Thursday, September 18, 2008

"R is for...."

I just got tagged for a livejournal meme by Kalinara over at Pretty Fizzy Paradise:

5 Characters Meme
1. Comment on this post.
2. I will give you a letter.
3. Think of 5 fictional characters and post their names and your comments on these characters in your LJ.

I've been assigned the letter "R". For simplicity's sake, I'm sticking to comic book characters here. Here goes nothin':

1. Richard "Robin/Nightwing" Grayson - You know the old expression "When he's good he's very good, and when he's bad.."? Well in the case of the Original Boy Wonder, they should make that "When he's written good (well), he's very good, and when he's written badly....UGH!!" This goes back even to his Robin days, as he began to have more adventures sans a certain Dark Knight and branched out into Teen Titans and solo stories. This is where a schism developed.

While he was still the kid sidekick who deferred (with some exceptions) to his older partner in the Bat stories, with the Titans he assumed the leadership role. This led to large variations in the character's IQ. He was dumber in the Bat-team, but he was a brilliant strategist and tactician with the Titans and on his own. Here is an example of some Dick Grayson Robin awesomeness courtesy of Sally P:

This difference became more pronounced once the Wolfman-Perez Titans began and became popular, until Grayson outgrew the Robin mantle and became Nightwing. And the schism was lessened for a time as Nightwing's stories were mostly written by one hand, Marv Wolfman's.

However, as Nightwing grew older, the dilemma for writers became how to differentiate him from Batman. How to humanize him. And the shorthand answer was either "give him more angst" or "make him less competent", or, in some cases, both. Wolfman, to his credit, was able to use the former answer and still, for the most part, retain the character's extraordinary nature. But some later writers sacrificed many of the traits that made Dick great, particularly his intelligence, competence and leadership skill, while retaining only the angst. One low point came in Devin Grayson's run where he allowed Tarantula to kill Blockbuster and then was so traumatized that he was raped on a rooftop by her. But the worst moment came in the Bruce Jones "One Year Later" arc, where he actually uttered the line "You're *gasp* METAHUMAN?" to a bad guy. Thankfully, the book was recently taken over by Fabian Nicieza (temporarily) and then by current scribe Peter Tomasi, who is literally taking Dick to new heights (among new innovations Dick now has his own Wing Glider).

Today, we get both the best and worst of it, with Tomasi on the NIGHTWING book and (sigh) Judd Winick on TITANS.

2. Renegade - This was a Nightwing alias during a Devin Grayson story arc where Dick went undercover with the Mob. He had a nice Phil Hester-designed costume, but the only remarkable thing about this arc was the amazing lack of editorial support it received from the rest of the DC books. The only other DC book that seemed to acknowledge the Mob storyline was Gail Simone's BIRDS OF PREY. Worse, the arc began during the build-up to INFINITE CRISIS. So while Dick had given up the Nightwing ID to be Renegade in his own book, he was his normal Nightwing self in INFINITE CRISIS tie-in books like THE RETURN OF DONNA TROY (which had him in space, no less) which came out at the same time, as well as the INFINITE CRISIS series itself. The result was a very confusing mess.

3. Rom: Spaceknight - This was a Marvel comic based on a rather unremarkable Parker Brothers toy, but it was an enjoyable book. I'd read only a handful of Rom books when I was younger (I had drastically reduced my comic book reading during my college years). I enjoyed some early issues, but when Sal Buscema started being inked by Ian Akin and Brian Garvey, the book took off in my eyes . I'll make a confession:

This comic, at least at the beginning, scared the shit out of me.

The first few pages featured the debut of the then-new incarnation of the Dire Wraiths, who first introduced themselves in a very graphic (for the early-80's) fashion to bickering couple Johnny and Mary Lou. The rest of the story was a fun adventure that focused on Rom and his lady-love Brandy and their encounter with Mordillo's Island and the always-morphing Brynocki.

That was one of the fun things about Rom: Writer Bill Mantlo had no shame about mixing him with the rest of the Marvel universe. Early on he fought the X-Men and classic Avengers foe Space Phantom, but over time it seemed like he encountered damn near everybody, from Dr. Strange to the Sub-Mariner to the In-Betweener. Although my purchases of the title were sporadic, by the time I got to the Mordillo issue and Rom proclaimed "I have met this Shang-Chi of whom he speaks", I thought "Yeah, of course he has."

Thinking about Rom makes me feel sad about the fate of Mantlo, who had gone on to become a public defender but was struck by a hit-and-run driver in 1992 while rollerblading, sustaining a massive head trauma and spending more than a a year in a coma. He has never fully recovered from this injury. It makes you think about how much your life can change in an instant.

For more information about Bill Mantlo, here's a link to "Bill Mantlo: A Life In Comics" by David Yurkovich.

4. Red Arrow - My reaction to Roy Harper, the former "Speedy", changing his hero identity to from Arsenal to Red Arrow in the new Justice League book was the same as those of most fans:

"What the fuck were they thinking?"

How do you go from a cool name like "Arsenal" to "Red Arrow"? We already have an active "Green Arrow", making the "Red Arrow" name (and costume) look like a pale imitation.

And the problem isn't just the name. The Devin Grayson and Jay Faerber TITANS stories and the Judd Winick OUTSIDERS book weren't the best-written books in the world, but one thing I enjoyed was how diversified Roy's skill-set had become as Arsenal. Sure, he favored using the bow, but he also employed a wide variety of other weapons from laser cannons and psi-blockers and mini-grenades to simple coins and rocks. He was like Hawkeye, Bullseye, and Deadshot rolled into one (except he favored non-lethal force).

But nooo, Brad Meltzer had to ruin everything. And after he left, Roy's situation got worse. All he seems to do now is get beaten up and moon over Hawkgirl.

5. Ronald Reagan - Yes, I know Reagan was a real-life president, but back in the 80's he was featured prominently in DC Comics books like FURY OF FIRESTORM and the LEGENDS miniseries, the latter featuring the Gipper being impersonated by the Martian Manhunter, who kicked the crap out of a group of assassins as "Ronnie".

It was one of the first times I had seen the actual President portrayed in the DCU. Marvel had historically used the real McCoys (or Carters, Fords, and Reagans), but DC had been much more averse, perhaps because the last time they used a real President's likeness was the unfortunately ill-timed ACTION COMICS issue where Superman had to be Clark and Supes at the same time and a mysterious someone stood in as Clark, with the twist ending being that the stand-in was revealed to be President Kennedy. The problem? By coincidence, the story came out right when JFK was killed.

While my feelings toward Reagan aren't exactly warm and fuzzy, especially considering that many of the philosophies which have led to our current economic shitstorm (like deregulation) can be traced back to his administration's doorstep, I can't help feeling nostalgic for his comics alter-ego.

Honorable mention:

Reed Richards - When I was reading the Fantastic Four, I really idolized this guy. He always kept a cool head, was supremely confident, never gave up, and could think his way out of practically any predicament. Plus, he was a goddamn genius. Then, as I grew older and reexamined the FF, I found that he could be kind of a dick. Here's to fallen idols.

Rick Flag - Best described by Dave Campbell as " an idiot who charges into battle in a day-glo yellow t-shirt that might as well just say 'SHOOT ME!' " God, I miss Campbell!

Ray "The Atom" Palmer - The thing Gil Kane got right about this character that eludes some other artists is the view from the Atom's perspective. Plus, Ray seemed to get more ass-shots than any other male character except Hal Jordan.


At 7:13 AM , Blogger Sea_of_Green said...

Geez, I wish Marvel would collect and release all of those old ROM comics in trade form. I really, really do. I love Rom.

At 9:13 AM , Blogger notintheface said...

So do I. No such luck, though. Marvel doesn't own the rights anymore. They can show Rom in his human form and mention him by name, but they can't ever show Rom in his Spaceknight form.

At 9:24 AM , Blogger SallyP said...

Changing Roy's name of Arsenal to Red Arrow, really was a dim move. Arsenal is a COOL name.

At 4:01 PM , Blogger notintheface said...

I agree, Sally. And here I was so sure that your first comment on this post would be in response to my "Ray Palmer ass-shots" comment.


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