Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Smallville, JSA, and Comic News

Smallville: JSA: During the winter weather here in NC, I was in Greensboro. I spent the week shoveling snow, chauffeuring my mother to and from work as well as following up a lead on an imaging job. My girlfriend's basic cable doesn't get a lot of channels outside the main networks (no USA, TNT, TBS) and frequently wasn't home until 9 so missed quite a few shows. So, I really made a point of wanting to be in the house by 8 on Friday to catch Smallville to see the JSA two-parter.

If anyone else tried to watch it in the Triad area on Friday, they know what happened. For some reason, right at 8, the CW went off the air. There was no message transmitting an error or "technical difficulties", it was just a blank screen. Right at 9, it came on again, as far as I know with just as much an explanation. Luckily, my brother was taping the show, so I held off on watching it until I returned to Raleigh the following Tuesday.

Not a bad episode, they managed to get far more of the JSA in there than I expected. And the characters at least looked the part for the most part. There were nice touches in that the heroes Green Arrow dealt with most in the episode were Hawkman (the SA/post-post Crisis versions he had a long-standing rivalry with) and Star-Girl/Star Spangled Kid II (the GA versions of both characters having served on the same team in the 40s). It was nice to see the return of the Martian Manhunter character, giving the show a bit of a JLA-JSA team-up feel. Also had the various characters pairing off to follow-up leads, another nice little homage to the GA JSA books.

The bad? Well, the whole plotting was basically WATCHMEN-lite, with the original heroes being compromised and forced into retirement (although Hawkman's rendition as to the whyfores, evoked a SA tale that explained why the JSA went into retirement over turning over their secret identities) and are currently grizzled shells of themselves. As it's written by Geoff Johns, it's his Conan-the-barbarian Hawkman that is on the screen here and it is obvious that the character doesn't make a good leader and so there's emphasis on that as a plot point. Likewise, you get Johns' pet character Stargirl over all other candidates for legacy heroes: Sandy, Kiku, any Infinitor, or even the original Star-Spangled Kid himself. You also have deaths of classic characters where actual killing off the characters aren't really needed. It's a shame that Wesley Dodds was killed as the character of Sandman would be a natural for a tv series. According to the painting, the JSA had a Black Canary as a member while Green Arrow's little group also has a Black Canary but no mention is made of that.

Sadly, as much of the story revolves around Hawkman, his character was also the weakest. The actor did a fine job but much of the failure revolved around the writing, costuming and effects. Typical of modern writing, Hawkman throws Green Arrow through a stained glass window, just glossing over what that would actually do to a person. No wonder Arrow doesn't like him for the rest of the show, he basically just used potentially lethal force (at the best, leaving physical scars for life) on someone for no reason. Hawkman flies way too fast and is depicted as a blur, probably to gloss over the lack of budget to actually portray him using his wings flying in a more organic, natural manner. The breast plate wasn't a bad idea, but it appears sculpted for another actor as instead of making the character look powerful, it makes him look fat. As far as costumes go, they did a better job on the Roast of the Superfriends in the 70s.

The story had holes in it as well such as why would Checkmate actually ok an operation to assassinate the very heroes they think they will need in the near future? The whole thing to force them out of retirement just doesn't ring true as just bringing their history to light might have done the same thing without actually killing several of the members and possibly compromising Checkmate in the process. And the villain used to kill off more experienced heroes was just lame. At least make it a group or someone that seems to have cred. Instead, it just makes you wonder how they lived as long as they did.

And, making Tess Mercer a former agent? Ugh. The character already is serving as too many plot points with connections to everyone around. What is needed is a bit more fleshing out of her character, more insight to her motivations and actions without yet another little hidden tidbit of her history. Just when was she supposed to be an agent in her already over-filled past?

Also tiresome, the incessant references to Clark's "destiny". It's just bad cliched writing much as the characters in the DCU actually treating Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman as some sort of holy trinity. It's one thing when Jor-El was harping on it, because his idea of Clark's destiny was at odds with Clark's journey of discovering where his humanity was with all of his powers. It had conflict. But, when other characters keep talking about him as being a savior and better than the rest, it's just tired. What's interesting is when we SEE it, when he refuses to give up on someone's possible redemption, when he tries to find a way that doesn't involve taking a life, and when he bounces back after failing or experiencing the cost that comes from living up to standards and ideals. We don't need characters telling us he's great and destined for bigger things, we already know he's supposed to become Superman. It also robs us of Clark as a character as it reinforces the idea of Superman as the iconic hero and not a flesh and blood character. Whereas the show best succeeds when it is about the characters and their relationships and foibles.

Comic News
There's actually some good news out there. DC and Geoff Johns plans on bringing Aquaman back. Although I hope that the David Finch artwork is just for the cover and not the interior. Hopefully it will be the Geoff Johns that brought Green Lantern back and not the Geoff Johns that wrote Hawkman, Flash: Rebirth, etc. He talks about using continuity like he did with Hawkman, but his use of continuity for the most part is to warp and darken it and treating characters more as plot points than as people. His Hawkman owed more to Robinson's non-continuity tale The Golden-Age than it did with any version of Hawkman from before. As James Robinson has had little to nothing to do with Aquaman, we can have hope that we'll be spared some of those tendencies to mimic Robinson's little ticks.

Meanwhile, Stan Lee and Tom DeFalco are teaming up with Archie Comics to bring some new superheroes. As DeFalco is one of the few writers that actually writes unapologetic superhero comics with superheroes and supervillains and well-rounded casts of characters, there's a lot of potential that this could be a fun series that's all-ages without actually being written for eight year olds ala Marvel Adventures.

Marvel seems to have be taking a few steps at addressing some of the problems themselves with their most recent announcement of an Astonishing line. So much of the bulk of their line is so continuity heavy and so dependent on being up on everything going on in several other titles, that it alienates readers that don't want to follow every cross-over title or four Spider-man books a month. At the same time, readers don't want to be ghetto'ed either, forced to read books that don't have anything to do with the main continuity. If I want to read Spider-man, I want to read about THE Spider-man, not some other version with a different history or that's been dumbed down. It's sad that it has taken this long and that it still misses the boat somewhat in that it's taking what used to be true for the bulk of the line and sidelined it into a handful of titles. It sidesteps the bamboozle of when the Ultimate line was introduced. It too was supposed to be more reader friendly but on the basis that by starting from scratch readers wouldn't have to worry about past continuity. Except that once you have a second issue, you have continuity and so many of the other books at least required knowledge of continuity to get the full impart of the stories as they set out to introduce as many characters and elements of the original continuity as possible only with more post-modern sensibilities.

Have to give Marvel credit. They have managed to predominate the comic news lately. What's really noteworthy is that they did so for two weeks with basically one story just doled out a little bit at a time.

1) Bendis announced that all of the Avengers titles would be ending. Of course what was kept hidden was the obvious news: that there would be several Avengers titles relaunching with new issue #1's.

2) Marvel announces that the Dark Reign would be ending and that the heroes would be returning to their roles. There would be a new Avengers #1, this time with Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and Hawkeye as members once again. This is a bit disingenuous as I'll show in a bit. However, is this really news? Dark Reign ending? All stories and story arcs have endings. And if it is ending, then it makes sense that all the Dark Reign titles would be gone and that the heroes would be taking the spotlight again. This is like a forecast that says it will be snowing tomorrow and then adds it will also be cold and wet. What Quesada and company don't say is that there will actually be a shift or change in tone to the stories but many ravenous fans moan about the Disney-fying of Marvel. There won't be. It's still the Bendis and Brubaker show. Later announcements prove to bear this out.

2a) Other misleading comments as Quesada talks about how it's not a response to the Disney buyout, that this was long before in the works. I don't claim to have any special knowledge and it may be true that it's not a response to Disney, however it's a straw argument that Quesada puts forth. The business deal had been talked about as a possibility well over a year ago, it's hardly been a secret. Turnaround in publishing and on producing comics and major story arcs are potentially far quicker than that. Or does Quesada really want us to believe that they can plan something and have it in the works for going on two years AND STILL SCREW UP THE SCHEDULING OF THE ISSUES AND COME OUT LATE?

3) Now, day by day we get teaser images of who will be in this new Avengers. Of the teaser images, Spiderwoman is the only one whom we weren't already told would be an Avenger. See? It's non-news. What is news but no-one treats as such is the misinformation being fed to us. We were told it would be Cap, Iron Man, and Thor on the same team once again. Only it's not. Because, it's not Steve Rogers Captain America but the Bucky-turned commando/assassin Captain America. So, all that talk about the return of the heroes... nah, not really true. It's the same old shell game. If it was USAgent as Cap, Rhodes as Iron Man, and Eric Masterson as Thor, would you still say it it's the return of the big three to the team? No. Because as good as they are, they haven't served together before as the team nor had time to fully establish themselves as THE characters.

4) Oh look, we're releasing another Avengers title, the Secret Avengers written by Brubaker. So, that big announcement by Bendis about all the Avengers titles going away... yeah, we'll just glut the market with a bunch more.

5) As part of the "Heroic Age", Agents of Atlas will be returning. You know, that team of heroes that betrayed their country, took over a terrorist organization and allied themselves with its members who have attacked and killed American citizens and feed badguys to the dragon they ally themselves with. You know, all written by the guy that managed to sap much of the larger than life and sense of fun out of characters like Marvel Boy called the Uranian and is appropriately colored in gray as that's how interesting he's become. And, they'll be teaming up with the now dull 3-D Man who at least when he was Triathlon he managed to homage the classic character without actually usurping the original id. That took talent and creativity. Making Triathlon into 3-D Man is just an old cliche and managing to rob us of having two separate viable characters.

Welcome to the new boss. Same as the old boss...

But, after two weeks of news blitzes, what we got was bascially: Dark Reign is coming to an end as all stories must and with it, all the titles that had been focusing on the villains passing themselves off in the identities of heroes. As the heroes take the lead again, Avengers will be restarted with a new #1. Again. Bendis will continue writing and Brubaker will also be writing an Avenger title so if you like what's been done so far you will continue to do so as nothing else is really changing.

Kevin Smith made the news. When I first saw the headline that he'd been made to leave the plane, I figured it almost had to be his language. Instead it's because of his size. I can sympathize with him to a degree. America has this interesting double standard. It's the most obese country in the world while at the same time, obese people are one of the last few groups that is fair game to obviously ridicule and marginalize. To the point, that comedians like the late Chris Farley build their whole comedic persona on self image immolation. Drug addicts and smokers tend to get more sympathetic treatment.

Meanwhile, Dynamite has revealed that in an issue of their new Green Hornet comic that a character will die. Forever. It's interesting news on several fronts. One, the first issue hasn't even come out yet and they are trying to build interest on an issue after that. Two, it speaks of four characters: the original Green Hornet, his son the current Hornet and the two Katos. Now, if it is really the original Green Hornet and Kato, they'd be in their 90s by now. I assume the company is taking the stance that the one from the 1960s was the "original". But, that's hardly the same as being the "original". And, it's hard for any to be the original or real deal when you're talking about a licensed characters. They are all Dynamite's versions of the characters. But, if they aren't using the actual history, then they're not really the characters that appeared in radio, movies, comic books and television. Case in point, the "original" Green Hornet has already been killed off once before, in the 1990's series by Now Comics (that also gave us a female Kato, so far Smith's story is sounding quite familiar). So, Dynamite cannot really kill off the character "forever" anymore than they could the characters in Project Superpowers. The next company that comes along will probably just ignore Dynamite's storylines and do their own take. They may decide that the Green Hornet and Kato somehow time-skip to the present day ala the Seven Soldiers of Victory, Captain America, etc