Life is rough for those who work retail in Gotham City. One moment you’re waiting on a customer, the next moment you’re pinned to the ceiling by a giant umbrella while trained puffins steal the day’s receipts.
Things are even worse if your establishment happens to fit into the theme of one of Gotham’s many colorful crooks. Hands down, the absolute worst place to work is the Laughing Catfish Puzzle Store, 222 Iceberg Road, located between the Gotham Arboretum and the abandoned Wonderland Hat Factory. Turn left at the Arkham Asylum exit, you can’t miss it.
Last Friday, the Interwebs were a-buzzing with the release of a publicity photo of Adrianne Palicki costumed as she’ll appear in David E. Kelley’s television revamp of Wonder Woman. I’m going to take it as read that most self-appointed fashion critics despised it.
Me? I don’t entirely hate it. I don’t entirely like it either, but I’ll come to that.
First, in case you somehow missed out:
The most common complaint I’ve seen is that it looks like a Halloween costume. I can’t argue with that. More specifically, it reminds me of a design by the likes of Leg Avenue, a company which makes “sultry” versions of everything from eskimos to ring masters.* It appears to be the sort of knock-off that would be marketed as “Wondrous Woman.”
Now, I’ll freely admit that Wonder Woman could use a redesign. As much as I love her classic costume–and I do, in that I am hardwired to like sexy things that are sexy–it makes even less sense now than it did when it was introduced in 1941.
It’s one of the many contradictions that challenge anyone trying to write a passable Wonder Woman story:
She’s a warrior who preaches peace. (Modern stories paint her as downright bloodthirsty, entirely missing the point.)
She’s an icon of feminine empowerment overtly designed to tickle a variety of fetishes. (Early WW stories featured wall-to-wall bondage scenes and a not-at-all-subtextual theme of “submission to loving authority.”)
She hails from a culture based loosely on ancient Greek mythology, yet she dresses like a patriotic hooker. (The flag theme actually made a certain sense in the ’40s, as Wondy’s primary mission was ambassador to Man’s World–aka America–during the run-up to our involvement in World War II.)
So, yeah, Wonder Woman could stand a makeover.
I’ll restate that I don’t love the new costume, yet I think that it’s not all that far from being a decent update. I like that the eagle bodice–replaced in the ’80s by a stylized “WW” symbol–has returned. And I’ll concede that pants are a more practical choice for a crimefightress. (My preference would’ve been a Xena-like skirt.)
Here’s what I don’t like:
It’s too shiny. That quality, more than anything, marks it as a Halloween costume.
The red stars in the middle of the bodice and the girdle don’t work for me. I guess that they’re meant to echo the traditional one in the tiara, but I find them distracting. (It’s hard to see in the photo, but there’s also a line of stars running down the side of her trousers, evoking her old spangled panties.)
The boots should be red. Besides being the sole break from what is otherwise WW’s traditional color scheme, they aren’t distinct enough from the pants.
That belt/girdle is fugly. It’s big, clunky and spiky. Bleah.
With that in mind, I did a couple of passes on the design, employing my meager photo retouching skills:
I removed the red stars, simplified the belt, recolored the boots and toned down the shiny. It ain’t Lynda Carter, but if I do say so myself, it ain’t entirely bad.
Despite the early script reviews, I can’t say that I’m not intrigued by the prospect of a new live-action Wonder Woman. And the news that Elizabeth Hurley (whom I’ve greatly missed) has been cast as what may be a recurring villainess is enough to get me to take an initial look.
*Though Leg Avenue surely wouldn’t have replaced Wondy’s star panties.
This morning I received an excited e-mail from Comixology, a distribution platform for digital comic books. It seems that they’re having one of their occasional 99-cent sales, this time for a run of Superman (and related) comics collectively known as the “New Krypton Saga.” What a deal! Only 99 cents an issue!
Did I mention that there are 86 issues? Collect ’em all!
Seriously, here’s the list.
I don’t intend to get into another logorrheic rant about how comics aren’t as good as they used to be, except to point out that one of my favorite four-color epics, 1976’s “Who Took the Super Out of Superman?,” ran a mere four issues. And Alan Moore’s elegaic “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?,” arguably the most moving Superman tale ever told, was a two-parter. So, yeah, I think 86 issues devoted to a single story arc is excessive.
I will now name a few things that I can buy for $85.14 or less.
The six-minute cinematic trailer for the upcoming DC Online MMORG has hit the Internet. It’s exciting…and just wrong.
First, take a look. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.
Pretty neat, huh? No argument here. I like watching people being punched through buildings just as much as the next guy, especially if the next guy is Chris Sims.
But it loses me when Wonder Woman is electrocuted and inexplicably begins oozing Kryptonite slime from her mouth. Not to mention when Luthor rams a spear through Superman’s torso, and twists.
Look, I get it. This is what the folks who buy current DC Comics like. It’s the same grim ‘n’ gritty crap that has dominated superheroic lore for the last 24 years.
If you pay only cursory attention to stories about grown men in spandex, you may not understand the significance of 1986. That’s when Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns depicted an apocalyptic near-future in which Batman emerged from retirement to mete out brutal justice. That same year, Alan Moore’s Watchmen miniseries began spinning its own deconstructive tale of costumed crimefighters with all-too-human foibles.
The problem was that what were meant to be meta-commentaries on the four-color fantasies of childhood rapidly became the definitive version. Since then, Batman’s default mode has been one only slightly less sociopathic than the criminally insane clowns he repeatedly tosses into Arkham Asylum. It’s as if the four decades prior to Frank Miller hadn’t happened, that Batman had only ever been the pulp-inspired vigilante of 1939 who willfully tossed crooks to their deaths.
Let’s not forget that less than a year after Batman’s debut, the comic introduced Robin, the Boy Wonder. From that point forward, Batman softened. He told terrible puns. He fought aliens and robot dinosaurs. He became best pals with Superman. For two entire generations, Batman hewed much more closely to the Adam West live-action TV series* than he ever did to the joyless, broken figure sulking in his Batcave.
Here’s the thing that I think most people–including many of Batman’s official biographers these past 24 years–have missed. Batman isn’t a misanthropic nutjob who can only express his damaged psyche when he dons a pointy-eared suit. He’s a guy who wants people to think he’s a misanthropic nutjob. Bruce Wayne dresses up as a bat because he wants to frighten “superstitious, cowardly” criminals. In other words, it’s a bluff.
Of course, Batman isn’t the only hero to get the “grim ‘n’ gritty” treatment. The intrinsically optimistic Superman has all too often been portrayed as angst-ridden and out of touch with humanity.
Wonder Woman has become a bloodthirsty warrior woman. Who just flat-out murders people. Never mind that her original raison d’être was to preach love and non-violence to a war-torn world.**
Oh, and the poor Marvel Family. Captain Marvel began as the purest form of wish-fulfillment: a kid–and not just a kid, but a penniless orphan–who said a magic word to become the World’s Mightiest Mortal. We can’t have that in the modern DC Universe, so Captain Marvel is now either kind of a doofus, or–even worse–a dupe of the bad guys who exists mostly to fight Superman. And don’t get me started on his sister Mary. Sure, there’ll always be a fourteen-year-old inside me who sees Mary Marvel as a fantasy girlfriend. But she’s a teenager, and a young one to boot. If you sex her up, YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG.
I realize that for some of you, I’m preaching to the choir. And that for others…well, you like this sort of thing. The rest of you are probably wondering why I’ve spent more than 600 words bitching about comic books that I don’t even read anymore.
It’s just that I grew up loving these characters. To me, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and the Marvel Family represent optimism. Yes, even Batman. You don’t go out and fight crime every night if you don’t think doing so will make the world a better place to hang your cape.
I’d love to see the pendulum swing back to the more innocent fantasies of youth, but I doubt it’ll happen. The relatively few adults who still buy DC Comics want their cynical, gruesome exploits, and blood will be served.
*I believe that a big part of the reason older comics fans hated the ’60s Batman TV series wasn’t because of its campy qualities, but rather that the silliness was an accurate reflection of the stories they were so desperate to outgrow.
**Yes, even back in the ’40s the Amazons were well-armed and armored fighters. But they explicitly espoused and practiced non-lethal combat, and employed devices such as their pacifying Venus Girdles to capture and reform their enemies. Portraying them as an island of Red Sonjas is entirely missing the point.
The final issue of DC’s Wednesday Comics hit stores this week. My initial enthusiasm about this experiment–a 12-issue miniseries of weekly installments printed in the manner of a Sunday comics supplement–waned after the fourth issue or so. Several of the stories wasted too much of their limited page count dicking around. Neil Gaiman’s Metamorpho featured two straight weeks of full-page panels in which the Element Man walked and talked.
So, how did the individual strips fare?
Batman – A wonderfully moody first chapter turned into an unambitious murder investigation. You mean that the rich geezer was done in by his hot, gold-digging wife? What a “mystery!”
Kamandi – This Prince Valiant-style excursion through a post-apocalyptic world ruled by beasts was terrific from beginning to end. It made me want to check out creator Jack Kirby’s original run.
Superman – The one which failed most spectacularly is disappointingly the one which received the most exposure courtesy USA Today. Superman spent six issues moping until he remembered the time he was adopted by loving parents and spend thirty years living happily among humans. Then he punched some aliens.
Deadman – Enjoyable overall, but not necessarily a good introduction to the character. Deadman’s main traits are his incorporeality and his ability to possess others, and the setting of much of the story–a hellscape in which he had a physical form–rendered both of those moot.
Green Lantern – A very slow start that, while it picked up midway through, didn’t amount to much of a story. At least it wasn’t about a guy with a power ring who only fights other guys with power rings, as is the case with the monthly comic.
Metamorpho – I was very annoyed by the panel in which the characters name-checked the (off-panel) traps they faced. If you’re going to reference a “laser attack” room, I’d rather see that than two weeks of walk-and-talk. Still, I liked that Gaiman heavily mined Silver Age continuity here, particularly the inclusion of Algon the ancient Element Man. He kept teasing with the idea of an ongoing Metamorpho title, and I think that he should convince someone at DC to let him take a whack at it.
Teen Titans – I had no damned idea what was going on here. I don’t know if it was the art or the script, but I couldn’t make sense of it. Something about Deathstroke the Terminator dressing up as an even sillier villain.
Strange Adventures – Paul Pope’s art was…interesting. Yet I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy his version of Adam Strange via Edgar Rice Burroughs. It took some enormous liberties with the concept–particularly the nature of the Zeta Beam and the notion that Adam is an old man when he’s not on the planet Rann–but it was intriguing and fun.
Supergirl – Second only to Kamandi. I loved this, and would buy an ongoing monthly in a heartbeat. The artwork was appealing to the eye, and full of character moments. Krypto and Streaky (and Supergirl!) have never been cuter. Aquaman’s clam phone? Brilliant!
Metal Men – My number three choice. I know that people dump on DC Comics’ executive editor Dan DiDio, but he bulls-eyed this one with a script that included everything I like about the Metal Men, with none of what I dislike about them.
Wonder Woman – Again, no idea what happened here. I think it was supposed to be a riff on all those old stories that told how WW won the individual elements of her costume, but I felt as if I was battling the artwork, and the artwork won.
Sgt. Rock – It just seemed to be a standard-issue Rock story that made no attempt to fit into the newspaper format.
Flash – The initial idea–a Flash strip running in tandem with one about his suffering wife Iris–was neat, but I lost track of what was going on with all the time-travel. In stories of this sort–in which multiple incarnations of a character from different time-periods simultaneously appear–the writer needs to clearly signpost which version is which. And I’m not sure what was up with the suggestion that the Flash had intentionally created Grodd’s gorilla-filled parallel realm.
Demon/Catwoman – It was okay, but I started out wondering why Catwoman was in the story and ended it feeling the same.
Hawkman – Well done for the most part. I was happy to see Dinosaur Island. Leaving Hawkman without his wings for half the story was probably a mistake; he’s pretty much Manman at that point.
I wouldn’t mind seeing DC try something like this again, but I think that the creators need to remember how to tell a complete story in twelve pages. They managed it all the time in the Silver Age.
DC Comics has just begun a bold, new experiment that’s really older than comics themselves…but still bold. Wednesday Comics is a 12-issue, weekly miniseries done in the style of a newspaper’s Sunday funnies section. And we’re not talking the modern-day variety, with its shrunken artwork and lazy gags, but rather the days of glorious adventure strips such as Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon and Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant.
Each issue includes one full-page installment of fifteen different features, from stalwarts such as Superman and Green Lantern to more obscure DC characters such as Kamandi, the Metal Men and Sgt. Rock. And without the need to directly tie into any ongoing continuity, the creators are free to get their Silver Age freak on, with decidedly old-school versions of Metamorpho and Supergirl.
The giant format–literally done on newsprint and unfolding to 14″x20″–allows the art to breathe in some cases. The best example is Kyle Baker’s poetic take on Hawkman, in which the Winged Wonder leads an army of birds to confront a hijacked airplane. At the other end is Ben Caldwell’s Wonder Woman, which jams about four pages of panels into a dense, nearly unreadable mess.
That’s okay, one or two clunkers (the other being Eddie Berganza and Sean Galloway’s uninvolving take on Teen Titans) isn’t bad when you’ve got material like this:
It’s a bit hard to make out at this size, but look at all of the storytelling going on in this selection of Supergirl panels, from the panicking shoppers in the far background of the pet shop sequence, to the smitten canine on the sidewalk. (Plus, damn, those are some cute puppies!)
Even better is this group of four panels from the Batman strip that kicks things off:
The Batman installment wound up being one of my favorites, even though all it is the Caped Crusader and Commissioner Gordon standing around talking.
Other highlights include the Flash, which splits its page into two strips–one a traditional superhero story and the other a romance strip featuring the Flash’s suffering wife. There’s also a Sgt. Rock feature drawn by Joe Kubert himself, Neil Gaiman’s take on shape-changing hero Metamorpho, and a freaky interpretation of Adam Strange by Paul Pope.
I don’t like buying individual comics any more, as I prefer to wait for the trade paperback. But Wednesday Comics is simply too much fun to pass up. Can’t wait for Wednesday!
My good friend Dave Lartigue has just embraced the purpose for which he was born, mewling, onto this earth. Beginning today, he is retelling every adventure of DC Comics’ premiere space taxi driver, Space Cabby!
Read it while you have the chance! Because, once he’s completed this final task, the stars will begin to go out, one by one…
Recently I had the chance to sit down with a very special guest. You may know him as the Caped Crusader, the Darknight Detective, or even That Guy With The Rubber Nipples.
Under his watchful eye, Gotham City has seen a 14% decrease in crime and a 82% increase in giant, working props.
I met with him in his underground, guano-filled lair. I present to you The Batman.
Me: So, The Batman–
Batman: It’s just Batman. Does anyone call you The David?
Me: Well, my wife…
Batman: Anyhow, it’s a pleasure to talk to you, blah, blah, blah.
Me: Okay. First question. Why a bat?
Batman: Ah, I get asked that a lot. You see, it’s all about striking fear into the hearts of the underworld.
Me: Criminals can be a superstitious and cowardly lot.
Batman: Mostly they’re afraid that I’ll get caught in their hair.
Me: Can you respond to the charge that your presence in Gotham has only encouraged crooks to correspondingly ramp up their own outsized personas? I mean, you’ve got Alice in Wonderland-themed villains, even a guy who commits signal-based crimes. I mean, really, signals?
Batman: I can’t explain that one myself. I’m like, “Oooo, don’t hit me with that stop sign!”
But, to answer your question, I think it helps keep them occupied. All that time spent sewing costumes and building huge, papier-mâché birds is less time spent robbing and murdering.
Me: Fair enough. Switching gears, you are regularly seen in the company of a young boy–
Batman: Don’t. Even. Go. There.
Me: No, no, no. I’m just referring to the suggestion that the reason you dress that child in a bright, primary-colored leotard is to draw gunfire away from yourself.
Batman: Look, the kid’s a professional. He’s a natural athlete. That “leotard” is a carbon-fiber and Kevlar armored suit, augmented by my own Bat-technology.
It’s a good time to be a fan of old-school DC superheroes. In addition to the torrent of Showcase Presents reprint volumes, there’s also this:
Bat-Manga is a collection of Batman ephemera produced when the ’60s live-action series was introduced to Japan. While it includes many arresting candy and toy package illustrations–including some curiously ugly depictions of Robin the Boy Wonder–the real prize is the assortment of rare comics. I’m by no means a manga fan, but the chance to read Batman filtered through the insane lens of Speed Racer-era Japanese pop culture was too much for me for pass up. Forget about the Joker and Two-Face, this book features villains such as Professor Gorilla and Lord Death Man, and that’s at least three flavors of awesome.
“Three flavors of awesome” also describes Batman: The Brave and the Bold, which clocked in with another new episode last Friday, “The Day of the Dark Knight.” It wasn’t enough to feature the Silver Age versions of Bats and Green Arrow squaring off against Jack Kirby’s Etrigan the Demon, no sir. The teaser sequence had the Caped Crusader on Oa, the home planet of the Guardians of the Universe, and included cameo appearances from pretty much every Silver and Bronze Age alien Green Lantern…including Ch’p, the squirrel Green Lantern! But even that’s not the reason this episode maxed out the Awesometer.
Nope, that was the scene that I screen-capped above, in which Batman and Green Arrow foiled a mass prison break of what appeared to be just about every villain from the ’60s live-action Batman series. You can see the Mad Hatter (a comics villain that was featured prominently on the TV show) getting clocked by a Batarang above, but right behind him is the Minstrel, the Bookworm and Clock King. Other recognizable faces in the scene were Egghead, King Tut, False Face, the Siren, and Louis the Lilac!
The entire episode is available online for a few days. Check it out!