Filing Cabinet of the Damned

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Champions Project: The Reject #1

The Reject #1: City of Lights, City of Bees!

Page one: A six panel grid, each one showing a television program. We see a group of intellectuals seated in a row of chairs, outside. The host of the program introduces the group: Jean-Pierre Duval, a robotics engineer; François Leclerc, an economist; Sophie Le Mel, a mathematician; and Karkas, a philosopher exiled from the undersea empire of Lemuria. Karkas, a giant red monster, is wearing a striped sweater. He also has a false moustache above his lip, or where a lip would be, if he had one.

The panel of intellectuals discuss the remarkable breakthrough in robotics being celebrated in Paris today, a joint venture of Ordinateurs de Lyons and a Dutch firm. The “camera” moves to show the Hotel de Ville and, standing in front of it, a handful of strange robots. Dominating the background is a robot Tyrannosaurus Rex. Karkas can still be seen along one side of the panel. Standing next to him is a handsome man in what can only be described as white armor. The man looks bored, like a four-year old who’s had enough of the grownups talking.

The fifth panel is a blur. The camera swivels. We can’t see anything clearly except for the word balloons showing panic and a sound effect: bzzzzzzz

The sixth and last panel is from the perspective of the ground, as the camera has fallen over. We see a cloud of bees, with a human shape suggested in the center. We also see a white-armored figure charging the bee-man.

Double splash page: A handsome man in white steel armor swings a two-foot long metal rod at a man made entirely of bees! The bee-man, Swarm, gestures dramatically, spewing killer bees in several directions at once! Ordinary people flee, swatting at the stinging clouds of fuzzy, buzzing death!

Caption: “The Place: Paris!
Caption: “The Villain: a Nazi made of bees!
Caption: “The Situation: Dire!
Caption: “Our Only Hope: He Who Haunts the Nightmares of Monsters!
Caption: “THE REJECT!

Title: “City of Lights, City of BEES!

On the next page, we see the Reject collide with Swarm. They both hurtle down into the stairwell of a nearby Metro station. As they fall, the Reject lets out an inhuman roar.

We then jump to back to street level. Near the Metro entrance, Karkas shepherds the people away from the scene. Meanwhile, we see a trio of masked men dressed in black emerge from the shadows of a nearby building. As Karkas searches for people trapped by the bee-filled madness, he spies the three masked men abducting Dr. Duval. He moves in to stop them.

We jump down to the Metro station, where the Reject is faring badly against Swarm. The Reject swings his rod and shrieks. Bees sting the crap out of him. Swarm gloats, in typical Nazi Bee Man fashion, that such tactics are of no use against an army of unstoppable mutant bees.

We jump back to Karkas above-ground. He charges the three masked men, yelling for them to release Dr. Duval. One of the men binds the doctor with handcuffs while the other two point strange-looking firearms at Karkas. As the Deviant reaches the men, they fire their weapons. Two small green canisters fly out from the weapons’ barrels and adhere to Karkas’s red skin. One gloats to the now-collapsing Deviant that the gravitation mines now stuck to the monster’s body will grow in intensity until his body collapses under its own weight.

Karkas, pinned to the ground, watches as an oddly-shaped flying craft appears overhead. It casts down a mauve beam that lifts the three masked men and Dr. Duval off the ground. As they fly away, Karkas curses his inability to help.

We jump again to the Metro. The Reject howls and fires a particle beam from the end of his power rod. The beam cuts through the dead center of Swarm. Swarm couldn’t care less. Dude’s made of bees. In true Nazi Bee Man fashion, he gloats further in his Colonel Klink accent. “Zo, Deviant, your puny mongrel rage ees no match for ze zcience of zee reichhhh!” The Reject falls to one knee, succumbing to the bee sting toxins. Swarm is obnoxious; he’s also right.

Meanwhile, Karkas feels the air pushed out of his lungs. Consciousness flickers in and out. His weight has grown so vast that the sidewalk beneath him cracks and buckles. “Not like this…” he thinks.

Swarm moves in for the kill.

Karkas’s increased weight sends him crashing through the ground and into the Metro station. Directly on top of Swarm.

The Nazi Bee Man’s body scatters under the impact of the Big Red Dude. The skeleton that holds together the Bee Man’s form pulverizes. Swarm is dead. Again.

The Reject looks through badly swollen eyelids to see his only friend in the world, Karkas, being crushed to death. Heedless of his thousands of stings, the Reject aims his power rod and shoots both of the green canisters with a single shot. “Well...well done, my brother,” Karkas wheezes.

We jump to a massive room inside what looks to be a mansion. The room is dark except for the light coming in through a wall of arched windows. In the middle of the room is Jean-Pierre Duval, strapped to a chair. He is gagged. We see fear in his eyes, a not unnatural reaction to being kidnapped by Euro-Ninjas.

For a moment, all is quiet. Then we see his face react with fear as noises emerge. klanklanklankwhrrr. KlankKlankWhrr! KLANKKLANKKLANKWHRRRRR!! What causes this racket, we cannot see. All we can see is a terrified Duval. The sound grows deafening, deforming the panel borders themselves!

Then it stops, and silence returns.

A voice comes in from off-panel. “Bonjour, Jean-Pierre. It’s been a few years, has it not?”

We jump to a hospital, where Karkas explains to the doctors that the Reject can heal himself quickly, a product of his strange heritage and upbringing in the battle arenas of Lemuria, and that attempting to restrain him for treatment would only lead to--

An orderly hurtling through the air completes Karkas’s thought.

The giant Deviant rushes in to find the Reject grappling with two orderlies. A thought bubble appears from the Reject’s head. It shows a cartoon of a doctor’s head being hit by a pipe. Yes, the Reject thinks in images.

Karkas mollifies his enraged “brother” and suggests they leave the hospital. Reporters clog the exit to the hospital, asking questions about the attack, and we see the Reject’s thought balloon in reaction: an image of himself going ape on the reporters.

To defuse the situation, Karkas removes his large fake moustache and sticks it onto the Reject’s lip. The Reject likes the giant moustache and is content to simply walk through the crowd of reporters, beaming with pride at his new facial hair.

We jump to the forensics laboratory of the Paris Police. Two forensic scientists examine the smashed remains of a skeleton. Their dialogue tells us the bones are those of Fritz von Meyer, whom we know as Swarm. They joke a bit, until one pulls out a strange looking gun and shoots his coworker. The shooter then arranges the broken bones of Von Meyer and produces a small vial from his pocket. Inside the vial? A large bee.

We jump again, this time to a large room filled to the brim with techno-gadgets. Many of the gadgets look like standard comic book technology: robots, death rays, and the like. Other bits and pieces are quite bizarre: gelatinous quadripeds, four-dimensional fentoozlers, and the like. Our view of the room moves, as though we were walking down the length of the room. We see nobody, but we hear many voices talking.

The voices describe the joy at acquiring Duval and his successful integration into the project. They dicker back and forth about Swarm. Then one suggests the value of bringing in the Karkas, whose philosophical achievements and knowledge of the Deviants would add a great deal to the project.

The “scene” stops at a large techno-aquarium filled with bubbling fluid and a weird device that looks much like a robot chainsaw. One voice speaks. “Thus we are agreed. Fetch Karkas’s Brain!

We jump to the robot exhibition outside of the Hotel de Ville. Karkas stares at a robot gorilla and wonders out loud what nefarious plot has led to Duval’s kidnapping, and to what insidious ends the doctor's knowledge will be applied. The Reject says nothing. His thought balloon shows a ham sandwich.

Then the Reject’s eyes fill with amazement.

The robot Tyrannosaurus Rex is moving!

Robot jaws rush towards Karkas! The Reject shoves his friend out of the way and is captured in the mouth of the beast! Rearing up, the robot T. Rex cannot quite close its jaws. The Reject holds it open!

He hears a shrill whine. He swivels his head to see the barrel of a sonic cannon in the back of the beast’s mouth, pointed outward. The cannon’s mouth glows blue.

Meanwhile, Karkas finds himself under assault by Swarm! And a half-dozen Euro-Ninjas! To their displeasure, they find that Karkas’s thick hide is impervious to bee stings and most of the small arms of the Euro-Ninjas. The thugs carry a whole lot of weaponry on their persons, and they use it all. Karkas swats aside a pair of annoying Euro-Ninjas when he hears the cry of the Reject and the whine of the sonic cannon’s buildup.

We jump back to the Reject in the robot’s mouth. His thought balloons pop up. The first shows the cannon firing and destroying him. The second one shows the creature’s mouth firing the cannon without him in the picture. The third shows the creature firing the cannon with its mouth shut, destroying its front teeth. The light bulb goes on!

He stops holding open the robot’s jaws, knowing that they’ll have to stay a little bit open to fire the cannon. Instead, he hurls himself at the cannon! The jaws swing downward but stop before crushing the Reject! He smashes the cannon with his power rod!

Karkas grabs a Euro-Ninja and smashes him against the ground. Swarm curses him and sics thousands of killer bees at the red monster, hoping to find at least one vulnerable spot.

Then the robot tyrannosaurus lets out a mighty shriek! The Reject leaps from the robot’s mouth as strange energies burst forth from the beast! The Reject lands on top of Swarm, howling a battle cry! The robot grinds, shrieks, and stops!

Karkas dispatches the last Euro-Ninja and sees his friend get stung again and again by the Nazi Bee Man, as their struggles move towards the Rue de Rivoli. An idea enters into Karkas’s head. He grabs a canister off of the belt of an unconscious Euro-Ninja and fumbles with it for a moment. He curses his thick claws and misshapen form for not being able to use it himself. He hurls the canister at the Reject and yells for him to pull the ring!

The Reject grabs the canister and, lacking a better idea, does as Karkas suggests. Smoke pours out from the canister.

Exposed to smoke, the bees that make up Swarm’s body immediately become docile. They putter around, ignoring Swarm’s orders to attack.

We see the Reject’s thought balloon: a big yellow smiley face.

Then he brings down his power rod against Swarm’s head, shattering the Nazi’s skull. The bees scatter.

We jump to an apartment. The television set is on, and it dominates the panels. It shows Karkas being interviewed by a reporter about the battle. The Reject, once again wearing the giant false moustache, stands next to his Big Red Buddy, all smiles. Karkas assures the public that everything is fine, and that they will rescue Jean-Pierre Duval.

In the background of the shot, the robot Tyrannosaurus’s mouth-mounted sonic cannon fires and shatters the entrance to the Hotel de Ville. The robot then falls over.

Karkas mutters and holds his head in his hands. The Reject offers Karkas the moustache.

The television set turns off. Our view shifts to the apartment’s sole occupant: an expensively-dressed woman. “No…they’ve begun the Akvan Protocols!

She reaches for a cigarette, and we see that her left hand is unusual. Though shaped like that of a normal woman, it lacks flesh and blood. Instead, it is a slice of outer space. In her hand, we can see stars, nebulae, and the blackness of the void.

To be continued soon in The Reject #2: Shall Earth Survive?

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

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Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Greatest Book Ever

Courtesy of the now-defunct blog Gutterninja, yesterday I found online a copy of The Greatest Book Ever.

What is it?

War and Peace? The Brothers Karamazov? Aunt Erma's Cope Book?

Ha! They wish they possessed a fraction of the art and wisdom as this text.

Online can be found the full book The Monster at the End of this Book, Starring Lovable, Furry Old Grover, by Jon Stone and Mike Smollin. You can read it here, where it's been posted as part of Smollin's website.

It is genius. It is literature at its finest. It is Grover's shining hour.

What literature lacking Lovable Furry Old Grover can make any claim to greatness, true greatness? None. None, I tell you.

Grover is life.

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Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Four-Color Spice Rack

A few elements that, applied in spare, careful amounts, make any comic better, more satisfying, more pleasing. The spice rack, if you will, of the four-color world.

  • Wonder Dogs.
  • The Generation X Quadrivium: Ninjas, Robots, Monkeys, Pirates.
  • Big-headed aliens.
  • Ads for selling “Grit.”
  • Octopi, earthly and otherwise.
  • Jimmy Olsen getting hit in the head and thinking he’s a viking.
  • Elves with guns.
  • Time-travelling gorillas.
Should they be overapplied, ruin is certain. But ah! Careful application of these provide a vigorous zest to any story, be it a Silver Age tale of Communist spies out to subvert capitalism or a modern alterno-indy comic about how the foolish, myopic world fails to understand the genius of the tormented nerd.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Rehabilitating the Lame

Seeing as how people dig my frisson of woo idea, I thought I’d go to that well one more time. Chewing over various characters’ woo-giving abilities in an effort to write another post, I thought of something. Possibly dumb, likely wrongheaded, but hey.

I think it’s possible to rehabilitate the nineties-era whipping boy and poster child of lame superheroes, Darkhawk.

No, really. It could work.

For those unfamiliar with the character, here’s the rundown, courtesy of the Wikipedia:
While spying on his father at an abandoned amusement park, teenager Chris Powell discovered a mysterious amulet that, with concentration, transformed him into a powerful android. Suspicious that his father, a policeman, was accepting bribes from a crime boss, Chris vowed to use the amulet as "an edge against crime."

Darkhawk's powers include "darkforce blasts" which emanate from the amulet on his chest, a small energy shield from the same source, a grappling claw on one arm, retractable gliding wings and night vision. Darkhawk's face, covered by a helmet, is intensely ugly or terrifying, a feature that can be used to stun enemies. When the android body was damaged, Chris could heal it almost instantly by transforming into his human form, and then back into his android form again (injuries to Chris' human form could not be healed this way). Darkhawk originally glided through the air, but later gained the power of flight…

Chris discovered that the source of his powers was a living vessel in deep space, where his and other Darkhawk bodies were stored and repaired. When Chris was Darkhawk, his human body was stored in the ship in the android's place

If’n you search online, you’ll see that a lot of comic fans regard Darkhawk as a symbol of bad nineties comics. I read the series back in yonder days, and I agree it wasn't great.

He has a lot of weird junk in his story, but what’s the essence? What’s the core of the character?

Darkhawk is a fusion of Captain Marvel (“Shazam!”) and Batman. That’s it. Darkhawk’s core appeal is “being a powerless teenage kid who can transform into a scary-ass killer robot superhero is cool.”

I think it could work, though striking the right tone would be a bear. Play up the powerlessness and confusion of Chris Powell with the terrifying appearance and kickassitude of his mysterious alter-ego. Chris goes from being scared to scaring, from being the powerless victim to the powerful avenger of wrongs.

It’s a very straightforward power/revenge fantasy, with the advantage of the main character remaining a kid. Batman required fifteen years of incredible training, a Nobel Laureate’s brain, and a fabulous fortune to get his revenge. Darkhawk required a “magic amulet.” That could be a plus for reader identification.

Imagine the ad for Darkhawk: The Movie. Chris Powell is the son of a dirty cop. His family is falling apart. His school life sucks and involves frequent beatings. Crime is rampant in his neighborhood. Then one day his father disappears and Chris finds a strange amulet. Smash cut to a scary vigilante with razor-edged wings flying around and kicking ass. Revenge on crooks! Revenge on bullying schoolmates! Muh-ha-ha-haaaa!!!

Not Proust, I grant you, but I think it could work. Teenage nerd and perennial victim can become a killer robot badass whenever he wants? You’ve got Big Action (“The Menacing Man-Mollusk is attacking downtown!”), Big Drama (“Dad’s a dirty cop and he's missing! The family’s falling apart! Stacey won’t talk to me!”), and, if desired, Big Komedy Laffs (as a nerdy teenage boy trying to act tough could be hilarious).

I think Darkhawk could be transformed from a punchline to a good character, consarn it.

To throw the topic open to the world: are there lamewad characters you think have promising woo-giving traits?

Who has the stuff to be big but never was, and why?

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Monday, May 22, 2006

The Frisson of Woo, or “Thirty Seconds to Grab ‘Em”

A few posts back, I wrote about essential traits and core appeals of super-characters, and forwarded a theory of how to determine said trait. Astute readers debated my ideas of what constituted essential traits of a few major characters.

So I’ve come up with a new test, a refinement of my earlier approach. Lemme know what you think.

Super-characters, particularly iconic ones, have appeals that one can grasp quickly. Yes, Superman has a winning personality, an understated wit, and a bitchin' spitcurl, but what the folks like to see is the superpowers. That’s what gets folks to buy the comics, see the movies, and wear the jammies.

I believe that every great character, every character capable of carrying his or her own comic series, should regularly provide a frisson of woo. The character should have the ability to make anyone, not just a regular comic reader, occasionally feel a little shiver of excitement and emit a little internal cry of “woo!”

The point of this silly exercise is threefold. First, it’s a test of a comic’s current creative team. I’d say that abandoning the woo-giving trait(s) is a bad, bad sign. It doesn't happen too often, but it does happen. Second, it’s a test of a character’s potential for public acceptance. If you can’t find a straightforward woo-generating trait for a character, said character is never going to be more than second-tier big-comic-crossover fodder. Third, it's fun to fart around with nonsense like this.

How to find that kernel of woo-ing?

Here’s my idea: imagine that a stack of new big-budget Hollywood movies starring the big comic book characters is about to hit the theaters of the world. Superman has his movie, Batman, Wonder Woman, hey, even Plastic Man, Doctor Strange, Green Lantern, Thor, and Wildcat all have their own movies. (For the sake of this essay, the movies capture the characters basically as the comics depict them.)

And you, you lucky fanboy/fangirl, are in charge of putting together the teevee commercial for the movies.

You have thirty seconds to assemble images and scenes to make John Q. Public interested in the character. You have thirty seconds to grab ‘em by the nose. Thirty seconds of precious, precious teevee time.

What goes in the thirty-second trailer?

I think that your answer to that would be whatever provides each character’s frisson of woo. It boils away the inessential and uncovers the characters’ core appeal.

There’s no time for sophistication in a thirty second ad; it requires bonk-them-over-the-head directness. Which shouldn’t be a problem. Head-bonking directness is something at which costumed super-folk excel; subtlety is not a superhero’s stock in trade.

Look at the thirty-second long teevee trailer for Superman Returns. It’s “dude in suit flying around, doing super stuff.” And it’s cool.

How about the ads for Batman Begins? It’s “dude dresses in freaky costume scaring the crap out of bad guys, gets revenge for feelings of powerlessness.”

Now, what about these theoretical ads?

Hawkman: A dude with giant bird wings flies around and hits stuff with a giant mace. He swoops around cities and mountains, pounding stuff and looking cool.

[Dude, that visual sells itself. Show a well-rendered Hawkman smashing up an in-flight Cessna or something and you’ll get people’s attention.]

The Question: A cloud of odd-colored smoke curls out of the corner of a darkened room. Following the cloud is a well-dressed man. A man with no face. He says something both vague and menacing, then disappears.

[That’ll stick in folks’ heads. Batman scares like a monster. Raar! The Question scares like an episode of the Twilight Zone. Creeeepy. People dig creeeepy.]

Green Lantern: A regular guy (test pilot, architect, artist, whatever) finds himself recruited by a massive space police force. He can make anything he imagines out of green energy by using a magic ring.

[The visuals of the 3,600-strong Green Lantern Corps, and crazy green ring constructs? That’ll catch people’s attention.]

Thor: A giant freakin’ dragon-serpent thing menaces a city. Trolls burst out of the ground. Then thunder booms, lightning bolts arc down, and a very large man with a very large hammer looks very pissed off. He warns the beasts to leave. They don’t. He swings the hammer and brings A Mighty Beatdown, shaking the heavens themselves.

[My pet guess for Thor’s woo-generation is when his normally placid exterior cracks and he uncorks the oceans of whoopass he keeps in reserve. When Thor goes into “I’ve had it with you” mode and Brings the Pain, I feel a hint of woo.]

Now, my readers, what would you put in your thirty-second trailers for your favorite super-folk?

How would you get people to want to see Wildcat: The Movin’ Picture, or Doctor Strange? Iron Man? Aquaman? Wonder Woman? Captain Marvel? Plastic Man? Vibe? Swamp Thing? Or any other character you love?

Come on, fans. Hollywood is calling!

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Saturday, May 20, 2006

Rolling and Fixed Timelines: The Captains America and Retcon Fun!

I love The Justice Experience.

They’re the big DC Comics super-group from the 1970s.

Sort of.

Certain comic book characters and events are fixed in time. Lots of important characters for both major companies are fixed around the Second World War. Other characters have their pasts strictly tied to the Vietnam War or the Cold War.

But most of comicdom works on a sliding time scale, with the heroes of the modern day emerging no more than “fifteen years ago,” to keep the big-name heroes young-ish. Can’t have Batman in his sixties, after all.

This creates an ever-widening gulf between "then" and "now." The Golden Age ended right after the war. By current comic timelines, the new heroes emerged no earlier than 1990. That’s one heck of a gap.

There are a lot of cheats to bridge this gap: anti-aging tricks for older heroes, suspended animation, and the like. But there’s also another, cooler way.

In the last decade or so, the Big Two have done some backfilling. A prime example is the aforementioned “The Justice Experience,” created for DC Comics. The Experience first appeared in 1998, in a short-lived series called Chase. The title character, Cameron Chase, was the daughter of an old-time hero, the Acro-Bat. The Acro-Bat was active in Seventies and had died decades ago. But "the Acro-Bat" had never existed until the first issue of Chase. The comic created, out of whole cloth, a super-group to fill the gap between the “golden age” and the modern era. Characters referred back to the Experience, stories derived from the team, all sorts of cool stuff.

Dang, that's snazzy.

Marvel did something similar with a miniseries called Marvel: The Lost Generation. The mini depicted whole passels of superheroes and villains that allegedly existed in the gap created by forward-rolling timelines. Who protected the world in 1965, long after WW2 and long before the Fantastic Four? Why, the Black Fox! And Flatiron! And…um…some other guy they just made up!

Later this year, Marvel’s putting out a similar miniseries, called Agents of Atlas. Agents takes place in the Fifties and stars Fifties heroes, many of whom were actually created in the Seventies.

Yes, it gets a little weird.

Much fun to be had with this particular sandbox. The freedom these backfilled characters allow is enormous. They can be anything, and one isn’t bound by the need to leave stories open-ended. Particular moments in real-world history can be included. Characters can age.

Also, backfilled characters can have story arcs that resolve fully, rather than cycle between poles over and over. Batman alternates between “alienated loner” and “patriarch of huge vigilante group,” and has been at either extreme a half-dozen times in the last twenty years. A backfilled hero could do it once then retire. Or die. Or try to change and fail.

Captain America is just the man to benefit from this sort of shenanigan.

According to internal Marvel chronology, there have been ten Captain Americas. Many of these Captains are pegged to specific points in time.


(Note: modern-era dates are based on the idea of the “modern heroic age” kicking off between ten and fifteen years ago.)

Captain America I (1941), Isaiah Bradley
Bradley was a test subject of the Super-Soldier Project. Participated in one mission against Germany, then spent 1942-1960 in prison. While incarcerated, Bradley’s mind degenerated to a childlike state due to flaws in the early version of the super-soldier serum he received. Still alive, though he has the mind of a five-year old.*

Captain America II (1941-45), Steve Rogers
The main Captain America. The biggest hero of his era. Rogers was a scrawny 4-F turned into the apex of human ability through the Super-Soldier Project. Thought killed in ’45 on a mission. Actually frozen in an Arctic ice floe and trapped in suspended animation until the modern era.

Captain America III (1945-46), William Naslund
A minor hero (“The Spirit of ‘76”) who dropped his old gig to take up the shield of the lost Captain America. Killed in ’46 by a robot.

Captain America IV (1946-49), Jeff Mace
Another mostly forgotten hero (“The Patriot”) who dropped his old gig to take up the shield after Naslund died. Retired in ’49, died of cancer as an old man.

Captain America V (1953-54), “Steve Rogers,”
A schoolteacher and wannabe superhero who rediscovered the Super Soldier Serum and made himself into the new Cap. His recreation of the Super Soldier Serum was inexact, and he ended up a paranoid loony who saw “enemies of America” everywhere. Captured by the FBI and placed into suspended animation. (Released in the modern era to bump heads with the original Cap, dies whilst a-villaining.)

Captain America II Redux (1995ish-present), Steve Rogers,
Revived from suspended animation, returns to break his foot off in evil’s ass.

Captain America VI-VIII (2000ish), Three mooks: Bob Russo, “Scar” Turpin, and Roscoe.
The original Cap once quit in disgust over his disillusionment with America. Three guys tried to fill in. The first two got the crap kicked out of them and quit. The third, Roscoe, was killed by the Red Skull. As a result, Rogers returns to the job, though with a new conception of his purpose.

Captain America IX (2003ish), John Walker.
Walker was a professional wrestler and superstrong meathead who put on a goofy suit and called himself “The Super Patriot.” The US government had tried to rein in Rogers and render him a government employee again. Rogers, rather than lose his longtime independence of action, quit. They hired Walker as the new Captain America. Walker proved unable to live up to the duties, flipped out, and eventually had to be stomped by Rogers. Regaining his sanity, Walker gave the job back to Rogers. Walker currently operates on the fringes of the Marvel Universe as the “USAgent.” Still a meathead.


Three of these “Captains” are simple retro-fits (Naslund, Mace, and “Steve Rogers”) created to explain how the character of Captain America could have been frozen in 1945 but still appearing in comics from ’46-’49 and ’53-’54. Just a little extra historical texture to the story.

Those three, plus Bradley, are all fixed in time. Naslund, Mace, and “Rogers” were created to address a disconnect between comic book history and “comic book history,” locking them with the dates their comics were published. Also, “Rogers” was retrofitted as a McCarthy/Red Scare allegory. Isaiah Bradley has to be part of the Second World War, and he had to be inactive since the early Forties, since his existence was supposed to be a secret until recently. Had Bradley been trashing bozos in the Post-Cap Gap, he would be widely known, and his backstory as it now stands would be demolished.

Thus, none of these men could act as Captain America after 1954. This leaves roughly forty years (1955-1995ish) with no Captain America.

Marvel seems fine with that. I, however, think that such a gap cries out to be filled. Or, if not “cries out to be filled,” I think it’d be fun to fill it.

Aside from placeholders Naslund and Mace, all of the “replacement Captains” have all been comments on periods in American history. Bradley addressed the brutality of racism in mid-twentieth century America. “Steve Rogers” was a look back at the paranoia of the mid-Fifties.

The modern-era “replacement Captains” were also tied to the zeitgeist of their publication dates. The real Cap quit the job in 1974, out of disgust at the Marvel Universe’s equivalent of Watergate. His retirement led to the three mooks trying to fill the job and failing. John Walker got the job in 1987 to serve as a comment on the gung-ho “superpatriotism” of the 1980s.

To follow in this tradition, I’d figure that any Captain America thrown into the Post-Cap Gap should be strongly tied to his era.


To the American public, Captain America was the biggest superhero of all. He threw his weight around from 1941-1949, then he disappeared. An obvious nutball took his place for a year in the mid-Fifties then disappeared.** Since then, various men took it upon themselves to dress in a ridiculous costume and throw a garbage can lid at criminals, hoping to cast themselves as symbols of their nation.

Who are these men? I’m glad you asked.

Captain America VI (1962-1973), Ian O’Malley
O’Malley was a graduate student of chemistry at the University of Chicago who fell victim to a lab accident. Sabotaged by a Cuban superspy, the Apexotron-9000 ruptured and exposed O’Malley to a combination of mutagenic gases. Rather than die or become a hideous monster, O’Malley found himself the possessor of an odd pair of gifts: tremendous agility and resistance to physical harm.

He assumed the role of his childhood hero, Captain America, to thwart the menaces of his day: The Annihilist, the Devil’s Swordsman, and The Man With the Atomic Brain, who led a cult of Doomsday Men. O’Malley served as Captain America during the height of the Cold War and through the Vietnam War. His ties to intelligence agencies were strong, though they faded as conflicts in Southeast Asia increased. O’Malley was friendly to the emergent counterculture and became a divisive figure. He spoke out against the Vietnam War and was wanted by the authorities more than once.

Captain America VII (1967-1973), James Stephens
Stephens was a fireman who had been gifted with preternatural strength and toughness since childhood. The gifts came from his mother, a sorceress-cum-housewife, who wished to keep her son safe. Stephens grew disgusted and enraged by O’Malley’s Captain America and his disregard for the traditions of the nation. Stephens took up the shield to fulfill what he believed to be the true mission of Captain America.

Stephens allied himself with the US military, and went so far as to perform several missions in Southeast Asia. He also fought supervillains by the truckload, such as the Octo-Ape of Zero Street and the Murdermaster.

O’Malley and Stephens came to blows a dozen times between 1968-1972, neither backing down, both claiming to speak for the “true” America. Their conflicts ended in 1972 when they each discovered the machinations of the Secret Empire, a villainous organization bent on world domination. Moreover, the Empire had extensive ties to the White House. The two men set aside their differences to ally in ’72-’73. In a desperate battle against hideous odds, they stopped the Empire’s master plot. Their heroics saved America from a coup d'etat, though it cost the lives of both men.

Captain America VIII (1975-1981), Damon Bollea
Bollea, a car mechanic and a mutant, took up the mantle of Captain America to serve as a rallying point to a discouraged nation, and possibly make a few bucks on the side. Bollea’s power, a control of magnetism, allowed him to perform outrageous stunts with his shield. He “surfed the skies” riding the disk, fought the occasional villain, and become a celebrity, benefitting in particular from the upswing in patriotism surrounding the Bicentennial.

A pleasant and kind man, Bollea fought only a few supervillains before disappearing from the public eye. The Secret Empire had learned his identity and threatened to expose him as a mutant. Rather than risk the safety of his loved ones in the certain anti-mutant hysteria that would follow, he gave up the role.

Captain America IX (1982-1989), Jason Freytag
Young Jason Freytag’s shattered body was pulled from a car crash in 1981 and, in desperation, given over to the prosthesis department of Wyman/Davis Industries. The eighteen year old boy was rebuilt with the finest technology yet developed. Though seventy percent of his body was replaced by technology, Freytag looked entirely human.

Wyman/Davis hired Freytag to act as their spokesman and loaned him to the Pentagon for a number of missions. Captain America IX’s face dotted army recruitment ads for years and raised W/D’s profile. Freytag himself was brash, none too bright, and happy to be kicking asses. He was killed on a mission on the border between Peru and Colombia, destroyed by the unexpected presence of a local guerilla leader with tremendous mutant powers.

Captain America X (1991-1995), Josiah al hajj Saddiq.***
Josiah, the son of Isaiah Bradley, inherited his father's physical gifts. After years of wandering and finding himself, Saddiq took up the name and the shield in 1991 in response to a series of bombings and strange robot attacks. He avoided the spotlight, emerging only as necessary to combat the menace.

In 1995, Saddiq found the source of the attacks: the revived Secret Empire, once again on the cusp of instigating a coup d’etat of the United States, led by Richard Nixon's brain in a jar. Saddiq singlehandedly smashed the operation in a massive battle against impossible odds at the shipyards of Norfolk, Virginia. The threat ended, Saddiq abandoned the identity. Saddiq is known as the legendary “Black Captain America,” a figure about whom little is publicly known.


…and then the modern heroic age begins, Steve Rogers emerges from the ice, and history continues as Marvel Comics depict.

Heh. I love playing in the sandbox.

Anybody out there got ideas for different backfilled Captains?

Perhaps a “gray flannel suit” Cap for the latter half of the Fifties? Psychedelic Cap, with olive, puke-yellow, and green colors? Heh.

Comics is fun.

* The timeline is a little messy. Logic would dictate that Bradley preceded Rogers, as Bradley was a test subject. However, Bradley’s story (told in The Truth) takes place in 1942, and Rogers had been active for a year by that point. Since (a) The Truth didn’t sweat continuity, (b) changing history is accepted practice, and (c) we’re only talking about comic books for cryin’ out loud, in this here essay, I’m saying Bradley’s story happened in ’41-’42, not ’42-’43, and that he did precede Rogers by a little bit.

** I don’t know if Fifties Cap’s status as a replacement was publicly acknowledged in the Fifties. But I figure most people would suspect as much, what with “Steve Rogers” acting like a lunatic. Rumors would be widespread. Well, in my version they are.

*** Could I resist casting Josiah as “Captain America X?” I could not. Besides, I like the character and think he has tremendous potential. I was pissed that his series, The Crew, was cancelled so quickly.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2006


Over at Comics Should Be Good, there's a piece examining upcoming Marvel Comics covers.

Going down the page, I thought to myself, "Okay, okay, boring, boring, kinda grabby, good one, bleah..."

And then "OH COME ON!"

The cheesecake covers of She-Hulk are terrible, but this...this is ridiculous.

"I have an idea!" says the artist for this issue of Ms. Marvel. "Womens is pretty, but when they look at me looking at them, I get all icky feeling. Howsabout I cut off the top part of her head, so she can't stare at me as I look at her body! It's like she's just there for me to stare at! The good parts are all in the middle anyhow! I'm a genius!"

Ah, sweet objectification.

This cover is like something out of a women's studies textbook.

I can feel my hands wanting to reach through the screen to grip the lapels of the artist, David Mack, and slap the stupid right out of him. Why, David? What's the point of this cover, beyond "huh huh huh, BOOBIES!" Why reduce the title character to a sexualized object? Isn't she supposed to be a character? One about whom the reader is supposed to care? Or is the book simply wank fuel for the saddest of my fanboy brothers?

I love comics. But man, sometimes I hate 'em too.


Postscript: Below is a cover lovingly created on Like Scratches in the Sand, making the same point by using photoshop. Lo, and it was hilarious.




David Mack himself has commented on this post, explaining his approach to the cover. I responded with a longer explanation of my reaction to the piece.

Check out the comments section below for a more detailed and rational debate on the cover design.

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Monday, May 15, 2006

The Essential Superhero, or Why Captain America is an Anglo Bruce Lee

The first issue of Civil War has hit the stands, and I let out a teeny grin when I heard the Comic Blogosphere make reference to one scene in the issue, time and again. It reinforces a pet theory of mine.*

Comic book superheroes are inconsistent and vague. They have to be. Even if a writer intends for a character to be distinct, that distinction tends to get lost over the years when the character falls into different hands. Nineteen writers later, who the hell can say what Batman is “really like?” Is he a driven, borderline-loony vigilante? A smiling scoutmaster with a cool belt of tricks? The patriarch of a huge clan of like-minded adventurers? He’s all of the above; it depends on what issue you buy.

If you step outside of comics, I believe it gets a little different. To regular folks, the heroes are understood as icons. They represent basic, simple ideas in funny clothes, a visual shorthand for something. Each successful character has one, maybe two, core traits.

These core traits form the character’s appeal to a reader, traits that both Phineas Q. Fanboy and a regular person on the street can appreciate. Ignore that trait and the hero becomes a cypher, an indistinct brightly-colored blob on paper. Include the trait and any portrayal is basically right.

My pet theory is that you can identify a character’s essential trait, the trait without which the character ceases to exist, by the little frisson of “woo!” you get when you see it used.**

Granted, this is all my opinion, but I think it holds up.

Take the most iconic of superfolk, DC Comics’ big three.

Superman, for example, has the essential trait of “Super Powers Are Cool.” He flies! He lifts heavy stuff! Sure, he stands for truth, justice, and swell-osity, but those are byproducts. What’s the Essential Trait of Superman? The old ads put it best: you will believe a man can fly.

Superman provides the frisson of “woo!” when he uncorks his mighty powers and makes with the awesome.***

Batman has the essential trait of “Scaring People Is Cool.” He skulks! He fights human monsters! Granted, there was his “happy Scoutmaster” period of the Fifties, but that was an aberration. For most of his history, and when he has been most successful, Batman was about scaring bad guys, casting that menacing shadow. Batman provides the frisson of “woo!” when he frightens those who frighten normal people. (His "scoutmaster" period is derided to this day because it failed to make with the woo.)

Wonder Woman is stickier. I’d say her essential trait is “Magical Princess Come to Kick Ass Is Cool.” She’s the Fairy Princess from a magical kingdom, come to dispense two-fisted justice and a kind word to the ugly brutish world we live in. Wonder Woman provides the frisson of “woo!” when she brings out her otherness in contrast to the “Man’s World.” (I think. WW fans, please lemme know if you have a better idea.)

Marvel’s biggest name has an obvious one. Spider-Man’s essential trait is “Everyman With Powers Is Cool.” Spider-Man is, at his core, a regular guy who happens to have superpowers. The gulf between his regular life of spotty employment, girl trouble, and head colds and his superhero life of high adventure and fame has long been his central appeal.

Superman also carries the appeal of the gulf between hero and schmuck, but the flavor is different. Superman is a god in disguise as a mortal. His “everyday man” travails last just as long as he decides to let them. Spider-Man is a regular guy whether he wants to be or not. His powers do not end his problems, they just change them. Spidey’s frisson of “woo!” comes when his Spider-life and his regular life collide: he loses a job because he was busy saving the city one afternoon; Peter’s high school bully is Spider-Man’s biggest fan; and so forth.

Then there are the others. It’s not too hard to determine a popular character’s essential trait. Hulk? “Angry Child Breaking Stuff Is Cool.” Wolverine? “Stabbing Stuff Is Cool.”****

Which brings me back to Cap and Civil War #1.

What did all of them bloggers dig?

When Captain America unloads a giant crate of whoopass on a room full of high-tech soldiers and escapes from an impossible situation.

Sure, Captain America is often saddled with all sorts of political ideas, or at least the writers try to do it sometimes. After all, he’s a walking flag. And there is his status as the cleanest of the clean-cut, the most righteous of them all.

But that’s not his essence. Not really. The symbolic importance of his name and flag-jammies come and go. Englehart and DeMattis made a lot of hay out of it. Kirby and Gruenwald didn’t. His purity of heart is important, sure. But what’s the core? Cap’s sine qua non?

The essence of Cap is “Kicking a Lot of Ass Is Cool.” The quintessential Cap moment is not him giving a speech about freedom. It’s Captain America entering a room with fifty bad guys and smashing the whole group singlehandedly. Preferably as their leader yells, “He’s just one man!”

Granted, most superheroes could do it. But very few of them actually do. Wiping out a Room Fulla Suckas™ is a distinctly Captain America scene, made fun and exciting by his lack of superpowers. Sure, Iron Man or Thor could crush a room full of goons by blinking, which makes it dull and a little disturbing. Cap has only courage, his fists, and a silly-ass costume. Thus do his mass beatdowns provide the frisson of “woo!”

Captain America is the dude who fights the hordes and wins. He is the Tough Guy. He is Badassedness Incarnate. He is Bruce Lee recast as Anglo.

No, really. He is.

Early in “The Chinese Connection,” an angry Bruce Lee visits a Japanese karate school, seeking to challenge its headmaster to a fight. The students, contemptuous of the man, get in his way. Lee unloads three metric tons of whoopass upon the crowded room of trained fighters, smashing them all in record time.

Now that there, that was a Captain America moment. One man, with only skill, courage, and great abs, takes on a small army and kicks the crap out of every last mother's son?


* I have a lot of pet theories. Most are crap. I kinda like this one.

** A corollary to my theory is that any character whose essence can't be defined will never be iconic. If you can't find the woo, the character's a second-stringer.

** Traditionally, Superman had another Essential Trait: the secret identity of Clark Kent and its accompanying “love triangle” with Lois Lane. I'm on the fence about it as an Essential Trait, as it’s been gone for fifteen years and it hasn’t killed the character. Remove the “love triangle” and he’s still distinctly Superman; remove the Super Awesome Powers and he’s not Superman anymore. Then again, to the non-fanboys of the world, the Clark/Supes/Lois "triangle" is huge. Hm.

*** Well, it is.

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Friday, May 12, 2006

Disco Inferno!

Humidity is rising - Barometer's getting low
According to all sources, the street's the place to go
Cause tonight for the first time
Just about half-past ten
For the first time in history
It's gonna rain Supermen-men-men!

It's Raining Supermen! Hallelujah!
It's Raining Supermen! Amen!
I'm gonna go out to run and let myself get
Absolutely soaking wet!
It's Raining Supermen! Hallelujah!
It's Raining Supermen! Every Specimen!*

It's been a day for cheap jokes. I apologize.

*The rhymes don't work with "Superboy." I had to make do.

Thankfully, no one's ever written "It's Raining Boys."

That'd be oogy.

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Ah, Romance

True Tales of Romance...

That somehow miss the essence of "romance."

Honey, the loathing and contempt come later. No sense rushing straight to disgust.

Man, I love comics.

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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Monkey Was Big

FCBD is an event I usually avoid. Comics and I are well acquainted, and I feel like a dork for taking the free books. The event is an outreach program, and believe you me, comics “reached” me a long time ago. Spread the four-color love to the heathens, I say. I’ll come by next week for my regular binge.

Despite this, last Saturday's FCBD saw me venture into a comic shop to pay my respects to two fellows I knew only by reputation. Big Monkey Comics of Georgetown was open on that beautiful Saturday afternoon, and it held two Legends of Bloggitry: the store’s manager, Devon of Seven Hells, and the store’s owner, Scipio of the Absorbascon.

Both men proved to be more than willing to take time out of their very busy day to chat with yers truly. As their blogs would lead you to believe, these men know their stuff. The three of us yakked about comic blogging and the powerful symbolism of Hal Jordan getting hit in the head. We threw around our ideas on what makes for good comics, the value of the modern age of comics, and how one pronounces “Busiek.”*

Moreover, as the three of us approach comics from different angles, our conversation left me with a number of ideas for future posts. Wedged into my own corner of comic book fandom, I can’t help but appreciate alternate views of the medium and the genre. Scipio’s understanding of the Big Two got me thinking about my own tastes and interpretations. While I agree with him that Vibe is a character of great potential, there are other areas where we do not see eye-to-eye.

It was a good FCBD. I contributed an apropos “Simpsons” reference. Devon made many fine points and at one point lept over a crouching customer with fluid athleticism. And Scipio? Scipio omnes sale superabat.

An embarrassing postscript: proving that I have the manners of an ill-tempered goat, I forgot to buy anything at Big Monkey, despite hogging two hours of Scip and Devon’s time. Nice, eh?


At least I didn’t compound the oafishness by taking any free comics or belching audibly.

That’ll be next year.

*According to Big Monkey, it’s pronounced “Byuu-sek.” Works for me, yo.

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Monday, May 08, 2006

The Champions Project: Mephisto #1

Mephisto #1: Robinson, the Man of Mystery

Page one, panel one: A young man in a sweatshirt points a revolver at the reader. He looks nervous. We can see him from the waist up. He’s standing on a stage, with the footlights covering his left half in light and sinking his right half into shadow.

A caption reads: “This man has paid three hundred dollars for the chance to kill Mephisto.”

Panel two: From the head-level of the theater-goers, we see the crowd staring up at the gunman, excitement evident on their faces. Standing next to the gunman is a beautiful woman in a rhinestone-bedazzled outfit. One of her arms is raised high, the other is parallel to the stage floor; she’s “gesturing magically.” We can tell by her navy blue skin and unusually smooth facial features that she’s a mutant.

The narrator goes on: “Stage magic is huge these days. In the last fifteen years, the fantastic shoved its way into people’s lives. Monsters. Robots. Aliens from outer space. We resent it. We want to reclaim the fantastic for ourselves. To see an ordinary man, like us, do the impossible. Even if it’s all phony.”

Panel three: A black and white panel showing a man in a turn-of-the-century Manchu robe lying prone on a stage. Black blood covers the chest of the robe, pouring from a hole in the center of the man’s chest.

The narrator continues: “Though it's not just that. Everyone here knows the bullet catch is a trick. Everyone here also knows that it’s gone wrong in the past and killed magicians. Everyone here relishes the possibility of it happening tonight, deep in the parts of themselves they’d rather not admit.”

Panel four: Close on the gunman. He’s sweating badly.

The narrator continues: “That man loaded the gun himself with six bullets of his choice. He fired a few shots into a block of gel to test it. Nobody touched him, the gun, or the bullets since he got onstage. He even scanned Mephisto with a mutant detector to prove he’s gene-normal. All possible avenues of cheating have been cut off.”

“Right now that man is thinking what everyone else in the crowd is thinking.”

“How will he escape? I've seen the act a dozen times, and I've got it figured out."

"What’s the trick?”

Pages two and three: Double-page splash. The picture is drawn from the foot of the stage, on the right-hand side, where the gunman and Tamara, the Lovely Assistant, stand. The gunman fires. Tamara looks freaked out. The crowd, visible on the fringe of the page, looks freaked out too. The magician, dressed in a red tuxedo, is falling backwards. He’s been shot in the face.

The one and only caption reads: “There isn’t one.”

The title of the issue runs across the top of both pages: ROBINSON, THE MAN OF MYSTERY!

(I’ll stop with the script style of writing now, or this thing will be ridiculously long.*)

After lying still for a moment, the magician lifts his arm, reaches into his mouth, and holds up the bullet. He then stands up and bows. The magician's name, according to the narrator, is Robinson Yeung, popularly known as Mephisto. We see he's a handsome Asian man of indeterminate age.

We jump ahead in time to see the narrator, an attractive woman in her late thirties, approach Mephisto and Tamara in a hotel restaurant. Yeung is wearing all white, sipping a drink. The narrator tells us that Mephisto is on the last leg of his national tour, “The Gentleman from Hell,” and that this is her one shot to get help.

She introduces herself to the duo as Fabiana Downs and apologizes for the interruption. Mephisto is friendly, Tamara less so. Fabiana mentions the beauty of the bullet catch. She adds, "I've figured out how you do it." Tamara's eyes widen; Mephisto remains calm and amused. Fabiana continues, "Other magicians can't figure you out. They say your tricks are impossible. Background checks on you can't find anything beyond seven years ago."

Fabiana leans in close to Mephisto and whispers, a wry smile upon her lips, “You really are the devil, aren't you.”

Mephisto and Tamara laugh. “Of course,” he says.

Fabiana asks, "Can I buy Your Infernal Majesty a drink?"
Fabiana explains to the magicians what she's after. Two years ago, her husband George staked the future of his mattress store on a new product, the King Vibro Sleep-o-Tron. The product failed to catch on, and worse, the local chain stores were taking away his business. In desperation, he tried a dozen silly schemes, all failures.

George went so far as to try sorcery. “The crazy thing was,” Fabiana explains, “the sorcery worked.” Competing stores suffered from mysterious mechanical failures and flu outbreaks among their staffs. Then there was an inexplicable shift in taste among the locals, and the King Vibro Sleep-o-Tron was the bed everybody wanted. All of the sudden, Downs Beds was booming. “It was great,” she explains.

Tamara asks, "So?"

Fabiana looks away. "The magic became too much. George's lost his mind. He wants to use his magic in all sorts of awful ways, and he's threatened me. I think he wants to kill me."

Tamara responds, "Why should we care?"

Mephisto ignores his assistant and leans forward on the table, his eyes fixed on Fabiana. "We can't have that."

Tamara looks at Mephisto as though he's lost his mind, though she says nothing.

The scene shifts to a McMansion in St. Petersburg. It’s nestled in a community of McMansions, next to a golf course. An alligator swims in a water hazard. Fabiana's narration explains that she and George bought it a year ago, just as their success began.

Mephisto and Fabiana head into the backyard, where a tired-looking man in his late forties sits by a pool. He's wearing a salmon-colored golf shirt and chinos, both of which strain at the seams to contain the man's corpulence. "George?" Mephisto asks. He holds out a deck of cards, a large smile on his face. "Pick one."

George ignores the magician and instead addresses Fabiana. "Who is this?"

Fabiana ignores her husband and speaks to Mephisto, her eyes wild. "Take him! He's been holding out on you! Take him and let me go!"

George struggles to his feet, sweating and yelling. "What are you talking about, Fabiana? Who is this guy?"

Fabiana shoves Mephisto in the back, towards her husband. "Take him! He's evil and deserves what you can do!" She then points towards George. "This is Mephisto! He's come here to take your diseased soul to hell, where it belongs!"

"My preference is for slight-of-hand," Mephisto states. "Would you care for tickets to a show?"

Fabiana loses her grip. "You...fraud! George, get him!" George tells her to do it herself. In a rage, she reaches into her purse, pulls out a small revolver, and points it at the stage magician.

The gun flies out of Fabiana's hand and hangs in the air. It then disassembles into its component pieces and falls to the patio cement.

For a moment, no one speaks or moves. Then Fabiana clutches her husband's arm and yells for Mephisto to take George, not her, as George was the one who stole lives, and she was forced to help. George yells back that it was all her idea, and that she lured people to their traps.

She calls him a liar. He retaliates by using a hint of magic to hurl her onto the grass, akin to a hard shove. With this exertion of mystic power, George glows a little and loses some of his ample body fat. George then faces the magician. With a grunt, he grips Mephisto with solidified magical power and forces the stage magician into the pool.

George glows and slims as he uses his power to throw various objects into the pool on top of Yeung: a gas barbeque grill, lawn furniture, and so forth. The now-thin George yells to Mephisto that drowning is a horrible way to die, and that it should take a long time.

Fabiana rejoins her husband, speaking to him as though he were a child throwing a fit. She cajoles him to calm him down, sounding terribly phony. They bicker as Mephisto drowns. We see that George is not insane, but he's close. Determining who's the dominant member of the couple is far from clear.

The water from the pool explodes upward! The grill, the lawn furniture, the table rocket from the water. Following them is a levitating Mephisto. He looks pissed.

The couple flee and head into their house. They reach a room bare of furniture or ornamentation. Instead it contains arcane markings spray-painted upon the walls, a smattering of tools, and two dozen earthenware jars, each one the size of a child, scattered around the floor. "I'll get the hammer!" Fabiana cries. She grabs a sledgehammer from the wall as George positions himself in the middle of the room.

Mephisto walks through the house, taking his sweet time.

Fabiana smashes open a jar. Out of it comes a disembodied soul. George pulls it towards him and absorbs it, growing fatter. In a panic, she smashes more and more jars. George inflates and crackles with mystic energy. As Fabiana raises the hammer to smash another jar, George lets out a howl. He cannot contain the huge influx of mystic energy.

An arc of power courses off of him and strikes a jar, then another, and another. Every jar shatters.

The room is lost to a whirlwind of angry souls and mystic energies. George inflates more and more.

Mephisto reaches the door of the room.

And George explodes.

A brief time later, Fabiana awakes. She can feel the life leaving her body. She grows cold and sees that most of the house is gone.

From out of the rubble, Mephisto approaches. His face and body show several long cuts. The various cuts bleed in different colors: red, black, green, and gold. The many hues run in streaks down his white clothing.

Mephisto kneels beside her.

Fear fills her eyes as she whispers her last words: "You...the devil..."

Emotionless, he replies, "You'll find out."

He stands up and leaves her. She dies amidst the debris.

To be continued soon in Mephisto #2: Fatima the Dancer

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

*All that text on page one shouldn’t be too much. According to an interview with Alan Moore I dug up, Mort Weisinger, the legendary editor of DC Comics in the fifties, had a strict rule of no more than 210 words on a page. More than that, he insisted, would overwhelm the pictures. Page one of Mephisto #1 has 204 words. So it’s yappy but not over the limit.

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Monday, May 01, 2006

Blog Bits: Batmania, Baseball, Burgundy

Sorry about the lack of posting. Real life has taken me by the upper lip and pulled me around something fierce. Actual important crap, serious events concerning life, death, and finances have kept me from blogging.

I must say, I much prefer four-color comic book DRAMA! to the real thing. My everyday life plays much better as light comedy than heavy drama.

Plus a spate of long-assed workdays lately haven't helped the noble cause of blog blather. Ugh.


For the three or four of you who actually read 'em, the next two entries in "The Champions Project" are just about ready.

Mephisto will be played pretty straight. I'm gunning for coherency and a sustained mood, neither of which is my strong suit. We'll see.

The mood of The Reject is best summed up by the first story's title: "City of Lights, City of Bees!"

In said story, I promise you Paris, a Nazi made of bees, Karkas (that big red dude on the right) wearing a moustache while being interviewed on French television, and a robot Tyrannosaurus Rex destroying the Hotel de Ville with his sonic breath.

It's time to Bring the Wacky.

Putting up first drafts of writing projects is more nerve-wracking than I expected. Even glancing at the bits later, I can see weak spots, dropped subplots, and outright holes. I comfort myself by saying I would fix it in rewrite, if I were rewriting anything.


For your viewing pleasure, here's a picture of Batman and his Evil Universe Counterpart, Cody.

In the picture, Bats is demonstrating to Cody the value of stuffing the secret compartment of one's belt buckle with a survival kit. If you look closely, you can see it holds a Swiss Army knife, food for three days, a rebreather, a signal flare, novelty prophylactics, a pad of sticky notes, a Svengali deck of trick cards, an English-to-Basque dictionary, all six of the starting lineup of the 1979 Philadelphia Flyers, a surface-to-air missile, and a quarter for phone calls.


Essential Thor Volume 1 is boring and silly. Essential Thor Volume 2 is kickass.

Volume 2 shows Kirby gone wild. (Thankfully, his shirt stayed on. Perhaps had we offered him more beads?) He unleashed the crazed mythological imagery that he later brought to his Fourth World books. The stories in Volume 2 grew away from the series' earlier approach of "man acts as pagan god" and its repetitive plot hinge: "must...regain hammer...before sixty seconds...elapse!"

Instead, Kirby shifted the focus of the series to the world of Asgard and all manner of things divine. The comics revel in the grand sweep and strange feel of Norse myths.

Ya know, the only other period of Thor's history that was kickass was the Simonson period, when Walt took the same angle.

I'm just sayin'.


A blog I greatly enjoy is "Management by Baseball." Jeff Angus uses baseball to explain business ideas, and makes a lot of sense. If nothing else, one's success or failure is pretty obvious in baseball, making it an excellent source for seeing what works and what doesn't.

Angus uses a term (which I think he coined, but I'm not sure) that could be well-applied to fanboy discourse. When writing about managers who refuse to change because "it's always been done like X in the past," folks who hate anything different, he refers to them as "bitgods." It's an acronym for "Back In The Good Old Days."

Granted, I'm a fan of old-school comics, but bitgods drive me freakin' nuts. Ever forward, ya bastids.


Several of Steve Ditko's later creations had secret identities as television newsmen: the Question, the Creeper, Shag... He seemed to love the idea of the noble and dogged crusader who would dig for the truth and then broadcast it to all. Plus stomp hippies. Ditko's heroes loved to stomp on hippies.

Then there's the great fictional anchorman of our times, Ron Burgundy. Burgundy, ably played by Will Ferrell, was a great newsman and a fine human being. Plus his apartment smells of rich mahogany.

You can see where I'm going with this, can't you.

Oh yes. And it's so very right.

The Question, starring Will Ferrell.

"You stay classy, Hub City."

It could work...the crackpot "objectivist" philosophy Ditko infused into the character...the "faceless man" jokes his mask would inspire...the warped conspiracy theories...

Vic Sage, crusading reporter and self-appointed "Last Honest Man" declares war on the underworld of Hub City, convinced that an alliance of hippies and traitors are poisoning hair products and using the Mafia to distribute their foul chemicals. During his hippie-stomping activities, he trips across an actual criminal conspiracy, though he can't tell nor can he understand it... could work...

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