It is more than a little likely that, as you read this, I am getting a root canal.
Dentists terrify me. Not on purpose — they are not the stars of It — but, nonetheless, they fill me with dread.
I’m sure that most people who go into dentistry as a career are motivated by a desire to help others, and yet, when I go to the dentist, I can’t help thinking about this movie and this scene.
A lot (not all!) of horror fiction is about the fear and loathing of our bodies. As children, they frustrate us with their limitations. We can’t fly, and we are not tall enough to reach the cookies. As adults, they frustrate us because they no longer do the things they did when we were younger, like stay awake all night on purpose, or digest spicy food.
I’m not really a fan of horror fiction. My life as an informed citizen has enough horror non-fiction. However, I understand that fiction provides a way for humans to process our fears in a healthy way. And I enjoy Stephen King books, not because they are scary, but because he has a gift for creating characters he seems to really care about. If we didn’t care about them, we wouldn’t be frightened by the threats they face.
(A friend of mine was in arock band with King, and he says the conversations on the tour bus focused on body functions a lot.)
The horror and thriller genres are, to me, most effective in prose, when I can imagine the threats, or in movies, where a good director (and script) provide surprising jumps. Comics can’t do that, at least not in the same way. Comics can give the reader some vivid imagery, and there is no limit to the amount of blood and gore and mucus the artist renders on the page, but, in the end, it’s just a flat picture. We, the readers, come at these images at our own pace. We can rip them up or throw them across the room if we like.
For me, the primary exception is Alan Moore. From his first Swamp Thing stories, with Stephen Bissette and John Totleben, he made stories that haunted me long after I finished reading. It wasn’t just the insects (although they gave me the icks), but the way he treated the characters’ perceptions of their bodies. The stories inspired not only fear, but disgust and mistrust.
More recently, Moore has explored these issues and this imagery in Providence. I confess that I’m not a big Lovecraft fan, so these books are not my jam. Still, Moore, with Jacen Burrows, gets plenty creepy and ominous, and perhaps you will enjoy it.
There are scary stories about ax murderers and the like, but it is those with threats from within that freak me out the most. As a culture, we especially fear women’s bodies. In modern film, from Rosemary’s Baby to this week’s debut, Mother!, it seems that the men who make most movies are terrified about women’s ability to have babies. What if women decide they don’t want to? What if women want to have babies, but with somebody else? What uncontrollable forces inhabit the bodies of women that allow the creation of other beings?
There aren’t many horror movies from the perspective of the women who might have children, especially when they don’t want them. The closest I can think is Alien and, this day, I can’t watch those movies because I read the comics adaptation first. A monster who plants a fetus in my body against my will that bursts from my chest? No, thank you.
The lesson I learn from horror fiction is that I am responsible for myself, especially my own body and what happens within it. Nothing will make me immortal, alas, but the choices I made about food and exercise and how I go through life are my own. This is why it is so important to me to support Mine!. Without access to health care, people cannot make the choices necessary to live the lives we want. We need to get PAP tests and STD tests and mammograms and birth control. We need pre-natal and post-natal care. Today is the last day you can pledge, and I hope you will.
Any other being that grows in and comes out of my body should only do so with my permission. The alternatives are too frightening.
When I tell the truth, it is not for the sake of convincing those who do not know it, but for the sake of defending those that do • William Blake
Last Thursday, the Guardian – last real newspaper on Earth – carried a story by Sian Cain revealing Alan Moore was retiring from comic books. I guess Alan was promoting his William Blake-inspired novel, Jerusalem in a unique manner.
Being a professional cynic, my initial thought was “hadn’t he done that already?” No, Alan has quite publicly left the services of various and sundry publishers – DC Comics, Marvel, IPC – because he is a man of principle, and I mean that with the highest respect. And a reading of the piece reveals he hasn’t double-locked the door behind him, telling Cain “I may do the odd little comics piece at some point in the future, (but) I am pretty much done with comics.”
That saddens me, as I’m part of the rather formidable horde of readers that feels Moore is about as good as it gets. His current work in Cinema Purgatorio, one of the most interesting anthology comics I’ve seen since the debut of 2000 A.D., meets that standard. But I totally understand his point about what superhero comics mean to him and why it’s time to move on, and it is simply the rock-solid truth:
“The superhero movies – characters that were invented by Jack Kirby in the 1960s or earlier – I have great love for those characters as they were to me when I was a 13-year-old boy. They were brilliantly designed and created characters. But they were for 50 years ago. I think this century needs, deserves, its own culture. It deserves artists that are actually going to attempt to say things that are relevant to the times we are actually living in. That’s a longwinded way of me saying I am really, really sick of Batman.”
Damn, Alan. That’s right on the money. Including that last bit.
I’d said Alan Moore is a man of principle. In some ways, his behavior reminds me of Steve Ditko, another important comics creator who stands up for his beliefs. And like Steve, this behavior has bewildered some of his fans, promoted criticism well before the Internet made that totally defatigable, and even caused people to doubt his sanity because he wouldn’t simply take the money and run. I don’t have to agree with all or even most of Moore’s views to respect his stand, and I say the same about Ditko. Hell, I’ll say the same thing about me – I change my mind from time to time. I like to think of that as keeping an open mind, but it’s also the result of a short attention span.
Nonetheless, in this time of massive political turbulence in both the United Kingdom and the United States, Alan Moore’s most important contribution to our shared culture is that he has always been the real thing. If he were running for office… well, I might move if he won, but I think he would as well. However, unlike those who actually do run for office, I’m absolutely certain I know where he stands.
Alan is a man of principle.
I welcome to see his future works that he will be doing because they are outside of his comfort zone. But as far as his comics work is concerned, well, Alan Moore, so long, and thanks for all the fish.
As my fellow opiners Ed Catto and John Ostrander have, uh, well, opined on these pages, this year marks the 50th anniversary of Star Trek. You would think that there would be alot more hoopla about it, but even though CBS has announced the premiere of a new ST show and even though, as Ed reminds us, the United States Post Office is issuing a special commemorative stamp – which I am absolutely positively buying – it’s been amazingly quiet on the P.R. front, especially when you consider that the franchise is legendary not only here, but around this world.
Consider, if you will, the build-up to the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who in 2013. Not only was there a reminder of the looming date on BBCAmerica seemingly every single commercial break, but any little bit of news – rumors – was all over the Internet, on television, on radio, and in the newspapers. The BBC commissioned a TV movie, “An Adventure in Time and Space,” about the creation of the series and its effect on William Hartnell, the original Doctor. Peter Davison, Sylvester McCoy, Colin Baker and Paul McGann appeared in the comedic homage “The Five (ish) Doctors Reboot” – which was written and directed by Davison – along with David Tennant, Jenna Coleman, John Barrowman, Russell T. Davies, Steven Moffat, and many other actors and behind-the-scenes people long associated with the show. There was a world tour. And of course there was the 50th anniversary special, “The Day of the Doctor.”
Okay, I just did a quick search on the web. There are a lot of things happening, including the Star Trek: 50 Years, 50 Artists exhibition that debuted at the San Diego Comic Con this year, and which will continue to travel around the country and the world. There’s also: Star Trek: Mission New York, which is occurring as I write this over Labor Day weekend at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in the city. (Didn’t hear a word about it on any of the New York local news shows, or read anything in any of the metropolitan area newspapers.) There is also a traveling concert show of ST’s music, and the one that sound the most fun, Star Trek: The Academy Experience, which is happening now through October 31 here in New York on the U.S.S. Intrepid museum – now that’s something I could seriously get into…hey, Alix and Jeff, my birthday is in October. (Hint! Hint!)
But I still say it’s been amazingly quiet.
• • • • •
I ordered a copy of The British Invasion: Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, and the Invention of the Modern Comic Book Writer (by Greg Carpenter) mostly because I wanted to read the interview with my friend and once-editor Karen Berger; when I received the book I immediately read it, and though it will be an interesting perusal for those not around the halls of DC in the 1980s, there wasn’t anything there that I didn’t already know. I’ve just started the main bulk of the book, so I can’t really “officially” comment yet, but it already seems to be a rather, uh, “fannish” account of the introduction of the British artist community into this side of the pond’s comics business.
And there were other amazing talents from the mother country in DC’s pages, then – Alan Grant and John Wagner being just two. One thing I will say – and I know I’m possibly inviting trouble here, and I’m also saying this in a spirit of jealous discontent that still lingers from those days, as immature as that might be – but im-not-so-ho, the guys with the passports were given much more free rein to “create as they will” by DC’s PTB than those whose birth certificates registered them as Stateside natives. Just sayin’, that’s all.
• • • • •
I saw a picture of Donald Trump in a Jewish prayer shawl (a “tallis” or “tallit”) at the church in Detroit where he went to “court” African-American voters. Huh? Are you fucking kidding me? Trump’s the poster boy for the “alt-right” – don’t you just love the “new, cool, millennial” aphorism to describe his neo-Nazi, white supremacist acolytes?
One day in the early 80s, I was with my girlfriend in a shopping mall. Somehow I had been relegated to the role of sidekick while she shopped. I liked to do a lot of things with her, but shopping wasn’t high on that list. I was bored so I decided to buy a comic book to read while she shopped.
Back then I was enjoying a lot of comics and purchasing them every week at Kim’s Collectible Comics and Records. But one store in that mall had a spinner rack filled with comics, and I knew I could snag an issue that I had missed.
I evaluated the comics available on that rack and hoped that one would be my salvation from the dreariness of shopping. I reached out for Swamp Thing #21, and was surprised to find an unfamiliar writer wrote it. I decided to give it a try nonetheless.
Those initial low expectations quickly gave way to… my brain exploding! That issue masterfully took a fresh approach to a tired concept, and wrapped it in thoughtful, clever and creepy prose. It was a big deal. I was so excited, and at the same time so frustrated, as I couldn’t really discuss it with that girlfriend. She had no interest in comics.
I didn’t know it then, but comics were about to change.
Alan Moore, that writer, was just one of the creators who ushered in a new era of comics. Sequart’s newest book, The British Invasion – Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison and the Invention of the Modern Comic Book Writer discussed the important contributions of these writers. I was able to catch up with author Greg Carpenter and he shared some insights.
Ed Catto: Can you tell us a little bit about your new book, British Invasion, and what you set out to do with this book?
Greg Carpenter: I’d be happy to Ed, and thanks for having me here. The British Invasion is an in-depth analysis of the intertwined careers of Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, and Grant Morrison – three influential British comics writers who first began writing American comics in the 1980s. The book traces their work from the ‘80s through today (or as close to “today” as you can get in the book-publishing world), and it focuses in particular on how these three writers redefined our understanding of what it means to be a comic book writer.
At least, that’s the dry, academic-y answer. As for what I wanted to accomplish, on the simplest level I think it was to try to answer the question that students always ask me: “Why have comics become so popular lately?” Obviously that’s a loaded question with lots of presuppositions, but the gist of it – that comics culture has moved from the outskirts of society to the mainstream – seems fair. And for me, the answer to that question leads directly back to the work of people like Moore, Gaiman, and Morrison.
I remember back in 2004 when I was sitting in a theater watching The Incredibles. Here – in a Pixar movie that didn’t really have to be all that smart or insightful in order to be successful – was a full examination of the wonder and the absurdity of the superhero genre, viewed through a real-world prism with real world consequences. Even though there had already been several superhero movies by that time – some of them quite good – what struck me was that Brad Bird seemed like the first filmmaker who had really “gotten” writers like Moore, Gaiman, Morrison. The thrill for the viewer came, not from the style of the costumes, the nature of the superpowers, or the threat posed by the villain, but rather from the momentary suspension of disbelief that comes when you realize – this is what superheroes would really be like.
That thrill, that feeling, that … sensation is far more rare than you might think, and I knew then that at some point in the future I wanted to try to show everyone why that feeling is so powerful.
EC: What’s your personal fan experience, and did you enjoy these writers when they burst onto the scene?
GC: I came of age at the perfect time. As a kid, my comics reading was pretty random – a smattering of superhero books and a lot of commercial tie-ins like Marvel’s Star Wars and GI Joe. By the mid-‘80s I was pretty heavy into DC’s Star Trek, but I kept seeing all these in-house ads about a book called Swamp Thing that was winning all sorts of awards. This was pre-Internet and I lived in the rural American South, so a person wasn’t going to find much comics journalism in the local Wal-Mart. My education came from those in-house ads. And if a house ad said I oughtta pay attention to a particular title, well, that carried a lot of weight with me.
So I wound up buying Swamp Thing #56 – the blue issue. I didn’t really understand it, but I could tell it was different from all the other stuff I was reading. And once I started stepping out of my comfort zone, I found myself swept away with the energy of the times – The Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen, Maus, The Shadow, Byrne’s Superman, The Killing Joke, The Question, Black Orchid, Animal Man, Arkham Asylum, V for Vendetta … Sandman. It was an amazing period. And Moore, Gaiman, and Morrison were the ones shaping my worldview, my own personal mentors – priests, professors, and practical philosophers. They could do no wrong.
So when they drifted away from mainstream DC, I drifted away from comics. It’s hard to remember now, but in those days, in the part of the country where I lived, there wasn’t much access to books like From Hell, Sebastian O, or Signal to Noise. It was like loving music but only being able to listen to Top 40 Radio. So for me, it felt like my three favorite writers had largely left comics – even though they hadn’t. And I really didn’t care much for what had taken their place at DC, Image, and Marvel in the early ‘90s. So I stopped reading.
And then, as fate would have it, I was standing in a Wal-Mart and saw a comic book display. I paused for old times sake and was struck by a new title – JLA #1 – written by Grant Morrison. From then on it was like the Michael Corleone line – “just when I thought I was out, (Grant Morrison) pulled me back in.” And I’ve been reading ever since.
EC: You do such a great job of putting it all into context and telling a “big picture story.” As I’m reading your book, I’m thinking “Yeah, I vividly remember those stories from Supreme or Promethea.” I’m impressed by the way you are able to analyze those stories in the context of each writers’ career and within a particular historical timeframe. How much of a struggle was it to tell the tale that way and how did you go about it?
GC: You’re very kind to say so. I wish I could say that everything just fell together perfectly, but alas. I think the low point for me came when I was staring at dozens of little scraps of paper scattered across the floor, trying to figure out how in the world to make the overall structure for the book come together. I knew I wanted to do rotating chapters, but there were lots of organizational problems. While these three writers have always been active, their creative peaks often come at different times. So I was left with a floor full of jigsaw pieces that all came from different puzzles and all I had was an X-ACTO knife and some touch-up paint to try to make it all go together.
As for the rest, I learned to make a friend of the Grand Comic Book Database, tracing chronologies and sketching out long timelines. If I can’t see something visually, it’s never quite real.
EC: By focusing on these three British writers, are you leaving out other important creators that are important to the big picture?
GC: More than I could even begin to list. The beginning of the so-called British Invasion wasn’t even a writer movement – it was about artists. People like John Bolton, Brian Bolland, and Dave Gibbons had begun working for DC and Marvel and were doing great work before Alan Moore made a splash with Swamp Thing. And, of course, there were so many great writers in those early days – people like Alan Grant, John Wagner, Jamie Delano, Peter Milligan … and that doesn’t even begin to include the writers who came after these three – Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis, James Robinson, Mark Millar … you could go on and on.
And that’s just the British creators. The book focuses in particular on the impact of the Invasion on the notion of the modern comic book writer. If you want to really look at the development of the writer’s role, there are also plenty of non-British writers who helped pave the way for what these three were able to do. I’m thinking of Denny O’Neil, Chris Claremont, Steve Gerber, as well as writer-artists like Frank Miller and Howard Chaykin.
But ultimately in any book you have to focus. What is the problem you’re trying to solve? What’s the question you’re trying to answer? In my case, I knew I wasn’t writing an encyclopedia. I was looking specifically at the role of the writer, and these three writers’ work seemed so interwoven that it was impossible for me to talk about one without the other. But I still lose sleep over all the creators who frankly deserve their own book.
EC: I love the chapter titles. Can you tell me a little bit about how you chose them?
GC: I love that the titles worked for you. That was one of my earliest ideas for the book. Each chapter gets its title from the name of a song by either the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, or the Who. Some of those choices are hopefully pretty obvious – a Sandman-heavy chapter is “Golden Slumbers,” the chapter with Grant Morrison’s vision at Kathmandu is “I Can See for Miles,” and a chapter on Spawn is “Sympathy for the Devil.”
But beyond setting the mood or reinforcing the theme, the choices don’t follow any set pattern. I don’t think Moore, Gaiman, and Morrison correlate directly with the three bands – one of them isn’t the equivalent of the Beatles or the Stones, for instance – so I just drew liberally from all three to find the most appropriate title for each chapter.
EC: It’s a big book, but I’m sure you had to make decisions and choices about what to include. What do you regret leaving on the cutting room floor?
GC: When I started, I naively thought I’d be able to cover all the published work of each writer. It didn’t take long to figure out that was impossible. So there are lots of things I never got to write about. But of those things that I did draft and then take out, the most disappointing was probably a section I wrote on Alan Moore’s Neonomicon.
Any of your readers who’ve read that book know already that it’s a tough book to deal with – powerful, complex, and disturbing for a number of reasons. But when I was drafting the manuscript, I dove into it and wrote what I thought was a really nuanced, insightful analysis.
Well, have you ever had one of those moments of brilliance at 2 AM where you’ve just stumbled upon the plot to a novel that’s probably going to earn you the Nobel Prize for literature? You feverishly scribble the idea down so you don’t lose it, but then, the next day, when you pick it up to read it there’s nothing there besides the most banal idea imaginable. That’s basically the story of my Neonomicon analysis. When I found myself editing the manuscript a few months later and got to that chapter, I just scratched my head. What I thought was enlightening was utterly vapid. It was so nuanced that there wasn’t anything there. I thought about revising it, but the book was already overlong so I just dropped it. Maybe I’ll go back to it someday – just not at 2 in the morning.
EC: We shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but your cover is clever and to the point. How did the design come about?
GC: The cover is great, isn’t it? Kevin Colden, who has done some great work on The Crow among other projects, did the cover. In keeping with the theme of the British Invasion, it’s an homage to the album cover, Meet the Beatles.
But it didn’t start that way. Originally, I actually tried to sketch out an idea myself. It was an image of Mount Rushmore with Moore, Gaiman, and Morrison carved into the rocks. Trust me, it was even worse than it sounds. My wife took one look at it and said, “Seriously?”
So I went back to the proverbial drawing board and tried to draw an empty bandstand modeled after the Beatles, with a drum set, microphones, and three guitars. I sent this one to Mike Phillips at Sequart and he said something along the lines of, “Um … yeah. So, anyway … what would you think about something inspired by an album cover?” And with that, for the betterment of all humanity, I retired my drawing pencil.
Mike and I talked about several album covers, but we kept coming back to Meet the Beatles. For legal reasons, you can’t use a real person’s face on a cover, which is understandable, but (and I think this was Mike’s idea) we thought it might still work if we put them in Union Jack masks. And Kevin took it all from there.
EC: If you could go back in time and give any “Dutch Uncle” advice to Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman or Grant Morrison, what would it be?
GC: Oh, I don’t think they need my advice. They’ve each done pretty well on their own, don’t you think? So I dunno … I guess if I had to, I might tell them – especially Moore and Gaiman – to skip some of the work they did for Image Comics in the ‘90s.
But honestly, I don’t believe in second guessing the past like that. Let’s say, for example, you were able to help Alan Moore get a better Watchmen contract with DC, saving him from some of the nastier aspects of the profession. That would seem like a good thing. But would a happier, more content Alan Moore have gone on to write From Hell? I tend to doubt it. I don’t know about you, but given a choice between enjoying three years of Alan Moore writing something like Green Lantern – as enticing as that might be – or getting Moore and Eddie Campbell’s From Hell, I’m gonna take the Jack the Ripper story every time.
EC: There’s such a rich landscape of creative comics being produced today. What are you enjoying and what do you feel will be viewed as important in the years to come?
GC: It feels almost like a cliché to mention it, but I really love the March Trilogy. What’s special about it, I think, is that once you get beyond how amazing John Lewis is and how well he and Andrew Aydin have compiled his story, Nate Powell’s art is extraordinary. All too often, comics that are classified as “educational” tend to be stiff and lifeless – like your great-grandmother’s idea of what a “good” comic book might be. But Powell is the real deal. Great cartooning, imaginative layouts. The national media might make it sound like broccoli sometimes, but it’s really great comics storytelling. And because of its subject matter, it’s going to be part of the high school curriculum for a long, long time.
Among mainstream comics, I was a big fan of Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye. I always joked that it felt like I was watching some mythical Quentin Tarantino movie shot in the ‘70s and starring Steve McQueen circa 1963. I also think Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman is deceptively good. It’s one of those comic book runs that is easy to take for granted, but ten years from now we’ll still be thinking about it. And Eric Powell’s The Goon always makes me smile.
But the other area that makes comics exciting today is the changing demographics – particularly the infusion of more women creators and readers. Any time you can shake up the industry and change the aesthetics, good things can happen. I once got to interview the artist Janet Lee, best known for Return of the Dapper Men. She showed me some of her work in progress and, to be honest, I was dumbfounded. Instead of something conventional like rough pencil layouts, inks, or even watercolors, she was using a technique akin to decoupage, drawing and coloring images and then cutting them out and painstakingly layering them on a larger page. I can’t even imagine what it must take to do that, but once it’s published, her stuff looks unlike anything else out there. That’s what you get when you have greater diversity in the field – fresh voices, fresh perspectives, and new aesthetics.
In a lot of ways, that was the lesson of the British Invasion too, I think.
EC: What’s next?
GC: Well, my wife and I are both writers – her debut novel, Bohemian Gospel, was published last year by Pegasus Press (heavy-handed plug) – so we tend to alternate between projects around our house. That means that lately I’ve been doing a lot of copy editing and proofreading on her sequel, The Devil’s Bible.
That’s not to say I don’t have a couple of book ideas of my own brewing. I do. But I also remember what Hemingway said – the book you talk about is the one you never write.
DC’s Rebirth brings with it a commitment to the tenents of the brand before things got overtly grim and gritty. No better examples crossed my desk this past week – opening up my now monthly shipped comic pack – than Titans and The Flash. Forgive me, I’m not actually sure if they are supposed to be preceded or followed by the Rebirth moniker… the shop keep explained it to me a week ago, and I honestly don’t even remember now. But no bother. Each issue was read and absorbed, and I’m here to finally say the words:
DC put out some great comics.
Titans directly follows the Rebirth one-shot reintroduction to the DCU from a few weeks back. As you’ll recall that’s where (SPOILER ALERT) we learned the Watchmen may be big baddies in this new version of the DCU, that there’s up to three Jokers running around, and the Nehru collar is slowly falling out of style. But most importantly: Wally West has returned from the void that swallowed him whole during the now-defunct New52.
For a first issue, Titans takes things aggressively slow. In antitheses to the norm of #1 issues, here we get basically just a single drawn-out scene. Wally has returned to Titans Tower – err – Apartment, to gather intel on his former team. Nightwing immediately springs forth from the dark to fight the would-be intruder. A few panels – and one big shock – later, Dick Grayson remembers his fast friend. Not long after that, a similarly paced intro-fight-shock-apology occurs with each of the remaining Titans (in this iteration we have Nightwing, Arsenal, Garth, Donna Troy, and Lilith). A couple of hugs and exposition about a potential big bad to hunt down, and the issue is donezo.
The Flash reintroduces Barry Allen to all, by way of a more rote version of his well-treaded backstory. Taking cues from the recent TV series, our definitive origin is now this: Barry witnessing the murder of his mom when he was 7, by Professor Zoom. His father is incarcerated for the murder, and Barry spends his days eventually exposing and incarcerating Zoom at Iron Heights. Barry is still CSI, under TV-guided Captain Singh. The issue pulls a bit of a wink and nod by starting us off at this familiar crime scene; a murdered mother, a father to blame, a child who watched it all. But this isn’t Barry Allen’s backstory. It’s present day, where he’s tending to a new case in Central City. And with his lab equipment churning away, Barry takes to the streets.
We’re caught up to the Rebirthening of Wally West, but this time from Barry’s perspective. After a similar explanation of the potential big bad, Barry splits from his protege to continue in his own way. He runs to the other top CSI in the DCU; Batman. From there, a quick reset of known facts (Comedian’s bloodied pin, visions of speedsters, mentions of time bandits…), a cliffhanger to chew on, and the issue ties itself up in a neat bow.
Beyond the snarky synopsis though, both of these books peel back the words of Geoff Johns not more than a few weeks back. As I’d snarked about previously, the DCU creative powerhaus incarnate took umbrage towards the cynical and cyclical nature of the brand he himself represented. He appealed to the baser instincts of the DCU: to celebrate heroism and optimism over real-world issues and the doldrum of continually modernized comic canon. At the time, I scoffed. In fact, if you go back and read my words, I vowed to continue to ban my enjoyment of their (and Marvel’s) books! But somehow, like a jilted ex, I couldn’t quit on comics. And while neither Titans or Flash were perfect… they were what was promised.
While we’re still very high above the week-to-week gestalt of what all DC is trying to prove with their Rebirth movement. But if the aforementioned issues are the spark to ignite the new wave of pulp, then I’m very much game for the future. Even with the imminent threat of further dragging down Alan Moore’s creation into the mire of pop-cannon or the threat of unknown Speed Force demons, it’s hard to finish either opening salvo and not walk away with a smile. Titans overtly celebrated friendship and the makeshift families we build for ourselves – through the lens of a formerly hokey after-school superhero club. Flash begins right where the New52 left us off – angry, depressed, embittered – before pivoting towards hope, rationality, and the teaming up of dissimilar heroes working towards a common goal.
Suffice to say I’m timidly optimistic myself. While he didn’t pen either issue, I feel as if I owe Mr. Johns a drink the next time we cross paths. Granted it won’t ever happen… but I’ll be damned if I don’t owe it to him anyways. The future is bright once again.
So Mike Gold, our old and grumpy and sly editor, threw down the gauntlet last week, challenging the marvelous Marc Fishman and the grammatically incorrect me to read the same comic and opine on it. That comic was DC Rebirth #1, the umpteenth revision of the company’s four-color mythos. Marc had his turn on Saturday. Today is mine.
Unlike Marc, I didn’t have travel a long and hard road 45 minutes from my suburban home to another suburb “to make a transaction.” Unlike Marc, I live in a city and the nearest comics store is three blocks away. However, I’m not a particular fan of this four-color emporium – I used to have a fantastic shop six blocks away where I browsed and hung out and bought for many decades, but it closed because of the owner’s illness – so I downloaded and read the e-comic version.
First the positives:
The artwork, by Gary Frank, Phil Jimenez, Ivan Reis, Ethan Van Sciver, Brad Anderson, Jason Wright, Joe Prado, Matt Santorelli, Gabe Eltaeb, and Hi-Fi Colorists, is brilliant, breathtaking, and inspiring. It’s clean, it’s sharp, and it’s spectacular. The storytelling is so fantastically good that no writing is even necessary to follow the story, and every emotional nuance is there in the faces of every single character, from cameos to supporting characters to the “all-stars.”
That writing, by Geoff Johns, is no less than anyone would or could expect from a man who is a master of his craft. As Marc said, and as I concur, “Geoff [Johns] made hiscareer (in my humble opinion) – and also im-not-so-ho, and c’mon Marc, don’t be so modest or polite! – on harnessing emotion and sewing it into the rich tapestry of DC’s long-standing continuity.” Geoff also has the writer’s gift of building tension, that all-so-important command of plot that keeps the readers engaged and turning pages, while not forgetting those common-to-us-all integral and humane emotions that unite us with our fictional avatars, doppelgangers, and heroes.
And weaving through all of this is an understanding of the complexity of the DC universe since the hallowed days of Crisis on Infinite Earths collapsed it all into a ball of wax, and playing on his loom to bring it all back into one single tapestry.
The climatic and emotional moment in which Wally West reconnects with Barry Allen, his uncle, his idol, and his mentor, is so! right-on! bro! that even I, jaded and cynical and world-weary, felt a wee bit of the emotional lumping in throat. Barry Allen was the Flash I knew and loved, the symbol of the Silver Age of DC, that – if you’ll excuse the expression – golden era of my life in which I discovered and fell in love with comics and their universes of imagination and adventure.
His was the lynchpin that kept it all together, and when that lynchpin was pulled from its place, it all fell apart for me. Supergirl was gone, the Legion of Super-Heroes were strangers, and Superman and his family (Superboy, Krypto, Ma and Pa Kent, Lois, Perry, Jimmy, Lana, Lex Luthor, Lori Lemaris, Lyla Lerrol, Jor-el, Lara, Lex Luthor, Lena Thorul, everyone! – along with his hereditary planet of Krypton, were all just one disjointed mess of a fallen soufflé. It was, in too many ways, just one big funeral.
Okay, here come the negatives.
Though I realize for purposes of plot, for purposes of story, for emotional climatic wallop, and for purposes of cleaning up the mess of the fallen soufflé that the DC Universe has become, it was (and is) necessary for ReBirth #1 to wind its way through the many layers of said soufflé, giving acknowledgement to everything that has come since 1985 and Crisis – especially the “Dreary52.”
However, the almost biggest pitfall of the storyline is that Wally, struggling to survive in and escape from the Speed Force before he succumbs to death, isn’t immediately drawn to the man who gave him everything that he was and became, not only as a man, but as Kid Flash and then as the Flash. Given that it is this rich, undying love and bond between the two that saves both Wally and Barry from the Anonymous “what and who” that threatens on the nearing horizon, it just doesn’t make sense.
If the answer to the “Big Bad” is, as Marc said (and to paraphrase) “hope, optimism, love, friendship, kindness, and heroism,” then doesn’t it seem that all of Wally’s attempts to “reach out and touch someone” are useless fodder that merely stuffs 81 pages with folderol? As I read it, it is really Wally’s soul, not truly his physical body, his very being, that is being torn apart and filtered into the Speed Force (art not withstanding); and if that being does not want to go, fights for survival, would not it first and foremost search for that anchor which means the most to it, that gave it meaning to exist in the very, very, very, very first place?
But of course that would have been a different story.
My absolute B-I-G-G-E-S-T problem with the story is the inclusion of the Watchmen. Okay, okay, I know, all we see is the blood-dropped Smiley Face. But Watchmen was, and is, a singular novel, existing outside the DC Universe – in fact, it was Alan Moore’s adaptation of the old heroes of Charlton Comics which had been acquired by DC Comics. It had, and has, absolutely nothing at all to do with the mythos of the DC universe. It stood, and stands, on its own, and is considered by many critics as one of significant works of the 20th century. It was chosen by Time Magazine as one of the “All-Time Novels”published since the magazine’s founding in 1923. Here is what critic Lev Grossman wrote when the list was published in 2010:
“Watchmenis a graphic novel – a book-length comic book with ambitions above its station – starring a ragbag of bizarre, damaged, retired superheroes: the paunchy, melancholic Nite Owl; the raving doomsayer Rorschach; the blue, glowing, near-omnipotent, no-longer-human Doctor Manhattan. Though their heyday is past, these former crime-fighters are drawn back into action by the murder of a former teammate, The Comedian, which turns out to be the leading edge of a much wider, more disturbing conspiracy. Told with ruthless psychological realism, in fugal, overlapping plotlines and gorgeous, cinematic panels rich with repeating motifs, Watchmen is a heart-pounding, heartbreaking read and a watershed in the evolution of a young medium.”
And though, yes, Time Magazine is part and parcel of that “huuuuge” – I just had to get my Trump dig in – mammoth known as Time-Warner, of which DC Comics is also a flea in that mammoth’s wooly hide, it’s pick to be on that list was not influenced by its publishing house. There are many books on that list without “Warner Publishing” on their copyright pages.
It is crass and mercenary to me, not to mention oh-so unimaginative, that DC has the chutzpah to claim literary ownership (if not copyright rights) to a work that is included with such masterpieces and classics as Animal Farm; To Kill a Mockingbird; The Great Gatsby; The Grapes of Wrath; One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest; On the Road; Mrs. Dalloway; Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret; and Beloved.
Blood-spattered Smiley Face also telegraphs to me that the “Big Bad” will have something to do with the machinations of Adrian Veidt, a.k.a. Ozymandias, of whom Dave Gibbons, artist of Watchmen, said: “One of the worst of his sins [is] kind of looking down on the rest of humanity, scorning the rest of humanity.”
Hmm. If I may digress here for another moment of Trump-O-Rama: “Sounds familiar.”
Who decides what is pornography? Who gets to stop people from seeing it? And why do they bother?
A Utah state senator got a bill passed declaring pornography a public health crisis. It’s been a while since I’ve been in Utah, but I was in New York City a couple days ago and I figure if porn is a “public health crisis” in Utah, there would be some sign of that in the Big Apple. I saw no signs of any public health crisis whatsoever. I asked my fellow ComicMix columnist Mindy Newell if she’s seen any signs of a porn-related health pandemic; by day Mindy’s an operating room nurse in the New Jersey portion of the metropolitan area. She acknowledged that pornography might be a threat to the health of certain religions that maintain broad governmental power, but it’s not a physical health threat like, say, the ebola epidemic.
Of course, true freedom of religion must include a person’s right to not be held to the religious standards of others. According to the Salt Lake City Tribune, 37.36% of that state’s population is not Mormon and, by federal law, the majority religion has no right to force the rather large minority population of non-Mormons to adhere to its religious predilections.
But, I dunno, maybe they’ve got all sorts of problems with “porn” out in Utah that New Yorkers don’t have. I would give Republican State Senator Todd Weiler the benefit of the doubt, but then I’d be enabling him and I don’t want to do that. Weiler promises to introduce at least three more “anti-pornography” laws next session, including one that would demand your local Internet service provider (ISP) add systems that would make you have to register and prove your age in order to view pornography… assuming you are in Utah.
As I noted, “pornography” is not clearly defined. I understand why: any solid, comprehensive definition must define the bible as pornography as well as www.heresnewtittiesforyou.com… not to mention medical care sites, rape crisis information, psychological and suicide prevention sites, and so on.
Pete Ashdown, founder of a Utah ISP, told the Associated Press that completely filtering the Internet of porn is technically impossible, pointing to China’s inability to stop the courageous rabble from using the Net to foment protest. “Trying to control the Internet in these broad stroke ways never works,” Mr. Ashdown stated. “Whether you’re an autocratic government trying to tell people that democracy is not good for them or an uptight legislator in Utah telling everyone what is pornography and what is not pornography.” His opinion was shared by many First Amendment lawyers and freedom fighters, who note that the state of Utah cannot impose its will onto interstate traffic.
Of course, the electronic book-burners always hide their “moral” inquisitions behind the banner of “we’re doing it for the children.” These people are both liars and fools: the kids are alright, and turning something into forbidden fruit only makes it sweeter.
I simply do not understand why these imperious jihadists do not simply go back to doing what they do best: persecuting homosexuals, the transgendered, and feminists, and where they go to the bathroom.
You might ask, what does all of this have to do with comic books? Ask such accused pornographers as J. Michael Straczynski, John Romita Jr., Alison Bechdel, Keiji Nakazawa, Frank Miller, Alan Moore, Brian Bolland, Phoebe Gloeckner, Neil Gaiman, P. Craig Russell, Howard Cruse, Raina Telgemeier, Daniel Clowes, Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples, Robert Crumb, Howard Chaykin and Maurice Sendak… to name but a very, very few.
There’s a lot of time travel going on in pop culture these days. The CW has DC’s Legends of Tomorrow where a rag-tag group of misfits travel around with Doctor Who, excuse me, Rip Hunter Time Master, as he tries to stop the immortal villain, Vandal Savage, from killing his family. Oh, and to prevent Savage from really messing up the world… but mostly to save his own family.
In general, I like time travel stories and have ever since I saw The Time Machine (the 1960 one with Rod Taylor, not the 2002 version with Guy Pearce). A great variation on the H.G. Wells story was Time After Time, where H.G. Wells (played by Malcolm McDowell) comes to (then) modern day San Francisco chasing Jack the Ripper (David Warner) and encounters the ever adorable Mary Steenburgen.
I like time travel stories in movies, books, comics, and so on. One of the best – and funniest – time travel comics I read was an eight pager by Alan Moore in 2000 AD. Witty and brilliant. Time travel stories can be difficult to pull off well, however. They need to be internally consistent and should jibe not only with the facts but the tone of the time era. That’s easier when the setting is the future or when the story has future travelers coming into our present.
The Back To The Future movie trilogy did this pretty well. The first and third movies were great; the middle one – meh. I don’t dislike it as much as some people do but it’s not quite at the same level. However, it does have a classic time travel conundrum when our hero, Marty McFly (played by the ever adorable Michael J. Fox), has to go back to the same era he was in during the first film and not meet himself. It’s done cleverly and is internally consistent.
One of the tropes in a lot of modern time travel tales appears to be the traveler is coming back in time to undo something to save the future times. That’s the basis of the Terminator movies, Twelve Monkeys, the aforementioned DC’s Legends of Tomorrow and others. It reflects one of the age-old questions of time travel – if you could travel back in time, would you kill Adolph Hitler before he really got going. (One of my favorite episodes of my favorite time travel series of all, Doctor Who, is called “Let’s Kill Hitler.”)
There’s lots of reasons as to why a given time traveler can’t or won’t kill Hitler – it would result in someone even worse or that time is like a stream and if you attempt to divert it it will find it’s way back to what was changed. One theory of time (and why you can’t change the past) was explained on a recent episode of Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD. One of the group’s scientists explains that time is like a block of Jell-O; it’s homogeneous in that it actually is all happening at the same time and it is only our perception of time being linear that separates one second from another.
I wonder if the prevalence of this “going back in time to save the world” is part of our current zeitgeist. Maybe we sense or feel that something is going badly wrong and the future is coming back to our present to keep a very dystopian future from happening. The event may vary according to your own beliefs and perceptions. Maybe they’re here to stop Trump from being elected or maybe it’s Hillary. (My money’s on Trump, but that’s me.) Maybe it’s George W. Bush and the Iraq War; maybe it’s Ralph Nader because he enabled the election of Bush. Maybe it’s to stop the effects of climate change before it’s too late. Your versions may vary; these are mine.
I think what it reflects is that we all sense that something is wrong even if we can’t agree on what it is. As usual, our pop culture speaks to that underlying fear, picks up on our gestalt, our group subconscious, and tries to give it form. Art can do that. It can give a physical form to what we feel, to what we can’t elucidate, and shows it to us.
Shakespeare, of course, said it better:
The poet’s eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
Midsummer’s Night Dream. Act V, Scene 1
That’s also a form of time travel; words from hundreds of years ago still resonate and his voice still lives and speaks to us.
Or, as Doc says to Marty and his girlfriend at the end of Back To The Future III: “… your future hasn’t been written yet. No one’s has. Your future is whatever you make it. So make it a good one, both of you.”
I’ve been watching DC’s Legends Of Tomorrow over on the CW. Among the characters that have been appearing on the show are Firestorm and Hawkman and Hawkgirl. Well, not so much Hawkman any more, maybe. I didn’t create those three characters but I certainly played with them a lot and, for a while, left my sticky fingerprints all over them. So it’s interesting watching manifestations of them in other media.
I’ll be experiencing that big time come August when the Suicide Squad movie hits the multiplexes. I created Amanda Waller and I defined characters like Deadshot and Captain Boomerang and it will be exciting to see how they translate for the screen. I hope.
None of the character portrayals will translate directly from the comics to movies or TV. I’m okay with that; none of them have so far. Different media have different needs. That’s why they’re called adaptations. The material is adapted from whatever the source was. My only question about any given adaptation is – how true is it to its roots? Did they get the essence of the character or the concept right? If you’re going to do Captain XYZ Man, there should be a resemblance to what makes up Captain XYZ Man. Right?
OTOH, I haven’t always done that and Suicide Squad itself is a good example. The comic was originally created for DC by Robert Kanigher and Ross Andru; my version shared the title, a character or two, and some history with the original and not much else. Of course, as buddy Mike Gold pointed out in his excellent column this week, Kanigher may have gotten the title (and not much else) from a feature in a pulp magazine called Ace G-Man. What goes around comes around?
Amanda has appeared several times, including the TV show Arrow, lots of animated series, the Green Lantern movie, video games, the TV series Smallville, and probably more. I may need to double check my royalty statements. Any number of actresses have portrayed her and voiced her. She doesn’t always look the same. In Arrow and some of the comics, she’s built like a model. However, in all the variations I’ve seen there have been certain aspects that are kept – she’s female, black, and she’s ruthless as hell.
Even with other characters, I don’t always keep to how they were conceived. My version of Firestorm changed (evolved?) throughout my run. At one point when we decided he was a Fire Elemental (the Elemental idea was popular for a while starting with Alan Moore making Swamp Thing the Earth Elemental) and Ol’ Flamehead’s look was drastically altered, not always to universal approval.
Still, I think I kept to the essentials of the characters and, when I changed things, I kept within continuity as established although sometimes I picked and chose within the continuity.
All that said, I (mostly) enjoy seeing the variations and permutations of these characters. It’s like watching your kids grow up and moving away and seeing what they become. It’s not always what you expected but, hopefully, you can still see your DNA in them.
So it turns out that I maybe I do have a TARDIS, because I was able to finish watching Jessica Jones and to catch up on Supergirl.
You remember that basically crappy review of Supergirl I gave a couple of months ago? Well, the show is getting there, though, im-not-so-ho, they aren’t taking advantage of what could be some great story arcs. Except for Alex Danvers. And Cat Grant. And Hank Henshaw. But more on that in a bit.
I watched “Strange Visitor From Another Planet,” an hour that really could have called “Why Did You Abandon Me?” Hank Henshaw, a.k.a. J’onn J’onzz the Martian Manhunter, struggled with the personification of survivor’s guilt and abandonment in the appearance of a “White Martian,” a member of the “other” Martian race responsible for the Martian holocaust – a literal “Strange Visitor.” And while the psychological voices from beyond the grave – including his wife and two daughters – chastised J’onn J’onzz for abandoning them by not joining them in death, Cat Grant dealt with her own, different kind of survivor’s guilt and abandonment issues when her “Strange Visitor” turned out to be the child she had chosen to abandon in her drive to become a professional success, now all grown up and wanting to know why she hadn’t loved him enough to stay. “Bizzaro,” a twist on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, borrowed – well, stole – the origin of the sad creature from DC’s New52 reboot, only instead of Lex Luthor creating the “monster” from splicing Superman’s DNA with human DNA and injecting it into a teenager, it was Maxwell Lord splicing Supergirl’s DNA with the human DNA of comatose young women who “resembled” Kara Zor-El. I thought the show sorta fell down on this one – it was essentially a “monster of the week” episode with Bizzaro Supergirl dying at the end and Maxwell Lord becoming “The Man in the Glass Booth,” kidnapped and imprisoned – for now – at DEO headquarters. Which is rather illegal, and I assume will lead to further ramifications down the line.
One immediate ramification of Max hanging around the DEO, though, is that he just happened to be handy when the alien chest-hugging flower called the “Black Mercy” dug its tentacles into Supergirl’s rib cage and inflicted her heart’s desires upon her in a hallucinatory mind-game. Many of you will recognize this as an adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ 1985 Superman Annual #11 story, For the Man Who Has Everything.
It’s not a bad adaptation, but if you remember FTMWHE, it’s not quite up to par in comparison, especially in the Krypton sequences. Granted, the show’s budget had to be a serious factor in producing this episode, but in Superman’s dream world, we really become invested in Kal-El’s life on Krypton and in Kryptonian society. Kara Zor-El, however, never leaves her home. She just sits in the “living room” talking with her parents and Aunt Astra, who was never banished to the Phantom Zone. Oh, yeah, and we also meet a prepubescent Kal-El, though there is neither mention of nor a visit from Jor-
El and Lara. And though there is mention of a serious boyfriend, we don’t meet him nor do we see anything else of what Kara’s dream life if Krypton had not exploded entails.
In Superman’s dream state he has no memory or sense of anything wrong – well, the dream does start becoming increasingly disturbing – but Kara’s immediate reaction when waking up in her bed on Krypton is one of confusion and a sense that something is definitely wrong. But as the Black Mercy continues its psychic invasion, Kara starts forgetting, and by the time “virtual reality” Alex shows up she has accepted her life for what it is and does not recognize her “Terran” sister.
It’s a good attempt, but not one for the ages. For one thing, for a story about Supergirl’s lost dreams, it’s a fantastic showcase for Alex, who totally steals the scene(s). Alex’s quest to save her sister, her devotion to her, is really what this episode is about – and I don’t know if that’s what the writers had in mind. In fact, lately it almost seems that the title should be Supergirl’s Sister, Alex Danvers. She has become the most well developed character on the show (with Cat Grant coming up behind and Hank Henshaw/J’onn J’onzz nipping at Cat’s heels). It’s too bad, because this could have been a real showcase for Supergirl/Kara Zor-El.
And, again, wasn’t it convenient that Max Lord was on DEO premises so he could help develop the “virtual reality” psychic connection thing-a-ma-jig that got Alex into Kara’s dreamland in the first place?
However, Melissa Benoist did a bang-up job in displaying Supergirl’s anger and rage and hurt and sorrow when she woke up. Echoing Moore’s words, she spits out “Do you know what you did to me?” and then “Burn” as she lashes out with her heat vision against Non, the evil – and oh so incredibly boring – Kryptonian who’s Aunt Astra’s husband, and who exposed her to the Black Mercy in the first place.
There’s a lot more plot about Non’s plan to destroy Earth (or something – I’m not quite sure exactly what he wants to do), but there’s a twist at the end that really disappointed me, which now means that it’s
Astra is killed by Alex.
This is right up there with the whole “fooling Cat Grant and convincing her that Kara isn’t Supergirl” storyline. I mean, Boo! Hiss! Really, Bernanti, Adler, et.al., killing off what could have been a fascinating character and story arc? Again, Boo! Hiss!
And as for JJ – it left me shaken and stirred, with that uncomfortable feeling you get when you’ve had a horrific nightmare which stays with you all day, or after you’ve made the mistake of watching a double feature of Fail-Safe and Dr. Strangelove (Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb) on Turner Classic Movies.
SPOILERS HERE FOR ANYBODY WHO HAS ALSO BEEN LATE TO THE PARTY!
What really got me was the straightforward and uncomplicated denouement of David Tennant’s Killgrave – a simple twisting of his neck, a quick dislocating of his cervical vertebrae, a horrific rupturing of the right and left common carotid and vertebral arteries, and he’s as dead as the Tyrannosaurus Rex that King Kong killed using the same method – only with a lot less fight than in that epic battle. It was so straightforward, not what is usually expected when dealing with the gifted, as the show’s super-powered individuals and others called them; in comic-book land fights are usually a chance for the artist to strut his stuff, consisting of many panels and sometimes many pages of balletic and brutal brawling. What I thought, as Jessica approached Killgrave, was that she was going to rip his tongue out, which would certainly, I think, have been an apt Sisyphean punishment for him – King Sisyphus of Ephyra was punished by Zeus for his hubris, lying, greediness, and self-aggrandizing by being condemned to push a gigantic boulder up a steep hill, only to have it roll back down to the bottom before reaching the top, repeating this pattern forever and ever and ever.
Killgrave with his tongue is essentially powerless, and as I said, it would have been a fitting punishment; but Jessica said she was going to kill him and she did. But though it looked simple it wasn’t; Jessica Jones literally killed her demon. But the question is: Will it be enough? Stay streamed.
I am in no way dissing Krysten Ritter or anybody else in the cast of this superb show – Krysten Ritter was nominated for a Critic’s Choice Award, but I think it’s sin that no one else was nominated (Jessica Jones was ignored by the Golden), especially David Tennant.
I now have an even bigger crushon appreciation of David Tennant.
He’s getting handsomer and handsomer and handsomer.
His acting chops just keep getting better and better and better.