Sunday, May 31, 2009

Art Attack: Golden Age Mysterio & Deadpool

In my office at Marvel, we've got a big framed poster of every character in the Marvel Universe circa the late 80's (I've always been under the impression it was all the old Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe covers linked together as one image, but in looking up those covers, the pictures don't match up). It's something of a geek badge of honor for me that I can name more of the characters on the poster than anybody else in my office--however, there is one who has continually stumped me.

Near the upper right-hand corner, there is a dude(?) with a golden fishbowl head and black costume who I'm clueless on. Without an ID to properly affix, I dubbed him/her "Golden Age Mysterio," and the name stuck.

Now no doubt I could just ask Tom Brevoort or another person of knowledge to swing by my office and properly identify this character, but I have elected not to and insisted my colleagues do the same, as I have grown to love Golden Age Mysterio and refuse to have that particular illusion (wordplay!) shattered. The closest call was artist Phil Jimenez, who has professed his desire to recreate the entire poster with current costume updates, being on the verge of spoiling my little fantasy, but I shut him up in time.

Prior to the 2008 New York Comic Con, my pals the great Todd Nauck and Andy Lanning dropped by the office to hang out for a bit. Somehow the topic of Golden Age Mysterio came up and the three of us had a good laugh trying to come up with his origin and a pitch for how he would work in an ongoing series (the concept of "smoke and mirrors using actual smoke and mirrors" was a favorite one).

The conversation set off a lightbulb for me for a new sketchbook idea. Months earlier, our ever-generous Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada had given a bunch of us Moleskine notebooks with the Marvel logo embedded on the front as Christmas gifts. I really wanted some sort of theme for my book and it hit me that Marvel characters who didn't actually exist in the Golden Age as Golden Age characters could be a winner.

I told Todd about it the next day and he was all too happy to provide the first piece. Todd has done a lot of incredible original art for me over the years, but I maintain this may be his finest work...

A few months later, I approached former Cable/Deadpool artist Reilly Brown about doing a 1940's style Merc With a Mouth for me. Due to various mix-ups, Reilly ended up having my book for quite some time, but he recently shot it back to me, and I am pleased to unveil for the the first time, the brilliance of Golden Age Deadpool:

With convention season starting up again in full force, I'm looking forward to getting the Golden Age Marvel sketchbook back on the circuit and filling up them pages with goodness. Any requests?

Friday, May 29, 2009

Linko! VIII

Hey gang,

It's been a long, lonely, frustrating week here at Linko! Central, so let's cleanse the pallet late on a Friday with some funny videos, huh?

* First up, courtesy of Dave Paggi, how not to interview Grant Morrison:

I had to watch that one in 12 second snippets because of the extreme awkwardness, and I still haven't made it through to the end. If you can, you must be some kind of sadist. In other Dave news, we've got a much nicer sight – some NYC school kids singing "Landslide" for their teacher. Super adorable:

Back to comics, a video from C.B. Cebulski (whose blog you should click through to for awesome word from the Barcelona con I wish I was at right now), there's a translated interview from French TV with Pluto and 20th Century Boys mangaka Naoki Urasawa right here although I can't figure out how to embed it.

Finally, via James Walker, Fuck the Kingons and their stupid new glasses:

* OK! As for the cool comics-related links I stumbled upon this week, let's start with something I that threw me as I didn't even realize this existed: The job of working as a comics coloring Flatter. No, not a Flatterer (although I'm sure colorists like that too). Joe Keatinge of Image put a link up on his Twitter about breaking in by doing basic color guidelines for colorists to build their computer magic on, a process also known as Flattening. Read all about it here. If you end up getting work by following this post, you have to buy me and Joe a Baby Ruth later.

* Complete fanboy link: I'm always a little astounded when I find sites like this one which spells out Wolverine's entire life in exact detail over many, many pages.

* Semi-related nerd link: after watching at least one scene from every "Star Wars" movie on MTV over Memorial Day weekend (MTV, by the way, is generally more repulsive than I even remembered), I fell down the Wikipedia Hole and came across this mind-blowing interview with George Lucas that ran in Rolling Stone shortly after "Star Wars" came out. I could probably write 12 blog posts covering everything I thought and felt while reading that thing, but just not today. Still, if there's one link you click through this week, that HAS to be it.

* Art Link #1!: Rafael Grampa draws Batman and Robin!! I'm not even posting a teaser. You owe it to yourself to click through and see the full image (via Dave and Robot 6).

* Art Link #2!: Some wicked Star Wars/Batman mash-ups found via Agent M. Above: Luke Nightwalker.

* Web Comics Link!: I giggled a lot reading Nedroid's Party Cat saga. (Via Hudson)

* Funny thing I almost forgot about Link!: I know I linked to Dave's Tumblr already, but he has been having a fucking field day making fun of old Batman covers. An example, you say?

"WTF, Batman & Robin? The Joker literally has enough bad luck to get himself killed 100 different kinds of ways, some serious “Final Destination” shit, and you can’t wipe those ridiculous smirks off your face and be serious for one second?"

* Tech Link!: I'm wary of Google releasing yet another "life changing" platform. I mean, I know I'm an old man when it comes to embracing technology, but do I really need a program that integrates E-Mail and IM and sharing videos and bunch of other bullshit? They seem to think so. (Via Jonah)

* New York Times Link #1: I read this essay about the math of romance like three times this week.

* New York Times Link #2: I found this story about how much teens have "embraced" hugging (har har) to be interesting as I did this follow up post of "experts" trying to explain where teen fads come from. I always thought that the point of teen fads was that as soon as adults figured out where they came from and what they meant, they stopped being cool. Sometimes you don't want to know where he pulls the rabbit from, you know?

* Finally, "America is fucked up" Link!: This is what's going on in Casey Sejas' home state right now.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Mouse Guard: Could It Happen For Realsies?

OK, so anyone who read last week's Linko! knows that I'm a total mark for anything involving mices with swordz, including Mrs. Frisby & The Rats of NIMH, the early Redwall books and David Petersen's ridiculously nice-looking Mouse Guard (series 2, issue 6 in stores today, kids!). So, it should also come as zero surprise how excited I got when I read a story in today's New York Times titled Human Language Gene Changes How Mice Squeak.

No bullshit, everyone. Listen to this:
Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have now genetically engineered a strain of mice whose FOXP2 gene has been swapped out for the human version. Svante Paabo, in whose laboratory the mouse was engineered, promised several years ago that when the project was completed, “We will speak to the mouse.”

He did not promise that the mouse would say anything in reply, doubtless because a great many genes must have undergone evolutionary change to endow people with the faculty of language, and the new mouse was gaining only one of them. So it is perhaps surprising that possession of the human version of FOXP2 does in fact change the sounds that mice use to communicate with other mice, as well as other aspects of brain function.

GAH! How awesome is that?!? I think that we should immediately start funneling money to researching teaching mice how to fence, wear Medieval cloaks and ride super intelligent rabbits. I'll get the ball rolling by contributing, like, ten bucks.

Who's with me?

NOTE: I should probably mention that you can preview Mouse Guard: Winter 1152 #6 here.

ALSO NOTE: I'm about 45% sure that this field of research won't eventually lead to this.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Needs More Tombstone

Every Wednesday over on, we do a feature called Take 10 where we come up with top ten lists dealing with various categories related to Marvel. This week, the topic was Crime Lords, and in putting the list together, I had something of a surprising revelation: I think I'm a fan of Tombstone.

That's this guy...

Tombstone is a not too well-known but not exactly obscure Spider-Man who came on the scene back in the late 80's. He's basically a super-strong, super-tough albino badass who shows up every now and again as hired muscle then inevitably decides to take over himself. He was also sorta friends with Peter Parker's father-figure at the Daily Bugle, Robbie Robertson, when they were both in high school; by "friends," that means Robbie was nice to poor, outcast Lonnie Lincoln (aka the future Tombstone), and Lonnie repaid him by bullying him, extorting him, and later getting him sent to prison.

Not a nice guy.

Thing is, I don't think I've ever read a Tombstone story all the way through. The only one I can recall even scratching the surface of was an old Spectacular Spider-Man arc from around the time of the Clone Saga that Sal Buscema drew. I believe it was called "Death by Tombstone"?


Two things Tombstone seems to always be doing: smiling and choking dudes. Seriously, if given the option between shooting Spider-Man in the face and choking the shit out of him, T-Stone is gonna choke that sucker. And his smile is absolutely creepy.

Still, I haven't read all that many Spider-Man comics in my life (relatively speaking; I've read plenty of Spider-Man comics, but there are a lot more I haven't read) and even fewer Tombstone comics. However, as a kid, I did see this.

Spider-Man: The Animated Series did an awesome job of bringing Tombstone to life and making him one scary motherfucker. Dorian Harewood did an incredible job voicing him with the perfect mix of menace and eerie self-confidence. And they really played up his connection with Robbie, which pushed a button with me, as he's one of those characters who is just always portrayed as being so nice, like the Kents, and seeing somebody be such a prick to him is kinda heartbreaking.
Also, this may sound dumb, but I had no idea Tombstone was black; I probably should have put two and two together given that he went to an predominantly black high school with Robbie, but I never did. I kinda dug the fact that you had Robbie and Lonnie, two inner city dudes, one straight as an arrow and one not at all, but both were well-spoken and articulate. That shouldn't be a rarity in this day and age or have been one in the 80's or 90's, but it's still always nice to see.

Last year, Spectacular Spider-Man debuted and carried on the tradition of excellent animated Tombstone, this incarnation an established big bad crime boss voiced by the great Kevin Michael Richardson.

So on the strength of a handful of covers, a few cartoon episodes, and only one or two actual comics, yeah, I'm pretty convinced Tombstone is a couple decent stories away from being a grade A villain. It's always nice to come across a character like that kinda randomly, and another reason I love my job.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Make These Action Figures

As comic geeks, we are blessed to live in an age where Marvel, DC and beyond have catered to just about every whim we could have in the way of action figures, converting just about every conceivable hero, villain and big ass monster into immortal, articulated plastic form. And yet despite owning roughly four dozen Flash figures and an army of Marvel Legends, still I hunger.

Here are a few comic book icons (and Spymaster) who I still long to see translated into action figure form (or for somebody to let me know they already have been)...

The Eternals
Not too long ago, DC Direct put out a line of New Gods figures that replicated the one-of-a-kind style of Jack Kirby like noto too many licensed products I've ever seen. Kirby's exotic designs on his Fourth World characters is pretty untouchable, but his follow-up efforts on the Eternals were plenty rad as well--colorful and bold with energy to boot. I'd like to see a couple series of Kirby-inspired Eternals figures that could incorporate some of the updates by John Romita Jr. and Daniel Acuna, but the primary flavor should still be the King's; make Ikaris, Makkari, Sersi and Kro the first wave then follow up with Ajak, Thena, Druig and Karkas.

Walter West
Remember those 50-some Flash figures I mentioned up top? Well one incarnation of the Fastest Man Alive I don't own is the dark-hued other-dimensional doppleganger who replaced Wally West for a bit towards the end of Mark Waid's run, and that's because it doesn't exist, which is a shame because it's a cool ass look. This one is long overdue.

Shang Chi
My fascination with Marvel's Master of Kung Fu is a bit bizarre in that I've really never read a Shang Chi comic period, let alone a good Shang Chi comic, but I was heavy into Bruce Lee when I was younger, and martial arts characters generally rock. Gimme a Shang Chi figure so I can create a nice shelf display with the next duo I'd like to request...

Richard Dragon/Bronze Tiger
Simply put, Richard Dragon is one of the dopest, most underutilized characters in the DC stable; you gotta love a guy who gets by on discipline and toughness but who the biggest guns in the DCU back off of because his rep is that bad. Bronze Tiger is more of the same and he also happens to have a fantastic, unique look that's perfect for action figure form. Combine these two and you've got an awesome two-pack.

I honestly don't know much about Spymaster's background or character, but I know his costume rocks and I want an action figure of him--'Nuff Said.

Guy Gardner: Warrior
A decade too late? I think not! Mitch Byrd's redesign of Guy Gardner may scream 90's, but it was also begging for an action figure I'm fairly certain it never received. With the bold colors and ready-made weapon accessories that could be rotated through, this is a toy you could display and also have fun with.

Remember these guys? With characters boasting visuals imagined by George Perez, Terry Dodson, Norm Breyfogle and several other visionaries, there's a deep pool of potential to be mined here. A Mantra figure would be hot and Prototype could carry his own line of variants ala Iron Man, but there could also be some neat gimmicks to try out, like a Prime figure where you build the hero body around Kevin Green or a Sludge made out, I don't even know.

Agents of Atlas
You've got a gorilla, a killer robot, a spaceman, a mermaid, a secret agent and a love goddess in a slinky outfit--how is there not a box set of these guys yet?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Ben's Ultimate Legion

A few days back, I blogged about the Ultimate Legion of Super-Heroes feature Andy Serwin and I worked on for Wizard that never came to fruition. While I can't recall or find any record of the dream team we put together, I did come up with my own all-star squad of Legionnaires from across the ages and incarnations.

Speaking of incarnations, here's a quick short-hand glossary to the different eras I pulled from...

-Silver Age: The original team through its first two decades
-Levitz: Paul Levitz's seven-year stint as writer
-Five Years Later: Keith Giffen's dystopian future storyline featuring an older, harder-edged Legion
-Legionnaires: A younger team resembling the originals that showed up for a bit during Five Years Later
-Reboot: The team re-imagined post-Zero Hour
-Legion Lost: A 12-issue maxi-series written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning that stranded a group of Legionnaires in another galaxy
-DnA: Abnett and Lanning's follow-up to Legion Lost
-Threeboot: Mark Waid and Barry Kitson's second attempt at recreating the Legion for the ground up
-L3W: The "adult" version of the Levitz Legion introduced in the Lightning Saga and currently featured in Legion of 3 Worlds

(Apologies in advance for the terrible mish mash of images)

COSMIC BOY (Threeboot)
No doubt some version of Cos is an essential part of any Ultimate Legion, but I find his Levitz incarnation to be too much of an afterthought/wallflower and his Reboot persona to be okay but a bit heavy on the boy scout side. I considered using his hardcore depowered Five Years Later persona, as it's certainly a great exemplar of why he's generally team leader, but settled on Waid's ultimate idealist instead. I dug that Threeboot Cos was willing to go to extremes in order to preserve what he felt was important and also that he came off as more of a teenager than past attempts at Rokk Krinn.

LIVE WIRE (Legion Lost)
As I mentioned a couple weeks back, the post-Zero Hour version of Lightning Lad, aka Live Wire, was one of my favorite characters growing up. He had the devil-may-care psuedo-bad boy vibe working, but he also had a real innocence to him that showed through in his relationships with Saturn Girl and Cosmic Boy in particular. Garth Ranzz is also a Legionnaire I feel works better when he skews younger, so I opted not to go with any of the more mature, already settled down Lightning Lads, even though Geoff Johns seems to be steering the adult L3W version back towards these roots. I think most people would agree that Live Wire peaked during Legion Lost when he was more or less backed into the corner of being team leader and rose to the occasion as an incredible hero, so I'd pluck him from there.

I really dig the job Geoff has done in the Action Comics arc (re)introducing the "current" Legion and in L3W in providing balance in Saturn Girl so she's equal parts nurturing and take charge. The reboot and even the Threeboot always seemed to play Imra Ardeen as almost too much of an ice queen, but Levitz always knew how to make her self-assured and competent without having her come off as a bitch. L3W has continued that, but for some reason I like the idea of Saturn Girl being the oldest founder and Gary Frank did a nice job on her redesign, so I'll take it.
Legion of Super-Heroes #3 from the Threeboot is not only one of my favorite Legion stories, but one of my favorite single issue stories of all-time. It's basically the origin of the Threeboot Triplicate Girl, the short version of which is that she comes from a planet where she was at one time the only inhabitant, but she managed to produce enough duplicates of herself to repopulate; feeling lonely since she was still essentially by herself, she and two duplicates came to Earth to join the Legion, but when they tried to go home for a visit, they no longer fit in. It was a beautiful, crushing story that struck as the most unique and inventive take on a character I'd always found hit or miss at best, so she definitely makes my team.

One of the reasons I love the Levitz Legion is that I find it to be one of the most accurate depictions of how high school age kids with super powers would act, cliques and all, and I always saw Ultra Boy and Phantom Girl as the football quarterback and head cheerleader respectively. Having them around sets the Legion apart from a Teen Titans or New Mutants here everybody mostly gets along, so they're a lock (there are other things I like about Ultra Boy, but I'll get into that when I cover him).

You gotta have some form of Chameleon Boy on any true Ultimate Legion because he's such a cornerstone of the team both from a character and visual standpoint. I have a lot of love for the Levitz Cham and by extension the Five Years Later/Legionnaires one, but I always gravitate towards the Reboot version, particularly early on in the run when he was having trouble learning Interlac and was a bit of an outside since most races didn't trust Durlans. Granted that was a relatively short-lived take (he was speaking fluently within a couple years), but I dug the way he started out as very much an other as far as the Legion was concerned and ingratiated himself not by being R.J. Brande's kid or assimilating, but on strength of personality.

JACQUES FOCCART (Five Years Later)
The second Invisible Kid was a breath of fresh air during the Levitz run as he was a true blue good guy with a touch of innocence and awe at the adventures around him who stood in stark contrast to cynics like Wildfire, Timber Wolf and Dawnstar. However, the "I don't belong among these incredible heroes" routine wore a bit thin after awhile, so I give the edge to the badass Five Years Later Jacques Foccart, who was still a decent fellow, but also had the confidence that comes from being President of the United Planets; the fact that he left that job out of boredom to rejoin the Legion makes him even more awesome.

BRAINIAC 5 (Threeboot)
Maybe it's because I grew up reading the more arrogant Reboot Brainiac 5, but the sedate, jovial Silver Age/Levitz Brainy never rang true for me. If you're gonna have a guy whose super power is that he's always the smartest guy in the room, what fun is it not to have him constantly frustrated at the inability of his teammates to keep up with him? The Threeboot Brainiac 5 was arrogant, aloof Brainy dialed up to 11 with a crafty manipulative streak worked in as well; even though he was a good guy at the end of the day, there was that murky gray "he could turn on everybody" thing happening and it made him interesting. It also made his quiet "real" moments with Dream Girl more impactful. Mark Waid just really gets some characters and I think Brainiac 5 is one of them.

INFERNO (Legionnaires)
There's not that much to differentiate the Legionnaires Dirk Morgna from the Levitz or L3W Sun Boys one, except that he's younger, a bit cockier, even more of a ladies man, has a cooler name and his costume is awesome. Actually, that's kinda a lot--Inferno wins.

VIRUS (Five Years Later)
I really liked the Levitz take on Shrinking Violet that emerged post-Great Darkness Saga where she was rescued from being kidnapped by Durlans, during which time Colossal Boy married a Durlan posing as her, and as a result was pissed off at the world and determined to shed her image as a (shrinking violet) by doing everything from becoming a lethal hand-to-hand combat expert to seducing notorious lothario Sun Boy and then discarding him when she was bored. She was the kind of female character who these days would be a cliche, but the difference was she actually had good reason to be that way. Fast forward Five Years Later, and Vi has now become even more hardened by war, plus she has a really nice (and at the time pretty groundbreaking) same-sex romantic relationship with teammate Ayla Ranzz.

ULTRA BOY (Levitz)
I covered the primary reason for why I wanted the Levitz duo of Phantom Girl and Ultra Boy on the team earlier, but Jo Nah's whole "I have all of Superman's powers but can only use them one at a time" is just such a cool conceit that I can't believe was concocted back in the Silver Age (but then again, Legion was always ahead of its time in more ways than one). Honestly, I have a gut preference towards the cockier Reboot or Threeboot Ultra Boys, but like I said, I want that vibe the Levitz one provided in tandem with Phantom Girl, so there you go.

Was never a big fan of the overly spiritual tack Element Lad was taken on Five Year Later or Reboot and the Threeboot Jan Arrah was just a bit of a cipher. However, Levitz seemed to get that if you had a dude with the power to f'ing transmute elements (which is awesome), you put him front and center as one of the driving forces on the team and, yes, you have him be petty and pissed off when his idiot teammates elect the ditzy blond precog who looks good in a silver one-piece to be team leader over him. Levitz Element Lad was awesome.

PULSE (Five Years Later)
Ayla Ranzz is a pretty take her or leave her character for me, but I'd include her on the team because she has interesting relationships with her brother Lighting Lad/Live Wire, her ex-boyfriend Timber Wolf, and, since I want to use the Five Years Later version, her lover, Virus.

DREAM GIRL (Threeboot)
Tough call here, because I think the Levitz Dream Girl, who was sex on wheels but also extremely shrewd and who had a great romance with Star Boy but also couldn't help hitting on anything male, was a slam dunk character who really shook things up. On the other hand, I also loved the Threeboot Dreamy, who seemed like a total space cadet on the surface and then would casually save the day without batting an eyelash because she knew exactly what was going to happen, both of which frustrated her teammates, Brainiac 5 in particular, to no end. I give the Threeboot version the edge just because I find her dynamic with Brainy slightly more interesting than the Dream Girl-Star Boy relationship of yesteryear. On a sidenote, I consider myself actually a a fairly enthusiastic Star Boy fan, but for the life of me, I couldn't justify giving any version of him a spot on this team. Go figure.

KARATE KID (Silver Age)
Val Armorr was an ostensibly normal guy with no real powers who could hold his own with the likes of Superboy because he was good at karate;I'm sorry--good at super karate. Do you really need more of a pitch than that? You know how cool it is to watch Batman mix it up with bad guys way above his weight class when he's on Justice League missions? Karate Kid is like that times 20 because he's in the future and he has three dozen teammates but he's still the baddest dude in the Legion. Another sidenote: I left Princess Projectra/Sensor Girl off the team because she's at her most interesting when Val is dead, and I can't have that on my Ultimate Legion.

It's an overused "twist" not just in comics but in all of fiction that the token dumb guy or girl on a team of heroes turns out to really be smart, or at least smart enough to solve some crucial puzzle that turns the tide in the favor of good. Timber Wolf is just dumb, and refreshingly so. Brin Londo is a great fighter, he's loyal and he has a good heart, but he's somewhat emotionally stunted and intellectually just not that bright; Paul Levitz played up these supposed character faults to set Timber Wolf apart and distinguish him from the rest of the Legion. I thought this was great, as not every super hero needs to be virtuous in every single possible way and it made T-Wolf far more human. Subsequent interpretations of the character always seem to mistake "street smarts" for him needing to be some sort of savant, and that just doesn't grab me; lack of brains didn't prevent Timber Wolf from battling through a planet of evil ninjas to execute Karate Kid's dying wish.

Sometimes a character can coast for years just on a cool design (there are no shortage of characters Jack Kirby created just for shits and giggles that other creators have spent years trying to devise decent backstories on in order to justify using the visuals proving this rule), and Wildfire could have been one of them, but there's much more to Drake Burroughs. First off, being a sentient cloud of anti-energy cursed to live in a suit of armor because you can't reassume human form should provide enough pathos for, oh, ever. But the way Paul Levitz wrote Wildfire as a sawed off jerk with a major chip on his shoulder ensured we didn't have to suffer throug endless "I feel so bad for him" stories; instead, you've got a guy who the other characters can't stand to be around because he's an asshole, but hey, he's seriously got nowhere else to go and he also happens to be uber-powerful and useful in a fight, so I guess he can stay on the team...and get elected leader a bunch of times. That's fucking gold.

Another one who could have gotten by on an awesome Mike Grell design, but again, Levitz lifted Dawnstar above and beyond. You really can't discuss Dawnie without mentioning Wildfire, as she is exactly like him in terms of temperament (short version: she's a bitch), but a complete 180 from him physically as he's a blob of energy and she's a hot chick with wings. It's always oddly heartwarming when the ne'erdowells get together after running hot and cold for years (see Chuck & Blair). It's also just convenient from a plotting standpoint to have somebody with tracking powers on the team, something I'm sure Levitz recognized.

BLOK (Levitz)
There's not really a lot to Blok, but he provides a cool-looking non-humanoid, a decent strongman, the requisite "monster with a heart of gold," and I like both his friendship with Timber Wolf as well as his little crush on the White Witch. The Levitz and L3W versions seem fairly interchangeable, but the former lasted longer, so let's go with that.

Again going back to the high school metaphor, Mysa Nal was both the exchange student who had trouble finding her place, as well as the hippie chick who just didn't get why people were mean. It's a nice dichotomy to have a character who is one of the most powerful Legionnaires also be somebody who is still a bit naive when it comes to the way of people. I chose her L3W incarnation as Johns echoed the Five Years LAter plot point of Mysa enduring imprisonment at Mordru's hands, which I think will serve to toughen her up a bit and also cement her place in the Legion.

If there's one character who embodies the optimistic, enthusiastic, "this is so cool!" appeal of the Legion, it's Polar Boy, and this is something Geoff Johns has clearly picked up on and tapped into in his recent work. In many ways, Polar Boy is one of the best POV characters ever for comic fans, as he was a reject who nonetheless continued to plug away in support of his heroes and eventually was given his just reward of joining their ranks. During some of the Legion's darker days in the waning pre-Reboot years, Polar Boy was shown to be one of the few who still believed in what the team stood for; again, Johns has ridden this beat out and the result is a character who continues to be immensely likeable.

XS (Reboot)
The pre-Reboot Legion never had a speedster in the traditional sense, and I'm always one to support the Flash Family, so it shouldn't be too surprising to see Jenni Ognats on this list (though I've never been crazy about her weird code name). That XS has such strong ties to the present day DCU through her familial ties to the various bearers of the Flash mantle is gravy on an already fun character. On an Ultimate Legion like this one, it would also be interesting to see how young, hyperactive Jenni meshes with more battle-weary vets.

GATES (Reboot)
There were few better original additions to the Reboot Legion than Gates. Whoever came up with the idea for a beaked teleporting insectoid who resents being "drafted" into the Legion because of his heavy socialist leanings deserved a bonus.

On a team that included Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl, Brainiac 5 and a few dozen other competent and experienced Legionnaires, Kid Quantum ended up being elected leader of the Legion following the Legion Lost debacle and brought a welcome level-headed even keel to the position. To this day, I don't really get how Jazmin Cullen's powers worked, but I enjoyed her Legion tenure as she always seemed cool and self-assured, to the point where it caught many tenured members off-guard and snagged her a nice little romance with Cosmic Boy to boot.

So...what do you think? Pretty huge team, granted, but really not that much bigger than your average Legion lineup. This was a doozy to write, but a lotta fun and I'd like to hear some fellow Legion fans' own Ultimate rosters.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Paragraph Movie Reviews: Terminator Salvation

If you don't have plans to see this movie, you can check the spoilers here and then come back. Also, in the interest of full disclosure, I saw this at a drive-in, but don't really think that impacted my opinion of it terribly one way or another.

I wouldn't say this was an outright disaster, but at best a bland movie with some fairly deep flaws. A really good action flick should have a clear endgame established early on and everything that occurs leading up is either a landmark or sidetrack on the road to getting there; with Terminator Salvation, you don't get the sense that there is a longterm destination, just a series of meaningless fights and chase scenes cobbled together without an idea of the big picture. Some of those action sequences are actually pretty well done and make for decently entertaining moments, but in the long run, I just didn't care. Christian Bale is one of the few action stars who can transcend just sounding cool reciting tough guy dialogue and actually make you believe in the realism of an out there premise through his intensity, but he's not in enough of this to turn it around. It also doesn't help that he gets some really awful lines. Sam Worthington is a find and will be a credible star on his own who can carry better movies than this; he's got charisma and some of Bale's intensity clearly rubbed off, though he does need to figure out what accent he's supposed to be doing and stick with it. Anton Yelchin's wannabe tough guy act as young Kyle Reese wore thin real fast and his put-on gravel voice was grating. Moon Bloodgood has a great name, but her character's actions were borderline inexplicable and I wanted Linda Hamilton to slap her in the face for setting the tough chick role back a good decade or so. I thought Common was playing a robot because he has yet to master speaking like a human being. Bryce Dallas Howard was...well, she was in this movie, that's about it. And of course I'd be remiss if I didn't say that putting the big game-changing twist in every preview and commercial certainly didn't do this sucker any favors. I will give credit that Salvation wasn't inaccesible for somebody like me who has only a cursory knowledge of the Terminator mythology, but understanding something and being entertained by it are two different animals.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Linko! VII

* I don't like to crow too much because I don't have too much to crow about, but I am totally in love with CayLOLz – the new group Tumblr blog I'm running with some friends dedicated to the comic industry's most huggable man, Carmelo Caylo. Please, please, please follow it if you know Mel. If you don't, find him at a con this summer (he works for Archaia) and give him a squeeze for me.

* Speaking of CayLOLz, the concept's masterminds Zach Oat sent me a link this week to this blog, which reposts one-star reviews of undeniable classics on Amazon. It's pretty genius in general, but I think the people who don't get "Spinal Tap" are the best:
Okay, seriously, who the heck are these Spinal Tap fellas? I’m an expert on music (I studied the art form for four years, know every artist of the last 40 years, and scored an A+ on my math test…which really doesn’t have anything to do with music, but it shows you that I am intellegent), and have never heard of these guys before. Let me ask you a perfectly reasonable question: why would you want to watch a documentary on a band that you’ve never heard of before?

The Anne Frank ones are pretty crazy too.

* Hell, let's round things out with a third Mel-themed link: the first issue of David Petersen's Mouse Guard Winter 1152 in its entirity at CBR. I really dig Petersen's ongoing series outside of my general love for young readers series about woodland creatures involved in wild fantasy epics (exhibit A, exhibit B). Plus, he's from Flint.

* You know, if you read this blog regularly and don't also read Tom Spurgeon's Comics Reporter, I'm not sure you're making the best use of your time on the internet. He's way better at all of this than we are, and as an example, here are three things I found through Tom that were great reads outside of all his own, invaluable writing:

1 - A brief post on Jack Kirby's two magazine-style comic projects from when he first left Marvel. In my dreams, DC will wrap their awesomely awesome run of Kirby '70s Omnibus volumes with an anthology of all his one off comics for the publisher like the above black and white comics, his 1st Issue Specials and killer fill-ins he did like this and this.

2 - The first part of what looks to be a pretty comprehensive history of Tekno Comics. I remember reading some of these comics off the spinner rack at the book store in the mall and not getting why Leonard Nimoy and Neil Gaiman weren't actually writing the comics in the line themselves. Now that the practice of having big name people "executive produce" comics by coming up with the core concepts and then plastering their names across the top to attract Hollywood attention is common place in the market, I still think it's totally fucking stupid.

3 - DC Comics 40 Years Ago may be the coolest new blog I've found all year.

* While I'm at it, I think the last two entries in Tom's regular Sunday interview feature have been insanely good, and justifiably linked to everywhere else. Here's Darwyn Cooke and Ed Brubaker on the former's upcoming Parker adaptations for IDW and here's Craig Yoe on the just released Secret Identities book and the historical background behind Superman co-creator Joe Shuster's bondage art.

* Speaking of Golden Age Superman stuff (hooray for transitions!), Cartoon Brew has more posts on the Fleischer Brother's Superman shorts than you even knew you wanted to read including this link to a blog that does some detective work with the initial responses to the legendary action series and this killer video history of Superman's animated appearances throughout the years.

* Also from the Brew, "Ren & Stimpy" creator John K has a new blog where he only posts drawings of classic Hanna-Barbera characters with gorgeous results. Why there are no cable channels willing to pay this man money to make more cartoons is a fucking heartbreaking mystery to me.

* Connect the Dots! Dot 1! Dot 2! Dot 3! I concur.

* I thought the trailer for Fox's upcoming "Human Target" adaptation looked pretty good, honestly. Not Peter Milligan good, but good. You can watch the trailer here, but I give you fair warning that it pretty much spoils the entire pilot episode's main plot.

* This week's comic blog I found via Twitter: Comics Alliance Link Inker and Daily Cross Hatch contributor Adri Cowan.

* Link from the New York Times that made me cry the other night.

* Link that I don't recall where it came from: A werewolf comic by Simon Furman and Steve Dillon.

* Via Michael Kupperman's Twitter: The true story of the Private Eye with no hands.

* Via Laura Hudson's Twitter Mach 1: This article offering a conservative Christian reading of "Star Trek" on Fox News' website is funny for a lot of reasons, but it was funny to me mostly because I initially misread the beginning as quoting verse from Romulans 11:33.

* Mach 2: Apparantly geeks are less selfish in the sack than jocks, as concluded by some research study. If those researches would have just called me I could have told them I knew that because we had HBO in my house when I was 11:Nerd Link!

* Mach 3: Physics!

* Dude, Sam is on Twitter! Dude, she also wrote a radical blog post recasting "The Breakfast Club"! GAH!

* Everyone heard this, right?

* Publishers Weekly's continued coverage of the fight to define a law restricting lead in children's toys for publishers of novelty books has been solid and necessary reporting. Too bad I giggle every time I read one of the articles because the seal for the Consumer Product Safety Commission reminds me of the Battlestar Galactica logo.

* Lastly, congrats to my former boss Joe Yanarella, who kicks off the post-Wizard phase of his long, distinguished career in journalism with a story that entertained me on multiple levels.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The new Melrose Place is coming!

The CW has announced their fall schedule and in addition to leaving Gossip Girl where it belongs on Mondays at 8 and moving Smallville into the death slot known as Friday nights at 8, they have also cast the die and placed their revamp of the greatest show in television history will air Tuesday nights at 9.

Oh, did I not mention that Melrose Place is the greatest show in television history? I was sure I did at some point.

Ok, maybe that is slight (slight) hyperbole, but Melrose Place has always had a special place in my heart and always will.

I don't remember how I started watching Melrose, but I did some time during season three in 1995. By that point, the show had long since grown out of its awkward "90210, but with 20-somethings" phase and become the batshit crazy overblown drama that daytime soaps looked at at went "That is some ridiculous shit right there." I came onboard right in time for Dan Cortese to show up as Jake's grease monkey brother, Jess, Amanda to recover from cancer in the span of a few weeks, Matt to get lured into an affair with a married man who wasn't actually gay but had some sort of convoluted scheme to kill his wife and frame a male lover, and, of course, Kimberly hearing voices in her head that led her to blow up the apartment complex.

Fucking glorious.

I hung in strong through the end of season five as the show continued to get weirder and wilder (Kimberly's deranged second personality takes over a mental home where Priscilla Presley is a nurse and then tries to give Peter a lobotomy!), then tapered off because all the actors I liked started leaving. I do have fond memories of Melrose being the only show I ever got my mom to become even a slight fan of during my formative years and her getting excited when Perry King played Brooke's dad.

My Melrose fandom was not much more than a colorful trivia fact I'd throw out when meeting people for the next few years (a true test for screening potential friends). However, when I got to Connecticut College and hit my senior year, I had my own room and noticed one day that E! had begun to run Melrose reruns during the day. On a whim, I began taping the show and then playing it in the background in the afternoon when I was writing papers for Women's Lit or whatever (it made sense). The turning point, however, was when my best buddy Jordan happened to stop by one time as I was watching Melrose and became immediately entranced by the brilliance that was Thomas Calabro in action.

Jordan and I became obsessive Melrose fans, taping the show in the morning and then watching ritualistically before dinner each night. We created our own sing-a-long version of the theme song that consisted of belting out the cast members' names in rhythm with the music along with appropriately placed humming and other noises (we relished the challenge of people leaving or joining the show). We began insisting friends call us Jake, Kyle, Peter or Michael depending on the day and modeled our wardrobes appropriately. Each day, we would select a line of the day and character of the day and record them in a massive Word document I still have. We even once tried playing this drinking game and nearly died (apparently you're supposed to pick just one character to drink along with, not all of them). Jordan fell in love with a force of nature called John Enos III and his girlfriend became concerned.

In short: we were awesome.

We would add third or fourth members to our viewing circle, always girls, but they never lasted. We cycled through at least four or five hangers on who couldn't handle the intensity. Watching Melrose Place the way we watched it was a man's job.

It was a dark day in the lives of Ben and Jordan when E! decided to transfer Melrose Place reruns over to the Style Network, which our school cable system didn't get. Our blessed Wednesdays of going to the comic store, getting Subway and then kicking back with Amanda and her antics were done. We did actually purchase a "complete run" on VHS via eBay, but the seller was...less than truthful about the "complete" part.

Fortunately for me, a few years later, the first season of Melrose was finally released on DVD and my lovely then-girlfriend (now-fiancee) Megan was down with watching it. The challenge of course came from the fact that the first season of Melrose Place is pretty terrible, beginning to turn a corner only when Heather Locklear joins the cast, but even then, not so much. Fortunately for me, Megan actually enjoyed the show enough that I knew season two and beyond would blow her mind--and I was right. We went back to eBay and this time found a legit seller who had the true full run of the show on DVD.

The rest is history.

But now, wonder of wonders, the Place is coming back! Obviously I was mostly bowled over with excitement over the news, but also nervous that my beloved Melrose would be tarnished by a crappy recreation. Certainly learning that two of my very favorite actors from the original, Laura Leighton and Thomas Calabrowould be back, reprising their roles as Sydney and Michael respectively, filled me with great hope that the new kids would be steered in the right direction.

Well, today the first footage from the new MP hit the web and I am...cautiously optimistic. It definitely feels like Melrose Place. Unfortunately, I can't figure out how to upload videos and Kiel is asleep, so you're gonn have to just follow this link.

Some initial thoughts:

-At 40 years old, Laura Leighton has not aged a day and is still a fucking knockout who exudes sexuality like it's her job (which it is).

-Seems like this David fella is gonna be the "Jake" of the new series. That's a tough leather jacket to fill, hombre. Wait and see approach on him.

-I like this Katie Cassidy chick. She impressed me the most of the newbies.

-Love that they're trying to recreate Billy in the form of the Jonah character, right down to job, attitude and even looks. The legacy of Andrew Shue must live on!

-Ashlee Simpson is terrible, but in a way that I could see leading to her becoming crazy and making her awkwardness for her (it's how Kristen Davis got her start).

-The sets look like Melrose Place, which goes a long way in winning me over.

-Thomas Calabro has not lost a step. Great shot to end on.

Megan was all like "the acting isn't very good," but I had to remind her that this is Melrose Place; bad acting is like three quarters of the fun!

So for those of you with no interest whatsoever in Melrose Place, strap in and get ready to skip over some posts, because I am officialy excited to get back poolside, baby!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Pimping My Stuff: War of Kings: Warriors #2

Have you recovered yet from the sock-rocking experience that was War of Kings: Warriors #1? Well then allow me to direct your attention over to where War of Kings: Warriors #2 is now live!

Yes, the origin of Gladiator comes to a pulse-pounding conclusion as young Kallark has been given the order to do the unthinkable and kill his own mentors! Will he follow orders or defy the mighty Shi'Ar? These are the events that will shape the man who will be Gladiator and hurtle him into a pivotal role in War of Kings!

Christos Gage writes, Mahmud Asrar provides art, Val Staples colors, and, along with "Battling" Bill Rosemann, the sensational editorial find of 2009 "Bristling" Ben Morse edits! It's War of Kings: Warriors #2, baby! Come out and plaaaaaaayyy!!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Gossip Girl season finale thoughts

A wonderful thing happened earlier this year when my good friend Professor Sean T. Collins joined me and several other of our heterosexual mid-20's/early-30's male friends in becoming a fan of the TV show Gossip Girl. Not only did I have another chum with which to discuss the guilty pleasure I never feel guilty about, but I also got the added bonus of being able to read Sean's insightful dissections of each new episode ever Tuesday morning.

I was thus disappointed when I sent Sean a text last night saying how excited I was to read his report in the season finale and learned he would not be viewing it until Wednesday (he had to fulfill his cultural imperative to Crank: High Voltage instead).

So I've decided to do my best and try to fill the gaping vacuum currently out there by offering my own humble thoughts on last night's episode. I'm actually feeling the task a bit daunting given in what high regard I hold Sean's work and his ability to cut through, as he calls it, the "dense and nuanced mythology" that is Gossip Girl, but nonetheless, I soldier on.

Oh. Needless to say...


-Most episodic TV shows spend at least the second third or half of their season setting up storylines building into the finale. Some shows like LOST save payoffs even longer in the works for their final episodes of the season. Not so with Gossip Girl, a show clearly paced for a generation with ADD, as resolution and game-changing moments are rarely more than two or three episodes away at any given time. Case in point: the relatively slow-burning plot that had Serena's frenemy Poppy Lifton extorting millions of dollars and the gang teaming up with archnemesis Georgina Sparks to gain revenge would on a normal show be driven through into the finale, but on Gossip Girl, it was resolved two weeks ago. Instead, this finale relied on only one real long-awaited dangling thread (Chuck-Blair) and more or less treated the rest of the episode like business as usual, relying on character and performance to make it seem special. It's a gutsy approach, but for this show, it absolutely works. Creator Josh Schwartz' last show, The O.C., burnt out because of a similar breakneck pace, but the difference is on Gossip Girl is they seem quite aware of the absurdity of it all and don't mind winking to the audience about it from time to time.

-The one sorta-shocker was the actual involvement of Gossip Girl as an almost active character as opposed to just an omniscient narrator/plot device. Making GG the big bad for lack of a better description was a neat way to unite all the players against a common foe and also set the episode apart, making it seem a bit more special. I was not completely unconvinced Kristen Bell herself would not make a cameo (though I'm glad she didn't). They also did a nice job swerving at least me by showing up front Georgina would be in the episode and having Gossip Girl's assault be so focused at Serena, making it seem as if she'd be the obvious guilty party and then not going there.

-Glad they got graduation out of the way in the first act, because obviously nobody wants to see these character in caps and gowns, we want to see them done up and getting drunk! On one education-related note though, I do want to praise the show for making the process of putting every important cast member at (more or less) the same college next year seem at least kinda organic. I remember even as a kid calling bullshit when everybody on Saved By the Bell just decided to go to college together; here at least there are explanations for why Dan and Blair are "stuck" at NYU and they also utilize the fact that there is, y'know, more than one college in New York by having Nate at Columbia (though he could easily end up at NYU as well since he blew off his internship). Obviously there will still be some sort of hijinx to relocate Serena from Brown, but I'm hardly asking for hyper-realism on a show like Gossip Girl, so even some semblance is just gravy. I also loved how outraged my fiancee got when Blair called NYU a "glorified state school."

-It would have been a very disappointing season finale without a Wallace Shawn sighting, so thank goodness we didn't need to face that grim possibility.

-One thing I didn't dig was how, just like with the Poppy caper, Dan was left out of the group scheming. I know Dan is a lot of people's least favorite character, but I've always liked him. Obviously the big hook of the show is watching super rich people be super rich, but I thought having the poor kid outsider as a POV narrator was a nice touch and I really did like his and Serena's relationship. I don't mind that the primary focus of the show has moved away from Dan/Serena (maybe for good), because a lot of shows fall in the trap of just getting the same tow characters together again, but I wish he could still be more than just the whiny narc even if he's not dating her; some of his best episodes were with Chuck and Nate, so it would be nice for him to remain looped in as opposed to always off with Vanessa or his sister. Hopefully they'll move in a better direction with him next year, but I've been kinda disappointed with where the character headed in the second half of this season.

-Nate's slow admission to his grandfather about the various levels of things wrong with his affair way back at the beginning of the season was classic Gossip Girl, because there's never just one thing fucked up with a situation, it's always three or four.

-Did not care about Jenny's subplot. Do not care about Jenny. Would rather Eric was a regular cast member than her.

-As Sean would would say, nothing wrong with scenes that involve Leighton Meester slowly taking off stockings. Nothing wrong at all. In related news, Blake Lively's dress seemed to be fighting to liberate itself from her chest all episode.

-The party scene with everybody's secrets being revealed at once was awesome. On the one hand, it reinforces what I said earlier the bonkers pace of the show, but on the other, it surprised me how many leftover secrets from the season that hadn't been revealed and was at least a nice attempt at manufacturing some sense of continuity. Granted it would have been nice for some actual consequences or conflict lasting more than 15 minutes coming from the Chuck-Vanessa tryst or Blair sleeping with Chuck's uncle, but you gotta just roll your eyes at the squashed potential storylines and enjoy the ride. The overlapping Kristen Bell narrative was great. Who didn't know Dan slept with that teacher though?

-Despite what I said earlier about Dan, I did thoroughly enjoy Blair calling him out on not behaving any differently from the rest of them despite his constant protestations to the contrary (and the fact that Nelly Yuki had a secret crush on him).

-The big payoff scene with Gossip Girl luring everybody to the bar and then letting them know she'd be following them to college was actually a pretty decent summation of high school: those four years can be pretty shitty, but the bad stuff bonds you to the people you go through it with, even if you only realize it in the final moments before you all head off to college. That scene with all these people who were probably completely disparate since they were kids coming together, sharing a drink and laughing over the shared experiences they never realized they had pretty closely resembled my senior year at least.

-I wish the Rufus-Lily reunion/resolution had been, I dunno, bigger, or perhaps grander is a better word for it. They've got a pretty epic love story (or as epic as Gossip Girl gets), and for them to come back together over getting stoned and eating popcorn seemed a bit anticlimatic. I wonder if the episode was written before the spin-off didn't get picked up and maybe they initially wanted Lily unattached going into next season. Oh well. I do find it hard to believe that they're completely closing the door on Dan and Serena, which their parents getting married would seem to imply, but having those two relationships somehow exist simultaneously without being too creepy has always been the challenge of this show.

-I'm glad Nate and Vanessa are apparently back together, mostly because I feel like their relationship is a sort of quarantine that keeps the two least interesting characters on the show from dragging the others down. Man did Vanessa get off the hook for sleeping with Chuck without a hitch though. Nate spent weeks getting on Chuck for flirting with Blair but says nothing in this instance to either of them? And his quitting the internship he spent so long agonizing over off-camera is, again, very this show.

-Jury is out on Dan's stalker half-brother. Kid playing him seemed decent enough, but we'll have to see where they go with it.

-It will be interesting to see if Michelle Tractenberg is joining full-time as Georgina next season, as her scene seemed to imply. She's been great on the show and she's been...not so great. I think she might be best taken in small doses, but we'll see. Her whole "Yeah, the Poppy thing is taken care of, I'm not going to bother explaining it" bit did make me laugh because, once again, very Gossip Girl. That thread could get picked up in the fall, but I feel like it won't. I'm not gonna lose any sleep.

-I am excited about Serena's dad possibly being on the show. Why? Because Gossip Girl rocks at stunt casting adult characters! I'm pulling for Anthony Michael Hall or one of the Coreys.

-And of course we end with the long-awaited Blair-Chuck "I love you" scene. In the moment, I was giggling like a schoolgirl and applauding because I'm pretty gay and it was a nice moment. In the longterm, it's tough because they're an incredibly compelling couple and they've already put them through every conceivable hurdle, but having them together robs the show of its two primary schemers, because happily fulfilled people don't scheme. Is this why they're bringing in Georgina and possibly that Carter dude on the regular? Eh. They're no Blair and Chuck. I'll have some confidence in the writers, but they've got their work cut out for them. Also, Leighton Meester and Ed Westwick were "kissing" like two people who want to do anything but kiss each other; the amount of twirling and face-rotating they were doing in a seeming effort to not make lip contact was hysterical.

Well, that's all I've got. Thanks for another great season, Gossip Girl; I will miss you but look forward to seeing your latest racy poster campaign on the streets of New York City in a couple months!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Wizard Features That Never Were: Ultimate Legion

I've been a big fan of the Legion of Super-Heroes since I started following the post-Zero Hour incarnation initially helmed by Mark Waid, Tom Peyer and company back when I was a kid. When I was in my college "buy as many trades as I can" phase, I picked up The Great Darkness Saga and was floored by the writing and the art, both of which seemed ahead of their time. I gobbled up the rest of the Paul Levitz run with an insatiable hunger to see what happened next greater than just about any other I've had in my tenure as a comic book fan.

Legion is a pretty slam dunk concept: teenagers who get to live in a big clubhouse together using their awesome powers to fight crime in a rare non-dystopian future world full of exotic goodness. And oh yeah--no adults. But besides being the ultimate wish fulfillment strip for kids and kids at heart, Legion also distinguishes itself by being about a group of good guys who are good at their job and work well together, but don't all get along. Yeah, the Fantastic Four, Avengers etc. would go on to mine the whole tension between teammates rap, but guys like Levitz, Jim Shooter and others trailblazed a different take on that trope where it wasn't a group of adults bickering, but kids who would be in high school acting like, well, high school students. They had cliques, they had romances and they had rivalries you could relate to.

It's a bit of a cliche for a franchise set in the future, but again, Legion has always been ahead of its time.

At Wizard, I got to learn at the feet of two far bigger Legion fans than I in former Editor-in-Chief Brian Cunningham (today an editor at DC Comics) and managing editor Andy Serwin (who is still rocking that job). Their knowledge of all things Legion, the hallmark Levitz/Keith Giffen run in particular, put mine to shame. Needless to say, the three of us were always looking for ways to sneak Legion coverage into the magazine, which wasn't always so easy.

I believe the first Book of the Month column I ever did was on Mark Waid and Barry Kitson's "Threeboot" Legion, which launched around the same time I started at Wizard in 2004. Early on, that book was solid gold in my eyes, and for a good year or so was unquestionably my favorite ongoing monthly comic.

Nearly three years later, it was announced that some form of the Legion would be appearing in the Lightning Saga crossover between Brad Meltzer's Justice League of America and Geoff Johns' Justice Society of America. Around the same time, the Waid/Kitson Legion was experiencing a bit of a renaissance after falling off a bit due to scheduling problems and fill-ins. Andy and I came to Brian with an idea to do an in-depth history of the Legion talking to various creators who had worked on the book and focus in large part on the challenges of managing its dense continuity and how to overcome fan stigmas that it was too complicated. Despite Brian sharing our enthusiasm for the Legion, it was a hard sell.

Firstly, while the stories were getting good again in the Legion ongoing, sales weren't great, so devoting page space to them was a risk. Second, JLA and JSA were both hot, so we weren't sure a story on their big crossover not focusing on them was the way we wanted to go. Thirdly, there was obviously some concern over how DC would receive an article keying in on perceived weaknesses in a team they were trying to reinvigorate. All of these were and remain fair concerns, but, to his credit, BC gave the article a cautious green light.

I started conducting interviews with Giffen, Waid, Meltzer and Johns, all of which were fascinating to varying degrees (Giffen in particular is always a good interview and had some really insightful stuff to say about the Legion--I'll try and dig that up at some point to post here). I had a little trouble putting together a framework for the article because I only had, I believe, two pages, and there was a lot of ground to cover.

While the main feature was proving a bit difficult to pull together, Andy and I came up with a killer sidebar we were having a lot of fun with: we'd pick the best members from all the various Legion incarnations and put together our own Ultimate Legion. We had a blast talking that out and would schedule meetings "officially" to talk about the news section or whatever and then have hour-long closed door sessions on who was the best Ultra Boy--awesome.

It didn't take Brian and I long to figure out that the main Legion feature was simply not going to work; it was too much to cram in two pages, but because of the concerns I outlined earlier, we couldn't give it more. Sometimes you need to accept that even though a concept for a feature is sound, realistic publishing constraints make it impossible to pull off, and you gotta kill your darling--this was one of those times.

However, Andy and I were not so willing to let Ultimate Legion go into that good night. We figured we could still use it either as a sidebar to a Lightning Saga feature or, worst case scenario, do it as a graphic in the news section.

Space again started becoming an issue as Andy and I realized we wanted to include so many characters that our team was going to be huge even by Legion standards. We did not have much trouble mixing it up as far as having a diverse selection of creative eras represented as, while I can't recall our full team, but I believe we had Element Lad and Saturn Girl from the early days, Dawnstar and Wildfire from the Levitz/Giffen run, Gates and Live Wire from the reboot/Legion Lost era, and the Brainiac 5 and Triplicate Girl of Waid and Kitson's team; heck, I think we even threw "Five Years Later" Cosmic Boy/Rokk Krinn and Inferno from Legionnaires in for good measure.

And of course we made sure our shared favorite Legionnaire and the most badass of them all, the pre-Crisis version of Val Armorr, aka Karate Kid, had a spot on the roster.

Interestingly, I remember us both feeling a big problem with our first draft was an absence of black characters. This wasn't because we felt affirmative action was necessary or anything, but more because Legion was such a forward-thinking book with a wealth of great characters of all races (I recall Andy saying "we have more green-skinned characters on the list than blacks") that we were frustrated none came to mind. We were going to plug in Tyroc or the Waid/Kitson Star Boy, but felt the former had no business being on a dream roster and the latter was not the strongest incarnation of the character. Ironically, by the time we came up with a second draft, we realized we had forgotten about pre-Crisis Invisible Kid II, XS and Legion Lost Kid Quantum, all of whom we ended up putting on the team not because they're black, but because they're awesome.

At this point you may be wondering why you never saw this feature in Wizard, and truth be told, I am too. I can't really remember what happened to it. I'm guessing we waited too long trying to get it in a feature and failed to do so, then didn't have a decent hook for using it as news because Lightning Saga was over and Waid and Kitson left the book not long after.

It's too bad, because Andy and I had a lot of fun putting the list together, but that was kind of a reward in and of itself. Besides, Geoff Johns and George Perez are essentially doing their own rad five-issue version of what we were trying in Legion of 3 Worlds and I'm loving every panel.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Handicapping JLA/Avengers

A couple weeks ago, I finally bit the bullet and purchased one of my very favorite comic stories, JLA/Avengers, in trade paperback form.

No, JLA/Avengers isn't Watchmen or any other sort of high art classic, but in my opinion, it's a dream project that revels in the excess it's built on and lives up to the hype by being epic, intricate, and most of all, fun. Of course my love of this book is also just simple math: I love the Avengers, I love the Justice League, I love Kurt Busiek on both of those teams and I love George Perez's art.

And boy howdy is this a showcase for the masterful work of George Perez. Only the original Crisis On Infinite Earths can compare in terms of the sheer amount of characters featured, and Perez does nothing better than cram panels full of dozens and dozens of heroes and villains. Busiek is both torturous and generous to his creative collaborator, providing him with not only a plethora of characters and costumes to illustrate, but Easter eggs galore.

Anyways, I enjoyed the heck out of re-reading JLA/Avengers, and I know it's always a story that will tickle me on a fanboy level, but it also inevitably gets you thinking about the whole Monday morning quarterback aspect of just who would win if these two teams faced off.

I mean, c'mon, there are few things more enjoyable for comic fans than sitting around and debating whether Superman is stronger than the Hulk or if Captain America can outfight Batman. Judd Winick and Brad Meltzer have both told me a great story about how when they were roommates post-college in Boston, neither could sleep one night, so they stayed up until sunrise plotting out their own JLA/Avengers story. I like to think that no matter how long I'm in the industry, I'll never get tired of debating who can hit more targets between Green Arrow and Hawkeye.

So with all that build, let's get to my inevitable (and, I swear, unbiased) picks in the marquee matchups of JLA/Avengers...

Superman vs Thor
Probably not the best matchup to highlight my aforementioned claimed lack of bias, but against what Busiek wrote in JLA/Avengers and probably against the conventional feelings of most fans, I absolutely think Thor could and likely would beat Superman. Every advantage Superman typically enjoys power-wise, from strength to flight to heat vision to invulnerability, Thor matches (in the case of heat vision with his hammer and ability to command storms). While Supes may be a bit smarter than Thor, but the Thunder God is a fucking warrior and has been fighting for thousands of years. The gamechanger though is that Superman has a clear and present vulnerability to magic, and Thor is made of magic. His hammer is magic, his lightning is magic and his fists are magic. For Superman, fighting Thor is like fighting a Kryptonite Man who actually knows what he's doing. Captain Marvel (the Shazam version) might be a better match for Thor, but I don't think the Man of Steel has a shot.
Winner: Thor

Captain America vs Batman
In JLA/Avengers, Steve Rogers and Batman have a bit of a sparring match where they match one another tit for tat before forming a truce and going off on their own. If they had to fight to the finish, Cap vs Bats would most likely be the most enjoyable fight to watch. There are a lot of x-factors working in Cap's favor, from his mastery of a particular weapon (his shield) to having seen action in wartime, and he'd certainly take Bruce Wayne to the limit. However, at the end of the day, Batman has an incredible assortment of training and skills, possesses amazing discipline, and is far more adaptable than Cap in my opinion. But the reason I do believe Batman ultimately scores the duke is one many have pointed to in the past: he's willing to fight dirty. Steve Rogers may not be the consumate boy scout that somebody like Superman is (we've seen that over the course of Ed Brubaker's handling of his solo title), but I still don't think he'd do whatever it takes as quick as Batman would.
Winner: Batman

Wonder Woman vs Hercules
There are plenty of great female Marvel characters, but really none who come close to Wonder Woman in terms of real world recognition as well as fictional power (there was no greater indictment of the fan voting in Marvel vs DC than Storm beating WW because she could shoot lightning bolts). This could be why Busiek kept Diana relatively clear of the likes of Warbird and She-Hulk during JLA/Avengers, choosing instead to have her only real solo battle against Hercules. While I find Herc to be a far more interesting character than Wonder Woman, part of his appeal lies in his lovably large ego, which would also likely be his downfall in this fight. Do you really think Hercules could keep his focus during a throwdown with a hot chick in a bathing suit? No way, and Diana wouldn't hesitate to kick his Olympian ass as a result.
Winner: Wonder Woman

Iron Man vs Green Lantern
Once again, I don't think the obvious pick is the right one here. Yeah, Green Lantern has the most powerful weapon in the universe on his finger, but Iron Man's weapon is far more versatile, and I say that makes the difference. GL could have Iron Man trapped in a green bubble or whatever but then Shellhead busts out a sonic disruptor to break his focus and follows up with a long-range repulso blast or up-close armor-clad fist to the face. Heck, it's possible Tony Stark could analyze the emerald energy while distracting his foe with a barrage of smart bombs and then use it himself. There are variables to take into account, like whether or not Iron Man has his Extremis abilities and who is wearing the ring (in JLA/Avengers it was Kyle Rayner, but obviously Hal Jordan would be the more relevant choice). If it were the more experienced Hal against an Extremis-less Iron Man, there's a good shot Green Lantern scores the win, but I call it a toss up and think the crafty Tony Stark has an edge.
Winner: Iron Man

The Flash vs Quicksilver
Winner: The Flash

The Vision vs The Martian Manhunter
Whenever I match up the JLA and Avengers, I always think about these two side-by-side as even though they are very different in some respects (one is an android and one is an alien for one), they are both (in my eyes) the heart of their respective teams (ironic, I suppose, given that both are currently deceased), both have a wide assortment of powers, and both have an aloof but lovable presence among their associates. In terms of a fight, Vizh does have a key strength in not having a traditional human brain for J'onn to utilize his telepathy against, which may give him a momentary advantage, but JLA/Avengers showed those powers do work to some degree. On top of that, while both men possess intangibility, I think J'onn is stronger, has that useful shapeshifting card to play, and has more experience--the Martian in a good one.
Winner: The Martian Manhunter

Aquaman vs Namor
Don't get fooled into thinking this would be a slapfight between two guys who tak to fish--if Aquaman and the Sub-Mariner locked horns (and I was bummed that they didn't during JLA/Avengers), it would be one badass fight. These are two dudes with massive egos who can withstand the crushing physical pressures of living at the bottom of the ocean and who will resort to any tactics necessary to put the guy standing across from them down. However, I think the talking to fish bit would actually come into play, and not in a good way, as Aquaman can fight, but he's too reliant on his telepathic abilities. Namor has gone fist-to-fist with true heavy hitters like the Hulk and the Thing, not to mention having held his own in as hostile an environment as you'll find in World War II. Aquaman is often unjustly seen as the weak link of the JLA, which I don't think he is, but he doesn't have the credibility of the Sub-Mariner.
Winner: Namor

Hawkeye vs Green Arrow
If this were just an archery contest, I think Green Arrow would have the edge, as his skills as a marksman are really the thing he has spent his entire career focusing on and utilizing. However, while Hawkeye may be a slightly inferior archer, he has diversified his repetoire over the years, training as a hand-to-hand fighter under no less than Captain America and picking up skills with weapons beyond the bow and arrow during his stint as Ronin. In the last couple years, GA has done his own extensive training as a multi-faceted fighter, but that's a fairly recent development; traditionally, he's a scrapper, and I think he'd be (slightly) sooner to resort to throwing hands than Hawkeye, and that would be his undoing.
Winner: Hawkeye

Zatanna vs The Scarlet Witch
Another difficult one to call; Zatanna is more purely powerful, but the Scarlet Witch is more unpredictable (that's the very nature of her powers). Neither one of them is that skilled or experience in non-powered combat, but I'd give Wanda the slight edge. On the other hand, Zee has spent a lot of time with Batman, so maybe I'm wrong there. What gets the win here: honed sorcerous skill or the mystic wild card? Hmm. I guess the deciding factor for me is that the Witch has played a decisive role in far more Avengers missions that Zatanna has in JLA ones; the Witch, but barely.
Winner: The Scarlet Witch

Agree? Disagree? Want to hear my thoughts on other matchups? Want me to shut up? Tough luck on the last one, because this is my blog, but I'd be curious to hear what you have to say on the first three in the Comments section.