mike sterling's progressive ruin

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Today is pal Dorian's last day of employment at our funnybook emporium. Please join me in wishing him well.

Friday, October 28, 2005

The (Semi-) Week in Review. 

One of the problems with updating this site every day, particularly with the running-off-at-the-mouth posts that I'm prone to do, is that topics and issues I bring up may appear to be thrown out there and abandoned as I move on to the next post. However, I promise, I read every comment left on every post...even if you're responding to a post from a year ago, I'll see it.

And, if I can, I'll follow up on responses sooner or later...which I'm gonna do now.

From Tuesday's post, where I talked about origins and endings in children's programming, I stated that the producers of the current Teen Titans cartoon stated that there will be no team origin. Well, apparently they had a change of heart, as commenter Dave was good enough to let me know. If you missed it, here's the description for episode #62 Dave pointed out:

"How did ROBIN meet STARFIRE? What was BEAST BOY's first joke? Why did CYBORG build his Sonic Cannon? When did RAVEN first call the Titans her friends? Return to the very beginning and see how it all started – from the word 'GO!'"

Cool, no?

I also mentioned this story I spotted on FARK (and now beginning to make its way across the Comicsweblogosphere) about an IRS agent allegedly shoplifting comics...which kicked me off on the general topic of shoplifting at our store. There are other memorable accounts of would-be thieves that we've tagged (like the mother and her two kids who tried to work as a team to steal things from us...and failed miserably at it, or the kid from out of town who tried to steal from us, and whose parents were in a rush to continue on their trip and wanted to leave with their kid before the police arrived...yeah, I bet) but most of them are just depressing. Look, no one gets into selling funnybooks to get rich...stealing from your local comic book store can seriously hurt the bottom line. We're just trying to make a living, y'know?

Wednesday's post was about the mostly forgotten Marvel property Seeker 3000, and the neat idea of the villain of the piece being the heroes' own shipboard computer's personality. I found that idea quirky enough to be amusing, and, as far as I know, mostly unique (outside of the Red Dwarf example I cited). There are plenty of examples of non-villainous characters going through the personality-upload process (commenter Philip mentioned Jack's dad, the original Starman, as the personality in the Mother Box computer in James Robinson's "Starman in Space" storyline, for example). One person mentioned to me elsewhere that the whole Seeker 3000 concept may have been...inspired by a previously published sci-fi story (I mean, beyond the Star Trek/Star Wars influence). Anyone familiar with Seeker 3000 and its possible similarity to older stories?

Thursday was my monthly End of Civilization post, where I pour through the order form and pick out the things that amuse and enrage me. In response to an example of the latter, the Sin City expanded edition, it was pointed out to me that it was no secret that when the first edition came out, a second "special edition" was to follow. That still doesn't make that right. I didn't like it when Lord of the Rings did it, I wasn't happy about the Star Trek: Nemesis thing, and isn't there like a dozen versions of American Pie on DVD? Feh. The end result is that there may be a small number of people holding off on buying DVDs if there's the slightest chance that a future "special edition" may come out. Granted, probably a very small number, but still, this sort of behavior can't help consumer confidence.

Something I missed in my overview, since I tend to overlook the Marvel solicitations, but pal Dorian was terribly amused by this, and I gotta bring it up: Astonishing X-Men Saga, taking the twelve issue run by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday and condensing it down to one 48-page one shot, since the other 200+ pages were just unnecessary filler.

How 'bout reprinting the 12 issues in two manga-sized paperbacks at that $7.99 price point you have for the Spider-Girl books? They'd probably sell like crazy in that format.

And that Essential Godzilla paperback...okay, now while I think that's brilliant, I didn't know Marvel still had the rights to reprint it, and I can't imagine them paying out the money to regain the license. I'm assuming there's some reprint clause in the original contract letting them get away with it...anyone know for sure?

At any rate, if you want it, put in your orders now in case the book disappears right quick like the Essential Conan volume.

For reading this far, I give you breakdancing Transformers (via Metafilter).

Thursday, October 27, 2005

I'm writing this instead of reading all of my new comics...this is how much I love you. 

Okay, I know I need to get back and address the shenanigans and goings-on in the comments sections of my posts from earlier in the week...I may do a Friday wrap-up tomorrow, if you all are interested. So get your comments in now!

Now I was poking though the Crisis on Infinite Earths "director's commentary" in the new issue of Wizard, which was actually pretty interesting, pointing out story details that I hadn't noticed before. However, when I saw Marv Wolfman's declaration that John Constantine made his first appearance in Crisis #4 (and Wizard's editorial note that the two comics came out in the same month), something seemed a bit off there.

I was reading both Swamp Thing and Crisis as they were coming out at the time, and it's my memory (granted, of events from 20 years ago) that I first encountered Constantine in Swamp Thing #37. Plus, the cover date of Crisis was July 1985, Swamp Thing #37 is June. On top of that, the "DC Comics on sale this week" listings inside the comics themselves state that Crisis was on sale the week of April 4th, while Swamp Thing #37 was due out the week of March 21st.

So, without access to our store's invoices of the time to confirm (they'd been discarded a long time ago), and assuming Swamp Thing wasn't shipping late, it appears that Constantine's first appearance on the stands was indeed in ST #37.

Or Swamp Thing #25, if you want to complicate matters.

Yeah, I know none of you care about that. But if I didn't talk about it, who would? Who?

Other funnybooks out this week:

Super F*ckers #2...or "#273" as it says on the cover. James Kochalka, Superstar, continues the colorful, insanely profane, yet strangely innocent, superhero comic. This installment is a little shorter, with a smaller cover price (only $5), so maybe some of you cheapskates can check it out this time. It's good, it's packed full of fun, and you'll get your money's worth, I assure you. (Go read more about Senior Kochalka at Kochalkaholic.)

Little Lulu: Letters to Santa - this new $9.95 volume from Dark Horse reprints issues #18 through #22, and, though I haven't had a chance to read it yet, I'm sure it'll be just as fun and delightful as the previous volumes. If you want to see one of the pinnacles of comic book cartooning, you need to see these books.

Zombie Tales Oblivion #1 - I positively reviewed the previous installment a while back, and this new issue appears to be up to the same standards. If you're getting tired of the same-ol' same-ol' zombie comics, let this series restore your faith in the shambling undead.

New Don Rosa story in this week's Uncle Scrooge (#347), in case you didn't know.

There's a new Diamond Previews this week, and you know what that means: it's time once again for PROGRESSIVE RUIN PRESENTS...THE END OF CIVILIZATION (previous installments 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8). Pull out your copies of Previews and follow along, won't you?

p. 404 - As previously discussed on my site (as inspired by pal Dorian's thoughts), DEVO action figures are now coming out, at last! Well, action figure, as it's just one figure with five interchangable heads...one for each member of the band. Yes, really. Also comes with whip and energy dome. (Yes, I'm getting one.)

p. 412 - Star Wars Customs Rev-&-Go Choppers - pictured here are "Darth Vader's Imperial Chopper" and "Luke Skywalker's Rebel Chopper (with R2D2)."

Well, at least there can't be any Star Wars merchandise sillier that th...oh, wait, what's this on the same page?

Star Wars Transformers Series 1 Action Figures - "An all-new line of 8 inch scale figures that combine the legendary characters and vehicles of Star Wars with the dual function of the Transformers!" Pictured: Luke Skywalker, who transforms into an X-Wing. Swear to God.

p. 414 - G.I. Joe Cobra Commander Pistol Replica - "Full-sized, 1/1 scale piece," mounted on a wall plate and limited to 1,000 individually hand-numbered pieces, only $350. For $350, it damn well had better shoot something.

p. 418 - Now I think that Aliens Wall Statue (featuring the Alien busting through a barred grill of some sort) is pretty neat, but it's only nine inches? For $85? Just make it on cheap plastic and blow it up to life-size. Impress the in-laws with one of those, why don't you?

p. 422 - Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Buffy "Becoming" Bust - This statue incorporates Buffy's gravestone from the early episodes of the series...which reminds me of a question. If everyone was trying to keep Buffy's death a secret, why engrave a tombstone with her name and year of death on it? Yeah, I know it was supposed to be in an out of the way place...but why take that chance?

p. 422 - Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Gentlemen Voice Box Replica - For $69.99, you can get a four inch wooden box, with a hinged lid, that looks like something you saw on one episode of a TV show. Doesn't sound all that swell when it's put like that, now does it?

p. 422 - I Robot: NS-5 "Sonny" Android Bust - I don't think Asimov's body is spinning in his grave fast enough...thank goodness there's this expensive piece of merchandise inspired by the crap movie that was based on his work ("in that they're both in English," to steal a line from MST3K) to turn up the speed a little.

p. 446 - For a second there, I thought I saw a four-foot wide plushie that looked like the head of Gizmo, the good Gremlin from the film of the same name (Gremlins, not Gizmo) but surely I was mistaken.

p. 448 - Oh man, a Scrooge McDuck ("A Pool of Riches") statue, for $199.99. Man, I want that. (Somewhere, the Mirror Universe Mikester, the one without the goatee, is writing in his weblog "Man, what kind of dope would spend $200 on a Disney duck statue?")

p. 473 - Aeon Flux Complete Animated Collection DVD Director's Cut - Crud, I want this, too, if only to wash out the taste of the forthcoming live action Aeon Flux debacle. I actually have the original Aeon Flux DVD, which was one of the earliest DVDs, I believe. Remember my rant a while back about DVDs that ballyhoo "interactive menus" as a special feature? (Summary: if you couldn't interact with it, what's the use of a menu?) Well, it's probably because of DVDs like this old Aeon Flux one that companies started noting "menus" as a feature. This disc has the Liquid Television shorts, four (I think) episodes of the half-hour cartoons, and if you want to see a later part of the disc, then by God, you have to skip ahead to it manually. No pansy-ass menus for you weaklings here.

p. 473 - Holy crap, Mirrormask is already coming on DVD? Well, it did show in at least four theatres nationwide, I guess that was enough.

p. 475 - Sin City Recut & Extended 2-Disc DVD - "Hey, remember that Sin City DVD you bought a couple months ago? Well, f*ck you, buy it again, fanboy!"

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

I was looking through issue #41 of Marvel Premiere #41 (April 1978), featuring the one (and, until a few years ago, only) appearance of "Seeker 3000," per a customer request to verify this was the comic he was looking for. In the process, I noticed what I thought was a pretty good idea for a sci-fi comic:


That goateed computer image is in fact the antagonist of the series, who died earlier in the issue but "lives" on as the shipboard artificial intelligence. Having your former arch-nemesis as the A.I. you have to interact with on a daily basis just to survive was, I thought, a neat concept ("Set a course for Gamma Omnicron IV, computer!" "Course set...or is it? Ah ha ha ha!"), and it's a shame the series never went any farther than it did. I know that it's been done elsewhere (for example, in the Red Dwarf TV series, Rimmer lives on as a shipboard hologram that pesters Lister), but it just sort of caught my fancy.

I know a Seeker 3000 mini-series came out a few years back, but I'd completely forgotten about it until I started Googling around for references to the original story. It appears, though, that they didn't exploit the idea overly much, getting the A.I. program off the ship (and onto another) in short order.

A similar concept popped up near the end of Jim Starlin's tenure on Dreadstar, back in its First Comics days. Dreadstar and Company are preparing to leave the galaxy, but longtime Company member Willow decides to stay behind. However, she has uploaded a copy of her personality to the shipboard computers, and thus becomes the ship's A.I. This wasn't an adversarial relationship like in Seeker 3000, but the implication was that, one day, Dreadstar would return to the real Willow and find her much different from the shipboard A.I. he'd grown accustomed to.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again...I'm sure this is a fetish for somebody. If someone can fetishize Roy Orbison being wrapped up in plastic clearwrap, someone can fetishize human personalities being uploaded into computers.

Additional linkage: synopses of Marvel Premiere #41 and the late-90s Seeker 3000 mini-series.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

So in response to
my post yesterday, about superhero-genre characters with little or no origins, commenter Stavner mentioned Gadget from the Chip 'n' Dale Rescue Rangers cartoon. I wasn't intending to bring in cartoons, since that opens up another whole can o'worms (where did Hong Kong Phooey learn his technique? Is Inspector Gadget a robot or a cyborg or what...if he's a robot, what's up with his "niece?" Why did Baron Otto Matic and Clutcher hate Tom Slick so much?), but it's a fair point as well. To use a more recent example, I remember reading that the producers of the Teen Titans cartoon have no intention of explaining the origin of the team, since that's sorta beside the point. The point being, of course, superhero action to entertain the kids, who, it's assumed, don't need a "beginning" to enjoy the show.

However, as a kid once myself, I know I spent a lot of my youth wondering about endings. Did the family on Land of the Lost ever get home? What happened during the last two years of the Enterprise's five-year mission? You know, that sort of thing. To use an example that was just a tad after my time, many kids wanted an ending episode to the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon so badly that the rumor started that, in fact, there was a concluding episode produced and aired. (Mark Evanier, who worked on the show, says there wasn't, and he should know.)

So FARK linked to this story about an IRS agent accused of allegedly stealing comics from a comic book store (to which the defense attorney's reported rebuttal was an inquiry about the store's tax records, which has what to do with the case, exactly?). Anyway, that reminded me that I haven't really talked about shoplifting on my site, here, mostly because it's too depressing. About 90% of the time, it's kids trying to sneak out of the shop with a pocketful of unpaid-for trading card packs, though there's the occasional person who tries to make his escape with a pantsload of Spawn comics (real example, unfortunately). I even caught one person blatantly trying to swap price tags on back issues right in front of me...I couldn't kick that dope out of the store fast enough. Feh, sez I.

One of the behaviors described in the linked article I do see on a relatively frequent basis...the squirreling away of comics in "secret locations" for later retrieval. I don't know who they're trying to fool, exactly...do they think we don't check the shelves for out-of-place material? We're not exactly a giant warehouse, here...we're a small business, and out of place things, even in a store as full of stuff as ours, stick out like sore thumbs. Are they hiding the items to come back and steal it later? Or, as I suspect is the case, are they hiding the items because they don't have the money for it right now, and don't want the item to sell out before they can come back with money to buy it? (And, usually, it's an item that's in no danger of selling out.) Of course, when we catch them in the act, we just come up right behind them, pull the item out of hiding and put it back where it goes, giving the perp our patented Sardonic Glare™ all the while.

One shoplifting story that did amuse me slightly...we spotted a young man pocketing some trading cards, who then quickly made his way to the exit to make good his escape. I immediately followed him outside and asked him what happened to the card packs he'd been carrying around. He immediately blurted out "Ileftthemonthecounterletmeshowyou" and ran back in the store. He charged to the back counter where the card packs were kept, clearly intending to dump his pocketed merchandise on the counter before I could get back there to see him do it, and thus claim they were there the whole time. However, my coworker at the time, Greg, who was, and still is, a mountain of a man, was waiting for him at that counter, arms crossed, glaring back down at the kid. Totally busted, and the kid knew it.

Ah, good times.

Monday, October 24, 2005


(SPOILERS ahead for The Killing Joke, Batman: Gotham Knights #54, and some decades-old Bat-comics)

So I was discussing something with pal Dorian the other day...when the Joker was introduced in the Batman comics, he was (I believe) just another deformed villain. I don't think any explanation was given for his appearance at the time...if I'm wrong, set me straight.

A decade or so later, the Joker's history is revisited, as we find out why he looks the way he does...he was a crook called the Red Hood who fell into a vat of acid.

Then, in the late 1980s, we find out why he was committing crimes as the Red Hood, in Alan Moore and Brian Bolland's The Killing Joke...his career as a stand-up comedian was flopping, and he needed the money for himself and his pregnant wife. This is presented as a possible backstory for the Joker, as the narrative itself gives the out that, due to his insanity, the Joker doesn't always remember his own past accurately.

And then, a few months ago, Batman: Gotham Knights #54 revisits the scenario presented in The Killing Joke, establishing that (with some minor timeline changes) the backstory presented there is the actual one. Part of it is apparently witnessed by a young Edward Nigma, AKA the Riddler, so at least part of the story has independent confirmation. (Now, I'm not a regular reader of Gotham Knights, so perhaps this has all been contradicted by later events in the comic.)

Of special note, in the Gotham Knights story, the Joker's real first name (Jack) is revealed for the first time, in comic book continuity (as opposed to the Tim Burton film, though it's "Jack" there, too). It had been hinted at in a comic before (in Legends of the Dark Knight #50, when the Joker's cousin calls him "Ja--" before being interrupted).

So, over a period of 60 years, the Joker's backstory/origin has slowly been revealed...and, as Dorian said during our discussion, that probably means that the Joker's origin, when you get right down to it, isn't important to the character. He's a crazy deformed murderer, straight outta Dick Tracy, and that's really all you need to know. The first two times we received backstory was as a surprise ending to the Red Hood story ("...and the Red Hood turned out to be...the Joker!"), and as a contrast to the lives of Batman and Commissioner Gordon (in The Killing Joke). The third occurrence, in Gotham Knights, was to kick off a subplot/storyline/something-or-other that may very well still be going on, for all I know.

I have no real point here (and boy, aren't you glad I'm admitting it now after reading all that?) aside from thinking how odd it is that a character as well-known and established as the Joker has had so little revealed about him over the years. His backstory is rarely revisted (as opposed to, say, Superman, whose home planet of Krypton is constantly brought up, or Lex Luthor - the Silver Age version at least - whose childhood and family was well documented). Aside from some expansion on the Joker's pre-Joker life in the cartoons and movies, he still remains more or less a mystery.

There were other characters whose origins went untold for decades...the Golden Age Starman didn't have his full origin told until All-Star Squadron #41 (cover date Jan '85), and, if memory serves, the formative moments of another Batman villain, the Penguin, weren't revealed until a new one-page origin sequence in a digest otherwise filled with reprints (Best of DC #14) from 1981. And I'm sure there are several superheroes and villains from the Golden Age that have never had origins, as new characters with fantastic powers were rushed out to capitalize on the initial success of Superman without much thought to who they are and where they came from.

At the other end were the characters whose origins were left purposefully obscure, with clues dropped here and there about the character's history without ever coming together into a cohesive whole. Wolverine would be the prime example of that, though most of the big questions have been answered between Barry Windsor-Smith's "Weapon X" story and the Origin mini-series (which, I believe, was instigated by the fear that the X-Men movies were going to establish their own origin for Wolvie). The creation of the X-Men character Cable tried to follow this pattern, by presenting a full-blown superhero character with a mysterious backstory dribbled out in bits and pieces, to lesser effect.

And then there's the Phantom Stranger, whose origins are purposefully obscure, though he's either an agent of God (or of the Lords of Order, as in this mini-series). An issue of Secret Origins provided four possible origins, though, given the character's later treatment, it seems Alan Moore's origin of "an angel who rebelled against God and later changed his mind" seems to be the one most people are going by.

Any other superhero-genre characters that you can think of whose origins have remained relatively unknown (by design, or by accident - i.e. early cancellation)?

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Smallville, Aquaman, some linkage...you know, there's a reason I don't put titles on every post. 

So I haven't done any Smallville talk here for a while, but I had a couple comments about the latest episode. One, I liked the characterization of guest-hero Arthur Curry, AKA "Aquaman" -- it was a nice, cocky, good-humored approach to a character that 1) doesn't get a whole lot of respect, generally, and 2) has too often been portrayed as being angsty and angry in some kind of attempt to build respect.

Two, pal Dorian mentioned prior to my seeing the episode that Lex Luthor is now in full-on mustache-twirling villain mode, building superweapons and such. Seems to me that Clark is as much at fault for this relationship breaking down as Lex is...if Clark had just said "oh, yeah, I survived getting hit by your car because I'm super-strong," none of this would have happened. But then, I suppose we wouldn't have had a series!

And three, these lines:

Arthur: "We should form a group...some kind of Junior Lifeguard Association."

Clark: "I don't think I'm ready for the JLA."

Oh, you huge teases. But that did get me thinking about what other Justice League of America characters could show up on the show.

Batman: No way, no how, according to Smallville's producers. The success of Batman Begins means Bats is sticking to the silver screen.

Wonder Woman: Unless the supposedly forthcoming film is delayed or outright cancelled, due to the poor showing of director Joss Whedon's last film Serenity, I wouldn't expect WW to pop up either.

Hawkman: I think it'd be absolutely fantastic, but a guy with wings flying around Smallville may be pushing it a bit.

Green Lantern: Not likely, since, if they stick close to the comics, this opens Smallville up to the presence of a whole bunch more alien beings, and I think they've got their hands full just dealing with Kryptonians. Plus, I get the feeling that they'll have the GL rings made of (or at least powered by) Kryptonite since, you know, they're both green and all. You know how TV works.

Green Arrow: Now this could probably work, since this is a character that's a little more down to earth, and easy to fit into Smallville's setting. My idea was an older, anti-establishment college professor who strikes against "the man" at night...pal Dorian's idea was a fellow college student, rebelling against his spoiled rich upbringing as a campus radical.

Vibe: Oh, relax, I'm just kidding. But, you know, his powers are within the standard range of abilities we've seen during the series...and what I wouldn't give to see a breakdancing superhero on a current TV show.

On a related note, a while back (under March 6th) I noted that you could have the Legion of Super-Heroes actually appear on the show (since at least one episode has dealt with time-travel setting that precedent). Three mysterious students show up on campus, and Clark discovers that they have super-powers (one can shoot lightning, the other has magnetic powers, and the third can read minds). Plus, they seem to know an awful lot about Clark, and also seem to know what's going to happen before it happens. And they mysteriously vanish by the end of the episode.

I'm not holding my breath.

Ken at Ringwood resurfaces, and the Comicsweblogosphere is all the better for it. Ken, you magnificent bastard, you need to post more...Doom commands it!

A big ol' "Congrats" to the mighty Laura "Tegan" Gjovaag, who celebrates three years of posting on her weblog and somehow remaining relatively sane. And, as she is the mistress of all things Aquaman-ish, go read her thoughts on the latest Smallville.

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