Thursday, February 28, 2008

QUICK FIX DOUBLE FEATURE: An Appelaxian a Day...
All Together Now (DC)
Where: Secret Origins #32 When: November 1988
Why: Keith Giffen & Peter David How: Eric Shanower

Quick Fix...
For those of you fiercely dedicated to the Marvel heroes February on the Infinite Wars probably hasn't been the greatest of times. As we slowly correct an inadvertant bias toward Marvel casual readers might find themselves disgruntled by the balancing onset of DC titles reviewed.

I can't really begrudge anyone for having their preferences, at least not without engaging them on the subject, but there is a related matter that really bothers me. The misconception that DC's comics and characters are somehow impenitrable totems of history is completely wrong.
Many a stupid reader has justified their compulsions with vague, poorly established arguments that struggle to claim DC's characters are moreso steeped in their histories, or less human, than Marvel's characters.

There are issues with many of these points, the least of which being Marvel's own sixty-year history which is no less garbled, but we won't dwell on that today, because that isn't what this segue is for. What's interesting to observe is the glimmer of hope DC's television provide as critically acclaimed works of art, and as alternate introductions to characters endearing even to Marvel zombies.

We'll talk more about that in the second half of the Quick Fix, but that does give us a clean entry to the first feature. If you're an avid watcher of WB's Smallville, then you've just seen Black Canary join a long list of characters who've cameoed in the series to form a makeshift Justice League. Ooo, classy segue!

No doubt the Smallville appearance exposes the character to a different audience to the Justice League Unlimited animated appearances, but in a similar fashion, I hope it's provided a point of interest for at least some of you who might like to know more about the character. It's this kind of informative branching that's inspired this entry which began with the announcement of Trinity, DC's newest weekly year-long series, and the decision to branch out to feature some other prominent members of the Justice League [League of their Own].

I have to admit Black Canary's history might be one of the more confusing, stemming directly from the transition demanded by the 1980's reboot event, Crisis on Infinite Earths. The Canary, unlike others, was given something of a blank slate, divded between mother and daughter, rather than a traditional revamp. Honestly, even though [Dinah Drake] slides backward to remain in the Golden Age, while her contemporaries slide forward with new histories, the whole Green Arrow/Dinah Laurel marriage prospect sort of creeps me out...

This particular version of the League origin features the Canary exceptionally early in her career, and destined to occupy the slot more popularly filled by Wonder Woman in other versions of the origin. Actually, so early is this adventure, that we open with Dinah [Laurel] perched atop a rooftop in full regalia, nervously lamenting on more typical inheretences.

The Canary's torn from her self-doubting when a scream echoes from the streets below. The blonde bombshell springs from the rooftop and launches herself off a fire escape to make a quick path to the alleys below! There, the Black Canary is surprised to find not a lowly mugger, but rather a strange alien humanoid made of glass! Worse still, she soon realises that the creature has turned not only her damsel in distress, but all other nearby innocent bystanders, into glass!

The creature begins firing beams of energy from it's eyes, eventually catching the acrobatic heroine with a shot to the leg [pictured earlier]. The Canary carefully sommersaults through the street, Just try and tell me this doesn't look like Madonna...rolling to her feet. Despite the massive handicap, the Canary remains cool as the creature lets out a creepily antagonising laugh.

The joke, as it were, was on him.

The Black Canary unveils her sonic cry, more than capable of shattering the strange alien creature with a high frequency wave of sound! The scream makes light work of the alien, and returns the surrounding inhabitants, along with her own foot, back to normal.

Of all the entries from this story, this is probably the one that most specifically distances itself from the better known version hinged on the involvement of the Trinity set to star in the weekly series which has inspired these posts.

As will be revealed in a later entry, Superman remains involved in the attack of the Apelaxian aliens, albeit in something more akin to a cameo role that doesn't feed into the forming of the League. In that respect, the omissions of both he, and the urban-bound Batman, are probably notable, but by no means as defining as the substitution of Wonder Woman for Black Canary.

It's a pretty fascinating choice and I'm not nearly versed enough in this history to say with any certainty what prompted it. I suppose it might have had something to do with more vivid reinventions felt by the Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman characters, post-Crisis. On the other hand, to use Black Canary in the League, without the closely associated Green Arrow, still seems highly unusual. The Canary has both bucked and enforced that theory with recent appearances with the JLA, as well as a relaunched Green Arrow series, re-titled Green Arrow/Black Canary.

A note for the uninitiated: If you've been introduced to the character and are now looking to find more; Birds of Prey has been home to the character for roughly the last ten years. Under the watchful eye of fan favourite writers like Chuck Dixon and Gail Simone, the character has definitely found a strong corner of the DC Universe, even in a world where she's again been replaced by Wonder Woman in the League.

To go back to earlier notes about the shift from pre, to post-crisis, I have my issues. The character has managed to teeter on both sides of the youth scale, sometimes bogged down in the all too typical situation of being a weak link.
Obviously that was considerably downscaled when Huntress, a character who typifies the luckless youngster, joined the team admist issues with the guardian who touches most facets of this world; Batman.

This story wraps up like all the individual tales do, ending on the convergance of heroes to the Florida everglades being isolated by US Military. They all find their way by different means of gathering information, but few have such a clean transition as Black Canary's. Confronting a howling creature [Martian Manhunter], the young Canary is startled by what she finds, to which JJ replies, "Who wouldn't know fear with something like this?" Enter the Green Lantern!

ARTWORK: Ed BenesThe Fight: 3 The Issue: 5.5
Winner: Black Canary

Black Canary also starred in the short lived "Birds of Prey" television series, featured as the youngest member of the team struggling to come to terms with her powers and legacy. The series, a blend in the vein of Charmed meets Buffy, featured the story of a future Gotham, after Batman and Joker have disappeared in a fight to the death.

All Together Now (DC)
Where: Secret Origins #32 When: November 1988
Why: Keith Giffen & Peter David How: Eric Shanower

Quick Fix...
Up until now you might have noticed that the alien invaders, Apelaxians, all have fairly simple and descriptive names for the vessels they've assumed for combat on Earth. Drawing upon that childhood love of mythology [ala; Man, Myth, Legend!], I can end your confusion about the next opponent's name in the gauntlet, going from one bird of prey, to another!

The Roc is a giant mythological bird famous, at least in my mind, for having the ability to carry away and eat elephants! This information bares very little on this particular entry into the Infintie Wars, but like I said, it's a subject close to my heart.

Also close to my heart is Hal Jordan, who's already been described on the site as 'my' Green Lantern in the chain of generational succession. Perhaps moreso than some of the other stories, this one stands out as a great representation of the character. Later allusions are made to Jordan's loss of wonder when he casually accompanies Martian Manhunter and the rest of the League on their journey, but this chapter really brings home Hal's balance of maverick and stodgy traits, the latter having overtaken the character in more recent times.

When Hal Jordan is at his best, he's a loveable rogue aware of his responsibilities, but not afraid to push the boundaries and enjoy himself. In the contemporary era of post-Miller and Moore grim and gritty comics, those qualities have probably been lost through a filter of seriousness and a push for younger characters, like Kyle Rayner. It was those things that inadvertantly led to the total besmirchment of Jordan as stodginess gave way to complete insanity and his transformation to Parallax, a role later recast as an alien possession.

This sense of hindsight has benefitted Hal Jordan not only with recent stories like Rebirth and Sinestro Corps War, but also with retro takes on the character, including the newly animated, DC: The New Frontier, which recounts the character's origins with a slick and honorable reinterpretation.

The success of DC's recent animation projects, including New Frontier which was released on DVD earlier in the week, brings us back to a point that occurred to me in the former portion of the Quick Fix Double Feature.
Green Lantern is a great example of a character lazily interpreted by a lot of uninformed fans as little more than a costume, and to their rare credit, some writers have been unflattering to the character, but that's an image gradually being chipped away. No doubt the work of Geoff Johns has been integral to improving the status of the character in the comics, but one has to expect a new surge of interest courtesy of the animated version of New Frontier -- which even comes packaged with a Hal Jordan action figure, if you buy at Walmart.

The fans I take issue with, the ones who wave a white flag when it comes to approaching the DC Universe, are the ones who will often refer to the lengthy publication history as their biggest deterrent. These same fans typically fail to see any irony in their staunch dedication to Marvel characters, but it's here that the pieces should start to fall into place.

While DC has been popularly been represented in animation for a very long time, I tend to think Marvel's mainstream exposure through animation has been crucial to creating this sense of immediate familiarity with their characters. It's a point that I've wanted to discuss before, but as DC pushes forward with DTV animated features, it seems like a good time to start to ponder the prospects of the future.

Marvel, without meaning to undermine the fantastic work of the comics, have had an audience bought and paid for for the majority of their publishing history thanks to the unforgettable cheese of the 1960's Spider-man cartoon. Since then, characters have been prominently represented in easy-to-find animation through most decades, right up to the present where we leave behind the MTV Spider-man to await the latest animated series, Spectacular Spider-man.

It will be very interesting to see how the pantheon of DC toons, already very popular amongst their own generated circles, will affect the success of the DC comics into the future. One might already speculate the steady presence of Batman in mainstream culture has helped him become one of the most identified characters in comics, rivalling even the classic pop culture icon, Superman, so well known he rivals even Santa Claus!

For those of you going deeper now, this story brings us to a point in Hal Jordan's career where he's already had quite a bit of experience fighting earthbound foes, as well as those that would oppose the Green Lantern Corps, with whom he has officially joined up with at this point.

Heading back to Earth after a space mission, Jordan runs afoul a meteor careening toward our planet, but just as he expects to intercept it on it's entry, the missile speeds up and changes course toward Africa!
The Green Lantern pursues, finding the meteor hatching after it's crash landing, giving birth to a giant bird - golden yellow, much to the Lantern's chagrin.

Much like the other Apelaxian aliens, the creature begins firing beams from it's eyes that transform other animals into yellow winged creatures! In an effort to intervene, Jordan turns his ring to a creative solution to it's inability to effect his will on anything yellow. He constructs a giant magnifying glass in an attempt to burn the creature, but it escapes the beam, suffering only minor singes.

Sprouting yellow feathers from his arms, Jordan uses his ring in an incredibly obscure fashion to call down a shower by reaching a beam up into the clouds. The cloud rains down hailstones, agitating the giant bird enough to loosen it's grip.

Freed, Jordan is shocked to discover his transformation speeding up, rather than slowing. With time of the essence, he leads the giant golden bird toward a waterfall, maneuvering even with the added weight of wet feathers into a position able to double back on the creature. With the giant bird engulfed in the fall, Jordan uses his ring's mysterious science to once again achieve the improbable by freezing the waterfall solid!

The move proves successful in, presumably, killing the creature, releasing both the Green Lantern and the African animals from the alien's influence, much the same as the other cases. Keeping the theme, GL learns of the disturbance in Florida, and soon joins the other ill-fated heroes in their thorny destiny.

Now, this might be the influences of The Absorbascon, but having already defied science by creating a hail shower in Africa, and a frozen waterfall with green willpower energy, Jordan caps his tour de stupid with one final act: He whisks the transformed animals to a zoo... Way to be a wildlife warrior, Hal!

And that about wraps this one up, folks.
The schedule's been well and truly knocked off course in the latter half of the month, but your continued visits are greatly appreciated. No doubt there'll be more discussion about the animated New Frontier tomorrow, as we continue our theme of accounting for DC heroes not yet well represented in the Infinite Wars!

ARTWORK: Ed BenesThe Fight: 3.5 The Issue: 5.5
Winner: Green Lantern

Stay tuned as we head back to New Frontier territory, and in March keep watch as we continue to look back at this incarnation of the Justice League's origin! There's still three more Apelaxians to account for, and the tiny matter of the formation of the League! Plus: coming up Saturday, the Monthly Punch-Up! And don't forget to visit the newly added Secret Wars on Infinite Earths Gift Shoppe!

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