It might surprise you that a writer who spent so much time writing coverage on Warner Bros. film scripts for DC and won an award for an animated TV series about Batman … Hates. Comic. Book. Movies.
Usually. Not always, but most of the time. There’s a reason for that, though.
By virtue of my peculiar set of writing credits, I am a graduate of the Berlitz course in Geek-to-Hollywood translating. Doesn’t mean I have to like it, just make enough bank off it to pay back the student loan.
Ever since comic book artist lizards first started crawling out of the four-color slime and evolving into knuckle-dragging primates with Panaflexes on their shoulders, the meme that comics are little more than frozen movies – when what they more closely resemble is storyboards with half the frames cut out of every scene – has visited a host of unfortunate consequences on the medium we supposedly celebrate here.
For one thing, the intrusion of the Hollywood mentality on mainstream comics often results in exactly the sort of Big Mistake that Hollywood itself makes. (Mistake in the art crime sense, mind you, not the ka-ching, ka-ching sense.)
“Auteurs” we have up the wazoo, but directors who write their own stuff are seldom well-served by their writers. The two disciplines aren’t necessary mutually-reinforcing. And it’s a far rarer creature than we generally assume who can do both well. Which is why I think most talented comic book artists probably should have their typing fingers broken. Not everybody who graduates from UCLA film school is Orson Welles, and not everyone who buys a diploma from Joe Kubert’s school is Frank Miller.
And, to put a metaphor into the Cuisinart and push for “puree,” this epidemic of the sins of one medium being visited on another is a two-way street. You can’t get good movies out of styling or constructing a film as if it were a comic book, though Chthulhu knows Hollywood now seems to be trying to.
The two media aren’t the same. Each has a grammar of its own which is part of its unique appeal. (After too many instances of watching Robert Downey, Jr. debase himself and repudiate his profound talent by playing flying Spam, I hesitate to use the word “charm.”) And if you conflate the two, IMO you dilute the unique appeal of both.
That, uhm, whack Batman TV series in ‘66 not only proved that, but leveraged those differences to create its signature whackness. By “transliterating” — as opposed to adapting — the tropes and conventions of one medium (the “Meanwhile…” V.O.s, the POW!s and the ZAP!s, the “I’m a duly deputized law enforcement officer” even though I look like I just escaped from Liberace’s closet) into a completely different medium, it commented on the absurdity of superheroes from a non-Geek perspective. Which is why Geeks hated it.
No amount of redesigning the Spandex as Tutti-Frutti Kevlar can hide the self-evident fact that any grown-up celebrity-wannbe who goes outside looking like that will do his 15 minutes of fame in Celebrity Rehab. But I preferred the Batman: Animated stuff because it worked in animation: everything was stylized, appropriate to the surreality of it all. You could accept that Batman existed when he stood next to a Commissioner Gordon who looked like an inverted pyramid with eyes, in a suit jacket whose lapels grazed his earlobes. By contrast, Christian Bale’s teeth-gritting just looks silly.
The live-action stuff used to make me giggle. Now, of course, it just pisses me off as much as mainstream comic book pacing does: you can’t figure out WTF is going on in any of these things unless you’ve seen the previous five entries in the series. And date night at the Octoplex still costs more than five “floppies.”
All that said, I eagerly look forward to being dragged to see Sin City: A Dame For Our Rape Culture, secure in the knowledge that I won’t be too pissed off to fall asleep on it. If Frank and Rodriguez light this one the same way they lighted the first one, I won’t be able to see WTF is going on there, either, and won’t have to care.
I’ve been revisiting my childhood on YouTube and podcasts a lot lately; and for this I place the blame squarely on voice actor Rob Paulsen – voice of Yakko Warner, Dr. Otto Scratch’n’sniff, and Pinky, of Animaniacs and Pinky and the Brain. Well, if I was going to be fair, the daisy chain of blame would stretch all the way back through Twitter; Billy West; the organizers of Awesome Con; Mike Gold; Deadpool; a couple of federal judges; Glenn Hauman; Glenn’s lovely wife Brandy; YA author Esther Friesner; and Terry Pratchett and the Discworld. But that’s way too convoluted, so Rob, it’s all your fault!
At some point in my childhood, I became a latchkey kid. Both of my parents worked until after school let out, and although there was a lot of “homework time” and “chore time” in my day, I fondly remember the period of time between when I arrived home from school and when my parents returned home as “snacks and TV with no parents anywhere in sight” time. Thanks in part to this, I watched a lot of cartoons growing up – Thundercats, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, DuckTales, TailSpin, Rescue Rangers, Looney Toons, Tom & Jerry, The Jetsons, The Flintstones, Scooby Doo, The Smurfs, Yogi Bear, Rocky & Bullwinkle, Gummi Bears, X-Men, Batman: The Animated Series, Doug, The Ren & Stimpy Show, Transformers, He-Man, She-Ra, Darkwing Duck, Goof Troop, Gargoyles, and Tiny Toon Adventures, to name a few. But hands down, Warner Bros.’ Animaniacs was one of my absolute favorites.
I don’t know how exactly, but I managed to be watching TV when the very first couple of episodes of Animaniacs, which included the consistently excellent shorts De-Zanitized, The Monkey Song, Nighty-Night Toon, Yakko’s World, Cookies for Einstein, and Win Big first aired – and just like that, I was hooked. The show arrived at pretty much the perfect time for me – I was twelve years old, so young enough for my TV diet to still include a regular fix of cartoons. But given that I was the sort of child whose favorite book in the fifth grade was Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, I was also able to appreciate a lot of the more sophisticated humor and pop culture references going on beneath the gags. Also, let’s be frank – I love cute things, and the characters in Animaniacs (particularly little Wakko Warner, and Pinky of Pinky and the Brain) are pretty darned adorable.
I can’t say for sure, but I’m guessing I watched at least 3/4 of Animaniacs when it first aired. Even after other cartoons sort of fell by the wayside, what with high school and extracurriculars and all, I still watched it; and when Pinky and the Brain spun off into its own show, I watched that too. Of course, eventually (and sadly) the shows ended. And I went to college, and then I went to law school, and you know how it is, things move along. But I never forgot about Animaniacs; and I am sure that in ways that could never be quantified, it influenced the development of my personality. Certainly, years later, I have found myself referencing the show without even realizing it until after the fact, such as when writing my hamster Izzy’s Twitter bio.
Recently, as ComicMix readers will know, I interviewed the amazing Billy West. And when I shared the interview on Twitter, the inestimable Rob Paulsen retweeted it. And so I was scrolling along his Twitterfeed, and recalled that I’d always meant to listen to his podcast, and began listening to it. And then I heard him mention that he was doing live appearances, and asked him if he’d ever done one in DC, and he said he’d like to, and a few weeks later, lo and behold, we were able to set something up, and so now Rob Paulsen will be appearing at The National Press Club in DC on August 1 (get your tickets now!). Hurrah! I am very excited.
This year, in case you don’t know, marks the 20th anniversary of Animaniacs, which first aired in 1993 – and here’s a pretty cool brief history of the show, with first-hand information courtesy of creator Tom Ruegger. One amazing thing about Animaniacs is that it still holds up, twenty years later. Through a combination of humor that appeals to both children and adults, stellar and clever musical compositions and lyrics, unique characters, and, of course, the award-winning voices behind those characters, the show is just as enjoyable to me today, as an adult, as it was when I started watching it at twelve years old. In fact, it’s even more enjoyable because I can appreciate some of the cleverness and references more as an adult; and because I am now also interested in the voices and creators behind the show, something I never really stopped to think about when I was a child. This is another area in which much of the blame lies squarely on Rob Paulsen, whose wonderful, amusing, amazing, fascinating Talkin’ Toons podcast – seriously, it’s awesome – includes not only discussions of his work, but interviews with a myriad of other amazing talents behind Animaniacs and pretty much every other animated show out there. (FYI, you can listen to the podcast via his website, iTunes, or even a super-handy and easy to use smartphone app. Check it out – because if you are not listening to it, you are missing out.)
From the frequency of Animaniacs and Pinky and the Brain questions on Rob’s podcast, to the reception the voice actors involved receive at fan conventions, it seems to me that I am far from the only one out there who watched the shows as a child and has rediscovered my love for them as an adult. Animaniacs was and still is a gem in the realm of animated shows. And given that many of the folks who watched it when it first aired now have children who watch the DVDs with them and also love the show, it doesn’t seem like a stretch to wonder if the time might be ripe for a new season of Animaniacs. After all, one great thing about animated shows is that the characters don’t have to age unless the creators want them to – so twenty years later, they could easily make new episodes that picked up wherever they wanted them to. I, for one, would really love to see that happen; and from what I’ve heard via the podcasts, so would at least some of the creators. So hey – you never know!
If you’ve never seen Animaniacs before, YouTube is your friend and I highly recommend you give it a try; and if you love Animaniacs as much as I do, maybe you’ll join me in raising a glass to its 20th Anniversary, and wishing upon a star that Yakko, Wakko, and Dot might escape the water tower again someday soon.
This is the comic book event that either propelled DC Comics towards the New 52 paradigm or sent the company spinning off the rails, alienating the very core audience they sought to retain. Now it is being adapted into animated form from Warner Home Entertainment in July. Some speculate this direct-to-video movie will transition the animated heroes towards New 52 incarnations but that has not been confirmed. Here’s the release:
BURBANK, CA (April 17, 2013) – The world is turned upside down as one of earth’s greatest super heroes – Flash – wakes up devoid of his super powers in the all-new Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox – the next entry in the popular, ongoing series of DC Universe Original Animated Movies. Produced by DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. Animation, this all-new, PG-13 rated film arrives July 30, 2013 from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment on Blu-Ray™ Combo Pack ($24.98 SRP), DVD ($19.98 SRP) and Digital Download. The Blu-ray™ Combo Pack will include UltraViolet™*.
When time travel allows a past wrong to be righted for Flash and his family, the event’s temporal ripples prove disastrous, creating a fractured, alternate reality where the Justice League never formed, and even Superman is nowhere to be found. Amidst a new world being ravaged by a fierce war between Wonder Woman’s Amazons and Aquaman’s Atlanteans, Flash must team with a grittier, more violent Batman and government agent Cyborg to restore the continuity of Flash’s original timeline.
“Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox has all the elements of another great film – dynamic forceful villains, treacherous twists and turns and internal tensions amongst heroes,” said Mary Ellen Thomas, Warner Home Video Vice President, Family, Animation and Partner Brands
Marketing. “Showcasing a cast that brings together some of today’s popular primetime television actors with many fans’ favorite voices from the original series, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment is proud to release this title as the next DC Universe Animated Original Movie.”
Primetime television stars Justin Chambers (Grey’s Anatomy) and Kevin McKidd (Grey’s Anatomy), the voices of Barry Allen/Flash and Thomas Wayne/Batman, respectively, unite with numerous greats of television and film to fashion the famed animated roles. Adding to the celebrity-laden voice cast and providing thrilling additions to the Justice League series are Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale, Friday Night Lights, Chronicle) as Cyborg, C. Thomas Howell (Southland, The Outsiders) as Thawne/Professor Zoom, Nathan Fillion (Castle) as Hal Jordan/Green Lantern, Ron Perlman (Hellboy) as Slade and Deathstroke, Dana Delany (Body of Proof) as Lois Lane, Cary Elwes (The Princess Bride) as Aquaman, Danny Huston (Magic City) as General Lane, Sam Daly (The Office, The Daly Show) as Superman, and Kevin Conroy (Batman: The Animated Series) as Batman.
Screenwriter Jim Krieg delivers an action-packed vision of the legendary comic book miniseries Flashpoint, by Geoff Johns & Andy Kubert, adding to the over 13 million DC Universe video units produced to date. Jay Oliva (Batman: The Dark Knight Returns) is director and
James Tucker (Superman: Unbound) is producer.
Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox Blu-ray™ has over three hours of exciting extra content, including:
A Flash in Time: Are there other dimensions? Can time travel get us there? And if The Flash existed, could he really travel through time? Interviews with experts in mythology, theoretical physics and top DC writers will examine the science and legacy of the storytelling behind the fiction.
My Favorite Villians! The Flash Bad Guys: Acclaimed DC Comics writer Geoff Johns and others share their favorite Flash villains in this short film that gives viewers a glimpse into the Flash’s world through the eyes of some of the nefarious characters he has encountered over the past 70 years!
A Sneak Peek at the next DC Universe animated movie:. An in-depth look into the next DC Animated feature film, spotlighting the cast and crew.
The second part of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns demonstrates how the world has changed since the graphic novel source material was published in 1986. Frank Miller’s reinvention of Batman was also his personal reaction to the conservative, jingoistic United States of America of the decade. President Ronald Reagan was a folksy president, good with a quip, and saw the world in stark black and white terms, which was feeling wrong in the final years of the Cold War. Miller also questioned all authority figures from know-it-all doctors who loved to hear themselves on the growing number of vapid talk shows to the unformed law-enforcement representatives who fired first and then questioned orders. While some of this was evident in part one, which was released last fall, this installment, out on Tuesday, really shines a spotlight on the themes.
A visual tour-de-force, Miller’s four-part The Dark Knight took the storytelling techniques he developed for Daredevil and applied them to DC’s two biggest icons. Readers had seen nothing like it before and heralded the work an instant classic. Here we are, more than twenty years later being given a two-part adaptation of this story and suddenly it feels dated. Here’s no question screenwriter Bob Goodman and director Jay Oliva honored the source material and its satisfying as an adaptation.
But the notion that Superman, the ultimate authority figure, was blindly taking orders from the President, and allowed himself to take lives in an international conflict feels wrongheaded. That Batman and the other costumed heroes and villains would all willingly vanish into the shadows that spawned them feels wrong, as well. Much as it felt wrong for Batman to vanish for eight years in the Christopher Nolan films, it also now feels like Bruce Wayne would never stop fighting crime in his city.
But he’s back, pushing fifty, and feeling the effects of time on his bulky form. He’s dealing with a city that needs him but an administration that does not want him, especially as Commissioner James Gordon steps down, turning the police over to Ellen Yindel, who immediately wants Batman shot on sight. Where Oliva’s action sequences totally fail is that the criminals and police alike fire endless streams of bullets with little consideration of the collateral damage being inflict or civilian lives being endangered. Thousands of bullets are fired, but none strike Batman or Robin, which is stunning incompetence (and bad storytelling).
The conflict on the island of Corto Maltese is the backdrop as the Joker talks his idiot doctor into bringing him to a talk show to tell his side of the story. Michael Emerson’s clown prince of crime is cold and maniacal but depicted, he is a homicidal figure, nothing funny about his actions or methods at all. The character design may be Miller inspired but he’s too normal looking, just a muscular specimen in makeup which feels wrong. The criminal madman is free and after Batman after making a stop to humiliate a gone-to-pot Selina Kyle, now a Madame. The Joker and Batman face off one final time and this is when the Dark Knight finally gets hurt, in the Tunnel of Love of all places, a subtle nod to the homoerotic subtext Miller added to their relationship.
All the episodic explosive action leads up to the inevitable conflict between the symbol of conformity and the agent of justice. Their climactic battle is nicely handled as is the denouement, bringing the 76 minute story to a fine ending.
Peter Weller’s Batman is okay but nothing special while Mark Valley’s Superman works much better. Ariel Winter’s Robin doesn’t get nearly enough to say but plenty to do in the film. The rich voice cast blends well together, aided by a good score from Christopher Drake.
The combo pack contains the Blu-ray, DVD, and Ultraviolet versions of the film. Special features include a too-short 9:24 Superman vs. Batman: When Heroes Collide, as the usual suspects talk about why these two fight and who should win. The longer, 14:07, The Joker: Laughing in the Face of Death nicely uses archival material so his creator, Jerry Robinson gets his say. While it’s good to have Emerson’s take on the character, Mark Hamill’s absence is missed as are his current handlers such as writer Scott Snyder. Oliva takes us through numerous sequences in the 43 minute From Sketch to Screen and he gives kudos to those who took Miller’s work and brought it the screen. Oliva is well-spoken and some of the information provided is interesting to hear and see.
Three episodes from Batman: The Animated Series and Batman: The Brave & the Bold are included on the Blu-ray disc. On the other hand, the promised preview of Superman: Unbound is curiously absence from the disc. Instead, there is another digital excerpt from the graphic novel.
I think tomorrow I’ll call up Merriam-Webster and suggest a new word for their dictionary. That word? Geeklitism. (Not to be confused with Geekleetist, which posts fun stuff).
It should be in the dictionary, because it certainly is a thing that exists. But how would I suggest they define it? Damned if I know, although I guess the short version could be: “claiming you’re a ‘real geek’ and other people aren’t; claiming you’re the superior geek.” But really, the various aspects of both this attitude and of being a “geek” generally are so broad that I’m not sure they can be encompassed in a dictionary definition.
The reason for this, and the funny thing about “being a geek,” is that it’s a different experience for everyone. For instance, I’ve been a geek probably all of my life; but I don’t know that I ever really knew it until adulthood, when, thanks to the increased ease of finding like-minded people via the internet, it suddenly turned out it wasn’t such a bad thing to be. As far as I recall, no one called me a geek growing up. I had no idea I was part of this mysterious group of people called “geeks.”
“What??” I can hear a geeklitist out there crying out in triumph. “No one called you a geek? That must mean that you didn’t get bullied by the “cool kids” in school! Haha! You can’t understand the suffering and hardships that I went through in my formative years because of my love of stories about hobbits! You are not a real geek like me!” (This is the kind of thing geeklitists say, don’t you know. Sometimes they also add, “And all the girls made fun of me!! I’ve never gotten over that! My life was so hard!”)
But that’s not really what I said, is it? Of course I got picked on. Most kids do. For instance, when I was in first grade and all the cool kids in my new school had moved on to jeans or whatever was in fashion, my mom, bless her, still dressed me in cutesy pastel sweatsuits with big decorative (but pointless) buttons and bows on them. It follows that one of my first memories of my new school is three girls in my class making fun of my clothes on the playground – at which point I probably said something mean.
I was a well-read little child, who could creatively insult other children with words that none of us really knew the meaning of; but they sounded like insults, so it all worked out. For example, at some point in my primary school years, one of the biggest insults I remember using was, “You’re corroded!” (Which makes no sense under the real definition but sounds like maybe you have a gross skin condition?) My favorite of the weird words I personally transmogrified into an insult when young was “You’re a transubstantiationalist!” No one else had any idea what it meant, but I managed to convince the kids I was using it on that it was a really horrible thing to be. Mwahaha. But I digress. Anyway, at that point, we all got in a fight. Like a physical fight, of the kicking and punching and hair and decorative bow-pulling variety. Yowch.
“Whatever!” the geeklitist is saying. “That’s not what I meant. That’s just fashion. You were only a geek if you were ostracized because of your offbeat hobbies and/or love of genre fiction as a child! That’s what makes you a real geek like me.” Well, yes. I was that, too. I used to sit by myself at lunch and read giant books that were too “old” for me, like Clan of the Cave Bear and The Mists of Avalon, propped up in front of me as I ate with painful slowness (something else for which I was occasionally teased, but which turns out to be the healthy way to eat. Take that!). I’d walk down the school halls reading A Swiftly Tilting Planet or maybe The Deed of Paksenarrion without looking up (during which I developed a great sixth sense for not running into people while looking down, which is very handy these days when texting while walking to work).
I was definitely called weird, and often, annoying (because I used big words and talked a lot) more times than I can count. I engaged in some geek activities that probably would have been thought cool by at least the little boys in my class, like watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and X-Men cartoons, but I never realized that, because at that point in my life, boys had cooties. (Of course.) I’m not saying I didn’t have friends; I did, and they were a lot of fun. But I also got made fun of; and as far as I knew, most of my friends were not actually interested in The Lord of the Rings or Batman: The Animated Series. I don’t even know that I ever thought to ask most of them.(Or if I did, and received blank stares, I probably never brought it up again. This is why I’d never make a good Whedonvangelist, another word I’ve decided should be in the dictionary.)
Those were the sorts of things I often enjoyed alone, and didn’t really talk about that much, and that was fine. I knew (from others telling me, repeatedly) that I was a weird child, and I guess I just kind of assumed that was how life was and would continue to be for me – having some interests that nobody around me shared. Of course, that feeling of being alone in one’s interests is often cited as part of the experience of geekdom; and of course, in truth, lots of other people also had those interests; I just hadn’t discovered them yet. But I guess that’s all part of being a geek.
“Ahaha!” an entirely different brand of geeklitist is chortling. “But none of that matters! That’s just kid stuff! You’re not a real geek like me unless you can list, right this minute, in reverse alphabetical order, every superhero who turned out to be a Skrull during Secret Invasion! And until you can name at least three obscure continuity errors in [my favorite comics character’s] ongoing storyline! And unless you can tell me your three favorite fighting tactics for the video game character whose costume you are now wearing!” But, second brand of geeklitist…the water is wide, and the world is large, and I might like a different character than you do, or I might focus on something for different reasons than you do. Are you saying your viewpoint and favorite genre things and factoids are inherently better and geekier than mine, and are the only things that can bestow upon all of us admission into the uber-exclusive society of geekdom, just because they are yours? …Well, yes, yes you are, and that’s pretty self-centered. We can all be geeks in our own ways, with our own specific areas of interest and knowledge. Right?
“No no,” chides another, lone geeklitist, standing apart with one brow raised and pointing a finger at each of us in turn. “You will never, ever be a real geek, because you didn’t watch Firefly until it came out on DVD! You only like the newest Doctor Who! You never participated in the drive to keep Chuck on the air via purchasing mounds of Subway sandwiches. You’ll never be a real geek, not any of you, because (cue dramatic music and Iwo Jima flag-raising reenactment) I was here first, and I claim this geekdom in the name of Geekmoria! It’s mine, all miiiiine!!!!!”
…What? No, really, what? That’s just asinine.
“Well…maybe,” says the lone geeklitist doubtfully. “But I was here first.”
How do you know, lone geeklitist? Did you turn on your TV to a new show before anyone else in the entire world? Acquire an ARC of the first book in a now-beloved series? Hold in your excited hands the very first copy of the very first appearance of a comic book character? And even if you did…why does that give you any more claim to an appreciation of it than anyone else? Why does timing somehow make you more passionate about your geekdom than all the other geeks?
So, any other geeklitists out there want to make a stand about how they’re the real geeks? I just ask because I don’t like to exclude people, although I realize the irony of saying that to you, geeklitists.
I’m hearing a lot of silence out there. Guess I’ll just wrap this u–what? I’m sorry? What did you say?
A chorus of low, angry, guttural voices rises from the deep to repeat itself, as one last group of geeklitists has its say:
Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening, my ComicMixers! I hope you all had a merry Christmas, a sassy Chanukah, and grumpy Festivus if you were so inclined. So, with Father Time about to hit the retcon button on our daily calendars… I thought it would be apropos to reflect a bit on those amazing and terrible things that made my year. Please note: this isn’t ALL about comic books; you’ve been warned.
Because I like to start on a dour note… here’s The Worst!
5. Avengers Vs. X-Men Vs. My Sanity: Simply put, this stands up as yet-another-example of what makes me hate the mainstream comics business. No matter how many times they lather us up with “we’ve got the best talent on this”, “this will change everything”, and “you won’t believe what happens!”, they always end up the same. Bloated, predictable, and unending. Every Marvel event since the dawn of Brian Michael Bendis has finished up in deeper doo-doo than when they began. His boner for “shades of grey” is unnerving. We get it; making our favorite characters wail on one another is why we buy comics. But, hey… guess what? It isn’t. I’d much prefer a well thought out story that ends instead of a non-stop soap opera.
4. The 2012 Election: Not the result, mind you, but the unending nature of it all. For what felt like nearly the entire year, we were privy to 24 hours a day coverage of not only our POTUS but everyone vying for his seat. It brought out the worst in the candidates and the politically charged masses along for the ride. In the worst case, certain louder-than-usual politico-creators became so unnerving I was forced to hide them from my feeds. First world problems? You bet. But no less annoying on my life and times this year.
3. Wizard World Conventions: The movie definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. So Wizard World changes the guard on high. They attempt to make sweeping changes on the floors of their traveling circus, making D-List celebs the premier attraction. They continue to maintain the second highest per-show cost for visiting artists. In short? They continue to drive away the very thing that started them out so very long ago: comics and the people who make them. While my li’l studio always sells well at these abominations… rarely are we joined in celebration at the end of the cons. Hence, my finger of shame this year.
2. Green Lantern: Another finger of shame… a ring finger! Geoff Johns has taken Grant Morrison’s Five-Year Plan model and Michael Bay’ed it to death. As I’ve been forced to note several times this year, the continual event fatigue on the entire line –which shouldn’t even be a line – is too much to bear. And while the majority of 2012 was spent with Sinestro and his gal Friday Jordan traipsing around the universe righting wrongs… this Rise of the Third Army is the emerald icing on a sheet cake of excess. Too many McGuffins, too many predictable plots, and a brand-new Lantern who thus far is more a caricature of “not-a-terrorist” than a fleshed-out legacy ring-slinger. One I’ll happily predict will last in prominence half as long as the last not-ready-for-prime-time-player, Kyle “Costume Change” Rayner.
1. Comics News Coverage: Well it finally caught up to us too, didn’t it? CNN begat CNN, and from them spawned the 24-hour news cycle that has extended to comics. Between Newsarama, Bleeding Cool, Comic Book Resources, and others (hold your tongue for a second, please) all looking for an audience… We’re left scouring trash-bins and date books in order to report anything about our beloved industry. I waive the white flag. And now to those who think I hold this very site on the fire? Nay. ComicMix is about writers expressing their opinions, and that’s enough for me to remove us from said blaze. Simply put, the news is important, but the environment we’ve built to report and sustain it is sickening. Marvel, DC, and the like can’t sneeze without us finding out about it… and then creating a backlash over it before the press releases have hit an inbox. Enough is ‘nuff said.
And now… The Best:
5. The Dark Knight Rises: Three cheers for Christopher Nolan’s magnum opus. Yeah, I know… The Avengers was more fun. But it wasn’t close to TDKR’s level of sophistication. Neither movie was flawless, but Batman kept me on the edge of my seat pretty much the whole way through. The depiction of Bane was as good as it will ever be – menacing, big picture villainous thinking, and an actual brain amidst the brawn. But Bane wasn’t what made the movie. Bale’s Wayne was nuanced, angsty without being annoying, and above all else… visibly human. Nolan, in spite of Frank Miller and Grant Morrison showed that you don’t have to depict the God-Damned Batman to show the world a fantastic caped-crusader. Add in a brilliant turn for Selina Kyle, and it added up to one of my favorite flicks of the year. I would have put Django Unchained in this spot, but I haven’t seen it yet.
4. Marvel Now: If you read my reviews over at Michael Davis World (and I know you do…), then you’d know just how much I’m loving the House of Mouse these days. Fantastic Four / FF is proving thus far to balance the whimsy the series used to be known for with mature overtones. Iron Man, while nowhere near as good as Fraction’s run, is still entertaining. Superior Spider-Man has me legitimately interested in the wall-crawler again. Mike Gold has tried several times to recommend Captain America to me. My Unshaven Cohort is reading an X-Men book for the first time ever. And Avengers? Epic as I’d ever want it to be. Marvel looked at DC’s retcon-reboot-whatever, and opted instead to play it safe. Frankly, it’s proven to me that it was the right thing to do. Sales spikes or not. By choosing not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, Marvel is stealing me away one book at a time
3. The Baltimore Comic-Con: Unshaven Comics took the 13-hour drive to the East Coast, and boy howdy was it ever worth it. We sold an incredible amount of books. We rubbed elbows with industry giants at the Harvey Awards. We got to hand our book to Phil LaMarr. We had dinner with Mark Wheatley, Marc Hempel, Glenn Hauman, and Emily Whitten. And at that dinner? We had crab cakes as big as softballs. Frankly? It was a weekend of a lifetime. Such that we’ve already registered and purchased our table for 2013. It’s the most comic-book-centered convention we’ve been privy too. Charm City? Color me charmed.
2. Unshaven Comics’ Sales: Hate to get all self-promotional here, but screw it. Unshaven Comics had a simple goal. With no distribution, no investors, and nothing more than our blood-sweat-n-tears… we wanted to sell 1000 books over the course of a year. After attending a dozen shows, and doing our best work ever? We sold 1406. We made amazing connections, saw fans actually seek us out at shows, and gained over 300 Facebook fans without purchasing an ad or doing anything more than hustle. By hook or crook, we’re making the smallest impact known to man on the comic book industry. But I’ll be damned—it may actually be working. All it’s done is fuel our fire for 2013. 1,667 books moved next year will mean we see the shores of San Diego in 2014. Beards on.
1. Bennett Reed Fishman: Simply put, no other moment, comic book or otherwise, is worth a hill of beans in my world. On January 27th, 2012, I became a father. Ever since, every single thing I’ve done has been for the betterment of his life. Having been an ego-centered bearded ne’er-do-well for far too long, suddenly became moot. In his eyes and smile, the world around me means nothing. And when at 5:30 every day he stops whatever he’s doing, and smiles ear to ear when Batman: The Animated Series comes on? It tells me this kid is my kid. And my worldview is 100% different. Sorry, comics. You never stood a chance.
Happy New Year to all of you who read my articles week in and week out. May 2013 prove to be a safe, prosperous, and amazing year for you all.
So the other day, in my second life, I was discussing Unshaven Comics with a coworker. He’d just read our first two issues of Disposable Razors. Suffice to say, these early issues of ours were geared towards our peers – violent, misogynistic, foul-mouthed, and raunchy fun. He then asked me about the next issue, featuring the Samurnauts.
“Dude. Why did you go kiddie?”
“Simple,” I retorted. “I’m still a kid.”
Deep down, beard be damned, I’m still 12. I can’t walk into a Target / Wal-Mart / Meijer without taking a detour through the toy aisle. My DVR is as full of worthless NBC comedies as it is high quality cartoons. And to a degree, my continuing love for comics in general fulfills that childish need for escapism that obviously will never leave me.
Beyond myself though, I am lucky to be surrounded by two others who share the exact same mentality. We Unshaven Lads make no bones about it… at our core we’re far more interested in giant robots, Kirby krackle, and figuring out the relative power levels of various Power Rangers than the latest polling data, Iranian diplomacy, and the relative cost of bathroom tissue. Suffice to say it was a no-brainer that we’d eventually strike gold by tapping into those roots and pulling out The Samurnauts. Iran be damned.
And what’s truly refreshing? Being able to share our book with everyone. From kids to teens to adults, no one is safe; kung fu monkeys and zombie-cyborg space pirates makes everyone giggle. And when they read the issue and see we do it without having to wink and nudge our audience? Well, that’s when we show that this isn’t just for a gag. Frankly, it’s what’s missing throughout much of mainstream comic books these days. Yup. I’m going there.
You see, when I was growing up (frankly, not all that long ago) we were already knee-deep into the Angst-Era of comics. There was a hard line: either you spurted blood and boobs all over the page or you dubbed your book for kiddies, and neutered everything about it, quality included. And despite the relative universal success of titles like Tiny Titans, Super Dinosaur, and dare I suggest Fables, most books on the shelf still seem to be stuck in a rage. But at the same time Spawn was murdering the comic book world, there was an epiphany in kid-level fiction; animation.
I was truly blessed to grow up on what I consider is the truest golden age of cartoons – Batman: The Animated Series, Superman, the X-Men, and my personal favorite Exo-Squad. All employed the most basic tactic that elevated the term all-ages to an unforeseen level of quality. Simply put, these series all decided it was easier to tell a great story, than worry about talking down to kids. And as a kid, I recognized it.
Here were cartoons that dealt with war, murder, politics, government, ethics, and god knows what else. And sure, there were batarangs, guest stars like Lobo, the Dark Phoenix saga, and Neo-Sapien uprisings, but they were presented and treated without a hip wink at the camera. And because of it, when I turned to the world of comics, I gravitated towards Alan Moore, early Frank Miller, John Ostrander, and Denny O’Neil. Here were guys giving me the same credit as Bruce Timm, and Paul Dini, all without having to plunge their books into infinite sadness and meaningless quarrels.
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy a touch of the ultra-violence. But when its used every other issue, it deadens the impact. DC especially seems to be marred in grit and angst again, and because of it I’m down to less than half the subscriptions I enjoyed a little over a year ago. The best ongoing title in recent memory was Fantastic Four, which in and of itself was too kind to not spend all its time with gnashed teeth. Meanwhile, Harley Quinn is being plunged into a vat of acid and donning a corset as a costume. Maybe the kid in me is just sick and tired of rape, death, cursing, and thigh pouches in my cape’n’cowls every week, in an effort to boost sales. Maybe it’s why I spend my time amidst future space stations and pirate ships when it’s time for me to give back to the world of comic books.
Now if you’ll excuse me… I need to go load up my Nerf guns. Thundercats is on.
I love comics. I love reading them, thinking about them, discussing them, and even critiquing them. I also love writing them, something I’ve discovered in the last couple of years as I started writing a series of webcomics about characters in upcoming comic book-related movies, which were then published on movie news websites like MTV Splash Page and ReelzChannel. Since that time, I’ve realized that I’d really like to keep writing comics, including, hopefully someday soon, full issues for a major company, to be seen by all the worrrrrrld[insert maniacal laugh here].
That may seem like a big leap, but it could happen. After all, most of the people who are or have been involved in professional comics started out just as I did: as ridiculously huge fans of the medium and the characters and stories. I mean, sure, maybe a few here or there got pulled into a job and then discovered they liked it, but for the most part, the people making comics do it because they were fans who, basically, landed their dream jobs through expressing their love of or thoughts on comics.
There are some great public examples of this amongst the current Big Names in comics. They include Geoff Johns, who wrote in to DC Comics as a kid with suggestions for the Superboy storyline. There’s also Kevin Smith, whose lifelong comics fandom landed him a number of roles in comics-writing after he’d already made a name for himself with movies (and he also owns Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash, the first comic book store I ever went to, being a Jersey gal). There’s also Gail Simone, who came to the attention of comics publishers through her website Women in Refrigerators, which critiqued the treatment of female characters in comics, and has since written a weekly column on Comic Book Resources and a lot of great comics about both male and female characters, including well-received stints on the all-female group comic Birds of Prey. (I mention this comic in particular because I think it’s great that after Simone expressed her opinion on a certain issue in comics, she had the opportunity to address that issue by writing a number of female characters.) And let’s not forget Mark Waid, whose studio tour on Comic Book Resources reveals just how much of a fan collector he is, as well as giving us this quote about a three-page sequence from Flash #0 that hangs on his wall: “[it’s] the scene where the adult Wally West meets his ten-year-old self and tells the boy that no matter how rotten his young life seems or how hard the days are to get through, when he grows up, every wish he’s ever wished for will come true. It’s hands-down my favorite sequence I have ever written because – and I say this in all sincerity – I often dream about being able to travel back in time and tell young Mark Waid that same thing.”
Of course, compared to these greats and all of their former-fan-now-professional companions, including my esteemed fellow columnists at ComicMix, I wouldn’t say I’ve had too much of a “career in comics” to date. But like, I suspect, at least a few big names today, I have gone from being “just a fan” to being much closer to where I’d like to be in the industry, and have high hopes of continuing along that trajectory in the future. I know that a lot of other fans have similar hopes. So I thought I’d take a couple of minutes to look back at my own experience with comics so far and see how it’s progressed.
As a kid I hadn’t read many comics, and didn’t even know there were such things as “comic book stores” devoted to (gasp) just that medium. There were a few comics in the house that belonged to my oldest sister – the ones I remember being some old collections of Archie and some individual issues of Richie Rich – and I did read those few books countless times, and remember being enamored of both the funny and entertaining stories and the way the illustrations complimented and enhanced them. But I didn’t lack for reading materials, with an English teacher for a mom and two older sisters who loved books, so I never went looking for more comics.
Television, however, was a different matter. You didn’t have to go out and find television shows – they came to you! So I grew up on a healthy mix of cartoons like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, ThunderCats, X-Men: The Animated Series (I still love the theme song!), DuckTales and Darkwing Duck, Batman: The Animated Series, and countless others, most of which either started as or ran concurrently with comic books (although I didn’t know it at the time). I also, thanks to my dad, got a healthy dose from an early age of adventure and comics-related shows and movies he loved, including Sky King, The Lone Ranger, The Green Hornet, and the Christopher Reeve Superman movies. Fast forward a few years, and I was addicted to Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (and even later, I got hooked on Smallville. Apparently I can’t resist on-screen Clark Kent). So comics have always been a part of my life, and I’ve always been a fan, but I didn’t realize it.
In 2008, that all changed. Thanks to an ex who suggested we go to the local comic book store for Free Comic Book Day, I started getting interested in collecting paper comics. On that fateful day he recommended a character that “I think you’ll like,” i.e. Deadpool; and after flipping through a couple of issues, I was completely hooked. In the following month I acquired and read all the Deadpool books I could find (as well as a slew of other comics, both new and old), and, in a joking conversation with the ex in which I was pretending to answer questions as Deadpool, I think I said something like, “wouldn’t it be funny if Deadpool was online answering questions?” and he said, “You should totally do that,” and thus, the first entry of Ask Deadpool was born. I made up the first few questions myself; and by the next day, people were writing in. I’ve now been regularly answering questions online as Deadpool for four years.
I’ve never had much of an interest in writing fanfiction generally, but with comics, it feels a little different. In a strange way, the comics industry could be looked at as the ultimate repository for quality fanfic (except that as it’s published, it becomes canon). There are so many professionals that got their start playing in sandboxes that were built by previous professionals that writing a comic book character non-professionally feels less like fanfic and more like practicing to join the fun. Sure, my Ask Deadpool writing is still fanfic (until I take over Deadpool at Marvel and write it for the next 20 years, mwahahaaaaa), but it’s different than someone writing about a closed universe such as, say, the Harry Potter series. Not only is writing comics fanfic a great way to practice writing previously published characters’ voices, but there’s actually the chance that all that practice might someday be put to use, professionally.
And there’s also the chance that in writing about something you love, you will accidentally become known as a gigantic Deadpool fan to everyone you know and many people you don’t, which will result in a friend getting a cool Deadpool print signed to you by one of the best inkers in the business (hey-oh, Nathan Massengill!), and you will be so excited about it that you will get it framed, and send a thank you email and photo of the framed print to the inker, and subsequently become friends with the inker, who incidentally convinces you to go to a comic con and introduces you to a bunch of other cool people in comics, and soon other fans and all these people who actually work in comics will know you as the biggest Deadpool fan ever, and this turns out to be a pretty good thing.
Because then you will turn out to be “the most passionate Deadpool fan” that a movie news site has encountered, and will be asked to write a fan article about Deadpool for them, at the same time that you just so happened to have started writing comic strip scripts using Deadpool and other characters to commentate on current pop-culture news, and have found another fan who’s a great artist and has agreed to draw the comics, and it turns out that you’ve already written a script that exactly fits the topic of the article. And the news site likes it, and want to see more.
That’s how I ended up having webcomics published on popular movie news websites. (Although it’s also important to know your own value and not be afraid to pitch something. My Avengers three-part series ran on MTV Splash Page because I actually pitched it to the editor, rather than him finding me.) The same passion for comics and network of people and happenstances has also led to me meeting the folks here at ComicMix and being invited to write a weekly column; and to me meeting another writer who has already had several comic scripts published professionally, and with whom I am now plotting out the greatest comic series ever created (well we think so, anyway). And although I can’t predict the future, I have high hopes that for me, it will hold an abundance of work in comics.
The interesting thing here is, until recently I didn’t really sit down and think to myself, “hey, maybe I could actually write comics. Like, professionally.” Instead, I was just having fun with something I enjoy, and expressing a passion for characters and a medium I’ve come to love. As it turns out (I think, and evidence suggests), this is a pretty good way to get started in comics, and the more I think about what I’d like to write in comics, the more ideas I have. Along with thegreatest comic series ever created, I’d love to write Deadpool for Marvel someday (after much more practice, perhaps!) and I’ve got a Superman story in my head that I think would knock people’s socks off. And that’s just what’s percolating in my brain right now. But really, whatever happens in my future, I’m overjoyed that I am where I am today, writing about a medium I love and interacting with people who keep me inspired, and plan to continue to write columns, and webcomics, and anything else people will let me write professionally, for as long as I can. And maybe, if you’re a passionate fan like me, you can do that too! Servo Lectio!
I’m enjoying the back-and-forth between my fellow columnists Marc Alan Fishman and Michael Davis regarding DC’s New 52, but now it has come to the point where I must give Marc, ComicMix’s own Snapper Carr, some love.
(Hey, Snapper, just swallow it. We’ve already got Johnny DC writing here. No kidding.)
For a third of a year Marc has been singing the praises of the New 52 Batman to me. I’ve been reluctant to read it despite the fact that I enjoy friends’ recommendations and I respect Marc’s opinions. I’d respect Michael Davis’s opinions as well, if he ever had any. No, my problem is that Batman was one of my favorite characters until the rank and file turned him into a guy who was just as psychotic as his cadre of evildoers. That created a domino effect: the villains became psychoticer. This is the exact opposite of what happened to Mickey Mouse in the 1930s.
Fans of this stuff attacked me as an old fart who wanted the Bat to be like the 1960s teevee show. No; I’m older than that. I grew up a precocious reader during the waning days of Bill Finger and Dick Sprang and stories that were geared to a solidly pre-adolescent audience. If I had my druthers I would wipe out the past 10+ years of Bat-tales and go back to the approach best presented by (in alphabetical order) Adams, Aparo, Englehart, O’Neil, Robins and Rogers, et al. Barring that, I’d take my lead from the Batman of the animated show as professed by (in alphabetical order) Burnett, Dini, and Timm, et al. Of course, some of those efforts were adaptations of the works of Adams, Aparo, Englehart, O’Neil, Robins and Rogers, et al.
Besides, I thought “the New 52 Batman” referred to the number of Batsmen who currently inhabit DC’s new universe. How many Batmen are there today? I have no idea. I can’t count how many were there the day the previous DCU got itself ignored. Evidently, somebody thought Photoshop was for ideas and concepts as well as art. So, with all this hoo-hah between Messrs. Davis and Fishman, I decided to read the New 52 Batman. Keep in mind: I italicized “Batman,” so I’m onlyreferring to the Batman title per se. I have yet to read Detective Comics, Batwing, Wolverbat, or Batpool.
Damn. Score one for our Earth-ComicMix Snapper Carr. Batman has a Batman that isn’t an asshole. That, alone, goes a long way to restoring my faith in the character, DC Comics, and the concept of “the child is father to the man.” Like the rest of us, I have no clue how this ties into that which may or may not have gone before, but Bats is more human and less lunatic. He – or rather Bruce Wayne – is the subject of a deadly conspiracy by something called the Court of Owls (please don’t tell me that’s going to tie into the forthcoming and ill-advised Watchmen prequel). He seems a bit high-techier than he was before, and Alfred has less need to play off of Batty’s psychoses and is a better character for that.
Most important, the Batman Batman is a hero. Hero is a term of respect we bestow upon those who have earned it. A hero need not be a nice guy, but he/she/it should be, at heart, a decent human being. So far, after four issues, this Batman is a hero.
Thanks, Marc. Michael… your turn. Make a heartfelt recommendation.
Disney XD will launch Marvel Universe, a dedicated Marvel programming block, with the new series Ultimate Spider-Man as its centerpiece, on SUNDAY, APRIL 1, it was announced today by Gary Marsh, President and Chief Creative Officer, Disney Channels Worldwide at the Television Critics Association Press Tour in Pasadena, California. Marvel Universe on Disney XD will be the ultimate place for fans to find exclusive Marvel content, including new animated short-form series, live-action interstitials and the series return of The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. The block will be home to Marvel’s biggest superstars, such as Spider-Man, Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Captain America and many more to introduce dynamic stories of action, adventure and heroism to a whole new generation.
Marsh said, “Iconic Marvel heroes and villains and stories with core values of accomplishment, discovery and growth make Marvel Universe a perfect complement to Disney XD and a destination for parents and kids to experience together.” (more…)