The history of the replacement superhero


Once again we find ourselves in a place where a classic superhero has been replaced. In this case if you haven’t been following the comic book news, Peter Parker is no longer Spider-Man.  A new Spider-Man has taken his place. According to Marvel this is a permanent change and will be the status quo going forward.

The general consensus amongst fans is that this status quo will last about a year before Parker is returned to his role as the Wall Crawler.

But why do we just assume that this is a temporary situation. Let’s take a look at the history of major characters being replaced in superhero comics.

First I suppose we need to establish that we are talking about characters from the silver age. There was of course the update of most of DC Comic’s characters in the 60s. That was treated as a new launch and not meant to be old characters being replaced.

The first question is why replace the character at all. The answer is naturally to open up new story possibilities. When a character has been in place for so long several of their characteristics are set in stone. If a writer wants to go beyond those a good way is to have someone new in the role.  There is also the idea of character growth.

One of the most successful replacements of a character ever was the Flash. In 1986 during Crisis on Infinite Earths, Barry Allen gave his life to save the universe. At the end of the series his nephew and sidekick Wally West, Kid Flash adopted the Flash identity. Over the next 25 years Wally West was the Flash. The series often examined Wally attempting to live up to the legacy of Barry, and how other heroes and villains who knew Barry reacted to him in the role. Wally went from overcompensating, to insecure, to finally stepping up to the role of one of the leading heroes in the DC universe.  Wally ultimately stood as a member of the Justice League alongside many of other major heroes. Most media projects of the time used the Wally West version of the Flash; most notably the Justice League animated series.  There is an entire generation of comic fans for whom Wally is and has always been the Flash. But the tale of Wally West does ultimately lend itself to why we fans are cynical about the permanency of a replacement hero.

In the 2008 series Final Crisis Barry Allen returned from the dead. The following year saw the release of the Flash Reborn where Barry officially stepped into the role of the Flash again. Wally was still around at this time, but he no longer had his own book, and after a while just faded from the title. With the New 52 relaunch Wally is now not only missing from any title, but is one of the characters that writers are forbidden to use. Again he is the Flash that a lot of fans are familiar with, but since the powers that be at DC want Barry to be unique Wally has been wiped from the universe.

Another example was one we touched on last year when we talked about the old speculation boom and how it went bust, the Death of Superman storyline and specifically the Reign of the Supermen. Here you had the very publicly touted death of comics’ most iconic character.  It was certainly a headline grabber. For all the grief it gets as a sales ploy and the storyline that started the implosion of the speculator market and subsequent shrinking of the industry, it was a well written story. It was broken into four acts, the death, the aftermath, the rise of the replacement supermen, and the return of Superman. Clearly the whole story was planned from the beginning, and savoy comic fans knew this. At shops and comic shows everyone speculated how each stage would be handled. No one expected any of the replacements to permanently take over. Well no one who actually followed the books. As discussed before, speculators assumed this was a permanent change. Just look at the previous article for more on that. The replacements did of course continue on as characters in their own right and Steel and Superboy went on to be important parts of the DCU.

Around the same time you had the Batman books doing a similar idea with Knightfall. Again a new character was brought in as the replacement Batman. This one had less impact on the DCU, with only the new villain Bane having any impact going forward.

In both those cases the fact that new characters were introduced as the replacements was a big clue that it these were only storylines and not lasting changes.

More recently Marvel and DC did some very similar stories that went another route on the replacement angle. Like the Flash these were stories where the former sidekick took over for their fallen mentor.

At Marvel it was Captain America’s sidekick Bucky taking over the role went Cap was killed at the end of the Civil War Story. At DC it was Dick Grayson taking on the role of Batman following Bruce Wayne’s death at the end of Final Crisis.

In both cases some very good writing came out of these stories. Ed Brubaker wrote Captain America at this time and you had a slightly darker Cap with Bucky under the mask and espionage was a bigger part of the story. At DC you had Grant Morrison writing Batman and Robin and knocking it out of the park with a more light-hearted Batman and a darker Robin, who was Bruce’s son Damian.

In both cases about two years later both Steve and Bruce were proven to be alive, their deaths faked by means of time travel. Upon their return both Steve and Bruce left their successors in their roles and the pursued other goals. Eventually both heroes returned to their roles and the sidekicks resumed their previous identities.

When these storylines started fans were already cynical enough about main heroes being replaced that there were betting pools on how soon the originals would return.

These are hardly the only cases I could site on this subject, but the trajectory is basically the same. Eventually the old superhero resumes his role.

As of this writing I can only think of one exception to this, Marvel comics’ cosmic hero Captain Marvel. Marvel’s death occurred in the first ever Marvel graphic novel. Over the years his death has stuck. The problem has been keeping a consistent successor.

Originally the new Captain Marvel was an unrelated heroine with unrelated powers who took up the name. Next up was Marvel’s son taking up his father’s role. Most recently we have the heroine Ms. Marvel, who was connected to the original, taking on the title of Captain. This last is being well received so we will see how it goes.

Which brings us back to Spider-man.

This is actually the second time that Peter has been replaced. In the 90s you had the first attempt to have an unmarried Spider-man thanks to the clone saga, where it was revealed that Peter was just a clone of the original Spidey and the person we thought was the clone, Ben Reilly, was really the original. Peter decided to retire, and Ben took over as Spider-Man.

Fans hated this twist and it was quickly dropped and revealed to all be a plot by the Green Goblin and Peter was the original after all.

Now thanks to a body swap we have Doctor Octopus inhabiting Peter’s body. Doc’s body with
Peter in it has died, so Doc as Peter is the new Spider-Man.

I won’t get into the details, but the first issue of the new Superior Spider-Man on the last page already has the seed of how the original Peter will return. So the question is, how long will it take.

Anyone want to set up a pool.




The DC New 52 one year later

The New 52 reached the one year mark this week. At this point I think it’s time for some reflection on how the relaunch has gone. I have written several times on the overall state of the DCU, as recently as last week, so instead I want to focus on the specific books. So here is my take on the titles that comprise the New 52.

A bit of honesty first. I did not collect or read every title. It just wasn’t realistic to do so. I made my decisions as a consumer, although I did manage to read a couple of titles I didn’t collect to try them out. I’ll point out what I did and didn’t read.

With that, here we go.

The first six down.

These were the first six titles canceled by DC after the relaunch

  • Mister Terrific
  • Static Shock
  • Hawk and Dove
  • OMAC
  • Blackhawks,
  • Men of War

I was likely part of the crowd on this one. I did not collect a single one of them, mostly because I was not that into the characters. The exception was Hawk and Dove where it was the involvement of Rob Liefeld that turned me away. Needless to say I must not have been alone in those feelings as they were all gone by issue 6.

The Books I didn’t bother with:

As with the previous six these are titles I did not collect.

  • Voodoo
  • Captain Atom
  • The Fury of Firestorm: The Nuclear Men
  • The Savage Hawkman,
  • Red  Hood and the Outlaws
  • Teen Titans
  • Blue Beetle,
  • Legion of Super-Heroes
  • Legion Lost
  • All-Star Western,
  • Deathstroke
  • Suicide Squad
  • Superboy
  • Stormwatch,
  • Grifter
  • GI Combat
  • The Ravagers
  • I, Vampire,
  • Catwoman

For a lot of these titles, like Voodoo and Grifter, I didn’t have an interest. For Teen Titians and Superboy I was not happy with the treatment of characters I had grown attached to in the previous incarnation. For Red Hood and the Outlaws and Catwoman I actually read the first issues and disliked them enough to not want to bother collecting them.

So those are books I didn’t follow. Now on to the ones I have.

The books I decided to drop.

These are the books that I was collecting but decided weren’t ones I wanted to continue following.

Wonder Woman: I wrote a whole article on my thoughts on this one. I just did not like Brian Azzarello’s take on the character. I found her too cold and the changes in her origin did not sit right. I know a lot of people consider this one of the better books of the relaunch but I do not agree.

Green Arrow: I was not originally going to collect this title, but found myself really enjoying the first issue and decided to collect it instead of Catwoman. I got a kick out of the first six issues and thought this was going to be a high point of relaunch. However with issue seven writer J.T, Krul was replace with Ann Nocenti, and the quality went south right away. I realized that I was finding myself confused half the time about what the hell was going on. I dropped the book after issue ten.

The Books I have been following that are not living up to the expectations:

This is a tricky one. I am still enjoying these titles enough to keep collecting them. However I just feel they are not quite up to snuff so they are usually that last ones I read in the weeks they come out. I’d say a couple of them are in risk of being dropped if the quality dips much more.

Justice League: Yep, the cornerstone title of the whole New 52 relaunch and I have problems with it. I think a lot of my problems here are an issue with the tone of the series. I find it more cynical than I would expect with the League.  Most of the characters are portrayed as arrogant, even if that is not their portrayal in their own books. Even Superman comes off this way. I am especially surprised at the writing of Green Lantern as he is not acting like he does in his own book despite the fact that Geoff Johns writes both. This even happens in the Shazam back up feature where Billy Batson has gone from a good hearted kid to a jaded brat.

Superman: This is a book I really wanted to love, but instead I just like it in a lukewarm way. I think its problems can be explained by the fact that the writers have really had their hands tied. I already wrote a lot about this back in June. Basically issue #1 felt like being dropped in the middle of a story and that feeling has persisted. The individual issues can be good, but as part of a whole tapestry not so much.  And I find this insane considering it has been written by both George Perez and Keith Giffen. I am also just infuriated with the lengths being taken to keep Clark and Lois apart. Clearly it is not as bad as the complete ass pull Marvel performed to split up Peter Parker and Mary Jane, but it is beginning to feel a close second. Superman Group Editor Matt Idelson has gone as far as to say Lois and Clark will not get together at all on his watch.So basically it is a book that can be good, but not consistently.

The Flash: I’ll be honest this book confuses me.  On one hand Francis Manapul is doing a great job exploring the Flash’s powers and his conflicts on being the Flash. On the other hand Barry Allen is coming off as a rookie superhero. If this book was set five years ago like Action comics and it was the beginning of his career it would make sense, but that is not the case. There is also the issue of Barry no longer being with Iris, who in old continuity was his wife. Here, unlike in Superman, it feels more organic, especially as you get the feel that despite the obstacles they will eventually get together.

Green Lantern: New Guardians: The weak link in the Green Lantern line. Again it has its moments, but I think it suffers from too big a cast and not a lot in the way of focus. It started with a great concept, Kyle Rayner suddenly having a ring of every color, and just as quickly dropped that idea to make it a team book, about a team that has members who have no real reason to work together.  Not an impossible task to make work but the execution has been very uneven. Later issue have improved on this, but it still has a way to go.

Justice League International: I have enjoyed this book even though I feel there have been a lot of flaws. Sadly the flaws have been enough that this book was never widely embraced and is being canceled. The book’s strength has been the characters. Booster Gold managed to retain the character growth from pre-flashpoint, even if he lost the story. The August General in Iron actually had a character arc and growth which I would not have thought possible from his earlier appearances. Unfortunately this great character work was bogged down in some very cliché story telling. The JLI was sponsored by the U.N. but several members objected, their first threat was an alien intent on destroying the world, and only they, and no other superheroes were there to fight him. They were unpopular with the public and a terrorist group used that to try to destroy them.

Resurrection Man: Here is another book I was really excited about. I loved the original series in the 90s and was always hoping to see this character return. And even better the original creators Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning were writing it. But after the first few issues it was clear this was not the same series as before. First off it seemed to be a true reboot with the character starting off in the exact same situation he started off the old series. Again it was not a bad book; it just wasn’t exciting me that much. I think part of it is that in the old series Resurrection Man was very much involved in the DC Universe. In the new series this could have been an independent comic with no changed needed at all. This is another book that is being canceled.

Birds of Prey: I will admit I may be a bit harsh on this book. The original series was written by Gail Simone, one of my favorite comic book writers. So this book not being written by her could only suffer. Also the heart of the old series was Barbara Gordon as Oracle. Barbara is still in the series as Batgirl, but she is not team leader, Black Canary is. And you also have several team members that do not fit. In particular you have Poison Ivy on the team. Yes she is often a sympathetic villain, but she is still a villain. And big surprise, the current story line has her betray the team and force them to help her in her extreme agenda. You could have taken bets on when this was going to happened.

The books that have met my expectations.

This next set is the books that are performing exactly as I had expected. I enjoy each one and none are in any danger of being dropped.

Detective Comics and Batman: the Dark Knight: I’ll just do these two together. They are both solid Batman books. I know that grouping them like this makes them seem interchangeable, but in this case it is more that continuity in the entire Batman book line is strong right now so they do not feel like they are happening in two different worlds.

Batwoman: I have a weird relationship with this book. I really like it, and think that J.H. Williams and W. Haden Blackman are doing a suburb job writing it. But it is not as good as when Greg Rucka was writing the original series. I guess it is a repeat of my complaint about Birds of Prey, but without the other weaknesses I see in that book. I especially enjoy how they are doing a Tarantino and jumping around in different time frames to tell the story.

Batman Incorporated: This was a late starter being one of the replacement books after 6 months. This is a solid continuation of what Morrison was doing with this title prior to the New 52 relaunch.

Nightwing: Of all the Non-batman staring books in the Batman line this is the most tied in to the overall continuity. It makes good use of Dick Grayson’s history as well. My only complaint is the change of the costume making the formerly blue parts red. However I do get that this is done to create a visual connection to the other Robins. Every one of them has red as the dominate color of their costume.

Action Comics: Another of the cornerstone books for the New 52. It works really well as a “Superman year one” style book. Grant Morrison does a great job telling the story of a young superman still learning about his powers and figuring out what kind of hero he wants to be. While I do enjoy the book I do have a couple of complaints. The first has nothing to do with the book itself. It is just that Action Comics was one of the longest running titles, reaching issue #904 prior to the relaunch. It was set to be the first comic to reach issue #1000. The mandate that all New 52 titles start with issue #1 has disrupted that. My hope is that at some point DC decides to honor this milestone and restore the original numbering. The other complaint is that I can’t help but feel like this book is more of a well written Elseworld title, then a cornerstone of New 52 DC Universe.

Green Lantern: The Flagship of the Green Lantern books. Like the Batman books this entire line largely ignored the reboot of the DC Universe and is continuing with the story that Geoff Johns has been telling for the last 7 years. Combine this with the fact that it is largely set off Earth and it might as well be in the old DCU. On the other hand that history allows for the continued character arcs Johns has been playing with to continue and thrive.

Red Lanterns: The odd duck of the Green Lantern books. When it started I was not sure how you could sustain this book due to the almost feral nature of most Red Lanterns. To be honest around the same time that I dropped Wonder Woman I was considering dropping this title as well. But the book turned itself around by making some of the Red Lanterns more intelligent and introducing a human Red Lantern. The story telling became more focused and I have found myself enjoying it.

Dial H: Another of the 6 month in replacement books. It is a revamp of the old Dial H for Hero book. Had this book been released prior to the New 52 I am convinced it would have been a Vertigo title. Fantasy author and first time comic writer China Mieville has taken a basically juvenile power fantasy concept and made it grand ancient alien conspiracy.

Earth 2: Really the jury is still out on this one. Of the 6 month in replacement books this one has had the slowest buildup. I am certainly enjoying it right now, but I do not feel that it has settled in to its story arc yet.

The books that have exceeded expectations:

These are the top drawer books for the New 52, the ones that I read first when I get them. Basically these are the ones that I feel have made the New 52 a success even if a flawed one.

Aquaman: File this one under “who knew”. For years writers have been trying to figure out what to do with Aquaman. This is compounded by the meme that Aquaman is a lame character based solely on how he was portrayed on the Super Friends. Geoff Johns took that meme and turned it on its head. It is a combination of deconstructing the meme, thinking logically about the real extent of Aquaman’s powers and how they work, and exploring his back story. I’m not kidding when I say that on the weeks this title comes out it is the first one I read.

Batman: Remember how I said that the Batman books had the best internal continuity of all the DC titles, well this book is the anchor point. In prepping for this article I asked my friend Aron who runs The Dreaming Comics and Games what is his bestselling title for the New 52. His answer was this one. I think a lot of credit goes to Scott Snyder’s writing. He is quickly becoming one of my favorite comic writers. One point is that this book does the best job of exploring Bruce Wayne as Bruce Wayne. So many books treat Bruce as simply Batman’s disguise, but Snyder goes for something deeper.

Batman and Robin: This is a close second to being the best Batman book. Here you have Peter Tomasi really exploring the Father/Son dynamic between Bruce and Damian Wayne. Tomasi is another writer, like Scott Snyder where they are getting to the point where I will check a book out simply because they are writing it.

Batgirl: I’ve already mentioned that Gail Simone is one of my favorite comic book writers and if anyone was going to handle Barbara Gordon becoming Batgirl again correctly it is her. Despite all my misgiving about this one aspect of the New 52 that I have written about before, I love this book. That’s right, even though I find how DC has handled the issue of what happened to Stephanie Brown rage inducing, it has not dampened how much I enjoy this title. Gail writes Barbara as a slightly broken character that never the less has the strength to get beyond that and be a hero. Too make a character simultaneously broken and strong is no small feat and here it is done masterfully.

Batwing: This book just caught me off guard. Judd Winick is one of the most inconsistent writers in comics today. He wrote a Catwoman book so bad I refused to pick it up, but is writing a new Bat character so well that he is becoming a favorite of mine. I think Winick, who is often a writer who falls back on social agenda writing has done good job of balancing the issues a character for the Democratic Republic of Congo is going to face, with telling a good superhero story.

Green Lantern Corps: Oh look, another book written by Peter Tomasi. This is the strongest of the Green Lantern books. It is the one doing the most to move forward the threat of the Guardians of the Universe plot. As its name implies, it makes use of the entire corps and feels like the stakes are truly universal.

Justice League Dark: Aron at the Dreaming says that for his store this title slightly outsells the main Justice League book. It was a decent book under Peter Milligan and would have probably ended up in my meets expectations category, but then Jeff Lemire took over and this title just took off. Lemire obviously loves the fringes of the DC Universe. This book also builds on a lot of ideas from the vertigo books that many of its characters come from.

Swamp Thing: At this point it should be clear that certain writers are really bringing their A game for the New 52. Here Scott Snyder gets to show his chops as a horror writer. He also has built on the Swamp Thing mythology in a way that has found a way to make sense with what the DC Dark titles are doing without ignoring the great stories that made Swamp Thing a cornerstone character for so many years.

Animal Man: The companion book to Swamp Thing in that they are telling the same story from two different angles. Jeff Lemire has taken this superhero character and turned the book into one of the best horror title in years.

Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E.: This book is a kick in the pants. While Jeff Lemire has made Superhero Animal Man’s book into a horror title, he has took horror character Frankenstein and turned the book into the spiritual successor to Grant Morrison’s Invisibles. This got taken to 11 when Matt Kindt took over the book after issue #8. There is just a level of crazy in this book that is written so consistently that once you read a couple of issue you can buy completely into it. Half the fun of this title is just following along with the various concepts that Kindt introduces.

Demon Knights: This was easily one of the best books of the New 52 right from the start. Set in the medieval past and playing with several characters in the DC Universe that are immortal, Paul Cornell has built a grand fantasy epic. The best part for me is having immortal villain mastermind Vandal Savage portrayed in this title as a boisterous, life-loving barbarian warrior who is one of the heroes.

Worlds’ Finest: Where Earth 2 is a book I am still a bit on the fence about, its companion book has no such issues. This book has a very solid hook that Power Girl and Huntress are the Supergirl and Robin of Earth 2, trapped on Earth Prime and wanting to go home. Veteran writer Paul Levitz, who originally created the Huntress, puts the focus of the series on the relationship between the two heroes and their quest to go home. The chemistry here is perfect.


So there you have it, my take on the state of the current New 52 titles. Overall I like what I see right now, but it is definitely a mixed bag. My biggest concern is that the DC Universe no longer feels cohesive, and I think that is due to there not being a clear overall plan.

I am sure I will revisit the line again as there is a lot going on over at DC right now.


Misogyny in Geek Culture

Misogyny is a word that has been thrown around a lot lately in the geek community. A lot has been written on the subject of misogyny in geek culture recently. It would almost seem redundant to write another piece on the subject. And yes I realize I am a guy writing about this, but here is why it is needed, because there cannot be enough voices speaking out about it. In fact with so much misogynistic speech going on in geek culture right now, to not speak out on it would be an act of moral cowardice.

I’m about to go into some specifics now so if you are reading this and the subject of various ways women can be attacked are triggers for you it would be best to be prepared.

So why are we seeing so much misogynism now. Well I don’t think it is a recent development. I don’t think a bunch of guys went “Oh man, the women are getting uppity; I better act like an entitled prick to put them in their place.” It’s always been there, but a couple of things have made it more visible .One is the internet. People can communicate online more easily and rapidly then they use to. Add to that the anonymous nature of online communication and you have people who feel they can get away with things they would never have dared in the past. That’s the bad news, the good news is that people are not shutting up and taking it as much now. These two combine to create the greater visibility.

Of course why it happens in the first place is no secret. From the start the collections of interests and hobbies that compose geek culture have been traditionally male dominated. And not just any males, these are usually the guys that were not part of the popular crowd in high school.  Add a tendency for those with already poor social skills to be drawn to fandom and you have your stereotype of the geek.

And now you have to look at how women are traditionally portrayed in comics, science fiction and fantasy. You have the damsel in distress, who waits for the manly hero to save her, or you have the kick ass female who makes up for poor character development with skimpy over-sexualized attire.

Here is a great example; this is the cover for the upcoming issue #0 of Catwoman

Notice how you can see her face, breasts, and butt all in the same shot. For that to be possible her spine would need to be made of rubber. In fact rubber spine is fairly common in female superheroes.

So your average woman looking at this is not going to feel welcome in most geek settings. This has led to women in fandom historically being treated as rare as a unicorn.

Of course these days you have women who are making their mark in fandom. And here is the seed of the misogyny. The guys have had it as their special corner and now the ladies are showing up and expecting to be treated as people. A lot of guys do not know how to deal with this and feel threatened, and when people feel threatened they often go on the attack.

In the end the misogyny is all about power. The guys employing it want to make the women do what they want and are using what they perceive as the best tools to do it.

No better example exists than Anita Sarkeesian and her Kickstarter campaign to fund her web video series “Tropes vs. Women” which looks at how females are portrayed in video games. Since this is certainly going to look at the sexist way a lot of games treat women (We’re looking at you Duke Nukem) a backlash arose against Sarkeesian and took on a very ugly misogynistic tone. Beyond sexually harassing messages on line people have made pictures of her being raped by video game characters and one person even went so far as to make an online game where you can beat her up.

Clearly the goal was to shut her down, but the good news is that it has had the opposite effect. Her Kickstarter goal was $6,000. At this point she has now made over $100,000 and is looking to expand the scope of the series. Rather than make her shut up, the attack has given her an even better chance to speak and brought supporters out in droves.

This is a part of the story that seems to keep coming up again and again. The use of misogyny to make women shut up is being met with defiance and a refusal to be backed down. It is by no means easy. I’m sure Anita Sarkeesian has had many low moments during this.

Other examples include the recent incident where a writer for the gaming website Destructoid, Ryan Perez, went on an extremely sexist rant against Felicia Day, and the very recent incident of comedian Daniel Tosh joking that it would be funny if a female who called him out on making a rape joke were gang raped right then and there.

Perez did apologize and is no longer with Destructoid.  The back lash against Tosh was so strong that he had to issue an apology less than a day after the story broke. But in both cases it feels a lot like both apologies were more prompted by “we got caught” then “we are truly sorry”. Also a lot of people came out in support of Perez and Tosh saying they should not have been called out in the first place.

Moving away from the power struggle itself for a moment, one of the big laments of people in the comic book and gaming industries is the desire to bring in more female consumers. However while they say this they still put out the objectifying material to appeal to the male demographic.

It doesn’t help that in most of the geek industries that not only are the customer base primarily male, but so are the creators. Let’s face it most men are not sure how to write or present women.

Here is an example. Here is how the Black Widow poster for Iron Man 2 looked

Now here is the Black Widow poster for the Avengers.

So it is the same actress, the same character and the same basic costume. But one looks like she is posing for a Maxim cover and the other looks like she is about to kick your ass. So what is the difference? It think it is that the Avengers is directed and written by Joss Whedon and he likes to present strong women that are actually empowered.

While we are on the subject of the Avengers I should note that a lot of reporters would tend to ask Scarlett Johansson questions that were the verbal equivalent of male gaze. One reporter asked if she wore underwear under her costume and she asked if he would ask her male co-stars the same question. The best thing to come out of that was the fact she would not put up with that crap.

As I said earlier, in the comic book industry a constant effort is put forth to bring in more female readers. However you just need to look at that image of Catwoman again to see the problem there. Another hurdle is the phenomenon known as women in refrigerators. For those not familiar with the term it comes from a story line where a new Green Lantern, Kyle Rayner, was chosen. Kyle had a girlfriend Alex DeWitt. 6 issues after she was introduced Alex is murdered and her body stuffed into a refrigerator for Kyle to find. This is what sparks him to take being a superhero seriously.

Writer Gail Simone cited this as a prime example of writers in comics using the murder or abuse of a female character to propel the story of a male character. She maintains a site called Women in Refrigerators listing the significant examples of this trope. It also has a listing of responses it has gotten. Want to take a guess at the tone many of them take?

Another view on this is more personal. My sister* and I use to both work at Wizards of the Coast. During that time we both would be sent to conventions to work the booth. It amazed me that amount of guys who thought she was just a “booth babe” and didn’t know what she was talking about. For the record she is just as much a gamer and con geek as I am and most definitely knows what she is talking about. In fact go check out her site and tell me if you think she knows nothing.

The point of this is that the geek culture has a bad habit of objectifying women. The end result is that you do not see them as people, and this can make it way too easy to treat them horribly.

So how do we fight this? The first thing is easy to say, but hard to do. Speak up about it. When you see someone make misogynistic comments you call them on it. Even if dozens of people jump on you, you need to speak up. The peer pressure can get really bad. People feel a sense of entitlement when they make these comments and no one wants it pointed out that they are on the wrong side of the issue. But this is not an issue with two valid sides, misogynism is wrong, period. If Anita Sarkeesian can handle the crap being hurdled at her, you can stand a few flame posts.

The next part is even harder. You need to take a long hard look at your own comments, especially you guys. The misogynistic attitudes are cultural and it can get so indoctrinated that you can fall into it without realizing it. I know I have caught myself more than once.  We have to make sure that we are not part of the problem. The best advice I can give is take your brain with you. Think before you comment. Remember that the people you are dealing with online, at a convention, or at a comic book shop are in fact real people with feelings that can be hurt.

If you want to read another site that covers this really well I would like to point you to Geek Girls Rule. This is a site that covers geek culture from a female perspective. As you can imagine they have covered this subject more than once and have received more than their fair share of grief for it. But they know what they are talking about.

As for where we go from here, this site is still going to be about celebrating geek culture and I will be going back to the fun stuff soon enough, but I am also pretty sure the we will be covering this again at some point in the future.

In the end I would rather say that I am part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

And if you feel the need to flame me for saying this, bring it.



*(We aren’t actually blood relatives.  I may get around to explaining the nature of that relationship someday.  I call her father dad and he refers to me as son, so it’s good enough for us)


DC New 52: Troubling signs.

We are 10 months into the relaunch of the DC universe with the New 52. Originally I had not planned on touching on the event again until we reached the 12 month mark. But as a good friend of mine is fond of saying “When man makes plans, the gods laugh”.

Between some stories that broke in the last week I felt it was time a good time to go over how I feel about the direction DC is going with its titles.

The event that set this off was an interview with George Perez on why he stepped down as the writer on Superman. It came down to a frustration due to lack of consistency on what he was being told. Implied in the interview was a high degree of executive meddling over the head of DC publisher Dan DiDio. According to George he was given contradictory instructions on an almost constant basis.

He also did not like that his book was set 5 years after the story in Action Comics, being written by Grant Morrison. Grant was not telling anyone what he was planning meaning George had to limit what he wrote as he was not to contradict anything Grant wrote.

From this we can extract the following points.

  • DC did not go into the relaunch with a coherent plan.
  • The creative staff is not getting a consistent message.
  • Publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee are not in complete charge of guiding the stories due to executive meddling.
  • DC is giving way too much leeway to Grant Morrison and I suspect Geoff Johns.

From the start there has been a feel that the whole relaunch was an executive plan to reinvigorate the line and make the properties friendlier to other media. The big concern was that it was a rushed half-baked plan and now that seems to be confirmed at least in part by Perez.

Looking at the books there are some points we can see.

Some books have done well. These include Swamp Thing, Demon Knights, Aquaman, Justice League Dark, and Dial H. The thing about these books is that because of how they are written they would have succeeded just as well without the reboot of the DCU. Other books that have done well are the Batman and Green Lantern books, which have largely ignored the reboot.

But then you have the books that have not done so well. Superman has had problems since September. Action is ok, but both Action and Superman feel disconnected from each other. And as you can tell from Perez’s comments Superman has been a disjointed mess. Another book that is troubling is Green Arrow. It started out ok, but like Superman there was a creative team change and now it is borderline confusing.

Another issue is that there is inconstancy in the continuity. In Justice League International you have Batman as a member of the team and very supportive of team leader Booster Gold. In the main Justice League book Batman is loudly calling for the UN to disband the JLI. Add to this the fact that the members of the Justice League are acting like stuck up pricks in contrast to how most of them act in their own books.

There is another thing that makes me worried about the level of executive meddling at DC, and this one I witnessed with my own eyes.

At Emerald City Comic Con I attended two different DCU panels moderated by Batman group editor Michael Marts. In both panels questions were raised about the status of three characters, former Flash Wally West, original Wonder Girl Donna Troy, and most importantly previous Batgirl Stephanie Brown. In both cases there was someone in the audience making a slashing motion across his throat signaling Marts not to answer. In one of the panels where the audience would not let the question go Marts stated that the person making the gesture was a PR guy telling him not to answer.

To recap there was a PR guy in the audience making sure the Batman group editor did not give answers to certain questions.

Now maybe this is not that weird, but for me I have never witnessed anything like that at a convention before.

So what do I hope to see? Personally I am hoping that in another year or so that DC will announce that the new 52 is over and they are fixing the timeline to return to the more familiar continuity with maybe a few hold over changes.

But I’m not holding my breath.

The Smallville Smackdown

This week it was announced that DC entertainment will release a weekly digital comic called Smallville Season 11.
I can’t believe I just wrote that sentence.
Be thankful I haven’t launched the Fanboy News Network video series yet, I would have been yelling.
So why would I be yelling about a continuation of Smallville? Well let’s go over the reasons.
First, while I assume that if you read this blog you know what Smallville is, just in case you don’t here is the quick recap. The show is about the Life of Clark Kent between his freshman year in high school and his assuming the identity of Superman. It lasted 10 seasons. The mantra of the show was “No Flight, No Tights.”  
Ok on to the ranting.
Frist thing that springs to mind: Smallville already lasted five seasons too long. Seriously the idea was to show the events that lead Clark on the road to becoming the greatest hero of all time. The first four seasons were ok. It was never stellar Television. It was Superman as seen through the lens of Dawson’s Creek. It had two things going for it, a sense of destiny as we know how the two main characters would turn out, and the performance of Michael Rosenbaum as Lex Luthor.
Of course those early seasons had their issues too. Chief amongst them was the miscasting of Kristen Kreuk as Lana Lang. She had no chemistry with series lead Tom Welling. This would not have been so bad except that they cast Allison Mack as Chloe Sullivan, a character that had an unrequited crush on Clark. Mack had tons of chemistry with Welling, making Kreuk’s lack of it jarring.
The point here is that at the beginning you had an ok show that did surprisingly well in the ratings. And that may have been its curse. By season five the show had really run its course, but for CW it was doing great ratings so it was renewed. And they kept renewing it.
Maybe if the story had advanced it would not have been awful, but merely bad. But “No Flight, No Tights” meant they had to keep Clark as not quite Superman. What ended up happening was an amazing hack job of the Superman myth that made most fanboys rage. What was worst is that every now and then they actually had something good, like Geoff Johns love letter to the Golden Age with his JSA episode. But mostly it was crap that went on five years past its expiration date.
The final season was particularly bad in that it started out like most Smallville seasons, but part way through someone in the writers’ room must have woken up.
“Oh crap, this is the last season, we should take the Clark Kent character we have developed and shoehorn him into the personality from the comic books.”
I’m not kidding. It was the 9th episode of the 10th season that Clark Kent started wearing glasses. And was the 13th before he started with the mild mannered nerd persona. Like people who know him before would not figure out that the Clark Kent they knew for years was Superman.  I think it would ended up like being the Saturday Night Live Sketch with the Rock as Clark Kent where everyone know he was Superman and just humored him.
 A lot of this could have been forgiven, if they had nailed the series finale. If they gave us that rousing moment when Clark Kent became the Man of Steel and defeated the villain becoming the champion he was meant to be.
That would have been nice.
But Smallville had a history of unsatisfying season finales and I guess they saw no reason to make the series finale any different.
It was a two hour finale, and when Clark finally confronted the bad guy there were 14 minutes left in the episode. In that time the following happened:
·         He learned to fly
·         He defeated Darkseid, one of the most powerful entities in the DC Universe, by flying through him
·         He went to the Fortress of Solitude and got the Superman Costume.
·         He saved the airplane Lois Lane was on.
·         He flew in the sky and pushed a planet away from Earth.
·         Then there was an epilog.
And in none of that was there ever a clear shot of Tom Welling actually wearing the Superman costume. The rumor I keep hearing is that Welling, who was also a producer on the show, refused to wear it. I guess he felt that he should never fully been seen as Superman. What it did was leave the audience feeling cheated.
10 year build up with no pay off.
So now, I assume due to the success of the Buffy Season 8 and 9 comics DC feels they can give us this pay off.
I have an idea. If you want to see Clark Kent at the beginning of his career as Superman read the current run of Action Comics. At least they are going about it honestly.
For me the big mystery is why I watch that damn show for all ten seasons.
The only answer I can come up with is that I am such a comic fanboy that since It was something related to Superman thus I was obligated. 
Or maybe some part of me knew that one day I would write a geek culture blog and I would need to know the shows history to really tear into it.
I’m going with that last one. It makes me feel better.

The New “New 52”

From the moment the DC relaunch was announced a question loomed: “How long until the first cancelations?”  Especially since the branding on the relaunch is “The New 52”.
We now have our answer and it shows how DC plans to move forward.
April will see the last issue of six of the relaunch titles: Blackhawks, Hawk and Dove, O.M.A.C, Mr. Terrific, Static Shock, and Men of War.
In May DC will launch 6 new titles: Batman Incorporated, Dial H, Earth 2, World’s Finest, The Ravagers, and G.I Combat.
So it is clear that with the “New 52” branding DC intends to keep the main universe titles at that number, only introducing new books as replacements for canceled books. Much like a TV network schedule really.
So how do I feel about it?
Honestly I like this strategy.
Aside from maintaining the branding, I like that they are keeping their product line lean. Not glutting the market keeps costs under control and makes choices easier for the consumer.
Just looking at sales figures can tell the story. Last month’s estimated sales showed Marvel just beating DC in overall sales, but DC had seven of the Top ten titles. While that looks good for marvel at first, keep in mind that they are publishing more than twice the number titles DC is, so they have a higher overhead. DC’s more targeted approach means a better net gain.
But what about the specific books involved?
Of the six titles going away, I read exactly zero. Of the six titles coming in May, I intend to add two to my pull list and give two others a try out.
Blackhawks, O.M.A.C., and Men of War were so low on my radar I  actually forgot they were being published until this announcement. Mr. Terrific and Static Shock I was aware of, I just wasn’t into either character so I gave them a pass. I was an old fan of Hawk and Dove, but Rob Leifeld’s involvement in the book kept me away. So basically none of these really surprise me.
Of the new books Batman Incorporated is the big one for me. I was enjoying this title prior to its cancelation to make room for the relaunch. My hope is that they pick up the story were they left off or at least bridge to what went before.
Earth 2 is the other sure thing. I love the JSA and if you will forgive me, I think going back to the Earth 2 concept is the best of both worlds.
World’s Finest will get a shot as it ties into Earth 2. I’m happy to see Power Girl back as well as the Huntress. My hope for this title is that it will feature the original Huntress (the alternate earth daughter of Batman and Catwoman). If this is the case we will have a third keeper. 
Dial H is an update of an old series about a mysterious dial that can temporarily turn normal people into superheroes. It is a concept that can work if the right writer is on it. I will give it a look at least to see what they do with it.
The Ravagers is a spinoff from Teen Titians and Superboy, two books I am not collecting so pass.
G.I. Combat is attempting to keep a military book on the schedule. This one is at least revisiting the weird war stories: Haunted Tank, the War time forgot, and the Unknown Soldier.  I really have no more interested in the than I was for Men of War. Pass
What I am really interested in seeing is what else DC has up its sleeve. Are we going to get a new title every time there is a cancelation? If so what does DC have lined up?
When the first anniversary of the New 52 comes in September what will the DCU look like?

Addressing the new Watchmen rumor.

Watchman, more than any other title ever produced is the cornerstone of the modern comic book industry. (Yes, even more than The Dark Knight Returns.) Coming out in 1986 it redefined what could be done with the medium.
So I have very mixed emotions about the rumors that DC is going to produce four prequel mini-series. Part of this is of course the knee jerk fanboy reaction.
But beyond the lizard brain reaction is some real concerns.
First off the original creators are not only not doing it; they really don’t want it to be done at all. It was a disagreement over the ownership of Watchmen that led Alan Moore to sever ties with DC comics. David Gibbons has gone on record as saying he would not like to see it happen as recently as this last summer. Now to be fair to DC Watchmen was created at a time when most work in the industry was work-for-hire and they own the characters. Add to that the fact that the characters are based directly on another set of characters DC owns and they are theirs to do with as they see fit.
That being said as Marvel’s One More Day proved, just because you have the right to do something doesn’t mean it is a good idea.
Watchmen was a nearly perfectly told story. It was paced to make each issue engaging but also make the whole story satisfying. The art was very much a part of the story with important elements being shown not told and often being in the background. It had a clear arc for the story and the individual characters. Even as beloved as it is, there really isn’t anything more that needs to be said.
And this is what has me worried. Why are we revisiting Watchmen? It just smacks of a cash grab.
“Let’s do new stories with these really popular characters. That will bring them into the stores.”
  I’m not saying a good story can’t come out of it. Last weekend my wife and I went to see “The Muppets.” Again this was a relaunch of an old franchise without the involvement of the original creators. However it is clear that the new creators understand the franchise and made it a labor of love. The result is a movie that is basically pure joy and made me laugh so hard I couldn’t breathe and later tear up just a bit.
We can only hope that if DC does go ahead with a new Watchmen project that the new creative team has the same understand of that Property that Jason Segel had of the Muppets.
Co-publishers Dan Didio and Jim Lee are quoted as saying that DC “ would only revisit these iconic characters if the creative vision of any proposed new stories matched the quality set by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons nearly 25 years ago.”
So we can only hope.
Personally I think this is a bad idea and I would like them to just let the original stand. On the other hand it might end up eating those words if they do recapture the magic of the original.
Or this might just be a rumor and we are getting worked up over nothing.
Time will tell.

The Comic Book Speculation Boom: The dark age of comic collecting

A couple of weeks ago I was talking with a friend about helping out with a project related to this blog. During the conversation he asked me if I knew much about the worth of older comics. Specifically he has some Roy Thomas Conan comics from the 70s and he was wondering what they are worth. I told him I had no idea as I am not interested in the aftermarket, but that there are several price guide sites he could check out.
On top of that I got an email from a friend pointing me to an online auction for Action comics #1 (the original not the one from three months ago). The buzz is that this is the copy owned by Nic Cage. As of my writing this the bid is up to $1,306,000.00.
All this brings up memories of the speculator boom of the late 80s/early 90s. It’s the ghost of this boom that makes those unfamiliar think that any older comic book is worth something.
The consensus is that the boom started in 1985 with the release of four titles. Batman: the Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen, Crisis on Infinite Earths and Secret Wars. All four titles were huge hits and together redefined comic books. They also gained a lot of mainstream attention. A lot of news stories at the time would always mention the worth of older comics like Action #1 or Detective comics #27. This prompted people to start collecting the successful books in hopes that they would gain worth over time. This led to other books at the time being collected in hopes that they too would gain worth.
This was an interesting theory but had a huge flaw. The books from the 30s and 40s were valuable due to their rarity. A lot of comics were donated to paper drives during World War II. And let’s face it everyone has heard stories of parents tossing out the comics as trash.
So a speculator market for books in the 80s was interesting but little should have come of it, except that the publishers started pandering to it.
If you were into comics between 1985 and 1993 it was inescapable. Books were released with variant covers.  There were covers with gimmicks like holograms, die-cut, embossing, and foil-stamps. Publishers would look for any excuse to launch a first issue. Back issues were selling like crazy. People were buying multiple copies of the same issue.
Back then people in the comic book shop looked at me like I was crazy. I would buy one copy of an issue and then read it. Seriously I swear one guy nearly had a stroke once because I was ruining the resale value of the book by not immediately sealing it in a polybag.
And yes there were speculators who were making money. And how were they doing that? They were selling to other speculators. Here you should see the first flaw in the paradigm.
Who were those speculators going to sell to?
And the other flaw?
Publishers were printing titles that were selling over a million copies an issue.  Remember what I said about the rarity of the golden age books. That was not happening here.
And if four titles launched the boom, it was two storylines that took it down.
The Death of Superman and Knightfall.
These stories saw Superman die and Batman crippled. Both were replaced by edgier successors. I and my fellow longtime comic fans were starting betting pools about how long it would take Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne to be restored and reclaim their mantles. However a lot of speculators were not longtime fans.
They saw these books as real changing of the guards and bought them in unprecedented numbers. And this was the killing blow, not the inevitable return of the heroes, but the oversaturation from people ordering so much and the publisher meeting demand. Speculators would try to sell them off and couldn’t because their target audience already had plenty of copies of their own. And with that the speculator bubble went pop.
It’s interesting to note that even though it was two DC stories that started the end of the boom DC does not get much of the blame. Most people heap much more blame on Marvel and Image as they were seen as the publishers that pandered the most to the speculators.
As the comic speculation market was collapsing a new speculation market was being created. It was the trading card game market. Magic: The Gathering was designed to be collectible. But there was a major difference. Not once did Wizards of the Coast pander to the speculator market. When I was working at WotC customer service and a customer called in asking about card value we had a standard response. “Wizards of the Coast does not concern itself with the aftermarket and makes no decisions based on it”.
And almost twenty years later there is still a healthy after market for Magic cards, with prices based on a cards value in tournament play more than anything.
What about the comic book aftermarket today? It is still there, driven primarily by sites like EBay and Craigslist.
Sadly you see some companies still trying to pander to it too. Go back and read my blog about the Flashpoint/Fear Itself controversy. What was Marvel offering for the destruction of DC books that were actually selling? A variant cover of Fear Itself.

Wondering about Wonder Woman

It’s month three of the DC relaunch and sadly one of the books I have been getting is on the chopping block. That book is Wonder Woman.
The buzz right now is about the fact that in the new timeline it has been revealed that Zeus is her father. That has nothing to do with my problem with the title.
My issue is that they have made her uncaring.
Her attitude to the woman she is trying to save in the storyline is borderline abusive. She seems to be more bloodthirsty and does not appear to get along with the other Amazons. It’s like they gave her the personality of the Huntress
Batman is being portrayed as being more compassionate right now.
I think this is the latest expression of a problem Wonder Woman has had since the Crisis on Infinite Earths reboot in the mid-eighties. Every writer who comes on to the character sits down to figure out who she is and what her place in the DCU is. That would be fine, except they then make that exploration the whole point of the series.
And is that really necessary?
In 1941 William Moulton Marston created Wonder Woman. He saw a comic book market saturated with male characters and wanted to create the ideal female hero, one that would overcome her foes not only with her fighting prowess and powers, but also her heart. She was a heroine who could be a role model for young women.
Yes he did include Greek mythology in the origin, and yes do to his unconventional life style there was some unique philosophy and a lot of bondage. But in the end it was about a strong, caring female hero.
Is that so hard now?
Let’s stop trying to figure out her symbolic place in the DCU. Let’s stop exploring her mythological roots. Let’s tone down the examination of the Amazon culture.
Just get back to the strong, caring heroine who goes out and fights the bad guys. Get back to the role model.
I’ll give the book another issue or two, but I’m not hopeful. But maybe someday a writer will be inspired to go back to Wonder Woman’s true roots.

DC Comics Relaunch: the first month of the New 52 in review.

Over the last month we saw the release of the 1st issues for DC comics new 52, the relaunch of their universe.  It’s clear that it has been an initial success.  Many titles are already in reprint, DC is dominating the sales chart and Marvel is already showing signs of their attempt to rip it off.
But was it any good?
I guess the final answer is…..sort of.
There are certainly individual books that are good.  Originally I was not going to pick up Green Arrow or Swamp Thing on a regular basis, but both first issues were good enough to change my mind. Batwing and Justice League International were not as good, but good enough for me to give to want to read more.  Aquaman I bought on the strength that it was being written by Geoff Johns, and it paid off. The Superman books and Wonder Woman were well written and I enjoyed them. The Batman and Green Lantern books were continuing stories from prior to the relaunch and still enjoyable. Resurrection Man also seems to be jumping off from the old series from a few years back, but its nature makes it flow well into the new continuity and was a good relaunch of the character.
I have heard good things about Animal Man, Blue Beetle and Demon Knights, but as of yet I have not picked those up.
On the negative side were Catwoman, Red Hood and the Outlaws and Deathstroke. And each case it is an issue of bad or lazy writing. No second issues for these.
I’ve also heard bad buzz on Hawk and Dove, OMAC and Suicide Squad, but again I did not pick them up.
And on the meh side was the Flash, Justice League Dark. Both were passable individual stories, but didn’t fire me up. I’ll give them a few issues to see if they are worth keeping up with.
And then there is Justice League. The way it was written, I have no idea yet. I can’t help feel this one was paced for the trade edition. I’ll give it a few.
Overall I am happy with the books I am getting, but I see a major flaw developing. The source of this flaw is an issue with consistency of continuity.
When the relaunch happened you had some characters like Superman and Flash getting full on reboots. Others like Wonder Woman and Aquaman were more or less getting some retooling. Characters like Booster Gold and Resurrection Man are vague on what, if anything has been changed. And then you have Batman and the Green Lanterns, where they have not been changed and are in fact continuing their stories uninterrupted. 
Add to that there we have some books taking place today, and others five years ago.
This leads to confusion as knowing how characters relate becomes muddled.  The Kid Flash in teen titans, who if he? Barry Allen is not dating Iris West, so it is unlikely he is Wally West. Is he Bart Allen? Ok but again Barry and Iris are not together so saying he is their grandson from the future is still awkward at best. Is he option C, none of the above?
What about Superman? In Action comics, the book that takes place 5 years ago his costume is jeans, a t-shirt, and a cape that I suspect started life as a table cloth. In Superman which is set today his custom is some sort of Kryptonian armor. Ok fine, expect that Superman appears at the end of Justice League number 1. That issue was set five years ago and yet he was wearing the Kryptonian armor.
I’m sure the real answer was that the editors were not keeping up on what the creators were doing; this seems to be a problem at both DC and Marvel right now.
Once a few more issues are out I will probably start giving more in-depth opinions on the various titles.