THAT 90s AVENGERS CARTOON
By Steven Miller and Mike Balderrama
Mike and Steven chat about the bizarre and short-lived FOX Kids Avengers cartoon.
In case you want to watch along with us: (link)
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Mike: Hello, BoomTubers! Steven and I got together earlier this week in order to subject ourselves to that short-lived series The Avengers: United They Stand. Some of you might remember it on the Fox Kids Saturday morning cartoon block back in ‘99. If you don’t remember, I won’t blame you, considering it got canceled only four months later. Well Steven, we just finished episode one. Initial thoughts?
Steven: Alright, well we should go ahead and start by talking about the credits. They’re amazing right? It’s so whispery…it’s like a Ying Yang Twins song. (::Avengersss::)
Mike: Oof. Stack this up to the Joe-Perry-of-Aerosmith stylings of that other Fox Kids delight Spider-Man, and you’ve got a steamy playlist that begs you to dim the lights.
Steven: The costumes are really quite awful, even by 90s standards. It’s like Rob Liefeld and Jim Lee decided to collaborate. I’d also like to point out that the credits have a pretty large spoiler. Vision is the main villain in this first episode, but he’s with the team in the credits. Another curious piece is that Wonder Man is credited, yet he spends 10 out of 13 episodes in a coma.
Mike: Also, let’s note how Wonder Man is credited with Falcon, rather than his own intro card. I call foul! Ant Man, Wasp, Hawkeye and Vision get singled out. What’s the deal? Can we also pause to appreciate how everyone lines up for the title, then the camera pans up to Captain America, Iron Man and Thor? “Oh hey, you probably came to see these guys, didn’t you?”

Steven: Yeah, it’s pretty rough. So the episode starts and we get into some exposition about Ultron and why he’s creating Vision. It doesn’t make a ton of sense beyond the fact that Ultron is super non-plussed about his own experience.  Is that cannon? I don’t really know if I’ve actually ever read any Ultron stories.  Why is he so emotional when he is trying to destroy humans because they are emotional? I don’t understand who he is showboating for in this scene, since it’s just him and a robot he created. Destroying computer screens to prove a point to himself? There’s a logic flaw there. Another logic flaw is that his machinery has a lot of buttons that he doesn’t use. He just zaps everything.
Mike: I don’t know a lot about canon, and I definitely steered clear of Age of Ultron. I guess I’d hope for him to be an analog of some Amazo stories on the DC side. Well, rather, that Diniverse version “Ivo’s Android” that shows up in Justice League Unlimited. Mostly, I want Robert Picardo being awesome all the time. Is that so much to ask?!
Steven: No, I don’t think it is. That’s why Star Trek: Voyager was created, right?
Mike: Sorry not sorry, Whovians. Picardo is my The Doctor.
Steven: We finally transition into the introductions of the team. I love that this group appears to mostly be the West Coast team, yet they are still in New York. There’s also a quick montage to remind everyone that the Avengers actually have some cool members, but they’re NOT IN THIS SHOW.
Mike: Pretty sure those are all Heroes Reborn drawings by Liefeld. Can we also give some finger snaps to the fashion-forward newsmedia? That green suit, with the yellow mock neck shirt and purple triangle priest collar? Straight out of some Batman Beyond future if you ask me.
Steven: Look, I’m sorry, but I don’t think this series and I are going to get along…Hank Pym as a leader? GTFO.
Mike: I feel you, Steven. This whole relationship dynamic out as a kids cartoon is so…weird. Fact is, this show comes out over a decade after Hank infamously strikes Jan, had (multiple?) nervous breakdowns, attempted suicide, and also shacked up with Tigra. Yet here we are. Yeesh.
Steven: The voice work is just an abomination in this thing. Really phoned in. There’s also a few actors from the X-Men cartoon. Tigra is voiced by the same actress as Rogue and she maybe doesn’t do a lot to differentiate the voices. The only difference is that this time, Tigra IS the long tail cat in a room full of rocking chairs. (link)  Also, what’s going on with the choice for Hawkeye’s voice?  It’s actually the same actor who voiced Gambit (figures), but he ACTUALLY sounds a lot more like Wolverine. I had to double check IMDB to make sure it wasn’t actually Cathal Dodd.
Mike: I hope watching this show doesn’t make me imagine that voice when I’m reading Fraction/Aja’s Hawkguy…
Steven: I was thinking the same thing. It was so off from any version of Hawkguy that I’ve ever seen or imaged. Also, let’s have a moment ofsilence over Wanda’s voice.  Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Steven: …

Steven: It’s just…so incredibly offensive. I can’t really get over it.
Mike: Why did Wonder Man smash through a wall? Why is his head so tiny?!

Steven: He’s like a misshapen Street Shark. Not jawesome at all.
Steven: Their suit-up scene also really needs some work…it should be more like Sailor Moon. Everything should be more like Sailor Moon. You know, it’s almost as good as the CGI suitup from Iron Man. (Link)
Mike: I like how Hawkeye gets a bigger belt to cover his smaller belt.

Steven: That did make me giggle a bit.
Steven: So they start fighting a bunch of robots and Falcon accidentally gets involved when a hole gets blown into his apartment.

Steven: Note the music gets a little jazzy when Falcon gets introduced. Dat Saxophone. It’s maybe a lot more offensive than Wanda’s voice.  And also, do the Avengers really not know who Falcon is?
Mike: Hey, this is a pre-9/11 society, man. The concept of superhero registration isn’t even a blip on anyone’s radar.
Steven: I’m still soaking in the costume designs and…you know.. it’s actually not a terrible re-imagining of the Ant Man helmet, but it doesn’t really work.

Mike: I don’t think you’d want to wear that thing while operating heavy machinery…Totally messes with your peripheral vision. (Vision joke unintended). Still, he’s channeling some Big Bad Beetleborg-ery.
Steven: At least the Beetleborgs had that Elvis dude. We just get the Janet Van Dyne.
Mike: Not to mention Afterthought Jarvis a little later in the show!
Steven: So basically we get into the plot, where Ultron is bating the Avengers AND trying to kill the president. They fly into action in what’s supposed to be a Quinjet, I think, but it’s really just a repainted Blackbird jet from X-Men. I guess they were too lazy to draw an original ship for this show.

Mike: I’m counting at least 15 different merchandising tie-ins during this initial action sequence, especially Hawkeye’s sweet ride. Also, what the hell, Tigra! You pull your hammy in the first 5 seconds of fighting?
Steven: I really appreciate that apparently Tigra and Falcon make actual animal noises when they fight. The stock lion roars don’t make any sense.
Steven: So they actually do save the president, but the president is mad that Falcon is actually the one who save them, not the Avengers, and I have to say that I agree. I mean, all those Avengers trying to save him and an outside interloper who just  happened to have the wall of his apartment blown up is the actual savior? That’s pretty harsh.
Steven: I get the president caper is supposed to be dramatic, but Vision could have killed the president in the first 10 seconds by phasing through him and wandering off into the woods.
Mike: Seems like Ultron’s convoluted plan didn’t actually require the President dead? OH! And it’s taken me 11 minutes to figure out who Ultron sounds like: Lemmy from Motörhead. Right? “Return to base!” sort of sounded like “Ace of Spaaaades!”
Steven: Eh, Ultron has much better reverb.
Mike: Anyone else convinced the President’s guest in the helicopter was a mistress or something? Took them til the end of the fight to emphasize it’s his daughter. I guess I tried to remind myself of Clinton-era scandals whilst watching.
Steven: Also how are you going to tell me that Hawkeye could ever maneuver with a bow that size?

Mike: Kind of gives off a NERF vibe. Might just be hard plastic.
Steven: We are then treated to a dressing down by…some guy.
Mike: Everyone in that conference room is so angry. Why is everyone so angry?! So much yelling and throwing plaques. Odd choice to make the inventor of the modern helicopter as the representative of the president. (Sikorsky. Look it up). I found myself laughing at how Pym “does science” to the drone: pop his helmet on and just cut a shoddy rectangle out of it. Nice one, buddy.

Steven: Basically they get yelled at by someone who’s pretty inconsequential, and apparently  they answer directly to the President who said that Hawkeye has to leave, and they have to recruit a dude who might not want to be an Avenger. Cool.  Fortunately, Ultron has plans for more busses to turn into war machines (but not that War Machine…he’s busy on another Marvel cartoon brought to you by Fox).

Mike: This is the problem when your police force’s cruisers look like the Gadgetmobile: basically ANYTHING could be a robot in disguise.
Steven: I’m glad that we have Ultron to narrate the plot to us, because otherwise it would just be really awful. If you’re a robot talking to a robot, is anyone talking to anyone at all? I’d also like to point out that Ultron built a stasis tube for Vision that he can only reach by building a mechanical arm that will transport his disembodied head. That makes no sense at all.

Mike: You can effectively write off any robot villain that would do the following: put your base of operations by the water (especially if you have sensitive circuitry to protect), and keep the huge transparent panes of glass on the ceiling so any superhero flying by could peek inside. Clearly you know nothing about lair planning (shoulda called The Carpenter (link)).
Steven: So flash forward into battle, it doesn’t go very well again, because these are the worst Avengers and apparently Fox liked to do shows about ineffectual superheroes (Cyclops and Jean, i’m looking at you). Falcon’s nephew gets pretty quickly fridged by some debris.

Mike: Wow, A:UTS doesn’t pull any punches…Let’s just straight up murder a kid, then follow it up with Wonder Man laying on the snark. I wonder how this meaningless battle messed with the universe’s NYC citizens. I mean, you’ve got ambulances converting to death machines before your very eyes, all while the Avengers’ X-Jet Quinjet listlessly hovers above. Not enough time to linger on the destruction. Gotta get back to the mansion—it was all a diversion!
Steven: It certainly was! Falcon’s nephew had to maybe die for nothing, but that’s okay, because a few minutes later into the confrontation, Wonder Man takes an energy blast for Ant Man, and is apparently dead, too. Which is actually kind of odd, since not only is Wonder Man nearly invulnerable, but his body can also manipulate ionic energy.

Mike: Did you notice how Pym’s helmet changes when he goes from Ant Man to Goliath? No more robo-mandibles. Also, my statement on poor peripheral vision (this time pun intended since the dude couldn’t see that attack coming after being surrounded by robot drones) still stands.
Steven: Welp, Wonder Man is dead anyway. Blown to bits? Wanda screams out for him. CLIFFHANGER! So yeah, that’s the first twenty minutes or so.  So Mike, what did you think overall?
Mike: maddening
Mike: I’m gonna go with horrifying trainwreck on this one, Steven. The voice acting is so growly—and Batman Begins doesn’t show up for another 6 years! Also, the Hawkeye outfit just makes me sad. The red H on the mask, mixed with purple and black—aesthetically loud and nauseating. I actually opted to finish the two-parter and hoo boy. It gets even worse. It had a lot of potential: a cartoon portraying a B-Team trying to assert themselves as a legitimate and effective team despite egos and conflicting priorities? Sure. I get that. Too much of it gets swallowed up in lazy dialogue, ham/stereotype voice acting, and merchandising tie-in. I want to do a survey of all branded toys in the mid to late 90s where they try and sell you a “Sky-Cycle.” You guys, it’s a motorcycle that flies! You want this! (That Superman Super Coupe is included in the roster). How about you, Steven? Overall reaction and final thoughts?
Steven: It was bad. But I want to watch more. Please help me. Make it stop.
Mike: Friends don’t let friends join a team with Hank Pym as the leader. Take care of yourselves, and each other, BoomTubers.

THAT 90s AVENGERS CARTOON

By Steven Miller and Mike Balderrama

Mike and Steven chat about the bizarre and short-lived FOX Kids Avengers cartoon.

In case you want to watch along with us: (link)

Read More

SUPERGIRL IN THE 31ST CENTURY
By Ben Rawluk
Ben pitches a comic in which Superboy can become the person he wants to be. Romance ensues.
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With special thanks to editor Danielle Olivia Vitolo  and featuring artwork by the amazing Daniel Irizarri .
A while back I wrote a piece about the Legion of Super-Heroes, because I am a Legion nerd—which is kind of a stupid thing to be. The Legion gets rebooted and cancelled and mutilated regularly. Their connection to Superman and his dynasty is similarly dependent, fluctuating based on editorial fiat. Most recently, DC simply cancelled it outright for the sake of starting up another Justice League series, a Justice League series that takes place in the same far future as the Legion but features space-age versions of the Justice League of today. I have not been able to stop thinking about my version of the Legion with its sexually diverse roster, gender suddenly very fluid for them—in some cases outright performative, with characters like Ayla Ranzz, who operates as a drag king version of Lightning Lad (something based on Legion canon).
I also thought a lot about my version of Kon-El—Superman’s clone, one of the four replacements who showed up while Superman (Kal-El) was “dead”—who rocketed into the future one day and figured out she was actually a girl, a Supergirl, taking the appropriate future-drugs to transition her body overnight—and then having to return to the Twenty-First Century with the drugs wearing off and severely-edited memories.
And then I started to think about some of the stories I wanted to tell.
DC would never do this, not under their current model. They would never threaten one of their two most important dynasties by making a prominent member like Kon-El trans. They would never seek to re-imagine the future like this. These people still think hiring Orson Scott Card is a good idea up until the press gets really bad.  But still.
I’ve thought a lot about how Kon would rename herself. “Kon-El” is a name given to her by Superman himself, and that carries a lot of weight. Kryptonian names are fiercely patriarchal, with men having a given name (Kon) and a house name (El). Women, meanwhile, have a given name and the full name of their father (Kara Zor-El). I went through a lot of options, because I feel like respecting Superman’s heritage would be important to her rather than outright abandoning it. “Lara” came up as a given name, because it’s Superman’s birth mother’s name, and mothers are generally ignored by certain dynasties at DC.
In the end I settled on Lara Kon-El as her full Kryptonian name, because she gets to honour her heritage and honour the role Superman played in her development as a hero—without simply taking his name.
But, of course she doesn’t live in a world of Kryptonians, and mostly goes by a human name. I decided that Connor Kent would be replaced by Laurel Kent. Laurel Kent was originally a descendent of Superman and Lois in the Legion’s time, until she was revealed to be a robot. So it goes. “Laurel Gand” was later introduced as a Supergirl stand-in when the writers were told to sever all connections to the Superman Dynasty, never mind the devastating effect that had on Legion history.
I picture Lois suggesting the name, after Laurel comes out to her and Clark one night.
And so, Laurel Kent drifts back and forth through time, trying to decide whether it is better to stay in one world or another—one world with her heritage in it, the other with options for making her life easier.
These are two of the stories I’d tell. They’re “Superman Family” ones, because the Superman Family were always getting entwined with Legion affairs and spilling into the future, and Laurel is still the clone of Superman, still rocking the famous fade haircut.

I. THE SUPERGIRL WAR!
Because there already is a Supergirl, remember? Kara Zor-El? Cousin of Superman? Grew up in Argo City, a Kryptonian town that rocketed right off the planet during the final cataclysm? And Kara is probably going to have words with Laurel over possibly maybe co-opting her name in the far future. Because the thing about Krypton is that while it was super-advanced technologically, they were still a culture where women had to take their father’s entire names, and Krypton has always been written by very, very cisgendered, heterosexual men. You can kind of run with that a bit and assume a level of transphobic disorientation might linger. I don’t want to make Kara a bigot by any stretch, I love Kara, but there’s something to be said for giving her an imperfect reaction, because Kara and Clark are people, and people are not always perfect in their reactions.
Clark is very accepting, though. He’s just that kind of guy. He falls down a bit and starts to draw a comparison to that time he was a woman thanks to Red Kryptonite—but only for twenty-four hours—and then Lois kind of has to give him a look and then Clark goes to bustle away in the kitchen for a few minutes.
But that happens after.  Before that, Kara is hanging around with Kon-El, who has recently started spending a lot of time in the future and doesn’t really want talk about it.  Connor is non-committal about the whole experience.  Always a bit of a hot-head and craving the chance to flex her powers in a super-advanced world (Earth is a bit like the Stone Age for a girl raised by Kryptonians), she stows away on Connor’s next time-trip and ends up witnessing the transformation produced by Profem pills. She meets the Supergirl of the Future—
And she’s angry about it. Because she’s Supergirl, and she’s uncomfortable with a “suddenly” female second cousin. Kara’s also disoriented from being wrenched out of her own time, too. Plus the Legion are kind of in the middle of a crisis at the moment, facing a Thirty-First Century Psycho-Pirate who is trying to use Black Kryptonite as a power source for manipulating emotions.
Because, you know, as soon as Kryptonians start showing up the Thirty-First Century, suddenly mad scientists are hard at work synthesizing new versions of Kryptonite again. Lex Luthor gleefully giggles in his damn grave.
Yeah, it doesn’t end well for anyone.
Conflict is almost always physical in the world of supercomics. Not always—sometimes you get Phoenix slicing through someone’s delusions, or Hal Jordan mind-probing John Stewart. But conflict is almost always processed through physicality, through perfect super-bodies slamming into each other at high speeds. This is not always a bug, of course, but a feature; like old mortality plays, abstractions can be argued in front of us by proxy.  So Kara’s confusion and surprise and angry get amplified, and Laurel’s own fears ramp up as well and they start to fight.

And thus the Legion has two problems to face: a lunatic criminal unleashing empathy plagues across New Metropolis and a pair of mind-controlled Kryptonians taking out of their frustrations on each other.
Because there are so damn many of them, the best Legion stories tend to break them off into small squads when facing a larger issue (and of course, there are always members who are off-world, dealing with other threats across the galaxy), so that means you can have them deal with both problems at the same time.  The question that the Legionnaires face is how to distribute those teams, when there are certain members who are the best choices for both problems—how do you screen the minds of two angry, disoriented Supergirls crashing through buildings, potentially destroying the Earth’s polymer shielding? But at the same time, how do you block the villain’s manipulations long enough to take him out physically?  If no one can get close enough to hit him without being robbed of their willpower…
Luckily, the Legion always has Brainiac 5, who can coordinate at high-speeds using his twelfth-level mind. The Supergirl War is broken up by the Legionnaires with physical power or invulnerability on their side—Ultra-Boi and the ethereally genderfluid Apparition, alongside Element Lad and Chameleon.  The Psycho Pirate is defeated by the Legionnaires best suited to dealing with his powers—specifically the telepathic Saturn Girl and Tellus, along with Sensor Girl.
Afterwards, they cure the Supergirls and Kara is pressed to make up with Laurel.  She’s still uncomfortable, particularly with the notion of someone taking her name—and it’s hard to reconcile how she sees the world according to her Kryptonian upbringing with what she’s confronted with now.  She finally agrees to let Laurel use the name Supergirl when she’s in the Thirty-First Century, to be “The Supergirl of the Future,” she is willing to call her Laurel rather than Connor or Kon—and this, to Kara, is a compromise she will make.  She asks Brainiac 5 to return her to the Twenty-First Century and while things seem settled between them, Laurel is uneasy.
Laurel stands on the roof of the Legion Tower, gazing across the skyline of New Metropolis, lit by endless neon and stars and satellite glare from above.  Eventually, Brainiac 5 returns and he stands beside her for a while.

II. JIMMY OLSEN’S SUPER-FIRST DATE!
The Legion has always been populated chiefly by teenagers—unless it’s an imaginary story, a projection, unless it’s five years later—and much of Superman’s Silver Age adventures read like Marilyn Monroe comedies in flight; Jimmy Olsen was always ending up in the future, going on awkward dates with Triplicate Girl and Shrinking Violet or whoever.
And Laurel gets to date. Kon-El has always had an active love life; first with Tana Moon, then the notably bisexual Female Fury called  Knockout, and eventually Cassandra Sandsmark, the second Wonder Girl. But in addition to coming out as trans, Laurel is exploring her sexuality too, admitting an interest in boys as well as girls. If you’re integrating components of Supergirl with Superboy, Laurel’s love life expands! Because a super-strong girl like Laurel might find Brainiac 5 interesting and who doesn’t have a crush on Ultra-Boi? Not to mention that at least two-thirds of Triad—a Legionnaire from the planet Cargg who can split into three selves, each with differing and fluid self-identity—think Laurel’s pretty cute. Romantic subplots and shenanigans have always been important to the Legion, and I can imagine having a lot of fun with that.
But, in the midst of her explorations, there’s also Jimmy Olsen.  After coming out to Jimmy Olsen on the roof of the Daily Planet—they’ve been hanging out, having adventures, for a while now—Jimmy’s first reaction isn’t shock, but rather his typical ease.  He grins and thanks her for trusting him, then asks the important question: Can I see the future?
I mean, how else is he going to get Mr. White to take him seriously as a reporter unless he can get a really sweet story?
So Laurel shows Jimmy the future.  She pops the Profem pills once they step onto future soil and changes, “introduces” him to Supergirl—and then they go on a whirlwind tour of the solar system.  I want this to have the slow burn feel of something that starts as an adventure and ends up as a date, with the pair of them realizing they like each other more than they thought.  Laurel is opening up, and Jimmy—who is, let’s face it, pretty bisexual, with maybe a thing for Kryptonians—is quite sweet, once he stops trying to take pictures of space-whales in migration across the stars.

There is, of course, some conflict.  Brainiac 5 gets jealous and follows them on their date on the grounds that Jimmy Olsen absolutely must be protected at all times lest he die and accidentally alter the timestream—because Jimmy definitely lives out his days in the Twenty-First Century. It says so in the history books. So maybe he should keep his grubby caveman paws off of Laurel.  And then later the three of them stumble on a Venturan cabaret where the Emerald Empress is performing her drag act, using the Emerald Eye to hypnotize people into giving over their valuables. Drama ensues.
It is, in its way, a nice date.  Laurel drops Jimmy off on the rooftop of the Planet at the end and he asks her on a second date, this time in the present day.  Laurel can already feel the Profem fading from her system, though, screened away by time travel, and while she hovers in the sky, she starts to feel her body shifting again and feels uncomfortable.  Dating Jimmy would mean spending time in the present, and increasingly she doesn’t want to do that.  She likes being on the Profem; she’s come to realize a lot about who she is, and she’s still getting used to have the option of relieving dysphoria.  It’s hard to feel intimate with someone if she’s struggling with the tunnel-vision inherent in forgoing the Profem while back home.  Jimmy says he doesn’t really care how she looks, he has a good time with her, but she admits that she cares.
Increasingly, Laurel doesn’t want to be in the present day.  It’s her home, it’s where her family live—Jimmy and Lois and Kara and Clark, not to mention Dubbilex and Roxy, or her ex-girlfriend Tana—but the relief offered by Profem is intoxicating and the Legion are genuine friends who understand her and can offer support. It’s like moving away from your hometown, to a new city with more people in the same situation as you.  A lot of my ideas around this ongoing Legion storyline would be about Laurel coming to realize that she has no interest in going back (although if her family want to journey to the future and see her, that’s great!) and wants to make a life for herself in the Thirty-First Century. After this story, we’d see her trying to integrate into future more fully, running into the administrative headaches of time travel.
She kisses Jimmy Olsen one last time and grins—warmly but uncertainly—before triggering the time-bubble and disappearing.

SUPERGIRL IN THE 31ST CENTURY

By Ben Rawluk

Ben pitches a comic in which Superboy can become the person he wants to be. Romance ensues.

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Write For Us!

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So, was Matt overhearing someone’s television or did Mark Waid confirm the existence of Jack Donaghy in the Marvel 616?
From Daredevil #6 by Mark Waid and Marcos Martin

So, was Matt overhearing someone’s television or did Mark Waid confirm the existence of Jack Donaghy in the Marvel 616?

From Daredevil #6 by Mark Waid and Marcos Martin

LIFE OF RECORD: CREATING COMICS TO CHRONICLE SUCCESS AND FAILURE
By Mike Balderrama
2008 was an odd year.
I graduated university, and had a solid 5 months of unemployment before getting a museum desk job. Sitting at home while hunting for a job definitely took its toll. But after getting the hang of things at the museum, the dawn of 2009 seemed to look pretty bright. I needed to commemorate it, to really push myself to appreciate the ups and downs of my life—create some written record. How about journaling?
[[MORE]]
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Well, I’m awful at writing journal entries. They always seem so emotionally disconnected from my day. Who am I writing for, anyways? Some future civilization that could laugh at the way I consistently misspell “traveling” with 2 Ls? No. If anyone was going to laugh at my life, I should be the one in control of the humor. I loved comics, I loved to draw, but I often times hated the work I created, especially after putting a sketchbook down for a while. I always worked in pencil, only inking things I found worthy of the time and investment (I lose inking pens easily), so combine that with the quality of paper I’d pick up, you can count on smudges galore!

First panel ever
So I made up an arbitrary New Years resolution that’s made a lasting effect on my daily life.
Acquire a sketch book.
Acquire a set of ink pens.
Only draw with ink. No pencil sketches.
If you think you’ve “screwed up” keep drawing.
Fill every page. If you skip, go back and draw.
You can only buy a new sketch book if you filled every page.
Right off the bat, it felt like a chore—some sort of self-imposed punishment. “Who does this?!” “Ugh! It’s so hard!”  “I want to start over!” All of these things I said out loud, and even put down on the page in messy inked lines. My first few pages had a very strict grid—almost trying to confine the inspiration for fear that I’d abandon it like I had in the past.
Then my great uncle died.

I was angry, upset, frustrated, worried—a whole slew of emotions aimed at a whole series of people, where compartmentalizing just did a complete disservice to the process of grieving. I could see the border lines begin to wobble and shake, and the very next page was completely text. It was a letter I’d never send to a loved one I didn’t speak to ever again after that. Gone were the hangups about whether I was doing this right. I was doing what needed to be done. Comics became less about being a good story and more about being my story. My hang ups, my emotions, my perspective.
What I inadvertently found myself doing was making a mixed media journal. Like it or not, I was journaling.
That’s the beauty of journal comics. They could be the most mundane observations about the day, but when they’re in a pictographic format, I found I could swallow the truth a little easier when looking back. Exposed nerves, pain, frustration—they’re all challenging concepts that you have very little perspective of in the moment they’re manifesting. I have whole sketchbooks devoted to me going back and forth about the merits of loneliness, of yearning for that person beyond my reach, of going through hardships in those relationships I did have. I still pull them out to this day and use them to help process my present-day roller coaster times.
I didn’t just revisit them for drama advice. I came for reminders of the joyful things that enriched my past. That promotion I got, or when I finally got accepted into grad school—all of these little personal victories came through the encouragement and support of my close friends, all of whom found a place in the comics I’ve drawn.

I was lucky to work at a space that was focused on art and design: my time working the front desk of the museum enabled me to whip out my sketchbook and pens to create a series of workplace True Tales pieces that morphed into their own mini-comics I’d share with staff. Then, I picked up something really special: Jeffrey Brown’s Funny Misshapen Body. If there’s a corpus that really codified for me what i wanted out of my experiences, Jeff Brown’s work delivers.
It’s funny, it’s confessional, above all, it’s honest.
We each read comics for very different reasons, right? Some of us do it for nostalgia, for escape, for humor, for catharsis, maybe even for a familiar perspective or a completely new one. Underneath it all, we’re looking for truth. This is the very elemental thing that I believe writers struggle with when writing comics: am I telling the truth. Maybe it’s a story about super-human mutants saving the world, but the types of successful X-Men tales resonate because the characters often times go through the same shit average people do.
If the challenge is on all of us to be perfectly honest with each other, it begins with staying true to the self. That comes out through writing, by creating, by refusing to shy away from the difficult or ugly parts of our lives. I couldn’t continue self-editing in erasable pencil, it has to be in messy permanent ink.
I’m 6 sketchbooks in, and I don’t have any plan to stop. I think all of us could benefit from starting.


 

LIFE OF RECORD: CREATING COMICS TO CHRONICLE SUCCESS AND FAILURE

By Mike Balderrama

2008 was an odd year.

I graduated university, and had a solid 5 months of unemployment before getting a museum desk job. Sitting at home while hunting for a job definitely took its toll. But after getting the hang of things at the museum, the dawn of 2009 seemed to look pretty bright. I needed to commemorate it, to really push myself to appreciate the ups and downs of my life—create some written record. How about journaling?

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MARVELS
By Steven Miller
This week I spent some time reading and reflecting on Marvels, the graphic novel by Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross. It’s a story that has always had a lot of hype, but admittedly I chose to avoid it due to my ambivalence to the work of Alex Ross. I appreciate the work he does and find much of it to be beautiful, but I always find it hard to be excited by his panels. Kingdom Come never had much impact on me. Maybe it’s the uncanny valley? But alas, I was having a bad day, and it was for cheap at the local used toy store, so I grabbed Marvels on a lark.
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Marvels tells the story of Phil Sheldon, a freelance photographer that sometimes worked with the Daily Bugle, as he witnessed the appearance of Marvel Comics heroes on the scene for the first time. Through the eyes of a non-powered human, we gained new insight on World War Two, the coming of Galactus, and the death of Gwen Stacy. Marvels explores what the world would be like if heroes and villains were real, how exciting, terrifying, and dangerous the world would be. How could any of us really live, knowing that aliens and deadly robots hide around every corner?
If we’re to believe the interpretations of most stories in comics, the general population seems to be mostly oblivious to what’s really happening in the world, of course the heroes step in and avert disaster. Yet even if I lived in the suburbs, i’m sure i’d notice the sky turning colors, or purple robots crashing through my neighbor’s roof, or my neighbors disappearing after the Skrull invasion. But we don’t ever think about that, we don’t ever get to explore that point of view. Which to me, is what makes Marvels so brilliant. We always see humans fearing mutants from the perspective of the mutants. But we don’t really take time to think “you know, this team has a guy who destroyed New York City like..2 years ago, and didn’t that Russian girl try and sink us all into hell?” It’s a valid point. Even if we’re not afraid, we’re left with an existential crisis. Evolution is leaving us behind. How can I believe in one true God, when Thor just stopped by office building from toppling over? How do I live knowing that the destruction of Earth is perpetually being halted by a single group of people?
One motif that Busiek repeatedly touches on in Marvels is the idea that heroes are loved when they’re stopping the apocalypse, and then instantly despised, feared, and vilified. When humanity comes back out the other side, they are always quick to say they would have figured it out, or it wasn’t that bad, or it was all a hoax. Yet the heroes keep coming back and helping, despite the vitriol. We see this over and over in the stories we read, and it’s something I’ve never really thought about too deeply as a trope. Our fictional heroes are in an abusive relationship with humanity.
This got me thinking. What if they didn’t come back? What if all of the super-powered heroes walked away? Or never got involved at all?
I think a lot about Star Trek and the Prime Directive. The Prime Directive is a Federation rule that states Federation officers are not allowed to interfere in the development of alien planets. Philosophically, it was deemed too dangerous and disastrous to get involved as an outside party with advanced technology and knowledge. Yet time after time, the Federation found ways around that policy, to change the course of events around them.  Sometimes it probably wasn’t always for the best. Certainly, in the Marvel Universe, there are a lot of important events influenced by the superhuman community. There would be no Ultron without Hank Pym, the Skrull may have never been interested in Earth without the Fantastic Four. Yet, without those same beings, Galactus may have eaten Earth, or it would be ruled by the Skrull,  or just straight up destroyed by the Phoenix Force. So just imagine the Marvel world if Avengers, mutants, and irradiated beings stepped away to live outside of the human community?
What would be more terrifying than people among us with incredible abilities? Imagine those incredible people observing from a distance, watching us, judging us, but not doing anything to help us. Leaving us alone to destroy ourselves.

MARVELS

By Steven Miller

This week I spent some time reading and reflecting on Marvels, the graphic novel by Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross. It’s a story that has always had a lot of hype, but admittedly I chose to avoid it due to my ambivalence to the work of Alex Ross. I appreciate the work he does and find much of it to be beautiful, but I always find it hard to be excited by his panels. Kingdom Come never had much impact on me. Maybe it’s the uncanny valley? But alas, I was having a bad day, and it was for cheap at the local used toy store, so I grabbed Marvels on a lark.

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DOOMED!
By Kira Kristine
Listen, I know it’s in style right now for villains (and heroes and anti-heroes) to have a complicated, emotional backstory to explain why they are the way they are, but have you considered the option of a villain who’s just a great big bag of dicks because why not?
Dr. Victor Von Doom can be that villain for you.
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The malevolent dictator of the fictional Eastern-European nation of Latveria doesn’t care about anything much other than his own person bizarro agenda which usually involves taking over something or getting revenge on someone. Sure, he had a crappy upbringing, but geez, so did like 80% of the heroes in the Marvel universe. Hell, a lot of real life people have terrible childhoods and very few of them grow up to be malevolent scientist dictators.
The source of his ridiculous evil probably stems from his mom selling her soul to Mephisto in exchange for super-intelligence and a monarchy for her son, then still in utero. Having your genius come directly from the devil probably doesn’t do a whole lot for your inherent morality, so if there’s any outside influence that lead Vic down his villainous path, it was that.
After his mom got killed or whatever by Mephisto, Vic was adopted and eventually went to school in America with Reed Richards, who honestly doesn’t seem like he’d be great at working on team projects, and Vic is left scarred after a Scientific Experiment Gone Wrong when something explodes in his face.
Because he’s ridiculous, he decides that he needs a permanent metal mask on his face, goes to freaking Tibet and commissions a magical suit of armor and proceeds to put it on before it’s done cooling, because HEY WHY NOT. So now what was some facial burn scarring that probably would have mostly faded after time and maybe applying some Neosporin if he really wanted to cover it up was made 800 times worse for literally no reason.
"Literally no reason" is probably the phrase that best describes Dr. Doom, in general. He just kind of does things, usually as evilly as possible, and to hell with anyone else or the consequences. One time he killed somebody just because he’d been working with the Fantastic Four and didn’t want to seem like he’d gone soft.
The first time we meet Dr. Doom, the villain, he kidnaps Sue Storm in order to lure the rest of the Fantastic Four to his hideout and blackmail them into working for him. I know this was during the dark ages but this kind of Snidely Whiplashery was the best they could come up with.

Thankfully, not a whole lot has changed since he first appeared on the scene, twirling his figurative mustache. In a memorable recent appearance in Children’s Crusade, he was engaged to a memory-addled Scarlet Witch in a plot to steal her powers because power-stealing requires a solid commitment like marriage.
His first act after obtaining Wanda’s abilities was to make himself into a chiseled, glittery Handsome Guy straight out of the Shoujo-iest Shoujo manga. (Sans mask of course, which begs the question, why he couldn’t have just not put on a fucking boiling hot metal mask in the first place, because again, his initial facial scarring was not that bad, and since he’s a goddamn genius in a world full of goddamn geniuses, I’m pretty sure he could have figured out a way to smooth his face out if it was that important to him.)

Anyway, following his prettification he just up and kills Cassie Lang, because somebody’s gotta die, I guess, so we might as well push Scott Lang’s character development along or something.
When this plan eventually fails thanks to the efforts of The Good Guys, he takes responsibility for all of Scarlet Witch’s actions, not because he cared about Wanda catching any flak, of course, but because ONLY HE, DOOM, HAS THE POWER TO CREATE SUCH A SCHEME. THE SCARLET WITCH WAS ONLY A PAWN IN DOOM’S GAME.
All of this might come off as a sarcastic, ironic appreciation, and it’s not. I legitimately love Dr. Doom. You can keep your Lokis; Dr. Doom is my dream supervillain husband. It might be a pure distillation of comics as escapism; Vic is pretty cut-and-dried. You might not know his master plan, but there’s not a whole lot of gray area when it comes to his goals, even when he’s working with The Good Guys. It might be that he’s just so cartoonishly evil, so balls-out egotistical and megalomaniacal that it goes over the top and loops back around so that it’s over the top again, but at the same time he legitimately cares about his mom and risks his life repeatedly for her well-being. There’s the level of mystery to him with his hilarious mask and armor and magic and science. He’s grumpy and shout-y, he talks in third person, and he’s too smart to wholly rely on people and instead builds robot duplicates of himself. ROBOT. DUPLICATES. OF. HIMSELF. MULTIPLE ONES.

Also he’s a Star Trek fan and that’s extremely important in any relationship.
Image Credit: Fantastic Four #5 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; Avengers: The Children’s Crusade by Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung; Unknown Marvel

DOOMED!

By Kira Kristine

Listen, I know it’s in style right now for villains (and heroes and anti-heroes) to have a complicated, emotional backstory to explain why they are the way they are, but have you considered the option of a villain who’s just a great big bag of dicks because why not?

Dr. Victor Von Doom can be that villain for you.

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FUN IN THE SUN: THE MARVEL SWIMSUIT SPECIAL
By Steven Miller
In the spirit of summer, I decided to take some time and share with you the magic of Marvel Illustrated: Swimsuit Issue. I don’t have a huge collection of comics these days, but for some reason I did decide to collect all of them (there were 5 volumes in total…the others I might share down the road). They’re absolutely bizarre, and today I’d like to talk about the premiere issue.
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So we start with a cover of She-Hulk being oogled by a bunch of dudes in the Savage Land. Actually, I’m a little bummed they didn’t go with Sauron creepin’ on her, but nevertheless, we get a lot of thigh. I’m not sure that is how She-Hulk is actually built, but I guess (green) sex sells. The cover is by Brian Stelfreeze (I got him to sign it for me at a convention because I’m that kind of awful). I have to say that one of the strangest things about this book is that actual writers and artists worked on it; it’s not full of fill-in work by unknown house people. So we get a Wolverine deodorant ad and the typical magazine credits/table of contents pages before we get right into it with an introduction by fashion designer Janet Van Dyne and Tony Stark. The thing that’s weird about this (beside the fact that they are really trying hard to remind you that Wasp is a designer) is that they’re treating the Savage Land as this beautiful oasis resort, instead of the typical deathtrap that it’s been every other time it’s been visited. Further, the whole thing is a benefit for the preservation of the Savage Land and they are world-broadcasting a charity concert there with Dazzler and Lila Cheney. So let me get this right…you want to help save the secret prehistoric land hidden in Antarctica by telling everyone in the world that it’s there and a beautiful place to vacation? This is Jurassic Park all over again. Nature finds a way, y’all.
There’s a quick interview with Northstar, and then we get into the “Super Olympics”, where we are being lead to believe that the Marvel heroes actually compete in Olympic-style competitions to score points for their respective teams. Alright. It’s actually a really detailed breakdown of the standings and I appreciate that Dagger, Dazzler, and Kitty Pryde were the finalists for figure skating. And then there’s the She-Hulk workout (which I think I’ll be trying this week):
15 minute of stretching
bench press – 12 reps – 4 sets - 30 tons, increasing each set
incline dumbbell flies – 5 sets
cable crossovers
standing curls – 10 reps – 5 sets - 25 tons
seated dumbbell curls – 15 tons in each hand
undetermined tricep exercises
We get a Beast shampoo ad, a story about Silver Surfer, and some concert photos of Dazzler and Lila before we get into what everyone has been waiting for…the T&A!

Pyslocke is offensively yellow for some reason, but it looks like she’s enjoying some time snorkeling in prehistoric shores full of bacteria and microorganisms her body can’t process. Don’t drink the water.

Diamondback displaying some serious thirst in regards to being so close to Cap’s loins. Have some self-respect, woman.

The boys and their soft butch looks. I don’t like the look on Hulk’s face.
As I flip the page to Jubilee and Boom Boom trying and get Cable to put on a leopard print bikini, I’m left wondering who in the world the target audience of this book is? Is it me? A gay man who loves comics and and bad 90s swimwear? The thing about this book is that it totally objectifies women, yet it also serves up some serious beefcake. I guess there’s something for everyone who has sexual feelings about comic book characters.

Fortunately there are plenty of grottoes and waterfalls in the Savage Land where the ladies can go to just have a good time. This is a feature I remember quite well from the X-Men video game on Sega Genesis. Sometimes if you crouch behind those waterfalls, you get extra health. But you have to be careful because sometimes the dudes with spears will hide back there, too. And did you know you can use the Iceman bridge to skip the fight with Juggernaut in that level? Man, that game was great. Probably the only time that Gambit is useful.

There’s a big purple snake joke here that just writes itself. John Romita Jr. should be ashamed of himself.

Fortunately the villains also have some downtime take in the sights before trying to murder each other. It’s really actually very nice that they set their differences apart for charity. Because really, without the Savage Land, where else are they supposed to set up a villainous base of operations? Madripoor? (I’m pretty sure one of the other Swimsuit Specials is set there, actually.)

Finally, we get a spirited game of tug of war that doesn’t seem remotely fair when you consider the the left side has two Gods, She-Hulk, and Captain America. But then again, Wanda could just use her hex power to wipe them out of existence, so, maybe it is an even match. There’s a shaving cream ad with Thor on the back cover, which is a shame, because I always liked him better with the beard.
And so I close the book and wonder why none of the residents of the Savage Land were found within it’s pages. I mean, what’s the deal with that? They are already wearing loincloths, so the bathing suits aren’t much of s stretch. Where were Ka-Zar and Shanna? Did pollution and foreign invasion of the jungle starve out Devil Dinosaur? What of poor Moon-Boy? I reflect on what I’d just read and finally realized how important the charity concert and group vacation to the Savage Land really was.
Mockingbird isn’t wearing a thong for sex appeal, she’s doing it to save  the environment. And that’s something I think we can all get on board with.
But seriously, why is Iron Man wearing swim trunks over his suit?

FUN IN THE SUN: THE MARVEL SWIMSUIT SPECIAL

By Steven Miller

In the spirit of summer, I decided to take some time and share with you the magic of Marvel Illustrated: Swimsuit Issue. I don’t have a huge collection of comics these days, but for some reason I did decide to collect all of them (there were 5 volumes in total…the others I might share down the road). They’re absolutely bizarre, and today I’d like to talk about the premiere issue.

Read More

THE BATMAN BIBLE PART 3
By Ben Rawluk
Welcome back to our celebration of Batman, we’re glad you’re still with us! If you didn’t catch the first 2 parts, you should read those first. In honor of Batman’s 75th birthday, we’re exploring The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told. Enjoy!
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X. BOMBAST
And with “The Blockbuster Invasion of Gotham City,” the membrane shivers.  Tone shift. Into the mid-1960s, we leave the flat children’s book illustrations of Dick Sprang and his ghosts behind, taking on depth for the first time as Carmine Infantino takes the stage.
But don’t worry. Batman can still do anything (after we’ve seen him struggle, of course). Robin can still quip.
A behemoth like the Blockbuster is a throwback, of course, to Hugo Strange’s monster-men. But by now he’s given up the guns. The Batplane no longer fires weapons like that.  There will be no death. Instead, he stops him through trickery, through the magic of his secret identity. Mark Desmond, who becomes the Blockbuster, knows Bruce Wayne and can’t bring his monstrous body to hurt him.

XI. REMBERANCE OF VIGILANTES PAST
“Ghost of the Killer Skies” is an odd story, notable for the eerie opening page with a plane careening out of the blank and pitiless whiteness of the page, streaking into the comic book’s panels from the infinite and choking gutter. The impact even cuts into the narrative captions.
Batman must investigate problems on the set of a film about the Enemy Ace, an old DC property focused on a German anti-hero during the World Wars. Look, when I cracked open this volume for the first time, World War II was still a nebulous thing for me, and this was the first influx of a DC Universe from outside of the Justice League, a DC Universe that didn’t just wear tights and capes.  At the time, it may not have resonated with me very much but within the context of the book, this story hums with the shivering, trickling fringes of its universe.
If The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told is a holy book, around it swirls vast and almost immeasurable apocrypha.

XII. A LIFE OF NEVER-ENDING PLOT-TWISTS
Harvey Dent. Two-Face. Thinking about it, this book may have been the first time I ever really encountered Two-Face. He wasn’t—from what I recall, the Adam West TV version which danced around him, since they couldn’t do someone so grotesque. “Half an Evil” opens with another spectacular opening page—unlike the biplane shooting into the narrative, we are observers as Batman haunts the swamps of Gotham. I’d like to think, a fervent lover of Seven Soldiers, that this is Slaughter Swamp.
We are firmly into the Gotham of the 1970s, by the way. The old days will be referenced only in flashback, a veneer of nostalgia overlaid upon them. Here in particular: Harvey Dent is introduced to us as Two-Face, having received an appropriately doubled origin; his face reconstructed and the man re-introduced to society, this Two-Face has already undergone the trauma of rebirth twice, a second dangerous attack on his chiselled jaw. I like that this story balances Batman’s multiplicity well; while the previous two stories mark the transition in style to the darker “more realistic” Batman from the storybook version, “Half an Evil” mirrors its villain. Knifing through the moody waters and dealing with Dent in tight quarters, there’s real grit to the narrative, but this is still essentially a gimmick caper, Two-Face calls attention to himself with a double-themed crime.  He relies on the double-headed silver dollar to make his choices.
This is part of why this book had such an impact on me, part of why it feels woven into my core, why I can still look back at it as an adult and receive a taste of the old electricity. Because, even with the history of Batman elided, even with elements that I have come to think of as key (Batgirl, for example) unacknowledged, the stories chosen do not turn so suddenly that you receive whip-lash. Even the Infantino story is a point of transition more than an abrupt snap, the art shifting but the colours remaining quite bright. You can always sense the other versions of Batman shimmering like a mirage, overlapping the text of whichever story you’re reading. And “Half an Evil” reinforces that, of course, by suggesting that there will always be another plot twist, always another tone shift. You might think your face repaired by science, your sanity restored, but there’s always someone waiting to splash acid in your face again. But, at the same time, there’s always a Batman ready to pull you out of the hole and fix you back up again.

XIII. YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE LAST OF THE MONSTERS
The most hypnotic panel in Frank Robbins’s “Man-Bat over Vegas,” for me, was always an odd, wide shot of a troupe of chorus girls locked in a moment of absolute fear, eyes wide and alarmed. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with them beyond fear, in the context of the story, but they are frozen and pale like vampiric brides. This always bothered me as a kid.
Of course, while Kirk Langstrom—the Man-Bat—isn’t a vampire, he’s certainly a monster, a creature, shifting shape at night to fly across the skyline, murder in his heart. The ghost of the Monk hovers at the edge again.  Batman investigates a lead in Vegas, a man bitten and drained of blood.  Kirk Langstrom—a scientist and a friend, one who has already become the Man-Bat in the past—is the prime suspect.  The case is more complicated than that, of course.
What I like about this story now is what I didn’t like about it when I first encountered it. I found “Man-Bat over Vegas” terrifying.  Frank Robbins’s brusque, choppy artwork unsettled me.  Those petrified chorus girls.  It’s moody and expressionistic, Nosferatu climbing back into those lines.  And you can’t hide behind the constant reminders of Batman’s disconnect from the supernatural, even when he’s away from the Justice League. The story whispers to you that magic might not be real, but there’s no reason science can’t reproduce it, no reason we can’t make vampires when there are none.  The story is a threat.
And it’s sexy in an overt way, mixed in with the death; it is revealed that the actual vampire is a She-Bat, Kirk’s wife Francine, overcome by the formula he created to transform himself—and the final confrontation features an eerie Francine poised among the rocky outcroppings of a deep cave, offering her husband a venomous Come Hither disguised as a desperate plea for help.
I often skipped over “Man-Bat over Vegas,” before.  Now I read it hungrily, and dream of further adventures under Robbins’s hand.

XIV. THERE’S A BATMAN FOR EVERYONE
Recently, a friend of mine wrote a piece for NPR about Batman (Link), and more specifically about The Dark Knight Returns.  She talked about how the version of Batman—let’s call him Cranky Bat-Dad—running through those pages wasn’t “her” Batman.  She’s a few years younger than me, is more solidly founded in the Bruce Timm-run Batman: The Animated Series, but her remark struck something for me.  After all, of course, this essay is particularly focused on the idea of a seamless Batman narrative that actively contradicts itself, that marries alien tones and styles together.  That Batman’s methods can change, growing more or less aggressive. I certain agree with her, to a certain extent—it’s hard for me to look at Cranky Bat-Dad and see “my” Batman, because my Old Batman is square-jawed and married to Catwoman.
But then you turn to “The Batman Nobody Knows”—oddly enough, another Frank Robbins story, but one with more conventional artwork by Dick Giordano—and it’s like someone taking you by the hand and leading you to a room filled with longboxes, a little Bat-emblem on each box, the exact details of the logo dependent on the box.
This is a classic story. A bit like how “Robin Dies at Dawn” is recalled decades later by Grant Morrison, this story has been adapted several times, although I’ve found its adaptations weaker, notably removing the race component from the story.  Bruce Wayne takes a trio of orphans on a camping trip as part of his Wayne Foundation charity activities.  They sit around the campfire and tell, not ghost stories, but ones about Batman.
More specifically, they talk about who Batman is, what he must look like.  This was years before DC would push in the direction of settling him into the role of being an “urban legend,” one of the most ridiculous editorial decisions I’ve ever seen.
The boys tell the story of Batman taking down a particular crook, each one spinning or warping the idea of what Batman is.  In one, he’s a supernatural vampire, passing effortlessly through walls, something closer to Man-Bat in spandex.  Another boy describes him as similarly supernatural, a lighter-than-air giant at ten feet tall.  The third boy describes him as a black man with a jetpack and giant bat-wing glider.  That last one was the Batman in the story that I most liked as a kid—the super-technology, the design, the wingspan. In retrospect, I like that the black version of the character is the most human of the three.

Bruce, of course—in a moment of vanity—throws on his real Batman costume and jumps out to scare the kids.  They see right through him, though, and laugh it off.  They yawn and turn in for the night, telling him he’s too old for that “kid’s stuff.”
The takeaway for Bruce is that the Batman can only terrify the evil, but it’s snaked through with this feeling like we all get to choose our own Batman, we can all select the version we want, something that feels, at times, gets lost in DC’s quest for gritty-edged relevance.  But it’s also something to keep in mind when talking about Batman, when you feel yourself frustrated taking in these other renditions of Batman that don’t quite fit what you want.  It’s something I need to keep in mind.

XV. THE AGE OF IRRELEVANT DEBUNKING
As I mentioned with “Man-Bat over Vegas,” we have started to breach an era of Batman where debunking happens—a mystery has an apparently supernatural component but turns out to have a scientific backstory—but the debunking is somewhat irrelevant because the supernatural can be reproduced. “Deathmask” makes nods to this—its eerie villain, a South American death god be-decked in a frightening skull-mask, really does have unnatural strength even if it’s the result of your generic Jungle Narcotic Used For Rituals By The Savages—but in retrospect reads as a bit of a Scooby Doo adventure. Yes, the mystery is who is under the mask, but while the revelation that Francine Langstrom has also become a (Wo)man-Bat like her husband before her is heartbreaking and traumatic, the death god is just another disgruntled museum employee trying to kill people under the guise of a monster.
The story does point to some of the undercurrents running through Gotham and Bruce Wayne’s position as an elite in the city’s seemingly overflowing population of rich white people.  Similar to Catwoman’s diamond mine aspirations back during “The Jungle Cat-Queen,” this story relies on the acquisition of cultural artifacts from “savage” societies far removed from Gotham through colonization, artifacts that are then displayed for the elites of the city and become the hinges of criminal plots. Even when they aren’t being used as weapons against others, relics acquired through American imperialism are rampant in Gotham, constantly targeted by a criminal population hungry for any opportunity to quench their thirst for thematically-appropriate booty.
One must wonder how much of Egypt’s cultural heritage ended up in some dingy factory, guarded by a giant mechanical leopard while Catwoman mooned over Batman.

XVI. BATMAN ALOFT
Planes have always been connected to Batman for me.  Aircraft.  There was the Batwing from the first Burton movie, particularly that moment when it bursts from the clouds to pause in front of the moon before descending, ready to take on Jack Nicholson’s Joker. There were those spectacular scenes with the perfect Pop Art vehicle of the 1960s, Adam West’s Bat-Copter, the silhouette of its pilot stencilled pristinely into glass.  And there was this book, with its Batplane, then the Enemy Ace and finally “Death Flies the Haunted Sky.”
After the grittier, lined figures we have experienced since leaving the storybook behind, Alex Toth’s line work is simultaneously a breath of fresh air and a sideways dislocation; it is looser and suggests his animation background. Of anyone in the book, he is the closest you’ll get to my current tastes in comic book art. While this is very much a story taking place in the Gotham City of its day, with bombastic infernos and actual crime rather than the pastoral energy beams and winking laughter of the Super Friends—one of Toth’s animation projects—I can still imagine Batman here, under his hand, speaking with Adam West’s voice.

THE BATMAN BIBLE PART 3

By Ben Rawluk

Welcome back to our celebration of Batman, we’re glad you’re still with us! If you didn’t catch the first 2 parts, you should read those first. In honor of Batman’s 75th birthday, we’re exploring The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told. Enjoy!

Read More