


 ORION

AH HOLY JESUS WHAT JUST HAPPENED?




MY CHANGELING, MY CHANGELING, WON'T YOU PLAY WITH MY CHANGELING?


Nice animullet, champ.




BRAINIAC ON THE FLOOR

In the late Eighties, they went out of their way to revamp Superman and all of his Rogues Gallery, backstory, etc etc and so on. I think they even changed the combination on his bike lock.

One of the things they did with Superman was to address the issue of his power level - deciding that a Superman who could juggle mountains, eat fire and shit ice from the git-go* was a turn-off for new, modern-day readers (and then deciding a couple years later that new, modern-day readers would prefer it if Superman could smash planets flat between his toes), they dropped Superman's power level down to an admirable near-nil.

Then, for some reason, they also dropped his enemies' power levels down to near nil. And made them fat. And balding. Also Luthor had cancer. And I suspect Brainiac never had anything approaching a formal education, and he dressed in what appears to be the kind of pajamas they give out in the terminal ward of a childrens hospital.

IF YOU'RE GOING TO WEAKEN SUPERMAN, WHY WEAKEN HIS ENEMIES TOO? I'm pretty sure I could have taken out Brainiac with a box full of donuts and patience enough for high cholesterol to claim his life.

Possibly the funniest part of Brainiac's new costume is how it has the silhouette of a skinnier man on it. Way to rub it in, comics guys!


*I will send you a copy of Youngblood #1 if you can place this reference as it applies to Superman. Hell, I'll draw the cast of Youngblood for you on the inside cover ...


POWER GIRL


It's hard to argue that DC - and superhero comics in general - don't have some real anger issues towards women, but usually the argument focuses on how Power Girl's costume is too revealing and reduces the character to a sex object and not about how DC's 90's-era answer to this criticism was to put Power Girl in a gathered turtleneck and give her a pet cat. Next up: Power Girl starts a blog about her knitting projects and gets real defensive whenever anyone in her comments section claims that it's dumb to be thirty and still a virgin. And she has to wax her mustache. (Notice that it still accentuates her tits, though - no dummies, the comic book guys!)




THORN TO BE WILD

The 1970's (Rose and ) Thorn wasn't winning any fashion awards with her original costume, which included a miniskirt trimmed with green briars, but then she comes back in the modern Nineties tricked out like a hooker and shoving poison needles into dudes' faces. Hey, do you know what turn of phrase I end up using a lot when talking about character design in the Nineties? "Turned out like a hooker." Now guess why.

NIGHTWING


It's amazing to imagine that Spider-Dick here was an improvement on an existing costume, but you know what?


It was.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Bonus G&F: ...And don't let the big gold door hit you where the good Rao split you.

It’s been about twenty-five years since DC Comics’ first conscious effort to revamp, reboot and relaunch their universe, The Crisis on Infinite Earths. For better or worse, it was an exceptional moment of change as DC took what was then fifty years of a publishing history and wiped the slate clean, inviting readers to step into a new - and optimistically - streamlined universe where such disparate characters as Captain Marvel and Captain Atom stood beside Dr.Fate and the Blue Beetle, where the panoply of multiple earths had never existed, and where Superman and Batman had yet to meet and Wonder Woman had yet to set foot in Man’s World.

Considering the depth and breadth of his continuity – both personal and among his extended family – no one required a cleaner slate more than the Man of Steel. Every hero had their supporting cast and in-canon errata, but none so much as Superman, who boasted a bottle city, a quartet of super-pets, a parade of robot duplicates, identical uncles, cousins, emergency squadroneers, a planet of imperfect duplicates, a nightmare dimension of villains, one of the vastest rogues galleries in comics history, an entirely distinct teenage continuity and roughly half a dozen super-teams which counted him among their members – if not founder and inspiration. And that’s just scratching the surface.

Naturally, DC wanted to honor their flagship hero of half-a-century and to say farewell to his many incarnations and spin-offs. Here’s how they did it:

The original Superman of 1938 – with his beloved wife Lois Lane – walks into a luminous, heavenly paradise, arm-in-arm with the rescued Superboy of a vanished universe and the legacy of Luthor, reconciled at last.


Meanwhile, the Superboy of the Legion of Super-Heroes sacrifices his life to ensure that the future which his legacy inspired survives.


In no less a tangible sacrifice, Supergirl buys the heroes of five worlds all-too-precious time, at a great personal cost. She is mourned universally.




Lastly, the Silver Age Superman mythos is put to bed amidst the tears and tragedy with a smile, a wink and a happy ending.





Now let’s look at how modern-day DC is putting the Superman legacy to bed in anticipation of their September relaunch:

Superboy is a mass-murdering madman dressed like a sky-blue Ford Fairlane with gold piping.



The Superman of 1938 is an emotion-manipulating zombie who rips out the hearts of the living (as does his wife, by the way).




And would somebody just rape Supergirl already??




COMICS. They never needed a Dan Didio.

The Many Foes of Luke Cage, Power Man (Part 4)

Where'd we leave off? Steeplejack? Okay, feeling good about this decision!

He is indeed far more than a chair.
#16 It never doesn't sound like a racial slur
Your Humble Editor has to admit to a personal failing in that -for all the bazillions of comics I read as a wee little shaver - I never really got around to Captain America. I am, in fact, just now getting around to reading the Caps of the 70s and 80s, and in the process of doing so I am learning that many characters whom I thought were enemies of both America's shield-slinging Avenger and our own beloved Hero for Hire, Luke Cage, are in no way whatsoever related.

Like, for instance - and I actually find myself embarrassed about this for no sane reason because dude I conflated two out of a hundred million comic book characters it's understandable - I thought the the Hero for Hire's supporting character Misty Knight was the same character as evil biologist and sassy afro-puff possessor Nightshade. I guess what makes that embarrassing is that it turns out Nightshade is insanely awesome and everything I ever wanted out of a comic book villain, primarily because her epithet of choice is "Oh poo" and she makes werewolves, and I should have known better, earlier.

Anyway, same fate befell me with the Serpent Society's Cottonmouth and Luke Cage's foe Cottonmouth. The Luke Cage villain is crime boss Cornell Cottonmouth (of the Alabama Cottonmouths, I presume) who decks himself out in snakeskin and is sort of generically strong and tough, in the mold of most of Cage's crimeboss enemies, and also kills people with cottonmouth snakes (and bazookas).

The Cottonmouth associated with Captain America is a guy in a purple suit who famously swallows people whole. So while they are, in fact, two distinct characters, it's possible that one day we could see the people-eating Cottonmouth eating the non-people-eating Cottonmouth in what I preemptively call the single moment which superhero comics were waiting for.

ALWAYS with the racial slurs, these guys!
#17 I meet people with my first name, too, and I don't try to hit them with theater seats
Before Luke Cage claimed the nom du guerre Power Man, it was the property of a villain and occasional Avengers foe - later known and reformed and the Thunderbolt Atlas. Considering that Luke Cage is, these days, in charge of the Thunderbolts program, there must be some uncomfortable conversations about the time Atlas picked a fight with Cage and then let slip a racial slur and all.

Presuming Atlas isn't dead. He's dead, isn't he? Everybody's dead these days, swear to god ...

Anyway, Power Man busted into the theater over which Luke Cage had his office and started hucking seats and empty popcorn boxes and sandbags - WHY DOES A MODERN DAY MOVIE THEATER HAVE SANDBAGS? - at him. Not to fail to give the original Power Man credit where it's due, he also tore down the movie screen, rolled it up and smacked Luke Cage with it. That is not a thing I've ever really wanted to do in my life, but now I have a goal: Some day I'm going to roll up a movie screen and whack someone in the face with it. I'll need to start carbo-loading.

#18 Well, for starters, I imagine it glows in the dark ...
I engineered for myself much merriment many months back imagining Stan "The Man" Lee being called on to provide a spectacular sobriquet for Spider-Man vibro-villain THE SHOCKER, and I double my delight imagining writer Steve Engelhart and editor Len Wein walking out of Stan's office, shaking their heads. I don't know what a Night Shocker is, but it sounds even more or a rude surprise than the regular kind.

Obviously, Len and Steve crafted here a vampirey version of Kolchak, television's Night Stalker (ohhhhhh I get it now) character, in a story which is actually very well done, with some twist and turns and a very sneaky murder plot. It would have ranked among my favorite Luke Cage stories simply because I was getting to the end and none of the white characters felt they had to mention how ding-dang black Luke Cage had the temerity to be, but then it turns out the would-be victim of the crime was an albino and he had to mention that his skin lacked "what yours holds in such abundance - pigmentation!"

EVERY TIME WITH THESE GUYS.

#19 Most villains would consider it flattering to have a theme song, but this guy's is played on novelty car horns.
It was only a matter of time before Luke Cage got himself a villain called "The Cockroach". That he predated Mister Fish is one for the books, frankly, but what constitutes the bottom of the barrel for other books is sometimes the cream of the crop for poor Lucas.

Cockroach worked for another crime boss, one of the bazillions who bedeviled Cage time and again in the long quest for a color-conscious Kingpin to set up against Marvel's most prominent street-level black superhero. He also dressed like a character from The Electric Company, carried around a six-barreled shotgun called "Josh" and exclusively ate Cheese Snips.

Hey, you know what they did a lot of in the Marvel offices in the Seventies? Drugs. I bet this routine seemed like the goddamndest funniest fucking thing since Cheech and Chong, at the time. Maybe I'll find it funny, too, if I lit a blunt, but comic books have left me utterly incapable of finding and buying drugs on my own. According to Captain America, marijuana comes from space aliens and they only give it to aspiring Little Leaguers, so I don't even know where to begin buying drugs, even though all my friends are artists and I live down the street from a high school.

We're going to wrap this series up with the next installment, even though Cage has about forty-seven thousand more dumb foes, but life is short and I get the premium channels on cable now, so I've got things to do. In the meantime, allow me to transport you back to those magic days of long ago when we, as a nation, were in the grip of a massive gas shortage and were at the mercy of spiraling prices...

SEVENTY-TWO POINT NINE FUCKING CENTS???

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Make Way for the DC Resplosion -or- Why We Are So Weary -or- Fuck the Morning People

(This is part of a cross-site series of thoughts on the recent DC Whatever-It-Is. If you'd like to read more, please visit my Tumblr and two new articles at the at-least-briefly-revived Seebelow)

Gone&Forgotten isn't a current events blog, but I do think it attracts an audience which itself represents a significant wedge of the mainstream comics-reading population: long-time readers who have a history of supporting these comics and want to continue to support these comics, but feel excluded from them at the same time. 

These are people who have, at the very least, a cogent muscle memory of having been excited and enthusiastic for comics once but who - in recent years - have increasingly felt themselves uninvited to the party and unable to stir in themselves the old passion for four-color escapism. In short, a reliable crowd, consistently shelling out cash money for the muted thrill of familiarity, glumly thumbing through newsprint pamphlets with the lethargic, bovine persistence of a predatory tortoise, looking for the barest morsel of community and wonder. You know, the winners.

In the midst of the recent hubbubbery over at DC Comics and their upcoming Pre-Re-Implosion, this crowd has found itself more on the outs than ever.

At the risk of choosing to speak for that audience, and furthermore at the risk of making that fatal assumption endemic to the well-seasoned human (i.e. “old people”) that there’s no reason they can’t have the same fun and enjoy the same things in the same way as their younger counterparts, might I suggest that the root cause of the exclusion we feel does not necessarily lie with this stalwart audience of the less frequently marketed to. Rather, could the problem possibly be that mainstream superhero comics are inherently young, and like all things young, they wear their jeans too low and they’re too goddamn loud? I think so, yes.

Bombast has always been a part and parcel of mainstream comics. Even if you remove Stan Lee from the equation, there’s no shortage of bold claims made in orange print and braced by a legion of exclamation marks on every fourth or fifth page of our childhood favorites. 

“NOT AN IMAGINARY TALE!” it reads, “NOT A HOAX!” and “Do YOU remember THIS OATH which turned YOUNG BRUCE WAYNE into BAT-MAN?” Full-page in-house ads in garish yellow and orange, “THE LATEST FROM THE HOUSE OF IDEAS,” “the DYNAMIC NEW DIRECTION that will CHANGE COMIC MAGS FOREVER!” … “AMAZING! DARiNG! DIFFERENT! … AN IDEA SO ASTONISHING THAT YOU WILL SHIT YOURSELF! YOU WILL LITERALLY SHIT YOURSELF … AND THEN YOU WILL RUN NEXT DOOR AND SHIT THE NEIGHBORS! PREPARE YOURSELF AND YOUR SHIT AND YOUR NEIGHBORS FOR THE GREATEST SUPERHERO IN COMICS HISTORY! MARVEL’S GOT HER, AND HER NAME IS … DAZZLER!”

The difference is that – back then – you could just close the cover and the noise was over, no one was shoving superlatives, spandex and punctuation into your eyeholes. You put the book down, the sun shone, birds sang, and your friends called for you to come outside. “Come play with us,” they’d say, “We’re playing DAZZLER.”

I kid. We played ROM.

Some years back, however, comics were bought kit and caboodle by major multinational media conglomerates of one sort or another, companies which owned their own news networks, newspapers, magazines, television studios, television channels, radio stations, internet entertainment and movie studios. It was only a matter of time before these companies realized that these properties were eminently licensable – to the tune of literally billions of dollars a year - and therefore they had a vested interest in promoting them relentlessly.

Thirty years ago, if you saw your favorite superheroes in the newspaper, it was most likely an ad for an in-store appearance at Montgomery Ward by some unfortunate minimum wage earner in a tremendously awkward foam rubber Hulk costume. Nowadays, there’s round-the-clock coverage when Wonder Woman wears pants.

The end result of this – and what makes modern day comics so unappealing to readers in this aforementioned group – is that comics have basically become Morning People - relentlessly chirpy, in-your-face and over-positive - and there’s nothing more annoying than a Morning Person.

You're out of bed at oh-dark-thirty, sitting on the shitter with a full cup of coffee because it’s so damn early that even your colon isn’t awake yet, and you have to make sure you have time to catch the bus, so you’re shaving too, and then after a while you slump into the kitchen and pour your coffee down the drain because it smells like shit and has beard stubble in it for some reason, and you cram a cold Pop Tart into your mouth where it dangles like a cartoon cigarette as you accidentally slam your hand in the cabinet door blearily putting the dirty coffee cup back on the shelf with the clean ones and BAM, in through the kitchen door comes COMICS! Jogging up and down and beaming with the rosy flush of health! “You missed the best part of the day!” it says through laser-whitened teeth, “I got up at 3:30 and jogged fourteen kay! This month in Superman, the Man of Steel gets a fresh new look, but do these amazing new powers come with a price?

“Is that what you’re having for breakfast?” it says to you, still jogging, “That stuff will kill you. You really ought to try a yeast-germ omelette. Swear by ‘em! In a very special new Green Arrow, the Emerald Archer gets a new sidekick – who has AIDS and Asperger’s Syndrome! Mind if I grab a shower? What fateful decision does Spider-Man make in this month’s Fear Itself? Don’t you dare miss it – it will change the face of comics FOREVER!”

And then Comics all hogs the bathroom while you stand at the sink, blinking hard and trying to remember what it was you liked about that guy when you first met him. This is the thing you think to yourself as you hear it singing Smashmouth really loud through the wall and using all the hot water.

Comics! Fuck 'em!*

==========
Many apologies, folks. The blog has been neglected lately as Your Humble Editor found himself (A) needing to find a new place to live and (B) having found a new place to live (C) had to go get more work to afford the new place to live and then (D) spent a couple weeks packing and (E) moving into the new place to live, which is currently a drawing table and a laptop set up amidst as many filthy, bedraggled boxes as you might recall from the opening half-hour of Wall-E. I’ll be back on the ball shortly, with some bonus material to make up for the absence of content.

* I've clearly never been of the "comics are for kids" crowd, and I've likewise never thought that adults should be ashamed of reading superhero comic, even if most superhero comics are generally intended for an audience of mildly bright children. 

I WILL say, however, that if you are an adult and a comics-reader BUT you only read titles from the two big superhero/mainstream companies, then you're really cheating yourself. Comics are an amazing medium, with what I would consider an even greater robustness of variety than film or written fiction. Even if you've tried the big alternative creators- as a for-instance, say Ware, Crumb and Clowes - and they didn't do anything for you, there are still literally hundreds of other creators, both fresh and veteran, producing books and webcomics worth delving into. You'll find something, and you're only hurting yourself (well, and the creators' pocketbooks) if you've never sought out the alternatives.

As a last note, let me add: DC has said that this sea change makes for "a good jumping on point". Keep in mind that a good jumping on point is also a good jumping off point. If the ride's coming back around to the loading dock and you didn't enjoy it the first time, it's a good time to hop off and find another way to spend your ticket ...

Peace!


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