Tagged: Dick Giordano

Mindy Newell: The Letter

Is being the target of an uncouth, offensive, foul, and vulgar letter the same as being sexually harassed?

At the time it occurred – let me do the math here, hang on… okay, it was 29 years ago – I didn’t think so, because I thought of sexual harassment as being defined as (a) some goon putting his unwanted hands and other parts of his body on me; (b) the classic quid pro quo scenario of a sexual favor being demanded in return for professional advancement; and (c) something that happens face-to-face, as when, waaaay back in time when I was 19 and working as a receptionist in a Wall Street firm, the VP of my department called me into his office as I was doing my mail rounds and told me that “everyone” was talking about my sweater:

“What’s wrong with my sweater?” I asked him, trying to brazen it out. “Too informal?”

No, he said.

Too tight?” I asked, thinking of Lana Turner, the original “sweater girl,” in an attempt to dare him to say yes.

No, he said.

I was stumped. What the hell was he getting at?

It’s what on it, he said.

I looked down at my sweater, which was extremely fashionable for 1972 – I’ve always been a fashionista – when animal prints on sweaters were all the rage. “You mean the cat?”

He stared at me a few seconds, and then…

“I mean the pussy.”

I didn’t really know how to handle it. I just looked at him, then turned and went back to my desk. The only thing I did that day was to tell another girl about it; all she said was, “Don’t let it bother you. He’s a prick.”

But I didn’t go back to work the next day. I told my parents that I quit, without telling them why, which of course led to a big fight and hurtful words about me and my abilities and work ethics, and to me sitting in my bedroom, disconsolate and believing that I had let everybody down, including myself.

Years and years later, as an adult who had matured into the “F-bombing” woman I am today, I brought up the incident with my parents. All was cleared up, and my father said that I should have (1) kicked the guy in his balls, and then (2) called human resources. My mother scoffed, and said, “HR wouldn’t have done a thing.” She was a wise woman.

•     •     •     •     •

Anyway, about that letter:

It was from someone in the comics industry, and here is an example of what it contained:

“You have no talent. The only reason you get any work is because you come strutting down the hallways in your short skirts and your fishnet stockings and your FMP’s…”

 

There were lots more sentences and accusations. All concerning my sluttiness and inability to construct a sentence. The words filled the front and back of the page. I was horrified. I saw red. I didn’t want this disgusting diatribe in my house, where my 10-year-old daughter lived.

And I was burning mad.

So I burned it.

Yep. Set it on fire, held it over the toilet, and flushed the ashes away.

And I swore that I was finished with anything to do with comics…

Right in the middle of a project.

I didn’t call anybody. I didn’t do anything. I don’t remember even telling my friend and co-worker, Karen Berger.

I don’t exactly remember how long it was. Maybe a few days. Maybe a week. Maybe two. I didn’t write a thing.

And then I got a call from Dick Giordano, who invited me to lunch at the Top of the Sixes. I told him it didn’t matter, that I was through – but it was Dick, and he was always a gentleman to me, and kind, and encouraging, so I agreed.

I don’t remember what Dick ordered, but I had a shrimp cocktail. And we talked.

He asked me if I still had the letter.

I looked down at my plate, then looked up at him.

“I burned it.”

Without the letter, he said, he couldn’t do anything. I said, “I know, and I know it was a stupid thing to do, but I couldn’t have that thing in my house.” Dick got it.

He asked me to finish the project. He talked about professionalism and how there were other people depending on me. He talked about my future in the industry. He talked about how I would regret walking away. How, ultimately, it would hurt me, while the perpetrator would continue on his merry way.

I finished it. For Dick. And for myself.

•     •     •     •     •

And no, it wasn’t Len Wein, may HaShem grant his soul peace and bless his family. It wasn’t Bob Greenberger or Julie Schwartz or Marv Wolfman or Alan Gold. It wasn’t Sal Amendola. It wasn’t Mike Gold or Andy Helfer.

But I know who it was, and so does he.

•     •     •     •     •

So, is being the target of an uncouth, offensive, foul, and vulgar letter the same as being sexually harassed?

29 years ago, I didn’t think so.

29 years later?

Hell, yeah.

And 29 years later, I’m still waiting for an apology, and a thank you.

An apology for that piece of drek.

A thank-you for burning that letter…

Instead of your career.

Ed Catto: Thrill Ride with Robert Loren Fleming – Part 2

This is the final part of my conversation with comics writer Robert Loren Fleming on the tragic backstory and forgotten history of DC’s Thriller comic book series. As I explained last week, this is actually an addendum to my recent article on this 80s cult favorite in TwoMorrow’s Back Issue Magazine.

Thriller was poised to be the next big thing from DC, but it seemed like many forces conspired against it. Despite it all, Thriller achieved a certain status. How did so many things go off the rails? The behind the scenes stories are as fascinating as the story between the covers.

Hazing, Publishing Style

There were some difficult things going on backstage at DC in those days. One of the uglier things was the hazing. It included everything from ripping up freelancers checks to harassing a female worker to the point where she was ready to clobber a co-worker on her way out.

At the end of last week’s column, Thriller’s artist, Trevor Von Eeden had just finished the first Green Arrow mini-series. He was finally ready to start on Thriller. Management threw a curve ball and told him his next assignment would be a Batwoman special. However, Von Eeden firmly reminded them that the deal they had struck was he could start on Thriller once he finished the Green Arrow mini-series.

So for Thriller, Fleming would provide full scripts and write the dialog. Artist Von Eeden was given the authority to make changes in the scripts, but he seldom did.

Suspiciously enough, it went further than that. No editors had made any changes. “That’s not a good thing. That’s highly unusual,” remembers Fleming. That should have been a red warning light to the creative team back then. “They wanted to screw with us,” said Fleming. As the new kid on the block who had, in essence, jumped the line to land a prestigious job writing a comic he envisioned, Fleming had made many enemies within the organization.

Fleming would later learn that someone had taken the script from executive editor Dick Giordano’s office, and then made the case that it needed a total rewrite. “They were going to have me rewrite it until it wasn’t Thriller.”

A few days before Fleming was supposed to start the rewrite, he was surprised to learn that Trevor Von Eeden had dropped off the all the pages of the first issue.

Plans for the rewrite were scrapped and Fleming was instructed to merely adjust the dialog to match the pages.

Now, years later, Fleming can understand the frustrations of the established folks at DC. It’s clear, as a young writer, he (Fleming) just wasn’t ready for a full writing assignment yet. At the same time, he also now realizes that the readers just weren’t ready for it then either. If it had come out five years later, it would have been much better received.

It wasn’t all bad at DC Comics. Fleming did have some supporters – specifically, the marketing department’s Mike Flynn and Roger Slifer. They were two of Fleming’s friends. They took a paste-up of the penciled pages, with Fleming’s hand-written word balloons, to use as part of a press release. Even though these pages were not properly lettered, public reaction to these pages was strong.

DC’s Marketing Department promoted it as a comic you couldn’t read fast enough, a line that Fleming had supplied. Soon, Fleming found himself on the convention circuit with a presentation, created by the Marketing Department, to tease the comic to retailers and fans nationwide.

Launching Thriller at that time through one of the major publishers was a blessing and curse. From our current vantage point, it’s difficult to remember that publishing a series like Thriller didn’t really have the many options that would be available today at Image or one of the smaller publishers.

Help Wanted

“I was keenly aware (back then) that it would have been great to get help <creating the comic>

But it was ‘do it on my own or not do it’,” said Fleming. He recalls that Dick Giordano was too far up the management chain, and stretched too thin, to be a hands-on helper for the title. Thriller’s editor, Alan Gold, was also new to the comics industry, having recently switched careers from editing medical textbooks. “He didn’t have a clue what we were doing.”

There was a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel. Fleming did manage to get in the good graces of legendary editor Julie Schwartz. “By the time I did a few Ambush Bug <issues>, Julie was in my camp. Most people would acknowledge Julie was probably the best editor at that time,” remembers Fleming.

Fleming is able to recognize the shortcomings of Thriller. “I have absolutely less affection for Thriller than the fans. I see it as a mess,” said Fleming. But he heaps praise on his collaborator, artist Trevor Von Eeden. “If we had had a routine artist, no one would be talking about this.”

A Thrilling Prescience

So many story elements of Thriller, a series created in the 80s that takes place in the “near future”, seem to have predicted actual future events. Fleming talked about how much of what he created for the book was simply an extrapolation from the headlines of the day. The long list is impressive and canny and includes things like America’s escalated conflict with Islam, self-driving cars, and the grisly filming of political decapitations.

On the other hand, Fleming admits that Thriller’s “black president was just a cheesy cliché” meant to signal the future. “Of course, I tied him to one of my characters,” he added.

What Could Have Been

Fleming touched on what could have happened. “Trevor and I never had a falling out,” said Fleming. “In fact, a few years later, we did a pilot for a Salvo series.” Salvo was the unflinching marksman, and one of Thriller’s Seven Seconds, in the original series.

“I was always trying to revisit Thriller,” admits Fleming. This would have been a prequel revealing the backstory of the marksman, Salvo. It would also detail how he first met Janet Valentine, (White Satin), and her husband Quo. “Quo was basically Bruce Lee,’” chuckles Fleming.

An earlier incarnation of the evil Scabbard – named Sheath Largos – featured prominently in the prequel. If the original Thriller series had continued, Scabbard was slated to return from the dead. “He was War of the Worlds in reverse,” reveals Fleming. “Scabbard was actually a mechanical alien in the shape of a sword who grew a fleshy body around itself simply for transportation.”

“That’s why we did Scabbard in Ambush Bug,” said Fleming. “You see something bursting out. It’s flesh growing. Keith (Giffen, his collaborator on Ambush Bug) knew what I was going to do.”

The Thrill is Gone, Baby

Fleming admits that it would unlikely he’d ever return to the series.

“One reason is because it was science fiction, it makes it hard to contemplate going back. “Things have changed so much. The thing about science fiction is that it reflects what’s happening when it’s being written,” explained Fleming.

But there’s a lot of lessons he takes away from it all.

First and foremost is that not knowing the rules is a good thing. The exuberance of youth actually allowed Fleming and Von Eeden to courageously create a series that, in retrospect, is astounding that it even exists. “Thriller was world-building before it was in vogue for comics,” said Fleming.

There’s a sense of pride but also a sense of generous humility. “The best thing about it was Trevor’s artwork,” remembers Fleming. “His artwork took it to a new level.” Fleming also explained how he meets many fans who explain that this groundbreaking series inspired them to break into the industry.

“The reason for going into this – the generally accepted wisdom was that Thriller was a big failure,” reflects Fleming. “It wasn’t a failure. Thriller was created so I could become a writer. In that way, it was a success. I did become a writer… from zero to sixty. I became a comic book writer.”
And that sounds like a thrill to me.

Interested in the full article in Back Issue #98? You can snag it here.

Ed Catto: Robert Loren Fleming’s Thrill Ride, Part 1

In the 80s, DC comics woke up the comics industry with Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and The Watchmen by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons. Fans and retailers were anxiously awaiting the next big thing. Thriller, the comic that you couldn’t read fast enough, was supposed to be that next big thing. Management was excited about this fresh title. The DC marketing department got behind it and sent the writer on the road with a presentation. Distributors got behind the first issues. Comic shop retailers aggressively ordered the first issue.

And then…it wilted. Thriller wasn’t the next big thing. It doesn’t mean there weren’t a lot of great things about the series. There certainly were. In the recent issue of Back Issue magazine, I looked at Thriller and the tumultuous backstory. As a fan, I always liked the early issues of the series, and now, understanding the backstage drama, I love it, and respect it, even more.

Series co-creator and writer Robert Loren Fleming wasn’t able to fully participate in that article. Since it’s publication, there’s been a resurgence of interest in Thriller. And now, I’ve finally caught up with Robert Loren Fleming. So, as podcaster Karina Longworth always says: “Join us, won’t you?”… for an extended look from at the tragedy of DC Comic Lost Classic Thriller.

Breaking into Comics

Robert Loren Fleming loved comics and was determined to break into the industry with his secret plan. It was the early 80s and he had started at DC as a proofreader. He loved working for the company and being a part of the industry. But he was impatient to become a comics writer. He eventually did and scripted favorites like the Flash and Ambush Bug. But it wasn’t easy to crack the code at DC comics.

“I found out pretty quickly it was kind of a closed shop – pretty hard to break in as a writer,” said Fleming. “It was really difficult to get a story sold.”

The legendary Julie Schwartz even had some advice for Fleming when he was pitching Superman ideas. “Julie told me to go home and not to think about any ideas. He told me twice, in case I missed it,” recalls Fleming with a chuckle.

Upon reflection, Fleming realizes it was a kind of a hazing ritual. If you weren’t tough enough to get through it, you weren’t tough enough to be a writer at DC Comics.

At that time there was an unwritten career path for young writers at DC. And as a proofreader, he was, more or less, on that long track. Aspiring writers would work on the corporate side for a while. Eventually, they’d be given their start with short story assignments for anthology comics. Writing assignments for the company’s prestigious superhero comics wouldn’t be offered for quite some time. If you showed talent and professionalism, you’d be awarded bigger assignments.

His Sneaky Plan

Fleming reasoned that the only way to break into quickly was “to come up with my own personal story and a big idea that it would be so good they have to take it.”

An idea was percolating in Fleming’s head for a new series that would showcase some of the things he loved: pulp adventures, an ensemble cast and a science fiction adventure that would shift away from the traditional superhero stories, dominating the market at that time.

“When I finished it, I took it to four or five editors. They wouldn’t even look at it.” Clearly, Fleming hadn’t yet paid his dues by working on smaller projects first. Looking back, Fleming realizes his secret plan was fueled by the audacity and courage that comes with youth.

He presented his idea to the top guy. “So I took it into Dick Giordano. <This was> jumping the chain of command,” said Fleming. Editor-in-Chief Giordano had no problem with Fleming bringing it directly to him. “He read the thing and 15 minutes later he bought it. Paul Levitz read it a few days later – he signed off too.”

Partnership with TVE

Levitz suggested that a young artist named Trevor Von Eeden be assigned to the series. At that time, the Marvel series Master of Kung Fu, by Doug Moench and Paul Gulacy, was a big influence on Fleming. Fleming loved that series’ ensemble cast, the espionage themes and the casting of real people as comic characters. In fact, of the characters in his proposed Thriller series, Quo, was essentially Bruce Lee.

When Levitz showed Fleming the recent Batman Annual by Von Eeden, Fleming could see all of the elements he loved in Master of Kung Fu in the artist’s work. Fleming knew Von Eeden’s style would be perfect for Thriller.

Bucking the System

One of the things Fleming didn’t realize – no up-and-coming young buck ever does – is that you don’t gain a lot of allies internally by jumping over the established system. The editors at that time were not amused.

“It created a strong reaction against me,” said Fleming. “A very negative reaction. One of them (an editor) came out and said to Dick, ‘You’re not going to let Fleming write it, are you?’”

It got worse. The editors conspired to see Flemings non-traditional idea and audacious career tactic fail. They put a number of obstacles in the way of Thriller.

Off Target with The Green Arrow

One obstacle, in particular, was the Green Arrow. At that time, Green Arrow was one of the characters who was always a bridesmaid but never a bride. He was a supporting player in the Justice League of America, a co-star in the groundbreaking Green Lantern – Green Arrow series and a staple of backup stories. He was finally getting the go-ahead to headline a comic with a four issue mini-series, written by Mike W. Barr.

Fleming recalls that Trevor Von Eeden was assigned as the series artist, specifically to keep Von Eeden busy. He’s too busy working on this Green Arrow series. The idea was that he’d be so consumed with this miniseries, and it would take so long for him to draw, that the young artist would lose his passion for Thriller.

But that did not happen. This Green Arrow mini-series looked phenomenal. Von Eeden delivered work that was fresh and exciting. One would think that he spent an inordinate amount of time on it. In reality, Fleming explains, the opposite was true.

Unbelievably, Trevor Von Eden finished all four in an incredibly quick amount of time – something like six or eight weeks. And then both the writer and artist were ready for Thriller.

•     •     •     •     •

Next week we’ll explore more Robert Loren Fleming’s memories and observations about what happens when you actually, against all odds, arrive at the starting line!

Interested in the full article in Back Issue #98? You can snag it here.

Mike Gold: Suicide Squad, John Ostrander, and My Damn Good Luck

Johnny O Squad LogoAre you tired of all the comics-related movies this summer? I didn’t think so, but I do understand why some of the movie critics are. These poor bastards see a couple hundred movies each year, they have little choice over which ones they must review and after a couple years, the daily smell of hot popcorn must become cloying.

Still, a couple of these writers have become complete assholes about it. Fine, fine. It is a great tradition among the professional critic set to cast their noses so high in the air you’d think they’d drown in a drizzle.

Having just seen The Killing Joke in a real movie theater – that part was cool – I’m only a couple days away from seeing Suicide Squad­ at the New York City screening. I’ll be joining my friend, frequent-collaborator and fellow ComicMix columnist John Ostrander, creator of Amanda Waller and the concept of The Suicide Squad.

This will be a highly personal experience for me. John and I have been friends for 45 years now, which speaks highly of his astonishing tolerance. Amanda Waller and Company first got on their feet in my apartment in Evanston Illinois before I returned to DC Comics in 1986. John and I were plotting the Legends miniseries and, since Bob Greenberger was my assistant way back then and he and John had been kicking some ideas around we decided Legends would provide a great launchpad for the Squad.

We really weren’t sneaking John in through DC’s back door, although that image pleases me. When Dick Giordano offered me the job of senior editor, he was hoping that I would bring John and some of my other First Comics collaborators to the company, or, in many cases, back to the company. This was no surprise: it was exactly the same deal, with the same hopes, that DC’s then-executive vice president Irwin Donenfeld made with Dick when he was editor-in-chief at Charlton nearly 20 years previous.

John and I met because we were comic book geeks. We both were at a party dominated by people in Chicago’s burgeoning theater scene, which gave us the likes of John Malkovich, Laurie Metcalf, David Mamet, Dennis Franz and Joe Mantegna. In fact, John co-wrote the play Bloody Bess that starred Franz and Mantegna. When I arrived, the party’s host recognized me and semi-snarlingly said “Oh, we have a couple of other comic book fans here” and I was escorted to a lonely couch where us fanboys couldn’t infect the others. John was sitting on said couch, and we hit it off immediately.

Friendships come and go; the really good ones can exist forever and endure long periods of limited co-existence. I am lucky to have John in my life as a constant – our friendship never lacked personal contact despite my moving from Chicago to New York, back to Chicago, and then back to New York (well, Connecticut, really). John has also moved around, calling Chicago, Connecticut, New Jersey and now Michigan his home. We share emails almost daily, phone calls frequently, and in-person visits whenever possible (in the comic book racket, that can be with alarming frequency given the now-12 month convention season), often over amazingly great barbecue. John and I have shared our good times and our bad, the worst of which for each of us being the death of our respective wives thirteen years apart.

John Ostrander has always been there for me, and that is why I am looking forward to the Suicide Squad premiere.

Even if the film breaks.

Mike Gold: Well, It Ain’t Much Of A Secret War

Secret_Wars_9_CoverOur friends at Marvel Comics have informed the world that “the biggest Marvel event of all time” will come to an end four weeks from today, on January 13, 2016.

Of course, the “biggest Marvel event of all time” is in the mind of the beholder. Personally, I would have picked the release of the first Fantastic Four #1 back in 1961, or the release of Marvel Comics #1 back in 1939. But that’s just the way I see it, and I’m the one digressing from the point.

They’re talking about the release of the ninth and final issue of Secret Wars, the third such dull mega-event employing that title. The penultimate issue came out last week, and that one was late. This one is later. In fact, it is so late that the entire Marvel Universe which was supposed to be upended by this series (opinions differ) already has been upended to the extent that it was to be upended, and the “All New All Different” #1s started shipping last month. The House of Idea delivered something like six second issues this week alone, plus one or two third issues, plus two All New All Different first issues. Again, I’m talking about what arrived in the stores today.

So, to the extent that the “event” was an event, the ending is not. Well, maybe a little, as Alex Ross’s beautifully subtle cover suggests (as does Scottie Young’s variant cover, but it’s done is a somewhat different style). I’m not knocking the series itself; it’s pretty much as good as those things get and, having stewarded one of these things myself, I know how difficult that is. Well, maybe not: I worked for Dick Giordano and not for the ghost of Walt Disney.

Secret Wars Scottie YoungBut most all of the cats are out of the bag, and the one or two left in were clearly in need of kitty litter. Once you blow the ending in many dozen comics that precede the finish, you’ve got no finish. Just one long, nicely illustrated footnote.

Secret Wars 2015 has been a fiasco. Counting the number of comics that tied in to the series is a lot like guessing the number of jelly beans in the jar at the voter’s registration office: it could be done, but it’s far easier to just talk a walk. There were Ultimate tie-ins, 2099 tie-ins, Age of Apocalypse tie-ins, Marvel 1602 tie-ins, House of M tie-ins… and something called “Battleworld.”

I read a number of the many Battleworld mini-series, and some of those were pretty good. Therefore, some were not. But, really folks, we used to get those sort of stories in one sitting in a giant-sized comic book called What If? Battleworld should have been titled Why Bother?

Having talked with my fellow comics fans at a ridiculous number of conventions and store appearances lately, I know I am not the least bit alone in saying this. “All New All Different” is just more of the same old same old, to be dicked around with in next summer’s Big Event.

Marvel said Secret Wars 2015 wasn’t a reboot, and as far as I can tell it mostly sort of wasn’t. It’s a reboot in the way that the Doctor Who revival a decade ago was: some things have changed, but that change came in a linear fashion. However, there is one important difference: the Doctor Who revival was quite, quite good.

I’ve been a Marvel Comics fan since Fin Fang Foom was a hatchling, so I don’t want to end on a downer. So I’ll say this: despite its many problems, its overreach and its oversaturation, Secret Wars 2015 made a hell of a lot more sense than Convergence.

 

Mike Gold: Airboy Takes Flight – Again

Airboy Cover

This may be hard to believe, but every once in a while the good folks at ComicMix L.L.C. act as though we really are a corporation. Yeah, it’s hard for me to believe that, too.

Last Sunday, our “senior” staff (a phrase that has nothing to do with age, until August 4th) met at Martha Thomases’ plush Greenwich Village condo. Adriane Nash and I were there right on time, but Glenn Hauman was caught in traffic in the Lincoln Tunnel, an all-too-common experience for those trying to escape the land of Christie. Not a problem; Martha’s kittycat Selina (yep; Selina – fangirls, go know) was making a rare public appearance. The conversation turned to this week’s comic books. I started out bitching about Bizarro #1 and Martha defended it nicely. No, I did not complain about internal consistency. I stopped doing that around Adventure Comics #285. Then Martha asked:

“What did you think of Airboy #1?”

“I haven’t read it yet, but it’s at the top of my pile” I lied. Everybody knows I read my comics on my iPad. “I love the character, but I’m annoyed Chuck Dixon didn’t write it.”

Martha was about to say something like “Yes, but James Robinson did” but it is even better known that my opinion of James’ work is so high that if he were writing the back panels of milk cartons I’d sell my cow. So, instead, Martha said “Chuck Dixon could not have written this book.” Then she smiled that smile that would make the Cheshire Cat jealous.

Chuck Dixon has been writing Airboy off-and-on for 30 years for at least three different publishers. IDW has been Omnibusing it lately. Obviously, I like it. Indeed, I like the original Golden Age character. It was Dick Giordano’s favorite as a kid and we used to talk about it on the commuter train after leaving DC for the day, much to the chagrin of our fellow travelers who really didn’t care to eavesdrop on a couple of extreme fanboys.

I told Martha I was really looking forward to it, and she repeated “Chuck Dixon could not have written this book,” this time with a sort of Lauren Bacall delivery.

“Fine,” I replied. “You don’t have to ask me twice to read a James Robinson comic book.” Or a James Robinson milk carton. “I’ll give you a call when I’m done, probably around one in the morning.” Martha goes to sleep when the sun goes down, and she knew I was kidding. She knew I’d email her at one in the morning.

And I did. I sent her a screen dump of just one panel of the issue. I sent her this one.

Airboy panel

The naked guy is James Robinson. The clothed guy is Airboy artist Greg Hinkle. That was my review.

Martha was absolutely right. Chuck could not have written it.

I mean, he still could write Airboy and James even explains why in that very issue. But this one is something else. It reminds me of the script and layouts to the unpublished Sonic Disruptors #11, but only about three people would know that and one of them is dead.

Go buy the book. You’ll see.

 

Dennis O’Neil: Gotham’s Doctor, Batman’s Saint

You may have seen it yourself: the scene a while back in which James Gordon and Dr. Leslie Thompkins stand in front of their police department colleagues getting very well acquainted. It happened during an episode of Gotham and although the television Leslie wasn’t the Leslie Dick Giordano and I introduced in Detective Comics #457, I didn’t mind. I know that television shows are not comic books: they have different techniques, strengths, weaknesses, and that the story being told there on the tube wasn’t our story and that serialized characters have to evolve if they are to survive for decades, as Leslie has.

In the weeks since the television Leslie was introduced, we’ve seen her become her own person – witty, intelligent, feisty. Independent. I’d happily watch her if her name were Honorifica Flabdiggle, especially if Bertha, like Leslie, were played by the talented and truly lovely Morena Baccarin.

She was created – Leslie, not Honorifica- to serve the plot of the particular story we were working on, to supplement Bruce Wayne’s biography, and to add an element to the Batman mythos.

I had a real person in mind when I was writing Detective #457, someone I’d once met named Dorothy Day. Dorothy began her professional life as a journalist, wrote a novel, lived the Greenwich Village life. In 1939, she cofounded The Catholic Worker, an organization located in a section of lower Manhattan not much frequented by the white shoe crowd. The Worker had three missions: to serve the poor by providing food, shelter and clothing; to help drunks get sober; and to protest war – all war, any war, and any violence.

We incorporated Dorothy’s pacifism into Leslie. There wasn’t much; I can’t recall any particular story in which it was a major element. But look for it and you could find it.

What the fictional Leslie did for Bruce Wayne was to serve as a surrogate for his murdered mother and to give him information; she told him that not everyone believed that violence solved problems. If Bruce had existed – these are fictions, remember – he might have been sympathized with Leslie’s convictions and regretted his own dependence on violence, while having nothing he considered to be another viable modus operandi.

I don’t expect to hear Dr. Leslie Thompkins endorsing Dorothy Day’s convictions. Gotham is a venue for action/melodrama, after all, and not a pulpit. And there are reasons why we respond to this sort of entertainment and they’re not too distant from the reasons our wonky species hasn’t gone the way of the dinosaurs. But still…what would be wrong with giving the video Leslie a pacifist leaning or two? She could maybe slip them into a subordinate clause where nobody would notice them anyway. And they would give the character Ms. Baccarin and her cohorts are so ably creating a nuance uniquely her own.

Just asking.

 

Dennis O’Neil: DC’s Wandering Boot-heals

O'Neil Art 131107Our good times are all gone

And I’m bound for moving on…

Ian Tyson

I doubt that anyone who cared was surprised when, last week, Diane Nelson, the high honcho of DC Comics, announced that the company was relocating to Burbank in about a year. The move had been rumored for a long time, particularly afterDC became part of a movie making company, Warner Bros., of which you may have heard. It was only logical: Manhattan real estate comes with a mighty price and so it seemed to make sense to leave New York and go where the parent company already owned property.

Once, on a business trip, Dick Giordano and I established very brief headquarters on the sprawling Warner’s lot, which had vacant offices we could use. So: empty space, huh? Interesting. And a publishing venture no longer much needed to be located in New York: electronic communications largely eliminated the required treks writers and artists made to midtown. No need to endure the subway when you could pop your work into a fax machine and, later, discuss it with your editor by telephone, all without changing out of your pajamas. And yeah, yeah, I know: fax machines – stone age stuff. But not to us, not then. And pretty soon, the technology got really nifty.

Sure, once in a while, usually when contemplating a complicated stunt, I thought it best to get some creative people together in a room and that was always possible – you know, airplanes and the like – and I always preferred to discuss plots with the writer and me breathing the same air, but that wasn’t strictly necessary. Mostly, editorial chores could be done with someone who lived in the United Kingdom as easily as with someone who lived in Brooklyn.

What we may not have been properly mindful of was that our most reliable product, superhero stories, weren’t about print and paper anymore; they had become about images on screens large and small, most serviceable in theaters and on television. They still have a place on paper and, I’m pretty sure, will continue to do so, and maybe one of you savants out there will write a monograph explaining why print is the proper venue for our characters but, bite the bullet, flicks and the tube are where the major action is. In the best superhero tradition, they’re going where they’re most needed,

My reaction? It’s never a good idea to get into a scrap with what is.

A few years ago, DC relocated some people, some of my former colleagues, from New York to California. In retrospect, that was the opening move, the fulfillment of an event long anticipated. Then the Mad Magazine offices became a suite of empty rooms: move number two. And now… amen. An era quietly ends.

THURSDAY AFTERNOON: The Tweaks!

FRIDAY MORNING: Martha Thomases

Mike Gold: Phantom Survivor

While we’re all busy celebrating the 49th anniversary of Doctor Who and the 50th anniversary of both Spider-Man and the James Bond movies, the daddy of heroic fantasy characters quietly turned 76 way back in February. Or, depending upon how you look at it, he turned 476.

The Phantom was the very first masked, costumed hero in comics, debuting in the pages of the many Hearst papers February 17, 1936. He wore a dark outfit – when the feature added a Sunday page, an unthinking engraver made the costume purple for some unknown reason and the color stuck. He fought piracy and other crimes and handed down his clothes, his weapons, his Skull Cave, his fortune and, most important, his legacy to his son. The current guy – most have been named Kit Walker – is the 21st. This cool concept predated Doctor Who by a generation.

One would think the locals were pretty stupid to believe this dude has been the same guy all these many years. Indeed, given the fact that the base for the Phantom’s stories is in Africa (originally, it was sort of India-ish), one might even think this concept was kind of racist. Creator Lee Falk’s liberal street-cred was impeccable and he built the myth on local folk-lore and the unimpeachable fact that criminals are a superstitious, cowardly lot.

As time progressed we saw African civilization modernize as we continued to see its treasures and its history plundered by contemporary pirates and opportunist Europeans. Nonetheless, about 30 years ago I was having a conversation with the features editor of the Chicago Tribune who expressed astonishment that The Phantom polled highest among its black male readership. I told him he wasn’t reading the strip very closely.

What’s remarkable – astonishing, really – is the fact that The Phantom remains in the newspapers to this very day. This is a feat unmatched by Terry and The Pirates, Little Orphan Annie, Li’l Abner, Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, and just about every other continuity newspaper comic strip except Dick Tracy and Mandrake The Magician.

I should point out that Mandrake the Magician was created by Lee Falk as well… two years before The Phantom.

The original artist was Ray Moore; subsequent talent on the strip and on the comic books reads like a Who’s Who of comics: Carmine Infantino, Bill Lignante, Sy Barry, Joe Orlando, Luke McDonnell, Dave Gibbons, Dick Giordano, Don Newton, Jim Aparo, Alex Saviuk, Graham Nolan, Alex Ross, Paul Ryan, Eduardo Barreto, and Terry Beatty… to name but a few. Writers include Peter David, Mark Verheiden, Scott Beatty, Tom DeFalco, and Tony Bedard. Tony DePaul has been writing the strip for the past twelve years; he’s also written many of the comic book adventures as well. Nearly every major American comic book publisher had a turn in creating new adventures, and it remains a top-seller in Australia, Sweden, India and many other nations.

Currently, the dailies are being drawn by Paul Ryan and Terry Beatty – perhaps best known for his work on Ms. Tree – is the Sunday artist. Terry had the awesome responsibility of stepping into Eduardo Barreto’s shoes after Ed’s sudden death last year. He’s doing quite an admirable job.

I continue to be amazed by The Phantom’s enduring appeal. If your local paper isn’t carrying the feature (assuming you still have a local paper) you can read it at King Features’ excellent Daily Ink site, where they carry all of the current KFS strips, including Mandrake, as well as reprints of many of their classics, including The Phantom, Mandrake, Flash Gordon, Buz Sawyer, and about a zillion others. It costs $19.99 a year to subscribe to the whole thing, and I doubt you can spend the same amount on a better mix of comics material.

Every time we read a costumed hero comic of any sort, we owe a debt of gratitude to Lee Falk, an amazingly gifted and singularly interesting man.

THURSDAY: Dennis O’Neil

 

Mindy Newell: Not Superman’s Girlfriend!

Last week I wrote about Lois Lane (here) for the first time since 1986 and my mini-series “When It Rains, God Is Crying,” which was edited by ComicMix’s own Robert Greenberger. It got me to thinking about Lois.

First, a little history on the mini-series, which was published in 1986.

1986 was the year that John Byrne took over Superman. As the final ink was drying on the (secret) contract, I approached Dick Giordano about writing a Lois Lane mini-series. Or maybe it was Dick who called me into his office and asked if I wanted to write a “final” Lois Lane story as part of the “Superman Silver Age Farewell Tour, which included Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ For The Man Who Has Everything and Alan Moore, Curt Swan, and George Perez’s Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow? I’m pretty sure it was the former, though I could be wrong, thanks to my menopausal memory.

There are two reasons I believe it was the former: (1) I didn’t know Byrne was being given carte blanche to reboot the entire Superman mythos and family, and that, as part of the deal, no one would be allowed to touch any of the characters without John’s permission; and (2) I distinctly remember saying to Dick that, if the first series was successful, I wanted to continue to write stories about Lois as her own person, as a reporter covering stories – not as Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane. Of course Dick was non-committal, but I thought it was because he – naturally – didn’t want to put the horse before the cart, not because of the Byrne deal that was about to be announced to the press and public.

At any rate, and to my delight, Dick green-lit the project, which would feature Lois as a reporter doing a story on missing and abused children, and in which Superman would not appear – although Clark Kent would. And Lana Lang, Jimmy Olsen, Perry White, and even Lois’s sister, Lucy. The story would be character-driven, and it would be about Lois. Robert Greenberger, then working as an editor at DC – and with whom I had worked on the V comic – was given the assignment, and he brought in the remarkable Gray Morrow, known for his realistic and individualistic portrayal of women characters. We were all immensely enthusiastic about the project, and the series came together incredibly easy because of that enthusiasm. It remains something Robert and I are immensely proud to have created. (Gray Morrow, who always expressed his love of the series to me, passed away in 2001.)

The best part of the project, for me, was having the chance to write Lois as an individual.

I grew up on the Silver Age Lois in comics, she of the 1950s white veiled cloche and matching gloves, a lady-like suite, nylons, and pumps. I didn’t like that she was always mooning over Superman and that her main raison d’être was to prove that Superman was Clark Kent. I didn’t like that Superman always managed to pull the wool over her eyes. It made her foolish. It was insulting. It was dumb. I liked Lana Lang; she was spunky, she was Insect Queen, she was a member of the Legion of Substitute Heroes, and she just seemed smarter and not so constantly obsessed with Superman’s secret identity.

I couldn’t stand Noel Neill as Lois Lane, either. She was too – I don’t know, what’s the word? – genteel to be a star reporter on a “great metropolitan newspaper.” Too much like the Lois Lane of the comics.

But Phyllis Coates! Now she was a tough broad. You could imagine her Lois working her way up the glass ladder – and even breaking though that glass ceiling – in a time when “ladies” stayed home and emulated Betty Crocker. Coates’ Lois could not only replace Perry White as the Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Planet, but she would keep a bottle of Scotch in her bottom drawer just as Lou Grant did on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Phyllis Coates’s Lois was the chick that Sinatra sang about in The Lady Is A Tramp. Phyllis Coates’s Lois was Katherine Graham of the Washington Post.

I believe that Coates’ portrayal of Lois was based on how she first appeared in Action Comics #1. That Lois was snarky, resourceful, sarcastic, brave, contemptuous of Clark Kent, and didn’t moon over Superman; it is said that Siegel and Shuster based her personality and character on Rosalind Russell in His Gal Friday. She smelled a story and went after it. Yeah, Superman saved her – but she was thankful, not all googly-eyed and mushy because of it. (This was the Lois who also appeared in the Fleisher animated shorts, which can easily be found on the web.)

Bottom line, Lois is the most underappreciated, and in my humble opinion, most badly written character in comics. Currently she is a producer on a television news-entertainment show; sorry, no way, José. Lois is Rachel Maddow on MSNBC, or Christine Amanpour on CNN. Lois is Candy Crowley at the Presidential debate, fact-checking Romney’s statements about Obama. Lois is Helen Thomas in her prime, with her own seat in the front row at Presidential news conferences. Lois is Diane Sawyer, or Andrea Mitchell, or Soledad O’Brian.

Damn, if I could get my hands on her…

TUESDAY MORNING: Emily S. Whitten Talks Arrow, Talks Halloween

TUESDAY AFTERNOON: Michael Davis?