Monday, July 19, 2010

On the reward for a year of patient silence

I'm quivering. I'm giggling like a schoolgirl, and don't know what to do with my hands.

There's not a facet of the news about the rebirth of the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents that doesn't make me happy.

First off, they're sidestepping the whole origin retcon problem perfectly - it all happened. The entire Tower run is now solidly part of DC Continuity, in its entirety, unchanged. This also means they took place as much as 50 years ago, if they choose to place them in the 60's. This is AMAZINGLY cool. It puts the Agents in the same area as the Challs - the sole defense the world had against outlandish threats, from the era between the JSA and the modern heroes.

Yes, that means that aside from Dr. Dunn, we'll get all new agents. But that really works for me. As I've said before, it's entirely possible to give a new guy the suit and retain the feel of the original. And I'll be very curious to see what folks they choose.

They kept the "core", to revisit the concept I've touched on recently - their powers are slowly killing them. The Thunderbelt puts strain on Dynamo's nervous system, Lightning's suit ages him every time he gives it the gas, and Menthor...well, I'm quite keen to see what the side effects of the helmet are now. Now yes, the idea has been used in comics before, one favorite was in Strikeforce: Morituri. But it's a concept that's got LOTS of possibilities.

I'm assuming the fellow in the business suit is the new Menthor. It's a neat idea, and considering the original Menthor suit bore a passing resemblance to The Atom's togs, they'd only have had to think up new ones anyway.

Only NoMan will remain as an active member from the original team. Which means that Dr. Dunn has been living in a series of android bodies for a couple DECADES. There is a LOT of potential there. People start hallucinating after a couple of hours in those sensory deprivation tanks. He's functionally been in one for years. And the idea of being able to swap out of your body right before you die. You ever have a dream where you're dying and you wake up at the last second? Odds are that's what it feels like. What's the effect on a mind after that happens a couple hundred times, but you're not dreaming?

So SO many questions. Exactly how long ago did the original series happen? Will we see a new version of the THUNDER Squad? Or the Undersea Agent? What of the 80's revival will be considered canon? How will the team interact with the rest of the DCU, and organizations like Checkmate?

It is going to be a VERY long time till November. Luckily there will be several conventions between now and then at which to wheedle information from them.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

On yet another costume intended to attract attention and generate debate

If you haven't seen it yet, Entertainment Weekly has Ryan Reynolds in his Green Lantern outfit on the cover of their special Comic-Con preview issue.  And predictably, it's generated some comment.

I do have some problems with the outfit, but likely not the ones most have.  The mask looks a bit odd.  It's too low in the middle, which makes the sides look almost pointy.  The lines of (I presume) energy look like they're supposed to mimic the sinews of muscle.  It's interesting, but makes the suit look too busy.  I'm hoping that's more of a "climactic" effect, to give the look of his body bursting with energy, perhaps after drawing a charge directly from the central battery. 

But here's the thing.  The pic is billed as a "first look", and that's exactly what it is.  With almost a full year until the premiere, I'll lay odds this design will change.  It's one of the mixed blessings of CGI effects - you can tweak it until quite close to the release date. 

In fact, I'm betting this isn't even actual CGI output.  It looks much more like Photoshop.  Take a look at the hi-res copy of the pic at Newsarama.  The mask looks rather flat, much more like it's just painted on his face, as opposed to the more solid look that you'd assume a mask would have, even one generated by the ring, as this one allegedly is.  The colors of the suit are flat, with not too much texture.  I'm betting this is only a pale shadow of what the final product will be.

My copy will likely be waiting for me at home today or tomorrow, and if there are more pictures inside, I'll be able to make a more educated decision.  But right now, my decision is that I can't MAKE a decision.  You can't make a decision on the film based on one picture.

At least, not any more.  I remember when that picture of Michael Keaton in his Bat-gear showed up in, of all things, TIME magazine.  The photo was intended to calm the fans down, to make sure we understood that this was to be a serious take on the character, not a comedy, regardless of the choice of star.  And it worked - there wasn't a comic shop in the country that didn't have a copy of that pic posted.  You could hear the sigh of relief, followed by the first of many held breaths over the next decades as our anticipation built.

But that suit was a physical thing. They were almost finished filming by the time that photo hit.  If fandom cried foul, they had no way to change it.  With the GL costume being CGI, if there's a hue and cry about it, they can change it with relative ease.

If there's any fully-rendered effects yet, they exist solely to show at Comic-Con next week.  And even they may change in 12 months.

There will be PLENTY of leaked footage, in-progress effects shots and photographs taken from 3 miles away using  L.B. Jeffries' telephoto lens from Rear Window for you to make your mind up about the film before it opens.  Don't hang all your outrage on a last-minute slapped together piece to get a shot on the EW cover.  Save it, parcel it out over time.  If you declare the film crap now, you run the risk of being ignored for the next year.  And if there's one thing the children of the internet fear, it's being ignored.

Friday, July 9, 2010

On a successful destruction of another part of my childhood

I've told these stories before, but I told them long enough ago I think I can get away with telling them again. I've always had a sort of emotional attachment to The Atom, DC's Silver-age version of the Mighty Mite. One of my few memories of my father is of him reading me the origin of the Atom. And from way back then, I remembered Ray Palmer's little mnemonic for the difference between stalactites and stalagmites -

Stalactite has a 'C' in it! Let that stand for Ceiling! Stalagmite has a 'G' in it! Let that stand for ground!
Over a decade and change later, in high school Earth Science class, our teacher had just finished this really horrible story that was supposed to help us remember the difference between stalactites and stalagmites. As soon as he finished, I raised my hand, and quoted Professor Palmer's mnemonic perfectly. My teacher looked at me, and to paraphrase Robin Harris, he hung up cause he knew I was right.

So suffice to say, I know the origin of the Atom pretty well. Ray Palmer finds a piece of dwarf star matter and uses it to perfect his shrink ray. By passing sunlight through a lens he created (now with a dwarf star coating) he can shrink things, but they promptly explode due to instability. During a spelunking expedition (from which came the aforementioned mnemonic) there's a cave-in, trapping the class. He happens to have the lens with him, so he decides to sacrifice himself by using it on himself. He sets the lens between two outcroppings and aims a beam of sunlight through it. He succeeds and makes a small hole large enough to let everyone escape. With seconds to go before he expects to explode, he passes through the beam again, and is surprised and relieved to find out he is restored to normal. Apparently some water dripped onto the lens, water that passed through the walls of the cave and picked up trace minerals that somehow stabilized the shrinking process. He retrieves the lens and helps everyone escape through the opening he created. And by his next appearance he perfected the process, made himself a costume and joined the DC pantheon of heroes.

Now that's pretty much a textbook silver-age origin. A series of wild coincidences, some pseudo science and heaping helping of OH, COME ON. But it works. It's a jumping off point, it's a story that doesn't need to be addressed all that often and serves to get the hero into the costume. It's not changed one iota (which would have been a great name for the character as well) since it was written. Through Crisis and revamp, Ray's simple tale has remained unassailed. The only nod to reality it got was the space rock was now merely infused with Dwarf Star Matter, as opposed to being a solid chunk. I believe that tweak came some time back, as some clever arse noticed that a solid piece of dwarf star matter A) wouldn't exist since stars are made of incendescent gas, and B) would weigh something like 14 godzillion pounds (or 6.350293178 godzillion kilograms). But other than that, nothing.

Until yesterday, when Jeff (Sweet Tooth) Lemire all but entirely rewrote it in the Brightest Day Atom Special.

Now here's where you expect the old fart comics fan to rail and moan about change for the sake of change, and how it was perfectly acceptable before and why did it have to ruin it, yakkity schmakkity blither blather.

But here's the thing. He NAILED it. He makes several major changes, but none are negative, and none make Ray any less Ray.

Let me explain. There's a sort of paradoxical concept from literature know as the Ship of Theseus. They all center around the idea that a beloved object, over time, gets fixed, parts replaced, and eventually, there's not a bit of the original object left, but it's still that object. Terry Pratchett used the "my Grandfather's Axe" version of the story twice, once in Strata and more recently in The Fifth Elephant. The point is, you can swap out all the bits of something, but if you're careful, never lose the intrinsic…thingness of the thing.

Sometimes some comic revamps are so radical they DO lose "the thing and the whole of the thing". The threatened Fantastic Four moving to the suburbs, for example. And in most cases, the really embarrassing missteps go away, either via another revamp or just a sort of embarrassed shuffling of the feet and everyone kind of agreeing to never mention that again. But here, the changes are not outlandish, and even when they contradict previous stories, they do so in ways that interest me, and not outrage me.

Case in point - In the new origin, he perfects the shrinking process himself, as opposed to a freak accident involving dripping water. It's not as exciting and dramatic, but it actually makes Ray a BETTER scientist. He solved his own problem, as opposed to a lucky accident.

In the new origin, he already had the costume ready. Well, so what? Come on, he says it himself, you don't build a shrink ray without at least thinking of using it on yourself. And he explains that the suit is to house the shrinking apparatus and not just to save people and get babes. It's similar to the idea they tried in the Flash TV series, that the suit was originally designed to monitor his vitals and keep from overheating (tho how wearing foam rubber from head to toe keeps you from overheating is beyond me). Having his first appearance still be connected to a cave-in is a nice tip of the hat to the original story.

Jeff's also added a whole family for Ray to have sad memories about. Now to be fair, that's becoming somewhat de rigueur nowadays, as in Geoff Johns' revamps of both Green Lantern and Flash. And it seems pretty obvious to me that Ray's mysterious uncle is either...

A) His real father
B) Himself, or possibly one of his enemies (most likely Chronos or someone with access to the Time Pool) trying to make sure his eventual adulthood and shrink-ray creation goes smoothly.
C) Some mad combination of the two.

Don't get me wrong, these are pretty major changes. But like so many DC characters, The Atom went through more than a few radical changes in vector. He became a teeny-weeny John Carter Of The Front Lawn, got de-aged to a teenager, and had more shit piled onto his fragile psyche by his ex-wife than any one man deserves. Roger Stern gave him a family background in the Power of the Atom series - supposedly he's an only child. But AFAIC, since that was added DECADES after the character first appeared, it's not quite the same level of cement-solid canon as other details.

Now I won't lie to you, I REALLY liked Ryan Choi. Or perhaps more correctly, I liked Gail Simone's writing on All New Atom, and the absolutely wacky concepts she introduced. Of them all, the idea that Ivy Town, as a result of all the quantum compression, time travel and dimensional experimentation it's hosted over the years, is now parked halfway into the Outer Limits. I LOVED that. It was an easy setup for a ridiculous amount of story ideas. It's something I'd sorely love to see again.

But by re-telling Ray's origin, Jeff gives a whole new audience a chance to jump on with the character, and pretty much takes him back closer to his original concept than he's been at for quite a long time. He's more sure of himself, no more of that "size=self-esteem" crap. He's back at Ivy U, with Professor Hyatt. And he's a hero again.  These are good things.

In short, Jeff ends up with a story that is still the story my father told me.

Tell you what, Jeff...have him use the Stalactite/Stalagmite story in a future episode, and it'll be perfect.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

On the result of showing a powerful man exactly how weak he is, relatively speaking

Look, there are spoilers.  Get Over It.

Simply stated, Marvel don’t know what they lost.  They canceled Paul Cornell’s thought-provoking Captain Britain book, and then it starts winning awards.  Paul jumped ship to DC, bagging an exclusive contract, and got handed Action Comics.  That’s what I call a positive career vector.

One catch: you can’t use Superman.  JMS is sending him on a little spirit quest for a year, so you’ll be writing about Metropolis without a Superman.  Now that’s the same offer made to a certain other well-known Superman-loving writer (whose name shall remain unsaid), and said writer dropped the offer like a hot rock.  But Paul saw opportunity in the scenario, and chose to talk about Metropolis’ biggest brain, Lex Luthor.

As a result of the end of the New Krypton plotline, Lex Luthor has a presidential pardon, has been re-instated as the head of Lexcorp, and odds are, with the help of a gracious media, been able to restore his reputation to the point that he’s top dog in the Big Apricot again, especially with Superman off on Walkabout. 

This is a textbook example of a first issue.  Give people a solid snapshot of the character, get a couple plot threads going, and end the issue with a SOLID cliffhanger.  Hits all the bases. 

As opposed to the last year of Superman books (which, I hasten to add, I enjoyed) where you were asked to invest in brand new characters (or in Mon-El's case, a new look at a character) this is a character everyone knows, so there's no hesitance to get over.  And still Paul shows new sides to him.

The Lois-bot just speaks VOLUMES about his fixations.  She's The One Who Got Away, and if he can't have her, he'll just build one.  He couches it in "I need a devil's advocate" but it's such an obvious bit of petulance.  LOVED it. 

I may be digging a bit deep, but I took “Spalding” as a Marx Bros reference – Geoffrey T. Spaulding had a personal assistant named Jamison in Animal Crackers. I’ve already asked Paul if his other name is indeed Jamison. Which would be awesome.  The relationship between him and Lex seems to be similar to Lord Vetinari and Drumknott in the Discworld books.  I love it.

If you want to make a comparison to Paul’s work on Doctor Who, it seems he’s playing Luthor as The Master.  He’s utterly in control in any situation, playing three games ahead, never mind three moves, and always out for himself.  He’s not been played this well in years.  Even in recent years he was leaning back to the “mad scientist” mold and away from the corporate wolf that Byrne, et al, re-molded him in.  I’m pleased that didn’t complete – I really like the idea of Luthor being a captain of industry.  It should be very difficult for Superman or anyone to touch him, as he’s the head of a company that’s “too big to fail”.

Let’s look at all the plot threads Cornell  set up in one issue, shall we?

Lex’s Quest For Fire:  He got one taste of true power, and it’s bent his brain.  Just like Virgil Samms taking one hit of Thionite while undercover and having to spend the rest of his days aching for another, Lex has fallen hard for the power that he can barely contemplate.  He’s well aware that’s it’s affecting his actions and perceptions, but he’s equally positive that he can maintain control.  Classic junkie-speak.
It’s got to be KILLING him that something could make him so off of his game.  So much so that he decides he needs a Jiminy Cricket, someone to walk (three steps) behind him and whisper “Remember, thou art mortal”.  And that brings us to…

Lois-bot built with Kryptonian tech that they don’t quite understand:  That’s just got “Lois bot out of control” painted all over it, don’t it?  Or even better, making the jump to sentience and either allowing Lex to take the relationship to another level, or the old reliable “trying to take over real-Lois’ life” story.  Either way, Robot Lois is a great swerve, since it was the one thing in the previews and Paul’s interviews that had everyone partaking in what we call in our house “The ethnic loss of all shit”.  Positively brill.

“If I got more support from your people”:  That line likely got glossed over by most folks.  Who are Spalding’s “people” exactly?  I’m thinking he’s not just referring to Lexcorp employees, or metrosexuals.  Spalding got a lot of camera time – I’m betting there’s a reason for that. 

Mr. Mind:  Come on, that was awesome.  Virtually unseen since 52, the Venusian earworm has all the makings of a major villain.  More subtle than Starro, access to alien tech, and he’s a friggin’ worm.  You started the issue not knowing who the weirdos dressed in lots from a Morrison Doom Patrol costume auction were, and you ended not know what their boss has planned.  And all along, Lex is just playing them like pan flutes.

What a lovely start.