Saturday, September 10, 2011

Psst. Looking for more?

For the most part, this blog has sufferred as I've moved on to a couple of other projects. If you want some more TCD, I can be found at the following locations:

The Department of Awesomology

The Fanboy Power Hour

Thanks guys!


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

New Article live on Department of Awesomology.

Hi guys,

My review of Sega's tie-in to The First Avenger, Captain America: Super Soldier is up over at the Department of Awesomology. Check it out here. Does it make the grade? Well. . .therein hangs a tale. Check it out, comment here or over at DOA.

Until next time,


Friday, July 22, 2011

First Among Equals: Captain America: The First Avenger.

Hi guys,

My (slightly) more restrained take on Captain America may be found over at the other site I work with, the very cool Department of Awesomology. Stop by, read, enjoy the movie, then if you like the site and our mission statement, maybe sign up and hang out. We're not officially live yet, but we're getting ready to take the plunge.


Post-View Show- Captain America; The First Avenger.


Later will come the deeper analysis, the introspection and the critical thinking necessary to judge a work of fiction with any degree of impartiality. For the moment, I trust you will indulge me as I completely lose what little hold I have over my self-control and urge you to see this film immediately. It is easily the best film Marvel Studios has produced, and (in my humblest of opinions)the best film of Summer 2011. There. I said it. The gauntlet has been thrown to the ground.

Now this may be my post-viewing enthusiasm bubbling forth, and perhaps subsequent viewing will cool my feelings toward the piece. I freely admit I'm a Golden Age/Pulp nerd; set something in the 1930s-40s, throw in some weird science, a diabolical arch-fiend out to take over the world and a stalwart hero to oppose him and I'm in like Flynn. But this movie not only met my expectations, it exceeded them. Joe Johnston and his team have done what I never would've dreamed possible: they have created a film that is a tonal and character 180 degrees from the pinnacle of contemporary superhero movies (Chris Nolan's The Dark Knight) while still managing to make it a complete and total equal in terms of entertainment.

I may need a good night's sleep to mull this over on (it's about 3:15 in the morning as I type these words and the mixture of fatigue and giddiness could be coloring my perceptions) but I encourage you, nay, implore you to seek this film out. It's just plain fun in a way that I think most cinematic blockbusters rolled off the assembly line just aren't anymore. The good guys were true blue, the bad guys delightfully nasty, the good fight was fought, and a hero came into his own. My usual tag of 'recommended' seems pale and inadequate. See this movie and let me know what you think. Me? I loved it. It's easily my favorite Marvel movie of all time, and stands shoulder to shoulder with Sky Captain And The World of Tomorrow, The Phantom, and the Fleischer Superman cartoons as a vision of old school heroism and adventure.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to collapse into a satisfied but exhausted heap.


Ps. Staying until after the credits would be very, very wise. Have a bucket handy to collect your face after it's melted off.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Insert placeholder for new piece here.

Hi guys,

I know, I know. Life keeps happening to me while I make other plans, so for the future let's agree TCD will be updated every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Makes things a bit simpler and removes a bit of the 'when's he gonna update' stuff. To be fair I have done some reading and have material ready to go, I just need to apply butt to chair and my late start today didn't help matters (damn Heavy Rain. .).

Tonight though, I will make a pledge. As I'm off to see a movie about a man with a shield, I'll come back and share my completely uncensored chain of thought regarding Captain America: The First Avenger, even before I compose my Official review for the Department of Awesomology. That seems a fair and even agreement between gentlepersons.

Talk to you later,


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Everything old is new again. . .again.

This should be an easy piece to write. And on most comics-related blogs and webforums I'm sure it is. The recent decision by DC Comics to reboot their entire line in September with brand new 'first' issues and a (mostly) completely clean slate continuity-wise is doubtless meeting with the fan community in the same way a steel-toed boot would be warmly received by a hornet's nest. And I'll admit freely the temptation to give in to the nerd rage is powerful indeed. But if I had to sit down and analyze my feelings over the reboot, and really look at them beyond my nostalgia and my desire for things to be exactly as I would have wanted when I was first reading comics, I come to an uncomfortable conclusion: I actually don't really mind the reboot all that much. In fact, I can even understand the reasoning behind why it's being done.

DC Comics is a business. Businesses require money. Let's say you have a relatively small but loyal base that provide you with a steady (but not overly abundant) source of income. Yet you have the potential in the wake of certain business decisions (i.e. movies in the cinema/direct to DVD, video games, television shows, etc) to bring in new revenue. So you reconfigure your existing product to be as open to new people (and new money) as you possibly can. Will this irk your existing base who've enjoyed the product as-is for years? Ohhh yeah. But without risk, you're playing a steadily losing hand, your audience dwindling as it ages and then shuffles off the mortal coil. From that perspective I can see what DC is trying to do. I may not completely agree with it, but I can understand it. They want to entice the iReader generation, and if they have to shake hands with the devil of Reboot in order to do so then so be it.

Another thing that has me making my (albeit grudging) peace with the new status quo is the simple fact that I'm thirty-five years old. I can't work up the ire and the bile necessary to get up in arms or protest at San Diego comic con in a homemade Batman costume. It doesn't make sense to me. The comics you read and enjoyed aren't going away. Brigades of Bradburyian Firemen aren't going to come to your door to burn your copies of Crisis on Infinite Earths, Legends, The Man of Steel, Birthright, No Man's Land, Blue Devil, or Justice League International. Those stories are as valid in September as they were ten or twenty years ago. They're not 'real' anymore? Who determines what's 'real' and what isn't but the reader?

Much like professional wrestling and soap operas, superhero comics undergo waves of revisionism and experimentation every so often. DC has a new editorial staff and a new head of publishing, so they're naturally going to pop the hood and try to trick out the engine. Will it work? I don't know, but let's not be quick to rush to judgement in the tradition of The Simpsons' Comic Book Guy. Nobody wants to be that guy. That guy doesn't want to be that guy. If you don't like the new direction, there are literally hundreds of back issues and collected editions you can explore set in the previous continuity, or you can even blaze new trails and experiment with titles from Marvel, Image, Dark Horse, or other independent companies.

I'll be trying out a couple of DC's new titles in September (they've got a book featuring the Grant Morrison Frankenstein, so that's some of my money spent right out of the gate), but I don't feel that this change for the future invalidates the experiences I've had in the past. I could choose to wallow in my nerd rage, or I could choose to give something new a chance. It's a stretch outside my comfort zone, but I'm willing to give it a try.


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Article called today due to Heavy Rain.

Just when I thought a video game didn't exist post-L.A. Noire that'd basically become my second job, my friend Jared lends me this title.

Seriously guys, I can't stop. It's a sickness how intense this game is.

More content coming soon, I promise. I just have to find the Origami Killer first.


Friday, July 15, 2011

No article, but there is an article. Wha. . .?

Recently I've become a contirbuting member of a fun site called The Department of Awesomology, where I've taken on the position of resident comicbook guru. I posted an article on the Roger Stern/John Byrne Captain America collection War & Remembrance. Feel free to check it out, and tell 'em The Canadian Defender sent you!


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Trade Grade - Magog: Lethal Force.

Magog: Lethal Force
Written by Keith Giffen
Illustrated by Howard Porter
Original series cover art by Glenn Fabry

Published by DC Comics

So. Magog. Of all the characters to grace TCD with their presence, I imagine the more savvy among you are left scratching your heads. Don't I tend to prefer comics featuring A) Monkeys, B) Jetpacks, or C) See A and B? Or at the very least protagonists who tend to be more traditionally heroic? Why would I, resident flag-waver of all things Silver Age be talking about a character who doesn't fit that mold? Therein hangs a tale. Stick with me and we'll walk and talk about it.

First, a bit of backstory. The character of Magog was originally created by Mark Waid and Alex Ross for their epic mini-series Kingdom Come. If you haven't read it (and shame on you, as it's one of the best DC Comics around, better even than Watchmen in my humblest of opinions), I won't spoil it for you but the essential theme is that of old-school superheroes returning to impart their high ideals to a new generation that has fallen from grace. The old school is exemplified by Superman, returning from a self-imposed exile and the new by heroes like Magog, who tend to embody the 'shoot first, ask questions at some point afterward' school of thought. Kingdom Come was released in the 1990s, agreed by many to be a darker age for the superhero genre, and Magog's design took it's cues from some of the more excessive of the '90s breed of antiheroes. It was a cool design, and the character's arc in Kingdom Come is an intriguing one. But given that this was a self-contained 'Elseworlds' story and not in canon, the character had no real presence in the DC universe proper. Never one to let an idea go to waste, Geoff Johns brought the character back in the pages of the Justice Society of America during his tenure as the book's writer. DC Comics then launched the character into his own ongoing title, the first volume of which we'll be discussing here.

Lance Corporal David Reid is a marine injured in combat who finds himself returned from near-death by a mysterious being calling itself Gog. Gog restores Reid to full health and bestows upon him inhuman strength, resilience, and the ability to fire energy blasts through a near-indestructible trident. Dubbed Magog by his patron, Reid initially works with the entity in its plans to create its vision of a better world, but when this plan turns out to be largely for Gog's own parasitic benefit rather than the world entire, Magog turns on his master and puts Gog down. Taken in by the Justice Society (as much to keep tabs on him as to help him), Reid works with them as their resident wild card. The trade opens with Reid investigating stolen 'Wonder-tech' (super-science devices) in the wilds of Sudan. It will eventually lead him through byzantine corridors of the criminal underworld and into realms he never dreamed existed, as the scope of the power he's been given is slowly revealed to him. When the trail leads to the warden of a superhuman detention center called Haven, Magog finds himself facing down not only a rogue group of super-scientists with the latest in high-tech hardware, but the warden's own trump card, the Justice Society itself. Add to that the arrival of Magog's godlike 'family' from the otherdimensional realm of Albion and you find that sometimes even being the resident badass can't save you from one of those kind of days.

I picked this book up for a number of reasons, first and foremost to step outside my comfort zone. I'm a 'rocketpacks and ray-guns' Silver/Bronze Age kind of reader. I make no bones about my desire that a superhero comic should be a place of escapist fun, not sturm und drang That said, I do enjoy the odd book that steps outside those traditional boundaries (Watchmen, Black Summer, The Authority, etc) and I did remember liking the character of Magog from Kingdom Come. Knowing the book was in the hands of talent like Keith Giffen and Howard Porter did a lot to ease my mind as well. Giffen's been a writer of some seriously fun comics (his recent work on The Doom Patrol alone is something I plan on discussing at a later date) and Howard Porter is an artist whose work I've enjoyed since his definitive run on DC's premier super-team with Grant Morrison in the pages of JLA. I figured if I was going to venture once more into darker territory, I'd be in good hands. The result is a surprisingly enjoyable read.

Giffen and Porter take a character who was essentially a one-shot wonder and make him--if not likable--then understandable at any rate. Magog is a hard man, one that won't hesitate to put a bad guy in the ground if he can get away with it, but listening to him talk about how if only the so-called 'superheroes' would get together and get into things like the Sudan or Afghanistan or Haiti or Colombia they could probably clean them up in five seconds, you can appreciate his point even if you don't agree with it. It's also interesting to explore the dynamic of a character that while a member of a team, is by no means a team player. Reid treats his JSA membership as more a necessary evil than any sort of higher calling, and knows that eventually his ways and theirs will part, so he might as well make the most of it while it lasts. He respects a few of them, but looks upon them as well-meaning but inept.

A problem with making a book about a brooding antihero/loner is that it doesn't allow much room for a supporting cast. Giffen provides Reid with an old friend from the marine corps who provides technical support, like a good ol' boy version of Batman's Oracle. There's a sub-plot featuring Reid training an abused woman self-defense for use on her husband, but that's about it.

Porter's artwork is in fine form, capturing both the power and the horror of Magog in some pieces, depicting action shots and the brutal efficiency of the hero's fighting style in detail that brushes up against the border of taste but never crosses the line. It's a bit of a grittier style than his JLA work, but it's one that fits the title character. The choice of Glenn Fabry for cover artist when the series was out I have to question however. Don't get me wrong, Fabry is great when you want an urban fantasy like Preacher or Hellblazer, but why deny Porter the chance to do covers? I can't help but feel the choice was a misstep, if a well-intentioned one.

Much like The Shield before it, Magog was a book brought low by poor sales, not getting past twelve issues before it was cancelled. Lethal Force collects the first five issues and ends on a cliffhanger, but it's unlikely we'll ever see the second half of the series in a collected edition. I find it odd that the series would fail, given the predilection of darker storylines and characters in contemporary superhero comics. While it's a series cut short, it's nevertheless an entertaining exploration of some of the nastier corners of the DC universe and while Magog as a character isn't a moral paragon by any stretch of the imagination, you do get a feel for his character and come to relate to him. It's fairly self-contained, doesn't require 70+ years of backstory, and stands on it's own as a superhero story shot through a dark prism. If you're up for something off the beaten path, check it out.


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Trade Grade - The Shield: Kicking Down The Door.

The Shield: Kicking Down The Door (trade paperback)

Written by J. Michael Stracynski and Eric S. Trautmann
Illustrated by Scott McDaniel, Marco Rudy & Mick Gray

Additional art by Cliff Richards, Wayne Faucher, Eduardo Panisca and Eber Ferreira

Cover by Francis Manapul with Jeremy Roberts.

Published by DC Comics

Every so often you come across a series or title that takes an established trope or concept and plays with it in such a way that what was once an old and dusty cliche becomes something completely fresh and entertaining. With the upcoming release of Captain America: The First Avenger in theaters next week I thought it'd be fun to take a look at another star-spangled super-soldier, one that actually predates the good captain by a year and change.

The Shield was a product of a comics company called MLJ, who later went on to divest themselves of their superhero characters in favor of whacky teen hijinks featuring a red-headed teenager named Archie Andrews. The character bounced around a bit until DC Comics took on the MLJ characters, first in their Impact Comics line back in the early '90s, but most recently a few years ago under the pen of their then-hot talent J. Michael Stracynski (he of Twilight Zone and Babylon 5 fame) in a one-shot that later became an ongoing title written by Eric Trautmann.

The updated take is as follows; Lieutenant Joe Higgins is a soldier serving in Afghanistan. His squad is ambushed by hostile forces and he finds himself the sole survivor, albeit mortally wounded. Subjected to a radical procedure, Higgins becomes the U.S. Government's first metahuman asset in the field, given the power of flight, superhuman strength, full access high-spectrum data and tactical input via a nanotech suit of armor that has been grafted into his skin.

It's a fairly classic origin story template, and Stracynski hangs enough guns on the wall to keep the reader intrigued. Trautmann takes up the baton and truly runs with it in Kicking Down The Door, deploying the Shield to investigate a rash of disappearances in Bialya, a nation that was torn apart by a superhuman conflict. As Higgins works to locate the missing men, he also finds himself dealing with the aftermath of a superhuman struggle and the impact of outside intervention--superpowered or otherwise--in the region. It's a nice bit of reality amidst the fantasy that makes the reader think without feeling he's being preached to. Of course, this is balanced by some serious action featuring mind-control and the anti-hero Magog, but like the best escapist fiction there's more here to think about than who is going to punch who in the face.

Of course, what story of a star-spangled super-soldier would be complete without a storyline featuring those whacky nazis, and the trade is rounded out by a storyline in which the Shield finds that some old ghosts won't stay buried. Mechanized robo-nazis, the debut of another MLJ character, and an appearance by the premier hero team of China The Great Ten add up to make the storyline Ghosts a satisfying climax to this collection.

As I said earlier, the best comics I find these days are ones that take the best of what came before and tweak it a bit, work a new angle here and there. Comparisons to Captain America are inevitable, but I found Joe Higgins to be a distinct character all his own. He's a loyal soldier, and a man who clearly has sympathy with the underdog and a desire to stand for something. Unlike Cap he's not an independent operator, but works within the chain of command under his superior General Latham, which provides him with both a support structure that Cap lacks while at the same time also providing him with someone to answer to. The art ranges in quality from good to great, with some seriously poster-worthy covers that would look really good on a DC Animated DVD. . .just putting it out there guys. It can't be Superman, Batman, and Green Lantern all the time, right?

Sadly, the Shield was a casualty of the comic-book rack, cancelled before it really had a chance to shine. But the stories contained herein are fairly self-contained and not continuity-heavy, so a new reader can easily sit down and enjoy them in the best Action Movie tradition. If you're looking for a fun adventure series with a mix of superhero slam-bang, military action/intrigue, and a pinch of realism for seasoning, I'd say give The Shield: Breaking Down The Door a look. Recommended.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Mini-Views - Flashpoint: Green Arrow Industries.

Flashpoint: Green Arrow Industries #1 (one-shot)
Written by Pornsak Pichetshote
Illustrated by Marco Castiello and Ig Guara
Cover by Victor Kalvachev

There's a definite appeal to an alternative reality story such as Flashpoint, as it offers a great deal of freedom to explore both an entirely new universe as well as the archetypes of the 'actual' universe on which the story is based. One of the reasons I think the trope has endured for so long is that it allows a writer to take a given character and place them at a different angle. Too often this has resulted in stunt-tactics (Batman in the Old West, Batman as a vampire, and so on) but occasionally you find someone exploring a given character in greater detail. With the Green Arrow Industries one-shot, we explore the story of an Oliver Queen who didn't become the champion of the downtrodden, but rather continued to be an entitled and oblivious corporate figurehead.

In the world of Flashpoint, the world is teetering on the brink. Atlantean and Amazonian military threats have left the governments of the world on edge, and in the wake of the conquest of the United Kingdom and the sinking of Paris, the armed forces of these nations are looking for something that can assure the safety of the people. Enter Green Arrow Industries, a corporate juggernaut that creates state of the art weaponry that is beyond bleeding edge. How? By retro-engineering the advanced weaponry taken from captured supervillains and selling it on the arms market for a tidy profit. In this universe Oliver Queen is a wunderkind, a man used to the art of the deal and is walking on air after securing a major deal with the U.S. government for his 'Green Arrow' missile defense system. But when his island stronghold falls under attack by forces unknown, can this spoiled rich boy step up to the challenge? Is there anything of the bold bowman of the normal DC universe inside him at all? The answer is yes. And no.

I'm not sure who Mr. Pichetshote is, but I will give him serious respect for coming up with an angle on big business in a superhero universe I never before considered. With all the gadget-based heroes and villains out there of course corporations in those universes would be working overtime trying to get their hands on the advanced weaponry and devices those heroes and villains use to try and retro-engineer them for profit. Reading Queen's presentation of GAI's successes with villainous devices for military application made me grin and think 'of course'. The overall story is brusque and a bit rushed (the unfortunate consequence of a one-issue story), but he manages to illustrate the similarities and the differences between this universe's Oliver Queen and our own Green Arrow. Whereas the DCU's Oliver lost it all and rebuilt himself into a liberal crusader for the underdog, this version simply shrugged his shoulders and rebuilt his company, becoming a major player and believing money to be his 'green arrow' to the future. They're both the same man, but one went on to better himself while the other did not. Pichetshote shows us the ghost of what this man could have been, what he briefly reaches for. . .and what he ultimately denies. It also explores the notion of the 'evil corporation' archetype and flirts with the notion of a "good guy' corporation. The story has action, but it's mainly a character piece, an exploration of a man who believes he's doing good but is painfully out of touch with the potential consequences of his actions.

The art is split between Castiello and Guara, but there's enough consistency that the transition between one artist's work and the other isn't jarring. They capture a lot with Oliver's expressions through the story which helps further illustrate his internal monologue and his growing discomfort throughout the story. There's some fun action featuring Oliver battling a would-be assassin with an arsenal of confiscated supervillain weaponry which was well-staged and entertaining, with a nice mix of tension and humor.

On the down side though, this is a one-shot. Any character development or exploration of potential is (seemingly, I can't say I've read the main Flashpoint storyline so I'm uncertain as to whether Ollie shows up there) confined to this one issue. While I liked that the character was an illustration of Green Arrow without his chance to better himself, it would've been nice to see Oliver given that chance here. As it stands, I doubt we'll be seeing the character leaping into the fray on the side of the good guys any time soon. It left the issue wanting; not enough resolution for closure, not enough hints of a potential redemption or further exploration.

A good read, though much like the previous Grodd of War one-shot, it's ultimately a personal call as to whether a reader wants to focus on these issues or something a bit more substantial in the Flashpoint line such as the various mini-series. I was entertained however, so I'll give it my stamp of approval. Recommended.


Sunday, July 10, 2011

Mini-Views - Flashpoint: Citizen Cold #1 of 3.

Flashpoint: Citizen Cold #1 of 3

Written and Illustrated by Scott Kolins Cover by Kolins and Mike Atiyeh

There's an old saying in this medium, one about great power and the responsibility that comes with it. It's an admirable enough statement, but you can't help but wonder how another person in similar circumstances might behave, someone perhaps not raised by kindly parents or with an inherent inner goodness. Might they see their newfound abilities or gifts as a responsibility? Or rather find that with great power comes great opportunity to do anything they want?

In the standard DC universe, Central City is the stomping grounds of the Flash, fastest man alive and the only person to remember the DCU as it used to be. In the Flashpoint reality, the city has actually emerged relatively unscathed. It's not underwater like Paris, or conquered by Amazons or rampaging gorillas, it still has a bevvy of superhuman criminals who attempt to put one over on the city's resident champion, who handily dispatches them and sends them off to cool their heels in Iron Heights penitentiary. The twist however, is that the champion of Central is not a scarlet speedster. He's an inventor made something more than just the average citizen. . .now he's Citizen Cold.

Cold in the DCU is a member of Flash's 'Rogues Gallery'. Leonard Snart was a professional criminal who attempted to create a weapon that could counter the Flash's super-speed. Developing the experimental handgun, Snart accidentally irradiated it (it was the '50s, just roll with it) and found the weapon could freeze the moisture in the air. Donning a parka and a pair of goggles, he became the villainous Captain Cold! Silly? Yes, but that's the Silver Age for you.

In the Flashpoint universe Snart may appear to be the protector of Central City, but his character remains the same: a crook who stumbled in to the 'protection' business and is using it entirely for his own benefit. He protects the people, but he's got no love for them. He's a man constantly looking over his shoulder, preparing for the day someone finally connects the 'heroic' Citizen Cold with the hoodlum Leonard Snart. In the meantime though, he's got a nice apartment, a sweet ride, endorsement deals, and a date with Central City's top reporter Iris West. Things are pretty sweet for our 'hero'. Of course, a member of the Rogues presumed dead is working to release his fellows from Iron Heights, he discovers his niece is now an orphan and someone is snooping around his home trying to dig up dirt on the city's hero. Can Snart keep hold of his turf, or will he lose it all?

As I mentioned in my review of The Outsider a few days back, villain books tend to be a bit of a turnoff to me, but again I found myself pleasantly surprised. Cold, while by no means a nice guy by any stretch, is an understandable villain. Yeah, he's playing the people of Central City for chumps, but he's a haunted man, convinced he's going to exposed at any minute and constantly looking over his shoulder. And now, with his niece heading for Iron Heights after murdering her abusive father in self-defense, he's a man with considerably more to lose than merely his liberty.

Scott Kolins wrote and drew this one, and I like the consistency of Cold's portrayal from his run on the Flash comic with Geoff Johns. His art style is a bit grittier than my normal preference, but it works in this issue especially, with the rough-looking Citizen Cold and his equally rough-looking Rogues Gallery looking like people you'd most definitely not want to cross. I also liked how a longstanding rivalry between DC's two frozen fiends was handled most definitively in the book's opening pages. There's some nice bits of business here that allow longtime readers to play 'spot the differences', but enough vitality within the actual story to engage a curious newcomer who might have no idea who the character is or his backstory. This is closer to what I think the Flashpoint books should be shooting for. It's quick, engaging, and it leaves you curious to see how it pans out. Consider me in for the remaining two issues. Recommended.


Saturday, July 9, 2011

Mini-Views - Flashpoint: Abin Sur Green Lantern

Flashpoint: Abin Sur: Green Lantern #1 of 3

Written by Adam Schlagman Illustrations and cover by Felipe Massafera

One of the great things about an alternate reality story like Flashpoint is the chance to take a character or concept and tweak it. With the recent release of the Green Lantern film, most pop culture fans are aware that before Hal Jordan, the Green Lantern of Sector 2814 was an alien named Abin Sur. In the traditional DC universe Sur crash-lands on Earth and, mortally wounded, has his ring seek out a potential successor. Enter Mr. Hal Jordan, Green Lantern of Earth and all-around badass.

This universe is most definitely not the traditional DCU, and here we find that the cosmic side of Flashpoint is just as messed up as the Earth, if not more so. Black Lanterns (undead servitors of Nekron, an avatar of Death itself) are running rampant, devouring entire space sectors and reanimating the dead to add to their ravening hordes. The Manhunters (robotic forerunners of the Green Lanterns who rebelled against the Guardians of the Universe when they decided Order was preferable to Justice) have quite logically reached the conclusion that emotions cause chaos, therefore the best thing to do to avert chaos is to kill any living thing capable of emotion. The Green Lantern Corps is stretched to the limit, just barely managing to hold their own against this war on two fronts. Abin Sur is a dedicated peackeeper with a feverent need to protect life in all it's forms, but even he's feeling the strain. It doesn't help that his entire world was wiped out in an as yet untold cataclysm either.

Sur journeys to Oa, headquarters of the Corps, and is given a task by the Guardians: journey to the primitive backwater world of Earth and retrieve the Life Entity, a being that embodies the essence of life much as Nekron does death. It was hidden on Earth in the hopes no one would look there, but with that world in a state of utter chaos (see my previous reviews for a sampling), the Guardians want it retrieved and brought to Oa for safekeeping. Abin Sur is glad to do it, and offers that while he's there, he'll save the Earth as well. To which the Guardians clearly inform him the retrieval of the entity is paramount and to let the planet die.

(. . .brrr. . .it just get chilly in here, or is that just me. . .?)

Being the badass he is, Abin Sur tells the Guardians where they can take that suggestion and rockets to Earth in a spaceship, the better with which to transport the entity across space. Unfortunately, his vessel is attacked and brought down near Coast City, California, in a sequence that is eerily familiar. Our comic Ends with Sinestro seeking information from a character familiar to recent GL readership, as he wants to learn more about the prophecy of. . .the Flashpoint!

This series is starting off with a lot of potential, but there were a few things here and there that give me pause. We'll start with the pros and work our way to the cons:

The Pros: Abin Sur is a total badass, but in a way that makes him relatable and (dare I say) human. He's a protector of life, but isn't afraid to knock heads together to see justice done. Given that in other series we've only ever seen Abin near the end of his career or at his death in the Jordan origin story it's nice to get to know this guy. He's a mixture of a knight errant and wandering penitent and I dig that.

- The art is engaging, the story moving at a brisk pace and it makes for a fun read that leaves you wanting more. I like this version of the Corps, one that has to work a lot harder to get half of what the 'real' GLC already has.

-Thaal Sinestro's characterization from the film carries over here, and I like that. In the movie (up until the baffling to me end credits cookie) he's a harried guy, but you understand where he's coming from. The best villains don't see themselves as such, and you can understand why this guy might well snap from all the strain he and his fellow GLs are under.

The Cons: Hey, did you guys know there's a Green Lantern movie out? 'Cause this book in no way resembles the designs for the characters and settings of the movie. Not at all. Why would you ask?

-All right, kidding aside I get it. I do. You want to tie in the GL movie that just came out to a series that might attract the casual reader that might be a bit daunted by the continuity of the regular Green Lantern comics. I understand that. But in that case, why incorporate stuff like Black Lanterns, or Manhunters, or the fellow on the last page reveal? Stuff that would require someone who hasn't read the comics and only seen the movie to do homework? If you wanted a continuity-light, moviegoer friendly series, go for that. If you want something that requires knowledge of Green Lantern lore and has the reader playing 'spot the differences', do that. Trying to blend them both is a bit clumsy here. Not a deal-breaker, but still.

-The whole'The Guardians of the Universe Are Dicks Who Are Always Wrong About Everything' thing has got. To. Stop. Look, I get it. In the Buddy Cop Movie archetype that is the Green Lantern Corps, they're the mean Lieutenant that read our heroes the riot act. But seriously, is that the only way you can portray them? Unconcerned about the fate of the cosmos and blase at the potential loss of life? Not mournful that Earth has to be sacrificed if all are to be saved? No? You want to go with the Dick thing again? I guess if it ain't broke, but still. . .a little conflict within the ranks, some debate between the Hawks and the Doves of the Guardians would've been nice to see. Again, not a deal breaker but you have to admit this trope is wearing a bit thin.

-Okay, this advertising thing is getting out of hand. I'll accept ads for the Green Lantern movie, the Flashpoint storyline overview and what's happening next in what issue, other books I might like to buy etc, etc, but you're really going to derail my enjoyment of the story with a 12-page comics tie-in to J.J Abrams' Super 8 in the middle of my comicbook reading? I don't care about Super 8. I don't want to see it. If you wanted to do a tie in, do a tie in somewhere else and give me those twelve pages as part of the issue itself. As it stands I read a twenty page story that could have been thirty-two if not for this informercial slapped into the middle of it.

On the whole I liked the book despite the odd qualm or two. I want to see where this story is going. Recommended.


Thursday, July 7, 2011

Mini-Views-Flashpoint: Lois Lane and the Resistance

Flashpoint: Lois Lane and the Resistance #1 of 3.
Written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning
Illustrated by Eddie Nunez

Cover by Eddie Nunez, Sandra Hope, and Hifi.

This one--in terms of concept alone--was just neat. The idea of taking two of comics most enduring females (Lois Lane and Wonder Woman) and setting them in opposition to one another is just plain genius, and the creative team of this series took a notion that I've had for years and played it to the hilt. That notion?

Lois Lane is a frickin' badass.

Yes, yes, all too often her typical portrayal has been that of the classic damsel in distress, but think about it. She's a crusading journalist out to bring the truth to the people, she's one of the first to leap into action (admittedly not always with a lot of forethought, but still) and try her best to help the underdog, and she's the one woman on the face of the planet who Superman struggles to keep up with. She is a gold mine of untapped storytelling potential, and in an alternate reality where the guy in the red cape with the spit curl is nowhere to be found, Lois has a chance to shine, and boy howdy does she.

In the world of Flashpoint, Europe is a mess. Themyscira (Paradise Island/The home of the Amazons for the uninitiated) has been sunk beneath the ocean waves and the native Amazons have conquered the United Kingdom, now New Themyscira under the reign of Queen Diana (Wonder Woman). After an attack by Aquaman leaves Paris a ruin, Lois Lane finds herself rescued by the Amazons and taken to the conquered UK, finding herself picking up where her late and lamented colleague left off as an agent of the United States government. Her goal? Contact the burgeoning resistance movement in New Themyscira and open a dialogue with them. In a totalitarian regime with few allies and inhumanly swift and skilled enemies, can our intrepid reporter escape the clutches of her warrior captors?

Fun. That's what this book is. It's an adventure story, it's a spy story, it's a pulp adventure/resistance fighter tale. It's Lois Lane vs. Wonder Woman! Writers Abnett and Lanning hit the ground running, writing this debut issue with the quick clip of an action movie while still allowing for small moments of characterization amidst the set pieces. Lois feels like the best parts of her cinematic and animated incarnations, and without the man of steel we quickly see that she's a character in her own right, not just the Woman Who Superman Rescues. We don't see much of Diana in this issue (we don't see her at all, save for some news footage), but that confrontation is coming and I for one can' wait. The art by Eddie Nunez is good, though a bit rough in spots. I do like his style overall though in that it reminds me of Todd Nauck, an illustrator of no small talent. The cover is great, putting it's mission statement out there for all to see: Lois Lane. Bad. Ass. Consider me in for all three issues.



Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Mini-Views: Flashpoint - The Outsider #1.

Flashpoint: The Outsider #1.

Written by James Robinson.
Illustrated by Javi Fernandez
Cover by Kevin Nowlan

This one intrigued me. The Outsider is one of the weirder Batman villains out there, and one of the more obscure so to take the character down off the shelf and provide a new take on the character for the Flashpoint crossover got me intrigued. My initial impression was that the character was actually a metahuman version of Lex Luthor or Alfred Pennyworth (the Outsider in the original comics was Alfred, resurrected from the dead and slightly mutated. He got better) but in point of fact the character merely shares the name and general appearance of the original.

This version of the character is Michael Desai, a metahuman mastermind with a penchant for fine suits, fine living, and a vast criminal network that allows him opportunities to remove any potential threat to his interests. Over the course of the first of this three-part series we see the character in his element, brokering deals and trying to play the chaos of the Flashpoint Earth to his best advantage. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your viewpoint) his efforts are (almost) thwarted by a group of vengeful fallen heroes who managed to breach his inner sanctum and cost him dearly in terms of resources and employees (plus they destroyed his suit, which is really just too much). Those expecting Truth, Justice, and the American Way to triumph are reading the wrong book. It doesn't end well for the would-be avengers.

This one was a pleasant surprise. Usually I find villain books to be a bit of a bore, or an uncomfortable read given the protagonists' anti-social (and psychotic) values, but the Outsider interests me. He's a businessman first and foremost, playing the 'good' and 'bad' guys off each other in ways that best benefit himself. He's no paragon of virtue, but neither is he a complete monster. He just. . .is. Even when enraged, he informs his enemies that what he's doing isn't personal, oh no. It's just smart business.

James Robinson handles the writing here and the pleasant surprises continue. His dialogue is actually solid, the characters engaging, and his sometimes overly florid turn of phrase is under control. Javi Fernandez's art is a suitable mix of bold and grim, and his designs for the Outsider, his underlings, and the would-be avengers (I won't spoil their identities but I have to admit I got a kick out of them) are all engaging. The cover by Kevin Nowland is, of course, utterly boss but saying a Kevin Nowlan piece is awesome is like commenting that water has been known to be moist.

The Outsider and his cartel would make for a great crime network in the DCU proper. Shame it'll all be swept under the rug in the wake of the upcoming reboot.

Recommended. I'm interested in seeing where this one leads.


Mini-Views: Flashpoint: Grodd of War.

Flashpoint: Grodd of War One-Shot.

Written by Sean Ryan Illustrated by Ig Guara Inked by Ruy Jose. Cover by Francis Manapul.

I love monkeys in superhero comics. There's just something so wonderfully fun about the archetype of the intelligent monkey/orangutan/gorilla that just screams Silver Age insanity at it's finest. In my perfect comics line there'd be at least one alternate reality in the multiverse populated entirely by intelligent apes. So when I heard tell that comics' original Sinister Simian, the wonderfully alliterative Gorilla Grodd, was getting his own one-shot in which he has seized control of Gorilla City and conquered the entirety of the African continent, I was like 'where, when, and how much of my money do you need?'

A single issue tie-in to the current Flashpoint storyline occurring at DC, the book is a snapshot of Grodd's rule in this alternative reality where Barry Allen never became the Flash, Superman isn't around, Hal Jordan isn't Green Lantern, Batman isn't who you think he is, and the entirety of the DCU has become a significantly different and not altogether nice place. Grodd is a Flash villain, a diabolical outcast of an advanced utopian society of intelligent gorillas, and a frequent enemy that the scarlet speedster has dealt with fairly handily despite the evil ape's impressive physical strength and potent telepathic abilities. So what happens when a villain who has yearned for nothing else than glorious conquest finally gets what he wants? Well, there's the old adage about being wary of what one wishes for, as you just might get it.

This book should've been a slam dunk, but it left me more than a little disappointed. Granted they only had so much room in the story to detail Grodd's rule of Africa, but I'm a little confused as to how the population of one remote city goes on to conquer the world. Yes, Gorilla City had advanced technology, but I'm not seeing much of it on display here. And the whole notion that Grodd managed to conquer the entire African continent seems a bit. . .much. I admit gorilla soldiers would be hell on wheels in a melee, but with enough armor-piercing rounds even the biggest 800-pound death machine is going to drop like the proverbial bag of dirt. Maybe it's my Silver Age sensibilities intruding on a contemporary one-shot but I can't help feeling this was a missed opportunity. Basically, I want my lasers and jetpacks, and perhaps a sense that Grodd is working his way up the ladder. I'm no military strategist, but last I checked Africa wasn't populated by redshirts from Star Trek.

Another problem was characterization. My memories of Grodd from the comics was always that of a scheming megalomaniacal type. This Grodd. . .well, he's a bit of a mope. Granted, he is in a position where he has everything he could ever want and it's lost all it's luster, but I can't help but feel writer Sean Ryan could've really cut loose and made DC's resident simian supergenius a delightfully batshit mix of Leonidas from 300 and Doctor Evil. It was a decent character sketch of the villain in the Flashpoint universe, but it struck me a waste of potential.

The art is gorgeous though. Granted there's no super-scientific apparatus to be seen, but Ig Guara draws some mean-looking monkeys (yes, I know. Gorillas are apes. Tell it to my inner 8 year-old), and he brings to life some brutal combat sequences. There's another Silver Age simian-themed character who shows up in these pages and. . .yeah. It doesn't end well.

Good, but not great. Let's see what else this crossover has in store.


Ps. Look, DC. . .I know you've got bills to pay but did we really need 11 pages devoted to advertisting merchandise for the Green Lantern movie and extolling the virtues of Subway sandwiches? Just sayin'.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Villain Tune-Up: Maxima

'That the female of Her species is more deadly than the male!' -Rudyard Kipling.

Strange the things you never notice. In over thirty years of reading superhero comics I've never even considered it before, and for someone with as deep and abiding an obsession with the minutia of popular culture for something to have been staring me in the face for so long and to completely miss as I have. . .well, it's a bit humbling to say the least.

When I initially started the concept of the Hero/Villain Tune-Up, it seemed little more than a fun little exercise in taking a problematic character (or even a character I felt hadn't been utilized to their fullest potential) and exploring those aspects of said character that could make them absolutely badass. Yet it was only until one lazy afternoon about two weeks ago that—woolgathering ideas for a new blog piece at my typical glacial pace—it hit me between the eyes like a thunderbolt.

I'd been flipping through one of my Essential Handbooks of the Marvel Universe, when I began to notice something odd. I switched over to my copies of the DC and Marvel Encyclopedias, and as the pages flipped by I began to notice it more and more. A discrepancy. A void I'd never even seen until it was staring me in the face, and it all began out of a simple enough thought. Namely: 'Hey, I should do a Villain Tune-Up for a female Master Villain, someone on the level of like a Doctor Doom or Darkseid.'

And that's when I noticed it. Or rather, noticed the lack of it.

Female super-villains don't seem to have a character like that among their ranks, someone that makes the heroic community pause collectively and go 'Holy sh!t, it's her.' You've got some examples that come fairly close; Circe, Nebula, the Dark Phoenix to name a few, but there doesn't seem to be a level of feminine villainy that reaches the upper levels, a villain that could stand shoulder to shoulder with the first tier of villainy and make being bad look good. About as close as I could get in my own researches was the subject of this Villain Tune-Up, and while she does come close there are a few elements that keep her from reaching the top. Together we'll explore them, shake out the bugs and illustrate just how with a few tweaks, this character could go from the minors to the majors.

Debuting in Action Comics #645 in September of 1989, Maxima was created by the team of writer Roger Stern and artist George Perez. Scion of the warrior rulers of the far-flung planet of Almerac, Maxima was the eldest child of the royal line. Born with super-strength, the power of flight, telepathy and telekinesis, she was a formidable enough power in her own right. Desiring a consort with which to sire an heir, she journeys to Earth with the intention of making Superman her consort. This isn't as implausible as it sounds, as it turns out their is a genetic compatibility between Almeracians and Kryptonians, which means that Maxima could potentially provide Kal-El with something no human could: children. Of course, the idea of being the boy-toy of an intergalactic warmongering tyrant doesn't sit well with our intrepid hero (no matter how appealing the red-headed, voluptuous package), and he promptly sends her packing with a stern talking to, stating flatly that he had no desire to father a line of despots. The character would return, eventually becoming an ally and a member of the Justice League before returning to her despotic ways. She died a hero however, saving the universe from the menace of Brainiac. She's appeared in an episode of Superman: The Animated Series, but by and large the character was confined to the comics, and was quietly swept away with other '90s-era detritus. Which is a pity, because with a few tweaks here and there, this is a character that could be easily jump from periodic menace to serious threat.

There are those who argue that Superman is a headache to write for because his powers make him far too capable for villains to provide a credible threat. They see him as essentially the protagonistic (if that isn't a word I'm making it one) equivalent of a Sherman tank, rolling over anything that a writer can put in his path. These people, for all their talent, are much like the character of Belloq in Raiders of the Lost Ark. They're digging in the wrong place. The key to a good Superman villain lies not in the Super, but in the man. The best characters (your Luthors, your Brainiacs, even your Zods) challenge Superman on not a physical level, but an intellectual/moral one. Thus it would be with the revised Maxima.

Starting from the top, let's take the whole 'Wants Superman To Be Her Consort' thing and promptly kick it to the curb. For all the badassness of the character, that notion is one that needs to be removed, or at least heavily underplayed. Maxima is a warrior-queen, the monarch of an entire planet of conquerors whose leaders have done a fine job uniting their people and focusing them into a race to be reckoned with. In a universe of alien threats, from the enigmatic dominators to the vicious Khund, from the cool intellects of Rann to the wingmen-elite of Thanagar, the Almerac Empire should be teased at, hints of a whispered fear. Even Brainiac treats them with a reverence, citing that he attempted to collect a sample of their civilization and that it 'did not meet with expected results'. Eventually a probe reaches Earth, a group of highly trained, possibly empowered Almeracian warriors attempt to establish a beachhead on Earth, only to be repulsed by a powerful figure in red and blue, a figure that identifies as a survivor of Krypton. The Almeracians escape, reporting back to the Throneworld. A decadent world, Almerac cares little for anything save the acquisition of territory. . .and of challenge. And what better challenge than a world so rich in metahuman defenders, especially this 'Superman'. The defeat and enslavement of this world that so many have tried and failed to conquer would be glory enough, but to have the last survivor of the Kryptonian Empire licking the boot of Almerac's queen? No, the prize is too enticing by far. Add a little bit about Almerac being a world that in the past threw off the shackles of Kryptonian oppression only to become the very thing they once fought against and you have yourselves the making of a cosmic epic that would make for a long-term threat that would boil over into a full-scale invasion that would set the pages of the Superman titles ablaze with. . .dare I say it. . .action.

Think about it; a woman with all the basic powers of Superman and Wonder Woman (flight, super-strength, invulnerability), plus she can read your mind, control you like a puppet, shoot bolts from her eyes that stagger the Man of Steel, create force fields a la the Invisible Woman, and can channel her psychic might into her physical attacks to make her stronger still. Plus, she's the ruler of an entire planet dedicated to the cause of war and the expansion of their empire. Where Superman is the open hand of Hope, she is the closed fist of Control. Where Kal-El believes in providing an example for others to follow, Maxima believes in crushing any and all opposition to her will in the most definitive and final manner possible. She is the dark reflection of Superman, and while there may be some potential for redemption, it's buried under centuries of dogma, an ethic that allowed her people to overthrow their masters and create their own superhumans, forging them into a force to be reckoned with. Can Superman make her see reason? Or will Krypton's dark past destroy her last hope for the future?

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Victimized Badass: Some Thoughts on Zack Snyder's Sucker Punch.

I've seen the latest opus of director Zack Snyder and let me say this up front: the man knows his cinema. I'll happily give credit where it's due, and Snyder is easily one of the most seamlessly adept genre filmmakers I've ever seen. Since Dawn of the Dead back in 2004 the man has shown a unique talent for conveying action and emotion through his visuals, harnessing the unique talents of the production team under his command to bring amazing things to light. Hell, he made the cinematic adaptation of Watchmen, a comic book I'd believed to be completely unfilmmable, transforming the epic into a new entity while simulataneously paying homage to it's prose and picture counterpart. The same can also be said for 300, his rich and glorious adaptation of Frank Miller's sword and sandals epic.

Simply put, the man can make movies, and when I heard he'd be creating his own unique story in the form of Sucker Punch, and seeing the bits and pieces doled out in teaser trailers and one-sheets, I was on board. I eagerly sat in my seat at an advanced screening, keen to see what Snyder could do with his psyche completely unbound, free to create without having anything to adapt. I saw the film, sat with it, then saw it a second time today. I've had some time to turn the film over and over in my head and I have to say that while it is an impressive spectacle, the film has also done something it clearly didn't intend: it ticked me off. Sucker Punch is the most amazing mysoginist film featuring strong women I've ever seen.

The plot (what there is of one) centers around Baby Doll (played by Emily Browning), a teenaged girl whose mother dies and finds herself and her sister the sole heirs to her mother's estate. This doesn't sit well with their stepfather, who in a drunken tirade kills the younger sister and pins the rap on Baby (we never get any actual names for our protagonists, merely labels). The sequence is really one of the movie's high points; heavy on mood, kind of gothic and score by an amazing cover of 'Sweet Dreams' by the Eurythmics. It ends with Baby being sent to the Lennox Home For the Mentally Insane(clever little shout-out there), and with the aid of a crooked orderly named Blue Jones (Oscar Isaac) the young girl is slated for a lobotomy. The specialist will arrive in five days. The film then follows Baby as she struggles to escape, coping with the situation by envisioning the asylum as a Prohibition-era nightclub, the well meaning Dr. Vera Gorski (Carla Gugino) teaching her to dance (i.e. work through her feelings) to survive, and the remainder of the protagonists: Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), her sister Rocket (Jena Malone), Amber (Jamie Chung), and Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens) assembling around Baby in a mutual bid for freedom, using the newcomers amazing dance abilities to distract their captors as they assemble the items they'll need to escape.

This leads into a fantasy within the fantasy, where as Baby Doll begins her dance numbers we flash into various and sundry fantasy scenarios; from an epic battle in a Shogunate-era castle against oni demons armed with rail guns to pseudo-WWI combat against steampunk reanimated German soldiers to a raid on a dragon's lair to an attack on a robot-filled bullet train. These sequences are the centerpiece of the film and the craft and care that went into them shines through, our five heroines looking absolutely effin' badass as they plough through their enemies, meeting their objectives, and looking damned cool in the process. And if this had been the premise of the movie, that rather than dreams this was an elite female unit of dimension-jumping kickers of ass and takers of names struggling to save worlds throughout the multiverse to prevent dimensional collapse, I would have pumped my fist and said this was the most amazing thing since the application of peanut butter to bread. But it's not and I can't.

I'm doing my level best not to get into spoiler territory here, because I do believe the movie is fundamentally worth watching. But the thing that makes my molars grind is that the badass, empowered women we see on the one sheets and in the trailers. . .they're not real. Or rather they're part of Baby Doll's dream-within-a-dream. Or the dream selves of the characters, who ultimately (apart from the figure of Baby herself) are shown to be anything but self-reliant or badass or strong. There is a moment when you watch these characters go completely to pieces. Is it understandable, given the circumstances? To an extent, yes. There's been some trauma, the pressure is on, etc. But isn't the journey of the film supposed to be the discovery by the girls of their own inner strength and resources? That they are far more powerful than they believed possible? If yes, then why does the film make victims of the girls, having them break down at one minor setback (to the point where a character makes a decision that is just. . .baffling), and then become hapless at the drop of a dime? Much like Chewbacca being a wookie from the planet Endor, this does not make sense.

Why is it that a film that's selling point is badass, confident looking women kicking the absolute crap out of bad guys really about being a helpless victim with some mealy-mouthed message about finding some inner strength within to deal with the pain without. . .and then having that pain without completely bulldoze you into the dirt? Yes, those who have seen the film will argue it ends on a hopeful note. Hopeful? Perhaps. Satisfactory to this member of the audience? Hell no. In my version the girls get away, after some very satsifying Death Proof-style vengeance on Blue's sleazy ass, laughing all the while as the asylum burns to the ground. That is the note the film should've ended on.

I don't know, maybe I'm overthinking this thing, but the film's notion of the victimized badass really made my hackles rise. Why can't a female hero simply be a confident, strong, fully realized character rather than either a victim, a headcase, or some combination of the two? Is there a spectrum that I'm not aware of?

Is Sucker Punch worth seeing? Again, yeah, I'd say so. If nothing else it got me thinking, and in an age of sequels/remake repeat as needed that's something we really, truly need in our escapist fare. Ultimately it is an impressive spectacle, with eye-candy galore and one of the most kickin' soundtracks I've heard in ages, but I can't help wishing for a little more steak to go with the sizzle.


Friday, February 18, 2011

Villain Tune-Up: The Parasite.

'All sins tend to be addictive, and the terminal point of addiction is damnation.' W.H. Auden

For the model upon which the entire genre is based, Superman doesn't have a lot of what you'd call 'name' villains. Sure there's Lex Luthor and Brainiac, but after that it doesn't take long before you're straining for more names. It could be argued that Darkseid has become an arch-villain of the man of steel (though mainly as an import from Jack Kirby's Fourth World saga), and there are more contemporary villains such as Metallo, Rampage, and Silver Banshee (although quiz most non-comics readers about the last three and you might get some recognition from Metallo via Smallville). Even Doomsday, the brutal force of nature that did what no other villain could previously, namely kill Superman, is hardly widely known. About the only character that might gain mass recognition is the infamous General Zod, and even then he wasn't tailored to be a regular foe of the man of steel, just an occasional menace that cropped up every now and again from the Phantom Zone.

At first glance it might seem that the Rudy Jones, aka the Parasite, is another one of these forgettable types. Good for a single-issue formulaic smackdown, then carted off to jail by the end of the story, curses foiled again, etc, etc. That's the impression, and I can certainly see how easily the character could be placed into that archetype. But in point of fact, the Parasite is one of the most potentially terrifying foes Superman could ever face. Let's break down why together.

First, a bit of backstory. Rudy Jones was one of life's losers, a guy always out to make a quick buck while secretly railing at a world that couldn't appreciate him and where people less deserving than him (namely everyone) got all the breaks cut for them. Working as a janitor at S.T.A.R. Labs (Scientific & Technological Advanced Research. I pulled that from memory people. MY NERD POWERS ARE SUPERIOR! Ahem), Rudy was convinced that there had to be something in those canisters marked 'hazardous waste' had to be worth selling. With that airtight bit of logic in his feeble mind, Rudy opened the container and exposed himself to a massive dose of strange radiation. This being the world of comics he didn't die a lingering death, but instead found himself transformed into a purple-skinned abomination with a drastically increased metabolism. Soon learning he had to feed from various living beings in order to survive (he could feed off electricity or nuclear power in a jam, but there's just something about the energy of other life forms). An early rampage through the streets of metropolis brought the newborn Parasite into conflict with Superman, and it was then he learned he could absorb metahuman abilities as well, draining Superman of his powers and finding the Man of Tomorrow to be the gourmet cuisine of his new diet. Since then Superman and the Parasite have clashed numerous times, often leaving Superman drained and weakened until his body can reabsorb sufficient solar energy to get him back up to par.

As time went on, Rudy's powers continued to mutate, allowing him not only to retain the energies of another living being, but also their memories as well. This was illustrated at it's most startling when the Parasite drained arrogant scientist Dr. Torvell Freeman dry, killing the man. . .but leaving his mind cohabiting the Parasite's form, Rudy oftentimes arguing with the 'Doc' in the middle of a battle. As bad as a large purple humanoid attempting to drain your life force dry must be, imagine one that's talking to himself in two entirely different voices. The Parasite's appearance gradually warped over time as well, becoming less human and more like a mix between a man and a lamprey. The two caused Superman no end of trouble, including one point where--after absorbing a shapeshifter and retaining the power to alter their appearance--they impersonated Lois Lane for several weeks in an effort to break Superman emotionally. Lois Lane. Superman's wife. See, that's creepy on a level I was barely aware existed.

Of course, this origin and background is pre-Geoff Johns' new take in Superman: Secret Origins. I've no idea what the Parasite's status quo is these days, but from what I have available it wouldn't be too difficult to give the character an upgrade from Menace of the Month to High Octane Nightmare Fuel.

Let's suppose that Dr. Freeman isn't the only consciousness that the Parasite's absorbed that has retained their individuality. Gradually all these personas begin to overwhelm poor Rudy, to the point that he's just one more face in the crowd. Over time these personalities begin to realize that they're not 'real', just copies of whatever poor souls were unfortunate enough to get in the way of the monstrosity they've now become part of. They get scared. . .they get angry. . .and then they get something far, far worse. They get organized.

The monstrosity that roars and lumbers through Metropolis, drawing in Superman and the Metropolis Special Crimes Unit and the Science Police, that's largely for show. Rudy's mind has been confined to that form (with one or two monitors to keep his gibbering wreck of a mind on track) while the rest of the mass has used the powers of shapeshifting they've gained to split off into various individual forms. After all, being confined to one form and feeding one person or group of people at a time? That's small potatoes. What one 'probe' feeds from, they all can feed from after all. And once they absorb a victim, their knowledge, experience, and form (right down to the DNA) becomes a part of the Whole. Simply put, the Whole is getting smarter by the day, and pretty soon it's going to set it's sights on expansion. Infiltration into facilities like S.T.A.R. Labs, Lexcorp, Wayne Enterprises. . .maybe even the metahuman community. After all, who's going to miss a couple of those third-string heroes? And if they work hard enough, maybe they'll even get into the Justice League. So much food, so much hunger, but the Whole can be patient. Patient like a spider is patient, like a shark on the hunt is patient. Not only will the prey come to them, it will do so with open arms and a smile.

And from the beaming face it stole from a corpse, the Parasite smiles back.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Hero Tune-Up: Steel.

What atonement is there for blood spilt upon the earth?

Steel did it first.

Dr. John Henry Irons was an engineering genius with a simple dream: to create weapons that would make the waging of war entirely undesirable. Unfortunately his noble intentions led to the creation of armaments whose hideous potential for destruction made them the hot-ticket item for would-be warlords, despots, and gang-bangers when the company he worked for sold them on the black market. Faking his death for fear the immoral corporation would coerce him into making more weapons for criminals Irons went underground, building a new life as a steel worker in Metropolis. Saving a friend from a fall from a skyscraper under construction led to Irons' nearly plummeting to his death, only to be saved at the last minute by Superman. Wanting to know how best to express his gratitude, the Man of Tomorrow simply asked him to live 'a life worth saving' and then flew off. A few weeks later, Superman died fighting the monstrosity known as Doomsday(he got better, but that's another story).

Recovering from injuries sustained during Doomsday's rampage, Irons discovered to his horror that without Superman to protect the streets Metropolis was descending into a gang war, a war whose armament of choice was a weapon of his own design. Shaken by Superman's death and wanting to honor the legacy of the man who had saved his life and so many others besides, Irons designed a suit of powered armor and took to the streets, doing his best to protect the weak and the helpless in a world without a Superman. Originally dubbed 'The Man of Steel' by Lois Lane, the title was eventually shortened to simply 'Steel', and upon Superman's return from death (comics everybody), he became a valued ally. Steel would go on to fight crime in his native Washington, D.C., and eventually become a member of the fabled Justice League of America.

He's been in his own solo series, the awesome crossover event known as 52, and has been a member of the JLA during one of it's most glorious creative periods. He's an armored super-genius attempting to atone for the use of weapons he designed falling into the wrong hands. Sound a little familiar? He's the best parts of Iron Man and Superman(with a neat little nod to the legend of John Henry) and he gets to wield Thor's hammer(okay, not mjolnir, but Steel's hammer is nothing to laugh at; he can control it's trajectory and has kinetic enhancement technology embedded inside it that makes it's blows feel less like a sledgehammer and more like an oncoming train). So why is it this guy can't seem to break out from the minors to the majors?

There are very, very compelling elements to the character of Steel but for all that there's been a lack of what I would call a hook, something to hang the character's personality upon and build upon until he stands completely on his own merit. For me that hook is the need to atone, to make up for the lives destroyed by his own actions and creations. True he never fired one of his weapons, but he designed them, made them as lethal as he could from the (somewhat laudable) reasoning that if they were so horrible, no one in there right mind would dare conceive to use them. Unfortunately, not everyone shared John's world view and as a result his weapons caused death on a massive scale. Every action he takes, whether it be in his armor or as the head of the philanthropic scientific think-tank Steelworks is to build a better world, a safer and happier world. Much like Iron Man, Steel is a futurist and wants a better world. With a bevvy of some of the DCU's brightest minds and most philanthropic backers (Wayne Enterprises and KORD Inc. in particular) he's going to build it, one girder at a time

Marry to that a desire to redeem others as well. Given a second chance by the world's greatest hero, I think that John would reach out and offer the chance for others to get their lives back together, particularly when it comes to the various 'mad scientists' of the DC Universe. Working with various prisons like Belle Reve or Blackgate, Irons would gain access to some of the DC Universe's most brilliant (albeit unbalanced) minds. The deal offered is simple: work with Steelworks and not only gain years off your sentence and the possibility of an early parole, but gain the recognition and respect you feel you were cheated out of. Villain being villains there are doubtless a few who'd think nothing of playing the teary-eyed penitent in order to play Irons for a chump. That said, trying to outwit the guy who designed the defence grid for the Justice League's headquarters and provides the heavily-armed Science Police with a variety of weaponry (non-lethal) capable of downing Solomon Grundy in four shots. . .well, best of luck with that. Steel is optimistic, not naive.

Steel in many ways is the anti-Lex Luthor. Where Luthor uses his brilliance to ensure his wealth, power, and dominance of others, John Henry uses his genius to make his city and the world cleaner, safer, and more secure. He fills a role that DC doesn't really have much of; that of the Reed Richards super-genius. Most of the scientists in the DCU tend to either fall into the Mr. Exposition or Mad Scientist archetypes, but Steel provides an example of a scientist who is not only brilliant, but capable as well. If any of Steel's experiments were to run amuck, he has the tools to deal with it. Well, one really big tool anyway.

It's of interest to me that Batman and his extended family can have a slew of titles and yet Superman and his merry crew seem to have difficulty sustaining any book without a kryptonian (or half-human clone thereof). Steel is a character rife with storytelling potential, and in the right hands could be one of the DCU's starting lineup with very little modification from his core concept. It'd be one of the books I'd write for free and without hesitation. And I haven't even mentioned ideas for storylines, like the resurrection of Tomorrow Woman, or the ascension of Amazo from brute thug to master villain. . .those would be pretty awesome tales to tell, no doubt.

DC, have your people call mine. We'll do lunch.