Sunday, May 28, 2006

A tall story

The Women and Comics Survey is the next post down. I have gotten numerous responses, and I'll be posting results after a week or so, or sooner if the responses trickle off more quickly than that.

In the meantime, on a tangentially related topic: About five months ago, Ragnell hosted a lively discussion on Wonder Woman's height - particularly in relation to Superman. Well, today I was watching a DVD of the Secret Origins movie of the animated Justice League, and here is a screen grab from its special features menu:

Even if you account for Hawkwoman standing between them (judging from the relative positions of their feet), Diana can't be all that much closer to the camera than Superman - and she's towering over him and everyone else. Granted, that's not how she's usually depicted in the episodes themselves, but here, at least, her height is Amazonian.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Women and Comics: A survey

Ragnell at Written World and a number of other intarweb types have been discussing some issues related to women and comics, mostly in the wake of Frank Miller's Wonder Woman cover for All-Star Batman and Robin and Erik Larsen's recent column on the topic. You can check here, here, and here for some summaries of/contributions to the current conversation.

A number of rational people have suggested that guys talking to guys about what gals might or might not want does not seem to be the most successful strategy for increasing understanding. With that in mind, I have thrown up a quick and dirty survey as a pilot. This survey, focused more-or-less on some key issues that came up in the recent debate, is intended for females only. (There's no way to check, of course, so we're all on the honor system here.)

Click the link, take the short survey, ignore the ad that displays afterwards (unless you really want to make your own survey), and you're done. I get the anonymous results, which I will compile and report on. I will leave the survey up all week and report on it next week.

If the results seem to shed some light on the subject at hand, maybe we can expand the project and take a more scientific survey. But let's see how it goes, first.

What Do Women Fans Think? Click here to take the survey. Disabled 06/01/06.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Because all the cool kids are doing it

The Great Curve has asked for input on compiling the fifty best DC characters.

The call for entries does not include a precise definition of "best," so in keeping with the low-irony diet that this blog maintains, my list includes those characters with whom I connected the most in my comics-reading heyday: the characters who engaged me with their reality, made me feel a sense of wonder, and/or helped inform my sensibilities and ethics.

1. Martian Manhunter (J'onn J-onzz)

2. Superman (Kal-El)
3. Batman (Bruce Wayne)
4. Wonder Woman (Princess Diana)
5. Robin (Dick Grayson)
6. Sgt. Frank Rock
7. Iris Allen
8. Dr. Terry Thirteen
9. The Phantom Stranger
10. Atom (Ray Palmer)
11. Brainiac 5 (Qwerl Dox)
12. Ferro Lad (Andrew Nolan)
13. Enemy Ace (Rittmeister Baron Hans von Hammer)

14. Aquaman (Arthur Curry)
15. Mon-El (Lar Gand)
16. Flash (Barry Allen)
17. Balloon Buster (Lt. Steve Savage)
18. Manhunter (Paul Kirk)

19. The Creeper (Jack Ryder)
20. (Elongated Man) Ralph Dibny
21. Sue Dibny
22. Johnny Double
23. Captain William Storm
24. Hercules
25. Niles Caulder
26. Elastic Woman (Rita Farr)
27. Negative Man (Larry Trainor)
28. Robotman (Cliff Steele)
29. Supergirl (Linda Danvers)

30. Power Girl (Karen Starr)
31. Lori Lemaris
32. Polar Boy (Brek Brannin)
33. Iron
34. Gold
35. Mera
36. Wildcat (Ted Grant)
37. Hourman (Rex Tyler)
38. Starman (Ted Knight)
39. Manhunter 2070 (Starker)
40. Robin (Tim Drake)
41. Ambush Bug
42. Mlle. Marie
43. Pete Ross
44. Bat Lash
45. Jean Loring
46. Alfred Pennyworth
47. James Gordon
48. Liza Warner, Lady Cop
49. Snapper Carr
50. The Blimp (Herman Cramer)

Friday, May 12, 2006

The Justice Legion of America

It looks like there have been a few new visitors since Blockade Boy published his research paper on Starfioriasis. Welcome! (And if by chance you have never checked out BB's blog, do so!)

I have dragged another single issue out of The Last Shortbox. I honestly don't remember when or where I acquired this comic, except that I am pretty sure it was second-hand (the cover looks in pretty sorry shape, and I'm not sure I made that coffee-cup ring):

Legionnaires #54, November 1997
Written by Tom Peyer, Illustrated by Jeffrey Moy and W.C. Carran

Now, I started reading the Legion of Super-Heroes back in the day, when Curt Swan was drawing them and some kid named Jim Shooter was writing stories. I followed them faithfully through the disco-Legion era (ERG-1, anyone?) and even a bit beyond. At some point it just got to expansive for me, and after Crisis on Infinite Earths, the continuity tangles and reboots were just too hard to follow -- or maybe I just wasn't interested enough to follow.

In any case, I have no idea what the larger context of this story is. Something about the LSH being bounced through the time stream by someone who might have been testing them or something. Meh. Who cares? What's cool about this issue is that it replaces the Justice Society of America (or perhaps the All-Star Squadron) with the Legionnaires, and while doing so, it brings the funny.

The story opens with the intrepid youths cracking a Ratzi (yeah, they say that) spy ring. The young heroes are sort of like themselves, but cornier: Cosmic Boy has special magnets that attract wood, brick, even flesh; Chameleon Boy is a standard master of (body-suit) disguise; and Saturn Girl seems to be a crime-fighting nightclub mind-reader:

(I love the way she's even holding the spy's keys to her head in order to get a "read" - just like in a traditional mentalist act.)

The faux-forties action proceeds apace, and when the legionnaires depart the scene after having turned the spies over to the authorities, we get one of the best verbal-visual puns I have ever seen in comics:

Yep, the Legion still has flight rings - heh.

And the hits just keep on coming. The Legion is headquartered in an airship (and you know how much we love airships around here) that looks suspiciously familiar:

And once inside the airship, we find our that (a) R.J. Brande is being played by the Monopoly Guy* and (b) Cosmic Boy is a big suck-up! (Also: why is Colossal Girl a girl? Last I knew, Gim Allon was Colossal Boy, and used to have cool cowboy gloves.)

So the kids are given a mission by FDR himself - complete with cigarette in holder (would we see that today?) and Fala. (They are in black and white because we are seeing the picto-radio image.)

The assignment is to assist with the development of a secret weapon known as The Manhattan Project. In this allohistory, the Manhattan Project is Braniac Minus One -- Braniac 5 in an alpha-nerd brown suit and green bow tie -- who has been working on an atomic bomb, as well as a force field to contain it.

I like that in the midst of all this goofiness, the creators were still crafting a well-put-together graphic story. Look at the sequence above: as Brainy starts his story, you can see Invisible Kid activate his super-blend-in-mirror-nylon, creep up and steal a personal item, and give it to Saturn Girl so she can mentally check his truthfulness. Not exactly the sugar-cube wrapper in Watchmen, but cool nonetheless.

So, Brainy tells the Legion that the A-bomb has been stolen, and they all go off to the top of the Empire State Building to retrieve it from the Axis of Super-Villains, stock WW2 badguys with old legion foe names: Kommandant Roxxas, a BDSM Nazi superguy; Dr. Regulus, a Japanese Dr. No with a heat gun, and Tangleweb, who can only be described as Chico Marx in a parka with a big fishing net.

So, the good guys fight the bad guys, but the happy ending doesn't happen: Cham is killed by Regulus and then all the heroes sacrifice themselves to contain the a-bomb's blast when it is detonated. The "real" legionnaires pop back into the psychedelic pudding that signifies time-travel and the goofy golden-agers all stay dead, I guess.

Yeah, it harshes the buzz a bit, but at least the ever-glowing force-field globe on top of the ESB inspires world peace and the United Nations, so there's that.

As far as I'm concerned, this single is comics gold. If you took out the two pages that show the "real" Legion, it reads like a slightly silly but well-done adventure tale - and if it were read by someone who knew nothing about the LSH, they could still understand, enjoy, and get it - all but the little in-jokes. It was a ripping yard with pretty pictures, and maybe that's all I want form my comics sometimes.

*Whose name is Mr. Monopoly, Rich Uncle Pennybags, or Uncle Moneybags, depending on the source you read.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Here's Dagan!

A couple of weeks ago, I picked up a copy of Starfire No. 1 at a garage sale. Aside from the titular heroine, the main protagonist in this DC Explosion "Epic of Swords & Science" was her mentor cum love interest, Dagan. Dagan did not survive the first issue (oops, I should have had a spoiler warning there, eh?) and is notable in my mind only for his outfit. Here he is in action on the opening splash page:

What the heck is that all about? Doublet and hose with a slouch hat and cowl? And elf boots? What's more, this is not a deliberate embracing of the bizarre, a la Alan Scott - this is a sort of uniform for a caste of warrior priests. Look:

They're wearing the same stuff, except that one guy has no hat and that other guy has a really big cone (a stovepipe fez?) on his head. What's up with that - can you fight wearing that? Or is he a coach or something? At least here they seem to have switched to sweat pants for training.

Blockade Boy, can you help us out on this?

Anyway, the rest of the contents of Starfire No. 1 are so wretched and pedestrian that they don't bear much elaboration. Slave girl is supposed to marry horrible alien overlord, slave girl escapes, slave girl is trained by outlaw priest as a fighter, priest is killed, slave girl becomes rebel leader, and wacky hijinx ensue. This is so bad, I can't believe it actually lasted eight issues or so, even in the seventies.

Trivia: I wrote almost this entire post before I remembered that Starfire is also Koriand'r's Teen Titan name. Really.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Short and late

This is one of the newest additions to the Shortbox, but one of the earliest comics that I remember reading. How is that possible? It's a Replica Edition.

Sgt. Rock's Prize Battle Tales Replica Edition #1 (2000)
"Originally Published in single magazine form as
Sgt. Rock's Prize Battle Tales Copyright 1964 DC Comics."
(from the indicia)

DC took a classic 80-Page Giant, slid it in a slicker cover, juiced up the coloring, and increased the price to 2380% of the original. And I was glad to play it and happy to get it. The original edition held one of my fondest comic book memories, and I wanted to have it again.

The book has some decent content. There's an Easy Company story and an early Dinosaur Island tale (they don't use that name - it's just a "mystery island" on which the G.I.s fight pterodactyls and T-Rex), The rest are one-shots - a frogman story, a D.I. story, a B-17 story, and infantry story, and so on. It's a classic sampling of Silver Age war comics before the superherofication of the characters. But it was not for the stories that I wanted to return this annual to the Shortbox.

There are some great creators involved in the book. Bob Kanigher wrote all the stories; Joe Kubert illustrated three, and the rest are by stalwarts Russ Heath, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, and Irv Novick. But it wasn't for the talent that I wanted the book (or even a replica).

No, it was just for this:

I remembered that this splendid Joe Kubert illustration graced the inside back cover of this comic when I first had it as a kid. I could recall seeing this pin-up and poring over it, reading the names, matching up characters I had seen in stories, wondering why Sapper wasn't there. I had always enjoyed the stories in which a new guy comes into Easy and finds his place, or the stories that told how some of the regulars got their nicknames. I have never been a real military buff, but Easy Company stories were where I learned some of my earliest lessons about loyalty, duty, and bravery. This pin-up was somehow a connection with that "band of combat-happy joes" and I just wanted to have it again.

I was discussing comics blogs with a buddy the other day and he made the observation that my posts seem to have less irony and more sincerity than many of the sites that discuss Silver Age comics. Maybe that's true. I'll ponder it as I figure out exactly what I'm doing here.