Seven Comic Writers That Inspire Me

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I have aspired to be a writer for years, and feel I do a fair job at it, although I have drawn royalties exactly once. My desire has always been to break into comics, but I have a sneaking suspicion I will have to write elsewhere, before I can do that. Still, I have spent years developing a list of characters, adding notes here and there, and finding the writing and creativity that most appeals to me in comics. Here's the list of the top seven, and what I like about them:

1) Erik Larsen - Larsen is the first comic writer of my adulthood to excite me. Savage Dragon is one of the best rides in the comics amusement park. You never know which way it's going to go. Early on, Dragon comes face-to-face with his top foe, Overlord, and is utterly beaten. He fights him again, and a different foe breaks in on the fight, snatches Dragon and flies away, later sending him to hell. Two girlfriends and a wife have died, his daughter has been lost in another dimension, and his son stolen just after birth. As cops deal with one crisis in the department, a second crisis erupts as a group of supervillains bust in and start killing everyone.

I find this to be top notch writing. People age, change and die. Relationships come and go. The hero is not immune to tragedy. Sometimes, a few crises happen at the same time, rather than waiting their turn. Crossovers happen, and the events are held onto as part of the continuity. Currently, Dragon's not even the good guy. He's regained his memories from when he was the despotic tyrant of an alien race, and he is wreaking havoc. Larsen has said from the beginning that no one is safe in his book, including Dragon. He's always held that one day, Dragon will die and someone else will have to take over the starring role. I have my guesses, like anyone, of where things will go, but have never been disappointed to be wrong - and that's a frequent occurrence with this book.

One other thing that Larsen does: when he uses someone else's character, he tries to stay true to the character, and not write them badly to make his own character shine. He has crossed over with Superman, Madman, Hellboy, Wanted, the Amazing Joy Buzzards, Shadowhawk, 10th Muse, Spawn, Backlash, Invincible, and my personal favorite, Destroyer Duck. There are surely others that I have forgotten, and not once have I ever felt the guest character was out-of-character. Maybe I'm gushing, but I find this to be a true mark of professionalism, because he treats others' properties with as much or more respect than his own.

2) Robert Kirkman - I think it's in one of the first Invincible trades that Kirkman remarks that he stole all of his writing techniques from Erik Larsen. To me, it shows. I've commented on the sudden changes that take place in Larsen's writing, and somehow, Kirkman's made the style his own. One thing about this style is that it tells a complex story, but in a somehow simple way. Things don't often seem convoluted or contrived - just "Of course, that had to happen." It may not be something I saw coming, but when it happens, I say, "Yeah, it was all there," and I marvel at how he's kept the story together all this time.

What amazes me about Kirkman is that he doesn't do it in just Invincible. Larsen's been content to just do Savage Dragon, with the occasional mini-series or one-shot. Kirkman, on the other hand, writes Invincible, Astounding Wolf-Man, Brit, Walking Dead, Youngblood, and probably more I don't know about. When I was first discovering his work, he was also writing Marvel Team-Up. I don't automatically like a story, because it has a favorite writer on it, but I have yet to read a bad one by Kirkman.

3) Jay Faerber - I know Faerber's writing through Noble Causes and Dynamo 5. I'm hoping D5 survives the poor economy, because I like this book almost as much as I liked New Teen Titans, in the Eighties. Again, I find his writing similar to Larsen's and Kirkman's, but there's something faster about the pacing. I can breeze through a D5 trade in nothing flat, and almost be vexed that I spent the money on the thing, because it went so quickly. Only "almost" though, because I always enjoy the story. He does some nice things with characterization - characters actually stay true to their personalities, even when it might be more convenient for them not to. It kind of lent a soap opera quality to Noble Causes, and a family quality to the dysfunctional Dynamo 5. Also, you can't help but be intrigued in the "lecherous Superman" of Captain Dynamo, or what I wish Lois Lane was, in Maddie Warner. Nice stuff.

4) Mark Waid - Mark Waid was probably one of the first writers whose name I started looking for in the credits. I loved his run on Flash, where he defined Max Mercury as "the zen master of speed." Kingdom Come and Kingdom drove my imagination for months (and I highly recommend the Absolute edition, that includes all the companion material for KC, including a listing of every single character appearing in the book). Empire should be required reading for any aspiring writer, as they try to figure out why Golgoth's forces build a bridge in plain sight of the enemy. His current works, Irredeemable and Incorruptible, I don't know as well. I've read the first few issues of Irredeemable, and loved them, but haven't been able to keep up with them since (my wallet has not been inexhaustible). In a two part video interview with Babs of Comic Vine, Waid states that he'd like to teach writing to up-and-coming writers. Personally, I hope that happens at some point. I would sign up in a heartbeat, if at all possible.

5) Kurt Busiek - I don't have a ton to say about Kurt Busiek, because I think Astro City pretty well speaks for him. Also, I hold his writing in high regard because one of my all time favorite stories was written by Busiek - a JLA/JSA crossover, that puts the two teams on Apokolips (Justice League of America #183-185). Simply awesome. Another favorite is a story called "The Scoop" (Astro City #2, Sept. 1995). Busiek's mother gave him a real newspaper article, about shark remains found on a subway track, and he turned it into a reporter's epic superhero story. The problem is the reporter couldn't prove it, so he wrote a very short article about shark remains found on a subway track - the only evidence that anything had occurred there. Extrapolating such an extreme story from such a simple but odd article is pure creativity. The kind that takes me back to when I was a kid, coming up with outrageous ideas on the tiniest scraps of information. That almost gives me goosebumps just thinking about it.

6) Brian Michael Bendis - This guy's been picking up some hatred lately, but I think that's just because his name is on so much stuff, people are sick of seeing it. I don't have that problem. I wish I was as prolific in writing as this man. When asked how he can write so much, his answer is simple: he does the work. Or as he puts it in his letter columns for Powers, he has "no life." Comics aren't just a job for him, he enjoys them, so he spends his time writing. He's not wasting work time on playing video games or whatever other stuff tends to distract guys that mostly make their own schedule.

The thing that inspires me the most about Bendis is that he isn't just throwing stuff at the wall and hoping something sticks. He's actually researching. Articles I read about Secret Invasion said that when he pitched the series, he went through the entire Marvel history of the Skrulls, and laid out how everything connected and culminated in this invasion. I think that's basically what we got in Secret Invasion Saga.

7) Rob Liefeld - This probably comes as a shock to most, because Liefeld is probably the most popular whipping boy in comics, but he truly is one of my favorite writers in comics. NOT because I necessarily think he's a great writer, but because of the sheer amount of books and characters he has put out. I ran across an interview with Crazy Cat Com Comics, posted on Comic Vine, where Liefeld said, "About twenty years ago, it's like my head exploded," and all of these characters came out. Entire teams - Youngblood (in two or three versions of the team), Bloodstrike, New Men, and Brigade - as well as solid solo characters Supreme and Glory. Nevermind stuff he did at Maximum, like Avengelyne. And lest we forget, he created Cable and Deadpool for Marvel - characters that, love 'em or hate 'em - have carried at least five titles each.

I don't care about "tiny feet" and whatever else might be said about his art. As I have trouble drawing better than a twelve year old, I think his art is teriffic. The thing with Liefeld is that he seems to have trouble getting books out on time, if at all. Still, when Marvel tried to sue him over Agent America, he managed to get the rights to Fighting American, effectively thumbing his nose at Marvel, and with a nice bit of historical symmetry. If you don't admire him for that, you have no soul.

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Overall, what probably draws me to all of these guys is that they've created a large amount of characters for their books, and I always love seeing new characters. Their enthusiasm for comics is infectious, and their creativity seems to know no bounds. To me, these are the guys that have learned their lessons from Kirby, Lee and other predecessors. Like them, these seven throw even the craziest ideas on the page, and make them work. Also, more often than not, these are the guys who cause me to have to strike a name from my list of characters, and that just challenges me to come up with something else. While it always gives me chagrin to one degree or another, I enjoy it too. It makes me feel like, "Yes, this idea was good enough for someone else to use in comics, so I must be on the right track." Then I try to come up with the next thing. There are other writers I like, sure - Chuck Dixon, Bill Willingham, Geoff Johns, et.al. - but these seven always give me something to smile about, even if it's a sly smirk of "Man, they beat me to it again." You have to find your inpsirations as a writer though, and these are a few of mine. I hope you enjoyed it.

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A Christian's Thoughts on "God Hates Nerds"

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Photoshopped bigotry - way to go nerds!

I've been thinking about this since it hit the web, during San Diego Comic-Con, and it's just bugging me. Before their "God Hates Nerds" protest, out in front of this year's SDCC, I had never heard of Westboro Baptist Church. I had heard something about their "God Hates Fags" protest, but like most news, ignored it. It's not that I bury my head in the sand where news is concerned, I just generally don't like network newscasts. Most newscasters smile a little too hard, try to subtly take over reports from each other, and use insipid, vapid conversation to segue from one segment to the next. I find that most hour newscasts could have been done in thirty minutes or less, and most of them leave me cringing, wishing for the succinct, professional reporting of Walter Cronkite, and his ending of "And that's the way it is. Good night." Speaking of succinct, back to the point.

One website posted a video report on the protest, and humorously interviewed one of the costumed con goers, who was dressed as Jesus. To quote that "Jesus:" "Fred's got issues." While the "God Hates..." posters are certainly attention getting, they are horribly, horribly UN-Christian. First, "God hates" is an oxymoron - the two words should never be used in conjunction like that, except in one sentence: God hates sin. This could be debated ad naseam, as each person's understanding of the Bible is usually varied in some way. Yes, there are verses in the Bible that don't make much sense, seem to contradict other verses, and there's probably a verse in there somewhere that says God hated something. I don't have the answers to all that, but for myself, I chalk those things up to a lack of understanding on my own part, centuries of retranslating of the original languages (and the agendas of men in doing so), and probably a lack of context, from not knowing what ancient cultures were like (I mean me not knowing, not the scholars [although y'never know]). For the sake of moving along, let's just say either you believe or you don't. I do. If you don't, hey, it's your eternity, do what you will with it.

God doesn't hate the nerd (or the "fag," for that matter). He hates sin. So yeah, if you've built a cobwebbed altar to Spider-Man in your armoire, where you light candles and sing the 1960's Spider-Man cartoon theme as a hymn to Peter Parker, that's idolatry. You're in sin, and should probably take a little time to get right with your Creator. Actually, y'know what? You should probably seek help. Psychiatric help. The kind that uses special medications, and straps you to your bedrail for your own protection. Once you're back on an even keel, then you should get right with your Creator.

If, on the other hand, you call yourself a believer, and you enjoy a Spider-Man comic on occasion (or other title[s] of your choice)... read closely... that's okay. Even if it's every month, or gee, every Wednesday. Now, there are verses about your money indicating where your true love lies. One in particular says "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." So, assuming "treasure" is "money" in that verse, if the bulk of your money's going to your comic shop, then your heart might be a little off balance towards the sequential art side, and Christianity is all about the balance. Let's be practical for a minute though...

People have hobbies, and people have jobs, and comics can be either or both for people, and that's fine. It's an artform, not a contribution towards juvenile delinquency. Read your comics, enjoy them, and keep moving. If you find that they give you joy, maybe that's something to thank God for. If they don't give you joy, maybe you should consider not reading them anymore. A comic is like any other form of entertainment - there's good and there's bad out there. If you throw everything out that's got a little bad in it, pretty soon, you won't be involved in anything. That goes for pretty much everything, including religion. If you can pare your life down to the bread and water existence of a monk, and that works for you, great, but that doesn't mean it will work for everybody, and that doesn't mean it is right for everybody. There is no twelve step program to walking with God, but Jesus said there are two things that sum up all of the Law and the Prophets (most of the Old Testament): "Love the Lord your God with all your might," and "love your neighbor as yourself." If you can strive for those two things, you'll be about as Christian as you're ever likely to be. If anyone tells you they've got some answer outside of that, it's either focusing on the details or it's wrong. Those two broad strokes can get you through just about anything though.

And that's the way it is. Good night.

In the meantime, be a comic nerd, if that's your thing. Read it, enjoy it, seal it up in plastic and cardboard, blog about it, chat about it, and debate it until your eyes turn red and you've run out of your favorite beverage. God's not going to be angry with you for that, and he surely doesn't hate you for it. Remember: "Fred's got issues," and "Jesus" was on the side of the comic nerds. And that's the way it is. Good night.

8-13-10 EDIT: I have received a couple of comments concerning the veracity of the protest. One comment has stated that the "God Hates Nerds" pic is photoshopped from a previous "God Hates Fags" pic, and that seems to be the case. Another comment asked if I could produce a link from something besides a comic fansite. My first response on a possible rumor is always to go to the source, so I first tried the WBC website, and could find nothing. Half of their links were broken, according to my Internet Explorer, and their pickets schedule starts at the present day and moves forward. I could find no information on past pickets, and could not access the blog link, to see if I could find the quote mentioned in just about every single article on the comic con protest. However...

Here's the Atlantic Wire, talking about the then upcoming protest: Westboro Baptist Church To Protest Comic Con.

Here's an article on sandiego.com, talking about their experience of driving past the protest: Comic Con: The Westboro Baptist Church Gets Out Protested.

Here's examiner.com's article: Comic Con Counter Protest Sends Westboro Baptist Church Running.

You can find a few youtube videos from people that were there also, but they were a little sketchy. So to answer any future questions, as far as I can tell, the protest actually happened, but whether there was actually a "God Hates Nerds" sign is questionable.

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Why Aren't the Promo Ads in Trade Paperbacks?

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This is something that I've wondered about for a long time. Those in-house ads that promote a company's new title or story arc - why aren't they included in the trade paperback? It worked very well for Batman: Knightfall. Remember the full page ads, summing up the previous events and giving a clue to what's coming in just a couple short sentences? When the trades came out, those ads were included before each new chapter, and I thought it worked great. Especially if you were reading both trades back-to-back, and needed to put a bookmark in at some point. You could open it back up, read the blurb on the promo ad, and go, "Oh yeah," and keep reading. Nice.

The ads are what get you pumped to read that title or story arc to begin with. I think that's half the fun. The ads are what made me read the original Power Pack series, in 1984. I remember half page ads with silhouettes of the characters, and I think the Smartship Friday in the background. Now, I also seem to recall that I built another idea up in my head, than what the characters turned out to be, but still, that ad was what made me want to read it. If I ever get the trade of the first issues, I will probably look for a beat up comic that I can cut that ad out of, and slip it behind the backing board (yeah, I bag and board my trades, as much as possible).

Another reason for those ads is to see something you may not see in the book. When DC was promoting The Death of Superman, they used a silhouette of Doomsday in one of the ads, only the silhouette had a ponytail that the character didn't have, when the story came out. To me, that's the perfect kind of thing to put in the trade, with a little blurb about why they did away with the ponytail - sort of a sketchbook type of thing, only it's the ad.

What we are not talking about, however, is what Image did in the Wildstar: Sky Zero trade. They ran an ad saying that the trade paperback would have every letter, every ad, and basically everything to do with putting that story out. When the trade came out, it was there, but the ads were in sketchbook form, and were hard to make out. I don't actually remember letters being in there, but maybe they meant "letter" as in "lettering," not "letter" as in "fan mail."

The point is: I think the ads would bring a little extra value to the trades. It's kind of like getting the movie trailer on the DVD. Like in Murder at 1600, the Secret Service agent tells Wesley Snipes that he was "born to become a chalk outline." That one line made me want to see the movie, and it was cut out. Totally ruined the end of the movie for me, but that's another story. Still, on the DVD, the movie trailer is there, and I can show people what I'm talking about, when I say, "This is what made me want to see this movie." I think it would be cool to be able to do the same for the book.

Oh, and here's an afterthought: sometimes, having the promo articles in the trade would be cool, as well. Like interviews in Wizard or Previews, or promo art and info that was dropped to comic websites, like say, oh, Comic Vine. Having them all would get redundant, but having the best representation of those articles in the trade gives the reader - especially if it's a reader who picks up the trade five years after it was released - an idea of what was going on at the time, and what the creators were trying to do with the story. ...So I guess what I'm saying here is the trade paperback should have more "Easter eggs."

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When Comics Used to Excite Me (just a fond remembrance)

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So, I'm logging onto Comic Vine, and of course, being the weekend, there's nothing new on the articles page. No comments in my inbox either. I've been through the forums three or four times today, and I haven't seen much new there. So I feel a little bored. I haven't bought any new comics recently, because there's no money in the budget for them at the moment, and it's about ten o'clock, so I feel just cynical enough to ask myself, "When's the last time a comic excited me, anyway?"

Honestly, it's been awhile. Oh, there's a few that I follow, when I have the money - Savage Dragon, Dynamo 5, Invincible, Walking Dead... probably a few others - and while I enjoy them immensely, they don't excite me. It's going to sound weird, considering its sort of lackluster ending, but the last comic that excited me was Infinite Crisis. You read that right - Infinite Crisis.

You have to understand: I grew up in the Seventies and Eighties (that's right, kids, that old, and you'll be there before you know it, so pipe down). I got to read the original Crisis on Infinite Earths and DC Who's Who straight off of the grocery store spinner rack, and it was an exciting time. I didn't get to read all of the tie-in issues though, because I just couldn't con my mom out of that much money as she was paying for the groceries. That's why IC excited me. In my mid-thirties, I had a good job and plenty of extra money in my pocket, so I could afford to follow this event and all of its tie-ins. I had such a good time. I added Infinite Crisis to my pull list - both covers (something I never do) - and all of the related issues. I read all of the "One Year Later" issues, and read through both the 52 and Countdown to Final Crisis series. When I found that I had paid for a glorified advertisement in Countdown... um, DC Universe #0, that was where the excitement ended. I will eventually pick up the Final Crisis and Blackest Night stories in trade paperback, but for now, I just try to scrape together five bucks for the Previews every month, and follow CV, so I know what's going on, without buying the books. Lately, I've been reading about some cool stuff. Shadowland sounds awesome, and there's a few trades I'd like to pick up eventually.

You know what else excited me back then? The appearance of a mini-series. They were a new thing around that time, and they'd have this little banner across the corner of the cover, or across the top, declaring "#1 in a 4 issue limited series." There was no Previews then, and no Internet, and no Wizard, so a new series just sort of showed up one day, and you either bought it or didn't. I remember reading all kinds of mini-series, like Cloak & Dagger, Starriors, Crystar, the original TransFormers mini, the original Namor (or Sub-Mariner - I forget) and Aquaman minis, Conqueror of the Barren Earth, Night Force, Jemm: Son of Saturn, and a personal favorite, Spanner's Galaxy. At least half of those were real stinkers, but it was just fun to pick up this comic and know the story was going to be done in four to six issues. I even read the original Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld (12 issues, and both specials, the series, second mini-series, and the tie-in issue in DC Comics Presents). Why? Because it was something new! Different! "Limited!" Dang they were fun!

Probably the last thing that excited me in comics back then was the free "preview pullout." Probably the most famous of those is DC Comics Presents #26, which previewed The New Teen Titans, and yeah, I bought it off the rack (with mom's money or my allowance). I also remember previews for Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew, Masters of the Universe, and probably my second favorite (after New Teen Titans) Dial "H" For Hero (here's an example of the preview, in LSH #272).

Dial "H" For Hero was doubly exciting, because not only was I guaranteed to see new heroes and villains every issue, but they were created by fans! The ultimate excitement being that you could win an "I Dialed 'H' For Hero" T-shirt, if DC used your character! Wow! ...Never did win one of those T-shirts, but then, I was creating characters like Superlad (exactly like Superboy, with the spitcurl maybe going the other way), Flasher (Kid Flash with the color scheme reversed) and Wonder Boy (you guessed it: a guy in a blue version of the 80's Wonder Girl costume [yeah, I didn't quite get the difference between boys and girls yet]).

Comics excited me then! Every new issue was another exciting chapter in a favorite character's story. Every new #1 was the introduction to a new character. Every blurb promising "the sensational new character find" was to be believed! Comics were bonafide magic. They could take me to the ocean floor, to outer space, the distant past, the far flung future, around the track, down the road, to the big city, or maybe just to Aunt May's house... <sigh> They were just fun.

There's really no point here - just tellin' ya how much fun I used to have with comics, and enjoying some of the memories of laying on the bed with the window open and the Superman record playing, while I read the latest issue of whatever caught my fancy at the time. How far back do your memories go? What excited you as a kid? Let me know in the comments section, and thanks for reading.

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Revised Call on Shadowland (possible SPOILER)

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(NOTE: Neither of these calls were right, but they're still good for a laugh. Enjoy...)

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I just want to be the first to call it. In a previous blog, I suggested that the Shroud would be revealed as the true villain, posing as Daredevil. Considering the new advertising, asking who will be the "new Man Without Fear," I'm revising my call from the Shroud being the villain to being the new Daredevil. His "mystic sense" is practically the same as DD's "radar sense," plus he can create his own darkness. And I don't know if this was resolved, but he was wanted for not registering, so a new identity might be in order (although, DD didn't register either, did he?).

Most important clue for my personal taste: The Shroud is the only one in the story whose name I have not seen come up yet in the advertising. He's also a lesser known character than those in the ads - changing his identity wouldn't be as big of a deal.

You read it here first: THE SHROUD WILL BE THE NEW MAN WITHOUT FEAR. ;)

EDIT 9/17/10: (This will be in the comments, as well) To all of those who ridiculed this call: I WAS WRONG! Apparently, Black Panther is the new "Man Without Fear." I said I was willing to be wrong, so there you go. ;D.

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Plastic Man as a Batman villain

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Plastic Man originally appeared in the title Police Comics, published by Quality Comics, so it's not possible that he could have started off as a Batman villain. Looking at his origin though, there's every reason he could have been a Batman villain, once he was aquired by DC Comics. Plastic Man's origin has never changed. Originally the gangster, Patrick "Eel" O'Brien, he was shot by a security guard during a robbery. The bullet went through O'Brien and into a convenient chemical drum, which doused O'Brien and his wound with whatever was inside. Managing to escape, "Eel" found his way to a mysterious order of monks, whose kindness in caring for him caused him to reform his ways, and use his newfound abilities to reform his shape as a superhero... right after he takes revenge on his criminal cohorts, who had taken off without him.

That "revenge" was relatively mild. Pretending to go on another job with them, he hung his arm out the car window, and stretched it around to the other side of the car, punching out one of his cronies. He took the rest of the gang out in similar fashion, and they were never the wiser that it was "Eel" that had betrayed them. With his revenge complete, O'brien became the hero Plastic Man, and has been a hero ever since.

However, looking at that origin story, it's ridiculously easy to tie him to Gotham, and make "Eel" a thorn in the Batman's side. In fact, I'd go even one step further, and usurp the Red Hood origin to tweak Plastic Man's. I'd feel comfortable with this for three reasons: 1) The Killing Joke has made the Red Hood origin pretty much canon, but when Plastic Man was aquired, it was still possible to tweak the Red Hood story. When the Joker told his origin with the Red Hood story, he ended the tale saying that he remembers it different every time, so it was then (and still is) possible to say that the Joker was never actually the Red Hood. 2) I've never liked that origin for the Joker. He fell into one vat of chemicals that turned his hair green, his skin white, and his lips red, stretched into a permanent smile? That makes no sense. At the least, his lips should be white, since that's just more skin. 3) It's much more plausible that O'Brien, dressed as the Red Hood, was shot by the security guard, fell into a vat of chemicals and thus completely doused, was transformed into the stretchy form that we know as Plastic Man.

From there, O'brien escapes and takes revenge on his cohorts in crime, but does not turn over a new leaf. Instead, I think the Eel would have made his mark on Gotham, and joined the ranks of Batman's villains. Could that stick? Certainly not. After all, DC aquired Plastic Man, and that's not a character to be just thrown away. So now that he's tied to Gotham's underworld, how do we turn the gangster O'Brien into the hero Plastic Man? One word: Clayface. You see, Clayface III was always obsessed with finding a way to stabilize his sliding features, so he could be reunited with the love his life. That vat of chemicals that O'Brien's Red Hood fell into? That was Clayface's latest attempt, and O'Brien ruined it. With Clayface now after O'Brien's head, the only person that "Eel" can turn to is, you guessed it, Batman. The Bat helps O'Brien to defeat Clayface, and this is what causes O'Brien to turn over a new leaf... once he gets out of prison. Batman's not going to just let a criminal go free, after all. I could see the FBI stepping in at this point (or nowadays, the DEO) and commuting his jail time in exchange for O'Brien working for them.

I think it would have been interesting to see O'Brien as a criminal for awhile, and it would have been the perfect chance to tweak his characterization, making him a bit deeper than the walking, wisecracking Silly Putty that he is today. It also would have irrevocably tied him to the Batman Family, and that's a good thing for any character. Being tied to Gotham would have given DC yet another Bat-related character to sell books with, instead of spending twenty years trying to find a way to ground him in the DCU - trying that culminated in a stint on the JLA and a 2004 series that didn't quite last two years.

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Kyle Rayner's power ring did not need to be different

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The origins of Kyle Rayner's power ring are not unknown, but they were unnecessary. At the end of Emerald Twilight, Hal Jordan had decimated the Corps and the Guardians, and had drained the Central Power Battery of its power. Ganthet, the last surviving Guardian, used his powers to restructure the broken pieces of Hal Jordan's power ring, transported himself to an alley on Earth, and finding only Kyle Rayner, dropped the new ring in his hand and said, "You'll have to do." That's how Kyle got to be the only Green Lantern of a new era.

However, there were also changes to the ring itself. Most notably, the yellow impurity was gone, so the ring was no longer vulnerable to the color yellow. The restriction to killing was gone, only limited by Kyle's own moral compass. Also, unlike Hal Jordan's time, Kyle's power ring was now the only one of its kind. The thing I've always wondered is this: if DC wanted a one-of-a-kind ring that could kill and wasn't vulnerable to yellow, why didn't they just give him Sinestro's yellow ring? As a result of Emerald Twilight, and the follow-up in Guy Gardner, titled Emerald Fallout, Guy lost the yellow ring. So rather than destroy it, they had set up the perfect opportunity to give it to Kyle.

Now, I'm sure many of you are thinking, "Well then he wouldn't be a Green Lantern - duh," but here's the other thing - Alan Scott's ring was destroyed at this time too. If DC had kept that ring around, they still would have had a GL on the books. "So what, then," I am sure you are wondering, "would they have called Kyle Rayner?" I was thinking... Starman.

It was the perfect time for it, really. Kyle's story started in March of 1994, a full seven months before James Robinson's fantastic Starman book had even started. Now, chances are Robinson's story was already in development, but if it wasn't, DC missed a chance to reinvent the name here. Kyle could have wielded the yellow ring as Starman, and eventually formed a Star Corps, which I think would have been a much better use of the name, than the S.T.A.R. Corps title that ended in April of 1994, and was never heard from again. Also, Star Corps seems like a better name than Green Lantern Corps. I've often thought that the GL name only made (semi) sense with Alan Scott. Considering the central source of their power and the rings that they wear, it seems much more likely that the GLC would be known as the Emerald Batteries or the Green Rings (or perhaps something a little cooler sounding, like the Emerald Circle). Whatever the case, Star Corps seems like a better name all around.

This would have done a few cool things for DC. One, it would have revamped the Starman name, which was inactive at the time. Two, it would have tied Starman to the Green Lantern family of books, which seems to do pretty well. Three, it would have put the focus back on Alan Scott as Green Lantern for awhile, giving us a year or so to delve into the character of Alan Scott, and see what it is that makes the original Green Lantern cool. I'm sure that his story would have had something to do with trying to bring Jordan back from being Parallax, and eventually led to Hal Jordan coming back to being a hero. In a world where Kyle Rayner entered as Starman, this would be where Ganthet would present Hal Jordan with the pieces of his shattered power ring, and reform them into a power ring once again. After that, things could have still led to where they are today, but with slightly different histories for Hal and Kyle. The Star Corps could have easily been turned into the Sinestro Corps, and Kyle could have either become a villain or taken a green ring at this time, showing himself to be a true hero, and joining the cause of the new Green Lantern Corps (which Jordan would have brought back, whether I think it's a good name or not).

Is this a better idea than the stuff that happened? It has potential, but I don't know that it actually would have been better. It's just that thing of changing the rules for the green power ring that bugs me, when the yellow power ring already had all of that in place. It's something like this that I look at and say, "Why reinvent the wheel," and in this instance, I still haven't seen a good answer to that question.

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Serious Question: Is Comic Con Worth My Time?

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It's that time of year again - Comic Con. I have wanted to go to a Comic Con since I was a kid, but growing up in an East Coast state whose idea of "comic convention" was ten dealers with back issues in a Holiday Inn meeting room, I never had the pleasure. At age 33, I moved to Las Vegas, which with all its hotels, casinos, conventions, sporting events, and varied means of entertainment, does not boast an annual comic convention. Compared to the East Coast though, it's a short drive to San Diego, so that was one thing about living here that put a smile on my face. Alas, six years later, at age 39, I still have yet to make it to a Comic Con. Normal, everyday stuff has gotten in the way of it each year, but mostly, I forget about it. I pick up the quarterly updates that appear in the comic shops, but I never really pay attention to the dates, and one day, I'll be in the shop when the owners are talking about being gone for a week, for Comic Con.

The last three years or so though, I've heard disturbing reports. There are six or seven comic shops in Las Vegas, about three or four of which I pass through at varying times, and very consistently, I've heard nothing but complaints about Comic Con. Those complaints boil down to the area where you can actually find comics getting smaller, and smaller, and smaller, while the convention itself gets more and more crowded - almost too crowded to move comfortably. They say the comics are getting edged out for movie and video game booths, but they're still calling it Comic Con.

Now, I've seen some video on Comic Vine from recent cons, and I didn't see what I heard about in my LCS owners' reports. The aisles looked busy, but not overly crowded, and I believe one interview even addressed the space issue. I believe the answer was something to the effect of "The Con is under new ownership," and the report talked about the number of people who were there whose job it was simply to make sure you found what you were looking for. Awesome.

So I'm still wondering: is Comic Con worth my time? Movie previews are great and all, and fans in costumes are fun, but for me, I still think of Comic Con as a place to browse through back issues I might not normally find in my hometown. When the stores in Vegas see back issues as something in the way of new product, that's a detail of some importance. So what's the deal? With the new ownership, has the comic area gotten back to a reasonable proportion, or is it still disappearing? If my only reason for going to the Con is back issues and panels with the professionals, is it worth it? If you've been to the Con before, let me know what you think in the comments.

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The Shroud and the Marvel Underworld (Shadowland spoiler?)

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(PLEASE NOTE: If you're looking for the POSSIBLE Shadowland spoiler, I haven't hidden it in one of those little pink boxes, so read at your own risk. You were warned.)

(NOTE #2: At this point, Shadowland SPOILERS are being discussed in the comments. So if you don't want to know, please don't go there.)

(NOTE #3: Yeah, I was nowhere near right with this, but it's still good for a laugh. Enjoy...)

First appearing in April of 1976, in Super-Villain Team-Up #5, six years before the similarly designed Cloak, the Shroud seems to have started as a throwaway, derivative character. Blind like Daredevil, but dressed in a dark costume that's closer to Batman, it's been said that these were exactly the inspirations for the character, and his origin certainly seems to bear that out. His parents having been murdered when he was a child, he grew up determined to fight crime. The Cult of Kali trained him and gave him "The Kiss of Kali," which left him scarred, blind, and with some sort of extrasensory perception. Sometime later, he was blasted by a weapon of the Red Skull, which left him with the ability to manipulate the Darkforce. The Darkforce seems to work a little differently for every user (a detail that makes the Darkforce a little too convenient of a plot device for me) but in the Shroud's case, it seems to mean that he carries the cover of darkness with him wherever he goes, emitting dark clouds to shroud his comings and goings.

Here's the thing though: even though he started out as a derivative character, he took an interesting turn, when he decided he would fight crime from within, and started building his reputation as an underworld crime boss. At least, that's what I remember the Official Handbook saying about him. All I've ever seen of him over the years is the typical Marvel fight-of-misunderstanding - some hero runs across the Shroud, they fight, and the Shroud eventually reveals (and/or proves) that he's really a hero. That's always kind of bothered me too, because a guy that's trying to become known as an underworld bigboy really shouldn't be telling his secrets to every superhero he runs across. That was kind of typical for the time though, so I guess it just has to be overlooked. Marvel has missed many chances over the years to revamp this character though. I really think they should have made him seem like a bigger villain in the Marvel Universe.

Apparently, I'm not the only person to think that pairing him against Moon Knight would have been a good place to start. Moon Knight has enjoyed a few long running titles, since the 1980's, and the Shroud would have been a perfect visual counterpoint to Moon Knight, fitting the mood of any of his books perfectly. There was one encounter between them in the original Moon Knight series, and another in February of 1988, in Solo Avengers #3, but nothing I know of after that.

Since then, Marvel has had ample opportunity to make use of the Shroud, really flesh him out, and mold him into a fan favorite villain. He could have featured prominently in books like Moon Knight, Punisher, Daredevil, or later, Immortal Iron Fist. Any one of those books could have had a crime driven story that featured the Shroud at the center of it, showcasing him as the crime boss he's supposed to have a reputation for being. All those opportunities have been missed.

Marvel has featured him some, since Civil War, but they seemed to have been steering him away from the direction of supposed criminal leader. Finally though, he is being featured in Shadowland, and that is just the kind of story that could make his name big. From what I understand about this story, Daredevil has taken control of The Hand, and the advertising has implied that Hornhead is on his way to being "the Marvel Universe's greatest villain." I started this blog with the thought that Shadowland might finally showcase the Shroud as an ultra-cool villain, and get his name out there, but as I write this, I'm suddenly wondering if that's the whole point of the story. Could the 'Devil in the red suit merely be a red herring? Could Marvel be twisting "blind man's bluff," making us think that Daredevil will be the villain, but blindsiding us (oh yeah, that pun was intended) with the Shroud, at the end?

The Shroud and the Hand would be an outrageously cool visual, and would finally make him the crime lord he was always supposed to be, in the eyes of the rest of the Marvel Universe. The Shroud wants to fight crime from within, and the Hand have already started this story with killing other criminals. Would the Shroud be interested in taking over the Hand for that purpose? The more I think about it right now, that has way more possibility to it than I thought. With their similar powers, it could even be the Shroud in the new Daredevil costume - it could be the Shroud that killed Bullseye. I will be as surprised as anyone else if I turn out to be right, but Shadowland might be a whole new launching pad for the Shroud.

Follow-Up:08/02/10Revised Call on Shadowland (possible SPOILER)(Blog) (Forum)Shadowland

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The New Batman Family

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This is something that's been bothering me ever since Batman was an "urban myth." When Bats was an "urban myth" - never seen or photographed by the public - it didn't make sense that he was still out there with the JLA, or doing everything in Gotham personally. Even now that he's dropped the urban myth angle, it still doesn't make sense to me that Batman's so good he can do it all himself. I think he'd need a team of partners to accomplish everything he does, and DC has the characters available to break it down pretty simply. So who would be in the new Batman Family?

First, the standards are all there: Robin, Nightwing, Batgirl, Huntress, and now, Red Robin and Batwoman. You can't lose them. They can serve in an all-around capacity, but they've got their own stuff going on too, so they're not strictly Gotham-bound. I'd include Flamebird too, just because I liked her.

Include Azrael if you must, but personally, I'd turn him into a villain again. I don't like it when popular villains get turned into dark heroes. Why can't some of the badguys be cool looking? Azrael was a real physical threat to Batman, edged out only by the fact that his moves were dictated by a system that had him fighting from a sort of trance state. Batman needs a physical challenge guy. So for me, he's a villain. Let the stoning begin. Moving on...

I don't really know what to say about Jason Todd. I was around when DC did the 1-900 vote to kill him, and I was glad the "no" vote won. I thought it was a bad decision for DC to bring him back, but they have made him interesting this time around. I think he's going to be around for awhile, because I don't see DC killing him again, but I really think he should be a villain. Therefore, he wouldn't be part of the Batman Family. The black sheep role they've got him in has promise, but I question if they can keep it balanced in such a way that's believable. "Believable" meaning that Batman wouldn't just take him down for stepping too far over the line. That's why I say he should be a villain.

I'd include Blue Beetle (Ted Kord - okay, this part was before he was shot). He's one of the few DC non-powered, fights-with-gadgets guys that's not part of the Bat-Family, and that's mostly because he started at Charlton. I think Ted would be the tech guy. He'd take the place of Harold - designing Batman's gadgets and vehicles, just like he'd design his own. I think his villains would be a cool addition to Gotham too - I'd love to see the Madmen working for the Joker. I think The Bug would look really cool over the night lighting of the Gotham skyline, but I think that Ted would be the daytime guy. When Batman's sleeping, during the day, Blue Beetle would be out there doing the legwork needed and fighting the fight during those hours. A possible replacement for Ted as Blue Beetle would be Tim Drake (discussed in another blog), or maybe Connor Hawke, who's redundant as Green Arrow II. Neither of them have enough tech savvy to replace Ted's inventiveness though. Maybe the next version of Ted's Blue Beetle should be another Charlton character that DC doesn't really use - Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt. Having learned to utilize the other 90% of his brain power (something that killed the original Ravager, btw), perhaps he'd be smart enough to invent stuff like Ted did? ...Yeah, he could operate as Thunderbolt, but personally, I want to see Ted's version of Blue Beetle back out there.

Of course, Oracle is still around, because the Bat-Family needs its info and communications guru. Babs is indespensable.

When Batman needs information from the streets, he sends out the Question.

When Batman needs someone found, he sends Manhunter. When I first had this idea, I was thinking of Mark Shaw, who was working in the same sort of bounty hunter role, as Manhunter, as DC later put Kate Spencer in. So Kate's Manhunter would work just fine. Huntress works well in this role too.

When Batman's trying to find more than the average hood or non-powered Bat-loonie, he hires a detective: John Jones, Martian Manhunter. (C'mon, you know that's cool.)

He might have a couple of other people around, like keeping Richard Dragon on retainer as a sparring partner, so he stays in shape as a fighter - needing more of a challenge than the average enemy gives him. He might hire Connor Hawke, Roy Harper, Katana or Bronze Tiger for the same - he might want to practice with multiple attackers.

Special mention: Green Arrow. Bruce used him in JLA: Year One, to act as the financier of the JLA, because they wouldn't have accepted Bruce Wayne's financing directly. I think Bruce would use him in costumed capacity as well. Green Arrow's got his own stuff going on, but I think he'd be on call as a stand-in for Batman. He'd have to shave the blonde goatee and 'stache for it, but Oliver Queen is even more prepared to be Batman than Dick Grayson. Dick's learned it and earned it, but Oliver outright imitated it. Bats has his utility belt; Arrow's got his quiver full of trick arrows. Batcave; Arrowcave. Batmobile; Arrowcar. Batplane; Arrowplane. Robin; Speedy. Batgirl; (Miss) Arrowette. Queen clearly applied a business principle of "why reinvent the wheel?" He saw a formula that worked for crimefighting, and copied it. A simple costume switch and change of theme, and he's Batman. Dick will stand in when he has to, because he doesn't want the Batman name tarnished, but he has respect for Ollie, and I think he'd be okay with Bruce's decision to have him stand-in, when the situation calls for it. Not always instead of Dick, but in extreme circumstances. If they wanted to tie him more firmly to the Bat-Family, Bruce might hire Ollie to represent his interests in Wayne Enterprises. Ollie has the business savvy for it, but I think it would be out of character for him to accept the business position.

Having these characters in place as a team isn't lessening the Batman. Great leaders put good people around them - often people even smarter than they are (which would be the case with Peter Cannon). Having these people to handle some of the details for him frees Batman up to be Batman.

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