Category: Columns

Box Office Democracy: Keanu

Keanu is a lot of things, it’s a very funny comedy, it’s a sharp piece of social satire, and it’s a telling mirror held up to the tropes of the contemporary action movie, but what it isn’t is the movie they advertise it as, a movie about a cute kitten. I understand the urge to run those advertisements—if the internet has proved one thing, it’s that there’s no end to human cruelty; but if it’s proved two, it’s that people love cute cats so much—but it seems to be a great way to end up with a theater full of people who are not getting the movie experience they thought they were getting. While it’s very easy to Monday morning quarterback these kind of decisions, it’s now clear that this wasn’t the secret to untold box office millions, and the actual content in Keanu is excellent and should have been given a chance to stand on its own.

The similarities between Keanu and John Wick are reportedly coincidental, but they’ve clearly leaned in to it by naming their film after Keanu Reeves and calling on him for a cameo voice role. On the surface the movies have a lot in common, people are inspired to gratuitous amounts of violence over the grief the feel over losing a newly acquired pet, but the comparison dries up quickly after that. John Wick is this sublimely misanthropic movie about how the good in the world is a facade and how we can never escape our baser instincts, and Keanu is full of redemptive arcs for all but the most sinister characters, everyone has a chance at a better life and there’s a feeling of hope. Maybe this is the difference between a live kitten and a dead dog but it’s probably a bit more than that.

On the face of things, Keanu is a lot like any comedy you’ve seen for your entire life— but there’s something deeper lurking underneath. Rell (Jordan Peele) is struggling to recover from a breakup and is looking to find his joie de vivre again while his more together friend Clarence (Keegan-Michael Key) is more together but needs to find a way to advocate for his own needs and find time for himself. I’m sure these exact characters to this point have existed thousands of times in the history of film and thousands more on TV sitcoms, but they’re effective character shorthands. What Keanu uses these shorthand characters for is to discuss black masculinity, a topic I am wholly incapable of discussing in any sort of authoritative manner. I can say that when Rell tells Cameron that he sounds like “Richard Pryor doing an impression of a white guy” I laughed because I got the reference, but I can’t speak to the truthfulness of these observations. I urge you to seek out more insightful thoughts on this topic from black cultural critics or even from Key & Peele themselves in their interview for Sharp Magazine. I enjoyed it, I think it’s important; I’m too white to get further involved.

I very much enjoyed Key & Peele when it was on Comedy Central, so it’s no real surprise that I found Keanu generally hilarious. In particular, there’s a bit where Clarence has to convince a car full of young gangsters that George Michael is a black musician making music that speaks to their lives and situations that was easily the strongest bit in the whole film. It was cut with a remarkably weak scene with Anna Faris playing herself as a set of drug clichés that felt indulgent and overly long. It’s generally well paced and consistently funny and, perhaps most importantly, has the good taste to wrap up the movie before it gets boring. Keanu passes one of the most important tests a comedy can pass: I would 100% stop and watch it if I saw it was on cable.

Molly Jackson: Class time!


Happy May the Fourth! It is a big day for Star Wars fans but rather than talk about adventures far far away, let’s look at a comic in this galaxy.

Nigeria has been going through a rough time lately. Falling oil prices, violence popping up regularly affected the country poorly, while changes to school curriculums seem to have made learning history very difficult. Enter Panaramic Entertainment. They have started a new comic series called Okiojo’s Chronicles, which explores the different ethnic groups in the country. There are over 250, so this series will be going on for quite a while.

With Panaramic taking the time to write down Nigeria’s ethnic histories, it can be preserved for future generations. Currently, it is most often passed down verbally through families and very few historical books are available to kids.

History in comics has always been a long standing practice. In the US, it was famously used during the civil rights movement to share the story of the Montgomery non-violent protests. Then, the comic was used to spread a message and now, it stands as a teaching tool to make sure those circumstances never happen again. The first comics from Panaramic serve the same purpose, teaching youth about the two biggest ethnic groups in Nigeria, the Yoruba and Hausa. A third comic, titled 1897, teaches the history of British occupation in southern Nigeria.

Comics as a teaching tool have really taken off in the past decade, with graphic novels being an easier way to get kids interested in reading. It’s been working well in this country, and the concept has continued throughout the globe. Without The Montgomery Story to inspire change and spread hope, it would have been possible to stop the movement before it began. Now, that comic is used globally to show how that movement grew and the impact it had at the time.

The past fuels the future, and to deny that means to deny any growth. Nigeria is currently on the path for pure capitalism. However, if they want to be a global power, understanding each other and where they came from would be a big start.

Mike Gold, Unabashed Fanboy

Civil_War_II_2_Steranko_VariantCaptain_America_Steve_Rogers_1_Steranko_VariantHere’s why I conflate legendary bluesman Robert Johnson with legendary cartoonist/illustrator Jim Steranko.

Johnson took American roots music and molded it into The Blues. Brilliantly, I might add, having composed and recorded such classics as “Sweet Home Chicago,” “Terraplane Blues,” “Hellhound on My Trail,” “Love in Vain” and “Cross Road Blues,” a.k.a. “Crossroads.” In all, he produced only 29 tracks, every one between 1929 and 1938

Steranko took the comic art form and broke all the barriers, reinventing and reenergizing comics storytelling and design. He did so with equal brilliance, having produced such award-winning and virtually always-in-print features as Nick Fury Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., Captain America, The X-Men, Superman, the graphic novel Chandler: Red Tide, and Heavy Metal’s adaptation of the movie Outland. The bulk of this work was published between 1965 and 1976, but by then Steranko had pretty much moved on to painting and doing posters and conceptual art for movies – one being something called Raiders of the Lost Ark. He also wrote, designed and published the two-volume History of Comics, which has remained the seminal history of the medium.

Captain_America_Sam_Wilson_7_Steranko_VariantAvengers_Standoff_Assault_on_Pleasant_Hill_Omega_Steranko_VariantBoth gentlemen had a lot more on their plate – Jim, having lived at least two and one-half times longer than Robert, has the heavier plate. But in terms of their most popular, best-known and quite frankly most astonishing work, both creators had a pretty damn small oeuvre.

Way too small … but with the impact of the Big Bang. Yeah, I’m a fanboy. Wanna make something of it?

From time to time Jim does a few comics covers and posters and, at 77 years old (no, he doesn’t look it), he’s still smashing barriers. For example, he just completed a series of variant covers for Marvel Comics in celebration of Captain America’s 75th birthday. That’s the stuff you see accompanying these words – well, four of them.

We throw around the phrase “genius” as though they were a dime a dozen. They aren’t. Robert Johnson and Jim Steranko are among the very few who have graced their media and our hearts. They gave us their souls and a quantity of work that seems miniscule – until you sit down to appreciate it. Then and only then does that “limited” amount of art seem larger than Denali.








Joe Corallo: When You’re Strange…


This past weekend Captain America: Civil War raked in an impressive two hundred million dollars. That feat was made more impressive by the fact that the movie had not come out in the United States yet or even China, the second largest market for Hollywood movies. The past week has also seen a resurgence in public outcry against Tilda Swinton’s casting as The Ancient One in Doctor Strange which had at least one person attached to the film citing casting as something that would impact the film’s performance in foreign markets.

China’s dominance in the Hollywood market is a fairly new occurrence. It was only a few years ago when China surpassed Japan to become the second largest market for these movies, with eyes on becoming the largest. We’ve seen some of the effects of this development already at Marvel with the handling of Iron Man 3. So what does this mean for other movies and specifically comic book blockbusters?

Going back to Doctor Strange, screenwriter C. Robert Gargill specifically stated that the Ancient One could not be played as a Tibetan (as the character is in the comics) out of fear how the Chinese could react and adversely affect box office revenue. Now he has since come out and said that his statement was not appropriate, that he did not work on the original draft and he was brought in later, and apologized for making the remarks.

That said, he may have been speaking some truth. If studios are going to be targeting overseas markets they should be empathetic to them. The idea of being more empathetic in amongst itself is not a bad one, even if the end goal is to get you to spend money, but when it comes to Tibet, it’s hard to argue that empathy is at the heart of the matter.

But does that explain why The Ancient One was cast white?

Yes and no. The explanation given explains that they didn’t cast someone Tibetan for sure. Casting someone else of another Asian background would have also fed into stereotypes and the notion that these actors and actresses can be swapped and mixed despite the fact that those in the Philippines have a very different life and customs than those in China and so forth, which is not very good to do either.

I feel that Marvel Studios casting Tilda Swinton was at least an attempt to do the right thing. Women are so rarely, if ever, cast as being the old martial or magical master that teaches a man. That a woman has been cast in this role should be a good thing. Perhaps if the character in question was not from Tibet, this wouldn’t be as much of a hot button issue for people. And it’s understandable that it is. We are talking about genocide.

Honestly, as screenwriter C. Robert Gargill states, every decisions regarding The Ancient One is a bad one.

How did we end up with all these characters that seem problematic today? Between Doctor Strange and Iron Fist as of late, this would seem to be a Marvel problem, however this is not exclusively a Marvel Studios problem, or even just a mainstream comics problem (remember the bomb that was 2013’s The Lone Ranger?). These recent film adaptations of properties decades old, older than the target demographics, is revealing a lot about ourselves and our past.

Subject matters, characters, and ideas that we may find difficult to defend or even straight up repulsive now were not necessarily the case in the 60s, let alone the 30s and further back. The internet has made our world smaller. It’s making us aware of the sort of plights that we otherwise would not have been just a couple of decades ago. As a result, studios need to work on updating many of these properties that they would like to use as they have the benefit of name recognition to get butts in the seats, but these efforts have proved to involve a steep learning curve that can risk financial losses.

Marvel Studios, to their credit, has Black Panther and Captain Marvel slated for release before the end of the decade, and have been working on diversifying the characters they use. DC will be releasing a Wonder Woman and a Cyborg movie as well. That’s not to say that these movies may not also have their own hiccups and shortcomings, but it’s an acknowledgement that audiences are changing. Not just that audiences are changing here in the United States, but now that foreign markets are growing in importance to Hollywood, audiences around the world get a seat at the table, and Hollywood increasingly needs movies the rest of the world can enjoy as well. And so far, Marvel seems like they figured that out yet again with Captain America: Civil War.

Mindy Newell: Wilson Fisk and Hell’s Kitchen


Wilson Fisk

“Today, the only reminder that this stretch of (Manhattan’s) SoHo was once a forest of filling stations known as Gasoline Alley is a coffee shop of the same name that sells single-origin coffee beans from Burundi.” Sarah Maslin Nir, “With Gas Station’s Closing, A Fuel Desert Expands in Manhattan,” The New York Times, April 22, 2016

“On a block where a kebab could once be had at 2 a.m. from Bereket, the 24-hour Turkish restaurant that was forced to close in 2014, there will now be a 30,000-square-foot Equinox gym and spa with a lounge and juice bar; condo residents will be able to access the two-story gym through a private entrance. Gone too, are places like Ray’s Pizza and Empanada Mama. While such spots and the unmemorable single-story buildings that once housed them could not claim any historic significance, they were popular haunts that gave the area its character…” • Ronda Kaysen, “Alongside the Pastrami, Luxury Condos,” The New York Times, April 24, 2016

When we drive out to Long Island to celebrate Passover and other good times with the family, we go through the Holland Tunnel, up the Avenue of the Americas (also known as Sixth Avenue) to Houston – pronounced House-ston for you non-New Yorkers in the audience – then make a right onto the Bowery, a left onto Delancey and over the Williamsburg Bridge to the BQE – the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway for you non-New Yorkers in the audience, which, by the way, rarely deserves the “express” in its name – to the LIE – the Long Island Expressway, which also rarely deserves the “express” in its name. The most interesting part of the drive has always been through downtown NYC and the Lower East Side.

Over the years I have marveled (no pun intended) at the changes on the Lower East Side as gentrification and real estate developers have mutated the ramshackle buildings and tenement apartments into glass-and-steel buildings, luxury lofts, and upscale storefronts. Boy, has the neighborhood changed! The streets on which so many of our immigrant ancestors first claimed their status as Americans and which were indelibly imprinted in the public’s minds in movies like Crossing Delancey, Godfather II, and When Harry Met Sally are disappearing, only to be witnessed as black-and-white pictures from a Ken Burns documentary.

But one beat-up, dirty, and unobtrusive “landmark” remained: the gas station at the corner of Lafayette and East Houston, opposite the Puck Building. It was always there. The last surviving “member” of “Gasoline Alley,” it closed on Thursday, April 22, soon to be replaced by another glass-and-steel building with luxury lofts and upscale storefronts.

So what does this all have to do with comics?

Well, nothing much, really, except that in preparation for watching the second season of Daredevil on Netflix, I “rebinged” on the last half of its first, so that the “new” Lower East Side’s redevelopment into a Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous episode, a “private” community for the 1% – or is that 0.25%? – seemed to especially hit me hard this year; I felt a mixture of poignancy for what has been lost, anger at the disrespect to history, and, yes, I admit it, an appreciation of the new metropolitan beauty of downtown. And I also thought of all those obscenely rich real estate developers and their corporations. Which made me think of Wilson Fisk.

Now I’m not accusing anyone of blowing up whole blocks or of killing tenants reluctant to move; still, Fisk’s plans for Hell’s Kitchen – which these days barely resembles the streets on which the Jets and the Sharks danced and rumbled in West Side Story – and, more specifically, what happened to Elena Cardenas and the apartment building in which she lived are only an extrapolation of what actually happened…

Built in 1881, making it the second-oldest apartment house in New York City, the Windermere sits at the corner of 57th Street and Ninth Avenue. In 1980, the owner, Alan B. Weissman, wanted in on the booming redevelopment and gentrification that was the first phase of the rezoning of Hell’s Kitchen by New York Cit, so he set about trying to get the tenants to leave. Apartments were broken into and ransacked, doors and locks were broken, prostitutes and junkies moved in, and the occupants claimed, in court, to have received death threats.

Weissman was never directly linked to these activities, but his managers were sent to jail and he and wife ranked #1 in the 1985 Village Voice edition of “The Dirty Dozen: New York’s Worst Landlords.” In 2007, the New York City court system ordered the building and the seven remaining tenants protected, despite the derelict living conditions. the state of disrepair of the Windermere itself. and the demolition of its neighboring buildings as redevelopment boomed. The tenants were finally forcibly removed in 2007 by fire department, citing dangerous conditions, and the building has remained empty. Last year, the new owner, Mark Tess, was named to the “25 Worst Landlords” list by the city’s Public Advocate office.

Fisk’s dream to remake Hell’s Kitchen stemmed, I think, from a desire to wipe out the memory, the last vestiges, of what happened in that dirty little rat hole of an apartment somewhere in the dregs and darkness of Hell’s Kitchen. (Spoiler alert – though you’ve had a year to catch up, and if I can do it, you have no excuses: For those who haven’t watched the first season Daredevil, Fisk committed patricide – justified, im-not-so-ho, since his father was a total piece of shit in every way imaginable–in defense of his mother.) And, oh, yeah, he was also a megalomaniac. But once you kill your father and get away with it, belief in your own indestructible power can be, um, inspirational.

Foggy and Matt of Nelson and Murdoch, Attorneys-at-Law, through the power of the courts, managed to get Fisk into federal custody. But one New York institution went another way.

From “Alongside the Pastrami…”:

While other New York City institutions have succumbed to the insatiable appetite of a hungry real estate market, the 128-year-old Katz’s Delicatessen, with $19.95 pastrami sandwiches and a legion of fans, found a way to hang on.

“Last year, the family-owned deli at 205 East Houston Street sold two neighboring properties and its air rights for about $17 million, paving the way for a developer to build an 11-story condominium next door. The arrangement ensures that, for at least another generation, New Yorkers will be able to get corned beef and brisket at the Lower East Side deli that was immortalized in the 1989 film When Harry Met Sally.

“The sale was part of a $75 million acquisition of 12 single-story commercial spaces that spared Katz’s, but sealed the fates of all of the other mom-and-pop businesses on East Houston Street between Orchard and Ludlow Streets. They were all displaced to make way for the new condo. Sales are set to start by the end of the month at 196 Orchard, with prices for the 94 apartments starting at $1.075 million for a 551-square-foot studio.”

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

Ed Catto: The Second Oldest Comic Con

xSteve Ellis Ithacon 3

Roger Stern at IthaconAs a young comic fan growing up in New York State’s Finger Lakes Region, the tall tales and whispered rumors about the fabled NYC comic conventions were fascinating. They were a siren call. But the big city was so far away that I didn’t imagine, at that time, I’d ever make the trip to the Big Apple for a comic convention. Of course, my eight-year-old self would have been awestruck when years later, as a marketing professional, I’d work in NYC and would even help Reed Elsevier build the New York Comic Con.

Biking to Fay’s Supermarket one day, I noticed a flyer on the community bulletin board for something called the “Ithaca Comic Con.” Unlike New York City, this was only about 45 minutes away from my hometown. I urged my parents to make the trip. Maybe it was more nagging than urging, but it made perfect sense to this young fanboy. My dad could visit Cornell University, his alma mater, and my Mom could indulge in a little shopping on the Ithaca Commons. We’d all have a great day!

They agreed, and so began my life-long love of comic conventions.

At that time, hunting down elusive back issues was a perfect way for this newly christened rabid fan to spend a Saturday. I was just beginning to appreciate and understand the styles of comic creators, so it was a perfect time to meet the professionals attending Ithacon.

Cosplay Kids at Ithacon 2During this first show, and subsequent conventions, I had the opportunity to engage in long conversations with creators like Walt Simonson, Frank Miller, John Byrne, Jim Shooter, Al Milgrom, Marv Wolfman, Len Wein, Chris Claremont, Curt Swan, Murphy Anderson, Tom Peyer and more.

Over the years, I continued to enjoy Ithacon in so many ways. In college I was in the Ithaca Comic Book Club so it was natural I lend a hand to help run the show. I even brought my girlfriend and she liked it. Later in life, I was invited as a professional guest.

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to once again attend the convention as I was at the Cornell Entrepreneurial Conference in Ithaca in mid-April, and the timing couldn’t have been better.

Ithacon celebrated its 41st continuous year. In fact, I believe the Ithacon is second longest running comic convention in the nation. And it’s still run by fans for fans.

Longtime club members Bill Turner and Carmela Merlo continue to lead the charge, aided and abetted by local talent like Roger Stern and Steve Ellis, and Tim Gray from Comics for Collectors, the Ithaca comic shop.

Thad Fus at IthaconRecently, the convention moved from downtown Ithaca to a gorgeous space at Ithaca College.
The crowd on Saturday was upbeat, engaged and happy to be there. Unlike the bigger shows, this convention was not crowded and easy to navigate. It was as if Frank Capra directed a “It’s A Wonderful Life” small-town version of San Diego Comic-Con. Folks were unhurried, relaxed and elated to be hip-deep in Geek Culture.

Some of this year’s highlights included:

  • Roger Stern – this longtime writer has provided fans with classic Spider-Man, Superman and Avengers stories over the years, but this time there was a buzz about his Dr. Strange series, as the new movie reportedly leans heavily on Roger’s excellent 80s Dr. Strange run. A longtime Ithaca native, Roger has always been a big Ithacan supporter.
  • Steve Ellis the brilliant artist and entrepreneur who, with David Gallaher, has created High Moon and The Only Living Boy, was furiously sketching and painting a gorgeous piece. Note to self: I need more wall-space!
  • Like every convention, Cosplay was a part of it all – complete with a contest and prizes.
  • Jim Brenneman at IthaconBack issues were still a part of the standard comic-con treasure hunt. It was a delight to run across my longtime pals, Kim Draheim and Thad Fus at Ithacon. You might remember my column on these comic shop pioneers from last year.
  • Artist Jim Brenneman of Artboy Designs was also on hand to provide fans with his delightful work.

Another example of the pervasiveness of Geek Culture : a fresh new convention, even though its been around longer than any other convention, except one.

John Ostrander: Nasty Surprises

NeroWolfeFiles_front_fsI’ve heard it said that old friends are the best friends. That makes sense to me. Over time, you’ve shared experiences together, both good and bad. You’ve grown to know each other, to know the little idiosyncrasies that make up who we are, that make the bonds between us.

You can form that kind of relationships with books as well, especially series. The first time you read the book, it’s to discover the story, to learn what happens next. As you return to it, or read another book in the series, it’s because you want to revisit them.

For example, for me every new book in The Number One Ladies Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith is like a new visit with old friends. I know the characters, the main ones and the wide supporting cast as well, and I want to learn what is going on with their lives. There are surprises in each visit, to be sure, but I now know the locale and what these people are like, I know their foibles and their virtues. They do grow but they are still the same characters I know and love.

As I mentioned in a recent column, I’ve been re-reading the Nero Wolfe mysteries by Rex Stout. There’s a lot of them – Stout started the series in the 30s and ended the run only with his death in 1975. In all, there are 33 novels and 39 novellas in the canon. It’s been so long since I’ve read most of them that most of the time I don’t really remember what the mystery is or whodunit.

However, I don’t really come back for the mysteries – I come back for old friends, principally the great detective, Nero Wolfe, and his intrepid assistant, Archie Goodwin. They’re a great team – Wolfe is the armchair detective, the great mind in the tradition of Sherlock Holmes. Archie is the wisecracking modern semi-hard boiled detective in the tradition of Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe. (Archie also is our narrator in all the stories and he’s a damn good one.) Their relationship, their repartee, is what drives the series.

Wolfe has many well defined idiosyncrasies: he keeps religiously to his routine, never leaves his brownstone in New York if he can help it, is a gourmand (and looks it; we’re often told he weighs a seventh of a ton), cultivates orchards, is a misogynist, is paranoid about traveling in any vehicle (convinced that the vehicle at some irrational moment will kill him), loves big words and knows how to use them, and is almost terminally lazy. If Archie wasn’t there to badger him. Wolfe would probably never work at all.

Part of Stout’s way of shaking up the series is to occasionally put Wolfe in very uncomfortable positions, usually involving his being obliged to leave his dwelling. One of Wolfe’s immediate objectives invariably is to find a chair that cannot only hold him and bear his weight but in which he feels comfortable and secure; not always an easy task.

In the fifth book of the series, Too Many Cooks, Stout inflicts many indignities on Wolfe from the start. We begin with the great detective on a train; if you know Wolfe and his horrors of travel, you already know how much this will bother him. He and Archie are traveling to West Virginia, to a well known resort where fifteen of the top chefs from around the world gather for a special banquet where Wolfe will be the guest of honor and the main speaker. Needless to say, one of the chefs winds up murdered and Wolfe, if he ever wants to get home, will need to solve the case. So far so good and very entertaining.

That said, there was something that took me aback as I read it. At this resort, the staff are all African-Americans, and there is a casual use of racial slurs by several characters, including Archie. Other nationalities also get ethnic slurs used with them but, with the African-Americans, the slurs carry with them the whole bigoted attitude that those words embody.

The book was published in 1938 and will, as most pop culture, reflect the society and attitude of its day. That said, it was still startling and somewhat off-putting to me. I don’t expect something written back then to reflect sensibilities more prevalent today. I am not and never was someone who expected the word “nigger” to be excised from Huckleberry Finn.

Still, it did catch me by surprise. It’s an attitude I hadn’t seen in my old friend before and didn’t expect to find it here. I wasn’t sure I wanted to finish the book.

I did and I’m glad I did. At one point, in order to solve the mystery, Wolfe needs to question the black staff, the cooks and the servants, together. And this is where Stout provides an admirable twist. Wolfe treats them as individuals and with respect, and so does the author. They have names, they have separate identities and characters, different outlooks and goals and ways of talking. One waiter is working at the resort to put himself through Howard College. There are no “niggers” in this group. They’re people, individuals, and that’s the point Stout makes. In a book published in 1938. I find that remarkable.

This is not to paint Wolfe as a civil rights champion. He is not. Wolfe (Stout?) is an undeniable misogynist and that may be a subject for a column at some future date. Wolfe is also ruthlessly pragmatic at times and, in this case, he needs information. However, he doesn’t allow blind prejudice, such as Archie demonstrates, to get in his way of solving the murder. That being said, Wolfe treats the men as men.

It is nice when you find that your old friend is who you thought they were, whether that old friend is living or fictional. Well done, Nero Wolfe. Highly satisfactory.

Marc Alan Fishman: When You Can’t Have It All

Touching Evil

Barely six days ago from the time this article prances across the interwebs to be posted to my little corner here at ComicMix, I will have once again broke bread with our ol’ E-I-C Mike Gold. Mr. Gold was in town (Chi-Town) for secret business. I’ve long since learned to stop asking for details, as when such a query is prodded Mike is prone to drum up a story with no fewer than seven name drops, and four blink-and-you’ll-miss-it delicious details about someone famous in comics. Before you know it, the subject has been changed, the barbecue brisket has hit the table, and you’ve completely forgotten your original question.

It was on the ride home that found Unshaven Matt Wright and me doing as we’ve come to do weekly: wax poetic about the state of our lives. You see, marrying our wives roughly two months apart, buying homes roughly five months apart, having our first kids about six hours apart, and then the second kids about two days apart has led he and I to fairly symmetrical lives. As such, these days … it’s been the world crashing down on top of us, whilst we have nary a baseball cap to keep from impending concussion. The finite details here are irrelevant. Let’s look to the macro.

When we’d completed our Kickstarter, we’d been about halfway through the inks on our final issue to-be-collected in the Curse of the Dreadnuts four-part series. Matt and I each felt that a solid four-to-six weeks would be all it’d take to plow through. Well. That was back in November. It’s not November now. And we’re still working on those final 10 pages or so. It’s blindingly frustrating. More than others may know because as much as we could choose any number of distractions in our lives preventing the completion of our book, it’s honestly the unrelenting pile-up of all of them at once rendering us barely able to scratch at a single page a week – if at all.

Reconnecting with Mike this past weekend reminded me that no amount of money sitting in my bank account will make up for the life not lived. Since November, when I should have been shuttering my side business to hunker down on a book, I took on five new freelance clients. And while I told myself the little bits and pieces of work they threw me would allow my family to exist when my wife eventually took her current maternity leave, I know I’m mostly lying to myself because the honest-to-Rao truth is I can’t say no. Until now, I suppose.

For example, take my ComicMix cohort Emily Whitten, who recently took a polite bow in order to tackle sundry missions in her neck of the woods. I read her wave goodbye and applauded. Make no mistake: I’m not going anywhere. I show up on a site a day before John Ostrander every week, which allows me to say I open for John Ostrander weekly to all geeks I meet on the street. I can’t ever give that up. Plus, my rants and raves about the geek culture I hold so dear is one of my favorite escapes when I sit down to write. But I digress. And screw Peter David. I stole that line from my high school choir director. Natch.

But the hunger pangs to be a true creative is now far too strong. I’ve denoted my fellow Midwestern comic makers doing amazing things as of late, and it makes me a brighter shade of Sinestro in jealousy of their output. My number one frenemy Dan Dougherty? He’s recently collected his comic Touching Evil!touching-evil/c17ar into a trade paperback and is presently poised to release issue eight. And it’s seriously one of the best books I’ve read in years. I die a little every time I admit it.

As for Dan’s karaoke cohort, Dashing Dirk Manning? Well, he just launched a Kickstarter for the third volume of Tales of Mr. Rhee (, and I’m one of the 100+ backers onboard in the first day. By the way, Dirk met goal in less than half a day. It’s fitting given how wonderfully macabre that series is. Then there’s my good buddies Leo Perez and Mikey Babinski, who both landed their art into exclusive tie-in trading card sets for the upcoming Ghostbusters movie. Trust me, I’m barely scratching the surface. My Facebook feed overfloweth with glowing announcements of soon-to-be-released goodies. All my friends… living their dreams, while I tackle yet another logo, business card, and UI update.

Until now. My name is Marc Alan Fishman. My shoppe is hereby closed. My studio is now open nightly. My book will be done. I know now that I can’t have it all. But the truth is, I never needed it all in the first place. It’s time to get back to doing what I love. The rest of the world can wait.

The Law Is A Ass

Bob Ingersoll: The Law Is A Ass #387


It’s getting so that in comics nowadays you can’t tell the good guys from the bad guys without a scorecard. And sometimes even then.

Maria Hill is currently the director of the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division or S.H.I.E.L.D. for short – or SHIELD for even shorter and guess which route lazybones Bob is gonna take. So Maria should be one of the good guys, right? Then she came into possession of some fragments of a Cosmic Cube. A Cosmic Cube, when it was in full on cube form and not fragments, is a device that answers to the will of whomever possesses it and can be used to control matter and energy and even alter reality. So whomever holds the Cosmic Cube has to be careful with it, lest reality be warped in strange and dramatic ways. When the Cube is in fragment form, it’s just about as powerful but the holder has to be even more careful with it, because those fragments can go all Julia Child on you and cut the dickens out of your finger.

Avengers-standoff-welcome-to-pleasant-hill-1Hill and SHIELD experimented on the Cube fragments, hoping to be able to use them to reshape reality as SHIELD deemed necessary. What they got was a little girl. The Cube fragments merged into a sentient being and did what newly-formed fictional A.I. that are confuse about their identity have been doing for years; it adopted the form of a little girl.

Seriously, what is it about the symbology of little girl that screams confused and unsure of one’s self? I know a 63-year-old man who fits that descriptiPleasant_Hill_from_Avengers_Standoff_Welcome_to_Pleasant_Hill_Vol_1_1_001on pretty well, but you don’t see confused A.I. programs going all mid-life crisis.

Anyway, the little girl called herself Kobik. Director Hill called her an asset. Hill had Kobik create Wayward Pines… err excuse me, Pleasant Hill, a quaint little town in backwoods Connecticut. It was 300 Kobiks by 50 Kobiks by 30 Kobiks, so was big enough to house a lots of people. Lots of carefully chosen people. 96 SHIELD operatives who oversaw a town populated by super villains.

Hill called them reformed super villains. But they weren’t reformed, they were transformed, because, Hill had Kobik change 58 super villains. Now those villains look and dress like ordinary people. Then Kobik wiped the minds of the super villains; gave them new memories and personalities. They lived like common people and did whatever common people did; except listen to Shatner covers. For all intents and purposes, these super villains were new people, decent people living the American dream in a small American dream town.

A town that was surrounded by a force field so that none of its residents could leave. It wasn’t a small town, it was prison that really looked a picture print by Currier and Ives. Guantanamo Bay in Norman Rockwell drag.

Which is pretty much the set-up of the current cross-over series Avengers: Standoff! that’s currently playing itself out in several books. Then, complications ensued. Several of the Avengers teams opposed what Director Hill was doing in Pleasant Hill which created conflict between SHIELD and the Avengers. But not as much conflict as when the super villains started to get their memories back. (Oops, did I forget the SPOILER WARNING? Not really. Didn’t think it was needed. Seriously, who didn’t see that revoltin’ development coming?)

So why does Bob I. the Lawyer Guy care about this? Because SHIELD is a governmental agency, meaning all those things found in the Bill of Rights apply to SHIELD and its brainwashing Bastille. I wondered is Maria Hill a good guy or a bad guy for creating this program. And is Pleasant Hill was even remotely constitutional.

Obviously, I’m talking primarily about the 8th Amendment. Even the NRA isn’t concerned about denying the right to bear arms to convicts who are actually serving prison terms. (The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with another bad guy with a gun just ain’t gonna cut it.) But how does the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment affect this Attica of amnesia?

It’s unclear. There is no definitive definition of cruel and unusual punishment. The Supreme Court has ruled that courts should follow an evolving standards of decency test in determining whether a punishment is cruel and unusual. So the test changes as the standards of decency evolve throughout the world. Centuries ago being drawn and quartered was considered a just punishment. Most societies would no longer consider drawing and quartering to be humane. (And not just because the strain it puts on the horses would be cruelty to animals.)

Pleasant Hill utilizes mind alteration of some sort to keep it’s inmates under control. Such mind alteration would be a form of assault, as they constitute a physiological change to a person. In most jurisdictions assault is a crime and I’m pretty sure that standards of decency wouldn’t permit prisons to commit actual crimes on their inmates.

This isn’t a situation like a mentally ill patient who is given medical treatment to restore that person to mental health. This is taking people who are mentally healthy – criminals, but mentally healthy – and altering their brains so that they don’t behave like criminals anymore. This is an assault on the inmates’ cognitive liberty, which many courts are recognizing as being protected by the Bill of Rights.

The Supreme Court might rule Pleasant Hill unconstitutional because it violates standards of decency and inflicted cruel and unusual punishment. Or it might rule the mind wiping was cruel and unusual, because it a crime. As we don’t actually have a real-world counterpart to Pleasant Hill, I can’t definitively tell you how a real-world court would view Pleasant Hill.

I can tell you this, however, one of the tests frequently used is whether the punishment is unnecessarily severe. We know prisons in the Marvel Universe have power dampening apparatus, which can suppress the super powers of their inmates so super villains can be held in prisons without having their personalities wiped and replaced. That being the case, Pleasant Hill might have difficulty withstanding a legal challenge, because its practice of committing assaults on the mind is a more severe punishment than is necessary.

Another test that is pretty much universal in its application to a cruel and unusual punishment analysis is that prisons may not deprive inmates of the basic necessities of life. While Pleasant Hill does provide food, clothing, shelter, sanitation, and medical care, there is another necessity that Pleasant Hill omits; the inmate’s ability to have visits from family members.

The leading case on this matter is Overton v. Bazzzetta where inmates sued Michigan because of prison guidelines which limited who could visit inmates. The guidelines eliminated visitation rights for inmates who violated certain prison rules. It also denied inmates the right to have visits from their children if their parental rights had been terminated. The inmates sued under the First (free association), Eighth (cruel and unusual punishment), and Fourteenth (due process) Amendments. The Supreme Court upheld these regulations and found they bore a rational relation to the government’s interest in maintaining internal security in its prisons.

Overton only dealt with a partial denial of some of an inmate’s visitation rights. Inmates in Pleasant Hill are Cosmic Cubed into believing they’re different people. They’re not receiving family visits because they don’t know they have any families. And their families don’t know where they are.

Would the Overton analysis apply to the wide-spread and complete denial of all visitation rights by an inmate’s family and friends practiced in Pleasant Hill? How would the courts balance complete denial against the state’s need to maintain order? Especially when, as I noted before, Pleasant Hill’s mind wipe is a more severe form of punishment than is necessary for the purpose of imprisoning super villains.

I don’t know. The courts might rule in favor of the inmates and hold that denying them all visitation from family and friends in a manner that is more severe than it needs to be, is cruel and unusual punishment. Or they might not.

So why did I write this column, if I don’t know the answers to the questions I’m posing? Because these are the sort of things I think of when I read comic book stories. Even if there is no definitive answer, I still wonder what would happen if this happened in the real world.

And sometimes, like when I don’t have anything else to write about, I share what I’m wondering about with you. To see, are you pondering what I’m pondering?

(The first one of you who says anything about getting a monkey to use dental floss is gonna get such a hit!)

Martha Thomases: The Same Old Same Old

Superman Sex Discrimination

This has been a week of heart-breaking news, at least for me. No, nobody I know died (at least as of my deadline), but I hate all the stories coming out of DC Entertainment. No more Shelly Bond? Are they crazy? And Eddie Berganza? I remember meeting his cute kids. What the hell happened?

And that’s before we even get into conjecture about who this is supposed to be.

I don’t want you to think that by talking about Eddie’s kids that I am in any way suggesting that his accusers are lying about him. It’s difficult enough for a woman to stand up and make the accusation. No one does that for kicks. Rather, I’m suggesting that harassers (and their victims) are more complicated than just one type of action, no matter how vile. If anything, if we think that harassers and rapists and other creeps can only be entirely and stereotypically evil, we won’t recognize them in time to protect ourselves.

Instead, I want to talk about the institutional biases, assumptions that are so deeply ingrained in our culture that we don’t even notice them. In this case, it’s sexism, but we could be talking just as easily about racism and agism and homophobia. And I want to talk about it, specifically, in the entertainment industry, of which comics (especially DC and Marvel comics, both owned by major movie studios) are definitely a part.

Hollywood has a reputation for being “liberal,” whatever that means. People like Steven Spielberg and David Geffen and George Clooney raise a lot of money for Democratic candidates, and from this, we are supposed to infer that they are “politically correct” (whatever that means) in their personal lives as well. Maybe they are. I don’t know them. I do know that most business deals in Hollywood are conducted among people who feel comfortable with each other.

Most of us feel comfortable among people who are like us. It’s sad, but it’s true.

I’m not exempt from this. When I was a kid, I lived in a small Ohio city that was only 2% Jewish, but we all lived within the 16 blocks or so that I lived. It was quite a surprise to me to go to Connecticut and find out how many different kinds of Protestants there are. I didn’t even notice how Caucasian my freelance writing life was until I had to get a job doing events for a large department store and met African-American retail executives. When being around white people all the time is what one has always done, it’s difficult to notice how limiting it is.

In entertainment, cis white men (often from the same few Ivy League colleges) are used to being in meetings with other cis white men. They get each other’s references, because they’ve lived the same kinds of lives. That’s why their parents sent them to those schools, so they would meet each other and make friends and be successful together.

Hanging out, doing business with and generally only seeing people like yourself does not fill a person with empathy. To me, the best illustration of this is Swimming with Sharks. When I worked at DC, a friend was having a terrible time with her boss and I suggested we see this movie, since the reviews said Kevin Spacey plays the world’s worse boss and I thought that might make her feel better. Instead, Spacey’s character was almost exactly like her boss.

If your industry is based on an “old boy’s network,” intentionally or not, it’s very easy to decide that sexual harassment is just flirting gone wrong, no big deal. Or that it’s just some woman who was jilted and now wants to sue for a big payday. There are no women in the room to offer another opinion.

For the entertainment industry, it will probably take more than simple soul-searching to make the necessary changes. Even though Pitch Perfect 2 was one of the most profitable movies last year, and Selma got rave reviews, most studios give very few directing jobs to women, and two aren’t giving any. The number of women who can green light a movie is small. So is the number of women who can green light a comic book series.

What can we do about this? I would urge men who consider themselves to be allies to speak up. Don’t let your silence pass for agreement when you see shitty behavior.

It’s not easy to push people out of their comfort zone. Hell, I have trouble pushing myself to get into pants most days, much less notice how many important issues I’m not noticing. Part of the price of privilege is that I have to pay attention and deliberately seek out other points of view.

Am I successful at this? Not often enough. But every day is another chance to get it right.