Thursday, May 28, 2009

On how sometimes, the Kookie Solution is the way to go.

On 77 Sunset Strip a classic detective show from the 50's, they introduced Edd "Kookie" Byrnes in the pilot as a psycopathic killer who habitually combed his hair. In the episode, the character was captured, convicted and sent to the gas chamber. But Byrnes was a hit - he was all people were talking about. So in the next episode of the series, star Efrem Zimbalist Jr. appeared before the credits and literally told the audience:

We previewed this show, and because Edd Byrnes was such a hit we decided that Kookie and his comb had to be in our series. So this week, we'll just forget that in the pilot he went off to prison to be executed.

Sometimes that's the best answer. When you go down the wrong road, sometimes you just cut your losses, admit your errors, turn to the audience and say "I'm sorry, can we just go again?"

Dallas caught lots of hell for the famous "shower scene" - they literally claimed an entire season of the show never happened, and Victoria Principal just dreamed it all, including the death of Patrick Duffy (a scene skewered magnificently on Family Guy). But they knew they'd pooped the bed, they admitted it, and the show went on for years more. Martin Mull's character Garth Gimble was killed on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, but Mull proved so talented that they created a twin brother barth, gave him his own talk/variety show (Fernwood and later America 2-Night) and made he and his partner Jerry Hubbard (Fred Willard) so popular that to this day, Mull and Willard are rarely seen working separately.

In the last of the newly-announced co-features in DC Comics, Captain Atom will be getting a backup spot in Action Comics coming in June. Now there's lots of folks, including myself, who think that's a great idea. Captain Atom is potentially one of the most powerful characters in the DCU, on Superman's level. He had his own book for several years, has always been near the top of cameos, and even got good face time on Justice League Unlimited.

If it wasn't for the fact that the last time we saw him he was trying to take over the multiverse and appears to have died, taking the entirety of parallel universe 51 with him in Countdown, this would be great.

Back in his original DC title, Captain Atom had one of the better continuity explainers to come along to that date. Taking a page from Alan Moore who explained that all of Miracleman's golden age adventures were simluated adventures created to help train the Zarathustrans, it was explained that all of Captain Atom's (original Charlton) adventures were fabricated by the government. When they unveiled Atom to the world, they explained that all these adventures happened, but were classified by the government, as Captain Atom was still classified at the time. The idea was to give him instant street cred with the other heroes, so he could enter their circle, and report back to the government about them. Great idea, unique, never really caught on.

In the years since, Captain Atom has had a number of left turns and last-minute changes, mostly resulting that they never really knew . They started with the Armageddon 2001 crossover event back in 2001. The storyline was that in the future, one of the DCU's heroes would decide that the world would be a better place with him (or her - their identity was to be a secret) in charge, so they simply took out all of the other heroes and set themselves up as Monarch, both in position and name. (This concept has also been touched on expertly by Mark Waid in the classic mini Empire, and is being addressed by him again in the upcoming Irredeemable)

A new character, Waverider, travels back to modern-day DCU (at the time, 1991) and tries to learn who would eventually become Monarch. It was shrouded in secrecy, the reveal was supposed to be a major shock...and it was supposed to be Captain Atom.

In one of the first spoiler leaks of the electronic age, it was revealed that Captain Atom was to be revealed as Monarch, but in all honesty it wasn't all that hard to suss out:

  1. It pretty much had to be someone strong enough to be able to take out Superman and the rest of the upper-level DC heroes. That took a lot of players off the table.
  2. The storyline was being told in the annuals of all the books, and odds are they weren't going to find out who Monarch was in the middle of the story. Justice League Europe was the last of the books, and the only regular character strong enough to logically be the guilty party was Atom.

DC, deciding they didn't want anyone to know the ending, changed horses in mid stream and decided at almost the last minute that Monarch was in fact Hawk, from the Ditko-created and recently revived (and luckily, about to be cancelled) Hawk & Dove. It made no sense, resulted in heaven-only-knows how many plots and stories getting trashed, and generally pissed everyone off. Later uses of the character, turning Hawk into the equally-difficult to-explain-why-it-happened Extant for the later Zero hour event didn't help.

Eventually it all got sort of worked out - Geoff Johns did what Geoff Johns does best, and came up with a storyline in JSA that explained that the end of A2001 was all a con by former legion baddie Mordru, and pretty much settled everything to the point that the average fan could get a general sense of closure from it, and move on with the narrative, happy that it was fairly well sorted.

Then Countdown came along and started picking at the scab.

Captain Atom got a pretty damn good miniseries where he was thrown into the Wildstorm universe. This was in fact one of the first fairly blatant hints that the Multiverse, or at least a version of it, was back in play at DC When he returned to the DCU, he was horribly injured and his containment suit was leaking. The government put him in what looked like a modified version of the Monarch armor and started experimenting on him. He woke up and escaped.

In the pages of Countdown, he took the name of Monarch again and started assembling an army for what was to be a massive war for the fate of the multiverse. It...sorta happened. I think.

So as you can see, there's a LOT to explain...or explain away.

James Robinson swears it's "our" Captain Atom, the one who did all that stuff in Countdown. Now I'm all for seeing how he pulls that off, but part of me wants to take the easy route, say that Monarch from Countdown was the Captain Atom from earth 784-apple, and move forward. Get Efrem Zimbalist to come out and say "Let's just forget Countdown ever happened, and that Captain Atom has just come back from Earth-Wildstorm after saving them all, okay?"

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