Author: John Ostrander

John Ostrander: Through The Years


I recently was talking to my friend and frequent (and upcoming) collaborator, Jan Duursema, about just the technological changes I’ve seen in comics over the course of my career. It must be getting close to thirty years since I began all this.

When I first started, I wrote my plots and scripts on a manual typewriter with a carbon copy for me. For you boys and girls who don’t know what a carbon was, it was a black inked piece of paper that you placed between the first and second pieces of paper. As the typewriter key struck the first page, the force of it would penetrate the carbon and leave an identical letter on the second page. If you hit it hard enough. In theory.

When I began, I wrote out my plots and scripts in longhand on yellow legal sized pads of paper from which I would then transcribe to the typewriter. It was easier to make corrections on the yellow pad than on the typed page. There, if you even made a spelling mistake, you had to haul out the Wite-Out (sic) or Liquid Paper. These were small round bottles of white paint with a cap with a small brush in it and it was a pain to use. If you didn’t seal it up properly, the liquid would dry out and become unusable. Some inkers who use it to this day either for corrections or to create effects.

When I worked at First Comics, I lived in Rogers Park which is on the far north side of Chicago. The First Comics’ offices were originally in Evanston and I could walk there or take a quick elevated train trip and drop off the plot or script. It got more complicated when I started working for DC Comics as well. Their offices were in New York City and I couldn’t easily walk my stories there.

If I got my work done soon enough before deadline, I could use the U.S. mail but, as my good friend and oft-times editor Mike Gold could tell you, that is usually an unlikely occurrence. Mike once called me on a script I was doing for him and informed me I had gone past deadline and was approaching funeral line.

More often I used Federal Express and usually their overnight delivery service. DC and Marvel both provided pre-paid shipping labels in those days but, still, there were too often the mad dashes to the FedEx office. The closest one to me, by odd happenstance, was in Evanston near the First Comics offices. The key was to get there before it closed (promptly at 5 PM as I recall). If you missed it and you had to get the script in the next day, it necessitated the late night run to the central FedEx office out near the airport. When I finished the writing really late, it meant a mad dash to try to get to that FedEx office before it closed at midnight. I remember one especially hairy run with my wife, Kim, driving and running red lights while I stuffed the pages onto the envelope and completed the shipping label. Some nights it was like a gathering of the local comic book fraternity of both writers and artists as we all tried to slip in under our respective deadlines.

I thought I had graduated to technical nirvana when I traded the manual typewriter in for an electric one. This one had a correcting ribbon built in! However, this was also soon replaced when I bought my first computer. Mike and others in the industry had been pressuring me to get one but, as usual, I was resistant. I am usually not the first to embrace a new technology. I may not be the dead last to do so but it’s usually a near thing. I got a Mac because that’s what most of the people I knew in the industry had.

Side note: one of the beefs I have with the movie Independence Day was that, at the climax, the alien mothership is destroyed by a computer virus introduced into its systems by a Mac computer. Macs couldn’t talk much with other computers on Earth; it can talk to an alien computer? Bah!

Working with a computer enabled me to quickly correct mistakes and, as I went on, I discovered spell-check. An even bigger discovery was the Internet and email. With email, I could simply send my work in and the offices would get it the next second. Which of course enabled me to push the deadline even harder.

With the Internet, I also discovered I could do my research when I needed it without setting foot outside my door. Previously, I had to go to the nearest available library during library hours, hoping they would have something. That wasn’t useful when I was working on something in the middle of the night. With the Internet and search engines, I could look up anything at any time.

Sometimes, however, you can get lost in research. I remember on an early Suicide Squad story I spent a lot of time looking up Soviet train schedules to see if my team could possibly get to certain places I said they got at the times when I had them doing that. Was that strictly necessary for the story to work? Well, no. But I think I hit my obsessed button and I couldn’t get out.

Another advantage of working with computer was that I could work more efficiently and could take on more assignments. OTOH, it also offers many more ways of goofing off. Hellooooo, Facebook!

These days I no longer write my stories out long hand; I compose right on the computer. However, I do use a written journal with which to work out the stories and characters. That still feels more natural. My thoughts seem to flow from my brain down my arm through my pen and onto the page. It’s more organic, more creative, for me that way.

The point of all this is that while I have had a good long career it hasn’t been that long since my days with the manual typewriter and the Liquid Paper. I’ll probably be getting another computer fairly soon; I’ve had the one on which I write this for more than a few years and it’s time. I suspect I won’t fully understand everything the new computer does; I doubt if I really understand even half of what my current one does. Technology has made me a more prolific writer – but has it made me a better one? Actually, I think it has. Re-writing has become easier, for one thing.

However, I don’t think it has made me better on my deadlines. How close am I to the funeral line, Mike?

John Ostrander: Don’t Look Down

John Ostrander: Don’t Look Down

Wile E Coyote

There’s a rule for tightrope walkers: don’t look down. If you look down, you’ll fall. Focus instead on the other end of the wire, where you’re headed. Focus on the goal. I’ve always felt that’s good advice for writers as well.

Don’t look down.

If you doubt that you can write, you can’t. If asked if you are a writer, your answer has to be “Yes.” If you’re asked if you are a good writer, your answer has to be “Yes.” If you’re asked if you are the best writer that you can ever be, your answer should be “Not yet.” You not only have to say it, you have to believe it. If you don’t or can’t, then you are looking down.

Don’t look down.

This isn’t about being humble. It’s not about modesty. If you’re going to be a writer, you have to believe that you are good enough to be read. If you want to be a professional writer, you have to believe that you are good enough for people to want to pay money to read you. You have to believe it and you have to continue to believe it even despite evidence to the contrary, even if people tell you that you can’t. Margaret Mitchell was rejected 38 times before she sold Gone With The Wind. J.K. Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was rejected by 12 publishers before finding a home. Agatha Christie was rejected for five years. Louis L’Amour got 200 rejection letters. They stuck it out.

You can’t just say you believe. You have to choose to believe. Any belief worth having must be chosen.

Can you falter? Yes. I’ve looked down a few times. I doubted. I fell. You wonder, you question, you doubt. In the end, if you’re going to continue to write, you have to look back up and choose to believe that you can write, that you are a writer. Every time I start a story, every day that I sit down at this keyboard, it’s an act of faith.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be critical of your own work. You just have to criticize without ego. You have to take criticism without ego. I know people whose whole sense of self-worth is tied up with their work. Writing is too slender a reed on which to place such an existential weight. It’s not about you; it’s about the work. Your objective should always be to make the work better. You must also accept that some parts will be better than others and some parts worse. Some parts will, in fact, be good. Deal with it. If you have any talent, any skill, some parts of the work should be good. It’s okay to claim that.

Your writing will never be perfect. That’s inherently impossible especially when writing on a deadline. All it can be is as good as you can make it at that moment. It doesn’t have to be perfect; Shakespeare isn’t perfect. If you doubt me, go read the climax of Cymbeline.

Whenever I’m asked what I think is my best story, I invariably answer, “My next one.” That has to be true. If it isn’t, I’m done. Might as well quit. I like writing too much to want that to happen. Well, most days I like it too much. Some days I hate it and that’s normal, too.

The best way to become a better writer is to write. We all start with a certain amount of crap in our systems and you have to write the crap out. There are no shortcuts; just accept that a certain percentage of what you do is crap and keep working. Over time, with diligence, with luck, you’ll write less crap. Don’t worry about the doubts or the fears; we all have them and we all wrestle with them. Some days they win but, as you go on, those days become fewer. So keep at it. And remember. . .

Don’t look down.

John Ostrander: Brandon Sanderson’s Brave New (Super)World


SPOILER ALERT: In discussing Brandon Sanderson’s Reckoners trilogy, I may reveal one or two of its secrets. I tried really hard not to, but it may be unavoidable here and there. You are warned!

Creating a superhero universe is difficult. It needs to be coherent and make sense within itself; to obey its own rules. You don’t want it to be like established superhero universes (Marvel, DC, and so on) but it will need to follow certain tropes. You want to give the reader the thrill of discovering something new but not so unfamiliar, so alien, that they can’t identify with it. You need to attract the superhero fan but you also need to get a wider audience. It has to work as a straight forward action / adventure / suspense story and still feel super-hero-y. It’s trickier than you might think.

It’s also tougher if you’re trying to do it in prose sans the illustration. Isn’t the art the main component for a good superhero story?

Maybe. Maybe not.

I recently finished reading Calamity, the third and final novel in The Reckoners trilogy by Brandon Sanderson. (The first two books were Steelheart and Firefight.) The metahumans are called Epics and just about all of them all supervillains. An entity dubbed Calamity showed up orbiting the Earth like a small red sun and ordinary humans acquired extraordinary powers. That which gave them strange new abilities also turned them nasty. They kill wantonly, sometimes randomly, and rule different cities, often warring between themselves and utterly indifferent to the carnage they wreak on the humans living there.

The Reckoners are a group of ordinary humans who are fighting a Resistance type action against Epics. Their intent is to kill those that they can but the really powerful ones, the “High Epics”, seem out of reach. The group is joined by David Charleston who is also our host and narrator. David’s father was killed about ten years before the story starts by the Epic Steelheart who rules Newcago (formerly Chicago) as the series starts.

There’s lots to like in this trilogy. David, who has been obsessively studying the Epics most of his life, figures out that each metahuman’s weakness is tied to their nightmares, to their fears. I like that. It ties the weakness into character which is better than something arbitrary like kryptonite. It ties very deeply into the final resolution in the last book.

There’s a strong streak of science fiction in the books as well; there are three cities, one for each book – Chicago (Newcago), New York (Babilar) and Atlanta (Ildithia). Each one is re-imagined in the light of this post-apocalyptic world ruled by Epics.

The books are not perfect. The naming of the Epics is hit and miss; sometimes it’s right and sometimes it makes me go “Huh?” I’m also not sure why the metahumans are dubbed “Epics”. I understand the desire to avoid the words “superhuman” or even “metahuman” but why would anyone call them “Epics”?

Mr. Sanderson (our author) also has a habit of ending chapters of some sort of cliffhanger. A twist can’t be unexpected if you know it’s coming. There’s a temptation to peek ahead to the last sentence or so of the chapter you’re reading to see what’s coming. That said, the twists do move the story along smartly and they are effective. In fact, all three books are page-turners. They’re well written, the characters are sharp and engaging, and there’s some thought put into ‘em. The trilogy ties up the main story by its conclusion but I wouldn’t mind going back to the world Sanderson has created.

Even if it isn’t in four-colors.

John Ostrander: Suicide Squad Rogues


Sorta Spoiler Notes: Today I’m discussing the latest Suicide Squad reprint, Rogues, and I’ll disclose some plot points. The stories were originally published in the late 80s so a spoiler shouldn’t be needed, but just in case you didn’t read them back then and are considering catching up now, you been warned!

One of the nice side-effects of the upcoming Suicide Squad movie is that DC is pushing into TPB print my original run. The latest volume comes out April 12 and is entitled Rogues and it’s maybe my favorite one so far. It reprints issues 17 through 25, including the Annual and a Bronze Tiger solo story by Larry Ganem and Peter Krause.

A quick rundown on the Squad. The Original Suicide Squad was created by Robert Kanigher and Ross Andru and debuted in 1959 in The Brave and the Bold #25. They were pretty much a version of Challengers of the Unknown and featured three guys and a gal. They appeared for five issues of B&B and then… nothing.

I revived the title in 1987 ands re-invented the group as a cross between the Dirty Dozen and the Secret Society of Super-Villains. Incarcerated bad guys were sent on covert missions for the U.S. and got time shaved off their prison terms – if they survived. Not all did.

In this latest TPB, we were getting into our second year and really hitting our stride. The book was constantly changing (I liked to try and keep things fresh) and one of the big changes was that my wife, Kim Yale, came on as co-writer. Kim had been itching to get into comics and I wanted to spread out my burgeoning workload. She loved the whole idea of the Squad and brought a lot of herself and her energy into the book.

Kim and I usually had different work/sleep schedules. I was a morning person and Kim always felt that there was nothing wrong with the morning that sleeping until noon couldn’t fix. We each had our own Mac but they weren’t connected. In those days, to share you had to put things on a floppy disc and then exchange them. (Millennials, go ask your parents  or Wikipedia what floppy discs were. We’ll wait.) I was the senior writer; I had the most experience and I had guaranteed the quality of writing with our editor, Bob Greenberger. If Kim and I had story or script disagreements (and we did) that we couldn’t resolve, I had final say. Kim didn’t always like that but she agreed.

When scripting, we would divide up the issue, work different scenes, and then exchange them. Kim would do a re-write on mine, I did one on hers, and if we disagreed, we’d work to resolve it. Today I couldn’t tell you which part was Kim’s work and which part was mine and that’s as it should be.

Two key things happened in this group of stories. First, we introduced Oracle who, originally, was just a voice coming from a computer. At this point, Oracle was an outside hacker who got into the Squad’s computers. It would be a while before we revealed who it was to the readers. Spoiler: it turned out to be the former Batgirl, Barbara Gordon, after she had been crippled by the Joker in The Killing Joke. Yeah, they said it wasn’t really in continuity but all the fans thought it was and so did we.

We also introduced the running joke of the pie-in-the-face gag. Starting with Amanda Waller, every so often someone would get pied; the mystery of who was doing it wasn’t revealed for a long time. I can’t believe how long we pushed it. For a book so grim and gritty, we did classic slapstick every now and then. Keep things shaken up.

Also for humor, we added the characters of Punch and Jewelee. Kim and I never did use the Joker and/or Harley Quinn in our version of the Squad. Too many strings attached to really get to play with them as we would have wanted. Punch and Jewelee were fun loving sociopaths in a similar vein to the Joker and Harley. They were married and over-sexed as well as homicidal. “Now I’m going to make you eat this salami!” One of my favorite lines. I continue to deny that Punch and Jewelee were in any way based on Kim and me and our married life. Deny deny deny.

We also added Killer Shrike to the line-up. She had sonic abilities and “accidently” killed people but, as we wrote her, she had “found Jesus” and was working her way to the Lord by serving with the Suicide Squad. That girl just wasn’t quite right in the head but fun to write.

This series also had one of the best twists we ever did. Senator Cray and his political associate, Derec Tolliver, were trying to blackmail Amanda Waller into doing dirty work for them by threatening to publicly reveal the Squad. This is a case of two dopes thinking they are smarter than they are. Waller, of course, found a way to reverse the tables on them but she didn’t bother to tell the Squad’s leader, Rick Flag, who decided to take matters into his own hands and kill the two.

Waller finds out only after (Spoiler) Flag kills Tolliver. She then sends the rest of the Squad out to stop Flag from killing Cray “by any means necessary.” She would have cause to regret those words.

It was Deadshot, Floyd Lawton, who found Flag just as Flag was about to shoot the Senator. Deadshot had just returned to the Squad after the tragic events of his own miniseries and mentally was not very stable. He found a unique way to keep Flag from killing the Senator (Spoiler) – by killing Cray himself.

A lot of stuff happens in this volume – characters come, characters go, characters die. The usual unusual stuff with the Squad. We get a touch of the personal lives as well; we even get to see Waller deal with family and you get very much the sense she’s rather deal with the criminals and sociopaths that make up the Squad.

It’s interesting to me (at least) that, in the beginning, I wasn’t even sure I could write a team book. I found it to be terra incognita. By this point in the run, I felt a lot more secure. The blend of personalities really clicked for me and getting to work with Kim was just an additional pleasure. Most of the time.

DC is going to release another volume of our Squad stories in July, just before the movie comes out in August. That makes sense. Get ‘em out while the interest is there. I’m hoping that they’ll continue to collect the Squad afterwards as well; they’re almost half the way through the run now and it would be nice to have the whole thing gathered.

Now, if I can just get them to collect Wasteland…

John Ostrander: Spotlighted

John Ostrander: Spotlighted


Having missed it in the theater, I finally caught this year’s Oscar winner for Best Picture, Spotlight, on Blu-Ray. I thought it was mighty impressive, deserving of all the kudos and awards it has gotten.

Directed and co-written by Tom McCarthy and starring Michael Keaton (having a brilliant career renaissance), Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci and a whole slew of really good actors, it tells the account of the breaking of the pederast priests story in the Boston Archdiocese by the Spotlight investigative team of the Boston Globe. The four journalists working for Spotlight are long form investigators who can work on a story over a long period of time, sometimes years.

The movie is both riveting and appalling, making clear how the Roman Catholic hierarchy in Boston – and elsewhere – covered up the sexual abuse of children. It’s a scandal that continues to rock the RC church on a world-wide basis. It’s not only a RC problem, as Josh Duggar proved; fundamentalists also get in on the “action”.

The movie is “entertaining” in that it tells an important story and tells it well. There are comparisons to All The President’s Men, the movie about the breaking of the Watergate scandal by the Washington Post that lead to the impeachment of Richard Nixon and these comparisons are apt; Spotlight even has a sort of Deep Throat character who we hear on the phone but never see.

One of the important points hammered home is the importance of newspapers in our Body Politic, which is worrisome since newspapers are a dying breed. It takes time and money to do this kind of investigation and I’m not sure who is willing to commit to that kind of investment any more. Staffs get cut; there’s just not enough revenue coming in to support it in such a case. Investigative journalism may be seen as a luxury by cash-strapped publishers and their boards.

Is investigative journalism important? Yes. You can trace the history and importance of it back through the “muckrakers” of Teddy Roosevelt’s time. The admirable Doris Kearns Goodwin (my favorite living history writer), in her most recent book The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism, shows – among other things – the rise of McClure’s Magazine at the turn of the last century and how its groundbreaking use of long-form investigative journalism helped usher in the Progressive Era. It is a fascinating and scary read; it has too many echoes with today.

We don’t have this kind of investigative work as much these days. The Internet is great for opinion but opinions are like assholes – everybody has one and, sooner or later, everybody is one. Investigations such as shown in Spotlight rely on facts, facts that are meticulously and painstakingly gathered and checked. The goal is to get the story right and get the right story. As the movie shows, the story wasn’t just about the child abuse in the Catholic Church but how the hierarchy knew about it and covered it up.

Why is that important? This is a Newsweek report from this last February: “During a presentation for newly appointed bishops, French Monsignor Tony Anatrella said they don’t have a duty to report abuse because it should be the responsibility of victims and their families to go to the police.”

The movie tells us, in title cards at the end, that the Boston Globe published 600 articles on the topic and that pederast priests and brothers have been found in many cities, not only in this country but around the world. It was hard to read that list and not feel a little sick.

Finding the story, getting it right, and getting it out there is more important than ever in this election year. Politicians know that they can blatantly lie and get away with it. What they say hits the front page; the correction (if any) comes on page three. Perhaps a lot of people these days just don’t care; they know what they think and don’t need no stinkin’ facts.

They’re wrong. The Body Politic needs to know those stinkin’ facts. The movie, Spotlight, shows how hard it is to get them and the impact they can have. We need to know the story that the facts tell even if it makes us uncomfortable. The scary question is – how much longer will we be able to get them?

John Ostrander Is In London Today…

John Ostrander Is In London Today…

… and you’re not. Nyah nyah nyah.

Circumstances involving the myth that airplanes always fly in a snow storm mitigated against his producing his column today. He’ll be back next week, assuming that snow storm isn’t hiding somewhere around Greenland waiting for his return flight.

It’s possible.

John Ostrander’s Grab Bag

Dark DiscipleRandom thoughts and vague notions.

New Girl On The Block. Samantha Bee has launched her new weekly news round-up show, Full Frontal. Two episodes have aired so far and, IMO, both were killer. I always loved Samantha Bee on The Daily Show – she was a great combination of fearless and shameless, and she carries that over to her new show. The writing is sharp and the delivery dead on. I loved the segment she did last week on the so-called constitutional crisis arising from the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and how it really isn’t a crisis; it’s the Republican leadership in the Senate refusing to do their job. Check it out. 

I love Noah Trevor, Larry Wilmore, John Oliver, and Bill Mahar but, right now, I love Samantha the most. All hail Queen Bee!

Commercials. I usually skip most TV commercials. Not all. And some I actually enjoy for one reason or another. Some I hate with a passion. Some are so stupid that I remember the product’s name just to make sure I never buy that product.

There’s one for a car insurance company that has me diving for the mute button every time I see it. A young woman comes on and talks about her car that she named “Brad.” They did everything together, she says, which gives a new meaning to the word “auto-eroticism.” (Maybe that’s just me and my filthy mind.) She totals it and moans that nothing can replace “Brad” – until the insurance company calls and she goes into her “happy dance.”

This woman is psychotic. She’s off her meds and somebody needs to get her back on them – stat!

Who is this commercial being aimed at? I take it for granted that it’s not me (I’m too old to be the target audience for any commercial except for ads for walk-in tubs) but who do the advertisers expect to reach? Shouldn’t the ad make you identify with whoever is making the pitch? Who ldoud identify with Little Miss Psychotic?

There’s lots of commercials like that out there. Why? To me, they just seem that the ad agency folks got high and then proposed anything that made them giggle – and they sold it!

Beats the hell out of me.

Credit Where Credit Is Due: I recently picked up a Star Wars novel – Dark Disciple by Christie Golden – because it featured a character created by Jan Duursema and myself for the comics. The character is Quinlan Vos.  The book is well written – Ms. Golden is no stranger to novels, especially franchise books – and I’m okay that the characterization of Quin doesn’t really match up with what we did. The story was adapted from some scripts for the Star Wars Clone Wars animated series and Quin was an alternate universe version. Oh, he shared some looks and traits with the original version but in many respect he was a very different character.

Look, I can deal with that. I knew from Day One that whatever we created belonged lock, stock, and dreadlocks to Lucas Film Licensing and, now, to Disney. I do wonder why you use an existing character from another medium and then change him so much. However, that’s their prerogative. So be it.

My complaint, however, is that there are two sets of acknowledgements at the beginning of the book, one from the author and another from one of the co-writer of the animated episodes who also happens to be George Lucas’ daughter. Nowhere in either of them are Jan and I acknowledged or thanked. Really? I understand that I own no part of Quin. Unlike Amanda Waller and the Suicide Squad, I don’t get any money when Quin is used elsewhere. That was the deal from the start. However, if you’re thanking folks who made it possible – why not the two who originated him?

Boy Toys, Girl Toys: Martha Thomases wrote a really good column this week about how the Big Two comic book companies, movie execs, and toy companies have problems with gender assignments for their products. This product is for boys and that product is for girls because the products has either a penis or a vagina and that’s all there is to it.

I remember reading how Daisy Ridley’s character Rey who (spoiler alert) is the central character in The Force Awakens is absent from figure sets (they’re “action figures” you know, not “dolls”) and from the new Star Wars The Force Awakens Monopoly set. The justification given by Hasbro is that they didn’t want to “give away” a major plot point which featuring Rey might have done.

I’m calling bullshit on this one. There’s no concern that featuring any of the other new characters like Finn or Poe might reveal a plot point. In the action figure set of six, they include an unnamed storm trooper with the new characters. Rey is conspicuous by her absence.

Isn’t the real concern that the boys literally won’t buy a Rey figure? And that girls don’t buy that kind of stuff because, you know, they want pink toy oven sets? They aren’t really into that boy stuff. Except that, as Martha points out, they are and Hasbro’s decision is just another example of hide-bound old boy thinking. You’d think that the outcry would make these execs’ faces blush pink with embarrassment.

Except that, you know, pink is a girlie color.

Catch y’all later.

John Ostrander’s Election Follies

Donald Trump The Joker

ComicMix comments upon pop culture and entertainment and, in this silly season of primaries, politics qualifies as entertainment. Sometimes perverse entertainment, I grant you. I’m from Chicago and I was raised during the reign of King Daley the First so I know from political entertainment. As Studs Terkel said many long years ago, “Chicago is not the most corrupt American city. It’s the most theatrically corrupt.” So that’s my standard.

I was raised Republican but, on reaching voting age, I became a Democrat because that was the only way to vote in a mayoral election that counted in that city – the Democratic mayoral primary. The last Republican mayor of Chicago was “Big Bill’ Thompson was booted out of office in 1931. There is no Republican Party to speak of in Chicago.

So I know from political entertainment, although currently it’s hard to decide to laugh, cry, or go screaming into the night.

Let’s start with the Democrats, the apparent adults in the room. In the New Hampshire primary this last week, Bernie Sanders got 60% of the vote and fifteen delegates to the Democratic National Convention. Hilary Clinton’s share got her nine. However, as Larry Wilmore pointed out on The Nightly Show, the Democrats also have something called superdelegates and all six of those went to Hilary. So, despite Sanders clearly winning the popular votes, they both left New Hampshire with fifteen delegates each. Now there’s Common Core math for ya!

The real entertainment, though, was over with the Republicans where an actual reality show star topped the field in the GOP version of the New Hampshire primary. Donald Trump’s numbers, as he himself might say, were huuuuge. He got 35% of the votes and that was more than twice the numbers posted by his nearest competitor, Gov. John Kasich of Ohio. (All together now – “Who?”) Even the GOP leaders don’t want Trump. His nearest competitor is Senator Ted Cruz and the GOP higher-ups don’t much care for him, either. I understand most of Cruz’s fellow senators are not fond of him.

In addition to Trump, there are two other Republican candidates seeking the Presidential nomination who have never served in public office – Dr. Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina, although Fiorina dropped out of the race after New Hampshire. Their main appeal to the voters seems to be that they have never been politicians. The distaste for Washington seems so deep that some voters will take someone who has zero experience in politics and give them the most difficult, most challenging job in politics.

Before this whole brouhaha started, the presumed nominee was going to be Jeb! Bush, brother of former President George W. and son of former president George H. W. Bush. That flamed out pretty fast. He now has his mother stumping for him as well as his brother, not known in most circles as the best Prez of the U.S.A., will also be on the election trail. One of the saddest things I’ve seen was Bush pleading with a sluggish audience to applaud. And then there was the moment in the Republican debate when Bush interrupted Trump only to be shushed by the real estate tycoon.

You have to say that Trump is the real star of the show. He gets the attention, the audience, and the best (or worst) lines, He reminds me of Captain Boomerang when I wrote him in Suicide Squad. Every time you thought he had gone as low as he could, he’d find a new level to which to sink.

Here’s a sample of Trump:

“What can be simpler or more accurately stated? The Mexican government is forcing their most unwanted people into the United States. They are, in many cases, criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc”

I will build a great wall – and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me – and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”

“If Obama resigns from office now, thereby doing a great service to the country, I will give him free lifetime golf at any one of my courses!”

“All of the women on The Apprentice flirted with me – consciously or unconsciously. That’s to be expected.”

“Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.

On unemployment numbers: “5.3 percent unemployment – that is the biggest joke there is in this country… The unemployment rate is probably 20 percent, but I will tell you, you have some great economists that will tell you it’s a 30, 32. And the highest I’ve heard so far is 42 percent.” (Note: during the Great Depression, unemployment peaked at 25%.)

About his daughter, Ivanka: “Yeah, she’s really something, and what a beauty, that one. If I weren’t happily married and, ya know, her father…”


Trump has been generous in providing fodder for Noah Trevor, Larry Wilmore, Bill Mahar, John Oliver, and now Samantha Bee (whose new show is great) as well as all the late night broadcast folks and comedians and satirists across this great country of ours. That’s added to the entertainment value. Still…

Can you seriously see Trump with the nuclear codes? Can you see Trump at an international conference and talking to our allies who might not be our allies afterwards? Can you see Trump nominating a Supreme Court Justice and maybe more than one? Can you see Trump “negotiating” with Congress and maybe telling them all that they’re fired? Some people can and that cheers them. Me? I don’t know if it’s a comedy or a horror story.

Hmmm. Sounds to me like a Wasteland story.

John Ostrander’s Guide To Writing Secrets

SecretOnce again I’m a JohnnyO-come-lately to a pop culture phenomenon. I don’t know why I avoided watching Downton Abbey on PBS outside of general cussedness. I get like that. Even something I think I might enjoy I’ll not watch or read because everyone else is doing it. Perverse.

Mary decided she wanted to watch the show so we bought the disc of the first season just to “sample” it. Well, that done it. We’ve gotten all the others and sort of binge watched right through the current and final season. Yes, we’re now ahead of friends and relatives who have been fans of the series right along, but don’t worry. I’m not actually going to reveal the upcoming plot twists and turns.

Rather, I want to consider the use of secrets in the series. We all have secrets at varying levels – things we don’t share. If true with us, so it should be with our characters.

Some are just very basic secrets – name, address, phone number – but things that are not necessarily shared with everyone. If a drunk at a bar asks a woman for her name and phone number, she may keep that secret and/or give him wrong information.

There are secrets that acquaintances might know – people at work or school. Deeper than that is the level with friends and deeper than that are the close friends. Family has its own level of secrets and even within family, some members have access to your secrets that others don’t. Your siblings may know things about you of which your parents are not aware but they choose not to rat you out (most of the time) and you know their secrets as well. Assured mutual destruction. The ones we love, with whom we are most intimate, can share our deepest secrets as well as our bed. Sharing secrets indicates a real trust and that’s why a break-up can be so hard. Your secrets are no longer yours when the trust is gone.

There are the secrets about yourself that you keep to yourself, that no one else knows (or so you think). There are secrets that you keep from yourself and only learn perhaps too late.

The thing about secrets is that they want to be told. What propels many stories, especially in Downton Abbey, is what secret is told to who and when and was it a good choice? Often the reader/viewer can see it when the character can’t; sometimes the most interesting choice the writer can make is that the character reveals a secret and we know it’s a bad idea.

Some characters make it their business to learn the secrets of others, the better to use as a weapon when they think they need it or just feel like it. There has been more than one character like that on Downton Abbey.

We also see people keep secrets from each other on the show, especially with couples, and more especially with married couples. While the characters rationalize it as necessary, it’s rarely a good thing. It’s almost guaranteed to bite them in their ass. Sometimes the secret will be shared with one or two people but not with others.

Of course, the biggest secrets are the ones that the writer keeps from the audience. They get teased out as the show goes on but, as with all fiction, it’s important for the writer to choose what to reveal and when. It keeps our interest up; it creates suspense. It’s a problem when the writer has a secret and they don’t know the truth themselves. It’s not out there; it’s not anywhere. Some big secret, some big mystery, lies at the heart of the story and you only find out later that the creator doesn’t really know the answer either. They were sort of making it up as they go. I hate it when that happens.

Secrets have power and are sometimes used like currency. It’s true in our lives and so it should be true in the lives of our characters. It was certainly true on Downton Abbey and would-be writers would do well to study it.

Excuse me now while I go think up some secrets to hide.

John Ostrander: TV Superheroes Come and Go

Barbara Gordon Oracle(SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! Spoiler spoiler spoil spoil spoilery spoilers. I’m chatting this week about the events on some of the superhero TV shows last week. If you recorded them and intend to watch them later, give this a pass. Here endeth the warning.)

It was an interesting week in superhero TVland – specifically, DC superhero TVland. At least for me. I had a personal connection to some of them.

Arrow had a few events, some minor, one major. The character Felicity who is their computer geek expert recently got shot and it appears she has nerve damage to the spine and now has resumed her place with the team in a wheelchair. Sound like anyone we know? Yup – Oracle, whom my late wife and writing partner Kim Yale and I created from the remains of Barbara Gordon. Oh, they’re not calling her that but that’s who she is, wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more.

They also had Felicity dealing with a hallucination of her younger self, perhaps brought on by pain medication or even an aftereffect of anesthesia. What’s interesting is that younger Felciity is the spitting image of Death from the Sandman series – pale skin, raven dark hair, dressed in black, with an ankh necklace. However, they don‘t reference Death at all. They just grab her look. Guess Felicity was really into the Goth scene back then.

The major event was – they killed off their version of Amanda Waller. Bad guy just suddenly shot her in the head without warning. That was startling, I will admit, as it was no doubt intended to be. Since I get a little bit of money every time Amanda shows up on Arrow (or anywhere), her death was not a terribly pleasant surprise.

OTOH, this was a young, pretty, skinny Waller which is not how I saw the character. When I created the Wall, I saw her as a certain age and a certain heft for a variety of reasons. The bulk made her more physically intimidating. Also, I wanted a character who was unlike other comic book characters. Being black, middle aged, and plus-sized did that. I understood that this was the CW and that’s what the CW does – young and gorgeous is the rule of the day, every day. I did nott and do not object to their interpretation. And we have Viola Davis playing Amanda in the upcoming Suicide Squad movie and I’m looking forward to that. (The second trailer came out for the Squad movie as well recently and it’s looking real hot, IMO.)

There was another unexpected death in DC superhero TV-land this week and it was in the second episode of the new DC’s Legends Of Tomorrow. On the team is the CW version of Hawkman and Hawkgirl (you couldn’t call her Hawkwoman, CW?) and, lo and behold, they offed Hawkman this week. Well, boy howdee, that was a stunner.

I didn’t create Hawkman but I’d written him for a while (although it was alien Katar Hol rather than Carter Hall) so I did have a personal attachment to him. I’ll continue watching for now just to see where they go with all this but I’m not sure of its longevity.

The last event happened for me on Supergirl over on CBS rather than the CW. The main character is alright but, for me, the real draw is the Martian Manhunter, J’onn J’onzz. Tom Mandrake and I did a series on JJ in which we explored more of his society and culture. For example, it had been long established that, on Mars, J’onn had a wife and daughter who died. No one, however, had ever given them names, so I did. The daughter I named K’ym as a tribute to my late wife. On last week’s Supergirl episode, J’onn went into some of his past. He mentioned two daughters, one of whom was named K’ym.

That pleased me a lot. It was just a small thing but I know Kim would have been very pleased. I can almost hear her giggling and see her bouncing up and down with glee. Most pleasant.

So that was my week in Superhero TVland. How was yours?