Saturday, September 24, 2011

The best of the new 52

POLL: "The best of the new 52"
I have to say, personally, I find more uncomfortable changes about the DCnU than cool ones. However, I'm not going to get into that ranting now; instead, I'm going to recommend the best stories I read of the "new 52". Whether we like the DC reboot or not, some stories are good and some are bad. Here is my ranking of the best issues:

10. Justice League Dark
My rating: 8 of 10.
I'm not sure about the concept. It reminds me of those themed Justice League teams they made for a 2001 story. Having heroes with diverse backgrounds and powers is kind of the point of Justice League. Having said that, this story feels like it's going to be good, but like Aquaman #1 and most of the 52, this first issue doesn't stand alone. We do get to see more than two of the members gather (take that, Justice League #1!) and the introduction of an interesting threat that justifies a team like this, though.

9. Aquaman
My rating: 8 out of 10.
I can't believe it, but Geoff Johns did it once again. Aquaman #1 might have that fanfic aftertaste that characterizes its writer, long with the feeling that nothing happened; however, it feels really solid and it got my attention. This is the cool Aquaman portrayal I've been waiting for ages. He's not just some guy who talks with fishes, but a true superhuman king. I just wish he didn't have the bitter attitude. If it were a perfect world maybe he wouldn't be like the version from Batman: The Brave and the Bold, but he would be a bit like Destruction (from the Endless).

8. Action Comics
My rating: 8.5 out of 10.
Grant Morrison is taking Superman back to the basics. The new Action Comics #1 echoes the original one of 1938, showing a Superman that makes no apologies to fight injustice and corruption and a Clark Kent that still has a lot of character to develop. In a role that echoes his cameo in Alan Moore's Swamp Thing #52 and 53, Lex Luthor is introduced as the idea man who helps the army to take down SupermanWe also get the start of his envy of Superman. All in all, this issue didn't blew my mind, or showed something unseen before, bu it is definitively a nice setting for the rest of the series.

7. Superman
My rating: 8.5 out of 10
An old hallmark building is not demolished (never) but sold, changing the timeline can't possibly make white people black and I'm already tired of the drama that we're going to have between Lois and Clark before they move in together. With that being said, Superman #1 is a terrific issue. It completed an adventure, worked as a great story arc hook and introduced Clark Kent's world. The rest of the 52 rarely accomplished the three things. The story focuses on the new Daily Planet and its coverage of a fight between Superman and a strange alien; and while doing so, George Perez took the classic Superman supporting cast to the modern world.

6. O.M.A.C.
8.5 out of 10.
Keith Giffen and Dan DiDio rock! This book is pure Kirby fun. It mixes all previous versions of O.M.A.C., a bit of TVs Freakazoid! and some Hulk, which is probably why it feels like a Kirby power punch. This is the only book that truly stands on its own. Yes, it leaves a lot of unresolved issues, but it freaking feels like a complete story, something I didn't get from any of the other issues I've read so far. The story is basically about the mysterious O.M.A.C. hurricaning his way through Cadmus in order to get some secret files for Brother Eye. We learn that the blue hulk is Kevin Kho, a nerdy researcher for Cadmus who is dating his coworker, Jody Robbins. The rest is intelligently left as the mystery that will get us to buy the next issue.

5. Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E.

My rating: 8.5 out of 10
Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #1 presents a world that is as much of a pastiche as the body of the main character itself. This campy cocktail includes classic and modern horror, battle, disaster, super spy fiction and super science; so, what's not to love? This issue we learn about the Super Human Advanced Defense Executive (S.H.A.D.E.), a really weird super government organization that manages a network of strange creatures (the Creature Commandos) who take care of super natural situations. Once the introduction is over (as simple as that sounds, a lot of the new 52 didn't get past that) this issue truly delivers the sensation that the survival of the World depends on the super bad-ass Frankenstein and his awesome team.

4. Wonder Woman
My rating: 9 out of 10.
I've waited so long for the Wonder Woman title to be great! The only reason this issue doesn't go higher in my rank is because it felt a tad short. The storytelling is solid, bold and interesting. Azzarello just made Wonder Woman rock by setting her in a very contemporary world that is still being manipulated by creepy and menacing supernatural forces from Greek mythology and by presenting her as a seasoned warrior that can defeat them. I know this had been done before, but this time you can't take the supernatural for granted. She's not a strong woman anymore, she's just strong, period. Strong compared to men, women or gods. You name it, this Wondie is going to kick its butt, so go buy it... Now, b*tch!
...Sorry, I got carried away.

3. Swamp Thing
My rating: 9 out of 10.
This issue makes it official for me: Scott Snyder is the king of horror and suspense, and the master of creepy introductions. Swamp Thing allows his macabre tales to finally go supernatural within the world of DC and, contrary to Batman #1, this time he skips the introductions to go straight to the first mystery of the series, which is masterfully presented. After resurrecting, a more cynical and pessimistic Alec Holland is dealing with his new life - a one day at a time sort of deal. He is not the ecologist he used to be. Meanwhile, the world is plagued by a really bizarre and eerie force that could give the Linda Blair a run for her money.

2. Animal Man
My rating: 9.5 out of 10.
Writer Jeff Lemire and artist Travel Foreman are people to watch. I applaud DC for picking this creative team. They are reinfusing DC line with the good old postmodernism that was lost when a number of properties became Vertigo territory in the mid 90s. Following the tradition established by Morrison with the original series, Animal Man #1 mixes elements of horror, suspense and action to present the life of Buddy Baker, a "regular" Joe that has to balance his everyday family issues with the hard and frequently surreal situations and dilemmas he faces as a superhero. Foreman plays with the format to take away the typical sense of balance we would get from conventional comic art.
In this issue, we learn that Buddy has reached fame as an environmental activist / actor / superhero, and that he is not quite sure about the career path he should take. He has not been very active as a superhero, but he goes on to save the day after hearing a report, anyway. However, in the process, he finds out that really strange things are going on with his powers and with his daughter, Maxine, who develops her own.
1. Batman
My rating: 9.5 out of 10.
Scott Snyder takes us for a full joy ride of the Batman universe. In a single issue he delivered a fight against most of Batman's rogues gallery, a couple of twists, a new situation, a mystery, and introduction to most of the supporting, a description of Gotham City and a the start of a new story arc. If the homework for the writers of the new 52 was to produce 52 comic book issues that introduce new readers to the DCnU and leave them hooked along with old readers, Snyder aced it with Batman #1.

Other readings that were decent or OK for me were:
  • Stormwatch: 7.5 out of 10, your typical recruitment story with another otherworldly threat. However, I think it delivers and that its very well worth a shot.
  • Demon Knights: 7.5 out of 10. The story was OK, but I thin Paul Cornell got most of his ideas from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. In my mind I was hearing its music in my mind the whole time - maybe that's why Jason Blood (the bearer of the Demon) and Madame Xanadu didn't seem to use horses. The baby scene reminded me of this:
  • Batgirl: 7 out of 10. I liked the new take. Barbara Gordon can once again start his career as a tap dancer. -- Wait!... I'm being told she used to be a superhero / librarian, not a tap dancer. So, just eliminate the mental image of the tap dancing ginger. Anyway, Gail Simone used DC's universal timeline alteration to imagine a compelling comeback for Barbara as Batgirl, complete with the challenge that victims from extremely violent crimes usually suffer. Perhaps this was what Alan Moore originally had in mind for her after making the Joker shoot her in The Killing Joke
  • Justice League: 6.5 out of 10. Yes, wonderful art, great cinematic scenes, but this is barely more than a teaser, which doesn't really work for 22 pages. As an issue, it feels exactly like this:
         I think the South Park kids truly have the same reaction as most of te JL fans, though.
  • Justice League International: 6.5 out of 10. When people read "Justice League International", they expect to see campy and maybe surreal superheroics with tons of great sitcom type of humor. However, since DC seems to have something against humor after 2004, this time we only get a bunch of talking bureaucrat heads and a generic superhero team. I trust Jurgens, so I wouldn't be surprised if it gets better, though.
For different reasons each, I strongly recommend avoiding CatwomanDetective Comics, Red Hood and the Outlaws - since I don't like to rant in this blog, I won't bother you with the details.

One flaw that I bet DC didn't see coming was the number of mysterious threats that are happening at the same time: the Swamp Thing plague, the Aquaman creatures, the Frankenstein creatures, the Greek gods thing in Wonder Woman, whatever is going on in the Outlaws, the Justice League Dark things, the Stormwatch cosmic menace, etc. The theme was a bit more repetitive with the Dark line of comics. I hate huge crossovers, but would be a bit more credible under an overall event that is related to the Mayan Apocalypse of 2012.
In general, all the issues that I've read seem to follow a similar format. We get a general introduction to the main characters, their setting and to the story of a first arc, leaving in a cliffhanger. I find extremely disappointing that there seems to be no stand alone issues and that a lot of issues don't even finish with the introduction. A constant problem that I'm seeing, perhaps due to the influence of Brightest Day and Justice League: Generation Lost, is that a lot of issues are mere teasers in which little happens. I understand that they are thinking about the way they are going to look when they compile them as trades, but the single issue format demands that, whether it is part of a longer story or not, it has a three act structure (setup, confrontation, resolution) so that the readers get something out of it. Multiple part stories in a comic book shouldn't feel like a mere story that has been elongated and randomly split. Each issue should be an adventure, even if it's part of an arc. Take any trades of great series like Swamp Thing, Sandman or Animal Man  to see what I mean. I invite everybody to back to The Anatomy Lesson and see how it's done. As Stephen King described them in his introduction to Sandman: Worlds' End, these issues should be "installments in a longer, unified tale", "eggs in a single basket", not bits of an installment or "an egg".

Monday, September 19, 2011

Top 10 grounded DC characters.

Art by yours truly, Rafa Rivas.
For certain characters, who never had notoriety of any sort, its completely normal to get dry spells of publication. Nobody expects the likes of Angel and the Ape, Anthro, Prez or Detective Chimp to get their own regular series. However, since the 70s, every decade has a different set of previously prominent DC Comics character hidden under the rug. As if TPTB were ashamed of those properties. The Martian Manhunter, Firestorm, Zatanna, Red Tornado, Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, Adam Strange and even Aquaman have all been through that.

The first clear example would have to be J'onn J'onzz, the Martian Manhunter. When the Justice League of America was founded, outside the "super trinity" (Batman, Superman and Wonder), he was about as famous as any of the rest. Really. In fact, the weakest link was Green Lantern, who debuted some months before the team was created. After the debut of the JLA, all its members were editorially pushed with their own titles; the Martian moved from Detective Comics, where he was out-shined by Batman, to House of Mystery, where he became the lead. The Elongated Man replaced him in Detective Comics. However, that all faded by the late 60s; he was first taken out of House of Mystery, and then, he was written off the Justice League. By the 70s, he was known as the green bald dude who was somehow a funding member of the JLA. After over a decade of cameos, the Justice League title provided the best justification for his return: it needed full-time members, who wouldn't have adventures outside the book. Lacking options to make the team feel like the real JLA, writer Gerry Conway decided to bring the green dude back, and for similar reasons, the next creative team kept him as leader of the Justice League International. DC revamped the League once more in the mid 90s and, this time, the angle was going for the original founding members (or their available equivalents). Consequently, after all that, despite his long absence around the 70s, the Martian became known as "the heart and soul of the JLA". That's a happy ending, let's see how it continues now that he has been retroactively erased from the origins of the Justice League and shoehorned into a team called "Stormwatch".

Zatanna, for instance, was a steady member of the JLA after the late 70s. Like the Martian Manhunter and the Elongated Man, she stayed with the League during it's "Detroit era". However, once it was over, she went back to scarce cameos. The controversial and successful Identity Crisis limited series brought her back to the spotlight, she has a miniseries, joined the League for a while, appeared in Detective Comics, and got her own title. Now, she's with something called "Justice League Dark".

Firestorm popped up in '78 with a mini series, then, fully boosted by his creator (Gerry Conway), returned in 1980 to join the Justice League and get his backup feature in Flash. In 1982, he graduated from the backup to get his own title. Then, they got the popular characters out of the JLA title, they did some really weird stuff with him in his book, yadda, yadda, yadda, he didn't appear through the 90s. When I started reading comics, I often wondered whatever happened to the guy from Super Friends with fire instead of hair. He returned, but they keep doing odd things with the character.

Along with the Elongated Man, half the characters who were part of the Justice League International, were notoriously absent from 1996 to 2004. They revamped them as the "Super Buddies" in a couple of limited series that were critically acclaimed and sold very well. However, after the first series, for some reason, one by one, each of those characters was killed off (Sue Dibny, Blue Beetle, Rocket Red, the Elongated Man), horribly derailed (Maxwell Lord, Captain Atom, Mary Marvel) or went through hell because of that (Booster Gold, Fire).

Their absence is normally a bit more notorious once they return; however, I believe I can identify the missing people of this era. My criteria is how recurring they were in the past, compared to what they get now:

10. Zauriel and Aztek
Shooting stars like Ragman or Blue Devil, they were never really regulars of anything. However, their absense is odd, considering that their creator, one Grant Morrison, is one of the most influential forces of the current DC Comics authors. He tends to leave a trace of brilliantly conceived bastard children behind him.
9. The classic Teen Titans
Not really an endangered species, since we get to see them all around; however, they do lack a regular series. During the 70s, writers avoided using or creating sidekicks (children fighting crime are a dumb idea, anyway), so they kept them in the Teen Titans team (a team of teenagers with no adult supervision... sounds better, doesn't it?). In 1980, DC aged them, added new characters and it became a hit. Sidekick problem solved, right? Well, not really. They kept aging and, during the 90s, DC created a new wave of sidekicks... which eventually needed a team, and since the Teen Titans were no longer teenagers, they got the name as well. Now the original titans are too old to stay in the team and not popular enough to substitute their mentors. Some became part of the Justice League, but that didn't sit well with the title's fans at all. Without a team, most of these characters are doomed to be title-less, which puts them at risk of fading away.

8. Black Lightning
Black Lightning was created to be the main African American superhero from DC Comics, and yet the character has been blocked from every opportunity of exposure outside comics: for Super Friends, they had to create "Black Vulcan", for Static Shock, they created "Soul Power", and he was notoriously absent in Justice League. He got some recent prominence in comics, but it has been fading since he quit the Justice League. And now, with Static as the new and improved electric black dude, BL is even less likely to get some spotlight.

7. The Penguin
This guy is probably the most recurring and well known of the list. Ask anybody who's not a comics book fan - the Penguin is a popular character. He even appeared more often in the 60s TV show than the Joker. However, in the current comics, he's a mere supporting character. What happened? In the 80s all the popular Batman characters got their postmodern makeover. The Joker, Two-face, Poison Ivy and Catwoman went from silly gimmicky villains to complex characters. The Penguin (like the Riddler) never made the leap. Even though, in theory, he always had what it takes to be a spectacular villain with magnetic personality: An epic histrionic disorder. As the creators of South Park how far can a character get with that (yes, I'm talking about Cartman).

6. The Question
Between Alan Moore's Rorschach and the Fox Mulder-esque treatment the Question got in Justice League Unlimited DC had the perfect formula to make Vic Sage a hit character. On the other hand they had Renee Montoya, a minor supporting character getting quite popular thanks to Gotham Central. What was done? They killed off Vic and turned Montoya into the Question. Did it work? If the purpose was trading the lead status for a supporting one, I guess it did. Montoya is a lovely member of Batman's supporting cast, but she doesn't have the twisted mind that is required to be the Question and now she can't even fall back to her police role.

5. Garth
Aqualad's main roles were sidekick of Aquaman and member of the Teen Titans, but what happens when he becomes too old for either? Literally, not much. Garth was killed two years ago and a new Aqualad has replaced him on both fronts.

4. Green Lantern John Stewart.
John was always meant to be supporting, he was the original "fill-in Green Lantern" to Hal Jordan; however, by 1992 he was popular enough to get his own series - which was cancelled for no good reason. Later, in 2001 he became the Green Lantern of the Justice League TV series; the idea was to bring diversity to the show to reach a wider audience. The comics followed the trend for a while, but despite all the other media popularity, when DC resurrected Jordan and brought back Guy Gardner, Stewart hit the bench once again.

3. Lobo
Lobo was created in 1983 and by the late 80s he was appearing at least once every single month. He got a number of miniseries and then, after R.E.B.E.L.S. was cancelled, his own title. However, with the change of century, Lobo started fading. He became supporting character of Young Justice, some appearances in 52, and then, back to supporting R.E.B.E.L.S.

2. Wally West
Like Iris West (his aunt) and Ralph Dibny, the Kid Flash is one of the earliest and most recurring supporting characters of the Flash. In the silver age, he was also a Teen Titan. When Barry Allen died, Wally became the Flash (the character got the regular series) and has been part of three incarnations of the Justice League. Recently, DC decided to resurrect Barry. Now, we have two Flashes, but we only get to see the adventures of the original.

1. Elongated Man & Wife
Before the mid 90s, one way or another, the Elongated Man always had a decent amount of appearances. About once every month. After that, his appearances became scarce. In 2004, writers Keith Giffen and J. M. DeMatteis found the perfect home for the Dibnys in Formerly Known as the Justice League. Then, Brad Meltzer decided Sue could be the perfect victym for a thriller (Identity Crisis) and further than that, her death unleashed years of megacrossover events for DC (not even the Death of Superman caused such an aftermath). Ralph died in one of those spins (52) and they ended becoming "detective ghosts". As tragic as those stories were, at least it can be said that they put the Dibnys front center; however, it has been over four years since the end of 52 and those ghosts have only made 3 very brief cameos. Ralph used to be one of the most recurring characters of Flash, along with Iris West and Kid Flash; he had ties strong ties to Batman, was a member of the classic silver age Justice League of America and the Justice League International. However, now it'd seem that DC goes out of its way to avoid featuring them (in Justice League: Generation Lost and Flashpoint, for instance). And it's not only in comics: Sue has never been featured in other media, Ralph's animation time doesn't add up to even 5 minutes, and he's notoriously absent from the DC Universe Online videogame and the DC Universe Classics action figures.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The End of the DC Universe!

The other day, I saw a thread in the DC message boards that got me thinking about the kind of endings that I'd like for the characters of the current DCU. Here's what I came up with:

Green Lantern
Sinestro finally gets Oa destroyed, but he loses his own life in the process. Kyle, John, Kilowog, Soranik, Salaak, Arisia, Ch'p, Katma, Tomar Re, and Sodam become the new Guardians of the earth battery, which only survived because Hal merged with the light.

The Flash
Barry Allen returns after surviving the Crisis on Infinite Earths. Realizing that Central City has long moved on after he disappeared and that Earth is safer than ever, he moves to the future with Iris [so that his climax is CoIE but he still gets his happy "silver age" ending]. The Rogues retire and Wally remains the guardian of the city.

The Atom
Ryan and Ray find a way to cure Jean from her Jimbaran relapses. Ray decided to retire as the Atom to focus on his marriage.

Justice League International
Booster Gold makes the ultimate sacrifice, which only a resurrected Ted will ever acknowledge. Ted becomes the new "Maxwell" of the last JLI [it's a switcheroo deal topped with a "Greatest story never told" situation], which also has Fire as its field leader. Ice retires to have a family with Guy... What none of them ever find out is that Maxwell's actual brain remains in his old cyborg body; he retired long ago and has lived with L-Ron and Wanda managing a Manga Khan space resort ever since.

Wonder Woman
Wonder Woman saves USA from the wrath of the Gods, her body becomes a statue at Washington and Zeus gives her soul, along with Steve's a place in Mount Olympus [CoIE + Greek tragedy].

The Joker and a small gang of old time criminals push Damian betray his father and Terry. Damian sacrifices taking the Joker with him. Eventually, Bruce dies by Selina's side surrounded by Terry, Barbara, Dick and Tim [It's a legacy thing, he made a difference]. He's buried by them, along with the remaining leaguers and the Batman Inc. Corps.

The Elongated Man
Ralph and Sue keep solving DC mysteries forever [Quantum Leap, anyone?]. Billy Warner becomes the best detective of his generation, the Detective Chimp invites him to join the Croatoan Society.

The Martian Manhunter
The Martian Manhunter retires to live with a single mother and her daughter [is, he embraces humanity]. They die at the same time from natural causes.

Green Arrow
Dinah and Ollie remarry, only to get divorce the next year after that. They remain a couple. They have a daughter; she becames a registered Republican and wants nothing to do with superheroes.

It took a thousand reincarnations, but Hawkman and Hawkgirl finally complete their lives without early tragedies.

Zee finally starts a drama-free relationship with a normal guy and retires [she got over her daddy issues]. She becomes a hot soccer mom. Her kid is teased because there are a lot of "glamour" pics of her mom all over the Internet.

Not an important character, but Starman sacrificed himself to save Earth from his own race [Ziggy style], which were actually mutants created by the Spiders from Vega.

After Aquaman achieves great peace between Atlantis and the rest of the World, and a lot of prosperity emanates from his county, he dies in a fight against One's son, who was then killed by Garth, who was, at the time, considered a traitor to the kingdom. This way, Garth gets this way his redemption, as well as the forgiveness of Meera and Atlantis. He is finally allowed to reunite with his Atlantean wife: Arthur's daughter.[something Arthurian without making Mera a **** or dragging swords and lakes into it].

Black Lightning
Black Lightning reveals his identity and becames Mayor of Metropolis [he finally made the difference. Would President be too much?]. The Suicide Slum becomes the Suicide District, the cultural center of the city (real state agents keep trying to push for "Simon Heights", but nothing). He puts on his wig for one more fight along the League after that.

Java takes one of Simon's plan to the extreme, and kills Sapphire; Simon kills Java trying to save her. Although old habits die hard, Simon rejects his own selfishness for her and his grandson; Metamorpho accepts himself in order to provide a role model for his son, he gets Simon's frequent cooperation as a grandfather.

Justice League Unlimited
The Justice League is carried on by Terry.

Mr. Mxyzptlk puts Superman him through some ultimate test of morals and courage. He passes and the imp alters reality so that his enemies fade away. However, many years later, Luthor returns and things too far in order to destroy him (probably something involving the Anti-Monitor technology from Crisis on Infinite Earths). He is a shell of a man, merged with Brainiac, Amazon and Metallo technologies, and he makes Superman chose between sacrifice or the destruction of all reality. Superman chooses the former and dies. Right then, after realizing that he has lost his humanity and has almost destroyed everything he ever cared about in the process of eliminating him, Luthor commits suicide. It turns out this was Mxyzptlk's real test. He pops up again to restore everything, only this time he leaves Clark without his powers, thus lifting the overwhelming responsibility from his shoulders, so that he finally has no other choice than to spend the rest of his days living a normal life with Lois and their half Kryptonian son. Karen retires to lead her own life with her family. Kara married Jimmy and along with Krypto, she proudly carries Superman's legacy.
The Kents retire to live in the old Smallville farm. Every day Clark looks more like Jonathan. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Jon Morris' DC Fifty-TOO and "PLASTIC MAN #1"

"PLASTIC MAN #1" by Jon Morris and Stephen DeStefano.
Blogger Jon Morris got 52 independent artists to pick their favorite DC properties to do an alternative version of the DC's new #1 issues. In his words, this is the premise of the project:
"Once DC started releasing the cover images of what the New DC Universe would look like, it got me wondering what the New DC Universe would look like ... if it were out of DC's hands.

"I contacted a plethora of very talented - and very different - cartoonists with a simple challenge: If DC approached you and offered you any DC property - past or present - of your choice to be your own new ongoing part of the DC Universe, what would the cover to the first issue look like?

"Fifty-two artists (and then some) responded, and that brings us here - DC FIFTY-TOO, The New DC Universe as imagined by fifty-two independent cartoonists. Starting on August 15th and running up through August 31st - the day the New DC Universe launches - this blog will unveil four new covers every weekday for DC Comics that never were but probably ought to have been!"
The result is a showcase of talent and refreshing ideas that, in most cases, seem more inspired and original than the actual 52 deal. I strongly recomend to follow it.
For obvious reasons, the Plastic Man one is my favorite (Diabolu discovered it). The art and humor are flawless!
The blog is called DC Fifty-TOO. Here's the link: DC Fifty-TOO: PLASTIC MAN #1

Surviviors of the Golden Age!

The Golden Age has little to do with the Elongated Man; however, a little reference could help understand the Silver Age, which is the context of the character. Besides, the Golden Age is the is the historical dawn of the superhero genre. Without Superman and the golden age of superhero comics, there would be no Elongated Man.
After a couple of Jewish kids from Cleveland managed to convince National Allied Publications (DC's name back then) to publish the adventures of their super powered man in blue tights with a red cape and underwear over it, dozens of similarly dressed super heroes popped up in the then-booming American comic book industry. Comics already existed, so did characters like Slam Bradley and Dr. Occult, but Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's creation was largely the inspired some of the most notorious DC characters:
  • National ComicsBatman, Green Arrow, Aquaman, Speedy, Robin, Crimson Avenger, Zatara, Sandman, the Spectre, and the Guardian, Hour Man, Robotman, TNT, Dan the Dyna-Myte, etc.
  • All-American Publications: Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Atom, Hawkman, Hawkgirl, Dr. Mid-Nite, Sargon, Johnny Thunder, Black Canary, Wildcat and the humorous Red Tornado.
All-American added a lot of properties to the market, but was absorbed by National Comics in 1944. One way or another, the most notorious properties of both teamed-up as the Justice Society of America.

Likewise, a lot of companies were doing the same. Some were bought by National Comics at different during the silver age (I mean, before 1985):
  • Fawcett Comics: Captan Marvel and the Marvel Family, Spy Smasher, Bulletman and Bulletgirl.
  • Fox Comics: Blue Beetle.
  • Quality Comics: Plastic Man, Uncle Sam, Phantom Lady, Manhunter, Doll Man, Doll Girl, Human Bomb, the Blackhawks.  
Additionally, there were the characters of Timely Comics (eventually Marvel), Nedor Comics, Centaur Comics and Archie Comics.

By the late 40s the industry started shrinking, a lot of characters and titles were cancelled, including a lot of National Comics' and  almost all of All-American's, with Wonder Woman as its big exception. The most notorious survivors of the Golden Age of DC Comics were:  
  • Robin Hood and the Sherwood characters (New Adventure Comics #23, January 1938).
  • Superman (Action Comics #1, June 1938), along with him Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Perry White, Lex Luthor, the Prankster, Mr. Mxyzptlk, Toy-man, the Puzzler.
  • Batman (Detective Comics #27, May 1939), aong with him Comissioner Gordon, Hugo Strange, Robin, the Joker, Catwoman, the Scarecrow, the Penguin, Two-Face, the Cavalier, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, the Mad Hatter, the Riddler. Alfred was switched from Beagle to Pennyworth at some point. 
  • Wonder Woman (All-Star Comics #8, Dec. 1941), along with Steve Trevor, Etta Candy, Ares (often "Mars"), Cheetah, Dr. Psycho, Giganta and Angle Man.
  • Aquaman (More Fun Comics #73, Nov. 1941). 
  • Green Arrow and Speedy (More Fun Comics #73, Nov. 1941). 
  • Congo Bill (More Fun Comics #56, Jun. 1940).
The titles or features of those characters survived through out the 50s, in which the industry was damaged even more by McCarthism, the efforts of Dr. Fredric Wertham and the Comics Code Authority, all of which caused the comics to be heavily censored. Plots became childish and often ludicrous. Additionally, by the mid 50s the focus concentrated on space and sci-fi, do even Batman started to fight alien invaders. This is the early Silver Age period, and it's around this point, 1956, that National Comics (known as "Superman - DC") decided to reintroduce the Flash. Only this time they decided to change his identity. The original Flash was last published in 1949, so the man responsible for this, editor Julius Schwartz felt that it was necessary to reintroduce the character to the new readers of the time. He also felt the need to update him for the 50s. Consequently, the new Flash kept his powers, name and even started his adventures with one of his main villains (the Turtle became Turtle Man); however, his secret identity wasn't Jay Garrick, the college student from Keystone City, but Barry Allen, the police scientist from Central City.

After the success of Flash, National revived old properties in the same fashion with different identities: Green Lantern (1959), Hawkman, Hawkgirl and the Atom (1961); all of them were All-American characters and the the sources of their super powers relied more heavily on sci-fi elements. 
Hawkman and Hawkgirl (Flash Comics #1, Jan. 1940) got almost identical Earth-One counterparts for the Silver Age in 1961, including very similar uniforms and the same civilian names, only their back-story was completely changed. In the Golden Age, they are reincarnated royalty of ancient Egypt; in the Silver Age, they were aliens. One of their enemies, James Craddock a.k.a. the Ghost, also got an almost identical counterpart, this time called the Gentleman Ghost.

New characters created around this era include the Martian Manhunter (1955), the Challengers of the Unknown (1957), Adam Strange (1958), Speedy, Aqualad, the Elongated Man (1960), the Metal Men (1962), the Doom Patrol, Mera (1963), Zatanna, Teen Titans and Wondergirl (1964) and Metamorpho (1965). Zatanna is a very curious case, since she was daughter of Zatara, a Golden Age character.

Another important revamp of this era is the Justice League of America, which took the premise of the Justice Society to a grander scale, starting its roster with the most popular superheroes of DC at the time (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Aquaman, the Martian Manhunter and Green Lantern) and then increasing it with the best next characters (Green Arrow, the Atom, Hawkman and eventually Black Canary, Elongated Man, Red Tornado, Hawkgirl, Zatanna and Firestorm).

The practice of creating new versions of the Golden Age heroes slowed down after the creation of the new Atom. The probably because, exactly the same month, August 1961, Jay Garrick was reintroduced in the pages of Flash. It was then explained that the adventures of the contemporary superheroes took place on a reality "Earth-One" and that the old Golden Age ones were alive on "Earth-Two". The characters from Earth-Two started their superheroic careers between 1938 and 1943 and the ones from Earth-One around 1954.

The creation of this alternative realities allowed DC to keep using its old properties without the need for much introduction. Black Canary, for instance, became a member of the JLA simply by moving permanently from Earth-Two to Earth-One. However, as we have seen, the occasional revamp was still done after this point:
  • Robotman (1963)
  • Red Tornado (1968)
  • Manhunter (1973), and 
  • Sandman (1974). 
DC also did the opposite with Power Girl. After the concept of Earth-One and Earth-Two was introduced (along with many more Earths that conformed the 'Multiverse'), they eventually started doing stories completely set on Earth-Two, so they decided to create Power Girl, counterpart of Supergirl, a widely popular character, originally created as supporting cast of Superman during the Silver Age. They are both the cousin of the Superman of their respective Earths, only PG is older and has a bigger and more voluptuous body. Huntress is perhaps the analogue of Batgirl, only with a completely different background as the daughter of Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle.

It's important to consider that a number of characters debuted in the late 40s and the 50s and kept appearing at least during the early silver age. The transition was gradual:
  • Tommy Tomorrow (Rea Fact Comics #6, Jan. 1947). 
  • Pow Wow Smith (Detective Comics #151, Sept. 1949).
  • Deadshot (Batman #50, Jun 1950).
  • King Faraday (Danger Trail #1, Jul 1950).
  • Darwin Jones, Chris KL-99 (Strange Adventures #9, Aug. 1950).
  • Killer Moth (Batman #63, Feb 1951).
  • Captain Comet (Strange Adventures #9, Jun. 1951).
  • Phantom Stranger (Phantom Stranger #1, Aug. 1952).
    Rex, the Wonder Dog (Rex the Wonder Dog #1, Jan. 1953).
  • Detective Chimp (Adventures of Rex the Wonder Dog #4, Jan 1953).
  • Space Cabbie (Mystery in Space #21, Aug. 1954).

Additionally, some Golden Age characters disappeared during the early Silver Age, but returned before it ended (c. 1986):
  • Vigilante (1970, created in Action Comics #42, Nov. 41), along with the Dummy.
  • Wildcat (1970, created in Sensation comics #1, Jan. 1942).
  • TNT and Dan the Dyna-mite (1978, Star Spangled Comics #7, Apr. 1942).
So, there, that's the context in which the Elongated Man and his wife were originally created. He was the partner and best friend of the 50s version of a character from the 40s. Some people believe he was meant to be the silver age version of Plastic Man, a Golden Age character that as already property of DC by the time Ralph Dibny was created; however, Julius Schwartz always denied so.

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Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Elongated Man and the Silver Age Timeline!, pt. I: Pre-Classic

If the idea is to get to know the Elongated Man, it's important to provide a little context. He was created at the peak of the classic years of the Silver Age of comics, a period in which, after recovering from some really bad years (around 1949 - 1955), the industry started booming or the second time. 
During the the Golden Age of comics National Comics and All-American Comics created a number of superheroes, and with the creation of the Justice League of America, they established that all of them live in the same world sharing the same continuity. By the late 1940s, most of those characters disappeared from the publications.  
By 1956, DC decided to recreate one of the disappeared characters with different identity and background but the same hero name and super powers: the Flash. Gradually after that point, DC established that the characters that survived the golden age were living a different continuity along with the characters created after the late 40s.
Before we get to the classic period of the Silver Age of DC Comics, it's convenient to go through the early years. During the 50s, the themes of the stories moved from urban heroes, to space, sci-fi, legend, animals and celebrities. Batman and Superman started to walk dogs and fight aliens and imps. Their villains gradually started to have super powers instead of just gimmicks. New heroes were notoriously space themed: Captain Comet, Space Ranger and Martian Manhunter (the last notorious one of this kind was Adam Strange).

January: Tommy Tomorrow (Real Fact Comics #6).
  • Tomahawk (Star-Spangled Comics #69). 
  • Binky (Leave it to Binky #1). 

Pow Wow Smith (Detective Comics #151, Sept. 1949).
January: Orson Welles (Superman #62).
  • Bob Hope (The Adventures of Bob Hope #1).
June: Deadshot (Batman #50).
  • King Faraday (Danger Trail #1).
August: Darwin Jones, Chris KL-99 (Strange Adventures #9).
December: Perry Como (Superman  #67).

January: Tom Sparks, Boy Inventor (World's Finest Comics #49).
  • Killer Moth (Batman #63).
  • Captain Comet (Strange Adventures #9),
  • Firefly (Detective Comics #184).
Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin (The Adventures of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis #1).
  • Phantom Stranger (Phantom Stranger #1).

Rex, the Wonder Dog (Rex the Wonder Dog #1).
February: Gorilla Boss (Batman #75).
Detective Chimp (Adventures of Rex the Wonder Dog #4).

Space Cabbie (Mystery in Space #21).

  • Krypto, the Super Dog (Adventure Comics #210).
  • Ace, the Bat-Hound (Batman #92).
  • Golden Gladiator, Viking Prince, Silent Knight (The Brave and the Bold #1),
  • Mr. Mxyzptlk returns (Action Comics #208).
  • Martian Manhunter (Detective Comics #225).
February: The Mole (World's Finest Comics #80).
April: The fake Mad Hatter (Detective Comics #230).
Batwoman (Detective Comics #233).

The debut of Flash in November of 1956 is the starto of the clasic period of the Silver Age of DC Comics.

Notes: I used cover dates for this list (which means you have to subtract a couple of months).
Font types are modified according to the character.
  • Important character,
  • Character with an equivalent on Earth-2,
  • Character with an Earth-2 double,
  • Might have Earth-2 double, but their debut date makes it ambiguous,
  • Crossed-over descendant of an Earth-2 character,
  • Created in other media first.
  • Not tied to the DCU yet,
  • Related to the Elongated Man.  
Continue to:

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