Sunday, 27 January 2013

Your New God III

In James Blish's The Day After Judgement:

after the original God has apparently died or possibly withdrawn, the new God, Satan, addresses the last magicians in the great hall of Pandemonium in the Citadel of Dis.

In Mike Carey's Lucifer:

after the original God has withdrawn, the new God and Lucifer address the angelic host, the Hellkin and the Army of the Damned in a great amphitheatre of the fallen Silver City.

Despite the many differences between these two scenes, I have tried to bring out some parallels:

in both cases, the original God is no longer around;
but, also in both cases, He has been replaced;
His replacement addresses the main movers;
the Devil plays a key role - in the first case, he is the replacement whereas, in the second case, he has prepared her;
the address occurs in a suitable location, either in Hell or in the fallen Heavenly City.

Friday, 25 January 2013

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo II

I have read The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo Graphic Novel, Book One, twice. It became clearer on the second reading but I still need to check some points with Ketlan who has read the novel and seen the films. Obviously, each adaptation should tell the story clearly enough on its own terms.

Seeing the film of a book sometimes makes us want to read the book. In this case, I am not in a hurry to read the original. I imagine that the disgraced journalist and the title character are view point characters for different chapters or sections of chapters? It would be interesting to read the memories, thoughts and feelings of the heroine since these are almost completely unstated in the graphic adaptation.

When a comic is based on a screen drama, whether cinema or TV, the characters are drawn to resemble the actors but, when a film and a graphic novel are independently based on a prose novel, there need not be any resemblance. This happened with Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere. The comic was based either on the novel or on the TV script but not on the visuals of the TV series. The Black Friars were described as black men in the novel and were black on TV so should have been black in the comic. (The idea seemed to be a child's imagining of "Black Friars", as with some of the images in Alice. The child's viewpoint is a major feature in Gaiman's works.)

There are two films of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo but the comic is, like them, independently based on the novel so need not resemble either film.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

My son-in-law, Ketlan, recommends the novel The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson and one of its two film adaptations. Having just read Book One of the graphic novel adaptation by Denise Mina, Leonardo Manco and Andrea Mutti, he is not sure whether a reader unfamiliar with Larsson's original prose novel will follow the story in this graphic version so I am about to find out.

In the graphic adaptation of the first Batman film starring Michael Keaton, one panel depicted Bruce Wayne stooping and reaching towards a bunch of flowers on the ground. Had he just placed them there or was he about to pick them up? What was the context? Later, it was stated that every year, on the anniversary of his parents' murder, he placed flowers at the place where they had been killed but it was not initially clear to me either why he was placing flowers on the ground or even that he was doing so.

This is a case where what they intended to depict was clear to the artists (penciller, inker and colorist) but not necessarily to the reader. I will report back here on what I understand of what is going on in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Graphic Novel, Book One.

Interim Report: Some entire pages are without words. I find it difficult to follow what is going on here. But a single reading is not enough.

Interim II: Have read it through once but it needs at least one more complete reading, tomorrow at the earliest. There were a couple of points where I lost the continuity between panels.

The Versatility Of The Batman II

Earlier this month, I wrote a very brief note called "The Versatility of the Batman," (see here) which mainly listed the various genres to which any given Batman story might belong. Seeing from the stats that this post had been viewed, I reread it and then expanded it a bit with a few examples. I think that this is a significant point.

Most series in popular fiction belong to a single genre. Sherlock Holmes, who is just one of the Batman's many precursors, is exclusively a Detective. Doyle wrote about the supernatural but kept it out of his Holmes series. Holmes investigated an apparent vampire case with emphasis on the "apparent." A recent Holmes film preserved its status as a detective story right at the end when Holmes proved that the supernatural events had been faked.

Wayne can solve mysteries and fight vampires as well as alien invaders and can do this alone or in alliance with superheroes. Another composite format is the X Files TV series where any episode can be fantasy, sf or mystery but the Batman's range is broader. The greatest contrast is between the Adam Ward TV series and Frank Miller's The Dark Knight mini-series, collected as The Dark Knight Returns. The cover of Miller's Batman Year One Part 1 (see image) also displays a serious treatment of the character's origin and motivation. 

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

From Page To Screen And Back

Four live action TV series have been derived from Superman comics:

The Adventures Of Superman;
Lois And Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman;
Superboy;
Smallville.

Superboy comic strips were about Clark Kent alias Superboy in Smallville.
The Superboy TV series was about Clark Kent alias Superboy at Schuster University.
The Smallville TV series was about Clark Kent in Smallville.

Thus, Clark begins his costumed superhero career as Superboy in Smallville, as Superboy at Schuster University or as Superman in Metropolis.

Three monthly comic books have been based on Superman-related TV series:

The Superman Adventures, based on an animated series;
Superboy, based on Superboy;
Smallville: Season 11, a sequel to Smallville.

When The Superman Adventures began publication, it was the first new comic book version of Superman since John Byrne's revamp in the Man Of Steel mini-series. Since then, there have been at least two changes to mainstream continuity as well as All Star and Earth 1 versions of the character and, since the Smallville TV series, Seasons 1-10, was a prequel to Superman, Smallville: Season 11 is just a roundabout title for a new Superman comic.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

A Neat Solution

In the sixth episode of Smallville, the elderly precog, Cassandra Carver, introduced in this episode, tells Clark that someone close to him will die soon. Clark, having seen that Cassandra's foresight works, is understandably concerned about Jonathan, Martha and Lex.

In fact, a guy with a demented motive for murdering Jonathan goes to the Kent farm and, finding Martha first, nearly kills her but Clark, knowing that she is in danger and using his X ray vision to see through walls, arrives just in time to save her life so it seems that Cassandra's prediction was wrong. However, meanwhile, Clark has become close to Cassandra herself...

This neatly solves two problems:

the prediction is fulfilled without killing any regular cast member;
a character, Cassandra, who knows something of Clark's secret dies so that the secret for the time being remains within the Kent family.

This is a powerful story in its own right and did not require the meteoric rejuvenations of the murderer. The characterisation and drama within Smallville could be strong enough to carry a story without requiring the additional drama of a different super-villain every week.

The meteoric radiation affects people through their minds. Cassandra must have known of the mythological character after whom she was named. The murderer wanted to be young again to enact his revenge: an old guy full of malice who gets the chance to attack people as he wants to - a truly horrible idea but that's comic book villains' motivations for you.

Questions About Lex

I am way behind with Smallville because I am only now watching the early episodes of Season 1 on DVD. It follows that I have questions to which others already know the answers but I am content to stay with the questions for the time being and to come across the answers maybe later.

(i) Since Lex knows Clark so well, how can he not recognise Superman as Clark later on?

(ii) Or does he recognise him? That could be just another of the ways in which this version of the story differs from earlier versions. On the other hand, in Superman stories, there are plenty of ways for a character's memories to be tampered with.

(iii) How will Lex become a villain? The early Lex is willing to help friends and neighbours by investing in their businesses. On the other hand, he is of course calculating that these businesses will be profitable. He is generous and values friendship but suspects that Clark may be concealing something from him. If he discovers that he has been deceived, this will strain the friendship. He says that he wants to do not good things but great things so his motivation at this stage is amoral but not yet immoral.

The series is a victim of its own success. Knowing that two characters will become enemies, they are to be shown as originally having been friends, which accords with one earlier version of the story, but Lex is shown to be such a likeable guy that it is a great pity to think that he is going to become thoroughly evil. I am told that the solution in a later season is to kill off the original Lex and to replace him with his evil clone. This sounds like a cop out but maybe it was the only way to go. Lex had been so completely devillainised that it became implausible, and certainly unwelcome, to revillainise him again.

President Luthor

I collected the Superman titles for a few years after The Crisis On Infinite Earths. There was a very good possible future story about President Superman with a black woman as Vice-President. Pete Ross had stood but was incapacitated by an assassination attempt (or something; I can dig comics out of boxes in the cellar if I want to check details) and Clark, revealed to be Superman, took his place.

I felt that this was a complete story in that it systematically traced out every possible logical implication of its premise. For example, Superman, with Aquaman's help, recovered sunken treasures to pay off the national debt. Clark's involvement in politics had started with his father's death. Right at the end of the story, when Superman prevents Jonathan's death, the reader alone knows that a political future for Superman has been averted.

Back in the present, as opposed to a possible future, Lex Luthor got involved in politics, backing a Presidential candidate. Someone with super strength trashed a campaign office and a member of the candidate's team blamed Superman. Luthor's advice: sack the guy who said that; Superman does not operate that way and, even if he did, it would do you no good to say so.

The candidate, present when Superman averted a disaster, did his best to be filmed shaking hands with Superman afterwards while Superman did his best to fly away as quickly as possible. It is good to see authentic real world politics in a Superman comic. Years ago, all that happened was Supes shaking hands with Kennedy.

Later in the post-Crisis DC universe, Luthor, leading his own Tomorrow Party, became President with Pete Ross as Vice. This provided a neat dilemma for Supes. He supports the President of the United States while privately detesting Luthor. When General Sam Lane died resisting an alien invasion, Luthor was able, from his knowledge of his own number one enemy, to assure Lois Lane that Superman would have done everything that he could have done to save her father's life.

The comics feed into screen adaptations. In the sixth episode of Smallville, it is revealed that a flash of light from a meteor impact had robbed a woman, who happened to be called Cassandra, of her sight but given her second sight. Her vision of Luthor's future as President is so horrific that she dies of shock without having told him about it...

Friday, 18 January 2013

Time And Change

Miss Violet Redfern was fourteen in 1945. She lived for decades in a Gothic house, where she had a gift shop, on Durban St above the river in Smallville. When a storm washed her back garden with its well and tree into the river and made her house unsafe, she moved to an apartment in a new building development outside the town.

She had known Lana Lang's parents who died in the meteor strike when Lana was three. Both Lana and Clark Kent visit Miss Redfern's shop where they befriend her and both of them also visit her again later in her new apartment.

By creating this elderly character who appears only in one Smallville novel, Dragon, Alan Grant generates a strong sense of Smallville as a real place enduring through the second half of the twentieth century. Smallville must have begun when Super(man as a)boy commenced publication in 1944. This was the very earliest Earth 1 story, contradicting the original Earth 2 continuity in which Clark Kent had begun his costumed career only in adulthood and after the deaths of his parents, swearing an oath at their graves like his successor, the Batman.

First published in 1944, Superboy comics had to be set ten or more years earlier because Superman always exists in the reader's present, the child's eternal present. This created problems for Superboy's chronology. Over time, he was depicted as living through his teens in different decades. Avoiding such problems, Smallville instead is set in the present, showing the youth of a future Superman.

Criminal Mastermind

An early episode of the Smallville TV series begins with Lex Luthor apparently robbing a Smallville bank. Of course, it transpires that Lex was addressing a meeting in Metropolis at the time of the robbery and that the bank robber is a metamorph. But, initially, this was like the old days come back. The original Luthor was an acknowledged criminal whose unimaginative crimes would have involved robbing banks.

John Byrne pulled a few stunts like this during his revamp of Superman. The earlier, openly criminal, Luthor had acquired a flying battle suit that made him, effectively, a super-powered villain as well as a scientific genius and a criminal mastermind. Marv Wolfman, revamping Luthor while Byrne revamped Superman, had given Lex a much better look in a business suit.

One issue of Byrne's Man Of Steel mini-series opened with Supes addressing Luthor while holding up a battle suit, we think with Luthor in the suit, but turning the page reveals that Lex is sitting behind his desk. The suit, worn by someone else in the commission of a crime, contained Lexcorp parts but Lex could show that these had been stolen. Even Superman could not prove Luthor's suspected criminality although Luthor had to use considerable technology, eg, making some of his buildings impervious to super-hearing, in order to conceal his illegal activities. Many Lexcorp employees were known to be honest and law-abiding, thus not trustworthy beyond a carefully defined level of Company security, a far cry from the original Luthor alternating between prison cells and secret hideouts.

Later: Fellow fan, Ben, informs me that the comic book Luthor has been back in that battle suit more recently. Oh well. Comics with substantial characterisation and solid story lines are like islands of quality in an ocean of quantity.

Lead

When, in Alan Grant's Smallville novel, Dragon, Clark Kent fights a meteor-empowered monster, the monster's enhanced strength is no problem, except when, because of meteoric emanations, Clark temporarily forgets and loses his powers, but the fact that the monster's body is infused with the radiation is a big problem and there is a neat solution.

Clark already knows that lead blocks not only his X ray vision but also the meteoric emanations. The text has already described some of the treasures in the Luthor Castle, including a large Byzantine lead cross. Remembering this, Clark, using super strength, pounds the cross into flat sheets that he can adapt as body armour which he must afterwards discard. Thus, he has stolen and destroyed a work of art but in order to rescue Lana who had been kidnapped by the Dragon.

Some of us are old enough to remember when, to handle Kryptonite, Superman wore lead armor that had to cover his entire body including his eyes. Unable to see out even with X ray vision, he wore a TV camera on the front of the armour and an aerial on his head and had a TV screen in front of his face. It is good to be able to remember those days but there have been better versions of the story since then, most notably John Byrne's Man Of Steel mini-series and the Smallville TV series.

The Wall Of Weird

Chloe Sullivan and her Wall of Weird are good additions to Smallville and should be retained in some form in any future version. It is good that Smallville no longer has a Superboy but the town where Superman grew up does seem to deserve some kind of appropriate weirdness, though not a supervillain every week - something more restrained like:

the hypnotic green spring water in Alan Grant's Smallville novel, Dragon;
the "Smallville Angel" which, in some earlier versions, was Clark helping and rescuing from a distance or while moving too fast to be seen;
the "Superboy" - in a more recent version, there were unconfirmed reports of a boy in Smallville running impossibly fast, maybe glimpsed from a train?

Need Clark be extraterrestrial? Maybe it is just that Martha was pregnant when the meteors came? But, if the extraterrestrial origin is retained, then the meteors both conceal the spacecraft and cause the weirdness. But I think the story should start with the central character's experience of growing up in Smallville, not with his arrival.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

A New Continuing Villain?

Alan Grant creates a conventional villain for his Smallville novel, Dragon. Ray Dansk, the last of the Smallville Dragons biker gang, imprisoned for manslaughter but now released, returns to Smallville and hides in the gang's old cave where the pervasive meteor radiation transforms him into a murderous man-sized lizard that attacks those who were witnesses at his trial.

We last see Dansk back in human form, unconscious and handcuffed and are not told what happens to him after that. He has fulfilled his role in the story: committed murders; kidnapped the heroine; fought the hero; been defeated. Now he is disposable. The conventional treatment of villains in this kind of fiction is to send them back to prison - unless the death penalty is applicable? Maybe the fact that he acted under the influence of the meteor radiation will be taken into account? His metamorphosis is sufficient evidence.

What Alan Grant has also created here is a conventional continuing villain. Dansk succeeded in killing only two of the three witnesses and made new enemies in the process. This could be the starting point of a later story: Dansk comes back, is re-transformed, goes after Clark Kent - The Dragon Returns; The Return Of The Dragon etc. I do not expect either Alan Grant or any other author to pick up this thread but it is undeniably present as one of the many potential stories in the Superman canon.

Whitney Fordman Or Ellsworth

Inconsistencies are difficult to avoid in any fiction series, especially in either a long or a multi-authored one. The science fiction writer, Poul Anderson's, reply to readers who drew attention to discrepancies within any of his various and sometimes elaborate series was that complete consistency is possible only to the Almighty and a close study of scripture shows that even he does not always manage it.

In the Smallville TV series, Lana Lang's boyfriend is Whitney Fordman. In the Smallville novel, Dragon by Alan Grant, Lana's boyfriend is Whitney Ellsworth. And these are one guy, not two successive boyfriends with coincidentally the same first name. It is easy to explain this particular discrepancy. The surname "...Ellsworth..." is spoken by Lex Luthor who might simply be mistaken. Such mistakes or slips of the tongue occur in real life but usually not in fiction unless they turn out to be somehow relevant to the plot.

In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, we must accept that, in the novel, Whitney's surname really is "Ellsworth". A comic book explanation would be that the TV series and the novels based on it are set in alternative universes where perhaps the only discernible difference is in one guy's surname! Before writing this post, I googled "Smallville Whitney Fordman", then "Smallville Whitney Ellsworth", in order to check - there might have been a TV episode in which for some reason Whitney had changed his surname, like his mother had remarried etc.

Instead, according to the Wikipedia article on "Whitney Fordman", the character's name before he was cast was to have been "Whitney Ellsworth" so the explanation is that Alan Grant was working from a "bible" for the show that preceded that particular name change. We are thus being given a small glimpse of a pre-production version of the story. Probably, there are other such changes of which we are unaware.

Later: On pp. 244 and 402, the text, not another character, refers to "Whitney Fordman" so that is this character's name in the novel and "Ellsworth" was a mistake by Luthor.

POV

I am still posting about a prose text on a Comics Appreciation Blog because the text, Dragon, a Smallville novel by Alan Grant, is comics-derived albeit via TV. (This is appropriate because narrative, drama and sequential art are the three story-telling media and each can draw on or refer to either of the others.) Instead of reading the entire novel and writing a comprehensive review, I post on specific points while reading.

Most writers know that they should control point of view. As a rule, each passage of continuous narrative should be presented as from the perspective of a single character, whether the narration is in the first or the third person. I say "Most writers..." because one successful science fiction writer had the point of view switching arbitrarily back and forth between two or three characters within single passages of dialogue.

Like most writers, Alan Grant, whether consciously or unconsciously, observes the rule about a single point of view if not throughout an entire novel, then certainly within each chapter or at least within each of the discrete chapter sections that are separated from each other by wider spaces and sometimes also, as in this edition of Dragon, by a line of asterisks. Readers who are aware of point of view notice if there are any discrepancies. For example, when Clark asks Jonathan:

"...where are we going?" (1)

- we are told what Clark is thinking and, when Jonathan replies, we are told what Jonathan and Martha had agreed the previous evening. Clark does not know what they had agreed so the recollection of the parental agreement can only be from Jonathan's point of view. Thus, the point of view has shifted within a single conversation.

Later, a dialogue between Chloe and Lex is described from Chloe's point of view but, right at the end, we are told that she would have been surprised to know what Lex was thinking. Thus, in the concluding sentence, the omniscient narrator has intervened to comment on the thought processes of both of these characters. Some readers do not notice points of view but heeding how an author handles them adds an extra element to the appreciation of a fictional text.

(1) Alan Grant, Dragon IN Smallville Ominbus 1 (New York, 2006), p. 367.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

NDE

Although the Smallville TV series presents a new version of Superman's youth, it can be expected that its background details will broadly correspond to those of the DC Universe depicted in DC Comics. That fictitious universe comprises some stories that are science fiction, like Superman's extraterrestrial origin, and others that are fantasy, including accounts of a hereafter. In fact, Superman returned from his "Death" twenty years ago because his foster father, during a Near Death Experience, met the already dead Clark and persuaded him to return.

The third novel in Smallville Omnibus 1 (New York, 2006) is Hauntings by Nancy Holder which I will have to reread but, as far as I can remember, it does involve real ghosts. In the pilot episode of the Smallville TV series, Lex Luthor asks Clark Kent whether he believes that a man can fly and then describes his own Near Death Experience, soaring over Smallville.

In the light of all this, it makes sense that Alan Grant writes Pete Ross' NDE into Dragons, the second novel in the first omnibus. Passing through the hospital roof but able to look down and through it, Pete sees his family and friends in the waiting room. We had already been told that they were there. Next Pete sees and enters the tunnel of light with, he thinks, figures waiting at the other end but, not wanting to leave his family and friends, he returns to himself.

Does he remember any of it? I don't think so but I will have to reread the rest of the novel. Do such things really happen? They are reported and need to be investigated but meanwhile I will continue to suspect that persons end when brains stop just as dreams end when brains wake.

Analysing A Comics- And TV-Derived Novel

Setting a novel, Dragon (IN Smallville Omnibus 1, New York, 2006), in the framework of the Smallville TV series, Alan Grant needed:

(i) a villain empowered by meteor emanations;
(ii) interactions between the regular characters.

(i) is the title character, Raymond Dansk, a released convict. Leaving Metropolis Peniteniary, he needs a reason to go to Smallville: he is from there. He needs to have three victims to target: the witnesses whose testimony got him imprisoned for manslaughter. The witnesses need to be somehow connected with the regular characters: they are a Smallville High teacher, Lex's chef and Lana's aunt.

The teacher is a disposable character, introduced only to be killed off in this single story. Aunt Nell cannot be killed; she is a regular. I am not yet certain of the chef's status.

(ii) The regulars: Pete, Chloe and Lex are friends of Clark who likes Lana who dates Whitney. For story purposes, their interactions do not have to be meteor-influenced but, in this case, the character-changing properties of meteorically infected tea enhance the drama. Lana can dump Whitney for Clark who can forget, and effectively lose, his powers as long as normality is restored by the end of the novel. When Clark lacks super-strength and -speed, Pete replaces him as hero and is hospitalised in the process.

Thus, a novel-length narrative grows from premises derived from the Smallville scenario. At appropriate moments, the characters reminisce about the defining events of the pilot episode: why Nell brings up Lana; how Lex lost his hair; how the Kents adopted Clark.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

A Cosmic Detail

What hobby would Clark Kent have? His strength and speed suggest sport - like Smallville Crows football team. And, in John Byrne's revamp of the Superman comics, the young Clark did successfully play football, although his foster father discouraged it as a misuse of his powers.

In the Smallville TV series, Jonathan Kent goes further and completely opposes football as too dangerous for someone with Clark's strength. However:

"Ever since his parents had revealed the truth about his origins, he'd been obsessed with scanning the night skies." (1)

An interest in astronomy is a logical implication of Clark's extraterrestrial origin. He looks at:

"...Betelgeuse, the giant red star." (1)

- and wonders whether it has planets. We know from other parts of the Superman legend that Rao, the sun of Krypton, is a red giant so are we here being told that Betelgeuse is Rao?

Clark knows that several planetary systems have been detected by their gravitational effects on their primaries. That was not known when Superman was first published in 1938. In fact, at secondary school in the early 1960's, I was disappointed to read in a book by the British astronomer Patrick Moore that it was not known whether there were planets in orbit around any other star. If there were any extrasolar planets, then they were not self-luminous and would be too far away to be seen. Further, maybe then or maybe sometime earlier, one theory of planetary origin - that stellar matter pulled from stars passing close to each other cooled and went into orbit - would have made planets rare, not the norm.

That our galaxy is one of many was recognised in 1925 and that the galaxies recede was discovered in 1929, the latter date just nine years before Superman's first publication. So the universe conceptually inhabited by us and by our science fiction heroes has, like the legend of Superman, grown through the twentieth and early twenty first centuries.

(1) Alan Grant, Dragon IN Smallville Omnibus 1 (New York, 2006), p. 270.

Dragon III

In Alan Grant's Smallville novel, Dragon (IN Smallville Omnibus 1, New York, 2006):

"Lex had been in Smallville for almost a year..." (p. 287)

is code for "This novel is set just after Season One of the Smallville TV series..."

- of which so far I have watched only five of the twenty one episodes. This is a massive fictitious universe, comprising:

ten TV seasons;
I don't know how many novels and will scarecely be able to track them all down;
some independent adventures of Chloe Sullivan published on the Internet, I think (?);
maybe three comic-magazines containing not only interviews with cast members but also some comic strips;
a currently on-going monthly comic book called Smallville Season 11.

Thus, not just a prequel but a complete self-contained version of the Superman story. In later TV seasons, Clark moves to Metropolis where he interacts with (versions of) other DC Universe characters. It sounds to me as if too much happens before Clark dons the costume and starts to fly but I have not yet seen any of the later seasons.

Meanwhile, I am reading Dragon while Lex drives his silver Porsche past cornstalks and reminisces, giving the author an opportunity to recapitulate yet another scene from the pilot episode - how Lex lost his hair.

Dragon II

In Alan Grant's Smallville novel, Dragon (IN Smallville Omnibus 1, New York, 2006):

"Hailing from the Big Met, Chloe was a relative newcomer to Smallville." (p. 284)

Of course she is! She did not exist in any previous version of the story. (Metafiction: a fictitious text acknowledging its fictitious status.)

In Superboy comics, the question, "Who is Superboy?", asked by Lana Lang, could have led to Clark Kent. In the Smallville TV series, the question, "Why do weird things go down in Smallville?", asked by Chloe, could lead to Clark Kent. Thus, we have recognisably the same story structure but in a vastly improved and updated format.

Many locals blame strange growths on contaminants from the Luthorcorp fertilizer plant so the main villain of the Superman series is already on-stage but, again, more plausibly.

Alan Grant, writing this novel set in Smallville, seamlessly fits his story into the established scenario. Thus, the police investigating whether a mutilated man was killed by an escaped tiger naturally ask:

" '...about private zoos. Like, does Lex Luthor have one out at that place of his?' " (p. 283)

Unfortunately, the horrific death results from meteoric radiation and thus is another possible clue to Clark's extraterrestrial origin. 

Monday, 14 January 2013

Smallville: Cool

Episode 5

Clark accepts Lex's help in getting a date with Lana but Jonathan refuses Lex's help in financing the farm. This version of Lex is a really good guy.

Chloe develops as a character. From Action Comics no 1, Superman had had a "girl friend," Lois Lane, a fellow reporter, who sometimes tried to find out his secret identity. (We knew he had one but how did she?) When Super(man as a)boy was retroactively shown to have lived not in the big city, Metropolis, but in a small town, Smallville, Lana Lang was invented as the small town equivalent of Lois, again trying to penetrate the secret identity. Then the adult Lana showed up in Metropolis and was developed as an independent character, for some time working with Clark on television.

Superman's later enemy, Lex Luthor, was shown also to have lived in Smallville. Pete Ross was invented as the Smallville friend who did accidentally find out that Clark was really Superboy. In later comics, then in the Smallville TV series, Clark, Lana and Pete still live in Smallville but Clark no longer has a public costumed identity in that period.

Smallville has restored Lex to Smallville, has given Lana a boyfriend, Whitney, and has also introduced Chloe Sullivan who runs the school newspaper, thus is a precursor of Lois Lane. Chloe, who investigates strange events in Smallville, therefore might learn Clark's secret, is one of the best additions to the Superman mythos. 

Dragon By Alan Grant

Although this is a Comics Appreciation Blog, I am now appreciating a novel based on a TV series based on a comic book series. But all is one.

Even a novel about Clark Kent can reflect our common experience of life. Lana Lang thinks:

"Funny how the past has a habit of slipping through your fingers. And the harder you try to hold onto it, the faster it slips away." (1)

That connects this book with any other novel whose characters reflect on their experience.

Seventy year old Miss Mayfern tells Lana that the man she loved was killed in Germany in 1945 when she was fourteen. We remember that an earlier version of Superman was alive then but, appropriately, the story of Superman is continually updated. Clark's and Lana's philosophy teacher fought in Vietnam nearly three decades ago.

We are in a different age but Clark is still growing up, as ever.

(1) Smallville Omnibus 1 (New York, 2006), p. 260.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Smallville: X Ray

Notable Details in the 4th Episode (and last on the 1st DVD)

(i) First spontaneous use of X ray vision; learning to focus and use it. (Of course, to see through everything would be to see nothing.)

(ii) Clark empathises with a metamorph who wants to replace Lana - he knows what it is like to be different and to want to be someone else.

(iii) Lex starts to investigate how he survived a car crash. (Clark rescued him when he was unconscious...)

(iv) A journalist from Metropolis tries to blackmail Lex and we learn that Lionel Luthor is obsessed by the Daily Planet.

(v) Chloe helps Lana by finding a recording of a speech by Laura Lang.

Smallville Novels

Gladiator, a novel by Philip Wylie;
Superman comic strips, set in Metropolis;
Superboy comic strips, set in Smallville;
the Smallville TV series;
Smallville novels.

I assume here that Gladiator was a source for, or at least a precursor of, Superman although, of course, the latter character originated in a comic strip - one that was originally intended for a newspaper, not for a comic book.

Thus, the above sequence comprises:

original prose fiction;
graphic fiction;
screen drama;
unoriginal but expertly written and enjoyable prose fiction.

The Smallville TV series was free to contradict the (not consistent over time) Superman comics and even, like the later comics, to deny the Superboy period of Clark Kent's career whereas the Smallville novels are obliged not to contradict the TV series. It must even be made clear during which season of the TV series any given novel is set, eg, who was the Principal of Smallville High School at the time?

The novels written by, among others, Roger Stern and Alan Grant, perfectly reproduce the setting and characters of the TV series and are like a more leisurely way to experience that fictitious scenario. The Prologue of Dragon by Alan Grant even recapitulates the opening sequence of the pilot episode with a swarm of meteors passing Pluto, Jupiter and the Moon and approaching Earth while the Luthors and Kents go about their business in Smallville, Kansas. (Grant writes "...meteorites..." but I think that that term applies to meteors only after they have hit the Earth?(1))

I have acquired Omnibus 1, containing:

Strange Visitors by Roger Stern;
Dragon by Alan Grant;
Hauntings by Nancy Holder.

- also, Omnibus 2, containing:

Whodunnit by Dean Wesley Smith;
Silence by Nancy Holder;
Shadows by Diana G Gallagher.

- and, as separate volumes:

Runaway by Suzan Colon;
Greed by Cherie Bennett and Jeff Gottesfeld;
Curse by Alan Grant.

- and maybe one or two others shelved elsewhere.

Having read each book perhaps once when bought, it will be good to reread them while watching Season One on DVD's. It would also be good to have all the novels but books of this sort are more like magazines, printed and published once, then soon out of print.

(1) Smallville Omnibus 1 (London, 2006), p. 231.

Friday, 11 January 2013

The Sequel To The Prequel

The Smallville TV series is a prequel to Superman's career, more specifically to one version of that career since there are many versions, more specifically again to a new version since the TV series is set in "the present", the time when it was originally broadcast, not ten or so years earlier. Thus, it is a prequel to a future version so it is able to contradict details in current and previous comic book versions:

the capsule arrives in a meteor shower;
the meteors affect human beings;
Pete is black;
Lana is not red headed;
Lex knew Clark in Smallville, not Perry in Metropolis;
unlike still earlier versions where Lex was in Smallville, he is rich, older than Clark and lost his hair earlier;
etc.

Amazingly, that future version of Superman's career now has its own monthly comic book series, called Smallville: the 11th Season, a sequel to the prequel! It seems that enough fans just did not want to let go of the series so first it was continued too long on TV and now it is a comic.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Smallville: Hothead

Third Episode

The football coach's temper makes him a "hothead" and his meteoric power of combustion makes him a "firedrake", according to the terminology used in Alan Moore's Marvelman/Miracleman series. Since the villain of episode two studied insects and gained insect powers, it appears that the meteors affect bodies through minds.

There are two father-son conflicts: Jonathan and Clark; Lionel and Lex. The coach and his players are at one stage compared to another father-son relationship. The Kents have to resolve whether it is safe for Clark to play football and Clark has to make his own decisions so he plays against Jonathan's advice, then realises that he no longer wants to. Lionel wants Lex to sack twenty per cent of his workforce and Lex wants to employ twenty per cent more. Ordered to sack the twenty per cent, he instead finds a way to cut costs by the required amount without losing any staff. Lex, as in every version of the character, is extremely clever but has gone from scientist to scientist-businessman to just businessman.

Clark pulls the door from a burning car but the man he rescues is unconscious and there are no other witnesses, then the car explodes, destroying the evidence of Clark's super strength. Lana leaves cheer leading and tries waitressing but goes back to cheer leading. So, as in many TV series episodes, things look like changing but don't. I think that the Jonathan-Clark and Lionel-Lex conflicts and Lana's unsuccessful change of direction provide enough drama so that the coach's meteor powers were unnecessary.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

The Importance Of Knowing Who Wrote A Comic

When I got back into reading DC Comics in the late 80's after the Crisis on Infinite Earths, I followed characters, not writers, let alone artists. I asked a fellow comics fan why he read something called Swamp Thing. He replied, "Don't judge it without having read it," to which I replied, "I am not judging it but deciding whether to read it." After all, I decide not to read Mills and Boon romantic novels without having read them and, not having read them, I do not make any judgements about whether they are good or bad romantic novels.

Alan Moore's Swamp Thing is undeniably worth reading but only because it goes far beyond the limits of its title. In fact, Moore's reinvention of the character could more accurately be re-entitled Plant Elemental. I kept hearing the name "Alan Moore." He was writing the best-selling Watchmen. He sometimes wrote in 2000 AD which was one reason why the Swamp Thing fan, who was doing a PhD in Mathematics, sometimes read 2000 AD - something else that I could not understand at the time.

When Alan (having met him, I think we can use first names), addressed Preston Speculative Fiction Society, he was asked, "Did the publishers place any restrictions on what you could write?" and he replied, "No. As long as it was about Swamp Thing, I could write whatever I wanted!"

I thought, "That doesn't leave you much scope," because I had not read it yet. What I had been reading was Miracleman so, when Alan said that Watchmen addressed the same theme of superheroes appearing in the real world, I remarked that I would definitely read that and Alan replied, "Yeah, check it out man!" And I still check it out sometimes to this day.

I told the Swamp Thing fan that he should definitely read the "last Superman story," "Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow?" When I showed him my copy, the first thing he said was, "It's written by Alan Moore." I had not looked at the credits. So that is the true story of how I learned the importance of knowing who wrote a comic.

Who Are No 1 And V?

Years ago, DC Comics published a comic book sequel to The Prisoner TV series. My memory of the comic book series is that it did not live up to expectations and I did not keep the copies that I had bought.

The mini-series did have some high points:

years later, the former No 6 is now an obsessive recluse living on the Village island;
a younger character is shipwrecked, either by accident or by someone else's design, on the island;
the Leo McKern No 2 comes out of prison, travels to the island and fights with No 6, two old men struggling on the beach;
there is an interpretation of the climactic scene in "Fall Out" - No 6 went mad;
 identification with any number, even with No 1, was a denial of his earlier refusal to be numbered.

But, over-all, I thought that the series did not make very much sense, did not go anywhere and did not lead to any conclusion.

In an earlier post, "007, No 6 and V," I compared the James Bond novels and The Prisoner with Alan Moore's graphic novel, V For Vendetta, and asked "Who was V?" I now want to compare this question with "Who is No 1?"  

The Prisoner, set in a Cold War spy thriller scenario, raised certain kinds of questions:

Is No 6 identical with John Drake, the secret agent played by Patrick McGoohan in his previous TV series, Danger Man?
Why did he resign?
Which "side" runs the Village?
Who is No 1?
Is No 1 concealed in the Village or located elsewhere? (After all, the Village is part of a larger organization.)
Is the mute butler No 1? (He is present throughout, at the center of things.)
Where is the Village?
Are there two or more identical Villages in different parts of the world? (Different locations are cited. There are mountains near the Village at the beginning of "Many Happy Returns" but not at the end. At the end of "Fall Out," the characters do not sail but drive from the Village to London.)

When "Who is No 1?" is answered, the other questions are not answered but become irrelevant. The series has been an allegory for society. I am unfree because I have allowed myself to be and do not even realize that I have done this. It no longer matters why he resigned or which side runs the Village. Whether it is the East or the West, I am No 1, the cause of my unfreedom.

Similarly, the answer that I suggest to "Who is V?" renders irrelevant some questions that must otherwise arise, like:

How does this one character know so much about all the others?
How can he be so confident that the police will not find him hidden in the heart of London?

The answer given in The Prisoner is that the villain is the hero.
The answer that I suggest for V For Vendetta is that the hero is the author.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Smallville, Second Episode


Despite the last post, I have not quite gone yet - but am not on my own computer and will add an image later. (9/1/13: image added.) I have just watched the second episode of Smallville, "Metamorphosis", for the first time.

What is good? The characterisation of and interactions between Clark, Jonathan, Martha, Lex, Lana, Whitney, Chloe and Pete. Clark levitates in his sleep. He has an opportunity to test his reaction to the green meteors close up and learns that lead blocks their effects. Super-ventriloquism seems to be working. Clark says, "Thank you, Lana," quietly to himself and, over at her place, she turns around curiously.

The series does well what Greek drama did: telling a familiar myth in a new way with fresh insights into details and motivations. It is really something to hear familiar names like "Lex Luthor" in a dramatic presentation that is much more substantial than the original comic books.

What could have been better? The producers of the series added episodic drama by the plot innovation of having the meteors bestow strange powers on human beings. We are used to this sort of thing happening in this sort of drama and we accept it but it need not have happened. It would have been sufficient for us to see Clark's powers gradually growing as he interacted with Lex and others. Evidence is slowly accumulating in front of Lex and Chloe but they cannot see enough to put it all together yet. It is a good beginning...

Comic Book Limbo

There will be no new posts on this blog for a while as I will be visiting family and without access to a computer - or let us imagine instead that I am going to see where comic book characters go when their series are discontinued and I will report back shortly. Grant Morrison's Animal Man travelled through comic book limbo to meet his creator but must have seen only a very small part of that behind the scenes realm.

However, it occurs to me that, on leaving the limbo, characters must drink the water of Lethe because they always arrive in their new versions without any memory of having been anywhere else in between. So, even if I do visit comic book limbo between this post and the next, I will not be able to relay any information. Either way, I will be back here in a short while.



Sunday, 6 January 2013

From Hellblazer

I do not possess copies of Alan Moore's From Hell, having bought them to read and give to my son-in-law. I can borrow his copies, having retrieved them from a former colleague who had had them on long term loan, but a rereading of From Hell will have to wait until after some other reading.  

From Hell has four layers:

the history of the Whitechapel murders;
a particular theory of the murders;
a fictional account of the events and the people involved;
auctorial notes explaining and differentiating history, theory and fiction.

Apparently, Moore wanted to write about a murder, not as an Agatha Christie/Cluedo parlour game but as a human event with real causes and consequences. The Ripper seemed old hat so he considered the case of Buck Ruxton, which is set in my home town of Lancaster. However, the Ripper Centenary came around so suddenly there were a lot of new books and the Ripper's Whitechapel murders were easy to research.

I remember a four issue John Constantine: Hellblazer story called "Royal Blood" as possibly the most horrific fiction that I have ever read. Googling reminds me that it was written by Garth Ennis. Apart from the word "Hell" in their titles, From Hell and this Hellblazer story have two connections:

Alan Moore wrote From Hell and created John Constantine;
both works present the same theory of the Whitechapel murders and Constantine encounters the demon that was in the Ripper.

Why is "Royal Blood" so horrific? I do not have copies to hand. From memory, an agent of the British Establishment shows Constantine a London Club where politicians and celebrities, people we see in the news, relieve the stress of their highly pressured careers by performing horrific acts. Constantine's expert help is needed because a Club member has released and been possessed by the Ripper demon and has fled from the Club. We see panels of the possessed man stalking a victim while trying to remember who he is and remembering that he had a beautiful wife.

When Constantine insists on knowing who he is dealing with, his informant says, more or less, "This is very embarrassing. He is highly respected at home and abroad. He is a very senior member of the Royal Family...", thus ending Part 1, and, for me, the full horror of the story is in that first issue.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

007, No 6 And V

007 = 7; No 6 = 6; V = 5 in Roman numerals. Thus: 7, 6, 5.

007 is James Bond in novels by Ian Fleming and his successors and in films starring Sean Connery and his successors. No 6 is the title character of Patrick McGoohan's The Prisoner TV series. V is the title character of Alan Moore's and David Lloyd's V for Vendetta graphic novel. (Three characters in four media: prose fiction (verbal); large and small screen drama (audiovisual); sequential art (visual-verbal).)

McGoohan borrowed from the James Bond films the idea of a powerful secret organisation with numbered members controlled by a mysterious "Number One". Moore did not borrow from McGoohan but did produce a parallel text addressing common themes. No 6 was so called because he was imprisoned in an island "Village" where he and his cottage were numbered 6. V was so called because he was imprisoned in Room V of a concentration camp. Later, fascist Britain resembled an island prison. V, a vendetta-waging anarchist terrorist, challenged the authorities as No 6 had challenged successive No 2's and the hidden No 1 in the Village. V was inspired by a letter passed between cells through a hole in the wall by the woman in Room IV. (Maintaining the numerical progression, Bond refers to a colleague numbered 008 and V refers to his fellow prisoner in Room IV.) We know of V only that he is male, not whether he is black, Jewish or homosexual or whether he was politically radical before his imprisonment.

Moore simultaneously wrote Marvelman and V, a superhero and a masked avenger, for Warrior magazine. Marvelman was directly descended, via Captain Marvel, from Superman whereas V was not directly descended from the archetypal comic book masked avenger, the Batman, although a Batman "Elseworld" story did show Wayne opposing an American dictatorship in an alternative history. V's appearance is based on that attributed to Guy Fawkes and he completes the job attempted by Fawkes. Like the Lone Ranger, V remains masked throughout. His face is unseen by the reader and even by his close assistant. In this respect at least, he also resembles Judge Dredd, a legalised vigilante in a futuristic city. (Moore also wrote an unpublished Dredd script, a "last Superman story" and a pivotal Batman/Joker story.)

In the Village, names are replaced by numbers but faces are not usually masked. When, in the episode "A, B and C", letters replace numbers, the previously unknown C leads No 6 to the masked D who, when unmasked, turns out to be the current No 2, but this occurs within an induced dream, thus in a "play within the play". In the concluding episode, No 6, unmasking No 1, significantly sees his own face. Prospero played by Vincent Price in the film The Masque of the Red Death had the same experience when he unmasked a red-garbed intruder who was his own personalised death.

At the end of V for Vendetta, V's assistant, Evey, does not unmask the dead V but realises that her face must be behind the mask. She becomes V. His sabotage and assassinations have overthrown fascism. She hopefully will oversee without needing to intervene in the growth of freedom. But, like Asimov's Second Foundation, she and her new assistant will be able to intervene if necessary. In The Foundation Trilogy, an unpredictable mutant disrupted Seldon's Plan but the hidden Second Foundation existed to guard and restore the Plan. After the events of V for Vendetta, neo-fascists could seek to regain control. Evey/V might be able to prevent counter-revolution by encouraging more popular action. (She will not continue V1's strategy of individual assassinations.)

Bond conventionally contends with agents of a foreign dictatorship but does not change himself. The self-sufficient No 6 potentially frees himself. V, inspired by Valerie, and helped and succeeded by Evey, potentially frees society. Thus, the successive series form a progressive conceptual tetralogy:
 
first, Ian Fleming's twelve James Bond novels in which Bond mainly opposes Russian Intelligence (in fact, SPECTRE involvement in three of Fleming's later novels is film-derived);
second, the first five Sean Connery James Bond films culminating in Bond's meeting with No 1, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, plus two further films with Blofeld as the acknowledged villain;
third, the seventeen episode Prisoner TV series culminating in the Prisoner's realisation that he is the unmasked No 1;
fourth, the V for Vendetta graphic novel culminating in Evey's realisation that she must be the masked V.

I exclude post-Fleming Bond novels, post-Connery Bond films, Prisoner spin-offs and the V for Vendetta film. At the time of writing, December 2009, I have not yet seen the new Prisoner TV series.


Who is V? When leading Evey to the roof of the building at the moment of her psychological liberation, he resembles a robed Christ but we should not regard a multiple manipulator and murderer as the Messiah. When addressing the public on video, he speaks as if he were mankind's creator but this is ironic. It has been suggested that V is Marvelman, who is deified in his own series. The only evidence for this identification, I think, is that, when seen in silhouette before donning the mask, V seems to be crew cut. Both V and MM result from, very different, government experiments. V's experience motivates him to overthrow that government. MM and his Pantheon are so powerful that they effortlessly displace the nuclear powers and the UN. V destroys a dystopia. MM builds a utopia. Their stories are complementary, not convergent. Like Superman (day) and Batman (night), they are archetypal opposites.
 
The anarchist V opposes all governments but has additional personal reasons to resist Norse Fire. He assassinates individuals not only because of their present positions in the state apparatus but also because of their past dealings with the man in Room V. For example, he forces the Bishop of London to consume a poisoned Communion wafer. The Bishop, who preached sermons dictated by the Fate computer to congregations including high Party members, had also previously been the concentration camp chaplain.

Much of the characterisation, dialogue and plot in V for Vendetta is realistic but V's omniscience about the other characters is surreal. On the one hand, he is a particular character whose face was seen by his captors, though not by us, in the concentration camp. On the other hand, he is endlessly resourceful and manipulative and supremely confident that the state police will not find him hidden in the heart of London. Only the disaffected detective is going to find him and V somehow knows what the outcome of that encounter will be. He knows which Party widow will assassinate the Leader. Only the author can know so much about the characters. 
 
Authors can be incarnated in their stories. Very occasionally, the first person narrator really is the author. For example, CS Lewis exchanges letters with Ransom at the end of the first Ransom novel and meets him at the beginning of the second. But incarnated authors need not be narrators. The comic strip is mostly un-narrated and Alan Moore's incarnation in it is masked. Evey cannot see his face because she would have to look off the page to do so.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Smallville: Opening Episode

High points:

appropriately, Clark's arrival is a big event for the town even though no one else understands what is really going on;

Lex loses his hair because of Clark although, again, they do not realise this at the time;

Lex was born to wealth, not poverty, but can make his own way in any case - both origins are good but are also diametrical opposites;

Lionel Luthor's newspaper headline reports the disappearance and presumed death of the Queen Industries CEO - the beginning for another DC character;

handing Neitzsche to Clark, Lana asks him whether he is Man or Superman;

Lex asks Clark whether he believes a man can fly, then describes his own near death experience;

Clark tells Jonathan he will say whether he is ok in maybe five years - which is probably how many seasons the series was expected to run;

Lionel and Chloe are good additions to the cast;

Pete Ross is a different guy but also a good character;

the Kryptonite necklace winds up in Lex's possession.

What's not to like?

The Private Lives Of Clark Kent And Bruce Wayne

There used to be a back up series called "The Private Life of Clark Kent" about what Clark did when he wasn't Superman. Let's have a graphic novel.

Clark:

lives in Metropolis;
works at the Planet;
visits Smallville;
travels abroad;
converses with family, friends, neighbours and colleagues;
in at least one version, also wrote novels;
probably uses X-ray vision and super hearing continuously although secretively (Lois has commented on Clark "zoning out");
when travelling alone, probably does not use a plane but we don't have to see that.

There could therefore be an entire graphic novel about Clark covering a major story like, for example, the current war or the DC Universe equivalent of Watergate.

Bruce Wayne:

lives in the Manor or the Gotham City penthouse;
runs Waynetech and Wayne Charities;
converses with Alfred, Lucius Fox, business contacts and competitors like Luthor;
socialises;
patrols Gotham from midnight till 4.00 AM  - but a graphic novel could instead show the other twenty hours of his day.

Supergirl?

Supergirl's first appearance in a comic was as a temporarily conjured magical manifestation, not as a permanently real Kryptonian cousin. I agreed with John Byrne when he restored Superman as the last surviving Kryptonian. This need not have ruled out a return of a version of the original Supergirl and, in effect, that was what happened.

I disliked it when, having streamlined Superman mythology, Byrne presented new versions of the greatest absurdities:

Lori Lemaris, a mermaid;
Mr Mxyzptlk, an omnipotent five dimensional imp;
Zod, even though as a pocket universe Kryptonian and even though almost immediately executed by Superman;
Supergirl as a pocket universe artificially created being - even though this was an attractive version of the character.

Surely there were new stories that could have been told?

I have not been reading DC more recently. I know that they have brought back the Kryptonian Supergirl and even Krypto and have had to do something else with Power Girl's continuity. Originally, they did a good job of transforming Power Girl, the Earth 2 version of Supergirl, from the Kryptonian Kal-El's cousin into the Atlantean Arion's granddaughter programmed with spurious memories of a Kryptonian origin.

At that stage, some of the rewriting of continuity, especially by Frank Miller and Roy Thomas, was clever and evocative. Consider these statements:

the Golden Age of superheroes happened decades ago in another universe;
the multiverse existed until everything changed in the Crisis.

These read like fantastic reflections of our collective experience of living through the twentieth century. "The old order changeth..." The past is another country. Our parents' childhoods, decades ago, seem to have happened in another universe. The War(s) changed everything...

So I liked Power Girl turning out to have been Arion's granddaughter (like Alan Moore's Marvelman finding out that his memories were of a parareality program) and starring in her own mini-series although I would not have wanted Supergirl back. Her death in the Crisis had meant something - and then the Crisis changed continuity in any case. When someone said, "How can Supergirl come back? She's dead!", I replied, "It's worse that that. She never existed, Jim."

A version of Bizarro appeared in Byrne's introductory mini-series but I really thought that that was going to remain a one-off. Monthly comics have to bring everything back. Maybe Superman: The True Story (see previous post), if it ever exists, could feature just a one-off appearance by a scientifically created Supergirl?

Superman: The True Story


I think that a very good version of the Superman story is potentially emerging from decades of different continuities. The main contributors are John Byrne's Man Of Steel mini-series and the Smallville TV series. Byrne incorporated Marv Wolfman's idea of Luthor as a businessman. This version of Luthor has survived every subsequent continuity change and is a strong element in Smallville.

The continuity-contradicting Superboy period of Clark's career came and went but left a powerful legacy, his home town of Smallville, the setting for an entire TV series and the home of characters who would not otherwise have existed.

I hope that Superman: The True Story will be told in a series of graphic novels and feature films. It cannot be done in monthly comic books.

The World Of Krypton

I do not think that an alien origin is an essential part of Superman's character but a lot of people disagree with me. Let us suppose that Krypton is a necessary part of the story. In the previous post, I argued for annual graphic novels about Clark Kent growing up in Smallville. We would know in advance that this series must end with him moving to Metropolis, starting to fly and donning the costume.

I would also argue for a similar series about the History of Krypton, like John Byrne's World Of Krypton but longer. It would have to start with an explanation of why there were human beings on Krypton, as also maybe on Rann and Thanagar. We would know in advance that this series must end with Kal-El being launched towards Earth.

Main parts of the History have to be the origins of the Raoist priesthood, the Science Council and the great cities of Krypton.

Smallville and Krypton could be published concurrently but with no cross-reference until the end of the latter. A Superman series, following both, would have to end with either his death or his disappearance. I agree with Elliot S Maggin's idea that, in the future, Luthor reforms and they become friends.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

The Future Of Comics?


As John Byrne said when reflecting on his own Man Of Steel mini-series, Clark Kent's story starts in Smallville, not on Krypton. I like to imagine:

that the occasional graphic novel replaces the monthly comic book as the main medium for sequential art story telling;

that a good writer-artist team produces an annual Superman series;

that Volume I, World Of Smallville, simply establishes the setting and characters of Smallville;

that Jonathan and Martha Kent have not as yet revealed to their son Clark that his arrival in Smallville was in any way extraordinary;

that initially Clark experiences occasional flashes of super power at crucial moments, eg, super strength when needed but not, as yet, continuously or finding a lost object by X-ray vision but thinking afterwards that it must have been a good guess or intuition;

that he himself doubts whether this has happened or thinks that at most it can only have been a temporary stress-induced phenomenon;

that he spends time diverting the suspicions of his parents, Lana, Pete, Chloe and Lex, his aim being to appear normal to them.

I think that this alone is sufficient to generate a narrative with plot and characterisation for one or more Volumes.

Longer term:

Need he or we ever learn about Krypton?
Can Clark and Lois not simply work as investigative journalists visiting real world war zones while Clark, trying to be as discrete as possible, uses his powers to help people without interfering too much in how the world is run?
Luthor yes but Brainiac, Bizarro, Mxyzptlk, the Zod Squad, Lori Lemaris, Krypto and Supergirl no?
Do we need Kryptonite?
Maybe but how best to introduce it and minimise its quantity?

Alfred And I

The Dark Side of the Lune Goth Club Night at the Yorkshire House, Lancaster, will have a Gotham City Theme Night this year. The pertinent questions are:

How many Catwomen and Batgirls will be there?
Will other Batman-related female characters be present?
Will there be Batmen whose identities remain secret?
How should I dress for the occasion?

The fourth question has been answered. Appropriately, since I am 64 and grey haired, I am to attend as Alfred Pennyworth. Ideally (but this won't happen), a placard or speech balloon would emerge from somewhere behind my head to announce, "Master Bruce is indisposed...Oh, is that the Bat Signal?"

Another guy called Paul, who dresses up a lot, already looks exactly like Mr Freeze even without any makeup but is expected to opt for a female character.

Not attending such events but sometimes standing imposingly near the First Age Comics market stall is Lex Luthor in a business suit. As I said once, "Ben'll be sorry he missed you, Lex..."

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

The Best Team In Comics

In my opinion, the best team in comics is not Batman and Robin, the Justice League of America or the Avengers but Bruce Wayne and Alfred Pennyworth. These two characters have a deeply rooted friendship within the structure of a formal, traditional master-servant relationship. Alfred supported Bruce during his childhood bereavement.

The quintessentially respectable Alfred is often shown to be unquestioningly supportive of Bruce's entirely unrespectable habit of returning to the Manor through the Cave at 4.00 AM wearing the garb of a masked vigilante and needing medical attention that has to be provided by Alfred himself, not by any medical practitioner.

But Alfred can be critical. There is some amusing dialogue:

Alfred: Your accountants wait in the West Wing, sir.
Bruce: Tell them I'm sick.
Alfrd: Shan't have to lie. That refugee charity called...
Bruce: Write them a check.
Alfred: And the Committee for the Prevention of Obsessive Behaviour in Middle-Aged Men?
Bruce: Write them a check.
Alfred: Very good, sir.
Alfred: Your sense of humor is as keen as ever, sir.

(Frank Miller, The Dark Knight Returns, London, 1986, Book Three, p. 15)

And, in an early Legends Of The Dark Knight story, Bruce and Alfred, sharing a couch, watch a television report on the new bat-garbed vigilante. Bruce naked to the waist and expertly bandaged by Alfred writhes in agony. Alfred sits bolt upright daintily drinking tea and comments, "Oh, how exciting! It's like being in the employ of Bigfoot!"