Tagged: Dennis O’Neil

John Ostrander: Story Teller

South Park tnDespite my thirty odd (sometimes very odd) years as a professional writer in comics, I wouldn’t describe myself first and foremost as a writer. I consider myself primarily a storyteller. You don’t have to be a writer to be a storyteller; in fact, all of us are storytellers. Phillip Wilson, the former rector at the church I attended when I lived in New Jersey, used to describe story as the atoms of our social interactions.

Think of how we use storytelling every day – all of us. When someone asks you how your day has been, you don’t tell them each and every thing you’ve done (hopefully). You select this moment, that moment, and arrange it some sort of sequence. That’s a story. We use story to relay experience to one another.

Denny O’Neil and I were once talking about a particular story on which I was working (Batman: Seduction of the Gun to be specific) and he told me that in comics you can make any point that you want but first you have to tell a story. That’s what gives you the right to make your point. If you want to preach, get a pulpit.

Speaking of preaching – the Bible, itself a fascinating collection of stories, talks about the Great Storyteller, Jesus, this way. Matt 13: 34 “Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable.” (See? Even an agnostic can cite scripture to his purpose.) What is a parable but another form of story?

Taking the verse at face value, why did Jesus speak to them only in parables? Well, the author of Matthew claims it was to fulfill a prophecy but, simply, it was a way to communicate to the masses in a way that would be remembered. It also invites the listener to participate. They have to listen to the story and filter it through their own experiences. It becomes the listener’s story as well as the storyteller’s story.

The lessons that Jesus taught were also less specific and, I think, more applicable to a wider set of circumstances. His Dad had them etched in tablets of stone; very clear and very precise. (Although there’s a lot of later clarification; “Thou shalt not kill” seems pretty clear but evidently you can read between the lines and find exceptions: except in time of war, or self-defense, or a state approved execution and so on and so forth.) The Parable of the Prodigal Son, for example: One Son demands his inheritance and goes off on a bender and blows it while the other son stays at home and does all that is helpful and good for the family. Wastrel finally heads home and Daddy throws a big party for him which he didn’t do for the son who played it straight.

What the hell? How’s that fair?

Again, there’s lot of interps about what Jesus meant with that story but none come from JC himself. Different “authorities” will tell you the official line but, so far as I’m concerned, it’s a story and you’re free to decide for yourself what it means. If you decide it means, “Hey, who said life was fair?” then I think you’re perfectly justified.

That’s the point. There is a bond between storyteller and audience, a one on one situation. We each bring who we are to the equation and what you bring is as important to the story as my contribution.

Like life, story is experienced differently by each one of us and that’s what makes it endlessly fascinating.

(Note: This was supposed to go up this morning. The editor blames this on WordPress Gremlins combined with the indisputable fact that Fin Fang Foom has taken residence in the author’s sewer pipe. I think you had to be there.)




Mindy Newell: For Kim And John, From The Heart

Newell Art 130527So 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 “specify which 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 Action Comics #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.

6. Wonder Woman: Lynda Carter, 1976 – 1979. Spin, Lynda, spin!

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

15. Dream: Neil Gaiman, Sandman #1 – #79, 1989 – 1996.

16. Wolverine: Hugh Jackman, 2000 – 2013

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. The Incredibles, 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.)




Martha Thomases: History Comes And Goes

7726History happens every day. Every day changes the world.

Not every day gets written down in history books. Not every day is part of that pop quiz second period.

Usually, the battles get written down. We measure time in wars. The more death, the more important.

And yet, that’s not all there is to history. There are births and marriages and medical advances that allow women to give birth without dying from infections. There are music and art and dance. There are comic books and television shows and movies.

When I was a young history major in college (back when there was waaaay less history), some of the more interesting discussions we had were about how one defined history at all. It is a study of the past, of course, but what kind of study?

The field is enormous, of course, and allows all kinds of views. The one that most interests me is the question of how people lived their lives in other times and other places.

I like the stories.

This week, on AMC’s award-winning Mad Men, the story centered around an historical event that I actually remember, the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I was in high school at the time, my freshman year at boarding school in Connecticut, and mostly what I remember is feeling horrified (MLK inspired my early pacifism) and frustrated, because there was no way to find out what was going on up on that mountain.

The Mad Men cast had lots of reactions. Some were upset, some were scared for themselves, friends and family. Some were annoyed that events upstaged their plans. Some were awkward around the (very) few black people they knew. I believe all the reactions were authentic recreations of what people in that particular demographic niche felt at the time, although I’m not sure the proportions are correct. Still, it is history the way I like to see it, happening to people in real time.

There are lots of parallel stories in comics. The most famous is probably our own Denny O’Neil’s run on Green Lantern/Green Arrow, written about the real world, using super-heroes to articulate some of the different points of view in the day’s arguments. Another of my personal favorites is this story, in which Superman trusts President Kennedy with his secret identity. I read that comic when I was ten years old, and President Kennedy had just been shot.

It’s hard to imagine a story like this today, when things are so hyper-partisan. Looking at it now, I have an understanding of how different our national discourse was 50 years ago.

Another little bit of history that happened this week is the return of All My Children, now on the Internet (and also One Life to Live, but I don’t watch that). I don’t know how anyone can keep historical records in Pine Valley, when time doesn’t seem to move in a straight line. Apparently, five years have passed since we last saw our cast, but some characters are the same age, while some are a decade older. Just a few episodes in, and it’s thrilling how much I don’t care.

And the great philosopher, Howard Chaykin said, “Continuity is for geeks.”

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman

SUNDAY: John Ostrander


Michael Davis: Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due – Eulogy For The Sacrificial Negro

(Michael ran this piece on MichaelDavisWorld.com and asked that we run it here at ComicMix in place of his regular column. After reading it, you’ll know why!)

When is making a short zombie film an act of protest?

When the heroes and heroines are black. When there is no Sacrificial Negro to fulfill the fantasy that our lives matter less than white lives. When there is no cooning, shucking or jiving. When no black “Spiritual Guide” exists only to ennoble and enlighten white characters. When artists and backers unite to circumvent cultural barriers to tell our own stories.

As authors and screenwriters, we never set out to become filmmakers. But after years of options, pitches and meetings, we realized Hollywood is just a money machine following the ticket-buying habits of America as a whole. It will never lead. It was time to stop waiting for Hollywood to translate our stories to screen.

So the idea for our short film Danger Word was born.

Danger Word, adapted from our YA novel Devil’s Wake, is a coming-of-age short film about a 13-year-old girl surviving in the woods with her grandfather after the zombie apocalypse, and how her birthday celebration goes badly awry. (We have signed film and television veteran Frankie Faison, pictured above, to play Grandpa Joe.)

But that’s just the logline. It’s really about creating imagery of our families caring for each other, and the bitter lessons all children face on the path to adulthood. In the tradition of Night of the Living Dead, it’s a horrific social prism reflecting our real world’s trials.

The history of blacks in horror, fantasy and science fiction films has not been pretty. The casting of Duane Jones as the lead of “Night of the Living Dead” transformed fears of black power into a fable of disintegrating society—and never forget that the lead character’s advice got everyone killed. Supernatural films from The Shining to The Green Mile specialize in black characters with amazing powers who die so that white people can live and grow. Minus the amazing powers, we recently saw this example replayed in television’s “The Walking Dead” and the death of T-Dog. Morgan Freeman has played God more often than he’s been passionately kissed onscreen. In the cinema, Will Smith has saved the world more often than he’s made love. And let’s not count the number of films in which the ONLY black character dies while white characters survive and get the girl.

When’s the last time you saw an American film where the only white character died while the black characters survived? It’s pretty obvious that this is working out some deep unconscious fears and preferences on the part of artists and audiences.

It’s absurd. And totally understandable. The mythology of every group of human beings is built around one idea: “God made us first, and loves us best.” Every group…except black Americans.

Fairy tales in all cultures exist to preserve the central values and beliefs of the societies that create them. And just as black people tend to pay special attention to films with black stars, white audience (not absolutely, but statistically) prefer films with people who look like them as the leads. And when non-white characters are leads, they like them to be singular, not sexual competition, and preserve social values they personally hold dear. Note the anger toward Will Smith’s son Jaden in internet chatter over the upcoming science fiction film After Earth. Smith is passing along his accumulated cultural capital, and that threatens the status quo in a way that Smith as an individual does not. (The real “gap” is not between black and white income…but between black and white inherited wealth. The amount of capital, financial or cultural, passed from generation to generation.) Films are also a part of our children’s inheritance.

Tananarive’s supernatural love story My Soul to Keep sat at a studio for seven years without getting made. (We optioned it to the studio before our son was born, and he was in second grade before we got the rights back.) When Steve’s dystopian martial-arts fable Streetlethal was in development, the first question he was asked was: “Can we make the lead white?”

Many of you have similar stories. Enough is enough.

But we have to proceed carefully. And one reality is that there is no faster way to go broke than to personally finance a cinematic passion project. Like our director and co-producer Luchina Fisher (Death in the Family), we don’t have a hedge fund and giant investors. We have to raise the budget through crowd funding—or community funding, as we call it.

If the audience is there, if people like you believe that our children deserve stories of heroism and ingenuity, that OUR children need to see themselves as central to creation…that we have as much right as anyone else to cheer for people who look as if they could live in our mirrors…movies like Danger Word can exist, and feed something deep within us. There is no hour of the day or night when white audiences cannot turn on their televisions and see images of power and sexuality and courage. No day of the week they cannot go to the movies and not see these images fifty-feet high on the silver screen. No hour they cannot pick up books or comic books and have their fantasies reinforced: We are the kings and queens. We are the best. We are the most powerful, sexiest, smartest, most courageous and beautiful creatures in the world.

Joseph Campbell’s archetype of “The Hero’s Journey” says that our myths and stories are the village elders telling us “this is what life will be.” And that understanding leads us to the understanding of our Selves. And that without that understanding, we are vulnerable to any external programming. Say, for instance, programming that says we are less than, or should only live in support of. That we are not as central to creation as anyone else. And that is not a legacy we will pass to our children. Or yours.

With the example of artists like Ava DuVernay and her AFFRM distribution model, a new day is dawning in black independent film. Black-themed horror could be “The Next Big Thing” in the footsteps of Asian horror, with fresh image systems and cultural references.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and Danger Word is ours.

Please help us by spreading the word and donating what you can.

Steven Barnes has published 28 novels of science fiction and fantasy. He has been nominated for Hugo, Nebula, and Cable Ace awards. His television work includes The Twilight Zone, Stargate and Andromeda, and his A Stitch in Time episode of The Outer Limits won an Emmy Award for actress Amanda Plummer. His alternate history novel Lions Blood won the 2003 Endeavor Award. He won an NAACP Image Award for In the Night of the Heat, a mystery novel co-authored with his wife, Tananarive Due, in collaboration with actor Blair Underwood. Visit his website at www.diamondhour.com.

Tananarive Due is the author of a dozen novels, including the supernatural suspense novels My Soul to Keep and The Good House (both formerly in development at Fox Searchlight). She is the recipient of an American Book Award. In 2009, she received an NAACP Image Award with Steven Barnes and actor Blair Underwood for their Tennyson Hardwick mystery novel In the Night of the Heat. Her website is at www.tananarivedue.com.

Links: www.dangerwordfilm.com

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Follow Danger Word Film on Twitter: @ZombiesFreak

Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due on YouTube


THURSDAY: Dennis O’Neil

Mike Gold: Me MoCCA Mike

Gold Art 130417

Well, it’s convention season once again. This statement doesn’t mean as much as it used to, when there actually was a convention “season.” Now it pretty much runs from the beginning of spring (Glenn was at WonderCon and will be posting his pictures sometime before next year’s show) and ends the following March at San Francisco’s MegaCon… give or take.

My schedule includes Chicago’s C2E2 next week, maybe Heroes in Charlotte in June, San Diego in hell, Baltimore in August and New York in October, held each year at the only spot in all Manhattan that is inaccessible to humanity. For me, it started last week at one of my favorites, New York’s Museum of Comics and Cartoon Art, a.k.a. MoCCA Fest.

Being in our back yard, ComicMix was well represented: Vinnie Bartilucci, Glenn Hauman, Adriane Nash, and Mike and Kai Raub. Traditionally, Martha Thomases is in attendance but this year the she was in Japan at the time and the commute would have been a bitch.

I enjoy MoCCA because there it covers the widest spectrum of self-published, small-published, and web-published “independent” comics. If your thrills are limited to capes and masks from the Big Two, this event would either bore you… or transform you, opening your eyes to all sorts of really interesting stuff people do with our coveted medium. So if you’re into comics, it’s certainly worth a try.

If you could bottle the enthusiasm in the room, you’d have enough energy to replace Chernobyl. By and large, these people aren’t getting rich, although some make a living and others would like to eventually. They’re there out of their love for the comics art medium and to employ our unique storytelling concepts to communicate their stories. Each time I’m there, and I think I’ve been to eight or nine of their shows, I come away renewed and rejuvenated. So up yours, Ras Al Ghul.

Despite the quantity of behatted hipsters, this isn’t necessarily a young person’s show. Fantagraphics, perhaps the leading bookstore publisher of these sorts of efforts, was well-represented, as was Abrams and other staid outfits. While trying not to be overly creepy in my contacts with the younger folk, I also hung out with fellow geriatrics including Craig Yoe, Denis Kitchen, J.J. Sedelmaier, and Paul Levitz.

It comes as absolutely no surprise that of all the shows I attend, MoCCA routinely attracts more women per capita. Well, having made that statement I might have just put the kibosh on that, so let me say there isn’t as much semi-naked cosplay as I see at capes shows. I suspect that this is because the show is all about your desire to express yourself and tell your own story and not so much about who was the Avenger villain who crossed over into Amazing Spider-Man #214. (No, no; don’t Google that – I pulled it out of my ass.)

A high-point was when Vinnie, Glenn, Adriane, Mike, Kai and I semi-inadvertently all wound up at the Popeye’s Fried Chicken across from the venue. There was a point when ComicMix had actually taken over the joint. I’m glad to say that we didn’t spontaneously burst out in rousing song – MoCCA isn’t a science-fiction convention.

As it turns out, this column is sort of a crossover. My friend and fellow columnist Denny O’Neil was also there, and he will be waxing poetic about his MoCCA experience tomorrow, same-Bat-Time, same-Bat-Channel.

THURSDAY: Dennis O’Neil

FRIDAY: Martha Thomases


Emily S. Whitten: The Little Things

Whitten Art 130409I love tiny things. Love them. Tiny things, filled with tiny details. This is why, somewhere in my closet, I have a box of random tiny dollhouse items that I’ve bought in various places or made myself, despite not ever having owned a dollhouse or the dolls that would accompany it. (My dolls were either baby-sized or tiny. Polly Pocket, anyone?) I have tiny newspapers and books that open; tiny jars of fake Necco Wafers and peppermint sticks; tiny wrapped “Christmas presents;” tiny forks and knives and mugs…I can’t resist them, because they’re just so intricate and cute. And tiny!

It’s also why I own and dote on a tiny Chinese dwarf hamster. Well, okay, so I’ve had bigger pets, too, but anyone who reads Twitter knows Bitty Miss Izzy is like my spirit animal or something, and I am perpetually unable to get over how tiny and cute she and her little paws and little nose and little ears are, which is why I am always photographing and filming her.

It’s also why, in my “spare time,” (haha) I sometimes make tiny models of geektastic things, like a tiny Tenth Doctor (Who) and TARDIS, or a tiny little Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon, or a tiny batch of lembas bread or tiny Rorschach accessories. And, of course, a tiny “Scary Trousers” Neil (Gaiman), based on the drawing of the same name, because who doesn’t need one of those? (Though that one now resides with the real Neil Gaiman, unless he’s given it away or something.)

Aside from the general cuteness of tiny things, I think a main reason I like them is because of the astounding amount of detail that they frequently manage to include, despite size; and as a geek, I’m more than a little inclined to obsess over detail, and particularly the (haha) tiniest details. I like intricacy. And let’s be honest here – I’m not alone. Most geeks are a bit detail-obsessed. Whether it’s every detail of a beloved character’s fictional life or a beloved fictional world, or every detail of a replica convention costume or collectible item, or every detail of minutia about the real-life production process of a favorite show, or trilogy, or what-have-you, we geeks are all about the details.

And being a geek, you know what I really find fascinating? When geekness combines with detailed tininess and produces amazing, awesome, and sometimes useful things. Here are some of my favorites this week:

Via the wonder of 3-D printing (how much do I want a 3-D printer and a 3-D printing pen? So much) I give you: tiny Winterfell.

] from the beautiful, amazing Game of Thrones opening credits. Look at it! Look!! It’s made of plastic and preciousness and precision. It’s under 10 square inches! I want one. (I also adore the entirety of the opening credit of that show, which feature a clockwork map of the story’s locations that is so tiny and intricate and beautiful and clever that it won an Emmy. You can read a cool piece about how the credits are done here.)

But lest you think that 10 square inches is anything special, there’s also this 3-D printed Wing Commander spaceship that is the diameter of a human hair. (Also, did you know there was a Wing Commander movie starring Freddie Prinze, Jr.? I didn’t! Apparently it was terrible.) A human hair! That’s almost too ridiculously tiny to be real, and yet, there it is, in incredible detail, just ready to be accidentally snorted up someone’s nose while they’re eyeing it up close. It’s adorbs, and I want one, even if I’d lose it immediately. I also see great promise for a nano-printer, in that it could conceivably be used to produce tiny bits for a myriad of helpful scientific or medical things, or even to produce an incredibly tiny Iron Man. You know which one I’d use it for first.

Speaking of robotics, how about this little Festo BionicOpter? Granted, it’s not quite as cute or small as a tiny Winterfell or Wing Commander plane, but it does have the benefit of being potentially a bit more useful. It’s an arm-sized quadcopter that “looks and moves like a dragonfly,” and “despite its complexity, the highly integrated system can be operated easily and intuitively via a smartphone.” Wow. I’m kind of in awe. Watch the video; it’s pretty cool. It also makes me wonder how long it’s going to take Festo (or other quadcopter folks) to make even smaller quadcopters. (Or, in a more sinister vein than the dreamy music of the BionicOpter video would have us thinking, how long until we’re going to be seeing things like the heat-sensing, eye-scanning electric shock spider robots of Minority Report? Eep!)

Despite the possible sinister applications of making technological things smaller (and that sort of thing has been around for years in the spy world, where we have things like the key ring spy camera and the DocuPen scanner, I think the current possibilities of the technology that allows things like the above to be made tiny and real is pretty amazing, and am curious to see what the miniaturization geniuses will come up with next.

Also, I think it’s amusing that we live in an age where miniaturization can also be used for practical jokes. I’m ordering my Micro Spy Remote as we speak. So don’t be too distressed if your TV mysteriously starts changing channels on its own next time I come to visit; and until next week, Servo Lectio!




Mindy Newell: Life…

Newell Art 130408Last week’s column didn’t happen because I received a phone call at about 10 A.M. last Sunday from my mom. My dad was having another “episode,” his third. Meaning his brain was short-circuiting once more. It’s called “complex partial seizure disorder,” for the medically less-literate out there.

No one really knows why this is happening to him; before this started last Christmas Eve, he was in remarkable health for a man of 90. The only drug he took on a regular basis was one of the statins –anti-cholesterol drugs – and that was on a preventative basis. His blood pressure runs about 110/70, his heart rate about 65; his only major medical problem has been the deterioration of his eyesight because of macular degeneration and he was responding remarkably well to the treatment. Yes, he had had prostate cancer, but that was 30 years ago, and when his Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) level rose, he started the androgen deprivation therapy and it dropped to 0.003 or something, i.e., normal.

So this week once again my dad lay in a bed in the ICU at Cooper University Hospital – big kudos to the staff there!!! – only this time he was intubated because the ambulance didn’t take my mom with them and I was driving like a bat out of hell down the NJ Turnpike and my brother (an MD at “the Coop”) was vacationing on Puerto Rico so there was no one to tell the trauma team that my dad is DNR and the protocol when a patient comes in having seizures is to intubate to ensure a patent airway.

Yesterday, exactly one week later, Dad woke up again. He was extubated this morning. He’s very weak, but he knew where he was, and he knew all of us. He also ate ice chips, a cup of Haagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream, Jello, and a ¾ of a bowl of chicken broth. The plan is to get him out of bed tomorrow. We’re going to take it from there.

So driving home I thought about my dad and this column and I thought about the portrayal of infirmity and illness in the super hero world. I had plenty of time because I again got stuck driving north on the Turnpike between Exit 7 and Exit 8A – a stretch of about 21 miles – in bumper-to-bumper, crawling traffic. It’s a section of the iconic NJ Turnpike that has been undergoing reconstruction for the last three years or so, which makes it prone for Delays Ahead: Be Prepared To Stop alerts, and I swear I think people slam on their brakes just to read the signs. What is it about one fender-bender that causes miles and miles of back-up?


The first picture in my mind was of Silver Age Superman gasping and choking and weakened as the radiation from Kryptonite, usually held or manipulated by Lex Luthor – poisoned him, finally turning him as green as the Wicked Witch of the West, indicating that death was near, just in a few panels. Kryptonite worked fast, unlike what happens to ordinary humans when exposed to radiation. Ordinary humans, exposed to radiation, don’t even feel it at first. The amount of time between exposure and the first signs and symptoms depends on the amount of radiation that has been absorbed. The first thing that usually happens is nausea and vomiting; headache and fever can also occur. After that, an individual with radiation sickness can have a period of remission, in which there is no apparent illness and the individual feels fine. Then the more serious problems start: hair loss, weakness, dizziness, bloody stools and vomit, weight loss, low blood pressure, fucked-up blood counts, cancer….a slow, painful, and debilitating death.

I guess Superman puking and having bloody diarrhea and going bald, getting infections and cancer and dying a slow, painful, and debilitating death wouldn’t have gotten past the Comic Code Authority back in the day.

Barbara Gordon, a.k.a. Batgirl, shot by the Joker in Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke (1988), was paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair – but through the talents of ComicMix’s own John Ostrander and his late, wonderful wife, Kim Yale, we watched Barbara go forward with her life: although initially (and realistically) portrayed with a reactive depression, Barbara comes to see that her life is not over. Gifted with a genius level IQ, a photographic memory, and possessing expert computer skills (including hacking) along with graduate training in library sciences, Barbara transforms herself in Oracle, an “information broker” to law enforcement agencies and the super-hero community. She also hires Richard Dragon (co-created by ComicMix’s own Denny O’Neil), a martial artist, to teach her combat and self-defense skills.

Gail Simone took the ball that John and Kim handed her and ran with it in Birds Of Prey…until, after DC’s 52 reboot, Oracle never existed and Barbara was mysteriously back on her feet. This – rightfully, im-not-so-ho – pissed off a lot of fans, because Barbara Gordon as Oracle was the preeminent role model for those living with disabilities. However, Gail has done a magnificent job with the post-Oracle Batgirl, allowing the character to go through PTSD secondary to her disability and recovery – although, as we all know, DC seemed to have a problem with that a few months ago. Luckily, DC recovered from that particular illness.

And now Power Girl, a.k.a. Kara Zor-L, a.k.a. Karen Starr, has breast cancer. Although I’m sure the intentions of the creative team are good and positive and totally above-board (and I do hope none of the creative team has had any kind of personal experience with breast cancer), somehow the cynic in me is smirking. Maybe because Power Girl has always been drawn with gi-normous bubble boobs that burst out of her costume like Mt. St. Helens blowing their tops? It’s like Sharon Tate’s character in The Valley Of The Dolls getting breast cancer. (Google or read the book or stream/rent the movie to get the reference.) It’s saying that the one thing that lifts (pun intended) Power Girl out of the crowd of super heroines are her mammary glands, so let’s mess with those.

It would have been more interesting to me if Sue Storm got breast cancer, or Lois Lane (isn’t she dead?), or even Wonder Woman.

Or what if Reed Richards, or Johnny Storm, or Bruce Wayne, or Hal Jordan, got breast cancer? Men get breast cancer, too, you know. More and more frequently, by the way.

I just hope the creative team does it research. And not just solve the problem of “how do we treat a woman who has breast cancer if she’s indestructible?”

That’s just so comic-bookey.

Breast cancer is real. People can end up in the ICU, hoping to get better, fighting to get better.

Just like my dad.




Mike Gold: The Superhero Ideal

Gold Art 130327Why doesn’t Batman use a gun?

Because his parents were shot down? Really? I mean… really?

That’s weak. Even for an obsessive-compulsive who’s borderline psychotic, that’s just silly. He’s got a belt full of lethal weapons, he’s got more in his car, and even more in his cave. And, speaking of OCD, they all have the same first name.

So, why doesn’t Batman use a gun?

Because it’s boring. It’s visually boring, and comics is a visual storytelling medium.

If the Joker comes running at him, he can whip out his Batgun and splatter the walls with green hair. Or he can start off a nifty three-page fight sequence.

Well, he can also whip out his Batarang and separate the crown from the clown, but that’s just one long panel. It might be entertaining if we were in one of those once-every-generation 3-D fads, but those fads never last long.

Let’s try it again.

The Red Skull is out after Captain America. Cap whips around and:

A)  Shoots him, obviously in self-defense and likely saving the lives of dozens if not hundreds of innocents to come, or

B)   Frisbees his mighty shield across the page and leaps upon the evil bastard and pummels the poo out of the guy, who even in defeat, manages to escape.

Yeah. What would Jack Kirby do?

Superheroes are not anti-gun because they are possessed by the liberal media. Superheroes don’t use guns because it’s unexciting storytelling. Gunplay in superhero comics is visually boring.

Police use guns because they are not paid by the panel and they have some concern over what their spouses are making for dinner. Taking the longer view, our military uses guns for much the same reason. In their world, visual excitement will likely get them killed.

You know who else uses guns?

Gun nuts. But that’s only in the real world.

THURSDAY: Dennis O’Neil

FRIDAY: Martha Thomases


Mike Gold: Death of an Obnoxious Rugrat

Gold Art 130227According to the hubbub, today is the day Robin dies.

Sigh. If I had to choose between becoming Robin and playing drums for Spinal Tap, I’d join a convent.

The Robin in question – and there’s been a hell of a lot of them – is the little brat who was the issue of Bat(Bruce Wayne)man and Talia al Ghul, a concept I never, ever bought. Subtlety named Damien, the li’l bastard finally came onto his own in the recent, tedious, overwrought, and too-damn-long “Death of the Family” event.

His obnoxious demeanor isn’t reason I detest(ed) his character. I do not condone his birth.

Batman – Bruce Wayne no longer exists – is the poster boy for obsessive-compulsive. All the Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, and Lexapro combined can’t help this sucker, and yet somehow we have come to perceive his behavior as noble. If we refused to sell guns to the mentally unstable, Master Bruce wouldn’t make it to his next fox hunt.

He sublimates everything into being Batman. Everything. If it doesn’t play a role in his work, he doesn’t have patience for it. This is clear, and as consistent over the past several decades as anything ever is in the DCU. More so. In fact, much more so.

Therefore, I simply do not believe Batman would ever have sex with Talia. But if he did, it wouldn’t result in Li’l Damien. It would result in the return of the Comics Code Authority.

It might even prompt the resurrection Dr. Fredric Wertham. Check out my colleague Denny O’Neil’s ComicMix column tomorrow.

I suspect there’s already a betting pool on how long Damien stays dead. If history is any guide, there will be still another Robin (I’m guessing a female, but that’s just a guess) and, sometime after that, we will endure another multipart pseudo-event that will result in the brat’s resurrection. And we don’t simply have the experience of Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, and Tim Drake (Was he ever killed? I get confused.) We have Damien’s resurrection-happy grandpappy, who has been revived more times than Kenny McCormick.

What goes around comes around. Killing a Robin – or anybody else in the DC Universe – is as original as a bag of potato chips. “Bet you can’t kill just one.” Resurrecting the dead is even less original. It’s boring.

THURSDAY: Dennis O’Neil

FRIDAY: Martha Thomases


Michael Davis: Brokeback Bastard

Davis Art 130219DC Comics is hiring a very anti-gay writer named Orson Scott Card to write for them.  That’s bad enough in my opinion, but they are giving him Superman to write.

Damn DC.

Giving a guy who wishes gay people were wiped off the face of earth is one thing, but giving him Superman is just ballsy as shit.

The outcry in the industry is loud and clear. There’s a movement to have DC just fire the guy outright.

Not gonna happen.

Let me be clear, I don’t think DC will fire the guy unless videotapes are found of him doing unnatural things with a German Sheppard… a girl German Sheppard, of course. I don’t want to offend him in case he’s reading this.

This is a win – win for DC. They get a pretty good writer and massive publicity so why fire the guy? When the book comes out they will get another round of colossal exposure so like I said, why fire the guy? For DC this is not personal, it’s business.

I say, let the guy write the book. Really.

If you want to take a stance against him and his views as I do, trying to get him fired is the wrong way to go about it at least I think so. Nothing short of a massive boycott will make a dent in stopping this guy from doing the Superman story.

But there is another way…

Take the writer to task at every turn. Make him own his views. Challenge him all the places where DC will send him to promote the book. Like comic book conventions, or any online forums, or any book signings anywhere he will show his bigoted face. Then the story is about his hated, his views and his failings as a human being. No company wants that shit following them around, over and over and over.

Trust me on this; I know first hand just how hard that sort of bad press hits corporate America. The way they are perceived by the public is easy to weather unless it keeps happening.

Now is if they also just happen to be a publicly traded company…

Yippee Ki Yay Mother Fucker.

I like what DC is doing with its line these days. I don’t like to think that one of my favorite comic book characters is going to be written by a guy who would deny others their right to exist.

I don’t blame DC for hiring the guy, I don’t blame them for standing behind him (although it better not be a guy standing behind him) because like I said for them it’s not personal it’s business.

For me and I’m guessing many of you making his comic book journey miserable is not business, it’s personal.


THURSDAY: Dennis O’Neil