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Posts Tagged ‘Neil Gaiman

We all know how much the publishing houses love their events. Hell, at last year’s San Diego Comic-Con, there wasn’t a single DC, Marvel, or Image panel that didn’t ramble on and on about how great Blackest Night, Siege, or Image United were gonna be. But in 20 years, will people really give a shit about any of that? Or will they just be really confused when an older comic writer references it in a book? Yeah, it’s the latter. Well, that’s what “WTF Is” is all about: explaining what happened in all the events from the past that didn’t really live up to the glory of, oh, Crisis on Infinite Earths or something.

And, speaking of a DCU crisis, doesn’t it seem like 1994’s Zero Hour: Crisis in Time would be the perfect place to start?

Zero Hour is the story of the DCU vs. Extant. Sort of? Yeah, this is one of those books where they tried to get as much shit to happen in as few pages as possible. Here’s the best way I can explain it. During Armageddon 2001 (which almost deserves a “WTF Is” of its own), a character named Waverider goes back in time to the year 2001 to try and destroy an evil being named the Monarch before he can kill all the superheroes around 2030. During that event, the Monarch captured Hank “Hawk” Hall and Dawn “Dove” Granger, eventually executing Dove and making Hank go crazy. The Monarch then revealed himself to be a future version of Hank, driving Hank to kill the Monarch, steal his armor, and take up the Monarch mantle himself (in other words, he does everything in his stupid power to make sure that he ends up a bad guy). After becoming a Captain Atom villain for a while, it’s discovered that instead of the Monarch killing Dove, he just absorbed her or something. Hank Hall then changes his name to Extant, steals Waverider’s time travel bracelets, and disappears into time to try and change the universe into how he wants it by erasing existence from the end of time backwards to the beginning and restarting from scratch.

So, yeah, what we have here is another DC “crisis” event attempting to once again change the DCU forever by throwing a ton of confusing shit at us all at once and hoping that in the end it all makes sense. To make matters worse, Zero Hour was written by Dan Jurgens, the guy behind Superman vs. Aliens, the “Death of Superman” storyline, and the creator of DC’s Tangent imprint. Also included in the storyline are a bunch of tie-ins that were all released in October 1994 and numbered #0 (also known as “Zero Month”) which each revealed something unknown about the main hero of the title’s origin. Basically, this is everything amiss with 1990s DC Comics. Brace yourselves.

So, here is the quickest summary I can muster. Extant travels to the end of time, killing Time Trapper and causing a Crisis on Infinite Earths-style Ctrl+Z rift to go backwards through time, erasing existence (don’t think about the physics of this, it makes zero sense). Metron, Waverider, Superman, and Batman team up to attempt to stop the universe from rebooting. They get the help of every other hero in the DCU and the results are somewhat catastrophic. Wally West, Jay Garrick, Steel, most of the JSA, Dr. Mist, Vandal Savage, the Legion of Super-Heroes, and Kyle Rayner all “die.” An attempt is made at explaining what Hawkman’s deal is by stuffing all of the Thanagarians into one body (which just ends up raising more questions rather than clarifying anything). Extant is revealed to not really be the villain of the book, but was working for Hal Jordan (under the influence of Parallax) who wants to undo Coast City getting destroyed in “Reign of the Supermen.” The story ends with the universe being completely erased before the Spectre showing up to save the day (as he pretty much does in every Crisis) and the Green Arrow shooting Hal in the chest, “killing” him. The Spectre pumps newcomer Damage full of energy, causing him to act as a new Big Bang. Time goes by naturally and the universe is as it was. Sort of.

But how is this still relevant to the modern DCU? Well, remember when I said all of those characters “died?” The only ones who actually died and stayed dead were the original Atom and Doctor Mid-Nite. Wally West just got thrown through the time stream a bit, where he witnessed all the major points in his life (including his and Linda’s deaths) and gave a younger self a pep talk. Hal Jordan and Kyle Rayner didn’t really die, but got transported back to Oa. There, they had an all out fight that ended with Oa getting blown the fuck up. Aquaman got his totally 90s beard and harpoon hand after piranhas ate it off. Power Girl has a baby which is pretty much never heard from again. The biggest impact, however, was probably to Green Arrow. Thinking that he’d just killed Hal Jordan, Ollie threw his costume into the sea, went back to the monastery he joined in Flash #218, and meets Connor Hawke, his son, for the first time.

Some of the strangest tie-ins, however, had to be in both Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and Geoff Johns’ Booster Gold. In Sandman: Worlds’ End, a group of inter-dimensional travelers sit in a bizarre inn and wait out the “reality storm” caused by Parallax in Zero Hour (without ever directly mentioning it). Even stranger is April 2008’s Booster Gold #0, in which Booster, Dan Gerrett, Ted Kord, Jamie Reyes, and an unnamed fourth Blue Beetle from the 57th century stumble across Extant and Parallax discussing why they didn’t want Alan Scott dead. After a brief fight, Booster and the Beetles (ha) zap themselves away to the time of Booster’s origin, making its premise similar to the #0 books of 14 years prior.

Anyways, congratulations, whoever you are! You are now an expert in all things Zero Hour and never, ever have to read it.

So, in 1968, hippies didn’t really read comics. Maybe they were too busy with the whole Vietnam War thing going on, maybe “truth, justice, and the American way” just wasn’t really their bag. Either way, DC Comics had a fool-proof plan to get their hard-earned busking dollars: hire Joe Simon, legendary co-creator of Captain America (clearly the most liberal of all heroes), to create the ultimate hippie superhero! And what did he come up with? Brother Power, a mannequin who was struck by lightning and brought to life. Yeah, there’s no way this’ll fuck up. God help us, let’s take a look at December 1968’s Brother Power, the Geek #2.

Our hero!Our book starts out where issue one left off, with Brother Power (aka: the Geek) floating in the San Fransisco Bay. On a nearby shore, a bunch of hippies are fishing and one of them just happens to reel in Brother Power’s body and decides that the best course of action is to dance with it before stealing it’s clothes. Meanwhile, on an overlooking cliff, a bunch of guys in World War I-era German uniforms (complete with a balsa wood glider made to look like a Fokker biplane) are spying on the hippies and notice Brother Power’s sweet, sweet boots. Apparantly, that’s enough reason for a full-on attack, so they push their glider off the cliff and the epic hippie ass-whooping begins! Just kidding. Two panels after they land, the Geek stands up and the German guys puss out and run away.

After the “battle” ends, a completely unprovoked Brother Power decides to tell the hippies his origin story (previously seen in the entirety of the previous month’s issue, making this sequence 100% filler and entirely fucking pointless). For those that are curious, Brother Power started out as a mannequin in an abandoned tailor shop where a bunch of hippies were squatting. They put their clothes on him and left him by an open window where he was struck by lightning and “somehow, I was alive! And I had enormous strength!” That’s one of the reasons I love the Silver Age. They don’t feel the need to explain why shit happens, it just does. Anyways, Brother Power was kidnapped by a traveling freak show and put on display, escaped, and was chased by cops till he jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge, which is where we came in to this.

The hippies accept him as one of their own and indoctrinate him into their gang, the Clinkers. Unfortunately for them, Brother Power is horrified to learn that they don’t have jobs and decides to get work in a grocery store stocking shelves and bagging groceries (which is totally the kind of action I look for when I read comic books). After impressing some old lady by taking groceries out to her car on roller skates, she offers Brother Power a job at her husband’s missile factory. At that very moment, Acme Missile Parts Factory president J.P. Acme is freaking out because “one small snag” in their assembly line is costing them a million dollars a year and bankruptcy is inevitable! Unfortunately, there’s only one man who can help save the company: the evil Lord Sliderule!

Brother Power shows up for his interview just in time to witness J.P. Acme signing the company over to Lord Sliderule (and Sliderule’s midget henchmen backflipping all over the place in celebration). Sliderule immediately tries to fire the Geek, to which Acme remind him that he has to solve that snag in the assembly line before he gets complete control. So, what is this snag that could be destroying this giant corporation? A right-handed guy has to grab something on his left side and is slowing down the assembly line. Brother Power suggests they get a left-handed guy to do the job. Sliderule gets pissed off that he didn’t come up with the idea and sics his men on Brother Power! Another epic fight ensues! No, just kidding again. The next panel just has a caption that “Lord Sliderule and his nasties are no match for our Geek” and shows Brother Power getting promoted to plant foreman and then CEO, like, one panel later when J.P. Acme says, “Fuck it, I quit”

Suddenly, the Clinkers appear outside holding a “non-violent demonstration” against the missile factory! Some of the employees run outside and start beating the crap out of the hippies so the Geek runs out after them and explains that the missiles aren’t for war, but for outer space. He promptly hires all of the hippies for the assembly line and pats himself on the back. Unfortunately, Lord Sliderule (who the Geek also apparantly hired at some point) writes an article for the local paper with the headline “Are Hippies Slowing Down the space Program as Protest?” freaking out the U.S. Space Agency. To prove that everything is cool, Brother Power schedules a missile launch the next day which, thanks to some sabotage by Lord Sliderule, explodes on the tarmac. Ronald Reagan then sends out a bunch of tanks to arrest Brother Power (haha, what?). Fortunately, Brother Power also seems to have hired the head German guy who crashes his Fokker plane as a means of distracting Ronald Reagan’s army. It works and the Geek decides to hide in another of the missiles. Which Lord Sliderule then launches into space. It ends with the following caption:

Damn straight, you’ll never believe where. It turns out that not only did Joe Simon hate writing Brother Power, the Geek (going so far as refusing to talk about it to this day), but then-Superman editor Mort Weisinger hated the hippie culture so much that he pressured DC publisher Jack Liebowitz into canceling it. So then where did Brother Power land? 21 years later in Neil Gaiman’s Swamp Thing Annual #5, in which Ronnie Raymond guides the rocket back to Earth, Brother Power discovers he’s an elemental of dolls, and Batman and Abbie Cable have to stop him from destroying Tampa Bay. Yeah, you know what? Don’t ask.

Anyone remember Asterix? Yeah, me too! (Hey! I get it! FRENCH CLASS!! See what we did there?) We’ve all got at least one friend who’s a total history nerd, right? Well, welcome to High Five!’s definitive guide to getting your history-buff buddy into comics!

Marvel_1602First up, Marvel 1602*, which transplants several familiar Marvel heroes back to the Elizabethan era. I know, I know. The premise sounds stupid, and I thought so too, but I picked it up off a discount rack a while back, and man – I should have had more faith in Neil Gaiman. Sir Nicholas Fury is the master of her majesty’s spy game, and Rohjaz – well, you’ll just have to find out. Also starring Elizabeth I, Virginia Dare, James I, oh and some dinosaurs. Just ignore the dinosaurs, ok? I swear, this book is not as cheesy as you think it is, and putting our modern heroes in a 17th-century setting is a feat only Neil Gaiman could pull off. Read it!

250px-MausMaus. Oh god, Maus. Art Spiegelman’s riveting graphic novel tells two stories. First, the story of Spiegelman’s own youth in New York City in the 50s, and second, the story of his father, Vladek. Spiegelman’s father was prisoner #175113 at Auschwitz.  Maus tells that story, as well as tales of Vladek’s youth in Poland.  While largely an autobiographical piece, Maus uses animals as the main characters instead of humans. The Jews are mice, the Germans are cats, the Russians are bears – but this comes off as anything but cutesy. This book won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992, so if nothing else grabs you, maybe the fact that a COMIC won a PULITZER will.

250px-300_comicTHIS IS SPARTA! Amirite? Dudebros everywhere loved the movie, but history nerds will like 300, especially since bits of it are so inaccurate they’ll be able to nitpick at length. (History nerds LOVE to nitpick, see: SCA. Which I grew up in, so I’m not mocking, I’m just saying.) Anyway, 300 is the comic re-telling of the three day long Battle of Thermopylae, waged between the Spartans and the Persians. Sin City‘s Frank Miller wrote this one so it can be a little…much, at moments. Just don’t say you weren’t warned, ok?

From_hell_tpbAnother movie! And this one starred Johnny Depp, so there’s a good chance the ladies reading caught this flick (even though it had next to nothing in common with the book. sigh). From Hell, by the always brilliant Alan Moore, speculates on the identity and motives of the terrifying Jack the Ripper. The book draws from records of the original case, as well as Moore’s own imagination. Many of Moore’s conclusions have been disproved – multiple times; but that doesn’t detract from the Moore’s ability to tell a truly twisted period tale.

Crecy_cover_artFinally, a suggestion from reader Ben C., Warren Ellis’ Crécy, which details parts of the Battle of Crécy, fought between the British and the French in 1346 during the Hundred Years War. The British were outnumbered something like 3:1, and they basically won the battle by shooting massive clouds of arrows at the French Cavalry, who were, being cavalry, on horses. Legend goes that the British only lost 40 men out of the ten thousand or so fighting. Crécy is something of a point of pride for the Britons. Warren Ellis is British, and he’s imbued Crécy with his particular brand of British snark. Read it!

Now, if someone would just make a comic about 1066, the Battle of Hastings, and the start of Plantagenet dynasty, I’d be a very happy girl. Oh wait they did- it’s called the Bayeaux Tapestry.

*Note: If you trust us and decide to pick up any of these titles, click the links in this post to buy! They’ll take you through to amazon, and we’ll get some miniscule percentage in commission.

“Hey, Rob, what are you reading?”

“Oh, I just picked up all the trades for Animal Man. Seems like a pretty good book.”

“Wait… That’s a comic book… Forget it, I’ll be over here jerking off to James Joyce.”

There are so many uppity people who I’ve tried to get to read comics who turn them down because, well, they’re just comic books. So fucking what if comic books don’t dress all dapper and fellate your ego? They are FAR from the mindless entertainment that they are stereotyped to be (blame the Golden Age for that one). Stop being so elitist, jerks. I’ve got suggestions and you’re gonna read ’em, come hell or high water.

sandmanFirstly-first, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman might be a great jumping off point. I mean, check it out. It’s about a guy who granted William Shakespeare the ability to write and frequently visits Hell and Asgard to consult with the deities and demons there. Wait, who are those weird-lookin’ folks? Oh, that’s just Elemental Girl and Martian Manhunter. Yeah, they’re DC superheroes. Ha! I tricked you! You’re a couple hundred pages into the DCU and you didn’t even know it! Oh, that’s rich.

invisWhat else we got? Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles isn’t about heroes, it’s about being fucked up, wordy, and making you feel as uncomfortable as humanly possible (something it accomplishes almost immediately). It deconstructs reality and reassembles it in a way that leaves you feeling like you are missing some integral part of yourself. Plus, the Marquis de Sade plays a gigantic role and we all know what he did for literature, right? Double plus (book joke!), you know The Matrix, that movie all the kids had their panties in knots over a decade back? Well, the Wachowski Brothers Siblings stole it right out from the pages of The Invisibles. Take that, elitists!

v1Then there’s Alan Moore, who snobby types probably already like without knowing it. V for Vendetta explores fascism versus anarchy and all that other esoteric shit pretentious people like. Moore’s ‘V’ character quotes about a million different literary works and spreads anarchy through vaudeville. If you quote V in arguments, you’ll win. The hyper-literate LOOOOVE to argue and win. Probably. Elistist braggarts eat this shit up, right?

And isn’t hyper-literate elitism simply the art of quoting people cleverer than you are? We just hooked you up. Look, there’s nothing wrong with reading books that aren’t comics. I do love me some occasional Sedaris or Foer or whatever. Books what ain’t got none of them pretty pictures don’t make nobody better than nobody else, you know? You might as well do yourself a favor and discover what other stories (and storytellers) are out there. Curb the pompous superiority and read a fuckin’ comic.


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