Wednesday, August 1, 2012

On not knowing when you've gone too far, save for the sound of the screaming

Comic and "pop culture" website Newsarama, used to have informative articles, well thought out histories of characters, and, yes, I'm going there, one of the most vibrant and witty bulletin boards in the hobby.

There's none of that left. Literally the only thing left of quality are the interviews. Zach Smith and Vaneta Rogers still do great work, as do most of your new folks. But the rest is disappointing to say the least.
The 10 worst comic performances piece was the last straw. Unfunny, hipster-wannabe snarkery that thinks it's witty.

I'll save you time.  The ten they chose, counting from bottom-up, are:
  • January Jones - Emma Frost
  • Christopher Reeve/Brandon Routh - Superman/Clark Kent
  • Tobey Maguire - Spider-Man/Peter Parker
  • Seth Rogen - The Green Hornet
  • Julian Mcmahon - Doctor Doom
  • Nicolas Cage - Ghost Rider
  • Matthew Goode - Ozymandias
  • Billy Zane - The Phantom
  • Halle Berry - Storm, Catwoman
  • Most Everyone And Anyone In Joel Schumacher's Batman Movies
I agree with Nick Cage.  When he's bad, he's awful.  Mcmahon was trapped in a film that didn't know what it was doing; his performance was hobbled by a horrid version of the character. Goode...OK, I got nothing.

I know I'm in the minority, but I got what they were going for in Green Hornet, and while it was TOTALLY not the film I was hoping for, I think they nailed what they set out to do.  And if you got the VERY subtle historical reference at the center of the fight between Britt and Kato, that might have been the point where you had to look at the film with respect.

And Billy Zane, I'm sorry, was really good in Phantom.  If they'd gone with listing Treat Williams instead, I'd have been right there with them.

They went for easy targets.  The ones they thought they could get laughs from.  Where's Brooke Shields in Brenda Starr?  Lea Thompson in Howard the Duck?  Ron Ely from Doc Savage?  The ones that EVERYBODY has to admit were tripe?

 The last one isn't even a person, it's just a shotgun blast at the films in toto. It's not they couldn't choose a last one, they just plain got tired.
But Christopher Reeve?  Really?  REALLY?

Needless to say, this choice has made Newsarama the internet's new Special Friend.  Creators and fans alike, left and right, are taking to the web, even at this late hour, to share their distaste for this move.  Mark Waid has flatly told them to lose his phone number.

It's the latest in a series of puff pieces on the site that they've been posting instead of more in-depth and informative pieces. The "list-format" article format is getting increasingly prevalent, but the 'rama has taken to them like nobody other.  

It'll be interesting to see if they choose to respond to the almost universal negative reaction to the piece.  It's credited to the "Newsarama staff", and unlike other lists they've posted, the individual entries bear no individual credits.  I've got a pretty good guess who wrote it, but no proof, so I'll keep that guess to myself.  

Seriously, guys, take your thumb out.  There's time to turn this around.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

On the importance of jumping only to the right conclusions

A bit of a change in theme today - this is a film review, in association with The Wife's "The Best Hitchcock Films Hitchcock Never made" Blogathon, hosted by The Wife's blog, Tales of the Easily Distracted, and Classic Becky's Brain Food.  There's about fifty people writing about films that mimic, honor, flagrantly ransack and are just plain inspired by the work of The Master of Suspence.

Of all the things Hitchcock did well, the finest is how he could place average people in unique situations, and let their paranoia run amok.  Until the moment that his main character seized control of the situation and turned it on his pursuers, they'd be running blind, not knowing who to trust.  Sometimes the audience would have more information than the character did, which served only to increased their shared sense of worry - the character would be having a casual conversation, unaware there was a bomb in the room, set to go off in seconds..

In 1997, much-lauded playwright David Mamet wrote and directed The Spanish Prisoner, a drum tight con-job movie that keeps its main character, repressed genius Joe Ross (Campbell Scott) off-balance almost from the start, for all the wrong reasons.  He's guided happily down, off, and back on the proverbial primrose path throughout the film, and you with him.  Only until the climax of the film are you provided with the traditional bit of extra info that puts you in the lead of Joe, and only for a few minutes.

Joe works for Mr. Klein (Ben Gazzara, a good actor), CEO of a company of no solid description.  Joe has developed a "process" for the company - we never learn more about it, other that it is complicated, promises impossible profit, and must be guarded scrupulously.  In other words, a perfect Hitchcockian McGuffin, or "The thing that everybody wants but nobody knows what it is, and it doesn't matter".  Joe has been brought to a private island in the Caribbean to present the process to Klein's investors, with the assistance of his friend George Lang (magician Ricky Jay) and secretary/assistant Susan Ricci (singer Rebecca Pidgeon, now AKA Mrs David Mamet).  Joe and Susan do not know each other, but they hit it off as Joe allows himself to relax after giving his presentation.  Taking photos of each other on the beach, Joe is approached by a man named Jimmy Dell (Steve Martin in a dead serious and truly astounding role) who was accidentally captured in a photo, and offers Joe $1,000 for the camera.  Instead, Joe hands the camera to Jimmy, no strings attached, a move which moves, and somewhat embarrasses Jimmy.  He and Joe begin chatting - Jimmy is on the island with a princess of a country no longer on the map; Joe remains quiet about why he's there.  After a pleasant evening of drinks, Jimmy asks Joe to "perform a service" for him - he has a small package he'd like Joe to deliver to his sister in New York, and Joe agrees.

"They didn't get OFF the seaplane; they came from the
DIRECTION of the sea plane"
On the plane, Susan, a chatty little ball of enthusiasm, begins to blather on about how people are often not what they appear.  Case in point, Mr. Jimmy Dell.  Susan rambles on about how they don't know anything about the man, he could be anyone.  Joe smiles and nods through her meanderings; it's only when she begins to mention "Drug mules", people who get asked to carry packages for strangers that Joe's ears and nerves prick up.

He tears open the package in the lavatory, only to discover it contains a vintage book on tennis, along with a note to Jimmy's sister, suggesting she get to know the gentleman bearing the gift.  Unfortunately, in his zeal, Joe has damaged the cover.  When they land in New York, he purchases another copy of the book, swaps it in the packaging, and drops it off at the woman's apartment house, too embarrassed to deliver it in person.

Now at this point, Joe's suspicions about Jimmy subside, but the too-smart-for-the-movie audience will suspect that the McGuffin will turn out not to be the process, but the damaged book that Joe innocently exchanged with a copy.  I shall save you time - it's not. 

Joe and Jimmy meet up again in New York, and a friendship grows quickly.  Joe begins to open up about his job, and while not revealing the details of his process, lets slip that he's afraid that he may not be fairly remunerated for his hard work.  Jimmy offers to assist - he suggests they discuss things with a lawyer versed in contract and copyright law. 

But when Joe stops by the apartment house of Jimmy's sister, only to find out that he HAS no sister, Joe begins to realize that he may be blundering into something that could get into great trouble.  He contacts the FBI, and sure enough, they've been after the guy for years.  Joe agrees to help them sting Jimmy.

And believe it or not, THAT'S when things go pear-shaped.

The twist at the halfway point of the movie is sublime in its elegance; the twist near the end is perfectly shocking, especially if you remain naive and don't try to "guess the ending".  I SO want to discuss them in great detail, but since it's a film not many have seen, I'm loath to spoil it for you. 

 As I mentioned before, Hitchcock would often let the audience in on information that the hero does not have - by doing so, he lets you know that a situation is far more dangerous than the hero is aware, so instead of wondering what will happen next, you know damn WELL what will happen next, and are screaming at the screen for him to get outta Dodge. They don't do that at all in this film, save for at the very end, when you realize exactly how long Joe's been getting played. He catches up quickly however, though unlike the usual Hitchcockian hero, he never quite gets the chance to turn the tables to his advantage.  The last moment where we're supposed to hear the whole plot from the villain's lips is a hilarious to a similar expository scene in North by Northwest - in both cases, it points to the fact that the details are, in reality, immaterial.  It doesn't matter that the diamonds are in the badman's left or right shoe, only that he's going to be caught, eventually.

There's one thing I must address, even though it may serve to spoil a surprise to a degree. The eponymous con of the title is never actually pulled in the film. "The Spanish Prisoner" is a classic con, currently being used by endless Nigerian bankers. In it, a person claims to be a refugee dignitary of a foreign country, who was unable to escape with his riches. If you (the mark) can assist him with only a small advance of funds, he will gladly share the riches with you when they are liberated. Sometimes they even have a lovely sister who will be pleased to marry you. With all the window dressing pulled away, Joe falls for a simple slight-of-hand swap known as The Murphy, which I think you'll agree, is not as good a title. Ironically, The Spanish Prisoner is the main con used in one of Steve Martin's OTHER films, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.  Michael Caine is the main con artist in that film, making a good living off of playing an exiled prince, bumming chips off of naive housewives in Monte Carlo.  Steve Martin's the apprentice in that one, and they both end up combating a third con-man, known only as "The Jackal".  But that, as they say, is another story.

Like so many films with a con-job at its core, it's a film that must be watched twice.  Enjoy the first run through with innocent eyes - don't start looking for the tells.  On the second run through, you'll see how expertly not only Joe is set up, but the audience.  The first shot in the film is called back for the final twist, and an offhand comment by Susan while in the tropics serves to put you at ease about something that, again, when you re-watch it, you'll be amazed you missed.  I almost want to write a second essay expressly to be read after watching the film, so as to freely discuss the twists and surprises.

The script, as should be obvious by now, is expert.  The directing is very indicative of Mamet - When we first meet many of the characters, they speak in a very clipped, almost formal tone, in rather short sentences.  They open up and relax a bit as they grow more friendly with each other, but it's an interesting thing to see the change.  Ricky Jay's role is short, but memorable - he passes through the film like a three-piece suited Confucius, dropping pearls of wisdom like "Beware of any enterprise which requires the purchase of new clothes".  As mentioned before, Steve Martin is stellar as Jimmy Dell - a perfectly straight performance, without so much as a double-take.  He was so good, I'd sorely love to see him in another film with no laughs.

Sgt. Bilko doesn't count.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

On the Danger of Feeding the Trolls

As you may know, a lot of episodes of the early days of television are lost, presumably forever.  Partially as a cost-saving measure, and partially because they literally never imagined people would want to re-watch TV shows, a lot of video tape was erased and re-used, and a lot of film was thrown away or burned.  Even Doctor Who, considered one of the best Sci-Fi shows ever made, has tragic gaps in its collection.  As a rule, anyone who has episodes of the show have been asked to come forward, and the BBC will only ask to make a copy of the episodes; no questions asked, you keep your original.  It's always a joy to hear that an episode or two have been found, sometimes from TV Station archives, sometimes from private collectors.

So, a few months back, I ran a review of Julie Newmar's series, My Living Doll, which was just released on DVD.  It's listed as "Volume 1", not because a second volume is planned, but because only 11 episodes of the 26-episode series are known to exist, and they wanted to make it clear that it wasn't the complete series.  They even listed one of those episodes as Bonus material, as they didn't think the quality was good enough to charge money for. 

They actually had the whole run, but fifteen episodes were lost in the Northridge Quake of 1994.  They spent six years trying to find as much of the series as they could.  Believe me, eleven episodes is a TRIUMPH - for the years I've been a fan of the show, I only knew of four. So they played as fair as they could, and I was more then happy to get what we got.

The reviews on Amazon were pretty positive, save for one fellow who really took them to task for "only" releasing 11 episodes.  He seemed to think that this was a multi-volume dodge, as opposed to it being all they had.  So he slapped two stars on it and left a short, nasty review.

Which all the OTHER fans of the show began to...oh let's go with "rebut with extreme prejudice".  Classic "I can say anything I want I am anonymous" stuff - insults, references to farm animals, the usual.

But here's the thing.  Then the guy says that he has two additional episodes of the show in his film collection.  This was met with suspicion by the commenters, but the producers of the DVD tracked the guy down, and started negotiations to get the copies.

The comment thread, being on the Internet, turned uglier, and the epithets blew thick and fast.  Some of the comments got deleted, and I can only imagine what kind of line they crossed to earn that. After a conversation that referenced the rude comments on Amazon (over which which nobody involved had any control), The fellow stopped taking the calls of the producers.  He popped back up announce that because the Internet had hurt his feelings, not only does he have no plans to offer the episodes to the producers, he plans to burn them.

The guys over 65 (based a small bit of research) and is likely not used to the vituperatives and invective tossed about casually on the Internet.  But threatening to destroy the episodes is an overreaction, and if it's as a result of the commenters, they might have to do some thinking about how they do things.

Now, there's no way to know if the guy was on the up-and-up, or if he was as much of a troll as the folks who insulted him.  But he had been talking to the producers, and progress was being made.  But to lose any bits of classic TV over a couple of comment thread insults would be an absolute shame.

Not everybody on the Internet knows when you're just being witty, or engaging in good-natured ribbing.  Sarcasm does not work well in test, acronyms and emoticons notwithstanding.  There is no way to know how someone is going to take your comment.  A shred of decorum could go a long way to keeping a situation from getting out of hand.  hopefully this will be the worst thing that ever comes of these people's electronic slings and arrows. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

On the need to change without actually improving

The Batman Annual, part of the pretty damn good if I say so Night of the Owls Bat-event features the New 52 origin of Mr. Freeze, who played a fairly big role in the plot of the Court of Owls. 

Yes, there are spoilers. either keep reading, or don't.

Monday, May 21, 2012

On the introduction of a very specific change to a major character

Of all the announcements from this weekend's Kapow! Comic Convention in Britain, the one that has set the most lips flapping is the announcement that DC plans to retcon one of its major characters to be gay.  As opposed to their initial plan to only create new characters to be gay, they've chosen to take an existing one and re-introduce them in the DCnU as gay. They've not said who, they've not said when, just that they plan to do so. Indeed, it's only been inferred that it'll be a character that has not yet been seen in the New 52; the way Dan Didio made it sound, using phrases like "would be" suggested that it'd be a big part of the character from the get-go.

Allow me to make one thing clear from the same get-go - I am totally cool with this. Having more gay characters, more black, Asian, what have you characters only serves to make the DCU more similar to the real world in how many different sorts of people are in it. From a narrative viewpoint, if they'd tried this in the old DCU, any character they wanted to do this to would have had a whole bunch of stories that would likely need tweaking or explaining should they make such a change.  Here in the New 52, there IS no backlog or adventures, or at least not as many.  If you want to re-make a character, this is the time to do it. 

There's any number of characters in the DCU which hasn't gotten a lot of time spent on their private lives. Most of the time is spent in the costume. Even though they have the opportunity to start any character from scratch here, if they choose to use a character who very clearly was heterosexual beforehand, had a lot of male/female relationships, they might get more pushback than if they'd chosen to go with one where it was never really addressed.  If they were to use, say Ralph Dibny the Elongated Man, I'd be disappointed, as his married relationship was a major part of the character.  If they used, I dunno, Aztek or Agent Liberty, characters whose personal life is more of a blank slate, it might be easier to swallow.

DC has done new versions of their characters with new ethnic backgrounds and other major changes of late.  Almost every one of them has been met with...oh, let's call it "reticence" with a facet of the readership, who tend to describe it as ramming an ethnic character down our throats.  And as a rule, that's a shame, because many if not all of said characters have been exemplary.  Batwoman, once they finally got the book off the ground, has been an artistic masterpiece.  I've gone on about how much I adored the new Blue Beetle, though I must admit the New 52 iteration has been a bit too dour for me.  The Renee Montoya Question was another very good character - not as much a chance to get used as many would have liked (myself included) but what there was was cherce.

Considering that homosexuality is much more a hot-button for people than mere ethnicity is, I expect there to quite a hue and cry once said character is announced. The way they're saying it, this won't be a new version of the character, but the same character as in the pre-DCnU, with the big difference that he/she will be gay. And judging from Dan's statements, their being gay will be a bigger part of the character, becoming as he put it, “one of our most prominent gay characters.”

Now I gotta admit, I don't know how I feel about the being gay becoming a "big part" of the character.  I think it's going to depend totally on who's writing the character.  Marc Andreyko had a large number of gay characters in his version of Manhunter, and never did the characters feel forced, nor did their predilections get overly mentioned in the narrative.  Rarely, if ever, was their gayness relevant or important to the plot; they were just gay.  And that's EXACTLY how it should be played.  I've gone on about how well the new Doctor Who has integrated gay characters into the stories - some characters are gay, it's mentioned, it's not made the center of the story, and nobody comes away learning an important lesson about tolerance.  There's gay people, and it doesn't mean a hang about their goodness or evilness, they're just there.  Perfect. 

Personally, of all the gay characters DC have had, the one I thought was done the best was Pied Piper early in the Wally west Flash run. He'd gone straight (you should pardon the choice of words, but even HE made the joke) and was working with Wally on many cases. Having a conversation, Wally starts a very guyish "Are any supervillains gay" discussion. Piper admits he isn't aware of any villains who are gay...except himself of course. Wally does a total double take and reacts the way any average guy finds out his friends is gay - he runs off to watch football or box or do something mannish. By the end of the issue, he realizes it doesn't make a damn bit of difference and their relationship goes back to what it was, and it's barely made a Thing of again. Of course, Countdown, that place where oh so many things went wrong, had him played like being gay was the only thing he'd ever done, and all the other Rogues constantly going about it and generally acting very out-of-character towards him. But Countdown is one of those books we wish we could all just forget and ignore, so no need to make a big frooferau about it.

It's neat that DC is trying to create more diverse characters. As long as they get played as fully formed, and not just one-trick ponies, all will be well. How well the general readership accepts them will also hinge on how well they're written, and who's writing them. If you create or introduce a character specifically to BE gay, and that becomes their biggest characteristic, there's a real likelihood they'll stay two-dimensional.  The new Teen Titan, Bunker, got introduced with much fanfare, and all told, his gayness hasn't made too much of a difference, because they've been far too busy fighting for him to go on about how wonderful guys are.  There's been no "can I trust this guy to have my back, as he is gay" plotlines, thank god. 

So not counting the moaners and groaners, the hot topic has been to try and guess who the character is going to be.  It's taken as read it won't be one of the big three (And let's be honest, while Wonder Woman would be a far more obvious choice than many would care to admit, they've already had mention of her dating Steve Trevor, so it's likely it's not her.)  Having it be any of the back-up characters in any of their stables is also a slim chance. Most of them have enough history that such a change would require a fair amount of history fixing.  So it's likely a character we've not yet seen in the DCnU yet, or one whose personal life we've seen very little of.

I think there's a VERY good chance it'll be one of the Earth-2 characters. They're in the process of re-inventing all the Earth-2 versions of the characters in a new timeline.  Making one of them be gay would be an easy move, as they're all effectively new characters,  Also, James Robinson, writer of the Earth-2 book, has had a lot of success writing gay characters, and making them three-dimensional characters who don't exist solely to be a token tip of the hat. 

I'll put my bet on the table - Alan Scott; media mogul, and Earth 2's Green Lantern.  They've said the character would be a major character.  James has already said that his GL would pretty much be the most powerful character on Earth-2.  Alan Scott likely already has a fair amount of notoriety as a head of a major media company; he could easily be in a position to be a positive role model. 

So let the guessing commence - Who's gonna come out of the closet instead of the phonebooth?

Postscript - so far, both MTV Geek and Bleeding Cool have come out in favor of my guess, both reporting various insider information and rumor.  But we know where they heard it, don't we?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

On what happens when you give someone the job they were born to do

The idea of nobody dying in comics was really put in place by the Comics code - Most pre-code superheroes were quite calavier about killing the wicked, or simply not leaping to save them when they backed up off a cliff. After the Code, you couldn't even show a crime, so you'd see rubbers running from a bank which they robbed off camera.

So while all (mainstream) superheroes have a personal vow not to kill, Dan Slott has given Spider-Man one better - nobody will DIE on his watch. After a heart-rending adventure where J. Jonah Jameson's wife catches a bullet during a fight (a story about which I have previously kvelled), he vows that nobody will die as a direct result of one of his acts, or the collateral acts of his battles.

Riding the razor's edge between guilt and responibility, Slott has placed a great load on young Mr. Parker's shoulders, but he's also made it more possible for him to achieve said feat.  After nearly fifty years of adventures, Dan has played up on the fact that Peter is a scientific genius.  No longer a news photographer (Or heaven help us, a high school science teacher -- who is he, Fonzie?) he's gotten a job at Horizon, on of the Marvel Universe's biggest (albeit only just now introduced) scientific think tanks.  Now, finally made part of his life, he is using his mind to create inventions that will both help the world, and enhance his fight against crime and/or evil.  Over the last year, Spidey has created a number of specialty suits to fight certain villains and situations.  Like the pods of Thunderbird 2, he grabs the equipment he needs for the fight at hand - a stealth suit, extra- heavy duty armor for the more powerful villains, what have you.  In the hands of anyone else, this would seem like a cheap hotshot for a cover, or an obvious attempt to create something toyetic for the action figure division.  But Dan makes of perfectly logical, and logical from the point of the narrative.  Indeed, it's a throwback to the early days of the strip, when Spidey would tweak his web formula or cobble together a gadget to allow him to defeat a villain. 

By doing so, he's also addressed a point I've also gone on about in the past - the idea that superhero/villain inventions never seem to trickle down to society.  A fraction of the inventions Reed Richards has come up with could change the world, yet the only one he's seemingly passed down to humanity is a skin cream formula.  But in a recent issue, Peter Parker looks around and realizes his choice to work for Horizon has ALREADY changed the world, in small ways.  He realizes that the polymers he invented for his spider-armor has been licensed by the company for a new generation of bike helmets, his stealth tech making new and more efficient headphones, etc.  So not only has his choice to use his genius made being Spider-Man better, it's helped the people he's trying to protect.  In a very real way, Peter Parker is now contributing as much as Spider-Man.  One thing I very much look forward to is Peter's first royalty check, which, considering Horizon seems to be a very above-board company, will be sizable.  Yes, in the hands of a more I Want To Make A Point-obsessed writer, it could be a very SMALL check, leading to a talk about the contract Peter had signed, but that would effectively ruin the fun and positive environment he's working in, and ruin the potential of future stories for the chance to make a point once.  So I don't see that happening.
Dan has done a lot to shift Peter's life for the better, while not making it all sunshine and lollipops.  He's done something never before thought of for Aunt May - he's given her a happy ending.  rather than toss her into a hospital or a grave or some other ham-handed way of writing her off the table, he married her off, and to J. Jonah Jameson's dad, no less.  Seeing that Peter has finally started taking advantage of his gifts, she doesn't feel the need to protect him anymore, starts and cements a relationship with JJJ's pop, and moves to Boston to be with her family.  It removes her from danger and easy plot-device use, adds no more guilt to Peter's platter, and keeps her in the back pocket for the occasional visit.

Indeed, Peter's life, both in and out of the suit, is going SO well, that I fear what Minnesotans call "The Coming of the Other Shoe".  Someday, Dan will leave the book, ("Not for years", I can hear Johnny Ola saying) and I fear the new writer will see a need to bring the character Back To His Roots, which will (to him) mean sad, guilt-ridden, and near poverty.  So I choose to push those fears down deep, until I'm almost standing on them, and enjoy today for the joy it is.

If you have not been buying Spider-Man for a long time, or if you chose to Quit Comics Forever as a result of One more Day, it is time to come back.  Spider-Man is a bright shining star of fun in a still-gloomy universe of trouble and strife, and is well worth the investment.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

On a look at the Red Circle part 4 - The Web

Continuing my series of histories on the MLJ / Red Circle heroes in preparation for the first issue of New Crusaders on May 16th, here's...

You can't escape...The Web!

Premiering in Zip Comics #27 (with a double-page teaser in #26) The Web started off with a bang, fighting a band of Japanese spies who were kidnapping and torturing government officials for their secrets.  Professor of criminology John Raymond is asked to investigate a mysterious accident witnessed by one of his students, Rose Wayne.  As they try to prove that the accident was no such thing, Rose stumbles upon John's secret - he is the vigilante The Web. 

In his second adventure, he brings Rose into his confidence and reveals his reasons for fighting crime to her.  His brother Tom was a proverbial bad egg from childhood, and his eventual arrest and sentencing to reform school inspired John to study the criminal mind.  Years later, Tom breaks out of prison and comes to John's home, threatening him into assisting him.  The police, unable to reach the professor to warn him (Tom cut the phone wires), come to his home in person, finding Tom there.  John realized that Tom's actions were his own undoing - criminals get caught in a "web" of their own making.  While John Raymond fights crime in the classroom and with his research, and The Web fights crime in a more personal fashion.

With so many different artists working on their books, they couldn't seem to keep Web's design straight from issue to issue - he changed from blonde to black hair regularly, often changing between the cover and the feature.  His yellow and green costume shifted quite a bit as well, the color panels moving location, the triangular panels in front coming and going issue to issue.
His last appearance was issue 38, a rather short run, compared to that of tentpole characters Shield and Steel Sterling.  But of all the characters they had, The Web was one of the few chosen to be brought back for the Mighty/Radio revival in the sixties.  In Fly-Man #36, a young man begins a career as a criminal, copying The Web's costume, but clearly not his love for the law.  After a brief battle against The Fly, the evil Web come to the attention of John Raymond, who realizes he has to come out of retirement to catch him.  Only problem is, Rose, now his wife, had him promise years before to hang up the cape, and she sees no reason he should risk his life again.  She allows him to catch the miscreant, and though he swears it's the only time he'll put on the suit, it's clear at the end of the story that he's gotten the taste for adventure again, and begins training while Rosie sleeps.

Web returned again briefly in Mighty Crusaders 4 and 5 (As did damn near every other old MLJ character) and more regularly in Mighty Comics.  Rosie's role went from caring wife to shrewish harridan quickly, even adding in the stereotypical mother-in-law.  The Web became known as "The Henpecked hero" on the cover of the books, and while his ability to fight crime was legitimate, his adventures became more campy and sitcom-like.  In one adventure, Rosie took the "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em" route, made up her own costume and became "Pow-Girl", to scare John into giving up the life.  Of course, she ends up being pretty good at it, he compliments her, but when (not recognizing her, of course) she offers him a kiss, he politely demurs, ad swings off, leaving her unsure how to think of his choice of leisure time activity.

The Web returned as part of the eighties revival as a member of the Crusaders.  Still married to Rosie, who now, according to a story in Mighty Crusaders #14 is now Ralph Hardy's (The Jaguar) sister.  Poor guy - if her mom is so hard on her son-in-law about being a hero, imagine how hard she'd be on her own son!

The Web returns in the New Crusaders -Wyatt Raymond is the son of John Raymond (and presumably Rosie), and unlike his parents, has actual super powers.  How did he get them?  How does Mama Rosie (not to mention Grandma) feel about him following his crazy father into danger?  We shall find out in only one day!

Monday, May 14, 2012

On a look at the Red Circle part 3: Steel Sterling

Pop quiz - what's the first comic book character to be known as "The Man of Steel"?

Wrong.

Steel Sterling had to stop appearing for a couple years before DC appropriated the sobriquet for the Man of Tomorrow.  first appearing in Zip Comics #1, Steel's origin flew in the face of science and physics as much as any other MLJ hero.

John Sterling's father was killed by gangsters when John was but a boy, and he vows revenge against them, and on criminals in general.  He becomes an eminent chemist as an adult, and invents a compound which will (OK, should) give him invulnerability.  He coats his body with the chemical, and with the zeal that can only come from a man obsessed with revenge, tests the compound by leaping into a vat of molten steel.  Arising unharmed, he has given himself "the resistance, the magnetism and the strength" of the steel he has immersed himself in. 

In addition to his strength and toughness, he could "magnetize" himself by running his fingers through his hair, allowing him the ability to fly by attracting himself to things like power lines, or follow vehicles by locking onto them.

He leaps into crimefighting with both feet - hearing about a bank robbery in a nearby town, he flies over to stop them.  He overturns their car by throwing his body under their wheels, but one escapes via a rendezvousing plane.  A criminal by the name of the Black Knight is behind it, his headquarters in a castle near town.  After attempting to trap Steel, The Black Knight eventually falls into his own traps, and ends up in a pit full of rats, where he is nibbled alive...until his nitro-fueled booby-trapped castle blows up around him.  Or so it appeared - The Black Knight would return to plague Sterling for quite some time, along with numerous other villainous characters, like almost required Nazi villain Baron Gestapo. 

Steel's earliest adventures were drawn by Charles Biro, who would soon go to Lev Gleason and take over Daredevil, the character having just been revamped by Jack Cole, who kicked off The Comet's adventures.  He appeared in every issues of Zip Comics (and each issue of the short-lived Jackpot Comics), though as the series continued, newer comedy features slowly stole his thunder. 

Steel's participation in the Mighty / Radio comics revival in the 1960s would be cursory at best.  In a storyline in Mighty Crusaders that featured almost every MLJ hero reappearing, he made a brief team-up with The Jaguar and Mr. Justice.  His magnetic body had quietly been replaced by an anti-gravity belt, as well.  He also got three solo adventures in the later issues of Mighty Comics, formerly Fly-Man's titles, converted to an anthology book near the end of the run.   He was also one of four Mighty heroes to appear in a short-run paperback book called "High Camp Superheroes", all scripted by Superman creator Jerry Siegel.

He got quite a bit of a revamp in the 80s revival.  Issue three of Blue Ribbon Comics featured a new origin for Steel - it's now explained that this is the same Steel Sterling from the forties, and the story of his father being killed by the mob is largely unchanged, save we now know how it happened - a booby-trapped car.  New details reveal that John Sterling has a sister, Meg, who has been rendered unresponsive due to the shock of witnessing her father's death out the window when his car explodes.  He grows up, living with his mother and sister, helping the people of his neighborhood in whatever way he can. 

One evening, a bright star seems to entrance John, and he follows its shine through town, and into a metal foundry.  Almost out of control of his actions, he jumps unprotected into a vat of steel, and emerges with the strength of the molten metal.  He finds his uniform in a nearby trashcan, an inner voice telling him it is for him.  the transformation also keeps him from aging - he lives to the eighties, unchanged from his life forty years before.

This version of Steel is more a man of the people, balancing a career as an aspiring actor with that of crimefighter and protector of the downtrodden.  He gets a plum role in an action movie, and donates his advance to a local soup kitchen.  In a new wrinkle, solar flares (perhaps connected to the light of the mysterious star) now have an odd effect on his powers. 

He co-starred in Lancelot Strong's Shield title, taking over for him in issue 3 when Lance sacrificed himself against a powerful foe. The book would be re-titled after him for the remaining four issues, ending with issues 7. The events of his first solo issue would be a slightly expanded version of the story from Blue Ribbon.  Comics veteran Bob Kanigher handled the short run with style, but quickly pushed Steel out of his own book. He's nowhere to be seen in issue 6, replaced by a team of teen adventurers (created by Kanigher) called The Young Steelers, and a brief coda to Lancelot Strong's final adventure.  He returned for the final issue, in a story that gave him a chance to see some revenge against his father's death.

Steel Sterling never made it into the Impact comics run at DC, and was only mentioned in passing in their Red Circle revamp from last year, though there had been plans to do more with him had the line succeeded.  He's shown up in the occasional Archie issue, as have a few of the other MLJ heroes.  But the new title will be his first official appearance since that run from the eighties.

The Steel Sterling of the New Crusaders is the son of John Sterling - it'll be interesting to see who John married - will it be ace TV reporter Gayla Gaynor, the foxy Ms. Samson, or someone else entirely?  His sister Meg would be in her nineties if she was still alive, and likely still catatonic.  It'll be curious to see what changes they make to Sterling's history, if any, to link him up with the rest of the heroes.

The New Crusaders starts May 16th - pick up the Red Circle App to read the new adventures, as well as get access to a library of the original adventures of the heroes.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

On a look at the Red Circle part 2: The Comet

Continuing my series of histories on the MLJ / Red Circle heroes in preparation for the first issue of New Crusaders on May 16th, here's...

The Comet - The Most Astonishing Man on the Face of the Earth!

The Comet appeared in PEP #1 along with The Shield.  He was created by Jack Cole, a creative dynamo of the Golden Age, who had just helped tweak Lev Gleason's Daredevil, and after the first few issues, went on to create Plastic Man

His origin was presented in his first adventure - Chemist John Dickering discovers a gas "fifty times lighter than hydrogen", and discovers he can make himself "light enough to make great leaps through the air" when he injects the gas into his bloodstream.  (That's right kiddies, if Joe Higgins' twelve hours of X-ray exposure wasn't dangerous enough, this guy is injecting gas bubbles into his veins.  Comic book science is AWESOME.) After many self-experiments, he discovers a chilling side effect - his eyes now emit rays that when they cross (in other words, when he focuses his gaze), they disintegrate whatever he looks at.  He quickly discovers that the only thing immune to the rays is glass, so he quickly fashions a glass visor to stop the deadly rays.

(Sound familiar?  It's positively the same power as Cyclops some twenty-five years hence, save for Scott Summers' eye beams being an "impact beam" and his visor using rose quartz.  Once again, the MLJ heroes innovate where others imitate!)

Like another "super" hero, the ability to leap turns into full-blown flight almost immediately, and as we join The Comet for his first printed exploit, he's already got his costume and a pretty good handle on being a hero.  As with The Shield and most of the pre comics code heroes, he's a pretty violent guy - in his first adventure, he's up against a ring of gangsters (get this) distributing Typhoid germs to people as a way of killing their loved ones to collect their life insurance.  In said adventure he "disintegrates" (read: kills) three people, a house, and drops a fourth baddie from a great height, and not into a pile of pillows, if you know what I mean (and I think you do).

His career goes south rather quickly - in PEP #3 he is captured by a criminal with the utterly modest name of Satan and hypnotized into committing crimes for the mastermind.  A quarrel with the hypnotist who did the deed cause The Comet to be ordered to kill Satan, only to neglect to put his visor back down (being hypnotized makes you forget little details like that) and disintegrate the hypnotist in a puff of irony.  He awakens with no knowledge of his actions, and with both guilty parties reduced to their component molecules, no evidence of his innocence.  He spends the next several issues as a fugitive, only able to redeem his name with the help of ace reporter Thelma Gordon, who covers his exploits and convinces the police that he's on the side of the angels.  John and Thelma establish a reomantic relationship as well, and by the time of his last adventure, they're close enough for Thelma to want to get married.

Did I say...last adventure?

After Cole left the book, The Comet got somewhat spotty treatment. He dropped from second to third position in the book, now supplanted by Danny in Wonderland, a fantasy tale in the Little Nemo mold. He got passed to a few different creative teams - the plot about being an outlaw seemed to come and go, and in one story, he's called "John Dickinson" in error.  One story had him sporting glasses that made him a ringer for one Mr. Kent, (mild mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper), and by the time issue 16 was released, the next issue teaser suggested something quite serious was up for The Comet.

And indeed, in PEP #17, a new hero was introduced, The Hangman, with a groundbreaking origin.  The Comet appears in the beginning of the story capturing a top mobster, and we soon meet John Dickering's brother, Bob, just back from college.  John is too immersed in his work in both chemistry and crimefighting, and asks Bob to take Thelma out on the town.  He does so, and continues to do so for some weeks.

Meanwhile, cronies of the mobster The Comet captured are attempting to get to John Dickering, who will be testifying at the mobster's trial.  They capture Bob, who they mistake for his brother. The comet comes after them, and as Bob tries to escape, the gangsters shoot at him.  The Comet dives in front of the bullets, saving his brother, but at the cost of his own life.  Bob vows revenge, promising to take up John's role of hero.  He swears that he will bring the gangsters to the hangman, that he will "be their Hangman".  He fashions a costume, and with no powers but above-average strength and blind seething rage, becomes the merciless vigilante, The Hangman. 

Bob Dickering took Comet's place in the pantheon of heroes, as well as in Thelma Gordon's heart, Hangman got the second spot in PEP back, and The Comet was never heard from again.

OK, no, not quite.

In the second era of the MLJ heroes, a new hero know as The Comet appeared in Adventures of The Fly #30, a former ruler of the planet Altrox who comes to earth to woo and wed The Fly's female compatriot, Fly-Girl.  Some months later, in Mighty Crusaders #2, a bit of retconning revealed that this was, in fact, John Dickering, the original Comet.  His death was seemingly written off the board - now after many years of crimefighting, he was enveloped in a mysterious fireball of energy which whisked him off the the planet Altrox, a planet in dire need of a hero.  He aids their queen Naija against a race of "living metal" beasts known as Mecks.  He defeats them easily, and soon the two are wed.  but the last surviving Meck attacks the queen. Tragically, something in the Altroxian atmosphere has cancelled out his powers, and he cannot stop the beast in time. 

He remains as king of Altrox for many years, the alien world preserving his youth.  He dons a costume with technology to replace his original powers, and protects the world, but his advisors often catch him watching transmissions from Earth. Eventually he admits that he must return to his homeworld, feeling he must protect them as well.

In the adventures of the eighties, The Comet's Altroxian technology fails him at a vital moment, much in the same way his own powers did on Altrox.  Shortly afterwards, his original powers return, and he dons his old costume.  We need to wait for his abortive (originally six issues, only two were ever released) mini-series to learn more.  His timeline was massaged again, folding back in his death, and birth of The Hangman, again. With the comics Code frowning on showing injections or the taking of any type of drug via needle, John's experiments are done via inhaling his gas mixture. Thelma is now his fiancĂ©e from the start, and his transformation to The comet cause his lab to be destroyed, and he presumed dead.  He creates his protective visor in secret, and inspired by heroes like the Shield, fashions his costume and returns to Thelma, who is needless to say, surprised to see him.  They present a slightly amended version of the Typhoid adventure, and brief recaps of the adventures against Satan and the hypnotist, now working on his own. 

The initial teleport to Altrox now occurred a bit earlier in his career, and after fighting the Mecks, he was returned to Earth.  His last adventure and passing occurred as seen previously, except that now, after he died, the mysterious fireball returned, looking to Bob and Thelma as if John had been consumed by it. 

But in fact, he is transported BACK to Altrox, where their super-science restores him to life and health.  Again, he marries Naija, and she is killed as his powers fail him.  He then returns to earth, and his later adventures proceed as before.  This new version of his history brings back the violent acts of those early adventures, and Comet feels remorse for them, as opposed to the smiling glee he seemed to feel at the time, or the way the acts were tastefully ignored in the sixties.

At the time of the New Crusaders, John Dickering has married (it'll be interesting to see who he married) and adopted a son, Greg.  His son has somehow gained powers similar to his adoptive father's in a fashion I'm sure we shall discover.  While he's aware he's adopted, Greg's true parentage is unknown to him, and it's clear that this will be an important part of his part of the adventure.  Looking forward to learn more.

The New Crusaders will be available exclusively through the Red Circle App, available May 16th, with a print edition of the complete adventure available nearer to the summer.  The app also includes access to a library of the original comics of the characters as well.

Monday, May 7, 2012

On a look at the Red Circle: The Shield

Archie Comics has been doing some of the most risky things in comics of late.  Over in the eponymous books, they're running parallel "Imaginary" stories where Archie marries either Betty or Veronica, and details how the two lives would differ. 

They also introduced Kevin Keller, Riverdale's first openly gay character, a move that has gotten them much publicity and sales.

They've now chosen to get back into the superhero business.  Hot on the heels of DC's latest abortive attempt to renovate the characters, DC is reviving the Red Circle line, and all of its heroes.  As opposed to DC's two tries (I've gone on about the Impact line before), Archie is keeping all the heroes' history in play, as far back as the first appearance of The Shield. 

Again trying new things, The New Crusaders will be available digital-only.  The Red Circle App will be made available on the 16th, where for a monthly fee, readers will not only receive the chapters of the new comic, but get access to a library of the original runs of the characters.  It's a new idea, and one I'd really like to see do well.  After fervent fan demand, they announced the book will eventually be collected into print edition.  But personally, I think the digital release should be the one that gets the attention.  By taking the cost of print out of the mix, Archie reduces their costs to a point that gives them more freedom to experiment. 

Since the characters aren't as well-known to modern readers, I thought I'd help things along with a bit of a run-up on the history of the characters, in anticipation of the new book's premiere this May 16th.


The Shield - G-Man Extraordinary!

Joe Higgins uses a chemical formula, combined with a ray treatment, to give himself super-strength, and fights crime with a flag-styled costume.

Sounds familiar, right?

But The Shield premiered in Pep Comics #1 almost two years before Timely's Captain America, and his origin was revealed a few months later (but still almost a year before cap's) in Shield - Wizard Comics #1

Joe's father was an agent for the army intelligence during World War I, a close friend with J. Edgar Hoover, as well an exceptional chemist.  His son Joe helped with many of his experiments, including one intended to impart a person with super-strength.  Alas, on his last assignment he is kidnapped by German saboteurs, and kept from preventing what became known as the Black Tom explosion.  Fatally wounded in the blast, he tells his story to Joe and his friend Hoover, and urges Joe to continue to work on their strength formula, his last word an enigmatic "SHIELD".  With no evidence, Tom is blamed for the explosion; Joe swears he'll clear his father's name.

Joe grows up in his father's image, a eminent chemist.  Perusing an anatomy book, He realizes his father's last work is an acronym for portions of the human body where the formula must be applied to function.  Preparing a suit to help force the formula into his body, he applies the compound and lays in a harness as a twelve-hour treatment of fluoroscopic rays activates them (Twelve hours under a fluoroscope - gotta love the early days of fiction!)

Upon completion, Both Joe's body and the suit he wears have undergone a startling change.  He's gained amazing strength and near-invulnerability, and his suit has taken on a flag-colored theme.  After a few experimental feats of strength, heads to FBI headquarters and offers his services to Hoover, not in charge of the organization.  Turns out the saboteurs who captured and killed his father are still in action, and with his new powers, Joe tracks them down and squeezes out a confession in record time.  Hoover offers his a position on the G-Men, providing he can pass the entrance exam.

In his first appearance, chemistry played a bigger role - he carried a portable lab where he'd whip up powerful acid to allow him to break through ceilings. He was quite the brutal character, as were most characters in the pre-code days.  In one adventure he doused himself in kerosene and got fired out of a cannon to scare the bejabbers out of the Nazis.  So, pretty damn hardcore.

The Shield was MLJ's biggest hit, spawning a fanclub and everything.  but all things must end, and, well, let's put it this way, the company isn't called "Shield Comics", is it?  The lad from Riverdale would eventually become the star of the line, and The Shield and the rest of the heroes would pass into myth.

Until the 60's, that is, when renewed success in superhero comics by DC and Marvel had everyone jumping back into the book again.  Archie (under the company "Radio Comics" - bringing to mind the Rocky Horror audience joke "What the hell is a Radio Picture?") revived the superhero line.  Starting off with newer characters like The Fly, The Shield returned with a couple more of the old guard (more about them soon) a couple years in including a new Shield.  It's revealed in the first issue of The Might Crusaders that this is Bill Higgins, Joe's son.  The original Shield was killed, turned to an iron statue by The Eraser one of his enemies, who promptly resigned from crime, going out on top.  Bill carried on in his father's name, wearing one of his father spare costumes. Bill didn't have his father's formula, his powers were based in his suit, and varied a bit.  The suit was bulletproof, and he could "magnetically" attract bullets so they'd bounce off the bulletproof parts.  For a brief period (one issue) he could teleport. Joe was a good hero, but not as successful in the real world - he lost jobs regularly, and was laughed out of the FBI's recruiting offices.

Archie brought the Mighty gang back again in the early 80's.  We learn that thanks to the alien science of a fellow Mighty Crusader, The Comet, Joe Higgins, the original Shield was brought back to life.  He retained the density of iron, requiring him to take even greater caution when he fought villains.  Upon his father's return, Bill immediately retired as The Shield, enlisted in the Air Force, and was not heard from again, a dangling bit of plot-thread that New Crusaders writer Ian Flynn has officially declared "Interesting", so...well, draw your own conclusions.

Archie had one more character known as The Shield - Lancelot Strong, created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, the creators of Captain America.  It only lasted two issues (DC claimed he was too similar to Superman; their go to strategy), but those two issues have likely bee reprinted more than any other books in Archie Comics' history.  Joe Simon and the Kirby estate regained the rights to the character in 1999, and while it's presumed he won't appear in the New Crusaders, it's not quite impossible.

It's the original Shield, Joe Higgins, that we'll see in New Crusaders, as the lead hero, guiding the new generation.  The adventures begin May 16th, and I recommend you give it a go.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

On the relaunch of two disparate universes

Valiant was a powerful and creative company in the 90's, spearheaded by Jim Shooter, who engineered a comeback on par with Elvis in vegas and Mel Brooks on Broadway.  Using the heroes from Western Publishing as a base asset, he rebuilt them from scratch, added in brand new characters, and did what hadn't been done successfully in a couple decades - presented a brand new comics universe that actually caught on, and how.

Sadly, the boardroom brawls were as over the top as the action on the page - Jim was squeezed out of his own company, many creators followed (and many didn't), the books went through massive changes in dorection, and the company made a subtle shift to more gimmicky covers and insane print runs, being partially responsible for the downfal of the industry in the mid 90's.  The characters changed hands, went through another couple of revamps, and ultimately withered and died, remaining only fond memories in the minds of the fans.

Some years back there was quite a frooferau as two separate companies attempted to buy (and in some cases, just sieze as salvage) the copyrights and trademarks of the Valiant Universe.  Valiant fandom broke into camps, and the message boards glowed white-hot with anger and vitriol.  One company emerged triumphant, while the other vanished, and we never even got to know who owned them (thought there were one or two Clever Theories).  The smart money was that since this new company only had access to the new characters, and not the ones from Western, their success would be a long shot indeed.

In the years between, we got a reprint or two, Jim Shooter became connected with the company for a very short time, but went off to Dark Horse to write new versions of the Western characters again. (Like so many things involving Jim, there are conflicting stories as to the details)  Ultimately, it seemed like we'd never see anything come of this, and we'd gotten all excited over nothing.

Confounding expectations, annoucements were made that first issues of the new Valiant universe would appear this spring, starting with X-O Manowar.  That issue came out yesterday.

I can honestly say that this new Valiant has surprised the industry in the same way the original did, presenting solid and impressive storytelling, putting the cynics in their place.

Special Guest Norbert
by Mike Leeke
  The original X-O started in the middle, with your only knowledge that this Aric guy was a barbarian, had been kidnapped by aliens, and gets ahold of their most powerful weapon.  Here, writer Robert Venditti scrolls back a bit - we see Aric of Dacia in battle with the Romans, we meet his family, we learn a great deal more about him.  He's brash, headstrong, and impulsive, even for a Visigoth.  When he hears about a new "transport" that the Romans have brought in, he investigates.  Of course it's not the Romans, but an alien spacecraft, aliens who promptly apprehend him and his men and bring them aboard.  He escapes his captors, and while searching around the ship, observe a ceremony where the aliens are trying to find a worthy bearer of what will eventually be known as the X-O armor.

That's right, an entire issue of action, solid character work, and we don't even see him get the armor.  No worries about people screaming GTtFM here - there's more than enough going on, without a shread of decompressed narrative.  In a very interesting plot seed, we see that the aliens are sneaking into the Visigoth camp, kidnapping children, and leaving changelings - alien babies transformed to appear human.  It's a fascinating expansion of the original Three-Thousand Year War with the Spider-aliens in the original books - surely we'll be seeing the fruits of that plan when we hit modern day.  One wonders if those alien genes might be responsible for the powers of people known as Harbingers, the next title to come down the pike in a week or two.

It's a fabulous take on the character, giving him more of a personality than he had before and rounding him out as a character.  Setting the Spider-Aliens up as the bad guy straight away also helps set the groundwork for the other books.  When Shadowman came out in the original run, you needed a nudge to "get" that these were the same aliens Aric was fighting 1500 years before,
Cary Nord's art is a delight - clean and uncluttered, no exaggerated anatomy, and solid storytelling.  Indeed, also very similar to the art style of the original books.

One book in, and I am SOLD.  I was hopeful as the news began to trickle out, the decision to make Archer & Armstrong one of the launch title had me thinking they had their head on straight, but this book has me over the moon. 

Over at DC, James Robnison and Nicola Scott have launched Earth-2, the DCnU version of the parallel Earth that got the whole Multiverse mishegas going in the first place.  From the first announcement of the changes to the DCU, the thing that tugged the most heartstrings was the seeming loss of the JSA.  It's not the first time we lost them, and there was a general hope/belief that they'd be back in some way or another.

Almost immediately the evidence began to mount.  Karen Starr (Power Girl's secret identity) was to be a regular character in the Mister Teriffic comic, another character associated with the JSA.  Less than a month or two after the DCnU started, DC announced that we'd see Earth-2 back.  Soon we found out that The Huntress, Paul Levitz' character, who had just got her own mnui-series, was in fact not Helena Bertinelli, but Helen Wayne, daughter of the Batman of Earth-2.  Many fans squeed.

James Robinson has played the details of the book close to the vest.  I noted that he referred to the Earth-2 heroes by their regular names, and not their super-hero names.  I noticed that there were no details of the time-frame of the world's history - how similar was this world to the original Earth-2?

None at all, it turns out.

Extra Special
Guest Norbert by
Dale Eaglesham
 As with the Earth of the DCnU, we're seeing the birth of a new breed of heroes, ones with the same names as the golden age ones, but getting their powers in the present day.  The story starts the same five years ago that JLA did - Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman (who on this earth have clearly been fighting crime for many years) are fighting an invasion from Apokalips.  They defeat the invasion, but at the cost of their own lives.  During and after the fight, we meet Alan Scott, Al Pratt and Jay Garrick, and see how they were involved with the battle.  Al was a sargeant in the army, Alan a communications mogul, and Jay was just getting out of college.  And in case it's not clear, they're not all 87 years old.  These are yuoung and vital people, who have a big adventure aherad of them.

Now we're seeing this new band of heroes got their powers, supposedly to fight some massive threat yet to come.  Jay will apparently get his speedster powers directly from the god Mercury, finally making that helmet make sense. 

So, I'm in yet another situation where the book is exactly nothing of what I hoped for.  Now I could be short-sighted, pout, and drop the book back on the rack.  But I've already said how much I enjoy the work of James Robinson, and here he comes up roses.  The book is VERY heavily character oriented.  Nobody balls up their fists and screams "JUSTICE!" so that ought to please everybody.  The battle is related in an exciting fashion, and the people we meet afterwards come off as three-domensional characters.  Nicola Scott has made a big jump in her art - her character work was always beautiful, but the detail in the backgrounds on the page are real impressive. 

This is a very different Earth-2, and as with the DCnU, if you're able to get past the fact that these are literally not the characters you grew up with, you're in for a very fun time.  If you can't get past that, I wish you well reading your reprints, but I'm looking forward.

It's interesting how in both of these new books' cases, different tactics were taken. Valiant it very much sticking to the original concepts of the characters, and just retelling the stories with an exciting new energy,  while keeping the feel of the original books.  DC is pretty much jettisoning everything save for the names of the characters, and doing brand new stories.  In both cases, there's no knowing what's coming next, and both approaches can be successful.  And I hope they both are.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

On a look at the final clap of T.H.U.N.D.E.R.

If you've read this blog for long, you know that my love for the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents is deep and abiding, and I have been looking forward to the return of the team for literally years.

So now that the final issue has come and gone, you're likely curious what I thought of the whole thing.

I say this with all sincerity.  Nick Spencer gave us another Watchmen.  And in more ways than one.

He took a stable of characters with very little popularity in the modern comic field save for some old farts like me, took them through a dark and perilous journey, and left very few of them standing.

The original run of the books were drawn and written by some of the best minds in comics at the time, spearheaded by Wally Wood.  But for all their promise, they never went anywhere.  Nick found the potential, the pathos and the intrigue that was already there on the page, added a whole lot more, and delivered a book slopping over with intrigue, so tight and emotional you had no idea what was going to happen next.

And he did it IN CONTINUITY.

With each successive issue, I screamed to the heavens and cursed the darkness, demanding to know how this was not a top-selling book.  Nick Spencer, the single hottest new talent in comics today, and deservedly so, with a touch that turned wood pulp to gold, was writing a book for DC, and somehow, no one noticed.

I didn't mind not seeing the original team.  By definition, they were not going to last.  I did not mind that the book was more about the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. organization than it was about the Agents.  Indeed, the book was really about one woman - Colleen, the daughter of the Iron Maiden and Len Brown, the original Dynamo.  The entire book was told in flashback, and the action was so gripping you forgot that entirely.  SPIDER was rebuilt into a corporate experiment by a rich billionaire. The Subterraneans were made into underdogs, and then good guys.  It had a more mature and thought-provoking plot than any book DC has done in the New 52, a run that I am indeed enjoying.

And somehow...nobody cared.  And That's Terrible.

I wanted SO so much more. I wanted to see many more adventures. I wanted to see Andor again. I wanted to see Len Brown, who Rusty tantalizingly swore was still alive.  But what I got was excellent, and I enjoyed it immensely.

I am well aware I'm in the minority on this. I know of one friend, as big a fan of the original books as me, who read issue one and dropped the book like a hot rock.  "Not my Agents" he said.  And I couldn't disagree with him more.  From the very first, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. treated their Agents like paper towels - useful, disposable, and plentiful.  The equipment was the key.  The modern day organization just extended that treatment to its logical conclusion.  They hired people explicitly to scout and talk people into becoming Agents; people with nothing to lose but lots to offer, people who really couldn't afford to say no.  Heartless.  And that made them ripe for a fall.

In another parallel to Watchmen, this book went and did what they were afraid to do with the Charlton characters.  It has rendered them relatively unusable again.  The organization is in tatters, the equipment (save for the Menthor Helmet, obviously) missing, presumed lost, and Daniel destroyed.  More than anything else, my dearest wish was to see the Agents integrated into the DCU.  To see T.H.U.N.D.E.R. appear as a resource for heroes, like STAR Labs and a source of plot points and guest stars.  I mean, Checkmate, DoMA and so many of the pre-52 organizations seem to no longer exist - T.H.U.N.D.E.R. could easily have stepped in and been a major part of the Big Big picture.

Yes, they could just reboot them again.  They could say this series ran on Earth-126-apple and start again.  And that would be Just Fine with me.  But DC seems to be reboot shy now, and rightfully so - after you've restarted your entire universe, it does seem a bit crass to start restarting books again only a couple months in.

So we got a really unique and gripping story, and now that story's over.  And while I'd love more, I was very happy with what I got.

And really, all you people who never even gave the book a shot?  You deserve an industry where Mike "The Situation" can get a comic book.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

On the latest in a long line of Marvels

OK, I read the first chapter of the new SHAZAM in Justice League #7.

And simply, I didn't learn enough to give it a yay or nay yet.

We learned three things -

  • The Old Wizard is actively searching for a new champion, and may not be finding him because he's Getting Too Old For This Shit.
  • Dr. Sivana is tall, buff and respected in the field of science, and not a ratlike little gnome.  Plus, his family is in some sort of crisis.
  • Billy Batson appears to be more of a hellraiser this time around, and not the paragon of virtue he usually is.

None of those things are dealbreakers for me.  Neither is the new costume.  And neither is the name.

That's right, according to interviews, Captain Marvel will be getting am official and permanent name change to Shazam.  They go on about how most people think that's his name anyway, but it all comes down to the fact that decades ago, marvel Comics snapped up the name, as the trademark on the original lapsed, and now nobody else can have a comic book with Captain Marvel as the title character.  So ever since the original relaunch in the seventies, they had to call the book some iteration of "Shazam".  They even tried sneaking the name on, by having "The ORIGINAL Captain Marvel" on the cover for a couple issues, but that got the kibosh but quick.

The art is by Gary Frank, so there's nothing bad can be said about it.  The choice to make Sivana attractive is an interesting one - in short, it makes him too similar to Luthor.  So much so that I wouldn't be surprised if there's some reader confusion in the future.  But then I thought about something...

He's only referred to as "Dr. Sivana".  And he talks about his family.  But who says he's the patriarch?

What if it's not Thaddeus?

What if it's Magnificus?

Mind...BLOWN.

So far, there's nothing that made me throw the book across the room and wash my hands.

And while we're on it, the setup for the next JLA arc sounds quite interresting.  It seems a bit contradictory with other contemporary events: Batman trash-talking the Justice League International goes against his actions in that book, but that's minor.  The overall positive mindset people have of the JLA seems (sadly) destined to go down in flames.  But seeing the Orb of Ra certainly has me thinking.

I'm hanging around.

Monday, March 19, 2012

On a series that deserves a lot more respect and recognition

Quick, what's the first series to feature Julie Newmar as a regular?

Wrong.

What TV show did Julie Newmar appear on more than any other?

Wrong.

Name the first science fiction series Julie Newmar appeared in. (not counting Twilight Zone - that's an anthology series)

You're causing quite a breeze, there, but you ain't hitting anything.

My Living Doll was the delightful Julie Newmar's first TV series, starring with Bob Cummings, returning to television after TWO eponymous TV shows.  It was the second TV series by Jack Chertok in the genre he pioneered, what would eventually be known as the "Magic Sitcom". After a number of very successful Western shows including the legendary Lone Ranger, Jack tried his luck at comedy and knocked it out of the park with My Favorite Martian.  The premise of a hapless innocent suddenly caring for a somewhat unique individual (in this case, a Martian) proved quite the hit, and when he announced plans to swap the gender of the co-star with his second series, CBS bought the series blind, without so much as a pilot.

Julie Newmar plays Rhoda, AKA experiment AF 709, a robot (technically an android, but why quibble with names) designed to man one of America's space capsules. She gets out of her lab, and her builder solicits his colleague Dr. Bob McDonald (Cummings) to find her.  Bob is understandably sceptical of her makeup, but after a brief display of its specs and capabilities (rowr rowr), he realizes he's not on Candid Camera.  As soon as he accepts the facts at hand, things get crazier - AF 709's designer is called overseas, and asks Bob to care for the robot until he returns. 

Needless to say, he doesn't return quickly.

Bob has to keep "Rhoda's" (hastily named after Bob's aunt) origins a secret from all and sundry, including his sister, his girlfriend (Doris Dowling) and his other colleague, physicist and lothario Peter Robinson (Jack Mullaney).  Aside from the simple problems of keeping an emotionless and literal-minded female robot from getting into embarassing social situations, they came up with rather ingenious malfunction plots as well.  In on episode, we learn that Rhoda is sensitive to the work of Lewis Carroll - he was a mathematician, and his verse is written (so the show explains) according to mathematic progressions that act like a virus to Rhoda's systems.

The show only lasted one season of 26 episodes, and Bob Cummings only lasted 21.  He left the show early, and Jack Mullaney's character was let in on the secret and given custody of Rhoda. 

Sadly, like so many series from the early days of television, many episodes are lost.  The box set only includes 11 episodes, the only ones currently known to exist, one of which is of lesser enough quality that it's billed as a "bonus episode" in the special features. Other specials include a new documentary about the show, featuring interviews with Newmar and Doris Dowling, as well as producer Howard Leeds.  They also tracked down a radio interview with Julie and Lucille Ball (the show was filmed at Desilu Studios, hence the connection) and some of the original commercial breaks.

While the show itself may have (undeservedly) slipped through the cracks of TV history, many of its concepts and tropes didn't. Interestingly enough, this show is the first one to use the classic bit of robot dialogue "That does not compute". This is the show that set up the standards that would be used on Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie in the coming years.  It's rather interesting that Martian, which proceeded it, would outstrip Doll by two years, three seasons to its one.  Perhaps the somewhat risque setup was a bit too wild for the time.

Julie Newmar is always a stunner (her brief appearance as Stupefyin' Jones in Lil' Abner is worth the price of admission), and her monotone delivery isn't wooden, it's perfect deadpan comedy.  Bob Cummings was as charming as ever, but even the producers admit in the documentary he was a bit old for the role.  One wonders if they'd given Rhoda to Jack Mullaney in the first place if the show could have gone a bit longer.  Jack had some solid comedy chops, and had a long career in character roles.  After Doll, he appeared in another one-season wonder, Sherwood Schwartz' It's About Time, as well as a return to the sexy robot genre, Doctor Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine, one of the Beach party films, starring Vincent Price in the title role.

My Living Doll comes out on the 19th of March, and is well worth a look.

Monday, March 12, 2012

On the first series to herald the new changes of comics

The Folks at DC have brought Camelot 3000 back into print, via the new electric-type digital comics format by the folks at Comixology.  It's a solid series that still holds up today, and features a LOT of firsts, both for DC and in comics on the whole.

Camelot 3000 1.jpgIt was DC's first maxi-series. Mini-series were usually four to six issues at the time; this one was a staggering twelve issues, meaning we'd get a full year of story.  In fact, it took a full THREE YEARS to come out, which also made it the first wildly off-schedule project in the new era.  While other series may have broken that record since (Ahemtwelvecough), this one was never placed on hiatus or anything.  So when I hear about You Kids Today complain when a book is delayed a few weeks, I wonder what the internet would do if there was a solid YEAR between issues.

It was also one of DC's first projects solely for the Direct Market.  Back in the day the Direct Market was just starting, and its big advantage over the newsstands was it got the books a good two or three weeks earlier.  But we started seeing books only released to the comic shops, a sign that thigns were changing. After this we started getting series like New Teen Titans and Legion of Super-Heroes (once, they were DC's biggest-selling titles, and rightly so), and of course now it's all comic shops.

While he'd done a couple covers and some interior work, it was the first major project for Brian Bolland.  Bolland's art style is unique and precise, lines oh-so-thin, such amazing detail, perfect for the new Baxter paper printing process, so none of that detail was lost.  And with inkers like Dick Giordano and Terry Austin, it was only made better. 

The paper also made color just pop - so much so that quite a bit of learning was needed to get the hang of coloring pages so they didn't come out in neon.

The storyline is somewhat straightforward - 1000-odd years in the future, with aliens invading England, King Arthur is resurrected from his crypt to once again save the day.  Awakening Merlin from beneath Stonehenge, they set out to find the rest of his knights, who have been reincarnated.  The reincarnations don't go well for all.  Percival is found seconds too late - he was in the process of being mutated into a munstrous slave, losing most of his intelligence, and Tristan is reborn as a woman - even more of an issue as his love Isolde is also reborn, still as a woman.  This resulted in a VERY risky and provocative plotline dealing with gender roles and eventually, a REALLY nice full-page spread (no pun intended) in the last issue.  Another first for the industry, I believe, certainly a first for DC.

It was an awesome story when it first came out, it held up perfectly when it was released as a trade some years back, and now you've got the chance to get the whole series on your computering device, something I'm sure Arthur would have been fascinated by.

We don't see as many stand-alone stories like this at the Big Two - one could argue that the market has made it quite clear that they only want super-heroes. But without books like this, it becomes quite a challenge to draw new readers into the market. So kudos to DC and Comixology for choosing a more off-the-beam story back into print.  Who knows, if this sells well, maybe we'll finally see those last few issues of Sonic Disruptors.

Monday, March 5, 2012

On a look into the past that references a look at the future

Archie Comics will shortly be launching a new version of their superhero characters in an all new digital-only process.  This will be something like the fifth attempt to make a go of the characters in the last twenty years, and the second in the last two.  DC just tried the Red Circle line just last year or so, and it was met with, tragically, apathy. 
Back in the 90's DC licensed the MLJ heroes and created the Impact line, which I REALLY liked.  I gave the line a lot of coverage in my fanzines (which was like the Internet, except on paper, and only a couple dozen people saw it).  After bribing group editor Mike Gold with Cherry Pepsi (which at the time was only being test-marketed in Canada, and I Knew A Guy) he agreed to an interview about the line. As this was done, the books were on their first few issues, and the sky was the limit. 

One thing that's fun about the interview is how many other topics were touched upon that seem so relevant to today.  Mike discusses the idea that even then, as today, it's VERY hard to get readers to try new books and new heroes.  He talks about how continuity always needs touching up, and how Captain America could be a franchise name, if he only had a good movie... So many of the topics discussed could have come from any interview about modern titles.

I have VERY high hopes for Archie's Crusaders title, and hope to be talking them up a great deal in the near future.  But for now, here's a look back at what was quite a risk in the early 90s.

Mike Gold-the Interview

Before we started the interview, I had remarked that I was pleased to find Lancelot Strong in the Who’s Who (I assumed he was “Doc Strong” who was mentioned heavily) only to learn...

Doc Strong was a totally separate character from Lance Strong. He’s part of our backstory. However, the idea of using the name Lance Strong in there somewhere certainly has occurred to us. But we haven’t worked that out yet, it’s just something we’re trying to do.

Of all the Archie Characters, Lance Strong was my favorite.

Mine too. I even have copies of the original artwork which I got from Joe Simon. Some day we might start to reprint all that old stuff, which would be a kick. Yeah, I bought that stuff off the newsstands when I was eight or nine. It was the first time I was ever conscious of Jack Kirby’s artwork. I still didn’t know it was Jack Kirby, but it was the first time I was aware of *that* particular artist’s work. I had already seen it on, I think Green Arrow, and I’d probably seen Challengers of the Unknown by then, but neither of those titles had the strength of those first few issues of The Fly and The Double life of Private Strong.

I guess the obvious first question is: how are the books doing?

Doing very well, we’re very happy with it. We set ourselves a certain goal, which we admit wasn’t overly ambitious, because we knew that, for example, X-Force and X-men were coming out this summer, and we knew a lot of money was going to go towards that. But it’d be foolhardy to expect an entirely new line of books to be an instant success, because it means it’d be getting purchased by the already existing readership. Which would be fine, we’d LOVE that, but that’s not our goal. Our goal is to use these to bring new readers into comics, bring in slightly younger readers, the kind of folks that would normally read the DC books. So I’m more interested in our newsstand sales, not the direct sales. The direct sales are very healthy, we’re very happy with the direct sales. The newsstand sales figures won’t come in for another two months.

But we’re in this for the long haul. It’s the only way you can do a project like this. Look at Marvel’s sales when they hit the market, and look at them now...hopefully it won’t take us that long. But we’re out there. The sixth title’s out there now, and the seventh title will be out in mid-April.

We’ve added annuals for our initial six titles, and a third issue of the Impact Who’s Who. So in an eight-week period, we’re starting a seventh title, a third Who’s Who, and doing annuals. That’s pretty heavy expansion. Obviously, if the books weren’t doing well, we’d be building a fortress around them, and not leaving! So we’re happy with them, and we’re already gonna start talking about the eighth title. Our editorial staff has an approach that we like,

How do you guys work together to keep the continuity of the books tight?

Every year we get together with the entire creative team (at least the writers and the pencillers, the inkers are usually so busy on so many different books that it’s hard for them to stop everything and go off with us.) And we get together, the creative and the editorial staff, and we’ll talk about the direction for the coming year. Maybe a little fine-tuning of the end of the first year to help better facilitate the coming of that second year. We’ll lay out our storylines, and talk about what sort of books we’d like to add for the second year. It’s real exciting stuff. Last year we did it in Tarrytown, NY; this year we’ll be doing it somewhere in the midwest.

Now that Katie Main’s moved on to the Looney Tunes books, who’s on the editorial staff?

Paul Kupperberg has come on the staff, as has Jim Owsley. Michael Golden is now our Cover Editor. I’m editing LOTS, and as of issue 15, Jim will be taking over that. I’m editing The Web, and Jim and I have been doing the work on the seventh title, and he’ll eventually be the editor on that. And once he takes over the seventh title, I get to go start work on the eighth. Paul is editing The Fly and Black Hood, and Jim is editing Comet and The Jaguar.

Of all the descriptions and theories behind the line, people have claimed they’re solely for younger audiences, that you’re trying to do Marvel-style comics, and that you’re doing “entry-level comics” which explanation do you like?

Entry level comics is my term. I used that term six years ago in my original memo describing the idea of these titles. It’s NOT just for kids. Although I think that DC has with malice of forethought, concentrated so severely on the older two- thirds of the comics market, that it made it look that way. The roots of comics are in children’s entertainment. And those of us who have been fans since we were kids have been very obsessed with the idea of legitimizing the medium. And I think that’s good, I think that’s important, I think there’s been a tremendous number of books of all sorts for older readers, more mature readers, and will continue to do so. My editorial group here at DC will continue to do so.

Well, you’re editor on Hawkworld, about the most mature title DC is doing

Well, it’s about the most mature super-hero book. The issues we deal with in Green Arrow are a lot more sophisticated than that. That’s not a value judgment. And there’s a lot of singular projects-Viking Prince came out recently-a cleverly disguised romance comic. And I’m very proud of that book, I think they did a very nice job.

But because DC has put so much energy in the last five years in that direction, it does look like a series for kids. It’s not; it’s accessible to kids, there’s a difference. I think anyone that enjoys straightforward superhero comics will enjoy these books.

There are a lot of longtime comics readers-they may be 15, they may be 35-who are just a little too confused, or a little too tired of the Marvel Universe, even the DC Universe, as it’s been redefined, because it’s gotten too big or too complicated. I think there’s a point when, for some readers, when they start to cut back on some of their superhero titles, and still stay involved with the more sophisticated stuff. And when you start cutting back, you start losing significant chunks of that universe, and it’s very hard to read what’s left. So here’s a line of books that’s six titles strong, eight titles strong, whatever.. .that’s not so hard to keep track of.

By the end of 1992, there’ll be fewer Impact books than there are X-men titles. Heck, maybe less than there are Ghost Rider titles, for crying out loud! Tom deFalco’s been going around saying that we’re trying to imitate Marvel, and that we’re getting it wrong, which shows that Mr. DeFalco (who I respect and have known for a long time) is getting a wee bit egocentric. We’re not trying to imitate Marvel at all. For one thing, we place a high value on the writers and the artists, they’re not interchangeable. Number two, we have a lot more respect for our readers. We’d never refer to our readers as zombies, let alone trademark the phrase. That’s horribly abusive.

In terms of style, storytelling, technique, that sort of thing, we may be more in touch with Marvel’s roots that Marvel is right now. I think that we are MUCH more influenced by the work of people like Stan Lee and Jack Kirby than Marvel has been in the last ten years. But that doesn’t mean we’re trying to imitate Marvel. For one thing, we CAN’T imitate Marvel. Marvel does Marvel Comics; nobody does Marvel Comics the way they do. You have to go in there with that legacy, with that history, with the thirty years worth of continuity, with the marvel attitude. Which is why Marvel does not do NON-Marvel Comics very well. Marvel bombed with Star Trek, DC has flourished with it. Because Star Trek was completely a non-Marvel comic. I mean, look at a lot of the comics that were published under their Star line. They mostly disappeared after six issues, because they just don’t fit in with the Marvel style. I mean all this as a compliment. It sounds like a slam, especially after I just did slam Tom, but the reality is that Nobody does Marvel comics like Marvel Comics, and nobody has ever done Marvel comics like Marvel Comics. DC tried to do that back in the 70’s...and failed miserably. Look at all the stuff Jack Kirby did for DC in the 70’s as compared to the stuff he did for Marvel in the 60’s. Whereas it was just as good as, although not as enduring as the Fantastic Four, for example, it was completely different. Because it wasn’t in that Marvel Universe. You can’t do a fake Marvel...it’s stupid to try.

And now you’ve got the Superman titles taking all the Jack Kirby “Jimmy Olsen” plotlines and using it all again...

…and doing some wonderful things with it. Because it fits so well in the DC Universe. So obviously we’re not trying to imitate Marvel. I wouldn’t mind if, thirty years down the line, someone said you imitated Marvel’s success, that’s great! I’d love that! But I’d be happy if thirty years from now people say we imitated half of Marvels’ success.

Sales is something I’m not overly concerned with. My job is to produce good comics, and to do it with a specific audience in mind, and to do it on time. Obviously they want those books to sell, and for the company to make money. DC’s a large company, and we don’t publish titles that lose money. There’s no reason to, there’s so many more good books that we want to publish that we don’t have time to do. If a book is losing money, you try to fix it and it doesn’t work, or you feel you really shouldn’t fix it cause of the artistic integrity of the book itself...you cancel them. Yeah, there are a couple of books we can kind of float for a while because we like them; we’re big enough that we can be indulgent for one of two books, but that’s all.

My primary concern isn’t sales. We have a good marketing staff here, a wonderful editorial staff, terrific business support staff. If a book gets a fair shot at the marketplace, it’s up to the readers as to whether they want to see it or not. Anybody who tells you they know what the reader wants to see is a liar and an idiot. Nobody knows. If they did, they’d never cancel a show on television, they’d never cancel a comic book. So we’re not so pretentious to say “yes, we know the readers want to see this, we KNOW that...” nonsense. No, we take our fair shot at the market place. Sales is in the back of my mind, as useful information to try and figure out directions to go, but also to see where people are not going, and see if there’s a way we can go there. And that’s how these books started, really. We weren’t in the superhero field. In the traditional, straightforward superhero field. Even Superman, which is a brilliant series of books, I’m enjoying Superman more now than I’ve enjoyed him at any time in the last 10 years... that’s four books, and the continuity is very tight between those four books. And I think that the younger end of the readership would find that to be very difficult. To make that commitment to four books, one every week.

You mentioned Captain Marvel, and that raises a question- Do you own the Fawcett characters right now?

Yeah, for about a year now. The business end of comics is fascinating. Fawcett licensed the characters to DC in an exclusive license, in a very good deal. And the deal was so good for Fawcett that it sort of minimized the use of the characters. We couldn’t include any of the Fawcett characters in the Greatest Golden Age Stories collection. The royalties would have been so high as to raise the price of the book. Fawcett has changed hands a few times in the last twenty years - CBS owned it for awhile, a couple other companies.. .and finally, every couple of years, we’d have to call up and say, “Hi, who do we send the check to?”

So we’d say” We’d like to buy the characters outright,” because over the years, DC’s bought out a lot of different publishers. And until recently they’d say, “Oh, we own Captain Marvel? Cool! No, we’ll keep it,” But finally the current group of people said, “Who? Oh, fine, sure... give us a LOT of money.” And we did.

This is exactly my point-you guys own the Fawcett titles, most of the Charlton titles, the Quality Comics characters. Maybe a fifth to a fourth of the characters you own are currently in use, yet you decided to go for a completely NEW set of characters to start up a new line. Considering that in some cases there’s nothing but the name left of the original Archie characters, why didn’t you go with characters you already own?

There’s a couple of reasons. Number one-this is gonna sound negative but I don’t mean it that way- the characters that you’re referring to have a lot of baggage. They’ve all been revived in the last ten years, many in the last five years, in some significant way by DC. So for example if we went out there and did, say, Plastic Man and Captain Marvel.. .well, we’ve just DONE Plastic Man and Captain Marvel.

We may do them again: I mean, the recent Captain Marvel resurrection was fairly successful. In the sense of sales, it was VERY successful. From an aesthetic standpoint... I thought there was some good stuff going on, but there was some stuff that didn’t quite work...

The idea of making Billy Batson an abused child sickened me.

...yeah, I think there were people who didn’t like that, personally. Although the sales were very good. But here I am, I just gave you my lecture about sales. But anyway, if we were to do a line consisting of characters that DC already played with, and then removed them from those backstories into a different continuity... I thought that would be kinda confusing. But it is something we talked about. As a matter of fact my first thought was to take the old Quality characters.

My second thought was to create NEW characters. Which we practically have. I thought that taking something that DC had never done before would make it seem much more exciting, would bring much more attention to it. It does raise that one question-” Why are you doing this?” Another thing is, a lot of us, myself included, have a lot of fondness for those Archie Superheroes. Again, those early issues of The Fly and Pvt. Strong were very significant to me as a child. The Jaguar, similarly. The Black Hood was a character and story I always liked. Some of the stories over the years were quite good, some of them...

…like the cowboy Black Hood on the mechanical horse...

…yeah, some of them didn’t quite work. The idea behind the Mighty Crusaders was a good one, and there were a couple of issues that were a kick. Jerry Siegel worked on those books. And it’s nice to sort of play in that ballpark.

The reason we didn’t create our own new characters was partially for that reason, they were interesting characters, and DC’s gotten very gool at reviving old characters. And from a technical standpoint, brand new Superheroes tend not to work very well. Or sell very well. I mean if you made a list of all the totally new costumed superheroes published by anybody, DC, Marvel, even the independents... but of course, according to the Buyer’s Guide, Archie and Disney are independents, so I don’t even know what that means anymore...

It means they aren’t published by the Big Two...

…yeah, but that’s silly, cause Disney’s so big. Hell, Disney’s farts cost more than what Marvel and DC make... (pause) and you can quote me on that.

Bwah hah hah! Mike Gold Speaks Out!

Anyway, if you made a list of new characters with no tie-ins, like a new X-man that later gets his own book, that doesn’t count.. . Can you name any? That have been successful in the last ten years?

Well, I would say Starman, but that’s been cancelled after 46...

But even Starman’s not new-there’s always been a Starman in DC. Over at Marvel they’ve got Darkhawk and Sleepwalker... but they’re only six or so issues, we’ll see how long they last. I’m not being cynical, I hope they do succeed; friends of mine are working on them.

We all try, DC tries, Marvel tries, certainly the independents try, at least the ones who want to do independents do, because they have to. It’s very very difficult to launch a brand new superhero that has nothing going for it in terms of backstory. So that’s why we decided not to make up our own. It’s an interesting challenge, I would like to do that someday. And someday, maybe we will.

As for copyrights and all... Each of the creators have equity in their own characters. So for example, Len Strazewski and Mike Parobeck redid The Fly. Now, that was created by Simon and Kirby, for Archie, and so Archie gets some money off of that, they get a licensing fee. But Len and Mike own a percentage of the new Fly. But if the rights reverted to Archie, or if we sold the rights to another company... I mean property is property, we could sell Superman to you if we wanted...

(fumbling through pockets) Well, I got ten bucks on me...

Yeah, right. . . . And if you were to use the current version of the Fly, you would have to pay these guys as well, because they own a certain piece of the action. If you did not use their version, but went back and used the Simon and Kirby version of the Fly, that’s fine. Each of the teams have equity in their re-creations. So we’re very cognizant that in some cases there’s very little left except the name and a couple of little elements here and there.

There’s NOTHING left of the Web. Unless it turns out one of the agents has a harridan of a wife.

Yeah, that’s something we haven’t discussed.

Len Rothco’s got a wife, screaming “Where’ve you been?”

So anyway, the writers and the Artists do get a piece of the action.

Does Archie have any say on the editorial tone of the books?

No, none at all. We have a contract in which we’ve made certain promises, and they certainly have the right to hold us to those promises. You know, they don’t want to take these characters and turn them into X-rated books or anything, and that’s not our intent. But, you know, thirty years down the road who knows what could happen, so the contract prevents our successors from changing the essential purpose of the line, and keep the characters from being exploited in that manner. But then again, you’re talking to a guy who, when he was at First, REALLY wanted to do an American Flagg! / Veronica Lodge crossover, so what do I know?

We might as well start talking about the books. Starting with the five books that are out there now, what are we gonna see next year?

In the books, we’ll of course be developing the characters; we’re going to add to the supporting cast. You’ll be seeing more and more characters that could stand up on their own, and could move around through the various Impact titles. You will not be seeing arbitrary crossovers every month, except for the Web, which isn’t arbitrary, because they’re the fiber that holds our universe together. We’ve got a Fly / Shield crossover coming up, and that’s nice, that’s a big deal.

Well, let’s start with the annuals. in the Annuals, we’re gonna be doing four different things, three of which will be in any single annual. We’re doing a storyline that will continue through all six annuals, that’ll be a 28-page story. Now that’s a linked annual stunt, DC and Marvel’ve been doing that for a long time now.

We wrestled with whether to do individual stories or if wanted to do a linked story. And the reason I decided to go with a linked story was, well, when I was a kid, annuals were very rare. Not every book had an annual. And the stories in the annuals, when they did original stories, which was even more rare, were very unique. They were stories that could not be in a regular issue, they were too big, too important. Nowadays we do mini-series, prestige format one shots to do those types of stories. Nowadays we can do those stories in a regular book. In the 60’s they didn’t have 64-page special issues in a monthly. Today, if we wanted to, we could. We do it all the time. So the types of stories that were special for annuals in the 60’s could be done any time today. So what makes annuals unique today is that linked concept. You can still do a special kind of story. They don’t have to link in a crossover sense of the word, just the sequential sense of the word. Because after all, you’re dealing with a self-contained universe.

So our story starts in The Web, continues on and ends in the Black Hood. The stories won’t be like a mini- series, where if you miss, say, the third annual, you’re hopelessly lost. Although you’re enjoyment will be enhanced considerably if you read them all, at least if you read the first and the last one, you can fill in what happened in the middle.

That’s one story. The other two stories will be picked from three sets of stories we have. One series will be original adventures of four of the original Web agents, set in the 60’s, to help flesh out that part of the backstory considerably. One will be set in ‘63, one in ‘65, one in ‘68, and the last in 1972 involved in Web adventures of that time. They’ll be in four different annuals, but not in the Web Annual. Because the people who read the Web annual will get them in the front story. We’re doing four adventures of past Black Hoods, and four stories featuring the original Shield and the original American Crusaders.

For books that weren’t supposed to have much of a back story to come into, there is quite a bit of history. There’s thirty and change years of history

We created our own baggage, yeah. But our history has a lot of holes in it. Much of the history consists of a sentence or an outline. So we know what happened in the past, but we have complete freedom to develop it any way we want. And add to it any way we want. Marvel got caught up in that when they decided to acknowledge that there was a Captain America in World War II. Okay fine, but wasn’t there a Captain America in the 50’s? Well, yes. But okay, who was he, if the Cap from WWII got frozen? Well, we gotta work that out. So they worked it out, and they did a wonderful job.

DC has been wrestling with those issues all the time. Marvel is now in the situations where they have to go back and redefine what happened in the 60’s. Because if we tell people that the reason Tony Stark was in Vietnam was because of a war we thought was a really good thing, and we were trying to vanquish the Threat Of Communism, it sounds a little silly, considering we lost that war, and Communism isn’t quite the threat it once was. So now John Byrne just redefined that origin. So Marvel is fine-tuning their backstory. And I imagine in thirty years, Impact will have to go back and redefine their backstory as well.

But we do want to have a backstory that gives us a sort of heritage. And the idea of there having been superheroes in the past is a real important idea, that’s a real important concept. Because it mitigates the issue of “why are there all these superheroes all of a sudden?” If it’s such an important idea, why didn’t it happen before? Well, it did happen before.

A lot of fans are upset at the idea that Superman wasn’t the first superhero in the DC universe. Well, he wasn’t the first superhero in comics anyway. There was Dr. Occult, and also the Pulps were being published as well. We don’t have an icon like that to upset people.

What’s going on in the future of the individual titles?

Virtually every major backstory in the individual titles will be resolved by the end of the first year. And new ones will start. So like, for all the people who think that The Shield will always be a hero on the run, on the outs from his father, and that’s the way the series will be forever, no. It will not. None of these threads will run forever. Some will be resolved, others will start up, there’ll be a bit of overlap there. Those things get boring if you let them run forever and ever. That’s really been the weaknesses of some of the more interesting series. Things you can’t resolve. I mean, the prime directive is the biggest problem Star Trek ever had, because it’s the one law you can’t change, and it completely prevents you from doing any stories. Off the ship, you can’t do any stories! They’ve been trying to get around the Prime Directive for years! So we resolve that stuff, and then we move on.

Let’s see, supposedly we’ll meet the original shield, The Black Witch was a member of the Crusaders and she’s coming back, Bill Loebs has a character called Copper Cat...are there any other of the older characters we’ll be seeing, either new or old?

Well, the Hangman will be appearing soon, Blackjack, people like that. We’re right now working on creating more villains, and new institutions. Quite a number of the older characters are being revived because the assorted creative crew want us to revive them. In point of fact, there are three creative teams out there right now that desperately want to do Steel Sterling. And the first team that asked for it got it, but if they screw up... there’s another team ready to take over in a heartbeat, and if THEY screw up, there’s another group behind them! We’ve got two teams working on Mr. Justice. And there is development going on on almost all the MU characters. We’ve even got Tom Lyle trying to figure out how to do Bob Phantom. It’s a cool challenge, and that takes us back to your earlier question of why did we take the Archie characters because there’s all these cool characters that nobody’s dealt with.

I’m curious about the Hangman. Since originally he became a hero because his brother, the Comet, died, I guess it’s safe to say that’s not the new guy’s origin.

No, you’re right. That is one of the first contemporary continuity devices ever done in comics.

That was in 1941, practically the beginning of comics. The idea of one character would be created as a result of another. I think that pre-dates Wildcat, who was created because Ted Grant liked Green Lantern.

Archie had a couple of firsts. The Shield was the First flag-based character, beating Captain America to the punch by about half a year.

Closer to a year, eleven months. That’s quite remaarkable, and most fans don’t understand that, because Captain America is so close to an icon. He would be an icon if he had a successful movie.

Even the origins are similar

In some ways, yeah. I wouldn’t say there was any influence or anything, though. It’s still nothing compared to the greatest coincidence in comic history...

..Swamp Thing and Man-Thing?

Nope, because the Heap pre-dates both of them by decades. No, the X-Men and Doom Patrol. And those books came out almost exactly the same time- Doom Patrol beat the X-Men by like, six weeks, I looked it up once. And neither of them were ultimately successful in their original run, either. It kind of makes you wonder what would have happened if Doom Patrol was revived the same day the X-Men was revived. And Len Wein could have done it just as easily, ‘cause he has just as much affinity as the Doom Patrol.

Len Wein is a guy who’s gotten a raw deal in comics. Here’s a guy who created Wolverine, Swamp Thing.. .he’s created more successful characters than you can imagine, and up until recently, he was working for Disney. But he’s working on something for us here. He’s doing a mini-series first, and then a regular series.

Human Target’s going on television, ABC has commissioned 8 episodes.

Are there any other supporting characters ready to go?

No, but we’re looking at that for the eighth title.

The seventh title is going to be more concerned with the existing characters, because the seventh title’s going to be The Crusaders. I don’t want to say who’s going to be in it yet. Cause if you think about it, it’s kind of interesting, because condsider; the Black Hood’s the new kid on the block, and the Web already exists not as a super team, but as the guys who watch the super team. So how could the web fit into a team like the Crusaders, but on the other hand, how could the Web not fit in? How can you keep them out of it? From a government standpoint, and from a public relations standpoint, that would be a catastrophe. Plus, you have various web agents who know various superheroes quite well, and have good working relationships with them. Those Web agents have been crawling all over everybody in the Impact books since the first issue of LOTS. So those are issues which are the issues gonna be addressed in the first few issues of the Crusaders.

Creative team set?

Mark Waid will be writing the book. He’ll be great because he’s been involved with many of the titles from the start, so he knows the characters. And that’ll be full writer, not just scripting. We OWE him that. Mark’s a very good writer. The thing about bringing him in as a dialogist at the beginning for Tom and Grant was first off, he’s a very good dialogist, and he gets to be a sort of backseat editor as well. It allowed to work on several of the books at once, to help develop the entire Impact universe. Mark is one of the unsung heroes of the Impact universe. He also wrote ALL the Impact who’s who entries.

What else can you say about the eighth title?

We haven’t even decided who’ll start in it yet. We haven’t decided if it’ll be an already existing character, or maybe a character we haven’t introduced by that time. My predilection is to use a character that we have not introduced yet. That’s something we’ll be talking about most heatedly at our next creative meeting. The main thing about it is I have these plans for a new format for the book, something slightly unusual, but definitely different. It’s still in the thinking about it stages, though.

As for the character themsevles, we’ll take the best idea. Actually, we’ll mud-wrestle for it, and whoever gets it, gets the book. Really, what we’ll do is we’ll take the best concept, the first, best, fully developed concept. You could have a great concept, but need a year to flesh it out. Sometimes it takes a weekend.

The classic case of rolling out of bed and developing a concept was the invention of the Metal Men. There was a hole in Showcase. Whatever was scheduled didn’t show up, whatever. So they needed something desperately. So they turned to Robert Kanigher and said, “We wanna fill these issues of Showcase, can you do something?” This was a Friday. Bob says “Sure, no problem,” and comes in Monday with a full-blown treatment of the Metal Men! Completely new idea, never been done before, not based on anything... it may have been percolating in the back of his head for 120 years, but regardless, Monday, two days later.. .boom, there it was. And they said, “Hey, this is great, let’s do it!”

And they liked it so much they did four issues. Which for Showcase was a rarity, a run was usually three. That doesn’t make the Metal Men any better or worse than anything else we’ve done. I’ve worked on some concepts here, like the Impact universe, that we’ve worked on for YEARS before we were confident with it, before it was fully realized. And I’ve worked on stuff that was created in minutes. Jon Sable, Freelance was essentially created in an afternoon in my living room. Mike and I were talking, and I knew he had some sort of idea for something that was very unlike anything he’d ever done before. Previously he had only done fantasy.

Tom Lyle and Grant Miehm are plotting their own books...

Yeah, but having an artist as a plotter or co-plotter is not at all unique. Before he started dialoguing, Kirby plotted an awful lot of his stuff, and Steve Ditko actually got credit on some Spider-Man I think, and a lot of Dr. Strange. And of course people are doing it now. Grant and Tom are relative newcomers, they’ve only been in the business for a few years. And of course they’re talented, their work speaks for itself. And for them to plot their own stories is great, I wish they had the time to learn to dialogue their own stuff. But that’s a skill; they’d have to spend a few months or however long doing dialogue, and having it rewritten in some work with another writer before they got the hang of it. It’s like learning to drive a car. But they’re too busy; in Grant’s case pencilling and inking, with Tom pencilling, both plotting.

Who approached whom? Did they ask to plot, or vice versa?

No, they expressed an interest. Both those guys were brought into the project before the writers had been assigned to the books. Brian Augustyn was the editor of the Comet, and after talking to Tom, thought it might be real interesting for him to actually plot the book, and that pretty much the same case with Grant. Part of the fun in comics is helping people work in new directions. Helping them do stuff they’ve never done before. Cause you’re really creating magic here, and it’s not just the end result that’s magical, the process is magical too. Working with Mike Grell on his first major non-fantasy stuff is just as exciting as working with Grant or Tom on these titles.

And casting against type is always interesting, too. People were real surprised when I put Mike Baron on the new Flash. The Flash is a straightforward superhero, that’s not the type of character you immediately identify with Mike Baron. But the idea was to take this character who had been a kid, but was all of a sudden an adult. Being an adult was a new experience to him, being a superhero was something he’s been since forever. And then give him a little bit of money, and see what happens. He’s always been a superhero, but now all of a sudden he’s an adult, and he’s got all these responsibilities, but he’s still essentially a kid, what’s he gonna do? Well, probably try to get a lotta girls. Mike was a real good choice for that revival. And then I put Bill Lobes on the book. That was my last editorial act on that title. And the first thing he did was take the money away. Which is just what we discussed.

That’s the same philosophy that we’re doing on the Impact titles. The money thing was an interesting storyline for the first year. If you keep it going for much longer than that. . . then he Bruce Wayne. But we’ve got a Bruce Wayne. That’s why they did it to Ollie Queen back in the 60’s or 70’s. But here’s a kid- he’s been a kid, he’s been a superhero, he’s been rich, now he’s not ever rich anymore. And he’s got his mother on his ass-what does that do to him? That’s also why I wanted to get away from the sexual aspect, the way he was jumping into bed with every woman he sees. Because it was something he’d done, and in order to show a sense of maturity, you have to show that maturity in his relationships as well.

And now Mark Waid’s taking over the book, and that’s great. I don’t know where Marks’ taking the book, but I don’t wanna know. I’m not editing the book, it’s not in my editorial group, I can read the book as a fan and enjoy it. That’s one of the problems of working in comics: you’re doing this all the time, so can you still be a fan of the medium if that’s all you do for 40, 60, even 90 hours a week? Well, the answer is, you kind of have to be, it’s the only way you’ll work that hard. You try to isolate yourself... I didn’t want to read the Batman film script; I wanted to go in and see the film fresh. Luckily I’m a big fan of newspaper strips. So I can be completely engrossed in the comics medium all day, and still go home and read my Kitchen Sink Lil’ Abner and have a wonderful, and not have to worry at all about how it’s going to influence Hawkworld or something.

I can’t do that with reading golden Age comics. I have access to DC’s library! I can’t take them home or anything, but! can read them anytime I want. I have the stuff on Microfiche, all that. But that still has an impact on the stuff I do for a living. I’m consulting editor for the DC archives books, the greatest stories book, like that. So I look at an old issue of Batman, and I have to say to myself, “Gee, should I think about this story for the Greatest Batman Stories volume 2 next year?”

…I can see you’re just bleeding for me. (laughs) Fuck it, I’m a comics fan and they pay me to sit around and read comics all day. So every time I bitch and harangue, I have to sit back and think, “Waaiiit a minute, I could be working at IBM, I don’t need this...”

The one thing everybody’s been going on about is the idea of the nebulous connection between the DC and Impact universes. I already noticed one of the Web agents reading a Batman comic in Who’s Who...

Well, what does that say? Just that there are Batman comics, but there are Batman comics in the DC universe too. None of that commits us to anything, we’re teasing with stuff like that. Sure, I don’t want to cut ourselves off from doing crossovers with the DC universe.., or any other universe. We wanna do a Black Hood/Judge Dredd story? Fine. But with the DC universes, it is here, we are part of the same company... We’re very careful to leave an opening there, so that we could do a crossover if we wanted to. But if we do. . .well, in comics, everything happens eventually. Sooner or later, Lois Lane’s gonna meet Nancy. And come to think of it, it’ll probably happen in Zippy. (Bwah-Hah’s) There was a Zippy strip about a year ago where Zippy meant Prince Valiant, and that just blew me away. It was about what comic characters do in their off-hours. And Prince Valiant looked the same and talked the same, but he had a polo shirt on. But anyway, we do keep a sort of a window of opportunity there, to keep our options open. But it’ll be a big deal, it won’t just be like, “Oh, yeah, Superman’s showing up in Jaguar next month...” And I’m not even sure that we’d do the biggest characters, anyway. We might take the two least selling characters. We might take the Atom and Mr. Justice.

There are little things we have been conscious about planting, little hooks that we can later go back and grab. I don’t wanna say what they are, because that’ll take the fun out of it, but they are there. But for example, remember the Cosmic Treadmill from Flash? Wouldn’t it have been cool if it had been there all along, way before they used it? That’s what we’re doing.

The main argument people have about the idea that the Impact books take place in the DC universe proper is they daim, “Well, how come nobody’s ever heard of these people, and why doesn’t the Web work with S.T.A.R?

Yeah, but if you ascribe to that philosophy, then you have to have completely full-blown universes from square one, and never grow or add to it. The theory is “well, it wasn’t there before, so it CAN’T be there now.” Well, that really stagnates. Continuity is a good thing, it’s an important thing, but it’s not dogma. You can’t be completely trapped by continuity, otherwise you cannot grow, you cannot live. If we were completely trapped by continuity, you would not have Flash, you would not have Hawkman, you would not have the Justice League, because they contradict previous versions. I know there are a lot of people out there for whom it almost is a religion, and I don’t mean to demean their enjoyment of continuity, but if we can’t create new characters, you just can’t grow.

Everybody fixes things up. Marvel went and figured out a reason why Nick Fury was still alive in 1970, and that’s great, because the character’s so heavily wedded to WWII. But all of his friends and buddies from world war!! are gonna have to die-they’re all pushing 70. That’s fine, but someday soon, it’s gonna be real strange to hear that Reed Richards and Nick Fury hung out together in WWII. And soon, it may have already happened, that story will have not happened. Because it won’t make sense any more.

Rex Stout did a great job of that in the Nero Wolfe books. In the forty-odd years he wrote the stories, the characters aged by about seven or eight years. And if he’d thought he had more time to write the stories, they probably wouldn’t have aged that much. And once in a while Rex made a mistake. He’d get the name of the Doctor wrong. If somebody in comics made a mistake like that, we’d go out and do a twelve-part mini-series explaining the error, and I think that’s taking continuity too far. I think there’s a point where you say, “Nope, it’s a mistake. I’m sorry, but it’s not a bad mistake, let’s live with it.” Or maybe it’s an improvement, so all that other stuff didn’t happen, gee I’m sorry.

Continuity is a tough thing, a real tough thing. But the one thing people have to remember is that characters created in the forties were created with different values and different standards than we have in the 90’s. The characters created and re-created in the sixties might not work the same now.

Our whole attitude with the Soviet Union has changed completely. Almost all of Marvel’s characters were all based upon very strong anti-communist concerns. It was either anti-Communism or radiation. Well, we have a different attitude about radiation today, too. If they tried to do the origin of Spider-Man today, and they told a story about a kid that got bit by a radioactive spider, then the readers would expect that kid to die. They did a wonderful parody of that on The Simpsons, with “Radioactive Man,” that was a wonderful inside joke. “Gee, I thought he’d die! No he got Super powers! Cool!”

So anyway, in a lot of those characters, we have to downplay stuff, sometimes we have to ignore stuff. The anti-communist paranoia is something that readers today would have a hard time understanding. And we know too much about radiation now, too. Of course, you can always say that a guy came from another planet and now he has powers, and that works, because nobody knows where Krypton was and it’s blown up anyway, how can you say there weren’t people there?

About ten years ago! was having lunch with John Byrne and having this argument about continuity. And I made a dreadful error. I said that there are some plot holes that people are incapable of ignoring. If someone at marvel notices a plot hole, they go do a story about it. And John said, give me an example. I said “I FF #2, there’s three Skrulls that were hypnotized into thinking they were cows...what happened to them?” And he said he’d work on it.