Comic Reality Bytes, by John Ostrander

John Ostrander

John Ostrander started his career as a professional writer as a playwright. His best known effort, Bloody Bess, was directed by Stuart Gordon, and starred Dennis Franz, Joe Mantegna, William J. Norris, Meshach Taylor and Joe Mantegna. He has written some of the most important influential comic books of the past 25 years, including Batman, The Spectre, Manhunter, Firestorm, Hawkman, Suicide Squad, Wasteland, X-Men, and The Punisher, as well as Star Wars comics for Dark Horse. New episodes of his creator-owned series, GrimJack, which was first published by First Comics in the 1980s, appear every week on ComicMix.

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9 Responses

  1. Samuel Keith Larkin says:

    True, but you have a story begging to be told with questions such as "Why would superheroes allow genocide to exist in the world." Or "How come the superheroes, with all their magic and superscience, have been unable to cure cancer?" For example, there was this one Fantastic Four issue where Reed Richards applied some sort of chemical to regenerate his damaged skin (I can't remember the story all too well, but that was the basics). Now that is begging for writers to answer the question, why isn't this formula being used to treat burn victims? Is it that Reed Richards is selfishly witholding this cure from the public (much like his malevolent counterpart in Planetary) or does the formula only work on people with super-elasticity. Even if the formula only works on people with super-elasticity, it wouldn't be hard to mass-produce synthetic skin in the Marvel Universe at an affordable cost (seeing how far more advanced genetic engineering is in the Marvel Universe). It is one thing to withold potentially dangerous inventions from the public such as the Iron Man armor or flying cars, but it would be downright criminal to withold a treatment for burn victims. The whole "suspension of disbelief" argument is the lazy man's answer. The reasons I ask you questions like this is because you did a great job in Firestorm explaining why starvation still exists on the DC Earth.

  2. Jess Nevins says:

    One possible response to the Mr. Fantastic/Tony Stark-v-cancer conundrum is that they are brilliant in physics and mechanics, but only in those fields, and that medicine is as alien to them, and difficult for them, as they are for ordinary folks. We don't ask why Stephen Hawking hasn't cured cancer–why ask that of Reed Richards or Tony Stark?

  3. mike weber says:

    This is a problem that goes all the way back – Feiffer pointed out in "The Great Comic Book Heroes" that, given that Superman existed, World War Two should have taken about thirty-two minutes. (I paraphrase.)Lately there's been the Supergirl storyline in which, thinking am eight-year-old kid is afraid he's going to get killed in her fight with whatever villain, she promises him he won't die – then finds out he was saying he had terminal cancer.

  4. Lord Snooty says:

    I still think that the Marvel Universe is more healthy place to live over the last few years as no one seems to smoke any more :)

  5. Mike Gold says:

    There's that wavy line in heroic fiction that separates reality from your defined universe. Cancer only exists when you want it to exist to tell a story; otherwise, it's so far off-camera that Hank Pym can't shrink down the tumors.When I was editing the Flash, we had Wally West go through the usual superpowered-just-turned-21-broke-up-with-girl thing: he pursued his sex life. There was a goal to that: after the first year, one of his girl friends was going to be revealed as HIV+. Wally would have then had to analyze his behavior and learn a whole sense of personal responsibility. We weren't going to kill him off (this was, like, 1988, well before DC's "if it's got a costume, kill it" mantra). It would have ended a very poignant story arc, particularly for 1988.Unfortunately, the publisher killed it.

  6. Russ Rogers says:

    It's easy to explain why Superheroes wouldn't try to wipe out disease or hunger or despotism in the world. First of all wiping out despots and tyrants through force is an oxymoron. As Iraq has shown us, imposing freedom and democracy at gunpoint is very difficult, maybe impossible, especially with Shock and Awe tactics. And that's what Superheroes are good at: shock and awe.It would just take ONE story where Reed Richards is trying to cure all diseases and as a result unleashes some deadly terror on the world to explain why superheroes don't try to mess with really big problems. Beast (from the X-men) is shown to have caused his own more bestial mutations of fangs and blue fur, while trying to to do super-research into mutant genetics and biochemistry. Beast has said that his appearance is his punishment for trying to mess with the forces of nature. Superman was shown trying to single-handedly end starvation in Africa in "Heroes Against Hunger." His efforts are shown to be both futile and counter productive. It would only take ONE or TWO major F-UPS by the super-science or super-magic communities for word to get out, "Don't try to deal with MAJOR issues like Cancer, Hunger or Traffic Congestion, stick to smaller opponents like Galactus!"There are many historic examples in medicine and science, where wonderful advances and cure alls have unleashed even worse nightmares on mankind. From 1898 through to 1910 heroin was marketed as a non-addictive morphine substitute and cough suppressant. Bayer marketed heroin as a cure for morphine addiction before it was discovered that heroin is rapidly metabolized into morphine, and as such, "heroin" was basically only a quicker acting form of morphine. The company was somewhat embarrassed by this new finding and it became a historical blunder for Bayer. –from WikipediaDDT was a wonder pesticide!LSD and Ecstasy were hailed as mind expanding and therapeutic aids. What once were saviors, now are scourges.Alfred Nobel invented dynamite to help with construction and terraforming. It was going to be an aid to minors and laborers building roads and tunnels. He made vast fortunes and saw his inventions rapidly perverted to the task of killing people. He became known as "the merchant of death." He ended up bequeathing the bulk of his estate to the establishment of prizes that would reward the advancement of mankind in many areas, regardless of ethnic origin or nationality, including and (in my opinion) especially PEACE: the Nobel and Nobel Peace Prizes.From his will: …and one part to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity among nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses. –again from Wikipedia.My guess is the Infinity Gauntlet and the rings of the Mandarin were originally created to benefit and protect life. That was the original goal of the Sentinels. Tony Stark knows what kind of evils his Ironman technology might bring if freely shared with the rest of the world. Just look at what Obidiah Stane tried to do with it! Superman won't disrupt or corrupt the evolution of Earth's sciences by giving mankind too many of the revolutionary and sometimes contradictory concepts of Kryptonian super-science and technology. In fact, wasn't Kryptonian super-science partly responsible for the destruction of Krypton? This is one of those Super F-Ups that teaches all superheroes to use super-science and super-de-duper-magic very cautiously and sparingly. With great power comes great responsibility. Sometimes that responsibility is restraint. A Super-Power should carefully consider the ramifications of it's actions before making a grand or exceptionally unilateral move. Even if it's motivations are pure, like removing a despot, hasty actions can result in chaos and even greater evil.Sorry this was so long. Rock on in peace.

  7. Vinnie Bartilucci says:

    "Captain Marvel was dead but seems to be feeling better these days"There was quite the opposition to bringing back (Marvel's) Captain marvel, since many consider the Death GN a great work that would be made irrelevant by bringing the character back, even in the timey-wimey way they (apparently) did. But recent revelations in Secret Invasion, not to spoil anything, render the argument moot."Why don't the heroes cure all the world's ills" is an eternal question that can't really have a good real-world answer. With all the inventions, all the alien invasions, and in general, all the technology bouncing around the world of superhero comics, the world should be a far sight further along than it's being presented in the comics. There's a massive heli-carrier (hell, a fleet of them) floating around Marvel-Earth, powered by heaven only knows what esoteric power source…and cars still run on gas. People have invented weather-control devices the size of a small magic wand…and they're using them to rob banks. I imagine Weather Wizard could make more money solely offering his services to outdoor sporting events and festivals (not to mention that whole "global warming" thing) than he could if he robbed a jewelry store a day for the rest of his life.There's one important reason these massive changes don't happen. The more advanced and utopian the world would get, the harder it would be for the average reader to identify with it. Comics are in most cases a world very much like our own, with one major difference – the existence of Super-Heroes. For every one person in the DCU who's met or even seen a superhero in person, there's thousands who've just seen them on TV, and have had no personal connection to them at all. It's safe to say that the average person in Attumwa, Iowa has not had their life personally enriched by a superhero in any way. So it's easy to connect with that world. You make the world technologically advanced, and you start to stray into the Science-fiction genre, and that's not something everybody wants to read.Also, there's the fact that from a continuity viewpoint, all of the Superhero comics we've read (not counting the golden age stuff) have happened in the last ten-fifteen years or so, depending on the characters in question. That's not quite enough time for a worldwide paradigm-shifting technology jump to happen. So flying cars may well exist, but there's not enough of them to be available to the public, and no infrastructure for them to be used, etc. Look how long it took for the technological advances from, say, the moon landing to make it to the public sector. From a moral viewpoint, I could imagine Superman having his own version of Star Trek's Prime Directive. He'll stop floods and hold up buildings, but he doesn't feel right just handing out Kryptonian technology to Earthlings. And while the government has probably reclaimed and reverse engineered quite a bit of technology from all the alien invasions over the years, they may simply have decided (right or wrong) that very little of it safe to reveal to the public.Some books have touched on these ideas. Watchmen had all the cars running on electric power, since Dr. Manhattan was able to manufacture the base elements needed to make cheap and powerful batteries. Some of the Wildstorm books deal with the idea as well, and alien technology has been folded into Earth culture. As mentioned, Supergirl is addressing the issue by trying to cure cancer, and there's been a couple of good fits and starts (the conversation with Wonder Woman was very good). All-Star Superman went ahead and cured cancer, with the help of some Kryptonian micro-surgeons. But ultimately, If superheroes solve all the needs and wants of the world…what happens in issue two?

    • Russ Rogers says:

      "But ultimately, If superheroes solve all the needs and wants of the world…what happens in issue two?"Neil Gaiman was busy exploring this question in "Miracleman" when Eclipse met it's untimely demise and "Miracleman" was thrust into a state of limbo. How do you make Utopia exciting? I remember some stellar stories and some that seemed to intentionally drag.

  8. Samuel Keith Larkin says:

    Great responses guys, but you still haven't answered the question why Reed Richards isn't sharing his synthetic skin with the public.I find it hard to believe that readers could not relate to a more "futuristic" Marvel or DC Unvierse, given the popularity Star Wars, Star Trek, Lord Of The Rings, Narnia and so forth, whcih take place in a world drastically different from our own.