TIMES, TIME, AND HALF A TIME. A HISTORY OF THE NEW MILLENNIUM.

Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.



Showing posts with label George Perez. Show all posts
Showing posts with label George Perez. Show all posts

Friday, October 3, 2014

Counting Down to Hallowe'en: Jonestown - Altruism, Violence, Fear


Testimony on Jonestown? (Look at her right hand.) BCW-944-BS Photo of Jim Jones Cult People's Temple Jonestown Guyana. Image Source © Tribune Photos Archive / Baltimore Sun Photo Archive / Wire Photo.

Caption for the above photograph: "This WIREPHOTO is straight from the newspaper's historical photo archive. Wirephotos are different than traditional photographic prints!  This print is the result of what used to be breakthrough technology (now completely obsolete) that allowed a photographic image to be scanned, transmitted over 'the wire' (telegraph, phone, satellite networks) and then printed at the receiving location.  They are often on thinner, slick paper (very similar to old thermal roll fax paper) and often fade or become sepia toned quicker than traditional silver halide prints.  Long removed from commercial use, these artifacts represent an important era in the history of news media."

Before 9/11, the largest loss of civilian American lives due to a deliberate act was the Jonestown Massacre of 18 November 1978. This pacifist American cult committed mass suicide under psychological duress exerted by their psychopathic priest, Reverend Jim Jones. The cult, the Peoples Temple, had been developing under Jones's leadership for some twenty years prior to their migration to Guyana, where they died after drinking cyanide-laced Kool-Aid. The act passed into public consciousness and generated an American expression describing how someone fully and foolishly accepts ideas which are fatally wrong: "He drank the Kool-Aid."

Before their mass suicide, the cult's guard squad hunted down and murdered an American Congressman and NBC news team who visited them on behalf of cultists' family members. An account of the grisly events is here.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Art of the Retcon 3: Time and Heroism in the Multiverse


Morrison's 18 Days retells the great Mahabharata in an animated CGI drama on Youtube (you can watch it here). 18 days is the length of the battle in the Mahabharata. Image Source: Broken Frontier.

The wavering fictional reality of DC Comics resembles theories from today's quantum physicists.  A comic book fantasy of multiple Earths and multi-dimensional universes aligns with contemporary scientific ideas of a fractured multiverse and mysterious dark matter.  It makes one wonder: if our physicists are right and the multiverse is real, what sort of creatures are we because of it, and how do we feel its effects?

Multiversity #1 (October 2014). "Every comic you ever read is real." – Grant Morrison. Behind the Panels review: "Morrison directly challenges the reader. 'Whose voice is speaking in your head anyway? Yours?' The same narration urges us to stop reading. That’s when things get beautifully weird."

Are we pawns of a larger order we will never perceive? Scottish writer Grant Morrison would say: yes. He is delivering his long-promised crossover, Multiversity, right now via DC Comics, and a glance at the multiversal map below shows that he is combining years of esoteric interests - mind expansion through drug dreams, a fascination with ancient Indian epics and religions, and a belief (expressed in 2012's Supergods) that modern superheroes are manifestations of ancient gods. More importantly, in Multiversity, the heroes exist along a metafictional continuity with our reality and time. They are part of humankind's long quest to define the line between creation and destruction, from which everything else follows in this world, and other worlds too.

DC's map of the Multiversity (August-September 2014; click to enlarge). Image Source: DC Entertainment.

From 2009 to 2013, Morrison worked with Dynamite Entertainment and Liquid Comics to produce 18 Days, a retelling of the Mahabharata, in which a classic Indian battle sees the age of gods give way to the age of men. Two of the founders of Liquid Comics are author Deepak Chopra and his son, Gotham Chopra. Deepak Chopra famously discussed these ideas with Morrison at several comics conventions; the Chopras also published a book about it, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Superheroes (2011). CBR reported on one such discussion in 2006 in San Diego:
Superheroes, in Chopra's view, are not external beings. "These are archetypal beings that stoke the fire of life and passion in our own souls. These are potentials that exist within us, and by creating these superheroes through our own collective imagination, we are in a way serving our deepest longings, our deepest aspirations, and our deepest desires to escape the world of the mundane and the ordinary and do things that are magical."
Morrison draws from Indian traditions to marry that consciousness to the cosmos of existence. Thoughts become physical substances in other dimensions. The great epic of the multiverse involves the genesis of values in that consciousness through dharma and karma, action and negative action, creation and destruction, good and evil. In our reality, mythical heroes are legendary archetypes. But Morrison insists that these paragons embody physical forms in other times and places.








18 Days concept art by Mukesh Singh. Images Sources: Decode Hindu Mythology, Comic Vine, Concept Art, Dynamite Comics, Planet Damage, Mukesh Singh.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Nuclear Culture 10: Hot Headlines

American superheroes battle the 'Irradiated Man' in Tokyo: DC Comics (14 May 2012) solicitation with Perez's cover for World's Finest #4 (Aug. 2012). Image Source: CBR.

Remember when I said (here) that Fukushima had left the restrained, contained and edited world of the Japanese media and as the fallout has spread, the crisis has entered the Wild West that is the American World Wide Web? It is going to be a crazy ride.  But if we all survive, we might learn something about how national media cultures package reality. Canada is at risk from Fukushima's fallout as well. As a Canadian blogger, all I can say is that in Big Media terms, this issue is hitting America first. But I will talk about the Canadian reaction, and other national reactions beyond that, in due course.

The United States is not a country which takes an impending apocalypse (real or otherwise) lying down. You may not have heard anything much about Fukushima last year after the initial coverage of 3/11. This was partly because the Japanese media and government had a hold of the issue. It was still primarily a nationally-confined topic (or so it appeared). What came out in 2011 was the occasional, muted report, until the declaration of 'cold shutdown' at the end of the year. But I promise, you will hear about Fukushima now, from every conceivable quarter. US election year or no election year, the volume just got turned up to eleven.

Yesterday, news raced across the Web that prominent American-Japanese theoretical physicist Michio Kaku remarked on 9 May that the uranium core in Fukushima Daiichi's Reactor #2 had completely liquefied. Before I return to Kaku's comments in my next post, I'll note first how Kaku's viral report was just one of many American reports on Fukushima which surfaced in the past few days.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

DCnU: Another Day, Another (Real?) Multiverse


All images in this post are from: Before It's News. Image from Another Earth (2011) © Fox Searchlight Pictures.

There have been a lot of loud complaints and a hell of a lot of kicking and screaming in the fanbase about DC Comics' September 2011 reboot, in which the famous pulp company tossed 75 years' worth of history out the window in an effort to catapult itself into the 21st century.  The open wound that is DC's handling of the Titans aside, I have written a post on how DC's shifts to new entertainment genres and new media (such as digital publishing) correspond with the transformation of the comic publisher's fictional universe.  I have asked whether those Fourth Wall and metafictional turns may lead to the discovery of new standards for heroic values in pop culture.  I've also talked about how comics stories, especially at DC, are the only forum in pop culture where quantum physicists' ideas of a multiverse have been consistently and constantly considered over several decades. 

"There may be inifinite Earths being infinitely created."

DC's characters, stories and tumultuous reboots actually contend with the problem of what it would mean to live in a mulitverse, assuming it existed. What would happen to reality?  Well, DC speculates, some of us would become superhuman, but at a terrifying price.  What would happen to people in that reality?  What would happen to values of right and wrong?  Good and evil?  No one else, not even the quantum physicists who are looking at the multiverse as a possible scientific fact, are pondering would it would mean for all of us if their wild theories aren't just theories.

"Reality may be more tenuous than imagined."

Now, some weird online stories about 'real' cases of people have surfaced (here) who claim they have shifted from one parallel universe to our world; these accounts are exactly mimicked in the storyline of an upcoming May 2012 DC title, World's Finest (with the great George Perez serving as co-artist): "Stranded on our world from a parallel reality, Huntress and Power Girl struggle to find their way back to Earth 2."  The oldest team of comic superheroes, the Justice Society of America, finds itself on the alternate Earth 2 in another new series, simply called Earth 2.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Eduardo Barreto: Titanic Farewells

Raven: post-resurrection emotions of a character. NTT Vol. 2, #39 (Jan. 1988). 

This has been a strange holiday season.  Every week, I have heard about 3-4 deaths, either acquaintances, or public figures. Today, more sad news. Farewell to a fine illustrator from Uruguay, Eduardo Barreto, who died on December 15.  He graced the pages of DC's Titans title from 1985 to 1988.  He followed on this series in the wake of huge fan favourites George Pérez and José Luis García-López.  At the time, the New Teen Titans was still one of the hottest American comic books in the world, pencilled by two of the industry's most famous talents.  Barreto filled the shoes of his predecessors and more.  He made the characters his own.

Barreto had the tough task of making a resurrected, post-apocalyptic Raven have emotions when she had never had them before.  The cover above from 1988 was Raven's first real smile since her introduction in 1980.  After Pérez tore her apart, it took Barreto to show how a character, reborn after death, shot through with evil, would manifest emotions for the first time and bizarrely - yet haltingly and believably - come back to life to experience some joy.
New and old gods. NTT Vol. 2, #9 (June 1985).

Below the jump, some examples of Baretto's work from that period.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Hallowe'en Countdown 18: DCnU and the Superman Curse

 DCnU Superman (2011).

Here's a twist.  There's more to explaining the paranormal than standing in a dungeon with night vision TV cameras and an EMF reader.  And there's more to rationalizing the unseen, the hidden, the compelling mysteries of our world than debunking them in scientific terms.  It's time to talk about the peculiar power of curses.  Curses born of suffering.  Curses that last beyond the grave.  How does the strange psychological and social alchemy of a curse - a powerful, dark, cryptic wish on someone else's welfare - bear out in the real world?
 
This is the season for lists of cursed movies.  These films' productions are considered somehow cursed by their evil subject matter or just pure bad luck.  You've seen the list before: Rebel Without A Cause (1955); Rosemary's Baby (1968); The Exorcist (1973); The Omen (1976); The Amityville Horror (1979); Poltergeist (1982); Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983); The Crow (1994); Star Trek (odd-numbered movies).  If you want to read some of the true stories behind these cursed movies, go here.  They fall in such a concentrated time period, you have to wonder if someone in Hollywood recognized that the coincidental streaks of bad luck that can surround big budget film-making could be respun as a brilliant marketing gimmick.
 
The Omen is a classic example.  The production of The Omen was plagued with incidents which some members of the crew attributed to supernatural forces trying to prevent the filming of the movie. Instances include the following:
  • Scriptwriter David Seltzer's plane was struck by lightning.
  • Star Gregory Peck, in a separate incident, had his plane struck by lightning.
  • Richard Donner's hotel was bombed by the Provisional IRA .
  • Gregory Peck canceled his reservation on a flight. The plane he had originally chartered crashed, killing all on board (a group of Japanese businessmen).
  • A warden at the safari park used in the "crazy baboon" scene was attacked and killed by a lion the day after the crew left.
  • Rottweilers hired for the film attacked their trainers.
  • On the first day of shooting, the principal members of the crew got in a head-on car crash.
The 'Omen curse' was indeed woven into the film's wildly successful marketing campaign.  You can watch the actual film, a true horror classic, online, starting here  (at least for now - the link won't last). And you can watch The Omen Legacy about the film's curse, starting here.  In 2005, a slickly written documentary entitled The Curse of 'The Omen' was shown on British television which explained the curse in epic, world-shattering conspiracy theory, terms.

David Lynch made one of his more troubling, yet brilliant, yet troubling, films, Inland Empire (2006), about a remake of a cursed movie inside a cursed movie, with the two looping back on each other like a Möbius strip.
 

But there is one more film curse on the list: Superman. And what better time to talk about the famous Superman curse than when DC Comics has turned itself inside out and rebooted its fictional universe, in part because of Superman.
 
Superman is DC's ultimate character, even when Batman proves more popular or brings in more revenue.  Superman is America's original superhero, a reimagining of a mythical Sun God for a Modern, then a Postmodern, and now a post-Postmodern age (see my post on that mythology here).  He was born out of the conditions of the Great Depression.  And he is reborn in the conditions of the Great Recession.
 
Superman was created in 1932 in Cleveland, Ohio, by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, who were teenagers at the time.  Brad Meltzer believes that the hero grew out of personal tragedy and crime associated with poverty. Siegel's father died in 1932 in his clothing shop by an armed robber:
On the night of June 2, 1932, the world's first superhero was born — not on the mythical planet of Krypton but from a little-known tragedy on the streets of Cleveland.

 
It was Thursday night, about 8:10 p.m., and Mitchell Siegel, a Jewish immigrant from Lithuania, was in his secondhand clothing store on the near East Side. According to a police report, three men entered. One asked to see a suit of clothes and walked out without paying for it. In the commotion of the robbery, Siegel, 60, fell to the ground and died.

 
The police report mentions a gunshot being heard. But the coroner, the police and Siegel's wife said Siegel died of a heart attack. No one was ever arrested.

 
What happened next has exploded some of the longest-held beliefs about the origins of Superman and the two teenage boys, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, who invented America's best-known comic-book hero.

 
Past accounts suggest Siegel and Shuster, both 17, awkward and unpopular in high school, invented the meek Clark Kent and his powerful alter-ego, Superman, to attract girls and rise above their humble Cleveland beginnings.

 
But now it appears that the origin might have been more profound — that it was the death of Jerry Siegel's father that pushed the devastated teen to come up with the idea of a "Superman" to right all wrongs.

 
"In 50 years of interviews, Jerry Siegel never once mentioned that his father died in a robbery," says Brad Meltzer, a best-selling author whose novel, The Book of Lies ... links the Siegel murder to a biblical conspiracy plot.

 
"But think about it," Meltzer says. "Your father dies in a robbery, and you invent a bulletproof man who becomes the world's greatest hero. I'm sorry, but there's a story there."
Siegel and Shuster had invented one of America's greatest heroes, perhaps, as Meltzer says - the world's greatest hero.  And he's a hero, to borrow from Lermontov, for our times.  But in the decades that followed, Superman became a symbol of another American complex (perhaps a world complex) - the stuggle between the haves and the have nots.  Siegel and Shuster created Superman before they sold the character to the company that was DC's predecessor.  They were the original copyright holders and did not create the hero under a work-for-hire contract.  They were paid $130 for their creation in 1938, relinquishing copyright control to DC, an agreement that was later partly overturned.
 
When Superman became big business, Siegel and Shuster sued twice to regain their rights and failed.  They also had cases over profits from related characters like Superboy.  When the Superman movie came out in 1978, Siegel gained a lot of publicity by cursing the movie's success and DC Comics in general:
"I hope it super-bombs. I hope loyal Superman fans stay away from it in droves. I hope the whole world, becoming aware of the stench that surrounds Superman, will avoid the movie like the plague. The publishers of Superman comic books, National Periodical Publications Inc, killed my days, murdered my nights, choked my happiness, strangled my career. I consider National's executives economic murderers, money-mad monsters." 
Siegel's curse, combined with memories of the controversial 1959 suicide of actor George Reeve who first played Superman (dramatized in the excellent movie Hollywoodland, which is possibly the second-most compelling Superman film ever made), led to stories of the Superman curse.  This curse has been considered mainly to affect actors and crew associated with Superman film productions:
  • George Reeves' suicide, 1959.
  • Bud Collyer voiced the first Superman cartoon from 1941-43 and again in 1966, after which he died of a circulatory ailment.
  • Lee Quigley, who played Superman as a baby in the 1978 film, died in 1991 at age 14 due to solvent abuse.
  • Kirk Alyn played Superman in two low-budget 1940s serials but failed to find work afterwards because he was too closely identified with the role.
  • Christopher Reeve played Superman/Clark Kent in the Superman film series, was typecast, and died young in 2004 as a result of paralysis incurred through a horse riding accident in 1995. His wife died shortly after at age 44 of lung cancer, although she never smoked.
  • Margot Kidder, who played Superman’s love interest Lois Lane opposite Christopher Reeve, suffers from intense bipolar disorder. In April 1996, she went missing for several days and was found by police in a paranoid, delusional state.
  • Comedian Richard Pryor, who had previously suffered from a drug addiction that led to a near fatal suicide attempt, starred as villain/anti-hero Gus Gorman in 1983’s Superman III. Three years later, he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He died of cardiac arrest on December 10, 2005
The partial inspiration of the curse - that is, Superman's copyright across all media - has become a legal war of attrition lasting decades. The hero's creators stayed in the courts to assert their rights under the US Copyright Act.  Their estates continued this battle after their deaths.  In 1999, 2008 and 2009, the Siegel heirs won important cases which ruled that they were entitled to a share of DC's Superman profits; they had recaptured 50 per cent of the copyright to Action Comics #1 and #4 and parts of later comics; these presented Superman, gave his Kryptonian origins, and his work at the Daily Planet with Lois Lane. They will hold these rights until 2033. The Shuster portion of the copyright is a separate, complicated, legal question because Shuster had no heirs; but it, too, poses serious problems for DC.  DC owns other rights to Superman's powers and origins outright (such as his arch-enemy Lex Luthor, the Fortress of Solitude and Superman's ability to fly).  The lawyers and judges have been picking apart the intricacies of this matter to this day. You can read about the endless proceedings, with some dark intrigue at certain points: herehere, here, here, herehere and here.  One day, someone will make the third-most compelling Superman film, a thriller, about the copyright cases and all the drama behind the scenes.
 
The legal concern that may have inspired DC's reboot this past September is this: DC may lose their remaining US copyright control of Superman in 2013 (see reports here, here, here and here).  If that happens, DC and its parent company Warner will no longer be able to publish material or make films with the Superman we know.
 
In early 2011, shortly before her death on February 12, Siegel's widow Joanne, who was the inspiration for Lois Lane, scolded DC in an eloquent plea (see here and here).  She asked them to consider the human side of the money making enterprise.  We're in the middle of the worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Superman was invented during a terrible economic downturn, and he is reborn now, but perhaps for all the wrong reasons.

After all, what does Superman stand for, this great hero who battled crime and injustice at America's heart? Does he stand for 'Truth, Justice and the American Way'? Or does he stand for corporate greed and profits? Is DC's core motivation in creating the DCnU dodging the Superman copyright, rather than finding a settlement? Is DCnU in fact DC's desperate manouevre in the eleventh hour to keep using the hero without fully compensating his creators' estates?  Is DC reworking Superman into a character who only reflects the bits of the hero to which the company owns the rights? Is this why DCnU has broken up Superman and Lois Lane? I discussed the importance of the court cases and related them to the DCnU reboot, here.

Whatever you think of the DCnU, it's a sign of the times. CNN's reviewer noticed these themes in the DCnU's 52 September titles:
It’s true the times, they are a changin’. In my next piece on reading the New 52, I’ll reveal how deeply tied to our zeitgeist these comic books really are. Subjects like class, diversity, mass media and terrorism permeate the re-launch and show just how much of a cultural event this really is. The presence of these topical themes suggests again that the company really wants readers to identify with their new universe, whether they’re new, old or returning. After reading all 52 issues I can’t say for certain that their strategies will work.
Will DC's grasp of the Zeitgeist - likely driven by this strange copyright battle - be a pyrrhic victory?  If DC really did launch the DCnU in an effort to avoid a copyright settlement, has it somehow stripped Superman of his heroism?  I am not talking so much about what George Perez and Grant Morrison will do with the character in upcoming stories, but the underlying motivations - the inescapable boardroom truths and values, the Fourth Wall decisions - which drive the changes.

And if that's the case, if DC unwittingly strips its greatest hero of his core heroism, will the DCnU lead to the final fulfillment of the Superman curse? At the seminal moment when print and film media finally merge, that would be the ultimate Millennial irony.  Curses, judgments, and the transformation of the media may together deliver the final verdict on what now can be considered just and injust, what is right and wrong, and what is heroic and what isn't in this crazy world.


See all my posts on Horror themes.


NOTES FOR READERS OF MY POSTS.
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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Reflections on the Revolving Door of Death 7: DC's Epic Fail with the Titans and their Heroines: Terra, Raven, Donna Troy, Starfire

Raven, drawn by Diego Latorre.  Hat tip: Titans Tower.

This post was originally supposed to be simply an introductory piece for a series of posts on the character Raven, similar to the series I did for Terra (here) - the second in a blog series on the Titans' heroines' continuities. But last week's releases made me expand the introductory post on the Raven continuity series, to make a general comment on DC's treatment of the main Titans women. To see my whole review of Raven's continuity as a study of how a horror character works, please continue reading here.

On 28 September, DC ended the first month of its reboot.  Last week's Red Hood and the Outlaws #1 marked a new low in the company's two-decade devaluation and dismemberment of one of its flagship franchises, the Titans. From one end of comics-related corners of the Internet to the other, fans are debating Starfire's transformation into a low grade, soft porn, amnesiac sex doll for the sexually and cerebrally challenged (for reviews, go here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here; and discussions here and here).  But like I say, this is just the latest in dozens of outrages inflicted on these characters. The bad treatment of the Titans stems from DC's enforcement of hierarchy associated with superhero generations, or legacies, which I've blogged about here

As far as the Titans are concerned, the record over the past decade especially proves it won't get better until the editors at DC change. The classic Titans are a special barometer for this because they are the original legacy characters, the second tier, who against all odds in the 1980s made it and became something different and better than their elders. If anything is going right or wrong in the DC universe, you'll see it in the Titans first, because DC is about legacies even more than it is about Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman.  DC is having trouble handling its legacies concept, and it really shows.

Sidekicks were originally introduced to humanize DC's stalwart A-list heroes; Robin debuted as a joke-cracking young doppelgänger of Bruce Wayne, who could lighten Batman up.  Over time, the Titans became the echo-A-listers who could do edgy, even Marvelesque, stories the A-listers couldn't.  That included being flawed, as with Speedy's drug addiction.  But it wasn't always a weakness: Gar Logan was the Doom Patroller who didn't go insane - or whose sanity, at least, was a given - despite his never-ending confrontation with death, typical of all DP characters.  The phenomenal success of the New Teen Titans proved that there was a huge area around the A-listers of potential story-telling that could never be done with the A-listers because the latter were too powerful or too perfect.  But the NTT was successful because it did not follow the Marvel formula all the way.  The Titans always reasserted a DC ethic of pure, true-blue heroism in the eleventh hour.  They made you want to stand up and cheer for them, because they were troubled, but they stood by each other and always found a way through the nightmare.  In a way, that was a greater heroic journey than anything Superman faced when he battled Luthor, or when Batman struggled against the Joker; those threats were externalized.  With the Titans, threats were always external and internal.  They struggled as much with the dark parts of A-list legacies as they did with external villains.

Tossing the classic Titans under the bus is problematic not just for their fans, but in the long run, for DC. I have to quote Dan from It's a Dan's World: "I'd put to the jury the Perez/Wolfman era of that franchise is as key to the compan[y's] success as Watchmen or The Dark Knight Returns." He's right. Why? Because that era of the NTT solved the legacy problem, and removed glass ceilings that the powers that be are now so keen to maintain. The NTT established that characters could move laterally in interesting ways that allowed them to flourish beneath their absent mentors' shadows.

In the NTT, these characters could be flawed, over-burdened by impossibly huge legacies, and still triumph in different ways, based on their personalities and their individual characterizations.  It wasn't just 'about family' which has become the cloying cliché that DC's editors (even Wolfman, now) never tire of harping on about.  The Titans did and should demonstrate how DC's legacies could be a viable concept.  During the 90s, the Titans lost a lot of their drive, given that the writer Wolfman, who still had a fine ear for the characters, was exhausted and facing editorial mandates.  He also lost control of Dick Grayson to the Bat editors.  This is a critical problem for the Titans, because the Titans are Dick Grayson's gift to the rest of the DC Universe, separate from anything he ever did with Batman.  He is the first and best Titan.  In return, the Titans made Grayson, the first Robin, their ultimate leader, an individual and a respected hero.

The Titans, who overcame their derivative origins and became heroes that made it were broken down during the 1990s.  They had finally torturously been reset by Devin Grayson into something recognizable by 1998-1999 in the Technis Imperative.  Under the recent editorial régime of Dan Didio at DC, that picture changed.  Didio's entrance coincided with Geoff Johns's handling of the Titans in the 2003, which is considered a good run.  But in retrospect, Johns planted the seeds for the current mess. 

I don't know where and when Johns lost his grasp of the Titans, but I think we have to go back to this period to find it.  He supplanted the original Titans with weakened, watered-down, nth-level legacy characters (Young Justice).  Johns's vision dove-tailed well with Winick's kill off of the Titans' strongest members in Graduation Day (2003); these were characters who caused greatest static with the A-listers (Donna Troy) or who gave the Titans their claim to being a separate original and independent franchise in the DCU (Lilith) .  The Titans then showcased some really ugly concepts (Terror Titans, 2008). They became totally disposable (see: the long list of Titans' deaths from the 2000s).  They could commit murder and do Fountain-of-Youth drugs derived from the remains dead children (Roy Harper).  They could lose all dignity and previous characterizations that once showed why their superficial natures were never their internal realities (Gar Logan and Starfire).  They could lose their identities completely in their legacies (Dick Grayson).  Or they could be wordlessly and relentlessly sidelined until there was nothing left of them (Wally West).  This treatment of the classic Titans, but also the Young Justice characters (who are incredibly, getting preferential treatment from DC, although looking at them, you'd never know it) reveals that DC's top editors do not understand legacies or how they should function in this fictional universe.  Nowhere is this more obvious than in the idiotic DCnU attempt to de-age the A-listers and force Titans' tropes onto them, but without the promise of final victory rooted in characterization, heart and camaraderie.  DC is trying to wipe the Titans off the map, and turn the A-listers into Titans. DCnU is the Titansverse writ large, but without the soul that made Titans stories work.  Ironic?

Speaking of loss of soul, Red Hood and the Outlaws #1 continued DC's treatment of heroes as non-heroes.  It's a post 9/11, ramped up Marvel feet-of-clay idea.  As far as I can tell from Co-Publisher Dan Didio's work on the Outsiders, this is his ideal approach: lots of action and sex - low on words and minimal characterization - with heroes so flawed that they're practically villains.  The moral vacuum is the new seat of virtue.  None of this works well with DC characters, who, once upon a time, offset their godlike status with complex characterization, stories - and yes, complicated legacies.  Once upon a time, DC was not the house of simplistic, wordless, internalized failure.  The degradation of Starfire took DC one step closer to that end.

This is mass entertainment that clearly states what kind of audience it thinks is out there: the lowest common denominator.  The book and its editors are insulting the readership with this expectation.  They are especially insulting fans who like the book.  Even the bait and switch typical of Didio-era story-telling is unlikely for DCnU's 52.  This is not a set-up for a better story.  Don't believe the lie: it's not going to be all right after all.  As Shirley MacLaine said: "Sometimes deep down, there is no deep down."

Todd explains that Kory can't remember her history with the Titans and can't distinguish between men she has sex with. Red Hood and the Outlaws #1 (Nov. 2011).

The problem with Red Hood and the Outlaws is that it is the title associated with any reassembly of the classic Titans in the DCnU.  And there is plenty wrong here - obviously deliberately introduced to build expectations about this new universe: the issue completely destroyed Starfire's character.  It also subtly transplanted Dick Grayson's dark, crazy doppelgänger, Jason Todd, as the new leader of Grayson's Titanic legacy.  I have some sympathy for Todd, but he's being used here as an instrument to turn the tables - to turn Nightwing's separate, non-Bat adventures upside down - to finally and completely undermine Grayson's accomplishment with a separate legacy franchise that at its best was stronger and better than the Justice League of America.  Before we even get to Kory's new airhead interest in mechanical anonymous sex, the first issue featured three former Titans cavalierly murdering people.  They are 'outlaws,' with standards to match.

Kory and her nU personality.  Red Hood and the Outlaws #1 (Nov. 2011).

It's ironic that Red Hood and the Outlaws came out last week.  On the same day, New Teen Titans: Games finally hit shops.  The worst thing about the uproar over Red Hood and the Outlaws #1 is that it has drowned out appreciation of Games, a graphic novel from the creators (Wolfman and Perez) who made the Titans world-famous; Games was over twenty years in the making, of the highest quality, and worth the wait.  This is typical of the malaise at DC.  The quality product goes to the bottom of the pile, while the intentionally worst reimagining possible of the same characters gets pushed to the fore by viral Internet marketing, propelled by bottom-of-the-barrel scandal-hype and cheap sensationalism. Maybe this is supposed to be the nU reality dystopia that would have existed in a world where Jason Todd stepped into Dick Grayson's shoes.  DC has also stated that the DCnU is an opportunity to do stories they could never normally have done had regular continuity stayed intact.

Whatever the rationale, the problems started long before the DCnU reboot.  DC's treatment of the Titans heroines has been one red flag after another on has gone wrong and why.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Death of Heroism and the DCnU Rebirth

The Justice Society of America, the first team of superheroes in comic book history, drawn by Alex Ross. (Hat tip: It's a Dan's World.)

I've written before about comic book superheroes as ancient gods that still survive in our culture.  They represent our most enduring grasp of right and wrong, the archetypes that come to us across the ages (see my post on Ur-memory of those ideas here), incredibly across thousands, perhaps even millions of years.  Looking at Green Lantern on a lunchbox or backpack, that seems an absurd assertion.  Perhaps we tolerate this pantheon of pagan deities in an era of mainstream Millennial religions precisely because the ancient gods have dwindled down to figures in comic mythologies that we tell children and youths; and these myths are not taken that seriously.

Yet the archetypes embedded here still have weight.  They also constitute serious commercial interests. That raises the question of why these archetypes over the past twenty years, and especially in the last ten (when DC has been under Dan Didio's leadership), have been undermined?  Why is DC Comics, the original classic superhero comics company, so preoccupied with the breakdown of heroes and heroism?  Why are their heroes dying?  Why are their characters being wiped from existence or rebooted in ways that taint them?  What does it mean when their core values are stripped from them?  Why are they being benched and sidelinedAnd why are the Outsiders, classic Titans, Justice Society, and Doom Patrol the key casualties in this reboot?  I've commented on the JLA-centric generational and Bat-commercial aspects of the reboot which left the JSA, Doom Patrol and Titans out in the cold here; and my posts on what the Titans and Doom Patrol signify are here and here.  There's a good series of posts this week on what fans are losing as the DCU dies, over at It's a Dan's World (here).

Friday, July 8, 2011

A Titans Dream Cast


It's weird when the publishers of a fictional universe erase a whole era.  This is what DC is doing with the whole Titans comics continuity. Ironically, the New Teen Titans graphic novel Games is coming out this fall.  Originally conceived by Marv Wolfman and George Perez and set in late 1980s' continuity, Games has been delayed for over twenty years. Yet it arrives just as these stories and characters are about to be completely retconned. 

The Games graphic novel finally revisits the heyday of Titans in the 1980s, right at the point when you would expect its revival. Instead, we are seeing an erasure.  For a giant sleeping Gen X fanbase, these comic book superheroes were DC's answer to Marvel's X-men, and Games should awake teen memories. It may get old fans interested in the characters again, even though the classic Titans are being rammed through and obliterated in the DCnU reboots.  DC has shown little interest in rediscovering what made this title great, reviving its superteen soap opera formula that merged so well with sci-fi, space epics, and magical themes.  DC also doesn't seem interested in returning to complex story-telling and characterization that made the Titans title famous.  As one fan on the DC boards remarked:
Funny, I was just reading Jim Shooter's blog (E[ditor] I[n] C[hief] at Marvel from 1978 - late 80's (I think)). Someone had posted something in the comments that reminded me of the current DC way of thinking:

"Steve Englehart has said on his website that around 1990 or so, Marvel editorial decreed that character development should basically stop, since the characters had evolved "too far from their roots."

And I think Marvel went bankrupt in the mid 90's.

Let's see if DC can do better with their version of this idea.
Now that Games will soon be published, the live action Titans movie that Warner is not making is next up.  If they ever do turn to the project, would they consider the Judas Contract for the screenplay?  Or the Terror of Trigon?  Other big storylines are the team's first trip to Tamaran, Titans Hunt, or a Brother Blood film. Below the jump, a post that shows the Titans a little love.  This is my favourite possible cast for a Titans film.  There are other suggestions out there (here, here, here, here, here and here), some of which I've drawn from for this post.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Generation X Goes Back to the Future 6: Thirty Years of DC's New Titans - A Tribute

NTT #1 (Nov. 1980)

Thirty years ago this month, the preview for a great new comics title, The New Teen Titans, came out in DC Comics Presents #26.  For fans like me, who picked up that issue at a plain old newsstand (I can still smell the cigarette smoke, chocolate and bubblegum in the store, which has long since closed), that preview and the issues that followed immediately stood out as something special.

I grew into adolescence reading this title as the 80s unfolded.  I read a lot of titles I'm sure my contemporaries would recognize: Atari Force, Alpha Flight, Amethyst, Legion of Superheroes, The Uncanny X-Men, The New Mutants, and later Elfquest, Love and Rockets, Swamp Thing, Hellblazer and Sandman, as well as several others - including mini-series like Sword of the Atom, Cloak and Dagger and Hawk and Dove, and ground-breaking graphic novels and limited series like The Dark Knight Returns, Batman: The Killing Joke, V for Vendetta, Crisis on Infinite Earths and The Watchmen.  But among all these great books, at its best, The New Teen Titans stood out, head and shoulders above the rest.  Maybe it's because the NTT captured the early-to-mid 1980s as seen from a youthful point of view so perfectly (the title had well passed its peak by the time the character Danny Chase was introduced in 1987).  The lineup of core NTT members is here.

Along with Claremont's revamped X-men from this period, the New Teen Titans are Generation X's superheroes.  There was something in the NTT title of a latchkey generation that felt (and still feels) forgotten, overlooked, misunderstood or dismissed by their elders.  At first Gen Xers, like their parents, were seduced by the glamour of 80s' high life.  But they were also the first witnesses of the private cost of that life within families.  Xers were compelled to survive in Brave New social settings and develop new values to cope in Postmodern and Post-Postmodern circumstances, while riding the economic booms and busts generated by their predecessors.  That's what The New Teen Titans was all about - and it was especially about building a family in a world where families had broken down.  Later Titans titles have picked up the same themes.  The Titans are a pop culture mirror held up to reveal the trials of a generation that has repeatedly absorbed the often unseen costs of Boomer-driven social change.  And for skeptics out there who don't read comic books and think they're just for kids - that's why this title is relevant. 

Every character fit a superficial Gen X stereotyped label endowed upon the cohort by the Boomers - but every character showed hidden depths that belied those labels. This is a big part of the Gen X experience - Xers were constantly being defined by Boomers, yet always knew in their hearts that they were something else. And so - Dick Grayson (the sell-out), Wally West (the Alex P. Keaton conservative), Donna Troy (the perfectionist), Gar Logan (the slacker), Victor Stone (the tech guy), Raven (the New Age wicca girl), Koriand'r (the anti-feminist sex bomb).

Beneath these Xer stereotypes, every superhero on this team was an anthropomorphized version of a specific archetype - an incarnation of a particular heroic value.  For years, Boomers have accused Xers of being cynical, ungrateful and nihilistic.  A close reading of this pulp fictional corner of pop culture can tell you at a glance how profoundly wrong they are.  Generation X's values are, however, very difficult for Boomers to perceive, let alone understand.  The bonds between the Titans represented how their heroic values played out as Xers struggled for years with a prolonged, misunderstood, cohort-wide introspection on behalf of their entire society. They also had to take on the legacies of their predecessors without compromising their own identities and convictions.

This is a tribute to the Titans as pop fiction icons that shows different ways that these superheroes reflected the Gen X experience.  That's before we even look to the obvious accomplishments of DC's creators: Marv Wolfman, George Perez, Romeo Tanghal, John Costanza, Adrienne Roy, Len Wein and their immediate successors - including Jose Luis Garcia Lopez, Eduardo Barreto and Phil Jiminez.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Reflections on the Revolving Door of Death 2: The Death of the Postmodern Hero

Death of the Flash, COIE #8 (Nov. 1985)

In pulp fiction, character-driven stories, so beloved from the 1970s to the mid-1980s, are now a thing of the past. For many years, but especially since about 2003, DC's comics universe has been awash in death, legacy characters doing the rounds in their fourth versions, dying, and coming back in fifth versions (see my blog entry on this here). DC’s two big events in 2009-2010, Blackest Night and Brightest Day, epitomize the morbid fascination with death and resurrection. Yet the leading lights of the company proclaim that these events in fact will halt the tide of death and reinvest it with meaning, a message that was carried out of Blackest Night. In BN issue #8, Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) announces that ‘dead is dead from here on out.’

While we wait for Brightest Day to deliver on writer Geoff Johns’s promise to give death meaning again, it’s obvious that DC and its competitor Marvel have a problem on their hands. During the Modern Age of Comics, which has run from the mid-1980s to the present, the mainstream comics companies painted themselves into a corner when they created the so-called ‘revolving door of death.’ Now, characters die so often in the name of ‘grim drama,’ that readers and critics cynically, or wearily, do body counts at the end of every crossover event. Why has DC killed off more than 650 (at latest fan count here at Legion World) of its characters since 2003? In all this overkill, the 2010 death of the young character Lian Harper aroused outrage at the company for gratuitously manipulating its readers, by taking excess to a new low. There is a deviantART site devoted to the topic here.  Yet DC mistakenly took this emotional response to mean that its creative team had created a dramatic story that moved its readers, rather than comprehending that their audience was expressing annoyance and genuine death trope exhaustion. Why is DC so tone deaf when it comes to hearing what fans are saying? A flood of gore cannot be used to revive the seriousness of already-overused death memes that once were sacrosanct.
 
X-Men #136 (Aug. 1980)

There’s more to this than a vicious circle of commercialism. Let’s go back. The death of a hero in any medium, let alone in comics, was once the height of drama. It grew out of older roots in epics, fairy tales, literature and religious sources. It was a narrative line that was almost never crossed. It carried weight. And because it was a powerful dramatic tool, it was invariably a commercially successful plot device. Practically every comics fan recognizes the famous X-men cover of Cyclops holding a half-dead Jean Grey. The cover foreshadowed her death in the next issue, when she sacrificed herself to save the universe in the Dark Phoenix Saga. According to Marvel wikia, issue #137 from September 1980 was “the first time that a major Marvel Comics super-hero [wa]s killed off on-panel.” Jean Grey’s death might be considered a harbinger of the Modern Age.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Unforgiven: DCU Continuity for Terra

Tales of the Teen Titans, Vol. 1 Annual (1984) The Judas Contract, Part 4: "Finale"

I’m putting together a continuity for Terra to place the famous Judas Contract story in the larger context related to Geo-Force, Markovia, Titans and Outsiders, because recently it seems that many readers look at the four issues of the JC story, and only that, to get their whole take on this character.

DCU Continuity for Terra: The Rosebud of the Citizen Kane of Comic Books

Gar: "Of course.  But this is -- all wrong?" Blackest Night: Titans #1 (Oct. 2009)

Why write a continuity for such a hated character?  I wrote this continuity and analysis because I’ve always been deeply impressed by the Judas Contract as one of the greatest stories ever told in superhero comics. It is an undisputed classic, the height of what can be achieved in the medium. As a young fan in the 1980s, like many teenaged readers of the New Teen Titans at the time, I bought the issues at a newsstand, and yes, Marv Wolfman and George Perez ruined the summer of 1984 for me with the death of this charismatic and troubled character. Reading a story like that at such an impressionable age was like sitting in a master class on the tremendous power this genre of pulp fiction can have when it’s at its best. The serial format also meant that the full story – including the NTT Doom Patrol arcs – unfolded from about 1981 to 1984. There were no solicitations, no previews, no internet boards to give you a hint of what was coming. The aftermath stories are still unfolding today. It is impossible to convey to younger comics fans, or newer fans of the Cartoon Network version of Terra, what that long time delay did in terms of understanding this story and the character.

DCU Continuity for Terra: Part 1.1 - The Material Girl: Terra in the 1980s


Tara has a postcoital debriefing with Slade Wilson. NTT #39 (Feb. 1984)

The 1980s

In the 1980s, the New Teen Titans plugged into the mood of the decade. The title especially reflected the feel in New York at the time: the city was a background character in the book. In this ‘greed is good’ decade of conspicuous consumption, Wall Street  glitz had a 9 1/2 Weeks and Bonfire of the Vanities dark underside. With Raven’s back story, the title picked up on the events from the receding 1970s like Jonestown, and added early 1980s’ economic stresses that turned into a financial boom, inner city crime waves, vigilantes, terrorist scares, the Iran hostage crisis, the Cold War, and presidential anti-drug campaigns. But from the start, the NTT team members also had 80s-styled dynamism and optimism – and money, accomplishment, power, celebrity, or privilege – that let them float above darker problems. Brought together by Raven, they immediately clicked through old and new interlocking friendships. It looked like they could have it all. Their mutual confidence was shaken by a succession of villains, as well as self-doubt and tragedy, but was not fractured until Terra betrayed them in 1984’s Judas Contract.

DCU Continuity for Terra: Part 1.2 - The Material Girl: Terra in the 1980s

Terra's first appearance on the Statue of Liberty. NTT #26 (Dec. 1982)

1980s Continuity continued

Terra: First Appearance
-New Teen Titans vol. 1 #26 (December 1982): "Runaways"
Changeling encounters Terra at the top of the Statue of Liberty but she escapes. The Statue of Liberty is an important symbol in relation to her character; the second Terra makes her first appearance there as well.

DCU Continuity for Terra: Part 1.3 - The Material Girl: Terra in the 1980s


Tara's grave. ToTT Annual #3 (1984)

1980s Continuity continued

Aftermath issues in Titans and Outsiders.
A self-imposed silence descends upon the Titans after Tara’s death. Unlike the Outsiders, the Titans never once (ever!) come together as a team to discuss Terra or her betrayal. There’s no group hug moment here. The Titans publicly state that she died a hero fighting the Terminator. Privately, they later affirm Tara’s betrayal, to Batman and to incoming Titans members. It’s not confirmed whether Tara’s betrayal becomes widely-known knowledge among heroes and villains. In the 2008 Terra mini and the 2009-2010 run of Power Girl, the JSA obviously knows about it.  The Titans’ personal grief over her, like the character herself, becomes a cryptic unknown quantity that comes out in different ways. Aside from Gar, Dick Grayson is the main Titan who is shown thinking of her over time. In issues from the 2000s, he brings her up repeatedly. In the 1990s, he recalls her treachery and death as a moment of personal failure as the team leader. Vic, Donna and Kory sometimes mention her. Three themes appear around Brion and Gar in response to Tara’s death. One is rage at the Terminator. The second is guilt: each blames himself for not loving her enough and not helping her. The third is love: both Brion and Gar indicate that they still love her and always will, no matter what she did. This last theme has been repeated so often over the past 26 years that it has gained a life of its own. Where Brion may not have been especially close to Tara (he says this at her funeral) and Gar had a teenaged crush on her, over time their love for Tara has evolved to near-epic proportions. By 2010, Tara sits at the heart of Brion’s corrosive grief over his decimated family; for Gar, she is his first love, a dead, corrupted soulmate he’ll forever mourn.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

DCU Continuity for Terra: Part 4.1 - The Anti-Robin: Terra in the 2010s

Image Source: Media Comicbook.

The 2010s

(This post is backdated to be part of my 2010 blog series on Terra, written on 4 April 2017): Request from a reader: "Are you going to review the Teen Titans Judas Contract DTV movie? Because it and its ending actually changed/fixed a lot that was wrong with the portrayal of Terra and Slade and their dynamic, so it looks like FINALLY there are people at DC who are willing to look at a revered past story with some scrutiny. Regards."

I had had it with Dan DiDio's DC, and what they did to the Titans so they could de-age their A-listers. They turned the Titans into a Marvel youth brand, a New Mutants lite, rather than thinking through DC's legacies. I settled in for the Long Wait until DiDio retires. IMO, you would need new, radical people, probably in the 2020s, to recover the older Titans characters to their full, edgy potential.