Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Moffat Regeneration

Spoilers for Doctor Who, particularly the episode Let's Kill Hitler.

Steven Moffat wrote some of the best New Who, and personal favourites like The Empty child/The Doctor Dances and Blink[1] and yet my enjoyment of the series as a whole has been in a downward spiral since he was put in charge.

The only explanation that makes any sense to me is that around the time Moffat took control of Doctor Who, he regenerated into Jeph Loeb.  The hallmarks are all there; the focus on superficial spectacle over solid story, guest stars shoehorned in at every opportunity, regardless of whether it screws with established continuity[2] or is remotely appropriate to the plot.  Convoluted stories that don't work if you think about them at all...

The kicker for me was in the latest episode Let's Kill Hitler, which apart from bringing in one of history's biggest guest stars only to lock him in a closet after five minutes and forget about him, contains one of the classic Loebisms from Hush: introducing a major character's life-long best friend who has never previously been mentioned in the story while having them be central to overall continuity.[3]

At first I thought it was some clever time-travel thing and the Doctor would notice that Amy and Rory's past had been changed, or that their memories had been tampered with, but no.  Apparently it's merely the same kind of bad writing that gives us time-travelling Autons making a plastic robot copy of Rory [4] for their Roman army at Stonehenge, even though they'd never met him.[5]

And that's not even addressing the throwaway concept of previously unmentioned time-travellers going around assassinating history's greatest criminals, but who are so crap that instead of surgical strikes to a time and place where the person won't be missed, they are entirely years off the mark, and when they screw up they leave extremely advanced technology lying around in Hitler's own office for him to reverse-engineer into a super weapon.  But the Doctor doesn't seem bothered about this kind of tampering with time,[6] so let us not mention it again.

1) Though he managed to destroy any interest I had in the scary stone angels by bringing them back and overexposing them.
2) Daleks teaming up with Cybermen?  Did Moffat miss Doomsday, where the Cybermen outnumbered the Daleks thirteen million to four and when they propose an alliance the Daleks sneer at them and kick their shiny metal asses?
3) And even underlining how poorly this is being shoehorned into the plot by handwaving why she didn't appear at both her best friends' wedding, but not why nobody noticed at the time.
4) Who was dead at the time.
5) Did the plot of The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang make sense on any level at all?  I'm sure there are devoted websites out there taking it apart and bodging it back together with ingenuity and convoluted assumption to somehow force it to make sense, but personally I think that's the job of the guy who was paid to write it. And possibly the script editor, who was also paid to check it made sense.
6) It's not like there's ever been previous stories about the Doctor dealing with a Time Meddler...

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Spotlight hero

Every comic blog has to champion an obscure character[1], and if you don't count Cir-El, Fantomah, Moon Girl, Sun Girl, or any of the others I've written about because it's not like writing about obscure comics heroines is a recurring theme or anything, or alternatively just stick with the one in current continuity, the winner is Doctor Light.

So I'm thinking of doing that hugely fannish thing of reading and blogging every single appearance of Doctor Light in order. But before I do, I thought I should comment on her recent run in the Justice League of America, since it's about as close to current as I ever do.[2]

It starts strongly with Justice League of America #27-30, a tale by Dwayne McDuffie that goes a long way toward telling the story we've been waiting around for since Kimiyo was depowered in 2006. McDuffie can't give us Kimiyo's triumph over EDL[3] as he has in the meantime been turned into a candle by the Spectre, but he does craft a story that fills in a lot of the gaps, and sees her repowered with the help of Milestone heroes Icon, Hardware, and the Shadow Syndicate, and given a snazzy new revamp of her costume.

McDuffie also manages to hint at the kind of power that Kimiyo has not been shown to use in a very long time. Even before she is repowered, and without the new costume that is supposed to focus or enhance her powers in some vague technobabble way, she is shown moving at light speed. Even the Flash only does that on special occasions and needs a good run up; Kimiyo can do that from a standing start. We later find that although she can absorb nearby light sources for power, she is also still connected to the star Vega, which gives her an incredible source of raw power, and possibly qualifies her as a fusionkaster[4]. Basically McDuffie establishes her as the heavy hitter she was always intended to be.
Sadly, this run on Justice League was one of the last things Dwayne McDuffie wrote before he died, but it is a fine example of his strength as a writer and his commitment to diversity, crafting a team that is perhaps one of the most racially and sexually diverse incarnations of the Justice League. He is followed for one story by Len Wein, who writes a decent Kimiyo; she is abrasive toward the frivolous Plastic Man, who she is teamed with, but eventually comes to appreciate his good qualities.

And then the rot sets in, as James Robinson arrives to helm one of the least liked runs of Justice League in recent history.

Remember how I said McDuffie couldn't give Kimiyo a cathartic triumph over her rapist because the Spectre got to the scumbag first? Well Blackest Night means that Robinson can dig him up[5] and tell that now superflous story. But wait, it gets worse. I can only read what happens as somehow a desire to in some way retell the whole rape story, perhaps for those who came in late or something? I don't know. either way, he has EDL being all rapey, and, after licking a dead little girl, attacking Kimiyo, who for the purposes of this story is inneffectual against Black Lantern Evil Rapey Doctor Light, even though the black Lanterns' big weakness is her primary powerset, and tearing her clothes off.

Anyway, after several pages of BLERDL being all expositional, he threatens Kimiyo's children, and she remembers that she can channel a star and fries his ass. It is not only an ugly and obvious telling of a story that now didn't need to be told, but in its effort to hit every wrong note when telling a rape story, also manages to be visually voyeuristic.

Robinson almost immediately replaces the entire team with a combination of white [6] heroes from the Teen Titans and generic Justice League, and while Kimiyo hangs on until #43 she's mostly just standing at the back and filling out crowd scenes. When she does speak she has no recognisable character traits. She's put on a bus off panel, leaving to look after a sick child. Given the way Robinson writes her when he does make her the focus, it's difficult to be too disappointed to have her leave the team.

She's seen twice more, filling out crowd scenes to show how important the story is by having lots of heroes show up, first in #51 and then again in #56, where the artist[7] gives her a costume that is different from either of the two she has worn previously in this series, which seems a bit lazy. She might only be a cameo here, but she was a member of the main team only a few issues previously.

So as the current era of DC fades into the west, I'm glad to see Doctor Light get some good resolution to her story arc and membership of DC's top team for a while.  The good characterisation given to Kimiyo by Dwayne McDuffie is a satisfying conclusion, and anything beyond that is irrelevant.

And so, having told the end of the story, while we wait for Kimiyo to show up in the DCnU, I shall next go back to the beginning, way back to Crisis on Infinite Earths #4.

1) It's in the rules.
2) She guest starred in several issues of Supergirl recently, too, but I haven't read them yet.
3) Evil Doctor Light
4) See Nexus by Mike Baron and Steve Rude
5) Even though there was no body. How do you get better from being a candle?
6)Okay, technically one's green and one's blue, but they are still white.
7) Following his example, I couldn't be bothered to look up his name.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Light in the blandness

Kimiyo Hoshi has an annoying personality. She is an astronomer, astrophysicist, medical doctor (1), and very accomplished in scientific fields that few people would even understand the title of, and knows that her time is valuable in costume or out, and so is easily irritated when she feels that it's being wasted.

She has also managed to keep her sense of personal value intact despite being the superhero equivalent of a rape survivor (2).

But it isn't that I admire her inner strength and forgive her irritating personality as an unfortunate byproduct. I like that she's annoying. Unlike many characters that are supposed to be endearingly roguish but just come off as creepy and bigoted, Kimiyo is supposed to be annoying. And where any other character who started off with negative traits would over time have all their rough edges smoothed away, Kimiyo has managed to remain annoying for twenty five years (3).

Admittedly, there was one period during the JLI years (4) when they tried to explain it away as an allergic reaction or something (5) but thankfully it didn't stick.

So just remember, DC. When Kimiyo Hoshi Doctor Light eventually returns in the relaunch (6), Don't even try to sugar-coat her. She's not supposed to be the nice one.

1) Or whatever the current writer thinks it is she has a doctorate in.
2) and it wasn't even thinly disguised; it was flat out stated by her abuser that what he was doing to her was rape
3) Happy quarter century Doctor L.
4) yes, Kimiyo was a charter member, and even leader at one point, of the JLI, though she never seems to get invited to the reunions.
5) does that count as a retcon?
6) and she will.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Clone it, Baby, One More Time

I was in my local comic shop yesterday and noticed a book entitled Spider-Man: The Complete Clone Saga. It's quite a thick book, and amused me that Marvel had finally got around to collecting it. Perhaps they think the hate for it has died down after fifteen years?

It was only later when I checked that I found out the sheer magnitude of the project. I mean, okay, I knew it dragged on for ages*, and if I'd thought about it I would have realised that it wouldn't all have fitted into even an Essentials/Showcase size volume, but six?!? At £25 a pop?!?!?

Marvel is seriously expecting people to spend £150 to read the most loathed, bloated, misguided, over-written story they ever produced?*

You have to admire their balls.

*I wonder if it will include the "we have no clue how to end this story" special they did.
**To be fair, it worked the first time around. The whole reason it became so bloated was because it was so successful that they kept extending it way beyond its original premise.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Fantomah: The First Retcon?

I have no proof that what happened to Fantomah in Jungle Comics #27 was the first retcon, but it has to be one of the earliest in the history of comics.

It's actually sort of Fantomah's second retcon. Her first was in Jungle
Comics #16, but that was a much softer change; a result of the strip losing its original creator Fletcher Hanks. I don't know who the subsequent writers or artists were, but although Fantomah is doing her "spirit of vengeance" gig, she no longer has her characteristic skull-face and she's traded in her little black dress for a blue swimsuit. She later picks up a pet panther in #19, and even a boy sidekick in #23.

No explanation is given, and it's really more a change of style than an actual retcon. It might even be considered simple progression if it wasn't quite so abrupt. The changes that occur in #27 are in a different league.

As the story opens, Fantomah is accosted by an cloaked figure who has been searching for her. He calls her "daughter of the Pharaohs", tells her that her city needs her, and gives her a whole new outfit to wear. Fantomah initially claims no knowledge of what he's on about, but goes along with it. Once she is in the new outfit, her hair magically changes colour.

The old guy is almost immediately killed, but Fantomah mysteriously knows the way to the hidden city she's never heard of. When she arrives, she is immediately hailed as it's queen, and takes charge. By the end of the six page story she has forgotten about her boy sidekick (who never even appeared in the story), and now appears to be a normal woman with some Egyptian-themed magic. She has also acquired an arch-enemy.

So to recap: They've changed her entire appearance, location, powers, and supporting cast. When the only thing left from the previous series is the name, you have to wonder why they didn't just start a new strip.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Postcards from a Golden Age

I once said I'd maim for a copy of Sun Girl #2.

Turns out, all I had to do was wait. I've just found scans, not only of Sun Girl #2, but also several issues of the wonderfully bad Moon Girl*, and even Venus. I'd love to get these in actual paper format, as I did Fantomah, but no one seems in any hurry to reprint these gems.

Sun Girl #2 is a nice little comic. It's not Earth-shatteringly exciting or significant, but honestly I'm a little sick of how every comic needs to be part of some cosmically important event lately. The art is full of character and wit, if seeming a little cramped at times, though that may just be the result of it being a more compressed level of storytelling than I'm used to.

In thirty pages we get three Sun Girl stories, one Blonde Phantom, and a text story. Sun Girl fights electric aliens from another dimension, thwarts a pair of burglars by laughing at them, and defeats a horde of crystal monsters, while Blonde Phantom solves a crime that she knows nothing about.

While not quite up to the high standard of issue 1, it's light and fun, and I only wish the series had lasted more than three issues.

*Though bizarrely, someone seems to be doing a new Moon Girl series. Who on Earth thought that was a good idea?

Friday, August 12, 2011

Wonder Woman never wore a skirt

It's one of those errors that seems to get endlessly perpetuated. Originally started by someone who hadn't looked very closely at early Sensation Comics, and continued by those who a) didn't look too closely either, or b) never bothered to check their facts.

But if you go back to Wonder Woman's first appearances in All Star Comics #8 and Sensation Comics #1 and actually look, it's clear in many panels that the two legs of the "skirt" are separated, and in fact it's a pair of loose culottes.

Over the following issues the culottes become tighter and more streamlined (shrunk in the wash?) until by issue #9 they are the Familiar star-spangled shorts associated with Golden and Silver Age Wonder Woman.

But they were never a skirt.

Images from Sensation Comics #1.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Stupid Steampunk

Don't get me wrong; I think there's some amazing, beautiful, and ingenious steampunk costuming around.

And then there are the ones where the designer thinks that all they need to do to be steampunk is to throw on a liberal sprinkling of cogs and gears as decoration. Some of it even looks pretty, but it's still stupid. The whole point of steampunk costuming is to create an illusion of functionality, so random bits of brass stuck together work, being obviously non-functional, work against the illusion.