Sunday, May 12, 2024

When Fate turns ugly

 One of the most interesting things DC Comics created in recent years was the limited series, "Danger Street." This unique series of 13 issues repurposed the "First Issue Specials" of the 70's into a single epic adventure starring every character to have appeared in those old post-silver age comics.

OK, maybe a little background? DC Comics has a long history of using a single comic book title to introduce new characters and concepts in two or three issues, like "Showcase" which introduced the silver age Flash, Green Lantern, and Justice League. Think of it as a try-out book. The point of these books was never to create a single storyline or set of characters that overlapped, but rather to test the waters to see if a new character or set of characters would be viable.

Oh, and 'First Issue' was a marketing ploy intended to boost sales. the first issue of any successful comic (like Action Comics) would be 'collectable' and therefore it would be valuable.

So, 'Danger Street' culls those 13 issues of unconnected characters, concepts and settings and weaves them into a dramatic tale that is both cosmic and street-level. Established characters like Metamorpho and Dr Fate are now lumped in with 'Lady Cop' (Tom King actually does a great job of handling this misogynistic moniker), the Green Team, and the Dingbats. Mr King also modernizes the character concepts in ways that might not hold perfectly true to the characters we remember or to their ethos, but he does it in a way that invites the reader to more fully relate to the characters and to understand their relationships.

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

The replacements

For those unfamiliar with the Silver Age of comics (or Science Fiction), a familiar trope was the 'oh no, we've swapped bodies with someone else, now I'm too disorientated to function. Think Freaky Friday but with superheroes. 

What makes Superman/Batman 27's story unique isn't that two male heroes, Superman and Batman, have swapped bodies with two female heroes, Power Girl and Huntress, but that the female heroes are in essence, the someday replacements for Batman and Superman. We get past the whole gender swap comedy of errors (like men trying to cope with high heels, etc.) quickly when Superman declares that he actually sees and feels his (male) body rather than the body he seems to be inhabiting. Like I said, the story isn't about what would you do if you woke up a different gender, it's about being replaced.

Saturday, April 13, 2024

When War Reunites a Family


As stated in my March 28th post I really love the Azzarelo/Akins run on Wonder Woman (around 2011-2014). Sorry to repeat myself, the stories, characters, cliffhangers are still the best I've read. The series is so entertaining that I find myself dipping back into that pool for another reflection.

By issue 18 the character of War (Ares/Mars) seems well-defined as a kind of brutal villain, and as someone who values life, I really resonated with that portrayal. But like all good writing, the author fleshes out the character with nuances, motives and surprising behaviors.

Although I personally look forward to the day we beat our swords into plowshares (Isaiah 2), and we no longer make war with one another, I did find myself really enjoying the fictional personification Azzarelo provides. 

War is depicted as brutal, with bloody feet, but also as an old soul who has seen too much. This character is like an old soldier who just does what 'has' to be done and bears the damage it does to his own soul without complains or excuse. 

Thursday, April 4, 2024

Spies, Batman, and the free will of man?


Although I've watched every episode of old Adam West Batman TV show, I never really tried to watch the Man From UNCLE. I picked up the book hoping for a bit of mindless 60's mod fun and the book did deliver in that way. However, I was a bit surprised at the pokes the book took at how we view good vs evil.

no surprise, the book is filled with Batman's TV criminals, but happy surprise, most of them were very low tier. Most I hadn't even remembered (I'm thinking of you, "Cossack Queen." 

To be fair, the Penguin and Mr. Freeze do appear in the book, and both Poison Ivy and Scarecrow are on hand, even though I'm pretty sure neither of them were on the old TV show, so yeah, it's a full gallery of rouges along with the secret organization of bad guys, THRUSH. What, you didn't think we could have team-up without both parties bringing their own set of bad guys did you?

While the book is full of typical punching and shooting and ducking and kicking, it also leads us to very unusual spy base under the sea. It's not the 'under the sea' part that I find intriguing, it's the use of the space to create an atmosphere of creative effort that could ultimately save the planet and reform us of our worst behaviors. That's right...

The 'big bad' of this book has altruistic plans that are flawed by the whole free will thing. If the (unnamed here) big bad can just manipulate, pay off, and brainwash everyone on the planet, he can save us from the climate crisis, mass shootings by psychopaths, maybe even the hunger and war caused by greedy corporate interests... 

Thursday, March 28, 2024

That Time Wonder Woman Disappointed War


Brian Azzarello's 2012-2014 run on Wonder Woman still stands out to me as the ultimate comic book Odessey. Our hero, Diana the Wonder Woman befriends a lost soul with her infant who is being hunted by the ancient Greek gods. The storyline delivers twists, cliff-hangers, and insights into modern philosophy and its roots in early Western Civilization.

Azzarello tends to refer to the gods by their elemental position in modern thinking, Poseidon is really just water, Zeus is Air, and most notably Ares is War.

In the middle of the end of this storyline, we are given a little backstory into the rocky relationship Wonder Woman has with War/Ares. You might think, duh - war is bad, right? But Diana is a warrior as well as an ambassador, so maybe her odd love/hate relationship with the whole concept of war needs a little more explanation. 

Thursday, March 21, 2024

The Golden Age


I was a little surprised to find a sweet little bit of homey advice and insight nestled in a publication called “Action Comics." In Action Comics 1029 Superman passes on the wisdom he gained from his adopted pa to his son 

(Yes, Superman now has a son).

The exchange (below) reminds us of our humanity, and that it’s OK to fail. It also gives us a possible motive for covering up our failures. Pa Kent nobly tells us that it is to “give our kids the confidence to take risks. To feel safe, To grow into their best selves.”

The homily calls this time of our innocence “the Golden Age.”

For true comic-book geeks (like me), this term evokes the original crime-fighting superheroes who always did the right thing, the right way, for the right reasons. Their enemies were obviously bad people who just needed to be punched and if you wanted to do the punching, all you had to do was put on a colorful costume and maybe a cape.

Just like Pa Kent opines, this “Golden Age” of comics did provide hope during the devastating Great Depression and the terrors of the Nazi threat and World War 2.  Superman himself was the embodiment of hope, created by two Jewish men living under the shadow of the impinging Nazi ideology. 

Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s Superman spawned an entire industry dedicated to providing us with the ultimate escapist literature, the superhero comic book. A wellspring of hope and inspiration, even the hope that we can overcome our own limitations so that we can make the world (or the universe) a better place.

While we might love the idealism that our ‘glossing over’of our shortcomings, or pretending to have all answers might provide hope to a small child, we should consider the last part of Pa Kent’s message…

“But everybody falls Clark. And that’s OK.”

At some point we have to accept that others can see our faults, missteps, and even our sins. At some point, we have to let them be seen so that we might confess them (1 John 1:9). At some point, we have to accept that we are not dealing with children who need a false sense of security, but that we are all in need of God’s blessings and care.

I can’t help but wonder if the church has passed out of the ‘Golden Age’ in the past generation? Have the church’s obvious hypocrisies and lies caught up with her, and those we have treated like children are now seeing our shortcomings and letting us know through empty pews that they do not need our false hopes and empty promises? Is the Church not overdue for a true time of confession?  

What would happen if the Church just admitted that we were on the wrong side of Chattel slavery and genocide? What if we admitted that we didn’t believe that black lives mattered, and so we allowed our brothers and sisters to die at the hands of evil men and that we helped create and support systems that benefit us by trying to subjugate and marginalize anyone we deem “other?”

"Listen Clark,

There’s a golden age when every kid knows their parents are indestructible. That we never fall, and we always know what the right thing is.

We let you see us that way so that you’ll feel…Safe, I guess. Safe enough to take risks, figure out your limits. That’s how a kid is supposed to feel.

But everybody falls Clark. And that’s OK.

Someday your kids’ll see you fall. And that’ll be OK too."



Becky Cloonan, Phillip Kennedy Johnson, Michael Conrad


Michael Avon Oeming, Phil Hester


Ande Parks, Michael Avon Oeming, Eric Gapstur


Mikel Janin, Hi-Fi, Phil Hester, Eric Gapstur

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

What can the Church learn from Supergirl, Woman of Tomorrow?


Supergirl, Woman of Tomorrow starts out in a very un-Superman approved way. Kara has traveled to a planet where she is powerless so that she can celebrate her birthday by getting drunk. While this might seem very out of character for either the Silver Age Supergirl or even the modern version of Superman, it actually feels just about right for the current continuity.

While this version of Supergirl might feel less wholesome than her earliest adventures, this Kara retains the core of a caring hero who would willing live and die for innocents around her. To enhance the flavor of the story, Supergirl's horse, Comet, appears along with fan-favorite, Krypto the Superdog.

The story centers around a young girl, Ruthye, seeking revenge for her father's brutal and senseless murder. Each episode ends with a startling cliff-hanger that leaves the reader to wonder, how will this possibility get fixed? We are also introduced to a uniquely hate-able villain that Kara spends the entire adventure chasing. 

Forget Darkside and Lex Luther, Krem of the Yellow Hills is the kind of villain you actually hopes dies a horrible death.

The adventure finally closes with the assertion that violence will only result in more violence. If Ruthye kills her villain, his army will come looking for her and anyone she loves and torture them before subjecting them to violent deaths. But we can't just let Krem get away with it, so how can we properly punish such a person, keep him from committing more atrocities and not encourage his friends to continue this cycle of violence? Isn't this really the question peace-loving people are always faced with?

Jesus Christ was violently murdered leaving His disciples with a similar question. How do we enact vengeance, or even justice without feeding the cycle? The cycle of violence was typical for oppressed people, like those Jesus lived among. Someone plots and executes the murder of someone you love, you get even by killing that person, whose friends then find you and kill you, so that your friends are now expected to find and kill them...You get the picture, it's a never-ending cycle

...Until Jesus.

Jesus breaks the cycle by not staying dead. His disciples have no reason to hunt down Judas or the religious leaders who paid him. Jesus is different, He is outside of the cycle. Over time, the question comes up again, as Christ's followers are martyred, but instead of seeking revenge, the survivors remember that Jesus is outside the cycle. They refuse to fight back, and Christianity flourishes and takes over the Roman empire. (Matthew 5)

But this feels really unsatisfying for those who have suffered the loss. Besides, if we don't stop the bad man, won't he just hurt more people, and then it's on us. Right? 

Supergirl seems to teach us that we can beat up the bad person, imprison the bad person, but never kill the bad person. The final scenes of this adventure pull back the curtain and reveal that everything our heroes have experienced was a teaching moment. Ruthye learns from Supergirl that constantly seeking revenge or satisfying our need to posture only hurts us and Supergirl learns she really isn't immune to the bloodlust of revenge.

Like Supergirl, Christianity is at its best when helping the poor, the weak, the marginalized, and the oppressed. But Christians are not above the violent nature of our flesh and this world. It's natural to want to impose our values on everyone else - because it's for their own good, they'll thank us later. Giving in to that kind of thinking and behaving reduces the power of Christianity and undermines our faith and faith community.

I won't pretend to have solid, practical answers to the pacificist's dilemma, and I'll admit that I'm speaking from a place of insane privilege. I can't promise I would rise above those who would hurt me or my loved ones, but I do hope that I will at least pause and consider if my actions are retaliation meant to somehow soothe my hurt, or if my response is miraculously more like something Jesus would do