Sunday, December 30, 2007

Because No One Demanded It: The Batman's Christmas List Post-Mortem

As I did after the last bad joke and drawing theme month here on EDILW, I thought I’d do a sort of post-mortem to share some of what I learned. Also, it allows for an easy, totally phoned-in post requiring no real original thought, perfect for this between holiday week, during which most of the comics blogosphere seems to have gone dark.

Spending a couple weeks drawing superhero costumes over and over is actually a pretty interesting way to relate to them, giving one a better appreciation for how the artists one might complain about online all the time approach their work.

I found myself liking some costumes I’d previously hated, and hating other less than I used to, and appreciating details I’d never noticed before. Like just how much detail is in Catwoman’s current costume, for example, or how much Metamorpho has changed since the ‘60s.

I also found myself respecting the pros a lot more. I mean, I think Ed Benes is a horrible comic book artist, and a terrible storyteller, but I do appreciate the fact that he can draw the same faces and bodies over and over (the same exact faces and body types over and over) kind of admirable. That’s a skill in the cartoonist’s toolbox that I’ve never been able to master (which is part of the reason I draw myself all the time…it’s not just because I’m vain, but because I’m easy visual reference, and want to eventually be able to draw at least one character consistent from image to image). Like, just getting Batman’s ears the same length in different images (or both his ears the same length in the same image), or keeping the heights of two characters consistent form panel to panel is really freaking hard.

So Benes may be terrible compared to most other professional comics artists…he’s still a good draftsman, and has basic cartooning skills that are really hard to master.

Anyway, before I get into random observation mode, I thought I’d share some behind the scenes stuff with you because, well, remember what I said about phoning a post in?

I draw these all on index cards, as they are about 75 cents for 120 cards or something like that, and the cards form natural panels, so I can try to keep everything the same size for when the elves in the computer do whatever they do when they take something form the public library’s scanner and put it on my blog. (Close-ups are generally half an index card).

When I’m writing them, though, they’re a mixture of very vague drawings and indecipherable handwriting, which I developed during my time as a newspaper reporter. It’s so hard to read that even I can’t make it out. In a few months, I will likely have no idea what it says. But while it’s relatively fresh in my mind, I can remember writing it, and therefore am able to read it.

So, here’s what they look like when I first write them down. This is the page on which I wrote the Superman and Flash ones:

My house is full of pages and pages of things like this, illegible first drafts of comics and graphic novels. If I die tomorrow, whoever has the unfortunate job of dealing with my belongings is going to find folders and boxes crammed with these types of scribbled up pages that I myself can just barely make out.

Here’s another, featuring two I didn’t use. The top one was Oracle, the bottom one was the beginning of the Vixen one, which I scrapped:

Here’s something else I ended up not pursuing, Martian Santahunter:

And finally, when I realized I wouldn’t be able to draw Pete Woods’ Bat-Santa, I decided to go with a Christmas-colored version of the Bat-suit I’d been drawing all month, but wasn’t sure about how to color it, red and white, or red white and green.

I’m still not sure the red and white was best. Like, Batman’s normal costume is black and gray with a little bit of yellow (the utility belt). Maybe Bat-Sanata shoulda been red and white, with a green utility belt.

Now, on to the eight random thoughts on the JLA and Outsiders I had while drawing them on index cards…

1.) Vixen: When I planned these out, I was originally planning to do the whole month of December, which meant 31 of ‘em. Then I realized there was no point of doing them after Christmas, because why would Batman still be giving Christmas presents afterwards? And surely we would all be sick of Christmas by then anyway, right? So that knocked it down to 23-25 or so.

I was thinking I’d do everyone that was on one of Batman’s two teams, plus his sidekicks/allies, like Robin, Nightwing, Oracle, Commissioner Gordon and Alfred. But I axed all of those not on one of his two teams because none of them were the least bit funny (and considering how unfunny the ones I did post were, that’s really saying something).

Anyway, it wasn’t until I had drawn almost all of them and was halfway through posting them that I suddenly remembered that Vixen was on the Justice League again.

Does this mean I have a pretty bad memory, or that Vixen has had pretty much nothing to do in JLoA so far?

Or a little bit of both?

In the first arc, she really just came out of left field at the end, not really teaming up with either of the factions of heroes that would ultimately come together to form Metlzer’s League. The only thing I remember her doing in “Lightning Saga” was saying she was borrowing a cheetah’s speed to keep pace with The Flash (explained in the next story, I understand), and then I dropped it until McDuffie took over.

I had a reeaalllly hard time thinking of a Vixen joke; with the exception of Red Tornado, for whom I did two and settled on the second one, Vixen’s the only character I did, like, drafts of. The final one was the fourth idea I came up with, the first three being much, much, much worse (One involved her trying to suck bee powers out of Red Bee’s partner Michael though; I just really love drawing bees).

Anyway, I do like Vixen being on the JLA again. She’s a really good character for the book, because she works best in team settings, I think, and it’s nice to have characters from each discernible era involved with the book.

And I kinda like her current look. I never cared for the Wolverine/Beast-esque hair shaped like animal ears that she sported during the Detroit Era. I did like the dreadlocks she was rocking off-and-on during the period between Identity Crisis and Infinite Crisis, but the current short hairstyle (or the more slick version she had on JLU) probably make more sense for a model, as it would more easily allow her to wear hats and wigs than her long locks did.

I do kinda wish she’d get a mask similar to the one she wore in her original Cancelled Comics Cavalcade costume at some point though.

2.) Diversity: The League is the most diverse it’s ever been, and The Outsiders are also very diverse for a DCU super-team.

As of “Unlimited” and the first two issues of Batman and the Outsiders, here’s how things were looking, regarding gender and race on the two teams:

Justice League

4 white men (Batman, Red Arrow, Hal Jordan and Geo-Force)

3 black men (Black Lighting, John Stewart, Firestorm)

1 alien that just so happens to look like a white man (Superman)

2 white women (Hawkgirl, Black Canary)

1 black woman (Vixen)

1 magical golem who looks like a white woman (Wonder Woman)

1 red android whose secret identity used to be a white man, and who inhabited a white man’s body for a few issues there

The Outsiders

1 white man (Batman)

2 white women (Catwoman, Grace)

1 black woman (Thunder)

1 Asian woman (Katana)

1 half-Asian woman (Batgirl)

1 white/purple/orange/brown/silver man who used to be a caucasian guy (Metamorpho)

1 green Martian

Regarding sexuality, everyone on the League is straight. Batman and Wonder Woman can be argued about to differing degrees of seriousness, but Batman’s always done it with and dated ladies, and Wonder Woman’s only dated men. I understand there are some arguments over whether she’s a virgin or not. Let’s not get into it. Anyway, they’re all straight as far as we know.

In the Outsiders, there are two lesbians (Thunder and Grace), and everyone else seems to be straight (Batgirl isn’t sexually active; she’s kissed three boys and no girls, though).

Could the teams be more diverse? Sure, I suppose. I mean, the thing about diversity is it could almost always be more diverse, you know?

But the League is probably as diverse as it’s ever been. With Stewart and Firestorm II joining during “Unlimited,” there are now five black folks on the League at the same time. And with Black Canary, Hawkgirl and Vixen on the team, there are now four women. Considering Wonder Woman has been pretty much the only woman since the Morrison/Porter relaunch (Oracle, Big Barda, Faith and a few others joining for more brief stints during that time, of course), I think that’s pretty significant.

Should there be a hero of Hispanic on the team now? Or an Asian hero? Or a Native American? Or a gay person? Or a person with a physical disability? Looking around DC’s hero pool, I don’t know how much more diverse the League could get until some new heroes are created.

I can’t think of a single Hispanic hero who would work on the League at the moment; I know there are some out there, but none that have served on the League and/or seem iconic enough to be there at the moment.

As for Asian heroes, Dr. Light II is the only one that springs to mind, and I think she’s unfortunately sullied by her namesake’s retcon. She really, really, reeeaaaalllly needs a new codename. It’s only logical, you know? In the real world, if you’re name was, say, O.J. Simpson, chances are you would have started going by Othniel J. Simpson or whatever after the other version of your name became synonymous with that guy who may or may not have totally killed his wife, you know? If you found out your totally voluntary codename was the same as a guy who totally raped a colleague, why on earth would you keep using it?

Katana would be a possibility, even though she’s not quite iconic. Problem is, the League is pretty lousy with Outsiders right now, just as its lousy with people who have her exact same skill set that Tatsu boasts (beating people up with their bare hands).

That’s all I can think of at the moment. Again, most of the promising Asian heroes are too new. The current Atom could work on the strength of his predecessor’s place in the League, and the fact that he doesn’t belong on any of the other teams anymore (he’s not really a Golden Age legacy except on a technicality so he doesn’t belong on the JSA, he’s not a teenager so he doesn’t belong on the Titans, he’s not an outsider so he doesn’t belong on the Outsiders).

For Native American heroes, I thought Manitou Raven was awesome, filling both the magic guy role and the Apache Chief legacy. Like Black Vulcan’s history with the League via Superfriends kind of grandfathers Black Lightning in, I think Apache Chief’s role on the cartoons grandfathers in any Native Americans who can grow gigantic by saying “Inukchuk!” Sadly, he kinda sorta died, to be replaced by Manitou Dawn, who’s a bit less interesting.

The only openly gay hero to have been on the League, or to approach the popularity/power/icon status necessary to be on the league is Obsidian, and he’s in the Justice Society, which is a better fit for him anyway, given the book he was created for and his parentage. The Question II and Batwoman both seem too street-level, particularly at a time when the League already has Batman, Black Canary, an Arrow and Hawkgirl.

And physical disability? Oracle, naturally. Oracle should always be on the League. I think it’s ridiculous that she’s ever not on the League, since her close relationship with pretty much every hero on the team anyway always makes her a sort of de facto member. Why not give the lady a gold key, certificate and occasional nod in the damn roll calls, you know?

3.) Katana: I really, really, really liked Katana’s all red costume and short hair in the first two issues of the new Batman and The Outsiders. Poor Katana has had some really terrible costumes over the years, from her primary-colored samurai get-up to that horrible right-breast-as-Japan’s-rising-sun look (Which Judomaster II has taken over in the pages of JSoA).

In Batman and The Outsiders #3, however, she’s back in her most recent red and yellow costume, so now I’m not sure if the look I liked the most was just a coloring mistake, and/or the penciller removed that weird half-skirt thing she wears now either because it would be impractical to parachute in, or because it interfered with his ability to draw close-ups of her ass.

4.) Thunder: I like Thunder’s newer costume, too. I believe it’s about one million times better than her original costume. I hated the wig and the overall design, but it was the realistic lightning design on the sleeves that drove me nuts. I wouldn’t have been able to even attempt to draw that.

I still don’t care for the character much, in part because I’ve read so few stories with her I’m sure, but it also just seems weird for Black Lightning to suddenly have an adult daughter that was never mentioned before, not to mention that him having a grown-up daughter messes with age perception in the fragile fictional environment of the DCU (I smell another long-ass tangent coming on!).

See, if she’s 20 (let’s say she graduated form college a few years early) and Jefferson Pierce impregnated her mother when he was only 18, that means he’s at least 38. But probably older, as his daughter is more likely 23 (four years of college plus the One Year Later year) and he was hopefully a little older than 18 when he sired her.

Personally, I think 38-45 is a fine age for Black Lighting to be, but it doesn’t really work so well on DC’s unofficial-official timeline, in which the main heroes are all in their late-twenties, early-thirties. I mean, Batman and Black Lightning are probably the same age, right? Jeff isn’t, like, ten or fifteen years older than Batman, is he?

And if so, does that mean he became Black Lighining that late in his life? Like, in his mid-thirties, he just decided to put on that dated-ass costume and start fighting crime?

Connor Hawke creates a similar problem for Oliver Queen (although Connor’s younger than Anissa, at least potentially so, and Ollie’s always been played as older than some of his peers). It doesn’t bug me at all, as I tend to think of Ollie’s generation of heroes as being of an older, more dad-like age of, say, late thirties or forties, but the official DC line is that these are all twenty- and thirtysomethings.

What was I talking about? Costumes, or something?

5.) Black Lightning:The more I draw Black Lightining’s costume, the more I like it. Maybe if they’d just fix his mask—losing the yellow lenses, at least, but perhaps switching it out for an older mask, I could live with the current costume.

I still think it’s weird there’s no black lightning anywhere on his costume though.

6.) Batgirl: The current Batgirl’s costume was not made for colored pencils, which is why it’s miscolored it. If I drew her eyes black and her bat-symbol black, she would have looked even more blob-like. I do like her costume a lot—the Spider-Man eyes and bulbous head, the Batman cape and cowl, on that little body with the giant utility belt—but she could stand to lose the stitched-up mouth and instead have a mouthless cowl (ala Spider-Man) or one akin to the Batwoman from that direct-to-DVD animated movie.

7.) Metamorpho: What are those…things on Metamorpho’s face? The greenish/blueish lines that are on his head and face, and that are on the orange half of his upper body. I know the Metamorpho fragment that went by the name Shift had them, and it seems Metamorpho himself has adopted Shift’s old look, dress pants, black eyes and those weird lines and all. Are they to be read as solid, like tattoos, or some kind of lava lamp-like whorls, resultant form his body being a sort of living periodic table?

Just wondering. I like his old head design better. I don’t mind costumes being tweaked now and then, but I guess I just think head re-design is taking things too far.

Speaking of which…

8.) Martian Manhunter: I was totally shocked by how much love the new Martian Manhunter costume got in the comments section for that post. It’s another look that I despised at first sight, but have been slowly growing more used to. Maybe in another eight years or so I’ll even dig it. But that head shape…if I hadn’t read so many comics about the shape of J’onn’s head, and why it looks one way in public and another in private, or if his new public head-shape resembled a Martian headshape, that would be one thing, but it’s just so random. I don’t get why they made him look so Skrull-y, either.

Anyway, I think I’m going to examine the fashion taste of Martian Manhunter in a near future post. He has worn a few outfits other than his original costume and his new one, and that guy looks good in just about anything. Except red. It clashes with his skin tone. Violently.


B.G. Christensen said...

Actually, Grace is Asian too, so the Outsiders is predominantly Asian women now.

Thanks for the Batman Christmas series. It was great.

Anonymous said...

I dropped Outsiders back before the Infinite Crisis Mess, so when did Grace and Thunder become lesbians?

Is Grace bi? Because in her first, like, two issues of existance she had sex with Arsenal about six times. Then we found out she was raped a lot as a kid, then John Walsh guest-starred and I dropped the book.

Anonymous said...

Again, I don't particularly like MM's new costume, but I hated the old one. It just didn't say anything about the character whatsoever and was really garish - bare-chested with a red X and bright blue cape and boots? How is any of that practical for a guy who can become any shape he wants?

I think redesigning him at all is a step in the right direction.

DrJeff said...

You need to enter Chris Simms's contest. Check it out here:

mordicai said...

I like Batgirl's Tim Burtony look. It gives her a totally distinct look, while still being very batsy.

& I'm not sure I want Oracle to be on the League: I like her as her OWN lady. Maybe BoP should just grow & grow & grow into being equal to the JLA. Yeah?