Category: Columns

The Law Is A Ass #424: Arkham Makes An Asylum Of You And Me

Albert Einstein once said, “Glix sptzl glaah,” then he turned one and developed his first working model of the Theory of Relativity; “that lady who feeds me is Mama.” Einstein also reportedly said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” By this definition, I am insane, because I keep reading Batman comics and expecting the writers to know the difference between criminal activity and criminal insanity.

In Batman vol. 3, # 9, Batman agreed to do a mission for Amanda Waller and formed his own version of the Suicide Squad. So he went to Arkham Asylum, which, based on the ratio of escapes to days of the week, must have biggest Open Door Policy since John Hay. (Go ahead, look it up. I know, “Homework, bleech!) and recruited his recruits. Said recruits were a veritable who’s who of Gotham City’s finest worst.

Arnold Weskler, the Ventriloquist, found guilty of “Eight counts of murder” and sentenced to “life without parole.” Ben Turner, the Bronze Tiger, “Two counts manslaughter. Twenty years without parole.” Jewelee, “Four counts of murder. Life without parole.” Punch, Jewelee’s partner in crime and lover, who wasn’t actually in Arkham but broke into Arkham to try and free Jewelee while Batman was there; which is pretty crazy so maybe he was right where he should have been. Finally, Selina Kyle, Catwoman, “two hundred and thirty-seven counts of murder. Death by lethal injection.” These were the people Batman recruited out of Arkham Asylum. And I had to ask myself, “Why?”

Not “why did Batman recruit them?” Why were most of them in Arkham Asylum?

Arkham Asylum is an asylum. Even if we didn’t know that already from its name, Batman was right in the story. It is not a prison. There is a difference.

A prison is where criminals who are convicted of crimes are sent to serve out their sentences. An asylum is where criminals who were found not guilty by reason of insanity are involuntarily committed so that they can be treated.

None of the people Batman recruited from Arkham Asylum were found not guilty by reason of insanity. I know this for a fact and I can prove it. Arnold Weskler was sentenced to life without parole. Ben Turner was sentenced to twenty years without parole. Jewelee was sentenced to life without parole. Selina Kyle was sentenced to death by lethal injection. Do you see the common link? All four of them were sentenced to terms of imprisonment. That can only mean that they were found guilty because only people who were found guilty of crimes can be sentenced.

People who are found not guilty are released. Why? Because they were found not guilty. And they can’t be imprisoned for the crimes for which they were found not guilty; at least now without violating the hell out of the Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution.

In the same way, people who were found not guilty by reason of insanity can’t be sentenced to imprisonment, life imprisonment, or death by lethal injection, because – all together now – they were found not guilty.

If they were convicted – and they were it said so right in the story and I’m taking the story’s words at their word – what were these convicted criminals doing in Arkham?

There is a way that convicted criminals who were sentenced to prison can be sent to an asylum. When people develop a mental illness that impairs their cognitive ability to such an extent that they cannot make decisions for themselves or they present a danger to themselves or to others, a judge can civilly commit them and order they be sent to a mental health facility for treatment.

If a convict in prison develops a mental illness, a judge can the inmate be civilly committed to a mental health facility. Then, when the inmate no longer meets the criteria for civil commitment, the inmate is returned to prison to serve out the remainder of the sentences. The question remains, was there a viable reason for any of Batman’s team to have been transferred to Arkham?

Arnold Weskler had multiple personalty disorder. He thought he was two people; himself and his ventriloquist dummy, Scarface. Only the story said Weskler had “forsesworn his ‘little friend’ and had become an ideal inmate. Sounds like Weskler’s treatment had brought his MPD under control. If that were the case, then as long as he continued to take his medications, he would not meet the criteria for civil commitment. He would have been returned to Blackgate Penitentiary, where the prison hospital would have made sure he continued to take his medication. So Weskler shouldn’t have been in Arkham any longer, but maybe the doctors were keeping him there just to be sure. After all, we wouldn’t want a multiple murderer in prison, now would we?

Ben Turner was diagnosed with delusions of grandeur. He believed he was a former member of the League of Assassins and an agent of various intelligence agencies. A claim these agencies deny. The story didn’t really give us enough information about his mental condition for us to make a definitive assessment of whether he should be in Arkham. In his one conversation in the story he didn’t see irrational, but, as I said, I have insufficient information. So I’ll give Arkham the benefit of the doubt and say he was committed and deserved to be there.

Jewelee’s lover/partner Punch disappeared two years earlier, since then she had been in a catatonic state. She sat on her bed without moving. As such, she wasn’t really a danger to either herself or to others and could have been treated in the hospital in Blackgate prison just as easily as she could have been treated in Arkham. She would not have been committed to Arkham. However, if a court or the prison authorities determined that the hospital at Arkham was better equipped to treat her catatonia that the hospital at Blackgate, she might have transferred to Arkham for that reason.

Selina Kyle, not even going to go there. Why not? Because Selina clearly wasn’t mentally ill. She knew it, Batman knew it, even we knew it. Everything about her presence in Arkham Asylum – from her being in a cell to her wearing a straightjacket and a full-face version of a Hannibal Lecter mask – was nothing more than a plot device used to set up a surprise ending. Oh, and because I’ve reached the end of my column.

– THE END –

See?

Martha Thomases: Shop ‘Till You Drop?

Black Friday is not my thing. It involves a bunch of stuff I don’t like: Getting out of bed when it’s dark out… crowds… pants.

But a lot of people enjoy it, despite my skepticisms, and there are even reasons that explain the brain chemistry of this pleasure. Far be it from me to deny anyone a dose of dopamine.

Or a present.

If you read the link, you’ll learn that a lot of the fun of Black Friday involves successfully scoring a good deal in a like-minded crowd. I suppose it’s part of our hunter/gatherer DNA. However, nowhere in the study does it say that Black Friday, or even a real bargain, guarantees that the shopper finds the right present for a loved one.

Now, some of my favorite presents have been glaringly bad. My husband once bought me an enormous yellow dress that hit me in the middle of my calf (and nowhere else) so that I looked like a yellow bag of take-out food, and he was so proud of himself for getting something that was (then) stylish that I wore it a bunch.

Still, very few of us set out to select an inappropriate gift. We want our friends and families to love our selections, to love us for knowing them so well,

Hence, books.

No one is insulted to get a book. No one curses in the middle of the night when they step on a kids’ book on the way to the bathroom. A book says you, the giver, think of the recipient as someone who is smart and curious.

In this day and age, we need books more than ever. Our society is more polarized than any other time I can recall, and we all have a tendency to listen only to ourselves and not consider other points of view. A good book, fiction or non-fiction, puts the reader into someone else’s head.

Look how little we know about history. I can sneer at people who don’t know the real story because I read a graphic novel written to educate children.

It’s possible that by the time the gift-giving holidays are upon us, we will have stopped talking about sexual abuse and harassment in the workplace. But until then, there is this. A friend of mine posted this on Facebook, and I wanted to share it: “If you consistently maintain that women are a sort of shiny, bewildering object that is handed out to you when you amass sufficient money or power, one that may eventually be useful as a container for potential humans but otherwise does nothing but emit an irritating buzzing noise whenever its mouth falls open, you don’t have to worry that you will ever face consequences for mistreating one.”

That line is from Alexandra Petri, who was a new voice to me. And she’s hilarious.

If you have someone in your life who has a problem understanding that women are human, there are some very entertaining books that might change their minds while they laugh. I happen to like this one a lot. And if you or your friends have limited contact with people from other parts of the world (geographically or sociologically), there are books for that, too.

Have a great weekend, whether you go shopping or not. If you do, think about books as gifts. You can still buy chocolate, sweaters and television sets, but if you get Legos, remember to include slippers, too.

Mike Gold: The Greatest Comic Book Story Ever?

The most ridiculous question I’ve asked myself all week is, is this “the greatest comic book story ever?” Who the hell knows? The answer to that question is in the mind of the beholder, and in the case of my mind, well, I change my mind so fast I voided the warranty long ago.

But… this one is damn close.

When I was but a tiny brat, I fell in love with Mad Magazine. I copped a copy from my sister’s comic book pile, read it, was completely enthralled, and I coerced my mother (I was seven years old at the time) into buying me the then-current issue, #40. By the end of the day, I got her to get me a subscription.

Later on, my sister started dating this guy who was about eight years older than me, my sister being only seven years older. He became aware of my passion for Mad and asked me if I knew the original Mad was, in fact, a comic book. I looked at him as though he had just morphed into Fin Fang Foom. What? A comic book? Yeah, even then I was a serious fanboy. He brought over a copy of Mad #20, one of the last before it became a magazine, and I nearly fainted. Figuring the best way to my sister’s heart was through her brother’s passion, he gave me the issue. It was my first EC comic, and I instantly became a post-event EC Fan-Addict.

In an unrelated incident a couple weeks later, my sister dumped him. I remain grateful, but, well… c’est la vie.

The second story in Mad #20 was titled “Sound Effects!,” and it was drawn by Wally Wood. By this point I had consumed the first three Mad reprint paperbacks and Woody had become my favorite comics artist. At the time I didn’t know I had joined a very, very big club. I didn’t know the writer’s name – of course it was Harvey Kurtzman – but I admired his ability to tell a very clever, very funny story that satirized the very medium in which he was working, that brought out the best in one of the all-time best comics artists… and was written entirely without any dialog whatsoever. One can argue the last panel, but… why? I’d reprint it here, but that would be a spoiler.

Self-satire is tough. It was a strong element in what Kurtzman called “chicken fat humor” which was prevalent at the time on teevee in such shows as Sid Caesar (he did several) and Steve Allen (he did a lot more than just several). All three of these guys were masters at it – and both Caesar and Allen later wrote introductions for sundry Mad reprint books.

I’d take this opportunity to praise Marie Severin’s color art, but if you’ve ever seen an EC comic book or her later work at Marvel, there’s no need. She was one of the absolute best, in a very crowded field of wonderful colorists. Ben Oda’s lettering is outstanding, and, as you can see, it is the very point of this story.

Together, Kurtzman, Wood, Oda and Severin produced magic. The most amazing aspect of this particular saga is, “Sound Effects!” is one of the very, very few Mad comics stories that was not reprinted in the Mad paperbacks of the time. I think it would have worked; obviously, “the usual gang of idiots” did not share that opinion.

“Sound Effects!” was reprinted in the Mad Archives as well as in various reprint books, and I know I am not alone in having them all. Hey, I’m a fan. If you have the desire to procure but one, I recommend you start with Mad’s Original Idiots Wally Wood. It was published way back in 2015 so it should be fairly easily accessible. $15 (at Amazon, at least) for 176 pages of Wally Wood and Harvey Kurtzman is one of the best bargains in comics, and it will be one of the most entertaining experiences in your life.

Next week: Turning off the lights. Or shooting them out. It will be an interesting week. Happy Thanksgiving!

Mindy Newell’s Thanksgiving Musings

Just some musings this week…

Outlander Season Three, the adaptation of the third book in author Diana Gabaldon’s story of the 20th century English combat nurse and the 18th century Scottish Highlander (Voyager) is up to its 10th episode, with three to go, and it hasn’t disappointed. I read somewhere that the program’s ratings have steadily gone up with each episode, and Season 4 is already in production. I know that there are many who are disappointed that the show isn’t following the book word-for-word and paragraph-for-paragraph, but as I often remind my fellow Outlander lovers over at Compuserve, television is a visual medium, entirely different from the literary, and there are also time restraints. Im-not-so-ho, Ronald D. Moore and company have actually done a remarkable job bringing a densely packed historical romance/science fiction/fantasy – Outlander is one of those books and series that crosses genres as easily a pedestrian crossing a street – series to life.

And speaking of Compuserve, that venerable site is shutting down all its forums as of December 15, with no explanation given and that “e-mail, news, weather, sports, and entertainment information will remain available to you after this change.” Huh? Who goes to Compuserve for e-mail, news, weather, and et.al.? It’s always been about its forums – and as for Outlander, Diana Gabaldon, way back when, when she was first writing the original book, often posted her “what I’ve got so far,” and asking for comments, edits, and information. I just don’t get it.

I’m in the midst of answering a series of questions for an interview that fellow ComicMixer Joe Corallo is conducting with me for Geek.com. It’s funny what interviews can do sometimes. If it’s live, it can be a matter of thinking quick on your feet, especially if you don’t have a list of the questions in advance. When it’s going to be published somewhere, the interviewee – me, in this case – has a chance to think about it before writing down the answers. For instance, I discovered something about my work on Catwoman in the course of answering Joe. Consider this a sneak peek:

Joe C.: You’re also the first woman to write Catwoman. What was that like to you? Did you get to do what you wanted with the character?

Me: Was I really? I didn’t know that! It was pretty cool. My first swing at her was in Action Comics Weekly #’s 611– 614, a four-part story, “The Tin Roof Club.” To tell you the truth, I think it’s better than that Catwoman mini-series with my name on it. By the way, I came up with the title of “The Tin Roof Club” because that’s how I’ve always thought of Selina:  “What is the victory of a cat on a hot tin roof? – I wish I knew…just

staying on it, I guess, as long as she can” Tennessee Williams, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

With that in mind, my biggest disappointment with the Catwoman mini-series is that DC wouldn’t allow Selina to deliberately kill her pimp. I don’t know why. The guy was a fucking pimp, for Christ’s sake! The whole idea of her murdering the bastard was that it would cause Selina to forever remain that “cat on the hot tin roof.” Stuck, y’know? So I had to write it so that it was unclear. Which was total bullshit, of course.

I also made a mistake in involving nuns and Selina having a sister who was a sister. (“My sister, the sister,” as Father Mulcahy would say on M*A*S*H.) It was supposed to be an homage to Frank Miller, not only because of Batman: Year One, but also to his work on Daredevil, in which Matt’s Catholicism played such a strong role. But I think it would have been stronger, and more interesting, if I had stuck to my own roots and made Selina Jewish – after all, “Kyle” could be just a “street name” to disguise her origins.

Basically, I guess what I’m saying is that I wish I could do it all over againor have another crack at her.

It’s a nice, long, juicy interview – well, I think so, at any rate –  so I’ll let you know when it’s slated to appear. Keep an eye out for it, ‘kay?

I’ll keep up the tradition of Thanksgiving “thanksgivings” now:

  • This year, as most of you know, I lost my dad and my mom. So first and foremost, I am grateful to God, the Goddess, and the Universe for blessing me with my grandson Meyer, my daughter and son (in-law) Alixandra and Jeff, my brother Glenn and his wife Ana, and my niece Isabel.
  • I am thankful to ComicMix and Mike Gold for allowing me entrée into the comics world via my columns these past – how many years is it, Mike? Wow! And I freely admit that my column about Secretariat was a stretch, but, hey, he was a Super-Horse!!!!
  • I am thankful to Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, NJ for investing in me and investing me with a sense of home and belonging.
  • I am thankful for Robert Mueller.
  • I am thankful to The Washington Post, The New York Times, MSNBC, Frontline, Vice, CNN, Real Time with Bill Maher and other sane and responsible news organizations and programs for not faltering in the pursuit of truth, justice, and the American Way in 2017.
  • And thanks a lot, The Washington Post, The New York Times, MSNBC, Frontline, Vice, CNN, Real Time with Bill Maher and other news organizations and programs for going insane and being irresponsible and treating Il Tweetci the Mad’s campaign as a ratings grab and celebrity reality show in 2015 and 2016? Now you’re doing your job? Where were you in 2015 and 2016?

Joe Corallo: Songs For The Dead

Many of you who are familiar with this column know I’ve been enjoying a new publisher this year quite a bit – Vault Comics. I’ve written about them and interviewed a couple of different creative teams on their books in the past few months or so. Although most of their output has been in science fiction they do have a new title, Songs For The Dead, in the fantasy genre hitting stores this winter. I got to interview the team of this new fantasy comic including Mike Heron, Andrea Fort and Sam Beck.

JC: Hey Mike, Andrea, and Sam! Thank you for taking the time to chat with me. First things first; what’s each of your elevator pitches for Songs For The Dead?

Mike: Songs for the Dead is the story of a young bard named Bethany, who just so happens to be a necromancer. She’s on a one-woman quest across a foreign land to prove to the world that necromancers are capable of more than creepy and evil things by helping others along the way!

Andrea: Songs for the Dead is the story of an optimistic young woman named Bethany who happens to be a necromancer. But Bethany believes that her power can be used for good, and she sets out to prove that necromancers aren’t all as evil as the stereotypes by trying to become a hero.

Sam: A really happy-go-lucky necromancer just wants to be the hero.

JC: So how did you all meet and decide to do this comic together?

Mike: Andrea and I met online a few years ago, and one of the things we really connected over was both being creative people. Despite having different backgrounds in our expertise, and having never made a comic book before, we felt like it was the best way to tell the story of Songs for the Dead. Sam we found after an exhaustive search for the right artist to compliment our story – we lucked out and found someone who is the perfect fit!

Andrea: As Mike mentioned, we met online and one of our many similarities was our love of storytelling. We had been discussing a collaboration of some kind when the idea for Songs for the Dead came up. We did some brainstorming, some world-building and then we went looking for an artist who could help us bring our vision to life, we are amazingly lucky to have found Sam!

Sam: Andrea and Mike contacted me after finding me through deviantART of all places! We all live in the Greater Toronto Area so we’re able to meet up and talk through the comic in person which has been amazing. It really makes a difference in building a team.

JC: Bethany is not what most people think of when they think of a necromancer. How did Bethany come to be? Has she changed must from her initial concept? And what other fantasy characters helped influence her creation?

Mike: The genesis of the idea is really just that: I had the idea for an unassuming necromancer some years ago, before Andrea and I had met. I play a lot of RPGs, and anything with a character creation system really lets my imagination run wild. I landed on this juxtaposition of this scary and forbidden magic in the hands of a bright-eyed and optimistic young girl. The idea persisted and soon I was making notes about it here and there while working on other projects.
Bethany’s concept and appearance have been surprisingly consistent over the years, and a lot of that I credit to Sam, who really just got what we were going for from the beginning.

Andrea: Mike had come up with the idea for Bethany a while back and told me about her when we were discussing possible collaborations. I think he had the idea while he was playing an RPG. I was really into the idea right away! I love subverting expectations and defying stereotypes, so I was thrilled to work on building and developing a character like Bethany who is so much more than she appears.

Sam: Like Mike said Bethany’s character has been pretty consistent, I think we nailed down her look almost on the very first test page. Which is really a testament to how well Mike defined her in just a few words. Her outfit is a bit haphazard which reflects on her style of adventuring.

JC: Speaking of influences, what fantasy worlds and stories either helped inspire this story or inspire any of you to want to tell a fantasy story?

Mike: Well as I mentioned, Andrea and I are huge RPG fans. We’re also huge fantasy fans, so there’s really a mix of everything in there! Some Elder Scrolls, some D&D, some Dragon Age, some Witcher, some LOTR – we really tried to take inspiration from the best.

Andrea: I think all three of us really love genre, and especially fantasy stories. I am personally a massive fan of Tolkien’s writing and I think that informs a lot of my contribution to Songs. I also love the Dragon Age franchise and the way you discover lore throughout the narrative.

Sam: We’re all pretty big RPG fans, so my influences overlap with the rest of the team quite a bit. I also read a lot of historical fiction which has helped me stay in the right mindset for this kind of fantasy story. I strive to make characters and backgrounds feel like part of a larger world, beyond what’s shown in a framed panel.

JC: Elissar plays the role of the brash brawler. Being that there are quite a few fantasy archetype characters while having just a couple of protagonists to start, what made you all decide Elissar would be a fighter rather than a ranger, rogue, paladin, etc?

Mike: That’s an interesting question! I’d say Elissar’s class is really informed by her personality. Elissar was actually a somewhat late addition to the story, as the original drafts of Songs for the Dead were more about Bethany being this lone wanderer. Andrea and I decided eventually that Bethany needed a companion, who was also a bit of a foil for her, something to balance out her overwhelming optimism. So when we started fleshing out who Elissar was and what she needed to be, her role as a Fighter just kinda fell into place.

Andrea: I love this question! And I love talking about Elissar! As Mike said, we decided that Bethany needed a companion. We wanted readers not only to have a different perspective of the world, but also someone whose personality would push Bethany’s personal growth. I really wanted to see Bethany’s upstanding morality challenged by someone who was much colder and more calculating, I wanted someone who was morally ambiguous. As we were developing that character, she naturally took the form of a fighter. Besides, Elissar’s eagerness to draw her sword is very useful in adding corpses for Bethany to raise to the story!

Sam: I always felt that Elissar was a big mash-up of a lot of archetypes; fighter, rogue, mercenary. I remember when I was coming up with a character design her armour matched, and the first piece of feedback was to mix it up. She’s not put together at all, that’s what makes her really fun and surprising.

JC: Songs For The Dead started out as a web comic. Why did you all feel that was the best place to start?

Mike: We didn’t, actually! Songs made its original debut in print and through digital release via comiXology.

Andrea: Songs for the Dead was released on comiXology, and then in print shortly after. Because of how limited our resources were, those original print versions are very scarce, but they’re out there! We wanted to get our book onto comiXology early on because we had so few resources that we really didn’t know how else to get our book to people. We believed in it, and we wanted people to hopefully read it and love the characters and world the way we do, so a huge online distributor like comiXology just made the most sense.

JC: Ah, sorry! I was conflating an online indie comics presence with web comics. I would like to ask you though, the web comic scene in general seems way more receptive to fantasy comics in general compared to the traditional floppy market. Why do you all think that is?

Mike: I find that fantasy comics, especially those released in print, tend to fall into certain traps that can alienate readers fairly quickly. Lots of lore dumps and didactic panels. Andrea and I consciously tried to avoid this when we started writing Songs, we really wanted the comic to focus more on the characters and show you what they’re all about. We actually have quite the extensive lore written up behind-the-scenes, but our plan is to slowly release it through the story.

Andrea: That’s a good question, and one I ask myself frequently. I wish I really knew why. I know that I personally sometimes shy away from fantasy stories because I worry that they’ll be derivative. There are so many great stories, but they can feel too much like the great fantasies that have come before. I really like to see big new ideas and I like to feel challenged by what I read. All of the fantasy webcomics I’ve seen online have been hugely original and I’m sure other readers respond to that, the same way I have.

Sam: Webcomics are a lot more willing to take risks; and fantasy as a genre is so flexible that it’s the perfect platform to take those risks in. There are so many strange and interesting permutations of fantasy and I’m so glad there are creators who want to explore that.

JC: Your comic was picked up by Vault Comics. First off, congrats! Secondly, why is Vault the perfect home for Songs For The Dead?

Mike: Thank you! Honestly, we love everything about Vault Comics. Their catalog to date has been ambitious and engaging. They’ve really made it clear that they care about the artists and their projects, and they’re finding new and exciting ways to get people interested. Ambition was a huge consideration for us when we were considering publishers; Songs was a hugely ambitious endeavour for us that saw us taking some pretty crazy risks in the interest of getting more eyes on our book. We needed someone to match that, and we’re confident we’ve found that in Vault.

Andrea: Thank you! We couldn’t be more excited that Songs for the Dead has found a home at Vault! We love Vault because they love comics as much as we do. They also celebrate new and exciting stories, the way we do. It’s an honour to be included in their catalogue. We took a lot of risks trying to tell this story, we were looking for a publisher who would was as dedicated as we are and the team at Vault is the best.

JC: As someone who’s done a few creator owned comics in the past I understand how sometimes when you hit your stride it’s tempting to look back and think what you may have done differently. Is there anything any of you either may have done differently early on with Songs For The Dead or anything that you decided not to do and are glad you stuck with your instincts?

Mike: Oh yeah, there’s tons. In terms of production, there’s a lot of missteps Andrea and I took when we got started, being new to the business and all. At first, we were really eager to get started, and we were even close on a couple of occasions when our artists fell through. It’s funny to think how bummed we were at the time, but in retrospect it was absolutely for the best. Not only for finding Sam, but for the fine tuning we did on the script that made all the difference in the final product.

Andrea: Looking back to when we started, I see so many little things that could change, and so many times we could have simplified our process. When we started, Mike and I had never worked with comics or this kind or storytelling before, we learned as we went. It was intimidating and tough, but to come out with something like Songs was really rewarding. There were a lot of hiccups and I think we chose the hard way a few times, but every bump in the road helped us learn. I wouldn’t change things, simply because the more we struggle the better we’re getting. Plus, we are yet to make the same mistake twice (knock on wood).

Sam: Ask any artist if they can change something in their old work and they will say yes! I had really just entered the comic scene when I started working on Songs for the Dead, so I’ve grown a lot as an artist since then. It’s nice to reflect on where you’ve come from and apply what you’ve learned to future work.

JC: Before we wrap this up, is there anything else anyone would like to add?

Mike: Probably just to say thank you again to everyone who has supported Songs thus far. As lifelong creative people and newbies to the industry, I really can’t tell you what it’s meant seeing people excited about our book and these characters. Moving forward with Vault we’re really excited about the future, and whether you’re new to Songs or are anxiously awaiting the next part of the story, we hope you’ll come along for the ride.

Andrea: I take every opportunity I have to say thank you. Thank you to our amazing team including Nick Robles, Deron Bennett and AndWorld Design, Tess Fowler and Tamra Bonvillain, as well as Vault for believing in us. Of course, to our friends and families who don’t see us as often because we eat, sleep and live all things Songs for the Dead. Thank you to all these incredible people for putting up with Mike and I. Songs wouldn’t exist without them.

Sam: I’m really thankful that Andrea and Mike took a chance with me as their artist. I was really green when I started and they trusted me with their comic-children! I’m so excited to see where Songs for the Dead goes.

JC: Thank you all so much for your time! Where can people find more information on Songs For The Dead and when can they get copies from Vault Comics?

Mike: You can follow all of our social media, on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook at @songscomic, or check out our website at songsforthedead.com! Songs for the Dead relaunches in January 2018, but you can pre-order at your local comic shop NOW – and you totally should!!

Andrea: We’re on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as @songscomic, and our website is songsforthedead.com. Book one launches on January 31st, 2018 under Vault Comics so make sure you pre-order it now!

Ed Catto: Fighting the Trend, a Retailer Expands

Last Thursday in this space, Glenn Hauman wrote about comic shop owners who can’t seem to adapt to the ever-changing retailing reality. On the flip side of the coin are the many industrious and innovative retailers who have indeed figured it out. These are the folks who have learned how to survive through the industry’s ups and downs, as well as through the nation’s economic upturns and downtowns. In the year 2017 (and I’m pretty sure it will be the same way in the year 2018) storefront retailing is a difficult game for anyone to play. And so, in this week’s column, let’s take a look at one Geek Culture entrepreneur who leaned how to play the retailing game with skill, pertinacity and grace.

Ash Gray has been running Comics for Collectors in Ithaca NY since 1981, and next month he’s expanding his store.

In the 70s, Gray started by selling comics by mail with ads in Alan Light’s Comics Buyers Guide. He eventually met a fellow mail order retailer, Bill Turner, who also lived in Ithaca, NY. Together they launched the Ithaca Comic Book Club. That led to next starting Ithacon, now the nation’s second’s oldest comic book convention. They pooled their resources to then open Comics For Collectors in 1981. This comic shop, in the shadow of both Cornell University and Ithaca College, was nestled on second floor of a downtown building.

The store’s business grew over the years, and soon they switched locations, expanding to a ground level location. During the boom years, Comics For Collectors become a regional franchise, spreading to locations in nearby Corning and Elmira. As the industry contracted in the early and mid-nineties, they hunkered down, closing those stores and focusing on the main location.

“We were in the middle of an economic downturn,” recalled Gray. But they had been there before and knew how to operate during these conditions. “I look back when we opened in the early 80s. Economists said it was a downturn when we started.”

Eventually, Turner would lose interest in retail, but Gray pushed on. “The current location gives us 750 square feet of retail space. But we’ve maxxed out on space. We have a lot of graphic novels and book type products,” said Gray. “We’ve tried to be creative in displaying in the last 10 years.”

And that’s what the expansion will provide for Comics For Collectors. Gray is able to add another 700 square feet in the adjacent storefront that is part of the same building. “This location become available when the bookstore decided to retire,’ said Gray. “It’s worked well for a number of local merchants. The bagel store has expanded. There’s a new waffle restaurant that did the same thing, opening a portal to their new space.”

Comics for Collectors will do quite a few things with their new space. “We’re looking to expand the selection and “viewability” of the product lines. What makes people pick up a book is the cover art. They pick it up, take a look and then decide to buy it.” So it’s important for Gray to display comic and book covers.

“It’s never good,” Gray noted, “when a lot of things get smushed onto the racks.”

The expansion will also allow the store to showcase more Young Adult graphic novels. Locally, both kids and parents locally have responded well to the lines of new graphic novels and comics inspired by creators like Raina Telgemeir. Ithaca’s a town of readers, and often families want to own the books they’ve read in the libraries, or want to get the books before the local libraries acquire them.

Comics For Collector’s additional space will also showcase board games like Settlers of Catan by Mayfair and Munchkin by Steve Jackson Games.

When it comes to these board games, Gray says, “I’m interested in education. These games can be intimidating.” So the expanded store will have an expert onsite Saturdays to help consumers sample and learn about the various games.

A strong comic shop is more than just a retail space to help locals acquire products. It’s about community, providing services and employing locals. Over the years, Comics For Collectors has employed many people, several of whom have gone onto careers in Geek Culture companies and publishers.

And along the way, Ash Gray has had to bob and weave, to change and to adapt to an industry that can be confusing and is always evolving. But he’s managed to do it for years. With this expansion, it looks like he will again.

•     •     •     •     •

Comics for Collectors Grand Opening is scheduled for Saturday, December 2nd, and will feature specials, activities and professional guests, including Steve Ellis and Laura Van Winkle. For more information, check them out on Facebook or Instagram.

John Ostrander Is Getting His Redux In Line!

This week we’ll continue with my commentary on the latest collection of my run of Suicide Squad stories, # 7, The Dragon’s Horde. This one will be out just a few days before Christmas making it a perfect last-minute Christmas gift. Well, for some pretty strange people on your Christmas list, I’ll grant you. Once again, although I feel foolish in saying it, the Spoiler Flag is flying although the stories are about two decades old.

Last week we explored the first story in the volume which was the 50th issue celebration. That had everyone, living and dead, from the Squad in it. The next story, Fractured Image, focuses down to mainly just Deadshot. There are others in the story but the main plot centers on Floyd Lawton.

After a major storyline with lots of characters in it, Kim Yale (my wife and co-writer) and I liked to do stories complete in a single issue with a tighter focus to them. When you write an ongoing series, you need to think of the rhythm not only of a given story but of the series as a whole. You can fatigue the reader if you have too many Big Big Big stories with Action Action Action. It’s why we used to do Personal File stories in the Squad maybe once a year; focus on ongoing subplots and individual characterization. This issue isn’t quite a Personal File but it comes close.

Among other subplots, we advanced the connection between Eve Eden (Nightshade) and Tom Tresser (Nemesis). The two always had an attraction for each other but the time never seemed right; it gets right in this story. On a more significant note, Count Vertigo has a conversation with Deadshot that will linger for the rest of the series. Werner Vertigo is manic depressive and had recently been under the thrall of Poison Ivy in which his soul, as he puts it, no longer felt his own. He can’t live that way should it happen again. For reasons he doesn’t go into here, he can’t commit suicide so he wants to know if Lawton will put a bullet in Vertigo’s brain if Werner asks him. Lawton has no problem with that but warns Vertigo to be serious if he asks Deadshot to do it because he will.

The main story spins out of another subplot that we had been spinning for awhile. (Kim and I could nurse a subplot along for more than a year.) Lawton and Captain Boomerang had made a trip Down Under to Harkness’s old stomping grounds when they were summoned back to join the Squad on a mission. Because of Boomerbutt, the two missed their plane. As a result, their luggage got lost – including Lawton’s costume and wrist magnums.

Deadshot is not amused.

At the start of the issue, we discover the costume has been found and recovered – by a luggage handler in France named Marc Pilar who was described as a nothing working in the fringes of the mob. Lawton flies to Marseilles, France, to deal with the imposter and recover his property but there is a real question as to whether or not he can kill “himself.” Lawton had always been described as having a death wish but I never felt he was out to commit suicide. He just didn’t care if he lived or died. Now he is being hunted by “Deadshot”; will he let himself be killed by his alternate persona?

At this time in the run of Suicide Squad, I had decided it would be more realistic to take the Squad out of their costumes and code names. They were supposed to be a covert action group and, as such, should not be drawing undue attention to themselves. In theory.

I now look back at this decision as a mistake. These are comics and the costumes and codenames are a major part of the visuals. I think we started to hemorrhage readers at this point and it would help lead to the book’s cancellation about a year and a half later. Any book that’s more than five years old is going to start losing readership but this choice may have helped.

Nonetheless, I like this story a lot. It’s fair to say that Deadshot was one of the Squad “trinity” (along with Waller and Captain Boomerang) who were never going to get killed. Oh, they occasionally got shot just to make the readers think we might kill them but it was never going to happen. I just enjoyed playing with them too much.

Next time: when the Squad got silly.

Marc Alan Fishman: What I’m Thankful For – the 2017 Edition

Time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping … into the future.

In a few short days, we’ll be breaking bread with our loved ones and indulge in a day where we give thanks by cooking and consuming more food than we need. Some sanctimonious scads will also donate time, money, and food to charities to actually be good people. And then, for some, comes the relatively new tradition of lining up at brick and mortar stores to purchase items at rock-bottom prices in the name of some long-lost holiday spirit.

I am thankful that I don’t partake in that particular assholery. But I digress.

This has been an awful year for an awful lot of reasons. Our President is a blowhard buffoon who has only succeeded in raising the collective blood pressure of the people he swore an oath to protect. Hollywood blew up, and it turns out it’s full of absolute monsters. That Donald Trump dick is an idiot and attained the highest job in the country, and that some of the most powerful men of media used their position to pray on unsuspecting women and men does not come. It’s just that it all piled up at the same time. So much so that I’m having a hard time finding the silver lining amongst the low-hanging clouds.

But I’m not a sex-predator. And despite all his idiocy, President Trump has not personally affected my day-to-day life significantly enough that I’m in any worse station. So, I venture forward. These are the things I am most thankful for here in 2017:

  1. Unshaven Comics finished our first graphic novel.

After over five years of work, me and my studio mates have put to bed our very first trade paperback. Collecting issues one through four of The Samurnauts: Curse of the Dreadnuts, and packing it full of bonus materials has produced a 192 page tome that represents literally the very best thing we have done in our lives – specifically speaking of our creative output. As of this writing, the final details are being laid into the file that will be gleefully sent to our printer. The only thing left to do with it this year is toss the necessary shekels to pay for it. This will allow us in 2018 to pursue bigger and better things. More Samurnauts. A refreshed brand. A commitment to sell harder than we’ve ever sold before. 2017 was the year we limped across the finish line.

  1. I’ve held a steady and stable day job at the same place now two years running.

Understand that for most of my career, I’ve worked for some ahem challenging people. After paying whatever dues to the universe that might have existed – I think – I’ve finally found a position that is just right. As an Interactive Media Project Manager, I’ve found a place that challenges me without overworking me. That offers me day to work from home. Actual vacation time. And most important… Support for my personal endeavors like making comics, without ever questioning my commitment to the company.

  1. The indescribable joy of fatherhood (but yeah, I’ll try to describe it)

In 2017, I’ve watched my older boy, Bennett, learn to read and write. Seeing him figure out words and have passion to hold a pen and write his name fills me with emotion that frankly my younger self would declare as trite to be enamored with. But younger me is an ass and an idiot. To see the world through my children’s eyes, is to remember joy that has long been stolen by a weary world. To both Bennett and Colton Fishman, there is no debt, fear of heart disease, crippling insecurity, or the ever-present feeling that we’re nigh on to nuclear Armageddon. In its place is unadulterated glee over video games, comic books, TV shows, and the high fives and hugs of supportive parents. And trust me, until you see my younger, the hilarious CM Fish himself, boisterously vibrate with pure delight over being handed a spoon to eat his yogurt? You don’t know joy.

  1. This space.

Yes, you read that right. In 2011, I submitted my very first column to ComicMix. And ever since, I have tried to carve out a tiny little spot on the big world wide web where my specific brand of snark could plant a flag. In 2017, I’ve been able to touch on all my favorite nits to pick. From yelling at DC’s Dan Didio for declaring comics are dead, eulogizing a lost friend, to ranking my favorite meals as a comic book creator, I’ve enjoyed being able to spout off whatever tickles my fancy, all while you – my adoring public – have afforded me the luxury of doing so without posting inside a vacuum. Every week, my Facebook feed teems with well-wishers, cage-rattlers, and crafty cohorts alike… all instigated by the words dribbled out of my mighty(ish) pen. Having this space is a boon to my psyche. Knowing that I can commiserate with all of you over every bit of pop culture bric-a-brac that floats past my cerebellum is something I can’t ever take for granted.

  1. Gummy Bears.

They’re still awesome.

  1. Injustice 2 announcing the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will be playable.

Take my Rao-Damned money.

Happy Thanksgiving!

The Law Is A Ass # 423: Cyborg Clunks The Parole Evidence Rule

I have a mutant power. (One mutant power; don’t believe any lies Tony Isabella tells about a different power and the silly codename Shattertoy.) I have one power; I get things right for the wrong reason.

And, it seems, my power is catching. Because in Cyborg vol. 2, number 1, the book’s eponymous hero showed the same power. (Sure, the guy’s a half-human/half-robot super hero with gadgets and gizmos aplenty, and you’ve got to go and give him my power, too?)

In the comic in question, Cyborg was stopping an armored car hijacking. The hijackers were speeding their wannabe tank through downtown Detroit with a full cadre of police cars in hot pursuit. That’s when Cyborg used his robotic strength to stop the armored car with a force so masterfully applied that it crumpled the car’s front end without even registering a sound effect in the panel. Now that’s skill! As part of his Spider-Man-approved catch-the-crooks banter, Cyborg explained that the hijackers were likely to hurt someone with their reckless driving and he couldn’t allow that.

Cyborg shook the armored car like he was in a low-budget Mariachi band that could only afford one maraca. The two criminals came tumbling out of the car and immediately started shooting AR-15s. Uh, Cyborg, if you’re really interested in not letting the bad guys hurt anyone, you might try disarming them before you dump them out of the nice car with nice armored sides that bullets can’t get through.

Cyborg used his on-board internet connection to scan the hijackers’ cell phones and learned one was a parolee named Dante Morris. So he continued his banter with, “Dante, Dante, Dante… You do realize that each one of these shots is a violation of your parole, don’t you? You’re probably looking at a year behind bars for each bullet.”

Then Cyborg disarmed and subdued the hijackers, which ended his involvement in the matter. And started mine. Cause now I get to explain that while Cyborg’s ultimate conclusion might have been correct, his reasoning was dead wrong. Er, considering how much lead was flying around, I guess we should be glad Cyborg wasn’t dead wrong. But he was wrong nonetheless.

Not about the part that hijacking an armored car would violate Dante’s parole. Cyborg was wrong in saying that each separate bullet that Dante and his co-conspirator fired was a separate parole violation that would add a year to Dante’s sentence. That’s not how parole violations work.

Parole is an early release from prison. When inmates are granted parole, they are released before serving their entire sentence. Parole comes with conditions attached. Some of these conditions vary, but the ones that are almost always imposed include: a stable place to live, steady employment, reporting to the parole officer, and not consorting with other criminals. Oh yeah, and the biggie; while you’re on parole, don’t break the law.

If a parolee violates parole, the parolee’s parole officer files a notice listing all of the reasons why the officer believes the parolee has violated parole. Then someone, either the parole authority or a judge, holds a hearing which will determine whether the parolee has violated parole. If the person presiding over the hearing rules that the parolee did violate parole, the parolee’s parole can be revoked and the parolee sent back to prison to serve the remainder the original sentence. If a parolee commits armed robbery, not to mention armored car robbery, I can pretty much guarantee the parolee will be going back to prison.

But parole violations don’t involve multiple sentences. Even if the parolee did several different things and each separate act constituted a different parole violation, each act does not add additional time to the parolee’s sentence. Parole violators serve out the remainder of the original sentence. They don’t get additional time for violating their parole.

Dante violated his parole by obtaining a firearm, hijacking an armored car, consorting with another criminal, participating in a high-speed chase with the police, and shooting at Cyborg and the police. Each act was a separate parole violation, but, despite what Cyborg said, each bullet will not add more years to Dante’s time in prison.

However, a parole violation does not end the story of Dante’s problems with the law. You see, by buying the guns, hijacking the armored car, participating in the high-speed chase, and shooting at the police and Cyborg, Dante wasn’t just violating his parole; he was also committing new crimes. Crimes for which he could – no, would – be put on trial. And after he was convicted of those crimes he would be sentenced to new prison terms for his new crimes.

Many jurisdictions have laws requiring that if a parolee violates parole by committing new crimes, not only will the parolee be required to finish the original sentence, but any sentence the parolee receives for the new crimes must be imposed consecutively to the parolee’s original sentence. In addition, if the judge was in a particularly “tough on crime” mood, the judge can order the sentence on each new count to be served consecutively.

If that happened to Dante, he would serve out the remainder of his original sentence, then start serving the sentences for his new crimes. And if the judge ran everything consecutively, Dante would serve out the original sentence followed by his sentence for having a weapon while under the disability of being a convicted felon on parole, followed by his sentence for hijacking the armored car, followed by his sentence for fleeing and eluding while in the high-speed chase, followed by his convictions for attempted murder for shooting at Cyborg and the police officers.

Note I said attempted murder convictions. While each individual shot would not constitute a separate count of attempted murder, each person that Dante was shooting at would be a separate victim. And each victim would be the subject of a different attempted murder count. There were three police cars in the chase, each probably had two officers. That’s six police officers and one Cyborg, or seven attempted murder victims. That’s seven counts of attempted murder and seven more consecutive sentences that would be stacked on top of all the other sentences.

Dante will get a long sentence. Maybe not as long as some of Charles Dickens’s more-famous run-on constructions, but a long sentence. So Cyborg was right in thinking Dante would get a long sentence, but wrong in thinking it would be for multiple parole violations. It will be for his multiple new crimes.

And that leaves us with just one more question: how long a sentence will Dante receive? I don’t know. But I am pretty sure that to Mr. Morris it will look like Dante’s eternal.

Martha Thomases: What Comes Around.

This is my last column before Thanksgiving. And Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. It doesn’t require presents or cards or anything but food and gratitude.

I am, of course, grateful to be alive, to have my son (the genius) and my brilliant new daughter-in-law, a doctor! But you, Constant Reader, don’t come here to read about my life. You come here to read about my opinions.

This year, I am especially grateful that when women speak, they are now believed.

As my ComicMix colleagues so eloquently described, the days of dismissing charges of sexual harassment as something women make up because we are overly sensitive are, for the moment at least, over. No, I don’t think we’ve heard the last of these stories, nor do I think firing Eddie Berganza makes everything better.

(It does not.)

That said, we are definitely in a better place than we were before this round of charges of sexual abuse began, way, way back with Harvey Weinstein. Women are speaking up and making change, rather than waiting for men to rescue them. My favorite superheroines do this prominently.

A new generation of superhero supports these strong women.

As I mentioned last week, women in comics have always talked among ourselves, sharing warnings and tips about which men to avoid. We looked out for each other. More recently, some of us have risked our livelihoods to tell our stories. And now, in an ironic twist worthy of an E. Nelson Bridwell story, the Superman office seems to be run by women editors.

I don’t mean to sound like I’m gloating about Eddie losing his job. There are hardly an instance when that’s an unequivocally good thing. A man his age, and with his now-damaged reputation is going to find it difficult to find another gig.

However, the women who were denied work because they wouldn’t have sex with him, the women who left comics because he was so unpleasant to them, the women who never even got in the door because DC would rather protect their boy than tempt him, also had their livelihoods threatened. Actions have consequences, and Eddie and DC management were the ones who was able to choose how they wanted to act.

It’s my theory that the reason women are coming forward in large numbers now can be traced back to the Women’s March last January. There have been large demonstrations held simultaneously around the world before, but this time, for whatever reason, we spoke to each other. We listened to each other. Women, people of color, immigrants, queer people and other outsiders realized that we didn’t need insiders. Together, the outsiders could do what needed to get done.

The stereotype suggests that feminism is something that is just for white women. The experiences of women in comics demonstrates over and over again that this is untrue. Yes, white feminists get a disproportionate amount of media attention but then, white people of all kinds get a disproportionate amount of media attention.

True feminists insist on celebrating all kinds of women, and there are so many of us that it is unprofitable to ignore us. In fact, we are a desirable and affluent market for would-be feminist toys.

And it’s not exclusively feminists who are speaking up against Business As Usual in the entertainment industry. There’s a new documentary about stereotyping South Asians, and it’s getting a lot of good word-of-mouth. Things are shifting (too) slowly in behind-the-camera job in television.

There is still a lot of work to be done in the years ahead. There will, inevitably, be setbacks as well as progress. Still, this Thanksgiving, I’m grateful to the women and men who got us this far.