Friday, September 26, 2008

Song of My Super-Self

One of the best things about the digital age is walking to work with an iPod full of thousands of my favorite songs, putting that sucker on shuffle and seeing what happens. Unlike like blog brother Ben, I don't have any Miley Cyrus in my music library, but I'll shamelessly bob my head to Justin Timberlake, R. Kelly, or Blondie. But sometimes... every so often... one of those random tunes pops up. You know, one of those that you bought off iTunes in moment of weakness or downloaded illegally because you just had to have it.

Well, one of those popped up for me today on my walk to work. It was Superman's Song by the Crash Test Dummies. For those you who don't know anything about Canada or 1990's, Superman's Song is a melodious musical comparison of the heroic merits of Superman and Tarzan. Obviously, Superman is deemed superior by the artists. Some of the arguments in favor of the Man of Steel include:

Clark Kent... now there was a real gent.
He would not be caught sittin' around in some jungle escape,
Dumb as an ape, doin' nothin'.

It's a damn good song. In addition to touting Superman's work ethic, this little ditty also hints at his benevolence, citing the fact that he chooses gainful employment over simply exploiting his massive power for financial benefit. It's a good point indeed. If you haven't heard this song... go download it.

But it got me thinking about other super-hero related songs. There are many songs that reference Superman: there's that Three Doors Down song about Kryptonite... that wimpy Five for Fighting Song about how super-heroes have feelings too... and let's not forget Jimmy Olsen's blues, a veritable rock 'n' roll Elseworld's tale in which Jimmy steals his best pal's girlfriend.

(Note: Jimmy wouldn't do that, of course, but I applaud the Spin Doctors for recognizing that in the orrery of 52 earths, there might somewhere be a Jimmy Olsen who would try to get with Lois and carry poisonous Kryptonite on his person)

I'll admit it... I have all those songs on my iPod. I went looking for other super-hero or comic book music on my little 60 gigabyte wonder... I don't remember downloading T-U-R-T-L-E Power or Ninja Rap, but here they are...

(And by the way... how did a Vanilla Ice song end up in my 'Hip-Hop' playlist? Smart Playlist my ass... curse you iTunes!)

In addition, I found a Beanie Siegel song called 'Feel It In the Air' where he repeats the line 'a spider's sense is tinglin' followed by this weird high pitched squeak, which I assume is intended to be the sound of a spider's sense as it... well... tingles. Anyway, my thirst for super-hero related music is far from quenched.

Second printers, help me. What are you favorite super-hero related songs, and what are some of the more choice lines from these songs?

Also, don't forget to scroll down and add to the questions we'll all be asking our significant others in our extremely scientific survey of non-geek comic book knowledge.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Ask Away

As most of you Second Printers know I like bringing a little bit of my life into this blog. I talk about my apartment, about my love for the Cubs (well, I did on Those Wednesdays), heck I have even brought you into my bathroom. Other writers here have done the same, look at Jon Carey who put his girlfriend and her confusion over both Final Crisis and Secret Invasion up for some of the best posts I think have been put up here. I mean they were funny and they had just that right spark of our non-comic worlds to bring us all closer together but were enough about comics to be pertinent.

So we all got together and decided as a way to celebrate passing our five month mark (yesterday, excellent, excellent) we would hold a little quiz. But not quizzing us - oh no. Instead, some of us, or should I say our significant others, have offered to take a quiz on comic knowledge. But that is not it, oh no. Also taking the quiz is Devon's nephew! So we will have a sort of “How much nerdiness have you learned through osmosis” mixed with “Are you smarter than a third grader.” It’s going to be awesome because, while I love my wife and she once spent an evening letting me tell her what each of the color squares on a Heroclix dial meant, I am banking on the kid.

So here is where you come in loyal Second Printers. You get to come up with the questions. Now a word of caution, these are non-comic readers and a child so no “Who did Spider-Man punch in issue #173.” That won’t lead to funny nor correct answers. However, I found it amusing when I asked my wife what color Dr. Doom’s cape was and she said, “Purple,” but I am kind of a nerd like that. We’re talking basic info here. We’ll spend a couple days taking questions. Then we’ll get to quizzing and put the answers up.



Friday, September 19, 2008

In Defense of Wally West

From equal parts news and rumours, it would seem Wally West’s days as The Flash are numbered. Barry Allen is coming back, and while a fair number of people are rejoicing, the rest of us Flash-fans are scratching our heads as to why. Why does Barry Allen need to come back? Why are people excited?

I get that for some he’s a childhood hero, but the last time Barry Allen was an active player in the DC Universe it was 1985… 23 years ago! If you’re trying to appeal to a modern audience, DC, resurrecting a character dead for the past 23 years isn’t helping. Since then his nephew, dear Wally, has taken up the mantle, and taken the Flash to a level that Barry never achieved. Where Wally learned about his powers, learned about the Speed Force , learned about his legacy, and grew as a person. Barry's Flash went around bopping themed costume villains on the noggin, mooning over Iris and otherwise being as dry as sawdust.

Like Obi-Wan Kenobi, when Barry was struck down during the first Crisis, he became much more powerful than he ever was before. He became the inspiration for Wally, and truly DC’s richest sense of legacy was born.

In 1986 when Wally took the mantle, he was still in many respects a kid. Though he had a few years of superheroing under his belt with both the Teen Titans and as Barry’s sidekick, when he became the Flash he was still immature, cocky, and easily distracted (mostly by women). At the same time, he had this huge legend to live up to, and the weight of it bore down upon him, hard. He didn’t immediately get respect of his elder superheroes – Green Lantern, Batman, Wonder Woman - just because he was wearing the costume, he would have to earn it. Sometimes that pressure was just too much. In the same respect, The Rogues Gallery didn’t really respect him either, and barely deemed him worthy of their opposition. Some of the Rogues even became his friends.

Wally was also one of the first major heroes to have a relaxed stance on his private identity. Although he never flaunted who he was, he didn’t really care too much if people knew who he was… afterall, the Rogues weren’t posing much of a threat. (Although Geoff Johns Brand New Day’d that in The Flash #200)

For a time Wally was extremely wealthy, but he squandered his riches (with the help of his overbearing mother and his Manhunter-cultist father). Going from sudden riches to sudden destitution pushed Wally into work-for-hire with the

Justice League Europe. There he befriended Uncle Barry’s best pal, Ralph Dibney, who didn’t treat him like an inferior version of the Flash, but instead taught him how it was okay to forge his own path, his own legend. I also think his time there, with two defiantly strong female personalities in Wonder Woman and Power Girl, he learned to respect women.

As Wally began to learn more and more about his powers, discovering and utilizing the Speed Force, he began to take what he could do more seriously, and he also began to exceed the limits of what Barry could do. Not only that, but he understood things more than Barry ever tried to (for a scientist he wasn’t very curious about his own powers). Wally found himself in love with Linda Park, and started to man-up for her. It also wasn’t long before he was roped with the responsibility of looking out for his cousin, Bart Allen, who no doubt reminded him of himself when younger, only capable of infinitely more trouble. His path was set, he was now a role model, and being a jackass was no longer his function.

Joining the powerhouse JLA pushed this even further. Wally was bumped up from the rookie position by Kyle Rayner, and he resented it. The rookie gets to make mistakes, the rookie gets leniency, the rookie looks up to everyone else. Wally was afraid to be on top at first, but the JLA made him one of the world’s greatest heroes, and for the first time he stepped out of Barry’s shadow, and he’s only put distance between them ever since..

But some people refuse to let go. Wally isn’t the Flash to them, he’ll always be Kid Flash. We need to ignore those people. Jay Garrick was the first flash from 1940 – 1955 (15 years). Barry became the Flash in 1956, and died in 1985 (29 years). Wally has been The Flash for nearly as long as Barry and he’s developed as a far better character for it.

Barry works best not as a character but as inspiration for Wally, as part of the Flash legend, as the hero who saved the world/universe (no matter how many times Wally saves the universe, Uncle Barry will always be the “bigger hero” who died saving the universe). Bringing Barry back negates all of that, and what’s more, it diminishes Wally West’s many accomplishments. With Barry back, Wally won’t have the spotlight. He’ll once again be in his uncle’s shadow, even though he knows far better how to use their powers. He’ll be Kid Flash again, if not in name or costume, than in spirit.

Dan Didio, Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver have all said that they want to capitalize upon the “CSI craze” by bringing back Barry Allen, the forensic scientist. “Now is the time for this character,” Van Sciver said at a recent DC Nation panel, obviously not realizing CSI peaked in popularity about three years ago. And what, is Barry just gong to walk into a Central City police station say “I’m Barry Allen, I used to work here before I died and had a whole museum dedicated to me, can I have my job back?”

The current Flash storyline is called “This Was Your Life, Wally West”, and it appears that at the end of it, the title is going on hiatus so Geoff Johns can present a “Flash Rebirth” series (ala Green Lantern Rebirth). DC hasn’t been very kind to the Flash legacy of late (if only we could forget Bart Allen in The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive) and it’s true, they have broken it (the family setup for Wally isn’t necessarily a mis-step, but how it’s been handled hasn’t exactly been smooth). But instead of working to fix it, they’re diving back into the nostalgia pool.

If the end result of Final Crisis is to return each of the major DC characters to their “truest” representation, for the Flash that would be, in my opinion, Wally West (and as our recent poll shows, it would seem people agree with me).

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Comic Book Oasis: Power Pack Day One

While we may seem down on the hobby from time-to-time, there's no doubt that we love it and good things are happening.

I thought I'd bring you a new feature here on Second Printing!! called Comic Book Oasis. The Comic Book Oasis is exactly what it sounds like. It is bits of green in an arid Secretly-Finally-Invaded-Crisis landscape.

Yesterday, I picked up Power Pack Day One and if there's a comic that captures the thrill of comics more, I haven't found it. I was just utterly charmed. I'm not here to review it or anything, that's what I and Graig do over at Rack Raids (plug).

No, brothers and sisters, I am here to tell you that a comic that allows for the youngest daughter, Katie to have a little stuffed pony that comes to life, whisking the four Power children to fight for the fate of our universe is aces in my book.

This book has it all. Third oldest Jack explaining the three reasons you should be his friend, an artist in Gurihiru that draws kids that look like kids, a freakin' appearance from the awesomely attired Guardsman and X-Men: First Class artist Colleen Coover and writer Fred Van Lente explaining in wonderful kids-speak just how the Power kids powers work.

Oh, and did oldest Power Packer Alex tell you about that time in the fall they teamed up with The Legion of Monsters and got codenames?

No, but that's another story for another day.

It is my belief that if Power Pack were originally presented as a pure children book, with hardback binding and all, it would today, be hailed as a children's book classic.

Be good to yourself, pick up Power Pack Day One and if you're wondering whether you should pick up another of the myriad blockbuster crossovers, don't.

Pick up Power Pack Day One. You deserve to have some fun.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Recapturing the Magic

There have been some pretty seminal comic book runs that I bore witness to firsthand in my 25+ years of comic book reading, things that linger in the memory like Wolfman and Perez on The New Teen Titans or Giffen, DeMatteis and Maguire on Justice League or James Robinson and Tony Harris on Starman. Books that were built off a magical combination of right time, right team. It's weird how reflecting back is always done through rose-coloured glasses, and how we remember things perhaps a little differently than they actually happened. For instance, I thought Kevin Maguire illustrated much more of the Justice League International than he did (quite a few fill-ins over his two years on the book).

Years later, either in an attempt to captialize on the notoriety of a particular writer/artist pairing, or in attempts to recapture the magic of a particular creator/character run, the mainstream likes to bring people back together again. For Giffen, DeMatteis and Maguire, it was two new Justice League stories earlier this decade, as well as a go at Marvels Defenders with fairly good, if not exactly the same results. I personally found the pairing of Giffen and DeMatteis on Boom Studios' Hero Squared a better attempt at bringing their style of superheroic comedy-drama into the new millenium. There was something about the years of continuity and the shift in DC's architecture that made I Can't Believe It's Not Justice League less poignant... (well that, and at the same time they were raping Sue Dibney and blowing Blue Beetle's brains out). Their particular magic worked better in long form storytelling (as was being set up in Hero Squared before it unceremoniously pulled its own plug).

I have to wonder how often "recapturing the magic" fails in relation to how often it succeeds. Certainly The Dark Knight Strikes Back didn't do any justice to The Dark Knight Returns teaming of Frank Miller and Batman (and it's really a heated debate between admirers and detractors about their reunion on All-Star Batman and Robin). The current pairing of Peter David and Larry Stroman on X-Factor, Marvel's attempt at recapturing the X-Factor glory of the early '90's, has been an abysmal failure. Stroman, whom I was a fan of and was excited to see his return, has disappointed me. He's obviously long out of sequential storytelling practice and his layouts and figure work are downright ugly. I noticed in Marvel's December Solicitations that they've got a previous artist (one of almost a dozen they've had in their 3-year run) Valentine De Landro on the book, whether he's a fill-in or the new "regular" artist, I don't know... either way it's good news, except for maybe poor Mr. Stroman who's perhaps just taking time to find his feet.

I notice that Marv Wolfman is back doing the Vigilante starting in December, which by my accounts is the third Vigilante he's created (Adrian Chase who committed suicide at the end of his 80's series, and a femal Vigilante who appeared in Wolfman's Deathstroke). I have to wonder if there's any magic to even recapture? Like Chris Claremont on the X-Men, Wolfman has been treaded familiar ground well past his prime, his return to Nightwing - the Dick Grayson guise he helped create - was choppy at best. Unlike Chuck Dixon's return to Robin earlier this year, which was strong but notoriously short lived due to some politics within DC. Then there's that least a little bit of hooplah surrounding Todd McFarlane return to Spawn... Jim Shooter on Legion of Super-Heroes (rumoured to be replaced by Paul Levitz and Keith Giffen)... Bob Layton on Iron Man: Legacy Of Doom...

There are dozens (if not hundreds) of examples of attempts to "recapture the magic". So Second Printers, are there any that have had you excited only to disappoint, perhaps even tarnish the original magic. Are there any that have actually lived up to your expectations. And are their any that have even surpassed what they did before. Writer/Artist pairings. Creator/Character (or Team) pairings. Hell, even "getting the band back together" classic rosters (like the current The Titans series)?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Death, Rebirth, Realization & Dan Green

For those of us of a certain age, the name Dan Green means a little something.

Walk up to a comics fan over the age of thirty and say the name, "Dan Green?" One, they will probably run away and hide amongst the stacks of Uncle Scrooge comics until it's safe to not interact. Two, there will be a knowing. Good or bad, there will be a knowing.

For those who don't know who Dan Green is, he is a comic book inker. He inked the X-Men.

That means he inked The Eighties.

For nearly a decade, there he was, inking away. During his run on The X-Men he inked all of the future greats.

Jim Lee. Marc Silvestri. John Romita, Jr.

Now, the other day, I was reading volume 18 of the excellent Modern Masters series. This one happened to feature John Romita, Jr. and as I read through the pages I came to a realization. Dan Green killed Romita. Not physically or anything but... artistically.

Yeah, he pretty much killed him dead.

Growing up, I hated... hated John Romita's artwork. On X-Men, he was just there to provide the pictures for writer Chris Claremont's story and that was it. As far as I was concerned, that's all he was there for: pencil helper monkey.

And then something happened Romita went on to do Daredevil and for some reason I started liking him, some guy named Williamson was inking him and made his art... not suck as much as it used to.

I was happy for Romita that he finally learned how to draw. Then Marc Silvestri soon followed and his art was alright, I guess. His people looked a little skinny but I kept hoping that Dan Green would fix that but it never quite happened, meaning Silvestri sucked it! (Last two words said as sixteen year old Devon would have so eloquently put it.)

Later, Jim Lee came onto X-Men and I had a track record with this guy. He was the guy from The Punisher and his art was nice. I really liked it and I was so ready to see what he could do on the X-Men. Jim Lee and The X-Men: you know if you shine a strobe light in an epileptic's face they pass out, if you said those five words to a comics fans, they'd induce nerdgasm.

Later, Jim Lee got inked.

Mind you it wasn't terrible or anything just not as good as his Punisher work. Not as good as the slick work the inker on Punisher War Journal, Scott Williams, was doing.

It was at that very moment I realized what an inker does. The penciller lives and dies by the inker's hand.

Now, don't get me wrong, I have much respect for Dan Green. When he was on, he was on but the fact of the matter is that he never really brought out the best in anyone's pencils. I always got the impression that he stayed in his spot for the simple fact that he was competent and could hit deadlines. A must on a book like X-Men, a title well known for suffering production delays due to pencillers turning in work late.

Now, John Romita, Jr is considered a modern master and primarily inked by Klaus Janson. Their artwork is gorgeous, a near-flawless clinic of pencilling and inking in collaboration.

Again, I actually like the man's work. I'll never forget when I saw his name in a DC Comic, The Weird. His name lent that not-very-good comic a certain sense of gravitas in my eyes. Anything that could lure Dan Green away from the X-Men must be special, an event.

That's what it comes down to. Dan Green inked one of my favorite eras in comics. For what it was, I appreciate it.

So, my question to you is this:


Friday, September 12, 2008

Whatever Happened to the Slow Build?

I’ve been reading a swath of newly acquired back-issues of the mid-80’s Legion of Super-Heroes and I noticed something about the story structure of the series, which was true for most books of that time: it’s open-ended.

Plot lines are hinted at or introduced many issues in advance, sometimes taking years to come to full fruition. On a multi-character title like Legion, it’s the sheer volume of characters (a regular roster of two dozen Legionnaires) that does it, but even single-character books built stories around their supporting cast and villains that likewise would appear only in a few panels or full-page aside for months on end until finally boiling over to the forefront, and sometimes only for one or two issues. Like, how long did the whole Terra thing go on for in New Teen Titans? And what else went on while it did?

I can understand why 80’s titles aren’t being reprinted quite as often as books from the 90’s or double oh’s… they’re just not concise enough. If you read, say, the Legion’s Eye For An Eye trade, it tells a full story but also sets up a few others by the time it’s done, leaving you hanging, some of which don't wrap up until ten issues later. Other trades, like the Iron Man Armor Wars feel more like stepping into something, rather than starting something. Six issues of a 1980’s comic sometimes just isn’t enough. This is why the Showcase Presents and Marvel Essential lines are successful, because they give you 500 pages of the ongoing series, usually more than enough to get a sense of what else has gone on.

The comics market is growing on trade paperback collections, so I get why ongoing titles are broken down into concise story arcs. Readers picking up trades want the 3-act movie structure out of the squarebound books, they don’t want to spend $20 feeling like they’re missing out on something else. I admit, I like that too.

But it’s the ongoing series that was, for a long time, what comics did that was uniquely theirs. Television was still primarily episodic, so character development and ongoing storylines were rare. There certainly wasn’t a definitive arc to Sam and Diane on Cheers or David and Maddie on Moonlighting. These days television has fully taken over the long-form structure, thanks to HBO’s influence and the popularity of 24, Lost and Heroes. Episodic television is relegated to crime franchises and sitcoms. Comics are now trying to be movies (in some cases literally).

While it’s an obvious editorial edict to “write for trade”, the influx of “outside” talent from film, television and prose publishing world equally means that you’re only going to get a limited story arc out of them before they go back to their day job. There’s not really much opportunity for them to stay on a book for a five or six year run and really build characters and some memorable storylines. The memorable storyline is all they're really striving for. Back when, it was the slow emergence of a plot that impacts a character or team and then has a resonant effect on them for months or years following that truly made for a classic story.

The creators that come in through the self-published/indie ranks do so mainly through original graphic novels or popular mini-series. They don’t want to settle on one character or book, they want to move about. The type of runs that Wolfman, Claremont or Levitz did on the biggest titles of the 1980’s just don’t happen anymore. People like Ellis or Fraction want to dip their hand into something for a year or two, telling one story at a time, and then move on. Few people have long-term plans for their series (outside of Vertigo these days, it seems), and telling a story with an ending seems to be the preferable way to go all around. The publishers no longer want to invest in long-form storytelling, and will reboot a title a the drop of a hat (Runaways, hello), and few creators will leave a series open for other creators to pick up on, with plot threads dangling to be resolved or ignored as the new team sees fit.

Can a comic series today even operate outside of the limiting structure of collectable story arcs? Will an audience that’s come to embrace trade paperbacks be willing to invest in stories that aren’t particularly trade friendly (because I'm not sure if I would)? Are there any examples of open-ended, long-form storytelling remaining in comics today (I have to wonder if I trained myself to avoid them)?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

On Product Placement

People who come over to my house will find a very messy one. My wife and I are just not great cleaners. It’s a simple fact. We let newspapers pile up, we seem to always have dishes in the sink and heavy coats on every chair, yes even in summer. And of course comics. I am not sure you could turn around in my apartment without seeing a comic or nearly killing yourself by slipping on one. While visitors might think the scattering of the four-color carpet is one of random happenstance it is a really a very precise system. O.k. maybe it’s not thought out for every corner of my one bedroom but for one room it definitely is.

The bathroom.

Oh yes, what goes onto the cabinet that stores hand soap, wash cloths and q-tips is something I think long and hard about. See I like to think of myself as a man of varied tastes and interests. I can throw back beers while discussing the impending “War of Light” or spend an evening worrying about the Cubs holding onto first place in the NL Central (why won’t they stop losing?!). As a result I have friends who don’t read comics, who don’t know that Superman is currently headed into four heavy story arcs, who don’t know that the Kree are not Star Trek villains. There is no better place in the house to throw down a monthly or trade to get non-comic readers to pick it up. You literally have a captive audience. You want characters they recognize but at the same time some new stuff that might hook them in. You don’t want anything too continuity heavy but no complete unknowns.

However there is another concern. You must place comics that you yourself will be willing to read over and over again. Comics that make you happy and you aren’t worried about getting a little wrecked from the steam of a shower or winding up on the floor. Right not my bathroom line-up looks like this: two trades of Scott Pilgrim, the third volume of Transmetropolitan, Popgun Vol. 2, the first trade of Ellis’ The Authority, and the most recent issues of Iron Fist, Action Comics, and the Legion of Superheroes.

So the question is:

What Do You Feel Should Be A Staple Of Every Comic Readers’ Bathroom?

Note: That is not my toilet seat but I wish it was.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Out of the Clubhouse, Into the Fire

Long time no see, Second Printers. Big Mike is back from his two week vacation in Cambodia. I’ll send out the link to my pictures as soon as I have them uploaded. I returned from my voyage and had a pretty large stack of comics waiting for me. Now, I’ve talked about how much of what we’ve seen this summer is somewhat underwhelming, but there’s one franchise that seems to be going strong: The Legion of Super-Heroes.

Now, I love the Legion. I love the Silver Age Legion. I even love the 90’s Archie Legion. But more than that, I really love the current incarnations of the Legion as they’re playing out in DC comics right now. And I don’t just love it because it’s good storytelling. I love it because it’s relevant.

The Legion began as club house fan fiction. In its original incarnation, this was fundamentally a book about what would happen if the kids reading super-hero comics got to operate and manage a super-team. They had arbitrary rules. They played cruel pranks on each other. They even had a separate group of substitutes for those who were… well… lame. Combined with a 50s and 60s science fiction sensibility, Legion was the quintessential example of super-hero comics ‘giving the people what they want’.

But over time, the Legion became more than that. I came of age on the Archie Legion, which was also timely but in a very different sense. The narrative of the 90s Legion unfolded with a post-Cold War internationalist sensibility. The concepts of the United Planets and the multicultural essence of the Legion had been fleshed out in the later years of the original incarnation, but in this 1990s reboot, they were able to discard fully the old clubhouse mentality and truly embrace the Legion as the story of many nations coming together to resolve problems collectively.

But this couldn’t last. After Legion Lost and Legion Worlds, the team came back together in the Legion, but at the time this series debuted, the world had changed. The opening plot arc of the new Legion series had R’as Al Ghul taking control of the United Planets and stirring up tribalism and discord, setting a more cynical, pessimistic tone for the 38 issue run that would prove to be the death rattle for the Legion that I had known as a kid.

Today’s Legion is something differently entirely. The newest Legion of Super-Heroes reboot is about kids desperate to hold together a system that wants to fly apart. Their relationship with established authority is often adversarial, and while the Legion still clings to the dream of pluralism, it’s clear that the once noble United Planets is fractured and cynical.

In addition, the return of the Silver Age Legion in the Lightning Saga, Action Comics, and Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds shows us a Legion struggling against the death of their dream. Nativism, tribalism, and xenophobia are rampant, and the Legion itself is left wondering what they’ve been fighting for all these years. In an era of political division, unilateral military action, and the decline of multilateral institutions as legitimate forces for change, the current evolution of the Legion of Super-Heroes is nothing short of narrative brilliance. It’s a decades-old concept reinvented to fit the current geo-political climate.

I’ll try not to get too political here, but it’s no coincidence that we would get these stories in a time when certain political candidates would brush aside discussion of real economic, environmental, and security threats to wage an intellectually dishonest culture war against so-called ‘elites’. That’s why I can’t put down any of the Legion comics right now, and if you haven’t been reading them, I urge you to add them to your pull list. I promise you it’s more rewarding than Trinity or JL of A. The best science fiction is set in the future but really about right now, and these Legion stories definitely fit the bill.

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Greatest Mural in History

Suck on that, Thomas Hart Benton!
Let's see you top a skateboarding turtle eating pizza, Diego Rivera. Oh, what's that, you can't because you're dead? That's a flimsy excuse at best, you big loser.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

RPGs and Superheroes

It'd be my wife that got me into role-playing games: she being a long-time gamer, and me, well, not. I'd never had much interest in them before, but after sitting around the table with her friends who'd she'd been playing with for nearly 20 years (a fully co-ed group of surprisingly well-adjusted, sociable people), I kind of warmed to it. The fact that the group has built their own superhero universe that has a 20-year history documented in a 500-page "bible" makes it all the more intriguing to me. Hell, their universe is at this point the third richest/longest running superhero universe outside of DC and Marvel.

It's all terribly geeky, I know, but quite enjoyable.

I had played the MMORPG City Of Heroes/Villains for about two years, but I was mostly keen on character creation and not so much the dull, repetitive nature of trying to "level-up" my vast assembly of characters. Real paper'n'dice RPGs are far more interactive (although can prove frustrating depending on the staunchness of the players to adhering to rules) ans so the characters I enjoyed playing in City of Heroes have been transferred over into the paper universe, where I'm enjoying them quite a bit more.

Devon's post yesterday reminded me of the set-up for an RPG... (pick out your Tank, your scrapper, your controller, blaster and defender). I certainly looked at is as a challenge of not "who would be most effective" but "what characters would be most interesting/entertaining to play or play with".

Earlier this year I started my own "campaign", modeled after the epic crossover miniseries of the 1980's, and it's a tremendous amount of work, coordinating the story, and collaborating with the other GMs and players to ensure no toes are being stepped on. When it comes right down to it, it must be partly what if feels like for Geoff Johns or Brian Bendis when they sit down to put one of these behemoths together. I have a new respect for the event comic, anyway, if not the end result at least the challenges that go into making them.

At this point, though, I don't see my role as GM so much as storyteller, and if anything I like constructing these games because it's a form of collaborative storytelling. At the end of each game I scrawl out a 10-page summary of the game, written in prose, which makes for some pretty entertaining reading (though directed at one of the smallest audiences possible... and yes, I sometimes have far too much time on my hands). I have to wonder, are there any writers that do this? Are there comic writers that sit down, construct a story, roll some dice and figure out how their story will pan out or how their characters will fare? That would be silly.

Or would it?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Fate Of The Universe Is In YOUR Hands

The head of Richie Rich rests upon a pike.

The Archie Universe is close to fallen, a shadow of its former self. The Crusaders have fled for surer parts and Captain Pureheart wasn't strong enough to hold up the universe.

Betty AND Veronica accept their fates as they watch eternal love draw its last.

Dilton Doiley, the universe's lone male survivor, brilliantly having built himself a one-man, two women rocketship, flees the destruction, leaving with a message, a chance to lay seed and an opportunity to rebuild the universe in his image.

Elsewhere, the Virgin Comics Universe is no more.

and John Woo's Seven Brothers tried but could offer little hope or resistance.

A message is sent upon a frequency that reaches across the universes.

"Dilton Doiley here..."

"The information:

The assembled powers of (Insert Here) and (Insert Here) have threatened to visit destruction and enslavement of the universes."

"The threat must be met but there's a problem. The assembled powers of (Insert Here) and (Insert Here) threaten to attack from a pocket universe that exists like some hybrid of Brigadoon and the Mongol Empire."

"The universe's gateway opens at one specific time but could exist in theirs for years. In our time, it is a war that will last mere seconds but will leave every man, woman and child dead or enslaved and your universes in ruins."

"Your Earth will not be enough. They will take their campaigns of destruction across the galaxy and eventually, the universes."

"United, I believe, we can stop them."

Cheil Matzav. Let unity be our garrison."

The call is sent out.

The greatest minds of the surviving universes (Reed Richards, Elijah Snow, Lex Luthor, Girl Genius, Tom Strong, among others) determine that the apparatus designed to spirit the champions away only has enough power to possibly send and bring back five of their number.

The invasion must be met at the destroyers' gate, as there is simply one very specific moment to push back the invasion.

The Green Lantern Corps and The Shi'ar Imperial Guard will stand watch just outside of the gateway while S.H.I.E.L.D. works in conjunction with, representing The Umbrella Academy, Spaceboy, The T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, a Greg Rucka-helmed Checkmate, an out-of-her-element Tara Chace and The B.P.R.D. to coordinate an emergency evacuation plan for all assembled universes.

It has been determined the independent universes, while small, can sustain life and can co-exists with the larger universes.

Five from the universes are chosen because of these different and valuable traits:

A brilliant, tactical mind.

Sheer power.

Experience with extraterrestrial and possible paranormal warfare.

Warriors who will not lay until they have breathed their last.

An ability to endure the tests of time.

The final choice of who to send off to save the universe comes down to YOU, The Second Printer.

Help keep Scott Pilgrim's little life, precious.

The universe rises or falls with your choice.

Five can save a universe.


(The "winning" five will later go on to be written in a scenario befitting their status as universal champions.)

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Observations From A Convention Floor: DC Vs. Marvel

For the Fan Expo this year, my LCS was cleaning out their warehouse and found a bevy of overstock from the late 80’s and early 90’s. Separating it into two areas, they were selling for a quarter each or a buck each. Much of these were high quality books, like the Batman issues comprising "A Lonely Place of Dying" or the first 20 issues of the Levitz-era prestige format Legion of Super-Heroes, some things that would normally be sold for well over cover being sold for much less because, well, they had so damn many of them.

There were also two-year runs of X-Factor (in the 1991 – 1993 heyday), a hearty run of Spider-Man 2099 (with Peter David signing at the Con, I have to wonder if he was faced with an overwhelming blast from the past as a result), and a whole heap of Avengers. As people caught onto the quality and condition of the books in the bin, it was like a piranha feeding frenzy.

One of the things I found interesting was seeing how people approached these bins: it was DC versus Marvel.

I noticed that the bulk of the feeders were gathering either all DC or all Marvel books. Most people looked to be about my age or slightly younger (25 – 30-ish years old), and I’m sure they were trading on a lot of nostalgia in picking up those books. One guy said “I’m picking up all those books I sold for profit years ago,(including a copy of X-Force #1) this is awesome.”

The same goes for people buying vintage comics, the expensive stuff on the wall. There were DC collectors and Marvel collectors (also Dell collectors and Gold Key collectors), and I’m pretty certain they’re also trading on nostalgia in buying up the old books, remembering what they had lost from their childhood.

I grew up a DC kid. DC Comics Presents was (and remains) one of my favourite titles. Most of the books I read growing up were from DC. I had an odd issue of Uncanny X-Men or ROM here or there, but I cared about Superman and Flash a heck of a lot more than Colossus or Mr. Fantastic. But I don’t know why, really. I wonder what it is about each universe that draws us to them, and divides us as fans? Is it that Marvel fans relish in the tangible while DC fans like the fantasy? Marvel’s always been more “real world” heroes and settings while DC’s opted for opulent fake cities and grand-scale super-beings, but is that what does it? Or is does it come to your first encounter, if Spider-Man gets you first, are you a Marvel fan, and if Superman strikes your fancy, it’s DC for you? Or was it the friendly (and sometimes not-so-friendly) pullpen fueds between the two publishers that swayed your decision?

It’s a curious thing, and it’s interesting how long it lasts. We invest ourselves in these universes, and as much as I enjoy reading X-Factor, Daredevil, and Runaways, I’ll read Final Crisis and 52 and all the DC epics long before World War Hulk or Secret Invasion. It’s just where my allegiances lie.

Honestly, though, is either publisher better than the other? Is either universe actually superior? They each have their plusses and their faults, and which you prefer is a personal choice. The debate about which is better will rage on in comic shops and on playgrounds (and message boards) for decades to come (until one buys out the other and amalgamates, at which point we’ll finally get more Dark Claw, wicked).

So, let’s have some fun. Nova or Green Lantern? Guardians of the Galaxy or Legion of Super-Heroes? What If…? or Elseworlds? Final Crisis or Secret Invasion? DC or Marvel? Which do you prefer and why?