Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Communists of the Marvel Universe: Introduction

So I had an idea for a new ongoing feature based on an unusual interest of mine. It’s not like Seven Films for Seven Batmen or the Seven Soldiers posts, where there’s a specific end point in mind. This one’s open ended; something I’d like to come back to now and again, or not do it for a couple months if I don’t have any ideas, or abandon it entirely if it turns out to be thoroughly uninteresting and unworthy of the time investment.

I’d like to talk about the role of communism in the Marvel Universe.

But not, you understand, from an explicitly political or philosophical standpoint. I mean, I’m certainly not equipped to speak insightfully about communism, and I’m not sure it would be of much value anyway; there’s not much under the surface aching to be explored from Spider-Man wrenching the door off the Chameleon’s helicopter and shouting, “End of the line for you, commie!”

Rather, I want to look at communism contextually, in the greater scheme of a shared comic book universe. Specifically, how it’s been phased out since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

I don’t have to go into this in too much detail, right? If you want to play along with comic book continuity at all (and it is part of the fun, let’s be honest with ourselves), Peter Parker can’t have become Spider-Man in 1962 or else he’d be old as Uncle Ben today, so we have to say there’s a “sliding timescale” in effect, and that it’s been ten to fifteen years since Fantastic Four #1 (as a wretched teenager, I decided on a 4:1 year ratio based on what was going on in Spider-Man comics at the time, and today that puts us at 12.25 years).

So if Marvel’s Silver Age begins no earlier than 1995, that makes a bunch of topical references invalid (Spider-Man couldn’t possibly have teamed up with John Belushi on Saturday Night Live, for example), but it also means that the Marvel heroes have always existed in a post-Cold War environment.

Which wouldn’t be a problem, except that Marvel stories are crawling with communists, some in actually very important roles (for continuity’s sake anyway).

We could fanwank this away pretty easily, of course. When Captain America mentions one president, he means another; the Avengers go on The Late Show with David Letterman instead of Late Night; and the Soviet Union just collapsed later in the Marvel Universe (a bit after Jim Lee launched the second X-Men title, I think; less than five years ago if you use the Teenage Justin Method, or TJM for short).

Or you could just, you know, stop mentioning it.

The latter is the approach most writers seem to take, and I think it’s the right one. I mean, continuity is nice and all, but you’re just gonna look ridiculous if you keep hammering on about the Red Menace in 2010 (not to mention, politically, it’s pretty uncool). All this superhero business isn’t meant to be taken so literally anyway; relevancy is more important than consistency, and The West vs. The Soviet Union just isn’t all that relevant anymore. So yeah, next time you retell the origin, just leave all the commie spies out.

It’s the right move … but the removal of communism from the backstory of the Marvel Universe doesn’t only change stuff on a facts-‘n’-continuity level. Sometimes it actually affects things at the level of character and theme, and this is what I’m really interested in.

For example, let’s start, fittingly, at the beginning of the Marvel Universe with the origin sequence in Fantastic Four #1, where this exchange appears on page 9:

BEN GRIMM (to Reed Richards): If you want to fly to the stars, then YOU pilot the ship! Count ME out! You KNOW we haven’t done enough research into the effect of cosmic rays! They might kill us all out in space!
SUE STORM: Ben, we’ve GOT to take that chance … unless we want the commies to beat us to it! I – I never thought that YOU would be a coward!
BEN: A COWARD!! NOBODY calls ME a coard! Get the ship! I’ll fly her no matter WHAT happens!!

So in 1961, you understand why Reed wants to go through with the launch without having done proper tests on cosmic radiation and the appropriate shielding: There’s no time, man, don’t you know there’s a Space Race on? Reed is portrayed as a patriot, putting his personal safety (well, and the other three but youknowwhatever) at risk to conquer “the stars” in the name of his country. Ben, in context, doesn’t actually come off all that great. He’s not the selfless patriot Reed is supposed to be; it’s not the threat of Sue’s “commies” that gets him in the ship, it’s Sue impugning his pride.

But remove the Soviets, as we do now, and it’s a completely different story. Because without the Space Race context, why is Reed in such a hurry to get up there? It’s no longer an act of patriotism, so it’s got to be hubris; it’s inconceivable to Reed that he could have made a mistake. I don’t know what the in-story reason they’re using these days for why he took his girlfriend and her kid brother along on the flight, but I think the relevant thing to do would be to cast it as a guy trying to make space flight accessible to the common man: “Look, I’ve made this ship so easy to crew, Johnny can do it, and he’s just barely legal to drive a car.”

Even Sue takes a hit; in the original, she’s trying to get Ben to do his patriotic duty by reminding him of the communists, and only when that doesn’t work does she appeal to his ego; the modern version, one imagines, goes right for the emotional manipulation.

Ben, meanwhile, goes from the worst portrayal to the best. Because, of course, Ben is 100% right and Reed is 100% wrong, he gets cajoled into it by Sue, and Ben’s the one who ends up paying for everyone else’s mistake by becoming the Thing.

So in this case, the removal of communism makes the relationships in the Fantastic Four conceptually stronger; it multiplies and multiplies again the sympathy we have for Ben, and patriotic scientist Reed is a far less interesting character than the guy who thinks too much of himself and makes a terrible mistake he’ll spend the rest of his life trying to make right.

That’s the kind of thing I want to get into in future installments; going through and picking apart how Soviet saboteurs don’t really factor into things anymore sounds like extremely micro-level stuff, but as we’ve seen from the example above, it can have some unexpectedly macro-level implications.

So I’ll begin next time with a character who’s arguably one of the most important figures in the Marvel Universe, yet has been all but forgotten; in fact, he had a thirty-year gap between his first appearance and his second (and last).

Monday, February 22, 2010

You Can Dress Me Up As A ... What, Exactly?

First of all, let me say I don't like that Paul McCartney's mailing list or whatever (I am not 100% sure why I'm on it; maybe when I entered that remix contest two albums ago I sent it from that Yahoo account) addresses e-mails as being from "Paul McCartney" and not "Paul McCartney Mailing List" or "McCartney Fan Club" or whatever it is. Because for one brief, unthinking moment, I honestly thought, "Oh, Paul's written me an e-mail." You think you'd be more excited, even in that stupid half-second before figuring out what it obviously is, but there you have it.

Okay, point number two. Here's the image that came attached to the e-mail:

It's weird, isn't it? Don't get me wrong, I figure McCartney's needed some "rebranding" for some time now. The "cheeky" shots he keeps putting out -- the cover of Driving Rain leaps immediately to mind -- have become somewhat undignified for a legend of a man in his sixties. But what am I to take from that image above?

"Paul McCartney is mad as hell and he's gonna give you a piece of his mind!!"
"Paul McCartney is gonna rock your socks off like they ain't never been rocked off before!!"
"Paul McCartney is quite enthused about his new suspenders!!"

I think it's interesting, anyway. Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but then again, this is the image he and his people are putting out to represent him. Paired with the "Up and Coming" name, is this meant to be some sort of hungry Paul McCartney?

Thursday, February 18, 2010


The Onion AV Club has joined in my war against irony (in a move that I am one hundred per cent certain was inspired by my declaration of war, despite the fact that it appears to have been posted before I wrote my blog entry). Although the comments, always a dubious undertaking on the AV Club to begin with, raise the issue of "New Sincerity", which is apparently a thing already, and not one whose tenents I can fully get behind (it seems to promote the Cult of Awesome, which I'll reject as well).

But even the act of rejecting a "movement" is a movement in and of itself, which is why it seems to be difficult to talk about anything in the early 21st century.

Basically, I just want to know at what point we can stop acting like 90s "alternative" rock was some kind of blight upon culture and re-evaluate it as guitar pop under a somewhat misleading name.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Everybody Out of the Pool

All right, I get it. Deadpool is overexposed at the moment, so Marvel overoverexposes him as a joke. "Hey, wouldn't it be funny if Deadpool had as many monthly series as Superman?" Parody of Big Two marketing excess, etc. etc. I get it.

But at some point, "It's a joke" really isn't a joke anymore. The Colbert Report is funny and all, but it's begun to disturb me. He parodies crass commercialism by plugging his Christmas special DVD, but really, he's still actually plugging his Christmas special DVD. He parodies pundits who thrive on a cult of personality, but the joke has become so successful that he's got a following every bit as fanatical as a Bill O'Reilly ever did; the only difference between the two fanbases is a continuously thinning veneer of irony.

You can buy "KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON" stuff on notebooks and posters for your dorm room. People are paying for propaganda.

And sure, Deadpool having four or however many it is series at the same time shouldn't cheese me off because I'm not buying anything anyway. But at the same time...

...once upon a time, in the late 90s, there was a Deadpool comic that I actually enjoyed. I'm not sure if Joe Kelly's run is held in high critical esteem today or not, but I don't care. It was uproariously funny, but also had a lot of solid character work. Kelly took a Rob Liefeld-designed character with no real thought put into his creation save "He's like Spider-Man if Spider-Man was an assassin. Oh, and he's got Wolverine's healing powers!" and tried to build a purpose for this character. Not a pinnacle of the sequential art medium, but just good supercomics.

But Kelly left, prematurely, after 33 issues because sales were hovering around cancellation, and he was sick of being told "Okay, wrap up your plotlines because you only have five issues left ... wait, hold on, eight ... oops, three." So it's quite irritating that Kelly's labor of love had the axe hanging over its head the whole time, but now they're doing Deadpool Corps and Deadpool Team-Up because, you know, that's hilarious.

So starting today, I am declaring WAR ON IRONY. UP WITH SINCERITY. DO YOUR PART.

If nothing else, I've been watching The Daily Show instead of The Colbert Report lately.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Point and Counterpoint for Today

Inspired by my current rereading of New X-Men.

POINT: The way that I feel about the last few years of Avengers comics under Brian Michael Bendis must be people who are not me felt when Grant Morrison was given the keys to the X-Men franchise.

COUNTERPOINT: No, this is totally different.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Build Your Own White Album: Part Two - A Doll's House

Long version here, summary here: You know how people sometimes say The Beatles’ White Album would work better as a single album than a double (“people” in this context actually includes Ringo Starr and George Martin)? In a fit of madness, I decided to try and construct what that might look like. The first part of this series was just my 15 favorite tracks, but for this one I tried to bring some actual discipline to it. I was taking the position that it’s 1968, the Beatles have given me 30 songs for consideration on their new album, and I’ve had to whittle it down to 15.

Now what criteria do you use to do this?

- Quality. Obviously that’s the first step, but it’s not just what I think are the 15 best songs (different than my 15 favorite songs).

- Art vs. commerce. The balance is important. This is a Beatles album and a canonized masterpiece, but it’s also a pop record.

- Band politics. I’ve stated before my belief that this is the best album John Lennon has ever put his name to, Beatle, solo or otherwise. But this is a Beatles album, so Paul’s got to have his tracks, George has got to have his tracks, and yes, SPOILER ALERT, Ringo gets his. Although Paul is still going to be pissed.

- Reduce duplication. The Justice League has this same rule on their charter. Basically, if there are two songs that have a similar sound, I should really only pick one in the interest of variety, which as far as I’m concerned has always been the key ingredient in Beatles releases. At the same time…

- A sense of unity. Not in theme or sound (although I did sketch out a “Revolution”-themed concept album, and it’s as dumb as you’d expect), but in, I don’t know, feeling. “Savoy Truffle” is a year or so too late to fit in on this. “Mother Nature’s Son” would have probably fit in better on a McCartney solo release. Basically, I’m looking for tracks that embody “White Albumyness,” and no, I don’t know what that means either.

- Sequencing. It’s sequenced the way I would sequence an album. I’ll get more into that on the track-by-track stuff.

Without further ado, here is The Beatles’ ninth LP studio album: A Doll’s House. If you like, follow along by jumbling up your White Album on iTunes or whatever – it’s what I did.


1. Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey (2:25)
2. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da (3:09)
3. Julia (2:54)
4. Piggies (2:03)
5. Happiness is a Warm Gun (2:44)
6. The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill (3:14)
7. While My Guitar Gently Weeps (4:48)


1. Birthday (2:43)
2. Dear Prudence (3:54)
3. Blackbird (2:19)
4. Glass Onion (2:18)
5. I’m So Tired (2:03)
6. Don’t Pass Me By (3:46)
7. Back in the USSR (2:44)
8. Long, Long, Long (3:05)

And now I shall explain myself.

1. Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey
The main motivating force behind me even taking on such a crazy project, and the thing that kept me going when it seemed impossible, was my absolute belief that this would be the perfect song to open the album with. It’s a powerful track with a lot of energy to kick things off with, and it’s welcoming with the guitar lines and drums giving way to the barreling distorted textures, which build up energy and release it with the chorus. It also nicely introduces the album musically. It says, a little more definitively than “Back in the USSR” does, I think, that this is what the album is about. Still complex structurally, but returning to a more direct arrangement with guitars, bass and drums.

2. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
I think piano-driven white ska is a good counter to “Monkey”; I like having a pair of tracks at the front that are both muscular but in different ways. And it’s commercial and a good song, so a prominent position is important. And, politically, since Paul does not appear again on Side One, it’s good to get him out there right away.

3. Julia
Perhaps too obvious to follow up two strong, energetic songs by taking it down a notch? Ah well, I like the effect anyway. I wanted something quieter and simpler; could have been “Blackbird” or it could have been “Mother Nature’s Son,” but I wanted this for its purity.

4. Piggies
And then picking it up, but not so much as to be jarring, we have George Harrison’s first of three tracks. This was in direct competition with “Martha My Dear”; I contend that you don’t actually need both, that although the arrangements are very different they have a similar thing going on. “Martha My Dear” I think is the better song musically, but I balked at removing Harrison’s social commentary in favor of McCartney’s pure whimsy, and anyway Paul can always put it on Ram or something.

5. Happiness Is A Warm Gun
Although “Happiness” is, I think, the best song on the album, you can’t deploy it too early; you’ve got to ease into this stuff, and I think after "Piggies with" the harpsichord and the dark lyrics/whimsical sound and pig noises, you’re about ready for it. Still wanted it to be on Side One so it’s prominent.

6. The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill
The Spanish guitar at the beginning of this transitions well from “Happiness” – for a moment you might almost think it’s a new “movement” – and then goes off into its own thing. Counters the structural weirdness of “Happiness” with something direct, warm, and inviting, but still unusual and worthy in its own way. This is a track that I don’t think “needs” to be on the album, but makes it stronger anyway for exactly that reason.

7. While My Guitar Gently Weeps
Kept the “’Ey oop” transition because I could not improve upon it. The longest song on the album rounds out the first side, and I think it’s a good track to close the halfway point on. It’s big and grand – you need to work up to it, but I don’t think it’s the sort of thing you want to hold to the very end.

8. Birthday
Works both as an opening to a record side (again, I can’t improve upon this idea, nor does it need improving upon), and works as a lighter, more energetic antidote to “Weeps” if you’re listening on CD. Refocusing on rock ‘n’ roll, and too pure and energetic not to include.

9. Dear Prudence
Okay, I made this playlist on iTunes, but the problem is that I don’t have the equipment, know-how or inclination to remove the jet airplane sound from the end of “Back in the USSR” on the original. So we’ll just pretend it’s not there, and we’ll also pretend that “Birthday” crossfades with “Prudence” in a similar way, because I think this song does benefit from being led into like that. Starts off much more stripped down than “Birthday”, obviously, but by the end becomes almost as full, so I think this fits well here, and you do need this song on the album.

10. Blackbird
I’m no fool – even if I didn’t have the benefit of 40 years telling me “Blackbird” is a classic in the halls of popular music, I’d like to think I’d’ve been able to spot it at the time. If I had my druthers, I’d probably sub this out for another Lennon tune – “Sexy Sadie” – but Paul needs his tracks, and this is toe-tapping and commercial while still being poignant. Discipline: I has it.

11. Glass Onion
I think this hits really nicely after Blackbird. The transition is jarring, but the song kind of demands it – the song itself is jarring. We get our quota of bluesy rock with this song.

12. I’m So Tired
The laziness of the strings on the outro of “Glass Onion” segues well into “I’m So Tired,” which I didn’t mean to do but turned out anyway. I guess I’m just a genius. Takes the tempo down after some toe-tapping numbers. Again, I was tempted to say that this song didn’t “need” to be on here, but it does – it’s a very affecting oddball.

13. Don’t Pass Me By
This is maybe a little gimmicky, but the backwards Lennon mumbling on the end of “I’m So Tired” could be made to flow into Ringo’s piano noodling, artificially suggestion a sort of “live performance” link between the two. Okay, so the song itself – yeah, maybe this doesn’t need to be on here, and maybe this doesn’t deserve to be on here with so much other great material that doesn’t make the cut, but Ringo gets to do a song on an album. And I’m not going to tell him the first song he’s written himself doesn’t get to go on. And I’d just replace it with another Lennon song, and McCartney’s going to have a fit as it is. But I’m being too hard on “Don’t Pass Me By,” because it’s not like this is anything less than a good song (better recording than a song, though).

14. Back in the USSR
On here for commercial reasons. We do need our McCartney rockers (and rockers, period), and it’s not like this isn’t a great song. Why I’m putting it second from the end is so that it functions as what appears to be the climax. You get a big, bombastic song to be the sort of public finale – and we know it works because I stole the idea from the Sgt. Pepper reprise going into “A Day In The Life.”

15. Long, Long, Long
And like “A Day In The Life,” it starts out unassumingly, almost disappointingly after the bombast of the previous track if you didn’t know any better (and as a record producer in 1968 I am counting on you not knowing any better) before building into something grand of its own. But I wanted to play a trick; as the “official” followup to Sgt. Pepper, “USSR”/”Long” mirrors “Reprise”/”Day” but also goes in a different direction – where Pepper ends on that massive, legendary chord, this more stripped-down album ends on that bare, angular guitar chord (well, and a drum hit, but I’ll probably edit that out).

So that’s how it turned out. A few of the obvious things to point out:

1. Lennon dominates this album. Seven Johns, three Pauls, three Georges, a Ringo and a Lennon/McCartney in “Birthday.” I don’t feel too bad about this, though, and I will tell you why. First, McCartney has taken over as defacto leader of the Beatles at this point – Pepper was largely his show, and Abbey Road will be again, so why not let Lennon have this one? Second, it puts George and Paul on equal footing; this is a good boost for George, who has absolutely blossomed as a songwriter by this point, and perhaps a wakeup for Paul, whose numbers on the White Album are, I think, his weakest since the early Beatles albums.

2. Where the hell is “Sexy Sadie”?! I know, right? But this is DISCIPLINE. Another John song means one less George or Paul (or Ringo), and I tell myself that the last “movement” of “Happiness is a Warm Gun” sort of covers the same territory but more succinctly. Can I issue this as a single or something? A double A-side with “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”?

And finally…

3. This is, I think, a pretty good condensation of the White Album (I would gladly challenge anyone else’s attempt to go down the same rabbit hole I been down), and if it had been this way all along, I don’t think anyone could say it was anything less than an excellent album. But it’s just not as good as the existing White Album. Comparatively, it’s a bit charmless. Yes, you don’t really “need” “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road,” but what kind of heartlessness is that? Honestly, there are maybe five or six tracks I could say “Yes, we could lose these,” but that’s still an incredibly strong twenty-five track album. Man, I’ve even developed an appreciation for “Rocky Raccoon,” and that’s for real.

So this debate is over, right? (Or wrong?) I have rigorously tested the “Should’ve been a single album” hypothesis. It is demonstrably false.

Pass it on.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Why I Should Write SEVEN SOLDIERS: Conclusion

One last lap around the track real quick:

SHINING KNIGHT: I could probably do about fifty issues of this. The soap opera stuff is pretty well set up, I’d just let it loose to get twisted up on itself until they kicked me off the book. Actually, take out that one kid’s connection to Adam Strange and Shakespeare Kid’s LoSH membership, and subtract Billy Beezer, and that whole thing with the TODAY special class program is all me, so I guess I could conceivably use some of that stuff, who can say; that’s the stuff I was really keen on in the proposal anyway.

KLARION THE WITCH-BOY AND FRANKENSTEIN: A good setup for a series, I thought, but one I like better in theory than in practice, I think. I’d probably run out of steam on it; I’d give it twelve issues maybe before I’m no good to you.

THE BRIDE: I would write comics with the Bride in them for the rest of my life for free. Maybe in exchange for groceries and some money to go out to bars on, but this is negotiable. I wasn’t expecting that this would turn out to be my favorite one until I actually sat down to do it, and I discovered the possibilities. Seriously, this isn’t even about me or "I should write...", DC is sitting on pop comics gold, and they have no clue. I have, actually, thought about ways to file off the serial numbers, but I’m uncertain whether or not a comic called Nosferata is too stupid or just right. I would draw it myself if I were marginally competent to do spy-fi.

MISTER MIRACLE: I really really like the idea of MM escaping from a Schrodinger’s Cat experiment and there’s one live MM and one dead MM, and he throws his own funeral. I am stealing that and using it someplace else, hopefully. The rest, as I said at the time, is just sort of okay. You don’t want me on this one, I don’t think.

BULLETEER: Not my favorite, but not my least favorite either.

ZATANNA: Came out better than I expected. The best thing about it, the thing I actually will pat myself on the back for being clever, is the idea of her narration being misdirection, being part of “the act”. Not that I’m 100% clear on how I would actually get that across in practice, but ah well, it’s not like anyone’s asked me to do scripts of these (Plok: for the love of God man, please don’t ask me to do scripts for these).

MANHATTAN GUARDIAN: I like this one a hell of a lot, a close #2 behind the Bride, and I would very much like to file the numbers off this one as well. (Josh, I know we’re committed to Wyatt and all, but I’ve always really loved the way you draw city buildings, I don’t know if I’ve ever told you that…) Three-Card Monty was actually a character I’d had for a while and didn’t know what to do with him; my original idea was to pair this guy with a totally unpretentious view of magic with a sort of stick-in-the-mud prissy apprentice, but it didn’t really work. But Top Cop & Three-Card Monty set in the New York I only imagine in my head might be workable if I ever got around to that.

I think I’m about done here. The whole thing was about 9,000 largely unusuable words, but a very stimulating mental exercise. Thanks, Pillock, for laying down the challenge. Now, onto other things. A Doll's House coming soon.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Why I Should Write SEVEN SOLDIERS #7: The Manhattan Guardian

I know, took long enough. Let me explain why.

Manhattan Guardian was my favorite of the original Seven Soldiers series, and it was also the one with the clearest direction for an ongoing series. Disgraced ex-NYPD cop Jake Jordan gets a second chance to make something of himself when he answers an ad to become a reporter/mascot/superhero for the Manhattan Guardian, a tabloid newspaper that doesn’t just report the news … they make it. The first three issues of the series lay out a very clear blueprint, I believe, for how the series is supposed to work: one- to two-issue stories, largely self-contained, with ongoing personal sub-plots running in the background.

Theoretically, you’d think that would make it the easiest to write, but it’s not the case. See, the the other six protagonists, by and large, ended up in a different place than they were at in the beginning of the series (I think Morrison knew in his heart of hearts that Klarion or the Bulleteer were unlikely to win their own ongoing series, but figured there was a good chance Manhattan Guardian could actually be a commercial success; so he gave the rest a complete arc, knowing that would probably be all they’d ever get, but left Guardian open). So the other six series required some conceptual legwork, and the question of “where do we go form here?” generates its own storytelling springboards.

But the direction of Manhattan Guardian was extremely well-established to begin with. Since the main meat-and-potatoes conflicts are one-offs, that means you have to come up with a ton of ideas; you just need to work up big piles of conceptual coal to run this train. So I had to take some time to do just that. But first: overall details about the series.

Superheroism in the post-Spider-Man mold is, of course, often portrayed as equal parts blessing and curse. Sometimes the curse part of it seems oppressive to the heroes, but their unerring sense of responsibility makes them stick with it, right? Jake Jordan, then, is quite refreshing, because for him, being the Guardian is the greatest thing that’s ever happened to him. An incredible opportunity giving him financial security, a sense of purpose and direction, and perhaps most importantly for him, pride. Jordan seems somewhat traditional-conservative, and I’d want this to be apparent in his characterization – the kind of guy where, not that he thinks his wife shouldn’t work, but that she shouldn’t have to. He’s also extremely level-headed, which is good for the high-pressure situations of his “job,” but it also makes him – well, it’s not “cynical” or “jaded” at all, but a kind of cool seen-it-all pragmatism. Idealistic but not romantic. He enjoys being a hero, but he’ll never let fame consume him. Right man for the job.

Jake’s fiancĂ©e, Carla, in the original series, was initially supportive but, following the death of her father during a Guardian “story,” found herself disapproving of the dangers inherent to the superhero lifestyle to the point where it nearly destroyed their relationship. It’s the one disappointment in Morrison’s series for me – “significant other who wants superhero to give up the life so she won’t have to worry that he’ll be killed in action” is a pretty well-worn clichĂ© (basically Mary Jane’s schtick in Spider-Man since they were married), and there’s no fresh twist given in the series. So I have devised a solution. Though she’s taken Jake back and worked through her issues to some degree, she still has that nagging fear in the back of her mind. You would too. But she does something about it by forming Super Significant Others, a support group for wives/husbands/boyfriends/girlfriends of superheroes. And since, of course, it’s difficult for the significant others to get together without compromising the identities of the superheroes, they come to meetings dressed in costumes as well; this not only conceals their identities but also helps them get firsthand experience of what it’s like to lead a double identity.

Oh, and I want most of the stories to be New York-specific; “Manhattan” is in the title, after all. I live in Wisconsin USA, and I never been to New York, but I have seen an awful lot of movies and television shows that take place there. Since Grant Morrison’s DCU-version of New York is one in which a number of fantastic and exotic architectural projects that were never built in real life were actually completed, I feel this gives me license to set the series in a hyper-real version of New York – not authentic in any way, but the romanticized version that exists in my head from watching Ghostbusters, The Critic, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Woody Allen movies and David Letterman’s shows; New York as American Narnia, sort of.

The DC Universe New York, as it happens, has never produced many costumed supervillains. Befitting an image of NYC gleaned from movies and TV, the city tends to be threatened by gangs and mobs; the subway pirates of the first two issues again establishes the blueprint to follow. Jorge Control from #3 appears as a recurring villain; not necessarily an “archenemy,” but a guy who shows up when we need him – an unscrupulous genius with an interest in social dynamics.

So, on with the plots:

- We are introduced to Three-Card Monty, who will be a recurring character throughout the series. A “street magician” or “urban mage” dressed in a firefighter’s jacket, he’s got no time for Aleister Crowley, uses Bicycle playing cards instead of the Tarot, and will kick your ass if you insist that magic should be spelled with a “k”. He tracks down Jake and informs him that the time has come for the myth of St. George to replay itself in the modern world – only the part of St. George will be played by the Guardian, and the role of the dragon will be played by one of the 100-foot long mutated alligators that rule the New York City sewers.

- Former Manhattan Guardian theatre critic “Playbill” Pete Petrowicz was fired when his reviews were deemed “too extreme,” so he became a gritty vigilante stalking Broadway in the name of good taste – a bad review from Petrowicz isn’t a thumbs down, it’s a bullet in the brain. So when Samson Frank Robbins’ new musical Sub-Rosa Subway, the story of Alfred Beech’s Victorian-era pneumatic subway system, opens, it’s the perfect target.

- The head of the Chicago Deep-Dish Syndicate is in town for a historic peace agreement with the New York Pizza Mafia. But when a delivery boy is found dead in the Bronx, the Guardian has to solve the murder to prevent all-out war. And the killer is not who you think…

- Twin brothers Romulus and Remus Parker are known as New York’s greatest criminal real estate barons – think Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor in the DC Universe – and they’re about to pull their greatest coup by building in New York’s greatest undeveloped and unexploited piece of real estate: a floating skyscraper that hovers 100 feet above Central Park.

- A giant monster from an unknown galaxy of terror attacks New York, but is placated when it falls in love with the Statue of Liberty. The rudimentary communication the government is able to receive from the creature indicates that he’ll return to his home planet if he can take the statue with him, and New York finds itself divided about whether or not to let the alien have her. Save the city at the cost of one its most enduring landmarks? What side will Jake Jordan take?

- Remember Bill Brazil, who owns an art-house cinema and whose life Jake saves in Manhattan Guardian #2? His theatre shows The Most Controversial Movie Ever Made, which has half of New York trying to burn down his theatre, and the other half literally killing each other for a chance to see what’s got everyone so worked up.

- In the wake of a number of tourist abductions in Manhattan, Jake Jordan goes undercover as an accordion salesman from Green Bay to get to the bottom of it. Will seeing the city from outside eyes help Jordan rekindle his love of the city his job has caused him to sour on, or will the shabby treatment he receives from his fellow New Yorkers cause him to write off NYC once and for all?

- How does The Manhattan Guardian cover sports? When the Giants are down by five in the NFC championship game and their quarterback is injured, Guardian reporter Champ Takamura forgoes any sense of journalistic integrity and joins the team, takes over under center, and wins the game. Only problem is, the team they were playing was the Hub City Knuckles, and they don’t take kindly to losing. Their revenge against the Guardian is to tie Takamura to the goalpost in a boobytrapped stadium and challenge Jake Jordan to rescue him – if he survives One Hundred Yards of Death.

- After eight issues of nonstop rock’em-sock’em action, I will ask the editors and readers very kindly for an issue’s worth of indulgence for Issue #9. In a story that can only be called Waiting For Johnny Moondog, Three-Card Monty convinces Jake on behalf of the newspaper to camp out in front of the former home of a rock ‘n’ roll legend on the anniversary of his assassination in the hopes that they’ll see his ghost. As they wait, Jake and Monty have a long conversation about the artist in question, and Jake will take quite a bit of convincing that this working class hero was anything but a complete hypocrite.

- The Guardian interviews Lois Lane for a position with the newspaper – after all, if any reporter knows about putting herself in harm’s way and making herself a part of the story, it’s Lois, right? – and they get themselves mixed up in Romulus and Remus Parker’s latest scheme. You know that urban legend about con artists selling the Brooklyn Bridge? The Parkers discover that one of those contracts is, in fact, valid and try to hijack the bridge when the city doesn’t recognize their seemingly legal right to it.

- Jake Jordan was once in the NYPD. Jordan’s former superior gets in touch with him and reveals that he and five other ex-cops are going to form a superhero vigilante team, and want Jake to help train them. Now, this story usually ends with the hero telling the vigilantes that laws are important, that they’re all we have, and that we should work within them. But the cops point out that half the Golden Age superheroes have the same motivation and they’re all looked at as heroes, so Jake finds this issue isn’t as black-and-white as the traditional superhero boilerplate.

- The Guardian finally puts The King’s Menaces, a bunch of former Shakespeare in the Park actors who’ve taken to crime after falling on hard times, behind bars. But a poorly planned sentencing puts them in the same prison that Playbill Pete is being kept in, and the Guardian has to prevent a Shakespearean tragedy from occurring at Attica prison.

- Following the story with Lois Lane, the Guardian is sent to Metropolis to do an expose on why Superman hasn’t been able to completely clean up Suicide Slum.

- And finally, as promised, the Reverse-Crazyface from my Bulleteer proposal gets mixed up in a gang war between Two-Face and Doctor No-Face, and Zatanna is drafted in when things threaten to go cosmic as the unfathomable Anti-Face makes its presence known.

So that’s somewhere around fourteen issues, which I think is a good start, and hopefully all that would be required to convince somebody that yes, I could totally sustain this thing. I couldn’t think of anything to do involving taxis; well, that’s not true, I could, but all the most obvious ideas were uncomfortably xenophobic, which you could make work, I just hadn’t found the proper angle at which to attack it.

I think I’ll have one more short post to wrap this up in a day or so, but for know I say only “THE CHALLENGE HAS BEEN MET,” and retire to the mead halls in celebration.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Coming Soon...

Why I Should Write SEVEN SOLDIERS #7: The Manhattan Guardian
I did not forget. Should be up before the end of the week, and thus endeth the challenge.

Build Your Own White Album: Part Two - "A Doll's House"
In which I attempt to make a "proper" single Beatles album out of the White Album. A good idea? Good lord no. But that has never stopped me before. FOR MADMEN ONLY! PRICE OF ADMISSION - YOUR MIND. Next week.

Also: I have need of Tank Girl-related assistance.