Category: Columns

Emily S. Whitten & Chris Roberson – Serenity: No Power

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.

Also, I was able to justify all kinds of purchases that otherwise I wouldn’t have bought. Quantum Mechanix’ Atlas of the ‘Verse, and all that stuff; and blueprints of the ship – that was a work expense.

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: It was actually included in last year’s Free Comic Book Day offer.

E: So how did that happen?

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.

And until next time, Servo Lectio!

 

Mindy Newell: Even Stranger Things

I walked down to the store on Saturday to buy some groceries. It was a gorgeous day here in the NYC metro area – perfect fall weather, not too hot, not too cold, but with just enough of a chill in the air to warrant wearing my mom’s orange-rust suede jacket for the first time.

I was legitimately creeped out.

No, it wasn’t the jacket; she wanted me to have it. Although it made me feel sad and happy at the same time; sad because it was her favorite cool weather gear – and believe me, she always looked beautiful wearing it, even at the ripe old age of 91 strolling with the aid of her red walker – and my wearing it was an acknowledgement that she is no longer here, and happy because the jacket itself wears so many wonderful memories of my mom.

I was legitimately creeped out because I had just finished watching the first five episodes of Stranger Things 2.

Didn’t mean to binge. But, just like last time, ST2 pulls you in and you just can’t stop watching. I only managed to pull myself away after five episodes because, well, Mrs. Hubbard’s cupboard was bare, I was hungry, and I didn’t feel like ordering out. Also, I wanted to save myself for marriage… no, that wasn’t it. The season is just so damn good that I didn’t want it to be over too soon. Sorta like the wedding night you saved yourself for – well, if you’re lucky.

I’m attempting not to spoil anything here, so I’m going to give you only a brief and wide outline of the first episode. You’ll thank me in the morning.

That first episode, “Mad Max,starts almost exactly a year after Will Byers was rescued from the “Upside Down”; 352 days, to be exact. But we aren’t in Hawkins, Indiana. We’re in Pittsburgh, and we’re watching a robbery take place. And as the police chase the getaway car, we discover that one of those lab rats who came before the girl called Eleven is in the car. And as we watch, she enables a getaway that needs to be seen to be believed. (You’ll understand my turn of phrase when you watch the episode – again, I am endeavoring not to spoil anyone.)

Meanwhile, back in Hawkins, 1984, it seems that everyone is getting on with his or her lives and put the past behind them.

 

Or so it seems.

As obsessively geeky as ever, Will and his buds (Mike, Dustin, and Lucas) are at the arcade, where they discover that someone has topped Dustin’s score at Dig Dug.  Turns out it’s the new kid in school, whose calling card on the video game is “Mad Max,” only he is a she, Maxine, and suddenly Lucas and Dustin are aware of their raging, adolescent hormones.

But for Mike, there is still only Eleven, and there is no turning back, as he tries to raise her on the walkie-talkie while sitting in the little lean-to he made for her out of seats and sheets in the basement.

His sister Nancy and her boyfriend Steve are still in love, but while Steve has seemingly and successfully moved on, Nancy is quietly suffering from post-traumatic disorder, still mourning her friend Barbara and feeling all sorts of guilt for not telling Barbara’s parents, who are stuck wondering what happened to their daughter, the truth.

And then there’s the wild and crazy but determined investigative reporter who reminds me of a younger Bob Balaban and acts like Fox “Spooky” Mulder on magic mushrooms, who just knows The Truth is Out There.

As for Will…

He is suddenly thrust into a vision of the Upside Down. The arcade is dark, those little particles that look like individual dandelion puffs are floating everywhere, Mike and Dustin and Lucas are gone, everyone is gone, and he is alone, except for an eerie, reverberating, and muffled thunderous noise. He follows the noise outside, and witnesses a landscape and sky turned into a hellish aftermath of a nuclear blast; it is the end of the world as we know it.

And it turns out that Joyce, who is the ultimate warrior mom and hovering helicopter parent (and also has a new boyfriend, Bob Newby, played by Sean Astin, who works at the local Radio Shack) shepherds Will to the Hawkins Department of Energy lab on a regular basis, where he undergoes therapy – or is interrogation? – with Dr. Owens, a seemingly kind man, because this isn’t the first time Will has gone back to the Upside Down. But is there slime underneath the lab coat? (Since Dr. Owens is Paul Reiser, who played the ultimate corporate sleazeball in Aliens, our trust in him can’t, uh, be trusted.)

And meanwhile, Chief Jim Hopper is no longer hiding those Eggos in a box in the woods. Nope. All that beer in his refrigerator has been replaced with those little toaster-oven waffles, and his trailer is swept and dusted and clean. Because he’s sorta adopted a young girl, a pretty little moppet with short, curly hair, and like all fathers, he has sworn to keep her safe.

The moppet’s name is Eleven.

Ed Catto: Sky Masters!

Today it’s easy to understand fans and creatives admire and envy the career of a guy like Robert Kirkman, who published his comic, The Walking Dead and then achieved great success as it became a top TV show. Or fans might think about how Thor was a 60s Marvel comic and now it just dominated the box office this weekend.

But for a prior generation, Charles Schulz, Milton Caniff, Alex Raymond and Hal Foster were the big success stories. Their efforts on Peanuts, Terry and the Pirates, Steve Canyon, Flash Gordon, Rip Kirby, Tarzan and Prince Valiant were all in newspaper comic strips and not in comic books. I wasn’t that long ago that a comic book artist would have yearned for a successful newspaper comic strip.

Jack Kirby, one of the greatest comic artists, was born 100 years this year and Geek Culture has reflected extensively on his comics career. A relentless entrepreneur with an indefatigable work ethic, Kirby was always trying new things. As you’d expect, he tried the newspaper comic route too.

Kirby’s Sky Masters was his foray into the world comic strips. It’s a gorgeous looking strip with a crazy backstory. And then add another legendary artist, Wallace Wood, to the tale. Amigo Comics is bringing it back to the world for us all to enjoy. I caught up with Ferran Delgado to learn more.

Ed Catto: Sky Masters is one of those legendary series that fans have read, and read about, from time to time. Can you remind us all of just what Sky Masters was?

Ferran Delgado: Sky Masters was a newspaper strip published from 1958 till 1961 by The George Matthew Adams Syndicate, with a run of 774 dailies and 54 Sunday strips. Theoretically, it was included in 300 newspapers around the country, but judging on how hard is to gather a complete set of Sundays strips, I doubt that it was widespread so much.

The Sundays were designed to adapt to three formats – tabloid, half page and third page, so they included the feature “Scrapbook” that was sacrificed in the third page format. When the half format had to be transformed in a tab page, they removed the last two panels of the Scrapbook so it fit in the last tier, and added a brand-new panel.

The strip was drawn and colored by Kirby, scripted by Dave & Dick Wood and embellished by Wally Wood and Dick Ayers. Kirby himself also inked a few strips with the help of his wife Roz. Kirby wrote many strips because the Wood brothers (Dick and Dave) often were difficult to reach.

EC: Now just to be clear, were writers Dick and Dave Wood related to artist Wallace Wood? What was their relationship?

FD: No relation at all. The strips were signed “Kirby & Wood” after the Wood bros (Dick & Dave) and Kirby, even when Kirby wrote the strips himself.

EC: What can you tell me about the collaboration of Jack Kirby and Wallace Wood on this strip? Of course, Wally Wood and Jack Kirby would later collaborate on DC’s Challengers of the Unknown. Can you draw a line from Sky Masters to Challengers?

FD: Wood admired Kirby, he felt that he was a genius, so he loved working with him. It’s difficult to set a timeline about which work Wood inked first, if Challengers or Sky Masters, but Wood was more than an inker for the strip, he even was invited to design the logo and he took part in the decision of the name.

In fact, before Wood was offered the Challengers he was working with Kirby on a pitch named Surf Hunter. I’m sure about this order because Kirby recycled a panel of a daily of Surf Hunter inked by Wood to do a sketch of a panel of Challs #4, the first issue inked by Wood.

So both pursued a newspaper strips for many reasons: economic, prestige, dissemination of their work to a wider public with a different range of age, etc. The art of Sky Masters reflects that. If you compare it to Challengers, the artwork is superior. Even the Surf Hunter pitch has better quality than Challengers, in spite that it was a great work, too.

EC: When and why did Sky Masters end? Were there legal issues?

FD: The last daily was dated Feb 25th, 1961, a few months before the debut of Fantastic Four, but the Sundays ended a year before.

About the legal issues, the background of the strip is so fascinating like the strip itself, because the consequences of what happened around it blacklisted Kirby in National, and pushed him over to Marvel. This is probably the mother of all the What If, because if not for what happened with the strip, he would keep working for National and probably not for Marvel.

To summarize the background story, Kirby worked just for one editor at National, Jack Schiff. The General Manager of The George Matthew Adams Service syndicate visited Schiff because he wanted to produce a strip about the space race with a realistic approach, and wondered if Schiff might help him since they were publishing science fiction stories at National. Since Schiff was awfully busy, he contacted Dave Wood and Jack Kirby and offered them the gig.

Let’s say that negotiations were difficult, and a problem arose about the Schiff’s commission. Since he was not happy about it, and Kirby refused to give him more than agreed, Schiff sued Kirby. Kirby not only lost the trial, but the economic deal about the strip sucked. As expected, Schiff stopped giving work to Kirby so he got pushed to Atlas (soon to be renamed Marvel) to get as much work as possible in spite fees were much lower than National’s.

EC: Has Sky Masters has been reprinted before? And what makes this book different?

FD: In spite of the high quality of the strip, its reprinting was so troublesome like the background of it. In 1980 there was the first attempt. A magazine compiled a very limited run of dailies, but quality of reproduction was poor.

A more serious edition was the Pure imagination magazine that in 1991 compiled also a nice run of dailies and eight Sundays recolored. But the most complete edition got published also by Pure Imagination in 1999, because it included all the dailies and almost all the Sundays in tab format (strip #52 was missing). But just in black and white, and quality of reproduction sometimes was poor.

Many of the Sundays were published for first time in color in the covers and back covers of the Comics Revue, but reproduction was awful and mostly of them were incomplete.

I compiled all the dailies in a Spanish edition upgrading the quality of many of the strips of the Pure Imagination book with the help of the printer’s proofs stored at the Kirby Museum.

Very soon a bootleg edition will compile the dailies in a single book, but it’s shot from my Spanish books without my permission or the Kirby Museum’s, so quality of reproduction will be poor since they don’t use original files.

The main interest of my book is that, for first time ever, it will display all the Sundays with its original color by Kirby painstakingly remastered like if they were brand new. It took me many months working full time to do it! As any newspaper strip collector will confirm, it’s practically impossible to find a complete set of Sundays.

Since the tab format sacrificed the last two panels, I’ll publish about 90 panels never seen before, even in the Pure Imagination edition. Furthermore, I’ll include a large section with the original color guides painted by Kirby over stats, where you can enjoy the linework without any kind of distortion by printing.

In fact, many of the remastered Sunday strips have better linework than the Pure Imagination book since I could choose between a few samples of each strip. In fact, sometimes I used parts of different strips always seeking the best source.

EC: Were you able to track down any of the original art to Sky Masters?

FD: Sure. The Kirby Museum supplied some of them, and I got other scans from original art collectors like John Byrne, who owns one of the best samples and the iconic promotional image.

EC: There was a fascination with rocket ships and space travel in the late 50s and 60s. How much of that is part of Sky Masters’ DNA?

Almost everything in the strip is related to the space race that started with the Sputnik. In fact, the Sundays try to educate the reader with the glossary or objects used in space and make predictions about how will be the future, which is funny. Sometimes they guess it but others they couldn’t be more wrong.

EC: Do you feel this “Rocket Ship” theme is dated or timeless?

FD: I think that it’s timeless, specially in our times where we’re living a new exploration age although with a wider competition, this time with private companies. The work also captures a key age where that will bring fond memories to everybody who grew in that age.

EC: If Sky Masters had continued, what do you think it would have become?

I think that it ended too late. The last daily strips have low quality, and you could see that Kirby abandoned it in spirit long before. The strip had an awesome peak, but at certain point you could see how the trends of the moment influenced it, and what happened with Schiff and the trial also had an impact in the work. But the Sundays ended way before that point, so you’ll find the best of the strip, specially in the first half because they’re beautifully rendered by Wood. It takes your breath away.

EC: When is your book on sale? And how can fans pre-order through their local comic shops?

FD: It’s available right now through the Previews catalog, just search for the publisher Amigo and order it, or simply ask your local comic shop to order it for you. The book should be available in the finest stores in January.

EC: What’s makes Sky Masters special and why have fans always loved it?

FD: It was the best work that both Kirby and Wood could do at the age, they were at their peak, totally motivated to succeed in newspapers strips. They felt like it was a dream come true, and it was an opportunity that maybe would never show again, so they threw themselves on the project. Furthermore, the final art was more than the sum of the individuals, it’s something absolutely special and unrepeatable.

EC: Thanks so much, Ferran.

John Ostrander: Forces for Change

By now, everyone has heard (or should have heard) about the sexual depredations of film producer Harvey Weinstein (and James Toback, Kevin Spacey and others of their ilk). This follows revelations of the sexual depredations of Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly (seriously, what can you do that commands a $32 million settlement?). And everyone in all the other walks of life who have been playing predator.

The constant refrain that has been heard is that this kind of stuff has been going on out in Hollywood since there has been a Hollywood. Among the reasons that there have been so few direct accusations is that all the predators have been powerful men who could really exact retribution. And the fact that the women speaking out would be shamed, discounted, and not believed. And they would literally never work in that town again.

That’s changed. Women are coming out in droves, speaking up, making themselves heard. Makes no mistake – Weinstein, Ailes, and O’Reilly were extremely powerful individuals. The women have spoken up anyway and it’s the men who have, justifiably, suffered.

Why now? What makes this era different than eras in the past?

There are a lot of different reasons and possibilities but I would like to offer one that, at least in part, contributes. That is our own “pop culture.”

We have seen recently the rise of the strong woman hero or lead. Witness two Star Wars movies, both Episode 7 and the stand alone, Rogue One. Episode 7 not only centered around Rey but Princess Leia is now General Leia, a full and equal commander of the Resistance. And, behind the scenes, you have Kathleen Kennedy, who is head honcho of the whole Lucasfilm legacy.

Rogue One centers on Jyn Erso, the daughter of one of the principal designers of the Death Star and the main person responsible for obtaining the plans to the battle station that will enable the good guys to destroy it and save the galaxy.

And we have also had this year an amazing Wonder Woman, not only played to perfection by Gal Gadot but directed by Patty Jenkins. lt’s unheard that a woman would get the opportunity to helm such a big ticket film and Ms. Jenkins really delivered. Thank Hera both are returning for the sequel!

It extends these days to TV as well with Supergirl who not only gives us a Maid of Steel who may be stronger than her cousin, the Man of Steel, but shows women in so many different roles, including a very strong and positive lesbian couple.

I’m not forgetting Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games movies or Ripley in the Alien movies, or Hermione in the Harry Potter films or Buffy, the redoubtable Vampire Slayer and many others.

My point is this: seeing positive and strong heroes who look like you is important and they need to be seen on a regular basis. Will and Grace had gay characters in it and, because of the show’s popularity, they are invited into peoples’ living rooms every week. It normalizes meeting LGBTQ folk for straight people who may never have knowingly met one.

In the same way, movies and shows such as Wonder Woman or Star Wars or Supergirl gives us the image of women heroes who are strong, brave, resourceful and are examples to other women and to men as well. You need to see what you want to be, something the black community knows very well.

I’m not claiming that the pop culture examples I’ve given are the main reason that women now are speaking up against the Weinsteins of this world. However, I think they are a contributing factor. No single film or TV show alone but all taken together they contribute to the change. Make no mistake; “pop culture” is a potent force in our society. It entertains and bypasses our brain to reach the heart – and that’s where real change comes from.

Marc Alan Fishman: “Previously on X-Men…”

While comic books will always hold an important spot in my pop-culture heart… I admit freely that cartoons hold higher rank. Long before I was inundated to the secret society of pulp and paper, animation dictated my fandom. Voltron, He-Man, and The Real Ghostbusters held sway over my early childhood something fierce. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles followed shortly thereafter. And on the precipice of my eleventh birthday, X-Men arrived.

Unlike the aforementioned Turtles, Ghostbusters, or legendary paladins of mighty lions, the ­X-Men came served with a heaping helping of unknown (to me) backstory. And while all those previous toons had their moments of melodrama… X-Men was a dramatic cartoon show that merely carried lighter moments to offset the continual load of cell-shaded gravitas. It ushered in a new era of what animated kids shows could be – considering that this isn’t being compared to The Simpsons, as that’s an apples-to-oranges if ever there were.

No, X-Men represented action-adventure stories that were built to decidedly not talk down to their intended audience. To deal with prejudice, hatred, and violence (but not outright gore or sex) and not shy away from inter-character conflict. And it did so in media res, assembling a team of heroes, and dropping them immediately into confrontations with the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, Senator Kelly and his army of Sentinels, Mr. Sinister, and more villains cribbed from the pages of X-lore. That this was done without a single wink or nod to we kids – to let us know that yes this was a cartoon, and we should just be having fun – is what communicated to me (and many of my compatriots at school) a way for us to come of age by way of a cartoon. No winks. No nods. Just adamantium claws, force blasts, and conflict.

Truth be told… Batman: The Animated Series had debuted not long prior to X-Men, and much of my praise above could very easily be copied and pasted. But Batman was given a five-day-a-week run, versus the X-toon’s Saturday morning slot. In terms of playground pastiche, one must always regard that needing to wait a week for another installment brings with it a certain prestige. Batman was always awaiting us when we got home from school. Professor X and his band of mighty mutants were appointment TV for burgeoning Generation X (or whatever the hell my generation is technically classified as).

Clout aside, X-Men dealt its series in more of a serial nature. Batman was long built in two-part acts or one-offs. Because of this X-Men more often felt meatier; taking classic stories from the pages of the comics and adapting them to 22 minute installments was a feat I would later be in awe of. Consider perhaps the apex of the show – the Phoenix Saga.  Here, ten months worth of story were tightly adapted into five episodes, an otherwise unheard of berth of shows for a kid to mull through. And while X-Men’s sister series Spider-Man was also heavily serialized (my friends and I would often joke about “the Neogenic Nightmare, part 314”), show-runner Eric Lewald and his team found the right balance between long arcs and one-offs. Case-in-point, the lone episode dedicated to Colossus would be the spark that spawned my actual first comic book purchase. Natch.

(I was gifted an opportunity to sit down with the aforementioned Mr. Lewald and his lovely wife (slash writer) Julia to kibitz over the series itself, as well as their forthcoming coffee-table-worthy tome titled Previously on X-Men. Keep your eyes peeled later this coming week for that conversation.)

X-Men represented to me a high point of story, animation, and gravitas. It was a bridge to a world not yet explored, and it was the perfect tool for a kid who previously giggled over Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends seeking the true potency of Marvel’s back catalog. X-Men begat The Sensational Spider-Man, and Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes – both amazing  Marvel ‘toons worthy of praise alongside the best of the DC offerings (all of the Timm-verse, Young Justice, etc.). Suffice it to say: without Lewald and his team’s contributions? We may not have the age of comics we’re presently living through. Stay tuned kiddos. Leave me your favorite X-men moment below, and we’ll see ya’ll back here next week for the multi-part interview! (Seriously, it’s like The Phoenix Saga of interviews!)

The Law Is A Ass #422: Penguin Issues A License To Kill… Logic

Like I said before, well if they’re gonna make it easy for me…

Seriously, the season premiere of Gotham, “Pax Penguina,” didn’t even get out of the teaser before I was thinking, “Well, that’s not right.” It didn’t get three scenes into its first act before the episode confirmed it wasn’t just not right, it was wronger than a sentence using the word, “wronger.” And take it from someone whose grammar wasn’t run over by a reindeer, that’s wrong.

What did we learn in the teaser of the episode? We learned that the Penguin was issuing Licenses of Misconduct in Gotham City. What did we learn in the first scene of the episode? That criminals in Gotham City were paying Penguin half their take to get their Licenses of Misconduct. We also learned that criminals with licenses were fully sanctioned by Penguin to commit crimes in Gotham City and that criminals who were operating without licenses were physically, and violently, stopped from committing crimes by Penguin’s henchmen led by Victor Zsasz. What did we learn in the second scene of the episode? That Penguin had reached a deal with the Mayor of Gotham City and its Police Commissioner. By only allowing licensed and sanctioned crime in Gotham City, Penguin had reduced violent crime rate in the pre-Batman and crime-ridden city by fifty-seven percent. And in order to keep those crime numbers low, the Mayor and Police Commissioner permitted Penguin’s licensed and sanctioned criminals to commit crimes without any police interference. Unlicensed criminals they could apprehend, but licensed criminals were to be left alone. Oh yeah, and that the Mayor and Police Commissioner weren’t doing this just to keep Gotham’s crime numbers low. They were also getting a percentage of Penguin’s action; a small percentage, but a percentage nonetheless. What did we learn in the third scene of the episode? That when criminals flashed their License of Misconduct to police officers, said police officers were supposed to let them continue their criminal acts without interference.

And what did I learn from three years of law school and twenty-eight years of practicing criminal law? (The first one of you who says, “nothing,” will get such a pinch!) I learned that the odds of such an arrangement between a crime boss and the city government actually existing are about the same as the odds of getting in to see the Great Oz; as in, “Not nobody, not nohow!”

Oh, I’m not saying that crime bosses won’t bribe local governmental officials to look the other way when their operatives commit crimes. Hell, any city, town, village, or burg big enough to have an organized government will likely have such an arrangement with the local crime bosses. Hell, even the ones with unorganized governments will have such an arrangement.

What I am saying is that it defies logic that any government regardless of size would have the type of arrangement with their local crime bosses that the city fathers of Gotham City had with the Penguin. Not one that involved actual, physical Licenses of Misconduct.

Oh, did I forget to mention that part? Penguin wasn’t issuing metaphorical or symbolic licenses. He wasn’t telling people, if you pay me half you’re take, you’re free to commit crimes in Gotham City and the police won’t bother you. No Penguin was issuing actual, physical pieces of card stock that were called License of Misconduct and made that promise.

How do I know this? Because I screen capped one of the licenses when Bruce Wayne held it for its Mr. DeMille-sanctioned close-up and studied it. So I can tell you this actual, physical card, suitable for lamination, had the actual words “License of Misconduct” printed on it, a number indicating which license it was and the name and address of the licensee. It contained a checklist of crimes: “Smuggle, Loot, Rob, Murder, Blackmail, Grand Theft, Larceny, Kidnapping, Arson,” with actual boxes to be checked to indicate which crimes the bearer was licensed to commit. The bottom of the license contained the following promise, “This license entitles bearer permission to commit criminal offenses without repercussions or punishment from issuing authority and its affiliates.” The license was signed in ink (not by Pierre Andre) and stamped with the Penguin’s official umbrella seal. Then just to show that the license was comprehensive, it indicated whether the licensee was an organ donor. (You’ll be glad to know that the license Bruce took off some mugger indicated he was an organ donor. Nice to know the guy was socially-conscious scum and not just common scum.)

Okay, I know that the organ donor thing was a sight gag. But the License of Misconduct thing, that’s a joke.

No crime boss would issue such an actual, physical License of Misconduct. No mayor or police commissioner would honor such a thing. And no police officer encountering such a thing would let the bearer go unimpeded in his criminal activities. Not if they wanted to keep on being crime bosses, mayors, police commissioners, or police officers.

How do I know this? I know this because previous seasons of Gotham have established that Gotham City has a District Attorney’s office. And what do all district attorney offices in TV shows, movies, comic books, novels, or any other work of fiction that supports our tropes have? A crusading DA who wants to become mayor or judge or governor or even President. Seriously, this cliché is so old, I think it’s the actual clich A.

Now you know what would a crusading district attorney who wanted to become mayor or judge or governor or even President love to be able to do? Prosecute the mayor, police commissioner, police officers, and local crime boss for corruption and R.I.C.O. violations.

And what’s the only piece of evidence that a crusading district attorney would need to prosecute the mayor, police commissioner, police officers, and local crime boss for corruption and R.I.C.O. violations? If you didn’t say an actual, physical License of Misconduct issued by the local crime boss which promises that the bearer was free to commit crimes without fear of being arrested, then what column have you been reading?

No, crime boss would print an actual physical License of Misconduct and no city official would honor such a thing because its mere existence would land all parties involved in the hoosegow. See, a License of Misconduct wouldn’t just be suitable for lamination, it would also be suitable for lamentation.

Martha Thomases: With A Rebel Yell, She Cried Thor! Thor! Thor!

The hype was timed perfectly for this one. The new Marvel Studios movie, Thor: Ragnorak, was not going to be just another super-hero movie. It was directed by a respected indie director with comedy chops. The advertising wasn’t too heavy, nor did I feel like I had seen all the good stuff in the trailers.

Still, I was a bit worried. Thor: The Dark World, was, in my opinion, the worst of the Marvel Studio movies. When I watch it, instead of getting caught up in the story and the characters, I wonder what it felt like to be an actor on that set, wearing those ridiculous outfits. I wondered why a movie so dependent on Norse mythology was made so many years before Wonder Woman, which relied on Greek mythology (my personal favorite, no matter what the cool kids say).

I was again invited to a Marvel Friends & Family screening on Monday, and I can report that Ragnorak is big fun, especially if you can see it in a big theater, on a big screen, with all the seats filled with rabid geeks. There’s a lot of character-based humor. There are a couple of really great villains, including my long-time crush, Jeff Goldblum, whom I have loved since at least California Split. Cate Blanchett, as Hela, Goddess of Death, is not only evil incarnate, but she will make you believe that you, too, could fight in skin-tight leather and a spiked head-dress wider than your average car.

Tim Hiddleston is back as Loki, Idris Elba is again Heimdal, and Anthony Hopkins is Odin. It’s great having the band back together.

If you’ve seen the trailers, you know that Mark Ruffalo co-stars in this film as Bruce Banner/The Hulk. For those of us who have seen the Avengers movies, this is fun. If you’re a fan of classic superhero stories, where two heroes meet, fight, and then team-up, this is fun. If you haven’t done either of those things, the relationship might be unintelligible, but then, you probably aren’t in the audience.

Benedict Cumberbatch is his brooding, handsome self as Doctor Strange, in a scene that is entirely unnecessary, although it is fun.

The best new character (to the Marvel movie oeuvre) is Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie. A hard-living, hard-drinking mercenary with a past that ties her directly to Odin and Hela, she is a fully realized character from her first appearance, when she tried to take Thor as her prisoner and falls down drunk. The character is tough and vulnerable and completely capable, and Thompson never reduces her to the kind of “strong female character” we get all too often in mass-market movies.

According to the link above, “Thompson even summoned the courage to pitch Waititi on making Valkyrie bisexual, based on her comic book relationship with anthropologist Annabelle Riggs. ‘There’s this great illustration of them in a kiss,’ swoons Thompson, and while Valkyrie has yet to meet Annabelle in her Hollywood timeline – and who knows if she’ll get to – she convinced Waititi to shoot a glimpse of a woman walking out of Valkyrie’s bedroom. He kept it in the film as long as he could; eventually the bit had to be cut because it distracted from the scene’s vital exposition.”

This is a problem for me. There are so many scenes in which some random action is taking place so the characters can explain themselves and their motivations that they might as well have hired Michael York. I would have preferred more time with Valkyrie and fewer scenes of Asgardians walking through caves and forests.

As required by law, the movie ends with a bombastic CGI fight scene. It’s loud and there are lots of explosions, but these scenes exhaust me. The best part of this one is Fenrir, the giant wolf. The worst part is waiting for the Asgardians to line up for the getaway vehicle.

About these Asgardians. They are very white. This isn’t really a big deal for me, since nearly every Norse person alive when the myths were created was probably white. However, the Thor films, to their credit, have made a point of including actors of all races among the gods. We see a few swarthy faces in the crowd scenes, and there are Asian actors prominently featured in a couple of fights, but mostly, we see hundreds of helpless blondes, waiting for Thor to rescue them. The scenes on other realms have more varied body types and colors, and as a result, even those extras seem to have more personality.

Still, I was excited to see a movie in which a white male hero has a respectful, comradely relationship with a woman warrior of color. There was no flirtation. There was no “will they or won’t they” vibe. Or, at least, no more than there was between Loki and Hulk.

The gods can do it. Now let’s see if we can get corporate executives to do it, too.

Mike Gold: Or, Vill You Discovery?

Much to my surprise, I really enjoy both Star Trek: Discovery and The Orville. I’ll wax on the latter first.

It’s hard to explain why I’m a Seth MacFarlane fan. Usually, I can only watch about 10 minutes of Family Guy — I like it, but after that my mind wanders in search of “plot.” That’s more than I can say for American Dad!, which bores me to tears, and The Cleveland Show, which I found to be insipid. Ted was hilarious, and I’m one of only two people I know who liked A Million Ways To Die in the West, the other being ComicMix’s own Martha Thomases with whom I saw the movie. And I’m certain I enjoyed it more than she did. MacFarlane executive produced Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, which was so good I offered to throw Seth’s bail, should that become necessary.

I thought he was fine as host of the 2013 Academy Awards, but that show is so overwrought that most of the hosts look better by comparison. An aside: I doubt I will live long enough to see my Oscar host-of-choice get the gig, but I think Henry Rollins really could pull it off.

I realize The Orville confuses those viewers who thought the show was supposed to be a satire of Star Trek. This is understandable, as that’s how Fox promoted it. But what do you expect? Fox has had a problem with science-fiction ever since Firefly. In fact, The Orville is much more of a tribute to Trek, particularly the original series. Coincidentally, lots of Star Trek people are involved in Seth’s show.

Yes, the show is humorous, but it’s neither parody nor satire. Most of the humor comes from the characters, particularly the two bridge lieutenants who drive the ship. The captain, Mr. MacFarlane, used to be married to she-who-is-now-first-mate, played by Adrianne Palicki, which is why you won’t be seeing her on S.H.I.E.L.D. this season. Some one-liners are tossed between the two, but in no case do any of the gags get in the way of the story.

Speaking about the story, I think The Orville is closest to the spirit and the tenor of Star Trek The Original Series more than any of the hundreds of Trek shows that follows, updated to contemporary times and shorn of some of the more tedious Trek clichés. And with much better special effects.

A quick note about one of the cast members. It’s about time Penny Johnson Jerald got a part that was worthy of her exceptional talent. She has a résumé that would impress the most jaded critic, but I haven’t seen her have such a vital and impressive role since The Larry Sanders Show. And, yes, she did voice Amanda Waller in one of the DC/WB animated features… and she did a fine job playing Kasidy Yates Sisko on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

As for Star Trek: Discovery… it’s hard for me to think of a new teevee show that got off to such a rotten start. It was supposed to be the crown jewel of the new tollivison service “CBS All-Access.” I’m not sure why they thought they’d make a ton of money bringing Trekkers into their fold, but I’ll give that a pass as there are lots of ways to define “deficit financing.” However, the behind-the-scenes traumas getting Star Trek: Discovery out of dry-dock were so massive the program’s debut was delayed about nine months.

Worse still, the first two episodes were aired on the CBS network in order to seduce potential All-Access customers… and they sucked. The show doesn’t really become Star Trek: Discovery until the third episode when – minor spoiler alert – the star of the show Sonequa Martin-Green, playing Science Officer Michael Burnham, actually boards the U.S.S. Discovery. She’s been properly branded a traitor, so when Captain Lorca (Jason Isaacs) offers her a job that would keep her out of prison she seizes the opportunity. Burnham keeps on growing and getting more interesting with each passing episode – as does Captain Lorca. In fact, within the first half-dozen episodes Lorca, to me, has become the most interesting Starfleet captain in five of our decades.

Well written and well-acted, if you saw the first two episodes and walked away shaking your head, Star Trek: Discovery deserves a second chance. I’ll bet you think better of the show within two more episodes – and if you stick around to #7, you likely will be hooked.

I watch The Orville and Star Trek: Discovery back-to-back. I have yet to get a feeling of redundancy, and quite frankly the humorous asides in the former helps take some of the weight off of the latter, which, like Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, can get very dark.

As for the contradictions with the hallowed Star Trek canon, I strongly recommend against fundamentalism so that you can enjoy a very good show.

Or, as William Shatner famously said, “Get a life.”

 

Joe Corallo: No More Phoenix

Way back in September, it was announced that Marvel was bringing back Jean Grey for the first time in thirteen years. No, not time displaced Jean Grey. No, not the reanimated Jean Grey from Phoenix – Endsong; the real fictional character. I’ve been thinking about this ever since the announcement. I’ve wanted to say something here, but I just wasn’t sure. I’ve talked privately with people whom all more or less agree with me on this to a point, so I’m finally going to say it here in my column.

I hate that they’re bringing Jean Grey back. It’s genuinely a terrible idea.

I feel terrible talking about this because the writer, Matthew Rosenberg, is a great guy writing incredible comics at publishers like Marvel and Black Mask Studios. He deserves all the success in the world. Leinil Yu is a fantastic artist. This has nothing to do with the creative team on this book; it’s about the editorial direction. It’s just plain and simple a terrible idea.

Most glaringly this transparent stunt shows off how Marvel just doesn’t know what to do with the X franchise so they’re just repacking greatest hits collections. In write ups about the move, Marvel makes statements about how it’s interesting because how will the other X-Men react to her suddenly being back? The real question is why would anyone care when we’ve already seen this done before. More than once. More than twice. That’s not an interesting or unique angle.

This also reminds everyone just how needlessly convoluted the continuity is for the X franchise. In the ads for this book they state that this is the return of the adult Jean Grey. Yes, they have to specify which version of Jean Grey is actually coming back. That is a problem. There is no other way to look at this. If you want new readers coming in, this is not how to do it. If you want lapsed readers coming back in, this is a way to remind them why they stopped reading in the first place. I’m a low hanging fruit X-Men fanboy and I will absolutely not be participating in this event. That should be viewed as a bad sign that have no interest in even humoring this concept.

I’d also like to remind everyone that Jean Grey was literally so boring and played up as a damsel in distress to the point where Chris Claremont came in with incredibly talented collaborators like Dave Cockrum and John Byrne and turned her into a space goddess. She remained so uninteresting they had to make her a villain and kill her off.

The first time she was brought back was for X-Factor in which, again, she was the least interesting team member. As characters like Angel and Iceman were fleshed out by Louise and Walter Simonson (in some of the best and lasting ways either of those characters have been portrayed), but even the Simonsons could not elevate Jean Grey to the kind of character Marvel seems to think she should be. Hell, they just started a solo, time displaced Jean Grey comic earlier this year and in the first issue they already started referencing Phoenix. That is how boring this character is, or at least how creatively bankrupt Marvel is regarding the character.

When Grant Morrison took on the X-Men in New X-Men Jean was actually portrayed with a level of depth she’s rarely been given before. She had a complicated emotional story arc that really elevated her and her death resonated. Despite all of that, Marvel has moved so far away from  the incredible work Grant Morrison did with the X-Men, even though the collected editions are constantly in print and available, still solid sellers thirteen years later. These stories have been reprinted in more formats than most other Marvel comics. It’s baffling why Marvel would move so far away from a direction that was working in favor of an over a decades long emo mutant sadness porn.

We need stakes in our stories. Stakes are what keeps the reader engaged. Why should I read this story if ultimately nothing of consequence will happen? Of course there are some exceptions, but not when we’re dealing with the heavily action based superhero genre. The characters are what keeps people coming back to these stories. Can Peter Parker pay Aunt May’s rent and stop the Lizard this month? Will we find out more of Wolverine’s past? Stuff like that.

It’s safe to say that in most situations the highest stakes for a character is that they could die. When those stakes are completely removed, as they are in the superhero genre, it makes it difficult for readers to want to pick up and read them month to month. Why am I going to care about the issue where X character dies when I know they’ll be back anyway? There is no more shock value in that and the ways characters come back from different dimensions and magic and aliens makes it hard for anyone to get too invested anymore. It makes it hard for me to get invested.

Mainstream comics have a problem, and instead of dealing with it they are actually celebrating it. People are championing (adult) Jean Grey coming back after thirteen years as something that was a long time coming that we should celebrate. Finally, she’s back! It’s about time! When I hear that, it sounds like people celebrating that their friend or loved one that’s been sober for thirteen years is finally drinking again. This is not only not the time to be celebrating, it’s also very depressing and leaves you feeling hopeless.

Look, I love Marvel. Really. I adore the characters, the stories, the movies, and the TV shows; I even had a Jean Grey Phoenix action figure growing up. Some of the best characters and comics ever made or that will ever be made are from Marvel. The reason I’m writing this is because I care and so do a lot of other people. The comics industry needs Marvel to succeed. I want Marvel to succeed and, in particular, the X franchise to succeed. Back in April, I wrote this open letter to Marvel regarding the direction I saw ResurrXion going in. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem to be getting better, but just getting worse and the sales numbers are reflecting that.

Remember a couple of years ago when rumors started swirling that maybe the X-Men would be put in their own mini-universe separate from the rest of the Marvel Universe? Remember how some people were genuinely excited by that idea, and were kind of sad when Axel said that wouldn’t be the case? Instances like these are maybe worth taking more seriously, because I honestly can’t fathom that approach being worse than what’s happening now and you, the reader, probably can’t either.

I understand that this is a problem that didn’t happen overnight. It took a long time to get here and it will take a long time to get out. Either way, something has to change soon, because this is not sustainable.