Saturday, August 25, 2007
Sense of Wonder (Woman)
Once she's retrieved her wayward boyfriend, she observes the Earth being destroyed by a flaming meteor, except no, it's only a cardboard cutout of the Earth that evil aliens were using for target practice, because they feed on planetary fragments, and Earth is next on the menu, even though it's 200 light years away and there are plenty of uninhabited planets closer (2). And they appear to have brought the reluctant astronauts from their home purely to gloat at them (3). Tough for them that Wonder Woman can fashion a giant magnet out of the nearby landscape and use it to pull the meteors off course and send them crashing back to the planet that launched them (4).
Of course now Wondy and Steve are stranded in space, hundreds of light years from home, except what's this? Could it be a handy spacewarp that will return them to Earth space? You can bet it is.
It's only with the third story that some of Kanigher's less entertaining themes become explicit. The problem is the relationship between Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor. Personally I've never been able to understand why she puts up with his nagging. The situation is that Steve wants Wondy to marry him and settle down, i.e. stop going out and doing hero stuff. Wondy's response is that she cannot marry him until she is no longer needed to battle crimes and injustice. Only then can she think about herself.
This is a twist on silver age Superman's lame excuse for refusing to marry Lois Lane. Here Wonder Woman has to put the concerns of the whole world before herself until she is no longer needed, and her definition of being needed is impossible to fulfil, since it not only requires there to be no crime and injustice, but no natural disasters too. And yet rather than challenge this absurd notion, Steve instead repeatedly attempts to trick the woman he claims to love into marrying him. It seems to be far more about control than love, and it's my least favourite aspect of these stories.
But back to the plot: this story completely rewrites part of the origin story, with an entirely new telling of how Wonder Woman became Diana Prince and came to work at Steve's office in Military Intelligence. In this variation Steve bets Wondy that if he can find her three times in 24 hours, regardless of how she is disguised or hidden, then she will marry him. When she finds that he has tricked her, she gets her own back by applying for a job in his own office (5) so that she'll be right under his nose all the time without him recognising her.
Would I recommend this as a book to give to kids? On the one hand the stories are light and fantastic, bursting with sense of wonder and fairytale logic, while short and self-contained, but on the other they have some underlying values that I would be uncomfortable exposing to someone who was not experienced enough to recognise them as the BS they are and able to reject them while still enjoying the rest of the story. Don't get me wrong, I love this stuff, but that doesn't mean I don't see elements in it I don't like.
1) We are told that the plane is slower than the rocket, so I doubt it can be observing it for very long.
2) I can only assume that Earth is a particularly tasty morsel on the galactic menu, since it seems to attract planet eaters from across the galaxy.
3) no better explanation is given, and that's all they actually do with them.
4) She never did have an actual code against killing, did she?
5) and only in a Kanigher story would an office worker have to take part in an underwater race as part of the application process
Thursday, August 23, 2007
Showcase of wonders
Just to point out how important this collection is, I want to remind you that while Batman and Superman have enjoyed reprint collections from throughout their history, Wonder Woman has not been so lucky. There was a collection of golden age adventures published in the early 1970's, and four volumes of DC Archives that got up as far as Wonder Woman #9, but nothing has ever been reprinted from the late 1940's to 1986 in any substantial form. Robert Kanigher was writer on Wonder Woman for over 150 issues and yet there has never been a collection of his work available until now.
But be warned: before you read this book you will need to rise above all thoughts of logic and continuity. There is no place for them here.
The volume opens with Kanigher's retelling of Wonder Woman's origin in Wonder Woman #98. This is a good starting point as not only does it give us an origin, it's also the first issue with full art by long time WW artists Ross Andru and Mike Esposito, and is arguably the point where Wonder Woman enters the Silver Age.
As an origin story, it's quite different from the usual version; the Amazons hold their contest to decide who will be sent into the outside world before Steve Trevor even arrives, and to avoid favouritism, all the contestants are dressed in Wonder Woman costume, including masks of Diana's face so that they will all look alike. But having won the contest, our heroine must prove herself by turning a penny into a million dollars, to finance the building of a summer camp to be donated to children's charities, because Pallas Athena is very big on healthy summer fun for children in rich first world countries.
The more bizarre aspects of the story start to become apparent when Steve Trevor arrives on the scene, parachuting down from his stricken aircraft. Since men are forbidden to set foot on Paradise Island, our plucky heroine launches herself into the air, and then catching Steve, she blows his parachute all the way back to America.
If at this point you are considering how many laws of physics this breaks then you should probably stop now, as it only gets worse. Wonder Woman's adventures with the penny she has been entrusted with, and her ultimate solution to her dilemma are so bonkers that I'm not even going to tell you about them. I wouldn't want to spoil the fun.
And that's just the opening story.
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
No Batgirl review
Fact is, it's pretty much what I expected. There's some crashingly sexist bits, and a lot of it is silly, coming from the era of the Batman TV show, and occasionally it's quite good. But so far there's nothing I feel moved to dwell on at any length.
Of course this may be influenced by the fact that the Wonder Woman Showcase is due out next week, and I have been looking forward to that since before the Showcase reprint series began.
At least there shouldn't be a problem with the cover of that one...
Your mileage may vary, but the all time champion for me is the 1970's Doctor Strange TV movie, where I reckon that all connection to the source material could be lost by changing two (1) names. The new Flash Gordon TV show isn't up to that level, but on the basis of the first episode, it's not far off.
First off: this Flash Gordon may be a marathon runner, but he is still way too nerdy to be the kind of hero associated with this role. Flash Gordon needs to be big and dumb: physically strong enough to have boundless self-confidence in his own abilities, and dumb enough to have a narrow vision of what is right and to go for it undeterred by the more complex issues. This version is more Clark Kent than Superman. And then Doctor Zarkov now seems to be reduced to lab assistant comedy sidekick, whose wacky inventions are hit and miss, but which I predict will usually come through when the plot depends on them. And Dale Arden seems to be channeling Lois Lane.
And then there is Ming. No, this isn't Ming. Ming is grand and capricious. This is some cheap stereotype dictator in quasi military uniform from any number of bad SF TV shows. And of course he is white, because it would be racist to have one of the most entertaining character roles in Science Fiction be a non-white person (2). So he is white. His daughter is so white I have trouble telling her apart from Dale. The guards are white. Most of the various different races of Mongo I could spot were white but in different ethnic costumes. The evil scientist is white. In fact the only non-white characters are Flash's buddy who doesn't get to be part of the adventure, and a black Mongo woman who only appears long enough to give Ming an opportunity to show how mean and petty he is.
Now it's just a personal opinion here, but I think Ming ought to be oriental (3). He should be oriental and grand and wear lavish costumes and laugh a lot, and throw people to the crocodiles on a whim. And his daughter should be oriental too, and spoilt and slutty, and maybe sides with the good guys in the end for all the wrong reasons, or gets redeemed at the end if you really must. And quite a lot of other people in Ming's court should be oriental. Yes, they are villains. Well, Aura is sometimes a villain. Either way, I think it's pathetic and racist to recast iconically oriental characters as white, purely because they are villains. What next? A white Fu Manchu? (4) The way to make these characters non-racist is not by making them white, but by writing them well.
And there weren't any spaceships.
How the hell can you do Flash Gordon with no spaceships? They are an intrinsic aspect of the story, but here we just get a cheap Stargateish rippled air cgi effect. I realise this production is low budget, but then so was the 1930's serial (5) and it looked better than this.
1. or possibly three, it's a long time since I've seen it
2. Or perhaps the subtext here is that white people are evil and bad.
3. I'm aware that the term "oriental" is considered offensive by some in the USA, though I'm not clear why. To Americans "Asian" may have the same meaning, but in the UK it is used purely to refer to inhabitants of the Indian sub-continent. In the UK "oriental" has no negative connotations and is used by the BBC, which is good enough for me.
4. okay, technically both Ming and Fu Manchu have historically been played by white guys pretending to be chinese, but you know what I mean
5. By modern standards.
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
Strange and unusual
The amazing thing about Fletcher Hanks' stories is how they are at the same time repetitive and unique. Fantomah and Stardust are essentially the same vengeful god figure in different trappings, Stardust the science hero fighting organised crime, Fantomah the jungle goddess with magic powers. In almost every story some villain has big plans, and often a private army to carry them out.
And yet even though they may claim to be guarding or protecting the planet/jungle it is not until after the villain has caused great devestation and loss of life that the hero steps in, utterly destroying the villain in bizarre and peculiar ways. The biggest difference between Stardust and Fantomah is that Fantomah often warns the villain that the path he is taking will not be tolerated. Not that anyone ever pays attention to the flying girl (often just a disembodied head), and by the time those long blonde curls are framing a skull it's too late to say sorry.
But it is within the basic formula that Hanks' genius comes alive. Villains seek domination using invisible vacuum tubes or giants, invisible except for their flaming purple hands, or by pausing the rotation of the Earth to cause the entire population to be flung out into space. New York is a favourite target and gets bombed three times in this collection, as well as being attacked by a giant artificial tidal wave and a whirlwind, and in a Fantomah story, overrun by giant panthers.
If there is one thing that marks the storytelling out as being from the earliest days of the artform it is the lack of conflict. Hank's heroes are always so much more powerful than their enemies that the question is not so much "will our hero triumph?" as "what peculiar and ultimately terminal punishment will our hero hand out today once they have utterly crushed the villains' plans?"
And the punishment is often a big feature of the story. In some cases inflicting strange and unusual punishment on the villain takes up as much as half the pages.
It's a collection of strange and unusual ideas wrapped up in formulaic storylines.
But I still like Fantomah best.
Friday, August 03, 2007
A match made in...
I begin to wonder if there aren't meetings at DC that start with "What can we do to piss Mari off?"
Similar meetings at Marvel involve Jeph Loeb and Greg Land but are less effective because there are so few of their comics I can be bothered to read anyway. In fact the only Marvel titles I've read in the last six months or so were written by Jeff Parker, who understands the concepts of both fun and telling a story in 20 pages.
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
Civilized planets, your days are numbered
Before I get on to tackling the individual stories I'd just like to get a little picky about the format of the collection. I can understand why Karasik didn't want to burden the reader with lengthy discussion of the work, but I would have liked to see some kind of introduction that gave basic information about the comics that are being reprinted. As it is all we have is an undated listing of where each originally appeared (in the contents page) and that's it. Not even a bibliography to tell us how many more stories are out there.
And then the order of the comics selected seems entirely arbitary. Although the volume opens with the first Stardust story, the Fantomah episodes are run in practically reverse order, which is a shame as there is a clear evolution in style as they progress, and this can only be properly appreciated by flipping backward and forward in the volume.
As a Fantomah fan I would have liked to see her first published appearance, but it's not included here. It may be that Karasik was unable to obtain a copy of it for publication, but as there is no accompanying text of any kind, we don't know. I'd also like to know more about how the character was taken in such a different direction after the departure of Hanks, and ultimately retconned into an entirely different character, but that's a personal thing and hardly within the remit of this volume.
What we do get is an autobiographical 16 page strip at the end by Paul Karasik about how he found Hank's son and interviewed him. It's an odd choice for the presentation of an interview; turning it into a comic makes it feel like a dramatisation, and I'm left wondering how much of it was fictional. Information about Fletcher Hanks seems to take second place to the author's slice of life adventure, and although it does convey his excitement about meeting Fletcher Hanks Jr. you are left feeling that if it had been done as a straightforward text piece it would have run to rather less than a page.
None of which takes away from the achievement of getting this stuff in print at all, but if there is a second volume I'm hoping it will contain some factual information like a bibliography and publication dates. It needn't be lengthy or intrusive, but it would be a nice extra for those of us that are interested in that stuff.
Enough with the petty complaints. Next I'll get on to the actual stories.
Sleestaak, that's my skull
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
The Big Finish
When he is first mentioned, Mon-El and Superboy are pursuing him through time after he has a fight with Cosmic Boy and Sun Boy, but we never saw this initial encounter and it's never recapped in detail. All we get is an ongoing subplot where the Legion are unable to break past the "iron curtain of time" 30 days in the future.
Whether this is a set point thirty days from the initial encounter, or a moving point that is always thirty days from the current time is unclear. I originally assumed it was a fixed point and the Legion were facing a countdown to a major battle, but their adventures continue on for issue after issue without it appearing to get any closer, or their being especially concerned about an approaching deadline.
The penultimate story in the collection features Superboy's evil babysitter, Dev-Em. This appears to be a sequel to a Superboy solo story but unusually there's no editor note to tell you. The short version is Dev-Em was bad; now he's good but he's pretending to be bad. And the Science Police, who you will remember claim there is no crime worth bothering about and the best way to deal with a planetary threat is to send in a bunch of teenagers rather than try diplomacy or military action, are now found to have a counter intelligence corps. Or maybe the Interstellar Counter Intelligence Corps has taken over the Science Police in a bloodless and entirely uneventful coup, since the Legion initially say that's who they will turn Dev-Em over to when they believe he is a criminal.
Either way, it's obviously the same lot because they decide that rather than send Dev-Em to complete the mission they've trained him for, they'd prefer to send Superboy in a plastic mask pretending to be Dev-Em. At least if they'd sent Mon-El they wouldn't have needed the contrived deus ex machina to get our hero out of the trap when the villain pulls out the kryptonite.
And so we come to the final entry, and the first actual appearance (of the back of the head) of the Time Trapper. It transpires that the Legion have a Secret Weapon. A weapon so dangerous and powerful that they don't want anyone to know about it. Except somehow the Time Trapper has heard of it and cons the Legion into letting him torture them to get the secret out of them.
Under the guise of some Commander Wilson of the Science Police, who are back in charge of running the universe by ignoring most of the crime going on, he persuades the legionnaires to go through a simulated interrogation to see if any of them will crack and give out the secret.
Problems with this: first, they know it's not real so why do they get so scared? Second, I'm not sure what the secret is they are supposed to be hiding since the weapon is quite a complex piece of equipment that they need to build from scratch. It's not like they are giving away a location for this doomsday device. They'd need to draw diagrams.
Anyway, we get a series of scenes of legionnaires being put through tests and either overcoming them or failing in a way that prevents the secret being given, like Shrinking Violet getting so small that her voice can't be heard, because a thousand years in the future they don't have the technology to pick up faint sounds. And Lightning Lad fails and gets locked up in a giant hamster ball forever, except no, it was a trick. He spotted that the commander was a fake and gave him the wrong information. Was it too much to ask that he tell his friends instead so they could prevent the villain's escape?
So the Time Trapper proves that he doesn't actually need any more doomsday devices as he is already powerful enough to throw suns around, and the Legion run up their ultimate weapon out of household objects they find lying around, and siphon off all the power of the entire universe to blow up the errant suns.
Seems like overkill to me. I mean suns are big to you and me, but on a universal scale they are barely dust. Of course the Legion live in a very small universe, as has been noted earlier, so things may be different for them.
And so all is well and we end on a totally sitcom note as newly thin and no longer Bouncing boy introduces his girlfriend who is a little chubby, and our heroes are surprised because of course now he is thin he doesn't need to date fat chicks. Was that even funny in 1964?
Friday, July 20, 2007
Trolls in Action
Seems someone who posts there finally noticed it and linked it on the board. So I have the unusual experience of a year old comment becoming a hot topic.
And by hot topic, I mean it's attracted a lot of abusive trolls.
What, you thought they might want to actually discuss the policy I was criticizing?
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
It's a small universe after all
The inhabitants of the the tiny planet Throon are entirely xenophobic and set up a barrier around their planet to prevent anyone visiting them. They haven't quite thought it through, though, as this barrier causes rocket motors to fail, which basically means anyone getting near enough is not so much persuaded to go away as stuck there without the ability to move, or worse, caused to crash on the planet.
Now this wouldn't be a huge problem in Star Trek. They'd just set up a warning beacon and everyone would avoid the area. The problem here is that not only is the universe a lot smaller than you'd expect, the mysterious planet Throon with its xenophobic occupants are apparently right in the middle of the spacelanes.
Yes, traffic throughout the universe is going to grind to a halt because there's a 60,000,000 mile diameter area of space that they can't travel through.
The furthest Mercury gets from the Sun in its orbit is 43,382,322 miles, so if you imagine the orbit of Mercury, the Throon exclusion zone would fit within that.
How small is the Universe when space traffic from one end of it to the other cannot bypass an area that tiny? And how is it that a planet of such immense strategic importance remains virtually unexplored?
Anyway, the Science Police are on the case. Unfortunately they aren't very good with crime, and there's probably some legal red tape about invading an independant planet's soveriegn airspace to sabotage their defence systems, so they call in a bunch of teenagers to do the job for them. A later writer might have used this story to make a point about sending young people off to war, but here it's just another day for the Legion.
Deciding their best plan is to send in a small team to infiltrate the planet and destroy the force projectors, our heroes pick members for the team based, not on whose powers are most appropriate for the task, but the Planetary Chance Machine, a device that randomly fires out little balls to hit people on the head.
Proving that they are not entirely useless, the Science Police dig up a couple of people who claim to have visited Throon, but there's an odd gap in their information that becomes apparent at the end of the story. We are informed that the Throonians all live in one huge building and the rest of the planet is covered with dangerous jungle.
This is obviously a dangerous mission, and logic would dictate simply dropping large rocks on the force projectors until they break, but as far as the Legion is concerned it just means not letting the girls go. Though curiously, once the first team has been wiped out and the promise of danger has been fulfilled, none of the other male legionnaires try to shut out the girls.
The Throonians must have been expecting the Legion as they zap Superboy the moment he shows up. The rest of the team sneak around from the far side of the planet and then run out in front of the building. Their clever strategy is for Brainiac 5 and Lightning Lad to go one way as a diversion, while the rest of the team go another. It never occurs to Brainiac 5's amazing computer mind that they might be able to shoot in two directions at once, and so that's the end of the first team.
At this point you might be thinking "Why didn't Chameleon Boy make himself useful for a change and turn into an indiginous creature and try to sneak in?" or wondering why they didn't pick Invisible Kid for a stealth mission. Because then Night Girl wouldn't be the hero, that's why.
Meanwhile, the universe is grinding to a halt. People on distant planets are starving because they have given up all agriculture and are entirely dependant on imported food that has to be flown through Throon airspace. It's a bit like America being entirely reliant on imports that can only come via Gibralter, regardless of their origin.
So with the first team flattened in short order, what's their strategy? Do they suggest to the Science Police that they nuke the site from orbit? No, they send in another team consisting of whoever happens to be left back at Legion HQ.
Again, they come up with a cunning strategy for getting close to the Throon building, and once there simply run out in front of it to get zapped.
Back on Earth, Legionnaires who were on missions in space have returned without going via Throon, which makes complete nonsense of the whole premise of the story. Having failed to learn any lessons from the first two attempts, they send in a third group. This time at least they have Phantom Girl, who can use her powers to avoid being hit by the zappy rays that took out the first two teams.
Except no, she is infected by the secret invisible Throonian stupid ray that is an integral part of their defence systems and forgets to go out of phase when they are attacked, so she goes down too.
So finally all that's left are the Substitute Legion and those legionnaires they forgot to include this issue. They didn't even think to summon the Legion of Super Pets like they did to fight Satan Girl.
And since it's Night Girl's story, she doesn't run out in front of the building to get zapped by the defences, she burrows in underneath it to come up inside. So much for Brainiac 5's amazing computer brain. He never thought of that one.
She finds the vast building virtually empty, and discovers an important point that the two advisors had somehow missed; the entire Throonian civilisation is extinct apart from two old guys. It's never explained how the rest of their race died out, and there must be one hell of a lot of automation to keep the place running and even install new defence systems when the only people left are a couple of mad old duffers.
So everyone lives happily ever after, and the old gits aren't even censured for almost causing the collapse of galactic civilisation and the deaths of many billions of people from starvation. And the Substitute Legion gets a tickertape parade for being not stupid.
Batgirl Showcase: take two
Obviously this is a 5 minute Photoshop chop job, not a loving recreation of what might have been, but you get the idea.
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
Meanwhile, back in the 30th century
Adventure #316 includes a panel that hurts my brain.
So there is so little crime in the 30th century that nobody much uses the big room full of police records right behind you, super powered girls are so afraid to reveal their abilities for fear of kidnapping and being made to commit crimes, and oh yes, there's all those people who the Legion spend fighting every issue (2). This was my first intimation that the Science Police were not up to the job.
At least Phantom Girl gets her nineteen pages of fame this issue, after being so thoroughly ignored for so long that you could be forgiven for wondering if she's still a member; though being a girl this means she has to spend it swooning over a Ultra-Boy who seems to have gone bad (3). When Shrinking Violet gets her moment in the spotlight in a later issue it is also so that she can pine over a bad boy.
Phantom Girl has vanished again by next issue, wherein we basically get a rerun of #304 only with Dream Girl taking Saturn Girl's role. You'd think Saturn Girl might at least have got a feeling of deja vu. And they never do explain why all the male legionnaires are drooling all over Dream Girl at the beginning of the story.
This episode also gives the first insight into the Pokemon nature of the Legion. Lightning Lass's powers are conveniently altered but it's okay as her lightning power isn't needed because it's the same as her brother's. Considering how many stories revolve around rejected applicants it's surprising they don't get one who is mad that he can't join because there is already a member from his planet/with his ability.
The other thing that puzzles me about this issue is how is it that Shrinking Violet's clothes don't fit her when she is turned into an infant, but they do when she shrinks?
The oddest thing about Adventure #318 is that Sun Boy goes bonkers and everyone else lets him. All the complications of the plot derive from that.
Then we get an issue of Jimmy Olsen which consists of female legionnaires fawning all over Jimmy to make his date appreciate him. Do the Legion spend all their free time watching the time scanner like it was a reality show or a soap opera or something?
Next we get to a story that is so big and so stupid that it's going to need a post all of its own...
1) and has powers so pointless he makes Bouncing Boy look useful
2) okay, half of them are rejected candidates for membership out for revenge, but it's still illegal
3) it's only a trick, of course
Batgirl on show
Showcase covers follow a standard format of a recoloured version of a cover from one of the comics in the collection. They do not include text on the image. Obviously the ideal image is one that prominently features the title character(s) in iconic pose.
All the stories in this collection are either guest spots in another character's comic or backup strips from Detective Comics. The backup character rarely gets cover featured. In fact Batgirl only appears on 6 covers of Detective comics and all but one are where she is appearing in Batman stories. Not only that but there are precious few full page images of Batgirl because space is maximised in her short backup feature and the splash page often contains three panels. On some episodes there is no splash at all, just a title strip at the top of the first page.
So there aren't a whole lot of images to choose from. Let's look at the covers, shall we?
Excellent cover but the text is heavily integrated into the composition, and it would look unbalanced without it.
Here Batman is as prominently featured as Batgirl. It's far from iconic, and relies on the dialogue to make sense of what's going on.
Again, it's not Batgirl specific or iconic, and relies on dialogue to explain the situation.
Here Batgirl is far more prominent but again, take out the dialogue and it's incomprehensible. But we'll come back to this one later.
This one would almost do. Batgirl is prominently displayed and the picture would work without the speech, but still it's as much a Batman image as a Batgirl one.
And finally we get to the only cover for a solo Batgirl story and it is once again reliant on dialogue. It's also too narrow because of the menu down the left hand side, but the main problem is that it's not a very good picture.
Even though Batman is the victim here and Batgirl the rescuer, the composition leaves no doubt who is the star of this show.
Again, this is not Batgirl's comic.
Of course the problem with guest starring in someone else's comic...
...is that they tend to want to be the hero.
This is one of my all time favourite silver age covers, but it's not saying "this is a Batgirl comic".
Don't think so.
This one's not going to do it either.
In fact there aren't any covers to comics in this collection that would suit a Showcase cover. But remember this one?
It's almost the right sort of composition, but take out the dialogue and you lose the sense. But the story did have a full splash page.
Here Batgirl is featured prominently, Batman and Robin appear, but are not the focus of the image, which is reasonable, given that they do appear in the volume, and it works without the dialogue.
Only problem is that it makes Batgirl look stupid, appearing to be more interested in fixing her makeup than fighting crime.
Of course there are vast numbers of silver age covers that feature the hero behaving in a bizarre or inappropriate way. Batman wore the most ludicrous costumes and Superman was always thinking he was a cowboy or getting a big domed head. So how does it work in the context of the story?
In fact the story is all about Batgirl believing that she is too concerned with her looks and making an effort to overcome her perceived fault, ultimately using it to her advantage by distracting the bad guys by showing a little leg, as is pictured on the cover. In fact the examples given of her distraction are first where her mask is knocked out of place and she pauses to straighten it, and secondly where mud is thrown in her face. In both cases her behaviour is quite reasonable as she is in danger of having her vision obscured, so it is possible to read it as Barbara over-reacting to a perceived fault and working to overcome it. This is a bit undermined by her letting out an uncharacteristic scream at seeing Batman in danger; she's never done this before, and it's not even extreme danger, so it's very contrived. But despite this, the story is a positive in that it's all about Batgirl taking control and working to not only overcome her faults but use them to her advantage.
It is a bit cringeworthy, but if you can't accept that women were written clumsily in the 1960's then you won't be reading this volume anyway. Is it better to try to depict a female character having issues different from male characters and do it poorly, or to have no characterisation at all and the only difference between male and female characters is the girl is the one in the skirt, as you'd find in Teen Titans or JLA from a similar period?
In context, the cover depicts a scene where Batgirl is playing on the "silly woman obsessed with her looks" image to defeat the villains, and as such is okay. In a world where the default image of a female hero was the heroic stance associated with a male hero, this would work as the equivalent of Superman in a cowboy hat, or Batman turned into a baby; not iconic, but representative of the fun weirdness of the silver age. But the world is not like that, so it doesn't.
And of course, they didn't use the cover image, they used the splash image. Which does not represent any incident in the story and in fact suggests the complete opposite of the actual theme.
Yes, it is a bad image to use for the cover of the collection, and one that is liable to put off as many potential readers as if it was all T&A, but given the alternative options, what would you have picked?
Thanks to the Grand Comics Database, from whom I steal many cover scans.
Thursday, July 12, 2007
Chill. It's cool. Just wait a while. There is nothing in comics that can't be fixed. Then screwed up. Then fixed again, retconned out of existence, brought back again under the most absurd pretext and then broken again.
It's getting so there is nothing in comics that you can rely on as permanent.
Okay, sure, there will always be a Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Wonder Woman, Fantastic Four, etc. etc. but even the most iconic heroes have been messed around with. Superman will always have been sent to Earth from a dying world, but the specifics of that world change so much that I now have no clue what Krypton looks like or what the people wear. Batman's parents will always have been shot, but what was the movie they went to see and who shot them? And if it's currently Joe Chill, what became of him, and how many different ways has he died?
Retcons have become so run of the mill that they don't even wait for big events like Crisis now. The Supergirl of the nineties didn't go down fighting like her predecessor; despite having been a part of the DC universe for sixteen years or more she was dropped from continuity between issues.
But that doesn't mean she can't come back. In fact she did come back for two issues of Superman/Batman, along with the also kicked out of continuity Cir-El and some kind of idiot analogue of the silver age Supergirl, but they are all forgotten again now. Until next time.
So opinions please: can you think of anything in mainstream comics that can relied on not to change? And bear in mind that just because something hasn't changed for a long time is no guarantee it won't in the future. Bucky got to rest in peace for sixty years before he came back.
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
I used to think Dark Horse had some integrity
JOHN NORMAN’S GOR OMNIBUS VOLUME 1
JOHN NORMAN (W)
On sale Nov. 21John Norman’s Gor Omnibus 1 collects the first three novels in the series. Prepare to take a journey to a land of passion and sorcery.
Novel, 768 pages
TPB, 5 1/8" x 7 ¼"
• The first of a series of affordable omnibus editions collecting the longest-running science fiction action/adventure series of all time.
• With twenty-six books in the Gor series, there are millions of copies in print, with a global audience that reaches across all age groups and demographics.
Not ALL age groups and demographics, I think you'll find.
And you left out the part about it being vile misogynist crap.
More Legion snippet sniping
Oh wait, I didn't mean death exactly. You see although Lightning Lad has been worm food since issue #304, they think he may only be mostly dead, which is a little bit alive (1), but rather than hooking him up to a life support, they seem to think he'll keep fine as he is. So Superboy goes off to investigate this planet where the people periodically fall into a state of death-like coma but then recover a few hours later. It's a condition that resembles what is known on 21st century Earth as sleep, barring the odd custom of this planet, where, rather than curling up in the comfort of one's own bed to lose consciousness, people of this world prefer to lie in perspex coffins out in the street.
After several more investigations by the six members of the Legion who are taking part (2) we find that Mon El knew a solution all along, which he demonstrates by having an android sacrifice itself to revive another android. I can't decide whether this is callous or idiotic. Either the androids are sentient lifeforms, in which case making one kill itself purely for demonstration purposes is reprehensible, or they are not living creatures and the demonstration is pointless (3).
So by a contrived quirk of plot, the only way to bring Lightning Lad back is by sacrificing one of our heroes. Except not. Because it turns out any old life form would do, as Chameleon Boy's expendable pet heroically bites the dust, only to be replaced by an identical copy a few issues later.
I'm not sure my brain can cope with attempting to explain the plot of Adventure #313, but I'll try. In a tortuously convoluted plot, Supergirl travels to the 30th century for one of her rare appearances in the Legion, but as she arrives she bumps into some red kryptonite that knocks her out and splits her in to two people. The first Supergirl to wake up decides that she wants to live a life of her own and not be rejoined when the temporary effect wears off.
She devises a plan where she believes that she can siphon off the "red kryptonite effect" from her body and, rather than just dump it in empty space, for no very obvious reason she has to use it to irradiate other people, and because deep down she has a death wish and wants to be found out, instead of picking on some defenceless nobodies in the back end of the galaxy, she uses it on the people best equipped to stop her; the Legion. And just to make sure that they won't be badly impaired, she only uses it on the female members (4) except for the other Supergirl, even though she's the only person present actually vulnerable to any form of kryptonite, and the only one putting up any resistance. And just to make sure everyone knows she is the villain, she calls herself Satan Girl.
Unfortunately it takes the Legion awhile to get organised because even the robot-nurses of Quarantine World are unable to tell the difference between radiation poisoning and a virus, and by the 30th century they have yet to invent a device that can detect kryptonite radiation.
In the end Supergirl devises a plan that involves travelling back in time to get some help, but rather than grabbing Superboy, Superman, or any other male hero (5) available to them in all of time, they go collect Streaky the super cat (6), Krypto, and other assorted super pets for an entirely superfluous guest star role as they don't achieve anything more than Supergirl was already doing solo; keeping Satan Girl busy until her time (7) ran out.
Does this story make sense on any level at all? I'm thinking not.
Adventure #314 has one of the funniest moments in the whole volume. Villainous Alaktor steals a Legion time machine and does a kind of evil Bill & Ted, collecting Nero, John Dillinger, and Hitler to help him do some bad thing or other. So he picks up the most despicable people in history he can think of, and then gives them super powers. And then they tie him up and go and do whatever the hell they like.
The pure comedy moment is the hurt look on the face of the naive villain when he finds he is being betrayed and whimpers "But you promised!"
It cracks me up every time.
1) If you didn't get the Princess Bride reference, shame on you.
2) presumably the rest of the team just didn't care enough to take part
3) It would have worked better with chickens
4) though interestingly, the male legionnaires contribute little if anything; this is very much a Supergirl story
5) remember as far as they are aware, only females are susceptible to Satan Girl's radiation virus
6) presumably having forgotten about Streaky's telepathic descendant Whizzy
7) which they didn't know about
Little hat syndrome
There's an old joke. A mother's at the seaside with her baby boy, who's playing in the sand by the water's edge. Suddenly a big wave crashes over the boy and sweeps him out to sea. The mother hysterically scans the ocean but he's gone, gone, gone, so she falls to her knees on the shore and sobbing, calls out to God.
"God, please God, I'll do anything, but you have to bring my boy back! Take me instead, strike me dead this instant, submit me to a thousand tortures, but please -- I'll give up all my money, everything I have in this life, I'll build a temple or a church in your name, whatever you want! But oh merciful God, I'm begging you, please give me back my child! "
There's a peal of thunder and a bolt of sunlight pierces the sea, and lo and behold, another big wave rolls to the shore and the baby boy is returned. Crying with joy, exclaiming a dozen thank-yous, the mother clutches her child to her bosom, and then holds him out for a loving look. She turns back to God. "God," she says. "He was wearing a little hat..."
Billy Mernit, who I stole the above quote from, talks about little hatting in creative writing, but it's equally applicable to comics criticism. I know I'm guilty of it, and I see it all around me. The better a comic is, the more any tiny fault stands out, and we end up focusing on that so much that any reader might get the impression that we absolutely hated something which in fact we consider a paragon, apart from this tiny thing that we feel the need to dwell on for three quarters of the review.
Saturday, July 07, 2007
A very dull rainbow
Since the Legion is composed not just of representatives from Earth, but from the entire Universe, you do rather get the feeling that the 30th century is a bit lacking in cultural diversity.
I realise that due to the prejudice of the time these comics were first published there are some parts of "the land of the free" where people would refuse to sell a comic that had a black face on it, but they could have thrown in a few pastel shades that the bigots wouldn't be offended by to at least suggest that the universe of the future wasn't almost entirely populated by white people. Of the sixteen legionnaires (guess which one is not featured on the big board here) and five subs who are supposed to represent maybe twenty different worlds, there are only two who are not white, and only one who has any physically different characteristics. And he's the one who can change himself to fit in whenever he wants.
And admittedly it's hard to tell when it's purely skin colour and you're reading a black and white reprint, but going by what I've so far read of this Showcase collection it appears that all women of the future are white Caucasians.