Category: Columns

Martha Thomases: Respect Is More Than Just A Song


You might be wondering what the ruckus raised by the release of the Access Hollywood Trump video has to do with comics.

As it happens, quite a lot.

You see, if you take the partisan politics out of it, if you don’t talk about what Democrats or Republicans think, the Trump video and the response to it gives you insights into what women in today’s America go through every single day.

I’m not saying that every single American man is as vulgar as Trump. I’m actually pretty crude myself, and have been known to engage in locker-room banter when I find myself among my fellow women in comics. In my experience (and I know I am not everyone), women’s locker room talk tends to be more about who has the worst cramps and not who is getting the most action. If there is a list of which men in comics are the most well-endowed or give the best head, it has not been shared with me.

However, using vulgar words is different from bragging about criminal conduct. When Trump talks about grabbing women by the pussy, he causes every woman in America to shudder. Being grabbed by one’s vulva is not sexy. It’s assault. It’s a man asserting dominance over a woman. And, as near as I can tell, all women have experienced it in some form or another.

Women are reminded on a daily basis that they are considered an assortment of body parts, not real people. As such, we are there for the taking, and grabbing is not the only way this happens. We are often physically threatened non-verbally, and accused of being “too sensitive” when we point out this behavior. If there was anything positive to say about Sunday’s debate, it’s that women called this out in public forums, and were believed.

This is not something that only happens to women running for president. It happens to every woman who tries to live publicly as a real person, not a beautiful object.

I said this would have something to do with comics, and it does. Comics, now more than ever, are part of show business. As you could see on the Access Hollywood tape, show business in this country, despite a reputation for “liberalism,” is in fact quite patriarchal, racist and sexist. Straight cis white guys, especially when they are celebrities, feel pretty much entitled to their positions at the top of the heap. And, because our industry is so small, it’s easier to be a celebrity in comics than almost any other field.

In my experience, this meant that my opinions were not seriously considered at meetings. My objections to particular characters or storylines were dismissed. My suggestions for how to grow the market were ignored. And when I needed to go to the bathroom, the women’s facility was identified by a life-size illustration on the door of a version of Catwoman who was as anatomically impossible as a Barbie doll.

Traveling for business was even more fraught with peril. My husband and son came with me a few times, when I had to go to someplace really nice, but most of the time, I was on my own. I could listen to conversations at the convention booth or at the hotel bar, and find out which of my female colleagues were considered the most attractive and/or the most attainable. No one ever made a move on me. I tend to go to bed early, so I might have missed the more drunken revels. Maybe I wasn’t ever enough of a threat to need conquering. Or maybe I’m so unattractive that I’m beneath contempt. Whatever the reason, I’m grateful.

This isn’t to say that every straight man who works in comics is a rapist, nor even a sexist. You don’t have to commit heinous acts to be part of the problem. You simply have to know about them and do nothing. You simply have to dismiss the experiences of your female colleagues as overreacting. You simply have to excuse a person with a known problem because he is popular or talented.

Just as African-American men must consider, every day, what they have to do to avoid getting shot by police, women (of all colors, nationalities, and affectional preferences) have to consider what they will do, or wear, or where they’ll go, and if any of those things will get them raped. All this mental and emotional energy could be better used at work, or in the kitchen, or on the playground with our kids. We could turn these energies to more creative pursuits.

If we treated each other with respect, as people, and not as stereotypes, we might get better comics out of it.

Tweeks Review Raina Telgemeier’s Ghosts

As you know, we’re HUGE Raina Telgemeier fans! Last month, her latest graphic novel, Ghosts was released by Scholastic and it really should be on everyone’s reading list this October!

Ghosts is about Catrina whose family moves to Northern California because her sister has Maya’s cystic fibrosis. As the sisters try to adjust to their new town, they meet Carlos who teaches them all about the ghosts who reside there too. Maya’s down with meeting ghosts, but Cat not much. Read the book to find out how it all goes down.

We also talk about how we feel about ghosts and about where this book rates with among our other Raina favorites!

Dennis O’Neil: More Mighty


So here I am, this slightly chilly afternoon in October, Columbus Day, as a matter of fact, not celebrating slavery, racism, the exploitation of indigenous peoples, imperialism – those are the values the sailor man represents, aren’t they? – just sitting in my (as always) messy office, thinking about Mighty Mouse.

marvel-mighty-mouseGuess we didn’t finish with the Mouse last week.

Maybe I’ll never finish with the Mouse, though I have no intention of writing a story about him nor will I be buying a DVD that presents his adventures, assuming such a thing exists. I mean, I can still remember him after all these years, so why would I forget him now?

Maybe it was his costume that drew my approval. It was pretty generic – tights, cape, little under pants worn on the outside, just like Superman and Batman – but it was the suit sported by an animal and, to my seven year old self, that made it special.. Oh, I enjoyed the other talking animals that cavorted across my neighborhood theater’s screen – Bugs and Daffy and Woody and Porky and Donald (the duck, not the politician) and another mouse, Mickey and maybe some others. But Mighty Mouse was something different: I might have called him, a bit inaccurately, sui generis, if I‘d ever encountered the term and had any idea what it meant.

I must have been aware that the costumed rodent was very, very similar to another kids’ entertainment, the comic book heroes. That caped clothing – it could have been an early version of what Superman wore. One way in which MM differed from Superman: the mouse’a outfit costume was restyled at least twice… although Superman’s threads did, in fact, change over time, I think we weren’t supposed to notice.

A person looking at Mighty might also be reminded of Captain Marvel and his family which included a creature mighty close to Mighty, Hoppy the Marvel Bunny. But the young me probably considered Hoppy a second stringer; he didn’t have his own comic book and he never made it into the movies. Yeah, nice enough but definitely an also ran.

Like his human counterparts MM eventually had a secret identity – Mike Mouse. He also had, over the years, three girlfriends, though I’m sure he saw only one at a time and accepted blame for the breakups. (Heroes are not cads.)

He was never a superstar, our Mouse, but he was fairly long-lived. He bopped around pop culture for decades in diverse venues: there were the 80 or so movie shorts, beginning in 1942 and ending in 1961 and a comic book, and in 1987 a Saturday morning television series. I assume that MM’s image also graced lunch boxes, maybe t shirts and pajamas, but I don’t really know – I was never lucky enough to own such treasures, if they existed.

Will Mighty again come to save the day? I guess it’s possible. But let’s agree that we can let him rest in limbo, at least for now.


Mike Gold: Hogan’s Weirdos

hogans-heroes-2We could spend the rest of this year debating which American teevee show has been the weirdest, but Hogan’s Heroes has got to make the top 10 list.

The high-concept: Hogan’s Heroes is the story of a group of Allied prisoners-of-war who operate a highly effective spy and sabotage operation from a bunker beneath their prison building during World War II. Okay, that’s kinda weird. It’s also kinda in bad taste. Its weirdness is abetted by several additional factors, not the least of which is… there’s some truth behind the laughs.

There really was a WWII POW named Robert Hogan who did time in a place called Stalag 13. He was Lt. Robert Steadham Hogan, a B24 pilot who was shot down on January 19, 1945 in while on a mission over Yugoslavia. Because he was an officer, Hogan was incarcerated in the Oflag 13 camp outside of Nuremberg because the Stalags were for enlisted men only. However, Oflag 13 was next door to Stalag 13, or, to be overly specific, Stalag 13D. He and his fellow prisoners had a contraband radio that was discovered by the Germans… but they were allowed to keep it because that’s how the Germans got their unfiltered news as well.

HOGAN'S HEROES, Bob Crane with thermos, lunchbox and comic book all product spinoffs from the show,Given that it was 1945, Hogan was a POW for a “mere” six months. The television show ran for six years, which, for you young ‘uns out there, was longer than the American participation in the War. Then again, Sgt. Rock fought that same conflict for about 35 years, give or take.

After the war, Hogan became a doctor in the Birmingham Alabama area. He enjoyed the teevee series, and, with his sons, met Bob Crane in 1966. However, the producers – obviously – maintain that all of this is a mere coincidence, albeit a fantastic coincidence.

Perhaps. But Hogan’s Heroes is weirder for other reasons as well.

Werner Klemperer, who played the notoriously bumbling commandant Col. Klink, fled Nazi Germany along with his father Otto, a famous orchestra leader in Germany. Werner also was classically trained, playing violin and piano and leading the Buffalo NY orchestra. Klink wasn’t Werner’s only Nazi role: he was a Nazi judge in the movie Judgment at Nuremburg, and he played the lead role in the movie Eichmann. According to IMDB, his last role was as the voice of Col. Klink in a 1999 episode of The Simpsons.

hogans-heroes-2-clipRobert Clary, who played Cpl. Louis LeBeau, was a French Jew (original name: Robert Max Widerman) who was incarcerated in the Nazi concentration camp at Ottmuth and was later sent to Buchenwald. Twelve other family members died in the camps. Like Klemperer, he had no problem performing in the Hogan’s Heroes series.

However, Leonid Kinskey did. He appeared as Russian POW Vladimir Minsk in the show’s pilot. When the show was picked up by CBS, Kinskey bailed. Upon reflection, he thought there was nothing funny about POW camps. He had a long and rich career in both movies and television, and is perhaps best known for his performance in Casablanca.

Finally, Hogan’s Heroes was so successful it fostered a Dell comic book of the same name. The artist on many issues was the co-creator of Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, and many other great comic books.

Yep. Steve Ditko drew Hogan’s Heroes!

Box Office Democracy: The Birth of a Nation

I don’t particularly like movies that are graphic depictions of historical atrocities. I don’t like movies about the Holocaust or particularly gritty war movies or, as in this case, slavery. I don’t have a problem learning about troubling historical periods through nonfiction, but there’s something that feels exploitative about going over human misery so exhaustively. I get that there are probably people learning about these things for the first time any time one of these movies comes out; someone is undoubtedly seeing The Birth of a Nation and only now seeing how brutal slavery was. It feels unendingly elitist to say that this potential educational value is useless, or exceptionally privileged to say that a African-American writer/director shouldn’t tell a historical story of his people’s suffering, but I don’t have to want to watch it.

While I find it unpleasant, there’s a lot of good film-making in here. Nate Parker has a command as a director that belies his relative inexperience. He gets the best performance out of himself, but Aja Naomi King and Armie Hammer are both doing work deserving of high praise. Moreover there are so many small, practically speechless, parts that feature exceptional facial expressions, the kind of subtle things that I don’t associate with novice directors. With the exception of the assault on the armory, which I found confusing and a tad muddled, the shot composition is uniformly excellent. I particularly liked the way they frame the various plantation houses to quickly convey information about the inhabitants; I didn’t realize I knew so much about architecture and maybe I don’t, but Birth of a Nation sort of convinced me I do.

I don’t have the historical background to get in to the accuracy of the movie with any authority at all. I’ve read a few articles about it and rather than attempt to get into detail I will just say that there are a lot of things that happen in the film that have no relation to contemporary accounts. I don’t believe that films have an obligation to be accurate to real life but there are a few choices that damaged the narrative for me a little bit. They got out of their way to show Turner’s master becoming a more cruel man as time goes on and that cruelty inspiring Turner to begin his revolt. This is apparently not backed up by historical fact, and sort of makes the case that it’s this mistreatment that justifies the revolt rather than the general horribleness of slavery. This is the cinematic equivalent of the “most slaves were well-treated and provided with food and shelter” argument you see from gross historical revisionists. Owning another human being is terrible enough to demand retribution without any other extenuating circumstances. The other thing that jumped out at me were the pair of sexual assaults that also seem to be unsupported by the records. At best it feels like taking agency away from female characters and imperiling them to give motivation to the male characters, a practice we should discourage. At worst we could look in to Parker’s past and draw a number of unspeakable conclusions. I wish someone had talked them into cutting this way down.

I’m thrilled that Hollywood is starting to let people of color make movies about their histories of oppression. It’s strongly preferable to the previous policy of letting white people tell everyone’s story for them. I don’t want these opportunities to dry up (but maybe Parker is revealing himself to be a kind-of gross person who should not be benefiting from this) but this isn’t a movie for me. It’s heavy-handed and overwrought and while there are some amazing moments they all feel too isolated to constitute a fulfilling moviegoing experience.

Joe Corallo: Comic Con Narrowly Misses The Point


This week’s column marks my one-year anniversary of doing this at ComicMix. Though I’m tempted to do a year in review, this past weekend was New York Comic Con so that idea is going to have to be put on hold for at least a week.

I started Thursday morning by getting to the Javits Center around 9:00 am. After going through a few different lines, getting my bag checked, getting my badge scanned, and waiting on another couple of lines, I was in by about 10:15 am. I hit the show floor and did the rounds. At 11:00 am I went to my first panel.

joegeeksoutBody of Evidence: How We See Ourselves in Comics had panelists ranging from librarians, comic creators, a performer and my friend David Baxter, as well as a physician discussing healthy body image in comics as well as touching on disabled representation. Most of the disabled representation revolved around the character of Oracle and a point that fellow ComicMix columnist Martha Thomases has made with me before: while it’s great to have disabled representation, why is it that a woman isn’t able to heal from her exploitive attack in a world where Batman breaks his back and recovers?

While the panel had passionate panelists making interesting points, the panelists were noticeably cis, able bodied, and white or white-passing (David is half Native American). That doesn’t take away from the points they were making, but seeing people of color, trans, and disabled people share their experiences would have been helpful and enlightening. Especially at a convention that ejected Jay Justice, a queer disabled person of color, from a panel because they couldn’t accommodate the scooter she needs to get around.

That panel was far from the only one that suffered from some lack of diversity. Along with fellow ComicMix columnist Molly Jackson, I attended the Wonder Woman 75 panel on Friday. The panel was majority male, and almost exclusively white with the exception of the legendary Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, who frustratingly talked the least during the panel. And despite Greg Rucka being on the panel, Wonder Woman being confirmed as queer was never mentioned. Perhaps it would have been during a Q&A, but the panel ended early without one. As one of I’m sure many queer people in attendance, saying that was disappointing would be an understatement. You’d think with Wonder Woman being on the cover of this year’s NYCC program for NYCC would have provided some motivation.

That night while waiting in line for another event, I was discussing the Wonder Woman 75 panel with a friend when two people on the line in front of me interjected. They told me how they attended the Queer Culture: LGBT Presence in Pop Culture panel and to their surprise the panel was exclusively cis white men, or at very least white-passing. Beyond that they discussed how that was a similar experience they had at other panels.

young-animalFriday was also the day of the DC’s Young Animal panel, and if you’ve been reading my column over the past year you could probably guess that was on the top of my list of panels to attend. The panelists included creators Gerard Way (Doom Patrol, Cave Carson Has A Cybernetic Eye), Nick Derington (Doom Patrol), Jody Houser (Mother Panic), and Marley Zarcone (Shade, the Changing Girl). This particular panel was packed and had a very enthusiastic crowd. Fans of Gerard Way hung onto his every word as he talked about how the Young Animal imprint came to be and gave previews of the books to come. They even handed out a cassette (you read that right) with a new song of his. The highlight for me was during the Q&A when someone asked about queer representation and Gerard discussed how he has been talking with Rachel Pollack about her run and Coagula in particular and bringing her back. When he had mentioned how Coagula was a trans superhero the packed panel room cheered. This goes to show how starved people are for trans representation and further pushes the point I and others have been making for some time now; reprint Rachel Pollack’s run on Doom Patrol.

While I did enjoy the DC’s Young Animal panel quite a bit, it was again an all cis white panel. For this particular panel, similar to the Wonder Woman panel, it was because of the creators that were available or asked. The only way to have more diverse panels is to have more diverse creators.

And they shouldn’t be limited to diversity specific panels. The goal of those panels is to raise awareness. The idea is for panels on diversity to be a starting point of a conversation, not the ending point. We can see that with panels like Marvel: 50 Years of Black Panther featuring different creative minds behind the character, as well as the panel on Luke Cage. When you have people of color working on comics, they get to be on the panels to discuss them. We desperately need more of that not just because it’s right, but to ensure a future for comics.

The future of comics does not encompass the same demographics as before. Women, people of color, queer people, disabled people, and people that cover more than one or all of the above are reading comics. They want representation, and they want a seat at the table. That’s not to say they never read comics before, but many didn’t because they didn’t see people that looked like them or they didn’t tell stories that were in any way relatable. Straight cis white guy with superpowers trying to get the girl doesn’t really speak directly to the experiences of many of the groups I mentioned even in metaphor. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve talked to in recent years who finally got into comics through small publishers and webcomics finally representing people like them because they honestly didn’t believe comics as a medium represented them.

new-york-comic-con-nycc-2016-featured-imageBefore I left NYCC on Saturday I got to be a guest at the Geeks OUT! Booth selling copies of my new comic as well as signing copies of their anthology I had been in last year. In the couple of hours I was at the booth, people of all different backgrounds came over and gushed over the items they were selling, like a t-shirt saying “Strong Female Character.” Many also stopped to take a preferred pronoun sticker from the table. They’d ask if they were free, and many asked if it would be okay to take an extra one for a friend. People were thrilled that a group like Geeks OUT! Was considerate enough to create stickers like these for everyone.

As comics fandom is becoming more mainstream and more diverse, comics need to keep up with these changes. NYCC 2016 is a good example of some efforts to keep up with those changes… but not getting there quite yet.

What Mindy Newell Is Watching…


Well, the fall television season has begun, which means I’ve been watching the return of my favorite series and the premiere of new shows that have tickled my interest. Here’s a rundown.

Timeless (Mondays, 10 P.M., NBC)

Everyone who reads this column regularly knows that I’m a nut for alternate history and time-travel stories, so of course I was going to check out Timeless, which premiered last week, October 3… and, of course, I missed it. So on Saturday I logged onto Hulu and caught up.

The premise is a familiar one to science fiction geeks like me – what happens to our present if someone goes back and either deliberately or accidentally changes the history we know? This is best illustrated, at least for me, by Ray Bradbury’s classic and beautifully written “A Sound of Thunder,” in which a big game hunter travels back to the Jurassic era to stalk a Tyrannosaurus Rex, accidentally kills a butterfly, and returns to his present to find the world he knew has changed, both in subtle and overt ways. Although the term was not coined by physicists and other scientists until the 1960s by chaos theory pioneer Edward Norton Lorenz – when he noted that small changes in the initial conditions of hurricane formation would change the outcome of that hurricane, i.e., time of formation, wind speed, path – this has become known as the butterfly effect, which essentially states that even an infinitesimal alteration in primary conditions will change the outcome. (This leads me to believe that Lorenz read “A Sound of Thunder” at some time in his life; if he hadn’t – one small change – the phenomenon might be called something else.)

When a secret government-funded time travel machine is stolen by a “bad guy,” a misaligned team is assigned to follow him and stop his nefarious plans to alter the time line: a historian, a Delta Force soldier, and a computer coder. But how can they follow him? Turns out that there is an earlier, less sophisticated time machine, an alpha model, that has been kept in mothballs “just in case” [a rescue was needed]. This more primitive device can take the team to the same time period, but can’t lock on to the exact coordinates of the newer version.

Yes, it’s a big “coincidence.” But what the hell – without this, uh, contrivance, there would be no show, right?

There is a lot in Timeless that we have seen before. The facility where the time machine is kept looks like every secret government facility ever seen on The X-Files; the machine itself sits isolated in front of a bank of monitors and computers manned by technicians as in Stargate (and Stargate-SG1); and the gears of the apparatus turn and spin around the command pod as it warms up for its leap, reminding me of the “worm-hole opener” in Contact. Oh, and speaking of leaps, I kept thinking of Quantum Leap, too. But by now, if you’re any sort of fan of science fiction, it’s not so much the ingredients. To misquote another time traveler by the name of Clara Osborne, the soufflé is the soufflé.

The first jump is to May 6, 1937, the day of the Hindenburg explosion. ‘Nuff said, for those of you who haven’t seen Timeless, yet; although I will add a little spice by saying that the “bad guy” may not be so bad after all.

Also, Timeless plays with butterflies.

All in all, I enjoyed it, but like I said, I’m an easy mark for time-travel stories.

Designated Survivor (Wednesdays, 10 P.M., ABC)

From Wikipedia: In the United States, a designated survivor (or designated successor) is an individual in the presidential line of succession, usually a member of the United States Cabinet, who is arranged to be at a physically distant, secure, and undisclosed location when the President and the country’s other top leaders (e.g., Vice President and Cabinet members) are gathered at a single location, such as during State of the Union and presidential inaugurations. This is intended to guarantee continuity of government in the event of a catastrophic occurrence that kills the President and many officials in the presidential line of succession. If such an event occurred, killing both the President and Vice President, the surviving official highest in the line, possibly the designated survivor, would become the Acting President of the United States under the Presidential Succession Act.”

Tom Kirkland, U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, is watching the President deliver the State of the Union on television when an explosion rips through the Capitol building, destroying it and killing everyone inside it. Tom Kirkland, the designated survivor, is now the President of the United States.

Designated Survivor star Kiefer Sutherland is no stranger to political thrillers; as Counter Terrorist Unit agent Jack Bauer on the seminal 24, he always knew what to do and when to do it; “squeamish” was most definitely not a word in Bauer’s dictionary. But this show isn’t about President Jack Bauer; Tom Kirkland is a not a natural-born hero – far from it. Instead of immediately “manning up” and taking charge, Kirkland is overwhelmed; in the White House, excusing himself from a rambunctious and loud meeting where everyone is yelling over each other, Kirkland excuses himself, ducks into a bathroom, and throws his guts up.

And it works. Jack Bauer, as mesmerizing as he was, was a toy soldier, an antidote to an American public still reeling in shock from 9/11 (although the show was already on Fox’s schedule before that horrible day) and in need of a G.I. Joe who would take our collective revenge upon the bad guys. Tom Kirkland is an ordinary government bureaucrat, perhaps a bit more idealistic, earnest and dedicated than most, who doesn’t really fit into the cut-throat world of Washington politics; in fact, early in the first hour we learn that he’s been “shifted” from the office of HUD – read “fired” – and offered a job as Ambassador to the Canadian Coast Guard (or something like that – Kirkland wants to know if there really is a Canadian Coast Guard.) Kirkland reacts the way most of us really would, as in “What the fuck?” and “Stop the world, I want to get off!” Simply put, Jack Bauer is the fantasy; Tom Kirkland is the real deal.

Kai Penn, late of House and the real West Wing – quit acting for a time to work for the Obama administration as Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement – plays Seth Wright, a junior speechwriter for the late President whom Kirkland hires as chief speechwriter after their embarrassing meeting in the bathroom where Kirkland was puking in one stall while Wright opined on the inadequacies of the new President in another.

But Wright isn’t the only one wary of Kirkland’s aptitude for the office. Just about everyone is questioning his ability, to the point of ad nauesum, if you ask me. (Is there no one – except his family, of course – who wants to help Kirkland step up to the job?) But the biggest fly in the ointment – im-not-so-ho – of what could be an absolutely terrific series is the “General Angryman” (as Entertainment Weekly writer Ray Rahman calls him), who, at least right now, is the caricatured hawk to Kirkland’s (supposed) dove. “General Angryman” wants to display American certitude and force by bombing the shit out of anyone and everyone who has ever name-called America – specifically Iran, whose Navy is apparently making forays into the Strait of Hormuz, threatening the world’s oil supply.

Seriously, I am really hoping that the writers are throwing us for a loop, because this guy is beyond Dr. Strangelove.

I’ve seen all three episodes of Designated Survivor, and while I’m liking it, there are problems, the most important one being – again, im-not-so-ho – that there doesn’t really seem to be anyone interested in putting country before politics (well, except for Kai Penn’s character) in helping President Kirkland establish the “continuity of government” that the role of “designated survivor” is meant to do. But considering the way we were bamboozled into Iraq by a real administration that put politics before country, and the way the two current leaders of the Republican party are refusing to disavow their current Presidential candidate, again putting politics ahead of country – well, perhaps the fictional roadblocks facing the fictional President Kirkland aren’t all that, well, fictional.

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (Wednesdays, 9 P.M., NBC)

SVU is now in its 18th season, and while some may say that the show has seen better days, I would argue that it has matured like fine wine. I can’t say exactly what it is about that show that makes me addicted to its current incarnation as well as all its reruns on USA network and other channels, but I am hooked on it like a patient with chronic back pain is hooked on Oycondone.

Supergirl (Mondays, 8 P.M., CW)

The Girl of Steel premieres tonight on its new network home, but who hasn’t seen the “sneak peek” on YouTube (or other web sites) featuring Kara and her cuz’?

Like so many others, I was surprised when Supergirl was announced as a CBS show; it was such an outlier for that network. Like so many others, I was, well, relieved when I heard that the CW had picked it up; not only because it wasn’t cancelled permanently from our screens, but because the CW has become a natural home for a show based on a comic book, and do I really need to specify that statement?

Here are some quotes from Entertainment Weekly’s interview with Executive Producer Andrew Kreisberg on the future of Supergirl, with my opinions thrown in for good measure:

There is going to be a change in the show that I think is a natural progression in a show that’s growing up. We were really blessed with The Flash – The Flash came out fully formed; that show knew what it was very early on. The experience of Supergirl is more akin to the experience we had on Arrow, where we knew there was a great show in there, and every once in a while we made a great one, but it wasn’t until the back half of that first season – and certainly the beginning of season 2 – that we really felt like we had a handle of what that show was creatively. That’s how we feel about Supergirl, that towards the end of last year, the characters were really coming to life and we were really starting to tell the right stories.”

Me: No PR bullshit here, Kreisberg is absolutely right about the second half of the series.

“Now with season 2, we really feel like this show has gotten, I always say, bigger and smaller; it’s gotten bigger in terms of what we’re able to accomplish in terms of the scope of the show, but it’s also gotten smaller in terms of the characters. We are able to go to deeper places, richer places, and to some places that I think are unexpected.”

Me: Oh, boy, do I really hope that this is absolutely not PR bullshit!

“Because it was the first female superhero on TV in a long time, and then the first female superhero especially in the current explosion of comic book properties, the show had expectations to it and the show had preconceived notions, and the show had I don’t want to say limitations, but everybody had an opinion on what a female superhero should do and be and say. I think all of us collectively as a studio, as a network, as showrunners [sic], as cast, we all got locked into answering that question a lot at the early stages. 

Me: See my first column about the show. Oh, the girl was just so adorably perky. Gagged me with a spoon. If I hadn’t loved the character so much my whole life I would never had stuck with it.

Kara will be traveling from her dimension to our dimension, ‘our’ being the world that The Flash, Arrow, and Legends lives in.”

Me: The Flash episode totally rocked!!!! Probably responsible for saving the series, and also probably responsible for the realization that Supergirl belonged on the CW. But it’s Supergirl. Not Supergirl and… Please remember that. Please don’t forget that. Please, please, please let Kara stand on her own two feet.

“…we come into season 2 and she feels like she’s got a handle on being Supergirl – it’s everybody else in her life that she feels like, ‘How can I be a girlfriend? What am I supposed to do with my career? How can I be there for my sister?’ So it’s all the Kara stuff that’s really the tough stuff early on, and that’s where Clark comes in. We say it’s like becoming a parent, where when you were a kid, your parents knew everything and then you become an adult and you’re like, ‘I’m lost, I don’t know what to do.’ You realize that neither did your parents; they were making it up as they went, they just presented themselves as knowing it all even if they were dying inside. That’s one of things that Kara says, like, ‘I know how to be Supergirl, but I don’t know how to do any of this other stuff. But Clark, he makes it look easy, he’s Superman, he’s a great reporter, he’s a great boyfriend. How does he do it?’ And Clark says, ‘I’m making it up as I go, too. It’s all about balancing it and it’s all a day-to-day thing. Just because I make it look easy, doesn’t mean that it is.’ So Kara is really growing up this season, that’s really her journey.

Me: Superman is cool. The trailer was cool. But, again, just remember that this is Supergirl. Not Supergirl and Her Cousin, Superman. There really is a lot there to explore, lots of great story possibilities. Don’t fuck this up.

“Alex is struggling with Clark being in town. It sets up this interesting dynamic where she has been everything to Kara; she’s her family, and she has a little bit of a chip on her shoulder about Clark. She loves him, he’s family and she knows he loves them, but he left Kara on their doorstep. Kara is so excited to see Clark and so excited to be with him, but it’s almost a little bit like Alex feels taken for granted, because she’s the family member who’s put in the time. It sets up an interesting conflict between her and Kara in the first couple of episodes.”

Me: This is great. But it sounds like it’s going to be resolved by the end of the second episode. No, no, no! Played right (like not focusing on it constantly, spreading it out over 22 episodes), it would make a great full-season arc.

“Really this year is about coming into one’s own and becoming who you are. In a way, all of the characters are dealing with that. Kara is certainly dealing with that at work; Winn is becoming who he is by working at the DEO; J’onn is stepping out and embracing more being the Manhunter, which is something that he spent 300 years hiding, but now he doesn’t have to hide that anymore.”

Me: But where’s Cat Grant? Oh, no! She’s been reduced to a recurring character! That totally sucks! (And I still think she knows that Kara Danvers is Supergirl.)

sgsat_ac281_3One story I would love to see – selfishly because it’s a favorite of mine – brought to the series is “Supergirl’s Secret Enemy,” by Jerry Siegel and Jim Mooney, and which ran from Action Comics #279, August 1961 to Action Comics #281, October 1961.

Lesla-Lar is a low-level scientist who lives in the bottle city of Kandor (Okay, we haven’t established Kandor on the show, but that could be worked around.) Already on the emotional edge, being forced to live in Kandor while watching Kara live a life not defined by the walls of a bottle drives her over the cliff; she figures out a way to switch places with her. (I forgot to mention that she looks exactly like Kara.) The process robs Kara of her memory; she believes she is Lesla-Lar while the real Lesla-Lar lives her life on Earth, assuming the role of Supergirl so successfully that everyone, including her cousin, is unaware of the old switcheroo. How will Kara escape?

The budget would probably be way too much for the show to handle, and I would hate for it to have the bare-bottom look of the adaptation of “For the Man Who Has Everything.” But it would still be a great story to run, especially during the “sweeps” ratings months.

Im-not-so-ho, of course.


Ed Catto: Frank Robbins

detective_429_pg4_1000When I was a kid I’d make the trek to Lewis’ Drug Store to buy comics with my allowance money. Maxwell’s Food Store had a better selection, but that was on the other side of the treacherous “Five Points” intersection, and I wasn’t yet allowed to cross that on my own.

Detective Comics, starring Batman, was a favorite, and you can make a case that some of the very best Batman stories were appearing each month during that early 70s period. They were fantastic thrillers by Denny O’Neil, Neal Adams, Irv Novick, with the occasional Michael Kaluta or Bernie Wrightson cover. I didn’t know how good I had it.

So you can imagine my surprise when I picked up Detective Comics #429 and looked at the interior story’s artwork by Frank Robbins. I remember thinking “Is this a joke?” and “Is this a Golden Age reprint?” His cartoony figures and heaving brushwork was unlike anything I had ever seen. It was not my cup of tea, to put it mildly. In fact, I thought it was hideous.

johnny-hazard-ad“Besides, isn’t this ‘artist’ Frank Robbins guy really a writer?” I thought. I had recognized his name as the writer credited to so many cool Batman mysteries. My pre-teen brain immediately declared he should stick to writing. I thought he was an awful artist.

I seem to remember a few issues later, in the letter’s page, a fan wrote that he felt the same way. Like me, that fan didn’t know what to make of Robbins’ artwork. One of his snarky comments stuck with me: he said that Batman looked as if he had just finished working on the Batmobile’s engine and was covered in grease!

But things change. And in this case, it wasn’t the artist and it wasn’t the artist’s work. It was me.

Over the years, I’ve grown to appreciate Frank Robbins. He’s now one of my favorites.

As my tastes have matured, I’ve grown to realize that there are so many types of art. It’s so much more than just “who can draw the most realistically.” Way back when, Neal Adams was probably my favorite artist. He probably still is one of my very top favorites (as both an artist and as a person). But with age, one develops an appreciation for different artists’ skills and visions.

I’m not the only child of the 70s that has learned to love Frank Robbins’ work later in life.

hazard-sundayFrank Robbins has a flavor that’s all his own. Oh, many will point out that he’s from the same school as Milt Caniff and Noel Sickles, but I think he’s more than that. I think he’s gone beyond that wonderful style and his artwork has established its own coherent universe.

Contemporary artist Chris Samnee is the same way. He’s clever and pushes the envelope routinely. When I read a Samnee story, I feel like there’s a whole Samnee universe out there. A universe where all the visuals fit together and more importantly, are fascinating and beautiful to behold.

Mark Waid, Samnee’s frequent collaborator, recently told me “Chris Samnee is one of the most talented storytellers I’ve ever had the privilege of working with. His linework is spot-on, the way he spots blacks and uses contrast is masterful, but it’s his ability to tell the most story with the least amount of extra lines that I most appreciate. It’s a lean look without an ounce of fat.”

As usual, Mark is spot-on.

I’m not yet ready to argue that Frank Robbins is the Golden Age Samnee or that Chris Samnee is the modern age Frank Robbins, but I’m getting close. In reality, both artists’ work is brilliant and can be enjoyed without any forced comparisons. But you get the idea.

And that’s why I’m loving Hermes’ Press Frank Robbins’ Johnny Hazard: The Newspaper Dailies collection. This adventure strip ran for an astounding 33 years – from 1944 to 1977. Again, it was initially cut from the same cloth as Caniff’s Steve Canyon or Sickles’ Scorchy Smith. But in reality, Johnny Hazard started more like Indiana Jones and ended up more like a Sean Connery 007 movie.

johnny-hazard-vol-1-coverThis wonderful newspaper comic strip jumped right into the action, as Johnny Hazard was a WWII pilot. These gorgeous Hermes volumes start with the very first strips.

I’m very appreciative of the format of these books. They are landscape style with two daily strips per page. Robbins artwork has an extreme sense of urgency, but there’s so much detail that the reader is caught up in this wonderful push-pull. On the one hand, you can’t wait to find out what happens next, but on the other hand, the eye is lured into lingering over the figure work, the lush backgrounds, the stunning aircraft art or Robbins’ pretty girls. These books fulfill each of these artistic interests.

And while I’ve been gushing about Robbins’ artwork, I’m surprised how much I enjoy the characterization of the initial female lead. Brandy, a love interest introduced early in the Johnny Hazard continuity, is fresh and fun. She’s a plucky mix of Eve Arden’s confident wit mashed up with Veronica Lake’s stylized sexiness. She’s a memorable character and I want to see more of her adventures.

an-inky-samnee-illustrationI recently spent some time reviewing original Frank Robbins pages from the 60s. By that time, his style had progressed and he became masterful with his rendering and pacing of the globetrotting adventures. It’s astounding how comfortable Robbins was rendering everything from downtown Hong Kong to mountain climbing adventures – sometimes back to back.

But the Hermes collection showcases work from years before that. Right now, four volumes are available and the fifth one is scheduled for this November. The good news is that with the abundant adventures that Johnny Hazard enjoyed, there’s years of material to be collected.

In retrospect, it’s a shame that it never made the leap to other media. A radio adventure or a 60s TV show seem like no brainers. Johnny Hazard toys and merchandise would have been fun. Why wasn’t there a Big Little Book? Why were his forays into comic books so rare? At the very least, in ’66, Johnny Hazard should have had his own Captain Action costume set.

My younger self wouldn’t believe that my middle-aged self would be so enthusiastic about Frank Robbins artwork. But then again, I used to think girls were icky and wine tasted awful. I’m grateful for my maturing tastes.

Hermes Press Johnny Hazard: The Newspaper Dailies Volume 5 is available November 29, 2016. Like all this series, this is reproduced entirely from the King Features Press Proofs.


John Ostrander’s Picking Favorites


Last weekend I was at the Geek’d Con in Rockford, Illinois. It was a small first time con and it had some things to work out, but over all it went okay.

I really enjoyed the fans but, for me, the big moment was when my niece, Julie Adams, showed up with her husband Rob and their three kids, Rachel, Hailey, and Ryan. They even sat in on the Q&A panel I did on Saturday and, bless ‘em, asked some questions themselves. And, as is typical with kids and especially kids who are relatives, a question or two were tough to answer.

The big one I was asked (by Hailey, as I recall) was, “Which of your characters is your favorite?” Deceptively simple, that question. “That’s like asking a parent which is their favorite child,” I replied, glancing at Julie and Rob. Both grimaced.

I’m not sure that answer completely satisfied Hailey (or her brother and sister) so I did explain a little more. “This may sound like a cop-out but it’s whatever character that I’m working on right now. It has to be that way. I need to be that excited about the character I’m working on if the story is going to be any good.”

Okay, I admit it was a bit of an evasion but it’s true; I really can’t pick just one of my characters as my favorite. That said, I can name several of the characters that I’ve worked on as among my favorites. One, obviously, is Amanda Waller of the Suicide Squad. There was no-one like her when she first showed up some thirty years ago and there’s really been no-one like her since. She doesn’t mess around; she has a vision and she goes after it. She uses people (villains mostly but not exclusively) and if someone has to die to get the job done, she’ll sacrifice them without a second thought. As Deadshot in the movie says of her, “That is one mean lady.”

Thing is, I’ve never thought of her as an outright villain. An anti-hero, certainly, but she does have something of a conscience. She’s kept people around to call her on her bullshit. What they say may not change what she does but, as she has said at least once, “Just because I don’t do what you say doesn’t mean I’m not listening.” She’s more of an interesting character if she has a sliver of a conscience; otherwise, she’s a sociopath.

Two others on the Squad also qualify among my favorites – Deadshot and Captain Boomerang. With Boomerang, it’s that he’s actually well-adjusted (more or less); he knows he’s scum and he’s happy being that. He has no desire to be better than who he is. Every time you think he’s sunk as far as he can go, he finds another level to which he can fall. Deadshot just doesn’t care – period. I don’t see him as having a death wish. I think he just doesn’t care if he lives or dies and that, IMO, gives him a lot of power.

I also really enjoyed working with Father Richard Craemer, both in the Squad and in The Spectre. He’s a good man, a good counselor, with a good sense of humor (useful when dealing with nigh omnipotent Spectre). My late wife, Kim Yale, and I created him and based him on religious people we knew in our respective families who also were good people.

I even enjoyed the cannon fodder in the Squad – characters brought in to be killed off. I had to invest something in them in order to make those deaths mean something and have an impact on the reader. One of my faves among these was Shrike (Vanessa Kingsbury); an innocent mass killer, she felt she was Born Again even though she couldn’t help killing more people as she went on. She weirded the heck out of Father Craemer.

Minor characters like Punch and Jewelee also among our faves. More than a little nuts, they were like criminal yuppies from hell.

I could go on at great length about some of the other characters in the other series that I’ve done over the years but this column is long enough (and late enough) as it is. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one very big name – John Gaunt. GrimJack.

You could say in a way that he was my first born. I had written four 8 page back-ups in Warp and one full length story in Starslayer when GrimJack debuted in the back of the latter title. He was my first original creation in comics, influenced in equal parts by Robert E. Howard and Raymond Chandler. A hard-boiled barbarian working out of the multi-dimensional city of Cynosure, I could place him in almost any setting and make it work. We even did a time traveling Western.

He was also a scar-faced Cupid. Kim and I knew each other before GrimJack but we were just friends. She was also a big fan of the book and it was one particular issue, “My Sins Remembered,” that really got to her. She wrote to me (although at the time she lived less than a mile away) and we went out for coffee and we talked about the issue and what had affected her so much. She opened up to me and I found myself connecting to her in ways I hadn’t before. About seven months later, when I proposed, Gaunt was a part of that presentation (including a GrimJack teddy bear). So, I guess, gun to my head (which Gaunt is certainly capable of doing) maybe he is my favorite. Along with his supporting cast. And his next incarnation.

See how difficult this is?

Right now, my favorite characters are Kros (from Kros: Hallowed Ground which I’m doing with Tom Mandrake) and Hexer Dusk (which I’m doing with Jan Duursema) because those are the ones I’m working on at the moment. You can find samples of both on Indiegogo and even pre-order the books if so inclined.

I’m also starting a new love affair for a project I’m working on with Mike Gold. It’s not announced yet so I can’t really tell you much about it but my enthusiasm is mounting.

I just can’t help myself!

Martha Thomases: Who Is Batman’s Accountant?


Sometimes I think the most difficult job in the DC Universe is Bruce Wayne’s accountant.

Bruce Wayne doesn’t go to H & R Block. Who takes care of him?

I mean, I assume that all the Wayne businesses, including WayneCorp and the Wayne Foundation, use one firm, and the person who does Bruce’s personal tax returns is part of that firm. Or there are accountants and tax lawyers who work directly for the company, and one of them is assigned to Bruce. Whatever the arrangement, one hopes that they strive for an impeccable separation of business, philanthropy, and personal finances.

Because if they don’t, it’s sloppy, mistakes get made, and the public gets bilked.

Bruce rarely seems interested or involved in his corporate financials. The Nolan movies established that Lucius Fox uses an unobtrusive division of WayneCorp to develop various Bat-tech under the guise of government military research. Those expenses won’t show up on Bruce’s tax forms.

Bruce is extremely interested and involved in Wayne Foundation charities. He is often shown to be an active donor and fund-raiser. Almost as frequently, he is shown learning about the potential recipients of his charity, studying how to best help them. He does this so often that it seems unlikely that anyone would connect his generous impulses in general to the innocent victims of Batman’s specific activities.

Neither his corporation nor his charities would raise tax questions. I’m thinking about his personal tax returns. All the equipment deliveries to the Manor. All the repairs after on-site fights. Even the medical supplies that Alfred keeps on hand. All of these things leave a paper trail, the kind that the IRS wants to know about.

My tax returns aren’t as complicated as I imagine Bruce Wayne’s to be, but they do stack up to be several inches tall. I know that I need to have receipts and more on hand. I can’t believe that Bruce (or, more likely, Alfred) doesn’t have file cabinets and/or hard drives full of the stuff.

Bruce Wayne needs to hire the best possible people to take care of his taxes. His wealthy playboy persona demands it. And I do believe that because he’s Batman, he would only hire the most ethical. And smart, honest accountants ask a lot of questions. And they want to see receipts.

I don’t believe Batman is trying to cheat the federal government. Bruce Wayne is not using his position to amass personal power. He’s not on the ballot. His taxes are none of my business.

But I’d like to hire his accountant.