Category: Columns

Box Office Democracy: Baby Driver

Go see Baby Driver.  If you saw the trailer and thought it looked cool, it is all that and more and you should go see it.  If you saw the trailer and thought it looked bad go see it, the trailer only scratches the surface of the depth the movie has.  If you love Edgar Wright, you should go see Baby Driver because it is an evolutionary step for him that will take what you’ve liked about him up until now and turn it all up.  If you don’t like Edgar Wright, you should see it because this is a complete departure from the jokey stuff he’s done up until now that I understand people found off-putting.  Baby Driver is the kind of movie I would recommend to anyone that appreciates cinema as a craft.  It’s a lovingly made homage to everything one director thinks is cool and it succeeds with gusto.

The plot doesn’t matter— you’ve seen more than a couple heist movies, you’ll know the first 90% of this movie backwards and forwards (they make an interesting choice at the end, I like it and it isn’t standard).  There are criminals with and without hearts of gold.  There are external pressures and things to be leveraged.  There’s one last score and the calamity that always befalls one last score.  They made a cool movie, though.  The opening car chase is completely mesmerizing, the second is white-knuckle nerve-wracking, the third act is constant forward pressure.  The gimmick of the movie, that Baby (Ansel Elgort) needs to listen to music at all times) means there’s a constant vibe coming off the cool music.  It also means that any scene without music is immediately underlined as important.  It’s a clever device and I don’t envy whoever had to pay for all these songs.

This is the best performance I’ve ever seen from Ansel Elgort, but that might not be saying much.  He has to this point mostly done movies that are very much not for me, and while I might think he’s been coasting on being pretty he has fans who are likely seeing something.  He doesn’t have to do a lot in Baby Driver, he plays a character who doesn’t speak a lot and who constantly wears sunglasses.  He makes it work.  He makes his lines work, he does his best with his reactions.  It helps that he is perpetually surrounded by talented actors.  He primarily works with Kevin Spacey and in his most difficult scenes has at least Jamie Foxx or Jon Hamm to push him through the tough parts.  The very best scene in the movie is Elgort and Lily James dancing around in a laundromat but that might be more choreography than pure acting skill.  It’s such a fun moment though.

Fun is what Baby Driver has more than anything else.  I’ve seen better car chases, I’ve seen more complex crime plots, I’ve seen sweeter love stories, but I haven’t seen so many things I like wrapped in quite such a charming package.  There’s an energy to the movie and it comes from the crisp direction and from the ever-present soundtrack.  This might be the highest density of needle drops I’ve ever seen.  It’s hard to quantify fun or why something is fun, but Baby Driver is fun.  It’s as movie that spreads an infectious smile to your face and refuses to let up.  It’s a movie that begs you to click on it on Netflix; a movie that you trip over yourself to recommend to friends.  It’s a movie you can watch over and over again, a movie to forever be happy whittling away an afternoon.

Mindy Newell: A Madman With A Box

I was going to get political again this week, but it’s too goddamn depressing. Here are some headlines just from yesterday, courtesy of that #FakeNews Enemy of the People publication, that “old Grey Lady,” the New York Times:

  • E.P.A. Chief Voids Obama-Era Rules In Blazing Start
  • Medicaid Plan Risks Changing Life For Millions
  • ‘I’m President And They’re Not’: Trump Attack Brings Crowd To Its Feet
  • Trump Administration Targets Parents In New Immigration Crackdown

And then there are the tweets. After Il Tweetci the Mad – formerly known as “Il Trumpci the Mad” – went on a rampage against Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough this past Thursday – what the fuck is with his obsession over women and blood? How the hell did Ivanka, Marla, and Melania ever get pregnant, much less get near enough to a “man” who is so phobic over natural functions to allow it to happen? It wouldn’t surprise me if he’s one of those guys who has to obsessively shower the minute the act is over – he again went after what is apparently his favorite news media target yesterday morning with this from the Washington Post, another #FakeNews Enemy of the People” publication:

 “A day after defending his use of social media as befitting a ‘modern day’

president, President Trump appeared to promote violence against CNN in a tweet.

“Trump, who is on vacation at his Bedminster golf resort, posted on Twitter an old video clip of him performing in a WWE professional wrestling match, but with a CNN logo superimposed on the head of his opponent. In the clip, Trump is shown slamming the CNN avatar to the ground and pounding him with simulated punches and elbows to the head. Trump added the hashtags #FraudNewsCNN and #FNN, for ‘fraud news network.’”

What the hell is with that “man” and CNN? Did Jane Fonda once laugh in his face, and then went on to marry CNN’s founder, Ted Turner? Is it a secret beef with Ted Turner himself, some kind of schoolboy rivalry?

And then there’s this, again from the Washington Post:

This year, top White House staff members warned that the National Enquirer was planning to publish a negative article about us unless we begged the president to have the story spiked,” Brzezinski and Scarborough wrote in The Washington Post. “We ignored their desperate pleas.”

On their MSNBC show, Brzezinski and Scarborough elaborated.

Scarborough: They said if you call the president up and you apologize for your coverage, then he will pick up the phone and basically spike the story. I had, I will just say, three people at the very top of the administration calling me. And the response was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ I don’t know what they have. Run a story. I’m not going to do it.

“The calls kept coming and kept coming, and they were like, “Call. You need to call. Please call. Come on, Joe, just pick up the phone and call him.”

Brzezinski: “And let me explain what they were threatening. They were calling my children. They were calling close friends of mine.”

Scarborough: “You’re talking about the National Enquirer, yeah.

Brzezinski: “And they were pinning the story on my ex-husband, who would absolutely never do that, so I knew immediately it was a lie and that they had nothing. And these calls persisted for some time, and then Joe had the conversations he had with the White House, where they said, “Oh, this could go away.”

Do you understand what is going on here? Do I need to spell it out for you? Okay then. E-X-T-O-R-T-I-O-N.

But I’m not going to get political this week, because it’s too goddamn depressing. So let’s talk about fun stuff.

Fun stuff like “The Doctor Falls,” the finale of the 10th series of Doctor Who, which aired on Saturday night. Continuing my spoiler-free zone from last week:

It was thrilling. It was hilarious. It was heartbreaking. There were easter eggs and callbacks galore. It was regenerating rejuvenating. (Hint! Hint!)

I’m going to change my mind and just give out two little spoilers…

The most chilling moment(s) for me: Bill looking in the mirror and seeing the face of a Cyberman; seeing her shadow, and seeing that it was the shadow of a Cyberman; and catching sight of her hand, the hand of a Cyberman.

And the second spoiler belongs to both Steven Moffat, as he heads towards the exit with a giant fuck you!!! to that “man,” and to the magnificent Peter Capaldi (he just nudged Tennant out of my “Number One Favorite Doctor” spot), who upped the ante once again…

The Doctor is preparing to make his final stand against the Cybermen, and is trying, pleading, with Missy and The Master to stand with him:

“Winning? Is that what you think it’s about? I’m not trying to win. I’m not doing this because I want to beat someone … or because I hate someone or because I want to blame someone. It’s not because it’s fun. God knows it’s not because it’s easy. It’s not even because it works because it hardly ever does. I do what I do because it’s right! Because it’s decent. And above all, it’s kind. It’s just that. Just kind. If I run away today, good people will die. If I stand and fight, some of them might live… maybe not many, maybe not for long. Hey, maybe there’s no point in any of this at all, but it’s the best I can do, and I will stand here doing it until it kills me. You’re going to die, too, someday. When will that be? Have you thought about it? What would you die for? Who I am is where I stand. Where I stand is where I fall.”

Tweet that.

 

Ed Catto’s Convention Treasures!

I’m still reeling – in a good way – from Syracuse’s Salt City Comic-Con. It was a fantastic comic convention where I had way too much fun. And I’ve got some observations to share with you about it, but they’ll have to wait until next week.

This week I like to share some of the treasures I found at the show.

Let’s start with the “full disclosure” routine. I’m at the point where my comic collection is way too large, and I’ve been taking the steps to prune it back over the last few years. I’ve found this process difficult to adjust to, but my wife and I are in that downsizing mode. Surprisingly, I’m finding that maybe I am not that much of a hoarder after all. I actually feel better when I get rid of stuff.

But… I can’t help but wander a convention and stumble across a few treasures. And I was delighted with what I found at Syracuse’s Salt City Comic-Con.

In a 50-cent long box, I found this fantastic copy of Fantagraphics’ reprint title from 1987, Untamed Love, showcasing Frank Frazetta stories. Even though this reprint collection was published thirty years ago, the comic felt pretty new. The coloring is vibrant and the high-quality paper really holds up. The stories are a bit silly, but that Frazetta artwork is gorgeous!

Neal Adams was our guest of honor and, as he often does, told us few stories. Iwas especially intrigued when he revealed he’s working on a new Deadman series. I pressed him for details, and instead of offering just a few coy or cryptic teases, he outlined the whole first issue. And then he showed me the page he was working on. I was really impressed and think it will be his best work in years.
So… in anticipation that new series, I picked up a reading copy of Strange Adventures #209. It was a thrilling story with innovative storytelling and clever page layouts. The big climactic fight atop a Ferris wheel kicked my vertigo into high gear. I have trouble with heights these days, and that frenetic battle above the midway isn’t going to help matters.

Of note: there was a circulation statement in this issue. It turns out Strange Adventures was reported to be selling 146,600 issues each month. I find that so astounding, especially compared to today’s print runs.

I just loved the cover to Girls’ Romances #160 and couldn’t resist snagging it. The brilliant Jay Scott Pike is the artist. While the composition is solid and strong, the non-traditional sketchy, scratchy line work was what grabbed me.

It turns out this was the last issue of this long-running series. By this time, they must have decided it wasn’t worth it to create new stories. Inside are reprints of old John Romita stories – but the women’s hairstyles were retouched to give it a “modern” 1971 feel! These bizarre edits create a double layer of retro.

Most fans fondly remember those Antonio Banderas Zorro movies from a few of years ago. My dad was just watching it on cable, in fact. And comic fans all agree that Alex Toth’s Zorro comics were a pinnacle for that character. So I was pleasantly surprised to find myself buying Zorro – The Complete Dell Pre-Code Comics from the Hermes Press booth at the con. It’s a totally different version of Zorro.

Hermes Press was an energetic and committed exhibitor. I may be a bit biased, as I do like so many of their books. They created two convention exclusives and they were selling everything at a discount, so all attendees found a lot to like about their stuff.

In the forward of the Zorro collection, ace author Max Allan Collins provides a brief history lesson about the main artist of these stories – Everett Raymond Kinstler. I wasn’t familiar with this artist, but he is work is evocative and often confused with, Joe Kubert’s style from the 50s. “You had me at Kubert,” I thought when reading the forward.

It’s a tremendous book and after I read it, I think it deserves a spot on my coffee table. Then after a while, I’ll lend it to my dad. Another treasure from another comic-con.

John Ostrander: Calling Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine, Dr. Howard!

Gah!

Since the last time we were together discussing things of great (or minor) import to the universe, I’ve been to the E.R. twice. Yep, no half way measures for this kid – you gonna screw things up, screw things up big time!

Well, actually, I didn’t do it. It was done to me.

It started a week ago last Saturday. I got up to go to the bathroom at 6:30 AM (normal) and things were fine. I got up again to go at 8:30 AM and I couldn’t get out of bed. My balance was completely shot. My equilibrium was gone. Vertigo is not just a name of a DC imprint. I had written Count Vertigo in Suicide Squad many years ago and it seemed he had caught up with me and was exacting revenge for any and all trials I had put him through.

For me, the sense of vertigo was less of the room spinning and more of the floor dropping out from under, not unlike an elevator plunging down a shaft or a roller coaster just as it reached the top of the first hill and starts crashing downwards. For the record, I’m not a fan of rollercoasters because of that sense of vertigo you get at the start.

An ambulance came and whisked me away to the E.R. where I was examined, tested, and otherwise checked out. My brain underwent a CAT scan and no cats were revealed. I’m not sure if anything else of substance was revealed to be in my head; the doctor didn’t go into that. At least it appeared that I had neither a stroke nor a heart attack.

You spend a lot of time at an ER in between tests just lying there. I dozed a bit. I thought I heard the paging system asking for “Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine, Dr. Howard.” I am nothing if not a child of my culture – pop culture.

It was decided that I had a bladder infection which may have affected my balance. I was sent home with antibiotics, a pill to combat dizziness, another to combat nausea, but nothing to deal with general goofiness. This is a good thing as that’s how I make my living. As a friend once commented to me “John, you’ve proven there is no money to be made in growing up.”

I was also instructed to follow up with a visit to my GP. Since one was already set up for that Thursday, we all decided I could see the doctor then. So I did, feeling a little woozy that day, a bit fuzzy, and not right in my head (well, in the inner ear where my balance is supposed to be found).

Mary and I got there early (for a change) and eventually found me in an exam room. Little did I know I was going to fail that exam. Vitals were recorded, info was taken from the visit to the E.R, and they checked my blood pressure. After seeing the numbers, the nurse double checked on the other arm and then went to get the doctor to come in immediately.

I had dangerously low blood pressure. Doc Z the GP reviewed it all and then told me, “John, I don’t think you’re going to like hearing this but I’m sending you back to the hospital.” He was right, I didn’t like it but saw the wisdom of it. There was a chance that the bladder infection was backing up into a kidney. That could result in sepsis and I’ve been there before, thank you very much.

Gah!

Doc Z said it wasn’t urgent but I needed to go now so Mary drove me back to the same E.R. I had visited the previous Saturday. And again I had an EKG and another CAT scan, this time of my bladder and kidney. Once again, no cats were found there but neither were any kidney stones. My bladder was appropriately empty and the infection was declining.

So again I was sent home. Medical science seemed to be unsure what was causing vertigo but it has been declining. I asked if Dr. House was available for a consultation but his show was canceled and he was not around. Maybe just as well.

So I’m home. Mary has been filling me with her excellent chicken soup and all around taking good care of me. Despite a relapse this morning, I’m stumbling less. I’m adapting. To help me get to the bathroom in the middle of the night, Mary has arranged some of the dining room chairs so the back is to me which allows me to lurch from one to another. I pretend I’m Spider-Man, swinging on his web from building to building. Thwip! Thwip!

By the way, having a full bladder in need of venting in the dark with cats demanding your attention by trying to trip you while at the same time feeling vertigo as you race to the toilet should qualify as an Olympic event. Or at least a good training exercise.

Gah!

Marc Alan Fishman: That Moment That Makes You Feel Mortal

We here at ComicMix deal part-in-parcel with the capes and cowls. Super-powered beings who defy conventional laws of science, completing miraculous acts to save humanity from heinous villainy. Most folks on the outside looking in suppose that the fascination with our superheroes stems from the desire for escapism. Faced with our own mortal foibles and faults, we lust for the life that defies those insecurities – with laser vision, super strength, or any number of special skills and powers.

But I’d argue that while there exists that sci-fi appeal where our inner kid seeks out that which is totally cool, it’s those moments on the page (or on screen) where our heroes are most human that we truly find the best part of pulp fiction.

Bruce Wayne was a just a boy enjoying an amazing adventure at the movies with his parents. Depicted at an age where mom and dad were his heroes, we see the glee and unencumbered joy in his innocent face as his family exits the Monarch. Two flashes from the muzzle of a darkened revolver later, and Bruce loses everything. His heroes. His joy. His mentors. His innocence. His world shattered, we watch as he rebuilds himself in the name of justice and vengeance.

No matter what comes afterward – be it countless battles with colorful rogues, surviving devastating Earthquakes, or even accidentally being implicit in the destruction of the Justice League – we ultimately land back at those two shots fired that turned a boy into a lost soul. To change that origin, to remove that moment of mortality is to remove the sympathy that defines the single goal of Batman.

Peter Parker, imbued with the science-defying super-human properties of a spider, is able to become the antithesis to his normal self. A shy and introverted kid is given the power to let his id free. He gallivants to a local wrestling show to use his newfound powers for ill-gotten gains. I’ll spare you the rest; you know it all too well.

With the murder of dear Uncle Ben, Peter adopts the adage with great power comes great responsibility. That lesson, seated at the core of Spider-Man, is the moral nugget that defines the love we have for the character. Beyond all the web-slinging, trash-talking, and Mary Jane saving comes the guilt of a kid whose choices led the biggest loss in his life. That moment, that slip, makes the Amazing Spider-Man mortal.

In any story worth its salt, the conflict that arises must hold with it some connection to humanity. Be it man versus man, versus nature, or even versus himself, we as an audience must connect to something being presented in order to root our potential appreciation. When I think of a bad comic, a bad movie, or a loathsome TV show… more often than not what ultimately drags it down is that disconnect.

Think fondly of Star Wars: A New Hope. The retread of the heroes journey – reimagined as an epic space opera this time around – gives us Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia Organa, and Han Solo as our surrogates. The kid with wanderlust. The leader protecting her people. The asshole just trying to make a buck and live to see tomorrow. Through their eyes and actions, we see mortals with fears and dreams. We travel with them and succeed where they succeed.

Now, think of The Phantom Menace.

For the Star Wars apologists, I won’t deny there were attempts at adding a touch of humanity to the over-glossy under-written prequel. Anakin Skywalker is forced to choose between training with the Jedi or remaining a slave. He leaves his mother behind. Beyond that? Find me some mortal moments amidst the trade negotiations, pod-racing, and droid army fights. Good luck with that. Simply put, devoid of any real reason to care for our would-be Vader and pals… we get a wooden movie with a heart harder to find than on a Tin Man.

To close the loop, it’s this message: That moment that makes you feel mortal that cements my own work in completing The Samurnauts. As our pastiche to the Power Rangers and super sentai series abound, it’s been creating these moments throughout the mini-series that I hope sets us apart from the normally vapid source material from which we draw upon. By giving each of my heroes’ moments of doubt, dread, fear, pain, or suffering, I present to my would-be audience a cast of characters they can relate to. Beyond the wicked-cool immortal monkeys, giant robots, and Photoshopped blaster fire is a story about people trying to overcome their lesser selves. Whether they succeed or fail… so long as I show it on the page, I’m confident of the quality of the end-product.

No paper cuts necessary to see me bleed.

The Law Is A Ass

Bob Ingersoll: The Law Is A Ass #414

NEW YORK SHOULDN’T HAVE GIVEN THE X-MEN A PARKING PASS

Let’s say you’ve done something really stupid. No, let’s say I’ve done something really stupid; that’s more realistic. There are many answers I could give when someone asked me, “Why did you do that?” However, I presently subscribe to the theory championed by no less a personage than Harlan Ellison. The best answer is, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

Sometimes, however, not even that answer – which, unlike me, is direct and to the point – will suffice. There are some stupid things for which the answer, “It seemed like a good idea at the time,” will not work because they are so monumentally stupid that they could never have seemed like a good idea at any time. Things like Clippy, New Coke, and X-Men Gold #1.

No I’m not saying the idea of publishing X-Men Gold was stupid. I’m saying that something that happened in X-Men Gold #1 was of the so-monumentally-stupid-that-it-could-never-have-seemed-like-a-good-idea variety.

After the X-Men Gold team saved Manhattan from an attack by former Galactus herald Terrax – Why did Terrax attack Manhattan; it seemed like a good idea at the time – they went back to the new Xavier Institute for Mutant Education and Outreach to have one of their relaxing Softball games. They were met by the City Register for New York who presented current X-Men leader Kitty Pride with the invoice for the first six months’ rent and property tax for the parcel of land on which the Mayor of New York agreed to let the X-Men relocate their school. Kitty was shocked when she read the bill. It was for eighteen million dollars. That’s eighteen million. With an eight.

Turns out the X-men relocated the Xavier Institute to the middle of Central Park.

And that’s what was so monumentally stupid that it could never have seemed like a good idea at any time. For both the X-Men and New York City.

Judging from Kitty’s shock at seeing the invoice, I can only conclude she signed the lease without reading it first and ascertaining how much the rent and property tax was going to set the team back. And there is never a time when signing a lease without reading its terms – especially its rent terms – could seem like a good idea.

Thirty-six million dollars a year in rent and property tax isn’t just steep, it’s pushing Sisyphus’ rock up a right angle. Unless every oil sheik and internet billionaire in the world has offspring in need of mutant training or Kitty can get a copyright on the word “The,” I don’t see how the Xavier Institute will ever earn enough money to pay rent and property tax that’s so x-orbitant.

And speaking of monumentally stupid ideas, which we were, who in the Mayor’s office thought it would be a good idea for the Xavier Institute to relocate to Central Park?

Central Park is home to a zoo, a castle, a carousel, a concert shell, several playgrounds, baseball fields, skating rinks, fountains, a boat house, several theaters, statues, gardens, a world-class restaurant, several other restaurants, even more hot-dog carts, jogging trails, horse-drawn carriage rides, a memorial to John Lennon, lakes, ponds, and enough trees to make Robin Hood, his Merry Men, and every dog in the tri-state area happy. It is the fourth most-visited tourist attraction in the world with forty million visitors every year. And this is where the Mayor of New York agreed to put a school that’s attacked so frequently its got a training facility called The Danger Room?

Your Honor, have you heard of “collateral damage?” In case you haven’t, collateral damage isn’t what the 2008 housing bubble burst inflicted when people got their collateral foreclosed on. It’s what happens to innocent people when they’re hanging around major battlefields.

Mr. Mayor, the X-Men have villains with names like the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, Mr. Sinister, and Apocalypse. These are not nice people. They would think nothing of attacking the X-Men in their home. A home you just allowed them to put in Central Park. If even one percent of those forty million visitors get hurt the next time someone attacks the Xavier Institute, you’ve just opened your city up to about 400,000 lawsuits. I practiced criminal defense law for 28 years and don’t know a tort from a torte, and even I would know how to file the complaints for the class action suits that are sure to follow.

Mr. Mayor, you may have thought renting Central Park to the X-Men was a good idea at the time. You might have even thought it would be a win-win situation. And it will be. For the plaintiffs and their lawyers.

Martha Thomases: If You Create Comics, Do Not Get Sick!

As I write this, the Senate vote on Trump’s health care plan has been postponed. One poll shows that only twelve percent of Americans support the Senate version of the bill.

Personally, I think this is a good thing. Everything I’ve read about the bill, both the House and Senate versions, show that tens of millions of people would lose their health insurance, and almost all would have to find other, more expensive ways to get healthcare. The Obama plan isn’t perfect, but it is better than this.

What does this have to do with comics? I’m glad you asked.

My favorite feature of the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, is that it is possible for unemployed, self-employed people and those with jobs at small businesses to buy health insurance as individuals. This was possible before, but really, really expensive. I remember trying to buy some in the early 2000s, and the policy for my husband and myself was going to be more than $3 thousand a month. Luckily, through New York State, we were able to get coverage for around $800.

A policy that costs $800 a month isn’t cheap. That’s $9600 a year. The other plan would have cost nearly $40 thousand a year. That’s more than I made at my first two full-time jobs combined. And the hospital bills for the cancer that killed my husband ran well into six figures, which would have bankrupted us if we hadn’t had insurance.

Affordable health insurance saves lives.

Less obvious, but just as true, is that affordable health insurance for everyone makes your individual life better, or at least more entertaining. John Backderf recently wrote a post on his Facebook page about how important Obamacare has been for comic book creators. Instead of getting a day job just for health insurance, and making comics on nights and weekends, creators can take a chance and devote themselves to their art.

Surprisingly, there are people who disagree with this. And they said so, in the comment section of the link above. In general, I’m a firm believer in the Internet doctrine which states, “Never read the comments.” In this case, however, I don’t understand what their problem is.

Some took offense at Derf’s description of cubicle jobs as if he was sneering at them as if there was something dirty about working in a cubicle. Needless to say, these people don’t read enough, or they would know that Derf, the author of Trashed, has worked in all kinds of jobs, including the actual dirty job of collecting garbage.

I would also point out that getting that cubicle job is not a sure thing. It’s not easy to find a new job if you are in your 50s or 60s. Coincidentally, these are the years when a lack of healthcare is especially terrifying.

Some seemed to think that wanting to take a chance on a dream was shameful or lazy. I can only assume that these people have never tried to work for themselves, nor have they been the kind of “job creators” praised by the GOP. It takes a high tolerance for risk to start something new, whether that thing is a comic book, a podcast, a dry cleaner or a restaurant.

It seems to me this is a win/win/win. Creators can take a chance on their dreams, there are more day-jobs for people who really want to do them, and we get more comics. As Derf said, “It’s no coincidence, I believe, that this (the ACA) coincided with the golden era of comics we’re currently enjoying. Creators could take a chance on a comics career without dooming themselves to a life as a debt slave if they contracted a serious illness.”

There are some people who think that every person who publishes is rich. They think that a byline on a news article or a comic book or a novel means that person is another Stephen King or J. K. Rowling. These are the same people who think teachers don’t have to work in the summer.

A lot of the comic book professionals I know, people whose names are used in convention advertising and who attract long lines at these shows, could only get health insurance these last few years because they qualified for Medicaid. Without the supplements, they would have no insurance at all. And if they had to get day jobs to get insurance, they wouldn’t have been able to produce the comics the rest of us line up to get signed.

Dennis O’Neil: Sherlock and Theseus’s Paradox

So there’s this ancient Greek named Theseus who builds a ship. Over time the ship needs repairs and pieces of it have to be replaced and finally everything has been replaced. Not a single splinter of the original craft remains. Which brings us to what is known in some circles as Theseus’s Paradox. We ask: Is the ship our man Theseus ends with the same one that he built years earlier? Please remember that nothing of the original remains.

Want to push this a bit further before we introduce comics characters into the discourse? Okay, I’m a ratty rival of Theseus and I take every piece of what Theseus has built and use it to build my own ship. I add nothing, I simply reuse Theseus’s materials. And now the question becomes: Whose ship is this anyway, mine or Theseus’s? (Never mind that Theseus might be a big, tough Greek able to beat me silly and take the damn ship and not bother with philosophical niceties.)

Marifran and I spent a chunk of the weekend catching up on episodes of Sherlock, the BBC’s excellent reworking of Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic Sherlock Holmes stories. In the earliest teleplays the title character is Doyle’s cold, eccentric thinking machine who has no real friends. He describes himself as a “high-functioning sociopath” and, yep, that just about says it.

Gradually, the plot emphasis shifts from Sherlock’s dazzling detective work to Sherlock himself and his private torments. The later stories are about him and not about the puzzles he solves. (Do some of you think I have completely changed the subject? Please – a little faith?) In the final chapter, he has come to admit a deep affection for his companion. Dr. John Watson, has apparently overcome his demons and seems to be a rather pleasant chap. (Full disclosure: a similar transformation occurs in Doyle’s work.)

There have been hundreds – thousands? – of interpretations of Doyle’s creation, including a teevee program, Elementary, the premise of which is virtually identical to that of Sherlock. Are any of them – the television shows, the movies, comics, novels, plays – any of these the real Sherlock? Or only those written by Doyle?

The venerated Steve Ditko created a comics character called The Question that ran as a backup feature in Charlton’s Blue Beetle title, vanished, and returned in his own DC comic that I wrote. Wrote, and completely changed the hero’s personality. It ran for several years – a lot more Question than Steve’s version. So who’s got the real Question, Steve Ditko or me?

Superman, Batman, Swamp Thing, our newly beloved Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the ones I’m forgetting – all underwent changes, sometimes pretty quick changes, and each version has its partisans.

And should we care?

(By the way, I regret any unhappiness I caused Steve by my rejigging his stuff. I don’t think he could have approved of what I did to it. Sorry. And is it good form to end a column with a parenthesis? Well, what kind of question is that?)

 

Mike Gold: What? A Long Strange Trip?

I believe the first comics convention I attended was in 1967. That means I’ve been chasing these puppies for 50 years. Indeed, it often feels my entire life has been one long, never-ending comicon. Talk about getting a life – or, at least, another act.

I continue to do ‘em because I enjoy seeing my friends a hell of a lot more than I enjoy eating vulcanized chicken fingers. Better still, I enjoy meeting the fans, talking about what they like and don’t like (this is not a good time to defend the event comic), discovering new trends and talent, and blathering on and on at panels. For the past, oh, maybe two dozen years that means I’ve vastly preferred the smaller comicons; it’s hard to have meaningful conversations at the overcrowded, underoxygenated megashows such as San Diego and New York. To tell you the truth, I avoid those clusterfucks like the plague because I’m certain someday soon some clown is going to pivot and knock me over with his backpack, and I’m going to have to shoot somebody once again.

So when fellow ComicMixer Ed Catto invited me to the Syracuse show, held last week, I gleefully agreed. It’s only a four-hour drive according to GPS, or five-and-one-half hours according to the weekend reality of Northeast Quadrant motoring. Yes, driving back I encountered no less than three serious accidents and one abandoned SUV that blocked two lanes on the infamous Tappen Zee Bridge. Rule of thumb: during a long drive, when the number of accidents exceeds the number of dead deer, just pull over and cry.

The show was great fun. I was reunited with Graham Nolan, an old friend that I haven’t seen in a million years. We worked on Hawkworld back in the day; his current Bane miniseries is a serious contribution of DC’s present circulation dominance over Marvel Comics. Joe Rubenstein, who has no home and merely travels to different comicons each and every week, had a cold and was hell-bent on turning it into a plague.

I have long enjoyed Chris Giarrusso’s work (G-Man, Mini Marvels, Tales from the Con) and was happy to see he had the table to my immediate right. To my left was Frank Cammuso, writer/artist of such books as Knights of the Lunch Table, Salem Hyde, and one of my all-time favorites, Max Hamm Fairy Tale Detective. Frank had collaborated with my old pal Jay Lynch on several books; as I’ve noted Jayze and I went back to the hallowed days of the Chicago Mirror, which evolved into Bijou Comix. It’s great to make new friends.

Of course, the show was full of innovative cosplayers – to no one’s surprise, virtually every female toddler was adorably swathed in Wonder Woman gear, making Syracuse the cutest place on Earth last weekend. The show was at the city’s convention center, specifically in their hockey arena, home to the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch, the first hockey team to be named after a candy bar.

08As is often the case at these “smaller” shows, the fans were wonderful, eager to converse and remarkably polite… “remarkable,” at least, to this New Yorker. Graham and I did a panel about how comics evolved in the 1980s and 90s that was hosted by Ed, and the questions were the sort I enjoy the most: those that initiate conversation among the fans and the panel members.

I’m always curious to see which books are presented to me for autographing (unlike fellow convention attendee Neal Adams, I do not charge for my autographs because, well, the Sharpie I borrowed from Chris would have dried out). This year, it seems almost half were issues of The Question, which I found to be both surprising and really cool. Them folks in Syracuse have taste.

I deeply appreciate Ed’s inviting me and that, at long last, I got the chance to meet and hang out with Kathe Catto, a person as intelligent and as charming as her name is alliterative. I also want to thank convention honcho Thomas Yeldon and the wonderful, helpful and professional staff for a show that was so much fun I forgot that I’ve been doing this since Lyndon Johnson was president.

(With apologies to Jerome J. Garcia, Robert Hall Weir, Philip Lesh, and Robert C. Hunter for the title, and to my ol’ co-conspirator Ed Sanders who purportedly coined the word “clusterfuck.” Remember that when you take your American History class final next year.)

Box Office Democracy: Transformers: The Last Knight

It’s strange to describe a movie as Michael Bay’s id run amok.  Bay is already seemingly the living embodiment of the collective id of every even slightly repressed filmmaker to come before him.  Transformers: The Last Knight is dozens and dozens of bad ideas stuck together with slow motion CGI and glistening skin.  There’s a Transformer in this movie who has a gun that makes things move in slow motion.  That’s either proof that Bay has no idea that people use his cliches to ridicule him, or proof he doesn’t care because no one will ever stop giving him giant piles of money to figuratively light on fire every couple of years.  This is not the loving work of someone who grew up loving the toys or the cartoons or any of that; this is someone who smashed his toys together until they broke and then cried until they were replaced.

I’m honestly not sure there’s a synopsis of The Last Knight that would read as anything other than the ravings of a madman.  It turns out Transformers have been on earth since Arthurian times.  They’ve been involved with every major human event in history including World War II.  A secret cabal of historical figures have been involved in keeping them secret.  They also protect a magic artifact that can only be used by the descendant of Merlin.  Also, Optimus Prime is evil and wants to destroy earth— but honestly, that doesn’t have much effect on the events of the film.  The movie we get is two hours of running around trying to prevent something from happening, and then an underwhelming 20 minutes during which the bad thing happens anyway but is stopped like it’s no big deal.

It feels like there’s so much less spectacle in this movie which can’t be true because giant robots fight each other for no reason all the time.  Maybe it’s just that the fights have no discernible stakes and no one making any decisions about the plot is ever involved in the fighting.  The Transformer with the most lines is a C-3P0 ripoff (called out as similar in the movie itself) that doesn’t seem to transform in to anything.  Megatron and Optimus Prime stay on the sidelines while third string robots from the last movie that I can’t be bothered to remember fight over and over.  It must be hard to make giant robot fighting seem so inconsequential.

The Last Knight does an honestly amazing amount of metaphorical nerd punching.  Every character that has studied something is a naive idiot and real knowledge can only be attained from being near Transformers.  Oxford professors don’t know anything, NASA physicists are smug idiots with bad ideas, and the Prime Minister of the UK is a schmuck. If you’ve ever read a book on purpose, Michael Bay wants you to know he thinks you’re an asshole and have nothing of value to contribute to society.

I don’t know what the point is of telling you this.  If you’ve watched Michael Bay movies since Bad Boys II went to overthrow Castro for no reason after the story ended, you’ve probably known Bay doesn’t care anymore.  He’s chasing the rush of the big explosion and the nine figure gross.  People go and see his movies because they like his visual style, and while it’s absolutely not for me it’s definitely for someone.  When the lights came up on this two-and-a-half-hour unintelligible wreck of a movie, people in my theater applauded.  I love a dessert but I would prefer it be a part of a meal that includes a sensible entree; some people just want to eat Pixie Stix for dinner and wash it down with Red Bull.  The Last Knight is a movie for them. I hope they like it.