The Satanic Son of Superman!

Superman is a lot of things. He’s a great hero, certainly. A symbol of all that’s good in the world, sure. He’s even a halfway decent reporter.

But he is not a very good father.

I mean, look at the evidence here: Whenever we’ve seen Superman as a father, the results have tended to fall somewhere between disappointing and disastrous. Sometimes, he raises a disaffected youth who travels the country on a motorcycle doing the “Funky Robot.” Sometimes, he raises a daughter who can’t stop making out with her cousin. And sometimes… He ends up raising the mass-murdering spawn of Satan.

 

 

Or at least, that’s the case in 1972′s Action Comics #410, which predates The Omen by a good four years and proves once again that Cary Bates–whose return to comics last month with True Believers included the phrase “weaponized WiFi”–was way ahead of his time.

Anyway, in this particular imaginary story Superman’s kid is Krys, who… Well, I’ll let Bates & Co. explain:

 

 

That’s right, folks: In addition to looking like Li’l Spock from that one episode of the Star Trek cartoon, Krys is pure evil, and possessed of the vast, ill-defined plot-driving power to do pretty much anything, up to and including turning water to sulfur and dragging chunks of a white dwarf star all the way across space and chucking them at a restaurant on the moon.

And if that wasn’t enough for a single super-parent to deal with, Superman also has to deal with the pressing threat of these guys:

 

 

The Trolvs–or as I like to call them, the Klandroids–are an indeterminate number of evil killer robots in bathrobes that were created by, and I quote Superman, “a dying criminal scientist who hated me bitterly,” which begs the question of why Bates went all vague instead of just saying “Lex Luthor.” I mean, it’s not like he was kicking off a whole series of the adventures of Widower Superman and his Satanic Offspring that might feature Luthor in future installments or anything, so why the hell not? Oh well, no point worrying about it now. More on these guys later, when they become relevant to the plot.

At this point, any questions about the Trolvs are going to have to take a back seat to wondering just how Superman’s kid turned out to be such a bad seed anyway. Is he the horrible result of Lana Lang mating with Superman in some bizarre insect form? Could it be that Lois Lane’s poison womb had finally gotten its revenge on a world that hated and feared her?

No, the actual cause comes from Superman’s one true love, Krysalla!

 

 

What? You guys don’t remember Krysalla, who appeared one time in an imaginary story by Cary Bates where she married Superman, revealed she was a witch, gave birth to his son and then died off-panel? Hmph. You kids today. No respect for the classics.

It’s worth noting that when she reveals her witchity nature to her husband, Clark’s awfully indignant for a guy who hasn’t bothered to tell his wife that he’s actually Superman. Remember, kids: Grown-up relationships should be built on honesty, unless there’s something you really don’t want to tell your wife. In any case, when the truth finally comes out, it’s because she’s worried that her dark powers will cause complications for their son, and, to nobody’s surprise, she is absolutely right.

Sadly, Superman himself doesn’t catch on until ten years later, after a decade of Krys’s subtle mass murder:

 

 

The catch here is that Krys doesn’t actually know that he’s causing all these horrible disasters and he’s actually a decent kid at heart, which doesn’t stop Superman, who has decided that his son’s evil power can no longer run unchecked, from strapping him to a chair and shooting him with a Future Gun:

 

 

And this is where it starts to get completely insane.

No sooner has Superman put his son down like Old Yeller than the boy splits in two, and at this point I can no longer make jokes about it, because the culprit behind Krys’s evil deeds is revealed to be…

 

 

…his INTERDIMENSIONAL GHOST DEMON SIAMESE TWIN BROTHER.

 

Once he’s free of his host body, however, Krys’s Evil Twin’s reign of terror only manages to last a grand total of nine panels, screeching to a halt when the Trolv’s bust in and Superman–who can fly fast enough to break the time barrier and shoot death-rays from his eyes–conveniently fails to stop them until after they’ve killed the little rugrat.

Thus, Superman reveals that his Future Gun was only meant to put him into suspended animation until he could put together a proper exorcism, and everything eventually works out okay.

Still, though. An Interdimensional Ghost Demon Siamese Twin Brother…

 

 

Yes, Superman. Yes it is.

Because It Needs To Be Said

Under normal circumstances, this is where you’d find my half-joking reviews of the new comics, but this week, there’s something that’s a little more important that I wanted to draw everyone’s attention to, courtesy of Friend of the ISB John DiBello.

Don’t worry: I’ll be getting back to the more lighthearted stuff soon enough, but while I hate that it’s at this point, the kind of things that John talks about in the following piece make me so angry that I can’t see straight, and every once in a while, you have to take some time to remind people to not act like thoroughly reprehensible slime.

Fortunately, John’s done a better job of articulating the problem than I ever could’ve:

 


 

Overheard at San Diego Comic-Con while I was having lunch on the balcony of the Convention Center on Sunday July 27: a bunch of guys looking at the digital photos on the camera of another, while he narrated: “These were the Ghostbusters girls. That one, I grabbed her ass, ’cause I wanted to see what her reaction was.” This was only one example of several instance of harassment, stalking or assault that I saw at San Diego this time.

1. One of my friends was working at a con booth selling books. She was stalked by a man who came to her booth several times, pestering her to get together for a date that night. One of her co-workers chased him off the final time.

2. On Friday, just before the show closed, this same woman was closing up her tables when a group of four men came to her booth, started taking photographs of her, telling her she was the “prettiest girl at the con.” They they entered the booth, started hugging and kissing her and taking photographs of themselves doing so. She was confused and scared, but they left quickly after doing that.

3. Another friend of mine, a woman running her own booth: on Friday a man came to her booth and openly criticized her drawing ability and sense of design. Reports from others in the same section of the floor confirmed he’d targeted several women with the same sort of abuse and criticism.

Quite simply, this behavior has got to stop at Comic-Con. It should never be a sort of place where anyone, man or woman, feels unsafe or attacked either verbally or physically in any shape or form. There are those, sadly, who get off on this sort of behavior and assault, whether it’s to professional booth models, cosplayers or costumed women, or women who are just there to work. This is not acceptable behavior under any circumstance, no matter what you look like or how you’re dressed, whether you are in a Princess Leia slave girl outfit or business casual for running your booth.

On Saturday, the day after the second event I described above, Ipulled out my convention book to investigate what you can do and who you can speak to after such an occurrence. On page two of the book there is a large grey box outlining “Convention Policies,” which contain rules against smoking, live animals, wheeled handcarts, recording at video presentations, drawing or aiming your replica weapon, and giving your badge to others. There is nothing about attendee-to-attendee personal behavior.

Page three of the book contains a “Where Is It?” guide to specific Comic-Con events and services. There’s no general information room or desk listed, nor is there a contact location for security, so I go to the Guest Relations Desk. I speak to a volunteer manning the desk; she’s sympathetic to the situation but who doesn’t have a clear answer to my question: “What’s Comic-Con’s policy and method of dealing with complaints about harassment?” She directs me to the nearest security guard, who is also sympathetic listening to my reports, but short of the women wanting to report the incidents with the names of their harassers, there’s little that can be done.

“I understand that,” I tell them both, “but what I’m asking is more hypothetical and informational: if there is a set Comic-Con policy on harassment and physical and verbal abuse on Con attendees and exhibitors, and if so, what’s the specific procedure by which someone should report it, and specifically where should they go?” But this wasn’t a question either could answer.

So, according to published con policy, there is no tolerance for smoking, drawn weapons, personal pages or selling bootleg videos on the floor, and these rules are written down in black and white in the con booklet. There is not a word in the written rules about harassment or the like. I would like to see something like “Comic-Con has zero tolerance for harassment or violence against any of our attendees or exhibitors. Please report instances to a security guard or the Con Office in room XXX.”

The first step to preventing such harassment is giving its victims the knowledge that they can safely and swiftly report such instances to someone in authority. Having no published guideline, and indeed being unable to give a clear answer to questions about it, gives harassment and violence one more red-tape loophole to hide behind.

I enjoyed Comic-Con. I’m looking forward to coming back next year. So, in fact, are the two women whose experiences I’ve retold above. Aside from those instances, they had a good time at the show. But those instances of harassment shouldn’t have happened at all, and that they did under no clear-cut instructions about what to do sadly invites the continuation of such behavior, or even worse.

I don’t understand why there’s no such written policy about what is not tolerated and what to do when this happens. Is there anyone at Comic-Con able to explain this? Does a similar written policy exist in the booklets for other conventions (SF, comics or otherwise) that could be used as a model? Can it be adapted or adapted, and enforced, for Comic-Con? As the leading event of the comics and pop culture world, Comic-Con should work to make everyone who attends feel comfortable and safe.

John DiBello
Crossposted From Here

 


 

Comments for this post have been turned off. If you want to discuss it, do it elsewhere: talk to your friends, your retailer, or on your own blog. Get the word out.

The Man Who Laughs

So lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about this guy:

 

 

That probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise to anybody, given the amount of time I spend thinking about Batman in general, but since seeing The Dark Knight, I’ve been trying to figure out why the Joker has become the kind of character that he is.

Looking at the character today, it’s obvious that he’s not only Batman’s arch-nemesis, but that more than any other villain, he’s evolved alongside his opposite number to become something more. In a review of Dark Knight, Ken pointed out that comics–especially DC–are built around archetypes. Superman, for instance, isn’t just a good man with super-powers, he’s a symbol of everything that’s good and selfless with a face and a logo on his chest, and as much as Batman’s come to symbolize the relentless, single-minded pursuit of justice, the Joker’s done the same, becoming chaos itself. As Ken says, he doesn’t believe in chaos, he is chaos. He’s less a criminal and more a force of nature.

The question I’ve been mulling over, then, is why it’s the Joker and not someone else.

I don’t think I’m really advancing an unpopular opinion when I say that Batman has the best villains in comics, but even among a crowd that strong, the Joker stands out. The best villains, after all, are the ones that bring out the contrasts within the hero himself, and that’s something Batman has to spare. The Scarecrow, for instance, does to civilians what Batman does to the superstitious, cowardly lot of criminals. Two-Face has the same split-personality as Batman and Bruce Wayne, but with a mask that he can’t take off. Even Ra’s al-Ghul, who was introduced to give Batman a classic pulp-style villain that would allow for world travel and set pieces, is a powerful, obsessive intellectual prone to uncontrollable rages who has set himself outside the law and devoted his life to wiping out what he sees as evil at any cost, to the point where he seeks out a man with the same sort of drive to carry on his life’s work. But even those characters fall short of the gold standard: Scarecrow’s archenemy may be Batman, but Batman’s archenemy is the Joker.

At its heart, you can trace it to the fact that the Joker takes what is literally the opposite route: From his first appearance in 1940, he’s everything Batman’s not in every way but one. Whereas that Batman of the 1940s is a dour, grim avenger in black and grey who works in secret and things like “a fitting end for his kind” when he “accidentally” kicks a dude into a vat of chemicals, the Joker’s loud and garish enough to broadcast his intentions over the airwaves, and while Golden Age Batman was a lot more prone to witty fight banter, the Joker’s alarmingly direct:

 

 

From the start, he’s an amazing visual, and it’s a complete inversion of the classic hero and villain formula. Batman was inspired as much by Count Dracula and the Shadow as he was heroes like Zorro, with a costume designed to frighten, but he’s still the good guy. The one in the bright colors with the big smile who does magic tricks… that’s the one you need to watch out for.

By the Silver Age, though, things have changed, largely due to the tonal shift that resulted from the Comics Code, and without the edge of madness and outright shrieks of “I’m going to kill you,” the Joker loses a lot of his villainous mojo and fades back to be just another visually interesting face in the crowd.

For evidence, you don’t need to look any further than the 1966 TV show. For all the fan grousing about how its campiness detracted from the legitimate storytelling of the comics–and the eye-rolling that goes with the fact that it’s been forty-two years and we still can’t get a headline about comics without “Biff! Pow!” or “Holy Lazy Copywriters, Batman!”–anyone who’s actually ever read Silver Age Batman stories can tell you that the show reflected the goofiness of the comics, not the other way around.

In any case, as entertaining as Cesar Romero’s Joker is–and brother, he is entertaining–he’s just another thematic villain for Batman to deal with that week. Swap out the playing cards and clown puns for birds, Egyptian artifacts, dinosaur eggs or cat statues, and the stories could’ve been about anybody in the cast. There’s not a whole lot that’s distinctive about him–when you stack him up against the rest of the arch-criminals, anyway–and aside from the visual aspects, there’s almost nothing in the character that we’d recognize as the Joker of today.

There is, however, a lot that we’d recognize as today’s Joker on the show itself, it just doesn’t come from the Joker; it comes from the Riddler.

 

 

It all comes down to Frank Gorshin, who just played the hell out of the role, snapping back and forth from manic glee to genuinely chilling obsession several times in every scene at a pace that would mirror the Joker’s portrayal in Batman: The Animated Series–which also reinvented the Riddler as a far more smug, intellectual villain–twenty-five years later.

But as for the Joker, well… Cesar Romero’s great and I wouldn’t trade his Joker for the world, but there’s a reason the series led with the guy in green.

By the mid-80s, though, everything had changed again. Instead of the guy who carried out clown-themed robberies and pulled boners, there was a character that was firmly entrenched as Batman’s arch-enemy. This was the Joker in full end-boss mode, the Final Form of the Clown Prince of Crime that shot and paralyzed Barbara Gordon and gleefully beat Robin to death with a crowbar. This is the guy who pushes Batman to his limit in Dark Knight Returns and snaps his own neck after a triple-digit murder spree, just to make everyone think Batman’s finally lost it. This, my friends… this is an arch-nemesis.

But those aren’t what make him the go-to bad guy; the Joker’s a part of all those stories because he’s already Batman’s arch-enemy. Even in the finale of Batman Year One–the Alpha to DKR‘s Omega–the Joker’s used as shorthand for the new type of criminal that’s going to be rising to challenge Batman. He’s the escalation, the one that can’t be intimidated by Batman’s physicality or figured out by his deductions or scared by his demonic costume. The scene works not just because we know what the Joker card means when Gordon hands it to Batman, but because we know that the Joker is the one you have to worry about.

Clearly, this is the “real” Joker and not the watered down version, which leads to the question of what changed? Was it just a slow build that returned the Joker to his roots, a combination of his lasting visual appeal and the further refining of Batman as the ultra-competent super-detective adventurer that he evolved into? Maybe, but I’m of the opinion that there has to be a turning point somewhere.

After all, most of the great villains of comics have the moment where you know that Everything Changes. Dr. Doom, for instance, starts out as a visually interesting character with an awesome name, but until he steals the Power Cosmic and becomes DOCTOR DOOM, he’s just a cool-looking guy that once sent the Fantastic Four back in time to look for pirate treasure. The Green Goblin was a legitimate threat with an interesting hook and some good stories under his belt, but he wasn’t the Spider-Man villain until he chucked Peter Parker’s girlfriend off a bridge. Even Lex Luthor, who was an ever-present arch-nemesis for Superman, didn’t really reach his full potential until we saw how far he was willing to damn himself for revenge in–of all things–an imaginary story.

With the Joker, it’s a little harder to pin down. Like Luthor, he’s almost omnipresent, the strength of the earlier stories, the visual contrast and the prominence of his character on the TV show pushing him to the forefront for most of the character’s life. But given the timeframe we’re working with, I’d have to say that it really comes down to two stories from the ’70s that put him over the top.

The first, of course, is the Denny O’Neil/Neal Adams classic The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge, from 1973′s Batman #251.

 

 

To be honest, this one almost gets a pass solely based on it being one of the most beautiful things Neal Adams ever drew, but at its heart, it’s more of an archetypal story of Batman than the Joker.

It does, after all, have pretty much everything you want to see from Batman: The casual way he takes a thug’s veiled punches and then lays him out in one shot (a trademark of O’Neil’s ’70s Batman), the deduction of where the Joker’s hiding based off the dirt on his shoes, he fights a shark, and of course… well, just look at this thing:

 

 

Absolutely gorgeous.

Of course, it is a Joker story, and O’Neil did a lot to bring back what was so compelling about the character: He’s on a murder spree that’s ostensibly based on getting revenge against the henchman who sold him out, but beneath the surface, there’s the idea that for the Joker, it’s far easier to just kill five people than find out which one ratted him out. Add to that the fact that he’s around thirty real-time years into his criminal career at this point and would therefore probably be heading off to jail anyway with or without the evidence of his ex-flunkie, and you’ve got someone who breezes into town like a thunderstorm and just starts killing because it’s second nature to him.

Also, O’Neil brings in one of the most important and lasting aspects of the character–His “game” against Batman:

 

 

There are a few more villains who’d rather beat Batman than kill him–the Riddler springs to mind–but by refusing to kill him when the opportunity presents itself, as it does more than a couple of times, the Joker sets himself up as Batman’s equal and adds an even more sinister aspect to his crimes. The people he murders are less than nothing to him; it’s not about them. It’s not even about himself, it’s just about baiting Batman into another confrontation.

The one that really defines the Joker, though, is the Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers’ The Laughing Fish/Sign of the Joker from 1978′s Detective #475-476, which gives us the amazing, iconic image at the top of this post.

Englehart’s entire run on Batman is a nod to the Golden Age, bringing back what were then all-but-forgotten characters like Hugo Strange and Deadshot and reinventing them to fight a more streamlined Batman. For the Joker, though–the story that finished out his run on the title–Englehart went back to the character’s origin story and retold it with the addition of the “Jokerized” fish–infected with the “Joker Venom” that had been his weapon of choice in 1940 and returned in “Five Way Revenge,” brought directly into focus by Rogers:

 

 

It’s a strange addition, but it’s one that changes the tone of the story completely. In 1940′s “The Joker,” the murders are all organized around robberies, but for “The Laughing Fish,” the Joker’s motivation–killing government employees because he can’t copyright the fish he’s infected–is completely insane. It’s a premise so silly that it could be a Daffy Duck plot if it didn’t end with the Joker murdering at will while Batman and the entire Gotham City police force watched helplessly.

It’s also worth noting that Marshall Rogers didn’t just draw the Joker as a man who smiled all the time, but as a man who couldn’t do anything but smile, an influence that he traced back to the 1928 film The Man Who Laughs, which lent its title to another retelling of the first Joker story by Ed Brubaker and Doug Mahnke. This, according to Rogers, was the central tragedy of the Joker: Even if he wanted to cry at all the horror he had caused, he was physically incapable of doing anything but laughing at it, a theme that continued into The Killing Joke.

More importantly, though, this is the story that brings the one great similarity between Batman and the Joker to the forefront: They’re both amazing planners. I mentioned before that the Joker’s the embodiment of chaos, but in this story–and others, including The Dark Knight–the way he spreads anarchy is through meticulous plans and an ability to second-guess and out-think everyone at any turn. When Batman disguises himself as the second victim, the Joker poisons the man’s cat, knowing that it’ll find its master by scent. He already knows the best-laid plans, and like entropy itself, he’s always one step ahead of them.

Incidentally, on the animated series, they added aspects of “Five Way Revenge” to the episode based on “The Laughing Fish” to meet the standard of shark-fighting.

For my money, though, it all comes down to the Laughing Fish. The way it draws on the Golden Age story to bridge the gap to the Modern Age, the element of mad randomness and anarchy that’s built on meticulous planning, the fixed grin. It’s as close to a turning point for the character as you’re likely to find.

Of course, three years prior to the story, the Joker was already popular and prominent enough to carry his own solo series, even if it did last a short nine issues, so who knows?

Birthday Presents!

 

 

Matthew Allen Smith, who you might remember from his pin-up in the Hard Ones ashcan, brings the pain and becomes my #1 Birthday Hero 4-Ever.

Bully writes a poem that includes a reference to Megaforce.

Kevin brings me the gift of emotional content. Also, a Hickory Farms gift basket of meats and cheeses.

Andrew taps into my most secret–or to be honest, not secret at all–desires.

Dave Lartigue flexes his artistic muscles for a picture you have to see to believe!

Mike Sterling, as usual, makes it all about Swamp Thing.

Mark Hale has a blog? Really?

Dorian talks about subtext, but I’m sure I don’t know what he means.

Jeff Stolarcyk made me a card!

Thanks, guys! And thanks to everyone who came by to wish me well today, too!

 

For the overly curious among you, more shots from this year’s Twenty-Sixthennial can be found here.