Thursday, March 02, 2017

Toward a Superhero Style Guide

I've been kicking this blogpost around for years in my head. It's something I've always found interesting, but, well, I may be the only one. I'd start to write it up, and never quite finish it, because I'd think, well, there really isn't enough here... But no longer! Let's just do it!

Some years ago I did some work as an editor. When you're copyediting a book or something, one of the things you have is a style guide. This is a collection of rules that tell you how to handle all of the aspects of your language which are basically optional. Do you use the Oxford comma or not? Toward or towards? That kind of thing. It's also where you list all the difficult words in your particular book, or whatever, so you have someplace to look up just how all that stuff is spelled and capitalized.

The field of superheroes is one which contains many nuances that are best addressed through a style guide. We can't do a complete guide; that'd be a tremendous project. But we can start. Here are some points:

First, the word "superhero". There's a pattern with English compound words: they enter the language as two separate words that are strongly associated. Then they become a hyphenated word. Then finally they become a single word. We had this pattern with "super hero" -> "super-hero" -> "superhero". (Another example: "base ball" -> "base-ball" -> "baseball"... but "comic book" hasn't turned into "comic-book" yet. Not the noun, anyway.) The word should certainly be rendered as "superhero" now, but notice that one superhero group, formed during a previous stage of the word's development, is canonically "the Legion of Super-Heroes". So there's the first item for our style guide.

1. superhero. Exception: Legion of Super-Heroes. As in, Wildfire is a superhero, and he is also a member of the Legion of Super-Heroes

Next, superhero names. Your standard generic superhero name will have some kind of descriptive word added to a word indicating the superhero's sex and age. There are four basic ways of doing this, and we have famous examples for all four:

Superman
Wonder Woman
Spider-Man
WordGirl

None of the four ways are superior to each other; it's just that, for a given character, one is correct and the other ones aren't, and you have to know which. There's no trick to it. You just have to know.

2a. Superman, Batman, Aquaman, Supergirl
2b. Wonder Woman, Iron Man, Power Girl
2c. Spider-Man. Note the capital "M" in "Man". "Spider-man" is incorrect, and in fact I don't know of any superheroes using that format of name
2d. WordGirl. This is a fairly rare one; the only other superhero I know with a name anything like this is CoreFire from the novel Soon I Will Be Invincible, by Austin Grossman

Note how the Legionnaires fit into this. Superboy and Supergirl are type A, but most of the rest of them are type B. Anytime someone (especially the letterer of a DC comic!) renders a Legionnaire's name as, say, "Sunboy" or "Dreamgirl" rather than the correct "Sun Boy" or "Dream Girl", it makes me wince. The exceptions? "Visi-Lad" and "Earth-Man", both type C. (And, also, the animated LSH featured "Superman-X" in their second season.) (And while we're on the subject, note the capital "E" in "Matter-Eater Lad".)

Some other instructive examples of how this works:
- Sussa Paka is "Spider Girl", but May Parker is "Spider-Girl".
- Rita Farr Dayton is "Elasti-Girl", but Helen Parr is "Elastigirl".
- Bette Kane is "Bat-Girl", but Barbara Gordon is "Batgirl".
- Charles McNider and Pieter Cross are "Dr. Mid-Nite", but Beth Chapel is "Doctor Midnight".

(I used to think that Hollis Mason was "Nite Owl" while Dan Dreiberg was "Nightowl", but it turned out I was incorrect about that and I can't even figure out where I got it from. They're both "Nite Owl".)

Let's look at some more capitalization. This is a can of worms, because the comic-book industry has been conspiring to cover up all the problems for decades. Because they use all caps! All caps suits the needs of the actual comic books well enough, but I, sitting here typing, am forced into tough decisions. 

Obviously planets should be capitalized, like "Krypton". But what about its radioactive rubble? Should it be "Kryptonite" or "kryptonite"? In general, in this article, I'm taking my cue from Wikipedia. This is not because I consider them to be particularly authoritative, but because, if I have no real opinion about how it should be, I figure their way is as good as any. Anyway, they like 

3. "kryptonite"

and I don't disagree.

But look. The Martian Manhunter's real name is rendered by Wikipedia as "J'onn J'onzz". This is fine: the two parts of his name are treated as one word each, and there's no need to capitalize the first letter after the apostrophes. Miss Martian's real name, "M'gann M'orzz", is similar. That's good; that's a rule. But "Mon-El" (see that? Similarly "Kal-El", "Kara Zor-El": both parts capitalized) had a Martian variant of his name in the reboot, and Wikipedia renders it "M'Onel". Surely it should be 

4. "M'onel"

Luornu Durgo's home planet was spelled, in the Five Years Later era, "Carggg". This was kind of cool, because the three "G"s reflect the triplicating ability of the planet's inhabitants. But it didn't catch on, so the spelling is properly

5. "Cargg"

Duplicate Boy's real name has been rendered in a few different ways over the years. The DC creators have tried to handwave this away by saying that Lallorian grammar permits the rearrangement of the various syllables. Yeah, nice try. We've seen "Qued Orlu" and "Quelu Ord" but let's keep things simple and stick with

6. "Ord Quelu"

Oh, and one more thing:

7. Stupidly, either "Bgtzl" or "Bgztl" are correct for Phantom Girl's homeworld. DC has just given up on getting it right, partly because nobody really knows what "right" is

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Saturday, February 18, 2017

Generic blogpost

It's been a while since I've posted. How are you?

I've been keeping an eye on Legion-related developments, but, uh, I'm not really intrigued yet. Like, here's what we know so far about the post-Rebirth Legion:
- Saturn Girl exists
- Brainiac 5 exists and seems young
- the Emerald Empress exists

I haven't actually acquired any of the comics that have their little cameo appearances so far. Just seen the panels online. That's all I need, right? I'll probably get this Batgirl, Supergirl stuff that's coming up. But... is this really going to be yet another soft Legion reset that pretends that there have been no Legion stories thought up since the mid-'80s? Come on. Just because we've got no future doesn't mean that the DC Universe has to have no future. But this is what you get with Geoff Johns. Feh.

Also some hints of a Legion storyline on the Supergirl TV show. This also does not excite me, and I will explain why. First, they can do whatever they want on their show of course, but this Mon-El isn't a lot like any Mon-El I've ever read about. I don't dislike him, but I'm also not pretending that they're giving me what I want. Second, the Legion is too big of a subject to do properly as a one-shot on somebody else's show. What's the point of Supergirl doing the same thing that Superman: The Animated Series, Justice League Unlimited, and Smallville did? Hey, look, it's the Legion of Super-Heroes! Wave at them, quick, before they're gone! There was nothing wrong with those episodes, but as a Legion of Super-Heroes fan, what I want is some Legion of Super-Heroes stories. I like Supergirl stories and Justice League stories and Superman stories, and I don't mind one more of them that happens to feature the Legion, but I already have plenty of Supergirl stories and Justice League stories and Superman stories around. What I'm running short on is new Legion stories.

And those can only be properly delivered, on TV, in their own series. And it has to be an animated series. This is for two reasons. First, budget. You can animate the 31st century and its superpowered denizens a lot more easily than you can render it in live action. If you try it in live action, it'll look cheesy. Second, cast. The Legion has a large cast with a lot of important characters, and not all of those characters can get a satisfactory amount of screen time in every episode. This is a problem in live action, because your main cast contracts for a certain number of episodes, and so on. Voice actors, easier to move in and out, or even double up on. Not that anything like this looks like it's on the horizon.

The Major Spoilers people have started a Legion podcast, called "The Legion Clubhouse", that's pretty good so far. The RSS feed is probably "http://majorspoilers.com/media/legionclubhouse.xml", if you want to give it a spin.

To sum up. Nostalgia still bad. Legion on Supergirl, who cares. Legion in their own comic-book series or animated TV series, good. Legion Clubhouse podcast, pretty good. LLL.

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Saturday, December 31, 2016

As Long as It Really Is a New Year

As we head into 2017, there's still no regular Legion of Super-Heroes comic being published. The 31st century has never seemed so far away.

2016 was a tough year. It wasn't any kind of entity that was at war with us, or anything; it was just an arbitrary period of time during which a lot of strange and regrettable things happened. A lot of famous people died, but then, a lot of famous people die every year. It was a little unusual that so many of the famous people who died in 2016 were particularly beloved, but I suspect that that was well within the boundaries of ordinary randomness.

Here's some stuff about 2016, other than celebrity deaths, that historians are advised to consider when summing up the year. Not in order:

- natural disasters, including a huge forest fire in northern Alberta
- Brexit
- attempted coup and subsequent crackdown in Turkey
- US election
- ongoing war and humanitarian disaster in Syria
- Ghostbusters
- Pokemon GO
- the Rio Olympics
- the Kardashian robbery
- the Ottawa sinkhole
- continued violence by police
- clowns
- Stranger Things
- terrorist attacks
- the Oregon militia standoff
- the High Park capybaras
- Harambe
- the triple tragedy in Orlando: Christina Grimmie, Pulse, and the alligator attack
- Beyonce's Lemonade
- Cubs win the World Series
- bathroom bills

Whether a given superhero comic is or isn't being published is pretty small potatoes. Then again, we're going to need some kind of roadmap to the future.

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Sunday, August 28, 2016

Review: Legends of Tomorrow #6.3

What Happened That You Have to Know About: I haven't been following along with this comic, so there's a lot I don't really know about. Sugar and Spike, now grown up to, I dunno, their early 20s maybe, and working as some kind of investigators, are moving into a house in Atlanta with a whole bunch of superheroic artifacts. A trio of Legionnaires shows up, looking for one particular framistat that they need to save the future. Then another one does, and another one... meanwhile, Sugar locates the thing they all need, just as Starfinger and his men arrive on the same mission. Sugar gives the thing to Starfinger so that all the Legion delegations will beat him up and then do whatever it is they had to do in the first place, without her having to deal with them anymore.

Review: I'm not going to spend a lot of time on this, as it's not really a Legion story. It's a Sugar & Spike story, and, inconveniently, it's the last part of a longer Sugar & Spike story that I haven't been reading. I don't know what to tell you about how good of a Sugar & Spike story it is, as I've never actually read one before (whether they're babies or grownups), but I found it a pleasant read.

From an LSH point of view, it's a trifle. What it really reminded me of is the Wein/Giffen story from DC Legacies #6, from... man, has it been six years since then already? Holy smoke... from 2010. The one where young Clark is besieged by Legionnaires from different time-periods who all want his help with this or that, but he isn't Superman yet so he doesn't know what they're talking about. This Sugar & Spike story, of course, is also a Giffen project.

Both stories have in common the notion that the Legion is too confusing to deal with and the only way a sensible human can cope with them is to disengage entirely. I question DC's wisdom in pushing that message. Could be just Giffen exercising his sense of humour, of course; I don't doubt that his personal view of the Legion has a lot more to it than that. But still.

Anyway, it's a funny story, with some funny dialogue, and plenty of the kind of easter eggs that Legion fans have come to accept as a substitute for good Legion comics. If you've been missing the boys and girls, here they are, pretty much like you remember them. (Cover price $7.99, though! Hope you like Firestorm, Metamorpho, and the Metal Men.) Wake me when DC wants to stop faffing around.

Art: The art is provided by Bilquis Evely. Sometimes it's a little detail-light or off-model, but in general it's attractive, suggestive of actual people and places, and she doesn't skimp on the backgrounds. I'd be okay with seeing more stuff from her.

Membership Notes: One difference between this comic and DC Legacies 6.1 is that that comic had different versions of the Legion and this one only had the original/retroboot Legion from various times in their history. Read whatever you like into that.

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Friday, August 19, 2016

There Came a Time When the Brain Globes of Rambat Died!

There's a parallel world out there I'm curious about.

The Legion of Super-Heroes became famous, of course, during their long run in Adventure Comics in the 1960s. But this run ended with #380, cover dated May 1969. After that the Legion spent about a year (June '69-Sept '70) as backups in Action Comics. And then they didn't appear for about half a year, only reappearing as a backup in Superboy in spring of 1971. (So, you know, it was about like now, only not as bad.) The point of which is, between the summer of 1969 and, arguably, the spring of 1972 (when Dave Cockrum took over the art) there was a period during which DC wasn't really putting much effort into Legion comics.

You know what else happened during that period?

Jack Kirby moved from Marvel to DC and created the Fourth World. The first issue of these stories was Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #133, cover dated October 1970; apparently Kirby took over that title because there was no incumbent creative team on it.

(The Fourth World stuff was not a huge commercial success. Its titles (Jimmy Olsen, plus Mister Miracle, The Forever People, and The New Gods) lasted for a couple of years before Kirby turned his attention to other things, but DC has been using the characters and ideas ever since.)

What I want to know is this.

What if, instead of fitting the Fourth World stuff into the Jimmy Olsen comic, Kirby had scooped up a different Superman-adjacent franchise and done a Legion of Super-Heroes comic instead? It's a natural: nobody was really using the Legion, and their spacefaring future-adventures were a more natural fit for Kirby's imagination than Jimmy Olsen and his bow tie. I honestly have no idea why this didn't happen.

And if it had happened, how would it have changed things? I actually think it would have made things worse for the Legion, counterintuitive as that may seem. Consider:

- it's not like the Fourth World led to any kind of Jimmy Olsen renaissance
- Darkseid and Mr. Miracle have been enduring characters, but despite DC's fascination with the various properties, there really haven't been that many Fourth World-related comics, post-Kirby, that have been any good
- Kirby would have been taking over the Legion before Cockrum's costumes, before Wildfire and Dawnstar, before Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl married, before Invisible Kid and Chemical King died. Would subsequent writers have felt compelled to keep the Legion the same as it was when Kirby was working on it?
- what would have happened to the Legion when Kirby was done with it? Would they have found a home in the Superboy title, or not? Given a different chain of events, would Bates and Cockrum and Grell and Levitz have found their way to the LSH?

So I'm not saying I wish it had happened. (For one thing, and I know this is heresy, but Kirby is one of those great comic-book creators whose style doesn't really appeal to me, along with Joe Kubert, Curt Swan, Carmine Infantino, Gil Kane, and Don Heck.) But I would like to know what it would have been like.

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