Monday, September 29, 2014

Know Your Bat-Villain!: Boss Thorne

Continuing with our series of character profiles, I give you Rupert Thorne, one of Batman's most underrated big threats. Even though he is often overlooked or replaced with disposable characters like Carl Grissom or Carmine Falcone, he is a formidable opponent and a great go-to catalyst in Batman stories.

Boss Thorne: He is a socially-oriented shark with the skills of a calculating psychopath. The opposite of the Arkham types, he keeps a facade of a sane, charming man and hides well his lack of empathy and righteousness. He is suave, his mood is mostly good, always teasing around and his outburst of anger don’t last much. He keeps his eyes on the ball and he preys whoever he needs to disappear or become a tool.
Out of all the enemies of Batman, he is among the few with a seasoned attitude that reflects confidence and experience. His wealth gives him higher ground, which makes him even more dangerous.
There are only two versions that were properly explored, the one from the comic books and the one from Batman: The Animated Series, and his attitude and profile is basically the same in both. He rarely focuses on tasks or MacGuffins; in every iteration, his plots revolve around using people to destroy his enemies and increasing his power. This usually backfires and he becomes the perpetual prey of his former victims: Dr. Phosphorus, Hugo Strange, and Two-face. In the animated series, his behavior was put in contrast with that of Arnold Stromwell and his own brother, Mathew Thorne a. k. a. the Crime Doctor. Both of them criminals with a empathy underneath their tough exterior.
The biggest difference between both continuities is that in comics he keeps a double life as a politician while he runs a large underworld cartel; whereas in the animated series, his role as the main crime boss of Gotham City is well known, even though he does have legitimate enterprises.
In the animated series, his gang is notorious for having similar personalities, specially the recurring members like his moll, Candice, and Frankie. It’s notorious how Candice can gain people’s trust, gather information and then betray them without remorse.

Physical description: In every version he is a fat, white man with white hair and blue eyes; somewhat modeled after actor Carroll O'Connor. He wears three piece suits and a distinctive ring. He is often seen smoking cigars.

Possible uses: The role of Ruppert Thone is flexible to the point that he almost seems like a recurring character of The Simpsons. Like one of them, he adds a unique dimension to his city, as the representation of corruption. He is basically House of Cards' Frank Underwood in Batman's world. He fits whenever a catalyst is needed to make another villain have a breakdown and his constant plots to use people and climb up are always interesting.  

For more character profiles, check out the following articles:

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Know your Bat-Villain! Part I

When it comes to profiling, the Bat-villains are quite a challenge. We have to consider that, on top of their temperament, personality and idiosyncrasies, these guys have personality disorders and these would be hard to diagnose. To make things worse, they have been portrayed so many times the best known characterizations of each one might come from a different movie, comic continuity or series. Sometimes, their behavior is not consistent within certain continuity.
With that in mind, I give you my sketches of the most popular enemies of Batman, according to the characterizations that made them shine the most.

The Joker: He is a cold, manipulative type of psychopath gone wild. Batman (1989 film) shows the transition. As Jack Napier, he pushes the system and gets what he wants from a safe niche as a ruthless mobster; the physical transformation to the Joker only made him wear his true colors on the outside. He becomes even bolder and enjoys the fear he causes on people. However, he also manages a duality. People can see that he is dangerous and disregards life, yet he keeps conning them to trust him, specially in the case of his henchmen.
These days Cesar Romero's take is under appreciated, yet he is just the same psychopath in a campy context. The only difference is that he has shorter temper, which is common ground with most comic book versions as well as the one in Batman: The Animated Series, portrayed by Mark Hamill and mostly based in 70s and 80s stories.
In Alan Moore's The Killing Joke the Joker gets a possible origin story that is never confirmed. Instead of being Jack Napier, he was a bad comedian who loved his family and the accident that transformed him completely reconfigured his personality.
The most different version of the Joker might be the one Heath  Ledger did in The Dark Knight, his sense of humor is completely dry and his temper doesn't really boil. 

Like a good psychopath, the Joker doesn't appear to have empathy. However, some iterations show shreds of it. Modern versions don't want to kill Batman and even avenge or protect him from other villains.As manipulative as he can be, he clearly can't live without Harley Quinn for long. And finally, he often bonds with peers like the Penguin or Catwoman.
My pick: Mark Hamill's is straight, classic Joker.

  
The Penguin: This guy is South Park's Eric Cartman as an antagonist of Batman. He is a loud, ruthless man, with short temper, superiority complex and histrionic behavior. Despite the camp, the general template of the character  Burgess Meredith's portrayal in the 1966 series. With minor changes, that's the same profile in Batman Returns, Batman: The Animated Series, The Batman, Batman: The Brave and the Bold, and many comics (specially prior to 1995).  On several occasions Batman has admitted the intellectual superiority of the Penguin, who is cunning, pays close attention to details and plots ahead of the game, not to mention that he has a colossal drive and walks over any obstacle. He can also be very charismatic and persuasive as he is developing his plot (to the point of running for mayor). However, he usually fails because he puts himself in the spotlight, craves recognition and credit for his brilliant crimes and his temper blows as he starts losing. In other words, he puts on a hell of a show but he is too narcissistic to win.
Around 1995 writer Chuck Dixon turned the character in to Gotham City's equivalent of Moriarty, which is the current version. Instead of dragging negative attention, he keeps a facade as a legitimate business man and rules the underworld without anyone being able to prove so. This is cleverer, but in this role he is often portrayed as a coward.
His background often changes. Some versions of his origin show him being bullied as a kid, some show that that he was an even bigger bully all along. Penguin Triumphant shows that he was always the bully and he extorted his peers.
Usually, the Penguin is one of the most social enemies of Batman. He seems to enjoy gatherings and likes to team up with other rogues, specially the Joker. When it comes to women, it's anybody's guess. He ranges from bitter or awkward to overconfident and even highly skilled.
My pick: Burgess Meredith defined the character.

   
Catwoman: One of the few healthy characters in this list, with no personality disorder, her personality is like the average cat: melancholic, task-oriented, perfectionist, demanding, hedonist, avoiding and, when convenient, charming. She cool as the other side of the pillow in that she is in absolute control of her behavior, which is in perfect tune with her environment and whatever is going on. If people around her are uninteresting or useless to her, she is likely to act cold. She has high standards, but the more appealing she finds someone, the more charming and teasing she becomes. However, she protects herself and acts uninterested if she feels exposed. This is the case with her relationship with Batman.
She is also quite assertive, going for what she wants (and she only wants the best) and usually getting it. Under her frivolous facade, she actually cares deeply about good people and is capable of showing it. Her tendency to end up acting heroically often proves her altruism.
As a thief, she has her unique take on ethics, stealing from the rich and keeping it for herself or giving it to the poor. Either as a scheming mob boss with a gang of henchmen or as cat-burglar it is clear that she likes risk and danger.
Give or take, this traits are common to the most popular portrayals in animated series, video games and comics. Anne Hathaway in The Dark Knight Rises is the perfect example. In Batman Returns, Michelle Pfeiffer portrayal is always melancholic, but switches from clumsy and inhibited to bold and confident like the usual version. Julie Newmar, however, had a unique take as her main driving force seems to be her sense of thrill and fun. In her episodes, she is more outgoing and extroverted. She clearly enjoys teasing Batman and putting him in danger to see him escape. When it comes to Robin, she kind the attention he gets from Batman, so she is meaner to him. This version is echoed in Batman: The Brave and the Bold
My pick: Anne Hathaway, but almost tied with Newmar and Pfeiffer.


Harley Quinn: She is complicated in that her personality changes two times within Batman: The Animated Series, her continuity of origin.
In The Laughing Fish, Joker's Favor, Almost Got 'Im, and The Man Who Killed Batman she is a moll in perfect tune with the Joker. She is usually seen in charge of executing the tricky parts of his schemes, and when it comes to his jokes, being the perfect Andy to his Conan. Her self control under pressure, her absolute lack of empathy towards people she knew her boss was about to kill (Sid the Squid, Charlie Collins, Catwoman) makes her a cold blooded psychopath. She seems like a top groupie with an agenda that excites her, like Claire Underwood from House of Cards or Mercy Graves in Superman: The Animated Series. Her relationship to the Joker is that of a partner. This version is likely close to the one in Brian Azzarello's Joker and the Birds of Prey TV series.
In Harley & Ivy, she is portrayed as a codependent girlfriend, she is dependable and can still plan ahead, the big differences are her empathy and her weaker confidence despite showing more capability for successful planning and executing than Poison Ivy or the Joker, who is just using her because of her talents. Despite only being used in one episode, this is the version that was used in No Man's Land when she was introduced as well as her first comic book series.
Finally, after the series was renamed The Adventures of Batman & Robin she is portrayed as a having full blown histrionic personality disorder (HDP). Like the Penguin in Birds of a Feather, she is all over the place calling attention to herself, has wild mood swings and a strong sexual drive, is completely deluded about the Joker and Batman and cannot plan ahead. Her abilities become all about skillful improvising. This final version has the most conflicted relationship with the Joker, as her lack of vision becomes a liability that angers him as much as her habit of stealing the show with her spontaneous jokes. He is basically using her for sex and her improvisational skills. Give or take, this version is the one appearing in The New Batman Adventures, The Batman, the Arkham video game series and Mad Love, which is que quintessential Harley Quinn story.
My pick: Psychopath Harley. All of them were portrayed by Arleen Sorkin.



The Riddler: The constant in every version is that is a narcissistic, often petulant jerk, with no empathy and an ego so inflated that he has the compulsive obsession to demonstrate the superiority of his intellect by committing crimes, leaving clues and challenging Batman and the police to solve them. He ends up being a sore loser. The template of this characters is Frank Gorshin's take, who basically created the character. His portrayal shows a very aggressive nature, and extremely high levels of energy. The most contrasting portrayal is John Glover in Batman: The Animated Series, which shows him more calm and petulant. Every other version falls in between. In every Burton-Schumacher movie, a villain suffers a metamorphosis, in Batman Forever, Jim Carrey's Riddler goes from clumsy and inhibited to bold and aggressive like the usual version.
Although more melancholic, less histrionic, and less choleric, he shares narcissistic personality disorder with the Penguin. The Riddler can try to be sociable, but he tends to alienate people and it's very hard for other villains to work with him.
My pick: Gorshin.


Egghead: He is Vincent Price having fun with the Batman cast. The big appeal of this character is that he is a charming narcissist. Unlike the classic temperament archetypes, he is both social and task oriented; a combination of a melancholic perfectionist with an outgoing phlegmatic man. He can actually persuade people while throwing utterly egocentric one-liners.
Egghead's pomposity and perfectionism can be compared with that of Kelsey Grammer in the roles of Frasier Crane (Frasier) or Sideshow Bob (The Simpsons), to the point to get away with elaborated, yet simple, "Pinky and the Brain" type of brilliant hits, as well as getting Batman right where he wants, only to downfall because of eccentricity and obsession with little details. His attitude as a super-villain is also close to Gene Hackman's Luthor, and so are his schemes, only the later is more ruthless. Which brings us to his empathy. He can use and destroy people without remorse, yet he is also able to have decent romantic relationships.
He probably has mixed elements within the cluster B of personality disorders without being an extreme case. He is a manipulative and cold type of psychopath, that feels to brag about his accomplishments.
My Pick: Vincent Price (like there is another option).

As I imagined, these profiles ended up a bit longer than the usual. So I will split the work in several parts. Next time, I'll continue with Hugo Strange, King Tut, Boss Thorne, The Scarecrow, Poison Ivy and the Ventriloquist.

In the meantime, here are some quick references to the type of criteria used in these sketches.

For more character profiles, check out the following articles:

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Mystery of Dwayne McDuffie, the Crisis on Mono-Earth, and the one in Tommy Westphall's mind.


For some years, before Dwayne passed, I had the great privilege of plaguing and terrorizing The Dwayne McDuffie Forums with my idiotic opinions and, somehow, getting some conversation with the great Maestro. I loved how he always gave me these one liners in which he spotted the flaws of my long piles of ranting nonsense and made several of my views collapse on their own weight. He is gone now, but I will always appreciate how many of his views are now mine as well. 
From science, social issues and home-made philosophy, to the way a comic book works, we talked about everything in that forum. Among the topics that were particularly attractive to comic book nerds, the one that appealed the most to me were his views on continuity.
This week, on his blog, Creation Point, the ever cool and incredibly talented J. M. DeMatteis exchanged a couple of replies with me on his ongoing Justice League 3000 (which I cannot recommend you enough) and how it is set outside the main continuity of most of the current DC Comics titles, in a world in which all his Justice League International stories happened. All of it got me thinking again about Dwayne's views. To this day, I consider them an impending revolution in the superhero genre and I think they expose the ideal way for publishers to work with it.
Dwayne wrote three essays on the subject, which I consider must-read material for any lover of comic books and superhero mythopoeia. Along with other interesting articles, they are available at his site. However, for the sake of diffusing and  keeping them for posterity, I am sharing a transcript here. So, enjoy:
Crisis On Mono-Earth! 
(c. 2001)
As I patiently await my copy of the upcoming Crisis on Infinite Earths trade paperback, collecting the outstanding 12 issue maxi-series that tried to untangle the beautiful mess of 40 some-odd years of DC Comics continuity, I can't help but wonder: Isn't it past time we got rid of all this "shared universe" crap? 
I suppose I should explain.
Crisis was everything you could ask for in a crossover epic; a great story, featuring dozens of superheroes facing their greatest challenge ever; a sincere promise of "anything can happen" that gave the proceedings something almost unheard of in series fiction: real suspense; final bows for old favorites not seen in years; Easter eggs enough to keep the most anal fan busy for weeks looking for them all; and beautiful, psychotically detailed, art. I almost liked Crisis enough to cough up the hundred bucks they were asking for the hardcover edition that came out a couple of years ago (but I didn't, out of fear that my late father would have risen from his grave to smack me on the head for stupidity). In addition to being both an aesthetic and a commercial success, Crisis also achieved its primary goal: wiping the slate clean so that the DC Universe could go forward without the many contradictions among its myriad continuities. The result, a single, contradiction-free DC Universe, would be the standard at DC Comics from then on, or at least until folks started writing more stories. 
Today, less than twenty years later, despite at least three other "reboots," (each more inventive than the next in their efforts to explain away the various inconsistencies that routinely crop up) DC continuity is at least as confused as it was before Crisis. 
I'm not here to debate the merits of comic book series set in shared universes. I've enjoyed reading shared universe stories. I've written shared universe stories, myself. I broke into comics by creating Damage Control, a concept thoroughly dependent on existence of the Marvel Universe. At Milestone, I even committed a shared universe of my own. But I repent my sin, and so should we all. The interconnectedness of shared universe stories is one of the biggest barriers to new readership. I know that's counterintuitive. Crossovers increase sales, right? I mean, that's why we keep doing them. True, but what we've also been doing is selling more and more books to fewer and fewer people. One reason? Shared universes are too hard to follow. 
In the interests of clarity, which is my point, let me repeat myself: Shared universes are too hard to follow.
The vast amount of information a reader has to master, simply to understand a typical monthly superhero comic is ridiculous. That's all well and good for geeks like you and me but it's become impossible to be a casual reader anymore. Casual readers should be our bread and butter; they certainly used to be. But I defy you to pick up a random issue of most current comics and be able to understand what's going on in it without the equivalent of a Ph.D. in trivia. We want more readers but we don't offer them any way in. Let me give you an example. Last year's Batman: No Man's Land promised exciting stuff from a number of top-notch creators. But can you imagine the confusion of someone picking up a random single issue of a story that ran through four (or was it eight?) monthly titles for an entire year? And where does DC get off asking them to commit to buying 48 (or was it 96?) individual comics to get a single story, no matter how good? Apparently, they got off at the bank, as I'm told the Batman titles sold much better than usual during that run. Me, I decided to wait for the trade paperbacks, which I haven't yet cracked, because I'm not sure I have them all. Too complicated. I suppose I could call Kurt Busiek and ask him to sort it out for me but I'm afraid of going to the well too often. Besides, this is not an option available to the casual reader. 
But the problem's even worse than it seems, because to really understand the Batman stories, you have to know all about something called "JLA." And to really understand JLA, you have to read four (or is it five) Superman books, and a couple of Flash books, and Wonder Woman, and Hawkman (if I really wanted to drive my point home, I'd have used Hawkman as my example but shooting fish in a barrel is only easy if you don't mind getting water all over the floor. I'd have had to spend more time trying to explain Hawkman to you than making my point), and Green Lantern, and Aquaman, and a bunch of other stuff that may or may not be cancelled. This is insane. How many people would watch ER if, in order to understand it, you had to be current with the continuity of every single show on NBC? Right. Practically no one, and NBC is free. Talk about "Must Watch…" 
I'm not just picking on DC, here, although I promise I will in the future. I could just have easily talked about X-Men titles, or Heroes Reborn reboots or, God help us, Spider-Man. The shared universe really was a good idea, once upon a time. That time has passed. Let's trash these unwieldy things. 
Does this mean we need another Crisis? Must we do without continuity, without team-ups or crossovers? Should we all just pack it in right now and go find a new hobby? No, I'm not suggesting anything that radical. Not quite. If you come back next week, I'll tell you how we can have our cake and eat it too. Which is fortunate, because if I can't eat my cake, I don't want any.  
See you next week.  
- Dwayne McDuffie

Yep. Mono-Earth sounded as a great idea, but the expressions of these multiverse characters show us how painful it was to understand its continuity.

The Rules of the Game: Crisis On Mono-Earth, part II
When last we met, the menace of "shared universes" (the unwholesome practice of setting the majority of a publisher's titles in a single continuity) was killing superhero comics.  
I'm borderline serious, here. 
I've already argued that shared universes add layers of unnecessary complexity to the reading experience. New customers can't figure out where to start reading, should they be so inclined. Casual readers don't exist anymore, as they can't hope to follow the stuff unless they're willing to commit totally. Even guys like us (well, most of us), who have already been reading pretty much everything for years can't keep it all straight any more. The result of these hopelessly tangled storylines, needlessly interwoven through dozens of comic book series, is to make anyone but a head case ditch the whole thing. Which folks are already doing, in droves.  
Not to worry, Gordius. Just bring that nasty knot over here and Dwayne McAlexander will make everything all better. 
I propose we sever the ties that bind. With one minor class of exceptions (which I'll get to later) let every individual title be its own universe. Marvel Universe? Screw it. DCU? Please, as if it were remotely coherent now. Tell the truth. You like the Elseworlds stuff better anyway, don't you?  
Well, even if you don't... 
I've already received letters from readers who freaked because they think I'm suggesting we get rid of continuity. Relax, I'm doing no such thing. I'm simply suggesting a separate continuity within each and every title. Ever wonder why the Avengers don't show up and help when the Fantastic Four is locked in mortal battle with Galactus? Well, don't. Because under the new rules, there aren't any Avengers in the FF Universe, and vice versa. 
"What!?!," you say. "No guest shots? No crossovers?" 
Sure there are. But only if the creative/editorial teams want them. The first rule of individual continuity is this: Nothing is canon unless it happened (or is referred to) in the pages of an issue of the comic you're reading. If the Empire State Building was destroyed in the latest issue of Green Lantern, there's no Empire State Building anymore, but only in Green Lantern. The Flash remains free to coax Gorilla Grodd down from the top of that that very same nonexistent building, because in his comic, it was never destroyed. Should I read only one of those titles, I don't have to keep track of continuity that has nothing to do with the comic I bought. If I happen to read both titles, the "discontinuity" is no more confusing than the fact that on The West Wing, the President of the United States is named Josiah Bartlet, and on Spin City, his name is Bill Clinton.  
You still want to know about guest shots, don't you? Okay, Rule #2: Guest Shots are permissible, but they only affect the continuity of the book they appeared in. If Flash does a guest-shot in Green Lantern, there's no Empire State Building and the Flash sees nothing wrong with that. Moreover, back in the pages of The Flash, the crossover story never happened (unless it's explicitly referred to in those pages). You with me? If you're reading Green Lantern, it happened, if you're reading Flash, it didn't. Anybody can still meet anybody though, if you're into that sort of thing. 
Rule #3: No continued stories crossing from one book into another. A multi-part story is fine, as long as all the parts take place in the same title. No part one in Flash, part two in Green Lantern, part three in the 48 page bookshelf Faster Than Lantern's Light! nonsense. If I like the Flash, that's all I should ever have to read. If I really like him, I can follow his circulation-building guest shots in other titles if I want to. But I never have to. 
Before you ask, Rule #4: Team books and multiple character crossover books are permissible but take place in their own unique universe. You may have team books. Even team books like The Avengers or JLA that are made up mostly of members who already have their own solo titles. JLA can have both Flash and Green Lantern as members but it has its own unique continuity, which may or may not contradict the continuities of the Flash and or Green Lantern titles. Big crossover epics like Maximum Security would take place in a maxi series called Maximum Security. You wouldn't need to read any other titles in order to understand it. Characters that guest star in a crossover title aren't beholden to that continuity unless they choose to be. 
This brings us to the exception of the exception to my shared continuity rules. Exception #1: Groups of titles may share continuity in ways that violate Rules 1, 2 and sometimes 4. In other words. If the Empire State Building is destroyed In Superman, it's also gone in Adventures, Man Of Steel and probably in Supergirl as well. If you want to define a group of titles as "X-Men books, and all of their spin-offs," this is also kosher. But rule #3 is inviolate.  
Another happy result of this system is that it would strengthen certain titles that are diminished by being in a shared universe. Captain Marvel, Plastic Man and Wonder Woman, for instance, would all work better in their own unique worlds, worlds that differ than the shared DCU. Captain Marvel's Fawcett City, stuck in a retro 1950's, with talking tigers and world conquering worms, is at best an uncomfortable fit with Superman's "just slightly ahead of our time" Metropolis. Maybe you disagree with my examples, but you know what I mean. Do street criminals have ray guns? Is public mass transit light rail, buses or transporters? Is the Hulk the strongest one there is, or is Thor? Are magic and the supernatural real, or just scams to be uncovered by the Amazing Randi? The answers to questions like these effect the kinds of stories you can tell. My solution? Let these questions be decided in their own individual titles. Then the creators can build a unique world that supports, not simply allows, the conceit of a title.  
The best part of my scheme is that the people who care deeply about how all the various titles relate to one another will have more to argue about than ever. Imagine the fun of trying to stitch all these contradictory continuities together into a seamless whole. The rest of us don't have to risk migraines thinking about it ever again. I remember once, many years ago Marvel executive editor Mark Gruenwald explained Omniverse, his theory of how various fictional cosmologies all fit together, to me. I think I got it, eventually. But I'm sure I had less trouble grasping the finer points of Special Relativity. 
None of what I'm proposing is all that radical, really. We've all seen these rules in effect many times before, in intercompany crossovers. Superman vs. Spider-Man was my first exposure to this treatment of continuity but the latest Aliens vs. Whomever mini demonstrates the principles just as well. 
Okay, you've got the gist of my plan. Now it's time to shoot holes in it. I'll give you guys a couple weeks for rebuttal. Email me with your comments and critiques, I'm especially interested in examples of good comics that wouldn't be possible under these conditions. In a month or so, I'll respond by either cruelly shooting you down right in front of everybody, or grudgingly admitting that you're right and trying to refine my set of rules. If you're really successful, I'll just give up the whole idea. 
Okay, I'm running long. See you next week with one of those "bits and pieces" type things, wherein I try to pass off as a real column a bunch of random notions too thin to carry even a rambling, unfocused, thousand word essay.  
- Dwayne McDuffie
And from that we can snowball and make our own takes. Personally, I think DC should go half way. They already have the Multiverse structure, in which they have named universes for realities such as the ones from 
  • DC: The New Frontier (Earth-21)
  • Gotham by Gaslight (Earth-19)
  • Batman: The Brave and the Bold (Earth-23),
  • Young Justice (Earth-16), 
  • The DC animated Universe (Earth-12, a.k.a. the Timmverse), or
  • The Dark Knight Returns (Earth-31).
It also includes a "Prime Earth", which is where the events of most of the DC line takes place and it was formerly known as "Earth-One", "New Earth" or "Earth-0" (don't ask). For my two cents, whatever they call that main reality, these days DC should only keep a limited number of successful titles within it so that editors could keep a tight ship  and, consequently, they increase the quality of the continuity (like TV head writers, if you will). Meanwhile, other creative teams can have their very own Earths as a setting for whatever ongoing title, limited series or graphic novel they want to include. This way Darwyn Cooke could write more Earth-21 stories, Brian Augustyn could explore Earth-19 and  Alan Moore can have his own "Earth-W" to produce a Watchmen sequel (pfff, ha, ha, ha, just kidding). 

The existence of a DC multiverse also opens a possibility for writers who have their creations trapped in an extinct continuity and would like to take their contributions and continue working on them as part of a new Earth. Frank Miller intended precisely this when he wrote All-Star Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder, an unfinished story that he considers to be set in the same continuity of all his previous Batman stories (Batman: Year One, Batman /Spawn, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, and Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again), regardless of their ties to unfitting stories by other writers (Loeb's Batman: Dark Victory). Apparently a similar situation is happening with 
J. M. DeMatteis and Keith Giffen's Justice League 3000, which is set in the year 3000 of an Earth that includes the events Formerly Known as the Justice League, I Can't Believe It's Not the Justice League, and all the Justice League International stories by that creative team. Apparently, it also includes the events of Camelot 3000, which basically means that they can hand pick whatever stories they want to fit in their continuity. This dynamic would also make sense for properties such as Neil Gaiman's Sandman, or James Robinson's Starman. Too bad Grant Morrison continued Batman Incorporated as part of Prime Earth, it deserves its own continuity .  

Of course, all of this might complicate reading lists for every given Earth. If Jeph Loeb wanted to continue his Batman stories from Batman: The Long HalloweenBatman: Dark Victory, and Catwoman: When In Rome on "Earth-H", he would share the Batman: Year One, as a common canon story with Miller's Earth-31, despite not being able to fit other stories like The Dark Knight Returns, and Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again which take place in the future and shows alive two of the characters he clearly killed off his stories. However, taking my cues form something Dwayne pointed in the next essay I am transcribing (time to get back to the star of this post), not one but many series can share stories and characters, but they can conveniently ignore whatever doesn't fit. The essay, titled Six Degrees of St. Elsewhere and was originally published at SlushFactory.com, came from the took the same line of thinking and applied it to deconstruct all TV crossovers. The premise became very popular and was coined the "The Tommy Westphall Universe Hypothesis" actually became a flow chart that shocked the Internet:
Six Degrees of St. Elsewhere

I know this is going to read like a plug but it’s not, actually it’s an excuse for writing about TV. I’ll try to explain. Last weekend I had the unique thrill of watching pop-culture icons Batman and the Joker make a guest-appearance on STATIC SHOCK, the Kids WB animated series I co-created. It looks like the episode went over well with the audience, too. I’ve read many good reviews. I’ve received well-wishes from dozens of fans. I’ve got some great e-mails from little kids who discovered the show only because Batman was on it. All in all, an unexpected triumph. 
Except… 
Except there are some comic book fans who are confused by what the crossover does to the continuity of the DC and Milestone universes (answer: nothing, actually) or to the continuity of DC Comics’ animated shows (answer: nothing that matters, really). There’s just a few of those guys out there, mind you but they’re strident. Anyone who has read my old columns knows my radical stance on comic book continuity (part 2 is here. Click the links if you care). The short version is this, I think comic book continuity should be treated as TV continuity traditionally has, that is to say, every show has its own, individual continuity – even when that show shares characters from other shows. The old sit-coms Seinfeld and Mad About You share characters but both shows conveniently ignore that fact whenever they feel like it. This allows them to have all the fun of crossovers, without the silly baggage of both shows having to keep it all straight (and, wonder of wonders, you can watch and enjoy either show without ever watching the other one). 
This is the right answer for comics too, because complex interlocking storylines across dozens of series will inherently prove to be absurd. Let me demonstrate.
For the purposes of our demonstration, we postulate that any TV show that shares characters with another series is in the same universe as that series. With the help of the guys at the Milestone E-group and their discovery of a wondrous TV crossover website that lists an astonishingly large list of spinoffs and crossovers, I will first reveal to you a stunning tapestry of interconnected TV shows, then prove that none of those shows’ episodes actually occurred. I’ll do the last with two magic words: St. Elsewhere. 
For those of you don’t know, St. Elsewhere was a slick, well written and acted drama series about the doctors, administrators and patients of the fictional Boston hospital, St. Eligius (nicknamed St. Elsewhere by the staff). After a long, award-winning run, in the very last moments of the show’s final episode, it was revealed that all of the events of the show were merely the prolonged daydream of an autistic child. None of it “really” happened. Whether you like this final twist (for what it’s worth, I didn’t), it’s a legitimate ending to a self-contained show. But if St. Elsewhere played by the rules of comics, either they wouldn’t have been allowed to do it, or they would have precipitated a crisis in TV Land far bloodier than DC Comics’ Crisis On Infinite Earths. Why? Because crossover-wise, St. Elsewhere is the Kevin Bacon of TV shows. 
Stay with me now, this is complicated but kind of fun. 
Characters from St. Elsewhere have appeared on Homicide, which means that show is part of the autistic child’s daydream and likewise doesn’t exist. It gets worse. The omnipresent Detective John Munch from Homicide has appeared on X-Files, Law & Order and Law & Order: SVU. Law & Order characters have appeared on Law & Order: Criminal Intent. X-Files characters have appeared on The Lone Gunmen and Millennium. Characters from Chicago Hope have appeared on Homicide. Characters from Picket Fences have appeared on Chicago Hope. All those shows are gone (if you count cartoons, which makes this game much too easy, the X-Files characters have appeared on The Simpsons. The Critic has also appeared on The Simpsons. Dead). 
Characters from Picket Fences have appeared on Ally McBeal. Ally McBeal has appeared on The Practice. Characters from The Practice have appeared on Boston Public. Autistic daydreams, every one. 
But that’s not all. St Elsewhere characters have appeared on Cheers, so Fraiser doesn’t exist. Neither do Wings, Caroline In The City or The Tortellis but who cares? Well, maybe you do, because Caroline In The City once crossed over with Friends, which crossed over with Mad About You, which crossed over with Seinfeld and The Dick Van Dyke show. None of them happened in our new, shared continuity.
St. Elsewhere also shared characters with The White Shadow and It’s Gary Shandling’s Show. Garry Shandling crossed over with The Andy Griffith show (no, really!). So Gomer Pyle, Mayberry RFD, and Make Room for Daddy/The Danny Thomas Show are gone. Make Room For Daddy takes out I love Lucy.
And there’s more, St. Elsewhere also shares continuity with M*A*S*H, so Aftermash and Trapper John MD are out of there. 
Now here’s a good one, St. Elsewhere shared a patient with The Bob Newhart Show, so the Bob Newhart Show is part of the grand daydream. The Bob Newhart Show crossed over with Murphy Brown, which in turn links to, among many others: Julia, The Nanny, Everybody Loves Raymond and I Dream of Jeannie! Meanwhile, the series Newhart was revealed to be a nightmare had by Bob Newhart’s character on the Bob Newhart Show. Newhart crossed over with Coach, which connects it to Grace Under Fire, Ellen and Drew Carey. Drew Carey takes out Home Improvement and NYPD Blue. 
All of these shows (and many more that I left out or missed) are daydreams of St. Elsewhere’s autistic kid. 
This is by no means an exhaustive list. Links to the Happy Days, All In The Family and Diagnosis Murder universes would take out another 20 or 30 shows. If we can get to The Mary Tyler Moore Show, who knows how many would fall? My favorite possibility? A link to Knight Rider, of all things, would remove every single Star Trek series. I wouldn’t mind some research help from my vast and loony readership on these and any other shows you guys can think of, E-mail me. No cartoons though, that way lies madness. The Scooby Doo movies alone encompass a good chunk of the space/time continuum. 
All of these would help me prove my Grand Unification Theory, which posits: “The last five minutes of St. Elsewhere is the only television show, ever. Everything else is a daydream.” 
So what does this prove, other than the fact that I’ve got too much free time? Well, my point and I do have one (I can steal this catch phrase because, as I’ve already proven, Ellen never existed), is that while guest-shots and crossovers can be fun, obsessive, cross-series continuity is silly.
It’s silly in comics too. Relax and enjoy the show.    
- Dwayne McDuffie


All TV fiction takes place in Tommy Westphall's mind!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Ralph Dibny Presents: Freakazoid!

Image by Phil Crash Murphy

For the foreseeable future, Freakazoid! seems basically an extinguished property. Nobody has heard of revival series (who wouldn't love to see Weird Al involved in the project, huh?), not even a comic book adaptation. So, I started daydreaming how it would look in the solicitations articles, and I humbly present the results to my dear audience (if I still have one, anyway). 

In order to take the series forward and add something new, I set the series right after "The Chip" (the origin story of Freakazoid!) and tried to explore the early days and the origin of several villains. There is a lot of that Spider-Man / Archie vibe (i.e., lots of high school stuff) from the early Brice Timm concepts and the first episode. Things are surreal, but not enough to keep Freakazoid apart from the DCU, so expect interesting guest stars...



DC PRESENTS FREAKAZOID! #1
On sale MAY 12 • Issue #2 on sale MAY 26 • 40 pg (#1), 32 pg (#2), FC, $2.99 US
Written by JOHN P. MCCANN and PAUL RUGG art by DUSTIN NGUYEN.
I did this image, (totally ripping of Alex Ross).
Teenager Dexter Douglas wakes up to discover that everybody in Washington is talking about the cool new hero that caused the fall of the Apex Company (Cadmus' main supplier). He wants nothing to do with him, but he changes his mind when he discovers that his biology teacher is planning to turn all the Harry Connick Jr. High School students into lobe-mutants like him.

Meanwhile, in the backup feature, Lord Bravery is trying to make a name for himself as London's new superhero protector. He captures a bank robbery; however, surrounded by inept witnesses, he has a really hard time trying to prove to the police that he captured the right thief, who shamelessly denies any involvement.

DC PRESENTS FREAKAZOID! #2
On sale MAY 26, 32 pg (#2), FC, $2.99 US
Written by JOHN P. MCCANN and PAUL RUGG art by DUSTIN NGUYEN.
The Lobe is planning to use his army of teenage brain-zombies to take Washington, but before stopping him, Freakazoid! must escape the thread of the disgusting Booger Beast.

Meanwhile, in the backup feature, the Huntsman has gathered all the necessary information to take down Armondo Guitierrez, the corrupt CEO of the Apex Company-- only to find out that some new superhero. Darn the Luck, darn, darn, darn!

DC PRESENTS FREAKAZOID! #3
On sale JUL 18, 32 pg (#2), FC, $2.99 US
Written by JOHN P. MCCANN and PAUL RUGG art by DUSTIN NGUYEN.
Freakazoid! has save the Harry Connick Jr. High again, this time from Gave Guy at the Day Time Saving party, and, although every girl is in love with him, he can't reveal them that he's actually Dexter Douglas, the geek none of them likes. So, it's time to help Dex to fit in... after F! saves bank hostages from Kid Carrion, the cowboy who can't die.

Meanwhile, in the backup feature, after 3 weeks of talking to bullies into leaving obese kids alone, The Fatman and Boy Blubber get restraining order from the Peabody Elementary School.

DC PRESENTS FREAKAZOID! #4
On sale JUN 12, 32 pg (#4), FC, $2.99 US
Written by JOHN P. MCCANN and PAUL RUGG art by DUSTIN NGUYEN.
The Penguin goes to Washington to recruit Arms Akimbo, Babyface, Ma Murder and other generic mobster stereotypes for the Crime Guild of America and we all know what that means: Batman team-up!!

Meanwhile, in the backup feature, Dexter brags to James and Leo (those are actual characters, I swear) that he's a close friend of Freakazoid. Next day, the entire Harry Connick Jr. High knows, so, best friends Betty and V-- I mean, Steff and Valerie start a war with each other in order to impress Dex.

SHADOW OF THE BAT #3
On sale JUN 12, 32 pg (#4), FC, $2.99 US
Written by PAUL DINI, art by DUSTIN NGUYEN.
Crossing over from DC PRESENTS FREAKAZOID!, Freak! and Nightwing break into a Washington D.C. warehouse just in time to save Batman from a surreal gang organized in true Daffy Duck fashion: the PenguinArms AkimboThe Ventriloquist and ScarfaceThe LobeBabyfaceMedulla and OblongataMa Murder!Ugly ManheimThe White RabbitKid CarrionRhinoTweedle Dee and Tweedle DumThe ChickBen FranklinsteinTobias Whale!

DC PRESENTS FREAKAZOID! #5
On sale AUG 13, 32 pg (#4), FC, $2.99 US
Written by JOHN P. MCCANN and PAUL RUGG art by DUSTIN NGUYEN.
After saving the White House, Freakazoid! is invited by president Obama to receive an award. At the ceremony, Freakazoid! notices that the Senate Majority Leader is a weird eyeball creature with goo instead of a body and a ridiculous haircut -- but everybody else sees him as a regular guy called Newt... what the hey is going on, and what's he got to do with the sinister looking guy turning squirrels into gold?

Meanwhile, in the backup feature, Batman has been kidnapped by the American Crime Syndicate and only The Huntsman can track him down.

DC PRESENTS FREAKAZOID! #6
On sale SEP 12, 32 pg (#4), FC, $2.99 US
Written by JOHN P. MCCANN and PAUL RUGG art by DUSTIN NGUYEN. 
Ultimate hunter Major Danger hears about the Freakazoid! and decides to hunt him, so, suck it, Kraven the Hunter! 

Meanwhile, at the backup feature, Lord Bravery is about to bust a smuggling operation of the Pearly Prince* --but so is the Beefeater.

*From Batman & Robin.

DC PRESENTS FREAKAZOID! #7
On sale OCT 12, 32 pg (#4), FC, $2.99 US
Written by JOHN P. MCCANN and PAUL RUGG art by DUSTIN NGUYEN. 
Freakazoid! has to figure out how to teach Dexter Douglas how to stand for himself against the Harry Connick Jr. High School's resident bully: Duncan Douglas, but he can't really do that while being bullied himself by Alpha Dog the biggest, meanest crimelord of Washington.

Meanwhile, at the backup feature, the Lawn Gnomes have stolen the one true nose ring from a mad halfling.

DC PRESENTS FREAKAZOID! #8
On sale NOV 01, 32 pg (#4), FC, $2.99 US
Written by JOHN P. MCCANN and PAUL RUGG art by DUSTIN NGUYEN.
"Candle Jack's Halloween Par--"

Steff and Val organize a Halloween party and Dex thought it would be a good idea to dress as Freakazoid! to impress them, the only problem is that when some idiot shows up disguised as Candle Ja--

Meanwhile, at the backup feature, Lord Bravery and his family are invited as guests at the Stokesey Castle, where, as he asures them, there are no ghosts...

DC PRESENTS FREAKAZOID! #9
On sale DEC 12, 32 pg (#4), FC, $2.99 US
Written by JOHN P. MCCANN and PAUL RUGG art by DUSTIN NGUYEN.
"Merry Christmas, Freak!"
It's almost a year since Freakazoid! came to be, an what better present can Armondo sent him from prison than a surprise party with all his new friends: the Lobe, Candle Jack, Kid Carrion, Longhorn, Cobra Queen, Caveguy and Booger Beast!

It's Christmas and the Lt. King is going to get the Huntsman the gift he deserves (although there might be some teasing before).

DC PRESENTS FREAKAZOID! #10
On sale JAN 12, 32 pg (#4), FC, $2.99 US
Written by JOHN P. MCCANN and PAUL RUGG art by DUSTIN NGUYEN.
"Freakazoid Vs. -- Freakazoid?"
Eye of Newt has decided that the best way to get Freakazoid! out of his back is to frame him, so he hires Deadpan, the World's less expressive impersonator, to ruin his reputation. 

Meanwhile, at the Backup feature, the Lawn Gnomes go to Manhattan, if they gan get pass the Brooklyn Bridge Troll.

DC PRESENTS FREAKAZOID! #11
On sale FEB 12, 32 pg (#4), FC, $2.99 US
Written by JOHN P. MCCANN and PAUL RUGG art by DUSTIN NGUYEN.
"Freakazoid, the super villain"
When Freakazoid! becomes evil Sgt. Cosgrove is forced to apprehend him. Can Roddy and Steff break Cobra Queen's hypnosis on time? Plus, we learn that Cosgrove is actually Police Chief, but he likes to be called Sgt., for some reason. 

Meanwhile, at the Backup feature, it's time to give sweet and innocent Toby Danger "the talk", if you get what I mean.


DC PRESENTS FREAKAZOID! #12
On sale MAR 12, 32 pg (#4), FC, $2.99 US
Written by JOHN P. MCCANN and PAUL RUGG art by DUSTIN NGUYEN.
"It's tough to get a date with Dex"
Dex hit the jackpot when his math teacher forced Val to study with him every afternoon, and to make things more interesting Longhorn is going to teach him how to get hard to play as he needs to excuse himself to go save the landmarks Washington D.C. 

Meanwhile, at the Backup feature, Fatman and Boy Blubber open a fat camp.

DC PRESENTS FREAKAZOID! #13
On sale APR 12, 32 pg (#4), FC, $2.99 US
Written by JOHN P. MCCANN and PAUL RUGG art by DUSTIN NGUYEN.
"Candle Jack Retur--"
Waylon Jeepers found a way to control Candle Jack withou--

Fanboy might have bitten more than he can chew when he decided to stalk the Legends who Lunch.

DC PRESENTS FREAKAZOID! #14
On sale MAY 12, 32 pg (#4), FC, $2.99 US
Written by JOHN P. MCCANN and J. M. DEMATTEIS art by DUSTIN NGUYEN.
"Mystery of the missing Freak!"
When Freakazoid! disappears, only one man can help Sgt. Cosgrove and Roddy to find him: The Elongated Man. But not even the World's most famous detective find him has an easy case when most of the witnesses and suspects are clueless weirdos. 

Meanwhile, at the Backup feature, Lord Bravery sues a comic book writer who copyrighted his name and personality to sell toys.

DC PRESENTS FREAKAZOID! #15
On sale JUL 12, 32 pg (#4), FC, $2.99 US
Written by JOHN P. MCCANN and PAUL RUGG art by DUSTIN NGUYEN.
"Neutrino Man"
Mo-Ron returns, this time he arrives at James and Leo's who try to disguise him as an exchange student. However, their fun won't last long since the Lobe wants him for his own sinister purposes. 

Meanwhile, at the Backup feature, after a month of undercover hard work the Huntsman is about to make his big bust (yeah, that's right, not gonna happen).

DC PRESENTS FREAKAZOID! #16
On sale JUN 12, 32 pg (#4), FC, $2.99 US
Written by JOHN P. MCCANN and PAUL RUGG art by DUSTIN NGUYEN.

"Franklinstain"

The Lobe and Eye-of-Newt team-up to create the wost political Frankenstein: Ben Franklinstain

Meanwhile, at the Backup feature, Mistress Sinistra has caught the Lawn Gnomes, but keeping them as servants might not be a good idea.

DC PRESENTS FREAKAZOID! #17
On sale AUG 12, 32 pg (#4), FC, $2.99 US
Written by JOHN P. MCCANN and PAUL RUGG art by DUSTIN NGUYEN.
"The Imp-ossible Dream"
Dex is tired of being targeted by bullies and things are even worse since the worst bully is his own brother, Duncan Douglas. Things are about to change now that he has Frkzd, his own interdimensional imp... Then again, who's going to save him from the imp... Duncan?

Meanwhile, at the Backup feature, the Huntsman finally arrives on time to beat criminals. There's no doubt, they are real criminals. Sure thing.

DC PRESENTS FREAKAZOID! #18
On sale SEP 12, 32 pg (#4), FC, $2.99 US
Written by JOHN P. MCCANN and PAUL RUGG art by DUSTIN NGUYEN.
"Beauty and Brains"
Nerdator is back, and this time he has a better target: hot nerds. 

Meanwhile, at the backup feature, Fanboy has a new victim: Lord Bravery.

DC PRESENTS FREAKAZOID! #19
On sale OCT 12, 32 pg (#4), FC, $2.99 US
Written by JOHN P. MCCANN and PAUL RUGG art by DUSTIN NGUYEN.
"Beauty and the Booger Beast"
Val can accept that Steff is now Freakazoid!'s girlfriend, but is she desperate enough to fall in love with her biggest admirer... the Booger Beast

Meanwhile, at the backup feature, Lord Bravery is finally invited to join the Justice League Europe, only one problem: he has to beat Beefeater! John Cleese's reaction: "Unbelievable!" 

DC PRESENTS FREAKAZOID! #20
On sale OCT 12, 32 pg (#4), FC, $2.99 US
Written by JOHN P. MCCANN and PAUL RUGG art by DUSTIN NGUYEN.
"Beauty and the Booger Beast"
The fate of Ben Franklinstain has the nation divided, some people want him resting in peace again, some want him in jail and others want him to be the President. 

Meanwhile, at the backup feature, the Lawn Gnomes try to kidnap Zatanna's cat to get her to break their spell.

DC PRESENTS FREAKAZOID! #21
On sale DEC 12, 32 pg (#4), FC, $2.99 US
Written by JOHN P. MCCANN and PAUL RUGG art by DUSTIN NGUYEN.
"Beauty and the Booger Beast"
Guitierrez is back, and he has kidnapped Roddy to fix his web connection. So, Freakazoid! and the Huntsman must find him before he becomes a freakazoid! again!

Meanwhile, at the backup feature, Fatman and Boy Blubber get banned from KFC.

DC PRESENTS FREAKAZOID! #22
On sale JAN 12, 32 pg (#4), FC, $2.99 US
Written by JOHN P. MCCANN and PAUL RUGG art by DUSTIN NGUYEN.
"Freakazoid! meets the Lawn Gnomes"
Candle Ja-- is after the Lawn Gnomes and only Freakazoid! can help them. 

Meanwhile, at the backup feature, the Douglas family goes camping and Duncan finds a green fat "big foot".

DC PRESENTS FREAKAZOID! #23
On sale JAN 12, 32 pg (#4), FC, $2.99 US
Written by JOHN P. MCCANN and PAUL RUGG art by DUSTIN NGUYEN.
"See No Invisivo"
Invisivo is super-charged and he's going after president Obama, so, Freakazoid! will stop him, if he can finish Professor's Beasthead's exam on time... and rescue Val from Booger Beast... and shake off Fanboy... and get Fatman out of a manhole... and try that new peanut butter doughnut with Cosgrove... and -- oh, just forget about it, it's never gonna happen.

Meanwhile, at the backup feature, Lord Bravery has to prove to HMRC that he doesn't make a profit as a superhero.

DC PRESENTS FREAKAZOID! #24
On sale FEB 12, 32 pg (#4), FC, $2.99 US
Written by JOHN P. MCCANN and PAUL RUGG art by DUSTIN NGUYEN.
"And they Smell like Mothballs"
The Green Fog and the Brown Fog are back and smellier than ever, so Freakazoid! decided to reunite... THE LEGENDS!... Then again, setting octogenarians to fight might not be a smart idea.

Meanwhile, at the backup feature, the The Huntsman has received his first call from the Justice League Unlimited.