It's more than a blog; it's my blog.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

More Scholarly Fun

Omar Ha-Redeye and Jacob Kaufman reveal The Lord of the Rings's true nature as an epic story of property law at Law is Cool:
The novel The Lord of the Rings was a phenomenon. The movie trilogy based upon it has grossed over a billion dollars and won a slew of Oscars.

But what’s really interesting about the work is that it is about property law.

Here's a snippet from the post:

Hierarchy of Ownership and Possession

The Lord of the Rings story is that of a property hierarchy with one owner and a series of possessors.

Biblo states,

[The Ring] is mine isn’t it? I found it.

He seems to be laying a claim of ownership through finding. But finding only lets a finder hold possession in a thing. It does not extinguish the rights of those higher up on the hierarchy.

In Anderson v. Gouldberg it was found that “possession is good title against all the world except those having better title.” It does not matter that several of the possessors of the Ring like Isildur and Sméagol obtained possession by violently dispossessing others. That circumstance does not change the dispossessor’s rights vis-à-vis a third party.

The fact that all parties subsequent to Sauron hold only possession in the ring is acknowledged in the text. When Gandalf forces Biblo to give up the Ring, he tells him to,

[s]top possessing [the Ring].

After discovering that Aragorn is the heir of Isildur Frodo exclaims that the Ring really belongs to Aragorn. Aragon corrects him:

It does not belong to either of us, but it has been ordained that you should hold it for a while.

Frodo later elaborates that the Ring,

does not belong to any mortal … though if any could claim it, it would be Aragorn.

Here he demonstrates his understanding of the property hierarchy – with Sauron at the apex as owner and Aragorn as next highest as a descendent of the first possessor after Sauron.

This is just the kind of stuff that I'd be doing if I was in law school.

Read the whole thing over at Law is Cool.

(HT: GeekPress)

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Losing My Readership LOL at a time.

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Friday, March 28, 2008

Friday Night Fights: Slapstick Week

One thing you might be surprised to learn about Bahlactus (other than his ability to connect with the youth of today) is that the man makes a damn fine cup of coffee:

Fine enough to kill for.


You didn't think I'd forget, did you?

It just wouldn't be the Fights at BMP without Speedball, The Masked Marvel!

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Slapstick Week: Where are they now?

Sometimes, comic book characters are not well-received, and subsequently fade away; their solo series are canceled, and they're relegated to existing only as entries at the back-end of a volume of "Who's Who in the DCU" or "Handbook to the Marvel Universe." Sometimes, though, these characters aren't that bad, they just happen to be disliked by the Powers-That-Be, and no amount of popularity or profit can bring them back to the world of the relevant (I think I might be tempted to call this the "Quesada Effect" if it didn't apply equally to DC's editorial mandate to degrade and eventually kill every single member of Justice League International). Case in point: Slapstick.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Slapstick was apparently voted as the best new Marvel character of 1992, beating out Carnage for the title. So, you'd expect Slapstick to be given a solo series after his four-issue debut, maybe give him a chance to defend his title? No dice. Slapstick was, for all intents and purposes, never seen again. Oh sure, he showed up a few times in the pages of Marvel Comics Presents, where he joined up with the New Warriors (the super-team that gave a second chance to another short-changed hero Speedball), but since then, there's been nothing. Nothing. NOTHING!

Well, almost nothing. The Civil War event has made a habit out of taking previously established heroes and completely subverting them, having them behave in ways that send their fans into convulsive seizures. Civil War turned Iron man into a fascist; Captain America into a reckless, irrational nut; bouncy bouncy fun fun Speedball into a masochistic bore; and Spider-man into someone who's willing to do anything to avoid dealing with the responsibility of his actions. Yeesh.

Continuing in that fine tradition of artistic ruination comes Civil War's destruction of the one, the only, Slapstick. Within the pages of Marvel's Avengers: The Initiative, a character who's called Slapstick, and resembles Slapstick, lurks - but he sure as hell ain't my Slapstick. Let's take a look:

What the purple hell - why is Slapstick wearing fatigues!? Why did he even join the initiative? He wasn't what you'd call a "hero." He only intervened when it affected him directly, or if he found it amusing. And why does he need training? He's shown time and time again that he can survive having a hole blasted into him by a rocket launcher, being punted by The Thing, being repeatedly electrocuted, being set on fire... there isn't a lot that can kill him when he's in his "electroplasm" state. And since he never appears as Steve Harmon at the Initiative's base, this could mean that Stark doesn't even know who he really is, or what gives him his powers - so how can he possibly be a threat to him? There is simply no reason to believe that Slapstick would ever willingly register with the government.

While I'm grateful that Slapstick is making another appearance in Marvel continuity, this character might as well be Deadpool as far as I'm concerned. I haven't seen him do anything that could qualify as "cartoonish." The only scene that made me laugh was in Initiative #5, where Slapstick responds to Constrictor's insult when he calls the recruits the "kids that thought they could take on the Hulk" with "actually, they were - I just went along because everyone else was doing it and I wanted to be popular." And I think you'll agree that that's a pretty weak joke for Slapstick to make.

The Marvel climate after Civil War is not the place for Slapstick to participate in - Slapstick, being a comedic/satiric character, should be a commenter on the Marvel U. He should be looking at the seriousness of these comics from the outside and subverting it, making us wonder why Marvel comics aren't actually to be taken as fun anymore, but as serious, brooding texts where serious things happen and everyone is seriously not in the mood for Slapstick's shit. If you'll recall my post on why I thought Slapstick succeeded as a comedic character, then you'll remember that the most important part of Slapstick was irreverence. When Slapstick begins to respect what was previously mocked, he's no longer Slapstick. Now he's just insane.

I am so sick of comic writers taking previously established characters and, rather than giving them situations which might believably change their attitudes or beliefs (like when James Robinson turned Mikaal Tomas, one of the many Starmen, into a withdrawn, abused, former drug addict in the pages of Starman), simply change the character to fit whatever plot they've devised (I'm looking at Spider-man again). I'm not disparaging plot-driven stories at all, I'm just saying that if you're writing "Indiana Jones and the Book of Infinite Jest," you better keep Indiana Jones' personality in mind when you write the scene in which he encounters The Joker. If you want to have the man who encounters the Joker grovel in fear at the majesty of the Clown Prince of Crime in order to establish his fearsomeness - or something - then you probably shouldn't be using Dr. Jones for that one, because Indy ain't that kinda guy.

And Slapstick ain't even physically capable of being held in a prison cell, never mind being the kind of guy to sit quietly and wait to be interrogated.

You know what kind of heroes would register with the government and join the Initiative? The Great Lakes Avengers. And they did just that back in Cable and Deadpool. But they're completely ineffectual. They would be just the right sort of group to have to go through training with the Initiative, even though they wouldn't provide nearly the level of "angst" that the writers are going for. Maybe they could have just added Squirrel Girl, or Doorman - Doorman doesn't take a lot of things seriously, and Squirrel Girl is sweet and innocent. If they were looking for characters who would lighten the mood of The Initiative, those two would have been fine. Hell, you could re-write the entire run up 'til now with Squirrel Girl, and you wouldn't have to change a thing, since Squirrely had a crush on Speedball, and would have been just as likely as Slapstick was to attack Gauntlet for disparaging the name of the New Warriors. She actually has a bit of a vicious streak already, if you ask me - or Doctor Doom.

So, there ya go - Slapstick isn't dead, but he might as well be. Disagree with me? Think you can justify the complete change in Slapstick's character? Put your comments where - uh, well, where the comments are. In what conceivable universe would Slapstick ever agree to attend boot camp?

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Come For Your Trial, Stay For the Corruption

Let's take a brief break from Slapstick Week for just a few minutes, because the Newsarama blog just picked up on something interesting: a New York City councilman wants to officially name "Gotham City" as NYC's primary nickname, in order to capitalize on the release of this summer's Batman flick, The Dark Knight.

That's just a bad idea all around. Gotham City is not a nice place. If you're not being accosted by a psychopathic clown while waiting for the subway, you've got to watch your back for the crazy in the bat costume who thinks you've got a connection to somebody's Al Ghul. Then there's the justice system, which, despite the aforementioned crazy's efforts to eschew any real political reform and stick with beating the crap out of ugly people, has yet to keep anyone in jail long enough for them to become homesick. This is the last fictional place in the world that you want associated with your hometown.

I mean, even if this councilor believes the comparison to be apt, do you really want to advertise it?

Contrary to the popular colloquialism, bad publicity is only that - bad. Say no to Gotham.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Science of Slapstick

I am all about the slapstick humour. Ever since I was first introduced to the Three Stooges in my formative years, it has been an essential part of who I am. There is truly no greater comedy than a subtle, delicate slap to the face with a blunt object. Shows like Earthworm Jim, Freakazoid, and Pinky and the Brain still hold special places in my comically oversized heart. So it should come as no surprise, if you’re familiar with the little fella, that I enjoy the hell out of Marvel Comics' Slapstick.

When slapstick comedy is done well, it’s friggin’ hilarious. But you have to have particularly good timing, and at least as good a wit, to get it right. For instance, superficially, one wouldn’t see too much of a difference between the antics in Animaniacs and those in the earlier Looney Toons shorts – but there’s a huge, glaring gulf between their types of humor. The original Bugs Bunny cartoons just cannot elicit laughter from me. Maybe it’s because there were no network censors back then, or that no one was particularly worried that kids might copy what they saw on the screen, that allowed them to use anvils and dynamite so indiscriminately. But I can sort of articulate why it doesn’t work for me: it’s too obvious. It’s too fantastic. There’s no heart in it. But most importantly? It lacks intelligence.

There are three things that are essential for slapstick to be funny to me: irreverence, wit, and the nature of the violence itself.

Irreverence is an example of incongruity: that is, something that occurs but which is not consistent with what we would expect. For example, we expect people to treat Daredevil with respect, and to be afraid of Ghost Rider: Slapstick does neither.

The key to irreverence, of course, is that the target of your satire, or violence, has to command respect, without actually deserving it. Ayn Rand once wrote on humor (and you can read these and other writings at The Ayn Rand Lexicon):

“Humor is not an unconditional virtue; its moral character depends on its object. To laugh at the contemptible, is a virtue; to laugh at the good, is a hideous vice. Too often, humor is used as the camouflage of moral cowardice.”

She later added on a separate occasion :

Humor is the denial of metaphysical importance to that which you laugh at. The classic example: you see a very snooty, very well dressed dowager walking down the street, and then she slips on a banana peel … What's funny about it? It's the contrast of the woman's pretensions to reality. She acted very grand, but reality undercut it with a plain banana peel. That's the denial of the metaphysical validity or importance of the pretensions of that woman. Therefore, humor is a destructive element—which is quite all right, but its value and its morality depend on what it is that you are laughing at. If what you are laughing at is the evil in the world (provided that you take it seriously, but occasionally you permit yourself to laugh at it), that's fine. [To] laugh at that which is good, at heroes, at values, and above all at yourself [is] monstrous … The worst evil that you can do, psychologically, is to laugh at yourself. That means spitting in your own face.

In this way, the pretensions of Ghost Rider are undercut in Slapstick#4 by the fact that he’s simply a character in a comic book, and deserves no more respect than Slapstick himself does. If Ghost Rider were to exist in the "real world," he would be quite a terrifying figure indeed - but he would also be a man with a perpetually flaming skull:

This irreverence is also seen in Slapstick #2, featuring the Punisher caricature, “The Overkiller:” a comic book character who never smiles is taken down a few pegs by a comic book character who seems to never stop smiling. Slapstick mocks the overly-serious nature of the anti-hero, and his illogical dedication to becoming a criminal in order to wipe out crime.

The original Looney Tunes used wit, but it was – well, very good, really. I can recall a scene where Wile E. Coyote has been blown up, and then knocks on Bugs Bunny’s door, announcing “My name is mud.” Bugs turns to the audience in an aside before the clip irises out, and says, “Mud spelled backwards is dum[b].” That has to be the least funniest Looney Tunes gag that I have ever seen, because the irreverence was not specific to Wile E. Coyote, did not play off of his pretensions, and forced Wile to say something that he had no reason to say. Irreverence has to point out the subject’s failings or fallacies to be successful.

But, like Northrop Frye explained in his paper, “The Nature of Satire,” (published in the University of Toronto Quarterly, Vol.14, Oct. 1949) irreverence is not enough to make something funny, because irreverence can also include vitriolic invective: is the tone that makes a work of art a satire...To have too much hatred and too little gaiety will upset the balance of tone.

This is where wit comes in. Wit can turn something appalling into something hilarious. Take this set of panels:

Now, we’ve all seen the “this means war” bit in Looney Tunes cartoons, but it’s the intertexuality (oh, god! Oh, god! Postmodern theory is creeping in! Let’s get this over with as quickly as possible...) that gives it new life here. First, there’s the acknowledgment that Slapstick is, indeed, inspired by the cartoon characters of the past. Then there’s the even funnier allusion to the modus operandi of the Punisher: his “war on crime,” and his history as a war veteran.

Of course, a big part of the wit is actually in that incongruity I mentioned earlier. Check out this character: the Neutron Bum. A better name for a villain I have yet to see. Villains are usually after revenge, or millions of dollars: the Neutron Bum, however, only wants a cup of coffee:

The final component of successful slapstick, which is evident in Slapstick (naturally), is the violence itself. The violence has to be of a certain type – Sweeney Todd type mayhem will offend more than it will tickle, and the funniest parts of movies like Army of Darkness are the homages to the Three Stooges. Slapstick comedy, above all, cannot hurt or permanently damage their victims. Whether this is achieved through innocuous acts of violence like the Stooges’ face-slaps and nose-tweaks, or by introducing incongruity and turning a horrifically violent act into a harmless annoyance (a la Wile E. Coyote and explosives), doesn't matter. Slapstick straddles this line well, even in the mostly realistic world of the Marvel Universe:

A film or comic can be violent, but without wit, it isn’t funny. Take the original Looney Toons cartoons, for instance. Sure, they’re funny to kids, but why do I enjoy Freakazoid and Pinky and the Brain where I don’t enjoy Looney Toons? Well, Looney Toons lacks intelligence. People get blown up with dynamite, shot in the ass, dropped out of airplanes – but the quips aren’t exactly Oscar Wilde. And the wit can fall flat if it doesn’t include “the denial of metaphysical importance” to an object of attack. Without these, the violence is simply perplexing – something which may have helped provoke the moral crusaders who saw cartoons as nothing but trash for the mind. Slapstick isn’t the funniest stuff around, but it contains all of the elements – in my opinion, whatever that’s worth that give it staying power.

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Monday, March 24, 2008

The Secret Origin of Slapstick!

Every great hero has an origin story, and, fortunately for us scholarly types, so does every lousy one. Slapstick, the zany character who is essentially a cartoon who lives in the "real world" of the Marvel Universe, doesn't have an overly complicated one, or even an interesting one, but it is where all superhero stories begin, and so that is where we venture to now.

Slapstick arrived on the scene in a 4-issue miniseries that began in November of 1992. Writer Len Kaminski and penciller James Fry III created the cartoony "super-hero," but I couldn't find any information on exactly what inspired them to do so. Was there merely an editorial fiat for comic (as in "comedic") characters? The nineties would see the rise of similar heroes, from Earthworm Jim to Freakazoid, but Slapstick was there first. A clue to his origins is given on the splash page:
a dedication to Steve Ditko? You all know my affinity for the man's work, but to what extent did he inspire the creation of Slapstick? Maybe I should have tracked down Kaminski and Fry and asked them... well, you live and learn.

Let's get this show on the road, huh?

Meet Steve Harmon. He's...

not quite right in the head.

Steve's modus operandi is to take absolutely nothing seriously, playing practical jokes that would be construed as signs of a severely disturbed mind today.

(Okay, admit it - you laughed at the nun joke. C'mon, I won't tell your grandmother.)

Somehow, in what is surely an insult to the rigorous standards of the public school system, he's managed to make it to High School, where he spends his days - well, in detention, mostly. At other times, he can be seen hanging out with his best friend and studious nerd, Mike.

Steve's days as a "super hero" (and we must remember that that term is used only for expediency, and with the most generous of definitions in mind) begin when he seeks out revenge against another student, Winston, who's gotten him into detention by informing school authorities that he was the one to - well, for dramatic effect, I'll let him tell you:

Honestly, now - a corpse? Even if your willing suspension of disbelief will allow you to imagine that a guy was able to steal a dead body without being arrested, you still can't get around the fact that this kid wasn't summarily expelled with great relish, and got off with only a week of detention. They have got some loose standards in the schools of the Marvel universe.

Steve's plans are inspired as most great ones are: by a creepy-looking clown handing out fliers advertising a carnival. His vengeance isn't exactly Machiavellian in its complexity: he's going to dress up as a clown, blend in with the carnies, and hit Winston in the face with a pie when he heads on down to ride the ferris wheel with his lady friend. Bravo, Steve. Bra-vo.

Naturally, his plan hits a snag when the carnival turns out to be run by evil clowns from Dimension X (as hypothesized by our hero) who abduct Winston and his girlfriend, Heather, before Steve can see his devious machinations come to fruition. Calling upon his inner hero, Steve grabs a conveniently-located giant mallet and follows the circus folk into their dimensional portal within the House of Mirrors.

Steve manages to get through the portal just a little too late, and as a result, is transformed into a stylised version of himself: he has purple hair that resembles the wig he was wearing, a completely white face resulting from the make-up he had put on, exaggerated eyebrows, and two comically over-sized, four-fingered gloves.

Steve has also been reduced to a puddle, the result of being stretched across a number of different dimensions. In this state, Steve is welcomed to Dimension X by the “Scientist Supreme,” a character that I’ll be calling “Dr. Groucho” from here on out for better word flow, since he has that little “cartoon doctor” thing on his head and resembles Groucho Marx – he’s also done-up in clown make-up, but so is everyone else, so it’s not really notable enough to make a big deal out of. Dr. Groucho has determined that Steve’s body was transformed during the trip through the portal. Steve is now composed of a substance Dr. Groucho calls “electroplasm,” which makes Steve invincible, but which also requires the good doctor to cram “Pseudo-molecular Stabilitrods” into his gloves, which will stabilize the particles and allow Steve to become a solid - err, person/thing. Groucho has also modified the gloves so that Steve can change to and from his clownish appearance and his human form, and store items in a pocket of sub-space, so that he can retrieve them seemingly from thin air.

Yes, Slapstick’s powers all come courtesy of a doctor in clown make-up who looks like Groucho Marx. Keep that one in mind for Marvel trivia night.

Anyway, it turns out that Winston and Heather were abducted to help the Overlord, ruler of Dimension X, take over the dimension in which the regular Marvel Universe resides. The Overlord has taken a device created by Dr. Groucho called the “Mediocritizer,” which brainwashes people into believing whatever he wants them to believe. The thing about Dimension X is that it’s postmodernism fully realized: when everyone is made to believe the same thing by the Overlord, that belief becomes reality. In fact, the Overlord maintains a castle that is perched impossibly atop a small cliff merely by his minions’ collective suspension of disbelief.

Long story short, Steve manages to defeat the Overlord using a combination of cartoonish violence and terrible comedy. It's not pretty, and it's not very funny, either.

To tell you the truth, I wouldn’t have been surprised if sales dropped off significantly after this issue. It feels a bit as if writer Len Kaminski was forced to tell an origin story, and had to slap one together at the last minute - it's certainly not on par with Slapstick #4. I think the series would have been better served if we were introduced to Slapstick, and then we got his origin story told to us afterward, in a condensed, flash-back format. Hell, did we even need an origin? He's a living cartoon, and he likes to hit people with a big mallet. What else do we need to know? Slapstick is funny (in later issues), but his alter-ego, Steve Harmon? He's just kind of a prick. The less seen of him, the better.

Ah, but we can only dream of what could have been...

FUN BIT OF TRIVIA: According to "The Appendix to the Handbook of the Marvel Universe," Slapstick was "voted best new character of 1992 over Carnage." I totally buy that.

EDIT: I just realized how similar the origin of Slapstick is to the origin of Ditko's The Creeper: both characters put on a costume that becomes their alter ego thanks to a pseudo-sciency situation, and both heroes use tiny devices to transform into these "stored forms." Both characters are also batshit insane in their disguises.

NEXT: I attempt to put my limited university education to good use by proving why Slapstick is funny. Tune in then, and watch as I suck all of the fun out of comics!

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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Spoiler Alert

Hey, you remember how Darth Vader's entire character was changed when he was first revealed to be just a pasty-faced old guy in the third Star Wars movie, and then when he was turned into a whiny, moody, not-quite-so-scary teenager in the prequel trilogy? Well, Marvel was there first, in Marvel Age #4:

although this one was decidedly more upbeat.

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Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Slapstick Cometh

Coming this Monday...

If you loved my focus on Speedball...

You'll absolutely kill yourself over...


It's, uh, funnier than it looks. Really.

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Friday, March 21, 2008

Friday Night Fights: Business as Usual

There is only one thing that can put the fear of god into the dreaded Doctor Doom (and simultaneously turn on the ladies)...

The might of Speedball, of course. What were you expecting?

Bahlactus, of course, fears neither god nor man.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Introducing the Blue Devil

I think it should be apparent by now that I have a love for the obscure, the unappreciated, and - well, the crap. My favorite comic characters are, in order: Jack Knight, Vic Sage, Ted Kord, Booster Gold, and Speedball - B-level heroes, at best. I also have a soft spot for Shade, the Changing Man - the original, not the Vertigo remake, The Phantom Stranger, The Creeper, and Captain Atom. I am the Justice League International of comic fans.

Given that, it should come as no surprise that Blue Devil has managed to capture my heart as well, in concept alone, without me even having to read one issue of his solo series. I'll admit to reading the latest series to feature appearances by the blue man, the recent Shadowpact, but all the magic bullshit going on in that title doesn't allow me to keep my interest up long enough to even bother to read the issues in order. Although I will say that I have totally fallen in love with Warlock's Daughter - so I keep reading. Don't judge my standards.

What you say? You don't know who Blue Devil is? Poppycock! Surely, you've seen his masterful cameos on Justice League Unlimited? Certainly, you have his one and only action figure displayed proudly on your desk as you read this, inspiring your own dreams of writing high-caliber, yet woefully under-appreciated, comics?

Well, I guess it is a bit silly to assume that everyone is as cultured as I am. After all, I wouldn't be writing this if you did devour every Blue Devil appearance voraciously, because I'm sure that DC would not let a darling character, even a B-lister, escape exploitation for long. Look at Ted Kord, for instance - fucker had to die before we rallied around him. Which reminds me: Dan Didio, you do remember that I've called dibs on Blue Devil: Year One, right? Are we still on for lunch? You never return my calls.

If you do know who Blue Devil is, then you might have only seen him in the pages of Shadowpact. If you enjoy that fine publication, (and I do realize that I am speaking to, perhaps, one person who fits that criteria), then you might be surprised to know that his original form was more - uh, artificial than it is now.

Blue Devil, created by Dan Mishkin and Gary Cohn in 1984 as one of the last new heroes to be introduced before the shit hit the fan in Crisis on Infinite Earths, tells the story of Daniel Cassidy, a stunt man who was working on the set of the movie Blue Devil near the ruins of an ancient temple in a remote jungle. When two of his cast-mates decide that there's nothing safer than to go rummaging through a building that's adorned with demon skulls and enough pointy ends to put out an eye just by looking at it, they awake an honest-to-goodness demon who proceeds to tear ass all over the place until Cassidy uses his Blue Devil suit - which has been outfitted with servos and other assorted goodies that increase his strength and stamina - to put the bitch down for the count. Unfortunately, the demon got a chance to zap Cassidy with a bolt of magic, "fusing" the powered suit to our powder-blue hero. When a villain named "Shockwave" (according to the cover of Blue Devil #2, "he likes to break things") leaves his apartment building in ruins while looking for some "super-kryptonite", Cassidy is reluctantly cast into the role of hero when the police mistake him for a new super-powered defender - and are stupid enough to yell it within earshot of the villain, putting Cassidy in immediate danger. Once the "Blue Devil" defeats Shockwave, he begins his quest to find a way to separate himself from his invention, calling on the likes of Superman, Zatanna, and S.T.A.R. Labs, and facing unexpected challenges when the producers of the Blue Devil movie move to sue him for using their trademarked image and name.

What's really interesting about Blue Devil's origins is that it was originally made up as a pitch for Steve Ditko to draw. According to part of an interview that was published in Back Issue magazine that was posted on the forums of

We decided to do something that takes something from every Marvel character we ever loved. Let’s take Iron Man, the guy in the costume; the Thing, the tragedy of the guy stuck in a shape he didn’t want; and a light-hearted, bouncy approach and a character who was going to move like Spider-Man.

And we wanted something like the Green Goblin. How about Blue Devil? We called him that because Dan’s wife is from North Carolina and he was a [Duke University] Blue Devils fan. Then we started creating Blue Devil and thinking, “Ditko is going to love this!” We created this great proposal, and it was everything that we knew was going to set Ditko’s light on high beam. We took it in to Manak and he gave it to Ditko. Ditko looked at it and said, “I’ll do it if I have to, but this is really not my kind of stuff at all.”
Knowing Ditko's personal philosophy, I'm not surprised he didn't want to do it: anything with magic or demons wasn't of interest to him at that point. If you look at all of the things he did in the 1980's, you'll see that there's a lot of science fiction, but nothing that was supernaturally inclined - Speedball, Static, ROM, etc.. This is confirmed over at Occasional Superheroine, where Valerie D'Orazio recounts how Ditko wouldn't draw a story for Batman: Black & White for exactly that reason. C'mon guys, a little bit of research and a little change to the Blue guy's origins, and we coulda had a Ditko Blue Devil!

But, alas, that is not how things went. Now, don't get me wrong; I said I liked Blue Devil and I do, but that's despite the supernatural elements. I think that stories which use magic as a device will always get mired in logical difficulties, and they tend to be quite cheap int heir execution - the late Arthur C. Clarke liked to say that sufficiently advanced technology was indistinguishable from magic, but I prefer to think that sufficiently contrived magic is indistinguishable from coincidence - that is, magic will usually present itself in whatever form is necessary, and doesn't have a clear identity. It can be whatever the writer wants it to be at a certain time, whereas Science Fiction technology may be fantastic, it is still limited: a transporter can only function in the ways that the creator has declared it to function - it cannot, for example, be used to make a smoothie unless it is modified considerably, and then it ceases to be a transporter. This, of course, does not apply to the U.S.S. Enterprise's deflector dish, which I have determined to have been brought into being using a lock of Spock's hair and a summoning circle - that shit is magic.

But I believe that any "magical" conceits can be overcome by making other elements of the story even more fantastic. A well-developed character can overcome even the dumbest of plot devices, and, luckily, Blue Devil is just interesting enough to make you forget that he's only there because DC accepted the "it's magic, it doesn't have to make sense" defense.

The concept was interesting enough that DC brushed aside the Ditko rebuff and handed it off to up-and-coming artist Paris Cullins, who would go on to provide art for much of the Blue Beetle series in 1986 (this series featured Ted Kord, a Steve Ditko creation, thus proving that the comics industry is actually a creative time loop).

But before he would grace our comic store shelves in the first issue of his own series, Daniel Patrick "Blue Devil" Cassidy was introduced to comic fans in a 16-page preview that came bundled into Fury of Firestorm #24.

With the clunky title of "The Costume Makes the Man? Man! What a Costume!" the Blue Devil preview takes place before he's been made the victim of demonic hoo-doo and concerns the villainous Trickster's attempts to steal Cassidy's power suit before he's finished adding all the different bells and whistles to it. The Trickster's motivations don't seem to go beyond "he's built something that I couldn't," but for a 15-page comic, I suppose it's enough.

So Trickster heads over to "Vernor Brothers Studios" to steal the suit straight from the set, only to discover that the suit's out and about on the lot during a promotional photo-shoot. Unfortunately, no one's bothered to fax over the memo that explains that the suit's just a mock-up, and the actor wearing it isn't Cassidy, but the star of the Blue Devil movie, Wayne Tarrant. Wayne was roped into the job through the standard Hollywood method: first, stroke the actor's ego through begging.

When that doesn't work, tell him he's worthless and threaten to shit-can him.

It's a bit like the Kubler-Ross model, but the only thing that's dead is your dignity.

Once alerted to the problem, Cassidy decides that the suit has enough gadgets to be able to hold its own against a man whose trademarks include striped pants and pointy shoes, and hops aboard his magical broomstick rocket trident to chase the freak down.

What ensues is a beautiful ballet of two special-effects geeks trying to out-nerd each other with their frivolous applications of technology. Soon enough, though, Cassidy's had enough with that shit, and rushes the Trickster. You'd think ol' James Jesse would have some experience with a man running straight at him, since he is a member of the Flash's Rogues' Gallery, but maybe it's just that he's not used to Superheroes who don't give him time to pull a new trick out of his bag when they're busy mouthing off at him. That'll be a bit of a trademark with Blue Devil over the first few issues: he don't take, nor talk, no guff. He's got things to do, man.

The fight teaches Cassidy that his suit isn't anywhere near as powerful as it needs to be, and returns to his lair to begin modifications. So, congratulations, Trickster: you have inadvertently made sure that Daniel Cassidy gets trapped in a form that could - and will - kick your ass.

The Blue Devil series lasted through 1986 and ended up with 31 pretty fun issues - so he was more successful than Blue Beetle or Booster Gold, but he wasn't quite a Captain Atom. Once his series was canceled, he was turned into a stupid git who made a deal with the devil to became a famous movie star in the Underworld Unleashed miniseries in 1995, and in so doing, became an actual demon somehow.

Hey, shit happens.

Today, you can see Blue Devil regularly in the Shadowpact series, but it's not very good, and doesn't let the Phantom Stranger actually do anything, so I don't know if you'd go for that. Buy the trades, at any rate, and see if it's up your alley.

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Blue Filler

I'm working on a post about Blue Devil. It's running longer than I thought it would. So in lieu of something substantial, please enjoy this barely-Comics-Code-Approved dialog from Blue Devil #4:

Look at the glee on Superman's face.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

"Its origin and purpose, still a total mystery..."

The last of the Big Three is dead: Arthur C. Clarke, author of 2001 and many other stories, died in Sri Lanka today (or tomorrow, I guess, considering time zones) at the age of 90.

Who will pick up the SF mantle?

"If we have learned one thing from the history of invention and discovery, it is that, in the long run - and often in the short one - the most daring prophecies seem laughably conservative."

(photo from

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A Musical Interlude

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Sunday, March 16, 2008

Just Warming Up the Portfolio For DC

Chris Sims challenges the internet to write a Brave and the Bold plot via Mad Lib, and who am I to refuse an activity with so much possibility for disaster?

C'mon, everybody! Join in the fun!

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Friday, March 14, 2008

Friday Night Fights: Speedball vs. The Future

Dear great and erudite sage Bahlactus,

Will kicking ass in the future be filled with as much Speedball as it was in the past?

Thanks, buddy. That's a load off my mind.

(Bahlactus the Great gets all of his predictions straight from the future via Spider-girl #15)

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

The One Where I Mistakenly Indulge in Culture: Mosh Pit on Disney

Without a doubt, this has been one of the worst - if not the oddest - listening experiences of my life. I hesitate to call it the absolute worst, because I'm sure that there's still plenty of CDs being produced and sold by professional wrestlers, ex-soap-opera-stars, Fiona Apple, and that one guy whose only job was to hold that mirror up for Morris Day, that I have yet to, err, appreciate as such. But after you've heard the first track on the inspired "Mosh Pit on Disney," an inexplicable medley of Japanese persons (and one robot?) yelling out the title of the album, you can at least guarantee it a spot on your "what were they thinking?" list.

Released in Japan in 2004, Mosh Pit on Disney features both English and Japanese artists giving their interpretations of famous tunes from Disney's toons.

The first track (that would be Track 2, after the "intro") is oddly enjoyable, and even strangely relevant: Andrew WK gives us his piano-laden rendition of "The Mickey Mouse Club March." Hey, if you like Andrew WK, you'll like this one, because it sounds exactly like every other song he's ever performed - except that he was presumably forbidden, by an executive with great foresight, from using the word "party" in any capacity. Be warned, though: if you didn't feel the compulsion to "mosh" along with WK on this one, you should probably put the CD away now, because "Mickey Mouse Club March" is the only track that ever comes close to being "mosh pit worthy."

It's all down hill from here, as the next track is a take on Aladdin's "Whole New World" by the Japanese band, Low IQ 01. The singer apparently lacks the ability to pronouce "R's" and "L's" correctly, and the song descends into an incomprehensible mess. The song is further hindered by the artists' choice of making the first half of the song take inspiration from Muzak, and the second half a partially-chewed "All-American Rejects" demo.

Speaking of the Rejects, they make an appearance on this album, too: Track 14 has their take on "When You Wish Upon a Star," which they manage to turn into a deleted scene from "High School Musical." The resulting song is so cheerfully saccharine, it makes a can of frosting look like a healthy lifestyle choice.

It doesn't all look like the aftermath of an attack from Godzilla's radioactive breath: some of it was just stepped on a little. "The Main Street Electrical Parade" sounds pretty good (at least until the kazoo breaks in), as does the ska-like, synthesizer-filled version of "Someday My Prince Will Come," which is probably because neither of these tracks include any vocals. Even Smashmouth, forever in need of another paycheck from a cartoon character, puts in a smooth and catchy version of The Jungle Book's "I Want to Be Like You," a re-imagining that seems at once appropriate, but also vaguely disturbing.

There are some artists who are noticeably absent, and who would have increased the "mosh" factor: what, Marilyn Manson, king of the cover song (and someone who can actually achieve what might be called a well-done cover), couldn't find the time to record "Hakuna Matata?" I really would have liked to hear Children of Bodom take a crack at "So This is Love?"

While you're waiting for the release of Mosh Pit on Disney Volume 2, you can purchase Mosh Pit on Disney at There were two versions released by Walt Disney Records: the original CD, and a special box-set including a key chain, figurine, and stickers. Both editions feature the same tracks, and both will leave you scratching your head in bewilderment: do the Japanese really thrash around to Smashmouth and The All-American Rejects, or do they just think that we do?

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Descent Into Darkness, Part 2: It's Just a Mess

In 1998, the WWF was at the height of its popularity, and there were no depths that were too low too dredge in the organization's efforts to promote itself. It was a time of hastily arranged licensing deals that resulted in some truly terrible products - and comic books, being comic books, were not spared from "The Monday Night Wars." Mankind got his own one-shot issue, which we can be thankful didn't get any further than that. We weren't so lucky when it came to other "superstars," like the Undertaker: he was the star of his own ten-issue series. I looked at #0 in a previous post (Part One of my "series"). Tonight, I'll be subjecting myself - and you, gentle reader - to Undertaker #1.

To recap: the Undertaker is actually a demon from Hell who's supposed to be the rightful ruler of Hell's prison, "Stygian." The only problem is that he was ousted form the position somehow, and now he has to fight a ponytailed Gen-X-er named "The Embalmer" and a corpulent fellow named Paul Bearer to secure his power over a freakin' prison in Hell. To paraphrase a movie slogan, "No matter who wins, they lose."

To be honest, I'm not really sure how everything works in this "universe." We've got Hell, and I'm pretty sure that should work like what I'm familiar with: piss god off, go to Hell. Pretty simple to understand, but it gets fuzzy once someone tries to apply earthly concepts to very unearthly planes. How the hell can Hell have a prison? Who would be in Stygian? What does death mean if you just get sent to Hell, which appears to be easier to get out of than a wet, bullet-riddled paper bag?

A more important theological matter, though, is of course:

Why is there a wrestling ring in Hell?

And it's played in all seriousness, folks. There's no rolling eyes, or tongues-in-cheeks. We're completely expected to believe that Satan likes to watch a little Sports Entertainment while chilling after a long day of raping Stalin with a pineapple.

But these questions were with us with Undertaker #0, and they will be with us right on through to #10. So, you know - don't try to think about them too much.

A bit of the old prose (ending in an egregious failure to use an ellipsis properly) elaborates on the story seen so far: the Embalmer, the Undertaker, and Paul Bearer are actually seeking out three books of – OF DEATH (Bwa ha ha). Perhaps sensing that the job as warden of Hell’s prison was not quite incentive enough to get the Undertaker fightin’ demons every month, the writers have clarified the matter by specifying that whoever holds the three books – OF DEATH – will not only own Stygian, but also have access to a whole slew of “unimaginative unimaginable destructive powers.” The Undertaker has the third book in the series, the Embalmer holds the first, and no one knows who has the second, so I’m hoping that a future issue segues into scenes of ‘Taker and the Embalmer hopping from a quaint used book store in the village to an Antiques Road Show meeting to find it, perhaps with its ultimate acquisition relying on a light-hearted convoluted trading sequence.

Our issue begins with an internal monologue by the Dead Man himself, spoken as he beats the living hell out of your everyday, garden-variety demon: half HR Giger, half “Invasion” alien. In our last issue, we learned that the Undertaker was ousted from his position as chief demon of Stygian, so what he’s doing here corralling an “escaped demon” is beyond my ability to rationalize. This demon is apparently working for the Embalmer, who has the power to create portals to – uh, wherever the hell the Undertaker is at the moment.

Deadpool’s subconscious (re:caption boxes) tells us that it is prophesized that the Undertaker will take possession of the three books – OF DEATH. So, no problem, right? It’s in the prophecy, which means that all ‘Taker needs to do now his sit back and wait for the books to come to him. For all of my griping about The Dark is Rising, I have to give the author this: she knows what a prophecy is. All the kid in that book had to do was hang around long enough, and the shit would all fall into place. That’s what prophecies are: things that are destined to happen. So I don’t see why the Undertaker is even going to look for the books, since he knows that it is destiny for him to be the ruler of Stygian.

Of course, we wouldn’t have a riveting story if we just had 24 pages of the Dead Man eating chips while waiting for the Embalmer to impale himself on his own sword, so despite the clear meaning of the term PROPHECY, we still have to put up with this dreck for the next – oh, 9 issues. Of course, we still don’t get a riveting story, but that’s another point altogether.

The Embalmer, the Big Bad (well, Badder) of the series, is actually a regular old man whose mother named him with foresight: the moniker describes his “mastery of the art he was most proficient” – butchered English aside, I think that means that he was a professional who actually embalmed corpses, but by the looks of the art, he doesn't seem very good at it:

Isn’t the whole point of embalming to preserve the dead? I believe that stripping the flesh from their bones might be a little bit counter-productive in that effort.

Embalmy somehow found a way to open a portal to Stygian, and in a similarly vague fashion – somehow - overthrew the ruler of the place at the time. Given the indications from last issue, I thought that was the Undertaker, but continuity was always a suckers’ game anyway.

Jump to the present: while the Undertaker whines about finding the books again – just in case we forgot what the McGuffin was after, you know, putting the comic book down a few weeks ago in disgust, and finally coming back to it today – the Embalmer speaks to the Dead Man’s unfortunate victim from the beginning of this issue in his office. Like all good villains these days, the Embalmer has somehow managed to acquire a large corporation, despite not showing one ounce of business acumen. The demon’s tail was cut off when the Embalmer closed the portal on him after the Undertaker grabbed the appendage, and he can’t shut up about it. In a bit of dialogue that was supposed to show the Embalmer’s callousness and disregard for his minions, he tells the demon to suck it up, imploring him to “grow another [tail]... or three, or four,” he doesn’t care. It actually just comes across as weird, since the demon wouldn’t be bitching about his tail if he could just grow another one in an instant. He also demands that the demon call him “Augustus Slayer” while in the mortal realm. It’s probably just for kicks, since it can’t be to remain inconspicuous.

A lot of this issue is just repetition, repetition, repetition – the Phenom likes to remind us every few pages or so that he would really like to get his books, and that he’s destined to be the ruler of Stygian, while the Embalmer likes to sit on his ass and talk about ruling Stygian while the Undertaker beats the crap out of the same interchangeable goons.

Undertaker #1 ends with a 7-page wrestling match with a nobody who calls himself “Mezzmor.” The strange thing is that while the ring begins to resemble some sort of Hell-scape, Mezzmore does not take on the appearance of a demon - which, according to the laws set forth in Undertaker #0, he should when in the presence of the Undertaker. So either Mezzmor isn’t really a demon – which is going to create problems for the WWF’s lawyers, since ‘Taker manages to liquefy him during the fight – or Vince McMahon has been investing in some really strange ring equipment. This one has talking turnbuckles that constantly attempt to eat Mezzmor, screaming about “meat” and “soup.” It’s one of the many aspects of this comic that prove that Chaos! was just throwing whatever popped into their heads onto the page, hoping it’d stick. It’s not cool, it’s confusing: we still have no reason why the wrestling ring is necessary for battling demons other than “whim,” and now we don’t even know if we’re in Hell or if the mere proximity of the Undertaker causes the ring to appear to be made out of dead things. And you want to know something else? I bet the ring’s completely different in Undertaker #2. There is no commitment to internal logic or consistency with this thing.

The last splash page reveals Paul Bearer behaving in a vaguely threatening manner, and it looks like he’s clutching one of the books – OF DEATH – or maybe it’s a just an ordinary book-book, I don’t know how these things are supposed to look. It doesn’t matter. He won’t do anything of any consequence in the next issue, anyway.

Although the strange, often nonsensical comics of previous eras seem quaint today, I can assure you that this one will only be regarded as terrible, terrible, and terrible to future scholars and masochists.

Hey! They actually published a trade of this bilge. A second volume was also produced, and is available at here. Click on the links to make a questionable purchase today!

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