Monday, March 30, 2009

My Scott & Jean: Or Leave My Hawks Alone!

Alert Nerd has a blogging discussion on everyone's "Scott & Jean." To wit:

"That is my geek sacred cow, the one topic I cannot discuss rationally because it makes me too insane/angry/scary-eyed."

Trying to narrow it down is hard. There are comic book-related topics that send me into a rage or fill me with irritation. But there is only one that I simply can’t hear logic on.

Mine is simple: I loathe the Hawkman/Hawkgirl/Green Lantern/Vixen quadrangle in the last season of "Justice League Unlimited". No matter how you explain it to me, I will not agree the storyline made sense.

I actually tried to voice my annoyance with the storyline and was shouted down with “Shayera was a spy, she betrayed the League, so she deserved whatever she got.” Wow, so the love interest wasn’t allowed an opinion. She wasn’t allowed to have feelings, because of what she’d done a season and a half ago? Despite all the good she did, she’s damned by her previous actions. How wonderfully open-minded you are.

But... but... you love the Justice League animated universe. The series single-handedly dragged you back into the DC Universe. How can you say that?

Let me back up a little. I came into the “Justice League” animated series late in the game, after some of my friends were all squeeful over the series. The first episodes of "Justice League" I watched was the "Starcrossed" three-parter. So I knew the Hawkgirl/Green Lantern was pretty well doomed from the start. That doesn’t make what they did later any better in my eyes.

For me, the DC animated universe was off in its own safe little alternate universe. That allowed for the new interpretations of the familiar characters.

I was even okay with Hawkgirl being without Hawkman in this universe. Shayera Hol was strong and independent woman who took no quarter from anyone. She wasn’t just some sidekick or dilettante. She wasn’t someone’s partner or Girl Friday. She might have worn the familiar Thanagarian Hawk uniform, but Shayera was categorically her own woman. That opened her up to romances with other people, including John Stewart.

The DC animated writers started tweaking with that idea when they introduced Shayera’s promised one Hro Talak in “Starcrossed”. Hro Talak was an anagram of Katar Hol, the Silver Age canon husband of Thanagarian Hawkgirl. The team had wanted to use the original Hawkman, but apparently DC Comics didn't quite like the idea of him as a villain, so they changed him just enough. (They had done the same thing in “Legends” when DC nixed using the JSA.) The writers mentioned Truman's "Hawkworld" as an inspiration, which gave us the uglier grittier Thanagar. In that series, Katar wasn't the nice respected and married (*glares at Mavis*) cop. Someone suggested that this was the Katar who had stayed home on Thanagar, becoming the hardened warrior in an Elseworlds type of change.

So Shayera flew off in “Starcrossed”, leaving poor John woe and all alone. His new girlfriend was Vixen, portrayed by the glorious Gina Torres. That relationship wasn’t supposed to last long, but the writers made Vixen a little too likable and plus they loved the actress. I liked her, too. I honestly thought she was the most level-headed of the quad. She could have acted as the jealous girlfriend, but she was more playful than anything.

But the writers found themselves in a hole. How do they get John back to Hawkgirl without making him into a massive jerk? They equally nixed the idea of Vixen dumping GL as too easy. This was then worsened by the addition of the Warhawk character from the future DCU we saw in both “Batman Beyond” and "Once & Future Thing". Why the writers couldn't brush it aside as a possible future, rather than the future I don't know. Or at least they could have left a question mark about who the father was. Then they might have been okay.

Instead enter the DCU version of Carter Hall aka Hawkman. In the writers' talk for "Ancient History", Dini and company explained how this came about. Initially they'd wanted to do a classic JLA lineup with Barry Allen and Hal Jordan, etc. Carter was the only thing that survived from that idea. They actually liked the reincarnated part of his background everyone sighs and grumbles over. No one seems to like that story except me. They cited Geoff Johns' recent Hawkman run for inspiration of melding the Egyptian and the Thanagarian backgrounds. I think that actually comes from the JSA "Return of Hawkman" sequence. Despite what they said, this Carter does come off stalkerish and presumptive. He assumes once she's heard the story she'll just fall into his arms. In retrospect, that was not all that unlike Carter & Kendra's early interactions, when he came on a little too strong, so maybe that explains my irritation with this incarnation. Carter the warrior and strategist is not there, just a deluded archaeologist who believes that Egypt was settled by aliens. Should we introduce him to Dr. Daniel Jackson?

Inserting Green Lantern into the Hawks’ Ancient already complicated Egyptian backstory just felt wrong. The original was a love story, not a triangle, and Hath-Set suddenly became a caricature version of Jafar, rather than eternal evil. In the writer's talk, they talked about the fake-out with the Shadow Thief's real identity, which was a nifty piece of storytelling, because of the voices. But the real reason I'd assume the Shadow Thief was Hath-Set was because I knew the classic Hawkman background of Hath-Set stalking the lovers through time. Not that this applies in this universe, because they weren't the intended lovers you were worried about. You didn’t care about Carter and Shayera in the flashback; you only saw John and Shayera. Shayera's former half is no longer the devoted partner and wife, she's the cheating harlot. But it's okay because she was meant to be with Green Lantern all along... *head desks*

Throughout these episodes, Green Lantern talked about having mixed emotions because he's with Vixen and clearly has feelings for her, but the future shows he wound up back with Hawkgirl. Batman asks the pointed question. "Why are you still with Vixen then?" What about Hawkgirl herself? Is her only future as brood mare? Carter's still hanging around and still has feelings for her. Nowhere is she given a similar quandary. You tell her in the future you have a son together but then "I'm still staying with Vixen". What other alternative do you give Hawkgirl than to search Bats to ask about her son? Writers, you don't want John to come off a jerk, but in the end, he kinda does anyway.

Read More......

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Times, they are a-changin'

When I started reading comic books, I loved the letter columns. Those back pages were my little link to the outside world. I didn’t have any friends who collected comics, so I only knew which characters I liked or disliked, which parts of stories I loved or loathed. Letter columns showed me that other people felt the same way. Or they completely disagreed with me. I also saw behind the curtain at the creative process a little, hearing from the writers or editor. They’d explain how a particular storyline was approached or clarify some confusing point in a previous issue.

The letter columns took on a certain life of their own. I learned to recognize regulars in the letter columns, like the late cranky TM Maple. I couldn’t think of Legion of Super Heroes without thinking of the Legion Outpost, where the readers elected the Legion leader, much to our dismay sometimes. How else do you explain Polar Boy? The Legion Baxter series also includes my first and only letter, published during the “Who is Sensor Girl” mystery. I said clones would never be considered “real” people, a good six or seven years before Connor Kent blasted into the DC universe. The threeboot Legion even had fun with the letter column idea with Legionnaires answering fan questions.

I also discovered that I was a canon geek. I loved when older stories were referenced or discussed, because they gave me something new to hunt down, old characters to appreciate. Roy Thomas was the king of the annotations and footnotes in both All Star Squadron and Infinity Inc.

Besides the letter columns, there were other columns printed in the comics, the precursors of the current DC Nation, usually written by well-meaning editors and the occasional guest writer. These would give the week’s releases, so I’d know when things were out.

And then there was the Comic Buyer’s Guide. I subscribed to CBG for nearly five years, including my college years. That was an eye-opener. I saw page after page of all those news, conventions, ads, comic strips, and yes even letters. This was where I was introduced to the non-DC titles. This was where I started hearing the rumblings about Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen. There were comics in black and white! There were mysteries (Maze Agency), there was science fiction (MICRA), and there were even lawyers (Wolff & Byrd). Horrors! (Alas no law firm I’ve ever worked for has been nearly as enjoyable or wacky as the Counselors of the Macabre. But I am no Mavis either.)

The other night I was thinking how much fan interaction has changed. If you wanted to talk to other fans, there were apparently fanzines and APAs out there, but I was never involved in that side of comic fandom. These days there are more message boards you can shake a stick at, some better than others. You can argue for days on whether your favorite hero can beat up the other guy’s favorite. Or gripe about the art or the writing or the characters. If you wanted to tell the publisher how much you enjoyed a series, you could send in a letter column and hope your letter was interesting enough to be included. These days some books have letter columns, but mostly you vote with your dollar. If you wanted to talk to your favorite artist or writer, you had to either hope they made it to a convention near you (see my lone encounter with Adam Hughes) or send fan mail through the publisher. These days they may have a website or blog or message board or even a Twitter account. You can toss off a squeeful 140 word note about loving the current issue and usually get a quick response in return.

It isn’t all sunshine and daisies. The Internet never sleeps and the comic book news sites have picked up the pace on the news cycle. Fans are bombarded by news of new projects, cranking up the hype more and more. That is feeding into the convention circuit where it seems odd or unusual if DC/Marvel/etc doesn’t have some big announcement to share. And when some great announcement does come out, it’s met with a jaded skepticism. I’ve joked often I need a “cautiously optimistic” mood on livejournal for every time I posted some comics news I was hopeful about.

Why am I telling you all this? I am not trying to depress you. That wasn’t my intention. I am not about to go all “You poor things, why in my day, we had to walk five miles barefoot in the snow to buy our comics...” I managed quite fine with what I had and I’ll probably manage fine with I have now. I do miss letter columns dearly, but talking to other fans and the creators directly is even better. I even miss seeing comics at the local drug store, but poking my head into comics shop on Wednesday is equally fun. Times have indeed changed. Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

Read More......