Tuesday, March 13, 2012

My Teen Titans, your Teen Titans, everyone's Teen Titans!

There is no inappropriate story context for this image!
Special note to anyone who finds this from Comic Vine, before you rip me a new one-- the "Wonder Girl goes to Supergirl's high school" never happened in an actual comic.  It would have happened had I ever written one.  But hey, if enough of you pester Dan DiDidio care of DC Comics, maybe we can make it happen for real!

A while back I came up with the stupidest idea for a Teen Titans series.  I mean stupid in that it's an idea of complete genius, a rare beauty that flowered only once in my mind and then perished from the cold winds of the endless winter season we call modern comics.  Also, who really cares what ideas some dumb comic blogger comes up with way over here in a secret corner of Japan?

But I love the original Titans so much, I wanted to try to capture a bit of the magic and fun of these old comics, updated for today's audience that doesn't exist for such things.  It all started several million years ago when comic fans-- including me-- were complaining about the "Girls Gone Wild" version of Supergirl running around the DC universe and the wanton destruction of Cassandra Cain as a character for seemingly no good reason.  My negative feelings got so out of hand I had to turn my thoughts to creative ventures with a positive vibe.  And that's when my brain broke like the fragile egg it is and out spilled a concept for a Cass Cain/Supergirl team-up book I brilliantly called The Brave and the Bold, after the old DC team-up title.  But my Cass and Supergirl were somewhat altered from the existing versions.  I wanted to turn the angry teen party girl and the "I just want to be normal" cliches on their heads.

My Supergirl is incredibly smart, cheerful, helpful and endlessly idealistic-- her main flaw.  Too much heart.  Instead of being surly and "trying to find her way in the world" or whatever excuse writers gave for the crappy behavior of the official Supergirl, this Supergirl is one of those overworked activist type teens, interested in saving the world from itself to an unrealistic degree.  In her civilian identity, she's class president, on the debate team, the yearbook staff, the art club, the math club, easily winning top honors.  In her heroic guise, she flies around the world doing anything and everything to improve conditions for the downtrodden and oppressed.  Not so much fighting crime as fighting a Quixotic battle for the impossible dream of our world as a love-filled utopia where no one fears for his or her life or goes to bed hungry.  Superman is proud of her, but somewhat worried, too.  What if she ever becomes disillusioned?  What if she burns herself out?  Given her emotional investment in everything she does, these are very real dangers.

It's too much for one person, even one who can fly supersonically around the world and hear a rabbit's heartbeat from a mile away.  When Supergirl discovers a new Batgirl prowling around Gotham City and learns a bit about her past and her solitary ways, of course she's instantly smitten with the idea of befriending her.  After all, Superman and Batman have a history of partnership.  And this silent Batgirl sure could use a friend.  She becomes Supergirl's latest project, but at first things don't go so well.

Batgirl in this story can speak, but English (or any kind of verbalization, for that matter) isn't her first language so she prefers not to use it unless absolutely necessary.  She's kinesthetically fluent and her native tongue the Massive  Beatdown dialect of the language we call Ass-Whuppin'.  She's not very interested in being friends with Supergirl.  She feels she doesn't need friends, especially when there are so many criminal asses out there for the kicking.  In normal conversations, Batgirl's taciturn and totally lacking a sense of humor.

In all other aspects of her heroic life, she's also scarily violent.  Batman likes her that way.  He's taken her amazing abilities and given her a mission to which she's totally dedicated, suicidally so thanks to deep-seated feelings of guilt at having murdered a man for her biological father, David Cain.  But she can't shake Supergirl and deep down, she really does crave human contact and validation of her innate goodness-- a quality she fears she lacks.  So Batgirl eventually accepts the partnership.

At this point I had a huge adventure planned for the two of them that I'm not going into because I'm going to rework it for my own purposes.  But believe me, it's awesome.  Then I decided not to not stop there.  I'd been reading the Showcase Presents The Teen Titans books-- highly recommended because they're full of Nick Cardy artwork-- and doing angry little doodles of Batgirl kicking Robin's ass in retaliation for DC's grotesque depiction of her in Robin #150 and 151.  Inspiration!  Yes!  A team book!  Wowee! That's dumb!  So dumb I had to develop it even further!

I decided my dopey version of Robin needed to join the fun.  He wouldn't let his adopted sister run around with Supergirl without involving himself somehow-- because he harbors unrequited love for Batgirl, who views him with contempt because he's less than half the weapon against crime she is.  He's also conflicted and jealous of her.  It's not that he's a terrible crime-fighter, it's just that both he and Batgirl know she's so much better.  Robin has more deductive skills, but Batgirl is a whirlwind of combat capability.  She may not be able to finish even the simplest crossword puzzle, but one-on-one with Robin she'd cream him in seconds flat.  And that's all that matters to her.

But Robin is persistent if nothing else and they're stuck with him.  Now they're a trio and no longer just The Brave and the Bold.  And other young heroes are starting to notice.

Enter Wonder Girl, fresh from Paradise Island, on her first visit to the modern world.  Bold, strong, fun-loving and almost completely ignorant of "appropriate" behavior, Wonder Girl enrolls at Supergirl's high school and immediately overturns the social order.  She wants to participate in everything, including varsity football.  One subplot has her enthusiastically joining in football practice, breaking the coach's mighty heart with her reckless playing style and open field tackling.  Who is this girl?  How did she learn to do that and why is she so fast and strong?

In one of my more developed sub-plots-- I even scripted several pages of it-- losses at the state level dog the coach's career.  He's known locally as the man who can't win the Big One, and feels the team is perpetually one or two pieces short of that elusive perfect season.  They've come so tantalizingly close so many times, he doesn't know if he can take disappointment anymore.  He lobbies hard to get her onto the team, but Wonder Girl is too busy pursuing her own fun-- while she enjoys the physicality of the sport, to her mind she's already proven her superiority to the sweaty, fragile boys in their armored suits and moved onto to other flights of fancy.  Music, parties and all kinds of all-ages-reader-safe hedonistic pursuits, in a joyful, infectious sort of way that wins the admiration of all who meet her.  Even loner Batgirl can't help but like this crazy chica.

Eventually, I would have had Cyborg from the later Titans join along with Aqualad, Speedy, Kid Flash and the perpetually randy Changeling, who would become everyone's favorite punching bag in place of Robin, who earns some respect along the way.  Other DC teen heroes as well.  While they form a social network of friends and acquaintances-- some liking each other, some disliking-- they wouldn't all share every adventure, just the ones appropriate to their powers.  You might have Cyborg, Speedy and Kid Flash teaming with Robin as their leader in one issue, or Batgirl and Wonder Girl in another.  Sometimes Supergirl would take a number of them with her into space or to Tokyo (being a world traveler, Supergirl is something of a fashionista as well) for some kind of crazy cross-cultural adventure or wherever trouble appears.

My plan was largely to emphasize characterization over plot and fun over angst, but also to deal with serious problems on occasion, too.  Work in different shades and emotional palettes as the plots demand.  While the tone and the positive portrayal of the main characters-- even while poking fun at them-- would have been something of a throwback to a simpler time, the series would have also acknowledged current issues.  For one thing, if I wrote a solo Cassandra Cain series, the tone would be a lot more Lady Snowblood/Battle Royale/Kill Bill than Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  I see her storyline as involving her death wish, her guilt, the parental issues-- the dad who raised her to kill, the mother who wants either to kill her or corrupt her-- and all sorts of horrific things.  For another, Supergirl could never ignore things like drugs, depression, bullying and other issues I won't get into here.  The character as I conceive her demands involvement and doesn't shy away from handling things that might be beyond even her capabilities.

Well, we'll have a robot for a king long before I get the chance to develop all these ideas.  That's probably a good thing!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Jean Giraud 1938-2012

We've lost one of the greats:  Jean Giraud, better known as Moebius, passed away March 10th.  While he had a lengthy and influential career doing sequential work, I'm more familiar with him as a film conceptual artist thanks to my childhood obsession with the movie Alien.  One of my brothers bought me a bargain bin copy of The Book of Alien, a "making of" album full of behind the scenes photos and pre-production artwork.  The Moebius drawings for the spacesuits stood out for me, which is saying a lot considering he was only on the film for a few days and the book mostly concentrated on Ron Cobb's excellent spaceship designs, as well as on the always fabulous H.R. Giger sculpting the title creature itself.

I eventually tossed the book or sold it at a garage sale but found a newer edition here in Japan at Tower Records.  Of course I bought it immediately upon realizing what it was and once again found myself entranced by Giraud's designs.

His work was always distinctive, instantly recognizable.  I didn't have to read the credits to recognize his touch in Luc Besson's The Fifth ElementEspecially those cop costumes with their wild, impractical helmets! 

Even when he didn't do the design work himself his influence could be so significant it burst out in other people's work.  No surprise Giraud and another genius, Hayao Miyazaki, were good friends. Miyazaki's manga Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind-- and the film, of course-- has a distinct Moebius-esque look.   I feel pretty sure Carlos Ezquerra steeped himself in Moebius at some point before designing Judge Dredd  and his world for 2000 AD

Europeancomics don't seem to be as hung up on the same limited genres as our American comics do.  At home, Giraud did Westerns, spy conspiracies and  and science fiction, but for the American market he teamed up with Stan Lee for a Silver Surfer story and contributed a wickedly beautiful Batman pin-up to DC's Batman Black and White

I love his clean, open artwork and parallel-line modeling.  Every once in a while in my sketchbooks I'd try to channel some Moebius and fail miserably.  Time for me to shut up and allow a late master speak for himself in the way he knew best.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Cassandra Cain lives on DC's new website... for now

He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a Cassandra Cain fan.  -- Dr. Samuel Johncomicbookfanson

DC's new website is... well, I have no opinion about website designs and the like.  What care primitive I for such things?  But late last night, around 1 AM when I should have been sleeping, I did a quick search for Cassandra Cain news-- yes, in exactly the same way I sometimes do name searches for exes and old crushes and then cry myself to sleep-- and found an amusing tidbit (we Cass fans take what we can get) on the blog Every Day Is Like Wednesday.  Someone involved with the DC website design has used an image of Cassandra Cain to illustrate their page about Barbara Gordon.

Cass fans!  Get your fix!  Fast!  Before DC fixes this!

Specifically, it's the gorgeous cover to Batgirl #45.  Remember that one?  Cass becomes curious about Barbara's career, dresses up in her predecessor's old Batgirl suit and discovers to no one's surprise high heeled boots are impractical for crime-fighting.  She's also now subject to the male gaze and queasily uncomfortable comments from Robin about how hot he suddenly finds her.  Barbara is pretty happy about it; essentially, the philosophy she espouses once again to Cass is it's important to dress and act in ways boys find cute and if you achieve that, effectively battling crime is a plus.  In the end, Cass rejects being that kind of hero and goes back to basic black and even Barbara laments not having worn more sensible footwear.

James Jean's covers during that era are spectacular.  Vivid colors, bold imagery and symbolism.  This one is no exception.  While I have no complaints about Rick Leonardi and Jesse Delperdang's interior work (clean storytelling, well-rendered figures and polished linework always appeal), I really wish DC had tapped Jeans for at least one fill-in issue-- especially the any of the ones immediately preceding Leonardi's run, which are atrocious.

Anyway, enjoy the second life of Cassandra Cain on DC's website.  Before they correct it and she goes back to superperson purgatory!  Or not!  Hee hee!  Being a Cass fan is so much fun when you're sleep deprived and stressed out about changing jobs and moving to a new city while living abroad!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Uncle Creepy introduces the faces of fear!

You can't go wrong with a little Uncle Creepy in your day.  These Warren house ads are the best.  Can you recognize the artists represented here? I see Gray Morrow, Al Williamson, Angelo Torres, Frank Frazetta...

The rest is up to you, my friend.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Hey! Valiant's back!

It's like the fullest blossoming of 1990s nostalgia!  I bought into the Valiant universe in a big way back in those days.  I had every issue of every single title.  In fact, I'm pretty sure I still have them, bagged and boxed at my mom's house.  Written by Jim Shooter, Harbinger featured some nice art by David Lapham; while in tone and general look it owed a debt to Chris Claremont and Brent Anderson's X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills graphic novel (which Neal Adams claims Shooter conceived), it prefigured the more comical Gen13 and Marvel's Runaways-- and stands as the best thing Shooter's finest scripting hour, Secret Wars included. 

Pete Stanchek, the group's leader, wasn't exactly the most trustworthy of people with his powers of mental control.  The intimations that he'd occasionally use it for his own convenience and the implications that has for all his personal relationships made him seem a bit shady despite his frequent protestations of remorse.  I was never sure if I even liked him.

Harbinger was also notable at the time for the "play for keeps" nature of the superhero fights.  People got hurt-- and badly.  Or killed outright.  Very different from the low stakes dust-ups in most superhero books at the time.  I mean, face it, Wolverine might kill a few ninjas here or there and Katana would SHAKKT someone off-panel, but killing fights in comics were pretty rare.  Deaths usually happened to supporting characters to motivate protagonists.  Even battles with actual consequences were rare at the time Harbinger came out.  No broken, bloody noses for Batman, and only Dani Moonstar had to endure months of painful physical therapy for her injuries-- very little of which we actually saw.  Of course, nowadays Katana kills practically in every issue of Birds of Prey and no one says boo about it.  Books like The Punisher and Kick-Ass play gory injuries as jokes or as really cool, lots of fun for everyone involved.  Spend some hospital time, pop out good as new, join in lopping off people's heads in full bloody color for kicks and giggles.  In Harbinger, they were just disturbing.  And apparently, Shooter had even more areas to explore with Stanchek.

I also really enjoyed mismatched buddy comedy Archer & Armstrong and their darker take on the old Gold Key series Solar, Man of the Atom.  It's too bad Solar and his fellow Gold Key alum Magnus (the guy who, like the Flaming Lips' Yoshimi, fights evil-natured robots) won't be part of this revival; they're over at Dark Horse.

Even though I've gushed here about Harbinger, Valiant's actually kicking off with X-O Manowar this time.  I read that one but to be honest, I have very few memories of it.