From the people who bring you every other DC Universe show on the CW, Ruby Rose stars as Kate Kane, aka Batwoman, with Dougray Scott as her father Col. Jacob Kane, Camrus Johnson as Luke Fox, and Birds of Prey alum Rachel Skarsten as Alice. Take a look!
Early this past Sunday, the deadliest mass shooting in United States history took place at Pulse, an LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando, FL. It took place during Pride. It took place on Latin night. Estimates so far have 50 dead and 53 wounded.
I can’t even remember what I was originally going to write about. This news consumed me on Sunday and I knew I had to write about this. This is important. Many other people have and are going to write about this. They should. They need to.
We all have different reactions to this event. Some are graceful, some make the LGBTQ community invisible, while others praise the massacre. Having collected my thoughts on this, I can conclude that one thing we certainly need a great deal more of is empathy.
People fear what they don’t understand. People don’t necessarily get exposed to people that aren’t like them, and thoughts and feelings that go against what they’ve come to believe as truth. We need more people being exposed to more ideas.
When I was going through elementary through high school, there was no learning about the LGBTQ community. There was no LGBTQ club at school. I do know that they have since started a club. I don’t know if they’ve since started teaching more about the community. During my undergrad, they did have specific courses on LGBTQ history and the like, but that attracts people already sympathetic and interested. Those aren’t all the people that need that information.
People need to learn about the Stonewall riots – not just from terrible whitewashing movies, but in the classroom. In our textbooks. They need to learn that trans women of color were pivotal to LGBTQ rights. They need to learn about Harvey Milk. They need to learn about the AIDs epidemic and a president who stood idly by and did nothing even as his good friend Rock Hudson was dying. And they need to learn about the latest transphobia and bathroom bills in the same way I and many others learned about racial segregation. Learning that it was wrong. We need more empathy and understanding, and it has to be taught.
Queer American history is certainly more than just those examples, but it’s a start. And it needs to be taught as American history. Not an elective. Not something that can be passed over. People need to be given the chance to know and understand our history. They need to learn about it when they’re young and as they’re developing thoughts and opinions on the world around them.
People need to be exposed to queer people in their lives. Family, friends, students, teachers, politicians, actors, authors, and other professionals. And not just in a heteronormative fashion demonizing non-monogamous relationships, premarital sex, and other alternatives. Different people lead different lives and we need people to understand and accept that, and the only way that will happen is by seeing people living those lives openly and being happy doing it.
If you have kids that like reading comics, make sure they’re also reading comics with queer characters. If they’re reading Batman, they could be reading about Batwoman as well. If they’re reading X-Men, some of the titles have queer characters. If they’re reading graphic novels like Watchmen or V for Vendetta, they should also be reading Fun Home and Stuck Rubber Baby. Tales with queer characters aren’t just to give queer people characters to look up to, they’re also to show other people that we are humans.
This goes for adults too. Straight cis adults need to push themselves and reach beyond their comfort zones if they haven’t already. And even if they have, they need to keep doing it. Cis queers need to push beyond into trans literature and entertainment. When’s the last time you read a book by a trans author? Seen read a comic by a trans artist? They’re out there and ready to be found. Ready to be supported.
Most important of all, exposing younger people to the queerness around them may help them understand themselves better. I know that if I had queer role models when I was in school that I would have had more confidence in myself. Maybe I’d have even come out at a younger age.
Queer people need to be respected, they need to be empathized, and they need to be given hope.
You have got to give them hope.
So last night I got the chance to attend the world premiere of Batman: Bad Blood. It was overall a great film; DC is really winning at animated movies. Additionally, this was the first time that Batwoman and Batwing were featured in a DC animated film.
I praise the filmmakers for handling both race and sexual orientation with dignity and respect. At no time during the film did I ever feel that they abused the characters or use their diversity to define them. I really mean that; they handled sexual orientation and race great. Do you see the “but” coming up ahead yet?
The thing I’m going to be miffed at is the female issue. The cast had four named female characters. The first one was our heroine, Batwoman. The second and third were the villains, Onyx and Talia Al Ghul. The fourth was a Wayne Enterprises board member whose name I don’t recall but her basic purpose was to bitch and nag at Lucius Fox. So once we discount her as a non-player in this equation, we have three major female characters. No, you’re wrong; I’m not complaining about lack of female characters. (They actually address that issue at the spoiler event I won’t mention. Another win for the filmmakers to be honest.)
It’s the fight scenes. They had fantastic fight choreography and they don’t get stale in the action. Here’s that “but” you saw coming. Batwoman shows up and ends up fighting one of the two female villains. She rarely fights the main male villains and when she does, she is overpowered every time. The female villains are easier challenges for her. Sigh. She is a military trained fighting machine! She should not go down so quickly in every single fight.
Here is the worst part: I was willing to not dwell on it. It was her first animated appearance, plus it’s obvious they want to continue growing the Bat Family on screen. She will be back so hopefully her next appearance will show a well-rounded superhero.
Then the after-screening panel started. Director Jay Oliva said all the right things; made all the right points about race, gender, sexual orientation, and how fans can keep these things coming if only they support with their moolah. (I’m paraphrasing but I think I get bonus for the correct use of moolah.) I really believe that he wants to showcase strong women in his films and I know that he likes to focus on female superheroes. But then Oliva said how he made sure to include a girl fight in the film and I literally facepalmed right there. I wish someone had taken a picture because I hit my face so hard, I think I left a mark.
Forcing a girl fight isn’t natural. We all know that Batman has fought a woman. We all know that Batwoman has fought a man. However, when two woman are on opposite sides, they must fight because some mysterious movie rule. Can someone give me a list of those? Seriously, I need this list of movie rules for minorities.
You don’t need to include a girl fight for the sake of the girl fight. It doesn’t really add anything of substance to see the women fighting each other. There are occasions where a “girl fight” can add to the story. But to deem it a necessity just for the sake of no actual worthy reason is frankly insulting. Women can be on opposing teams and just fight the opposing males. It’s ok.
In an equal world, women can fight men just like they can fight women. I’m not saying that every time they will be victorious, or that women can only fight men. But I would rather not see how an action sequence is going to play out before it starts. Give the female superhero and villain a change. The results will surprise you and I’m betting in the best possible way.
Despite never having met David Bowie, he’d been a part of my life for a while with his music, movies, and other works. And a celebrity of his status is hard to not be reminded of, regardless of if you’d like to avoid him or not. From his music being in a many films, to just hearing his songs in played on the radio, bars, and grocery stores, Bowie is just so entrenched in our pop culture that he’ll live on for the rest of my life, even though he physically hasn’t.
Comic book story lives and deaths are a little different. I probably didn’t need to tell you that, but it sounded like a good segue so here we are. Character deaths in mainstream comics are becoming more and more a staple of the medium. The increase in character deaths is leading to an increase in characters coming back to life. Oddly enough, characters who would sell a lot of books with their deaths get killed off (see Superman, Batman, Phoenix, Wolverine and more!) or characters that no one seems to know what to do with (see Coagula, Kraven The Hunter, and more!). Just like real life!
When it comes to characters coming back to life, it’s a bit harder to suspend your disbelief. At least for me. And I’m not saying that to mean in these worlds with alien worlds, alternate dimensions and time travel (just to name a few) that someone coming back from life is where I draw the line. It’s more just sad how these fictional characters we know and love seem to put more effort into bringing back their pals that sell books than bringing back all of their good friends, relatives, and innocent bystanders they’ve watched die over the years. Always comes down to the bottom line with these superheroes. It’s a damn shame. I know I’ve plugged X-Statix before, but if you haven’t read it the book does touch on that point.
Anyway, the big two used to at least try to take a break between ending lives in their comics and starting up lives again. Currently Marvel is advertising that they have a character coming back to life and a major character death coming up soon. The line between life and death in mainstream comics has become so blurred, with brief lives and briefer deaths. All as the ultimate gimmick to keep you wanting more.
This hasn’t always gone off without a hitch. Alexandra DeWitt’s death in Green Lantern sparked enough outrage to create Women In Refrigerators which helped to launch Gail Simone’s career. More recently, Joshua Fialkov quit a gig writing Green Lantern because they planned on killing off prominent black superhero John Stewart.
These two instances do have similarities. Yes, they’re both controversies in the various Green Lantern comics, but that’s not what I was getting at. It’s that both instances involve killing off characters that are not straight cis white guys. In one they’re killing off a woman, and in the other they’re killing off a black man. In both, the idea was to kill off a character that would have motivated at least one straight cis white man to take action and do the right thing. In one, Kyle Raynor was pushed to stop Major Force at all cost, and in the other different Green Lanterns would have been motivated to solve the mystery of who killed John Stewart. The latter of which caused such an uproar that DC cancelled its plans to kill off John Stewart.
And all of this got me thinking about deaths in comics and how it’s linked to diversity. Death in comics can be a double edged sword when it comes to diversity. On the one hand, if you’re only killing straight cis white guys, isn’t that implying that the only characters worth killing off, the only characters that could elicit a strong emotional fan reaction straight cis white guys? On the other hand, if you kill off a woman or minority character, wouldn’t you just be depleting from the already small (albeit growing) pool of women and minority characters in comics, and possibly using it as a tool to push a straight cis white guy to action?
I’m sure we can all think of a lot of potential examples in our heads right now. What if Marvel killed off Steve Rogers (again)? Sure, that’s making room for Sam Wilson to really assert himself as Captain America even further, but in a way doesn’t it have the implication that Steve Rogers is more important? What if Marvel killed off Sam Wilson? Wouldn’t that lead to Steve Rogers somehow probably taking the role of Captain America back, taking a step back in diversity as the cast of characters gets just a little more white and a little less black? It’s something to think about. At least I’m thinking about it.
If they would just come back anyway, then that’s not great for diversity either. In DC Comics 52 series showcasing the aftermath of Infinite Crisis, we got characters like Batwoman stepping up, and The Question passing the torch from Vic Sage to Renee Montoya, as Batman and Superman and some others are out of the picture. It was a flirtation with diversity that ended with our beloved white heroes Superman and Batman coming back from obscurity as Batwoman and The Question fell back a bit. The Question has even went back to being Vic Sage after The New 52 reboot. Go figure.
DC has other examples of this, like bringing back Hal Jordan as a Green Lantern instead of maybe delving more into John Stewart, and more. Over at Marvel, they killed off Wolverine, and now X-23 has taken the reigns in her own book All New Wolverine. Speculation of Wolverine coming back (Not Old Man Logan, who is already back, but the real deal Wolverine) in 2016 has been high. If he comes back, isn’t that a step backwards for diversity? Even if they still try to push X-23 as Wolverine, won’t it eventually just move back to Logan? They must know that over at Marvel, and that makes it a little troubling to think that they would be willing to undermine their own progress. Maybe they won’t though, but it’s something that’s more than possible, it’s likely.
Often character deaths in mainstream comics lead to brief lives of those that take their place. The Death of Superman brought us Steel, but since Superman’s return he’s often been used very sparingly and rarely with much thought or creativity outside of his original creative team. These are all just some examples of life and death in comics, and how they can work against diversity or hold diversity back. If Marvel and DC are really going to take diversity seriously, they may need to let the dead rest in peace.
I understand it’s complicated, I know that no one wants to throw away an opportunity to make a few bucks, and work for hire contracts keep many creators from wanting to invest their hearts and souls into characters they don’t own. However, something needs to change. Some of the current ideas in mainstream comics need to be allowed to die, and new ones need to be born and thrive.
I guess I should put some kind of SPOILER WARNING right here, up front. Isn’t that a rule?
So Arrow has made a devil’s deal with Ras Al Ghul and, in exchange for his sister’s life, agreed to become one of Ras’s League of Assassins. What next? I’ll be watching the CW on Wednesday night to find out, but in your time zone, that was yesterday.
The storyline is based on one that appeared in Batman some years ago. Adapting a Batman plot to the Arrow really isn’t much of a stretch – the characters, though impressive, are both thoroughly human and operate pretty much on the same scale. (I’m tempted to call it “mythic” but that might be edging toward pomposity so let’s settle for “primordial” and get on with it. Or is “primordial more pompous than mythic?)
The Arrow creative folk are basing their drama on the old Batman continuity to which I contributed, but they’re taking the basic ideas further and in the process making improvements. As I was watching the show I wondered if those improvements occurred to me, way back when. Almost certainly not. Why? Well, uh…maybe because they break, or broke, some of the rules of superhero writing. And where, exactly, did I learn these rules? Were they written down, maybe on the walls of the publishing office? Given to me as part of a “welcome aboard” package? Or did some paternal executive, kindly eyes twinkling behind rimless glasses, take me aside and explain the facts of life to the new kid?
Nope, nope, and nope.
My best guess is, I intuited them, or figured them out, from the comic books I’d read. This, obviously, was how things were done. I’m not talking about sex or violence – we knew those had to be approached gingerly because of the times we were living in and that was no problem; I didn’t, and don’t, yearn to splash hormones and blood across the pages of comics. (The mandate, as always, is if the elements in question don’t serve the narrative, they probably don’t belong in the story.) No, the kind of unwritten taboo we’re discussing might have been broached if I’d had my masked vigilante reveal his real identity to the world, or had him ally with the villain, as Arrow apparently did last week.
Would rebellious li’l ol’ me have gotten away with such transgressions? Hard to say. Might have depended on who I was working for. Editors have their individual foibles. And there seemed to be no one way of reading and interpreting the Comics Code, the industry’s self-censoring tsar which was, presumably, the real rule setter. But nothing in the Code’s protocol mentioned double identities (though there was, if memory serves, a provision that dictated that the bad guys had to be in custody by story’s end.
(I did get away with depriving Green Arrow of his fortune and sending both the original Batwoman and Black Canary’s husband, Larry Lance, to their eternal rewards. Maybe nobody noticed.)
I guess the overarching commandment was: This Shall Not Change.
Some form of that is probably still The Commandment, but the enforcement is much more generous.
Alas, there was no rule, written or unwritten, that guarantees a great story every time out. There still isn’t. If I’m wrong about that, somebody please let me know.
The debate’s been going on for months now – ever since Batwoman v2 #34. Did Nocturna, the vampire super villain in the Bat books, and use her vampire hypnosis powers to rape Batwoman. I say no. But it’s not as simple as that.
Let me explain.
In Batwoman v 2 # 34, Nocturna saw Batwoman fighting and found her alluring. During the fight, Batwoman’s mask was displaced and Nocturna saw Batwoman’s face, which she recognized as that of Gotham City socialite Kate Kane.
That night, Batwoman – well, Kate Kane but I’m going to call her Batwoman – was going to bed when a shadowy figure appeared in her bedroom and this happened:
Panel One: Batwoman saw a figure in the shadows and asked, “Maggs, is that you?”
(For the record, Batwoman is a lesbian. Maggs is Maggie Sawyer, Kate’s ex-fiancée, with whom she broke up earlier the same issue.)
Panel Two: The figure caressed Batwoman’s cheek and said, “Who do you want me to be?”
Panel Three: Batwoman – her speech suddenly slurred with strange purple star-like squiggles in her word balloons – said, “Must’a had too much wine… Feelin’ a little light-headed.” Batwoman was clearly under the influence of something. This panel was from Batwoman’s POV and showed clearly Maggie reaching for her.
Panel Four: From the exact same POV the figure, now clearly Nocturna and not Maggie, reached toward Batwoman in exactly the same position as “Maggie” had been in the panel before and said “It isn’t the wine.”
Next Page: Nocturna bit Batwoman on the neck and said “And I’m not Maggie.”
Reaction to the story was strong. Many people said that Nocturna used her powers to make Batwoman believe she was Maggie Sawyer to trick Batwoman into having sex with her. These critics say that by doing this Nocturna raped Batwoman.
It’s not that simple.
Marc Andreyko, the writer of the story, responded in some Tweets that the story wasn’t just the usual “mindless slave trope,” and that no one had forced Batwoman to do anything. He asked the readers to hold off judgment until they had seen the entire story.
It’s not that simple, either.
The story didn’t actually show Batwoman and Nocturna having sex. However no one, including Mr. Andreyko, has ever disputed the interpretation that they had sex. Andreyko merely said that Batwoman wasn’t forced. So I think we can safely conclude both from the context of the story and the absence of any denial, that Nocturna and Batwoman did have sex.
Mr. Andreyko asked us to forbear passing judgment on the story until we saw the end. That end came several issues later. So for several more issues, we followed Batwoman and Nocturna through their sexual relationship. It was one where Nocturna was the dominant figure. Batwoman, in fact, seemed to be little more than manipulated and subservient. We finally got to the end of the story in Batwoman v2 #39.
In said comic, Batwoman’s sister, Beth Kane, freed Batwoman from Nocturna’s hypnotic spell. Batwoman confronted Nocturna. Nocturna didn’t deny hypnotizing Batwoman. After that the following exchange occurred.
Batwoman: “You don’t… love me?” Nocturna: “I don’t even like you. You were just so easy to ensnare.” Batwoman: “You used your powers to make me sleep with you?” Nocturna: “I bet you wish that were true. No, Batwoman that was all you. “I’m no rapist. You wanted me so I figured, ‘I haven’t done this college so why not?’ … Hypnosis can’t make you do anything you don’t really want to do… All I did was find an open door in your head. All the interior decorating in that room? Yours.”
So now I’ve seen the end of the story. I need forbear no longer. Here’s what I think.
I think Nocturna was controlling Batwoman’s mind. According to DC Comics’ own on-line database, the victims of Nocturna’s hypnosis act are controlled by her as if possessed. Nocturna admitted that she used her powers to “ensnare” Batwoman. The question is, by “ensnar[ing]” Batwoman, did Nocturna rape her? To answer that, we must examine exactly what Nocturna did.
Nocturna came to Batwoman’s room and used her abilities to make Batwoman believe she was Batwoman’s ex-fiancée, Maggie Sawyer. If Nocturna did that to make Batwoman have sex with her, the answer seems clear. That online DC database I mentioned earlier actually has a page called “sexual assault” that talks about this kind of act. For example, “Nightwing has been raped on multiple occasions. Mirage posed as his girlfriend Starfire to deceive him into having sex with her.”
If Nocturna used her abilities to make Batwoman think she was Maggie Sawyer to trick Batwoman into having sex with her, well even the DC Comics database calls that rape. The problem is, the story’s a little ambiguous and I don’t think that’s what Nocturna did.
When Nocturna came into Batwoman’s room, Batwoman was clearly under the influence of something. Batwoman blamed some wine. Doubtful. Her speech went from perfectly fine in Panel One to slurred in Panel Three. “Too much wine” doesn’t happen that fast. It’s more likely the influencing agent was Nocturna’s powers. That it was Nocturna’s influence not the wine’s is even more likely as Panel Three shows Batwoman’s POV of Maggie Sawyer reaching down to her. Wine wouldn’t make Batwoman see Maggie. Nocturna’s hypnosis could. However, the story also clearly shows Nocturna had stopped looking like Maggie before she bit Batwoman and before they had sex.
I think what happened is Nocturna made Batwoman think she was Maggie, so she could get close enough to Batwoman to bite her. Then she used her hypnosis to “ensnare” Batwoman and lower Batwoman’s inhibitions so Batwoman would have sex with her.
This is, however, one of those differences that makes no difference. Whether Nocturna got Batwoman to have sex with her by making Batwoman believe she was Maggie or made Batwoman think she was Maggie so that she could get close enough to Batwoman to bite and hypnotize her, Nocturna used her hypnosis powers to make Batwoman more compliant.
Nocturna said she didn’t rape Batwoman, because she couldn’t make Batwoman do something that Batwoman didn’t really want to do. So she didn’t use her powers to “make” Batwoman sleep with her. As Batwoman wasn’t forced to do anything, it wasn’t rape.
The fallacy with this argument is that rape doesn’t have to be by force. Remember that DC Comics database page on sexual assault? It talks about another character, Windfall, who was drugged at a frat party and raped. In that instance, force wasn’t used, but Windfall’s ability to refuse was compromised by the drug. It also talks about how Damien Wayne was the product of Batman being raped by Talia after being drugged.
It’s possible deep down both Windfall and Batman would have wanted to have sex with the person who drugged them. But just because they might have wanted to have sex does not forgive the act of drugging them so that they would be compliant and not resist. The DC Comics database calls these acts rape.
Section 2C:14-2 of the New Jersey statutes says it’s a felony of the first degree if a person has sexual penetration – trust me, the definition of sexual penetration in NJS 2C:14-1 includes the types of sexual acts that occur between lesbians – when “The victim is one whom the actor knew… was … mentally incapacitated, or had a mental … defect which rendered the victim temporarily or permanently incapable of understanding the nature of his conduct, including, but not limited to, being incapable of providing consent.” The statute clearly applies to Windfall or Batman being drugged so that they could not give consent. Does it also apply to what Nocturna did?
Nocturna hypnotized Batwoman to make Batwoman willing to have sex with her. Yes, deep down Batwoman might have been attracted to Nocturna and wanted to have sex with her, but that doesn’t mean that her having sex with Nocturna was consensual.
Let’s look at a hypothetical. A married woman is attracted to one of her neighbors and wants to have sex with him. But, she doesn’t. It would betray her husband. It would violate her wedding vows. Then the neighbor roofies her and lowers her inhibitions, so that she gives in to the desires she had successfully suppressed and has sex with him. That act would fall squarely under the New Jersey statute, because the neighbor knew the woman was temporarily incapacitated by drugs and incapable of giving meaningful consent.
Batwoman’s situation is no different. Even if she was attracted to Nocturna and deep down might have wanted to have sex with Nocturna, the reason she did have sex was because Nocturna’s hypnosis nudged her into agreeing. Batwoman was under the influence of a roofie-like hypnosis which affected her ability to give Nocturna any meaningful consent.
Nocturna did violate that New Jersey statute.
But she didn’t rape Batwoman.
However, the only reason Nocturna didn’t rape Batwoman was because New Jersey calls that crime aggravated sexual assault, not rape. So Nocturna didn’t rape Batwoman, she aggravated sexual assaulted Batwoman.
But, other than that – a difference in nomenclature – she totally raped Batwoman.
There was some discussion when the creative team on DC’s Batwoman, J.H. Williams and W. Haden Blackman, resigned after editorial decided that the title character, Kate Kane, would not be allowed to marry her fiancée, Maggie Sawyer. DC has tried to clarify that they are not anti-gay marriage but anti any marriage. Dan DiDio, DC co-publisher, stated at the Baltimore Con that heroes (at least in the Batman family) shouldn’t have happy personal lives, no marriages. They sacrifice personal happiness for the greater good. That’s what makes them heroes. Or so we’re told. DiDio said, “That is our mandate, that is our edict and that is our stand.”
That’s one viewpoint.
I can argue it both ways. Comics are fantasies and fairy tales tend to end with “And they lived happily ever after.” It is assumed that, after that point, the story gets mundane. It becomes about the ho-hum aspects of living day-to-day. The romance is gone. The tension of “will they/won’t they” no longer exists.
That has not been my experience. The living together, the commitment to one another, gets challenged all the time. The percentage of marriages that end in divorce or infidelity, according to some, is about 50%. Happily ever after is not a given.
I’ve discovered part of the challenge is seeing past who you thought the other person was and to see who they actually are. You discover much more about the person you love after you’ve become a committed couple. In addition, that love you share grows and changes (or changes and declines) as the people in that relationship grow, decline, and change. The love the two feel, for better or worse, may not be the same five years in. All of that can be very dramatic.
However, it’s not something pop culture tends to show. Most TV shows resist having their romantic leads become a couple, and certainly not married. Moonlighting famously teased about its two leads becoming a couple for way too long. Castle, of which I’m a big fan, is dealing with that now and we’ll see how that turns out. Every once in a while, you get a show or series that counteracts that – the movie series The Thin Man, based on the characters of Nick and Nora Charles created by Dashiell Hammett, were sexy and funny and had a wonderful marriage. They are, also, the exception in pop culture.
Marvel can be no less guilty of this than DC. The decision was made to have Peter (Spider-Man) Parker and Mary Jane Watson not just no longer married but to make it so they were never married. In order to do that, they had to employ the devil. That’s sort of convoluted.
I dislike DiDio’s edict because it is just that – an edict. It doesn’t allow for a story to follow through. It is dogma applied instead of thought, creativity and imagination. It’s the same rationale that the Roman Catholic Church applies to celibacy in its priesthood: that the priest/hero sacrifices their own personal happiness to better serve. It’s codswallop in both cases. The RC rule ignores the fact that other denominations have married clergy and it actually works out mostly fine.
Look, I can certainly see that Batman has no time or perhaps inclination to be married. That makes sense within the confines of who the character is. There were and are different circumstances for others like Batwoman. In storytelling, one size does not fit all.
I’ve been doing some work for DC and I hope to do more and when playing in their sandbox, I’ll respect their rules, even if I disagree with them. However, Williams and Blackman had the rules changed on them at the last moment and I respect their decision to walk. I’d like to think I would do the same.
MONDAY MORNING: Mindy Newell
TUESDAY MORNING: Emily S. Whitten
At first report, DC reportedly drove off J. H. Williams and W. Haden Blackman from the pages of Batwoman by decreeing that Kate Kane could not marry Maggie Sawyer, a storyline that they had been developing for more than a year.
How could this happen? DC had always been a leader in creating a diverse universe, or at least it did during my tenure there. We were so LGBT-friendly that I was able to work with GLAAD to get an awards category established for comics and graphic novels when they gave out their yearly prizes. And now they’re going all reactionary? That made no sense. The Internet rumor that they were doing this to suck up to Orson Scott Card made even less sense, and, happily, turned out to be complete paranoid speculation.
Was I going to have to boycott DC Comics, which I’ve been reading for 55 years?
Then, as it turned out, the news story was more complicated. The editorial edict was not against gay and lesbian marriage, but all marriages. I don’t think this is what we had in mind when we wanted marriage equality. The editorial theory is that a married hero can’t be interesting, but instead must be miserable and lonely to have a dynamic emotional life with a lot of story opportunities.
I understand what they’re saying here, but I think it’s lazy. It would be like saying that a hero can’t have a successful career, because poverty has more dramatic potential. However, having an editorial edict about marriage does make it easier to manage the stories from a brand perspective, as potential Hollywood blockbusters. Hollywood loves single heroes, considering them to be sexier and more appealing to the coveted 14-25 male audience. It’s letting marketing trump editorial, and, even worse, it’s letting paranoia about movie marketing trump comic book creativity.
Batwoman is currently one of my favorite books. It’s one that I show people who don’t think they would like superhero comics. Even when the story isn’t necessarily to my taste (Killer Croc doesn’t interest me that much), the artwork is always lushly gorgeous, the lay-outs intriguing, and the characters both enigmatic and engaging.
While I don’t know J. H. Williams, I consider myself to be a huge fan, and it upsets me to see him and his colleague treated so poorly. Editors are an important element of the creative process, and nothing I say should be considered anti-editor. However, it’s bad management for editorial to swoop down and demand changes at the last minute, especially on a story-line that was already approved. It’s no way to treat talent. It’s no way to run a company.
Was I going to have to boycott DC Comics, which I’ve been reading for 55 years?
The latest news as of this writing is that Mark Andreyko will take over Batwoman. I enjoy his work a lot, and, while I don’t think we’ve met, we’re Facebook friends and we seem to share a sensibility. I’m curious to see what he’ll do with Kate Kane, so I guess a boycott isn’t really an option, at least not for me at this point.
Here’s the thing. It’s been taking me longer and longer to read my comics every week. The pile will sit there for days, waiting for me to get interested. I’m writing this on Monday, and the “Villains Month” books have sat there since Wednesday. I’m not sure I care anymore. Treating artists and writers like cookie-cutters has made reading the books a chore. I don’t have to spend money for more chores. Chores surround me, for free.
Nagging about chores is something that ruins a lot of marriages. Way more than being the hero.
FRIDAY AFTERNOON: Michael Davis (honest)
SATURDAY MORNING: Marc Alan Fishman
Here’s a sucky way to spend one’s birthday: voiceless with a serious summer head cold. Bitch, bitch; moan, moan. Okay, I had a great day-before-my-birthday in Manhattan lunching with Danny Fingeroth and dinnering with fellow ComicMixer Martha Thomases. Nine hours of fantastic conversation in the best thing in life with your clothes on.
Sadly, as the overly-breaded but otherwise tasty General Tzu’s was being presented to me at our Greenwich Village dungeon of culinary delight, I was starting to sound like a frog in a blender. By the time I was on the subway back to Grand Central Terminal, I was grateful somebody bothered to invent texting. The gifted Miss Adriane picked me up and dragged me home. That was birthday-eve.
On birthday day, we first had to ransom my car back from the shop – I can’t complain; 100,000 miles on one battery is pretty damn good and I guess you really do need functioning breaks. After a quick stop at Walgreens to clean them out of toxic chemicals and chocolate Twizzlers, we returned home. As Miss Adriane procured the prerequisite chicken soup, I retired to celebrate the anniversary of my mother’s major inconvenience in a time-honored way: I picked up my stack of comic books (e-comics; I’m nothing if not hip and trendy in my dotage) and commenced to read.
As luck would have it, there wasn’t a winner in the bunch. Only one or two sucked; the rest were poignantly mediocre. This is not to say that I hadn’t read some worthy stuff while on the train to Manhattan – I consumed all the good stuff as a matter of fate and ill-planning. But you’d think that out of a dozen or so hand-picked titles, there’d be at least one that reaffirmed my fannish enthusiasm. Let us remember: I was under the weather, and my cockles needed to be warmed.
There were three New 52 titles in the electronic pile. All 12th issues. None motivated me to pick up the 13th, two months hence. There are a number of New 52ers I really enjoy: Batgirl, Batwoman, All-Star Western, and everything with the words “written by James Robinson” on the credits page. These weren’t them. The most enjoyable of the DC books was, oddly, the only Before Watchman mini I’m reading: Night Owl, and that’s because I’d read prescription warning labels if Joe Kubert drew them. Reading Kubert, for me, is a lot like drinking chicken soup. You might have to be Ashkenazi to fully grok that.
The Marvel titles were okay; slightly better in that none chased me away. But, damn, why is it that each and every good Marvel “event” series has four times as many issues as necessary? Okay, we know the answer to that one. Still, the Avengers Vs. X-Men series was established to put Marvel on a somewhat different course for a while and it’s doing its job. It’s not a reboot, it’s just your standard dramatic shuffling of the Marvel deck. But it should have been over by now.
The so-called indies were all over the map as they are supposed to be, so my luck of the draw was simply a bad hand. No, not bad. Just mediocre. Too many unnecessary middle-issues in overly long story arcs. I regret the day publishers decided to put six solid pages of story in each 24-page issue, and I look forward to our next GrimJack series to once again prove you can actually put 28 pages of story into a 24-page issue… without being Stan Freberg, and, yes, that was just to see if Mark Evanier’s paying attention.
Okay, all that sucked. On the other side of the scale, I got more than 200 emails and Facebook shout-outs from friends old and new. That’s great anytime, but after a speechless day of aches and not-breathing and a dozen mediocre comics, all that made be feel on top of the world. And not in the Cody Jarrett sense, either. To one and all, my deepest thanks.
Daughter Adriane and I finished the day watching Paul, a genuinely funny and essentially heartwarming movie written by and starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. I’m a sucker for anything with Jane Lynch that doesn’t involve high schoolers spontaneously combusting into song, and Pegg and Frost have never disappointed me.
Moral of the story: when you’re feeling low, reach for something positive and funny. Tomorrow is… another day.
Thursday: Dennis O’Neil… Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing?
Welcome back to the ranting and raving, kiddos. Be forewarned, some time has passed since my last article – one week to be exact – but I’m still angry as all get-out. For those just joining us: Tim Marchman’s review of “Leaping Tall Buildings” in the Wall Street Journal was an incendiary piece of trash. The review meant to blame the lack of universal love (and sales) of comic books due (in part) to the “clumsily drawn” and “poorly written” books themselves. Last week, I argued on the side of the artists. This week, I mean to tackle this asshat’s jab at the scribes of our pulpy tomes.
To say that, on the whole, modern comics are “poorly written” is just about the silliest opinion I’ve heard since my buddy told me “Ranch dressing tastes bad on chicken.” First off, ranch is delicious on chicken. More to the point, modern comics are writing rings around previous generations. We’re in a renaissance of story structure, characterization, and depth. Writing, much like art, is largely subjective when it comes to collective opinion. That being said, certainly anyone with minimal brain power might be able to tell good writing from bad. Easy enough for us all to agree that the Avengers was better written than the Twilight movies. OK, maybe that’s a bit unfair. Axe Cop is better written than Twilight… and it’s penned by a six year old. Either way, I’d like to think we the people (of Comic Landia) might defend the quality of today’s comics as being leaps and bounds better than books of yesteryear.
I know this might be daring (and insane) of me to say… but for those old farts and fogies that proclaim comics “aren’t what they used ta’ be!” – and imply the scripts are worse now than they were in the 60s or 70s – should go back to the nursing home, and yell at the TV until dinner. Call it a sweeping declaration. Call it mean-spirited. But I call it as I see it: Modern books are simply written better. Today’s comics – when they are good – embrace pacing, motif, and intelligent payoffs by and large far more than ever previously. I assume Marchman, while researching for his article, was only reading Jeph Loeb books. And if that’s the case? He’s probably right. But I digress.
Open a book today. You’ll see things that previous generations simply failed to execute properly. A modern comic is unafraid to let the art speak for itself. Not every panel needs an explanatory caption box anymore. Gone are lengthy thought balloons that explain away every ounce of subtlety. Writers allow their characters time to emotionally deal with their actions, and end books on a down note when needed. And as much as terrible crime against nature it is, modern writers are even willing to ret-con, reboot, or reexamine the past of a character to better flesh out their drive or motive. It’s been done before, I know, but never as good as it’s being done now.
Comic writers today (again, “by and large”) embrace risk like no other generation before them. Guys like Kurt Busiek and Robert Kirkman channel their love and admiration of tropes and stereotypes, and drill down to new and unique concepts that spin old ideas into fresh ones. Dudes like Grant Morrison and Jonathan Hickman layer super-psuedo science and lofty concepts within their stories to transform the truly implausible to the sublimely believable… a metamorphosis of story that a Stan Lee would not have ever delivered to the true believers. And what of our own ComicMix brethren, whose bibliographies aren’t complete… Would John Ostrander or Dennis O’Neil say that the scripts they write today aren’t leaps and bounds better than their earlier work? As artists (be it with brush or word), we always strive to evolve. That equates to the present always being better than the past.
Simply put, Marchman’s postulation that the scripting of current comics is to blame for the lack of sales in comparison to alternative media (like movies or TV) is hilariously wrong. While he’s quick to back his point with the cop-out “continuity” argument, he lacks the niche-knowledge necessary to know how idiotic he sounds. With the advent of Wikipedia, friendly comic ship owners, digital publication of archive materials, as well as countless other online resources… the barrier to entry for someone truly interested in buying a comic is the commitment to seek out the backstory. To blame the lack of sales on an arbitrary assessment of the quality of the stories, was made without considering the avalanche of amazing material being published today.
If I can use a trope from the bag of Seth MacFarlane, I’d like to end on hyperbole. You see, Mr. Marchman, if you want me to believe that comics today are poorly written? I’d like you to read current issues of Action Comics, Batman, Animal Man, Swamp Thing, Invincible Iron Man, Fantastic Four, The Boys, Dial H, Saga, Irredeemable, Star Wars: Dawn of the Jedi, Justice League, Green Lantern, Powers, Monocyte, The New Deadwardians, Batman Incorporated, Courtney Crumrin, Saucer County, Fatale, and Batwoman. Then get back to me. Until that time? Suck-a-duck.
SUNDAY: The Aforementioned Geriatric John Ostrander