Sep 22, 2014

The All-Time Best Superhero Relationships

The All-Time Best Superhero Relationships

I’ve always been far too interested and invested in which fictional characters are kissing or otherwise canoodling with each other. The inspiration for this exploration of my all-time favorite superhero romances came from my friend (indeed, everyone’s friend) Travis. Travis is the pinnacle of what we can hope to achieve as a human species. If you know anyone even named Travis, embrace him now. Kiss him upon the lips if you’re so inclined. Yes, embrace a Travis near you.

Anyway, he was talking about it on the interwebs, so here I am, all inspired.


Notice I wrote Superman and not Clark Kent, since Clark is purposefully boring. First of all, he’s a farmer. Next, he’s a straight-laced reporter that wants to maintain a high level of morals. He’s the human equivalent of a warm cup of milk before a regular 8PM bedtime. There’s really no way the high-octane Lois would ever give him a romantic thought without knowing that he’s Superman. That’s what makes this one of the great relationships, Lois ignoring Clark but always trying to trick Superman into marrying her. Superman, of course, always spots the deception early on, but plays along anyway, to teach that silly Lois a lesson. I don’t know what the lesson would be, other than don’t trick people into marriage, which is something most people learn after their first stint in the Army. Maybe the lesson is that Superman’s an asshole.


What isn’t great about a perpetual mysterious bachelor driven and determined to pursue a never-ending quest for vengeance adopting a rotating cast of nubile young boys, that he quickly casts out the moment they reach a certain age?


Surrounded by eligible bachelors like Captain America and Hawkeye, Wanda did what any daughter of a mass-murdering genetic terrorist raised by gypsys would do, she picked the toaster. Even though the Vision’s brain was based on the personality of Wonder Man (who would ever pick Wonder Man for the basis of a personality, only a robot) who was also clearly interested in her, she still picked the synthetic human with a heart of gold. (His actual heart is more likely a bunch of transistors, but he cried once, so that makes it not weird.) She followed that up by using her magic mutant powers to conjure them up some children, but it involved something with demons and Agatha Harkness, and a guy named Pandemonium, a dude with a pentagram-shaped hole in his chest and demons for limbs. I really genuinely love comics.


Pym met the teenage Janet and was immediately attracted to her because of her remarking resemblance to his dead ex-wife. I shouldn’t really have to explain any further why this is one of comic’s most twisted of romances. Despite his protestations that he wasn’t interested in her, Pym made Janet his superhero sidekick. After years of continuously trying to make him jealous enough to kiss her, Janet finally seizes her opportunity to marry Hank in the middle of one of his nervous breakdowns, accomplishing something that Lois Lane could only dream of. They had a few years of relative bliss before their dysfunctional dynamic led them both to bad places, like size-changing sexual hijinks. Nobody should ever have to see a tiny man emerging from between a woman’s legs covered head to toe in viscous fluids.


This is actually the Pym relationship I prefer more, as it’s traditionally been more stable for both of them. Except for the part where they originally hooked up because Tigra was giving in to her feline nature by trying to sleep with half of the West Coast Avengers, but hey, she’s wearing practically nothing but a bikini all day long (she’s pretty much everything I ever dreamed of seeing when I was fourteen years old). Tigra was just looking for some fun, but he completely fell in love on the rebound from his marriage to Janet. They eventually got to the point where she had his cute little furry babies, via a shape-shifting alien appropriating his DNA, but still.


I don’t have anything sarcastic to say about these two, I just really like them together. Okay fine, it’s a little weird that he would date the grand-niece of the love of his life from WWII, but it’s still better than Bernie.


I know almost everyone wants to put Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon together, because Robin and Batgirl, but for my money the real love of his life was the orange-skinned alien from Tamaran. I love that Koriand’r picked Dick to kiss (so that she could absorb the English language) because she thought he was cute. I love that they used to wake up naked in the same bed anytime that Trigon was causing trouble, because what boy hasn’t at one time wished they had a big orange supermodel girlfriend that slept naked? I also love the grade school awkwardness of their relationships in the animated Teen Titans series, both versions. This is the real couple destined to be, so of course DC erases all existence of it in service of the New 52.


I’ve covered this relationship extensively before, but suffice to say, masked sex is the apex of what we can hope to achieve as a human race.


I love that Hawkeye is in an unspoken contest with Tony Stark and Matt Murdock to see who can sleep with the most female characters in the Marvel universe. Because of his overactive libido, it’s really hard to choose one pairing that I like any more than another. I like them all. They’re all great precisely because you know Hawkeye is only going to screw it up. If forced to choose one at gunpoint (and who hasn’t been forced to do something at gunpoint at least once?) I guess you’d have to go with Mockingbird, if only because she’s the stand in for Black Canary in the Marvel universe, but that’s completely disregarding the allure of Black Widow. Speaking of . . .


As much as Hawkeye and Stark might think they’re working their way through the lovely ladies of the Marvel universe, they can’t hold a candle to the ravishing Natasha Romanoff. Hawkeye, Stark, Daredevil, and Bucky are some of her more famous conquests, not to mention that her and Captain America always seem to wind up together in any project outside the realm of comics. Of the available options, I do love the idea of her with Steve in any animated series or the movies, but in the comics her best relationship was with Bucky as the Winter Soldier. Comics tend to get a little simplistic with their romances sometimes (Storm and Black Panther both lived in Africa, so of course they should marry) but this is one case where ‘both abused by Russians’ works for them as a couple. It’s just too bad that Brubaker had to break my heart by breaking them up, before breaking it again by dropping the mic and leaving the Marvel universe forever to make excellent comics with his life partner Sean Phillips. I’ve always appreciated Black Widow as a character, after all, she wears a tight leather catsuit, but I never considered her to be a favorite until the Marvel movies, and especially after Avengers. She’s a favorite now, which I’m sure has absolutely nothing to do with Scarlett Johansson.

Backtracking a bit . . .


I like Mockingbird well enough, but not as much as I love her DC counterpart Black Canary. In my favorite stories of Dinah Lance, she’s strong, tough, capable, and independent. So, of course, she’s unfortunately forever linked to one of the single most annoying superhero characters in comic book history, Oliver Queen. Arrow fans, I’m not talking about the cool character you watch every season on that sorta dumb but also very entertaining show. No, this is the comic book version, rocking the Robin Hood look and standing self-righteously on a soapbox of opinions and judgement. What an awful burden of a character. Black Canary deserves much, much better.


I’ve never been a big fan of replacement characters, but as part of the explosion of the Green Lantern franchise, I’ve come to appreciate Kyle Rayner (and Guy Gardner for that matter) a lot more than I do Hal Jordan. Similarly, the purple skinned alien Green Lantern role formerly occupied by (the now deceased) Katma Tui was taken over by Soranik Natu, a fun and fiery new character that quickly became a standout of the revitalized corps. Kyle and Soranik was a romance that unfortunately wouldn’t last, but was a highlight of the books for a time. Fortunately, now there’s . . .


Why do I wholeheartedly approve of this? Because Hal Jordan both sucks and blows, that’s why.


Within the very same issue that Stan and Jack decided they had told every story they could tell with Midgard’s Jane Foster, they introduced Sif, an Asgardian and a capable warrior in her own right. Now, instead of the damsel in distress Jane, and the standard stories of star-crossed lovers always kept apart by Donald Blake’s duties as Thor, you had two warriors fighting battles side-by-side (yet Sif did play the damsel in distress a few times herself, times being what they were). Sif is a love interest that works much better in the comics, where Thor spending months or even years in publication time off of Earth is no big deal. She’s also interesting enough to support her own adventures, as proven by the underrated Immonen and Schiti run. I remember Dan Slott once saying about the (at the time) potential Carol Danvers and Peter Parker coupling, that (paraphrasing) Peter dating a superhero would kind of eliminate any need to ever spend time not as Spider-Man, narratively. That’s not as big a problem for Thor, because I’ve always found any secret identity for Thor to be a bigger burden than it is a positive for good storytelling. However . . .


I do think Jane works much better as a love interest in the movies and cartoons. The lovers from two different worlds works much better when it doesn’t have the time to get overdone in media adaptations, and Thor needs that reason to spend more time on Earth than he does in Asgard. This worked to great effect in the movie friendly (and perpetually underrated) Thor the Mighty Avengers series as well. Or it could just be that I’m a fan of Natalie Portman. Sue me.


I enjoy a heterosexual bromance as much as the next person, and this is arguably the best one in superhero comics (Blue Beetle and Booster Gold might protest, but who would really be around to listen, nobody). The streetwise ex-con from the streets of Harlem, and the blond-haired kung-fu master from a magical city in the Himalayas, are not exactly an obvious formula for besties for life, but it works. Luke Cage is not my beloved Colleen Wing (who I really would be trying to spend all my time with if I were Danny) but he’s been a loyal partner and friend through many entertaining adventures. Luke even named his daughter Danielle, which makes you want to tilt your head and say “aw.”


That’s gross.


This one is still really new and unrealized, but I love the idea of these two together. Peter Quill is the loveable scoundrel with a heart of gold, and Kitty is the formely annoying kid sidekick that has grown into a strong woman and capable leader, especially under Bendis (say what you will about Bendis, but he generally writes interesting female characters). It’s time Kitty moved on from her creepy and weird history with Colossus, who is also one of the most boring X-Men characters in their history, and developed something new with a much more interesting match. Now that I’ve written all that, I just remembered the disturbing sexual fascination that the internet has with Kitty, and now feel worse about myself.

Creepy sexual fantasies is a good a place to end as any, just ask anyone I’ve ever taken out on a date. If you’re like me and are way to embroiled in the romantic shenanigans of fictional characters, hopefully you enjoyed the public embarrassment I provided to all of you today. If you have any favorite couples of your own that I missed, please keep that to yourself, I don’t want to read about your weird obsessions. Send them to Duy, he loves that stuff. (I’m only kidding, I love comments. At least I think I do, I rarely get any. Sob.)

That’s it, I’m off to cyber-stalk Travis in the hopes of more ideas and inspiration. Next time, something interesting Travis said.

Sep 19, 2014

Edge of Spider-Verse #2: A Review

Edge of Spider-Verse #2: Gwen Stacy: Spider-Woman
A Review
Back Issue Ben

Alternate universes, future landscapes, and “imaginary versions” have existed for almost as long as superhero comics themselves. It’s been a longstanding tradition to take a character we all know and love and change one or more aspects of them, sometimes to prove what works, sometimes to prove what doesn’t.

Growing up a primarily Marvel fan, I was never all that interested in alternate universes or versions of characters. Most of my exposure to alternate versions was in the pages of What If...? (and the answer to that question was almost always, “they’d all die”). The Ultimate universe appeared to attempt this, but was mostly interested in providing updated versions of the same characters we already knew. Eventually they’d try to be more experimental, like killing Peter Parker and replacing him with Miles Morales.

Usually, alternate versions are dreadfully boring or too derivative. Bland takes on the original hero, with one or two changes. The aforementioned Miles Morales is one of the few examples of a character that works on his own merits, and is entertaining in his own right. Jason Latour and Robbi Rodriguez, over the course of one twenty page comic, manage to create a fully-realized character in Gwen Stacy as Spider-Woman, and a world that you can’t help to want to read more of.

Spider-Gwen isn’t merely Gwen as replacement for Peter Parker, with the same exact troubles and background, “only this time it’s a girl!” Nor is she just the Gwen we already know, only now with powers. Latour and Rodriguez have created a Gwen that feels true to the character we remember, but is also entirely her own character.

This new Gwen masks her pain and failure with humor, which is a very Spider-Man thing to do. The failure that motivates her is similar enough to invoke Uncle Ben, but different enough to not be a distraction. The world around her is intriguing and worthy of further exploration (what is up with slimy Matt Murdock?).

 Plus, who doesn't like an all-girl rock band?

The art by Robbi Rodriguez does a good job of capturing the kinetic, creepy vibe of Ditko’s Spider-Man, yet still retaining its own style. The Spider-Woman costume design is striking and eye-catching, a very sleek interpretation that screams Spider-Man while also being its own thing. The white color scheme really makes it stand out, as beautifully rendered by color artist Rico Renzi.

I’ve never been the biggest fan of alternate versions of characters. It's an incredibly difficult trick to create something that's familiar but can also stand on its own. Ben Reilly and Spider-Man 2099 (to stick with alternate Spider-Men) have been fairly interesting but not enough for me to find them essential to exist. Yet, Spider-Gwen so thoroughly grabbed me in the space of one single issue, I can’t help but clamor for more. From the looks of things across the interwebs, I’m not the only one. If Marvel doesn’t capitalize on that with an ongoing series, or at least a mini-series, it will be a mistake. A huge mistake.

In closing, more Spider-Gwen!

Sep 18, 2014

Age of Apocalypse, Part 3

Age of Apocalypse Pt III
Travis Hedge Coke

Traditionally, this is the part of most stories that nobody cares for. Robert Rodriguez cut this act out of Planet Terror because it’s the bit nobody cares for, the prerequisite set up for a far more interesting climax, still and always balancing things so nothing climaxes too soon, so it can all crescendo together.

But, it does not have to be that way.

X-Universe #1

The human resistance is spread thin around the world, suicidally striving for survival. More an excuse to showcase multiple non-mutant characters than anything.

I Like: All the black people are starving, dressed in rags, pathetic. The white people are fit, well-fed, and often dressed in nice, clean clothes. (That’s probably not intentional.) Donald Blake and Tony Stark look great, thanks to Carlos Pacheco, who draws incredibly attractive men.

I Dislike: The blinding of Matt Murdock, and some other touches that imply certain injuries or motifs from the normative Marvel Universe are inevitable.

I Don’t Understand: How are the Marauders a thing? These Marauders are a team of international assassins. This is Norman Osborne (a scientist and businessman), Wilson Fisk (an emperor of crime), The Owl (a sometimes psychotic gang leader), and Arcade (a delusional assassin). How are they all flying around on magic floaty-shoes, why has Norman “I’m the Green Goblin, goddammit” Osborne got long cornrows going? Why does Fisk have reverse-suspenders that go from belt down his crotch? And, why is Wilson Fisk’s assassin name, “Dirigible”? Did he not oppose this?

Astonishing X-Men #3

The X-Men invade a processing plant for making and armoring up new foot soldiers for Apocalypse. It goes poorly for them.

I Like: It looks fantastic. Sabertooth gets knocked around pretty fierce.

I Dislike: The blood is so dull and thin, the violence doesn’t seem at all real, even though the action part of the punch ups is still good. And, this

 is how Bishop and Magneto debate destroying the entire world and resetting time by twenty years.

I Don’t Understand: How the dual plans of stop Apocalypse and reset reality are supposed to come together. Doesn’t either one sort of make the other not that pressing?

X-Calibre #3

The deranged goodies and the psychotic baddies both make it to the paradisiacal refuge, Avalon. Some of them die and the guns are all huge.

I Like: Ken Lashley’s art has wonderful depth and is perpetually loud. The characters feel like full people, yet they’re all strongly distinct from one another.

I Dislike: Lashley’s work here suffers a few key 90s drawbacks, including Mystique’s hair being almost as tall as she is, and no one ever really standing on the ground as the ground is drawn.

I Don’t Understand: Why this issue is so talky, when it really doesn’t need to be and Warren Ellis is usually canny enough to avoid that.

Gambit and the X-Ternals #3

Gambit and his peeps invade an intergalactic empire to steal a crystal that can destroy existence!

I Like: The cover and the opening two page spread are colorful, exciting, and pretty. Larocca’s work with textures and textiles is fantastic this issue

I Dislike: Charles Xavier being so important is silly. Gambit highlighting how superfluous most of this series has been by flat asking a character, in the third of four issues, to justify the plot for him doesn’t hang a lampshade on it, or whatever, it just makes it feel ridiculous and superfluous.

I Don’t Understand: Why do any of the characters in this issue feel any desire to take the actions they take? Where are the motivations? The personal agendas?

Generation Next #3

The invasion of the labor camp continues, with two of the team impersonating the boss, and others breaking in and skulking around, biding time.

I Like: Chris Bachalo is fearless when it comes to both mise en scene in panels and the layout of each page. People die spontaneously and unexpectedly in Generation Next and that’s very appreciated.

I Dislike: Colosses and Kitty have just been walking around, making kid work, for three issues?

I Don’t Understand: Scott Lobdell is usually strong at doing soap opera style characterization, about people persona-first in his stories. Here, no one seems more than broad strokes and a costume.

Weapon X #3

Logan treks across the ice and snow to fight cyborgs and hook up with Carol Danvers and the mutant known as Gateway.

I Like: Gateway as an intellectual stoner is genius, and finally putting him in something other than a breechclout is huge. Prior to this, and after, Gateway has been a near-naked, almost-always-silent magic ethnic stereotype, and here he’s exploding with personality and a life. Similarly, Carol Danvers comes alive under Larry Hama, and with Adam Kubert drawing her appropriately-dressed and heavily armed, she looks hard as hell.

I Dislike: Occasionally, there’s a sequence of panels that simply flow poorly, and it hurts more because, otherwise, Hama and Kubert knock this one outta the park.

I Don’t Understand: Why Gateway and Carol can’t be written this cool and in charge of themselves all the time.

Amazing X-Men #3

The villains triumph? Magneto defeated? Bishop captured? Quicksilver is… having… feelings? X-Men run! X-Men stand around.

I Like: Kevin Somers’ genius coloring.

I Dislike: I love unique story structures, but this doesn’t seem to be a story so much as a few events that are relatively connected. There’s no flow, no arc, no overarching point. If anything, the issue is over-arcing, throwing balls in the air that I - because this is a reread - know are going to come down in later comics, but without even giving us a strong leaving point or any sense of lingering concern. Halfway through the comic, we literally get a caption that reads “Time passes,” to bridge two scenes. “Time passes” is the dumbest thing to say in the middle of your story since, roughly, the invention of the middle of stories.

I Don’t Understand: Angel has wings (hence, “Angel”). How does he take a jacket off down his back, when he’s got a ten foot wingspan?

Factor X #3

Scott Summers starts developing a conscience, and reencounters Jean Grey. Meanwhile, his brother’s secret squeeze, nightclub singer, Scarlet, is under suspicion, and Scott’s brother, Alex, is reevaluating his life and getting angry.

I Like: It’s very unashamedly soapy.

I Dislike: Rather than just commit to actions, everyone seems to like talking out their thoughts and agendas. “Are you asking me to X?”/“I am asking you to X.”/“I always knew I would X with you.”/“We X together.”

I Don’t Understand: Why are they all acting like they’re twelve? And how does this rebellion work?

X-Man #3

Forge and X-Man fight some people.

I Like: The layouts, generally with three panels to a page, are innovative and inviting. Domino is a badass.

I Dislike: I don’t feel emotionally connected to any of the characters. I’m connected to the action fine, but don’t really care who wins, who dies or not.

I Don’t Understand: The Sinister thing, where disguised and hanging with X-Man and crew. What does it get him?

X-Universe #2

Silly humans try to live free under the oppressive regime of mad mutants. Some find love. Some find… organ harvesting?

I Like: The layouts are dynamic. The red and black motif for Matt’s radar vision looks cool.

I Dislike: Too many people running around just being names and a look. Too many people in hellish situations acting like they’re extras in Tango & Cash.

I Don’t Understand: Why is Ben Grimm always jumping or midair? How did not-Thor, Don Blake, lose all his muscle mass this issue, from last?

X-Calibre takes a sharp turn in its third issue, with one of the villains changing her tune upon seeing the paradisiacal sanctuary with her own eyes, and several characters buying it in unpredictable but reasonable fashion. Weapon X has its share of deaths and developments that, again, shift things up from where we might have thought they were going, introducing Carol Danvers and Gateway and shifting Logan’s basic mission. It plays off the losses and gains of the previous two issues, without being a place-setter for the climax, and is thus satisfactory on its own.

Amazing X-Men is just… well, it's a comic. That is probably the best I can say for it. It has images, in panels, and word balloons, they follow a sequence. But, you could read a summary of the issue and come away with the same thing reading the comic gives.

For its time, the coordination is quite sound. The general quality of the tie-ins, is for its time unprecedented. I’m critical here, because criticism helps build better things down the road. Chastisement has its place, but this probably isn’t it. Which, can be difficult to keep in mind. “How dare you not entertain me to the level I want!” can be an easy statement to come to.

The Age of Apocalypse set up the system for many later big superhero events, from Seven Soldiers of Victory and Infinite Crisis to Secret Invasion. Multiple miniseries running concurrent and covering different bases, glimpses (or long looks) at alternate paths characters and events could have taken, and the hope that at least one mini would stick and become an ongoing title. AoA is probably more important as an event than it is as a story or a comic. The individual comics, or the story collectively, has its ups, for sure, it has some serious shine even now. When I am critical of an issue or title in particular, it’s by reflection of the best of the AoA, not because it’s pure garbage. There is, actually, no truly terrible comics in the AoA package as originally presented at that time. But, as an event, it was hugely influential and proved that these interlocking systems had more strength, that there was money in ancillary minis and fill-in-the-moment oneshots.

It isn’t just about there being money in this arrangement. Money is good, but if you were up for money, comics wasn’t - even in those heady hand over fist days - the best place to stick around. AoA demonstrated that a level of interweaving between titles, an elegance of structure that no one had risked before was not only possible, but could be addicting. I seriously doubt many fans were only picking up X-Universe or Factor X. People read the individual titles, but more honestly, we read the Age of Apocalypse.

Next time: Who will end the world! And will the baby die first!?!

Review: George Perez's Sirens

"I used to say that if I cursed the name of a writer while reading a script, I would likely become a better artist when I finish drawing it. George Pérez the artist hopes to curse out George Pérez the writer as many times as possible." -George Perez

So, full disclosure. George Perez is my favorite artist. Of all time. Ever. I met him eight years ago and giggled like a five-year-old child who had just made his first pun and thought he was so clever. As a result, there is absolutely no way the following review is going to come close to being objective. But you're here, still reading this, so I guess you don't care. So, let's get to it.

There will certainly be people who say that Sirens, Perez's title that involves a team of remarkable women from different points in history (each one based on a cosplayer), has way too much going on, and that is absolutely true. There are more than a few 11-panel pages in the issue. Virtually none of it is for an additional effect like extending a moment to make it linger, or to cut one moment up into multiple moments with polyptychs. Pretty much all of it is because the story is so packed and so much is going on, and Perez has to finish this in six issues, so he crams as much as he can within each page. It might strain some eyes, especially since there are so many words. There's a whole lot going on, you might be tempted to keep a scorecard.

But I've always liked that feeling, which is partly why I love Perez so much in the first place. So let's move on to something else.

The story itself is intriguing because it takes place throughout multiple time periods and we're introduced to characters in a non-linear fashion. There are scenes in ancient Rome, 1104 AD Iceland, the old West, 1949 Alabama, and outer space in the future. That's where each Siren comes from, and it's very ambitious because there are so many different backgrounds and so many little details to make authentic.

Each Siren is based on a cosplayer, and each one comes off as a full-blown character. No one is in it to strictly be eye candy (and one of them's naked throughout the entire comic). So that's a good thing.

The story's not fleshed out yet, and I suspect it will be one of those things that become clear when everything is over in six months. I'm willing to wait for it to clarify itself, but again, I like chaos in my ensemble books, so if that kind of thing turns you off, this book might not be for you.

No, oddly enough, my one complaint about the entire book is the art. Maybe it's because I'm so used to Perez's artwork being of a certain standard, but this is the first book he's ever done that I've read where I was noticing anatomical mistakes (I tried, but I don't see how Miss Bishop, the first time we see her, doesn't have an incredibly short arm), generic expressions (there's a sequence where everyone's half-face is shown — a technique I find tired, to begin with — and their facial expressions are just too bland and exaggerated that it was out of place), and I thought the inking in some parts was sloppy, with thick lines that could have been thinner and vice versa.

But my biggest complaint about the art has to do with the coloring, which (and maybe this is because I read this right after Blue Rose) is, frankly, pretty flat. Shades aren't gradiated, but separated completely, so there are no transitions from one shade of, say, green, to another. The result is a pretty lackluster, and, to my eyes anyway, a pretty garish coloring job.

That's about it for Sirens. I'm sorry this review wasn't helpful. I tried. I'm gonna keep buying the series, but it's hardly Perez's best work. But then again, I don't think it's meant to be.

Review: Supreme: Blue Rose #3

Warren Ellis and Tula Lotay's foray into the Supreme mythos continues, and we get some more information as to what exactly is going on. We get some more metaphors and visual imagery about what's wrong with the universe as it is and why Supreme, really, is missing.

If you're a fan of Warren Ellis, you can spot some recurring themes. The purpose of Supreme in this or any other universe may be reflective of certain roles in, say, Planetary. The concept of multiple realities, while being a theme/plot device in Alan Moore's run on Supreme, is also a recurring Ellis theme and thus one he is already adept at handling. In the pages of Blue Rose, however, it feels fresh. Part of that is because of the art by Tula Lotay (still wonderful, still takes my breath away, and I really don't know what else I can say about it that I didn't say in my two previous reviews at this point), but a real highlight of this issue is the tiny bits of character-building we see.

Things like Diana Dane and her chaufesse, Linda Kendall, talking about Professor Night, the TV series they both love, even for just a few panels, brings this otherwise really-out-there story to earth and grounds it, in turn further emphasizing how out-there the story is. Darius Dax gets to speak with the redheaded woman who's been showing up in dreams in the previous two issues, and we learn what drives him, and how it drives him, while we also get some background on the redheaded woman. And we finally get a glimpse of a really important character, who gives us some level of exposition, but the way it's done, you want to know more, both about the character and what he's saying.

If I had to pick any point to criticize in this series so far, it has nothing to do with the story itself. I kind of wish they wouldn't name the unnamed characters in the back matter or online. I guess it's not so big a deal — I know who the redheaded woman was before Lotay named her on Twitter, for example, but all the same, I'd rather have had it confirmed while reading the story proper. But, as I said, it's not a big deal. I may know the names and capabilities of the characters, but the world is so different from the Supreme I'm used to, that the only thing really getting spoiled is my own fanboy speculation.

Still highly recommended. Go buy it. Go. Now.

Sep 15, 2014

The Unexpected Joy of Bikini-Clad Baroness

The Unexpected Joy of Bikini-Clad Baroness
Ben Smith

Those of you that know me may find it shocking that I find myself in conversations discussing popular 1980s cartoons quite a bit. A recent discussion of such veered into interesting new territories (some would claim unseemly) thanks to my often repeated admission that, as a young boy, I never realized or considered that the Baroness could be the subject of sexual fantasy. I then wondered aloud if this was something that was true at the time of the show, or happened afterwards thanks to creepy old fans. Our illustrious editor said something to the effect of, "they did do an entire episode of her in a bikini." (A subsequent google image search to confirm this as true, revealed that if you google any female character from an '80s cartoon, you are guaranteed to find inappropriate fan art of the character. Even Gadget, from Chip and Dale's Rescue Rangers. Gadget is a mouse.)

I consider myself pretty well-versed on '80s cartoons, and yet somehow this episode has eluded my attention for the past 28 years. In an effort to ensure this doesn't also happen to you, I present to you.

Written by Flint Dille

The episode begins zoomed in on two holograms of robots fighting. The holograms look very much like Optimus Prime and Shockwave of the Transformers. (Knowing that the name of the episode was the Gamesmaster, this immediately led to me hoping that the villain of the show would be the same guy that hunted Optimus Prime in the classic episode "Prime Target," which was their cartoon version of "The Most Dangerous Game.")

Alas, it's merely a bald man with a goatee. (Disappointment achieved.)

The man declares himself bored of such conflicts and decides to try a new game. The camera turns to reveal that the other participant in this conversation is a creepy looking clown. (Disappointment relieved.) A clown named Koko. This is already my favorite cartoon ever created.

(My immediate questions. Is this a real clown? Is it a robot clown? If he's real, is he a willing friend, or a captive? Did he kidnap some small child and raise him as a clown companion? If it's a robot, did he make it himself, or did he buy a robot clown and decide to stick with the clown theme?)

Without transition or explanation, The Gamesmaster immediately begins spying on, and kidnapping members of G.I. Joe and Cobra.

First up is Flint, described as “second in command” of the Joes. (The command structure of the Joes was of great interest to myself and the boys I knew. While Flint being second in command is contradicted in other episodes, he most likely is, since according to the file cards on the back of the toys, he's a warrant officer. We all know that General Hawk is the actual commander of the Joes, and while Duke may seem like he's running things, he's the First Sergeant, therefore enlisted, therefore not an officer. Actually, the First Sergeant probably would be running the day-to-day show, and the operations, but is still outranked by all the officers in the chain-of-command.)

Flint is, by all appearances, off duty, since he is wearing a sweater vest and khakis. Yet he is also wearing his beret (which makes no sense, but is also something I can totally see Flint doing).

Flint deserves to be kidnapped and beaten for the sweater vest alone, and that he is, while inside an elevator which is pulled into the sky by a helicopter. A helicopter piloted by this clown.

Is this the same clown, or does the Gamesmaster have multiple clowns at his disposal?
Next, he creepily watches Lady Jaye through the security camera at a department store while she shops for clothes.

As she makes her way to the dressing room, Koko the clown teases the Gamesmaster, to which he replies, “I do not have a crush on her, Koko.” This is in case it isn't exactly clear to the adolescent viewer that this is not normal behavior.

To hammer that wholesome point home, we see Lady Jaye unbutton her top, and the camera pans down to the floor, where we see her dress fall. (It's like this episode was produced by Marv Wolfman and George Perez.)

Then we get our first ever (I assume) shot of a Joe bra, before a crate envelops her and wind-up robots cart her away. (I know I probably shouldn't find these grown men's attempts to sneak in inappropriate sexual content into children's programming so entertaining, but it's very nearly a pastime of mine. Micronauts vs X-Men being the pinnacle of this undeclared sub genre.)

Next up is Baroness, enjoying a nice bikini-clad soak in a jacuzzi, before the lid slams down trapping her, and she is wheeled away by robots.

Last but not least, Cobra Commander, disappears in a trap door while overlooking a parage ground of troops, and is replaced by a robot. Destro comes walking up to the robot to complain, as Destro is known to do, but the Commander's head jack-and-the-boxes up on a spring, prompting Destro to put everyone on alert. But not alert enough to see the robots carting the Commander away.

Afterwards, the Joes, primarily Duke and Scarlett, and the Cobras, primarily Destro and Zartan, both separately assume the other side has kidnapped their people, and make preparations to get them back.

After an indeterminate amount of time, the four captives each wake up in giant cribs filled with suspicious looking stuffed animals (or as Duy calls it, Thursday). Lady Jaye is back to fully clothed (which has implications in itself).

(At this point, the considerate thing to do is at least offer the Baroness some of your extra layers of clothing. She'd probably turn it down, but you should still offer. She's basically naked! Lady Jaye is even wearing a coat she doesn't really need. There's no need for Flint to hold so tightly to his precious sweater vest, hand it over. Jerks.)

The Gamesmaster introduces himself and their current situation over the intercom. Hidden somewhere on the island is a one-man helicopter. The winner finds it and flies away, and the rest die. Simple enough.

Giant robot toy soldiers packing much heat come bursting into the room, and take aim at the four captured Joebras.

At this point we reach our first commercial break, thanks to the short animated intros and outros to the commercial break. Apparently kids were too dumb to figure this out without being told. Ironically, this is the most effort the show ever put into a transition.

We're back, the toy soldiers fire, but the four captives duck safely out of the line of fire. The window shatters behind them, and they make their escape.

Cobra Commander trips and falls while going out the window (because he does that) and then trips again, sending himself tumbling down the steep hill outside, landing on his face. At which point everyone laughs, including the Baroness. Which is just mean.

(I love the competent terrorist/former car salesman version of Cobra Commander from the comic series, but the bumbling idiot of the cartoon has a certain level of charm as well. It's like the U.S. government created an elite special missions force to combat the Three Stooges.)

The two Cobras and Joes immediately decide to split up and fend for themselves.

G.I. Joe pilot Ace (the Joe equivalent of Launchpad McQuack) is flying over Greenland to check out some intel on Cobras in the area.

He finds them quick, as the Cobras hit his Skystriker with a missile, but not before Ace is able to safely parachute away. (The reflexes and sense of anticipation it must take for these soldiers to always evacuate the exploding vehicle is impeccable. Sometimes the missiles are in-flight and they're already on their way out.)

Ace is quickly surrounded by HISS tanks, and Destro arrives, announcing that he needs information from him.

Flint and Lady Jaye are walking along, when they ascertain that they are in the middle of a forest made out of candy. At which point this exchange takes place . . .

Lady Jaye: "That can’t be real."
Flint: (very excited) "I think it is, I took a caramel apple." (Stupid grin.)

While they are admiring a bush full of "Bon Bon berries," Baroness and Cobra Commander attack, wielding giant candy canes. I am both frightened and hungry now.

Lady Jaye goes flying into the nearby candy lake, followed quickly by Cobra Commander.

At this point, the greatest battle in the history of the cartoon begins. Baroness versus Flint. Its pretty much a microcosm of the age old debate, sweater vest versus bikini. Due to the level of importance, I need to make sure I break this down move by move.

Baroness swings at Flint with the cane, but he’s able to maneuver himself out of the way, and grab her from behind in a bear hug.

She headbutts him in the face, freeing herself (and my heart).

Baroness lets loose with a roundhouse kick, which Flint is able to counter by doing a handstand and locking his legs around hers, which I'm sure is textbook martial arts.

"You’re good Baroness, but I’m better." (To be fair, Flint also says this to Lady Jaye in bed.)

Flint then tosses her away using his feet, and she flips through the air and lands in a crouch.

Before she can recover, Flint runs up and tackles her to the ground.

Lady Jaye finally breaks out of what I can only assume is her extreme fascination with what is happening, and finally calls for help, as she is sinking in the caramel lake. Cobra Commander, useful as ever, corrects her by saying it is butterscotch.

As he lays on top of her, restraining her arms, Flint says, "What do we do now Baroness, we can either save them, or we can fight." (That isn't the word I was expecting that sentence to end with.)

"You’ll get Lady Jaye out first, you might double team me." (I know I would.)

"If I get the commander out first, we will definitely jump you." (So much innuendo.)

They come to a mutual agreement to not have lakeside sex, and to each save their opponent. Baroness pulls Lady Jaye slowly out of the sweet candy lake, and Flint saves Cobra Commander.

Elsewhere, Duke and two joes rise from the swamp in eel gear, and then immediately walk over to a Joe Jeep covered with a tarp, get in, and drive off.

(What was the point of swimming in the swamp if the Jeep was already in place? Did they expect no one to notice the Jeep in the middle of a clearing in the swamp forest, because it had a tarp over it? The tarp wasn't even properly secured. Are Joes required to arbitrarily swim through something before boarding vehicles?

Anyway, they drop in on Zartan, who is in the middle of checking on some vials of “deadly swamp flu.”

Back to the action, Cobra Commander bickers with the Joes about how best to proceed in their current situation, when they’re suddenly under attack by a giant robot dinosaur/dragon thing.

Of course, Cobra Commander trips and falls while they all run away. Flint turns around to save him, because, "GI Joe is dedicated to saving lives, even Cobra Commander’s." (Funny, I think the goal would be to kill Cobra Commander and end the menace of Cobra once and for all.)

Flint successfully draws the creature's attention, and is scooped up (along with a patch of dirt) in the mouth of the robot. After a few seconds, Flint's body is dropped to the ground, apparently lifeless. He is immediately carried away by robots.

Lady Jaye is stunned and distraught, while Gamesmaster declares, "one down, three to go."

Baroness, for some reason, comforts Lady Jaye by suggesting they get their revenge.

Commercial break, numero dos.

Destro interrogates Ace about the kidnapped Cobra Commander and Baroness, but Ace claims to know nothing about it. He instead asks Destro what they’ve done with Flint and Lady Jaye.

Destro is interrupted by a Cobra Viper with news that Zartan has been taken prisoner by the Joes. Destro laughs and laughs at the idea that he would care what happens to Zartan, because that's what Destro does. He laughs.

The Viper finishes relaying the Joe's message, which is that they’ll exchange Zartan for Flint and Lady Jaye, which does get Destro's attention.

Gung-Ho threatens to make Zartan drink the swamp flu if he won’t tell them what happened to Flint and Lady Jaye.

"Shoot me, anything, but don’t give me that."

They ask him again where the Joes are, and Zartan, worried only about himself, offhandedly says they're probably with Cobra Commander and the Baroness, making him the first person to actually consider the plain truth.

Destro radios in, and suggests that maybe a third party is involved, and they should work together to find out.

Robot pallbearers carry Flint's casket to his freshly dug grave, but he surprises them by popping out and using his martial arts skills to throw them into the hole.

Elsewhere, the other three captives find the helicopter. Cobra Commander offers to fly to the nearest island and send help, but not even the Baroness is buying that line.

The Commander pushes Lady Jaye down and runs for the copter, but is tackled by the Baroness. Lady Jaye gets up and tries to run past, while Baroness says, "better you than him." (Baroness is a really bad ally.)

Lady Jaye is grabbed at the feet by Cobra Commander, and falls to the ground. Now the Baroness is making a run for it.

Lady Jaye stops her by pulling her hair from behind, and then they get into a slap fight. (This, along with the Flint fight from earlier, I can only assume jump-started puberty for a large portion of the pre-teen viewers.)

Cobra Commander breaks his attention from the show long enough to run for the copter again, but obviously trips and falls yet again. He has the balance and mobility of a one-year old.

The Gamesmaster interrupts all the buffoonery by sending in a giant lawn mower to kill them all.

Gamesmaster is having fun watching them run away from the giant mower on his monitor screen, when he is interrupted by Flint, who says,  "Turn it off, or get hurt." Except Gamesmaster is not quite as unformidable as he might have appeared, towering over the much smaller and sweater-vested Flint.

He tosses Flint aside with ease. Flint hits the wall and comes back for more, before getting bellied into the wall again.

Flint spies Lady Jaye in trouble on the monitor, and is able to use his martial arts skills to trip Gamesmaster, guiding him right on top of Koko, destroying him.

Gamesmaster cries out in anger, while Flint randomly hits buttons on the console to stop the mower, which eventually works, of course.

Gamesmaster then starts throwing a fit on the ground like a big bald baby (which is also Duy's screen name on many online message boards).

Flint radioes the Joes for help, and is able to tell them about the Gamesmaster before getting cut off.

Duke and the Joes track the signal, and prepare a joint strike team with Cobra.

Shortly thereafter, Gamesmaster’s arsenal of toy planes and boats meets the Joe Skystrikers and Cobra Rattlers approaching his deadly island.

At first they laugh at the silly toy planes, until the first wave of missiles hit.

After some aerial fireworks, the ground forces parachute down to the island.

Scarlett and Zartan enjoy some flirting after blowing up some toy soldiers.

Zartan: "You’re good."
Scarlett: "The competition keeps us in shape."

Gamesmaster is throwing a fit at the turn of events, and is about to take it out on Flint, when the Joes and Cobras come busting in, guns ablaze with fury. He retreats, with Duke in hot pursuit.

Destro asks Flint where Cobra Commander is.

"Knee deep in a marshmallow swamp."

Destro doesn't believe him, until Flint points to the struggling Commander on the monitor, and then Destro laughs again, boisterously and loud.

Gamesmaster escapes in a slingshot propelled UFO-shaped ship, and vows to return (but never does). (Also, he's flying away backwards, which seems like the incorrect position to fly in.)

The Joes and Cobras relax, celebrating their victory, as seen in this screen capture.

(So many things happening in this image. Scarlett and Zartan continue their inexplicable flirting. Ace is holding one of the broken toy soldiers. Is he going to take it home? Is he despondent over it? Neither side is used to hitting their non-vehicle targets, this could be distressing for both sides. Why does Cobra Commander always have his hands on his hips when he speaks? Is it for balance?)

Cobra Commander comments that they work well together, and that they should join forces permanently, because clearly the Joes will fall for that. They don't.

The episode ends with Cobra Commander arguing with the Joes about who should leave first, and not trusting the Joes won't attack them either way. (Deal or not, shouldn't the Joes just kill them all right then and there? They're terrorists! At least apprehend them. Duke is going to get an earful over this one.)

So ends the best episode of the G.I. Joe animated series ever produced. So many boundaries inexplicably pushed by individuals producing a children's entertainment program. We have stalking, sexual innuendo, female slap fights, double-teaming, Joe bras, buttons undone, buttons redone, viscous goo all over everyone, and don't forget the sweater vests. How they ever got the sweater vest past the censors is beyond me. I can say with nearly 100% certainty, that George Perez has filmed his own home video version of this entire episode. Heck, the Gamesmaster could pass for a young Perez. I'm now just going to assume this was a rejected script for the comic series drawn by George Perez, that they then used for the cartoon. It's the only answer that makes any sense. Marv Wolfman wrote a lot of episodes for the GI Joe cartoon, and this one has his creepy claw fingers all over it. Flint Dille, speak the truth. Unburden yourself after all these years. No need to cover for your creepy friend any more, let everyone know the full story.

We need to know. We deserve to know. Because knowing is half the battle.

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