New Year’s Review of New 52: Geoff John’s Aquaman!

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This past summer, Political Jesus got SOAKED with a wave of posts ( so many puns!) relating Aquman New 52 and environmental justice! I mainly did topics relating to black American slave perceptions of nature and the physical environment and its suprising, if even a bit elusive, connection to Arthur Curry’s (Aquaman!) own experience as the King of Atlantis.

Aquaman

Aquaman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After having gone through the first 3 volumes (Vol. #0,#1, and #2) I would like to say that all-in-all, I ADORED the comics. I am very much happy with this attempt at blowing new life into a superhero that rarely gets taken seriously to begin with! From the updated cosmetic art-style to the deep , profound story-line and development of Aquaman’s back-story, I became enamored from the first pages of Vol #0!

 Vol # 0: As mentioned, Aquaman was given an edgy storyline with depth. We’re introduced to the fact that the often-mocked superhero, harbors a deep sadness for his father as he’s looking through the pages old photo albums with his red-headed aqua-vixen girlfriend, Mera. It is revealed that his father, who was once keeper of the lighthouse , was swept away by creatures , never to return again. What’s more? Arthur is supposed to inherit the thrown of Atlantis- the epicenter, the political capital of this strange, cold, dark, underworld! While I may have used this fact as an axiom for how black American slaves felt in during slave-holding America, these plot details , even this early in the series, provide a fascinating juxtaposition of a king who has come to reign over a region ( the oceanic depths) that doesn’t receive him. His rejection by the citizens of Atlantis and the ocean at large (the aquatic creatures) is evident through Curry’s father’s death at the hands of the ocean and one of the opening scenes where our hero is swimming through the ocean and narrowly misses an angry shark swipe, hungry for blood! Excellent, excellent plot set-up in Vol. #0!

Custom Aquaman minifig

Custom Aquaman minifig (Photo credit: Roo Reynolds)

Vol. # 1: More lovey-dovey between Aquman and his femme fatale – but one thing I can say ( and perhaps I’m speaking too soon…) is that there is no excrutiating display of affection between the two. I’m not one for sappy love stories so if that’s youas well then Vo. #1 shouldn’t make you wanna vomit or anything. Without giving away too much of the developing plot, the most memorable scene in Vol. #1 was Aquman at a seafood restaurant!  A wiseguy cracks a joke about Aquaman ordering fish, although he “talks” to fish… there are also a few stabs at his relative mediocrity to other D.C. universe heroes (#hatersgonnahate!)…  being a sucker for breaking the fourth wall, I found this amusing! Vol. #1’s pace was a bit slower than  #0  yet still ended on a cliff-hanger, not forgetting the main plot!

 http://images2.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20120327153336/aquaman/images/8/83/The_Trench.jpg

Vol. #2: Definitely the most high-throttle point in the plot of the three I’ve read!  Vol. #1 was definitely the calm before the storm! The foreshadowed , anthropogenic gremlins of the deep “rise to the surface” of the plot! (ha!) Excellent action shots featuring the combative prowess of Mera and Aquaman as they try and fend of the creatures of the trench that were proving too powerful for law enforcement. Little does Curry know…these creatures are coming for their king… Staying true to the first two issues, Vol. #2 also ends on quite the cliff hanger!

So far, I would give Aquaman New 52 a stunning 4.5/5 stars!!  It features moments of exhilirating action, a captivating storyline rendering Aquaman respect in the D.C. universe and fascinating implications for the environment, politics, and even religion. Perhaps I’ll read the next 3 and do yet another review!

Also, if we learned anything this Summer from this update for Aquaman….

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Harry

Like a Lotus: Born into the murky, muddy waters I was, l ived, I breathed In awe of starry veil above me and the verdant radiance around me I gazed, I glowed, I gasped Striken with gale winds I braced, I fell, I felt Like a dove He descendeth He is, He lives, He breathes Like a lotus summoned by the sun’s rays I opened, I blossomed, I live

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Red Lanterns Volume 1: Blood and Rage

A few days ago, I purchased Red Lanterns Volume 1: Blood And Rage

Red Lantern Corps

Red Lantern Corps (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

TRIGGER WARNING: VIOLENCE & BLOODSHED AHEAD

and as always, SPOILER ALERTS

I must give credit where credit is due. Optimist Chad first introduced me to the rebooted version of the Green Lantern lore, and I haven’t really looked by since. I like the idea that the stories cover the color spectrum, with each color representing an emotion.  My favorite is Red.  In Green Lantern The Animated Series, Atrocitus and the Red Lantern Armada are the Season 1 “Big Bad.”  One of the major players from the comics, Bleez, was unfortunately missing. Probably because her story is not that safe for children, or rather, it’s something parents should be talking to their kids about, and not the media.

Laira's Red Power Ring

Laira’s Red Power Ring (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For starters, the Green Lanterns are the policemen of the universe, protecting planets and sectors; their power is green for will-power. Green Lantern rings choose their bearers, as these rings were forged by the Guardians of the Universe who want to see order in the universe.  The Guardians have a history of mistakes, and one of these mistakes was that they created, before the Green Lantern Corps, robots called the Manhunters who sought to destroy all sentient beings who had emotions.  One of their victims was an alien named Atros, who was one of 5 persons to survive the Manhunter onslaught of Sector 666 (yikes!!!, I know).

Atros changed his name to Atrocitus and became a terrorist bent on revenge versus the Guardians.  Atrocitus’ backstory is as a survivor of genocide.  Atrocitus’ quest for vengeance leads him on an existential journey where his closest confidant is the corpse of Krona, the Guardian who planned Atrocitus’ planet’s destruction.  Atrocitus gathers an army in Blood And Rage, but the members lose their intelligence unless they are baptized in a pool of blood on the Planet Ysmault.  Atrocitus struggles with the decision to make one of his soldiers his lieutenant, and therefore have their capacity to think and remember restored.

The first member of the Red Lantern corps Atrocitus chooses to give back her free will was

 

Bleez, of the Red Lantern Corps, from Green Lanterns Wikia page

When Bleez regains her conciousness, her memories also come back.  Atrocitus trusts no one because of his experience, and so instead of one sidekick in Bleez (whom he fears is leading a mutiny), Atrocitus gives the rest of his army freel will.  Red Lantern Corps members consistent of victims of violent crimes as well criminals themselves.  Unlike the heroic Green Lanterns, Red Lanterns are a messy collection of villains and anti-heroes.  Part of the appeal to me for this book was Atrocitus’ inner monologues, and who he considered “The Worthy.”  By “the Worthy,” he means those events and persons who were most deserving of being avenged.

Red Lanterns Volume 1: Blood and Rage is about a group’s quest to seek out justice.  Within the storyworld, humans are the beings who resist  having their free will taken away/losing their consciousness when they become Red Lanterns. I found it interesting that one of the first humans picked was a homeless man because of all of the injustices he had to witness on a day to day basis.  Because of Blood And Rage, I now want to read the rest of the Red Lantern volumes, especially since I have read on the blogosphere that a member of Superman’s family will become one!

Super Girl going after a Red Lantern ring, courtesy of HeroFix

h00die_R (Rod)

priestly abolitionist time travelling supervillian

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Waiting For Krypton: Education Post for Media Diversity UK

Lee's depiction of DC Comics' Superman and Batman.

Lee’s depiction of DC Comics’ Superman and Batman. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The opening scenes of the documentary Waiting For Superman depict education reformer/charter school advocate Geoffrey Canada as describing one of the saddest moments in his life. When he learned that Superman was not real, he was distraught because there was, in Canada’s words, “I was crying because there was no one coming with enough power to save us.” From his perspective, DC Comics’ Clark Kent/Superman “just shows up and he saves all the good people,” “even in the depths of the ghetto.” As a fellow comic book fan, I would have to question whether Mr. Canada knows the story of Superman, and the criticism thereof from the likes of one of his allies for justice, Black Lightning (Jefferson Davis, who, in one rendition, just so happens to be a public school principal) , who noted that Superman may be Kryptonian, but he is still white, and avoids the Suicide Slums (the poor side of town where Metropolis is).

I want to lay aside that criticism, and talk about the idea of power, and what it means in eyes of education reformers. As I quoted Mr. Canada above, he was distraught that there was no one with all of the power to save what Geoffrey Canada calls “failure factories,” or schools in predominantly impoverished neighborhoods that primarily feed the community drop-outs and/or felons, and yes these are communities that are of predominantly black and Latin@ American populations. These “failure factories” are what stifle economic growth, deprive corporations of an educated workforce, and communities of stability. From the perspective of philanthropists such as Bill Gates (from the documentary and his history of being active in the Education Reform movement), children receiving education is for the purpose of the workforce, so that multinational corporations can keep up with global competition. In Waiting For Superman, the topic of power is not discussed again until we see education reformer/charter school advocate Michelle Rhee at work, who was given “broad powers” to make sweeping changes. The issue of power is an interesting topic, and to see it discussed explicitly in these two instances are what caught my attention. Where does power come from? Who has it? What does it look like?

For the rest of the essay, please go read Waiting For Krypton: Race, Ableism and Education Reform

h00die_R (Rod)

priestly abolitionist time travelling supervillian

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A Comic Fan Searches For A New Hero: Conclusion

A Comic Fan Searches For A New Hero: Conclusion

Posted on November 19, 2013 by 

Check out the introduction for background on this series of posts!
Check out part 1: Green Lantern. Check out part 2: Captain America.Check out part 3: Wolverine. Check out part 4: Power Girl. Check out part 5: Aquaman. Check out part 6: Luke Cage. Check out part 7: Iron Man. Check out part 8: Spider-Man. Check out part 9: Wonder Woman. Check out part 10: John Constantine.Check out part 11: The Incredible Hulk. Check out part 12: Batman. Check out part 13: Static. Check out part 14: Black Canary. Check out part 15: Superman. Check out part 16: Thor. Check out part 17: the Phantom Stranger. Check out part 18: Green Arrow. Check out part 19: the Flash. Check out part 20: Animal Man.

What were the final scores?

In order from least points to most, the scores were:

Iron Man: 1.0666666  points
Phantom Stranger: 3 points
John Constantine: 4 points
Hulk (Mr. Fixit): 4 points
Captain America: 4 points (1 bonus point)
Green Lantern: 4 points (1 bonus point)
Aquaman: 4.5 points
Luke Cage: 4.5 points
Black Canary: 4.5 points
Thor: 5 points
Wolverine: 5 points
Hulk (Smart Hulk): 5 points
Green Arrow: 5 points
Wonder Woman: 5.5 points
Batman: 5.5 points (1 bonus point)
Power Girl: 6 points
Static: 6.5 points
Spider-Man: 7 points
Hulk (Savage Hulk): 7 points
Animal Man: 7 points
Superman: 7 points (1 bonus point)
The Flash: 7.33 1/3 points (1 bonus point)

Before I comment, I want to make a critique of my methods. 

Justice League

Justice League (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First, my categories were too binary. There is a large difference, for example, between the worldview of Animal Man and the worldview of Luke Cage, but the binary “yes or no” did not leave much room for exploring that. In fact, I admit I fudged the numbers a bit by using decimals when that binary became too restrictive. If I were to revisit this series again, I would use a scale of some sort, not a yes/no.

Second, this list is nowhere near as diverse as I would have liked. While I did speak about race and gender to some degree, there remains a lack of diversity on my list. Given unlimited time and energy for this project, I should have included Cyborg, Steel, Storm, Black Panther, Falcon, Batgirl/Oracle, Supergirl, Katana, Black Lightning, Vibe, Stargirl, and others as representatives of minorites. But instead, I chose the representatives that I already had some affection for, and contrasted them with the more standard heroes of the Avengers and Justice League.

The "Heroic Age" roster of the Aveng...

The “Heroic Age” roster of the Avengers. Cover art for Avengers vol. 4, #12.1, by Bryan Hitch. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Third, there are doubtless many other heroes that I could have reviewed that would have scored much higher than those represented here, and certainly there are heroes that are not represented that are fan-favorites of people very near and dear to me. To you folk, I apologize. I simply ran out of steam for the job, and people were already threatening to boycott Political Jesus if I continued, lol. So perhaps one day, I will give Blue Beetle, Jean Grey, Nightcrawler, Rogue, Gambit, Nightwing, and Boris the Beat their due, but it won’t be today.

Conclusion:

Having said all that, I believe that I am in no shape to give a whole-hearted devotion to a super-hero the way I have done for Green Lantern in the past. In dissecting these heroes over the last few months, I have gained an appreciation for them beyond how they fit into my categories. Phantom Stranger and Constantine rated very low, but why do I enjoy reading them so much? Thor rated fairly high, but I have little desire to read his book monthly just because he did well on my list.

Still, there were a few heroes that really outshone the competition and made me appreciate who they are. Spider-Man and Superman are heroes that have always been in my periphery. I tend not to like more mainstream heroes. But I simply cannot deny that they represent the best of who we want to be. I am now committed to diving into their stories a bit more over the coming year. I was surprised Hulk rated so high, but Hulk has always been a favorite of mine, especially in his Savage (childlike) persona.

Variant incentive cover for The Flash vol. 3, ...

Variant incentive cover for The Flash vol. 3, #1 (April 2010). Art by Tony Harris. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The true front-runner (no pun intended) however, is the Flash. He surprised me. I have been reading a lot of these heroes in preparation for this blog, but I was really struck by the Flash in a way that the others didn’t strike me. In particular, his boundless hope and his humanization of even his enemies, and unwillingness to settle for anything other than the best outcome was truly inspiring. And I don’t mind saying that this is coming at a great time for Flash fans, who have a TV show on the horizon, a great comic to follow, a whole slew of t-shirts to wear, and a new advocate on Political Jesus. The new Flash fan – ME!

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Optimistic Chad

Chad really really hopes things are going to turn out ok. He loves his wife - with the passion of 1000 exploding suns, and is a diligent, but surely mediocre father to his brilliant and subversive children. He likes Chinese food.

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A Comic Fan Searches For A New Hero: Part 20, Animal Man

A Comic Fan Searches For A New Hero: Part 20, Animal Man

Posted on November 19, 2013 by 

Check out the introduction for background on this series of posts!
Check out part 1: Green Lantern. Check out part 2: Captain America.Check out part 3: Wolverine. Check out part 4: Power Girl. Check out part 5: Aquaman. Check out part 6: Luke Cage. Check out part 7: Iron Man. Check out part 8: Spider-Man. Check out part 9: Wonder Woman. Check out part 10: John Constantine.Check out part 11: The Incredible Hulk. Check out part 12: Batman. Check out part 13: Static. Check out part 14: Black Canary. Check out part 15: Superman. Check out part 16: Thor. Check out part 17: the Phantom Stranger. Check out part 18: Green Arrow. Check out part 19: the Flash.

Animal Man (comic book)

Animal Man (comic book) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Animal Man is not likely a superhero that many recognize. Up until recently, he has been somewhat obscure, even among comic fans themselves. Having said that, he has a very well selling book at the moment, and has made a few surprise appearances on the DC Shorts segments of the DC Nation block of cartoons on Cartoon Network.

Who is Animal Man?

Buddy Baker is unique among many heroes in that he has a family. Not just a long time girlfriend or wife, but a wife he is faithful to, along with 2 children. He has a day job, has other interests outside of superheroing, and has written a book. He comes to all of this with the ability to tap into the metaphysical web of life surrounding the Earth and borrow powers from any animal that is close to him.

Is this character heroic? Yeah. It gets him into trouble, and often puts his family at risk, which is problematic, but he does the right thing when it counts.  (1 point)

Does this character represent the “powers” or fight against them? Leaning towards against. He is a resolute environmentalist, vegetarian, and pacifist, and often participates in social action against the powers. So, there really isn’t’ any wiggle room here. (1 point)

Does this character kill? No. He believes in the intrinsic value of ALL life, even down to the smallest of creatures, which he has felt the life force of, and thus feels kinship with. He is like a superhero version of St. Francis. (1 point)

Does this character have a spirituality? Ish. Not traditional though. He treats his environmentalism as a sort of religion, and his book is chock full of religious, spiritual, and philosophical dialogue about the nature of things, the universe, our role, family, etc… So while we likely won’t see Buddy in church any time soon, he gets a point.
(1 point)

Does this character have an interesting (and sustainable) story to inhabit? For the most part, yes. I really depends on the writer. When you get a metaphysical sort on the book, it can be great, if sort of preachy. When you get a rather non-introspective person in the job, Animal Man seems boring and episodic. Currently, the run has been great, but it hasn’t always been so. (.5 points)

Does this character have a supporting cast that isn’t just around to make them look good? Not really. The big exception is Buddy’s family. The interaction with them is great, but they are small in number. Animal Man doesn’t seem to branch out and interact with others as much as he could.  (.5 points)

Does this character have a T-shirt I can buy in size XL? No.  (0 bonus points)

Does this character represent, in broad terms, an outlook on life that I can support? In very broad terms, yes. His philosophy hits on some important points that I believe in like the value of all life. While I approach hypocrisy with my love of carnivorism, Buddy literally won’t hurt a fly. We need heroes like that to spur us onto greatness. Buddy also puts his money where his mouth is and is an activist and writer for the causes he cares about. He is also a great example of a loving husband and dedicated father.  (1 Point)

Are this characters powers (or lack thereof) interesting? Animal powers can get boring after a while. The source of Buddy’s powers has been undergoing a large change in its status quo, and so “the Red,” the newer name for the web of life around our planet, has been interesting to explore, especially in contrast to “the Green” (plants) and the “the Grey” (decay). I hope that savvy writers are able to draw on that rather than become intimidated by it.  (1 point)

 

Verdict: 7 out of 8 points

Tune in next time for a wrap up discussion on my new favorite superhero…

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Optimistic Chad

Chad really really hopes things are going to turn out ok. He loves his wife - with the passion of 1000 exploding suns, and is a diligent, but surely mediocre father to his brilliant and subversive children. He likes Chinese food.

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A Comic Fan Searches For A New Hero: Part 19, the Flash

A Comic Fan Searches For A New Hero: Part 19, the Flash

Posted on November 19, 2013 by 

Check out the introduction for background on this series of posts!
Check out part 1: Green Lantern. Check out part 2: Captain America.Check out part 3: Wolverine. Check out part 4: Power Girl. Check out part 5: Aquaman. Check out part 6: Luke Cage. Check out part 7: Iron Man. Check out part 8: Spider-Man. Check out part 9: Wonder Woman. Check out part 10: John Constantine.Check out part 11: The Incredible Hulk. Check out part 12: Batman. Check out part 13: Static. Check out part 14: Black Canary. Check out part 15: Superman. Check out part 16: Thor. Check out part 17: the Phantom Stranger. Check out part 18: Green Arrow.

Flash (Barry Allen)

Flash (Barry Allen) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Flash is no stranger to comics fans, and has been a staple of the medium long before his re-introduction signaled the dawn of the Silver Age of Comics in 1962. With a catchy name, a simple costume, and ability to run at super speeds, this “fastest man alive” has been capturing the imaginations of fans for a long time now. The Flash even had a short-lived TV show in the 80′s and is now poised to have another TV show coming up, already in the works for the CW.

Who is the Flash?

The Flash has had many incarnations, but the most popular and most well known is Barry Allen. Barry is a police forensic investigator. He works in a crime lab. One day, he was working on a case when lightning crashed into his lab, knocking over hyper-charged chemicals onto him. Ever after, he has had the power to run nearly as fast as he wants to and has devoted his life to doing good.

Is this character heroic? Resolutely. Barry always does the right thing. He is yet another example of the superhero who has all of the power to save others, but simply can’t seem to salvage his own social life or prevent disaster in his own sphere. Yet he never stops and always searches for ways to help those who can’t help themselves.  (1 point)

Does this character represent the “powers” or fight against them? Well, I am really struggling to find what I want to say here. In one sense, since he works for the police department, he literally “represents” the powers. Yet, he is constantly subversive to those in power at his precinct. He also has shown that in those cased where the powers turn “evil,” he resists them with all his might. Yet, it can’t be denied that he has an overly optimistic view of the world, and that can lead him, right or wrong, to give the benefit of the doubt to others, even the powers. I’ll throw Flash a bone, but I can’t give a full point. (.33 1/3 points)

Does this character kill? No. In fact, he goes out his way NOT to. He is another one of those heroes that simply refuses to accept that killing someone is the only possible way to achieve a good. The Flash, probably more than any other hero, is committed to applying creativity to every problem and is always successful, or at least is willing to accept the consequences of not killing. And there have been consequences. (1 point)

Does this character have a spirituality? Flash really came into his own during that era where religion wasn’t talked about so much. So, he really hasn’t gotten into his own religious preferences much. While he is a consummate scientist, this does not automatically indicate that he is a strict materialist or agnostic. In fact, the evidence is scarce, but does indicate that Barry is, or was at least raised in, a Christian home, and holds at least a cultural grasp on those values. He has been seen in various incarnations getting married in Christian churches and throughout the years has never disparaged religion of any type. But, there is something else to consider. Flash’s powers have their source in what is called the Speed Force. The Speed Force has acted in the Flash’s comics as a sort of higher power/afterlife/universal truth for the Flash to philosophize against, and so surprisingly, the Flash’s comics are filled with a lot of spiritual questions and dialogue, but in the context of this supernatural phenomenon particular to the Flash. So yeah, I think that qualifies.
(1 point)

Does this character have an interesting (and sustainable) story to inhabit? Absolutely. One of the Flash’s greatest strengths is that his stories are often easy for writers to pen. That is not to say that lazy writers can’t tell bad stories about Flash. Trust me, they can. But it is to say that his powerset, his relationship with his city and its people, and his rogues gallery are all top notch. (1 point)

Does this character have a supporting cast that isn’t just around to make them look good? Yes. The Flash has always had a number of others that have shared the spotlight with him. his oft-sidekick Kid Flash is as much the hero of the book as Flash has been, his on/off romance with Iris West allows her to be her own woman as well as a love interest (point of note: Flash is currently dating Patty Spivot, a well-formed character who he works with). His rogues gallery, once again, is among the best in comics, probably only behind Batman and Spiderman, and they are all FULLY fleshed out characters in their own right, thanks to brilliant writers over the years. It isn’t just the writers, though. Flash’s penchant for hope and optimism allow these characters room to grow, as we will see below.  (1 point)

Does this character have a T-shirt I can buy in size XL? Yep. Just ask Sheldon Cooper.  (1 bonus points)

Does this character represent, in broad terms, an outlook on life that I can support? Yes. Yes. This is the thing I like most about Flash. I cannot think of another hero that goes so far out of their way not only to  stop villains, not only to not kill them, but also to make every effort to try to redeem them. The Flash is always trying to humanize his rogues gallery, trying to see things from their perspective. He not only tries to help stop them from their crimes, but also tries to help them become better people. He knows them on a personal level. While Spider-Man might be funny as he beats down his foes, Flash is sympathetic, and has even been shown to visit his villains in jail, even reforming them on occasion to become good guys (Pied Piper). This is true gospel stuff, folks. The Flash cares about all things, and hopes for all good things.  (1 Point)

Are this characters powers (or lack thereof) interesting? The Flash’s powers make his stories amazing with potential. He can run so fast that he breaks the speed of light, making time-travel stories possible, if not always common. He often plays with physics and (Flash fact:) we often learn something about the world when he uses his powers in a specific way. Like I said above, even mediocre writers should be able to mine good stories out of his powers.  (1 point)

 

Verdict: 7.33 1/3 out of 8 points

Tune in next time for a discussion of Animal Man…

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Optimistic Chad

Chad really really hopes things are going to turn out ok. He loves his wife - with the passion of 1000 exploding suns, and is a diligent, but surely mediocre father to his brilliant and subversive children. He likes Chinese food.

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A Comic Fan Searches For A New Hero: Part 17, The Phantom Stranger

A Comic Fan Searches For A New Hero: Part 17, The Phantom Stranger

Posted on November 18, 2013 by 

Check out the introduction for background on this series of posts!
Check out part 1: Green Lantern. Check out part 2: Captain America.Check out part 3: Wolverine. Check out part 4: Power Girl. Check out part 5: Aquaman. Check out part 6: Luke Cage. Check out part 7: Iron Man. Check out part 8: Spider-Man. Check out part 9: Wonder Woman. Check out part 10: John Constantine.Check out part 11: The Incredible Hulk. Check out part 12: Batman. Check out part 13: Static. Check out part 14: Black Canary. Check out part 15: Superman. Check out part 16: Thor.

The Stranger in a typically cryptic pose. Art ...

The Stranger in a typically cryptic pose. Art by Neal Adams. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Phantom Stranger is one of the more obscure heroes on the list so far. He has been around for a number of years at DC, but he has rarely had his own comic. For the last few years, however, he has enjoyed somewhat of a resurgence, and I don’t mind saying, it is one of my favorite books each month, and is quite off-beat when compared with typical superhero fare.

Who is the Phantom Stranger?

Well, that is a great question. For a number of years, there were various speculations given for the true identity of the Stranger. Was he a fallen angel? Was he a random man who questioned God and died, but was given a chance at redemption? Was he a time-lost traveler? Perhaps a variation of the “Wandering Jew” myth? In his latest incarnation, it has been revealed that the Stranger is none other than Judas Iscariot, judged by a cosmic group as being one of the worst sinners of all history, and given a chance at redemption.

Is this character heroic? No. At least not by nature. Often, the stranger is forced to take actions that go against his morality, but he does them anyway in order to “work off” his cosmic debt. However, in the cases where he abides by his conscience, he is punished, but always helped along by God (in the form of a dog. its funny). So he is learning to tread carefully between right and wrong, suffering and security, and heroism versus self-interest. There is a growth arc happening, but he is not hero. Not yet. (0 points)

Does this character represent the “powers” or fight against them? Both.He represents dueling powers (the cosmic tribunal and God himself), while at the same time always judging himself up against Jesus who he betrayed, and was the ultimate “against the powers” guy. There is no clear answer about where he will end up yet though, and so far he is caught doing the wrong things for the wrong people. (0 points)

Does this character kill? Yeah. And not to save people either. I mean he is no cold blooded killer, but I guess once you are responsible for killing Jesus, other deaths don’t mean so much? Anyway, he doesn’t like it, but if it means getting something out of it, he’ll put you down. Not just your body, but your soul, too.  (0 points)

Does this character have a spirituality? This is the brilliance of this character. His book is all spirituality from beginning to end. Dealing with postmodern struggles between God and gods, what we perceive and what is real, metaphoric and yet true visions of heaven, hell, and reality. The Stranger is dealing with his relationship with God, judgement, grace, redemption and evil. It is great stuff.
(1 point)

Does this character have an interesting (and sustainable) story to inhabit? Yes. Very interesting. While there are angels and demons (which I find banal on some level), they are often just as metaphorical as they are actual. This book skirts the line between the two in a way that allows a less literal understanding while maintaining a visually engaging representation of the powers. And while there are plenty of stories to be told with the Stranger as he seeks redemption in our time, he has walked the earth since the time of Christ, and therefore all of those years would make for interesting grist for the storytelling mill as well. (1 point)

Does this character have a supporting cast that isn’t just around to make them look good? No. Not really. So far, his tale is his and his alone. It looked for a while there that this wasn’t going to be the case, but even his family was shown to exist only to further the Stranger’s characterization.  (0 points)

Does this character have a T-shirt I can buy in size XL? Not even one. (0 bonus points)

Does this character represent, in broad terms, an outlook on life that I can support? Leaning towards no. While I appreciate his narrative arc, he has a long way to go before he arrives at anything resembling a morality or outlook on the world I can get behind. Which I do find odd, because he walked with Jesus for three years and has had 2000 years to think about that…   (0 Points)

Are this characters powers (or lack thereof) interesting? Yeah. I guess so. I mean I have no idea what his powers are. They have never been explained or defined. He seemingly has the power to do whatever the story needs him to do. That freedom can be very exciting when telling a story, but cal also be a very draining deus ex machina if the writer isn’t careful. (1 point)

Real quick note: This character didn’t start off as Hebrew or even spiritual in any way, but has evolved as writers have gotten hold of him over the years. Perhaps that is why I am a little more forgiving than usual that Judas Iscariot is being portrayed as a white guy. There are of course, lots of little nit-picky things about this book that drive me crazy as a professional religious person, but the book goes places other books don’t even dare to try, so I am perhaps a little biased in my liking of this book. Still, I suppose that didn’t help his score any…

Verdict: 3 out of 8 points

Tune in next time for a discussion of Green Arrow…

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Optimistic Chad

Chad really really hopes things are going to turn out ok. He loves his wife - with the passion of 1000 exploding suns, and is a diligent, but surely mediocre father to his brilliant and subversive children. He likes Chinese food.

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A Comic Fan Searches For A New Hero: Part 15, Superman

A Comic Fan Searches For A New Hero: Part 15, Superman

Posted on November 18, 2013 by 

Check out the introduction for background on this series of posts!
Check out part 1: Green Lantern. Check out part 2: Captain America.Check out part 3: Wolverine. Check out part 4: Power Girl. Check out part 5: Aquaman. Check out part 6: Luke Cage. Check out part 7: Iron Man. Check out part 8: Spider-Man. Check out part 9: Wonder Woman. Check out part 10: John Constantine.Check out part 11: The Incredible Hulk. Check out part 12: Batman. Check out part 13: Static. Check out part 14: Black Canary.

A shaken Clark Kent, unconcerned about his sec...

A shaken Clark Kent, unconcerned about his secret,assists Lateesha Johnson; she was attacked by gang members. Art by Dan Jurgens. From Superman v.2 #121 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Superman is Superman. You may be reading the wrong blog if the name doesn’t ring a bell.

Who is Superman?

Superman literally started the super-hero genre. He was the first, and continues to arguably be the most powerful and/or important one out there. He was born on an alien world, rocketed to Earth upon that world’s destruction, and was raised by mid-western parents to be a paragon of truth, justice, and the American way. He was a founding member of the Justice League and has had more movies, games, TV shows, cartoons, toys, and other things than you can shake a stick at.

Is this character heroic? Truly. Although his powers make him a bit oblivious to most forms of real danger, he still puts everything he has into saving others, many times at the cost of his personal life. Even in those rare instances where he is out-powered or de-powered for some reason, he still refused to back down when others need him. (1 point)

Does this character represent the “powers” or fight against them? Hmmm. You  heard that whole “truth, justice, and the American way” thing, right? He has been a teensy bit of a tool of the American powers at certain times. At other times, however, he has made a point to say he is a world citizen, not just an american one. Being the “other” rarely stops Superman from being beloved, however, as for some reason, only Lex Luthor seems to get xenophobic around him. There might be a little white, male, protestant privilege on display here… Still, he is getting better… (.5 points)

Does this character kill? For the most part, no. It is a point of pride with him. He truly makes every effort to not kill anyone for any reason, taking his great power as a point of departure for finding more creative and less lethal ways of dealing with problems. However, there have been a few times when seemingly impossible situations have forced him into making a decision he didn’t want to make and he ended up killing someone more powerful than himself. Having said that, depending on the era, he has also shown that he has a fierce commitment NOT to kill enemies, even when faced with impossible situations. In general terms, Superman NEVER kills, unless a writer with some agenda gets a hold of him (or a certain movie director…)  (1 point)

Does this character have a spirituality? Yes actually. Matter of fact, he is a bit conflicted in this regard. He has a definate protestant, likely Methodist, upbringing, which comes up surprisingly often in the books over the years. He has even prayed on occasion, read the Bible at funerals, attends church, etc… However, upon learning more about his Kryptonian heritage, he has also seemingly embraced certain aspects of Kryptonian religion (sun worship, or Rao worship). To what extent these exist simultaneously in his heart and mind, who can say? But it certainly would make for an interesting exploration.
(1 point)

Does this character have an interesting (and sustainable) story to inhabit? Thankfully, this has been fixed to some degree lately. For most of his publication history, Superman has not been terribly interesting. He is simply a known quantity with no growth arc possible (leading some writers to introduce killing enemies into his repertoire, as above). Recently though, the comics have striven to make him more of the other, make him younger, more reckless, and while maintaining his values, make him unpredictable and less “boy scoutish.” This has led to much more interesting stories, and Superman has been enjoyable to read for the first time in ages. (1 point)

Does this character have a supporting cast that isn’t just around to make them look good? Yes. In fact, Superman has one of the best supporting casts around. While it is true that the characters in his cast were originally used JUST as a foil for how great Superman is (Lois Lane practically invented the damsel in distress trope), it is also the case that the long publication history of these characters have also led them to have very long and dramatic story arcs themselves. Lois Lane, now far from the always-damsel-in-distress, is one of the leading reporters in the world, the very epitome of a feminist, empowered, successful woman. Currently, Superman is dating Wonder Woman, every bit his equal. He shares one book with Batman, who is arguably more popular than him. Jimmy Olsen even has a character development.  (1 point)

Does this character have a T-shirt I can buy in size XL? Too many to count. (1 bonus point)

Does this character represent, in broad terms, an outlook on life that I can support? Yes. In broad terms. I am not sold on the whole “American way” thing, for a number of reasons. However, Superman doesn’t only represent America. He, ideally, represents the best humanity can be, even though he transcends them on a certain level. Sounds like my Jesus a bit. He is self-sacrificial, and wants to help, never hurt.  (1 Point)

Are this characters powers (or lack thereof) interesting? Here’s the rub. Superman is just too damn powerful. He is the strongest, most invulnerable, and has been shown to give the Flash a run for his money in the speed department. He can shoot heat vision from his eyes, cold from his lungs, and hear Lois screaming from the other side of the universe. He has super-smarts, x-ray vision, and a super dog. Quite simply, if writers don’e use one of the three tropes that he is weak to (kryptonite, magic, mind control), we simply don’t believe he is ever in danger. This is what causes lazy writers to use killing or introducing a bajillion other kyrptonians into the world in order to make things “interesting.” I’m not saying Superman CAN’T be interesting, I am saying that it is hard. Too hard for most writers. I’m being generous with the half point here. (.5 points)

Verdict: 7 out of 8 points

Tune in next time for a discussion of Thor…

 
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Optimistic Chad

Chad really really hopes things are going to turn out ok. He loves his wife - with the passion of 1000 exploding suns, and is a diligent, but surely mediocre father to his brilliant and subversive children. He likes Chinese food.

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A Comic Fan Searches For A New Hero: Part 14, Black Canary

A Comic Fan Searches For A New Hero: Part 14, Black Canary

Posted on November 18, 2013 by 

Check out the introduction for background on this series of posts!
Check out part 1: Green Lantern. Check out part 2: Captain America.Check out part 3: Wolverine. Check out part 4: Power Girl. Check out part 5: Aquaman. Check out part 6: Luke Cage. Check out part 7: Iron Man. Check out part 8: Spider-Man. Check out part 9: Wonder Woman. Check out part 10: John Constantine.Check out part 11: The Incredible Hulk. Check out part 12: Batman. Check out part 13: Static.

Black Canary

Black Canary (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Black Canary is still relatively unknown to most common folk, but has been a staple of DC comics since 1947. Although she has been part of the Justice League, Justice Society, Birds of Prey, and a number of other groups, I don’t believe Black Canary has ever been well received as the hero she is.

Who is Black Canary?

Originally, Dinah Drake was a hero in the early days of super hero comics. However, it was her daughter, Dinah Lance who eventually became the more popular and long lasting hero. The second Black Canary not only became of the world’s foremost martial artists, but also is possessed of a super human ability to emit supersonic sounds from her throat called her “canary cry.” While she was most often seen in the company of Green Arrow for a number of years, their on again/off again relationship has mostly been off lately, allowing Dinah to come into her own as a really powerful and respectable hero.

Is this character heroic? Yep. She has shown that not only is she the consummate  team player, but constantly goes out of her way to train young heroes and constantly strive to do the right thing. (1 point)

Does this character represent the “powers” or fight against them? Well, as a vigilante, she works quite outside the law, and in fact in the most recent stories, she is shown to be wanted for some kind of crime. Given that she and Green Arrow have been so close for so long, it is also somewhat a safe bet that she can’t be too firmly on the side of the powers. (1 point)

Does this character kill? In the comics, Black Canary has been shown to prefer not to kill. Her most recent incarnation in the TV show Arrow, however, has been shown to have no problem with it. Still, this is about a comics hero, not a TV one, so we’ll go with no at this point.  (1 point)

Does this character have a spirituality? No. Black Canary is one of the few heroes that have been around for over 6 decades, and has never once discussed religion or spirituality. She has been respectful of other’s beliefs, but has been resolutely neutral regarding politics and spiritual things.
(0 points)

Does this character have an interesting (and sustainable) story to inhabit? Sometimes. Often, Black Canary can feel like she is more of a supporting character herself. She doesn’t have a solo book, and ion the past, has only had mini-series, never her own book. Which is a shame. As such, she is many times just there to further other’s stories, not her own, which doesn’t really have a dramatic arc of any kind that I can think of. (0 points)

Does this character have a supporting cast that isn’t just around to make them look good? No and yes. She doesn’t have much of a supporting cast at all, at least that aren’t already established heroes. She is part of the Justice League and the Birds of Prey currently, but none of those are supporting her. Rather the opposite.  (0 points)

Does this character have a T-shirt I can buy in size XL? none that I know of. (0 bonus point)

Does this character represent, in broad terms, an outlook on life that I can support? Not sure. Like I said earlier, she doesn’t really have an engaging story of her own, at least in her current incarnation. (.5 Point)

Are this characters powers (or lack thereof) interesting? Very much so. She has been shown to be able to go up against Batman in terms of martial artistry, but also having her canary cry gives her the slightest edge when fighting other street-level villains. She really does come into her own when shown in these situations, and often gets a bit lost when with other super-humans, which can lead to interesting stories if done right.   (1 point)

Verdict: 4.5 out of 8 points

Tune in next time for a discussion of Superman…

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Optimistic Chad

Chad really really hopes things are going to turn out ok. He loves his wife - with the passion of 1000 exploding suns, and is a diligent, but surely mediocre father to his brilliant and subversive children. He likes Chinese food.

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A Comic Fan Searches For A New Hero: Part 13, Static Shock

A Comic Fan Searches For A New Hero: Part 13, Static

Posted on November 15, 2013 by 

Check out the introduction for background on this series of posts!
Check out part 1: Green Lantern. Check out part 2: Captain America.Check out part 3: Wolverine. Check out part 4: Power Girl. Check out part 5: Aquaman. Check out part 6: Luke Cage. Check out part 7: Iron Man. Check out part 8: Spider-Man. Check out part 9: Wonder Woman. Check out part 10: John Constantine.Check out part 11: The Incredible Hulk. Check out part 12: Batman.

Static_(superhero)Static Shock isn’t really a big-name hero, but he did have a cartoon back in the late 90′s, early 2000′s that had a decent run. Static, while not the most popular, or even the most unique (see Black Lightning, Black Vulcan), does that the distinct difference of being a superhero of color, created by people of color. Coincidentally, Static’s alter ego, Virgil Hawkins, was taken from the name of a black student who, in 1949, was denied entry to the law school of University of Florida’s. Imagined as a contemporary Spider-Man like character (young teen boy hero from working class parents), Static was a mainstay of Milestone Comics until DC comics brought him into the family.

Who is Static?

Static is a young, teenage kid from a bad part of Dakota City. Young Virgil Hawkins was busy dealing with gangs, school, drugs, and friends when he gets caught up in a gang war and has experimental chemicals doused on him. After he gains electricity-based powers as a result, Static Shock can be found at the local comic book shop, playing video games, nerding (blerding?) it up at the library, or kicking villain buts with trademark wit, sarcasm, and pop-culture references galore.

Is this character heroic? Absolutely. Like many heroes with secret identities, Static often has to sacrifice his personal happiness for the sake of helping others. In spite of this, maybe because of it, Static also takes his relationships with friends, family, and community very seriously, and while he deals with very very real world issues, he always tries to do the right thing. (1 point)

Does this character represent the “powers” or fight against them? As a representative of the underclass of Dakota (an any-city, USA), Static and his community are on the receiving end of institutional racism. Static is trying to literally survive not only super-villains, but also simply survive life in a poor, gang-infested neighborhood. There is no hint of privilage, wealth, or upper class politics, and there IS a healthy dose of critique to the power systems of America.  (1 point)

Does this character kill? Nope. Static (to the best of my knowledge) has not killed. He uses his powers and his brains creatively to avoid killing, and even has redeemed one of his villains to his side.  (1 point)

Does this character have a spirituality? Unkown. To date, Static’s religious views haven’t been discussed. He has interacted with Rabbis and Pastors, but hadn’t shown any bias one way or the other. I could guess, based on his background, but that would be problematic. So I won’t. Regardless, whatever Static’s spiritual affiliations, he doesn’t talk about it, and therefore kinda renders this point moot.
(0 points)

Does this character have an interesting (and sustainable) story to inhabit? Yes. What other character deals with institutionalized racism, poverty, gang violence, drug use, sexuality, and pop culture? Well, besides Rodney at Political Jesus of course! No one. It is because most superhero writers are white, and so even when they write black characters, they make them deal with issues the writers are familiar with, not issues that the characters would be. Static is different. (1 point)

Does this character have a supporting cast that isn’t just around to make them look good? Not a robust one, but yes. His pals are characters in thier own right, such as Gear, but also, and I think more importantly, his family is not treated as obstacles to his heroics, but are fleshed out in their own right, and interact like normal people would, with real problems. Once Static moved to the DC universe, much of this cast was forgotten, but his interactions with the other heroes, such as the Teen Titans, is always that of equals. (1 points)

Does this character have a T-shirt I can buy in size XL? none that I know of. (0 bonus point)

Does this character represent, in broad terms, an outlook on life that I can support? Yeah. Static is a literal light in the darkness. He confronts the powers, tries to help his family, friends, and community, and always chooses the right. He is an inspirational character, being the best of role models to kids who may not have many. (1 Point)

Are this characters powers (or lack thereof) interesting? Sort of. Although his powers are very similar to any number of other characters with an electro-magnetic basis. Electro, Black Lightning, Magneto, Lightning Lad, etc… Still, while his powerset might not be the most diverse, he certainly finds diverse and scientific uses for those powers.  (.5 points)

Verdict: 6.5 out of 8 points

Tune in next time for a discussion of Black Canary…

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Optimistic Chad

Chad really really hopes things are going to turn out ok. He loves his wife - with the passion of 1000 exploding suns, and is a diligent, but surely mediocre father to his brilliant and subversive children. He likes Chinese food.

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