Archive for March, 2008

The Human Brain is an Unpredictable Critter

Oh, the crazy things that go through my mind late at night when my brain is jacked up on Diet Cherry Vanilla Dr Pepper and Marshmallow Peeps…

You may have heard that Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale are going to continue their color-coded series at Marvel, following up “Spider-Man: Blue,” “Daredevil: Yellow,” and “Hulk: Gray” with the new “Captain America: White.”


Now, I’m sure it’ll be a really nice series, lots of great stuff about Cap during WWII, lots of beautiful art… but frankly, I just can’t seem to stop myself from re-naming it, every time I see the title, to “Captain America: Honkey.”

Yes, I know. Still can’t help it.

And I keep imagining a plot for it, too. It’s basically Cap standing around, saying stuff like, “Wow, I love country music. Aren’t sweater vests great? Who wants some Wonder Bread? I just don’t get Dave Chappelle.” And the Falcon and Luke Cage and Storm and the Black Panther show up every few minutes to yell, “Shut up, honkey!”

Other crazy comics ideas that run through my head when hopped up on candy and diet soda: Spider-Man should have a pet bear. It should be named Spider-Bear. Next year’s big comics crossovers should involve superheroes just sitting around and hugging pretty ponies and kitties and puppies. And Congorilla should totally be in the JLA.

It’s probably a good thing that I don’t write comics, ain’t it?

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Friday Night Fights: Playboy Fight Club!

You may find yourself thinking, “Self, I want more from my Friday nights than just gratuitous violence, horrendous beatings, and drunken barroom brawls. I want love, happiness, peace on earth, a friendly game of foosball, and a can of domestic light beer. Is that so much to ask?” Well, frankly, yes, it is. Please don’t bother us with your sick, disgusting fantasies of Friday nights without fights. Because we normal folk prefer FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS!

From “The Mother of the Movement” by Darwyn Cooke and J. Bone, from DC’s recent Justice League: The New Frontier Special, Wonder Woman, with Black Canary along for the ride, encounters a small horde of male chauvinist punching-bags in a local gentlemen’s club:


“Hola, dogs!” is our Phrase of the Weekend, by the way. Make sure you say it to someone before Monday hits.

Anyway, this leads to some of the best comic-book sound effects I’ve seen so far this year.


By the way, folks, when you’re facing an angry Amazon, your best weapon is probably not a Zippo lighter and a snifter of brandy, okay?



Luckily, Wondy isn’t harmed by — Whoa, wait a minute!


Oh my.


Oh my.


A little pain, a little pleasure. That’s what Friday Night Fights is all about. Hola, dogs!

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Military Readiness and Supernatural SNAFUs


Captain America #36

Well, finally, here’s the comic I was looking for the other day when I picked up that (grumblegrumble) “Director’s Cut.” Bucky Barnes, the new Captain America, in an attempt to save a corrupt senator, has landed in the middle of a bunch of supervillains, including the Red Skull’s daughter, Sin. The ensuing fight lasts most of the rest of the comic — Bucky takes down some of ’em and gets his head pounded by a few others. And he uses the gun. And the knife. And the shield. It’s a complete knock-down drag-out brawl. Great stuff, really. Later, Bucky tries to stop a riot the way the old Captain America, Steve Rogers, would do it, with an inspiring speech, but that doesn’t really work out. And on top of that, Sharon Carter, who is apparently pregnant with Rogers’ baby, finds something disturbing in the basement of evil geneticist/supervillain Arnim Zola.

Verdict: Thumbs up. That fight between Bucky and the supervillains really is excellent, especially the seemingly never-ending fist-fight between Cap and Crossbones. I also kinda enjoyed Bucky’s ineptness with inspiring speeches — just one more reminder that the new Cap is definitely not the old Cap.


Abe Sapien #2

Abe, Hellboy’s amphibious pal, is leading his first investigative team for the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense, checking out a sunken ship outside a small port town to find occult artifacts. And frankly, he screws up big. His team dies, everyone in the port town dies, a witch who might have helped him dies, and her son who might have helped him dies. He even loses the radio that he could have used to call for backup. He’s all alone, facing powerful mystic enemies, and plagued with self-doubt.

Verdict: Thumbs up. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a BPRD mission go so bad so fast. It’s kind of awe-inspiring how quickly they’ve stripped Abe of any possible support for this mission. I’m sure he’ll end up saving the day all by his lonesome, though I’m not sure how much of a comfort that’ll be after so many people have died. So yeah, it’s a depressing day for Abe, and it definitely makes me wanna read the rest of this series.

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The Science of X-Ray Vision


One of the fun things about comic book superpowers is trying to figure out how they’d really work… and why they really would never work at all.

So how does Superman do it! He can see through buildings and clothing (he checks out Lois Lane’s underwear in Superman 1 – more on this later). Many have attempted to answer this question of the ages yet few have explored this in as much depth as J.B. Pittenger who published a study in the journal Perception back in the stone ages (1983) entitled “On the plausibility of Superman’s x-ray vision.”

So why would someone go to all the trouble of finding out why X-ray vision could never work the way it does in the comics? It’s less about advancing the cause of science and more about educating students about their own vision:

The contrast between human vision and Superman’s x-ray vision can be useful in helping students understand the importance to vision of the physical nature of light and its interaction with the air and objects in the environment.

Human vision has evolved to make use of several physical properties of ‘visible’ light: over short distances it passes largely unchanged through air, thus making air nearly invisible’ it is reflected by most surfaces in the environment, thus allowing them to be visible’ and the reflection is only partial, thus structuring the light so as to provide information to the perceiver.

I’ve always found myself a bit irritated by pop-science books that purport to explain “the science of super-heroes” or “the science of Harry Potter” or “the science of this-that-and-the-other” — but they’re actually considered good things among a number of scientists who know that their real purpose is to get younger readers interested in science.

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Love and War


Wonder Woman #18

Lotsa stuff happening in this one. The extremely warlike Khund Empire comes to Earth just to throw all their military might at Wonder Woman for a few minutes before surrendering, proclaiming that it was all in tribute to her warrior power, and inviting her and Etta Candy to the Khund homeworld to take care of an invader that’s stomping their civilization to death.

Of course, what everyone’s talking about is the fact that Wondy has decided to, in her words, court Agent Tom Tresser, AKA Nemesis. So, I guess they’re dating, in some weird combo of Amazonian and American dating rituals. I have no idea what to think of this. On one hand, every other superhero in the DCU gets a romantic interest, so why not Wonder Woman? And the idea of Tresser being subjected to whatever warrior-ethos courting rituals the Amazons prefer sounds like it could lead to some nicely humorous comics. On the other hand… Tom Tresser? Really? That’s the best Wondy could come up with? Sure, Nemesis was a certified badass a decade or two ago, but the way he’s written now, he’s pretty much just a garden-variety dork. He might be considered decent boyfriend-fodder for some characters, but he just seems way too lightweight for Wonder Woman…

Verdict: Thumbs up. Gail Simone’s writing is just grand fun, particularly during the courtship sequence. And I also enjoyed the culture clash of the war-loving Khunds, who think calling Wondy “Destroyer” and “Avatar of Havoc” and building giant, ugly statues of her are great compliments. The characterization of the Khund advisor’s daughter, who combines complete enthusiasm for war with pseudo-hip MTV lingo, is also entirely diggable. My sole quibble is really the idea that Wonder Woman thinks an unrelenting dork like Tresser is court-worthy.

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Short Takes


Tiny Titans #2

More all-ages goofiness. We meet Terra, who likes to throw rocks at everyone, and Kid Devil, who’s short and quiet and sets things on fire. Beast Boy loves Terra, and Cyborg helps bake a cake. The Titans take on the Fearsome Five in a high-stakes game of Freeze Tag, and the winners get to play on the swings!

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s pretty light on the plot, but it’s charmingly written and illustrated, and it’s also pretty funny.


Green Lantern Corps #22

Boodikka is a new Alpha Lantern who must travel to her old home planet to capture her own sister, who has become a Green Lantern but is in danger of going rogue.

Verdict: Thumbs down. Really, this story just bored me.


Captain America #34: Director’s Cut

I feel like a complete sucker for picking this one up. It’s a reprint of Captain America #34, where Bucky Barnes becomes the new Captain America, with the addition of a script of the issue and a little Alex Ross artwork. Why did I get it? I saw what looked like a new issue of the comic and picked it up without paying close enough attention to it. Four bucks down the drain.

Verdict: Thumbs down. Listen, if you haven’t read this issue yet, it may be worth the cost to you — you’re getting the story, and you’re getting a few extras, too. If you’re a completist, and you just want to have every possible issue of “Captain America” you can get your hands on, fine, go ahead and get it. Otherwise, there’s absolutely no reason to get this. Save your cash for something else.

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The Return of Smilin’ Stan and Joltin’ Jack


Fantastic Four: The Lost Adventure

Here’s something that completely got away from me for several weeks. A “Fantastic Four” story that should have been published in the 103rd issue in 1970. Artist extraordinaire Jack Kirby had turned in his pencils for the issue, but writer Stan Lee apparently needed more time to work on the dialogue, and by the time the story got put back on the publication schedule, the issue needed to be chopped up and altered even more to make it fit in with extra continuity. The altered story was published in issue #108, but Marvel has now reconstructed Stan and Jack’s original story here for the first time.

And what is our story? New York City is attacked by an evil genius who calls himself Janus the Mega-Man. He has technology that allows him to knock the stuffing out of the Thing and the Human Torch, and Mr. Fantastic worries that his weapons may be powerful enough to destroy the city, or even the entire world! Reed remembers a classmate named Janus who resembled the Janus who attacked New York and visits him in Kansas. But he was injured in an accident years ago and can’t get around without his crutches. Besides, he’s a complete milquetoast — surely he couldn’t be the maniac responsible. And in fact, it’s a case of good twin/evil twin — Janus the Mega-Man is a bully and thug lording his powers over his good but weak-willed brother. Can the FF find a way to defeat the Janus brothers before New York pays the price?

And that’s not all — the rest of the book is a breakdown of Kirby’s pencils on this issue, along with a reprint of the altered story that appeared in Issue #108, in which Janus is revamped as the Nega-Man, who gets his power from the Negative Zone.

Verdict: About a dozen very enthusiastic thumbs up. You just can’t go wrong with classic Kirby artwork. The story is both goofy and glorious, as only the best Silver Age stories can be. If I’ve got any quibbles, it’s where Stan Lee, in getting this story ready to publish in 2008, decided to modernize some of the story. There’s really no need to add references to DSL Internet connections or to the “Doonesbury” comic strip — they come across as incredibly anachronistic and confusing. An original story by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby just doesn’t need to be modernized to be relevant and cool.

This one’s a bit expensive. Getting it will set you back five bucks all by itself. But man alive, is it ever worth it.

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Comics in Color


Here’s something for you comic historians out there: Jackie Ormes, the first African-American woman cartoonist.


Nancy Goldstein’s Jackie Ormes: The First African American Woman Cartoonist is a scholarly yet highly readable account of Ormes’ life and work. Born Zelda Mavin Jackson to a well-to-do family in Pittsburgh, Ormes, in Torchy Brown comics and the single-panel Patty-Jo ‘n’ Ginger, created stylish black female characters who scrutinized Cold War policies, advocated for civil rights, and poked fun at human foibles. Her drawings found a grateful audience in black-owned newspapers such as the Pittsburgh Courier.Author and doll collector Goldstein discovered Ormes’ story while researching the Patty-Jo doll Ormes designed. It was the first high-quality dark-skinned doll for girls, meant to replace stereotyped mammy dolls. A treasure-trove for any reader interested in African American history or American popular culture, Jackie Ormes includes more than 125 of Ormes’ cartoons and color comics, reproduced for the first time since their debut. Many are annotated with explanations of current events.

In 1948, little Patty-Jo urged, “How’s about gettin’ our rich Uncle Sam to put good public schools all over?” Her high-heeled big sister holds a pamphlet for the newly begun Negro College Fund. Way ahead of its time for showing how pollution unequally affects minorities, in 1954, Torchy in Heartbeats depicts a handsome black doctor who saves a black community from environmental poisoning masterminded by a bigoted industrialist. Naturally, Torchy, a nurse, falls in love with the doctor.

The book captures the sophisticated whirl of Ormes’ social life, with photos of Ormes rubbing elbows with Eartha Kitt and Duke Ellington. Her life wasn’t without tragedy: her only child, a little girl, died at age three, and the FBI investigated her. Yet her talent, supportive husband, and convictions assured her successes.

Ormes never seems to get much publicity, partly because she didn’t draw superhero comics, partly because, let’s face it, she got a double dose of marginalization because of her gender and her skin color. That’s starting to change, thanks in part to Goldstein’s book and the Ormes Society website. And here are some other good resources about Ormes’ life and artwork.

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Friday Night Fights: Use the Boxing Glove Arrow!

Looks like Friday Night Fights is back on! And you know what that means, right? Right? No, not macramé and lemon cookies! Not feeding the duckies down by the lake! Not going to the mall to buy new underwear! It means FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS!

Our little chunk of violence tonight is from 1997’s JLA #9 by Grant Morrison and Oscar Jimenez. In it, we see the Key, a guy who got his name by digging in his pants pockets, preparing to traverse an interdimensional lock to attain omnipotent power.


Sounds like bad news. Perhaps an off-panel Connor “Green Arrow” Hawke can help foil his evil plan to, um, walk through a glowing door?


WHHHHUNNTCH! Is there no more joyful sound in all the world than “WHHHHUNNTCH?”


Aaaaand… Scene.

Merry Weekend, everyone. May you have several delicious WHHHHUNNTCHes.

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Time and Magic


Booster Gold #7

Booster and Blue Beetle (that’s the Ted Kord version, the one who got killed before Infinite Crisis and who has now been saved thanks to Booster’s time-meddling) are on the run from hordes of OMACs who are running the world and who have killed most of the world’s superheroes. Luckily, because Max Lord used some Ted’s technology to build the OMACs, Ted has a backdoor into their systems to make them ignore him. But they’ve still got plenty of OMACs to fight their way through — and even worse, Max’s mind control still has Superman doing his dirty work for him. Let’s hope the Resistance can save Booster and Beetle in time. Meanwhile, Booster’s rotten father gets rescued from the distant past by the futuristic Blue Beetle from the last few issues, now revealed as a villain called the Black Beetle — and they’ve got some very powerful allies with evil plans in the works.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Buuuuuut not as much of a thumbs up as previously. Everything’s really just a bit too frantic this time, and though everyone wants us to think of the evil Time Stealers as a serious bunch of badasses, they really underwhelmed me a bit. But like I said, it’s still a thumbs up. It’s great to see Ted Kord in action again, and to get reminded that he was a lot more than a “Bwa-ha-ha” stooge.


Countdown to Mystery #6

I’d lost track of this one for a while and have been trying to get caught up. We’ve got two different stories right now — first, Kent Nelson is a homeless, alcoholic doctor in Las Vegas who’s become the latest possessor of the Helmet of Fate. He’s trying to get a grasp of his new powers, overcome his addictions, and keep his semi-steady job picking up trash in a motel parking lot. But when he makes an accidental side-trip to Hell, is he going to get out alive? Our second story follows the Spectre, his host, Crispus Allen, and Bruce Gordon, the former and now current host of Eclipso. Eclipso continues his schemes to corrupt superheroes — this time adding the Huntress to his current group of Plastic Man, the Creeper, and Dove.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Some good, creepy stuff in here. Dr. Fate’s trip to hell and his encounters with a demonic version of the Justice Society are thoroughly nasty, and his reaction after getting out is pretty darn close to what I woulda done, too. As for the Eclipso story, it’s a bit more of a standard comic-book-villainy plot, but Huntress’ much angrier disposition after getting Eclipsed was very well done.

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