A hearty "Thank You" to my good friend Mike Foster who e-mailed me the identity of the Mystery Villain:

So I pulled out the Invasion series with all the tie-ins today. Didn't get far when I saw a cover of the series he premiered in. One quick search later: Strobe. Power of the Atom issue 3. (Wed 12/27/2006)

Wherefore art thou, Strobe?

According to dcuguide.com ("The Unofficial Guide to the DC Universe"), Strobe first appeared in Power of the Atom #3 in October 1988, just a few months before the DC Universe-spanning Invasion event.

A villain wearing an advanced suit of armor that could throw concussion blasts and deliver blinding flashes of light. Strobe fought the Atom (II) [Ray Palmer], who turned him over to the authorities [PotA #3]. Breaking free from prison, Strobe took another identity as the samurai-inspired Edg the Destroyer [PotA #12], but was once again defeated by the Atom, subsequently returning to his Strobe identity [PotA #13].

Strobe certainly belongs to the same clique of loser villains as Rainbow Raider. In the issue, Strobe was angry that Atom's heroics were stealing headlines from his bank robberies, so he decided to throw down with a Justice Leaguer. (That's a bad idea. Villains with light-inspired gimmicks have a long history of bad luck with the JLA in particular and other DC Universe heroes in general.) I postulate that if Strobe is robbing banks for public attention, he probably is in the wrong line of work. Try robbing television studios next time, Strobe. Of course, Strobe loses his fight to Atom, and he practically disappears from the DC Universe.

Mike, you found a character who has only appeared in 4 books in the 80-year history of DC Comics. Congrats, man. Consider yourself the Indiana Jones of the comic book vault.

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I need some help. I'm trying to identify the character in the bottom right of this panel from DC's Invasion Book 3, page 40, published in 1989. If you know, please tell me. Not knowing is slowly killing me.

Name that villain! (Who's in the bottom right?)

Top left is Booster Gold, who is descending from the Blue Beetle's Bug ship alongside Beetle himself. At the bottom left is Two-Face, one of Batman's many villains. Next to Two-Face is the mystery character. I assume from his reaction to the arrival of two Justice Leaguers that he is a villain, but for all I know he's just surprised to see a flying bug. It is the only appearance of either Two-Face or the unknown mystery fellow in the entire Invasion event, and though it is not expressly stated, I believe that it is supposed to take place in New York City since in previous panels Oberon mentions that Blue & Gold are "battling villains" in NYC.

But who, oh who, is in the foreground bottom right? I've been pouring over issues of DC's Who's Who from 1985, but with little luck so far. (It would probably go faster if I could stop reading every single entry. I mean, I know that there is no way that this is the Legion of Substitute Super-Heroes Color Kid or the original Doom Patrol ally Mento, but I just can't stop myself from reading about them. It's yet another one of my character flaws.)

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So this is Christmas? I must say that this Christmas was probably more enjoyable than recent years past. No one argued. No one threw punches or food. No one stormed out and drove home. (Though my father is sleeping in his car tonight. But it's just out of appreciation for tradition.)

The lack of friction around the table this year made me realize that I often hear people talk about their dysfunctional families' holidays, but I never hear anyone talk about their functional families' holidays. I think it's about time that the June Cleavers and Donna Reeds of the world speak up. Is Nixon's "silent majority" too busy enjoying the holiday season with their sweater vests and sober relatives to tell the rest of us that we're screwed up? Or are they just smart enough to lay low, lest they find themselves co-starring on a very special holiday edition of Cops with my father?

I even enjoyed a better than average gifting this year. The only thing I asked for was socks, but in addition to the socks, I also received 12 pairs of underwear and a fog machine. Wowee! I'd say it was "like Christmas," except for the fact that it actually was Christmas. In this case, my extensive mental inventory of useful sarcastic cliches has let me down, leaving me grasping for words with which to describe the event. (Sarcasm just can't be used to describe satisfaction.)

The 12 pairs of underwear made me wonder about why we call them "pairs" of underwear. A quick internet search reveals that back in the day, only nobility wore anything over the coverings of their genitals, so there was technically no such thing as "underwear" until the last few centuries. (Unless, of course, you were hanging out in a royal court wearing a codpiece or tunic.) Modern legged outerwear evolved from two, unattached leggings (a pair of hose, to be precise) to become the single garment that we now call "a pair of pants." As I understand it, the word "pants" evolved from the word "pantaloons," a type of legged, female underskirt garment designed to cover their highly coveted naughty bits. This would make "pairs of underwear" a vestigial etymological remnant of a bygone wardrobe in our lexicon.

Note that since "pants" originated as a type of underwear, modern outerwear "pants" should properly be referred to as "trousers" since "pants" is specifically derivative of a type of undergarment and "trousers" are outerwear for the legs. This appears to be yet another difference in American and British English languages. They get it right, whereas we American's don't care what you call it so long as you can't see our legs.

It turns out that "men's cotton briefs," such as I received for Christmas, weren't even invented until the 1930s in Chicago, Illinois. Named for the 20th century male undergarment called a "jockstrap," they were designed and sold by a company which would later adopt their brand name as the company name: Jockey.

Now, all this thinking of underwear has reminded me of an editorial that I once wrote to the University of Georgia's student newspaper, The Red and Black. I took the opportunity to satirize the University community's overreaction to one editorial cartoon by criticizing another by my classmate Mack Williams (now an accomplished animator for Cartoon Network's Adult Swim program Frisky Dingo). What does this have to do with underwear, you ask? Simple: "culottes," a French underwear that appears to be a cross between a skirt and shorts. I quote from one of the many, many responses to my letter:

First we had someone decrying Williams' Feb. 26 cartoon as an insult to the soldiers who fought at Iwo Jima, when it should have been plainly obvious such an insult was not the cartoonist's intent. Now we've got someone with his culottes in a bunch over Williams' portrayal of poodles in a subsequent cartoon ("Poodles not often angry or mean dogs," Feb. 28). Poodles! Come down off the ledge, Stephens, and understand that the poodle in that cartoon was a symbol for something else -- the cartoon was not about poodles any more than it was about bulldogs or people with facial hair.

The full text can be read from the archives of The Red and Black online. The event played out in the editorial pages' "Mailbox" from February 28 through March 3, 2003. The highlight of the affair for me was this dialogue exchanged in the online feedback section:

I am stunned at how many people have been writing in about the initial poodle letter. I know Americans are supposed to be irony-free, but this is ridiculous. The letter was satirizing the Iwo Jima complaints. Come on, people, show that you deserve to be at college.

Which received the following response:

He wasn't satirizing anything, it was written by a mixed up old secretary who has his priorities all mixed up. Not everyone is as clever as you think they are.

Now THAT is satisfying journalism.

Hmm. I seem to be rambling. It must be the effects of too much cranberry sauce, Hershey's Christmas Kisses, sweet tea, pound cake, Coca-Cola, and Klondike Bars. I suppose the point of all of this rambling is that I associate 17th century women's underwear with poodles. (But I don't endorse putting poodles into women's underwear. That's just weird.)

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I know that in some situations you have little choice but to turn to crime. For example, there's Jean Valjean from Les Misérables who is forced to steal bread or starve to death. But I'm pretty sure that color-blindness isn't a very good reason to go stealing from people.

This here is the Rainbow Raider. His birth name, as you can see, is Roy G. Bivolo. And yes, he's been colorblind since birth, so he has no idea how bad his costume looks. A reason to be bitter? Sure. A reason to dress like a gay flag and steal paintings? No, probably not.

Um, no, thank you.

Comic books have always supported the "nurture over nature" theory of psychological development. I mean, giving your colorblind child a name like Roy G. Bivolo, you have to know that he's going to end up in a nuthouse. (Why can't you name him Dave? You probably need to stay away from Robert, though, because Bobby Bivolo is not a huge improvement.) If villains were intrinsically genetically bad and couldn't be cured, then heroes would have to come up with a better solution than catching them and locking them in cages, now wouldn't they? Comic book heroes love to give villains second, third, even fourth or more chances in order to learn their lesson. I mean, I've lost count of the number of times that Harvey Dent has had plastic surgery and yet he ALWAYS returns to a life of split personalities and Evil with a capital "E." It's never really his fault, of course. He wants to be good. But comic book writers are just conspiring against him.

There are dozens of characters like poor old Roy who feel they got a short end of the stick. I think most of them are probably Flash villains. (Captain Cold, Gorilla Grodd, Mirror Master, Pied Piper, Weather Wizard... and those are just the ones with the alliterative names! For a man who claims to be the fastest man alive, he sure has a lot of crap hanging on to him.) And they all just want revenge on the world for having their ridiculous theories, names, physical appearance, or whatever laughed at. What they really need is a hug.

In hindsight, I suppose that makes comics much superior to the real world, where those same people climb clock towers with rifles or run for political office.

Why do I mention this now? I don't need a reason, that's why.

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A friend of mine calls me and tells me that he's adding me to his cell phone favorites list. "Hey," he says, "do you want to be the skull-and-crossbones icon? It's the only thing in here that's even kind of Evil." Now THAT should be one of those sappy Peanuts "Friendship Is..." strips.

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I went to a job interview today. I'd blog about it, but I suspect that they would notice it here, so I'm going to keep my fingers shut. (Not that I have anything negative to say, I just made the cardinal mistake during a job interview: I was absolutely honest. Really, I should've known better. Lying was the first lesson the Boy Scouts taught me. No, wait, that's a lie. The first thing the Boy Scouts taught me was purse snatching. Ah, the good old days.)

It did, however, make me realize that I have a haphazard way of displaying my work here on my site. Some of my web design is with my links page mixed in with pages that I didn't create, and some minor bit of it is mixed in with my media page. I'll have to correct that soon, because now that I am aware of it, it's causing the base of my skull to itch.

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So, in addition to dog sitting, house sitting, attending weddings, applying for jobs and working on graphic and web design jobs, I've also been constructing a dollhouse. I like to stay busy.

The box proudly proclaims this kit to be from the "Mansions in Minutes" series. And sure enough, I completed it in minutes. Nearly 1,000 of them spread over three weeks of waiting for glue and paint to dry. Who says there's no truth in advertising?

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Once upon a time I was told that more people died on Mondays than any other day of the week. I also have heard that more people die during the Christmas season than any other time of the year. Since Christmas falls on a Monday this year, does that mean that there will be an exceptional number of fatalities this December 25? (2006: The Christmas of Death!)

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Today's blog entry was going to be about how much I hate those stupid inflatable yard holiday decorations, but then I realized that everything in the blog has been negative this month. So instead, let me mention something that I actually like: Heroes on NBC.

Heroes is up against Monday Night Football and is marketed to that group of television viewers that is disinterested in sports (you know, geeks and women). As much as I love comic books, I'm not going to bypass weekly football for a television show about, well, anything. I wouldn't have ever discovered this gem except for NBC's brilliant decision to also air it on their sister station SciFi Network on Fridays before Doctor Who, which I also love. And starting last week, NBC.com now streams old episodes so that I can catch up on the elements that I missed. (Heroes is as much an episodic serial as any other soap opera, so, believe me, there was a lot to catch up on.)

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: America loves super heroes. (I think it's part of the American Dream.) Despite the entertainment ghetto to which comic books have been traditionally relegated, they continue to inspire more popular entertainments such as movies and television shows. If this show was a comic, it would never reach the mass audience it deserves. And it's a blast to find a well-written television show that contains as much wonder, suspense, and excitement as an issue of Grant Morrison's JLA. If Superman Returns had been written half as well as this, it could have been among the greatest movies ever.

Yet despite being a television show designed for a mass audience, the show is very loyal to its comic book roots. (In one episode, a major character is revealed to be a member of the "Merry Marvel Marching Society." Sweet!) Heroes is an enjoyable mixture of X-Men meets X-Files with a hint of Smallville. Though this makes it a little predictable for longtime comic readers, it more than makes up for that with an enthusiastic and encouraging embrace of the super hero genre. In any given episode, you'll find such echos of such characters as DC's Phosphorus Man, Thorn, and Waverider, or Marvel's Cannonball, Rogue, and Shadowcat. Excelsior!

So there you go. Something I like. This blog will now resume its regularly scheduled bitching.

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I've now seen Superman Returns, and it sucks, just like I expected it would. Though, to be fair, I expect most things to suck, so this indicates no special prediction on my part. However, most of my pre-viewing complaints were proven completely accurate.

Don't spit on Superman's cape!

Sure, Routh does a fine job of impersonating Christopher Reeve, and Spacey makes a passable Gene Hackman. Too bad they were playing Superman and Lex Luthor instead. The rest of the cast seemed almost carelessly chosen. Bosworth's Lois is way too young and entirely too emotional. (Note to all future actresses who want to portray Lois: see Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hudsucker Proxy and emulate that. THAT's Lois Lane.) Langella's Perry White and Marsden's Richard White both lacked substance, but it could have just been poor scripting. Everything else was. And that's what tanked this baby.

The producers of the movie would have done well to follow the old entertainment maxim, "give 'em what they want." Superman is nearly 70 years old and has profitably appeared on popular radio, television, and movie programs for decades. Why now did they decide to modify the costume and give him a child? They didn't update Jimmy (other than giving him a digital camera) or Perry, Smallville or Ma Kent. No, the one thing that they shouldn't have changed is the one thing that they messed up. Here's a hint for the next film, Singer: if it ain't broke, keep your damn hands off it.

Stop reading now if you don't want spoilers to the movie.

He may be a dick, but he always does the right thing.

The universal gripe with the movie is Lois' child. Just as every real human being can tell that Clark Kent and Superman are the same person, every real audience goer can tell that the child is Clark's long before the "big reveal" when the child KILLS SOMEONE. The mere presence of this child completely ruins the story of the film, presenting an insurmountable obstacle to the necessary suspension of disbelief required to enjoy any fictional film, especially one with flying men.

First of all, I refuse to believe that Clark Kent would leave the planet Earth after having unprotected sex with Lois Lane before confirming that she was not pregnant. I don't know one American male who has had unprotected sex who hasn't at least briefly worried about the possibility of unwanted pregnancy. (It's the American Protestant upbringing, I suspect.) Even though he's an alien, I don't think Superman is that different from other Americans in that respect. I know that church-going Pa Kent gave young Clark the Birds-and-the-Bees story at least once, so I'm pretty sure that Clark knew the consequences of a wild night out with Little Superman in the driver's seat.

Superman #192: They think of everything.

Since this film is built on the stories of Superman and Superman II, it is perfectly reasonable to suppose that Superman could have knocked up Lois during the hours when he was powerless during Superman II. And under post-Crisis on Infinite Earths continuity, Superman didn't gain his powers until adolescence, saving Lois from any mortal wounds while carrying the super-sired child. This certainly bypasses the potential difficulty of super-sperm as related in Larry Niven's infamous essay. But I still say the Superman that I was weaned on would have checked in on the action in Lois' womb once his powers returned before departing for the remains of Krypton. It would have been the right thing to do. He would simultaneously be easing his own guilty mind while confirming his beloved Lois' state of health before abandoning her on his search for his roots. Anything else would have been cowardly, an adjective that should never be applied to Superman.

Secondly, during the course of the story, Superboy reveals that he has super-powers by killing a man with a piano. Though this action is in defense of his mother, the child should never have had to perform this action. One of the moral tenets that has served Superman well over the years has been the belief in the sacred right to life. Though Superman has had to deal with many crooks, thugs, miscreants, gangsters, criminals, and murderers, he has never killed any of them, thanks to the rigid moral upbringing that he received from his parents. He would be horrified if his progeny used his powers in such a way as to result in someone's death. The manslaughter of the criminal cannot be justified as self-defense for the child or the mother because if the child does have super-human power such as Superman, he had the means to prevent the death though other applications of super-strength. The child's choice to use strength kill was inevitably a failure by the parents, since the child could never be expected to make such a rational use of his power with his limited understanding of the world. He is, after all, a child. Lois' refusal to admit that the child was Superman's and Superman's refusal to live up to his responsibility resulted in the child receiving poor moral guidance for such inevitable situations. (Any child of Lois Lane is going to end up in life-threatening danger. It's in the genes.)

Silly? Yes. Suprman? Yes.

Worse yet, during the movie, Clark Kent is shown in a bar drinking a Budweiser with Jimmy Olsen. Ignoring the question of whether bow-tied Jimmy Olsen is old enough to drink beer, what is this scene supposed to show other than a promotion of an Anheuser-Busch product? Superman doesn't drink beer! Though he's presumably immune to the effects of alcohol (as well as any additional poisons), Clark would never drink booze, especially in front of his impressionable pal, Jimmy.

Superman is paranoid that he might lose control of his powers and harm someone. The theme of irresponsible use of power has been part of Superman's mythos since his radio days. There's a television episode ("Superman in Exile") where he chastises scientists for not knowing what powers they are unleashing from the atom. The Superman I grew up with wouldn't even risk imbibing and damaging his own judgment. He also wouldn't encourage Jimmy to drink by setting a bad example himself. Though it may be acceptable for Jimmy to kick one back and relax after work, Clark shouldn't and wouldn't encourage him. However, if Jimmy wanted to drink chocolate milk, that's a Quik Bunny of a different color. Superman has pitched everything from Kellogg's Frosted Flakes to Radio Shack Computers to American Express Credit Cards. But so far as I'm aware, he's never pitched for anything quite so dangerous or controversial as alcohol before. What's next? Superman handguns? After this movie, it ought to be condoms. Tsk, tsk, Warner Brothers, for handling a product placement in such an irresponsible manner.

Action Comics #6 predicted this in 1939.

It's clear that Singer and company simply don't understand what makes Superman super. More accurately, they probably don't care, preferring to make their fame and fortune by putting their stamp on an American icon. Singer and pals decided to simply tweak a formula established by a previous director in order to jumpstart a cash cow franchise. Nevermind that the 70s movies have a few plot problems and Christopher Reeve is dead. Nevermind that Superman is among the most well-known and cherished of American icons. They figured that they would just push on, changing all of the wrong things, and audiences would love it. It's exactly that sort of arrogance that caused the film to lose $70 million on its domestic release. According to Box Office Mojo, the film cost an estimated $270 million to make. If accurate, that makes it among the most expensive movies in history. But a flop by any other name....

America knows what it likes, and it doesn't much like Superman Returns. And I agree with them.

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