Saturday, August 06, 2005

JSA #76: Starring OMAC, and featuring the JSA

Unusually, within days of DC announcing that JSA #76 would be a 'Day of Vengeance' crossover, it shows up with an 'OMAC Project' crossover logo on the cover. Some have said that the crossover elements here weren't that intrusive. I disagree.

The OMAC tie-in comes in the form of a fight scene between a blue OMAC robot-thing and a handful of JSA members. Fortunately I have a general idea of what the OMAC guy is, but within the pages of this issue, it's just a blue thing that shows up, fights, and disappears. Imagine the scene with another villain. Due to the nature of the fight, let's say Amazo. Atom Smasher's being led out of the courtroom when, suddenly and out of nowhere, Amazo attacks! There are several pages of the JSA members fighting Amazo, then Al stops him, and Amazo flies away.

Seen through that lens, it's a pretty darn pointless fight. And from beginning to end, that fight in this issue lasts nine pages. There's a page of OMAC scanning the guys, seven pages of actual fighting (including two splash pages), and a wrap-up page where OMAC escapes. That's 40% of the issue devoted to an unnecessary fight that exists solely for crossover purposes.

By comparison, only seven and a half pages are devoted to the circumstances surrounding Al's trial (including the setup, trial, the scene between Stargirl and Hunkel, walking out of the courtroom, and the three pages at the end).

Plus, there's another page with Hourman that apparently is effectively a DoV crossover, though I didn't realize that until I read an online review. Hopefully that page will make a little more sense after another issue or two. At least it has a little to do with an actual JSA plot (the missing Jakeem). And there's a page that looks to be little more than a missing scene from "Villains United," and which again, offers up some foreshadowing ("I have an interesting rumor circulating") that really better have some payoff in this title, and not somewhere else. Plus another three and a half pages that are fallout from "Countdown."

All that adds up to 14 1/2 pages of crossover material out of 22 pages. So two-thirds of the issue ended up being crossover material. Granted, the Hourman page and the "Countdown" fallout were at least tied personal in nature, tied to the book's internal stories, and didn't feel shoehorned in. (However, it doesn't excuse Johns' portrayal of Fire. Compared to Giffen's take on Fire's grief in ICBINTJL a few months back, this was pitiful.) I really would've preferred if those 11 pages (or at least the 9 involving the fight) had been devoted to something a little more important to this title.

Like, say, for instance, what was promised in the solicitation: "In the aftermath of the devastating "Black Vengeance" story, the JSA must regroup and reassess their purpose — but Hawkman harbors a secret that will change the JSA's role in the DCU forever! Plus, Mr. Terrific begins his hunt for Roulette!" So instead of getting payoff for a plot that Johns started building way back in #28, we get 9 pages of the JSA fighting a blue robot from another series? Has DC considered the fans who buy JSA because they want to read JSA stories, not to read about the JSA reacting to stuff happening in other series?

If two-thirds of an issue isn't considered intrusive, I'm really dreading when the crossovers actually become intrusive.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

JSA Jaded

Despite the hype, and despite my general fondness for a lot of DC's crossovers during the last decade (even Zero Hour), I'm just not into "Infinite Crisis." I didn't buy Identity Crisis, the only tie-in minis I even tried were OMAC (for which I tried the first issue at 75 cents, but didn't feel like reading further) and Villains United (which I continue buying, even though I'm not digging it nearly as much as others seem to), and I'm feeling virtually no anticipation for the big event itself.

Thus, it should come as no surprise that I'm not terribly thrilled about having the DC books I *do* buy being turned into tie-in books. I don't buy many of the DCU superhero books these days, but JSA is among the ones I do. So the 3-part "Day of Vengeance" crossover that just wrapped up aggravated me.

Now comes this news from Newsarama: JSA #76 and 77 are also going to be official "Day of Vengeance" tie-ins. This is in addition to the previously-announced Keith Champagne arc in #78-80, which will also be a "Day of Vengeance" tie-in.

That makes for eight consecutive issues that are tie-ins to a six-issue mini-series. (Even if we assume the unlikely prospect that only the first of Keith's issues is a tie-in, that's still six issues.) Why is DC, or at least Geoff Johns, insistent on co-opting this title for tie-in purposes for a full 2/3 of a year, and for two months longer than the title it's being tied into?

I'd drop the book tomorrow if it wasn't for the equally aggravating fact that Johns (and presumably Champagne) are still advancing certain ongoing subplots in these issues. So if I skip them, it's at my own peril. I get to continue plopping down $2.50 a month, even though I'm only getting the equivalent of half a true JSA issue. It certainly looks like by the end of eight months, I'll have more or less spent $10 on JSA stories and $10 on DoV material I didn't want.

When it was just three issues, I just chose to suffer through it. But the notion of another five months of "Day of Vengeance" crossover-fever might well drive me off a title I've been buying for five years. Perhaps I should just vote with my wallet, and buy a lot of the issues off eBay after it's all over.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Disney Sequel Mania

Walt Disney was supposedly opposed to making sequels to his animated movies, other than his original plans for Fantasia, that is. And none were made during his lifetime.

But starting with The Rescuers Down Under in 1990, and really picking up steam with the direct-to-video Return of Jafar in 1994, Disney has turned incredibly sequel-friendly. Sometimes it seems that they are leaving no property untouched in their search for fodder to exploit for a DTV release.

How many films in their catalog has Disney used to spawn spin-offs in the last decade and a half? What follows is a list of Disney's full-length animated features (not including CGI movies or films done by the TV animation department), with reference to their respective spin-offs.

1. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs - Sequel planned but scrapped.
2. Pinocchio
3. Fantasia - Theatrical sequel
4. Dumbo - Sequel begun but scrapped. See Dumbo DVD for preview.
5. Bambi - Upcoming sequel
6. Saludos Amigos
7. The Three Caballeros
8. Make Mine Music
9. Fun and Fancy Free
10. Melody Time
11. The Adventures of Ichabod Crane
12. Cinderella - DTV Sequel
13. Alice in Wonderland
14. Peter Pan - Theatrical Sequel
15. Lady and the Tramp - DTV Sequel
16. Sleeping Beauty
17. 101 Dalmatians - DTV Sequel & TV series
18. The Sword in the Stone
19. The Jungle Book - Theatrical Sequel & TV series
20. The Aristocats - Upcoming Sequel
21. Robin Hood
22. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh - A veritable empire of spin-offs, though this was also preceded by the famous Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day cartoon.
23. The Rescuers - Theatrical Sequel
24. The Fox and the Hound - Upcoming Sequel
25. The Black Cauldron
26. The Great Mouse Detective
27. Oliver & Company
28. The Little Mermaid - DTV Sequel & TV series
29. The Rescuers Down Under - This *is* a sequel.
30. Beauty and the Beast - Two DTV Sequels
31. Aladdin - Two DTV Sequels & TV series
32. The Lion King - Two DTV Sequels & TV series
33. Pocahontas - DTV Sequel
34. The Hunchback of Notre Dame - DTV Sequel
35. Hercules - TV series & kinda-sorta DTV release
36. Mulan - DTV Sequel
37. Tarzan - Two DTV Sequels & TV series
38. Fantasia 2000 - This *is* a sequel.
39. The Emperor's New Groove - Upcoming Sequel & Possible TV series
40. Atlantis: The Lost Empire - DTV Sequel (actually remnants of scrapped TV series)
41. Lilo & Stitch - Two DTV Sequels & TV series
42. Treasure Planet
43. Brother Bear - Upcoming Sequel
44. Home on the Range

By my count, that's 28 sequels (29 with Dumbo II) and 9 TV series.

It's a pity that one of the movies that I'd like to see a sequel to, and which I think could support a good TV series, hasn't been touched at all. I'm speaking of The Great Mouse Detective. It's one of my favorite Disney films, and though it's sorely underappreciated, its characters are ready-made for re-use. After all, if Sherlock could support multiple stories, Basil could easily do the same.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Black Panther: Cap vs. T'Chaka

One of the hot-button topics of Hudlin's series has been the Captain America/Black Panther fight that was related in #1. It's a very well-drawn two-page spread by JRJR, but it has caused a lot of consernation among fans.

Way back during the "DC vs. Marvel" crossover, fans were asked who should win in a fight between Cap and Batman. That was when I was first exposed to the (apparently commonplace) Marvel belief that Cap is nigh-unbeatable. 'Captain America being bested by Batman? That's absurd!' I suspect it's that approach to Cap that accounts for some objections to that two-page spread. I'm primarily a DC boy myself, and I have no particular love of Captain America (I stand among the few who preferred Liefeld's eagle on the cowl to the 'A'), so I really don't care about how he performs.

But it's that final image that irks me:

That shot of T'Chaka carrying away Steve on his shoulder. It doesn't irk me because of what it says about Cap's fighting skills. After all, it's been pointed out that this is a fairly young Steve going up against an experienced fighter. Rather, it irks me because of what it says about T'Chaka and Cap as people.

The Cap/T'Chaka fight was first shown a few years ago in Black Panther #30, one of the best issues of the last BP series. The issue starts mid-fight, as the two duke it out. Cap tells his men that he suspects this fight is "an informal greeting. If they wanted to kill us, we'd be dead already." The two approach a momentary draw, with each man holding the other in a precarious position, and Cap offers to settle their dispute in a less violent manner. T'Chaka then calls off all his men (who had Cap's forces greatly outnumbered), and proceeds to talk with Cap. In their conversation, T'Chaka proves both his intellect (by speaking several languages) and his capacity as a national leader (by showing how well informed he is about WWII). He negotiates with Cap over what Steve wants from Wakanda, and finally offers him the chance to come, alone, to the capital city.

When there, T'Chaka, sitting on his throne, asks Cap to again prove why he, an outsider, should be trusted. And Cap's response not only earns T'Chaka's trust, but his friendship as well. The scene actually ends with T'Chaka laughing and declaring just that.

Later in the issue, we see Cap telling T'Challa about his friendship with his father, and how he hopes he has the same relationship with the son.

There's so much about this portrayal that I liked. It shows a Captain America who is willing to settle his battles with diplomacy rather than violence. It shows a T'Chaka who is highly intelligent and informed, wary of the outside world, but willing to trust one man on his own terms. It shows Cap being simple and honest, and it shows T'Chaka being open and regal. Cap puts his faith and trust in T'Chaka by going alone to the city (while leaving his men behind), and T'Chaka puts his trust in Cap by offering him vibranium. Simply put, it shows them both to be good men, and it ends with a newfound friendship.

I get none of that in this new version. Instead of negotiation and invitation, we get T'Chaka toting off Cap on his shoulder like a game animal. Cap ends up looking like a fool, and T'Chaka like a jerk. Neither comes off looking as intelligent as before, and it ends with very little promise of friendship.

In short, it took the first meeting of Captain America and the Black Panther, stripped it of virtually everything I liked about their meeting, and added nothing in return. It was the new relationship, not the physical fight, that made the original story so good and memorable. But Hudlin took a several-page encounter, most of which was the two characters dealing with each other diplomatically and intelligently, and summed it up as "T'Chaka fought Cap and whupped him." I can't speak for everyone, but that's why I didn't the scene.

Friday, July 01, 2005

My Year in Comics (Thus Far)

It's July 1st, which is the perfect time to do my mid-year analysis of my comic buying habits. Starting in 2004, I've kept an Excel file of all my comic purchases. Last year I spent a total of $697 over the whole year on comics. At this point in 2004, I'd spent a little over $300.

This year, my comics budget has increased. Between January and June, I dropped $452.70 on comics, an average of $17.40 a week. The cover price of these books totalled $890, so on average, I'm getting a pretty good deal.

These purchases (exluding FCBD books) included 185 issues, 19 trade paperbacks, and five hardcovers. $196 of my total, or 43%, was spent on collected editions.

Purchases of new comics at my local store totalled $187, or about $7.20 a week. The most I spent on any single visit to the shop was $23 (which included a Fables tpb). I've spent $75 on eBay, my next biggest source.

On the back issue front, I've completed my long-lacking runs of Blaze of Glory, Code of Honor, Orion, Static, and Young Justice, as well as the Ty Templeton runs on Batman: Gotham Adventures and the last Batman Adventures series.

Best deal so far: the first three Cerebus phonebooks for $13.50 (though the binding on the first is poor).

Monday, June 27, 2005

Inspecting the Spectre

John Ostrander's The Spectre was one of the better series of the 1990s. He took a character traditionally so powerful that other writers had struggled, and managed to weave a fascinating tale of evil and morality.

So it irritates me to see how the Spectre is treated in the Days of Vengeance mini-series. I'll let writer Bill Willingham explain: "Since the new Eclipso is a female now, she basically seduces the Spectre, and convinces him that if he really wanted to stop evil in the world, he needs to destroy magic....the Spectre is a little screwed up right because he’s coming off a weird trip with a human host, and is now without a human host for the first time in a long while. Without that guidance, that conscience, he’s a little wigged out, so that when someone makes what may or may not be a good argument about destroying a whole lot of evil, he falls for it."

This is so far removed from what Ostrander established about the primal, hostless Spectre that I wonder if Willingham ever read the series, or if DC editorial cares about that particular mythos. But since I prefer a Wrath of God that is nigh-omnipotent, not nigh-incompetent, I feel like expounding on the Spectre's backstory.

First of all, the Spectre and Eclipso have something of a common history. Their relationship was explained by the Phantom Stranger in #14:

"There are many sides to the Almighty - many names by which God is called. Even his wrath has a name and, in the beginning, it was what became known as Eclipso. In the name of God, Eclipso swelled the waters and blanketed the Earth. Only one lone vessel escaped: Noah and his ark. But even when God forgave, Eclipso did not. He overreached himself and that which made him mighty brought him low. Unyielding in his anger - in his pride - Eclipso was banished into a prison, one that should have lasted for all time, save for the perfidy of man.

"So the Lord brought forth another spirit of wrath - one more directed, more suited to God's anger. Men would call it the Spectre."

It was not until #60 that we learned the details of how the Spectre came to be. A demon named Aztar, who had taken part in Lucifer's rebellion against the Almighty, returned to Heaven to repent and accept his punishment. God's judgment was to burn out all of Aztar's memory and awareness of self, and for him to become the vessel for God's wrath: the Spectre.

The Spectre was intense and unforgiving. It was the Spectre who destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, and turned Lot's wife into salt. It was the Spectre who performed the plagues of Egypt, including killing all the first-born sons. And it was the Spectre who brought down the walls of Jericho and stopped the sun in the sky.

When Jesus was born, the Spectre was cast into limbo, for vengeance and forgiveness could not walk the earth simultaneously. But when he died on the cross, the Spectre exploded from limbo. It was the Spectre who tore the Temple curtain from top to bottom, and who raised the dead.

Finally, he was approached by the Archangel Michael, who had a message. "The rules are changed. Since the Godhead assumed mortal form, it has been decreed that all beings such as yourself must be linked with human souls. You can no longer walk the Earth unfettered." The Spectre resisted, but Michael forced it into submission, declaring "We must find a soul for you to mel with, one that suits you - an angry soul, crying out for justice, for revenge."

Michael looked to India, and found a man named Caraka. His wife and child were slain in front of him, and then he was murdered too. He agreed to join with the Spectre-force so as to seek vengeance. And so the Spectre lived on, passing through different people and different cultures over the years.

There were two occasions during Ostrander's series that Corrigan was removed as the Spectre's host. The first was in #17-18, after the Spectre was Eclipsed. Corrigan's soul was magically extracted, but that still left Eclipso in control of a manic Spectre intent on destroying the Earth.

The second was in #35-36, when Neron granted the Spectre-force's wish to be free of Corrigan. Corrigan went to Heaven and asked why this was possible, since the primal Spectre was required to be bound to a human soul. Michael replied that none of Heaven's edicts were being violated, and Jim subsequently discovered why: Neron had joined the Spectre with the soul of Louie Snipe, the man who arranged Jim's murder. The presence of Snipe's soul satisfied Heaven's rules, but he was too weak to curb the Spectre's primal instincts. Thus, the unemcumbered Spectre desired to continue his vengeance for the death of Christ.

In other words, when hostless and left to his own devices, the Spectre-force is not a glossy-eyed and easily-manipulated schlub. It's a focused and cruel agent of destruction and vengeance. It doesn't look mopey on its own; it appears skeletal, particularly in the face, and has a tendency to hiss more than speak. The host's function wasn't to guide the Spectre-force so much as restrain it. It isn't "wigged out" without a host; it knows *exactly* what it wants to do. And it's a reformed demon, not a mere physical male, so being seduced by a pretty woman borders on being an insult to the character.

Basically, it's just one more reason for me to avoid Infinite Crisis, if this is how DC intends to twist and manipulate its characters for the sake of an editorially-driven story.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Black Panther: Family Ties

One of the most powerful moments in Batman Begins was the murder of the Waynes. After two shots, young Bruce is left standing over his parents' bodies in an otherwise empty alleyway. Nolan captured the atmosphere and pain of the scene perfectly, closing with the suddenly-orphaned Bruce standing alone, no police or passersby spontaneously rushing to his side. His loneliness is palpable, and I actually teared up a bit.

Being an orphan is one thing that T'Challa has long shared with Bruce. He's always been the only son of King T'Chaka and Queen N'Yami, but his family was torn apart very early on. N'Yami died while T'Challa was still very young, possibly in childbirth. T'Chaka remarried a South African woman named Ramonda some time later, and she became the only woman T'Challa would ever call "mother." But even that wouldn't last, as Ramonda was kidnapped when T'Challa was about eight, and she was held captive for years thereafter.

Thus, when Klaw came to Wakanda, T'Chaka was the only family that T'Challa had left. As such, T'Challa idolized his father ("To me, he was more than father - more than warrior - to me, he was like a god!"), T'Chaka looked upon his son as the most important person in his life, and their relationship was all that a father and son could hope for. But Klaw ended all of that, and took the life of the single most important person in T'Challa's life. T'Challa was left on that battlefield not only a newly arisen king of Wakanda, but also as an orphan. By the age of 13, he had lost every loved one in his life, and was left alone to rule over a nation.

Presumably, Hudlin didn't like this dynamic, jettisoning T'Challa's orphan status and reforming his family. N'Yami no longer died when T'Challa was young, but was instead present at her husband's murder, and is still alive during the current 'Year One' arc. Plus, she was pregnant at the time, and subsequently gave birth to T'Challa's younger sister, Shuri. Ramonda, presumably, has been completely retconned away. Hudlin also gave T'Challa a younger brother, who was killed by Klaw during T'Chaka's assassination.

So all of the drama of being orphaned and alone is gone. Instead, T'Challa has a mother to go home to. There's a world a difference between losing one parent and losing one's only parent, between losing a loved one and losing everyone one loves. Imagine the scene from Batman Begins, but with Bruce having an older brother to turn to. It's not nearly as powerful. (And the Silver Age tried messing with that, creating a brother in Thomas Wayne Jr.; is it any surprise he was promptly forgotten and never mentioned again?)

(It's worth mentioning Priest's addition of Hunter, T'Challa's adopted step-brother. I liked him, but he doesn't really function as a brother in this context. Given the twelve-year age difference, their relationship is closer to uncle-nephew than that of brothers, and T'Challa has long had extended family members. Plus, their relationship is not at all a close or loving one, as exhibited by T'Challa's prompt disbanding of Hunter's secret police upon becoming king and Hunter leaving Wakanda for foreign work.)

When I've argued this elsewhere, some have said that T'Challa still suffered a great loss. I don't dispute that; losing a father is never easy. But what Hudlin's done with the family has changed what the effect of that loss will be on T'Challa, and it changes the drama and symbolism of the event for the reader. And I cannot see how the change is an improvement over the original.

Consider the murdered brother in isolation. Being dead, he doesn't particularly affect T'Challa's life after the assassination. But does he really add anything? Is T'Challa's origin actually improved by having him lose a father AND a brother? Particularly a brother who I'm not sure is even named? Furthermore, the addition of a sibling interrupts the singular father-son bond between T'Chaka and T'Challa, of icon and heir. At worst, the brother lessens the uniqueness of T'Challa; at best, he's merely a superfluous and unnecessary character.

Like Batman, I view the Black Panther as someone who was greatly affected by the loss of his only family. Once orphaned, both turned inwards, seeking to steel their hearts and better themselves, so as to improve their respective communities. Both overcame their losses and made themselves into pinnacles of what man can achieve. But both still dwell on those fateful days, and their struggles to make themselves self-sufficient has left them both unable to relate to others normally.

But that's not true of Hudlin's Panther. He lost half his family, but he still had the other half to rely on. His loss is still significant, but not nearly as great as before. And as a result, the story is simply less powerful.