If you were a super nerdy teen in the late '90s, there's a pretty good chance that you encountered Apollo Smile in some form or another, whether it was through her career as a voice actress in stuff like the Sega Dreamcast's Space Channel 5 or in her role as the "Live Action Anime Girl" who welcomed viewers to the Sci-Fi Channel's first-ever showing of Galaxy Express 999. If you somehow missed out, I've always thought of her as a mascot of that very particular time right before the death of the VHS tape, when Japanese animation was on the verge of breaking through into mainstream pop culture. She's the feeling of digging through the shelves at Suncoast Video and paying $35 for a VHS tape of Sailor Moon that had two episodes on it given human form.
As you might expect, I feel squarely into Smile's target demographic, but somehow, some way, I managed to miss the fact that she had a short-lived comic book series in which she starred as herself. Well, an idealized version of herself, anyway --- I'm not sure if the real life version could control a starship through the power of interpretive dance.
Whenever people talk about the major eras of the Justice League, they tend to skip from the sitcom-inspired International era of Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire straight to the big action widescreen reboot of Grant Morrison and Howard Porter's JLA, and with good reason. Those were two hugely important and influential runs that helped to define what DC was for an era, and they're certainly worth talking about. The thing is, there was another era in there, too, and while it doesn't get talked about too much, it's every bit as tied into exactly what was driving the DCU: That stretch from 1992 to 1993, when Dan Jurgens rebuilt the Justice League around Superman.
To be fair, though, it's easy to see why it might not get the press that the other major runs receive. It's in this weird little middle ground between those two extremes, caught between snarky quips and world-shattering stories, never quite getting as memorable as either. Also, there's the thing where the new Justice League is almost murdered by a board game in their first adventure.
A few weeks ago, I found myself in an antique store, and --- being the kind of person I am --- I pretty much ignored anything that wasn't a vintage Santa Claus figurine or a banged-up long box full of back issues. I mean, I can see an old lamp or a gently used kitchen table pretty much any time I want to, but finding out what comic books could properly be considered "antiques" was an opportunity that doesn't come along every day.
As you might expect, the answer was "a bunch of random-ass comics from the late '80s and early '90s," but mixed in there with Knightquest tie-ins and that one issue of Green Lantern: Mosaic where John Stewart explains Christmas to the aliens was an issue that caught my eye. It was Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future #2, which comes complete with some of the weirdest house ads I've ever seen.
Most of the time, when you see Superman and Batman fighting --- and boy howdy have we seen Superman and Batman fighting --- it's over some kind of ideological difference. It's a conflict that always seems to have its roots in mistrust between the ideas that those two characters represent, that extremely relatable conflict between a super-powered alien and a normal, regular, non-powered human who only has a billion dollars, a weaponized meteorite, and a rocket car to level the playing field.
But for me, that's only part of the story. I think if we just go a little deeper, we'll find that there's one major source of conflict between Superman and Batman that you almost never hear about.
Batman and Superman are hitting the big screen this week with the promise that they'll v each other harder than anyone has ever been v-ed before. But if you're looking for a comic that features some of the best examples of those two heroes going at it, I can highly recommend digging through a back issue bin to find yourself a copy of World's Finest Comics #197. It's an extra-sized issue that's crammed full of one story after another where Superman and Batman find themselves fighting against each other.
But even though all three of the stories in that issue are basically stone-cold classics, the best one by far is the one where Batman --- a grim, gritty, ruthless Batman --- lures Superman out to another planet so that he can lock him up in a jail cell and beat him with a laser whip whenever he doesn't obey. And it might just be the weirdest story about those two characters fighting that I've ever seen.
With the release of Batman v Superman hovering just over the horizon, I know that a lot of people are going back and reading some of their favorite stories about those two characters, and I, my friends, am no exception. The thing is, I'm not all that into seeing them fighting. I mean, yeah, it's good for a change of pace every now and then, but most of the time, I want to see the Man of Steel and the Dark Knight putting aside their differences to fight against a threat too great to deal with individually.
Like, say, an army of garden gnomes that are trying to convert science into magic so that a wizard can take over the world.
I don't know about you, but when I play Dungeons & Dragons, I'm looking for a very specific kind of quest. Storytelling and character development are nice, but really, at the end of the day, I want an epic that's full of magic swords, dragons, and a threat so huge that it puts an entire kingdom --- maybe even an entire world --- in the kind of dire peril that can only be thwarted by stout-hearted heroes who aren't above lying about their dice rolls when they need to. In other words, I need something that's a little more intense than helping some dude recover from being cursed with tiny little baby hands.
But apparently, that is exactly what the gaming community wanted back in 1988, when Advanced Dungeons & Dragons devoted the entirety of its opening arc to one character's harrowing recovery from having his hands shrunk, a tragedy that drove him to drink, caused him to lose faith in his gods, and gave us lots of truly hilarious panels where he holds normal-sized objects that suddenly look huge.
One of the greatest unsolved mysteries in the history of our planet is the question of what killed the dinosaurs. There is, of course, the leading theory that the Cretaceous-Paleogene Extinction Event was the result of a massive asteroid impact, something that's supported by a layer of sediment in the fossil record that includes high traces of iridium, and by the discovery of the massive Chicxulub crater, all of which amounts to a pretty compelling batch of scientific evidence. Personally, though, I don't buy it, and not just because of noted scientist Dr. Victor Fries and his assertion that the mass extinction was the result of the onset of an ice age.
No, my doubts come from the fact that, like everyone else who read Tales of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles back in 1989, I already know what killed the dinosaurs: It was the Ninja Turtles. Specifically, Leonardo. I know, I was surprised, too.
The Academy Awards are almost upon us, which means that it's time for the entire movie industry to rent out a very large room and say, "Good job, Movie Industry" to itself for about four hours. I'm told a lot of people find this very exciting, but as they have never, to my knowledge, even mentioned Bulbasaur's groundbreaking role in Pokemon: The First Movie, it's not really something I'm interested in. Besides, the movies that I tend to enjoy often value spectacle over substance. It might not win any awards, but I've often thought that there's a lot of value in giving audiences something that they just couldn't see otherwise.
Which, I imagine, is probably there were film producers in the DC Universe who were once so desperate for cool stunts that they decided to hire an actual superhero to handle them --- all without ever explaining to him how movies worked.
Promo comics are amazing. Since they're created for a wide audience that goes far beyond the normal readership, they always feature characters who have been boiled down to their most basic, accessible forms, but they're always at least two steps removed from what they should probably be doing. I mean, even if you boil them down to their most essential elements, the Justice League probably shouldn't be relying on a guy with a really nice drill to help them defeat a supervillain, and Batman doesn't usually fight crime by helping a small child overcome his allergies.
But that's part of what makes them great, and it only gets better when you're not exactly sure what's being promoted until you're about halfway through the comic. So today, I invite you to join me for 1992's Batman: A Word to the Wise, in which the Caped Crusader is called upon to extoll the virtues of literacy, a department store, and --- if I'm reading this correctly --- the entire nation of Canada.
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