Filing Cabinet of the Damned

Sunday, April 23, 2006

What Separates Me from Pagan Godhood

A careful combing of the works of Ovid, Homer, Stirluson, and Marvel Comics has convinced me that only three things separate me from pagan godhood.

What keeps me from joining the Norse Gods in Asgard?

When Thor swings his hammer in a circle around his head, he can create whirlwinds, draw down thunder, breach dimensional barriers, and travel through time.

When I swing my hammer in a circle around my head, I annoy my wife and scare the cats. Not one whirlwind.

Stupid hardware store clerks! I specifically asked for the enchanted hammer that only the righteous could lift and that could...oh, never mind.

I lack the fuzzy slippers of the mighty god of wisdom, war, battle, and death, Odin.
How could I possibly have them? They are wrapped in mystery! Do they have vinyl non-skid soles? Or are they perhaps rubber? I do not and cannot know! And thus I am denied divinity!

Cruel fates!

I could never get away with wearing this hat. It's far too rock star for a puny mortal such as myself.

Were I to dare such a feat of fashion splendor, surely the jealous gods would strike me down as a threat to their fabulousness.

Tempt not the gods, my brothers. Do not attempt to wear such a hat.

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Saturday, April 22, 2006

The Champions Project: The Black Knight #4

The Black Knight #4: The Black Knight Must Die!

Splash page: In the wreckage of an apartment building, a scrawny blond-haired man dressed in surgical scrubs points at the reader. Though is face is mostly covered by his surgical mask, we can tell he's angry and more than a little crazy. Floating in the air around him are a half-dozen large firearms, all pointed at the reader too. The captions tell us that we're looking at Doctor Danger and the Invisible Gunmen.

Voice balloons appear in thin air near the guns. "Let's get him!" "Bloodbath, baby!" "Locked and loaded!" "Aaaahhm the human weeeeedgie!"

And one big voice balloon comes from the Doctor himself. "THE BLACK KNIGHT MUST DIE!"

On the next page, we see James Gates, the Black Knight, on the ground, trapped in the debris from the fight. His thought balloons fill us in. "Crazy...shooting up Baldwin Park...why can't I hit the gunmen..." He is not armed with the Ebony Blade. Instead he has his photonic shield and a lightsaber of sorts. "Computer systems in the armor gone all wonky..."

The guns open fire. The Black Knight raises his shield and saves himself, though the shield shorts out afterwards. Doctor Danger raises his arms in a strange pose and howls.

Gates then recognizes the patterns in the wonky sensor readings. The "doctor" is at the center of a strong, highly-focused magnetic field. "Oh hell yes," James thinks. He pushes a button on his arm.

The guns fall out of the air. Doctor Danger looks around, terrified.

The Black Knight gets up. "There are no invisible gunmen. Just magnetic fields and ventriloquism." Without ceremony, he belts the villain. Doctor Danger drops. The Black Knight shakes his head. "Weak."

As he crawls out of the wreckage of the apartment building, the Black Knight sees the Ebony Blade, half-withdrawn from its scabbard. He leaves it.

Later that day, Dr. James Gates commiserates with Jivraj Mehta in Jivraj's apartment over bad coffee. Gates is pointing at the screen of his laptop computer. "Look at the news. 'Black Knight Stops Gunman.' 'Black Knight Fights Loony.' Since I'm a black man, I have to be called 'the Black Knight,' don't I. Gotta make sure to work 'black' somewhere in there." Gates is wearing several necklaces and bracelets, all of weird design.

Mehta bites into a scone. "Isn't that what you call yourself?"

"Yeah, but I didn't tell anyone at the scene. They just dubbed me that. Couldn't be 'the White Knight' or the 'Shining Knight," oh no. Black Knight."

Jivraj thinks. "Why are you running around like a superhero anyway? Can't help your chances for tenure."

"It's either punch out super-lunatics or kick the hell out of the faculty." Gates gets up and goes to Jivraj's refrigerator. "Which would be--"

He opens the refrigerator door and the Ebony Blade falls out of it.

"Damn," he mutters.

We then move to a montage of the sword appearing in weird places in Gates's life. In the trunk of his car, in his bed, everywhere.

The montage ends with James alone in his apartment, the Ebony Blade on his table. His eyes are fixed upon it, deep concentration evident upon his face. Unlike before, when Gates's apartment was bare of ornamentation, the walls are now covered in pictures and crude geometric murals that mimic the patterns on his bracelets and pendants. Throughout the room are mystic trinkets from cultures around the world: African, Asian, Native American.

"You can't get away from it, Jim," comes a voice from behind.

Gates doesn't turn around. "Dane, why are you here?"

"I broke the curse twice. It always comes back."

Gates stands and faces the ghost of his cousin. "Merlin sent you."

"I understand you better than he does."

"Tell him to find someone else." Gates turns back to his table. The ghost of Dane Whitman disappears.

We then see Gates in his full armor, driving a rusty Toyota Tercel. His thought balloons clue us in: he can feel in his mind that Merlin will give him one last chance. To prevent other people from getting hurt, James has decided to give his answer at the Salton Sea. It's the largest lake in California, the product of an accident in 1905. Fed entirely by farm runoffs, the lake is saltier than the ocean, of unstable size, and unable to support life.*

The sun sets. On the shore of the dead lake, the Black Knight is ready, the Ebony Blade in his hand.

Merlin appears, his lime-green leisure suit glowing in the moonlight. "Come, my knight."

James Gates raises the sword to an on-guard position. "No."

Merlin's rage distorts the world itself. The lake bursts into flame. Ground buckles and ripples. And the ghosts of every single Black Knight in history materialize. Their armors and looks vary. All of them carry copies of the Ebony Blade.

"KILL HIM!" cries the sorcerer.

The Black Knight does his best to protect himself from the army of spectral Black Knights as the world buckles around him. Surfing the crest of a wave of rock, he slices at a pair of sixteenth century Black Knights. The blade passes through them. The only part of the ghosts that feels solid are the sword blades.

A few of their swords do find their mark, slicing open Gates's powered armor and cutting into the man himself. Yet he does not die. The protection of the Ebony Blade keeps him alive.

Merlin growls at him, "Over a thousand years and not one man has proven fit to be the Black Knight! Each one a waste!" Merlin then beckons down lightning. Struck, Gates falls. He rises, still alive.

The sorcerer's rant continues. "Whitman was too willful! Garrington too foolish! And you! You ungrateful child!" The flaming water of the Salton Sea takes on the shape of a humanoid creature, three hundred feet tall. The flaming water creature lashes at Gates. "I have made you a man! The song of battle echoes in your once-cowardly heart! And still you would deny me!"

The battle pauses for a moment. Gates is surrounded by the ghosts of previous Black Knights. For the first time we can see the faces of a few Black Knights. James sees Dane Whitman in the forefront of the ghosts. Whitman locks eyes with Gates and whispers, "Through me..."

A light bulb goes off in Gates's head.

He charges at the Black Knights, swinging his sword and letting out a battle cry. He passes through the ghosts. His sword swings accomplish nothing. But neither do theirs. They can cut him, they can inflict great pain upon him, but since he holds the Ebony Sword, he cannot die.

The Black Knight tears through the last of the ghosts and comes face-to-face with Leisure Suit Merlin. He raises his sword up high...

Merlin raises his hand to catch and shatter the blade...

And in a big splash page, James Gates, Ph.D., kicks the old man square in the nuts.

Merlin topples over. The ghosts of the Black Knights gasp in unison.

Gates towers over the fallen and injured old man. "Maybe I'm stuck with the sword and the curse. But I'm not stuck with you. I'm done."

He then faces the shocked ghosts. He cries out "It's OVER! THE BLACK KNIGHT IS DEAD!"

A chorus of ghostly cheering rises from the shores of the Salton Sea.

We then jump to a calm suburban morning. Darrell is reading the LA Times with his wife, Janice. "Got a call from Jimmy yesterday," Darrell says.

"How's he doing?" she asks.

We see the front page of the paper. It's Gates in a slightly modified version of his battle armor, using the Ebony Blade against the Bi-Beast in the middle of the LA Freeway. The headline reads "New Hero 'The Swordsman' Saves Commuters."

"He says he's doin' great."


To be concluded in The Champions #1, in a few months!

Come back next week for the next issue in the Champions Project, The Reject #1: The Demon in Cell Thirteen!

NOTE: The index to "The Champions Project" can be found here.

*Okay, okay, in the real world, the Salton Sea isn't dead yet, though its salinity is rising rapidly. In the MU, I'm declaring it to have already become a giant freakin' dead zone. Maybe that's where HYDRA dumped its munitions waste or Tony Stark's ill-fated waffle empire had to dispose of its petroleum-based faux-maple syrup.

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Thursday, April 20, 2006

Releasing the Inner Beavis

My inner Beavis must have its day.

Thus, I give you...The Atom.

Hehhehehehehehmmmheheheheh. He said...he said... hehehehehemmmheheheh!

And...uh...nice butt, dude. Yeah!


Maturity will return with later posts. Relative maturity, at least.

A disturbing confession: I have Beavis's hair. Seriously.

The only member of the comic blogosphere who's ever seen me in the flesh is Devon of Seven Hells. He could probably vouch for my Beavis-do, provided he remembers my brief visit to Big Monkey Comics.

The ladies, they love the Beavis 'do. The sniggering immaturity and nose-picking, not so much. But the hair? Drives 'em wild.

(I could also be described as a possessor of "the Terry Long look," but he's too dang skeevy. I'll stick with Brother Beavis. There's more dignity in the nose-picking couch-surfer than the creepy ex-professor-guy.)

Apologies to Dial B for Blog, from whom I copped the panel. He avoided the sniggering jokes. Me, I have to drag everything down and ruin it for everybody. Because that's the kind of man I am. Heh.

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Saturday, April 15, 2006

The Champions Project: Moondragon #4

Moondragon #4: I and Thou

Splash page: Moondragon kneels in tall grass over the body of Alice Coughlin. Alice has a long bar of metal protruding from her back. Blood covers her back and forms a pool around Moondragon's boots. Captions read: "Moments ago, Alice Coughlin was impaled. Nearly slain twice before by strange beings for reasons unknown, she has been under the protection of Moondragon. The Priestess of Pama employed Alice as a way to understand humanity."

Moondragon has a single thought balloon: "Disappointing."

Another caption reads: "Her understanding is incomplete."

On the next page we see the Laughing Killers from the previous issue emerge from the smashed-open entrance to the MegaMart. They are silent. Moondragon comes to her feet and assumes a fighting stance. When the nine Laughers see that Alice is dying, they turn from Moondragon and walk away into the parking lot. As they leave, Moondragon feels the psionic jamming from the attackers fade away.

She scowls. "I'll follow them later," she thinks. She then turns back to Alice. Alice has not yet died, but it won't be long. Frustration etches Moondragon's face. More than anything, she's burning with curiosity about who would go to such lengths to kill such a useless person as Alice Coughlin, fake psychic. Two armies of orangutans, a group of nine laughing middle-aged superpowered assassins...she had to know.

She places one hand upon Alice's bloodstained face. Before the woman dies, Moondragon decides, she will perform one last probe of the unremarkable woman's mind.

We see a small checkerboard montage of Alice's life: childhood, marriages, and so forth. No luck. "Alright," Moondragon thinks. "To the depths." And so she digs herself deep into the core of Alice's mind.

Double-page splash. Structured exactly like the double-page montage of Moondragon's life back in issue #1, we see the full scope of Alice's life.

A lot of it is less than pretty, and most of that is Alice's own doing. We see that Alice is greedy, a liar, and dishonest. Her life is pathetic, shallow, and venal. And yet it no less a treasure for all that. Despite her shabby character and foolishness, her life is beautiful. It has a value beyond price. And we see that though her story is different from Moondragon's, the feeling is the same.

We come back to Moondragon, kneeling beside Alice. Tears stream down the heroine's face. She still does not understand why Alice was attacked, but she now knows Alice as well as she knows herself. For the first time, Moondragon sees Alice as a person instead of a puzzle, an impediment, or a joke. The Priestess of Pama has discovered what humanity is, and that, despite her longstanding resistance to the notion, she is a part of it.

Using her telekinesis, she withdraws the spear from Alice's back and does what she can to keep her newfound sister alive.

Meanwhile, three police cars squeal into the parking lot of the MegaMart in front of the now-silent Laughing Killers. Six police burst out of the squad cars, guns drawn. They yell at the Laughers to halt.

All nine middle-aged killers begin to laugh again.

We jump back to Moondragon, lost in concentration. She's trying to suture together Alice's ruptured organs and stop the bleeding with her telekinetic powers. Large patches of dirt and blood stain her white sci-fi outfit. Grief and loss distort her face.

Cracks of gunfire draw her attention.

We see what she does: the police officers are being manhandled by the Laughing Killers. One has levitated a squad car nine feet in the air. Another is arcing lightning bolts from her body. A short man has lifted an officer above his head. Laughter barks across the asphalt.

Until a mud-caked sci-fi superheroine tears into them. Her kung-fu skills unloads generous portions of whoopassedness to two of the Laughers. They skid across the asphalt, losing a bit of skin. We see that beneath their skins is metal, blood, and a green viscous liquid.

Moondragon fights harder than we've ever seen her. Her psionic powers muted by whichever of the nine cyborgs is the psi-jammer, she has only her physical skills to take care of business. As she fights, dodging lightning bolts, punching men in the head, and flipping around, the captions tell us what she is thinking: I will protect my sisters and brothers. Every single one of them. I will die if I must, but I will not let a single one be hurt. Not one. Never. These sentiments are spread among panels of carnage.

The floating squad car hurls towards Moondragon. She dodges it as it smashes against the pavement. The car flies at her again, this time sideways. She leaps at the car and passes through the smashed-open driver's side window. Her momentum and the movement of the car help her pass through the smashed-open passenger window as well. She hits the ground, rolls, and comes up with a devastating punch into a cyborg woman's face.

As the cyborg woman collapses, Moondragon feels the psionic jamming stop. She hit the right one at last.

"Now, you animals," Moondragon declares. "It ends."

She levitates all nine cyborgs and smashes them together with a mighty WHOOM! She then "switches off" their minds and drops them to the asphalt.

One of the officers approaches her and asks her if she's okay. Moondragon looks back to the spot where Alice lay. "I don't know," she says.

We jump to a hospital. Moondragon has a few gauze pads and whatnot stuck to her face. She's in a waiting room, fear and impatience evident in her manner. As she paces, she barks at the hospital staff. (She's come to appreciate the value of human life--that doesn' t mean she's mellowed in the least.) She sits down and fumes. Her telepathic abilities have told her that the surgeons aren't done yet with Alice. They think she'll pull through, but aren't sure.

A middle-aged man takes a cup of coffee from the nearby machine and sits next to her.

It's John Massero.

"Alice Coughlin," he says. "Amazing."

Moondragon looks up in surprise. "Who are--"

"About thirty years ago, Alice turned down a boy named Warshaw for a date." Massero drinks his coffee. "He holds a hell of a grudge."

Moondragon rummages through her memories of Alice. "Charlie?"


The fury in Moondragon's eyes is enough to blister the page. "Charlie did this? Because of high school?"

"Yeah. He wanted to 'get even' with her before his big move."

Moondragon makes two fists. "Where is he?"

Massero smiles. "I'm going after him. You want in?"

We end on Moondragon and John Massero shaking hands. Oh yeah, she's in.

To be concluded in The Champions #1, in a few months!

Come back in two weeks for the next issue in the Champions Project, Mephisto #1: Robinson, the Man of Mystery!

NOTE: The index to "The Champions Project" can be found here.

Click here to read more!

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Post-Dorkpocalyptic Press: My 15 Titles

The fellows of Ye Olde Comic Blogge presented a challenge. They wrote:

Hypothetical situation: Due to diminished readership and rising paper costs, it has been decided only fifteen comic titles will be published from this day forward. You have been charged with the decisions of which titles shall be printed and what creative teams will be assigned to them.

Imagine it.

The Great Comic Cataclysm so long predicted has come to pass: The Dorkpocalypse.

We’ve finally Killed Comics.

Out of the chaos, Marvel and DC have been purchased by a single investor.

Me, Harvey Jerkwater! HOO-HAH!

I'm the god! I'm the god! I've got the keys to the kingdom! BWAHA-HA-HA-HAAAAA!!!

Ahem. Please excuse me. Power always goes straight to my head.

Back to the challenge.

As other folks have done, I’m imposing the “no indies” rule here. It's far too depressing to consider them gone as well. No, it’s more fun to romp in the four-color fields of the Big Two.

Hey, my blog, my interpretation.

In this crazy land of my imagination, Dark Horse, Oni, Image, AiT/PlanetLar, and their bretheren all thrive. They laugh and cavort around the corpse of the Great Two-Headed Beast, and the biggest selling comics of the day are the smash hits Elk’s Run, Action Philosophers, and The Adventures of Barry Ween, Boy Genius., wouldn't that be beautiful?

Anyway, to work!


In what is a likely futile attempt to reach out to non-comic readers, I would do a couple of things.

Step one: Broaden distribution as best I can. Perhaps it’s impossible, or at least impractical enough to kill my company in a month, but hey, it’s my damn fantasy. A mammoth internet presence, issues for sale hither and yon, all those expensive ideas I like to pretend I could make work.

As part of this notion, my “final fifteen” are partially shaped by my idea of what might sell to those not already soaked in the nerdy brine of comics. If the Dorkpocalypse happens, it’ll be because fanboys are no longer enough to support the industry. Catering strictly to us would be foolish. I'm gunning for the outside world. It adds a challenge to the game.

Step two: Destroy all continuity. Y’hear me? It’s all gone! All gone! Everybody’s starting at #1 with a clean slate. This doesn’t mean every comic has to start with an “origin” story. The All-Star line's approach of “hit the ground running” is acceptable. Also, mucking with the old stories and changing longstanding situations is just fine.

Step three: Expand the length of the individual issues. I’m adding backup stories, because I like them and because it might help sales. (This may be cheating.) The team books won’t have backup stories, since they need more space. A comic would clock in at about forty pages; the lead story would get thirty, the backup ten.

Step four: Tear down the DC/Marvel wall. It’s all one company and all one world now. No sense keeping things separate anymore.


1. Action Comics
Lead feature: Superman
Last son of a dead planet, last hope for the human race: Superman, the greatest superhero of all.
Written by: Grant Morrison
Art by: Frank Quitely

Yes, yes, a predictable choice. Hadda do it. All-Star Superman is a great freakin’ time, so I’m not messing with it.

Backup feature: Iron Man
To preserve his life, technological genius Tony Stark built a suit of high-tech armor. To make that life worth living, Stark pilots the armor in the cause of justice.

Written by: Karl Kesel
Art by: Leinil Francis Yu

Dammit, I loved Kesel’s writing, so he gets a job under my insane regime. Yu’s work on Superman: Birthright showed a flair for techno-doodlery. That’s the kind of cat I’d want on Iron Man.

2. Detective Comics
Lead feature: Batman and Robin
The roughest city in America is protected by a legendary pair of vigilantes. Crazed villains, deathtraps, gangsters, dark and grimy alleys, it's here.

Written by: Paul Dini
Art by: David Mazzuchelli

Dini’s past work with Batman was great. Mazzuchelli’s art is well-suited to the character. I probably couldn’t get him, but dammit, I’d try. Maybe the Dini-Mazzuchelli combo is a bad idea. But right now, I like it.

Backup feature: Daredevil
Everyone’s favorite blind lawyer vigilante, kicking ass and taking names in the Bronx. The series will be akin to Batman's, but with less detection and more boot-to-head.

Written by: Kelley Puckett
Art by: Jock

Puckett’s an underrated writer. I like him, consarn it. I think he’d bring a cool martial artsy vibe to Daredevil. Jock needs no explanation.

3. Captain America and the Falcon
New York City’s high-flying hero, the Falcon, makes a shocking discovery. While whooping villainous heinie, he finds a cylinder containing the first super-hero of all: Captain America, who’s been lost since 1945. The Falcon revives the Captain from suspended animation and they form a mighty duo.

The Falcon, the reincarnation of the Egyptian pharoah Khufu, feels a bond with the Captain, as both are warriors out of time. Best of friends, boldest and bravest of heroes, Cap and the Falcon are here to punch villainy in the nose!

Written by: Mark Waid
Art by: Joe Bennett

Waid’s previous work on Cap was great stuff. And I dug Bennett's work on the recently cancelled Captain America and the Falcon series, so I'm giving him the gig back.

Backup Feature: Shazam!
Teenage Billy Batson needs speak only one word to become Captain Marvel, the World's Mightiest Mortal. Mightier than Superman, younger than Spider-Man, the good Captain's trying his best.

Writing and art: Darwyn Cooke
The Big Red Cheese needs art and writing filled with charm and wonder. So I'd bring in Cooke. Light-hearted fun.

4. Wonder Woman
Diana, Princess of the Amazons, comes to the Man’s World to teach the Amazon way and bust skulls. Not necessarily in that order.

Written by: Steve Gerber/Mary Skrenes
Art by: Ryan Sook

What Gerber and Skrenes would do with Diana, I don’t know. But man, I’d love to find out. Sook’s work on Zatanna makes him a likely sort for the gig, I figure.

Backup Feature: Hawkwoman
Shayera Thal, a policewoman from the planet Thanagar, is in exile on Earth due to her resistance to the despotic rule of Onimar Byth. Using the wings and weapons of her position, she fights for justice on Earth and in space!

Written by: Andy Diggle
Art by: Pascual Ferry

Yes, I’m reuniting the team from Adam Strange: Planet Heist. Their collaboration was killer. More, please.

5. The Green Lantern Corps
Others participating in this meme have said that the idea of the GLC is a great one: space-spanning brotherhood of cops/knights with magic rings? Sweet. Chewing it over, I gotta say—the blogosphere is right. Consarn it, let’s make it work. GLC will focus on Earth’s GL, John Stewart, with lots of other GLs turning up and even starring once in a while.

Written by: Gail Simone
Art by: Steve Rude

Stories will range from earthbound mysteries to big outer space epics. I have faith that Simone could do a fine job with it. As far as Rude? He probably wouldn’t take the job, but if he did, oh my. Love that guy.

Backup: The Flash
Wally West is the second generation Flash. He’s not the serious hero his uncle Barry was. Throw in a hidden city of talking gorillas, time travel, a crazed Rogues’ Gallery, and Wally’s cracked love life, and it’s one heck of a ride.

Written by: Dan Slott
Art by: M.D. Bright

The Flash works best when handled lightly; thus, Slott. Bright is an underrated artist and I want him back in Big Time Comics.

6. The Amazing Spider-Man
Rebooting yet again. Think of it as “Ultimate Spider-Man version 2.0.” Spider-Man's story starts from zero, with a young Peter Parker just getting his powers.

Written by: Roger Stern
Art by: Ron Frenz

Roger Stern was one of my favorite Spidey writers, and Frenz a favorite Spidey artist. (Yes, I grew up in the eighties, why do you ask?) I think they’d produce a killer book.

Backup: The Hulk
RAAAR! Within us all dwells a raging monster. In the case of Bruce Banner, sometimes it gets out and breaks stuff. Purple pants and property damage a’plenty!

Written by: Grant Morrison
Art by: Norm Breyfogle

Oh why not. Breyfogle’s big sweeping style would mesh well with the Big Green Monstah. Can you imagine setting Morrison loose with the Hulk? Ye gods. He’s a tough character to write well. So let’s give him to the guy most likely to do something wacky and cool.

7. Supergirl and the Legion of Superheroes
The heroes of the thirtieth century have found their inspiration: a time-displaced Supergirl. Space-spanning adventure, soap opera out the kazoo, love, hate, betrayal, things going “boom,” Supergirl and the Legion is crammed with all of it.

Written by: Allan Heinberg
Art by: Amanda Conner

I don’t read Heinberg’s stuff, but the blogosphere has spoken and pronounced him great. This book sounds like a good fit for him. And from what I’ve seen, Conner’s art would fit the stories well. So there ya go.

8. X-Men
The standard X-squad: Cyclops, Phoenix, Wolverine, Storm, Beast. You know the drill. Angst! Alienation! Action! Tormented love! A bald guy!

Written by: John Ostrander
Art by: Jim Lee

Ostrander’s shown an excellent grasp of character, which any X-writer needs. He’s imaginative and willing to expand the envelope of superhero books. So hell yes, he’s hired for the X-Men. As for Jim Lee? Well, let’s give the kids what they want.

9. Justice League
Roster: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Captain America, Iron Man, The Falcon.
The world’s greatest super-team. All for one, one for all, and so forth.

Written by: Kurt Busiek
Art by:
George Perez
Busiek would kill with this team and the free rein he’d have. This is the Big Action Comic of the line. Perez? The man's damn good with team books, so why not give him the Big Team Book?

10. The Defenders
Roster: Dr. Strange, She-Hulk, Big Barda, Plastic Man, Green Arrow, Spider-Man, Vibe.*
The Defenders are the polar opposite of the JL: a disorganized team of heroes who don’t take orders well and hold together because they need each other. They bringeth Two-Fisted Action and buckets of The Wacky.

Written by: J.M. DeMattis and Keith Giffen
Art by: Kevin Maguire

This light-hearted book will reunite the Bwah-ha-ha team of DeMattis, Giffen, and Maguire. Damn, I love their stuff.

11. Fantastic Four
The world's foremost explorers of the unknown, a family of scientists and adventurers, the idols of millions: The Fantastic Four.

Written by: Walt Simonson
Art by: Tom Grummett

Simonson's FF run was sheer freakin' gold. Since he's on tap for another book as well (see #12), Grummett will handle the art duties. I have a big warm spot for Grummett's art. Good solid stuff.

12. Warlord
Pilot Travis Morgan’s plane crashes north of the Arctic Circle. Lost and freezing to death, he stumbles across a cave. Morgan steps into the cave for shelter and instead plunges down, down...and lands in another world. Travis Morgan is trapped in Skartaris, the world on the inside of the Earth’s surface, where dinosaurs live, magic thrives, and danger lurks at every turn.

Writing and art by: Walt Simonson
Oh hell yes. Sword-n-sorcery. Dinosaurs. Machine guns. Lost worlds. This is right in Simonson’s wheelhouse. Warlord used to be DC’s top-selling title. I betcha it’d stand a good chance of making a comeback. Why? Sword-n-sorcery. Dinosaurs. Machine guns. Lost worlds. Hoo-hah!

Backup feature: Wolverine
The X-Men’s big name in solo adventures. Ninjas, superspies, sex, violence, all the good stuff. Give the readers what they want!

Written by: Doug Moench
Art by: Bryan Hitch

Moench did fine work in a similar vein for Moon Knight and Master of Kung Fu. Let's give the old pro a shot. Hitch's art is frabjabulous, and I had to put him somewhere. The semi-realism of Wolverine's milieu should suit Hitch's style.

13. Jonah Hex
Wearing a gray hat and a half-scarred face, the bounty hunter Jonah Hex wanders the Old West, making as honest a living as he can in a corrupt world.

Writing and art by Howard Chaykin
Hex is about cynicism with a hint of dark humor. Pull a dump truck of cash up to Chaykin’s house and I’m sure he’d do this book justice.

Backup feature: Sgt. Rock
World War Two action from the grunt's perspective. Nothin's ever easy in Easy.

Written by: Garth Ennis
Art by: Steve Dillon

(With stories by Joe Kubert whenever he damn well wants to draw one.)
Ennis loves his war comics. Dillon not only has a fine history of working with Ennis, he’s one of the best artists for regular people in the business. How could they not get Sgt. Rock?

14. Vertigo
An anthology series of more serious comics. Creator-owned work.

Written by: Steve Gerber/Mary Skrenes, Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Darwyn Cooke, Mike Mignola, etc.
Art by: various

This would be the slot for Hard Time, but I bet that Gerber and Skrenes’s upcoming conclusion will be too good to mess with. Instead, the first arc in Vertigo is whatever those two feel like making. Later stories will be by whomever feels like producing one, with a nod towards the old Vertigo crew.

15. Static
Working-class kid Virgil Hawkins is in the wrong place at the wrong time. Mutagenic gas is released in his vicinity. But something unexpected happens: he gets electrical powers. To protect the city of Newark from the monsters spawned by the same gas that created him, he becomes the superhero Static.

Written by: Dwayne McDuffie
Art by: John Romita, Jr.

The original run of Static was real good. Then throw in the character’s recognition value courtesy of the cartoon, and you’ve got a comic that I would predict to be a top seller, given a decent marketing push. McDuffie co-created and wrote the early Statics, so I’d love to get him back. (I think he may even own the property, so all the more reason.) Romita’s art is always kickass. (Original Static artist John Paul Leon would be most welcome if Romita didn’t work out.)

Backup feature: Teen Titans
The sidekicks and underage heroes band together in the cause of awesomeness and coolosity.

Written by: Gail Simone
Art by: Mike Wieringo

Robin, Cyborg, Raven, Starfire, Kid Flash, Beast Boy
I heard good things about Simone’s run, I dug Villains United, and her many blogosphere postings show her to be a good egg. So dang it, Gail gets a second gig. Ringo’s art has a cartoony flavor that would sit well with the Titans, or so I believe.


Man, this is tough. A lot of big favorites of mine got left out. This lineup shuts out piles of great writers and artists, leaving them on the side of the road to curse my name. I kept trying to figure out where to put guys like Priest, Byrne, DeFalco, and Englehart. Sorry, guys. Given that my reorg would, of course, be a smashing success, all of those folks would be hired immediately for new titles.

*Yes, Vibe. Really. Vibe would fit right in with my version of the Defenders, meng! Scipio of the Absorbascon has convinced me of his value as a character. Besides, he’d fit right in with the team I’ve chosen.
Every super-team needs a breakdancer. And you know the interplay between Paco and Peter Parker would be schweet.

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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The Beauty of Rough Edges: The Women of The Spirit

The cartoon sexuality of Red Sonja got me thinking about which women in comics appealed to yers truly.

Most comic book women were designed to appeal to men. Despite this, they almost always fail to leave any sort of lasting impression.

Then there are the women featured in Will Eisner's classic The Spirit.

One reason for their lasting appeal lay in Eisner's art. His cartoony style allowed for a range of expression and emotion that gave the women distinct flavors. Not only did they simply look different from one another (a rarer condition for comic women than you'd think), they carried themselves differently.

Distinguishing one Jim Lee replicant-girl from the next is nigh-impossible unless you go by costume or hair color. Distinguishing Ellen Dolan from Nylon Rose from P'Gell? No challenge at all.

Eisner patterned many of his women on movie stars of his day. The brilliance of this plan was that it ensured each woman was beautiful in her own distinct way. Silk Satin was Katharine Hepburn; Sand Saref was Lauren Bacall; P'Gell was Marlene Dietrich. The cartoony abstraction of his art made the effect work, as he took only the rough outlines of the actresses and the essence of their appeal. Readers respond to the qualities of the actress, but aren't pulled out of the story by thinking, "hey, that's Rita Hayworth."*

Consider that women designed to be sexually alluring fill the pages of many modern books. (Hey, an entire genre of comics are known, at least in my own head, as "Hello, Boobies!" comics.) Also, soap opera elements continue to abound in the four-color world. Despite both of these factors, romance itself in mainstream comics is rare. In The Spirit, romance was a common subject. The titular hero's ongoing courtship of Ellen Dolan was a charming story element, and it was frequently complicated by the presence of other women vying for the hero's affections. (Though it must be noted that none of the others stood a real chance. The Spirit was a man who loved women, but he was not a cad.)

The romance was often fun, as well. The interplay between the Spirit and the women in his adventures tended to be playful and more than a little charged with sexual energy. Has there ever been a masked hero who has been portrayed covered in lipstick marks than the Spirit? That man's been kissed more than a president's ass.

Romance infused one of the most famous scenes in The Spirit's history, the climax of the first Sand Saref story. We read how Sand and Denny Colt grew up together in a rough part of Central City. Then one night Denny's uncle, a palooka working his first burglary, gets caught by a police officer and his best friend: Sand's father. To avoid capture, one of the thieves shoots Officer Saref. A few days later, Denny's uncle cannot take the regret and kills himself.

Out of the tragedy, Denny is driven to a life of law and order. Sand spurns that same law and order as false promises. He grows up to become a detective and later the Spirit. Sand grows up to become a criminal and a spy. After the war, she returns to Central City, involved in a deal for a secret chemical weapon. The Spirit intervenes, and the story ends thusly.** (click on the picture to enlarge)

The scene is cheesy, sure. Affecting and memorable as well.

Eisner wasn't afraid to have characters fall in love or show affection. Neither action is or was common in other comics, despite their value in developing characters and heightening reader interest. Placing his women in romantic lights, Eisner enriched and broadened their characters as well as increased their appeal.

It also made the Spirit himself a more involving character, but I'm writing about the ladies today.

The women of The Spirit demonstrated many sides of themselves within their stories. One issue centered on Silk Satin and her newly-adopted daughter, Hildie. Within a very few pages, Silk is shown as a mysterious spy, a rival for the Spirit's affections, a beautiful woman with a hint of goofyness, a doting mother, and, in the story's climax, a stone-cold killer when called upon to protect her child.

Her character varies within the story but within a believable range. That she can go from amusing come-ons to the Spirit to capping goons from the shadows makes her feel more real, more memorable.

The modern comic conception of alluring women is rooted in simple physical aspects: big boobs, tight clothing, long legs. Most four-color women are an undifferentiated blur of fantasy elements, designed to appeal to one's glands. These characters tend to be simple and free from angularities. Smooth as billiard balls, their characters slip from your mind because there's nothing to hold onto.

Eisner's approach was that a woman's attraction is in large part rooted in her personality, in who she is beyond the pretty face. Their rough edges and sharp angles make them easy to grip in your mind.

The Spirit's women linger in your head, each one her own character, reaching and inflaming different parts of your mind. Just like the real thing.

Will Eisner must have known and appreciated women. He created quite a batch of great ones.


*Photo-referencing pulls me out of stories something wicked. "Hey look, it's Clint Eastwood! No, wait, he's Jonah Hex. No, wait, he's Clint Eastwood playing Jonah Hex!" Gack.

**A young Frank Miller later swiped the story and adapted it to one of his first issues of Daredevil, changing Sand Saref into his signature character, the assassin Elektra. This is not a dig on Miller. It's a good story to use, he made it his own in Daredevil, and dang it, swiping from Eisner shows good taste. I only bring it up because Miller has credited the Sand Saref story in interviews.

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Monday, April 10, 2006

The Appeal of Red Sonja, Courtesy of Beverly Hills 90210, Lisa Simpson’s Bad Boy Crush, and the Taming of the Hottie

Back in the Bad Old Days, I had a couple of friends who dug Beverly Hills, 90210. Said girls were most fond of Luke Perry and his smouldering misunderstood rebel character, Chad Squarejaw or Hairdo Stevens or whatever it was. I didn’t understand his particular appeal, but then again, I didn’t have to.

Then after a particularly insightful episode of The Simpsons, an idea came into my noggin. Lisa Simpson developed a crush on a Bad Boy, and I got it.

I asked said friends if the appeal of Hairdo Stevens was the fantasy of “he’s so sad and tormented and alone…but if he met me, it’d be different. I could tame him and make him happy!” They nodded, a little ashamed.

(I then regaled them with the melonheaded notions about girls that danced about the heads of teenage boys, and they felt better. We drew comfort from the fact that the genders are all too alike in their gifts of stupidity and self-delusion.)

Why bring this up? Because I just saw an article on Newsarama plugging the latest issue of Red Sonja, the popular cheesecake sword-n-sorcery comic. Next to it ran a big ol’ banner ad for the comic. In both, Sonja, as per usual, was wearing a bikini made of quarters, posed in a way to combine sex and violence as much as possible. And I thought about ol' Luke.

Red Sonja, the She-Devil with a Sword, has had a bunch of series over the years. Why does she keep coming back? Granted, “hot redhead in wee metal bikini” is a concept that kinda sells itself, but lots of cheesecakey characters disappear without a trace.

Why Sonja? Because of the Luke Perry Effect.

A key aspect of Sonja’s character is that she was badly scarred in her past, and thus will never give herself to any man who cannot defeat her in battle. Thus, like Chad Squarejaw, she walks the lands, righting wrongs and slaying bad guys, forever alone. A smouldering misunderstood rebel character…

“But with me, it’d be different…I could tame her,” thinks the horny fanboy. “I’m not like those guys…she’s unspoiled by the brutish men of that time…if she came here, she would so dig me.”

To convert my notion to math: Red Sonja = Luke Perry + Boobs - Fashion Sense + Stabbing * (Virgin/Whore) ^ Ass-shots.

Yeah, it's all kind of obvious and I'm treating this like a brilliant revelation. Sorry 'bout that.

...ya know, I used to be a fencer. I am now kicking myself for not forcing everyone at the fencing school to address me as "Harvey Jerkwater, He-Devil with a Sword."

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Saturday, April 08, 2006

The Champions Project: Moondragon #3

Moondragon #3: “Slaves of the Laughing Death!”

Splash page: Moondragon, in her full science-fiction regalia, reclines on a ratty couch in a nondescript living room. Her feet are on a coffee table. Nearby is Alice Coughlin, leaning forward in her favorite easy chair, peppering Moondragon with questions.

"You were in the Avengers? Is Thor as hot as he looks on teevee? You grew up in outer space? What's it like to read minds? Does Hawkeye have the tightest butt, or is it the Falcon? Do you have a jet pack? What's being an Avenger pay?"

Accompanying the chatter is Moondragon's train of thoughts, shown in balloons around the page. "I could snap her neck. Or one quick blow to the temple. Burn out her brain with a psychic bolt, perhaps?" Yes, she's thinking of all the delightful ways to kill this annoying woman.

On the next page, we see a car driving along an Indiana road, with nothing but cornfields as far as the eye can see. The driver of the car is laughing. He sees another man on the side of the road. The man on the side of the road is also laughing. The driver pulls over and the man on the side of the road gets in the car. They drive away.

We hop back to Moondragon, who is stalking back towards her spaceship, the Sensia. Moondragon fumes that the only way Alice could be related to the end of the world is that she makes armageddon seem a good idea. Woodrow Wilson Jones was insane, fixated on the annoying Alice, and conflated her with the end of the world. Simple as that. Mystery solved.

Meanwhile, Alice trails behind her, still spouting questions. "Have you ever saved the world? Can you shoot laser beams out of your eyes? Why'd you come to Earth? To save me from the killer monkeys?"

At this, Moondragon wheels and points a finger at Alice. "NO! I DID NOT COME TO EARTH TO SAVE YOU FROM KILLER MONKEYS! BE SILENT!"

Alice looks indignant. "Then why did you come to Earth, Miss High and Mighty Superhero?"

Moondragon furrows her brow. "I came because..." Moondragon stops and taps her foot in impatience. "One last time," she thinks. She peers into Alice's mind, just a quick glance. We see it as a smear of images: a little girl's face, a house, a tree, a man's face, assorted bits of everyday life. "Hm," she thinks. "Follow me," she says. Moondragon enters the spaceship and motions for Alice to join her.

Inside the Sensia, Alice is flabbergasted by the alienness of the ship. Moondragon keeps a psychic "ear" open for Alice's reaction to learn how a normal human would react. She invites Alice to join her in a psychic union, where she could show Alice a vision of her homeworld.

Alice demurs. "Psychic? You mean, for real?"

"Yes. Not like you."

Alice fails to register the insult and accepts the offer. Annnnnd...zango! We see the two of them in ghostly forms on the rocky surface of Titan, standing in shallow pools of liquid methane. The atmosphere is a hazy orange. The giant face of Saturn covers most of the sky, its rings cutting giant arcs across the expanse.* "This is Titan," Moondragon states.

Then their ghostly forms sink through the surface and pass into the technological wonderland carved into the rock below. "This, Alice, is my true home." Alice lets out only a small "woooo!"

Meanwhile, we see a middle-aged woman ride along a suburban road on a bicycle. She is laughing hysterically as she passes a sign saying "Welcome to South Bend." In another part of town, a laughing middle-aged man gets off of a train.

Moondragon and Alice leave the Sensia. Alice's mind is blown. Moony is observing the results and thinks to herself, "Disoriented, as expected. Hm. An odd fold in her ninth subconscious refractor. Interesting. What about intra-human contact? Yes." She then opens her mouth. "Alice, may I drive your car?"

Alice tries to speak. "Whuh?"

"Your car. May I drive it? I...have never piloted such a vehicle before."

"Sure!" a woozy Alice responds.

We find that while Moondragon was not lying, she was able to cadge enough information from Alice's mind that "experience" was unnecessary. Instead, Moony takes advantage of Alice's confusion to drive her to the local MegaMart.

"You know, my daughter Shelley works here," Alice notes.

"Really?" Moondragon pretends to be surprised. "Perhaps you can say hello. I'd like to see how normal humans go about their lives and conduct their business."

The interior of the store stretches as far as the eye can see. Clothes, groceries, consumer goods of all types explode across the page in a riot of color. People stare at the tall bald-headed woman in the weird costume and cape as said woman strolls past cereal boxes, bicycles, and firearms.

Meanwhile, a cluster of seven laughing men and women, none younger than forty-five, enter the MegaMart.

"OH GOD, GET OUT OF HERE!" comes a cry from off-panel. Alice and Moondragon look to see a pregnant young woman behind the photo developing counter. She looks like a younger Alice, with smaller hair.

We see an ugly reunion between a clinging and aggravating mother and her estranged daughter. Moondragon stands aside, observing the family drama. Shelley's anger at her mother at first seems extreme, until Alice launches into a tirade of self-pity and accusations. Both Moondragon and Shelley wear disgust on their faces. Mankind, Moondragon decides, has very little of value to teach.

The laughing people take positions around the MegaMart, keeping their eyes on Moondragon and Alice. They're suppressing their laughter to light chuckles.

Alice's daughter yells at her mother to get out. "You're not getting near my son, and you're not going to screw up my life again!"

Before Alice could yell back, a kitchen knife flies past her face. Laughter echoes throughout the MegaMart. Moondragon grasps her head in surprise; psionic jammers are filling the area with "mental white noise," preventing her from using her psionic powers.

Nine men and women emerge from between the rows of goods. Several are armed. All are at least forty-five years old. All are now laughing at the top of their lungs.

A laughing woman charges at Alice, a fireplace poker in her hand. Moondragon recovers herself in time to grasp the assailant's wrist and throw her. Moondragon then leaps a few feet into the air and kicks an attacking laughing man in the head.

It does little good. Moondragon notes that the man's head reacted like it was made of metal. "Robots?" she thinks. Shelley ducks behind her counter.

Two laughing men stand side-by-side and point at Moondragon and Alice. Metal racks and cans fly at the two women. Grabbing Alice and leaping aside, Moondragon avoids the barrage. Shelley lets out a yelp as the debris slashes apart the far side of her counter.

For a few pages, we see Moondragon and Alice dodging and darting through the MegaMart, avoiding the dangers of the laughing killers and their strange powers. Some hurl fire, others use magnetism, others are just plain strong.

Moondragon and Alice reach the front of the store and find that the glass doors are shut and locked. Moondragon picks up a metal sign and hurls it through the glass.

The two burst into the open ground and run. They bolt into a grassy area.

We hear two sounds: "zzzzip! thup!"

Alice falls over.

Moondragon stops and looks down. Alice is face down in the tall grass, a long and wide metal rod projecting from her back. Dark maroon blood spreads out from the injury. If she's not dead yet, it won't be long.

The Dragon of the Moon thinks, "How rude."

To be concluded next Friday in Moondragon #4, “I and Thou”

NOTE: The index to "The Champions Project" can be found here.

*I'm pretty sure you can't see Saturn from Titan's surface, the atmosphere is too thick. But it'd make for a killer visual, so I'm saying you can.

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The Champions Project: The Black Knight #3

The Black Knight #3: Hell Goes Round and Round

The story opens in Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers are losing to the Washington Nationals.* We jump into the stands and see, in the cheap seats, Dr. James Gates, the Black Knight. Next to him is his friend Darrell. Darrell is much better dressed than James, due to his having a regular job and a decent paycheck.

James tells Darrell that “I inherited a couple of things from my father. I got high blood pressure, bad teeth, and an undying love of the Dodgers.”

Darrell laughs and asks about the elder Mr. Gates.

Before James can answer the question, he sees a Dodger baserunner get picked off in a steal attempt. He yells “AW, COME ON!” Then he sees a man seated two rows in front of him yelling at a boy. The boy begins to cry. Gates fumes. And fumes. And fumes.

Splash page: The pipecleaner-thin physics professor leaps from his seat and tackles the yelling man. Everyone looks horrified. Gates is insane with rage. He craves to spill the man’s blood amongst the peanut shells and plastic beer bottles on the floor of Chavez Ravine.

Darrell pulls his loony friend off the yelling man and hustles him to the exit before security can arrest them both. They drive away, Darrell berating his friend. “You’ve cracked, cuz! Too much time in the lab! You were never like this in school! You need to get the hell away from here!”

James pulls out a small blue vial wrapped in twine and drinks its contents. He then calms down and admits that Darrell is right.

The ghost of Dane Whitman leans forward from the backseat of the car. “It’s not because of Los Angeles, James. You know that.” As James tries to ignore the ghost, he pulls out a pendant of strange shape and clutches it.

Darrell notices the action. "Jimmy, you gone and found Jesus?"

James opens his palm and shows the pendant. It's a ball made up of pebbles and a small coin with arcane characters scratched onto it, all fused into a single glob. "' helps calm me down."

Darrell laughs. "A magic charm, right? Janice has one kinda like it. Lookin' into the occult now? Man, you are crackin' up, cuz. You get that from the bruja in San Dimas?"

Gates nods and changes the subject. “There’s a company in San Diego that’s been after me for a year. Thinkin' about lookin' into it.”

San Diego! Perfect. Jimmy, you gotta at least check it out. Get away. Stop bein' a doormat for once in your life and take charge.” Darrell pauses. "Make that twice. Hoo, did you see the look on that guy's face when you jumped him? I knew it was just a matter of time 'til you snapped, Jimmy. Though I always thought you'd've flipped out back in high school."

The ghost says nothing.

We jump to San Diego, in a small office tower. It's the headquarters of Initech, a successful new high technology firm. James is in an interview with Louisa O’Donnell, head scientist. They’re walking through a massive lab, with all sorts of giant comic book doohickeys, dinguses, and thingy-mo-bobs throughout the lab. He asks her, “So…your focused plasma project, that’s—“

“Right up your alley, Mr. Gates,” she answers. “It’s based off of the same research you were pursing at Boomtown.” An anti-grav platform the size and shape of a surfboard floats by, with tiny dancing robots on it. She leads him into Conference Room A.

Conference Room A is filled with men in yellow jumpsuits and bucket helmets sitting around a long table. James's eyes grow wide. All he can manage to say is "Uh..."

One of the yellow-suited men stands and offers James his hand. "Dr. Gates! Welcome! We are all admirers of your research, particularly your recent work in Chicago." Yes, Initech is a subsidiary of everybody's favorite would-be world conquering army of scientists, Advanced Idea Mechanics (more commonly known as AIM).

Another yellow-suited man speaks up. "Look, you're not up for tenure at Caltech. The best you can hope for is to float from job to job for the rest of your life. AIM offers something better. Join us and be a part of something. Change the world."

James clenches his teeth. The bloodlust boils up in him again. "Don't you mean conquer it?"

The room bursts into laughter. James grows even more angry. O'Donnell explains that AIM is no longer interested in world conquest. "We are a place where scientists are respected and well-compensated, not cogs in an industrialist's machine or forced to teach slack-jawed teenagers.

"Why don't we let the chairman talk it over with you," she says.

The massive oak doors of the meeting room open. In floats MODOK, the Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing.

"Good afternoon, Doctor Gates..."

James quakes with rage as he hears one of the AIM scientists chortle and say, "C'mon and be a buckethead! We got dental!"

We jump to that night. The Black Knight is in his full armor, complete with sword and other goodies, atop a high-rise across the street from the Initech building. "Some job interview. MODOK? AIM? Oh hell no. A secret army and its monster leader? Time to bust up whatever crazy scheme they're working on."

He aims his wrist-mounted rocket grapnel launcher at the Initech building. Before he fires, he notices the ghost of Dane Whitman on the rooftop with him. Both he and the ghost are silent. Gates turns back towards the Initech building and admits to himself, "If I don't hit somebody soon, I'm gonna explode."

With a whoosh, a clink, and a whuzzawhuzzawhuzza, he zips across the gap between the buildings. A thin wedge of energy from his photonic shield cuts open a hole in a window, and he slips inside. A silent page of the Black Knight skulking follows. He uses the jet-dart grapnel, the leaping capabilities of his armor, and the sensors in the suit to avoid security and deep into the Initech tower.

He reaches the main lab. "Enough subtlety. Let's break stuff," he thinks. The Black Knight draws the Ebony Blade and cuts open the massive steel doors in a single swing.

Inside the lab is MODOK, his eyes fixed on the Knight. "Doctor Gates, there is no need for this." A dozen AIM troopers emerge from the shadows and point their rifles at Gates.

Gates feels a rush of righteous fury build in his chest. "Oh, I think there is." He leaps towards MODOK.

Bullets ricochet off his armor and shield as he Brings the Pain to the lab and its residents. His thought balloons and behavior show that he is trying to avoid killing the bucketheads or MODOK. He's using the flat of the blade, the strength of the armor, and sundry weapons he cadged from Boomtown. How much he's in control of himself is debatable.

As the Smackdown progresses, MODOK yells that he had scanned James's mind during the interview. "I know what you are, James."

A charge of psionic energy bursts from MODOK's headband. The Black Knight bursts out of a window of the tower. He plunges five stories onto the asphalt of the building's parking lot. Due to the sword's protection, he is able to get right back up.

MODOK floats down from the building. "Doctor Gates, I can feel the righteous anger in you. You're certain that you fight for justice."

The Black Knight charges MODOK, only to be telekinetically hurled into a nearby pickup truck.

The Knight gets up and raises his sword. "You are a villain. You want to--"

MODOK interrupts. "Develop better ways to mine platinum? Create nanotech to replace damaged nerve cells? Make a great deal of money?"

Gates lowers the blade. "What?"

"We're out of the world-conquering business, James." MODOK levitates his way back into the building. "We'll keep your resume on file."

The Black Knight stands alone in the parking lot of Initech, confused. Then the ghost of the first Black Knight and the old man in the leisure suit emerge from the shadows. The ghost speaks up. "Thou'rt a coward and a weak reed shouldst thou remainest here! The blade itself sings of vengeance in your heart! Slay the monster!"

James ignores the ghost and looks at the old man. "Then what? Another fight? Another killing? Another cause I know to be just and beautiful in my heart because it lets me hit people?"

The old man speaks. "Listen to the words of your master, the sword's forger, the sorcerer Merlin. Black Knights have risen and fallen, and I have guided them all. Only I know the emptiness in your heart and the rage that can fill it. I can lead you to glory."

Gates takes off his helmet. "Fighting without end? Lost in anger forever?"

The ghost says, "Hold thy tongue! Merlin is wiser than thou knowest!"

James approaches them both. "Why me? Why did you curse me?"

Merlin replies, "That is not for you to know."

The Black Knight raises his sword before the two figures. Without a word, he plunges the blade into the asphalt of the Initech parking lot.

James Gates walks away. Merlin's own rage grows. The mightiest sorcerer on Earth will not stand for such disrespect.

To be concluded next Friday in The Black Knight #4: “The Black Knight Must Die!”

NOTE: The index to "The Champions Project" can be found here.

*Go Nats! WOOO!

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Friday, April 07, 2006

Deadlines and Steam-Powered Robots

Okay, okay, okay, I'm a slackass.

I thought I'd be able to knock out my workmanlike issue summaries on Fridays. That's not gonna work, what with me being gainfully employed and all.

From here on out, new "issues" of The Champions Project will be posted on Saturdays. The Black Knight #3 and Moondragon #3 will be up tomorrow.

In the meantime, here are a bunch of old-school robots.

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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Passing Thoughts

Do you realize that not one superhero has a costume that includes a hat like the Buckingham Palace guards?


The latest Spider-Man costume redesign should have included one.

"It's Spider-Man! And he's wearing a two-foot-tall fuzzy hat! RUN!"

How much would that rock?

The answer: a lot.


A bad idea, but hey: given that the big Marvel Comics crossover event this year is called "Civil War," wouldn't the Marvel Earth later be infested with Superhero Civil War re-enactors?

"This is Steve, from Minnesota. He'll be Wolverine. We've duct-taped some kitchen knives to his forearms, so be careful, they're sharp."

"Hey, Murray! Your costume isn't authentic! Iron Man's armor didn't have hip-pods during the war!"

"Honey, you know I'd love to fix the deck, but you know that this weekend the fellas are re-enacting the Battle of Issue Six, and I have to be there! I'm Graviton!"

Oh yeah...that'd be annoying.


From the Nerd Herd, a recommendation: The next Essentials volume that should be put together is "the Essential Adam Warlock." It'd contain:

Fantastic Four #66-67
Thor #165-166
Marvel Premiere #1-2
The Power of Warlock #1-8
The Incredible Hulk #176-178
Strange Tales #178-181
Warlock #9-15
Marvel Team-Up #55
Avengers Annual #7
Marvel Two-in-One Annual #2

That’d give you the three important stages of the character:

--Adam Warlock as the blank slate known as “Him,” when he was a superhero Frankenstein.

--Adam Warlock as the hero of "Counter-Earth," when he was a superhero Jesus. The parallels were naked, and his story came complete with crucifixion and resurrection. Yes, really.

--And the Adam Warlock of the legendary Starlin run, which was a damn fine slab of comics.

The volume would be 29 issues of regular comics, plus two annuals. I think stories were short during much of this run (17 pages each, not 22 or 26), so it'd be a long-ish Essential, but it'd fit into one volume.

Man, that'd be schweet. Ranging from Big Kirby Action to Severely Whacked-Out Message Comics to the zenith of Cosmic Comics, it'd be a hell of a read.

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Monday, April 03, 2006

The Champions Project: The Black Knight #2

The Black Knight #2: The Fist of Six Fingers

Splash page. James Gates, dressed in the armor he wore at the end of last issue except for the helmet, points the Ebony Blade at the reader. We're in his disheveled apartment. We can see walls bare of anything except a movie poster and an odd stain. He yells "I AM NOT THE BLACK KNIGHT!"

The next page shows at whom he is yelling. The old man in the green leisure suit stands beside the ghost of the first Black Knight. The ghost replies, "The blade, the curse, and the title be thine, my son."

Gates yells back, "Keep them! I don't need a curse right now!"

The ghost points to the sword. "The blade's power came with a price, lad. Each life you claim with it enlarges the thirst in your soul for more."

"So I'll become a psycho-killer if I use this thing? Forget it! I'm the wrong man!"

The ghost replies, "Thou'rt indeed of my line and a bold warrior!"

James, who is both a black man and a mighty nerd, points to his own face. "Your son?"*

"Aye, thou'rt a descendant of Sir Percy of Scandia."

James lowers the sword. "Huh. You must have thousands of descendants."

The old man in the leisure suit says, "Yes, but we needed you."

James places the sword back in its scabbard. "Why? What about the real Black Knight? That guy who's in the Avengers. He knows what he's doing. Get him."

The man in the leisure suit sets his jaw. "He died."

We jump to the next day, where James is in a discussion with a member of the Caltech faculty, Doctor David Austin. Austin, a stooped over man with a snow-white combover, sits amidst a pile of papers, books, and computer parts. "Jimmy!" the professor says. "Glad to see you made it out of Boomtown okay! Did you save any research projects?" Before long, Austin's disdain for James becomes obvious. Gates has a passive nature, and we see how he shrinks before authority figures.

As he treats James like dirt, we see Austin tinkering with a small mechanical doodad on his desk. His left hand wears a black glove. The professor ends his rude speech by telling Gates that he'll be needed at the wreckage of Deep 13 the next day. "The morons removing debris have no idea what they're touching. They'll destroy everything valuable if we aren't careful." James says he'll be there.

"Good," says Dr. Austin. "That'll do just fine."

Gates leaves, and we see David Austin's right hand emerge from below the desk. It too wears a black glove. But the right glove has six fingers.

We next see Gates talking to Jivraj Mehta in a campus eatery. Jivraj tells James that both Horst Bausch and Hugh McKittrick were badly injured in the collapse of the lab, and that the entire lab area has been sealed off by SHIELD. Horst died in the night, Mehta says. "And I'm not sure, but I don't think Hugh's going to make it either." Anger grows in Gates's eyes until it explodes. The scrawny Gates lifts up a nearby chair and throws it nowhere in particular.

Mehta looks at Gates as though Jimmy's lost his mind. Two students who were nearly hit by the thrown chair approach, angry. Though they are twice Gates's size, the pipecleaner-thin professor not only stands his ground against them, he acts as though he craves a fight. Confused by the disconnect between Gates's appearance and his behavior, and keeping in mind the dictum "never get into a fight with a lunatic," they step back and leave.

Gates returns to Mehta. "Deep 13 is still a danger, isn't it. Half a dozen experiments in there could still be live, couldn't they." He's not asking these as questions. Jivraj can't answer, as Gates's behavior scares him.

Night falls. We see an armored figure slip into the wreckage of the labs. Gates takes a collection of weaponry and tools. Among his swag includes a photonic shield projector, a small rocket-dart grapnel rig, a handful of prototype crowd control gas grenades, and sundry other goodies.

The knight, angry and bound to destroy whatever dangers lie in Deep 13, uses the leaping power of the armor and the grapnel rig to ascend the mountain of rubble. Upon reaching the summit, he finds something he did not suspect. A small transdimensional portal is in operation. At the nearby controls is Dr. Austin.

Rage fills the Knight. He leaps and draws the Ebony Blade.

And stops cold in midair.

We see that Dr. Austin has raised up his ungloved right hand. The hand is made of clear crystal, with strange colors refracting from its many facets. "Right on time," he laughs. "James, I never thought you had it in you. I'll restart time around you and let you drop, but if you try anything, I'll simply freeze you again."

The Black Knight finishes his drop. He does not move to attack. Instead he waits.

Dr. Austin smiles. "Good, good. You killed Samael, who would have saved us all. But I suppose if you were stronger than him, then you're more suited for the job." Then the Great Villain Monologue begins...

We see that Dr. Austin was a key member of the Deep 13 research team. An impossible glitch in the dimensional portal technology sent him hurtling into it himself. "I have no idea how," he admitted. "Did it reach out and grab me? Did I simply trip and fall? It doesn't matter." In this alternate dimension, the Steve Ditko-esque strangescapes and illogical perspectives drove him to near-madness.

"Then I saw it. A floating sphere of liquid." Drifting towards the disoriented professor was a sphere of undulating liquid. The troughs and peaks of its surface waves caught his eyes. "Can you believe it, Gates? Liquid time! To even say the words sounds stupid, and yet I knew it as well as I knew my own name, the instant I saw the sphere!" Dr. Austin watched as the sphere passed by him in space. It lurched towards him, and he threw up his right hand in defense.

"When I withdrew my hand, it was this!" He holds up the crystalline hand. "I became inextricably bound with time itself, and the end of time." How he returned to Earth he is not sure. He woke in his own bed, with only the crystalline hand of six fingers as proof of his nightmare.

"I spent days studying it, Gates. Days. The different facets showed me different pieces of time. Can you imagine? All of history, all of the future, all mine to see!" His face darkens. "But there is no future, Gates. We are at doomsday.

"On my palm I can see the the entire past of the human race. From ape-men to astronauts, primitives to poets. On the back of my hand? Horrors. Nothing but horrors.

"The end of the world is here. Doomsday is only a few months away."

He explains that he pulled Samael the Blind God from an alternate dimension to fight the coming menace. "He would have protected me," Austin says. "But now you can."

The Black Knight says, "What about stopping this doomsday? If a big snake can fight it--"

"It can't be stopped! But you can protect me!"

The Knight raises his sword. "I think I'll destroy that portal instead. Keep any fresh monsters from coming through. That'll help."

Dr. Austin freaks out. His crystalline hand glows and strange creatures from Earth's past materialize around the Knight. A dinosaur or two, lions, monsters, the works. The Knight turns on his photonic shield and hurls himself at the beasts.

Three things happen during the fight:

  1. The Black Knight handles the creatures easily, relying on the Ebony Blade and the super-strength from the powered armor. He slices them apart.

  2. With each beast slain, his bloodlust grows stronger. His speech grows more and more clipped, until he only grunts.

  3. Throughout the fight, the professor's age shifts wildly. He becomes young, then old, then young, then old, faster and faster.
Finally the Black Knight reaches the Six Fingered Man. The professor is now a frail and ancient figure. He cannot lift his crystalline hand, as it's become too heavy for him.

The Black Knight removes his helmet. His eyes are bloodshot and open very wide. He raises the Ebony Blade above his head to strike the professor.

Before he can bring down the sword, another ghost appears to James. It's Dane Whitman, his predecessor as the Black Knight.

"'ve only killed beasts...if you kill a human, the curse can never be lifted..."

After a moment of hesitation, James Gates brings down the sword and kills the Six Fingered Man, who had just become a teenage boy.

The Black Knight then falls to his knees. His hands shake and tears streak down his face. He can feel the dark liquor of murderous rage infuse his very soul. And he is afraid.

To be continued this Friday in The Black Knight #3: "Hell Goes Round and Round"

NOTE: The index to "The Champions Project" can be found here.

*Yes, James Gates is a black man. I meant to mention it in issue #1, but when you're posting nothing but first drafts, stuff slips through the cracks. Dang it. I also meant to make a point of Gates's nerd-itude. These are the risks of writing real quickly.

Making a black man into the new Black Knight could be the product of cluelessness, a bad case of overblown irony, or both. For what it's worth, I do have a reason for it; it's not just a thrown-off irony spiral. The issue of the name will come back later on, and there will be a definite resolution to the issue. It will not be a running gag. I have a plan. Hopefully a good one.

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Saturday, April 01, 2006

Something in Common with Real Comics

Hey, just like a real comics company, I've fallen behind! Dang it.

"The Black Knight" #2 wasn't working, so I had to scrap the whole piece and restart it. Rather than reach my half-assed standards, it barely managed to achieve a quarter of an ass. Can't have that, dang it. The improved version will be up on Monday.

So instead, here are three pictures of an American icon, Whiplash the Monkey Cowboy.

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