bigbadsupes

For trade readers, April has seen a lot of action along the fringes of the Superman meta-narrative. Elseworlds, alternate Earths, alternate timelines, clones, and adaptations- we live in a time of many Supermen. I’ve written previously on how Batman is preparing us for travel through the multiverse and today I’m going to discuss how Superman’s multiple existences in the multiverse allow us to confront and cope with some of our fears- or rather, just one fear: evil Superman. (bad Superman?)

kalelwhiplash

This month saw the publication of three trades that deal with an alternate Superman and each of these alternate Superman are more evil than the Superman archetype. Each of these titles stand among some of the best DC is publishing- compelling stories that twist the Man of Steel into a reflection of the terrors associated with absolute power and nigh-invulnerability.

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In Earth-2 Vol. 5: The Kryptonian, a Superman under the control of Darkseid has come to post-Apokolips Earth-2 to bring about a revival of Apokoliptian terror. The fear that our greatest heroes will come under the power of tyrants is not an irrational fear and Earth-2 is full of deceitful authorities coming from all angles.

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The heroes of Earth-2, including a Red Tornado Lois Lane, attempt to use Clark’s adopted parents Jonathan and Martha Kent to bring Superman to his senses. This strategy is common when trying to calm Superman down. It seems very natural to us because we believe that humanity is what makes Superman good which is all sorts of problematic, but it comforts us to think that our way of life could keep a god from doing terrible things, which is odd in itself as many comfort themselves by worshiping a god that does in fact do terrible things and swear allegiance to an employer who might not care if they live or die.

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In Justice League 3000, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, and Batman have been resurrected alongside Superman in a morally questionable experiment completed by the Wonder Twins in the distant future.

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These Wonder Twins differ greatly from the original Wonder Twins and that can be said for all of the members of the Justice League. Of these not-exactly-cloned clones, Superman falls the shortest of his legacy.

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Here, Superman is a sex-crazed blood-thirsty idiot who keeps forgetting that he no longer has the power to fly. This depiction of an imbecilic Superman preys upon the same fear that perpetuates the dumb jock stereotype and inspired so much protest against George W. Bush’s presidency. We are afraid of the stupid and the powerful. Being powerless in the face of mediocrity can feel worse than being powerless in the face of brilliance- here, there is no respect for the fool leading you, no hope.

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In Injustice: Gods Among Us Year Two, the story of a Superman driven to vengeful murder and then obsessive fascism continues as more and more DC Comics characters try to make sense of this totalitarian Last Son of Krypton. I’ve really enjoyed Injustice. When it first came out, I avoided it because I didn’t want to read a comic book based on a video game, but when I heard Mike Miller, one of the artists, speak about it at Dragon Con (and then subsequently found a copy of the first trade for $5), I decided to pick it up. Immediately I was impressed at how well Tom Taylor grasped the characters. I should mentioned that Tom Taylor wrote about this fascist Superman and also wrote the Earth-2 Darkseid-controlled Superman. Maybe he has an irrational fear of Superman and his therapist suggested he work through those issues by bringing his fears to their absurd conclusion. In Year One, Superman ended war. In Year Two, Superman must figure out a way to keep the peace. To do so, he needs an army and Lex Luthor has developed a pill that will allow normal humans to rock and roll all night while simultaneously partying every day. The pill even let Alfred beat up Superman.

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Superman’s motivation towards absolute rule comes from the Joker tricking him into killing Lois Lane, their unborn child, and the entire city of Metropolis. Superman just wants to keep everybody safe. This motivation creates a very different totalitarian Superman than the classic Red Son where Superman’s drive towards a one-world government-dictatorship is more philosophical than emotional. All these stories of Superman going over the edge really make me want to reread Red Son. In both cases, Batman is there to oppose him. In Earth-2 and Justice League 3000, alternate Batmans prove to be the voice of reason in the face of a radically imperfect Superman.

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All of this evil Superman stuff just off the heels of Forever Evil, a storyline than spanned nearly the entire New 52 universe and featured Ultraman, the Crime Syndicate’s answer to Superman, as one of its main villains.

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As well as Superman works as a metaphor for absolute good, he also works quite well as a metaphor for absolute evil.

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Here we have mescaline spinach lizards at the gates of dawn… more lizards, more rainbows… You can pick up a clock with this design that can also serve as a 24-hour shaman.

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lizardsunset

Here’s another lizard pic for all the lizard lovers out there in TV land. Unlike some of the recent animal pieces I’ve posted recently, this one veers away from the 1960s faded rainbow color harmony in favor of a more disturbing diseased flesh landscape- a blend of well-worn cowboy face with a mutated cowboy environment. I’ve had a fascination with a sort of necrotic Gaia setting, a corrupt global consciousness succumbing the weakness of the life that defines it, spiraling into a mass unified depression, rivers slitting their wrists while violins play the most minor keys that only the most suicidal of composers can conceive while the thumping collective heartbeat sinks to a mere single beat per minute. The chilling sense of infinity that comes from single point of reference, horizon-gazing, mirroring, rule of thirds, Kubrickin’, macro the micro/micro the macro, etc. and the like- I’m a sucker for all those motifs.

goobyebrianandcliff

With the release a few weeks ago of Wonder Woman Vol. 6: Bones, Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang’s spectacular run on Wonder Woman is now available in full in trade format. The story, told over 35 issues and a few annuals, is compiled in six volumes each sporting a one word title: Blood, Guts, Iron, War, Flesh, and Bones. I imagine DC will release the run in a more concise form- maybe two volumes? omnibus? In its current state, you’ll want to read all six volumes as it is one complete story with suspense constantly building to a very classy plot twist.

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Tasked with rebooting Wonder Woman for the New 52, Azzarello and Chiang made the bold decision to alter her origin story- exposing her origins from clay as lie told to Diana by her mother Hippolyta to keep her own affair with Zeus a secret from Diana and more importantly, Hera, who have demanded retribution for another woman sharing a bed with her husband as is the custom among Olympians. This change to Wonder Woman’s origin story brought forth scores of fantastic characters, a true pantheon of pun-masters. The scripts for this story possess a wit rare in comics or any other medium- a wit that perhaps can only perform in the medium of comics and a wit unabashedly fond of puns.

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I spoke at length about Wonder Woman’s introduction to her extended family tree at last year’s Comics and Popular Arts Conference at Atlanta’s Dragon Con. With each issue, Wonder Woman becomes more acquainted with the citizens and standard operating procedures of Olympus. Hephaestus, Hades, Eros, Dionysus, Aphrodite, Cassandra, Artemis, Apollo, Demeter, Strife, War, and a Wesley Willis-inspired Milan are just a small sample of the colorful characters Wonder Woman now finds herself related to. The whole family adjusts not only to Wonder Woman, but other surprise family members come in to shake things up- particularly the one known only as the First Born.

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Because Wonder Woman has her hands full with all of this family drama, the rest of the DC universe stays largely off the pages of these books with the exception of regular appearances by Orion of New Genesis (not old Olympus). Readers who follow Superman/Wonder Woman know that Superman’s absence from the adventures outlined in this story has left the Man of Steel with some feelings of inadequacy.

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The lack of other DC superheroes is a bit of a blessing. Readers can read this run without feeling the baggage of an entire universe’s continuity. The series has since the New 52’s inception been a title that non-superhero readers could digest more easily than more continuity-rich titles like Green Lantern, Superboy, or any of the Trinity (War or Sin) related titles. Because of this, I highly recommend the collection as a gift for beginner readers. While the book contains a healthy bit of violence, some sexual content, and an intrinsic critique of religion, I believe the book is not only appropriate for young readers, but particularly valuable to a younger audience as it introduces them to Greek mythology as well as sophisticated story-telling elements in a way that’s more enjoyable than formal education.

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As the New 52 comes to a close, this run on Wonder Woman will be remembered as one of the best elements of the reboot. Unlike other great runs (Manupaul and Buccellato’s Flash, Williams and Blackman’s Batwoman (especially), Johns and Reis’s Aquaman) that have ended, this series demonstrates a more perfect overall architecture. As I read the final pages, I feel more satisfied as the story came to its conclusion. The only other run from the New 52 that comes to mind that demonstrated the kind of forethought seen here is Morrison’s Action Comics but the creative teams behind both titles approached rebooting two of DC’s biggest titles. I don’t include Snyder and Capullo’s Batman here because their run hasn’t ended (and hopefully won’t end for a good long while)

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Here’s another sampling from the Rainbow Menagerie I’ve been working on. My recent work with rainbows has stemmed largely from my nephew learning his colors. I’m actually working on a color-themed project with him now that aims to teach him the colors in Mandarin as well as English. Once that project is finished, I’ll likely post it here. I expect the project to take at least another four weeks to complete.

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The goat in these images is based on one of the goats from the Goat Farm Arts Center in Atlanta.

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trevornoah

A few weeks ago I wrote an open letter to Jon Stewart with some ideas about who might be selected as his replacement. With the recent announcement that Trevor Noah will be taking up responsibilities behind the desk at the Daily Show, I figured I could do him the same favor I did Jon Stewart and whip up a quick diddly panda portrait. Unfortunately I don’t know about any marijuana-based comedies in Trevor Noah’s past, so I worked from an image from his more recent fake news correspondent work. Noah is the first South African to receive the honor of a Baby Nightsoil panda portrait. Of the horses still in the Daily Show stable, I think choosing Noah was the best decision. He’s the best suited to anchor the show- Jessica Williams has too much of a hurricane-like energy while Jordan Klepper and Hasan Minhaj both have that eternal youth look that old people don’t trust in doctors and newscasters. Some critics have worried how Noah will cover the upcoming 2016 presidential elections, but I have high hopes for Noah as he joins the great tradition of foreigners and immigrants having a sarcastic love affair with the United States- Alexis Tocqueville, Jean Beaudrillard, Craig Ferguson, my wife, and of course, John Oliver. Foreigners can have an appreciation of this great American experiments that native residents can’t even fake. Other critics have seized upon a few tweets for what I consider mildly offensive content. These tweets and their commentary on Israel and women’s appearances would’ve been inappropriate in a professional setting unless your profession is comedy. In that case, the material seems pretty tame. Perhaps he will start a meaningful revolution during his tenure as host of the Daily Show, but probably he’ll just tell some jokes.

jiajia

This is a portrait of my friend Jia Jia. It’s based on a photograph taken about three years ago. If I remember correctly and I can’t sweat to, the photograph I worked from was actually taken by her then-boyfriend/now-husband Chinese rock star Yu Dong of the Bear Minorities and Doc Talk Shock. I did a panda version of Doc Talk Shock a while ago (image below). Yu Dong is the one with birds on his shirt. The drummer you may recognize from the group Horse Horse Tiger Tiger.

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rockchaircuties

Here’s another slew of panda portraits. Subjects include happy young pandas in rocking chairs, panda academics exploring the substance and consequence of popular culture, the War Corps Starlord, and a fantastic noodle spot in Mableton, Georgia called Scott’s Eats and Sweets that I highly recommend.

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“Soyez réalistes, demandez l’impossible.

If scholars were more like pandas, it would be easier to secure a faculty position.

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sweets

 

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April marks the 75th anniversary of Batman #1, the first appearance of the Joker. To commemorate this, DC Comics will be releasing variant covers featuring the Clown Prince of Crime for nearly all of their titles this June. The one title that will not feature a Joker variant has generated a bit of controversy. Raphael Albuquerque produced a cover for Batgirl that pays homage to Batgirl and the Joker’s most iconic confrontation- the Joker’s amusement park opera of sadism and avant garde photography, The Killing Joke. The brutality of the source material and consequently the nature of the cover didn’t jive too well with fans who see the recently rebooted Batgirl as a safe haven among more explicit titles on the rack. DC Comics and Albuquerque responded to the criticisms swiftly and decided not to release the variant. This move demonstrated a sensitivity to these fans and that sensitivity then drew criticism from other fans who saw the move as“irrational censorship.” Personally, I like the cover.

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I also admire Raphael Albuquerque’s response to fans who found the image offensive. His public messages have demonstrated a genuine concern for readers, reflecting the good character of an outstanding artist. Of the new Batgirl creative team, I can’t say Cameron Stewart looks good at the end of this though. He’s come off as pretty self-righteous, unsupportive of his fellow artist, and generally self-important. He writes as if the cover presented by Albuquerque featured Nazi boobies or something else so ridiculous it would never appear in a comic.

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Variant covers celebrate the desires of a democracy- you can choose among many covers. If you want to see stupid looking Scribblenauts, buy a Scribblenauts cover. If you like a comedic cover on a book that deals with serious issues, buy a MAD or Robot Chicken cover. If you’re so addicted to steampunk that you require steampunk elements in all of your reading materials, you can buy steampunk variations. Do 3-D lentical covers give you seizures? Read a 2-D cover. Can’t decide? Wait until the trade publication and hopefully there’ll be a gallery in the back pages. Batgirl readers would miss no story elements by purchasing the standard issue. Like the Spider-woman controversy, I have trouble understanding the great threat posed by a variant cover as it exists on the margins and can be ignored without sacrificing from the desired experience of readers who don’t like the cover. The Teen Titans cover that I discussed in the same article at the Spider-Woman article was the official title, so for that reason, its protest made more sense to me. However I felt the criticism lobbied at the Teen Titans cover were somewhat arbitrary- the cover wasn’t a particularly good example of the elements of comic book art to which Janelle Asselin wanted to draw attention. Asselin’s criticisms made more sense for addressing comic book culture at large and probably would’ve benefited from waiting for more suitable cover.

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While highlighting the on-going rift between what Dan DiDio calls “the tumblr crowd” and the inspirations for Comic Book Guy, I worry the commotion made over this Joker cover has only made matters worse. The decision to pull cover triggered a paranoia in many fans that a new Comics Code is coming. Considering the minimally offensive nature of the cover, their fears might not be misplaced. Certainly other artists will make future decisions about their art under the influence of what has occurred and we may miss out on some visionary art. Albuquerque created the cover with the best of intentions to no reward (maybe you’ll go pick up the back trades of American Vampire after seeing his awesome Batgirl cover- I recommend it. Scott Snyder’s writing is top notch) and other artists who see that may hesitate especially considering the vagueness of the cover’s crime. Is the damsel-in-distress such an offensive trope that women will become invincible? Will artists be afraid to show female characters being vulnerable? Such scenarios are absurd extensions of very real actions taken by the readers, creative team, and publishers of Batgirl. Alternately, instilling a greater sensitivity in artists could have phenomenal results that allow comic books to achieve their true potential as the greatest story-telling medium.

tropicalheath

 

 

 

 

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