Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Comic Book Rehab Thanksgiving - Issue #1

Ever try a Turducken? That's de-boned stuffed chicken stuffed into de-boned duck, stuffed into a de-boned turkey. I'm not so sure if it's good, or if, like the Chupacabra or Jeremy Clarkson's opinions, we're looking at a creature of myth, something in which sightings have been reported but not truly experienced. Duck meat is tough - just look at Scrooge McDuck - and despite most claims to the contrary, duck meat is not what you order when you want a briskly-paced dinner at a restaurant.

Forget about food, let's talk Comic Book Turduckens. We're talking concept turkeys that have been stuffed with other concepts - superheroes that make you think twice about even trying to read about once because they have totally unappealing and cluttered histories and seemed doomed to stink over and over - they've got their own duck meat in the middle.

Hawkman - This character has had more than one origin, more than one attempt at revamping and reconciling his origin, more than one secret identity, and more #1 issue relaunches than you would think.
First, he was Carter Hall, an archaeologist - lind of a low-rent Indiana Jones. He was in the Justice Society of the 40's and early 50's. In the 60's the concept was re-thought and replaced with Kator Hol, a space cop from the planet Thanagar, who fights crime in a winged outfit (just like Brian Blessed in Flash Gordon, but not as fun). The Winged Detective was a bit of a jerk and a social dud, but his wife was hot, and this incarnartion became the longest-lasting, if not the most entertaining of the lot. He's the one that appeared in The Superfriends, but he was on his best behavior there.

In the 80's Kator the space cop's background was sharply redefined, with Tim Truman's Hawkworld mini-series. But that story hit the big reset button and gave the character a clean slate - what to do with all that continuity from the past two-and-a-half decades? Imagine that the big bird guy in the Justice League was never there? Well, actually, they imagined that Carter Hall, the Indiana Jones Hawkman, was in the League in it's early days, and the jerk with the hot wife that was in your dad's Hawkman comics was a Thanagarian spy, leading up to the Invasion! storyline, which is as memorable as it is now forgotten by anyone under 32. In the 90's they decided to cop-out and came up with Hawkgod, an entity who was Hawkmen of  all Hawkman comics/appearances - seriously, though, this only makes sense if they didn't think anyone was actually reading the comics - and who was reading superhero comics during the collectors bubble in the 90's? Maybe they thought they were on to something.

Within the last decade, we've seen Carter Hall return as a one-and-only Hawkman, and the different origins/concepts/cock-ups co-ordinated  under a reincarnation gimmick that seems to settle issues of continuity with anyone still trying to read or follow his adventures - now if only he had any.

The Spectre - This character reminds me of Spawn, only he seemed to use his powers in more offbeat/interesting ways, but nobody seems to like his secret identity, Jim Corrigan, or if his adventures are too downbeat to want to read for any length, even though it seems to work for Daredevil . It doesn't help that the Spectre is now viewed as a corrupt pasasitic entity rather than a simple loveable, huggable anti-hero, if that is possible. (Kevin Levin11 in Ben10 is likeable, even if at the core he's a jerk and initially a mean sonuvabitch). The Spectre became a turducken when he became then-former Green Lantern, then-dead (they get better in comics) Hal Jordan, and later becoming Crispus Allen, a character from Batman: Gotham Central. So now they've got Green Lantern continuity and Batman continuity (and, in some ways, Spawn continuity) stuffed into a Spectre turkey. What you care to try it?

Supergirl and Power Girl - Superman's cousins became turduckens when their orgins were revamped to satisfy short-term thinking. In this case, it was that Superman (and only 1 Superman - sorry, Superboy)should be the sole survivor of the planet Krypton. Eventually, their origins were reintroduced and their status as Superman's cousins was reinstated, but it's very hard to shake off the turducken tag.

Spider-Woman - Mulitple incarnations, multiple origins (in the Jessica Drew's case, three different origins coincided with eachother and a fourth tried to make them all fit) - this is a turducken by proxy.

The Huntress - there are two incarnations of this character: one, Helena Wayne, is the daughter of Batman and Catwoman on Earth 2. The other is Helena Bertinelli, daughter of some mobster and too many Valerie Bertinelli t.v. movies. Most fans are divided on which incarnation they prefer, and despite a notable attempt to split the difference (in Batman: The Brave and The Bold, the character is seen wearing the Helena Wayne costume with the Bertinelli identity) she's an unevenly cooked turducken. I think her best moments came when she served as a Batgirl temp in the late 90s Batman comics, coinciding with Batgirl's appearances on television in The New Adventures of Batman and Superman.

The Punisher - He's been killed off, he's been brought back as a ghost, (de-boned chicken) given a change of ethnicity (he was curious {black}) killed again, appeared in three feature-length turkeys, (de-boned turkey) fought man monsters with giant boobs, made into a zombie (de-boned duck)... this turducken is still not done!

We're all lucky there is no known quantity of Tryptophan in duck meat, or we'd all drop dead. There's more, lots more, like Ghost Rider - but this isn't a personal turducken - we've all had our share of it sometime, but we don't have to try it. We can chose not to have any turduckens in comics, or at least, not sample them.

For this, I am truly thankful.

Now, excuse me while I get the popcorn, jelly beans, toast and pretzels ready...


  1. Great analysis here… and definitely a part of what I feel is wrong with today’s comics industry.

    I freely admit to bias per my age, but I believe that the best versions of nearly all the characters would be the “Silver / Bronze Age versions”. Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, Hawkman, The Atom. This is when they got it most right, and these are the versions that remain the most iconic.

    Starting in the ‘80s thru today, it seemed to be an easy way out to change a character than rise to the challenge of telling good stories about that character as-is. And, no character suffered more from this than Hawkman. (And, yes… I preferred the Silver Age version to even the Golden Age version.)

    Of course, there ARE exceptions: Justice League International, Peter David’s Aquaman, Hawkman on Bruce Timm’s JUSTICE LEAGUE, and Aquaman on “BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD”, to name a few.

    I’m not necessarily advocating “stagnation”. If a character fails to work for a contemporary audience, retire that character -- and create something new, which may or may not succeed where the previous character failed.

    The new version of “The Blackhawks” is a prime example of this. Why are they redesigned to look like a (now also somewhat dated) Rob Liefeld / Jim Lee ‘90s Image comic? If they can’t exist outside the confines of WW II, then tell their stories as period pieces – our outright retire them and create a new “Bloodstrike”… or “Strikeblood”… or “Deathblood”… or “Blooddeath” or whatever it was they did.

    We still find ways to tell good Uncle Scrooge stories – using essentially the same characters as Carl Barks used in the fifties. Why can’t the major publishers find a way to do the same.

  2. One reason for the changes is that the Silver Age incarnations are characters of the time period in which they were created - this is what stayed in my head after reading Grant Morrison's Supergods - scenes of Barry and Hal and Ray and Ralph and Sue and Jean and Iris and Carol and Carter and Shira - they were grounded in that early 60's optimism. There are obviously writers who found it hard to tell new stories with characters locked in to what was once a very contemporary view of adult living. Also, the modern take on Hal Jordan is playing off Dennis O'Neil's take and not where John Broome left off - only Gerard Jones seemed to remember what Hal was like before teaming with Ollie.

    Another problem - for every fan that loves the Silver Age takes on these heroes, there's another fan who thought they were cardboard cutouts. Compare them with Peter Parker or Ben Grimm and, side-by-side, it's like we're looking at comics from two different countries!

    Scrooge Mcduck ... I wouldn't say he was a good example - our imaginations didn't have to work so hard to define his character.

    Oh, I know as much about Blackhawk continuity as the current team seems to, but if I had to make them contemporary, I would model them after The Blue Angels - I have two mini-toy replicas of those F/A-18 Hornets and they are the coolest-looking aricraft...