Monday, February 28, 2011

Sorry we've been so busy

Apologies to all our little CKTers as we know the offerings here have been a bit sparse of late. We're all entering or in the midst of extraordinarily busy/exciting/busy professional periods, so unfortunately we've had a bit less time for blogging the last little bit. Things are getting somewhat back to normal or will be in the coming weeks/months, so hopefully we'll be back in full force sooner rather than later, but until then, thanks for bearing with us and please enjoy this 2009 panel of Adam-X from Uncanny X-Men by Matt Fraction and Terry Dodson as we hope his return will coincide with our own (that reminds me to tweet Kieron Gillen...)

Friday, February 25, 2011

Sayonara, Smallville: "Masquerade"

Incredible but true: This year, The CW's "Smallville" embarks on its tenth and final season, making it not just the longest-running Superman TV show ever but the longest-running comic book TV show ever produced. Bananas, right?

We've been off as it's been off, but to celebrate its final year, we're teaming up our collective powers of dumb DCU trivia, long experience watching and writing about the show and general obsession with serial TV to bring you "Sayonara, Smallville" – a semi-regular feature where we'll review the most notable episodes of the season whenever we can. Everyone is invited to play along.

Kiel: On to the most recent episode...Bryan! Q! Miller!

Ben: Yeah! And he didn't disappoint! Desaad! And...other stuff! I'm trying to recall what you missed in the first ten minutes. Where did you come in?

Kiel: I don't know for sure. Chloe and Ollie were already on the trail of Desaad, so I'm assuming I missed some murders for sure and I hear I missed something about Clark's photo getting taken?

Ben: Ok...Episode opened with Lois bitching at Clark over the phone because he's not there to help with wedding planning, then she sees that he's on the face of Big Ben because some camera caught him and now every network is video streaming him, but fortunately nobody gets his face.

Kiel: OK...that makes more sense than what played in my mind on that score.

Ben: She then cautions him about the fact that he's not only a journalist on the frontlines of the super hero stuff, but also doesn't really make much of an effort to hide the fact that he's a super stud and sooner or later somebody is going to put two and two together. Meanwhile, Chloe meets Ollie at a fancy dinner joint where he is undercover because he can't go out in public since everybody knows Oliver Queen is Green Arrow. And as a result, they can't get a table, but when a Mr. and Mrs. Jones no show, the swipe their reservation. Then they're eating and the waitress comes over with Mrs. Jones on the phone, assuming Ollie is out with a mistress (Chloe) and Mrs. Jones screams a bit over the phone before getting murdered by Desaad.

Side note: There's a bit in the open of the club scene where it's all first person camera view with people's jaws dropping and head swiveling, the implication being that somebody super hot has entered and gotten everybody's attention...and it's Chloe.

Kiel: HAHAHA! How did you respond to that turn, Ben?

Ben: Hey man, Alison Mack is cute...but c'mon. She's the attainable cute nerdy girl, not the room-silencing bombshell, which is perfectly fine. Anyways, Ollie and Chloe figure out something is wrong and try to investigate by stealing the Jones' limo, but then get kidnapped by guys who turn out to be the FBI, as the "couple" was really a pair of FBI agents investigating Desaad who went missing. Were you watching at this point where Ollie and Chloe discover this after kicking the FBI team's collective ass?

Kiel: YES! It was such a strange moment to come in on, but I will say first impression was that the whole set up of them getting "Date Nighted" seemed a little crazy, but I thought they pulled it off. If your number 1 complaint against the two of them is that the love for her thing is forced on Ollie's part and bland on her part, I think the two of them proved you a little wrong here. They were crackling in this one, and the dialogue was cute by any standard.

Ben: I think this was Alison Mack's best episode in years. And yes, I felt their chemistry particularly in the final scene bought back a lot of my annoyance over how the relationship has been handled over the past season or so. For one, whether he intended to or not--I choose to believe he did--Bryan Q. Miller actually addressed the whole "This Chloe is nothing like the Chloe we started out with" thing and that made me feel better about it to some degree. And I'll buy the idea that part of why I couldn't invest in them fully was because Chloe wasn't either, and her reasoning was sound and defined the character in a much more flattering light for me.

So yes, Bryan Q. Miller is a miracle worker: He made me tolerate Chloe (for a week).

Kiel: For a week. It should be noted. But yeah, that plot thread was really strong throughout. When Chloe gets captured and they cut to her hanging with her toes just off the ground, it hit me like whoa. Again, Desaad remains the New God whose been pulled off the best in this whole run.

Ben: Strangle he's not that much like the comics Desaad, but again, I think that's generally a formula for success on Smallville: Focus on keeping the character's most key traits and fitting them into Smallville rather than trying to get them to match the comics exactly even though it's a different ballgame. Desaad's defining traits are his sadism and loyalty to Darkseid, both of which were kept intact despite him being British and smooth as opposed to a creepy old crone. It's similar to how they didn't try to make Granny Goodness an Ed Asner-voiced joke because it just wouldn't have played right on live prime time TV.

Kiel: I love Asner Granny though, I should note. But I take your point totally.

Ben: I do too! But it wouldn't work here.

Kiel: The one slip up I felt in that thread was a really unfortunate case of Smallville's explaininess cutting in.

Ben: Oh I think I know where you're going here...And I was just about to go there myself.

Kiel: After the Clark disappeared, I got that it was the different sins coming temp her. And I was totally down for seeing them show up, but Chloe's total ability to call them in advance and know so much about herself rang false and got preachy. It reminded me of a Star Trek episode I watched recently in a bad way.

Ben: Yep. Bingo. I mean, aside from me not having watched that episode of Star Trek recently I'd presume...

Kiel: Unless you're in the middle of DS9 Season 3!

Ben: Smallville does have a tendency to talk down to their audience in that way and it can be annoying. It was the Icarus metaphor deal all over again. Just let the viewers piece it together. As I refuse to lay any blame at Bryan Q. Miller's feet, I choose to believe that was an edit from somebody else.

Kiel: It seems like that style of writing is a top down concern, for sure.

Ben: Let's circle back to the Desaad/Chloe/Ollie stuff, but also take a moment to tackle the running Clark/Lois "You need a fucking disguise" subplot. I loved it. Again, as with Super Chloe, it was Smallville/BQM addressing something *everybody* complains about head-on and handling ti nicely, I thought

Kiel: See, I want to watch that whole part again. I got the broad strokes, but I felt like I wasn't paying enough attention. I couldn't tell if Welling nailed the acting nerdy bit as much as I'd have liked him to. I really like him as a leading man in general, but his range needs a little more playfulness in it at times.

Ben: Moreso than Super Chloe, really, since people have been questioning how the fuck people aren't supposed to know that ultra handsome and confident Tom Welling Clark is Superman at day's end. He didn't pull off the acting nerdy part quite yet, but that's the beauty of it: He didn't need to and doesn't need to by the end of the series the way they set it up. Lois has to totally argue all episode that he needs the nerdy Clark secret ID and he's still not onboard until events conspire all around him to convince him otherwise. So the idea that he knows he needs to do it, but doesn't really want to and thus is easing his way in totally gives him carte blanche to suck at it at this early stage in the game.

Unlike the Clark/Superman we know, this guy has already made it to Metropolis, bagged Lois and aged to adulthood without ever really having to hide how awesome he is, so the idea that it's going to be a huge adjustment for him and not an easy transition worked for me at least Although the Planet guy no longer fearing Clark at the end because he is now wearing glasses despite the fact nothing else has changed was a nice wink.

Kiel: Yeah, it was comical in the right way. I almost kind of went, "Why in the fuck is this even here?" but like the ass hole coffee guy scene in Miller's last episode, it was just a kind of wink at the audience, and an appreciated one.

I think my one big problem with the whole VRA plot was that it took itself way too seriously.

Ben: That was certainly a big part of the problem. The bit at the crime scene with the guy basically playing the audience and screaming at Clark "We all know you're The Blur! It is fucking obvious!" and then getting saved with the cheesy CGI was also playful in the right way, I thought. I think at the end of the day you just need to kind of accept that Tom Welling's Clark Kent is not the guy we know from the comics. He's similar, but he's not as much of a paragon of virtue and can be a bit of an asshole with an ego. He's a character on a prime time soap first and a super hero second.

Kiel: Yeah, the one thing that kicks me out of this show every time though is that name. For some reason, The Blur just doesn't do it for me. Even though I know all the names that I do accept on the show are stupider, it never seems to fit the world right to me.

Ben: I think it was actually easier to swallow when everybody else didn't already have their proper super hero names and were all just going by their real names. But now that we actually have Green Arrow, Supergirl and Aquaman as opposed to Ollie, Kara and A.C., it stands out that we don't also have Superman.

Kiel: Yeah, I'm falling more and more into the "just get there" camp, but if they keep up the cuteness with the last bits falling into place, I think I can swing it.

Kiel: Though before we shift to cuteness there is the question of the episode's end.

Ben: Quite the game changer. And not one I was really expecting.

Kiel: I knew that it was coming from the second we cut to Ollie beating up motherfucker in the alley, but I thought this was just understated enough to work

Ben: Yes, as soon as he was beating up Desaad I had a feeling, but before this episode I would never have pegged Ollie as being the guy they'd need to watch out for going over to the (forgive me) dark side. It makes sense though. Dude killed Lex Luthor.

Kiel: Yeah, and just like last week's flip on Lionel showed, the show is really proving that they'll make you guess to see how the finale works out. The lines are going to be drawn in all sorts of crazy directions, and I hope that'll make it exciting.

Ben: Ollie being a wild card makes for some interesting potential to be sure. He's the one guy Clark has thought he could trust through it all, so that's going to sting, of course. And it also makes me believe even more Chloe probably ain't coming out of the finale alive. But I see Green Arrow as being more of a herald for Darkseid, not his vessel

Kiel: For sure.

Ben: I feel like we're going to see him and Lionel as the lackeys and Lex coming back to team with Clark against them.

Kiel: I just think that once big man is here, the battle lines will literally get drawn through the cast.

Ben: Yes. And it will be awesome...I hope.

Kiel: I watched Shawshank last week...hope is a powerful thing!

Ben: Haha!

Ben: Hey, random question: Since the VRA is dead, does that mean the Suicide Squad basically has no further reason to exist? Are they done? Or is Chloe more likely just holding them in reserve as cannon fodder until the final fight.

Kiel: That's a great question. I can't imagine they're just going to abandon them hat out of hand, but who knows? They definitely aren't showing up next week!

Ben: What's on tap for next week, Kiel?

Kiel: Oh man...did you not see the preview? I can't even spoil it for you, bro. You'll have to see to believe. But I will paste it at the bottom of this post this week to pump you up.Non-spoiler: Jami watched this week with me, and when the preview came on, she turned to me and straigh up said, "You have got to be fucking kidding me."

Ben: I think I did somehow miss it. Is it the one in Vegas?

Kiel: YES! It looks SOOOOOOOOOO ridic! I was wondering when the groaner comedy episode of the final season was going to show up, and now I know for sure in my heart.

Ben: I've read about that one. I am excited! Swinging from a quality BQM episode to a ridiculous campy one is Smallville gold!

Kiel: It's going to be something, I'll give it that.

Ben: Thought that just came to me: Adrianne Palicki should really show up before the season ends so they can bridge the gap of how she went from being fake Kara to the villain of "Mercy Reef" to Wonder Woman. IT ALL NEEDS TO FIT. AND THEY NEED TO TELL US WHAT STATE METROPOLIS IS IN. OK, I'm done.

Kiel: Here are two questions of seriousness on that fake joke bit though: 1 - Did they even call Kristen Kreuk about coming back for an ep? 2 - I can't believe they didn't once try to squeeze Bruce Wayne in here. I wonder if they still got shot down on that.

Ben: 1-I'm sure they did and I'm pretty sure she said no for reasons that will be forever beyond me. 2-I've got to believe they were denied legal clearance. It has to be a rights issue. I'm sure they wanted to. Millar and Gough have said as much.

Kiel: With the "Creation of DC Entertainment" you'd think this shit would be getting easier, but maybe not. This was our best closest chance to seeing a live action World's Finest. We won't get another for 20 year if ever. Bleh.

Ben: I think DCE probably came about too late in the game to untangle the ball of yarn that is DC merchandising rights in time for the end of this show. Maybe they'll appear together on Wonder Woman or on Raven--coming next fall to The CW. Hopefully featuring the Famous Jett Jackson in a recurring role.

Kiel: Oh God, I don't think I can handle any serious thought around David Kelly's Wonder Woman right now...I'm...I'm perplexed by that entire endeavor. No other word to describe it.

Ben: My mother is excited for it, which isn't necessarily a good sign.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Sayonara, Smallville: "Beacon"

Incredible but true: This year, The CW's "Smallville" embarks on its tenth and final season, making it not just the longest-running Superman TV show ever but the longest-running comic book TV show ever produced. Bananas, right?

We've been off as it's been off, but to celebrate its final year, we're teaming up our collective powers of dumb DCU trivia, long experience watching and writing about the show and general obsession with serial TV to bring you "Sayonara, Smallville" – a semi-regular feature where we'll review the most notable episodes of the season whenever we can. Everyone is invited to play along.

Kiel: anyway...let's get down to business: Two episodes enter. One episode leaves!

Ben: Yes yes, once more into the Smallville breach!

Kiel: yeah, LUTHOR! To return to our most frequent discussion punching bag, I think that if the VRA stuff isn't officially dead after this one, I am officially the uncle of a monkey

Ben: Haha...When I cottoned to the gist that it was going to be yet another VRA-centric ep, I didn't so much wince as visibly sigh an "Oh, Kiel..." But yes, I agree this HAS to put a bow on it. I wonder if it was originally intended to be a subplot all season and just took on a life of its own so they had to kill it or if this was what was always planned.

Kiel: If only they'd call me back on my interview requests, we'd know for sure! It's funny though, I didn't HATE all the VRA stuff this episode. It was still the worst stuff in the episode, but I felt it was a good enough tool to bring forward a lot of elements I like. For example: I liked most of the stuff with Martha EXCEPT for that speech

Ben: Martha is a great character, but I could do without Senator Martha Kent. I prefer her as Clark's loving ma doling out sage folksy advice, not doing so and then jumping in her helicopter back to Washington. It's a bit like what I was talking about last week with Chloe as far as trying to cram a character into a spot she doesn't fit in just so she can keep up with the evolving scope of the show. She works fine as Ma Kent, not so much as Senator (Ma) Kent

Kiel: Yeah, and it opens up so many plot questions too...isn't she supposed to technically live at the farm to hold that senate seat? Has no intrepid reporter ever looked into this?

Ben: Hmm, well put. She certainly has to at the very least be out of touch with her constituents if she only comes to Kansas once a year and spends her entire time there getting shot at and whatnot. Then again, perhaps that answers the question of why she doesn't come back to Kansas more often.

Although are we sure Metropolis is even in Kansas? We could be heading down a rabbithole of Smallvillian geo-political exploration we're ill-prepared for here...

Kiel: I'm PRETTY sure that they've said Metropolis is in the state. It was in the first years when they were there all the time.

Ben: Certainly "Smallville" adds a new layer of confusion to the already confusing atlas of the DC Universe. Tangent I don't want to get too lost on: Is Smallville one of the 52 universes in the DC multiverse? If it's not, it should be.

Kiel: When I was a kid, my brother always told me Gotham was in Jersey and Metropolis in New York. Who knows why? And until Didio tells me different, it TOTALLY counts as a world.

Ben: I've always accepted the "Metropolis is NYC during the day, Gotham is NYC at night" logic. We need to find an unclassified universe and stick a flagpole in it for Smallville.

Kiel: To figure out what's not taken, your punishment is having to read Countdown Arena

Ben: (Also: Star City=Seattle, Gateway City=San Fran, Hub City= Chicago--geography is fun!)

Kiel: St. Roche is New Orleans! Keystone/Central are the Twin Cities

Ben: But either Keystone or Central is also somehow Detroit since it's the auto capital of the DCU
And I have no idea where Midway City is

Kiel: Opal City is also a total mystery. I think of it as like Charlotte.

Ben: Opal City is the cooler part of San Francisco. Or it's Portland. I dunno.

Kiel: HA!

Ben: There is no DCU Boston. Boston is the DCU Boston. And Bludhaven is Stamford, Connecticut. ANYWAY...

Kiel: Oh I know what I Was going to say! Still, aside from the being a mom stuff she brings to the show, I actually was surprised how much I enjoyed Martha and Lionel this episode. I mean, he was obviously the star attraction here, but I got more genuine sparks out of their scene than any other pairing.

Ben: Oh yeah, those two definitely have chemistry and always have. I think Lionel tends to bring the best out in everybody, but Martha in particular. Two scenes in this episode made me think the folks at Smallville kinda want to have their cake and eat it too as far as Lionel being back, i.e. he's obviously not the original but they want him to fill the emotional spot of the original for viewers. First was when he was interacting with Martha. Second we'll get to.

Kiel: I mean, the thing I liked about this episode as a whole was that it kind of got a lot of ground covered for the main cast and the big plotlines. Even if it wasn't the best episode, it wasn't a wasted one, you know?

Ben: True. And it wasn't the best episode. But it wasn't actively bad. It was just somewhat there and moved the pieces around. And as you said, it had the heavy lifting task of doing away with the VRA once and for all.

Kiel: Yeah...there was that thread, the final good use of Martha, the turn in Alexander's story and Lionel's reestablishing himself as in control of the company and the Planet and shit. Oh and a little totally forgetable Lois and Chloe business...that was really fucking useless, man.

Ben: That was really just to set up the YouTube video stuff and give Chloe the requisite terrible puns in Alison Mack's renegotiated contract though. "I will only come back if I get to use alliteration at least three times a scene!"

Kiel: And it draaaaaaaagged so much! Like, every time they'd bring up the "Perry White made pamphlets" thread, I was just shouting "Then maybe you should make a fucking blog, Lois!" And then when they made the extremely slow turn towards the video shit, I couldn't believe how bad the clips were. Did they actively ask fans to make up fake videos? Was there a contest I missed?

Ben: There was indeed! That was a real contest. Those were real Smallville fans. So as awful as some were, I actually have to give the show credit as that's a pretty neat way to say "Thanks for keeping us on the air for a decade"
Kiel: Yeah, as I watched it I thought to myself, "this is excusable if these people are real, but if they got paid for this shit, these people are criminals."

Ben: Yep, they were legit. The guys over at Comics Alliance didn't have this information and I laugh at them for this! They may be timely, but we are accurate!

Kiel: I think it's more that you are accurate and I am drunk. But still...Standards, Ben.

Ben: I was not far off from saying we should submit a video. I feel like I could somehow lose my job if I appeared on "Smallville" though.

Kiel: But yeah, what did you think of the Luthor thread in general?

Ben: I think once again in this episode we see why characters like Kara and Martha are back for one episode guest shots and Lionel has been woven into the tapestry of the final season in a bigger role. He is certainly one of the best additions to DC lore Smallville has mde (if not THE best). It's tough to follow his motivations though. Does he really want to do right by Lex after screwing it up? Does he have an alterior motive? Does he even know? The one thing I would like to see out of him is a more assured confident longterm plan, but I guess if you build him up too much you risk relegating the Apokolips crowd a bit, so you need to keep him a little offbase.

Kiel: I kept asking myself if I should view this Lionel different as the one we had for years, but I don't know if they're really interested in defining the differences. And yeah, there's a lot of wheel-spinning going on here as when this was written I think Rosenbaum hadn't signed on for sure.

Ben: I don't think they're interested in defining the differences, because, as I mentioned, I think they wanted Lionel back for the last season, and this was the cheat to get him. And by that I mean they want the original Lionel, not just a close cousin. You notice he acted far more like the original here than he did in the mirror world episode.

Kiel: Sure, thought I think the one real commonality you can bring between the two is that, unlike Alexander claimed when he said Lionel always ultimately picked Clark, I think the common thread in all Lionels is that they look out for #1 first and foremost. If the kid would have figured a way to make himself more important to the old man, shit wouldn't need to get crazy, but I'm not sure they've even got a defined personality for the kid either

Ben: I agree with you that, knowing what we know now, this episode probably got made in the heart of the Rosenbaum negotiations, so defining Alexander became a tricky tightrope. For the record, I no longer think Alexander is going to age into Lex. I think the real Lex is still out there now.

Kiel: Agreed. And as it should be.

Ben: Yes.

Kiel: But I'm not sure I care much about the kid as it is.

Ben: Well you read the spoilers about him obviously...

Kiel: Yeah, the much spoiled Connor Kent shit coming in a week or two I think has the risk of turning more fan service in joke than good story

Ben: I actually thought the actor who played Alexander this go around (whose name I don't know but totally nailed him as being a High School Musical alum purely from seeing posters for that shit) did a nice job playing a confused sociopath, but it's going to be tough to transition that into Superboy in a couple weeks. Of course between the comics, the Young Justice cartoon and now here, Superboy is much closer to being a square-jawed angst ball than the fun original character he was a decade and a half ago anyways...but that's another ratn for maybe another time.

Kiel: I totally didn't realize it was High School Musical dude! I'll have to tell Lynn Phegley.

Ben: Let her know. It's an exciting connection. He also played young Lex previously in an episode that flashed back to him and Ollie in prep school. I think all the younger Lex actors this season have been used in previous seasons as well, actually, which is a nice touch.

Kiel: Oh God! I remember doing that episode at the Wizard chats we'd host!

Ben: Haha, I do NOT.

Kiel: That's the one that really broke my spirit on the show for a while. It was AWFUL.

Ben: So where does Lionel go from here? He's got his company back, but he lost his son (again), he's nowhere near gaining Clark if that was a goal...and his mansion got blown up (which was the other "They wanted us to think of this as the original Lionel" moment for me)! That actually hit me by the way. Far more than losing The Talon. Luthor Mansion was a big deal.

Kiel: Yeah, another big set destruction. I wonder if they'll choose to fuck up the farm in the end. But as for Lionel, I see him continuing to push Tess and Ollie out. That set where he and Ollie sparred tonight will show up again, I'd wager.

Ben: I don't think we'll lose the farm. Superman always needs somewhere to come home to. It will be interesting to see which side Lionel ends up on when the ultimate good vs evil showdown goes down, since I do sense he'll be sticking around through then. I liked Tess' moment at the end too, even if it did make Clark look like a total d-bag for telling Alexander to trust her.

Kiel: Yeah, now that we know for sure that all the VRA stuff is gone and both Luthor's will be back, the fun of seeing how this all unfolds should increase exponentially. And yeah! Tess was solid. I wish they'd find a way to involve her in every episode rather than every fourth one.

Ben: Yeah. I enjoyed that Lionel refuses to call her Tess and will only call her Lutessa. They are determined to legitimize that ridiculous name.

Kiel: Well, he was the one who came up with it!

Ben: Touche.

Kiel: But I think that's it in terms of the episode standing out...otherwise kind of boilerplate "Smallville."

Ben: Ultimately, like you said, this wasn't the best episode, but it did a nice job both clearing the table and then setting it up again, both of which were very necessary. I'll end it with how James Marsters described working with Ma Kent to me when I interviewed him: "Annette O'Toole: Still hot, dude. Still hot."

Kiel: As a dude who looks way younger than he is, he should know.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

RIP Dwayne McDuffie

I only had the good fortune of chatting with Dwayne McDuffie a couple times not over e-mail, but he left a great impression.

A couple days before Christmas in 2007, I was home in Boston and only a month or so removed from starting my job with I was set to mostly spend the next week relaxing and not worries about work, but had some quick "housekeeping" to do first in the form of chatting with Dwayne McDuffie about the World War Hulk: Aftersmash - Damage Control limited series he was writing.

I kind of felt bad reaching out to Dwayne (who I had only very briefly dealt with while I was at Wizard) at somewhat the eleventh hour both because it was the holiday season and because I figured he likely had better things to do than promote a three-issue Damage Control project. In order to put that last bit into perspective, you have to keep in mind that towards the end of 2007, Dwayne was not only still working hard and heavy in animation, he was also simultaneously writing Fantastic Four and Justice League of America; I said at the time and maintain today a big enough deal has never been made that somebody was the writer on the books that essentially launched Marvel and DC's respective Silver Ages at the same time, and his stuff was good to boot!

Anyways, I figured Dwayne might have had Superman and The Thing or perhaps Ben: 10 and/or spending time with his family on the brain as opposed to wanting to talk Damage Control, but I could not have been more wrong.

Dwayne was incredibly excited to talk about the project, as he had in fact created Damage Control back in 1989 (a fact I didn't know going into the interview and thus definite punt to my pride in thinking of myself as a thorough researcher) and had great affinity for the characters. If anything, he was disappointed to only have three issues to revisit them, but was determined to make the most of the opportunity (and if you haven't read the series, I think he absolutely did--it was a really fun, engaging little story).

It was a great way to kick off my holiday as Dwayne was kind, enthusiastic and gracious. It really struck me that here was a guy who had enormous success in animation, was writing two of the most storied comic series of all time and also had loved ones flying in that night, but he was thrilled to knock off a half hour chatting to a 25-year-old kid about Damage Control (and then indulging said kid as he wanted to talk Justice League Unlimited for a bit).

But then, if you look at the professional career of Dwayne McDuffie, you'll see a guy who has always done things that appeal and matter to him and achieved success along the way not necessarily because he always made the decisions would necessarily make the most money, but because he was so talented you couldn't stop him. Read any interview with Dwayne about the creation of Milestone and you'll have little doubt it was an endeavor he embarked upon because in his mind it needed to be done and there was creative potential there, not because it was going to make him rich.

I'll remember Dwayne McDuffie as the immensely talented creative genius who brought super heroes to life as few others could with Justice League Unlimited and wrote some fine comics along the way. Personally, I'll also remember him as the writer of Justice League of America and Fantastic Four who was much more excited to talk about Damage Patrol.

Rest in peace, Dwayne, my thoughts are with those who knew you far better.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Five Comics Characters Who Could be President

It’s Presidents Day! That may mean very little to those of you outside the United States—and frankly very little to many of you inside the United States—but it’s the day we honor those who have served in our nation’s highest office, situated generally either on George Washington’s birthday or between that and Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. More importantly, I get the day off from work.

Both fictional and legit presidents of the U.S. have a long stories history in comics. Bill Clinton endorsed the (ultimately genocidal) Cyborg Superman while Barack Obama had a Marvel Team-Up with Spider-Man. Captain America famously declined to run for office, while known super villain Lex Luthor got elected in a story my friend TJ swears to me makes total sense.

But what comic book characters would in fact be most qualified and best-suited to run this country? Given my extremely limited knowledge and understanding of politics, I am a terrible person to make this determination, so here are my top five plus honorable mentions.

On the plus side, there’s no problem he can’t solve with sufficient prep time. On the downside, he’s a sociopath who lives in a cave.

No real reason other than that as an actor turned super hero, he could basically be Ronald Reagan with invulnerable skin.

The spiritual mother of the Marvel Universe could totally be America’s mom as well. She’s already demonstrated her diplomatic skills during Jonathan Hickman’s run writing Fantastic Four, and it’s a safe bet the U.S. could count on Wakanda and particularly Atlantis—though likely not Latveria—for support at those UN meetings. Having the smartest man in the world as first husband doesn’t hurt either.

Of all the people elected leader of the Legion of Super-Heroes over the centuries, Karate Kid is the only one from Earth, and thus under our current rules, the only one who could be President (actually, Invisible Kid may have had a term as well, but I’m still going with Val). If he can manage a team of hormonal intergalactic teenagers with super powers, surely KK can handle guiding this great nation. He’s got statesmanship experience as Princess Projectra’s consort and his zen calm will be a big help; and when it’s not enough, hello, super karate.

Sam Guthrie is the perfect melting pot of belief systems and influences needed to boldly lead America. He’s got his Kentucky upbringing amongst a huge family with blue collar working class values. He’s got the pacifist teachings of Professor Charles Xavier to bring to bear when serving as a diplomat. He’s got the more militaristic stance of Magneto to keep in mind in matters of defense. And he’s got the pro-active guidance of Cable to serve him as a world leader. Beneath that, he retains his good ol’ boy charm and loves his country—he’s Jimmy Carter with a blast field.

Despite growing up with a military whackjob father, Lois Lane seems to have emerged with a pretty healthy balance of liberal and conservative values that have served her well in her role as the DC Universe’s top investigative reporter. She’s been around the world and is no doubt familiar with all the foreign policy one would need to be up on as President and from all accounts has endeared herself to a number of prominent heads of state and business along the way—well, the legit ones, not the crooked one her exposes have brought down. She can be charming but doesn’t take crap from anybody and also has a spit-curled demigod sharing the first bedroom with her if anything really goes wrong.

James Rhodes is an experienced and decorated military man, but also somebody who has done his tour in the private sector as the one-time head of Stark Industries. He’s had a taste of wealth and runs in the social circle of his best buddy Tony Stark, but also maintains strong ties to the middle and lower class via his upbringing. He’s worked with the government before as leader of the Sentinel Squad and at Camp Hammond, but also shown he’s willing to question authority during his Worldwatch days and recent actions during Norman Osborn’s reign in power. Rhodey’s got intelligence, integrity, the right connections—hello campaign contributions—and the right skill set to be an awesome President at least in the Marvel Universe. Could he sweep the stuff he did his 90’s solo series under the rug and not be the victim of a smear campaign on his way to the top? If Osborn can do it, I’d say yes.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

More Rasslin' Ramblings

It seems my last pro wrestling post went over far better than expected (heck, Tom freakin’ Spurgeon chimed in), and I’ve got many thoughts as we head into Elimination Chamber tonight, so I figured I’d kick the tires on this topic one more time bullet point style as the road to WrestleMania continues.

-My topic du jour last time around was whether or not John Cena vs The Miz could be a credible WrestleMania main event. I ultimately determined it could be, but by a slim margin. However, this past Monday not only was The Rock revealed as the “host of WrestleMania” (a pretty ambiguous term), he also verbally berated Miz and, to a far greater extent, Cena (quite effectively, I might add). It would seem at this point as though they’ll go ahead and run Cena/Miz as the main event of the evening with some involvement by The Rock. Does this change the game and raise the credibility of the match? Absolutely. The Rock is not only one of the most (if not the most period) popular and charismatic performers in the history of WWE, he’s also a legitimate crossover superstar with mainstream recognition who elevates not only WrestleMania to greater significance overall, but obviously whatever program he’s most involved with. Cena/Miz was already at least on the cusp of being legit in my eyes before, but Rock seals the deal.

-However, will WWE still go with Cena/Miz now that Rock is in the mix? Certainly after last week’s Raw, the big money would seem to be in Rock/Cena straight up. Unquestionably that would be the more epic, iconic match, and probably one just about everybody would rather see; I’d also argue they could get away with Miz against longtime rival John Morrison—who’s ripe for a breakout and could win the Raw Chamber tonight—for the WWE title on the undercard of a Rock/Cena main event no problem. However, there are potholes for that scenario. First and foremost, while The Rock has kept in tremendous shape and likely could work a match, he’s still a working movie actor at least 10 months out of the year, so it would probably not be in his best interest to risk an injury that could put him out of work after Mania’s over. Second, placing Rock in a match would overshadow his “host” role and sacrifice hyping WrestleMania the event at the expense of one match. That said, I think both those hurdles could be cleared with ease. The one thing I’d get hung up on would be the third point, which deserves its own bullet…

-On Twitter following Raw, many of my fellow amateur wrestling pundits argued that Rock turned the ever-crowd-polarizing Cena heel with his promo. I disagree. John Cena, despite being probably the hardest working guy in wrestling and having plenty of talent to boot (people claim he can’t wrestle, but when it comes to big time main events he always delivers), a kid-pleasing PG hero for an audience that has gained in youth but still has a lot of guys over 20 in it who miss the days of Steve Austin and, yes, The Rock. Those people are going to boo Cena no matter how well he does the job assigned to him, and they were the ones jeering the loudest Monday; the kids in the audience were no doubt in awe of The Rock’s presence, but they were still wearing their John Cena merchandise and cheering when his name got dropped. The same guys who have always booed John Cena will continue to do so if he does feud with The Rock, but I believe the kids will stick behind him (the women will likely be split). So I don’t think it becomes a traditional heel vs face feud with John Cena as the bad guy, I think it becomes WWE PG vs WWF Attitude, with both guys as faces to their particular demographics and ending with grudging respect. As cool as that would be to see, it would likely mean that WWE is giving up on ever getting the adult audience behind Cena again, as there’s no way they’re going to actively root against him for two months with Rock egging them on and then reluctantly cheer him on against C.M. Punk or Sheamus in April. A few years ago when WWE was still at least PG-13 and a Cena heel turn seemed imminent, this wouldn’t be an issue, but today they are firmly PG and need Cena as their top face for at least as long as it takes to find a replacement who has not come yet; besides, he was as close to winning over the crowd fully as he’s been in some time during 2010 when he was up against Nexus. All that rambling is my way of saying that while I’d personally like to see a Rock/Cena feud and match as the centerpiece of the next month and a half, from WWE’s perspective, I can see why they’d be sheepish and want to keep Miz involved so they can hedge their bets and have him playing the full heel if they need to get the crowd back on Cena’s side earlier than the closing seconds of WrestleMania.

-So if Rock doesn’t wrestle John Cena, what will he do? I think he will most likely serve as “host” for most of the event, which will allow him to give an opening promo and some fun backstage skits, and then serve as some sort of guest enforcer for Cena/Miz ala Mike Tyson at WrestleMania XIV for Shawn Michaels/Steve Austin. I don’t think they’ll go the full special referee route, just a gut feeling. In the weeks leading up, they can play up that while Rock doesn’t care for Miz, he really doesn’t like Cena, which gives Miz a bit of the instant credibility as champion I felt he was lacking; of course the ultimate ending will be Cena winning and earning The Rock’s grudging respect in the process…but maybe a Rock Bottom would follow that and begin a year-long build to Cena/Rock at WrestleMania XVII in Rock’s hometown of Miami? We shall see. Regardless, it’s a far more exciting road now than it was a week ago, and depending on if John Cena wins tonight in the Chamber, I may need to write another post next week.

A few other notes…

-Before the Rock reveal, the big rumor was that Triple H would be back to main event against The Undertaker in a Career vs Streak match with Shawn Michaels as guest referee. I hope this does not happen. For one, with The Rock now in the mix, they don’t need it. More than that, five weeks isn’t long enough to build up a program that huge, particularly since both guys need to come back, establish the issue, introduce Michaels into the feud, etc. It would also be a shame to see HHH return for under a month and then wrap his career so abruptly when he has more left to give. And of course the continuity buff in me would have trouble accepting that HHH and Taker wouldn’t go after Sheamus and either Kane or Wade Barrett respectively upon coming back since those are the guys that took them out; if HHH ignored Sheamus, who has been bragging about ending his career for nearly a year now, that hurts Sheamus’ heat big time. As much as people may be sick of Undertaker/Kane, with Taker as banged up as he is, a brawling squash is the best thing for him physically right now. HHH/Sheamus is also a solid upper-midcard match and HBK could still be involved simply by accompanying his buddy to ringside or doing a run-in. Long story short: HHH/Undertaker is a card WWE has in their hand but don’t need to play quite yet.

-It would seem from the past couple editions of Smackdown that they’re building towards a Big Show/Ezekiel Jackson showdown, possibly at WrestleMania. If Wade Barrett doesn’t get the show against Undertaker—and Kane really makes more sense to me—as I alluded to last time, I’d go ahead and tag him with Jackson then have Big Show get backup in the form of Diesel, paying off that look they exchanged at the Royal Rumble. Gets another big name from yesteryear on the card to give it a special feel, and either Corre guy could benefit from going over a legend if they wanted to go that way.

-As much as I’d love to see Daniel Bryan get a solid one-on-one U.S. title defense in his first WrestleMania, who is there who could be a credible challenger? Ditto for Kofi Kingston and the Intercontinental title. For this reason, I’d say maybe a title unification match is the way to go, as has been rumored. I’m not personally for this, as I think WWE needs two secondary titles to keep the midcard interesting, but even a champion vs champion match wouldn’t work as they already have that every year at Bragging Rights. Singles matches at WrestleMania need to either have a title at stake or some major feud to give them weight, as I suspect Rey Mysterio/Cody Rhodes will in a Mask vs Mask match; the days of Rick Rude squashing Jimmy Snuka because neither had anything better to do are a thing of the distant past.

-Wrapping up, I hope they still have Money in the Bank at WrestleMania despite it getting its own pay-per-view. They can keep the element of the Mania MiTB being special simply by reinforcing that the briefcase can be cashed in on either major titles, whereas the others are brand-specific. It would be a shame to see MiTB gone from Mania simply because it would leave so many guys off the card, with this year’s potential field including the likes of Dolph Ziggler, Drew McIntyre, R-Truth and Jack Swagger, as well as guys I already mentioned who may get displaced like Morrison, Bryan and Kingston plus possible returning talent like Christian and Evan Bourne. Also, I like to see Mark Henry get a big pay day come March, and they need a big fella to catch the little guys.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Art Attack: May 2011's Coolest Covers

-Kenneth Rocafort is a helluva talent. Very interested to see him on a big-time super hero like Superman.

-Jelena Kevic-Djurdjevic makes the list twice, snatching the top cover artist crown in her household for one month from husband Marko with the aid of a space-faring Raccoon! To be fair, that's a tough hand to beat...

-Palyfulness and creativity goes a long way, as seen on Billy Tan's cover to Avengers Academy.

-Dan Jurgens' cover to Booster Gold is the best visual teaser to Flashpoint I've seen yet for my money. He knows how to bring it.

-Paolo Rivera's Chris Evans as Captain America: Damn.

-I can never get enough Scott Kolins drawing Professor Zoom. On the subject, I'd love to see the other Zoom back for Flashpoint in some form.

-So that's what a David Aja Green Arrow cover would look like. Very nice.

-I am so enamored of that 1950's Avengers team Mike Deodato draws on the cover of New Avengers. How can anybody handle the combined barechested gusto of both Kraven and Sabretooth?

-The cover to Northlanders reminds me of the ice painting my mother does, which makes me wonder if Massimo Carnevale used that technique.

-Speaking of Mike Deodato, that is a great shot of the new Venom and really gives him some distance from his predecessors straight off just with the cocky smile beneath the mask.

ACTION COMICS #901 by Kenneth Rocafort
ANNIHILATORS #3 by Jelena Kevic-Djurdjevic
BOOSTER GOLD #44 by Dan Jurgens
DEADPOOL #37 by Dave Johnson
FEAR ITSELF: SPIDER-MAN #1 by Marko Djurdjevic
THE FLASH #13 by Scott Kolins
GREEN ARROW #12 by David Aja
HAWKEYE: BLINDSPOT #4 by Mike Perkins
HELLBLAZER #279 by Simon Bisley
MARVEL ZOMBIES SUPREME #4 by Michael Komarck
MOON KNIGHT #1 by Alex Maleev
NEW AVENGERS #10 by Mike Deodato
NORTHLANDERS #40 by Massimo Carnevale
OZMA OF OZ #6 by Skottie Young
SECRET AVENGERS #13 by Adi Granov
SPIDER-GIRL #7 by Jelena Kevic-Djurdjevic
STRANGE ADVENTURES #1 by Mark Buckingham
VENOM #3 by Mike Deodato
X-MEN GIANT-SIZE #1 by Ed McGuinness