Saturday, August 26, 2017

365 Days of Defiance, Day 238: Teach your children well

Panels from Journey into Mystery (2011 series) #630 (December 2011), script by Kieron Gillen, pencils and inks by Richard Elson, colors by Jessica Kholinne, letters by Clayton Cowles

Friday, August 25, 2017

365 Days of Defiance, Day 237: Yipes! Stripes!

Sometimes defiance is simply refusing to do what "The Man' tells you to, and to heck with the consequences.

"Park Lark" from Reggie's Wise Guy Jokes #14 (August 1970), creators uncredited

Thursday, August 24, 2017

365 Days of Defiance, Day 236: Spartacus in Heaven

Also in JLA #41, source of yesterday's big Aztek moment — that's a big moment for Aztek, not a moment when Aztek suddenly became giant, like Apache Chief. But wouldn't that have been cool?

Anyway, here's where Hawkman Zuriel actually convinces the angels of the Shining City to stand with him and defend Earth from Mageddon. Hey, how'd he get back to Heaven to do this? He let himself die in the previous issue. Now that's commitment.

Panels from JLA #41 (May 2000), script by Grant Morrison, pencils by Howard Porter, inks by Drew Geraci, colors by Pat Garrahy, color separations by Heroic Age, letters by Ken Lopez

How awesome is JLA #41? So awesome that there's even another great scene of defiance in it. Yeah, you know the one I mean. It's so epic, I'm gonna save it until December. Don't forget to come back then and every day in between because I'm really trying to catch up, honest.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

365 Days of Defiance, Day 235: Kobayashi Aztek

Yesterday I mentioned that Aztek's initiation into the JLA paralleled that classic ancient fable of the Kobayashi Maru, an unwinnable tactical situation in which we learn that how we face death is at least as important as how we face life. And with considerably more adrenaline! If Aztek's first day in the Justice League was the beginning of Star Trek II, then this issue of JLA is the climax of that movie, with considerably more superheroing and less "KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN"ing.

Panels from JLA #41 (May 2000), script by Grant Morrison, pencils by Howard Porter, inks by Drew Geraci, colors by Pat Garrahy, color separations by Heroic Age, letters by Ken Lopez

Oh Aztek my Aztek, you were too good for this world — which you saved.

Thanks to the wonder of Grant Morrison, JLA #41 is actually chock-full o' moments of ultimate defiance. We'll look at another great one tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

365 Days of Defiance, Day 234: Highway to the Danger Room

Oh no! (he said, excitedly, because it's a Grant Morrison story and virtually anything could happen) The Justice League has been destroyed! By Darkseid! He's always pullin' that! Also, he's burning the American flag, so expect a stern rebuke from the right.

Panels from Aztek, The Ultimate Man #10 (May 1997), script by Grant Morrison and Mark Millar, pencils by N. Steven Harris, inks by Keith Champagne, colors by Mike Danza, letters by Clem Robins

Now what are you going to do?!? No, this is not a Choose your Own Adventure story. (If you face Darkseid with a Mother Box, turn to page ten. If you escape back in time, turn to pahe 45. If you light a firecracker in Darkseid's pants, turn to page 906.) It's actually a dilemma for Aztek, the Pontiac mid-size the Ultimate Man! What will you do, Aztek, what will you do? (If you stab Darkseid with your pinty pointy helmet, turn to page 108.)

Surprise! It's all a Danger Room-style simulation overseen by the tactical master of the JLA (hold on, gotta turn my head and laugh a little)...Green Lantern. The Kyle Rayner version, with crab mask and all! Turns out this was part of the initiation test to join the Justice League (A), and Aztek's tactical plan has passed with flying colors. Other parts of the initiation test not shown here include tugging on Superman's cape, taking one punch from Batman, and going to all-you-can-eat night at Golden Corral with Wally.

The test is, in fact, a Kobayashi Maru of sorts. Unlike the real Starfleet thing, it is winnable — not by reprogramming the simulation, but by sheer force of the fact that nobody ever really dies in superhero comic books. These rules may not apply in dreams, imaginary stories (aren't they all?) or Elseworlds, but that's not because of the power of Aztek's conviction but rather of Warner Brothers merchandising.

Just as in Star Trek II, just like James T. Kirk with the glasses and all, this chapter of Aztek's short but illustrious career opens with a Kobayashi Maru test and ends not to soon after with him having to face the real deal. Join us tomorrow to see how we face death is at least as important as how we face life, Aztek.

Monday, August 21, 2017

365 Days of Defiance, Day 233: Doomsday

It's easy to overlook the accomplishments of the Distinguished Competition in the 1960s, when Marvel's House of Ideas was outpacing DC at nearly every step in storytelling and art. But I think one of the most groundbreaking stories of the late '60s, and one frequently overlooked when summing up the most powerful moments in comics, is the end of Doom Patrol #121:

Panels from Doom Patrol (1964 series) #121 (September-October 1968), script by Arnold Drake, pencils and inks by Bruno Premiani, letters by Ben Oda

Madame Rouge and Captain Zahl have already killed Monsieur Mallah (intelligent talking ape villain) and his hetero life-partner The Brain ( on wheels), so you know they mean business when they trap the Original Doom Patrol on a island, zap away their powers, and offer them an ultimatum with a two-minute deadline to decide who will die: the population of Codsville, Maine! Population 14, most popular dish: Cod-on-a-Stick. (I'm not making that part up, though its canonicity is disputed.)

Well, what did you THINK the Doom Patrol was going to say? They choose death to save the people of Codsville. So how do you think they're going to escape this deathtrap?

Whoa. They...they didn't.

There's a lot of heroes in comics who have sacrificed themselves to save humanity — The Flash, Phoenix, Ultimate Spider-Man, even Superman...but I think the Doom Patrol were the first. And remember this: it was during an age where the revolving doors had not yet been installed on the afterlife, where dead pretty much meant dead. Sure, DC could have revealed the next month that the Doom Patrol had burrowed themselves to safety, or used time travel, or clones, or robots (well, aside from Robotman)...any number of quick escape tricks that comics would turn into cliches for still being alive or returning from the dead.

But they didn't. Dead meant dead in that, and the Doom Patrol was really dead. Their ultimate act of defiance became the greatest sacrifice of all.

And who was to blame? Zahl? Madame Rouge? The Monitor, who I presume was watching all this and marking down in his little book that when the Crisis came, he'd have to grab the DP from 1967 instead? Nope! To paraphrase a classic rock 'n' roll song that was being recorded probably just around the time the Patrol kicked their mutual buckets:
I shouted out, "Who killed the Doom Patrol?"
When after all, it was you and me

J'accuse! says Doom Patrol creator and destroyer Arnold Drake directly at us, beating Buddy Baker to that trick by 22 years. I'mma gonna assume that in the background artist Bruno Premiani isn't quite as accusatory of you and me, or, at least, those of us who are named Charlie.

It's kind of late to be blaming us for not buying the book, but that's the general tone of DC's final column in this final ish of Doom Patrol. The snarky last panel and this editorial kind of haunt the otherwise pitch-perfect ending of the team; DC of the period frequently took that tone with its readers, which I imagine is one of the reasons the friendly, cheerful, buddy-tones of Stan Lee were more popular during this period.

In the end, like every comic book hero except Bucky Barnes and Uncle Ben, the Doom Patrol "got better." Robotman was back when an all-new Doom Patrol premiered in the pages of Showcase '77, Negative Man returned after a stint of being replaced with a Negative Woman (no MRA jokes, guys), and the Chief just rolled along back to have his beard hunted (again, actual canon!). Even Elasti-Girl showed up once more in the movie The Incredibles a John Byrne series that existed mainly to wipe out the world of Grant Morrison.

But for a moment, in their final moment of defiance, these four heroes gave up their lives without hesitation to save not even the world, but fourteen people they never knew. And the world wept for them, and honored them. We salute you: Niles Caulder, Rita Farr, Larry Trainor, Cliff Steele: the Doom Patrol.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

365 Days of Defiance, Day 232: We will live or die on our feet, with your boot no longer on our necks

Panels from East of West #33 (May 2017), script by Jonathan Hickman, pencils and inks by Nick Dragotta, colors by Frank Martin, letters by Rus Wooton