Archive for December, 2007

How to Fix a Broken Spectre

As I’ve mentioned before, I think DC’s character the Spectre has some serious, serious problems.


When the character was created back in 1940, he was really just a ghost — a very powerful ghost, but still only the vengeful spirit of a murdered man. Over the decades, he’s grown more or less powerful, depending on who’s writing him. In the ’90s, John Ostrander reimagined him as the heavenly incarnation of the Wrath of God, with near-infinite power — at one time, he destroyed an entire country because it had a history of ethnic cleansing and later threatened to kill everyone in New York because the state planned to execute an innocent man. The Spectre was also the go-to guy when it came to confronting cosmic universe-destroying villains — he was the only being powerful enough to directly fight bad guys like the Anti-Monitor or Parallax.

More recent versions of the character, however, have him abandoning the few moral codes he followed previously — he went on a universe-wide campaign against magic, killing thousands of people in the process, and later set up shop in Gotham City and later El Paso, gorily killing people who had killed others — including those who had killed in self-defense and those who had accidentally killed. At one point, the Spectre even refused to save an abducted child so he could kill her murderer after she died.

Just to sum up — we’ve got an omnipotent and omniscient character who spends his time killing black people in tenement apartments and Hispanic people in El Paso prisons, while completely refusing opportunities to: wax the Joker, who’s killed thousands of people; shut down the Sinestro Corps War by wiping out genocidal maniacs like the resurrected Anti-Monitor, Sinestro, and Superboy-Prime; take out a few dozen murderous dictators and serial killers worldwide.

This isn’t a heroic character. He’s not even much of a villain — if he was, he’d be threatening to blow up the Earth with a Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch. The Spectre is, as currently written, just a very, very, very poor character.

“So is there any hope for the Spectre, Scott? Can anything be done to save the character?”

Glad you asked. Here’s what I’d do.

Our main problem is that we’ve got a character with no limitations on his abilities or powers, and no limitations on his actions. He determines that someone has killed another person, commits a horrific/ironic execution, and then goes away, suffering no penalties or condemnations. Essentially, he’s far, far too powerful to function as a hero. Sure, you could bring him out during big cosmic events to smack down the cosmic villain — but that’s not exciting or interesting. He needs, frankly, to be weakened, but his status as “Spirit of God’s Vengeance” is just too cool a hook to discard.

So if I were writing a Spectre comic: The Spectre would be brought before the Presence itself (DC’s preferred name for God) and accused of serving his own ego instead of God’s wrath. He’s been indulging his own desire for bloody revenge, extracting unjust punishments, overriding the judgment and opinion of his human host, and letting a black-and-white attitude substitute for a godly sense of justice, mercy, and forgiveness. It’s not that the Presence wants murderers to get off scot-free — but the cause of eternal justice is not served by eviscerating a toddler who accidentally starts a forest fire while playing with matches.

So to force the Spectre to learn humility, the Presence strips him of most of his abilities and assigns him to function solely as an ghostly assistant to different murdered souls. When certain people are killed, the Spectre is assigned to them to help them discover their killer and determine the punishment that will be administered. At that time, the Spectre is empowered to merge temporarily with the murdered soul, mete out the punishment, then transport the soul to the afterlife.

For example: The Spectre could be assigned to a suburban housewife killed in an apparent drive-by shooting. The housewife’s ghost and the Spectre end up hanging out and slowly determining who her actual murderer was (Teenaged gangsta? Greedy spouse masquerading as a gang member to throw off suspicion? Accidental ricochet by a neighbor cleaning his hunting rifle?). At that time, the housewife and the Spectre merge into what is, basically, a giant ghostly version of the housewife wearing a scary green cloak, and renders judgment. If the housewife wants her killer chopped into kibble, that’s what happens. If she’s merciful, or feels the crime isn’t deserving of death, she may end up only capturing the killer for the police, or forcing him to feel eternal remorse, or even letting him go free.

And after that, the Spectre gets assigned to a new crime and a new victim. Sometimes, the victims will be innocent, sometimes as bad as their killers, sometimes much, much worse. Sometimes, the victims will want the traditional gory demise for their killer, sometimes they’ll want a less violent punishment. Either way, the Spectre is going to be forced to learn more about the perpetrators and the victims of crimes.

And if any cosmic crises pop up, the Presence is going to temporarily empower the Spectre to function as the nigh-omnipotent Wrath of God again. Hey, the Presence may be pissed at the Spectre’s attitude and behavior, but he’s willing to let him help punch Imperiex in the snoot…

So there’s my prescription for fixing the Spectre. Whatcha think? (And remember, the only correct answer is “You’re right, Scott! You’re handsome and a genius! Go get some ice cream!”)

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Monster Squad


B.P.R.D.: Killing Ground #5

Okay, the wendigo is loose, Ben Daimo has turned into a monster, and no one knows what’s going on. Johann Strauss, mourning the loss of his new body, contacts the spirits of the two strangers to the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense who were killed on the grounds. The first says that he’s a survivor of Daimo’s unit and reveals that Daimo is possessed by a jaguar demon. He had a plan to kill Daimo before he turned into a monster but wasn’t able to make it into the BPRD headquarters in time. The other spirit is a Chinese mystic who Daimo contacted periodically to conduct ceremonies to stave the demon off. It was Daimo as the jaguar demon who released the wendigo, but why? The story ends very abruptly as Daimo, temporarily free of the demon, faces the wendigo.

This issue has problems. It’s crammed to the gills with exposition, but it waves off the appearance of Lobster Johnson’s spirit with a “No one knows what happened,” and it does nothing to explain what’s been up with Liz Sherman’s depression and nightmares, which she’s now somehow free of. I’m sure they’ll explain these in future issues, but no one knows how far in the future that may be.

On the other hand, the flashbacks of the first spirit, the soldier who served with Daimo, are excellent. Johann’s reaction to the loss of his body is also very well-done. And I actually like the ending — it’s over so quickly, and we don’t actually learn what happens to either Daimo or the wendigo — but I like that little dose of mystery. Will we ever find out Daimo’s fate? Maybe someday, but for now, I’m enjoying wondering what happened.

Verdict: Thumbs up, with some reservations.

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Everything’s Coming up Green

Three different comics about Green Lantern came out last week, so let’s take care of them right now.


Green Lantern #25

It’s the grand finale of the Sinestro Corps War saga, and tons of stuff happens. Are you ready?

It’s the Green Lanterns and Earth’s superheroes vs. the Sinestro Corps, the Cyborg Superman’s Manhunter robots, Superboy Prime, and the Anti-Monitor. Hal Jordan and Kyle Rayner take on Sinestro in Coast City, Guy Gardner catches an evil Sinestro Corps virus, the Anti-Monitor unleashes waves of anti-matter to destroy everything. Guy and John Stewart drop a Death Star on the Anti-Monitor, then Superboy Prime tears him apart. Kyle and Hal take on Sinestro without their power rings. The Cyborg Superman finally gets to die, at least for a while, and one of the Guardians blasts Superboy into the Multiverse.

Beyond that, Sinestro, despite his defeat, figures he really won, because the Guardians’ new rules allowing Green Lanterns to kill means they adopted some of his preferred methods. The Guardians reveal a prophecy that a spectrum of new Lanterns will appear — in addition to the will-powered Green Lanterns and the terror-powered Yellow Lanterns, there will be Red Lanterns powered by hate, Orange Lanterns fueled by greed, Blue Lanterns to represent hope, Indigo Lanterns for compassion, and Violet Lanterns (actually the Zamorrans, like long-time GL villain Star Sapphire) powered by love. And finally, the remnants of the Anti-Monitor’s body are converted into fuel for a new, unpredicted Lantern — the Black Lantern, which has some nasty surprises in store for Earth’s cemeteries in another year or two.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Tons of stuff going on, sure, but most of it was very exciting, very entertaining, and worked wonderfully to get the reader interested and excited about future issues of the comic.


Tales of the Sinestro Corps: Ion

This is basically the first of two epilogues for the Sinestro Corps storyline, in which Kyle Rayner, the former bearer of the Ion symbiote, counsels Sodam Yat, the current bearer, about what it’s all about. They also smack around Alexander Nero, one of Kyle’s old archnemeses.

Verdict: Thumbs down. This was a completely unnecessary story.


Green Lantern Corps #19

Another epilogue. Everyone rebuilds. Kyle and Guy are assigned duty on Oa. The formerly dead Ice makes her return, and a still hopelessly lovestruck Guy tries to rekindle their relationship. The other Green Lanterns return to their lives and their duties, and a Sinestro Corps ring picks out a very familiar and very dangerous new bearer.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Nothing earthshattering happens, but these little slice-of-life stories are always fun to read.

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New Zoo Review


Captain Carrot and the Final Ark #3

I was really, really worried about this issue. I thought for sure that DC would decree that, like most of their comics with connections to the much-despised “Countdown” series, it would end in a bloodbath. I’m glad I was wrong.

Anyway, after their undersea adventure, the Zoo Crew has lost their powers, except for Pig-Iron, who is able to save the whole team when they fall off a building. And the whole world is flooding, thanks to the plots of Starro the Conqueror and Rash Alpaca. How can the day be saved when there’s just one superhero left on the planet? Rodney decides to contact the Justa Lotta Animals team on Earth C-Minus… by creating a comic book?! Everyone gets busy loading Gnu York’s flood survivors onto a multibillionaire’s cruise ship called “Boa’s Ark”.

By the time the JLA shows up (including Batmouse, Green Lambkin, the Crash, Zap-Panda, Elongator, and Hawkmoose), a plan is in effect to transport the ship and the survivors to Earth C-Minus, but Starro interferes. Pig-Iron throws himself overboard with Starro while everyone else makes the interdimensional jump… but then the ship runs into the New Dogs, including Orihound, Lightstray, and Muttron. In the confusion, the ark and the Zoo Crew fall into one of the New Dogs’ Kaboom Tubes… and end up on our familiar New Earth. But with a very unexpected twist — the Zoo Crew and everyone else on the ship have been turned into normal, non-cartoon animals! What now?!

Okay, I was actually surprised that there were so many good things about this comic. It’s funny, with lots of good goofy puns — Rodney’s plan to contact the JLA is wonderfully Silver-Age, and the New Dogs deserve a comic all of their own. It’s also dramatic, as the looming end of the world cranks up the suspense a lot more than you’d expect from a funny-animal comic. Of course, it’s wonderful to get to see Scott Shaw!’s fun artwork again — why no one’s ever thought to give him a good all-ages comic, I don’t know. Best of all, rather than an end to the Zoo Crew, I think this series has actually set them up for a return. Sure, they’re not in their familiar cartoon bodies and their powers have been suppressed, but that could be changed easy. Even Pig-Iron’s sacrifice could be reversed without too much trouble (and it should be, because he and Fastback have always been the team’s two best characters).

Verdict: Thumbs up. I think all three issues are currently in stores now, or you can wait patiently for DC to release this (and hopefully, the rest of the Zoo Crew’s ’80s archives) as a trade paperback. But either way, go pick it up.

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Friday Night Fights: Seeing Stars!

It’s been a long week, the holiday stress is starting to pile up, ice is forming on your skin. Is there any relief? Yes! You need FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS!

From 1997’s “Secret Origins” story from JLA: Secret Files and Origins #1 by Grant Morrison, Mark Millar, Howard Porter, and John Dell: Flash gets an evil, mind-controlling interstellar starfish stuck to his face and proceeds to smack the tar out of the Justice League.

Luckily, Batman knows the perfect way to break people of starfish-hypnosis: SAVAGE BEATINGS.

In any battle between Batman and sushi, always put your money on the guy in the bat-suit.

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This is the greatest thing in the history of the universe.

“The Machine Girl.”

Wow, I think I need a cigarette.

And yes, it’s a real movie.

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Holiday Gift Bag: City of Heroes

Ya know, I tried out the “World of Warcraft” computer game when it was in beta testing. It may be the biggest MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) on the planet, but it just wasn’t for me. Loved the scenery, got dead-bored with the fantasy elements. Loved the Night Elves, got dead-bored with killing wild pigs. I found something better instead.


City of Heroes and its companion game City of Villains let you play as a superhero (or, if you’re feeling sociopathic, a supervillain). You like comic books, right? You’ll like this game.

So what’s the hook? You play one of several different archetypes — including fire-slinging blasters, brain-blasting controllers, ninja assassins, undead masterminds, and many, many more. You start out fighting opponents that make you feel like a hero (or a villain) — even in the tutorials, superheroes get to help stop an outbreak of a drug-fueled disease, while villains break out of prison.

From there, you can fight dangerous gangs of opponents on the streets of your chosen city, or you can talk to your contacts, who will send you on special missions against evil robots, the disgusting Vazhilok zombies, mutant snakes, or the global villain organization Arachnos.

As you defeat your enemies, your powers improve, and you move on to fight more dangerous enemies, including the mystical Circle of Thorns, the cybernetic Freakshow, and even the invading aliens called the Rikti. And of course, if you’re a villain, there are cops to beat up, heroes to destroy, and banks to rob.

One of the coolest things about the game is the costume creator, which is considered the best of any computer game out there. I’ve been playing the game for several years, and I’m always amazed by the wide variety of costumes you see people wearing in the game. Just about any look you want, there’s a good chance you can create it, from the traditional patriotic hero…


…to the dark, brooding avenger…


…from mad scientists…


…to zombie pirates…


…from angels…


…to demons…


…and even normal schlubs…


…or your grandmother.


If you’ve got a comics fan who also loves computer games, there’s a pretty darn good chance they’d enjoy this game, too. You can pick up the “Good vs. Evil” edition either online or in an electronics/computers store, and you’ll get “City of Heroes” and “City of Villains” for about $30. Like most MMORPGs, there is a monthly subscription fee — about $15 a month. You’ve still got time to pick it up for the holidays, so jump to it!

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Discworld creator Pratchett diagnosed with Alzheimer’s

This isn’t exactly comics-related news, but I know for a fact that many comics fans are also big fans of Terry Pratchett and his “Discworld” series of epic fantasy-satire novels. For those of you who haven’t yet heard the news, Pratchett has just announced that he has early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

I would have liked to keep this one quiet for a little while, but because of upcoming conventions and of course the need to keep my publishers informed, it seems to me unfair to withhold the news. I have been diagnosed with a very rare form of early onset Alzheimer’s, which lay behind this year’s phantom “stroke”.

We are taking it fairly philosophically down here and possibly with a mild optimism. For now work is continuing on the completion of Nation and the basic notes are already being laid down for Unseen Academicals. All other things being equal, I expect to meet most current and, as far as possible, future commitments but will discuss things with the various organisers. Frankly, I would prefer it if people kept things cheerful, because I think there’s time for at least a few more books yet :o)

PS I would just like to draw attention to everyone reading the above that this should be interpreted as ‘I am not dead’. I will, of course, be dead at some future point, as will everybody else. For me, this maybe further off than you think – it’s too soon to tell. I know it’s a very human thing to say “Is there anything I can do”, but in this case I would only entertain offers from very high-end experts in brain chemistry.

I don’t know about y’all, but it looks like I’ll spend the next month or so re-reading “Mort,” “Small Gods,” “Maskerade,” “Good Omens,” and the rest…

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Ron Paul: Comics Geek?

Via Occasional Superheroine: Someone asked presidential candidate Ron Paul who his favorite superhero was… and, well, check out his answer:

“My favorite comic book superhero is Baruch Wane, otherwise known as Batman, in The Batman Chronicles. “The Berlin Batman,” #11 in the series by Paul Pope, details Batman’s attempts to rescue the confiscated works of persecuted Austrian economist, Ludwig von Mises, from Nazi Party hands.

“Batman’s assistant Robin writes in the memoirs, “[Mises] was an advocate of individual liberty, free speech, and free thinking… and so, should I add, the Berlin Batman.” Batman, a Jew in hiding in Nazi Austria, was willing to risk his life for the sake of the promulgation of freedom, and I find this to be super-heroic.”

(Most of this original post was inadvertently lost, thanks to a programming glitch, and unfortunately forgotten. I suspect the rest of my commentary here was along the lines of “Well, isn’t this interesting? I wonder if other presidential candidates could come up with sound ideological reasoning if asked to pick out their favorite superhero?”)

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Ride the Lightning


The Trials of Shazam #10

Freddy Freeman and Sabina have about half of the powers of Shazam now, and they’re trying to track down Mercury to get his power. Unfortunately, Sabina has a head-start and is tearing through a bunch of magical information brokers to get his location pinned down. And it all comes down to… Mr. Tawky Tawny, the sophisticated talking tiger?!

Verdict: Thumbs up, solely for how awesome and fun Tawky Tawny is. Urbane wit and major mystical face-punchitude? Why didn’t someone dig him out of mothballs sooner?


PS238 #28

The elementary school for superpowered kids is on a break, so Ms. Kyle, one of the beloved teachers, takes a long-overdue vacation in Vegas. Two of her students, stretchable Poly Mer and superstrong Julie Finster, think she’s quitting the school and have stowed away, along with the reluctant-to-help evil supergenius Zodon, to try to talk her out of it. Meanwhile, the Flea is tracking some bad guys who want to kidnap Zodon.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Weird, wild, funny stuff with gobs of personality behind it. I wish a heck of a lot more people read this comic.


Green Lantern Corps #18

Sodam Yat — member of the Green Lantern Corps, Daxamite who gains superpowers under Earth’s sun, and the new bearer of the mega-powerful Ion symbiote — takes on Superboy Prime. There’s a great deal of hitting, interspaced with flashbacks to Sodam’s rotten childhood among his xenophobic species. But mostly lots of hitting. Lots and lots and lots of hitting.

Verdict: Thumbs down. The thing is, this much hitting is boring.

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