Chortle chuckle yukyukyuk. O, boy ain’t we having fun hee-hee-hee here in Nyack ho ho ho ho and how about that last Tuesday wasn’t that darn day a rib-tickler heh heh gargle lipticon smoothie ha ha ha ha ha ha giggle snortle honk.
Enough – hee hee – merriment. Where were we? Oh yeah. I sort of vaguely suggested that I might continue last week’s discussion of Doctor Strange, who has been a Marvel Comics character since 1963 and currently is the eponymous star of a big screen movie, the box office champ for the second week in a row (and for a little extra coin you can see this champ in 3-D! And don’t tell me, mister, that life is not a party.
Here I’m going to mention that ComicMix’s resident film critic had a few reservations about the flick and I hereby bow to his acumen; oh and by-the-way he has become one of my favorite reviewers, which strikes me as a bit wonky considering that he’s considerably younger than my youngest child and I’ve known him all his life and a hefty portion of mine and aren’t authority figures supposed to be aged and wizened just like The Ancient One in the Doc Strange yarns and…
Here we are, having survived another digression, back in Doc Strange turf. Yes, the doctor. A conjurer.
His ilk are sprinkled throughout the history of comic books. Before Superman jump-started the business in 1938, a comic strip featuring Mandrake the Magician appeared daily and Sundays in the paper my parents had tossed onto the lawn every day. Mandrake was created by Lee Falk, a St. Louisan, and first appeared in 1934. I’m pretty sure that when I read or at least looked at the strip as a kid I understood Mandrake’s modus operandi: the captions told me that Mandrake “gestured hypnotically” and illusions appeared to gebollix the bad guys. It was an okay gimmick as long as you knew little or nothing about hypnosis and in 1934, who did?
A couple of years later, Lee Falk created The Phantom. The “ghost who walks” – that Phantom – but since he is not a magician, we’ll ignore him.
And speaking of magicians… As a genre, they were never awfully important in comics, certainly no rival to superheroes. Arguably, the most prominent of them was another doctor, surnamed Fate. He could be mistaken for a superhero; he looks superheroish and he’s invulnerable and strong and he can fly and do other stuff. Mostly, he uses sorcery that doesn’t seem very defined, but it doesn’t have to be at long as it’s used judiciously.
About that (those) costume(s): one of the nifty things about the doctor – Strange, not Fate – is that his clothing is definitely a costume, but one that suggests magic. And there are his powers; in a way, he’s a first cousin to Iron Man as both spend a lot of time shooting energy of some kind from their hands – very visual and so very appropriate for comics and, oh heck, we’ll admit it, also to movies. Whoever Doc Strange’s haberdasher was, hooray!
We’ll end with what you can consider another digression, a couple of lines from Lord Byron:
This past weekend was MoCCA Fest 2016, or for those of you unfamiliar, the Museum of Comic and Cartooning Art Festival. Since 2014 it has been put on by The Society of Illustrators. Once again it was held at a new venue, the Metropolitan West next to the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museu. Highlighted guests included Sonny Liew (Doctor Fate, The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye) and Rebecca Sugar (Adventure Time, Steven Universe). As with the past few years, I attended both days.
I was fortunate enough to get into both Sonny Liew’s Spotlight discussion on Saturday and Rebecca Sugar’s on Sunday. Both of these discussions were eye opening not only in the words that were said, but in who was listening to them.
On Saturday, Sonny’s discussion was moderated by his Doctor Fate collaborator, Paul Levitz. And you know that it’s an important discussion when people like Columbia University’s Karen Green and legendary storyteller David Mazzucchelli are sitting front row center for it. Sonny Liew was introduced to me through his work on DC’s most recent efforts to reintroduce Doctor Fate. Being a fan of Paul’s and following his Legion run in the New 52 as well as part of his World’s Finest run, I was looking forward to checking out Doctor Fate when it premiered last year. What kept me going on Doctor Fate was more than just Paul’s ability to craft a story, but Sonny Liew really knocking the art out of the park.
Another important element of this all was the diversity in Doctor Fate. After some 75 years, Doctor Fate is Egyptian in the main DC continuity. Granted, James Robinson and Brett Booth beat Paul and Sonny (not by much, but still) in Earth 2 continuity, but that Doctor Fate didn’t have his own solo title. And Doctor Fate is a character that really should be represented by someone of either African or Middle Eastern heritage. It was a (too) long time coming, but I’m glad DC got there.
Even then, that might not even be most important element of the diversity in Doctor Fate. Sonny Liew is. On the Friday before MoCCA Fest, Sonny and Paul were signing at Midtown Comics Downtown. Sonny Liew is a Malaysian-born artist residing in Singapore that was in town for MoCCA Fest. He’s had worked published on and off for over a decade at both Marvel and DC. His latest works with Doctor Fate as well as new hit creator-owned graphic novel The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye have increased his profile. It’s how I became aware of him, despite loving Marc Hempel’s work and not realizing he also worked on My Faith In Frankie with Marc.
The point I’m getting at is at both the signing at Midtown Comics and the discussion at MoCCA, many people in attendance were of Asian heritage. A young man sitting by me was furiously taking notes and anxiously awaited his turn to ask Sonny Liew a question about how to be a better artist. Non-white women and men were excited by Sonny Liew and engaged in the discussion. This is important. This is the only way comics (and any entertainment medium) can have a future. Different people with different backgrounds and different stories to tell need to feel not only welcomed, but encouraged to participate. Sonny Liew is not only putting out great work on his own, but he’s inspiring other people to as well.
Sunday was about all about Steven Universe creator Rebecca Sugar. If you were in attendance, you saw some people wearing their red t-shirts with a yellow star in the middle just like Steven Universe’s shirt. Sunday, however, such apparel was a phenomenon. Many people were decked out in Steven Universe merch or homemade creations. A line wrapped around the Ink 48 hotel where the panels were held. I was able to get into the discussion moderated by Ryan Sands, but by then it was standing room only. It was packed to the absolute limit. The excitement was contagious, and if you scanned the room, there was a smile on everyone’s face.
From the moment she began talking, the room hung on to every word she said. She talked candidly about her life and her creations in a way that’s rarely scene at these sort of conventions. She talked with an immense appreciation to all of her fans, and humbly about her roles at Adventure Time and Steven Universe at Cartoon Network. All of the points she made were encouraging ones. She pushed people to create. To always strive to be better. She talked about how Steven Universe is for her brother who is not only her best friend, but someone who helped her to strive and be a better artist. She took out her ukulele at one point and played the song “So This Is Love” from Disney’s Cinderella which meant a lot to her and she only played before in front of Ian, her boyfriend. You can watch that here. It was moving. You could barely hear a pin drop. She even mentioned she wrote some poems and wasn’t planning on reading them, but when everyone in the audience could be heard gasping in delight when talked about her poems, she read one anyway.
Once it came to the audience questions, people of all different ages, races, orientations and gender identities were given a chance to ask her everything from how to be a better artist to how can I geek out in front of you without being scary. It was honestly one of the most diverse groups of people I’ve ever seen at a convention discussion before, if not the most that wasn’t specifically about diversity.
You know why that is?
It’s because the audience Steven Universe has is that diverse. Rebecca Sugar unapologetically explores gender politics, alternative families, queer romance, and much more in a sci-fi cartoon that offers something for a wider audience than most television ever has before, if not offering the most for a wider audience. She also has the honor of being the first woman to solely create a show for Cartoon Network, proving once again that diversity works for everyone. It lifts us all up.
Rebecca Sugar also had advice on comics, the medium in which she started out. She suggested to any artist that wants to break into cartooning, that doing your own comics is the best way to start. No one can stop you from making them. She warned that doesn’t mean people read them, as she states from her personal experience, but it’s the only way you’ll get better. The same holds true for writing. No one can stop a writer from writing writing a script, a poem, a song. The only person stopping you is you. So stop it.
I left MoCCA Fest this year feeling inspired, and I don’t seem to be the only one. Which is good. I even felt less cynical. Having coffee with Molly Jackson after the show, the song “It’s All Been Done” by Barenaked Ladies came on. And you know what? I didn’t believe it this time. I’m never going to believe it again. It hasn’t all been done. So many voices have never been heard. More than we can even comprehend. We’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg. Just you wait.
We need more Rebecca Sugars in the world with a creative voice. A lot more. I wish I was more like her. A lot of people do. And that’s what we all need. This is only the beginning.
I’m sure many of you are aware of the upcoming DC Rebirth. I’ve been following it along since the first bits of news surfaced, and I almost wrote about it last week. Now I feel enough is out there where I can start forming some level of opinion on it. And try as I might, it’s not a particularly positive opinion. However, that’s strictly regarding Rebirth. I do think DC may have a couple of good ideas here. Just not with diversity in mind.
Hear me out on this one.
Rebirth shouldn’t shock anybody. As far back as last August, we heard that DC was going to “Stop Batgirling” and get back to “meat and potatoes.” Many people wrote about this and how problematic it was since “meat and potatoes” came off as “more straight cis white guy stories.” Back in August, that was just an opinion on what might happen. Granted, a well informed opinion, but still an opinion. Based on the titles being offered starting in June, it’s hard to argue that this isn’t now a fact. At least it took almost a year for this all to happen, which gave us time to enjoy comics like Doctor Fate and Midnighter. They will be sorely missed by me and quite a few people I know. Not enough people, apparently, but still quite a few.
In lieu of diversity, DC is doubling down on its core characters. It may come of as a sound conservative move to retreat back, reassess, and plan accordingly to expand after. Looking at the line-up DC has presented certainly shows that they are taking far fewer risks than they did back with the New 52. Outside of arguably Gotham Academy: Next Semester, every single title is a superhero one. At a time of where publishers like Image are encroaching on the big two with its wider variety of genres, this seems like more than just one step back for DC Comics.
Why would DC think this is such a good idea?
The short answer may very well be DC’s Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns. He’s a talented writer that has helped DC a great deal in the past. However, he’s also constantly looking backward when it comes to important aspects of the stories he’s telling. This is the guy that orchestrated the biggest reboot of Green Lantern which involved bringing back straight cis white Hal Jordan as its torchbearer. Similar strategies were used in his runs on comics like The Flash and Teen Titans. His comments that he made regarding Rebirth are troubling. A lot of looking backward and keeping the fan base small, isolated, and nearly impenetrable is what I and many others got out of it.
As a queer reader, canceling the only gay male superhero comic alone hits a bit hard, especially after a fairly short run. Cancelling Catwoman as well seems a bit excessive. In addition to Batwoman staying gone, Poison Ivy not continuing to have a series (I know it was just meant to be a mini-series, but still), that just leaves Harley Quinn and Hellblazer. The only queer characters worth having in their line are only the ones who have been in movies and TV shows I suppose. It’s rough enough that the queer representation lately has been almost exclusively cis and white (at least in headlining a book), but this step back makes it seem like it may be a long time before we can even move past that. It looks like it could be a long time before Alysia Yeoh becomes a kickass vigilante (if she ever does) and don’t even get me started on when we’ll see Rene Montoya as The Question or Kate Godwin as Coagula again.
At this point you may be curious as to what I was getting at before when I said that DC may have some good ideas here. They might. Not with Rebirth, but with Vertigo and their Hanna-Barbera titles. Not too long ago, DC’s New 52 did have quite a few risky books coming out. While doing that, they neglected the Vertigo line. Saying Vertigo as an imprint was anemic at the time would have been a nice way to put it. Part of that was DC bringing back characters like Animal Man, Swamp Thing, Constantine, and Doom Patrol into the main continuity. They also just weren’t pumping out the same number of titles, and books like Fables were coming to an end. Now, Vertigo appears to be thriving. It seems pretty clear to me that DC’s approach now is to keep it’s main line more conservative and less risky and using Vertigo to take chances and experiment again. When framed in this context, it doesn’t sound quite as bad. I haven’t really seen it framed this way yet, but maybe as the new Vertigo titles get further along and Rebirth begins, we’ll see commentators putting this all in a slightly different context.
With the Hanna-Barbera titles, DC can address the problem with the lack of comic offerings they have for kids. That’s a good thing. We need more kids reading comics if we’re going to keep expanding the readership. And the way Jim Lee is apparently looking into making Hanna-Barbera comics a shared universe, it allows the kind of story telling that’s used in most DC comics while having it for a younger audience. Hey, it works for Archie.
If your head is currently exploding because I haven’t taken the time to acknowledge how much I hate the new hipster looking Scooby Doo character designs, it’s because I don’t. If you have a non exploded head on your shoulders you’ll be able to find out why. It’s because the new Scooby Doo isn’t supposed to be for me. It’s supposed to be for kids. Some of which might not even be aware of Scooby Doo. This could be their first look at these characters. Maybe the kids will hate it. I don’t know. What I do know is hating character designs for kids’ comics clearly not made for me is a waste of my own time and energy. I have plenty of other things to get angry about. This is an election year after all.
My qualms with the Hanna-Barbera line of comics lie in diversity. They are white. Very very white. And straight. And cis. That’s the downside of going back to older properties like this. It’s a point I’ve brought up before, and this is just another example of the problems of resurrecting much older properties that didn’t have diversity in mind. I’m not angry that Scooby and the gang look like they’re living in Williamsburg or Bushwick now, but if you don’t mind updating the designs, why do they all still have to be straight cis white people? If it’s not at all important that Shaggy stays clean shaven and is allowed to be drawn with crazy facial hair, then why is it so important that he has to be portrayed as white?
The Vertigo line seems to have more stories involving women than the main DC line. That’s great. We definitely need more of that. However, Vertigo does seem very white. They have some great titles, but between DC’s main line, the Hanna-Barbera offerings, and Vertigo, I can’t help but feel we’ve taken a few steps back in queer and minority representation. Maybe this is temporary, since comics focusing on diversity seemed temporary at DC, but we’ll have to wait and see.
In other news, I’ve caught up on Image Comics’ The Wicked + The Divine. Now that is a greatinclusive comic.
For the past several weeks my friend and comrade Paul Levitz has taken to the so-called social media to promote his brand-new comic book, Doctor Fate.
Of course, this is his right and more power to him. But I don’t recall Paul doing so much promotion for his work during a writing career that goes back to when he was a small child. Now that he’s well into being a small adult, I’m taking this effort as a sign of his pride and enthusiasm for his latest project. I would have read this book anyway as the lead character has long been a favorite, but I really wanted to see why he’s so enthusiastic this time around and so the book took the top position on my week’s reading pile.
Doctor Fate #1 is capped by an interesting and unusual mosaic-pattern cover, drawn by interior artist Sonny Liew in DC’s newer, looser style. If the idea of the cover being drawn by the interior artist confuses you, there’s a variant cover available if you can wrestle it from your retailer. I stared at it for a while, found the hidden bunny rabbit head, and moved inside.
The story is a continuation from the Sneak Peak giveaway made available last month, although if you haven’t read that and you’re not interested in reading it on DC’s website, that’s cool. The story makes perfect sense without it. It is properly apocalyptic, with Anubis, the jackal-headed Egyptian Lord of Dead with the Greek name, preparing his own personal sequel to the big wet Noah Event. Only one young Brooklynite of Egyptian heritage can save the day – or so we presume; it’s a continued story and not a mini-series – and he wants no part of it. He’s about to start pre-med classes and he’s got a girl friend or something. But… dare I say it… Fate has other plans.
I’ll admit I was disappointed that they fussed with the traditional Doctor Fate costume. This did not come as a surprise as I actually pay some attention to the New New Fifty-Two as I eagerly await the inevitable Newer Still New New Fifty-Two reboot. But, who knows, maybe I’ll get lucky and we’ll see some sort of return of what I find to be one of the most interesting and distinctive superhero costumes of the past 75 years. Right now, we get the helmet – to be sure – and the amulet, which seems to have been stolen straight out of Tony Stark’s chest. Not to worry; Tony’s got plenty more.
Paul is one of those writers who carefully plots out the inter-relationship of each story element. This is what made him a superlative Legion of Super-Heroes scribe, a trait he shared with his predecessor, Jim Shooter. It’s clear that he put a lot of effort into this story: damn near every I is dotted, every T is crossed, and the tale is properly nuanced – not an easy trick in a story that, otherwise, could suffer from originitis. To me, it seems Paul is playing to the strengths of his collaborator, the aforementioned Sonny Liew.
Liew has a fluidity of style that makes the story move at a brisk pace. A veteran of Vertigo and Marvel and sundry indy projects, I am told the two met at a toy fair in Singapore. Sonny went to school there. He also went to school in Cambridge, England and Providence, Rhode Island. He’s quite the bon vivant. He’s also one of the best storytellers I’ve seen in a decade.
Doctor Fate #1 places the oft-revived hero on the top shelf of current mainstream superhero comics, right where, my inner fanboy screams, he belongs. I hope DC waits a long, long while before the next reboot.
Nope. This one isn’t what you might think. To paraphrase Li’l Willie Shakespeare, “Not that I loved the New 52 less, but that I loved DC more.”
The New 52 is not dead. Heck, it’s not even coughing up blood. Sure, a great many of the titles they started out with aren’t around any more, and yes, in June they replace a whole bunch of others (although several seem to be excuses for new #1s), and, certainly, they’re dropping the “New 52” branding, but the New 52 is alive and well.
That’s a mixed blessing. As crappy as most of the New 52 was, I prefer to look at this new stunt as an evolutionary change and not as a reboot. You know, just like what Marvel’s doing with their latest Secret Wars event. The one that starts the month before. Super-hero publishing is a pyramid scheme infused with Newtonian physics.
It’s been around for about three and one-half years, so the New 52 is hardly new. And, well, actually, they’re not really publishing 52 DCU books each month. If I’m counting correctly, in June they’ll have 49 – plus whatever annuals, specials, and clutter that may be. Or, maybe, the only reason they’re dropping the tag line is because it leaves a bitter taste… much like, oh, New Coke.
(Hey, Mike! Damn with faint praises much?)
The news sites have been full of the details of what’s missing and what’s coming and who’s doing what, and since ComicMix is an opinion site littered with some of the finest critical minds on Earth-Prime, I’ll cut to the commentary.
Many of DC’s new titles (New 24?) appear to be flop-oriented. Is the world really lusting for a brand-new Prez series? Bat-Mite? Harley Quinn and Power Girl? Bizarro? Maybe Section 8 will click – it certainly has the pedigree – but in the aggregate, the chances for long-term survival for some of these books appears minimal.
The fact is, I applaud many of these decisions. Do something different. Do something a little wacky. They’re not breathing new life into these (and other) characters, they’re breathing new life into the DCU. Original Marvel publisher Martin Goodman thought Spider-Man and the X-Men would flop. Superman sat in the drawer unsold for years. So, history tells us nobody knows what the hell is going to stick to the wall. Marvel’s bringing back Howard the Duck based upon a 10 second post-credit appearance in Guardians of the Galaxy; you’re telling me a Bat-Mite title is a bad idea? Who knows?
I’m looking forward to a few of the titles, although I will sample more than that. Most of all, I’m looking forward to the new Doctor Fate series by Paul Levitz and Sonny Liew. I love the character, Levitz has a solid track record with Justice Society heroes, and the guy is a lot more interesting than your off-the-shelf mystical hero.
On the other hand… I see where we’re getting a new Green Arrow #1 in July. Who would have ever expected First Issue Special would be so influential?