Thursday, August 28, 2014

What I Bought 8/27/2014 - Part 1

From out of nowhere with a steel chair, comic reviews! Just a couple, though. I ordered some books online, mostly my continuing (never-ending) back issue hunts, but I did pick up two books that didn't get shipped to my comic guy, and one book I passed over the first time around because of price.

Daredevil #0.1, by Mark Waid (writer), Peter Krause (artist), John Kalisz (colorist), Joe Sabino (letterer) - This was originally a digital release back in February, then it was released in a physical form in July, with a $5 price tag. Yes, it's 44 pages, but 5 bucks still feels pretty steep (even though it's certainly a better per page cost than $4 for 20 pages), so I gave it a pass then. But I was able to get a somewhat discounted copy, and here we are.

Matt and Kirsten are on their way to San Francisco, to establish a new law practice there (Foggy is presumably being smuggled in by Hank Pym somehow). Their flight is delayed by weather in Milwaukee, and Matt notices a nervous passenger - without a heartbeat. Matt follows him into the restroom, the guy is understandably worried about being approached by a strange guy in an airport bathroom, and he smashes through the wall. Matt gives chase as Daredevil and just as he catches up, BAM! mysterious guys on motorcycles. Matt manages an insane little driving stunt to lose them so he can talk to the fellow. As it turns out, he's actually an Adaptoid built by the Mad Thinker, sent to impersonate a member of the U.N. Security Council so certain rules would be undone. He was supposed to self-destruct after completing his mission, but was so perfectly imitating a person, he couldn't. He impersonated someone else, and did it so well he forgot his true self for a time. But the Thinker doesn't like loose ends. Matt tries to take down the Thinker, but woefully underestimates a guy who has nearly destroyed the entire Fantastic Four, and is only saved because he's able to convince the Adaptoid it's a fake Thinker, so he doesn't have to follow the programming that prohibits him from striking at his creator. Exceppt the Adaptoid goes a overboard, and Matt has to kill it before it kills the Thinker.

It wasn't quite what I expected. I had anticipated we would see a series of small adventures as Matt traveled cross-country. Maybe he'd wind up on the trail of a serial killer, or just help a lot of different people in small ways while experiencing the country outside New York (hopefully Matt is not one of those East Coast snobs who scoffs at flyover country, though I wouldn't put it past him). Obviously that wasn't the case, but oh well. There are a couple of things in this of interest to me.

First is Matt's assertion that the Adaptoid isn't alive. Because it can only mimic other things? Because it doesn't have a heartbeat? Now I wonder about Matt's attitude towards the Vision, or Aaron Stack. I suppose Matt could be lying to himself. "Frank" wasn't supposed to be able to attack his creator. If that was really hardwired into him, would Matt saying the Thinker in the room with them has no heartbeat make a difference? Wouldn't the Thinker have built that into the programming? Yet Frank nearly beat him to death, though it caused his ultimate system crash. Matt seems awful sure of himself about what constitutes a living being in a universe with talking raccoons and tree, not to mention entire talking, thinking planets.

The other is that Matt's arrogance nearly costs him the whole thing. Waid, in his attempt to not make Matt so brooding, has played up his cockiness, to the point I occasionally find Murdock really irritating. He was so condescending towards the Shroud I wanted Max to kick his ass, for example. The one thing I come back to is something Waid demonstrated in the issue from the previous volume when Matt and Kirsten went on a date. Matt relates the story of Foggy being railroaded for plagiarism by their asshole professor, and Matt tries this faux trial to expose the professor. It nearly blows up in his face, because the prof sees the massive hole in the middle of his argument. He's only saved because Foggy notices the little detail that proves the prof rigged things. Spike on Buffy once said the key to skating on thin ice was to skate fast, which seems to be Matt's method these days. Problem being, sometimes there's no ice to skate on at all. Matt's going up against a guy nearly on Reed Richards' level as a genius. Yet he presumes the guy is defenseless because there are no defenses readily apparent.  It was nice to see that backfire on him.

Peter Krause's facial expressions are good, though it's strange to see Matt with such flat, shaggy hair, since Samnee and Rodriguez usually has his hair up. But the action sequences don't work as well. There isn't much sense of flow from panel to panel, and the way Matt's movements are depicted doesn't convey the sense of style and grace he's normally shown with. It's OK, but kind of clunky, and suffers in comparison to the usual art teams on the book.

Overall, it's a decent enough issue. Not required reading by any stretch, but an OK little contained story nonetheless.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

There's Not Enough Time To Look At All The Lousy Comic Book Parents

I mentioned in Saturday's post I'd been thinking about comparing Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown's respective fathers, and let it never be said I don't occasionally follow through in a reasonable amount of time.

I was thinking about it because one of the more important issues in the Cass/Steph friendship is Batgirl #28, when Steph convinces Cass to spar with her. During one of the lulls, Steph is griping about her dad, and Cass sort of lets it slip her father is the noted assassin David Cain, which leads to some comparing of notes, and Steph ultimately laments (after learning Cain would shoot Cass occasionally), 'Man, I can't beat you at anything.'

Not that who has the worse father is a competition anyone should be trying to win, but it got me thinking about it. They're both ugly situations, similar in someways, different in others, and it lead me to some thoughts I don't have good answers for.

In a larger, worldwide view, David Cain is certainly the more evil person. He may be fairly dispassionate about it, but he's still one of the best hired killers in the world, and would take basically any job (except if the target was Cassandra). Arthur Brown, as the Cluemaster, was a 3rd-rate Riddler most of the time. Occasionally he'd wise up and try a Taskmaster approach, teaching ordinary hoods the proper way to pull a robbery, and taking just a portion of it as pay, keeping himself out of the reach of Bat-fists. But still, on bodycount and general mayhem alone, he lags behind.

But if we're looking at them as father's, I don't know. Cain's hard to judge because his situation with Cass is so damn odd. Making a child grow up with no talking is strange, but he did communicate with her. Except it was through violence. Making her fight a bunch of guys, or even the Bronze Tiger, or surprise shooting her to keep her on her toes. Stephanie's dad was just kind of a jerk, when he wasn't in prison. He'd lock her in a closet, or throw a beer bottle at her if he felt she was being too noisy. Or he left her in the care of his creepy, likely sexual predator friend while he took her mom to rehab.

Cain had a deliberate (crazy) plan he was trying to enact, while Arthur was just being an ass. They're both abusive in their ways, but Cain's trying to push his daughter to achieve something, while Arthur regards his as a non-entity at best, a severe nuisance at worst. Cain is the parent that wants their kid to be a tennis star and pushes them with extra lessons and training and single-minded focus until the kid either succeeds (but probably can't operate in the real world), or burns out and falls apart. Arthur is the parent who completely neglects their kid, unless he's busy blaming the child for all his failures and shortcomings. Who's worse? Is there an answer?

Cain loved Cass as his daughter. That seems clear if for no other reason than Cassandra knew it, and I don't think Cain could have always made his body language give that off as a false signal. But a lot of that seems to be because she was able to be what he wanted her to be: A singular weapon, the likes of which never seen before. If she hadn't pulled that off, she would have died in the training, and Cain likely would have started over from scratch, whatever that might entail. He was able to inflict the physical damage he did on her, and when asked about it by Batman, grin and reply, 'It kept her on her toes.' Which is more than a little messed up.

At the same time, when he was reunited with her years later, he ultimately turned himself in to the authorities, and stayed in jail. He demonstrated on at least one occasion he could escape whenever he liked (when he delivered a birthday present to Cassandra's cave), but otherwise, he stayed put. He didn't become a hero, but he actively stopped killing people, at least in part because he knew Cassandra wouldn't be any part of his life if he didn't. Which implies that a) he wanted Cassandra to be part of his life, and b) he knew it would have to be on her terms. She wasn't coming back to him to be an assassin, so he would have to stop killing. There's parental affection there, and quite a lot of pride, but it's wrapped up in so much other stuff I'm not sure how to untangle it all.

Stephanie's situation seems clearer. Arthur Brown never really showed much concern for Steph. In her first adventure, he was certainly surprised to see the purple-clad vigilante with Batman was his daughter, but if Steph hadn't seized the opportunity to whale on him, I'm not sure he would have hesitated to harm her if it helped him escape. When Arthur teamed up with the Riddler briefly, he caught Stephanie tailing them as Spoiler. He nearly pushed her off a ledge, only to grab her cape so he could tell her to tell the Bat he wasn't up to anything. Or else. In Steph's Batgirl series, he was perfectly willing to expose her to a Black Mercy so he could escape from prison, after putting her in the line of fire against a series of teens with powered armors. Arthur rarely seems like he wants her dead, but he doesn't have much compunction about harming or intimidating her if she gets in his way. Cain's trying to live out his dreams through Cass, but it at least seemed to form a bond between them. All of Arthur Brown's dreams are focused on him.

This lead to Stephanie (in Robin #111), relating to Tim Drake her two warring theories on her father: Either he was weak, or he was evil. The reason they came up then was because she had just recently learned her father had died. His partnership with Nigma fell apart when Arthur got busted, and while in prison, he was offered a chance to go on some clandestine mission (apparently not as part of Task Force X, because no reduced sentence was offered). Arthur accepted, went on the mission, and died (he got better, obviously). This had impressed the government guy in charge so much, he came to tell the Browns the real story along with the fake version that would be released to the press, prison accident or something. This throws Stephanie for a loop, because it does not fit with either of her established theories. Also, now she can't ask him if he had anything to do with the surprise sudden death of that likely sexual predator only a few days after young Stephanie told her dad about the situation. It's a situation where she doesn't know his motivations, and neither do we. Was he trying to make up for past misdeeds, or was it part of some long con? Did he figure he had nothing to lose? Did his daughter factor in at all?

It really feels like the best thing Arthur Brown has in his favor is "did not randomly shoot his daughter," which is a slim hook to hang one's hat on. Cain's actions are more extreme, but they come from a place of, affection, I guess. Or confidence (though mostly in himself as a teacher). Arthur's abuse is of a more everyday variety, coming from a mixture of insecurity and indifference. Cain at least tried to remake the connection, without ever really rejecting his past actions, while Arthur has never vocally demonstrated any regret for his actions or a desire to be a part of Stephanie's life going forward. How do you do the math on that, especially if you factor the moms in. Shiva was no part of Cass' life for years, then kept fighting her and trying to kill her. She did help Cass regain the ability to read people, though, and helped her get over her death wish. By, er, killing her, but it worked! Steph's mom was eventually a positive presence, but for a long time she was a shell, cowering before Arthur, or hiding herself in addiction to prescription pills. Which pretty much forced Steph to be her own parent. At least Steph eventually had a good mother, but then, at least Cass' dad eventually stopped killing people. For a while.

I don't have an answer. Like I said, it isn't the sort of competition anyone should be trying to win, but it's closer than I might have thought at first glance.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Just A Few Shifts In The Pulls Of November

As we near the end of 2014, things are kind of quiet in the solicits. Nothing new is coming out for me in November. Roche Limit continues, Klarion is at least going to make it 2 issues before cancelation, and Harley Quinn is still teaming up with Power Girl. Not at all clear on how that works, since I thought Peej went back to Earth-2 a month ago, but it seems like Harley's book is going to exist off in its own little corner, doing it's own thing. Which is fine. I would prefer Conner and Palmiotti not have to show her working with the Suicide Squad.

At Marvel, there's two things of note. First, Superior Foes of Spider-Man is actually, finally ending with issue 17. I thought that was strange, seeing as the second trade ran through issue 15, but it turns out they reconfigured it so the second trade only runs through issue 11, leaving the final six issues for a third volume. So now is definitely not the time to jump on board the single issue train. It's still 5 more issues than I thought they'd get.

The other question is the fate of Captain Marvel. I said I'd decide after # 6, which, OK, I haven't gotten #6 yet. It should be in the next shipment, which will hopefully appear next week. I'm inclined to leave it on the pull list, if for no other reason than I've seen the published sales figures and I expect it might be ended by issue 12, anyway. That's a habit I have, I can't decide whether I need to shake. Sometimes having the whole thing to read at the end makes it look better, or good in other ways. In the meantime, though, I'd still be spending money on a book I wasn't loving.

Offhand, I'm not sure the arrival of Lila Cheney is enough to excite me. On hand, the potential of Carol hanging out with an intergalactic rock star could be good. This is essentially the problem I have with this title in a nutshell: It always sounds great in theory, but in practice, it never lives up to my hopes. It's not bad, merely average, or solidly good, when I keep thinking it's going to be spectacular or great. Maybe DeConnick and I are just on different wavelengths.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Cards Against My Tranquility, Is More Like It

Got roped into playing Cards Against Humanity again last night, this time by drunk coworkers, rather than drunk acquaintances of my best friend. However, I still don't enjoy playing games with drunk people. They're easily distracted, and we could hardly go one round without someone getting up for more snacks, or getting up for more booze, or getting up to go to the bathroom.

Cheez, you'd think they were just playing the game as a way of spending time with people they like. I should appreciate that, but I guess I tend to be tunnel vision about these things. If we're going to hang out and chat, then let's just sit around and chat. If we're going to play a game, then let's play the game. That's what I came over here for, because they asked me to play, so let's do it.

I'm still not that good at the game, incidentally, though it's still very much luck of the draw. What cards do you have at the time a particular question is asked, who's doing the asking, what does everyone else have, how does the person asking decide to weigh things. You could probably kill everyone with alcohol poisoning if you did a drinking game for each time someone complains about their bad cards, or exclaims that the new card they picked up would have been just perfect for the previous question. I seemed to keep falling into a situation where I'd pick a card I thought was a sure winner, only to have it come in second to something I felt was far inferior. That happened at least 3 times, which was kind of irritating. I like to win, even at things I'm not good at (a few months back, a coworker asked if I had a friend who was too over-competitive about video games, and I replied I was that friend).

One thing I think I kept forgetting was that when the person who asks the question reads the responses, they aren't supposed to know who offered each one. A couple of times I picked a response I thought was funny about me, and they read it as being about them. I don't think that affected the outcome, but it's possibly something I should be taking into account.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Invisible Man 1.22 - Money for Nothing, Part 2

Plot: We pick up where last week left off, with Hobbes mulling over Fawkes' offer to take the money and run. He decides, no, gotta bring Fawkes in, but initially fails. Fortunately, Quicksilver Mad Fawkes would rather toss a nurse around in the air for her keys than quietly lift them, and his escape attempt fails. However, Hobbes does help him escape Orion (so it's not "O'Ryan" as I typed last week, he's named after the fabled hunter instead, go fig). In the van, Hobbes tries for a surprise counteragent injection, but ends up being the one surprised when it doesn't work. Darien's eyes turn back to red for a moment, then go back to silver. Hobbes calls the Keeper and presents this as a hypothetical, and Claire confirms that her counteragent won't work on Stage 5 Madness, and that she'd have to harvest the gland. So Hobbes' only chance to save his partner is to help Crazy Fawkes do what he wants: Find Arnaud.

By the time they reach Dr. Rendell's address, Orion has arrived as well (having asked the orderly Fawkes punched what Darien was after). Darien Quicksilvers a dumpster then hides behind it, as Orion and his goons forget that invisible doesn't mean intangible. Eventually, Orion tries to capture in a paint store, leading to a fight between him and a purple, creepy smiling Quicksilvered Fawkes. Making that burning, purple, creepy Quicksilvered Fawkes, who knocks Orion unconscious, and leaves him in a burning paint store. Relax, Hobbes saved the guy. Back at Rendell's apartment complex, Darien is initially stymied by the doorman, who does not believe Darien is Arnaud. So Darien starts to leave, Quicksilvers, sets the revolving door spinning, and when the doorman goes to investigate, twirls him about in there until he slams into the doors a few times.

Now it's time for an extremely creepy conversation with Dr. Rendell, who answers the door in a very short robe and high heels. And we've already seen that Quicksilvered Darien is not big with boundaries. Especially when he learns that Arnaud has presented himself to Rendell as a federal agent, after the dangerous criminal Darien Fawkes. This makes Darien very irate, and we are only spared an all-out sexual assault by the fact Arnaud answers his pages quickly. And now we get to watch Darien beat Arnaud to death, until Hobbes intervenes, which lets Arnaud show off his new trick, glowing brighter than the Sun. He nearly blinds our two heroes, and escapes with the doctor. Darien is not happy Hobbes interefered, not happy Hobbes is still set on getting Stage 5 counteragent, so he punches Hobbes and runs off to make mischief. This involves tampering with some pushy asshole's bicycle, and nearly beating a mime to death.

Hobbes is trying to catch up, but is approached by Rendell on behalf of Arnaud. Which leads to a delightful scene in a deserted section of an aquarium where Hobbes vies with Arnaud for the last word, as they try to come to some sort of understanding. I mean, they each understand the other, so I guess it's more about establishing a sufficient level of trust. Arnaud mentioned last week he didn't need Darien's gland, and we've seen why: He has his own, but it doesn't work right. Something went awry. But, if she can view a real-time MRI/cat-scan/something of Darien's brain as he Quicksilvers, it will enable her to correct whatever she did wrong, and Arnaud's gland will work fine. In return, Arnaud will give Hobbes the Stage 5 counteragent. Of course he has some. As he pointed out, if he didn't, the gland-users who are his theoretical customers go mad and he loses control of them. And Arnaud likes control.

So he uses himself as bait, Hobbes tranqs Fawkes, they retire to a nice room with an MRI machine and surgical equipment, and they're ready to begin. There is the question of how to get Darien to cooperate by Quicksilvering, and the answer is Hobbes whispers a promise to let him free to do as he'd like just as soon as he gets the counteragent. Operation is completed, Aranud injects the counteragent (which looks like mercury), and Darien starts convulsing. Which turns out to be a trick to get them to untie him, so he can go after Arnaud. Thus we get invisible IV stand staff fight, then one of Arnaud's goons barges in and Fawkes swipes his assault rifle, wounds Arnaud, but the counteragent kicks in and immobilizes him long enough for Arnaud to escape. Afterward, back at the Agency, everything seems OK with Darien and the gland, the Official doesn't seem too peeved about Arnaud having his own gland, and Darien is sad about the things he vaguely remembers doing while crazy. But back at Rendell's apartment, we see Arnaud's not so happy. He's wound up like Simon Cole, in that he can't turn visible again. And he's going to take it out on Dr. Rendell. Sorry, Doc.

Quote of the Episode: Only one? Fine. Darien - 'You know what? I would love to stay here and reminisce with you. . . but I'm not going to. I'm gonna get Arnaud. You get in my and I'll damage you.'

The "oh crap" Count: 0 (37 overall).

Who's getting quoted this week? Francis Bacon, who noted one who seeks revenge keeps his wounds green. I almost typed "Nobody", because I forgot about this one at the very end for a second.

Times Fawkes Goes Into Quicksilver Madness: 1 (9 overall). Technically he never goes out of Q.M., so it's just a continuation of last week's, but what the hell.

Other: I had remembered this as the Season 1 finale, perhaps because it seems like such a logical place for it, but no, there's another episode to go. Which is not going to stop me from doing what I did for the Burn Notice Season 2 finale, and littering this section with other quotes.

Claire - 'I think we should trust Bobby to do the right thing.' Official - 'That's like trusting my dog not to pee on the carpet.'

 This episode places Hobbes in a strange place. Normally, he's the one being paranoid, being a little out of control, too fixated on his demons. Here, though, he has every reason to be paranoid. His boss didn't trust him enough to let him bring in his partner, and just because Orion is down, doesn't mean there won't be someone else (except for the part where the Agency has a Team 7, but no Teams 2-6). He's dealing with Arnaud, who is trustworthy, until he's not.

But at the same time, Bobby feels things deeply, and when he decides to trust, he goes in whole hog. Which is dangerous, because he's also dealing with Crazy Fawkes, who can't be trusted, and is going to play every emotional tune he can to get Hobbes to help him. The pitch last week, appealing to Hobbes' vanity and ego, pointing out the lack of respect he gets from others. This week, pointing out to him that Arnaud is the only one who can do what Hobbes wants. Of course, if Hobbes goes looking for Arnaud, that means bringing Darien into close contact with Arnaud, which is dangerous on many levels. And then, in the operating room, Darien told Hobbes he betrayed him, which may have led Hobbes to reassure Fawkes he would get his chance for revenge. Hobbes is consistently not wary enough of Darien, even after he sees that this Fawkes is not the one he knows.

'Hobbes, don't you get it? I don't want Stage 5 counteragent. I like it here. It's nice.'

Also, this is the first chance for an extended interaction between Hobbes and Arnaud. They've briefly been in the same place before, but they've never talked much. Well, Claire got her chance a few weeks ago, and now it's Bobby's turn, and it's great. The bit where Hobbes and Arnaud go back and forth, trying to get the last word. The way Bobby turns his bluster up to 11, even as Arnaud adopts this wonderful, weary arrogance. It's that sort of attitude you see fictional evil geniuses get when dealing with someone they consider beneath them. Where they try to act as though it is so exhausting to deal with these morons, but they're being a little too obvious about it, so you can tell they're actually enjoying being a condescending dick.

Arnaud - 'Look, after I get my operation, I give Fawkes the stage 5 counteragent, and we all go along our merry way.' Hobbes - 'What if Fawkes doesn't wanna play ball?' Arnaud - 'He'll go irretrievably mad.'

Arnaud has a really great deadpan delivery on that last line. It's so perfectly obvious that's what would happen, why are you wasting time with dumb questions? So he's going to make sure you know just how dumb he thinks you are for asking. Except Hobbes flat out doesn't care. He's used to people talking down to him, underestimating him. And that's from people he respects. From Arnaud, it's water off a duck's back. It's annoying, but not something that will stop him. His concern is Darien, and he does not trust Arnaud at all. So he is going to cross every "T" he can find, and point his gun at you while he does it. It's actually kind of strange, because Arnaud is playing things mostly straight, in that he handed over the real counteragent, and seemed content to not try and kill Fawkes until Darien started trying to kill him. Meanwhile, Hobbes is the one planning a double-cross. And yet, because Hobbes is trying to help his friend (and get rid of a notorious killer and biological weapons dealer), I'm still rooting for him. Also, because Arnaud is still kind of a dick.

Darien - 'Well, that's good to know, because he wasn't very gentle or delicate when he murdered my brother and ruined my life.'

Wow, that scene with Rendell (who is played by Catherine Dent, who I remember fondly from The Shield) and Darien made me extremely uncomfortable. Strange, considering I barely blinked at him beating the shit out a mime. But he gets much too close, and the camera tends to linger around the plunging neckline of the robe. Plus, we've already seen how casual Darien is about violence, and hearing from Rendell that Arnaud has twisted the story around to make himself the good guy, and Darien the criminal - casually leaving out the part about Kevin Fawkes' death - only ignites Darien's rage. And then Rendell refuses to believe him, which only seems to make it worse. I seriously debated fast-forwarding through that scene to the point where Arnaud actually arrives.

I mean, I know Darien's usually not in control of himself in standard Quicksilver Madness, and this was super-special Stage 5 Madness, and that it was meant to be uncomfortable. As the audience, we know what Arnaud's done to Darien, so we might be in the same position as Darien - we want Arnaud dead, who cares if Darien's a little nuts? So this was maybe a way of driving home that in this condition, Darien is a threat to everyone, not just bad guys. In that state, there's nothing that limits him. The things that might normally hold us back don't inhibit him at all. If he wants Arnaud, and Hobbes is in his way, he'll punch Hobbes. He'll beat up a mime just because he feels like it. Why not? Rendell's not evil, after all, she just got fooled by Arnaud, something any number of people (including Kevin and the Official) have had happen. After the Stage 5 counteragent takes effect and Darien collapses, Dr. Rendell catches his head and sort of lets it rest under her arm. Which was a surprisingly kind gesture, considering the way he terrorized her earlier.

Couldn't help noticing that when Darien was asking Hobbes about the things he'd done while nuts, he didn't mention the sequence in the apartment. I prefer to read it as Darien being too embarrassed by it, and not wanting Hobbes to confirm, though I guess it was over by the time Hobbes arrived, so he wouldn't know.

Arnaud - 'I never hurt people whose help I need.'

Back when we learned of Simon Cole, I wondered if part of what went wrong with him wasn't only that he couldn't turn visible again, but that he went Quicksilver Mad. But because he was invisible, no one could see his eyes turn red, so Arnaud didn't know to make a counteragent. I don't know if that's accurate or not, since I don't know how long Arnaud was part of the team. Maybe that failure is what opened the way for him to get in, though it's never been established how he learned of the project in the first place. The Agency is such small potatoes, why would he have been watching them? Maybe something in Kevin Fawkes' work prior to joining the Agency? Or that of Kevin and Darien's uncle? Anyway, my point is, did Arnaud remove that flaw from the gland in his head? I'd think so, but then I remember his ill-fated partner's words from "Diseased", about Arnaud being half a scientist, and I wonder if he'd miss that detail. Not that he needs to be Quicksilver Mad to explain his actions towards Rendell. Arnaud has a well-established streak of cruelty, especially to those who disappoint him, or are of no use to him. Rendell most likely can't perform a new operation on an invisible gland, so he might as well vent his rage.

Though, while we're on the subject of Arnaud's scientific skill, how can he claim the gland is a perfect duplicate of Fawkes'? When he tried to go invisible he glowed light a searchlight. That seems like less of a malfunction in how the gland is hooked up in his head, and more of a defect in how he built it. Like, there's something wrong with the substance the gland is producing, not how it's doing it, or how it's being secreted. It would be just like Arnaud to pin the blame for his failure on someone else. But I don't know how to explain how whatever Rendell did fixed things.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Favorite DC Characters #2 - Cassandra Cain

Character: Batgirl (Cassandra Cain)

Creators: Kelley Puckett and Daimon Scott

First appearance: Batman #567

First encounter: Robin #132. I was still buying the book at the time, and to kick off the post-War Games status quo of both characters taking over for Nightwing in Bludhaven, Tim and Cass had a team-up. I had to buy her book to get the other half of the story, and I kept going.

Definitive writer: Kelley Puckett, though I may be more fond of Anderson Gabrych's run than others.

Definitive artist: Daimon Scott. Scott was very good at drawing a Cassandra who looked like she was nothing but whipcord muscles, which is what I'd expect for someone who was raised to be a perfect weapon by an exacting taskmaster, and then spent several years living on the streets. Also Scott knew how to draw action, kind of important for a character defined by it.

Favorite moment or story: Cassandra has a lot of good moments. The times she and Steph spent together, the time she took down the Brotherhood of Evil single-handed. The time she KO'ed Shiva with a sucker-punch using a dislocated arm. The time she beat Shiva, straight up. What I'm going to go with is from Batgirl #6. Cass is trying to protect this man who developed telepathy after being experimented on by shadowy forces. It's not going well, because in his attempt to communicate with her, he reordered her brain along more normal lines. She can speak now, but she can "read" people's body language any longer. She's already been KO'ed by someone way beneath her skill level, and struggled mightily against just a few guys with guns. In her frustration - with them and herself - she even stopped one of the guy's hearts for a few moments after he shot one of his one men, just so he could see what it was like. Which made Batman very edgy.

But they've found the telepath, and while Batman mounts a rescue, another kill team is approaching from the rear of the house. Cassandra takes most of them out, but there's one left, with a gun aimed right at her - and the other member of his team directly behind her if she dodges. Unsure that she could stop him from firing if she dodges,Cass goes right at him, ignoring the bullets (who starts firing faster when she sees she's not stopping), and knocking the guy out, while making sure no one dies.

What I like about her: The first time I saw Cassandra Cain in a comic, she was saving Tim Drake's butt from some idiot named Shrike. She did the dramatic last page appearance at the end of Robin #132, then proceeded to trounce Shrike in just a few pages at the start of Batgirl #58. Looking back, this kind of did Tim a disservice. He's held his own against King Snake before, but Shrike whupped him, and I can't believe Shrike's actually better than King Snake. Blind martial artists are almost always better than non-blind martial artists, right?

At the time, though, I didn't care. This Batgirl showed up, kicked this bad guy's butt with contemptuous ease, and even mixed in a little smack talk (she tells him, 'I can see what you're going to do next, and it bores me'), before dodging his last desperate attack and dropping him with a quick chop to the neck. Before the 4 issue crossover was done, she'd somehow read Tim's entire plan for escaping a room full of killers from his body language, and carried it through by pretending Tim beat her to death, even when Penguin made Tim shoot her in the shoulder. She didn't say much, but she didn't have to. She'd had a rough childhood, but was still kind. She'd been friends with Stephanie Brown (a major plus in my book). And she was really freaking cool to watch in action.

I've said previously that sometimes it's fun to read the adventures of characters who can't simply do super-awesome things whenever they like, because you get to see how they work around those limitations. But it's also fun to read about characters who can do super-awesome things at will. She can take a bullet without flinching. She can take multiple bullets and keep charging towards the person shooting, never dodging and thus endangering the life of someone behind her. When trying to rescue an abducted man whose only mistake had been stopping a mugging, the two of them wind up trapped in an old prison cell. Cass doesn't know how to pick locks, and if she has any tools in her utility belt that will get her out, no one told her. So she punches her way out. Not in one punch, because she isn't super-strong, but with multiple punches, one after the other, in the exact same spot, until she smashes through.

Oh, and when she's at full strength, she can dodge bullets. Sorry about the flash.

Then she can beat up the four crooked government agents that fired them.

Cassandra's ability to read people's bodies, in addition to making her a remarkable fighter, also meant she could tell what people were feeling a lot of the time. The trick was, that didn't mean she knew what to do about it. In that crossover with Robin, after she beats Shrike, she notes that Tim is quiet on the outside, but inside there are all sorts of emotions screaming to get out (unsurprising since his father had just died in Identity Crisis, on top of Steph's death in War Games). Cassandra has no idea what to say that will make it better, or even how to encourage Tim to let it out. This presents an interesting problem for Cassandra. In a lot of ways, she's a creature of action. It's what she was trained for, to read people and use what she reads to defeat them (and ultimately kill them, if her father had his way). Now she tries to use those abilities to help others, protect them from people who would hurt them. But the nature of her gift is she can tell people are hurt by things she can't do anything to fix, which has to be maddening. It might help explain why she took helping people so seriously. If you can see people around you suffering all the time, and can't stop seeing it, wouldn't you try to fix the problems, so they weren't in pain any longer?

Initially, though, she was so intent on saving people because she believed she had to atone for killing a man when she was young. I once read someone online say they thought that was a little too precious, that it made her character flaw something admirable (that she cares too much or something like that), and they felt it was unrealistic for a kid. I don't know about that. I remember seeing a kitten die in front of me when I was about 5, and being pretty shook by that. It made death a real thing, in a way it hadn't been previously, and I wasn't able to perfectly read the kitten's pain and fear as it died, as Cassandra could when she killed the man. Plus, she spent a decade wandering the world, just trying to survive basically, before she turned up in Gotham and joined the Bat's retinue. It wasn't as though she immediately settled on obsessively helping people.

Also, thinking about it this week, it occurs to me that David Cain took Cass with him on hits prior to that, where he sniped people while she sat on the roof next to him. So not only did Cassandra feel the horror of what her victim experienced, she may have realized this is what her father had been doing all along. And she'd have been able to read his body and tell he enjoyed it, and wanted her to do it as well. Which may have helped drive her flight from him. I'm speculating there, for the record. I don't know that was ever explicitly said, but it makes a certain amount of sense, given Cass and David Cain's characters.

Their relationship is another of those odd things I enjoyed about Cassandra. David Cain is a bad guy, a remorseless killer. By the time we meet Cassandra, she's fully aware of it. But he still raised her, and in his own way, he loved her. Cassandra would know that as surely as anything, which makes it all the more confusing for her. If he's bad, and he loves her, what does it say about her? Is there something wrong with her, that he cares for her? Is there something wrong that she still cares about him? It's something she has to work through, that his loving her doesn't make her bad, or him good, and it's not wrong she still cares about the guy who raised her. I don't know if she ever entirely worked it out, because there was a lot of anger and confusion to deal with, but it made for an interesting facet. When she stops obsessively saving people as a way to pay for her taking life (also as a way to put herself in danger, since she saw her own death as the only appropriate atonement), I think she came to appreciate simply being able to help people for its own sake, and in that regard, Cain helped make it possible.

There are things Cassandra can do none of the other members of the Batfamily can, and it's because of how she was raised and taught. The key is how she chooses to use them, which is why I thought making her a villain was such a dumb idea. Just because bother her parents are killers - one of whom she had no contact with until she was Batgirl, and even then, it was restricted to a couple of fights and a training sequence we never saw - it does not follow that Cassandra will also become a killer. She wasn't really given the choice to learn to read body language by Cain, but how she uses the ability, that was her choice. Which is something I really enjoy, the idea that one can break out of the paths others tried to set them in.

Cassandra is honestly a lot of my favorite types of characters in one. The first two years of her solo title see her working through a serious guilt complex, which is something I apparently identify with. This gives her a bit of the redemption arc, though in her case it may be less about the life she took, and more about recognizing the value in her own life. The idea that wanting to live can make you stronger than being willing to die played out much less annoyingly in Cass' big fight with Shiva in Batgirl #25 than it did between Kenshin Himura and Shinimori Aoshi in the pages of Rurouni Kenshin. Probably because there was less speechifying by the hero and more just winning the damn fight (Also, I like Aoshi more than Lady Shiva). Once she gets interested in actually living, we get to see Cass try and figure that out, which is, for some reason, an arc I seem to really enjoy. Maybe because in skilled hands, those stories help remind me of cool things in the world I ignore or take for granted. It's a chance to see the world through different eyes.

Also, Cass has sort of the rookie hero arc. Which seems strange, considering she could leap into the fray against 20 opponents and probably walk out without a scratch. But there was more to be a crimefighter than just punching criminals, oddly enough, and she had to try and figure those things out. The limits on who you can save, the difficulty of juggling private lives with costumed ones, especially if your private life involves costumes (because you're dating Superboy, for example). Trying to learn how to be a detective when you can't read or write, and haven't really studied forensics or criminology. Watching Cass work around that (as she did in Batgirl #47) can be a lot of fun. Especially because she kind of showed up Batman by doing so. I tell you, if Batman was trying to give Cassandra more of a normal teenage experience by simulating the overbearing, arbitrary parental figure, he outdid himself with the sort of zeal you'd expect from Batman. Eventually, she even starts ignoring Batman's rule about not fighting metahumans. I mean, she did take out one in her third issue, but that was after Batman got KO'ed and there was no other choice. But gradually she starts fighting metahuman terrorists, killer androids, and eventually even the Brotherhood of Evil, and we get to see her progression as she learns to deal with different kinds of threats.

The friendship she had with Stephanie Brown is another thing. I didn't find out about that until after Steph had "died", but going back and finding the Puckett/Scott run on Batgirl opened that up for me. It's an interesting pairing, the two kids with criminal fathers (in some ways, which I might expand on in a later post, I think Steph's dad might be worse than Cass'). The ones viewed at a slight reserve by other members of the Batcrew (Cass by Tim mostly, Steph by pretty much everyone). The two teenage girls. So there's a certain amount of common ground, but then vast differences as well. Because Cass is this physical marvel, but there are all kinds of things she doesn't know or understand that Stephanie does, simply because of Steph's relatively more normal upbringing. So she needs Stephanie to read a ransom note, or help her figure out how to find the hostage.

And the more they hang out, the more Cass opens up. Given the chance, I think Cassandra's a very warm, caring character. Which makes sense. If she hurts someone, she can see it, so it's probably much easier to see people feeling good. And being around Steph, who clearly loves crimefighting, and is usually a bubbly, friendly sort, produces a similar attitude in Cassandra. She talks about herself and her father, she laughs. She helps Steph train, but they turn it into games. Tag on the rooftops. Which is a far cry from some of the training we'd seen from Cass earlier, where she spent hours obliterating training dummies down in her cave, alone. When Steph calls off some of their training (for reasons I don't think were ever explained), Scott and Puckett make sure to show how disappointed Cassandra is to be left alone in her cave, how much she'd been looking forward to Spoiler's visits. Someone who actually appreciates Stephanie Brown is always going to be OK with me.

One last paragraph, about the costume. It's very monochromatic, even more than Batman's current black and grey number. The only things that break up the black are the thin yellow outline of the Bat-symbol, and those huge utility belt pouches. But it can make her very cool. Batman is this huge, looming, ominous shadow. He blots out the light and envelops criminals in his presence. Cass is the small, darting shadow. The one you only see out of the corner of your eye, moving swiftly from place to place. There she is! No, over there! She's all over the place! Anderson Gabrych had a scene once where she stopped a convenience store robbery and talked about watching Alien, how it reminded her the scariest things can be those only hinted at. Which is perfect for her. She's a tornado of fists, but just to look at her with an untrained eye, she isn't very scary, this wiry teenager. So don't let them see her, only the hint of this thing, moving with impossible speed.

On an entirely different level, I love how humongous the belt looks on her. I think Batman literally just gave her one of his spare ones and called it a day, because I don't think the size gap between Cass and Helena Bertinelli (who originally wore, so credit to her for costume sense, I guess) is that large. As someone who read and watched too much shonen manga, my theory was Cass just carries a bunch of rocks and weights in the pouches as training. Especially if Rick Leonardi was drawing her, because he also tended to give her this big thick looking boots. If you look at them, they are way too wide for someone as spindly as Cass. So I figure there are weights stitched into them, because otherwise, it wouldn't be a challenge. Which is silly, Cassandra wouldn't mess around that way when she's out saving lives, but it still amuses me.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Shift in Hero Versus Hero Fights Over Time

When I was reading Ms. Marvel #6, I reflected for a moment that we never see those "misunderstanding fights" Marvel always used to have. The villain tricks two heroes into fighting each other, or they cross paths while investigating some mystery, and each assumes the other is the villain, so they fight until they reengage their brains and team-up instead. That sort of thing. In this case, it started to happen, but she recognized him, and stopped her attack, and I guess Logan was able to figure out she wasn't an enemy from that.

I'm not calling for Kamala and Wolverine to have a fight, mind you. Part of Kamala's character is she's a huge fangirl, so of course she recognizes Wolverine and knows he's a good guy. And she's not really the sort who enjoys violence, so she wouldn't be spoiling for a fight anyway. But it's definitely the sort of moment that would have lead to a brief fight between the two if the comic was written some years ago.

It's the difference in the Marvel Universe now from then. Originally, nobody knew each other, or if they did, it was simply as "that costumed guy who fight criminals sometimes like I do". But outside of specific teams (which were fairly cliquish initially), they didn't hang out, certainly didn't know each others' identities. It was a frontier, you never knew who you'd meet around each corner, whether they'd be friend or foe. And since the foes like to strike first, this made the heroes prone to trying to gain an advantage when they see a shadowy figure skulking around a crime scene. Throw in the media presenting a slanted and incomplete perspective, and even once they saw who they were attacking, they couldn't be sure who they were dealing with. Sure, Spider-Man stopped the Vulture, but now there's reports he was working with Dr. Doom. The Avengers added two members of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. The Hulk, well, things tend to break around him. So everyone's pretty defensive when they first meet everyone else, and maybe for a long time after.

Gradually, they got to know each other a bit, and people shifted between teams, which seemed to help. Hawkeye and Namor spent time on the Avengers and Defenders, Hank McCoy was an Avenger for awhile, the Thing and Spider-Man worked with practically everyone. But there was still a level of uncertainty. The X-Men were kind of on the fringes, and when they started running with Magneto, the Avengers and Fantastic Four both got pretty wary. Spider-Man kept his personal life to himself, so even though he'd worked with everyone, nobody was entirely sure of him. New heroes were showing up, and they often knew of the more established heroes, but could still butt heads, because everyone still seemed to assume that if they met a stranger, they were probably a bad guy. So Iron Fist slugs it out with the X-Men, or Ms. Marvel (Carol Danvers) ends up fighting one of the Avengers when they're both trying to protect some shipment. It's starting to become a clique, or small town, but they're very suspicious of new arrivals.

Now, everybody knows everyone else. All the old hands have worked together a lot, all the newbies grew up hearing about the old hands. Which means the newbs are frequently very quick to demonstrate they're on the side of angels. It's less a frontier, and more a thriving community. I'm not sure exactly when that shift took place. Post-Heroes Reborn, I'm sure, and I'd probably place it after the creation of the Ultimate Universe. Everyone in that universe knew each other, and all seemed to be under the government's thumb to varying degrees. Secret identities were either nonexistent, or largely a joke (see Spider-Man). When Bendis took over the Avengers books, this style seemed to carry over. See Steve Rogers showing up at the high school Peter Parker teaches at to recruit him into the Avengers. Because of course almighty SHIELD or whoever knows who Spider-Man is. But it might have been going prior to that, and I wasn't reading the right books.

There's a line from one of Dennis Miller's old rants, to the effect of why should you hate someone over race, creed, religion, when you can take the time to get to know them and find all sorts of perfectly valid, personal reasons to hate them? Once you get to be neighbors or coworkers with someone, you find out all those surface assumptions you made were stupid. You may also find out they're still total asses. You find out Iron Man will attack anyone to protect his armor's secrets. Or that Iron Man thinks everyone should do what the government says (assuming Iron Man agrees with them) and serve in law enforcement agencies (run by Iron Man). Or Cyclops thinks everyone should do nothing about the giant space bird made of fire destroying every world in its path as it moves towards Earth. Or Hank McCoy thinks bringing the original X-Men to the present to make Present Day Cyclops feel bad is a sound strategy for accomplishing. . . something. You find out they might do good things, but you still think they're idiots and totally wrong.

It's like those sitcoms where the two neighbor families get mad at each other and engage in a prank war, or talk smack loudly about the other family when they see them. Except since they're superheroes, they skip the prank war and just punch each other a lot. Maybe. Depends on the writer. Eventually, they make peace and rally to each others' side in times of need. Replace "Both families' kids go missing together", with "Red Skull uses Xavier's brain cells to envelop the world in hate", and there you go.

I suppose it should be endearing they're able to put those differences aside when they really need to. But then they all seem to become friends again. You'd think after a while, they'd stop casually associating with someone they disagree with so strongly. After the 500th time Tony Stark does something stupid and somewhat totalitarian, because he's still convinced he's right - apparently he's soon going to infect everyone in San Francisco with Extremis. No word on whether he bothered to ask first, but my guess is "no" - shouldn't you avoid the guy? At least make it clear you let him hang around so you can keep an eye on him. Some neighbors you just don't want to talk to, because they're crazy or insufferable. That doesn't mean you won't lend a hand if their home is on fire, but it doesn't magically make you friends again.

The Marvel Universe leans in that direction occasionally. Wolverine's side of the X-Men certainly appeared to be angry enough with Cyclops after Xavier's death that they wanted to cut off all contact. They were going to do their thing with the school, let Scott hide out in an old Weapon X bunker and do whatever he was going to do (found a rival school?) In practice, they seem to meet each other all the time. Cyclops is coming over to the school, whether it's to interrogate Hank about something in his lab, to see Kurt back from the dead, or because there's an evil group of future X-Men running around. And the folks at the Jean Grey School seem largely OK with this. Wolverine grumbles, or tells Cyke he has to pay for his own drinks, but he doesn't slam the door in his face or activate the school's automated defenses. Either of which you might expect if they were really that angry about things.

Maybe that's the next step in a fictional universe where all the good guys know each other, but seem to constantly disagree about the best way to handle things, and how far they should go. The heroes fall back into various cliques that don't intermingle. Before it was a matter of not knowing one another well enough to trust. Now they'd know each other too well to trust.

I don't know if it's a good idea to go in that direction, but I feel like it ought to be going that way, based on a lot of current stories, whether that's what is intended or not. Hickman has the Illuminati destroying entire inhabited worlds, ostensibly to protect their Earth, and they're working real hard to keep it a secret, but come on: The other heroes are gonna find out, and you're telling me they'll be cool with it? Surely at some point you start screening the jerk's phone calls, and not inviting them to play in your fantasy football league.