Friday, June 30, 2006

Yeah, I can totally see what Clark sees in Lois.

Mornin' Clark!, originally uploaded by googum.

Switching to Clark to put in an appearance at work, Superman discovers that his hand is turning green and scaly; and then he still goes out as Clark. Seriously? Take a sick day, man. Hand in pocket, Lois spots him coming out of the storeroom, and rags on him a bit. (Try it though: come out of your stockroom at work, hand in pocket, guilty look on your face. Best case scenario, security pats you down for stolen post-its. Best case.)

Seemingly in retaliation, Supes uses heat vision to snap the strap of her purse, and at superspeed uses her pancake makeup over the green. Couldn't he just take the makeup at superspeed, without wrecking Lois' purse?

Also: as I'm sure others have pointed out, Clark was coming out of that windowed storage room, a fixture of old Superman comics. When you sit in your cube and wonder if it's sunny or rainy or light outside, think of the golden age, when even storerooms had windows. The Daily Planet's office supplies had a better view than you do.

(Housekeeping note: I accidently lost three days worth of posts! Oh, I'm redoing them, but if they seem harsher than usual, well, that's why. Also, I've added more links, so if you're done here, hit them up!)

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Thursday, June 29, 2006

Another true confession: How Mr. Mxylptk made me a Marvel fan

Mxylptk splash, originally uploaded by googum.

Yet another confession: I really am more of a Marvel fan at heart. Blame Star Wars. I started at issue #10--not a high water mark for the series, Marvel, or comics in general; it was honestly, the Magnificent Seven with Han Solo and Chewbacca fighting Godzilla. Can we blog about Star Wars comics, or would that be a legal quagmire? Because I love those comics more than the last three movies, and I always will. So there. Eventually, I got a subscription, which I had through the last issue, #107. Marvel's sub department offered me two bonus issues if I switched to a different book, and I wish I remembered what I picked. X-Men seems the obvious one, but I might've picked a bloody New Universe book. Arrgh.

Anyway, why am I admitting my Marvel bias, when we're talking Superman today? Because I think these issues may have made me a Marvel fan. This was Superman #335, "Mxyzptlk spelled backwards is T-R-O-U-B-L-E," written by Martin Pasko and art by Curt Swan and Frank Chiaramonte.

The splash page and the cover overlap a bit, setting up the riddle for the issue: in a reversal of character, Mxyzptlk wants to be sent back to the fifth dimension, and Superman wants him to stay. I'm not a big Mxyzptlk fan, honestly. I know some fans enjoy his antics, and that Superman can't just punch him out, he has to work out the puzzle. Yeah, but then Superman can rearrange continental plates to spell Mxyzptlk's name backwards. And everything is always back to normal in the end, because when Mxyzptlk gets sent back, all the effects of his magic go with him.

So, there were two kinds of Mxyzptlk stories: one where he was up front about his trickery; the other where something odd would occur, then Superman would have to figure out Mxyzptlk was behind it and outwit him. For example, there was a Legion of Super-Heroes story where Mask Man kills all the Legionaires except Superboy. Superboy finds out Mask Man was really a descendant of Mxyzptlk's, tricks him into saying his name backwards, and everything pops back to normal, all the Legionaires alive and well.

The closest comparison I can think of is Q from Star Trek, except Mxyzptlk doesn't teach anyone a goddamn thing. Ever.

This story opens on Valentine's Day, and Superman and Lois are spending it on the couch. There's a box of candy on the coffee table that looks like he picked it up at the convenience store on the way home. Yeah, I'm sure Lois wouldn't want diamonds, diamonds you could make yourself, you lazy jerk! Ahem. Actually, they are relaxing after wrapping up whatever happened last issue. Superman muses about what a great team they are, and how great it would be is they could get married, but of course they can't. Too dangerous.

Lois has heard this all before, and apppears to be tuning out a bit. Someone else blogged this panel (if it was you, let me know!) where Lois explains that "In the past three years alone, I've been kidnapped 17 times, shot at an average of twice a month, and been the victim of various other kinds of murder-attempts on no less than 38 separate occasions!" That's pretty exact, Lois. I mean, if I got shot at, it would stick in my mind; but for you it has to start to run together. Maybe the Planet has a big board for that, or her lawyer sends her a weekly update.

Superman says he's tried over and over to give Lois super-powers so she wouldn't be endangered. God, that's dickery. I was 8 when I got this issue, and I knew Lois was not getting powers. What then? Would Lois be a superhero too? Wouldn't that be dangerous? What he have to give powers to Jimmy and Perry and Batman and the neighbor kids and the postman...

Just admit you can't commit, ok?

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"?!" I think my first reaction would be "PFFFUCCK!!"

Chomp!, originally uploaded by googum.

Meanwhile, Mxyzptlk is getting his ass deported to the third dimension, for playing one too many practical jokes. The rub is, his wedding is tomorrow, to the lovely-in-a-Curt-Swan-munchkin-way Miss Bgbznz. Man, this has got to help my typing.

Superman is busy in his Fortress milking venom from a catfish-alligator looking creature from a red sun system, in yet another sentence that sounds horrible out of context. The creature also has powers on Earth, but apparently is content to sit in his cage instead of incinerating humans with reptile vision or whatever. Supes thinks he can use its venom to give a human super-powers. Then his earth monitor alarm goes off, scaring the creature, who bites Superman's hand, as Superman helpfully narrates. I would think someone who rarely ever feels any pain would be a little more immediately concerned. Hell, the kids, dog, and wife bite, poke, and pinch me all the damn time and I yell. Very stoic, Supes.

Superman rushes to the scene of a fire at the International Toymaker's Building, yet more proof that the DCU has it all over the real world. Archeitects, why isn't there a revolving restaurant in the shape of a top in every city of the globe? Because you have failed. Oh, and because it's apparently a huge fire hazard. Supes fuses four trucks worth of firehoses together, then uses the top as a "super-sprinkler!" which takes care of the roof, I guess. And the gears that turn the restaurant, and the stuff inside...I guess several million worth of property damage to extinguish a fire that would destroy the entire building is ok, but aren't there about two dozen other ways you could've put it out?

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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Visit the relatively well-lit Dark Dimension!

Last time, Thor was invading Dormammu's home, the Dark Dimension, in an effort to help his dad Odin not get beat at chess. Seems like a lot of work, doesn't it? How about for a cosmic chess game with serious, vague, possible repercussions for the entire universe? Thor mentions the Dark Dimension hasn't improved since the last time he was there; but really, did you expect it to? Like Dormammu was gonna put in hardwood floors or something?

I like this page: Luke McDonnell and Vince Colletta do a lot of smaller panels in this issue, so they deserve a big shot here. Plus, I like the idea of mixing the Ditko/Dr. Strange style landscape with the raw Kirby of Thor.

While Thor smashes the big green...whatsit...Sif has been captured by Dormammu's sister, the Unspeakable, Unmerciful, Unsatiable Umar. (I know it's spelled Insatiable, but it's almost funny the other way!) She recently had a memorable role in the last Defenders series, and that was pretty funny. Here she's straight up vampy extradimensional evil, and puts Sif under the "G'Uranthic Guardian." It's a big evil statue with one eye, six arms, and a blue mind-zapping light. In best serial villain tradition, Umar reveals that her spells and trickery made Thor aware of the Great Game, then leaves Sif under the zapper.

Sif manages to get out from under the blue light, but is drained. Thor hears her scream as demons attack her, but he ends up rescuing Jane Foster, his nurse/love interest from his early appearances. Sif and Jane had been merged into one sometime in the past, and to Claremont's credit he doesn't get really into it. Twenty-seven panels in the last three pages, by way.

Umar attacks and is defeated even though she uses/namechecks at least three of Dr. Strange's brandname spells. She reveals that any player that leaves the chess board before the game is over forfeits the game, so by now Odin is regretting finishing that Super Big Gulp Dormammu bought him. Ooh, evil. Umar suggests that releasing the Mindless One (and I thought it was Ones, and I think they'll be in Nextwave soon!) would bring Dormammu running.

Jane struggles to remember what happened to her, and what mission Odin set for Sif, and then is attacked by a leftover demon. Instead of screaming for Thor like she did in every other appearance ever, Jane kills the demon with Sif's sword, then uses it to stop Thor's hammer. Umar asks if Thor wants Lord Chaos to remake the universe, but Jane points out Odin wouldn't want to win by treachery. Thor shakes it off, and realizes what he's doing. Umar then tries to kill them again, but they escape to Chicago.

Thor and Jane take a moment at the World Trade Center. Jane laments that she loves Thor but couldn't live in Asgard, while Sif loves him as well, but couldn't live on earth. Thor's response is little more than, "Yeah, that sucks." Seriously. Jane reverts back to Sif. They return to Asgard, where the Great Game has ended.

Odin reveals that the game has once again ended in a draw, as it should every year, Order and Chaos both make up the circle of life, blah blah bearded manservant, prepare the Bedchamber Royal! In conclusion, Odin gives Thor and Sif commorative tokens of their roles in the Great Game: pawns, Sif's White, Odin's color; Thor's Black. Odin: total dick.

In the closer, Thor worries about next year's Great Game, and the years after that. Maybe Zeus picked up next year's against Darkseid!

Summarizing the last bit here, it seems like a lot crammed into the last third of the annual; but I'd rather that than Claremont stretch it into four issues or longer. Not as many even unintentional laughs in the last stretch, though. Thor's been gone for a few years now, and I'm hoping a version pretty close to Walt Simonson's comes back. It just seems like Marvel doesn't want stories about far-flung dimensions and gods walking among men; when it can have issue after issue of heroes being dicks, and getting rid of the last few secret identities.

Anyway, coming up next, or soonish: more Superman tomfoolery!

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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

More of Loki than you probably reasonably expected to see today:

This is one of those comic oddities that I thought was weird when I was 10; and is disturbing even today: why is Loki chained to his wife in bed? OK, you can probably think of a reason, but why? Why why why? Those aren't exactly "fun-cuffs" either, that's a fucking manacle. See, I would never do anything like that. I usually have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, and my wife is not waking her ass up for that...

And Loki rocking the pointed ears, for some reason...

All right: Last time, a semi-concussed Thor was the only one in Asgard who noticed weird lights and new, demonic guards. After stomping a few guards, he goes to get his dad, All-Father Odin, to nip that in the bud.

Odin, however, is busy playing chess, like all old, crazily bearded coots. His opponent is long-time Dr. Strange (and Smokey the Bear) enemy the dread Dormammu, which isn't really a big surprise since it's on the cover. So, the art crew foregoes an establishing shot of him, to focus on the weird giant floating heads of Lord Chaos and Master Order over Dormammu and Odin, respectively. As Dormammu takes another of Odin's pieces, Thor realizes that Chaos grows and Order shrinks. Too bad this was 1981, otherwise ESPN 2 would be all over that.

No one else can see the chess match, just like the rest of the weirdness, so Thor jumps to the conclusion that this is Loki's doing. Admittedly, not a huge stretch. He shows up at Loki's, kicks down the door, and drags around Mr. and Mrs. Loki; who, based on this page, sleep handcuffed in their living room. Wrong, just wrong. Loki denies having anything to do with anything, and Thor grudgingly believes him. Mrs. Loki is concerned for her hubby, who wishes "Fell Damnation!" upon his brother. Maybe with reason that time, gotta admit.

But, I don't remember seeing Mrs. Loki--OK, her name's Sigyn--through Simonson's run on Thor, so I'm mildly curious what happened to her. Although, it's certainly possible that if you're sleeping chained to your wife, and your psycho brother busts in with a hammer and starts accusing you of insane gibberish, then leaves, and you don't kick his ass? Yeah, Asgardian Divorce Court. Probably involves some crazy hats and a quest for a Golden Grapefruit or some damn thing.

Meanwhile, back in the comic, Thor goes to Mimir, the Well of Wisdom; who's a big flaming face on a plate, and has a syndicated radio call-in show in 37 national markets. Even though Mimir admits hating Odin, he's still able to put Thor up to single-handedly invading Dormammu's Dark Dimension.

Odin's ravens tell him that Thor has left, and Odin sends the ravens to get Sif to head Thor off. Dormammu, however, has his head in the game, and has put Odin in check again. Which makes a lot more sense to me now, then it did to 1981-me that had never played chess, and could only assume: "Check=Bad." Which is why I don't spell-check to this day...

Tomorrow: Fun in the Dark Dimension! Now with 38% More Ditko!

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Monday, June 26, 2006

Thor Annual #9 was written by Chris Claremont, with art by Luke McDonnell. Now, I'm not saying Claremont is verbose (I got what, four posts out of one Moon Knight issue, so my stone throwing days may be over) but it took three letterers to do this issue...Again, I feel like I'm being harsh on Claremont, and I want to say I usually enjoy his work. It's just that he has a very set dialog and narration style, as well as certain themes that he comes back to over, and over, and over some more. (Slavery, mental control/domination, good characters turning evil, there's more and you know it.)

Oddly, I don't think I noticed, until I saw some of his non-X-Men work. Claremont used to do a fair number of the Marvel Annuals. Avengers Annual#10 is probably the best known, as it guests the X-Men and has Rouge and blah, blah, blah. But he also wrote the first Star Wars annual, and an issue of Savage Sword of Conan (issue #74, hit your local comic shop now! Or don't.) I really liked the Star Wars one as a kid, but reading it now, after I've read his other work, and it's like the framework of his style is painfully visible. A story by Claremont reads as a Claremont story, regardless of whether it has Thor, Luke Skywalker, or Wolverine. Sometimes, it totally works, sometimes it's completely obtrusive. But enough snark! On to this issue!

This was way back in the day, when Thor still had the secret identity of Dr. Donald Blake. Perhaps because there was the space for it in a "King-Sized Annual!" but the issue starts with the good doctor actually performing medicine! I've read a good chunk of Thor, and I think I've seen him use those skills more in Avengers than in his own book. Nineteen panels between the second and third pages, which I like. Afterwards, Dr. Blake turns down another doctor because he has plans to go skiing that weekend, leaving her to wonder how a lame man could go skiing in the middle of summer. Y'know, after they wrote off Jane Foster from his book, Thor got really halfassed about his secret identity. And since I just watched an episode of House, I'm glad Dr. Blake was phased out, because Marvel would totally turn him into House. No question.

But, when Thor says skiing, he means "racing bigass pseudo-Viking longboats through the ice floes of the Sea of Marmora, and fighting sea serpents, if need be." After the serpents unwisely attack the boat with Balder, Hogun, Sif, Fandral and Volstagg; Thor goes to help the other ships in the race. He's lured to help an illusion of Sif, and a falling mast knocks Thor out, and into the water. Thor's invulnerability is weird. Like Wonder Woman, Thor usually blocks bullets or lasers shot at him. (Thor with his hammer, of course.) He usually seems able to breathe in space, or at least not particularly bothered by it. Yet, for this story, the unconscious Thor would have drowned if not rescued by the real Sif.

In the same vein as Thor's on-off invulnerability, Sif has to fight hard through the ice-water, struggling for breath and weighed down by her armor...but if I recall my Marvel Handbooks, Sif can bench press at least 15 tons. Maybe more. She should've been strong enough to throw Thor from the bottom to the surface. We'll file that under "dramatic license" and leave it be.

Thor's crew takes him to the physician, and they and the other, lesser gods set sail for Asgard. The narration points out that there were many lost to the serpents, which is why the Norse no longer have deities for Interior Decorating, Investigative Telejournalism, and apparently Blogging. Plus, a Viking Physician, even a Viking God Physician, doesn't sound like a great deal. Nine times out of ten, he prescribes hallucinogenic mushrooms. The tenth time, grog.

You know, to wax nostalgic for a moment: I honestly think I miss the days when a hero could deliver a lengthy monologue, and a mighty punch, in the same panel. This panel's a little thick, to the extent it takes away from the action; but I almost prefer it to panel after panel of dialog with nothing happening. The "monologue punch," if you will, used to be more prevalent back when it was believed every comic could be someone's first comic, so you had to recap for the new kids. And recap. And recap. Read a few Marvel Essential volumes, and you'll see it. And see it. And see it. I suppose the problem there is, if you came up with a great expression for the character's powers like "Focused Totality" you are by god going to use it. And it's easier to reuse then come up with a new one every month.

Holy crap, and I was pitching Claremont crap for wordiness...hell, we'll pick it up from Asgard tomorrow. Guess the villain now, if you can, and no peeking for the cover!

By the way: Thor, next time you're going ice-longboat racing, you might wanna leave Volstagg at home. Although, winning with him on board would dramatically improve your bragging rights.

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Hmm. That sounds like a great pitch for this blog-thing: "Be Momentarily Distracted!"

First up today: A big thank-you to Scipio from the Absorbascon for the kind words, and I'm glad you got a laugh out of Fate zapping Superman, just like the rest of the Justice League. And the Society. And the Seven Soldiers...

Second, when I picked Random Happenstance for the name of this blog, it wasn't just because it was the first name to occur to me. All right, maybe it was the first name that didn't have swears or an obscure comics-related reference with swears, but as it stands the name has become eerily prescient. Because even if I have a potential post completely written, on more than one occasion so far finding the actual comic in question has been like pulling teeth.

For example, I've been trying to find Captain America Annual #7. Aquarian guest stars, and he's been appearing here and there in the blogs lately. I wish I remembered who first referred to Aquarian as "Marvel Jesus," 'cause I wish I could take credit for that one. But I clearly remember Cap putting Aquarian in an armlock to make him drop the cosmic cube. I'm pretty sure it's #7...shuffle off to Grand Comic Book Database. Look up Cap Annuals. See that #7 is in fact the one I'm thinking of, but realize I also had #5 back in the day, and have no idea where either one is. Curse loudly in my cube. Duck down below eye level, realize I still have like five hours of work left. Bite down on fist, curse loudly.

Well, if I don't find those two, I may check the comic shop for 'em, since I don't think those will be back issue gold. I really loved the annuals when I was younger, and some like Amazing Spider-Man Annual #15, with Punisher and Doc Ock and Frank Miller, or X-Men Annual #6, with Dracula; still hold up today. Instead of those, I found Thor Annual #9 in a box of mostly Captain America, and we'll discuss that one tomorrow!

Other bloggers: I use the Happenstance Method:
1. Think of something funny from a comic I probably have somewhere.
2. Look for that comic in my pile of unorganized comics.
3. Find something else, blog about that.
How do you do it? I understand it's a sin to blog about blogging, but I'm genuinely curious! Let me know! And trust me, your blog secrets might not be exactly safe with me, but I won't be using them, as that would involve "planning," and "foresight," and "organization."

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Sunday, June 25, 2006

Ah, I shoulda had this done yesterday, but the upstairs of my house (where the computer is) is like an armpit when it gets this hot. The whole family fell asleep downstairs before nine...God, now I feel bad because Moon Knight's able to get up after spinal injury, and I can't drag my ass upstairs. Well, moving on.

Back in action, Moon Knight then does a couple things I thought were unusual (for comics), but smart: He doesn't go tearing after the Fly for revenge, although maybe he heard about the execution. (I don't suppose the Fly's death would be headline news, except maybe the Daily Bugle. J. Jonah Jameson wouldn't be able to resist "FLY--SWATTED!" as a banner headline.) Instead, he goes to the X-Men, to get some info on Bora's wind powers from Professor X. In a lot of other comics, Professor X would drop the science/exposition, then, OK, have fun storming the castle. In this one, he sends his students in as backup.

Meanwhile, Marc's already his regular backup crew of Marlene and Frenchie in place, then he's got the Fantastic Four riding shotgun. Awesome. It's fun because you never see that. Usually Thanos or Godzilla or possibly God is tearing up downtown New York, and Spider-Man's wondering why no one's helping him. Short answer: The Fantastic Four are in the Negative Zone (not a metaphor!), the X-Men are mutants and no one likes them, and the Avengers just got a bunch of Netflix and turned off their phone.

So, even though there's still a ton of innocent bystanders, and a dance troupe, and apparently the building isn't that structurally sound; Moon Knight's able to fight Bora knowing that the civilians are safe. Safer. Even though there's a nice bit where both Storm and the Human Torch have to be held back from taking Bora themselves and leveling the place in the process.

In the end, of course Bora is defeated, and Moon Knight regains his confidence and drive to go on, which would be violently derailed in about two issues when his book was made "Fist of Khonshu." Moon Knight had previously been a test book for direct sales only, and was being rotated back to regular distribution (back when comics had regular distribution...) so Marvel gave him a new first issue and costume. Not so great, and Moon Knight's had a few shining moments here and there since, but the first 36 issues remain the best.

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Friday, June 23, 2006

So, when last we saw Moon Knight, title hero Marc Spector been put into a wheelchair by a villain who had like three total appearences in other comics, and he had just witnessed the execution of a ballet dancer by a bitter ex-student turned homicidal mutant. Ye gods, from that sentence alone, a writer today would get four issues out of it. Although, back then I think Moon Knight was a 75-cent book, so even at four issues it would've been cheaper than a book today. But, this was going to be more about why this was a cool book, and less about how everything today sucks.

Now, here's where we pretty much nail down that Marc has God, or at least Khnoshu, on his side; as he pretty much wills his ass out of his wheelchair. When I read this issue, I was like twelve or thirteen, and it was definitely a big moment. Now, looking back, I try to imagine being able to force your spine to knit by sheer mind power...and I don't see it happening. Christopher Reeve wanted it pretty badly too, and he couldn't do it. Does it undermine my enjoyment of this story? Frankly, not really. If you can accept mutants and human flies...

Bruce Wayne would find himself in similar territory around issue #500, when Bane breaks his beak, and Azrael replaces him for a little over a year. Bruce goes through a little drama in a wheelchair, and is then healed by doctor/love interest Shondra Kinsolving, who is then mentally reverted to childhood and never seen again. Not one of Batman's high points: I just reread that issue, and three people figure out Bruce is Batman, and then end up either dead or mind-erased. It's weird and unsettling when something as seemingly dumb like Khnoshu, Egyptian God of the Moon, becomes the more sensible answer. On the other hand, I would totally go to the office of Dr. Love Interest.

So, to recap: Batman paralyzed for about a year through three different comics; Moon Knight for about twenty pages. I think it's pretty obvious who the better character is, isn't it?

(And that's how I ended up with the internet's equivalent of a bag of flaming poop on my site...)

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Thursday, June 22, 2006

Just for the sake of example, we're going to be talking about Moon Knight. This wasn't originally intended to be about decompression, and I'm not saying that spacing stories into longer arcs is necessarily a bad thing, but for comparison purposes.

And to be clear, Doug Moench and Bill Sienkiewicz's run on Moon Knight: incredible, especially for a character that charitably can be described as Marvel's Batman. I also think Charlie Huston and David Finch are off to a good start on the most recent series, but...I'm worried it's going to be a series that by issue 5 or so, you would probably be better off setting the individual issues aside to read all at once. The storyline, "The Bottom," is going to run six issues. Issue one is all setup, and issue two is a flashback to how Marc Spector arrived to at least some of his lowly state (he may have sunk even lower after that).

But, I had intended to post about Moon Knight #35 anyway (written by Tony Isabella, art by Nowlan, McLeod, Potts, and Chiodo) and it just so happened to be a counter-point to the current issues. In the space of one issue, Marc gets his ass handed to him by Spider-man villain the Fly, is paralyzed, witnesses the surprisingly noble death of a ballet dancer (!), recovers out of sheer will, goes to Professor X for help, then takes down the villain at the ballet. Guest starring the X-Men and the Fantastic Four.

It's one issue, albeit a double-sized one, 42 pages. And it doesn't feel cramped at all.

First, the ass-kicking. I'm surprised this doesn't happen more often in the Marvel Universe: a bad guy whom Spider-man routinely trounces, turns out to be a very dangerous opponent. I figure everyone just thinks Spidey's a big whiner: "'Oh, I had to fight Sandman AND Hydroman! Wah wah wah!' Parker, you nancy." But Spidey makes it look easy because he has to beat these guys every week and twice on Sundays, plus he's got a great set of powers; and even then he usually gets beaten up the first time he fights someone. Just because Spidey concusses the Rhino on a regular, and hilarious, basis; doesn't mean that Hawkeye could take him.*

In Moon Knight's defense, I probably would've thought I could take the Fly too. But Marc ends up paralyzed, and the Fly escapes to be killed by Scourge in the background of Amazing Spider-Man #276. Marvel back then had a coherent, related universe: sometimes, something happening in one book; would affect another book; but without a 63-part crossover or corner tags or huge black bars across the covers. The opposite of this would be Kang destroying Washington DC, taking over America, and hunting down or capturing other heroes (in Kurt Busiek's Avengers run) WITHOUT it ever being mentioned in any other Marvel Comic. (Otherwise, a great storyarc that we'll hit some other time!)

Paralyzed, Marc, under his other identity of millionaire Steven Grant, has more time to devote to supporting the arts, backing a Russian ballet dancer that appears to be an analog for Mikhail Barishnikov. God, it took me frickin' ever to find the correct spelling of his name, so I hope you appreciate it. At a promotional performance, the dancer is attacked and killed by Bora, a 6'7'' former student of his, who became a giant and a mutant at the same time. She laments no ballet ever being written for someone of her height, and kills her teacher for defecting, although it really seems like sour grapes to me. Nowadays, Bora could probably get on So You Think You Can Dance, hopefully starting her killing spree when she's cut in the third week.

More Moon Knight tomorrow!

*A scene I would love to see:

Iron Man, flying over Manhattan.

IRON MAN: Hmm. My radar's picking up something...the Green Goblin!

The Goblin, tearing across the sky on his glider. He doesn't see Iron Man, flying behind him at six o'clock high.

IRON MAN: I think I'll do Parker a favor and take him down. Then neither of us will have to listen to his aunt tell us how dangerous Osborn is...heh-heh. Ooh, the scary Green Goblin!...pffft.

Iron Man swoops forward and stops, hands in repulsor firing position.

IRON MAN: (amplified by armor) Norman Osborn: land the glider and surrender. You have--

Goblin throws a half dozen pumpkin bombs and razor-bats at Iron Man's head before he finishes.

IRON MAN: Sonuvva--

Scene change: twenty minutes later. Back at Avenger's Tower, Peter and Mary Jane are enjoying coffee and the paper. In the background, the elevator dings and opens.

Tony enters, armor thrashed, razor-bats sticking out of his shoulder, dented helmet-facemask under his arm. Hair messed, gash on forehead.

TONY: Um, Peter?

PETER: (still reading the paper) Yeah, boss?

TONY: Um, I'm giving you a raise. Retroactively. To ten years ago.

PETER: (He and MJ, still reading.) Neat.

TONY: Yeah, neat. Oh, and...(under his breath) the Green Goblin's looking for you. Norman says hi.

PETER: (Still reading paper) Oh yeah? Well, don't worry. I'm on it.

PETER: (Still reading paper)

PETER: (Still reading paper)

MJ: (Coughs.)

TONY: Yeah, uh, thanks. I'll be in the lab.

PETER: (Still reading.)

TONY: Yeah, if anyone needs me...I'll the lab.

(Hey, I like Iron Man, but he kinda has this coming!)

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Once upon a time...

And it was quite some time ago; when Batman was a detective, and a martial artist, and yes Homer, Batman's a scientist. But he didn't have secret plans (in easily hackable databases) for synthetic Kryptonite or fear-gassing Aquaman or turning the gangs against each other or stealing Mr. Terrific's T-Spheres or launching a killer satellite. And even if he did have the plans, he didn't intend to carry them out alone. He had teams (that he worked with as an equal, not like a scary boss), he had friends (not distractions), he had girlfriends (not just the models he used as fronts), and he had a son (whether he was a "ward" or not). He was a Batman that could admit he didn't know or couldn't do everything, that knew when he needed help and wasn't above taking it, that sometimes worried about failing.

I kind of miss that Batman. But I think he might be on the way back. Of course, this was also the Batman that put information in the Bat-Computer, than followed whatever random-ass conclusion it spit up, but it still might be a fair trade.

Anyway, I just added some links to this doofy site, and I will carry on about that later. Suffice to say, the links go to sites with more fun. But, I'm tired, I didn't blog much today since my wife rented Unleashed and it had to go back. Coming soon: Moon Knight vs. Decompression! Read more!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Sadly, I use the line "It's malignant!" all the time.

I know Hilary Barta did some Splash Branigan stories for Alan Moore, but the last thing I saw from him was the adaptation-slash-"director's cut" for Bruce Campbell's the Man with the Screaming Brain. Good stuff.

Anyway, this Wednesday I picked up a pretty good pile, including new All-Star Superman, Ultimates 2, the first issue of Casanova, and Claremont's last Uncanny X-Men and annual.

Since recently taking ill, Claremont may have only gotten the plot credit for the last issue of Uncanny. Although I haven't cared for a lot of his stuff in recent years, his good work still far outweighs the bad, and I hope he's doing better.

But, on that I'm going to read more comics. More fun later. Probably. Read more!
I said, I was going to read comics!

Well, since I saved the picture Sunday night, the post I did for it today posted under Sunday. So today's entry for Wednesday is further down the page. Probably a way to fix that, but I'm reading! Come back later!

Edit: Fixed! Yay, I'm learnding! Read more!

Sunday, June 18, 2006

On the Eternals...
Another confession: I have a ton of comics, and I'm not super-organized. And I wasn't very organized in the first place, but now that all my junk is downstairs, it seems to be organized by what I bought that week. That would be bad enough if I wasn't a quarter book junkie. Love 'em. I don't care about condition, and while you'd think for twenty-eight cents a pop (with tax, thanks WA!) I would be getting old Valiant, 90's Image/Extreme/Awesome, or worse; I have pulled a lot of greatness out of the bins.

And a lot of silliness.

I was actually looking for something else when I found this in my stacks, but that's why this blog is "Random Happenstance" and not "Super-Organized Comic Funtime Cleanup." No. Anyway, this time we have New Eternals, Apocalypse Now, from Marvel, 1999; written by Karl Bollers and Mike Higgins, art by Joe Bennett and Scott Hanna. I will bet you a quarter the new Neil Gaiman/John Romita Jr. Eternals series doesn't reference this one. Which is kind of a shame: it's got Karkas! Actually, I better hope the demand doesn't skyrocket up, since my son stepped on it when I left it on the couch.

The Eternals was one of Jack Kirby's creations, but I have to admit it's not my favorite. Partially because the book introduces two advanced races hidden away from the eyes of man, fighting a secret war against each other...not unlike the Inhumans, the Atlanteans, the various races of the Savage Land, the Zero People, the Morlocks, the Moloids, the Externals, the ClanDestine, the Neo, and DC and Marvel bloggers. And that's just the secret races I could think of off the top of my head. (And yet, all of yesterday? Completely blacked out of my head. Nice.) Between that, the assorted aliens, paramilitary groups, monsters, and secret societies that inhabit the Marvel Universe; and there's more hidden cultures then there are regular people. I guess that's why books like Spider-Man don't have time for the supporting cast the way they used to, because if you aren't a Skrull, member of the Hellfire Club, and/or A.I.M. scientist; you're obviously useless.

Anyway. The Eternals have had 40 issues at Marvel: the original, Kirby series for 19 issues and an annual, a 12 issue limited from 1985, two one-shots, and Chuck Austen's "The Eternal," which perhaps ironically lasted only 6 issues. Compare that to the similar New Gods at DC: also created by Kirby, with about 63 issues total, plus some appearances in Adventure Comics. But the New Gods Orion and Mister Miracle have also had their own solo books, and often appear in regular DC titles like JLA. Of course, Darkseid also has made a ton of appearances in lots of books, ranging from Superman/Batman to Legion of Super Heroes to Ambush Bug. Still, short answer is the Eternals and the New Gods have a lot of similarities, like the inability to carry a book, even though they get another shot every so often.

Back at Marvel, Thanos and Starfox were both from an offshoot of the Eternals from Titan. Kirby didn't create them, and I don't think they were referred to as Eternals at first. Maybe. The other Eternal with the most exposure is probably Sersi, who was an Avenger for a good stretch of issues starting around #308, through #375. Although that's not a bad run, I'm not sure she was that popular. The trouble with the Eternals is that they were very powerful, especially in terms of the Marvel Universe. Some Eternals had specialized powers like superspeed or invention or matter transmutation, and all of them had eyebeams (not heat vision, but something), superstrength, flight, control over their molecular structure. That last one covers a lot of ground, from walking through walls to not being disintegrated. Then there's the Uni-Mind, where a bunch of Eternals can link up into a giant floating brain. It might be effective, but Voltron it's not.

On the other hand, the Deviants were for the most part ugly little monsters. Occasionally, you'd see one that was a pretty good sized monster, or had one semi-useful power; but overall the Morlocks seemed more threatening. It's all relative, of course. Like a lot of things in comics, there's a context that gets taken for granted. When you only see the Deviants fighting the Eternals, it doesn't seem like that big of a deal. However, if an army of drooling, psychotic Deviants drove a drilling machine through the parking lot at your work and started shooting up the place...well, that would be a threat, but it would also be like the best afternoon ever! Plus, I think (from one of the write-ups on them for Newsarama or the Handbooks) that the Deviants are so ugly, their population is starting to diminish. They're too ugly to breed with each other, so they've got to be getting pissy.

Wait a sec...if that's true about the breeding, why do the Deviants hate Ransak, "the Reject," who looks like a really pretty Kirby hero? Shouldn't he be their idol, instead of Ghaur, a guy who's head looks like a California raisin? There's like some kind of beauty triple-standard over in Deviant land. I blame advertising for creating an unattainable body image. So, Ransak usually runs with the Eternals now, even though they kind of look down on him as a savage, but pretty. Also, they usually take his drinking buddy Karkas, as part of the deal.

Which brings us to a big problem with New Eternals: Karkas, a big dinosaur-like Deviant with weird claw-hands and an oddly-shaped head, had always been a bright comic red in his previous appearances. In this issue he's green. OK, I thought while reading, but as a Deviant, those things could change color drastically for any number of reasons. He could've mutated, or he could change with age. Maybe he's a man now!

And then, later in the story, after he's mutated into a giant, Godzilla-esque monster, Karkas is referred to as "Big Red." Oops.

Also not helping the Eternals' efforts in finding readers: Ikaris puts together a team of his fellow Eternals (and Ransak) to fight Apocalypse. OK. Most of his new Eternals had human secret identities. With me so far? Then, because he doesn't want to reveal the existence of the Eternals (as a secret race of godlike beings) to the general public; he passes his team off as just another group of superpowered humans, like the Defenders or Champions or Thunderbolts...bad examples. But, that means for most of the characters, there was the real, or Eternal name; then the human id, then the superhero name. Throw in the backstory of who the Eternals and Deviants were, the return of Ikaris' long-departed (and possibly never before seen) father, and a subplot with a golden statue and the U.S. military; and you get not the most easily accessible comic ever.

I really like Joe Bennett's art: I think it's solid and tells the story, without trying to showboat. But he had a tough row to hoe in costume designs here: think Jack Kirby 1999. Actually, think of all the excesses of Kirby and say, Liefeld, in the same outfit. Also, in the Street Fighter tradition, stereotypes are in this season: Native American guy gets feathers, black techno guy gets nonsensically huge armor, and so on.

Finally, at the ending press conference, Ikaris appears to be making up new names for his teammates on the fly, also apparently in the Liefeld method: "Meet...Shiny! Steel! T.Hawk! Bald-Psychic Guy that's not Professor X! Electric Jubilee? Chai Tea? Psylocke 2.0? Warhead...really, you wanna be 'Warhead'? All right, man...and Sersi again! Humanity's latest line of defense--The New Breed!" Latest line of defense? Between the League of Women Voters and the Coast Guard, no doubt. Oh, right, Marvel Universe: between the X-Terminators and the Texas Rangers.

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Happy Father's Day! Unless you're not a dad, I guess...

from Excalibur #46, Alan Davis, originally uploaded by googum.

Considering I spent a good deal of Father's Day working on the toilet, it turned out pretty well. (Hence today's panels, and besides, Alan Davis had an incredible second run on Excalibur. Although, I think the bathroom was wrecked more than once in those issues.) Honestly, I don't even mind that, as it seems like a pretty dad thing to do.

I woke up for a moment this morning to give the baby a sippy-cup, then my wife let me sleep in. I dreamed I was at Wal-Mart, looking for a couple of the Marvel Legends Giant-Man series I needed. And there was a Rom Marvel Legend. He looked great, but was more of a white than a silver; with 37 points of articulation, and his neutralizer. And a Nightcrawler with his Excalibur uniform, and I grabbed two of those. He came with his sword, and an issue of Uncanny Origins. (Good Marc Campos art in that one, I believe.)

For some reason, the comic with Rom was an old issue of Penthouse.

I woke up, saddened by my loss of imaginary figures. Attention Toy Biz, Hasbro, Parker Brothers, some guy in a garage: I would totally buy those.

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Worf had assumed that all androids would play pull my finger.

Weird. I had originally intended for this to be one of my first posts, but couldn't get the picture to load, then lost it and had to retype it. I also have better Worf and Red Tornado figures, but these were the ones I found first. The Worf was a promo from a retail convention, and Red was from the JLA/Total Justice line. But what do they have in common? Well, let's see.

Like many geeks, I watched Star Trek: the Next Generation devotedly when it first aired; then again in syndication. Repeatedly. Like an old photo handled, passed around, and left out in the light for years; Next Generation is starting to show its age a bit. Some of the effects seem dated, the early uniforms seem retro; and plotlines were used, reused, then used some more. The reuse may not necessarily have been by Trek, but the plots still wear out. The first season looked dated after the second season, which didn't help.

Anyway, my friend Christian Hemion (I want him to get credit for this!) pointed this out pretty early on: Worf is a badass. Even with horrible, horrible hair and drinking prune juice, Worf was Trek's designated asskicker for years. Which lead to a problem, not with Worf per se, but dramatic shorthand, or lazy writing.

Problem: when introducing the threat or villain of the week, the writers may only have a limited amount of time to show how or why it is a threat. How can you make this hypothetical villain tough? Well, in the old Star Trek, the monster of the week would start by wiping out a few security officers, the Redshirts. By the time of TNG, this was a fondly remembered but nonetheless terrible cliche, so something new was needed. It seems the answer was, have the new villain kick the tar out of Worf.

"Wow, that guy must be super tough! He messed Worf up!" By itself, nothing should be wrong with that. After all, while Worf was established as a formidable fighter, he wasn't invulnerable or unstoppable.

The trouble is, when you pull that trick more than once or twice, Worf starts to seem less hardass, more handed his ass. A character that was once respected can become a laughing stock. So, Christian's term for this writing shortcut was Worf Syndrome: to make a newly introduced villain or character more formidable, have them beat the toughest character in your regular cast.

By no means is this a new idea, just a convenient name to hang on it. For another example, in old Justice League of America comics, Red Tornado would take the Worf role. Now, for those who may not be familiar with him, Red Tornado was an android with wind related powers. He was a nice enough sort, not very Worf-like as a character: he was never portrayed as extra-tough or formidable, and was strictly b-list. And he regularly got beaten by the villain of the month, early on, to show the bad guy meant business. Red even had moments where he seemed to realize he was being 'jobbed out,' as the wrestling fans would say. Then he would try to collect himself, shake it off, and try again...and get smacked.

Even in the Justice League Unlimited cartoon, Red ended up in the same role: he was lasered apart by Amazo in one episode. Why? Because as a robotic character, he blows up real good. And as a robot, he was not only more repairable/expendable than other, "human" characters, but it's a great visual. When Despero or Chemo or Sinestro (love the O Squad!) blast Green Arrow with a particle beam, it strains credibility if he's not disintegrated. So, blast Red Tornado! He's a robot, he can take it and be repaired next month for more abuse.

Even in recent issues of Justice, Red gets taken apart, and Alex Ross even sticks with the old school, dated technology look for Red's innards. For a highly sophisticated, sentient and emotional android with superpowers; he looks about as high-end as a Maskatron action figure from the seventies. (If you get that reference, congratulations! You're old. Yeah, I know, my back's killing me too.)

Red also served to correct a weakness in the formula of the old Justice League stories: when the bad guy is established by taking Superman down in the first four pages, kids will have a hard time believing Snapper Carr is going to save the day. (More than once, anyway.) So, the seventies plot formula was closer to: Bad guy appears, has plan, wallops Red Tornado, moves plan into action, JLA regroups, cleans bad guy's clock. Repeat.

Strangely, Red Tornado seems like a singular example of "Robot Whipping Boy." The Vision never had to put up with that in Marvel's Avengers. (Until Byrne or Bendis, anyway...) I think Christian also pointed out to me Spartan from early issues of Jim Lee's WildC.A.T.'s (Last time I try to put the periods in that. I think I've read like one issue ever.) Spartan was also an android/synthezoid/bolt-necked automaton. I thought it would be a great idea, if they treated him as a completely disposable teammate, which they may have at some point. I know some more backstory was added later, that Spartan had the downloaded soul or personality of somebody or other. I don't care, and neither should the team. A typical exchange should go something like this:

Midget guy Emp ducks behind a wall, laser blasts flying around him, cigar clenched in his teeth, gun in hand. Very Nick Fury, if Fury was three feet tall.

EMP: Damn! Helspont or Flamer or whatever his name is has us pinned down! Spartan!

SPARTAN: (Saluting) Sir Yes Sir!

EMP: Get out there and draw his fire!

SPARTAN: Sir Yes---(Takes energy blasts to head, chest, groin) SQUAWK!

EMP: Goddammit. Warblade!

WARBLADE: (from way, way off panel) What?

EMP: Start up a new Spartan! Right now!

WARBLADE: Oh, c'mon! I just got that one to stop blinking 12:00!

I'm pretty sure Voodoo was using the Spartans as, bluntly, sex toys as well. But that's neither here nor there. To give Christian a last bit of credit, he thought it would be hilarious if Patrick Stewart's Picard treated Data like that, yelling at him and calling him robot in a thick British accent.

Wow, way off topic now. Anyway, the basic point is just to look at dramatic shorthand. You can probably think of some others, and we may hit some more, like plot recaps or Claremontisms or getting knocked unconscious. The question then becomes, how much shorthand can you see before the illusion of story falls apart?

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Thursday, June 15, 2006

Superman #309: Supermutant in space!

Last time, in Superman #308...I have no idea. Still don't have that one to this day, sorry. But Superman #309 I've had since I was like 5, and I'm so lucky I had this one--"The Climax to a Thrill-packed epic"; instead of say, #307, the start of this little well, epic. Gerry Conway writes, Jose Luis Garcia Lopez and Frank Springer on art for "Blind Hero's Bluff!"

Superman starts the story by smashing through a wall to take on a crime syndicate armed with bazookas and flamethrowers and skintight uniforms that look like leftovers from a S.H.I.E.L.D. yardsale. (Yes, that's a Marvel reference, and I typed all those periods, so appreciate it!) The mobsters had been preparing for war with a rival syndicate named SKULL, but instead they end up hauled off to jail on the third page. The rather ungrateful police chief is surprised Superman would bother with "the small details" of a "crime-problem." Yeah, I'm sure the cops under your command were jumping up and down to fight an army of hardened criminals with crateloads of artillery. Probably cursing Supes right now for stealing their thunder, I'm sure.

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Superman hustles over and changes to Clark in time for a Galaxy Broadcasting football game, and "human contact." Wow, out of context, that sounds horrible. Anyway, back in the seventies, I guess it was completely normal for a company to have uniforms and helmets made for you and your co-workers to play a weekend game of football against the Daily Planet or WTBS or whoever. Because, you know, reporters. Work hard and play hard. And that's why Jimmy Olsen has no cartlidge in his left knee, by the way.

Clark recaps the last few issues when he should have been paying attention to the next play: Supergirl finally told Clark that Krypton was all "a delusion, a fantasy I'd created." And he's thinking about that and misses the play, so he completely fouls it up, running the ball the wrong way. Because, you know, someone who can run millions of computations in his head while listening to weather patterns in Indochina and using x-ray vision to see what's happening on Alpha Centauri, is going to be easily distracted.

Meanwhile, Supergirl has a meeting somewhere so secretive the writer doesn't even want to tell us, and the artists are going to draw it all shadowy too. All we know is they have a huge screen tv, and everyone has the Iron Fist collar. The seventies, man, the seventies. But, they fill Supergirl in on a space armada attacking a lone planet, so her first instinct is to get Superman on it. God forbid you take this one, Kara, and give the guy a night off. The collars point out that the newly human Superman might not care about what happens on the far end of the universe anymore, since he's got his own problems on earth.

Kara says Superman has always helped when needed, and always will. So she goes to get Clark...who completely blows her off. "There are enough things here on earth to keep me busy!...It's a matter of priorities!" Kara calls him a coward, slaps the glasses right off him, tells him to "Take your priorities and you can put them where the sun doesn't shine!" When I was six reading this, I read that line, over and over, trying to figure out what Supergirl meant. The earth's core? The dark side of the moon? Well, if you figure it out...

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Later, on a dinner date with Lois, Clark is staring out the window into space. Like most of Lois' dates, right? But Clark's checking out "Xonn...about 11 Light years from here." I miss the telescopic vision. Lots of people have pointed out there would be no possible way, even if you could somehow find and focus on some object light-years away, that you could see it until the light actually traveled the physical distance to you: in this case, eleven years later. I say, just call it something like "Tachyon Vision" or something. Oh, if Grant Morrison had the same idea, you'd say it was the greatest power since Super-Ventriloquism. Hmph. Back to the matter at hand, Supergirl and Krypto are getting asskicked by the alien armada. Clark has to blow off about the seven-hundredth date he's had with Lois, although if the armada was tough enough to beat a girl and a dog with the same powers as you, you might want to have some dinner and think over your next step.

For her part, Lois nearly breaks her foot kicking Clark's door, after she's given the bum's rush.

The collars watch Superman, and wonder if he's too late. Supes attacks the armada's cool ships, that always reminded me of Space:1999, possibly because there's an ad for that in here. The aliens are big, green armored guys; four arms, big heads, and magnetic powers. And for good measure, the sun blinds Superman. You can probably see where the fight goes from there, and in their new cell, Supergirl points out the sun is cutting their powers in half to boot. The leader of the invaded aliens is in the cell as well, and explains the invaders are called the J'ai, a race that produces eight new ones for every one that dies. Yeah, I have no idea how that would work either. Anyway, that's not important, because Superman has a relevation.

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Kal-El figures there really was a Krypton, because Kara had called him "cousin," and "Kal-El," neither of which would be correct if he was an earth mutant. Also, Krypto. Because unless their parents were exposed to a helluva lot of radiation, I don't like how it explains the dog getting powers. Kara says she and the Kandorians--who she obviously didn't smash back in issue #307, they were the collar guys--pulled this hoax because they were worried that Clark was becoming obsessive about Earth and more meddlesome in humanity's affairs. So the next time you have an asthma attack, or there's an oil spill, you can thank Kara for stopping Superman's interest in this kind of thing. Kara justifies it by saying "Kandorian psychologists...feel an emotional problem should be removed, rather than solved!" What about repression? That's been doing wonders for me!

Superman, good and pissed now, busts out of the cell. Using super-hearing, he can hear the J'ai dogpile on him, and realizes they are communicating by sonic vibration. Two panels later, he's able to use a "sonic pulse" to paralyze the J'ai. Um, on reading it again, that seemed really quick. But the alien invasion really wasn't the big point of this whole issue. The Super's all fly home, and Kal has a quick speech about how he loves earth, maybe even more than Krypton, because it took him in. And Earth took her in as well. Krypto, well, maybe. So Superman wasn't really a mutant at all, which means the premise of these posts a big fat lie. Making me a liar like Supergirl. Eh, I'm ok with it.

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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

With both X3 and Superman Returns out this summer, now would be a good time to blog about comics tying the two franchises together, right? But what could possibly unite those horrible mutants and the fabled Last Son of Krypton? How about if Superman wasn't from Krypton at all, but was actually...wait for it...a mutant! From Superman #307, Jan 1977; and #309, March 1977. Writen by Jerry Conway, art by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez and Frank Springer.

#307, despite the shocking (and well done by Neal Adams) cover, starts out innocently enough: Clark's having a lot of self-doubt about being an alien among men, and an orphan who's adopted planet isn't taking care of itself. Hitting on the pollution issue of the times, Superman decides to start moving oil tankers around to reduce spills. And by moving them around, I mean he intends to throw them into orbit. (Of course, there were kid's toys on Krypton that could probably power the western hemisphere, but this seems like a better use of your time, Clark.)

This brings up our villain, the frankly forgettable Protector, whom I mention only because he was apparently powered by pollution. I suppose he didn't need to worry too much about Superman cleaning up the planet, but why take chances? Still, I'm not sure Protector ever appeared again, so maybe Supes did clean up the planet. Anyway, he's so lame he doesn't even get on the cover. I think the writer had the story laid out and needed a villain; but didn't want to waste Toyman or Metallo on a b-plot. Protector's a mixed bag: he charges in to prevent Superman's grand theft oil tanker, but declares, "I told you to leave the polluting industries alone!" See, that's the sort of thing that comes back to haunt you in your next parole hearing.

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The main story gets rolling (12 pages and a Hostess ad into the comic) when Supergirl tells Clark she's tired of his "problem." Kara decides it's finally time for Clark to face reality, that there's no such place as Krypton, and they're really mutants. She provides filmed footage of her and Clark's adopted parents working together in a nuclear lab; and explains that they weren't adopted at all. The radiation their parents were exposed to gave them their powers, which also explains the Justice League of Chernobyl.

As you might expect, Clark calls bullshit. After all, he's pulled exactly this kind of lie on Lois, Jimmy, Perry, Lana, and the general public; many hundreds of times, either for his secret identity, or humanity's own good, or just for a laugh. He sites the bottle city of Kandor, complete with several million microscopic little Kryptonians, as a good example of their heritage. Kara asks him to look again.

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Wow, that's good crazy. I have an assload of toys, but even at the pinnacle of my drinking, I've never thought that they were a living, functioning society. (They're a dysfunctional anarchy at best.) Supes kind of freaks out a bit after Kara smashes his toy/millions of people, then the Protector attacks again. Y'know, although I was badmouthing him, it does take some stones to take the fight into Superman's living room. Kara leaves Supes to it, and Superman surmises that she wants to see if he can cope with the revelation. I think Kara just had better things to do that afternoon than wrestle with Captain Nobody. Supes pulls it together enough to beat the Protector, but wonders if he'll ever be all right be continued!

I didn't get Superman #307 until I was in my thirties, I think. Late twenties at least. #309 I've had since I was a kid, and my original copy is still somewhere. The "Clark is a mutant, there's no such thing as Krypton" plot seems pretty heavy to hang on those timelost 70's kids, especially since distribution and purchasing were both kind of a crapshoot back then. Back then comics were usually sold at grocery stores and such, and I don't think the pull box was even someone's bright idea yet. Plus, speaking for myself, I had to convince my mom to buy comics for me, and while my Mom is awesome, it wasn't always a sure thing. I can't imagine getting #307 as a kid and missing #309, the issue that wraps this up.

I can see my seven-year old self thinking "Shit, Superman's a mutant? But what about the Phantom Zone criminals and Dev-Em and that giant monkey guy and Kryptonite? Dear Rao, what about the kryptonite?!" And then I'd look all furrow-browed and sad, and Mom would send me to bed early. Anyway, I still don't have #308, but I don't think it matters in this case, and we'll hit #309 tomorrow. Oh, you only have to wait a day, ya big baby...

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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Things I Bitch About, Part 1

This is:

A. Once again, toys not in scale with one another...What? They are in scale? Oh.

B. Wow, Hood Ornament Man gets all the chicks.

C. Strength 18, Charisma 18, but Armor Class of 8.

D. Yeah, you wish that C was the geekiest reference we'll ever have here, but just wait.

Things I bitch about, part 1

Going the roundabout way on this one, so hang on.

The guy upfront with the awesome helmet is a Warlord figure, circa 1983. Not one I ever had as a kid, he was a good deal on ebay, though sans his weapons, and I believe he originally came with a mini-comic and a cape of some kind. As you can probably guess, the toys were not quite a knockoff, but in the same vein as Mattel's Masters of the Universe toys. He-Man ruled the boys' toy aisle at the time, and I think the Warlord's packaging even name-checked him: "Plays with Masters of the Universe figures," or some such.

The original comic from Mike Grell, however, predated Masters by many years. I know I saw an issue or two in passing around fifth grade or so, but some time later I found a 100 page DC Blue Ribbon Digest of the Warlord. Now, keep in mind I could be wrong about some of this: I don't think Warlord was a full length comic in the first place; it usually ran with a backup feature, possibly in order to get a cheaper mailing rate.

I remember the Barren Earth as the backup for most of the time I read it, but moving on: the digest version cuts and crams a ton of issues (short or not) into the complete (abridged) Deimos Saga, and it works suprisingly well as recompressed storytelling. Travis Morgan, the Warlord of the underground land Skartaris, starts the book with a short recap of the first four or so issues, then leading a rebellion against Deimos, killing him, going back to the surface world, picking up a hot Russian redhead as a sidekick, visiting a friend who's now a king and has a cursed battleax stuck to his hand(!), and I don't have the book next to me as I type this, but I don't think we're more than 40 pages in.

Which brings us to our first "Things I Bitch About" bulletpoint: I miss when comics were printed on the cheapest available paper. The current Marvel Essentials and DC Showcase volumes are the closest current approximations to the old digests or reprint comics, but they aren't quite the same bite-sized goodness.

To be fair, I have seen scans of reprints like the Legion of Super-Heroes archives, which are recolored and printed on great paper; and as such look way better than the pulpy reprints I got as a kid. But, while I first read old Superboy and the Legion comics at my mom's cousins' house for Thanksgiving; the digests were how I really got into the book. Who were all these characters? Well, with several issues worth in each digest, I was able to catch up and get a better understanding what was going on in the current Legion series. I was also exposed to the Legion of Super-Pets, the Substitute Heroes, and the noble sacrifice of a protoplasmic blob ("Proty," which would be like calling me "Whitey," or "Humey."), but again, neither here nor there.

The point is, you aren't going to turn kids onto the Legion of Super-Heroes, or comics in general, with fifty dollar archive editions. Those are for old stiffs like me--no, scratch that, old stiffs with more disposable income. Little kids are never going to get their grubby little hands on those.

Aside number one: although I don't have anywhere near a complete set, I do have several of the DC Digest volumes. Most were individual stories, but occasionally they would do "A Book-Length Shocker!" This could be a few issues or a complete storyline, perhaps editted of subplots, so you could read the whole thing. They weren't as good as the Warlord one, but how could they be?

Aside number two: Recently, I read a piece explaining the simple reason why Mattel's Barbie dolls have the "unrealistic" measurements that some feminists and others have been grousing about for years. Setting up an unhealthy, unattainable body image for little girls and whatnot, you know. Why would Mattel do this? Because Barbie's measurements have to be unrealistic, or her clothes wouldn't fit properly.

Seems so simple, doesn't it? I never thought of that either. But, if Barbie is an unrealistic, unattainable, false ideal; what's He-Man? Little boys in the 80's weren't all bulking up and hitting the 'roids and wearing fur underpants. I hope.

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Monday, June 12, 2006

Of course, Avengers #211...

The pictures would not load, would not load, would not load...loaded several times. Rather than dick it up trying to remove a couple, let's just go on, eh?

Anyway, still nattering on about Avengers #211. Now, it was my first issue of the book, and I remember it quite fondly, but we've on the third post about it. This is why we're probably not going to talk about Watchmen in any length, huh?

1. After making Moon Knight fight Iceman, and Angel fight Tigra, and everyone narrate their abilities; Moondragon reveals herself as the one who mentally controlled everyone to show up for the membership drive. Baldie refers to herself as a goddess and an Avenger-on-call, and she's there because the Avengers are too stupid to run the team themselves. You all know someone like that: someone smart, built, and totally full of themselves. Maybe not bald and wearing a two-foot high green collar, though. Maybe.

2. Jocasta notices Moondragon's arrival first, then Iron Man elbows his way up front; either because he's a control freak, or because he knew he'd want to be able to say he slept with all the female Avengers someday, and had to check her off.

3. Hawkeye, Black Panther, and Black Widow bag out of the audition process right away: Panther because he was busy being a friggin' king, Widow because she was "rebuilding (her) career as a super-spy for S.H.I.E.L.D." and Hawkeye...because he had a job as a security guard. That and a sixer of Pabst in the fridge.

4. After Dazzler is cut, Iron Man manages to jam Moondragon, then everyone piles on her force-field, until she beams back to her ship. Yeah, from Legion of Super-Heroes to X-Men to JLA back to Moonie here, everyone who had a spaceship back then had transporters, just like Star Trek. And that's great, but the reason Trek had transporters was because it was cheaper than special effects for shuttles or landing the ship. From there it grew into a narrative device. I can't decide if comics took the transporters as a homage, or laziness.

5. Back to the recruitment drive: Moon Knight, Iceman, and Angel split. Oddly again, Iceman and Angel leave separately. Tigra approaches Cap about any positions being open. Hercules sucker-punches Wonder Man through a wall, just because he can and Wondy can take it.

Aside: I loved this period of Marvel's Hercules. Again, it's a character type you probably know: he was that crazy guy that always got the girl, was usually pounding drinks back while you were already hammered, but could fight with you until you were both black-and-blue, completely without malice. He would be a hard guy to hang around with all the time: although he's a great guy, it's just tiring. And that's why Herc's best appearances are usually guest-shots or short series. Herc takes Wonder Man under his wing to hit Hollywood.

6. Second-to-last page, woo-hoo! Time to shake down the roster: Beast quits, Vision and Scarlet Witch quit, Jocasta quits. Beast decides he needs to see if there's more to him than "a blue-furred buffoon!" Yeah, like getting turned into a cat and spending all your time in the X-Men's lab. Yay!

Since Vision and the Witch were a matched set, they split to try to set up a normal life, leading to a couple limited series. They'd be back.

Now short a couple, a spot is open for Tigra, and another for Yellowjacket to come back. Jocasta storms off into the night, feeling she wasn't wanted or consulted. Later, Iron Man reveals he was going to offer her a substitute on-staff position, setting her up at the mansion permanently. A good idea, but that would make Jocasta the Marvel equivalent of DC's Red Tornado, setting robot rights back about a hundred years.

Well, that was a helluva lot of writing for one little issue. The thing is, this was one of my first looks into the Marvel Universe. It wasn't a place where everything worked out at the end of 23 pages, or everyone got along. At the time, I didn't know the shared history of Beast, Iceman, and Angel. Or that half of the auditioners had already been Avengers. But this made me want to learn. Read more!

Saturday, June 10, 2006

We interrupt our regular programming:

I have a dial-up. Yeah, I suck, thanks. Anyway, sometimes photos won't load right away for me, so the ongoing rambling about Avengers #211 will continue hopefully tomorrow. For now, here's a photo I managed to load last week. Hey, Kitty Pryde was stuck in that thing for three months. Thank god they didn't have the internet in 1984.

Currently, I'm broke as all hell. Crazily broke from paying for stupid adult things like the mortgage and insurance and electricity and useless wastes like that. So, unless I sell some of my precious crap on eBay (wow, the spellchecker made me replace ebay with eBay. Weird.), no new toys or comics for a bit. Which means, to kill boredom, I'll be digging in the old stuff for said bit.

Pros and cons of my stupid life: I have a complete room in my basement for my comics, toys, and bricabrac. Unfortunately, the room is not baby safe, so I can't take the baby down there, which means I can't go down there. To be fair, it's not so much not babysafe, as not safe safe.

One example would be Baron Karza, of Micronauts fame. I read the comic sporadically as a kid, and had a few of the toys. I was not the sort of kid that easily let a toy go, but the pieces were remarkably easy to lose, and I lost the Micronauts' assorted weapons, helmets and parts bit by bit over the years. Karza, the main "big bad" of the series, was not one I recall ever actually seeing as a child; but I was all over the reissue from Palisades Toys a few years back. Strictly speaking though, I believe he is now some kind of "adult collectible," rather than a toy or action figure. Semantics? Well, kind of.

The good (well, evil) Baron has detachable parts held together by magnets, as well as spring loaded launching fists and missiles. So he's a choking hazard, can injure your eye if you're unwise or clumsy enough to shoot yourself in the face, and there might even be some pointy bits somewhere: a trifecta of child safetiness, or something. Hence the Baron's status change from toy to collectible: if referred to as a collectible, it's your fault if little Billy manages to choke on him.

I thought Baron Karza was a pretty good villain in the old Marvel comics, in a very, very Darth Vader vein, but without any sissy redemption or love interest. Karza was evil, and that was that. One of his better schemes was the Body Banks, which apparently ran more or less unchecked for hundreds of years. The poor, oppressed underclass would be harvested for organs for the lazy elite and their Dog Soldier enforcers. The poor could either gamble in rigged games to try to win organs to extend their lives, or enlist as a Dog Soldier and fight for them. (As oppression goes, stealing a guy's kidneys has got to take the fight right out of 'em.) Brilliant in it's horribleness, I could totally see it happening. Anti-rejection drugs are getting better all the time...

(Aside: Judge Dredd also touched on this with "organ-leggers"? Or was it "organ-sharks"? If you needed money, you could hock an eye or kidney or limb, and then buy it or a new one back later...if you could afford the interest, of course. I live in a town infested with Money Tree style check cashing places and title loan car traps; it's not a huge stretch of the imagination to picture this coming. Organ ursury, if that's the right word. Try to imagine the inhumanity of selling actual chunks of your body, piecemeal, to make enough money to keep what's left of yourself and your family from starving to death. Of course, Judge Dredd comics regularly bring up points of future shock like this in the space of a few pages, in order to set up the villains Dredd will ventilate before the end.)

As usual, I start somewhere, and end somewhere completely different. Hope you enjoyed the mental scenic route. Read more!