Thursday, February 26, 2009

Marvel Villains Who Need To Retire

They try time after time to rule the world, and without exception they fail. You'd think they'd get the hint, but there are those baddies who just keep going and going. Here's a few who should seriously consider a new line of work:

Doctor Doom

There was a time when seeing Doctor Doom's name on a comic book cover meant that hero was in trouble! Throw him in against the Fantastic Four, and we knew they were going to have a fight on their hands. Over the years, however, he's sort of lost his menace.

Every single superhero team out there has defeated him over the years, so why is he still considered a major player in anything? I mean, when you can say you were beaten by Power Pack, you need to give it up!

Batroc the Leaper

Batroc can't name a single victory in his long years of evil. Oh, he may knock a hero down before he takes off, but they'll eventually find him and beat the living daylights out of him. Girl Scout Troops laugh at him when he jumps out to scare them.

This is the only villain who gives Stilt-Man a run for his money as far as complete losers go.

The Green Goblin

Harry Osborn is like the Lex Luthor and the Joker of the Marvel Universe rolled into one--only less important.

Yes, he's running the new version of SHIELD right now and is plotting his evil schemes to find out the secrets of all the heroes from Stark's hidden files, but is there a single hero out there losing sleep over it? I think they prank call him on slow days just to get a few laughs.

He was instrumental in the death of Gwen Stacy and was her baby daddy, and that's about the biggest claim to fame he has (outside of killing the Skrull Queen seconds before Wolverine sliced her up).

Red Skull

Back in the 40's, this guy was seriously scary. It seemed Captain America was our only hope when the Red Skull was around. Over the years, however, he just seems like some creepy old man who lurks around watching the kids play in the yard across the street.

Kill him, bring him back...fake his death again, bring him back...really kill him, let him possess some guy and bring him back...but he still never manages to do anything of any lasting importance.

"But he killed Captain America!" you may say. Well, maybe. But then what? Did he finally get to rule the world thanks to killing the one hero who stopped him time and again? Nope. Proving once and for all that it wasn't Captain America that kept him from taking over...he just doesn't have it in him to deliver the goods.


Is there a mutant alive who hasn't fought Magneto and beaten him? How many times can you have your tail handed to you by the X-Men and not finally walk away and take the hint?

The only exception to this rule is the Ultimate version of Magneto. That dude is bad! I mean, he killed Professor X with his bare hands in Ultimatum #2, so major props to that version. Maybe he'll be able to change the tide for the bad guys.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Even More Stupid Super Powers

Flight, invisibility, super-speed...these are cool things. The powers listed below are not:

Zan (of The Wonder Twins)

Ok, so the sister can turn into any animal. I can see where this could be cool, and why she and Beast Boy have never hooked up is beyond me. But the brother...he got shafted in the powers department. When they do the terrorist bump, Jayna turns into an eagle and flies off, while Zan screams "Shape of...water!" like that's something cool. Next, it's into the bucket so the blue monkey can carry him to the mission.

With a super power like that, he might have come off better just losing the costume and getting a job as a lifeguard at a public pool or something.

Big Bertha

Ashley Crawford is a supermodel with a great figure. When she decides it's time to fight crime, she turns into a female version of the Blob.

Most superheroes do all they can to stay in shape, while Bertha does all she can to stay out of shape. An active member of the Great Lakes Avengers (now the Great Lakes Champions) since their inception, it's never really been clear what the advantage is of having a really fat lady on the team.


Listen, I love the characters of Hawk & Dove (the originals, anyway) and really think they have cool costumes and got shafted in a reboot, but Dove's powers just aren't that great. He gets to be stronger and faster than he would be in normal life...but he's a pacifist and doesn't fight! What exactly is the advantage of enhanced speed and strength if you're going to go out of your way to keep from actually hurting anyone?

I know when they were brought into the JLU cartoon series for an episode, they actually made him cool. Still, it was a little like cheating since they gave him super-speed (which he didn't have in the comics) to make him a second-rate Flash character.

Top this all off with the fact that he was named after a bird, but he couldn't even fly! Ok, so in the reboot DC finally caught that little discrepancy and fixed it, but it was too late for Don. If he'd had flight there's a really good chance he'd have made it out of the Crisis on Infinite Earths alive and well!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

10 Lies Comics Make Us Believe (Part 2)

The last half of the lies comic books make us believe:

6. Bad guys can't hit anything with their guns

Ok, so we have Batman who has been around for decades, but no one can hit him? Forget the armored-up movie versions of the hero, the comic book guy has been in nothing but spandex from day one and the bad guys just can't seem to kill him. I think they're actually much better shots in real life, as the homicide rate in most cities will attest to.

Contrary to what comics tell you, running into a hail of bullets wearing spandex is not a good idea.

7. Super-villains will give you time to escape by taking the time to explain everything

This one was so obvious they even talked about it in "The Incredibles". The problem of "monologuing" has been in comic books for years. Originally it was used because the fast-paced style of comics left little room for a pre-story, so things had to be brought out at the only opportune moment: during the hero's capture.

Of course, these moments of quiet reflection usually last just long enough for the hero to find a way to escape whatever devious trap they've found themselves in, leading the villain to have to capture them again later...only to start talking about the new plan.

8. Bullets are too good for a super-villain to use

They say they hate the good guys, they spend untold amounts of money just to capture them to keep them from foiling their well-laid plans, they finally have them helpless...

...and they stick them in some weird trap or machine...

...and then they walk away and leave the heroes to face their fate (and escape) alone!

The obvious question is this: why not just shoot them and get it over with? You'd think they'd learn after the twentieth time of putting the hero in some elaborate death device and watching them escape that maybe it would be better to just kill them outright instead of trying to make them suffer!

The only villain who ever got the idea was Kraven the Hunter when he captured Spider-Man at the beginning of "Kraven's Last Hunt" and shot him with the tranquilizer dart. If he'd used a real bullet, it would have all been over.

9. Spandex is flattering

For example, here is a spandex-clad Batman in the comic books:
And here we have a spandex-clad Batman in real life:Not quite as pretty a scene as they make it out to be, is it?

On the other hand, this is funny:My dog is going to hate me when it arrives in the mail.

10. Sleep is optional

So you work all day at a job (or not) and then you slap on the spandex and fight crime all night long. No bags under the eyes, no beard stubble, just 100% always-on-the-go superhero.

How on earth could you function as a lawyer defending complex cases when you've just spent the entire night before swinging through the city hitting bad guys? Yet Daredevil finds a way to do it.

Batman never seems to sleep with his Gotham patrol at night, his JLA duty during the day, and his multiple guest appearances in the afternoon. No wonder Bruce Wayne is dead--the stress would have killed anyone years ago!

But somehow these heroes continue on. Maybe they're mainlining coffee and Jolt Colas, but whatever it is, it works for them and keeps them going on roughly 10 minutes of sleep a day. Me? If I get less than 7 hours of sleep I'm pretty much wasted the next morning and useless until the third cup of coffee.

Maybe I need to put on spandex at night and see if that energizes me. Of course, I don't think my wife will appreciate it ("Honey, not again!"), but this is serious research and someone has to figure out how it's done!

So that's my top 10 comic lies. What are you favorite reality-stretchers I missed?

Monday, February 16, 2009

10 Lies Comics Make Us Believe (Part 1)

I understand that comic books are never supposed to be taken literally and they aren't real, but there are a few things that stretch credibility a little far. Here's the first five of my favorite ten things comics make you believe.

1. A little piece of cloth can fool a lot of folks.

Ok, I understand a full-body costume like Spider-Man's being able to keep folks from guessing who you are for a few minutes. You'd have to work on the voice and not stick around too long, but it could happen. What I can't imagine, however, is how a tiny mask like Green Lantern's or Robin's could actually fool anyone who knew them for any length of time.

So Hal Jordan works with Carol Ferris all the time. She's got the hots for Green Lantern. Yet for the longest time, she never puts two and two together to figure this out?

Want to see if this works in real life? Grab a Lone Ranger mask and walk up to your wife or girlfriend. Think she'll recognize you? Yeah, she's gonna look at you like you're an idiot if you try to act like a stranger. If she doesn't recognize you, you just might have the makings of a superhero.

2. The same can be said of glasses

So Clark Kent wears glasses and he's a nerd. He takes off those same glasses and suddenly no one on Earth recognizes him?

Again with the girlfriend bit. Lois Lane hates Clark and sees him as a nerd. Clark runs away, Superman suddenly flies in, and Lois Lane--investigative reporter extraordinaire for the Daily Planet--can't figure out this is the same person? Might be time to find a new line of work, Lois. It wasn't until they were about to be married that the truth came out for her.

To be fair, DC tried to explain this situation in a Superman comic in the early 80's, saying that Superman kept moving his face slightly so his features were always a blur to those around him, and that Clark's glasses were made from part of his Kryptonian spaceship that allowed him to "hypnotize" those around him into believing they were seei
ng a frail, skinny guy. Unfortunately, their explanation didn't hold much water and after Superman's reboot later that decade the matter was dropped.

3. Massive doses of radiation can be a good thing.

So an overdose of radiation will kill the average human being, but every once in a while...

Who knows? Maybe it's the type of radiation that hits you. Maybe it's that perfect alignment of radiation and an unstable new secret government chemical that you accidentally get sprayed with as you try to escape. Perhaps a spider gets bombarded by rads and then it bites you. Maybe it's just something special about your genetic makeup. Whatever the case, if you get hit by the same radiation that kills the rest of your group, you just might live through it and gain spectacular powers beyond those of mortal men.

Not really. While I understand that radiation in strictly controlled doses is used by the medical community to help folks, there's no chance whatsoever
a sudden blast of it is going to make you a hero. Kids, stay away from the glowing rocks you find in a field somewhere (or pick them up and you might become a superhero...who knows?).

4. Death is never permanent.

Fear of death is something everyon
e faces...unless you're superhero. If you are, you understand the fact that death is something superheroes do to take a much-needed vacation while someone else jumps into their costume to save the world. Eventually, that whole "death" thing wears off when sales are limping and you get to come back again to save the world!

While there are exceptions to this rule (remember, Bucky Barnes stays dea...never mind), just about any comic book superhero that dies will eventually make a return appearance after while. The same can't be said of real life, of course, but wouldn't it be a wonderful world if it could?

5. There is always somewhere in a city to attach a rope to.

So you ended up a superhero but you can't fly? No problem if you're in the big city! No matter how high you need to get, there's always a conveniently located flagpole to latch that rope onto.

Don't see a flagpole? See that handy fire escape instead? How about a ledge or gargoyle-type statue hanging off the side of that skyscraper?

Ok, so I've never visited Gotham City, but I have been to some other big cities across America, and I have yet to see a way to constantly swing across town on a Bat-rope (and yes, I have looked). Spider-Man's web-shooters I can understand, but Batman and Daredevil have got some mad mojo going on that keeps them moving through the city skies!

Tune in Thursday for the last part of this post!
What about you? What are you favorite superhero reality-stretchers?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Greatest Hero Couples

On the eve of this wonderful day of love, I thought we'd take a peek at some of the better couples in the comic book universe. These are the heroes who found something in common and have held on through the years...for the most part.

Mister Fantastic and the Invisible Woman

Man, how long have these two been a couple? Seems like forever and a day, and since they pretty much started the Silver Age of Marvel Comics together, it's safe to say they're the poster-couple for heroic lovebirds.

They've had their fights, and Reed "died" for a long time, and then that whole "Civil War" thing tore them apart for a while, but these two always seem to find their way back to each other's arms again.

Green Arrow and Black Canary

Here's a fiery little couple that finally made it legal. After years and years of together apart together apart together apart, they finally got it all together long enough to get married. Of course, she killed him on their wedding night (and not in a good way), but that didn't stop them from getting it all straightened out later.

Will they last? I wouldn't put money on it. Still, they'll always be important to each other, and they easily have the most passionate relationship in comics. Hopefully the writers will be good to them for a little while longer before sending them spiraling back to square one temporarily.

Cyclops and Phoenix

He's the leader of the X-Men, she's the most powerful mutant in the universe. Together, they make a couple worth celebrating.

Although I've always been more partial to Wolverine hooking up with Jean Grey, you have to give this mutant couple credit for staying power. No matter how many times she dies and comes back, they always get together eventually. There's really nothing in his personality that gives a reason why she'd find him so irresistible, but obviously there's something hidden there.

Honorable Mention: Batman and Catwoman

As star-crossed as any two lovers could ever be, these two have an on-again, off-again relationship that tops them all.

She steals stuff, he catches her, they make out. She gets framed for something bad, he catches her, they have a lot of flirting, and then they make out.

Just before Bruce Wayne was finished as Batman, Hush grabbed Catwoman and actually took her heart out. Batman saved her, and they ended up with what seemed a happily ever after. Of course, there are very few happily ever after's in comic books, so they were apart again before the issue was over. Still, if they could ever get it together when Bruce gets back in the cowl, it would be a pretty interesting relationship that could possibly go the distance.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Are Absolute Editions Really "Absolute"?

You find some awesome DC miniseries that you just love to read. You faithfully buy the issues when they come out each month. Then, six months after that last issue comes out, they create a trade paperback of the story. Even though you have the individual issues, this is a tempting purchase. But then a few years later that favored story gets the "Absolute Edition" treatment, and you've got to shell out a hundred dollars for it. But what makes a comic story "Absolute"? Are they really worth the high price tag?

Let's be honest, the only people who are going to buy Absolute Editions are folks who are fans of that particular story. They are too pricey (and bulky) to be of interest to anyone but the serious collector, so take all of this with a grain of salt. You may never consider shelling out a hundred bucks for any comic story, so if that's the case this won't help much. That being said...

Here they are, and here's what makes them think they're "Absolute":

Absolute Crisis on Infinite Earths - Since every Absolute Edition is working with some pivotal storyline, you can't say one is more important than the other, but this one would be close. It's what DC used to clear up their "multiple Earths" mess by bringing them all into one. It had a number of hero deaths, including Barry Allen (The Flash) and Supergirl. So what's included in this and is it worth the price?

Like all Absolutes, this one is oversized from the regular comic. You'll get to see those favorite images in much richer colors and bigger than life. The complete story is here. A second volume is also included. The second volume contains scripts, behind-the-scenes info, and a huge index of the Crisis and the Crisis Crossovers.

To me, this one is second only to the Absolute Kingdom Come by way of artwork. Since this is oversized and the coloring is redone, you see this artwork in a way unlike anything you've ever imagined. Absolute? Absolutely!

Absolute Kingdom Come - The storyline alone makes this one worth reading, but when you consider the artwork by Alex Ross and the fact that said artwork will be in a huge oversized edition, you have a winner. There's only one volume in this, but it also includes a look at Alex's sketchbook for his character, and a listing of the characters seen on the individual covers and expanded pictures done in the past.

This is a story I love to read from time to time and never get bored with. The idea of a world in which superheroes get tired of fighting and run away seemed a little strange at the time this first came out, but now it seems like the natural progression of things. How frustrating would it really be if you fought for good time and again and ended up seeing that struggle bear no fruit?

One thing of note about this story is the pivotal part that makes it all happen. A group of young heroes is fighting an older supervillain (Parasite) only to have one of their own (Captain Atom) go nuclear and wipe out thousands of civilians and most of the state. Sound familiar? Yep, Marvel kind of ripped them off to start their "Civil War" storyline having the New Warriors do a scaled-down version of the same.

Is this edition worth the extra money? I think so, especially if you enjoy the story.

Absolute Batman: The Long Halloween - I'm going to be honest here: I didn't read this story when it came out. I had heard a lot of great things about it and how revolutionary it supposedly was, but when you hear that about so many stories you begin to let it jade you. I bought this on sale and when I started reading it I was hooked.

Tim Sale's artwork is a matter of personal taste. You'll either love it or hate it, but if you can live with it long enough you'll find yourself in an amazing story. Someone is killing people on a holiday each month. The story starts on Halloween of one year and each chapter takes place in the following month with another holiday coming up and a death in it. The secret of who the killer is makes this gripping reading.

Want to know how good this story is? Did you like the Dark Knight movie? You'll find one of the scenes from the film almost verbatim here. This is where it came from. Harvey Dent's change to Two-Face is retold here in a way that makes it that much more tragic and interesting. The extras here include pages not included in the series's original run, an interview with Sale and Jeph Loeb (the writer--and part of the team that brought you "Heroes" back when it was interesting) and a look at the action figure line.

I can't say this one is necessarily worth the extra money when you can get the complete story in a TPB edition, but this is a story you definitely need to read!

Absolute Watchmen - One of the most eagerly-anticipated movies of 2009 started out as an obscure miniseries from Alan Moore that folks had to warm up to. Of course, now we see it for the dark storyline that it is. This is the world where heroes are no longer needed or wanted, but a tragedy occurs that brings them together again.

It's no secret that Moore based these heroes on the Charlton comics characters. Unfortunately, DC had just purchased the characters and forbade Moore from using them after he'd already written the story, so he tweaked them a little and created his own thinly-veiled versions of each. Blue Beetle became NiteOwl, Peacemaker became The Comedian, Captain Atom became Doctor Manhattan, and of course, The Question became Rorschach. I'm sure DC has never stopped kicking themselves for that stupid move on their part, as it would have taken those otherwise obscure characters and made them immortal.

Since Moore is famous for his love/hate relationship with comic book publishers, there isn't much from him in this Absolute edition. It does include 48 extra pages of material that weren't in the original run of the maxiseries, but that has found it's way into the recent TPB reprinting DC is doing to promote the movie. That means this Absolute Edition is just not worth the money anymore.

Absolute New Frontier - This is another one of those stories that you'll either love the artwork for, or hate it forever. The storyline is good though. Consider this the revamped origin of the Silver Age. All your old favorites are here fighting a cosmic villain they might not be able to defeat.

If you saw the DVD release of this story in 2008, you'll have a pretty good idea of what this story is about. As a matter of fact, a few scenes were lifted almost exactly from the book (Flash's confrontation with Captain Cold is almost perfect). The artwork is gorgeous, the coloring rich, and the story is interesting. That said, I still couldn't say this is worth the extra money beyond the TPB edition.

Absolute Dark Knight - The Dark Knight Returns is consistently listed as one of the best comic stories of all time, and it's pretty easy to see why. Frank Miller managed to take a character that was slowly losing his "cool appeal" and turn him into this grim warrior who earned the title "Dark Knight". This one story is credited with saving the character's popularity.

Unfortunately, Miller stumbled badly in the sequel The Dark Knight Strikes Again. The artwork was sub-par, the storyline almost incomprehensible, and it seemed almost a mockery of the character created in the first.

In this Absolute edition, you have the opportunity to read both back-to-back and decide for yourself if the original lives up to the hype and the sequel lives up to the criticism. There's also an introduction and commentary by Miller, and some extra sketch work. Is it absolute? Well, this is another case of "If you love the story, you'll love this". If you're not a fan of the sequel, you probably aren't going to find much to sway you into paying the big money for this.

There are many other "Absolute Editions" out there that I haven't had time to read and review yet, but these are ones that I've read and can comment on. Are there others you would suggest?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Final Crisis #7 - the crisis is over

Shipping only 2 weeks after issue #6, Final Crisis #7 brings DC's mega-crossover event to a close. Maybe it's because it came out so soon after the previous issue, but this one actually seemed a little easier to follow.

It starts with Captain Marvel recruiting an army of Supermen from various alternate realities to help fight the crisis. I don't know where that started from (I don't remember it from any previous issue) but it's a cool concept. It leads to a pretty awesome scene in the next pages as well. Then we see Superman holding the charred carcass of Batman, and we're off.

Barry Allen and Wally West continue their race against death and the way they end the race is a real treat. Darkseid gets what's coming to him, that's for sure.

The biggest moment of this final issue for me was a little obscure set of panels you probably would have skimmed over. Morrison takes this minor miniseries from last year's unsatisfactory ending and brings back a true hero to the DC Universe. That's right, Captain Carrot and the Zoo Crew are back! Just like I asked for! Thanks, Grant!

The series also closes with a revelation of the final fate of the Batman. I don't know if it was a good or bad move to prove up front that he's not dead before the "Battle for the Cowl" storyline has even begun, but it's what they wanted to do. In all honesty, who really believed he was gone forever anyway? We all knew he would eventually be brought back, though the suspense of where he'd been hiding and doing and all that is pretty much gone now. I guess Morrison wanted to make sure whoever took the Batman story from here understood this was how it had to be done. Of course, if whoever it is decides to take Grant's route, he'll ignore the ending and just bring Batman back his own way. If they follow Morrison's ending, how will he be rescued? Well, Booster Gold regularly goes through time in each of his issues, so he'd be the obvious choice...but I'm sure they'll go another route.

I don't know if DC learned anything from this miniseries or not. Perhaps tying a miniseries in to so many other off-shoot minis wasn't the best idea. Because of publishing problems, if one issue was delayed it caused them to have to delay the entire rest of the series so it was read in proper order. Maybe next time they have a "Crisis" (and contrary to what they say, they will), they can do it all in one linear storyline and just make it a 12 issue series again.

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Very First "What If?" Story

In the past I've covered the "What If?" storylines that Marvel did back in the 70's and 80's, but would you believe the very first "What If?" story actually came a decade earlier--and it was from DC! The year was 1966, and the comic was Detective Comics # 341...

The story opens with a new Batman villain, and typical of the Silver Age he's a little strange and over-the-top as far as powers go. He actually coats himself with this elastic stuff that lets him bounce everywhere like a Super Ball, and he's named "The Bouncer".After unsuccessfully trying to put him away through the fists and kicks that have worked so well in the past, Batman decides to try and get creative...Our elastic villain still manages to get away, however, and it's only after a careful observation of the properties of elasticity (and I'm not making that up) that Batman and Robin figure out the villain can only bounce stuff so many times before it breaks. That leads to this final confrontation...
Think the story's over? Not quite. Here's where DC takes things a little off the beaten path by bringing in the writer of the story himself, Gardner Fox. In the page that follows, Fox uses the "What If?" phrase 8 times, and leads us perfectly into his "What If?" world for a new ending on the story...thus making himself the DC version of the Watcher.
"My 'What If' room..." I love that! I've got to have one of those!

So here you have it...the first official "What If?" story in comic history--starring Batman! Notice how it starts out and perfectly fits the format and wording that Marvel would use in their own series...
As you can see from that last panel, DC was actually considering more of the "What If?" stories (using that title too!) based on reader response. Apparently the response wasn't enough to launch a new title for DC though. DC did a few more "fantasy" stories throughout the Silver Age, but they wouldn't get serious about playing with the alternate reality scheme until decades later with their "Elseworlds" line.

So there you have it. Marvel may have fully run with the idea first, but DC came up with the concept (and title!) a decade before the first Marvel What If? saw print.
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