Saturday, April 30, 2005

Hillbilly Fight!

There are few things in life better than brawlin' hillbillies.

Friday, April 29, 2005


Only a Brit could come up with a character like Marshal Law.

I don't know what it is over there. Is it the water? The weather? The lack of adequate dentistry? Whatever it is, British writers and artists have been creating the most fucked-up comics for decades now. Americans my age grew up reading Spider-Man and X-Men - Brits grew up reading 2000 AD and Judge Dredd. When American comic companies need somebody to write something depraved, they hire a Brit. I think it says something that in gun-toting America, The Punisher is written by an Irish guy. My pet theory is that the more outwardly polite and reserved your society is - I'm looking at you, Japan - the more twisted and subversive your pop culture becomes.

Marshal Law is the creation of writer Pat Mills and artist Kevin O'Neill, two demented people. Law lives and works in a nightmare future America, where he hunts and kills superheroes. You see, Marshal Law fucking hates superheroes. Bad. He slides into his weird bondage/gimp/Rob Halford outfit and mercilessly guns down his prey, who are usually analogs of existing American heroes. That's about all you need to know.

Epic published a Marshal Law series, as well as a number of sadistic/funny one shots and mini-series like this one. In Marshal Law Takes Manhattan, the good Marshal is hunting The Persecutor, a paranoid right-wing Punisher-type who has taken refuge in The Institute, a towering asylum for insane superheroes in New York City. Marshal Law goes to the Insititute and kills everybody. That's the story, which may not sound funny, but trust me, it is a frickin' laff riot -- if you like that kind of thing. (I do.)

During the big climax the crazy-ass superheroes bust out of the Institute when the water tank on the roof bursts. The deranged heroes -all Marvel parodies - blast out of the top of the Insititute skyscraper, plunging towards certain death many stories below. Hilarity ensues.

Here's "Daredevil" attempting to stop his fall with his usual grab-the-flagpole move:


Here are more superheroes plummeting to their death:

I think you can guess how this ends - beautifully.

Marshal Law Takes Manhattan is a transcendent work of fiction that challenges our long-held ideas of violence and sanity and the role that our governments and societal establishments play in defining and shaping these ideas. Who is insane? When is violence acceptable? In the world of Marshal Law the State decides these questions and, with the complicity of other institutions, crafts our very notion of reality in subtle ways, as evidenced by the profusion of seemingly trite signs and graffiti throughout the book. These scrawled messages represent the subliminal ways that the dominant paradigm is continually reinforced and our notions of acceptable/unacceptable behavior are kept in place...

Okay, I'm just fucking around. The big take-home message from Mashal Law Takes Manhattan is: violence is funny.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

WOLVERINE & CAPTAIN AMERICA #1 Marvel Comics, 2004

This is one of those comics that I'm a little embarrassed to own.

I mean, this only came out a few years ago. It's okay to drag out the stupid shit I bought when I was a kid, but what about the stupid shit I bought when I was 30? What does it say about me as an adult that I willingly purchased Wolverine & Captain America #1? I mean, look at the cover - nothing wrong with it I guess, but... can't you kind of tell, just by looking at it? It has the feel and smell of a hundred other pedestrian, boilerplate comics you've read before. It's not that it's so bad, it's just that it's so utterly not good. And I willingly spent hard-earned money on this mediocrity, the sequential art equivalent of an episode of The Fall Guy. What does that say about me?

It says I'm an American and damn it, I like medioctrity! Cheap cookie-cutter crap! Pour it down my hungry gullet! Feed me your slop! I'm like a little piggy, rolling in comic book crap!, sorry.

The story by R.A. Jones pits Captain America and Wolverine against a group of generic comic book super-commandos for control of some mutant superchip or something. Forge from the X-Men and Ms Marvel (sorry, Warbird*) from The Avengers join the fun as plot cogs and expository devices. Forge exists just to tell Captain America about the super-chip and to cobble together a tracking device, and Warbird exists to give Cap somebody to talk to. To be fair, I can’t really comment on the entire four-issue series because I only bought this one issue, but based on reading this, it’s not so good.

The art by Tom Derenick is superheroic, but the facial expressions are limited to grimacing and bug-eyed screaming. The characters have a weird tendency to look like hairless monkey-people. Since I don't think Derenick was trying to draw the characters as hairless monkey people, I think this has to be viewed as a shortcoming.

Let’s take a look at the comic itself, shall we?

In the panel below, Professor X and Beast are in the X-Men Mansion, chatting about the newly discovered superchip. Forge is present, but isn’t visible in this panel. Beast suggests that they take the superchip to the Avengers Mansion for further analysis. No, Beast doesn’t want to take the superchip to The Fantastic Four, he wants to take it to The Avengers. I guess if the X-Men did the logical thing and flew the superchip to Reed Richards, the book would be called Wolverine & Mr. Fantastic, and that sounds stupid, doesn’t it? Anyway, a simian-looking Professor X agrees and tells Forge to take the McGuffin – I mean, superchip – to The Avengers, and to be quick about it!

Since when did Professor X start plucking his eyebrows like that? That’s creepy, he looks like RuPaul or a Vulcan or something.

Please take note that Professor X urged Forge to haul ass. So of course he decides to walk to the Avengers Mansion. No shit, on the very next page (below) we see Forge strolling down a country lane. Where the hell is he heading, to his grandmother’s house? Forge, the Avengers live in New York City! Hop on a bus at least if you don’t want to take the Blackbird! I’m not sure if this weirdness is the result of bad writing, or a miscommunication between artist and writer, or what. Maybe they just wanted to make Forge look like a total idiot.

Weirdly, Bad Guy Cyborg Commandos #213-216 have anticipated that Forge would walk from Westchester County to Manhattan with the vital superchip, and have set up an ambush along the way. Behold:

Later a battered Forge appears in the Avengers Mansion. I guess he crawled the rest of the way to the Mansion.

You see, it’s shit like that. I don’t know, maybe I’m being anal, but how do you publish something like that? It makes no sense. If that happened in a movie you would die laughing, but in comics stuff like this gets a pass. I mean, an editor could have caught that, the whole Forge walking to New York thing. You could have dropped a caption in there that says, “Two hours later, in Central Park…” and that could have at least explained where Forge is. Maybe a thought balloon that tells us that Forge took a cab into the city and was taking a shortcut through the park on his way to the Mansion. Something. Anything. It’s shit like that that makes people regard comics as a lower form of media. It’s slack.

Anyway, Wolverine shows up and fights this rocker chick, and more stuff happens, and then it ends. Unless the remaining three issues of the series did a complete 180 in terms of story, art, imagination, and coherence, I don’t regret my choice not to pick them up.

*I’m going to do a whole post some day on how Ms. Marvel is a better name than Warbird.

THE WEST COAST AVENGERS #27 Marvel Comics, 1987

I actually have two copies of this hilarious comic book; one that I bought at full price and one that I got from scrounging in the quarter bins at the old Comics Dungeon in Seattle under the watchful eye of the crazy old Jack Elam-looking owner. I had to get this comic because look! -somebody defaced the cover with adolescent word ballons! Admit it, it's funny when superheroes swear.

There's another thing that's funny about West Coast Avengers #27 - the whole damn thing! This is hands-down one of the goofiest comic books I own. It's a ridiculously retro funny book from writer Steve Englehart, with layouts by Al Milgrom and finished art (and I use the term loosely) by Mike Machlan. It's a throwback to an earlier age, when comic books were intentionally stupid. You know what I'm talking about. This comic is just dumb. I mean that nicely; just because it's dumb doesn't mean I can't like it.

Here's the story: Hawkeye gets jumped by the Zodiac and replaced by an L.M.D. (Life Model Decoy) imposter. Mockingbird is grappling with a terrible secret - she killed some guy or something. Tigra and Moon Knight flirt in the woods. When the fake Hawkeye acts out of character, Mockingbird figures out the LMD is a fake, and she and Tigra beat the shit out of it. Little do the Avengers know - Tigra has been replaced by and LMD!

That doesn't sound so bad, does it? Ah, but it's all in the execution, or lack thereof.

Here's the first page of the book - from page one you know you're in trouble! Hawkeye walks down a road in LegoTown USA, being stalked by a dozen brightly colored supervillains that he fails to notice. His name is Hawkeye for God's sake. Maybe he's been drinking, I don't know.

Wait a second. They busted up the villains' cattle auction? That must have been a gripping yarn. What kind of low-rent bad guys do the West Coast Avengers have to fight, anyway? Next issue they'll go after bologna smugglers or those people that sell purebred puppies in WalMart parking lots. I mean, the regular Avengers fight Kang.

Hawkeye is replaced by Sagittarius, a robot imposter! He infiltrates the West Coast Avengers compound, but he's acting a little strange. For instance, he turns Mockingbird down when she offers to give him a "massage," which leads us to this panel:

"Sure!" Hank's down with whatever.

We take a side-trip into Subplot Land and catch up with Moon Knight and Tigra, who are both out roaming around in the woods at night because "once the moon gets into your blood, you have to love it!"

Wait, I thought Virginia was for lovers. Now I'm confused.

Note to writers: when writing a mystic nocturnal warrior, try to avoid having him yell "Good grief!" It's not very butch.

There you have it, folks: West Coast Avengers #27. Goofy as hell - and I think the world is a little bit better off because of it.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The Uncanny X-Men and The New Teen Titans Marvel / DC Comics, 1982

Before the stupid Marvel vs DC crossover and the stupid Amalgam stories blighted the comic landscape with their stupid stupidness, there was this inter-company crossover from the real Golden Age of Comics, the Eighties. I am referring, of course, to The Uncanny X-Men and the New Teen Titans, a one-shot published by Marvel and DC featuring their two most popular superteams. Yes, hard as it may be to believe, there was a point when Wolfman & Perez’s New Teen Titans was just as hot as The Uncanny X-Men. You see? That’s one of the many reasons why the Eighties ruled.

For me, as a kid growing up in the era of Miami Vice and The Evil Soviet Empire, this comic was pure geek bliss. Written by Chris Claremont in his prime and drawn by Walt Fucking Simonson, X-Men/Titans had everything my young comic-loving mind wanted, and none of what it didn’t. The story was pretty straight-forward: after some initial confusion, the two teams unite to face the combined threat of Darkseid and Dark Phoenix, with a little Deathstroke the Terminator thrown in for good measure. The Eighties Claremont was a master at juggling large casts and keeping things fairly accessible to new readers, and X-Men/Titans is a classic example of what Claremont does (did?) well. Every character gets a little time in the spotlight, and all their powers are introduced through cheesy expository dialogue that could only exist in comics. You get to see Wolverine fight Deathstroke, so that’s a plus.

I know I’m not alone when I say that I find Claremont’s current stuff a little underwhelming, and I think his mannered dialogue and writing style can verge into self-parody… but come on, you can’t tell me you didn’t dig all those Claremont stories back in the day. Deep in your jaded heart, don’t you hold at least one of those old comics dear, like a secret crush you occasionally, wistfully remember? Wolverine: Alone? Days of Future Past? The Trial of Magneto? The Mandarin/Psylocke/Wolverine storyline? What about Omega Red? Come on, you know you love Omega Red!

Perhaps I’ve gone too far. Omega Red clearly sucks.

What am I even talking about? I totally got off track…

Right. X-Men/Titans. One of the great things about this book is that unlike other inter-company crossovers, they make no attempt to explain how the two teams from different universes meet up; the reader is just supposed to shut up, have fun, and not worry about it. So in this comic there’s no inter-dimensional war or crisis or merging of realities or any of that shit. No, that would take up valuable panel space. Here’s how Claremont deals with the issue:

I think that’s brilliant, and kind of cheeky.

And take note that since the panels above are the first time Cyborg appears in the story, Claremont throws in a quick bit of exposition so that the reader is suddenly up-to-speed. “His name is Victor Stone – Cyborg – a cybernetic organism… a super-powered synthesis of man and machine. He’d rather be human.” Come on, that’s good shit. This is the sort of storytelling that’s out of vogue in today’s era of wide-screen and decompressed comic books. I’m just throwing this out there, but I think a lot of the writers today feel that such time-honored comic book conventions are too goofy or low-brow or something, which is kind of a shame. The kids, man! Think about the children!

I'm going to start talking like that:

"Who ordered the pepperoni special?"

"I... David Campbell!"

The art kicks ass. What do you want me to say? It’s Walt Simonson, dude. He rules, he always will rule, he’s great, end of story. Actually, the one thing that I noticed about the art? Almost no sound effects. I’m used to seeing Simonson’s distinctive blocky Thor sound effects, but here they’re used sparingly.

Reading this comic again brought back warm, moist feelings of childhood.* I leave you with a passage of florid dialogue from X-Men/Titans to remind us all of the sweet fabric-softener scent of that Golden Age, of lost youth:

Kitty Pryde: "You!! You're the thing from my nightmare! You're real!"

Darkseid: "I am indeed! Adults deny me, but children know me for what I am. That makes them dangerous, and worthy to be cherished, for in their innocence lies the universe's salvation, and in the loss of that innocence, my ultimate victory!"

Don't let Darkseid win, people. Go read an old comic book today.

*I have no idea what the fuck I'm talking about.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Lame-ass villain #4 - The Cheetah

Real name: Esteban Carracus
Occupation: Professional criminal, pimp, chica magnet
Identity: All the ladies, theyknow the Cheetah. All the ladies, they love the Cheetah.
Place of humiliating death at the hands of Scourge: "The Bar With No Name"
Marital status: Single, baby. Single
Known relatives: Nothing those bitches can prove, my man.
Group affiliation: The Cheetah runs alone
Base of Operations: Various and sundry nightclubs in Dade County, the back booth of a Denny's.
First appearance and origin: Captain Marvel #48. Yes, Captain Marvel actually fought him.
Final appearance: Captain America #319
Famous taglines: "You dancin'?"
"You like fur baby? Run your fingers through the Cheetah's chest."
"They say the Cheetah is fast, but there's one thing I like to do slow..."
"Is your dad a thief? Because he stole the stars and put them in your eyes, baby."
"America is like a big chicken, just waiting to be plucked."
"Would you like to meet the Little Cheetah?"

CAPTAIN AMERICA #318 Marvel Comics, 1986

This issue kicks so much ass.

Captain America #318 was one of the ten thousand issues of the book written by Mark Gruenwald. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think he consistently wrote Captain America for nine or ten years. That’s insane. Nobody works on a book for that long these days. Okay, Dave Sim. And Erik Larsen. Anyway, it’s rare. Too me, Gruenwald’s Captain America is the definitive interpretation of the character. I'm a big Gruenwald fan. I’m not saying the man didn’t write any stinkers. Sure, nobody liked Cap-Wolf or the Superia Stratagem. But for the most part Gruenwald delivered old-fashioned adventure stories on a monthly basis that you wouldn’t hesitate letting your little nephew read. You never had to worry about Cap sodomizing somebody with a jackhammer. Yet.

This particular issue is part of the ongoing “Scourge of the Underworld” storyline; Captain America hunts a serial killer(s) who is slaying low-level supervillains with armor piercing bullets. After every murder, the disguised Scourge would always bust out with his tagline, “Justice is served.” If you were to ask why he said that, I’m guessing the answer would be: “ I thought it was just a cold-blooded thing to say to a motherfucker before you popped a cap in his ass.” Anyway, for months the Scourge killings were a subplot in Captain America and a few other books, I think. A disguised Scourge would miraculously show up out of nowhere and shoot some lame villain like Death Adder or Basilisk. The storyline reached a bloody crescendo when Scourge, disguised as a bartender, infiltrated a meeting of supervillains at The Bar With No Name and gunned them all down. The Scourge story allowed Marvel to get rid of some of their supervillainous deadwood – the body count included lame-ass villains like Turner D. Century, Cheetah, and Steeplejack. For a full list of Scourge’s victims, go here. I bet every geek was upset about at least one of Scourge’s killings: “Aww, man! They killed Hammer and Anvil! That’s bullshit!” Me, I was kind of pissed that they killed off Commander Kraken; I always liked him.

The issue begins with Death Adder of the Serpent Society crashing his Serpent Saucer or whatever in The Bronx. To make a long story short, he flags down a cab which happens to be driven by Scourge in disguise. Don’t ask me how Scourge managed to know to show up at that exact point in space and time, because I don’t know. Scourge pops a cap in Death Adder’s ass and says “Justice is served.”

Next we’re introduced to the roller-skating villain Blue Streak, who visits The Bar With No Name, an underground hang out for supervillains. There he chats with Firebrand, a lame Iron Man villain who is freaked out about the Scourge slayings. Firebrand is having a Lame Villains Club meeting at the Bar and wants to know if Blue Streak will come, and maybe bring a salad. Blue Streak rebuffs Firebrand – “I ain’t a joiner.” – and takes off.

For me, the best part of the comic is the part when Captain America, who is traveling “anywhere in this great old country I am needed” in his bad-ass van, needs to take a piss, so he pulls over at a rest stop and bumps into Blue Streak coming out of the john, whistling a merry tune. They’re both out of uniform, but Cap recognizes him. “Aren’t you Blue Streak?” Cap says. And then the fightin’ and chasin’ starts. I for one think that is brilliant, the urination thing. How many times have you read a superhero comic where the hero has to pee? Not only does Cap have to drain the main vein, a novelty in and of itself, but it’s actually important to the plot. Thank God that Cap drank that Thirsty-Two Ouncer earlier, otherwise he would have never bumped into Blue Streak in the first place!

Captain America and Blue Streak change into their respective costumes between panels and start fighting. Wisely, Blue Streak decides not to hang around and he takes off. Cap follows him: ON HIS FUCKING MOTORCYCLE!!! And check out Cap’s great new headgear – he’s got a Peter Fonda helmet with a visor.

Here’s a sample of the action. Imagine generic truck commercial rock when you read this:

Fortunately Cap damages one of Blue Streak’s jet boots, so he’s able to keep up with the villain. There are all manner of twists and turns in their pursuit, which I thought was handled pretty well, actually. Except for the part where Cap blocks a shot from Blue Streak’s gauntlet laser with the shield on his back while he’s riding his motorcycle – that’s not happening. Even Blue Streak comments on it: “How’d he do that? Deflected the beam with his shield strapped to his back!” Yeah, I don’t know either, Blue Streak.

The chase ends when Blue Streak fakes his death by making it look like he crashed through a guard rail and off a cliff. Captain America, being the nice guy that he is, climbs down the cliff to see if Blue Streak survived. I am sure by now that Cap has to piss very badly.

Up on the road, Blue Streak flags down a trucker – only it’s not a trucker, it’s Scourge in disguise, who just happens to be driving down this road at this exact time, I guess, looking for hitchhiking supervillains to kill. Blue Streak climbs up into the cab, oblivious to the danger, and the truck starts off down the road. Then, (and this is a fantastic sound effect) pumSPAK Justice is served, baby. Justice is served.

Hey, you know what else is served? Quality American superhero entertainment. You’re heart has become cold and dead if you can’t appreciate a little Captain America now and then.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

A big Passover peace-out to all y'all

Up, up, and oy!

Passover greetings to all my Hebrew friends.

(Image from Heeb, The New Jew Review #3)

Friday, April 22, 2005

How I love thee, Suicide Squad

Suicide Squad was spawned from the 1987 mini-series Legends (which I will get around to reviewing/mocking at some point). Written exclusively by John Ostrander, the book had a consistent vision and “through-line” that you don’t see too much of anymore in today’s age of reboots and revamps.

I liked Suicide Squad because it had a (relatively) sophisticated and cynical approach to politics, crime, and punishment and often tread a moral grey area between the few “good guys” on the team and the “bad guys.” Plus, it was more hardcore and lethally violent than any other comic books, so it scored extra points with me. The Squad (actually called Task Force X) was a group of incarcerated super-villains who would go on secret government missions to work off their sentences. They were based out of Belle Reve prison in the swamps of Louisiana, and went on all sorts of deadly assignments with explosive bracelets clamped to their wrists to keep them in line. The great thing was they actually used the explosive bracelets! In one issue, Squad draftee Slipknot tried to sneak off during a fight and boom there goes his arm. Comedy.

The Squad had a revolving membership of costumed villains, many of whom got killed. You always new if there was some new or dorky villain on the team that he was going to get shot up. The Ferret? He won’t last ten pages. There were a few major characters that you knew weren’t going to get killed – but you were wrong! Rick Flag, team leader? Yeah, he dies. His girlfriend, Karen? Dies. What's-his-name, the cool helicopter pilot? Dies. Ravan, the bad-ass Kali-woshipping assassin? Oh, he totally dies. Everybody died in Suicide Squad! There were a couple missions were almost everybody died. I loved it.

The cast was made up of 2nd tier characters that were kind of disposable. Led by a hard-ass beaureaucrat named Amanda “The Wall” Waller, the Squad had a couple of good guys like Rick Flag, Nightshade, and Bronze Tiger, who were basically brought on to ride herd on a bunch of super-thugs. The main bad guys were Flash villain Captain Boomerang, a craven but devious Aussie; Batman villain Deadshot, a cold blooded sniper with a really cool but impractical costume; Duchess, an amnesiac villain from the planet Apokolips; Count Vertigo, a Euro-trash noble with “vertigo” powers; and Batman villain Poison Ivy, the poisonous plant chick. Other villains rotated in and out of the Squad like The Penguin, Captain Cold, and The Parasite, and a ton of other 3rd rate villains who were killed with impunity.

Here's a typical moment of bondng between the characters:

That's what we call tough love.

The series was eventually cancelled after losing some creative steam, but Ostrander rode that bastard for five and a half years, and although there were some missteps along the way, page for page Suicide Squad was one of the most consistently entertaining and engaging comic series EVER!

In the future I’ll review/gush over individual Squad issues, but I grow weary of making fun of bad comics and just wanted to give Suicide Squad some props.

What the world needs now...

... a big Bat-hug!

I can't remember where I found this picture, but it rules.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

OBNOXIO THE CLOWN Marvel Comics, 1983

Often mistakenly called Obnoxio the Clown vs The X-Men by historians, this comic is actually just straight-up Obnoxio the Clown. This "comedy" book features a number of different short one page gags as well as two short stories. In one story Obnoxio invades the X-Men Mansion to annoy them, and the other story... You know, I don't think I've even read the other story. The X-Men thing was bad enough, why push my luck?

Obnoxio apparently sprung like Athena from the mind of Larry “G.I. Joe” Hama but Allan Kupperburg wrote, drew, and lettered the whole damn book. He is a smelly, obnoxious, jaded clown – I’m talking about Obnoxio, not Kupperburg. For all his faults, Obnoxio is one of the original obnoxious clowns, preceeding more famous and funnier bad clowns like The Simpsons’ Krusty, In Living Color’s Homey the Clown, and Shakes The Clown.

The problem with Obnoxio the Clown is the complete lack of humor. It’s as if Marvel thought that just the concept of a rude, smelly clown was so funny that they didn’t even bother with the jokes. I mean, yes, there are jokes – Obnoxio calls the X-Men the “yeechs-men” – but they just lay there, flat and dead on the yellowing paper. It’s as if the jokes are made of anti-comedy particles or something. Fozzie Bear is funnier than Obnoxio.

In the main story, Professor X is planning a surprise birthday party for Kitty Pryde, and he’s pulling out all the stops. “I’ve even arranged for the services of her favorite clown from ‘Crazy’ magazine!” Charles thinks to himself. That’s right, he’s hired none other than Obnoxio the Clown, who is mistaken for a foe by the X-Men when he shows up for the gig. You see, the mansion is also under attack by a dangerous mutant named Eye-Scream, who can turn into any flavor of ice cream at will. No, really. He morphs into a blob of chocolate chip mint and oozes under doors in the mansion. Eye-Scream, ladies and gentlemen. Anyway, Obnoxio gets attacked by the X-Men, yet inexplicably Kitty Pryde does not recognize her favorite clown from Crazy magazine. The fat smelly clown holds off the X-Men and navigates the hazards of the Danger Room with a vast arsenal of wacky gadgets, until the whole crazy misunderstanding is sorted out.

Here's a sample of the hilarity:

Man, Wolverine is uptight, isn’t he? Makes you wonder how fun he’d really be to hang out with. I mean sure, he drinks, but who’d want to go to a bar with Wolverine? He’d just stare at you appraisingly, occasionally growling. Unless you were a woman, and then he’d be shooting pool with you and calling you darlin’ and trying to get you loaded. Either way, there’d be a bar fight, possibly involving ninja or mutant-hunting assassins from the future.

Right. Back to Obnoxio. The rest of the comic… the rest of it makes me tired.

EXTREME JUSTICE #1 DC Comics, 1995

In 1995 DC Comics introduced Extreme Justice, a Justice League spin-off that was totally extreme and radically awesome! As a comic book fan, I was always a little disappointed that comics weren’t totally extreme. You can imagine my relief when Rob Liefield’s Awesome Comics came out – that took care of the dearth of awesomeness in modern comics, but what about totally extreme comics? Imagine my delight when Extreme Justice hit the scene! Imagine my chagrin when I realized that there was no bungee jumping or glacier skiing or anything like that – it was all about Captain Atom and shit! I fucking hate Captain Atom!

Sorry. This short-lived (19 issues) series took place sometime after the “Judgment Day” epic wherein the League faced the world threatening Overmaster, the poor man’s Galactus. The Justice League disbands and Captain Atom decides to form his own renegade freelance superhero team so that he can get TOTALLY EXTREME! (wailing guitar) And you know, if you’re going to get extreme, if you want to really get wild, who better to have on your crew than Blue Beetle and Booster Gold!!! (wailing, howling banshee guitar)

Seriously. Extreme Justice? That is so ’95. Everything was extreme back then; you could get extreme tacos and extreme children’s safety floatation devices. The nineties were a totally extreme and radical time, and Extreme Justice was just an embodiment of the zeitgeist.

But Booster Gold and Blue Beetle? That’s about as extreme as a kid’s cereal mascot. Rounding out the Extreme Justice posse were Maxima and Amazing Man, fan favorites both. They’re all hanging out in what will become their new extreme radical base. They bitch at each other for a while, then get attacked by radical robot monsters! (wailing guitar) At the end, Captain Atom gets totally wasted, as in radically blown awaaay!!!

Extreme Justice was written by Dan Vado, publisher of Slave Labor Graphics (who print my beloved Milk & Cheese) with art by Marc Campos. I’ve seen work by Campos that I liked – this is not it. Vado wrote a bunch of Justice League comics for a few years, then stopped, which is probably for the best. I wasn’t a fan of his DC stuff, though to be fair to him I think his stories weren’t helped by the artists he was paired with, and Extreme Justice is no exception.

The art is overly rendered to the point of being unreadable in some places. For instance, during the fight scene with the radical extreme robots, Amazing Man, wearing green and yellow, jumps on one of the awesome robotic warrior. Actually, I’m just guessing that’s what happened, because you can’t tell from the art.


What is that blob on the left? That’s Amazing Man – see him? There’s a foot, and I think those are legs. I’m not sure where his hands are. Or his head. You know, I’m not even sure that’s Amazing Man.

Captain Atom looks strangely feminine in this issue, like a big silver female bodybuilder or something. He’s got this poofy Farrah Fawcett haircut going on, and seems sort of, I don’t know, naked. Hey, Captain Atom, at least have the decency to get some lines drawn on you to simulate trunks, you know? To make people more comfortable?

Check out the picture below. He looks like a Chippendales dancer. And look at the ass on that guy! Somebody's been working out...

That is hot.

This comic book is so radical and tubular that I feel spent, like I need a nap or something. I can see why this only ran 19 issues; it’s so hardcore and extreme that the creative team must have just burnt out from all the radicalness. I know I am.

Fun with tasers

Deputies in Kentucky sample the effects of a taser, apparently while singing Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody."

I see a little silhouetto of a man,
Scaramouche, scaramouche will you do the fandango-
Thunderbolt and lightning -very very frightening me-
Galileo, Galileo,
Galileo, Galileo,
Galileo, Figaro
Again, nothing to do with comics, but everything to do with comedy.

Monday, April 18, 2005

OZ SQUAD #1-3 Brave New Words, 1992

I can’t decide whether I love or hate Oz Squad.

I have issues 1-3 in this indy black and white series published by Rhode Island’s own Brave New Words; I’m not sure how many issues there were in the series total. Created by Steven Ahlquist, Oz Squad is a violent action comic set in Frank L Baum’s Land of Oz.

You heard me.

Most of the characters we’re familiar with through the books or Wizard of Oz movie have been upgraded into lethal superheroes. The Lion, is a surfer shapeshifter dude who morphs into a big ass super-lion with a healing factor. The Tin Woodsman is a robotic killing machine with a buzzsaw and blasters and shit. The Scarecrow is a tactical genius who stabs people. And Dorothy Gale, the character immortalized by the bat-shit crazy Judy Garland? She's a bad-ass spy and mistress of the martial arts with a "wish belt" that allows her to teleport between Oz and The Real World (the planet, not the MTV show - although that would be funny). Together, our heroes work for an elite CIA unit called... wait for it... Gale Force.

Again, I'm torn. The inner-D&D geek inside of me likes the idea, but it seems gratuitously irreverent. Ahlquist is obviously familiar enough with Baum's Oz to riff on some of the concepts and characters, but I don't sense any respect or even affection for Baum's work. After the initial shock/novelty of seeing the Oz characters swearing and killing people wears off, one realizes that Oz Squad is all style with little substance. Wow, I say that like it's a bad thing. I am talking about a comic book, aren't I?

Here's a panel that kind of distills the essence of the series, where Dorothy confronts the Wicked Witch of the East, aka Rebecca Eastwitch:

In the first issue, Tik-Tok the clockwork man's "morality spring" runs down and he goes on a killing spree in Kansas. Gale Force is dispatched to take him down, but before they do, Tik-Tok kills a lot of people, including most of a hospital. The big showdown takes place on the roof of the hospital, where Tik-Tok is throwing babies from the maternity ward to their death. Fun!

Here's a panel where the Tin Woodsman confronts Tik-Tok. Notice the baby:

I'll bet Frank Baum would have loved the baby-throwing scene, it perfectly captures the wide-eyed sense of wonder that have made his Oz books such enduring classics. {irony} But hey, fuck Baum, right? It's public domain, we can do whatever we want with his characters.

To be fair, rampaging Tik-Tok is kind of creepy, and the baby-throwing scene makes sense within the context of the story. It establishes how truly ape-shit homicidal Tik-Tok has become and how little he thinks of "flesh peo-ple." And that would be fine, I could buy that, if they hadn't thrown THIS little joke into the mix, where the crowd outside the hospital tries to catch one of the babies. Behold:

Man, there is nothing like a dead baby joke to punch up a comic book. This sequence gets Dave Campbell's What-The-Fuck?! Award for April 2005.

Issues 2 and 3 of Oz Squad involve the Wicked Witch of the East trying to sell the plans for Tik-Tok to the highest bidder in Baron Munchausen's castle. Gale Force infiltrates the auction and chaos ensues. Tin Man and Scarecrow fight a bunch of flying monkeys, some of whom have rocket launchers, while Lion and his buddy Tiger battle a Kalidah, one of my favorite creatures from the Oz books. Lots of carnage, lots of tough guy dialogue.

I don't know, I think I've talked myself out of liking Oz Squad. I wonder who the publisher's target audience was for this book? People who love The Wizard of Oz and the film Commando equally, I guess. That would be me.


I have always loved Kobra. You love Kobra, too - you just might not know it yet.

Kobra was a cross between Dr. Doom, Hugo Drax, and Jim Jones who hissed and ssstretched out the letter "S" a lot. He wore a very 80's orange and green snake theme costume, and he had his own logo and everything. The leader of an apocalyptic Cobra Cult (or Kobra Kult?), he had a seemingly endless supply of cash, evil schemes, and brainwashed followers. It's a good thing he had so many cultists, because Kobra was harder on his subordinates than Darth Vader. I mean, he made them wear outfits just like his, and then there was the strangling. Here's a typical exchange between Kobra and a lackey:

Kobra: "Kobra sssaid no sssugar in his tea, you mindlesss fool!"

Lackey: "I-I forgot! Mercy, Lord Naga-Naga!"

(Kobra strangles lackey)

Lackey: "C-can't breathe... D-dying!"

Kobra: "Perhapsss you will remember in the afterlife: Kobra takesss honey only!"

Before he became DC's cut-rate Dr. Doom, Kobra had his own series (titled, appropriately enough, Kobra) in the 70's. In that series, we learned that Kobra had a twin brother named Lemmy that had some sort of weird psychic symbiosis thing going on - whenever Lemmy felt pain, so did Kobra. Wait, the brother's name was Jason Burr, not Lemmy. My bad. Anyway, the whole twin brother storyline seemed to just die off - does anybody out there know what happened to Lem-- um, Jason? I think Kobra finally killed him off, but I can't recall.

It looked for a while like DC was pushing for Kobra to take his rightful place among the better known arch-villains like The Joker and Lex Luthor and Clock King, but it never panned out. I think one of the problems with Kobra is that he's nobody's arch-enemy. You gotta have that rivalry thing going to be a really good bad guy. Though it pains me to say, Kobra was just sort of a stock arch-villain with an army of disposable goons. He appeared in Batman and The Outsiders, Aquaman, The Outsiders, Suicide Squad, Flash, Wonder Woman, JSA, and a few other books, but never assumed the A-List Arch Villain Status he deserved. Finally, in JSA #51, Kobra got executed by a renegade group of JSA heroes. Supposedly.

My favorite Kobra appearances are 1989's The Janus Directive crossover (which I will review at some point in the future), a kick-ass Suicide Squad storyline where Kobra tries to incite a full-scale war in the Middle East by manipulating Israeli jets into destroying the Dome of the Rock, and this Batman and The Outsiders storyline.

In this issue, Kobra's up to no-damn-good once again, hijacking a missile defense satellite and threatening to turn it over to the Soviets unless the Americans give him all the gold in Fort Knox. Only Batman and The Outsiders can stop him! Actually, I think Green Lantern could probably have stopped him on his lunch break, but what do I know? Before his scheme is foiled, Kobra gets some classic dialogue like this, as he strangles a foolish lackey who doubted him:

"The Chrissstian God is known for his forgiveness... but the Cobra God has no such weaknessess! That is why I will one day rule! Dispose of this carrion and open a channel to the Pentagon!"

Now that is self confidence!

Writer Mike W. Barr has a good time with Kobra, who is in full-on hammy Bond villain mode here. The art by Alan Davis is... well, it's Alan Davis. It fucking rules. Davis draws a savage but brief brawl between Kobra and Batman that I love because - and this is important - Kobra kicks Batman's ass. No trickery, no assistance, no mitigating factors - Kobra just flat out beats the shit out of Batman and leaves him all fucked-up and unconscious. Of course, Kobra can barely stand after the fight and has to be helped to an escape pod, and his plot has been foiled, but the fact remains: Kobra beat up Batman. How can you not like the guy?

To DC I say: more Kobra pleassse!

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Dear God! What the hell is that anyway?

This has nothing to do with comics, but holy shit! Look at the freaky-ass monkey!

This is a baby Aye-Aye Monkey, a type of lemur native to Madagascar. They're endangered due to habitat loss and because some locals believe that Aye-Ayes are harbingers of death, like little monkey banshees - so naturally they kill the little guys.

It looks like an evil little Gelfling to me.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Lame-ass villain #3 - Man-Elephant

The Man-Elephant is one of those characters that is so lame you just cannot believe somebody came up with them - until you realize that said character appears in a book called The Savage She-Hulk. Puts it in perspective, doesn't it?

First appearing in 1981 in The Savage She-Hulk #17, the Man-Elephant was Manfred Haller, an inventor and hydraulic inventor who created a suit of rubberized power armor that used advanced hydraulics to increase the wearer's strength.* Here's where they lose me: Haller designs the suit to look like an elephant, complete with tusks and a grappling trunk.

What the fuck...? Why would you do that? That's like GM designing a new SUV and deciding, "You know what? We should go one step further and spend a ton of money to decorate this vehicle like a big rhino!"

To prove the suit's power, Man-Elephant takes on She-Hulk and beats her up for a while before having a change of heart. You see, Haller realizes his elephant suit could be used for evil. Or at the very least cheapened by tractor-pull demonstrations at county fairs.

I would be embarassed if I was a hero and I got my ass handed to me by Man-Elephant. You should probably just hang up the spandex at that point. But, She-Hulk is resilient, so she soldiers on. You'd have to be a trooper, really, if you were a woman that everyone called "She-Hulk." From where I come from, that's a rude thing to say to a lady.

*My thanks to The Appendix to the Handbook of the Marvel Universe for actually having a Man-Elephant entry. God bless the people that took the time to put that together.

Friday, April 15, 2005

SUPERMAN #75 DC Comics, 1993

Proposed alternate dialogue for this page: “Lois – get the hell out of the way!”

Remember this thing?

Back in 1993 Superman comics once again flew into the national consciousness with the much-hyped “Death of Superman” storyline, which garnered media attention disproportionate to the comic’s importance. Time/Warner went into full-on hype mode for the comics, which had different covers and merchandising tie-ins like official Death of Superman watches. I still have my black “memorial” T-shirt with the Superman logo. You know, I’d like to see a Death of Jerry Orbach watch – who wouldn’t want that?

This comic was published in the go-go comic speculator market in the 90’s, shortly before everyone realized that maybe they should have spent their money on gold or sports cards – anything but comics. I can’t be bothered to look up the sales figures, but I bet DC sold a metric assload of this book, and that many of those sales were to non-comics fans or “savvy” speculators who bought multiple issues. Of course, lots of folks bought the book out of curiousity, intrigued by the media hype. Which brings us to my problem with the book:

It’s bad.

Not only is it bad, but this comic was read by people who may have not looked at a comic for years, if at all. Speaking as a fan and advocate of comics, I hate it when the comics that “regular people” pick up are so bad. It’s tough to crawl out of the “comics are for kids” pit when the industry offers up stuff like Superman #75 or the hideously bad Alpha Flight “I AM GAY!” issue to the world at large. If I was some random guy who picked up this book, I wouldn’t exactly be gagging for more. I mean, it’s just… bad.

This issue is the climax of a multi-part storyline about an unstoppable rampaging monster named Doomsday who stalks towards Metropolis in a gimp suit, beating the shit out of a procession of bush league heroes who yell stuff like: “It’s power--! T-too much! UNNNH!” as they fall. Eventually the gimp suit gets shredded, revealing a dorky looking monster with inexplicable bony protrusions all over his body. Superman finally shows up to defend Metropolis, and during a senses-shattering battle, manages to defeat Doomsday – but at the cost of his own life! This in turn launches the maudlin “Funeral For A Friend” storyline, and then an interminable limbo period featuring four different pretenders to the Superman throne, including Steel and annoying Superboy 2.0.

To convey the epic scale of the battle, writer/penciller Dan Jurgens went with a one panel per page format, much like that one issue of Simonson’s Thor where he fights the Midgard Serpent. The key difference between the two issues? Dan Jurgens is no Walt Simonson. He’s just not up to the task. The pages seem awkward and forced – in order to service the plot Jurgens crams characters into the panel, defying perspective and common sense.

For instance, on the page shown above, Lois runs up to Superman to have a few words – right in the middle of this supposedly savage battle. In a regular comic format, Lois could yell her lines from behind the safety of a police barricade and not look like a total idiot. Hell, she could whisper – he’s got Super-Hearing after all. But here, the artist is restricted by the format and has to cram Lois into the page – even if it means she’s standing like, two feet from Superman as he’s blasting Doomsday with heat vision. I could understand if this was a case of an artist hamstrung by the script – but the same guy who drew this thing wrote it, so there’s no excuse. I have actually read stuff by Dan Jurgens that I like. Didn’t he do Booster Gold? Everybody loves Booster Gold. He also created Bloodwynd, and… and… stuff. Anyway, I don’t mean to personally attack the guy or slander his reputation or anything (I save that pettiness for Brian Michael Bendis, He Who Killed Hawkeye >sob<) but this is a bad comic and damn it, I have a responsibility to the truth. This issue blows.

Despite the fact that the two combatants are “moving too fast,” a suicidally stupid Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen manage to get underfoot anyway. “We can’t worry about pictures!” Lois tells Jimmy. “Superman is in trouble – and I intend to help him!” How, exactly? Throw a shoe at Domsday? On the next page, Lois says, “Move while you can, Jimmy! I’ll distract him while you run!” Again, how? Perhaps she’s going to distract the monster by performing Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado right there among the rubble.

In addition to impossibly dumb supporting characters, this comic also features page after page of awkward fight poses that make no sense. On the very first page Superman has Doomsday in a weird, ineffectual headlock, the kind of hold you put your dog in when you’re wrasslin’ in the backyard. A couple pages later Superman attacks Doomsday by ramming him at high speed with the back of his neck. I guess if you’re Kryptonian, you can get away with shit like that, but a normal person would sustain serious spinal trauma.

Finally, after a few more pages of strangely unnatural looking combat, Superman and Doomsday land their final blows. “This is it!” he thinks. “Looks like we’re both betting everything we’ve got on this one!”

Then – and I just cannot understand this – Superman threads his fingers together and starts hitting Doomsday with both hands like a big club. Again, maybe his Kryptonian physiology keeps him from breaking every fucking finger in his body, but this would really, really hurt a normal person.


That’s just wrong. And stupid.

Anyway, finally Superman and Doomsday punch each other into oblivion at the exact same time. They both flop unconscious to the ground, just like Apollo Creed and Rocky Balboa at the end of Rocky II. Superman gasps a few final words, then dies – for like, six months.

Then he comes back from the grave and grows a mullet.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

THE AVENGERS #186 Marvel Comics, 1979

Hey, look what I found.

Here’s a 70’s issue of The Avengers written by David Micheline (who would go on to become the Iron Man writer) and with art by John Byrne and Dan Green. The Avengers aren’t really in this issue a lot – mostly they argue with their government liaison Henry Gyrich, a McCarthyite wet blanket who they were stuck with for a while. Hey, Gyrich, Scott Summers called - he wants his old sunglasses back.* This issue focuses on the Scarlet Witch and her brother Quicksilver, who as we all know are the mutant offspring of Magneto, the X-Men’s arch-enemy. Scarlet Witch has mutant “probability altering” powers which simulate magic, and Quicksilver runs really fast and has a chip on his shoulder.

The villain in this issue is Who Cares. This issue features Bova, the half-cow, half-woman nanny who raised our mutant siblings. That’s right, Bova. I don’t know who at the House of Ideas thought that a cow/woman was cool (Roy Thomas?), but there she is. Even as a kid, I thought that was dumb as hell. This issue also features a time-honored tradition in Avengers comics: The Scarlet Witch in bondage. Next issue we get another time-honored tradition: Evil Scarlet Witch. I think we all know how this particular meta-story turns out: BENDIS KILLS HAWKEYE! Damn you, Bendisss!!!

The roster of this particular Avengers team is Captain America, The Vision, The Wasp, The Falcon, Iron Man, Ms Marvel (who would adopt the stoopid name Warbird later), and The Beast, one of the original X-Men.

I really dig the art by penciller John Byrne and inker Dan Green – I think this era is some of Byrne's best work, primarily because he worked with good inkers like Terry Austin and Dan Green. Say what you want about Byrne, but... ah, just say what you want about him. Also, there are cool ads for Battlestar Galactica merchandise, and on the back cover – a Star Trek: The Motion Picture full color ad! God, I was so psyched to see that when I was a kid. Then I saw it, and I fell asleep. They lost me after the Klingon ships get destroyed.


SAVAGE DRAGON #35 Image Comics, 1997

**I feel as if I should preface this by saying that this post might not be work-safe**

Here's a quality issue from Erik Larsen's long-running (some might say interminable) creator-owned comic book, The Savage Dragon, in which our hero battles the shit-spewing menace of... Dung! The great thing about this comic is, everybody has had diarrhea, so we can all relate to Dragon's predicament in this issue. In a sense, mankind has always battled Dung, and always will, so it works on a Joseph Campbell kind of level.

Where, I wonder, does the poo for Dung's arm-mounted shit-cannons come from? My guess is that Dung actually draws from an unlimited supply of extra-dimensional shit, or the shit-cannons pipe directly into his colon and he has a mutant ability to produce mass quantities of poo. If it were me, I'd get my own fetish site and sell my services to coprophagia nuts, but Dung chooses to use his power for evil. Bad call, Dung!

You know, this brings up a recurring motif in comics: the super powers a person gets pretty much dictate whether they're going to be a hero or a villain. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of generic super powers that could go either way, like super-strength or flight. But no hero is going to have shit-cannons. You're destined to be a bad guy if your powers involve poo, or raising the dead, or kissing people and turning them into monsters, or melting people's face with your hands... Those are bad powers, and even if you're a nice guy, if you wake up with the ability to boil people's blood, you should just resign yourself to a life of crime or lab work.

Anyway, this issue. I'm sure it seemed like an outrageous idea at the time (1997) but reading this today, I'm struck by how juvenille the whole thing is. Yes, that may seem a strange and redundant criticism to level at The Savage Dragon, but there it is. In this issue, Dragon has his back walked on by a Chinese girl in a thong, gets a chesty blonde drunk and takes her home to have sex with her, and ends up fighting Dung and a monster whose name I can't be bothered to look up, which spoils his amorous plans. He defeats Dung and the monster by, well, see this panel below:

That's right: "Eat shit and die!" You get the feeling that Larsen wrote the entire comic around that one line.

This issue features a bonus pin-up of She-Dragon, a female character Larsen portrays as a stupid, psychotic bitch, and a Marvel Universe-style entry for Dart, a female character who dies in a horrible way in The Savage Dragon #112 (I think). Paging Gail Simone!

All in all, another shameless foray into the adolescent world of The Dragon. I don't know what it says about me that I have like, fifty issues of this series... But I'm not alone: this very issue features letters from Olav Beemer and Augie De Blieck!

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Employee Motivation the Kobra Way

Let's tawk about Hawkman

Quick, who’s lamer than Aquaman? Time’s up. Answer: Hawkman.

I’m just kidding, I kind of like Hawkman. He’s very similar to Aquaman in that he’s sort of a one-trick pony – Aquaman swims, Hawkman flies. And hits people with a mace. That’s about it.

Hawkman was created in 1939 by the prolific Gardner Fox, first appearing in Flash Comics in 1940, then in All-Star Comics. He was a founding member of the Justice Society of America and was popular back in the day. Tastes change. He has appeared in multiple solo series from the Silver Age on, and has the most fucked up convoluted history of any comic book character.

The original Hawkman was blond millionaire playboy Carter Hall, who collects antiquities and wears Hugh Hefner outfits. He discovers he’s the reincarnation of an Egyptian prince named Khufu (gesundheit) who was murdered, and that he had a lady love back in the day named Shiera. Wouldn’t you know it, a foxy chick named Shiera comes into his life, as well as a villain who was the reincarnation of the dude that murdered him. Following me? Carter straps on wings and hawk gear and takes to the air using anti-gravity belts made of “nth metal.” Carter avenges the murder of his former self by whacking the villain with a big mace -- "With a weapon of the past, I shall defeat an evil of the present" – and began his crimefighting career as Hawkman. Shiera joins him later as Hawkgirl. They clobber evil and join the JSA.

The old Hawkman comics were very cool – they had an Edgar Rice Burroughs vibe to them and were illustrated well. But much like Aquaman, the character then suffered through a number of comic series’ which were started then cancelled, and each new series was a re-imagining of Hawkman that didn’t reconcile with the past. In 1961 Hawkman and Hawkgirl reappeared in The Brave and The Bold, but now they were alien cops from the utopian planet Thanagar named Katar Hol and Shayera Thal, a husband and wife crime-fighting team. Huh?

Since this was before the continuity altering Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC solved the inconsistency by putting the two different Hawkmans on different Earths - Katar Hol and Shayera Thal on Earth-1 and Carter & Shiera Hall on Earth-2. Follow? After Crisis, things got confusing.

Then came 1989’s Hawkworld, by writer/artist Tim Truman, who reimagined utopian Thanagar as a planet of floating cities ruled by the fascist Wingmen police, where the rich elite live on the backs of the oppressed Downsiders. Right wing (get it?) cop Katar Hol has an attack of conscience and defects from Thanagar with his partner Shayera, seeking political asylum on Earth. This three-issue mini-series led into the Hawkworld ongoing series, which was an interesting political fable about a former fascist who comes around to the idea of sentient rights and is profoundly affected by the US Constitution. This series features the first interpretation of Hawkgirl as a ball-breaking warrior chick featured in the Justice League cartoons. The series slowly went downhill and was eventually cancelled.

This version of Hawkman didn’t fit with the Silver Age history of the character. Truman originally wrote Hawkworld imagining that this was the back story of Hawkman before he joined the Justice League, but editor Mike Carlin wanted to set the ongoing Hawkworld series in modern times. What about all those JLA heroes who adventured with Hawkman in the JLA? Were the Hawkworld Katar Hol and the Silver Age Katar Hol even the same guy?

There was another short-lived Hawkman series in 1986-87, which screwed up continuity even further and confused geeks everywhere. Hawkman was now an avatar of the “hawk spirit” or some shit, and at some point Katar Hol and Carter Hall were mystically fused together to fight the evil Hawkgod. What happened to alien Hawkman? No fucking clue.

Here’s DC editor Mike Carlin:

"Honestly, Hawkman is the character we have collectively done the most disservice to. Too many completely new starts just set the continuity on a spiraling tailspin. There was a wave of ‘rebooting’ that DC went through in the late eighties, and Hawkman unfortunately had the most ‘rebooting’ done with his character and mythos, so much that we just decided to give the character a rest, and to let the ‘radioactivity’ die down."

Hawkman was stuck in another dimension for a while, until writers Geoff Johns and David Goyer resurrected him in Golden Age form and he joined the JSA. In 2002, DC published yet another Hawkman series, written by Johns. I’m not totally 100% clear on what the character’s origin is – and I don’t think I’m alone.

Friday, April 08, 2005

WONDER WOMAN #143 DC Comics 1999

Here's an issue from Eric Luke's run as writer on Wonder Woman. Luke, who previously worked on Dark Horse's Ghost, had a mixed run on the book. He introduced the "Wonder Dome" (where I think there's going to be an Amazon Monster Truck Rally this weekend), had a mini-epic called GodWar! or something like that, and created this issue's villain, Devastation. refers to this era of Wonder Woman comics as the "Pre-Jimenez Era," because artist/writer Phil Jimenez soon took over the book for a run that I guess you would have to call the "Jimenez Era." I just think that's funny: Pre-Jimenez Era. Using that standard, my life right now could be summed up as the post-Jamie Farr*, pre-Monica Belucci stage.

I appreciated Eric Luke's run on this book because darn it, he tried. Luke created Devastation, the arch-enemy that never quite became the classic villain Luke intended her to be. Made by the evil titan Chronus (I think) as a dark counterpart to Wonder Woman, she was as powerful as our heroine and also had strange mind-voodoo powers, and she usually appeared as an evil 12-year old girl. This issue sets Devastation up as a major threat, spreading hatred and violence through Smalltown, USA. When Wonder Woman shows up she gets her ass handed to her by Devastation, and retreats back to the Wonder Dome with a gunshot wound.

And that's where they lose me. Wonder Woman - with a gunshot wound? From like, a 9mm pistol? That is bullshit.

Let's examine this issue in greater detail. Below are the panels (with art by Yannick Paquette) where Devastation shoots Wonder Woman. She aims at our heroine's head, and when Wonder Woman moves to block the shot - psych! - Devastation moves the gun at the last nano-second and shoots her in the side. In the next issue she has the bullet taken out in the Wonder Dome.

I ask you: should you be able to a) psych out Wonder Woman by moving the gun right before you fire, and b) actually break her skin with a bullet? I'll answer for you: no.

Let's tackle the bulletproof issue. I think this is an issue of the writer just not understanding what the hell Wonder Woman's powers are and confusing the classic, pre-Crisis, and post-Crisis versions of the character. I submit to you, gentle reader, this thesis:

Wonder Woman is bulletproof.

Why does she have those bracelets, then?

The original 1940's Wonder Woman, as created by William Marston, was, like Superman, not nearly as poweful as their modern-day incarnations. Superman couldn't even fly back in the day; he hopped around and ran on telephone wires and whatnot. The classic Wonder Woman was strong, but only lift-a-car kind of strong, and she deflected bullets with her magic bracelets. Classic version of Wonder Woman: not bulletproof.

The modern version of the character is a different story. DC is always saying that Wonder Woman is part of the Big Three, she's the greatest heroine on Earth, she's second only to Superman in power, et cetera. She is now lift-a-train strong, can fly, and is super-tough. How tough? She's fought Superman, Darkseid, and Doomsday. An average fight for her might mean getting thrown through a skyscraper or getting a car thrown at her.

Why does she have the bracelets? Those are for lasers and deathrays and deflecting shrapnel and shit.

Wonder Woman can withstand blunt trauma, but a gunshot is different. A bullet is a lot of force focused in a very small area; it would pierce her skin. It wouldn't do as much dam--

Shut up, you don't know what you're talking about. Listen: she has fought Superman. If you're tough enough to take a full-on punch in the face from Superman, the Strongest Guy Ever, that to me would indicate that your entire body - your bones, your muscles, your skin -- is superhumanly tough. Wonder Woman flies at supersonic speed in a swimsuit, for Chrissakes. Her skin would have to be super resilient. I'm sorry, but if Superman can punch you through a skyscraper without killing you - you're bulletproof. It's the new rule.

Okay, how come we never see bullets bouncing off Wonder Woman, then?

Because Wonder Woman isn't slack. If you had bracelets and you were bad-ass enough to be able to deflect bullets, wouldn't it be sort of a point of pride to always deflect stuff? If she let a bullet get through, it might hurt her reputation. People would start to talk about how Wonder Woman's getting slow. No, if you could block bullets, you'd do it every time. Next question.

You've convinced me, Dave. I see know that Wonder Woman really IS bulletproof.

I'm glad you understand now.

*I met Jamie Farr in 1997; fabulous guy, gay as a whistle.

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #55 Marvel Comics, 1967

A classic.

I cherish my beat-to-shit copy of Amazing Spider-Man#55, which was written by Stan “The Man” Lee with art by John Romita, one of everybody’s favorite Spider-Man artists, myself included.

This is one of Spidey’s early battles with Doc Ock (one can’t help but use Stan Lee nicknames) and also features appearances by the two main women in Spider-Man mythos: Gwen Stacy (blonde) and Mary Jane Watson (redhead.) In this issue, Peter is going out with Gwen Stacy and MJ is thrown in as a hep-cat romantic complication. Little does Peter know within the year Gwen Stacy will be dead dead dead and that he and MJ will get married in the future, boring Spider-Man readers everywhere.

Anyway, this issue is a great example of Marvel Comics in the swingin’ sixties, and the art holds up. Careful, though! This comic is older than I am and it’s falling to pieces.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

You can't do that with a lightsaber, dude

When I was a youngster I had one of those incredibly geeky arguments that people of my ilk are prone to do with my friend Geoff. You know, one of those “Who would win? A Star Destroyer or the Enterprise-D?” type of arguments. To this day, Geoff still thinks he’s right, even though he’s clearly not.

Here it is: In the Star Wars films, Jedi Knights have telekinetic powers, right? They move shit with their minds. If my friend Geoff were a Jedi, during a lightsaber duel with a Sith Lord or something he would use his mental powers to turn off his opponent’s lightsaber. The bad guy would move to parry one of Geoff’s blows, and all of a sudden his lightsaber blade would just turn off, allowing Geoff to chop the bad guy’s head off.

“That’s bullshit,” Young Dave said, eating some Cheetos.

“How is that bullshit?” Geoff asked. “You just turn on a lightsaber with a button. How hard would it be to use your Jedi powers to turn a button off?”

“I’m not saying a Jedi wouldn’t be able to hit a button in an elevator with his mind, but I don’t think it would work in a combat situation…”

“Why not?” Geoff said. “Because the button is moving around on a lightsaber? That’s stupid, you’d have to be a pretty lame Jedi not to be able to do that.”

“Well, but the lightsaber is being held by another Jedi, or Force Practicioner or whatever. I think they’d be able to detect what you were doing and do some sort of Force counter-measure,” Young Dave said.

“Now who’s talking bullshit?” Geoff said, grabbing some of my Cheetos. “The Sith Lord would put up some sort of telepathic trigger lock on his lightsaber? That’s dumb; it’d be over before he could even react. I’d turn off his lightsaber and chop his fucking head off.”

“Then why haven’t they done that in the movies if it’s such a good idea?” I asked, cracking open a Dr. Pepper.

“They just haven’t thought of it,” said Geoff.

“No, they haven’t done it because it’s stupid, and nobody wants to see Darth Vader go out like that.”

“I do.”

“Well, you’re dumb.”

“No, you’re dumb,” Geoff said.

“Whatever,” I said. “Hand me the Skull Bong.”

Tuesday, April 05, 2005


This is a deluxe hardback treatment of a time-honored DC tradition: the annual meeting of the Justice League of America* and the Justice Society of America. Back in pre-Crisis days the two teams, who existed on different parallel Earths, would meet up and eat turkey or play baseball. Or maybe that's the X-Men. Anyway, their reunions would always be interrupted by a threat so great that it required the power of both teams. Such is the case here as well.

Let’s get one thing out of the way – the traditional roster page at the beginning of the book includes Vixen and Captain Atom as members of the League. At best, they would be reserve members. As stated previously, Captain Atom is a tool and I’m opposed to his affiliation with the JLA. Vixen is okay, I guess. She’s from the Justice League Detroit era, and can channel the power of different African animals. That’s why you see a big ghostly elephant behind her during her only scene in the book – she’s channeling an elephant. They don’t really explain that at all; you just sort of have to know that or it looks really weird. As a matter of fact, writers Geoff Johns and David “Blade” Goyer just sort of assume that the reader knows the history of all 24 or so heroes and takes it from there.

The storyline pits the collected heroes against each other and against arch-enemies Despero (JLA) and Johnny Sorrow (JSA). Some heroes get possessed by the Seven Deadly Sins, some other heroes get stranded in Limbo fighting an Endless Battle, and general wackiness ensues. I always loved superteam-ups when I was a kid, so I dug it.

Carlos Pacheco does a great job drawing a shitload of characters – his style is very clean and detailed, he rarely missteps with his visual storytelling, and every character gets a chance at the spotlight. He manages to make Firestorm look cool(!), and his Hourman and Mr Terrific look awesome. It helps that the paper is so high quality. Plus there's a great two-page money shot of the heroes storming into battle.

This book also features my favorite, Power Girl, who is drawn by Pacheco with even larger breasts than normal. Appropriately, this object of fanboy desire is possessed by the sin Lust, but as you might imagine, they don't really follow through on the idea to its logical conclusion. So, no pole dancing Power Girl.

One thing I didn't like is that Wonder Woman isn't treated like the heavy hitter she is - she gets knocked out twice in the big final battle! That ain't right.

*I don’t know how you can call yourself the Justice League of America when your base is on the moon and you’ve got an alien, an Amazon, and the King of Atlantis on your team, but nobody’s asking me.

Shadow of the Bat - Batman From a Freudian/Jungian Perspective

“Batman is the hero any of us could be, given determination, exercise, and deep psychological trauma.” - Chris Jarocha-Ernst

The Classic Model of Batman

Batman first appeared in 1939 in Detective Comics #27, and has remained an enduring cultural icon through his many incarnations since then. Created by Bob Kane Batman was a dark counterpart to the first superhero, Superman.

A dark, sinister vigilante who used the symbolism of evil as a psychological weapon to fight crime, the look and feel of Batman was influenced by the drawings of Da Vinci, the personality of Zorro, an obscure mystery film called “The Bat,” and the pulp hero The Shadow.

I will examine the classic model of Batman from a Freudian and Jungian perspective, and will also demonstrate how, unlike any other hero, the mythos of Batman is steeped in different psychological theories.

When I say “classic model” I am referring to the original comic book character that forms the core of many of his subsequent interpretations. The reader may be reminded of the campy 1960’s television show, or the series of increasingly inane feature films based on Batman. These are interpretations of the core character and are not reflective of the classic model.
In order to understand the subject matter, a brief overview of the character is required. Batman is Bruce Wayne, a wealthy industrialist who lives in the crime ridden Gotham City. The son of wealthy socialites Thomas and Martha Wayne, Bruce lived a pampered and sheltered life in his early childhood. His father was a respected doctor, philanthropist, and founder of the Wayne Industries corporation.

One night Bruce’s parents took him to see a movie (The Mark of Zorro) downtown, and on the way out of the movie they were mugged. Young Bruce watched in horror as the faceless, anonymous criminal gunned his parents down, leaving him an orphan. Driven by a need to avenge their deaths, Bruce trained himself to become a world-class crimefighter and, inspired by a bat, created the persona of Batman to strike fear into criminals.

Assisted by his loyal butler Alfred, Bruce Wayne operated out of a secret subterranean base under his family estate, The Batcave. During the day he played the part of bored playboy Bruce Wayne, but at night he prowled the streets of Gotham in his Batmobile or swung through the urban jungle on his Batline. Eventually he recruited allies in the form of Police Commissioner Gordon and his sidekick Robin, who was also orphaned by a senseless act of crime. He used his incredible physical prowess, keen intellect, and exotic gadgets to fight criminals ranging from mob goons to grotesque villains. Significantly, Batman shuns firearms and does not use lethal force.

This is the classic model of Batman, the departure point for all subsequent interpretations of the character in media ranging from radio serials to cartoons to novels to feature films – and of course, comic books. This is the character that we shall examine through the lens of Freud, Jung, and others.

Freud and Batman –Superego / Superhero

Bruce Wayne’s normal psychological development is impaired when, at approximately six years of age he witnesses the murder of his parents by a mugger. The killing occurs at a critical stage of psychological development, when Bruce is resolving his oedipal crisis by repressing his hostility towards his father and his sexual desires towards his mother. Bruce was increasingly identifying with his father, an accomplished and wealthy doctor and philanthropist, at the time of the murder and as he was internalizing the superego and adopting his parents’ moral restraints. Because his oedipal complex at the time of the murder was not completely resolved and his rivalrous and incestuous feelings were not yet buried in his unconscious, Bruce felt a tremendous sense of guilt about the death of his parents, particularly his father, who he had viewed as a rival and had harbored hostile wishes against. In the young boy’s mind his unacceptable wishes were manifested on the night of the murder – the death wish against his father was fulfilled by a faceless criminal. Bruce’s superego, his conscience, developed abnormally as a result of the trauma. The character of Bruce’s father lives on in his superego, which dominates his ego with an acute sense of guilt, heightened by the knowledge that he will inherit all of his father’s property and wealth as a result of the murder.

Bruce spends his childhood and adolescence in various boarding schools, where he adopts the twin strategies of asceticism and intellectualism in order to deal with his dangerous resurgence of oedipal emotions. In an attempt to defend against the unacceptable oedipal feelings he harbors towards his dead parents, Bruce attempts to deny physical pleasure and impulses by adopting a punishing physical training regimen and mastering physical pursuits such as martial arts and sports. At the same time, Bruce protects himself from the problems of sex and aggression by transferring these impulses onto the intellectual plane through academic achievement and study. Bruce, who has a genius level IQ and an incredibly dominant superego, does not find school work challenging, and surreptitiously studies a wide variety of subjects both mundane and esoteric without the knowledge of his peers or faculty.

At the end of his adolescence, Bruce travels overseas in pursuit of his twin goals of asceticism and intellectualism, seeking guidance from experts in various fields such as art history, biology, martial arts, criminology, survival, espionage, Eastern philosophy, etc. During this period Bruce struggles against the return of his repressed oedipal feelings, particularly his aggressive desires. His unacceptable aggression finds fulfillment in the form of symptoms, behavioral abnormalities that are a direct result of that repression. In Bruce’s case, his symptoms manifest itself as a desire for revenge against the faceless crime that took his parents. Such is the power of Bruce’s dominant superego that his quest for revenge is held in check by his conscience -the punitive, critical aspect of his superego -- which will not allow his desire for revenge to become lethal.

Thus, Bruce’s lifelong personal prohibition against lethal force is created by his superego as a way of moderating his abnormal revenge behavior.

An equally powerful aspect of Bruce’s superego is his ego ideal, his positive aspirations and desire for perfection. Freud says the super-ego is "the vehicle of the ego ideal by which the ego measures itself, which it emulates, and whose demand for ever greater perfection it strives to fulfill.” ( Freud, "New Introductory Lectures") On one level Bruce’s ego ideal is based on his idealized childhood view of his parents as perfect beings, while on another level it is based on a more abstract notion of justice. His unusually strong ego ideal motivates Bruce to intellectual and academic achievements well beyond that of ordinary individuals.

Like everyone, Bruce’s id is governed by the pleasure-principle and is oriented towards his impulses and passions. However, Bruce’s early childhood trauma has taught him to deny and sublimate his impulses, so his ego has focused on a strategy of delayed gratification -- the reality principle – in order for him to fulfill the goals of his ego ideal and obey the dictates of his guilty, controlling conscience. When he creates the mask of Batman later in his life, he sublimates his impulses into a quest for justice and embraces the reality principle wholeheartedly. His entire life becomes an exercise in delayed gratification. He cannot pursue the pleasure-principle until his desire for revenge is fulfilled and his impossible mission – the eradication of crime – is complete.

Bruce’s ego is taxed by powerful demands from the id, the restrictive tenets of his superego, and the very real dangers of the physical world.

We now have an overview of the psychoanalytic factors at play in Bruce Wayne as he grew up in the aftermath of his terrible childhood tragedy. But our understanding is incomplete because we have not factored in the presence of The Bat in Bruce’s psyche. For a greater understanding of the role of The Bat, we must turn to Carl Jung.

Jung and Batman – Mask and Shadow

As a young adult Bruce Wayne returns from his long sojourn overseas to Gotham City and his ancestral home, Wayne Manor. Bruce’s body has been crafted into a living weapon, his mind is razor sharp and encyclopedic, and he is powerfully motivated by inner forces to pursue justice – yet the dark purpose of his life has not coalesced.

When Bruce is brooding alone in his study one night, a large bat crashes through the window. He takes this as an omen and, reasoning that “criminals are a cowardly and superstitious lot” Bruce decides to use the symbolism of the bat as a disguise and psychological weapon – he becomes The Bat.

When Bruce Wayne dons the distinctive dark cape and cowl of Batman, he adopts a new persona, a new social mask specifically tailored for his nocturnal pursuits. During the daytime Bruce’s ego presents the Bruce Wayne persona to the world, the mask of a spoiled playboy. At night, Bruce presents the Batman persona to the world, the mask of the supernatural avenger. As Bruce’s vigilante career progresses, he spends less time in the Bruce Wayne persona, which he views as a superficial front, and more time in costume as Batman, which he feels is more reflective of his ego. The Batman persona is cultivated to the detriment of the hollow Bruce Wayne persona.

The Batman persona is pure animus, “the man within.” When wearing the Batman mask, Bruce embodies the masculine principle of logic, independence, aggression, the conquest of nature, and heroic action. There is no room for the anima, “the woman within” in the Batman persona. The feminine qualities of nurturance, feeling, and relatedness to others are dangerous liabilities on the mean streets of Gotham City, but in truth Bruce has repressed the feminine all of his life and has scarce use for it in either persona. Bruce’s anima resides almost exclusively in his personal unconscious, neglected.

The Jungian shadow plays an important role in Bruce’s life. The opposite of his self-image of a controlled, just protector, Bruce’s shadow is an amalgam of the traits and impulses that he cannot see in himself. His shadow is wrathful, predatory, and violent – the exact traits he despises and projects on to the criminals he hunts. In a sense, the Batman persona is the physical embodiment of his shadow.

The Batman mask is also a manifestation of a dark universal archetype that dwells in the collective unconscious that Jung believed all humans shared. Theses archetypes are innate forces and organizing urges that exist within us all, given shape and form in art, myths, and dreams. The Batman is a death archetype fused with a dark animal totem which strikes a primal note of fear in the unconscious of criminals and innocent alike. Bruce deliberately cultivates this vampiric image and rarely attempts to soften it or mitigate its effects, even with the victims of criminals that he nominally protects.

Will Bruce Wayne ever reach the Self, the balanced archetype all humans strive for? No. The Self is the ultimate unconscious goal, a sense of balance, wholeness, and meaning, an inner urge to balance and reconcile the opposing aspects of our personalities. The Self is an unattainable ideal, but even were it within our reach, it would be impossible for Bruce. Bruce’s personal unconscious is all animus with very little anima. His personality is full of opposing tendencies such as his shadow’s destructive nature vs. his ego-ideal’s drive for justice.

Freudian and Jungian theory offer useful frameworks for understanding the psychologically rich and enduring character of Batman/Bruce Wayne, who has become such an iconic fixture in the American and worldwide pop cultural landscape. Comic books are often dismissed as simplistic, juvenile fare, and to be honest, that is usually an accurate assessment. But comics are sequential art, a hybrid of words and pictures, a media that is just as valid as any other and just as capable of telling stories and introducing characters of great depth and resonance. The majority of Batman comics fall short of this potential, but the character is profound and resonant enough to inspire a few truly powerful works.

We all bear with us scars from childhood and past trauma, we all construct personas to help deal with the world and internal processes to deal with pain and fear. Certainly one of the reasons for Batman’s enduring popularity is that, at its core the character is a wounded Gothic hero fighting both external and internal demons in a grim fairytale landscape one step removed from our own.

Another reason would be him jumping around and beating the shit out of people.