Wednesday, May 30, 2012

On the “outing” of Alan Scott:

 So DC, still trying any gimmick possible to increase sales, has recently announced that they plan to make one of their iconic characters gay. As with most big comic book publicity stunts, I initially didn’t care; it would probably be undone anyway if sales were bad. I also didn’t bother to read any speculation threads on various message boards, since they would probably not involve any intelligent speculation and would likely devolve into the usual tired jokes about men in tights and Batman molesting Robin (People still find this shit funny? It’s 2012 already, jeez!).
 My interest was piqued however, when what is generally considered a reliable source said that the character in question was likely Alan Scott. As most readers of this blog know, Alan is my favorite Green Lantern, the hero who first encountered one of my favorite villains, and my favorite JSA member (barring the Spectre of course). He’s a character defined by his status as a symbol, a beacon of hope, a man who could destroy the whole world if he wanted to (as he showed, unforgettably, in All Star Squadron #20) and who is far from the nicest guy, but who knows he has to set an example for other heroes to follow, to help out the little guy. When Crisis on Infinite Earths happened and there was no longer an Earth 2/ Golden Age Superman to fill the role of the hero that all the rest of the heroes aspire to, he was the only one to foot the bill. He’s sometimes been written as the gruff “old guard” hero who isn’t up to the times, yet he’s remained likeable in spite of it.
 So what are my thoughts if it does indeed to turn out to be Alan Scott? Should I be elated? Offended? Indifferent? Should I just be glad that this is the most exposure Alan Scott has had in years? I’ll talk about that, as well as some of the pros and cons that this could bring.
 Well on one hand, it really, really depends on one thing and one thing alone: execution. As off track as his work has been since the glory days of Starman, I trust in James Robinson enough to know that he won’t make Alan into an offensive stereotype or simply ignore the topic after one issue. Indeed, brief as his appearance was in the mostly mediocre and expository Earth 2 #1, I liked his portrayal of Alan there. If Alan is a great character period, then his sexuality shouldn’t be an issue, and it won’t be with me. Like I said, it’s all in the execution.
 For example, I trust DC to have the maturity to not make Alan gay simply because he had a sidekick with a silly name and (let’s just get this joke out of the way since everyone else has already made it) a weakness against wood.
 There’s also the issue about whether or not the past history of Alan Scott before the reboot should count. There are good arguments both for and against. Before the reboot, Scott had been in multiple relationships with women and had had several children (one of whom, Obsidian, was gay). Even during the 40s he had at least three love interests.
 On the other hand, well, it’s kind of cut and dry that Alan Scott’s past history in comics shouldn’t count, since after all, this is the rebooted DC universe, where everyone’s past history doesn’t count since everything has started anew. At the same time, deciding to make a historically heterosexual character like Alan Scott gay just on a whim could also be seen as a case of desperation, putting a gimmick before characterization, which completely goes against my previous point about making Scott a good character period.
 Also, when you really think about it, wouldn’t a story about Alan Scott coming out be more interesting if it took place before the reboot? Think about it, a legendary hero, who has gone through several marriages and had kids, decides to come out in old age. There is sooo much potential there, even though it creates some problems with how to handle Obsidian.
 But here, with Scott not an established hero, but a rookie, would such a story pack the same dramatic punch it might have had involving an older Scott? Perhaps, if it is handled as part of his “hero’s journey”.
 There’s also the question about just how “daring” it would actually be to make Alan Scott gay. Well, is it? Yes and No.
 The big brouhaha over this whole stunt has been because the character to be “outed” will supposedly be an iconic one. Well, is Alan Scott iconic? To fans like me, yes. But how iconic is he to other fans?
 I’ve talked before about how much modern Green Lantern fans have prided themselves over how much they dislike the human heroes and villains of the franchise and have basically forced DC to make the series into a comic book version of Star Trek/Wars, with all the focus being on intergalactic space wars, different color corps, and spin-offs about the alien lanterns. These people bitch about Hal Jordan and call him a “lame” or “bland and uninteresting character”, and he’s the character whose series introduced the whole concept of the Lantern corps. Look at how much these people bash Hal’s supporting cast and rogues gallery too. Thomas “Pieface” Kalmaku stirs up almost as much racially-charged debate as Ebony White, and Hector Hammond gets mocked as an “insignificant” villain even though he’s been shown to potentially be even more dangerous than Sinestro.
 So as you can imagine, these people who can’t appreciate Hal Jordan probably don’t take kindly to Alan Scott, who isn’t an established member of the corps, has a fat cab driver as a sidekick, and whose rogues gallery includes a woman with oversized glasses, an evil sports star, and some swamp zombie no one likes.
 Alan Scott certainly isn’t iconic to them.
 And that’s just comic book fans, how about the general public?
 Most of the general public couldn’t tell Alan Scott from Guy Gardner, or even know who those characters are. Considering how hilariously bad some news outlets have fucked up details when doing stories about comics, you just know that the story will be reported as “DC makes Green Lantern gay”, or maybe if we’re lucky “DC makes original Green Lantern gay”. To most of the public, they’ll probably think that they are talking about Hal Jordan after seeing the recent Ryan Reynolds movie, and this might end up killing Warner Brother’s already flimsy hope of making a sequel (or reboot) to the 2011 film. For as much as conservatives accuse Hollywood of “pushing a gay agenda”, Hollywood execs would still probably balk at the idea of trying to launch a franchise with a character the public sees as gay.
 And I’m not even going to get into the legion of morons who listen only to what they want to hear who think that Green Lantern is black due to the Justice League cartoon’s use of John Stewart, and that the use of any white Green Lanterns is “racist”. They’ll probably accuse “evil racist DC” of making “a black icon white, and then gay” or some other stupid shit.
  So yes, it’s sort of a mixture of both ‘Yes” and “No”.
 No, it IS NOT too daring for DC to make Alan Scott gay, since most Green Lantern fans don’t care about him or any of the human Green Lanterns. At the same time, it IS potentially daring, because the tabloids don’t care about details like which Green Lantern is which, they’ll just say “Green Lantern is gay now” for a good shock story, which could be potentially damaging for the more conservative demographic (which, according to Scans_Daily, is supposedly the only demographic DC cares about).
 So ultimately, what we have here is a gimmick…which could end up being something more. A cop-out by using a character most modern fans don’t appreciate…that could end up still affecting the whole franchise anyway. A completely different approach to a classic character…that could have been more interesting before the reboot…yet which still could end up making the character more viable than he has been ever before. Nothing is written in stone, hell, it might not even be Alan Scott who is the character in question (which means I’ve wasted an hour writing this). We’ll all just have to wait and see, and hope that something good comes out of it, no matter who the character in question is.
 After all, isn’t wanting something to turn out for the best what we should always hope for?

UPDATE: Yes, turns out it really is Alan Scott.

 So far, it looks pretty good from the preview, although it appears Alan's love interest is going to get killed off for the origin story. Already Scans_Daily and CBR are going on another of their trademark "fridging" bitchfests. I'm still not going to judge the issue until I've read it.

 Also, check out the comments on the USA Today page about the story. Even can't compete with some of this stupidity:

 Hal Jordan and Alan Scott are the same character apparently.

 I can't even tell what this next idiot is trying to say:

Also, DC and Marvel are the same company, apparently:
I hope you do Junior, just so I can see the look on your face when Marvel tells you they don't own Green Lantern.

Spider-Man: A DC character.

 Oh America, never change.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The First Supervillain Team: A Comic Book Mystery solved!

  A short while ago, I was trying to sell my Monster Society of Evil hardcover from 1989, so I went online to see if it was true that the book had had a limited print run. I found out what I needed to and sold the book, but I found out an obscure fact on Wikipedia’s page about the Monster Society of Evil. Apparently they were:

 The footnote linked to a book called 500 Comic Book Villains by Mike Conroy, which I’ve seen in several comic shops. As anyone who reads this blog knows, I hate Captain Marvel and anything related to him with a passion (the reason I owned that MSOE hardcover was because a friend of mine gave it to me as a joke/present after he found it at a flea market for five bucks) and have seen a lot of things falsely attributed to the Big Red Cheese’s titles, but this was the first time I’d heard this particular claim.

 Oh, I’d heard some historians who were fans of Captain Marvel call the JSA’s Injustice Society and Wonder Woman’s Villainy Inc. rip-offs of the Monster Society, and while I wouldn’t call them rip-offs per se, the timeline and the fact that the Captain Marvel titles were the industry’s best-selling books during the era does support the idea of the MSOE being the first. The Injustice Society debuted in October/November of 1947, while Villainy Inc. debuted in 1948. The Monster Society of Evil debuted in 1943.
 It seemed like a clear cut case.
 But what did it really prove?
 All it proved was that the Monster Society predated the Injustice Society and Villainy Inc. It didn’t prove that they were the first supervillain team. Given the “tell don’t show” mentality of a lot of Golden Age comics, there probably is a lot of truth to the statement that previous supervillain teams were made up of one-shot villains who had never previously appeared. Nevertheless, the criteria establishes that the villains had to have appeared previously for a group to count, and I could think of several supervillain team-ups that predated the Monster Society and fit that description.
 Off the top of my head, I knew that the first time two villains appeared in the same story was in Batman #2, the villains in question being none other than Joker and Catwoman, both of whom had debuted in the previous issue. This issue was published on June 1st, 1940 as the Summer issue (Batman’s own solo title was a quarterly then). However, it doesn’t really count, since not only does Catwoman play a heroic role in the storyline, but the Joker spends most of the story unconscious. It’s certainly the first time two villains met, but can’t really be considered a “team-up” at all, despite several websites erroneously saying so.
 Much later of course, in Batman #25, the Joker would team up with the Penguin. That issue however, came out in 1944.
 The first time two established villains actually joined forces was in More Fun Comics #70 dated August 1st 1941. Here, Doctor Fate’s foes Wotan (who had appeared in More Fun #55-56) and Ian Karkull (who had debuted in the previous issue) created a “city” in the arctic.
 Interestingly enough, both of the two villains seemed to get along fine, something most supervillains are notorious for not doing.
 Later, in September 1942; Captain America’s foes The Black Talon and The Black Toad teamed up in the story “Tomb of Horror” from Captain America Comics #18 (which I actually recall being posted online a few years ago but can’t find for the life of me). Black Talon had previously appeared in Captain America Comics #9 and Young Allies #2. Black Toad had appeared in Captain America Comics #7, and still remains mildly infamous due to the fact that he looked nothing like a toad whatsoever. Unfortunately, the whole story turned out to be a dream.

 That same year, Frankenstein’s Monster, who had his own series in Prize Comics drawn by Dick Briefer, teamed up with The Black Owl’s enemy Doctor Devil, who had appeared previously in Prize Comics #15.
 This was the first time villains from two different series (albeit in the same anthology book) would team up. This happened in Prize Comics #22.
No comment

 1942 was a record year for villain team-ups. In Hangman Comics #3, villains Captain Swastika (who had debuted in the previous issue) and The Executioner (who debuted in issue #3 but in a separate story, it was an anthology book) also teamed up. This was notable as the first time two villains who had teamed up turned against one another.
 All of these stories predate the Monster Society.
 “But wait!” cry the Captain Marvel fans. “Those stories don’t count either because they only involve two villains, hardly qualifying as a group!”
 Perhaps so. However, going by those rules, there was still one supervillain group consisting of several (going by the definition of several as more than two) previously established adversaries that predated the Monster Society. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the story of comicdom’s first true supervillain group.
 It began with a broken man.
 Arch-criminal The Hand (who resembled the unholy love-child of Boris Karloff and Terry Thomas) found out that he was terminally ill:

 Wanting to go out with a blaze of glory, The Hand gathered several of the nation’s most dangerous criminals:
 The Red Dragon,
 The Needle,
 Professor Merlin,
 and The Dummy.
 However, like all good supervillains, The Hand felt it just wouldn’t be as fun without challenging some super heroes to thwart his crimes. He put an ad in the paper contacting The Green Arrow and Speedy, Star-Spangled Kid and Stripesy, The Vigilante, The Shining Knight and The Crimson Avenger.
 Yes folks, this was the story which introduced the Seven Soldiers of Victory to the world, although they weren’t called that yet. The comic was Leading Comics #1. The issue was released on December 1st 1941 as the “Winter” issue.
 ‘But wait!” cry the fanboys again. “The Hand was a completely original character who had never appeared before! He doesn’t count, and clearly he is the most important part of the group!” True. But the same could be said of Mister Mind, who also had never appeared before the Monster Society of Evil was formed, and who also was clearly the most important member of the group, in fact, the big overriding plot element of the whole arc was the mystery over what Mr. Mind was.
 “So who cares!” shout the fanboys “None of the other villains in the Hand’s gang were previously established foes either! I’ve read a million Golden Age comics, and I’ve never heard of any of these bozos”.
 Well, it just so happens that the members of The Hand’s gang had indeed appeared prior to this story. Just because they’ve all fallen into obscurity doesn’t mean they never existed. Also, if you've never heard of the Dummy, then clearly you aren't as familiar with Golden Age villains as you think you are.
 Professor Merlin had previously appeared in More Fun Comics #75, in the third Green Arrow story.
 Arguably the first supervillain that the Emerald Archer ever encountered, I’m genuinely surprised that the not-so-good professor has fallen into obscurity, considering that both in name and physical appearance, he resembles the later villain Merlyn the Dark Archer (whom DC has been trying to push as being Green Arrow’s archenemy in one of the biggest failings at 'show don’t tell' in comics history).
 The Needle, whose gimmick was that he was so skinny he could slink in and out of places, had previously appeared in Star-Spangled Comics #4 and #7 and after this story, would continue to be a recurring foe of the Star-Spangled Kid and Stripesy.
 Interestingly enough, the Needle was not SSK’s most prominent foe. That honor would go to a fellow named Doctor Weerd.


 Star-Spangled Kid didn’t have much luck when it came to rogues.
 Most interesting of the villains was Shining Knight’s adversary The Red Dragon, who had previously appeared in Adventure Comics #69. Born deformed, he hid his face behind a red mask but wore a tuxedo and top hat. A pretty striking look for a villain, you must admit. At the same time, he was also extremely incorrigible, manipulating a group of Native Americans and indiscriminately killing them when they no longer served a purpose. One has to wonder if he was an inspiration for Thomas Harris’s character Francis Dolarhyde, who was also born deformed, and referred to his split personality as “The Red Dragon”.
 The most famous villain in The Hand’s gang was The Dummy, a ventriloquist’s dummy whom it was unclear as to whether he was an ordinary dummy used by a cunning criminal, or somehow alive. He was almost certainly the inspiration for the later Batman villain Scarface, who has also been portrayed as ambiguously supernatural. Folks, I’ve had a lifelong fear of ventriloquist’s dummies, and let me tell you, if I’d read this comic as a kid, I’d probably have crapped myself. As for all the other great, creepy Golden Age villains? Iron Jaw, Red Skull, Solomon Grundy, Two-Face and The Claw probably have nightmares about this character.
Wanna know what just disappeared after looking at this? Your soul.

 However, effectively scary as he may have been, The Dummy wasn’t a previous foe of any of the heroes. That said, he soon would be, becoming Vigilante’s personal archenemy and making several appearances in Vigilante’s strip in Action Comics. He even returned in Leading Comics #8. He’s one of the most well-known secondary villains of the Golden Age.
 There was also a villain in the gang named Big Caesar, who, to my knowledge, had never appeared anywhere prior to this story, and never did afterwards. I can see why, as he was just an ordinary thug.
 Still, The Hand’s gang was the first team of villains in comic books to feature several established adversaries (and would spawn a major villain for one of it’s heroes), and predates the Monster Society by two years. I’d say that it’s cut and dry that these folks count as the first true supervillain group.
 Only problem? They didn’t have a name for their organization.
 Not that something as simple as that should disqualify them, but if one insists on a villain group only counting if they have a name, then there was also The Revenge Syndicate, who appeared in Bulletman #7.
 This group was made up of recurring Bulletman villains The Weeper (who recently appeared on Batman: The Brave and the Bold), Black Rat and Murder Prophet. Bulletman #7 hit the stands in 1942, a full year before the Monster Society.
 So, even if you disagree as to whether the Hand’s gang from Leading Comics #1 or the Revenge Syndicate should count, I hope that this post has made it clear that the Monster Society was not the first supervillain group in comics. Not by a long shot.

 By the way, check out this creepy coincidence on the DC Wiki where I swiped borrowed the image of Professor Merlin from: