Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Smallville: Slumber

There used to be a phrase, "Not a dream! Not a hoax! Not an imaginary story!" A lot of this episode is a dream but it shows what will eventually happen with Lex.

I continue to find Lionel Luthor's manipulative abilities the most fascinating part of the series.

Sarah Conroy is yet another character who learns more than she should about Clark's abilities, does not die at the end of the episode and might come back later. In fact, she is the new next door neighbor so maybe she has to come back later? Or maybe she moves away again after the uncle who was supposed to be caring for her in her coma has been arrested for crimes including attempted murder?

Lana's persistence with Clark is admirable but we all know that Lois is coming.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Smallville: Extinction

Clark catches a bullet aimed at Lex. Clark, in a hunting lodge near Smallville, realizes that Lex is on a hit list and immediately runs all the way to Metropolis, arriving just time to catch the bullet. Unacceptable.

Lionel and Lex continue to have problems working together. Chloe learns how low Lionel can stoop. Clark continues not to confide in Lana. Implausible and unnecessary. He did confide in her in the John Byrne
version.

The villain this week learns to shoot Clark with a Kryptonite bullet. Clark sees the bullet coming but it goes through his hand and into his shoulder. The wound heals instantly when Jonathan extracts the bullet.

The villain is in psychiatric detention so will not be believed. Lana almost believed it when he told her that Clark was bullet-proof...

Lex theorizes that some of his own abilities are meteor-derived. That makes sense.

It also makes sense that someone would try to kill the meteor freaks. Unusually for a TV series, many previous episodes are referred to as Lana, Chloe and Clark recall earlier events and name the one-off characters involved.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Treason

In The Ultimates, after the super-terrorist invasion of the United States has been defeated, Hank Pym claims to have joined the invasion with his Ultron robots only in order to infiltrate the invaders.

However, while the invasion was in progress, he warned its leaders that they would not be safe as long as Steve Rogers was free. Further, he knew who the traitor in the Ultimates was but pretends that he did not. Thus, he is lying and is deservedly imprisoned beneath the Triskelion like Banner and Thor before him - although, in Thor's case, this was undeserved.

The traitor was the Black Widow. She reminds Stark that she started as KGB and says that she wanted to cripple the US because it had crippled Russia - but did she really want pre-1989 Russia back?

I find two points of comparison with Garth Ennis' The Boys:

supes replacing the military;
some characters wanting the old Russia back - Ennis' Billy Butcher hates supes except the Russian ones, apparently because they were uncorrupted.

The Ultimates And Political Ambiguity

Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch, The Ultimates 2, Vol 1 (New York, 2005). The pages are not numbered but the quotations are easy to find.

Despite its fantastic content, The Ultimates accurately reflects real world politics:

we see Italian police attack anti-war demonstrators;
Thor, who is watching, intervenes on behalf of the demonstrators;
TV reports "...Thor's shocking attack on city police...;"
someone who has merely seen the TV says, "It's Thor. He finally flipped. He just took out a hundred Italian cops...;"
Loki, inspiring people against Thor, refers to his "...encouraging violence against democratically elected governments."

Neat. I learned as a student that the only way for me to learn what happened on demonstrations was to attend them myself. The mainstream media and the left-wing press simply gave me opposite accounts. My philosophical approach at the time was empiricist...

Earlier, in The Ultimates, Vol 1 (New York, 2005) -

Thor: "I hope you are not here to arrest us for our recent involvement in the World Trade protests, General. As always, your lackeys in the media completely misreported what was merely a peaceful demonstration."

Thor: "...the son of Odin is not interested in working for a military industrial complex who engineers wars..." (The Norse gods used to be keen on wars so their politics have changed!)

And, in The Ultimates 2, Vol 1 (New York, 2005) -

TV Interviewer: "Urging anti-war protestors to do whatever it takes? Sounds to me like Thor's trying to stir things up..."

Maybe, in time of war, things need to be stirred up? It is clear that (this version of) Thor is against killing whereas war is mass killing.

Tony Stark insists that persons of mass destruction will not be sent to the Middle East, then justifies them being sent there on the ground that they dismantled nuclear weapons whereas, of course, the Great Powers keep their nuclear stockpiles. And he now insists that it is ridiculous to suggest that they will be sent to China...

Fury sees the similarity between Cap and one of his terrorist opponents: two boys who became super soldiers to fight invaders. The Ultimates realize that their actions have increased terrorism and that they must become politically independent. Whether that it is possible is another matter. But these comics address those issues.

Ragnarok In Washington

I mentioned that Mark Millar's and Bryan Hitch's Ultimates face two external threats, the Chitauri shape-changing aliens and international super-terrorists, but there is a third. When the super-terrorist invasion is being defeated, Loki summons Surtur, Ymir, trolls, dragons and giants. We also see the World Serpent, Garm the Hel Hound and several other giant hounds.

Thus, like Hitler in The Last Days of the Justice Society, Loki initiates an early Ragnarok and Thor retaliates with reinforcements from across Bifrost, thus proving his divinity to everyone who had thought that he was a mental case.

Fire and frost giants withdraw, presumably to return at the eventual Ragnarok.

Addendum: Maybe Roy Thomas' The Last Days of the Justice Society and Young All-Stars 1-6 belong on the list of definitive superhero restatements?

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Superhero Fights

The Ultimates by Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch combines character interaction with superhero action. Several times in the series, entire episodes of relaxed conversation precede and succeed one entire episode of spectacular combat.

The main characters usually manage to fight each other:

the Ultimates v. the Hulk;
Giant Man v. the Wasp;
Captain America v. Giant Man;
the Ultimates and European super soldiers v. Thor;
Iron Man v. the Black Widow.

However, there are also two major external threats:

the Chitauri;
the super-terrorists -

- and each raises a significant issue:

order v. freedom;
super power intervention provoking counter-aggression.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Nick Fury, Director of SHIELD

Nick Fury, having lunch overlooking Chelsea Piers in New York with Bruce Banner, says that:

half the other diners are highly decorated undercover agents;
his and Banner's food is tested by company bacteriologists;
all of his own clothes have been destroyed and replaced with garments full of mikes and cameras;
"Every word we're saying now is being taped, typed and analyzed by two hundred linguistics professors beneath a Starbucks in downtown Oregon." 
- Mark Millar, The Ultimates (New York, 2002), p. 35.

Why the extensive linguistic analysis? Does SHIELD think it is possible that:

Fury has been replaced by a duplicate?
he is being mentally controlled?
Banner is an imposter and potential assassin?
what they are saying now may be so important later that it is necessary to know of any possible hidden meanings or coded messages immediately?

Any anomalies in speech patterns might alert the linguistic experts to duplication or mental control? - but two hundred professors still seems excessive.

The Best Takes On Superheroes

Every time I reread something like The Ultimates, I ask what would be a definitive multi-volume collection of the most authoritative restatements of the superhero idea and come up with:

(i)-(iii) certain carefully selected works featuring Superman, the Batman and Green Arrow;
(iv)-(v) Moore's Miracleman and Watchmen;
(vi)-(vii) Millar's The Ultimates and Kick-Ass;
(viii)-(ix) Morrison's Zenith and Animal Man;
(x)-(xi) Busiek's Marvels and Astro City;
(xii) Ennis' The Boys.

Screen Versions
The Smallville TV series;
the Batman/Dark Knight film trilogy;
the Marvel Movieverse.

I have said all this before but each reiteration feels like a new iteration.

I think that Kick-Ass cheats on its premise - what would happen if an ordinary guy donned a costume and patrolled the streets at night? - because Hit Girl is extraordinary and implausible. Millar addresses the same question well in the Defenders issue of The Ultimates.

Should Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen be on the list? It is unquestionably a literary equivalent of the Justice League but has more literary references than comic book superheroics.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

The Ultimates, Volume 1, Super-Human

OK. I want to stay with SHIELD and the black Nick Fury who looks like Samuel L Jackson so I am rereading The Ultimates, Volume 1, by Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch, a work of graphic fiction with production values comparable to those of a high budget feature film. On previous rereadings, I have continued to the end of the fourth volume.

Instead of merely scanning the dialogue and turning the page to follow the story, I stay a while longer with each page because the quality of the visuals consistently matches the quality of the writing. In fact, I originally borrowed these works from the public library but then bought copies to reread.

In Captain America: The Winter Soldier (see here), the collective villain is Hydra whereas, later in The Ultimates, it is the Chitauri, but, in both cases, this is a villain that sets out to destroy freedom because it is a threat to order.

The graphic novel is a more leisurely way to enjoy characters, scenes, action and issues similar to those presented in the films.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Spoilers)

Nick Fury wants pre-emptive counter-terrorist surveillance through the Helicarriers. Steve Rogers tells him that such surveillance is not freedom. Hydra have infiltrated and prove him right - but the technology can be turned against itself.

Those are sufficiently serious issues for a Captain America film. At one point, it is down to an ordinary SHIELD employee to make the right decision after Cap has denounced Hydra.

This film has yet another very effective faked death. There are routine references to Stephen Strange, Bruce Banner, Stark Industries and Iron Man. I sat alone in the middle of the front row for 3D and felt some motion sickness. I was also the only member of the audience to sit till the end of the credits.

Superheroes rule filmwise.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Away From Smallville

The first two episodes of Smallville, Third Season, are like a liberation. Lex and Clark seem already to have escaped the restrictions of Smallville. We see Lex surviving half naked on an island and Clark enjoying the greater freedom of Metropolis as against Smallville as well as the unrestricted license of a super-powered villain's role.

Although we had already seen "Kal" robbing ATM's, I did think, when he interrupted a bank robbery, that he had returned to a familiar crime-fighting role but instead he proceeded to rob the bank himself. Of course, it is the Red Kryptonite influence but he knowingly opted to wear the Red Kryptonite ring.

Will it be an anti-climax when, in the third episode, all the action is safely back in Smallville? We have had a preview of what will happen in later seasons when Clark moves permanently to Metropolis and uses his powers covertly. Will Morgan Edge still be a crime boss? Will Edge also control Galaxy Broadcasting? Will Lionel Luthor still be in Metropolis? Will Lex also have moved there? Will Lex build a LexCorp Tower in Metropolis? Will Chloe be working for the Planet?

We know that Clark and Lois Lane, who has not appeared yet, will work for the Planet. Some plot features have to be the same in any version of the story.

Creations, Crises And A Crux II

According to the narratives summarized in the previous post:

four universes were created - by God, the Time Trapper, Lucifer and Elaine;
many universes were destroyed - by anti-matter.

There have also been:

three cosmic events - two Crises and one Crux;
two cosmic mergers - of five and three universes;
one cosmic divergence - into two universes;
two assaults on Heaven, the second successful.

Have I missed anything? Yes, there are many series, company-wide crossovers and even inter-company crossovers that I have not read. It all sounds slightly less disorderly when itemized. But such a complex narrative could not have been created by a single author. This is what happens when one company publishes many interconnected monthly titles for seven decades.

Creations, Crises And A Crux

(i) During the Crisis on Infinite Earths, an anti-material being destroys all but five universes, then the surviving five merge. (Supernatural consequences: post-Crisis confusion enables male witches to conjure from Chaos the Original Darkness that was before the Creation in the hope that It will destroy Heaven whereas instead the plant elemental effects a reconciliation between the Darkness and the Light; Hitler uses the Spear of Destiny, which has magical powers because it pierced Christ's side on the cross, to initiate the Ragnarok but the Justice Society of America merges with the Aesir so that their combined superheroic and divine powers make the battle on the plain of Vigrid cyclical instead of climactic.)

(ii) The Time Trapper creates a pocket universe, thus accounting for Superboy, who no longer exists in the post-Crisis universe.

(iii) The Inn of the Worlds' End continues to coexist with many universes although not as many as before.

(iv) Lucifer creates a second universe.

(v) Lucifer's father abandons the first universe which therefore begins to unravel in the Crux. (Supernatural consequences: Lucifer prevents two Titans from usurping God's role; Fenris Wolf tries to ensure and hasten cosmic destruction by watering Yggdrasil with fratricidal blood, then later by smashing the throne of God; Christopher Rudd leads an army of demons and damned out of Hell; an alliance of old powers destroys the angelic Silver City during the Second War in Heaven.)

(vi) Lucifer's niece, Elaine Belloc, creates a third universe, then merges the three, thus counteracting the unraveling.

(vii) Elaine's new composite universe has no Hell whereas John Constantine's universe retains a Hell so his universe has diverged from Elaine's.

(viii) An Infinite Crisis redivides the earlier post-Crisis universe into fifty two, including the Watchmen universe.

This long narrative sequence, the work of several authors, is based on many more. Does it make sense? A single story may have cosmic consequences but a succession of such stories causes cosmic chaos.

One Or Many Worlds?

Fantasy writers know modern cosmology but continue to write stories in which extra-cosmic forces seem to focus specifically on just one planet:

when Neil Gaiman's Dream of the Endless enters the waking world, it is the waking world of Earth;

in the seventeenth century, Destruction of the Endless abandoned his realm because Newtonian speculation about the inter-convertibility of light and matter was the first step towards nuclear conflict, as he knew from his experiences in many other worlds - this implies that the Endless base themselves in one world at a time;

when Mike Carey's Lucifer creates a universe, he and others from his father's universe visit only a single planet in the new universe;

when Lucifer's protege, Elaine, creates a universe, she focuses only on a single planet within it and finds even that difficult.

However:

Death of the Endless says that she is simultaneously present for the deaths of organisms on an extra-solar planet;

the single Martian living on Earth sees the Martian Dream;

Gaiman's current The Sandman prequel at last shows Dream's interstellar journey which involves extraterrestrial aspects of Dream.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Mike Carey's Lucifer

Mark, the Lancaster Comic Book Guy, told me that he had received a set of volumes of Mike Carey's Lucifer. I advise anyone who has not read this series to consider buying Volume I. These eleven volumes depict what happens to Lucifer Morningstar after the ten plus volumes of Neil Gaiman's The Sandman.

I say "ten plus" because The Sandman monthly series was collected in ten volumes but there are also:

two volumes about Death;
one about all the Endless;
an illustrated prose story about Dream (i.e., "the Sandman");
the graphic adaptation of the prose story;
an anthology of original prose stories -

- and a few other DC Universe stories or series by Gaiman, including direct sequels to Alan Moore's six-volume Swamp Thing. So, of course, read all that before Lucifer.

Carey, like Gaiman, has enough mythological knowledge and creative imagination to sustain a story for hundreds of pages despite the near-omnipotence of some of the characters. Lucifer differs considerably from The Sandman, as Rick Veith's continuation of Swamp Thing also differs from Alan Moore's earlier re-creation of that character, but the differences of style and content enhance the value of these interconnected Vertigo titles which far surpass in quality most of DC Comics' more voluminous superheroes continuity.

Smallville: Phoenix

Third Season

It only took two episodes to get everything nearly back to normal in Smallville. Lex wants to learn more from Lionel, which edges him closer to being Our Villain. He also moves closer to the Kents, which means that he is being pulled in opposite directions. Lex and Clark have been through comparable experiences and both have risen like Phoenixes.

It was good to see a spontaneous shootout between Lionel's and Edge's men. Did Edge drown in the harbor or survive, knowing as much as he does about Clark? So many people dance around the truth about Clark. Lex stole Clark's blood sample but did not have it analyzed and returned it to Helen. Lionel bought it from Helen and (must have) had it analyzed but did not know it was Clark's. Edge learned it was Clark's but did not tell Lionel. Helen, who knew, is whereabouts unknown.

I find Helen's sudden murderous villainy implausible after everything we knew about her. It confirms the Luthor view of the world, of course. Lionel was right about her all along. Yet again, Clark should trust Lana at the end but the story demands that he doesn't so the relationship between Clark and Lana should have been written differently to fit in better with the story.

We do not yet know what deal Jonathan made with Jor-El's technological ghost.

Dark Clark

Exile is the first episode of Smallville: Third Season. Clark and Lex are both exiled. Chloe looks better with longer hair.

It is Metropolis but, instead of Clark Kent and Superman, we have Kal and the Masked Man, who smashes open cash machines and interrupts a bank robbery so that he can rob the bank himself! As police bullets bounce off the Masked Man, Jonathan, Martha and Pete realize who he is. I thought that the bank robbing clowns worked for You Know Who from Gotham City but it is too early for that. They work for Morgan Edge, who is big in crime instead of in media - or is he big in both in both versions?

If Clark has had to conquer all this to become Superman, then Superman's heroism is in more than his powers.

What is going on with Lex and that island? - like Oliver Queen, unless this one is a virtual reality? Is Helen complicit? She seems to have told a suspicious story and to be amused rather than grieving. If Lionel is not moved by the belief that his son was murdered, then he is an immovable object.

The last disc of the Second Season ends with:

Christopher Reeve's character saying, "You must make your own destiny, Kal-El";
a discussion of the special effects;
the Chloe Chronicles.

"You must make your own destiny, Kal-El" summarizes a fictional history from 1938 into the twenty first century.  

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Smallville: End Of Second Season

Much darker than the end of the First Season. Clark has left on a motor bike, accepting the influence of Red Kryptonite. He and Lana can never get it together but alienate Chloe in any case. Surely Clark ought to tell Lana all his secrets at this point? He says just enough of it to then say that he cannot say any more: the worst possible combination.

Martha loses the baby so continuity gets back on track in that respect.

I would not accept backing from Lionel Luthor for a writing career because I would want to write against him and what he represents but I am not Chloe Sullivan.

Lionel is completely incapable of relating to people except by manipulating them. He likes people to hate him because they are weak when angry. I would like to see Lionel having to adjust to living in a society that obliged him to cooperate with, instead of controlling, others.

Did the Kryptonians send Kal-El to Earth so that he would rule it? Lex Luthor later sees Superman as an alien invader and himself as a champion of Terrestrial humanity against extraterrestrial super-humanity. In the John Byrne/Marv Wolfman version, Luthor became rich by his own unscrupulous efforts. In the Smallville version, he inherits wealth but retains it and prospers through his own, initially benign, efforts.

Either way, a powerful modern myth.

Comics Selling In Lancaster

I have lived in the District since 1973. Over many years and with at least one long gap, we have had:

John Freeman in the Market Hall;
Les Lamont in the Market Hall;
Les Lamont in the Assembly Room;
Mark and Lucy of First Age Comics in the Assembly Room;
Mark and Lucy in the First Age Comics shop.

Change and continuity -

Market Hall: John, Les;
Assembly Room: Les, First Age;
Shop: First Age.

The Crises in Comics have been the Market Hall burning down and the Assembly Room threatened with closure. Since the shop opened only two weeks ago, we now look forward to many more years before there is another Crisis or change of personnel.

Addendum: Not mentioned above but mentioned by correspondents (see below) -
Pete Pinto's Interstellar Master Traders (sf, fantasy, games, comics);
(another) Paul's comic shop of four years near Lancaster Bus Station.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Lucifer: Evensong

A rebel angel hiding among the decaying alternative hereafters resists the new God, Elaine Belloc;

Elaine moves on the face of the deeps, ploughs Hell under, leaving only a small corner intact for the demoness, Lys, makes a place for her formerly dead brother in the new creation and has a farewell drink with friends before sinking into everything;

Lucifer leaves;

beautifully drawn art by Peter Gross and Ryan Kelly illustrates Lucifer's reminiscences about the War in Heaven and his retirement from Hell on the occasion of Morpheus' second incursion, also Lucifer's last meeting with the previous God in the Void;

art by Jon J Muth shows Lucifer in a Japanese Buddhist milieu.

Hail and farewell, Lucifer Morningstar, Prince of the East!

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Nemo: The Roses Of Berlin (Spoilers)

A lot of German that I haven't had translated yet.

A Germany that combines Charlie Chaplin's parody of Hitler with the film Metropolis.

Ayesha beheaded! - and by Nemo's daughter. This is like the earlier Nautilus versus Martians in the Thames.

A reference to Ingsoc and to the corresponding Mike Thingmaker regime in the US. The latter is not in 1984 but in a Russian sf trilogy.

I have recently read some Jules Verne but not got into him. However, Alan Moore puts Verne characters and their descendents to good use in LEG history.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Smallville: Accelerate

An apparent ghost who is really a super-fast clone, thus physical, not supernatural.

Whenever Lionel gives Lex a bad time, he is really teaching him. Thus, Lionel can rationalize anything whatsoever. Trying to bribe Helen to leave Lex is a test of her loyalty which she passes so Lex should be grateful to Lionel for this!

Lionel says that the cloned girl, Emily, is the property of LuthorCorp. Property? At the end, Lionel uses his people skills to manipulate Emily.

I thought that Emily's father looked totally dead with something sharp through him at one point but he recovers.

Although the caves are off-screen in this episode, they continue to cause conflict between the Luthors and will return big time in the next episode.

The Kents prepare for Martha's baby. This is a major departure from the existing legend.