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.
Friday, July 06, 2007
Lighning Lad spontaneously comes back to life, except it's actually his twin sister in disguise, who has stolen his corpse and taken his place in the coffin (1), which nobody notices until Sun Boy spots she doesn't have an adam's apple, rather than that she's an entirely different shape. I'm guessing she must have used some kind of 30th century bodysuit because when we see her not pretending to be her own brother she is not only a lot less muscled, but has the largest bust size of any of the female legionnaires.
Even in what is often depicted as a utopian 30th century, women still live in fear of attracting the wrong sort of attention, and their plight is still largely ignored. Have the Legion ever fought evil men who have kidnapped super-powered girls and forced them to commit crimes? They just don't care. It seems like sometimes the only option is to dress up in your dead brother's clothes so you can carry on his work secretly(2).
What does it say about the Legion that when they catch criminals they feel perfectly entitled to walk off with any of the stolen goods that take their fancy?
And I realise how they might be annoyed by Lightning Lad's nameless sister for showing up how poor their observational skills are, but making her wear that outfit seems an extreme punishment. Apart from being the ugliest superhero costume of the silver age, it seems to yell "Look at my pants".
The silver age Legion of Monsters didn't feature Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, or even a werewolf, but it was still "the greatest threat to the Legion in their history". What, more than the threats that actually killed Legionnaires?
Isn't the universe depicted in this map a little small? Also flat? And who is missing from the Legion roundup this issue?(3)
And it's too risky for a girl to go on this mission, even though she's the only one at that point to achieve anything useful, and is in fact leader of the whole Legion .
We'll send in Bouncing Boy instead.
1) None of the Legionnaires are at all bothered by this.
2) For individual values of "secret".
3) Yes, it's Phantom Girl.
Thursday, July 05, 2007
It really is First Class
It's not that I particularly have anything against the X-Men, but their backstory is so huge and complicated that I can't imagine picking one up and having any clue who anybody is or what they are doing, even if it's explained. I read a lot of them when I was a much younger, but I have an idea that I wouldn't even recognise the characters I recognised. There is such a huge weight of continuity and I don't want to have to read a zillion other comics to make sense of the one in my hands, and that's before you add in all the recent "event" comics.
But I picked up X-Men: First Class #1 on a whim, and partly because it was free of all that continuity baggage. It's great. Sue Richards mentors a teenage Jean Grey, who is feeling a bit left out among her all-male team. Hilarity ensues.
I loved the story, I loved the subtle nuanced characterisation of everyone except the Mad Thinker, and I loved his unsubtle characterisation. I loved the art, which supported the characterisation so well. I loved that I could read a satisfying story in a single comic.
Come to think of it, the last Marvel comic I enjoyed was also written by Jeff Parker.
Wednesday, July 04, 2007
Anyway, I noticed today that they've done another one I am tempted by: a Wicked Witch of the West Barbie.
Except, wait a minute. I don't think this doll is finished.
I mean, doesn't she look awfully pretty to you?
Couldn't they at least have given her a hooked nose? I mean if they can make a doll look like Cher, how come the WWotW looks like a fashion model under disco lights? I realise it's supposed to be Barbie playing the WWotW, but is she such a primadonna that she'd refuse to do the makeup?
Ah well. Knowing me if I did get her I'd just dress her in spandex and call her She-Hulk Barbie.
Monday, July 02, 2007
accentuate the positive
But there's a lot of negativity in the feministicomicsblogospherahedron so I'm making an effort to temper my comments a bit, which means on the one hand I'm trying to save the rants for things that either really deserve them, or which I think I can be most entertaining about, and on the other means I am making an effort to find the positive, and to applaud the good things.
Case in point: I've seen a few criticisms of DC's somewhat frivolous covers for the upcoming Green Arrow/Black Canary wedding event. I've also seen criticisms of the criticisms (which seems to be the big growth area in fandom lately). I'd like to point out that (as far as I know) this is the first "event" from either Marvel or DC for longer than I care to remember that does not require the sacrifice of a likeable but not so popular hero to the god of crossovers.
Just for once they are going with "light romantic comedy" instead of "violent and nasty", and I think should be celebrated for this.
The Secret Origin of Exposition Girl
It becomes so bad that everyone has to constantly remind themselves of who they are and what they are doing in order to retain their own identities. A side effect of this problem being that everyone loses any nuances of personality, forgetting that they are untidy or have a favourite TV show. Popular culture dies overnight as people become more interested in their own doings than anything happening to some celebrity.
People take to carrying placards around with them that they can place in front of themselves to avoid the embarrassment of having to remind close friends of who they are.
One villain attempts to use this to trick their way into the Legion of Superheroes by convincing the legionnaires that they are already a member, but succeeds too well and entirely forgets that he is not a heroic stalwart of the team.
It is amid this chaos that a new hero arises. Emo librarian Jenerica Jones gained all the knowledge of the universe when a freak accident caused the computer terminal she was working on to download the entire galactic internet into her head.
Donning a brightly coloured costume and cape, she is quickly inducted into the Legion where she serves the invaluable (if rather dull) purpose of reminding them who they are and what they are doing. She is Exposition Girl.
Exposition Girl picture by Karen Ellis who draws stuff.