Comics Ate My Brain

February 26, 2005

New Comics 2/23/05

Seven Soldiers of Victory #0 (written by Grant Morrison, with art by J.H. Williams) was the elephant in the comics shop this week. Expectations were high, and I wasn’t disappointed. Morrison’s high concept — when does someone stop having a fetishistic death wish and start being a super-hero? — is drummed into the reader, and it sweeps him along through the new Seven Soldiers’ adventure. The ending isn’t quite an homage to the original team’s most famous moment, but it does set up the seven miniseries coming throughout the year. I can’t say much more about the plot without giving the ending away; but Morrison and Williams present everything so as to draw the reader into the story. It’s an excellent introduction to what I hope will be an enjoyable series of books.

Batman #637 (written by Judd Winick, art by Doug Mahnke and Dustin Nguyen): Batman and Nightwing fight Amazo, as Black Mask deals with Mr. Freeze and Red Hood. The issue is a foregone conclusion — ever since Grant Morrison dubbed him “the most dangerous man on Earth,” Batman’s reputation has gotten more inflated than gas prices in the 1970s. Of course Batman can defeat Amazo; Batman with a broken leg would be simply a fairer fight. Anyway, it’s fun stuff, with Nightwing getting in a few licks as well. If this is a setup for a bigger fight later on, so much the better. My one complaint is that the art is a little stiffer than it has been, with the figures not moving as smoothly, but otherwise it’s fine.

Nightwing #104 (written by Scott Beatty and Chuck Dixon, with art by Scott McDaniel and Andy Owens): Dick introduces his new outfit to Batgirl (Barbara Gordon) and the Joker, while Batman trains Jason Todd as the new Robin. The point of the issue seems to be that Nightwing and Batgirl have some unresolved romantic issues, which are complicated by Nightwing’s relationship with his fellow Titan Starfire. Of course, the effect of Starfire on NW/BG might have been demonstrated more effectively had she been more of a presence than a few references toward the end of the book. As it is, she’s almost an afterthought — which, again, might have been the point, but this storyline should have done more to remind us just how strong Dick/Starfire was at the time. (Heck, Alex Ross in Kingdom Come even postulated that it would produce a daughter.) I almost hate to say it, but the Batman/Jason stuff was more interesting, and it only got a few pages.

Wonder Woman #213 (written by Greg Rucka, with art by James Raiz and Ray Snyder): Diana, once again fighting as a goddess’ proxy, squares off against Briareos, the hundred-headed, hundred-armed monster. As with the Medousa duel, Rucka makes sure we know the political implications of the fight — so while we can guess the outcome, Rucka emphasizes that its consequences are real and can’t be avoided by the loser. I wonder if the Amazo fight in Batman is an integral part of the story, or just a set piece; with this title, I know it matters. Raiz’ and Snyder do a fine job with the battle scenes, although sometimes I had problems following the action. Still only a minor complaint.

Flash #219 (written by Geoff Johns, with art by Justiniano, Livesay, and Walden Wong): Part 1 of the crossover with Wonder Woman, as the Cheetah frees Zoom and Flash goes to Diana for help. There’s a lot of setup, mostly explaining the villains’ motivations, and giving Diana a bit more of a harder edge than Flash. The guest artists are a pleasant change of pace from Howard Porter (who I still like) — they provide a more organic, less “clean” look than Porter, which fits with the villains. Cheetah would look almost cartoony under Porter (check out Porter’s cover), and Zoom’s speed effects might also have come off less well. Still, I’m not sure I needed to read this in order to understand the Wonder Woman conclusion.

Legion of Super-Heroes #3 (written by Mark Waid, with art by Barry Kitson and Art Thibert) focuses appropriately on Triplicate Girl, telling her origin and giving a fun insight into both her social life and her playful personality. Apparently the Legionnaires learn to date from ’50s Batman comics, which is both sad and hilarious. Overall very good, and continuing to raise my expectations for the series.

Star Wars: Empire #29 (written by Thomas Andrews, art by Adriana Melo) begins a 5-part storyline starring Luke and Leia. Their mission to convince a planet to join the Rebels is complicated by Anakin Skywalker’s history with the planet and its people. While this isn’t a bad plot, it’s not set up well, with the reader knowing before the characters do that things are going south. The characters are also not immediately recognizable — the characters in flashback don’t look 20 years younger; and Leia looks about 18 inches taller and a lot curvier than she should. However, once things get going they settle into an agreeable groove, and this could turn out to be a fine storyline.

Spider-Man/Human Torch #2 (written by Dan Slott, with art by Ty Templeton and Nelson): Flashing back to Peter and Johnny’s college days, Spidey joins the Fantastic Four on an extradimensional mission while the Torch fights Kraven the Hunter and stops drug smugglers. It’s all very wacky, but well done.

Fantastic Four #523 (written by Mark Waid, with art by Mike Wieringo and Karl Kesel) wraps up the Galactus storyline, but it’s not (as I had previously thought) Waid and ‘Ringo’s last issue. Because I didn’t know that, the end of this issue caught me off guard. However, up to that point things felt a little too pat, maybe even forced. Waid and Wieringo have developed a certain style on this book over the past few years, and that style carries the issue, although the plot itself is nothing too new and could be undone without too much difficulty. I’m still sorry to see them go and hope their actual last issue is a humdinger.

Now if you’ll indulge my SPOILER,

3

2

1

my friend suggested that the Galactus-energy might find its way into a female host; and at the risk of invoking tired female stereotypes, I thought this new “Gal”actus would be more of a destructive creator, wreaking havoc like an amped-up Genesis Device. We’ll see.

February 23, 2005

Who Should Be In The Justice League? Part 2: Show Your Work

Filed under: justice league — Tom Bondurant @ 11:49 pm
Continued from Part 1, natcherly.

The first test of the JLA’s membership came in 1984, when Aquaman disbanded and re-formed the team, leaving only himself, Elongated Man, Martian Manhunter, and Zatanna. They then recruited established character Vixen and new characters Gypsy, Vibe, and Steel II.

Vixen first appeared in Action Comics #521 (July ’81) and joined the League in Justice League of America Annual #2 (1984; let’s say Nov ’84 because the next regular issue was Dec ’84). This would give her 3 years and 5 months’ experience — not enough for the 4-year cutoff but more than Firestorm, Metamorpho, or Black Lightning. However, Vixen was also created by Gerry Conway, who was still the JLA writer in 1984. Therefore, Vixen (like Firestorm) is another case of nepotism.

If we wanted to be charitable, we could have a one-nepotistic-character-at-a-time rule and still justify Vixen’s membership, inasmuch as Conway had Firestorm leave the League before Vixen joined. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. Steel was the grandson of a hero from the 1940s, Commander Steel, who was (you guessed it) created in 1978 by Gerry Conway. Thus, although Steel was a “successor” (making him Trait 2 without being Trait 1), he was virtually nepotistic himself.

Regardless, it is probably easier to call Steel (and Gypsy and Vibe, Conway’s other new Leaguers) “inbred,” for being created specifically to join the Justice League by the then-current League writer. If this were any other team, the issue of “inbreeding” would probably not be questioned — again, why be a writer if you can’t create new characters? Given that until this point, all the Leaguers — including Firestorm — had been established and gained some experience elsewhere, though, this sudden influx of new blood was a radical departure from the book’s traditional format. It’s no wonder the second League (or “JLA Detroit,” after its new location) wasn’t well-received. JLA Detroit got about 2 1/2 years before Justice League of America was cancelled with #261 (April 1987).

The next incarnation of the team came just a month later, in Justice League #1 (May 1987). This Justice League (no qualifier) was basically a 6-month warmup for Justice League International. It marked a return to the book’s original intent, with all members being fairly well-known and many having concurrent titles of their own. This has pretty much been the rule since then, with most writers using only one inbred and one nepotistic character at a time. (Gerard Jones used a fair amount of his own characters, Grant Morrison used Aztek and Animal Man, and Joe Kelly created Faith and Manitou Raven for “The Obsidian Age.”)

To spare you a tedious summary of Justice League history since 1987, be assured that I’ve been doing a lot of research and math on the remaining members. By my count, there have been 79 regular Justice Leaguers in the group’s history. (This leaves aside one-shots like Antaeus, Moon Maiden, and Tomorrow Woman; and also the rotating members of the Justice League Task Force). Of those 79,

  • 15 have all 5 traits
  • 11 have 4
  • 13 have 3
  • 22 have 2
  • 6 have 1 (including three “nepotistic” members and two inbreds), and
  • 12 (the remaining inbreds) have none.
Therefore, excluding the nepotistic and inbred members, all but one JLAer — Maxima — have at least two of the five traits. If we lowered the experience requirement to 2.75 years, she would have two of the five traits and we could then use that as a rule for future members. However, again I prefer to keep the standards and say that all things being equal, Maxima probably should not have been in the Justice League. I know this is a controversial stand, much like the “Battlestar Galactica” stuff, but these things happen. The average experience score for the 60 non-nepotistic, non-inbred JLAers is 18 years and 6 months, which again fits with the “iconic” nature of the group.

If we add a sixth trait — worked with a JLAer prior to joining — it would apply to 39 members and change the above numbers as follows:

  • 3 members with all 6 traits
  • 18 with 5
  • 13 with 4
  • 27 with 3
  • 3 with 2 (Agent Liberty, Maxima, Vixen)
  • 3 with 1 (Firestorm and the inbred Amazing-Man II and Steel II), and
  • 12 (the remaining inbreds) with none
Again, every member with fewer than three of the six traits is either nepotistic, inbred, or Maxima.

So where does this leave us? It is safe to say that the first requirement for JLA membership is to be established — appearing in another title prior to joining. A prospective member should also have at least two of the other five traits —

  • Having an ongoing solo feature at the time of joining;
  • Being a successor to a previous hero;
  • Having a direct connection to the JSA either by membership or succession;
  • Having at least 4 years of pre-League experience/credit; and
  • Having worked with at least one League member prior to joining.
Of course, it is always possible for a character to be the benefit of either nepotism or inbreeding, and so get a “free pass” into the League. However, a writer should take care not to abuse these privileges (remember how Detroit turned out). How about an unofficial limit of two such characters, whether nepotistic or inbred?

Finally, I cracked open the ol’ DC Comics Encyclopedia looking for characters on which to test the system. Obviously all of these are established characters, so they only need one other trait to get in. Characters with “famous names,” like the new Supergirl and Firestorm, are pretty much no-brainers.

1. Adam Strange (first appeared Nov ’58, first worked with the JLA May ’62): There are two analyses depending on when Adam is evaluated, but either way he’s in. If he were offered membership in May 1962 (after Mystery In Space #75’s “The Planet That Came To A Standstill”), he wouldn’t have had the four years’ experience, but he would have had a current ongoing solo feature, which would have been enough. If he were offered membership today, he wouldn’t have the solo feature, but the experience would make up for it. He has also worked with the entire original League several times, starting with the aforementioned Mystery In Space #75. It probably doesn’t hurt that he was an honorary member of the original League.

2. Gangbuster (first appeared Nov ’87): He gets in based on experience (being first eligible in March 1991); and he was a fixture of the Superman books for several years.

3. Supergirl (Loeb/Turner edition) (first appeared May ’04; predecessor’s career May ’59-Oct ’85) is pretty much a shoo-in under this system. She is a “successor” — not to Kara Zor-El, ironically, but to the Peter David Supergirl; she has worked with Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman; and she would gain the benefit of Kara Zor-El’s pre-Crisis career (because she is basically the same character).

4. Firestorm II (first appeared July ’04; predecessor’s career March ’78-Oct ’04): The new Firestorm qualifies for being a successor and having the requisite experience credit, but I wouldn’t say he has worked with a Justice Leaguer yet. He was visited by a few, and is in the middle of an adventure with Firehawk, but Firehawk was never in the League as far as I remember. (She would qualify, though.)

5. Flamebird (first appeared in Secret Origins Annual #3, 1989; predecessor’s career Apr ’61-Dec ’77): Although she is a contemporary of Nightwing and is the post-Crisis incarnation of the original Bat-Girl, Flamebird doesn’t get in. She would be a successor with the requisite experience, but she hasn’t worked with a Leaguer. (The only one would be Nightwing, who was only in the League during “The Obsidian Age.”)

6. Knockout (first appeared Feb ’94): A boisterous woman with a strange connection to Apokolips, Knockout was a frequent guest-star in the 1990s Superboy book. She was last seen in Wonder Woman #175 (Dec ’01) as part of Circe’s army of villainesses. However, because her experience is the only thing going for her under this system, she isn’t qualified to join the Justice League.

7. The “Planet DC” characters: These heroes from various other countries all first appeared in DC’s 2000 Annuals. Therefore, each would have the requisite experience. However, evaluating whether a particular hero had worked with a Leaguer would depend on the Annual in which s/he appeared. By my reckoning, Aruna (who met Batman in Batgirl Annual #1); Boggart (Batman Annual #24); Sala (Green Lantern Annual #9); Janissary (JLA Annual #4); Acrata, El Muerto, and Iman (Superman Annual #12); and the members of Super-Malon (La Salamanca, Cachiru, El Yaguarette, Cimarron, El Lobizon, Pampero, El Bagual, and Vizacacha, all first appearing in Flash Annual #13) would all qualify. Nemesis II (JSA Annual #1) met Black Canary, but she has since been killed.

8. The Power Company: Each member of the Power Company first appeared in February 2002, except for Bork (Dec ’68). That experience alone wouldn’t be enough to qualify under the 4-year rule until February ’06. Still, Bork and Manhunter would have enough experience (Manhunter from his predecessor — Apr ’42-July ’44; Oct ’73-Nov ’74) to meet that requirement. Also, each member has worked with a Justice Leaguer (Firestorm, at the minimum, since he was part of the Power Company for a while). Therefore, Bork and Manhunter would qualify for League membership, but the others would have to wait until next year. Of course, creator Kurt Busiek could go “nepotistic” and sign up any Power Company member he created — assuming he hasn’t already sicced the Crime Syndicate on them….

Anyway, there it is. I’ve heard Busiek wants to expand the JLA, so I’ll be interested in who he chooses.


February 22, 2005

Who Should Be In The Justice League? or Hey Look! Paint Drying!

Filed under: justice league — Tom Bondurant @ 11:38 pm
Several years ago I read Bill James’ The Politics of Glory, about the selection process for the Baseball Hall of Fame. James discussed the shifting standards for admissions and proposed how to reform them. While I’m still not a baseball stats whiz, the book did inspire me to rough out a series of standards for admission into the Justice League of America. Now, thanks to the combination of writer’s block and Excel, my work may yet pay off — even if it’s only as an insomnia remedy….

(ahem)

More so than any other super-team, the Justice League is composed of icons. The Fantastic Four is a family, the X-Men are bound by genetics, and today’s Justice Society and Teen Titans apparently exist to carry on the legacies of their original members. Even the Avengers (until the recent unpleasantness) were selected to work together as a team, not necessarily for their name recognition.

The JLA is also unique in that for the most part, its members were already established characters. (Since the original League disbanded in 1984, about 18% of subsequent members were “inbred,” but we’ll get to that later.) Many of them had their own features concurrent with their League adventures.

This is true for all of the original JLAers — Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, the Flash, Green Lantern, and Martian Manhunter. Flash and GL were new versions of older heroes, and Martian Manhunter had been around for just over 4 years. Although, for all intents and purposes, Superman, Batman, Aquaman, and Wonder Woman had been continuously published, with no clear demarcation between their Golden and Silver Age versions, it’s probably more helpful to us to consider them successors too. Additionally, Flash, GL, and Wonder Woman’s Golden Age counterparts had been regular members of the Justice Society; and Superman and Batman were JSA reserves.

Among the charter JLAers, only Green Lantern lacked his own feature when he joined the League. GL was introduced in a 3-issue Showcase run from Sep ’59-Jan ’60; the JLA was introduced in Feb ’60; and GL got his own book in July ’60.

We can draw a few separate characteristics from these observations. Being 1) established is the only common trait, with a 2) concurrent ongoing solo feature being near-unanimous. One could also be 3) a successor; and might further have 4) a JSA predecessor. The question of 5) experience — probably best expressed in terms of publishing history — also comes into play.

How “experienced” are the League members? Again, let’s look at GL. The character of Green Lantern (that is, Alan Scott) had been published from 1940 to 1951; but the GL in the JLA was Hal Jordan, who first appeared in Showcase #22 (Sept-Oct 1959) shortly before the League’s first appearance in Brave & Bold#28 (Feb-Mar 1960). Hal was 1) an established 2) successor to 3) a JSAer, which objectively seems to have been enough to justify his induction. Still, he was in-between features at the time, and he was only a few months old besides. Thus, it may make more sense to give Hal (and similarly situated Leaguers) partial credit for their predecessors’ careers. If Hal could claim half of Alan’s tenure, he could add 5 1/2 years to his experience at the time of joining. This would make the Martian Manhunter the “youngest” Leaguer, at 4 years’ experience, and would give additional weight to the team’s “iconic” status:

  • Superman (June ’38-Feb ’60): 21 years, 8 months
  • Batman (May ’39-Feb ’60): 20 years, 9 months
  • Aquaman (Nov ’41-Feb ’60): 18 years, 3 months
  • Wonder Woman (Dec ’41-Feb ’60): 18 years, 2 months
  • Flash II (Golden Age Jan ’40-Feb ’51; Sep ’56-Feb ’60): 5 1/2 years + 3 years, 5 months = 8 years, 11 months
  • Green Lantern II (GA July ’40-Feb ’51; Sep ’59-Feb ’60): 5 1/4 years + 5 months = 5 years, 8 months
  • Martian Manhunter (Nov ’55-Feb ’60): 4 years, 3 months
Here it is for the later original Leaguers, again giving half-credit for predecessors where there is a clear break between incarnations:
  • Black Canary (Aug ’47-Nov ’69) = 22 years, 3 months
  • Hawkgirl II (GA Dec ’41-Feb ’49; Feb ’61-Sep ’77) = 3 years, 7 months + 16 years, 9 months = 20 years, 4 months
  • Green Arrow (first appearance Oct ’41, joined April ’61) = 19 1/2 years
  • Zatanna (Oct ’64-Dec ’78) = 14 years, 2 months
  • Elongated Man (April ’60-April ’73) = 13 years
  • Hawkman II (GA Jan ’40-Feb ’51; Feb ’61-Nov ’64) = 6 1/2 years + 3 years, 9 months = 10 years, 3 months
  • Atom II (Golden Age Oct ’40-Feb ’51; Sep ’61-Sep ’62) = 5 years + 1 year = 6 years
  • Red Tornado II (Aug ’68-July ’73) = 4 years, 11 months
  • Firestorm (March ’78-June ’80) = 2 years, 3 months
Firestorm’s 2 years and change is the minimum, Elongated Man’s 13 years is the median, and the mean works out to be about 12 1/2 years. (Similarly, the average for the original League was just under 14 years.) Because some members who joined sooner have a lower score than the longer-suffering members, this reflects more of an “it’s about time” factor. This is certainly true for Hawkgirl, but it also reflects the longevity (and relatively unchanged nature) of Black Canary and Green Arrow. Hawkman and Atom were sufficiently different from their Golden Age versions that they warranted the “partial credit” treatment.

Let’s go back to the other traits. Of the non-charter Leaguers, Green Arrow, Atom, Hawkman, Hawkgirl, and (arguably) Zatanna were successors to Golden Age heroes; and Black Canary and Red Tornado were themselves members of the Justice Society. Naturally, because the JSA was the JLA’s inspiration, giving a preference to a member who would make the League look more like the JSA seems appropriate. It may be worth noting that Elongated Man, Hawkgirl, and Zatanna had also worked with other Leaguers prior to joining, but I don’t feel like drawing a trait out of that.

Therefore, I see five traits, at least two of which apply to almost every original Justice Leaguer:

  1. Being established (appearing in another title before joining the League);
  2. Having a concurrent ongoing solo feature (appearing there at joining);
  3. Being a successor to a previous hero (including continuing one’s own Golden Age career);
  4. Having a direct connection to the JSA either by membership or succession; or
  5. Having at least 4 years of pre-League experience/credit.
Specifically,
  • All five traits: Atom II, Batman, Flash II, Green Arrow, Hawkman II, Superman, Wonder Woman
  • 1, 2, 3, 5: Aquaman
  • 1, 2, 4, 5: Martian Manhunter
  • 1, 3, 4, 5: Green Lantern II, Hawkgirl II, Red Tornado II
  • 1, 4, 5: Black Canary
  • 1, 3, 5: Zatanna
  • 1, 5: Elongated Man
  • 1: Firestorm
Each hero is evaluated using the circumstances under which s/he joined the team. Thus, Black Canary is not considered a successor, because when she joined she was still the original (with retcons yet to come). I am also not considering later retcons involving Wonder Woman, Superman, or the Hawks.

Firestorm, the odd man out with only one of the 4 traits, is a case of “nepotism” — his co-creator, Gerry Conway, was also the Justice League writer who inducted him. While I don’t think writers should be free to stack the League with their characters, I do believe there should be an allowance. Furthermore, although Firestorm’s statistics may be helpful and/or illustrative, he gets a “nepotistic” pass, so ultimately they don’t matter. Besides, I don’t feel like lowering the four-year experience bar just for Firestorm, because one of the perks of being the JLA writer should be getting to use the characters you created elsewhere. You shouldn’t overdo it, but you should have a reasonable opportunity.

Firestorm also has less than four years’ experience, which is nevertheless comparable with the two characters who declined membership in the original League. Metamorpho first appeared in December 1964 and declined in February 1966 (14 months); and Black Lightning first appeared in April 1977 and declined in December 1979 (2 years, 8 months). Each would also have had only one of the four traits, being neither successors nor JSA members.

Now, I went ahead and started trying this system on new and old DC characters, but it pretty much let everyone in. Basically, I postulated that two of the five traits were enough, because Elongated Man only had two of the five. (He’s joined by 25** more of the 79 Leaguers to date.) However, any character I could imagine would be 1) established and 2) either a successor or sufficiently experienced (including using a predecessor’s career credit). Thus, the system would only exclude established characters who were not successors and who had first appeared later than cover-date May 2001.

In other words, it’s not exclusionary enough. Guess I’ll keep working out the bugs….

* All dates come either from the DCU Guide or GCD. The DC Cosmic Teams site was also a big help.

** Other notable members with only 2/5 traits include Big Barda, Booster Gold, Fire and Ice, Lightray, Metamorpho, Mr. Miracle, Orion, Plastic Man, and Rocket Red.

February 19, 2005

Battlestar Galactica — still only half good

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom Bondurant @ 6:22 pm
[SPOILERS for last night’s show, and for others too.]

Last week the Sci-Fi channel did one of its daytime marathons on “Battlestar Galactica.” You may remember that on the original show, Starbuck or Apollo would crash-land on some random planet that still happened to be inhabited by humans, and at the end S. or A. would return to the rag-tag fugitive fleet, leaving the people behind on the planet. I’m thinking of the Old West planet where a Cylon was the local strongman’s hired gun; or the smuggler who tricked Starbuck out of the experimental Viper.

I might be wrong, but I’m not sure the fleet ever made a point to tell these people that the Galactica and its charges were fleeing from Cylon tyranny and on a lonely quest, etc., and by the way would any of them like a ride so the Cylons didn’t exterminate them like they did the other 12 colonies? At those moments “Battlestar Galactica” clearly strayed from its original premise, which was to get every human in its corner of the galaxy the heck away from the Cylons.

The new “Galactica” never lets you forget its premise. There will be no Old West planets or comical smugglers on this show for the foreseeable future. Instead, it’s been a grim sequence of events, charged with emotion and the drama of the human condition.

Oh, and also a lot of sex. Starbuck had sex with Zac. Boomer 1 was having sex with Tyrol, but they broke up after Tyrol was thought to be a Cylon agent. Last night Boomer 2 had Cylon red-spine sex with Helo. Billy, the President’s aide, lusts after Dualla. And, of course, Number Six had both real and virtual sex with Baltar, the oh-so-tormented scientist who basically opened the door for the destruction of civilization. Baltar’s basic plot has involved trying not to call attention to how insane he acts because he has an ostensibly hott invisible blonde licking his ear and reminding him of his many betrayals. Twitching with barely repressed sexual tension, as if he’ll have an ejaculatory explosion at any moment, he’s still basically Darrin Stevens or Major Tony Nelson played straight.

But we can’t hate Baltar, the show seems to say! Look how wracked with guilt he is! He wants to be good, but he’s apparently o.d.’d on what American Flagg! called Foreignade (TM) — “puts your mind in mothballs and your gonads in gear.”

Last night was the episode where Baltar Gets His. The basic plot felt ripped from the climax of the Kevin Costner/Gene Hackman movie No Way Out, with a race against time before a photographic blur gets analyzed to the point it incriminates our protagonist. I am so, so tired of Baltar and his tragicomic ways that not only did I want him to be found out (as his 1970s ancestor was), I wanted him hung out to dry. But like so many episodes where Gilligan at the last minute screwed up a rescue yet again, Baltar was exonerated and his tiresome subplot lives on.

The new “Galactica” makes a point to show that Baltar is a more interesting character because he’s not all Snidely Whiplash evil like his predecessor. However, while the old show started out with Baltar on a Cylon base-ship sending squadrons after Galactica, he was eventually captured and the show found other adversaries — among them, the millions of Cylons who still wanted to Kill All Humans. It would be more suspenseful at this point for the new “Galactica” to find something evil for Baltar to do, because right now he’s more of a sideshow than a threat.

In fact, this show is starting to remind me of the early “X-Files” in the way it can portray dangers without actually taking a lot of effort to showthem. In the seven episodes aired in the U.S. since the miniseries, the robotic Cylons have only been villains in two — “33,” when they showed up regularly to torment the fleet and kept it from sleeping; and “Act of Contrition,” when a small group of Cylons shot up Starbuck’s Viper. (And even then, the Cylons were only secondary to the conflicts among Starbuck, Apollo, and Adama, which continued in “You Can’t Go Home Again.”) In “Water” and “Litmus,” humanoid Cylon agents were the antagonists, and in “Bastille Day,” it was terrorists aboard a prison ship. Of course, there is the ongoing Boomer 2/Helo plot on Caprica, which is one of the new show’s innovations I am really enjoying — partly because it involves the robotic Cylons trying to kill the humans. In short, the new show’s message seems to be “we can do the ships better, and the space stuff is more realistic, and our sets look cooler, and we’ve got CGI Cylons — but most of every show is going to feature our main cast arguing with each other.”

It’s tempting to say that the past and present “Galactica”s are apples and oranges. The old show was a Sunday-night action-adventure, with fightin’ and shootin’ every week. The destruction of the Colonies was just the catalyst for the ships to head out into the universe so they could run across Old West planets and Nazi pastiches. The new show is more of a Drama, with serious looks at how realistic characters would react to the apocalypse. It’s The Stand in space, with killer androids instead of a disease.

Still, while the old show could have used more realism, this new one could sure use more fantasy. If I want to see pretty people arguing every week, there’s always “ER.”

February 18, 2005

(Late) New Comics Reviews, 2/9/05 and 2/16/05

There’s a lot of ground to cover, so I’ll try to be brief for each of these.

THE WORLD OF GEOFF JOHNS

Green Lantern Rebirth #4 pretty much is what it is. If you see deep emotional resonances in the cover (Green Arrow wielding a GL ring, and standing over the unconscious Kyle Rayner), you’ll appreciate the book. Reading this issue, I realized that Johns had already done most of the heavy lifting to explain the whole Parallax thing, so this issue’s dose of plot was much easier to take. As for the art, it seems a little less disciplined than it has in the first few issues, and some of the characters look oddly proportioned, but nothing inexcusable. I like the Green Lantern mythology, so I continue to enjoy this series.

Speaking of Green Arrow, he’s in Teen Titans #21, captured by Dr. Light as part of Light’s revenge on the Titans for humiliating him in the past. It’s also the new Speedy’s first day with the Titans, which means there’s a lot of exposition both about her and about the team. (Oddly enough, there’s a one-panel shot of the Wolfman/Perez Titans which features both Terra and Jericho. Given the circumstances under which Terra “left” and Jericho joined, that image couldn’t have existed. I’d have expected more from a continuity cop….) Anyway, Light’s characterization is pretty decent, so he becomes the most interesting character in the book. The storyline has potential, so I’ll see where it’s going.

Finally, JSA #70 continues the trip to the ’50s, where apparently there was a lot of racism. Now, I don’t mean to be flip about the subject, but why do both of the black Justice Socialites have to be chased by angry white people? That’s just lazy plotting. Anyway, this felt a lot like a middle-issue plot-advancement installment, so much so that I couldn’t tell whether the JSA was winning or not. For suspense to be built, shouldn’t there be some sense that the good guys are losing?

I must mention Johns going meta on the reader when he has Degaton say “Even now, forces are at work. Retrofitting continuity. Forces like me.” Way to be self-aware, Geoff. As for my own future with JSA, I see paperbacks….

JUSTICE LEAGUE

JLA #111 really picks up the pace of “Syndicate Rules.” It features a titanic battle between the two teams, and it connects the Qward subplot more firmly with the main plot. (The Qward subplot feels in hindsight a little like “Mageddon” from the last Morrison arc, but that’s probably just superficial.) Kurt Busiek has really brought the big-event scope back to the Justice League. This issue felt like the best of his Avengers work, and that’s saying a lot. However, Ron Garney’s art is almost up to the task, but occasionally falls short. His Superman and Ultraman are particularly hard to tell apart, and sometimes his approach is a little too sketchy and impressionistic (probably misusing that term) for a story with such cosmic elements. Still, this is the best JLA has been since Mark Waid left.

JLA Classified #4, Part 1 of “I Can’t Believe It’s Not The Justice League!”, is pretty much “All-Star Justice League.” It will mystify and possibly infuriate the continuity-minded, but it’s still good clean fun from the old Justice League International team of Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, and Kevin Maguire. The plot, such as it is, involves a supervillain opening a bar next door to the Super Buddies’ headquarters, but the issue is an extended series of character-based comedy bits and rapid-fire one-liners. It’s about as good as the first issue of its predecessor, Formerly Known As The Justice League, and if that’s any indication, this six-parter should be quite a hoot.

BATMAN

Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight and Batman: Gotham Knights are both books which have strayed from their original missions. For many years, LOTDK was “All-Star Batman,” an anthology book which told stories that didn’t have to follow continuity. (I kept waiting for the definitive “sci-fi ’50s Batman” story in its pages, but no such luck.) Similarly, Gotham Knights was the book where Batman teamed up with Robin, Nightwing, Batgirl, Oracle, and the other spun-off characters. No more. Now both tell garden-variety in-continuity solo Batman stories, which makes me wonder how they differ from the flagships Batman and Detective.

Anyway, LOTDK‘s current Riddler arc reaches its penultimate chapter in issue #188, with Batman racing through a security system to reach a MacGuffin before the Riddler can. There’s some more intriguing psychological issues explored with regard to the Riddler’s motivation, and the Batman stuff is decent too. Still, the arc so far has been up and down and I’m waiting until the end to see how it all plays out.

Gotham Knights‘ arc involves Poison Ivy’s “children,” who apparently are the subject of a big military-industrial conspiracy to make them super-soldiers, or some such. It’s not as bad as A.J. Lieberman’s other Batman work, but it all feels very familiar. The focus on Ivy’s origin also gives me flashbacks to the Batman & Robin movie, which is never a good association for a Batman title.

Now, in terms of origins, Batman: The Man Who Laughs, written by Ed Brubaker with art by Doug Mahnke, is a faan-tastic updating of the first Joker story from Batman #1. Mahnke draws one of the best — and creepiest — Jokers I’ve seen in a very long time, and Brubaker uses the restrictions of continuity to his advantage. (The conceit is that this is Batman’s first “supervillain,” and he has to adjust from facing gangsters and street thugs.) My one complaint is that this could have been a $3.50 Batman Annual, instead of a $6.95 Prestige Format special — but I guess nobody does Annuals anymore. Probably still worth the $6.95.

Retroactive continuity continues in Nightwing #103, with Part 3 of “Nightwing: Year One.” In this issue Dick Grayson goes back to Haly’s Circus and runs into the Brand brothers, one of whom is dead. Scott McDaniel draws a suitably eerie Deadman (and Deadman-inhabited people), and the issue as a whole is fun, but it basically just tells the origin of Nightwing’s costume. There’s also a brief scene with Donna “Wonder Girl” Troy that further reinforces her role as the Monica Geller of the New Teen Titans.

Finally, Gotham Central #28 kicks off “Keystone Kops,” an arc involving a member of the Flash’s Rogues’ Gallery. Written by Greg Rucka and drawn by Stefano Gaudiano, it goes more deeply into the superhero/villain elements than the book has been for a while. It almost feels like last week’s “Alias,” where you wondered if Sydney would actually have to fight a vampire, even though vampires weren’t “real” despite the show’s other fantastic conceits. Still a good read, and it will be fun to see how the GC crew handles the world of “real” superpowers.

SUPERMAN

Action Comics #825 is the penultimate installment of the Preus storyline. I shouldn’t have a problem with the general plot, because it sounds like an exciting setup — Superman is aged prematurely, and therefore weaker; Preus is at full strength; and Doomsday is once again causing all kinds of trouble in Metropolis. In fact, it’s executed fairly well, because the issue is one big fight between Supes and Preus. Still, the entirety of Austen’s run (and I presume this issue was written by Austen, under a pen name) seems to have been Superman fighting somebody and getting unexpectedly beaten down by them, only to come back stronger and madder. It’s like having 9 cleanup hitters in your lineup. Thank goodness for Ivan Reis and Marc Campos’ art.

Adventures of Superman #637 keeps the Ruin arc going, but brings in almost-forgotten supporting characters Jimmy Olsen and Pete Ross. (Professor Hamilton comes back for a cameo too.) There’s also a revelation about who shot Lois in “Iraq.” Greg Rucka’s script is on a par with his Wonder Woman work, but I think what’s distracting me is the art. Matthew Clark is a fine artist and does a good job with the material, but I’m not sure that his style — which is very clean, thin, and active — is a good fit for the subtleties that Rucka puts into the scripts. We’ll see if things change when Karl Kerschl comes aboard in the next couple of months.

MARVEL

Incredible Hulk #77 is Part 2 of the Peter David/Lee Weeks “Tempest Fugit” story. I really like Weeks’ art — very moody and almost expressionistic, but grounded in reality. It suits David’s script, which builds the mystery while maintaining his trademark sense of humor. As with part 1, the action bounces between Bruce’s childhood and the present-day island adventure. I’ve been out of the Hulk loop for the past 4 years or so, but I felt right at home with this story.

Captain America #3, by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting (with art help from Michael Lark) advances the latest Red Skull/Cosmic Cube storyline, although no one in the story has made fun of the villainous A.I.D. acronym. Cap and Sharon Carter go to London and Paris tracking the bad guys, and Cap (horrors!) sticks up for the French along the way. Very nice retro-’60s feel to the whole affair, with kudos to the colors of Frank D’Armata (who gets cover credit) for enhancing Epting and Lark’s linework. Epting in particular does a great job with an aerial fight sequence. I’m sticking around as long as these guys do.

Astonishing X-Men #8, by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday, is basically another Sentinel fight with a subplot involving the X-Kids. I’m sure there are deeper meanings and subtexts to which I, not being a longtime X-fan, am blind, but there you go. Cassaday does draw a very spooky Sentinel, though.

(Whew!)

Now, about this 100-thing list….

February 7, 2005

At least they went boldly

Filed under: star trek — Tom Bondurant @ 4:45 pm
[This post originates from the York County (VA) Public Library. Saa-lute!]

Bender: Why is [Star Trek] so important to you?

Fry: ‘Cause it taught me so much. Like how you should accept people, whether they be black, white, Klingon, or even female. But most importantly, when I didn’t have any friends, it made me feel like I did.

Leela: Well, that is touchingly pathetic.

Futurama, “Where No Fan Has Gone Before”

“Enterprise” is cancelled, and I’m sad but not surprised. Star Trek hadn’t really been viable for about 10 years. (Yes, UPN is 10 years old; “Voyager” launched it on January 15, 1995.) There are probably several reasons why the franchise as a whole has petered out, but unfortunately for “Enterprise” it had started to tell really good, involved stories which advanced both the characters’ arcs and the larger story about the Federation’s origins. Thus, the sadness from me.

Still, given that Star Trek began as the little show cancelled before its time (to make room for “Laugh-In” — oh, the indignity!), it’s hard to shed too many tears for the 10 movies and 25 seasons’ worth of TV which followed. There is a bit of deja vu with “Enterprise”‘s situation, but it still got one year more than the original did.

Of course, you have to wonder how long it will take for the next Trek series to come along, and what form it will take. Sounds like another post, doesn’t it? Trek is somewhat unique in that it included not only pre- and post-Kirk Enterprises, but also entirely new ships and settings spun out of the basic format. It was no longer just “the voyages of the starship Enterprise,” but a more meta examination of how “real people” would react in the Pollyannic ideal postulated by Gene Roddenberry.

See, Trek‘s macro story has always been humanity’s reaction to the dangers and wonders it would encounter as it explored space. It tests whether we can uphold our high standards of conduct in a realm where they may no longer apply. It’s more than just navel-gazing about how many decks the ship has or whether one captain is better than another. If anything, “Enterprise”‘s premature demise will allow us remaining fans (fewer than Democrats, apparently) to do what Trekkies do best — take a step back, examine the franchise as a whole, and immerse ourselves in a future filled with promise. Besides, according to Futurama, there’s a religion to found….

February 4, 2005

How do you honor the original?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom Bondurant @ 4:52 pm
(Today’s post is made possible by Computer #7 — Liberty Bell 7? — at the Virgil I. Grissom branch of the Newport News Public Library.)

Monday night I stayed up to watch David Letterman’s tribute to his mentor and greatest hero, Johnny Carson. Dave talked to Peter Lassally, who executive-produced The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson for most of its run. The musical guests were Carson’s musicians Doc Severinsen, Tommy Newsom, and Ed Shaughnessy.

It’s no secret that Letterman idolized Carson and did his best to emulate Johnny. He said as much that night, observing that while Johnny didn’t invent the late-night talk show, he sure perfected it. Now every show of this kind uses a desk and a couch, with maybe a cityscape behind the host, and opens with a monologue and a couple of comedy bits. Letterman’s own “CBS Orchestra” (which on NBC was The World’s Most Dangerous Band) is a reference to Carson’s “NBC Orchestra.”

So basically the show was a tribute to this giant of television, characterized by Letterman as “like a public utility” in the sense that no matter what else was going on in the world, we all wanted Johnny Carson to “tuck us in” at the end of the day. The whole thing was very moving without being maudlin.

And yet here was an hour’s worth of air time devoted to nostalgia and memorial. My embryonic critic within, which is now used to asking “how does this advance the medium,” was on alert. If Johnny Carson perfected the late-night talk show, and (as Letterman said in a statement right after Carson’s death) everyone who followed him is just a “pretender,” how should he be honored?

Letterman did it by remembering a friend and resurrecting, if only for one show, the trappings of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. The CBS Orchestra played “Johnny’s Theme” and all the monologue jokes had been written by Carson (who had been sending Letterman jokes for a little while). Dave showed clips of Johnny from both Letterman shows, and an extended clip from a 1986 Tonight Show where Johnny stole Dave’s truck.

I stopped watching Jay Leno’s Tonight Show soon after he took over. When Jay appeared on Late Night With David Letterman, he was hilarious; but forced into the more restrictive Tonight Show, he lost something. He definitely stopped being funny, at least to me. He seemed more workmanlike, milking jokes that got laughs until he squeezed the humor out of them. Over the years, nothing NBC did to advertise the show made me think he was doing anything more than pleasing the lowest common denominator — for example, the Dancing Itos. Jay Leno never wanted either to ride Johnny Carson’s coattails or be stuck in his shadow, but to me, despite his eventual success, he never seemed like more than a caretaker. After Johnny made The Tonight Show his own, he left it to someone who was unwilling or unable to go beyond its basic format.

Letterman, of course, had already made his reputation at 12:30 a.m., and only toned things down a little when he moved to 11:35 p.m. on CBS. Consider that 1986 clip of Johnny stealing Dave’s truck. It was, in fact, a prank worthy of Letterman’s elevator races or Velcro suit — the Tonight Show cameras filming this dingy old pickup and towing it away, only to unveil it onstage and embarrass Letterman further. However, where Letterman laughed and sputtered throughout, Johnny was perfectly calm and collected; and when the two walked over to the truck at the end of the bit, you could see that while Johnny was immaculate in his blazer and khakis, Dave’s outfit was undercut by his Adidas sneakers and white socks. At 12:30 on NBC, Dave was still the understudy, so when he put away the Adidas for the earlier timeslot, it wasn’t so much a concession to taste as it was a recognition that he had to grow up a little. I’ll be interested to see how Conan O’Brien changes when he takes over The Tonight Show in a couple of years.

(Speaking of Conan, he probably handled being Letterman’s successor better than anyone. His first show began with an inspired sequence of friends and passersby both wishing Conan well and muttering that he’d never be as funny as Dave.)

So how did the critic within evaluate Letterman’s Monday-night show? I thought it was entirely appropriate, given Letterman’s love of his mentor and long association with him. I will always consider David Letterman to be Johnny Carson’s true successor, because while he respected Carson tremendously, he built on what Carson had established. I am finding out that I walk a fine line with nostalgia, between wanting to preserve what is important and learning when to jettison what no longer works. Letterman used the Tonight Show format for his own experiments in television, and when he was passed over as Tonight Show host, simply adapted his own show accordingly.

What’s this have to do with my beloved superhero comics, whose current creators have to deal with decades-old legacies? Beats me….

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