Saturday, April 30, 2005

Comics: The Absorbascon and Superhero Legacies

There is a nice little blog that I found the other day, courtesy of one of the other blogs that found it first (there were so many). It's called the Absorbascon after a device in the older Hawkman comics that contained all of the knowledge on Earth. The Absorbascon blog is a wonderful fan-blog oriented towards the DC comics universe (among other things). He's only been at it for a month or so apparently, but he's got a ton of posts there already.

I wish that I'd found it earlier, though, because there are some great posts on a model for DC's heroes that he calls the "Dynastic Centerpiece" model, involving basically a central character as the centerpiece of a dynasty with other characters filling in roles around the central character (like the Kid Sidekick, the Female Version, the Super Pet, etc.)

It's a great little model, but its hard to make it work in the general case. I think that the author is conflating two different types of breakdowns for superheroes into one model, and I think that's where the difficulty lies. I've thought before that DC has two different types of models for their superheroes. The first is the "Family" model - the hero at the center with all of the various different heroes of the same type surrounding him. Batman and Superman are the classic examples of this, with their various younger versions, female versions, pets and whatnot. The Marvel Family is another good example of this phenomenon.

But, when you look at some of the other heroes, it gets tougher. The Flash barely fits the model at all, and others like Green Lantern or Hawkman really have to be stretched to fit it. These heroes follow more of a "Legacy" model - the hero as the most recent bearer of the standard for a particular costumed identity. This is the model that really comes from the Julie Schwartz-style of superhero revamps that occurred in the 60s, along with the merger of Earths 1 and 2 post-Crisis.

Flash fits the "Family" model better than many others because of the Waid expansion of the Flash Family during his tenure on the book in the early 90s. I would guess that Waid is a fan of the "Family"-style of DC heroes and (consciously or not) saw a way to fill out the Flash pantheon a bit by expanding on the idea of a Flash Family.

Marvel has never really played their heroes in this manner - there are no Legacy heroes at Marvel, for example. Captain America is the same Captain America who fought in WWII, not a new one. Namor is the same Sub-mariner from the Golden Age. The Human Torch is different, but its not like there's a Human Torch legacy that gets explored in the Marvel books. Any "families" that exist are more like the Fantastic Four or Power Pack - constructed as a specific superteam and not spun off from a central, popular hero.

Marvel has been branching into the ideas of Legacies and Families, however. In the last few months, Marvel has introduced (another) female Spider-man and a female Wolverine - possibly giving the start of a Spider-man Family or a Wolverine Family. Spider-man has a Legacy on the Marvel version of "Earth-2" also[1], with the ongoing Spider-girl comic book. The Hulk has had a female version of himself running around for a while, though they are rarely played up like a "Family" style book. And now they have a whole group of "Kid Sidekick" versions of Avengers characters in their own book. All-in-all its looking like Marvel is considering the Legacy and Family ideas more and more. I suspect its for the same reason they grew at DC - spin-offs of popular characters can be great money-makers if they are done right.

[1] The MC-2 Earth maps well as Marvel's version of "Earth-2", a world where their prime superheroes aged in near "real time" and have passed on their legacies to their children. Its also the private playground of Tom Defalco, much as Earth-2 was often the private playground of Roy Thomas back in the day. I always consider the "Ultimate Earth" to be Marvel's version of "Earth-3" - the world where the heroes are villains. In Marvel's case, its more like a world where the heroes are jerks, but a strong case can be made that Millar's Ultimates could be considered more villanous than heroic.

Comics: Legion of Super-Heroes #5 - SPOILERS

Waid and Kitson continue to impress me with their take on the Legion this week in LoSH #5. I think what I continue to be most impressed by is the storytelling style that is being used on this book. Waid and Kitson dragged me in with the "done-in-one" main stories while building my interest in the background plot of the upcoming Galactic War. Five issues in and the next issue box make it look like the Galactic War plot will be ramping up to the fore in the next few issues - that's incredibly fast for plot development in this day and age. I'm fairly confident that Waid will have another set of "B-plots" on the burner while the Galactic War one plays out, but I hope he doesn't try to drag the War story out for too long.

I think that the thing that I love the most about LoSH is the illusion of backstory that pervades the book. It really feels like there are possibly hundreds of issues of stories that have already happened with these characters - they all have a history together and that comes across through their actions and their interactions. I realize that a large chunk of that is because there are hundreds of issues of backstory with characters that are very much like these characters, but this is really an interesting choice for a reboot. Reboots usually end up ditching the backstory and starting from scratch - eventually coming back around to telling the new versions of the same stories that were ditched before because of some desire to see those stories back "in continuity". This is often because the reboot mentality takes a "throw the baby out with the bathwater" approach that eliminates many of the things that make a concept or a character enjoyable to the readers and then a push gets made to get it back.

I like how "new" characters get introduced into this series too. I know who some of these folks were in previous versions of the Legion, but Waid and Kitson have been doing very well at getting us introduced to the "new" versions of these characters. I was also amused by Waid not calling Brin Londo by the name Timber Wolf in this new issue, since it deviates from the naming convention that he has setup for the series.

As for this month's story - its a model of what I like in comics. The bad guys are suitably bad. The good guys are obviously good guys, but they aren't perfect. Saturn Girl's willingness to manipulate the minds of the teenagers that they were protecting just to keep them calm is one example of this that particularly stuck out with me, but there have been others in the series so far. Waid is doing a good job of keeping that delicate balancing act of making the characters human but still heroes - something that many writers can't seem to do very well.

All in all, another impressive issue of this incarnation of the Legion. Waid and Kitson have me anxiously awaiting the next issue once again.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Comics: Klarion #1 - SPOILERS

Well, the grand blogging experiment isn't working out as well as I had hoped. I'm making a new resolution to try and post something once per week. Today it's thoughts about Klarion - the new Seven Soldiers book from Grant Morrison and Frazer Irving.

Before I get into that, though, I'm making another resolution. I'm planning on concentrating on the things I like about comics for the near future. No rants about Infinite Crisis or who died this week or whatever. If I can't find something good to say about comics, I'll stop buying them again.

But, for now, I have Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers project to keep me happy. So far, only Zatanna has been even slightly disappointing to me, due to what I see as unecessary deaths of 3rd-tier characters. I'll put up a discussion on Zatanna sometime when I have nothing to talk about, but for now - Klarion!

I just finished a second read-through of the first issue of Klarion, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. This felt less hyper-kinetic than the other Seven Soliders books have been so far, and Morrison spent more time world-building with this than he has in all three of the prior 7S books put together. I'm impressed that Morrison has been able to give each book a fairly unique "voice" and that so far I've liked something about each of the books (even if I enjoy some more than others).

I was very impressed with the art on this book. I don't think I've seen anything by Frazer Irving before - does anyone have any recommendations for other things he's worked on in the past?

I especially liked the atmosphere of Limbo Town. The coloring was especially moody and atmospheric. I liked how everything was done in various dark shades, except for the cat Teekl and a few other things (like the candy bar wrapper).

As for the story itself, I thought it was very well done. Morrison definitely drew me into the underground world of Limbo Town and made me want to know more about it. Obviously we're at least meant to believe that its in an area deep underground and that the people there are
descended from folks from the surface. The next issue blurb seems to confirm that, so I'll take it at face value for now.

The religion of the witch-folk seems very interesting too. I'd like to know more about the witch-god Croatoan. At times they talk about him like he's alive and nearby ("How long until you are baptized and they take you to Croatoan?"), and yet the head of the Submissionary Order
needs to perform a divination with his own blood to figure out what their god wants them to do.

I like what I've seen of Klarion's character so far too. Within just the one issue Morrison gives a good introduction to not just Klarion's world, but also Klarion's mindset in that world. The short-hand is that he's a rebel, a young man chafing under the system he was born in. He has a father who has gone missing that he idolizes, and a curiosity about the world beyond the gates to Limbo Town that most of his fellow "witches" do not share.

With all that packed into a single issue, I was actually suprised that Morrison was able to give us some plot as well - tieing into the ongoing Seven Soldiers event. We learn that Limbo Town is tied to the Sheeda in some way, with prophecies indicating an upcoming Sheeda invasion and their own immunity to the Sheeda's assault. This makes me think that Croatoan will be linked to the Sheeda in some way, but who knows.

In all, this was probably my second favorite of the Seven Soldiers "first issues" so far, coming in right after The Guardian's first issue. Morrison and Irving definitely have me hooked for this one.