Friday, November 5, 1999

Batman: No Man's Land: A Look Back And Forward

With art by Kevin A. Voith, Bowser and Christian Moore

"Fanzing Signal" by Christian Moore

"I expected it to end with Cataclysm"

Didn't we all? Didn't we all think, upon hearing the news of the big Earthquake that destroyed Gotham City, that within three months we'd be back to the more prosaic tales of the Mad Hatter trying to steal a really expensive hat? As unrealistic as it was we figured that soon enough the gothic towers of Gotham would be raised once more. Maybe the JLA would rebuild it. Maybe Bruce Wayne would use his fortune. But somehow, the city would be saved. We all figured wrong.

Denny O'Neil, who made the quoted statement above, threw the entire comics world for a loop when he announced the idea (of Jordan B. Gorfinkel) for turning Gotham into a warzone ruled by the madmen of Gotham, the gangs and the precious few good guys who stayed behind: an idea called No Man's Land.

There was no justification for the idea, save that "there are some challenges one does not refuse, lest they spend the rest of their life wondering, Could it have possibly been pulled off". That and the promise of some tales that would be interesting, either in how amazing or horrible they were. Which, all in all is a fair way to reflect upon No Man's Land (hereafter NML).

NML has been a literal roller-coaster ride of a story. Parts of it made me feel sick. Parts of it made me audibly gasp in shock. But however bumpy the ride was, it was never dull with even the slow issues kept me in suspesnse. With that in mind, here is a brief review of the history of No Man's Land, the issues they tie to, and my personal opinions of the series.

"Batman" by Bowser

Part One: The First 100 Days

Batman: No Man's Land: Ground Zero: Four (out of five) Stars

This issue mostly focuses upon Huntress and how she gradually changes her image (and eventually, her methods) when she is left alone as the one masked vigilante in Gotham to resemble and act like Batman. Meanwhile, a depressed Bruce Wayne tries to drown his sorrows globetrotting. He returns to Gotham after having some sense beaten into him (quite literally) by Talia. He returns to Gotham and watches the new "Batgirl" to make sure she is honoring his name.

Comments: Too bad we didn't get this issue sooner, like right after the secret of Huntress being the first new Batgirl was revealed. It's a good read, and Rucka is one of the few writers who can do Huntress right. My one complaint is I just can't see Bruce giving up for a week and seriously pondering living his "fake life" but for a good Talia scene, I'm willing to forgive it.

No Law and a New Order: Four Stars

(Batman: No Man's Land #1, Shadow of the Bat #83, Batman #563, Detective Comics #730)

Part One begins with Oracle breaking down the tale of how three months have gone by with no sign of the Batman. We see how things have changed, how the cops are trying to restore order, one block at a time. Part Two has Oracle hearing rumors of Batman-symbol paintings and even the Batman himself being sighted. We get our first sighting of the new Batgirl and learn of Jim Gordon's plan to take over an area by causing two of the nearby gangs to fight each other and then swooping in and taking their land once their numbers are exhausted. Part Three has Oracle describing the battle between the gangs and how Jim Gordon's plan worked. She also (finally) gets contacted by Batman, who then tells her he knows nothing about the bat-symbol paintings. Part Three ends with Batman approving of the new Batgirl, for now. Part Four details Batman's first battle in this new world. He goes up against Scarface and begins to learn of the changes his city, it's criminals, and its people have gone through.

Comments: A good read and a good introduction to this story. I've always liked Bob Gale's movie scripts, and it'll be a shame not to see him on a regular Batbook after this.

Fear of Faith: Five Stars

(Legends of the Dark Knight 116, SOTB 84, Bat 564, 'Tec 731)

A Four-Issue Arc covering Scarecrow's efforts to inspire a riot in a church shelter and prove that fear is more powerful a force than faith and the efforts of Huntress and Batman to stop him. Jim Gordon also finds himself being made an offer of help by a mysterious person.

Comments: I'm keeping the synopsis on this short, because there is no way to describe all the good intricate details of the plot of this arc. Maybe it's because Scarecrow is my favorite Bat-Baddie, but I love this story too much to spoil it, save that Professor Crane proves that he is just as much of a threat without his fear gases, if not more.

Bread and Circuses: Three Stars

(LODK 117, SOTB 85)

We get an in-depth look at Penguin's trading operations and the gladiator combats he now oversees. Batman, after a battle in the arena, convinces Penguin to give him information in exchange for Batman leaving his business alone. We also see the first fruits of Jim Gordon's mysterious "helper".

Comments: This arc was okay. Despite the importance of Batman and Penguin's pact, this issue just didn't catch my interest.

Mosaic: One Star

(Bat 565, 'Tec 732)

Batman and Batgirl fight the new Black Mask gang. We find out that Lock-Up is now running Black Gate prison for Batman.

Comments: Aside from the cool idea of Lock-Up running a prison, this series was a total mess. The artwork was muddy and disgusting, with Jim Gordon looking like an emaciated Ethiopian child and most of the characters looking like they have fangs in close-ups where they have their mouths open. And I just couldn't get excited, although that may be more to do with my general apathy towards Black Mask.

Four Single Stories --

Balance (LOTDK 118): Four Stars
Home Sweet Home (SOTB 86): Four and 1/2 Stars
The Visitor (Bat 566): Three Stars
Crisis of Faith ('Tec 733): Five Stars

Balance tells the tale of what Alfred did to help out in NML while Batman was away.

Home Sweet Home is the story of one man, an old soldier, and what he does to protect his home and his block in his new war. The Visitor tells of Superman's attempts to try to fix things in Gotham and his discovering the same thing Batman has: the old rules no longer apply. Crisis of Faith has Batman beginning to lose his hope and regaining it after Alfred tells him a story about his father.

Comments: With the exception of "The Visitor", these are among the best NML stories so far. Balance is entertaining and inspiring all at once. Home Sweet Home gives us a focus on one ordinary man and how he's found a new way to prove his a heroism he thought lost. The Visitor shows Superman discovering that some things cannot get a quick fix solution and that even he can't help people who won't help themselves. Crisis of Faith, more than any of these stories, emphasizes a theme they all share: the good that a single man may do by himself. My only complaint with the visitor is that Superman's overconfidence in his ability to fix things seems a bit forced and out of character.

Claim Jumping: Four Stars

(LOTDK 119, SOTB 87)

We find out that Gordon's mysterious benefactor is Two Face, who also starts a gang war with Penguin's assistance. The end result is the firing of the New Batgirl, the halving of Penguin's territory (which gets captured by the cops) and all of Batman's territory being taken by Two Face. Batman's secrets are also learned by a Russian telepath called Echo, who keeps him occupied while Two Face takes the land.

Comments: A good read, with my one complaint being that I had no idea if I was supposed to know who Echo was or not. She seemed like a new character, but there wasn't as much background given as we usually get with a new character to the Batbooks.

Mark of Cain: One Star

(Bat 567, 'Tec 734)

An assassin known as Cain shows up in Gotham. Cain's daughter stops an assassination attempt on Jim Gordon and then goes on to run around the city helping people, mostly by kicking butt. Oh, and she steals Two Face's silver dollar.

Comments: Not much to comment on. As a rough estimate, I would say that half of this storyline consisted of textless pages. Nothing but art. And while the art is clear enough to support this, it just seems a little too "quiet", even when you consider that the main focus is a girl who doesn't know how to speak. Also, am I the only one who thinks that Cain's daughter becoming accepted so quickly by Oracle and Batman is REALLY forced?

Part Two: A New Batgirl

Assembly: Two Stars

(LOTDK 120)

Huntress is revealed as the new Batgirl and Batman summons together all his old partners back to Gotham, realizing that he can't fix Gotham on his own. Cain's daughter also becomes the new Batgirl.

Comments: Nothing much here except the typical "I bow to no one" Huntress rant and the typical "My way or the Highway" Batman speech. And not two issues after being introduced, Cain's daughter is now a part of the Bat family. And I STILL think she is being shoved down our collective throats. I'd give the whole thing one star, but I'm giving it a bonus star because I really liked seeing Jim Gordon punch Batman, just because of the image.

Fruit of the Earth: One Star

(SOTB 88, Bat 568, 'Tec 735)

Sharpshooter Bill Pettit leads a splinter group of cops away from the GCPD lands, gets a stockpile of weapons and ammo he had been saving before the quake and joins with Huntress to take back the streets with a harsher justice than that practiced by Gordon and Batman. Aside from that, we get a typical dull Batman vs. Clayface fight as Batman tries to save Poison Ivy and all the children she's taken under her protection. In the end, Ivy and Batman reach a truce. He'll leave her alone, if she'll use her powers and knowledge to grow fruit for free to feed the starving, scurvy-ridden population of Gotham.

Comments: If it weren't for the Pettit/Huntress this series would have been unreadable and even then, one has to wonder about Pettit JUST HAPPENING to have a hidden ammo store that has A) not been discovered or B) Not been used by now. I mean, I know that Pettit has been portrayed as a bit of a paranoid gun nut… but I don't think even Charlton Heston keeps enough equipment to outfit a small army in his basement. It seems like a two issue story that was stretched out to three.

Power Play: No Stars

(LOTDK 121)

Your typical Mr. Freeze/Batman Fight issue.

Comments: See Above. That pretty much describes the whole thing. Oh, and since when has Mr. Freeze used his ice gun to skate around like Iceman from X-Men?

The King: Three Stars

(SOTB 89)

Batman fights Croc and seeks out a mysterious hero known only as the King, only to find that he is a former mobster who decided to try to do some good.

Comments: Good story, except for the Croc stuff.

I Cover the Waterfront: One Star

(Bat 569)

Batgirl tries to save one of the few working gas stations, fails, and gets forgiven by Batman.

Comments: Well, you may have guessed by now that I really do not care for the new Batgirl. I especially hate how she gets called a good soldier for attempting to follow orders when Huntress was fired for failing in a situation where she followed orders to the letter and failed (protecting the people from Two Face's thugs in "Claim Jumping").

I'd give this No Stars, but I must admit that telling the story from the thoughts of a mute person is a nice touch.

Homecoming: No Stars

('Tec 736)

Batman and Bane beat up on each other.

Comments: Brought to us by the same guy who wrote "Power Play", this is basically the same plot, with the twist that this time it is Bane with whom Batman fights while exchanging snappy banter.

Low Road to Golden Mountain: Two Stars

(LOTDK 122, SOTB 90)

Batman gets involved in a gang war in Chinatown.

Comments: Aside from the twist that the reason for the war is fought to save enslaved people who are being used to pedal-power lights, this issue could have just as easily been written as a Batman Special. It could be titled "Abuse of the Innocent" and show Batman trying to save children in a Honduran sweatshop. who are being forced to make Kathie Lee clothing. Still, I like Lynx and I enjoyed Batman's speech on what heroism really is.

Part Three: The Coming of Harley

Batman: Harley Quinn: Four Stars

"The First Couple of Crime" by Kevin A. Voith

We learn the origin of Harley Quinn.

Comments: I'm not going into detail again, simply because it MUST be read for oneself. If you have not read this yet, slap yourself very hard. Paul Dini himself wrote this and his love for Batman is plainly obvious. My one regret is they couldn't think of a way to work "Mad Love" into the continuity, but the story Dini tells here does manage to convincingly establish Harley's relationship with Ivy and with Joker. And Joker's "guy talk" discussion is one of the funniest things I've seen in a while.

The Code: Five Stars

"Harley Quinn" by Christian Moore

(Bat 570, 'Tec 737)

Joker runs for Mayor of NML and Harley starts playing hard to get with "Mistah J"

Comments: Okay. You HAVE to read this one too. I don't know whether it's because I love Joker stories. I don't know whether it's because I'm so happy to see Harley in the mainstream DCU. I think it MIGHT have something to do with the fact that this was the first issue in nearly two months that didn't read like a Mad Libs book. "So Batman went off to fight (insert B-Class, tough guy name here)." Regardless, this series was fun and funny.

Part Four: Outside Interests

Underground Railroad: Five Stars

(LOTDK 123, SOTB 91)

"Hardback" Bock is the focus of this story, where he oversees the protection of his old neighborhood.

Comments: I've never known much about Hardback, but he is now officially my favorite cop out of all the GCPD. It's also a refreshing change to see one of the stories focus on what a minor character is doing rather than month after month of "Batman beats up BLANK" stories. I'm going to stop whining now. Promise. :)

Going Downtown: Three Stars

(Bat 571, 'Tec 738)

Bane, hired by a "Outside Interest", blows up the Hall of Records while framing Two Face for a series of attacks on the few remaining gangs in Gotham.

Comments: It's nice to see Chuck Dixon back on one of the main Batbooks, however shortly. This story would be great, except that the artwork muddles and confuses the story, especially in the scenes with Two Face about to be hung.

Captain of Industry: Four Stars

(LOTDK 124)

Batman investigates reports of a tunnel out of NML.

Comments: Okay… I promise this will be the last "You Must read it for yourself" comment, but this story is too good to spoil. One thing though: I did like the long-haired Matches Malone.

Stormy Weather: Four Stars

(SOTB 92)

Clark Kent comes to No Man's Land to see what good he can do undercover.

Comments: One of the best Batman/Superman relationship issues I've ever read, this issue shows the World's Finest at their best. Not in a fight, but just the two of them talking about their situation.

Jurisprudence: Five Stars

"Two-Face" by Kevin A. Voith

(Bat 572, 'Tec 739)

Two Face puts Jim Gordon on trial for endangering the people of Gotham by… making an alliance with Two Face? And Batman finds out that someone is sneaking supplies, including building equipment, to Penguin. The entire Bat Pack helps to save the cops from Two Face's thugs, and the issue ends with Batman and Gordon giving each other polite nods and agreeing to talk.

Comments: This is a must read, just for the idea of Two Face trying Gordon for endangering the public and the way that Detective Montoya (a close second to Hardback on my favorite cop list) solves the problem of winning the trial.

This leads us to the present, with so many questions left unanswered. The biggest question of all being: "Who Is This Outside Interest?" Many theories abound, but two main ones have sprung up. A favorite among many on the Internet, the idea of Ra's Al Ghul being the Outside Interest has been a long favorite. One of the main reasons for this assertion is the idea that with this whole year having been a Who's Who of Batman's greatest foes, it is only appropriate that Ra's show up. That, and the fact that he has been working behind-the-scenes in every other major crossover before Cataclysm for a few years. However, there are a few flaws in the idea of Ra's as the Big Power. Namely, conquering Gotham is too small scale for Ra's attentions. Additionally, after the events of Legacy and the "Bane of the Demon" storyline, it is unlikely Ra's would hire Bane again.

This leads to the other popular theory, Lex Luthor. The reasons for this Lex are more substantial, ranging from Lex's nursing a grudge against Batman to simple "needing a hole to toss his dirty money down. There is a good deal of evidence to Lex's desiring revenge. In JLA 80 Page Giant #1, Batman was able to clear Superman of a murder charge that Luthor tried to frame him for. He determined that Luthor was responsible for the frame-up and confronted Luthor. Luthor's swore that one day he would rule Gotham like he did Metropolis. And let's not forget that it was Batman's tactical skill that defeated Luthor's Injustice Gang in the JLA: Rock of Ages storyline. In fact, in a recent issue of JLA, Lex Luthor discussed his plans for the new Injustice Gang and mentioned No Man's Land in the same breath as "all the distractions I've made for the JLA". The one flaw with this plan is the sheer amount of work and planning across several books it would take to make all these "clues" work. Not to mention that the Superman offices are notoriously protective of the use of their characters elsewhere.

Regardless of the outcome, the rest of NML should prove to be an interesting ride and I personally cannot wait to see the end.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was turned in three weeks ago and has not been edited since. When asked to comment about the accuracy of his prediction, Matt Morrison said "As many Batman comics as I've read in my life, some of that detective stuff was bound to sink in sooner or later."

Monday, November 1, 1999

Nightwing #38 - A Review

Nightwing #38 Nightwing #38
Written by Chuck Dixon
Pencils by Scott McDaniel
Review by Matt Morrison

It’s very rare that a story comes along that elicits a strong emotional response in a large number of readers, be it sadness, anger or just outright ecstasy at the coolness of a situation. It’s even rarer for people to get strong feelings for a single issue of a comic. Simply put, Nightwing #38 IS such a comic.

I don’t usually pay much attention to the art in a comic but the first splash page in this issue just grabbed me. Maybe it’s just because I’ve always had a crush on the classic Batgirl but something about it just grabbed me by the shirt and pulled me with it. And talking of the art, Scott Daniel’s proves in this issue that he can draw quiet talking scenes as easily as he can the high-action scenes for which he has become famous.

The issue continues the on-going story line of Nightwing’s involvement in No Man’s Land and also refers back to things discussed in Birds of Prey #8. BOP #8 was a flashback where Babs and Dick went on a date and had a moment that was romantic, touching and awe-inspiring all in one.

The Kiss I will not go into detail of this issue, simply because doing so would be a great disservice to Chuck Dixon, who tells this story in a way so well that for me to strip it to the bare bones would be sacrilegious. Quite simply, Dick and Babs talk, they open up to each other and then all Hell breaks loose when a gang of rogue cops break into Babs’ apartment to capture “the Brain behind Copland”. And a surprise guest shows up, who nobody is that happy to see. Trust me. You will not regret spending the $1.99 on this issue.

Okay, I know I’ve done nothing but harp on about how GOOD this issue is. Surely there must be something bad about this issue, right? Well, there is ONE flaw.

As I said, this issue continues the storyline involving Nightwing’s attempt to retake Blackgate Prison… and yet, no mention is made of how Dick wound up beaten, bruised and on Babs’ doorstep. This is a part of the one flaw that keeps me from giving this issue a perfect rating. While it’s highly likely that most of the readers of Nightwing are Dixon fans who have read the BOP “date” issue (which is rather indirectly referred to by Babs) AND have been keeping up on what’s going on in No Man’s Land (and who the guy leading the cops is), the fact is that the issue is dependent upon the reader’s knowing what has been happening in other books and mini-series in order to enjoy it to its fullest. Also, no reasonable explanation is given for how the head cop knows Babs is planning things in the Copland.

Forgive me an overused melodramatic statement, but there are no words in the English Language to describe how good this issue is. This is undoubtedly one of the best things Chuck Dixon has written and you would be sorely remiss if you did NOT read this issue.

My vote: 9 out of 10

Wednesday, September 1, 1999

Green Lantern #100-112 & Green Lantern Secret Files #2

What a waste. That's all I can say after reading this. What a waste. A waste of paper. A waste of time. A waste of space. A waste of opportunities.

It occurs to me that Ron Marz's greatest strength as a writer is that he is a great ideas man. It reminds me of a friend, we'll call him David, who was one of the bigger comics fans I've ever known. David had this gift for knowing comics trivia and history and he had ideas for everything… how to bring Firestorm back as a major player, how to make Donna Troy's past make sense and an idea for a great Elseworlds where Darkseid takes over the Earth and a new JLA, led by the new Batman (Tim Drake) rise up to save the world. The thing was, while David could come up with many a premise, when he actually tried to write a story out of it, it would start out great but ultimately fizzle out with a flat ending. Such has it been with the last year's worth of Green Lantern.

Emerald Knights started out with the great idea everyone wanted to see: A Hal/Kyle team up. And while the plot was stretched a bit (did we really need a Hal/Connor Hawke team up?), the series ended reasonably well with one change: Hal gave Kyle a duplicate of his ring. Now this created a whole stew of subplots that each, in one way or another, could have been interesting. It gave Jade, who has been powerless ever since the "Heart of Darkness" miniseries, another chance to be a hero and a chance for newer readers to see Jenny in a new light (no pun intended). This would also please her fans from Infinity Inc., who were upset to see Jenny trapped in the "Mary Jane Watson" role of Kyle's love life. And of course, there's the whole idea of Kyle going into space and restarting the Green Lantern Corps. So much potential…

…And so much of it wasted. The brief run of Jade solo stories was, to be frank, a bit dry. Issue #108 put Jade in a decent, but average team-up story with Wonder Woman. Issue #109 had Jade trying to deal with a man who tried to molest her while she was in the orphanage. I'd go into more detail, but this issue provides a whole article by itself. Apparently back in the Infinity Inc. days, it was said that Jade and Obsidian were adopted as babies, making any stories about Jade in an orphanage… well.. impossible. Issue #110 was a rather pointless GL/GA team-up whose only purpose was to set up another subplot where Alan Scott was de-aged and took up his old, purple caped costume. And issues #111-#112 all but undid EVERY subplot done in the last 30 issues, including a subplot with former GL John Stewart. Back around "Final Night", Parallax used the emerald energy to heal a crippled John Stewart and let him walk again. Later, Jon was able to manifest the green energy without a ring, like Parallax, to protect Kyle from an attack by new villain Fatality. He duplicated this feat protecting Jade from a returned Fatality in #111 but was unable to make a shield around himself. As Fatality noted, "You can save another, but not yourself". Now, this is a great idea! A hero who has a power that he can use to save others, but not himself. Someone who in effect puts himself into danger with no fail safes whatsoever. But it doesn't matter, because by the end of the arc the ring is lost, Jade is powerless (again) and John is back in a wheelchair after having used all his energy to fight Fatality.

That catches us up with Green Lantern Secret Files #2. Much like the first one, this GL Secret Files sets up a lot of plot lines (It was the first GL SF where we first saw new villain Effigy and the first signs of Kyle and Jade's romance) but doesn't tell many good stories. In fact, it winds up spoiling a few upcoming GL plotlines both directly and indirectly.

The first story is actually pretty good, if you can ignore the rather coincidental premise. It's difficult to talk about the story without revealing the dramatic revelation this story makes. Then again, it's fairly easy to figure out the surprise long before it is revealed. That said, I will sum up the non-vital information. An FBI agent named Ray White shows up at Ferris Aircraft investigating a UFO crash the day after Hal got his ring from Abin Sur. He asks for Hal to show him around the area, figuring a pilot would know the terrain pretty well. They find the crashed UFO and are attacked by a Russian armor suit, which was also sent to find the UFO. Hal becomes Green Lantern to fight the robot and save a wounded Ray. Ray in turn kills the suit's pilot in order to protect Hal's secret. He tells Hal it would be best to let him die so that his secret identity will be safe. Hal refuses and uses the ring to save Ray's life. Ray thanks him, and in exchange for saving his life and telling him how he found the UFO, he promises to keep Hal's secret and tells him his real name (Ray White being an alias).

The character profiles are interesting, being updates of the character profiles from the first Secret Files. The standard SF interview with Sentinel is one of the best of these interviews I've read in any Secret Files being both funny (Alan has a few sharp words for the interviewer when he starts talking about Jade being a major babe) and informative (we find out Jade's relationship to the old Green Lantern is not public knowledge).

Then we get the first of the three gems of this issue: a series of "Secret File Candy Bars", parodying the classic line of ads where superheroes would battle evil with the magic power of "Hostess Fruit Pies" or something. Each story stars the Green Lantern and the Flash, being the Golden Age, Silver Age or Modern Age variant. The first story has Alan Scott and Jay Garrick fighting food-hoarding Nazi's who are hoarding a stash of Secret File Candy Bars. Upon defeating the Nazis with his magic ring, Alan asks the science minded Jay if he believes in magic now. Jay responds with a wink to the reader and says "Nope… But I DO believe in the magical taste of Secret File Candy Bars."

Here is where the issue begins to take a dip into the territory of things that are pointless and just plain bad. The very next page after the first Candy Bar add, we get to see a menu for Radu's. Great! A menu for a make believe coffee joint! Just what I want in a $4.95 comic book! Then we get a family tree that helps keep track of all the Green Lantern family relationships.. from Jade all the way up to the Guardians, the Oans and even up to the Maltusians (who gave birth to the Oans and Zamarons). Useful, but not very fun. Then we get to see several strips of a comic called "Big Shoes". Big Shoes, is Kyle's attempt to start a comic strip that is vaguely based on his own life. It's about a young man who wakes up to find that he must be a clown. He is told this by the short, blue-skinned Colonel Guardino who laments that all his other clowns were killed after the suicidally depressed star clown went nuts and drove the clown car off a cliff. And that now this kid they found asleep on a park bench must become their new clown. Aside from not being funny, this is presented in so casual a manner as to be offensive: both in the obvious disrespect to the tragedy of the Green Lantern Corps demise and the idea that Kyle would ever act in such a sick manner.

The issue hits a low point with a short Jade solo story called "Hidden Thorns". I had high hopes for this one, having picked up a fondness for Jenny-Lynn (or is it Jennie Lynn? Does anyone remember?) but this issue disappoints in two ways. First, it gives away the ending of a long subplot that has been developing for nearly a year in the pages of Green Lantern, Titans, Wonder Woman AND the JLA/Titans Crossover regarding a love triangle between Jade, Kyle and Donna Troy. This issue was supposed to be settled three months after this Secret Files came out, but this story completely spoils the surprise of who Kyle ultimately chooses. The second disappointment regards Jade's receiving new powers, similar in nature to those of her mother, Thorn. Actually, I like the idea of giving Jade powers again but turning her into a plant elemental just seems… a bit of an insult for a former Green Lantern.

We then get the second of the three "Secret Files Candy Bar" ads, this time with Hal and Barry. Hal and Barry team up to investigate a crashed UFO which belongs to a group of K'rldars… the Andromedan police. They say they crashed after some inmates tried to escape, but they have the inmates under control. Hal suggests they celebrate with a Secret Files bar which the aliens agree to. Barry and Hal then knock the cops out and jail them, Hal explaining that he knows the K'rldar's take in nutrients through sunlight and thus wouldn't eat a candy bar. Very true to the Silver Age in writing (by Mark Waid) and art (by Gil Kane).

We then get a passable Hal Jordan/Spectre story where Spectre goes after Parallax shortly after Zero Hour #0. Spectre examines Hal's soul and picks up a memory of when Hal, as Green Lantern, stopped Spectre from taking away Evil Star, a man who was driven insane and became a villain after the weapon he invented to protect his people killed his family. He asks the Spectre what is the point of punishing the man if he has a chance to be made sane and redeem himself. Spectre withdraws from Hal, saying he will only come to claim justice for Hal's crime "until I can no longer see the man who was and hopefully one day will be again Hal Jordan…"

We then get two more character profiles. One for "The Corps", a new galactic peacekeeping force made of the remnants of the New GL Corps Kyle tried forming back in that atrocious and best forgotten miniseries. The other is for "The Dragon", an assassin who has some kind of connection to Kyle's landlord Radu. While it's nice to know that we may soon get a story with Kyle's supporting cast, who have been totally ignored since Emerald Knights, the idea of seeing anything more with the "built by editorial mandate" Corps is a bit worrying.

The book ends on a high note with a Kyle/Mystery Flash team up in the last of the "Secret Files Candy" ads. This one starts with Kyle and the new Black Flash fighting a mad bomber named Payload. Payload says he will blow up New York unless he gets power. Kyle yells "Fine! You want power? Try the Secret Files Powerbar! It's… it's… CUT!" A director walks out of nowhere and Kyle complains about the lousy writing and unbelievable premise of the commercial he and Flash are helping make. "We defeat the bad guy by giving him food? And why is he standing at Ground Zero of his own blast site to begin with?!?!" Flash also notes "Sugar? The Magic Mystery Ingredient is Sugar?" The ad ends with Kyle and Flash storming off the set and the director asking for someone to call Hawkman. (This ad is doubly funny if you remember the Baby Ruth commercials out recently featuring Hawkman.)

All in all, this Secret Files seems somewhat hastily thrown together, and except for the first story and the Waid-written candy bar joke ads, is fairly mediocre. Some bits like "Big Shoes" and the Jade story are downright horrible. I think the book can best be summed up by describing the Table of Contents. The Table is printed in white text on a green and white photo-negative style rendering of the Mike Grell artwork on the cover. The art is very good but it's kind of hard to read white text that is printed over art that is mostly white. In fact, it is impossible to read some parts of the table of contents. Why not do yourself a favor and not bother reading any of this at all?

My vote: 3 out of 10

Sunday, August 1, 1999

James Jesse: The Man Who Sold The World

It was a disaster of biblical proportions. Quite literally. Metahuman villains, newly powered by the demon Neron were spreading chaos on a global scale. The mightiest of all the heroes gathered together, and led by Blue Devil, entered Hell to confront Neron. About half a dozen survived the journey to Neron's lair. But upon entering, all the heroes became possessed by the dark sides of their nature and thus, susceptible to Neron's commands. All the heroes but Captain Marvel, that is. Ordering the other heroes to attack The Big Red Cheese, Neron hoped to enrage him enough to get a handhold on Captain Marvel's very pure soul; an item that would make Neron omnipotent. There was only one man who save the world and maybe the Universe… a man in bright yellow-striped clown pants.

Kind of hard to believe, isn't it? But it happened. For in that instant a sinner turned saint… a sinner named James Jesse. Hand-picked by Neron to be his right hand man, James Jesse had long been an antagonist to the Barry Allen Flash and to Blue Devil. Known for being a master con man and using toys as weapons, James went by the name The Trickster. Neron appreciated James's skills as a con artist, saying they were much alike, in that Neron made promises but never quite gave what was expected, like the Devil in Faust. He even told James that he couldn't refuse any deal that anyone made him.

It was this secret that James exploited to save Captain Marvel, explaining to him his plan to stop Neron. It was then that Captain Marvel asked Neron for a bargain: his soul in exchange for the promise to leave the world alone. True to what he said, Neron was unable to refuse the deal and tried to claim Marvel's soul. But since James was able to stop Captain Marvel from killing the other heroes, his soul was still too pure for Neron to touch. Neron jumped back from the Captain; his hand burned. He was unable to claim his prize and worse still, he was bound by his deal to restore the world as it had been. So in the Earth's darkest hour, it was not the World's Finest who came to the rescue, but an ordinary man in really loud pants…a man who outsmarted the devil.

Now, this really impressed me when I read Underworld Unleashed. Most recent DC crossovers have followed the same three-step formula. Step One: Big bad guy comes out of nowhere and threatens the Earth. Step Two: All the heroes in the DCU get together and unload seven kinds of whoop-ass on the bad guy. Step Three: We all waste 20 bucks collecting all the "special" issues and feel very disappointed. Here, the traditional "let's throw the heavies at the bad guy until he screams for mercy" plan is tried… and fails. It is a fitting end to this story, which was written mainly as a way of giving exposure to some little used characters that the person who beats the devil is a Z-list villain who has often been referred to as a "poor man's Joker". I've been a big fan of Trickster ever since, having always loved heroes and villains who used smarts over strength as well as a fondness for characters with a silly attitude.

With Underworld Unleashed having been very well received by fans and critics alike, a strong future for James Jesse seemed certain, what with his being the narrator for most of the tale. But as James lamented after conning Neron "…I engineered the greatest sting of all time… and nobody saw me do it". Indeed, with the exception of Neron and possibly Captain Marvel, nobody knows that it was the Trickster who saved them all. In an eerie parallel to the DC world, James seems to have been nearly forgotten by comic fans and writers after having made such a great showing in Underworld Unleashed.

In the four years since then, James's appearances have been very few and far between. Aside from a mention in Flash and an issue of Impulse I have yet to track down, James has in fact disappeared off the map. But when James HAS shown up, it has just shown what great potential there is and what a waste it is to keep him in Limbo.

James's most notable recent sighting came in "The Rogues" one-shot during DC's "New Year's Evil" week ; a book that covered the post-UU exploits of Flash's Rogues Gallery. The curtain rises on the just-saved-from-Hell Rogues (Captain Cold, Boomerang, Heatwave, Mirror Master, and Weather Wizard) breaking into the Holy Temple of Meshta in Zhutan. We find that they are at this temple, because The Trickster told them that the temple contains the Sun Disk of Meshta- a large holy object reputed to have great evil-banishing powers. Since the Rogues are all nervous about Neron coming after them again, they figure having the disk will be good protection.

Actually, James is just using the other Rogues as a distraction, for while the Rogues break in, James watches from afar along with a woman named Mindy. In a discussion that sounds like it came from an Indiana Jones movie, James notes the main beliefs of the religion that worships Meshta (Saavistranism) and how he is exploiting them in his plan. In short, the people of Zhutan believe that every thousand years, a child is picked by Meshta to be the Majee: a special agent who observes and judges mankind's progress. If the Majee gives Meshta a good report, then five elemental angels (Yavatis) appear to usher in a new Golden Age of Peace and Enlightenment. (This isn't nearly as hokey as it sounds) Mindy, who is an ex-girlfriend of James', is the mother of the current Majee and is being held prisoner by the Warlord who rules Zhutan. The warlord is using the Majee is a shield against any uprisings by the religious folk of Zhutan who obviously don't want to see their Golden child get hurt.

With the exposition out of the way, we see the Rogues try and make off with the disk when Heatwave notices a carving depicting five men who are controlling the forces of fire, ice, weather, light and curved sticks. (You mean you didn't know that Boomerangs were the Fifth Element?) The Rogues pause long enough to wonder what the heck it means when members of the warlord's army and the Warlord himself burst in and capture the Rogues. The Warlord is about to have them shot when his nephew/adviser tells him of the legend of the Yavatis. He suggests the Rogues might be convincing substitutes for the real thing. With the temple, the Majee and the Yavatis under his command, the Warlord should be able to conquer the entire mountain region.

Trickster and Mindy walk down to the temple and surrender themselves; James reassuring her it's all part of the plan. Once inside the temple, James chants some stuff and the room lights up and a deep booming voice orders the guards to let everyone go. Of course, it's just Pied Piper using a light board and a microphone, but the effect is convincing enough to get the nephew into chanting a real chant that will summon Ahrnyu (Meshta's devil). His body turns into that of a giant snake man and he gets ready to tear everybody in the immediate area to shreds. In a scene that will either make you laugh or groan, depending on how much you love classic Silver Age material, Trickster single-handedly fights Ahrnyu by running around him in mid air (while doing a plug for his Air Jesse shoes) squirting him with seltzer. At the same time, the other Rogues cut down the Sun Disk and use it to protect everyone in the area, albeit after some prodding from Heatwave. After taking several taunting squirts in the face from Trickster, Ahrnyu reveals himself as a masked incarnation of Neron. Neron grabs James and is about to eat him when the Rogues and the Majee attack. Of course the ice and fire guns have no effect upon Neron, but they do keep him distracted long enough for the Majee to summon up an angel of vengeance. After getting cut up pretty badly by the angel, James makes Neron a deal: forget the Majee and the Rogues and he won't die. Neron asks James if he wishes to be forgotten too, to which he responds "Nah. I want you to remember I'm the guy who fed you two plates of crow."

"The Rogues: One Shot" didn't do very well compared to the other New Years Evil one-shots, despite being a rather good story. Admittedly, the story was a little hokey in some place but it was in a good, Silver Age way (like most Waid-written Flash stories). But after that one-shot, James disappeared again despite some major revelations in the end of the book, like the Majee being his son and the notion that he was going to become a full time hero. It looked like James was going to be trapped in Limbo again. That is until the news came out that he would be part of a three-story arc at the conclusion of Devin Grayson's run on Catwoman. Now, I've got to admit that despite loving Grayson's work, I was a little nervous about the announcement. After all, the last second stringer to do a guest shot on Catwoman, Nemesis, got killed. So it was with deep dread that I read through Catwoman 69-71.

To sum up previous issues, after Gotham was sealed off Selina left Gotham for New York and decided to steal the city. She gets a job for a major corporation and through a scam too complex to describe, she manages to cheat on the stock market and makes a few billion dollars for the company. An impressed Board of Directors decides to make her CEO after only a few days on the job. With a company and a new reputation as a master businesswoman, Selina decides to run for mayor of NYC. The local Mafia is not too thrilled about this, since the current mayor is in their pocket (no comments about this suggesting anything about Gulliani). So they hire various assassins (the Body Doubles and Lady Vic among others) to kill Selina Kyle, but Catwoman stops them. It's at this point (the beginning of #69) that Carlino, the head of the Mafioso hires Trickster to find some way to stop Kyle besides killing her.

Now right after reading that I became worried. After all, working for the Mafia to derail an election isn't exactly the type of thing likely to build good karma. And when we last saw James, he was definitely leaning towards the light side of the scales. It seemed to be a complete and total 180 on everything that has been done with the Trickster's character for the last half a decade. My fears turned out to be rather groundless, for as James explains later, he figured his reputation as a con man was too good to give up so he just uses it as one more tool as he does good things while everyone thinks he's a bad guy.

Trickster and Catwoman meet by "accident" on the roof of Selina Kyle's hotel room. Trickster is setting up a spy camera, which Catwoman offers to set up inside the room for him. James turns around to for a second after he hands Catwoman the camera, at which point she disappears. It's not much of a surprise to us, but not much of a surprise to James either, as he responds by grinning and saying "Cute, but predictable".

The next day, we see Trickster moving around New York in a suit. First, James intercepts an S.E.C. (Security Exchange Commission-the guys who regulate the Stock Market) agent who has just frozen the assets of Selina's company so that they can investigate the stock market tampering Selina did. Posing as an old classmate, James switches briefcases with the man after running into him. He then makes several calls to various media whores, spreading a rumor that Selina Kyle is Catwoman. Finally, he goes to Selina's campaign office, which is in total chaos due to the rumors. He introduces himself as James Jesse and tells Selina he knows who is responsible for spreading the rumors and how to find him. The name he gives for the responsible party is "Trickster".

Sometime later, Catwoman shows up at the bar where she finds Trickster. She starts beating him up and asks, "How did you know?" He says he doesn't know what she is talking about and asks if he's upset that he mentioned her in the rumors. Catwoman goes with this suggestion, accepting that Trickster didn't discover her secret identity and it was just a coincidence that he decided to use a "Selina Kyle is Catwoman" rumor to cause a scandal that would force her to stop running for mayor. She completely forgets about one thing though: why would Trickster finger himself in the first place? Because he told Selina Kyle who started the rumors, but not Catwoman. So the fact that it was Catwoman who came after him told him one of two things: either Catwoman worked for Kyle… or was Kyle.

Catwoman goes to Carlino and tells him to call off the other assassins and hired villains and SHE'LL kill Selina Kyle for him. One well-placed whip crack later, he agrees. As she's leaving the hideaway she runs into Trickster. She tells him he might as well go since the contract on Kyle is all hers now. Trickster agrees to go since he has found something more profitable than discrediting Kyle anyway. He shows Catwoman the papers he took from the briefcase of the S.E.C agent. It turns out the agent who froze Selina's assets used paperwork that would allow the funds to be redirected anywhere if it was found that she had done something illegal like insider trading. After a brief struggle, Trickster suggests they work together and split the funds for the assassination job and the thievery 50/50. Catwoman reluctantly agrees, as she tries to figure out a way to lose Trickster, get the papers and fake her death.

To stall for time, she leads Trickster into a fight with the Mafia, claiming that Kyle is in with them and that they might be able to find something suggesting where she is hiding. Trickster, of course, doesn't buy this, asking why the Mafia would have a hit on someone they are protecting. But he is distracted long enough in the fight, for Catwoman to "find" two fake ID's that belong to Kyle and to find out the frequent hangouts of those identities. She suggests they split up and each cover one of the ID's. James disguises himself as a photographer and goes to an Italian restaurant that "Alida Bennet" frequents. He spots her easily (it's Selina in a blond wig) and he tries to get her to come with him by threatening her with a gun built into a camera. They get into a fight during which Selina steals the envelope with the papers that James is carrying on him. The chef/owner and his son break up the fight, asking why James is trying to kidnap the woman. James tries to explain his actions by saying the woman is a crook. The owner says this is impossible, since the woman is his daughter. Apologizing profusely, James leaves the café. A relived Selina removes her wig and pays the owner for playing his part well. She goes off, changes into her costume and opens the envelope that holds her money… to find a note written in purple crayon that reads "BAD KITTY".

Catwoman tracks Trickster down. She tries to take the real envelope from him, but it turns out he has several on him. He offers to play Three-Card Monte for the papers, but Catwoman just whips the three envelopes out if his hand. Trickster says he's disappointed that with all her reputation and all the bragging Catwoman has done to Carlino, that she's going to settle for stealing Selina Kyle's bank account. He also says that Carlino is very upset that Catwoman hasn't killed Kyle yet and that he is going to do the hit himself at her bank the next morning, figuring that Kyle will be there trying to stop her accounts from being liquidated. Trickster then escapes, noting that he still has the paperwork. This puts Catwoman in quite a bind. She can show up at the bank as Kyle and try to save her money from Trickster. Or she can show up as Catwoman and salvage her reputation as a master criminal by somehow killing Kyle.

Catwoman chooses to save her reputation. Finding a body that looks a lot like her (usually you don't see morgue break-ins outside of a Vertigo book), she dresses it in her clothes, throws it over the side of the building and shows Carlino and his gang that Selina Kyle is dead. Tipped off by Catwoman, the police show up just as Selina sees Trickster walking out of the bank, holding a bank-book. She jumps down to confront him and the two get caught in a cop/mob firefight. Barely escaping into a dark alley, Trickster says he admires the scam although he'd rather not think about how she got the body. Catwoman starts to ask what he is talking about, when he tells her how he figured out she was Selina Kyle. (Basically a combination of them having the same body language and the fact that he isn't a complete idiot) He also explains to her how he's stopped stealing for himself and how he didn't take her money, but funneled into charity. He then hands her the book, noting that he was going to give it to a wildlife foundation but that he finally decided on giving it to Gotham Relief. With tears in her eyes, Selina kisses James and they both go their separate ways.

A marvelous story arc, although a bit convoluted, this story was everything I've been wanting to see since Underworld Unleashed. I was a bit worried about the story while reading it, because it makes no sense unless James knows or suspects Selina Kyle is Catwoman. But once you get to the final chapter and find that is the case, you realize how really wonderful the story is. Hopefully James will poke his head up somewhere else soon. In fact, it's pretty much a given. After all, for a man who can contest with Catwoman, think faster than the Flash and then out deal the devil, it is very difficult to sit idle. In fact, rumors already are circulating that Trickster will have big parts in the upcoming "Hell on Earth" story line and possibly even the conclusion of No Man's Land.

Well, I for one cannot wait to see Jesse James: The Man Who Sold The World again.

Friday, July 2, 1999

Titans #1-6 : A Review

Titans has probably been the most eagerly anticipated title DC has been planning to put out for a while. This is due to two things: the fact that the phenomenal Devin Grayson is doing the writing and a large swarm of JLA readers whose attention was attracted by the amazing JLA Vs. Titans Mini-series (written by the aforementioned Ms. Grayson). Throw in a crowd of devoted Titans fans eager to see the new team and you have a good number of people who are very anxious to see this book and have very high expectations for it. For the most part, these expectations are met but the book does suffer somewhat in a few areas.

One of Grayson’s greatest strength’s as a writer is the ability to write truthful, serious dialogue for twenty-something characters: something that is increasingly rare in an industry where nearly all the young people end every other sentence with “dude” or “man”. Issue #1 features the five founding members (Dick Grayson, Donna Troy, Wally West, Roy Harper and Garth) sitting in a dinner talking about what they’ve been up to since the last time they met. The scene rings of truth and looks like it may have been plucked from one of the more tender sections of a Kevin Smith movie. And yet, Grayson still manages to get away with characters using old silly nicknames (Roy still calls Garth “gillhead”; something that Lian has picked up) and the occasional one liner. Note the emphasis on occasional.

Unfortunately, Titans suffers somewhat from the same thing that plagues “Young Justice”, although not to quite such an extreme. While not written with the same laugh-a-minute pace, Titans does sometimes over-indulge itself in one-liners and jokes that are a little too cheeseball for the serious tone of the book. For example, a waitress asks the five what they would like and they all respond “World Peace”. Honestly, that line went out with Reganomics. In Issue #2, the first page ends with everyone on the team looking up and saying, “Look! Up in the Sky... it’s a bird... it’s a plane...” just before Superman comes down. If I had a dime for every time I had seen that line done.... There is also a whole page long gag where Arsenal has to talk his way out of a poorly chosen sentence and winds up saying the phrase “getting Jiggy with it” to Superman.

However, it must be noted though that there are more hits than there are misses. These laughs usually come as a result of the characters being themselves than forced slapstick or cheesball humor. I remember laughing for a good three minutes after a scene where Donna asks “Who’s leading the JLA these days?” and everyone at the table (Roy’s daughter, Lian included) give a different answer. Who thought you could laugh that loud just by reading the word “Owacle”? There’s also a scene in Issue #3, where Arsenal starts to call Nightwing something VERY much against the Comics Code and Flash butts in with “Tsk-tsk-tsk. You’re not supposed to say his name”.

The book can also be a little contrived at points. In the first issue, when discussing a JV team, each of the founders discusses a member and outlines their pasts and powers. The whole four-page section reads like exposition and totally breaks up the realistic flow of conversation. beforehand. There has got to be a better way for us to find out that Argent’s ability is to generate plasma then Donna just repeating it to four people who should know what Argent’s powers are.

This leads me to discussing the new team. I think that for the most part, the new team has been selected pretty well and is pretty well balanced. There has been some concern that some of the characters with solo books (Nightwing and The Flash) might cause some continuity problems with their presence here. So far, that hasn’t proved a problem with No Man’s Land and Wally’s recent “death” makes any problems with him a moot point. Troia has too many unresolved stories involving her (her new powers and romance with Green Lantern among them) for her not to be on the team. The same is true of Cyborg, whose physical changes ever since JLA Vs. Titans should prove to provide an interesting subplot. Tempest and Arsenal are both too interesting NOT to have on the team and both are rarely used anywhere else. (Garth only seems to be used when Aquaman needs a punching bag and Roy only seems to get used in Devin Grayson stories) Kory is also interesting, but she never seems to show up anywhere except during crossovers. And it’s about time somebody put Jesse Quick on a team, because aside from being well rounded power-wise (and it turns out, being a great leader) she’s also able show how strong and independent she is without being a total male-basher. My only complaints about the team lie with Damage and Argent. I’ve always felt Damage was sort of an uber-powerful joke character (Oh! Let’s take all the JSA members and give their powers to a teenage boy who can’t control them) and Argent just seems to be a pale rip-off of Green Lantern. Additonally, in terms of character they both seem very flat.

And speaking of flat characters, let’s talk about the villains. After somewhat cheesy humor, the biggest thing Titans has going against it is some incredibly lame villains. I mean, the Titans are made up of the protégées, sons and daughters of some of the most powerful metas on the planet. You’d think they’d be taking on bigger threats than someone calling himself “The Red Panzer” (more appropriately called The Red Pansy). Issues #1 and #2 deal with a new incarnation of H.I.V.E. They were okay, but I’ve never been a fan of world domination group plots.

Issues 3-4 dealt with a villain called Goth, a rock-star/horror movie star who was pretty obviously based on Marilyn Manson. Aside from not finding a villain based on a metal-head poseur very threatening, it was kind of hard to get what was so villainous about Goth, whose basic plan was to take assorted minors to a suburb of hell which causes you to lose you to stop caring about anything. This would be fine if he was a Neron-like soul-stealer, who would become more powerful by getting these kids into his realm but it is never fully explained why he would profit by taking these kids away.

Issue 5 stared a villain called Siren. She was decent, but her only purpose seems to have been to give Garth a solo issue to show how good a character he is. Not that I’m complaining mind you: I love Tempest. But you shouldn’t need to create a mermaid villain with mind-control powers just to give “Fishman” a chance to show off.

Issue 6 stared the aforementioned Red Panzer. Maybe it’s just me, but the character seemed to be a gigantic Red Skull rip-off. Now I’m as much as a DC history buff as the next, but bringing back next generation sons of old Nazi villains from the Golden Age just seems a little unwarranted. Also, aside from commanding a large number of heavily armed followers, Red Panzer was not much of a threat... particularly to a trio of Arsenal, Troia and special guest Green Lantern

I’ll end on a note on the artwork, which as a writer I usually don’t pay much attention to. Issues 1, 2, 5 and 6 were done by Mark Buckingham who generally does a good to excellent job. I did however have a few problems with his artwork. First of all, it appears that all his human female faces are drawn exactly the same. On the pages 2 and 3 of Issue 1 for example, you could not tell Troia, Jesse and Argent apart if you too away the coloring and the costumes. He also has a nasty habit of drawing Damage as if here were just entering Junior High, when he’s probably closer to college age.

Also, I really doubt that a sensible young woman like Jesse Quick is going to run into battle in a thong leotard (page 21, issue 2). But he makes up for it in Issue 5 with his amazing underwater scenes and in Issue 6 with his Green Lantern projections. Trapping a runaway car inside a big “Match Minis” box (a play on Matchbox and Mirco-Machines toy cars) is probably the best ring creation I’ve seen in a while. Issues 3 and 4 were done by Justinano, who while not doing anything noticeably horrible (except that his Jesse Quick looks oddly like Lisa Kudrow) does not do anything great either.

Final Thoughts: Despite some minor quibbles with the artwork, a lack of threatening villains and some cheesy humor, The new Titans launch is overwhelmingly good. The writing is clear and honest (something lacking from some OTHER team books with a little-used letter in the title) and you get the feeling of a close family that has been lacking from the title for so long. The humor when it’s there, tends to be appropriate to the scene involved and very rarely does is a joke bad enough to cause groans.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

Saturday, May 1, 1999

The Salvation of Adam Strange

Three writers helped to restore Adam Strange to his former glory.

The first was Ron Marz, who in Green Lantern 75 of the current run, had the Darkstars and Green Lantern Kyle Rayner trying to save Ranagar from the attacks of Darkseid's illegitimate son, Grayven. What had protected Ranagar from the attacks of the other city-states, its elevated position, ironically made it the first target of Grayven's attacks. During the battle, the machines keeping the city elevated were destroyed. Green Lantern was able to hold the whole city in a giant snowglobe and safely lower it to the planet's surface. This took care of the whole floating city problem.

The second was Mark Waid, who deserves the lion's share of the credit for helping to restore Adam Strange's reputation. During a two-part story in JLA (No 20-21), Rann was invaded by the En'Tarans, a telepathic race of conquerors, who hoped to gain Rann's Zeta Beam technology. It turned out that Alanna's death had been greatly exaggerated, the doctor making the declaration of death being an Earth doctor with no experience with the Rannian physiology. She was merely in a coma-like state, but even Sardath could not revive her. Sardath had taken Alanna to the En'Tarans, hoping their advanced medical technology could save Alanna. It did, and through Sardath they learned of the advanced Zeta teleporter. Using Alanna, the En'Tarans tricked Adam Strange into teleporting an invasion group onto Rann. However, the resourceful Strange tricked them into thinking he'd deliver them the entire world in addition to the technology. Using the Rannian population and the JLA as slave labor, Adam set to work rebuilding Rann in its former glory, under the guise of readying it for his dear wife's return. In reality, Adam was secretly moving monuments and statues into the right positions, turning the whole of Rann into a planet-sized Mega-Zeta Beam large enough to teleport the En'Taran invasion force far away. Superman was able to get Alanna and Sardath off the invasion force's ships and return them safely to Rann. However, there was one drawback to the plan. In order to get the ray to work in the time left, Adam had to use his body as the focal point for the Zeta beam. Doing so, Adam Strange lost the Mega-Zeta radiation in his body (which was what kept him on Rann) and was soon teleported back to Earth, away from his reunited family. He barely had time to introduce his wife to the daughter she'd never seen. The issue ended, in one of the best scenes in comicdom in the last year, with Adam wistfully looking up at stars and J'onn J'onzz (who also knows the heartbreak of being separated from one's family) clasping his shoulder. It is thanks to Waid that we now have Adam back to his roots; a thinking-man who outsmarts the bad guys and does it all in the name of love.

The third writer who has helped restore the glory of Adam Strange, while not having made many world shattering changes, has given us a vision of what future Adam Strange stories might look like. This man, James Robinson, has already done a lot to restore forgotten DC Heroes, having started the excellent Starman series and having penned "The Golden Age", probably the best JSA story ever written. Recently (in Starman #52-53), Adam played a guest role in the current storyline, when Jack Knight paid a visit to Rann.

We got a chance to see Adam in his new role as a hero, father and husband simultaneously. We also got a surprisingly touching moment when, while on a mission to save Adam's daughter, Adam starts to fade away and he asks Jack to promise to save his daughter. Jack in turn asks Adam to go to Opal City and let his family know he is safe. This two-parter showed a lot of potential for what might be done with Adam Strange now. Hopefully DC will see that and find a new writer and artist who can bring a new life to the Thinking Man's Hero.

The Rise Of Adam Strange

One of the things that kept me away from comics in my teens was this. Every time I went to the local comics shop, I would scan the covers and even flip through a few issues, but not see anything special. Some of what I saw impressed me, but most of what I saw showed an amazing amount of sameness. Dozens of covers featuring women whose proportions would have Dolly Parton asking "How does she walk?". Countless gun-toting "heroes" whose philosophy of dealing with criminals is "shoot first and then shoot some more". Even Green Lantern, my favorite hero from Superfriends as a kid, seemed lackluster. I couldn't help but wonder… what ever happened to superheroes thinking around problems and outsmarting the villains? That was back in the late 80's, what we now call the Modern or Dark Age and it wasn't until sometime later, just barely a year ago that I found out about a man called Adam Strange.

Strange first appeared in the dark days after the creation of the Comics Code. Adam Strange made his debut in three issues of Showcase (17, 18, 19) in 1958, just two years after the first original Silver Age hero- The Flash was created. Adam was at first created as a quick way to make some money. It was just a scant few months after the launch of Sputnik, and stories having to do with outer space tended to sell very well.

Adam Strange was an ordinary Earth archeologist who had discovered the legendary Inca city of Caramanga, where the Indians had hidden their vast treasure of gold during the Spanish conquest of Peru. The Incas, not quite as dead a tribe as was believed, did not appreciate Adam's discovery of their secret, and set out to kill him. Adam ran until he came to a large chasm. Having no other choice, Adam ran and threw himself across the pit. Midway through his leap, he was struck by a bright flash of light, and the next thing he knew, he was facing a strange predatory animal in an even stranger world. He was rescued by a beautiful brunette in a large flying machine, and taken to her city, Ranagar. There he was taught the language of this world by the use of a "menticizer". It was then that Adam found that is 25-foot leap had become a leap of 25 trillion miles to the planet Rann of the star system Alpha Centauri.

The girl was named Alanna and her father was Ranagar's head scientist, Sardath. It was Sardath who was responsible for Adam's teleportation., having hit him with a "Zeta beam". Originally built as a means of communication with Earth, the beam had been warped by cosmic radiation and had become a teleportation beam. It turned out later that Sardath was lying and that he was hoping to use the beam to find a mate for his daughter, one of the few Rannians who had not been made sterile by the wars. Rann, once populated by a society obsessed with science, was a world destroyed by atomic war. Most of the planet's population turned to barbarism, forming vast city-states that were in a constant state of war with each other. At the time of Adam's arrival, some of the city-states (like Ranagar) were regaining the scientific progress of their ancestors and were learning to get along with each other.

The Zeta beam's effects would prove to be temporary and Adam would be teleported back to Earth. But Sardath would send out subsequent beams to return Adam to Rann. Equipped with a fire-proof uniform, a rocket-pack and a ray-gun, Adam would go on to be Ranagar and Rann's greatest defender.

Written by Gardner Fox, Adam eventually got a regular feature, taking over Mysteries in Space with No 52 in the August of 1959. Adam's early stories were admittedly formalized, following the same standard pattern. Adam would rush to the spot where the Zeta beam would hit Earth, travel to Rann, deal with some kind of menace, and return to Earth when the Zeta beam wore off.In his defense, Fox was only allowed 10 pages per story and variations on the same basic concept was all he had really had space to work with. It is a credit to Fox's brilliance as a writer that despite this handicap he was able to make Adam Strange a success, gradually moving up to 15 and 25 page stories within a few years. One such example of how he varied what might have become a quickly tired premise can be seen in how he would devote a whole page to showing Adam deal with the difficulties in getting to the exact spot of a beam hitting. He once bought ice cream for two boys who were sitting on the park bench he needed to sit on. One issue even showed Adam dealing with the problem of getting inside a mountain sitting on the contact point.

It was little touches like this, added into the larger 15 and 25 page stories, that made Adam Strange DC's premiere science fiction character and one of the most popular characters of the Silver Age revival. At one point, Adam was as widely recognized as the Barry Allen Flash and the Hal Jordan Green Lantern. Still, while having a deep appreciation of a good science fiction epic what really appealed to me most about Adam Strange was his method of dealing with problems. Adam truly did believe that his brain was his best weapon and that he could use his smarts to defeat any enemy. Many stories showed Adam doing just that, but none quite so well as what is now considered to be the best Adam Strange story of all time; "The Planet that Came to a Standstill" (Mystery in Space No. 75).

In this story, a Justice League villain named Kanjar Ro comes to Rann, hoping that the planet's triple sun will give him powers akin to Superman. He succeeds and begins single-handedly defeating the Justice League members who had followed him to Rann. Even while they are having their butts handed to them, the League members comment about feeling sorry for "poor Adam Strange" who must stand by helplessly because he has no super powers.

We soon find, however, that Adam was not standing idle, but thinking. Reasoning that if Superman was weakened by metal from his native Krypton, Kanjar Ro might be similarly weakened by metal from his home planet of Dhor. Adam threw a rod of Dhorite at him, and Kanjar Ro fell down, weakened by the metal. Where the pure power of the JLA had failed, Adam Strange's quick thinking had saved the day. From then on, Adam Strange was not only referred to as Earth's first spaceman and Hero of Rann, but also as the Thinking Man's Hero.

Adam had many more adventures in the pages of Mysteries in Space, until Hawkman's solo book was canceled and Mysteries in Space began to hold the adventures of both heroes. Gradually, Adam's space began to shrink as more and more pages were allotted to the more popular Hawkman. Eventually, Hawkman was given his own book again and Fox as well as the artists and editor of Mysteries in Space left the title to do the new Hawk book. Adam was left in the hands of writer Lee Ellis and editor Jack Schiff, neither of whom cared for the hero of Rann as Gardner Fox did. After 10 more issues, Adam Strange was dropped from the title. Not wanting to see his creation die off, Fox put Adam Strange in a guest spot in Hawkman, thus tying up the loose ends left in the storyline by Schiff and Elli's abrupt dropping of Adam from their book.

Many attempts were made to revive Adam Strange. The first attempt came after Strange Adventures, recently canceled after a disastrous Deadman run, was reformatted to feature science fiction stories. The lead feature of the revived Strange Tales, was appropriately enough, reprinted Adam Strange stories. The reprints proved successful and the famed team of Denny O'Neil, Gil Kane and Murphy Anderson was given permission to start a new series. Sadly, while O'Neil, Kane and Anderson had breathed new life into Batman and received critical acclaim for their Green Lantern/Green Arrow run they did not have the same love for Adam Strange. O'Neil wrote Adam out of character and Kane's pencils were said to be too loose and sloppy. A later attempt was made in a "picture book" style. It too did poorly.

Some measure of closure was finally brought to Adam Strange's story in 1975 when, in a two part JLA story, he finally married Alanna.

Thursday, April 1, 1999

In Defense Of Joel Schumacher

Batman and Robin, the fourth movie in the Warner Brother's Batman series has gained a rather notorious reputation as one of the biggest bombs ever made and has soiled the reputation of its’ director Joel Schumacher, who is accused of being responsible for the series decline. This is for the most part an unfair accusation since it was actually the studio executives who trashed the grand image Schumacher had for the Batman franchise.

The real problem with Batman and Robin is that the version released into theaters is drastically cut. Similar to the problems with the original version of Dune, so much was cut from the film that the release version made little to no sense. Schumacher claims that the original movie was four-and-a-half hours long and that the completed version of the film was “lost” by the studio in order to shift full blame for the project’s failure on Schumacher.

Although no physical evidence of this cutting of Batman and Robin can be found, many people have reported seeing this version in the theaters on opening weekend. “It was weird.” says 19 year old Batman fan Jonathan Walker. “We sat there and watched the movie for what seemed like forever. Towards the end, we all started feeling really sleepy, so it must have been pretty late by then. They didn’t have a clock in the theater but it felt like we were there for at least three hours. Maybe four”.

One of the reasons for these cuts was that Batman and Robin, in Schmacher’s original vision, was intended to be a musical. This is one of the main reasons that the movie most of us have seen has turned out so horrible. Much like the James L. Brooks film I’ll Do Anything, the studio test groups who saw the original cuts of the musical version of the movie, hated the songs. The studio, in a single memo dealt two deadly blows to the Batman 4 project. First, Schumacher was asked to remove the songs from the film. Secondly, the film’s due date was bumped up by one week. In order to get the film done on time, Schumacher was forced to film whole scenes to cover the information explained through the songs.

One example of how this ruined the film can be seen in Uma Thurman’s performance, and we use the term loosely. It’s not Uma’s fault, but she has little to do throughout the movie but act as Miss Exposition and explain away the plot. A clear example of this is in her first scene where she is dictating her character history onto a tape recorder. Yet as much as the character as Poison Ivy suffered, what happened to Bane is the true tragedy of the decision to remove the music from the show.

As I’m sure we all remember, Bane is the villain who in the infamous Knightfall storyline was able, through intelligent planning and brute force able to “break the Bat”. In the version of Batman and Robin we’ve seen, Bane is reduced to a grunting sweating flunky of Poison Ivy, with no intelligence or lines. It was Schumacher’s intent, so he says, to symbolize Bane’s vast intellect through his beautiful song and dance routines.

“One cannot appreciate the true beauty that is Batman and Robin until one has heard Bane sing a remix of the classic Rocky Horror Picture Show song “Sword of Damocles”, about a monster bemoaning his fate. Or what about “Today is for Bane”? And who would not be able to hold back their tears as Bane sang his death song, “Bane’s Requeim” upon his defeat by Robin and Batgirl?” says Scuhmacher. “Jeep Swenson, the actor who played Bane, proved to be a fine dancer. I think this was because of his experience as a pro wrestler, which obvious gave him great skill in working with a choreographer. It was not publicized widely, but Michael Flatley personally picked Jeep to replace him in “Riverdance” before the movie came out.”

Schumacker admits that his story sounds far fetched, but offers more evidence that Batman 4 was intended to be a musical. “Take a look at the backgrounds and costuming. You’ll notice that the gaudy and tacky look of the backgrounds is very much like that in any Broadway musical. For such musicals depend upon spectacle, flash, dash, pizazz and what have you. All the bright colors, the neon, the nipples… all of this was to create the illusion of a stage show on the screen.” Schumacker also points to the rather corny jokes of Mr. Freeze as evidence of his intentions.

“Back in the days of the studio musical, cheesy jokes were a hallmark of a fine family musical. I remember a line from The Music Man… “I don’t recall catching your name”…. “I don’t recall dropping it”. Now is that any worse than “You’ll never put me in the cooler?” Hmmmm?”

Schumacher was shocked when he discovered that the studio had cut the film, without his knowledge and asked to have his name taken off the picture. Alas, the WB publicity machine had him revealed as the director before he could insist that Batman and Robin be declared an Alan Smithee production. Which is unfortunate because now that the dust is settled it is Joel Schumacher who is now known as the “man who broke the Bat.” Still, Schumacher is hopeful. “Those executives must have decided I had a point about the musical… I hear they are working on a Batman Musical right now.”

NOTE: This is a work of Satire. None of the above is true, except for the thing about there really being a Batman Musical in production. May God help us all.