Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Top 5 Worst Resurrections comics, that is. I am not discussing Jesus again, especially not in the context of comics resurrections. (Although that one was kinda lame. His dad just zaps him back to life a few days later? Puh-lease. It wasn't even foreshadowed.)

No, I'm talking about the comic-book trend of bringing back dead characters with very contrived explanations, primarily because fans want to continue reading about said character's adventures and won't take "Ack, gurgle, thud!" for an answer. Here they are...

5. Jean Grey. Technically not a very bad one, but it set the precedent for BS "Look, I'm back!" resurrections. Jean Grey's mutant powers had kicked into overdrive, making her telekinesis so powerful that she could snuff out stars--which she did, destroying an entire solar system when he went crazy from having so much power. She nobly decided to kill herself, rather than risk endangering the entire universe should she go crazy again. Resurrection: It turned out that an actual super-powerful cosmic entity precisely duplicated her, and the cosmic entity/duplicate killed itself because That's What Jean Would Have Done. The real Jean was found years later, just fine and dandy.

4. Elektra. She was stabbed in the chest with her own sai by Bullseye (although unlike the movie version, it was in a rivalry over who would become the Kingpin's personal hitman.) Resurrection: Ninja magic.

3. Green Lantern. Hal Jordan went insane after the destruction of his hometown, Coast City, at the hands of the alien Mongul, and tried to gather enough cosmic power to rewrite history and save those victims no matter what the cost to anyone else. To this end, he destroyed the Green Lantern Corps, destroyed and remade the universe, yet still failed at saving the people he cared about the most. Finally, having regained his sanity, he sacrificed his power and life restoring Earth's sun in a heroic and noble moment, and became DC's ghostly spirit of redemption, The Spectre. Resurrection: All the evil stuff he did was because of alien fear parasites, and when he found that out, he got better.

2. Green Goblin. In one of the most iconic and memorable stories of Spider-Man's 44-year history, Norman Osborn's mind reverted to his sinister Green Goblin persona one last time, prompting him to kidnap Peter Parker's girlfriend, Gwen Stacy, and throw her off a bridge. Spider-Man failed to save her, and he tracked down the Green Goblin and beat him savagely--and yet, he couldn't kill him. The Goblin did that himself, when he tried to impale Spidey from behind on his Goblin Glider and Spidey dodged it. The Goblin's own Glider stabbed him through the heart. Resurrection: It just hurt real bad. He's better now.

1. Guardian. Alpha Flight's charismatic leader died in a battle with Omega Flight, a team assembled to take the Canadian super-heroes down. Months later, he returned, explaining that he'd actually activated a prototype teleporter in his battlesuit that teleported him to one of the moons of Jupiter, where he was rescued and healed by a race of benevolent aliens. But this turned out to be a lie covering the return of Omega Flight's leader disguised as Guardian--writer John Byrne cleverly parodied implausible resurrection stories to sucker fans into believing Guardian was back, knowing that the more convoluted and unbelievable the resurrection, the more the fans bought it. The unveiling of Guardian as a villain was therefore a genuine surprise. Resurrection: The whole BS story about the moons of Jupiter and the benevolent aliens turned out to be true. Says it all, don't it?

Monday, July 17, 2006

The Announcement

It's not really a big announcement, since 90% of the people who read this blog are friends and family, and I've already told all of them, but this is the point where anyone who just stumbled onto this blog while looking for Doctor Seuss fanfic and discussions of zombies finds out...

I'm now officially contracted to write 'The Crossover Companion', for TwoMorrows Press, due sometime in 2007. It'll be a comprehensive look at the crossover phenomenon in comics, starting from the earliest idea that each company's stories all took place in the same fictional universe, and moving forward to examine the "event" crossovers that became a permanent fixture of the industry (for good and bad) in the 80s, 90s, and on through the present day. It will also serve as a guide to these crossovers for anyone who wants to know what titles spun off out of 'Zero Hour', who wrote 'Secret Wars II', what happened in 'Unity', and who died in 'Extreme Prejudice' (assuming anyone on this Earth actually cares who died in 'Extreme Prejudice'.)

It'll be about 200 pages, and I'll give details on things like price, cover artist, and similar once they're forthcoming. I hope everyone enjoys it. I also hope they buy it, since I get a cut of every copy.

Friday, July 14, 2006

In Defense of the Status Quo

Let's face it--everyone hates the status quo. People equate the phrase with stagnation, boredom, lifelessness, and a flat unchanging nothing. Everyone insists that stories should "kick against the status quo" (especially in comics, where there's practically a jihad going on between people who hate it and people who love it.) And nobody seems to understand what the damn thing is. So here's a quick explanation of what a status quo is, and why you should love it.

Any series (not just comics series, but TV, movie, video game, manga, what have you--any setting that is designed to tell multiple stories based around a character or group of characters) must have a status quo. That status quo is the baseline setting and context for the series, and it functions as a generator of stories. That status quo can be anything from "a group of people in the workplace that don't get along very well" to "a man with a magic box that lets him go anywhere in space and time" to "a mystery writer who actually solves mysteries" to "a group of mutant superheroes that help a world that fears and hates them." (Obviously, these are just thumbnail descriptions: A real "status quo" for a series involves descriptions of each character, what makes them tick, the world they operate in, their relationships to each other, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.)

That phrase, "a generator of stories," is an important one. It means that there are stories you can tell about these people that come out of the setting and context you establish, stories that are interesting in and of themselves. Obviously, not all status quos are created equal. There are a lot more interesting stories you can tell about "a man with a magic box that lets him go anywhere in space and time" than you can about "a group of people in the workplace that don't get along very well", which is why 'Doctor Who' is still going after 43 years and even a great workplace sitcom like 'NewsRadio' only lasted five. Not all settings and contexts have the same number of interesting stories to tell about them; some have very few.

Now, this is where the comics community has bandied about terms like "real change vs. the illusion of change". There are two factions in comics that each have very strong views about making major changes to a comic book; the "real change" people insist that change is an important, naturalistic element of story-telling, and that by forcing the characters to conform to an unchanging model, they've made them stagnant and lifeless; the "illusion of change" people insist that when you make major changes to a character, you're losing as much as you gain, and all too often you can lose the thing that makes the character special.

But here's where our above definition of "status quo" comes in, because it not only explains away the seeming contradiction between the two, but also explains the existence of the third type of story that neither side seems to acknowledge: The story that is exciting without having either change or the illusion thereof. That type of story is the kind that the status quo generates directly out of its context and setting, and if it's a good status quo, you should be able to tell a lot of those. The X-Men can go out and save the world a lot without needing to make changes in their setting and context, and it'll probably be exciting.

But "illusion of change vs. real change" translates, here, into "deviation from, and return to the status quo vs. transition from one status quo to another new status quo." An "illusion of change" story is one where something happens to upset the status quo, the setting and context of the characters' lives, and their efforts to return things to said status quo. For example, the X-Men went through a very long "illusion of change" story from Uncanny X-Men #200-280, where Professor X left Earth, the team faked their deaths and moved to Australia, the mansion was destroyed, and several characters lost their memories of being X-Men, all before Professor X finally returned and helped set things to rights. (Which brings up an interesting point: That storyline wasn't well received, because it went on for a very long time and people were frustrated that there seemed to be no end to the changes. You can only deviate from the status quo so long and so far because "meaning" comes from setting and context--without a world to ground the story you're telling, it becomes pointless. Status quos are necessary because they provide that context. But I digress.)

"Real change" stories, on the other hand, change the status quo to an entirely new one. They demolish the old story-generating engine, and create a new one. For example, Batgirl got shot in the back, suffering permanent spinal damage that confined her to a wheelchair, and became the tech-savvy Oracle, leader and mastermind of the female super-hero team, 'The Birds of Prey'. That's a significant and permanent change--you're telling a completely different type of story with Barbara Gordon than you told thirty years ago. You have a different status quo.

So, here's where it all comes together. "Real change" fans think that they're advocating "no status quo", but you can't do that, because a status quo is simply a context and setting to your character's continuing adventures, which is absolutely necessary to give the story its emotional grounding. They're simply advocating that status quos should feel free to change. "Illusion of change" fans recognize the point brought up back near the beginning: Not all status quos are created equal. Not all story-generating engines have the same number of stories in them, nor the same quality. (Notice how 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' tended to founder a bit after they left high school? New status quo, not as many good stories in it.) Changing to a new status quo is only a good idea if the new status quo has as many or more good stories in it. Otherwise, you're just closing off interesting possibilities. Which means that changing the status quo shouldn't be done lightly or often, especially in comics--a lot of these status quos have managed to keep going for decades because there are so many interesting stories to tell with them; changing the engine could wreck it, and it takes time and effort to fix something like that. (Witness the 'Clone Saga'.)

There ya go. Why status quo is important, why it should be viewed as valuable, and why you shouldn't tinker with it too much when you're writing an open-ended series (like, say, having Scott Summers get mind-controlled by Jean Grey's ghost into falling in love with the White Queen, right before you leave the series.) And all in just a few hundred easy paragraphs.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

"And I'd Survive, Too!"

Unbidden, the memory of reading about the medical condition known as "hyponatremia" popped into my head last night--it's a dangerous medical condition caused by over-hydrating (usually done by marathon runners who are over-eager to prevent dehydration) where the sodium levels in the blood drop too far. It can lead to all sorts of unpleasant symptoms, and can even be fatal.

It got me thinking about marathons in general, and I had to wonder, "How did all this get started?" I mean, yes, we've all heard the legend about the Battle of Marathon, and the Greek soldier who ran all the way from Marathon to Athens, proclaimed the Athenian victory, then keeled over dead.

What I wanna know is, who looked down at the guy's corpse and said, "I bet I could beat his time"?

Friday, July 07, 2006

The S-Word

I read 'X-23: Innocence Lost' and 'NYX: Wannabe' recently, the two books that brought X-23 into the Marvel Universe (X-23 is a clone of Wolverine that, for various reasons, wound up being female). I'm not generally a person who goes into these things seeing any sort of political or subtextual agenda, and I generally enjoy my comfortable obliviousness to said agendas,, these books are pathetically sexist.

There. I've said it, and I'd say it again if I had to.

Basically, there's a certain element of laziness to X-23's origin story. She's "Wolverine as a teenage girl". Her origin is pretty much exactly the same, beat for beat, except where they felt they should change things to make them more "female". And that's where the sexism comes in. Because, you see, while Weapon X escaped from the project because they were torturing her, X-23 had a female scientist who acted as surrogate mother to the clone and felt all maternal to her (see, she lost her scientific detachment and went all gooey for the girl once she was born, because that's just what women do.) And it was Mom who helped X-23 decide that she needed to escape (because X-23 wouldn't have done it on her own, or something.) Mom dies in the escape, and X-23 is left on her own...

...and when we next see her, she's a hooker.

Do I even need to add anything to that last statement? Do I even need to explain what is so staggeringly, pathetically, loathesomely sexist about the idea that any woman who winds up on her own in a large city for more than a week winds up under the thumb of a domineering pimp, even one who can leave people's body parts in different zip codes and doesn't need money to survive? Do I need to point out that there's absolutely no explanation given for her career move--she just shows up in the book, and hey look, she's a hooker, and the writer (who is also, disappointingly enough, the editor-in-chief of Marvel) just expects us to accept that, no questions asked, because that is after all what women do?

Sometimes I wonder about this medium.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

DC Zombies

After reading 'Ultimate Fantastic Four Volume Five' (now a strong contender for Awesomest Thing Ever), I'm fully up to speed on the Marvel Zombieverse--an alternate reality just like the regular Marvel Universe, except that "three days ago", one of the super-heroes got infected with a virus that gave him an insatiable hunger for human flesh. Human, and super-human.

And now, every super-hero in the Marvel Universe is a rotting, insane, super-zombie.

So naturally, that led me to think: How would the DC version of this go? So here's the basic plot of the three issue "DC Zombies" mini-series.

Issue One: Outbreak. Access (the DC/Marvel jointly-owned character who can freely travel between continuities) teleports into Gotham City, looking for help from its heroes. But he's already infected, and by the time he finds Robin, he starts gnawing on him instead of asking him for assistance. Robin fends off his assailant, but a trail of victims tells him that Gotham's already in trouble. The infection spreads through the city, snagging both Nightwing and the Mad Hatter (who are locked in combat at the time.) Nightwing delivers the Mad Hatter to Arkham before succumbing to the infection himself.

At dawn, Batman returns to the Batcave, having narrowly escaped infection several times, and broadcasts word to the JLA that he needs help quarantining the city. Superman arrives, bringing with him Wonder Woman, the Martian Manhunter, and Green Lantern, but it's already too late--isolated reports of infection have come through from Metropolis and Fawcett City, and it appears to be spreading west. Then worse news arrives, as dozens of super-zombie-criminals break out of Arkham, led by a zombie Amygdala and a zombie Killer Croc. The JLA attempt to contain them, but the issue ends with Kiler Croc chomping down on Superman's shoulder.

Issue Two: The Hunt. The battle with the JLA concludes in disaster, as Superman flees the battle, and Wonder Woman and Martian Manhunter are both infected. Green Lantern is forced to retreat, and zombie Wonder Woman and zombie Martian Manhunter begin circling the globe spreading the infection. Batman goes into zombie-infested Gotham to find Nightwing and Robin, getting updates from Oracle as he does so. (Oracle is on a Blackhawk plane, circling the globe herself, and is hence safe from the plague, but she's already starting to worry about refueling.) Oracle delivers updates from Coast City, where Hal Jordan tries to hold off zombie Sinestro, from Fawcett City, where Captain Marvel is nowhere to be found (we see Billy Batson starting to shout "Sha--" before a zombie sinks its teeth into his cheek), and all over the world.

Superman, meanwhile, contacts Batman to tell him that his powers aren't enough to hold the infection at bay, and he's losing control to the hunger. When he fled, it was to attain orbit--the more sunlight he gets, the more powerful he becomes and the better he can fight the infection, so he had to get out of the atmosphere to avoid atmospheric scatter. But it's still not enough. He informs Batman that he's flying at top speed towards the sun--he'll either get strong enough to burn out the infection completely, or he'll vaporize in the sun's heat. Either way, the world will be safe from him.

Meanwhile, Oracle continues to receive reports of heroes fighting zombies. Swamp Thing is attacked by zombie versions of Doctor Fate and Zatanna, and is forced to abandon his physical body, only to discover that he's brought the infection into the Green itself. Buddy Baker, meanwhile, finds that he's done the same with the Red. Nature begins to eat itself as the infection spreads.

We cut back to Batman, in the Batcave. The JLA teleporter has been disabled. Nightwing and Robin are pinned to the ground with Batarangs through their hands and ankles, each one muzzled to prevent accidents. And Batman begins working on a cure.

Book Three: The Cure. Oracle acts as pronouncer of the end of the world, from two miles above it. Her reports come in from every city, and she dutifully relays them to Batman. The Green Lantern Corps has abandoned Earth and recalled its ring-bearers. (Back on Oa, we see a zombie Hal Jordan, Guy Gardner, and John Stewart slugging it out with the rest of the Green Lanterns, in the first battle of the Green Lantern Corps and the Green Lantern Corpse.) The few people immune to the zombie plague are being killed. (Hawk, Dove, and Black Adam, each with magical bodies, are being ripped apart--literally--by the JSA.) Nobody knows what's happened to Captain Marvel. (We see a young boy, his jaw half-ripped-off, shouting "a-am!" ineffectually through shredded lips.) Poison Ivy's own plants have attacked her, infecting her, and the Floronic Man has spontaneously zombified. Things have gone from bad to worse to worst...

Then they go to the level past worst, as zombie Power Girl and zombie Supergirl each take a wing of Oracle's plane and make a wish. But back in the Batcave, Batman's made a breakthrough. He's got a drug that appears to be able to stem the hunger, like methadone for a heroin addict. It doesn't cure the infection, but the patient becomes rational. He makes the dangerous test of it, releasing zombie Nightwing from his muzzle...but Dick's sane now. He doesn't attack.

Power Girl does, though. She and Supergirl come smashing into the Batcave, its location supplied to them by zombie Oracle. Batman fires darts filled with the "cure" at them, but their bullet-proof skin repels it, and he's forced to flee. Dick and Tim are left behind in the Batcave, the formula for the "cure" unfortunately lost in the Batcomputer that was buried under tons of rubble in the fight, and knowing they'll succumb to the hunger without it.

Batman, meanwhile, flees for his life through zombie Gotham. He manages to elude Power Girl and Supergirl by ducking through lead-lined subway tunnels, and thinks he's escaped...but one of his own Batarangs slicing into his Achilles tendons tells him otherwise. He limps away, expecting to see Nightwing when he turns...but instead it's zombie Oracle, wheeling herself towards him with an evil grin. She pulls him down, and begins to feed...

Two weeks later, and Superman finally returns. He's cured--it took a plunge into the very heart of the sun, a risk he'd never have taken if not for the need to cure the infection, but he's free of it now, and more powerful than ever. He's ready to save the world! But he sees, as he arrives, that it's too late. He's met by the zombie super-hero population, everyone from zombie Ambush Bug to zombie Zatanna. The very trees, the animals, every single form of life on Earth has succumbed to the infection, and the hunger it brings. And then he understands what he must do to save the world. Superman's never unleashed his full power before, but he does now--and he destroys Earth and everyone on it. Alone, in space, the last son of two worlds looks for somewhere new to call home.

And on Apokolips, a boom tube opens. Darkseid himself looks toward the noise, and sees his estranged son, Orion, cross the threshold. But why does he look so...pale?