On a whim the other day, I decided to go re-read some old Warlock comics.
It was an extremely mind-blowing experience, and not for the usual reasons when reading Warlock.
The issues blurred by in a smear— or maybe that was the old crappy printing. The seams in the stories were much more visible than I remembered. Things that seemed deep and profound just came off as silly and obvious. Even Adam Warlock himself, instead of being the tormented golden child trying to find his place in the universe, sounded and acted like a whiny brat.
No, that wasn’t it. It was because I was taking it in waaaay too fast. These books were simply not designed to be consumed one after the other so quickly.
You may have noticed this phenomenon yourself.
Scott McCloud spends a chapter in Understanding Comics about the way time flows when you read comics, how time is perceived, and the relationship between time as depicted in the comics by the creators and how it’s perceived by the reader. But, amazingly, he missed one important unit of time— the gap in time (and therefore reading) imposed from publishing.
We’ve talked for a long time about comics being written for the trades — that moment where we gather up six or so issues at a time, every six months or so, and put them together for a single unit of consumption. But for a lot of history, comics weren’t like that. There were no trades to be had. There were just single issues that you had to wait a month for. (Or, depending on where you grew up, you waited a week for 5-8 page chunks of stories, either in The Spirit section of the Sunday paper or something like 2000 AD.)
There were gaps of time. Cliffhangers. Come back next issue, kids!
Comics creators in the past used those intervals at the same time they were constricted by them. Chris Claremont was mocked for years for reintroducing all the X-Men every single issue, but he knew that every issue was going to be somebody’s first, while other readers were just going to have forgotten who was who over a month’s time. (And over time, X-Men became the most popular title Marvel published. He had to be doing something right.)
The biggest beneficiary of this gap? I claim it was Watchmen. Readers were tossed into a such a deeply detailed world where we were trying to just get more – we had to read the back matter of the issues, the non-comics stuff which hinted at a much larger world because there was nothing else to read. And fans would pore over it and discuss and argue while waiting, waiting for the next issue.
Around 400,000 readers read Watchmen episodically, you can tell who was screaming over the three-month gap between issues #10 and #11. But since then, there’s been the Watchmen collected editions, which is the way most people have read it in the three decades (yikes!) since with a total print run well over 4 million copies at this point.
And I really have to wonder… how are the new folks reading it? Are they going straight through? Are they skipping over the text pieces, and maybe coming back later? I don’t know, but I do know that they don’t have to wait for the next installment… and that has to change how the book impacts you.
Last week I wrote an open letter to Marvel about what the X-Men mean to me, primarily as a reaction to X-Men Gold #1. If you missed it, you can read it here. Since then, X-Men Blue #1 has come out. I read it, so now you get to read me talking about it.
Although I’ll be avoiding the biggest spoilers, if you are looking to avoid any and all spoilers for this comic I suggest you go give it a read before you continue.
Oh, you already read it and can keep going? That’s great!
X-Men Blue #1 is written by Cullen Bunn, drawn by Jorge Molina and Matteo Buffagni, colored by Matt Milla and lettered by Joe Caramagna. Cullen Bunn is someone I’ve been a fan of for a while now; it’s really hard not to enjoy Bunn’s writing. I’m really looking forward to reading his, Danny Luckert and Marie Enger’s Regression over at Image Comics. You can read an interview with them on this new series here. It was Cullen Bunn’s involvement in this series that made me excited about this particular X title.
After reading it I have to say that Cullen Bunn did not disappoint. He took what could have easily been a rough start to a series and crafted a tight, fun story that didn’t take itself too seriously throughout. That way, when the reveal at the end of the issue is made, it hits you harder. Tone is important and Cullen Bunn knows how to make you feel every panel of every page without feeling pandered to.
The art of Jorge Molina and Matteo Buffagni creates exciting page layouts the move the story along at breakneck speed when it needs to and is aided by the primary use of wide across panels and tall thin panels. My only complaints are that everyone looks too young and pretty –especially Black Tom Cassidy – and I don’t care for the new Juggernaut design. It’s too Bane.
Matt Milla’s colors are bright and really pop. It only gets dark mostly when dealing with Juggernaut and on the last couple of pages, which helps the mood greatly and in particular moves the reader on the second to last page of the main story to start feeling the sense of dread before they even get to the reveal. Excellent coloring.
There are two problems that jump out to me from this book that are no fault of the creative team. First, that the book doesn’t necessarily fit with the 90s nostalgia that these X books represent. This isn’t the old Blue team, but rather the original team of the Stan Lee and Jack Kirby years minus Professor X. While it made sense in the 80s to bring the original team back in X-Factor as the Lee and Kirby run was on only two decades old, it makes less sense when it’s five decades old. Anyway, after a few years they completely changed the X-Factor team back. You have so many great, compelling X characters to have a team limited like this seems entirely unnecessary. Now maybe the team will change in the next few issues or do, but the issue #1 is where you wanna grab people and it’d be a shame if people skip out on this because of this particular team, with the team on X-Men Gold being far more interesting character wise.
The second problem spins out of the first. We end up with a team that’s all cis white characters. A major problem with some of these older comics is that they are straighter, more cis, more male and more white than what people today would often expect. Even straight cis white male readers who are against diversity in comics at least expect their to be diversity, or else what are they going to yell about on Twitter?
That’s the danger with nostalgia. You can often go the route of nostalgia or go the route of diversity, but it becomes difficult to wed the two – particularly when the property in question is over fifty years old. There is a reason people like Len Wein, Chris Claremont, and Dave Cockrum made the team more diverse, and it seems silly to be taking steps back like this.
Despite how some people have reported on the Marvel Retailer Summit, Marvel has not come out and said they are anti-diversity. This particular team doesn’t ring true to what many X books have stood for the past few decades. You can’t point to Jean Grey being the leader as being terribly progressive when she’s the only woman on a team of five, and it’s hard to point to Iceman as being particularly progressive here when his orientation isn’t really discussed. That won’t be the case in Sina Grace’s Iceman, which I’m really looking forward to reading.
Look, nostalgia can be complicated, and can often be very, very white. That doesn’t make it bad reading. Like I said, I enjoyed reading this book. These problems with nostalgia still need to be looked at, and maybe a few issues or so down we will have a shake up with this team to have it feel more like a book in the spirit of the X-Men. And with Cullen Bunn at the helm and the reveal at the end of this issue, I feel like that’s a very real possibility.
And you may ask yourself
How do I work this?
And you may ask yourself
Where is that large automobile?
And you may tell yourself
This is not my beautiful house!
And you may tell yourself
This is not my beautiful wife!
• Talking Heads, Once In a Lifetime
Okay, I’ve finally found a TV superhero show I like more than The Flash, which is saying a lot. It’s Legion, Wednesdays at 10 PM (ET) on FX, and it stars Dan Stevens in a role that’s world’s away from his stint on Downton Abbey. He plays David Haller, a man who may be the world’s strongest telepath and, because of his schizophrenia – their diagnosis, not mine – perhaps the most dangerous.
The show is from 20th Century Fox in association with Marvel TV and is the first to link with the X-Men movie franchise which, for contractual and bureaucratic reasons, is separate from the Mighty Marvel Movie Franchise over at Disney. It’s not only unlike any other superhero TV show out there. In fact, it’s different from any other TV show, period.
What makes Legion so different is the use of the concept of the Unreliable Narrator. That concept means the reader/viewer cannot trust the facts of the story as presented. The device is most commonly used in fiction with a first person narrator, but it can be used in film and television and it’s being used very effectively here in two ways.
The show’s creator and showrunner, Noah Hawley (who also wrote and directed the first episode), wants the show to be told from Haller’s perspective. The story is about him, but since he can’t trust his own memories neither can we. His perception of reality around him may be off as well. David is an unreliable narrator.
At the same time, Hawley skews the design elements so that they match Haller’s mindset and are disorientating to us. His way of presenting David’s life cannot be wholly trusted either. Hawley is also an unreliable narrator.
There’s a key moment in the first episode when David’s being held at Clockworks Psychiatric Hospital (which itself seems to be a nod to A Clockwork Orange) where he is drugged, tested, questioned, evaluated. There’s a strong suggestion of a sinister governmental organization – as if there is any other kind – called Division 3 who seem ready to kill Haller.
David is eventually rescued by his sort of girlfriend named Sid and people connected with a place called Summerland run by Dr. Melanie Bird. There’s running and people shooting at them but, in the middle of the escape, David stops and begs of Sid, “Is all this really happening? Are you real?” She reassures them that it is happening, she is real, and they must run.
Those questions, for me, are the center of the episode and maybe of the series. Is this real? Is this happening? Can David trust it? Can we?
In the second episode, David – now safely (?) at Summerland, is being helped by Dr. Bird and her associates. Dr. Bird insists that David is not crazy; the voices he hears are part of his telepathic powers manifesting and always have been. One of her associates helps guides David through buried or forgotten memories but, again, we’re not certain how reliable those memories are and neither is he.
As I’ve been thinking about the show, I’m now questioning even what I think I know. What if Summerland is not the beneficial place we’ve been told it is? What if kindly Dr. Bird is not all that kindly and the evil Division 3 folks are really the good guys? What if David Haller himself is not a “hero” but more of an anti-hero or even an outright villain? He’s is the Legion of the title and I’m put in mind of the gospels of Mark and Luke where Jesus meets a man possessed of demons who says “My name is Legion for we are many.” David has a lot of voices inside him.
If you know my work, you can see why I’m fascinated by the show. It may not be for everyone; you may prefer your heroes and villains a little more clearly identified. Me, I’m fascinated by it. I like murky.
The character of Legion was created by Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz in Marvel’s The New Mutants #25 where he was the son of Charles Xavier, Professor X of the X-Men. The TV show doesn’t precisely follow the comics’ continuity but I think it’s very true to the concept, re-interpreting it for this day and age. I’m fine with that.
The show demands attention and some thought. I hope that it has some answers for the questions it poses, unlike such shows as Twin Peaks and The X-Files). Right now, I’ve settled in for the ride.
And you may ask yourself
What is that beautiful house?
And you may ask yourself
Where does that highway go to?
And you may ask yourself
Am I right? Am I wrong?
And you may say yourself, “My God! What have I done?”
Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was.
Go check your phone or computer for the date. Did yours denote the year 2016? Mine did. In the immortal words of my muse, Bartholomew Simpson… “God-schmod, I want my monkey man!”
Now Bart was referencing a future in which humanity would have half-man/half-monkey hybrids as pets. While I too would love such an abomination on the open market, I come today in search of another future technology that seemingly should exist, but for whatever reason… isn’t. I come in search of a universally accepted streaming comic book service.
To date, I believe the most ubiquitous platform for digital comic book consumption is comixOlogy. They, like iTunes, offer an exhaustive catalog of periodicals of the pulpy nature. You find the ones you want, you purchase them, and you’re treated to enjoying them in a proprietary reader. Your digital library is always available to you, and can be read on desktops, tablets, and mobile phones alike. It’s not a bad system. But then again… it is.
I have never read Chris Claremont’s X-Men. Nor Peter David’s Hulk. I have not glimpsed at a single panel of Denny O’Neil’s Green Lantern / Green Arrow. In all instances, it’s not that there isn’t desire. It’s that I know to enjoy those tomes, I would need to sacrifice the purchase of modern books. And somehow the threat of missing what’s going on now always trumps the desire to read something that I know I’ll love. It’s the reason it took me two years after the end of Breaking Bad to actually watch the pilot. It’s the same reason I waited 33 years to begrudgingly watch Doctor Who.
In all other major media, there is a shift occurring. Because digital media needs only storage to remain viable to the consumer, the rise of subscription services are creating new audiences by burying them in an unending pile of content. Content accessible without restriction – save only for an affordable monthly fee. With Netflix, I can access an astoundingly large library of TV and movies for a tenth of what I’d spend on cable service. For less that I’d spend on a single CD, I can access Spotify and with it more music than I could ever hope to listen to in a lifetime. It seems a shame that somehow amidst all these successful services, we’ve yet to see comics do the same.
What’s holding them back? Perhaps the complicated legality of it all. Figuring out royalties for an individual item can’t be easy. Hell, don’t we all remember when TayTay Swift threw a (still ongoing) hissy about her music? You see, Spotify and the like pay on a complicated system of plays, royalty percentages, and the actual number of paying subscribers. That way, artists may be inclined to pimp their streaming albums as means to the end. What it equates to is an average of $0.006 and $0.0084 per stream. Music though, is often a repeated enjoyment. Comics, not so much.
Take my music consumption habits for example: I make a few playlists of things I like to jam out to. One list (“Guilty Pleasures”) exists as a bank where songs check in and check out until I’m sick of them. I’ll play this list of 20-30 songs almost 4-5 times in a given week. Each song stays in my playlist for about two months or so. Anyone doing the soft math would eventually realize that in those plays, I don’t even come close to paying even the $0.99 it’d cost to purchase the song outright on iTunes. But, the artists still let ride. Why?
I’d like to think for the same reason I’d be more than happy to see my own indie titles in a subscription service where I was paid pennies for downloads. Because I know at the end of the day, content purchase is only one revenue stream. I purchase tangible CDs and graphic novels from musicians and artists I love via their crowdfunding campaigns. I purchase tickets to concerts. And I socially share things I like to those who I think might like it too. This leads to secondary and tertiary means by which the content creators I love ultimately see success. When it comes to comics, sure, we might enjoy accessing a large library of readables digitally. But we’ll also attend comic-cons where we’ll tempted to enjoy the collectible side of our favorite medium. That means the same book now potentially raises revenue multiple times. I’d consider that a win in my book.
At the end of the day, let’s be honest: It’s Marvel and DC’s passive-aggressive war with one another that will prevent a service such as I desire. They’ll continue to keep a stranglehold on their licensable properties and await the sales to spike when the next movie or TV show debuts. They’ll await the demise of the original creators still drawing a royalty on their creations.
And off to the side, great publishers like Image, Boom! and the like will push the boundaries of the medium, and enjoy their continued rising success in the direct market – small as it may be in terms of bottom line profits. Strange then to think that if the music industry could find a reasonable solution, that pulp and paper will continue to keep their heads in the sand.
Karen Green is developing the Columbia University comics archive from love, from vast knowledge, from the realization that it’s totally necessary and also totally cool. One of the Columbia Journalism School students decided to make her the subject of a video project, and this is the product.
Take a look at some of what she does and see original artwork from Wendy Pini and Al Jaffee, as well as the collection of Chris Claremont.
The ultimate X-Men ensemble fights a war for the survival of the species across two time periods in X-Men: Days Of Future Past. The beloved characters from the original “X-Men” film trilogy join forces with their younger selves from X-Men: First Class, in an epic battle that must change the past — to save our future.
Based on the classic story from Chris Claremont, John Byrne, and Terry Austin, the movie stars (deeeep breath) Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, Anna Paquin, Shawn Ashmore, Ellen Page, Daniel Cudmore, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Lucas Till, Peter Dinklage, Omar Sy, Booboo Stewart, Fan Bingbing, Adan Canto, Evan Peters and Josh Helman. Written by Simon Kinberg from a story by Kinberg, Matthew Vaughn, and Jane Goldman, and directed by Bryan Singer, X-Men: Days Of Future Past is due in theaters May 23, 2014.
So Saturday, I’m sitting in the kitchen, my feet up on the table, sipping my morning tea, and flipping through the latest edition of Entertainment Weekly. It’s the one with Hugh Jackman on the cover as Wolverine, dated May 31/June 7 2013.
I’m on page 32, the “Monitor” section, and there’s nothing there really of interest for me, a headline splashing a “Bieber Backlash” – about time – and an announcement under “Splits” that Robert Pattison and Kristen Stewart of Twilight fame have broken up again – duh, I saw that one coming once the last fanfare of Breaking Dawn was done – and then I see a little inset on the bottom left that boldly reads “turn the page and open the flaps for EW’s pick of the 25 greatest superheroes ever” (with “plus the 5 worst” in a shaded grey, and a little arrow pointing to a big advertising spread for a TNT show called Hero.
Hmm. Didn’t see this listed on the “Contents” page. Must be like one of those Easter eggs that some videos have.
So nat’ch I open the flaps and there it is. Very cool, and a nice surprise.
The copy explains that when picking this list EW decided to “specifywhich version of the hero stands out above the rest,” so that “some icons appear here more than once.”
I like that, it’s a bit different, and with 75 years of superhero history muddying the waters (Superman first appeared in ActionComics #1, June 1938) along with who-can-count-the-number-of-reboots in that time, I think it shows respect for our beloved genre.
So here’s their list, in ascending order, of the greatest superheroes of all time, with a bit of EW’s reasons why:
1. Spider-Man: Lee and Ditko, Amazing Fantasy #15, August 1962. “…reinvented the muscle-bound superhero as young, funny, geeky, flawed, and struggling. ”
2. Batman Year One: Frank Miller, Batman #404 – 407, 1987. “…has cast its dark, sinister shadow over every Batman iteration since. ”
3. Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Joss Wheedon, 1977 – 2003. “…super and human, as quick with a quip as she was with a stake…Buffy was a teen first, her secret identity her heroism. ”
4. Iron Man: Robert Downey, Jr., 2008. “…tack on the aching wisdom that Downey’s age (and eyes) – oh, and may I add here his pure, unadulterated sexiness – brings to the role and you have the fully charged heart of the Marvel movie universe. ”
5. Superman: Christopher Reeve, 1978. “…most memorable was his playful take on alter ego Clark Kent, depicting him as the meek, benign bumbler” – well, they almost got this one right. Reeve simply was Superman.
Okay, this is getting into dangerous, possible plagiarism territory here (plus it could very possible piss off editor Mike), so let me quickly go down the list without the, uh, word-for-word copying.
7. Batman: Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight Trilogy, 2005 – 2012. Made everyone forget everything that came after Michael Keaton. Hey, I thought Keaton was great, so stick in it your ear! Although, imho, Pfeiffer still beats out Hathaway as Catwoman.
8. X-Men: Chris Claremont and John Byrne, 1977 – 1981. The team that got me hooked on mutants.
9. Black Panther: Don McGregor, Rich Buckler, Gil Kane, Billy Graham, Klaus Janson and Bob McLeod, “Panther’s Rage,” Jungle Action #6 – #24, September 1973 – November 1976. Marvel’s first graphic novel, even if it did appear in serialized form. Dwayne McDuffie said of it on his website: “This overlooked and underrated classic is arguably the most tightly written multi-part superhero epic ever. If you can get your hands on it . . . sit down and read the whole thing. It’s damn near flawless, every issue, every scene, a functional, necessary part of the whole. Okay, now go back and read any individual issue. You’ll find seamlessly integrated words and pictures; clearly introduced characters and situations; a concise (sometimes even transparent) recap; beautifully developed character relationships; at least one cool new villain; a stunning action set piece to test our hero’s skills and resolve; and a story that is always moving forward towards a definite and satisfying conclusion…and [they] did it in only 17 pages per issue.” Okay, I’m copying again.
I’m going to tighten this up even further, because there’s a big surprise coming, and it’s something that mean a lot to me…and to someone else here at ComicMix.
10. Captain America: Ed Brubaker, 2004 – 2012.
11. Superman (Animated): Max and Dave Fleisher, 1941.
12. The Flash: Carmine Infantino, 1956 – seemingly forever
13. Phoenix: Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum, Uncanny X-Men, #101 – #108, 1976 – 1977
14. The Incredible Hulk: Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno, 1977 – 1982
17. Swamp Thing: Alan Moore, The Saga of the Swamp Thing #21, February 1984 – Swamp Thing #64, September 1987
18. Hellboy: Mike Mignola, 1993 – onwards in comics and other media
And here is the one that made me sit up, rush to my computer and send off an e-mail to John Ostrander, my dear friend and fellow columnist here at ComicMix.
19. Oracle: John Ostrander and Kim Yale, Suicide Squad #23, 1989
In 1988, Barbara Gordon, aka Batgirl, was shot and paralyzed by the Joker in Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s Batman: The Killing Joke as he rampaged against everyone connected to the Dark Knight. Although the graphic novel was a brilliant take on the Joker (which, imho, vastly influenced the late Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the villain) and was critically acclaimed, the controversy of the victimization of Barbara Gordon really upset the fans – particularly the women.
Including Kim Yale, John’s late wife, a wonderful writer and editor, and the best friend this writer ever had.
Well, let me have John tell it, from an interview with Vaneta Rogers on Newsarama dated September 7, 2011:
“My late wife, Kimberly Yale, and I were not crazy about how Barbara was treated in The Killing Joke,” comic writer John Ostrander told Newsarama. “Since the Batman office had no further plans for her at the time, we got permission to use Barbara in Suicide Squa, [another DC title at the time]. We felt that the gunshot as seen in Killing Joke would leave her paralyzed. We felt such an act should have repercussions. So…we took some of her other talents, as with computers, and created what was essentially an Internet superhero – Oracle. “
It so perfectly made sense. Barbara had been established as a PhD. in library science, so Kim and John used that basis to make Barbara the ultimate computer hacker. As Oracle, she was the “go-to” person for any hero in the DC universe needing information; it was a natural progression for Denny O’Neil (yep, our Denny), who was the editor of Batman family editor at this time, to incorporate Oracle as the woman to whom the Dark Knight turned when he sought aid on the computer.
This is a nation that talks the talk about recognizing the value of everyone’s capabilities but rarely walks the walk. This is a country in which Senator Max Cleland, who lost both arms and a leg while serving in Vietnam, lost his seat to a man who got out of serving in Vietnam (“bad knee,” he said in one interview) by claiming Cleland did not support his country against Osama Bin Laden. This is a country in which the comic book industry is filled with muscle-bound men in spandex able to leap tall buildings in a single bound and sexualized women whose bubble boobs enable them to fly.
But this is also an industry that gave us Oracle, who was Batgirl, who was the target of madhouse clown, who was paralyzed, who forged on ahead and demanded our respect.
She got it.
Thanks to two writers named Kim Yale and John Ostrander.
*The rest of the list is: 20. Astonishing X-Men by Joss Wheedon; 21. TheIncredibles, by Brad Bird; 22. The Incredible Hulk, by Lee and Kirby; 23. Spider-Man, by Sam Raimi; 24. Daredevil, by Frank Miller; and 25. Fantastic Four, by Lee and Kirby.
**The 5 Worst Superheroes are: 1. Matter-Eater Lad; 2. The Punisher; 3. Halle Berry’s Catwoman; 4. Wonder Twins; and 5. David E. Kelley’s Wonder Woman.
(Mindy will be back in this space Wednesday afternoon.)
I haven’t been to a convention in a long, long time, but reading about some of the ComicMix crew’s sojourn to Baltimore (here and here) lit up my temporal lobe – that’s the part of the brain responsible for memory, for you non-biology majors out there. James Doohan (Chief Engineer Montgomery “Captain, the engines canna take it” Scott of the U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701) in the “green room” at ICON spilling his coffee all over my new outfit and his gentlemanly response as he went to wipe my chest and then blushed, stopping himself just in time. London in 1986 – walking through London with Archie Goodwin, Mark Gruenwald, Louise and Walter Simonson. Meeting Neil Gaiman and John Wagner. Forgetting that I met John Higgins and then marrying him 17 years later. The British Museum. The Tower of London. Breakfast with Mike Grell and Tom DeFalco. Toronto: sitting on a panel with Chris Claremont. Chicago: Meeting Kim Yale and John Ostrander and Joyce Brabner and Harvey Pekar. Michael Davis in the audience lending support and trying to fluster me (“Number Nine. Number Nine.”) during the Women In Comics panel. Hanging out at the pool with a bunch of comics pros and getting such a great tan that my coworkers back home thought I had gone to the Caribbean for the weekend. Sitting next to Julie Schwartz at the DC booth. Being followed into the bathroom by a fan wanting an autograph.
Over at The League Of Women Bloggers on Facebook, I found out about a troll who has been sexually harassing and threatening women pros and their families on the net. As I said there, “I would like to know why it took Ron Marz and Mark Millar (and kudos to them for doing so) to take the asshole on. Having never been subjected to the troll’s attacks, I was ignorant until I read about it here. However, I will say that if I had been attacked like this, I would not have stayed quiet. (Anyone who knows me should not be surprised.) I would have taken him on, language for language, and if it had continued, I would have contacted the authorities. So, girlfriends, I do have to say…why didn’t anyone who was being attacked by this asshole not take him on? My graduate paper for school was ‘Horizontal, Lateral and Vertical Violence in Nursing.’ It’s a worldwide phenomenon in the field. What this trolling ogre has been doing is the same thing (and it occurs on the net in nursing, too.) And every peer review paper I read, every person I interviewed, said the same thing – those who are attacked in this manner must come forward. It’s the only way to stop it.”
Reading comics as a kid taught me the meaning of “invulnerable” and that the sun is 93,000, 000 miles from Earth. (Thanks for the editor’s notes, Julie!) It opened my mind to the infinite possibilities of “life out there” and the wonders of the universe. It taught me that guns are bad and life is precious. It taught me to love reading. I mentioned this to daughter Alix’s husband, Jeff, who is a professor in the City University of New York system and teaches remedial English, suggesting that he use comics as part of his syllabus. He’s looking into it. If he can get into his office. The key the administration doesn’t open the door. Ah, CUNY.
Conspiracy moment: It might be my writer’s brain, but can’t help having a suspicion that the release of The Innocence Of Muslims (the video that launched horrific demonstrations against the U.S., Israel, and the Western world all over the Middle East, Indonesia, and Malaysia, and resulted in the deaths of our Libyan ambassador and three others) was an act of Al Quada, especially as it occurred on September 11, and especially as Ayman al-Zawahiri, who took over as head of the terrorist organization, released a message on the net calling for an uprising. Laugh if you must, scoff if you will, but I won’t be surprised if the New York Times reports that a link was found by our intelligence agencies.
The Giants lost their opening game. They deserved to lose. They looked horrible. Their offensive line is non-existent. For this I missed Bill Clinton’s speech at the Democratic Convention?
Martha Thomases’ fashion police column last week made me want to see a spread featuring the very fashion-forward women of comics. Hey! New York Times! How ‘bout it?
La Shonah Tova, everybody! That’s a big Happy New Year to all of you!
You don’t have to be born with a comic book in your hand to be a fan. As I’ve mentioned, my early exposure to comics was mostly in the form of movies and TV. These days, I read comics too; but I know a lot of fans who’ve primarily discovered comics through the movies, and often stay mostly with that medium.
Recently, there’s been a flurry of talk about who gets to be a geek, and I agree completely with John Scalzi’s assessment that anyone who shares a love of geeky things is just as much of a geek as anyone else, and that we can all come at our love of pop culture and fandoms from very different backgrounds and tastes. Given all that, I thought it might be fun to get the perspective of an awesome female author and blogger who’s so known in pop culture and geek circles that people have actually written articles studying her blogging habits and who clearly fits into comic book fandom but doesn’t come at it from the usual angle of reading comics. Also Cleolinda is just awesome and fun to interview! So here we go!
What kind of exposure have you had to comics generally – as a reader, a viewer, etc.?
Um… there were some tiny comics that came with my She-Ra dolls? I remember walking past racks and racks of comics at the grocery store every weekend and being really intrigued, but I was a very quiet, bookish child, and didn’t even bother asking my mother if I could have one. When I was in my 20s, I started picking up graphic novels based on which movies I had become interested in, and Watchmen on its general reputation.
How did you get into comics movies, and what was the first one you watched (as a child, and/or in the modern resurgence of comics movies)?
I think it says a lot about the genre that I don’t think of them as “comics” movies – I think of them as superhero movies and thrillers and action movies and whatever genre the actual story happens to be. I mean, technically, you could say that The Dark Knight and Wanted and From Hell and 300 are all “comics movies,” but if you say “comics,” I’m generally going to think “superheroes.” And those are such a box-office staple that it’s hard to think of them as something you get into, you know? They’re just there, and everyone goes to see them, and there are so many of them that some of them are awesome and some of them aren’t.
The first superhero movie, certainly, that I remember was Tim Burton’s Batman in the summer of 1989. I was probably ten or eleven at the time, and didn’t actually see it until it was on HBO a year or so later, but I remember that it was a big damn deal at the time. That black and yellow logo was everywhere, as were the dulcet purple strains of “Batdance.” Maybe it’s the Tim Burton sensibility that really got me into Batman movies initially; Batman Returns is pretty much my favorite Christmas movie ever, shut up. I just straight-up refused to see the Schumachers at all. But I’m a Christopher Nolan fangirl, so that got me back in. Which may be the roundabout answer to the question: I get into these movies depending on who’s making them and/or who’s playing the characters. Nothing I read or saw about Green Lantern really attracted me from a filmmaking point of view (well, I love what Martin Campbell did with Casino Royale, there is that), so, in a summer crowded with movies, I didn’t go see it. And, you know, I’ve had Green Lantern fans tell me they really enjoyed it; that’s just the kind of choice you end up making with the time and money you have when you’re more interested in movies as a medium than comics.
What are your thoughts on the accessibility of comics movies, as someone who doesn’t primarily read comics? Are there any you found incomprehensible or confusing because you didn’t know the source material? Which do you think has been most successful as an adaptation for non-comics-reading viewers?
Well, despite my lack of comics-reading background, I usually hit up Wikipedia to get a vague idea of what happened in the original storyline. So the moment I heard that Bane was the TDKR villain, I went and looked it up and immediately wailed, “Noooooo I don’t want to see Bane [SPOILER SPOILER’S SPOILERRRRR]!” Because I keep up with movie news very closely, I knew when Marion Cotillard was cast that she would probably be [SPOILER]. And then, of course, they mixed it up a little anyway.
I guess The Avengers could have been confusing – which was something I lampshaded a little in the Fifteen Minutes I did for it, the umpteen previously on bits. But I felt like they explained it fairly well as they went. I had randomly seen Captain America (“It’s hot. Which movie you wanna see?” “Uh… that one? Sure”), so I knew the Tesseract back story, but I didn’t see Thor until two weeks after I saw The Avengers. But pop cultural osmosis plus the explanations in the movie meant that I understood the Loki business just fine; all seeing Thor did was give me more specific punchlines. (I do think that humor relies on knowing what you’re talking about, so I usually do a little research after I’ve seen something when I’m going to write it up.) Really, though, it’s hard to say. I’m usually aware enough of the movie’s background by the time I see it that I’m not confused. I mean, I’m already aware that Iron Man 3 is using the Extremis storyline, and there’s some kind of nanotech involved, and an Iron Patriot? Something – not enough to be spoiled, per se, but enough to have a frame of reference going in.
Just going by the numbers, it seems that The Dark Knight and The Avengers have been incredibly successful adaptations – and I don’t even mean in terms of money, but in terms of how many people flocked to those movies, saw them, enjoyed them, and were willing to see them again. You don’t make a billion dollars without repeat viewings. And that indicates to me that these movies were rewarding experiences for people, rather than frustrating or confusing (the Joker’s Xanatos gambits aside). And I think familiarity helped in both cases, though through different means. The Joker is obviously the most iconic Batman villain; in fact, The Dark Knight actually skips the slightest whiff of genuine back story there, instead showing the Joker as a sort of elemental chaos, almost a trickster god who comes out of nowhere and then, as far we viewers are concerned, vanishes. There’s no background for non-readers to catch up on; the TDK Joker is completely self-contained. Whereas Marvel’s approach with The Avengers was to get the public familiarized with the characters, very painstakingly, with this series of movies that built up Iron Man as the popular backbone, and then filled in the others around him, either in their own headlining movies or as supporting characters in someone else’s. One movie started out with very recognizable characters, and the other endeavored to make the characters recognizable by the time it came out.
Have you read a comic because you saw a movie about it? Or, have you read a comic because you were going to see a movie about it? How did that change your movie viewing and fan experience?
I got interested in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and read the trade paperback a few weeks before it came out – and then hated the movie. And you know, I think I would have actually enjoyed the silliness of it if I hadn’t “known better,” so to speak, so if it’s not already too late, I try to hold off on reading a book until after I’ve seen the movie. I did read Watchmen first – and did enjoy the movie. I think those are the only ones I’ve read beforehand, though. I did go pick up From Hell and a Sin City set, and I bought the second LXG series in single issues as well; I keep meaning to get V for Vendetta. I’ve never picked up a superhero comic. I just look at the vast history of Marvel and DC and think, where would I even start? (How could I even afford it? Do they have comics in libraries?)I’ve never even read the Sandman series, and that’s supposedly the traditional gateway drug for geek girls.
You write hilarious parodies about all sorts of movies; and the recent The Avengers in 15 Minutes is no exception. Can you talk a little about what it’s like writing the parodies (including how you started and your experience with that generally), and whether it’s any different for comics vs. other movies? Was there anything unique about writing The Avengers one?
Well, the short version is that I came home from Van Helsing (2004) and started writing a script-format bit on a whim; I thought it was just going to be one scene plunked into a Livejournal entry, but it took on a life of its own. I published a book of ten print-only parodies in 2005 with Gollancz; the original Spider-Man (2002) is in there, but there’s also fantasy, sci-fi, overly serious historical epic, etc., spread pretty evenly throughout. Looking back, I think The Avengers is the only other superhero movie I’ve done; 300, V for Vendetta, and Wanted might count generally. It helps for the movie to have some sense of silliness, or at the very least absurdity or over-seriousness. If nothing else, there’s something humorous about movies as a medium – the tropes they run on, the expectations, the necessary coincidences, the mundane things they conveniently skip, the way that this stuff just would not work in real life. And you can point this out and have fun with it without saying, “And that’s why this is a terrible movie.”
The real difference with the Avengers movie – the material it provided – was that it had all of these background movies leading up to it. So you immediately have more opportunities for cross-referencing and in-jokes, in addition to a running “previously on” setup. There were few comics-only jokes (although I did enough research to mention the Wasp and Ant-Man), because the movies themselves were plenty to deal with. Whereas the various Harry Potter in Fifteen Minutes writeups I’ve done played more on the “This Scene Was Cut for Time” idea, referencing the books and the plot holes incurred by leaving things out – what wasn’t there.
If anything, The Avengers was incredibly hard to do not because it was good, but because it was self-aware. I mean, I did Lord of the Rings, a trilogy I love, for the book, but I consider what I do to be “affectionate snark,” and… that’s kind of already built into The Avengers. So, while a gloriously absurd movie like Prometheus took four days and all I really had to do was describe exactly what happens, The Avengers took six weeks.
What’s your favorite comics storyline and/or character?
I seem to be drawn to characters who have just had enough and start wrecking shit. I think I’m so drawn to Batman not because I want to be rescued by him, but because I want to be him. I discussed last week how the Omnipotent Vigilante just can’t work in real life – but it works as a fantasy. Because every time I hear about something horrible on the news, or even just someone on the internet being a complete and utter asshole, I wish I could go be Batman and show up in the dark and scare the fear of God back into people (“Swear To Me!!!! 11!!”). Also, I didn’t really grow up with the more light-hearted TV version(s) of Catwoman; my frame of reference is Michelle Pfeiffer. And that’s a Catwoman whose story arc is almost a “vengeful ghost” story. She has been wronged, and now she’s back, and you are going to pay (maybe for great justice, maybe not). Whereas the Anne Hathaway Catwoman, while a really interesting character, is more about Selina wavering between conscience and self interest, not vengeance. And maybe that’s closer to the “cat burglar” origin of the character – which, again, speaks to how meeting these characters through movies may mean that you have a very different experience from a comics reader.
And then you have someone like Wolverine – I think my favorite scene in the entire series is in the second movie, where he ends up having to defend the school pretty much entirely by himself. You wish you could be that badass, in defense of yourself or someone (everyone) else. This also may be why I saw X-Men: First Class and kind of wanted an entire Magneto Hunts Nazis movie – and maybe why Magneto, even as an antagonist, is so compelling in the Bryan Singer movies. The X-Men universe has some genuinely interesting moral ambiguities, you know? Gandalf has a few legitimate grievances and now he is tired of your shit. *CAR FLIP*
Also, I have a little bit of grey hair at my temple that I wish would grow into a Rogue streak.
Marvel, DC, or neither?
You know, as much as I love Batman, I tend to be more interested in Marvel characters as a whole; not sure what’s up with that. Actually, it may be that Marvel has been so much more pro-active about getting movies made and characters out there; I like about three of the X-Men movies a lot, the first two Spider-Man movies are good (the reboot was good except for the feeling that half the story got chopped out, I thought), and now the Avengers-based movies are turning out really well. There’s just more to chose from on the Marvel side at this point.
Do you have more of a desire to pick up paper (or digital) comics to read after seeing a comics movie? Or do you prefer sticking with the movies?
I seem to be more interested in reading stand-alone stories, which is probably why I picked up Alan Moore books pretty quickly. Even if it’s a somewhat self-contained Marvel/DC storyline, it’s like… do I need to have read twenty years of story before this? Can I just walk in and start reading this, or am I missing volumes and volumes of context? And then, if I get really into this, are they just going to reboot the universe and wipe all of this out? And then you have to figure out what the movie was based on in the first place. I might be interested in reading the comics a particular movie is based on – but then you say, well, The Dark Knight Rises was inspired by ten different comics. If you put all that into a boxed set with a big The Dark Knight Rises Collection plastered across it, I would be more likely to buy that than if you shoved me into a comics store (complete with disdainful clerk) and said, “There Is The Batman Section, Chew Your Own Way Out.” The decades of stories and do-overs and reboots, the sheer flexibility and weight and history, are what appeal to a lot of comics readers, I guess, but they’re exactly what bewilder movie viewers, leaving them no idea where to start.
What comics movie are you most looking forward to in the near future; and is there a comic book story or character you’d like to see a movie about who doesn’t have one yet?
I’m curious to see how Man of Steel turns out, even though Superman has never done that much for me as a character. (That said, I always talk about “going into the Fortress of Solitude” when I try to seriously get some work done.) I once heard that Metropolis and Gotham are, metaphorically, the same city – one by day and the other by night – and I don’t know that there would be enough sunlight in a “gritty” Superman reboot, if that makes any sense. And I was just fascinated by the idea of Darren Aronofsky doing The Wolverine, of all things, but it looks like James Mangold is directing that now. And, you know, in checking on that, I see “based on the 1982 limited series Wolverine by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller.” I see the words “limited series” and “trade paperback rated Must Have” and I think, okay, maybe this is something I have a chance of catching up on first.
I would really, really like to see a Black Widow movie, at this point. As much as I liked Anne Hathaway’s Selina, I wonder if a character that arch doesn’t work better in small doses. I mean, I’d still like to see them try a spinoff movie, but somehow, I think Black Widow might work out better. Everyone’s remarked on how great a year it’s been for people actually going to see movies with active heroines – Katniss, Merida, Selina, Natasha, even warrior princess Snow White – and I’m hoping that idea sticks. I know that the comics industry in general has a problem both in writing about and marketing to women. Maybe movies can lead the way on that.
Thanks for a fascinating perspective on your comics (and movie) fandom, Cleo!