Thursday, August 30, 2007

Weekly Comic Round-Up

Every week (roughly) Aaron goes to the Laughing Ogre in Columbus, Ohio and spends far more money than his wife would prefer. He then comes back here and writes about the comics he reads that he thought were noteworthy. This isn't everything he picks up, just the things that he feels merit discussion - either for being really good, or for having something really wrong with them.

Avengers: The Initiative 5
It was only a matter of time before the Initiative led to private super-teams under the control of the Government, used for Black Ops. Yes, even more so than the Thunderbolts. And sure enough, Gyrich has a team of his own, whose first mission is to rescue the stupid Initiative members who went after the Hulk in the last issue.

Who are the members of Gyrich's team? Trauma, from the pages of this comic, the Bronze Tiger, who no longer can handle working under War Machine, the Constrictor, who has been offered a full pardon and a chance to become a hero - something he apparently wanted, the Scarlet Spiders, who are three people wearing the "Iron Spider" armor Stark made for Peter Parker, and Mutant 0. Who is Mutant 0? She's off the record, the 199th of the 198. And has all sorts of rules about what she does and doesn't do during the team's missions. Honestly, I've no idea who she is. I have some theories, but nothing with any strength behind them.

The team manages the rescue, but not before Trauma gets beaten up by the Hulk. See, apparently Trauma is an Omega class threat, with his ability to transform into whatever his opponent fears. Having trained under Mirage, he has some control over his power. Mirage, of course, looks at this as an opportunity for him to help people with their fears, but Gyrich wants no part of that. So, Trauma tries to hold off the Hulk while the team escapes, transforming first into the Abomination, then Juggernaut, than David Banner, and finally into Bruce Banner. This is when the Hulk really focuses on him, and suddenly Trauma can't change form. Why? Because the Hulk says (and at the moment, I believe him) "I'm not afraid of anything." Right now, as consumed with rage and vengeance as he is, I think he's telling the truth. And that's a scary thought for the Marvel Universe.

Countdown 35
This wasn’t the best week of Countdown for me, which I really was kind of bummed about. Why? Well because Sean McKeever wrote it, and I know the guy. He was even at my comic store signing comics this week.
I think it was just an issue of it being a little too scattered, and that the characters I like most in Countdown didn’t get a lot of screen time in this issue.
In summary, Donna Troy and Jason Todd continue their trip through the Palmerverse to find Ray Palmer, and now have actually found him in the clutches of Queen Belthera, who turns him into an insectoid and makes the Monitor turn on Donna and Jason. Meanwhile, Zatanna shows Mary why she’s one of the world’s greatest sorcerers, while Mary is a very powerful novice. Mr. Action, or Jimmy Olsen to most of us, gets kicked off the JLA due to being unable to demonstrate any abilities – a consequence of them only activating if he is legitimately in danger, which he never was against the JLA. Oh, and there was something going on with Athena’s disciples all fighting, and a continuation of Karate Kid’s fight.
All in all? Kind of a “meh” issue.
World War Hulk/X-Men 3
The final issue of this mini-series has arrived, and for all that I enjoyed it, it seemed a bit pointless. We were treated to more scenes of the Hulk taking one member of the X-Men after another. Each of which was amusing in its’ own way, but none of which seemed all that important over-all. No one was too seriously injured, no damage was done to the Hulk, and Xavier remains with the X-Men instead of being dragged off by the Hulk to suffer with other Illuminati.
Why? Well because despite the fact that Xavier was willing to go with the Hulk from the beginning (because even though he wasn’t there when they decided to send the Hulk to Planet Hulk, he couldn’t honestly say he knows he’d have opposed the plan), his students aren’t willing to abandon him. Why? Because being a mutant means watching people get killed just for being different, and as mutants they’ve suffered as much as the Hulk has.
I’m not quite sure why the Hulk agrees, but he basically tells Xavier “You already live in hell, I don’t need to do anything to you.” Eh, whatever. I guess it’s just to keep the X-Men from needing to be in the climax to World War Hulk.
We also get to see the Juggernaut back to full power, and back to being a villain, maybe. Cyttorak tells him that he was weakened because he was denying what he is – an engine of destruction. He didn’t come there to fight the Hulk, he came to save Xavier, and that’s not what the Juggernaut is. But sadly, we didn’t get to see much of the fight between them, since the Hulk basically uses Akido to get rid of the Juggernaut long enough to have his confrontation with Xavier. I am glad to see them returning the Juggernaut to villain status – I’m getting tired of making all the cool villains into heroes.
Teen Titans 50
Bart Allen was killed by the Rogues over in the pages of The Flash, and now the Titans finally get around to having a funeral for the former Impulse/Kid Flash. Touching ceremony, and pretty much what I expected from it. There were two nice flashback scenes involving the different Kid Flashes – one about Bart flying the Batplan, and one involving Wally remembering Barry showing confidence in him. Nice moments both.
After the funeral, Megan (Miss Martian) makes a terrible faux pas, impersonating Bart. She was trying to do it to lighten spirits and remind people of Bart, but it was obviously taken the wrong way. Later that night, Tim and Cassie meet at the memorial which now sports two statues – one for Bart and one for Connor. There was another moment of romance between Tim and Cassie, which I am now beginning to think is her just trying desperately to not think of Connor. There moment is interrupted by the Flash running up to them to warn them that “They’re back.” Is this Flash Bart? Or is it Wally? It’s left uncertain.
As for who’s back? Well, it’s the future versions of the Titans after they’ve taken over for the JLA, seen not too long ago. Connor as Superman, Cassie as Wonder Woman, and Tim as Batman. During the course of the issue, we also get to see these future versions taking out the current members of the JLA. It will be interesting to see how this pans out next issue – I look forward to a really nasty fight.
Sadly, as good as I found the issue, it was a bit too much for one issue – even an extra-large one. And unfortunately, despite all the momentous events, the moment that I will never forget from this issue was that of Ravager leading Kid Devil to the pool so they could go skinny-dipping. She is really growing on me, though I want her to hook up with Robin and end the abomination that is Tim and Cassie.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Sharing superheroes with my kids...

McDonald’s recently had Legion of Superheroes figures as the toy inside their happy meal. I’ll admit to being a big enough geek that when I ordered for my daughter, and the cashier asked “Toy for a boy or a girl?” I would answer, “Boy.” Why? Because I wanted the toy, dangit.

(And because why should there be a distinction that superheroes are for boys and teddy bears are for girls? My daughter has little interest in stuffed animals beyond her beloved Puppy and Dinosaur. But she’s as rough and tumble as they come, and loves it when Daddy flies her, or blasts her off into Outer Space.)

Well, despite the fact that I wasn’t fooling my wife in the slightest, I did turn each toy over to my daughter as we opened her Happy Meals. “Look what you got! A superhero!” My daughter, being intelligent, and an amazing mimic, would reply “A superhero!”

She now actually recognizes superheroes. Not by name, she couldn’t tell you the difference between Superman and Batman. But she can look at the bright costume and (sometimes) cape, and decide that someone is a superhero. (She’s also decided that any sufficiently ugly figure is a monster.) Just the other day I was on my laptop playing City of Heroes when she crawled onto the couch and looked at the screen, no doubt expecting to see “Balls!”

(I spend far too much time playing puzzle games, and she loves watching the colored balls move around the screen.)

Well, there were no balls for her to look at, but there was a blue-and-yellow figure, flying through the air, zapping bad guys with bolts of lightning. “A superhero!” she screamed in delight.

This gives me a dilemma. My wife and I have decided to keep violent television and movies away from her until she’s old enough to discern the difference between “television” and “reality”, and when she’s old enough to understand the idea that violence isn’t a good thing, and when we see it, it’s because the hero is stopping a bad person from doing a bad thing. But how do I let my daughter learn more about superheroes without the violence?

I suppose I could rustle up old Challenge of the Superfriends and Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends videos on YouTube…

Labels: ,

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Ten graphic novels for the starting superhero reader

This entry marks the 100th post to this blog, and as a result, I thought I’d do something a little special. Most of you who read this are already dedicated comic book readers, but I do get a fair bit of traffic from random google searches and blog browsing services. Some of these readers may be getting into comics for the first time, or returning after a long hiatus. And so, I thought I’d run down my personal choices for the top ten collections to introduce a person to superheroes.

As always, my lists are arbitrary, based on nothing more than my own personal likes and dislikes. And also, as always, I feel the need to explain a bit about my criteria. To begin with, these aren’t necessarily my ten favorite graphic novels – just the ones I think provide the best introduction to superhero comics. I also limited myself to superheroes (or darn close to them in some cases). There is some amazing stuff going on in comics that has nothing to do with superheroes, including my all-time favorite graphic novel, Maus, but that’s outside the realm of this blog. This list also isn’t meant to be in order of importance – most of these are equally excellent as each other, and I honestly don’t know that I could rank one above the other. Therefore, I listed them alphabetically.

Astro City: Life in the Big City (Kurt Busiek)
Busiek created something remarkable with Astro City – a comic world that feels like it has the same depth and richness of the DCU or Marvel Universe, with characters that seem familiar even as we meet them for the first time. Just as remarkably, the characters he created are evocative of characters we remember from other publishers and fifty years of comic history, but remain unique and interesting in their own right. Samaritan reminds of Superman without ripping him off. Winged Victory bears a striking similarity to Wonder Woman, but has her own fascinating story, and the same can be said of Jack-In-The-Box, Crackerjack, The Confessor, the Silver Agent and others.

What makes Astro City even better is the fact that it doesn’t have the same focus that we see in most superhero comics. Astro City, as often as not, is about the normal people who inhabit the same world as the heroes. And when it is about the heroes, it isn’t about their heroic exploits, so much as it is about their daily lives. Life in the Big City starts off with the best Superman story that isn’t about Superman ever written, as we see what a typical day is like for the World’s Greatest Hero.

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (Frank Miller)
Many people have projected the superheroes of the late twentieth century into their near future, imagining what life would be for the superheroes of yore in a new generation, but none have done it as well as Frank Miller did with The Dark Knight Returns.

The transformation of Bruce Wayne into a recluse, and then back into Batman remains gripping, engaging, and visually brilliant. Miller gives us a dark vision of the future, and one that is firmly mired in the politics of the late 1980’s, but that doesn’t take away from the power of this story.
Without The Dark Knight Returns, it’s difficult to imagine Batman Beyond or Kingdom Come ever having been written. The power of this story can even be seen in how elements from this story have worked themselves into modern continuity – Green Arrow’s sacrifice (or not) of his arm, and Luthor as world leader. This comic really marked the beginning of the transformation of Batman from being one of many vigilante detective/martial artists into the driven, darker persona we are all now familiar with.

Batman: Year One (Frank Miller)
Not content to just write the end of the Batman story, Frank Miller went ahead and re-wrote the beginning of it too with Batman: Year One.

Wisely, this comic focuses as much on Detective Jim Gordon as it does on Bruce Wayne. As a reader, we can be thrilled with the exploits of the superhuman, but we can’t ever really understand them. What we can understand are the reactions of the ordinary humans around them.
Additionally, Year One is one of the most beautiful comics ever put together. Year One’s impact can be seen elsewhere in the recent Batman Begins, where Gary Oldman portrayed not Commissioner Gordon, but instead Detective Gordon.

Marvel Superheroes: Secret Wars (Jim Shooter)
The first major twelve-part mini-series that crossed into all aspects of that universe’s comics, the first Secret Wars comic is such a perfect slice of comics in the eighties that it can’t be ignored.

Featuring the best, and most well known heroes and villains of Marvel at the time, it was the first time we got to see Captain America and the Avengers fighting alongside Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four and the X-Men. And they were fighting against the best in Marvel’s supervillains as well (with a few notable exceptions, such as the Red Skull).

Secret Wars reverberated throughout all of Marvel, and its aftershocks are still felt today. Remember that it was in Secret Wars that the alien costume that would eventually become Venom was introduced. It spawned a (far less interesting) sequel, and when Marvel was looking for a mini-series to introduce opposite Infinite Crisis, they even used the Secret War name again.

Beyond all of this, it’s also just a good fun read – and the kind of comic we rarely see anymore.

Starman: Sins of the Father (James Robinson)
Jack Knight was exactly what I wanted from my 90’s superheroes. At least, of the ones who identified themselves as such. You know, the whole “we’re not going to wear tights, because that’s ridiculous” movement.

The reason he stood head and shoulders above the rest is that he was unquestioningly a superhero (to the reader at least, he questioned it himself a lot). Sins of the Father did something that we almost never see in a comic – it killed Starman in the first issue of his comic.

Sins of the Father was a great example of how to tell a “darker” storyline without going into the “grim n’ gritty” movement, where sometimes it’s hard to tell who we’re supposed to consider the hero. And it spawned a great series that only got better as it went on. I regret the fact that Jack retired as Starman, and passed his cosmic rod onto Stargirl, but as a father myself, I understand and applaud his choice. You'll want to read the whole thing, once you get through this volume.

Superman: The Man of Steel (John Byrne)
Before Crisis on Infinite Earths, Superman had become truly ludicrous in power. He could fly nearly at the speed of light, was able to push planets around with his bare hands, and nothing that wasn’t magical or made of kryptonite could so much as scratch him.

The list of his secondary powers went on and on – not just heat vision, x-ray vision, microscopic hearing, ultrasonic hearing and super-breath, but also super-mesmerism and whatever other odd power the authors felt he needed. (The cellophane “S” from Superman II is almost understandable in this context.)

In the aftermath of Crisis, the editors at DC wisely decided to tone Superman down a bit, and they gave that job to John Byrne.

The Man of Steel isn’t the most elegant comic ever written, it has a lot of re-introductions to take care of. But it does so in a fairly admirable and entertaining way. And a lot of what we now think of as “cannon” for Superman and company originates in these pages. Byrne gave us Lois, the daughter of an army general and a very competent investigative reporter. He gave us Lex Luthor as a wealthy industrialist – both of which have been incorporated into every incarnation of Superman created since; the animated series, Smallville, Lois and Clark, and Superman Returns. The Man of Steel redefined Superman for a generation, and therefore is really a must read.

Supreme: The Story of the Year (Alan Moore)
I mentioned this is my Top Ten Superman Pastiches list, but it merits being mentioned again. Supreme: The Story of the Year is a loving deconstruction of the Superman mythos – complete with touching on how heroes get re-invented every generation, and all the trappings of the Silver Age.

But Moore doesn’t do this as a scathing commentary on the era, nor does he do it to make fun of the characters or genre. While I think that Astro City Vol. 1, Issue 1 is the best single issue of a Superman comic that isn’t actually about Superman, I think that this is my favorite Superman graphic novel without actually being about Superman.

It also does the best job of explaining why comic continuity can be such a mess to the novice reader that I’ve ever seen. On top of that, it’s illustrated wonderfully – very evocative of the style of Marvel and DC in the 1980’s, but on the higher quality paper and coloring techniques of the modern era.

X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga (John Byrne & Chris Claremont)
Jean Grey’s tragic tale is as big a part of comic book history, and as important of a single event as the shooting of Bruce Wayne’s parents, or the rocketing of baby Kal-El to Earth, or the bite of a spider on Peter Parker’s young hand. It has become, unfortunately, muddled with ret-con after ret-con, new incarnations of the Phoenix-force, and the three thousand, four hundred and eighty-three resurrections of Jean Grey.

But that doesn’t change the fact that the original tale is about as good of a story as you’ll find anywhere. The battle in the Hellfire Club is a great warm-up battle for the X-Men (and one that would have future impact on the X-Men, especially Wolverine), and the battle on the dark side of the moon against the Shi’ar Imperial Guard is a superpowered slugfest that has rarely been matched.

Just as significant, this story was the one that really cemented the strength of the bond between Jean Grey and Scott Summers – the best romance in comics in my opinion.

Ultimately, I wish that they had left Jean dead at the end of the Phoenix Saga. Her rebirth, again, opened the floodgates wide for superheroes returning from the grave. The great truisms of superhero death, Bucky and Captain Mar-Vel, have even now been violated. Fortunately, you can read this comic without worrying about the future resurrection after resurrection.

Ultimate Spider-Man, Vol. 1 (Brian Michael Bendis)
By the early years of this millennium, Spider-Man’s life and continuity had become, frankly, a mess. Somewhere between Carnage and clones, I swore off Spider-Man comics. The continuity was ugly, and I felt like I no longer knew these characters.

I still occasionally saw Spidey in other titles I picked up, and vaguely missed him, but he was out of my life. I had been abused one-too-many times, and it was time for me to move on. But then Marvel created Ultimate Spider-Man. Written by a (then) up-and-coming writer by the name of Brian Michael Bendis, Ultimate Spider-Man featured a sixteen-year old Peter Parker in the modern era, facing re-imaginations of Spider-Man’s classic foes. The Green Goblin no longer relied on gadgets – Norman Osborn transformed into a giant green creature capable of throwing fire from his hands. The early romances of Peter Parker’s life were largely ignored in favor of immediately focusing on MJ. And Nick Fury looked like Samuel L. Jackson instead of Clint Eastwood

“A publicity stunt,” people said. “It’ll never last.” “It won’t be any good.”

Were they ever wrong. The rest of the Ultimate continuity has gotten a little messy, and I can’t say I fully approve of all the changes they’ve made, but Ultimate Spider-Man has remained one of the best comics on the market. Even my favorite titles tend to have ups and downs, but there hasn’t been a single issue of USM that I haven’t enjoyed reading.

Watchmen (Alan Moore)
No list of great comic book graphic novels would be complete without including Watchmen. Alan Moore’s masterpiece has been analyzed more than any other comic collection, and sparked more debate and discussion as well.

Superhero comics changed forever after the publication of Watchmen, as people began looking at their heroes as beings who had feets of clay. Finding true heroism in Watchmen takes a lot of digging, and for the most part, the heroes fail. But they make the world a better place – at a price.

It was also the first time we saw our heroes behaving in ways that were really ugly. The Comedian rapes the Silk Spectre, Rorshach is a certifiable sociopath, and Nite-Owl has let himself go and now has a beer-gut.

Oddly enough, I don’t really like Watchmen. I consider it important to comics, and well-written, but I blame it for much of what I now find unpleasant in superhero comics. Still, if you’re going to read modern comics, then Watchmen is an important thing to read. The trends in modern comics originate here.

That's my list, and I hope you enjoyed it. So, what do you think I missed? (Other than Crisis on Infinite Earths). Let me know, and thanks for sticking with me through the last hundred posts. Here's looking to another hundred!

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, August 27, 2007

Superheroes and advertising

“After spending an entire night fighting Venom, the Hobgoblin and Doctor Octopus, there’s only one thing that makes me feel like a human being again – and that’s new Mountain Dew: Extreme.” – Peter Parker

A ridiculous idea you say? Well, it is, but why do we think that really? We make fun of heroes like Captain Amazing and Booster Gold for product endorsements, or wearing an advertising patch on their costume – but if superheroes actually existed in this world, why wouldn’t they do that?

The responsible thing, some would say, would be for heroes to let any money made off their image go to a charity. That’s what Superman does in the DCU, after all. Money made from the sale of Captain America merchandise no doubt goes to the Federal Government in the Marvel Universe. But what, I ask, is so wrong about a hero being paid for the work they do?

Fighting crime is a tough gig, and it can make holding a regular job really hard. So, doesn’t it make some sense to let heroes earn their living by doing what they do? After all, real-world heroes, firefighters, police officers, soldiers and teachers get paid to help society. It wouldn’t even require that the hero give up their identity to the public, so long as there was a trusted individual or corporation who could collect their earnings and distribute them. The Avengers could certainly act as a clearing house to take in the money and then provide it to their members, as could the Justice League.

Heck, in the Marvel Universe, Reed Richards funds the Fantastic Four through a combination of merchandise and patent-sales. And no one ever criticizes him for it. The Wasp uses her status as an Avenger raise attention to her designs, and even models them as superhero costumes, and no one hires Jennifer Walters as an attorney without being very aware that she is the Savage She-Hulk.

So, if a hero wants to take an endorsement deal from Nike, why not let them?

Especially since we're perfectly comfortable using them for advertising in the real-world. And they don't even see a cut of the profits.

Labels: ,

Friday, August 24, 2007

Top ten non-superpowered superheroes

A short-time ago we discussed the various pastiches of Superman overthe years. And while I stand by the statement I made there, that in many universes the World’s Greatest Superhero (tm) is a flying strongman in a cape, what is almost as interesting is that the second place character is usually a person with no superpowers at all.

Below you’ll find my take on the top ten non-superpowered superheroes. But before we get into this list deeply, there are going to be some notable absences, so let me explain them off the bat.

1) I didn’t include any sidekicks/spin-off heroes, no matter how noteworthy they are in their own right (though Nightwing really almost forced me to break this rule). This means we won’t see Robin, Speedy or Bucky on this list.

2) I also didn’t include superheroes who have superpowers, even if they proved themselves as heroes without their powers. So, despite the fact that Dinah Lance is just as competent a hero as Green Arrow, Huntress or Oracle without her sonic scream, she didn’t make the list. Neither did Storm.

3) “Borderline” superpowered heroes didn’t make the list either, even when it pained me to leave them off. As a result, you won’t see Hawkeye (who has superhumanly good eyesight), Moon Knight (who sometimes is written as having supernatural power due toKhonshu), or Wildcat (with his mystical nine lives) despite the fact that these characters are usually considered non-powered.

4) I didn’t include any primarily gun-wielding heroes. While many of the folks on this list do stretch my definition of a superhero in that they have killed, guns really serve no purpose other than “Make the other person dead.” I also think of soldiers and super-spies as a different breed than cape & mask heroes, so Nick Fury, the Punisher and any of the Old West supers didn’t make the cut for this list.

5) Finally, while most “normal human” superheroes do use high-tech gadgets of some sort, if they are entirely (or even mostly) dependent on a gadget for their superheroic acts, they didn’t make the list. WhileTony Stark and Hal Jordan may be ordinary humans, their equipment disqualifies them from this list. Sometimes this was a hard choice to make, and several of my favorite “normal human” heroes got cut as aresult (I’m looking at you, Blue Beetle and Night Thrasher).

But enough with the rules, let’s bring on the heroes!

10) Nighthawk (Supreme Power, Marvel Comics)
Kyle Richmond watched his parents be cut down as a result of a racial-inspired hate crime. Using his father’s investments to build a successful corporation, Richmond has trained himself in martial arts and investigation to hunt down those who commit crimes against African-Americans as Nighthawk.

Why he made the cut: The original version of Nighthawk was little more than a copy of DC’s Batman, but the Supreme Power version of the character has enough differences to make him notable in his own right. Nighthawk has all the paranoia about superhumans that Batman does, but adds in a healthy issue of race-relation paranoia.

Why he’s number 10: As interesting as they’ve made him in Supreme Power, it’s hard to ignore the fact that he is really an almost direct copy of someone much higher on this list.

9) The Confessor II (Astro City, Wildstorm Comics)
Wearing an all black costume with a large white cross on his chest, the Confessor protects Astro City by night. The Confessor focuses on“ordinary” crime – and is the one stopping the city from being looted while Samaritan fights off the alien invasion.

Why he made the cut: The original Confessor was a Roman-Catholic priest turned vampire, whose costume was made in part to harm him enough thathe would avoid the temptation of drinking blood. He later recruited a sidekick – Altar Boy, who became the Confessor after the original gave his life fighting off an alien invasion. Altar Boy had no superpowers of his own, which makes the present Confessor more like the characters he emulated. Astro City features a number of other non-superpowered heroes, including the ever-lovable Crackerjack, but the Confessor has a more prominent position in the universe.

Why he’s number 9: As good as the former Altar Boy’s story is, the Confessor was far more interesting as a vampire. As a normal human, the new Confessor has a neat look, but really has little terribly original about him.

8) Yeoman (Wild Cards novels)

Daniel Brennan was a US Army Captain who made the enmity of a high-ranking traitor in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. Framed for murder, Brennan fled the country. While in exile he studied Zen Archery and martial arts. He returned to the United States to track down his foe, ending up in New York City, the haven for Aces and Jokers. Having no superhuman powers, he nevertheless became well known as the Ace ofSpades killer and battled many superpowered Aces and Jokers, even helping end the Swarm invasion.

Why he made the cut: Yeoman is nearly unique in the Wild Cards universe in being a vigilante who wasn’t touched by the Wild Card virus. TheWild Cards novels are a deadlier place than most comics, making Brennan’s life that much harder.

Why he’s number 8: Firstly, Brennan is a killer – something he doesn’t hide from. It’s also impossible not to look at him and see a mesh of the Punisher and Green Arrow. As fascinating as I find him, he is more unique due to his setting than anything noteworthy about the character himself.

7) Citizen V/Baron Helmut Zemo (Thunderbolts, Marvel Comics)

The original leader of the Thunderbolts, Baron Zemo masqueraded as Citizen V. Using high technology, martial arts, sword-fighting skills, and a natural sense of leadership, Citizen V was the perfect disguise– invoking the memory of Captain America without copying him.

Why he made the cut: It took him longer than the rest of the Thunderbolts, but Zemo did eventually evolve into a hero. His look was astounding, and fit well with the idea of a normal human leading a team of superheroes – something which was the case with most teams of Avengers. What was even more interesting, to my way of thinking, was that it took banishment from earth for Zemo to begin to be a hero. Since then, he has ruled the world, given up god-like power, been betrayed, and allowed all of it to happen. Zemo’s evolution remains fascinating, and I can’t wait to see what happens next to Helmut.

Why he’s number 7: Zemo pushes against most of the rules of this list, honestly. While he may be one of my favorites, and I might even have made a Citizen V costume one summer, he is a former villain, and may in fact still be one now. He has killed, and will probably do so again. He also was the possessor of not one, but two Moonstones, pushing him in the "had superpowers" category. They didn’t define him, the way that Iron Man’s armor or Green Lantern’s power ring do, but it pushed the borders of how I defined this list. So, despite my intense love of the character, I really couldn't justify putting him any higher on the list.

6) The Spirit (Will Eisner, now DC Comics)
Denny Colt, with the blessing of the police commissioner (an old friend), fights crime as the masked hero – the Spirit. The Spirit’s adventures ranged from noir detective work, to horror stories, to comedy– sometimes more than once in a single issue. With no superhuman powers, the Spirit is nonetheless a competent hand-to-hand fighter and detective.

Why he made the cut: The Spirit paved the way for the non-powered detective/martial artist we’ve come to see so often in comic books. On top of that, he was created by Wil Eisner – which in and of itself makes him notable.

Why he’s number 6: Despite the legacy the Spirit can claim, it doesn’t change the fact that to the layperson, he’s barely known. It hurt to put characters whose origins can be traced directly to him higher on the list, but the Spirit just isn’t well-enough known to the public to justify putting him higher. With a movie coming out, and a regular series of comics through DC, that may change, but for now, he leads the back of the pack.

5) The Question (DC Comics)
Charles Victor Szasz was trained by Richard Dragon, the greatest martial artist in the DCU in martial arts and philosophy. An investigative reporter by day, he uses his identity as the Question to resolve problems that “Vic Sage” can’t touch. After Vic succumbed to cancer, former Gotham Detective Renee Montoya takes up the mantle of the Question.

Why he/she made the cut: There are a few reasons that the Question stands out among the detective/martial artists who inhabit comics. One is their distinct look – there is something massively unsettling about the appearance of a person with no face. The Vic Sage Question also had a rather memorable run on Justice League: Unlimited, which has helped bring the character to the mind of many. He was always a favorite of mine, but the JLU appearance did a lot to strengthen that. And being voiced by Jeffery Combs did nothing to hurt either. Their appearances in 52 and Countdown have also brought the Questions to the forefront of the DCU. The Question is also the basis for Rorschach from Watchmen, who is one of the most endearing sociopathic heroes in all of comics.

Why they’re number 5: The Question is one of my all-time favorite heroes, but even with the recent surge of attention, they are still second or third-tier characters. That might change a bit with Renee Montoya, especially with her relationship with Batwoman, but at the moment the Question remains in the middle of the pack.

4) The Green Hornet (Various)

Newspaper publisher Britt Reid, grand-nephew to the Lone Ranger, masquerades as the Green Hornet – a vigilante who is considered a crime boss by police and criminals alike. This deception allows Reid to discover much about his enemies. Armed with this knowledge, his loyal companion Kato, and the amazing Black Beauty, the Green Hornet is a threat to criminals everywhere.

Why he made the cut: The Green Hornet loaned so much of his mythology to future heroes that it really is remarkable. But what is even more amazing is how much remains unique to him – not the least of which being his status as crime boss. (Marvel’s Shroud doesn’t do it half as well.) His gadgets are second to none, and he even has a memorable bit of theme music – even if it was written by Rimsky-Korsakov.

Why he’s number 4: It is absolutely no knock against the Hornet himself that he only made it to number four on the list. It really comes down to the fact that the three people ahead of him on the list are just that much more notable. Starting with one who has stolen his color…

3) Green Arrow (DC Comics)

Millionaire playboy Olliver Queen was stranded on a desert island by a crime boss. His own survival instinct plus a lifelong fascination with archery saved him from a grisly fate, and when he returned to civilization, he decided to use his new identity to protect the “little guy” as the Emerald Archer, Green Arrow.

Why he made the cut: Green Arrow is one of the more notable “normal human” heroes in comics today, and his fame is only growing. In addition to comics and cartoons, Green Arrow has also been included in the Smallville mythology, and is even going to have a movie made about him (probably). Though he started as a Batman knock-off, he has grown to be a champion of liberal causes, and has started the legacy for numerous other heroes, including the current Speedy, Mia Derden and the former Speedy, RoyHarper, who is now a member of the Justice League as Red Arrow. He has also developed a rivalry with Deathstroke – the single deadliest assassin in the DCU. And on top of all that, he just proposed to theBlack Canary, Dinah Lance.

Why he’s number 3: As amazing as Ollie is, and how rapid his ascent has been, he still remains just out of reach of the top-tier of superheroes. To comic fans, few characters are as beloved as Olliver Queen is today, but he still lacks the name recognition of Spider-Man, Superman or the top two spots on this list.

2) Batman (DC Comics)

His parents gunned down at a young age, Bruce Wayne swore that he would never allow what happened to him to happen to anyone else. Heir to a vast empire of wealth, Bruce travelled across the world, honing his mind and body to become the ultimate weapon against crime. Already a brilliant detective, martial artist, tactician and scientist, Bruce crafted a disguise to strike terror into the hearts of criminals. He has had many allies in this war against crime, but deep inside, Bruce remains a loner. Still, no hero is as feared as the Batman is.

Why he made the cut: Because he’s the Batman, that’s why. Few superheroes have the recognition as an icon that he does. Bruce Wayne represents the ultimate in what a human can strive for, and is one ofthe “Big Three” of the DCU. Batman has out fought everyone, and has contingency plan after contingency plan for future battles. He has trained several Robins, one of whom, Dick Grayson. has become such an important hero in DC Comics that he honestly deserves a place on this list himself. He has inspired numerous other heroes, including the Huntress and two different Batgirls. His arsenal is nearly as well known as his origin story, and he has been the subject of more movies and television shows than any other superhero. No list of “human” superheroes would be complete without him.

Why he’s number 2: This will be probably the most contentious placement on this list, because for many Batman is what people think of as the non-powered superhero. I struggled between placing him in the number one or number two slot, and ultimately went with who I chose as the winner because of what that character represents. Batman is, at heart, a story about vengeance. Bruce’s mission has grown beyond that, but that’s where its’ roots are. Batman also inspires fear above anything else, and I wanted the number one position to belong to a hero who inspires hope in all those around him, even after his death.

1) Captain America (Marvel Comics)
Despite being a patriot, Steve Rogers was deemed unfit for duty during the Second World War due to his scrawny physique. Offered an opportunity to take part in a secret Super-Soldier program, Steve Rogers was transformed to the peak of human ability and trained by the army. Armed with an unbreakable shield, and possessing unmatched leadership and tactical skills, Steve became Captain America. Frozen in ice for years and released in the modern day, Captain America is still regarded by nearly all in the Marvel Universe as the ultimate expression of what a hero should be, even as he struggles to find his place in modern-day America.

Why he made the cut: In the Marvel Universe, no one is a greater hero than Cap. Cap has led several incarnations of the Avengers, leading gods, mutants, aliens and robots despite having no powers of his own. He has stood toe-to-toe with the likes of the Hulk, Thanos and Ultron, and come out on top. His sidekicks have become potent heroes in their own right, and other nations have champions who are clearly inspired by Captain America, such as Union Jack and the Red Guardian.

Why he’s number 1: Cap isn’t just an unpowered superhero, he is a leader of superheroes. Cap inspires hope and loyalty in those around him and is one of the few who are worthy of wielding Thor’s enchanted hammer, Mjolnir. No matter how jaded or bitter a hero is, when they work alongside Cap, even the likes of Wolverine, Spider-Man and Luke Cage find ways to be members of a team. When Captain America opposed the Registration Act, he gave legitimacy to the cause. Without Cap, those who refused to register would have been despised by all. But with Captain America leading the resistance, it made people think about why heroes might oppose the law, even in the wake of Stamford. After being assassinated, Steve Rogers has continued to inspire heroism in his memory. He may not be as well known as Batman, and may have even lost to him in Marvel vs. DC several years ago, but Captain America is the single largest symbol of hope to the Marvel Universe, and for that reason, he is my pick for number one.

So, what do you think? Who do you think deserves a place on this list but didn’t get one? Where would you have moved people around on the list? I’d love to hear.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Who Wants to be a Superhero? Season 2, Episode 5

Thursday night has rolled around, and that means it's time for another episode of Who Wants to be a Superhero?

What does that mean to me? Well, it means that I sit here with my Diet Coke, my microwave popcorn and my laptop and eagerly watch the goings-on. As the episode begins, the heroes wax philosophically about their missing companions. Hyper-Strike was the only one to mention what everyone else must be considering - those that are left have doubled their chances of being the winner.

The heroes awake to find that Dr. Dark is causing power outages through the city. Stan leads them to his hideout where they find that they each need to crawl through a drain-pipe to a fuse box, and each power down a fuse. Each of the Parthenon, Whip-snap, Hygena and Hyper-Strike each struggle to deal with the rats, snakes and spiders in the lair, but make it through. Then finally the Defuser enters, with a minute left to go, and the bulky police officer gets stuck in the drain pipe, as we cut to commercial.

The commercial gives me time to consider that I would be in so much trouble here. I am extremely frightened by snakes, spiders and rats. This season has really hit the contestants hard in dealing with their real fears - I wonder how well I'd do.

We come back, and the Defuser does make it through and gets the fuse, with a whole six seconds to spare. Stan rewards them for their success by giving them a night on the town - which, of course is the real challenge. While at the Mexican restaurant, the heroes are approached by fans - each deals well with the children. But then the check arives, and they realize none of them have any money. So, they work their bill off by waiting tables. Very funny.

Stan meets them back at the lair and starts to reveal Dark's plans, but then Dark tells Stan about the dark secrets each hero has in their past - reminiscent of the same scene involving the Dark Enforcer last season. But before any secrets are revealed, another commercial.

It's interesting, as the episode progresses, I try to predict who's leaving. Whip-snap, Hygena and Parthenon all had a lot of problems with the tunnel. Hyper-strike, on the other hand, mentioned that he didn't even look around, which seems like a way of avoiding his fears - something Stan eliminated Mr. Mitzvah for.

Now we get to the secrets. Whip-snap had taken her friend's keys to visit a crush. Hygena likes to practice erotic dancing for her husband. Hyper-strike failed a stunt, and in return got fired from a show. Parthenon has an interest in pirates, which Dr. Dark says is evidence of an interest in the dark side. And the Defuser didn't graduate high school on time. Stan had pretty much ignored each "flaw" Dark had exposed, but then we break to commercial as Dark waves a martini glass and shaker at the Defuser. Could the Defuser share a weakness with Tony Stark?

This commercial gives me time to reflect on another issue I might have if I were to audition for the show next season - I certainly have skelletons buried in my closet I'd like to see remain there. What might my friends or relations reveal about me for Stan to critically examine?

It seems the Defuser has embarassing drinking stories, despite not normally drinking, where he destroyed a bathroom while drunk. But of course, who among us doesn't have stories of that ilk?

And then, it's time for the mission reports before the next elimination. I can't help but wonder if the Defuser's criticisms will be the final nail in his coffin here. The mission reports show that the Defuser and Hyper-strike are the strongest, Hygena underperforms in missions, Whip-snap overreacts emotionally, and that over half of the team thinks Whip-snap is the least heroic of the team. Hyper-strike comes clean to Whip-snap about why he wrote that, but I can't help but think that of the "over half", meaning three of the five, Whip-snap might have written that about herself.

And as we go to commercial, Stan tells us it's time for another elimination. At GenCon, Feedback, Major Victory and Fat Momma each mentioned how hard the eliminations are. Each of them want to win, obviously, and each person who leaves brings them closer to that goal. But the heroes also grow close as a team, and each elimination means someone they care for, someone they consider a fellow hero, has to give up their dream - at least for now. I can only imagine how rough it must be.

Stan had criticisms for each hero, but praised Hyper-strike for his honesty with Whip-snap. He also called the Defuser out on giving away parts of his weaponry to the fans at the restaurant, something that the Defuser seemed really shocked by.

The nominations to go home tonight? The Defuser. Whip-snap. Hygena. (Which was pretty much what I expected.)

I think that it's going to be Whip-snap who leaves tonight. But we have one more commercial to sit through before I'll know.

And the result...?
"The person leaving the lair tonight is... Whip-snap."

I will miss her, but I can't say I'm surprised. The journey has been good for her, but she didn't yet have the strength to win. She is a hero, and she will continue to grow after this show. I'm tempted to go to Feedback's after-show, but think it can wait for now. I'd rather judge the heroes based on their performance in the show then in how they feel afterwards.

Labels: ,

Weekly comic round-up

Every week (roughly) Aaron goes to the Laughing Ogre in Columbus, Ohio and spends far more money than his wife would prefer. He then comes back here and writes about the comics he reads that he thought were noteworthy. This isn't everything he picks up, just the things that he feels merit discussion - either for being really good, or for having something really wrong with them.

Astonishing X-Men 22

When Josh Whedon took over this comic, I about lost my mind with excitement. And he had a good run for awhile there, but I’m losing interest as this goes on. The character moments are great, but the plot is kind of lacking. Examples are the bedroom discussion between Kitty and Peter, the confrontation between Emma and Danger (as Emma correctly predicts that Danger is unable to overcome her programming to actually kill someone – though I’m fairly certain the Danger Room had an override to allow it to use lethal force), and the “final” act of leadership from Cyclops as he sacrifices himself piloting the ship to give the team the diversion they need.

Of course, Cyclops isn’t dead. For all the craziness that Marvel is willing to do right now to shake up their universe, they wouldn’t have Scott Summers die in such an off-hand manner.

But while the character moments are great, and I’m loving them, even –shudder- the romance between Scott and Emma, the plot? I can barely follow it, and don’t care enough to go back and re-read the issues to put the plot back together. This bodes ill for the future of the book.

Superman 666

Superman has fairly consistently been well-written, but rarely worth commenting on of late. I’ve enjoyed almost every issue of the different titles, but none of them have been anything all that special. But this issue begged for the attention.

Why? Because it was written by Kurt Busiek and illustrated by Walt Simonson?


Because it featured the Phantom Stranger and Zatanna?


Because we got to see Superman’s darker side shining through?


It begged for attention because it was issue 666 – the number of the Beast, and DC went for the obvious and had it focus on a Kryptonian demon.

Don’t get me wrong, it was actually fairly entertaining. And in a black humor kind of way, it was fun watching Superman lay waste to all the things which must have annoyed him. He is, after all, one of the most powerful beings on the planet. Being forced to hold back, instead of lashing out at all those things we would lash out at if we had his power must be endlessly frustration.

But it would have been nice if DC could have avoided the obvious.

Thunderbolts 116

After a disappointing month for the Thunderbolts, this issue once again has renewed my interest in the comic. I think a large part of my problem with the direction of the comic is that, under Osborn, and with individuals like Venom and Bullseye on the team, the Thunderbolts really are supervillains pretending to be superheroes – like they were at the beginning. However, that only remains interesting for so long. The brilliant part of the Thunderbolts under Busiek was watching the villains really become heroes.

We lost sight of that for awhile, but with Songbird temporarily leading the team, we’re seeing it again. I found the use of Venom as a potential cannibal to be really fascinating – both Songbird’s use of it, and Gargan’s reaction. Gargan obviously has a very different relationship with the symbiote, or at least he wants to. As I’ve said before, the idea of Venom as a hero bothers me a lot, but done in the context of the Thunderbolts, with someone other than Brock being the symbiote’s partner, it could be interesting to read about.

But the real star of Thunderbolts right now has to be Robby Baldwin. Once (and possibly future) Speedball, Penance has really become something. He’s a loose cannon to the extreme, and by all accounts, is nearly Hulk-level in power. Moonstone is crazy if she actually thinks Osborn can control him, and if there’s one thing I know about Moonstone it’s that she’s not crazy. Osborn, on the other hand, really is. So, it’s possible that Karla is playing him.

(And as a side-note, I’d really like to see Karla re-encounter Hawkeye. It’ll be fun if the Thunderbolts are ever sent after the New Avengers.)

Finally, this issue introduced a new unregistered superhuman combatant, who objects to the registration act, wants to summon the Thunderbolts, and is a powerful telekinetic. Based on the level of power, and the desire to see the Thunderbolts, I almost think that it’s Vance Astro behind the mask of Mindwave. My hesitation in predicting this is based on the level of violence displayed to the police officers in the station – Justice is many things, but not a killer. And even if none of those officers die, they were pretty severely banged up. But it would make sense for Justice to want to draw out the Thunderbolts to check in on Speedball. Anyone else have any ideas who might be behind that mask? I’d love to hear them.

Birds of Prey 109

I can’t even begin to describe how excellent Birds of Prey is. On the one hand, the writing of the characters is top-notch and the action is exciting and well-drawn. The comic balances superheroism and the personal lives of the characters just about perfectly (occasionally focusing on one or the other, but never for so long that the other suffers for it). The cast is made up of a great group of characters, and the relationships between them are rich and fully defined without being needlessly complex. And the comic frequently includes moments of genuine humor, without being a “silly book” like She-Hulk.

And on the other hand? It’s a comic about women superheroes that manages to offer up everything we would like to see in any comic, without pandering to either hard-line feminists or male chauvinist pigs. Women can read this comic and see superheroines acting like superheroines instead of being relegated to supporting roles. Men can read this comic and not feel guilty for their gender.

This issue illustrates all of these points. We get to see great character interaction between Barbara and Dinah, as they discuss Oliver Queen’s past history with them, and other women in the DCU, and what it means that he has proposed to Dinah. Barbara walks the delicate line of trying to warn her friend, but still being supportive, and it feels absolutely real to me. On the humorous side, we watch as Sin teaches Barda how to play Pokemon, and convinces her that it is really a game for warriors. Then we get to watch as an innocent fight between Scandal and Knockout leads to Knockout charging after Barda for a rematch – during which she is caught by one of those responsible for the killings of the New Gods.

Action. Character development. Tie-ins to the major plot points of the DCU. And all of this in a comic that writes female characters as genuine characters.

My only regret is that I held off on picking this title up until a friend of mine started loaning me the graphic novels of the earlier parts of the series.

Amazing Spider-Man 543

I know that JMS is leaving this book, and for that I am truly sorry. It was on the strength of his writing right before Civil War that I was pulled back into the adventures of the 616-Peter Parker. And here in the Back in Black storyline, he has continued to remind me of why I used to love this character, before he jumped the shark with Carnage and Clones.

Spider-Man may not be the most powerful hero in the Marvel Universe, but among the street-level heroes, he’s pretty much the cream of the crop. And JMS knows and respects that. Spider-Man is an absolute terror when fighting normal humans, and is capable of pushing himself to deal with much more powerful foes. But Peter Parker is an intensely vulnerable human, especially where his family is concerned.

It fits with Peter’s life for the emergency transfusion he gave Aunt May to not only not help her, but to be considered proof that the poor old Jane Doe is being poisoned by her niece. And watching desperation push Peter into committing nine felonies in a row was a fascinating descent. Of course, he’s probably guilty of more crimes than those, among them breaking into a maximum security facility, assault and battery, and menacing.

Still, I understand Peter’s crisis. For one of the first times, any illegal actions he’s taking aren’t based on “what must be done” to fight the bad-guy, but instead based on his own self-interest. (There’s an incident with a golden notebook from Secret Wars II, but that’s hardly worth mentioning, especially considering how much Peter tortured himself over it.) He also threatened a man with death, and it was fairly clear he wasn’t kidding.

“One More Day” starts next month. Poor Peter is going to go through hell, and I’m going to watch it with a perversely sadistic sense of glee. Heroes are defined by how they deal with the impossible situation. For what it’s worth, I think Peter is a true hero, and will come through this showing that. This will be a testament to his heroism, not the beginning of his fall. Or at least, that’s my prediction.

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Stan Lee - Superhero? Or Supervillain?

Stan Lee has an interesting legacy. The man has been responsible for some of the best in superheroics, and some of the worst.

On the one hand, he has been the creative force behind (at least in part) Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, the Incredible Hulk and the Mighty Thor. He created a remarkable take on the DC icons with the Just Imagine... series. Because of his influence on the course of Marvel Comics, he has been given a cameo role in most of the movies made starring Marvel Superheroes (including an appearance in all three Spider-Man and X-Men movies, plus Daredevil, Hulk and Fantastic Four, and even in Kevin Smith's Mallrats.) And, of course, he's responsible for my current favorite obsession - Who Wants to be a Superhero?

On the other hand, he has been responsible for Pamela Anderson's Stripperella, The 7th Portal, Lightspeed and this. Yeah, that's right - Paris Hilton as a superhero.

I'm not quite sure what to make of this. On one hand, a little part of my brain is amused at the idea - although I'm a little ashamed to admit it. But most of my brain just screams "No Stan! Don't! Don't ruin your legacy like this!"
It's silly of course. Even disasters like turning Paris Hilton, Pamela Anderson, Hugh Heffner and Ringo Starr won't be able to erase what superheroics owe to Stan Lee. Before him, superheroes were nearly perfect - and flaws that they had usually limited their superheroism only. Before Stan, we didn't see superheroes who had real problems and real character flaws. Without Stan Lee, there would never have been a Dark Knight Returns, or any of the other comics where we see our heroes deconstructed. And nothing he does now, no matter how foolish, will ever really erase that.
But really, Mr. Lee, Paris Hilton? If you're that desperate for people to turn into superheroes, I know that Levity, Nitro G, Cell Phone Girl, Monkey Woman, The Iron Enforcer, Lemuria, Major Victory, Ty'Veculis, Mr. Mitzvah, Ms. Limelight, Batsura, Mindset and the Braid would all be happy to offer themselves up as models.
(And I could easily be persuaded to do the same.)

Labels: , ,

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Meeting some superheroes

So, this past weekend, my wife and I decided to visit GenCon Indy. I'm a big-time gamer, and due to my eldest daughter being ill, we didn't get to spend the whole weekend at Origins a few months back. So, we day-tripped to GenCon on Saturday.

And I'm really glad that I did. I got to see some friends I hadn't seen in months. I got to talk with the folks at Eden Studios, who I've had the good fortune to volunteer for in the past, and even been able to playtest the City of Heroes RPG. But without a doubt, the highlight of the trip?

I was able to meet, shake hands with, and in some cases get autographs and merchandise from Major Victory, Fat Momma, and Feedback - the top three finalists from the first season of Who Wants to be a Superhero?

First up, we got to talk to Major Victory. Major Victory was incredibly gracious and friendly, and emphasized how grateful he was to be able to come to events like the con and meet with the fans. I ordered a t-shirt from him (they were out of stock of my size), and he looked at my daugher, Mira, who was sleeping in a sling on my chest, and without my asking, took an art sheet of the mock-up for the Major Victory comic, signed it for her, instructing her to listen to her parents.

Fat Momma wasn't at the booth when we first showed up - she had left to go and spend time at the babysitting facilites provided at the con. I was highly impressed by that - it really shows how important kids are to her. Between the Major Victory t-shirt, and the money I wanted to spend to get Feedback's autograph, I was tapped out for cash, so I couldn't buy any merchandise. But still, she handed us a coloring sheet to take home to our older daughter.

Finally, I got to meet Feedback. Matthew was just an incredibly generous and friendly guy. He was making jokes with the other signees at the booth, taking extra time to pose for pictures, and spending time to actually get to know - at least in passing - the people who came to meet with him.

During the show, it became obvious that he was "one of us," a comic-book fanboy living the dream. And meeting him, it became even more obvious. My wife introduced me as "the resident geek in the family" to which he said that in his eyes, geeks meant "one of us." I didn't want to take up too much of his time (not due to him trying to make us leave, but because I could see the line building behind us), so I wasn't able to talk to him as long as I'd have liked. I did, however, get the chance to share my story with him about how comics have changed my life. During the show, Feedback shared with Stan Lee how comics gave him a role-model when his father passed away. In my case, comics gave me my love of learning. I learned to read due to the Incredible Hulk, and having a family friend read them to me, then chase me around his comic store saying "Hulk Smash Puny Human!"

Me, Feedback and Mira

Like I said, I didn't have the chance to talk to him as long as I'd have liked, but Feedback invited me to come back and talk to him again later. Sadly, I didn't have the time to take him up on the offer, but I hope to encounter him again.

Meeting the three of them re-strengthed my determination to audition if there's a Season 3. And a bonus feature of the weekend was I got to talk to the fine folks at Journeymen Leather about having them help me with my costume.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, August 16, 2007

A short round-up

Every week (roughly) Aaron talks about the comics he reads that he thought were noteworthy. This isn't everything he picks up, just the things that he feels merit discussion - either for being really good, or for having something really wrong with them.

Ultimate Spider-Man 112
Bagley has left us, but Ultimate Spider-Man soldiers on. Fortunately, for me at least, the priority is on the writing, not the art – and Bendis is still at the helm of this ship, something which shows in the plot, pacing and characterization of this issue.

A brief battle with the shocker makes both Peter and Kitty (sporting a new costume) late for class - a class where they get assigned the dreaded Baby Project.

(You know the one, where you have to take care of a faux baby. In my day, it was an egg. Nowadays, it’s usually a doll, sometimes with sensors.)

Even worse, Kitty and Peter get assigned together, much to MJ’s annoyance. Being MJ, of course she tells them to just do the project. Of course, tension will further develop around this project; there’s really no way it could be avoided. And Bendis will make it interesting, engaging, and embarrassing for Peter.

But that’s not what makes this issue noteworthy. What is noteworthy is that Norman Osborn is back. Initially prepared to make a deal with Nick Fury, only to be told that Fury isn’t around, Osborn later breaks free. We don’t get to see anything in this issue, but the cover of this issue as well as next month’s promises a massive battle between the Spider and the Goblin once more.

Booster Gold 1 I’ve never been the biggest Booster Gold fan. I’ve never disliked him, per se, but he’s just never impressed me. Maybe it’s because it’s hard for me to sympathize with his life, or why he wanted to be a superhero. I became marginally more interested in him during 52, especially after he “died” – and then the revelation about who Supernova was. This left me interested enough that I decided to pick up Booster Gold 1, and I’m glad I did.

Booster wants to join the JLA again, and when he calls them in the midst of a battle against the Royal Flush Gang, the reaction among the league is mixed. Many of them dislike Booster and his glory-hunting. But Batman and Superman are both able to point out actions where Booster did the right thing, despite the personal cost. So, the League gives him a week to prove himself without being a glory-hound. And Booster manages it.

Just in time to be told that Rip Hunter wants him to save the timeline. And in order to do that, Booster must keep anyone from ever taking him seriously. No one must ever know of the good that he’s done. And so, right at the moment when the League offers him membership, Booster has to act like a boob.

It impressed me, honestly. I can’t imagine making myself look like a fool to the people I most respect – even if it is for the greater good. Of course, Booster tells Rip that there’s a catch – if he’s going to do this, he wants Ted Kord (the Blue Beetle) brought back. Booster knows it’s possible, and that’s his condition. Based on the preview, it looks like he just may get his wish.

Throwing a wrench into all this is the future of Supernova, Booster’s ancestor, and how he may now be dealing with a version of Sinestro.

-sigh- Fine. They’ve got me. When does Issue 2 come out?

Justice League of America 12
This is possibly one of the best issues of JLA I have ever read. Ever. And I had to double-check that Brian Michael Bendis didn’t write it, because it follows what he does best. We want to see our heroes engaged in epic battles, no question. But if we don’t care about them, it means nothing. So what better way to explore who they really are than by examining how each member of the League (other than the Big Three) handle Monitor duty.

And it was great. We really got a good look inside of the heads of Black Lightning, Black Canary, Red Tornado, Red Arrow, Hawkgirl and Geo-Force. We got to see previews of upcoming issues the league will have to face - Geo-Force and his involvement with Deathstroke and how the Big Three are trying to use him as a double-agent; the inner struggles being faced by Vixen with the loss of her powers (almost) and Red Tornado and the loss of his humanity (almost); and the budding relationship between Roy Harper and Kendra Saunders. Superhero romances are rarely smooth, and these two have serious emotional commitments that will make things even worse than normal. The only real question is who will kill them first; Cheshire or Hawkman?

The not-terribly-unusual framing device for the issue was a nice touch, as we watch J’onn J’onzz and Arthur watching the league. These two have always been outsiders, and the League means more to them to probably any other hero. But what I found most impressive in this issue was letting Black Canary show why she deserves to be the League Chairperson. Dinah has been getting more and more respect in the DCU over the last several years, in the pages of JLA, JSA, Birds of Prey, her own title and Green Arrow, and I can only say “About time.”

It’ll be sad to see Meltzer leave this book, but the issue was about as solid an ending as I’ve ever seen.

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

It's time for some Feedback!

Who Wants to be a Superhero? promised it's winner immortality, in the form of a Sci-Fi Channel original movie, and a Dark Horse comic book written by Stan Lee.

Last month, Dark Horse and Stan Lee delivered on their prize to the winner - Feedback, played by Matthew Atherton. It wasn't the best comic I've ever read, but it wasn't bad either.

Next Saturday, August 25th, the Sci-Fi Channel does their part. The movie Mega-Snake will feature an appearance by Feedback.

Yes, Feedback gets to fight a giant snake in a Sci-Fi Channel Original movie - known by all for their class, sophistication and quality.

This is going to be a guilty pleasure. And my TiVo will have to record it for me at a later showing - because there's no way on Earth I'm missing the amazing Jekyll on BBCAmerica for this.

I'm a dedicated fan, so won't miss it. But I'm not giving up quality in order to see it.


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A Villainous Comic-Round Up

It's a week of heroic villains and villainous heroes. Quite an odd week, really.

Black Adam 1
It's no secret that I've always liked the Marvel family - Captain Marvel, Mary Marvel, CM3 and Black Adam too. I was quite happy when Adam became a hero, of sorts, through the Justice Society and the flashback to Egypt. I enjoyed his stint as a hero in 52, and was bummed when it was put to an end with the death of Isis and Osiris. So, with him having his own comic, I had no choice but to pick it up.

Overall? Not a disappointment. I knew going into it that we weren't going to see Black Adam in his superpowered form, since he gave his powers up in 52, and Mary has them at the present in Countdown. But I was thrilled at the intensity of this issue. Adam's disfigurement at the hands of his followers, his desperate struggle to get Isis' remains, and then her resurrection all had a great speed and emotional depth.

Countdown 38
It's not the best comic I'm reading. It's a little disjointed, and a little uneven. There isn't enough time to focus on each story, and it doesn't flow real well from week to week. But this might be the comic I had the most fun with this week. Why?

We got to see Batwoman and the Question working together to catch the Trickster and Piper.

We got to watch an epic computer battle between the Calculator and Oracle, tying into the mystery of Karate Kid.

We got to find out more about Mary Marvel's new powers, how she deals with it, and that it's connected to Eclipso.

With this much good, plus Jimmy Olsen and his involvement with the Titans, and then Darkseid and his plot to remove the New Gods, I could handle the lack of coherency and just enjoy the moments.

New Avengers 33
I feel this book has gotten unfair criticism. I dig the stories, and the characters a lot, even if some think the New Avengers are an unfit superteam. But I think the storytelling has been very tight, and the characterization has been dead on. I'm already a little tired of the mystery of "Who's the Skrull?" and the suspicion it's causing. I also kind of doubt that any of them are Skrulls, despite their paranoia about such in the wake of discovering that Elektra was a Skrull.

The highlight of this issue, without a doubt, would be the flashback to Captain America training the Avengers. I like the fact that Hawkeye has been shown to be a devastatingly effective hand-to-hand fighter. It's something we've always known, but has often been ignored. I'm also very interested in seeing who this new crime boss is.

Green Lantern 22
I am a big, big Green Lantern fan. Always have been - at least, ever since the mid-90's with the introduction of Kyle Rayner. And as mentioned earlier, I really dug the first issue of The Sinestro Corps. I've also always dug the Cyborg (the Superman villain one, Hank Henshaw). So, needless to say, this issue was just about perfect for me. Finding out that Hank Henshaw's motivation is actually to find a being powerful enough to kill him (such as the Anti-Monitor) was awesome, and honestly, something I should have seen coming. It's also kind of nice to see the connection between Parallax and the Cyborg - since it was by the Cyborg's actions that Parallax was able to possess Hal Jordan. The battle between the two Corps was also just as epic and amazing as it should have been. And the cliffhanger ending, with Hal facing Lyssa Drak?

Where's the next issue already?

Hulk 109
The character of Amadeus Cho, frankly, bores the heck out of me. I don't need to see the world's smartest teenage genius. For one thing, there are enough people in the Marvel Universe who claim to be the world's smartest man - we don't need another. Further, we don't need it to be an irritating teenager - we had that done with Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation (no offense meant to Wil Wheton, it wasn't his fault).

But despite that, I really enjoyed this issue. Because it focused on, what for me, will make the difference between whether the Hulk is a hero or not. Does he kill?

So far, the Hulk has never directly, intentionally killed anyone - although he has tried. He certainly hasn't done so while Banner was in charge. This issue brings that conflict to a head, in the discussions between Cho and Rick Jones, in the interactions between the Hulk's human allies and his Warbound, and finally in Cho's discovery of the Illuminati fitted with the Gladiator discs.

Marvel has shown themselves willing to make brave choices that change their landscape. The Registration Act. The unmasking of Peter Parker. The death of Captain America. This could be another one - determining once and for all whether the Hulk belongs on the roster of Earth's heroes or not. I have no doubt he'll keep his own comic either way. I have no doubt he will continue to do things which, overall, help mankind. But if he crosses this line he will remove himself from the status of "superhero", at least in my mind - which is something I will grieve for. I'm not saying that if Marvel does make him kill someone I'll hate him, or the company, or anything along those lines. It just means that they will have forever altered their continuity, and the five year old kid inside me who used to love the Hulk, and get chased around a comic book store by the owner, a friend of the family, who would shout "Hulk smash puny human!", will shed a tear or two.

Labels: , , , ,