Thursday, March 02, 2006


People sometimes look at you a bit odd if you admit you read comics, but I have a worse confession; I collect dolls. No, not action figures (which seem to be a legitimate form among comic fans, but dolls. And not just any dolls; I collect goth dollies.

Actually I used to collect all kinds of cool toys that I would have died for when I was a kid, but at some point I felt the need to pack them all up in a box and stuck them in the closet. But my monitor wasn't the same without a cool toy sitting on it, and when I saw these gorgeous goth dollies I had to have one. Now I just bought my seventh (selling off some of my old cool toys to pay for her) and my computer area is starting to look like it's inhabited by a small goth girl gang.

But how does this relate to comics, I hear you ask? Well doll collectors are worse than comic collectors. In the same way that the more obsessive comic collectors buy comics encased in plastic that they cannot ever read, doll collectors buy dolls and never take them out of their boxes. This whole frame of mind upsets me in some strange way that it's taken me a long while to pin down, and I think what disturbs me is that if you buy something and never touch it, can you really say you own it, or are you just acting as a caretaker for it for a while? Comics are made to be read, dolls are made to be played with. The BeGoth dollies have improved tremendously in construction since they started and the newer ones can be posed in all kinds of ways. But what's the point if they are being bought by people who never take them out of the box? They might as well be solid plastic.

Are these people just packaging fans? Do they take esthetic pleasure from the packaging and feel that this is an artform in itself, or do they see the dolls as artworks in their own right (they are very nice sculptures, it's true) and that the best way to display them is in the original packaging? Or are they playing investor, sitting there calculating how much profit they would hypothetically make if they ever actually sold them (which of course they wouldn't ever do)? I guess that for the people that like that sort of thing, that's the sort of thing they like.

Me, I buy my dollies to play with (though I haven't quite reached the point of having goth dolly tea parties), even when they are from a limited edition of 500. And if that makes the packaging fans whimper then they can console themselves with the fact that this makes one less pristine, mint condition, never removed from box doll, and thus gives that tiny bit more value to the other 499.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

What's in a

It started with Everquest. You'd choose a name and then at level 20 you could get a surname. The official name policy said you couldn't pick a name from popular culture like James Bond, so I'd think of creative ways to get around it. I'd come up with names based on movies like Tamara Neverdies or Diane Otherday.

Consequently when I make a new character in an online game I now have a list that I am adding to. These include:
Alison Wonderland
Angela Sashes
Rowan Deworldineightydays
Sven Samurai
Laura D'Ufthrings
Lars Tangoinparis
Jenny Tothecenteroftheearth
Grace Anatomy
Abby Ridgeovertheriverkwai
Eve Encowgirlsgettheblues
Farrah Fromthemaddingcrowd,
Chris Talvoyager
Candice Camera
Thelma-Anne Louise
Bjorn Onthefourthofjuly
Anne Ightattheopera
Bess Thatshoutedloveattheheartoftheworld
Sam Uraipizzacats
Ahmed Summernightsdream
Neville where
May Tricks


So I'm dieting.

I notice that a lot of places in the UK will now list useful stuff clearly where it is easy to spot about calories, salt/fat content and suchlike, but what really annoys me is that often where they list the calories the small print will say *per half can, or in the case of some desserts *per 1/6 or some such.

What the hell? If I am interested in the calorie count for an item I want to know how much the whole lot contains, not how much I will get if I share it with six friends (like that's going to happen). Give me the total or just forget it.

And what's even stranger is when I find non-slimming branded items that contain less calories than the slimming ones. What's that about? Why not mention this somewhere to save us slimming types time?

Of course the true secret of slimming can be simply summarised:
Eat less
Exercise more.

Personally I'm working on both. Which involves a lot of salad (which I happen to like), Tai Chi, and getting vertigo running accross Clifton suspension bridge, but it's a pain picking up some tasty morsel thinking I can eat it without guilt only to find I can eat 1/4 of it before I have to feel bad.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

The Breast Thing

I'd read the first couple of issues of Y the Last Man and thought it looked interesting, and I'd been thinking of picking up the collected editions, but hadn't got around to it yet, so when I saw issue #40 sitting in a bargain bin I picked it up.

Turns out this was a good issue to grab at random as it is pretty much a stand alone story, and I am even more encouraged to get the collections, but there was one bit in it that knocked me sideways slightly. In the story one of the characters reveals that she had been a member of a modern amazon group. She does so by displaying the mastectomy scar where her left breast should be. This confused me for a moment because the historical amazons didn't cut off their left breasts. They didn't even cut off the right ones.

Whether the writer Brain K. Vaughan had been taken in by the myth, or if he was just saying that the women in the story had been, I don't know. Maybe that will become clearer when I get to read the rest of the story.

You see it's all based on a mistranslation. According to Wikipedia:

The name Ἀμαζών is probably derived from an Iranian ethnonym, *ha-mazan-, originally meaning "warriors". A connected word is probably the Hesychius gloss ἁμαζακάραν· πολεμεῖν ("to make war", containing the Indo-Iranian root kar- "make" also in kar-ma).

The Greek variant of the name was connected by popular etymology to privative a + mazos, "without breast", connected with an aetiological tradition that Amazons had their right breast cut off or burnt out, in order that they might be able to use the bow more freely (contemporary Greeks drew the bowstring to the sternum); there is no indication of this practice in works of art, in which the Amazons are always represented with both breasts, although the right is frequently covered. Other suggested derivations were: a- (intensive) + mazos, breast, "full-breasted"; a (privative) and masso, touch, "not touching" (men); maza, a Circassian word said to signify "moon", has suggested their connection with the worship of a moon-goddess, perhaps the Asiatic representative of Artemis.

According to the myth the Amazons remove their right breast for a practical reason - to make using a bow easier. The modern Amazon would not be so bow-dependant, and even if she was, champion bow-women seem to manage without resorting to surgery. So a modern Amazon could only be following this non-existant "tradition" for purely ritualistic purposes.

Which seems an awful lot of trouble to go to because of a mistranslation.

Thursday, February 09, 2006


Okay, it's not really a competition, but I have a free 14 day trial to City of Villains to give away so if you are interested, drop me an email (mari at blueyonder dot co dot uk) and tell me why you'd like to try COV. It doesn't have to be witty or clever, I'd just like it to go to someone who will really enjoy it rather than someone who just likes getting free stuff. Heck, maybe I'll even show you around the place.

Note that while COV doesn't require quite the top end machine as some online games, this will involve downloading something like 1.5gb.

Update: They sent me another one so I now have two free trials to give away.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Fashion Disaster Week: Degrees of Disaster

Okay, so I'm running a bit late on this one, but here it is at last.

There is a difference between costumes that are merely inappropriate - either not suited to the particular person wearing them (although they might look fine on someone else) or to the setting of the story (eg. space suits that include either miniskirts or bikinis) - and the truely disasterous that would look hideous on anyone.

Flower from Kamandi wears a torn red skirt and no top, and appears to have her long hair stapled to her chest. While this is entirely consistant with the circumstances of the story, you have to wonder why Kirby chose to have a female character running around topless in a comic where sight of a stray nipple would be strictly forbidden, requiring such a clumsy device to keep her decent.

A typical way of showing when a good female character has gone bad is to put her in some kind of bondage/fetish costume. A prime example is Sue Richards of the Fantastic Four, whose repressed urges were released when she donned the fetish costume of Malice. It is actually a very good story empowering the Invisible Woman, unlike the semi-sequel where the return of the Malice persona is signalled by Sue taking a pair of scissors to her regular costume and cutting a lot of holes in it, and then biting the head off anyone who comes near her.

Costumes with only one pants leg never work, even when drawn by Alan Davis.

Not many comic characters could pull off a tailcoat and fishnets, but Zatanna only works if that is what she is wearing. As a stage magician it is entirely consistant for her to wear such an outfit and it's only when they try to make her look more superheroey that it all falls apart. In the recent mini-series Grant Morrison puts her in a variety of absurd cheesecake outfits but they work because they look like stage costumes, wheras the two she wore while an active member of the Justice League completely jar with her personality.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Fashion Disaster Week: Supergirl's New Groove

As the Silver Age waned DC went through the first of their periodic shake ups to revitalise their characters. But unlike later attempts, this was not any kind of co-ordinated event, as it required no retconning, and each editorial team within the company took a different approach.

For Supergirl this involved an intermittent depowering similar to what was happening to Superman at the same time, but more importantly it involved her quest for a new costume. Kara had been wearing the same old dress since 1957. It had never gone out of fashion because it had never been in fashion, but changing it was a big deal because at this point in history no established superhero had ever changed the design of their costume (Wonder Woman doesn't count, since she stopped wearing hers altogether). DC promoted this with a big competition among the readership of Adventure Comics, and in Adventure #397 she got a new outfit designed by Diana Prince (Wonder Woman), though I'm not sure I'd be taking practical fashion tips from a woman whose idea of clothes fit for street fighting and action adventure were exclusively coloured white.

Despite the announcement that Supergirl would now be seen in a variety of fan-designed costumes it would be a year before she changed again (Adv #407), when the scientists (scientists?) of Kandor had finished running up a wardrobe full of monstrosities.

For reasons unknown, Kara's first choice of the scientist designed costumes is one of the worst. The red tights were apparently a colouring mistake (who would know?) since they are changed to blue in the next issue. Sadly, the pixie boots remain and one can only assume these were done on purpose.

Of course the new costumes had the advantage of remaining invulnerable even when her powers faded, which came in quite handy when she got dunked in acid in #407, so it makes you wonder what the thinking was behind the backless, sideless, sleeveless, legless number she wore in #409.

In Adventure #410 she first wears the hot pants number that would see her through the 1970's, and although she continues to try out alternatives until #415, this is the only one that recurrs.

It was only changed again in the 1980's for the Olivia Newton John cheerleader look that she died in fashion-wise long before Crisis.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Fashion Disaster Week: Token Male

Wolverine's yellow costume

Fans with way too much time on their hands have speculated at length about Wolverine's original yellow costume. "What was he thinking?" they cry, hypothesizing about primary colour theory and various other overcomplicated notions.

It's really so much simpler.

What Wolverine was actually thinking was this:
"If I wear this stupid yellow costume with the ridiculous ears then people will make fun of me and I will have an excuse to hit them."

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Fashion Disaster Week: Bad Hat Day

This is one of those topics that when you get started it's hard to know where to stop, so I'm just going to give two examples now and maybe return to it later.

Everyone hates Zatanna's centipede hat. It's the crowning glory of a terrible costume design that entirely fails to fit her character or powers in any way. And yet in other circumstances it might work. For instance, if worn by the captain of an evil puppet spaceship, with the centipede so far forward that it got in their eye.

Come on down Captain Orion of Star Fleet, and show the magician how it's done!

And then there's the original costume worn by The Wasp when she first appeared. If you ever wondered what trauma caused Janet Van Dyne to become obsessive to the point of wearing a new costume in almost every issue of The Avengers, it can now be told. It was the hat. The one shaped like a wasp's sting. Of course, a wasp's sting isn't on the top of its head.

One day it occured to her that she had been fighting crime for several years wearing something that looked like an insect's rear end on her head. She's never quite recovered.

Puella ex machina

When a remarkably inept marketing venture between Apple Mackintosh and Mattel goes horribly wrong, the prototype "Cyborg Fun Barbie" is disowned by both companies and is left to fend for herself; with a truly random access memory and an obsession with the colour pink, she is the living doll known as iCandy.

When I first started playing the online superhero game City of Heroes, I decided it would be fun to create a female robot character. I thought I was very clever to call this character iCandy, and it was only several months later that I discovered that there had been a comic that used the same name. Luckily it wasn't very successful and nobody seems to have heard of it. But it piqued my interest and when I found copies of the series in the bargain bin of a comic shop I bought them. Something like a year later I've finally got around to reading beyond the first issue.

icandy is a comic that wants to be an anime when it grows up. Or possibly a video game. At the very least, a manga. In Japan the lines blur rather more than they do in the west. A story might start out as a manga, anime, or video game and then get adapted into one or more of the others so faithfully that you forget which came first. And they often integrate to the point where you can't get the full story unless you have experienced different media versions. Many anime assume a familiarity with the manga they are based on, and don't even bother introducing characters and situations, assuming that the viewer will already be familiar with them, or like the Sakura Wars OAV series which is in many ways the backstory to the video game, and there are gaps in the anime where the action of the game takes place.

The comic takes the visual style from japanese video games for the design of its heroine, Candy, and the storyline steals liberally from manga/anime from the moment where Candy first makes her dramatic entrance in a way that magical schoolgirls have been doing ever since Video Girl Ai first fell out of a TV set in 1989. You can liven up your reading experience by making a game of playing Spot The Cliche as you go.

Above: Video Girl Ai

Right: The icandy variation

The story, such as it is: sullen adolescent Matt Delaney (he's such a teenager that he doesn't even speak until page 17, ignoring direct requests from teachers, other students, and even his mother. You begin to wonder if he's deaf and nobody has noticed) receives an experimental prototype games console from his father (parents are divorced and he lives with his mother) who does something unspecific in the whole console design field (so unspecific that he has no clue what he's really working on) and doesn't appear to be aware of the extreme level of security that surrounds the industry he works in. Matt plugs the console in, which seems to have a pre-loaded game, and selects a character who just happens to resemble his missing sister.

I assumed when I read this that Dad did this on purpose, creating the character as some kind of homage to his lost daughter, but it turns out later that he knows nothing about it. Apparently he hasn't actually played the only game on the console he's designing. So of course Matt selects this character and wouldn't you know it? At the exact moment he hits the Play button, the system is struck by lightning and Candy rises from the shattered remains of the TV (the console itself is completely undamaged, which is a bit odd considering that surely it's the power surge to the console that causes her to materialise). Then she jumps through the window (which is closed at the time) and runs away. Matt chases her and she jumps about a lot and acts like a video game character, even to the extent of being able to pull up menu windows out of thin air.

The next 3 issues involve Matt and Candy traveling across country and getting in fights along the way. Matt is going to find his dad, and Candy is under the impression that dad's boss = level boss and she must defeat him to reach the next level. They are being chased by generic evil blobby things, generic corporate thugs, and a generic bounty hunter type. Meanwhile Dad receives a note from "a friend" (who is never identified) that tips him off to the blindingly obvious situation that the skyscraper he works in is virtually deserted. He's such a geek. Matt and Candy finally arrive and we get this big infodump explaining the plot, which involves aliens from another dimension accessing our world through video games so the company has been building a game in which they can fight back. The real Candy disappeared while playtesting this game and game warrior Candy is of course specially important because she is the only game character that's been able to survive in the real world for more than a few minutes so they want to find out how she does it.

Then the backup "hardlight" characters (who haven't even been programmed yet) get possessed by the aliens for no reason that makes any sense and Candy has to fight them.

One thing that surprised me was that icandy was not, as I had assumed, a mini-series. According to this interview, artist Kalman Andraofszky was contracted to 12 issues. How much warning the creators got of the comic's demise is debatable. Issue #6 does complete a story arc, but with the cliffhanger of Candy apparently killed when she self-destructs the battle armour she is wearing to defeat the other game characters. The epilogue sequence where she pops up again to let us know she survived seems rushed and pointless and doesn't explain anything. It just seems to be tacked on to give it an upeat ending, where leaving her fate uncertain would have been far more effective.

The other thing that surprised me is that icandy is only the name of the comic. The character is only ever referred to as Candy. Which means I wasn't unintentionally copying a character name already in use.


Monday, January 30, 2006

Fashion Disaster Week: Jack Kirby's off day

Jack Kirby was the master of fantastic costume design. While many of his more extreme designs could never work in real life, it doesn't matter; they were the epitome of "sense of wonder" and gave characters a grandness and a strangeness befitting the stories he told. And his level of craftsmanship and sheer enjoyment of the form that meant that even character like Knorda, the normal sized queen of the hill giants is depicted in an individual detailed costume when she only ever appeared(1) in 4 panels, two of which were a head shot and a back view.

So I have to assume that Jack was just having an off day when he created Beautiful Dreamer.

Beautiful Dreamer is the only female member of The Forever People, and one of only two heroines(2) in the entire New Gods saga(3), so what could have possibly possessed him to dress her in an old sack? Had he just run a bit dry after creating so many new characters for the epic? And if so why was she stuck with the rag for so long? You might say it was part of the whole hippy vibe that the Forever People have going, except that all of the other members of the group are dressed with typical Kirby flair.

Beautiful Dreamer continues to wear the sack, which appears to be slowly disintegrating as the series progresses, until issue #9, when kindly old Trixie Macgruder gives her a new dress. We then get Beautiful Dreamer's only comment on her choice in clothes "The body is merely a three-dimensional identification vehicle! It's our "total" selves that beautify us!"

No, I don't understand why that means she should wear a sack, either. But when she finds the dress Trixie gives her to be too old fashioned for her "total self", Serifan zaps it with a cosmic cartridge into a much more fashionable little number with a lot of fringes, and matching boots. Sadly, this "atomically re-shifted" form seems to be a little unstable, because by issue #11 it has gone from strawberry red and white to the orange of her old sack. Or perhaps the colourist wasn't paying attention and forgot she had a new outfit.


1. Yes, I know she turned up again as an important character in the
Domination Factor miniseries, but that was 35 years later. And they still never explained how the giants came to have a queen who was normal human size.

2. The other being Big Barda, obviously. Shame on you if you didn't know that one. And no, for the purposes of this entry I'm not counting the Female Furies who were briefly on the good guys' side.

New Gods, Forever People, Mister Miracle, and Jimmy Olsen.

Fashion Disaster Week

Since I've found more to talk about than I expected I'm making this week Fashion Disaster week!

Oh, what fun we'll have!

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Fashion Disasters: Poll

I'm currently putting together a few articles on super-heroine fashion disasters and it struck me that it might be fun to see what other people thought. So please respond with your choice of the worst dressed woman in comics - If she has had multiple costumes give an issue number or something to specify which one you mean.

Stupid Super Powers 1: Animal Magnetism

Animal Magnetism:
The ability to cause animals to become temporarily magnetic.

Can't you just see silver age Batman gaining this power just in time to deal with a breakout at the zoo, which he foils by attaching all the magnetized animals to a giant fridge door that happens to be nearby?

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Who's This Girl?

This is a new bust of Supergirl produced by DC Direct, purveyors of expensive tat to the rich and dateless. It's part of their "Women of the DC Universe" collection, apparently, and based on designs by Adam Hughes.

What I want to know is which Supergirl is it supposed to be? The length of the sleeve looks a lot like the design on the current costume, but this is not an adolescent girl. And then again the hair is shorter than any version of the Girl of Steel has ever worn it to date, except for the Earth 2 Kara, and this is clearly not Power Girl in a new outfit. However, it's not due for release until September, so perhaps current events in the DCU are going to age Supergirl more than a single year. Is it too much to hope that she might also grow a personality?

Edit: Just noticed that this is my 100th entry in this blog. Go me.

All Hail Dark Phoenix!

"I am become death, the destroyer of worlds."

There's been some chat recently about the lack of strong female villains in comics - characters that have the iconic status of Doctor Doom or The Joker. So what is Dark Phoenix? Chopped liver?

The Wikipedia list of supervillainesses (I'm not sure that's even a word. Surely "villain" is not gender specific) does not even mention her, and yet she has been one of the most influential and popular, not to mention one of the most physically powerful female villains in the history of comics. For many years after her first appearance, when a hero character went bad (particularly if female) they would be referred to as "Dark-" and everyone got the reference.

Okay, I know some might question whether Dark Phoenix counts as a villain because she is only a hero gone bad temporarily, but Catwoman is on the Villainess list and she's been swapping sides since the mid-1950's. And consider Dark Phoenix's thematic ancestor, Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: can you see anyone ever arguing that Hyde doesn't count as a villain because he is only the dark aspect of Jekyll?

The storyline that first introduced Dark Phoenix is possibly the best thing Chris Claremont ever wrote. His work with John Byrne during this period produced some classic X-Men stories that were so effective and powerful that they are still getting recycled even now, and the slow build of the Dark Phoenix/Hellfire Club storyline was a masterwork of pacing. It's an excellent story on its own, but it reaches a whole other level when, in a classic case of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory Jean Grey triumphs over Mastermind's mind control by opening Pandora's box and letting out her dark side, which is kinda like beating someone at chess by blowing up the building where the game is being played.

In fact, in her original outing, Dark Phoenix only lasts two issues. Then she is shut down, and before she can escape again Jean Grey allows herself to be killed rather than become the monster again. But in that short time she eats a star - she may be solar powered but she is anything but environmentally friendly - and tears through a Shi'arr battlecruiser like a tank through butter. Sadly, we don't get to see her do much else as Claremont and Byrne realise that there is no credible way for the X-Men to defeat her unless they get tricksy, and so they backpedal a little and even though in Uncanny X-Men #135 Phoenix says she is leaving Earth forever, and her grasp of her powers is good enough that she is opening warp gates and consuming stars, she then feels the need for a little angst moment and pops home to mommy so they can have a rematch with her.

It's only because the pace is rattling along like the best action movies that your suspension of disbelief doesn't crumble at this point. Dark Phoenix is described as having Galactus level power, and that's before she consumed the star, and yet when she zaps Professor Xavier it just appears to squish his wheelchair and tear his clothes a bit. Okay, Prof X may be the most powerful telepath on the planet but Dark Phoenix snuffs out suns. When she says she is killing you I'd expect more than cuts and grazes on anything below god-level. They then go head to head in a telepathic battle and the Prof wins, of course. The rationale being that deep down, part of her was on his side.

But they couldn't leave it there. Like all great villains, Dark Phoenix was too good a character to throw away, even if she was dead. But the first sequel Claremont gave us was something different. Introducing Madeline Pryor as visually identical to Jean Grey, he plays with our expectations of what the connection might be between the two. The great thing about this story, which was utterly destroyed in later retconning, is that there is no connection. Madeline is just an ordinary person who looks like Jean. But in superhero comics where almost everyone the protagonist meets in the most mundane setting turns out to be a villain/demon/alien it was a masterly subversion of the reader and the characters' expectations to have the returning villain Mastermind play on these assumptions to make the X-Men think that this was Dark Phoenix resurrected, getting revenge on the X-Men by setting them up to murder the innocent, ordinary Maddy.

After this it goes downhill like a sledge on Jupiter and retcon is piled on top of retcon to the point where I kind of lose track. Jean Grey was never Phoenix in the first place and Maddy was some kind of demon clone or some such, and Rachel, Jean's daughter from an alternate future, inherits the phoenix power that Jean never had anyway and I lose the will to live.

Last I looked Jean was currently dead but nobody expected it to last, Dark Phoenix had a miniseries where she got to destroy the universe (or something) and she's about to get her big screen debut.