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Dance of the Puppets

Like a bat on a hot tin roof since August 2005

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Fashion Disaster Week: Bad Hat Day

This is one of those topics that when you get started it's hard to know where to stop, so I'm just going to give two examples now and maybe return to it later.

Everyone hates Zatanna's centipede hat. It's the crowning glory of a terrible costume design that entirely fails to fit her character or powers in any way. And yet in other circumstances it might work. For instance, if worn by the captain of an evil puppet spaceship, with the centipede so far forward that it got in their eye.

Come on down Captain Orion of Star Fleet, and show the magician how it's done!


And then there's the original costume worn by The Wasp when she first appeared. If you ever wondered what trauma caused Janet Van Dyne to become obsessive to the point of wearing a new costume in almost every issue of The Avengers, it can now be told. It was the hat. The one shaped like a wasp's sting. Of course, a wasp's sting isn't on the top of its head.

One day it occured to her that she had been fighting crime for several years wearing something that looked like an insect's rear end on her head. She's never quite recovered.

Puella ex machina

When a remarkably inept marketing venture between Apple Mackintosh and Mattel goes horribly wrong, the prototype "Cyborg Fun Barbie" is disowned by both companies and is left to fend for herself; with a truly random access memory and an obsession with the colour pink, she is the living doll known as iCandy.


When I first started playing the online superhero game City of Heroes, I decided it would be fun to create a female robot character. I thought I was very clever to call this character iCandy, and it was only several months later that I discovered that there had been a comic that used the same name. Luckily it wasn't very successful and nobody seems to have heard of it. But it piqued my interest and when I found copies of the series in the bargain bin of a comic shop I bought them. Something like a year later I've finally got around to reading beyond the first issue.

icandy is a comic that wants to be an anime when it grows up. Or possibly a video game. At the very least, a manga. In Japan the lines blur rather more than they do in the west. A story might start out as a manga, anime, or video game and then get adapted into one or more of the others so faithfully that you forget which came first. And they often integrate to the point where you can't get the full story unless you have experienced different media versions. Many anime assume a familiarity with the manga they are based on, and don't even bother introducing characters and situations, assuming that the viewer will already be familiar with them, or like the Sakura Wars OAV series which is in many ways the backstory to the video game, and there are gaps in the anime where the action of the game takes place.

The comic takes the visual style from japanese video games for the design of its heroine, Candy, and the storyline steals liberally from manga/anime from the moment where Candy first makes her dramatic entrance in a way that magical schoolgirls have been doing ever since Video Girl Ai first fell out of a TV set in 1989. You can liven up your reading experience by making a game of playing Spot The Cliche as you go.



Above: Video Girl Ai

Right: The icandy variation

The story, such as it is: sullen adolescent Matt Delaney (he's such a teenager that he doesn't even speak until page 17, ignoring direct requests from teachers, other students, and even his mother. You begin to wonder if he's deaf and nobody has noticed) receives an experimental prototype games console from his father (parents are divorced and he lives with his mother) who does something unspecific in the whole console design field (so unspecific that he has no clue what he's really working on) and doesn't appear to be aware of the extreme level of security that surrounds the industry he works in. Matt plugs the console in, which seems to have a pre-loaded game, and selects a character who just happens to resemble his missing sister.

I assumed when I read this that Dad did this on purpose, creating the character as some kind of homage to his lost daughter, but it turns out later that he knows nothing about it. Apparently he hasn't actually played the only game on the console he's designing. So of course Matt selects this character and wouldn't you know it? At the exact moment he hits the Play button, the system is struck by lightning and Candy rises from the shattered remains of the TV (the console itself is completely undamaged, which is a bit odd considering that surely it's the power surge to the console that causes her to materialise). Then she jumps through the window (which is closed at the time) and runs away. Matt chases her and she jumps about a lot and acts like a video game character, even to the extent of being able to pull up menu windows out of thin air.

The next 3 issues involve Matt and Candy traveling across country and getting in fights along the way. Matt is going to find his dad, and Candy is under the impression that dad's boss = level boss and she must defeat him to reach the next level. They are being chased by generic evil blobby things, generic corporate thugs, and a generic bounty hunter type. Meanwhile Dad receives a note from "a friend" (who is never identified) that tips him off to the blindingly obvious situation that the skyscraper he works in is virtually deserted. He's such a geek. Matt and Candy finally arrive and we get this big infodump explaining the plot, which involves aliens from another dimension accessing our world through video games so the company has been building a game in which they can fight back. The real Candy disappeared while playtesting this game and game warrior Candy is of course specially important because she is the only game character that's been able to survive in the real world for more than a few minutes so they want to find out how she does it.

Then the backup "hardlight" characters (who haven't even been programmed yet) get possessed by the aliens for no reason that makes any sense and Candy has to fight them.

One thing that surprised me was that icandy was not, as I had assumed, a mini-series. According to this interview, artist Kalman Andraofszky was contracted to 12 issues. How much warning the creators got of the comic's demise is debatable. Issue #6 does complete a story arc, but with the cliffhanger of Candy apparently killed when she self-destructs the battle armour she is wearing to defeat the other game characters. The epilogue sequence where she pops up again to let us know she survived seems rushed and pointless and doesn't explain anything. It just seems to be tacked on to give it an upeat ending, where leaving her fate uncertain would have been far more effective.

The other thing that surprised me is that icandy is only the name of the comic. The character is only ever referred to as Candy. Which means I wasn't unintentionally copying a character name already in use.

Cool.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Fashion Disaster Week: Jack Kirby's off day

Jack Kirby was the master of fantastic costume design. While many of his more extreme designs could never work in real life, it doesn't matter; they were the epitome of "sense of wonder" and gave characters a grandness and a strangeness befitting the stories he told. And his level of craftsmanship and sheer enjoyment of the form that meant that even character like Knorda, the normal sized queen of the hill giants is depicted in an individual detailed costume when she only ever appeared(1) in 4 panels, two of which were a head shot and a back view.

So I have to assume that Jack was just having an off day when he created Beautiful Dreamer.

Beautiful Dreamer is the only female member of The Forever People, and one of only two heroines(2) in the entire New Gods saga(3), so what could have possibly possessed him to dress her in an old sack? Had he just run a bit dry after creating so many new characters for the epic? And if so why was she stuck with the rag for so long? You might say it was part of the whole hippy vibe that the Forever People have going, except that all of the other members of the group are dressed with typical Kirby flair.

Beautiful Dreamer continues to wear the sack, which appears to be slowly disintegrating as the series progresses, until issue #9, when kindly old Trixie Macgruder gives her a new dress. We then get Beautiful Dreamer's only comment on her choice in clothes "The body is merely a three-dimensional identification vehicle! It's our "total" selves that beautify us!"


No, I don't understand why that means she should wear a sack, either. But when she finds the dress Trixie gives her to be too old fashioned for her "total self", Serifan zaps it with a cosmic cartridge into a much more fashionable little number with a lot of fringes, and matching boots. Sadly, this "atomically re-shifted" form seems to be a little unstable, because by issue #11 it has gone from strawberry red and white to the orange of her old sack. Or perhaps the colourist wasn't paying attention and forgot she had a new outfit.



Notes

1. Yes, I know she turned up again as an important character in the
Domination Factor miniseries, but that was 35 years later. And they still never explained how the giants came to have a queen who was normal human size.

2. The other being Big Barda, obviously. Shame on you if you didn't know that one. And no, for the purposes of this entry I'm not counting the Female Furies who were briefly on the good guys' side.

3.
New Gods, Forever People, Mister Miracle, and Jimmy Olsen.

Fashion Disaster Week

Since I've found more to talk about than I expected I'm making this week Fashion Disaster week!

Oh, what fun we'll have!

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Fashion Disasters: Poll

I'm currently putting together a few articles on super-heroine fashion disasters and it struck me that it might be fun to see what other people thought. So please respond with your choice of the worst dressed woman in comics - If she has had multiple costumes give an issue number or something to specify which one you mean.

Stupid Super Powers 1: Animal Magnetism


Animal Magnetism:
The ability to cause animals to become temporarily magnetic.


Can't you just see silver age Batman gaining this power just in time to deal with a breakout at the zoo, which he foils by attaching all the magnetized animals to a giant fridge door that happens to be nearby?

Friday, January 27, 2006

The most famous villainesses you've never heard of

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Who's This Girl?

This is a new bust of Supergirl produced by DC Direct, purveyors of expensive tat to the rich and dateless. It's part of their "Women of the DC Universe" collection, apparently, and based on designs by Adam Hughes.

What I want to know is which Supergirl is it supposed to be? The length of the sleeve looks a lot like the design on the current costume, but this is not an adolescent girl. And then again the hair is shorter than any version of the Girl of Steel has ever worn it to date, except for the Earth 2 Kara, and this is clearly not Power Girl in a new outfit. However, it's not due for release until September, so perhaps current events in the DCU are going to age Supergirl more than a single year. Is it too much to hope that she might also grow a personality?


Edit: Just noticed that this is my 100th entry in this blog. Go me.

All Hail Dark Phoenix!

"I am become death, the destroyer of worlds."

There's been some chat recently about the lack of strong female villains in comics - characters that have the iconic status of Doctor Doom or The Joker. So what is Dark Phoenix? Chopped liver?

The Wikipedia list of supervillainesses (I'm not sure that's even a word. Surely "villain" is not gender specific) does not even mention her, and yet she has been one of the most influential and popular, not to mention one of the most physically powerful female villains in the history of comics. For many years after her first appearance, when a hero character went bad (particularly if female) they would be referred to as "Dark-" and everyone got the reference.

Okay, I know some might question whether Dark Phoenix counts as a villain because she is only a hero gone bad temporarily, but Catwoman is on the Villainess list and she's been swapping sides since the mid-1950's. And consider Dark Phoenix's thematic ancestor, Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: can you see anyone ever arguing that Hyde doesn't count as a villain because he is only the dark aspect of Jekyll?

The storyline that first introduced Dark Phoenix is possibly the best thing Chris Claremont ever wrote. His work with John Byrne during this period produced some classic X-Men stories that were so effective and powerful that they are still getting recycled even now, and the slow build of the Dark Phoenix/Hellfire Club storyline was a masterwork of pacing. It's an excellent story on its own, but it reaches a whole other level when, in a classic case of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory Jean Grey triumphs over Mastermind's mind control by opening Pandora's box and letting out her dark side, which is kinda like beating someone at chess by blowing up the building where the game is being played.

In fact, in her original outing, Dark Phoenix only lasts two issues. Then she is shut down, and before she can escape again Jean Grey allows herself to be killed rather than become the monster again. But in that short time she eats a star - she may be solar powered but she is anything but environmentally friendly - and tears through a Shi'arr battlecruiser like a tank through butter. Sadly, we don't get to see her do much else as Claremont and Byrne realise that there is no credible way for the X-Men to defeat her unless they get tricksy, and so they backpedal a little and even though in Uncanny X-Men #135 Phoenix says she is leaving Earth forever, and her grasp of her powers is good enough that she is opening warp gates and consuming stars, she then feels the need for a little angst moment and pops home to mommy so they can have a rematch with her.

It's only because the pace is rattling along like the best action movies that your suspension of disbelief doesn't crumble at this point. Dark Phoenix is described as having Galactus level power, and that's before she consumed the star, and yet when she zaps Professor Xavier it just appears to squish his wheelchair and tear his clothes a bit. Okay, Prof X may be the most powerful telepath on the planet but Dark Phoenix snuffs out suns. When she says she is killing you I'd expect more than cuts and grazes on anything below god-level. They then go head to head in a telepathic battle and the Prof wins, of course. The rationale being that deep down, part of her was on his side.

But they couldn't leave it there. Like all great villains, Dark Phoenix was too good a character to throw away, even if she was dead. But the first sequel Claremont gave us was something different. Introducing Madeline Pryor as visually identical to Jean Grey, he plays with our expectations of what the connection might be between the two. The great thing about this story, which was utterly destroyed in later retconning, is that there is no connection. Madeline is just an ordinary person who looks like Jean. But in superhero comics where almost everyone the protagonist meets in the most mundane setting turns out to be a villain/demon/alien it was a masterly subversion of the reader and the characters' expectations to have the returning villain Mastermind play on these assumptions to make the X-Men think that this was Dark Phoenix resurrected, getting revenge on the X-Men by setting them up to murder the innocent, ordinary Maddy.



After this it goes downhill like a sledge on Jupiter and retcon is piled on top of retcon to the point where I kind of lose track. Jean Grey was never Phoenix in the first place and Maddy was some kind of demon clone or some such, and Rachel, Jean's daughter from an alternate future, inherits the phoenix power that Jean never had anyway and I lose the will to live.

Last I looked Jean was currently dead but nobody expected it to last, Dark Phoenix had a miniseries where she got to destroy the universe (or something) and she's about to get her big screen debut.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Who's that Girl? Part 8: Hitting Bottom

It's taken a long time to get this episode written because the comics it covers are so, so bad that it was hard to work up the enthusiasm to read them. But here we are at last.

Wonder Woman v1 287 - 299
Dc Presents 41

I probably should have included one more issue in the previous entry as we get a second "guest writer" issue before the comic gets yet another makeover.

Marv Wolfman pops up with a story that guest stars the Teen Titans. It's been a while since I read any of Marv's work but I remembered him as a decent writer. Sadly it's not too evident in this story which opens with Wonder Girl being shot at by generic minions in hooded robes. She does the usual bullets and bracelets routine - which is a good trick with lasers (1) but eventually a hit in the arm from one of these "laser guns" causes her to fall unconscious rather than burning a hole through her.

So the minions kidnap Wonder Girl and the Titans call Wonder Woman in to help rather than go deal with it on their own. (2) And this is the whole point because it was all a convoluted plot by Doctor Cyber (3) to grab Wonder Woman and steal her face. Eerily, there is one panel that has unintended resonance decades after it was drawn, when Wonder Woman's invisible robot plane goes out of control.



And then it's makeover time but not in Wonder Woman #288; first we have to slip over to DC Presents #41 for what is called a "preview" but is in fact a self-contained Wonder Woman 14 page mini-comic (4). Along with new writer Roy Thomas and art by Gene Colan even the cover logo gets a renovation in a story that replaces the stylised eagle motif on Wonder Woman's chest for the =w= symbol we are more familiar with today.

The new chest symbol was a result of DC president Jennette Kahn's plan to to celebrate Wonder Woman's 40th anniversary by establishing a Wonder Woman Foundation to honour outstanding women over 40 (5). I cannot find any information about this foundation beyond 1986 so I can only assume that it no longer exists (6), but I did find some references to women who had received the award in the mid-80's (7).

In the story the women of the Wonder Woman Foundation present Wonder Woman with her new bustier and after thinking it over while beating up on Hercules and outracing Hermes she agrees to wear it. It's a nice way of tying the comic in with the real life foundation, but in context it appears that the amazon is agreeing to wear the Foundation's logo rather than them adopting hers and it comes off looking like she is now taking advertising on her costume like some sports player with a Nike logo on their shirt (8).



Reports suggest that Roy Thomas was keen to work on Wonder Woman, and he does seem to have done some homework, giving us a historical and mythological context to traditional WW villain Mars' sponsoring of new enemy Silver Swan and the introduction of an Earth 1 version of Doctor Psycho, and yet his research isn't quite up to date as he has Steve Trevor and Diana Prince working for military intelligence (9) instead of the Air Force, and places Paradise Island in the Bermuda Triangle (10). Would be nice if they could decide once and for all whether to call WW's mom Hippolyte or Hippolyta and just stick to it, too.

Diana Prince briefly gains a new roommate and wouldn't you know it, it's the Silver Swan in her secret identity of Helen Alexandros. She's supposed to be hideously ugly but I don't see it, myself. I know that it's easy to get hung up on any little imperfection, but the way the heavy handed narration goes on you'd think she looked like a troll, rather than a cute girl with a couple of zits.



The story itself is confused and muddy. Silver Swan is under orders to kill Wonder Woman but sometimes she helps her out, even though she hates her. Why does she hate Wonder Woman? I don't know. Doctor Psycho turns into Wonder Man whenever Steve Trevor falls asleep, and he is stronger than WW because Steve thinks he is, apparently. At the end of the story Mars takes Swan girl's powers away because she hasn't yet killed Wonder Woman; you'd think a god would have a little more patience, particularly when this particular chore is one he's failed at so often, himself.

Then we get into a big story which, if it happened today would probably be a company wide event, but (thank Athena) here is just a 3 parter with a lot of guest stars. It involves one of those omniscient godlike beings that seem to spend so much time poking around in other people's business, and who appears to be a cross between the Celestials and the Beyonder. He gives planets marks out of 10 and if they don't get a high enough grade he destroys them, or in this case arranges fights for a lot of super-heroines. In the end some even more godlike beings take him home for a spanking. It's pure cack.

Just when you feel like you have hit the bottom of the barrel, something like the next story comes along and you realise that the barrel was a whole lot deeper than you could possibly imagine. This one involves people getting brainwashed by a video game. Okay, so that was a relatively original concept in 1982, but where it hits the wall of dumb is when you find out that the evil video game was created by the villain, General Electric (11) while he is in prison, in the prison workshop. After he learns electrical engineering. But not programming. Even if this were possible we are then given no information about how this game has gone from being a prison prototype to a mass market success.

In fact the stupid game is so incredibly successful that he could just rake in the profits and enjoy the fruits of his labour, but no, it's all a means to an end. What that end may be is never explained, although it seems to involve gathering a private army. But he never actually does anything with it, so who knows? For something that started at barrel-bottom, it's hard to believe that it could get worse, but it does, ending with a dire Tron steal that exposes the writer's utter ignorance of everything he is writing about. Didn't anybody ever research their subject matter during this period? Or did they just not care?

Apparently Dan Mishkin did, and in the lead up to the big 300 he brings us a story built on the myth of Beleraphon, who has been hiding out on Themiscyra (12) until some greek terrorists turn up and he enlists them to attack Paradise Island to get the purple healing ray and restore his sight (13).

Wow. The novelty of having a villain with motivation that makes sense and a clear cut plan of action is staggering after the last few dozen issues. There's also an interesting subplot involving a skeleton dressed in a Wonder Woman outfit. Sadly, this is completely blown by the use of the new =W= insignia, since it relates back to events long before the new insignia was created, but the error is corrected by the time it becomes the main plot in issue #301.

But I'm going to save that for next time.

Next: The only way to go is up (at least that's the theory).

Notes
1. amazon training is so good that their reflexes are faster than light now?
2. Did the Titans ever call on a related adult when one of their number was in trouble? Ever?
3. remember Doctor Cyber?
4. though at a time when the amazon princess was only getting 17 pages of story a month, it's practically a full comic
5. it was also a better brandname logo and easier to trademark
6. although a Wonder Woman Foundation does still exist in post-Crisis DC continuity
7. Such as Rosa Parks (pictured above).
8. Nike being the greek goddess of victory long before she got into sports footwear
9. which they haven't done since 1967
10. entirely an invention of the TV show
11. ludicrous but true
12. which it turns out isn't another name for Paradise Island after all, but the previous home of the Amazons thousands of years ago
13. He was blinded by Zeus when he attempted to fly to Olympus on Pegasus. This version says Zeus hurled him back to Earth, causing his injuries, but according to Brewer's Phrase and Fable Zeus sent a mayfly to sting the flying horse and throw him off. But I guess that lacks the same drama.

In my dreams...

...newspaper comic strips taste of marzipan.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Hal's Head

Anyone who reads The Absorbascon on a regular basis will be aware of Scipio's documentation of Hall Jordan's clumsiness, particularly his penchant for getting hit on the head (although so far he's missed my favourite Hal's Head moment when he is knocked unconscious by a toy airplane), but I would like to suggest that without this clumsiness Hal would never have become Green Lantern in the first place.

Clumsiness is not an inherent problem with weilding the green ring, so we have to assume that Hal's head has been bouncing off any nearby surfaces long before he became Green Lantern, and it seems to me that this is the real key to his character. Abin Sur, who we know wasn't exactly the full packet by the time of his death, commands his ring to locate a man without fear (wait, wouldn't that be Matt Murdock?).

Now fear is a very important survival trait. Fear tells us not to get too close to the edge of the cliff. Fear tells us not to pet the big hairy thing with teeth and claws. Fear prevents us from doing stupid things. Too much fear is extremely counter-productive, but too little will get you dead a lot faster. Fear is an integral part of human construction.

Accident-prone Hal Jordan is so brain damaged from all the cracks to the skull that he has entirely lost this fear response, but due to an early indoctrination in the armed forces before the damage became so severe, he remains disciplined enough (or maybe he's just too dumb) to not do anything really stupid. Since the only other available options to the ring are the kind of people who ride motorcycles blindfold into oncoming traffic for a laugh, Hal wins by default.

He didn't get the ring because he was without fear. He got it because he was the only person without fear who stood a chance of living long enough do do anything useful with it.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

All hail Servalan!

The Wikipedia list of Well known Supervillains contains exactly forty nine names. Only one of them is female. Whether this is an error and it was only supposed to be a list of male villains (since there is also a list of supervillainesses) anyway, or because only one female villain has really made an impact on popular culture equivilent to Fu Manchu or The Joker is not clear because that one female name is Servalan.

Servalan is quite simply the archetypal female super villain. She is the embodiment of the empowered woman. She is clever, capricious, sexy, ruthless, and as cuddly as a pit full of vipers armed with laser sights. She dresses to kill. That is to say she dresses extravigantly and people usually die in her immediate vicinity. And she really enjoys her work.


As the arch-villain of the british TV show Blake's Seven she is considerably more successful than the heroes. Despite Blake and Co. having the useful advantages of owning the most powerful and fastest spaceship in the galaxy, the only teleport system in existance (against which there is no defence), and an omniscient computer that can hack any other computer, they stumble around having the occasional inconsequential success in their revolutionary cause, while Servalan works her way up (over any number of dead bodies) to become President of the Federation. After the power of the Federation is broken (due to alien invasion, nothing to do with Blake's bunch) and Servalan is deposed, it is no time at all before she is building her second empire under the name of Commander Slear.


And in the end she wins.

Which is more than most villains can boast.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

irrelevent trivia

Microwaved porridge is one of the few meals that takes longer to eat than it does to prepare.

Sound effect of the week




Saturday, January 14, 2006

Who's that Girl? Part 7: Deja vu me one more time

Wonder Woman v1 269 - 286

Okay, so by now you must be used to some odd changes of direction and ludicrous rationalisation, but grab some asprin because this next bit is going to make your head hurt.

In a big shake up that I can only assume was ordered by those in charge to try and get Wonder Woman back on the rails, issue #269 begins a storyline that once more throws out baby, bathwater, bath, and assorted plumbing fixtures in a storyline reminiscent of #204. At least nobody gets shot by a random sniper this time.

Wonder Woman is feeling depressed and so decides to unwind watching TV. Unfortunately her choice of viewing appears to be either a 24 hour news channel or one of those "World's Hundred Greatest attrocities" shows and the result makes her more miserable than ever. Deciding that she's had enough of man's world, she hops in her invisible jet and flies home to mother.

Queen Hippolyte sees what a state she is in and assumes that she is still moping over the twice dead Steve Trevor and so prays to Aphrodite to make WW forget she ever met him (1). Aphrodite agrees suspiciously easily (2) and before you can say "what's that strange purple smoke I'm sniffing?" Wonder Woman has forgotten she ever met Steve Trevor and presumably the large chunks of her life he featured in and is all happy again (3).

But then, just as Hippolyte believes everything is nicely sorted, an aircraft crashlands right next to her trireme (4) and wouldn't you just know it? It's a Steve Trevor from a parallel universe. Aphrodite pops up again to explain who he is but fails to mention why he just happened to fall through a dimensional hole in order to crash 10 feet away from Wonder Woman, thus enabling her to rerun her origin, or why Aphrodite never mentioned this in the previous issue when she helped Hippolyte erase WW's memory. It is clearly part of the same scheme, and poor Hippo is just left looking like an idiot (5). So it's out with the mists of Nepenthe again, only this time they must be using the economy size box in order to rewrite the memories of everyone on the planet who has ever heard of Wonder Woman or Steve Trevor.

Does this qualify as a retcon? I think it does. The universe has been magically reprogrammed so that parallel universe Steve Trevor has always been a member of the U.S. air force of this world and is shown as being in charge of ongoing projects that have been running for some time, so Aphrodite's spell is not just affecting people's memories, it is altering the past to accomodate the new status of our heroes. Diana Prince is now a captain and his adjutant. Etta Candy reappears again as Diana's secretary (6). The amazon princess is now so brain damaged from all this memory erasing over the years that she can't even remember that she was in the army for over two decades



Wonder Woman goes out clubbing with Steve in full Wonder Woman costume (7) but fails to attract any attention (8) until the tedious Angle Man (9) shows up to spoil her date. But he's just the warm up act. The real plot begins in #274 with the introduction of Kobra as the lastest in a long line of secret organisations out to blah de blah de waffle world domination waffle blah.

Oh my god will someone play a different tune for a change? They've been playing this same cracked record over and over for years now. At least Doctor Cyber had style until she went mad. But they've recycled this same plot half a dozen times one after the other and this dead horse ain't getting any fresher for each new flogging.

Issue #274 also revamps an old WW villain, the Cheetah. There's even a helpful editorial note to remind readers that she was last seen in #230. Very handy, except that #230 was one of the Earth 2/World War 2 issues, and so cannot have anything to do with the current storyline. In fact the last time THIS Wonder Woman met the Cheetah was in #166, way back in 1966

For some reason writer Gerry Conway feels the need to have Pricilla Rich (10) die of some unspecified illness so that her neice Debbi Domaine can be brainwashed by Kobra into wearing the costume while acting as an eco-terrorist. I see absolutely no point to this. Why bother to reintroduce an old villain if you are going to revamp them to the point where they bear no resemblence to the original? Why not just make a new one? In context it would have made more sense for Debbi to be brainwashed into becoming an eco-terrorist (11) on purpose rather than grabbed as a kind of consolation prize when the kobrettes couldn't get Pricilla.

In fact it would have been a much more interesting plot twist if Debbi had just taken the identity of the Cheetah without reference to Pricilla at all. That way you could have Pricilla come out of retirement to confront the person who had stolen her identity. What a waste.

Of course it does allow for the ludicrous opening scene of #276. Wonder Woman sneaks into Pricilla's funeral looking for clues. Luckily Kobra are filming the event (12) and so WW gets to chase the cameraman, who blows himself up to avoid capture because people who make home movies of funerals are just that hard.



Having failed to get snapshots of Pricilla getting planted, Kobra move on to more serious matters and steal a specially evil nuclear bomb that the air force had been building and which Steve Trevor had been overseeing for months, despite having only been in this dimension for a week or two. When Aphrodite casts a retcon spell she doesn't mess around. And then it's back to fantasy physics as Steve explains just how nasty the bomb is.

In fact the basic idea he outlines doesn't seem to be too far into lala land. His use of the term "cobalt 93" initially made me think he was talking about a nonexistant isotope, although he does claim this is a "code name", so perhaps he actually means Cobalt 60, which would be used in the kind of dirty bomb he's talking about. The "93" apparently refers to the number of years the affected area would remain radioactive, which is awfully specific of him, particularly when he seems so vague about everything else to do with it.



The big booboo here is that dirty bombs are not strictly nuclear bombs. In a nuclear weapon the radioactive material is made to fission, which causes the explosion. The more material that fissions, the bigger the bang, the less radioactive material there is spread around the countryside. In a dirty bomb the whole point is to spread as much radioactive material around as possible and the bang is just the delivery system. Consequently the current definition of a dirty bomb is usually one where the actual explosives are non-nuclear and are only used at all as a way of dispersing the radioactive material into the atmosphere. Early nuclear bombs only included a "dirty" aspect because they were innefficient and failed to cause all of the radioactive material in them to fission.

Then just as Steve is explaining what this top secret project is to unspecified bigwigs at the Pentagon, King Kobra makes a worldwide broadcast to blackmail the world's governments with this device that apparently even the Pentagon didn't know about until just now. Presumabably everyone thinks he's a crank in a snake hat because no other superheroes make any effort to stop him.

Luckily Diana Prince's landlord gives her a tip on the Kobra cult (13) that leads her to generic psychic (14) Mother Juju, who gives her a history lesson about how the original cobra cult was responsible for ending british rule in India (15) and having suceeded in that they got a bit power happy and now want to rule the entire world (16). This gives our heroine the idea that the main Kobra base may be in New Delhi, so off she goes.

Arriving in an embarrasingly cliched representation of India staffed entirely with orange skinned people in robes, she immediately locates the secret Kobra base but falls down a hole and twists her ankle like a total girly so she can be caught by Kobra. But after a quick fight with a giant robot snake she escapes, of course.

Meanwhile Steve is now talking about "cobalt 93 isotope" and explaining the plot to Diana Prince before going off on a rant that shows his grasp of politics is as great as his understanding of nuclear physics, but it seems to fool Diana.



We next find that Kobra have fitted the cobalt 93 bomb into an army surplus ICBM (17) that they've installed in the great pyramid of Cheops in Egypt without being spotted by tourists. Wonder Woman arrives and of course is immediately caught by Kobrettes who have no clue who she is. Apparently they didn't get the memo.

At least this distracts them from noticing Steve climb into the missile and reprogram the guidance system by ripping out some wires. It's effective though, and he manages to guide it to a non-explosive splashdown in the Arabian Sea where Wonder Woman can pick him up after the great pyramid of Cheops blows apart when she hits some control panels.

With #279 we get a change of pace as Etta Candy is kidnapped by demons living in the apartment below (18). A little hocus pocus from Mother Juju (19) sends Wonder Woman off to investigate a military project to summon demons, but after a lot of running about it all turns out to be complicated plot by Klarion the Witch Boy to trap Etrigan the Demon. It doesn't work.

And then it's back to yet another secret organisation, but this one is chinese and just wants to return the world to a feudal state. Oh yes, that's a realistic ambition all right. They've even got a robot dragon and a U.S. army surplus missile (20).

After wading through all this tedious, repetitive, cliched, derivitive dreck, issue #286 comes as something of a shock. It's the story of a failed actress who desperately wants to achieve something in the few months she has left before she dies of cancer. It rises above sentimental cliche by the clever trick of being better written than any Wonder Woman story for the best part of a decade. And the biggest twist of all is that such a touching, human story was written by Robert Kanigher.

And I'm going to stop there, because I have a nasty suspicion that next issue we'll be back in the poo.

Next: The trademark police hit town.

Notes

The majority of this article was written back in September but the comics of this period are so dire that I couldn't work up the enthusiasm to finish it. The next part will be sooner in coming.

1. seems like Hippo's first choice for any problem is to make everyone forget it happened
2. she's read ahead on the plot
3. wait, what about all the other stuff that was depressing her?
4. yes, the amazons have an advanced space program, submarines, and their own airforce, but when they want to investigate potential threats to the safety of their island, they go in a trireme.
5. that'll teach her to ask a favour of such capricious deities
6. last seen in the same job during World War 2 in the Earth 2 issues
7. plus the cape from the TV show
8. no paparazzi in 1980, apparently
9. his appearances in Wonder Woman since #227 have involved him showing up and being annoying, getting beaten by Wonder Woman and then having his Angler weapon destroyed. And yet somehow it's always magically fixed the next time he turns up even though it is Apokolips tech and he has no idea how it works
10. the original Cheetah
11. she had already been introduced as an ecological activist so it would just be taking her views to the extreme
12. Why? What possible use could it be to them? Someone please explain this to me because it makes no sense as far as I can see.
13. how handy
14. more of a large than a medium
15. yeah, right.
16. Funny, but none of the Kobrettes we've seen so far have shown any evidence of being indian.
17. InterContinental Ballistic Missle.
18. no wonder the rent was so reasonable. Poor Diana doesn't have much luck with neighbours.
19. plot devices a speciality
20. do you think they shop at the same place as Kobra?

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Batman on TV 40 years on

Apparently it's the 40th aniversary of the Adam West Batman TV this week. By total coincidence I happened to see the unbroadcast Batgirl pilot yesterday and caught an episode of The Batman cartoon today.

It seems unlikely that the 7 minute Batgirl show was a test for an actual Batgirl series as it introduces both Batgirl and Barbara Gordon as new characters meeting Batman for the first time. It also heavily features the Batman cast, but it's basically one scene, set in the library where Barbara works, which will need to close for renovation by the end of it. My guess is that it was a test or sample of some sort to pilot the third season of Batman, which first introduced the "dominoed dare-doll" *cringe*.


I haven't watched any episodes of the show in years, so I couldn't say if there are any changes between this presentation of Batgirl and how she appears in the Batman show, except for one thing; the Batgirl motorcycle that Sleestak exposed us to recently on Lady That's My Skull is not the one in this show. This one has some bat-customisation (including a windscreen at such a low angle that a jolt forward would be liable to cause you to smash your face against the top edge) but is a lot closer to a stock machine than the frilly mauve nightmare Slee presented us with.

One bit of trivia that entertained me - although this bore no relation to the comics origin of this Batgirl, it shared the same villain from her first comics appearance, Killer Moth.


Fast forward nearly 40 years and we have The Batman; latest in a long line of animated versions of the character, and struggling under the shadow of the definitive Batman The Animated Series. I'd only seen a couple of episodes before, and it hadn't prompted me to make any effort to find more. I like the Tim Burton inspired "Batman Classic" feel of BTAS and this version isn't good enough to outweigh my annoyance that its presence limits how much of the BTAS version is allowed on Justice League Unlimited. It seems very strange that there are currently two interpretations of the same character in different shows, but that's a whole other rant.

How does The Batman fare when judged for itself? It has its own style, which is good. The conceptual artists at least have put in a lot of effort. I think it was courageous to go for such a radically different interpretation of the Joker, but it's an interesting one. I haven't seen enough to tell what they've done with it. And that's where the problems start, really. The visual style and the designs are interesting and fresh (mostly) but the actual execution...

Take the episode I saw today - it was the introduction of Man-Bat. Initially it looked like the motivation of the villain, Dr. Langstrom might be interesting as we find out he is studying bat sonar to help his deaf neice. Except that this turns out to be a lie and his neice can hear fine. In fact the only motivation he seems to have for turning himself into a grotesque monster is because he wants to be as scary as Batman. Even though he has been working on it for months he appears to have no plan once he succeeds. He just kind of flies around and sucks the blood of goats and stuff.

So all the depth and characterisation of the original version of the character is dumped in favour of a superficial monster of the week. Maybe they didn't have the budget for a plot with greater depth. They certainly didn't spend a lot on the animation. Although the actual designs are stylish and the animation we get is adequate, it fails to disguise how empty the world is. The streets are completely bare. Other than those essential to the plot there are no people and no vehicles.

This kind of economy does result in the few regular characters having to shoulder responsibility for covering all demographics, of course. So the only two cops who ever appear in the show are the laid back friendly black guy and his partner the hardass no-nonsense career girl (who I think is also supposed to be ethnic as her surname is Yin) who is determined to bring Batman to justice even though he saves her ass every episode. In many ways it's as cliche ridden as the '60's show, but it's not as funny.

Cake or Death?

While there are many differences between people, I usually have this idea that deep down our minds work in similar ways, causing us to instinctively respond in similar and ways to events. And then every so often I come across a situation that makes me wonder.

I mean, what kind of person when faced with the choice of cake or death says "What kind of cake?"

Monday, January 09, 2006

When Catgirls Attack!!



Kawaii Overload!!

The Care and Feeding of Compliments

And here's another thing; compliments.

Lots of people don't really understand compliments, what to do with them and how to respond to them. Often the response to a compliment is to deny it: "You look great in that dress!" "What, this old thing? It's nothing special." Whether this is some kind of social false modesty, I don't know.

Other people deflect them with jokes: "Your hair looks nice today." "So what was wrong with it yesterday?"

But some people really don't know how to deal with a compliment at all. Say something nice to them and they either look at you blankly or pretend that they haven't heard. They are uncomfortable with compliments and have no clue what to do with them.

Somewhere, long ago I read where someone described a compliment as a gift, and the appropriate response to recieving a gift is to smile and say "thank you".

That works for me.

Atonement

The other part of saying sorry is atonement. That's when you ask the other person's forgiveness. These days when someone says "forgive me" they seem to think that merely saying the words should be enough, but traditionally this request to mend a hole in the relationship requires the person asking for forgivness to actually do something to make amends for whatever they have done.

Sometimes it's obvious. You accidentily put a ball through next-door's window; you expect to replace it. But with less immediately tangible situations people often seem to think that saying the words should be enough. An example occured yesterday when I was playing the online super villain game City of Villains.

Someone had invited me on to a team that was much higher level than my character, but the game has a system where you can 'sidekick' a lower level player and they are boosted to the level of the higher player while teamed up. All was going fine and well, except that my partner became (for reasons irrelevent to this article) fed up and decided to leave. He committed one of the worst breaches of ettiquette possible in an online game by quitting the team during a fight. Apart from any effect it had on the others to lose a team member at this point, it caused me to lose my sidekick status and suddenly I was surrounded by enemies who had just gained 10 levels relative to me and I was face down in the gutter.

I was surprised that he had the gall to contact me after this, but he did, apologizing to me for leaving but he wasn't happy with the team. It wasn't until I pointed out that his action was calculated to kill me that he even considered the effect his action had on anyone else, and he was genuinely upset and asked me to forgive him.

And I thought "What is my forgiveness worth to you? Are you prepared to fix the trouble you caused me? Are you about to help me work off the experience debt I acquired due to your actions? No, you just want me to say the words so you can feel better. Why should I let you off the hook when your action is going to take me maybe a half hour's effort to fix?".

So I said I'd forgive him when I had worked off the debt.

He didn't offer to help.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Links should be good

People have different views on linking. Some will give you everything including kitchensinkblog, and that's cool. It does give you a lot of different things to sample, but it's also very unfocussed.

My links are few; the blogs I link to are those that I check every day and ones I would recommend to anyone. It's a very short list and really deserves to be expanded. I could easily add Nobody Laughs at Mister Fish, Polite Dissent, Suspension of Disbelief, and probably several others that I have undeservedly forgotten*, but links to these can be found at the places I do link to, so I don't feel too much pressure to link to every single blog that I like. Anyhow, my point is that it's not routine for me to add a new one, and certainly not when I only just read it for the first time today.

Not only that, it's a linkblog. I have nothing against linkblogs, and have whiled away many hours when I should have been doing something else following entertaining links from such places, but I've never seen much point in linking to something that just links to something else.

So it's a big deal to me to add When Fangirls Attack to the list, and it's not just because they referenced something I'd written, honest. The subject of Women and Comics is an important one to me, and this is what Ragnell and kalinara address on a regular basis, bringing together links from all over the place that contribute to the debate.



*Blanket apology there to the creators of all those fine blogs that didn't spring to mind while I was writing this. I'm very, very sorry and should be spanked for leaving out something as wonderful as yours.

Half of seven is four

WARNING: Arr! There be spoilers ahead, matey!

I know a lot of people are waiting until Grant Morrison's epic Seven Soldiers is completed before passing comment, but I just got the opportunity to read the first four mini-series in one go, so I thought I'd venture a few thoughts.

First off one has to acknowledge that it's an ambitiously mad epic experience. Kudos to Grant for even attempting it. I can't think of anyone this side of Alan Moore who would even try to do something like this. It also makes me think of Kirby's Fourth World. That's the only other time I can think of where a single writer produced several monthly comics with distinctive individual flavours to tell stories that were part of a larger experience.

Which is not to say individual titles or stories are not without faults. There are times in almost all the titles where the Metaphysical bullshit detector veers dangerously into the red, but what really struck me was that most of the titles feel a bit cramped. In Manhattan Guardian the first three issues are about the Guardian's relationship with his girlfriend and family, then they are suddenly dropped and we're in major flashback city with very little set up. In Klarion our hero spends several issues escaping to the world above and then you blink and he's already established as part of a gang. I haven't read up on the background to the production but I have this sneaking suspicion that maybe the original plan was to do seven miniseries of seven issues each, and as part of some compromise with editorial it was reduced to four.

Things I liked: Each of the different series was actually different. While strands of meta-plot wandered from one to the other the stories themselves were quite individual.

Things I didn't like so much: The apparent compression of storylines, the metaphysical BS, and what the hell was the point of revealing that the Shining Knight was female five pages before the end of the story? The only relevance it seems to have is to add some intensity to the confrontation with Lancelot because we are informed that she's always had a thing for him. Surely that would have been even more poignant if Justin had been male? Knowing that she is female doesn't make you think "oh, that bit from earlier in the story suddenly makes a lot more sense" so it has all the surprise value of pulling a sock out of a hat - you weren't expecting it but you don't really care. I can only hope that it becomes relevant later on.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Pained apology

I recently received an apology from someone I knew. It was crap. In fact it was one of the worst apologies I had ever received. And it's not the first time. This is someone who is so bad at apologising that he actually makes any situation worse than before when he says 'sorry'.

In this instance, as is usually the case, it was a very minor issue where I had gently chided him for chasing me up about a non-essential issue before I'd had a chance to do anything about it. His response was "I don't think I deserve being called a nag, but I apologize to you if you think so." It's like talking to a politician. He denies that the accusation is valid but grudgingly agrees to humor me with the word anyway. But wait! There's more! He then goes on to explain in detail about how I had mislead him as to the situation and how it was my fault all along. All of which converts a bijou mole living space into a geographical feature visible from orbit.

He's pissed at me and I am now pissed at him where I wasn't before, but it's all so pathetically trivial that I can't be bothered to call him on it. That and it feels like anyone who over-reacts over such a minor issue is hardly going to be receptive when you try to talk to them about a real problem they have.

The dictionary gives several definitions of 'Apology', but the main one is this:

a·pol·o·gy Audio pronunciation of "apology" ( P ) Pronunciation Key (-pl-j)
n. pl. a·pol·o·gies
  1. An acknowledgment expressing regret or asking pardon for a fault or offense.


Now if you refuse to acknowledge that you are at fault and deny responsibility for any offense then it's not an apology, however much you claim it is.

It's an insecurity thing, I think. And we all go through it when we are young. I know I remember a time when I found it tremendously difficult to admit that I had done something wrong, even when it was a genuine accident or misunderstanding. And later I too went through a period where I would apologise, but still find a way to deny responsibility for the situation. But at some point I became secure enough in myself that I understood that I could acknowledge my mistakes without it diminishing me in any way.

How to apologise

If you find yourself in a situation where you feel that you should make an apology to someone, keep it simple. Like the definition says, an acknowledgement expressing regret or asking pardon. Any attempt to elaborate beyond this should be strictly avoided.

Good example:

I'm sorry I stepped on your toe.

Bad example:

I'm sorry I stepped on your toe but your stupid foot shouldn't have been there in the first place.

Even if you do believe that the other person shares some responsibility for the problem, ie, putting their foot somewhere that it might easily be trodden on, it's irrelevent. An apology acknowledges your responsibility, nobody elses. If they then have the grace to acknowledge they were also at fault, then that's cool. But it's for them to say, not for you to point out. Plus, you know, if they then fail to do so you can feel morally superior to them for the rest of the day.