Artwork #1

And now for something totally different.

Here are a bunch of pretty pictures. And since one cannot talk about pretty pictures without mentioning Alex Ross, here is some of his work that I think is mindblowing.

This is a drawing of the old and current JSA members in one picture. This was also used as the covers to JSA #68 and #69.

And now, here are the original Teen Titans. And unlike many other artists, Ross' teens look like teenagers, not short adults.

And the other teenagers - the Legion of Superheroes.
This picture isn't the best quality, but I had to include it. This is Ross' tribute to Alan Moore. All of Moore's creations make an appearance here, from the crew at Watchmen, to Promethea.
Moore also has a whole series of paintings where he has taken classic scenes from Golden Age comics and copied them in his own style. Here's an example.
Finally, a picture that I can't help but gape at even now. This is his vision of The Crisis on Infinite Earths. It has practically every single DC character ever. Even now, I can only identify about 75% of them. Zoom in to it to see the incredibly intricate detail.

Lot of eye-candy all round. Enjoy, until the next long, overly analytical post.


Girlfriend in Refrigerator #1

It was 1994. Ron Marz was the author of Green Lantern, a book whose sales were slipping. Desperate to improve readership, an editorially-mandated decision was taken to turn the existing character, Hal Jordan into a villain, and have a new character take over the mantle of the Green Lantern.

In the controversial storyline Emerald Twilight, Hal went mad with grief and destroyed the entire Green Lantern Corps before becoming the all-powerful Parallax and unknown cartoonist Kyle Rayner became the new Lantern when he picked up a ring lying in a dark alley.

This decision was greeted with howls of protest. Jordan was a very popular character, and sending him off this way seemed sacreligious to most fans. Much of the anger was directed at Kyle. This was very different from the reaction to the new Flash, Wally West, who took over from his uncle Barry Allen who died during the Crisis on Infinite Earths. Wally, unlike Kyle, had been Kid Flash in the Titans for many years previously, and in the eyes of the fans, had earned the right to wear the uniform. Not so Kyle, who had the universe's most powerful weapon handed to him on a platter.

Anticipating the protest, Marz needed a way to add depth to the character of Kyle instantly. And he did. Two issues into his his life as a Green Lantern, the government sent Major Force to check on Kyle. Kyle was out when MF showed up, but his girlfriend, Alexandra DeWitt, was home. When Kyle arrived after some superheroics, this is what hapened.

So did it work? That's a difficult question to answer. Sales on the book remained strong for a number of years, and Kyle soon developed his own dedicated fan base. He was part of the reformed Justice League, and soon many people began considering him the one true Green Lantern. However, he was never sufficiently developed as a character and no matter what he did, he never seemed to grow beyond being the boy who just never got a break. Somehow, the writers never managed to make him an interesting character.

Kyle even had a brief relationship with the recently widowed Donna Troy, but that didn't end well either.

Technically, this wasn't really a case of G-i-R syndrome. Donna's death was more for shock value than anything. In fact, when she was resurrected, she had forgotten all about the time she spent with Kyle, something Kyle didn't seem to mind. She even admitted to Jenny Lynn-Hayden, who Kyle was seeing then, that it was entirely a rebound thing.

Finally, in 2005, DC gave up. After stretching the bounds of credibility to breaking point, the writers brought Hal Jordan back as Green Lantern, and effectively wished away his mass-murdering spree of a decade ago. At the same time, they had Major Force put a papier-mache facsimile of Kyle's mother's head in his oven, disheartening him to the point of quitting, while also giving him a permanent phobia of kitchen gadgets. But they couldn't just get rid of Kyle - he had his own loyal fans now. Many recent readers didn't even know who Jordan was, and would raise holy hell if he was killed.

So, during Infinite Crisis, when Kyle and Jenny joined Donna's team to fight the threat from space, a stray bolt of antimatter lightning struck Jenny and...

Remember how G-i-R syndrome ends up making the males stronger? Well, Jenny's death caused her body to disintegrate and her energy to somehow merge with Kyle.

So now Kyle Rayner has become the omnipotent Ion. Ironically, he only came on the scene because a similar thing happened to Hal Jordan. And he's single again, because his girlfriends all had to die (and his mother had to pretend to), for him to become so all-powerful.

Just a word of advice though to any DC superheroine who doesn't have a date on Saturday night. No matter how desperate you are, DO NOT give Kyle Rayner a call. It might just make him stronger in mysterious ways.


India Alert #4

Chris Claremont.

It is no secret that I do not think very highly of his work. He may have reinvigorated the X-Men franchise but honestly, most of his stories are just plain silly (he created Mojo, for heaven's sake). He also refuses to go away, insisting on completely trampling on ideas thought up by better writers on the X-Men titles.

But this rant post is not about Chris Claremont's work. Its to reveal an interesting piece of trivia about the man.

Chris Claremont has never met an Indian.

No, I'm serious. Surprising as it may sound in this cosmopolitan age - the way the man writes Indian characters makes it amply clear that he does not personally know a single person of South Asian origin.

Lets start with the two biggest Indian characters written by Claremont - NEAL SHARRA/SHAARA and KARIMA SHAPANDAR. No typos, I assure you. That's them on the left. NEAL SHAARA (sometimes spelt as SHARRA - Claremont clearly can't make up his mind), is a boy from our very own Calcutta (which is either in Assam or Bangladesh or both, according to our man). His daddy is the chief of the Indian National Police (huh??) and owner of posh tea estates. KARIMA is a policewoman who Neal falls in love with.

Both these characters have their origin told in X-Men Unlimited #27. Neal's entry is accompanied by a little write-up on Calcutta by Claremont that is clearly filched from Encyclopaedia Brittanica. Apparently, he thought that by throwing facts like Calcutta's population density in their face, readers would ignore the fact that he had clearly never heard of the place before he wrote the story.

But all this is besides the point. Can someone please tell me how Claremont got it into his head that SHARRA and SHAPANDAR are normal Indian surnames. Call them Patel or Sharma or Murthy or something. In fact he could have even picked up the nearest issue of the TIME magazine and used the first Indian name he came across - considering he had a throwaway Pakistani character named Benazir in one issue, that's not unexpected even. In fact, naming him Rajiv Gandhi would be better than NEAL SHARRA. Interestingly, Google informs me that Sharra and Shaara are common surnames - in Egypt and Ireland respectively.

Since these two are reasonably major characters, I will devote individual posts to them later. But lets now talk about background characters. Two minor characters in titles written by Claremont within the past 6 months have Indian characters. It seems Marvel have been nudging him to add a little diversity to his titles. Looking at the result, one wishes they hadn't. Here's a panel from Uncanny X-Men #473.

Ladies and gentlemen - meet AMINA SYNGE! One presumes that Claremont intended her name to be Singh, which lessens his crimes somewhat. But again, he has never read any book or newspaper which has a character named Singh, or he would have known how to spell it.

I'm also a bit confused about the religion of this woman. The bindi suggests Hindu - you know how ALL Hindu girls wear bindis all the time, even in Britain. However, she's named Amina, which suggests she's Muslim. A minor quibble, to be sure, but a little research to improve character believability never hurt anyone.

But if you thought Claremont's India Quotient was getting better, observe this panel from New Excalibur #4.

Deep Breath. MUAHARAM!! What the fuck kind of a name is MUAHARAM RAM? Its like a portmanteau between Muahaha! and Ram Ram! But please be sure to notice how Claremont flashes his knowledge of the modern world - Bangalore and IT. How up-to-date we are, no? I have a feeling he got the idea of introducing the chaaracter after seeing a headline in TIME magazine. If only he had actually READ it.

I think there must have been a conversation between Joe Quesada (Marvel editor) and Claremont that went something like this:

JQ: Chris - we've been getting come feedback from new readers, and we think you should have more Indian characters in your book.

CC: But Warpath[1] is making a comeback in Uncanny, and I think they're using Forge[1] in New.

JQ: Um, I mean Indians from India.

CC: Oh yeah, that place - but I already put that guy Shaara in.

JQ: Yeah, I'd been meaning to ask - how did you come up with the name?

CC: Oh yeah, so this was a good one. There's this brown guy at my local 7-11 called Shah something. So I took that name and added Raa so it would be musical and Indian like. Sha-Ra, get it?

JQ: (sighs). Anyway, we need some more. Why don't you have someone named Singh? Thats a pretty common Indian name.

CC: Oh right, Synge. Like John M. Synge[2]? Didn't know he was Indian. Anyway, thats good. But wait - you're gonna love this. So, my nephew lost his job to some IT people in Bangalore. So I'm putting in this IT guy from Bangalore in New Excalibur. And I'm calling him Muharram. You know like those brown people.

JQ: You're thinking of Middle Easterners. And most Indians are Hindus, not Muslim. And I don't think...

CC: Hindu, huh? Then I'll call him Muaharam Ram like that Hindu god fellow. How's that?

JQ: Umm, see Chris - some Indians have objected to having their names spelt incorrectly in our comics, so I thought...

CC: Come on! Its not as if anyone there reads comics. And aren't they all illiterate or something?

JQ: Well, it is the second largest English reading population in the world, but... whatever you say, Chris. (leaves resignedly).

Now before I end my already overly long post, I will point out that Marvel titles not written by Claremont are introducing Indian characters all the time. Rajani Dhama, Reema Singh and Paras Gavaskar (on the right) are all supporting characters in Marvel stories - and they're believably written.

As a final example of someone who can point India out on the map, here's two panels from Ultimate X-Men #100 written by Mark Millar.

Mr. Pandya dies in the next panel. He's completely a throwaway character. But for a man whose life span was exactly two panels, he's remarkably believable. Hell, I know people just like him. Unfortunately, these examples are lost on Claremont.

My final message to Chris is - "Shaala Gandu". Go look it up.

[1]: Native American X-Men
[2]: Thanks to Teleute for pointing out the existence of J.M. Synge


Slice of Cheesecake #2

This is Phantom Lady.

Phantom lady was the spoiled daughter of a senator, who decided one day to fight crime, as a member of Uncle Sam's Freedom Fighters. She was also the first crimefighter who decided that wearing an outfit which causes your boobs to spill out was a good idea. In that regard she was a trendsetter.

She used to be reasonably dressed until her title was sold to Fox Features, who decided to remove large parts of her outfit. This was in 1948, mind you, when not all superheroines dressed like skanks.

When she moved to DC comics, her outfit actually shrunk further - something that may have been impossible to conceive. Also, it was decided to remove her sole superpower (a blindness ray). Shortly after that, she was given unreasonably high heels to wear too. So she was now a powerless woman who ran around fighting crime in heels with her breasts spilling out. I'm sure this must have seemed like a good idea at that time.

Shortly after this, another character took over the mantle - a student at the school she was headmistress of (yup, thats right - go and knock your head against the wall for not attending such a school). This woman also thought it was a fantastic idea to make the ouotfit skimpier, though it resulted in her being practically naked.

Exactly how brilliant an idea it was, was revealed in Infinite Crisis, when Deathstroke shoved a spear into her wide-open cleavage. Considering she did not have super-invulnerability, or unbreakable skin, or similar abilities like the other super-sluts, its a wonder why no one thought of it earlier. Her last word, as she passes into the realm of the dead was "Why". One assumes, had she lived long enough to complete the sentence, it would have been - "Why the fuck didn't I go with the full-body kevlar?"

Of course, you can't keep a good character down. Now there's a new Phantom Lady doing the rounds in Battle for Bl├╝dhaven, and who is soon to appear in a new title. The current bearer of this famous mantle has decided that the outfit needs a minor revamp. Of course, her breasts are also so much larger than previous Phantom Ladies, that the net effect is quite negligible, displaying enough cleavage to drive a truck through... or any suitably sharp stabby object, if you're a supervillain.

Sigh! Some people never learn.


Spot the Reference #2

I came across this scan on a discussion forum, and I couldn't resist posting it. This is from Legionnaires #0. The legionnaires enter a seedy part of town and see...

Its... ECCENTRICA GALUMBITIS, THE TRIPLE-BREASTED WHORE FROM EROTICON 6. Yippee. For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about please go and leap from the nearest tall building, as you have no right to exist.

Alternatively, read this book immediately.

And to find out more about this woman, read this.

And for those of you who don't even know who the Legionnaires are - you should be reading The Legion of Super-heroes. For a primer, go here.