After Martha, and Joe, and Mindy all wrote about the sexual harassment and rape scandals that have been getting so much attention, and doing so elegantly and with well-considered reasoning, you’d think I’d move on to some topic that is more focused on pop culture.
Well, if you thought that, then you don’t know me very well, do you? I’ve got 52 years of political activism under my belt (covering 67 years of Italian beef, Jay’s potato chips and sundry forms of barbecue) and, seeing as how this is my next-to my next-to last column for ComicMix, I’m going to follow both my heart and my head.
These are very sensitive times, and understandably so. Therefore, I’m going to define my worldview up front. I am not talking about women. Or men. Or straight. Or queer. Or trans. Or of any specific race, ethnicity or religion. I’m talking about Earth and every single person who resides on it. I also make a distinction between sexual harassment and rape. This is not to trivialize either; both are ugly, dangerous, and violent acts, and both are terrible acts of Power upon the Powerless.
Actually, that last part is borderline ironic: if it were about sex, people in power acting reasonably and following our more noble instincts would get laid. Power, for some, is quite seductive. So, when these clowns impose their power upon their victims, they reveal themselves as cowards.
The one response I’ve heard over and over again is “It’s about time.” Yup, this is so. As I told a dear friend of mine – and I love quoting me – sexual harassment is as old as time. Cavemen bashing cavewomen with clubs. We’re actually several millennia past the time this shit should have stopped. Sexual harassment has been seen in every industry, every society, and every neighborhood. For example, look at all the teachers who’ve been busted the past few years for sleeping with their students. In the past that was treated with laughter. Well, maybe now, not so much.
Of course, everybody who has been near any media outlet over the past decade is familiar with the travails of children in the Catholic church and the Hide-The-Priest game Rome has been running for centuries. That’s sexual harassment, and, often, rape as well. Or, to put a point on it, these are violent acts of power upon the powerless.
The hash-tag on all this is #MeToo. In that spirit, I would like to mention that I was raped when I was 14 years-old. At the time, and that time was in 1964, I first found the situation confusing. I liked this person, I trusted this person, and I didn’t really understand what was going on. It wasn’t until I started working with rape crisis programs five years later that I really began to come to grips with what happened.
Please note that I said began. I never ratted out the creep – not because I was afraid of that person or I was afraid I wouldn’t be believed, but because the thought simply hadn’t occurred to me. If it had, it would have been way down on the list of things I had to do to deal with the experience.
The solution to all this is simple to say but very difficult to do. You have to stand up. You have to tell people what happened to you and who did it. You have to remember every detail you can, as horrible as it is, because the greater the detail the stronger the likelihood you will be believed. You’ve got to stop the predator from doing it to others and, possibly, again to you. You are a victim, but you have to rise above pathos. You have a job to do.
There’s something else that needs to be done, and it’s a lot harder to pull off. For cases such as these, we have to work out a non-adversarial judicial system where the victim is not the one who is put on trial. The defense lawyer is ethically obligated to do everything possible to free the defendant, and overall that’s a good thing. But we need to work out a somewhat different system that is equitable for both sides.
Given my youth social service work, I’ve spent a fair amount of time in family courts and children’s courts and similar places – they tend to have different names in different states. Here, children often are used as pawns if, indeed, they are not complainants. They are treated differently and, often, with more consideration than the folks in the post-adolescent courts. So, there is a starting point.
Like I said, it’s all really hard to do. But it will get easier.
Thanks to the courage of those we’ve been hearing from these past weeks, it is already getting easier.
As of my typing up this column, DC Comics employee of over twenty years and Superman Group Editor Eddie Berganza has been fired from the company in relation to the sexual harassment and assault allegations raised against him for nearly a decade. This is in large part due to the Buzzfeed article that hit this past Friday, the amazing journalism of Jessica Testa, Tyler Kingkade, and Jay Edidin, former DC editorial staffers Janelle Asselin and Liz Gehrlein Marsham for speaking to Buzzfeed on the record, and all of the other victims who spoke anonymously out of fear of the very real fear of retribution. Since the release of that article, Molly McIsaac has also come forward about her encounter with Eddie Berganza’s sexual harassment.
Many people are rightfully asking why did it take so long remove Berganza when his sexually abusive behavior has been an open secret for nearly a decade? For better or worse, the answer is that in a post Weinstein world we are taking these accusations more seriously. This happened because Buzzfeed reported on it. When people tried to put pressure on DC Comics to act in April of 2016 in the aftermath of Shelly Bond’s dismissal – including myself – it wasn’t taken seriously outside of comics press and the story died in the wake of Dan Didio deleting his Twitter account and DC Entertainment honcho Diane Nelson sending out a memo assuring us that DC Entertainment cares about the safety of their employees. The memo didn’t even mention Berganza’s name. It was a heavy slap in the face to comics journalist, pros and fans all over that helped to reassert the notion that victims are the problem and abusers will always be protected until it is absolutely impossible to continue protecting them.
Make no mistake; DC Comics did what it did because there was absolutely no way to continue protecting Eddie Berganza.
As of my writing this, DC Comics has not addressed Bob Harras’ role in seemingly and allegedly ignoring filed complaints with HR and assisting in Berganza’s rise in the company at the expense of many women within DC and countless more that were denied opportunities as a result of his continued employment or didn’t even attempt to throw their hat in the ring because of Berganza’s presence. Nothing will salvage the comics careers of all of those women, some we know and some we don’t, who fell in love with these adored characters as kids and grew up to learn that you would need to be willing to endure sexual harassment, propositions, and compromising your ethics to work in – of all places – the Superman office.
And Eddie Berganza isn’t the only person to make that statement true.
An open letter to Dan Didio has been circulating for over a week that not only brings up Berganza, but Mike Carlin, as a known harasser that inappropriately touched a female staffer. Like Eddie, Mike has been both a Superman Group Editor and an Executive Editor at DC Comics with his greatest achievement being The Death of Superman. Mike Carlin’s name is printed in literally millions upon millions of comics. He’s had lines wrapped around stores waiting for his signature. Unlike Eddie, Mike was able to allegedly harass his way to further promotions. He was promoted out of the comics division and currently works as the Creative Director of Animation for DC Entertainment. As of this writing this there has been no indication that Bob Harras covering for Eddie Berganza or Mike Carlin’s alleged harassment are being looked into.
Comics professionals including Rafael Albuquerque, Gail Simone, Cliff Chiang, Tee Franklin, Lilah Sturges, Sophie Campbell, Tony Isabella, Kurt Busiek, Tini Howard, Sina Grace, Kate Leth, Amy Chu, Tamra Bonvillain, Joshua Hale Fialkov, Christopher Sebela, Matthew Rosenberg, Kwanza Osajyefo, Tess Fowler, Mark Waid, and so many more stepped up to make their voices heard in the aftermath of the Buzzfeed article dropping on Friday. This is important not only because we should be standing up for victims of abuse, but because comics professionals are terrified of retaliation against them by DC Comics.
I want to make this crystal clear to people reading, as fans and casual readers may not be aware of or understand the reality of all of this. Speaking out against the brass is more than looked down upon; it’s disqualifying. Rafael Albuquerque mentions this in his statement on Berganza. Other professionals including Kwanza made it crystal clear on Twitter that speaking out could mean getting blacklisted, but it would be hard if we all ban together. Maybe in a post Weinstein world speaking out to defend victims won’t get you blacklisted like it has in the past to rising stars like Nancy Collins, but I talked to many comics professionals off the record during all of this with Berganza and many freelancers are still terrified. That should be alarming, but also sobering to everyone reading this that standing up against serial sexual assaulters can lose you work, but turning a blind eye to victims can get you a gig on a Superman book.
We might have the power now to change the dynamics at DC Comics and much of the rest of the entertainment industry if not all industries. We may be at a tipping point where we will no longer be a society that protects abusers, but rather one that stands up for victims. We need to be that society, and we may not be there just yet but we might be close. The only way we can do it is if we stand together. They can’t blacklist us if we all protect each other.
“There will be a prompt and yet careful review into the next steps as it relates to the allegations against him, and the concerns our talent, employees and fans have shared, DC said in a statement,the news site reported.
Former writer Liz Marsham said Berganza kissed her during a party and groped her at a company gathering at a bar in 2006.
Another DC Comics employee reported a similar encounter. Joan Hilty, who is openly gay, said Berganza tried grabbing her at the same bar during a separate incident, according to Buzzfeed.
At least five women confronted DC Comics’ HR with their objections after learning Berganza was being considered for an executive editor promotion. He was promoted anyway, the site said.
Berganza was demoted to group editor in 2012 after a similar allegation that he forcibly kissed a married freelance writer during the WonderCon convention.
Despite the demotion, Berganza went on to oversee projects related to Superman and Wonder Woman.
• • • • •
I just posted this bit of news on my Facebook page. My friend Neil Cohen replied:
“I know it was a different time a whole few years ago when this first broke, but how was nothing done then?”
And I replied: “Because this happened yesterday, Saturday, November 11, 2017…”
And my next post: “…and they can’t hide it anymore.”
• • • • •
Ever since October 5, when the New York Times published the Harvey Weinstein bombshell (reported by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey), the bombs have just kept on exploding. Here’s a list, released by the Times yesterday, working backwards from Friday, November 10:
Andrew Kreisberg, Executive Producer of Supergirl, Arrow, and The Flash
Louis C. K., comedian and producer
Benjamin Genocchio, Executive director of the Armory Show art fair
David Guillod, Co-Chief Executive of Primary Wave Entertainment agency
Jeff Hoover, Kentucky Speaker of the House
Brett Ratner, Producer and director
Kirt Webster, Music publicist
Andy Dick, Actor
Michael Oreskes, Head of news at NPR and former New York Times editor
Hamilton Fish, President and Publisher of The New Republic
Kevin Spacey, Actor/Director
Ken Baker, E! News correspondent
Mark Halperin, NBC News and MSNBC contributor, author of “Game Change”
Rick Najera, Director of CBS’s Diversity Showcase
Knight Landesman, Publisher of ArtForum
Leon Wieseltier, former editor at The New Republic
Terry Richardson, Fashion photographer
John Besh, Chief Executive of the Besh Restaurant Group
Lockhart Steele, Editorial Director of Vox Media
Robert Scoble, Tech blogger and co-founder of the Transformation Group
Chris Savino, Creator and showrunner of “The Loud House”
I’ve only listed the names, but you can go here to see the allegations and fallout.
I’ve also heard Dustin Hoffman’s name bandied about while driving to work and listening to the radio, though that was the only time I heard it.
And speaking of work, well, sometimes the talk can get pretty risqué but lately any jibe or joke has been preceded by is this sexual harassment? or assurances that I am just joking, I’m not harassing you, am I? This is mostly a good thing, I suppose, as awareness is heightened that someone listening might be offended, but at the same time, I can’t help thinking that the “sensitivity-meter” can be working overtime. Meaning, any joke or acerbic comment or ironic observation is capable of offending somebody at any given hour or on any given day—are comedy clubs and HBO specials on the road to extinction?
And then there’s this:
Trump: I moved on her, actually. You know, she was down on Palm Beach. I moved on her, and I failed. I’ll admit it.
Trump: I did try and fuck her. She was married.
Unknown: That’s huge news.
Trump: No, no, Nancy. No, this was [unintelligible] – and I moved on her very heavily. In fact, I took her out furniture shopping. She wanted to get some furniture. I said, “I’ll show you where they have some nice furniture.” I took her out furniture – I moved on her like a bitch. But I couldn’t get there.And she was married. Then all of a sudden I see her, she’s now got the big phony tits and everything. She’s totally changed her look.
Trump: Whoa! Whoa!
Bush: Yes! The Donald has scored. Whoa, my man!
Trump: Look at you, you are a pussy.
Trump: All right, you and I will walk out.
Trump: Maybe it’s a different one.
Bush: It better not be the publicist. No, it’s, it’s her, it’s –
Trump: Yeah, that’s her. With the gold. I better use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her. You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.
Bush: Whatever you want.
Trump: Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.
Hey, Donald, remember this…
What goes around comes around.
Mueller’s got you by the balls…
And he’s squeezing.
• • • • •
And on another topic…
Hey, Maddy (Maddy Ernst, ½ of the Tweeks). Regarding Stranger Things 2 and your review:
Yep, it totally rocked!
I gotta give Noah Schnapp major kudos here, especially as it seems to me that everyone else gets so much praise and attention from the media and fans. He had an incredibly difficult path as an actor this season, and the kid totally pulled it off!!!
Also, David Harbour and Millie Bobby Brown as Jim Hopper and Jane Ives/Eleven? Loved their pairing!!!!
Totally agree with you regarding Sean Astin.
SPOILER ALERT: The Mind-Flayer/Shadow Monster hovering over the Snow Ball at the middle school–okay, girlfriends, who is infected with the “virus?” Mike? Chief Hopper? Maybe too obvious, hmm? How about Dustin? (My vote.)
One more thing…
I stretched out the binge to two sittings, but even so, nine episodes went by way too quickly. And now it’s gonna be, what, another year until the third season?
That sucks, doesn’t it?
When it comes to music, we all get it right away. We understand what duets are, and how the combination of two favorite performers can result in something new and special. In 2006, the album Duets teamed Tony Bennett with a myriad of music’s A-listers. It was an instant hit. Part of the fun was the surprising range of match-ups. While a song featuring Bennett collaborating with Barbara Streisand was expected, duets with musicians like k.d.lang or the Dixie Chicks were wonderful surprises.
Sometimes a collaboration exceeds the original. For example, I’d argue that the version of Gloria by John Lee Hooker and Van Morrison is much more fun than the original version Morrison recorded with his old band, Them. Likewise, Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach, two geniuses from different generations, collaborated in the late 90s and produced wonderful songs enthralling fans of both artists.
Comic art collaborations are different. When enjoying traditional comic art, it’s harder for most folks to understand what the penciler and the inker each bring to the party. But both types of artists have a role to play and opportunities to seize. Sometimes fans will like a certain artist paired with a certain inker. Other times, the combination might not gel, resulting in an unsatisfying experience for readers. Some inkers support a penciller’s vision, other times they might dominate it.
Wallace (Wally) Wood was one the great very artists, but he often played the role of inker. I reached out to Walter Simonson (an incredible artist in his own right) to find out just what it was like to have Wally Wood ink your artwork. Walter kindly shared his thoughts with me:
“Back in 1976, Denny O’Neil asked me if I would be willing to draw layouts for an ongoing DC comic, Hercules Unbound. Wallace Wood had been doing the finished inks over layouts. I jumped at the chance. I knew Woody personally just a little from the time I spent hanging out at Continuity Associates, Neal Adams and Dick Giordano’s studio in New York. But I knew Woody’s work extensively, from his EC stories to his work on the early MAD magazines, to Witzend, and his later work on Daredevil and other mainstream comic books. I was thrilled.
“As the layout artist, I expected that the finished work would look like Woody’s stuff. And by and large, it did. But it was such a learning experience. For layouts, I wasn’t spotting blacks in my drawings, and it was a revelation to see what Woody did with them. Beautiful to observe. My real regret was that Woody left the book after he had done only two issues over my layouts. But he told me before departing that he really liked what I had given him to work with. It was the structure he needed to create his finished work without difficulty. I was thrilled. Thanks, Woody. Nobody called it a bucket list back then, but that’s exactly what it was, a big check mark off the bucket list!”
The best collaborators actually collaborate. And that’s what happened when Jack Kirby worked with Wally Wood to produce the newspaper comic strip Sky Masters. Last week we talked about the new reprint edition from Amigo Comics. This week we’ll take another bite out of the apple. I’ve persuaded my friend, J. David Spurlock, an expert on Wallace Wood and a guy with a lot of great stories, to contribute a few more thoughts about this unique collaboration.
So join me for J. David Spurlock’s Sky Masters: The Jack Kirby-Wally Wood Masterpiece —the greatest teaming of America’s two most iconic mid-century comic book talents!
McCarthy-era political witch-hunts fed even vice-presidential hopeful Estes Kefauver’s investigations into juvenile delinquency. The fallout came very close to killing the American comic book industry in the second half of the 1950s. Comic books were demonized and workers in the industry humiliated. Most publishers went out of business. The few that stumbled on, slashed titles to the quick and experimented with new/alternative genres. As Carmine Infantino told me, even the industry’s top company, National/DC, were not only laying-off talent but also cutting pay rates for those who stayed. Joe Orlando confirmed he was so humiliated he started telling non-industry people that he “illustrated children’s books” in lieu of confessing he was a comic book artist. Stan Lee likewise confirmed that in that period, he skirted telling people he worked making comic books. Every artist aspired to doing a newspaper strip. Newspaper strip work — as opposed to the then-shamed comic books— was not only respectable, it was celebrated and could generate great income based on circulation.
In 1958, inspired by Sputnik and the emerging US and Russian space programs, Harry Elmlark of the George Matthew Adams Service newspaper syndicate asked National/DC Comics writer-editor Jack Schiff to help him put together a team for a space program-related strip. Schiff was too committed at National/DC to take on writing a daily strip and reached out to Dave Wood about writing. Dave Wood and acclaimed 1940s Captain America co-creator Jack Kirby had been working under Schiff as editor on the Kirby-created DC-published comic book, Challengers of the Unknown. Dave Wood and Kirby had previously worked on another proposed space strip which had not been picked up. Both Kirby and Dave Wood confirmed they were interested in creating the proposed new strip.
Kirby, Schiff and Dave Wood assumed Kirby’s associate, Marvin Stein, would be inking Kirby’s pencil work but, Stein had had enough of the cockamamie comics business and left for better, steadier work in advertising, as so many did during the mid-to-late ’50s comics implosion. With Stein out, Jack knew he needed a top quality, polished inker to help his work compete with such illustrative adventure strip artists like Alex Raymond, Hal Foster and Milton Caniff. Jack realized the absolutely best man for the job was Wallace Wood (no relation to Dave) who had quickly risen to be America’s foremost sci-fi comic book artist a few years earlier via his groundbreaking work at EC Comics on such titles as Weird Science and Weird Fantasy.
Wallace Wood had nothing to do with negotiations with Schiff and/or the syndicate. His relationship was solely with Jack Kirby. As my research for the Eisner-Award recognized Wood biography, Wally’s World revealed, it was Kirby who phoned Wood’s studio and the call was answered by Wood’s wife/assistant/colorist Tatjana: “Who’s calling?” “Jack Kirby” the response came. “Wallace, Jack Kirby is on the phone.” Kirby invited Woody to work on the still untitled newspaper strip. They followed up with Jack coming to Wood’s studio where they started brainstorming including on what to name the strip. Jack liked the name Sky as the lead character’s fist name but wasn’t sure what to use for a surname. Wood had been playing with the name Cannon since childhood. Jack and Wally considered Sky Cannon and Wood drew that option up as a rough logo design, along with other ideas. Jack Kirby and Wallace (a.k.a. “Wally” or “Woody”) Wood ultimately settled on Sky Masters with Wally drawing the final logo art.
Wally Wood at the time was not working in comic books. He had grown to be so successful, he was doing far better paying humor, men’s, and sci-fi magazine illustrations, as well as paperback and hardcover book covers, and advertising. It was because Wood considered Kirby a “genius” (Woody was likely the first big name pro to use the word “genius” to describe Jack) and that, like everyone else, he dreamt of a hit newspaper strip, that Wood agreed to collaborate with Jack.
As soon as Kirby told Schiff that Wally Wood had agreed to ink and letter the strip, Schiff got excited and inquired whether Wood might be willing to return to comic books as well, to likewise work with Jack on Challengers of the Unknown. Out of respect to Jack, Wood agreed. Kirby and Wood hit it off and work started on the Sky Masters, Challengers, and an underwater strip idea, Surf Hunter.
Newspaper strip deadlines never stop. There is no break. It is important to gear-up and have plenty done prior to the launch, as that is the only buffer a strip artist will ever have. Work on Challengers started during the Sky Masters gear-up period. Because of the release date of Wallace Wood’s first issue of Challengers, there has long been confusion about the timeline — which came first, Wood’s joining Challengers or Sky Masters? Through my Wally’s World research, I was finally able to clear it all up via my interviews with a few of the first-person witnesses to these matters, Tatjana Wood, who took the initial call from Kirby and was in the studio when Jack came over for meetings and with my dear friend, Al Williamson who occasionally helped out inking some backgrounds. The Kirby-Wood collaborative period started with Sky Masters. Their work together is ultimate Americana. Imagine John Wayne doing a film with Elvis or Marilyn Monroe doing a film with James Dean. Kirby and Wood are like that except in their case, it actually did happen for a bright, fleeting moment.
A short digression re: the Kirby-Wood signatures that appear on the art. For many years, general readers didn’t know Dave Wood was involved with the strip. It was understood that the Kirby-Wood signature was for Kirby and Wallace Wood who put as much work into that strip as he did anything else that he signed in his career. After many years, it started getting out that the writer’s name was also Wood and he had a brother/helper named Dick Wood. Jack Kirby said, for a while he thought everyone in the business was named Wood. Some would say the Wood in the signature is for the writer, Dave Wood — and that is reasonable if not traditional. I would like to propose that this case might not be so traditional: When the artist Wallace Wood — one of the most accomplished comics artists of all time — who signed the signature signed them, that he was not signing for the writer who was nowhere near as notable of a talent as the artist was but, happened to have the same name. Woody signed his own name to his own work. It has nothing to do with who made the original agreement to produce a space strip or when, in the pre-launch process Woody came on board. It had to do with one of the top talents of all time putting blood, sweat and tears into his labor of love and being proud of his work. How many National/DC strips listed Dave Wood’s signature? But, even when DC did not publish credits, if the great comics master Wallace Wood signed, no one at DC dared white it out (see first-person account from Jim Shooter). Unless we find a contract saying that Dave Wood’s name was required to be credited and lettered into every strip, we have no way of knowing what the signature would have been had Wallace Wood not helped launch it and signed it with his own hand.
Wallace only stayed for about half of the strip’s tenure. It was a huge loss when Woody left the strip. But he understandably did not want to get dragged into a growing legal dispute between Jack Schiff and Jack Kirby which he had nothing to do with. Plus, the strip was not picked up by enough papers to make big money. To minimize the public knowing Wallace had left.. to minimize change… and as the writer’s name was also Wood, they kept the signature going after Woody left. Likewise, Kirby himself attempted to ink in Wood’s style. When Kirby hired Dick Ayers to take over inking, he requested Ayers to likewise mimic Wood’s style. I got that fact directly from my dear friend Dick, who went on to say, he would have loved to have done work more like Wood’s but, it took too much time and there wasn’t enough money in comics (or Sky Masters) to work that way — because, Wood did far more than just ink.
To add confusion, in a late interview, Jack oddly minimized Woody’s well known and obvious contributions and indicated what they had wanted the public to think of the signature after Woody left—that it was for the writer. It must be understood that in the period that Jack gave that interview, Jack was so fed up with the fact that most of his career, he had been credited in second place to Simon and Lee, who Jack felt did less of the creative work than Jack did. At that time, Jack was on a mission to balance the scales and set the record straight that he/Jack had been the primary creative force — and unfortunately, when Sky Masters unexpectedly came up, Woody got caught in the crossfire. Again, unless we find a contract saying that Dave Wood’s name was to be credited and lettered into every strip, we have no way of knowing what the signature would have been had Wallace Wood not helped launch the strip and signed it.
Sky Masters is the greatest teaming of America’s two most iconic mid-century comic book creators, Jack Kirby and Wally Wood. What makes it better, more important, than their other works (even Challengers) is that particularly on Sky, they worked as equals. It is not Wood inking Kirby, it is a different animal. Something new, something more unique than their other works… not Kirby, not Wood, but the totally unique hybrid that can only be called, Kirby-Wood! Jack once said, in Wally, on Sky Masters, “I was [only] looking for an inker but got a [true] collaborator.
Jack Kirby and Dave Wood never created a masterpiece.
Jack Kirby and Wally Wood created a masterpiece!
One of the titles I have so aptly bestowed upon Woody is “The Great Collaborator.” Whomever he worked with made history: Kirby-Wood, Eisner-Wood, Ditko-Wood, Kurtzman-Wood, etc.
If Kirby had not brought in Wallace Wood, Sky Masters would have been just one more in Kirby’s long history of minor, attempted and/or short-lived newspaper strips and we would not be discussing it now and no one would be investing years of work to put together a glorious edition of it. Instead, it is one of Jack’s greatest artistic accomplishments — something he proudly hung for decades by his drawing board — despite the later business problems. It may well be the first work he was so proud of he fought to get the originals back on, after publication. It is the ultimate Kirby-Wood masterpiece specifically because, thanks to Kirby recognizing, inviting, and wisely granting Wally Wood the creative freedom to be so much more than a technician who traces with ink; it is a true, equal, artistic collaborative creation.
It feels a little silly to be issuing a spoilerwarning for a story that’s more than twenty years old but it’s entirely possible that there are folks out there who have never read the story described below. I’ll need to discuss some plot points and twists so if you don’t want to know ‘em, avoid this week’s column. Spoiler warning issued.
December 22 will see the publication of the seventh volume in the reprint series of my Suicide Squad, just in time for last minute holiday giving. See? Sometimes it does pay to wait until the last minute to shop.
This will probably be the penultimate volume in this reprint series as there are only a few more issues to gather. Kim Yale was once again my co-writer. I’m taking this opportunity to re-read these stories myself and over the next few columns I’ll comment on them, as I’ve done with some previous volumes.
The title tale is the biggest one in the volume but, as not unusual, is not the only story. The first one reprints issue 50 which was extra-sized. I’m of two minds about anniversary issues. Certainly, you want to celebrate the longevity of the given title but sometimes setting it up can throw off the whole pacing of the series. That happened with GrimJack and maybe the Spectre; you can wind up treading narrative water trying to get to an anniversary issue.
However, the Squad 50th issue worked.
Kim’s and my goal was to take as many story points that we had in the early days, especially issue 1, and re-work them into a new narrative. That can be difficult when you’ve spent as much time killing off your characters as Kim and I did. Basic background on the Squad; the series was created by Robert Kanigher and Ross Andru and ran for five issues of the Brave and the Bold. The first Squad was a team of four: leader Captain Rick Flag, medic Karin Grace, and scientists Jess Bright and Hugh Evans. Rick and Karin had fallen in love but felt compelled to keep it a secret since the two scientists were also in love with Karin. It could’ve gotten kind of kinky but this was 1959.
The element that I took for the new Squad was that the old one fell apart on a disastrous mission to Tibet. Bright and Evans found out about Rick and Karin and were pissed at being played for chumps. They died falling into a chasm during an attack by a Yeti. Karin had a breakdown and wouldn’t see Rick anymore.
Rick and Karin were both part of the new series but by issue 49 both had died. Rick would get better and return but for issue 50’s purposes, he was still dead. However, we revealed that they had a son; Rick was never aware of it and Karin blocked the boy’s birth from her memory during her breakdown.
The incident triggering the plot is that the boy has been kidnapped by a zombie like character named Koschei the Deathless. During the story, it’s revealed that Koschei is actually Jess Bright who had survived the fall into the chasm but loss his nose, lips, toes and fingers to frostbite before being rescued by the Chinese. He later winds up with the Russians where he becomes Koschei.
Unaware that both are dead, Jess wants revenge on Rick and Karin and, having run afoul of the new Squad since becoming Koschei he also wants them dead. To this end he has resurrected members of the Squad who were killed on missions by using mechanical implants at the base of their skulls. Oh, and I should mention that Koschei has also died but, using the same technology, walks and talks and plans terrible revenge.
So we have the Suicide Squad up against the Zombie Squad which makes for some fun visuals and match ups. The climax takes place in a fake Quraci airport that figured into the first story.
Yeah, it all does sound convoluted, but I think it all works in context of the actual story.
One of the flaws in issue 50 is that it concludes rather quickly without a lot of space for visuals but that’s a flaw I sometimes have as a writer; I don’t always pace everything as well as I might. All things considered, however, I think it is a good story and covers the anniversary tropes pretty well. It even ends with a surprisingly tender moment for Amanda Waller. It also gets this reprint off to a good start, I think, although you folks are the ones who have the real say.
We’ll continue this next week as we look at the next story or two. Ciao for now.
Can you feel it in the air, kiddos? Whether it’s our President’s RussiaGate investigation picking off staff members and placing others under house arrest, or the massive movement of that other three-named comic book creator being snagged by their rival comic company. The times? They are a’changin.’
And while I’m apt to discuss my continuing thoughts on our super-villain-in-chief slowly devolving our country into the antithesis of what it was founded upon, I think it’s more apropos I dive in instead to the recent(ish) announcement that Brian Michael Bendis is headed towards DC Comics.
In 2000, which I’ll be double-damned was seventeen friggin’ years ago, BMB was brought in on a little experimental book Ultimate Spider-Man. The proto-millennial Peter Parker of Bendis’s pen was what a generation needed from their comics. He was young, unencumbered by decades of backstory, and full of delicious teen angst. Paired with the artwork of stalwart journeyman Mark Bagley, the book skyrocketed Bendis’s name-value into the upper echelons of the modern comic book fandom. And over the course of his career at the house funded by the Mouse, Bendis had amazing runs on Daredevil, The Avengers, Alias, and the X-Men. But you have access to Wikipedia too, so, let’s just call it a day with the basics, shall we?
While some would be quick to point out that BMB’s clout may not be at the same levels it once was, anyone with a Facebook feed like mine when the announcement dropped surely could argue otherwise. Every comic book fan and creator I know had something to say on the matter. Most all of it was purely positive – save literally for that one friend who literally can’t say they like anything, ever. But, pardon my French, fuck that guy.
With Bendis headed to DC, the potential energy here outmatches the kinetic force of his Marvel departure. With decades (plus) full of ideas for DC’s pantheon of super-powered beings, there’s a change in the air of mainstream comics – if only for the time being until his name is actually attached to specific projects with specific deadlines.
Simply take a look at the modern comic landscape, and you’ll see how BMB moved the needle of mainstream comics like a nuclear-powered sharknado. He made a generation believe that Spider-Man could become a legacy character through Miles Morales. He took the idea of a Wonder Woman, removed all heroic chakras, and gave us Jessica Jones. He whispered through Scarlet Witch “no more mutants.” He disassembled and reassembled the Avengers. And even recently, he created RiRi Williams – giving us the female Rhodey we never knew we wanted. Like I said: needle-moving creation.
Now, take that mind, and give it the keys to a new kingdom. This move allows us to build on the potent world-building of Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, etc., and grant carte blanche to introduce the humanity that Bendis has built a career off of… ultimately (natch) allowing DC to have its cake and eat it too.
If we think big picture, it’s easy to see how the street-level vision of BMB could breathe new life into staple DC champions like Batman, or Green Lantern. Or, Bendis could lend his pro-woman-writing wares to Wonder Woman or Supergirl. Hell, they could just let ole’ BMB nab someone like Jamie Reyes or Kyle Rayner (please oh please) and let him steer their ships towards brighter shores. Again: the possibilities are endless, and exciting. Oh wait! Could Bendis be allowed to work with the Endless?! I digress, I digress.
Yes kiddos, the times they are a’changin’. Amidst all the hellfire and panic that exists in the real world? I’m happy to know that the fake ones that exist on paper now have a new voice and energy to distract me from the impending doom. And that is a change worth subscribing to.
How far we have come in the one year after Trump was “elected” President, despite his boasts about being able to grab women by the pussy and being able to walk into the Miss Universe dressing rooms while contestants were changing. Women and queer people of all genders refuse to obediently walk off and let the men-folk run things. Instead, we are speaking up and telling our stories.
In January, with the Women’s March, I think we realized that, together, we could create our own system. We could create an environment in which we would be believed, and from which we could create change.
Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly had already fallen victim to the news of their own bad behavior. These new revelations demonstrate that sexual harassment in the workplace is not a partisan issue.
Not all of this kind happens in show business, although the so-called “casting couch” gets its name from the exploitive behavior of people in charge of hiring casts. It exists in every business that has a hierarchical structure, including tech, politics and so much more.
Yes, that last link is to an old story, but it is newly relevant. Because the problem isn’t only the people in power sexually abuse people in their employ (yes, this sometimes includes women. The problem is also that, even when the abuse is known, the company will often cover for the abuser.
And DC Entertainment knew about Eddie Berganza. Their response was to protect him by limiting his exposure to what I think the Catholics call “occasions of sin.” In other words, women were not allowed to work with him.
I don’t want to sound like I’m excusing sexual harassment and abuse, but the problem is not always only with the perpetrator. When I read about Weinstein and Berganza (and Scott Allie) and Spacey, I feel terrible for them. I mean, they are horrible people and they shouldn’t have any authority over anyone else, much less command big salaries and respect, but I think they have a sickness.
The real crime is committed by those who choose to change the workplace to protect them and not the people they abuse. Instead of setting up a fund to pay-off victims, run businesses so there are no victims. And instead of limiting the opportunities of women to work on Superman comics, limit the authority of the man causing the problem in the first place.
The next steps are to connect the dots from actual abuse to other, more subtle ways of marginalizing women. I know that I’ve been the subject of gossip, suggesting that I slept my way into various jobs. I’ve heard parallel stories about other women — and men. As long as we are body parts first and humans with skills and talents later (if at all), we will never get the credit we deserve.
I’m part of a few on-line groups of women in comics, and in the last few weeks, there have been more than the normal number of warnings about other professionals in the business. Some are well-known, and some are new to me. I’m not going to name any names here because 1) the stories are told in confidence and I’m not going to violate a trust and 2) the laws about slander are much tougher when the stories are published, and I don’t have the first-hand knowledge. Also, you, Constant Reader, don’t need to know the specifics.
You need to know that we talk.
Women have always talked among themselves about predatory men. We’ve always warned newcomers about who was too “handsy,” who told lewd jokes, who to being alone with.
Our friend Marifran O’Neil died yesterday morning.
A teacher in Brooklyn NY, Maryland, Illinois and her native St. Louis Missouri, Marifran was the wife of writer / editor and ComicMix columnist Denny O’Neil, whose column normally runs in this space at this time.
Born February 10, 1940, Marifran and Denny were childhood sweethearts who became separated by time and distance. They reconnected in the 1990s and were married in 2009; a true story of love and romance. I know first-hand; Denny and Marifran got back together when Denny and I were sharing an office at DC Comics at the time. Upon reuniting with Marifran, Denny immediately morphed into a man completely and hopelessly in love.
She had that impact not only on Denny but on all of us. A charming person and a wonderful conversationalist, I looked forward to seeing her at various comics conventions and social gatherings, including Martha Thomases’ legendary Hanukkah donut party, the annual salon of New York comics people. Marifran’s presence made each meeting an event.
Marifran had two daughters, Meg and Beth, who live and work in Portland and Nevada respectively.
Trying to avoid an overused meme is impossible: Marifran truly was a special and unique person, and we will miss her greatly.
I always love talking with creators about their process, and I’ve been a fan of Firefly for years now So it was a pleasure to sit down with Chris Roberson, writer of Serenity: No Power in the‘Verse, to chat with him about his experience creating this tale. Chris offered some cool insights into his writing process, and, of course, we both geeked out over the world of Firefly and our mutual fandom. Read on for the full interview below!
Emily: What is it like for you playing in the ‘Verse, when there is so much to it, and there’s such a great world that’s already been built?
Chris: It was incredibly intimidating. I was a fan from the day that “Train Job” aired. And they aired out of order. Kids; they don’t understand that not only did they not air all the episodes, but they were in the wrong order! So I was there the whole time in the audience. And I was a rabid fan. When the prospect of working on the book first came up a few years ago…the gestation of the book was fairly long. It was the better part of three years from when I was initially offered, “Hey, would you like to do this?” to it actually being done. I worked with four different editors over the course of that time.
So as a fan it was incredibly intimidating. Because it was super fun, and I was like, “Cool, I get to do all this stuff!” but at the same time, I didn’t want to disappoint the rabid fanbase.
I needed the blueprints just to figure out, like, “How do you get from this room to this room in the ship?” When you’re watching the show, it’s often hard to tell, because of the way it’s edited around. I’m like, “Wait a minute, how do you get from the cargo deck to that room?”
E: I know what you mean because sometimes in the show it’s hard to tell where they’re coming from. Like that one scene where Kaylee throws Mal the wrench so that he can get into the hatch, and I’m thinking, “Where is he going from and to?”
C: Yeah – and also where the interior of the ship maps to the exterior, was something that I had to spend some time figuring out.
E: And then of course there’s the mix of English with Chinese. Did you have any background in that?
C: Oh God no! If there was anything I had to justify more in every script, it was those. Those are sourced directly from the scripts. There are several-volume collections of all the scripts from the show and also from the film. I referenced those heavily. In the scripts I think they would be written out, but then I would have to reference something else to get it into the right characters. And luckily in the back of the most recent role-playing game there’s a thing in there of all of them transliterated, so I was able to drop those in. But in almost every case I would have to say, “Okay, that line was spoken by this character in this episode;” and then I had to send scans of the pages from the role-playing game to the editor to say, “Here’s where I’m getting this from.”
E: That’s very complicated.
C: Yeah. It’s the job.
E: Well, and writers enjoy that kind of stuff. Otherwise why would you be a writer?
C: I love research.
E: What, if any, input did Joss have, or what kind of guidance were you given about where to play or how to play in the ‘Verse?
C: It was more from the other direction. It was me suggesting things and asking questions and then being told what I could and couldn’t do. And in almost every instance – they said yes to, I think, pretty much everything I suggested. It was a strange experience, in that the comic is now the canon. Because normally when you’re doing licensed work – and I’ve done a lot of it – your job is like, to shake all the toys out of the box, play around, have a cool story, and then put them all back where they belong. So when you’re doing licensed stuff, you’re often slotting a story in between these two episodes, or this season and that season. But because the show ended and now this is the show, essentially, the pushback I kept getting was that I wasn’t changing things. I wasn’t making enough difference in the status quo. Because I kept basically getting everything back together again at the end. I had to mess some stuff up. And that was one of the things that was really intimidating. It was like – people are going to be mad at me. Because I’m screwing stuff up for these characters; but they made me. They forced me to.
E: I was going to ask you about fan reactions, and that plays right into this. Because, particularly I noticed (SPOILER ALERT!) that Mal and Inara have some back-and-forth that is worrying, especially at the end. And at this point, they’re a couple, which is also a different thing than in the show, so if people haven’t been reading the comics, they wouldn’t know. Fans might be happy, but…then there’s also that weird thing with Jayne and Zoe and – poor Jayne, is he ever going to be not lonely? So tell me about working on those relationships, and any fan reactions?
C: I was basically picking up threads that had been laid down in Leaves on the Wind, the previous series that Zach Whedon had done with Georges Jeanty. It was interesting to me to see the way that those relationships had developed. That River had kind of taken Wash’s place in a lot of ways; in that she was the pilot, but also that she had this kind of almost co-parenting thing? We didn’t see that there, but I could see that it was a possibility. She was definitely filling a hole that was left when Wash was gone. So beginning No Power in the ‘Verse, the crew is kind of broken down into these mini subsets, these pairs and trios. And yeah, Jayne is not in one. He’s him, so he’s just kind of bouncing around. So a lot of where the plot came from was: look at each of those little clusters of characters, and see where is an interesting place to put strain.
Because basically these people are locked in a building together always. So whatever friendship or relationship – romantic, platonic, whatever, they have – if you can’t leave, forever, there’s going to be strain.
E: It’s an interesting dynamic to work with.
C: Yeah – it’s like being stuck in a hotel forever. So those are the points where I thought, “Oh yeah. People are going to be mad.” But by and large, certainly I think Joss has trained a viewership and readership that expects bad things to happen to his characters, right? I love all those characters, but it couldn’t just be five issues of everybody having birthday cake, and having fun. That’s not a story. So that’s what the story turned into, was like, do those then re-form in certain ways, once those have been broken apart? Or do they change shape a little bit?
E: Of course, on top of that we’ve got the larger story of the Alliance and Calista and her group of creepy followers trying to get River back. Did that come out of – I don’t know if I want to spoil things – but it builds up into something that looks like in the next story, it’s going to be a really epic thing. Where did that come from?
C: There is a document – I’m not sure if I remember what the provenance of it was – but it’s included in several of the companions, and in the role-playing game. But Joss wrote it in the early days, I think to give the writers and the crew initially an idea of how this world worked. It’s a brief history of the ‘Verse, about 1,000 to 2,000 words long, written in the vernacular of the show; a history of what’s happened before now. It’s like a more elaborate version of that spoken-word intro that you got in the pilot. But in there, he talks a lot about the war, but there’s a line in there about soldiers who weren’t happy to lay down their arms – these Peacemakers. And it had actually been mentioned and visited in one of the earlier comics. But I felt like that was an interesting thread to pull, because Mal had broken in his own way, but there were a ton of other soldiers out there, and what are those guys up to? And maybe they still have axes to grind. Just looking at real examples from history, people have different agendas. We might agree that those are the Bad Guys, but how far are you willing to go? What are you willing to do? So that’s largely where those characters came from, was this offhand reference.
One of the other threads I found – I realized there was a story hidden in Inara’s backstory that had never been explored.
E: That was very interesting to me too. It kept being mentioned, and no one knew why she had left, and then you pulled that out.
C: I noticed that in reading through the scripts. It’s right there. It’s mentioned fairly early on – she left under a cloud; this was not her first choice, to go out and live in dirt, basically, this really classy lady. So that was a fannish question of mine – “Let’s see what’s back there? What’s interesting about that? What would cause her to have to do that?”
E: No Power in the ‘Verse is out in hardcover now. So what is coming next here? Are you working on something else with this?
C: I don’t know what their next plans are. I have been told that they are doing more stuff, but I don’t know what it is.
E: Okay, well I’ll keep hoping, because you set something up here that I want to know more about – what are Mal and the crew going to do next? But also, you had mentioned working with Georges Jeanty. I’ve known Georges and his work for a long time, and he has a history of working on this type of series, like Buffy, and Firefly, that have ended in the show, but then they’ve come into the comics world. So what’s that collaboration like?
C: Oh, it’s great! I mean, I really like when a collaboration is really collaborative. It sounds trite but it’s true. Like, I don’t feel like, “Here are your marching orders; go do this thing.” Because I always try as much as possible to solicit input and suggestions on the story side of things from the artist. And there is a gag, a long-running gag in the book, that was entirely Georges’ suggestion. The one with Jayne and the hats, the sweaters… That was him.
E: Well bless him for that one, because that did make me laugh.
C: And as soon as he said it, I was like, “Oh, yeah, that’s perfect!” It also helped give a much-needed lightness to it. Because it’s a really heavy story. You gotta get some jokes in there somewhere. So that basically was Jayne’s job in the book.
E: Well here’s the next question – how does his ma always know where he’s gonna be?
C: That was actually something I had to work out the logistics of, and I went back – in that episode where he gets the hat, it’s kind of set up that they check in to see if there’s mail for them. So somehow the way the ‘Verse works is they’re basically “Mailbox, Inc.,” but on different planets, and these guys are going from planet to planet but occasionally check in to see, “Is there anything here for us?”
E: That makes sense. I noticed in reading that there’s a great balance between the characters and the action. Do you, as a writer, have to consciously work on that? Because this is a story with a lot of characters – a Badass Crew! And on top of that, an action series. How do you deal with that as a writer?
C: I start with the visuals, so my scripts always begin with…the first things I write are the panel descriptions. Which are basically my suggestions to the artist, how I think they’re going to draw. Like, “In my head, this is how I think you and your style would do it; if you have a better idea, do that.” And only after I’ve written the entire issue’s-worth of those do I go back and figure out, “Okay, what has to be communicated verbally? What has to be spoken?” And then I put as little of that in as I can.
E: Very cool. I noticed in the back of the hardcover trade, we also have a little fairy tale, which is super cute. I assume that came out as an individual issue?
C: Well, the book hadn’t even been announced, but they asked me if I would do a Serenity piece for FCBD, and did I have any ideas. The art is by Stephen Byrne. And Stephen had done a bit of fan art a year or two before that that was like, Disney-Serenity. And so I was like, “Okay. How do we get to there?” And I ripped the plot off entirely from an early ’80s issue of Uncanny X-Men, where Kitty Pryde is telling Illyana Rasputin basically what the X-Men have been doing the last couple of years as a fairy tale. So in that way I was able to tackle some pretty heavy storylines. Like the death of Jean Grey was one of the things that was included in this fairy tale version of the story.
E: Yeah, and this of course tackles Wash, and that is a really interesting way to do that.
C: So I suggested Stephen. I said I would love to have him. I was assuming Joss would be cool with it because Joss already liked his fan art, and I think that was the only written feedback that I got from Joss. He just said, “Charming,” or “Utterly charming,” or something like that. And I was like, “All right, I’ll take that!” It also made people cry.
E: It did tug my heart strings a little bit there. So with Emma, the cute l’il baby, and also Bea and Iris, who we haven’t seen as much of, and obviously not in the show, what’s it like crafting new characters in this ‘Verse?
C: It’s an interesting challenge. Particularly with those two, taking a character who was basically what River would have been if she hadn’t been busted out, and is now being kind of deprogrammed, running around the galaxy having adventures. It was fun, to see, “What’s that like? What have they been doing?” We don’t get to spend as much time with them as I would like.
E: Anything else you’d like fans to know about this book? Or about your other work?
C: It’s out now, it’s gorgeous, it’s super good! Mostly what I do these days is set in the world of Hellboy, so they can check that out.
Thank you, Chris, for sitting down with me for this interview (and Dark Horse for setting it up). Check out Serenity: No Power in the ‘Verse, out in hardcover now.