A look back at some personal experiences and memories, part three

March 10, 2014

By Avi Green

So now we arrive at the third part of this little study of ours on what lurks in the minds of leftists and such (for previous installments, here's part one and part two) and here’s something from January 4, 2001 that since became a prophecy…but who knew it would be so embarrassing?

What's the status on the Watchmen action figures from DC Direct that were announced several months ago? Is this definitely happening? I'm desperate to drop $120 on something I'll break 10 minutes after opening (just like the goggles on my Starman figure).

My understanding is that all Watchmen projects were canceled when Alan Moore disassociated himself from the planned 15-year-anniversary hardback. If anything changes, I'll be sure to post it.

Something did change, and I’ll be the one to concern myself about all that. Since the time this letter was posted, action figures may have been published by DC Direct, but then so have Before Watchmen, a couple of prequels to Moore’s overrated miniseries from 1987, with leftists like J. Michael Stracynski at the helm. I’d read years ago from a few would-be experts on history that the Watchmen was quite a pip. But then, I got to read the official mini proper and wow…I just couldn’t believe how excruciatingly slow it was, and if Moore was trying to make a point, it just collapsed to the earth or vanished altogether by the end. Possibly the leading nadir: it took a negative stance on altruism. Next, please:

Q: 1) What is your take on this CGC stuff? It seems to me like a way to force prices up. I agree with you that a comic is only worth what an individual is willing to pay for it, but I think only one "grading" standard is necessary. The value of a dollar itself changes with time, but only one organization sets this value, so there are not two or three competing gold standards. I guess I just don't like it because it runs up prices on back issues for the collector, but only benefits the investor & CGC. Wizard seems to push the CGC pretty hard, and sometimes when I look at the back half of a Wizard magazine, it seems more like an investing magazine. They even run contests that pit three players against each other to build a "portfolio" of comics. Sheesh ... At least in Toyfare they openly admit that toys are of no use unless you open them up and play with 'em!

2) Oh yeah, I almost forgot! Whatever happened to that magazine that JJJ used to run in Web O' Spidey called NOW? (I hope it wasn't a front for a well-known radical group!) And also what about that blonde reporter that Peter was always getting teamed up with at that mag, named Joy (I think)? I kinda miss that dynamic that she and Pete had. While I appreciate what MJ and Aunt May bring to the comic, I enjoy the social interaction that Mr. Parker has with peers. Personally, I like the Jill Stacy character, but with her being a (Howard) Mackie creation, I hope she isn't swept under the carpet by Mr. Jenkins and Mr. Strackziyesiyglzzz ... MJS that is ...

A: 1) I regret to say that my reaction to CGC is a blind, raging fury. I cannot offer a thoughful analysis. Perhaps cooler heads out there can discuss the matter more rationally, and I welcome their remarks. But I cannot discuss it rationally, for which I apologize. Here's why:

1) CGC slabbing is just one more way for other people to make money off me, and one more impediment to my acquiring the books I want. For example, I need Sgt. Fury & His Howling Commandos #1-3 to complete my collection. They're fairly rare and pricey, since almost nobody collected war comics in the '60s (and cetainly nobody tried to keep them in mint condition). But I probably COULD find decent copies that I could afford -- except they'll probably all be slabbed now, with the price jumping maybe half a decimal point. Bye-bye, Sgt. Fury 1-3. I love those comics, I want to own those comics -- but I won't pay that kind of money for them.

2) Once a book is slabbed, further examination of condition is prohibited. The opportunity for outrageous fraud is thereby created, and will certainly happen.

3) I reject out of hand the words "investment" and "comic books" in the same sentence. It's a grotesque mindset that I have a visceral repugnance to. Comics are meant to be READ, pages to handled, ink to be smelled ... Comics are a form of entertainment and, moreover, a satisfying sensory experience, which can't be enjoyed through several millimeters of plastic. It's just profoundly disgusting that anybody would deliberately set out to ruin one of life's simple pleasures to grub for a few more bucks. Bucks from the pockets of those who truly enjoy comics.

4) WizardWorld.com be damned -- there's no such thing as a "comics portfolio." My own comics collection was characterized by an insurance agent six years ago as "irreplaceable ... uninsurable." Which would be a big deal -- if I ever meant to sell it, which I don't. If you want to invest, try mutual funds. You'll make more money, and you won't be jacking up the price of my funnybooks. I wouldn't give a fig if my banged-up copy of Amazing Spider-Man #28 was worth a million dollars -- it's worth more than that to me. It was the first comic book I ever personally bought, and no amount of money can replace that.

I apologize again for my lack of reasoning in this argument -- I recognize my own lack of objectivity in the matter. I simply cannot abide the unscrupulous weasels who would ruin this hobby for those of us who truly care for it. Again, if others would care to offer their comments, pro or con, I'll be happy to run them without editorial bias.

2) NOW magazine has appeared intermittently through the years -- would you belive it first appeared in Amazing Spider-Man No. 2 (May, 1963)? And that Carol "Warbird" Danvers was once its editor in the pages of Ms. Marvel (1977-79)? I do remember a few panels during the Roy Thomas/Gil Kane days on Amazing Spider-Man where JJJ was lamenting the sorry state of newspaper economics and mentioned having to cancel NOW. It's appeared since then, so I assume it's one of those things that will make an appearance whenever a writer needs it to further the story. Oh, and the reporter you're trying to remember is Joy Mercado, and the writer you're trying to spell is J. Michael Straczynski.

Gee, all that from a guy who’s been pretty tolerant of the speculator market since, and hasn’t written a meaty critique in the newspapers of any publisher for relying on cruddy stunts like variant covers. Makes me wonder as usual why he had such a problem with Wizard when they were spewing their junk.

And speaking of paper economy, it’s one thing for JJJ to lament that, but another for Mr. Smith to ignore and fail to lament the dishonesty of many left-wing journalists and how they’ve brought journalism to ruin. Funny why he’d read any story with JJJ and Bethany Snow if that’s how he feels, because they can and do reflect people with minds like his, and he probably knows it.

And now, January 12, 2001:

Q: Was cartoon-turned-comic-book-character Harley Quinn based on a supporting actress role in The Flash TV series episode which ran in the early 1990s? Mark Hammill played the Trickster beautifully, and on his return engagement the writers gave him a sidekick he didn't really want. That character defined a neo-Harley too closely to be ignored as coincidence.

A: Here's what Dini said in a 1999 interview with Newsarama's Matt Brady:

<<Harley's origins trace back to the early days of Batman: The Animated Series when Paul Dini had actually left Warner Brothers for a time, and was working on Batman scripts as a freelancer.

<<"One of the scripts I was writing was a Joker story and I wanted him to have a gang that he worked with," Dini says. "I figured there should be a couple of 'Yeah, boss' henchman types, and there should be a girl. Originally, I was thinking maybe she should be a girl thug in a leather jacket, just another order taker."

Thankfully for Harley fans, Dini kept thinking about the character. The 'girl thug' wasn't working for Dini, so he considered adding a Warner Brothers' animation mainstay to the character -- humor. An animated legend was born and debuted as The Joker's sidekick/girl Friday in the episode titled "Joker's Favor."

"Until then, you'd never seen The Joker in a relationship where a girl is trying to one-up him," Dini says. "I wanted to see what that would be like, so I started experimenting with this clown girl in some episodes. She would be funny and say innocent things that would be funnier than what The Joker was saying, and he'd get (upset) at her for saying them. The minute that happened I got a spark, and Harley started exhibiting more of a crush on The Joker. Then I started thinking, 'What if she knew him before?' What if she was The Joker's doctor, and he did this sort of weird mind twist on her, so she ended up as a criminal groupie of his?'">>

Doesn't sound like he had anybody in mind, either DC's old Harlequin characters (there have been at least three) or that character in The Flash you mention.

I’m going to use this address how Paul deMeo and Danny Bilson’s take on the Scarlet Speedster may have spelled doom for the vision back in the comics long before. As I’d noted earlier, it’s apparent they borrowed too heavily from the Batman movie by Tim Burton, using a vision that doesn’t belong in the Flash, no matter how straightforward and serious it should be written.

The TV character they’re alluding to, by the way, was named Prank, and appeared as a Trickster sidekick in the series finale, but honestly, with the pretentious structure that Flash TV show had, I don’t see the point in bothering. Let’s now turn to January 18, 2001:

Q: I have some more Q&A for ya Cap. (Why does that sound dirty?)

1) I am a big fan of Stephen King and can see many comic influences in his writing. Firestarter, for example, can be seen as a story about mutants, Marvel-type mutants that is. And I have read him make various reference to Batman in some of his stories. However, I noticed that in some stories such as the Dark Half, he places a character as coming from or going to the nuthouse in Arkham. Is this a reference to Gotham's Arkham Asylum?

2) Kind of late for this complaint, but I was completely turned off my DC's recent "Planet DC" annual series. What was the point? To introduce new heroes from around the world? Haven't they ever heard of the Global Guardians? Does anyone at DC actually bother to read DC? I am all for replacing lame characters like the Guardians, but not with characters who are just as lame.

A: 1) "Arkham" as a synonym for horror precedes both DC and Stephen King's use of it. It's an actual town in Massachusetts, founded in the 17th century and the setting for a number of horror stories by pulp fiction writer H. P. Lovecraft. It's the home of Arkham Publishing (founded 1934, specializing in horror books) and Miskatonic University (founded 1690, and headquarters of the Campus Crusade for Cthulhu).

2) I've read that "Bloodlines" -- another company crossover that produced a bunch of worthless characters -- was the result of orders from On High at DC to create a whole bunch of new characters and immediately launch them into new series. Supposedly the top editors said that gang-creation of characters never works and that none of them would pan out, but were overruled. And, sure enough, characters like Anime, Gunfire, Argus and the like were dutifully created, given their own series -- and canceled. Perhaps a similar event occurred with "Planet DC."

Funny why he complains about worthless crossovers like Bloodlines yet when the latest comes out, he has no objections to raise, no matter how obvious the poor quality is by now.

As for King, whatever influences he got from comics, he sure didn’t use them well. Firestarter was pretty lame, though maybe not as much as King’s own leftism. Now, here comes an interesting bit from February 1, 2001:

Q: I was wondering ...
1) What are your thoughts on all of the DC Direct products that have come out (action figures, dolls, etc.). Have you purchased anything? Do you know anything about the selection process?
2) What's your take on Hourman, new and old?

A: 1) I think the DC Direct stuff is terrific! I've bought nearly all of it, with the exception of the stuff I can't afford (those wonderful JLA and JSA bookends, the statues, some of the action-figure display collections). I was delighted back in the '70s when the old Super Powers action-figure series started doing some of the lesser-known characters that I love so well, like Martian Manhunter, Dr. Fate and Captain Marvel -- but distribution was so spotty that I missed both the Fate and CM action figures. Oh, the agony of defeat! Now DC Direct is picking up the slack and I couldn't be happier. (A Krypto plush toy! A Hal Jordan Beanie Baby! Oh, the indescribable fanboy thrill of victory!)

Of course, this may be the thoughts of an unrepentant Silver Ager. When I bought Showcase #55 in 1965 (Dr. Fate and Hourman!), I desperately wanted a Dr. Fate action figure (that looked like Murphy Anderson drew him), but was just smart enough to know that such a thing was beyond possibility. And, now, a mere 36 years later, I'm the proud owner of a DC Direct Dr. Fate (with an Hourman PVC thrown in for good measure)!

As to what the selection process is, DC's Patty Jeres said,"It's really simple brainstorming among DC Direct, Design Director Georg Brewer, Editorial and Sales & Marketing. We also get input from retailers and fans and take their enthusiasm into account."

2) Hourman the android: Hated the concept, loved the execution. I groaned inwardly when the new Hourman was announced, because A) the robot-trying-to-find-its-humanity bit had been done to death, everywhere from Red Tornado to Commander Data, and B) omniscient (he's from the future) and omnipowerful (he controls time) characters are pretty darn hard to write well. I fully expected to see the Hal Jordan Syndrome, where Hourman's one "weakness" popped up with alarmingly regularity, or ludicrous circumstance would rob him of his ability to end the story on page two, or Hourman himself would choose to eschew his powers in favor of a lopsided fistfight.

Imagine my surprise when Tom Peyer and Rags Morales delivered an inventive, funny and touching series about a child-man in search of love and family. As I've mentioned on this site before, I realized that Peyer was underrated when he somehow managed to make me like Snapper Carr. (I realized the same thing about Peter David when he managed to make Rick Jones interesting in Incredible Hulk.) Apparently others noticed as well, since Peyer has been tapped to write a four-issue arc in the immensely popular The Authority.

As to the old Hourman, I thought he had a terrific costume (despite wearing a Holiday Inn towel as a cape), and -- while he was a cipher in All Star Comics -- his appearances in Sandman Mystery Theatre were nothing short of mesmerizing. Matt Wagner painted Rex Tyler as an adrenaline (and Miraclo) junkie, who got off more on exercising his abilities (some of which might have been in his head) than in fighting crime. The Sandman felt uncomfortable around the unpredictable and erratic Hourman, for obvious reasons.

But, of course, being a junkie, he had to go. A shame, but I understand that DC doesn't want to make a hero of a guy who does drugs and beats people up.

I don’t think DC Direct is terrific, because I don’t see how merchandise based on comics like toy action figures is any substitute for the stories back in the medium proper. Merchandise – licensed or otherwise -  has only destroyed comics as the people in charge today only care about what spinoff products they can adapt from the comics, and not the comics themselves.

As for Hourman, I don’t see what his problem is with robots looking to learn about life. Though it’s worth noting that after Rags Morales drew Identity Crisis, I have no respect for that awful man. He’s been going out of his way to uphold leftism, marxism, among other awful ideologies, and it’s gotten to the point where I want nothing to do with him. His work on Hawkman as an artist was nothing to crow over either. In retrospect, it was wooden and downright uninspired.

And turning Rex Tyler into a drug addict?!? Even if that wasn’t in continuity per se, I still think that’s disgusting stuff. I'm alarmed DC would ever greenlight such an idea, and then do nothing to reverse it. And his response to this letter falls flat:

Q: What are your thoughts on Warren Ellis's latest screed, regarding pre-ordering the comics you buy, posted at:
http://www.OrderingComics.com
I've been practicing something like this for a couple of years now, combing the online editions of Previews found here:
http://www.silverbulletcomicbooks.com/
http://www.comicbookresources.com/resources/previews/
The above are text-only, an illustrated subset is at the retail site for Westfield Comics, a fine retailer with an equally fine online component:
http://www.westfieldcompany.com/
Going through the catalogs, and using the resources of the net -- combing the various news sources (such as your site!) as well as various discussion forums -- helps me with my pre-ordering.

Pre-ordering is also useful for setting a budget while still remaining flexible to experiment with new material, not to mention ensuring you get what you want. Note that this is not the same as having a "subscription" or "pull list" -- I think that Ellis is advocating actively evaluating your purchases every month -- again, something I do. I order a small core set of books, very few ongoing series, and experiment with new material mostly by buying trade paperbacks, and often have orders ready before the print Previews hits my local shop.

A: I generally find Ellis's screeds, as you phrase it, personally troubling, as I find it difficult to screen out the obvious self-promotion in all of his rants. Despite my ethical problems with that, I have to accept it intellectually -- if he wasn't getting something out of it he wouldn't do it, and we'd miss some good (or at least interesting) information. So I do read them.

Anyway, I also do quite a bit of pre-ordering -- I've been ordering from Westfield for nigh onto 15 years now for the hard-to-get or badly-distributed "oddball" books. But I get my "mainstream" books from my local dealer, to help him stay in business.

The problem with pre-ordering is that you have to know three months in advance what you want -- and even though we have Previews as a guide, that's not quite the same as leafing through the first issue of something and deciding if you want to give it a try. I err on the side of caution in pre-ordering (for my budget's sake), which means I often pick up on a popular series after having missed pre-ordering the first two or three issues. I can usually play catch-up, but not always -- particularly in the case of something that had an initial low print run that sold out fast (I'm still missing Powers #2, for example, and Preacher #1).

But it is true that indies live or die on pre-orders from retailers, so if you want Strangers in Paradise or Stray Bullets or 7 Guys of Justice to stay in business, then you ought to put in your order with your local retailer or online when Previews comes out.

I’m skeptical he really thinks Ellis’s screeds are worrisome, given that he was actually rather favorable to some leftist/communist screeds, and that even includes the Smurfs. You’d think he finds the tone of Ellis’s work aggravating, but then, there’s various other leftist writers whose work could be just as bad/possibly worse, and if he doesn’t have a problem with them, then it’s pretty laughable he’d ever have a cow with Ellis. Nor am I fooled by his alleged fondness for Keith Giffen’s Justice League International, February 8, 2001:

Q: Okay, I now have everything I know written by Giffen about the Justice League or any of its characters (unless I'm missing something, which is entirly possible as yesterday I bought a small stack of Justice League Quarterlies -- forgot about them) anyways, I have a few questions about the Justice League International days and Giffen himself ...
1) First of all, how did he get such a plum job? What did Giffen write before the JLI that got him such a premier job? Or had the Detroit days ruined (JLA) so much that it wasn't such a good job to get? Was it the equivalent of writing say, a four-issue Darkhawk mini?
2) Is all of that in continuity? Power Girl's cat, Kooey Kooey Kooey and the piranha penguins? I mean, I noticed the penguins several times in various JLA issues where they went to the trophy room but I just wonder how much is in continuity.
3) This is the obscrue one I think: What was the Conglomerate, the group that Booster Gold joined halfway through the series run? I haven't heard or seen anything about them since ...
4) (Told you I had a lot) What has Giffen done since? That's a short question, but maybe a long answer?
5) What is the general fanboy reaction to that series? Is it largly ignored? Do people like it? Or even remember it? It's hard to judge ...
I hope you can answer at least some of these questions, thanks.

A: That IS a lot of questions! Here are the short answers:
1) Giffen was highly regarded as a fresh new voice when he got the Justice League gig. I won't pretend to know the particulars, but he had a lot of heat attached to his name at the time, and DC was looking to rejuvenate the franchise in a dramatic fashion. It was, to draw a modern comparison, the moral equivalent of hiring Grant Morrison to write X-Men. Giffen had written/drawn some peculiar stuff at DC that was receiving tremendous fan interest (Ambush Bug, for example). DC didn't understand it, but they knew they had a pistol on their hands.
2) Yes and no. Kooey Kooey Kooey was mentioned recently as the scene of some disaster or other as an in-joke, and certainly the thematic elements of the Giffen/Dematteis JLA continue -- Beetle's weight problems, Booster & Beetle's long association as friends/comedy team, J'onn J'onzz's addiction to "Chocos." But, as with all things DC, the details are only true if they've been mentioned lately.
3) The Conglomerate was Booster's own superhero team, whose essential purpose was to make him money. I haven't heard of them lately. And, as I just alluded to, at DC things only exist if they've been mentioned lately.
4) Lots of stuff. Highlights include: Legion of Super-Heroes (the infamous "Five Years Later" series with Tom & Mary Bierbaum), Trencher for Image, Vext for DC. His star seems to have fallen of late.
5) Well, I can't speak for all fans, but the reaction on my site has been, in general, warm affection. Of course, many of those who read it the first time around seem to think of it like a childhood teddy bear: "Gee, I sure remember it fondly, but I don't want anybody to see me with it."
Many of these answers are from my general impressions at the time, so if others have harder facts, they're welcome to let us know.

Once again, I really doubt he has much affection for Giffen’s run if he later put up with DC’s antics in Final Crisis, which saw Ted Kord, the Blue Beetle of that era, being wiped out. And he and another correspondent aren’t being very respectful with the following:

Q: Lex Luthor's presidency brings to mind a question related to politics: Can Clark Kent legally vote in elections?

Most of the world realizes Superman is an alien, and probably wouldn't expect him to cast a vote anyway. Additionally, the home address of the Superman persona is in some icy spot outside the United States, right? So much for registration.

But Clark has been living a lie since Ma and Pa Kent found him in the crashed spacecraft. Did they go through a formal lost-and-found adoption process? I don't know; I'm not very well versed in Super-history. But it's pretty clear he wasn't born in the country. When would he become a citizen?

I'm a little concerned that Clark has been living a legal lie for his entire life. It makes me wonder how such a morally responsible, ethical guy would fix that problem.

A: When John Byrne re-launched Superman in the Man of Steel miniseries (1986), he took great pains to establish that li'l Kal-El wasn't born on Krypton, but was instead in some sort of embryonic stage when his "birthing matrix" landed on the Kent farm. So, according to current DC continuity, Superman was actually born right here on Earth -- and in the USA, no less.

As coincidence (and Byrne) would have it, the Kents found the baby just before a massive snowstorm snowed them in for many months -- allowing them to pretend that Martha had given birth to Clark naturally. Clark Kent is thought to be the natural-born son of Martha and Jonathan Kent, and is legally a citizen of the United States.
So, yeah, he can legally vote, or even run for president -- except that, as you note, the premise behind Clark's citizenship is a lie. He was informally adopted, not born to the Kents as they claim. That's really not as unusual as it sounds -- according to Baby Wars (by Robin Baker and Elizabeth Oram, Harper Collins, 1998) "about 10 percent of children (in the U.S. and Britain) are not sired by their supposed fathers." On the other hand, Clark's citizenship is manifestly a lie -- and that's not something you expect from the Big Blue Boy Scout.

Ah, well. I guess you have to accept some conventions to have the story work.

Yawn. Sounds to me like something somebody who supports the 2011 story where Superman gave up his US citizenship after going to Iran and not taking any action to defeat the Islamofascist dictatorship running the country would say. Considering he was a refugee from a dying planet, and that this is a science-fiction tale, does it matter whether he’s a citizen or not? What else were the Kents supposed to do? Even a superpowered infant couldn’t just be left without some kind of backing.

And gee, if Superman’s living a lie about being a citizen, then I guess Clark Kent must be living a lie when he keeps his costumed identity a secret from Lois Lane and anybody else who doesn’t know he’s the Man of Steel, and doubly so when he tries to make cover stories of his whereabouts after they notice Clark's missing. Not something you’d expect from him either, eh? What a baboon Mr. Smith is. I also gotta take issue with the following from February 15, 2001:

Q: I left comics for a while, but I always enjoyed The Punisher. (I know you're not a fan of the violent types, but I was born in 1981 and really wasn't privy to the "send them to jail" age). I stumbled across your site and read some stuff about him killing Nick Fury, and I think I remember a friend telling me about him killing his sidekick-type guy (Microchip, right?) and I distinctly remember seeing a pic somewhere of him in the electric chair. Could you give me a quick overview of what happened? Are they still producing Punisher comics?

A: I don't dislike violent types, [withheld] -- I like them fine as protagonists, but don't think characters like The Punisher should be treated as heroes. The current ongoing Marvel Knights series handles the character more to my taste, in which the group led by Daredevil are actually pursuing The Punisher as a criminal -- which is how superheroes and the law would rightly view him. It just doesn't make any sense to me for someone as squeaky-clean as Spider-Man to "team up" with Frank Castle, a known mass murderer. (Yeah, he murders criminals, but in the eyes of the law it's still murder.) In the proper context I have a ball with The Punisher, as I am with Marvel Knights.

And speaking of current Punisher comics, he also just wrapped up a terrific 12-issue maxiseries by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon. It was violent as all get-out, and I enjoyed it immensely. Best of all, sales were good enough that an ongoing title is in the works. If you can't find the back issues of The Punisher (fifth series) #1-12, then wait for the inevitable trade paperback -- The Captain highly recommends it.

In regard to your questions, Linus "Microchip" Lieberman thought Frank had gone 'round the bend, and tried to lock him up and replace him in the last few issues of Punisher War Journal. Frank escaped, and was on the verge of shooting Microchip in the back of the head when interrupted by rogue SHIELD Agent Sudden Death, who blew Microchip up (in Punisher War Journal #79, Jun 95). Looking at his lifeless body, Frank thinks "I'll never know if I would have capped him." My guess is he probably would have.

He did "cap" Nick Fury, in Double Edge: Omega (Oct 95), and was tried and executed for it (the electric chair cover you remember is probably from The Punisher #1, third series, Nov 95). Needless to say, he didn't really get electrocuted, as a Mob family managed to fake it and rescue him to become their new Godfather. No, really. And Fury survived, of course -- Frank actually shot an LMD (Life Model Decoy) so sophisticated that it fooled forensic scientists, an autopsy and Wolverine's sense of smell. No, really. But Fury really was considered dead for quite a while, and even had a funeral in Incredible Hulk #434 (Oct 95). His survival wasn't explained until Fury/Agent 13 #2 (Jul 98).

Obviously, he’s not a fan of Charles Bronson’s notable role in Death Wish from 1974. But if vigilantes like the Punisher aren’t heroes, what does he think the murderous criminals he’s wiped out are? And don’t they deserve to be punished for their horrific crimes? Getting rid of scummy criminals is nothing great, and maybe it shouldn’t be celebrated either, but if the Punisher doesn’t do something about them, who will?

This is the trouble with liberals. They’re so concerned about how we deal with violent criminals that they fail to ponder what the criminals themselves have done. I wouldn’t be surprised if he has the same thoughts about Wolverine. Does he still feel this way years after 9-11 and the case of Nidal Hasan at Fort Hood?

And it's just like him to recommend the work of a charlatan like Ennis, rather than the work of somebody with better talent like Mike Baron, Carl Potts or Chuck Dixon, whose work on the Punisher had been paperbacked at one time, but has since largely gone out of print, apparently because the modern managements at Marvel decided to blacklist them simply because of their conservative politics. Not that they'd ever admit it though, but it's been pretty obvious for a while.

Now, here’s part of a letter about the Ultimate Marvel line:

How do you feel about the Ultimate Marvel team-up book? Personally, I think it hurts the concept of the “Ultimate” universe. One of the joys of Ultimate Spider Man has been the perception that Peter Parker is unique -- he is the only superhero in his "world," so he does not have others’ histories and actions to learn from (of course, in Ultimate Spider-Man #6, he refers to Captain America -- so much for my theory!). If they want to make it a shared universe, that is fine, but then we should have learned of the Sentinels and anti-mutant hysteria in New York at the beginning of Ultimate Spider-Man. I also feel that introducing characters through the team-ups is contrary to their method of introducing characters slowly. It took five issues for Peter Parker to become a super-hero. We had to wait five months to watch him evolve, and that pacing was one of the most enjoyable aspects of the series. When the Hulk is introduced in Ultimate Marvel #2 we will probably get five PAGES dedicated to his origin, then it will be “on to business.” Your thoughts?

I see your point about the Ultimate Spider-Man losing something when the webspinner ceases to be unique in his world, but at the same time the Ultimate line is supposed to free us of continuity concerns, so I'm trying to keep an open mind.

It might free us of continuity concerns, but not of poor storytelling. Besides, after all these years, we can see how the Ultimate line is now little different in some ways than the 616 universe as far as continuity is concerned. And now that Brian Bendis rubbed out the Ultimate Peter Parker and replaced him with a mixed race protagonist named Miles Morales – all for the sake of “diversity” – I’d say it’s become pretty irrelevant. Next up, his responses to this:

1) I never got to read (the) issue when a black man asked Green Lantern (why) he had saved many a people of varying skin pigmentations -- except black people. Can you tell me what it was about and your opinion of the tale?

2) What is your opinion on the return of Hal Jordan as The Spectre and Oliver Queen as Green Arrow?

3) Do you think that the Black Canary has changed over the years?

1) The scene you're referring to is from the classic Green Lantern #76 (second series, Apr 70), the first to feature the award-winning work of Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams, and the first to team the Emerald Gladiator and Green Arrow outside of the Justice League. (The previous issue of Green Lantern was by John Broome and Gil Kane; the shift to the O'Neil/Adams version was a quantum one that astonished readers at the time.) In it, Green Lantern and Green Arrow get into an argument about a slumlord; the left-wing Arrow sees the rioting tenants as within their rights to protest bad treatment, while the more conservative Lantern sees the slumlord as the aggrieved property-owner under assault. Lantern's eyes are opened to the slumlord's many evils, and is shamed when an elderly black man says to Green Lantern:
"I been readin' about you ... how you work for the blue skins ...and how on a planet someplace you helped out the orange skins ... and you done considerable for the purple skins! Only there's skins you never bothered with ... the black skins! I want to know ... how come? Answer me that, Mr. Green Lantern!"

To which a hangdog Hal Jordan responds, "I ... can't."

The tale goes on to sniff out for the real culprit in the problem (rich white guys), establish the GL/GA team, force the Guardians to give GL a leave of absence (and appoint one of their own, Alli Apsa, as an Oan representative on Earth) and launch Hal & Ollie (and later Black Canary) on a trip across the US to "search for America."
What did I think of it? Well, it was darn powerful storytelling. Even though GL/GA veered pretty hard left (the left-wing Arrow was usually shown to be correct, and the right-wing Jordan to be naive), I still found the issues it raised to be compelling. It was passionate (albeit strident) writing and gorgeous artwork -- I was mesmerized by each and every issue at the tender age of 12. And lest anyone suggest that GL/GA transformed the young Captain into a left-wing radical, I have to note for the record that it had the opposite effect -- my sympathies were with the reasonable, rational Hal Jordan, whose heart was in the right place but whose Leave it to Beaver worldview was turned upside down by the fire-breathing (and mostly unlikeable) radical, knee-jerk anarchist Ollie Queen. (See my excoriation of Oliver Queen in my Sneak Preview of Green Arrow #1.) I have arrived at my current political philosophy (fiscally conservative, socially liberal, morally pragmatic) through other life experiences besides comic books.

2) I'm of mixed sentiment about the return of Ollie Queen and Hal Jordan.

In general, my answer is this: As an inveterate fanboy, I'm glad to see two characters I grew up with returned to the four-color page in any form. As a critic and writer, though, I find their return reduces the verisimilitude of the comic-book world -- where three high-profile members of the Justice League (Flash, Green Lantern and Green Arrow) have been shown to fall in combat in their very dangerous lives. That latter point, from a writer's point of view, is very cool and raises the bar for other characters.
More specifically: I dislike Hal Jordan's return as The Spectre, as the selection of a lunatic mass murderer as an agent of God seems to be a contradiction in terms done primarily to appease fanboy anger, and I dislike Ollie Queen's return as Green Arrow because I'm more interested in Connor Hawke and I like Black Canary's newly-found independence in Birds of Prey. (I felt she was badly served in the old Green Arrow title -- he was a womanizing control freak, and her continued deference to his bad behavior spoke poorly for her and served as a bad role model for real women in the real world, where, sadly, such misplaced loyalty/dependence is a commonplace tragedy. Again, see my Sneak Preview on Green Arrow #1.) On the other hand, both scenarios are wild with story possibilities, and if those possibilities are explored it could result in some explosively good comics. If The Spectre and Green Arrow are written in a conservative, reverential manner to re-establish their old heroic status quo -- as seems probable -- then it will be a Very Bad Thing. If those two titles are pursued with the obvious and pregnant results of those characters' previous actions, then it will be a Very Good Thing.

3) Has Black Canary changed? Good lord, yes!

Her original presentation in the '40s was some imagined, Hollywood-esque idea of a woman crimefighter -- she talked the Rosalind Russell tough talk, but always needed a man (Larry Lance) to help her out of the tough spots. And she got tied up a lot by the bad guys, but never sexually molested. (Fat chance.) And, of course, the biker-hooker ensemble was an obvious tip-off as to what the editors imagined her appeal to be -- it certainly wasn't very practical for physical action (not just the barely-there bodice containing her impressive bosom, but also those danged high heels).

In the '60s, she was resurrected in Justice League of America by the aging Gardner Fox as a standard superheroine of the '50s -- not very visible, not very useful. She was re-invented by the Young Turks in the late '60s (mainly Denny O'Neil) as a "modern" woman, but she was still ridiculously deferential to male heroes (in one JLA scene I remember vividly, Green Arrow yanked her by the arm roughly out of a harmless conversation with another man because "You're MY chick" and BC took her medicine like a good girl). Oh, and her primary role was to serve as love interest to Green Arrow (and for a few issues of Justice League, Batman!).

By the time of the Mike Grell Green Arrow series, she was indeed much more modern, mouthing off to Ollie and going on adventures on her own. But she still served as more story element and motivation for Ollie (Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters) than three-dimensional character. And, as noted above, Green Arrow's caveman treatment of her went without comment, completely accepted by all characters, including other women characters, the Big Blue Boy Scout, and -- to my great disappointment -- Batman.

Now, in the '90s, she has finally achieved three dimensions. She is depicted in Birds of Prey as an uninhibited, confident, aggressive woman -- qualities that would be necessary and expected for a woman in her line of work. She launches on her own cases with boldness, confidence and zeal, and finally lives up to the Rosalind Russell dialogue. She is sexually confident and realized -- sexuality being an aspect of characterization that I have pontificated on this site about before. She fondly reminisces about her relationship with Green Arrow, but recognizes that it was mostly negative and repressive to her personally. That's very human, very realistic -- who hasn't plugged away irrationally at a doomed, self-destructive "romance"? And she is shown to be developing relationships with others outside her role as token female for the Justice League/Society -- particularly with other women, like Oracle and Catwoman. In short, she's become a real character with a distinct personality, and I'm enjoying her (and Oracle) immensely in Birds of Prey.

Is he enjoying how Dan DiDio’s staff took all that apart ever since? More on that later. For now, let’s just say that, with his embrace of junk like Identity Crisis and even socialist propaganda, his claim he wasn’t turned into a leftist radical is dubious. He may not have become one when he was 12 or so, but he sure has become one since. Worst, I doubt he learned any real lessons from O’Neil’s tales that reflected the times: has he ever written an op-ed arguing that modern comics writers could come up with stories where the superheroes try to help free slaves of the Islamofascists in Sudan? He even hints he doesn’t like the “naive” characterization given Hal. Personally, I’m not particularly bothered by it, since from what I could tell, Hal was never explicitly described as “right-wing” (or Ollie as “left-wing”), so I do believe the whole perception is in the eyes of the beholder. That doesn't mean I think Hal should have been depicted that way, but Mr. Smith is certainly not qualified to make the argument.

And while I’m not impressed with the idea of turning Hal Jordan into the Spectre, I will say that it was bad even before then that they’d turn Hal into a savage in Emerald Twilight. What good is complaining if he can’t say they should reverse the harm from that? The sad part being that even after that was done, they still didn’t do a very convincing job in exonerating Hal of even so much as being possessed by a yellow-colored alien entity who was Parallax according to Geoff Johns. And to make matters worse, they had to tie it all in with Identity Crisis. Not that it mattered to people like him. What care do they really have for minor characters? Nor does Mr. Smith have much affection for some of the best tales starring the younger generation, as seen on March 15, 2001:

Q: I'm wondering what the good Captain thinks of DC's Young Justice. It's currently my favorite series and I know you read it because it gets a box on your checklist each month. I think it's a fun, smart read which is what I expect from writer Peter David. Plus he keeps the angst to a minimum. I also enjoy Todd Nauck's artwork which is kind of "manga-lite" and complements the youthful tone of the book. As for the concept -- the team of superhero sidekicks -- sure the Titans have been there and done that, but the YJ crew seems to be more about wacky adventures than high-school soap opera. And the way Arrowette has left the team but not the spotlight of the book is kind of a nice touch I haven't seen since Cyclops left the X-Men but kept getting dragged back into the team.

So what do you think of the book?

A: It's one of my top 20, Jay!

As you noted, it has actual wit to it -- as do all of Peter David's books, especially the outstanding Captain Marvel. Further, the kids actually act and talk like kids, and not like what some cranky old writer thinks kids are like or wants kids to be like, or like very short adults.

Those latter complaints, alas, are what has plagued YJ's "older brother", The Titans. There are a great many Teen Titans fans, largely born of the excellent '80s Wolfman/Perez series, but outside of that golden era (and the lush artwork of Nick Cardy in its earliest incarnation), I have had a hard time finding much to interest me in Teen Titans, New Teen Titans, Team Titans or Titans. I don't say that merely to incense Titans fans, but to note the difference between the two. Young Justice, in my opinion, has found the unique voice and the reason to exist that the older series never has. To this day, the only reason I crack open Titans is a misplaced sense of nostalgia. YJ,on the other hand, I eagerly look forward to.

Well maybe I can understand if he’s got a problem with Team Titans, since that was published at a time when DC quality was on the wane, but his apparent disdain for the older stuff by Bob Haney, Bob Rozakis and Marv Wolfman makes me shake my head. What’s his problem? I’m not saying they were perfect in every way, but they did have plenty of enjoyable moments, and there was what to make one think.

Now, here’s his response to a letter I wrote:

Q: Dear Cap: With the X-Men omissions of some of the characters, as well as those in some other comics from both Marvel and DC, I also have to wonder, do any villains stay dead permanently?

I thought about this after writing a letter to Michael Sangiacomo at the Cleveland Plain Dealer a month or so ago, about deaths in comics, and he said in a reply that villains tend to stay dead more often. However, I’m not sure if he got that correct. For even in the Marvel Universe, there are more than plenty of villains who’ve remained very much alive. Sure, there are some who’ve died, but many others, most notably Doctor Doom, are still alive. And, as [name withheld] accurately said a few weeks ago, they don’t die because we, the audience, don’t want them to.

And last month, I read the 38th issue of Captain America, in which he was chasing after Protocide, and at the end, we supposedly see that the latter fall along with the enemy helicopter into a pit where it explodes. But then, in the last two panels, we see a hitchhiker getting a ride with a trucker (“anywhere, so long as it’s far away”), and under the hiker’s coat, we see Protocide’s shield. So as we can see, it looks like contrary to what Captain America thought, the villain survived.

So of course, do villains stay dead that often? It’s hard to say.

A few years ago, I read in a British computer magazine, in a report on a 3-D Spider-Man computer game, that Doctor Octopus had died some time ago, and had been replaced by a character with similar powers. If so, then there’s certainly a case of a villain who bit the bullet, if not necessarily for good. And, as I read in the recent Q&A section, Galactus also went down. As for Mysterio, you’re right, there no telling if he’s gone for good.

But there are still many, many other villians in the Marvel and even DC universes who aren’t going to be killed off, because of how much the audience enjoys them. And among those unlikely to be killed off could also include Thor’s enemies, such as The Destroyer. Well, okay, I know, there are some ways of course to do in a character like The Destroyer, but nevertheless, he’s among many Dark Gods in Thor’s world who’re unlikely to be killed off so easily.

A: Frankly, neither heroes nor villains seem to stay dead in comics these days, Avi. If I were to make an argument, though, I'd say it's the good guys who stay planted the most. Not only are "good" bad guys hard to dream up and valuable to writers, but the dramatic death of a good guy often serves as the motivation for other good guys. Characters who fit that description that leap to mind are Spidey's Uncle Ben, Captain America's Bucky and Batman's parents. I sincerely doubt you'll see any of those characters resurrected. You've also got the Green Lantern Corps and the entire planet of Krypton who've shuffled off this mortal coil (current events in Superman titles notwithstanding).

There are also a great many superheroes who've not only died but been replaced by more popular characters, thus ensuring their continued demise. Those would include most of the original JSA (Hourman, Dr. Mid-Nite, Mr. Terrific, Sandman, Black Canary, Starman, Dr. Fate, Star-Spangled Kid), Magik of the X-books, Blue Beetle I, all the Green Lanterns save the current one (and survivors Alan Scott and John Stewart), etc. Then there are heroes who were so badly conceived that killing them off was a mercy (Red Bee, Neon the Unknown, Magno). In fact, I could probably spend the rest of the night listing dead superheroes who are unlikely to return. (Colossus, anyone?)
Then you have the many girlfriends of heroes who've bitten the bullet, and who are also pretty permanently dead. Off the top of my head, I can think of Alex What's-her-name (Green Lantern), Lady Dorma (Sub-Mariner), Marrina (Sub-Mariner again), Karen Page (Daredevil), Gwen Stacy (Spider-Man), Heather Glenn (Daredevil again), Kathy Kane (Batman), Katma Tui (Green Lantern), etc., etc., etc.

On the villainous side, there are a few who I don't expect to return, like Sinestro (what's the point with the GLC gone?) and the X-Men's Pyro (part of the climax to a larger storyline). There are quite a few others, but off the top of my head the list seems much shorter than the list of dead heroes. Dr. Octopus did return, and I expect Galactus will, too. As much as I'd rather not disagree with my esteemed colleague, Mr. Sangiacomo, the fact is that villains are just easier to resurrect than heroes -- less backstory to deal with -- and writers have a vested interest in doing so. Who wants to dream up a new bad guy every single issue? Not when you can have the Red Skull return for the zillionth time and have Captain America dramatically stammer, "But-but you're DEAD! I SAW you DIE!"

But Sinestro has since been resurrected, and in a way that doesn’t jibe well with the finale of the 2nd volume from 1988 (it probably owes more than a bit to the wretched Emerald Twilight tale by Ron Marz from 1994), and while the return of the GL Corps in itself is welcome, the way Geoff Johns has performed this revival is most certainly not. Also because, if there’s any GLC member who hasn’t returned…it’s Katma Tui. How come, of all the recurring cast members Johns wanted thought should have their fates reversed, she wasn't among them?

Mr. Smith's defense that villains are easier to revive is a laugh riot; it’s symbolic of a cheap mindset that won’t take certain challenges in regards to the heroes and co-stars. And the “bad guys” he speaks of happen to be costumed supervillains, when as a matter of fact, I think it’s well worth drawing up a couple villains without costumes and codenames, but who could still use sci-fi powers and weaponry. How many villains are there along the lines of the Kingpin? Indeed, that’s something largely lacking in modern superhero tales. I find it facinating writers don’t have vested interest in challenges like those. This response of his is pure defeatist thinking if there ever was any. Let’s go on to March 22, 2001:

Q: I've got three questions for you:
1) What is Hal Jordan's current situation -- is he alive, is he The Spectre?
2) Is the new Green Arrow series with Ollie (Queen) or Conner (Hawke) and how did Ollie die anyway?
3) Could you tell me if the other DC heroes know that Hal Jordan is The Spectre?

A: 1) Hal Jordan is dead, and he's also The Spectre. Being dead is sort of a job requirement.
2) The new Green Arrow series features Oliver Queen, whose resurrection will be explained as the series progresses. He "died" in Green Arrow #100-101 (Sep-Oct 95), with his hands strapped to a dead-man's switch on a bomb on an airplane. The plane blew up, with Superman as a witness.
(My personal theory is that Ollie used The Atom's technology to fit all of his trick arrows in a single quiver, and used the same technology to shrink himself out of that fix.)
3) Theoretically, no -- at least the "human-level" ones like the Justice League. According to the Day of Judgment miniseries (1999) and The Spectre appearance in JLA #35 (Nov 99), "ordinary" superheroes forget the Ghostly Guardian is Hal Jordan the moment he leaves. Higher-level, "cosmic" characters -- like The Phantom Stranger, Highfather, Ganthet or Shazam -- almost certainly know, but that hasn't been a factor so far.
On the other hand, this answer may be moot by the time you read this. An ongoing subplot in The Spectre monthly involves former Jordan girlfriend Carol Ferris and Hal's brother catching on, and Superman and Batman are guesting in The Spectre #3-4 (this month and next), with the inference that they will be allowed to remember. (I haven't read them yet.)
Anyway, I certainly hope they do remember -- what's the point of making Jordan The Spectre if you can't make use of his past?

In response to his “theory” I don’t think that’s what Kevin Smith went by at all. I think it was just superficial resurrection. I see he also brought up the Day of Judgement miniseries. In case I hadn’t mentioned it before, a most embarrassing moment occurs there when Alan Scott approves of Hal becoming Spectre because “it feels right”. Now it’s not Hal’s fault for becoming a mass murderer in Emerald Twilight – that blame lies squarely on the shoulders of Ron Marz and Kevin Dooley as the writer and editor of the 1994 abomination – but still, it makes no sense to recommend that a guy who committed murder be appointed as ghostly guardian without first exonerating him. But Geoff Johns, who penned that miniseries early in his undeserved career, went right along and did just that. Has he no shame? Oh, what a moot question, of course he doesn’t. He’s long proven that since.

This did remind me of something I was wondering though: did Earth’s populace (or America’s in the DCU) know that Hal slaughtered thousands of GLs in Emerald Twilight in the years following that story? Having read only a handful of GL’s solo from the Kyle Rayner era, that’s something I’ve never acertained, but if it turns out I’m correct, it’ll only attest to the bizarre effects insularity can have.

Hal’s since come back (though from what I can tell, they did not do a very convincing job exonerating him, the retcon of Parallax into a separate entity notwithstanding), and is no longer the Spectre, but again, Johns didn’t do a very good job trying to flesh out his character either. Now, here’s a letter about story format:

Q: I have often wondered why the comic-book industry never switched over to a standard magazine format as an answer to their sales and distribution problems with traditional magazine & book retailers. Hasn't the complaint always been that comic books weren't worth handling because of their cheap cover price and odd-sized format ? Why, for example, couldn't DC combine the four Superman titles into one big, fat, monthly magazine with a cover price in the $5-6 range? This would seem to satisfy the needs of both the buyer/reader and the seller; or am I missing something?

A: I've often wondered the same thing, [withheld] -- it seems an obvious solution, doesn't it? And then Steven Grant came along and filled in the factoid that we were missing in our calculations in his most recent Master of the Obvious online column:

"Most magazines don't survive on the cover price. Most survive on advertising, with rates varying by circulation. Most independent comics companies don't sell much advertising and have never tried to, filling non-comics space with text features and house ads. Their circulations just aren't high enough to interest anyone. (Many magazines are also as much as 60-percent ads, something readers don't respond to well in their comic books.)"

So, for our Giant Superman Magazine to work, it would have to be 60-percent advertising (or more), when no advertisers are interested. Oops. Still, both Marvel and Image are sticking a toe into the magazine market with reprints (Ultimate Marvel Magazine and Tomb Raider Magazine, respectively), so it'll be mighty interesting to see what happens.

Or rather, not, because in all that time, such an experiment was quietly abandoned like it had never been. Unlike him, I’ve wondered why they didn’t switch to a paperback format, like a lot of TPBs that have become particularly commonplace since the turn of the century. Yeah, how come an idea like that has never come to fruition? Potential answer: because it would only sabotage the tunnelvisions of the brain-less un-trusts at DC and Marvel, for example. Onto April 19, 2001:

Q: I've got a quick, relatively-recent question for a change. Who got Power Girl pregnant?

A: Nobody's sure, as Karen Starr woke up pregnant after a three-day bender in Tijuana. Although Luke Cage, Power Man, is acting a little guilty ...
Just kidding. Through a deal with a Cthonic Earth-mother deity, she became pregnant, and gave birth to a baby boy in the midst of Zero Hour.

One that may have been written out almost as quickly as it came, I believe. What was the whole point of that storyline? It was one of the dumbest ideas I heard of from the time, and did nothing to expand on Karen Starr as a character. Next, April 26, 2001:

Q: Do you think that Superman is "out-of-style" for today's world?

A: Heck no, [name withheld]. If anything this tired, old world needs Superman's example more than ever.

As I said to another correspondent last week, the Superman character has gone through so many changes that today's Man of Steel is in many superficial ways an entirely different character from the one introduced in 1938. That's OK -- it's a different world today than in 1938, and the Last Son of Krypton must perforce adapt to the times or be left behind, a dusty relic.

But he's still a hero, still stands for Truth, Justice and the American Way -- and still teaches us to do the Right Thing no matter the personal cost. And that, hopefully, will never go out of style.

Wonder what he thinks today, ever since the Superman Returns movie from 2006, which changed the latter part to “all that stuff”, and the story published in 2011 where the Man of Steel flies to Iran and makes no attempt to dismantle the Islamofascist dictatorship, and after being criticized by a government official, he decides to give up his American citizenship! Seeing how far pseudo-journalists like him have fallen today in their efforts to ape J. Jonah Jameson and Bethany Snow, I figure he wouldn’t give a crap.

Q: G.I. Joe was easily was one of the biggest multi-media phenomena since Star Wars (seeing its influence and expansion into animation, comic books, videogames, action figures and consistently popping up in popular culture).

Marvel cut a sweet deal with it, but suddenly the party was over and it's like that part of comicdom never happened.

My question is: Why has G.I. Joe's presence in comics lapsed since then and why its resurgence now?

A: I know that Mattel opted not to renew their contract with Marvel way back when, Michael, but I don't know why. Nor do I know why the Joe franchise remained fallow for so many years, only to be pursued with renewed vigor today. Perhaps other correspondents have some hard information to share. What about it, Legionnaires?

Oopsy! He must not know that GI Joe is the property of Hasbro - another of America’s biggest toy companies - either! Naturally, how could you expect somebody like him to even know that the leftist PC-mindset cropping up in the 1990s led to a disinterest in the franchise, let alone admit it?

Q: This most excellent site brings me back to the simple, youthful happiness I'd forgotten when I was in elementary school in the late '70s and early '80s (when Peter Parker met the Black Cat and the X-Men had only one book). Owing to the expense, the variety and the complexity of following so many books, I dropped out of the Marvel world back when Ned Leeds was revealed as the Hobgoblin. Apparently, I've missed a great deal.
I read a couple of books a few years back indicating that Peter had been a clone, and I had the impression that Aunt May had died some time back. Am I just imagining the latter point?

A: Unfortunately, you're not imagining a thing, [...]!
Marvel embarked on an ill-considered plotline a while back wherein they established that the clone of Spidey from Amazing Spider-Man #149-150 had not only survived -- but that he'd REPLACED Peter Parker for lo, these many years! The original had been wandering in Utah or someplace all this time, you see, and returned when he heard that -- yes -- Aunt May had died. The two Spideys met, fought, then teamed up and ... Oh, skip it. It was so stupid, so insulting, that Fandom rose en masse and nearly torched 387 Park Ave.! The storyline (and the clone) has since been buried, and Marvel is trying desperately to forget the whole thing. As are we all.
Aunt May, on the other hand, has been UN-buried. She not only merely died, but most sincerely died, in Amazing Spider-Man #400. However, it's since been established that THAT Aunt May was actually an actress hired by Norman "Green Goblin" Osborn (who has also been resurrected from his certain death in Amazing Spider-Man #123) to mess with Spidey's mind. Not only is Aunt May alive and well these days, but she's updated her wardrobe and haircut and -- like Mary Worth -- apparently gotten a bit younger.

What a fib. Since when has Marvel been trying to forget? Not if they turn Spidey’s once fine series into the travesty it’s become since J. Michael Stracynski got his mitts on it. Thus, how can Spidey purists forgive?

Dear Cap: I have a couple more suggestions for [name withheld] Desktop Squadron. First off is Angle Man. I'm pretty sure he was a Wonder Woman villain but I have no idea if he's appeared anywhere after Crisis on Infinite Earths. Not quite T-Square Man, but close.
There's also a character called The Writer. John Ostrander used The Writer in Suicide Squad in the "War of the Gods" crossover. He had a typewriter/laptop strapped to his chest and whatever he wrote, happened. He was killed by one of Circe's bestiomorphs when he got a case of writer's block. One of the odd little asides to this character was that he was actually Grant Morrison. As Grant Morrison's run on Animal Man was coming to an end, he actually wrote himself into the story. Buddy Baker (Animal Man himself) made a trip to the real world where he met his creator. It was a culmination of a two-year journey examining some of the ins and outs of the relationships between creators and their creations, among other things. One of the side effects of this was that Grant Morrison actually "existed" in the DCU. Remember, this was pre-Elseworlds and pre-Vertigo. So Mr. Ostrander decided to use "The Writer" in Suicide Squad.

Thanks, [...]! The Desktop Squadron is filling up!
I seem to be the only reader in the world who thought Morrison's Animal Man was self-indulgent and hackneyed. Heck, I wrote a story where I met my own creations in the ninth grade for our school "literary" magazine! I never repeated the trick, because the magazine's adviser pointed out that using myself as a character showed not only a lack of imagination but an embarrassingly large ego. I admitted at the time that she was right -- and thought the same of Morrison when he did it decades later.
Which, getting 'round to my point, is why I remember very little about the whole Animal Man/Psycho-Pirate/The Writer business. I thought it was egotistical, self-indulgent and unimaginative at the time and have pretty much tried to ignore it despite the many accolades it's received. Of course, that's probably just me.

I dispute whether he actually considers Morrison’s Animal Man as blatant as he claimed back in the day. Since that time, he’s written at least a few gushy columns about Morrison’s subsequent work, with very little negativity, and no mention of the ludicrous allusions to drug culture Morrison injected into various stories he’s written over the years.

Dear Cap: I can't speak to Hawkman, but perhaps the Swamp Thing rumor is based on a really bad movie-rights deal DC made with Michael Uslan and Bruce Solomon. If I remember rightly, they wanted to make a Batman movie, but felt they had to "prove" themselves first (they ended up as exec producers on Tim Burton's Batman). So they bought the rights to Swamp Thing. At the time, Swamp Thing was nothing more than an interesting failure. His book had been out of print for a few years (after he teamed with ... Hawkman. Hmmm), and the Powers That Be figured what the heck. In the deal, however, was that Uslan and Solomon had the rights in perpetuity, and could use any characters and plotlines associated with Swamp Thing, including any yet to be created. Before Alan Moore (and this was), this didn't seem like much of a big deal. But now ...

I'm guessing that the deal had to have eventually been renegotiated, because I have not heard their names associated with the upcoming Hellblazer/Constantine movie, and technically, they would have had the rights to him themselves. Not the stupidest movie-rights deal in comics history, but definitely interesting. Fox is currently arguing a similar deal in order to stop Marvel from producing a Mutant X television series, though of course not the same Mutant X that appears in comics.

That's a pretty stupid deal, all right! In fact, it's so stupid that I'd bet that it wouldn't stand up in court if Time Warner seriously tried to wriggle out of it, or was limited in some fashion -- like a certain number of movies had to be made over a certain number of years or the rights would lapse. Whatever happened, though, you're right -- clearly Uslan no longer has that sweet deal.

There’s a slight inaccuracy in that letter – Swampy teamed with Adam Strange, in a story from 1986 involving a pair of crooked Thanagarians. As for Burton’s Batman, no big deal in retrospect, and there’s no need for anybody to be predisposed to praising it as a masterpiece. Now, here comes May 3, 2001:

Q: Marvel's Essential reprints are probably the best buy in comics. Can you beat it? Like, 20 issues of early continuity for $16. Anyway, I was reading the Essential Thor and a lot of those issues featured Thor's angst over Jane Foster. You know, "I love Jane, but Odin has forbidden me from loving a mortal. Oh, Poor me." I haven't read regular Thor in years, but am curious as to what ever happened to the Jane Foster character.
Maybe it's for the best she's been forgotten, with female supporting characters at Marvel getting killed off a lot (Gwen Stacy, Karen Page, Betty Banner, & Moria MacTaggart, Professor X's old girlfriend). What's up with that?

A: That's actually two questions, and the answers are:
1) Nurse Jane Foster was originally written out of the series in Thor #136, wherein Odin "relented" and made Jane an Asgardian goddess to test her worthiness to be the Thunderer's mate. Naturally, this being Odin, he rigged the game -- Jane's divine power was that of flight (hardly unusual -- Thor can sorta do it -- and pretty useless offensively) and her tests were such that most Asgardians couldn't pass them. She failed the tests and Thor -- being a clod -- accepted Odin's judgment that she wasn't worthy. She was placed back on Earth sans powers, her memory of Asgard (and Dr. Don Blake) wiped, and introduced to handsome Dr. Kincaid who was -- gasp! -- a dead ringer for Blake!
Later in the series, after it was revealed that Blake was nothing more than a construct invented by Odin anyway and not a real person, it was established that Kincaid was the "model" for the Blake persona, so naturally Jane would be attracted to him. Jane and Kincaid eventually married, and Kincaid even served a stint as the official Avengers doctor.
Jane is back, though -- now SHE's a doctor, working at the same hospital as Thor's most recent human facade, paramedic Jake Olson. She quickly, eh, divined the connection between Thor and Olson, and has become a supporting member of the cast in the current ongoing Thor.
2) The almost routine deaths of significant others is a topic often discussed on this site, [name withheld], and is hardly exclusive to Marvel. I call it the "Gwen Stacy Syndrome," in honor of a beloved character who was admittedly and deliberately bumped off specifically because Amazing Spider-Man writer Gerry Conway didn't know what to do with her. Gwen and Peter Parker's relationship had developed to the point where marriage was inevitable, but Marvel didn't want a married, divorced, or widowed Spider-Man -- they wanted him to remain single so as not to lose touch with the perceived target audience. And Peter couldn't break up with her, or he'd look like an unheroic cad. So the solution was to kill her. Conway had written himself into a corner, and took the cheap way out. As noted, though, I shouldn't pick on Conway, since it's a common ploy. The list of dead girlfriends/wives is as long as the Stilt-Man's legs -- with Sub-Mariner and Daredevil having at least two each!

IMO, it makes little difference whether he’s got the time or not, there’s always some way he could’ve devoted the time to criticizing the weakness of writers to think of something better than killing off characters.

Q: Back in 1988, after DC published “A Death In the Family” (Batman #426-429), editor Denny O’Neil stated that he had two copies of Batman #428 in his drawer, depending on which scenario the voters chose. Obviously, the voters chose to kill Robin (Jason Todd), and the “Dead Jason” version was published. On that note, I have a few questions:
1) Did the other version (i.e., “Jason Lives”) ever see print in any other distribution (copies, the Internet, etc.)? Do we know if those pages still exist?
2) How did YOU vote?
3) Do you think that readers would have voted against Jason if Frank Miller had not established the character’s fate in Dark Knight? (On that note, DC would probably not have even offered the storyline without Miller’s “retroactive foreshadowing”).
4) What were the messages on the 900 numbers when votes were cast? As I recall, there were two separate numbers, depending on your choice of fate. Unfortunately, I was in college, and did not have my own phone line, so I could not cast my vote (which would have been against the Boy Wonder’s survival, for the record).
Personally, I always felt that even if Jason had survived the bomb and beating sustained from The Joker, that his career as Robin would have been over. I suspected that he would have at least been placed into a coma, and more likely would have suffered a career-ending injury (e.g., loss of a limb, paralysis, etc.), but would have remained as a supporting character (kind of makes you wonder if he would have evolved into “Oracle” instead of Barbara Gordon). Such an injury would have given Batman the same newfound grim motivation that resulted from this storyline, and would have still allowed him to go solo (until such time as DC decided to replace Robin).
Quite honestly, if you review the issues that were published after his death (including the final installment of the story line in #429), it would have been easy to change references to Jason’s death into references to injuries/coma, etc.
On one other personal note, I was disappointed with the story itself. Killing Robin in the deserts of Ethiopia was not a fitting end to the character. I would have much rather seen him die in the defense of his city.
That’s enough morbid talk for this week. Thanks for everything.

A: Your canny insight into the issues following "A Death in the Family", and how Jason could have been seriously injured instead of dead, is more than speculation, [name withheld]. After all, DC couldn't hold off production on issues #429-431 waiting on the vote. So they were written to go either way. As to your questions:
1) I've never heard of the "Jason lives" pages surfacing anywhere. Presumably, Denny O'Neil (or DC) has them.
2) I didn't vote. I thought the whole concept was a black eye for a medium struggling to be taken seriously. I felt it reinforced the idea in most peoples' minds that comics were hokey and shallow. I thought it was morbid and tasteless. I thought it was a betrayal of good storytelling -- a writer should KNOW how his story ends, and not take a vote! (Using that approach, Rhett and Scarlet would have married at the end of Gone With the Wind, as would Bogey and Ingrid Bergman at the end of Casablanca -- ruining both movies.)
How WOULD I have voted? I despised Jason -- a thoroughly unpleasant character -- but I also despised the phone-call gimmick. I honestly don't know.
3) Certainly, those who were aware of Dark Knight could have been influenced by the "retroactive foreshadowing." What that does for me, though, is add to my belief that Jason was created to die anyway. Otherwise, why make him so detestable? Maybe Dark Knight influenced the Batman writers!
4) The poll was conducted via two 900 numbers, one to kill Robin and one to save him. The calls cost 50 cents, and calls were only accepted for a 36-hour period. The vote went 5,343 to 5,271 against Jason's survival.

He may not have voted by phone, but don’t be surprised if he voted with his wallet, and bought the issues when they came out. And again, here’s the umpteenth example of somebody claiming he was against presenting comics in a hokey, shallow way, yet when Identity Crisis came along, he went straight along with it till the very end. How do we know he wasn’t fine with Emerald Twilight for that matter? I don’t buy his argument for a second. He went along with Infinite Crisis and House of M to boot, and come to think of it, after supposedly being against Avengers: Disassembled, he doubled back by upholding what came afterwards, or remaining completely silent about any misuse of characters that came afterwards. That’s journalistic double-standards for you.

And of course, lest we forget, his misgivings for Jason are woefully misplaced. He despises the character but will not utter a single critique of the writers who brought Jason down to such a terrible situation in the first place. Let’s now proceed to May 17, 2001:

Q: With excitement mounting over the upcoming JLA/Avengers crossover, I thought I'd propose another fanboy question: If you could combine the JLA and Avengers into one team of seven members (seven being the magic default number for large teams), who would you pick?

For a mix of experience, attitude, consistency and power variety, I'd have to go with Superman, Batman, Captain America, Scarlet Witch, Vision, Flash and Green Lantern.

Your choices, please?

A: What a great question, [name withheld]!
I'd go with the Unbeatable Four of DC: Superman (or Wonder Woman), Flash, Green Lantern and Martian Manhunter; plus the Big Three of Marvel: Thor, Iron Man and Captain America. That would result in an incredibly powerful team, with a mix of powers.
Alternatively, you could go with an All(most)-Star Comics approach: Martian Manhunter, Black Canary, Hawkman from DC; and Hawkeye, Vision, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver for Marvel. Those characters are strongly associated with their respective teams, and would suggest a less direct approach to handling problems.
I'd be interested to hear the suggestions (and reasons why) from others.

Sure, I’ll dig in, but I’ll also want to offer a little comment of my own afterwards! First, whom would I pick? Second and third tier characters like Elongated Man, Metamorpho, Atom, Black Canary, Green Arrow, Infinity Inc’s members, Jesse Quick, Firestorm, Vixen, Aquaman, and even the Titans. At least he’s willing to pick J’onn J’onnz, but it’s not enough. Why am I citing all those heroes who aren’t as big? Let’s be clear: I love Captain America and Superman as much as the next fan of famous superheroes, but even lesser characters deserve their share of the spotlight. And I’m wondering: why would these two exchangers want to be so cheap-easy?

I also brought them up because, after all the horrific maltreatment they got circa Identity Crisis and Avengers: Disassembled, I feel they deserve some mention. After all, the fools above are just the kind of people who view them as inferior, and they decidedly need a special retort.

Q: Re: The Enigma. If you have read this book, could you give me your opinion of it? I have copied the piece of it from your "conversation" with Cyclops.
<<Peter Milligan's work though, has always had some kind of oddball sexual slant -- like The Enigma, where a man's subconscious manifests a childhood superhero to help him accept his homosexuality.>>
A: Oh, my. I'm going to get into a lot of trouble here ...
I didn't much care for The Enigma, but not specifically because of the story itself, which was professionally acquitted and relatively original (for comic books), but because I've noted a pattern in Peter Milligan's writing, and when it rears its hoary head, I get irritated. That pattern is one of sexually shocking (or tittilating, depending on the reader) characterization done for shock's sake. It usually involves some sort of homosexual/bisexual "awakening" by a male character that has little to do with the plot. Since homosexuality doesn't shock me, I'm just bored.
In The Minx, for example, the story veered away from the main characters and situations to dwell on a hermaphroditic rapist/serial killer -- and I mean dwell. A secondary character or subplot should throw light on the main story, or set up a follow-up plot for later. The Killer Hermaphodite subplot did neither, and seemed merely an effort to shock the audience and look avant-garde ... and it went ON and ON and ON. Plus, the fact that an extremely elderly man implausibly discovers after anal rape that he LIKES it that way was just ridiculous, and somewhat insulting. Any male character in a Milligan story may suddenly "turn" homosexual at any given time -- which I find unlikely and gimmicky.
So, The Enigma didn't live up to its name, at least for me. Knowing Milligan's propensities, I guessed the ending around page three of the first issue. ("Gee, this guy's a latent homosexual, like all Milligan characters, and I bet The Enigma will somehow help him come to grips with it.") Then I had to wade through seven more issues of a story where little happened other than the expected homosexual "conversion." The whole thing could have been wrapped up in a single one-shot, just as easily as I summed it up here.
Of course, that could just be me.

He’s gonna get in trouble alright, and it’s all based on how he trashed any point he was trying to make here, if he even intended to at all.

If he’s saying he recognizes that homosexuality is an abnormal mentality, and/or that it shouldn’t be depicted positively in every way, he’s failed miserably. In fact, what’s he had to say about James Robinson’s retcon - which he won’t even admit is a retcon – of Golden Age Green Lantern Alan Scott? Nothing much, if at all.

Homosexuality may not shock me either, but it does disappoint me. I could probably describe it by paraphrasing a Safed councilwoman’s description of Haredis: it really makes me sad how some gays and lesbians not only live with that kind of mentality, they see as positive in every way, shape and form, and, as some might’ve seen in recent years, have gone miles out of their way to criminalize any and all free speech disagreeing with their lifestyle. So much that they’re even willing to lionize Harvey Milk and Matthew Shepard as saints, when they were anything but.

REGARDING GENERAL GLORY: You mentioned Major Glory, er, General Glory, who appeared in the JLI books (as opposed to Major Glory, who appears in Dexter's Laboratory as a member of the Justice Friends ... :-) General Glory's last appearance was his death, in Justice League Quarterly #13 or #14 as memory serves. He passed along the legacy to another poor sap -- that is, another brave defender of democracy. However, as noted, this character was so obviously a rip-off of Captain America that calling him a parody is too mild. Plagiarism comes to mind ... but in any case, I suspect that, save for the JLA/Avengers crossover, we'll see no more of General Glory. (Mind you, I don't put it past Kurt Busiek to have Captain America say something like, "Say, just whatever DID happen to General Glory?" and the JLA look at him as if he'd lost his mind ... ah, the insane delights we indulge ourselves in! :-)
REGARDING JASON TODD: Oh, and by the way, in re: Jason Todd, the phone-in campaign, and the whole "Death In The Family," let's remember some items.
1) Regarding original art: I have seen a copy of Aparo's original artwork from the "survives" issue -- it's a page showing Batman picking through the rubble again, and finding Robin. The big change is a panel showing him smiling, and the caption reading, "HE'S ALIVE!" But Batman is still holding the boy's body, and I can't suspect that there were too many artistic changes. Unfortunately, I don't remember where I saw this page, but I have seen it. Would O'Neil have kept it? Shucks, I'd keep ANY original Aparo art I could find!
2) Being cynical as I am, I cannot believe that the writer/editor (the aforementioned Mr. O'Neil) would have had any doubts how the story was going to go. The phone-in campaign was a PR gimmick, nothing more; and I don't believe the numbers they reported. Trusting a writer is a fool's game, and trusting editors makes it an idiot's game. They don't care about readers; they care about selling comic books. And killing Robin was good for business.
3) I cannot imagine that, even if there were an alternate storyline, that it could have been too much different from the story that was published. Okay, Robin survived; in critical condition, in a coma, and as good as dead. It probably would have ended with Batman never letting Jason be Robin again. And no matter what, The Joker would STILL be getting away with murder. (Y'know, I really have to wonder who the medicos are that keep ruling that The Joker is incapable of understanding what he's doing. I mean, I've heard of incompetence, but isn't this running a little long ...?)
4) No one liked the snotty Jason Todd, but remember; that was post-Crisis, when everything changed. Pre-Crisis, Jason's parents were nice, normal, decent people who worked in the circus with Dick Grayson, and were killed by Killer Croc. After Croc got them, Bruce Wayne ADOPTED Jason (not just made him his ward), so Bruce officially had a son. And Jason was a nice, normal young man; when he showed up, he was fairly acceptable. (I remember his appearance in the New Teen Titans; he worked very well as an "I'm Robin but I'm not Dick Grayson!" character. It was after the Crisis, when O'Neil decided that Jason Todd had to be an angst-ridden evil little snot, and one has to wonder what could possibly have possessed Bruce Wayne to associate with a little sociopath. (Yeah, my vote would've been to kill the little stinker too.)
5) I got to chat with Frank Miller at a gathering before a Mid-Ohio Con one year, right after Dark Knight Returns came out, and BELIEVE YOU ME -- you're much happier knowing that Jason Todd just died during Dark Knight Returns! He told us how he had intended to make it a bit more graphic, and while it did involve The Joker, it really was a little too unsavory for public consumption. Brrr! However, I think that, while there was a bit of slovenly homage and detail to the occurrences to come in DKR, I don't really think it had a specific cause/effect relationship in "Death in the Family." After all, Jason could have been killed at any point during the intervening years, and it's not as if The Joker wasn't expected to appear again.
REGARDING "SUPER DISCO FEVER" -- Oh, yes, the concept was a terribly silly one. I'm not sure, but I think Gerry Conway wrote this story -- he wrote quite a few Superman and "Private Life of Clark Kent" stories for Superman Family. Them of us what didn't like disco didn't have a good time with it anyhow, and this included the reintroduction of the Clark Kent Fan Club -- "Who's the anchorman who reads the news for you and me? C-L-A, R-K-I, E-K-E-N-T" Geez, I'd have been embarrassed to DREAM about this!
HOWEVER -- the art was NOT amateurish. It was done by Kurt Schaffenberger, and it was a very clean piece, terribly consistent with most of Schaffenberger's work (inked by Dan Adkins, IIRC, and his work on KS was pretty good.) Schaffenberger's art had always something of a bit of a cartoonish air to it, but it could also carry a wide swath of emotional presentation -- this man did Captain Marvel for years and years, and did both Superboy and Supergirl strips for a long time (neither of which were always funny or silly.) For my money, his work was far more enjoyable than, say, Don Heck's or Joe Staton's, at this point (both artists in Superman and Batman Family at the time.) Let's not kill the messenger for the message, eh?

Thanks for the info, [withheld]! I didn't look up "Super Disco Fever!" so I wasn't aware that the talented Mr. Schaffenberger drew the story -- a fine craftsman that I would never characterize as "amateurish." That adjective does apply to SOME artists on Superman Family, but not Mr. Schaffenberger. And, as [name withheld] notes above, the writer was Cary Burkett.
And as you note in a subsequent e-mail, Miller's plan for Jason's death involved kidnapping by The Joker and repeated rape before murder. Brrr, indeed.

And this was at a time Miller went by the same political leaning as the bad captain does: left-wing liberalism. When will some lefties ever come to realize that if Frank Miller really did want to do that, it was all because of the mindset they fed him in school? Even today, when he’s supporting right-wing conservatism more often, I still find his MO questionable, if it matters.

As for Jason being disliked in the post-Crisis era, let’s remember, the editors and writers have to shoulder blame for that, and if the audience failed to consider this fact, they only helped reinforce the image of comic readers as childish nerds who don’t care about quality writing. There’s another letter I’ll copy down here too, because it has a bit of what to think about:

Dear Cap: General Glory may have appeared in Eclipso #13.
"Death in the Family": There was only one page that would have been different: at the end of the issue, Batman would have said "My God, he's alive!" Wizard published this in the back of one of their issues; I'm at college, so I can't check which one. However, Les Daniels in his history of DC Comics (the overall history, not the volumes dedicated to particular characters) did reprint it, too.
As far as Robin being killed in Ethiopia and not Gotham: that surprised me too when I first read "Death in the Family." I once read somewhere that Jim Starlin (who wrote "Death in the Family") decided to write Batman because he was interested in doing material that was a bit more mimetic and less cosmic than his previous work. So, I guess that Starlin wanted to try his hand at using current events in his stories, to do more contemporary, prosaic, conventional thrillers. (Notice that Starlin also did "Ten Nights of the Beast," which tied in with the Strategic Defense Initiative of the time.) So, I guess by having Robin die in Ethiopia, he must have been pursuing this. (Notice that Starlin also worked in the Arab/Israeli conflict into a "Death in the Family" -- and who can forget that delightful cameo by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini! Those crazy Aryans, making The Joker their U.N. ambassador!)
(By the way, does anyone know if Starlin's personal political views are particularly conservative? I know that he has described himself as religiously liberal, but some of his stories make one wonder as to his political positions. Besides the KGBeast (a Soviet villain), he also had The Joker selling nuclear weapons to Arab terrorists during "Death in the Family"! Of course, as noted, he may have written these stories as a contrast to his other work such as Warlock, Captain Marvel and Dreadstar, which were more out-and-out science fiction, so his personal political views could be irrelevant. As Max Allan Collins said in Amazing Heroes #119, "Dick Tracy voted for Reagan, but I didn't!")
<<Certainly, those who were aware of Dark Knight could have been influenced by the "retroactive foreshadowing." What that does for me, though, is add to my belief that Jason was created to die anyway. Otherwise, why make him so detestable? Maybe Dark Knight influenced the Batman writers! -- Captain Comics>>
Actually, Jason Todd was created a while before in 1984. The problem with him only really began with his revamp in Batman #408 by Max Allan Collins. (Although the Crisis provided the justification for giving him a new origin, was there really a point to changing a character who had only been around for a few years?) Collins was concerned, as many were, that Todd's origin was too similar to Dick Grayson's. But eventually, his revamped Robin grew into an undesirable character. http://www.keeffee.com/titans/jason.html and http://www.januarymagazine.com/profiles/collins.html has Collins saying. "It was my version of Robin that the fans voted to kill, which is a perverse point of pride on my part (but I'm also the guy who wrote Robin as a street-gang kid who initially tried to steal the tires off the Batmobile, which was picked up on by the cartoon show)."
That scene with Jason Todd surviving is shown in Les Daniels's DC Comics: Sixty Years of the World's Favorite Comic Book Heroes (Bullfinch Press, 1995) on Page 200.

I don't think Jason was ever created just to die. Remember, pre-Crisis, he was hardly unlikable, and his hair was lighter-colored. That’s awfully stupid to suggest Jason was, and I wonder if that’s Mr. Smith’s uncreative instincts coming to the fore. I don’t know if Starlin is politically conservative, but I will give him some credit if he wrote his story with respect for Israel. Let’s go now to May 24, 2001:

Q: I read The Watchmen again the other day and I was thinking about the pirate comic that is within the comic. I was wondering if that story is a commentary on the outcome of the story. It seems that the husband going into the heart of darkness of the pirate ship spoke of the futility of the ending. Billy Preston said he had "a story that had no moral, let the bad guy win every once and while." This seems to be the reason for the presence of the comic and not just a literary device to get the writer into the story as a part of plot devised by Ozymandias. What are your thoughts on this?
Also, is there any real scholarly work done on The Watchmen? Just wondering.

A: Georges Santayana is famously quoted as saying, "Beware, when ye battle monsters, lest ye become a monster. Know that, when ye gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you."
My take on the pirate story-within-a-story was that it was a literary convention (and, typically, a brilliant one) by Alan Moore, in which the pirate-book character's descent into murder and cannibalism in the interests of surviving and returning to his wife was a deliberate parallel to the arc of the "real" characters, but primarily to Ozymandias. Ozzie became a monster while battling monsters; he did despicable things in the interest of the "common good." It was, in fact, the pirate story that tipped me midway through that the "mask murderer" was going to be one of the good guys, who had descended into the heart of darkness while pursuing his noble pursuits. With that in mind, I started analyzing the characters, each of whom degenerated in some fashion without realizing it (Comedian, Rorschach) or discovered an unpleasant truth about themselves (Miss Jupiter, Nite Owl) -- except Ozymandias, whose personal "descent into darkness" was not revealed. That twigged me to the fact that he was the mask murderer. Of course, I had no idea WHY, so there were still surprises a'plenty for me at the end.
So, yeah, I'd say the pirate story had some utility!
And there's plenty of scholarly work on The Watchmen. There's a number of universities that include it in their course work, and at least one that has a whole class in it. The amount of scholarly papers and such -- probably available on the Internet -- must weigh in the tons.

“Scholarly”? Yeah, right. Such an otherwise wretched story, and with all the leftardedness running rampant at universities today, I wouldn’t trust their focus to be very “scholarly”.

Q: Okay, I'll bite. Why did you hate Valor? It seems to me that all it did was further convolute Legion history, which was already impossibly convoluted.

A: Well, your own explanation would be enough -- Legion history is snarled enough as it is without Lar Gand playing Superboy in the 20th century.

But my chief complaint was that they played Mon-El/Valor/M'onel as an utter simpleton in Valor. I realize that the writer(s) were attempting to portray Gand as naive and inexperienced, no doubt to play in contrast with his seasoned, mature character in Legion (hey, 1,000 years in the Phantom Zone will do that to you). But there's a difference between naive and brain-damaged, and the Valor character definitely fell into the latter category. I simply can't enjoy stories where the hero is a moron, and you catch yourself saying, "Geez, those powers are sure wasted on THAT guy. What I'd do in that situation is ... " Both Nova and Firestorm suffered from this syndrome, in my opinion, and Ron Marz's Green Lantern teetered precariously in that direction, as well.

Oh, Marz’s work was worse than that. It depicted Kyle Rayner as a whiner, never rising much beyond that level, if at all, and proved that DC never set out to introduce a variant on Spider-Man. At worst, Kyle’s rendition was dreary, and rubbing out the girlfriend just to give Kyle some motivation was rock-bottom cheapjack. (And the only replacement gal-pals Marz used were two established superheroines, Donna Troy and Jade. Again, very cheap thinking.)

But Nova and Firestorm simpletons? I wouldn’t go that far. Their renditions were a lot more interesting than Kyle’s will ever be, since Marv Wolfman and Gerry Conway were talented writers back in the day. Mr. Smith just doesn’t have what it takes to appreciate writing when it was done better. A pity almost nothing of the original Nova and Firestorm series has been collected in trades to date.

Q: You have written eloquently on the return of Ollie Queen to the DC Universe. I wonder how you feel about the return of Hawkman, and Geoff Johns's attempts to sort out that mess?

A: Well, it's not a done deal -- the JSA storyline returning Hawkman isn't wrapped up yet -- but so far I'm impressed. I've never thought very highly of Hawkman as a concept -- a guy who "only" flies doesn't add much to the JLA or any other group -- but as a visual icon he's dramatic beyond words and the character is an integral part of DC history. So when I heard he was coming back, I was pleased -- but trepidatious, since his backstory had become so impossibly arcane and contradictory post-Crisis that no writer wanted to touch him. Imagine my surprise that the first two "Return of Hawkman" issues make perfect sense, without re-writing the character yet again. A tip of the beak to Johns.

Not so fast. I’m a fan of Hawkman, but after all the terrible deeds Johns’s done at DC (and Marvel), there’ll be no tips of the beak to him from me. In fact, after all these years, yours truly, who built one of the few fansites on the web focused on the Winged Warrior is not as impressed as he wishes he could be about the work by Johns and James Robinson. I once owned 3 trades, but got rid of 2 of them to date, because I felt slapped in the face by Johns’s full support of Brad Meltzer’s Identity Crisis direction, which rendered the guest appearance by Ray Palmer meaningless. And I’ll probably sell off the remaining book along with 2 JSA trades I still have somewhere down the line, because they just don’t do anything for me today. Man, have I changed in focus, and come a long way.

But I vehemently disagree with his take on Hawkman as a concept. A guy who “only” flies? For crying out loud, Carter Hall uses swords, spears, crossbows, and Katar Hol occasionally used guns! Ditto Sheira Saunders and Shayera Thal. He can’t tell the significance? Methinks he should get himself a new hobby. And that we should move to May 31, 2001:

Q: I think their may be some confusion (at least certainly for me) between the Golden Age and modern incarnations of the original Captain Marvel of Fawcett comics and all of his supporting characters, thanks to both the DC re-conception and the Marvel imitation.

Were the Billy Batson and Captain Marvel of the Golden Age comics the same person or were they separate beings? To clarify: Was the Captain simply the child, Billy, in an adult body, with the consequent emotions and attitude of a child in a magically matured form, or did Billy call upon an entirely different individual, one with its own personality? If the former, could the Captain function sexually, if not emotionally then physically? Is that a biological or psychological question?

Was it ever established in the Fawcett books whether Billy and Freddy Freeman were the same age, or was one markedly older than the other? I think it would be an interesting personality point for Freddy to be resentful of being older than his namesake.

Could you tell me the Golden Age origin for Mr. Tawky Tawny? I appreciate the absurdity of an intelligent and vertebrally erect tiger interacting with an apparently indifferent human population, if that is, in fact, how the context was portrayed in the Fawcett books.

Onto something not related to Captain Marvel. I feel that the term "retcon" has increasingly been interpreted too loosely and that most readers have begun to consider that it can generally describe any time a story takes place in a character's past. I understand that this is one of those questions that pop up every couple of months or so in superhero discussions, and I beg your pardon if it is, but because of my above apprehension I consider you to be one of very few sources of reliable information on the Net: What was the original meaning of the phrase when first coined by Roy Thomas?

Lastly, I read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay recently and I have to say I didn't find it particularly Pulitzer-worthy. Do you know the criteria used to judge whether a book should merit the award? As a comic-book fan I certainly enjoyed the characterization and the milieu, but whenever the word "Pulitzer" is bandied about I suppose my expectations run higher than is sensible and I anticipated being profoundly affected.

I found the eponymous characters to be less like Siegel and Schuster, who they were compared to in reviews I've read, and more like the Simon and Kirby team. Kavelier, the artist, being more interested in dynamically rendered fight scenes, and Clay, the writer who has a lesser history in art, concerned mainly with plot, together chance upon a creation which becomes a sensation. The creation is made to combat Nazis like a Captain America. However, the Escapist and his retinue greatly resemble The Spirit and his associates as well as sharing the humorous tone of the strip. If you've read the book would you tell me your thoughts on it?

I would appreciate any thoughts and opinions you might have. Thanks.

A: Billy Batson and Captain Marvel are, and always have been, the same person. In the Fawcett years, it was just a given that Billy Batson could become the adult Captain Marvel and still react as a child to everything without anybody noticing. Those stories were just light-hearted fables, all in fun. Heck, the "real" adults in the Fawcett stories were pretty child-like. In Cap's modern incarnation, the situation still prevails -- but it's explained that an eight-year-old can pass as an adult due to the Wisdom of Solomon. (Martian Manhunter, Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and some others are aware of the situation, though, and try to protect Billy, even in his Captain Marvel persona.)

As to sex, that wasn't an issue in the '40s! In modern times, Captain Marvel's pre-adolescent reaction to the possibility of having sex (with the lustful and persistent Beautia Sivana) was amusingly depicted in the early issues of Jerry Ordway's Power of Shazam! series. (As you'd guess, his reaction was raw, bewildered panic, which Beautia interpreted as playing hard-to-get.) And, yes, Freddy Freeman was a bit older than Billy, but younger physically as Junior. That wasn't addressed in the '40s, but in Power of Shazam! Junior was depicted as resentful of being a junior partner to a younger boy who happened to be in a man's body -- and, in fact, flirted strenuously with Mary Marvel primarily (it was implied) because it antagonized Cap/Billy.

Tawky Tawny was given an origin in his second appearance, in Captain Marvel Adventures #79 ("Captain Marvel and the Return of Mr. Tawny!"). He was the pet of a missionary's son in a generic jungle setting, who was taken to school by the boy (and therefore exposed to human speech and learning). Later, an old hermit of undisclosed origins gave him a serum "that will energize his brain and enable him to use his vocal chords for speech!" Not much of an origin, but there you go. (And the human population wasn't indifferent to Mr. Tawny -- they were usually terrified ... and hilarity ensued.)

Roy Thomas's use of "retroactive continuity" back in the day was in reference to stories that would unsnarl contradictory or unexplained events in a character's history, generally without changing existing information. Since nobody had expected these characters to last 50 years, there was a lot to explain! For example, Dr. Fate inexplicably switched to a half-helmet for a while in the '40s -- so Thomas wrote an All-Star Squadron story in the '80s that explained the switcheroo. As an example of how far this can go, ONE PANEL of some comic in the '40s showed Hawkman with yellow boots -- a coloring error. But in All-Star Squadron, Thomas had Hawkman mention why he briefly wore yellow boots! (Thomas would usually explain his machinations in the letters pages.)

In ensuing years -- particularly after Crisis on Infinite Earths -- "retcon" has come to mean completely re-writing a character's history, and that's the definition I use. Just filling in the blanks in a character's history, as Thomas did, seems to me to just be a plain old flashback.

As to Kavalier and Clay, they weren't meant to be Siegel and Shuster, or any other specific person. They did demonstrate some similarities with living people, such as Siegel, Shuster, Kirby, Simon, Eisner, etc., probably for verisimilitude. But they weren't supposed to be anybody but themselves. The Escapist, too, wasn't meant to represent any one character, but was instead reflective of a great many, including real-life folks like Houdini!

And I have no more information than you do about the Pulitzer committee's criteria.

Well I sure hope Kavalier and Clay weren’t meant to be inspired by Siegel and Shuster, because Michael Chabon is one very awful leftist, IMO. And his book bore traces of that too. I’m flattered the correspondent didn’t think much of it, because IMHO, it was all just a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. While we're on the subject, it's interesting to note Mr. Smith, for somebody trying to make points about Billy Batson's status as a child, acts pretty childish himself given the chance. Now for something from June 7, 2001:

Hi, Cap: I thought I would weigh in on your comments about Captain Marvel possessing the mind of Billy Batson. As always, I will limit myself to the pre-Crisis version of the Big Red Cheese, since I am not qualified to speak to any post-Crisis incarnation of anything.

As I recall, from the two dozen or so of the Fawcett Captain Marvel stories I have read, along with DC's '70s run of Shazam!, the mythos has always played a little fast and loose with the subject of whether Billy Batson's mind occupied Captain Marvel's form, or whether they were two separate people. In his chapter devoted to Captain Marvel and the other Fawcett creations in his History of the Comics, Jim Steranko discusses that very subject, raising the issue of whether Billy called upon Captain Marvel or changed into him. Mr. Steranko cites a story in a very early issue of Whiz which would seem to shed some light on that subject; it is a story which depicts Billy whispering the word "Shazam," producing a spectral version of Captain Marvel, in order to get some help with answers on a school test. It's difficult to use this instance as definitive proof, however. Not just for the morally questionable aspect of the scene, but also because it occurred very early in the development of Captain Marvel (Whiz Comics #2, I think). As we all know, it generally takes several issues to firmly establish the conventions for any given character. Most early issues about a hero added an item or two which didn't work and was never mentioned again.

Other than that, all we really have to go by is the dialogue of the two -- or is it one? -- characters in question. Countless times throughout the series, Cap mentions "changing back" to Billy (or the other way 'round). But just as often, Cap will say, "I'll let Billy take over." Or Billy will say, "I think Captain Marvel should investigate." Idiomatically, any of this dialogue only slightly suggests one side of the controversy or the other. And one could plausibly read either side into any of it.

Barring someone producing a comic reference which specifically establishes one premise of the other (and that could very well be out there -- I am far from a Captain Marvel expert), each individual is pretty much left up to personal opinion. In this case, Cap, I respectfully disagree with you. I believe that Billy Batson and Captain Marvel were two different beings -- mentally linked, to be sure, since one remembers the experiences of the other -- but completely different entities.

On what do I base that, you ask, sir? On something a literal-minded fellow like myself hates to rely -- inference and supposition.

The one thing about the transformation of Billy to Captain Marvel we can certainly state is that Cap is not an adult with Billy's actual juvenile mind. Captain Marvel would not be able to perform with the mind of a 12-year-old (or however old Billy is supposed to be). We can take as demonstration of that the events of the 1988 film, Big, in which pre-adolescent Josh Baskin occupies an adult body. Even though the movie's contrivances give the adult Josh a good job and set-up, the fact of the matter is, such a person would be completely at a loss in the event of a true emergency or a major decision.

So it is safe to presume that Captain Marvel does not possess the young Billy's unadulterated mind. So what about the presumption that he possesses Billy's mind, augmented with the Wisdom of Solomon? Certainly then, Captain Marvel with Billy's mind enhanced so could handle the usual crises of a superhero. I pondered such a possibility, until I realised something. If it was Billy's mind which occupied Captain Marvel's body -- with the additional Wisdom of Solomon thrown in -- why would he ever want to change back to Billy?

Even someone of Billy Batson's prominence and position is still a kid, and a kid has no right to do as he wishes in our society. Legally, whether it was the State or an appointed guardian, there would be some entity with the power to determine Billy's life until he reached the age of majority. Furthermore, he is a kid and it is an adult world. Many people have children of Billy's age or interact with them daily, and some of those people even like children; but how many adults take, in general, the thoughts and opinions of children as seriously as they do those of another adult? By and large, children are impotent in our society. Furthermore, as Billy, he has no family or friends that he doesn't also have as Captain Marvel. So if Billy is Cap, only smarter, why would he want to change back from being a powerful, independent adult?

The most common argument I have heard to this refers to the movie Big, again. The argument goes something like, just as Josh Baskin longed for the carefree fun of being a kid again, so would Billy -- that's why he changes back. This theory overlooks the obvious difference between Josh Baskin trapped in an adult body and Billy Batson as Captain Marvel: Josh, even though he is an adult, still has a 12-year old mind -- he is out of his league as an adult and he knows it. The adult world is strange and confusing to him. However, Billy has the Wisdom of Solomon to give him insight and knowledge. He functions just fine as an adult. In fact, he functions even better.

Most of us real-life adults of a certain age, Cap, occasionally have the idle wish that we could be in our early teens again, knowing what we know now. (Heck, if I were a teenager again, knowing what I know about adolescent insecurities and emotions and with the experience and confidence of an adult, all it would take would be a few Machiavellian manipulations, and I would rule any high school.) However, how many of us would want to be a child again if it meant giving up all we had learned about life and all the knowledge we had gained since then? Very few. I wouldn't expect to see any hands go up on that one.

So the idea that a Solomon-augmented Billy Batson mind in Captain Marvel's form would want to be a kid again doesn't make much sense.

What makes the most sense is that they are two different people. Captain Marvel, when Billy cries "Shazam!", supplants Billy in reality. If one presumes that Cap and Billy are two different entities, that means that Captain Marvel understands that every time he is in existence, he is robbing Billy of some of his life. Granted, Billy has good reasons to summon Cap, and that was part of the deal to which Billy (more or less) agreed that night in the subway tunnel.
But being a compassionate man, as well as a righteous one, Captain Marvel prefers to deprive Billy as little of his own life as possible. Not to mention the fact that Captain Marvel was conceived to fight evil and defend the innocent. He is not supposed to have a life of his own beyond that, except for whatever social interactions he develops during the course of his mission (which would explain his social awkwardness, especially when it comes to girls). Therefore, the considerate Captain Marvel reverts back to Billy as often as he can, in most situations.

This is the premise which makes the most sense to me. It is the only one which would adequately explain why Captain Marvel would ever want to change back to Billy (and, by extension, why Mary Marvel would change back to Mary Batson, or why Junior would change back to Freddy).

Quite a dissertation, [name withheld] -- and so sincere that I am loath to argue with it. But, unfortunately, I must.

Lucky for us both, my original response was largely informed by the modern Cap/Billy, which you make no claim to. In the Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League especially, Cap/Billy's naivete and childlike behavior was played for laughs. In Jerry Ordway's Power of Shazam! that aspect was played up also, particularly with the immature Cap clearly flummoxed when an adult woman attempts to seduce him. And finally, in DCU Heroes Secret Files #1 (Feb 99), the profile piece states quite baldly that Captain Marvel "has the super-powered body of an adult with the savvy mind of a teenager." That's pretty hard to argue with.

But my Golden Age experience is spotty at best, and the Golden Age Captain Comics is away on a space mission (again), and isn't available for consultation. So I'm willing to go with Cap/Billy as possibly two guys in the Golden Age but definitely one guy in the present. Or perhaps the Golden Age Cap was an adult version of Billy. Howzat?

Not very impressive, I’m afraid. I thought to address this letter because of the writer’s citation of Tom Hanks’s 1988 movie called Big, which was, IMHO, an embarrassingly bad movie that doesn’t handle it’s youngster stuck in adult body premise very well. Come to think of it, since when was such a premise ever handled well? I could even cite the 2 anime series of Minky Momo (first one in 1982-3 and the second in 1991-2) as other examples that leave a bad taste in the mouth. I just hope that Golden or modern age, any of these issues involving sex and maturity were handled as well as you can expect in Capt. Marvel, because there are some parts of that concept that did not age well. That’s not something I’m happy to note, but some things are just plain inevitable. June 14, 2001 comes next:

Q: First of all, I want to thank you for recommending the Milligan/Allred revamp of X-Force; I haven't seen this much quirky fun since Grant Morrison's early Doom Patrol. I'm horribly addicted after the first issue.

I've been reading much praise about Martian Manhunter on your site, and I'm wondering, why doesn't DC release it under the Vertigo banner?
My main problem with Vertigo is the uniformity of the titles; everything is black-clad and depressing. I preferred Vertigo when it didn't have a name and a distinct image -- there was variety in Animal Man, Doom Patrol, Sandman and Hellblazer.

Why can't Vertigo simply be a label for sophisticated comics for adults? Not "adult" as in graphic violence, language and sex (although those can be found in the other books), but in intellect? From reading the comments about Martian Manhunter, it seems to aimed toward a more grown-up audience. It might sell better if DC targeted it to that crowd. Just a thought.

A: To answer your main question first, I don't think DC would ever release Martian Manhunter as a Vertigo book (or any other way, now) because the company has never shown any confidence in the character, sales-wise. Even in the '60s, Manhunter was usually slighted on Justice League of America covers in favor of Big Guns like Batman and Superman -- and was eventually written out of the DC Universe altogether for 10 years or so after about issue #70.

As to Vertigo, it was initially envisioned as a mature "horror" line, with the now-defunct Helix imprint a mature science-fiction line. I have no independent confirmation of this, but it seems that idea still has Vertigo in a death-grip -- hence, the gloom and doom. (If any DC/Vertigo staffers are reading this and wish to chime in, please feel free.) With WildStorm/ABC/Homage/Cliffhanger as a release valve for Code-less, non-horror fare, I don't expect this to change. In fact, there are RUMORS that DC's reaction to Marvel's decision to drop the Comics Code is to launch their own "Mature" line -- with The Authority and Wildcats being the first two titles to take the plunge. We'll have to wait and see if that actually develops, but either way I really don't expect Vertigo to change much -- despite reports of iffy sales.

Milligan’s X-Force revamp was cancelled about 2 years afterwards, and I can’t say I was sorry to see it go. It just wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on. As for his comment on Martian Manhunter, what I’m wondering is why any book with him has to be an ongoing and not a miniseries. In fact, there was one published in 1988, and if that was okay to do then, I don’t see why it’s not now.

Q: Can you give me some advice? I have almost 3,000 comics and horror mags that were appraised at $16,000 a few years ago. I have not found any stores who were interested in buying all for even $4,000! I have some good titles and some that are probably not as desirable but all are in excellent shape, bagged, boarded, sorted, etc. I want to sell all and be done. Any suggestions are appreciated.

A: The general rule of thumb for dealers, as explained to me by several comic-shop owners, is to offer about one-fourth value of what they think they can SELL. This is not because they're greedy -- well, not necessarily -- but because books they can't sell are worthless and not a factor, fifty percent of the value is eaten up by overhead, and they need to make a profit to make the transaction worthwhile.

Here's how it breaks down: If you offer a collection with a "book" value of $16,000, a shop owner may decide that if he buys it, he may only sell $4,000 of it. Half that -- $2,000 -- is eaten up by overhead (rent, utilities, time employees spend sorting and grading, etc.). So that leaves him $2,000 to split between himself and you. So he'll offer you $1,000. The more he offers you, the less profit he makes, and there's a point of diminishing returns where too small a profit isn't worth his time to fool with it. Ugly, but that's commerce.

So most folks try to skip the middleman -- the dealer -- and sell directly to a collector themselves. The best way to do that is on eBay or some other auction site, or by placing an ad in a newspaper/magazine like Comics Buyer's Guide.

And incidentally, your decision to sell all at once is also recommended. If you allow a dealer to "cherry pick" your collection, he'll buy a small percentage of it (the stuff in high demand) and offer you one-fourth the value for that -- while leaving you with large amounts of landfill to cart back home. Again, this is not venality on the part of the owner, but the sort of smart business practice that will keep him IN business.

For more opinions, you might try my message board, or others in the comics community. You might even get an offer.

Anyway, that's my opinion. If others -- particularly shop owners -- care to chime in with different opinions or plans of action, this space is available.

I’ve got suggestions, such as, why doesn’t the clown who wrote that letter just READ the books and not abandon them in bags, boards, and dust that collects on the plastic? I’ve already found news that various collection owners have discovered their collections aren’t worth the prices listed. It’s like owning an old Mercury sedan from the 1950s and finding out it’s not worth squat. What a shame Mr. Smith didn’t think to make those friendly suggestions either. Today, much of this is an all but moot point.

Q: A few questions for the Captain:
1) Why does Gar Logan have a period of time when he was purple?
2) Howcum, in his Beast Boy days, he had a green human face with a regular animal body with the coloring of that animal -- but as Changeling, he was an all-green animal?

A: 1) Back in his Doom Patrol days, Beast Boy wore a purple full-head mask to disguise his green face -- a dead giveaway that he was the famously green Gar Logan, adopted son of the world's fifth-richest man. This was deemed necessary because Gar was a minor, and the DP could get in trouble letting him hang around in dangerous situations. And besides, secret identities were in vogue. But he's always been green.
2) In his '60s incarnations, Beast Boy would turn into animals with a human face -- and sometimes not. But they were all colored like real animals. When he was introduced in the '80s Teen Titans, suddenly he turned into only green animals. I presume, without any other information available, that this was a creative decision to visually distinguish the character.

Oh please! If the DP really had difficulties keeping Gar around sans mask, then realistically, they’d have triple the trouble if he did; the authorities would want to find out who he really was. And did it ever occur to him that Gar was introduced already in the DP days, not during 1980? What happened is that he was ADDED to the NTT cast. What a goof.

Q: Could you give me your opinions of the following books if you have read them?
Why I Hate Saturn, by Kyle Baker
Count Geiger's Blues, by Michael Bishop

A: I haven't read Count Geiger's Blues, but others have written in with their opinions (and others are welcome). As to Why I Hate Saturn ...
I loved it! Kyle Baker has a gift for natural dialogue and consequence, and applied it in this tale to a non-fantastic, novelistic premise. The result was a novel in comic-book form, and the only nod to "superhero funnybooks" was the lead character's (possibly) deranged sister, who opted out of the real world by dressing as an alien from the planet Saturn. The sister makes only a few appearances, largely for comic relief -- the real story is of the lead character, an alcoholic NYC writer who has trouble with all aspects of life, especially men. (And her sister, which is why she hates Saturn.)
One of the funniest bits in the whole book is a line that I've stolen for jokes in real life, when (SPOILER WARNING), the confident, gets-any-babe-he-wants best friend eventually becomes the lover of the lead character, losing all of his self-confidence in the process. The lead character breaks up with him, naturally, because he's no longer the man she was attracted to. When she explains this to him, his response is: "Oh. Well, if you want me to be more assertive, I'll try to be." Beautiful! And then, "So we're broken up. OK. Can we still sleep together until I find somebody else?" I can't BEGIN to tell you how funny that is -- because it so accurately zooms in on what many people are thinking during a breakup, but would never admit.
The Cowboy Wally Show, which Baker also wrote and drew, is more fall-down-funny. But it's a sillier premise. Why I Hate Saturn reads like people you know, and is bittersweet funny. Highly recommended.

Sigh. Baker has proven himself one of the worst artists and writers around since he collaborated on The Truth: Red, White and Black in 2003. I wouldn’t want to waste time on his tripe any more than his tripe as a hired hand. Now, here’s a letter I wrote at the time, another of its kind I’m just not so impressed with from a modern perspective:

Now that Colossus is dead, will the toy companies that make toys based on Marvel characters stop building Colossus action figures?

I presume so.

Oh, even I must’ve been naïve back then to think the toys would literally stop a-comin’ for Colossus! But then, so was he. And his comments on June 21, 2001 aren’t any better:

Q: I have a few questions and comments about comics. Here goes:
1) It seems to me that in the last 10 years or so, comic books have decreased the amount of violence in them (and I'm not referring to Vertigo or mature readers books, but "all ages" books such as Superman, Batman, JLA, etc.). I haven't seen a good old-fashioned "slug-fest" in years. I remember in the DC comics of the '80s many fistfights had even teeth and blood spewing from the mouths of many villains after a punch. Now, I know this isn't politically correct, but I miss those slug-fests! Those fights were fun and I think that is one of the "magic" things that is missing from comics these days. I'm not a violent person, but I do enjoy violence in my comic books. And it seems that in the last several years there has been a slow, barely visible decrease in the amount of violence in comics (so slow a decrease, it took me several years before I even realized it). Now, mainly power blasts are used or the villain is defeated in the end by talking to him (yawn). Or the artists don't depict the violence as graphically as they used to (i.e., teeth shooting out after a punch in the face, a hero or villain flying back through three or four buildings after being punched, etc.). Is it just me or have you noticed this, too? Is it a conscious effort by comics publishers to decrease violence because they think it's bad for kids? If so, I think it is a bad thing, because they are saying that comics are only for kids! That is a step backwards for comics, in general. It is in everyone's best interests to show the non-comics reading public that comics are for adults, too, or readership will never increase and comics will never be looked at as a legitimate art form or literary form. Isn't respect for comic books by the general public what every fan and pro wants? And I think that a good story can co-exist with "mindless slug-fests" if balanced just right. Good writers can accomplish this.
2) In my opinion, I think the best time for comic books was in the mid-to-late 1980s. I mainly bought DC Comics then, but it seemed that the best writers and artists were at DC then. Starting with Crisis On Infinite Earths, DC Comics started maturing in their content and stories. I kind of grew up with them as I was in my late teens then and I was ready for more mature stories. All the revamped titles such as Superman, Batman, Justice League International (this was more hilarious than mature), Flash, etc., were better than ever then. Watchmen and Batman: Gotham By Gaslight were well-written, involving stories. Chances were taken then. Unfortunately, in the early '90s, the good writers and artists seemed to migrate elsewhere and the quality along with them. Then Image came in, changing the whole medium into a teenagers-only format with characters having crappy, exaggerated physiques and little or no story in the books. Most books started having women star in them for no other reason but T&A. I think this above all else ruined comics. (I love beautiful women, but having only T&A in comics is a bad thing.) Also, have you noticed how many comics now aren't colorful any more? Bright colors have been replaced with dark, moody and in some cases dismal-looking colors. Even something as trivial as that can take the fun out of comics. If somehow, we could go back to those days when good, well-written stories filled with slam-bang action were the rule, we could get comics sales up again.
3) I really miss those DC digests from the late '70s and '80s. I can't afford the DC hardcover archives and they only occasionally reprint specials in regular format (not counting the DC Millennium editions). Marvel recently tried digest format and Archie Comics still have several regular monthly digests that seem to sell well. Do you think DC might try digests again in the future?
4) Does DC plan to publish a regular monthly Justice League comic based on the new cartoon series coming up on Cartoon Network?

A: 1) No, I really haven't noticed a decline in general violence in comics -- although, you don't see too many toe-to-toe grudge matches like in Silver Age Marvel, where Hulk and The Thing battled for 22 pages (Fantastic Four #25) or Hulk and Thor duked it out for a whole issue (Journey Into Mystery #113). I suspect that is so because today's writers find that "beneath" them -- they want slug-fests with "meaning." Of course, that's one man's opinion.
As to general violence, I haven't really noticed a decline. The Authority, for example, is nothing but over-the-top violence and sexual escapades, and even in the Spandex titles, Superman had his jaw broken in the most recent Man of Steel. Spider-Man is currently getting the crap kicked out of him in both Amazing and Peter Parker, and it's not the first time recently. Over in Ultimate he had to cancel a date to get over injuries sustained in getting thoroughly whipped by The Kingpin and Electro. In a recent JSA, Black Adam was punched off the planet Thanagar! I could go on. I think it's just a matter of perception, in that we don't have the old "Hulk/Thing grudge match in the abandoned warehouse district" stories any more.
And do you REALLY want to see teeth knocked out of people's mouths?
Although, in regard to your observation about violence "gradually" being excised, I share it in regard to Saturday morning superhero shows. Recently, when watching X-Men: Evolution, I was shocked to see people using guns with bullets! It suddenly occurred to me that I hadn't seen that for years -- in the old X-Men cartoon they used "pulse rifles" of some sort that really didn't seem to hurt anybody. And I hadn't noticed. (The one exception would be Batman: The Animated Series. But the Superman cartoon, by the same folks, had the futuristic rifles.)
2) I agree that pre-Image was better than post-Image, for the very reasons you cite. I was appalled by the early Image books, with their T&A-driven, plotless, every-other-page-a-pinup approach. I was further appalled when it was mindlessly copied at Marvel and, to an extent, DC. It took a while, but Image finally came to realize that they needed actual writers, and their line as a whole is improving -- but the damage has more or less been done. Combined with the grim-n-gritty fad spawned by everybody copying Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and The Watchmen, comics went through a really shallow, unpleasant period in the early to mid-'90s. It's reassuring to me to see the Mark Waid/Kurt Busiek retro approach finding a niche, as well as good writing by the likes of Paul Jenkins, Grant Morrison, Warren Ellis, Joe Casey, Jeph Loeb, Peter David, John Ostrander and others once again being appreciated.
3) Digests, as I've mentioned before, are not cost-effective for publishers who have to pay reprint fees. Both Marvel and DC seem to be favoring hardbacks and trade paperbacks for reprints, which have a larger profit margin and can sell in bookstores as well as comic shops. And both companies are going whole hog into TPBs, which should give you a wide variety of material that doesn't go for the $50 a pop like the Archives do. As to who might be selling the old DC Blue Ribbon Digests and other digests online, I haven't a clue (I have them all, so I haven't been looking). Perhaps a Legion of Superfluous Heroes member has some suggestions.
4) If DC doesn't do a Justice League Adventures-style book, I'd be stunned. They're probably waiting for the initial ratings to come in, but is there any comics fan who ISN'T going to watch that show? I've got my VCR revved and ready now! Plus, it will appeal to the Super Friends generation, many of whom no longer read comics. I suspect it will be a major hit, and a comic book will quickly follow. After all, they're canceling Batman Beyond -- that's a number of Adventures-style writers and artists made available right there.

It’s been 14 years and he’s wrong as can be. Today we have writers who want slugfests only between heroes and not hero-vs-villain, as seen in Avengers vs. X-Men. I sure don’t get where the correspondent thinks comic book violence has been toned down. It’s long been proven otherwise.

Regarding Image, I will say that if it’s a product from the likes of Rob Liefeld, then of course, those early Image products were total junk. Where Marvel and DC have since blown it big time was when they started imitating his approach with terrible artwork and misshapen anatomies. One of Herb Trimpe’s last efforts was a dud because Marvel compelled him to imitate an artist way beneath him. But I disagree that T&A was what ruined comics per se. What I believe ruined comics was the increase in alienating violence, as seen in Green Lantern and Aquaman when Kevin Dooley was editing them, along with the Clone Saga in Spider-Man, when Peter Parker accidentally injured Mary Jane Watson while a scientist stands idly by doing nothing on his part to break up the fight with his clone, Ben Reilly, to name but some examples.

No suggestions comics make the jump to TPBs only, I see. And on cartoons, they have done some JL Adventures style books, but never promoted them seriously.

Q: One question that has nagged at me for a long time about that famous line "With great power there must also come great responsibility." (which still resonates in my head from that old cartoon show retelling of the original); did Stan Lee come up with that himself? Or was he quoting some specific source?

A: As far as I know, that particular phrase is a Stan Lee original.
Which is not to say that the idea isn't an old one; for example, Thomas Huxley said in the 1800s: "If some great Power would agree to make me always think what is true and do what is right, on condition of being turned into a sort of clock and wound up every morning before I got out of bed, I should instantly close with the offer."
And Thomas Jefferson said, "When a man assumes a public trust, he should consider himself as public property."
There are many, many more quotes along the same lines (particularly among the Founding Fathers) wherein a ruler's power confers responsibility for the governed. Not quite the same thing, but conceptually similar.
Heck, even Karl Marx said, "From each, according to his abililty, to each, according to his need."

Ugh, to think he brings up the founder of marxism, one of the worst ideologies in the vein of socialism. (Guilty confession time: I once quoted a phrase of Marx’s too in another letter to him, and I shouldn’t have.)

While I admire Lee very much, I do believe John Broome preceded it by a few years in the Flash, when Wally West made his debut, and Barry Allen explained how his newfound power was a big responsibility. It wasn’t the same line, obviously, but it does have significance. And he didn’t remember it? Yeesh.

Q: Long-time reader, first-time beamer.
I was just wondering if you knew the status of Awesome Comics. Are they dead? Do you know how many issues of their titles actually made it to the stands?
As long as I'm asking -- how about the status of London Night, and is there an index anywhere?

A: The last Awesome issue solicited was Youngblood Genesis in November, 2000 -- which I ordered from Westfield Comics, and for which my money was refunded under the header "canceled by publisher/distributor." Since several earlier Awesome issues met the same fate (such as October's Supreme: The Return), I think it a reasonable assumption that Awesome is defunct. This opinion is buttressed by owner Rob Liefeld's presence on mainstream Marvel and DC books -- if his company was a going concern, he would be "there" and not "here." If others have hard information to share, this forum is available!
To see which issues were actually published (as opposed to being solicited and touted on various news sites), my advice would be to check the 2001 Overstreet Guide and see which ones are listed.
As to London Night, I am completely unfamiliar with them and their product. I can't find any recent solicitations, and that's the only info I have to share.

Oh dear! He just had to serve it all up so sugarcoated! But at least I know Awesome was an Image affiliate. If Youngblood collapsed, that’s long proven a good thing. I can’t tell from the letter, but I sure hope the person writing it wasn’t some mentally adolescent vagrant addict. Now for June 28, 2001, and a question I wrote at the time:

Q: Where did old characters like the Golden Age Human Torch go? Years ago, before DC's current Steel came around, there'd been a different Steel in the Justice League of America, who was no doubt killed off during Crisis on Infinite Earths. But what happened to the Golden Age Human Torch, who'd been one of Captain America's (partners) during WWII?

A: Oh, "Jim Hammond" -- the original, android Human Torch -- is still around. He doesn't have his flame powers any more, but he's a background character in the Marvel Universe. His most recent appearance was in Citizen V and the V Battallion #3, just a few weeks ago.

As to the Justice League Steel, he was killed off in Justice League of America #260 (Mar 87). If memory serves -- and it doesn't, not really -- he was the grandson of the WWII Steel who had his own book for about 20 seconds in the '70s. (OK, it was Steel, the Indestructible Man, and it lasted five issues, from March to Oct-Nov, 1978.) That makes John Henry Irons Steel III!

Jim Hammond may be getting his powers back this year, but it’s not good news with James Robinson being the writer of a new take on The Invaders. I’ve written a bit about that already, and I’ll say that I have no respect the man anymore, and like a few people on Dixonverse, I too have begun to question his early ventures into comics like Starman. And I figure Mr. Smith by contrast won’t. More likely he’ll say in his columns that Robinson is a “fan-favorite” when he’s been losing a lot of audience ever since the Cry for Justice miniseries.

Now, what about July 19,2001:

Q: Is there any truth to the Internet rumors surrounding a January fifth-week event that involves taking familiar Marvel characters and giving them new, manga-influenced origins? Among the ones listed were a Super Sentai Fantastic Four and a Masked Rider like Spider-Man. This sounds almost too strange to be true, but nowadays you can never tell.

Oh, and what's this I hear about Marvel killing off a major character this September? My money is on either Captain America (since he's moving to Marvel Knights) or the Hulk.

A: Both of the questions you ask are more than rumors; they've been officially announced by Marvel.

1) In January, an eight-issue "Marvel Manga" fifth-week event will have two bookend issues written and drawn by Ben Dunn (Ninja High School, Warrior Nun Areala), and the six middle issues will re-imagine Marvel mainstays like Spider-Man, Fantastic Four and the X-Men in Japanese style.

2) On the Marvel message boards, Joe Quesada announced last September that one of Marvel's "oldest and richest" characters would take the dirt nap -- permanently. That idea has since been reiterated to the point that it's a certainty that it's going to happen.

What's not certain, of course, is which character it is. Marvel has been cagey in answering what "richest" means -- whether financially, or in story terms. That has launched a debate -- there's currently a knowledgeable one on the Captain Comics Message Board -- and the consensus is that it's probably Steve Rogers, when Captain America becomes a Marvel Knights title later this year. My own opinion is that it's Bruce Banner, who is currently suffering from a very real, very incurable, very fatal disease. But if we're talking "richest" financially, then it's almost got to be Reed Richards or Tony Stark. Time will tell.

I know which character it was: Odin, the father of Thor. And I’m very disappointed the boob who wrote that letter had no complaints about Marvel’s publicity stunt based on the death of a character any more than Mr. Smith did. It was getting old and awful well before this particular case, and should have been objected to. As for Captain America shifting to the Marvel Knights banner, we’ve all seen how well that turned out with the apologia and all! Sick. I’m not impressed with Marvel’s manga ventures either.

Hi Cap: In regard to the questions posed below in Rap with Cap:

<<Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel Jr. look exactly the same as Mary Batson and Freddie Freeman so why wouldn't Cap be Billy, only older? This brings up another question: Why DOES Billy "get older" when Mary and Freddie stay the same age? Probably because they received their powers in "skewed" fashion while Billy was directly the first. In any regard, when Mary first changed into a Marvel she acted exactly like the same person, only noticing her new strength ("I feel strong ... powerful!") and change of clothes ("My! What a lovely costume, too!").>>

My understanding of the odd ages between the Captain Marvels is that Freddie, Mary and Billy became the physical form that they most idolized. Freddie, who was crippled by then, became Freddie who wasn't crippled. Billy became the living vision of his long-lost father. And Mary, who must have a wonderful self-image, became herself.

I seem to remember this explanation appearing in a letters column in the Power of Shazam! series somewhere, but I'm not sure which issue.
Also, if I may extend the discussion to my general take of the recent Power of Shazam! series: I found it a relatively dull book. Its biggest problem was Jerry Ordway's obssessive use of outdated characters from Fawcett Comics. I know at the time characters such as Bulletman and Captain Nazi were very appropriate for a comic. Nowadays, they come across as more than a little boring, no matter what you make them do.

Mind you, I did like Ibis, Black Adam and, of course, the Marvels, but Ordway probably should have let CM out of Fawcett City a little more than he did. This would have let him interact with the DC Universe more and develop a better cache of villains.

Speaking of villains, Ordway should have tried to create a few new ones as well. The older villains -- Mr. Mind, Sivana and (Captain) Nazi -- were never too great of a threat to Captain Marvel, especially with CM3 and Mary waiting in the wings.

The series would have probably found a better audience if it had a more humorous angle. I'm not talking about the hipster humor found in titles such as Superboy, but maybe stuff like the old Justice League International books. In fact, I think (Keith) Giffen and (J. M.) DeMatteis would be the ideal team for a revival.

Lastly, a neat twist would be for CM to take up a mentoring role for a team like Young Justice or the fondly remembered Young Heroes in Love squad. Imagine, Cap, who's a kid himself, trying his best to act like a role model for other kids. I think it could work.

Thanks, [withheld]! I had to laugh out loud at your Mary Marvel remarks; a "wonderful self-image" indeed! And you've said aloud what I always subconsciously accepted, that the results of the Shazam! power were in some way influenced by the speaker's secret wishes. It was, after all, a series about wish fulfillment.

Which brings up an interesting idea ... what if the "Captain Marvel" persona wasn't fixed, but continued to evolve to reflect the speaker's changing self-image? For example, what if an elderly Billy Batson spoke the word -- and became Captain Marvel JR. in a subconscious search for his lost youth? What if Freddy Freeman became an embittered office worker, and started changing to Black Adam? What if Mary Batson grew self-conscious about her weight, and started becoming Twiggy Marvel? What if Black Adam got in touch with his feminine side, and became Judy Garland Marvel? It'll never happen, for trademark reasons if nothing else. But it's a fun thought to play with.

As to Jerry Ordway's use of Fawcett heroes and villains in the PoS! series, I actually enjoyed seeing them, for the same reason I enjoy seeing any obscure Golden Age characters: It's just about the only way I'll learn anything about them. Since it's unlikely we'll ever see a Bulletman Archives or that DC will reprint Ibis the Invincible stories, Power of Shazam! is about the only way I'll ever find out the details of these characters' secret identities, powers, etc. Lord knows I can't afford to buy the back issues!
I also understand why Ordway chose to "quarantine" Cap in Fawcett City. One of the problems with every Captain Marvel revival is that the concept doesn't work too well when taken completely seriously -- which becomes the case whenever Cap mixes with other characters in the DCU. As a "serious" superhero, Captain Marvel is not only redundant with Superman, but less powerful -- Cap doesn't have Supes' many vision powers, super-breath, etc., and the boy's-mind-in-a-man's body aspect comes across as a (possibly dangerous) liability. By keeping Cap in Fawcett, Ordway was free to be as light-hearted as he chose, without having the overall grim-n-gritty sensibility of the DCU forcing story decisions, modern rationalizations and wordy exposition on him.

Overall, I enjoyed Power of Shazam!, even though I acknowledge your complaints as pretty valid. The problems with the series, I think, were not with the characters or the creator, but with the audience -- we've all grown too sophisiticated to accept the gentle, light-hearted whimsy that was the appeal of the series in the '40s. And if you "update" the concept to modern expectations, then Captain Marvel ceases to be Captain Marvel and becomes just another Superman -- a Superman, as noted, handicapped by not having a mature mind. In which case, is he even Captain Marvel any more? Why not just call him Captain Thunder and leave the original character undisturbed in limbo (and our memories)?

Anyway, that's my two cents. I'd be interested in what others have to think.

I’ll add mine, beginning with how facinating it is that Mr. Smith hasn’t said a word about Geoff Johns’s down-date of Billy Batson in the pages of Justice League in the New 52 era, where he’s now only known as “Shazam” because modern DC publishers have given up on the use of Captain Marvel as a name because Marvel Comics long took up the trademark. It’s one of the most disgusting retcons of a Golden Ager I’ve ever seen, with Billy turned into a nasty, sullen and alienating youngster, but Smith never said a word when it all happened 2 years ago, making me pine for Ordway’s far better take on Billy.

That told, I’ve gotta admit that Fawcett’s Captain Marvel is a very problematic concept in the modern era, but Smith’s claim “we” are too sophisticated for Shazam is still very off base. I’m nearly 40 now and I don’t find the bright angle too juvenile for my tastes. But I assume Mr. Smith does.

From July 26, 2001, a query I wrote about a certain “Merc with a mouth”:

I think I've only read Deadpool about three or four times, and that was back in 1997, at the time it first began. From what I've seen you mentioning about it in the Next Week's Comics section, is it a terrible title, besides the truly silly name that he's got?

My complaint about Deadpool is the one I had about The Punisher and Lobo back in the day -- that other superheroes accept this heartless killer as one of their own for the sake of sales. Heck, Siryn (of X-Force) was depicted as a love interest! I don't mind books about killers -- just be sure you call them that and treat them that way and not have them team up with Spider-Man (see the current Punisher and Marvel Knights series for how to do it right). Deadpool has a strong, vocal core group of fans that recently saved it from cancellation, and I don't begrudge them their enjoyment of this black-humor title. But I can't stand it.

It’s all matter of opinion and perception, I’d say. The Punisher’s quarry were usually violent murderers, like the ones who murdered his own family in cold blood, along with rapists and drug dealers. If Frank Castle slaughtered innocent people, then there’d be definite cause for concern. This is just one example of Mr. Smith’s leftist side kicking in. If Deadpool also went after villains and not innocents, then there’s not too much need to worry. Honestly, what’s his beef? And why hasn’t he panned the writers and editors for failure to make Deadpool a more palatable character, if he’s got issues with characterization and other matters of structure? The guilty parties here are Fabian Nicieza and Rob Liefeld, and if he’s got issues, he could’ve taken it up with them.

Say, and why do I get the feeling he’s alluding to Garth Ennis’ take on the Punisher? I’m not sure, but whatever he is talking about, I’m sure I won’t like it.

Who was the first comic-book character to kill an opponent (I have a hunch it was waaaay back in the Golden Age, when even Superman & Batman didn't possess their modern-day values).

Superheroes frequently killed in the early days of comics, since they grew out of the bloody pulps, where characters like The Shadow, The Spider and others offed their foes with outright glee. Most pulp characters carried handguns, and they used them for the purpose for which they are constructed: To kill people. So early "mystery men" in the comics, having been bred from that seed, were often armed -- including The Crimson Avenger and Batman (the editors famously decided to ditch Batman's gun in 1940). I don't know who killed first, but there's a notorious scene in Detective Comics #28 (Jun 39) where the Dark Knight callously heaves a henchman off a rooftop to his death. (Batman did the same thing in Detective Comics #27 the previous month, but it isn't clear if the henchman actually goes over the roof -- although, since we don't see him in the rest of the battle, it's seems pretty obvious that he went splat.) Batman may not have been the first superhero to kill, but that scene's pretty famous -- and it being 1939, one year after Superman's debut and the invention of the superhero, it's certainly in the running.

What was the first miniseries published by a comic company?

The first miniseries? I assume you mean deliberately! And the answer is: I haven't the foggiest notion. Anyone know?

Say, he’s addressing the subject of superheroes who kill in this subject! Gee, isn’t that strange somebody who has a beef with the Punisher killing repulsive criminals doesn’t seem to feel the same way about Golden Agers doing the same? He ain’t just got a lack of clear knowledge on Golden Agers, he’s got a lack of clear standings on their MO!

As for the first miniseries, I knew that, and my answer was right here:

I believe the first miniseries could've been DC's World of Krypton from 1979, which told about what Superman's homeworld and parents were like. Comics historian Mike Benton may have told that it was the first comics miniseries in one of his books, as well as the British musician Paul Sassiene, who wrote a book on comics history published in 1994. I do wonder though, what the first maxiseries was! That [answer] I don't know.

Thanks, Avi! So far, the best candidate for first maxiseries is Camelot 3000 (1982).

Too bad I can’t fully appreciate that reply. Not after he turned full-fledged propagandists since 2004. Besides, I think I already knew Camelot 3000 was more than 6 issues, thus qualifying for maxi.

Dear Captain: Thank you for answering my questions; I've another Q for you. When I was a child, I remember reading an old Overstreet Price Guide that mentioned an issue of Ka-Zar with "hidden profanity" or something like that on the cover. This wasn't the terrific Bruce Jones/Brent Anderson Ka-Zar the Savage series, but one from the '70s; I believe it was the first issue. In any case, my question is -- what was the "hidden profanity?" Was there really "hidden profanity" there, or is it merely subject to interpretation?

Also, I believe Marvel's Contest of Champions (I think that was the title) from the early '80s was the first miniseries. If it was, I think DC caught on to doing more miniseries before Marvel with Sword of the Atom, Green Arrow and Ronin.

Speaking of Sword of the Atom, wasn't that one of the first adult, modern revamps of a superhero a la Dark Knight Returns? I'm not saying that it's a work of art comparable to Dark Knight -- although I did love it -- but it was a relatively cutting-edge rejuvenation of a superhero for its time. The book opens up with Ray Palmer catching his wife having an affair, and he ends up falling in love with a yellow-skinned beauty in that microscopic sword & sorcery world. It was quite risky, I felt, and written with a somewhat mature perspective. Nobody ever talks about it for some reason.

Actually, I was kinda puzzled by Sword of the Atom, in that it took a character whose primary distinguishing characteristic (he gets small) is rendered moot by putting him in with a bunch of other people the same size. I was probably just too young for it at the time -- and maybe others are in the same boat.

And does anybody know about this "hidden profanity" thing? First I've heard of it, although a lot hidden messages were laced into "psychedelic" backgrounds in the '60s. And, in one issue of Green Lantern/Green Arrow, artist Mike Kaluta's name became a sound effect! (Ka-LOOOOOO-ta!)

Okay, here’s where I become very disappointed with him. He must think the whole shrinking aspect applies in every instance with the Atom. I don’t, and besides, regardless of how the whole adventure with the city of miniature aliens called Morlaidh in the mid-80s was structured, I thought it was very well written for a tale involving a superhero, and treated its subjects with dignity and respect. I can see now why Mr. Smith must hate it, and why he doubtlessly thinks the retcons in Identity Crisis are better in every way. The irony is that he’s still too young and too old to appreciate good writing with intelligence. Here comes August 24, 2001:

Q: Do you know what the deal with Witchblade is? There are only two episodes left. Are they planning to continue it, or what's the deal?

A: I asked TNT, and instead of responding directly they sent a press release announcing Witchblade's renewal for a second season. A press release ... with the same date as my question. Coincidence, or something more?

Something less? It lasted barely 2 seasons, and may have ended because Yancy Butler was pregnant with a child at the time. All the same, I can’t say the live action series was such a big deal, though I can say that the comics were surprisingly a lot more sophisticated than you’d think at first glance when they began in 1995, making them a lot better than other comics coming from Image (which shows that Top Cow had more brains than other affiliates). Just don’t expect Mr. Smith to admit that.

Q: Maybe I just haven't explored your site enough ... Do you ever review Dark Horse's Star Wars comics? If I'd have seen them, I may not have wasted my hard-earned cash on a lot of the crap they've been releasing lately: "The Hunt for Aurra Sucks" and "Jedi vs. Cash" ... Very ugh!

A: I hope you read my response in Next Week's Comics, [name withheld]. But you might not have, so let me reiterate it and expound upon it:

LucasFilm controls all Star Wars material with a heavy, heavy hand. That's their right, as it is their property and can they can protect it any way they see fit. But given that LucasFilm has opted to protect their livelihood in this manner, ipso facto the comics are, and must be, pap. The stories can't progress, no new information on existing characters and situations (or those to come) can be revealed, no change in the status quo (either in existing movies or those to come) can be had, etc. So I don't read Star Wars books as I do other books, because the creators aren't free to create -- it's not fair to hold them to the same standard as other creators with more freedom. Which is not to say I don't like the books. I keep in mind the heavy restrictions Dark Horse must labor under, and I think the books are as professional and entertaining as can be expected from folks being forced to tread water ... and subject to having characters or situations or even lines of dialogue nixed from On High with no explanation. In other words, I just don't expect much. Given the circumstances, it's amazing that they aren't worse, and that the creators give it their all. In summation, I do read the books for their entertainment value (in a jaundiced way), but I'm certainly not going to waste any time or bandwidth reviewing them.

Well in that case, why does he still bother to read DC and Marvel output? They’re no longer free to create there either, unless they’re part of a closed circle, as is the case today. To be honest, I haven’t cared for Star Wars for years, after George Lucas turned out to be one galling leftist, and I don’t expect the franchise to be any more impressive after Lucasfilm was sold to Disney.

Q: Given the magnitude of the "Our Worlds At War" storyline, at some point it will be collected into a TPB, or most likely a hardback. Do you have any indication of when this might occur? It took about 10 years to do it for Crisis, but since this is much bigger and it's the trend for maxiseries, do you think we'll see it a bit sooner?

A: The delay on Crisis was unusual. DC said that the printing process used for that 1985-86 maxiseries wasn't exactly the dreaded "Flexographic," but it was close. The upshot was that the original plates and negatives and such were unuseable and therefore a very expensive process was needed to restore the artwork to reprint quality. (As a guy who's been involved in print production for 20 years, I believe that most of this is true.)

So DC explained that for Crisis to be reprinted, a very expensive hardback was necessary to recoup the costs. So they hit the market when they thought it would sell well enough at high enough a cost ($100 per) to make their money back. Once the hardback was out, it made no economic sense to rush out a TPB and undercut the hardback sales before the investment was recouped -- and, amazingly, DC said no TPB was even technically possible, until about a year went by, and then, more amazingly, suddenly it was possible. And in the meantime, some 50,000 people had shelled out $100 a pop, and DC and their distributors and bookstore outlets had made oodles of money. Gosh, what a lucky break! (As a guy who's been involved in print production for 20 years, I don't believe a word of this.)

Anyway, the printing experiments of the '80s are no more -- today's printing process is less destructive and more reliable, and most TPBs these days are wheeled out as quickly as possible to take advantage of the current enthusiasm for TPBs. I don't see any problems with OWAW being collected as immediately as is logistically possible, probably as early as the first quarter of next year.

I do see a problem, and it’s that crossovers like these would still be published at the expense of the ongoing series. Not something he’s complaining about, unfortunately. I’d also add how dismaying it is that for many years, DC did not publish various books in paperback, which is less expensive than hardcover.

Now for August 31, 2001, and a letter written by me:

Q: 1) Death could certainly count as a kind of limbo, but what I’d like to ask here is about live characters who end up in limbo. Why do some live characters in the Marvel and DC universes get put in limbo? Is it because the writers think they can make good use out of the characters, but can’t think of what to do with them at the moment? Or, is it because they feel that the characters are too appealing to get rid of? (One character who certainly is appealing and was in some kind of limbo for almost a decade was none other than the Martian Manhunter, back in the late '60s and early '70s.) And this reminds me, has Sunfire made any appearances in the past few years? I can’t remember seeing him in anywhere in the past few years. Is he also in limbo?
2) Do Marvel and DC ever publish letters with negative opinions on any of their letters pages? I’ve been reading the letters pages on some issues of Spider-Man, Iron Man, X-Men, Captain America, Superman, Batman, Flash, JLA, etc., from the past few months, and hmmmm, I don’t know, can’t say I’ve found any letters on their pages where anybody writes a complaint, a gripe, or tells about something that bothers them; all I found were all these gushy letters of applause. Do they enable negative opinions to be published? Because to be fair, while a page in print has only so much room, if anybody in the audience finds something disappointing or wishes to raise a complaint about something that they didn’t like, then they do deserve to have their thoughts known to everybody.

A: I think you answered your own question about characters in limbo, Avi -- they are the characters nobody can figure out what to do with, or simply don't have the sales appeal to figure prominently anywhere. They haven't been "put" in limbo -- they're just not appearing anywhere at the moment.

As to negative letters, there was a big stink in the '60s because editors (particularly at Marvel) would edit OUT the negative remarks, so that a pan became a praise. ("I don't like Superman" would come out "I ... like Superman.") So both Marvel and DC cleaned up their act and would generally run an occasional negative letter -- usually in about a 4:1 ratio of positive to negative. They swore at the time that it accurately reflected their mailbag content. That is probably the truth, but we only have their word for it.

Over time fewer and fewer letters came in (as sales dropped) and in the '80s you'd see more and more negative letters -- because a given title might only get three or four letters, and they ran what they had. Currently, with e-mail and message boards and newsgroups available as fodder for letter columns, the companies are once again flush with remarks -- and, I suspect, subconsciously or deliberately selecting the ones that make them look good. That might be unfair of me, but really, it's human nature -- what editor wants to run a letter that says, "You're a terrible editor"? And fans, too, fall into this -- consciously or subconsciously, a letter writer knows that a positive letter is more likely to run, so the companies get lots of "You rule!" letters.

(For singularly interesting letters columns, you might check out Savage Dragon and Powers -- both books run enormous letters sections, and must, by nature, have lots of both positive and negative remarks. I haven't read Cerebus in a while, but I remember that book's letters columns being sizeable as well.)
I guess the upshot is: We don't really know, and won't know, unless a letters-column editor tells us. My gut instinct is that the letters pages probably more or less reflect the mail received, tilted a tad toward the positive.

While this is one of various letters I’d written at the time I’m just not impressed with today, because I feel they were too easy queries to ask, this did bring to mind how Mr. Smith, along with the modern publishers at DC, did something similar, by shutting out negative sentiments about Identity Crisis, and come to think of it, even Bill Willingham’s atrocious Batman stories with Stephanie Brown and Dr. Leslie Thompkins. Indeed, when did they ever address the dissenters honestly? So what business does he have commenting on this case, disappointing as it is historically, if he can’t do any better?

Now wait’ll you see what comes up next, that being his commentary on Sword of the Atom:

Sword of The Atom was a re-invention of Ray "The Atom" Palmer as a sword-and-sorcery character. After finding his wife in bed with another man (they eventually divorced), Palmer leaves his old life and goes on "an extended vacation" to South America to look for another white dwarf star fragment. While there, misadventures with some drug-runners and a lightning bolt ruin Atom's size-and-weight controls, "freezing" him at six inches in the Brazilian rainforest. While there, he finds a whole civilization of six-inch people (how convenient!) who are yellow and somehow have forged weaponry despite their culture being Stone Age in every other respect. The little yellow people are under the thumb of a tyrant, and Ray inspires a revolution to establish niceness and justice in the jungle, while at the same time earning the love a drop-dead gorgeous yellow princess who doesn't wear much. The SoTA miniseries ran for four issues, and was followed by three Specials.

There are a lot of SoTA fans out there, according to my mail, but it left me cold. With apologies in advance to those who loved SoTA, I found the transformation of Atom into a Conan-esque figure to be a pointless re-invention of an existing character -- why not start afresh and leave Atom alone? And sticking Atom at six inches and surrounded by other six-inch people took away the only thing that made Atom unique -- that he was smaller than everybody else and had to use his brain instead of his brawn to solve problems. The gorgeous princess, the outsider-insires-revolution plot and the other accoutrements of this series, to me, went beyond cliche. And seeing Atom in torn blue-and-red Spandex with a loincloth wrapped around his waist always launched me into gales of laughter -- visually underscoring how one genre (sword and sorcery) had been grafted onto another (superhero).

I was impressed by the handling of Jean Loring's infidelity. Instead of inspiring comic-booky melodrama, Ray's reaction was one of bitterness, sadness and resignation -- a frequent reaction in the real world. And Jean's betrayal was actually completely in character and believable -- not only was Ray carrying on two lives (professor and superhero) and unlikely to be giving much time to his marriage, but also Jean had been characterized in the early Atom series as not being terribly committed to Ray in the first place. (She kept putting off his marriage proposals in favor of her career -- for YEARS -- so it's not surprising that she found romance in the arms of another lawyer, a man connected to that career. Clearly, her heart wasn't set a-thumpin' by Ray even in the best of times. She was also driven insane by a supervillain for a number of years in the '70s, which probably left lingering resentment of the whole superhero schtick.)

As I said above, a number of people whose opinions I respect enjoyed this series, so you might enjoy it also. I didn't, but maybe that's just me.

I doubt he really respects those who enjoyed it, but that’s beside the point. What raises my eyebrows here is his remarks about Jean. What is this supposed to mean, that she wasn’t very attached to him? As I noted in my review, she was embarrassed when Ray found out about her affair with Paul Hoben, who goes unmentioned here. Come to think of it, nor is Jean’s hopes of building up her career as a lawyer.

Surprisingly enough, he does admit – even if not in depth – that Jean was under the influence of villains when she technically went insane during 1969 and 1977, first in The Atom and Hawkman #45 (the situation was reversed in Justice League of America #81 5 months afterwards) and then in Super Team Family. Which makes it all the more offensive in the extreme that he’d embrace Identity Crisis without even doing any fact-checking to see if it made any sense whatsoever.

And look at how the depiction of Jean, as he interprets it to the unsuspecting reader he replied to, is apparently the only thing about SOTA that made an impression upon him. Gee, I guess he took to the Atom’s stories with the full intent of disliking the co-stars 40 millions years ago. And even if she wasn’t a very committed person, it’s not like she was ever depicted as violent, murderous and racist when in control of her own brain and body, so why he’d consider her equivalent to anthrax is beyond me.

So what kind of fandom is that Mr. Smith professes? What a crock.

Q: 1) Hey, Cap, I'm sure you've met quite a few comic-book-store owners over time. And more than a few of us have either worked at comic shops or wished we could run our own. So please share your wise opinion with us: What would you say are some of the attributes that make a successful comic-book-store entrepreneur?

2) On a completely different topic: If you could be reincarnated into a world where comic-book superheroes exist, what character would you pick for your new life host? (Imagine the process as portrayed in the movie, Heaven Can Wait, wherein you get dumped into an existing body. I would have suggested Havok's experience in Mutant X, but that series sucked mightily.)

A: 1) Hmmm. Well, first of all, I think ANY store entrepreneur should keep in mind standard business practices, like keeping the store clean, the employees friendly and hygienic, and trying overall to make his place of business look professional and inviting. Needless to say, that isn't always the case with comic-book shops. On a more specific note, I think comic-book-store owners need to have a shrewd sense of judgment about ordering and risk vs. profit calculations, and an outgoing, aggressive sense of salesmanship. Other than that, though, I admit to huge chunks of ignorance about comic-shop practices. Any store owners wanna field this one?

2) Oh, that one's easy: I'd be Green Lantern. With that ring, I could be anybody else I wanna be at any time. (I want to be Superman? "Ring, give me Kryptonian DNA.") If the power ring were used to its full potential -- and I understand, for story reasons, why this will never happen -- the ring-bearer could make himself invulnerable to all harm and virtually immortal within 20 seconds of receiving the darn thing. (My second wish would be to restore my hair and undo all dental decay. My third wish would be to do pretty much the same for all my friends and family. My fourth wish would be to de-age myself to about 22.) Green Lantern could be any other hero, any gender, any age, any anything forever and forever. What other choice could be as versatile?

What about comics-based journalism? Why doesn’t he argue it should be as honest as possible, and transparent about all the topics involved in various books? And he wants to be somebody else? He already is – he’s a propagandist.

Q: Once again, first-time writer, long-time reader. I've been reading comics since the late '60s and am also blessed with a pretty good memory for comics trivia. However, I find myself stumped after reading the Crisis TPB from DC in that I cannot remember what (if anything) happened to the following characters:

Superman & Lois (from Earth-Two), Superboy (Earth-Prime) and Alex Luthor. Last time we saw them, they had entered into a dimensional portal to a land of eternal peace. Knowing comic-book writers, I can't imagine they stayed there for very long.

Lady Quark, Pariah and Harbinger: They just walked off into the sunset/rise. I can ALMOST remember a Superman comic sometime after Crisis with at least Lady Quark but I can't quite put my mental finger on it.

Lastly, for now, do you feel the "recent" addition of Hypertime nullifies or cheapens what happened in Crisis?

A: I hate to do this, [...], but I haven't time to look all that up (it's 11 a.m. on Friday -- I'm already five hours late getting the site up!). So I'm going to throw out what I remember, and fall back on the Legion of Superfluous Heroes to correct me where necessary and fill in the blanks. Here goes:

As far as I know, the Kal-L and Mrs. Kent of Earth-Two are still in some sort of pocket universe. They briefly appeared in The Kingdom miniseries as still being residents of that realm.

The Earth-Prime Superboy, I believe, was shown to have given his life in one Legion story or another, thus restoring Superboy's place in Legion lore as an inspiration for the team (a position usurped, post-Crisis, by Valor).

A heroic Alexander Luthor was shown in the Superman story that resulted in the creation of Matrix/Supergirl -- but I don't recall if it's the same one that was in Crisis or not. Since that alternate Earth was utterly destroyed by General Zod, Faora Hu-Ul and some other Phantom Zoner, THAT Alex Luthor is throroughly dead.

As far as I recall, Lady Quark, Harbinger and Pariah are still extant. Lady Quark appeared in some issue or other of DC Comics Presents. Can't swear to their continuing existence, though.

As to Hypertime, I do agree that its introduction cheapens the Crisis and subsequent efforts to clean up the DCU. On the other hand, it does open story possibilities, which -- if handled correctly -- could give us Earth-Two or any other venue we (or the writers) want.

So, what about it Legionnaires? How accurate was my memory?

Not very impressive, I'm afraid, but that's beside the point. This letter, I want to note, was written by a very disgusting moonbat who - get this - pretended to be Jewish and "conservative", except that nearly all of his standings were ultra-leftist, and, he came from around Seattle, WA, which is a serious bastion of leftism. He was an apologist for Islam, but that's not the only thing that was disturbing about him: he even acted as an apologist for anti-female stereotypes, twisting the bible out of context to justify his position. See, what he was doing was saying that because Eve convinced Adam during Creation that the apples on the Tree of Knowledge were worth eating, so women must suffer for the sins of one till the end of time. All without acknowledging that the Serpent tempted Eve into eating the forbidden fruit first, and when I pointed this out, he flubbed even more head-shakingly. His personality even reminded me of a shady character I saw in an episode of The Streets of San Francisco.

For someone claiming he was a "Christian" he sure didn't convince much in that catagory either, and his whole notion of justifying sexist stereotypes (while simulteneously condoning homosexuality), was horrific in the extreme and embarrassing to Christianity. After all, didn't Jesus opine that adultery was not a punishment worthy of stoning? ("Let he who is without sin cast the first stone") I always did think that above correspondent's beliefs were awfully laughable. One can only wonder if he upheld underaged marriages in the Islamic world. His take on pop culture was pretty sloppy too: at one point, he said the old Flash TV show used Wally West...except it didn't, it used Barry Allen. However, the writers did feature Tina McGee, who was based on one of the recurring cast during the first few years of Wally's run as Flash.

In the end, I strongly believe he was contriving his racial/religious/political positions just to sound like a liberal's idea of what a conservative should be, or even somebody of supposedly Jewish background, and almost feel sorry for what a stupid moonbat he was.

Q: Last man standing: Amazon or Atlantean? Wonder Woman vs. Sub-Mariner!

A: Amazing Amazon. Not only is Wonder Woman theoretically stronger than Namor, but the Sub-Mariner is a one-trick pony. Plus WW has all her gadgets to fall back on (like the unbreakable lasso). Plus, Sub-Mariner is a hothead who likes to punch his way through problems and isn't much of a warrior, tactician or strategist -- while Wonder Woman is all of the above.

In that case, why not modify Subby’s personality so he’s more of a strategist than he usually was in the Golden/Silver Age?

Dear Cap: Just thought I'd weigh in with a few clarifications and tidbits:
1) Rob Liefeld (WARNING -- snarky alert!): Rob Liefeld, like many comics creators today (Warren Ellis -- hack, hack, koff, koff) has an online column. More accurately it seems as though The Rob is having someone write columns for him -- contrast any of the columns written here (the latest at the location below, the others available off it), with the comicbookresources.com interview:
http://www.spinnerrack.com/columns/robservations/rl010821.php
Incidentally, Frank Miller's influence cited in that article is not Hong Kong action movies, but Japanese cinema, feudal samurai culture and comic books (manga). They are not the same (so maybe The Rob at least has a hand in these columns).
2) Sales information: Sales information available for fans can be found on the Web, though probably not as detailed as you and Comics Retailer have ably provided, at ICV2.com (the Top 300 ordered comics is listed here in a regular feature, but not a regular spot on the website) and at DiamondComics.com
3) Essential Conan: I can't place a source but I believe that I've heard that the Robert E. Howard estate had transferred the rights to continue publishing Conan comics away from Marvel (either to Stan Lee Media or Cross Plains Comics) shortly after the publication of the Essential Conan book. Therefore the Marvel Essential Conan book is not likely to see print again nor (and what I wish for) does it look likely there will be an upscale color (hardcover!) version of this work published any time soon. Any copies still out there (and I still see a number floating around) are going to be it, barring a big change in the status quo. Ironically, Conan is also an example of one of the more successful licensed adaptations (a la Star Wars) in comics.
Yours in the interest of quality control.

Thanks, [withheld]. It does seem odd that Liefeld is virtually incoherent in interviews, but that his online column is deftly written, sophisticated, informed and articulate. Almost as if somebody else entirely was writing it. Of course, that can't be the case -- that would be dishonest. And snarky.
The Top 300 list runs on this site each month as well, in the Newsboy Bulletin.
And now that you mention it, Stan Lee Media does indeed have the rights to Conan properties (Cross Plains Comics have rights to all Robert E. Howard material EXCEPT that of Conan and the Marvel-version Red Sonja).

If it’s odd Liefeld runs flaccid interviews, why doesn’t he find it odd that Dan DiDio and Joe Quesada do the same? In fact, why doesn’t Mr. Smith look at himself in the mirror to see what a less than honest man he happens to be?

Now, here is September 7, 2001:

Q: 1) If you have seen any of the following films from Kevin Smith, do you mind telling me your opinions of them? Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma, Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back
2) If you do not mind, what are your personal takes on superhero re-constructionism and deconstructionism?

A: I thought Clerks was a clever little movie, a nice, amusing indie that did all it needed to do without pretension. Mallrats was kinda stupid and meandering, but the Stan Lee cameo was fun. Chasing Amy is a terrific film -- it addressed sexuality more or less like real people do (clumsy, uncertain, self-doubting, experimental) instead of the sanitized, romanticized (even when vulgar), we-all-know-exactly-where-we-stand version in most movies.
As to Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back, I loathed it. It struck me as a lazy effort by writer/director Kevin Smith. It appeared to me that Smith simply cobbled together swiped pastiches (from The Fugitive, Scooby Doo, Every Which Way But Loose, Charlie's Angels, his own Oni Double Feature comic-book stories, and God knows what else) and indulged in his every personal whim (dancing with Morris Day & The Time, giving his wife a job [as one of the jewel thieves], beating up his Internet critics). I don't mind somebody using a large company's money (Miramax) to have a private party; I object to subsidizing it with MY money. And it wasn't funny -- in-jokes should be used with discretion, not as the foundation for an entire movie.
Gee, should I now expect Jay & Silent Bob to show up at MY doorstep and beat me up for the temerity of voicing an opinion?
As to your second question: I think deconstructionism is enormously useful. It's also self-limiting. Like parody, you are using something that's pre-existing without creating anything on your own, so there's only so far you can go before you're just beating up on stuff that you had no hand in creating. But on the plus side, deconstructionism can scrape the barnacles off a concept, get back to what made it work originally, figure out how that appeal applies to current circumstance and launch again -- which is CONstructionism. Or re-constructionism, as you termed it.
Here's an example. I want to deconstruct Fantastic Four. I scrape off 40 years of history, making fun of it as I go, eventually arriving at the original concept that had appeal. I have to stop deconstructing there, otherwise I'm just making fun of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Does anybody, from Captain Comics to Julian Gift to Gary "Comics Journal" Groth have the right to do that? Not really -- we weren't there in 1961, and haven't the right pass judgment.
So, once that original nugget is found, deconstructionism has served its purpose. Now you take that nugget, and build from there, with modern sensibilities guiding your approach. Now you're CONstructing. Sure, you're building on Stan and Jack's foundation, but you're doing something positive. Now you can call yourself a creator -- and not a deconstructionist, or a parodist, which -- by definition -- has negative connotations.

I’m afraid he threw away that argument the instant he praised Identity Crisis. After all, Brad Meltzer was decontructing numerous characters in the DCU, and where was Mr. Smith when that happened? Keeping silent enough you could hear a pin drop.

And if he doesn’t have a problem with DiDio’s staff holding a private party using a large company’s money (Time Warner), surely he doesn’t have a problem subsidizing them with HIS money? He can call himself a journalist, but with his MO, that’s why by contrast to some creators, he’ll only be a propagandist.

Q: Some questions about Vertigo and its relationship to the DC Universe:
Is Vertigo a subset of the DC Universe or a separate realm? If a DC Universe character appears in a Vertigo series, does that mean his or her DC Universe continuity is void? Does it mean he or she can never again appear in a DC Universe title? And if a character can go back to the DC Universe, does his or her Vertigo history come along?
I didn't think about this much with some Vertigo renditions of obscure characters, like Jonah Hex and The Human Target. There was nothing in The Human Target miniseries that contradicted the old stories; it just picked up the character years later and said here's where he is today. As for the three Jonah Hex miniseries -- and isn't it about time for another one? -- he looks more bizarre than he did before, but that's all. I think of those stories as taking place about five years or so after the end of his last regular series.
I'm asking today because of The Angel & The Ape miniseries, written by Howard Chakin, written from his typical peculiar worldview. This series seems to jettison (or just ignore) what was established about the characters in their last miniseries, written and drawn by Phil Foglio -- that Angel is the sister of Dumb Bunny of the Inferior Five, and the Ape is the grandson of King Solovar from Gorilla City.
So, how about it? Is Vertigo in the DC Universe or not?

A: I can't answer this with authority, since I didn't ask DC. I can only give my opinion -- which is muddy.
It's my impression that Vertigo events do take place in the DCU, if a DCU character says so. Otherwise, Vertigo adventures are just a separate take on familiar characters, akin to Marvel's MAX and Ultimate lines, or DC's own Elseworlds.
Take, for example, John Constantine. He started out in Swamp Thing before Vertigo existed, moved to Vertigo when the line launched and has been there for more than 100 issues of his own title -- but still shows up with regularity in the regular DCU. And Swamp Thing, too, exists in both "universes" and DCU superheroes make cameos in Vertigo. Heck, an entire issue of Sandman was devoted to the death of a secondary character from Metamorpho, with her DCU history intact. Clearly, the line is thin.
On the other hand, if Chaykin jettisons Angel & Sam Simeon's previous DCU continuity for the sake of his own story, I think that's in line with Vertigo's philosophy. And if and when Angel & Ape reappear in the DCU, the reverse is probably true -- the writers of that story will probably be free to use or discard what Chaykin establishes in Vertigo.
In other words: I don't have a concrete answer. I think it plays out on a case-by-case basis. But both lines have access, more or less, to the same stable of characters.

LOL. Of course he can’t answer with authority, because his dishonesty made it impossible! That aside, I’d say that those characters who began under the DC label did take place in the DCU at the time, up to the turn of the century, when everything started going to pot.

Q: I know you're a CrossGen fan ... so am I. Seeing that the comics market isn't exactly what it used to be. What are the chances of CrossGen becoming a big player, like DC or Marvel? I've read the books and some are indeed outstanding (Sojourn, Scion), while most aren't that great. I do see a fever for the books. (Have you seen what they go for on eBay?) Is this a good sign or just a temporary fever? What's your take on this?

A: Well, since I lost my psychic powers in Crisis of Infinite Secret Wars III, I can't predict the future and tell you if CrossGen will someday make the Big Two the Big Three.
But my take is this: If they don't make it, it's not because they aren't doing everything right. And they've beaten the odds so far, by not only surviving but thriving while launching a comic-book company into the weakest comic-book market that's ever existed.
So, yeah, I'd put my money on them. Owner Mark Alessi's got some deep pockets and is committed -- so they have the wherewithal to weather setbacks and take chances (moreso than Marvel, for example). They've launched a line of non-superhero fantasy/sci-fi books, in search of that elusive non-fanboy market -- which, if successful, will break the industry wide open. They've hired their talent like regular employees, instead of running a work-for-hire sweatshop. They've put their money where everybody's mouth is, by eschewing gimmicks and focusing on hiring good talent and letting 'em go to town. And they've managed to ship every book on time with the announced creative team for more than a year, boosting retailers and quieting the critics.
In other words, they've addressed every complaint the back-seat drivers voice about the industry -- so, on paper, CrossGen is doing everything right. What more could you ask?

It’s been at least a decade since CrossGen went out of business and their properties sold to Disney Corp, so history has spoken. I thought their products had potential, but Mark Alessi wasn’t a very good businessman, it turned out, and wasn’t paying the employees properly, which surprised me. If they were having such financial strains, they should have shut down, at least until they could obtain some loans or get a bigger company to back them up.

Eerily, after Disney bought their products, they never made any attempt to do anything serious with them until several years later when they bought Marvel, enabling the latter to manage CG by a default. Unfortunately, the time had passed, and the relaunches/remakes of the older material flopped big time. Now, for the last part, another letter I wrote:

1) Back in the mid-'90s, The Thing had gotten his face injured, and had wear a mask to cover it, possibly up until "Heroes Reborn." What was it caused this facial injury of his?

2) Has Carol Danvers, Miss Marvel/Binary/Warbird, ever forgiven Rogue for her assault on her?

3) If I’m right, back in the '60s, there were quite a lot of teenagers who’d written stories and plots for Marvel and DC, and Jim Shooter may have been one of them. Are there still plenty of teens who do this today? And do they get paid a lot for it?

4) Have there ever been any comics that came out in TPB form first and only? I think it could be an interesting idea to publish comics exclusively in TPB format, especially if they’re by some popular artists and writers, which could encourage everybody to get some of their comics in TPB form first, and give new readers the ability to buy them at ease.

1) The Thing's face was clawed by Wolverine, and took a loooong time to heal.

2) In the most recent meeting between Warbird and Rogue (forgive me, I can't remember where it was), to the best of my memory I don't recall that Carol has forgiven Rogue, but I do believe she is no longer actively seeking to beat her to a pulp. So I don't think they'll ever be chums, but there is a sort of detente between them.

3) To my knowledge, Jim Shooter was the ONLY teenager working for comics as a credited creator in the '60s, and only because DC was unaware of his true age. (He did all his work for them by correspondence, and told them he was an adult. Given his polished scripts, they had no reason to question his word.) I don't know of any other minors working in comics then or now (outside of internships), and I doubt any responsible company would hire one. There's a little thing called "child labor laws" in this country, and it's such a legal minefield that a publisher would be nuts to take that chance. Even if the minor is incredibly talented, I suspect they'd wait until he or she hit the age of majority (18) before offering a job. (Fun fact: The age of majority was 21 when Shooter sold his first script at age 16.)

4) Sure. Maus; Stuck Rubber Baby; Good-bye, Chunky Rice; etc. There are lots. Some of my specific examples above might have been serialized before being collected; I don't buy everything. But it does happen, and more often than you'd think.

Wrong about Shooter. There were also Marv Wolfman, Len Wein and Gerry Conway. Come to think of it, Paul Levitz was about 17 when he made contributions to DC in the mid-70s. As for citing Chunky Rice, ugh. It was a product of Craig Thompson, who wrote the insulting GN called Habibi, an otherwise positive portrait of Islam. Pity Mr. Smith couldn’t have recommended Will Eisner’s books, a far better choice. And double the pity he couldn't recommend more Armenians be invited to join the comics medium.

And with that, I conclude this look at special choices from Mr. Smith’s email correspondence from the Q&A section. I sure can’t say there’s much that leaves me flattered in retrospect, not even my own. Today, I try to think bigger, and always feel sad I hadn’t thought of enough at the time.

Copyright 2014 Avi Green. All rights reserved.

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