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So, this is a thing that I was recently made aware of.

Most people my age have fond memories of Fox’s X-Men cartoon from the early 90’s and one of those fond memories is likely to be the excellent opening theme. For those that don’t remember it,  prepare for a treat.

From the ominous driving church bell to the squealing guitars and the building sense of tension it is a  classic. It also helpfully shows off every member of the team, their name and their powers so it serves as a useful piece of exposition for anyone coming late to the party.

The show was a big hit and, even more importantly, the accompanying toy line was a massive success. And where money can be made off toys the Japanese aren’t far behind. So the show made the rare move from America to Japan with a Japanese dub.

And the Japanese team promptly took one look at the American intro and decided, nah, not nearly Japanese enough.

Thus was born, this.

It’s impressive that only 3 minutes of screen time could produce quite so much baffling insanity:

    • Yes those aliens are brood who do show up in the cartoon (looking nothing like this) but why does Magneto have the ability to summon them from the ground?
    • Brutal violence and decapitation!
    • SHOCK!
    • Beast can punch the ground hard enough to create earthquakes.
    • This shot of Professor Xavier being an absolute pimp.
    • Mummyboon X-Men Japanese Intro Rogue, Storm Pimp Xavier
    • Rogue’s super-power appears to be flirting.
    • Mummyboon Japanese X-men Intro Rogue
    • Jubillee and Professor X seem to need to do Katas in order to use their powers.
    • Oh and telepathy can repel magnetism, apparently.
    • Cable gets his own intro and his super-power appears to be “owns big guns.” (this is not wholly inaccurate). Cable is not a member of the X-Men in this cartoon, he does feature but only as an occasional guest star. I can only imagine that Japanese fans were baffled at why the gun toting guy in the intro didn’t feature in the show.
    • Are those phalanx? On motorcycles?
    • Mummyboon Japanese X-men Intro Phalanx on bikes
    • This amazingly emo bit of Drama with a capital D
    • Mummyboon Japanese X-men Intro Emo Cyclops, wolverine & Jean Grey
    • Iceman makes it into the intro? He’s in this show less than cable. Hell, he;s in this show less than Maverick!
    • Krakoa!
    • Mummyboon Japanese X-men Intro Krakoa

And of course

  • CRY FOR THE MOON! – which is now officially my favourite Engrish sentence in a Japanese song EVER!
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Superman Gary Frank Mummyboon

As part of a lengthy piece I’m writing about Gatchaman Crowds it became necessary to define what constitutes the Super Hero genre, and then that short paragraph spun out into an entirely new post.

Because defining what is and isn’t a Super Hero story is actually very difficult.

You wouldn’t think it would be. It is easy to look at the classic Superman as the archetypal Super Hero and go; powers, costume, secret identity, fights Super Villains that there is a Super Hero.

But it isn’t quite that easy. Powers? Batman doesn’t have them and he’s probably the 2nd most famous Super Hero of all time. Costumes? None of the Runaways have them, Smallville didn’t have them, Hellboy doesn’t wear one but these are all Super Heroes. Secret Identity? Everyone knows Tony Stark is Iron Man. Fights Super Villains? Surely that’s set in stone? But then there aren’t many Super villains in Watchmen, in V for Vendetta, in Miracleman and I would argue all of those are Super Hero stories.

The basic problem with defining the Super Hero genre is that genres are a mix of what can broadly be termed iconographic elements and structural elements (or alternatively connotative and denotative).

Star Wars Poster Mummyboon

Iconographic elements refer to the things in the setting that define the genre or sometimes the style with which the setting is portrayed. If you have aliens, ray guns, robots, spaceships, cyborgs, etc then you have a science fiction story. Similarly elves, dwarves, magic, monsters and wizards are all iconographic elements of the fantasy genre.

Iconographic elements are the easiest for the audience to latch onto but they’re sometimes the least useful in determining what genre a particular story is. Star Wars, for example, has space ships and ray guns but it also has magic, is it SF or Fantasy (many would argue it is a hybrid genre like science fantasy or space opera). Alien has aliens and spaceships but that’s a horror film, right? Spaceballs has space ships and aliens but that’s a comedy.

Conan the Barbarian Mummyboon

Iconographic elements are usually only signifiers of the structural elements that determine who the characters are, what the narrative beats will be and what the aim of the story is. For example, you can tell a science fiction without any of the normal SF iconography because SF is always concerned with answering the question “what if?” SF starts from a stand point of asking a question, usually about humanity and our relationship with technology, and then extrapolating out the outcomes of that question. The Man from Earth for example is undoubtedly an SF story, it asks what if there was an immortal man, but is set entirely in one room of a house and features no technology beyond modern day. The answer of “why is he immortal?” might be magic but that doesn’t make this a fantasy. That’s because fantasies, structurally, are concerned with a quest arc. Find this thing or go to this place to achieve this goal (usually defeating the baddie), and the meat of the story is the journey to get the thing or get to the place. LoTR, Narnia, His Dark Materials, Krull, the list of fantasy stories that conform to this template is endless.

Then you get the genres where the purpose of the story is the main thing defining the structure. Horror and Comedy are the clearest example, if the story aims to make you scared, it’s a Horror, if it aims to make you laugh, it’s a Comedy. Horror does have iconographic elements (ghosts, monsters, vampires, slashers) but if you can scare your audience you’ve made a horror whether or not those iconographic elements are in your story.

The thing that makes Super Hero stories hard to define as a genre is the lack of a firm structural element that is shared across them. Because most Super Hero stories appear in comics, and because comics are a serialised medium, creators are constantly having to think up new things for their characters to do.

And that’s hard. So they steal stuff.

They take inspiration from other genres and have their characters shift into that genre for a storyline. In the X-Men alone I can think of Horror stories (the one where Kitty fights a N’Gari alone at Christmas), Fantasy Epics (the Kulan Gath crossover, Inferno, the recent storyline rescuing Nightcrawler from Heaven), Space Opera (The Dark Phoenix Saga), Mythological tales (the time they all went to Asgard), Science Fiction (Days of Future Past), Comedy (loads but “Girl’s Night Out” jumps to mind) and many, many more. The X-Men switch genres with every story and so do The Avengers, The JLA and any other long running Super Hero team.

And this Post-Modern mixing and matching applies to the iconographic elements as well. The Avengers have had on their team Thor (from mythology), The Vision (an SF robot), Dr Strange (a Fantasy magician), Luke Cage (a Blaxploitation character of all things), Blade (a vampire hunter with his roots in Horror) and yet The Avengers is unquestionably a Super Hero team.

This Post-Modern mixing and matching of elements is actually one of the things I absolutely adore about Super Hero comics but it does make it bloody hard to say what is and isn’t a Super Hero.

So let’s go back to Superman and look at those key things we drew out of him and see what is and isn’t necessary to be a Super Hero.

The Key Things from Superman:

Super Powers

Costume

Secret Identity

Saves People

Fights Super-Villains

 

Super Powers

Goku Mummyboon

The presence of super powers would at first glance seem to be the biggest thing making your main character a Super Hero but it’s actually the weakest criteria of them all. There are Super powered characters in plenty of stories that would never be classed as Super Hero, indeed the leads in nearly every Fantasy story written have some kind of extra human ability. Harry Potter, for example, if he was in the Marvel Universe would put on a costume and go fight bad guys but nobody would dream of calling him a Super Hero.

And it’s just as true on the flip-side. Batman is easily the 2nd most iconic Super Hero there is and he has no powers. And he’s not alone, Hawkeye, Black Widow, Shang Chi, all the bat family; there is a long tradition on non-powered Super Heroes.

What all of these characters can do though is something that ordinary people can’t. Batman may not have powers but he is fantastically wealthy almost to the point of being able to do whatever he likes, he has gadgets and weapons ordinary people can’t access, he is amazingly good at martial arts, he’s an acrobat and he’s the world’s greatest detective. There are plenty of reasons you can’t be Batman and it isn’t because your parents are alive.

This is probably the number 1 iconographic element of the Super Hero, off the top of my head I can only think of a single example of a Super Hero with no abilities beyond normal man and that’s Kick Ass, which is sort of a cheat. However I can name plenty of Super powered individuals in other genres so on its own, this isn’t enough.

The Costume

Batman Neal Adams Mummyboon

Of course, you think! I know what Superman and Batman have in common, they both wear capes and underpants on the outside! Surely it is all in the costume. Batman may have no powers but he and all his friends dress up in silly costumes to fight baddies, that’s what makes a Super Hero.

Certainly if you’ve designed a character with a cape, tights and underpants on the outside then without question there is a Super Hero in your story. However, what is and isn’t considered a costume swiftly gets into dodgy territory. The Hulk doesn’t wear a costume, he wears normal street clothes but he is immediately recognisable as the Hulk because he’s huge and bright green. Hellboy doesn’t have a costume but with red skin, a tail, devil horns and an enormous right hand he sure does stand out.

A better way to phrase this would be that Super Heroes have a distinctive appearance that separates them from normal people. That kind of phrase includes Superman, Batman, The Hulk and Hellboy. It even includes many non-costumed Heroes. The Runaways are probably the poster kids for Heroes without costumes but Nico’s Staff, Chase’s Fistigons and Arsenic’s purple hair and dinosaur give them a distinctive design that would stand out on the street.

Runways Mummyboon

The only examples of Heroes without a distinctive visual that I can think of come from media outside comics like Clark in Smallville and there is a very good reason for this that again is due to the medium. Comics require you to evoke a recognisable character over multiple panels and multiple issues and often drawn by different artists. With the limitations of printing technology back when most Super Heroes were designed you have to do this using only 4 colours and a few quite thick lines. The end result is that Superman’s face can look quite different from artist to artist and panel to panel and it becomes impossible to recognise him just based on the face. So how do you ensure your audience recognises him? You give him something iconic like his s shaped jehri curl and his costume.

In live action though the audience can recognise the actor’s face so there is no need to have these distinguishing visual characteristics. When you start thinking about other comics, comic strip and animation characters though you soon realise that the stipulation “a distinctive appearance that separates them from normal people.” Is far too broad. For starters it seems to absorb most shonen anime characters. Think about Goku in Dragonball, with his monkey tail and red gi he stands out from the background crowd but nobody would call him a Super Hero. How about Edward in Full Metal Alchemist, very distinctive with his red coat and cyborg limbs but not remotely a Super Hero. Hell you could argue that this rule applies to Charlie Brown, Homer Simpson and Tintin and none of those are Super Heroes.

Secret Identity

Spider-Man Mark Bagley Mummyboon

Ah but the key thing about the costume is that it signifies the Super Hero’s secret identity. Clark Kent puts the costume on and now he’s Superman, not Clark Kent. The world may make fun of Peter Parker but when dons his tights the world will love Spider-Man.

The Secret Identity is a great story telling device creating tension between the private life of the character and their adventures as a Super Hero. It generates a huge number of plot devices that comics have reused for decades; “I have to do an important thing but this villain is attacking the city at the same time,” “oh no, the villain has discovered my secret identity and now can threaten my loved ones,” “oh no, a villain is attacking and I’m in my secret identity, how will I escape to change into costume?”  It’s such a good device for generating plots that it’s been used for tons of stories that have nothing to do with Super Heroes. Hannah Montana for example. In fact it pre-dates the Super Hero going all the way back to at least The Scarlet Pimpernel. Now some argue that this makes The Scarlet Pimpernel the earliest Super Hero (he arguably is actually) but I would say that using this device does not make your story part of the Super Hero genre.

And vice versa, not all Super Heroes have secret identities. In fact at this point I’d wager the majority of Super Heroes do not have a secret identity. Amongst the major marvel Heroes Captain America, Iron Man, Hawkeye, Hulk, Black Widow, She-Hulk, all the X-Men,  Captain Marvel, The Guardians of the Galaxy and arguably Thor all have identities known to the public at large. It’s basically Spider-Man and some teenagers with secret identities these days.

But notice I didn’t refer to them as Steve Rogers, Tony Stark, Bruce Banner, Clint Barton and Natasha Romanov. I used their codenames because they all have them. Whether or not their civilian identity is a secret or not most Super Heroes draw a distinction between a personal life and a heroic alter ego. The world may know Steve Rogers is Captain America but he’s not actually being Cap until he puts the mask on.

And notably this excludes a lot of those shonen manga Heroes. Goku, Naruto, Ichigo and Luffy are always Goku, Naruto, Ichigo and Luffy whether they’re fighting bad guys or eating food. They don’t have some normal identity they retreat to. Interestingly this doesn’t include most Magical Girl characters or Tokusetsu characters (Power Rangers, Kanen Rider, Ultraman) all of which feel inherently more Super Heroey to me. This idea of an alternate identity then seems crucial to the definition of a Super Hero.

I propose the rule then is “Super Heroes have some kind of alternate identity signified by a code name.”

Saves People

Superman Saving Someone Mummyboon

Super Heroes are Heroes, that means they save people.

Really? Have you read a Batman story in recent years? I can’t remember the last time I saw him on-panel save an innocent life. Punch thugs? Yup. Do some detective work? Yup. Catch someone falling off a bridge. I can remember something like it happening in Batman #1 3 years ago but since then, nada.

But there is a larger context to consider here. Batman might not be catching falling civilians or rescuing kids from fires but by his actions fighting villains he is saving people in another way. In the current Year Zero Arc, The Riddler has engineered a situation where electricity isn’t working in Gotham City, outside help is barred from entering and people are dying. By outsmarting the Riddler and defeating him physically Batman puts to an end that situation and stops more people dying. By punching the bad guy he saves people’s lives.

My slightly more nuanced way of putting it would be:

“By their direct actions or the consequences thereof the Super Hero acts to saves lives or improve the quality of lives for others.”

Now again, this is massively broad and encompasses nearly every Fantasy, SF, Action and Western protagonist you can name. In fact it’s more a definition of a hero than s Super Hero. But this to me is one of a two part structural component of the Super Hero genre alongside.

Fights Super Villains

The Joker Mummyboon

To me nothing more defines a Super Hero than that they are thrown into conflict with Super Villains. What’s a Super villain you ask?  Well we can apply the same logic for the iconographic elements, if your antagonist has abilities beyond normal people, a distinctive appearance that marks them out as separate to normal people and some kind of alternate identity then you have a Super Villain.

And the conflict between hero and villain is always resolved in some kind of physical sense. This doesn’t have to mean fighting (although, yeah, 99% of the time a Super Hero story resolves in punching) but it can mean the hero making some Superhuman act of endurance, a Superhuman sacrifice, a physical exertion beyond mortal means or outwitting the villain by hacking a thingy, pressing a thingy or inventing a thingy. But the conflict should be resolved as a result of the hero’s own ability to do things normal humans cannot not just by talking nicely, getting the police involved or some kind of deus ex machina.

Doctor Doom Mummyboon

The great thing about Super Villains for me is that they stand in symbolically for the theme of the story. If you’re writing an X-Men story about how racism is bad you can create a Super Villain that symbolises racism and then have the X-Men punch them to symbolise racism being defeated. Is it subtle? Oh Christ on a bike no. Is it satisfying and cathartic? Oh yes!

For me though the fighting Super Villain thing goes hand in hand with the previous point. If your protagonist is punching Super Villains to get rich, score women or to complete their paid job then you’re not a Super Hero narrative.

Structurally then I’d state that the Super Hero narrative is thus:

“Utilising their abilities beyond those of a normal person and either by their direct actions or the consequences thereof the Super Hero acts to saves lives or improve the quality of lives for others in direct conflict to the intentions of a Super Villain antagonist”

That seems pretty comprehensive right, and narrow enough to only apply to Super Heroes?

Yeah…not so much. Whilst it applies to most Super Hero films I’ve seen recently it also applies to most action films I’ve seen recently, as well as a heck of a lot of Fantasy, SF and even some Westerns.

The problem with trying to define a Super Hero story structurally is that the stories go right back to the roots of western literature. Super Heroes are often described as modern myths and I believe this to be true and structurally the idea of turning the subtext into a text that is resolved via conflict goes all the way back to Gilgamesh. As such it has influenced all stories told ever since and so you find that Super Heroes are really lacking in a set of structural elements to call their own.

After much thought then I’ve defined my Super Hero genre test as follows.

Iconographic

  1. Super Heroes have some kind of alternate identity, usually signified by a code name.
  2. Super Heroes have a distinctive appearance that separates them from normal people.
  3. Super Heroes possess the ability to do something beyond those of normal people.

Structural

  1. Utilising their abilities beyond those of a normal person and either by their direct actions or the consequences thereof the Super Hero acts to saves lives or improve the quality of lives for others in direct conflict to the intentions of a Super villain antagonist.

The test works for me like this. If your character possesses quality 1 and at least one other Iconographic element then they’re a Super Hero. Possessing quality 2 and 3 except in rare occasions does not make them a Super Hero. In addition your character must have been involved in at least one narrative that conforms to the structure of 4. If not then yes they are a Super Hero but they are not involved in stories in the Super Hero genre.

So with those rules established let’s do some tests on some core Super Heroes and some marginals.

Superman – 1234

Superman Mummyboon

Batman – 1234

Spider-Man – 1234

Spider-Man John Romita Mummyboon

Wonder Woman – 1234

Wonder Woman Terry Dodson Mummyboon

Goku – 234 (not a Super Hero)

Goku Chibi Mummyboon

Monkey D. Luffy – 234 (not a Super Hero)

Monky D Luffy Mummyboon

Sailor Moon – 1234 (definitely a Super Hero)

Sailor Moon Mummyboon

The Power Rangers – 1234 (also definitely Super Heroes)

Red Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers Mummyboon

Indiana Jones – 234 (not a Super Hero)

Indiana Jones Mummyboon

James Bond – 34 (so we can stop that argument)

Daniel Craig James Bond Mummyboon

The Scarlet Pimpernel – 1234 (so yup, earliest example of the genre I can find)

The Scarlet Pimpernel Mummyboon

The Shadow – 1234 (although a pulp hero he also works perfectly well as a Super Hero, it’s simply an issue of tone as to which aspects of his character you wish to emphasise)

The Shadow Mummyboon

Harry Potter – 234 (and I’m only giving him 2 for the lightning bolt)

Harry Potter Mummyboon

Kane from Kung Fu – 34 (a hero, not a Super Hero)

Kane from Kung Fu Mummyboon

The Bride from Kill Bill 123 (lack of 4 means you could put the bride in a Super-hero story but she hasn’t been in one yet)

The Bride Kill Bill Mummyboon

V from V for Vendetta 1234

V for Vendetta Mummyboon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guardians of the Galaxy Mummyboon 1

Guardians of the Galaxy 2014

Directed by James Gunn

Since the general consensus amongst critics seems to be that Guardians of the Galaxy is absolutely amazing (as I write this it has a 92% on rotten tomatoes) I thought I’d take the unusual approach of listing all the flaws I thought it had.

It has weak villains

Guardians of the Galaxy Mummyboon Ronan 2

This is becoming a major problem for Marvel Studios films. Although I have yet to come across a Marvel Studios film I don’t like, the lack of interesting villains is starting to become a noticeable theme. You’ve got Loki (who is amazing), various greasy arms/corporate guys in the Iron Man films and lots of big bad evil with a capital E ranting guys who want to destroy things (Malekith, Red Skull). Ronan the Accuser falls into the latter group and spends the majority of his screen time delivering overwrought dialogue that feels very super villainy but which doesn’t advance his motivation, pose an interesting ethical dilemma or even convey much personality. You can replace everything actor Lee Pace says with “I am evil” and get much the same effect.

It’s even worse in the case of Ronan since the comic’s version is a very good villain. Ronan is driven by very strong ideals of justice and obedience to the law, I’s just that the law he follows is inherently corrupt so he ends up on the side opposed to our heroes more often than not. He’s basically Javier in space with a hammer. Yet like all good villains he is the hero of his own story and like every Marvel villain ever who was written well enough he’s fallen on the side of angels a few times too.

Movie Ronan though, big evil dude with a hammer. The most character he gets is when Thanos says he’s pouty and my fiancé and I both laughed out loud because yeah, dude is really pouty.

Thanos seems awesome at this stage btw but is barely in the film. Yondu was okay but more of a side character than an antagonist and Nebula was just kind of there. The film gave her enough back story for a potentially interesting relationship with Thanos and Gamora but not enough screen time to explore it. I suspect we’ll see more of Nebula when we finally get to the Infinity Gauntlet.

Its action is underwhelming

Guardians of the Galaxy Mummyboon Nova Shield 7

In an action film you expect the action set pieces to be inventive, exciting and memorable. In Guardians they are largely not. They’re functional. Action happens in all the places you expect it to in the story and no action scene feels bad but equally none of them stand out for me as much as the Nightcrawler scene in X-Men 2, the battle for New York in Avengers (and the amazing shot that joins all the characters) or the Winter Soldier’s attack on the bridge. Guardians absolutely works as a comedy and the moments that stand out in the film are the gags and character beats but as an action film the action should be special too.*

Gamora is kind of dull

Guardians of the Galaxy Mummyboon Gamora 4

Gamora’s character arc happens off-screen. She goes from being a universally renowned assassin working for some of the most dangerous villains in the galaxy to a good guy trying to save it between her first appearance and her second. That’s a big swing for a character and the actual character progression she has on screen during the film, going from having a stick up her ass to having it slightly less far up her ass, is not quite as compelling.

Worse still, because of the way the character dynamics are set up in this film Gamora ends up being the member of the team that is most noble, most concerned with helping others and saving the day. She fulfils a very necessary narrative function because without her the other fuck ups that form the Guardians would not be properly motivated to engage in the plot. It’s just a shame that they gave that function to Gamora who, in the comics, is one of the colder, less emotional, less noble and more badass characters. It leaves Gamora kind of bland since everything about her comic’s version is gone and the movie doesn’t invent very much to replace it with.

Having said that, this might only be a problem for people familiar with comic Gamora. I know plenty of people who loved her character and thought she made a refreshing change from female characters in other super hero films so maybe she only comes across as white bread compared to her more robust comic counterpart.**

It was thematically weak

Guardians of the Galaxy Mummyboon Rocket and Groot 3

This sort of comes back to the villain thing. The way super hero stories deal with theme most of the time is quite ingenious, you literalise it. You turn the thing you’re talking about into a person or object that your hero can interact with. Want to say that racism is bad? Make a super-villain called racist-man, give him racist themed super powers and have the X-Men punch him. Unsubtle and not very nuanced but awesome, and that’s one of the reasons I love super-hero stories.

When you have villains who are just evil for the sake of evil though you can’t do that. That doesn’t mean you can’t have thematic weight but you’ve sort of missed the point of super hero stories as far as I’m concerned. If you’re using Ronan your story normally is about the role of authority, that was not a factor in GOTG.

What theme’s Guardians does have are shallow and clichéd. The idea of making a surrogate family out of your friends is fine but it has been done to death and better in other sci-fi fare (most notably Firefly and Farscape which GOTG is heavily influenced by). The character’s do have arcs but the arcs don’t form a cohesive theme, Quill’s arc about learning to take responsibility has nothing to do with Gamora’s arc about being less stiff or Drax;s arc about coming to terms wit the loss of his family.

The plot was bobbins

Guardians of the Galaxy Mummyboon Knowhere 9

This is a flaw in basically every super-hero film except Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The plot can be a big part of the appeal of a story. Who wants what, why and how? What will happen next and where? Will our heroes live or die and what will the consequences of their actions be? You watch something like The Bourne films and the appeal is all in the plot. Same with a lot of TV, cliff-hangers, plot twists and developments in the story are exciting for the audience.

In most comic book movies though, the plot is merely a framework to get from one action set piece to another. Nobody gives two shits what Loki is doing in Avengers of why, they come for the character interaction and the fight scenes, they come for the awesome. Ditto GOTG, the story is very basic and largely devoid of much tension or enigma. However it provides a framework for great comedic and action set pieces.

That scene with Gamora and Star-Lord in space is bullshit

Guardians of the Galaxy Mummyboon 6

It is and you know it.

So wait, you ask. You didn’t like the plot, the themes or some of the characters. Does that mean you didn’t like Guardians of the Galaxy?

Guys.

Guardians of the Galaxy Mummyboon 5

I absolutely adored it. It is awesome!

I can’t recall which critic said it but their review of Avengers was basically that it defied conventional critical analysis because the plot, themes and other things critics normally talk about were irrelevant to the success of the film. Avengers was about being awesome, and it delivered the awesome. Ditto GOTG except GOTG is more focused on being funny.

Another thing Avengers and GOTG have in common? Great writing, great acting and great direction. Those three things will cover a multitude of sins. Your movie can be an empty hollow nothing with a mess of a plot that’s got holes you can fly a space ship through but if you deliver interesting characters with charisma that I like hanging out with, have them throwing out dialogue which had me crying with laughter and it put them in a setting which is inventive and imaginative then you win. Worked for GOTG, worked for Star Wars, worked for Indiana Jones, worked for Clerks, worked for James Bond for 40 years and it’ll work again.

Guardians of the Galaxy Mummyboon Drax 8

Just as final note, Rocket and Groot are he stand out character undoubtedly but they’re also my favourite characters from the comics. What impressed me more was Drax, a fairly dull guy in the comics but hilarious on screen. Drax has been both a smart character and a dumb one in the comics over the years but the idea to make him of normal intelligence but completely literal is both hilarious and adds many layers to his character. Bautista’s performance was a revelation too, he has great comic timing and I’m hoping for big things from him in the future.

*The only action set-pieces people bring up are Yondu’s arrow and Groot smashing a row of villains both of which are really visual gags.

**on the topic of Gamora I just want to mention briefly that this film barely squeaks by the Bechdel Test since most of her interactions with Nebula revolve around the topic of Thanos or Ronan. They do have some dialogue about each other directly though so it passes. Next time I’d like to see Phyla-Vell, Moondragon or Mantis on the team to beef out the female character count a bit. Or even Star-Hawk in the both a man and woman incarnation of the character.

Teen Titans  2 1

Plot Synopsis

The issue starts with the rather emphatically named Deathstroke the Terminator being called before some mysterious guys in purple hoods who go by H.I.V.E. (The Hierarchy of International Vengeance and Eliminations) And as an aside right from the start can I point out that Deathstroke’s real name is Slade Wilson. This guy is seriously called Slade Wilson aka Deathstroke, the Terminator! One of those names would be sufficient for most mercenary bad asses but Slade’s sheer testicular fortitude cannot be contained by a mere one name.

Teen Titans  2 2

Deathstroke cuts right to business asking H.I.V.E. “Who do you want me to kill?”

It turns out they want him to kill the Teen Titans. Why? *shrug* I guess when you’re called The Hierarchy of International Vengeance and Eliminations you need to kill somebody.

They turn out to be surprisingly cheap mysterious guys in purples robes though because when Slade asks for the money up front they refuse. Slade calls the deal off and tries to leave but H.I.V.E. aren’t happy with his attitude and deploy their HR department in the form of some machine guns.

Slade escapes, in the process showing off his acrobatic abilities, grenades and bad attitudes and writes the meeting off as a waste of time. However H.I.V.E. were secretly recording Slade’s actions and taking DNA samples and they think they can recreate his powers to make a Terminator of their own.

Cut to Grant Wilson (and yes he is Slade Wilson’s son but, shush, that’s the big reveal) incredible dead beat loser and jerk arguing with his girlfriend. Grant is about to go full on Lifetime special on Carol when his abuse is interrupted by Starfire blasting him onto his ass with starbolts.

Teen Titans  2 3

Why are the Titans at Carol’s apartment? Well it turns out that after destroying her old one they felt obliged to set her up with a new one. Not sure how they managed that or why they feel they then have the right to just walk into her flat whenever they like but , hey, creep got star bolted so it’s all good.

Starfire, Wonder Girl and Kid Flash get summoned from Carol’s place to the docks where its time for a fight with hot pink robots!

Teen Titans  2 4

This scene exists to do things. Firstly it shows off our characters powers and code names again and secondly it prompts Starfire to finally learn English. Robin chews her out over not obeying orders and then laments that she can’t actually understand him. So Starfire kisses him and demonstrates that she has the power to learn languages by kissing people.

Teen Titans  2 5

This then prompts Changeling to continue to be a massive creep.

Look, I loved Beast Boy on the cartoon but Beast Boy was funny. Changeling all your ‘jokes’ are basically just you being a creep to women. Cut it out, right now.

So while all this has been going on Grant Wilson has donned an orange hospital gown (???) and is undergoing a procedure that will grant him 100% use of his brain!!

Sigh, oh comic book science.

In case you don’t know the little nugget that human beings only use 10% of their brain power is completely false. We use the full 100%. Now admittedly we don’t use the full 100% at any one time but that is for very good reasons. Different parts of your brain do different things and parts of it activate in sequence in order to trigger certain effects in your body or consciousness. We have a name for when these parts trigger out of sequence or when too many trigger at once. It’s called a seizure. So really Deathstroke’s real power is that he can function normally despite having seizure’s nearly constantly.

And whilst that is going down Raven is standing on an evil rock pleading with some eyes in the sky for forgiveness. Forgiveness that the eyes will not grant!

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The next day two things happen at once. First of all we go to Changeling’s mansion where…

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Oh fuck you Gar!

*ahem*

Anyway Changeling is having a pool party where we get to ogle Wonder Girl in a bikini and we learn that Starfire can’t go back to see her parents ever again.

At the same time Cyborg is in his dad’s lab arguing and we learn that Cyborg’s dad is dying. Cyborg doesn’t learn this yet though as he gets attacked by Grant Wilson, newly super powered and going by Ravager.

Ravager gets his ass handed to him by Cyborg but Deathstroke interrupts the fight, rescuing Ravager and telling him that his powers are killing him and if he uses them he’s going to die. Ravager ignores this and makes his way to the pool party to kill the Titans. Deathstroke joins him too and a battle royale begins.

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It’s a pretty great fight with Ravager and Deathstroke dodging and weaving between the 7 titans and both sides seem to be pretty evenly matched. That is until Ravager keels over. Yeah, turns out Deathstroke was right and Ravager’s powers have been artificially ageing him. He now looks like a mummy and is about to die. Before he does pass on though Raven plants an illusion in his mind of his greatest desire, the area strewn with the bodies of the deceased Titans. Satisfied his revenge has been sated Ravager dies with a smile on his lips.

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Deathstroke though blames the Titans and as he carries his son’s body away swears revenge against them. The Titans let him go though, showing compassion for their foe.

The issues ends with the H.I.V.E. again revealing that they have been manipulating all the events, pulling strings so that they can set Deathstroke up against the Titans without paying his extortionate price.

Issue 2 sets up an awful lot of plot elements that will come back to be more relevant in the book later on. The H.I.V.E. will be recurring antagonists and despite being dead we haven’t heard the name Ravager for the last time. Most significantly though this issue introduces Deathstroke the Terminator. The X-Men have Magneto, the Fantastic Four have Doctor Doom, the Titan’s have Deathstroke.

And fittingly he’s a character whose motivation ties into their theme. Deathstroke is basically a grieving parent, one who wants to lash out at the kids that were a bad influence on his own son and lead to his ultimate demise. Unfortunately his motivations don’t make a huge amount of sense, he really should be going after the H.I.V.E. and the fact that he blames the Titans is more of a plot contrivance than anything else.

In time Deathstroke will grow to be one of the most complicated and sympathetic antagonists in D.C. comics but here his motivations and personality are sketched in at best. That said he does come across as confident and effective right from the beginning. Slade is able to take on basically the entire Titan’s team single handed, and without super powers. He’s athletic, agile and armed with swords, sticks and guns. He’s sort of an evil Batman and again, considering this team is led by Robin, that makes him a perfect foil for them.

As for our main cast? Well the issue gives each team member roughly a page to spotlight their character and remind us what their deal is. Kid  Flash doesn’t get any actual development to his angst and the only extra thing we learn about Raven is that the big threat she’s preparing the team for has eyes. In contrast we see Cyborg’s antipathy to his father first hand and it is ugly. We also learn that Cy’s father is dying and is trying to reconnect with his son and apologise before he finally passes away.

The Titan that gets the most development in this issue though is Starfire. Appropriate considering she was the least developed of the newbies in the first issue. Kory is your typical free spirit, she thinks nothing of kissing Robin, she doesn’t understand why human beings need to wear clothes and she’s also naive about humanity in general.  She’s also got a dark side though. She doesn’t understand the concept of compassion for your enemy and thinks nothing of blasting pink robots to pieces even before she knows they’re robots.

I find it hardest to get a bead on Kory as a character out of all the Titans at this stage. She’s something of a stereotypical male fantasy, the uninhibited exotic princess who is eager to learn our ways and naïve about how the world works. Basically if Starfire were Asian she would be a very problematic stereotype but as an actual alien she just about scrapes past my politically correct sensor.

On the art side of things can we start with this cover.

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God damn I love that cover.

I really miss covers that had a sense of narrative to them and told you what was happening in the book you were going to buy. This cover really sells this issue. No reader can possibly think  that the entire team would be killed off in the second issue but covers didn’t really lie to the audience back then so you assumed there would be something like that scene appearing in the book. You therefore had to buy this issue to find out just what was happening! It’s a classic use of the enigma in marketing and I love it.

What I love significantly less is Ravager’s costume. Assymetric, weird ear things, little skulls on giant thigh high boots on a guy, random arm discs. Ravager is a mess of a character. This is unsurprising because George Perez, as good as he is an artist, is a terrible costume designer. How else would we have gotten HOT PINK ROBOTS!!!

I will just take a moment to briefly described the characters looks. Robin, Kid Flash, Wonder Girl and Changeling all have existing costumes. I’ve never liked Robin’s outfit and the older the character is drawn the sillier it looks. Changeling’s look is pretty bland but considering he turns into animals and has the visually interesting bright green animal thing going on it’s kind of irrelevant. Wonder Girl and Kid Flash though have brilliant costumes. For both, the colours match the hero they’re a sidekick to but with a different heirarchy, Kid flash is primarily yellow with red highlights in reverse of the Flash. His loose hair conveys youth too in a subtle way and he just looks good on the page. Wonder Girl’s outfit has similar strengths helped by the fact that Perez draws a very beautiful Donna Troy and his great body language for her which always has her standing confidently.

For our newbies I’ll discuss Starfire a bit more when we get to her back story. Raven looks great. I love how her silhouette makes a bird shape using only a hood and a cape. The temptation would be to give her a mask of some sort to create the beak but the pointed hood pulls off the effect and has the bonus of feeling more mystical than traditionally super-heroic.

Cyborg is not the greatest design being mostly a guy who looks like he’s covered in bits of metal than a guy who is integrated with the metal but I have always liked his face mask. Nothing says cyborg better than half human face, half robot face.

Then we get to Deathstroke. hoo boy Deathstroke.

Deathtroke’s design is mixed. Like Cyborg I can forgive Perez’s fetish for assymtery because Slade is missing an eye and the half mask only showing one eye is mysterious and distinctive. I also get why he’s festooned in pouches, guns, sticks and swords since he is a skilled mercenary who uses all these weapons over the course of the issue.

But chain mail…on an acrobatic character? It didn’t make sense for Captain America and it doesn’t make sense for you either. Buccaneer boots? a massive dangling bandanna knot that anyone can yank? And worst of all the orange and blue colour scheme. It doesn’t look villainous or threatening it looks like he’s advertising Irn Bru.

In terms of his storytelling the main strength for Perez at this stage continues to be his figures, in particularly their body language. I mentioned Wonder Girl already but this approach applies to other characters too. Deathstroke always seems posed like he just landed or is just about to move again, he’s never still but constantly moving, ducking and weaving and for a character whose gimmick is supposed to be quick thinking it really sells him as a threat. Starfire is exuberant in her body language flinging her arms wide and always smiling, emphasising the character’s passion and Raven seems still and posed emphasising her restraint.

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Panel to panel wise Perez is using a grid but  shifts the number of panels in the grid, the layout and the proportions to best fit the needs of the scene. I particularly like the page where Ravager first attacks cyborg where the grid uses lots of different shapes and sizes as if emphasising the chaos of the attack in the layout of the page.

New Teen Titans Issue 2 is a nice follow up to the first issue. It goes over much of the same territory in re-establishing our main character’s personalities but adds a lot, 2 new villains, moves Kory’s arc along and has a nice fight scene t boot.

It’s all coming together.

Last year I wrote a piece explaining why I thought Disney had chosen Big Hero 6 as their first Marvel property to turn into an animated film and highlighting some of the issues in adapting the comic in a racially and culturally sensitive way.

I’m pleased to see from this trailer that a lot of what I talked about has come to pass. However, Disney have opened up a whole new can of worms with some of their decisions.

Let’s start with the good. I love the tone this trailer gets across. The low key slapstick, the mixture of humour with a genuinely threatening villain and the easy going heart to it. I wish more Super-Hero stories in any medium had this tone and it certainly gives me Incredibles vibes.*

They’ve also chosen to focus on ” a boy and his robot” as their main story telling angle which I think is a good choice. Big Hero 6 is not a thematically dense concept, it basically amounts to “Hey Japan is different, lolz” so grabbing onto something in the property that shows more promise for exploration is a good idea. A boy and his (insert noun here) stories work well for animation and children’s cinema and some of the greatest animated films of the past 20 years (The Iron Giant, How to Train your Dragon) have used it as a basis.

The animation is good, as to be expected of Disney, although you can now add me to the chorus of people who are getting a little sick of how samey Disney’s character designs are getting.

Also is that Lord Deathstrike?

Lord Deathstrike Big Hero 6

I mean, I know that the odds that a character named Lord Deathstrike will appear in a Disney movie are about as likely as me voicing him but he sure does look like him doesn’t he?

big hero 6 lord_deathstrikeWhere this goes wrong is San Fransokyo. Oh my, San Fransokyo.

When it was announced that this film would be set in an amalgam city of Tokyo and San Francisco I thought it could go one of two ways. Either it could be clever and cute, a good way to point out cultural differences and make some gentle jokes about them, or it could be horribly, horribly offensive combining every stereotypical Japanese thing the creators could think of.

What I did not expect is that they would get the wrong country. Because San Fransokyo looks great, it it’s meant to be San Beijing.

Seriously, those “Japanese” touches like the lanterns and the roofs that flare up at the corners. Those are Chinese. You will find them in Japan, in fact they’re not uncommon but that’s because China has had an incredible cultural impact on Japan. But in the style and colours used in this trailer they feel way more Chinese to me than Japanese. And even then they’re a touch that goes back to the pre-Meiji era and are only seen nowadays in temples and other historical buildings. There are so many icons of modern Japan you could include and other than some Katakana and Kanji Disney simply hasn’t!

What San Fransokyo really looks like is the China Town in San Francisco expanded out to encompass the whole city. And while I know a lot of Japanese people live in the San Francisco China Town, guys the clue is in the name as to which country it more closely resembles.

Here’s hoping the trailer just gives off a wrong impression and the film gets it better.

The stripping out of Japanese culture though continues onto the characters. Big Hero 6 is a team composed of 1 robot and 5 Japanese people or Japanese-Americans. Big Hero 6 in the movie? 2, maximum. That’s a big cut Disney. The premier Japanese super-hero team now has Japanese members as the minority. I know why you’ve done it, the setting demands a mix of Asian and Caucasian people to reflect the mixed up Asian and Western architecture and you don’t think an all Asian cast will fly for American audiences. In fact you’ve actually increased the team’s diversity in one way by adding a black man to the mix, which I applaud, but, I still feel like it has missed the point a little bit.

In fact let’s dig into the characters a bit more. Starting with our hero, Hiro, and his pet robot Baymax.

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Here’s what I wrote about Hiro and Baymax in my original piece.

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Hiro and Baymax are clearly affectionate homages to a number of Japanese characters. Hiro is a super-genius kid who builds a robot protector for himself. That’s an idea that mixes bits of Getter Robo, Tetsujin 28 and even the Kenny’s from Godzilla.

And here is some info from screencrush.com

Ryan Potter portrays Hiro, a robotics prodigy who has “the mind of a genius—and the heart of a 14-year-old. His state-of-the-art battle-bots dominate the underground bot fights held in the dark corners of San Fransokyo. Fortunately, big brother Tadashi redirects Hiro’s brilliance, inspiring him to put his brain to the test in a quest to gain admission to the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology. When a tragic event changes everything, Hiro turns to a robot named Baymax, and they form an unbreakable bond—and two-sixths of a band of high-tech heroes on a very important mission.

It sounds to me like Hiro is largely unchanged from his comic incarnation of “boy genius.” I suspect that Hiro is the character that Disney saw the most potential in, making him the hero and basing the film on him. To that end he is basically the same character. Baymax however has been tweaked considerably.

Baymax (voiced by Scott Adsit) cares. That’s what he was designed to do. The plus-sized inflatable robot’s job title is technically Healthcare Companion: With a simple scan, Baymax can detect vital stats, and, given a patient’s level of pain, can treat nearly any ailment. Conceived and built by Tadashi Hamada, Baymax just might revolutionize the healthcare industry. But to the inventor’s kid brother Hiro, the nurturing, guileless bot turns out to be more than what he was built for—he’s a hero, and quite possibly Hiro’s closest friend. And after some deft reprogramming that includes a rocket fist, super strength and rocket thrusters that allow him to fly, Baymax becomes one of the Big Hero 6.

Baymax in the comics was designed and built entirely by Hiro. However, when Hiro’s Father died he used some of his Father’s brain engrams to program Baymax. That makes Baymax a combination of Hiro’s friend, his bodyguard his father and his nanny. Disney however have switched the tragic death from Father to Brother and also made Baymax a construction of Hiro’s Brother. This simplifies the relationship considerably emphasising that Baymax and Hiro are in effect brothers. It’s a bit more conventional than the comic’s version but riffs on many of the same emotions and probably works better in the limited running time of a film.

Next up is our only other remaining Asian, Go, Go Tomago, played by Jamie Chung.

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She’s tough, athletic and loyal to the bone, but not much of a conversationalist. Popping bubble gum and delivering well-placed sarcasm are totally her speed. The daredevil adrenaline junkie is at her best on wheels, and when Go Go joins forces with Big Hero 6, she rolls like never before, using maglev discs as wheels, shields and throwing weapons.

Big Hero 6 Go Go Tamago

Wild rebellious Go Go was the Wolverine of the group, the bad ass outsider who don’t take no bull. She’s been de-aged and her criminal past is gone but her personality and team function are largely the same. Also her name is still misspelt. She should be Go, Go, Tamago i.e. the Japanese word for egg. Although considering they changed her powers the egg joke doesn’t work any more anyway. I dig the new costume too, it’s both more sentai than her original sentai inspired outfit and more modern.

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Fred, voiced by T.J. Miller, has been de-aged, gone from Asian to White and gone from having a Godzilla shaped ki aura to just turning into a Monster.

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Other than that he’s mostly the same, a stoner in a hat with badass monster related powers. He’s the comic relief of the group and it looks like he’ll continue to be playing that role. Also, I like his new Monster design. It does feel quite Asian without specifically referencing a particular monster design I can think of. I will miss his Devil Dinosaur t-shirt though.

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So that is what Honey Lemon, who will be voiced by Genesis Rodriguez which is a Super-Villain name if I ever heard one, looks like in the film. Here is what she looked like in the comics.

Big Hero 6 Honey Lemon

…..

…….

That’s, um, that’s quite the change.

Honey Lemon was a play on Cutie Honey, a popular anime character who is mainly famous for being full on naked during her magical girl transformations. Honey Lemon the comic character is consequently, sexy, confident and playful with some stuff from other anime characters (most notably Doraemon) thrown in.

From the character design alone it’s clear that Honey Lemon in the film is not going to be the same character. Other than a power-set and a name they have nothing in common. Problem being that now Honey Lemons’s power-set and name don’t make sense. She’s called Honey Lemon as a play on Cutie Honey, a character she now no longer resembles. And her power-set is grabbing things from her purse, not exactly the most subtle of satirical jabs.

That said I am not surprised they changed her. Whilst Honey Lemon was hugely inappropriate for a kid’s film the bigger problem is that she’s a parody character, not a character intended to work on her own merits and she needed something done to her to appear in this film.

Finally we get to Wasabi, formerly Wasabi no Ginger.

Here is what Wasabi no Ginger looked like in the comics.

Big Hero 6 Wasabi No Ginger

And here is what I wrote about him.

Finally there’s Wasabi-no-Ginger which is a name that is simply unacceptable. Honey Lemon is stretching it but Wasabi-no-Ginger isn’t a clever pun so much as it is the equivalent of a Japanese comic introducing a morbidly obese character in a cowboy hat called Burger McRanchdressing. Try and count the stereotypes in this short character description guys. He’s a sushi chef (1) but also a samurai (2) who fights by using katana (3) and sushi knives (4) that he makes from his body whilst wearing wooden sandals (5) and a Hawaiian shirt (6?). Whilst the other characters are a spin on existing Japanese characters Wasabi-no-Ginger is the result of throwing everything Chris Claremont knows about Japan (sushi, samurais…Hawaiian shirts?) into a blender and calling the result a character. You know in the Super Friends how the Native American guy who grew got called Apache Chief rather than something that described his powers like Giant Man, or Gigantor. That is the level of patronising we’re dealing with here in Wasabi-no-Ginger.

I hate, Wasabi no Ginger.

Now, here is what he looks like in the film.

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Wasabi (voiced by Damon Wayans Jr.) is committed to precision. He’s super smart and just a touch neurotic, but the big and burly neatnik can’t help but join the cause when Hiro needs him most. As part of “Big Hero 6,” Wasabi amplifies his martial arts skills with jaw-dropping plasma blade weaponry. Sharp doesn’t even begin to describe this guy.

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!

He’s not a sushi chef. He’s not a Japanese stereotype, he can’t be because he’s not Japanese. He doesn’t wear geta, he doesn’t fight using katana and he has a personality beyond “everything Chris Claremont knows about Japan.” Even his name makes more sense since both wasabi and plasma are hot. Plus, he adds further diversity to the team and avoids being a black stereotype too! It’s such a low bar to hurdle but thank you, thank you so much Disney for doing it.

So based on all this info I’m still looking forward to Big Hero 6 and cautiously optimistic that this will be another Incredibles. I’m nervous about San Fransokyo but Disney’s last 2 films have really clicked for me and I’m hoping they continue on with their mini renaissance.

 

*The Incredibles is in my top 5 favourite Super-Hero films and until Marvel got their shit together was basically number 1. It still remains the best Fantastic Four film ever made too.

 

The New Teen Titans Vol1 Issue 1 by Marv Wolfman and George Perez

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Plot Synopsis

The issue starts with a mysterious alien princess known as Koriand’r breaking out of an alien space craft operated by what she calls slavers. Using bolts of energy from her hands she defeats her captors and escapes in a small space craft to parts unknown.

Cut to, Dick Grayson aka Robin, having bad dreams. He has visions of a team of New Titans battling a protoplasmic blob and losing. He wakes up from his nightmare to find one of the women from his visions, Raven, is standing in his room. She tells him that the visions were planted in his head by her to prepare him because a great evil is coming and a new team of Titans must form.

Raven gives Robin the phone to call Wally West, Kid Flash, who has quit the super heroing business. Before Robin can ask any more questions she disappears with instructions to find Wonder Girl.

Raven guides Robin to an abandoned building where Wonder Girl is helpfully expositing her origin for no apparent reason. It seems Changeling, another super-hero with green skin and the power to turn into any animal so long as its green, has also been guided there. Kid Flash also shows up, apparently he changed his mind when Raven told him to come.

The 4 follow Raven again as she guides them to newcomer Victor Stone aka Cyborg, who is presently showing off his cybernetic body to his sports coach who tells him that now he is a cyborg he can’t compete with normal people. Vic doesn’t take this particularly well.

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He also explains that he was turned into a cyborg by his father in order to save his life.

The other heroes show up and Cyborg decides to join them since they’re all “freaks” like himself.

Raven then gets a psychic impression that the final Titan has arrived and needs rescuing so the team move off to do so and find the aliens from the prologue attacking a normal apartment building. Inside is Koriand’r, babbling in an alien language and seemingly exhausted by her flight to Earth.

The Titans fail to stop the aliens who escape through some kind of star gate with Koriand’r in tow. They also wreck the apartment of Grant Wilson and his girlfriend Carol in the process. Thanks to Raven’s teleportation powers though the Titans are able to follow and eventually free Koriand’r from her captivity, destroy the spaceship and escape back to Earth.

 

 

Of course, this isn’t the first issue of the Teen Titans at all.

Going way back to Brave and the Bold #54 in 1964 there was a team consisting of Robin, Kid Flash, Aqualad and eventually Speedy and Wonder Girl. Wonder Girl was famously a continuity error. Wonder Girl was the teenaged version of Wonder Woman and not a separate character to her like Supergirl was to Superman. She was included as a separate character in Titans comics though and went on without an origin of her own for nearly 5 years until 1969’s Teen Titans #22 which established her as a non-Amazon orphan, rescued by Wonder Woman from an apartment building fire. Unable to find any parents or family, Wonder Woman brought the child to Paradise Island, where she had eventually been given Amazon powers by Paula Von Gunther’s Purple Ray.

That story was written by Marv Wolfman, writer of this issue, and it represents some of his earliest comics work.

Wolfman broke into comics at D.C. and worked there extensively during the 60’s, principally on the original Teen Titans and Blackhawks. But in 1972 he moved to Marvel and became such a Marvel guy that he eventually rose to the position of editor-in-chief, generally considered to be the highest ranking role on the creative side of the business. Wolfman oversaw some of the most important comics of the decade at Marvel including many of those influential X-Men tales. He kept his hand in writing too being the author of Tomb of Dracula one of Marvel’s biggest commercial and critical successes in the 70’s.

When he went back to D.C. in the 80’s then to write New Teen Titans he was in a unique position. He was familiar with these characters, with the rich continuity of the DCU and its history. He had even been part of shaping it as the creator of Wonder Girl’s origin. However he was a Marvel writer through and through at this point, trained in the house style at the time. This tension really informs New Teen Titans in its early years.

In terms of story this issue makes me nostalgic for the number 1s of days past. This is a very functional issue, more concerned with establishing characters than telling a great story in its own right but still giving us a beginning, middle and end with tension, some super heroic fisticuffs and some mysteries along the way.

The main thing this issue needs to do is establish the characters, establish the set-up for the team and plant the seeds for a few future plots. It does it very effectively hitting all the necessary story beats with aplomb whilst still throwing in some excitement for the story itself.

Every character gets a moment to shine here and show off their powers. Raven drives the plot popping in and out and teleporting the team to safety. Robin gets to lead the team and give orders. Changeling gets to turn into a mouse and fix some circuitry and Cyborg also gets to play with computers. Starfire gets to blast things, Wonder Girl gets to be strong and Kid Flash races halfway across the country in an instant. Personalities and origins are sketched in but present and we quickly get a sense of who these people are.

In particular Wolfman chooses to start with the characters that have already appeared in comics previously, Robin, Kid Flash, Changeling and Wonder Girl. He doesn’t bother to establish an origin for these characters, trusting that readers will know it already, except for Wonder Girl who is the least well known of these. What he does do though is establish that these four have a prior relationship immediately drawing on the history of the team.

What Wolfman does take the time to do, and this is quite Claremontian, is show off every character’s angst in the first issue. The problem they’re currently wresting with in life. Wonder Girl is angsting about her origin and not knowing who her parents are.  Kid Flash angsts about whether he wants to be a hero and there is also the mystery of his connection to Raven and why he changed his mind when she told him to. Robin angsts about being in Batman’s shadow and we get something you don’t see anymore these days, Smoking Jacket and Cravat Batman.

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Man he used to wear a smoking jacket non-stop back in the day. I haven’t seen that thing in years.

Raven and Starfire’s deal is less clear although Starfire clearly has escaped slavery and Raven is trying to prevent some kind of coming doom. Cyborg gets the most screen time of the three newbies but unfortunately his portrayal in this issue is as the cliche angry black man. Cyborg has a good reason to be angry, his father has turned him into a freak and whilst he may have gained super-powers and would have died if his father had not intervened he has seemingly lost everything he cares for in life.

The only angst free character is Changeling who provides absolutely cringe worthy comic relief and hits on Wonder Girl.

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If you want me to hate you Changeling then you’re onto a really good start.

One thing that connects all these characters is that their angst stems from their relationship with their parental figures. Wonder Girl is an orphan and seeking to find her identity because she didn’t have normal parental figures. Cyborg is angry with his father for his treatment of him and seeming abandonment. Robin feels stifled by his father figure and wants to forge his own identity separate from Batman. Kid Flash has a great and healthy relationship with his parents and worries about jeopardising it by becoming a hero.

Teen Titans then is a book with a central theme to it, the stories are all about being a teenager and the relationship between teenagers and their parents. in this way TT is also very similar to the X-Men. Unlike books like The Avengers of JLA, TT and X-Men have a central idea at the heart of the book that drives what kind of stories get told. For the X-Men its the metaphor of Mutants as outsiders from normal society, hated and feared. It’s a very flexible metaphor being able to stand in for race, sexuality, disability or even the disenfranchisement felt by teenagers and that’s partly the reason X-Men resonates to well with a readership of teenaged nerds.

The Teen Titans theme is less flexible, it is explicitly about the issues facing teenagers but whilst more limited than the mutant allegory it does provide plenty of fertile ground to inspire different stories all reflecting back on the themes of being a teenager and how they relate to the world and their parents. Also TT isn’t restricted to the Titans being seen as outsiders. Being a teenager can be wholly positive and good, as we see in Kid Flash’s relationship with his family.

As well as establishing characters and themes we also get some plot threads established that will pay off down the line. Chief amongst these is the threat Raven formed the team to stop. At this stage we know nothing about it other than that it requires these particular people to defeat it. We’ve also got Grant Wilson asking some mysterious shadowy figure to destroy the titans, Kid Flash’s weird change of face and the mystery of Koriand’r.

The New Teen Titans Issue 1 is never going to be held up as a masterpiece of the comic medium but it accomplishes all the goals it sets out to do and leaves the reader interested in these characters and wanting to read more. As such, it fulfils the brief for a first issue.

Artist George Perez is of course one of the most respected and influential artists in the medium and was so even back in 1980. Perez is usually praised for his detail. He draws backgrounds and figures with far more detail than most artists and he thinks about the realism of objects more so than most so that his anatomy, machinery and architecture feel far more realistic than many of his contemporaries. A great example of Perez’s strengths as an artist is how he’ll draw characters with very different body types but all with quite realistic anatomy. Kid Flash is svelte but with powerful calves and thighs that represent that he’s a runner.

He’s also famous for his layouts which use non-conventional grids that pack in tonnes of panels and details in a single image. He isn’t without weaknesses as an artist. Perez’s panel to panel story telling is good but never particularly inventive. He’s a great artist to look at, to stop reading and admire the artwork but not the best storyteller. He is also a dreadful costume designer and regularly creates characters which look okay when he draws them but that other artists can’t replicate due to the detail in their appearance. And he has a fondness for assymetric designs I’ve never understood.

Perez was already a superstar when he started New Teen Titans but he isn’t half the talent he’ll become by the end of his tenure and one thing I am looking forward to with this project is seeing him grow as an artist.

This is good stuff, even in this issue though. I particularly like this page.

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The top 4 panels use a grid but Perez has them getting gradually larger with one panel being part of the next one. It gives the impression of the reader zooming through the skylight and into the apartment. It’s not earth shattering and it’s subtle enough that you normally wouldn’t notice the effect but it just demonstrates that Perez takes so much time and care in his art.

Then you get a double page splash like this one that really shows off what Perez can do.

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 New Teen Titans 1Part 1: Introduction 

Superhero fans usually cluster around a few key characters that form their thing. You’re a Spider-Man guy, or a Batman guy, an Avengers fan or a Justice League fan.  Sure every character is somebody’s favourite and I’m sure that somebody had a Maggott Geocities page back in the day but there are a few A-list titles that have been perennially published and which sort of carve out their own corner of the universe, with spin-offs, villains and recurring characters all their own.

For me, I’m an X-Men guy. That doesn’t mean I don’t read other comics or that I uncritically appreciate every X-Men book without questioning its flaws. It means that my primary interest in super-heroes is the X-Men. I have a love for them that goes far and above how I feel about Spider-Man, Superman or Batman even though I’ve read great stories with all of those characters. It means that I get as much Batman as I want to read from one title but I currently subscribe to about 8 X-books.

300px-Giant-Size_X-Men_Vol_1_1

And for people of my generation being an X-guy is pretty common. From the early 80’s through until the mid-90’s Uncanny X-Men was hands down the most popular and best selling comic on the stands and it was able to support a line of successful spin-offs, New-Mutants/X-Force, X-Factor, Wolverine and Alpha Flight. X-Men #1 from 1991 remains the biggest selling single issue of a comic of all time. The X-Men were a juggernaut that the industry had never seen before and probably never will again.

And the effect of the X-Men’s success was that many books morphed into X-Men clones. Chris Claremont along with stellar collaborators like Chris Cockrum, John Byrne and Paul Smith established a storytelling language and conventions for super-hero teams that would be imitated by basically every other super-hero team to follow right up until the early 2000’s and the development of “decompressed” storytelling, The impact was comparable to Lee and Kirby’s Fantastic Four. That had brought forward the ides of inter-team conflict, of filling a book with strong distinct personalities that clashed. Claremont extended this to turn team books into soap operas that treated characters as real people with stuff going on in their lives other than fighting bad guys. He would dedicate issues at a time to characters hanging out with each other adancing sub-plots and character development but conaining no big super villain of the month beat downs. Plot threads would build over years before coming to a conclusion. And angst, so much angst. Nearly every X character had some tragic flaw they could angst about. Not only could they all have a big whine about being mutants and being discriminated against but Wolverine had amnesia, Cyclops had a dead lover, Colossus loved a girl too young for him, Storm had lost her connection to the earth, Nightcrawler is an outcast even amongst outcasts, Rogue “cahn’t touch yuh remy.”

Stop, right there. Why are you talking so much about the X-Men in a review of Teen Titans?

Well, because I want to establish some context. I’m an X-Men guy, most people who got into comics from the 80’s and early 90’s are X-Men guys. But the other big group, they were the Teen Titans guys.

The Titans are D.C.’s equivalent of the X-Men. They were never as popular but when they launched din the early 80’s they became D.C.’s number 1 book. They wouldn’t stay at that position forever but they captured as much excitement in the D.C. audience as X-Men did for the Marvel zombies. Titans is not a rip-off of X-Men in any way shape or form. It builds on D.C. continuity very effectively and has its own stories to tell but in terms of tone, content, it’s use of continuity, storytelling style and place in the overall universe TT was clearly D.C.’s answer to The X-Men, a comparison Marv Wolfman has never denied and which is patently obvious when you consider the Teen Titans/X-Men crossover book jointly published by Marvel and D.C.

New Teen Titans X-Men

So in theory I should like TT, since I like the X-Men and they have similar styles. However, I’m not a Titans guy, or a D.C. guy. I know very little about the team and don’t have the strong emotional connection to them that many fans do. I have read Teen Titans volume 3 (the 2003 – 2011 series) which I mostly enjoyed and I tried to read the New 52 version before I gave up but I haven’t read any of these stories before. My main knowledge for Titans history is the Teen Titans cartoon that aired in the early 00’s and the recent Young Justice cartoon.

New Teen Titans Cartoon

I’m therefore going to be looking at them from a different lens to your typical fan. My intention with this project is to ultimately review every issue of The New Teen Titans Volumes 1 and 2 and probably the New Titans as well. This is the first time I’ve read any of these issues and whilst I might know a few things (Terra isn’t going to be much of a twist for me for example) almost everything here will be brand new to me.

 

 

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