Tuesday, May 31, 2011

On the need to destroy to build anew


It was theorized, it was whispered, but nobody seriously thought they'd do, but they have.

DC announced today that come September they were re-launching the entire DC UniverseFifty-Two new #1 issues.  New origins, new costumes, new stories.  So far the only book announced officially is a new Justice League title by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee, a book that has been a poorly-kept secret for at least two years.  Other titles being bandied about include a reboot of Birds of Prey NOT under the control of everyone's favorite woman in serious need of help, Gail Simone, a Hawkman title by James Robinson and Philip Tan, and a Fabian Nicieza-helmed Teen Titans.  All good news.

Fifty-two titles is about the same number of mainstream DC books they're publishing now, not counting the Vertigo and DC Kids titles. But they're already saying that quite a few titles won't be returning, and are promising a "wider range" of titles.  Heaven only knows what that'll mean.

Naturally, many questions come to the fore, such as:

WHAT STAYS AND WHAT GOES? We don't yet know how much of DC Continuity is being rewritten here.  They've said the JLA is getting a new origin, and the implication is that other bits will change as well.  While they're shying away from using the word "reboot", they've said things will be "at a point where our characters are younger".  So, does that mean a younger Superman, before he married Lois?  A Batman earlier in his career, where Dick Grayson is still Robin?  Where Wally West is Kid Flash, and Bart Allen does not exist?  At this point we don't know.

To a degree, DC seems to be taking a  page from Marvel's book when they did this to Spider-Man a couple years back.  After the much-maligned One More Day arc (If you don't know, do NOT ask), Spider-Man was no longer married, and several years younger; closer in age to the readers.

It's not a bad idea.  It used to be known as the "Sliding seven years" - the concept that all of modern comics history took place in the last seven or so years, in the same way that all ten seasons of M*A*S*H took place within only a three-year police action.  But with 50 years of adventures since the launch of the Silver Age, that's generally considered to be more like 12-15 years now.  That puts the big guys like Superman and Batman in their mid-thirties, easy, maybe pushing forty.  Winding them back a few years makes them a bit more easy to identify with.

But will readers accept seeing their biological clocks wound back, and potentially any number of stories wiped off the canon?  Well, now that the grousing is over, Spider-Man is doing very well (Dan Slott is bringing an unbridled glee to the book; it's more fun to read than it's been since well before JMS took it over) and though people swore it'd be a colossal disaster, Superman's reboot by John Byrne was a total success, as was Geoff John's more recent soft-reboot.  So it's certainly get past performance on its side.

More than the events of years past, the question of what more recent events will "count" are on my mind.  We're reading War of the Green Lanterns right now, and just finished reading Blackest Night, the end of a since massive story arc that started in issue on of Green Lantern Rebirth. Considering the GL titles are a sales juggernaut right now, it seems likely that they won't change much.  But Justice League Generation lost ended with the promise of a new JL:I title.  Is that still on the books, and will it still be based off the events of the maxi-series?  After investing a year (and longer for the GL titles), it might rankle some for the new DC paradigm to ignore those stories, partly or in toto.  Many readers were annoyed that several of the alleged Final Crisis prequel titled like Death of the New Gods ended up being stand-alone stories that were completely ignored and even directly contradicted by the following event.  It wouldn't do to have that happen again.

WHO WILL LIVE, WHO WILL PERISH? While books are going away and new one are replacing them, might the same be true of characters?  There's already rumblings that Adventure Comics will no longer star the Legion of Super-Heroes, but other characters who had graced its pages in the past. 

One of the biggest complaints about the past few (ok, more than a few) years at DC ar the massive number of deaths that served only to waste good characters in exchange of a brief hotshot and some cheap heat.  With time itself being up in the air in FLASHPOINT, who's to say that a few of those deaths couldn't be...fixed?  Everybody's got someone they'd like to save, and if you have read my stuff in the past, you likely know whose mine are: Ted Kord, and Ralph and Sue Dibny.  Their stories were well told, they were moving, and ironically, they all got more use and respect after they died than they did for years beforehand.  That doesn't reduce at all my desire to see them alive, hale and hearty again. 

I also have a few things I'd like to see done, as long as everything seems in flux...

CAPTAIN MARVEL: Rather a drop-kick here.  They've been teasing a return of the Big Red Cheese as more and more of the brain-softening fiasco that was Trials of SHAZAM got stripped away and tossed in the bin. This would be a perfect chance to bring him back to the DCU proper.  The SHAZAM book by Art Baltazar, Franco and Mike Norton was stellar, but suffered from the fact that by running under the DC Kids line, it was deemed "Not a real DC title" by the comics-reading intelligentsia.  Well I've gone on record before that the DC Kids titles have been putting out entertainment on par with the "real" DC books ever since Jann Jones took the line by the horns and made something of it. 
As neat an idea as the S!H!A!Z!A!M! kids seem in Flashpoint, that is absolutely NOT the Cap I want to read long-term. 

USE ALL 52 EARTHS:  One of the real problems in the DCU is when Superman is the top dog, the drop to number two is precipitous. As powerful as, say, Captain Atom is, when he's trying to fight an alien invasion or natural disaster, in the back of your mind you're still thinking "Why doesn't Superman just come help him?"
But put him on his own Earth, make him the biggest fish in the pond, and you can make him a real star.
DC has already brought back the Multiverse, albeit an abbreviated version, with 52 Earths.  Put the ACTUAL Charlton heroes on Earth-4, not a Watchmen-ish version of them.  Likewise Captain Marvel - he works best when he's off on his own,  with or without the other Fawcett heroes
Oh, and get rid of that teen Ibis with the inexplicable costume while you're at it. He shames us both.

HOW ABOUT SOME OF THAT "POSITIVE" FEELING? After each event since Infinite Crisis, we were promised a return to a more optimistic tone for the DCU, a less rapey-murdery time where people survived adventures with just some scrapes and scars.  And we never seemed to get it.  This may be the time.  I don't want to see a return to the simplistic and goofy sixties or anything, but it's possible to do a story that doesn't end with a body.

There's a bunch of books I'd like to see done as well.  Considering how well the DC Kids books are doing, I'm at a dead loss as to how a monthly Captain Carrot book isn't being done.  I'm hoping the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents survive the cut, and take a more active part in the the DCU, becoming its analogue to SHIELD, one that Checkmate was never able to be.

They promise a "Wider Range" of books.  Are they talking diversity of characters, or a wider range of topics?  I would love to see if a war title could hack it in today's market, or dare I dream, a comedy title like PLOP!

I'm on board for this. I want to see what they have planned, and see how many creative teams and titles interest me.  I'll lay odds I'll end up getting more DC titles than I am now, and that, friend, is saying something.

Monday, May 16, 2011

On the celebration of another mythical holiday

First time in years I had it written on the calendar ahead of time. 
It's Miracle Monday, the third Monday in May, a celebration of the human spirit that will one day surpass any religious or civic holiday in human history, even the ones created by greeting card companies.  It was created by Elliot S! Maggin in his Superman novel of the same name.
On Miracle Monday the spirit of humanity soared free. This Miracle Monday, like the first Miracle Monday, came in the spring of Metropolis, and for the occasion spring weather was arranged wherever the dominion of humanity extended. On Uranus's satellites where the natives held an annual fog-gliding rally through the planetary rings, private contributions even made it possible to position orbiting fields of gravitation for spectators in free space. On Titan, oxygen bubbles were loosed in complicated patterns to burst into flame with the methane atmosphere and make fireworks that were visible as far as the surface of saturn. At Nix Olympica, the eight-kilometer-high Martian volcano, underground pressures that the Olympica Resort Corporation had artificially accumulated during the preceding year were unleashed in a spectacular display of molten fury for tourists who walked around the erupting crater wearing pressurized energy shields. At Armstrong City in the Moon's Sea of Tranquility there was a holographic reenactment of the founding of the city in the year 2019, when on the fiftieth anniversary of his giant leap for mankind the first man on the Moon returned, aged and venerable, to what was then called Tranquility Base Protectorate, carrying a state charter signed by the President of the United States. The prices of ski lift tickets on Neptune inflated for the holiday. Teleport routes to beaches and mountains on Earth crowded up unbelievably. Interplanetary wilderness preserves became nearly as crowded with people as Earth cities. Aboard the slow-moving orbital ships that carried ores and fossil materials on slowly decaying loops toward the sun from the asteroids, teamsters partied until they couldn't see. On worlds without names scattered throughout this corner of the Galaxy, where Earth's missionaries, pioneers and speculators carried their own particular quests, it was a day for friends, family, recreation and - if it brought happiness—reflection.
Long story short, Superman is tempted by Satan himself, through his minion, C.W. Saturn. After endless disasters and acts of evil, Superman defeats Saturn by simply being the strong incorruptible character he is, refusing to take a single human life in exchange for the rest of the world.  In his defeat, Saturn must grant Superman a boon; he chooses simply to have all the evil and destruction wrought by the demon undone, and have no one remember what they have suffered. The wish is granted, and when everyone awakes the next day, the terrors the world underwent are gone. But in their place is an unidentifiable feeling that they've dodged a metaphoric bullet, an overwhelming sense of of relief, the sense that something wonderful has happened somewhere in the world.  This shared sense of inner peace and happiness passes quickly, but so moves the people that over the course of time, the anniversary of the event becomes a global celebration, and as man conquers the stars, a galaxy-wide one. 

Elliot S! Maggin is responsible for some truly magnificent parts of Superman history, and this book is one of them. In another story, Kristin comes back to learn more about the mysterious "Superwoman" who appeared once to save Superman, only to discover that she herself was the strange visitor from another time. 
He is also responsible for the single funniest time-travel joke ever.  The Miracle Of Thirsty Thursday! from  Superman #293, came out a full six years before this novel, and shares many similar concepts. Joann Jamie, a future historian comes back to our time to discover the secret of the titular event of the story (see what I mean?). When she gets here, can't find a hotel room to save her life. Another tourist explains that the city is choked to bursting with OTHER time-travelers who are also trying to learn the secret- he reveals he's from a couple centuries LATER than Joanne, and he reveals that they STILL haven't figured it out. 
While these stories have been wiped away by numerous Crises, they still hold an important place in the hearts of Super-fen.  Kurt Busiek wrote a story where another Kryptonian was living in secrecy on Earth, under the name...Kristin Wells.  And just a year or so back, Sterling Gates got to write about a mysterious new Superwoman with a costume similar in design to Kristin's a clear tip of the hat to the original.
The full text of Maggin's novel is available online, It's long out of print, but can still be found in used bookstores if you're lucky enough to have on in your town.  You should find one.

Now if I can only remember to celebrate Klordny this year, I'll be set.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

On finally being able to easily explain why the dwarves in Final Fantasy saying "Rally-Ho! is funny

Modern video game fans know "Rally Ho!" (sometimes translated as "Lali-Ho!") as the greeting of the Dwarvish race in the Final Fantasy games.  But older fans, who grew up in the late 60s and early 70s remember the phrase from a far different source.

The Impossibles were one of Hanna-Barbera's first Superhero cartoons, following Atom Ant and Secret Squirrel, and coming out the same year as the legendary Space Ghost.  As opposed to the more serious hero from the Ghost Planet, The Impossibles were a more tongue-in-cheek show, with an animation style closer to the more "cartoony" Winsome Witch style. Featuring villains like The Paper Doll Man and The Insidious Inflator, the trio fought crime in the Washington DC area, as well as a number of fictional cities across the country.

Coil Man had the ability to stretch and spring his body, Fluid Man could change to any form of water, including steam and rainclouds, and Multi-Man could create a seemingly endless stream of duplicates, all expendable, as long as the villains never took out the original, which they never seemed to. Fluid Man could fly; indeed they all seemed to be able to on rare occasion, though Coil Man usually bounced along, and Multi-Man had this cool way of traversing chasms by generating duplicates in rapid succession like a deck of cards being spread out on the felt.

Like all superheroes, they had secret identities, though theirs were a bit "Hide in plain sight"y.  When not fighting crime and/or evil as The Impossibles, they were a popular singing group called...The Impossibles. I mean, NOBODY made the connection?  Even when on occasion they'd visit the villains' prison cells as the SINGING Impossibles?  Also, we never learned their real names; they were ever referred to as "Coily", "Fluey" and "Multi" to each other, in our out of their fighting togs.

The shows would begin and end with a small number of the band's catchy pop tunes, a theme we'd see repeated on Josie and the Pussycats. Though, sadly, we never got to hear longer versions of the songs, and certainly never got to buy an album.

The character designs and stories were a delight, and the voice talent was from the heart of H-B's stable of classic actors. The team were voiced by the inimitable Paul Frees, Hal Smith (who aside from his miles long voice resume, you likely better remember as Otis the town drunk on The Andy Griffith Show) and Don Messick, who was as close to royalty as a voice actor can get. They doubled up on numerous characters, but villains were also voiced by such luminaries as Alan Melvin (Best known as Barney Hefner on All in the Family) and Fred Flintstone himself, Alan Reed.

The team were paired with an equally outlandish superhero character's adventures, Frankenstein Jr. The creation of boy scientist Buzz Conroy, Frankie was a giant robot with a seemingly infinite array of powers. Combatting an endless rogues gallery of criminals and mercenaries, the pair prevailed time and time again in their science-fictiony world of the near future.

Again, only the best voice talent was good enough for Hanna-Barbera. Frankie was voiced by Ted Cassidy, who didn't get nearly enough of a chance to show off his vocal and comedic talents as Lurch on The Addams Family. Buzz Conroy was played by Dick Beals, another perennial worker for H-B, and best known as the voice of Speedy Alka-Seltzer.. John Stephenson, the original Dr. Benton Quest played Buzz' dad, Professor Conroy. His wife, Buzz' mom was never seen on the series; The Wife assumed she left the relation ship early; I assume some sort of experiment of which the pair do not speak...

Once again beating the trend to the punch, Frankenstein Jr. appeared well before the big explosion of gian robot cartoons. Only Gigantor (originally the Japanese show Tetsujin 28) appeared first, several years earlier, but while Jimmy Sparks controlled Gigantor from afar, Buzz piloted Frankie personally, riding on his shoulder. Only years later would the genre make a reappearance in Japan, spawning the endless examples that we've seen since.

After a great number of requests, the increasingly awesome Warner Brothers Archive has made the show available on DVD. The Print-on-Demand DVD industry has seen a lot of growth in the last year or two, with almost all the major studios starting a line. It's a great way to make movies available that would appeal to a core audience, but could never support a full-blown release which would require thousands of copies to be printed and distributed. Here, they only need to build the content and label, and burn a copy as it's ordered, making each release profitablequickly, possibly after only a few dozen orders.

As the lines have proven successful, more time and money have been invested on the releases. In addition to a very nice digital clean-up and re-mastering of the cartoons, this release features a short documentary on the shows, with interviews with animation historians and W-B animator Scott Jeralds, late of the under-appreciated Krypto the Superdog and The Secret Saturdays. The mini-feature includes a look at a lot of pre-production art for both series, back when the super-team was to be named "The Incredibles" (Pixar dodged a bullet there, huh?) and Frankie was actually going to be created by Dr. Frankenstein.

The WB Archives have released a number of H-B series so far including The Pirates of Dark Water, and up next, The Herculoids. But it's this release that has created the most excotement and joy in our household, and it's WELL worth a look.