Multiversity: Alternate Universes vs. Alternate Timelines

As a sci-fi buff, I'm a big fan of dystopian future characters. Hence my love for Booster Gold, Spider-Man 2099, and Batman Beyond, among others. However, inevitably these future-bred characters become problematic when you try to fit them into the primary continuity, such as when Miguel O'Hara and Peter Parker switched places for a storyline (and then later for a video game or two). Such as when Booster Gold's future started not coming true in 52, and then he was made the protector of the DC Multiverse in his own title. And then the introduction of both Damian Wayne and Terry McGinnis causes problems with that timeline as well.

The answer seems to always be: "alternate universe." Thing is, there seems to be "levels" of alternate universe-ness. The out-of-continuity or alternate-setting story is handled very strictly by DC and absolutely bat-crap loosely by Marvel. Alternate timelines, by comparison, are wiped out when a storyline is over by DC and Marvel except when Marvel (if the story is popular) gifts these timelines with alternate universe status. This difference between an "alternate timeline" and a "altered timeline" (meaning, a timeline that is not as it should be) comes up constantly in books such as Booster Gold and Exiles where making sure timelines/universes are "as they should be" is their primary conceit.

These subtle differences, and the differences in how the two major publishers handle them between the Marvel Multiverse and the DC multiverse, are interesting to me and I'd like to explore that.

Starting Example: The Prolific Loins of Scott Summers Across Time and the Multiverse

To start, I'm going to just quote myself from a discussion about Azari--Storm and Black Panther's alternate future child from the Next Avengers universe--which prompted me to write this entry (and that post borrowed heavily from a previous discussion about Cyclops' various daughters):

@fodigg said:

@jhazzroucher said:

I see. Cos i was thinking their existence was really not canon cos when i watched the film, the avengers died. I don't think marvel would allow the avengers to die.

But perhaps they'll allow this young avengers to exist with their parents still living.

Exactly. Their "legitimacy" as a future timeline almost does not matter. If the character is popular but their timeline turns out not to be true, well the character stays but their timeline is just treated as either having been wiped out (e.g., Cable) or as an alternate universe (e.g., AoA Blink, AoA Sabretooth, Bishop). And we have all the Scott Summers' children as precedent for that:

  1. Rachel Grey, Phoenix (daughter of Scott and Jean; Days of Future Past timeline, called "Earth-811")
  2. Nathanial Grey, Cable (son of Scott and Madelyne; born in present, sent to an Apocalypse-ruled future timeline and returned--timeline assumed wiped out)
  3. Stryfe (clone of cable and his bitter enemy in the same future timeline, keeps coming back to haunt Cable in various versions of their shared future)
  4. Nate Grey, X-Man (son of Scott and Madelyne; from the official Age of Apocalypse universe, called "Earth-295")
  5. Ruby Summers (daughter of Scott and Emma; from Bishop's timeline, called "Earth-1191")
  6. Megan Summers (daughter of Scott and Emma; GeNeXt timeline, called "Earth-41001")
  7. Summers-Frost twin #1 (daughter of Scott and Emma; GeNeXt)
  8. Summers-Frost twin #2 (daughter of Scott and Emma; GeNeXt)
  9. Alex Summers (son of Scott and Emma; GeNeXt)
  10. Hope Summers (unknown "non-genetic inheritance" relation, but at the very least an adoptive daughter of Cable's; traveled deep into the future--something like 90,000 AD--after the Messiah Complex arc when on the run from Bishop--this far-flung timeline (called "Earth-967") assumed to be wiped out)
  11. Hyperstorm (child of Rachel Summers and Franklin Richards; from some timeline where sentinels have wiped out all other mutants and he rules the world with an iron fist--timeline assumed wiped out)
  12. EDIT: David Richards (another son of Rachel and Franklin, from "Earth-2600")
  13. EDIT: Dream Jeanie Richards (a daughter of Rachel and Franklin, from the Times Arrow trilogy of novels, called "Earth-9891")

---That's eleven, count 'em, eleven (EDIT: thirteen!) progeny--all in official canon (EDIT: Dream questionable without a comic book appearance) via the magical power of "alternate timeline/universe" listings--for Scott Summers. Seven of which are direct children of the Earth-616 (primary Marvel Earth) Cyclops (i.e., their timelines/universes branch from his). That's astounding, but hey, comics everybody!

Considering the above precedent, I think it's okay for Storm and Black Panther to have at least one future-kid who sticks around from--I dunno, have they given the Next Avengers' timeline a number yet? Oh hey, they have! Their Ultron-ruled timeline is officially known as "Earth-555326!" So Azari is now just as official as Rachel and Bishop and so on.

Now, you might say, "Well, if they're from alternate universes then they don't count," but see, there's a difference between "alternate universe" and "alternate timeline." There is actually another son of Storm and Black Panther from an alternate universe: T'chaka (the Panther), their son from Earth-1119 who appeared in Exiles.

The difference between T'chaka and Azari is that Azari's "Earth" branches off from 616 as a "possible future" and interacts directly with 616 characters. It depends on them to exist. T'chaka, by comparison, has never met nor interacted with 616 characters. His parents could be totally different from the 616 versions of Storm and Black Panther because his universe is an independent part of the multiverse, which is infinite.

For an illustration of how this "alternate timeline" thing works, look to Bishop and Cable, or more accurately, Bishop vs. Cable. They both come from different "alternate timelines" and went to war with each other because they are trying to prevent their particular dystopian futures from happening and they disagree on what brings about the end of the world. Bishop thought Hope caused his horrible future so he wanted to kill her while Cable believes she can prevent his horrible future so he wants to save her. But as far as anyone knows, their interference has created an all-new future where Hope makes her own choices that can be totally different from either of their timelines.

And yet, Cable is the "hero" there because Bishop's future has already split off into Earth-1191 and as far as we know cannot be prevented and will always exist as an alternate universe/timeline. Cable's future, meanwhile, is constantly in flux and seems more closely tied to the fate of the 616, possibly because he was born in the present.

I know just quoting that post outright was rather lazy but I didn't feel like retyping all that or trying to reformat the above post better for blog format. I do apologize. What I wanted you to get out of that post was 1) just how often future characters are brought into primary continuity, and 2) how there are indeed differences in how characters are treated when they come from alternate timelines vs. alternate universes.

So there seems to be two different questions here:

  • How do Marvel and DC handle "alternate universes" differently?
  • How do Marvel and DC handle "alternate timelines" differently?

Once we answer those questions we can put together how the two overlap, and more importantly, how they interact with each publisher's "primary" universe.

Alternate Universes

MARVEL

As stated previously, Marvel allows whatever writers want as far as their Multiverse is concerned. Anything and everything can and likely does exist in their Multiverse. This includes those that are relatively close to the primary timeline and those that are utterly different. However, not all universes are equal it seems. Some are treated as the typical one-and-done setting for a reality-hopping story. Some are home to ongoing monthly titles, such as the world of May "Mayday" Parker, Spider-Girl. Some are "uplifted" timeline stories because of popularity so they can be referenced later, such as the Age of Apocalypse and Days of Future Past settings. Some contain what DC would call "Elseworlds"--titles that have no correlation to the primary continuity but are instead reimaginings of it, such as Earth X. And finally, some are entire publishing lines such as the 2099, MAX, 1602, Marvel Zombies, and Ultimate lines. The rule of Marvel is that ALL of these various types of stories should--ostensibly--be treated equally with each given an "Earth" designation, a practice started by Alan Moore. Moore even set out to make the primary setting seem less, well, primary by giving it a higher designation than normal, Earth-616. These designations are given to alternate universes even if the planet Earth does not exist in them, such as with the New Universe setting. The advantage of this approach is that everything can be referenced by future writers. The downside is that it can get a little confusing at times (see the Summers clan list in quoted text above) and sometimes the stakes are not as high.

DC

DC is less loosey-goosey with their designations and definitely do NOT put everything in the same bucket. After experimenting with various alternate universes early on they smashed everything down into one in the Crisis on Infinite Earths storyline, a bold decision they've been running away from ever since. While the "one universe to rule them all" rule was in effect, however, they still allowed drastic retellings of the DC universe to be told with explicitly non-canon Elseworlds stories such as Superman: Red Son, Gotham by Gaslight, The Nail, and Kingdom Come. The problem is that these Elseworlds tales were frequently flipping awesome, including the two most influential modern DC storylines (or just comic book storylines generally), Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen. This is a problem because the fans like seeing this stuff. They like interacting with it. They want the primary characters to sometimes rub shoulders with these characters and the creators to have some breathing room. Then there's the fact that DC owns entire other publishing lines--such as Milestone, Red Circle, Vertigo, and Wildstorm--and want to fold those into their primary continuity. Without a multiverse, they couldn't really do that without massive restructuring. Thus, 52, Infinite Crisis, and Final Crisis. And now we have 52 new universes to house some of these iconic Elseworlds stories and publishing lines. However, freely working with alternate universes is still verboten, and this means things like the relaunch--DC's new 52 after Flashpoint--happen instead of launching an "Ultimates"-style line for DC. What's interesting about this new multiverse is how different from their source material these universes will be.

Alternate Timelines

MARVEL

Because anything goes and everything is a universe with Marvel, one would think that a true "altered timeline" is impossible, right? That there are simply universes that split off from our own some time in the future (either didn't exist until a certain moment or were indistinguishable until a certain moment). However we are told explicitly that not only can time "go wrong" but, in Exiles, that a whole multitude of timelines are broken and must be fixed! And then we have characters like Cable, Nimrod, and Stryfe who don't come from official, numbered universes (as far as I know) but seem to stick around and fight over creating/preventing their particular futures, which are constantly in flux. Compare this to Rachel Summer's Days of Future Past timeline or the Age of Apocalypse timeline which seem to just stick around as separate entities. Meanwhile Bishop's future is somewhere in between. There are also "pocket realities" from time to time, such as with the recent Age of X storyline where the whole thing was just a fantasy or dream. What I find interesting about this setup is, when does a "possible future" become an "alternate universe?" The obvious answer is "when the sales are good," but what does that mean to the characters in the ol' 616? What does that mean to someone like Bishop, whose home is treated as a separate universe but still acts like he's trying to prevent a future? Is he just trying to spare the 616 a similar fate from his own home's, or does he really still think he can prevent his world--Earth-1191--from occurring at all?

DC

This is where DC really shines. Because you have one tried-and-true past, you can assume that you have one true future that is being slowly revealed to us, chipped away from the infinite possibilities. They even go out of their way to explain away line-wide reboots within this framework, so that rewritten history is still incorporated into continuity--it existed, it just doesn't exist now. The fact that they've tied timeline anomalies with real-world changes in the books they're selling means that they're allowing timeline changes to affect the reader more directly than a general "what if?" This allows them to really sell the danger of a future gone awry, unlike Marvel where you have characters like Wolverine shrugging off dire warnings of the future because hey, he's heard it so many times before. It means DC doesn't have to face the awkward questions Exiles faced whenever characters wondered aloud how a multiverse of infinite--infinite--possibilities could ever have "wrong" universes, an question the writers never really had an answer for. Instead we have Time Masters like Rip Hunter and later (earlier?) Booster Gold. We have things like an out-of-time Batman racing toward the end of the universe with all of reality (and control of the Batman titles) at stake. We have three different versions of the Legion of Super-Heroes meeting each other and wondering who will survive as the "real" future and who won't. That's kind of cool. This setup means that stories have far more of an impact when characters go to, for example, a Trigon-controlled future and know it's not just another reality they've wandered into.

Comparison

I think both approaches have pros and cons, but since DC relaxed their "only one universe" rule I find that I'm more excited by their approach than Marvel's "anything goes." And I say that as a fan of the Exiles title, a book that made full use (and some might say, abuse) of the Marvel Multiverse. The reason why I like DC's new status quo is because it allows them to have high stakes even with alternate universes. The problem Marvel faces is that, if another universe or some far-flung future timeline goes to hell, who cares? What are the odds that will actually be the future of the ol' 616? What are the odds saving that future will even matter? The crappy version of that future will still have to exist somewhere in the infinite multiverse, after all. And we know the characters have this attitude because we see things like Bishop literally destroying the entire planet just to inconvenience Cable and Hope because he figures he can just change it back later. The future does not matter, and neither do other universes. In DC's new setup, there's a finite amount of universes, each with their own intended (supposedly) timeline. When they get messed with, or when the whole multiverse is threatened, it can have real consequences, including direct consequences to the reader as shown in Flashpoint. I think that the 52 universes provide enough wiggle room to make use of those popular Elseworlds titles and with room for future growth without being totally open to anything. This is especially true if those who want to go further afield from the standard 52 can do so with new Elseworlds stories, such as the Earth One books, and readers can vote with their dollars to see which of those deserve to become a part of the official multiverse.

But what does everyone else think? Do you see a significant difference between "alternate universe" and "alternate timeline?" Or even more subtle, an "alternate timeline" and an "altered timeline?" Do you prefer Marvel's Multiverse or DCs? Let me know!

6 Comments

Walking Dead and Charged Language in Writing

Hate-filled speech in writing

During last night's episode of The Walking Dead TV show (season 2, episode 5 "Chupacabra"), the character of Merle made a pseudo-return to the show via fevered hallucination (I'll say no more to avoid spoilers) and in that appearance the character used a racial slur to describe the rest of the group that his brother Daryl is traveling with. This term was almost certainly aimed at the one black member of the group, T-Dog. One of my twitter buddies who also watches the show immediately commented on this:

I think we all remember that he was racist. Was that really necessary? #walkingdead

This is an important topic. Should writers use charged terms--hate-speech terms--in their fiction?

This brought me back to a "creative writing" course I took in university. The teacher was a published novelist which was exciting because most of the published authors on the school's staff were of nonfiction biographies and text books. The competition to get into his one class slot every semester was fierce and we all felt lucky to be there. Every week we'd pass around a short story written by a member of the class, read it, and come back the next week to critique it. It was during one of these critiques that this topic came up.

The student for that week --a white student, we were all white in that class and that was far from unusual at that university--had written a story involving a couple of skin heads who got into an altercation and threw out the same term as seen in the episode of walking dead. To say that our instructor was angry would be an understatement. He was livid. He was frothing. This was a man who usually shows less excitement and emotion than Lovie Smith on valium and he was hopping mad. The argument he made was this: by using hate-filled speech you are spreading hate-filled speech, that this is true even if you are portraying the speaker in a negative light, and to never, ever do this. Furthermore, that if you cannot get your point across without hate-filled speech, then you are not much of a writer and should quit now.

At the time, the student couldn't do much more than apologize profusely and do his best to sink into his chair and hide under the table. Later, when I asked him about it, he offered some explanation of intent. He wanted to portray a scene that was believable and "real" in tone. His story called for a gang of attackers targeting the protagonist and he wanted to portray a realistic gang, not a culturally diverse and politically correct "TV gang." He didn't want the cast of the music video for "Beat It." He wanted a believable portrayal of racism, not a polite, artistic clash in the style of the Sharks vs. the Jets.

If it wasn't clear already, I tend to side with my professor on this issue. As someone who has not personally faced sexism, racism, or other forms of bigotry, I feel that bandying about hate-filled terms would be ill-considered, improper, and--appropriateness aside--potentially alienating to segments of my audience. However, I can understand what my fellow student was going for, and I am uncomfortable with the blanket "never" that my professor put down. Even if my teacher meant specifically only for authors in a position of privilege concerning the language in question--in this case a room full of white students from the Midwest attending a private university when the issue is race--I do wonder if there are times when it can be appropriate. As usual when I have these kinds of questions, I looked for examples.

Examples: SNOW CRASH v. THIRTEEN

Two very excellent science fiction novels are Neal Stephenson's classic Snow Crash (1992) and Richard K. Morgan's Thirteen (2007). Both are dystopian-future stories set in a crapsack world where extreme cultural differences and corporate/government excesses have torn America apart. Both feature a black protagonist. Both are written in a hard-boiled style where sex and violence are portrayed bluntly and unsentimentally. Both are written by white authors. And both use charged, racist terms in dialogue. One major difference is that the former is considered a highly influential modern masterpiece while the latter is often seen as a bastion of bad science and unoriginality. And yet it's Morgan's work in Thirteen that I feel makes more defensible use of racially charged language. Let's look at each example. (Note: some spoilers from the first act of each book.)

SNOW CRASH

In Snow Crash, the protagonist (named "Hiro Protagonist," which is awesome) is half-black/half-Korean in ancestry but self-identifies as "military" in terms of his defining sub-culture. He's an expert hacker and one of the primary architects of the setting's version of cyberspace, having programmed its default combat system--an elaborate sword-fighting game. He starts out delivering pizzas for the mafia (yes, really) but winds up involved in a conspiracy involving an info-based weapon that can leave someone brain dead just from looking at an image. This book is a classic and many sci-fi books and movies have borrowed from it since. It was influential even in language, coining the term "avatar" in computing.

It's great. I highly recommend it. But see, there's one scene that I have never liked. Hiro (again, love that name) is on the run from his enemies when he stops off to regroup and refuel in a diner but happens to have picked the wrong side of town. A group of stereotypical redneck racists walk up to Hiro and make it clear they intend to do violence toward him (although it seems more like the narrator telling us than them showing any signs of this) and refer to him with hate-filled racist terms for both sides of his ancestry. Hiro's response is to pull out a freakin' katana and cut the man's head off, then run while his buddies are still in shock.

After Hiro's escape the scene is never referenced again.

THIRTEEN

Thirteen is Morgan's homage to (some would say ripoff of) Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968)(aka Blade Runner) where instead of "replicants" we have a group of super-soldiers who were cloned Jurassic Park-style from ancient and purportedly more violent strains of humanity. The most successful of these strains--strain thirteen--was used to create hyper-efficient troops whose lack of "modern empathy" (supposedly an evolutionary preferred trait that was less common if not absent in pre-agriculture times) makes them incredibly dangerous in combat. Of course this led to paranoia among the populace and they banished all "thirteens" to a partially terraformed Mars except for one, a thirteen trained by the British military named Carl Marsalis, who won a lottery to be the bounty hunter who tracks down escaped thirteens.

The question of race is dealt with constantly throughout this book. Outside of the US its title was even The Black Man--a religious reference in context--instead of Thirteen. Where this becomes most clear is when Carl is arrested by the authorities in "Jesusland," a hyper-religious future-Confederacy that is apparently chock full of racists, where Carl faces discrimination based on his ethnicity for the first time (as opposed to his status as a thirteen). The author describes how, being thrust into that environment, the first time he had hate-filled speech directed at him he found it ridiculous and old-fashioned, "like being slapped with glove" (a major theme of the book is that genetics-based discrimination is the "new" racism), but quickly began to take it personally and develop hatred toward his attackers. It also describes a scene where he reveals to another black inmate that he is, in fact, a thirteen and how that changes the way that inmate looks at him.

This segment of the book ends with Carl enacting vicious revenge on the inmates who'd been assaulting him, on the day he's released no less. The book then moves on but comparisons between discrimination based on race and based on his status as a thirteen continue to be made throughout the rest of the book.

Comparison

The reason why I find myself more accepting of the use of this language in Thirteen than in Snow Crash is because--even if it holds to some unusual theories as far as the nature/nurture dynamic--Thirteen is thematically closer to dealing specifically with those issues than Snow Crash. It is about those issues and the strange ways in which humanity divides itself into "us" and "other." Just as one would be hard-pressed to write a story about, for example, the difficulties of growing up as an out gay boy or girl in high school without using any homophobic slurs in dialogue, when dealing directly with issues of racism it can be hard not utilize that language. The scene in Snow Crash by comparison seems to exist simply to throw another fight scene in, and that's it. Sure, it shows us that racism still exists but it does so with flat, stock characters that are introduced only to spout their hate-filled speech and then get beheaded. They're not actually developed, they're not actually a part of the plot, and the whole thing isn't really related to the core theme of the book. Because of this, it doesn't feel like the author is actually engaging the subject in any meaningful way. It's like it was added for "style" purposes rather than substance, and that's what bothers me about it.

WALKING DEAD and hate-filled speech

So where does Walking Dead fall into this dynamic of using it for style or using it for substance? The story isn't necessarily about race and racism, which initially makes me feel that it falls into the Snow Crash area, but anyone who tries to tell you it's just about zombies doesn't really get what's going on either. The story is about division among the survivors, and the racism of Merle is one way in which the group of survivors are divided. It's one of the ways the humans are shown to be "worse" than the zombie horde, who are united across all cultural divides in their lust for brains. That type of comparison is a central theme of the comic book and of the show. Does that make the use of this language justifiable? Necessary even? Or can you include that subplot without also including offensive speech?

I would argue that yes, you can. Or, at least, you can keep it to a strict minimum. The earliest introduction of Merle might have called for it, but even then we had him clashing directly--in a physical altercation--with T-Dog so I'm not sure the use of any specific racist term would be necessary to show that he's got a problem with T-Dog. Yes, it does serve to paint Merle as villainous and perhaps not deserving of our sympathies, but it's a touch heavy-handed. I don't think that enough is gained from using this term, especially in the most recent appearance, to justify its presence in the dialogue. The subplot of racism could have been introduced and been just as effective without. I honestly don't recall if the comic book ever used such terminology, but can't think of a time when I feel it would've been necessary there either.

What does everyone else think? Is the Walking Dead TV show justified in using explicit hate-speech terms? Are they necessary for the story they're trying to tell and the tone they're trying to set? Or do you agree with me that it perhaps shuffles a bit across the line of good taste? Let me know!

36 Comments

The Leap From "Love Interest" to Hero?

Recently, along with much of the population of New York during the events of Spider-Island, Mary Jane Watson got superpowers:

Although almost every non-powered New Yorker received powers, MJ was key toward the end of the arc, defending Spider-Man from attack while he saved the day. This stint with a superheroic MJ comes after writers hinted that she was the Initiative hero named Jackpot during a previous storyarc. Even Ultimate MJ got some temporary powers from ingesting the Oz serum, transforming her into a red Goblin creature. I find the concept of a powered MJ interesting because, since she's no longer the "official couple" pairing with Spider-Man, it would be a great way for Marvel to make use of this incredibly well-known property. Mary Jane Watson is a very well known character because of the film franchise and cartoons, so why shouldn't they use this former love interest as a full-fledged superhero to sell some books?

This wouldn't be the first time a company has toyed with giving supporting cast members and/or romantic interests superpowers or heroic identities. Harry Osborn has had stints as the villainous Green Goblin as well as the heroic American Son. Flash Thompson is kicking all kinds of butt over as the new Venom. In the Superman camp Jimmy Olsen would frequently gain and lose superpowers and Lois Lane would also gain powers from time to time. Both concepts were explored in the excellent All Star Superman volume. Heck, even high school sweetheart Lana Lang became a supervillain for Supes. Similarly, Carol Ferris is now officially a Star Sapphire to Hal Jordan's Green Lantern.

Some examples are even of characters that are fairly well established these days. Ultimate Wasp might be a mutant, but the regular old Janet Van Dyne was given her powers by Hank Pym (whose true superpower seems to actually just be "inventing superpowers," which is awesome). Similarly, Carol Danvers could have simply been the Steve Trevor to Captain Marvel's Wonder Woman, but instead she was given powers and is now arguably more iconic as Ms Marvel than he ever was as Captain Marvel.

So what do people think of this type of maneuver? Is it a legitimate progression for supporting cast members--especially love interests--once their time as the girlfriend/boyfriend du jour is over? Or would you rather see original characters take up new mantles/powers instead of recycling old love interests?

Personally, I say go ahead and give 'em superpowers. A character like Lois Lane or Mary Jane is well-known enough on their own at this point that it's silly not to try and capitalize on that. It certainly beats killing em off or making deals with the devil just to get 'em out of the way for the next flame.

Here are some other "love interest" characters that I think could potentially make the move to standalone heroes:

  • Gwen Stacy: Hey, clones count. I'm sure Jackal can give her some powers next time he gets the itch to remake her.
  • Betty Brant: If Flash gets to be the new Venom, can she be the new Carnage?
  • Steve Trevor: Hey, it's not all girls.
  • Linda Park: Give her superpowers, then bring back Wally West and have Linda give him superpowers.
  • Iris West: She's a time traveler after all. Give her some future toys like Booster's and there you go.
  • Vicki Vale: She's well-known enough from the first Batman film, why not?
  • Mariko Yashida: She's already Sunpyre in another universe.

What does everyone else think? What love interests, if any, would you want to see get promoted to super-powered hero?

13 Comments

DC alt-universe: the "second stringers"-verse?

I'm a pretty big fan of legacy heroes. I even made a list. So while I'm positive about many of the changes and titles in the revamped DC universe, I am very sad that a number of iconic "second generation" characters are being officially ousted (e.g., Wally West, Donna Troy), demoted to old roles (e.g., Babs Gordon, Renee Montoya, Stephanie Brown), or just quietly ignored (e.g., Cassandra Cain, Connor Hawke). Meanwhile all the Robins and all the Green Lanterns cruise right along untouched.

Here's a quote from Didio about the two that are being officially nixed, Wally and Donna (discussion thread here):

Tweets:

SpeedsterSite Brandan
just had an excellent talk with Dan Didio. EXCELLENT. when I get a chance I'll update you all. I'm much less angry now
SpeedsterSite Brandan
a lot of you will not like the quotes from Dan. And not just Wally fans. #Donna
SpeedsterSite Brandan
@bottlecitykanga I tried bringing Roy into the convo but he didn't bite. I agree with you completely
SpeedsterSite Brandan
Yeah, I probably won't make it into this justice league panel so here goes some highlights of my conversation with Dan Didio
SpeedsterSite Brandan
You will not be seeing Wally for the foreseeable future.
SpeedsterSite Brandan
Dan stated that the Perez era TT were very difficult to deal with because of their age.
SpeedsterSite Brandan
Dan specifically stated that Wally's kids were a big reason why he's off the board.
SpeedsterSite Brandan
When asked why iris and jai were aged up in the first place, Dan admitted poor planning
SpeedsterSite Brandan
Dan mentioned that Donna Troy is off the board as well, especially because her similarities to Diana are too great.
SpeedsterSite Brandan
He said its hard and very difficult to accept but eventually the perez era will be gone.
SpeedsterSite Brandan
On a lighter note, Dan assured me that many creators (specifically @jamesdrobinson) are definitely involved in the future of DC
SpeedsterSite Brandan
When kyle rayner's new book was brought up, Dan said it's much easier to branch out with green lantern than most titles
SpeedsterSite Brandan
Dan also said that they realize they are pushing the limits of the bat books and that they may be "dwindled"
SpeedsterSite Brandan
we were able to record some of our conversation so hopefully the audio isn't horrible.
Also, he gave me two poker chips. Lol

(Tweets were collected by one RobStaeger over on the Bendis boards.)

A number of people have pointed out that the obvious solution is to just, you know, change these characters to be more unique and not clash with the creator-favored Silver Age-era characters, but even that makes me nervous that they'll lose what makes them special. If you can have how many Robins and how many Green Lanterns, why NOT two Flashes? Heck, there are so many Amazons I don't see why you can't have one more with Donna Troy.

But then, there's another solution. Why not dedicate one of the 52 DC universes to highlighting these second-tier replacements as if they were in the leading spots? After all, the JSA has already been slated for future release as an alternate-universe title:

James Robinson confirmed that he is working on a new Justice Society project with artist Nicola Scott, and that the parallel world Earth-2 will make a return. The crowd erupted into thunderous applause. "We don't want them to just be cameos and then forgotten," DiDio said. "We've waited on JSA because we really wanted to get the details right. We were hammering out the characters as late as yesterday."

(Comicbookmovie.com)

Certainly there's room for a universe of younger heroes if there's room for a universe of older ones!

There's a few ways they could do this:

  1. "As things were" - Basically how things were before the reboot except focusing on these characters. I personally would find that unfulfilling and really, what's the point of the revamp then?
  2. "Young'uns stepping up" - The older heroes are either retired or dead but effectively gone, and each of the new heroes is carrying on their legacies.
  3. "From scratch" - The most daring approach, what if these heroes were the #1 version of their character in this universe? What if Wally West was the only Flash? What if Dick Grayson was Robin in a world without Batman? How would things be different?

I think there's definitely room for a concept like this, especially if they build it from scratch as that would allow for new, unique origins. The characters I'd want to see in the roles I'd want to see them:

  • Wally West - Flash
  • Donna Troy - Wonder Woman
  • Dick Grayson - Robin (or Batman depending on how it's handled)
  • Connor Hawke - Green Arrow
  • Mon-El - Superman
  • Babs Gordon - Oracle (wheelchair optional)
  • Cassandra Cain - Batwoman
  • Stephanie Brown - Batgirl
  • Renee Montoya - The Question
  • Garth - Aquaman (although I like the name "Tempest")
  • Ted Kord - Blue Beetle

As for the "young JSA" characters, such as Power Girl, I assume they'll be included in the Earth-2 setting as sidekicks. So I'm less concerned about fitting them in.

Would anyone else be interested in a book like this? Maybe "Earth-13" or something?

2 Comments

Idie "Okonkwo"? Really?

In Uncanny X-Men 544, Mr. Sinister makes a reference to, I believe, Hope ("the fledgling chick") allowing Oya to leave Utopia, and he calls Idie by her last name, Okonkwo.

Sinister, listing the Schism sides to himself:"Rachel, Remy, Katherine, the remaining Gurthies, and others I'll list anon went east. Oh--and that Toad creature. Ororo wanted to go but Cyclops persuaded her otherwise.
"Ms. Frost, the lovely Miss Betsy, Erik, King Namor, Piotr and many others stay. Ah! And the fledgling chick lets the troubled Miss Okonkwo escape from under her wing, I believe."

For those who may not know, Okonkwo is a character from the novel Things Fall Apart by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe. I remember reading this book in university (might even still have it on my shelf) and how it dealt with the impact of colonialism on Africa. Wikipedia's summary:

Things Fall Apart is a 1958 English language novel by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe. It is a staple book in schools throughout Africa and widely read and studied in English-speaking countries around the world. It is seen as the archetypal modern African novel in English, and one of the first African novels written in English to receive global critical acclaim. The title of the novel comes from William Butler Yeats's poem "The Second Coming". In 2009, Newsweek ranked Things Fall Apart #14 on its list of Top 100 Books: The Meta-List.

The novel depicts the life of Okonkwo, a leader and local wrestling champion in Umuofia—one of a fictional group of nine villages in Nigeria, inhabited by the Igbo ethnic group. In addition it focuses on his three wives, his children, and the influences of British colonialism and Christian missionaries on his traditional Igbo (archaically "Ibo") community during the late nineteenth century.

Up until this point, I had never actually realized that "Okonkwo" was Idie's last name. It's an interesting reference, I guess, but I can't seem to see why the creators—Fraction and Gillen—would make it. Other than being from a rural Nigerian village, the characters of Oya and Okonkwo seriously could not be more different. Consider:

  • Okonkwo was a village leader, a great warrior, but prone to rashness. He was a strong believer in the old religion and grappled with the coming of Christian missionaries and their message. Eventually, he kills another member of the tribe accidentally. Although he did not mean to kill the boy, the law is clear and he takes his three wives and goes into exile.
  • Oya is a timid young outcast who is hated and feared by the rest of her village. She also has strong faith, but seems to believe she is a demon, referencing "witchcraft" in very typically Christian terms. She does not accidentally kill a villager, but instead knowingly cuts down a group of terrorists in order to prevent a bomb from going off. And far from being exiled from her home, she's allowed to leave Utopia and start a "real" life going to a school.

I understand the urge to tie your Nigerian character to one of the better-known existing Nigerian characters, but why do that if you're going to invert nearly everything about that character? It'd be like referencing Sherlock Holmes only to make him a slobbering idiot. Furthermore, why make that reference if you're going to abandon everything that makes them relevant? It just kind of bothers me a bit considering the serious social issues Things Fall Apart dealt with compared to, well, Schism, which seems to be dealing with "Hey, wouldn't it be cool if Cyclops fought Wolverine?" Now, I'm not saying that comics, even superhero comics, can't deal with serious issues. I've railed against considering speculative fiction as a literary ghetto, here and elsewhere. However, what they've done with Oya seems to be totally unrelated to those issues. Perhaps the writers feel that the topic of the impact of imperial colonialism is a bit too high brow for comics? Perhaps they think the issue of child soldiers is relevant to Nigeria, so why not? I'm just not sure it's a good idea to invite this comparison. It'd be like if they'd written in an Indian X-Man and named him "Saleem Sinai" after the character in Midnight's Children. I mean, really? You want to set the literary bar that high and then deliver something like this?

I dunno. Did anyone else notice this? I know I'm late to the ballgame here as I didn't realize what her last name was until Sinister called her that. It just seems like a really odd choice.

13 Comments

Less Bitchin' More Pitchin': "Let's Go Booster!"

Book title: "Let's Go Booster!"

Book concept: Booster Gold back in high school.

I want to see DC Comics put out a Booster Gold book that takes place in neo-Gotham where Michael Jon "Booster" Carter is a high school senior and the captain/quarterback of the football team. The point of this book would be the typical high school "football drama" but with a futuristic and superhero twist. Booster would NOT be a superhero in this book, but he would have chances to be heroic: for a football team that's counting on him, for Booster's friends, for classmates that Booster doesn't yet consider friends but maybe should, and for a family dealing with the abuses and excesses of Booster's father.

First and foremost it would be a book about a teen protagonist dealing with usual stresses of high school, but it would also frequently reference and tie into the super-human nature of the DC universe as well as the environmentally bleak vision of the future first seen in the pages of Booster Gold.

Booster's personality:

  • I like to think of Booster Gold as Flash Thompson with the old Parker luck. He's the big man on campus but at the same time he's got a rough home life he's embarrassed of and tries to hide. Booster genuinely wants to be a good person—partly because he compulsively wants to please everyone; to be everybody's friend and live up to his own hype—but he's often irresponsible, lazy, or just kind of an ass without meaning to be. He's anything but a saint, but he's also not a bully or a thug.
  • Booster's primary motivations are helping his family and guaranteeing himself a future after high school via scholarship.
  • Booster likes to hang out, party, and have a good time, but as established does not drink alcohol (possibly because of his father's bad example?) and is surprisingly awkward dealing with girls. Frequently bumbles endearingly while attempting to be the suave campus hero everybody tells him he is.

Supporting characters:

  • Jonar Jon Carter: Booster's gambling-addicted father.
  • Mom (currently unnamed): Booster's chronically-ill mother (who I can't believe hasn't been named in continuity yet).
  • Michelle: Booster's younger sister who looks up to him more than he realizes.
  • Coach of the football team: Puts Booster under tremendous pressure, talking him up when he succeeds and putting him down or blaming him whenever the team does poorly.
  • Backup QB: Close friend of Booster's from within the "jock" clique, last name of "Stone" to imply a connection to fellow football star hero Cyborg.
  • Other players: All have their own personalities, problems, and concerns, which Booster comes into conflict with at times and helps with at other times.
  • Neighbor: A friend of Booster's from when they were younger who is more part of the "geek" clique but remains friends with Booster. Should be the "Ted Kord" of Booster's youth and, even though they get separated into different cliques at school, they remain friends and frequently join up on the net for video games (where for once Booster isn't the big star).
  • Cheerleader captain: Booster's ex-girlfriend who he likes but her interest is fickle at best. She seems to be only interested in Booster for popularity points at school, although her character should be developed more over the course of the comic (think "Cordelia" from Buffy).
  • Primary love interest: A loner-type girl who Booster is interested in partly because she doesn't care about the football team and doesn't fit with the usual cliques. She is largely uninterested and he tries to win her over while at the same time being led on by the cheerleader.

Plot hooks:

  • Booster's ultimate goal is to land a scholarship to guarantee a future. This hinges on a winning season and good personal performance on the field.
  • Booster tries not to fail classes so he doesn't get benched from football for academic suspension.
  • Booster's coach turns on him as he hits a slump and he's ostracized by those who used to support him.
  • Booster struggles with his own desires regarding his love life and various interested parties, which distracts him from work, school, and football.
  • Booster tries to shield his mother and sister from his father's drinking, violence, and verbal abuse.
  • Booster first develops his "anything for a buck" attitude trying to literally keep the lights on at home as his father gambles away the family savings.
  • Booster is first tempted with illegal money-making opportunities.
  • Supervillain attack on the city causes a crisis that Booster has to help his family survive and ride out (rinse and repeat).
  • A classmate of Booster's is actually a teen superhero who either turns dark, meets a tragic end, or both (for once it's not the main character!).
  • The big football rivals, who are also jerks, crush them in the regular season and are first up in regionals for the post-season. This bleeds over into harassment and fighting between fans and players on the streets.
  • Some of Booster's teammates are involved with substance abuse and he has to decide on turning them in, which could possibly cost the whole team their season.
  • Some of Booster's classmates are involved with gang activity in the city, drawing Booster and Michelle into street violence they'd rather having nothing to do with.
  • Booster has opportunities to cheat in various ways: in football, in the classroom, and on relationships. He learns the hard way about fair play.
  • Booster and "neighbor" have various online adventures in a classic superhero-themed online game.
  • Booster's classmate has a problem in or out of school and Booster tries to help them with it (rinse and repeat).
  • Booster's dad goes way overboard and beats the tar out of Booster. Booster wants to hide what happened but "neighbor" knows the truth. Rather than accept help, Booster turns on his friend.
  • Booster tries to balance his social life with practice, school work, hanging out with his younger sister, and financially supporting his family.

DC universe tie-ins:

  • The football team is named the Sentinels as a reference to Alan Scott. Team color is green.
  • Booster dresses up as "Batman" for Halloween only to be told that he's actually wearing Batgirl's uniform instead.
  • Booster and "neighbor" frequent a DC superhero-themed videogame where Booster always picks Batman or Superman while "neighbor" opts for more obscure characters like Flamebird or Batwing. "Neighbor" is the leader of their superhero "guild" in this game and they go on superhero-themed adventures.
  • Water is very scarce, as mentioned in the original Booster Gold run, and one of the big motivators the coach forwards to the team is a hot shower with actual clean water for every win.
  • Rip Hunter frequently stops by to substitute teach and watch Booster play.
  • Booster often finds enigmatic and seemingly nonsensical messages written on blackboards as a reference to 52 and his recent solo title. These should be lighthearted and deal with the typical high school rumor mill instead of line-wide DC conspiracy theories (i.e., teasers).

Why I'd like to see it: I like Booster Gold as a character. One of the primary reasons I like him is because he's the inverse of a common superhero theme. Instead of the geeky underdog getting the superpowers, it's the jock, the popular kid, the ass. And yet, that's still interesting and still okay and oddly enough we enjoy cheering for him. I think this book would be a great way to explore that concept to its fullest as well as provide the DC lineup with another type of comic that fans don't get to see very often. High school "football dramas" are popular enough but I can't think of a single comic book title that surrounds the theme. Just as DC Comics has a military book, a western, and sword-and-sorcery titles, I think it could benefit from having this type of title.

Do I ever expect to see this type of book? No. But it's fun to dream. "Let's go Booster!" indeed.

4 Comments

Where is "blackbat" from?

 

Cassandra Cain was recently given the callsign "Blackbat" in Batman Inc. It's unclear if she's ever used this moniker as a true "superhero name" and now she's in revamp limbo, but it's the last name we've seen her operating under so I was curious about it. My question is, does the name come from anywhere else? After all, Morrison likes to pull old names forward from time to time. So, I did a quick knock around google and this is what I came up with two examples of previous characters:
 
1. Black Bat was an Amalgam Comics character, a fusion of Batgirl and the Black Cat
 
 
2. Black Bat was a pulp hero who came out around the same time as Batman and there were lawsuits back and forth where each party accused the other of a ripoff. From wikipedia:   
Both the Black Bat and Batman hit the newsstands around the same time, and both claimed that the other was a copy. The threat of lawsuits ended when DC editor Whitney Ellsworth intervened. Ellsworth had once worked for the Black Bat's publishers and brokered a deal that allowed both characters to co-exist peacefully. It is probable that the costumes of both characters were copied from the 1933/34 Black Bat series which featured costumed illustrations of the Black Bat inside the pulps though actually the "Black Bat" in the stories was indistinguishable from any other man in his choice of clothing. Batman creator Bob Kane always contended that the only bat-like man he had seen was the villain from the 1930 film, The Bat Whispers. However, the Black Bat did have a permanent influence on the Batman: chief Batman scribe Bill Finger called Kane's attention to the unique gauntlets the rival character wore. Subsequently, similar "fins" were added to Batman's gloves which remain to this day.[source]
    

This character reappeared in the modern era in a title published by Moonstone (nrama article on series here) and a paperback of short stories:
  

 
 
I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Morrison wasn't going out of his way to reference the Black Cat, so I'll discount that example. 
 
As for the pulp character of the Black Bat, I'm not sure if DC was referencing him or not. Would this "Black Bat" be public domain at this point? I assume there are at least not active trademarks on the name, or there wouldn't be the Amalgam character. Would there even be a problem if it's spelled "Blackbat" instead of "Black Bat?" 
 
It's interesting because the character of Black Bat is—I've learned from flipping through the summaries—a gun-toting crime-fighter who pretends to be blind during the day so he can do superheroics at night. That sounds like Batman, Daredevil, and Punisher all rolled into one. However, it sounds nothing like our Cassandra Cain. I hesitate to assume either of these characters are being referenced because 1) neither are anything like Cassandra and 2) neither are DC characters (or at least, only DC characters). 
 
Anyone know more about these characters? Anyone know of some other character they might be referencing with 'Blackbat'?
 
 
(Note: For some general discussion about the name, see Woerlan's thread here.)
1 Comments

I hate the name "Red Robin"

In other posts around these forums I've been pretty blunt how much I think "Red Robin" is a stupid name.  I have a few reasons for this and wanted to rant about it.

Complaints

I don't like the "[color] [established character name]" naming convention. I don't like "Red Hulk," or "Red She-Hulk," or "Dark Avengers" or any of that stuff.  I make exceptions for characters who include a color as their full-and-unique name (e.g., Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, Goldstar, Black Lightning, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Black Canary) and I can even stomach switching a color around for spinoff characters (e.g., White Canary, Red Arrow), but I hate just adding a color in front of it and acting like you're done. It seems lazy and it makes the character really seem like a second stringer. I much prefer giving them an original name (e.g., Arsenal, Oracle), letting them revive an old name from continuity (e.g., Nightwing), or letting them step fully into an established identity (e.g., Steph and Cass as Batgirl; Jason, Tim, and Damian as Robin; Wally and Bart as Flash).
 
I also don't like how the Red Robin mantle has been passed around from each Robin, starting as Dick's future costume in Kingdom Come, then becoming Jason's in Countdown, and then finally coming down to Tim's after he basically gets fired to make room for Damian. Now, I know it's not like Tim Drake has ever had a unique identity for himself to begin with—he's the third and arguably the fifth Robin if you count his "retirement" when Steph took over—but I feel like if you're going to "graduate" him, give him his own thing.
 
Finally—and this might be a local issue for me—I can't hear the name and not think of the chain of burger joints. I mean, not that I eat regularly at Red Robin, but come on now. When I see them all over the place reading it in the book is just jarring. 
 
 
In the revamp, we have an opportunity that is being missed to ditch the Red Robin thing. In fact, he seems to be embracing it full-bore by busting out the Falcon wings. Well, why not just call himself "Falcon?" Why not just call himself any number of "bird" names? But alas, they want the word "Robin" in there to keep it selling. Is this how they're handling the "lost" Bat-Family members now? Red Robin? Black Bat? Pink Oracle? Ocher Alfred? I just do not like it. So what are some other options? 
 

Options

I think there are a couple ways DC could handle this: 
 
  1. Stay with Red Robin: The "Red Robin" series was pretty well received, people are kind of used to the character name, and it has "Robin" in the title so people will know what to expect. Why rock the boat? I might be the only one who has a problem with this after all.
  2. Reintroduce an old moniker: AKA, the Nightwing solution. Flamebird would work, wouldn't it? Well, maybe not, but there has to be other old superhero names that Drake could pick up for himself. All the writers are into continuity porn so they might actually like the idea.
  3. Go name-less: The "Dr Hank Pym"-slash-"Jean Grey" solution, could Tim Drake support a book without being in costume? Probably not—even Oracle had a cool name and symbol—but it's a question worth asking.
  4. Swipe another franchise's moniker: The best example I can think of here is, well, Nightwing again because that was originally a Superman-franchise deal, but also I think of Renee Montoya as the new Question. Montoya was definitely a "Bat" supporting character, and still moves closely in those circles, hanging out with Batwoman and Huntress. But it worked, and worked really well. Tim Drake as "Richard Dragon?" Okay, bad example, but you get what I mean.
  5. Totally new name: Then my personal favorite, let him spread his wings (Note: I do not like the wings) and be his own unique character. This can be riskier, of course, but without a solo title anyway, you'd have time to introduce his new moniker in a team book and have it picked up later.
 
What does everyone else think? Am I the only one who dislikes "Red Robin?" What are some alternatives he could try? I'd love to see him mentoring under Ted Kord with an all-new persona. Let me know what you think!
115 Comments
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