Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Hundred Acre Would-Have-Been

headshotjeremy Alex Ross recenly cracked the internet in half (or at least dented it) with a comment about Geoff Johns putting Obsidian in the JSA to keep other writers from "molesting" him. Since the only writer to do anything of note to Obsidian in the last few years was Marc Andreyko, and since Marc made Obsidian a gay man in a healthy relationship with his boyfriend, Ross' use of the word "molesting" makes him come off as a complete tool. Not as much of a tool as other comic book artist loudmouths like John Byrne or Ethan Van Sciver, but still--! What irks me about his comment almost as much as the barely-concealed homophobia is the very notion that Geoff Johns doesn't molest characters! In his last JSA run, Johns made Obsidian a crazy supervillain, and after having his dad put him in his place, made him a pathetic, anemic character who only ever appeared on panel to look contrite. Among Johns' other accomplishments: making Nuklon/Atom Smasher an angst-ridden murderer.

Admittedly, Nuklon and Obsidian weren't great characters to start out with. But there was a writer between their creator Roy Thomas and their ruiner Geoff Johns who found a great angle on both of them. And that was Gerard Jones in the pages of "Justice League America" circa 1994-1995. And his angle was to write the duo as Tigger and Eyore. Er, Nuklon being "Tigger" of course.


Ignoring for a moment Fire, who is quite literally "horning" in on the couple with a scheme to seduce Nuklon, this is a great capsule look at the two heroes. This is in "Justice League America" #0 (October 1994) and it was my first real exposure to Nuklon and Obsidian. And I loved them. You can see here that Nuklon's costume has been cleaned up and streamlined. It's no longer covered with that weird black bubbly trim that was all over the place. His stupid Rambo headband is gone, and the laughable mohawk has been grown out and tied into a ponytail. Hey, it was the 90's. Alright, so the hair is still a bit goofy but at least he doesn't look like some middle-aged man's idea of a punk rocker. (Nuklon as a "punk" was about on-the-money as Ernie Bushmiller's idea of a hippie.) But I can buy this as a hairstyle the cornfed young Nuklon might wear. I've seen it on plenty of teenagers in the Midwest, especially back around that time. So it's plausible for a guy who wants to be kind-of hip. But isn't. Still better than that goofball wrestler mask, Alex Ross. Note also the posture. Hands on the hips, good old-fashioned happy hero stuff. (Which is probably punishable by death under the current Dan Didio regime.) By contrast, there's Obsidian... with a tummy ache. Aw! Sadly, Obisidian is right about there being a punchline in his future, and the joke's author would be Geoff Johns. Grrr....


Here's the duo in action, bantering like a classic comedy team. (From "Justice League America" #94, December 1994.) Obsidian is a pessimist, sure, but he's a witty pessimist, which is what makes it tolerable. And while Nuklon's relentless optimism might be grating to some, he's also a true pal and a constant booster for his friend. Now, let's see how they work with other characters in the book.


Holy shit... Nuklon is the Tick! Just imagine... Ben Edlund on a Nuklon/Obsidian series. What a missed opportunity! Nuklon, who can't even bring himself to cuss, spends a lot of time fighting off Fire's advances in "Justice League America" #95 (January 1995). As she presses her boobalicious form against his slab-like body, Nuklon asks Fire to do a favor for him: "Could you please zip up your clothes?" Heh.


Also in that issue, Obsidian's sad-sack routine works equally as well with a different foil. The foil in this case is the Crimson Fox. Which might be a clue as to why the book tanked and was replaced with the Grant Morrison all-star version. Ah, well. The only real shame here is that Nuklon and Obsidian were split up and put in the hands of writers whose personalities (for the most part) were more like Obsidian's and less like Nuklon's.


Anonymous said...

I agree with a lot of what you have said, but I've got to defend the character of the Crimson Fox. As originally conceived, as twin sisters who share a superhero identity, was a pretty neat concept, but both sisters were killed senselessly (By Gerard Jones and James Robinson) and their potential was never realized.

Alex Ross probably didn't know what had been done with Obsidian over in "Manhunter" and was speaking from hearsay. But regardless of that, I hold Ross, Johns, Didio, Winnick, and their angst-obsessed ilk responsible for the overly grim tone of DC Comics lately. It wouldn't be so bad except Quesada, Millar, and Bendis are doing the same thing over at Marvel. What's wrong with all of these guys? They grew up with the comics of the 60s, 70s, and 80s, some of the most fun comics around. Why do they feel the need to inject so much pain and anguish into their stories?

SallyP said...

It almost looks as though they were trying to make Obsidian and Nuklon the Booster and Beetle of the updated League. Unfortunately, that sort of lightning in a bottle can't be duplicated.

But yes, Obsidian is fun in Manhunter.

Anonymous said...

It's funny--I just yesterday was posting on Usenet about how Johns never writes a story that doesn't seriously damage somebody. Glad to know I'm not the only one who realizes that. That dude is depressing.

Unknown said...

After seeing Geoff Johns create and destroy a hero in one issue (Mr. America in JSA), I have to say I'll be happy to never read another comic by the man again.

Those Obsidian and Nuklon scenes are pretty funny, actually. Maybe I should have given that series a chance back in the day.

Jon the Intergalactic Gladiator said...

How Does Fox get her (or their, I guess) hair to do that?

Jeremy Rizza said...

Anonymous: I agree with you that the Crimson Fox had an interesting concept but I think she was hurt by an ugly costume and boring powers. (What did she do, anyway? Wasn't she just athletic?)

Sallyp: I never thought about it that way before. I think you're right!

Justin: Amen to that.

Fortress Keeper: The main reason I bought those comics was for the characters. The actual villains and plots were kinda stupid, though. (This was during Power Girl's Atlantean phase.) You didn't miss much.

Jon: It's not hair. It's just a really convoluted snood.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, that was just a hat Crimson Fox wore. It was kind of weird-looking. One of the twins went with a more traditional mask-with-fox-ears cowl later on.

Crimson Fox had typical comic book "animal" powers-super agility, super sense of smell, claws, plus she had a "pheromone" power that could entrance men. She was also a wealthy publishing and costmetics mogul, which gave her lots of other resources.

I lost track of which twin was which after a while, and which one liked Captain Atom and which one liked Metamorpho, and which one liked Amazing Man.

Anonymous said...

I like Geoff John's stories, looks like I'm the only one here. And I like Atom Smasher (name and costume) better than Nuklon...

What happened to Obsidian in Manhunter?

BB, are you certain Alex Ross used the word "molested" as in "revealing character is gay"?!?!?!

Jeremy Rizza said...

MaGnUs, I'm not sure what to make of Geoff Johns' writing sometimes. And I've read a ton of it, including all of his JSA issues, the first couple of years and the last year of his Flash run, and every issue of Stars & S.T.R.I.P.E. My problem with him is that he can get too depressing for my tastes. That's one of the reasons I stopped buying the Flash for a while; everybody in the book was just miserable (and the hideous, grimy-looking Scott Kolins artwork didn't help). Also, a lot of his villains tend to be one-note super-sadists without much going on in their personalities beyond being evil and quite happy about it. I can recall a couple of stories where the bad guy threatened to "drag (the hero's) soul (or psyche) through the mud." (One was Gorilla Grodd, I think, and the other might have been the Top, or maybe a baddie in JSA.) I'm sorry, but I think that's going way too grim for a mainstream superhero story. I'll probably just stop buying Johns' books, just like I've done with some other popular writers (for different reasons).

I like the "Atom Smasher" name better than "Nuklon" (although I never really had a problem with "Nuklon" for reasons unknown even to myself) but I'm not fond of the Atom Smasher costume. I don't like the electric-blue wrestler mask, because it robs the character of expression and it's too reminiscent (for me) of vigilantes and rioters. Again, way too serious. Yes, the Golden Age Atom had one and I'm sure the reason behind the design is pure nostalgia. I don't care. Also, I don't like the cut of the costume, with the bare arms coming out of a top that looks like a tacky "muscle shirt" (I have the same problem with the original Thor costume) and I don't like the inexplicably puffy trim. In fact, I didn't like "Kingdom Come" and I don't like a lot of Alex Ross' costume designs and I absolutely hate most of his simple-minded character concepts. ("Arthur Curry _+ King of Atlantis = King Arthur!" "Let's give the Black Panther an actual panther head!" "Tony Stark = Howard Hughes!" Bah!) Which is another reason I'm considering dropping JSA. Sure, I like Maxine Hunkel but with Johns at the wheel it's only a matter of time before she witnesses a loved one getting shot in the head.

I try to avoid knee-jerk reactions and I don't know that anybody could be 100% sure about Ross' intentions, but to me and a lot of other people his words at least seemed like a Freudian slip. And honestly, what else had been done with the character in recent years (and not counting what was done to him by Ross' current collaborator, Geoff Johns)? Ross later issued a statement saying he'd never intended his words to be taken as a gay slur. He apparently preferred the character as written in "Infinity Incorporated." To which I say, "Yawn!"