Thursday, February 14, 2013

DC Comics Database Top Kisses of the DCU -- Valentine's Day 2013

It's Valentine's Day again, and this year DC Comics Database voted on the top 10 all-time best kisses in DC Universe history. It was a struggle and there were a lot of heavy contenders. But we know how important it is for all of you to hear a bunch of grown men who spend all day writing about comic books tell you about kissing. If you're like me spending Valentine's Day with a fine lady named Isla del Sol by Drew Estate, we're sure you'll enjoy this trip down memory lane. While you're waiting around for "discount chocolate day" tomorrow like the rest of us decent folk, sit down and listen to us yammer.

This might not seem like a huge deal now since Dick Grayson has become the DCU's resident turnstile. Seriously, I'm pretty sure sleeping with him is the requirement to get your own mini-series. But Robin's kiss with Starfire in the pages of New Teen Titans was hot-stuff, this was before his relationship with Batgirl had really been explored. She immediately explains that frenching is how her people learn a new language, but this was the beginning of a relationship that would last until a horrible demon pregnancy ruined their wedding in the 90's. 

The Legion of Super-Heroes are one of DC's most tragically under-rated properties. Their continuity is probably the most confusing in comic book history, and I know this because I wrote that fucking article. In '94 they decided to reboot the Legion during Zero Hour, and the resulting story End of an Era is absolutely heartbreaking. For all their faults, the Legion of Super-Heroes told idealistic stories about how great the future can be if we make it so. While the team is fading away and all reality is erased, they don't show fear or pity themselves. They hope what remains of the universe will have someone left to fight the good fight, and they reflect on how lucky they are to die with their loved ones. The founders put their hands together to shout "Long live the Legion!" while Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl share one last kiss in their final moment. 

Morrison has always been one of DC's weirdest writers, and his surrealist phase on Doom Patrol makes you actually have to lie down. The aptly named "Brotherhood of Evil" are exactly as much fun as you'd expect a preserved brain and his gun-toting gorilla sidekick to be. When Morrison reintroduces them, he adds the tragic love story that Brain and Monsieur Mallah are lovers who can never be together. Despite the fact that Brain is an evil brain in a jar, Mallah is a super-intelligent gorilla terrorist, and they're both French, you really find yourself rooting for them. In this crazy world, who are we to say no when somebody else finds love? It's beautiful and it gives me hope. 

The return of Barry Allen as The Flash was inevitable, but still a very difficult move. It's undeniable that when he died, they killed him off for being a boring-as-shit character. Barry Allen is a rare character who doesn't have some tragedy or personality flaw, he's just a nice guy who likes helping people. When they brought him back they knew they'd have to establish him as a dynamic character to keep up with Wally West. This is immediately seen when he confronts Iris, his wife who believed him dead. She's possessed by the unbreakable Anti-Life Equation, and Barry frees her by proving life is worth living with a single kiss. 

6. Aquaman and Wonder Woman in JLA #48 by Mark Waid and Bryan Hitch

If you're not into 90's Aquaman, check that shit out. Beginning with The Atlantis Chronicles, Peter David took the under-appreciated hero and made him into a grizzled badass you just wanted to hug. This Aquaman was a lonely guy who couldn't call the land or sea his home. His one-sided attraction to Wonder Woman was Morrison's idea, giving the character a reason to stick around with the JLA. She never returned his affections, but when Wonder Woman was put to sleep by the Queen of Fables she could only be awakened by a true prince. 

Everything about this issue is amazing, it's a must-have. Midnighter's ability is seeing everything several steps ahead, and Vaughan gives us a look into his mind by showing the pages in reverse order. Apollo and Midnighter have a mind-blowing kiss overlooking Earth, before we go backwards through several pages of fighting cyborgs. The cyborgs react with disgust to his opening line: "I've settled on the finale that leaves your sick operation toppling like a house of cards... and me making love to my husband." 

Batman and Wonder Woman have always been a dark horse pairing, but their relationship is fun when it's explored. There was a stint in Joe Kelly's JLA where they tried dating, after sharing a pre-battle kiss right before they died in Obsidian AgePerchance is a beautiful story that deals with the possibilities of this relationship, although they decide that neither of them really has time to date someone. During Blackest Night, Diana was turned into a Black Lantern and the only thing that could snap her out of it was the memory of her love for Bruce. Aphrodite used him as an illusion, allowing Wonder Woman to break free and use the strength of her love to join the Star Sapphire Corps. This was a really cool plot-point that immediately went on to be explored by nobody

This wasn't the first time DC has experimented with Superman and Wonder Woman falling in love. It certainly won't be the last. They're an obvious power couple, but because of Lois Lane this is usually Elseworlds territory. One of the most interesting choices they've made with The New 52 is putting them together for real, to explore the consequences of the most powerful duo in the world getting it on. It's true that they're not the most compatible people, but they're in a unique position to understand each other as nobody else can. 

2. Batman and Catwoman in Batman #610 by Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee

The prospect of having Batman in a relationship at all has always been controversial. People usually cite that he'd never have time for a wife, and couldn't risk having loved ones for his enemies to hurt. The nice thing about Batman comics in the last decade is we're finally getting away from that all-dark-loner-all-the-time attitude. There's this huge belief that Batman is only interesting when he's a sad fucked-up dude. But the serene warrior and loving father figure made popular by Grant Morrison is proving to have every bit as much story potential. When Jeph Loeb had Batman finally get with Catwoman after decades of flirtation, we knew it would have to end but it's just nice to see him happy for once. 

Superman and Lois Lane are the first relationship of the DCU. They are the President and First Lady. What makes them such a great story is they're the perfect juxtaposition of super and human. It would be easy to pair Superman with another supe like Wonder Woman or Maxima. But his relationship with Lois emphasizes the humanity of Clark Kent. Superman is a story about the most fantastic man on Earth, but he's never above humanity. He's a hard-working American who's able to do incredible things, and wants to share that greatness with everyone. This is epitomized by Quitely's drawing of Superman and Lois together on the moon, standing as equals while he shows her the wonders of the universe from his eyes.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Give Aquaman a Chance

Aquaman is essentially the Rodney Dangerfield of the super-hero world. He's a great hero and a great character, but he never gets any measure of respect. Everybody makes fun of Aquaman... even nerds. He gained his reputation as the most useless member of the Super Friends back in the 1960's, and he's never since been able to live it down no matter how hard people try to give him credibility. There's a reason he can swing with the best of them in the Justice League even on a bad day.
He came from the depths of the Ocean
 to deliver the message of "shut up."

The two biggest misconceptions are that his only power is talking to fish and he can't go on land... neither of those are true. He's an Atlantean and he has the strength and physiology to withstand pressure at the deepest depths of the ocean like it was a breezy summer day. In addition to being one of the strongest beings on Earth, he's also the de facto ruler of most of the planet. This is a guy who doesn't take shit from anyone because he doesn't have to, and even if he did he could use mind control on the part of the human brain that evolved from marine ancestors. He doesn't just talk to fish... he controls all sea-life. Since Brightest Day this has included dead creatures. That's right... Aquaman literally has an army of fucking killer zombie sharks at his disposal to ultra-murder people, and his very own private Kraken at his disposal. That's if he doesn't beat the shit out of you with his bare hands. He fights worse than simple criminals or muggers on the mean urban streets... his nemesis is a crazed super-terrorist who murdered his baby because he hates the abstract concept of the Ocean. Add to that tally a sadistic half-brother bent on usurping his throne, and a loving wife from another dimension sent here to kill him.

But beyond being a credible and incredible super-hero, he's also a great and versatile character. Chris Sims has called Batman comics' most versatile character, and the legend of Aquaman is a similarly great story. Half-human and half-Atlantean, he's constantly trapped between two worlds, never completely accepted by either of his people but destined to live as a leader and savior to both. It's the classic story of a noble hero driven hard to protect the world that's forsaken him and prove himself, even though he might hate their guts. Growing up from ostracization in his youth, he becomes a grim hardened warrior driven by anger but with a deep sense of personal morality that transcends his more brutal and aggressive instincts. At his heart he's still a passionate family man who takes care of those closest to him while managing a massive under-sea empire, and struggles with love for multiple beautiful women. The relative unpopularity despite such great potential has made him incredibly under-used. He's at home as a regal diplomat or an animalistic barbarian, knocking alien heads together in space, dueling political assassins, or brawling his way through great monsters of the deep.
I am of course really looking forward to the upcoming new Aquaman series supposed to be written by Geoff Johns, but it's great that we're starting to see him become more popular even in other media. Appearances in Smallville and especially the amazing work being done in Batman: The Brave and the Bold have made great strides towards legitimizing the character the way he deserves to be.

I also want to make it clear that I could read literally nothing else but Kate Beaton's Aquaman comics for the rest of my life and I would be a happy man.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Speak Ill of the Dead

In the wake of Osama bin Laden's death, I've found myself shocked by people's reactions and their lack of perspective. I'm a New Yorker born and raised, I was in 4th Grade when the towers went down. Ten years later, I'm walking out of a college improv show and I hear they finally got the guy. I texted my friends and we had a party until the wee hours of the morning with Wings Over and loud music, because amidst finals and the end of the school year we had something that really needed celebrating. They got him. What disturbed me was the condemnation that seemed to be everywhere the next day... dozens of people I liked and even respected were horrified that our nation had come together overnight to celebrate a man's death. I can understand that on a personal level, the belief that human death should never be celebrated. In 999,999,999 cases out of a billion I would even agree them. But what really got to me was the rampant accusations that anybody who does celebrate or take pleasure in the death of Osama bin Laden is a sickeningly disgusting terrible human being, symptomatic of exactly what is wrong with America. He's the greatest mass-murderer in our country's history, responsible for the tragic deaths of literally thousands of innocent people... our friends, our neighbors, our family members, gone for the sake of a mad crusade against democracy and homosexuality. Did everyone I know turn into Batman while I was asleep and nobody told me? Where could people possibly be getting off calling us sickos for taking pleasure in his death?
"Quick, somebody get him to the hospital!"

Perhaps people don't understand the gravity of the situation. Literally thousands of innocent civilians who worked hard every day to make the best lives for themselves and their loved ones, who asked for no war, were brutally murdered and died horrible deaths. People had to jump out of skyscrapers and splatter  themselves on the sidewalk just to avoid burning to death. These weren't statistics... every single individual was a human being, a son or daughter, mother or father, brother or sister, and everything they ever were or would be was taken from them and their loved ones. You don't get to do that to people. You lose your right to have people not celebrate your death when you cause that much pain.

The strength of the character Batman makes a powerful moral statement, but he's ultimately undermined by the medium he resides in. Batman doesn't kill, and there's been a huge effort by many creators throughout history to explore, define and justify this decision. There are a lot of strong moral reasons that have been given for this oddly Kantian maxim held by arguably the greatest Utilitarian hero ever created, but it realistically comes down to one thing at the end of the day... Batman can't kill the Joker because he's too good of a character to get rid of. In reality, if there's a mass murderer who's killed thousands of innocent people, and would gladly do so again given the chance, you end that person. Because there is no place for people like that in a world where we are trying to do the most good with what we have available. In comic books, with their lack of real world consequences, Batman is a stoic champion of objective morality in a world of grays. In the real world, he'd be the dog-faced cunt who allowed for the brutal senseless death of your daughter because he couldn't squeeze a little tighter on someone who deserved it.

I'm aware that the death of Osama bin Laden was mostly a symbolic victory at this point, and I'm aware that it probably won't even change anything. But he was undeniably a truly evil man. No shades of grey, just right and wrong. There was a piece of true evil in the world, and now there isn't one where there was before. That's always something to be celebrated.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Worst Hour of the Morning

It's way worse than it sounds. 

It’s that dreadful bloody awful hour or so of the morning where the night-owls have gone to bed and the early-birds have yet to rise. The whole world seems to be empty, pristine and untouched, like the software exists for reality but the files haven’t completely rendered yet. I hate it. It would be almost sort of beautiful in its odd virginity if it wasn’t so terrible and lonely. The breath of fresh air is at first calming and relaxing, without the collage of sound and flurried faces mucking it up, but then the uneasiness sets in. A lone car rolls by in the distance like it knows more than you do, or think it’s better than you are because it’s supposed to be there and you aren’t. If the car had a face you would stab it. Not that stupid looks-like-a-face with its headlights and front bumper, a real one that could feel pain. The landmarks are all familiar, but there’s no life to them without people. It’s a sort of calm serene void usually reserved for the dead or worse, like walking around a giant scale-model mausoleum of all your memories and familiarities. You want to scream for help but there’s not a single person in the entire world who would hear you. They’re all dead… like your parents. Go back to sleep and wake up when things will seem better. Eat something for breakfast that involved killing an animal to make it. Blast loud rock music and wake up your roommate. You won’t be forgetting this anytime soon, but the least you can do is distract yourself. If you ever have to go outside between the hours of 5 and 6am again, bring a loud gun in case nature gets any ideas

Friday, April 29, 2011

Lex Luthor's Existential Epiphany and the Power of Music

The power of something as simple as music to make a man cry is absolutely astonishing. There’s no real logical reason why it should when you break it down… just a collection of sounds and chords arranged according to subjective aesthetic. But the right piece can map out your soul… reducing the heavily inter-woven fibers of the emotional structure making up your life into an identifiable rhythmic cadence that seems to know you better than you know yourself. Sometimes it’s a memory, a fragment from yesterday that brings everything back in big vibrant technicolor through association. Sometimes it’s something you’ve never heard before. Like the face of a woman on the subway you’ve never met before, but can’t help feeling like you’ve known your entire life… it makes you think about the choices you make every day simply by sticking to your own routine. How many times have you condemned yourself to a linear destiny simply by choosing not to strike up a conversation with a stranger? 

You’re lying awake in bed at night and you hear something that’s simply so evocative of your experiences that it takes you by surprise, and pierces the emotional Great Wall of China you keep up for appearance’s sake. Just walks right in through the front door like it owns the place. There are vulnerabilities you never even think about until something hits you right square in them like a baseball through a pane glass window. It happens in the simple truths that we don’t like to think about. There are irreversible mistakes you’ve made in the past where you’ve lost important things… trust, closure, friendship, a relationship with someone incredible… it’s been entirely your fault because you’re weak, and there’s nothing you can do to repair it or make it never have happened no matter how hard you try. The delusions that we use to keep ourselves going everyday, the light at the end of the tunnel with a happy pleasant simple existence. Mortality, and how much of our lives we waste not doing the things we really want to because we can’t or won’t. You’re reminded of the most basic of all painful truths… there’s simply a huge difference between the way the world is and the way you want it to be, but you can’t do anything about that. 

But you don't just cry when something like that happens... you laugh, too. You laugh because there's something wonderful at the heart of everything. Even in the middle of the night in the dark in your bed with no one else to talk to, you aren't alone. You're surrounded in the world by countless others who go through the same struggles and experience the same joys that you do every day, taking the same pain and pleasure. That's what it means... that's the significance of the entire experience. It's intangible communication of existence's common denominators, even the simple ones. You're not alone. You exist on the same wavelength as an entire species, all that's left up to you is finding the connections and appreciating their value. 

"It's all just us, in here, together. And we're all we've got."

There's a profoundly beautiful moment at the end of All-Star Superman where Lex Luthor has gained Superman's powers for a day, and finally gets to see everything in the visual spectrum simultaneously the way his arch-enemy does. In the several seconds worth of complete and total clarity that he experiences, he arrives at an extremely simple conclusion. "It's all just us, in here, together. And we're all we've got." This is it and you make the most of it, you find connections where you can and you love like nobody's business because in all importance we don't have anything other than that. I think about that moment a lot. It makes me want to be a better person. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Brother, Can You Spare a Crime?

Hobo with a Shotgun is in theaters and we somehow can't ignore just how much we all love homeless people. Like natural disasters and dramatic ironies, there's something that makes this horrible tragedy of the human spirit irresistible as entertainment. In practice we experience empathy at best and disgust at worst, but in fiction it becomes almost sort of a terrible power fantasy. The absolute freedom that comes with having no Earthly restrictions, limitations or expectations is unimaginable. Having absolutely nothing in the world save the clothes on your back is a nightmarish fever dream that most members of regular society can't even conceive of. It's an extreme of the human condition. This is why homelessness makes for great superhero comics.

Crazy homeless Batman hallucinates
Horrible circumstances have a way of bringing about the absolute best in characters on a primal level. One of the many beautiful things about a story like Batman R.I.P. is that it completely epitomized what makes homeless comics so fantastic. Batman, arguably the greatest comic book character of all time, reduced to his absolute lowest means. Becoming a hallucinating psychotic dressed in tatters and rags when his personality is separated from Bruce Wayne, Batman stops brooding and spends the entire night running around using a baseball bat to beat the shit out of whoever strikes his fancy. Granted nobody in their right minds would ever give this man change, but the points he makes in his crazed ranting are communicated extremely well.

This has happened before in the storyline Divided we Fall which also depicted the two personalities separating, Batman becoming a useless fop without Bruce's motivation and Wayne becoming a violent psychotic without Batman to relieve his aggression. Really I suppose it's not important how it's done, we just like seeing characters famous for their control completely losing it. Either way, borderline dementia and shit-kicking make for great stories.

Sexy sexy demented hobo god
Granted how little we've seen that super-heroics can pay the bills, it's surprising that it's not more common. There are a few lovely examples. One of the best underused characters that came out of the publishing tragedy known as Bloodlines was a blind 'Nam veteran named Hook who divided his time between fighting monsters and begging for spare change in the park. He was murdered unceremoniously off-panel to prove what a badass Prometheus is. Steve Gerber's Doctor Fate, an oft-overlooked gem cut tragically short, finds his Helmet in a dumpster after participating in a Bumfights video for booze money. He then immediately hocks it at a pawn shop for chump change the first chance he gets after fighting a demon, and walks away with less than $200 cheerily delighted that he will be experiencing breakfast in the near future. It was glorious. Thor: The Mighty Avenger has Jane Foster show us how easy it is to fall in love with a sexy blonde dementia-ridden hobo when amnesiac Thor starts smashing things in her museum and sweeps her off her feet.

What's really surprising is that we've never completely seen an exclusively homeless super-hero in a regular feature, or at least very rarely. For all the socio-economic diversity contained in such an expansive genre, this is startling. I think there's a horrible stigma attached to deriving entertainment from troubles on the lowest rungs of society, but like almost everything else in tragedy it would be nice if we could all just sit back and admit that we really enjoy reading about it. I'm not one to suggest that the world needs more crazy people running around with baseball bats and foaming mouths, but... no, that's exactly what I'm suggesting. More homeless super-hero comics please.