Archive | August, 2011
31 Aug

Tonight, at midnight, the DCnU launches, with Flashpoint 5 and Justice League 1.  The closer it gets, the more books I have gained interest in.  That said, DC could (and giving history, just might) screw it up badly.  Here are a few things I think DC needs to focus on to make sure the initiative is a success. 

1)      Commit 

This is probably the most important. Many of the books are very impressive in theory, while some appear disappointing.  Still, if they hope for this to work, they must give the titles a chance to succeed.  I, Vampire or Blackhawks won’t catch on right away.  Hopefully, though, word of mouth will spread and the books will catch on.  DC should give each book at least a year to catch on, and I would recommend fifteen issues.  If they still haven’t caught on by then, DC could cancel them. 

 2)      Bring Back the Fun

 Keith Griffen has come out frequently recently to say he is done with the JLI, Ambush Bug, and Lobo.  That’s fine.  Still, these characters still need to be around, and should have their sense of humor firmly in cheek.  Even more important, bring back the now deceased fun characters, like Ted Kord and Ralph Dibney.  I know Jaime Reyes is the Blue Beetle, so DC can bring about their line diversity.  Still, Ted could be Blue Beetle in the Justice League.  A universe that can afford 7200 Green Lanterns can accept two differing Beetles. 

 3)      Hope

 DC is a universe of hope.  Let’s be honest, Superman basically assures that.  I understand this is a younger universe and Superman isn’t exactly his old self, though in a lot of ways he is supposedly more like old Superman than any time in the last fifty years.  Still, the DCnU should be full of hope.  Occasionally, a villain should terrify (more on that next), but the heroes should have faith in their abilities.  How many times recently have we seen Superman crying?

 4)      Have the villains bring it

One benefit to the DCU is the broad variety of villains.  Not all of the villains are bank robbers and not all are world conquerors.  But each should be convincing in their sphere. This especially relates to the world destroyers.  When Darkseid or Despero show up, the heroes should worry, without crying. 

5)      A Moratorium on death

 Heroes, villains, and sidekicks should live usually.  Every once in a while, death should happen.  But all too often, recently, characters have been killed to “show that you never know what’s going to happen.”  Personally, I think this has been a bigger problem in the Marvel Universe, with their “kill someone a quarter” mentality of late.  Still, let death happen naturally, and then, usually stick with it.  When everyone is dying, it takes the punch out of it. 

 6)      Digital Initiative

 DC is going to stat publishing their 52 books digitally the same day they debut in print.  That is great, but DC needs to make sure everything lives up to that potential.  Vertigo, kids’ books, minis, and crossovers with other companies all need to join in.  Trade paperbacks and Showcase editions need to also.  Make digital a true option for fans.  I know I would buy collections and minis digitally. 

7) Superman

And finally, make Superman super.  Action Comics depresses me.  I look at the covers, and Clark is running around in blue jeans and a t shirt.  That is not Superman.  Meanwhile, Grant Morrison discusses his plans for a socially conscious Superman, and that is fine potentially.  Seigel and Shuster started him that way, but had him develop into a more rounded character.  Let him return to those roots, but give way to regular Superman. The red undies need to return also.  Yes, they are cheesy and make little sense overall.  But the look is classic, and I personally think the red helps break up the costume. 

I wish the DCnU the best.  I am highly interested in it and have hope that it could create a new status quo for the DC universe.  And maybe they will never beat out Marvel in sales, but this should be a worth-while adventure and I am ready.

Saying Goodbye to the DC, While Waiting on the DCnU

28 Aug

Saying goodbye is never easy.  I particularly have never found it an easy concept to deal with but this week I will be saying goodbye to some friends or the last 24 years.  This is the week that DC retires much of their continuity to modernize their characters.  I have read and loved the adventures of Superman and his friends for almost as long as I can recall.  Still, this isn’t like most goodbyes, because this features the promise of a new beginning. 

Not a lot is known right now and in fact, we can’t even really say what will be in the DCnU and what will be out.  We do know that as of right now “Identity Crisis” is still part of this DCU.  Although I enjoyed it from a story perspective, and would personally love for Brad Meltzer to return to write more comic books, the loss of Sue and Ralph Dibney has always bothered me.  They represented a special part of the DCU.  Likewise, Blue Beetle II, Ted Kord, my second favorite character ever is still apparently dead or never existed at all, as his replacement Jaime Reyes will be the Blue Beetle of the new DC.  And it looks like my all time favorite run of the Justice League, the Justice League International, will not have taken place, as a major part of this initiative is the start of the JLI.  Maybe they will be reforming, but to me it sounds like this is a new start for these characters as a team.  And though I think Dan Jurgens will do the concept justice, it won’t be my Justice League. 

I could go on and on about the things I will be missing, but instead I want to focus on the potential in this concept.  Many fans are (rightfully) upset that their favorite characters or runs are about to be undone.   Long ago, DC’s World War II characters all but retired as superheroes went out of vogue.  During the 50s and 60s when heroes became popular again, DC didn’t return Alan Scott and Jay Garrett as the stars of books, but instead replaced them with newer versions of the characters that have since become famous, Hal Jordan and Barry Allen.  New concepts and characters soon were developed, like the Legion of Superheroes and the Justice League of America. 

And it didn’t end there.  In the 1980s, DC decided to do their first major reboot.  The “Crisis on Infinite Earths” allowed DC to merge the many different universes they were publishing into one succinct universe, with one history.  Supposedly, this was done to clean up continuity and help stop confusion about the characters.  Barry Allen was retired and replaced by Wally West, as the first sidekick to make it to the big leagues.  The Legion of Superheroes was rebooted, several times over the years, before settling on a major restart after “Zero Hour,” yet another time when DC decided to modernize things.  Just a few short years ago, DC had the “Infinite Crisis” which allowed various other changes to the DCU.  Superman was once again a member of the Legion and soon the classic Legion returned.  Wally was briefly replaced and then returned with children.  Finally, in “Final Crisis,” Barry returned to become the Flash just in time for DC’s second company-wide reboot. 

DC’s history has constantly changed.  Through each of the many reiterations, some parts of the stories have been appreciated, while others were quickly dropped.  Some characters modernize and some are dropped off for a while.  I plan on pointing out a few thoughts I would recommend for the DCU over the next week, but I can’t wait to see what happens.  In the end, I know I will be disappointed with some of it and excited about other parts.  DC has never completely let me down.  I recommend that if you have ever read, planned to read, or thought about reading comics to give it a shot.  It’s going to be a bumpy ride, but it will certainly be fun.

My Five Least Favorite Crossovers

23 Aug

The summer crossover season is almost over for comic books.  It comes and goes and nothing is ever the same.  Or so the big two always claim.  Now this year DC hopes to prove this by changing their entire line-up starting at midnight August 31, and perhaps this will be a big year of change in the industry.  Perhaps a few months or years from now though, everything will be back to “normal.” I am a glutton for big, sprawling crossovers, and although I seldom think they live up to the hype, I really have enjoyed the majority of DC’s big crossovers I have read.  Still, there are those particular few that to this day make me ask what I was thinking buying the books, much less what DC editorial was thinking in publishing them.  So here goes, starting with number five, my least favorite crossovers ever. 

5) Millennium is kind of a cheap answer, as it happened before I read comics, but then so did the original Crisis on Infinite Earths, which I still considered one of the all time greats.  The problem with Millennium is I have never been able to track down the entire core mini-series.  The issues I have found and many of the tie-ins were very weak.  A few of the tie-ins though were quite fun and the notion of sleeper agents hounding DC’s best and brightest was a good concept.  So good in fact, that Marvel recently copied the concept with their Invasion! mini. 

4) Genesis was a crossover in the heyday of my collecting, and I had just come off the high of collecting Final Night, the first regular crossover I intentionally bought as published.  To this day, I still consider Final Night one of the most awesome stories I have ever read.  Needless to say, I was really looking forward to this book.  The story revolved around the nigh infinite Source sending out a wave of energy causing people to gain powers, change powers, etc.  In the background, Darkseid and Ares were secretly manipulating the powers that be.  Sadly, though, the pay-offs were few and far between, and within a short while, everything was back to normal.  Yes, Spark’s powers were changed for a while in the Legion, and Superman was all blue and lit up like a nightlight, but other than that, little changed. 

3) The early 90s had one of the truly abysmal crossovers, but it is an odd one in which I really liked many of the tie-ins, while hating the overall story.  Bloodlines was a direct knockoff of the movie series Aliens.  The critters in this series though would inadvertently bite someone and caused various people to gain super-powers.  I really enjoyed many of the characters who came from these one-shot annuals.  Some of the annuals were done very well. But the core mini-series wrap-up was almost unreadable and the art did not help in the least.  I don’t recommend this for much of anything.  Still, it has to beat…..

2) Last Laugh.  I truly think this should have been Chuck Dixon’s last laugh at DC.  The basic (and only most basic) concept could have been a decent Bat crossover.  The Joker learns he is dying and so he infects various Bat villains with a deritive of his Joker gas and caused human villains to go crazy.  For the Bat books this could have worked.  However, some brilliant person decided to make it a crossover for the line.  For the life of me, I have tried to figure out how the Joker influenced the Specter to go insane for an issue.  The Specter is a spirit, for those who don’t know.  And although, yes, he has a host, the host is dead, and at this time there wasn’t even a body to possess or what not, because Hal Jordan was the Specter and his body was smoldering in the sun, since Final Night.  And yes, this had little, to no impact, outside of the Bat-titles. 

1)      But finally, there is Final Crisis.  It’s one of the most debated crossovers in DCU history.  I guess in theory that could be an accomplishment, but it was just painful to read.  I have reread it several times, hoping it will finally click.  Like several of these stories, it had potential.  Darkseid finally conquers Earth and kills all of the new gods of New Genesis.  Barry Allen returns to fight Darkseid, while Batman and the Martian Manhunter die.  Finally, the entire multiverse is in danger and a legion of Supermen is formed to combat the threat.  

Unfortunately, this went off the rails almost immediately.  While the art was very nice for much of the series, the plot skipped and kept missing key beats.  Entire plot points make no sense unless you read certain tie-ins, which I determined not to buy because I wasn’t sold on the basic storyline in the first place.  But worst yet, the entire last issue was a waste.  The original artist vanished, and while replaced by a capable fill-in, the overall look of the entire series suffers for it.  Also, Superman singing to save the day works much less than when Optimus Prime did the same thing in Transformers twenty years ago.  And the sudden surprise appearance of a giant cosmic space vampire, who was going to devour all of space time, before being defeated by a combination of Green Lanterns and Superman’s sweet dreams?  I truly wish I would pass…..

Well, that’s my thoughts on the matter.  For those who followed my posts on religion also, I have started another blog at jaymzsc2.wordpress.com. Hope you will join the discussion there.  Thanks!

Free Thought and Why It Is Needed at Church

19 Aug

The notion of free thought is essential to Americans.  In the first amendment to the Constitution, we are guaranteed the right to a freedom of religion, speech, assembly, and the press.  What is often glossed over however is the notion that this concept is rooted in a protestant ethic.  The Catholic Church of the Middle Ages had dominated life and thought throughout much of the time period.  When the Protestant Reformation began, one of the leading tenants of the Reformation was that the Bible alone, not a church, was the only guide to how to live.  Thus I find it quite sad that in modern America, many churches do not allow members the right to interpret the Bible themselves.

 I realize that the Bible itself claims it is not up to private interpretation, however humans will misread passages and some passages seem to conflict, although I believe these conflicts can easily be rectified with a little bit of effort.  There are some issues in the Bible that continue to cause people to wonder what path is right.  Churches have established beliefs and there is nothing wrong with that concept.  Still, I believe churches should realize their different members may not agree with every specific belief of a specific church and wish to attend regardless. 

The important concept to church membership should be an agreement on the basics of faith.  The basics of Christian faith have been established for hundreds of years.  The basics deal with the notion that Christ is equal to God, He was a born of a virgin, and lived a perfect and sinless life.  Christians agree that Christ died on the cross and was resurrected on the third day.  He taught His followers for forty days before ascending to the Father and will one day return to rule and reign forever.  These are the essentials. 

Regardless of what a specific church teaches, the Bible is not exactly clear on the notion of eternal security, when the Rapture and Tribulation will take place, whether miracles and tongues have ceased, or if predestination occurs.  Christians have unfortunately argued over these issues instead of peacefully discussed them for hundreds, if not thousands, of years and will continue until the end of the world.  The Bible doesn’t specify which modern translations can be trusted and used in the church.  The Bible doesn’t give a definite day for what should be considered the Lord’s Day in the modern age, which is why although most churches use Sunday, some still follow the Old Testament and worship on Saturday. As Christians, we should all learn to realize we aren’t all right and we aren’t right on everything.  Perhaps, if we did this, the world would send Christians as more loving, instead of sectarian whiners, who like to fuss over everything.

Where has all the humility gone?

15 Aug

I live in a very small town with a typical very small town newspaper.  While reading it, I came across an unusual article about a small town wedding.  Now how it made the news section and wasn’t classified as an op-ed, I will never know.  Still, the point of the article struck me, and not in a good way.  The woman was writing about her plan to go to a wedding in another small town but her fear of upsetting the social norms.  So she studied to make sure she would mind the rules of decorum.  She took great pride in her dress she picked out and in how she conducted herself at the wedding.  The bulk of the article though was focused on insulting the lack of decorum of basically everyone else at the wedding, because they didn’t live up to her expectations.  She then thanked her mom that she wasn’t like any of those savages attending the wedding, but was instead cultured.  That afternoon, I got home and while planning my lesson for the kids at church was overjoyed to discover my lesson was on Jesus’s parable of the two men who went to the temple to pray. 

For those who don’t know, Jesus was really good at telling stories that related to everyday life for just about everyone.  This particular parable probably wouldn’t make many people’s top ten favorite stories, but I have always loved it.  In the story, we have two guys who go to pray one day at the local temple (I would call them gentlemen, but the entire point of the story was that one of the two guys wasn’t exactly genteel).

Fellow A was a Pharisee, a priest of a specific sect of classical Judaism.  What we today would call a “preacher dude” (or I would, but then, I am not “couth” either).  The other fellow was a tax collector, and yes, even back then no one liked the tax collector.  You see way back then, the Romans allowed the tax fellow to take whatever amount of money they wanted from yon-unsuspecting tax payer.  The government got what it desired, and then the collector collected everything else he took. 

The nice religious chap went into the center of the temple and began praying as loudly as possible about how blessed he was that he was a nice guy.  A clean cut guy.  The honest person that everyone is blessed simply by knowing.  He thanked God for making him such a saint and not a low down, dirty sinner like that tax collector praying in the corner of the room. 

Meanwhile, our lowly sinner was praying quietly asking God for forgiveness for taking advantage of people.  He asked that God would forgive him for lying and stealing.  Jesus said he couldn’t even look up to heaven, but bowed his head in shame (true shame mind you, not the type I put on when I am caught doing something I am not supposed to but enjoy anyway). 

And then, Jesus asked the kicker question.  Which guy went home happy and justified?  Now, even the really wise and “oh so godly” Pharisees picked up on the point of this story.  The humble sinner was forgiven by God, while the self-righteous missed the entire point of prayer in the first place. 

My question becomes, how do I miss this so often?  As I read the lesson, I quickly thought of Miss Prim and Proper and how special she (thought she) was, while looking down at the uncouth revelers at the wedding.  Then it hit me that I was looking down my rather large and oafish nose at her, from my place of spiritual one-up-manship.  I must confess, I really enjoyed teaching the lesson on humility to the children, youth, and anyone else who would listen at church.  All the while, I learned (I hope) the lesson myself also.

A Big Whole in the Ongoing Attempt to Diversify Comic Books!!!

11 Aug

A great deal has been made recently about diversity in comic books. A lot has been said online, supporting and opposing the notion. Personally, I feel that it’s being done with the wrong motives, but that is a post for another date. For those who don’t know, the Ultimate Spiderman (an alternate reality Spidey) has been replaced by an African-American Latino mix teen. Meanwhile, Laurence Fishburne will be playing Perry White in the next Superman movie. These could be big deals, but I have noticed a truly disturbing trend in comic books. In case you didn’t notice, married couples are vanishing quicker than print comic book sales are!

It started rather disturbingly actually. Peter Parker and Mary Jane, married for almost twenty years in comic book time, broke it off several years ago. The disturbing part though is why. Long story short for dramatic effect (and to cut down on word count!), Mary Jane decided to make a deal with the devil (or at least his comic book counterpart) and ended the marriage. Also DC killed off one of the highest couples of comic book history in their big crossover, identity Crisis several years ago. Sue Dibny, wife of perennial funny man Elongated Man, was murdered and torched to hide the evidence. Surprisingly, he wasn’t nearly as funny solo, and died in a fight with the devil (or yet another comic book counterpart!). Apparently, the devil doesn’t like marriages.

Now, the DCnU is coming quickly. Clark and Lois are splitting up after fifteen years of married bliss so Superman can be “on his own.” Barry Allen, the long dead Flash who recently returned, and his wife Iris will also be separating. The new writer said it would be so Barry would have to join the dating world and women trouble. And one of my favorite couples, Hawkman and Hawkgirl will be splitting up! Come on, does she get to keep the name in the divorce?! It’s absolutely insane.

This could all make for interesting stories. And as a longtime fan of Superman, I enjoyed seeing him win Lois and loved the old love triangle. Likewise, I can kind of understand Peter and Mary Jane. Let kids see a Spiderman who has girl troubles. But Flash, Hawkman, and Elongated Man were special because of how long their relationships lasted, as married duos! Must every character in comics be single? As a thirty year old married man, I would like some of my superheroes to look like me. If there can be fourteen different bat family people so everyone can have their “own” Batman, where’s the married one?! And when is an author and president of a comic book company going to begin shouting they have married people to prove they are diverse?

The World’s Greatest Dad

8 Aug

Moms are really great. I have known this all of my life and I have an awesome mom. She has always been there for me. But growing up in America, we always hear about the wonder of moms. We teach kids no one loves them quite as much as a mom. Mother’s Day became a national holiday a good deal before Father’s Day for this very reason. Growing up hearing all of this always bothered me, because my dad was the most amazing man I have ever met and I doubt that will ever change. Today is his seventh birthday since he passed away. Looking back, I realize just how lucky I was to know him.

My dad was far from perfect. Much of my early life, he was an alcoholic and drug addict. It wasn’t uncommon for him to come home much later than he was supposed to and it wasn’t unusual for him and mom to split up, sometimes for a day or two and sometimes for a week or two. This all ended by the time I became a teen, but my formative years taught me a lot because of this.

In spite of his shortcomings, he always taught me to treat anyone of respect, regardless of race, gender, etc as long as they acted worthy of respect. My dad also taught me to give everyone the benefit of a doubt. I learned that if it was within my power, I should always offer help to those who needed it. If we passed someone broken down on the side of the road, in the pouring rain, I saw a father who would hop out and fix the problems. If he couldn’t fix the problem, I sat on someone’s lap, so we could give the person or persons a ride to the nearest gas station, phone, or their house. It could be Christmas morning, and often was, and we would get a phone call that someone’s power was out for some reason and we would pack up and he would solve the problem. It was just a part of life, being related to Joe. It was what he did. And it didn’t matter who called. It could be somebody he hadn’t seen in ten years or it could be an ex-brother-in-law. Life revolved around helping others.

Another major part of being my dad’s son was being treated like an adult in conversations, even if I was seven or eight. I have always been inquisitive and while stuck on these crazy jobs, lasting all hours of the day or night, I would want to talk. And he talked. I learned about history, religion, politics, and life right away. No subject was too “adult” for me to learn about. I was probably the only six year old who could tell you all of the conspiracy theories behind JFK’s assassination or the causes and consequences of Vietnam. If that wasn’t enough, he made sure I heard about the major beliefs of every major denomination of church in America, even though we didn’t darken the doors of a church frequently until I was eight or nine, and he didn’t join us until I was almost a teen.

In fact, although he was certain that God had little use for him because of his many failures, he taught me the Bible backwards and forwards before I was ten. He made sure I knew the life story of Jesus and all of the disciples and what they taught. I also knew how the prophets taught the Jewish people and what they condemned and condoned. Most of what I know about the Bible today, I learned before I started school, much less church. To go a step further, I learned how to teach from him. You have not heard a story told right, unless you heard a Bible story from my dad. He was quick, meanwhile, to explain that he knew he wasn’t in the right and one day would have to straighten up or God would straighten him up.

I am glad to say, one day, God did straighten him up. My dad, who gave his life to Jesus as a small child, but who wondered away after experiencing a lot of life like many of us, returned to God with a passion in his fifties. Smoking and drinking gave way to singing in church, with more than a hint of Elvis as his inspiration. Although he continued to pepper his language with “Joe-isms” and let slip more than a few words while teaching Sunday School, he served God more faithfully in the last ten years of his life than many people do in their entire lives. When he passed, the church house was full. I will never forget going into my family doctor a few months afterwards, and having the receptionist at the desk tell me how much she appreciated him.

I don’t listen to a lot of country music and probably never will. But two country songs remind me of him a great deal. Because of his age, I grew up listening to a good deal of Conway Twitty. The song “That’s My Job” always reminds me of him. As a little boy, I frequently woke up with nightmares, and would claim into bed with him and mom. And although I always kicked him while I slept, he never fussed. He did tease me frequently about it though, and occasionally had difficulty explaining a black eye or two at work. The other song serves as a reminder of my goal in life. It’s about a boy whose mom married and his stepdad changed his life. When he finally had a child of his own, he realized if he could be half the dad he didn’t deserve but had gotten, his children would be blessed. I have always felt that way and hope I can measure up.

In closing my rambling thoughts to honor dad, I thought I would share one of the last things he got me and I am sure there was a lesson in there somewhere. For Christmas a year before he died, while I was struggling through college for my degree to teach, he bought me an old woman puppet to be my dream girl. The man had a wicked sense of humor but boy I miss it. And if your dad is still around, and half as good as mine, I completely recommend you send him some thanks for everything.