Given You A Number, 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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32 Responses

  1. Marc Alan Fishman says:

    As always, a thought provoking article John (and kudos to another NPR listener). Lowering the drinking age in this country would be one of those "Crazy Lefty" ideas the christian right would just get tickled in the wrong parts over. While the "you can fire a gun, why can't you have a beer" argument is one I personally agree with… I also think of how many 18 year olds aren't fighting for their country (I sure didn't.). The fact is, America is so buttoned-up-PC-nutzo that lowering the age would just trickle down. What 18 year old entering college will not have a drink as soon as mom and dad turn the corner. What University is actually monitoring it's students to ensure no underage drinking occurs. M.A.D.D. doesn't seem to get that the "taboo" of underage drinking leads to more excessive drinking in younger 'adults'. If just relaxing and 'havin' a beer' was legal at 18, does that mean 15 year olds are going to start beer pong parties? Suffice to say, while I agree with you that lowering it might help things, I can't begin to think how much red tape and idiocracy we'd have to sit through to see it actually happen.Concerning your other point… I again agree with you, but with plenty of frustration. As a would-be creator myself (at the tender age of 26) I feel like everyone in the big two is older than me, and because of it, I'm not given such a fair shake. That being said, I'm a fan first and foremost… and you are right. With age comes wisdom, and with wisdom, better stories. I'd sooner wait my turn for some company to actually look at my work and see great writers such as yourself get another crack at runs on monthlies. A 50 year old would have known better than to erase 20 years of Spiderman continuity, that's for sure. And you get the hat trick. You were right again. Your suicide squad mini was not only as good as your original run, it was better. Damn better. Now, if you want to get on the ground floor with some hot-young talent… just give me a ring, and we'll let you co-write with us. ;) Keep writing John.

    • John Ostrander says:

      If they want to keep the drinking age at 21, that's fine. Just say that you can't enter the military until you're 21, either, because if you can't be expected to make a rational choice about the one, you shouldn't be able to make a rational choice about the other.They're not going to do that. The military is having enough trouble making their quotas as it is. But I WOULD argue for a little consistency, folks.

      • mike weber says:

        Just say that you can't enter the military until you're 21, either, because if you can't be expected to make a rational choice about the one, you shouldn't be able to make a rational choice about the other.You're missing the point – the whole idea behind letting 18-year-olds join the military is that they're not old enugh to make rational decsions – it's been said that a ratonal army would run away.You want soldiers who do what they're told when they're told, pretty much without thinking about it.

        • Sean D. Martin says:

          it's been said that a rational army would run away.Story is that when filming The Lord of the Rings they developed a massive, rather intelligent computer program to handle the CGI for the major battle scenes. Each race had it's own fighting style, thousands of soldiers with individual responses, etc. Supposedly the first time they ran the thing all of the simulated soldiers ran away.

          • mike weber says:

            Yup. They did.And the Elves and Humans took one look at the orcs and scarpered.So they had to make them somewhat dumber.

          • Alan Coil says:

            Sean and Mike, this just sounds like an urban legend.

          • mike weber says:

            I Saw it reported online; pretty sure it was one of the more reputable sites.Here's a specific report (i see it was the orcs who ran away):In an earlier version of MASSIVE, Producer Barrie Osborne told me of how about half of the Orcs that approached the enemy decided to run away as deserters rather than fight their opponent! (from Christian Spotlight on Entertainment -{…} which rated it 5 star on "Moviemaking Quality" and "Average" on "moral Rating"…)I suppose that if the producer said it, we can probably believe it.(I promose that this is not the source i roiginally saw it reported n.)

          • Alan Coil says:

            I remain unconvinced. Somebody had to program that possibility into the computer. A "rather intelligent computer program" still has to be programmed by a people. the 1s and 0s don't make these decisions on their own.

          • mike weber says:

            The wholepoint was that the program, an AI, was given basic parameters of action and then let loose to make the decisions – each character's actions were determined by the program within those parameters.I'm a computer/electronics tech, my wife is a programmer. We see no reason to doubt that story.

        • John Ostrander says:

          The point is that society is saying they're old enough to sign up to kill, be killed, be maimed, certainly be affected, be expected to exercise some sort of discretion in places such as Iraq but they are NOT old enough to have discretion about drinking. I'm saying its one or the other — and society needs to decide which. Personally, I'd prefer they have to wait until they're 21 before they're allowed to sign up for the military. Realistically, I know that's not going to happen. So society should be consistent and let them drink at 18.

        • R. Maheras says:

          Oh, baloney. This country was saved from facism during WW II by millions of young people between the ages of 17 and 21.Stop selling the young people in this country short because you are anti-military. By the way, if Obama didn't have the votes of those "irrational" 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds, it would be Hillary Clinton giving her nomination acceptance speech on this night.

          • Alan Coil says:

            Ouch. Kinda harsh there, R.

          • mike weber says:

            R. Maheras says:"Oh, baloney. This country was saved from facism during WW II by millions of young people between the ages of 17 and 21."Nobody denies that. But, quite simply, the qualities that make a good soldier do not necessarily make a responsible citizen.(I assume you are talking to me.)"Stop selling the young people in this country short because you are anti-military."Anyone who knows me will tell you i am rather far from anti-military. I am against the misuse of the military – including the little adventure that took me and John Kerry (but not Dan Quayle or George W. Bush) to Cam Ranh Bay in 1969 – 70.And i am horrified and enraged by the shabby treatment our military (including my son-in-law) are being handed by the current Powers Thay Be.Might i ask if you are a veteran? An if so, which Service and when?

          • R. Maheras says:

            Yes, I am a veteran. I was in the Air Force for 20 years (1978-1998). I enlisted when I was 24 and originally did not plan to stay in more than one hitch, but obviously changed my mind. And that's the thing about the post-Vietnam U.S. military I liked: It's all volunteer. No one forces you to join, and you can opt out when your enlistment is up.I'm curious as to what shabby treatment your son-in-law endured. Reenlistment rates are high among all the services, and that wouldn't be the case if everyone were treated shabbily. In the case of the Air Force, during the past few years it has actually had to involuntarily force out more than 15,000 enlisted and officers out to meet its congressionally mandated service level cap.

          • mike weber says:

            My own time was only four years – which, as i say, included a shore tour in a part of Nam where there wasn't any active fighting – went in at 18."I'm curious as to what shabby treatment your son-in-law endured. Reenlistment rates are high among all the services, and that wouldn't be the case if everyone were treated shabbily."Which explains why the Army, at least has "Stop Loss" programs in place and has been calling people back. Last i read the retention rate and the recruitment rates were well below targets.My son-in-law got sent off to fight in Bush's war and got blown up (literally – his Bradley was thrown thirty feet end-over-end) and, due to that and the other times he was *almost* blown up, almost certainly has the sorts of blast-related injuries that the military and the VA don't even like to admit exist.At least he's not suicidal or trying to hide from what he saw and whathe did in a bottle or with drugs, like a disturbingly high percentage of vets from this little clusterbeep.As i say, i have nothing at all against the military – in theory – it's the misapplication that sends young men who don't know any better and who've been lied to into the meat grinder and takes away their innocence and youth.Apropos of nothing direct, but ave you ever read David Drake's SF novel Rolling Hot? You'll find my own review of it at here; i recommend you go to its page at Amazon, and read Michael Williamson's review as well. And i recommend you get the book and read the story, as well.Drake spent his year in hell as an intelligence officer with the 1st Cav.If you're not at the least angered – if not enraged – by the last couple of chapters of that book, then you have missed the point.Of the book and of war.

          • mike weber says:

            Oops. I don't know why i said the 1st – i meant the 11th Cav.

          • R. Maheras says:

            Stop-loss and its relatives aren't something this administration invented. They've been around for more than 60 years that I know of.For example, despite the fact that there was a draft in place at the time, when the Korean War kicked off, Truman ordered thousands of separated WW II veterans who still fell under a reserve clause back to active duty. These were people who never expected to be recalled to active duty, people who now had houses and families, and people who had long since rooted themselves into the community and much-higher-paying civilian workforce. Suddenly, they were back in uniform, at a fraction of their current pay, fighting a war that was not only undeclared, it was the only U.S. war I know of where a huge mass of U.S. troops were committed to combat without even an approval vote by Congress!In the modern U.S. military, stop-loss has been utilized whenever there was a shortage of key specialties. Generally, this was only during some crisis such as the first Gulf War, but it was always there — even during peacetime (albeit on a much smaller scale).Regarding enlistment and retention rates, the reason “the last you heard” they were not good is because, frankly, usually the only time the media does a story about such rates is when they are NOT good. So, unless you follow such rates independent of mainstream media – especially such very biased outlets such as “Rolling Stone” and “” – you just aren’t going to have an accurate picture of military recruitment and retention rates.Regarding the VA, I’ve read many of the stories over the years about aging facilities and quality of care. That said, my experience through my father’s care has generally been positive. A veteran of WW II, my dad had bypass surgery 20 years ago at a Chicago VA facility, and after his recovery, that facility is where he went for all subsequent medical care until he finally passed away last year at the age of 86. But the VA is a huge organization with a long, long tradition of low funding from Congress, so it does not surprise me when problems do surface. Finally, I don't buy the whole "military lie" argument. Today's young people are very computer savvy and have far more resources with which to make an informed decision about military service than I did in 1978. In literally 10 minutes, I can Google every pro and con military service issue out there. These days, the only “uninformed” person who joins the military is someone who has chosen to remain uninformed. By contrast, in 1978, I had nothing to go by except my instincts, a couple of books in the library (most notably, the ACLU book, “The Rights of Servicemen”), and the word of the recruiter.

  2. Dave says:

    There are a lot of inequalities with these "adult" laws."18" means a person can vote (due to a constitutional amendment!). They can help choose our leaders, but a drink is wrong.They can smoke – cancer is okay, but a hangover isn't?You've already mentioned the military, which I couldn't agree with more. I was in the military at age 17! Was I an adult? I thought so then. I don't think so now. I was just a kid – with a gun.In every legal way a person in our country is condered an adult at the age of 18 – except for drinking alcohol.There are/have been exceptions. When I was in the Air Force, the legal drinking age in Texas was 18, in California (my home state) it was 21.As you've said, all these things should be raised to 21 or drinking should be lowered to 18. Either we're legally adults at age 18 or we're not.Dave Rose

  3. Dave says:

    Mike, I hear you saying we should just put our children in cannons and blow them up (It would save on ammo) for all the value they have as reasonable human beings who can access a combat situation and know how to handle it.You many be right, but it scares me to death if you are.On they other hand, you may be making a sacastic statement – which (on this topic) is also somewhat scary.Dave Rose

    • mike weber says:

      Some of both.Sardonic, perhaps – not sarcastic.Old men fight – but it's the young men who die. And, while i don't espouse sending young men to die, that's the way all too many generals think (whether they'll admit it or not.)General Staff officers should be personally required to lead every charge across No Man's Land into massed machine guns that they order. (One of the few good things one can say about Custer is that no matter what hare-brained charges he ordered, he led from the front.)I was 18 when i joined the Navy.

    • Alan Coil says:

      "Mike, I hear you saying we should just put our children in cannons and blow them up…"That's a little harsh, too, Dave. Mike didn't really suggest that.==========One of the reasons that the youngest adults are used in the armed services is that there is a psychological self-preservation urge that becomes more intense when one reaches approximately the age of 25. The older you get, the less reckless and more questioning you become.

  4. Lord Snooty says:

    Here in the UK they have just put up the age of smoking up tp 18 along with drinking and voting BUT the thing that really gets to me is that fact on buses and trains your an adult at 14 and so must pay adult fairs and has been that way since i can remember

  5. FanBoyWonder says:

    Mr. O,It’s funny how things work. I was literally in the middle of writing a review of your recent Suicide Squad reunion mini-series when I websurfed and came across your most recent column.You seem to confirm what I greatly suspected—that you are more than willing to continue more Suicide Squad for DC (as you left the door wide open at the end of Issue 8) but Management is not interested. Have I misread current events?If that is indeed the case, then that sir is just one more example of DC Management’s Bass-Akwards thinking.I was around for every issue of the first Squad series and I loved the reunion mini, as well as your top shelf work on The Spectre—although in all honest I had trouble with your run on Martian Manhunter.But let me say proudly and for the record that any single issue Suicide Squad from two decades ago can easily stand up anything currently in the DC line up today (that’s not saying much I realize).However, IMHO, your Squad reunion mini-series was even better….not as good…EVEN BETTER than your original run. Hands down! Talk about getting better with age—Indeed.Cheers and best wishes,

  6. Marc Alan Fishman says:

    It's not just a discretionary thing to lower the drinking age to 18 in America though. It would perhaps stimulate the economy though, as high school seniors all legally start buying booze. Which in turn gets a drive for more police officers, who have to ensure no high school juniors are sneaking into senior parties to drink…And with more arrests with teens, more fines are collected. More money for the government to buy guns and ammo to load up those very teens, who need to run across the sea to make important decisions about life and death all in the name of democracy.

  7. Alan Coil says:

    Either change the drinking age to 18, or change the voting age and the age of enlistment to 21.I think all 3 should be 18.

    • Adriane Nash says:

      You folks do realize that the voting age was made 18 on a national level in 1971 right? A little thing called the 26th Amendment? That up til then it was 21 in some states. Vietnam & the whole dying for a country I'm not able to take part in the electoral process of was part of that.Insurance lobbyists put the screws to the federal government to who in turn put the screws to states governments to raise the age you can buy & drink in public to 21 in 1984 through the Highway Aid Act. Basically if the states didn't make the age 21, then they wouldn't get federal money for to maintain the roads. Some states grandfathered kids in, so that if they had been able to drink before the law change they could still. And since we weren't fighting a war the whole die for your country but can't buy a beer in it didn't come up. Plus I've heard the drinking age on bases is 18 but that could be an urban legend

      • Rick Oliver says:

        The insurance lobbyists rightly predicted that raising the drinking age would reduce drunk driving accidents, thereby reducing insurance losses. Of course, one could argue that prohibiting any random 3-year age group from drinking legally would reduce drunk driving accidents because there would be less drunk drivers to have accidents.

  8. James Hudnall says:

    As for the writing age part of your article that people seem to be ignoring, I think it's one of the things that's wrong with this business. But then, this business has never made a lot of sense. It is full of people who think they have all the answers, yet bad decisions keep getting made all the time. Really bad decisions. And the ageism thing is a classic example of the industry's short-sightedness. People with talent are rare. If you have talent people who are available, and you have semi-talented people who don't improve sales and who can't turn work in on time, its a no brainer. But the industry would rather keep hiring the same people rather than explore other possibilities.Well. I know part of the problem is they think they "know" what older creators are going to do. But that's foolish. More importantly, the older creators did the books when they actually sold a lot better than they do now. You'd think that would register. Writers do get better with age. But in my opinion, the answer is not to focus on what Marvel and DC do with hiring. There are new ways to do comics, and new opportunities. The future of comics probably won't come frome those places. As for the drinking age, being a Libertine I don't believe in a drinking age. Personal responsibility is not the government's job or business unless a crime is committed. (But then, I don't drink)

  9. R. Maheras says:

    One of the things that has always bugged me about the comic book industry is the way many aging creators are treated by the industry they helped build. But it's really not unique in that regards. Age discrimination is probably the most widespread form of discrimination out there because it affects everyone regardless of their race, religion, gender or any other factor. And unless you happen to work for someone who is dumb enough to tell you you are no longer getting work because you are "too old," try and prove to anyone who will listen that the reason your phone stopped ringing, or you were suddenly let go of at your workplace, is because of your age.

  10. Russ Rogers says:

    Look, the ages that certain rights and privileges are doled out in America are arbitrary, but still necessary. States have laws about the age of consent for sexual contact, these vary from state to state with different ages and different levels of enforcement. These vary from 14 to 18. Now, to expand the argument, "If you think someone is mature enough to be in the military, they should be mature enough to drink!" Then you should be able to say, "If a person is mature enough to make decisions about procreation (becoming a mother or father) then they should be mature enough to drink!"It just doesn't work that way. The math doesn't work. The logic doesn't work. Drinking. Driving. Voting. Shooting a gun. Buying a gun. Buying Cigarettes. Buying Fireworks. Having Sex. Getting married. Becoming a U.S. Senator. Becoming President of the United States. Gambling. All these activities have various age barriers set up by law. What makes a 30 year old any more qualified to be a Senator than a 29 year old? What is the big deal with age 35 and being President? These numbers are arbitrary. Some may be unfair. But they are needed. We can't make the age of sexual consent 10 or have none at all. That's a frightening concept. We have the belief that there are certain activities that young children and young adults just aren't ready to do. This can't change without changing the views of society, changing existing law and in some cases amending the Constitution. Just because certain activities have (or had) coinciding ages for legality doesn't mean there is any logical connection between the activities. Having a drivers license shouldn't be considered a license for sex. Just because you are mature enough to carry a gun doesn't mean you are mature enough to drink and carry one!We can't lower the drinking age to 18. Why? Because many High School Seniors are 18. I was in High School in the years when then drinking age was 18. The Seniors bought for the underclassmen. Keeping the drinking age at 21 at least makes drunken parties the norm for College instead of High School.Look, you can extend the argument, "If they are old enough to serve in the military they should be old enough for…" to anything. Why not President? Why not Gambling? Why are children allowed to gamble with STDs but not cards and dice? Why are you allowed to pollute your body with cigs at 18, but have to wait till 21 to pollute it with alcohol?The numbers are arbitrary. There may be 16 year olds who are mature enough mentally to make smart choices when it comes to drinking alcohol and mature enough physically to handle the effects. And there are some adults who NEVER get that mature. But it's too complicated to test everyone's maturity level individually. That's why arbitrary numbers are needed.Some of the numbers may be unfair. I think you can make a logical connection between Voting and the Age of Military service. Those who are expected to fight and die for our country ought to have the right to a say in how the country is run, especially in where and how they might be sent to fight. But there is NO logical connection between driving, drinking, gambling, sex, voting and becoming President. Each age of maturity or consent should be judged on it's own merits, whether society feels the individuals are mature enough physically and mentally to handle the new responsibility and whether society is ready to have people that young as participants.Finally, there are many comics creators over 50 who have paid their dues, have many fans and have earned a continuing place making comics with DC and Marvel. If DC and Marvel are too stupid to realize that, well then it's nice that the Internet (and ComicMix) and other publishers are now available as alternate venues for those creators. Too much of society is geared toward capturing the attention of a relatively small young demographic. Society and the Comics Industry are clearly guilty of age descrimination. Hey, there is a "Friends of Lulu" to help encourage and promote women comics professionals. Is there room for a Society of Mature Comics Talent, say comics professionals over the age of 50? Does a society like that already exist?