Filing Cabinet of the Damned

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

You Know What Really Grinds My Gears?

Welcome to Grump Week. In honor of my sour mood, this week’s posts will be surly.*

The titular phrase was a gift from Peter Griffin, from Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story. Out of bile, I’m a’usin’ it too.

Thanks, Peter.


You know what really grinds my gears?

The inability of lots of comic fans to see the relationship between economics and the industry. For cryin' out loud, we even refer to it as an "industry."

Here’s a sample of twisted logic, common among the fanboy community, that made me want to grab the writer and shake him as though he were a toddler and I a British nanny: “The Silver Age comics were charming and innocent, because the creators loved their characters back then! Modern creators hate superheroes!”

Provocative! Insightful! Or…

…it could be that the market conditions of the fifties and sixties emphasized done-in-one-issue stories that maintained a status quo, were gently charming, and avoided upsetting the young target audience...



Hey, wow, maybe modern trends, like “writing for the trade” and different themes are, perhaps, I don’t know, driven by market realities?

No, of course, it can’t be that. Things are different now because modern creators hate their characters and don’t care about the audience. How delightful!

What's more, you have the power to read peoples’ minds? Sweet. To have the psychic ability to read a comic and feel the author’s intent and degree of love…wow…that’s like...deep, man.

Or you could be making guesses based on your own tastes and expectations. Forming an interpretation, as it were, based on the limited evidence at hand.


Naw, couldn’t be that.

“They didn’t kill and replace heroes back in the Silver Age! They didn’t have violent and nasty stories back then!”

Because they couldn’t.

Replace a major character? Fanboy, the irregular delivery mechanisms of the newsstand made it hard to tell extended stories of any sort. You think a company would risk its big trademarks by playing switcharoo given that kind of instability? The chance of a kid getting his mitts on six consecutive issues of a comic in 1970 were dicey at best.

As far as violence and disturbing stories, graphic violence and the accompanying parental outrage killed EC Comics back in the mid-fifties. You think the other companies may have noticed that? Adult themes (or, to be honest about modern comics, "adult-esque themes") weren't safe for them to publish, lest Ma and Pa pitch a fit.

The target audience today is wildly different than in days of yore. The crowd is much older and it comes back month after month, sticking with a title for years on end. Old-style comics were created with constant reader churn in mind. Today’s comics are created with exactly the opposite idea.

You don’t think that’s going to have a massive effect on the stories the companies sell?

Fanboy, please.

I understand if you prefer the old approach. I dig it too. But don’t fool yourself for a second with the thought that the changes were the product of arbitrary malice. That charge is the “kids today are a bunch of ingrates” argument applied to comics, a simple resentment of change couched in the rhetoric of artistic integrity.

Sure, it’s a fun story to tell yourself and lets you drink deep from the intoxicating liquor of righteous outrage, but it’s also a steaming pile of bullshit.

Accept the truth: the stories changed because the business circumstances changed. On the large scale, the business drives the stories, not the other way around.

Comic companies are willfully myopic as well. “Why aren’t you branching out and buying new series? Fans hate new concepts! They only want old stuff recycled!”

They choose to forget that comics are now at least three bucks a pop and expressly designed to keep the readers coming back month after month. Then there's the proliferation of series based on the most popular characters, drawing away still more money from the fans. And still they act surprised by conservative buying habits? Que?

I used to read The Amazing Spider-Man. But there are three, four, maybe even five Spidey titles on the market at once, and when these many series interlock for a big fat crossover, do you seriously expect me, or anyone, to cough up an extra twelve or fifteen bucks a month for several months?

If I do, I'm straining my comic-buying budget. If I ignore the crossover and continue to buy only the one comic I like, I'm getting several months of incoherent, fragmented stories. Which is a waste of my comic-buyin' dollar.

They know this and bitch anyway, hoping we'll be guilted into buying still more comics. That's what the complaint is: a guilt trip.

Guilting loyal customers?

Is there any response to this tack more appropriate than a single upraised middle finger? I think not.


*The actual source of the foul mood is not comic-based, but I'm not going to vent about the evils of insurance companies on a comic book blog. I thought I'd instead apply my backed-up bile to finally post on The Things I Think But Do Not Say. May as well, while I'm still all het up. I'll try not to slip into politics this week, but I can't promise anything.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Rising and Advancing: An Interview with Steve Englehart

Steve Englehart is an icon of comics.

He has written for the mainstream comics scene for over thirty years, known for his character-defining runs on Captain America, Doctor Strange, the Avengers, Detective Comics, and many, many others. His work has ranged from small-scale pieces to vast cosmic epics and spanned several eras of comics.

His reputation has grown in recent years, with a number of his old comics being reprinted in trade paperbacks, new work published by the major publishers, and young writers citing him as a major influence.

Mr. Englehart agreed to answer a few of my questions about writing for the comics, providing Filing Cabinet of the Damned with a rare non-fictional interview.

Please note that all hyperlinks contained in the text were added by me to provide background information for readers, not included by Mr. Englehart himself.

HJ: What would you say is your particular strength in comic writing? What kind of story should have an editor think, “I need Steve Englehart for this?”

SE: My particular strength is getting to the heart of the characters and their lives, and finding new things in those lives. It usually plays out in resurrecting strips that have run out of gas.

HJ: Is there a central idea or theme that runs through your writing? If not through all of it, an idea or theme that you used for long stretches? If so, has your understanding or approach to the theme changed over the years?

SE: I think there are two things. (1) Peter Sanderson pointed out early on that one theme is "the rising and advancing of the spirit." I had put together the name Shang Chi to mean that and Peter saw (before I did) that it's pretty apt for what I do. My people always move forward - maybe not always rising if they're villains, but forward for sure. I don't sit on the status quo. (2) Above and beyond that, when I'm writing a character, I believe in that character - not in some weird, stalkerish way, but simply that I take him or her seriously, as someone I'm interested in and think you are, too. I don't write costumes.

HJ: If you could send your twenty-year old self a brief letter about the art and craft of writing, what would you say?

SE: "Come back when you can own your material." No, it's a tricky question. My twenty-year-old self played the game that existed, by the rules that existed, and loved pretty much every minute of it. It was a magickal time and there's never been as much freedom and creativity since. But the rules didn't allow you to become a millionaire from your creativity (see Kirby, Jack), and my current self looks back to see a lot of my creativity making money for other people, but not for me, which is no good.

As far as the "art and craft" goes - my technique in writing was always to push the limits, to go places no one had gone before (see Kirk, Captain), so any differences between then and now are the natural outgrowth of what I felt instinctively from the start. Rising and advancing...

HJ: Along the same lines, how would you say you’ve developed over the years? What would differentiate a Steve Englehart script from 2005 from a script you wrote in 1975, in terms of technique, style, and so forth?

SE: Just that I know more about the world now and can put that much more into the characters. Technically, I use less continuity now because it's fallen out of favor; I still keep it straight in my own head but don't assume the reader wants to follow it.

HJ: On your website, you make several references to a few of your stories being “the kind of cosmic epics that Marvel doesn’t know how to do anymore.” What is it that seperates a cosmic epic story from a regular comic story beyond the breadth of the playing field? What particular satisfactions do you think can be found in cosmic epics?

SE: I think the emphasis is on "epic," with "cosmic" as a type - i.e., epics don't have to be cosmic. But epics have to have a grand sweep, so as to justify a series of issues playing out a grand story with grand impact - and they have to have the series of individual stories where each story has its own meat. It's not news that the stuff I and others from the magickal time do has more meat than many current stories have, so many current epics have one idea (or less) stretched out over six issues. But an epic as I define it is a complex and solid experience, where you get to go on a ride for a number of months, and when you get to the end, you feel satisfied, not empty. Something real happened, and every step counted.

HJ: Your tenure on the Avengers introduced the character of Mantis, a character that even squeaked in a cameo in the Justice League of America (as “Willow”). You later revived Mantis from obscurity when you wrote Silver Surfer. What is it about Mantis in particular that intrigues you?

SE: She's also in SCORPIO ROSE as Lorelei.

I dunno, she was the first character I created who became huge, so I liked her anyway. Then, when I left Marvel to write The Batman and JLA, people were all over me about whether they'd ever see her again, and I came up with the idea of getting her into the JLA by the side door - then I decided to continue that in SCORPIO ROSE, and thought I might put her in everything I did thereafter - an idea that soon proved impractical. But when I came back to Marvel and did the Surfer, she fit right in, and she's remained a major character, so I was asked to come back a few years ago and straighten out the stuff that had been done to her in my absence. She's just likeable, different, and kicks butt - what else could you ask?

HJ: Interest in your work has resurged dramatically in the last few years. Not only are your older works being reissued in trade paperback (e.g., Avengers: Celestial Madonna, the Captain America Secret Empire series, etc.) but you were hired by DC to create a high-profile miniseries, Batman: Dark Detective. You were recently cited by Joe Casey, writer of the new series Gødland, as a huge influence. Why do you think interest in your work has grown recently?

SE: I think the stuff is solid, and it's always been solid - if it had my name on it, you could count on it (which is why I took my name off a few things over the years). I've got a certain level of craft and certain standards, and they're all pointed toward entertaining people as best I can every single time.

HJ: There are any number of ways to explore fresh ground with a character. What methods do you prefer? Are there angles that you find tend to be unexplored in most characters, angles that you find to be rich veins for storytelling usually left untapped by other writers?

SE: I have no set thing to look for. I generally just immerse myself in the existing stories, letting myself follow the character along, and in that process, I say "Why did this happen?" or "Why didn't this happen?" or "I would have gone there..." When I'm done, I have a clear feeling in my mind as to who the character is, and bits of business that I want to explore.

One thing I try hard to do is explore those things as if they grow naturally out of the storyline, rather than say "I'm here now, the old stuff sucked, now I'll fix it." I feel strongly that you have to respect everyone's contribution, at least to the extent of not dissing it in public - so if I try to fix something I believe went wrong, I try to provide a plausible explanation for that thing in my new story.

HJ: A typical fanboyish question I can’t help but ask: if your phone rang with the heads of Marvel and DC giving you carte blanche, what project would you take? A revival of Coyote? A relaunch of your ill-fated Big Town project, an idea that had tremendous promise? A return to Captain America or Green Lantern? A genre revival, like a western or space opera? Something wholly new? (This question leaves aside issues of ownership. And we can also pretend that the “carte blanche” is serious, not something that would be yanked a week later. Yep, the question is purely theoretical, in a "controlling for gravity, I jump really high" sort of way.)

SE: I really have no answer for this, because, as you say, it's a theoretical question - and therefore, I don't ever think along those lines. Last year everyone asked if I'd had a Batman sequel in mind, and the answer is, heck no. It seemed pretty clear that I'd never be asked to do one, so I never thought about things I could do. When they asked me, I got back into Bat-mode immediately, but Marvel and DC control their characters so I spend no time at all wishing I could do something I have no control over.

HJ: And the usual concluding question: what are you up to these days? Do you have any other writing projects in the works, comic-related or otherwise?

SE: I'm doing another DARK DETECTIVE run with Marshall [Rogers], Terry [Austin], and John [Workman] - a BLACK RIDER one-shot with Marshall - a JLA CLASSIFIED and JSA CLASSIFIED combo run with Tom Derenick and Mark Farmer - COYOTE TPBs, reprinting the classic COYOTE and SCORPIO ROSE stuff - and a novel for Tor called The Long Man.


I’d like to thank Mr. Englehart for his generosity and his time. His work has provided the world with a great many entertaining comics, and dang it, the man should get his due.

Future interviews with other comic writers may be forthcoming, depending on my skills of persuasion and ability to formulate decent questions.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Always Remember

Late to the meme as always, here is my helpful comic-character reminder to you all:

(A comprehensive list of the many, many "Always Remembers" is here.)

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Saturday, January 21, 2006

Cue Jazz Horns

Once in a great while a comic provides a soundtrack. As you read it, you can hear the music.

Darwyn Cooke's recent issue of Solo had one of these. Check it out. Here are the first three pages of the story "Deja Vu." (Click on any page to enlarge it.)

Opening: light drum, a little bass. Mainstream late-fifties jazz* with a hint of speed and menace. I hear "rikkity-tikkity-tikkity bum-bum-BUM-bum..." A horn wails as the woman is shot.

More of the same, with sax joining in. A second horn scream as the holdup man is shot.

Big freakin' brass explosion. "BWAAAAAHH!!! BWAAAAH!! BWAAAAAAHH!!"

Damn, that's a cool opening. Loooove that splash page. The regular rhythms of the eight-panel pages, the shifting of perspective and shot length, and then the sudden Bat-splosion on page three...oooh, nifty.

Just had to share.

*No, not bebop. More like the beginnings of the themes to "Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law" or "Late Night With Conan O'Brien." Or maybe Leonard Bernstein's "On the Waterfront" overture. Like that.

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Thursday, January 19, 2006

Mister Miracle’s Mad Opera: Taking Comic Lunacy to Another Level

He’s ridiculous. No question.

Green cape. Red costume. Yellow mask. The man looks like a crazy person, even by comic book standards.

And the name? Oh come on. Both his “superhero name” and “regular guy” name are absurd.

His gimmick? Weird.

And I love the demented bastard more every year.

Mister Miracle, Super Escape Artist. Known in private life as “Scott Free.”

Yeah, those are wacko names. But they make sense in context. The Fourth World is all about context. And silly names.

In the early seventies, DC Comics put out a handful of interconnected series by Jack Kirby, creating a mythology out of whole cloth. He dubbed it “The Fourth World,” and it was powerfully nuts. Gods, wars, Manichean cosmologies, all sorts of big loud hoo-hah ran amok in those pages.

As my taste in comics runs towards low-powered superheroes and away from gods, it took me a while to appreciate what the Fourth World was about. It seemed pointless and silly. But it’s not just another set of alien worlds with powerful beings bashing in one another’s heads.

Traditional superhero comics introduce the fantastic into the mundane. Superman flies over the semi-real city of Metropolis, saving normal people. Spider-Man swings around New York City, stopping muggers. A large part of the appeal of such comics is the intersection between the everyday world and super-wackiness.

The Fourth World based itself around a different appeal. There were very few normal people in the comics, and they weren’t important. Instead, the mythology was self-contained and self-referential. The comics were, as odd as it sounds to say, a little abstract. The setting was an allegory, its own skewed reality. A big freakin’ Comic Book Opera, so to speak.

Two planets fight a never-ending war. New Genesis is a pastoral planet filled with noble gods. Apokolips is its opposite; it is covered by massive industry and “fire pits” larger than continents. The worlds, made from the remnants of old gods long dead, war for control of the universe. Yeah, it’s big and woolly stuff.

The inhabitants of Apokolips are raised from birth to serve their one and only master, Darkseid. The goal of the evil god is rule over all life. What sets him apart from standard would-be conquerors is the depth of Darkseid’s ambition. He does not want only to rule; he wants to eliminate the very capacity for rebellion in his subjects.

Darkseid’s aim is to eliminate all free will and replace it with his own. He fashioned Apokolips in pursuit of this goal, grinding out individuality, freedom, and hope from all of its inhabitants. The plot engine of the Fourth World comics is Darkseid’s quest for the “Anti-Life Equation,” an abstract formula which, if used, removed all free will from living things except the formula’s possessor. He knows it exists somewhere, and he intends to find it.

The main opponent of Darkseid is his own son, Orion. Orion, raised by the kind gods of New Genesis, grew to become a powerful warrior and the largest impediment to Darkseid’s schemes. Orion is a pretty cool character, and his recent eponymous series by Walt Simonson could only be described by the phrase “mind-blowing kickass comic greatness.” Orion is one of my favorite series ever to reach print.

But this piece isn’t about Orion. It’s about his “brother.”

Mister Miracle is the son of Darkseid’s opposite number, Highfather, the peaceful leader of New Genesis. Just as Orion was raised on New Genesis, Scott Free was raised on Apokolips, traded with Orion as part of a pact to establish peace.

Scott was raised in “Granny Goodness’s Orphanage” to become a mindless soldier and worship the overlord Darkseid. But the brainwashing never worked completely, nor was Scott able to abandon his innate compassion. He slipped away from his barracks at night, he met with heretics, and worst of all, he dreamt of a better life, a life beyond servitude to Darkseid.

Scott became the only person to ever escape from Granny’s orphanage. He made his way to Earth and, through a weird set of circumstances, became an escape artist.

Kinda oddball, yeah.

What’s the big deal about Mister Miracle? What’s the appeal?

Orion is the physical opponent of Darkseid. He appears on the horizon, blows up the place, and leaves. His opposition is straightforward. He is force, pure and simple.

Mister Miracle, on the other hand, is Darkseid’s nightmare. On a planet designed to be a giant prison, who is more dangerous than the man who cannot be held? Apokolips’s empire needs fear and blind obedience. Scott Free is the man who is not afraid and will never obey.

Worse, he exposes the tyrant’s single weakness: that for all Darkseid’s efforts to abolish freedom and hope, he has failed. Scott went through the worst of Apokolips and came out a laughing freeman. He is the living proof that Darkseid cannot win. He is the symbol to the citizens of Apokolips that hope lives even in the dank corners of their world.

Orion is the reason Darkseid will die. Mister Miracle is the reason Darkseid will lose.*

That goofy bastard in the Christmas-colored suit and flying frisbees is the embodiment of freedom itself.


Moreover, Scott Free has more to his story than his relationship with Darkseid. There’s his wife, Barda. Michael Chabon wrote an ode to Barda entitled “A Woman of Valor” that describes her better than I could:

For now I’ll just say that Big Barda, commander of the Female Fury Batallion, was born and reared for a life of perpetual combat, on a world called Apokolips, by a Dickensian harridan with the cruel-irony name of Granny Goodness. She dressed in elaborate armor of dark blue scale mail with a vaguely pharaonic battle helmet, and carried a fearsome chunk of hardware, admittedly somewhat ambiguous from the Freudian point of view, called a Mega-Rod. As for her eponymous immensity, it was not merely physical; everything she did partook of the bigness that was the essence of her character. She spoke in exclamations and displayed Rabelaisian appetites for food and drink. She was brusque, sardonic, hot-tempered, and did not endure patiently the doubts and tergiversations of anyone less intelligent or quick to seize the moment than herself. And she was, to my knowledge, the first super-heroine in the history of comic books whose personal courage, moral integrity, and astute intelligence, though they pervaded all her actions, were most joyfully expressed through her willingness, when necessary, to kick ass.

Barda was up to the fight--any fight, and then some. The world she was born into and the way she was raised had obliged her to learn to be strong, vigilant, resourceful, and submissive to no one. But her intelligence told her that conflict is a waste, of life and time and energy, and she regretted it. She had her own narrative--a history of heartbreak, hardship and achievement--and though it constituted only one part of the larger mythology of Kirby’s epic, it was her part; she had earned it. She saw the wrongness, the wickedness, the unreasoning cruelty of the world, and though she had been trained to withstand it, her heart rebelled. Mighty, she used her strength and risked her freedom to help the weak. In time she would mutiny against the might-makes-right strictures of her home, and attempt to form a partnership of physical and intellectual equals--with Mister Miracle, her paramour, the love of her life. In his company, in rare moments of quiet, she doffed her armor, laid down her Mega-Rod, and made him a gift--both of them knowing full well its value--of her vulnerability, her sorrow, the pain of her childhood and youth. She was a valkyrie with a brain and an aching heart.

The history of comic book women, especially at the time of Barda's creation, is dismal. Submissive (“Invisible Girl?” “Shrinking Violet?”), secondary (Supergirl, Batgirl) or twisted (Wonder Woman began with a heavy bent towards bondage—really—and over the years has been warped and reformed so many times she’s never been much more than an image).** Barda was a tremendous break from the norm.

An undercurrent of control seeps into these earlier characters. The women are, in some sense, restrained, made to be less than what they could be. Relegated to be extensions of men, lesser and less powerful than the male characters, and sometimes just plain bitchy. Held back.

Big Barda was the first unapologetically powerful and independent woman in comics.*** Physically strong, brash but not bitchy, and not introduced for the purpose of cheesecake, she was, to use an antiquated but accurate term, liberated. As Chabon noted, she is that rarest of super-heroines, her own character.

Not long after her introduction, Barda chose to marry the man who could never abide one person controlling another, the man who would never ask her to be anything other than her full self: Scott Free.

The dynamics between the two are unusual in comics. Aside from the genuine partnership between them, a rarity in itself, Barda is by far the more physically powerful of the two. Scott is as strong as an athlete; Barda is as strong as a tank. He’s the deliberate planner, she’s the butt-stomper. And this doesn’t bother him in the least.

Throw in the intrinsic coolness of escape artistry, and there you have it: a great character.**** With a goofy-ass costume.

Walt Simonson’s recent series Orion ended with a guest appearance by Scott and Barda. In that issue, Simonson revealed the true hiding place of the Anti-Life Equation: within the brain of Scott Free.

The god of freedom contains within himself the means to end freedom, and he guards it carefully to prevent it from ever being used.

That’s excellent. And ridiculous. And forehead-slappingly over the top.

Thus, it fits with the rest of the Fourth World. I love it.

Rock on, you crazy Christmas-colored bastard. Rock on.

(The new version of Mister Miracle, part of Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers of Victory collection of miniseries, is also proving to be a hoot. But he’s a subject for another post.)

* Please pardon the purple prose. It’s difficult to describe the Fourth World books in any other way. They crank up the emotional and physical volume high enough to blow out speakers.

** Wonder Woman is a mess. From what I’ve gathered, her character’s been improved a lot over the last fifteen or twenty years, but most of her history? A mess. Check out Marionette’s magnificent history of Wonder Woman comics for proof.

*** No, I don't count Wonder Woman. Feel free to call me a dope and/or point out how I'm wrong. Until someone proves otherwise, I claim Diana may have became an independent and solid character eventually, but she wasn't one in 1970. (Odd note: In 1970 she was a de-powered kung fu superspy type.) If I'm wrong, well, then, crap. Substitute "Barda was one of the first..."

**** Escape artistry is wicked cool. A historical fact.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Random Comical Thoughts

An old idea of mine, brought back to the fore by the revival of Spider-Woman and a retelling of her weird-ass convoluted origin:

Adding the High Evolutionary (and his accompanying baggage) into a story instantly transforms it into a pile of crap. Take any story you like, any story that kicked ass, and add Big E. Sucks now, doesn’t it?

Take any story with Big E in it and remove him (and his accompanying baggage) and replace him with damn near anything and hey, look! A better story!

Someday Marvel editorial will realize this.


The upcoming release of the “Essential Nova” volume brings back memories, lemme tellya. One of my first collecting quests as a young’un was to reconstruct the entire run of the Human Rocket. I thought he looked super-cool. That helmet? The weird flight trail he left? Snazzy.

Reaching the goal was not easy to do, what with me being (a) twelve or thirteen and (b) already collecting damn near as many comics as my allowance and/or paper route could support. But complete it I did. Ha!

As a wee bairn, I dug that damn comic. Thinking about it now, it kinda stunk. (Kid brother builds a robot Sherlock Holmes? Que?) Ah, well.


Digging around the longboxes recently, I ran across and re-read my run of James Robinson’s breakthrough title, Firearm. I had fond memories of it. The titular character, a private detective who didn’t much like being called "Firearm," got involved in normal-sounding cases that always ended up involving superhumans. He was a weirdness magnet of the first order and a welcome change from both the spandex set and the “grim and gritty” vigilantes of the day.

When the series came out in the early nineties, I thought it was the best thing out there. Now? It’s boring and felt repetitive. Sitting down and reading them en masse left me dissatisfied.

I tried a re-read of my good-sized run of Robinson’s follow-up title, the well-beloved Starman. I liked that series even less. All I will say is this: setting plus countless references to pop culture ephemera does not equal compelling read.

Le sigh.

Finding old favorites now read poorly is not fun.


Issue #2 of Kyle Baker’s Nat Turner miniseries came out just recently. Yep, it tells the story of Nat Turner's 1831 revolt, America's largest slave rebellion.

Like issue #1, it’s freakin’ brilliant. One of the best comics to come out in ages.

Baker knows when to include text and when to be silent; when to be cartoony and when to be realistic; when to use a sharp line and when to use a rough one. His work here is phenomenal.

With a handful of small exceptions, all text in the issue comes from the actual confessions of Nat Turner, and the comic is all the stronger for that decision.

This is gripping, brilliant stuff that burns with passion and rage. Head and shoulders above damn near anything else on the market right now.

Read this book, dammit.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Ask A Super-Villain Archive

I've interviewed a number of super-villains for this blog. Here's where to find the articles!

--A gentleman, a scholar, a giant monstrous head in a flying chair: MODOK

--A mad god or a misunderstood folk singer with wicked cool hair? I give you: The Magus

--He's old! He's out of touch! And you'd give your right arm to be: Blackrock

--The mercenary who talks with his hands and fights with his feet, the legend: Batroc the Leaper

--I had to start somewhere: Stilt-Man

More interviews may be forthcoming, depending on the outcome of the new Villain Collective Bargaining Agreement and its royalty deals.

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Monday, January 09, 2006

Ask a Super-Villain: Blackrock

Long-retired from his career as head of a major television network, Samuel Tanner now spends his days on his estate in Florida. He golfs, plays bridge, and lives what is now an unremarkable life.

While Samuel Tanner is a well-known figure in Boca Raton, not even his close friends are aware of his brief foray into super-villainy as the masked man Blackrock. He has been reluctant to discuss it, until now.

My contacts in the worlds of both television and super-villainy netted me an opportunity to speak to Mr. Tanner, who was excited by the opportunity to publicly discuss his brief time “under the mask.”


Harvey Jerkwater: Thank you for agreeing to meet with me, Mr. Tanner.

Samuel Tanner: Please, if we’re going to discuss my supervillain career, call me “Blackrock.” A sexy name. I always liked being called “Blackrock.”

HJ: Okay, Blackrock. You were already a powerful, wealthy, and highly influential man. What made you take up the guise of Blackrock?

BR: I was head of UBS [United Broadcasting System]. A big wheel in Metropolis. But always number two. GBS [Galaxy Broadcasting System] always nailed us. Drove me crazy. We had the better shows than GBS, we had the better news than GBS, we had more jiggle interest than GBS.

HJ: Jiggle interest?

BR: You know. [Tanner grabs his sagging man-boobs and shakes them side-to-side.]

HJ: Ah. Right.

BR: But GBS beat us every time. You know why? Superman. They always scooped us on Superman. He was practically their mascot.

HJ: And that was enough to sink you to second place?

BR: Absolutely. Look, one channel is going on about a bank robbery and a water-skiing squirrel. The other is showing footage of a ninety-foot tall gorilla with lasers coming out of his eyes fighting a flying man in blue tights. Which would you watch?

HJ: I see.

BR: So I figured we’d beat GBS by having our own hero.

HJ: Hero?

BR: Absolutely. So I got on the horn to Silverstone [Dr. Peter Silverstone, Director of UBS Research and Technology]. I tell him to make me a superhero. Someone flashy. Someone cool. Someone with sex appeal.

HJ: And he chose you?

BR: Maybe I shouldn’t have emphasized the sex appeal! Yeah, that nut went and hypnotized me. Then he slapped me into that silly green and purple suit, gave me a magic antenna, and had me go out and fight Superman.

HJ: Hypnotized? Magic antenna?

BR: I had a TV on my chest, can you believe that? Superman has that funny “S,” Batman has a bat, I had a TV. Nice, eh? Hold on, I got a picture here. [Hands picture over.]

HJ: Wow.

BR: Yeah, wow. See that antenna in my hand there? That antenna was a thing of beauty. Silverstone was nuts, but he was brilliant. The dingus drew in power from radio and TV waves and let me recast it as energy rays. Or was it power beams? I think it was energy rays. Anyway, I could do all sorts of cool stuff with the rays. Shape ‘em into things, zap people, the works. I mixed it up with Superman. Superman! And I did good.

HJ: But you were under hypnosis.

BR: Trust me, it was me. You think that geek could have really brainwashed Sam Tanner? Okay, I wasn’t gonna fly around in tights without a little push. So yeah, Silverstone gave me a push with his mind-whammy. But that was all me out there. I went toe-to-toe with Superman! Stood my ground! Sam Tanner kicked his alien ass!

HJ: Impressive.

BR: Bet your sweet bippy!

HJ: There were other Blackrocks later on.

BR: Yeah, after I “got my mind back,” Silverstone then set up the same game with my nephew, a no-talent comic [stage-name Les Vegas]. What a mess.

Then me and Silverstone made a Blackrock out of energy. Later Silverstone himself wore the suit. Jesus, what a loony.

HJ: Isn’t there another one now?

BR: You got me. I’ve been out of the super-villain biz for a long time.

HJ: Would you say your experience as a super-villain had a lasting effect?

BR: Oh yeah. Aside from the permanent crick in my neck that came when Superman punched me out, lousy bastard, I learned a lot about myself.

Y’see, when you’re standing on a rooftop in green tights, you can’t lie to yourself anymore. That gut you got? Everyone can see it. A less-than-ample package? Everyone can see that too. Plus, when you got a mask on, you act different, you let out parts of yourself you normally hide. It’s kinda like being drunk.

HJ: In green and purple tights.

BR: Yeah, exactly.

HJ: After your brief career as Blackrock, did you have any other dealings in super-villainy?

BR: A few years back we tried to start up a reality show with low-rent supervillains. “What happens when a group of super-powered villains start living together and try to take over the world?” It couldn’t miss. We had drama, we had sexual tension, we had hotties in tight costumes, we had extreme personalities.

HJ: The show didn’t succeed?

BR: Goddammit, why the hell didn’t anyone tell me Gorilla Grodd ate human flesh? Two days into the program, he ate the entire cast. Then he put the entire crew under mind control and had them reconfigure the broadcast arrays to beam…well, whatever the hell it was.

HJ: [checks notes] A go-go ray, I believe.

BR: Oh yeah! Crazy monkey wanted the human race to go-go dance itself to death.

HJ: The Flash stopped him, but it wasn’t enough to save the series, right?

BR: Yeah. Even with the sets rebuilt, we couldn’t replace the cast. “Hey, come on our show, you won’t get eaten like the last guys” is not a pitch that works when recruiting talent. Especially paranoid loons like most super-villains.

HJ: Have you ever considered returning to a career in super-villainy?

BR: Hell yeah! That’s why I agreed to this interview. I’m ready to come out of retirement! I'm back, baby! Superman will kneel before me! The world will tremble!

HJ: Go on.

BR: But not as Blackrock. Television is dead! Its day is through! The future is the internet! [Stands up, shakes fist to the sky] And I am its master! With my new weapon, I will be: The Deadly Dial-Up!

HJ: You have a new weapon?

BR: A modem box that shoots lightning and can “download” people into alternate dimensions. It makes that modem “ga-jung hsssss” noise, too. This thing is excellent!

HJ: Uh…Mr. Tanner, dial-ups are being phased out in favor of faster connections. They’re becoming rare.

BR: What?

HJ: I’m sorry, it’s true.

BR: But…my new tights…a phone and a lightning bolt on the chest…my cape…

HJ: I’m sorry, sir. Perhaps you could be the Terrible T1 Connection?

BR: The what?

HJ: The WiFi Bad Guy?

BR: Huh?

HJ: Never mind. Thank you for your time, Mr. Tanner.

BR: [sighs] Oh, you’re welcome, Harvey. You know you’re always welcome here.

And hey, should any budding super-villains have any questions for me, just pass ‘em on. Maybe we could team up and take on Superman again! I got a plan to beat that guy! Can't miss! All it’ll take is fourteen mandarin oranges, a raincoat, and a plasma wakefield accelerator with an energy gradient of 300 GeV/M that can fit into a late-model Japanese sedan.

HJ: I’ll be sure to pass that on.

BR: Thanks. You can let yourself out. “WWE Smackdown” starts in a minute, and you know I hate to miss it.


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