Thursday, January 29, 2009

Worst Kept Secret Identities

One of my readers (Kermyt) suggested this one, and I thought it might be fun to look into. We know how most heroes guard their secret identities to protect their families, but let's be honest: there are those heroes who do a really poor job of it. Submitted for your approval, these are the heroes who did a really poor job of keeping their secret identities secret.

Green Arrow/Oliver Queen

Ok, so this one took a while before it got out, but now it's pretty much public knowledge. Of course, considering the little flippy goatee thing was pretty much a dead giveaway long before he acknowledged the fact that he was Oliver Queen says a lot about how well the folks around him paid attention to details.

Yes, my question becomes "Why wear the mask if everyone already knows who you are?".

Do you think folks feel a little strange around the hero who still wears the mask when he's around? "Um, are we supposed to call him Green Arrow or Oliver? And are we supposed to act like that little mask is still fooling us?"

The Flash/Wally West

This one is freaky weird simply because of the turns it has taken over the years. He's Kid Flash, then he becomes the Flash, then everyone finds out who he is, then the Spectre comes along and makes everyone forget who he is (including Wally himself), then he gets his memory back and gives up his identity yet again.

When an almost-omnipotent being wipes the slate clean for you, we like to call that a "cop out" in comics (cough, cough, Spider-Man, cough cough). At least DC had the decency to make it interesting by letting even Wally forget he was a hero. But then it's a pretty dumb move to go back and let everyone know who you are again after you find out.

Villains have come after his wife, and problems have come on his kids thanks to his indiscretions. Here's hoping Wally has finally found peace now that Barry Allen will be wearing the red suit.


Ok, so this one wasn't really public knowledge to the whole world, but you've got to admit a whole lot of folks knew who he was. Not counting sidekicks like Robin(s), Nightwing, Batgirl, and Azrael, we had Talia, the daughter of his greatest enemy (and his baby mama). Catwoman finally figured it all out, Ra's Al Ghul got in there too. Bane and Hugo Strange knew who he was before it was conveniently wiped from their memories. The Riddler figured it out before having a problem with his memory that currently has him forgetting it again.

To get modern, let's not forget this Jezebel chick who recently messed him up but good, along with the Black Glove group of baddies who tried to drive him crazy.

So let's look at who hasn't figured it out yet: Commissioner Gordon. The cop. The detective. The man leading the investigative force of Gotham City. Actually, he probably figured it out years ago, but if you've got someone willing to face the super-villains for you, you go along with the charade.


Now this one is strange. Despite the fact that many other heroes have had their secret identities exposed with few repercussions, Peter's fear was what would happen to his family when the world found out...and he still told everyone who he was.

And what happened? Sure enough, they went after his wife and indestructible aunt. And again, even after everyone knew who he was, he still put on the red suit and mask and fought crime as Spider-Man--with folks calling him "Peter".

Fortunately for Marvel, there was enough pot floating around the conference room one day to motivate some writers to say "Hey, let's just let the Spectre clean it all up like he did for the Flash!"

"Wait, is he one of our characters? I don't think he's ours."

"I don't know. I can't keep up with all this crap. What publisher am I working for this week? Oh yeah, Marvel. Well, who can we use instead?"

"The devil if I know."

"The devil it is! Let's get Mephisto in those pages and give him powers he's never had before! Folks will eat it up like candy!"

And the rest is history.

Daredevil/Matt Murdock

Here's another one the Kingpin went after when the secret came out. How many times has his secret been blown? Twice, to my knowledge. And yet, despite the odds, people keep forgetting he's Daredevil.

Prove it in court, prove it with pictures, prove it with witnesses, send him to prison over it, and all we need is someone else to wear the suit for a while and suddenly everyone's thinking, "Hey, Matt can't be Daredevil cause Matt's in prison and there's Daredevil on the roof!"

"Um, couldn't someone else be wearing the suit?"

"No way! They'd never do that! Besides, who else could jump around like that and swing on a rope?"

"Spider-Man, Batman, the Blue Beetle...even Tarzan, for crying out loud!"

"Nope. That's the real Daredevil!"

"Well, ok then, we were wrong. Let's get Matt out here again."

And so it goes...

On Monday, we're taking a look at the very first official "What If?" story...but it wasn't from Marvel Comics! Join us Monday as we look at where it appears Marvel got their inspiration for the series.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Dark Avengers #1 - Marvel sends in the replacements!

Since the mysterious cover made its appearance months ago in the Secret Invasion comics, folks have been speculating about exactly who each of those heroes on the cover is supposed to be. I mean, it's obvious who some of them are, but the question is: why would they have suddenly turned and joined Osborn's group?

The answer is here, and it's not really a surprise. Marvel is just re-using the basis for their Thunderbolts series with a little tweak here and there. Sentry and Ares are there from Mighty Avengers, but the rest are villainous replacements (thus the name "Dark" Avengers). Now, who they have in which costume is where the fun begins!

I have to admit this issue leads us toward some interesting confrontations ahead. The identity of the Iron Patriot will probably come as a surprise to no one, but the others might bring a smile to your face as you consider the possibilities of what will happen when the originals tangle with the replacements.

I haven't enjoyed the first issue of a series this much in a long time. I thought Marvel would have a hard time keeping the momentum from Secret Invasion, but this looks like it will be enough to keep them moving for a while. My only concern is that they don't use this to eventually lead everything back to the status quo again. The Marvel Universe is really shook up right now, and I think that's a great thing.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

7 Things I Miss About the Bronze Age of Comics

I talked about my Silver Age favorites before, but the Bronze Age of Comics is when I was actually old enough to start buying comics and enjoying them. I became a comic book fan in 1974 at the age of 5, and stayed with it for decades afterward.

Respectfully, here are seven reasons why the Bronze Age of Comics remains my favorite (by the way, I know I said there would only be 6, but I remembered another):

1. George Perez ruled the Justice League and the Teen Titans

This was what I consider the golden years of the JLA. Perez treated the characters like each was supposed to be a masterpiece, and they came out as such. The costumes were cool, the colors were bright, the stories made sense and usually ended within 3 issues of the start. This was a time when those particular comics were an exciting adventure.

Over the years the JLA title has undergone a lot of changes (and even cancellation at one point), but these were the stories that used the characters to their fullest potential.

It was the reboot of the New Teen Titans that really grabbed me though. Perez managed to take this comic of teen heroes and turn it into one of the hottest comics of the 80's (at one short time actually outselling the X-Men).

So many things happened here that had huge effects on the DC Universe: The introduction of Cyborg, Starfire, and Raven. Robin became Nightwing in these very pages. Kid Flash spent his final years as such before taking on the mantle of the Flash. Deathstroke was introduced here as well. The infamous "Judas Contract" storyline where Terra turned on her teammates still resonates throughout the DC storylines (a couple of months ago, Terra's brother Geo-Force finally faced down Deathstroke and almost killed him). There were entire issues that had them never go in costume, but still kept us riveted to the pages with the underlying emotional themes.

I don't usually spend the big money on DC's Archive Editions ($50 for 8 issues of a comic are steep), but I have been following the New Teen Titans reprints simply because they are such great stories. The X-Men may have ruled the 80's, but the Titans were the team I followed.

2. Spinner racks

Wow, this seems like a little thing, but I remember running into the local Magik Market and seeing that metal rack just waiting for me to go through it. I had no thoughts of the future of the books, so I'd just bend them down to see what issues were waiting behind, never thinking about how that precious issue I'd just creased would lose so much value. That squeaky sound it made as you turned it around, fighting other kids so you could look at what you wanted to without having to wait for them...those were good times.

3. Loose change could actually buy two books or more!

I remember when the price of a comic book actually used to have the "cents" sign after it. You could walk in with a quarter and come out with a book. And when you got a dollar for helping around the house, you were walking out of the store a happy, happy little boy!

Now you don't need to bother walking into the comic book shop without a twenty in hand to come away with a couple of books. Yes, I know the paper stock is much better, and the colors hold up longer, and the dollar doesn't go as far today...but isn't $4 a little expensive for just a regular comic book?

4. Giant Treasury Edition Comics!

Oh, they were usually reprints, but they were HUGE (13" X 15")! And they were so much fun to grab and read!

Call them unnecessary eye candy if you want to, but when I was a kid I bought every one of these I saw. Even today I try to collect them as I can (the one you see pictured to the left is my latest acquisition and is currently framed in my home office...I'm a Galactus fan).

Every once in a while we'd get an original story in one of these, and it was big-time! The first major publisher crossovers occurred in this format, and this was a time when it was okay to hand over a couple of dollars for a (giant) comic book!

5. Team-Up Books

All but gone today (the only exception being the recent return of "Brave and the Bold"), team-up books used to be hot. This was where you'd see a major star like Spider-Man, Superman, or even The Thing teaming up with some lesser-known hero who would get a chance to shine for one issue.

Though they've tried to bring these back over the years, it doesn't seem to be something that sticks anymore. Perhaps it's because a team-up isn't that unusual anymore, with heroes popping up in other books almost every month. Practically any issue you pick up is a "team-up book".

Still, for a time these were special moments. You wouldn't usually see Batman and Deadman team up, or Spider-Man and Captain Britain, or the Thing and Giant-Man...and that's why these were stories we kept buying each month. It was the unique teamwork that made them interesting to read.

Brave and the Bold was jump-started again a while back and it's doing a good job of offering some interesting combinations (Green Arrow and Deadman, Green Lantern and Phantom Stranger, etc). Maybe they'll be able to recapture the spark that makes these stories must-reads.

For a great blog that covers every aspect of team-up books of the past, check out Rick's Mail It To Team-Up blog!

6. That weird way they dated the comics on the cover

Oh it might say "April" on the cover, but you were picking that comic up in January or February. It was like getting your hands on the future!

There was always that weird thought of "did I miss an issue or something?", and eventually you stopped even trying to keep up with why things were so out of whack with the current month. I don't think any explanation was ever given for that little time anomaly, but it was something we just accepted as normal for any comic we bought.

Eventually they fixed all this, as today we can see the proper month in any comic we pick up...but this was a fun little quirk that added to the experience.

7. Superheroes selling sweets!

The next to last page in any comic book was always one of my favorites because you'd find your favorite heroes involved in stopping some diabolical plot in 10 panels or less! No matter how detailed the storyline you were following, this was a self-contained story that made sense...and made you hungry!

Fresh off his tour of trying to destroy the country, villains like the Red Skull, Doctor Doom, and even Lex Luthor decided to sell out and go for the Twinkies and Hostess Cup Cakes. Forget world domination...bring me sugar!

They never succeeded, but that didn't stop them from trying. No matter what horrible thing they were planning on doing to the poor, helpless kids out there, some conveniently-timed intervention by a Hostess snack cake would always save the day!

You'd better believe I loved to eat those cupcakes when I saw them in the store...and I always felt like I was doing a little something to help out Spider-Man the next time he faced The Hungry Gobbler!

Of course, today we understand from government intervention that sugar is bad for you and therefore should not be allowed in any cereal or even in comic book ads, but back in the day it was shameless promotion that we loved.

So that's it, my trip down memory lane is complete for this week. What major memories of yours did I miss?

Monday, January 19, 2009

6 Things I Miss About the Silver Age of Comics

While I am the first to say I love a great modern comic story like Secret Invasion or the latest issue of Nightwing, I can't help but remember the silver and bronze age of comics and what made them so much fun. Despite the fact that you could actually purchase a comic book for a reasonable price, there are several other things to love about the time.

For your reading pleasure, I offer 6 things that made the Silver Age of Comics so great and why I miss it.

1. The Comics Code Authority

I am not a prude, but why did comic books have to develop a potty mouth over the years? The Bronze Age saw a few heroes let one slip here and there, but those were powerful moments because it showed their outrage. Today, we are treated to a constant stream of zingers from the mouths of our heroes.

It's all unnecessary too. It doesn't make a hero tougher to do it. As a matter of fact, in the case of the recent All-Star Batman & Robin, it actually becomes a running joke to readers.

Yes, I know the old Marvel Knights titles and the Marvel Max titles were specifically created to cater to adult readers, but even most of the regular titles could be considered adult now.

2. No graphic violence

I'd like to show you how Batman and Robin used to handle baddies:That's it. What looks like a little tap with no blood and the bad guys go down. Now let's see how bad guys are taken down in a recent Batman issue:As you can see, it's not a great time to be a bad guy. Overkill? Yeah, I think so. How about a recent issue of Ultimatum in which the Wasp was actually eaten by the Blob? When was he ever even hinted at being a cannibal before? Nowhere.

It seems like they keep pushing the envelope further and further each month, as if they are hoping the shock value will push the sales up when they can't come up with a good storyline.

3. "Massive Crossovers" were actually special events

Back in the old days, a crossover was something special. When you saw the JLA teaming with the JSA, that meant you were dropping your money for those special comics.

Today, it seems like every single comic book is somehow tied to some crossover event. This strange phenomena seems to have started about 4 years ago with Infinite Crisis, then moved on to Civil War and hasn't stopped since. Now if you can find a comic book that contains only the titled hero in it you've got a keeper. The only exception to this is the Amazing Spider-Man title. No other heroes show up there because even they don't have a clue as to what's going on.

4. Single issue storylines

There was a time when you could buy almost any comic book--even if you'd never read that hero before--and still be able to follow what was going on. Those were the days of stories that began and ended in one issue. If it was a major story, it might go to two or even three issues, but never any further.

Today, with the push of all comic titles to be reprinted in trade paperback format, almost every single story is a 6-part storyline (the right amount of issues needed for a TPB). If you don't catch the story at its start, you'll be a little confused for a while--or you could just wait and buy it in trade paperback format three months later.

The sad thing is that many of the mid-story issues are mostly filler stories that don't advance the plot very much. They're essentially three-issue stories fattened up to be six-issue stories. With the price of comics being what they are today and with the economic crisis we're supposedly facing, they might need to reconsider this thinking.

5. Parody Books

I know Mad Magazine has been around forever, but the Silver Age saw books like Not Brand Ecch come into play. It was a parody book that was actually funny!

Marvel tried to revive the trend in the 80's and 90's with a magazine called What The? (a riff on the What If? title)--and some of those issues were genuinely funny as well--but we haven't seen anything like it in years.

Of course, this was decades before the wonderful world of "I'll sue you for anything" that we have today, so stories like a Spider-Man/Batman fight could be done without everyone losing their minds and going for a legal battle.

6. "Fat" superheroes!

In the Silver Age, heroes must not have had the time to work out like they do today. For example, Silver Age Batman and Superman:

And here's how they look today:Yeah, the sculpted tough look is cool, but I can't help missing those simpler looks. I mean, even I look like the Silver Age Batman!

Coming Thursday: 6 Things I Miss About the Bronze Age of Comics!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Farewell, Robby Reed

Just wanted to say goodbye to one of my favorite comic blogs, Dial B for Blog. Today Robby Reed is publishing his 500th issue of the blog and calling it quits. While 500 posts may not seem like a lot in this blog-crazy day and age, each of Robby's posts were detailed, well-written, chock-full-of-pictures entries that brought out some great moments in the Silver Age of comics. If you've never read it before, it's not the best time to suddenly decide you love it (since it's over now), but the archives are full of some wonderful articles on great stories and characters you missed.

Here's my favorite post dealing with my favorite obscure hero. Who else would have devoted so much attention to Captain Klutz?

We'll miss you, Dial B for Blog. Sockamagee!

Next week, we'll take our own look at the Silver and Bronze Age of comics on Monday and Thursday!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Final Crisis #6 - Thank heaven it's almost over!

I honestly didn't plan on reviewing any of these issues anymore, but I had to have some loyalty to the book. After all, I actually began this blog because of the horrible first issue of the miniseries (thus our title). It keeps getting mired in more and more continuity and crossover problems that make it almost unbearable, but hey, let's tear it apart anyway, shall we?

So with the penultimate issue of the miniseries-that-makes-no-sense, we are treated to the death of the Batman...again, but in a different way. Now I know you're thinking "Wait, didn't he die in a plane crash in Batman #681?" and you'd be right. However, this is Final Crisis, Grant Morrison's amazing story that involves every aspect of the DC universe, but doesn't actually interact with any of it. So even though Bruce died a flaming death in his own book, he gets the chance to do it again here. Even better, Morrison has him break one of the cardinal rules of the character (he never uses a gun because of the way his parents were killed) and lets him shoot Darkseid with the god-killing virus bullet that took out Orion (another hero who died a couple of different ways thanks to this series). Morrison keeps batting them out of the park. Next issue, perhaps he'll have Superman rape Wonder Woman so she'll break out of her Darkseid spell, or maybe Captain Marvel can rip the head off of Mary Marvel to make up for the bad things she's done. Grant Morrison will not be bound by the rules of character continuity!

Aside from the rest of the jumping different-scene-each-page format that would actually overload a kid with ADD, we also see Barry Allen as he and Wally prepare to outrun the Black Racer. Will they make it? Who knows...but the Flash:Rebirth title coming out in February might have spoiled that little cliffhanger.

This will never be regarded in the caliber of Crisis on Infinite Earths--or even Infinite Crisis, for that matter. There's just so much to hate about this incredibly confusing title that it boggles the mind. Thank goodness it's almost over. DC has said this will reshape the multiverse forever, but if I could make a suggestion it would be to let Grant take a year-long sabbatical to gather his thoughts and wits before putting him on another title. He used to write good stuff, but this is not his shining moment.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Bring On The (Movie) Bad Guys!

In the past, I have thrown together a dream cast for the Avengers movie, and another for the Justice League movie--both of which they keep threatening to make but probably never will. This time, I'd like to give my suggestions for the bad guys to films they probably will make someday.

Michael Emerson as The Riddler (Batman 3)

Let's face it: this guy is scary! On Lost, he plays the enigmatic Ben Linus with this callous "I'll use you until you're used up and then throw you away" kind of menace. The way that Heath Ledger re-imagined the Joker from the prankster to a serious psycho is the same way I see Michael changing the image of the Riddler. The riddles are no longer just to fool Batman and keep him guessing, but are instead warnings about how potential victims will die.

Forget Jim Carrey's over-the-top comic version of this character. With his cold, bug-eyed stare and that calm surface that hides some simmering crazy stuff underneath, Emerson could take this otherwise obscure bad guy and make it someone who could carry a movie.

Michael Rosenbaum as Lex Luthor (Superman Returns sequel)

Spending seven seasons as this character makes Rosenbaum the obvious choice. Now in his 30's, Rosenbaum would be the perfect age to portray Luthor in the movie. He's also a great actor, and was able to turn Lex into a bad guy we actually didn't want to hate--even after decades of him being nothing but evil in the comic books!

Yes, I know Kevin Spacey is a big-name, award-winning actor while Michael isn't, but Spacey just didn't do anything with the character to make it memorable. He was basically just channeling Gene Hackman's version.

Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as The Mandarin (Iron Man 2)

All the pre-press for this movie seems to be focusing on Don Cheadle's casting, but let's look at a good villain for this thing. The natural choice for an Iron Man villain is Mandarin, and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa would make one scary bad guy.

Tagawa has that smooth, rich voice that could command an army of bad guys (he's done it before in several movies anyway), and he can sneer with the best of them. Add to that the fact that he really is a practicioner of the martial arts, and you can see where he'd add spunk to the fight scenes.

Tim Blake Nelson as The Leader (The Incredible Hulk 2)

Let's face it, no matter who you choose for this part it's going to be hard for them to pull off a two-foot forehead. That being said, let's take for granted the writers of the sequel are going to do something drastically different for this bad guy when he gets screen time.

Let's just say they keep his head at a normal shape but make him super-intelligent and mean. Keeping that in mind, I'm willing to let Tim Blake Nelson keep going with the character he started in The Incredible Hulk. He wasn't menacing by any means, but we've seen where casting a relative unknown has allowed some really great things to happen in the past, so maybe we should give it a shot here as well.

Jack Coleman as Henry Peter Gyrich (The Avengers Movie)

Ok, so he's not technically a super-villain, but Gyrich is a bad guy in any comic fan's mind. He's been a thorn in the Avenger's side since 1977, and if they're going to have Nick Fury protecting them, we have to have his polar opposite in a suit going after them to shut them down. Coleman plays Noah Bennett in Heroes and he's got this bad side to him that makes wearing horn-rimmed glasses tough.

I'm not saying Gyrich would be the main baddie of the film, but he would be that "fly in the ointment" waiting for the Avengers to mess up somewhere so he could disband them. Coleman is an actor who could honestly stare Samuel Jackson's Nick Fury in the eye and not back down. It might make for an explosive confrontation.

Naveen Andrews as Kraven the Hunter (Spider-Man 4)

I know everyone is expecting the Lizard to show up in the fourth film (and he probably will), but think about how cool it would be to see Kraven in action. Spider-Man has to fight for his life among the New York skyscrapers with an updated version of Kraven stalking him, shooting at him, and ultimately facing him down in Central Park. Hey, it couldn't be worse than the construction site Sandman showdown!

And to complete the Spider-Man 4 set...

Dermot Mulroney as Curt Connors/The Lizard (Spider-Man 4)

Ok, I understand that we had a good look at Doctor Connors in Spider-Man 3 and it seems the slot is already filled, but let's be honest: we need someone younger and more in shape. Mulroney has spent years giving us the "aloof" look in every part he's played.

Connors is supposed to be this tragic figure who has a wife and child that he cares deeply about. Mulroney would be easier to sympathize with as he struggles to keep himself from changing around his family. And we know the Lizard is going to be CGI anyway, so he won't have to do a lot in that respect other than lend his voice to the role.

I just hope they keep the villains down to just 2 in the next movie. I'd love to see more of them come to life, but it seems like that would be far too much going on at one time. It would stretch the storyline thin.
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