Monday, February 26, 2007

Danger! Haney at work!

There are some comics that really need to come with a warning label. Labels like "Remove brain before reading" or "Attempting to understand this comic could seriously damage your sanity".

Some of Grant Morrison's more surreal works can give you a headache if you try to make sense of them, but Morrison at his most peculiar rarely comes close to the distilled nuttiness of Roberts Kannigher and Haney. I've just started reading the Showcase Brave and the Bold collection and I'm not even to the end of the first story and I'm looking for some asprin.

The first comic in the collection is a time travel story written as stream of consciousness. Cause and effect are not only reversed and sent sideways, but retconned three pages later to be a flock of hammers. Important story elements are added as required without any effort to integrate them earlier in the story. People use ill defined powers to do unnecessary and bizarre things. And it is absolutely stuffed to the gills with sense of wonder.

It's difficult to get yourself in the right frame of mind for this kind of comic. It doesn't have the clever, sophisticated stuff we look for in the medium nowadays. It doesn't have complex motivation or political subtext. It has no repurcussions beyond the final page of the story, and nobody's world is changed forever. But if you can read it without adult preconceptions of what makes a good story, or even makes sense, you could have a really fun time.

I'm looking forward to the rest of the book.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Justice once

Showcase Presents The Justice League of America volume #1.

I wanted to compare the treatment of Aqualad and Wonder Girl in Teen Titans with their adult counterparts in early Justice League, but it took me a while to work up the energy to read the Justice League Showcase collection. Gardner Fox is not my favourite silver age writer, and if there was ever a poll of DC's all time most annoying character, you can bet that Snapper Carr would be a contender.

On the other hand I am surprised how much I warmed up to Bob Haney after a few issues of Teen Titans, and I can hardly believe I didn't like Robert Kanigher when I first encountered his work, so maybe some intense study of early JLA would help me find the fun a third time.

500 pages later I am still not much of a fan of Gardner Fox, but the volume wasn't quite the chore I had expected, and Snapper Carr doesn't appear enough to be more than an irritant. The plots are formulaic and dumb, but provide enough entertainment, often for the wrong reasons, that you don't completely glaze over.

As with the Batman volume, the stories often suffer from the "Schwartz cover" effect. That is, editor Julius Schwartz commissions an exciting cover and then hands it to the writer to tell a story around, but then doesn't seem to care how the cover image is shoehorned in. The result often being that the cover scene is a ludicrously contrived moment in an otherwise unrelated plot. Which is disappointing, as the covers, often very intruiging or exciting, promise so much, but deliver so little.

The cover to JLA #1, for example: an alien plays a strange boardgame against the Flash, with the rest of the team at stake. Except that in the story the entire thing is fixed and it's just an excuse for the alien to transport them all away which he could have done anyway as they were already within his power.

But back to my original motivation for reading the book. How does Gardner Fox's treatment of Wonder Woman and Aquaman compare to Bob Haney's use of their counterparts in Teen Titans?

Aquaman is less obviously useless because of the nature of the stories. Where Teen Titans is given a realistic setting, the JLA are usually thrown into a fantasy landscape, so tailoring part of it to suit Fishguy is less blatant. Plus the formula plot usually involves each member of the team being transported to an environment designed specifically for them, either on another planet or an alternate dimension.

Wonder Woman is not singled out in any way. There is even less characterisation in JLA than there is in Teen Titans, which hardly seems possible, but it's true. There are no distinguishing voices, and many of the team are differentiated by a single ability: Aquaman talks to fish, Wonder Woman has a rope, Flash runs fast, Green Arrow shoots stuff. These characteristics are applied to every possible situation. Green Arrow can't put handcuffs on a subdued villain without using a handcuff arrow, Aquaman can't make a cup of tea without the assistance of his fishy friends. Beyond that their abilities are a bit vague.

In Post-Crisis/Pre-Infinite Crisis Wonder Woman was retconned out of being a founder member of the JLA, which is little ironic when you read the original comics, where you find that she was the only one of the big three who put in serious time on the team. On the occasions when Superman and Batman actually do show up, they often find excuses to disappear for the bulk of the story.

It gets so bad that even the villains start to notice.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Go Go Gail!

In a recent interview, Gail Simone said:

Are you doing anything involving Dr.Light II (Kimiyo Hoshi) either in BOP or in something else?

A: Not right away, but I do have some ideas for how to renovate her character a little…

Which suggests to me that nobody else has called dibs on Kimiyo in the near future, or has any plans to tell the great story of her comeback.

That's okay. I'd rather wait a year for Gail Simone than get Judd Winick now.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Dear Kara....

I saw this and thought of you.

From Millie the Model #26 (1951)

Misogynist advertising again

First I couldn't drink Coca Cola, and now I can't eat burgers.

The Burger King ad for their double whopper has been around for a few months, but after disappearing for a while it's back on british TV. This involves a parody of the feminist anthem I am Woman sung by a lot of men who are so pissed off at having to do girly things like eat in civilised restaurants that they band together and run riot in the streets, smashing up cars and stuffing their faces with 990 calorie burgers.

Now microwave burger merchants Rustlers have jumped on the bandwagon with straplines that sound like leftovers from the Coke Zero ads in a new TV advert that involves a guy bringing a girl home. The clearly uncomfortable girl says she can only stay for a coffee. He goes into the kitchen and taps on a keypad next to a hatch that opens onto the other room, creating a frame that makes it look as though the girl is in a microwave. The couch on which the girl is sitting then revolves like a microwave plate and she transforms into a seductive lingerie model. The slogan being something along the lines of "If only women could go from not interested to hot to trot in 70 seconds without you making any effort, just like our tacky burgers."

Edit: While I was looking for the ad on Youtube I found another version where the revolving girl is replaced by a inflateable sex doll. Otherwise it is identical to the original. I have no idea where this comes from, but if it was a self-parody by the original ad makers intended to undercut the misogyny of the original it might work better if they ever actually showed it.

EDIT 2: I also found an Australian Coke Zero ad that has the same message as the UK version but without the misogynistic aspects. In fact it makes an effort to be female-inclusive.

EDIT 3: Huh?

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Continuity Spaggetti

I realise that the absurd lateness of Wonder Woman means that all the questions of identity in the current storyline are old news in every other comic where she appears, but I'm curious where Atom fits in, since Dr Zeul (Giganta) appears to have a legitimate career in Ivytown, which must predate her being a known villain in Wonder Woman, which (initially) was published first. Either it's another multiverse thing (an all purpose excuse for continuity screwups right now, which is just as well given how many there are at the moment), or it's a symptom of Ivytown weirdness. Either way I'd like even a bad explanation somewhere.

And no, DC, the answer is not to have yet another fucking 'event' to explain it all away.

Since the writers appear to be incapable of this stuff, how about you hire someone to oversee each comic and check that if they are using characters that also appear in other titles that the various appearances fit together. This person could also be given the responsibility of ensuring that the comic was completed on schedule. You could even fire the current editor on most comics and give them the same office. I don't think anyone would notice the loss.


I tried to like Kara 2.0, I really did.

But the suckyness wore me down. Every time I was on the point of giving it up as a bad job, I'd hear that the current writer or artist was going to be replaced and I gave it one more go. I did actually quit after #12 when it became apparent that Joe Kelly was too little, too late, and we were stuck with Ian Churchill. I only read #14 because it featured Batgirl.

This was a mistake. The in-joke of having Kara dress in Linda/animated Supergirl's white costume was painfully unfunny, and simply served to remind long time readers how this previous wearer of the cape had been quietly erased from continuity - even Pantha went out fighting. Ian Churchill's big chin/snap like a twig ankles style seemed worse than ever, but maybe it's just because I've been reading too many comics where the characters have less ludicrous proportions.

But Batgirl?

Wait, I think I've got it. It's that multiverse thing again, isn't it. I mean I totally called the two Luthors before it was revealed, so maybe they are doing the same trick again. Originally there was good Batgirl. Then we were told that she went bad (Robin #151) to lead the League of Assassins and get revenge on her father because she found she had a sister (no, it doesn't make any sense), and stopped wearing the costume. But in Teen Titans #43 we are given a whole different explanation about her being mind controlled by Deathstroke. No mention of the League, and she's in costume. In Supergirl #14 she's back to running the League but she is wearing her costume. There's at least two different Batgirls here. Possibly three.

Oh, and there's apparently a story running in one of the Batman titles where the League is being run by someone else. Does anyone at DC talk to anyone else at all?

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Random manga

A few years ago, when I was into manga and there wasn't much of it about, I'd pick up a few random collections from the Japan Centre when I was in London, purely because the art styles interested me. I hadn't thought about them in years, but I ran across a couple of the volumes today and thought I'd share.

Balancer is an action adventure story, with the twist that the beautiful heroine is in fact a little old lady who is able to transform into a supermodel. It looks like great fun.

Karuizawa Syndrome is altogether stranger. Even with so much manga now under the bridge it still looks odd. The art style varies from realistic to chibi so much the characters bounce up and down like yoyos, sometimes even in the same panel. It appears to follow a group of characters who are possibly early twenties, though they spend so much time in chibi mode it's hard to tell. They drive hyper realistic cars and motorbikes, have chibi sex, and a couple of them seem to be nazis.

As far as I know neither of these series have ever been translated. But I guess neither exactly fit into what american publishers look for in a manga.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Robin's gang

I haven't been a big follower of Teen Titans in its various incarnations, but the team has always seemed like Robin's gang. Doesn't matter who is Robin, it's his team.

So I'm just a little sad that Steph didn't get to be Robin long enough to get that issue of Teen Titans where she's in charge.

Teamups we'd like to see for the sheer silliness #2

All irregularities will be handled by the forces controlling each dimension. Transuranic, heavy elements may not be used where there is life. Medium atomic weights are available: Gold, Lead, Copper, Jet, Diamond, Radium, Sapphire, Silver and Steel.

Sapphire and Steel have been assigned.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

About damn time

The announcement that tells us of the Batgirl Showcase collection also lists, a month later, the following:

Writer: Robert Kanigher
Artists: Ross Andru and Mike Esposito
Collects stories from WONDER WOMAN #98-117
$16.99 US, 528 pages

So the third member of "The Big Three" finally gets a Showcase collection after Superman, Batman, The Atom, Hawkman, Phantom Stranger, Metamorpho, Martian Manhunter, Adam Strange, Flash, Green Lantern, Superman again, Batgirl, Jimmy Olsen, Batman again, Green Arrow, Elongated Man, Shazam, Green Lantern again, Aquaman, Challengers of the Unknown, and The Haunted Tank. Oh yes, that's really showing the love.

Having said that, this collection is exactly what I wanted in a WW Showcase and I am hugely excited about it. It collects the never in 40 years reprinted before in any form first silver age issues of Wonder Woman starting from #98, where Ross Andru and Mike Esposito took over the art, and opens with the wonderfully deranged origin retelling that contains elements which no later origin story ever dared acknowledge. This volume also introduces Wonder Girl and (I think) Wonder Tot, but they don't get to team up with Wonder Woman until a while later. This is Robert Kanigher at his loopiest, so check your brain at the door and sit back and enjoy the pretty colours.

Yes, I know it's a black and white collection. Trust me.

Batgirl Returns

I haven't commented on the recent ups and downs in the life of Cassandra Cain. I hadn't been reading her own title for a while before it ended, although I did take a look at the last couple of issues when I heard about the fuss. I also read the issues of Robin where she is transformed into a villain.

My own theory was that the talk of David Cain training other girls was a clue, and that this chatty villain was going to turn out to be Cassie's evil twin. I mean it obviously wasn't Cass.

Sadly, I find that my guess was wrong and that it was Cass; just a very badly written Cass, who behaved and talked nothing like the character I knew.

But somewhere up at DC, whoever was responsible for this villainisation got overruled and Teen Titans #43 gives us an explanation that allows Cass to return to the good guys' team. It's a bad explanation, which doesn't begin to cover the changes that were made to her in Robin, and it's all about abuse and mind control, but I see a lot of fans happy to accept it because it gives them Cass back.

This in turn has prompted a reaction to happy feminist fans of Batgirl that can be summed up as "Oh, so it's okay to have a story of abuse towards women when it suits you, is it?" To which the answer is "No, but this bad thing fixed something that was worse. We do not cheer the bad fix, we cheer that the worse thing is gone."

In other Batgirl news, I'm intrigued to find announcement of a Showcase Presents Batgirl collection. This is an innovative move on the part of DC collecting the adventures of a character who never had their own strip*. So Yay! to DC for thinking outside the box, but a Wha? for picking this as their first collection starring a female character, and when there are so many great silver age comics waiting on dusty shelves that are being passed over in favour of obscure war comics and this collection of guest appearances.

Which is not to say that I won't be first in the queue for this book. It's a great collection and contains one of my favourite silver age comics ever.

*Okay, she did have a brief solo strip in the anthology Batman Family title, but it's not included in this collection.