Filing Cabinet of the Damned

Friday, February 25, 2005

A Lost Character: The Charms of the White Tiger

A sudden burst of retroactive continuity change, and he’s gone. According to Marvel Comics’ internal logic, he never existed. But I’ve got the issues that prove otherwise.

He was a great opportunity lost. He was that rarest of characters: immediately interesting, visually striking, and just complex enough to be capable of sustaining a long series on his own.

He was Christopher Priest’s version of the White Tiger. And dammit, they erased him.

His few appearences were in titles few folks read, so let me explain why I dig this guy. His story began in the last few issues of the Black Panther series of the late nineties.

Kevin “Kasper” Cole was a narcotics cop in Brooklyn. He wasn’t an idealist or a man laden with pretensions of heroism. For Kasper, it was just a job. He was following his father, a Kenyan immigrant known as “Black” Jack Cole. “Black” Jack was a widely-respected cop who had recently been sent to prison on corruption charges.

Kevin’s nickname of “Kasper” was due to his mixed heritage. “Black” Jack had married Ruth, a white Jewish woman, and their son was a light-skinned man. So light, the neighbor kids called him “Kasper.”

With his father in prison, Kevin was the sole support of his nagging and clueless yenta mother and his girlfriend, the pregnant and shrill Gwen. They shared a small crappy apartment in Harlem.

Kasper’s primary motivation in life was to get promoted, make more money, and move all three of them to a better part of town.

While out on the job, he ran across a long-ago ditched suit of the Black Panther, a superhero who was also the king of the highly-advanced African nation of Wakanda. The suit, which looks like a tight black unitard, was bulletproof and contained all sorts of odd techno-goodies. He put on the Panther’s gear under his clothes for protection.

Police corruption again reared its ugly head in Kasper’s life. He faced the choices of going to jail or going to Internal Affairs, which would be career suicide. Thus, to protect his family and himself, he pretended to be the Black Panther and went after the dirty cops.

Shortly he was mixed up with the Wakandan secret police, the Panther’s old enemies, and the Panther himself. (In true Priest fashion, the story got a bit convoluted. But damn, did it work here.)

When it was over, the Wakandans took on Kevin Cole as an “acolyte of the Panther cult.” He was given a copy of the herb that gives the Black Panther his powers (super-enhanced senses, somewhat enhanced agility and strength), an all-white copy of the Panther’s suit, and copies of all of the Panther’s techno-toys. He later added to the gear a black trenchcoat, which looks very odd over the all-white bodysuit, and a pair of automatic pistols that fire paralytic gel bullets.

He works on a number of levels.

Visually, he’s arresting. All white catsuit with no face on it? Sweet. He can run along walls and has short metal claws that can pop out of the ends of his gloves, both of which create cool-o visuals. Also, the contrast between the optical-white suit and the black coat draws the eye.

His powers are just barely superhuman and his techno-gear isn’t dominating. This means that he’ll have to work for his victories, and thus his stories are more engaging.

Moreover, his personal life is unusual for a superhero, but not for a normal guy. He’s trying to live up to his father (who, if memory serves, was actually corrupt, but Kevin doesn’t know that), deal with his nagging mother, and survive his girlfriend. His opinion of Gwen flips between staying with her for the baby’s sake and caring about her, which feels real.

Also, when in costume, Kevin narrarates the story in Black American English. When he speaks as the White Tiger, he pretends to be Wakandan and uses a generic African accent. The disconnect is mighty. And it’s pretty damn funny.

WHITE TIGER: Now tell me of this “Kingpin” and where he obtains this poison with which you taint these streets.
CAPTION: ‘Fore I smack you in yo’ head, fool.


Priest explained the Tiger as “The hero who could be you,” or as “Spider-Man through a dark mirror.” He’s not a superhero. He’s a decent guy in crap circumstances who’s trying to do the right thing, kinda.

After the Black Panther series ended, Kasper Cole went on to star in The Crew, a super-group series that died all too quickly. The Crew had a number of problems, but the White Tiger wasn’t one of them.* To me, he made the whole damn story worthwhile.

This character, who I feel possessed great appeal and promise, is gone from the Marvel Universe, as though he never existed. Aigh.

The name “White Tiger” has seen a lot of use.

The first White Tiger was a martial arts hero in their seventies’ series Deadly Hands of Kung Fu. Said character was killed in Daredevil a while back.

The second White Tiger was a genetically-modified tiger that could transform into a human-ish looking woman by the High Evolutionary. Don't ask, just go with it. Anyway, she was in the revival of Heroes for Hire in the late nineties.

Then came Kasper Cole.

And now they’ve revived the White Tiger name again in Daredevil. The new Tiger is somehow related to the very first one. (Don't know exactly how, since I don’t read Daredevil anymore.**)

Yes, there could be multiple White Tigers running around, but here’s why Kasper Cole is no more. Recently Marvel began a new Black Panther series. This series is considered a “reboot,” and leaves the whole of the Priest Panther series as “non-history.” Dammit.

It is possible that the Kasper White Tiger could be revived without a fuss, but it seems almost a lock he’ll be relegated to the scrapheap of “never happened.”

And that, o comic fans, is a mighty shame.

*Priest usually writes intricate plots. The Crew was not an exception. It began plainly enough, then spun out into tricky little bits. Plus, there were places where he made leaps in storytelling logic that were difficult to follow. Worst of all, I think he had to rush the conclusion of the story. The last issue or two were particularly tough to read.

I love the guy’s scripting, but he needs artists of incredible clarity and storytelling ability to keep his comics from being impossible to follow. Joe Bennett in The Crew wasn’t quite up to it. Very close, but not quite. And dammit, Priest, would it kill you to fill in just a few more blanks in your stories? I’m a bit slow in the head, and it's hard for me to pick up on some of your subtleties in static images.

Ya know, I bet he’d write a killer movie.

**Lordy, how that book bores me. David Mamet doesn’t translate to comics very well, Mr. Daredevil Writer Guy. Pages of “ums” and “yeahs” are wastes of space in a thirty-some-odd page comic. I am a yahoo philistine, and I accept this.

Click here to read more!

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Penetrating Insight or Flatulent Nonsense: You Be the Judge

Big theory time! Woo!

Comic book superheroes face danger all the dang time: gun-wielding muggers, mad world conquerors, an irradiated Barry Gibb out to destroy the universe with the shattering power of his vibrato and massive hairdo, this danger takes any number of forms. Their ability to face and overcome certain death is central to their existence as superheroes.

I think that the way superheroes deal with physical danger correlates strongly with their characterization. My theory is that powers and personalities can be categorized by the three basic survival methods superheroes have.

Say the Crabgrass Conquistador yells "Die, do-gooding scum!" and fires a gun at a superhero. One of three things will happen:

1. The bullets don’t affect him. The hero has a form of protection.
2. The bullets miss. The hero outmaneuvered them somehow
3. The bullets hurt our hero, but they don’t stop him. Instead, he presses on.

The archetypes of these heroes are pretty obvious. #1 is Superman, #2 is Spider-Man, #3 is Wolverine.*

Think of the “invulnerable” heroes, the ones who, when shot at, can just stand there. Superman, Captain America, Iron Man, any of the Fantastic Four, the Martian Manhunter, Green Lantern, Power Man, those folks. They tend to have a common character trait: upright steadfastness. These tend towards the Boy Scout side of the spectrum, though this quality might be obscured by surface gruffness.

Now how about the “dodgers:” Spider-Man, Daredevil, Batman, Nightwing, the Flash, those fellows. They tend to be known for quick-wittedness as well, and are generally less incorruptable than the "invulnerables."

Then there are the “bleeders:” Wolverine, the Punisher, some interpretations of Batman, some interpretations of the Hulk, those guys. Here the characters are more known for their rage than anything else. They exist to exchange eyes for eyes, or worse.

I think the characterization matching the power-type is an unconscious cliché of the industry. It makes sense, after all. The overwhelming sense of power created by the bulletproof hero, coupled with the rage of the bleeder hero, would be bizarre and frightening. Or imagine a bleeder hero who was a squeaky-clean sort of fellow. He’s bleeding from nineteen gunshot wounds, all smiles and talking about the importance of good citizenship.

Even typing that feels weird.

Super powers are essentially extensions of character. Superman is Goodness Personified, the Unsullied One. Thus, he cannot be harmed. Spider-Man is the Good Guy Trying To Get By. Thus, he can be hurt like you and me, but does what it takes to avoid it. Wolverine is Rage With A Bad Haircut. Thus, he suffers great pain to make his later inflicting of pain seem justified.

In large part, these characters are their powers, and their powers are their characters.

Batman illustrates this idea.** For most of his history, Batman dodged bullets and other nastiness headed his way. When his stories became darker and more violent in the seventies, he began to suffer injuries, even to be shot once in a while. He was hurt more, and he hurt others more.

Currently Batman treads the line between “dodger” and “bleeder,” varying with the writer, with his characterization changing to match. The “dodging” Batman is a detective and an adventurer. The “bleeding” Batman is a revenge-driven vigilante. Compare the violence received and doled out by Batman in a story with his behavior in that same story. There’s a significant correlation.

I’m grossly oversimplifying, I know. This is just one of those crackpot theories that pops up in my head from time to time.


I should add that there’s a fourth category of superhero “bullet coping method:” never getting shot at.***

Take Cyclops of the X-Men. He’s a dude with lasers coming out of his eyes. That’s it. He’s not bulletproof, he’s not super-agile or fast, and he doesn’t have the capacity to survive lots of bodily harm. Shoot him, and he’ll die.

How do comic creators deal with this? Easy. Nobody ever shoots at him.

The common thread among these characters is their placement deep in their fantasy worlds. Cyclops doesn’t face muggers and terrorists, he faces eeeevil mutants named “Nutria, the Nipplebacked Rat-Man” and clones of Magneto’s car-salesman cousin Lenny. Generally threats don’t reach him, or they mysteriously miss.

I’m tempted to argue that these characters’ remove from everyday life is reflected in their character, but I haven’t puzzled over this long enough to make such a sweeping (and seemingly pointless) statement.

These theories do lead to two obvious follow-up questions: “Isn’t this obvious?” and “So what?”

To the first question: yeah, okay, it probably is.

To the second question: I think it could be useful to examine these often-unstated assumptions. New approaches to the genre could emerge. Hey, they might even be interesting.

How about a superhero team consisting of a super-agile guy who’s Mister Boy Scout, a guy with healing powers who’s the group’s thinker, and a bulletproof mook with a bloodlust? Or a hero who has no good defense against getting killed but lives in the real (by comic standards) world and insists on heroing anyway? Just off the top of my head here.

If nothing else, forming a clearer understanding of the mechanics of soopa-hero characters and their appeal seems a slightly worthwhile endeavor.

Another thought: comic heroes tend to be violent in direct proportion to the violence done to them. In a warped way, the manglings frequently given to Wolverine or the Punisher seem to be interpreted as the moral justification for their bloody rampages. “They done him wrong” is a common justification for bloodbaths.

Imagine a hero who gets mangled frequently but never himself mangles. Would it irritate the readers? Seem unbalanced and unsatisfying? The rush of gratuitous violence is lessened, I wager, when the audience identification character is the victim, and his “payback” is of lesser brutality.**** After all, the payback is the reason people dig such books. People love revenge stories.

Good lord, I do ramble sometimes. Any thoughts?

*You might think #2 should be Batman, but no. He’s a transitional figure. I’ll get into that in a few paragraphs. (By the way, I can’t call him “The Batman.” It just sounds silly to me. Though I’m okay with “The Flash.” Calling him “Flash” sounds silly. Maybe it’s the suffix “-man” that makes the definate article seem unnecessary? Hmmm…)

**Quick dorky aside: to any who object by saying "But Batman doesn't have super-powers," I disagree. Homey can dodge bullets and absorb inhuman amounts of punishment. By real-world standards, those are amazing super-powers. I don't care how long you "train," you can't do that. Comic standards say he's not super-powered. My standards say he most certainly does.

***Okay, there is a fifth type, almost never seen: the hero who dies but comes back a lot. The Immortal Man, Resurrection Man, Mr. I of the Great Lakes Avengers, those fellows. But they’re rare enough that I can skip ‘em here.

****I can see the book now: “He’s…Jesus-Man! Come to take a beating from the villains and then forgive ‘em! Read this month’s exciting martial arts issue: Kung Fu, Karate and Judo-Christian Ethics!”

Hm. I can’t imagine that’d sell big in the comic world (unless it kept my puns, of course).

Click here to read more!

Wednesday, February 23, 2005 going to be tricky

Perhaps other comic fans can appreciate this.

I just returned from an overnight trip to visit my out-of-town family. Mrs. Jerkwater did not accompany me, as she was stuck at work.

Before I left for home, my mother suggested that I help her rearrange the goods in her storage unit. Hardly a surprise, as every visit I make includes some variation on the moving of furniture. As I carried the heavy stuff and wheeled around dollies laden with goods, my mother asked if I would take with me my old comic collection, thereby freeing up space in the unit.

When I moved away, I had left my collection behind. Living in apartments didn't allow me to take them. But with the recent purchase of Jerkwater Estates, I now have room. In part to accommodate my mother’s wishes, but largely because my inner geek nearly went into cardiac arrest at the thought of regaining my old collection (from 1984 to the mid-nineties) and being able to re-read many lost treasures.

Here’s the tough part.

Jerkwater Estates is a good-sized dwelling, but it lacks either basement or attic. Storage is, simply, a pain. The four longboxes that comprise my post-1996 comic collection now sit in my office and pretend to be a cubic “table” of sorts. (The rest of the office is filled with bookshelves and my workstation, so I can’t make that much bigger.) And Mrs. Jerkwater is already displeased with those few ugly-ass longboxes being in plain sight.

Yesterday I smuggled into the house the Old Collection before she came home from work. Fourteen longboxes. Yes, fourteen. I stacked them in three rows, five high, in the rumpus room. She hasn’t noticed them yet.

I can foresee the look on her face when she encounters the three foot-by-five foot wood pulp mass in the corner. Her face will reveal a mingling of horror and a fervent wish that I collected stamps instead. She’ll try not to freak out too openly, knowing how much I love the dumb things, but I suspect her urge to keep a calm front will not succeed.

The phrase “holy crap” will, in all likelihood, be uttered at least six times within the first three minutes after discovery. Even to me, the sight of all those boxes is astonishing.

She’s a wonderful woman and accepts my mighty geek-osity, but she’s also fond of decorating and keeping a presentable house. Eighteen longboxes represent a decorating challenge the likes of which make even a strong man shudder.

Maybe if I throw a decorative blanket over them and proclaim it to be provocative sculpture?

Click here to read more!

Friday, February 11, 2005


The Jerkwater Family Cat was recently diagnosed with a benign thyroid tumor. The treatment for this tumor? An injection of radioactive iodine. From what they tell me, it’s highly effective. She got the shot, she’s home now. The side effect? Cat is radioactive for two weeks.

Sadly, not enough to give her giant bat-wings or have her mutate into a giant monster that rampages through Washington and can only be controlled through a psychic link to a ten year old Japanese boy in shorts named “Kenny.” Just enough to make her a bit unsafe, as well as her –ahem- byproducts.

Yes, I live in a house with radioactive cat crap.

I never thought I’d live to see such a day. “Gotta go home, clean out the radioactive cat box.” Gamma ray-emitting cat poop. Wow.

Fear her...for she is ATOMO: THE NUCLEAR CAT!

A strange world we live in, my brothers and sisters. A strange world.

Click here to read more!


A couple of random bits of jibba-jabba for the postin’:

I accidentally removed the previous post on Frank Miller by clicking on the wrong dang link on my homepage. Yep, I’m Mistah Technophile. Sorry about that. Fortunately, it was easy to restore. Man, was that weird. “Where the hell did my post go? It had good comments in it! AAGH!”

One of you in Internet-land pointed out that my critique of Frank Miller’s 300 may have been way off. Which would be embarrassing, because I took Miller to task for sloppy research. I’ve decided to actually (gasp) crack a book or two and see if my recollections of ancient Sparta are correct.

If I find I’m wrong, then I’ll post again to say “oops, never mind, I’m a dope” rather than redact my earlier post. It’s only fair. Erasing my mistake and any reference to it is just a wee more Stalinist than I fancy myself.

Which is why my accidental hiding of the post freaked me out. Makes it look like I was trying to squelch criticism. Nope, I’m just incompetent.

Another fellow commented on 300 and mentioned his own analysis of Miller’s strange sexual motifs. I read his critique.

It’s much better than mine and goes into greater depth. Check it out here and look for the entry dated 22.12.04, “Comics You Should Own.” Good stuff.

I picked up a western miniseries from Wildstorm called Desperadoes: Quiet of the Grave. It’s...okay. The characterizations are above average, but the pacing’s shot all to hell.

Old-timey comic guy John Severin provided the art. He has a very distinct style that’s hard to explain but completely unmistakable. There’s something about his basic line-work that’s different. And I like it. For a western, his style is near perfect. If it were up to me, I’d keep Severin drawing Desperadoes stories as long as he wants. Damn, he’s good.

It’s probably better that I don’t run a comic company, though. “This month, every comic must have dachshunds with jet packs in them! No exceptions! And would it kill the artists to put all the women in sombreros and the men in duck costumes? Come on!”

My efforts to create a comic for next year’s Small Press Expo have collided with the mighty stone walls of my laziness. Or my fear of failure. I’m not sure which. I never appreciated the sheer power of my sniveling cowardice until now. It’s kind of awe-inspiring.

Okay, I found something to at least partially validate my criticism of 300. I said that the Spartans mocking the Athenians as “boy-lovers” was nuts, given that the Spartan system of education was largely built on pederasty. A reader of the site suggested I was wrong, and that Spartan homosexual relations were between men of similar age.

Digging around, I found this:

“Young men undergoing training were isolated from the rest of society; it is perhaps not surprising that homosexual relations between boys and young men were regarded as standard. Indeed it was a mark of shame for a boy not to be courted by an older youth. The Spartans believed that homosexual relations between young men encouraged unit solidarity and battlefield valor, reasoning that a lover would surely not shame himself before his beloved by flinching back from the line.”
(Josiah Ober, “Fall of an Evil Empire,” MHQ: Quarterly Journal of Military History, Summer 1998.)

So it looks like my critic and I were both close but kinda wrong. There was indeed widespread pederasty, but it appears not to have been institutionalized, nor were the age gaps quite as large as I thought. I’ll keep looking around to see if I can get more solid information on the topic, to see if I'm full of crap or not. I still may owe Mr. Miller an apology.

That Ober article hammers home that no matter how you slice it, Sparta was a miserable blight on humanity. And the closer you look, the worse it gets. A military state established to keep down their massive serf population? A city-state notorious for stupidity, cruelty, and inflexibility of mind? Sounds like its destruction was a net plus for humanity.

Valentine’s Day approaches rapidly, and I must figure out what to do for Mrs. Jerkwater. Last February 14th I proposed, figuring the massive cheesiness of proposing on Valentine’s Day would be so overwhelming, she’d never suspect me capable of it. The cheese was indeed mighty, but it all worked out. Now she expects cheese. Delivering it will be difficult, for I am romantic as a tree stump, and not quite as sensitive.

I need to find skydiving mariachis, stat.

Click here to read more!

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Go Away, Scary Man: “That Yellow Bastard” and Frank Miller

The movie Sin City, based on Frank Miller’s set of miniseries, will drop on us in the next few months. I saw the first miniseries about ten years ago and was blown away, though I felt progressively less interested with each new story. The originality in art and style that made the first so breathtaking was understandably less so in succeeding stories. This isn't a complaint, just an observation. It’d be insane to expect that level of artistic breakthrough time and again. I stopped reading them a while back.

Out of curiosity surrounding the new movie, I recently picked up what I’d heard was the best Sin City story since the first: That Yellow Bastard. All I knew about it was that the black-and-white palette of the first three stories was disturbed by one new color, the bright yellow of the titular bastard. Not a bad idea, I figured.

The book is awful. Not in the “this sucks” way of awful, but in the “I think I need a shower and then sell this book on eBay” awful.

In case you’re wondering, yes, I’m about to blow the plot of That Yellow Bastard.

The Sin City series allows Miller to play with the darkest aspects of his mind and muck with his pet obsessions. The protagonist of the first story was a psychopath who went on a killing spree to avenge a murdered prostitute he loved. The second and third stories starred another “hero” of dubious sanity who loved a dangerous woman and went on revenge-driven killing sprees. Repetitive and a little disturbing, but nothing that rankled. They seemed unnecessary, but not gawdawful.

That Yellow Bastard reads like wank fuel for an S&M enthusiast.

Miller’s usual obsessions of sex, violence, pain, and corruption shot past “excessive” and well into the territory of “ooky.” The violence, almost all torture, is lovingly portrayed and never far from any given page. If no one is being tortured on page twenty, rest easy that by page twenty-four, somebody will be brutally beaten, whipped, or shot (to wound, not kill, and shot many times over). By the way, the person being beaten, whipped, or shot is usually tied up.


Then there’s the heroine of the piece. You’d have to search for a long time to find such a pure example of a sexual fantasy figure. She’s nineteen, a ridiculously-proportioned stripper, a literary genius, and totally devoted to Our Hero, a sixty-eight year old man who saved her life when she was eleven.


Oh, and to tie back to the S&M motif of the book: her stripper act has her dress in leather chaps and toss around a lariat, her titties jiggling for all to see.*

-cough, cough.-

There really isn’t much of a story to That Yellow Bastard beyond “Good Strong Man saves little girl, is tortured over and over, reunites with now-grown girl, is tortured again, girl is kidnapped by perv, girl is tortured, Good Strong Man kills perv, saves girl, then, in act of Noble Heroism, shoots himself to protect her from his enemies.” The story is interspersed with full-page pictures of Nancy’s titties and a couple of nice uses of the Sin City style of black-and-white art.

It’s a pure undiluted male fantasy pickled in sadomasochism. Romanticism taken off the deep end. An overheated and unsatisfying pile of crap.

This is not to dig on Miller overall, or even to say “I like his early stuff better.” I think he’s improved tremendously over the years. As a committed and passionate artist, he takes a lot of chances and puts a great deal of himself into his works. This leads to works of greatness like the first Sin City or 300.** It also leads to turds like Yellow Bastard.

To dig a bit deeper, what’s my problem with the book? Is it that the torture scenes or S&M motif is “too intense?” Is it that I’m simply disturbed by the content?

What bothers me is the lack of a point to any of it. Yellow Bastard reads like Mickey Spillane filtered through Hustler: tough guy porn.

What’s the appeal of the book? What is the reader supposed to like?

It can’t be the characters; they’re one-dimensional. It can’t be the plot, since it’s a rote sex fantasy/revenge story with absolutely no modifications or depth. It can’t be the art, since the previous three Sin City stories used the same art style, and the addition of a color isn't enough to merit a book. Ditto for the setting. It can’t be the story's wit, since none is present. Penetrating insight into the human condition? I’m gonna take a chance and say “nope” to that as well.

No, the only appeal of That Yellow Bastard is the visceral thrill of seeing men and women torturing or being tortured, and the joy of titties. Sounds like porn to me. How...boring.

Hopefully the movie will be good. Yellow Bastard is supposed to be only a subplot.

*Please excuse the vulgarity. No other word seems to capture Miller's stylings. When Frank's fantasy woman is shakin' her moneymaker on stage, the word "breasts" seems inaccurate to convey the image. "Boobs" would be too light-hearted a term. No, the correct word is "titties." To any and all offended, you have my sincere apologies.

**For those who’ve read 300, I gotta ask this. The Spartans make a couple of derogatory references to Athenians as “boy-lovers.” Spartans mocking other Greeks for having sex with young boys? What the hell? The Spartan military was based on institutional pederasty, fer cryin’ out loud. Miller mentions a couple of books at the end as sources of information for the battle of Thermopolae. Surely he read a few. At least one. I could understand if he avoided mentioning the boy-buggering built into the system, but to cast the Spartans as essentially homophobes? That’s just plain bizarre.

The fact that he kept referring to all the Greeks as “the only free men in the world” annoyed me, too. Sparta was the model of tyranny, dumbass. I just take it as either a deliberate anachronism or the “sophisticated” idea that the Greeks saw themselves as free simply because they weren’t under Persian control. Neither makes much sense, but I can see the Spartans telling themselves such rhetoric.

But the pedophilia digs? Come on. I mean...come on.

Click here to read more!