Top 10 Posts of 2011, #10-6

It’s hard to believe now that I’ve been running this website since June of 2011. When I started out, I was new to blogging and didn’t really know what I was doing. For example, I had absolutely no understanding of search engine optimization until a month ago, so a lot of my posts are just floating around in internet limbo, forever grasping at google.

Since June, I’ve added more than 150 posts to this site. The more I write, the less time it takes to upload things online. For example now, most of the posts I put up take roughly half an hour to complete, whereas months ago they could take hours. The crop of comic posts is, to be honest, fair to middling, with some moments of excellence. What can I say? Some days I have exciting ideas, and some days I phone it in to keep the site fresh. Some of what I’ve written I really like, and there’s definitely some moments where I surprise myself. Here’s my 10 favorite favorite posts from the past year. 10-6 will appear today, and the top five sometime soon. Enjoy.

Number ten is actually the most viewed post on this entire site. I honestly don’t know what made this one so popular. It’s about a C rated comic featuring a B-list superhero.

TEN: …Not DC’s Finest Moment: Power of the Atom #8

scanned cover to Power of the Atom #8

For DC week here on Panel Discussions, I thought I’d look back not only on the company’s hit comics over the years, but also on some of the misses.  Power of the Atom #8 is just such a big swing and a miss for me.  This is a comic back from 1989 that I not so long ago picked up in a bargain bin for $0.75.

This is one of many examples of a misleading comic book cover (for another, see my post on Sad Sack #227).  First, in the foreground it looks like The Atom’s suffering some serious Irritable Bowel Syndrome problems (I can assure you no such thing happens in the issue).  In the background, there appears to be the withered and desiccated husk of Hawkman.  Hawkman, dead?  Never mind that Hawkman has the ability to be reborn.  If you read the issue, this turns out to be a sight gag.  The way the cookie crumbles, the body on the cover belongs not to Hawkman but to another Thanagarian.  Once The Atom figures out it’s not his friend, he doesn’t seem to care much.

The one good moment in this comic came when the villain tried to kill the hero with a bomb, and then says The Atom will be “atomized.”  A pun worthy of the 1960s Batman series, old chum.

The next one I’m not sure why I wrote. It had to be said, I guess…

Nine: In Defense of Spongebob

Screenshot from Spongebob Squarepants, colors modified and text added by me.

It seems Spongebob Squarepants, with his “I’m ready” attitude, has been the target of a smear campaign over the last year.  Why any sort of Spongebob “controversy” would be considered news is beyond me, but that’s just what’s happened.  First, a few months ago, some people pointed a finger at the kids’ program saying it taught kids about environmentalism, as if that were a bad thing.  Now, it’s under scrutiny again after it was singled out as a cause of low attention spans in 4 year olds.

It seems Mr. Squarepants can’t catch a break.  It wasn’t that long ago that news programs were reporting that there was something indecent about Spongebob’s friendship with Patrick, and that his relationship with the astronaut squirrel Sandy Cheeks was platonic at best.

I never thought myself or anyone would have to defend a harmless show like Spongebob Squarepants, but it seems a bit necessary now.

You might be wondering what a grown man is doing watching Spongebob Squarepants.  No, I’m not a stoner.  I occasionally babysit my friend’s 11 year old daughter, which usually amounts to a few hours of watching kid-friendly TV shows.  On the one hand, she likes cartoons like Spongebob and Adventure Time, and alternately she loves Disney sit-coms like Hannah Montana, The Jonas Brothers, iCarly, and That’s So Raven.  Often, I’m on the verge of begging her just to watch cartoons.

text added by me

I find the Disney sit-coms to be much more objectionable than the worst that our aquatic friend can dish out.  Disney sit-coms seem to suggest to kids that it’s of the utmost importance to remain fashionable, and so childhood ebbs away while fretting about trying to look good.  For instance, while babysitting I’ve sat through an entire episode of The Jonas Brothers where the boys were supposed to meet the Queen of England, but then the whole episode turned into them trying to pick out the right clothes to wear, and devolved into squabbling about who could wear the flashiest jacket.  They never got to Buckingham Palace.  In That’s So Raven, the heroine becomes a fashion-designer.  What kind of teenager becomes a fashion designer?  Hannah Montana suggests that if you put on different clothes, you can become a whole different person.  To be fair, I’m not suggesting all Disney programs are vehicles for product placement.  I found myself laughing while watching iCarly, and The Suite Life with Zack and Cody at least involved fantasy elements like mermaids.

Oppositely, the charm of Spongebob Squarepants is simply that it is irrelevent and irreverent.  The way in which it pertains so little to actual life on Earth makes it appropriate for children.  By being so detached from reality, it allows kids to enter into an imaginative wonderland where noses can be piccolos and starfish can be friend material.  At most, Spongebob tries to sell Spongebob, i.e. Spongebob merchandise.  It doesn’t try to sell you on the idea that it’s necessary to be fashionable (or make children beg their parents to buy them Hannah Montana’s wardrobe).

For the first ten years or so of my life, fashion never entered into my thoughts.  I guess that’s because I grew up in the era of Duck Tales, Batman: The Animated Series, and a Transformers spin-off involving robot dinosaurs.  If anything, I wanted my own Megazord like the Power Rangers, not pants like a Jonas Brother.  I look back on that time as a necessary period of my development.  Those were years of fertile imagination for me.  I can quite fondly remember sitting in a sandbox playing with action figures, not only coming up with reasons why they were fighting, but also coming up with back stories for each robot or weird human-animal hybrid.  That experience was just as essential to my development as a writer today as reading F. Scott Fitzgerald in Junior High.  I often feel that the younger generation has it worse than I did.  With the omnipotence of the internet now, the adult world comes flooding in.  It’s hard for a child not to hear about awful tragedies on the news or have ads for self-improvement constantly absorbed.  The children’s program should be a refuge from the real world, at least for 22 or so minutes.

text added by me

Plus, what’s so bad about Spongebob?  He’s basically a boy-scout.  He’s the Superman of the ocean floor.  He can’t tell lies, he values his friends, and he has a positive attitude.  If anything, he’s too good.  He has a realistic job at a fast food joint.  While other children’s programs feature kids as rock stars or psychic fashionistas, Spongebob does something that most young people will have to do at some point (it’s kind of a rite of passage in America), flip burgers.

I should also point out that the test which claimed Spongebob was bad for kids’ attention span used 4 year olds as the subjects, and used the show Caillou as the alternative.  Caillou is aimed at 4 year olds, while Spongebob is aimed at kids 6-11.  That’s bad science if you ask me.

If Spongebob really does affect kids’ attention span, it’s probably just because they’re daydreaming, a perfect pasttime for youth.

I love finding ridiculously dorky comics from decades ago. This next one is a doozy. Plus I love the cover.

8: Comic Book Pick of the Day: Superboy #11

Superboy comic
scanned cover to The New Adventures of Superboy #11

Not until I happened to read The New Adventures of Superboy #11 did I know that Superboy used to be a comic about young Clark Kent, instead of Connor Kent like it is today.  Superboy gets into a pretty nutty adventure in this one.  Lex Luthor, who’s even at a young age an evil genius, but to a lesser degree, somehow manages to magnetize Superboy’s body, drawing every piece of metal towards him everywhere he goes.  Ever the boy-scout, Superboy decides to leave Earth so as to do no harm with his uncontrollable magnetic prowess.  Then he realizes he’s falling into Luthor’s trap, as he inexplicably finds himself flying near a black hole–but what, the intense gravity of the black hole manages to drain the magnetism from Superboy!

Man did it feel dorky to recount that plotline.  This was a fun comic, and I’d recommend it if you want to see what comics were like before Watchmen and co.  Sure, they were silly and not particularly exciting, but they had an irreverent escapist glee to them that modern comics largely lack.  As an added bonus, there’s a story about Superboy as an infant.  Plus, this is edited by the late great Julius Schwartz.

Starman is one of my all-time favorite comic books. I spent a long time on this post, yet it got almost no views. Blogging can be cruel…

Seven: A Nostalgic Look Back at Starman

scanned cover to Starman #50, art by Tony Harris

In case you haven’t heard of Starman, it was a DC comic that ran for 80 issues* and the entire series was written by James Robinson, whom you might know from his Superman: New Krypton storyline as well as his recent run on JLA.  During that time, it won a lot of critical praise and had a pretty healthy fan-base (I read somewhere it boasted some of the highest subscriptions in all of DC).  Among the comic-culture, it’s still thought of with loving nostalgia as one of the best comics ever, somewhere on the same level as The Sandman.

The series is about Jack Knight, a reluctant superhero who is the son of the original Starman, Ted Knight.  Starman was a character that originated back in the days of All Star Comics (in the 1940s) and was created by Gardner Fox, who also created Sandman (the guy who fought with a gas-mask, not Dream from Gaiman’s series) and Zatanna. Outside of the JSA, Starman hardly appeared in the DCU, eventually vanishing into obscurity.

Fast-forward to the 90s.  DC has established a tradition of giving writers new to DC characters that are barely used or whose sales are failing, that way if the writers mess up, it’s not a huge loss.  That’s how Alan Moore got Swamp-Thing and how Gaiman got the Sandman (and both reinvented the characters entirely).  That’s also how James Robinson (another Brit) got the chance to write the Sandman.

Instead of making it about Ted Knight, Robinson makes his series about Ted’s son Jack.  Jack is one of the great misfit characters in comics.  At the start of the series, he’s a guy who runs a vintage-novelty shop.  His life revolves around collecting things (something comic book fans can relate to).  His brother is the current hero in the family, after his father retires the rod.  The rod, by the way, is what gives Starman his powers.  It allows the wielder to fly and shoot energy bolts, and was created by Ted, a scientist, thus making Ted one of the first self-made men in the DCU, as so many of the early characters got their powers by chance or by mistake (the original Flash Jay Garrick got his powers in a lab accident, the original Green Lantern Alan Scott chanced to find a green flame from outer space encased in a lantern, and Superman just happens to come to a planet where he has all sorts of splendid abilities).

In one of the earliest issues of the series, Jack’s brother is killed in the line of duty, and as a crisis hits the town, and it’s up to Jack to set things right.  The thing is, he doesn’t exactly want to.  He always thought his father and brother were the heroes in the family, whereas he was cut out for a simple life.  He’s given little choice though but to take up the rod and save the day.

It’s his reluctance that sets Jack apart from other comic heroes.  For that reason, he appears more human, and is someone the reader can identify with.  We all like to believe that if granted powers we’d go off saving the world 7 days a week, but in reality we’d be more like Jack, nervous and often unsure of ourselves.  In one of the early issues, Jack even plummets from the sky when he uses the rod the wrong way.

The city he protects is Opal City, which is similar to Metropolis but scaled down and full of neat looking art-deco buildings.  It’s populated by a lot of second-string DC characters who are underused in other comics, such as Doctor Phosphorus, Solomon Grundy, Rag Doll, and The Shade (who will soon be getting his own series).

Originally, the series was meant to be drawn entirely by Tony Harris (who drew all the issues of Ex Machina) but he got out of his contract when there was much discord between himself and Robinson.  It’s rumored that Robinson was being too specific about what he wanted in each panel, and didn’t give Tony Harris much room for creativity.  I would say the split didn’t hurt the comic, since it was then taken over by Peter Snejbjerg, who’s art I also like.

Starman was essentially a creator owned comic, which is rare for DC.  All of the Vertigo and Dark Horse books are creator owned, but it doesn’t happen much in the big companies.  Being creator owned means that the writer retains all the rights to his or her creations.  So after Starman ended, not only did Jack Knight stop appearing in the DCU (except for a few tiny cameos) but so did some members of the supporting cast.  Recently, writing JLA gave Robinson a chance to incorporate Mikaal Thomas into the lineup, one of the few gay characters in the DCU.

Starman is an accessible comic that people who aren’t big fans of comics can get into.  My girlfriend even likes it.  Part of its appeal lies in how it in many ways resembles a novel rather than a comic.  The series was big on character development, and there was more reading involved than usual in comics.  Also–I find this refreshing–family plays a big role in the series.  The superhero community is full of orphans or intergalactic exiles, thus bypassing family obligations for the heroes.  Not so with Starman.  Not only does Jack’s story revolve around his relationship with his father, but the villains too are given back stories and siblings and parents.  There’s the Bodines, a husband-wife crime duo, the supervillain The Mist who has a daughter that wants to impress him through villainy, and the O’Dare family, who are split between the right and wrong sides of the law.

So for these reasons and many more, Starman was a fantastic series, worth the effort it takes to find, and definitely worth the time to read.

*Technically, the series ran for 81 issues, if you take into account the one-shot created for the Blackest Night crossover event.  In that issue, The Shade returns to fight the undead.  It’s cool to see The Shade in action, but it’s not necessarily a big part of the Starman series.  Starman doesn’t even appear in it.

Last year, the world was given a big scare when Fox announced it was considering canceling The Simpsons. Now, after much negotiations, the show has a tentative future.  In hopes of somehow helping the show’s ratings, even in a small way, I wrote the following…

Six: The Simpsons Season So Far

screenshot from “Bart Stops to Smell the Roosevelts”

I’ve long been a Simpsons devotee, and never could’ve imagined I’d be in a position where I’d have to support my favorite show as if rallying for a cause, but this year the Fox Network has decided to try and pull the rug out from under its best show during one of its strongest seasons. At the start of the 23rd season, with hardly any episodes aired yet, Fox announced the voice actors would all have to take a pay-cut if they wanted the show to continue. After long negotiations, it was announced the actors had ceded and the beloved series was picked up for at least 3 more seasons. Since none of the principle cast or crew have publicly announced any dissatisfaction with working on The Simpsons, I feel every fan needs to do their part to keep this going for as long as possible. Now, if the episodes were lousy I wouldn’t support it so adamantly, but lately, the series has been terrific.

I’ll admit, the season got off to a weak start in my opinion–but this will be only complaint. The first episode was essentially a parody of A History of Violence, but as that movie isn’t particularly well-known, a lot of the humor was hit or miss. The episode did however play a large role in the ongoing Simpsons story as it announced the results of the Nedna poll. Last season, Ned Flanders and Edna Krabapple became an item, and it was left up to America to vote on whether or not they would stay together. I was pro Nedna, and it turns out a majority of people were. Starting this season, Ned and Edna are in a committed relationship, which sets the tone for the season nicely. The theme of this season seems to be that love will prevail, as another episode features Krusty the Clown’s soft side, falling in love with his agent played by Joan Rivers.

Screenshot from “Bart Stops to Smell the Roosevelts”

Out of the nine episodes that have aired, three have been big wins for me. The first is the episode titled “Bart Stops to Smell the Roosevelts.” In this one, Superintendant Chalmer’s characters is finally fleshed out. For years, he’s been a static character, with his main schtick being his love of yelling at Principle Skinner. Here, he gets to be the central character, as the episode revolves around him personally trying to help the school’s most troublesome students, including Bart. It also makes some pretty bold social commentary on the public school system, as Chalmers exclaims that “boys are falling behind in every subject” due to how schools are emphasizing feelings instead of things boys will naturally like. He personally teaches them about Teddy Roosevelt and they go on a wilderness adventure. This was a perfect episode.

screenshot from Holidays from Future Passed

The episode that aired last night, titled Holidays of Future Passed, was also among my favorites. Once again, this episode takes us into the future of The Simpsons. There’s no point in trying to piece together The Simpsons chronology, for instance, in a different episode it’s suggested Lisa becomes the president in the future, but in this one it’s never mentioned. Instead, Lisa’s married to Millhouse and has her own daughter who’s lost in her own cyberpunk world. Bart is a deadbeat dad with two children of his own, and for some reason he lives in Springfield Elementary.

Screenshot from Holidays of Future Passed

While the premise might sound depressing, this turned out to be a one of the series best Christmas episodes yet.

Neil Gaiman on The Simpsons episode “The Book Job”

Lastly, I’ll have to mentiont the episode that now is not only my favorite of the new season, but one of my top 5 favorite episodes of the entire series (and I’ve watched the entire series too): The Book Job. When I first watched The Book Job, I thought The Simpsons’ writers had been reading my dream journal. Not only is it about the world of fiction writing (I’m something of a writer myself), it also features one of my favorite writers, Neil Gaiman. I haven’t been this excited about a Simpsons cameo since the two episodes featuring one of my other favorite writers Thomas Pynchon. Surprisingly, Neil Gaiman doesn’t just say one or two lines then disappears, but actually is one of the main characters of the entire episode. The plot revolves around Homer and Bart deciding to assemble a team to get together and write a best-selling young adult novel… I don’t want to give away too much. Here’s a clip.

So while a lot of fairweather fans will say they don’t watch The Simpsons anymore because “it’s not as good as it used to be” (definitely one of my pet peeves), I’ll have to say that it’s still good, and, for my money, it’s still the best show on TV.

The Simpsons airs Sunday nights on Fox at 8 pm.

Okay, that’s it for now. Coming soon: My top five choices.

——–If you’re interested in my writing, please check out my Amazon author page which includes the two novels I self-published in 2011. Both are available in paperback and as affordable ebooks.

If you’re into comic books and cartoons, please consider subscribing to this site–it’s free!

 

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