Category: Columns

Mindy Newell: Disappointment and Delight

This season of Doctor Who just isn’t working for me.

This is imho, of course, and YMMV, but after a great opening episode (The Pilot) I’ve been very disappointed. The stories haven’t excited me, and, more important, the relationship between Pearl Mackie’s Bill Potts and Peter Capaldi’s Doctor doesn’t seem to have moved all that much forward; there isn’t any there there, as Trumpists like to say these days. (Of course I had to get a Trump reference in here. You know me.) It started off great, with hints of something even more brewing.

Why does the Doctor take an interest in the non-matriculated kitchen worker who was attending his lectures? Why did he go out of his way to use the TARDIS to go back in the past to take pictures of Bill’s dead mom – of whom she had no memory – and leave them for her as a present? Does it have something to do with the framed pictures of his granddaughter Susan and his wife River Song on his office desk? For that matter, why did the Doctor install himself as a professor (for the last 50 years?) at a specific Bristol university? Was he secretly keeping a grandfatherly eye on Susan, who had chosen to remain on Earth? Has he been waiting for Bill, knowing that she would be there? (“All of time and space, everything that ever happened or ever will…”)

There are only two more episodes left in Series 10 – three, if you count the Christmas special – and by this time in previous seasons, the Doctor’s relationship with his previous companions – Rose, Donna, Martha, Amy & Rory, Clara – had all reached a level of intimacy beyond their familiarity with the TARDIS and the sonic screwdriver. Bill, it seems to me, has developed a closer friendship with Nardole (Matt Lucas) than she has with the Doctor – in fact, everything she has learned about the Galifreyan has come from Nardole.

Each episode had also moved each companion’s story forward. So far, there hasn’t been much we’ve learned about Bill that we didn’t learn in her first appearance: she hasn’t had much formal education, though she’s smart as a whip and eager to learn more; she’s a science fiction geek; she’s gay and, like a lot of us, she hasn’t had much success with love. She wishes she knew more about her mom and her family; and – well, that’s about it.

As I said, there’s only three episodes left this season, and there just seems to me to be an awful lot to be discovered yet.

I don’t want to think that Moffat is coasting his way to the end of his association with Doctor Who; he hasn’t yet disappointed me. I loved the denouement of last season, so I’m still crossing my fingers – but…

Anyway, this is a rather short column today. But I do want to give a shout out to my niece Isabel, who has made her debut performance this week in the Newtown (Pennsylvania) Arts Company production of The Philadelphia Story as Dinah Lord.

You may be familiar with the 1940 movie which starred Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant, and James Stewart, and was responsible for relaunching Hepburn’s career as a major Hollywood player – did you know that she was considered “box office poison” and couldn’t get a walk-on part at this point in her career? The play was specifically written for Hepburn by playwright Phillip Barry, whose wife, Helen Hope Montgomery Scott, was a Philadelphia socialite and a friend of Hepburn’s. Hepburn not only starred in the play, but also financially backed it, exchanging a salary for a percentage of profits. The Philadelphia Story was a smash hit on Broadway, and Hepburn enjoyed a great triumph as well as a flip of the bird to those who had tried to destroy her film career, especially when her friend Howard Hughes gave the film rights to her as a gift. Hepburn was able to convince Louis B. Mayer, head honcho of MGM, to give her veto rights over producer, director, screenwriter, and cast by selling Philadelphia to MGM for only $250,000, an amazingly cheap price. A pretty goddamn impressive move by Hepburn, and one that paid off in spades for her.

Here’s the plot, from Wikipedia, because I’m being lazy. Hey, I drove close to 200 miles today, so deal with it!

Tracy Lord (Hepburn) is the elder daughter of a wealthy Philadelphia Main Line socialite family. She was married to C.K. Dexter Haven (Grant), a yacht designer and member of her social set, but divorced him two years ago, because he did not measure up to the exacting standards she sets for all her friends and family: he drank too much for her taste, and as she became critical of him, he drank more. Now she is about to marry nouveau riche “man of the people” George Kittredge.

Spy magazine publisher Sidney Kidd is eager to cover the wedding, and assigns reporter Macaulay “Mike” Connor (Stewart) and photographer Liz Imbrie. He can get them into the affair with the assistance of Dexter Haven, who has been working for Spy in South America. Dexter will introduce them as friends of Tracy’s brother Junius (a U.S. diplomat in Argentina). Tracy is not fooled, but Dexter threatens her with an innuendo-laden article about her father Seth’s affair with a dancer. Tracy deeply resents her father’s infidelity, which has caused her parents to live separately. To protect her family’s reputation, she agrees to let Mike and Liz stay.

“Dexter is welcomed back with open arms by Tracy’s mother Margaret and teenage sister Dinah (this is the part Isabel played (much to her annoyance. When George sees Mike carrying an intoxicated Tracy into the house afterward, he thinks the worst. The next day, he tells her that he was shocked and feels entitled to an explanation before going ahead with the wedding. She takes exception to his lack of faith in her and breaks off the engagement. Then she realizes that all the guests have arrived and are waiting for the ceremony to begin. Mike volunteers to marry her (much to Liz’s distress), but she graciously declines. She also realizes, for the first time, that she isn’t perfect and shouldn’t constantly condemn others for their weaknesses. At this point, Dexter offers to marry her again, and she accepts.”

The Philadelphia Story was nominated for six Oscars, including Katherine Hepburn for Best Actress and James Stewart for Best Actor. Stewart won his only golden statue – hard to believe, isn’t it? And Hepburn went on to a total of 12 nominations – surpassed only by Meryl Streep – and won four Academy Award, the record for any performer. And Cary Grant? He was nominated so many times, but the only Oscar he was ever given was “Honorary,” in 1970, for “his unique mastery of the art of screen acting with the respect and affection of his colleagues.” Unbelievable, right?

As for Isabel? Here’s her “Who’s Who In The Cast”:

 “Like Dinah Lord, she is an avid equestrienne, can play piano and sing at the same time, and will pursue Conservatory training in Musical Theatre. Iz has played Annie in “Annie,” Belle in “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast,” and Amelia Earhart. She has soloed on cello with Symphony in C Orchestra, and toured Asia with Maestro Eschenbach of the Philadelphia Orchestra. (C’est vrai! Absolument!)”

Acting is a precarious profession, as we all know, but I won’t be surprised at all if and when the day comes when Isabel Newell will be up on a stage, accepting her own award.

And thanks to you all for putting up with an indulgent, and very proud, Aunt Mindy.

Ed Catto: Spellbound by Batman

When Leonard Nimoy died, several comic conventions paused for a moment of silence as fans offered up the Vulcan salute. Those were lovely gestures as the nerd community showed how beloved the actor, and his signature role, was to them.

I wish that Batman’s Adam West had a signature gesture like that. A hands-on-hips pose means Superman. The Vulcan salute embodies all of Star Trek’s mythology. Television’s Wonder Woman had a spinning motion (it enabled her to change from her meek self into her heroic costume) that we of a certain age remember. Iron Man kind of owns that punching-the-ground-while-crouching pose. But TV’s Batman really could’ve used an iconic pose.

Perhaps it would be holding a bomb, with a lighted fuse, above one’s head? Perhaps that silly/sexy Batusi dance move, evoking a bat’s eyes and ears? Somehow they just don’t seem right. But he had something better.

The past weekend, the Batsignal was shining onto Los Angeles’s City Hall. And the folks behind it knew their stuff. This Batsignal was the version of the Batman emblem that Adam wore. The L.A. Times showed the crowds and the entire affair looked impressive.

Everyone seems to have an Adam West story to share. I have a few too. I was really struck by how kind and sweet the stories were. To his credit, Adam West seemed to be able to instantly understand, and respect, the different connections that fans had with his TV alter ego.

As Mark Evanier, and others, reminded us, Adam West was an actor and Batman was just one part he played. Kudos to MeTV for recently running episodes of 60s western and science fiction TV series featuring Adam West appearing in other roles, before running the very first two episodes of Batman.

And in many ways, playing Batman damaged his career. He was typecast and couldn’t get other roles subsequent to the series’ cancellation. It wasn’t until years later that he was able to figure it all out, with the help of his enthusiastic agent, Fred Westbrook. They found ways so that Adam could finally reap the financial benefits of his all-too-brief superhero years.

Sadly, Fred recently passed away too. He was an agent with a real respect for his clients. He was clearly a fanboy, but he used that drive to create engaging and profitable projects for his clients. Like Adam, Fred was a great guy too. And boy, did he love TV game shows. I don’t know if he was the nation’s biggest expert on TV game Shows, but it seemed like that to me.

I fell under the spell of Adam West’s Batman TV show, but it quickly translated into a love of comics. For many fans, seeing some of those covers we saw as kids bring indelible memories front and center.

Viewing these comics is like winning a ticket for a time machine. I’m immediately transported back to Pauline’s, the newsstand that was so close to my grandmother’s house. My dad would treat us to one treasure there (I’d always choose a comic) after our Italian Sunday Dinner each week.

Detective Comics #358 is that kind of a comic for me. There’s something about those DC silver age covers with red backgrounds that bring out the six-year-old in me. This issue features the debut of Batman’s unforgettable foe, Spellbinder!

What’s that, you say? Did you forget him? Yeah, well, I guess that’s understandable.

I think that everyone who read this story forgot about it. It’s not that it’s so bad. It’s just so bland. The Spellbinder is a bank robber with a gimmick – he can hypnotize people. And like a fairy tale, the Spellbinder fools Batman three times, until the Darknight Detective finally figures out how to defeat him.

But that cover – wow! As a kid, I had thought this would’ve been the battle of all ages! It’s all about wild colors and an undoubtedly an epic battle about to be waged. I certainly expected to see Spellbinder pop up in an episode of the 60’s TV series, but he never did.

I wonder who could’ve played Spellbinder on TV?

Holy Fashion Faux Pas! What a mishmash of colors and patterns. If it were published today, Tim Gunn would have a fit. Oh, and I’m not even talking about Spellbinder’s costume. I’m talking about those clashing Detective Comics and Batman logos. Spellbinder’s nutty costume is an absurd thing of beauty… and doubtlessly it struck fear into the hearts of comic artists everywhere. In fact, no one would draw him again for years.

My copy of this comic is really special. It’s the file copy of longtime Batman editor, Jack Schiff. In those pre-internet days, publishers kept old comics on file for easy reference. Curiously, by the time this comic was published, Schiff was no longer editor on the Batman line. But he sold his file copy collection to Tim Ash Gray of Ithaca’s Comics For Collectors back in ’92, and Tim sold them to fans.

This issue is overflowing with nostalgic treasures, including:

  • More Superheroes – There’s an Elongated Man back-up (with some sharp Sid Greene art for a change) and Superman fights for Unicef in a one-page adventure on the inside front cover
  • Lots of Toy Car Ads – Geez, if future archeologists study this comic, they’d come to the conclusion that little boys in the 60s only read comics and played with toy cars. Still, one these ads showcases artwork from beloved DC artist Murphy Anderson.
  • It’s not the first time Batman fought villains on a building and certainly not the last. After the memorial service, the skyscraper battle now makes me think of the LA tribute to Adam West and the Batsignal shining on L.A.’s City Hall.

So many of us are willingly spellbound by Batman. There are a lot of good things about that. Like a long train, we all jump on at different points. That’s kind of special too. For me, it all started with that TV series and Adam West.

Superman and Metropolis Celebrate John Ostrander!

So – where was I last weekend? I was in Metropolis, that’s where, down in the Southern tip of Illinois attending the 39th Annual Superman Celebration. Way back in 1972 the city got DC’s permission to call itself Superman’s home and later that year the Illinois legislature passed a resolution confirming it. By the late 70s, the city decided to capitalize on all this by staging an annual Superman Celebration on the second weekend in June, a festival for the Man of Steel. Damn good idea, I sez.

The Celebration includes media guests connected with Supes. This year it was Margot Kidder, Dean Cain, James Marsters, and Sarah Douglas… as well as a few of us comic book types. I was the featured writer about six years ago and it seems I didn’t burn too many bridges because they had me back again this year along with Jimmy Palmiotti, Amanda Conner, Jim Hall and others.

The Celebration is a hoot and a truly unique Con. It’s one part convention and one part neighborhood block party/street fair. It has carnival rides, scavenger hunts, vintage cars and plenty of food trucks selling every carnival treat you can think of and maybe a few you can’t. Need something fried? Oh, they got that. My mouth waters and my arteries clog at the memory of it.

The town notably has a thirty-foot tall painted bronze statue of Supes in front of the courthouse as well as a smaller bronze statue of Noel Neill who played Lois Lane on The Adventures of Superman. Ms. Neill was a fixture at the Celebration for many years before dying last year but the last time I was there I did get to meet her and, according to reliable witnesses, just geeked out. I’m not ashamed to admit it. Long before I was a pro, I was a fan.

Speaking of fans, they were great. They were warm and eager and so happy to see us. One of the great things about a Con of this size is that you have time to chat with the fans. While there’s plenty of stuff to do, there’s no rush. And some of them geeked out to see me (I’m not sure why) so I told them the stories of my geeking out. We geek bonded.

I also had lots of good conversations with Amanda and Jimmy. I’ve known both of them for a long time but we don’t usually get much chance for long chats. We bumped into each at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport when we gathered for the plane to Paducah which was the closest airport to Metropolis. Amanda is a sweetheart and Jimmy is a character. Real Brooklyn in his speech and attitude and that’s a compliment. Better companions you couldn’t hope to find.

The trip to the Celebration also gave me the chance to renew some old friendships such as Tim and Tracy Brown. We first met some years ago at a Con in Memphis along with a whole bunch of others. Elvis had his Memphis Mafia; they’re part of mine. Tim and I crack each other up with our impressions – I do Elmer Fudd and Ethel Merman and he does Carol Channing. I can make him laugh so hard he squeezes his eyes shut; once I did while Tim was driving the car over the bridge crossing the Ohio River. People were yelling at me to stop but sometimes I just can’t help myself. Despite my best efforts, we got across the bridge safely. If Tim’s wife Traci didn’t gag me I think My Mary did.

The big wind-up to the celebration was the costume contest on Sunday. I know that cosplay has become a big thing in recent years but the Superman Celebration was doing it long before it was fashionable. I was a judge at this year’s contest and I have a few thoughts for people competing. At Metropolis, there were three areas to consider – how well did the contestant know the character they were portraying, how was the costume, and how well did they sell it, i.e. how well did they interact with the crowd?

There were some great costumes in the competition (Doctor Octopus was stunning) but the winner was a Wonder Woman and not just because this is her hour. Other people might have had better costumes but she sold it best. If you’re going to be in a costume competition, folks, you gotta walk the walk and talk the talk.

When I was there last, there was a riverboat casino in Metropolis because it wasn’t legal to have one on dry land. Now it is and Harrah’s has a hotel and casino on terra firma. I find that odd but interesting; a city of maybe 7,000 doesn’t have its own airport but has a gambling den. I wandered through it one night on my way to the buffet for dinner and found it completely disorientating. Not my thing but I can see how it might be for someone else.

Next year, Metropolis will celebrate its 40th Celebration and I suspect the hotels are already getting booked up. I understand people come from a long way to be there. It’s unique, a small city in which, for at least one weekend, their major industry is Superman. That’s pretty cool. Thanks to the Celebration’s staff, especially Karla Ogle, for inviting me down and treating us all so well. I’m ready to do it again sometime.

Up, up… and away!

Marc Alan Fishman: My Five Best Comic Book Meals!

Life is about balance. After last week’s screed on my personal health journey, it’s only fair I balance things out with a very gluttonous listing of my most favorite meals whilst being an indie creator. You see, a life in comics — part time, at least — find folks assembled around a table to break bread more often than you’d think. When logging in considerable hours at a convention, creators often will nibble here and there, and then run out of the expo hall in a mad dash for food when the con floor closes. Great minds have met over bowls of pasta and pizzas, whilst inking deals on Batman or the X-Men. Here are, in no particular order, five meals that remain stuck in between my teeth:

Miller’s Pub with Mike Gold

The first time ComicMix honcho Mike Gold asked Unshaven Comics to meet him for a meal, he chose Miller’s Pub in downtown Chicago. Prior to the lunch we shared, Mr. Gold was a fleeting presence at the Wizard World Chicago where we made our debut. The lovely late Linda Gold had stumbled across we Unshaven Lads, dying a slow and panicked death in Artist Alley. She listened to our pitch and promised to bring Mike by. After briefly meeting us, Mike and I exchanged e-mails post-show. When the opportunity arose to find Mr. Gold back in the Chicagoland area, he proposed a meeting of the minds. Over hot sandwiches and the first round of name-dropping stories we would succumb to hear on a yearly basis, Mike looked us in the eyes (as we demanded Unshaven Comics pick up the check) and said the kindest thing we’d ever hear in our careers: “Boys, I will do whatever I can to see you doing well in this business.” And let me tell you, nothing has ever tasted sweeter.

Breakfast Buffet with John Ostrander

A few years back, John asked us to pick him up at his house and drive him down to the Detroit Fanfare comic convention. We were more than happy to oblige. The next morning, he asked us to join him for breakfast. Amidst pans of bacon, lukewarm pancakes, and runny scrambled eggs, John waxed poetic about all sorts of things. Star Wars, the Suicide Squad, playwriting in Chicago, and even the secret origin of Wasteland all came tumbling out from John’s timid timbre. Matt, Kyle, and I sat in awe of an industry legend as he treated us as friends… not the drooling fanboys we were. And not to be undone by Mike Gold, John heaped a bit of praise on us (as we picked up the check): “Seriously, I don’t know how you guys do it. You have everything planned out to the nines. I’m in awe of you.” Not bad for the cost of a few plates of breakfast meat.

The CowFish with The Samurnauts

Unshaven Comics got greedy in 2013. Figuring we could sell tons of books by splitting up and covering more ground, we sent Unshaven Salesman 2000 (Kyle Gnepper) off to a show in Cincinnati whilst Unshaven Matt and I covered the HeroesCon in North Carolina. Knowing that sans-Kyle we’d be without our real power, our blue and yellow Samurnauts (Cherise and Erik) joined our menagerie to bolster our abilities. While we learned that four of us couldn’t match a single Gnepper, we did find something redeeming about the lackluster show. Unshackled from Kyle’s more predictable palette, the Samurnauts, Matt and I found a burger/sushi restaurant in a neighboring town. I could spend literally an entire article simply remarking about what all we ordered… or I could simply say we loved the place so much, the manager gave us coupons if we’d consider coming back the next night. And we very much did.

Brandy Hauman’s Homecooking

When Unshaven Comics makes the 14-hour trek from Chicago to New York (or, in fact, Homewood to Weehawken), ComicMix’s Glenn Hauman is always the most gracious of hosts — opening his home to us for the price of a few bottles of hooch. As the New York Comic Con sits on the single piece of New York real estate devoid of decent food, we often wind up at la Casa del Hauman for some real New Jersey takeout. But last year, Glenn’s amazing (talented, beautiful, funny, and charming) wife demanded she make us a home-cooked meal. A nice roasted chicken and some sides — but it was served over a table filled with laughter, embarrassing stories, and friendship. With this past NYCC our fourth journey to the city that never sleeps, this single meal stands out as a testament to the best part of the tri-state area: the people who you make friends.

Some BBQ joint in Stamford, CT

I’ll end here on the most sincere memory I have in regards to comics and food. As mentioned above with the meal at Miller’s Pub, with this meal Mike Gold quickly morphed from a coveted mentor to both a mentor and a mensch. When my wife and I got married in November of 2009, we’d invited all of the ComicMixers we knew — knowing that the gesture was largely symbolic given the distance any of them would have had to travel just to see a then super-fat Marc stomp on a glass and yell L’chaim. As it would turn out, the newly minted Mrs. Fishman and I would take our honeymoon out along the East Coast (we didn’t quite google that Cape Cod is really a summer town). Mike was quick to demand that on our way home, we move our route to swing down his way. There, not far from the WWE headquarters, Kathy and I would be greeted by Glenn, Mike, Linda, and a smattering of other ComicMix friends for a BBQ lunch. As with much of this list: I don’t remember the food as much as the feeling that I’d made friends I’ve held on to ever since. That these oddballs would welcome me and mine into their family has cemented that my life in comics has been filled with some of the finest meals a man could dine on.

The Law Is A Ass

Bob Ingersoll: The Law Is A Ass #413

MATT MURDOCK HAS SOME INTERESTING CONFLICTS

Has this ever happened to you? You’re sitting there, minding your own business, reading your comic books, when something in the story makes you go, “Now, that’s not right!” Of course you have. You can probably count on the fingers of one hand, the number of times you’ve read recent comic books and haven’t found something that made you say that. And probably still have enough fingers left over for an obscene gesture.

I have a confession to make, I’ve done it, too. The difference being, when you do it you can complain on a message board or something. When I do it, then I get to do this…

So there I was minding my own business reading Jessica Jones #9. I had just gotten to the part where Sharon Carter, acting head of S.H.I.E.L.D., arrested Jessica Jones, the super heroine turned private investigator, and threw her into jail for being uncooperative. Oh, yeah, and for insulting Sharon’s hairdo. No, seriously, that’s why Sharon tossed Jessica in jail.

No, that’s not the part that made me say, “Hey, that’s not right.” I mean arresting Jessica for bad hair day in the first and throwing her into a cell on Ryker’s Island is not right, but this sort of thing has happened so often in recent comic books that I’m rather inured to it. What is it about being head of S.H.I.E.L.D.? First it turned first Maria Hill  and then Sharon Carter into ill-tempered, officious, untrustworthy tenants in Apartment 23  who think a Bill of Rights is what you pay when you buy from the remainder table of the Leftorium.

No, the thing in the story that gave me pause was when Jessica’s attorney showed up and got her released with a writ of habeas corpus. At least, I assume it was a habeas corpus. The story didn’t say, but I kind of doubt Jessica’s attorney used a Get Out Of Jail Free card. Those things were only honored by Warden Crichton on the old Batman TV series; and, judging how many repeat offenders that show had, with alarming frequency.

It also didn’t bother me that Jessica’s lawyer got her sprung from her bogus arrest by using the great writ; springing people from bogus arrests is exactly what habeas was writ for. No what bothered me was that Jessica’s lawyer was Matt Murdock.

Remember, the Purple Children made the world forget that Matt Murdock was Daredevil, meaning the New York State Bar Association forgot why it had disbarred Matt  and reinstated his license to practice law in New York, Matt has been an assistant district attorney in Manhattan. Matt doesn’t get people out of jail anymore, he puts them in jail. So for Matt to show up with a habeas corpus for Jessica would be a dubious course oops.

Could Matt have been representing Jessica through a private practice he maintained on the side to earn extra money? Probably not. Some jurisdictions do allow their assistant district attorneys to run a private practice on the side. I don’t know whether New York is one of those jurisdictions, but it really doesn’t matter. Even those jurisdictions that allow their prosecutors to have private practices on the side, don’t allow them to accept cases which would present a conflict of interests.

And that means district attorneys can’t usually handle criminal cases in their side practices. Courts tend to find conflicts when the same lawyer is actively trying to put criminals behind bars in the job while trying to keep them out of jail on the side. Even if there are no actual conflicts, lawyers are supposed to avoid the appearance of impropriety and earning money on both sides of the criminal justice system doesn’t do that.

Matt could write wills, do civil litigation, negotiate contracts, and that sort of thing. In The Unstoppable Wasp #6, Matt showed up as Nadia Pym’s immigration lawyer. Even that could be permissible. Criminal law and immigration law sometimes intersect, but not so often that being a prosecutor and an immigration attorney automatically cause conflicts of interest.

If Matt were representing an immigrant who was being deported because he or she was being prosecuted for a crime in New York, that would probably be a conflict of interests. But the conflict of interests decision would be made on a case-by-case basis and not require an automatic withdrawal. But Matt representing criminal defendants while also serving as a district attorney in New York? That’s as iffy as a Bread song.

Beside which, Matt is already in enough hot water with his boss at the District Attorney’s office. So, even if it weren’t a conflict of interests for Matt to represent criminal defendants in his side practice, I doubt he’d want to risk incurring his boss’s wrath even further by eating prosecute-to ham with a side of defense work.

And why did the story have to use Matt Murdock anyway? Jennifer Walters is a practicing attorney in New York City, she could have been Jessica’s attorney without the whole conflict of interest problems. Or maybe Jeryn Hogarth could have represented Jessica. Why, there’s even a Manhattan-based attorney in the Marvel Universe named Robert Ingersol. He could have represented Jessica. I happen to have personal knowledge that he could use the money.

Martha Thomases: Friends, Americans, Countrymen…

There comes a time, Constant Reader, usually on a Sunday afternoon, when I start to look at a few news sites to see what might interest you this week. Not just interest you, but provoke a reaction from me that might interest you. That’s because I love you, Constant Reader, and I want you to be amused… nay, more than that, I want you to live life to the fullest.

Especially as that life relates to comic books.

Some weeks, there are lots of stories from which to choose. Some weeks, there are very few. And some weeks, like this one, there are interesting stories that don’t seem to have any comic book relevance at all.

In fact, the only story that interests me at this moment, in terms of popular culture and the joys and stresses it can bring to us is this one about the Public Theater’s production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar that is part of its free Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte Theater http://www.centralpark.com/guide/attractions/delacorte-theatre.html in New York’s Central Park. As so often happens with productions by the Public Theater, and productions of Shakespeare plays throughout the centuries, Julius Caesar has contemporary political overtones. In this case, the play is staged to suggest certain similarities between Caesar and our current president. As you may know, if you passed your high school English literature classes, Caesar is assassinated.

Right-wing commentators were appalled and denounced the production, accusing it of promoting violence against the President. As a result, Delta Airlines and Bank of America pulled their support for Shakespeare in the Park.

And then, as if to answer my prayers, comic book writer Nick Spencer chimed in with his opinion. The story has a comic book hook! It’s appropriate for this column!

I don’t know Nick Spencer, nor am I particularly a fan of his work. I think it’s kind of adorable that he thinks readers who don’t want to buy his work is somehow parallel to corporate sponsors reneging on commitments they made, citing political reasons for an excuse, but, sure, if that makes him feel better, I’m happy for him. That he thinks his work is comparable to Shakespeare makes me think he may have been over-praised as a child.

Let me be clear: Delta Airlines and Bank of America are entirely within their rights to refuse to fund work with which they have problems. This is not censorship, just as advertisers pulling their sponsorship from Bill O’Reilly’s show was not censorship. Depending on the specific terms of these specific contracts (about which I know nothing), they should be able to do with their money as they wish.

In this case, however, I think they are being stupid. And I’m not the only one. That links to an editorial in the New York Daily News, which, for the record, endorsed Mitt Romney in the 2012 election.

Julius Caesar is a play about an assassination. It is about a leader who overreaches in his quest for power, and the reaction (and over-reaction) to his actions. It has been performed for centuries, and, frequently, audiences have remarked about its relevance to their particular political moment.

In my high school English literature class, we read the play, discussed it, and I don’t remember anyone interpreting it as advocating assassination as a solution to problems. I was at an Episcopal boarding school, where I would guess that most of my classmates and many of my teachers were Republicans, yet we did not disagree on this point.

This has also not been the interpretation of other productions of this play, including a recent one that imagined Caesar as an Obama-like figure . I don’t recall any calls for a boycott of that version.

Some people compared the Public’s Caesar to Kathy Griffin’s recent posting of a photo of her holding a prop of a bloody Trump head. I guess they are alike in that they upset a particular demographic, but I don’t think there are similarities beyond that. Griffin’s photo was, in my opinion, a stupid and graceless bid for attention. It did not engage in any discussion of any issue. It made no statement other than that Kathy Griffin sees herself as a fighter against Trump. I believe she had a right to post that photo, but I also think it added nothing to our national conversation about this administration.

That’s not the case with Shakespeare. The plays have lasted for centuries because they continue to reveal new things about human nature and human society. And, in this case, they bring a little more Corey Still into our lives, which is always a good thing.

Box Office Democracy: The Mummy

You would think Universal would be happy with the money they’re making.

The last two Fast & Furious movies made over a billion dollars each.  They were the top grossing studio in 2015 and this year are on track for a second place finish.  No one is worried about the studio going broke or the lot being shut down or even serious cutbacks at their amusement parks.  Things are good.  I have no idea why they feel the need to invest so much in this Dark Universe nonsense that gave us this version of The Mummy.

They take what could be a perfectly good story about a scary, driven, magical lady mummy and fill it with exposition for movies that won’t be out for years and a “shared universe” with nothing anyone has any real attachment to.  There’s no one out there dying for a Creature From the Black Lagoon reboot, but here we are with pregnant pauses on a jar with a flipper in it in hopes it becomes the next Avengers or some such nonsense.  The Mummy is overloaded with ideas and starved for coherent storytelling, and it’s not a good combination.

The Mummy opens, like all good movies about an ancient Egyptian monster, in 12th century England.  I’m not entirely sure why we need the movie to start with a bit about crusaders except to start laying pipe for the insane shared universe they start building to later, but whatever.  We quickly move to ancient Egypt and the story of Prnicess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), the titular Mummy, and her thwarted inheritance and the horrible revenge she took that led to her being turned in to the kind of being that lives more than 3000 years and throws curses every which way.  It’s an interesting story and her character is more immediately gripping than any of the other characters.  You have Tom Cruise in this movie playing an army officer who loots antiquities and the movie spends the whole time falling over itself to praise him for the smallest bit of human decency.  Then you have Annabelle Wallis as an archaeologist who spends so much time keeping and revealing secrets that we never get to an actual character.  We spend 70% of the movies with those boring nothings of characters, while a much more electric villain languishes on the sidelines causing wordless havoc.

I get that this is trying to build to some bigger set of movies and that you would much rather have Tom Cruise as your linchpin than Sofia Boutella, but it isn’t just star power that makes Robert Downey Jr. the best part of The Avengers, it’s that they give him things to say or do that feel like they matter.  As someone who sees a lot of movies and plans to continue to do so I’m interested in the story hooks they leave at the end of The Mummy, but I’m not excited to spend any more time in this world or with this thieving soldier turned supernatural figure if his defining character trait is going to be “mostly a prick but not to this one woman he slept with” for an indefinite number of films.  That said, he’s got some A+ costuming in the last scene and Cruise is the biggest movie star of a generation, so there’s reason to hope there.

Otherwise you’ve got a horror action movie that isn’t particularly scary and has few memorable action beats.  The sequence with the crashing airplane is wonderful and something I haven’t seen before.  Or, rather, it would be something I haven’t seen before if it hadn’t been in all the trailers.  Other than that, it has a bunch of zombie-esque chase beats, and a fight scene that was a redux version of Black Widow and the Hulk.  There were better action beats in the 1999 Brendan Fraser version and that movie wasn’t very good either.  We don’t even get a good Tom Cruise running sequence and why even hire the guy at that point.

The Mummy is a frustrating movie not because it’s objectively bad or anything but because it’s so very boring.  Maybe it wouldn’t be so boring if they hadn’t been compelled to cram so much material in to build to more Dark Universe films.  If the story they’re actually telling in this film had gotten more room, instead of being dedicated to stuff that might be in movies we never see after the poor box office reception this weekend, it could have been saved.  We could have gotten more time with the supporting characters that were more interesting than the mains.  We could have focused on the mythology we were interacting with here, instead of needing to tie all evil in to one amorphous blob we could draw on later or being force-fed quite so much Dr. Jekyll.  Rather than get a nearly two-hour commercial for a product I’m not sure I want, The Mummy should have tried harder to be something worthwhile in its own right.

Mike Gold: Adam West Saved More Than Just The Universe

ComicMix’s crack legal columnist Bob Ingersoll is more than just a lawyer with a great wit, although that would be enough. For decades, Bob has been my go-to guy on the subject of television minutiae. So, it came as no surprise when he was the first to tell me and a group of our friends that Adam West died.

Yep, that sucks. Last week at this time, it would have been difficult to find a nicer guy in show business. Most of us are well aware of West’s résumé and I won’t bore you with it at this late date. Here’s the IMDB link – be sure to come back now, y’hear? But there’s one fun fact we tend to overlook.

Adam West saved the American comic book industry.

It was not a great time for the comic book racket. The founding families still owned most of the big players – DC, Marvel, Harvey, Archie – and unless you were Dell Comics, you were pretty much entirely dependent upon newsstand sales. The problem was, the newsstands were disappearing faster than a speeding bullet. The mom ‘n’ pop candy, grocery and magazine stores were dying off like the last reel of a Michael Crichton movie. The neighborhood newsstand, a product of our larger cities, were being urban-renewed into oblivion. Local drug stores were vaporizing before our very eyes.

What replaced all this stuff were big chain stores and huge shopping malls. The problem with these places was profitability. These stores measure profit in “turns” or how fast the product sells, and in “per-square-foot” increments. In response, the Comics Magazine Association of America developed large spinner racks that could hold maybe 500 comic books in a few square feet. The problem here is that policing comic book racks is expensive and takes a lot of time, and there’s not much profit in a 10-cent item.

In response, in 1961 the publishers raised the cover price 20%. Too little, way too late. It turns out there’s not much profit in a 12-cent item, either.

Publishers had been going out of business since the market started to turn south in the late 1940s. By the mid-50s some of the big guys – Quality, Fawcett, Fiction House, EC Comics – no longer survived. You’d think Fredrick Wertham had written another book. Despite Marvel’s slowly growing success, things looked bleak indeed.

And then, in January 1966, ABC-TV started broadcasting a twice-weekly series titled Batman, starring Adam West. The show went through the roof… and virtually all of the surviving comics publishers started adding more superhero product to their line. And these books sold. Some outlets that didn’t carry comics started doing so. For the first time, paperback reprints from a wide variety of publishers became widespread. Tower Comics (T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, et al) burst onto the scene in the fall of 1965, just as the Batman hype was gathering steam. As such, they were a bit ahead of the curve.

Tower was joined by King Comics, Archie’s superhero imprint Mighty Comics, Lightning Comics (Fatman the Human Flying Saucer, Super Green Beret), and Myron Fass’s M.F. Enterprises (Captain Marvel, Eerie Publications – which was a horror imprint).

Television fads suffer from the laws of gravity, and the Batman craze only lasted a couple years. The other shows produced by Batman’s William Dozier either died after one year (Green Hornet) or never got off the ground (Wonder Woman, Dick Tracy). None of the aforementioned new publishers lasted very long, with the exception of Fass’s Eerie Publications.

However, in their wake, they left a much stronger DC Comics and an even stronger still Marvel Comics, particularly after Marvel got out from under their distribution deal with DC Comics’ Independent News Distributors – later known as Warner Publishing Services – in 1969.

I place the success of the Batman show and its dramatic impact on the American comic book publishing field at Adam West’s feet. Of course, if West had not been cast the program might have been as big a success. That’s something that we cannot divine. But Adam West did pull it off and he did so masterfully. West had the perfect approach for the material, simultaneously being heroic, “unknowingly” ironic, paternal, and strong of ability, spirit, and character. No easy feat.

More important, West had a great attitude about his work. After a brief period of trying to break out of the stereotype, he embraced the cape and cowl and renewed his work as Batman in television specials, in animated cartoons, and in public appearances. In fact, his last such effort – Batman vs Two-Face, starring West, Burt Ward, Julie Newmar and William Shatner as the titled bad guy – will be released later this year.

His death last week made the top of the CBS radio news. It received break-ins on all media and the headline zippers on cable news shows. It set the Internet ablaze. Adam West was, and remains, a part of our American culture.

Adam West was, and remains, a major part of comic book history.

Joe Corallo: A Superhero Mockumentary


Before I jump into this week’s column, I wanted to touch on Iceman #1 since I’ve mentioned it so many times prior to its release last Wednesday. It was a solid first issue and I really love how Sina Grace handled the dynamic between Bobby Drake and his parents. Give it a shot if you haven’t already!

Moving on… There is currently a Kickstarter up for a superhero mockumentary, Zero Issue. It’s being run by the New York Picture Company – Matt Cullinan, Zach Bubolo, and Jim Fagan. They have a little over a week left and have nearly reached their goal.

I got the chance to chat with Matt, Zach and Jim about Zero Issue, what inspires them, and where they got the tuxedos they wear in their Kickstarter video!

Joe: Thank you for taking the time to chat with me about your short film project, Zero Issue, Matt, Zach, and Jim! To start things off, can each of you give me a one-sentence pitch for Zero Issue?

Matt: Sure! Zero Issue is a superhero mockumentary about a loser hero trying to make a name for himself, and when his plans fail he has to figure out what lengths he’ll go to achieve fame.

Jim: I think mine would be “take every crippling fear of failure you have, mix it with your love of comic books and comedy, and watch them make a beautiful baby.”

Zach: I like that. Mine is “imagine if The Office, Chronicle, Avengers, and Best in Show were mashed into one movie, and you’ve got Zero Issue”.

Joe: You all list a lot of inspirations for this story in the Kickstarter which are great. How did this idea come to be though? Did one of you share the begins of an idea with the others, did you all have a eureka moment watching a movie together, or was it something else entirely?

Matt: Development was actually a long process.

Jim: Yeah, we were doing a lot of pitch creation for other people and we felt “hey, we need to go back to doing our own thing again…” we all knew we wanted to make a short film, share our voice with new people, connect to new parts of the industry… we just had to figure out what we wanted to say.

Zach: To generate ideas we actually use this collaborative process called “Design Thinking” and after rounds of brainstorming, cutting up magazines, writing ideas on post-it notes, we had a eureka moment in this coffee shop in Queens.

Jim: We were talking about genres we loved (and maybe it helped we were in Spider-Man’s home neighborhood of Forest Hills and next to a comic book shop) and we said: “what would our version of a superhero movie be?”

Joe: This is a superhero mockumentary. How did you decide that this was the best way to approach this particularly story?

Jim: I love the genre – it’s the reason I work in film and TV – that kind of story is the kind I’ve always wanted to tell: unfiltered, raw access to your characters. It takes any subject matter and makes it feel real and insanely funny. As far as the three of us go, it helps we have a shared obsession with the IFC show “Documentary Now” – once we knew Dale’s story and the story of this Superhero Festival we started thinking about an episode of Doc Now that shows you a whole world of an Al Capone Festival in Iceland in 22 minutes. It’s a perfect fit.

Zach: We also loved Taika Waititi’s What We Do in the Shadows (about vampire roommates in Wellington, New Zealand). That proved you could make a hilarious and compelling sci-fi story as a mockumentary.

Matt: Plus, early in our careers, Jim and I cut our teeth making reality and non-fiction television so as a genre we had a lot of experience executing it for networks.

Joe: The main character, Dale Dinkle, has super powers and wants to be famous. Can you tell us a bit more about Dale? What kind of things can we expect from Dale over the course of the story?

Zach: Dale is a bit of all three of us – he has a little bit of talent, he was told he’s special his whole life, and now he’s a 30-something and decidedly not special. He is desperate, confused, and disappointed that he hasn’t made it to the big time.

Matt: His power is that he can move objects with his mind – which is cool – but he’s not super powerful. He can’t float the Golden Gate Bridge like Magneto.

Jim: His mind-moving power is probably like Yoda in Empire. He could move an X-wing, but it would take a lot of effort… and he doesn’t tap into that until he gets a little dark side in him.

Matt: Ohh, is that a tease?

Jim: Maybe.

Matt: Over the course of the story expect of lot of him scrambling in desperation to prove how special and important he is.

Joe: What other kinds of characters and super powers can we expect to see in Zero Issue?

Jim: Another hero we’re excited for is Sarah Smith. If Dale represents the 90’s era superhero movies with ill-fitting nylon suits, she’s the Netflix-Snapchat era hero. No costume, just a cool attitude, and deadly powers.

Zach: She’s like Jessica Jones, but with the power of Phoenix.

Matt: But she gives no fucks. Which is awesome. Another aspiring hero is Hoover, a teen with a lot of social-anxiety. We thought that kind of character would be an original addition to the superhero genre.

Zach: He can literally suck the life out of a room, like Rogue, but he doesn’t absorb any powers. And like Sarah, he’s scared to fully use his powers.

Jim: The Zero Issue Universe is how our brains feel when we think about all the characters from all the decades of comic books we love. It’s like when you’re a kid and you take out your action figures from 12 different sets – X-Men, HeMan, Batman – they don’t care they’re from different “worlds” they just wanna kick some ass. Only in our movie, they attend symposiums on getting a superhero talent agent.

Zach: There’s the leather clad, machine gun wielding Miss Mayhem and Sir Chaos from the 80s, there’s Lady Marvelous, who is an aging Golden-Age hero from the 50s, and Hercules, the original superhero, who is literally from 200 BC.

Joe: Switching gears for a minute, there are a lot of Kickstarters out there lately and people like knowing that they’re pledging to accomplished professionals, which you all are. Could you each name one or two professional projects you’ve worked on that you’re particularly proud of?

Jim: Yeah, and we think that’s something special we bring to the project. This isn’t our first rodeo. We’ve made shows for networks and brands – I’m particularly proud of my work running a show for ABC called People’s List and my work on PBS’ Danny Elfman’s Music From the Films of Tim Burton.

Matt: A lot of my work is in the documentary television space. I probably peaked when my childhood dreams came true and I worked with Mark Hamill on a piece called Raiders, Raptors, and Rebels: Behind the Magic of ILM. I also recently wrote and produced When We Rise: The People Behind the Story for ABC.

Zach: As an actor I loved working on the video game Grand Theft Auto V, and as a producer, I’m actually going to say that I loved our work on NYPC for Cooking for One with the Crying Chef.

Matt: Plug!

Joe: Whenever comic book fans hear about someone doing a project about superheroes, they like to hear about the comic books that inspired them. What comics have you read over the years that gave you an appreciation for the superhero genre?

Zach: My dad was a comic book collector in the 80s, and he loved showing me the milestone issues of the comics he collected: like Silver Surfer #1 or when Spider-Man got the symbiote suit, or the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles by Eastman and Laird, or The Phantom. Recently, I’ve been really into Faith and the Ta-Nehisi Coates Black Panther series “A Nation Under Our Feet”.

Jim: I think my introduction was through Saturday morning cartoons. The X-Men show was pretty influential to me. Everyone hum the theme song to yourself, I’ll wait… good. And when the New 52 came out I was obsessed with the new spin on Aquaman. And in the past year or so, I’ve really liked the Star Wars comics, specifically the Darth Vader run.

Matt: Honestly, I feel like early on in life a lot of my exposure to the world of comics came through the world of video games. So X-Men was huge for me. I spent a lot of time playing those games on the Sega Genesis (shoutout to Nightcrawler). Even more than video games, movies have always been my gateway to comics: the Burton/Keaton Batman films, TMNT, and later Hellboy, Blade, and Spawn. And graphic novels. Oh, and Y: The Last Man. I’ll stop now.

Zach: Other non-comics, but books we love and that give us a deep appreciation of comic lore are Soon I Will Be Invincible and Grant Morrison’s Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human.

Joe: In the Kickstarter video you’re all wearing tuxedos. Did you rent them or do you own them?

Jim: Mine is my dad’s! It’s ill-fitting!

Matt: Yeah, I bought mine when I was a best man for a wedding. I give a helluva toast.

Zach: I ordered mine from Amazon. Only ninety dollars!

Jim: Less if you return it after!

Joe: Though the initial goal is to raise $30,000 you have a stretch goal of $100,000 to produce a full-length feature film instead and the script is already written. Can you tell us more about what we can expect in a feature film and why it’s so important that you make it to $100,000?

Matt: Yes, the dream is to make a feature. But to make a movie with lots of special effects and lots of locations, characters, and cool costumes you need a whole lot of cash.

Jim: The feature would focus not just on Dale but other aspiring heroes. In this short, we introduce you to Sarah and Hoover but in the feature, they take over a bit more. The short is Dale’s story, our story… the feature is a bit larger in terms of story. You would also see a lot more of the “normal,” the townsfolk, and how the divide between the two groups would become irreconcilable. Christopher Guest is a master of creating a movie with several leads that you’re all cheering for.

Matt: The short would be the first third of a larger story. We’d move past the point where our movie ends and follow these three characters as they develop beyond the competition and intersect when their powers have all matured.

Zach: We think the short is incredibly strong – we tell a compact story, with one lead and a huge supporting cast, in twenty-two minutes. It’s going to have everything you could want from a superhero story: powers, humor, characters you care about, and a climactic battle.

Joe: Thanks again for taking the time to chat with me about Zero Issue! Before we wrap this up, anything else you’d like to say about Zero Issue and where can people go to follow you on social media and follow Zero Issue and your future projects?

Zach: The best place for people to go right now is the Kickstarter page – no matter how much you give, whether it’s one dollar or one thousand, you’ll get on our mailing list and get all of our updates. Last week we released some insanely cool concept art early to our backers.
Matt: Plus you’ll be supporting the creation of a brand new superhero movie!

Jim: After the Kickstarter, the best place for all our news and updates is our Facebook page.