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Superheroes

Why You’d Have To Twist My Arm To Get Me To Write For The Flash

So first, let’s just get one thing out of the way. The Flash is more powerful than Superman. It used to be that Superman was considered to be as fast as the Flash, which is just, just terrible. The guy with fifty million powers, the guy who’s got so many abilities Batman has to ask him if he can detect microwaves before he himself thinks to check what’s going on in that part of the spectrum, that guy does not need to outshine the guy with ONE power at that ONE ability. And I’m glad that they resolved the whole “Superman has won foot races with the Flash” thing by having the Flash sigh and say, “Clark, those were for charity.” Moving on.

Let me tell you a story. We were playing a fantasy RPG and our characters were aboard a sailing ship. We were attacked by a dragon. The dragon lands on the deck of the ship and starts fighting us with tooth and claw. And we, the players, all look at each other, embarrased and confused. No one wants to say it but we’re all annoyed and angry. Because there’s no way a dragon would do that. The creature flew out over the sea to reach the ship. So why did it land? It could have smashed the rigging of the ship down on top of us. It could have breathed fire on the ship. It could dive into the water and tear out the bottom of the ship, leaving us all to drown or float adrift. It could have done several of these things. But landing on the ship where we can make a fight of it is the single worst combat option the dragon could choose. We all felt like the GM was coddling us as incompetent children.

So too is it with the Flash.

He’s too damned powerful and so the writers have to find ways every week to hide how powerful he is.

The way he fights is entirely so he can give his opponents the illusion of having a chance. Watch the show some time. Not only is the Flash insanely powerful with the one superpower that really matters — he has backup! He’s got a team monitoring satellites and radio and TV that speak to him directly via a commlink in his cowl. So nine times out of ten, nineteen times out of twenty, he knows his enemy’s exact location before the enemy even knows he’s on the way.

So how would you or I really deal with opponents on that basis? Well, here’s what I would do. I would run in at superspeed, find my opponent, approach him from behind and smack him across the back of the head with a stick. Pow! Bad man is down. If I were scared that might kill him, then I would run up behind him and stick a taser into the base of his spine, tie him up, wait for the cops and go home. Done.

If my opponent were a robot or an animated statue or some inanimate object that I could safely destroy, I would just run at it from behind at about mach ten with a handful of ball bearings, open my hand and either turn or stop and watch the ball bearings blow the target into kingdom come. The military has what are called Kinetic Kill Vehicles — these are missiles that have no warheads. They just smash into things so fast that simple kinetic energy annihilates the target. The Flash can turn a beignet into one.

Watch him fight on the show. He approaches at superspeed, then comes to a halt in front of the villain, standing out in the open, behind no cover, and engages the villain in conversation. I don’t have words for how stupid that is.

And no, being possessed of superspeed doesn’t automatically make you a genius but Barry Allen isn’t supposed to be an intellectual slouch. He’s supposed to be one of the best forensic scientists that anyone’s ever seen. He should have more sense than to give the bad guy a chance like that. But episode after episode after episode, he gives his opponent a fair chance because if he ran in, knocked the guy out and tied him up midair, handcuffing his opponent around the wrists and ankles before he could even hit the ground, we wouldn’t have a show. And we shouldn’t.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the Flash. I loved every appearance he made on Justice League and Justice League Unlimited. I adored Kid Flash in Young Justice. But having teams severely draws your attention away from the insane powerlevel of the speedsters. Also the threats that the Justice League faces are a lot more grave than the average Flash Rogues Gallery villain. Fighting an army of Darkseid’s parademons, sure, no problem. But Captain Cold? Captain Boomerang? You shouldn’t be able to watch an episode like that without laughing and asking how in the hell would anyone be dumb enough to think they can take down the Flash with a cold gun or a trick boomerang. And I love Boomer. He was the best part of Task Force X on Justice League. I mean, almost getting the team pinched by having seventy five cents in his pocket and setting off the metal detector rather than throw away SEVENTY FIVE CENTS!? Hilarious.

And that’s why I love the Flash and his villains. They’ve got great personality. But a whole Flash show? Ridiculous. Week after week after week. I could almost get up and go get a sandwich during these fight scenes. Almost.

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Fantasy, science fiction and steampunk author Brandon Black is the editor of New Orleans By Gaslight, a first of its kind anthology of steampunk and gaslamp fantasy poetry and fiction set in Victorian-era New Orleans. Brandon is also the web content manager for the Week in Geek, New Orleans’ favourite fantasy and science fiction themed radio talk show, every Saturday at 1 pm CST on WGSO 990 AM. Click here to check out Brandon’s ever-expanding list of published works.


Ben 10: Omniverse Episode 51 And Then There Were None

SPOILER

So… About the worst way to reboot a series I’ve ever seen. They use the alternate dimensions/alternate timeline ploy and then have the villain use a bomb that wipes out all the timelines except one — the one timeline where the hero didn’t get the Omnitrix and thus didn’t have any adventures. So the Ben Tennyson of the last 50 episodes and two previous series is dead/doesn’t exist any more and this new Ben Tennyson is just getting started on his adventures.

Why am I going to watch? If you’re willing to just push a button and in one episode, without any build-up or drama, utterly wipe out ALL THE EXISTING CONTINUITY what is my reason to watch the show? Other alternate dimension/alternate timeline reboots have left the original universe intact and just started following the new timeline — with the notable exception of the DC continual “Crises” and I think it’s safe to say that they’re pretty generally poorly received. [Addendum: I take it back. DC used to say that the alternate dimensions no longer existed and then they kept bringing them back via the concept of Hypertime. But now DC does just have 52 different universes so again, you can at least imagine your favorites still existing out there, somewhere. They aren’t just annihilated to make way for new versions you might not care for.]

It’s just frustrating. I mean, I’m not that big a Ben Tennyson fan and now I’ll never be since I’m going to stop watching but this idea is of itself disturbing and unsettling. Because we’ve got to get new people to watch/read/whatever, we’re just going to keep destroying the whole continuity you existing fans were following and reboot so we can start over again and new fans can come onboard without knowing fifty years of backstories. Okay. So you’re selling me out so you can get new fans. But then, five years from now, you’ll be selling them out to reboot the continuity again.

I just don’t know what to say or think about this notion. I love Continuity Porn, as it’s come to be known. I love writers reaching back to characters and ideas introduced and left alone for decades and breathing new life into them. I guess that’s one plus side to rebooting. You can toss out the silly ideas — like Flash actually getting his powers IN CANON because a guardian angel threw the lightning bolt that hit the chemical rack he was standing next to — and revitalize the best of the old stuff, like the Crime Syndicate.

I guess — other than the stupid “Crises” that I’m okay with how DC handles it. I just ignore the Crises anyway these days. But the Ben Tennyson reboot was just way over the top. I mean, yeah, I wasn’t watching on a regular basis anyway and just tended to dip every now and then into the episodes online but coldly annihilating every single character I’d come to know and be interested in (even if I wasn’t that attached) over three series. Poof. Gone. Dead. Too bad.

I guess you could make the argument that if I wasn’t that attached then it’s a good thing — it gives them the chance to impress me, to revitalize the best of the old continuity and build new continuity without any interference from the worst of what the older series established. I’m just not holding my breath that that’s what’s going to happen. J.J. Abrams has kinda killed any faith I have in reboots being a good thing.

I just hope the next time DC does a reboot it gets rid of the Care Bears/Power Rangers/Seven different colors of Lanterns silliness. Sinestro forming his own corps of guys with yellow rings — that was an awesome idea. Going past that — terrible idea.


Why Marvel’s next female superhero film should be about anyone OTHER than Black Widow

I know there’s this tremendous cumulative desire out there for a new Marvel female-led superhero film but I really think Black Widow is exactly the WRONG character for it. Her whole appeal — as a character — I don’t mean as Scarlett Johansson in a leather catsuit — is as an ex-KGB spy. The problem with that is that the Cold War is long over. Without the Cold War, being an ex-KGB spy is really irrelevant. She could just as easily be an ex-Italian secret agent or an ex-Swedish one. Who cares? We picture CIA and KGB agents fighting this awesome secret war in the shadows DURING THE COLD WAR, which ended decades ago! The actress herself was born in 1984. The Berlin Wall fell in 1989. Blindly making the assumption that Black Widow and Scarlett Johansson are the same age — I don’t think Black Widow went on too many super-cool hot and sexy secret missions when she was FIVE YEARS OLD!

No. Ms. Marvel is a MUCH better option for a female lead. She has powers for a start and is a full-fledged superheroine not just a martial artist in a catsuit and she has connections to alien races and would neatly bridge the Avengers with Marvel’s new film franchise, the Guardians of the Galaxy. We can get a much better film from that character than we ever could from Black Widow. All we can get from her is a sob story about how she did things she’s not proud about — but without the drama and urgency of the Cold War as a backdrop for it. What did she do? Terrible acts of killing and treachery against drug pushers and other criminals? Coup plotters who were silenced before they could do anything interesting? Intrigues in the Middle East? Again — the Russians pulled out of Afghanistan in ’89. There are possibilities — she could have been fighting AIM or HYDRA — but they seem weak compared to the powerful dramatic backdrop we’ve already lost. There’s a reason Black Widow’s never held down her own long-running solo comic book — it’s because she doesn’t have the depth of character and the interest to support it.

She-Hulk would be a much better character to give a movie. Storm and the Scarlet Witch both have tremendous potential although that potential is currently constrained by Fox having the X-Men film rights. Spider-Woman, Moondragon, Gamora, Valkyrie, Sif — anyone of these would make a much better solo heroine than Black Widow. Valkyrie offers the possibility of a Doctor Strange tie in that might lead to a Defenders movie and a third superhero movie franchise for Marvel. There has to be SOME reason Marvel’s digging out Doctor Strange again after all this time — not that I’m complaining. Anyway — my point is simply that all Black Widow’s got going for her now is martial arts and a leather catsuit costume and Gamora can do that better AND she’s got a bitchin’ backstory! We don’t have to settle for the Widow just because she’s been a sidekick in previous movies. We can find a better, more interesting character.


Does Time Travel Effect The Divine Realms?

SPOILER ALERT

This post involves spoilers for Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox.

There are universes, like the DC and Marvel Universes, that have a mundane/material realm, and multiple after-life realms and time travel. How do these interact? The question is: If Bob dies and he’s judged worthy to enter Elysium, or Valhalla or wherever and his death is reversed due to time travel, did he actually ever go to Elysium or Valhalla, etc.? Does Heimdall even remember Bob crossing the Rainbow Bridge in the first place?

I’ll explain.

So…

Aquaman — in the Flashpoint Paradox, starts a war with Wonder Woman’s Amazons. The war is entirely Aquaman’s fault. He has an extra-marital affair with Wonder Woman, Queen of the Amazons and when his wife finds out about it, she challenges Wonder Woman — perfectly natural, perfectly understandable response — and Wonder Woman kills her in single combat — again, perfectly natural for Wonder Woman to defend herself and perfectly understandable that having been attacked by another queen that she should kill her rival. So — because he couldn’t keep his dick in the water, Aquaman starts a planet-destroying world wide war between Atlantis and Themyscira. Yeah. That makes sense.

So then he loses his stupid war and as he’s down on his knees about to go out like history’s greatest bitch, Wonder Woman is about to stab him/decapitate him and she says, “What I do now, I do for the good of all.” Aquaman has the temerity — I won’t say the balls — to say, “As do I.” He then activates the world’s biggest WMD — which he had made from Captain Atom’s still-living body — and murders everyone on Earth, you know, for their own good.

Remind me again — your adultery has lead to the deaths of every man, woman and child on Earth — and you wonder why you’re everybody’s least favourite hero?

Luckily, at the last moment, Flash goes back in time and prevents this timeline from ever existing and the apocalypse is averted.

Except — was it?

We see half the world engulfed by the explosion before Flash departs. Those people DID die — somewhen. When they died, were they ‘processed’ into their respective after-lives or did the powers that be just wait a minute thinking “well — let’s see if Flash fixes this before we do all that paperwork.” The proof that somewhere, somewhen, it all DID happen is brought back by Flash himself in the form of a letter from Thomas Wayne to his son Bruce, a tangible message on a piece of paper in an envelope that Flash hands to Bruce. Those events did happen (and so Mira, Aquaman’s wife, really should insist they seek counselling — at least).

If a man dies in the Marvel Universe at some point in the timeline and is judged and is found worthy of entering Valhalla, Thor should be able to go there and speak to him. Let’s say that’s exactly what’s happening. Loki is on trial. Bob has useful evidence against Loki and is testifying. Just before he can reach the part that will damn Loki, some mortal uses time travel and saves Bob’s life. Is his spirit instantaneously ripped out of Valhalla? Does the change in timelines effect the Norse gods who suddenly forget Bob was at the trial to begin with? Is Valhalla shielded by Odin’s power from changes in timelines and now there’s both live-Bob who’s walking around Midgard and dead-Bob who’s walking around Valhalla? Worst of all, can Loki be exonerated of a crime because time travel prevented the crime from taking place in the first place — i.e., Loki couldn’t steal the Flaming Lawn Chair of Power because the Enchantress used time travel and stole it first?

By whatever definition you use for gods, even comic book gods, it doesn’t seem satisfying to me to have their very memories and knowledge alterable by mortal agencies. It also doesn’t fit what we know of the gods who do choose to interfere with things. If the world’s going to end, is Thor ALWAYS going to use time travel — if it’s available — to prevent it? Does the status quo — the temporal status quo — matter to the gods? If Dr. Doom changes history in the 1700s so that events flow differently, then who will or won’t be in Valhalla will be effected by that surely. Does Odin care? Does a change in timeline create an alternate universe with an alternate Odin? How does “our” Odin feel about that? Can Odins cross timelines and talk to each other or otherwise interact? “Hi, I’m alter-Thor. We lost Ragnarok in my home timeline and so we’re evacuating what’s left of the gods and humanity to your realm. We’ve colonized Antarctica and just want to live as your good neighbours!”

SPOILER — In Justice League Injustice: Gods Among Us, at one point Ares’ plan is to create a time loop, one where the world is forever locked in conflict, so He can feed eternally. I recognize this as bad writing — because, why would the other gods let Him get away it? We have the sense that most comic book universes have a general “let the mortals deal with mortal problems” rule among deities and so, why in the world would they let Ares do something so, well, world-altering? Ares Himself wouldn’t let the world be locked into a time loop of eternal peace and love so that Aphrodite would be the most powerful and He Himself would die out.

This is why I just try to leave time travel alone. The rules are NEVER clearly spelled out.

A universe where you can be talking with someone in the afterlife and then *poof* they’re gone back to Earth mid-sentence and you’re aware of it, because you are removed from the mortal realm, is just unsatisfying for me as a reader.

But then, a universe where any idiot can use a time machine and make changes that effect the memories of the gods is also unsatisfying.

A universe where no one reaches the afterlife until “Judgement Day” would be acceptable except we’ve already had scenes of Wonder Woman talking to the dead in Hades’ realm and Thor talking to the dead in Valhalla and Hel. And even if only the characters who are in the epicentre of temporal changes remember those changes, people DO talk. And Wonder Woman pointing out to Zeus that Hades or Ares nearly wiped out humanity or some other such and only time travel stopped it, or Thor telling Odin that Dr. Doom set up a peaceful, if tyrannical regime, in the 1600s using time travel so none of the fallen who went to Valhalla after that did in this timeline — these aren’t things the gods are going to “look into?”

As unsatisfying as it is as a reader for mortals to be able to influence the Divine Realms via time travel, imagine how unsatisfying it has to be for the gods. So the only answer I can come up with is: there’s a path. A “way things are meant to be.” And all the times you see heroes fighting to restore the timeline from some change some villain or some idiot has accidentally made (I’m looking at you Flash — I’m looking at you Legion of Superheroes) — the gods have worked behind the scenes to keep the status quo or keep things as close to the status quo as possible.


My treatment for a Justice League film

Opening scene: Luthor and the Injustice Gang are throwing down their showdown with the Justice League. Luthor’s backed up by second stringers: Shade, Cheetah, Ultrahumanite, etc. They lose and go to jail.

Next 15 to 20 minutes is the League rounding up stragglers of the Injustice Gang, shutting down Luthor’s operation for good. Three scenes say of paired heroes taking down single crooks and associated gang members. At the end of the second scene, the heroes return to the Watchtower and we get a glimpse of the League’s orbital space station. In each scene is a figure watching in the shadows, the same figure. Neither the League nor the villains are aware of this shadowed figure. Each scene, the shadowed figure leaves via some strange oscillating special effect. (In the Watchtower scene, we trade Green Lanterns: Hal for John Stewart. We have to have Hal because he got his own movie. We need John because we need a black on the team. Hal gets called away by the Guardians but introduces John as his replacement. This makes John the rookie and thus we can get scenes in with Flash jostling the rookie.)

Air Force One streaks over Metropolis, flanked by jets from some unknown power. American F-22s shoot down the escorting fighters and take up positions on her flanks. A super-high tech supersonic transport bearing US markings takes up position right over Air Force One and docks with it in flight. A tube locks onto the top of the plane and a hole is burned in and SEALs board Air Force One. There’s a firefight between the SEALs and some unknown uniformed troops. The SEALs win. One of them makes it to the President and says, “SEAL team one. We’re here to rescue you, Mr. President.”

Cut to: A familiar figure in red and blue streaks over Metropolis.

Cut to the crowd:

“Look — up in the sky!”

“It’s a bird!”

“It’s a plane!”

“No — it’s ULTRAMAN!”

Ultraman flies onto the scene at high speed and takes out the US fighters with heat vision. He rips the supersonic transport loose from Air Force One and backhands it out of control and boards through the hole — it flies into a skyscraper and explodes. He tears a seat free and tosses it up into the hole and patches the hole by melting it with his heat vision and cooling it with his breath.

A pointless firefight ensues. The SEALs buy time for their last guys to prepare a super high tech looking sonic cannon to protect the President. Ultraman slowly kills his way to the last SEALs who fire the high tech gizmo at Ultraman. He’s staggered for like a whole second and then advances on the gun, places a hand on it and crushes it. He lifts the last SEAL with his other hand and breaks his neck. “Please return to your seat, Mr. President,” he says. The President, terrified, nods and goes back to his seat.

More Crime Syndicate fighters replace the downed jets on the flanks of Air Force One as Ultraman flies off.

Cut to: Washington D.C.

Ultraman looks out over the city and then burrows his way with superspeed underground. He comes up underneath the Pentagon. He burns random people to ash with his heat vision, letting most of them run away. He kills anyone stupid enough to try to stand and fight or just melts their weapons leaving their hands covered in molten metal watching them scream. He makes his way to the office of the Joint Chiefs. An Army general objects. Ultraman incinerates him. He also incinerates the senior Navy admiral in the room (since the SEALs made the attempt.) “There was an attempt to liberate the President today from our protection. I don’t know if you were in on it and I don’t care. But if it happens again, I will be back and I will be angry.”

Ultraman flies straight up through several floors and out into the night sky over D.C. The full moon is visible in the background.

Cut to: The moon.

We see a base that we know isn’t the Watchtower (cause we’ve already seen it) on the surface of the moon but it looks much like the Watchtower, including the classic round table with costumed figures sitting around it. A Zeta tube opens and Ultraman walks in and takes a seat.

“Trouble?” Superwoman chides.

“Nothing I couldn’t handle.” Ultraman says.

The oscillating effect occurs again but this time in plain view and the figure from the shadows becomes completely visible. It’s Owlman.

Owlman explains very quickly the basics. He’s found a means of inter-dimensional travel. There’s another world with counterparts of theirs but their counterparts work for justice, not themselves. The Crime Syndicate lays out a plan to invade this world and take it for their own. (In quickly describing the Justice League members and their powers, Owlman effectively relates characters like Black Canary to the audience and communicates that the Crime Syndicate are evil versions of the Justice Leaguers.) “This one — the Flash — is their speedster.” “Oh, like me,” Jonny Quick says. That sort of thing.

Crime Syndicate and troops and six legged combat walkers and uberweapon/macguffin take Washington D.C. defeating a couple of second stringer heroes trying to back up the armed forces. They capture the President and the Vice President and go on national TV demanding the Justice League surrender on the White House lawn in 24 hours or they will start incinerating American cities with thermonuclear weapons starting with Memphis, Tennessee. Their troops surround the White House.

“Why Memphis?” Power Ring says.

“Why not?” Owlman says.

The League meets and decides to fight.

Battle in D.C. Heroes are defeated/driven off by the Syndicate and their uberweapon/macguffin. Heroes look like they might have had a chance against the Syndicate even with their backup troops but not with the backup troops and the macguffin.

Heroes retreat realizing they can’t win until they find a defence against the macguffin. John is knocked out and taken prisoner.

Syndicate raids D.C. to show their power. We get in some nice scenes here that are reversals of usual DC heroes’ behaviour to use in the trailers. Example: Shadowed city at night, criminals against police. Birdarangs fly through the air and knock the guns out of the SWAT guys’ hands. Criminals get away as Owlman stomps the SWAT guys into the dirt. That sort of thing. Everyone gets to know each villain’s name and powers and can figure out which Leaguer they are basically a mirror of.

Heroes figure out possible way to deal with macguffin.

Luthor escapes prison while everyone is distracted. He has the opportunity to bring one of the second stringers with him but doesn’t saying something like “I don’t reward failure.”

League splits into two teams: one to rescue John and one to counter the macguffin.

Superwoman and Owlman are in bed together — even though Superwoman is married to Ultraman. Owlman gets a priority transmission and answers it, sans costume. It’s Luthor. Luthor does the whole “I am Lex Luthor, the most brilliant criminal genius of this world. I believe we have a mutual enemy.” speech. Owlman hangs up on him. Superwoman asks who it was and Owlman says “Some loser” and they get back to sex.

Syndicate figures out League’s plan to deal with macguffin. League conducts raid or op to get components to counter macguffin. Syndicate fails to stop them.

Team to liberate John succeeds. Reveals it was part of Batman’s plan all along as the ring has recorded details of the Syndicate’s powers and defences even while off of Stewart’s hand.

Heroes return to D.C. to fight the Syndicate. Plan to defeat the macguffin the way they planned fails. They improvise a defence and defeat the macguffin. The League faces off in a fair fight against the Syndicate and they win the day.

A grateful President awards medals to the Justice League and announces they are officially recognized as deputized citizens by the federal government.

Credits.

Credits end.

Cultists surround a grave in a graveyard. Ritual takes place. Cultists leave except high priest who keeps going alone. High priest sacrifices pregnant woman. Her blood seeps into the earth. High priest leaves without looking back. Ground rumbles. Ground shakes. Ground gives way.

A lone hugely muscled pale forearm bursts out of the ground. We can see the tombstone now: Solomon Grundy. Grundy breaks free from his grave. He doesn’t seem aware, doesn’t seem conscious. He staggers forward. He walks. He walks. He walks. He walks. He walks.

Scene changes. He’s still walking. The sun passes overhead into night. Night to day. Day to night.

Grundy trudging through the swamp. He stops.

The familiar skull headed fortress rises from the swamp. Grundy looks up; he seems more awake and aware now. We look up as he looks up. The doors open and there’s the classic Legion villains from Superfriends sans the second stringers who went to jail earlier in the movie. Luthor (in powered armour for the first time) speaks: “Welcome, Solomon Grundy. Welcome to the Legion of Doom.”