Guide to the Injustice Roster: Explaining Comics to People Who Don’t Read Comics Part 4

April 5th, 2013 Posted by Gavok


Alias: Red Hood, Jack Napier, Joseph Kerr, Oberon Sexton
First Appearance: Batman #1 (1940)
Powers: Genius in both planning and improvisation, master chemist, completely unpredictable, unmatched tolerance for pain
Other Media: Yeah, pretty much.

“Frighteningly sick in the head… yet strangely compelling company.” – Lex Luthor when asked about the Joker

Despite all those above aliases, there’s never been a true name to go with the Joker’s pale face. His origin has always been up in the air and he rather likes it that way. The most famous non-movie take on the Joker’s backstory is the classic 80’s tale Killing Joke, where Joker spent time reminiscing about being a failed stand-up comedian who in one day senselessly lost his wife and unborn child and then got knocked into a vat of chemicals by Batman. Joker later admitted to Batman and the reader that he always remembered the actions that led up to him becoming the Joker differently every time and no longer truly knew who he was. All he could tell was that – much like Batman – he had one bad day and it caused him to snap. The difference was that while Batman had dedicated himself to making sense of the world, Joker dedicated himself to knocking down the whole house of cards and reveling in it.

Joker’s appearance was based on actor Conrad Veidt’s creepy portrayal of Gwynplaine from the 1928 film the Man Who Laughs. In his initial appearances, Joker was just as creepy and violent as he was in the movies. It wasn’t until the Comics Code Authority stepped in that he became more like Cesar Romero in the 60’s Batman TV show. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that one time in the 50’s that Joker dedicated his time and energy to committing crimes based on colossal mistakes. That led to a comic where they mentioned the word “boner” like a hundred times and it STILL makes me laugh like an idiot.

“And I’m worried about the boner he’s readying for YOU!” – Commissioner Gordon to Batman

Remarkably enough, Joker appears to be the one character who was never affected by any of the DC reboots. He always just kept being the Joker and any different depictions fell into the idea that he’s just a versatile nutjob who is as likely to poison a troop of boyscouts as he is to steal a child’s straight A report card and call it a day. Even Batman scribe Grant Morrison explained that his boner crime days were just another step in the psycho’s evolution.

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A interesting Joker. Who would have thought it?

February 8th, 2011 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

My eyelash fluttering crush on Paul Cornell and all his works continues in this month’s Action Comics.  In issue #897 he has done the near-impossible.  He has made the Joker interesting.  I would never have guessed that such a thing was possible.  The last person to do it was Grant Morrison, and that only lasted for a paragraph or two. 

Almost every other Joker story for the last twenty years has mixed up ‘interesting’ with ‘awful’.  The Joker did things like steal everyone’s babies and throw them around for fun.  He showed up in a story and gagged Robin before taking him on a joyride and running down Christmas shoppers.  He was the guy who shot the hero’s daughter, father, sister, school friend, or best friend.  He wasn’t made interesting; he was just given enough gore and horror to have a vague, sick, car-accident-type fascination for the readers.

This most effusive of characters, the guy who seriously can’t keep his mouth shut, never really had anything to say.  He shot someone, said something cold-blooded and with the word ‘joke’ scattered in somewhere, and then he’d laugh.  He’d be obviously killed off – killed off to the point where Superman could find no trace of him after an explosion, and always come back.  He made no sense, and without some sense to balance on, no joke can work.

Cornell takes the usual tricks and make them work.  (Or most of them.  Joker makes reference to boiling a baby, which is think is both distasteful and silly.  No one who picks up this comic thinks that The Joker is an okay guy.  He doesn’t have to prove how bad he is, and the line, “I’m frequently NOT in this box,” is a credible enough threat without any follow-up threat.) 

There’s the mystic thing that is impossible for The Joker to know/do, that he somehow does anyway.  Unlike most comics, the thing is explained, instead of just being slide because The Joker doesn’t have to make sense.  There’s the balance between sanity and craziness.  The Joker alternates between jokes meant as goading and actual explanations phrased in clever ways.  There’s the connection with Batman, hinting that one feeds off the other, without being too literal.  (At one point, Lex points out that if he killed The Joker, everyone would be happy and he’d get off free.  The Joker replies, “No.  The Bat would come after you.”)  And finally, there is unpredictable behavior.  A lot of comics about The Joker stress that, “Anything could happen,” but generally are very predictable.  The Joker kills, The Joker makes the most heart-wrenching scenes, The Joker causes pain in particularly gruesome ways, The Joker Makes Things Personal.  This happens every Joker comic and it’s never a surprise. 

If the hallmark of The Joker is the random behavior, if that marks him as truly different from Batman, then that character hasn’t really shown up in years.  He shows up here, and it’s actually interesting.  Pair it with a strong, logical character as Lex Luthor and you get the fascinating spectacle of seeing two characters look at each other, understand each other, and say, “You’re out of your mind.”  What’s more, we agree with both of them.  It’s nice.

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This Week in Panels: Week 71

January 30th, 2011 Posted by Gavok

Back from watching the biggest, sexiest Royal Rumble, it’s now time for me to post a bunch of panels before passing out. Lots and lots of help from David, Was Taters, Space Jawa and VersasoVantare. Let’s get to it!

Action Comics #897
Paul Cornell and Pete Woods

Avengers #9
Brian Michael Bendis and John Romita Jr.

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When what you want will destroy what you want

November 24th, 2010 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

Let me start by saying, “All hail Paul Cornell.”  Between Action Comics and Knight and Squire he is rocking books set on both sides of the pond.  Each book takes an unconventional look at superhero comics.  Knight and Squire looks at a superhero team set in the English country side.  Things are incredibly civil.  The heroes and villains hang out together at a bar protected by a kind of truce magic, and both sides enjoy it.  Everyone in town knows who Knight and Squire are, but no one says anything because that would be rude.  It’s a relaxed look at an adventuring team. 

Action Comics, which chronicle’s Lex Luthor’s quest to get the black lantern ring, is definitely not relaxed.  It follows the most brilliant, driven man in the world, and that man has a chip on his shoulder.  It’s a great read because Lex Luthor achieves real grandeur in his quest.  His intelligence shines through, as does his moral code, which is a very primitive and appealing one; he has to be in control, and he won’t ever stop fighting to get control.  He won’t back down.  While it’s clear he’s not actually a good person, he has a greatness that lets you understand why people would follow him.

I just wish he’d stop killing people.

But he won’t, because he’s Lex Luthor.

Don’t get me wrong, I think that the character could be spun so enough that there is a comics series about how he’s just trying to do good and the conflict with Superman is a grudge match fueled by unfortunate misunderstandings.  It’s just that stringing those misunderstandings together will result in making this character – the embodiment of strength of will – look ineffectual, and Superman – the embodiment of kindness – look petty.

I mean, I’ll still buy it.  For crying out loud, I’m still checking out Green Arrow solicits trying to see some sign that they’ll bring Conner and Mia and Dinah and even Lian and Roy back.  I buy comics long after they make me miserable.  Pretty much every fan does.  It’s just that sometimes we’re the cause of our own misery.

Deadpool started small and climbed up to multiple titles per month.  People noticed a quality drop and didn’t like it.  So Marvel started a poll to cut a Deadpool title and people didn’t like that either.

Batman was the lone vigilante in the night.  Unwavering and infallible, he was a solitary soldier.  But people liked that solitary soldier, and so he was put on team, in charge of teams, as an adversary or backer to teams.  His world was crowded with followers and sidekicks and lovers and old friends, because people wanted to see more of him.  And through it all, the writers struggled for that same, solitary, infallible persona.  Eventually it got ridiculous, and it’s a good thing that Grant Morrison is ushering a Batman who embraces the group dynamic, because that “I am the night” thing wasn’t cutting it any more.

Comic mentality is often junkie mentality.  People want more, faster, more intense.  And then when they get a steady stream of stories artificially twisted around a marketable concept instead of one or two new takes, it’s never as satisfying as it should be.  Everyone ends up frustrated.  Fans because they aren’t getting what they want, and creators because they’re giving people exactly what they always said they wanted.

Sometimes we’re our own worst enemy.

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This Week in Panels: Week 58

October 31st, 2010 Posted by Gavok

First off, Halloween happened. That led to this.

Thankfully, I didn’t come across anyone dressed as Lawrence Taylor or Major Payne.

Now to panels. This week I’m joined by Space Jawa. There are other kinds of Jawas?

Action Comics #894
Paul Cornell, Pete Woods, Nick Spencer and RB Silva

Avengers #6
Brian Michael Bendis and John Romita Jr.

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Cripes on Infinite Earths Part 1: Superman’s Metropolis

September 15th, 2010 Posted by guest article

(Gavok note: On the heels of Marvel announcing What If #200, it’s fitting to take on the topic of alternate reality stories. Truth be told, the idea of doing an Elseworlds list much like how I did one with What If has been a looming menace hanging over my head and for years I’ve been afraid of forcing the other shoe to drop. Thankfully, Fletcher “Syrg” Arnett was inspired enough to fight the dragon in my stead and has offered to do a series of guest articles on the subject. You might remember Syrg from his fantastic take on the comic disaster Marville last year. If you don’t, go read it anyway. He’s good people. I plan to throw my hat into his series here at least twice before he’s finished, since there are a couple Elseworlds that I feel the need to talk about. This includes one that I’ve considered to be the worst comic I’ve ever read that I’ve been putting off writing on for years. But enough about me. It’s Syrg’s show. Enjoy.)

Marvel has their What If…?s, and DC has their own brand of “But what happens if we take X and change Y?” tales, called, depending on when you ask, Elseworlds/”Tales of the Multiverse”. (Juuuuust kidding. I don’t think anyone aside from Dan DiDio has ever used that last one seriously.)

The thing is, though, Marvel’s usually (I added the qualifier for a reason, Gavok, I know about that Timequake crap) come from a formula of “take big event/origin of character, change outcome slightly, go from there”. DC runs a little looser with the format, like that one where Bruce Wayne is an amnesiac immortal and Alfred is actually Merlin. Or the time the Justice League had to mount an assault on the Planetary Organization to break their shadowy hold over the planet. Maybe you know the one where Lex Luthor, singer-turned-record executive, sold his media empire to Darkseid?

Elseworlds are almost always entertaining, intentionally or not, because before 2010 and a run of titles like Rise of Arsenal and that other trainwreck I forget the name of*, you never thought you’d be buying a DC book where Superman got turned into a gender-swapped nazi centaur. (We’ll get to that one. Later.) Point is, the fact that so many of these are out of print and forgotten is a damn shame, and so just like Gavok running through all the What If…?s in the world, I’ll hit every damn Elseworld I can get my hands on, and probably a few other eccentric DC projects that didn’t earn that banner, usually because they were written too early or too late.

There’s going to be a lot less order to this than Gavok’s project. For one thing, I don’t think there’s any way to come up with a coherent set of criteria/checklist to hit for all of these, and I’m unsure as to what the “Peter Parker Dies” of Elseworlds is. Probably “Martian Manhunter Out of Fucking Nowhere”, that dude shows up a lot in the otherwise-grounded stories (and it’s usually to inspire Superman to go use his goddamn powers, that guy takes pacifism way too seriously in these).

Also: no order, no rankings. Some of these are books I haven’t even looked through since I picked them up, and this project is good motivation to finish looking at the beaten-down copies of a couple. There’s no way I’ll be able to come up with a full scale to judge them on and pick a favorite. (Even if I did, people would bitch at me forever because technically, Kingdom Come is an Elseworld, and lord knows the kvetching if I put that below something like Speeding Bullets.) In fact, let’s just say it: I’m skipping a lot of the big ones. Kingdom Come/The Kingdom, Red Son, Destiny (since Gavok covered it a while back), Dark Knight Returns/Strikes Back. (I want to skip True Brit because it’s rather awful, but I suppose I’ll play canary in the coalmine for people who might go “John Cleese? Sold!”) I leave myself wiggle room on this as I go, but rest assured I’ll give you more than those and then some in extras by the time we’re done.

This is getting to be a bit text heavy. Let’s dive into the first book, Elseworlds: Superman’s Metropolis.

Superman’s Metropolis is an interesting book for a variety of reasons. It’s why I started off with it. But first, let’s look at the stats:

Superman’s Metropolis
Focuses on: Superman (for now)
Self-contained/Multiple books: Multiple (trilogy)
Published in: 1996
Central premise: Superman and cast as placed into Fritz Lang’s Metropolis
Martian Manhunter Out of Fucking Nowhere? No

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This Week in Panels: Weeks 48 and 49

August 29th, 2010 Posted by Gavok

Due to extenuating circumstances, I wasn’t able to do ThWiP last week, so it’s been accumulated into this week’s update. For last week’s picks, I’m disappointed in David for choosing that specific Avengers Academy panel when the true honors should have gone to Reptil asking a disgruntled Cain Marko if he can say, “Nothing can stop the Juggernaut!” for his amusement. Was Taters rejoins the show once again, unable to choose between panels for Superman/Batman, so we went with both.

Warning: there is something really fucked up going on with Hal Jordan’s hands in the Legacies image and you won’t be able to stop yourself from staring at it.

Action Comics #892
Paul Cornell, Pete Woods, Pere Perez, Jeff Lemire and Pier Gallo

Age of Heroes #4
Elliott Kalan, Brendan McCarthy and others

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Summerslam for Comic Fans

August 15th, 2010 Posted by Gavok

Tonight we have what I guess would be considered the WWE’s third most important show of the year, Summerslam. I mean, on paper, it’s supposed to be the secondary Wrestlemania, but everyone and their imaginary friend loves Royal Rumble more. I look forward to the show despite the roadblocks it sets up. There are only six matches signed. One of these matches is a throwaway Divas match I couldn’t care less about. One of the championship matches is Rey Mysterio vs. Kane and while I love Kane and don’t mind Mysterio, I don’t need to be reminded of their abysmal, “Is he alive or is he dead?” feud.

So why am I so jazzed about the show? Team WWE vs. the Nexus in an elimination tag match. The Nexus has been one of the better wrestling storylines in past years, despite its own set of roadblocks (Daniel Bryan/Bryan Danielson being fired, Wade Barrett’s visa problems, Ricky Steamboat’s injury). I can only hope the storyline doesn’t get killed as of the end of Summerslam, yet at the same time, I don’t want them to last long enough to get destroyed by a returning Triple H. God, I really don’t want to see Triple H involved with this in any way.

For those new to the big main event, here it is laid out DC Comics style.

(click for bigger version)

Let’s see who we got on here…

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Lex Luthor is Back

April 26th, 2010 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

And I like it. 

Lex Luthor has always been one of my favorite villains.  Well, any character can be my favorite or least favorite depending on how they’re written, but I like the concept behind Lex a lot better than I do most villains.

For one thing, businessman Lex is not the kind of villain who will kill everyone in the room.  The Jokers, the Deathstrokes, and the Prometheii made me pretty sick of that.  Luthor is the type to slowly, surely, brilliantly grab for more and more power.  He undertakes plans with a specific and productive end and doesn’t just go for off-the-charts death and destruction.

Which isn’t to say that there isn’t emotion and insanity in there.  Luthor’s main motivation has always been more clear and – for me – more understandable than the motivations of other villains.  When he got a Lantern Corps ring, his motivation was Avarice, but for me, he’s always been ruled by envy. 

This is a guy who prides himself on being the master of the universe, and all of a sudden a bigger, stronger, more powerful, and more popular guy shows up.  In his city.  And that guy isn’t even of Luthor’s own species.  I can just feel him burning with frustrated rage and jealousy, and twisting it around in his head until he has the moral high ground. 

And when you put him in a business suit, he has to keep himself restrained enough to keep that moral high ground, at least in his own head.  It makes for a great drama, great stories, and great, stable, continuity.

At least in theory.


Maybe that cover’s just a fantasy sequence.

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According to Taste

January 16th, 2010 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

Spoilers for Adventure Comics #6

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