Welcome To My Nightmare

If you missed it last week because it got posted on a different day (lazy editor, Daron should work for Marvel), go back and catch up. We’re talking about the iconic characters of the industry and who could make the cut. Go ahead, get caught up, I’ll wait. **Hums along to Alizee’s “J’en Ai Marre”…mmmm Alizee…** Ready? Good, I like that melody but I don’t understand a lick of French, so let’s get rolling.

I asked around to a few people: comic shop owners, comic readers, non-comic reading coworkers and the like and there were a few good suggestions. I think my resume pool for the open Comic Book Pantheon position consists of some well-qualified candidates. I wish I could say the same about the resume pool for the open position at my “real” job. They interview loser after loser simply because they believe that “experience” is the most important thing someone can bring to the job. I say that’s a truckload of crap. The last guy we had came in with – supposedly – a ton of experience, but he didn’t know anything about what we do at my job, just some general idea of the field itself. So I had to train him from scratch, same as I would if we hired Jim Trabold, Iain Burnside or Daron Kappauff. Same as when I got hired in the first place, eight years ago. I know how to use a computer, but it was mostly how to load Hardball on my old Commodore 64 or run WordPerfect on a Macintosh. I’m telling all of this for two reasons: 1) If any of my readers are in a management position, get your head out of your ass right now. Not only will it make it easier to read great literature like this on the Internet (assuming you didn’t shove your monitor up your ass to keep your head company) but most importantly it will break p the tunnel vision your rectum is causing and help you see that getting the right PERSON for the job, in terms of personality, capacity to learn, reliability and desire are the most important traits a person can bring to a company, no a pretty resume. And 2) I’m going to try and apply this to the candidates for Icon status, and see if it works.

Captain America is an interesting choice. I think it’s entirely possible that he might have been an icon at one point in his career. WWII ended with a great deal of chest-thumping and patriotic sentiment, and the champion of freedom in the Marvel Universe probably enjoyed great success in the post-war era of comics because of that. He’s sort of the light counterpoint to DC’s Batman. Steve Rogers started out as an undersized weakling, joined a special Army experiment and became the top non-super-powered specimen of his world. He’s a gifted hand-to-hand combatant and tactician, and wields a nigh-unbreakable weapon. From a comics point of view, he’s had some good runs and but they’ve been somewhat cyclical. From the Joe Simon/Jack Kirby run to the best and worst of Mark Gruenwald to Mark Waid to Dan Jurgens and now Ed Brubaker, Captain America has been at the top of the sales charts and barely a blip on the comics radar. At least he has a pretty solid Rogue’s Gallery: Red Skull, Crossbones, Zemo, the Serpent Society, Batroc the Leaper…well, I said it was only solid, not great. He’s had abysmal luck with live-action media. The Captain America TV movies starring Reb Brown are pretty hokey and the Captain America movie from 1991 starring Matt Salinger – well, let’s just say that David Hasselhoff’s Nick Fury portrayal was an Oscar-worthy performance by comparison, though it probably wasn’t Salinger’s fault. The movie geniuses decided they couldn’t portray the Red Skull as a Nazi, because, you know, letting kids find out about the Nazis world just be wrong. So instead, the Red Skull is a fascist Italian. Oh yes, that’s much better. Schindler’s List would have been better if they were held in a Swedish Spa Camp of some sort too, but we got Nazis in THAT one. And how weird is it that the word “Schindler” is included in MSWord’s spell check program but “Hasselhoff” is not? Anyway, Cap has also appeared in a handful of videogames such as “Marvel vs. Capcom” and “Captain America and the Avengers” and a plethora of animated appearances. He’s even appeared in song, most notably in Guns N’ Roses’ “Paradise City”. But despite all that, Captain America just falls slightly short. We respect his patriotism, we admire his values, but we do so with the kind of reverence we have for our grandparents. He represents a time gone by, and one we might wish we could see again. Or so we think. Like Billy Joel sang, “The good ol’ days weren’t always good and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems.” So I think with a few more years of Brubaker-level goodness under his belt and a couple of higher-profile multi-media appearances that don’t involve Fascist Italians – SOMEBODY in Hollywood oughta be able to do a good Captain America movie, how about Wolfgang Petersen? – Captain America could resubmit his resume.

HULK SMASH PUNY RESUME! My, how refreshing would it be if people didn’t hire you based solely on a pretty piece of paper inscribed with as many lies as you feel comfortable with? And that’s the nice thing about the Hulk, there’s no duplicity. Hulk is in-your-face truth. If Hulk doesn’t like it, Hulk smash. Jeff is about to adopt the same philosophy at his job. Created by Stan the Man and Jack the King, Hulk is an icon for his time. Born in the 1961, Hulk is the living embodiment of the “we’re not gonna take it anymore” mentality. The 60s were a decade that was all about excess: too much war, too much protest, too many drugs, and too many pairs of purple pants. Hulk is excessive at the least: violent, short-tempered, and unfocused (sounds a lot like me at the moment). He has appeal because his is the classic Beauty and the Beast story. If a crazy green monstrosity like the Hulk can erupt from the scrawny carapace that is science nerd Bruce Banner and still get the girl, it touches some strange chord in us. Peter David had a tremendous run on the book, and probably came the closest to making him a full-on superhero. He headed up the Pantheon, a group of superheroes modeled after the Trojan heroes. The Hulk is the bad attitude in all of us waiting to come out. We like seeing him tear through tanks, helicopters, infantry battalions and even other heroes, because deep down inside all of us, we want to do the same thing. We want to throw the cop that pulls us over for expired plates from St. Louis, Missouri to Newark, New Jersey. And while we can’t really do that, we can come close while playing the aptly named Hulk: Ultimate Destruction game on home videogame consoles. The Hulk’s media appearances have been pretty strong. His TV show starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno was surprisingly long-lived, running from 1977 to 1982 (for a comic property on TV in the last century, that’s a pretty good run). Personally, I didn’t care much for the Ang Lee’s Incredible Hulk motion picture, though the use of “comic panels” on screen was clever and Jennifer Connolly is always welcome. People might not know this, but for years and years the pro-wrestling legend known as Hulk Hogan (along with WWE/WWF boss Vince McMahon) actually had to PAY Marvel for the use of the terms “Hulk, Hulkster and Hulkamania”. So Hulk’s been highly visible OUTSIDE of comics, but surprisingly he’s not a big player within them. The Hulk lacks a really good stable of villains. There’s the Leader, though it’s funny to see a guy match wits with a monosyllabic monster and lose as often as he does. There’s a bevy of Marvel heavy-hitters, such as the Abomination, Wrecking Crew, Grey Gargoyle, Absorbing Man, and my personal favorite the Rhino. But the Hulk has fought Iron Man or other superheroes almost as often. I think the character needs a little more to do within the Marvel mainstream. Too often he’s the loner, hiding from the military and walking down a back road in giveaway purple pants while a sad piano tune plays him along. That said, it was hilarious to see Stewie Griffin do the same thing on Family Guy. Hulk is close, maybe at this stage slightly closer than Captain America, but it’s debatable.

Next we have a couple of DC entries that are actually more conceptual than character specific. I think you’ll see what I mean. Let’s start with Green Lantern. Ah, but which one? Conventional wisdom would say Hal Jordan. He’s not the first to go by the name, but he has been more recognized than Alan Scott after a lengthy series of appearances in his own long running title as well as the Justice League’s various incarnations. Hal has had highly acclaimed adventures with his pal Oliver Queen, the Green Arrow, as DC’s “Hard Traveling Heroes” under the stewardship of Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams. He was one of the first socially conscious characters in mainstream comics, dealing with such issues as racism, environmental issues and even the drug dependency of Speedy, aka Arsenal, Green Arrow’s sidekick. That was positively groundbreaking in its day, challenging the establishment in the form of the Comics Code Authority. Eventually, Hal ran into some unearthly bad luck. His Coast City home – and all of Coast City with it – was destroyed by Mongul and the Cyborg Superman. When he couldn’t persuade the Oans to help (boy, I know how THAT feels) he went rogue himself and destroyed his fellow Lanterns. After a run as Parallax during which he rebooted the DC timeline (can Marvel borrow him?) he reformed as the Spectre and later regained his corporeal form as Hal Jordan.

Having come full circle, and despite his many different incarnations, I just don’t get too excited about Hal Jordan. And apparently I’m not alone. The first attempt at the a Green Lantern-Green Arrow partnership only lasted about a year before the book got cancelled. It was critically acclaimed but not necessarily commercially successful. Who can say why? Maybe people have enough drugs, racism, and other socio-political causes taking up enough of their time in real life and they just want to see a Green Lantern lay the smack down on some alien asses. His run as the Spectre only lasted about two years, and got bogged down in religious overtones. The Spirit of Vengeance did too much self-loathing and not enough dishing of said vengeance. And now that he’s back to normal, I still find myself wanting more than I get in the ongoing title. Sinestro is his villain, and that’s about it. Sure, you folks can probably name me a dozen more (Star Sapphire, Black Hand – see, I can do it too) but ultimately if Sinestro isn’t around, Hal doesn’t have much to do except pine for Carol Ferris and fly jets. If I want to see that plot, I’ll watch Top Gun. It’s the same thing, plus a soundtrack featuring Kenny Loggins! No, for Green Lantern, my recruiting center is cold-calling John Stewart. He’s tough, he runs around in space more, and he’s black! He’s Commander Cisco from Deep Space Nine cool. But he’s not perfect. Oh no sir…John COMPLETELY screwed up and brought about the destruction of the planet Xanshi. Jim Starlin’s Cosmic Odyssey demonstrate the perils of superheroic hubris. And John had that in spades. Like a good hero, he left on revenge-bent survivor, giving him an arch enemy. Thanks to Bruce Timm, John Stewart has become more commercial visible than even Hal Jordan. John Stewart action figures are easily found on toy store pegs around the world. John was the featured Lantern in the Justice League animated series. And he’ll be representing the Lanterns in the Justice League Heroes videogame. His no-nonsense demeanor, a seriousness to his character brought on at least in part by his failure at Xanshi, gives him a militaristic trait that is admirable, and makes his moments of levity even more endearing. So John Stewart would be a nice candidate to join the Comic Book Pantheon, but he needs a significant on-going comic book run, a few good recurring villains and a feature film. Yep, I say greenlight a John Stewart movie before doing one for either Hal Jordan or Kyle Rayner. I think there’s just more opportunity for characterization with a guy like John. He was the typical angry black man of the 70s when Hal met him. He blew up a planet and he’s been a model Lantern ever since. There’s enough there to frame a movie, and enough left undefined to allow a writer, a director and an actor (Denzel Washington? Will Smith? Wayne Brady?) to fill in the blanks and give the character a huge lift. But until then we’ll have to file John and Hal under “close but not quite”.

Which brings me to what might be a controversial suggestion. What about Robin? Let’s assume that the Comic Book Pantheon operates much the same as the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in my favorite city I’ve never been to, Cleveland, Ohio. It’s possible for a rock legend to get inducted twice. Once as member of a band, and once as a solo artist. Eric Clapton was inducted as a member of Cream and a few years later as a solo artist. The Beatles are in twice, with the exception of Ringo Starr, who hasn’t been inducted as a solo performer yet. I’d say it’s highly likely that Sting will get in by himself at some point; the Police are in already. So it could stand to reason that Batman is in our Pantheon, and Robin could be brought in along with him as a duo act. But should he? Should the Boy Wonder be in the Pantheon, or should he be enshrined down the road at the Temple of Sidekicks? It’s a tough question, especially when you have to figure out which Robin to choose from. We can rule out Jason Todd. One day, hopefully soon, somebody at the Bat-offices will come to the realization that the evil Superboy punching a crystal wall is arguably THE ALLTIME LAMEST way to resurrect a character. And you see what the problem is here? Jason was a punk. He was thrashed in the face with a crowbar by the Joker and blown up. But most importantly, he was a normal human boy. No cosmic powers, no inert genetic structure of unstable molecules, no capacity to store the energy from a yellow sun, an no…well, whatever causes Donna Troy to resurrect every few years, Jason doesn’t have that either. So in my world, the dude is an All-U-Can-Eat buffet for fishing bait. That leaves Dick Grayson and Tim Drake. It’s hard to argue against Dick. He’s been around a long time. He was the first to show that Batman needs a moral compass, a reason to be prudent and careful. Without a Robin to consider, Batman would lose it completely, get careless and get got by somebody predictably ridiculous, like the Ventriloquist. Whatta maroon. But as has been demonstrated through the years, just because Batman needs a Robin, it doesn’t necessarily need to be Dick Grayson. Dickie can be his own man. And Dick will always have a place with Bruce. Heck, he’s Bruce’s son by right of adoption, right? But Dick is…well, he’s correct in his inferiority complex. He’ll never be Batman. He doesn’t seem to have that intangible. I don’t know if it the fact that he’s always been more of a jock than a detective, or if it’s because he was able to get revenge for his parents by busting Tony Zucco in short order. I think he “got over it,” something Bruce never will. (Oh…oh God…somebody PLEASE PROMISE ME that Thomas and Martha Wayne are very very dead still, and not resurrected by Superboy drumming Def Leppard tunes on a quartz bongo. Damn, I think I might be sick…) I’ve read Dick’s entire Nightwing series (by trade, so I’m probably a few issues behind at the moment) and while it’s entertaining it’s not anything so amazing that I ever felt the need to add it to my monthly pull list. And honestly I don’t read Robin – that’s Tim Drake’s book – simply because I don’t have enough room in the budget and anything important in there will get the trade treatment eventually.

But I’m always intrigued by the young lad who actually used his brains to get into the Bat Family. Dick was brought in by shared tragedy. Jason was brought in because he tried to boost the tires off the Batmobile and Bruce figured it was better to train him as a hero than have to deal with later as a bigger punk. But Tim let himself in. Not only did that take deductive reasoning, but it took STONES. And Tim hasn’t had it easy either. His sidekick job has been a part-time after school gig, just like when I used to run movies at the local AMC and Moseley Theatres or flip pies at Pizza Hut. That stuff will KILL you, by the way. Tons of grease. Anyway, Tim has a normal scholastic situation, parents, girlfriends – I dare say he’s almost Peter Parker. The main difference between the two at the same stage in their careers is that Tim isn’t a colossal geek. And that lifestyle isn’t easy to maintain. My freshman year at college I had classes, a girlfriend and three part-time jobs. I barely had time to study, so I can’t imagine squeezing in hours upon hours of intense martial arts and gymnastic training – remember, Dick was the natural athlete, Tim wasn’t a couch potato but he wasn’t planning on this career either – and then going on long patrols and stakeouts all night and then trying to sneak back into the rhythms of normal life with virtually no sleep and with Dad being none the wiser. But he did it. And then it all went downhill fast for him. Dad gets killed by Captain Combover…uh, I mean…Boomerang while everyone’s looking for the superhero spousal assassin that turns out to be the Atom’s wife. His girlfriend gets killed by Black Mask during a gang war she helped orchestrate. And there’s the Teen Titans duties, the recent death of his best friend, the “good” Superboy (don’t worry, it won’t last – if Jason Todd can come back, Kon El should be back like any week now), and whatever surprises we’ll find when the spotlight inevitably shines on him in “52”. Man, that’s a crappy couple of years no matter how you look at it. But Tim’s tough. And Tim seems more posed and polished by far than Dick Grayson at a comparable stage in their careers. I remember the early Teen Titans and certainly the newer Outsiders. Nightwing always seems to make it through in the end, but not very often because he had a great plan and flawless execution. Meanwhile Robin generally handles the tactician’s role on his team books, even leading older characters when he needs to. That speaks volumes about his maturity. Tim is a lock for Justice League membership when he gets a little older. And he may well hang up the Robin tights and let Bruce pass them on to the next young soldier in his war on Gotham crime, but I believe that like Grayson before him, Drake will continue to fight the fight in an identity all his own. And wouldn’t he have made an interesting Blue Beetle? The bottom line: Tim is all but guaranteed a Pantheon spot, either representing the Robin persona or his own prowess and depth of character once he’s developed a little more. Because he still has to overcome Dick Grayson’s media appeal. The 60s Adam West/Burt Ward Batman show brought the “Holy Campy” Dick Grayson into homes for decades in syndication. They’ve both had animated tenures as Batman’s sidekick, but Dick has also had a couple of turns on the big screen. If Tim can catch up there and be recognized by more people as either Robin or more impressively as Tim Drake, he’ll be a great addition to the Pantheon.

So how does it shake out? I’m leaning towards simply not filling the position, retracting the ad, and blame downsizing and a sluggish job market. I don’t think there is anyone else strongly suited for inclusion as it stands RIGHT NOW. I think Marvel suffers in membership largely because they’re so team-oriented. Don’t get me wrong, I like the teams: X-Men, Fantastic Four, Avengers, Defenders. But there’s never been a great deal of single character-driven books at Marvel. The sum total of Spiderman, Captain America, Hulk, Thor, Daredevil and Wolverine books that come out a monthly don’t even equal the amount of Superman and Batman material being pumped out by DC. I think Captain America could have been there once but slipped down the treacherous slope of public interest. I think certain people (Hi Jen!) will argue that Wolverine, whom I didn’t even get around to discussing, is viable. But one thing superheroes of the highest order don’t do (except Wonder Woman, and it was only that one time, geez) is kill on purpose. The Hulk has probably killed a few people but the savage “Hulk Smash” version probably didn’t really set out to do it. Batman and Superman certainly haven’t killed on purpose, though once could make a case that Batman should maybe think about it. A lot of pain and suffering could be avoided if the Joker was terminated. Spidey only killed Gwen Stacy on accident. Wolverine not only kills but has no qualms about it. Being a superhero means taking the hard way a lot of the time. Sure it’d be easier if the superheroes killed all the supervillains, but killing is fundamentally wrong, so that means there’s something fundamentally wrong with Wolverine. I think it has a whole lot to do with his ORIGIN. James Howlett…spare me… I also think Captain Marvel – that’s DC’s Shazam guy, not any of Marvel’s many Captains (you’d think they were worried about losing the rights to the name or something) – could be a compelling case, if only he wasn’t basically the magic version of Superman in the body of child. But if you put me on the spot, and make pick somebody right now, this very moment, I’d take the Hulk. I don’t think he’s quite as globally recognized as Spiderman, Batman, Superman or maybe Wonder Woman, but he’s gotta be close. He’s been a high seller, and he’s been a successful out-of-comics property in movies, television and video games. If Captain America keeps his act together and gets marketed properly (good luck Steve) he could get in too and give a nice even one to one ratio of Marvel to DC. That would be my goal. But for now, let the Fab Four of Comics be Wonder Woman, Batman, Spiderman and Superman.

Now to find pictures for this and get it posted before Daron goes to work…yeah, that’s not happening. I expect his will be posted late again. We’ll get back on track soon…I hope…

Magic editor powers activate! *Poof*

…and then there was column.

Welcome to my nightmare.