Thursday, February 28, 2008

Never give a Dynamic Man an even break

Superpowers #1 (Dynamite): We’ll start with this little press release blurb from Dynamite: This powerful series is overseen by Alex Ross who has designed every hero within these pages; scripted by Jim Krueger with art by Carlos Paul, this is the most powerful comic book event of the year!

Excuse me? Tweaking the Black Terror's costume, does not constitute designing the hero. The basic original design is still there. And frankly, looking at the changes, I cannot say any of them are necessarily an improvement on the originals, they're just different. His Green Lama “design” is basically the Lama's original look on the pulp covers. The rest of the heroes that appear in costume, from the sketches in the back and the Flame and Dare-Devil on the back cover are all the original designs.

Just to work ourselves through the story, the art and coloring work better together this go around. Maybe part of that is that I’m not familiar with the original pencils so I’m not seeing everything that was lost.

Page 1: Dynamic Man and un-named woman. There’s a reason for Dynamic Man’s aloofness and comments here to be revealed later on. His referring to Dr. Moore, the doctor figured prominently in his origin. In the bottom panel among all the gray statues, we see a golden urn, Pandora’s Box.

Pages 2 & 3: Bruce Carter III (Fighting Yank) & the American Spirit. Carter is speaking figuratively in calling his ancestor Benedict Arnold and striking me as being a bit hard on him, the Spirit just a little less so. It seems to me that Carter the First was as mislead as Carter III was.

Page 4: Tsarong was Jethro Dumont’s manservant dating back to the pulp incarnation.

“Jet” Right away we get into the little things that bother me. This is not the character hating the name Jethro but the creators and imparting their will over the context. The very fact that he was introduced to us with the name of Jethro whether it be in the pulps or his various comic incarnations tells us he doesn’t dislike the name. The original writers introducing us to the character under the name is the same as the character telling us what they prefer to be called. It’s why the id’s of the Blue Beetles are DAN Garrett and TED Kord and not Danny or Daniel and Theodore or Teddy. If he preferred to be called Jet or by his middle name, then that’s what we would have been told his name was at that point in the original stories and not 60 years later.

Page 6: The Green Lama works great as a robed hero here, not an easy look for a comicbook artist to pull off really. We have another reference about him only recently being aware of the “Meta-Natural World” or in other words, the supernatural. This might have worked if the Green Lama we saw last issue was the pulp version who was philosophical and meditative but otherwise used science. However, we saw that the Green Lama was fully the Mac Raboy one who gained super-strength, flight, and invulnerability when chanting his Buddhist phrase. I really like how GL plays a major role and his characterization for the most part, but the execution with him is shoe-horning him into a role that he doesn’t fit.

Such as pages 7 & 8 where we see that he’s become a mystic able to travel through space via greenery. While this makes an interesting counterpoint to the Flame who picked up a similar trick studying in Tibet only with flame while Hydroman does it with water (only through science and not mystical abilities). But, this is pretty much changing the very nature of the Green Lama to fit the story instead of letting the story be directed by the characters involved. For a history of who and what the Green Lama is and has been in the past, I’ll direct you to an older post: The Mighty Return of the Green Lama.

Page 10: The Dynamic Family again. The mask that lets the Fighting Yank see evil, that was given to him last issue, not a power he had in the forties. However, if he always had this mask, wouldn’t he have realized that imprisoning the heroes in the urn didn’t work, that it didn’t make any difference in the supernatural realm in ridding the world of evil?

Pages 11 & 12: The Dynamic Family is beginning to show their true colors, but the motivations are unclear

Pages 14 & 15: The Green Lama shows that he still has some of the powers he had before. Dynamic Man is along the lines of the Golden-age Superman himself (Wayne Boring even worked on the character some).

Page 16 & 17 spread: I already talked about my feelings about the Black Terror re-design but here’s another inconsistency of the story. The Black Terror went into the urn in his original costume and been trapped there. Yet he emerges in his Ross-tweaked costume. I guess you could say the art in the last issue was “wrong” and he was in reality wearing this costume, but then the flourishes that Ross gave the gloves and mask would be anachronistic for the 1950’s.

Pages 18 &19: I always thought that the Yank’s cloak was magical because it was imbued with the ghost of his ancestor. No ghost would imply no powers. The Black Terror in the 40’s was one of Nedor/Standard/Better’s generic powered heroes aka super-strong and bulletproof. Except when done by Mort Meskin and Jerry Robinson where he didn’t exhibit any powers . He wasn’t really as bloodthirsty as portrayed here, assuming the time in the urn didn’t help any. But, every revival of the character has portrayed him as being a darker character than he was originally. Tim also known once as Kid Terror in his one solo outing wore an identical costume as the Black Terror and helped him fight crime.

Page 21: Dynamic Man is revealed as a robot. Android really. The Doctor Moore referred to on page one had built him. He and the Timely Dynamic Man appearing in THE TWELVE are basically the same character with just a few minor changes. However, the Chesler Dynamic Man eventually picked up a kid brother with identical costume and powers and no explanation that I know of was ever given. The implication here is that he built his “brother” like he built all of these Dynamic Family members. Now, whether JMS is likewise holding on to reveal THE TWELVE’s Dynamic Man as an android to explain his also odd behavior or will retcon out that origin we’ll have to wait and see. Personally, I’d have revealed that the Chesler Dynamic Man was alive all along only with amnesia induced by Moore’s experiments and only thought he was an android. And let Marvel keep the android origin.

War Journal pages
Dynamic Man and Family: Curt Cowan is Timely’s Dynamic Man. Don’t know if the Chesler version went by that name but by the time he gained a kid brother, he was going by the name Bert McQuade and he’s called Bert elsewhere in the story.

Sketches Pages:
Hydro (Hydroman): 1940, Re’glar Fellers Heroic Comics 1-29 (Eastern Color Printing). One of Bill Everett’s several water based heroes. A friend of Bob Blake’s develops a serum and antidote that allows one to dissolve into liquid, appear from various liquid sources (once materializing out of an ink pen). Bob allows himself to be injected with it, thinking it’d help him fight forces of evil. He must’ve decided he might need a little more of an edge and also made a bulletproof outfit.

Fighting Yank we know.

Silver Streak: 1940, Silver Streak Comics #3 (Lev Gleason). A racing enthusiast swami is suspicious of drivers’ deaths caused by giant insects. After a man he hypnotized to race for him is killed, the swami resurrects him and instructs him to track down the killer. The driver now has the power of super speed.

Captain Future (2): 1940, Startling Comics #1 (Better). Scientist Andrew Bryant experiments with gamma and infrared rays, discovering that "crossing" them gives him superpowers. He decides to fight crime. His girlfriend is Grace Adams, a detective of the Agatha Detective Agency. Future has superstrength and fires lightning-like bolts from his hands. NOTE: The first Captain Future is a pulp sci-fi space hero from the same publisher. That Captain Future made it into comics called Major Mars, while Bryant co-opted the name for his superhero id.

Woman In Red: 1940, Thrilling Comics 2-18, 20-22, 24-30, 34, 35, 38, 46 (Better). Police Detective Peggy Allen, aka the Woman in Red, helped the police solving tough crimes. The police commissioner was aware of her dual identity. As the Woman in Red, Peggy carried and used a gun. I’m guessing she was a fan of Wilkie Collins’ WOMAN IN WHITE. Woman in Red is one of the first of comics’ first female superheroes, depending on your criteria and whether you consider Fantomah a superheroine or require superpowers for the character to be considered such (which would then kick Batman out of the genre).

Target & the Targeteers: 1940-49, Target Comics vol 1 no 10. Niles Reed invents a bullet proof costume and recruits friends Dave Brown and Tom Foster to help clear his brother’s name and avenge his death. They wear identical costumes except where Niles’ I s yellow, theirs are red and blue. There was briefly early on a Female Targeteer. Of interesting note, some of the non-War years adventures were written by Mickey Spillane.

Cat-man: 1940, Crash Comics 4 & 5, Cat-Man Comics 1-32. 1940. David Merryweather was one of the many heroes who got his start when his parents were killed while in the jungle leaving the orphan to be raised by animals, but one of the few to actually adopt a costumed identity. Early in his career, he had all the attributes of the cat: agility, night vision and nine lives. Eventually, he joins the army and gains a ward, Katie Conn, who dresses in an identical outfit and calls herself Kitten (1941, Cat-Man Comics #5). Katie's parents were killed in a trainwreck and was already a trained acrobat. She also worked with other side-kicks as part of the group Little Leaders. By war's end, Kitten is depicted as pretty much a full-grown woman.

The Owl: 1940, Crackajack Funnies #25 (Dell). One of my favorite characters, I like the simplicity of his costume for one. He’s Nick Terry, a special investigator, who takes up the costumed identity when he feels the law is a bit too restricting in dispensing justice. He eventually confides his identity to his newspaper columnist girlfriend Belle Wayne who shortly takes up a similar costume to help him out as Owl Girl.

Strongman: 1940, Crash Comics #1 (Tem Publishing). Playboy Percy van Norton is given a book of “yogi” which he studies until it gives him a body and mind of a superman (putting him on par with Dynamic Man in the strength and stamina department though Strongman cannot fly). As Percy he pretends to be meek and unadventurous, a playboy Clark Kent to his Strongman Superman.

Major Victory: 1941, Dynamic Comics #1 (Harry “A” Chesler). A soldier is killed and is then brought back to life as the superpowered Major Victory by “Father Patriot”.

Dynamic Man and Dynamic Boy: already went into the history some of Dynamic Man. HOWEVER, this is the wrong Dynamic Boy. See, Chesler also recycled that name and in addition to Dynamic Man’s brother and sidekick, they had two Dynamic Boys that were solo acts, Kent Banning is Dynamic Boy in Dynamic Comics 2 & 3, pre-dating Dynamic Man’s partner and then another one in Dynamic Comics #13 (according to the GCD). I guess the argument could be made is they all are constructs by Dynamic Man, his earliest Dynamic Family. Unless the contradiction is addressed in-story though, it’s still an error.

One of the things missing so far is a sense of fun. It is falling into the same tropes that Alan Moore’s Terra Obscura issues of TOM STRONG and the following two mini’s did by Paul Hogan. The same thing doom that looms over THE TWELVE. And the same thing that helped drive me from the mega crossovers from the companies of late. It’s all about heroes vs. heroes. Heroes cannot be noble, there have to be darker sides to them. The villains are bad, but at least they aren’t hypocritical thus they gain a measure of nobility and respect. To their ownselves, they be true.

It’s especially frustrating when I maintain a site that shows just how many colorful and interesting golden-age villains existed. They weren’t all spies and gangsters. Even I was surprised by just how many I have discovered. In Fox Comics alone where we got the likes of the heroes Blue Beetle, Samson, and the Flame, we had villains with their own strips: the monster creating Dr. Mortal, the Gorilla (a gorilla whose brain was swapped out with that of a conniving scientist), the Sorceress of Zoom who ruled a whole magical city.

Instead, we are still getting watered down versions of Alan Moore Watchmen where superheroes aren’t to inspire us to be better but to warn us against becoming monsters ourselves.

Other books this week, real quick.
JLA: CLASSIFIED #53. The penultimate issue to Roger Stern and John Byrne’s arc and it has been a lot of fun, full of superhero action and a truly worthy villain. The comic has been plagued with coloring issues though. This time out, when the JLA get realized as the gods they could be, Black Canary is colored as if she’s Wonder Woman who’s not in this issue. It’s really confusing when on panel she’s called Black Canary and you see someone that looks like Wonder Woman attacking some perps along with some birds. My first thought was that Black Canary had been turned into some birds and then I realized that WW isn’t in the flashback scenes.

STAR TREK: ALIEN SPOTLIGHT: ROMULANS: Another John Byrne comic and a hoot at looking at the Romulan people in the days of the original tv show. There’s a few flaws in that while JB nails the costumes and designs when drawing from the show, but the designs of the buildings and other space vehicles are more his style which really sticks out. The lead character of the honorable Romulan chosen to captain the first Bird of Prey with the cloaking device and charged with starting a war sets up a nice conflict of personal honor vs duty to one’s government and family.

JSA: CLASSIFIED: Wildcat takes the ring in what looks to be an interesting story as he investigates some suspicious goings ons at one of his old gyms. I could do without the guest-star at the end, but it looks to be a great tale. Based on this one issue so far, I’d love to see them handle a Wildcat ongoing.

JSA: Interesting to note that both JLA:Classified and JSA feature powerful supervillains that see themselves as god-killers. Yet, Stern and Byrne’s been good old-fashioned superhero storytelling and non-stop action and will be complete in 5 issues and Geoff Johns’ story has been building for 13 issues and will continue for a few more. This issue does manage to do what Johns does best which is character moments. As much as I loathe Jakeem Thunder, Johns does a good job with him here and the Kingdom Come Superman paying a visit to the Daily Planet is almost as powerful as JMS’ handling of Captain Wonder in THE TWELVE. Makes me wish Johns was on something like the original Secret Six or Challengers of the Unknown.


Strannik said...

I suspect we are coming at the project with entirely different mindsets and expectations, but to me, the problem with Superpowers is not so much that it makes heroes dark as that it makes heroes dark in fairly uninspired, decisively unoriginal ways. We've seen this sort of thing before with Watchmen, Miracleman, etc. That might have been easier to overlook if the characters were well-developed and multi-dimensional, but that is not the case, either. I mean, The Twelve also retreads certain aspects of earlier Golden Age revivals, but at least there, we got interesting characters we can actually invest in. Superpowers characters... not so much.

Personally (and this is where I suspect we will never agree because, once again, we seem to approach superhero comics from very different perspectives), I think superhero comics work much better when noble, altruistic heroes are allowed to co-exist less moral, if not downright immoral heroes. At the very least, superheroes work better when they view the world through different perspectives, with their own experiences and biases affecting the way they approach their calling. I mean, if nothing else, look at Golden Age - we had killer vigilantes, heroes that refused to take lives directly while killing people by proxy, heroes that refused to take life either directly or indirectly, etc. The story becomes much more interesting when those divergent perspectives are allowed to play against each other. Superheroes don't have to fight per se, but philosophical disagreements never hurt anybody, you know?

Re: Black Terror's costume

I assumed that his time in the urn altered him somehow, and the costume change was a manifestation of that. Notice that he also spouted shadow-based powers he didn't possess before - another indicator that he came out a touch differently.

cash_gorman said...

I have no problem with dark heroes per se. I am a big fan of the Shadow and the Spider after all.

It's the actual changing of the characters into something they weren't that I don't care for. It'd be writing the pulp Spider but writing him as an insane person because in the real world he'd have to be insane and dangerous. That's being unfair and disingenious with the character though. He doesn't exist in the real world, it's taking him out of proper context, making him serve the writer's agenda instead of the writer telling a story that honestly serves the character.

Making Dynamic Man a racist bigot (THE TWELVE) or pyscopathic murderer (SUPERPOWERS) is wrong because it alters the character to a point that makes it difficult to make the character salvageable as a superhero.

And take a look at the major superhero stories that have gotten so much attention the last few years: IDENTITY CRISIS, COUNTDOWN, INFINITE CRISIS, AVENGERS DISASSEMBLED, HOUSE OF M, CIVIL WAR, it's ALL been taking Heroes vs. Heroes. All the projects involving GA characters to a large degree have been exactly the same post-modern crap of the heroes being made more mundane and the threat. The darkening more "realistic" take on the Invaders and heroes vs heroes was all the comic BATTLE HYMN even had going for it. Even AGENTS OF ATLAS, probably the best of the lot, fell into the trap of taking a character as bright and colorful as Marvel Boy and making him mundane, dull and literally gray as the Uranian and then having the whole team join the terrorist organization they came together to fight!

What I like about THE TWELVE right now is that it is character driven, scenes like with Captain Wonder visiting his wife's grave is powerful in its honesty. And the areas I don't like is where they play dishonestly such as the "tourist" label or just bad writing such as the inconsistancies in narrative style.

And, be honest. The darkening of characters is rarely about philosophical differences. When they first came around, heroes were part escapist from the woes of Depression, corruption, and War. They were less plentiful and they served as championing of the common man where authority was too slow or too corrupt to act. Thus, our superheroes were fighting WWII before America actively got involved.

The growth of "continuity" and "universes" has had a backlash effect. Heroes are part of the problem now, they are faulted for the things they were supposed to be active against (this is the underpinning to the otherwise enjoyable JUSTICE series from the SUPERPOWERS team). Thanks to the idea of a strong continuity driven universe, there are too many superheroes residing on a given Earth, that it's become impossible for modern writers to exercise their suspension of disbelief when it comes to writing superheroes. There's too many of them and they're too powerful for them to be outsiders. Their failure to cure homelessness, drought, famine in the real world which is reflected in their fictional world indicts them as being ineffectual. And if they are taken to the extensions of being powers of change, then they and their battles become dangerous to the general populace or they overstep the bounds of superheroes and become fascists. Either way, they cease to be the type of people we are to escape reality with and who inspire us towards wonder and trying to be better than we are, even if it's tying a sheet to our necks and pretending to fly. No, they become warnings to us, the dangers of power even when intentions are good. Something is seriously wrong when THE WATCHMEN actually becomes a more hopeful and optimist treatment of the Charlton characters than the main DCU.

I'm not saying that particular story shouldn't be told, that it doesn't have validity. But, for superheroes, especially superhero universes, it shouldn't be the prevalent story being told. Unless you really want your sole audience to be just older more cynical readers. In the end, you're changing the genre. It's not about superheroes and supervillains. The genre that these darker and more "philosophical" tales are supposed to be a darker reflection of is gone and we're just left with the reflection.

Doctor Zen said...

Excellent summation of the "Dark" trend in your Comment, Cash.

I've only read SUPERPOWERS #0 so far, but I don't get the whole urn thing. The General (if he's supposed to be Eisenhauer it's a poor likeness)replies to Yan's line about "evil beyond human capacity" with "You're wrong, Yank. Hitler's merely expanding our understanding of human nature." But then he immediately buys into the whole demons-responsible-for-all-the-evil-in-the-world plot.
So it was wrong for Yank to imprison the heroes in the urn, but why? It's not clear whether the whole evils-from-the-urn theory was false and humanity is responsible for its own destiny, or the evils are real but trapping the heroes was the wrong way to defeat them. Point was made that the Allies would win the war easily if the urn was resealed but we won with the evils still unleashed. The Yank's narration was that of a crazy person either way. If if he was right, I didn't like him "sacrificing" his fellows without their knowledge or consent.
I like the art, but this is, what, the fourth revival of these characters, not counting the originals? (AC with the new Green Lama seems to have two different versions.) Why use Golden Age heroes at all if you're not going to be true to the originals? How about creating new ones that fit the story?
It's also a retcon in series like this and THE TWELVE to show WWII flashbacks. Few if any costumed heroes fought in the war in the GA titles; they fought crime, super villains, spies and saboteurs on the home front.

cash_gorman said...

I assumed that most of the capturing of the heroes occurred post-war but that would make the plot make less sense. I made that assumption because some like the Yank, Black Terror, the Face, and the Target and Targeteers had post-war stories and Miss Masque didn't even make her debut until 1946!

I'm willing to give them a pass in fighting in the War. Other than the companies that make up DC, the heroes of the time, especially the patriotic ones tended to be a bit more involved with the War than content with staying on the homefront. Because of this, I don't think it's a coincidence that DC didn't really have a Captain America or Shield type character until they "acquired" Quality and Fawcett. While most stories with the enemy would still involve spies and saboteurs more often than not, the various heroes of the different companies still made enough excursions into enemy territory to accept an extrapolation of going to war as shown in SUPERPOWERS. Cases in point, Harvey's Shock Gibson operated in the Pacific Theater during the War while the Target and the Targeteers each enlisted in a different branch to be brought together for special cases or trouble they got into on their own. Some like the Gibson's SPEED co-stars Captain Feedom and Black Cat were indeed tied a bit too much to their milieu/status quo to venture too much into the War Effort, but I think there's enough precedent to allow some elasticity here with the basic conceit.