Tagged: Dennis O’Neil

John Ostrander: Batman and The Gun, Revisited

Ostrander Art 130120In February 2002, almost twenty-one years ago, DC published a Batman graphic novel that I had written called Batman: Seduction of the Gun. It had its genesis two years earlier when John Reisenbach, the son of an executive of Warner Bros., was shot dead while using a pay phone. DC execs, themselves struck by the senseless act of violence, decided to address the issue of gun and gun-related violence in a special book. Batman was selected as the character best suited for such a story as he has witnessed his own parents shot to death when he was just a boy as part of his mythology.

Our own Dennis O’Neil was the editor of the Batman titles at the time and he approached me as the writer. I had worked with an anti-gun lobby at one point so he knew I was already conversant with the issue. Neither of us wanted to create just a screed against guns. Denny was clear: it first and foremost had to be a good story. What we wanted to say could be layered in but the story itself came first.

I agreed wholeheartedly. As I’ve said elsewhere, I prefer to write questions rather than answers. I believe in having a point of view, especially when writing on an important issue, but I prefer to lay the matter out (as I see it) to the reader and let them come to their own conclusion.

I also did research and found out that, at the time, government statistics suggested that one of four guns used in criminal acts in New York City (where the weapon was recovered) were bought in Virginia. It was one in three for Washington, D.C. Gangs from along the Atlantic Coast came into Virginia to buy guns by the dozens as Virginia had the loosest gun regulations perhaps in the nation. I worked all that into the story.

At the time, Virginia’s governor, Douglas Wilder, was trying to get a very mild gun control measure passed. It would limit gun owners to purchasing one gun a month. You could have belonged to the gun of the month club and still been legal. He heard about Batman: Seduction of the Gun and bought a bunch of them. He placed an issue at every legislators desk and issued press releases how even Batman was talking about the Virginia gun laws. The measure, against all odds, passed.

So – what has happened in the almost twenty-one years since Batman: Seduction of the Gun was published? Guns are more prolific, there have been more shooting in schools (as was depicted in the story), and Virginia repealed the One-Gun-A-Month law last year. The book could be published again today and, aside from a few continuity changes, be as relevant as when it was published.

All this has come to mind not only in the wake of the shooting of the children and teachers at Sandy Hook, CT, but in President Obama’s recommendations this week on gun violence and the NRA’s and the Right’s somewhat hysterical over-reaction to it. Comparing Obama to Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot because of these recommendations? Saying that Martin Luther King, Jr, would have sided with the gun nuts? How do you even start to have a reasonable conversation about guns and gun violence when it begins at that level?

The book was and is controversial. Friends and relatives who are gun enthusiasts hate it and have told me so. However, it is not, in my view, anti-gun. It does not, as I do not, call for outlawing guns. Aside from the Second Amendment debate, I think a prohibition on firearms would be about as effective as the prohibition on alcohol was or the prohibition or marijuana is now. It would just create a new revenue stream for the mobs.

Allowing military style assault weapons and 100 bullet clips, however, makes no sense to me, either. There are those who claim that the real intention of the Second Amendment was to fend off the Federal government. They are delusional. That was written when the gun was a musket. Today? Anyone who thinks their horde of guns is going to deter a government with guns, planes, ships, and drones is having a Red Dawn wet dream. No Amendment is absolute; you cannot libel someone, or shout “fire” in a crowded theater with the intent of starting a riot, no matter what the First Amendment says.

In the story Batman says, “No law passed can change the human heart or open up a mind that is closed. We must give up the guns in our hearts and minds first.” Art is one of the ways you reach hearts and minds. Story can do that, I believe. I look at things twenty plus years since the book was published and I have to wonder.

My hope is that someday Batman: Seduction of the Gun will be regarded as a quaint curiosity; my fear is that it won’t.

MONDAY: Mindy Newell


Marc Alan Fishman: The Superior Spider-Ploy

SPOILER ALERT: To be fair… if you’ve not read Amazing Spider-Man #700, and care about the ending, and haven’t scoured the interwebs for spoilers previously? Please don’t read this week. Go read Dennis O’Neil’s article instead. It’s better than mine anyway.

Awhile back Michael Davis and I got into a heated argument over balls. Not kickballs. Not softballs. Not soccer balls. Balls. Juevos. Or Huevos, depending on how you look at it. We bickered a bit on whether DC’s New52 was a move made with testicular fortitude. Well, I’d like to think ultimately I won. I said they didn’t use enough man-juice. They got the bump in sales they wanted, but I don’t believe for a second they “changed the industry,” “changed the game,” or did anything more than what they did after the first Crisis on Infinite Earths – but in a significantly more watered down way. But I digress. This week, I’m not here to chastise DC. This week. I’m here to celebrate a bold and ballsy move by none other than Dan Slott. His Superior Spider-Man is a gutsy concept that deserves recognition.

Slott started in on his run on Amazing Spider-Man way back at issue #546. One-two-skip-a-few-ninety-nine-six-hundred. At issue #600 Dan started what would lead to a hundred issue long game wherein he would eventually do the (mostly) unthinkable: he would kill Peter Parker, and in true comic fashion mind-swap Otto Octavious into the titular hero’s body. And he’d keep it that way. Thus, when Marvel launches Superior Spider-Man with Doc Ock as Peter Parker… we have a new(ish) Spider-Man in the 616. Balls, kiddos.

The ideology here is simple. Thwarted time and again, Octavious decided to play one of the longest cons in comic history. In bits and pieces and dribs and drabs, Doc Ock found ways into Peter Parker’s head. And after his nefarious plan succeeds, in very a Ozymandias’ way, we are left with Spider-Ock. But instead of proclaiming potential world domination, instead Slott aims Octavious towards a goal that makes him more a shade of gray than previously thought. To paraphrase: all Otto’s ever wanted (aside from a dead nemesis for years and years, and maybe a better haircut) was to improve the world. Now, with this newfound great power will come great solutions. He has proclaimed that he will be the superior Spider-Man. Natch.

Now, the whole body swap thing has been done before. As has the “replace the title character with character X.” Bucky-Cap. Dick Grayson-Bats. Frog-Thor. And yes, we know that Spidey-Classic will no doubt be back in his own body safe and sound. And let’s even be so bold as to suggest somehow Otto will get himself a new body too. Younger. Stronger. Designed with 100% more lines and angst. It’s just the nature of this business. Don’t believe me? Go look at Frank Castle. Bloodstone my Jewish ass. But that’s a whole ‘nother show, as Alton Brown might say. The key here, and the reason I’m so excited about this, is because of the sheer novelty.

It’s widely known my favorite book of 2011 was Scott Snyder’s Detective Comics, starring Dick Grayson under the cape and cowl. I had not purchased a Batman book for eight years prior. Thank you, Hush. Why did I return? Especially when I didn’t know Scott from a hole in the wall? Because of the opportunity to give me something new. And whereas seemingly all other Marvel titles being brought into the “NOW,” here Slott decided to end his pre-now run with a big bang. Everyone else put the toys neatly back on the shelf. Balls. Of course, it may be a bit unfair to say that. Slott leaves Amazing Spider-Man to go to… Superior Spider-Man. So, perhaps he’s only semi-ballsy? Nay. To start a new number one with such a concept – for however long it goes on for – is a calculated risk.

Most of us in comic land know that a shiny new #1 on the shelf is an invitation to hop on board the bandwagon before it’s too late. I missed the boat (er… wagon) already on Daredevil, Hawkeye, and a few others outside the big two. To start a book by throwing out the previously known characteristics of your lead hero is something even more refreshing that Bucky-Cap and the like. Octo-Spidey has a cold and calculating mind behind the bright spandex. He has knowledge of the underworld other heroes would not be privy to. And he has all of Peter’s knowledge on top of his own. That’s two super-scientists for the price of one, for those counting. All of these things contribute to an amazing (superior? Nah, too easy) amount of potential energy. So long as Slott can convert that to kinetic energy he has an opportunity to redefine a hero with decades of backstory (and a ton of it truly despised). Goodbye clone saga. Goodbye “One More Day.” Hello new stories. For however long they last.

Speaking of that length, I cite Señor Miguel Oro. “…It’s not merely a matter of execution: eventually, the readers’ patience will wear out. The trick it to make the arc so compelling you don’t want it to revert. That’s some trick. But even then, you’re racing against the reader’s expectations.”

And therein lies the ultimate question. How long can Dan Slott keep the ball in the air. The longer he does it, the more attention will gather around the book. I mean, with a major motion picture looming not too far off in the distance, can Slott successfully maintain a Spider-Man that isn’t? Only one way to tell. And while I only read “Ends of the Earth” on his Amazing Spider-Man run before being lured elsewhere… I for one will jump on board as long as he delivers.

Dan Slott, the balls are in your court. Now (heh), use them.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander


John Ostrander: No Man’s Land Redux

One of the interesting developments in the past few years in comics, for me, is that stuff you’ve done earlier in your career gets bundled together and re-packaged. That can be especially nice if you have some sort of royalty arrangement (or incentive or participation or whatever they’re calling it now) because you know that means that at some point the company will issue you a check. That’s like found money; any writing you did was done long ago and you were paid for it already.

That’s not to say the money is unearned. In my view, if the company is getting a second bite of that apple, so should the creators who did the work. Seems fair to me, although the companies have a history of not being fair. And they also usually give a copy or two or three of the volume for your own library. That’s good because I rarely can find my original copies of the work.

Recently, I got copies of the last two volumes of the gathered Batman epic No Man’s Land. Our resident legend here at ComicMix, Denny O’Neil, was editor on the books at that time and asked me to do the Catwoman issues tying into the saga. I really enjoyed working with the character and would’ve enjoyed playing with her more but the book was cancelled at the end of that series. Catwoman, however, has more than nine lives and has gotten her own title back at least twice since then.

I have to admit, however, that I wasn’t too crazy about the whole No Man’s Land concept at the time. The main idea was that Gotham City, following an earthquake and a virus outbreak just seemed in general to be too toxic to reclaim so the federal government declared it a … wait for it … No Man’s Land. The citizens were ordered to get out and those who chose to stay (or were unable to leave) were kept in when the bridges and tunnels to the city were blown up. Any attempt to escape (or get in, as I recall) was prohibited and that was enforced by the Army. Very Escape From New York (a really fun movie, by the way; is Batman the comics’ Snake Plisken?).

At the time I found the premise too far fetched for my tastes. Okay, the main character dresses up like a bat to run around to strike terror into villainous and cowardly criminals but, yes, I found the central premise of No Man’s Land a little over the top for me. Gotham City was a major city in DCU’s USA. No federal government, in my opinion, would just abandon it like that; there would be howls of outrage throughout the country. Every city, every state, would fear that the same would happen to them. It simply wouldn’t be allowed. No U.S. government would be that cruel. It wasn’t politically feasible in my view (and I come from Chicago and, believe me, I’ve seen lots of outlandish governmental behavior that turned out to be very politically feasible.).

And what’s happened since No Man’s Land first came out? Let’s start with Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans and poor people stuck in the city and the horror stories of living in the Superbowl and a federal government’s response that was inept and way too slow in responding. There were people then who argued that New Orleans should be abandoned. The devastation was too great and, besides, it was a wicked, sinful city and the hurricane was God’s punishment yadda yadda yadda. New Orleans still struggles in the aftermath.

Let’s look at Hurricane Sandy. Better federal response this time but, again, the devastation was so widespread and so pervasive that it will take years for the area to recover fully, if it ever does.

Let’s look at Washington, D.C. right now. A fiscal cliff looms, one that was created by government, and one that government should be able to solve. As I write this, the two sides have gotten entrenched in their respective positions and each side is waiting to see who blinks first. A quicker resolution would help the Christmas buying season and, oh, might also keep the U.S. credit rating from being lowered again, but I’m not betting they’re going to get it done by the January 1st deadline.

No Man’s Land no longer seems that farfetched to me. I may still have a quibble or two with certain plot elements but the central premise? No, that’s become all too believable Maestro O’Neil, I tender my apologies. “I was wrong and you was right,” as usual. I should never doubt you or underestimate just how perverse reality can get.

My, this crow is tasty!

MONDAY: Mindy Newell


Emily S. Whitten: More Arrow, and Hooray Halloween!

Never let it be said that I won’t change my mind if circumstances change. In that vein, I’m starting today’s column with a little addition to last week’s thoughts on Arrow.

 (Warning: Spoilers ahead!)

After writing about how things in the first two episodes seemed too crowded and rushed, and how I wish they’d slow down a bit and also give Arrow a few challenges to the thus-far routine of “Ollie targets bad guy, Ollie triumphs over bad guy,” Arrow turned around and gave me exactly what I was asking for. Sure, I still wish they’d taken more time to mine the experience of the first few days/weeks of his return from nowhere (sort of like how Elementary managed not to pile on every revelation about Holmes’s and Watson’s pasts and presents right up front, as I mention in my Elementary review here). And I still think the voiceovers are overly melodramatic, and in fact may be the thing that’s jarred me out of enjoying the show the most so far; but it feels like with episode three, the show is now hitting its stride.

For one thing, they actually gave Arrow an adversary worth a few minutes time, i.e. Deadshot, who throws Ollie off his game and wings his bodyguard, Dig. True, Ollie gets the easy upper hand by using his standing as, apparently, a captain in the Russian mob (eh??) to find Deadshot, and then takes him down reasonably quickly – but at least it wasn’t all smooth sailing this week. For another, they introduced a new step in Ollie’s playboy disguise – opening a nightclub to cover his secret base – without resolving it magically in one episode (I was half expecting the final scene to be opening night at the club or something). And finally, they’ve slowed their roll on the character drama to what feels like a more manageable and real life pace, focusing mostly this episode on Arrow beginning to build a bond of trust with Detective Lance (woo!) and Thea being a willful teen headache to everyone around her. Plus there was a bar fight that involved Laurel beating the crap out of a dude, which was killer and by far my favorite scene of the episode.

Happily, it looks like they may also be giving themselves an in to address the voiceover issue, by giving Arrow a confidante in the wounded Dig (and just in time too, as my friends and I were beginning to suggest other possible solutions, such as Arrow getting a new sidekick, Quiver. He would look like this). I hope so, as that could introduce more humor or banter into the show. I’d like to see the grimness tempered with an occasional sense of adventure and fun, as well as more of an open emotional connection to someone from Ollie, and maybe with Dig knowing his secret, that will come to pass.

Until then, I’ll keep watching, and amusing myself by trying to spot the new extreme form of exercise Ollie does each episode (this time, it was lifting a ridiculous amount of weight via a pulley system-thing). I’m hoping they’ll keep including those, so I can turn them into a game like spot-the-pineapple in Psych. I’m also hoping the next Easter egg for comics fans is a character named O’Neil (or possibly Denny?) after ComicMix’s very own Dennis O’Neil. C’mon, writers! I’m sure an absent-minded Perfesser character would come in handy for exposition and the like. Do it!

 (End of spoilers!)

In other news, Halloween is just around the corner, which brings me great joy and the usual expectation of going to parties where no one recognizes my costume. Just kidding! I guess I’m still slightly bitter about the time I went out in Georgetown as Black Canary and exactly zero people got it (although there were three votes for Lady Gaga since I wasn’t wearing pants. Sigh.) I can’t complain too much about that, though, because I had fun with it, and it did inspire this awesome sketch by amazing comics artist John K. Snyder III. Yay!

Despite the Philistine-like character of some mundanes in DC, as an adult and convention costumer I love that Halloween provides an opportunity for all the local geeks to strut their stuff without (much) comment from everyone else. Sure, when I go out tomorrow night, I expect the usual round of gangsters, zombies, “sexy” whatevers, and that guy who always shows up dressed as himself with a nametag. But Friday night on the Metro I ran into a matched pair of Trekkies, and they were swiftly followed by a full-grown Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. And nobody in this usually stuffy town blinked an eye – or at least, if they did, you could tell by the look in said eye that they were admiring the costumes, not sneering at them.

Given that when I’m on my home turf my life is caught up in my full-time professional job, my professional commitments, and more, I don’t get to do as many local geek things as I’d like – and a lot of my genre friends are folks I’ve met at cons, and live far away. So it’s nice to have the reminder that actually, there are a lot of locals who love the same things I do (and to maybe meet some of them as we’re making the rounds, nerd flags flying high). It makes my geeky little soul happy to be out and about in the neighborhood, shining that geek light with costumes I made for conventions, even if most of the people out there don’t know who I’m supposed to be because it’s a comic book character don’t any of you people at this dance club read comics geeeeez.

Therefore, I plan to keep on representin’ for us comics fans at Halloween this year with the Arkham City Harley Quinn costume I described the construction process for in an earlier column and made for Dragon*Con, which turned out like this, in case anyone was wondering (with bonus Lego Poison Ivy!). And happily, my friend actually discovered that the club we’re planning to go to has the perfect theme – Haunted Mental Ward – so for tomorrow night, I went the extra mile (okay, inch) and also made this. I’m hoping that this year, at least a few people get my costume; but the funny thing is that, if they don’t, I kind of don’t care. Because Halloween is a fun time to go out wearing whatever the hell you want and have some fun with it, and that’s exactly what I plan to do.

What about the rest of you? Any exciting Halloween plans? Great costumes? Feel free to share in the comments (with pictures! Pictures are great!) and I hope that everyone has a fun, and safe, and slightly spoooooky Halloween!

And until next time, Servooooooo Lectiooooooo!

TUESDAY AFTERNOON: Michael Davis Pontificates

WEDNESDAY MORNING: Mike Gold Hands Out Marching Orders


Marc Alan Fishman: Everything We Do, We Do It For You

Thank you, Bryan Adams. See? More than one good thing has come out of Canada that isn’t Wolverine related. Add that to the Barenaked Ladies, good maple syrup, and Mike Meyers’ middle career, and you’ve got one great country! But I digress. I want to come back to a topic I’ve droned on about several times: the continuing story of Unshaven Comics by way of an increasing number of convention appearances.

This past weekend we had a delightful time at what we’d consider to be the best single day convention in the Midwest – the Kokomo Con, in mid-Indiana. And it was here, amidst the moderately sized crowd of fans making their way around the convention center we were privy to my favorite part of being in this business – fans. In the five or so years I’ve been toiling over scripts, pages, websites, and social media groups, nothing has felt better than having someone walk towards our table with an ear to ear smile. “Hey! You guys! I remember you from last year. Got anything new?” Heck, even typing that makes me a little giddy.

For some of the more legendary folks here with whom I share column space, it must be a far different feeling. To be clear, I don’t know if Dennis, John, Mike, or Michael have ever been on the side of the table as Unshaven has. I know they’ve obviously all had booths or artist alley tables, mind you. But I’d be remiss to guess if they ever were the ones chasing the tables, instead of being offered them. For Unshaven, the way into the industry is by hook or crook. We’ve got fiction to hawk, damnit. And for the time being? We’re not established. Our fans are few, but mighty. For a Dennis O’Neil or John Ostrander… they merely plop themselves into a chair and let the masses come to them, and rightfully so. In contrast, Unshaven Comics has cut its teeth with a generation of comic fans I dare say are more finicky, diverse, and uneasy to please repeatedly.

The show runner at Kokomo stopped by our table several times to make sure we were doing well. We were happy to relate every time that we were pleased as punch. By the end of the day, we’d increased our book sales by 20% over the year before. And given that attendance was slightly down from the year prior? This was an even more reassuring notion for our wee little team. To that effort, he quickly quipped “You guys could make a panel for artists to tell them how to be successful at cons!” Truth be told? I’ve detailed our crazy tactics before in my previous con-centric articles. What we do isn’t hard. It’s a bit shameless. But then again, our model for business was Stan Lee, and he certainly has made a living (or two) by never denying his inner huckster.

My greater point here though is this: Beyond any salesmanship we may employ at our table, beyond any marketing and networking we do, beyond any artistic fan-service we whore ourselves out for, what makes us successful comes down to one common denominator: a quality product that connects with fans. If we made bad books, no amount of smiling and pitching would show us increasing sales 10-20% every time we return to a convention. With the blistering amount of competition there is in artist alleys around the country, it’s a badge of pride when someone comes back time and again to see you. Especially when it’s with money-in-hand.

Thanks largely to my day job, I’ve been privy to a ton of extra-curricular reading (non-comic reading, boo) about start-ups. After careful consideration, it’s become obvious to me that my own studio is in fact just that. As a slow moving startup, we’ve done everything to keep costs down, while testing our product in the market. In layman terms? We don’t pay ourselves for the all the time we dedicate to making the books, we stay at cheap hotels, and only pay for dinner when Mark Wheatley, Mike Gold, John Ostrander or Glenn Hauman  say to. And with each subsequent release, we’ve managed our risk by truly listening to our fans. After our first book (horror) and our second (rated R super-hero fare), we tried the all ages genre. And, as you read a week or two ago, the fans responded happily. And now, after several one-shots, we’re dipping our toes into mini-series waters.

And if the fans continue to be happy, return in droves, and help define a following for our beardly wares, we just might end up going whole-hog and doing an on-going series. We do what we do because of the fans. When they react positively to what we put on the page, it tells us that we share a bond not only in collective fandom… but it cements to us that our commitment to craft leads to more than a single purchase and lament.

It leads to a relationship between a fan and a creator. It leads to us one day being invited to the convention instead of chasing after it. And rest assured, no matter how we come to the con, we’ll continue to do what we always do – earning one fan at a time, until the convention hall closes.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander’s Alphas!


Martha Thomases: My NYCC Shoes

New York Comic-Con starts today. Almost as big an event as San Diego, but closer to my refrigerator, it is a monolith in the comic-book calendar. NYCC attracts fewer movie and television folk but more people who work in publishing – a (mostly) Manhattan-based business – since NYCC is at the Javits Center, which is technically in Manhattan but more difficult to get to than many parts of New Jersey.

Also, the food choices are terrible, expensive, and such small portions! It’s like being a modern high-school student, but without the calculus. Like high school, I am still filled with anxiety about getting to hang out with the cool kids. I can see from the schedule that I’m already missing out on the cool parties, sold out before I even heard about them.

I am not a person who attended comic book conventions since they started. The first ones I went to were the Phil Seuling shows, and I only went to the parties because I was a struggling freelance writer and there was free food. A hat-tip here to Denny O’Neil for sneaking me in.

When I worked at DC Comics in the 1990s, I went because they paid me to go. Even the big shows then were mostly about comics, not so much movies and television, so being with one of the Big Two made me feel like a vital part of the industry. When I see my friends who are still at DC at recent shows, I don’t get the same feeling from them.

Still, for four days there is a large comic book show in New York. The hotels, especially on the West Side, will have paying guests who are here for the show, who will meet each other in the lobbies otherwise full of foreign tourists. Bars and restaurants host private parties for publishers, studios, and industry-related non-profits. In other words, we’ll be spending a lot of money, which is the easiest way to get respect in this town.

(The other way is to actually accomplish something, and that is much more difficult. Or be British.)

Anyway, this is a long way to say that I’m kind of frazzled, and I’m not sure what there is I can say about comics this week. There are probably some trends that reflect on How We Live Now, but I’m distracted wondering what shoes will best protect my feet from the hard, cruel Javits Center floor.

It is at times like this, when I’m wary and distracted, that comics are most likely to come through for me. This time, I need to thank Grant Morrison. If you haven’t read this yet, check it out.

You can even enjoy it barefoot.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman

Martha Thomases: Could Obama Rescue Michelle From The Joker?

Deadlines being what they are, I’m writing this before the first Presidential debate, and you are reading it after. By now, all the various news agencies, pundits and comedians will have picked out the most salient points and decided who “won.” I’m sure I also have opinions by this time, and I assure you that I am right.

However, this has nothing to do with pop culture in general, nor comics in specific. And I’m having trouble thinking about anything else.

As the kind of nerd who was on the debate team in high school, I’m a little bit affronted that they call these televised events “debates.” There is not a thesis, and it is not set up so that one side argues for it and the other side against. There are no definitions of terms. Instead, there are specific questions, defined amount of time for each candidate to answer, the other candidate to respond, and so on, for an hour and a half. Everything is micro-managed, from the height of the podia to the lighting, and both sides have minions who will run out and declare their respective candidate the winner, no matter what is actually said.

It’s about as spontaneous as a Papal mass. And about as persuasive.

You know the debates are boring because, when they are presented in popular entertainment, suspense has to be added. For example, in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, when they depicted the famous Lincoln/Douglas debates, they added, well, vampires.

What if candidates for elected office debated the way characters do in comics? You know, with fighting?

My personal favorite examples of this are the Green Lantern/Green Arrow stories by my beloved Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams. The two main characters argue about their respective world-views while shooting arrows, leaping over rooftops, flying through the air, and, sometimes, facing off against little blue aliens.

It would be wonderful if there were similar obstacles presented in our political debates. We would have the opportunity to not only hear the different viewpoints of the candidates, but also observe their problem-solving skills in action. Obama might have rescued the auto industry, but can he rescue Michelle from the clutches of the Joker? Romney boasts of his business experience, but can he fend off a hostile takeover from Intergang? Forget Ahmadinejad, would either man allow a Doctor Doom to speak at the UN?

And after they fight, can they team up and solve the problems together? That would not only increase the ratings for the debates, but improve our level of discourse.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman and the Old Guys League of America


Dennis O’Neil: Son of Naughty Words

With apologies to my friend Martha (and more on this anon)…

Now where were we? Oh, yes. We were discussing naughty words. Last week, I mentioned that every civilization seems to have had them, though their content changed from culture to culture and even from time to time within the same culture. And the kinds of things they referred to – and still refer to – wasn’t consistent either. At one end, and forgive the pun if you dare, they refer to the stinky stuff that comes out of your alimentary canal, what television’s Dr. Oz refers to as “poop,” and at the other end, well…God or god, depending on whether we’re talking about my religion or yours. They have uses. The aforementioned Dr. Oz, on his TV show, actually recommended that they way to unwind is to shout s#%t! (I may have the gralix wrong – and note that the suitly fellows at Fox Broadcasting seem to feel that “poop” is acceptable, but “shit” would corrode the souls of the innocent.)

To a writer, they can be useful, these verbal no-nos, regardless of exactly what they are, because they’re rare. Save them for the big moments and then, when you drop the bomb, you get your audience’s attention and they indicate that whichever character uttered them is seriously disgruntled.

There’s an analogy to violence here. Once, in what we might (smirkingly?) call “classic dramaturgy,” violence was used to relieve tension or, again, to indicate that a character’s more than just upset. Now – it’s often just screen clutter. We’ve all seen what I think of as video game movies, in which the good guy slaughters evildoers in wholesale lots, faceless cannon fodder who exist solely to be slaughtered and demonstrate the hero’s aptitude for mayhem. Exciting as watching a faucet drip? Well, no. The stuff involves movement and noise, both of which we’re wired to respond to, but the prevalence of these scenes deprives writers of the earlier uses of extreme action.

Same with the words. If “fucking” is the all-purpose modifier, it loses its capacity to signify emotion extremity.

It was once used to indicate that the speaker was either a thug or a tough guy or at least someone of low estate. But, hey, if altar boys use the word…

A screenwriter of my acquaintance observes that this is how modern people talk and if your story is to be realistic, your characters can’t sound like refugees from a Jane Austen novel. No argument. I’m just reporting, not pushing an agenda.

And what might happen if, from overuse, naughty words vanish from our vocabulary? Anyone else find that an interesting question?

Two last items: “Gralix” is what cartoonist Mort Walker, of “Beatle Bailey” fame, calls the miscellaneous symbols that stand in for ^&##$%* words he isn’t allowed to use in family newspapers.

And finally… Martha, I’m sorry I poached your turf. I wrote last week’s column before reading the very similar one you wrote recently, and first. Mea culpa...

THURSDAY: The aforementioned Martha Thomases!



Mike Gold: Joe Kubert, Personally

One of the hardest questions for me to answer begins with the phrase “What is your favorite…?”

My Top 10 movie list has over 100 movies on it. My Top 10 television shows list must first be categorized: is it fair to compare Rocky and Bullwinkle to The Prisoner? Well, maybe that’s a bad example, but I think you get my point. If you were to ask me to name my favorite musician, I’d go into a fugue state and you’d get scared and leave.

There is one exception. If you were to ask me who my favorite comics creator is – and you were to ask me this question at any time in the past half-century – I would immediately and firmly respond “Joe Kubert.”

As we reported, Joe died Sunday evening. It was one of those moments when time… simply… stopped. For the past decade I’ve been in amazement that Joe was still giving us a graphic novel and a mini-series or special or something every year. Jeez, if I make it to 85 (and I’m nowhere in as good a shape as Joe was) I’m planning on lying there bitching until somebody changes my Depends. Joe was still at it, producing great stuff.

I was fortunate to know both Joe and his wife Muriel (predeceased by four years); Muriel knew the depths of my affection for her husband’s work, Joe knew it as well and was quite gracious but, as to be expected from an artist of his caliber, I could tell he wasn’t connecting with my praise for something he had finished months ago. He already was on to the next thing. Or maybe the one after that.

When I first started working at DC Comics back in 1976, my office was two doors down from Julius Schwartz. Denny O’Neil had the office next to me. Joe Orlando – Joe Orlando! – was a few doors down from that. And, three days a week, there was Joe Kubert. The best of the best.

I was a 26 year-old fanboy and if I wasn’t breathing I would have thought I had gone to heaven.

Kubert had been my favorite comics creator since the day my mother bought me Brave and the Bold #34, cover-dated February-March 1961. It featured the debut of the silver age Hawkman. We were getting on Chicago’s L, headed towards the Loop for my first visit to the eye doctor. I was anxious to read the comic; it looked really cool. Exciting. Different. And new superheroes were few and far between in those days of buggy whips and gas lamps.

Of course, my eye doctor did what eye doctors do: she put those serious drops in my eyes and everything got all blurry and then she exiled me to the outer office while my pupils dilated to the size of manhole covers. I was told to sit there quietly for an hour. I was ten years old; the concept of “sitting quietly” was well beyond my understanding. Certainly, not with that awesome-looking comic book on my lap.

I tried to read it. My mother started to scream about how I’d permanently ruin my eyes. She was supportive of my reading comics, she just had odd theories about how I’d go blind. Being me, I continued to try to read the Hawkman debut but now more defiantly, with purpose and determination – despite the fact that each panel was more blurry than the previous. I went through that book several times, trying my damnedest to understand it. To see it.

The book was astonishingly great – a tribute to writer Gardner Fox and editor Julie Schwartz as well as to Joe. After I finally read the comic in focus, it was clear to me that it was worth all the effort. That’s probably what made me a Joe Kubert fan.

By 1976 I had learned first-hand that a lot of the public figures I admired weren’t really worthy of such tribute on a personal level; if you were going to meet a lot of celebrities, you had to learn how to divorce yourself from the person and remain married to that person’s work. This is a lot less the case in the comics field, I’m happy to report.

And it most certainly was not the case with Joe Kubert. We could be diametrically opposed on certain political and social issues, and we were, but it didn’t matter one bit. Part of that came from Joe’s upbringing in the Talmudic arts where discussion and debate is encouraged and honored. But most of that came from Joe’s simply being a great, great guy.

That’s what I have to say about Joe Kubert. He was a great, great guy.

Here’s what I have to say to Joe Kubert.

Thank you.

THURSDAY: Dennis O’Neil


Marie Severin Gets What She Deserves – At Last!

It was 1978, and the electric current going through DC Comics’ offices could have lit Times Square. Vice-President and Production Director Jack Adler was strutting around like a proud papa. For the first time in what seemed like a millennium, Marie Severin was paying a visit.

If you were from outside the donut shop, you’d think the President was in the house. Work came to a complete stop. Everybody swarmed to the production department to meet, or to see once again, the famed artist and gifted humorist. That she toiled for the company’s competition and yet received this reception is an acknowledgement of her talent and abilities.

The masterful colorist of the legendary EC Comics line, Marie worked at Marvel Comics for decades as an art director, a penciler and an inker. Her credits read like a Who’s Who at the House of Ideas: Doctor Strange, the Incredible Hulk, Sub-Mariner, and Robert E. Howard’s Kull the Conqueror. That’s quite a range, but she was best known for her satirical work in Marvel’s underrated Not Brand Echh, a book worthy of Masterwork edition if there ever was one.

She was even better known within the industry for her sense of humor. I have never met a person who wasn’t a fan of her work – and a fan of hers, personally.

TwoMorrows just published Marie Severin: The Mirthful Mistress of Comics ($24.95; digital from TwoMorrows for $7.95), a long overdue review of her work written by Dewey Cassell with Aaron Sultan. It was worth the wait.

174 pages of analysis, history, interviews, photographs and about a zillion examples of her work, including a healthy amount of unpublished work – much of it in-house stuff reflecting her breathtaking sense of humor. Tributes abound: Marvel and EC honchos Stan Lee and Al Feldstein, Jack Davis, John Romita, Mark Evanier, Tony Isabella, Roy Thomas and maybe a dozen more folks, all fronted by a foreword from ComicMix columnist and comics luminary Denny O’Neil.

Marie has been one of the most important and most creative people in the history of this medium. Marie Severin: The Mirthful Mistress of Comics tells you why. If you’re already a fan of hers, you either have this book or it’s on your short list. If you’re not all that familiar with her legacy, you need this book.