Thursday, 25 November 2010

How To Be Good: Gail Simone's Catman, The Secret Six & Revolutionary Character Change


When we last discussed the Secret Six on this blog, back in the distant summer days of early August, we chatted about Deadshot and of how his disposition had been so artfully clarified and developed by Gail Simone. In particular, we talked of how Ms Simone had cleverly and subtly established her take on the personality of Floyd Lawton so that he might both evolve as a character in the Secret Six and yet remain fully recognisable as a familiar mainstay of the DCU (*1). In that piece, and I shan't repeat here the argument I made there in any detail, I promise, I contended that this was an achievement that had received far too little attention and praise, for all that the Secret Six is a comic book much loved both by professionals and fans, and for all that Deadshot is a popular supporting character in today's DCU. And it struck me then, and it still does today, that Ms Simone works in such a modest and unshowy fashion that the uniquely innovative way that she handles character in her books is all too-often taken for granted, or even quite unfairly overlooked.


2.

We might say that Ms Simone's stewardship of Deadshot displays an evolutionary approach to character development. For it's obvious, of course, that Ms Simone had worked to identify a set of key and core psychological drives which might explain Floyd Lawton's behaviour in the DCU before she'd began to chronicle his misadventures, just as it's obvious that she's used that understanding to skillfully develop Deadshot ever since without ever irrevocably changing his established nature. And so, for all the subtle changes that Lawton has been subject to over the past five or so years, he'd still be immediately recognisable to anyone returning to read DC comics after a fair few years away. Indeed, our imaginary returnee might not at first even notice the slightest difference to Deadshot at all, which is of course the point. Ms Simone has made sure that Deadshot exists in a stable form that's always ready for duty elsewhere in DC's line of books, while at the same time ensuring that he exists as a distinctly three-dimensional character undergoing ingenious and self-consistent change in the pages of the Secret Six.

*1- That piece can be found in the August archive under the title of "Daddy Deadshot"


3.

But the attention that Ms Simone has given to Catman constitutes by contrast an undoubtedly revolutionary process, taking a profoundly unimpressive super-villain and transforming him into one of the most fascinating and popular of the second string characters in the DCU. In doing so, she's achieved the improbable transmutation of a contemptible and functionless Batman knock-off into something of a star, into a figure that could conceivably carry a mini-series or two on his own as well as maintaining his berth in the Secret Six. It's an almost unprecedented turn-about in popular appeal and critical acclaim, and it's one that would have been simply inconceivable, and in truth somewhat laughable, to anybody except Ms Simone just half a decade ago. This was, after all, Catman.

But most tellingly, what's made this radical take on the previously almost-utterly inconsequential Thomas Blake so compelling isn't the surface make-over that Ms Simone and her artistic collaborators have given him. After all, although Blake has had the range and depth and effectiveness of his powers and abilities greatly increased, and although he's now capable of believably holding his own against even the Batman for a moment or two, the increase in his value as a superpowered brawler can hardly explain why he's now such a prominent and engaging figure. Yes, Thomas Blake is, as Ms Simone has declared, now a "bad-ass", but then again, who isn't these days? The history of the post-Watchman


mainstream superhero can often seem to be little more than one example after another of previously unimpressive characters having their powers amped up and their fighting capacity increased. And time after time, such revamps usually succeed in doing little but destroying whatever limited appeal the characters involved previously had, while producing identi-kit grim'n'gritty also-rans in return. Another writer might, for example, choose to armour up the Signalman as a Wolverine-esque psychotic, and have Lex Luthor declare him to be a fearsome opponent, but that doesn't mean that the audience will either believe that this is true or feel pleasurably enticed into following the further adventures of Philip Cobb, Signalman, and certainly not as they're following the second life of Thomas Blake, the Catman.

So the fact that Catman is now a rather fearsome, claw-slashing fighter of whom even Talia al Ghul will speak highly of, and compare "for a moment" to the Batman, is in a very real way an almost irrelevant issue when assessing Thomas Blake's popularity. For Talia might indeed be temporarily seduced by Catman's appearance and bearing and find herself believing that he now possesses something of the substance of Bruce Wayne, but we readers will soon discover that that's not really true. Catman is, yes, a "bad-ass", but he's both a great deal more and considerably less than that term might usually imply, and there lies the reason for the character's appeal.


4.

"Mr Blake, it's clear that you've been through a transformative event." Talia declares when she and Dr Psycho first meet Ms Simone's thoroughly revised Catman, and those relatively-few readers who'd come across Blake before, and who'd succeeded in remembering him, could surely only agree with Ms al Ghul. Very muscular, considerably naked, surrounded and protected by five extremely intimidating lions, and a newly-minted master of jungle-king speak to boot -"Man has been in the business of attempting to make them extinct for decades." - Thomas Blake certainly doesn't seem anything like the "mere buffoon" that either the super-villains or the readers expected. And for awhile, it does seem as if the new Catman is a man transformed. He immediately establishes himself as the Secret Six's field leader, he defeats the incredibly-powerful Captain Nazi with little but a host of syringes inserted into the vile Abernathy's eyes, and he's even politically-engaged enough to denounce his opponent as a "dumb fascist Nazi"; it's hard not to be impressed by this Thomas Blake.


And yet, for all Blake's new physical abilities, and for all his undoubted bravery and determination, it soon becomes obvious that he's not a reformed character, although he is of course a transformed one. The self-loathing and shame that he's felt at his previous status as an obese, washed-up super-villain has indeed motivated him to change his life, but he's not changed nearly enough of the way in which he thinks and feels about the world at all. As the Huntress says of him, when he declares that he's as worthy as any other super-villain fighting for Neron's get-out-of-Hell card, he's not "repented" of the things he's done so much as regretted the failure that the pursuit of his previous goals brought him. He grasps that he's done some terrible things, or at least he does to a vague and ill-defined degree, but his solution is less to transform himself morally than reconstruct himself in terms of power, competence and focus. And in doing so, Thomas Blake has certainly turned himself in an impressive super-being, if not a super-hero, but he's still childish, egotistical, deficient in empathy and lacking the intellectual discipline to grasp the moral issues he thinks he's trying to fully engage with. He surrounds himself with comrades who are almost as morally compromised as can be imagined, engages with opponents who are even worse, and then judges his virtue in comparison to that of theirs.

It's as if Blake believes that, for example, arguing not to kill off the surviving guards of Vandal Savage's castle is in itself a definitively beneficient act despite the presence of all their slain and wounded brethern piled up on the ground around Catman and his colleagues.


And outside this closed circle of appalling super-villains and flawed superheroes exists the everyday world, wherein typical human beings attempt to live as best they can, and Blake rarely even notices them as they do so, unless it's to hurt them or keep them warily them at a distance.

For he just can't grasp, and he doesn't truly want to grasp, that being a good man isn't a question of doing a little better than some of those around him. Thomas Blake simply can't understand, because he's never learnt how to do so, that being somewhat less destructive than the worst of humanity isn't of itself a marker of the ethical life. At times, he sees glimmers of the fatal contradictions in his ideals and his behaviour, but he's too often locked into a myth of how he's doing the best that he can, despite the opinions of those judgemental and hypocritical superheroes he keeps running across. And so he stumbles along, an endless series of easily foreseeable and avoidable disasters before him, and he carries the best of intentions along with the most compromised of methods and every step forward he takes is immediately complimented with a traumatic step backwards. For he so often lets himself believe that he really is trying to be a better man, an admirable man, and an honourable man, but he's not, and so he's always going to fall short, because he doesn't truly understand what a good and honourable man might be.

Even if he were really trying to be good, he couldn't get there from here.


And that's what makes Thomas Blake such a fascinating character. He's marked by short-term strategies, a massive shortfall in empathy, sloppy and impulsive thinking, and a heart full of shame and self-pity. He exists in the stage of moral development that we might expect to find a typical if somewhat alienated pre-pubescent in, raging against authority for the inequity of its hypocrisies while longing for authority to respect the flawed and limited steps towards the good that he makes.

He wants to do well, he really does, except for the times when he wants very much to do terrible things instead, and so there's always a sense that Thomas Blake is just one second away from committing the most shameful, unforgivable sins, no matter how many times he manages to throw a punch or two on the side of the angels.


5.

To take but two moments which sum up the fact that Catman's emotional and intellectual development hasn't proceeded a pace with his physical capacity to, for example, down a superhero as competent as the Bronze Tiger, or his ability to charm and excite a super-heroine such as the Huntress, who rather improbably declares that she only likes "nice boys" while swooning in his presence;

a. He knowingly delivers up the unconscious body of Wonder Woman into the hands of Smyth, a creature so morally repellent that even Ragdoll refers to him as "not a nice man" before murdering him. And Blake does so despite knowing that Smyth will undoubtedly kill Diana, and in a particularly gruesome fashion too. That Blake later has a change of heart isn't a badge of honour or redemption; any man whose conscience only kicks in after it's had a great deal of time to consider whether letting the monstrous Grendal murder Wonder Woman is a good idea is in no way morally competent. The fact that the reader is left suspecting that Catman was at the very least willing to see Princess Diana suffer simply because Blake resents how certain superheroes, or rather "little dictators", "sneer" and show "contempt" for him merely cleverly underscores how egotistical his ethical calculations are.


That those superheroes are often right, if somewhat uncharitable, to sneer and show contempt for a mass murderer, thief and mercenary such as Blake completely passes him by. "One saves a terrorist, one kills a terrorist. Who did more in for the world, in the end?" he asks of Ragdoll and Bane, and the very question, as well as the audience it's addressed to, damns Catman without any other word needing to be said.


b. Blake's inability to grasp that asking Deadshot, of all people, to help him with his moral quandaries is an utterly futile business which brilliantly shows how ethically deluded he is. It's not so much that Floyd's advice is as practically useless as it's morally compromised, but rather the fact that Blake could even think of asking Deadshot questions about whether their murderous natures are the result of nature or nurture. It's a scene that's as chilling as it's hilarious; Floyd Lawton is a repugnant if at-times roguish killer whose emotions are so suppressed that he's effectively sociopathic. No-one with the slightest concept of what "evil" might be would ask Deadshot to define its causes and cures.

But it's also a mark of how terribly confused and touchingly lonely Catman is, that all he's got is Deadshot to turn to, and that's an unhappy truth that helps endear us to the character even as Catman is thinking and behaving in a quite repellent fashion. No matter how hard he tries, no matter how much he achieves, Catman can never reach a point where he can rest and feel satisfied, because he doesn't grasp, again, what that might involve. And in that contradiction, between his muscles and his mind, between his desire to do the right thing and his ability and willingness to do so, lies, I believe, the particular and considerable appeal of Gail Simone's revolutionary reinvention of Catman. We just can't help but care for this lost and lonely boy, just as we ought to never forget that he's a profundly deluded and dangerous man.


6.

Having sat down and re-read the various Secret Six collections again in the past few days, including the newly-released "Danse Macabre", I'm at a loss to know if there's a more piteous moment in the whole run than Catman's first appearance in "Villain's United". Of course, there are scenes concerning other members of the Six which immediately arouse the reader's sympathy, such as those showing Scandal's despair at the loss of Knockout, or even that of Ragdoll betraying the unsuspecting and terribly vulnerable Mad Hatter, but there's nothing to match the melancholy that's inspired by a reacquaintance with what appears to be Thomas Blake's finest hour. There he suddenly is, an unexpectedly impressive presence standing half-naked in the wilds of the north-west of South Africa, all defiance and threat, a man who has, as Talia says, "remade himself", become "Admirable", commanding a pride of beasts and facing down the frankly terrifying Dr Psycho and, through him, the might of Lex Luthor's "Society". It appears to be one of those defining moments which marks the point at which a reborn, newly-heroic figure reappears from a season in the wilderness and takes his place as a force for justice in the world.


But of course, that's all an illusion, and, within days, even the lions who stand so loyally and ferociously by Catman will be slaughtered by Deadshot. The opinion of Talia al Ghul may seem to count for something, when it's her power and intelligence that's being positioned straight in front of the reader's eye, but then, Talia isn't a woman known for her empathy or moral perception either; she's not a trustworthy source for the reader to use to assess the success of Catman's remaking of himself. If we trust her first impressions, and those lent to us by Dale Eaglesham's art, which celebrates a supremely self-confident and steamingly sexual Catman, we might indeed think that Blake has made himself into a man of some "stature" even beyond that indicated by those considerable muscles and that knee-melting stare.

But Thomas Blake has remade himself in the only way he can conceive of, which is, somewhat counter-productively, to turn himself into a well-functioning leader of a society of lions rather than a better human being. Within the fundamental and relatively simple social structures of his pride, he has indeed earned himself a place of authority and worth. He's recreated himself, focused himself, made himself something of a different and far more impressive creature, and he's no longer the overweight loser who even other underachieving supervillains laughed at. But for all that he's changed, he's only changed by becoming a beast. He wanted to be relied upon and respected rather than mocked, and he's achieved that, but not in the context of a life with other, typical human beings. He's not mastered the complexities of human decision making or developed his empathic understanding of other people. He's not learned to grasp how morality exists separate to his own individual desires, and even his communication skills remain somewhat basic, as the simple and chuckle-inducing example of his licking of the Huntress's neck during their first dance might testify.


Human society is of course infinitely more complex and demanding than that of a small community of lions in the South African hills, and heading a pride is of course no preparation for becoming a productive and socially engaged member of a modern nation-state. And so whatever impressive changes Catman has achieved for himself physically, the root causes of his consistently dysfunctional behaviour remain unrecognised, let alone untreated. Thomas Blake might have better saved himself all the sacrifices he made during his African sojourn and invested in a demanding programme of cognitive and emotional development in a therapeutic community instead. That might have taught Blake how to be a human being rather than giving him a better understanding of what it means to be a highly competent lion.

But no, being a lion has brought him a measure of the respect and purpose that he's never known, just as it's trapped him in a role that dooms every enterprise he embarks upon beyond the occasional punch-up.


"That bastard is part of my pride." says Catman to a man he's stabbing to death in retaliation for an assault on Bane, "He dies when I say.", and it all sounds rather commanding and noble until the reader disconnects from the sentimentality of the scene and asks themselves whether the basis for practical, let alone ethical, action is to think like a dominant lioness would.

No wonder poor Thomas Blake is such a mess, and no wonder he causes such great harm. If only he'd aspired to be a more rounded person rather than a more perfect beast, he and a great many more folks might have lived far less wounded and unhappy lives.

To be continued and concluded tomorrow;


I hope the reader will forgive the fact that this waiting-for-the-trade reader has even avoided as best he might the basic content-descriptions of the Secret Six's adventures beyond Danse Macabre. This piece therefore only covers the 6 collections up to and including Danse Macabre. And I also hope, as always, that your day is splendid, that you're sticking together, and that you might be back for the second and final piece of this look at Catman, and then, beyond that, for a chatter about Marvel's new Heroic Age compilation.

.

20 comments:

  1. This only serves to remind me I am behind in my Secret Six trade reading (they seem to go out of print on this side of the pond surprisingly quickly) but it has inspired me to track the last couple down and box them off.

    Again inspiring comments about how you can play in a corporation's toybox and round out characters without breaking them - so often you get the feeling a writer comes in with an idea and picks so z-list sap to hammer through the round hole of their idea. It takes a lot more skill to try to identify the core elements of a character and then work to expand them to make them interesting and relevant to a modern audience. It also reinforces my feelings that the real innovation and development with characters and stories often takes place away from the limelight the A-listers exist in (with the restrictions on what can and can't be done, along with heavier editorial intereference, that goes with it) and the line from Moore's Swamp Thing (and Watchmen to a degree, although they didn't share a larger fictional universe, so the gloves were off) and Morrison's Animal Man runs through to the Secret Six today. Even looked at from a cynically business-orientated point-of-view there has to be this space for people to play with existing characters to find new IP that can support their own franchise (as you, rightly, suggest Catman may be able to). The rapid cancelling of a lot of new series, partly because the readers don't seem them as "important" for core continuity suggests this room to tinker and innovate is shrinking in these straitened times. If so the health of the Big Two could suffer too.

    "Another writer might, for example, choose to armour up the Signalman as a Wolverine-esque psychotic, and have Lex Luthor declare him to be a fearsome opponent, but that doesn't mean that the audience will either believe that this is true or feel pleasurably enticed into following the further adventures of Philip Cobb, Signalman"

    You say that (and obviously "a Wolverine-esque psychotic" is not that viable option) but a character whose whole remit is the power of signs and symbols is one that could have merit given modern society's obsession with logos, especially as his skill set includes a crude mind control device. So there is social relevance, perhaps riffing on culture jamming and/or Situationism. It could also be argued that a knowledge of these symbols and the ability to manipulate them opens up avenues for an upgrade of his threat level (which could also include some kind of reference to sigils). Just a quick back of the envelope sketch of how he could have potential, at least more than he has now as a walk-on joke character. A lot of characters do, even though apparently daft Golden and Silver Age ones. That said Calendar Man might need a bit more work, although it is worth bearing in mind that he was once in The Misfits with Catman (and Killer Moth who has been upgraded a couple of times in the last couple of decades and appeared in Secret Six), so there is perhaps hope for everyone - my first encounter with him was in Batman #312 where he had a different power/outfit based on the inspiration for each day of the week and there must be something you could do with that, possibly his abilities change over the year making him powerful some days and a push-over on others, perhaps he gets the Power of Love on Valentine's Day. OK perhaps not. Best stop there I think, as I've rambled on far beyond my simple initial point - thanks for the reminder to track down the rest of the trades.

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  2. Hello Emperor:- I think it’s great that I might in some small way inspire you to pick up a Secret Six trade or two. They’re good books, aren’t they, and they DO go out of print insanely quickly. There’s a flaw in someone’s business model somewhere. I’m not blessed with too much disposable income and at times I’ve had to choose whether to invest in OOP collections which cost rather more than might be expected or hoped. I was a late-comer to the book, so of course early collections had disappeared. It’s a tough market out there, I know, and I guess the money isn’t there to keep stock in play. And yet, without books that can be easily found and relatively cheaply bought, series with less of a public profile can end up losing sales.

    I keep saying it, and yet it keeps being true, that I’ve learned more about character from reading Ms Simone’s scripts on the Six than I have from just about anything else this year. And it’s that ability to keep a character “fit-for-purpose” in the wider DCU while still developing them that I most admire. And between the evolutionary and revolutionary character work she does, if I might use those terms for shorthand, there’s enough craft on show to learn from to keep the mind turning for a good while.

    Of course, the Signalman could be transformed. I totally agree. But just making him bad-ass wouldn’t do the job, and that was a point that I found really helpful to understand more clearly; the powers really don’t matter, do they, in the sense that audiences essentially respond to character rather than claws and energy bolts.

    Of course, the super-powered ability to make string even more stringy might not exactly be a big draw, but perhaps, in that case, the character work would have to be even more spectacularly good.

    But of course you know that. You’re riffing off that principle as you discuss the Signalman. Perhaps in one of your guerrilla what-ifs, since you’re breaking international copyright anyway, you might redevelop the Man Of The Calendar even as you remake the end of Second Coming? I’d buy it ….

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  3. I was actually there at the start but my attention had wandered and I found myself lagging behind but I seem to be getting on top of things. You are right about the speed these books sell out, it seems to be missing out on quite a few potential sales.

    It is a good point about being fit-for-purpose because a lot of character reboots are done for a specific purpose and while the story might be good, the character is pretty much broken. So the rebooted character is not only such a leap from the earlier one that they aren't recognisable but there is little you can actually do with the afterwards. They either get put back in the box or have to be rebooted again if anyone wanted them to use them.

    You are also right about powers not being the most important aspect - the key is the character, their history and motivation. It is like two of the secrets of comedy - character an situation. Once you have them down you don't need to run them through a one note story and put them away, they are good for a longer run.

    "Perhaps in one of your guerrilla what-ifs, since you’re breaking international copyright anyway, you might redevelop the Man Of The Calendar even as you remake the end of Second Coming? I’d buy it …. "

    I thought I recognised my ponderings on Calendar Man - I had an idea for a Vatican-based superhero called Patron Saint. It'd all be a bit tongue-in-cheek but they'd end up getting mystical powers in line with whatever the saint was connected to. So it is still a bit silly but I'm sure something could be done with the character without making him a laughing stock or a generic/derivative stock character. Although it may be there are some characters whose whole raison d'etre is so daft there is nothing you can do with it ;)

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  4. Good stuff.

    And the most telling scene for Catman's morality? Him angsting about morality to Deadshot and, until Deadshot himself reminds him, utterly failing to notice that there were two people in deadly danger and he's just left them there.

    - Charles RB

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  5. Hello Emperor:- may I start where you concluded? There is NO character so silly, so daft, that they can't be well used. And my evidence, m'lud, is Bwana Beast, who was used so fantastically well in Justice League Unlimited and then again in Batman: Brave And The Bold. The mainstream DCU never succeeded in reworking him; the intentions were good, but a necessary-at-the-time worthiness got in the way of fun.

    I think there are problems with the Secret Six that can stand in the way of readers sticking by it. The lack of artistic continuity is a real problem, it really is, as well as the presence of some artists still only learning their trade. It's not that folks aren't working hard, but it is that Ms Simone's scripts are incredibly demanding by virtue of being well-written. She's so precise in how she writes that artists need to be very good at body language, facial expressions and a host of other demands. You can see how on-the-ball artists have to be when you study the great mass ranks of super-people in her set-pieces. Everyone has a story to tell, every character relates to every other one; it's a tough call and the Six hasn't always had the best artists on it. I think it's hurt the book a great deal, and it's notable how much better the scripts seem when a truly competent artist is working on the Six; I know that's obvious, but because of the human dimension and subtlety of Ms Simone's scripts, it's even more true here.

    "Patron Saint" sounds worryingly like one of Mark Millar's 2000ad tales from the early to mid-90s. I'm sure it's not, but still; those comics are as terrible as the likes of the Ultimates are superb. Actually they inspire me too; to see how fast Mr Millar improves through his hard work in the late 90s and onwards is astonishing. I don't think alot of his British contemporaries from the 90s have ever been able to own up to how very fine a writer he turned himself into ...

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  6. Hello Charles:- oh I agree, and my evidence, m'lud, is that I've referenced said scene in the second and final piece on Catman tonight, which went up about an hour ago. As always, Mr C, you anticipate my thinking.

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  7. re Millar: you know, aside from Garth Ennis (I'm not counting Grant Morrison as he and Millar are mates) I can't remember many of the other 90s-writers praising Millar - OTOH, I'm not entirely sure how often they've been asked.

    Wait, no, remembered John Smith has as well.

    - Charles RB

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  8. I am a fan of the Martian Manhunter to the point of pseudo worship; he my god of many things, mostly of being unlucky and often trod upon by fate. I offer this fact as context to what I'm about to say about Catman. If you were to look at one Martian Manunter comic from each era he appeared in, from the 50's to the present day, you would see some distinct personality differences to go with the visual look of him. This is true of Superman and Batman as well, although the more popular you are, the more immune to large swings in mood you tend to be.

    On to Catman:

    I was vaguely aware that he existed but knew little but the obvious about the fellow until Ms. Simone got her hooks into him. I've since come across Alan Grant's work with him in the early nineties, a fun one-and-done in Detective, and as part of the three issue supervillain team The Misfits, with a much improved costume (I believe it to be Norm Breyfogle's design). His personality there was a more cavalier Batman with loose morals. He comes off as a likable asshole with high ability and low drive. Distinct from the current version with his deep neuroses and at times vicious nature, but only slightly more so than today's Batman compared to Alan Grant's version. I really liked Grant's take on Batman, as he was far less self absorbed than writers in the 2000's have made him (Although Morrison appears to be fixing that with Batman inc).

    I've not read Meltzer's GA stuff, since GA isn't fully my thing and Meltzer left me a little cold from Identity Crisis on to the rebooted Justice League, but I got the drift from Villains United's flashback.

    Long story short, I find it fun to follow a minor character through history, and through different creators, often each with valid takes. What is kept and what is forgotten depends on the popularity and the frequency of a given interpretation. I am certain that Simone has given us a definitive version that will carry forward for quite some time. That said, I think it would be fun to see some sort of Earth 2 where Grant's more smarmy take was the prevalent one.

    But yeah, great writing as usual, I wait with bated breath for part two.

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  9. Hello Charles:- it's true that the young Mark Millar gathered less praise for his work in the Brit comics of the 1990-5 period than his later achievement might lead us to expect. I recall Neil Gaiman being respectful to Millar's Saviour, and yes, John Smith has spoken fondly of him too. But those faux-shocking tactics he and GM adopted to attract attention did get the backs of some of his fellow creators up.

    Thank God I was never anywhere near the media during my late teens and early twenties. It must be incredibly hard not to do things that you wouldn't ever think of doing in later life.

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  10. Hello mathematicscore - and thank you for leaving that comment. I have only a passing knowledge with the take of Catman you present me with and knowing what you've told only increases my respect for the job that Ms Simone has done. I too LOVED Mr Grant's take on Batman. I recall, and I hope accurately, that he introduced Harold, and a Bat-Dog (!, had Bruce Wayne start sponsering kids from the even-harder side of Gotham, and generally produced a Dark Knight that's worthy of a great deal more attention now than it's often granted. Similarly, Mr Breyfogye's art on Batman was a real high-point during a period often blighted by sub-Image artwork.

    I really must check if I've still got those Misfits issues at the bottom of a box somewhere. Thank you for the steer in that direction.

    I too find it effort of will at times to follow the various reinventions of especially minor characters. I'm four decades into reading comics, so there does come a point when something has to be good to be memorable, whereas the younger me would happily memorise the details of utter rubbish! But Ms Simone's Catman is certainly a thing of wonder, as you say. Why Catman isn't winning favourite character polls escapes me.

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  11. "
    "Patron Saint" sounds worryingly like one of Mark Millar's 2000ad tales from the early to mid-90s. I'm sure it's not, but still; those comics are as terrible as the likes of the Ultimates are superb. Actually they inspire me too; to see how fast Mr Millar improves through his hard work in the late 90s and onwards is astonishing. I don't think alot of his British contemporaries from the 90s have ever been able to own up to how very fine a writer he turned himself into ... "

    Oh quite possibly. The point though is that it was a silly throwaway character, not the main figure in a long running storyline that overstayed its already meagre welcome. ;)

    "re Millar: you know, aside from Garth Ennis (I'm not counting Grant Morrison as he and Millar are mates) I can't remember many of the other 90s-writers praising Millar - OTOH, I'm not entirely sure how often they've been asked.

    Wait, no, remembered John Smith has as well."

    Indeed - John still speaks highly of Mark Millar and his work.

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  12. Emperor, I still want to see Patron Saint. If Bwana Beast can have his own action figure ....

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  13. Ah well the beauty of a Patron Saint action figure is you have (at least*) 356 different outfits - the St Valentine's one would be especially big sellers, some of more obscure saints would be less popular, like Saint Balbina (patron saint of scrofula).

    * There are too many to fit in a year so you'd end up with them sharing days, which could lead to some odd power combos.

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  14. Want the Saint Balbina variant figure for my Patron Saint collection.

    Want my Patron Saint collection.

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  15. These analysis pieces you do are frightening, Colin. Honestly, how you pick up things that I think are completely subtextual with such regularity is almost discomforting.

    Another fascinating piece.

    I do believe any character is redeemable, and I believe it's always possible to do it without taking shortcuts or going the cheap way. You don't have to spit on the past to look to the future. I always feel that's sort of a bush league approach.

    There are times when my approach works, like I conceitedly feel it does with Catman, and times when I wish I'd had more time to tend that garden, such as with the new Judomaster, who failed to really show the personality I felt she deserved. But I do know the secret is care and hard work, if there is such a secret at all.

    And it's interesting, your discussion here of Signalman. I've said it before, but Villains United was originally going to have Catman AND Kite-man, who was going to be revealed to be the smartest man in the entire world. I still love that idea, but DC felt that would be asking too much of the reader, to accept two former morts in one book.

    It turned out better, in a way, because I believe Catman's transformation is the soul of the original mini and interesting in a metatextual manner as well. But to have Kiteman revealed to be smarter than Batman, smarter than Luthor--that would have set some fires burning!

    Terrific stuff as always. When is your book coming out?

    Gail

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  16. Just brilliant. I love the things you've picked out and how you've managed to help half-formed thoughts of my own coalesce with your rather astute observances.

    Thanks

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  17. Hello, Ms Simone:- I absolutely love the passion with which you express your belief in the value of character and of the value of the discipline by which character can be created. It’s inspiring. And, as an example of that, I’m fascinated by that conception of Kite-Man. There were shades of that in how you so radically reshaped the Mad Hatter. I never thought I’d ever be in a position to say that the Mad Hatter is one of my favourite characters, but it’s true. He’s as endearing as he is utterly repugnant. I think there ought to be a Mad-Hatter Team-Up monthly from DC. Well, I’d buy it ….

    The work on the Mark Millar is progressing well, thank you. If only he‘d written work that was of no consequence at all in one fashion or another and which I could just dismiss, it’d be going a lot quicker!

    Thank you for your kind words. They are always appreciated over here in the snow-buried East of England.

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  18. Hello, pseudicide:- I do appreciate the kind words. It's a nerve-wracking business writing about Ms Simone's work in some ways, for she has a readership that really does know its stuff in some considerable detail. As a consequence, a kind comment such as yours carries all the more meaning. Thank you.

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  19. So I just discovered your blog and think it is pretty fantastic. I am a big Secret Six fan myself and have really enjoyed your articles on Catman and Deadshot. Ever since the announcement of the series' cancellation I guess I've become quite nostalgic as I've spent the past few days reading different editorials and reviews about Secret Six and its characters. You brought up certain aspects of their personalities and actions that I hadn't even noticed, and this has unsurprisinlgy compelled me go back and re-read my old TPBs and single issues. I was wondering if you had considered writing a retrospective of the series or updated deconstructions of Catman and Deadshot as a lot has happened to the characters this past year(especially to Catman after the Cat's Cradle arc) and it would be interesting to see if your views for those characters and the series has changed if at all.

    Thanks and keep up the good work!

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  20. Hello Mike:- thank you for your kind and encouraging words. They are much appreciated. I too have felt rather wistful about the Six, as of course will be obvious. As I've said elsewhere on the blog, I've learned more about the craft of comic book storytelling from the Six than from anywhere else. Now, I'm not suggesting I know anything more than an atom of what I should, but a great deal of that comes from reading the Six's (mis) adventures. It's really heartening to think that some of that enthusiasm communicated itself.

    I'm very much thinking about how to approach the Six's passing. I have touched a little on the Cat's Cradle story, but not in any depth. I certainly will be going back to the well, and hopefully when the TPBs finish off the run. There's only two collections to go and I believe they'll still be published. (Though of course I could be very wrong :)) I suspect that might be a grand time to really enjoy writing about the series while having the run as a whole completed before me.

    Yet reading your words and writing this, I do feel the old enthisiasm for the Six ....

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