Don’t You Forget About Me: An Ode to Flatman.

22 02 2015

2620691-gla002First things first: If you are not reading and/or thoroughly enjoying Ryan North and Erica Henderson’s incredibly delightful little book, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, please take a long hard look in the mirror and attempt to figure out where your taste in comic books veered of course.

While it’s true, and quite canon, that Squirrel Girl managed to take out Doctor Doom in her first Marvel appearance, it wasn’t until nearly a decade later that she became a (not really) household name. During that time, Doreen Green (the aforementioned squirrel whisperer) answered the desperate recruitment drive of the Great Lakes Avengers in New York City, becoming the team’s newest member.

While their unquestionable enthusiasm for heroics is palpable, the GLA’s team members’ power sets are a bit odd and useless… at least in the eyes of the world’s more seasoned superheroes. Amongst this group of well-meaning do-gooders is Dr. Val Ventura, the mutant known as Flatman. With his two-dimensional elastic body and origami shapeshifting abilities, it’s no wonder why he is the second-in-command of these Wisconsin guardians.

Val Ventura, a doctor of “stuff” (yes, his doctoral background may be more questionable than not), was first introduced in the pages of the second volume of West Coast Avengers in 1989. His uncanny knowledge of fashion (while earning his PhD, he allegedly managed to squeeze in a few fashion classes) has proven an invaluable tool when it comes to solving crimes. At one point, Dr. Ventura was not only able to identify a particular woman’s shoe, but also describe it in detail. Think Sherlock Holmes with Carrie Bradshaw’s knowledge of footwear.

Through team identity crises (Great Lakes Avengers/X-Men/Initiative/Champions?) and battles against S&M slaves and killer Christmas trees, Flatman has (not really) left his mark on the Marvel Universe for better or worse:

1050235-flatman10Flatman knows the importance of gayming: In the time leading up to the incident in Stamford that begat the superhero civil war, Squirrel Girl was romantically involved with the New Warrior, Robbie Baldwin (a.k.a. Speedball). Following the tragedy in Connecticut and Speedball’s downward spiral of self-loathing, Doreen sought out the advice of her teammates, Flatman and Mr. Immortal. What could possibly dissuade a gay superhero from discussing boy trouble with his adorable co-Avenger? Obviously, a trip to Game Stop an all-night video gaming binge!

LivlightFlatman is supportive of his fellow LGBT brothers and sisters: Prior to his own coming out moment, Val Ventura was approached by Miguel Santos (a.k.a. Living Lightning) about joining the GLA. At this point in time, the Great Lakes Avengers were in the midst of a feeble recruitment drive and dwindling numbers on their roster. Unfortunately, Living Lightning’s interest in joining the organization immediately diminished when it was brought to his attention that GLA was actually an acronym for Great Lakes Avengers and not the Gay/Lesbian Alliance.

image5Flatman’s coming out story totally got one-upped “Penelope” style: Despite a love for Jimmy Choos and Manolo Blanks, Dr. Ventura was always quite adamant about being as straight as an arrow. Following a quarrel with their brief and former teammate, Leather Boy, fellow GLA member, Doorman, questioned the connection between the Greenwich Village, S&M, and the gay community. This led to Val unleashing a verbal rant about how not all gay men are into bondage while some heterosexual couples are. The tirade culminated with Flatman coming out of the closet to his supportive co-Avengers all the while Mr. Immortal arrived at the realization that he was “homo superior,” the next step in human evolution, thus stealing the thunder from Val’s big moment.

image2Flatman represents the fangurrrl in all of us: Super villains attacking the  downtown convention center in a random Wisconsin city isn’t something that happens every day. With that said, when a new incarnation of the Ani-Men did just that, Flatman and the GLA hopped in the Avengers Quin-Jetta with the intention of saving the day. You can imagine their disappointment to find that the A-list Avengers were already on the scene. Not one to let being benched ruin his day, Val squee-ed with delight over the opportunity of watching Hawkeye do what he does best.

image6Flatman knows the importance of “leaving something to the imagination”: The GLA’s most memorable battle was against Maelstrom as the super villain attempted to destroy the universe and all of reality (aren’t they all?). Following the team’s success, Flatman was apparently pulled from Big Bertha’s arms and into the vortex that Maelstrom had created leaving the larger-than-life supermodel/hero devastated. To everyone’s relief, the destructive phenomenon only claimed Dr. Ventura’s uniform, leaving the hero in nothing but his hirsute glory. Thanks to his flattened form, Val was able to remain modest and hide his naughty bits from impressionable eyes. It was a true “won’t someone think of the children?” moment. Conservative prudes everywhere rejoiced but then remembered that Dr. V doesn’t like “the v.”

image7Flatman has been where few superheroes have been before: Always on the lookout for new members, Flatman and the GLA (now the GLI) welcomed Deadpool to their ranks, as a reserve member, following the battle with Maelstrom. Within no time, the “Merc with a Mouth” wore out his welcome, engaging enemies with a copious amount of plastic explosives, watching nothing but porn and Maude on television, and becoming infatuated with teammate, Big Bertha. Unsure of how to breach the subject of evicting Wade from the premises and the team, Flatman attempted to verbally reason with him during bath time. In the end, Deadpool was no closer to resigning from the GLI and Dr. Ventura was left wishing that his body did not share a similar width to a bath towel.

image3Flatman shares our love for New York City: In a brief moment of lucid and smart-thinking, the GLA concluded that the best place to seek out recruits for their team was good ol’ New York City. Upon the arrival of their Amtrak train at Penn Station, Val sighed his adoration for the Big Apple and corrected Doorman’s presumption that the entire island of Manhattan smells like urine. Apparently, the acrid stench is actually only confined to 7th and 31st.

image1Flatman and his fellow Great Lakes Avengers have always represented the core of what makes a super hero super. No matter how pathetic or useless you may appear to others, true heroics always stem from the good intentions of a noble heart. For as long as there are superheroes like Dr. Val Ventura and his ragtag group of bizarre rejects, the villains of the Marvel Universe will always have a force to reckon with.

For further reading, see GLA: Misassembled by Dan Slott

Follow Shaun N. on Twitter at @datura1979.

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Brian Michael Bendis in Cleveland (a.k.a. “Can we talk about Dazzler?”).

7 04 2014
w/ Brian Michael Bendis at Comic Heaven

w/ Brian Michael Bendis at Comic Heaven

He brought us Jessica Jones and Alias. He was responsible for such “universe-changing” storylines as Avengers: Disassembled, House of M, and Secret Invasion. He employed Squirrel Girl as the nanny to Luke Cage’s daughter. Oh, and he also teamed up with Chris Bachalo to accessorize Mystique with a fabulous Louis Vuitton medical bag. He is Brian Michael Bendis.

Between various comic book conventions and in-store appearances, the last few years have afforded me several opportunities to meet some of Marvel’s most talented names: Chris Claremont, Peter David, Marjorie Liu, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Marc Silvestri, Walt and Louise Simonson, Matt Fraction, Stuart and Kathryn Immonen, Cullen Bunn, and Skottie Young. However, when a creator like Brian Michael Bendis announces an upcoming appearance, you tend to make whatever accomodations are necessary to be there… even if it involves a lengthy commute.

When word broke that Mr. Bendis would be doing an afternoon signing in Ohio, following a TEDx engagement in Cleveland, it didn’t take much convincing before the trunk of the car was packed tightly with essential Bendis books, all eagerly awaiting his signature. Being an unapologetic fanboy of Marvel’s d-listers, I was proudly dragging all New Avengers issues that featured the notable and instantly recognizable heroes Squirrel Girl and Night Nurse.

NightNurse2The event was held at Bendis’ old stomping ground, Comic Heaven, in the Cleveland suburb of Willoughby. With the incredibly friendly and gracious owner, Jim Williams, and a fantastic selection of back-issues, I cannot sing the praises of this store enough. With plenty of time to kill before Bendis was due to arrive, we spent time browsing the shelves and swapping stories with a writer from BleedingCool, who was covering the event.

True to the stories told by  folks that have met him in the past, Bendis is not only extremely personable, but he is also incredibly humble. You never know for sure what you’re going to get when you meet the folks attached to your favorite comic books. Experience has shown that there is a fair share, with less impressive rap sheets than Mr. Bendis, who come off as particularly arrogant with little desire to interact with fans.

“Can we talk about Dazzler?” Of course, this was the first question asked of the man who currently has the mutant songstress in a catatonic state in his Uncanny X-Men run. If his hearty chuckle alluded to anything, it was that he has been thrown this question on numerous occasions. “People think that if something bad happens to a character that they love, the writer obviously hates that character,” he responded. “I don’t hate Dazzler. I love her! I promise you, it will all pay-off!”

As Bendis continued signing the pile of books that were brought over state lines, we briefly discussed the upcoming Jessica Jones-centric Netflix series. All he could really tell us was that he was very pleased with what has been in development so far. As Jessica could be considered his “baby”, this would lead one to presume that the series will stay relatively true to how the former Avenger appears in print. So, has the show actually begun filming? Has the title role been cast yet?  With a grin on his face, he refused to divulge anything further.

Being an intelligent man, Bendis knows that silence often speaks volumes.