Friday, September 29, 2006

Character Obscura: Alpha Centurion


Now here's a unique and visually striking character that just dosen't get much exposure. He's got a silver-agey vibe to him, but he was created in the 90's. Initially a modern day version of all those super-rivals like Hercules, Mighty Man, Power Man, etc, that showed up to court Lois and upstage Superman in the Weisenger-era books, he stayed in Metropolis for a while and became a solo hero. He eventually was lost in the shuffle of the enormous Superman supporting cast, and written out. I thought he had died or turned evil or something, but everything I've read suggests that he's still around in the DC Universe. Now I'm worried he'll be cannon fodder in the next crossover massacre. Such is the eventual fate of obscure comic book characters.

I'd like to see him used somewhere. He's got a great costume, and a Super Roman Centurion guy is actually a pretty cool, unique concept. He's got potential. He also had a one shot comic, pictured below.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Savaging Ravage 2099

Marvel Comics has a huge fictional universe, with over 4000 characters, fantastic locales, and a rich, layered history. Apparently, that’s not enough, because at any given time, Marvel also has at least one other line of superhero comics sold along with their regular Marvel Universe titles. Be it the New Universe in the 1980s, the 2099 and Heroes Reborn universes in the 1990’s , or today’s Ultimate Universe, Marvel always seems to need at least two sandboxes to play in.

When Marvel unveiled the 2099 line in 1992, they did it with their usual hype and hoopla, initially launching four titles. To their credit, none involved mutants or Wolverine (that would come later.) The debut 2099 title would set the tone for this new era of stories by introducing a brand new character to the Marvel Universe, 107 years later. Which brings us to RAVAGE 2099, The first of the four 2099 launch titles, written by Stan “The Man” Lee his own bad self.

I love Stan, but this? Not so good.



Let’s face it, maybe 1992 wasn’t the ideal year to dream up a whole entire dystopian future. How I long for such days, when our biggest worry was that the President had puked on a dude. This is pretty much what happens when a 60-something year old man looks at the headlines in 1992, and tries to cast forward 100 years in the future and predict what sort of dark trends and societal shifts could shape the future world into a dark cyberpunk dystopia. So obviously, the TREE-HUGGERS take over.

In Ravage 2099, ECO, a subsidiary of Alchemax, comes down on all suspected polluters with an iron fist, and the world's run by corporations. Now that a sprawling pollution bureaucracy has taken over, surely the streets must be spotless and pristine, right?


Well, maybe they're too busy dealing with roving squads of polluters to keep ALL the streets clean. I'm sure a society that puts such a high priority on the environment also deals with criminals in a humane, civilized manner.


Oh my goodness. I'm starting to get the idea that maybe ECO is corrupt. And look! they have peace symbols on their uniforms. I'll bet that's some of that “irony” I've been hearing so much about. Next we meet Paul Phillip Ravage, the "last honest man" in this particular evil empire. He's the Commander of ECO Central, which is a pretty big deal. He's very upset, because the thug squad has reported the polluter's death resisting arrest. His assistant, Tiana warns him not to ask too many questions, because her father was exiled to Hellrock, home of the Mutroids for being too nosy.


The rod up that man's butt must have a rod up it's butt. Ravage spends the whole first half of the issue being an uptight square and espousing the virtues of law and order. Later, Ravage is heading home, when he's accosted by a gang of young toughs. He's more than capable of chasing them off, but the youngest of the gang turns out to be the son of the polluter killed on the first page:



Now, this Anderthorp Henton guy? He nasty. Here he's trying to decide whether he's going to cyber pork The Wasp, Tigra, or Lady Dorma. This damn dirty bastard spends most of this issue getting naked hot oil rubdowns. He's all evil, too. He totally shoots that poor bastard with the glasses for knowing too much, which is actually pretty lucky for the guy. Now he won't have to hang around for VR Chamber cleanup. Ravage and the kid question him about the killing, and after assuring Ravage that he'll investigate, he starts planning a set-up for the commander. Meanwhile...

You Whippersnappers get off my lawn! Punks have no respect, with their disco, and their long hair! We need a good war, that’d thin out their ranks… mutter mutter…

Back at the office, Henton and his board have arranged for a friendly visitor; a reeking toxic Mutroid!


Thus begins the most inept frameup of the 21st century, just in time for the 22nd!

Least. Threatening. Goons. EVER.
Paul Ryan, for future reference, if you're going to put a guy in a dorky uniform like that, you could at least give him a bad-ass, bullet spittin' NAME, like "Hardcastle" or "Steele". This poor dope gets "Webster".

"Guess I’ll just turn off this monitor at the critical moment. I’m sure everything will go exactly as planned! Who needs to see all the details? Not Anderthorp Henton!"

So this moron turns off the monitor for the crucial minute that Ravage needs to grab Tiana, leap out the window and dangle from the edge. Then he turns the monitor back on, unable to see anything bu the smoke and flames. He congratulates himself for his cleverness before zapping Hot Oil Bikini Lady for knowing too much.


If you slow down the tape, you can see the exact moment that he switched from UPTIGHT to OUTTA SIGHT! Ravage is apparently psychotic enough to effect a complete moral and ethical reversal the instant the system turns against him personally. Suddenly, he's a rough-and-tumble, tough as nails ass-kicker. I'm totally gonna do that the next time I get a speeding ticket or jury duty. That or fume impotently.

Breaking into a dump, Ravage assembles his costume from cast off car parts, chains, gears, and other conveniently shaped rubbish. And what the hell is he sticking to his legs? It looks like protective patches of leather, but how are they sticking to him? Your mother, that's how. Ravage is such a BAD ASS, the patches are afraid to fall off.

It's absolutely beyond me why the architects of the 2099 universe decided to kick off their bold new vision of the far-flung future with a GARBAGE-THEMED superhero, but that is exactly what happened. Assymettrical, impractical, and impossible, his has to be one of the worst costumes in comics history. And that 110 year old garbage truck? Starts up like a dream, so Ravage rides off to bold new adventures. Highly Unlikely.

Obviously, this didn't go over too well, so by issue #9:


Abrupt change in direction ahoy! Suddenly, Ravage was some kind of freaky beastman:


Ooo...Wolverine-y.
Things only went downhill from there:


Or so it appears. I readily and proudly admit that I have never read RAVAGE 2099 #2-33.

This one was bad enough.

Monday, September 25, 2006

You don’t have to be crazy, then remorseful, then dead, then the spirit of divine judgment, then revert to status quo to work here. (But it helps!)

Reed and Tony-
Well, you fellas have been busy these last few weeks! I just wanted to give you some words of encouragement – believe me, I’ve been in your shoes, and it’s not easy. Many of our colleagues are mad as hell at you right now, but I know from my own experiences that they just don’t see the big picture. When you wield the most powerful weapon in the galaxy, you get a different perspective on things, and someone like Batman or Daredevil just can’t even begin to grasp that. Running around in back alleys just doesn’t prepare you for the big stuff.

No, you guys are doing great. Best case scenario, you change the world for the better, worst, you’re reviled as a villain, and some punk kid takes your job. Either way, never underestimate the power of nostalgia. No matter how awful your actions, no matter how far over the line you cross, people are going to want to see you back in the armor / leading the Fantastic Four, and they’ll swallow ANY DAMN excuse to get it.

So let’s say this Civil War blows up in your face. Everyone hates you? Fine! Take it all the way! Eat a baby, hump a llama, kill half your (D-List only) buddies…it’s all good. Then what you do, you lay low for a couple of years. Let the little shits really miss you, then BAM! Comeback time, baby!



Just tell ‘em you were POSSESSED BY AN EVIL SPACE ENTITY. Trust me, they’ll totally buy it.

Regards-
Hal (Green Lantern) Jordan

Thursday, September 21, 2006

CIVIL DEFENSE

SPOILERS for CIVIL WAR #4 lurk below...






I was so pissed off at Civil War #4 yesterday; I probably shouldn’t have been driving. Goliath, Bill Foster was killed in action by a Thor clone. I’ve always liked Goliath, but C-list characters don’t show up after a decade’s absence without my “cannon fodder” bells going off, so as soon as I saw him in CW #1, I knew he was probably doomed. So yeah, this story upset me, and had me fuming for some time after. I was especially angry at Tony Stark and Reed Richards for their arrogance in trying to recreate Thor, their friend and comrade.



Then I realized something: I’m reading a big Marvel inter-company crossover that actually has me emotionally invested. I'm angry at the characters, not the cheapness of the stunt. Even if I don’t like what’s happening, I actually care, and that’s a great thing.

As far as I can tell, this is only the second crossover out of Marvel or DC that deals with a moral and ethical crisis for the heroes involved, the first being Identity Crisis. From Contest of Champions to Infinite Crisis, previous events have mostly been based on external threats. Invading aliens, cosmic gods, armies of villains, and threats to reality itself have come and gone, but in all cases, whatever the scale, it’s usually “All of the superheroes vs. menace TBD”. Civil War is pitting friend against friend over a traumatic, divisive issue, and the rifts that result won’t be easily healed.

It does have the side effect of making me dislike some characters that I’ve always liked before. Despite this, I don’t feel anyone is acting especially out of character. I’m wary of the term “out of character” when applied to corporate icons that’ve had literally hundreds of writers each. By now, Marvel’s published THOUSANDS and THOUSANDS of Spider-Man stories, so how can anyone say for sure what he would or wouldn’t do? Acting irresponsible would be out of character for Spider-Man. Punching Aunt May would be out of character for Spider-Man. Beyond that, it’s pretty much up to the writer.

For example, I’m not happy with Reed, but he does have a history of overlooking the human aspect of a problem on his way to the solution. I think Stark is a manipulative jerk in here, but this is a guy used to dealing with assets and liabilities, profit and loss. Does he have any friends that don’t work for him? I can understand why Hank Pym would want to rehabilitate his image by cooperating. The Wasp is just going along, but she’s always been very rich, very public, and can’t relate to the problems of someone with a secret.

Captain America been at odds with the government before, and always remains true to the spirit of America. He’s never been about unquestioning obedience, at least not since the Golden Age. I can see Sue doing what she did, and I can see Johnny following her (though I did predict he’d stay with Reed, if only to keep his creature comforts and celebrity). Ben is torn, and it looks like he’ll bow out entirely. He was a friend to everyone involved, so I’m sure he’s heartbroken.


I’ve been watching Spider-Man's evolution from loner to respected Avenger with great interest. He’s got a sleek new costume, a new Dad, a cool job, and a great apartment. I never would have thought he would take the side he did, but he’s always been about responsibility and for now, Stark has convinced him that this is the responsible thing to do. He now has so much more to lose when and if he defects, and if he does defect, it won’t even do him any good personally, because he already revealed his secret! The poor bastard can’t win. As usual.


I’m not claiming this is a flawless storyline. There’s been iffy dialogue and scenes that don’t make much sense (I have a hard time buying that the pro-reg heroes would continue to mass-produce super clones after “Thor” killed a man, or that the government would support said cloning, OR that these geniuses would recruit such especially violent and unpredictable villains...) but overall, the story really has me hooked.

I think Marvel’s goal with Civil War is to shake up the "clubhouse" that the Marvel Universe has become and return some of that uneasy distrust that the marvel superheroes had in early days. If that’s the case, mission accomplished, and then some!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Again With the Comics apologizes to Ultimate Arnim Zola

In my previous post, I mentioned my disappointment in Ultimate Arnim Zola. Specifically, I said that he “sucked”. Well, I had a follow up entry all written, about how badly they screwed up the design, and how badly they missed the point. The point being that Arnim Zola was a mad Nazi scientist who lopped off his own head, grafted it to his abdomen, and replaced it on his neck with a lil Kirby box that shot psychoblaster rays. I argued that Ultimate Arnim Zola missed the point by being just a big android with a TV screen strapped to his chest.


Um, well, then I went out on the web to find pictures of Penultimate Arnim Zola, I found this. And it turns out I completely misremembered Arnim Zola’s Origin. Arnim Zola was a mad Nazi scientist who had his mind copied into the body of a superhumanly strong, genetically manipulated clone of his weak original body in the standard Marvel Universe too. The little scamp went and relocated his brain in the chest cavity where it would be better protected. I guess he chucked the heart, being evil and all. Ultimate Arnim Zola is all meaty and organic looking with a screen on his chest, so fair enough, I guess.

Again With the Comics apologizes to fictional character and disgusting genetic abomination Ultimate Arnim Zola who is, in fact pretty faithful to the original. I still like this version better:



Ultimate MODOK?

I couldn't help but notice this in Marvel's December solicits:

ULTIMATE VISION #1 (of 5)
Written by MIKE CAREY
Pencils & Cover by BRANDON PETERSON
Picking up directly from the events in the smash hit limited series Ultimate Extinction! The Earth was saved from the Ultimate threat—Gah Lak Tus. But scientist George Tarleton has captured a piece of that awesome entity and plans to reactivate it for his own evil purposes. The only hope for mankind against this mad scheme—the strange alien being called The Vision!
32 PGS./Rated T+ ...$2.99


I wasn't going to pick this up, but in the regular Marvel Universe, George tarleton is better known as...

MODOK, baby!!
The only thing holding me back from ordering this is the knowledge that this is ULTIMATE Marvel, and if this book has any MODOK at all, he probably won't show up until the last few pages of the last issue. And after they get done running him through the Ultimate Kirbykoolness Extractatron 3000, he might very well suck. Like Ultimate Arnim Zola sucked. He'll probably just end up being an ugly disfigured guy in a wheelchair, but we'll see. After all, even a watered-down MODOK is better than no MODOK at all!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

I'm Sure This is Exactly What Bram Stoker Had in Mind



DRACULA #4 1967 Dell Comics

This…AGGRESSIVELY DULL comic is one half of DELL Comics’ attempt to cash in on the mid-60's superhero craze by hammering square-peg public domain monsters DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN into superhero shaped holes. I could sum it up for you, but I’m sure the introductory caption can explain it better:



Or…maybe not. The narration and dialogue have a tinny, stilted quality to them that’s kind of endearing, but mostly distracting. An EDITOR would have helped. I'm just sayin'.



And it’s BLAND. When this is the most exciting scene your book has to offer:


You’ve got a book that only a stroke victim or multiple heart bypass…haver could truly appreciate. The edge of your seat need not apply.

Anyway, Dracula is trying to clear his name, so he goes to the United States, where he seeks to use his powers to work for peace:


Don’t get too excited, that’s all the punching he does. By the way Dracula’s super power? He turns into a bat. Not just any bat but… well, yeah, just a regular bat. This Dracula, you see, is actually the descendent of the real Dracula, but he doesn’t have ANY VAMPIRE POWERS WHATSOEVER. Which makes him feel pretty fucking useless. So he spends a most of the issue obsessing over perfecting the formula that changes him into his bat form permanently. At no point in the story is bloodsucking mentioned.

From the thrilling Dracula flutters helplessly nearby while B.B. plummets to her death sequence. Dracula kind of sucks.

Oh yeah, he also gets a sidekick:


B.B.Beebe, debutante dare-devillette, who in rapid order: Meets Al, learns his secret, helps him find and install a secret headquarters, drinks his bat-change-into potion, and becomes FLEETA: the girl who lives every little girls dream… by turning into a bat.
I do have to give the credit for making Fleeta a competent, tough character who holds her own in this story.


YOU GO, GIRLFRIEND!

I feel bad trashing this book too much. Its very crude, but kind of likable in a way. Like people who paint propane tanks to look like cows, I guess.
B.B. gets the last word:

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Character Obscura: THUNDRA

Thundra was far from obscure in ‘70s Marvel comics - she was everywhere for awhile there. Created during the feminist movement, she was probably Marvel’s first truly strong (in a physical sense) female character. She may have been Marvel’s answer to Wonder Woman by way of Big Barda. A time traveller from the 23rd century, Thundra comes from a future where Earth is renamed “Femizonia”, and the United States is renamed the “United Sisterhood Republic. Also, manacles are now called femicles, manatees are womanatees, and the very richest, most sucessful women live in m’aam-sions.*
She initially came to present-day Earth to beat the Thing (mistakenly identified to her as the strongest man on Earth) in hand to hand combat to demonstrate female superiority. Instead, she fell in love with the rocky man-brute, and stayed around for a few years pursuing him. Eventually, she settled down with Arkon, a thunderbolt-hurling, otherdimensional barbarian-type character, and left our era to join him on his homeworld Polemachus. As far as I know, both were last seen being wiped out by Krona in JLA/Avengers, but that may not “count”, as it was an intercompany crossover, and probably not canon. She’ll be back.




*I'm so sorry.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Again With the Comics is re-reading FLEX MENTALLO!

Flex Mentallo was a four-issue miniseries from Vertigo by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. It’s a stunning piece of work, and owing to legal difficulties with the Charles Atlas corporation, may never be reprinted. Flex was introduced during Morrison’s tenure on the Doom Patrol, and was an analog for “Mac” from that famous vintage funnybook ad “The Insult That Made a Man Out of Mac.”

Flex Mentallo was pretty much ignored when it was first published, but luckily, I was a DP nut, and preordered the series, nabbing this rarity for myself forever. Owing to legal and bandwidth concerns, I wouldn’t dare reprint the entire series, but I do want to give a sampling of this suppressed classic. Consider this a condensed version. Hopefully DC does reprint this book, because everyone should be able to have it. It's the cat's pajamas, baby!


Flex Mentallo #1:
In FM #1, we find Flex relaxing at the airport, people watching. His breakfast is ready, and he’s about to eat when suddenly: a bomb! Flex disarms the bomb with his powers of muscle mystery, but it proves to be a sham, a hollow shell. Flex takes the bomb to the police, and the Lieutenant shows him a drawer full of weird artifacts. One of the artifacts is a smudged green Fact card, the calling card of his onetime ally, the Fact. Flex theorizes that if he could manifest into the real world, so might the Fact. Flex sets out to find the mysterious crime fighter, and his investigation takes him to an abandoned school for boy sidekicks, and a cryptic conversation with the janitor, who advises him to check the railroad station. A parallel story runs throughout the series, featuring Flex’s creator, Wallace Sage. As a child, Sage created Flex Mentallo in a series of hand drawn comics, but as an adult, he’s a burnt out rock star attempting suicide, relating his thoughts on comic books to the Suicide Hotline operator as he dies. Sage is a substantially different character from the Wallace Sage shown in the Doom Patrol, which implies that this story is not necessarily in that continuity.



This one's for the ladies...and some of the gentlemen.


Crusty Lieutenant Harry is the shit. He's like a hairier, lumpier Ed Asner.


Morrison and Quitely scatter amazing, insane new characters and concepts like confetti throughout this entire four issue series.



I love the street people in this scene. Quitely does the best bystanders in the biz.


That's some great kinetic action on this page.


Coming soon...Flex Mentallo#2! Unless someone yells at me about this!



Sunday, September 10, 2006

Worst comic of year not on way soon.

I love Frank Quitely's artwork. I saw this All Star Superman #7 cover online, and couldn't resist commenting on how great it is. I really dig his take on Bizzaro here. I like how his bizarros look fake and rubbery, instead of the usual chalky/disheveled look. The bizarro innocent bystanders are a great touch, too. All Star Superman is shaping up to be the best Superhero title of the year, and I'm enjoying every mind-bending minute of it.


I also got Arrested Development seasons 1-3 for my birthday. I loved this show but I never got to watch them in order, so I'm "stoked".