Thursday, September 28, 2006

Startling Discovery!


The Thing

Actually the same character!

Hard luck hero whose sense of responsibility is far greater than even the great power he received in a radiation accident: an accident that on the one hand gave him the power to challenge gods and on the other turned him into a freak feared and shunned by the rest of society.

Orphaned as a child and raised in the outer boroughs of New York by his kind but poor Aunt and Uncle, he grew up to with surprisingly low self-esteem, given to DEEP self-pitying at the smallest set back, but hides his morose-ness behind a cavalier attitude towards the cosmic weirdness that surrounds him and witty banter with even his most deadly foes.

That pretty much sums up both characters there, doesn't it?

But they look different, you might say! Spider-Man is... and while the Thing is made of.... True! But the way they vary in design are precisely the ways they mirror the artists who designed them!

The Thing is stocky, strong, pugnacious and (originally) short... like Jack Kirby!

Spider-Man is lean, intellectual, and (originally) be-speckled... like Steve Ditko!

Which I guess just goes to show: writing yourself as the super-hero of your own story?

Not a new thing.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

By the Stones of the Infinite

Occasionally when reading fantasy, an author creates an image, an idea of such cosmic horror that the mere contemplation of which could drive men mad.

Whether it is the gruesome Grand Guignol of a Stephen King novel, the more metaphysic disorientation of H. P. Lovecraft's non-Euclidian worlds, or the stark depths of human cruelty detailed by Edgar Allan Poe, you read things that make you question the sanity, the morality, the very humanity of the author.

I came across one of those ideas today. One of the writers of 52 not only conceived this mind-killing meme, but decided to write it down and share it with over 100,000 comic book readers. Who was it? I want to know who is responsible for making me consider Darkseid's testicles.

Let me repeat that.



And I thought "Screech Sex Tape" was going to be the scariest idea I would confront today.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Myth of "Who's Your Daddy?"

or, "Strange Women Lying in Ponds Distributing Swords is No Basis For a System of Government. "

Once again, what started as a response to Matthew has grown into an entire blog post (including a little anti-Bush rhetoric and, to my surprise, praise for Infinite Crisis). In response to my last post that Superman was in fact a working class hero and his stories are anti-classist, he wrote

Everything you say about Superman is true. But you're talking about what Superman does, and what he thinks and believes and stuff. What I was talking about is who he technically is, and who he is is, basically, the Lost Prince of Krypton. He's like Carrot in the Discworld books.

This way, the Superman writers get to have it both ways. They can draw from the alien-aristocrat superhero archetype, but they don't have to make him act like it. (Contrast: Superman, and Dr. Tachyon from the
Wild Cards novels.) This may actually be one reason (out of all the many reasons) why Superman is such a great character.
I meant to respond right away, but I couldn't tell whether our disagreement over the class of Superman was a minor semantic disagreement over the definition of the word "is" (which would be too minor to even argue) or a major philosophical one over the meaning of social class and the nature of hereditary predestination. I'm going to assume it's the second, even though there is no way to do that justice in one post of my comics blog.

Matthew says that Superman, in the tradition of Oedipus, King Arthur, and Aquaman, may act as a peasant hero but he is in fact a king-in-disguise, that it is his Kryptonian genetic destiny shining through that makes him Superman. That he's a hero because of his elite genetics, no matter how much he pretends he is a commoner.

My problem with basing Superman's class on his genetics over his actions is that class is a social construct. It is only through what he and others consider him to be that we know what class he belongs to. And Superman chooses NOT to be a king (stories where Superman chooses to become a king will be ignored because they are terrible) The myth of aristocracy is that class is genetic, that some people are just born good enough to rule, and that this inherent goodness can be passed down from generation to generation (like the X-Gene!)

And Superman's own story proves the myth false. Yes, Clark's blood obviously gives him "powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men." However, what makes him a good guy can't be his blood, because Kryptonians are the assholes of SPAAAACE (below the comic).

Zod, Preus, the Eradicator, the new Kara Zor-El (possibly)... Those that come to Earth preaching the superiority of Krypton are by and large really, really bad guys. And even under the best of circumstances, Kryptonian society was ruled by arrogant morons who couldn't see their planet was falling apart despite the evidence of the best scientists of the time (cue Global Warming joke). So clearly, just being vulnerable to kryptonite isn't enough to make you better than the masses.

No, what makes Superman a hero is the choices he makes. And whenever Superman is forced to choose between the Kryptonian way and the Earth way, he chooses Earth, every time, and embraces his life as Clark Kent (the end of Kingdom Come, for example). And as long as Superman chooses to live as a middle-class employee, THAT is who he is. Jor-El and Lara may have given him powers, but it's Jonathan and Martha, his "humble" lower class parents, who made him a hero.

This is unlike almost every other superhero, by the way. Contrast Superman with Aquaman, for example. Like Superman, he was orphaned as a baby, raised in an alien world, and grew up as a human for at least part of his life (where he learned English and was christened Arthur Curry). But when Aquaman learned where he was really from, he rejected the surface world and threw in his loyalties to Atlantis whole-heartedly, in the more traditional Arthurian arch-type. (Ironically, to become King Arthur, he had to reject the name "Arthur.") Even given the chance, Superman would NEVER give up Earth to return to Krypton.

Matthew brings up Carrot Ironfoundersson of the Discworld novels, another heroic king-in-disguise who refuses to take the throne. But that, I think, argues for MY point. Discworld, after all, is a satire of the myth of aristocracy (among many other things). Most of the other characters think Carrot should rule because of his unacknowledged heritage, but those that think that way are idiots and bad guys.

The smarter characters, including Carrot himself, know he's not smart enough to run the city, nor ruthless enough to do half the horrible things he'd need to as King (or Patrician, as the position is called). That having the right name and the right daddy isn't enough, that "the right blood" is in fact close to meaningless (I'd make another joke here...). Carrot may be related to a king, but day to day it's much more important that he learned how to be good man (or dwarf, it's complicated) and can throw a strong right hook.

Carrot, of course, is a deliberate satire, and I doubt Siegel and Shuster were thinking too deeply about Jungian arch-types and Marxist rhetoric when they created their science fiction strong man, but I think Superman is a stronger character because of it. Carrot can really only be that satire: "King Arthur, but not," stuck in an old debate over the divine right of kings and dictators. Superman can be that satire and more, moving beyond that class discussion to a classless society where a man is judged only by his actions.

Which leads me to my defense of Infinite Crisis. I dropped Civil War when I realized it wasn't about anything. And while Infinite Crisis was flawed, I can tell you what it was about: the myth of heroic destiny. Superboy-Prime (and to some extent Alexander Luthor) believed he had the right, the duty, to destroy the universe and remake it in his image because of who his Kryptonian parents were, and that he would ALWAYS be in the right, always be the hero because his name was Kal-El, he was from Krypton, and he had great power. He was wrong. In the end it came down to Superman, our Superman, laying it out for him:

And, after laying Prime out, Clark lets him know what it's all about:

It's about action.

What makes Clark Kent "Superman," and not just another asshole Kryptonian, is his actions. So when judging what class Superman belongs to, whether he's an elite looking down on the masses or one of us, we can only judge him based on "what Superman does, and what he thinks and believes and stuff." Because what else is Superman, in the end, other than those things?

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The People's Superman

Matthew at the Legion Abstract has a great post about class and superheroes that you need to read right now and then come back here. This started as a response but it became very long and I remembered I have my OWN blog. (post on Detective 823 continues to be delayed).

His claim, and it's one I generally agree with, is that superheroes as a genre tends to be "classist." Heroes tend to be either actual nobility, such as Wonder Woman or Aquaman, or very rich, like Batman and Green Arrow, and they fight to save the masses from themselves rather than fighting to change the social structure that keeps the poor in poverty. There are obvious exceptions, but that seems to be true, going back to the proto-typical stages of Zorro and the Scarlet Pimpernel.

My one disagreement with Matthew is that he classifies Superman as an "aristocratic" hero, and quite frankly I feel the opposite is true. Superman did and does fight for social change. In the Superman Archive, he clearly starts out as a populist hero, a champion of the working class, taking on war profiteers, state-run orphanages, crooked boxing promoters and poor mining conditions. Watch Superman lead a party of upper class twits into a mine and then bury them alive to teach them a lesson and tell me that's not a guy who fights the power.

And today he fights against class elitists like CEO (and ex-PRESIDENT) Lex Luthor and monarchic dictators like Darkseid. Compare that to Batman's typically lower class, obviously criminal, more anarchic villains. Superman fights against those who would impose their own version of order on the world, while Batman fights those who would destroy the order HE imposes on Gotham.

And while Matthew's right, it would be morally repugnant for Superman to enforce social change, Clark Kent can and does champion those changes from his job as a reporter for the Daily Planet.

Clark, after all, had a lower middle class rural upbringing and a strictly middle class life style once he became a reporter. Sure, it's a "glamor" career that makes him somewhat famous, I'm guessing he doesn't actually make that much money (Lois might). He might not have Peter Parker's money problems, but Clark almost certainly knows what it's like to worry about the bills.

But Superman is the exception here, not the rule. By nature, a superhero is someone whose unique abilities place them apart and above, sometimes literally above, most of society. That these unique beings then go on to be vigilantes, placing their own personal definition of justice above that of the police and democratically elected government, is elitist, aristocratic, and borderline fascist (I'm looking at you, Batman).

It's something that the best superhero stories tend to examine, from Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns to Kingdom Come and The Authority (and which Civil War could have explored, but disappointingly cast aside in favor of shocking last pages and easily identified bad guys.)

And it's something the blogosphere should start discussing louder. So let's begin!

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Why I'm Dropping Civil War

Before this starts, I just want to point out that I was really enjoying Civil War.

Until last Wednesday.

Putting aside all the fanboy complaints of lateness and "character assassination," Civil War #4 made the series objectively bad. In a, "I have lost all interest, why should I continue to read it?" manner.

If you read my review, you can see that my complaint before was that it seemed like the deck was stacked against the pro-registration side, and that a more even handed approach would better serve the theme of how an ideological argument between two honorable men can lead to war.

Well, with issue four, "stacked against" became "marked cards." Instead of just acting like jerks, the pro-registration side has moved on to morally abhorrent behavior, recklessly creating an abomination of both science and religion and hiring psychotic murderers to do their bidding. Worse, there is no good reason given for why Reed Richards and Tony Stark feel they have to take such extreme and obviously stupid actions, they just go ahead and take them.

And it's that last page reveal, that Iron Man has turned to Bullseye, who once killed a church full of nuns, that revealed to me how hollow Civil War is. Because at that point Tony went from very probably the bad guy to absolutely the bad guy, but why he's the bad guy has NOTHING to do with the registration act they're supposedly fighting over.

Mark Millar still hasn't told us why the registration act itself is bad, just why the people defending it are, and the longer the story goes on without a cohesive argument against or even for the act, the more obvious it becomes Millar doesn't care what they're fighting about, just as long as there's a law that some heroes end up on one side of and some heroes end up on the other. They might as well be arguing "Great Taste" over "Less Filling", the Great Butter Battle, or, god help me, the color red vs. the color blue. Tony would still be wrong.

And if Mark Millar doesn't care why they're fighting, then I don't care that they're fighting. The whole thing becomes just superheroes punching and killing each other because Millar wants to see who'd win, a tale full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

So I'm done. Now that I know there's no "there" there, I know I will get no more enjoyment out Civil War (unless Jake performs another hilarious evisceration of the next three issues). Instead, I will use my four bucks to buy Casanova and Fell, where I know the writer at least is, y'know, thinking.

Friday, September 22, 2006

A Dichotomy

If past sales are any indication, Marvel Comics best selling book of the month and its worst selling book of the month both came out last Wednesday. One of them features Captain America acting like a total asshole. The other features a total asshole trying his damndest to act like Captain America.

Guess which one I actually enjoyed reading.

(To be fair, neither comic featured the page of the week, which sits at the unlikely crossroads of Popeye, Little Nemo, Futurama, and Badass Week.)

Thursday, September 21, 2006

One, Two Punch

Y'know how I said I was working on a post about Detective 823 that I had to be careful writing? This isn't it.

It is about Detective 823, though. (Can you tell I'm procrastinating on the big post?)

So, my major complaint about the issue was the abbreviated ending. The plot's going along fine up till page 20 or so: just as Batman and Robin discover that the plant monster attacking Poison Ivy is made up of the resurrected bodies of her victims (basically putting her on the wrong side of the Swamp Thing origin story), the creature attacks, in the heart of the Batcave, and promises to kill her and anyone who gets in its way. That's a pretty good set-up.

It's a shame that Dini only has two pages left, because the entire resolution is Batman immediately releases some Bat Plant-Repellent and the creature runs away. The end.

The problem, I think, is that Dini decided to lock himself into a single issue format for his run on Detective, where each issue's main plot was wrapped up in that issue. Now, I like a good done-in-one story, but in this case I think the story would have been much better served as a two parter.

Issue one would be basically the same issue, but ending where the creature screams out its name (possibly in logo font)! Issue two would be Batman and Robin, having been put in the uncomfortable position of saving a murderer from the bloody vengeance of her own victims, teaming up with the almost assuredly treacherous but admittedly brilliant Ivy to figure out a way to stop the monster without killing it.

But then I tend to think that two-parters have the perfect pace for modern comics. One issue to explain the plot and get everyone into their positions, ending in a great cliffhanger with a one month intermission for the readers to figure out how our heroes are ever going to get out of this one, and then the second issue to provide the surprising yet ultimately obvious solution, that hopefully involves a lot of kicks to the head. One issue to set 'em up, one issue to knock 'em down.

I do know that some of my favorite stories are the two-parters. The first Zauriel story, for example, does a nice job in the first issue of explaining the four or five problems the JLA faces, including a falling Moon and Rogue Angel General on a tear in San Francisco, and the second issue resolves each conflict, one by one, until peace is restored.

Geoff Johns had a great run on JSA where every other issue ended with certain death ("Oh no, Hawkman and Sand have been poisoned and there's only enough antidote for one!") only to be followed by an issue where the team overcomes the impossible odds in some clever fashion ("Oh, Sand has turned to sand and is thus temporarily immune from poison.")

But mostly, I think the two parter takes better advantage of the serial nature of comics than the done-in-one does, without stretching out a story too much the way a five or six part arc can. The story moves, but it also has the space to get somewhere.

I think.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Is Green Skin Some Kind of Turn On?

I have a longer post on Detective Comics #823 that I want to be very careful writing before posting, so in the meantime a thought I had while composing:

The plot depends upon Pamela Isley's ability to walk into a bar and pick up strangers. To which I have to ask, "don't they notice that she's, y'know, green?" Isn't that kind of a hint that she's POISON FRICKEN IVY, known killer and walking bio-hazard? That MAYBE it's not a good idea to go home with her?

Or are there a lot of green women running around the meet-markets of Gotham? Are there enough aliens, Atlantians, mutants, robots, and anthropomorphic animals running around the DCU that green skin just isn't that big a deal any more? Not just green, of course. Starfire's orange, Bulletteer's silver, Blue Devil's, well... and they seem to be able to have normal lives, outside of superheroing. I mean, Detective Chimp may get funny looks when he orders his soda in a French cafe, but they still serve him (and EVERYBODY gets funny looks in a French cafe).

So maybe the citizens of Gotham have just gotten used to the fantastic, and don't give the green skin a second glance. What's one more plant person, more or less?

Still, if she's walking around in her usual garb of strategically placed foliage, and looks like POISON IVY, then I just MIGHT consider hitting on the brunette in the corner instead.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Tuesday Night Re-Recommendation #9

It has come to my attention that NextWave is one of Marvel's worst selling titles.

Which means not enough of you are listening to me. I mean, the book has humor, explosions, great dialogue, kicks to the face, Elsa Bloodstone, Fin Fang Foom, explosions, and Captain ****, whose name is so filthy Captain American beat the crap out of him just for mentioning it.

What more do you people want? How about dancing Mindless Ones?

Yes, we are one step closer to my dream of a superhero musical. And NextWave already has its own theme song!

Anyway, NextWave is a very FUN book. Possibly the most FUN book on the shelves. So, if you're looking to be entertained, you really need to buy NextWave tomorrow.

Because if you don't, Marvel is going to cancel the book. And if THAT happens...


And that would be bad.

p.s. I has also come to my attention that Gail Simone thinks asking "Why aren't you reading this book?" is smug. To which I have to say, "Yeah, well, you... you're a great writer!"

That'll show her.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Is Twelve Issues a Year Too Much to Ask?

That probably reads more sarcastic than I intend. It should be read "Is twelve issues a year too much to ask?"

Should we expect the average professional penciler to be able to produce (12 x 22) 264 finished pages every year? Which is roughly a page every work day, with weekends and holidays factored in.

I know some guys can do it, like Scott McDaniel, Phil Hester, and Jim "The Talent" Balent, who, say what you will about what he chose to draw, managed to draw 79 straight issues of Catwoman without a fill in artist, and that's a pretty impressive run. (why yes, I do own all 79 issues. Why do you ask?)

And I know you're going to say Jack Kirby did that on 5 titles on a time, but c'mon, he's Jack Fucking Kirby. Larry Bird could sink a three-pointer from half court, but that doesn't mean the Celtics expect any of their current players to be able to do that.

Most artists today, I think, just cannot do that. And frankly, I don't think we should even expect it.

I mean, it's easy for us on the clattering keyboard side to say, "yes, that's what they're paid for," but I know from (vicarious) experience that pencilling is hard-ass work. On top of the creative time spent with the blank page, figuring out panel lay-out and blocking each scene, making sure the flow is right and the narrative clear, there's the actual craft of drawing, filling in each line and curve, rendering each face to be distinct, making the background feel both real and at the same time out of focus. And the more detailed, the harder it is to make and the longer it takes to produce.

And while a mini-series can be given the lead time needed to account for an artist's speed, ANY head start will eventually catch up to a penciller on an open ended book. So we have three options for an on-going book (if you can think of any others options, please let me know). You can stick to the 12 months, rain or shine, schedule, and just be prepared to drop a fill-in issue or two in, either stand alone or not, or you can work the schedule around the artist, or you only hire artists who value the deadline over the art.

And I don't know what's the right thing to do. Do you?

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Lex Appeal

I'm watching the Dallas/Washington game and I notice that Clancy Brown is the official voice of Home Depot. I've been as fan of Brown ever since the Shawshank Redemption, but if I hear just his voice, I tend to think of Lex Luthor, which he voiced, brilliantly I might add, for the Superman and later Justice League cartoons.

And then I remembered that the official spokesman for Lowes, Home Depot's main competitor, is Gene Hackman.

Could someone please explain to me why national home improvement superstore chains want to be associated with the greatest criminal mind in history? What is it about a voice that orders Superman's death that makes the home viewer think, "hmm, it's time to re-do the kitchen cabinets"?

And who are Michael Rosenbaum and Kevin Spacey going to pitch for?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

I Think More Superheroes Should Die

(huh, I can already hear Dr. Polaris agreeing. Anyway...)

Superheroing is an inherently dangerous activity. Let's face it, the guys in the capes aren't just the police. A superhero is cop, fire fighter, and soldier in one, and what these professions have in common is that each is a person who saves lives by risking and sometimes losing his own. Add to that mortal enemies with world shaking power, and you're looking at people whose day to day living is very precarious.

But if you want me to believe that, at any moment, a superhero could die, then every now and then, one of them has to actually die. The stronger possibility of an unhappy ending is one of the major advantages of on-going, episodic fiction that comics should exploit better. Because when the bad guy puts the hero in his unescapable death trap and looks like he's going to get away, there's a chance he really IS going to get away, if only for someone else to capture him three or four issues later. That's the way to ramp up the DRAMA.*

Now, I don't mean to be morbid about it. I'm not in the "kill 'em, kill 'em all" camp. The deaths should be rare, if only so superheroes don't look like complete incompetants. And while they don't all need to be heroic sacrifices, like Barry Allen--they could be fatal mistakes, like Booster's recent demise, or victims of effective villains, like Vibe's or Blue Beetle's, or even the truly tragic cannon fodder, like Pantha--the deaths need to have an impact, on the plot and on the surviving characters. And because I like deaths to have impact, I'd prefer the dead remain dead, but I understand that any fantasy genre in which The Spectre is one of the oldest characters will have a looser definition of what death means.

And the deaths certainly shouldn't be advertised in advance. One, it's kind of creepy. Two, it robs tension from issues in which a death isn't advertised. I know everyone is going to make it out of an issue if it's not solicited "Someone makes the ultimate sacrifice." Three, it robs tension from issues in which a death IS advertised. Even if it's obvious Captain Lamb is going down with the ship, the death has a lot more impact if you thought there was a chance he could have made it.

And some characters, of course, can't be killed. The editorially protected icons, of course, are practically immortal. No reader would really want Batman (or even the Joker) dead, and more importantly, no one would ever believe he was really dead anyway, no matter how graphic the death. I would have said protagonists of on-going books were safe as well, but blowing up Oliver Queen to make way for Conner Hawke was one of the best moves Chuck Dixon made on his run of Green Arrow.

I though Peter Milligan and Mike Allred's X-Statics nee X-Force handled death brilliantly. Killing off 90% of the team (including the narrator) in the first issue served notice that neither the characters nor the readers could take the success of any mission for granted, and then played out the emotional effect of such a highly dangerous life would have, and then what the effect would be if some people, but only certain people, came back.

Now, I can already hear some objections, notably "comics are supposed to be escapist fantasy and I don't want to be reminded about things I find upsetting, like death." To which I say, "Stop reading superhero comics."


Batman watched a mugger shoot his parents. That's the basics. If you want to remove violent death from superheroes, you have to give up Batman. And Spider-Man. And Superman. And Captain America. Heck, get rid of World War II and all those nasty Nazis.

Superheroes is NOT an escapist genre, not if by "escapist" you mean "a genre in which you don't have to deal with anything in the real world you don't like." Superheroes is kind of the opposite of that, a genre in which VERY REAL PROBLEMS are exaggerated and distorted to be scarier, which somehow allows the reader to deal with these problems through metaphor and analogy. A superhero universe is a worse place to live, where everything we have to deal with exists, but with superpowers. (Cue President Lex joke)

The danger, the very real danger to their lives, the fact that just by signing up for the Justice League a hero puts a target on his back, the fact that they might die alone, or suddenly, and possibly in a painful, undignified way, and they DO IT ANYWAY...

well, to me, that's what makes them a hero.

*One of the reasons I didn't like Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's Earth 2 was the idea that on "our" Earth, good can't lose. Well, that sucks all the tension out of the story.

Monday, September 11, 2006

There is a hole in New York City.

Republished from the old blog. First written two years ago, and depressingly I only had to update how long it's been since the attacks. Check back tomorrow for comics...

There is a hole in New York City.

A massive, gaping maw--ugly, unnatural, terrifying. It sinks, 200 feet into the ground. And rises, one hundred and ten stories into the air. It is awe-filled and awful, a horrific scar from an unforgivable, still bleeding wound.I wish I could say no one else has noticed it.

But I'm hardly the first person to write about the World Trade Center attacks. I doubt I'll be the last. It's rare that you have an event that you know, even as you watch it happening on TV, you know will be remembered. It's the Kennedy Assassination, Pearl Harbor, and Mt. St. Helens, all in one.

In a way, we were looking for it. I'm not saying we invited it or brought it on ourselves. But I remember waiting in line for the Star Wars re-release and hearing people tell me that Star Wars was this generation's Vietnam, or that I'll always remember where I was when I heard the O.J. verdict, like my Dad remembers hearing on the radio about the President being shot. In the terrible era of Clinton, we had no real milestones of war or civil rights marches or national tragedies to say, "I was alive when...." Well, wish granted. I was alive for September 11th, and all I got was this lousy government.

And 9/11 is so big, so much bigger than the usual things we think of as tragedies, that everyone feels that it was their tragedy, their wound, their loss. The next day happened to be the first day of classes for my senior year of college. And what I remember was that every professor I went to somehow thought that their subject was the one that would explain what happened or help us deal with our loss. It didn't matter if it was a class on 19th century Gothic literature, genetics, or early American poetry; their subject was the lens to describe "yesterday's tragic events" ("The tragic events of the 11th" seemed to be the only way to describe what was not a bombing and what was not simply an attack on New York, before we settled on the short hand "9/11").

It takes a certain amount of ego to make the largest terrorist attack on American soil about you. The security you see going up at museums, businesses, schools, has less to do with a real threat and more to do with a bizarrely high opinion of one's own worth. 9/11 took years to plan, hundreds of millions of dollars to finance, and incredible patience and luck to pull off, in order to destroy two of the tallest buildings in the world, the Pentagon, and, some people assume, the White House. Do you think Al Qaeda is really going to waste that kind of effort trying to destroy your pathetic office?

In fact, for most of us, the attack is still pretty abstract. Unless you were actually in the Pentagon, downtown New York, or on those planes, or knew someone who was, the carnage and destruction was something you saw on TV, as remote as an earthquake in Tehran, a flood in India, a war in Chechnya. So it's not my tragedy. It's only my reflections of too many other people's tragedy. So I can only tell my 9/11, which has nothing to do with anything real.

I certainly remember how I first heard about it. The first thing my computer does when I turn it on is open the New York Times webpage. It does it so I can stay informed (In 1998, I was very upset that I didn't know we were bombing Bagdad) and to check my web connection, because the site is generally the fastest one on the web. But clearly something wasn't right, because the page was incredibly slow. In fact, only one sentence had come through intact, "Plane flies into World Trade Center," which was the caption for a picture I never saw. I thought that was tragically funny, like the plane that flew into the Empire State Building in the 40s. I got up and showered, and as I was brushing my teeth I could hear the girls in the adjacent bathroom talk about how the towers fell down. I didn't believe it, but it was starting to sink in that something real had happened.

Even when I got the facts, and there were scant few facts in those first hours, I didn't get it. I saw a room full of people, watching CNN, seeing the flames and destruction over and over again, weeping openly and cradling each other in their arms. And I remember not feeling that sad. I remember people assuming over 20,000 people had been killed, and I knew instinctively that that number was too high. I remember the first joke I told. At lunch, we were wondering what Steve Sachs, Crimson editor, was going to write in his opinion column. And I said, what other opinion could there be, quote, "The other tower should have ducked"? And we broke into hysterical, full-bellied laughter. Funny, it doesn't seem all that funny now, but trust me, it was great humor then.

But when I finally learned who was behind the attack, that it was a stateless, fundamental Islamic terrorist organization, my first and only thought was, "No good can come of this." We were a wounded beast, and we were going to lash out blindly at the world at a time when we could ill afford to do that. We were going to go crusading, and Israel was going to get trampled, again. Bush was going to use and abuse this tragedy to cement his own power, push through his radical agenda, and lead this nation to ruin. I had read about moments like this, Rome under Nero, Russia under Stalin, Cuba under Castro. Now I would actually get the chance to watch it happen before my very eyes. Woo hoo. Oh boy.

People assured me I was wrong. "This is the wake-up call," they said. "This will unite the world," they said. "This will bring peace." Or, at the very least, we will finally go after those bastards, like the Taliban, that protect these killers. I tried to ease my mind with that. And when Kabul came under American control, or when Saddam's statue and stature fell, I thought, well, there's something good. 'Cause I thought that Bush might be an autocratic war hawk, but at least he was an effective one.

Now I know better. Now I know that Bush was never as committed to establishing real governments as he was in making notches on his belt. Now I know that he diverted men, money, and equipment away from Afghanistan and the hunt for bin Laden and into Iraq. And that he didn't even divert enough men, money or equipment to ensure that we could keep Iraq under control long enough to rebuild it. And he did it in spite of the advice from the CIA, his generals, world leaders, and experts on war in the world at large.

I was always more worried about our response than I was about another attack. Because, like I said, the attacks were just an abstraction for me. That was then. Now I live in New York City, and I found myself in Battery Park, whose Winter Garden has a clear view into the rubble that was once a center of international trade. And what struck me, after the enormity of what was missing, was how little damage there was to the surrounding buildings. True, it's been five years and they may have gotten around to fixing some shattered windows. But the towers could have fallen sideways, like God's dominoes, smashing into building after building. Instead, they collapsed, pancaking floor by floor straight down, as they were designed to do.

That's what hit me. The buildings, as are all buildings built after Pearl Harbor, were designed to collapse the right way, with as little damage done to its neighbors as possible. As massive as the buildings were, as dominating, as central to the New York City skyline, they were designed with an end in mind. They, like every human on Earth, were here to go.

I hate when people tell me everything changed on 9/11. Nothing changed. Not even our perceptions of the world. Did we really feel safer when we held air raid drills and hoped our desks would protect us from nuclear annihilation? Did we feel safer after Columbine, after Oklahoma City, after the first World Trade Center bombing? Did we really take time to re-examine our role in the world, who our allies are, who our enemies are?

No, of course not. Scared out of our minds, we clung more desperately to our old beliefs, our old hatreds, our old prejudices. My 9/11 is a tragedy that started that day and has played out since then. Our blindness to the real world, our inability to face mistakes. I am going insane, because it isn't the end of the world, there is no revelation, and God isn't coming in the third act to lift the veil. We are just reliving the same mistakes, the same wars and the same abuses of power, over and over and over again. We are where we always are. Same shit, different day.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Ah, So THAT'S What It's For

The bare midriff is an interesting fashion. As a heterosexual male with ZERO fashion sense, all I can say is, that's kind of a hot look, on girls who have a body that can pull it off.

What it doesn't have is a lot of authority. Which is fine if you're talking about someone like Supergirl, but probably wouldn't fly on someone like Wonder Woman, for example.

So it was sort of surprise that Terry Dodson, in redesigning Wonder Woman's foes for her new series, would put a human looking Cheetah, a.k.a. Dr. Barbara Minerva in a midriff baring halter-top, especially since he took Giganta, a.k.a. Professor Zuel, out of her fur bikini and into a more sensible jumpsuit. Even if clothes are a step-up from her usual nakedness, an exposed belly button doesn't exactly strike terror into the hearts of your enemies, so the design didn't make sense to me.

Until she first transforms into her Cheetah form:

Suddenly the exposed midriff seemed clever... necessary even!

Because the midriff allows her tail to stick out the back without making a hole in her costume.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

They Also Serve...

Off topic, I know, but I assume we are all geeky enough- erm, sorry Beau Smith -big enough fans of fantasy fiction to have all read Harry Potter, yes? Good.

Two characters I've always wanted to know a little more about are Hermione's parents, the Grangers. Especially compared to Harry's and Ron's families, we know very little about them. We know they're Muggles, and come from a long line of Muggles. We know they're both dentists, and would rather have Hermione solve her buckteeth through orthodonture than magic. And we know they are comfortable enough with the world of magic to have gone school supplies shopping with the Weasleys at Diagon Alley. That's it. Heck, we know more about Neville's parents than we do about the Grangers.

Now, I don't need a thousand page saga about how they met and fell in love in dental school, scrapped together the funds and opened a small practice outside of Cambridge with nothing more than two degrees and a dream, and eventually reached a level of middle class security that allowed them to raise a bright and gifted child. But maybe just a scene of them sitting with the Arthur and Molly having a cuppa, talking about the final year.

Because I want to know what their reaction is to the world of magic. Frankly, the only Muggle reaction to magic we ever see is the Dursleys' utter disdain for the whole thing, but the Durlseys are horrid people anyway. What is the sane, normal parents reaction to finding out witches and wizards real and their very daughter is one?

Are they proud of their brilliant daughter? Do they know that she is probably the most talented witch of her age? Do they have a "My Child is on the Honor Roll of Hogwarts Academy" bumper sticker on their car? Are they scared for her? When she was paralyzed in Year 2, did they demand she be pulled from the school? Shouldn't they have? Did they know she was working 28/7 during Year 3 and exhausting herself? The Dursleys tell their neighbors that Harry goes to a school for the criminally insane. Where do the Grangers tell their friends that Hermione goes to school?

It's one thing to be told that you have great power and a special and dangerous destiny. What is it like to be told your child is the one with the power and the danger?

To relate it back to superheroes, what if you found out your son was a mutant, and you weren't a prejudiced bastard? There's a nice scene in the early '90s X-Men cartoon (which is STILL my preferred interpretation of the X-Men) where Beast looks over a photo album which includes a picture of him, at his graduation, in his cap and gown and blue fur, hugging his normal looking dad. Along with a funny photo of young Hank McCoy playing little league, it said so much about the kind of family he grew up with. Unlike so many mutants, Hank never had to run away from home. He had a fairly normal childhood despite the fangs and claws, and his parents supported him and encouraged his academic career (he is DOCTOR McCoy, after all).

One of my minor complaints about the death of Robin's father, Jack Drake, in Idenity Crisis, was that in Robin's own title, Bill Willingham introduced the idea that Jack Drake knew his son was a superhero and had JUST accepted that, despite the danger, being Robin was a good thing for Tim Drake. And that was a dynamic that I wish had been explored more. Too bad.

I guess I'm just fascinated by the Alfreds, the Mas and Pas Kent, the Mary-Janes... those mundane people who have to face the fantastic, but can only do so from the sidelines through their loved ones. Those who worry, but also embrace and support where they can. Who occasionally have to kick a little butt themselves when the fantastic crashes through the door.

Is it any surprise that Samwise was my favorite hobbit?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Wednesday Night Recommendation #8

If you think comics should be more fun, tell faster, more action oriented done-in-one stories, less beholden to continuity and STILL explore the under used characters, be more kid-friendly and a great intro comic...

...basically, if you are PISSED OFF that Brad Meltzer is writing Justice League of America and Bruce Timm isn't...

Justice League Unlimited #25


C'mon, put your money where your mouth is and show Dan DiDio that light hearted comics do sell. Save superheroes from the doom and gloom.

Do it for the kids.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Tale of the Cape

Despite all evidence to the contrary, I usually don't mind bad science in my superhero comic books. I accept that it's a medium and a genre that allows fantastic and impossible things to happen. Sure, whenever possible, the medicine and science should be as accurate as possible, but if good science gets in the way of a good story, good science can kiss my ass.*

So I really don't care WHY Superman is strong or even how strong he is, all that matters is that he IS super strong, and most people are not, and that he uses that advantage to help make the world a better place. And before you tell me how xenomorphic biology works and what that has to do with solar light in a very narrow spectrum, you first have to explain how Batman's cape works.

Here's a fairly clean image of Batman, ganked off of JL.ToonZone.Net. Note in particular how long the cape is. The bottom points of the scalloping barely hit the middle of his calves, about two feet lower than his hands, more or less. Also note how the cape just kind of falls flat. There's stiffness and support around the collar, but by the bottom is light enough to by caught playfully in the breeze.

Now, in this classic image of Batman leaping to catch his prey, notice how the formally lank cape juts out stiffly to the sides to simulate wings. Capes don't do that. Without support, the cape should follow behind, like Superman's does under the same conditions. (God bless Batman Begins for trying, for at least acknowledging that something else would be required to pull that off). Also note that the cape seems to have grown by two more feet on either side as well.

The cape grows even longer when Batman wants to stand there looking scary and menacing. Suddenly, a cape which barely hit the top of his boots completely covers his feet and can be wrapped around him like a shroud. Before you explain how Superman flies, explain how Batman, master of every martial art known to man (and martian), doesn't trip over this extra long thing every time he throws a round house kick!



The artists "cheat" the size and shape of the cape for dramatic effect, of course. Just as the writer "cheats" the science to get the dramatic story effect he's going for. And I don't mind. In fact, I appreciate it. I don't read superhero comics looking for realism. (I'm not looking for escapism either, that's something different.) I'm looking for stories about things that CANNOT happen here, and maybe SHOULD NOT happen here, and how that effects people.

And Batman would be a hell of a lot less scary if his feet were poking out the bottom of his cape.

*(The mutant gene, by the way, I consider bad science pretending to be good science, getting in the way of a good story).

Monday, September 04, 2006

Roar, Roar

Three day weekend, no posts. That's kind of how it works.

Back now, will explain how last Thursday's post was an unusual departure for me, but first...


Courtesy of your favorite little stuffed blogger and mine, Bully, comes something actually useful. I declared Action Comics my HANDS DOWN pick for last week, and 52 my pick for the week before. NOW, I have something to honor them with!

From now on, the best comic of the week (that I bought and read) will be given this SEAL OF APPROVAL, my promise to you that this is a book that will entertain and amaze you, touch you and teach you, but mostly be three bucks well spend, money back guaranteed!* Look for this seal wherever fine comics are reviewed!

Oh, and make with the clicky on the picture to make a seal of your own.

*Offer not valid outside the continental United States, in Nevada and New Jersey, inside city limits, states that prohibit gambling, or on days of the week ending in the letter "y". Terms and conditions apply. See stores for details.