Here it is, folks, the final installment of this year’s Top 20. Yes, it’s coming out in October, but I had to take up the first blog of this month to publish the Aftermath issue of CynQuest, seeing as we were already three months into that storyline.
It’s also going to mark the end of my self-imposed ‘only constructive blogs posts’ period. Considering my traditional Halloween post is dedicated to bitching to Hollywood about using the same boring-ass monsters all the time, so where September was sweetness and light, October is going to be fire and brimstone. Next week, I’ll be channeling my rage at DC’s dumbass Villain’s Month into a discussion on what makes a good supervillain (as opposed to the New 52’s supervillains featured in that gimmick), then I’m doing another ‘Moments of Comicbook Shame post. Flame on, baby!
But for now, let the love flow. Here are my Top 5 moments of the Descendants minis, limited series, and one shots. (By the way, more research has shown that limited series is often used to signal that a series might be picked up for an ongoing if it does well. So that solves that).
5 – East Meets West (Descendants: LA)
I don’t talk about how awesome you people who read and comment on my stuff are. It’s always great to see you guys getting into the spirit of this stuff. One example of this is how, almost as soon as D:LA hit, people were already asking when the Descendants/Descendants: LA crossover was going to happen.
And it’s no surprise either. In comic books, one of the go-to tricks for launching a new book is to have some popular characters pop in for a visit for whatever reason. Spider-man used to be the guy to do this over at Marvel, then Wolverine, and now it seems Deadpool is the official welcome wagon. I’m nothing but cool with that because most of these meetings are a bit on the lighter side and try to show the new characters in their most interesting light for readers following the popular one into the book.
On the other hand, the timing of these meet-up/team-up issues tends to suffer from the hurried thought processes I recently talked about. Instead of taking time to develop the new characters and the premise of their book, you often get the crossover almost immediately if not in the first arc itself. Moreover, the crossover is often about the popular character or at the very least has little to do with the series proper. It might be a fun issue, but if you’re a fan of the story arcs, it’s also a wasted story.
Thus, ‘Wolverine Publicity’, named after the trope that spawned it. I set out specifically to do the crossover right: the way the Runaways met the Avengers rather than how Avengers Academy met the Thunderbolts (and I had both of those comics on my pull list when that happened. It just felt like it could have been much better if it came later).
I really like how it came out. It advanced the myth arc for D:LA while containing some of Cyn’s character arc (her antagonism toward new people that had started to develop). It also showed off what all the involved characters can do without (I hope) overshadowing them. My one regret is that I maybe should have held off a bit and dug into Ramona’s character arc before doing this one, but like I said in the ‘Slow Burn’ article, I am not immune to that flaw.
The other reason I loved writing this: more Faerie monsters! Whenever I can put in a weird creature, Is ay ‘yes please’, lick the plate and ask for seconds. And yes, the information about thrushes is wrong, it’s the shrike that impales small animals for funsies… but there are apparently shrike thrushes and even after visiting a few websites, I can’t figure out if those are shrikes who are thrushes, thrushes who are in some way like shrikes, or the result of a drunken naturalist (like platypi or owlbears). Instead of losing the joke or renaming the monster, I’m just going to point out that ‘Ani could have easily learned it from Felix, who learned it from a site that did shoddy research just as I have.
Also, a ‘small’ genus loci that can get up and walk around is just awesome to me.
4 – Magical Origins (LI: Generations Aflame)
I actually got some complaints about Generations Aflame. Not about the story itself, but because it ‘abandoned’ the other students at the school and the shifting ensemble format in other to follow two new characters plus Kura, Tammy and Steampunk exclusively. As I mentioned last week, it’s in order to do proper justice to LI’s own myth arc. It was never my intention to remain divorced from the format longer than I had to.
But why those specific characters? Well yeah, Maya is cute and all, and I find Kura ten kinds of amusing, but there was a method to my madness. The main thrust is that Maya, Kura and Steampunk all have powers that aren’t even handwaved by pseudo-science.
Yes, while one might question how Arkose survived converting to a silicon based lifeform, or the process behind Packrat’s hammerspace, but I usually do have things like high-energy output characters having to eat more, or Juniper’s ‘charge mode’ where freezing things is actually her storing heat energy. However, Maya and Steampunk are the only two characters who have been expressly said to produce more energy than they take in.
By the same token, Kura breaks the in-universe rules by having multiple powers when descendants have one or more related power or are protomorphs with a lot of physical changes. Kura can do everything the D&D spell prestidigitation can.
If you’ve read the story, you know why -SPOILER ALERT-: Some of the descendant genomes come from a magical source.
Some. Not all. I alluded to other sources like the real life HeLa cell line, Project MKULTRA, and yes, Operation: Whitecoat. Some science, some magic. And some people, like the kid you’re going to meet the next couple of weeks in Liedecker Institute: Sophomore Year, Zane Springfield, just might be both.
This was something I’ve been sitting on forever. My love of mixing power sources is well known, and let’s just be clear: I have a superhero setting with magic and ties to World War II—there is no way I wasn’t going to tap the Thule Society’s fine, evil ass like it was a forest and I needed green mana [I am SUCH a nerd].
There’s really another blog post right here where I discuss the long, proud history of Nazis in comic books, their bitter Aryan faces being slammed into again and again on countless heroic fists in every timeline and every dimension in the multiverse. Nazis are the superhero cheat sheet: They were a global threat that was unabashedly evil in their goals and worldview, they practiced superscience in multiple fields, and they even dabbled in the occult. The Soviets might have been (and still are) the more useful boogedy-man, but they were never as evil, scary and multi-tasky as the Nazis. I mean, really, have you ever heard someone angrily call someone a ‘soviet’ on the internet?
Note: I know some people are still very sensitive about Nazis, especially given my large European following. None of this is meant to diminish the atrocities of real life Nazis and I would like to point out that SD-108 was the North American attempt to duplicate the experiments at least in a slightly more ethical manner. Slightly. Lest we forget, almost none of the biomedical and psychological experimentation during WWII was anything approaching ‘not evil’.
Anyway, the reason it shows up in LI before the Descendants ongoing first is because doing so puts a longer ‘fuse’ on the big world-wide reveal. Laurel could probably track down SD-108 in a flat second. With the girls doing their best Scooby Doo routine in the background of Descendants Vol 7 and LI: Sophomore Year, it lets me reveal bits and pieces in a more enjoyable manner.
3 – How Felix met Ray (Descendants: LA)
I spoke previously about how the Descendants: LA members were developed specifically by mixing and matching characters from the Teen Titans animated series. That was a slight fib, in that I own a number of the Wolfman/Perez New Teen Titans series in trade paperback form (but not, sadly, The Judas Contract) and I pulled in some elements from the comics, especially concerning their origins.
No place in the series is that more obvious than in Felix/Teen Machine. If you’re familiar with the characters, you can definitely see that Felix draws a lot from the characters of Cyborg and Beast Boy.
As a little side note, Felix also addresses something I always wondered about fictional cyborgs. Namely, I always wonder why they always try and cram every bit of hardware onto them at once. I know plug-and-play technology wasn’t a thing in the 80’s when Cyborg or the Terminator first showed up, but interchangeable parts and standardization of attachments have been around since Henry Ford and was only baldly ignored in recent times with the coming of Apple Computers. They same thing goes for powered armor heroes like Iron Man: why not just build a base, then swap new tools out as the need arises instead of wasting power to lug all that stuff around?
…um, yeah. Anyway, in case you aren’t aware of the two characters, here’s a quick wiki-level rundown:
Victor Stone, AKA The Cyborg, AKA Cyborg, AKA (for a particularly embarrassing period) Cyberion: Vic was the son of scientists working on inter-dimensional travel. One day, while Vic was visiting, they succeeded in finding the gateway. Unlike Quinn in Sliders, however, they didn’t go tripping through the multiverse with a Motown singer and Gimli the dwarf. No, a nigh-unstoppable hellbeast crawled through, tore Vic’s mother apart, then did the same to him. Luckily (except in Vic’s mind), his father was a fictional scientist who managed to science him up a cyborg body to save his life.
Garfield Logan, AKA Beast Boy, AKA Changeling (with a godawful costume): Garfield was the son of two scientists (SCIENCE! I increases you chances of having super babies!), who was one day bitten by a green monkey and infected with the dread virus sakitua (Yes. ‘Sock it to Ya’). To save his life, they injected him with a serum containing a ton of random animal DNA. This turned Gar green and gave him the power to become any animal. His parents died sometime later in a boating accident and he was then kind of handed off from evil jerk to evil jerk, from his uncle, Nicholas Galtry, to some burglars who used him like a trained monkey. Eventually, he ended up with the Doom Patrol and (more germane to this post) in the care of Rita Farr, a superheroine and actress whose love of all things Hollywood would later inspire him to try his own hand in Hollywood.
Felix’s origin pays homage to both these characters, from the actress mother, to being maimed by the same terrible event in which he was orphaned.
And with all that big, long exposition done with, we get to the meat of why this made the top five. I have watched the show up to the end of season four at the time I wrote this and one thing that struck me was that while Cyborg and Beast Boy were best friends, they were both in semi-antagonistic relationships with Robin. Not hard to understand, given Robin being… Robin, but still.
When developing this group, I decided not to port over Robin’s… intensity… to Ray. He was the serious, responsible leader guy, saddled with two jokers, but he wasn’t going to be a jackass about it and would understand the need for Felix and Lyds lightening the mood. After the initial arc, it came to me like a minor miracle: why not make them actual adopted brothers?
It’s one of those things that I imagine was subtle enough that most readers didn’t give it too much thought, but just having that there, in my opinion, opens up so much more depth between those two. It’s no longer just a friend bond that they share: it’s the next closest thing to blood. They’ve been raised together and know each other more than even the best of friends.
It’s one of my favorite relationship twists in all of the DU, not just the Extended stuff. But my first…
2 – Lil’ Zoe and Warrick (Vorpal: Gyre and Gimble)
I knew from the moment I designed her powers that Vorpal was going to be related in some way to Warrick. You can see that in how I’d been laying in clues to it for years. But even then, it hadn’t really become a thing for me that they weren’t just related somewhere in the bloodline, but had, in another time, another place, been close.
That started with the idea that Warrick finding out might make them close. That was the stage I was at with Descendants 2095, when Warrick plans to drop the kids off with her. After I wrote it though, it felt like an insurmountable obstacle to have Warrick accept Zoe how she is after, you know, all the murders.
It was around the time I was showing Vorpal forced to watch out for the kids at the Liedecker Institute, in particular, Tantrum, that it finally clicked with me that she might have done some babysitting and such back before she became a broken, deeply flawed woman. And from there, it almost instantly connected to taking care of Warrick and Tammy when they were little.
I know I beat this dead horse all the time, but it really does come down to making the character human. She is a murderer, she is a bad person, but she wasn’t born that way. She didn’t start out insane. And if things had gone differently, who knows what might have happened. Zoe was certainly powerful enough that he might have been in stasis for the gang to find instead of Warrick or maybe alongside him.
God, I love that scene. They’re just having fun and being kids and completely full of potential. I imagine that this scene is also Warrick’s strongest memory of Zoe, which goes a long way toward explaining why he’s soft on her when he finds out everything in Poor Relations. It’s another purely human thing: I think most of us have that one family member who is an utter screw up and yet we never want to give up on them because we have fond memories of them.
I’ll actually be exploring this more next month when I (finally!) manage to sync up with real life holidays and release Descendants #73 – Give Thanks.
1 – Secret IDs Revealed (The Whitecoat and the Second String)
How to start this one… Oh, how about this:
I love Superman. While there’s not a lot of good Superman stories currently being put out there, I love the character. I love that he is powerful enough to whip everyone’s ass and make them be good, but not only is he moral enough not to, but he won’t even stoop to using those incredible powers to kill even when it would be much easier on him to do so. I love that the secret origin of his morality isn’t some tragedy or some screw up, but that he had good parents who loved him and taught him right from wrong. I love that he tries not to just fix everything for everyone, but to inspire people to fix things for one another.
Most importantly (for the purposes of this entry), I love that ‘Superman’ is a mask, a heroic identity that protects the livelihood and loved ones of small town farm boy, Clark Kent, who when he isn’t punching evil planets in the goddamn face and making The Authority look like chumps, he’s an earnest and awkward guy trying to make his folks and boss proud, earn the respect of a certain ace reporter who he’s got a thing for, and dealing with the thundering idiocy of some dude who decided he was the best friend of his alter ego. To put it more simply: I love Superman because he’s really Clark Kent.
That’s something that falls by the wayside too often, I think, and why the Iron Man movie was so good. We need to see the person these folks are when they aren’t being superheroes.
The framing story for the second String mini was all about this, seeing them off duty, playing poker and interacting with each other personally, but the last issue took us deeper and we got to see that even though they were all on common ground at the poker game, they were really coming from all walks of life: from the captain of industry, to the single mother, to the blue collar worker. They are so very, very different, but they all have the same goal of making the world a better place.
In these days of big spectacle films and comics full of events and shocking swerves meant to drive sales, I hope that we never forget that superheroes are really modern mythology. Where the Greeks needed distant and impersonal gods who strode among mortals at their wont, we have (and I feel, we NEED) to have instead mundane people made extraordinary by the great leveler of happenstance.
A freak lab accident turns a lowly nerd into a high flying, quip-tossing idol that even his worst bully looks up to. A test pilot happens upon a dying alien who grants him the key to becoming the protector of an entire sector of space. Normal, everyday teenagers discover that their very genes have transformed them into something society shuns, but are brought together under a mentor to use those transformations for the good of all. Or a kid on a farm finds out that he is the heir of a dying planet, granted near godlike power by the rays of Earth’s yellow sun.
Anyone can be a superhero. Anyone can make a difference. Anyone can make things better.
That’s what superheroes are for. They give us hope and inspiration. And they help drive us to do better.
Or at least they should.
Last week I explained how to report the first Descendants book on Amazon.co.uk so that Amazon will eventually make it free there. Later today, I’ll put up a guide on how to do this for other countries like Germany and Italy.
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