Saturday, September 19, 2015

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Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Dumb and dumber

The worst superhero comics that have ever been written appeared in the mid 1960s. They were published by Archie Comics, and featured characters called the Mighty Crusaders, and they were written by the co-creator of the entire superhero genre, Jerry Siegel.

If you don’t believe me, read this.

I know all this because my one time roommate and best buddy in the world The Late Great Jeff Webb conceived of an unhealthy fascination with these wretched periodicals back in the early 80s when he chanced upon a whole bunch of them in a cheap quarter bin at the local comics shop we all frequented at the time. This gave me the opportunity to read many of these Siegel authored stories, which in turn gave me the opportunity to scream in horrified disbelief and run gibbering up and down the hallway of the house we were all living in at the time until one of our other housemates hit me over the head with a half full two liter bottle of Jolt soda, stunning me long enough to allow me to once more regain my composure.

I’m serious about this. Yes, yes, Marvel and DC have published their share of truly idiotic comics, many of which were written by Gerry “Hackmeister Supreme” Conway, and, well, if you’re looking for a jaw droppingly moronic story so brainless it makes the average issue of MARVEL TEAM UP look like it was penned by Faulkner, you need look no further than THE DEATH OF SUPERMAN. But even with all these absolute suckapaloozas factored in, still, the Jerry Siegel authored Mighty Comics stories featuring the various members of the Mighty Crusaders, all together or in their own separate features, are really in an entirely separate quadrant of the Brain Damaged Galaxy.

Don’t believe me? Here are two random examples of sheer story stupidity inscribed in my memory no matter how desperately I try to forget them (and I apologize; I’ve gone up one side and down the other of the Internet looking for scans of these pages, or, really, any pages, of Siegel Mighty Comics dumbness, and apparently, nobody has ever bothered to post any of this stuff anywhere. I’d do it myself, but I never owned these comics, and I have no idea what happened to Jeff’s after he passed away back in 1993):

In one particularly unfortunate Fly-Man story, Siegel starts out by having a strange alien meteor enter Earth’s atmosphere, or become visible in Earth’s sky, or something like that. What does this meteor do? Why, it robs insects of their powers! (Holster those irons, pards; I don’t make the news, I just report it.) To demonstrate this we get several panels showing a bumblebee that is unable to fly, a grasshopper that has lost its ability to make mighty leaps, and an ant that is no longer capable of toting around bread crumbs that are ten or twenty times its own mass. (Stop hitting your head on the wall. You’re just chipping up the paint and the story will remain as idiotic as ever regardless. Trust in the word of One Who Knows.) Naturally, this causes Fly-Man to lose all his insect powers, and… and… okay, I’ll wait for you to stop screaming…

There. Better now? The second example I can immediately think of, of just how wretchedly fetid Siegel’s scripting for Mighty Comics was – there was this story where some villain or other… the Hangman, maybe, or the Wizard, or perhaps even the arch Mighty Comics villain himself, the Spider – had trapped all the Mighty Crusaders inside this nuclear furnace. There was no way for them to escape and they were all going to die in the next few minutes when… something happened, I don’t know, the furnace heat got turned up or the protective lead box they were in finally melted or the furnace itself blew up in an atomic explosion (villains were always trapping heroes in deathtraps that were going to blow up in an atomic explosion in Siegel Mighty Comics strips, as I recall). So the Shield, who is this big strong invulnerable guy in a bulletproof costume, pipes up and says something like “Say, I’ve never mentioned this before, but I happen to have the power to teleport us all to safety. Now, I can only do it once, and I’ll never be able to do it again, so after I do it we must never speak of it.” And he does. And they never do.

And, yes, I did say the Shield was this big strong invulnerable guy wearing a bulletproof costume, and no, I don’t know why an invulnerable character ran around in a bulletproof costume, although I will say that, if a strange alien meteor had entered Earth’s atmosphere that happened to have the effect of robbing all medieval weaponry and martial equipment of its powers, well, the Shield would still be somewhat protected by his bulletproof outfit, presumably, and in the Siegel authored Mighty Comics universe, you obviously couldn’t rule shit like that out, ever, so wearing it was probably a canny precaution on his part.

Until this very day I have always believed that these Siegel authored Mighty Crusaders stories were inarguably and objectively the absolute worst superhero stories that had ever been published in comics form, that, in fact, like SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE, they simply could not under any circumstances ever be equaled much less surpassed for sheer mindboggling brainbending sanity tottering stupidity by anything that ever has or ever could be produced in their own particular fictional subgenre and communications medium, from the dawn of time unto the end of eternity, amen.

I mean, yeah, I knew that DC and Marvel had put out a lot of really stupid comics in the early Silver Age. AVENGERS #2, featuring the Space Phantom, is without a doubt one of the goddam dumbest comics stories ever put on paper, and nearly every Superman Family story ever published under Mort Weisinger’s editorial direction is senseless to the point of mental retardation. But there’s a surreal, almost iconic, and certainly grander than life absurdity to the Weisinger stuff that makes it very enjoyable to me, so Jimmy Olsen becoming a 200 foot tall turtle just didn’t bug me that much, and, well, AVENGERS #2, and pretty much every subsequent Space Phantom story ever done, I just try to close my eyes and stagger blindly past whenever necessary. (The Space Phantom is such a prancing cerebral hemorrhage of a character that he defies the capacities of even the most brilliant comics writers to ever do anything even remotely sensible with; even “Stainless” Steve Englehart, arguably the finest superhero comics writer ever to put fingers to typewriter, merely used the buffoon to erase the knowledge of Captain America’s foolishly revealed secret identity from the minds of every man, woman, and child on Earth – and why? So Cap’s mind would ‘be at peace’ when the Grim Reaper transplanted the Vision’s brain into Captain America’s body… and if that makes any sense to you at all, I suggest you go to the emergency room right now because you almost certainly have a concussion or a very high fever or both.)

But, still, even with all that, and everything ever mis-written by Gerry Conway thrown into the mix, I nonetheless maintained my fervent belief that the Siegel authored Mighty Comics stories were the absolute nadir of superhero comics, and that DC and Marvel, wretched though some of their Silver Age output undeniably was, had never sunk to any depth even remotely as abysmal as those that were routinely plumbed by a no doubt near constantly drunken Siegel in his Mighty Comics gig.

But, well, I was wrong, as I learned today, when going through SHOWCASE PRESENTS THE JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA VOLUME TWO, and reading, for the first time, the mind shreddingly godawful stupidity incarnate that is JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #19 – “The Super Exiles of Earth!”

Follow, if you dare:

We open with a splash page showing the entire Justice League – at this time (from left to right on the page) Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Martian Manhunter, Superman, Green Arrow, the Flash, and Green Lantern – all looking very sad, as they stand disconsolately around a globe of the Earth with the Atom sitting on top of it, in an equally gloomy posture. “This is all we’ll see of Earth from now on,” Green Lantern solemnly advises us, “since we have been exiled into space forever!”

How did something so dreadful happen? Well, we turn the page and discover that, apparently, Ray Palmer, while staring into a microscope, happens to see – the Atom! This is rather bizarre, because Ray Palmer actually IS the Atom, but that doesn’t seem to matter, because the Atom promptly zips up to his more proper action figuresque height of three inches and pummels the rather startled Mr. Palmer into unconsciousness.

After this, Superman shows up at Clark Kent’s door, proclaims that he, himself, is ‘really a Super-Superman, and to prove my point, here’s my convincer!’, after which, he lobs a chunk of Green Kryptonite at ol’ Clarkie. Clark, as he is wont to do in such circumstances, pisses his pants and falls to the floor near unconscious, wondering as he does “but why wasn’t my twin weakened too?” (Gee, I don’t know, Clark. Maybe he was a Superman robot, or maybe he was a shapeshifting alien from another galaxy, or maybe he was actually Batman in disguise playing a cruel practical joke on you, or maybe he’s an evil Superman from another dimension where Green Kryptonite doesn’t weaken, but actually gives him additional superpowers – any of which are perfectly plausible explanations, given that all of them are things that Superman routinely encountered during the Silver Age. Or maybe he’s something else entirely, but anyway, the one thing we know for certain and there ain’t no maybe about at all, Mr. Kent, is, you’re still a great big doofus, you great big doofus.)

So then Hal Jordan gets beat down by Green Lantern, except this is a Super-Green Lantern who has no weakness for yellow. Barry Allen gets punked by a Super-Flash who is even faster than he is. Wonder Woman gets kicked around by a Super-Wonder Woman who makes her look like a shabby generic. The Martian Manhunter gets humiliated by a Super Martian Manhunter who is not afraid of fire, and Green Arrow gets outdrawn and outshot by a Super Green Arrow who, you know, can actually shoot a bow well, or something, I don’t know. Aquaman gets lured into a maelstrom that he can’t swim out of by a Super Aquaman, who promptly adds insult to injury by easily swimming out of said inescapable maelstrom while heaping scorn on his haplessly trapped twin. And Batman gets punched in the jaw by his own Super Bat-Twin, proving that this Super Bat-Twin is ‘far superior’, because, you know, prior to this, nobody in the history of humanity had ever managed to sock Batman one in the snoot. Yep. Suuuuuuuure.

And then, with the real JLA all hammered into unconsciousness or trapped in whirlpools or just too friggin’ embarrassed to show their capes or cowls in public, this Super JLA goes on a crime rampage, beating up little old ladies and robbing museums and raping squirrels from one end of the U.S.A. to the other. (Okay, actually, as with any early Silver Age villains at the DC Universe, all this evil JLA does is commit crimes against property. In the DC Universe at this time, villains hardly ever assaulted helpless bystanders, murders were rarely or never committed outside Batman’s comics, and rape certainly didn’t exist, because, well, sex didn’t exist.)

In response to this bizarre outlaw rampage by the apparently round the bend JLA, coppers move to arrest the real JLA members (because, you know, if Superman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Batman, the Martian Manhunter, and Aquaman went bonkers and started stealing shit from coast to coast, you just know the authorities would send flatfoots with nightsticks out to bring ‘em in, yes, indeedy). The real JLA surrenders without incident, and Jean Loring gets the job representing them in court, because she’s the only person in the entire DC Universe who has a law degree and has passed the bar, so she gets all the superhero business. (For something like thirty years, Matt Murdock, with occasional help from his partner Foggy Nelson, occupied a similarly opportunistic position in the Marvel Universe.)

Now, the judge has to be a Republican, because it never seems to occur to him to wonder, if the JLA has gone bananas and is robbing everybody in sight, why in the world did they just let us slap handcuffs on them and come meekly to court? Couldn’t they, you know, reduce the entire assembled police forces of the globe to powder in half a second, if they wanted to, and wouldn’t they, if they’d really gone rotten, as we presume they must have, since we’re arresting them? But, nooooooo, examining the internal fallacies of one’s deeply held preconceptions not being a conservative strong suit, this judge happily accepts Jean Loring’s suggestion that the JLA be exiled from Earth forever, because, as he notes, “What jail could hold them – if they decide to escape?” So he orders the exile, with the JLA members ‘forbidden to return unless and until their innocence is proved to the satisfaction of the court’.

Which… now, wait, let me look at that cover… is this actually an issue of the Justice League of the U.S.S.R.? The JLA has to prove their innocence? Isn’t this in complete violation of the bedrock principle of American jurisprudence? Well, never mind, we’re movin’ on again. Superman builds this great big spaceship and they all get aboard and go rocketing off to the end of the universe.

Leaving behind the evil JLA, who all promptly gloat “Now we can rob and steal without interference from our counterparts!” (And beat up orphans! And put ground up dolphin in all the canned tuna! And boy is that bitch Jean Loring getting a cornholing tonight! And that dickweed Lex Luthor better not show his face anywhere in Metropolis or man oh man is HE getting a surprise…!)

Meanwhile, off in a jail cell, some dork-and-a-half is gloating “So far my plan’s working like a charm!”

Wait a minute. This is somebody’s plan? Somebody who’s in jail? What the FUCK?

Oh, but it’s that numbnuts Dr. Destiny. Let’s let him explain it –

“With the help of a confederate, I managed to get a letter mailed to the JLA’s post office box. When they opened it in their headquarters, the action of the air on the chemically treated ink produced an invisible gas that caused them to dream that night!”

It’s… I… but… okay, wait a minute… you’re in JAIL, dude… how are you getting chemically treated ink that produces invisible gas that causes anyone to do anything, much less, dream, which is, you know, a retarded thing to create chemically treated ink that produces invisible gas to do?

“As the gas forced the JLA to dream about themselves as super-superheroes, my Materiopticon – which I was able to build in the prison workshop where I was sent for good behavior – transformed those dream images into living beings!”

Okay, couple of points here.

First, as Bill Maher might say, NEW RULE – evil assholes who have created mind boggling magical or technological devices at any point in the past with which they have attempted to rule the world never, never, never get sent to the prison workshop. NEVER. If they behave themselves they can have ice cream and maybe get to watch some reality TV once in a while, but they DO NOT GET SENT TO THE PRISON WORKSHOP UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES WHATSOEVER. Got it?

Second, okay, so you’ve got chemically treated ink that makes people dream of whatever it is you want them to dream of and you’ve got some fucked over device that makes these dreams into actual living breathing solid three dimensional reality.

So, like, why not make yourself dream of, I dunno, Raquel Welch and Grace Kelly and a young Liz Taylor in the buff, all of whom have super powers, and who, after boffing your brains out for hours on end, will then kick a gaping hole in the wall of your prison cell and fly you off to your secret Destiny Cave, after which, they will resume boffing your brains out for as long as you want them to? And than make those particular dreams real? Why bother with the goddam Super-JLA at all?

But I’m interrupting. Sorry. Let’s get back to Dr. Destiny’s narration: “Naturally, since I am wicked – I caused those dream materializations also to become wicked! In the beginning they were not wicked enough so they did not succeed in destroying the Justice League – merely knocked them out or trapped them! I had intended for those dream powered Justice League members to get rid of the real ones! But perhaps exile from earth will do just as well. Wait – knowing the Justice League, I’ll bet they have a trick up their sleeve!”

It… I… well, so, they weren’t wicked enough, to… um… whose sleeve is the trick up, now? Because Wonder Woman doesn’t even have sleeves, and… you know, I’m still thinking, if you’re going to make dream materializations wicked, naked, horny mind controlled Liz Taylor, Grace Kelly, and Raquel Welch with super powers are waaaaay more fun than dumb ass super- superheroes. I’m just sayin’, is all.

Oh, wait, he’s still ranting: “I wouldn’t put it past them to return to Earth and attack the Dream JLA! But it’ll do them no good! My super Super League – who will grow more wicked every day – will destroy them! And the beauty of the entire scheme is that no one can possibly suspect that I am the mastermind behind all this!”

Mastermind. Right. Hm. Let me go over this – he’s got a thingie that makes dreams real, and some chemicals that make people dream about whatever he wants, and a confederate willing to mail things off to anyone he wants, and still, here he is, sitting in his jail cell, reading the newspaper, while the materialized dreams he’s created run amok stealing everything that isn’t nailed down all over the planet.

Yep. Sure. He’s a mastermind all right.

Now, okay, I know what you’re thinking. Yeah, yeah, this is pretty stupid shit, but, still, it ain’t no alien meteor that robs insects of their powers stupid. It ain’t, like, a mesomorph in a bulletproof suit suddenly announcing he has the ability to mass teleport his entire team to safety… once… and never again. It’s not THAT stupid.

But, wait… there’s more –

So, off at the ass end of the universe, the JLA suddenly decides they can return to Earth and clear themselves without violating the judge’s order by doing it -- in their secret identities! Okay, with thinking like that, where one obeys the letter by utterly annihilating the spirit of the law, it would seem the entire JLA is Republican, too, but what the hell. So they all change into their secret IDs (except for poor Aquaman, who doesn’t have one, and will have to stay on the ship, but who cares, he’s a big dork anyway), which is a big deal, because prior to this, the only JLA members who knew each other’s secret IDs were Superman and Batman. So they’re all like “oh, wow, you’re this nobody I never heard of, isn’t that cool” (Barry Allen takes the cake here when he tells Diana Prince “Obviously, you’re Wonder Woman!” heh… what was your first hint, there, Barry, the gigantic hooters?)

Anyway, Green Lantern whips up an invisible space ship and all the secret IDs return to Earth, where they divide up into teams and attack various different groupings of their super super doppelgangers. And, naturally, they all get their asses kicked AGAIN (“Get her? That was your whole plan? Get her?”) after which the Dream JLA explains that they are only dream manifestations and are about to finish off our heroes (“our wickedness has grown by leaps and bounds! This will be a pleasure!”) when Ray Palmer points out that the Dream JLA is, you know, only a dream of the real JLA, and if they kill the real JLA, they themselves will cease to exist. Which the Dream JLA has to admit is a bummer, and more than that, will put a crimp in their plans to dump a whole load of fizzies into the swim meet and deliver the medical school cadavers to the alumni dinner. So they relent and Super Green Lantern whips up this emerald box that they put the real JLA in and then bury it a mile beneath the ground. (Because, you know, it’s not like three quarters of the JLA won’t die of thirst or oxygen deprivation within hours or days if they do that, or anything.)

So the real JLA all combine their willpower on GL’s ring and get the energy bubble to rise back to the surface again, and then Wonder Woman muses on a past case where her muscles and nerves wouldn’t obey her mental commands, and then Ray Palmer speaks up:

“I have an idea! Diana, you’ve studied medicine on Paradise Island, and I’m a scientist. Now, listen closely… I could shrink myself so small as to be invisible while John Jones blows me toward our Secret Sanctuary where are other selves have gone! Becoming microscopic in size, I could enter our dream selves’ brains undetected and unfelt – and perform delicate “operations”!”

It… I… erm… nyargl… bleagh… hyrrrrngggg… okay, my brain just tried to sneak out the back of my head with a suitcase in one hand and a bus ticket to Tijuana in the other, but I’ve wrestled it to the ground and am sitting on its chest, so let us continue:

Following the above utterly deranged speech, there is an Editor’s Note: “What Ray Palmer has suggested is entirely possible! Modern medical techniques can perform amazing brain “surgery” by applying electrical stimulation to many parts of the brain!

“Wait,” my brain whimpers from the floor where I have it firmly pinned, “even assuming the Atom can get into the ‘brains’ of a bunch of materialized dreams and start performing ‘operations’, what the fuck does ‘applying electrical stimulation to many parts of the brain’ have to do with anything? He’s not Electro! Or the Eel! Or Lightning Lad! What the fuck! What the fuck! What the fuck!!!!”

Shut up. It gets worse. (Noooooooooooooo…) Yes, it does. Because, on the next page, all the real JLAers, still in their civilian guises, are running into the Secret Sanctuary. Did Ray operate? Or was he captured again? They’ll know in a minute, when their super-selves spot them…!

So then we get this panel where, well, let’s quote The Man himself:

“The dream beings try to rise and fight but Ray Palmer has succeeded only too well…”

Because Wonder Woman is doing ballet and Batman is flailing around on the conference table and Green Lantern is on his back kicking his chair into the air and the Martian Manhunter is standing on his head and, you know, pretty much everyone in the Dream JLA are completely spazzing out. Mission accomplished, Ray, you brain surgeon to the superhero set, you!

So the JLA turns their Super Super Dream Selves in to the authorities, clearing their names, and then they get Aquaman back off the intergalactic spaceship, and examine this famous letter that Dr. Destiny sent to them with the chemically treated dream ink, which lets them figure out who sent it (I guess Dr. Destiny’s confederate was considerate enough to put Dr. Destiny’s return address on it, or something) so the JLA shows up at prison and takes his Materiopticon away and puts him in solitary where he’ll never be able to make another one, ever again.

But there’s still one more bit of monumental stupidity we have to make our way through before we’re finished with this –

In the last two panels, Superman advises “Since a worldwide knowledge of our civilian identities may expose those dear to us to danger – I’d better do something about it! I’ll go now and get some AMNESIUM from my Fortress of Solitude and with it make us and the whole world forget everything it learned about our secret identities on this case!”

To which the rest of the JLA responds: “SO SAY WE ALL!”

Although none of them will ever remember doing so.

And God, I wish I couldn’t, either.

Now, if truth be told, I’m not sure that even all of that brain staggering stupidity really adds up to something as stupid as the kind of ultra-stupid shit Jerry Siegel routinely tried to run by his audience while writing for Mighty Comics, but certainly, it’s in the same ballpark. And I cannot tell you how sad it makes me, to know that Gardner Fox actually wrote stuff in the Silver Age JLA that was stupid enough to palpably compete with the rampant stupidity evinced by every single character in nearly every single panel of every single script ever turned in to Mighty Comics by Jerry Siegel. I mean, heretofore, I had considered Jerry Siegel’s Mighty Comics work to be something like the cinematic ouvre of Ed Wood, never to equaled much less surpassed by any other entry into its genre or medium, but, now, I find that not only is there another comics story out there very nearly its equal in sheer blinding brainlessness, but, for the love of sweet baby Jebus, it was written by Gardner Fox and – and—it’s a Silver Age JLA story!!!!

I mean, seriously. Say it ain’t so, Joe.

Any Joe will do.

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Thursday, August 10, 2006

DISCLAIMER

Nearly all of the following articles were written years and years and years ago. That's why all the contemporary references in them are horribly outdated. Assuming there's any value to them anyway... which is a large assumption, but, clearly, given the work I'm putting into reposting them, one I'm willing to make... then that shouldn't matter, and contemporary readers should still be able to find enjoyment in their perusal. Okay?

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Sunday, July 30, 2006

BOOK OF THE DEAD

Who And What Crisis Killed (besides my childhood, DC's Silver Age, and good writing in general in comics for ten years)

By John Jones, the Manhunter from Marathon, IL

Enjoy the work of John Jones' alter-ego, Doc Nebula, at http://www.angelfire.com/ny3/docnebula/index.html.


This may be a short article, I admit it. It's the 'besides' in the title above that lends its weight to that anticipation of brevity. I've written extensively in the past, in an APA, in email, and even in this column, about my belief that the Crisis on Infinite Earths marks a fairly definitive end to DC's Silver Age (I say fairly because there are exceptions; the damnable New Teen Titans actually debuted several years before Crisis occurred, but there is no way I include them in the Silver Age). I've also written at length about how Crisis seemed to equally mark a pretty final end to my childlike belief in heroes, and how it also seems to demark a point at which, by and large, any semblance of quality writing fled the DC mainstream screaming for its life. This article is not intended to belabor any of those points (although, what the hell, it might anyway) but rather, to set out a reasonably coherent list of all the various Silver Age characters and concepts irrevocably slaughtered by Crisis.

We need some ground rules before we go on, though. While I could make a cogent argument that Crisis did, in fact, gruesomely murder EVERY DC Silver Age character (since the rebooted versions we were given bore little resemblance other than in terms of the clothes they wore... and even that wasn't always a constant... to the icons they supplanted) nonetheless, we will eschew such painful truths for this article (maybe) and at least for the moment, stick with those characters who actually never managed to cross the great divide and find themselves transformed, will they or nill they, into some horrible Modern Version.

No, dammit, I take it back. We're not going to have any frickin' rules. It's my column and I will write what I wanna. "Killed by Crisis" will hereby mean whatever I am pointing to at the time, and anyone who doesn't like it can go eat a towel. I will, however, try to remain entertaining in my arbitrary, rampant derangement.

We'll start with my first and weirdest entry in the Book of the Dead: Kamandi, The Last Boy On Earth.

This one is rather bizarre and outside nearly any parameters, including the guideline I already set forth, and then just as arbitrarily, discarded.

Kamandi is one of my favorite Silver Age comics characters, and he was inarguably published at DC. Beyond that, it all gets fuzzy.

It's a bit of a struggle to call Kamandi, the Last Boy on Earth, a "Silver Age DC character", for many reasons. The primary one for this article, though, is because emotionally, I never accepted him as living in the DC Universe with the rest of the four color fire brigade; I always figured he had his own little separate timeline thingie going on. I know, I know. Bob Haney had him team up with Batman in BRAVE AND THE BOLD; Mark Evanier teamed him up with Superman in DC PRESENTS, Kirby himself wrote stories establishing the one time historical existence, in Kamandi's timeline, of Superman and the Justice League. I read all that stuff, and, honestly, I didn't care. Anyone who has read the 70s run of BRAVE AND THE BOLD can see that Bob Haney obviously suffers from a chemical imbalance. Mark Evanier was doing a goofy tribute to Kirby during a period, at the very twilight of DC's Silver Age, when editors simply didn't much care what got published every month. Kirby himself was a little bit dotty... I just never believed any indication that Kamandi might actually share the same metareality as Superman, Batman, and the Flash. Kamandi, like the equally doomed OMAC, was off in a world of his own... or so it seemed to me, until CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS came along and proved that, once and for all, DC's editors really didn't have enough sense to pour sand out of a boot... although many of us already knew that.

So, okay, he was a DC character, part of the timestream, a legitimate subject to the insane, spectacularly poorly conceived revisionism of Crisis. Fine. Emotionally that still makes no sense to me, but I succumb to the weight of extravagant documentation. Now those of you who - all five of you, maybe - actually remember Kamandi, and what happened to him in Crisis, and even afterward, are saying to yourselves "John has jammed his foot in it again; made another of his infamous mistakes; Kamandi SURVIVED Crisis... I remember him crawling out of that bunker on the last page."

Well, this is one reason I led off with The Last Boy On Earth, so we understand MY definition of 'survived' Crisis right here and now. (In all actuality, this isn't going to help you understand any such thing, because I'm mad as an Edwardian hatter and nearly as cute. But still.) The name isn't enough. The CHARACTER has to survive, as well, and in most cases, that means the CONCEPT of the character has to endure, also. Yes, a little blond kid crawled out of a fall out shelter marked prominently "Command D" on the last page of the CRISIS mini. And what did he do? He grew up to become Tommy Tomorrow.

The REAL Kamandi, I suspect, would willingly, even eagerly, choose death over THAT denouement.

Beyond that, Howard Chaykin later pretty much put paid to Tommy Tomorrow, along with all DC's other science fiction heroes, in the truly abominable TWILIGHT mini, which paid no attention whatsoever to the fact that Tommy, supposedly, had at one time crawled out of that particular bomb shelter. In fact, the post Crisis history of the DC Universe has pretty much comprehensively ignored everything established as canon in Crisis, other than, you know, the couple of things they SHOULD ignore, like Supergirl's death and the removal from continuity of Superboy's career.

Now, I'm aware there was a truly mindbogglingly awful mini series a few years after Crisis called KAMANDI AT WORLD'S END or some such godawful tripe, but THAT wasn't Kamandi, either, and I'm also vaguely aware that Karl Kesel apparently did something with the Kamandi concept and Project: Cadmus in some SUPERBOY story arc, but, well, you see where I'm going with this . Crisis killed Kamandi. Marv Wolfman sat on The Last Boy On Earth's chest while Len Wein smothered his wildly struggling form with a big couch pillow. Sayonara, blond haired talking animal. We knew thee well, and miss you much. Rest in peace. You will never, to me, be Tommy Tomorrow, and that is the finest epitaph any imaginary friend could hope for.

Mentioning Project: Cadmus and SUPERBOY brings us neatly to the next whole buncha Crisis casualties: Superboy himself, the Legion of Superheroes, Supergirl, and Mon-El.

See, you're not dumb enough to try to run a "But there IS a Superboy and a Supergirl in the modern DC Universe" riff on me, because you know I'll just start sobbing like a child if you even try to pass off those appalling modern versions, which have absolutely nothing to do with the essential Superman concept, as the real, Silver Age Superboy and Supergirl. You know that. We're not even going to go there. (Although, I grant you that if you were to mention the extraordinarily moving Deadman story written by Alan Brennart for one of DC's post Crisis holiday specials, in which the ghost of Supergirl showed up to teach a sniveling Boston Brand a not so subtle lesson about the significance of unnoticed, even forgotten heroism... well, I'd be inclined to give you an A for effort, anyway, right after which, I'd sigh and point out that this story, as well as Alan Brennart's beautifully moving and intelligent post Crisis Black Canary origin, have both been consistently ignored by every writer and editor the company employs ever since.)

And Mon-El, well, you're not going to try and sneak that by me, either, because you know that the merest whisper of that awful V word will cause me leap out of my recliner with a bloodcurdling scream of outraged, berserker frenzy and start banging my head over and over again on the living room wall while shrieking "Valor SUCKS Valor SUCKS Valor SUCKS" until I finally pass out in a bruised and bloody heap on the carpet. We're on the same page here so far, I think. But you might, with some actual expectation of making a lucid and persuasive argument, at this point be thinking of mentioning that the Legion of Superheroes has, indeed, come through Crisis reasonably well, and have, in fact, had more different series since Crisis, in the Modern Era of Comics, than they ever dreamed of before Crisis... and that's counting their run in ADVENTURE, a later reprint title, and then their combined title with Superboy, which finally, just before Crisis, became two different all new Legion titles.

And, if I'm willing to omit Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, et al from my list of Crisis casualties, by what reasoning can I possibly include the Legion? I mean, sure, the Legion was changed by Crisis, sure, the rebooted version bears only superficial resemblance to the Silver Age team... but so what? Why am I going to insist that, in fact, the Legion is actually as dead as Superboy and Supergirl, and was actually slain by the same agency?

Again, it's a conceptual thing. There is indeed a team running around in some alternate DC future timeline calling itself the Legion of Superheroes, and they do indeed have members somewhat similar to those that existed in a similarly titled comic published in the Silver Age. However, the modern Legion is not the actual Legion, and I'm not even going to go into pages and pages about how the actual Legion was an astonishingly innovative adaptation of Jack Kirby's little used 'kid gang' concept, blown up huge and gone totally whacko, but still, at base, a super powered group of kids, who behaved as kids... nah. Not going to do it. However, I am going to point out that in addition to all this, what the Legion also was... and this is crucial... was a Superboy spin off.

It's really that simple, to me. A DC Universe without Superboy can't have a Legion. A Legion without Superboy as an inherent part of their heroic mythology isn't the true, actual Legion, and, to a lesser extent, a Legion in which Kara of the House of El doesn't drop by every once in a while to make out with Brainiac 5 in the science lab also isn't the real Legion. As the real Superboy and Supergirl did not survive into the post Crisis DC Universe, neither did the Legion.

There are other cases similar to that of the Legion; instances where the character has survived in name, but not really in concept. Again, I'm going to be making some fine distinctions, here: in these particular cases, as with the Legion, I'll be exploring characters that technically existed in the Silver Age, pre Crisis, DC Universe, and that technically survived into the Modern, Post Crisis Universe... only to find their personal histories had become wildly revised.

First, and perhaps most wretchedly, we have Power Girl. Now, if the dissolution of any character by Crisis was ever justified, it's this one. Poorly conceived from the very start as the Earth-2 version of Supergirl, the only memorable trait Power Girl has ever had is her spectacular set of tatas... living proof, apparently, that they put something in the water in the Earth 2 Metropolis that just isn't present on Earth 1, since Supergirl's parallel set of mammaries are certainly impressive and perky, but have never reached the exaggerated Dollywood-esque proportions of her Earth 2 counterpart.

However, all of that is immaterial, although I will wryly note that for a superwoman to stand out in terms of cup size, she has to be pretty darn well endowed. I'll also mention, just because I'm like that, that it certainly doesn't reflect well on the character's creator and original writer, Paul Levitz, that the only feature people remember about this big blond bimbo is her boundless bouncing boobs.

Power Girl is a fictional construct who should have been thrice doomed - first, because she's nearly as big a creative embarrassment for DC as She Hulk is for Marvel, and coming from this Shulk hater, that's saying something. Above and beyond that, she's also firmly rooted in the Earth-2 continuity implant, which Mike Gold, one of the most influential architects of DC's post Crisis timeline, once referred to as 'that pulsating hunk of double talk', and which, according to persistent legend, Crisis was primarily designed to get rid of. However, Earth-2 origins can be dealt with, and in fact, were, fairly easily, for most of PG's contemporaries in that most clueless of all possible teen superteams, Infinity Inc. (I'll be getting to them in a moment), through the simple expedient of fusing the characters' histories seamlessly into that of the post Crisis, single universe, Earth-Zero timeline. However, that would not suffice for Power Girl, for the simple reason that she was also wedded inextricably to yet another aspect of Silver Age lore that had been resolutely tromped on in the post Crisis DC Universe, namely, that there were any other surviving Kryptonians besides Superman.

In point of fact, the Silver Age DC Universe had had quite a few surviving Kryptonians... not hundreds, by any means... probably not even a dozen... but between Phantom Zone inmates, Supergirl, Krypto, some wank who showed up in a Steve Gerber mini series in the early 80s, Power Girl, and some other guy who worked for the Science Police in the 30th Century named, I believe, Dev Em (and where he came from I'll never know, but I'm pretty sure he was Kryptonian), well, we certainly had enough for a good game of cut throat poker, anyway. All of which was wiped away by DC's post Crisis assertion that Superman was by God and you'd better believe it the ONLY survivor of Krypton.

Given that she was born on the wrong planet, in the wrong universe, and, you know, kinda blows as a concept anyway, you'd really think DC would have actually let Crisis accomplish something positive in the utter annihilation of Power Girl... but oh, no. They could turn Kamandi into Tommy Tomorrow. They could blast Barry Allen into carbonized fragments and editorially direct that no one ever bring him back. They could make Superboy and Supergirl never exist, wipe out Mon-El, reduce Krypto the Superdog to random integers. But Power Girl and her 44DDD gazongas... those they had to find some way to salvage. And, naturally, they turned the job over to the only man I personally would want to entrust such a delicate mission to: that peerless prince of pulsepounding plotlines, Paul "For God's Sake Someone Just Kill Me Before I Ruin YOUR Favorite Character" Kupperberg.

My pal Paul made your girl Kara into the grand daughter of Arion, Warlord of Atlantis.

No. Really.

Moving on to the two Wonder Girls...

What, you honestly thought I was going to EXPLAIN the story where the Earth-2 Supergirl was somehow retrofitted into the post Crisis continuity as the grand daughter of a long dead Atlantaean warlord? Please. It's bad enough I actually read it once. I'm amazed it didn't give me an embolism.

Two Wonder Girls. Yes. One of these, to give her her due, is the real Wonder Girl, Donna Troy, an orphan baby Wonder Woman rescued from a burning building and took to Paradise Island to be raised as an Amazon, and who later rejoined Wonder Woman as her sidekick, Wonder Girl, during that weird early Silver Age era where everybody who didn't already have a sidekick got one, whether they needed one or not. Why Wonder Woman, if she wanted a sidekick, didn't just go grab another Amazon is beyond me (and I'll note in passing that the producers of the Wonder Woman TV show seemed to find Wonder Girl's origin unnecessarily complex as well, as they simply made their version of the character into Wonder Woman's younger sister... something of a problem for a superheroine who is actually an animated clay statue, but the TV show never bothered with that particular aspect of WW's origin, either), but it hardly matters, since the Silver Age Wonder Woman is yet another casualty of Crisis I should get to at some point here. With the Silver Age Wonder Woman spread like goo across the post Crisis timeline, Wonder Girl was obviously left flapping in the breeze. However, her continued existence was an editorial necessity, since she was a popular member of DC's then most popular title, the New Teen Titans, and in fact, as such, she was being written by Marv Wolfman, the same writer who, in Crisis, had just made Wonder Woman never exist. How Marv would resolve the question of Wonder Girl's history in the post Crisis DC reality was a question everyone... ahem... wondered about.

How he eventually resolved it I couldn't tell you. It was really convoluted, complicated, and to the best of my knowledge, made no sense at all. In fact, Wonder Girl may be the character most comprehensively contorted and contused by Crisis; in the Modern DC universe, she's gone through identities like the Wasp goes through costumes, from Troia to Dark Star to some sort of perpetual multidimensional rape victim who has to qualify as perhaps the most disturbed story idea to ever come out of John Byrne's prolifically disturbed mind.

However, I think it's safe to say that the concept of Wonder Girl, orphan rescued by Wonder Woman, raised by Amazons, and sent to Man's World as junior partner to DC's primary superheroine... did not survive Crisis. I'm just not sure what took its place. And I don't think anyone else is, either.

The second Wonder Girl... sort of... would be more or less the Earth-2 version, a character named Fury, created by Roy Thomas as a member of his second generation teen team, Infinity Inc. In the pre Crisis DC Universe, the Infinitors lived on Earth-2 and were composed of the sons and daughters... mostly... of the Justice Society of America. Fury (Lyta Trevor-Hall) was the daughter of the Golden Age Wonder Woman and her husband, Steve Trevor, which was perfectly fine, until Crisis came along and made Earth 2 faw down and go boom, after which, Fury was... what? Hell, I don't know. Roy put together a revised origin story for her in which she was actually the daughter of WWII heroine The Fury, whom we had never heard of previously for the good and adequate reason that she had never existed previously (although Roy would fix that in yet another really lousy attempt to do a successful teenage superteam, the Young All Stars, which the original Fury was a member of, along with another lame character intended to more or less replace the Golden Age Superman who was called Arn "Iron" Munro). However, the agonizingly drawn out but nonetheless utterly apparent and inevitable failure of INFINITY INC., and the not quite quick enough demise of YOUNG ALL STARS, left both Furies effectively in limbo where they belonged.

However, to be fair, Neil Gaiman did make some interesting use of the second Fury later on in SANDMAN, proving that nearly anything can be story grist in the hands of someone with actual talent.

All of which, I suppose, means that the Infinity Inc. Fury DID survive Crisis, in some strangely altered state. So I suppose I should delete the above paragraph about her, but what the hell, it gave me a chance to rag on Roy Thomas, something never to be passed up, since Roy may well be the man who has done the most damage to quality comics writing, overall, in the industry's history.

Another out and out casualty of the Crisis was, as mentioned in passing above, the Golden and Silver Age Wonder Womenn. This character, en toto, seems to have honestly baffled Marv Wolfman and Len Wein, as she's the only fairly major character in DC continuity who had virtually no attention paid to her throughout the entire mini series, and yet, was rather cavalierly 'unmade' on the last page, to clear the decks for some rebooted version that DC hoped would have more commercial success. Since this character was, quite specifically and on panel, in CRISIS, turned into goo, and since the Modern Age Wonder Woman is an entirely different character with her own entirely separate and distinct history and continuity, I have to regard the Silver Age Wonder Woman as being inarguably an entry on the Crisis Memorial.

Yet another subtle but distinct 'kill' to be credited to the Crisis is the Silver Age Hawkman. Unlike other versions of a Silver Age character which simply had somewhat revised histories retrofitted into the new, post Crisis continuity, the Hawkman character concept was totally, consistently, and continually screwed up after Crisis. Credit for the inception of what turned out to be a cascade of bungling has to go to Mike Gold's inept editorial policies, as the first truly bad decision that was made was firmly in Gold's lap: namely, that the post crisis, HAWKWORLD versions of Hawkman and Hawkwoman did not arrive on Earth until well into the modern heroic age.

This meant that, to all intents and purposes, in the post Crisis DC Universe, the modern (Silver Age) Hawkman simply had never existed... and yet, post Crisis JUSTICE LEAGUE stories, as well as several other post Crisis series, had prominently featured the character. From this one continuity snarl a huge brouhaha of inconsistent and truly idiotic attempts at continuity patches grew, until finally, DC seemed to decide that the character simply wasn't salvageable, and they rather quietly dropped him out of their modern fictional reality completely. A Golden Age Hawkman has, apparently, existed and been part of the Justice Society, but, at this point, there is no modern version of the character, and in strict terms of post Crisis continuity, no such version has ever existed.

While I'm thinking of it, I might as well mention the Crisis' Poster Boy for Heroic Sacrifice, Barry Allen, the Silver Age Flash. Poor Barry seems to have gotten the nod to be DC's equivalent to Bucky Barnes: a lasting token sacrifice made to the concept that death really does mean something in a particular imaginary metaverse, and that no matter how many seemingly casual character resurrections are enacted by lazy, lousy, or just plain apathetic writers, this guy.... THIS guy right HERE... is staying dead.

DC has made this editorial intention plain and clear through the aegis of no less than two separate story arcs in the modern FLASH series in which it was strongly suggested that somehow, Barry Allen had come back from the dead... only to have that turn out to be, in one case, a surgically and mentally altered Professor Zoom, and in the second case, a future version of Wally West, Barry's successor in the Flash costume. Even for those of us who don't much want to get the message, the meaning is clear: Barry is not mostly dead. Barry is ALL dead. Even Miracle Max ain't bringin' him back.

The Justice Society of America was a Crisis casualty itself, for years after the CRISIS miniseries came out. They weren't dead, (they thought they'd go for a walk) just stuffed into limbo by my favorite writer/editor/idiot Roy Thomas, so they'd be safe from meddling by anyone else (especially anyone who might write them better) while he concentrated all his rapidly decaying creative talents on trying to find some way to turn INFINITY INC. into the massive sales success he and DC's editorial staff clearly thought it was supposed to be. (They weren't fooling anyone, you know.)

I suppose one should really try to be understanding of Roy's decision in doing this, but 'one', in this case, wouldn't be 'me'. The creation of INFINITY INC. may well have been partially motivated by Roy's genuine love of the JSA and a concomitant desire to produce some sort of legacy for those characters that would be an established and ongoing part of the modern DC mainstream, but I also have to assume... okay, I choose to assume, darn it... that it was at least equally motivated by greed. Teen superteams were the rage and the fad at the time INFINITY INC. was first published, and it strikes me as wildly unlikely that the numbers on Chris Claremont's and Marv Wolfman's royalty checks from X-MEN and TITANS weren't dancing in Roy's head like sugarplums when he first typed out his precis. After all, reasonably speaking, if the JSA are going to have a bunch of superpowered kids in the DC modern age, it's wildly unlikely that very many of those offspring are going to be teenagers in the mid 80s... and those offspring staying teenagers into the 90s is rather ridiculous.

Which brings us back to the Justice Society, and the reason why DC's editorial and publishing hierarchy was most likely relieved to have Roy suggest sticking them into some badly conceived limbo so he could concentrate on INFINITY... frankly, they were an ongoing embarrassment to the mainstream continuity. Why? Because both Marvel and DC, in their infinite wisdom, have decided to keep their mainstream comics current, and combined with this, they have also decided not to let their characters age discernibly. There are various reasons for these asinine and mindbogglingly absurd decisions that I won't go into, because they alternate between being stupid and corrupt, but nonetheless, this is the deal as it exists at both companies. That being the case, one can see that keeping the Golden Age heroes around was more or less a constant reminder of how idiotically comic book entropy works... because the Golden Age characters are all firmly date stamped by their World War II careers.

In a nutshell, what both Marvel and DC do is constantly update the histories of their popular characters. The Fantastic Four may have originally made their rocket flight somewhere around 1962, but since that would have to make them around 60 or 70 years old right now, and Marvel assumes its target audience will not either (a) buy a book about geezers, or (b) buy a book set in, say, 1968, what they do instead is to say that, well, the FF has been together for around six years, and it's currently the year 2000 in the Marvel Universe, so they took that rocket flight in... yes... 1994.

That this is deranged, maniacially stupid, loonie, rampantly cretinous, and absurd beyond the very concept of God as Three In One Oil, goes without saying, although I did just say it, and I said it rather entertainingly, too. However, it's what Marvel and DC do. (DC didn't always do this. In the mid 70s, Steve Englehart wrote a truly badly conceived 'untold origin' of the Justice League that was set in the mid 50s, and that featured, in addition to the Leaguers we all know, other stalwarts like Congorilla and Rex the Wonder Dog, fighting Martian invaders.

And in that story, an editorial caption informed us that 'superheroes have their own ways of remaining young!'... a truly astonishing assertion utterly mindboggling in its implications, and singular not only for those implied consequences, but for being perhaps the only explanation for rubber comic book entropy WORSE than constant updating of history.) Because DC constantly updates the history of its characters, the members of the JSA... whom, as I have mentioned, are rather firmly date stamped by their involvement in WWII... are, well, just increasingly ludicrous with each passing year. Unless we start assuming that the Golden Age Green Lantern, Hawkman, Flash, and Red Tornado were all, say, 3 years old in 1940, they simply have to be doddering relics by now, far more suitable to intensive care hospice beds than fisticuffs with the Secret Society of Supervillains... and this will never get better; in fact, it gets worse with each Earthly revolution.


The only reason the JSA were active at all in the DC modern mainstream prior to Crisis was Roy's insistence on using them as supporting characters in INFINITY, as well as their yearly crossovers with the JLA. Having Roy accede to what was most likely a long standing editorial request that those goddam geezers be gotten the hell offstage must have seemed like a godsend to the DC editorial staff.

However, Roy couldn't bear to kill them off, so instead, he shuffled them into some truly appalling alternate dimension where they were caught in a time loop, fighting Ragnarok over and over again, thus heroically and endlessly staving off the end of all reality. Which was where they stayed, legitimate casualties of the Crisis, for most of a decade, until finally Len Strazewski managed to talk the powers that be into letting him do a historical Justice Society mini series to see if there might be any interest in the characters if, you know, someone who could actually WRITE handled them. DC's bravery in allowing Strazewski to do this, and in giving him the talented Mike Parobeck to draw the mini series, was astounding, since up to that point, every modern JSA comics project had sold very nearly as well as blocks of Velveeta cheese-food carved into little Whoopie Goldberg statuettes. However, apparently someone in authority realized it might not actually be the JSA, but rather, Roy Thomas himself at fault, and they gave the mini the nod, with the result that a few years later, an updated, modern, mainstream version of JSA is one of DC's better selling titles.

(It's worth noting that when the Strazewski JSA mini was originally announced, Roy Thomas reportedly called up one of DC's more influential editors and screamed bloody murder about DC letting someone else write HIS characters. Roy was, according to my source, told that comics shop owners already had quarter bins full of Thomas JSA projects like LAST DAYS OF THE JSA that no one wanted to buy, and they would not be strongly inclined to order any other JSA projects with his name on them. To which I say, yay, comics shop owners. You rock.)

With the Justice Society, in fact, we have perhaps the first example of a concept and group of characters who were, actually, victims of Crisis, and its subsequent editorial "out with the old, in with the new" mandate, and who were later rehabilitated from that status and resurrected into some sort of viability within the modern DC mainstream.

Now let's move on to the larger victims of Crisis. For Crisis did not simply slay individual heroes and villains, or even concepts, backgrounds, and origins. No, Crisis was perhaps the most sweepingly enacted piece of imaginary genocide ever conceived of or enacted; more comprehensive even than FRED HEMBECK DESTROYS THE MARVEL UNIVERSE. After all, Fred, in his poorly drawn godlike power, limited his murderous depradations to ONE metareality. Crisis... Crisis wiped out millions of alternate timelines, and everybody in them, as well.

Some of those timelines, it must be admitted, deserved to go in the celestial toilet. Earth-3, where Columbus was an American who discovered Europe, and therefore, it logically follows that all superhumans were actually villains (it... I... they... we... look, just, don't even ask, okay?), while a beloved concept of thousands of fans (including myself) who had read the original story when they were 8 and thought it was really cool to see evil versions of the JLA just whomp up on the good guys, was simply goddam STUPID, and had to GO. (I note in passing that Grant Morrison's recent JLA graphic novel, EARTH-2, has pulled this concept back out of the cosmic leechfield, making it another entry on the 'killed by Crisis, but later resurrected' roll, and, apparently, returning to the DC Universe, in some way or another, the Crime Syndicate of America as more or less valid and legitimate villains.)

Another alternate timeline that badly needed blowing up was Earth-C, the home of Captain Carrot and his Zoo Crew, and Earth C 1/2, which was home of a superteam featured in comic books on Earth-C, the Justa Lot of Animals. Surely there is a particular circle of Hell reserved for so called 'creators' who attempt to cross germinate the funny animal sub genre with the superhero subgenre, in which said creators spend eternity buried to the upper lip in cartoon rabbit guano while badly animated cats and mice torture them by packing their various orifi with red hot beetles that occasionally, and at random, explode. Along with Earth-3 and Earth-C, we also had other spectacularly lousy, 'let's create a whole universe as a plot device for one bad story' Earths such as Earth-X, a world where the Axis powers won World War II and a group of truly rotten Golden Age Fawcett characters had formed together into the Freedom Fighters to, you know, fight for freedom. There was also the 'sure, what the hell' type of alternate Earth best personified by things like Earth-S, where all the Captain Marvel family characters lived.

All these universes, and just great big larruping gobs more, died like flies during the Crisis, although presumably, since the Freedom Fighters and the Captain Marvel Family still exist in the post Crisis DC Universe, they managed to jump into interdimensional lifeboats right before the end. In addition, the Golden Age Superman, Harbinger, and the Earth-Prime Superboy (Don't. Ask.) all also got whacked by Crisis, in some way we will never understand, as they went traveling off into a big glowing light (ignoring the very short woman standing off to the side shrieking "Stay away from the light! Stay away from the light!") and were never seen again. One presumes that they are, actually, y'know, DEAD... this is the general symbolism/mythology that our culture has come to associate with 'going into the light', after all... but, for some reason, a decision was made that THESE characters couldn't be graphically and heroically killed off in battle like Flash or Supergirl. Since no one, not even Paul Kupperberg, writes a worse heroic sacrifice scene than Marv Wolfman, we should probably be grateful.

I think there were some Western characters that were killed off by Crisis, too, but I honestly can't remember, and in all sincerity, don't care.

Mention, in passing, of the Golden Age Supeman, a bit above, reminds me of the Golden Age Batman, which reminds me of a few other specific Crisis casualties, namely, the Golden Age Robin and the original Huntress. All of which leads into another, probably lengthy digression. However, I can already see that it offers ample opportunity to bash on Roy Thomas and Paul Levitz some more, and honestly, how could I pass that up? To wit, then:

Going into Crisis, back when it was still being called by the working title Earth-Zero, it seems to have been pretty much understood by DC's editorial and creative staff that the primary purpose of the whole damned square dance was, basically, getting rid of Earth-2. Nearly 30 years after Gardner Fox had first introduced the Earth-1/Earth-2 juxtaposition in the thoroughly delightful "Flash of Two Worlds" story, enough general creative, editorial, and even fannish grumblings and vague discontents about the ongoing juxtaposition of these parallel worlds, one of which represented the Golden Age of Comics, the other of which just as clearly represented the Silver Age, finally came to a head. A decision was reached, and that decision apparently was that DC's continuity, which at that time stretched back to the very first publication of Superman in the late 30s, had to be clarified. Streamlined. Simplified. Cleaned up. Pruned. Revised. Despeckled. Smoothed out. Use whatever editorial euphemism you want, the intent was clear: something that was perceived as a mess (or, as has already been mentioned, a "pulsating hunk of double talk") had to be dumped in the trash.

This wasn't, of course, a simple matter, because no clear temporal dividing line could be drawn. When you have 50 years of continuity, you tend to have a lot of interweaving throughout the history of that continuity. As can be seen in the examples throughout this article, it's hard to simply say "Okay, everything from 1980 back gets chucked". However, one thing was pretty clear: whatever wound up surviving into the new, Earth-Zero DC Universe, would not number amongst its ranks any alternate dimensions. That, in fact, was what the whole "Earth-Zero" working title was about: no more Earth-Prime, Earth 1, Earth 2, Earth 3, Earth X, Earth S, Earth C, Earth whatever the hell. Nuh uh. It was all going; DC's continuity was going to be boiled down to ONE timeline, and everything that survived had to be made consistent into one non-branching linear historical event-stream.

Oh, aspects of DC's history, previously relegated to the ghetto of Earth-2, would be conserved. No one wanted to get rid of the Justice Society of America's place in the past; they made, in fact, a wonderful 'period' superteam and forerunner to the more modern JLA. And no one, at that time, wanted to get rid of INFINITY INC.; in fact, another persistent rumor still insists that one of the main motivators for CRISIS was the retrospectively insane idea that if DC got rid of Earth-2 and put the Infinitors on the same planet as the rest of the modern heroes, their book would start to sell well.

However, various of DC's 'big gun' characters presented special problems. Superman and Batman, for specific example, had both been around for 50 years. One of the charming effects of the Earth 1/Earth 2 continuity implant had been that the longevity of those careers could be explained. There were actually two different Batmans, and two different Supermans. One set had fought crime in the Golden Age, on Earth-2, and been charter members of the Justice Society; the other pair had debuted much later in time, on Earth-1, and been charter members of the Justice League.

This same effect was used to explain the way a more modern DC Comics had gone about reviving Golden Age character concepts in rather revised, updated Silver Age versions... the Golden Age versions of the Flash, Hawkman, Green Lantern, and the Atom all lived on Earth-2, while the Silver Age, more modern, often rather vastly changed, versions lived on Earth-1. Eventually, this effect was applied on a rather sweeping basis to every modern DC character who had ever had any sort of Golden Age career, such as Wonder Woman, and even Green Arrow, who also gained an Earth-2 doppelganger, although that particular character was singular in that he was not a member of the Justice Society.

Other Golden Age characters whom, for whatever reasons, DC's modern editors did not choose to revise and update, remained more or less unique to Earth-2, like Hourman, Starman, Johnny Thunder, the Red Tornado, etc. (This later became rather confused under Roy Thomas in the singular case of the character known as Manhunter, when Roy stuck the Golden Age Manhunter in the background of several large group shots of the Justice Squadron of America, who were at that time still on Earth-2.

This was rather perplexing, because this Manhunter was one of the few Golden Age characters who had actually been established as existing on Earth-1, through the expedient of being revived, after suspended animation, and given a new costume and somewhat new superpowers in a modern, Silver Age version who eventually teamed up with the modern, Silver Age Batman - thus establishing definitively his presence on Earth-1 - shortly before dying. Apparently, Paul Kirk has the singular distinction of being alive on both Earths at the same time period, although whether or not the Earth-2 Manhunter was put in suspended animation and revived in the modern day must remain a moot point, since Earth-2 no longer exists. Paul Kirk is apparently also singular for being the ONLY Golden Age superhero to exist on Earth-1, where all the other superhumans waited until the late 50s or early 60s to make their debuts.

Fortunately, with the reduction of all the various alternate Earths to one blended planet/dimension/timestream, it no longer matters, but for a while there, it was a little bit bewildering. I honestly think Roy Thomas never even realized he'd made a mistake.) Even later, the original Black Canary actually bodily crossed the dimensional barrier to Earth-1, joined the Justice League, and became, in effect, her own Silver Age version.

That this was, especially for the Black Canary, a rather nonsensical and absurd telescoping of natural entropy was something that, amazingly, escaped the notice of fans and pros alike for nearly thirty years. Simply put, no one actually paid any attention to the fact that the JLA's premiere female acrobat and martial artist had had a prominently documented and acknowledged crimefighting career starting just prior to World War II, and therefore, pretty much had to have been born somewhere around 1923. In the late 1960s, when she first joined the JLA, this would put the character in her early 40s... not too great a stretch; she might have great genes, good make up skills, and clearly, she worked out a lot. However, by the time Crisis rolled around, Green Arrow's still apparently youthful 'pretty bird' had to be pushing 60, and, well, now that we're on the verge of the 21st Century, she's just WAY too old to be vaulting around kicking the Catwoman in the face.

It was little glitches like, well, all of the above, along with the apparent confusion of young fans who did not understand why the Superman we occasionally saw in INFINITY INC. was, like, OLD, and the Green Lantern over there had that really stupid costume, that really led DC to believe that it simply had to do something to simplify and update its continuity. And, as I mentioned, the 'big gun' characters, who had pretty much identical versions in both Golden and Silver Ages, presented particular problems.

Much of the Earth-2 continuity... anything DC's editors wanted to salvage, in other words, like the historical career of the JSA, and the present day existence of Infinity, Inc... could simply be brought over to the new, post Crisis reality relatively intact. However, it went without saying that the Golden Age Superman could not be made to co-exist with the Silver Age Superman. It would simply be too confusing. Similarly, the Silver Age Wonder Woman and the Golden Age Wonder Woman could not be placed on the same Earth. And the Golden Age Batman, while conveniently dead for years in the pre Crisis Continuity, still had lent his legacy to other characters, like the Earth-2 Robin, who was not only an adult who had taken up his mentor's mantle, but was actually, in the early days of the 'modern' JSA, depicted as having some grey hairs himself (as well he should, given that the character debuted at the age of 10 in the early 40s, and as such, should have been in his 40s or 50s by the time the 1970s and 1980s rolled around).

Further complicating things was the fact that in the late 70s, Paul Levitz had created, as a back up series for one of the Batman titles, a character named The Huntress, who was the adult daughter of the Earth 2 Batman and his wife, Catwoman. The character was one that intrigued fans, for various reasons no one has ever been able to adequately figure out. Basically a more modern and much more violent version of Batgirl, she had an admittedly better looking costume, an actual sex life (which, towards the end of her pre Crisis, Earth 2 career, rather queasily began to involve her with the adult Dick Grayson, who was in some weird way both a foster brother and honorary uncle), and although she never really managed to support her own title, there was clearly some sizzle to the character that DC would have liked to conserve... an impulse that we can see reflected in the fact that 'the Huntress' has been one of the most revived and tinkered with characters in the Post Crisis DC continuity.

In the end, Crisis wound up simply killing both characters in action, since there was really no way to justify either of them in the new, streamlined timeline. And, although we briefly saw the graves of both characters in, of all places, THE LAST DAYS OF THE JUSTICE SOCIETY, it wasn't long before the winds of changing entropy erased all memory that the characters had ever actually existed from all the survivors and inhabitants of the post Crisis DC Earth.

And when the dust settled in the new, streamlined timeline, we similarly discovered that there had never been a Golden Age Superman or Batman... that, in fact, the Modern Age versions of those characters were the first, the original, the only, the unique, Superman and Batman. They were unprecedented. There had never been a Superman or Batman in the 1930s, 40s, or 50s, nor had any such characters ever been members of the Justice Society of America. (Studying these two characters 'now you see it, now you don't' status as members of the post Crisis Justice League is very nearly a microcosm of just how ineptly DC has handled the establishment of any sense of coherent continuity in their post Crisis timeline. Batman and Superman pop in and out of the Justice League's history, sometimes as charter members, sometimes not, every time a new writer takes over any of half a dozen different titles that reflect somewhat on that history. I myself am also currently unclear as to whether, in the post Crisis DC Universe timeline that exists this week, Batman has ever had anything to do with The Outsiders, or if that particular team is even considered to have existed any more.)

One of the truly good ideas that came about at the end of Crisis (as opposed to the plethora of spectacularly bad ones that bloomed in the post-Crisis DC soil like some sort of horrible weed of a truly terrible crime) was to do a new SECRET ORIGINS comic series which would basically present the revised origins and history of all the post Crisis DC characters. This was a very intelligently conceived concept, and handled correctly, should have allowed some conscientious DC editor to step right in and shape for all us startled and yearning readers the brand new continuity in a straightforward, inarguable, and completely coherent format. I know that I and the few buddies I had back then who still read comics were pretty much united in our approval of the idea, when it was announced, and looking forward to seeing something, ANYthing, that would try to outline and explain exactly what we would be looking at, once the Crisis dust had settled. (Wolfman and Perez' two volume HISTORY OF THE DC UNIVERSE, which had been marketed as doing exactly that, was obsolete before the second volume came out, so many fans, disappointed by the fact that the 'definitive timeline' laid down in that pricey set had been invalidated before they finished reading it, were ready to fasten on the new SECRET ORIGINS series with both hands, if only it would do a better job.)

Instead of that, though, we got a series that basically was nothing from its deranged first issue to its ignominious last one but a Roy Thomas vanity show.

The very first issue set the tone for the entire series, and signaled pretty clearly to anyone with half a brain that if you were looking for a coherent presentation of the post Crisis DC Universe, you hadn't better look too hard in SECRET ORIGINS. This is because that very first issue was divided between two stories, both written by Roy Thomas, which re-presented the Secret Origins of (you're really not going to believe this) The Golden Age Superman and The Golden Age Batman.

I know. I know. Honestly, you're not saying anything right now that I didn't say, more loudly and profanely, upon seeing the comic for the very first time. The series that was supposed to give us a definitive, character by character, depiction of the new DC continuity was starting off... with stories of characters that everyone agreed did not exist and had never existed in the new DC continuity.

I can't explain Roy's 'reasoning', because, well, in my opinion, Roy Thomas is a self indulgent hack who shouldn't have been allowed to even tour the offices of any major comics company, much less work for them in anything other than a janitorial capacity. Worse than this, he's at best a mediocre writer, at worst a truly lousy one, and nearly always, just plain nuts. What was going through his addled, daffy mind when he decided to devote the first issue of the new SECRET ORIGINS to stories that actually had no bearing whatsoever on anything relating to the actual new fictional reality the series was supposed to define, I have no idea. What was, in fact, going through the minds of DC's editorial staff in allowing Roy to hijack the SECRET ORIGINS concept, which should have been the keystone in their whole post Crisis continuity arch, I similarly have no clue. The best I can do is to reprise, from memory, Roy's introductory caption to the issue, which went something along the lines of "Although these characters have now, officially, never existed... once they did. And we remember them. And so, as a gesture of our fond memory, we now present these stories of how they began... because while they may be gone from our history, they will never be gone from our hearts". Or some such twaddle.

SECRET ORIGINS, if anything, went downhill from there. When it was used the way it had been originally intended to be used, it enacted horrors, such as the previously mentioned revised origin for Power Girl, in which it turns out that in some truly unintelligible and appalling fashion, the character is somehow the grand daughter of Arion, Warlord of Atlantis. (Try and make up a worse revised origin for the character. Go ahead. I'll give you two weeks and allow you to use Captain Carrot and his Zoo Crew, if you want, plus the entire casts of GILLIGAN'S ISLAND, MELROSE PLACE, and TITANS.

I'll bet you can't. And mind you, 'worse' can't just be 'more stupid', that's too easy. It also has to be 'more wildly inappropriate to the character's powers and modern day presentation, and at least as goddam boring'. There's no way. Like SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE, Paul Kupperberg's revised origin for Power Girl holds some sort of dubious but spectacular trophy for All Time Worst In Its Field.) Most of it, though, was monopolized by Roy Thomas, who used it to give us Secret Origins of a lot of obscure Golden Age characters no one actually cared about (like a blatant Spirit rip off called "Midnight" that only Roy would have been creatively challenged enough to dredge up and include in DC's World War II continuity).

Still, we're ranging pretty widely from our thesis, here, which was, originally, to simply give some sort of categorical list of the characters and concepts actually slain by the events of the miniseries CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS. Not that it matters much, since no one is paying me for all this babble and maybe four people other than me will ever read this thing, anyway.

I could make a pretty good argument that Hal Jordan was killed off by Crisis, as well, since the Hal Jordan of the Silver Age bore very nearly no resemblance to the Hal Jordan who was redefined in the truly appalling Jim Owsley EMERALD DAWN mini series. (I think E.D. was drawn by Mark Bright, and it's probably unfair to heap all the blame on Mr. Owsley, but as others have noted before, I tend to put most of the credit and/or blame for actual story material on the writer, not the artist.) Even leaving aside this bizarre drunken frat dude doppelganger that took Hal's place post Crisis, I could still make an argument that Crisis at the very least sewed the seeds of his doom, since Crisis was the instigating factor that turned Hal Jordan into a so called supervillain named Parallax, and eventually killed him.

Still, that's an ephemeral argument at best, and I'm too tired to make it. Ultimately, Kevin Dooley killed Hal Jordan, and someone should at the very least slap him two or three times for it really hard.

So. The CRISIS body count, at least, as far as my aging, wheezing, extremely fatigued mind can recall right at this moment, runs like this:

Kamandi. Superboy. Supergirl. The Legion of Superheroes. Mon-El. The Golden and Silver Age Wonder Women. Power Girl, as the Earth 2 Supergirl. Fury, as the daughter of the Golden Age Wonder Woman. Barry Allen. Wonder Girl, as anything remotely sensible. The Silver Age Hawkman. The Golden Age Superman and his entire supporting cast, which would pretty much include every surviving character who had ever appeared in the very first superhero comic strip ever published. The Earth-Prime Superboy. Earths 2, 3, X, C, C 1/2, and S, among an infinity minus 4 of others. Captain Carrot and his Zoo Crew. The Justa Lotta Animals. The Crime Syndicate of America. The Earth 2 Robin and the Earth 2 Huntress. General Zod, Jax Ur, Dev Em, and every other Kryptonian character other than Superman. The versions of Jor El and Lara with hair.

I suspect some of the dopier Classic Superman supporting characters also died during Crisis, like blatant Popeye ripoff Captain Strong, and the panty and vest clad superhuman Sonny Bono look-alike known as Vartox. However, their deaths, as far as I know, did not actually occur on panel, they were simply quietly dropped into a waste can, which was then surreptitiously booted under someone's desk. And, honestly, it's hard to blame those who handled the post Crisis Superman continuity for not reviving any of THOSE hosers.

And probably at least a few more I'm forgetting, right at this minute. And some of those have since been dusted off and resurrected, like the Crime Syndicate of America, and at least one of them, the Earth-Prime Superboy, is too silly for words, anyway. Oh, and Crisis itself outright resurrected Superman's adoptive parents, Ma and Pa Kent, who as far as I know are, in the current continuity, still alive and well in Smallville, God love 'em.

(In fact, given that Superboy and Superman, pre Crisis, were both constantly trying to travel back in time and prevent the Kents from dying... what the Kents died from changed in every story, but the fact that they croaked, that Superboy was helpless to prevent it, and that even Superman, through the agency of time travel, was also helpless to undo it, remained one of the constants of Superman's life... I myself theorize that the Crisis was not actually caused by the Anti-Monitor. Instead, it was caused when finally, somehow, Superman was successful in altering history and keeping his adoptive parents alive... and somehow, some effect of that rippled through history and kicked off the Crisis. So now the Kents are alive, but an infinite number of universes, and a lot of good characters, are dead. Fortunately, Superman has no memory of doing it... or at least, that's his story and he's rather obstinately sticking to it.)

And, while this article is mostly an entirely pointless exercise in bitter, middle aged nostalgia, it occurs to me that this catalogue of the various failures, mistakes, and horrifying consequences of DC's attempt to divorce itself from many decades of cumbersome continuity may actually have some relevance to current events in superhero comics, as well. Because it looks like Marvel, at long last, is hesitantly and in a thoroughly aimless, half assed, 'let's try hard to sneak up on this in such a way as the X-MEN fans don't notice us doing it' way, getting ready to try the same thing, with their gradual introduction of their ULTIMATE comics lines, and the much larger, newsstand targeted, glossy magazine format versions of those same ULTIMATE issues.

Marvel seems to think they're learning from DC's mistakes. Rather than announcing a massive continuity update and doing it all at once in one hugely touted, vastly selling miniseries, they're trying to avoid virtually all notice by doing it gradually, carefully test marketing each change before they make it, and keeping around the non Ultimate versions of their titles as well, so they aren't committed to anything.

This is not, however, the proper way to go about learning from DC's mistakes. The proper way is simple: Don't. Do. It.

Certain contingents of fans are always going to whine, and the most vocal of those whiners are always going to be the adolescent and young adult age groups. And while this is the preferred target audience of all television advertisers, Marvel should try to keep in mind that adolescents and young adults these days are not spectacularly literate, have vanishingly short attention spans, are massively overstimulated, and as a general rule and for the overwhelming most part, would far rather spend a couple of bucks on renting something that moves and makes noise and that maybe they can interact with, than on a 22 page comic book... whether the continuity in the comic book is complex and detailed, or streamlined and simple. As such, Marvel would do well not to make all its creative decisions on the basis of what it thinks the 14 to 23 year old market wants.

That's the real lesson to be learned from Crisis: decades and generations of elaborate continuity is not something awful that should be discarded. Properly used, it is an invaluable and irreplaceable asset to any creative endeavor. Throwing it out is simply stupid.

Don't. Do. It.

It's too late for DC. They should really just give up on their comics line and concentrate on the next Batman movie.

* * * * * * * * * *

John Jones, the Manhunter from Marathon, IL,no longer dwells in Marathon, IL. He realizes that he is probably the only comics reader left in this particular universe who still actually cares about what happened during the Crisis on Infinite Earths. However, as with many things he realizes, he also just doesn't care. If you honestly think he should write about things that have more relevance to modern day comics, especially the ones you think are really cool, like HITMAN and PREACHER and THE AUTHORITY and TRANSMETROPOLITAN, then you should send him a great deal of money and he might. Send those offers pouring in to martianmanhunter2@juno.com.

Want more MARTIAN VISION? You know what to do!

CONTINUITY ON BIZARRO-EARTH

By John Jones, Manhunter from Marathon, IL


I am, frankly, astounded.

A few weeks ago... maybe not even that long (it all gets hazy whenyou're as old as I am) I was doing a little webcruising, trying totrack down a site that might verify for me just which AVENGERS writer had originated the trademark Beast line "Oh my stars andgarters!" (Never mind. You don't even want to know why.) One of the search results took me to a web page that, as it turned out,was part of an extremely large and extensive and amazingly impressive site dedicated to the Silver Age of comics. The textposted there was generally articulate, amusing, entertaining, and frequently hilariously funny. I'm not gonna name the fan that wrote it here, because, well, there seems no point to it. Given some of the viewpoints I'm about to propound, it might even seemlike I'm attacking him. And, really, I'm not. I enjoy the site, for the most part, and I enjoy his writing.

But some of the things I learned on this site... well, as I say, they frankly astound me.

One of the chiefest among these is the strange notion that apparently, just as video killed the radio star, so too, has continuity killed the comic book industry.

I mean... WHAT?

I've been reading comics since the mid to late 60s (when I was a wee small tot and sneaking into my Uncle Rick's room to hide under the bed and read SUPERBOY and JIMMY OLSEN because I knew he'd just kill me if he caught me) and collecting them, since, I don't know, 1973 or so, when I bought an issue of CAPTAIN AMERICA AND THE FALCON off the newsstands for, I think, 20 cents (I can't rememberthe issue number, but it was the wrap up of the Cowled Commander storyline). I bought and kept comics for the rest of the 70s and the early 80s, although I nearly fell out of the hobby twice: once after Gerry Conway forced my two favorite writers to leave Marvel and then, a few years later, after Crisis took one of my beloved imaginary realities away from me. Since then, I have barely hung in there, buying, over the course of the last 20 years, no morethan maybe half a dozen comics per month.

Okay. On a real busy month back in the early or mid 90s, maybe a dozen titles.

My perspective is no doubt a weird one, being, as it has been, that of a person most definitely non-immersed in comic books, but still passionately interested in same, for the last two decades.

What I have seen, over the course of the last three decades, since I first began reading comic books, is a steady decline in the sales figures and general readership of the comic books I was mainly interested in, superhero titles. At the same time, I have also seen a steady rise in the general awareness most people have of the characters that populate said comic books. In the early 70s, a majority of the general population had heard of Superman and Batman, but not from the comic books... they'd heard of them from their respective TV shows. Wonder Woman was, right about then, due to become well known as well... also from her own TV show. As time would go on and the special effects necessary to the commercially successful adaptation of more and more super characters became economically feasible, more and more comic books saw themselves adapted to TV and film.

Okay, let's hold that thought for a minute and go back in time a bit to the 1940s. The so-called Golden Age of Comics. When MILLIONS of people of all age ranges - kids, teenagers, young adults - read comic books. And threw them away. I'm not kidding, this was status quo for comic books back then. I mean, for God's sake, if millions of issues of a particular comic were printed a month, how could the few surviving copies that still exist today be worth anything if the vast majority of them HADN'T been thrown away? Comic book collecting was virtually unknown, back then, and the few people - kids or adults - who actually did want to, and manage to, toss their comics in a box and keep them, hadn't the vaguest clue about things like polybags and nitrogen-free environments and all that good happy-crappy.

Now let's fast forward a little bit to the early Silver Age, when, well, hundreds of thousands of people read comic books. Kids, teenagers, young adults... for the most part... read comic books.

And a lot of them still threw the comics away when they were done (or their parents did). I tell you, no lie, that a good half of my comic book collection in my early teens came from three other guys I knew whose parents let them buy comics and read them... but wouldn't let them KEEP 'em. And I have read, over and over again in various fannish memoirs over the years, about the comic book collections trashed by condemning parents. People reading comics and throwing them out was still pretty common, and among the nascent 'fan' base - i.e., my generation, the kids of the time - you were lucky if you had a set of parents who didn't condemn comics out of hand, or at the very least, ones understanding enough to respect your privacy and not routinely search your bedroom for contraband.

Now hit the FF button again to the late Silver Age (by my standards; I posit the death knell of the Silver Age as being the publication of GIANT SIZE X-MEN #1). Sales figures have dropped by more than half, but by this time, which for me is my last couple of years of high school, many of the kids I know who like comic books also collect them. Parents seem to have lightened up a ton on the ol' funny books. At the same time, though, apparently, there are far fewer kids reading comic books than there ever have been in the past.

Adults who read comic books, as far as I know, are all but unknown. My Uncle Rick, whose bedroom, you may remember, I once used to sneak into so I could read his comic books, has not only stopped reading comics long since (he's eleven years older than me, just so y'all can keep track) but he no longer more than vaguely even remembers them. My mom occasionally reads my comic books, and she's the only grown up I know who even has the slightest interest in them. On the other hand, virtually every kid I go to school with knows who Batman, Superman, Spider-man, Wonder Woman, and the Hulk are. Why? Because they've been on TV, and Spider-man has a newspaper strip.

I'm very carefully laying a mosaic here, tile by tile. I want to proceed very cautiously, because when I get that far, I'm going to be saying some things that, apparently, are going to be controversial in today's comic fan environment... although, to ME, they're just common sense.

The circulation of comic books steadily declined throughout the 80s. It bumped up again in the early 90s, by, like, a TON, although I'll admit, it did so mostly due to the relatively brief involvement of addlebrained speculators in the comics market who mistook comics, for a time, as the next big money collectible. Once THAT particularly insane frenzy worked itself through the industry, things fell off again... waaaaaaaay off.

As things currently stand in the industry, a 'best seller' moves an order of magnitude fewer units than an average seller for the Golden Age. A moderate seller might do 50,000 to 65,000 units a month in business. Even this is somewhat vague, because virtually all comics sales these days are DIRECT sales, meaning, if the shop doesn't sell the issue, they can't return them, they have to stick them in back issue bins and hope someone buys them. Still, it's generally hard to find recent back issues of best sellers, so we can assume that these figures are reasonably accurate.

Now, apparently, there are at least some intelligent, analytical comics pros and fans who look back over all this and wonder why the hell, if comic books were selling a million copies a month in 1947, the same comics, featuring, in a few instances, the same characters, sell only 60,000 copies a month now. They trace the steadily diminishing sales figures, and they compare these figures with what they feel they remember about what was happening with the product and the story content during this period, and they arrive, with a triumphant bellow, at a conclusion: It's that god damned continuity that did it.

To an extent, it's hard to fault them. The people who have made this claim live and breathe comic books, they are immersed in the mainstream and have been forever, and, perhaps coincidentally, many of them seem to be huge Grant Morrison fans, and Grant Morrison is on record early and often heaping scorn and derision on the entire concept of continuity. So, if Grant Morrison says continuity is EEEEEEvil, and if a glance back over what we know and remember about the development and evolution of storytelling in comic books also bears out that continuity has grown more essential to superhero comics at, seemingly, the same time sales figures have declined... well, by God, it must be true! Continuity sucks! Bring back Good Stories!

I have to tell you, I have my own somewhat different perspective.

First, I don't think there is any one particular influence or element that has solely been the bullet in the heart of the comic book industry. What we're seeing right now, as we finally approach the real dawn of the 21st Century (don't start with me on this 'when the new Millenium really starts' crap, either) is the end result of a great many factors, some of which I understand (I think) and some of which I, frankly, have no clue about. But let me lay out, again, slowly, piece by piece, what I have observed from my peculiar vantage point:

In my opinion, the absolute zenith of comic book storytelling is represented by 6 titles published at Marvel from the early to just after the mid 70s (if I am recalling correctly). Those titles are: Steve Gerber's DEFENDERS, MAN THING, and HOWARD THE DUCK, and Steve Englehart's AVENGERS, CAPTAIN AMERICA, and DR. STRANGE.

I know how that sounds, and honestly, I don't mean to short sheet anyone, but hey, everyone has their list of favorites. Assuming this article ever gets read by a reasonable cross section of comics fans, that paragraph above is going to occasion absolute HOWLS of outrage. What about WATCHMEN? What about DARK KNIGHT RETURNS? What about the Fox/Sekowsky JUSTICE LEAGUEs, the O'Neal/Adams BATMAN and GL/GA, the Kirby/Lee FANTASTIC FOURs, the Miller DAREDEVILS, and yaddity yaddity yippy yappy "... MY FAVORITE COMIC SERIES IN THE WORLD?"

In my opinion: The listed six titles have three elements in common that none of these others can possibly claim all three of: 1. They were sophisticated and intelligent, 2. They were FUN, and 3. They were primarily bought, read, enjoyed, and collected BY KIDS... yet all of them can be read with an equal, if entirely different level of enjoyment, by adults. And when I say 'by adults', I do not mean 'adults who first read these stories as kids, had these stories imprinted on them as kids, and thus, can still re enter that childlike viewpoint again when they reread them'. I'm not talking about adults who enjoy these comics as a sort of nostalgia, 'gee whiz, remember when' trip. I'm talking about adults who have never read these comics before in their lives, the kind of adults who would rather have a fist fight with Stone Cold Steve Austin than be caught dead reading a comic book... but whom, if you can actually find some way to make them sit down and READ one (blackmail usually works, or holding them at gunpoint), will be drawn into the storytelling like a Fred Pohl hero into a black hole, will eagerly read every single one they can get their hands on, and who will, upon arriving at the screeching, heartbreakingly abrupt 'DAMN Gerry Conway to HELL' end of the run of Gerber DEFENDERS, scrabble around in confused bewilderment, then turn to you with fearful but demanding eyes and say "Okay, where's the REST?"

(Then you have to tell them that there is no 'rest', that they really don't want to see what Gerry Conway and David Kraft did to the book for the years following, and that they'd just rip their eyes right out of their heads if they could see what DeMatteis had inflicted on the book in the early 80s... and it's just ugly.)

Find me a single other instance of 'my favorite comic book EVER' on any fan's list these days published between 1961 and 1998 that you can say THAT about (Okay, I can think of one... the Baron/Rude NEXUS... which was never remotely a sales success.)

The single point I'm trying to make in the above paragraph is that, as far as I can see, those six comic books were a peak of comic book storytelling...at least, in the fundamentally absurd superhero genre. They were comic books AS comic books, utilizing and exploiting the unique strengths of the medium (third person narrative captions, thought balloons, panel to panel graphic continuity with a visual 'pace' that could be varied, depending on the skill of the writer and the artist involved, to an enormous and at the same time, very delicate, degree). The plots of these stories were dense and layered, the concepts examined and explored in them were both breathtakingly cosmic and immediately, involvingly human. They were character driven, sophisticated fantasy capable of stimulating the intellect, the emotions, and the imagination.

They were also very concerned with continuity, but let's leave that aside for a moment.

Um, no. On second thought, let's not. Accepting, for a moment (as I do, and you may not, ever) that these six comic series ARE the zenith of all superhero comics storytelling... let's just look at how important the much maligned 'continuity' WAS to the fundamental quality, or even, ongoing existence, of these comics.

Virtually every plot element in every series listed grew out of something that had been done, previously in that series, or elsewhere in the self contained, internally consistent, Silver Age Marvel Universe. The three Gerber books pretty much fed each other continuity bits, with Howard the Duck, for example, showing up for the first time in MAN-THING, and eventually crossing over into DEFENDERS. DEFENDERS itself, at its wildest, wackiest heydey, concerned itself deeply with previously established Marvel continuity, like Nebulon, the Celestial Man, and a bunch of old characters from single shot horror stories Gerber dug out and gathered together into the biggest pack of nutty supervillains you EVER saw, the Headmen. Engleharts's books were equally heavy in their continuity emphasis; in fact, storylines he started in CAPTAIN AMERICA he later finished in AVENGERS, at one point. A large part of stories he ran in both CAPTAIN MARVEL and AVENGERS centered around the history of the famous "Blue Area" of the Moon... perhaps Englehart's own most enduring addition to the Marvel continuity canon, and one directly deriving from Kirby and Lee's previous work on FANTASTIC FOUR.

Continuity was a key part to these stories, and in all honesty, I don't think it had anything to do with the fact that they only sold, oh, around 150,000 to 300,000 copies a month.

I will tell you what continuity did have DIRECTLY to do with: the fact that in the early to late 70s, the vast majority of the comic books I bought and enjoyed were published by Marvel. DC had some books I liked too... Carey Bates SUPERMAN and FLASH and SUPERBOY were all favorites of mine, and I would occasionally pick up and enjoy a DETECTIVE or BATMAN from around then, too, usually written by O'Neil or Robbins, and almost always drawn by Irv Novick... but it was the Marvel comics I loved, and the reason for it was simple: they seemed more REAL to me.

In DC comics at that time, the heroes were absurdly powerful. The scripts, in the hands of those who knew how to handle them (in other words, Carey Bates) were a great deal of childish fun, but nothing ever seemed to change in those comics, and nothing of any real lasting emotional interest ever happened. One had to continually, not really suspend one's disbelief, but just sort of accept one's disbelief numbly, after the Flash spent another 22 pages or so finding a way to defeat the bizarre machinations of the Mirror Master, when we were all aware from the splash page onward that in point of fact, Flash can move faster than this jerk can think, so why is he having any problem with the doofus AT ALL? By the age of 13, I had long since realized that there WAS no actual, valid reason WHY there was any crime or injustice at ALL on the DC Earth. Superman, the Flash, and Green Lantern, between them, could have fairly easily mounted an omniscient and omnipotent 24 hour global patrol against EVERYTHING remotely bad on Earth 1. And they were apparently smart enough to realize this, and heroic enough to DO it (remember, they could have traded off 8 hour shifts), and hell, after the first week of round the clock Justice From Above, Take Cover Evildoer! activity, crime would have dropped off to near non-existence. They didn't do it because, well, the editors didn't want them to. All of which made the DC Universe, at that point, just kind of fundamentally silly to me. I read the stories, I enjoyed them, but... I couldn't BELIEVE them.

Now, there are those in the hypothetical audience who are at this point going to leap up and say "Superheroes are fundamentally absurd, and if you're saying you have to be able to BELIEVE in the stories to enjoy them, you have PROBLEMS. What, after all, is so inherently believable about a guy with a supersoldier serum, an ancient Norse deity fighting bank robbers, or a billionaire in a set of armor so advanced that we don't have a hope of duplicating a tenth of its everyday functions even now?" All of which is a valid point... if you accept that this is an issue that can only be answered by one extreme or another... either you suspend your disbelief totally and accept the most absurd nonsense if it's a fun story, or you demand absolutely credible and believable storylines and characters no matter what, except that they have superhuman abilities and wear costumes and spend much of their free time having fist fights.

However, I don't like those two extremes. I want something in the middle. I want superheroes, yes. People with superhuman powers, with perhaps somewhat more extreme moral codes and, maybe, a somewhat morally simpler world. People who wear cool costumes, and yes, people who occasionally, or even often, settle their differences in viewpoints by knocking each other through a building or two. However... I would also like those superheroes to be treated with some degree of realism and depth. Which includes, having whoever is writing those characters treat their previously published adventures as representing actual historical events that have actually occurred to those characters... unless some satisfying and intelligent way is found to explain why they aren't and they didn't.

I'm not demanding ORDINARY PEOPLE with costumes. By the same token, I also don't want SUPERGOOF MONTHLY, either. What I want, basically, is a superhero comic book that doesn't insult my intelligence. I don't mind suspending my disbelief, but when I need a crane to do it, and when the things I'm willfully ignoring are just egregiously, blatantly, grotesquely STUPID... like the fact that a superhero who can run faster than the rate that nerve impulses travel back and forth from the human sensory receptors to the brain STILL somehow has a problem with a bunch of hosers whose basic powers are based on technological gimmickry they have to point and fire at him... or the fact that a character who began his crimefighting career as a young adolescent is now a young adult, and his adult partner/mentor hasn't aged a day in the meantime... or simply the fact that the flagship icon of a particular super universe somehow has the power to actually MOVE THE EARTH in its orbit, despite the fact that (a) it is impossible to intellectually comprehend a humanoid being that physically strong and (b) how physically strong you are doesn't MATTER when you have no solid place to stand on as you wouldn't if you were actually moving the Earth, and (c) any attempt made by any humanoid being strong enough to actually move the Earth would simply result in said person tunneling his way INTO the Earth... well.

Excuse me for preferring characters that, while superhuman, dressed in head to toe leotards, and frequently engaged in hand to hand combat with other guys similarly afflicted, nonetheless, seem to inhabit and interact with a world that operates on a somewhat more believable physical level.

At risk of sounding pedantic and childish at the same time, I want to say here that 'continuity' is not synonymous for 'evil' or 'stupid' or even 'too convoluted for anyone but an obsessive idiot savant to understand'. When those who apparently hate continuity say this, they invariably point to examples of comic books storytelling that I, myself, would not label, primarily, as continuity. What would I call them?

Bad writing.

Do you hate the last 20 years or so of X-MEN continuity? It's not the continuity you hate. It's the stories. They make absolutely no sense, and no one I know of claims to be able to actually explain them in any coherent manner. Do you hate the entire 80s post Crisis run on JUSTICE LEAGUE? Don't blame you, they sucked, but they have nothing to do with the continuity of the DC Universe at that time, for two reasons: first, the DC Universe at that time had no consistent continuity (and it blew because of it) and second, the editors kept telling us on the letters page that if we didn't like the way the characters were portrayed in that particular comic, we should consider those portrayals 'outside regular continuity'.

Did you hate all the big crossover events of the 80s and 90s? Okay, me too, but don't blame continuity, blame marketing policies that put sales gimmicks ahead of telling good, character driven stories.

Continuity, when written well and with respect, is that additional element in a fictional universe that makes it coherent and believable, and that allows characters we like from one area to meet characters we like from another area. It is also that thread that runs through the best fictional universes and that tells us that all the various adventures we have bought, read, and enjoyed about our various favorite heroes represent real, valid events in those character's lives, that the characters have been effected by, and will continue to remember and be effected by in the future.

Continuity is not a shackle or a straightjacket. If a new writer or editor comes onto a book and wants to 'undo' something that has been established before, they're free to do so... assuming they can come up with some way to do it intelligently and respectfully, that will keep the core concept of the character intact. This was the fundamental motivation underlying Crisis; to find an intelligent, respectful way to downsize and streamline a fictional multiverse that the marketing department felt had become too unwieldy and embarrassingly childish to allow them to write 'serious' stories about.

In short, DC wanted to do Marvel type, somewhat more realistic, stories with their characters. The characters' core concepts, power levels, and loooooooong histories, much of which were the product of earlier, less sophisticated times, mitigated against this... so DC decided to dump it all and basically start over.

Perhaps they had a point. I don't know. I hate Crisis with a blind, virulent passion, and it's hard for me to be objective. I understand that, basically, DC felt it was necessary for them to find a way to do comic books more like Marvel, and so, they undertook to do Crisis. But afterwards, for all I could see, they still didn't do Marvel style comic books. Nothing DC did post Crisis, or, for that matter, as far as I can see, pre-Crisis, has ever remotely compared with the stuff that two of comics best writers did at Marvel from 1972 to 1975. Nothing. Not the Roy Thomas ALL STAR SQUADRON, or the occasional brilliantly crafted little gems by Alan Brennart, or even Englehart's brief, wonderful run on GREEN LANTERN (at the point it turned into GREEN LANTERN CORPS it took a sudden hard spin into the toilet, but the nine issues or so leading up to that post Crisis transformation were frickin GREAT) or the Ostrander SUICIDE SQUAD... none of it can compare.

Moore's early work on SWAMP THING, and the entire run of Neil Gaiman's SANDMAN, I will admit here and now are as good as the six comics I listed as an all time best... but I don't think of them as superhero comics. I can't come up with a handy label for them other than 'fookin BRILLIANT', though. But they weren't superhero comics. However, for what it's worth, they are also very intensely built around a coherent and intricate internal continuity. Just more evidence for my 'continuity is not a BAD thing' argument.

Oh, yeah, and I'd be remiss not mentioning here that Scott McCloud's DESTROY! is the single most brilliant superhero comic ever done, but, you know, it's not part of any fictional universe I'm aware of, so continuity concerns hardly apply one way or the other. It's just, like, brilliant.

And what I'm bringing out of all this is something I deeply feel: that continuity, in and of itself, has little to nothing to do with the gradually steepening decline of the popularity of a uniquely American art form. Continuity is, at baseline, a good thing, something that, done right, elevates 'good fun comics stories' into something that can be ranked with quality adult fantasy in ANY medium. Yes, continuity can be twisted and contorted and made all but incoherent, but that isn't continuity's fault, any more than the abuses and distortions that 'writers' like Claremont and Byrne have heaped on various different characters over the years means that the very storytelling element of 'characterization' is, in and of itself, bad.

So, what do I think is responsible for comics dwindling popularity?

Well, as I said far above, I think it's a mixture of things, but if you put a gun to my head and make me pick out just one, I'm going to have to go along with a big vast crowd on this one and say:

Television.

Why was EVERYONE in the 40s buying comic books? Well, literacy was generally higher then, people read for pleasure more, other printed, graphic storytelling mediums like newspaper comic strips were hugely popular... and... well... in my cynical heart of hearts, I have to wonder just how much all of that might have had to do with the fact that the Idiot Box wasn't even science fiction at that point.

Why were more people in the 60s buying comic books than now? They didn't have as many channels on their TV, and there weren't as many superheroic power fantasies on TV. In 1967 or 1974, if you actually hankered for super powered science fiction adventure, or interesting and intelligent occult derived fantasy with costumed weirdos that hit each other in it, or any odd combination thereof, where did you go? Comics. That was pretty much it. The only SF on TV back then was STAR TREK, and let's remember that back then, TREK was considered a commercial failure. (I will continue my tradition of pissing off my hypothetical audience by also stating here that Trek has never, by any stretch of the imagination, been closer than maybe 10 A.U.s to being real, valid SF, anyway.) There was heroic fiction on TV back then, yes, but it was all well within the range of normal human endeavor. Westerns. Cop shows. Private eyes. You want someone who can fly, pick up a building, blow things up with a beam from their fist? Head for the spinner rack, folks. It wasn't on TV.

I will also take a moment here to point out something else: one of the general effects television seems to have, especially in prolonged exposures, is to kill the active imagination. It's not just me saying that. Harlan Ellison has written about forty pounds of high volume social commentary about it, and various studies have indicated that in fact, watching TV over a lengthy period causes an almost complete cessation of electrical activity in the areas of the brain associated with active visualization and creative conceptualization.

As comic books have declined, other entertainment media... mostly TV, but also film... have, on a more and more broad basis, adapted the themes and concepts of superhero comics into their own productions. I'm not just talking about specific comic book adaptations, although those have increased exponentially over the past few decades, as well. However, movies and TV shows utilizing comic book type superhuman, heroic, good vs. evil themes, have also proliferated. One no longer needs to go to the newsstand if one wants to see superhumans beating on each other. One can see it Saturday mornings on FOX and the WB, Monday nights on ROSWELL, Tuesday nights on BUFFY and ANGEL, and Friday nights on TIME AND AGAIN... and if you don't want to wait that long, you can tune in the Sci Fi Channel or the Cartoon Network any old time and have a decent chance of seeing SUPER FRIENDS, THE HULK, SPIDER MAN, THEADVENTURES OF LOIS AND CLARK, or WONDER WOMAN. You can see them for FREE, in your living room or bedroom.

This is more significant than most of the 'completely immersed' fans want to believe. The one thing we keep coming back to is that 'comics has lost its casual readers'. I agree. I just don't thinkit's 'continuity' that did it. There's plenty of continuity on various TV soap operas, (daytime or evening) and they have audiences numbering in the millions. The average teen age viewerright now could sit down and list off the cast and characters of every show on the WB Network and accurately chart all their relationships with each other, and some of that continuity isnearly as complex as the idiotic stuff in X-MEN that supposedly, is what's killing comics. If convoluted continuity is killing comic books, then it should also be killing BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, and trust me... it's not.

I believe that what has drawn the casual reader away from comic books is quite simply the fact that superhuman conflict is no longer the exclusive province of comics... and to the generations succeeding mine, specifically (I was born in late 1961) TELEVISION IS A PREFERABLE ENTERTAINMENT MEDIUM. Television has movement and sound effects. It shows real people, not flat pictorial representations of demonstrably fake people. It LOOKS more impressive. Again, going back to Harlan Ellison, he once commented that Hawkman was a character created for the wrong medium; he looks kind of boring on a page, but done correctly, he'd be impressive as hell on TV or in a movie. In point of fact, Hawkman is hardly the only super character this is true of. Few supercharacters don't look more impressive when translated to a moving, photographic medium, assuming one has the good sense to adapt the conventions ofcostumery from one genre to another.

Exactly why is all this true? Why is a particular character more appealing and commercially successful on TV, in film, or in a video game, than it is in a comic book?

Because TV, and film, and video games, over time, deaden the active imagination... and it takes active imagination to read, understand, and enjoy comic books. I submit it takes even MORE active imagination to read, understand, and enjoy comic books than it does to read a non-pictorial novel, or to enjoy a melodramatic radio serial adventure. Why? Because comics, the serial presentation of images and text in conjunction with each other, in a manner that simulates sound and motion without actually having either, requires a certain acquired 'knack' to read. It's a 'knack' that is easy to learn in childhood, and somewhat harder to learn as an adult, andthe reason for this is, it requires active imagination to make those flat images and words take on actual sound and motion. And if you don't believe me on any of this, go out and buy ScottMcCloud's excellent UNDERSTANDING COMICS, which goes into far more detail on this subject than I have time for.

For those of us who are still comics fan, this may be something that we don't give much thought to. We know how to read comics, to understand comics, to enjoy comics. We 'get it'. In fact, it has so much become our second nature that we really do not understand that to an adult who never read comics as a kid, comics are a somewhat frustrating medium. They're boring. They seem stupid. These folks can look at a panel to panel sequence that we think is absolutely stunning and all they'll say is 'real people don't look like that'. What we don't get is that they don't get it. They can't 'see' comics the way WE see them.

More and more adults these days grew up as kids in an environment filled with live action or animated storytelling mediums. Many of them learned to READ from live action or animated storytelling mediums, like SESAME STREET and its ilk. Sure they can READ, but they can't IMAGINE. For them, the images have always been presented to them in a box, and the images move, and make noise. To them, graphic storytelling is a three panel HAGAR THE HORRIBLE strip. Sophisticated graphic storytelling is DOONESBURY, which, lest we forget, almost never shows any actual movement in the depicted figures.

And if the ADULTS these days, of a generation or two behind me, are like this, I can only vainly try to imagine what today's KIDS are like. Other than to say that the active imagination necessary to turn a brilliant page of Jack Kirby panels with Stan Lee scripted word balloons and Artie Simek lettered sound effects into a sweeping panorama of exploding energy beams, flying costumed bodies, and stunning galactic backdrops... is going to be a very rare thing.

To an extent, this may explain some of the success of Image Comics, with their 'every single panel is a fight scene or an action pose' style. Such a lack of any sort of actual storytelling elements isn't going to matter to an audience that doesn't have the imagination to create a contextual link between the panels anyway.

I mean, is it really any surprise to anyone that the popularity of a largely textual medium, whose visual component is flat, silent, and motionless, has decreased, over a time period in which thepopularity of high impact, live action or animated entertainment mediums that move, and make sound, and have bright colors, and that occasionally blow up real good, has exploded exponentially?

And still, we're blaming the continuity?

Again, if continuity was a problem for the 'casual reader' we all agree has abandoned comic books, by and large, then TV shows like NYPD BLUE and BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and any daytime soap opera, would not have audiences in the millions. Or, to put it anotherway, if superhero comic books still had as many people buying them as paid for tickets to see any of the STAR WARS sequels... which depend on an intricate and consistent continuity... none of us would be worried about the future of the medium.

I understand that it's a lot more reassuring to blame continuity.Continuity is something that the industry could DO something about,after all. Marvel and DC could both launch reboots to get rid ofall their onerous back history and start all over again, althoughthis is only a temporary fix to continuity problems, since by nomeans is anyone even remotely trying to imagine that saiduniverses, post reboot, would not incorporate internal continuityas well. We could reboot every six years or so, just as soon asthe continuity thickets get too indecipherable. (Or we could justlet Alan Moore, Tom Peyer, Mark Waid, Roger Stern, ChristopherPriest, and Kurt Busiek write everything, in which case, thecontinuity would probably continue to make sense for a good longtime.) But the point is, if it's 'continuity' that's the problem,or the screaming of anal, obsessed, fixated fanboys (which I willpoint out now that, within this community, simply means 'any groupof my fellow comics fans who like a bunch of comics I don't',because, face it folks, we're ALL anal, obsessed, and fixated, orwe wouldn't be reading or writing all this crap), then we can DOsomething about that.

If, on the other hand, it's just a generally increasing contempt for any entertainment medium that doesn't jump around, scream like a banshee, and occasionally explode, then... well... we're BUMMIN'. Comics can't do that. Or, if they do, they will no longer be comics.

Unfortunately, I honestly think that we may be standing on the brink of developments in our technology and our social culture that will make literacy basically obsolete within another couple of generations. As Egon once remarked, "Print is dead". And when it goes... comics goes with it.

I know none of us like that or want to accept it, but please... let's stop blaming continuity, and PLEASE, let's stop blaming thoseof us who like continuity. I did not kill the comic book industry.

Hell, I didn't even kill the radio star.

* * * * * * * *

John Jones, the Manhunter from Marathon, IL, no longer dwells in
Marathon, IL. He also holds out little hope for the survival of
the printed word as a viable means of entertainment and/or
communication much longer than another three generations at most.
Barring, of course, global disaster, which is one reason he was
really hoping that the Lovebug Virus might just wipe out all the
Pentium processors and put us back to using text based editors
again. Oh, well...

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