Author: Martha Thomases

Martha Thomases: Gods and Starz

Forgive me, Constant Reader, but I am still somewhat hungover from my Eisner Awards weekend. As evidence, I tell you that I have the new issue of one of my favorite titles, Bitch Planet, in my apartment, but I have not yet read it.

(I may read it during the course of writing this, because I plan to have lunch today. Stay tuned.)

So this week, I plan to talk about something that is not comics, but comics-adjacent, American Gods, the new series on Starz based on the novel by Neil Gaiman.

My colleagues in this space, Emily Whitten and Mindy Newell, have already written about the great cast and the tight scripting. I want to talk about some aspects of the show that are more ephemeral.

I haven’t read American Gods since it was published in 2001, but I remember being knocked out by it. The story of a war was not that unusual, but the fighters were, battles between the old gods (from Europe and Asia and Africa, like Odin and Anansi and Star) and the new gods (technology, media, celebrity). I mean, I already loved Neil, both as a person and as a writer, and his previous novel, Neverwhere, had been fun, but I thought American Gods was a great leap forward. It had an empathy towards its characters that I found to be much more personal and nuanced than the previous book. In fact, I considered it to be downright politically radical.

All these years later, my memories of the story have faded. There are some vivid images, notably a vignette in a taxi cab, but I don’t remember a lot about the plot or the characters. I am old. I have a lot of characters already in my brain, and I try to prioritize remembering the ones in real life.

I was excited to sit down with my brand-new subscription to the Starz channel on Sunday night, a bit nervous because the early reviews I’d read all talked about how violent the series was. Sure enough, the opening scene looked like it had been dipped in henna. And yet, it didn’t give me the icks. Later, there was not only more blood, but walks through a forest filled with skulls, threatening skies and ominous, discordant music.

It wasn’t scary. It was quite lovely. And even though he hadn’t had anything to do with it (that I know about), it seemed like Dave McKean might have influenced the production design, at least for those scenes. They shared his sense of chaotic beauty.

The acting is terrific, and the casting superb. My foggy memories of the characters flash a bit, but I think I would relate to them just as much without reading the book. Even in the most dire circumstances, the actors seem to be having a great time, especially Ian McShane.

American Gods remains a political fable, albeit perhaps a different one than I read in 2001. My sympathies in the war among the gods remains with the older deities, although my mistrust of the whole lot of them is still strong. In this time, unlike the turn on the century, the war is also played out between the cities and the small towns, the coasts and the flat fly-over country. When there is a fight in a bar in the first episode, I have no doubt that the humans who watch are Trump voters.

Do I think that the old gods are Republicans and the new gods are Democrats? Hell, no. Neither do I think their worshippers divide up quite so simply. I think there are plenty of rural folks who love celebrities and smart phones. I think lots of urban hipsters would drink mead if it was offered. And I think all too many of us, no matter where we live or what we believe, would spill blood to get what we want.

This has been my first week with Starz. When I called my cable company to add it, I specifically told them I wanted it for American Gods. I see that they also have the new Ghostbusters. So I can have my Neil fix and Kate McKinnon without having to find the remote. That’s one less sacrifice to the tech gods.

Martha Thomases: Trapped In A Room Reading Comics!

Imagine that you find yourself far away from home. You’re in a room with six other people, five of whom are strangers to you. Also in the room are enormous piles of books and magazines.

All of them comics.

You have three and a half days to read all the books and magazines and establish some kind of hierarchy to evaluate them and the people who made them.

Sounds pretty sweet, doesn’t it? But, just like sweets, a diet of just these things, force-fed over 80 hours, gets kind of nauseating.

This is what it was like to be an Eisner judge. It was exhausting. My head hurts from wearing my glasses so long, and from my eyes focusing on so many different styles of lettering. My back hurts from sitting in chairs. My stomach rebels at the truly awesome amounts of junk food I consumed.

Being an Eisner judge trapped in that room was also pretty amazing. I’d done as much reading as I could in advance, but I was delighted to find more things I didn’t know about that were fabulous. Best of all, I found some books I would have dismissed as not my type that turned out to be gorgeous. I love it when my expectations are confounded.

It was delightful to meet the other judges. Dawn, the two Robs, Jamie and Alan each had much different tastes than I did (and from each other), but that made our deliberations much more interesting. We were a librarian, a critic, a retailer, an academic and me, the marketing person, so we all looked at comics differently. It also meant that when I recommended something that someone else really liked, I had a sense of triumph something like making a successful soufflé.

In the first day and a half, we eliminated all the books that we felt were average or worse. A lot of things I kind of liked were included here, perhaps because my appreciation of minor idiosyncrasies far exceeds that of the marketplace.

The much harder part was getting that list down to five (sometimes four, sometimes six) nominees in each category. We used a rating system of one through five, five being the highest, and weren’t allowed to give more than five fives in any category. For me, this caused a lot of heartache, because often there were seven or more books I thought deserved fives.

This is where Jackie Estrada really shone. I’ve known Jackie more than 25 years. We were part of the founding team of Friends of Lulu. She’s married to Batton Lash, one of my favorite people. Still, I was profoundly impressed by how well she runs the Eisners. She kept us on a schedule. She encouraged our laughter and banter while also keeping us reading.  She fed us very well. Hardest of all, she made it look like doing all those things was easy.

We promised to keep the nominations confidential until the nominees could be contacted, so I can’t talk about that. I can say that none of us got all of our first choices, but all of us got some of them. There were a few (very few) books on which we all agreed. I think you’ll be able to figure those out when the lists are announced. If there is any news you can use in this column, it’s that you run out and read those titles.

It’s been a day and a half since I left the Eisner judging room. I’ve taken a few long walks. I’ve started to eat vegetables again. Soon, I hope, I will be able to read another comic book.

Martha Thomases: Naked Dessert

My jealousy nearly deprived me of Girls.

You see, Lena Dunham went to the same college I did, albeit several decades later. And here she was, a successful filmmaker with a series on HBO. That should have been me! She was being hailed as a feminist hero. I should have been the feminist hero. How dare she take successes that should have been mine, just because she actually did the work and put it out there!

Lucky for me, the backlash against her started almost immediately. She didn’t deserve her success, said critics, because her parents were famous and that gave her an unfair advantage. I felt quite comfortable ignoring the show. In fact, I felt cool, because only lame people follow crowds.

Real mature on my part.

My moment of truth came during the opening number of the 2012 Emmy Awards, which featured a peek into the ladies’ room. In a shot that is almost a throwaway, someone opens a stall and there, naked, sits Lena Dunham. Eating an entire cake. With her hands.

It was every nightmare I have ever had.

I admired her willingness to go there, to stand (well, sit) naked on national broadcast television. Like me, Dunham’s body is short, squat and generously padded. Unlike me, she didn’t seem to care.

If this were all there was to this story, there wouldn’t even be a story. I started to watch the series, and, at first, I didn’t understand why there was such a fuss. A series about four hipster twenty-something gifs in Brooklyn on a pay cable network that had just finished Sex and the City (about four stylish thirty-somethings in Manhattan) didn’t seem that daring to me. They were white and educated and had parents who were all capable of bailing them out of any problems they might have. They were pretty much the epitome of white privilege, and they seemed oblivious to it.

This turned out to be a feature, not a bug. A lot of the humor came from the obliviousness of the four main characters.

A lot of Very Serious People have written a lot of Very Serious Commentary about the generation dubbed Millennials. These kids want everything handed to them on a silver platter. They care more about their Instagram accounts than they do about real people. They don’t understand the meaning of hard work. They expect to be coddled. If you added a few insults about their hairstyles and choice of music, you’d have the exact same complaints that I’ve heard about every new generation for as long as I’ve been alive.

Young adults, just out of school, are assholes. It’s simply a law of nature. I, myself, was so insufferable when I got out of college that I still sometimes wake up in a cold sweat, remembering the stupid things I said in arguments with other people in public places. And it wasn’t that I was evil or anything. I just had strong opinions, but not enough experience with the world to test my opinions in reality. Learning how my values work in the real world has been one of the most interesting experiments of my adult life, and if I’m lucky, I will have time to do a lot more learning.

The four women who form the core of Girls are figuring out how their very different world views interact with their very different ambitions. There is the earnest Hannah (Dunham), the conventionally beautiful (and rather conventional) Marnie (Allison Williams), the cute but serious Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) and the utterly insufferable Jessa (Jemima Kirke), a character I found so repellent that it took me several years to consider whether I hated the actress or maybe was supposed to be that repulsed.

They have crap jobs with good prospects, boyfriends and one-nighters, failures and successes. They have men who are their friends, and men who are their rivals, but none of them have men who define their lives, either to the audience or themselves.

By the final season, which ended last Sunday night, we had a sense that each character had a life in front of her that would not be perfect, not by a long shot, but that would be much more complex than any happily-ever-after could possibly be.

I expect the same will hold true for Lena Dunham. She didn’t create a “perfect” television show, but she did create one that was interesting. She is not a “perfect” public figure, and she often said some incredibly stupid things. She will probably say more. I did. Unlike me, she’s in a position to use her privilege in a way that makes her mistakes more difficult to make in the future.

I don’t know if there will ever be a Girls reunion, although I would imagine that there are those already lobbying for one. I wouldn’t want to see one for a few decades. It would be fun to see them together, maybe at an independent living facility, catching up with each other’s lives and grandchildren, trading tips about how to best be female at this stage of their lives.

Martha Thomases: Married. Again. But Not Remarried. Again.

For the last several weeks I’ve been madly reading (and rereading) a huge pile of graphic novels and indie comics sent to me to consider in my capacity as an Eisner Awards judge. Some of these are brilliant and some are just weird (to my eyes), but all of them are at least three months old. Reviewing them here would be lame, because I would be so far behind the curve.

Also, and on another note entirely, there are an awful lot of stories that are skillfully and artfully told but completely uninteresting to me. I don’t know why anyone would want to tell these stories. There are critically acclaimed movies that affect me the same way, and they often win all kinds of awards, so I am clearly missing something.

So let’s talk about something else. Superman and Lois Lane are married again!

More than twenty years ago, I was the publicist at DC who promoted Superman’s wedding. It was really fun. Harry Winston designed the engagement ring. There were the expected number of crude jokes, starting with science-fiction writer Larry Niven’s and working on from there.

The stories after the wedding were very much Superman stories, except now, instead of only talking to Lois at the office, he talked to her at home, too. We saw them waking up in the same bed (which we’d also seen after they got engaged, just like just about every other couple in modern times). We saw them drinking coffee. We saw them juggling work schedules.

I really liked it.

Apparently, a lot of other people didn’t like it. As soon as they could, the powers that be undid the wedding and made Superman single again. They did the same to other characters for fairly specious reasons.

It is a cliché of modern popular entertainment that, in romance, the chase is everything. All the suspense is around “Will they or won’t they?” I get that. It’s one of the fun things about real life, too. Unfortunately, the creative team frequently doesn’t know what happens after. So, inevitably, there is a reboot to make our hero (or heroine) single again.

My survey sample might be skewed, but after listening to men and boys talk over many decades, I have the impression that men are more interested in the chase than women are. A guy want to be a man who can bed a large number of women. A woman wants a man who is good enough in the sack to make her want to return.

In any case, the New 52 Superman wasn’t married and, in fact, carried on an affair with Wonder Woman that I, for one, found cringe-worthy. Apparently, I wasn’t alone, and now Superman and Lois Lane have been ret-conned back to the 1990s.

Except now they have a child.

Leaving aside the biological questions about inter-species hybrids (and I have no idea why I expect a scientific explanation, given that the one of the parents can fly and see through walls), I find this a very engaging storyline. It appeals to the part of me that remains seven years old, the one who reads comic books to imagine having powers for myself. Not only did I want to have super-powers, but I wanted my parents to have them, too.

This is a long and convoluted explanation of why I’m enjoying the new Super Sons comic book. Oh, sure, I have quibbles about Batman having a kid, especially one who fights crime before he reaches puberty. Still, the book is a lot of fun, and it feels like writer Peter Tomasi (whom I have always believed is somehow related to me) and artists Jorge Jimenez and Alejandro Sanchez are enjoying themselves.

If you have any seven year olds in your life (spiritually or in reality), you will want to pick up this series. It’s so good, you’ll want to tie a towel around your neck and jump off the sofa.

Martha Thomases: Liverpool To Waypoint – Tiwary Strikes Again!

Vivek Tiwary has been my friend for more than 15 years. We met through mutual friends, and bonded initially over rock’n’roll and cancer. Immediately, I thought he was one of the coolest people I’d ever met. These are some of the things Vivek has done: Broadway producer (of A Raisin in the Sun, American Idiot, among others), a tech entrepreneur who used his music industry chops to help talent deal with the business, and co-founder of an amazing non-profit that, among other things, helped soothe my husband as he was dying.

You can imagine my surprise when I found out that he is also a huge comic book nerd.

We don’t have quite the same roots – he’s a Marvel fan, I’m a DC girl – but we bonded over our love of the form. In fact, when he was having trouble finding a way to get a movie made about Brian Epstein, I convinced him to adapt his screenplay to a graphic novel script. The resulting book, The Fifth Beatle, won tons of awards and sold a gazillion copies, and will soon be on your TV.

Thus, I have tried to take credit for his success, including the things he did before we met, and his fabulous wife and his adorable children.

Recently, Vivek wrote a story for IDW’s Star Trek: Waypoint. This seemed like as good an excuse as any to talk to him about what he’s working on these days.

MT: I read your Star Trek story. It’s so different from The Fifth Beatle!

VT: I guess it is.

MT: The Beatles and Star Trek are, pretty much, the Sixties.

VT: I suppose so. I was born in 1973. To me, these are just two things that I’m passionate about. I don’t know that there is any pop culture connection between the two tied to why I like them. I’m a sci-fi kid and I’m a music kid. As you probably saw from reading the story, while it is a Star Trek story, really, at heart, it’s a boy-and-his dog story. As a writer, I lean towards those kind of human interest stories. It’s a story about loyalty and childhood dreams. It’s about how that child learns and carries those lessons throughout his life and applies those to leadership.

MT: I’m not familiar with Star Trek: Enterprise, although I love Scott Bakula. Is there time travel?

VT: There is. The last season of Enterprise revolves around what they call the Temporal Cold War. That stuff at the end is all very squarely part of the Enterprise last season continuity.

MT: Is the dog in that?

VT: Oh, yes. So, Porthos, Captain Archer’s dog, is a main character in the entire series. I may be biased because I am a fan and I am a bit of a Trekkie myself, but I believe it’s not just me saying he’s a beloved figure in the Star Trek universe in general. When I posted that I had done a Star Trek story that was, in a lot of ways a Porthos story, there were a lot of fans who were excited. A lot of people said, “Oh, does he get to have a piece of cheese?” There’s an on-going story where Admiral Archer gives him cheese, but it does a bad number on his digestive system. There’s a scene where Archer, in one of the episodes, goes away on a mission and is worried he’s not going to come back. He tells one of the crew members, “Look after Porthos. Give him a piece of cheese for me.” Even in the first Star Trek reboot that J. J. Abrams did, when Chris Pines’ Captain Kirk meets Simon Pegg’s Montgomery Scott, Scott had been doing early work on the transport. Scotty says “So, I tested it out on Admiral Archer’s prized beagle.”

And Kirk, “Wait, I know that dog!”

MT: Is Porthos related to the dog in your story?

VT: I guess I haven’t thought that far ahead. I would doubt it. They’re both beagles, obviously. It’s possible, I suppose, that the Archer family keeps breeding beagles such that maybe Porthos is a descendant of Maska. Certainly he’s a spiritual descendant. To answer your question in geeky Star Trek speak, there is no continuity to suggest that they would be related. In fact, I could claim to have created Maska. He doesn’t appear anywhere else. One of the things I’m most proud of is that the Star Trek story is the first time a Star Trek: Enterprise has been written in a comic. I have the honor of saying I wrote the first. We’ll see what other comic writers working in that universe decide to do with Masca.

MT: Do you have dogs?

VT: I most certainly do!

MT: I noticed the dedication. I wondered if they were current dogs.

VT: Well noted! Laika is the first animal in space, and Sukhi Sioux is my pet papillon, It’s dedicated to a space dog and a dog that is close to my heart who is a fearless adventurer in her own right.

MT: What else are you working on in comics? In your life?

VT: In comics, I’m at the early scripting stages of my follow-up to The Fifth Beatle. The tentative title is A Mess of Blues: Colonel Parker and the Un-Making of Elvis Presley. Those readers who read The Fifth Beatle have had a taste of how I feel about Colonel Parker. I respect what he accomplished but I don’t respect him much as a human being. This book will continue that overall feeling about Parker, but I believe that there’s no such thing as ultimate evil or ultimate good, so one of the challenges for me is doing the research and finding the human side. While he exists in the same world of artist management, these unsung characters who are the architects of pop culture history behind the scene, he and Brian are polar opposites.

MT: Do you have an artist?

VT: There are a number of artists I’m talking to. We don’t have that nailed down. I’m doing that in tandem, working on the script while I talk to artists. I suspect I’ll be able to announce that before the script is done. The Colonel Parker story, to my mind, has three distinct elements. He was born in the Netherlands. His real name was Andreas van Kujik. He fled the Netherlands when he was a young man for shady reasons that aren’t entirely clear. He may have murdered someone. He had to flee the country. He stowed away to make it to America. He arrived illegally. He gave himself the name, “Tom Parker,” partially because it’s a generic name. He joined the carnival in large part because he loved it. He was a carny, a huckster. But also, in the American carnival, everybody has something shady in his past. It was a way to protect himself. What he should have been doing in the carnival was laying low, but his ambition, the chips on his shoulder, he couldn’t do that. He had to become an impresario. In those days, carnivals were very tied to fairs and country music. Which is how he found himself intersecting with Elvis. There’s no question that his carnival marketing skills helped him market Elvis as not just a country star but as a heartthrob and pop culture phenomenon. There’s no question that Parker was in large part responsible for the superstar that Elvis became. Parker also always treated Elvis like an “attraction.” Those are his words, not mine. Elvis fans argue that it is because of that attitude that Elvis never became the artist he should have become.

In Parker’s later years, he prevented Elvis from ever touring outside of the United States. The reason for that is because Parker wasn’t a U.S. citizen and Parker might have murdered someone. He couldn’t leave the country because if he did, he might not be able to come back. Parker didn’t like the idea of Elvis touring without him. There are all sorts of other crazy things that all tie back to Parker being this nomad. For example, at the very height of his career, Elvis was the largest single individual tax payer in the country. Elvis just paid his taxes. What he should have done, like every human being has done, you hire a smart accountant so that you pay as little tax as possible while being legal. Elvis just paid. There were business managers and bankers saying, “Parker, why don’t you have people going through his taxes? Why don’t you set up tax shelters?” Part of the reason was that he didn’t want the authorities looking into Elvis because he didn’t want the authorities looking into him. If you follow him to the end of his days, you find out that it did come out, and he ended up with all these lawsuits.

MT: He wouldn’t let Elvis go on tour without him?

VT: That’s exactly right. It wasn’t unusual for artists’ managers to go on tour whenever they could, but it was incredibly unusual for it to never happen. Brian Epstein went wherever the Beatles went as much as he could. He wasn’t at every single date. When it’s not possible, you let the tour manager handle it. That’s why you have tour managers.

Parker had these three distinct periods of his life. He had life in the Netherlands, which in a lot of ways is a noir murder mystery. He had his early Dust Bowl carnival days and the discovery of Elvis, which is real Americana. Then you have latter-day Elvis, when Elvis is a huge superstar. That’s a downward spiral of Elvis and Parker. That’s Vegas and Seventies and pop culture. So there are three distinct parts of the graphic novel. The plan is that it will be serialized in a way that The Fifth Beatle wasn’t. Whether this means several issues or three issues or something else, we don’t know yet.

MT: Speaking as a consumer, I’d prefer the whole book at once.

VT: I hear you, but for my fans, I think that would take too long. My instinct now is that it would be three parts. I’m also toying with the idea that maybe it’s three artists. The styles can be different.

MT: I’m sorry Ralph Steadman isn’t around to do the third part.

VT: I’m happy to say that through the success of The Fifth Beatle, I’ve gotten to know some amazing artists who are interested in working with me, but the best artists are busy. It’s easier to get wonderful, in-demand artists to do 30 pages or 40 pages than to ask them to do 120 pages.

MT: What else are you working on?

VT: While I’m working on the Parker book, who I’d like to do is do more of these one-shots, these short stories. I’ll do a Star Trek story, I’ll do a Marvel story, I’ll do a DC story. I want to work on licensed properties in a one-off capacity. For many writers, it would be a dream to work on a high-profile character, to do be a series writer. The fanboy in me agrees that would be amazing. But that’s not what I aspire to do. I want people to do what you did, to look at the Waypoint story and say, “Wow, this is so different.” I want people to know that, yes, I adore the Beatles. If you look at my resume, I worked at Mercury records. I produced American Idiot and The Addams Family musical. I produced A Raisin in the Sun and cast a hip-hop guy, Sean Combs, in the lead. I’m a music guy. But I’m also a Star Trek guy. I want to do more of that. I’m talking to a few editors at a bunch of companies about doing one-off stories. I hope those stories will be a surprise, too. Part of the reason why I’m doing things like the Star Trek story is because, as you know, it took about ten years to get The Fifth Beatle published. It’s not going to take ten years for the Parker story, but I want there to be more for my fans.

MT: Most of us contain multitudes.

VT: If people pick up the Star Trek story, they’ll see that, yes, it’s Star Trek, but there’s not a lot of technology in it. The technology is there to set up the story, but it’s not really used to tell the story. My favorite science fiction is like that. The science fiction is the engine that sets up the story, but it’s the human story that I love. My story is about a boy and his dog, about friendship and loyalty. At the end of the day, that’s what the world needs now, to stick together. If you think the world is under siege, you need to get together with your friends who also care about the issue and speak up. And the Brian Epstein story was about a gay, Jewish kid from a random town who changed the world. With LGBTQ rights being attacked, the world needs to see if it wasn’t for a gay man, we might not have the Beatles. I hope you’ll see that these are human stories that are connected to global social and/or political issues. That’s the connective thread between all my work.

MT: Who would win in a fight, the Beatles or the crew of the Enterprise?

VT: That’s a good question. The Beatles were pacifists, so I would like to think that they would talk their ways out of the fight. I think there would have been Beatles fans in the crew. Brian Epstein said the Beatles music would stand the test of time. So the crew of the Enterprise would be Beatles fans. I think all you need is love and somehow the fight would have been averted and they would wind up hanging out. There would not have been a fight.

Martha Thomases: Save The Day!

Superman was not my first.

Yes, I know, I have been adamant in my assertions that I loved superhero comics from the time I was five years old. And that is true. But before I started to read Superman in the comics, before I even saw him on my black-and-white television set, I fell for another. Hard.

And now, Mighty Mouse is coming back to comics.

It is difficult to put into words how much Mighty Mouse meant to me. It didn’t matter that the character was male, and a rodent. I totally identified. Perhaps it helped that I was three years old, and I thought that jumping on my bed and singing the theme song was essentially the same as fighting the bad guys.

There have been Mighty Mouse revivals in the past, most notably by Ralph Bakshi in the Reagan years. It was fun at times, and my husband was a big fan of Bakshi. To me, including references to sex, drugs and rock’n’roll missed what I considered to be the point. Yes, Mighty Mouse was simple and two-dimensional and (you should pardon the expression) squeaky clean.

I thought that was a feature, not a bug.

There is a tendency among some modern creators to think that children’s entertainment must include winks to their parents, some references that will go over the kids’ heads to amuse the adults. This is not, in and of itself, a bad thing. The Muppets, especially, are terrific at it.

(Note: I am not including examples like the classic Warner Bros. and Disney cartoons because they were not created specifically for children, but rather to be part of a movie program. Le pedant, c’est moi.)

In my opinion, there are many more examples that are less successful. In general, I don’t find the Dreamworks animated features satisfying, because the scripts make me think the writers want me to know that they are absolutely not children but smart, hip adults. Smart and hip, maybe, but give me Pixar’s heart any day.

So I’m not sure how I feel about Mighty Mouse being retooled, even though it seems that I am one of the target geeks. I mean, I love Alex Ross, but his romantic realism seems contrary to the dynamic crudeness of the original Terrytoons aesthetic.

On the other hand, Solly Fisch wrote one of my favorite Superman stories during the New52, starring Krypto.

I’ll probably check it out. You should, too. Let’s hope that we lovingly pass it on to the toddlers in our lives, of all ages.

Martha Thomases: Iron Fist and America’s Original Sin

If racism is America’s original sin, it’s not surprising that racial issues hold such a central place in our popular entertainments. It also affects our response to these entertainments.

Especially mine, and especially this weekend.

It started with a semi-binge of the Iron Fist, the new Marvel Television series on Netflix. All sorts of people were angry that the actor cast as the lead, Danny Rand, is white. While this is faithful to the source material, it would not have been blasphemous to cast an Asian-American actor. The character, as written in the television series, is not particularly white.

He is, however, really boring. I don’t know if this is the fault of the actor or the script. There are so many things that are not discussed that might fill in the characters’ inner lives. What does Rand Industries do? Do they make things? Do they just do real estate deals? Why does Danny run around like a crazy person instead of asking questions? How do they get from Gramercy Park to Chinatown so quickly? Did they chase each other through subway tunnels?

Maybe these details are filled out in later episodes. I expect to finish the series, although probably not until after I watch Dave Chappelle.

In other words, while I understand that race might be an issue for some viewers, it was not the most notable part of my experience.

I also finally saw Get Out, an amazingly brilliant movie. Race relations are absolutely the point of this movie. It offers a view of the world as experienced by African-Americans that I don’t get to see very often. It also offers a view of white people that I, a white person, rarely get to see. It’s funny and frightening and very important while never making me think I’m doing something that’s good for you. Broccoli should have such a good script.

Should we only have people of color as leads when the story is about their particular subgroup? I don’t think so. There are all sorts of stories that can be filled with people of any race, gender or ethnicity. For example, I love Jesse Martin on The Flash, and I am sure he was cast because he is Jesse Martin, not because they needed an African-American in the part. That said, the fact that he is black adds a definite je ne sais quoi to the series. So does his height. So does his goatee.

My ComicMix colleague Joe Corallo and I have spent hours arguing over these and related issues, usually consuming a good deal of tequila in the process. We have very different responses to the Aftershock series Alters. I really like it, and Joe likes it less than I do (although I think he’s coming around). I’m interested in the story the creative team is trying to tell, and Joe has less patience with the story than he does with the creative team. This is not an argument either one of us can win, because we like what we like and don’t like what we don’t like. Still, these are interesting reactions to have when a series is launched about a character who isn’t a straight cis white guy.

There are times when a character cannot be a straight cis white guy. There are times when a character must be a straight cis white guy. Most of the time, the only reason it matters to certain audiences are our cultural assumptions about which people are worthy of stories.

Martha Thomases: Too Much! Too Much!

By the time you read this, I will be even more behind.

The Iron Fist series starts on Netflix today. I still have not seen Stranger Things or most of Black Mirror, or A Series of Unfortunate Events. I haven’t finished the most recent seasons of Orange is the New Black or Love. I haven’t seen the new Amy Schumer special, or Trevor Noah’s.

On my DVR is the entire last season of American Horror Story, which is one of my favorite shows. There’s more than half a season of Taboo, which I really like but it’s very dense. The Americans started up again, and I haven’t watched yet. I also have episodes of Ripper Street from, like, two years ago.

Part of the reason I’m so behind in my television is the huge pile of graphic novels I have to read, along with my weekly fix of floppies.

Sometimes I even read books that don’t have pictures or conversations. They don’t pile up as much as they used to now that I read so much on my Kindle, but, I assure you, the virtual stack is quite tall. As is the physical stack of the books I want to read that aren’t available digitally.

I’m behind on movies, too. When I think about going, I realize I could stay home and catch up on last year’s films with pay-per-view for less money. And then I realize I could watch some of the stuff on the DVR for free.

All of this is on top of the things that all of us have to do — meal preparation, sleep, work — and things we might not need to do, but should, like exercise and bill paying and laundry. Toss in as well my responsibilities as a citizen, like calling my representatives regularly to vote against the latest GOP rollback of civil rights, or sorting my recycling.

This would be okay if I was a normal person. I would accept that there are only 24 hours in a day, and only seven days in a week, and that there are only so many things a person can do within that amount of time. There is such a thing as speed reading, but I don’t enjoy it. I like to bathe in a story, let myself soak it all in. For the same reason, I don’t want to watch my television sped up.

Instead, I choose to feel guilty. We are living in a Golden Age, at least as far as media choices are concerned. I have a responsibility to keep up. I am supposed to enjoy it all and talk about it so that I can contribute to an environment in which there are so many choices. By doing so, I’ll help writers and artists (including actors and directors and film crews) get paid.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to spend an hour playing fetch with my cat.

Martha Thomases: Terror At The Graphic Novel Pile!

You know that person at your high school reunion, the one who complains loudly about how hard she has to work to maintain her city place, her country house, and her condo in Bermuda? And how she can’t find good help anymore?

I’m about to be the comics industry version of that person.

When I first agreed to be a judge for the Eisner Awards, I mostly thought I would get to read a bunch of comics, have opinions, and get to show off. Utopia, right?

I had no idea.

I mean, I read a lot of comics. I spend $50 to $60 on an average week, sometimes more, plus I’ll order graphic novels online when I happen upon something appealing. I follow reviews and Top Ten lists. Every week, I try to find at least one new title to sample. I try to champion diversity in the medium, both in the kinds of creators who get work and the kinds of stories they tell. The least I can do, if I’m going to talk the talk, is to walk the walk.

And boy, are my feet killing me.

I knew I wasn’t reading everything. I knew there were several new generations of creators that I didn’t know about and who were working seriously on books that challenged my assumptions about what comics could be. I just hadn’t considered how many different directions they could go.

Twenty years ago, I used to joke that comics was the only entertainment in which the term “alternative” referred to the semi-autobiographical stories of straight white men. I mean, really, rock’n’roll had more diversity, Broadway had more diversity (and off-Broadway even more, and get out of the city and anything could happen). Poetry, ballet and modern dance, opera, orchestras — all had more diversity in their farm teams, if not on their marquees yet.

Comics has caught up. Comics might be doing better than the rest.

There are all kinds of new stories, too. Yes, autobiography is still a large (and entertaining!) category, but there are many other kinds of non-fiction. Some of these books seem to want to be textbooks, but a lot are just the graphic-story equivalent of the rabbit hole we descend when we start to look up stuff on Wikipedia.

There are adaptations of prose novels and short stories, weird shaggy dog gags with perfect bindings, and even a few how-to books.

Every day, I try to read one or two. The pile on my coffee table isn’t getting significantly smaller, but I hope to get through at least the most discussed book before the committee gets together at the end of April.

So, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and read some of the free books I was sent. It’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it.

Martha Thomases: Adventures On Other Words

When I saw Moonlight, the first thing I said as the lights came up was “school sucks.” And it does.

I think this will be spoiler-free, but if you haven’t seen this magnificent movie, I hope you go as soon as you can. Like the best art, it showed me a new way of seeing the world and made me feel emotions that bound me to the characters. Although this is in no way real, for the two hours of that film, I was a self-loathing gay black man, unable to express my personal truth.

My life is privileged, however, and part of that privilege is comics.

Chiron, the boy/teenager/man who is the main character in the film, is not very articulate. This isn’t an unusual trait in a child. We all struggle to learn how to use our words. Unfortunately for him, none of the other adults in his life know how to express themselves either. His mother is a drug addict. The adults at school are overwhelmed with responsibilities that don’t allow them to take the time to notice one kid’s problems. The only exception is Juan, the neighborhood drug dealer, who offers the closest thing to fathering that Chiron gets. Later, his girlfriend, Teresa, offers him a refuge.

I’ve written frequently about how fiction helps me get through tough times. Reading a story about someone else’s reality has been a comfort since I was younger than Chiron at the beginning of the film. My mother turned me on to her favorite children’s author, E. Nesbit, and I felt understood in a way that really makes no logical sense. A Jewish kid in Ohio has very little in common with a bunch of English kids with magical friends, created by a Fabian Socialist. Still, I related to their confusion, to their sense that adults didn’t get it.

In a slightly different way, I found similar comfort in Greek and Norse mythology. I wanted to be one of the magnificent and beautiful gods. I thought they might understand me when reality didn’t. I bet gods never fell down and scraped their knees.

From these tales, I discovered superhero comics. These had the advantage of being new every week, instead of being old stories completed thousands of years ago. I wanted to be all the characters. I wanted to be Robin and Supergirl, Plastic Man and Wonder Woman. Wanted to be a telepath and I wanted to be invisible. I wanted to be Betty and Veronica.

Through these stories, simple though many were, I learned that all humans have hopes and fears, insecurities and passions. And even now, decades (and decades) later, I continue to learn this over and over again. I need to, because it’s all too easy to see people as cardboard stereotypes. It’s even easy to see myself as a stereotype.

For example, if I were the blatant red-neck Trump victim, hating on Muslims and immigrants and elites (a person who probably doesn’t entirely exist, at least not as this stock figure), I might read Southern Bastards and feel like somebody finally got me. And maybe, as I read each issue, I’d see that even the characters that didn’t look like me and how it feels to be them in the same kind of small town in which I lived. And, even if I didn’t get that part, I might enjoy some of the recipes sent in to the letters page.

And if I had strange feelings in my body that I couldn’t quite describe, if I didn’t know what changes were going on or whom I should tell about them, I might feel better after reading The Old Guard. In this case, the odd changes have to do with immortality, not sexuality or gender identity, but I think the quivering uncertainty applies to all of us.

A book that continues to knock me out, perhaps because it touches on so many of my personal obsessions, is The Beauty, about a sexually transmitted disease that makes its victims beautiful before it kills them. Sometimes people try to get the disease so they can be good-looking. A recent storyline had a trans protagonist, and I was engaged trying to figure out how the virus chose which traits were pretty, and if these traits were different depending on one’s gender, and whether that gender was determined by the same criteria demanded of North Carolina restrooms. If you get the disease in a culture with different standards than ours, do you acquire different traits? How is it that the fashion/cosmetics industry hasn’t thrown all their resources into finding a cure, given that the illness makes their products irrelevant?

Is it a blind spot of my white privilege that I don’t see that the solace I get from books wouldn’t necessarily help Chiron? Maybe. Music and dance, poetry, theater and movies, all can provide the same balm to the soul. I’m in favor of all of those. Still, I think books are the easiest to put in one’s pocket.

There are no books in Chiron’s house. If there is a local library, it isn’t part of his world. We don’t even see him watching television. Instead, he is isolated.

In an ideal world, we would all have brilliant, loving parents and other adults in our lives. In their absence, we have books.