Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Why I Should Write SEVEN SOLDIERS #4: Mister Miracle

I’m sticking this one in the middle because it’s different than all the others. See, I’m not so sure I should write Mister Miracle.

David Brothers has a piece about Afro Futurism and Mister Miracle, and it’s compelling stuff. Morrison’s reimagining of the New Gods mythos was fascinating and relevant, and it elevated the characters above some of their more pedestrian post-Kirby portrayals. Truth be told, I’ve never been the biggest New Gods fan, but Shilo Norman’s experience really opened it up for me. I think the Afro Futurism/“elevation” approach is how Mister Miracle should be written…

…but I’m not the guy to do it. It’s not just a matter of authenticity, it’s one of experience. I’d only embarrass myself if I came on here with my underdeveloped ideas about what Afro Futurism really means, fused it with wacky comic book plots, and passed it off as “something meaningful.”

But, the challenge was to come up with a way to write all these books, so I have to do something. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED:

So, Shilo Norman was the understudy of the original Mister Miracle, eventually became a 21st century celebrity escape artist (only in the DC Universe!) and was tapped by the New Gods to liberate them from the evil gods of Apokalips. After Final Crisis, Darkseid has been defeated and the New Gods are reborn. And what happens to Shilo?

Well, the only thing I can think of is he wakes up one day after Final Crisis to discover that those fabulous space gods no longer have any need for their human savior now that his purpose is complete, and they’re restored on Earth-51 or whatever.

The New Gods have forsaken him.

This would be a less-actiony, more introspective series than my other ones. Shilo Norman knows there’s something bigger than what he can see and touch out there, and he used to be a part of it, but now it’s all gone. All he has left is Motherboxxx, which retains its incredible powers, but seems to have lost its soul; where that “ping!” sound once seemed like the distant echo of a great cosmic bell ringing from Heaven, now it sounds like nothing more than a cheap electronic tone.

Once you’ve tasted what it’s like to be the living avatar of freedom, going back to being a rich guy with a nice house is going to seem pretty shallow. What does the mythical Hero do when his special destiny is fulfilled? After Luke Skywalker vanquished the evil of the Empire, did he have trouble going back to being an ordinary guy? Shilo’s new mission is to escape depression and sorrow, to escape loneliness, to escape the mundane and material -- and find his New Gods once again.

So what does Shilo actually do in the comic? He seeks the great spiritual and/or philosophical leaders and experiences of the DC Universe: Shilo visits Nanda Parbat and Mount Olympus and discovers the final recording of the last science-priest of Krypton, embedded in a crystal in the Phantom Zone. He uses his vast wealth to buy five minutes of Vandal Savage’s time, and asks the immortal terrorist from 50,000 BC for his perspective on life, the universe and everything.

He puts himself through a number of innovative new traps as well. The old physical traps will still be there (being thrown out of a plane with no parachute, stuck in an avalanche, etc.), but, like the monsters in Shining Knight, just as momentary glimpses of Shilo’s everyday life, whereas the stories will be driven by more unusual traps. These will be more conceptual or metaphorical in nature, and they won’t always be something Motherboxxx can just fix. After spending his last penny on the visit with Savage, Shilo will be broke and homeless and living on the streets (where he meets Ali Ka-Zoom, of course!), a trap he accidentally escapes by unwittingly saving the life of Millions, the Richest Dog in the World. Mister Miracle throws himself into a time loop in which he’s forced to replay the death of a young boy in a traffic accident that Shilo is unable to prevent through conventional means (an old chestnut of a sci-fi plot, I realize). And, in a twist on Schrodinger’s Cat, when Shilo volunteers to take part in a quantum experiment that goes horribly wrong, two Mister Miracles emerge -- one alive, one dead -- and he decides to hold and attend his own funeral.

I will also do the unthinkable and admit Brad Meltzer had an idea that I thought was interesting. Doctor Impossible, who’s either Scott Free’s long-lost evil brother from Apokalips, or deranged muscle-for-hire who stumbled upon New Gods technology and only convinced himself he’s a god, returns. But after Shilo’s experiences in Morrison’s miniseries, he’s willing to admit there may be more to Doctor Impossible than meets the eye. On the other hand, the thought that this guy might just be a crazy dude forces Shilo to consider that his own experience with the New Gods might be self-delusion as well.

And it’s Doctor Impossible who pits MM up against a variation of Darkseid’s Life Trap: the Golden Slumbers, which consists of only a powerful hypnotic code, a comfortable bed, and a banner we’ve seen in Morrison’s Invisibles: La mort est un sommeil eternel. Unlike the Omega Sanction, each dream-existence is more pleasant than the last; in some he finds his New Gods once again, in some he learns to live happily without them, in some he is welcomed into the fraternity of superheroes and becomes Earth’s second Superman. It’s like the Black Mercy, but with one difference: sometimes you wake up from the Golden Slumbers … and then you decide to fall back asleep.

So there you have it. I could write Mister Miracle, I suppose. But even though I like some of the ideas above, I’m not so sure I should.

Oh yeah, here's more things I wrote

My lapse in posting has not been very lapse-y of late. For, if you have not already seen them, here are my most recent MightyGodKontrabutions:

Part the first, in which a most curious editorial decision regarding DC's Superman/Batman is discussed.

Part the second, in which I wonder why DC and Marvel try to sell "untold tales" when few are willing to buy them on an ongoing basis.

Coming soon: Mister Miracle is happening, but it's up to you whether it will be worth waiting for.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Understanding Norman Osborn (maybe)

I’ve been thinking about the Green Goblin.

Well, no, who I’ve really been thinking about is Norman Osborn. Zom at Mindless Ones has an amazing piece on the character, but focuses more on the Goblin aspect than the Norman aspect, which is in keeping with the thematic/symbolic focus of the Rogue’s Reviews. I want to talk about Norman Osborn, and what his deal is.

This all comes about because of a comment I made on my sometime-host’s blog, which I’ll reproduce here to begin with:

“Norman Osborn was retconned into a diabolical manipulator after the Clone Saga just because they needed *somebody* to be the mastermind behind it all, so why not have it be Spider-Man’s most notorious villain?

“Only problem is, when you actually read the original Green Goblin stories, if you take away the initial mystery of his identity, his connection to Peter Parker, and killing Gwen Stacy, Norman’s just a Halloween-themed dude who wants to take over the underworld. This is not an A-list villian for anybody but Spider-Man because of the personal connection; Captain America would probably regard him as being somewhere between the Grey Gargoyle and the Owl (hey, at least the Owl *has* a power base instead of always trying and failing to build one!).”

See, that kind of bugs me about the character, as does that he’s supposedly Spider-Man’s greatest enemy, but doesn’t have that meaty thematic “oppositeness” that you want out of a great archenemy (conceptually, Doctor Octopus and the Vulture are better, and even Venom fits the bill a little more naturally); you can dig and say Peter represents responsibility and rationality while Norman is pure power and irrationality, but you can say that of a lot of hero-villain relationships.

However, that negative can be turned into a positive, as can his not-quite-A-list status that I mentioned above. The more I think about it, the more I like the notion that Norman Osborn is a guy who really wants to be a supervillain, but isn’t quite up for it.

Mark Millar did a run on Spider-Man a few years ago, and in its pages was an idea: Back when superheroes first started showing up in the 30s, a shadowy cabal of the rich and powerful created the supervillain as a concept, with the intent that the heroes would be too distracted by their obvious, superficial villainy to look into the corruption hiding in polite society. Now, I hate this idea. It’s cynical, it’s trying to be relevant and “realistic” but doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense, and it implies that fighting supervillains for all these years has really been a waste of time, so why am I even reading this at all?

But there was one gem buried in that mess, and that was Millar’s take on the Green Goblin. The Scorpion explains how Osborn connects to this conspiracy: “Billionaire? Bio-chemist? All those big military contracts? … Osborn was their favorite super-villain contractor until he went a little nuts and started flying around on that goblin glider he built for himself.”

The kicker of the story is a letter Osborn mails to Peter: “It must be stressed that these fights are by no means a sign of any real enmity. On the contrary, I hold you in enormous regard and am always grateful for your attentions. Were it not for you, I would be just another boring businessman running another boring chemical-manufacturing business.”

I think Millar is far too cute and on-the-nose about it, but the basic idea is one I actually kind of like: The Green Goblin is Norman Osborn’s midlife crisis. In his original appearances, the Goblin persona does tend to assert itself when Osborn is under a lot of stress. What if the Green Goblin and his accoutrements were a commission (“I don’t know, can you make him kind of Halloweeny, like a demon or a gremlin or something?”), and one day Osborn snaps and gets that Why should they have all the fun? idea in his head.

But, just like an aging man who buys a red sports car and dumps his wife for a 25-year-old (and any other clichés you care to throw in there) doesn’t actually become a young man, taking super-serum and trying to take over New York’s mobs doesn’t actually make you a supervillain. Because he is just no good at it. Like I said, even the Owl can get a gang together; the Goblin has trouble wresting control from someone called “Lucky Lobo.”

Similarly, his plans to kill Spider-Man through manipulation never work, and they become increasingly desperate. Once he learns Spider-Man’s true identity, the plan is generally “Get a bunch of people Peter cares about in trouble to lure him out.”

Then, of course, at the height of desperation, he kills Gwen Stacy. And this is where Zom’s idea of the Goblin comes in.

See, Norman/Goblin isn’t a Jekyll-and-Hyde sort of deal, a good man turning evil. Norman/Goblin is a bad man who becomes worse. Even if Osborn had designed the Goblin for somebody else, the Goblin takes a life of its own. Osborn, after all, really just wants to be a fairly typical supervillain; he wants to be a master-manipulator type like the post-Crisis Lex Luthor, to be the kind of guy with a long, drawn-out revenge scheme against Spider-Man. But Osborn’s not that clever when it comes right down to it, and so he fails, and the Goblin-thing in his head that’s made out of desperation and hate hasn’t got the patience for elaborate supervillainy. “Just push his girlfriend off a bridge. No psychological chess game, no battle of wits. Just kill her. Then kill him.”

That’s how I think I might enjoy seeing the character portrayed. Most of the time he’s just Norman Osborn in a Halloween costume trying to be the diabolical archvillain who’s courteous of his nemesis and keeps his secret identity for himself as a plaything. But at the first sign that things aren’t going to go his way, a switch is thrown inside his head, and all that posturing melts away to reveal a vicious, cruel thing just looking for somebody to hurt.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

All is well (more or less)

It turns out I do not have a battery issue with my lappy. It's apparently a hibernation problem you get with Microsoft Vista. Despite all the flak Vista seems to get, I've never had a problem with it before today. So, "Get a Mac" commercials, let me just say, you were right and I was wrong (and you know the only reason I resisted is because I resented Justin Long for always making that nice John Hodgman feel bad about himself).

So I have a working computer, but I will still be moving soon. Do you have any boxes??

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Posting may become less frequent, although it's only temporary

A couple things. For one, I am having what appears to be a battery issue with my laptop. At least I hope it's just a battery problem; if not, when I take my lappy in tomorrow to get it looked at, they may need to take it away from me for a bit.

Also, I will be starting a new job soon. It will be first-shift (you would be surprised to learn how excited I am about that prospect, or perhaps you would not), so there will probably be less of me writing responses and comments on this or other blogs at one in the morning. However, the wifey and I will be undertaking a move, possibly around the end of September/beginning of October.

Both of these things together mean there may be less posting for a few weeks. Perhaps a quick one or two over at MGK, but not one of the usual weekly big honkin' analysis pieces. Work on the I Should Write SEVEN SOLDIERS "challenge" continues when I find the time, and there is a new one up about Bride of Frankenstein. I think I like this one even better than Shining Knight, and I can only say that if a DC editor were to read it it and did not request to see at least a writing sample based on the pitch, just out of curiosity if nothing else, I don't know that said editor and I could ever possibly see eye to eye on anything.

Why I Should Write SEVEN SOLDIERS #3: The Bride of Frankenstein

Is there a legal issue with the name Bride of Frankenstein? Like, does Universal own that specific grouping of words? In that case, The Bride would work just as well or better, unless there’s an issue with Kill Bill. Basically, I am saying THE NAME IS FLEXIBLE.

The deal with the Bride is this: Victor Frankenstein created a woman with the intent that it would become his first creature’s mate, but the she-creature wasn’t having it (in Morrison's Frankenstein!, she says “It’s nothing personal. But you were never my type. … Alive. One of these days they’ll figure out how to sew on a sense of humor.”). The Bride escaped captivity and lived a wandering existence before “the Red Swami brainwashed me, grafted on two extra arms, and passed me off as a reincarnated assassin goddess.” That incident brought her to the attention of the Super Human Advanced Defense Executive, or SHADE.

What is SHADE? Their leader is Father Time, a master manipulator who only seems callous and amoral because he can see the big picture (and I’m talking the biggest). Like a certain celebrated Time Lord, he periodically regenerates into new forms, except Father Time does it every January 1st (comic book time being what it is, it would theoretically be years between regenerations, but it would be more fun to have Father Time obey the real-world or "higher" calendar, to the great confusion of the characters within the book). I’ll let Morrison, via Father Time, explain the organization’s mandate:

“Here’s the pitch. Superman meets James Bond. Big time for a little while. These days we clean up the crap no one else will touch, on a budget that wouldn’t buy you breakfast at a fancy hotel.”

God, I love that notion. SHADE headquarters hasn’t been remodeled since 1978 and the paint is peeling; since every penny they get goes to developing new and innovative superhumans for the purpose of national defense, their computers are perpetually four years out of date, and everyone has to chip into an office fund to buy the coffee. Even if you don’t drink coffee, you have to pay into the fund, and I cannot stress that enough.

SHADE is drawn like a Jim Steranko spy-fi comic, except all the characters are ugly.

The Bride is the perfect operative to work for SHADE, and here’s why:

1.) She’s quick-witted with a dry sense of humor and a strong stomach. The latter will come particularly in handy when a monster composed of self-loathing, disappointment, desperation and alcohol vomit coalesces in the sewers beneath Ivy Town and attacks the college students from which it originated.

2.) She’s got the flexible morals her job requires; she has no problem ordering an entire Manhattan city block vaporized when a lack of flow renders the architecture poisonous and threatens to spread; that act, however, doesn’t exactly get her on the Guardian’s good side, and there is of course a fight until they realize they have to team up to defeat the sinister Landlord.

3.) She’s infinitely adaptable and has a lust for life. Something of an aesthete, she dresses in the latest, most outrageous fashions, and it is her stylistic convictions that make her alone immune to Nightmare in Plaid. The Bride surrounds herself in fine art, food, and music, and desires (and is desired by) some of the handsomest men in all the world; unfortunately, this taste for the finer things leaves her highly susceptible to the 43,252,003,274,489,856,000 configurations of Baron Sensor’s Pleasure Cube, and that mission does not go very well.

4.) The Bride is extremely professional; she has no ties, and so the mission doesn’t become personal. One of the few exceptions to this rule is when the last in the Frankenstein bloodline is discovered living in Toronto. The secret of the Frankenstein Process is encoded into his DNA, and using this, the Men from MOMMA derive their experiments with the end goal of no longer needing women to reproduce. This project turns out to have military applications, and from it will come the only creature who might be considered the Bride’s equal: the mysterious supersoldier and poet, Lilac Vapour.

5.) The Bride is probably the coolest person you’ll ever meet, but if you ever have occasion to meet her, it probably means you are going to die very soon.

(Also, Josh: If DC called tomorrow and wanted more story springboards, I’d pitch them the “Bitter Cold” killer-snowmen idea from Wyatt, in which a science-priestess curses the raiders that destroyed her laboratory village, binding their souls to water molecules and leaving them to freeze in the winter. But that is okay because you should totally be drawing this.)

Another asset: You have to understand, approximately one in three SHADE agents will eventually go rogue, and the agency has learned to just accept that. Mental breakdown is a frequent side effect of superhumanization. You might agree really quickly to have supercool pilot skills uploaded into your brain (as do the members of the X-Hawks Squadron), but you may become unhinged when you can’t sleep because your mind is incessantly playing out hypothetical combat simulations. A young agent signs up to gain ESP at the cost of his sense of smell; it sounds like a good trade-off, but when he can’t enjoy movies because he knows how they’ll end, and when the smell of cooking bacon has no effect on him whatsoever, he’ll want revenge on the superscientists who did this to him (and of course, with the ESP, they can’t hide a damn thing from him).

It is, of course, one of the Bride’s jobs to track down these rogue agents and kill them or try to salvage their enhancements. And they can trust her with it, because she’s got another edge over every other SHADE agent.

She never had any humanity to lose in the first place.

NEXT: Mister Miracle (I guess).

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Havin' a chat down at ol' MGK's about Superman an' Batman's secret identities....

...or indeed, their threecret identities.

Incidentally, I don't have much anything to say about the DC/Warner Bros. thing (or, more properly, the Warner Bros./DC thing). Corporate restructuring is not my area of expertise (my actual areas of expertise? Superheroes and AP style), and, with precious few exceptions, I'm not particularly invested in new superhero comics of the day to really get freaked out about the idea that things may change. Frankly, as long as Wednesday Comics gets to finish and Batman & Robin keeps happening, I'm good. And to be honest? I know the concern is that WB won't see the value in cranking out low-selling monthly comics anymore, and less so that they're gonna interfere with editorial -- but maybe it wouldn't be so bad if someone asked a creative team to think twice before ripping the arms off a C-list hero or villain just for funzies.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Why I Should Write SEVEN SOLDIERS #2: Klarion the Witch-Boy & Frankenstein

Klarion the Witch-Boy & Frankenstein would be a much different series than Shining Knight. While SK is all about intrigue and a sprawling cast (that's what being a teenager felt like to me, at least), KtWB&F focuses more on the leads and their relationship. Think of it as the strangest buddy movie you’ve ever seen.

When last we left these two in Seven Soldiers #1, Klarion had become the new Sheeda King and master of Castle Revolving (which one page on Wikipedia describes as “a time-traveling fortress,” and that’s the best description I’ve ever heard of anything), and Frankenstein is in his thrall, since Klarion’s witch-brands control certain kinds of undead creatures like Big Frank.

Now, the problem set up in Seven Soldiers is that the Sheeda are us -- humanity on life support one billion years from today, their stale culture kept alive by dipping back into the past and “harvesting” healthier civilizations. As Queen Gloriana asks Frankenstein in the last issue of his mini-series, “Are we not human? Would you have our people starve, thou very moral monster?” In Zatanna, Gloriana’s daughter Misty knows that if she defeats her mother, she’ll have to keep her people alive by preying on the past as well. Dilemma, right?

But in 7S #1, we are assured “there’s a third way,” and since the very next page shows us Klarion as Sheeda King, it suggests Klarion will be the one to reject binary ideas and come up with a mutually beneficial solution; he’s been shown not to follow precedent just because that’s the way it’s always been done. He is a child, however, so his motives are going to be a little immature: he won’t destroy the present because his family lives there and he’s charmed by our world, but he won’t let the Sheeda go extinct, because then who would worship him as king? So don’t expect a Superman-style heroic speech, but rather something a little more characteristically understated for Klarion. “Plunder the past or starve? I think neither. Surely with this fantastic castle at my disposal I can figure a way out of this.” And so, the main thrust of the series is Klarion moving through time and space, investigating other civilizations and enlisting history’s great thinkers to come up with that third way.

Of course, that doesn’t mean it goes smoothly. When Castle Revolving shows up in Ancient Greece, it invokes the ire of the Greek gods. Klarion loses track of Leonardo da Vinci, and thus nearly gets the legendary polymath vaporized in New Mexico on the date of the first atomic bomb test. Klarion’s trip to the 853rd century very nearly undoes millennia of planning by the Justice League. And might we expect him to cross paths with the Shining Knight and the Three King Arthurs on their quest?

Of course, this mucking about with the timestream is bound to attract the attention of Rip Hunter and Booster Gold. Klarion finds time to have a great deal of fun with his time travel capabilities and power as King of the Sheeda; inspired by the incident with Mr. Mxyzptlk when Castle Revolving accidentally rotated up into the fifth dimension, Klarion finds playing pranks on Rip and Booster are a good release from the stresses of his kingly duties.

But I’ve left out Frankenstein’s role in all this. Initially, Klarion sees him as little more than muscle to back his brains, a means to an end, and keeps him under the witch brand. As time goes on, they get to know each other better, and Klarion finds the monster’s centuries of experience very helpful. Frankenstein’s grim, dry comments also keep Klarion grounded when his fawning subjects threaten his sense of perspective. Klarion is infuriated to no end by Frankenstein’s protests and by the many times he points out glaring holes in Klarion’s plans, but the Witch-Boy recognizes the value of keeping Big Frank around. It is Frankenstein, for example, who helps Klarion through the difficult, desperate choice he has to make on Krypton one week before its destruction (those Kryptonians are, after all, just going to die anyway when the planet explodes, right?). And in turn, Frankenstein’s strict, black-and-white view of good and evil (he is of the opinion, after all, that simply wiping out the Sheeda is the easiest solution) may be softened by Klarion’s moral flexibility.

I think there’s room in there for some touching character growth. Oh, they’ll never be friends, especially since Klarion never completely releases Frankenstein from the witch brand’s control. Because if he did, Frankenstein might leave and never return…

…that is, if he doesn’t exact his revenge on Klarion first. It’s said, after all, that one of Frankenstein’s arms is that of a former slave, and the flesh remembers.

That’s also something that would come up in the book: Frankenstein’s ability to integrate body parts. Frankenstein isn’t some guy with other people’s limbs sewn on, he’s actually made out of different pieces, and they all become Frankenstein (and he becomes them). What did the dead man hear before he was killed? Sew his ear onto Frankenstein, and he’ll know. Think of him as having the potential to become a sort of macabre version of Amazo. Upon the discovery of a recently slain Green Lantern, Frankenstein will take the creature’s arm and ring to make sure the death is avenged.

Ah, but hold on a moment! If Klarion and Frankenstein are combined into one book, doesn't that leave a vacancy? Next time we’ll see that Frankenstein’s book has been taken over … by his would-be “bride.”

Friday, September 4, 2009

Why I Should Write SEVEN SOLDIERS #1: The Shining Knight

Here is everything you might want to know about this character, and here is a simplified version: Ystina is a young girl who disguised herself as a boy to become Sir Justin, a member of King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table circa 8,000 BC (Camelot, as Morrison establishes, is a recurring archetype, but Ystina’s Camelot is the first). The evil queen Gloriana Tenebrae destroys Camelot, and in escaping, Ystina accidentally time-travels to the present day with the sword Excalibur, and her winged horse Vanguard. After Gloriana is defeated, Ystina is enrolled in the “H.S. Johnson School for Heroes” by Ali-Ka-Zoom, a homeless mystic, and on one of the last pages of Seven Soldiers #1, he explicitly sets up of the potential ongoing series:

“…you’ll have fun here. You need to learn some more about the 21st century and how it works before you go swinging that sword all indiscriminate. Weekends you and your horse can fight the good fight all you want. I can’t stop you, only give you advice … even if you do decide to start up your own round table with all the new friends you’re gonna make…”

Morrison’s made it very simple, right? Girl knight with mentor figure, lost in time, can’t go home, enrolled at some kind of hero academy. So … what happens?

Some of it is her “weekends.” She’ll fight random monsters, of course, but we’ll only see enough of that to get the sense that it happens all the time (just like when Spider-Man spends a page stopping a mugger; it’s not the main thrust of the story, just an excuse for a quick action scene). Most of the on-panel time will be spent on more interesting and bizarre adventures, chief among them the Quest of the Three King Arthurs. We are told by Gloriana that after the original Arthur from Ystina’s Camelot, “There were of course several Arthurs; a pagan general in Roman Britian, a medieval Christian mystic…” Gloriana knew about, but did not mention, the King Arthur of the 109th Century AD. There is, however, only ever the one Merlin, and it is he that brings the three of them together to enlist the help of the last surviving knight of the Primal Round Table in the search for a treasure that loses itself in time. Together they embark on a series of journeys that culminate in 12th century England, where they also discover the terrible origin of the Sheriff of Nottingham’s Clockwork Man technology, and the tragic tale of how Robin Hood really died.

There is, of course, a King Arthur in the present day as well, but just how Aquaman fits into the legacy is a mystery he and Ystina will have to work together to solve.

But it’s not all epic quests through time, because there’s still the school five days a week. Note that it’s not a school for superheroes, but a school for heroes. School policy impels the faculty, which includes Arn “Iron” Munro among its members, to actively discourage costumed, superpowered heroism; but to understand why, you must also understand why this H.S. Johnson formed the school in the first place, and none of the students are permitted to know.

The star student at the school is Ranger St. Clair, who you might imagine to be exactly like Doc Savage, except three months shy of legal driving age. Billy Beezer, a former member of Mister Melmoth’s child gang, enrolled at the school after escaping the forced labor camp on Mars in Morrison’s Frankenstein! series; he tries to become a hero and leave his former days of hedonism and petty crimes behind, but when some of his former gang members turn up at the school, he’ll have to deal with temptation.

Ystina is placed in one of the school’s special classes (“Well, they’re all special classes, aren’t they?” the school administrator says). It’s called the TODAY program, and it’s designed to help other temporally displaced youth adjust to life in the 21st century. From the past there’s Juan-Carlos Canyon from the Old West brought to the present by aliens, and Victor Victorian, whose interest in séances led him into the mysterious limbo known as the Ghost Realm in 1897, only to re-emerge six months ago with the ability to commune with and control spirits. Brash and callow Axel Strange claims he’s Adam Strange’s grandson but can’t prove it, and isn’t saying why he finds himself in our time, but he’d love to supplant Ranger St. Clair as the school’s top hotshot. You might assume Shakespeare Kid is from about 1600 AD, but you’d be wrong – “Shakesy” is a member of the Legion of Substitute Heroes in the 31st century and hopes to become a full Legionnaire after learning some valuable lessons at H.S. Johnson, but has developed a curious interest in Axel in the meantime...

Ystina is extremely serious and grave, and Ali-Ka-Zoom is there not only for advice, but also to help her lighten up. Of course, her new friends in the TODAY program might help as well; are they to become the first of the prophesied Queen Ystina’s new Round Table, or are they just a bunch of weirdos who can’t work a toaster? And when Iron Munro goes missing tries to recruit the Leviathan entity (which is, as you’ll recall from Morrison's Klarion, made up of 125 lost children underneath the subways of New York City), will the TODAY class save the day, or will they need Ranger St. Clair’s Young All-Stars to rescue them as well?

Next: A witch-boy and his monster.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Render unto Justin what is Justin's...

... i.e., artifacts of geekiness that I strongly desire to purchase but, for various reasons, I cannot.

Look, you may not agree with me on the fourth item, but that show? Low on quality, high on charm. Plus, 1970s New York, the image of which I have always loved for some reason. Also: The incredible first-season theme song will haunt your dreams.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Why I Should Write SEVEN SOLDIERS: An Introduction

I know what you’re thinking; a couple weeks writing at Christopher Bird’s blog, and I’m already stealing his bit. But I assure you, this was not my idea. Someone issued me a challenge, and never let it be said I shrink from such things.

So: Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers series. I don’t know that it’s the “best” thing Morrison’s ever done, but I personally find it the most interesting. There’s a lot going on thematically that you can either choose to engage with and go down philosophical and sociological rabbit holes, or you can just let wash over you and engage with it on an almost subconscious level. Structurally, it amazes me every time I read it how well it all fits together, both in theme and in narrative; the ideal way to read it isn’t in a book, or even on a computer with connected hyperlinks, but maybe as some sort of 3D holographic interface in which you could see the point where Klarion’s encounter with the Horigal intersects with the pirate train from Manhattan Guardian, and then watch the two streams go on their separate ways again.

But, leaving aside all that fancy stuff, on the most basic level, Seven Soldiers was an attempt to “transform a neglected, third-string, C-list DC property into a strong commercial feature with franchise development potential.” In his introduction in the first collected volume (where that last quotation also comes from), Morrison says he gave each character “a first issue origin story, a well-defined opening character arc and enough conceptual fuel to run for years, if fan support demanded an ongoing title.”

So did he succeed? According to the standards of the second quotation, I think he did, because I think most of the concepts are pretty well set up by the end of the megaseries. But by the standards of the first? Not a bit! This is something I complain about all the time, and I suspect it is why Plok issued this challenge. None of these characters have been given an ongoing series (well, Zatanna’s getting one, I believe, but she’s got the JLA connection and was probably the least revamped of all the characters, and it’s not likely it’ll carry much of the Morrison stamp on it anyway), and very few of them have appeared even in guest-starring roles outside of comics Morrison’s written. In the case of the Guardian, the new version’s been dismissed in favor of the old one in James Robinson's Superman comics.

Why is that? Part of it is a nostalgia-driven market suspicious of new ideas (or even new takes on old ideas), and part of it is Morrison’s reputation. Not only is he considered a difficult act to follow because of his status as a popular, top-tier writer, but a lot of people have convinced themselves you can’t follow Morrison. “Oh, he just has these cah-rayzee ideas; must be the drugs!”

Very well, then. If paid professionals are not going to have a crack at it, then a dude sitting at his computer very late at night is going to do it for free.

Here are the ground rules for this game: I am going to assume that the comic book market is a very different place, and that all seven books were successful enough to warrant an ongoing series (I may in fact be pretending it’s 1992, when pretty much anything with a character resembling a superhero sold like crazy), and that I am writing all of them. They’ll be interconnected to some degree, like a mini-universe inside the DC Universe (but they’ll still interact with that main DC Universe), but probably to a lesser extent than the original mini-series. Morrison went out of his way to find connections between all the characters, and it would be silly not to exploit that. Readers of Morrison's series may also remember that Millions the Mystery Mutt, world’s richest dog and former mascot of the Newsboy Army, appeared at the end of Seven Soldiers #1 to be given control over the East and West Coast mobs as the Dogfather; this will show up in all my imaginary series as an important plot point, if for no other reason than it’s too crazy not to run with.

The posts will go up whenever I finish them (hopefully once-a-week-ish). Each post will cover one ongoing series and will discuss themes, the status quo and storytelling engine, and –- like MGK’s similar posts –- a bunch of intriguing-sounding mysteries I am only going to hint at, and if you want to learn how they turn out, someone is going to have to put me in touch with DC Comics to write actual scripts for real. (Note: This is not going to happen.) Or just take me out to a bar and buy me lots of drinks. (Wait wait: WHY NOT DO BOTH?)

Unlike MGK’s posts, however, mine will not have cool little graphics at the top, and for this I can only apologize.

I hope to have the first up by the end of the week, and we’ll see how this goes. I’ll start out with the one that seemed the most explicitly set up by the end of Seven Soldiers, and my semi-namesake – Ystina, the Shining Knight.

I am a nerd who likes to visit museums...

...and also talk about them, particularly when they are museums located within the Fortress of Solitude or Justice League satellite. (This one went in a different direction than I was expecting, so I hope it hangs together.)