About Me

My photo
I started reading comics regularly after 'Final Crisis: Rage of the Red Lanterns'. Since then, I've become a co-host on 'The LanternCast' (a podcast dedicated to Green Lantern that's been on the air since 2008), started a new podcast covering the late 1980's DC series Action Comics Weekly (appropriately titled The Action Comics Weekly Podcast), and have been the curator of THE blog on the internet dedicated to the character of Ragman, created by Robert Kanigher and Joe Kubert published by DC Comics starting in 1976 and currently appearing on The CW show 'Arrow' as portrayed by actor Joe Dinicol. I'm an avid fan of comics, classic rock, and speaking my mind. Welcome!

Saturday, August 26, 2023

Everything We Know About the Earth-13 RAGMAN - PART TWO of TWO!

Did the first entry into this short series pique your curiosity at all? Well good because we're back ALREADY with the most significant info dump yet on the Ragman from the 'League of Shadows' of Earth-13!

Oddly enough the information comes from a blink-and-you-miss-it holiday special released in 2021. Holiday specials are interesting publications in comics. They're almost always oversized anthology issues that garner varying degrees of interest from the comics community. We get them around Valentines Day, Halloween, Christmas, etc and the sales can vary wildly. Sometimes they sell based on cover art, sometimes on creative teams, and sometimes simply based on the characters chosen to be featured. Especially if one of the stories launches a new series or features a beloved character with a devoted fanbase that hasn't had the spotlight in awhile.

The 2021 'DC's Very Merry Multiverse Special' was most definitely an assortment of characters that could have escaped the notice of many regular comic buyers. There were the usual bait characters: a Harley story and a Batman story. But then we had Teen Justice, President Superman, Batman Beyond, The Injustice League of Unamerica, Booster Gold, Prez, and Lobo (and of course the League of Shadows story we're recapping here today).

Creator wise the rabid fan appeal wasn't all there, at least for those who primarily only follow trending creators. The Lobo story was written by DC powerhouse Tom King with art by Scott Koblish, which most certainly would have attracted some, but the rest hadn't yet attracted the same attention (though most of them certainly should). That being said our story of the League of Shadows featured a name not unfamiliar for Ragman fans, writer Sholly Fisch.

If you're paying attention, Sholly wrote the only other Ragman holiday story ever told in 'Batman: The Brave and the Bold #14' which is based on the popular animated series of the same name (I reviewed that issue back in 2015 here if you wish to read that). Sholly is actually a huge Ragman fan himself as he told me when I had the pleasure of interviewing him awhile back. So it's perhaps kismet that Sholly was tapped to give us the origin of the latest individual to wear rags in the multiverse in yet another holiday story, this time with art by Vanesa Del Rey, colors by Tamra Bonvillain, and lettered by Ferran Delgado.

Our story, titled NIGHT OF THE MAGI opens on the holiday of Saturnalia in progress on Earth-13. Ragman and the League of Shadows are engaged in what seems to be an annual bought of ritualistic combat against one another, fueled by the Lord of Misrule and Mother Destruction. The League is pitted against one another, seemingly as aware of the strings pulling them as they are of their puppeteers, and are none too happy with this tiresome tradition, though seemingly unable to do anything overtly to prevent it. While engaged in unwilling combat with his peers, Ragman's mind drifts back to ancient Egypt.

There we've met a Hebrew slave named Ya'akov who slips away from servitude as well as family to become another man entirely, passing himself off as an Egyptian named Amun. Time passes and Amun is now among his former persecuters, passing as one of them in Egyptian clothing, forcing the Hebrew slaves to toil beneath him to maintain his new identity. A slave recognizes him and in Hebrew calls out to him...the man he recognizes as his own son.

Back in the "present" the League struggles to stay alive as they unwillingly fight one another. But the Lord of Misrules spell cannot be broken as all must obey during Saturnalia. However Ragman claims he his Jewish and therefore under no such rules as he makes his move toward the Lord of Misrule. When suddenly Mother Destruction strikes at him claiming that he is now "also dead!" To which he retorts, "Yes, I am. For LONGER than you know." And we get another flashback...

Amun/Ya'akov gets to serve the Pharaoh as he so desperately wanted, but in the vein of "be careful what you wish for" as he was killed and mummified to accompany the decently deceased Pharaoh into the afterlife. But coming face to face with the Egyptian Gods of Osiris and Anubis he finds himself turned away from a holy afterlife. Instead punished to walk the Earth, abandoned by Heaven, forced to serve others. "You shall walk the Earth for eons, bearing the weight of your transgressions in the wrappings you wear. Defending those who have no defenders. Delivering retribution to the unholy, until the day your merits outweigh your sins and you earn your final reward."

Back in the present a portal to hell looses fire and tentacles onto the Lord of Misrule and Mother Destruction as the League now stands victorious. As they leave the embers of the fire remaining once the portal is closed, Enchantress asks after the wellbeing of Ragman whom replys, "It is said that saving a single life is akin to saving an entire world. In my youthful indifference, how many worlds did I destroy so long ago? With the lives I saved tonight another bandage dissolves and with it the burden of the sin it represents. Yet so many more remain. Perhaps the New Year that beckons on the horizon will be the one that strikes the balance and brings my journey to its end." And there our story ends.

And so we have learned MUCH more about the Ragman of Earth-13 than we have in any other appearance. Ragman is not modern Rory Regan, descendant of a family of Jewish lineage, protector of the downtrodden wearing a family relic of a suit of Rags cast into being by Rabbi capable of absorbing the souls of evildoers. But instead Ragman is one of the original Hebrew slaves out of Egypt, Ya'akov Ben Shimon who abandoned his people and his family in his own self interest, content with ruling over them instead. Murdered and buried beside a dead pharaoh and judged not by his own God but by the gods of Egypt to walk the Earth until he makes up for the misery he caused. The Rags he wears are the wraps he was mummified in, each now a sin to "work off" as we see flashbacks of him saving slaves from their captors all the way to taking on Nazi's.

Oddly enough his story mirrors more of that of the Phantom Stranger in the New 52 than it does Ragman of Earth-1. The Phantom Stranger in the New 52, as written by Dan DiDio, was revealed not to be a nameless stranger but instead Judas Iscariot, former disciple of Jesus Christ, who betrayed Jesus to the Romans for 30 pieces of silver. Standing in judgement before the council of wizards, Judas becomes the Phantom Stranger, his thirty pieces of silver now wrapped around him in a necklace, only to fall off one by one as he wanders in service to a higher calling. Given my fondness of the Phantom Stranger, I found it comforting to see some of his more recent core concepts adapted into the alternate version of another favorite character, Ragman.

So there you have it everyone! Everything we know of Ya'akov Ben Shimon, the Ragman of Earth-13! For now...

What do you think?! Let me know in the comments below!

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Everything We Know About the Earth-13 RAGMAN - PART ONE of TWO!

The year is 2015. NCIS is the most popular TV show on air, avocado toast reigns supreme, "Uptown Funk" by Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars is everywhere, and Grant Morrison decides to drag comic readers waist deep into the frothing insanity of their storytelling via the continuing experiment from the prior year, 'The Multiversity'.

I'm going to be honest, I don't remember much from 'The Multiversity' or its collective of one-shots. There's good/tolerable Grant Morrison and there's "what the ever loving fuck did I just read" Grant Morrison. 'The Multiversity' fell into the latter for me, and as a result, I've wiped its memory and its plot from my brain.

That said, Morrisons bizarre fever dream births unto us a "definitive" (as much as something can be in the ever changing landscape of comics) Map of the Multiverse. A spherical rendering of the Earths in the DC multiverse, floating through the Bleed is the Orrery of Worlds. Bordered by the Speed Force, further bordered by the Sphere of the Gods (containing Heaven, Hell, New Genesis, etc), even further bounded by the Monitor Sphere, with the entire collective protected from the Source by the Source Wall itself.

Within the Orrery of Worlds we find a designation for Earth-13 and its DC "proper" counterparts. Here the 'League of Shadows' protects the Earth in its "permanent magical twilight". Comprising the team are some names you recognize, some you don't, including: Hellblazer, Annataz, Witchboy, Swamp-Man, Fate, Deadman, Enchantress, RAGMAN, and Superdemon. Superdemon of course being the Demon Etrigan rocketed to Earth from the doomed planet of Kamelot. Because why not?

Among the artistic rendering of Earth-13's League of Shadows within 'The Multiversity Guidebook' we see Ragman. As yet without a civilian identification, Ragman appears more mummy than anything we traditionally recognize as "Earth-1 Ragman". His wraps spiral off of him loosely in places, curling upward and away from him, as if drifting in some invisible etherial energies. His facial features are covered in the shadows of the only opening in his suit, red eyes bearing out at the reader.

Though some online resources note other issues from within 'The Multiversity' event as appearances of this new Ragman, the only one that is easily identified is from issue 2 of the main series (which serves as the end of the story proper). The issue actually opens with the League of Shadows on Earth-13 magically bound and guarded by what appear to be vampires. Superdemons human form says his rhyme to become his powered demon form and the League escapes. 

There we go. Our first words from our new Ragman. "Now something wicked this way comes." Given the magical nature of the entirety of Earth-13, it's unclear based on language alone if Ragman is merely uttering a poetic phrase that simply would mean "I got a bad feeling about this" to anyone else, or if we're seeing our first glimpse of power from Ragman in the form of some sort of extrasensory perception for evil/ill intent. Maybe Rags has a magical spider sense on Earth-13? Who knows?

But the team goes through to face on Dark Sivana and his enthralled vampiric Justice League of Earth 43, the Blood League. True to his Earth-1 Gotham based counterpart, Ragman comes briefly face to face with the vampiric Batman before a spell from one of his teammates renders the vampires craving coffee instead of blood.

...annnnddddd that's the last we see of Ragman in 'The Multiversity' until a group shot on the final double page splash at the end of the issue. He's right up there in the upper righthand corner. 

We don't see the Ragman of Earth-13 again for two years until 2017's issue of Superman #15. Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason are telling the 'Multiplicity' arc of their Superman run. Superman is introduced (re-introduced? Who the hell knows anymore) to the Justice League Incarnate and goes on a recruiting mission to take on...whatever the big bad for the 'Multiplicity' arc is. Don't ask me, this is everything we know about Earth-13 Ragman, not everything we know about the events tangentially involving him. 

But of course as with any super hero meetup, the inevitable misunderstanding face-off happens on Earth-13 when Superman tries to recruit Superdemon. And the League of Shadows is there to assist their leader.

Here we get another glimpse into what the actual potential powerset of this Ragman is as he uses his rags to fully envelop and restrain Superman so that Superdemon can breathe hellfire at him. This is extremely interesting for several reasons. The first being that the rags extend off of him to fully encase another but he himself still remains covered in the rags, which you can see when Superman breaks free. Second, that he is powerful enough to restrain Superman, at least temporarily. And last but CERTAINLY not least, THIS Ragman seems to not have a weakness to fire! The Ragman we know and love has been documented as being weak to fire, but Earth-13 Ragman takes a FULL blast of hellfire from the mouth of not just a Demon, but SUPERDEMON, and comes out unscathed. 

THAT is most definitely important to note.

It's another three years until we see Ragman of Earth-13 again, this time in the pages of the 'Flash Forward' mini-series, issue number 4 in 2020. For the sake of brevity (and my own personal sanity) I'm again not going to bother recapping the plot of 'Flash Forward', let alone this specific issue. Ragman appears along with the rest of the League of Shadows as they face down other characters. He says nothing, and he exhibits no specific unique powers. But he's facing another powerhouse character which is an amalgam of Cheetah and the Creeper. So we can safely confirm that the strength we see exhibited in the Superman issue, holds true if he's able to handle someone of that power level.

It's in the following years Christmas Special where we REALLY get to know our new Ragman...but I'm not going to talk about that until Part Two, because this is ALREADY getting very long.

So let's fast forward another year to the 'Justice League Incarnate' series, issue number TWO! Here the Justice League Incarnate finds themselves on Earth-13 where they meet up with a contact for their current mission (again, go read it if you're curious. It's not important for our purposes). But here we find another parallel between the main DCU and Earth-13...a hidden bar for magicians and those connected to magic. In our world you'd know it as the OBLIVION BAR! But on Earth-13 we know it instead as THE TAVERN OF MYSTERY! Its name suggests that it COULD be part Oblivion Bar, part House of Mystery, but that's speculation for another time. Because here we see Ragman again in various shots around the bar.

And there you have it. Everything we know so far about the Earth-13 Ragman, except of course the plethora of details found in the 2021 'Very Merry Multiverse' one-shot, which we'll be covering next!

So let's recap what we know, or rather THINK we know!

1) Ragman is a part of the Earth-13 Justice League known as the 'League of Shadows'.

2) Ragman MIGHT have some sort of extrasensory perception for danger/evil.

3) Ragman can extend his rags to envelop another and restrain them.

4) Ragman and/or his rags are strong enough to restrain Superman (of Earth-1) and a multiversal amalgam character who includes the strength of the Cheetah.

5) This Ragman is NOT weak to fire as his Earth-1 counterpart is.

So what's next? Well I already told you...so are you ready to be introduced to YA'AKOV BEN SHIMON?! Come back next time for PART TWO!