Sunday, December 16, 2007

Things Which Annoy Me

Can we just call a moratorium on the Joker? I guess because he's the most famous super-villain ever (yeah, probably even more famous than Lex Luthor) most people don't notice how fucking stupid he is as a character. People talk about the "Riddler factor"* -- the mechanism by which weak / unimposing / gimmicky super-villains can be made into legitimate threats through unconvincing writing which masks the totally one-sided nature of match-ups like, say, the Riddler and Batman or the Toyman and Superman.** But the Joker is perhaps the single most significant character to enjoy the benefits of the "Riddler factor". No one even notices because he's so popular, so ubiquitous. But really, the guy doesn't have any powers. He doesn't do anything but be crazy and unpredictable. That's it. And somehow he is the most feared of all the supervillains on DC-Earth. I can understand, sort of, why Batman hasn't put a bullet in his head after all this time: it's written in Batman's character that he never kills anyone. (It's good to know that if he ever fought Osama bin Laden he'd hit him with a Batarang and drop him off at Arkham Asylum. The Joker has killed a lot more people than al Qaeda, and it's good to know the Justice League is OK with that. Because God knows the thing that matters is that they keep their hands sparkly-clean. You know, if I were President of DC-Earth, I'd make a point of telling Superman that he could crush the Joker's head. Not, you know, to go out of his way or anything, just, if it ever came up, please feel free.)

But then just about every month you've got some comic or another that tries to prove how much of a badass the Joker is by showing him intimidating everyone around him sheerly by virtue of his being The Joker. Or worse, beating up someone way out of his weight class simply because he's The Joker. So we've got Booster Gold, who is maybe not the most powerful superhero but still has a respectable array of generic attributes, getting his ass handed to him by a psychotic circus clown with a service revolver. See, if I were writing the comic I would have focused in on the part where it says Booster Gold has a force-field. I would think repelling bullets would be the very least you could expect from a standard-issue force-field. If your force-field doesn't repel bullets, you should probably buy a new one. But force-fields are nothing to The Joker -- why? because he's The Joker. Talk about the "Riddler Effect". And it's not like there's anyone who likes The Joker -- isn't he pretty much a pariah even among the DC villains? Sure, Batman and Superman might have edicts against killing, but what's to stop someone like, say, Deathstroke or Deadshot putting a bullet in his brain for being a prick? Not to mention any one of literally hundreds of DC villains who could easily squish The Joker, but choose not to because they're afraid of him. Does that make sense to anyone? At all? Am I the only one who has a hard time taking DC seriously when they insist on riding characters like The Joker so damn hard?

Speaking of not being able to take DC seriously -- man, is Arena some shoddy shit or what? Not that it was ever going to be anything less than awful, but still, you get the feeling that not only don't they give a shit, but they are advertising a barely-concealed disgust for their audience with every fetid breath that passes through their lips. I used to like Scott McDaniel's work -- seriously, I bought the first couple years of Nightwing solely because I liked his work (certainly not on account of Chuck Dixon's painfully rote scripting) -- but at some point he totally lost it. I don't know how or why or even exactly when, but somewhere along the line he went from being good to horrid.

If I were an editor and I had to put together a project like Arena, I would try to find an artist with a great deal of stylistic malleability, someone who could do a good job of illustrating characters culled from extremely disparate milieus -- someone who could make Kelly Jones' contorted Red Rain vampire Batman make sense standing next to, say, the hyper-defined Wildstorm Universe Apollo. Or, barring that, I would find someone who could hack out four issues of a weekly comic book in barely-legible fashion. Same difference. I mean, seriously, a book this bad really doesn't do anything but broadcast utter contempt for the suckers forking over their hard-earned money.

Re: the new X-Men crossover, whose very first act features a small town in rural Alaska being demolished and its citizens indiscriminately massacred by rampaging super-villains. Isn't that very similar to the beginning of Civil War? And wasn't the whole point of Civil War to bring all super-hero activity in America under federal jurisdiction, so that any incident like that would immediately become the responsibility of SHIELD, Tony Stark and the Initiative? And wasn't the whole point of the Civil War: X-Men book that the remaining mutants in the Marvel Universe were alloted the same rights as any other registered super-humans, regardless of the origins of their powers? We are expected to believe that Tony Stark cares so much about the proper implementation of the Superhuman Registration Act that he is personally dropping in on psychotic bush-leaguers like Moon Knight to make sure they get their registration cards. But on the other hand a bunch of superhuman terrorists can turn an American city into a crater and he doesn't show up simply because it's happening in the pages of an X-Men book? This is an order of magnitude different than simply wondering why, say, Spider-Man and the Avengers don't show up every time Magneto or someone tries to destroy New York. They're using story elements that seem to have been specifically designed to draw parallels to the biggest Marvel crossover storyline of the decade, but just assuming the readers won't wonder where Iron Man is when they've already made the point -- dozens of times over! -- of making sure readers know that there isn't a sparrow falling anywhere in the Marvel Universe that Iron Man doesn't know about. Sigh.

Is it my imagination or was Wonder-Woman #15 much better than #14? Maybe the pressure of getting off to a strong start made her first issue read strangely flat, but it seems as if Gail Simone is already showing marked improvement. In all honesty, I've always regarded Simone as more of a sturdy craftsperson with a strong eye for character than a definitively "A list" writer, but there are a few things in this issue that indicate the pressure of a gig like Wonder Woman might be inspiring her to take the kind of chances that could turn her from a good writer to a much better writer. The improvement between these two issues is strong enough to make me interested in Wonder Woman, which is something I haven't been able to say since roughly the first year of Byrne's run on the book.***

* I cannot remember who actually first coined the term "Riddler factor", but if you know, please mention it in the comments.

** I tried to think of another similarly uneven villain / hero match at Marvel, but couldn't off the top of my head. I'm sure there are some, but I think it's interesting that none spring to mind. Most Marvel heroes are pretty well-matched with their rogues' galleries.

*** The first year of John Byrne's Wonder Woman rocked.

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