Dance With Who Brung Ya

Okay, Bloggers…rather stressful time these days at Chez Plok, so I’ve decided to blow off steam in the most ridiculous and most extravagant way possible, that is on the Internet.  That is, I want you all to tell me who your favourite comic-book characters are, and why, and how come you love them…but, you know, I’m not looking for the answer “Spider-Man”, right?  I’m looking for the characters that grabbed you personally, that made you feel like you were represented in this fantasy world, and not forgotten.  Don’t say “The Thing”…he’s everybody.  Heck, I’d say the Thing too..

But it wouldn’t be accurate…

Because I’m Vance Astro in Steve Gerber’s Guardians Of The Galaxy.  Peevish.  Intelligent.  Lucky.  Lovable.  A dick.  Kind of a stumbling fool.  Always fucks things up for himself, somehow.  Key to everything;  but kind of a dumbass.

That’s me.

Who’s you?


29 responses to “Dance With Who Brung Ya

  1. I think you’re asking two separate questions.

    I’ve never felt represented in any comic book. And I didn’t care. Why would I want to read about myself? I get enough of me just walking around all day. I want to read about somebody who’s interesting to read about, and I’ve never laboured under the illusion that I am such a person.

    I could pick out some characters who were kind of like me, or who were intended to be reader-identification figures – Cypher in New Mutants, Devlin O’Ryan in 5YL LSH – but they weren’t my favourites. My favourites were people like… Pakrat in Atari Force. Warlock in New Mutants. Brainiac 5. Jaime Reyes. Gates.

  2. Oh, Matthew, don’t you see? You’re Howard The Duck.

    And Holly: that’s just what girls say before they suddenly become Promethea, you know?

  3. Ha, you wish.

    I was already thinking of her as my favorite but wasn’t going to say it because it seems so… I dunno, just something I don’t want to me. Something offputtingly obvious and yet obscure at the same time… opaque, or do I mean obtuse? The things I like about her are hard to describe and the things other people don’t like seem to be much easier for them to explain, so I’m already at a disadvantage.

    But then you want the characters that grabbed you personally, that made you feel like you were represented in this fantasy world, and not forgotten and then I thought well fuck all those imaginary people who don’t like what I like, because this is what she is; those books did grab me, I read all five in a week, one every day on my commutes and lunch breaks, which is a lot faster than I usually read comics (my stupid eyes make them require herculean effort, which is one of the reasons I have so little patience with mediocre comics).

    I read the last just after finishing work, sitting in a park in the sunshine; I remember it still. And when I closed the book I stood up and walked away feeling like I’d never quite be the same again, and I don’t think I am. I think a lot more about the power of the stories we tell ourselves; that’s gone from something that I haphazardly found interesting to being one of the biggest, most explicit preoccupations of my crazy little life.

    So Promethea is about the importance of narratives but Promethea is about curiosity and intelligence and meaning well even when you fuck things up and looking out for your friends and soaking up enough knowledge to be good at what you want to do even when you’re not sure yet what you’re doing and the lessons you learn when you try to run away from what you know, and really sexy sex.

    The book of the same name is about everything, grand and sweeping, but the character is about very specific things and they’re things that I sometimes fancy I share with her and sometimes admire from a distance but always I like them.

    (Your e-mail’s made my day, by the way.)

  4. I mean, I don’t think you’re talking about Promethea, but Sophie. Who is kind of radically awesome…wow, Sophie.

    Of course, Sophie is Promethea, too.


    Back in one sec…

  5. I’m talking mostly about Sophie but some of the other Prometheas have enough of those traits that I think some of them are either causes or effects of being her. :)

  6. Heh heh heh! Good to see you back, old friend.

    As Matthew says, two separate questions. One is, if the world were one of your favourite series, who would you be in it?

    Well, I’d be Chester Williams, in Swamp Thing. I’d be the quiet, kindly hermit dropout, still doggedly allegient to the values of the Sixties, because he can’t give up on love, peace and the beauty of the natural world.

    Better yet, I’d be Kenneth in Promethea. Remember Kenneth, of the Five Swell Guys? Looking ineffectual in his glasses and just dreadful in a suit. Somehow got in there with a talent for clairvoyance, but it doesn’t work that well these days. Except that now and then he sees something strange, very clearly, but it’s never quite the right moment to make a difference.

    But just once in a long while, when it’s the right thing to do, I get to be the Emperor Joshua Norton, and to tell some harried soul that by the standard of The Real Values, they are a True Knight or a Sovereign Lady, and don’t have to take any lousy lip from the Gibbering Demeaners.

  7. And the other question is, who made a world in which you could be your real self, fulfilled?

    There’s Frank Hampton’s Dan Dare. I’m not going into all the small careful touches by which he filled out his background of A Future Worth Having. It would be an essay. But it has to do with all the world’s peoples working together and showing themselves equal to any disaster. Also with having the deadly secret of the Red Moon deciphered by a dishy exobiologist who wears the Oxford University crest on her spacesuit.

    There’s John Broome’s Green Lantern. Which seems to be about a blazing new original hero in a most elegant costume who can fly through solid walls and wield forcefields of any size and shape; but then turns out to involve a knighthood of the Galaxy, where higher intellligences can whisk you across the lightyears in a blaze of green light and place you on a cosmic chessboard of alien races and menaces.

    And of course there’s Stan and Jack’s climax of the Fantastic Four, where the whole panoply of superhero comics archetypes have escaped the limitations of their medium, to come together in one indefinitely sustained epic. Doctor Doom! The Silver Surfer! Black Bolt and the Inhumans! All at once!

    And who would I be, among these splendours? I’d be the one who loves the superscience for its own sake, and makes it work for them.

    Meaning, my crowning moment would be as Reed Richards, as he explains how he has solved the problem of faster-than-light travel via negative space, and unveils the radical cube by which he means to prove it.

  8. Lyrical, Jonathan…say, can I have my bit on “Cosmic Marvel” now?

    Absolutely gorgeous stuff, as always. And thoght-provoking.

    Matthew, there’s gotta be an Essential Howard The Duck by now? Didn’t they just bring one out, to mark the passing of our Sainted Steve?

    If not…I’ll see if I can’t work some magic for you, in that respect. Let me know on the private email. Hmm, you might be well-advised to pick up Essential Man-Thing too…say Jonathan, you got a word to say about Man-Thing perchance? If you do, I’d be grateful if you’d unload it on us. YEAH!!!

  9. Matthew, you may not have read any Howard, but if Steve Gerber had ever penned The Last Temptation of Howard the Duck, the statement “I get enough of me just walking around all day.” would have nailed the matter but good.

  10. Ah! Brilliant! Of course the one I hold close to me is “waitaminnit…so if I find my own little bit of grace, is that also a work-for-hire?”

  11. I have always felt a certain kinship with Wally West as written by Mark Waid (Geoff Johns kind of lost me with the blue-collar conservatism). Partly because his idealism was always tempered by his cynicism (or is that the other way round?), partly because it’s his inclination to just deal with problems as they come up rather than talk about them, but mostly because of how terribly self-conscious he seemed. Waid’s Wally was an *extremely* reliable narrator; he’d be the first to say “I tend to keep things to myself too much” or “I don’t keep in touch with my friends and family enough” or “I’m overly judgmental” (all things we share). Like me, he’s very *aware* of his faults, but that doesn’t always mean he can keep them in check. We both tend to get stuck in our own heads.

    Also, a lot of people were put off by the Wally/Linda stuff, but I’m a complete sucker for it. The “Only true love can save us now!” bit always got me no matter how often Waid pulled that out of his his hat.

    (On the Marvel end: I don’t know much about him, but I feel like I might be a Nighthawk based on what little I’ve read of him. It always seems like he’s trying to cram square pegs into round holes. “C’mon, you guyyyys!” So either him, or a “good lieutenant” sort of character like the Beast.)

  12. “My name’s Wally West; and I’m a bit of an idiot. I screw everything up, and screw it up at the speed of sound. I’m the fastest man alive.

    I’m the Flash.”


  13. ah well, I suppose I’d have to say Morrison’s Buddy Baker (with a large admixture of Morrison himself from issue #26), ’cause I read those comics not long after I had embraced Animal Rights full on, and was/still am basically a friendly/accommodating guy who can’t see any way to make his peace with the world in any of its known configurations


  14. No one’s me. I have a certain affinity for pragmatic idealists (Twin Twist in Transformers, Cliff in Doom Patrol) and also, alas, tortured drama queens (Dream in Sandman, Dane in Invisibles), but no one really represents me…

    No, hold on… I’m thinking too much of words and themes and characters and all that abstract stuff…

    I do see myself in comics. I am a Frank Quitely drawing. He always makes me feel represented and not forgotten.

  15. Flash Thompson. I friggin’ hate nerds.

    Actually, the first comic book character in which I saw myself was Concrete, which sounds sort of pathetic. At age 18, I was big and clumsy (still am). Coming off a bad break-up (in an 18 year-old sense, anyway) right before I read my first Concrete comic, I was having a hard time connecting with girls. I’m a reasonably smart guy with a decent sense of humor. It’s one of the only times I’ve read a comic book and thought, “that’s me.”
    Not anymore, not for years, but at one time.

    I had one friend who identified with Sara from The Maxx. She’s muuuuch better now. I had another friend who reminded me of a more together Delerium from Sandman, in her manner of dress and thought process. She’s kind of like a grown up Delerium these days, if you can picture that.

  16. Everyone who knows me has heard it a dozen times already, but since someone actually asked

    Scott Free. I’m not saying I ever was Scott Free…but a character who goes through spirit-crushing hopelessness and intimidation, and comes out the other end deciding to be the most positive and empathetic guy in the universe because he knows how awful the alternative is…the guy who finds out “guess what? you were never supposed to be in that place at all! you get to choose your own future!”…that was who I always wanted to be. And to the extent that I was in that place I never belonged in, and looking for hope that I could escape to be a new person, yeah, I felt he represented me.

    And the first thing I want to do for a girlfriend is always cook her a meal, because that’s what Scott did when Barda showed up. I keep doing it in hopes she’ll show up…

  17. Christopher Chance, the Human Target — because when I was a kid, it seemed easier to pretend being someone else than to attempt to be myself. I haven’t had that problem for a very long time, but it was very real when I was a teenager. I really identified with the Human Target for that reason.

  18. Man-Thing … and the Cosmic in Marvel? Only two of the most awkward, provoking topics there are. Manny gets in first, and about the other, we’ll see.

    Should say, I had to review peoples’ M-T posts because I don’t have a solid run of the Gerber issues. Was reminded why I don’t. I could never tell how much I was supposed to care for the characters, or whether I’d ever see them again.

    In those days I had quite the continuity fetish, and just hoped the Marvel Universe could keep on building to some sort of completion. That ol’ Ethos of Potential. Steve’s anthology-style approach looked arbitrary and going nowhere, and the fantasy materials he used were lazy, pulled off the shelf. Want a barbarian, here’s a barbarian, want something craaazy, here’s a talking duck.

    But to other, younger readers, that was the point. Steve’s freewheeling verve, in itself, was the real protagonist of the title. Can he pirouette on the point of a flaming parasol while pulling not one, not two, but three monkeys from his butt? Yes, he can! And it was all totally vindicated once he found his focus with Howard.

    Still, at the time, I’d open an issue and try to think what I should be remembering. It would have helped me if there had been a continuing Citrusville Soap Opera storyline, with a few steady characters I could root for. If it had been more like ROM, say.

    The result of reviewing the posts was, I realized I’ve been seriously underestimating the art. I’d had vague memories of it all being drab stuff by Val Mayerik and Rich Buckler, but here was excellent work from Ploog, Morrow, Alcala et al, and one knockout cover by Adams.

    So perhaps I’m also underestimating Gerber’s scripts.

    But what I think is, almost typically of the man, he brought off a succession of earnest, considered short stories … by simply ignoring the major premise of the title, and the intent of that premise.

    Okay, picture it. You’re up to your knees in the swamp. Your hands groping in liquescent vegetable muck, inextricable. Mindless great eyes staring down at you. As you feel your flesh burst into flame!

    What is this thing that’s got you? How did you come to this?

    What’s got hold of you is what in a hundred Pre-Code horror titles they called FATE, in big shivery letters. Or else, HELL, or possibly, KARMA. Or considering the times of its writing, NAPALM — I don’t think that connection can be ignored.

    And the reason you’re in this pickle, is you’re a moron. A callous, self-absorbed, greedy, unlistening dork, who never bothered inquiring into the clues, the stories, all the warnings you were given. But now you know! Ha ha hah haah! But don’t feel bad. This sort of story works because we’re all like that, give or take. We’re all complicit in the banality of evil, and we should all take a wise moment now and then to reflect that Fate is always waiting.

    That’s the Pre-Code vibe Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway were after, when they set Man-Thing up. Stan Lee’s intention was clearly to outflank the Code, probably with some black-and-white, adult-coded product like the Warren magazines.

    It takes a certain complicity with evil to bring these stories off. You need to be a bit of a lout, like the older boy who gives the new fish all the news about coffin worms and syphillis. It really helps if your artist has the same appetite for grue, and the body-anxiety talents of a Basil Wolverton or a Charles Burns.Over at Warren’s Creepy and Eerie, Bernie Wrightson and Tom Sutton, et many al, were having the time of their lives. But they’d all been outgrued years before by S. Clay Wilson, Bob Crumb and the Underground Comics gang. Once you’ve gone a few rounds with Captain Pissgums and his Pervert Pirates, there’s not much shock room left.

    Thing is, Steve Gerber was not that kind of lout. Even when he was declaring that we’re all coddled sissies and need to face The Violence, he came out with Void Indigo. William Blake meets Clive Barker among the trailer trash — very promising. But instead of hammering the violence, he gets interested in how the imaginative realm of supernatural horrror is too small, a protected little realm, and brings in a 16,000-year old civilization, a realized afterlife and a stranded alien soldier, to expand and expand the context.

    Steve’s Man-Thing characters are generally on quests for love, or freedom or lost youth, and this is more interesting to him than the pseudo-climax of some poor dork getting incinerated — which is never any surprise, because it’s the major premise and even the slogan of the series. And a ball and chain, frankly. I don’t think Conway and Thomas ever expected an Adventures Into Fear gimmick ever to be continuable. Where is IT the Living Colossus these days? A lot of flags were being run up the pole round then. But did they really expect to start a continuing series on a notion that was always wrapped up in a seven-page shocker in Haunt of Terror?

    Very likely, the only reason Man-Thing has lasted, was because of Steve’s combination of humanist storytelling and his wild willingness to pull escaped convicts and pirates and Atlantean sorcerers and talking ducks into the mixture all at once. That’s what people remember. That’s why one of the editorship’s cleverer moves later on was to revive MT with the one real heir to Steve’s mantle, de Matteis.

    But you know, it’s funny. American Dread is sort of triangulated by Jonathan Edwards the Puritan preacher, Nathanael West the chronicler of L.A. Noir, and Faulkner with his damned lynch-mobs. Fate. Hell. Karma. Ever waiting for some unlucky soul to stray from the strait and narrow. Man-Thing could have been picked up by somebody really dark. Not a jolly lout like the Warren crew, but a sober pessimist out beyond Garth Ennis. It could have fulfilled the premise. So weren’t we lucky that instead it fell to Steve Gerber, who was like Charles Dickens in 1000 Words or Less?

    And now for a bonus. Whenever I get into an enquiry like this, there’s always a little voice saying, Hey smarty, you think you could have done any better? So with brazen hindsight, I’m going to tell you how I would have continued Man-Thing after Steve left.

    As a Haunt of Terror character, Manny is a dead end. But as a ’50s movie monster, he has real potential. Such monsters grow and multiply, and threaten on a grand scale.

    It’s the mid-’70s. Pollution is a major anxiety. Manny’s origin is the awful outcome of an attempt to use the Super-Soldier formula to make people survivable in high concentrations of pollutants.

    Well, he starts to spawn. Tiny blobs of slime, with eyes, bud off and float away, insinuating themselves in clumps of rotting vegetation. Wherever they encounter unnatural chemicals, they incorporate and metabolize them. When they find toxins in concentration, they mutate and grow, and spawn in turn. They are all just about mindless, but they have an instinct for navigation. And so it comes to pass that wherever toxins are being dumped or discharged into rivers, swamp creatures are growing, of various sizes and shapes, eventually to climb out and seek new food sources. Vegecides, insecticides are useless against them — Agent Orange is a potent stimulant. And whoever touches them, unless they be pure of mind and body, dies horribly.

    At first this is brought to public attention by itinerant disk-jockey and diarist Richard Rory, who has been interviewing the characters who encountered Manny during Gerber’s run, building a dossier to confirm his own experience. He knows the signs, realizes Oh God It’s Spreading, and attempts to spread a warning. Corporations affected or responsible for the blight are not happy with him. Neither is the military, nor A.I.M. But they can’t keep him quiet in the face of the growing havoc.

    Before long, there is an E.P.A. task force on the case. It includes Ted Sallis’ wife, his scientific associates and an A.I.M. defector or two — and a bunch of bright young recruits, environmental activists who’ve been through university. They expected to be fighting pollution — but not face to face!

    This is their story. The magazine has a new title, GLOM — short for the official term, “toxic conglomeration”. There is much action with flamethrowers and earth-moving equipment, public evacuations, explosions, hospital and science drama. Each issue has the team’s map of incidents, spreading out from Florida, and each issue the map is bigger. Things work up to a first climax over the Plutoglom residing in the water table beneath the Hanford nuclear weapons production site — they need Tanya Belinsky to deal with that one. There is a growing awareness of empathic connections between the creatures and surviving casualties, leading to a resolution where Ted Sallis is brought to consciousness and provides the biochemical keys to the problem from the inside.

    I’d have Peter Gillis plotting the story in advance, but Steve Gerber would write whatever parts took his fancy.

  19. (staggers)

    Okay…wow, folks, who knew this tossed-off post would produce so many stimulating replies? I don’t know how come it’s so much fun for me to read it over, but it is…

    However…and I guess it shows I should be careful what I wish for…Jonathan’s laid such a mighty salmon of a comment at my doorstep here, I must take a day or two to really ponder the thing. How to cook it? Should we freeze part of it for later? Maybe smoking would be the answer. On the other hand we could just tear right into it, after all it’s fresh…but with every minute we wait it gets less so. Oh, what to decide?

    Will be back tomorrow evening.

    I must say, Sea saying Christopher Chance has really thrown me for a loop. Also, good choice. Well, these are all really good choices! So much so that I’m tempted to say: okay, now concoct your summary of a one-hour TV pilot for all those characters.

    Yes, Mr. Golding, even you…

    Actually, damnit, I can think of a bloody good one-hour Vance Astro pilot. Seventies-style, from the days of cheese and stars. He would’ve met Steve Austin, and then viewer demand would’ve provoked this special presentation. What, like it’s be so much worse than “Gemini Man”?

    Right, I’m going to do it…next post. This one let’s save for the existing, clearly evolving, discussion…

    Which I’ll be back to shortly.

  20. Fill it with whiskey and throw it back in!

    If there’s ever a Collected Edition of your pieces, I want a blurb line on the back. “Pillock deals with ideas the way the Swedish Chef deals with ingredients.”

  21. This one requires some thought. The closest parallel to me is Spider-Man, as it is for most comic fans, down to the basic outline of the life story and the “brainy nerd deals with problems with humor” part. That’s…a lot of us, isn’t it. So let’s throw that aside. Buddy Bradley from “Hate” is both very close and very far away, so not him…

    Four come to mind as potentials.

    1. The Blue Beetle, Ted-Kord-in-the-JLI-era. For most of my life I’ve been The Wacky Guy with a partner in crime. The Blue-and-Gold team of the JLI period was one of the more “real” bits in superhero comics to me. The Kooeykooeykooey debacle? Uh, yeah, I can relate. As a giant nerd, I felt a kinship to Ted’s position as a smart guy who wasn’t held in high esteem for his smarts, since he was a perpetual goofass. O woe is the plight of the dork, I know, I know. Ted knew all of this and he just went with it. Plus, flying bug. Sweet.

    2. Herbie Popnecker. A doughy kid in spectacles with a bad haircut? Check. The ability to walk on air, pants the devil, and warp reality to his every whim? Check. Often speaks in incomplete sentences? Check. Irresistible to Lady Bird Johnson? Check.

    3. Iron Fist. No, really. Go with me on this. What is Fist’s defining personality trait, at least in the olden days? His disconnection from the world in which he moves. Daniel Rand is an intelligent, perceptive man, but he’s not familiar with the social ways of the world, and he often said or did dumb things because he didn’t get it. He spent his childhood and adolescence locked away in passionate study, and as a result, was socially maladroit. Yep, can relate. Plus, I too am a kung fu master. Sure, only in my mind, but it counts.

    Then there’s #4, who’s a bit weak for a “Harvey in comics” translation, but would make for a cool TV show. I’ll submit a pilot synopsis soon.

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