Tagged: Emily S. Whitten

John Ostrander: Secrets

Ostrander Art 130901Everyone has secrets; lots of them. As I said in my column about the TV miniseries Broadchurch, “…what gets revealed to whom, when, and how and is that a good idea really drives narrative and character. The revelation of secrets may answer some questions but may raise more.”

Some things you can tell about a person by looking at them: what they look like, ethnicity, gender, rough age and so on, but these days of social media such as Facebook, even that may be a secret. Are those pictures really of him/her? Those can still be secrets.

There are levels of secrets and not all of them are deep and dark. Your name, for example. Unless you’re wearing a name badge, it’s not immediately apparent. If you’re asked for your name, you usually give it. Some situations may alter that – women in bars may not give their real names or phone numbers, often with good reason. If a cop asks you your name, however, you’d better be prepared to share it.

There are secrets that you share with different groups of people. Acquaintances, co-workers, teachers and so on, people on Facebook perhaps, know more of your secrets than someone just passing by. There are those who are your actual friends and even within this community there are levels, some friends being closer than others. A level of trust is involved which means that you have usually have shared some secrets with them and they have proven worthy of that trust.

Family presents a parallel and often deeper level of secrets. I’ve joked in the past that parents often know how to push your buttons because they’re the ones who installed the wiring. I’ve been in situations around a family table where the adult children are telling stories of growing up and a parent will look bewildered and say, “I never knew about any of this!” They didn’t because the siblings kept those secrets. In my family it’s been joked as I grew up that if my twin brother, Joe, did anything wrong, sooner or later you’d find out because he would just blurt it out. Of me it was said that if I did anything wrong – well, maybe a decade later I might share it if I thought you were ready to deal with it. Yeah, I have a sneaky side.

There are the few people we let in very close. Deep, long time friends or, even more, the person that we love. Even they, however, don’t know all our secrets. There are some secrets known only to ourselves, that we don’t choose to share with anyone for whatever reason. Deepest of all are the secrets that we keep from ourselves, truths we don’t choose to face.

If all this is true in our own lives, and I submit that it is, then it needs to be true in our writing. A writer must know his/her characters’ secrets, especially the ones the characters hide from themselves. How the secrets are revealed, when, to whom, under what circumstances, and whether it was a good choice or turns out to be a good thing – all drive the narrative.

Sometimes the secret will be revealed to the audience before it is revealed to any character and that’s fine as well. It creates a deeper involvement with the audience and greater suspense; the audience has a vested emotional interest in what happens with the secret.

Nor do secrets need to be told all at once. This secret can be told or shown here and maybe that one there. Maybe part of the secret it told at one point and the rest comes out later. Secrets drive motivation and motivation drives the characters and they in turn drive the story.

And who doesn’t love a good story … or a good secret?




Mindy Newell: The Grandfather Paradox Gives Me A Headache

Newell Art 130826Is time travel possible? Can history be changed?

Imagine you had a time machine and went back into the past. While there you meet and accidentally kill your grandfather before he got married and had kids, one of them your own parent. Then you automatically wipe out your own existence, right? But if you have never existed, then how do you go back in time and kill Grandpa?

This is called The Grandfather Paradox, and it is probably the most famous example of what is termed a temporal paradox. This scenario was first described by science fiction writer Rene Barjavel in his 1943 book, Le Voyager Imprudent – translated, The Imprudent Traveler. (I didn’t know that, either. I looked it up.)

The Grandfather Paradox is not exclusive to killing Gramps. The entire plotline of Back To Future depends on Marty, um, “pre”-uniting his parents after he inadvertently interfered with his father, George McFly, being the one nursed by his mom (thus kindling their romance) after dad fell out of the tree into the path of a passing car. Because George did not marry Lorraine Baines, Marty cannot exist, and we see this principle at work as his first-born brother and then second-born sister disappear from a family photograph, until, at the prom (and the penultimate scene), Marty starts to fade away as he plays guitar. But just in time, George (who has saved Lorraine from being mauled – raped? – by Biff Tannen, the town bully) dances with her – they kiss, and suddenly Marty springs back to life and his brother and sister reappear in the photograph.

Marty inadvertently changes history in other ways, because in his efforts to bring George and Lorraine together, he has given his father new confidence in himself. When Marty returns to 1985, he discovers that his sad sack family are now examples of the American success story. George is no longer a stumbling failure, but a successful science fiction writer. Lorraine is no longer a slovenly, overweight, complaining, straight-laced mom, and they are a happy, openly loving couple. His brother and sister are happy, too, and Marty discovers his parents have bought him his long-dreamed of truck.

Is time travel possible? Can history be changed?

Another example of the Grandfather Paradox is Star Trek’s “The City On The Edge Of Forever.” Written by Harlan Ellison, and winner of the 1968 Hugo award for Best Dramatic Presentation, City is the story of Jim Kirk and Edith Keeler, a social worker in Depression-era New York City.

It begins with the Enterprise investigating “disturbances in time” emanating from an unknown planet. Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy, sick and paranoid from an accidental overdose of cordrazine, transports down to the planet, and a landing party follows him, led by Kirk and Spock. While searching for Bones, the team discovers the Guardian of Forever, a self-aware portal into the time stream. Still delusional, Bones jumps into the portal. Uhura tells Kirk that she was talking to the Enterprise, and now, suddenly, there is nothing, not even static. The Guardian tells them that the past has changed and the Enterprise, indeed the entire Federation, no longer exists. The landing party is stranded and alone in a universe that is no longer theirs.

Kirk and Spock determine that McCoy somehow changed history, and they realize they must follow Bones and stop him from doing whatever it is he did that changed history.

The portal lands them, as I said, in a New York City circa 1933. Kirk and Spock meet Edith Keeler, who runs a soup kitchen for the down-and-out. While Spock puts together a rudimentary tricorder (“I am endeavoring, ma’am, to construct a mnemonic memory circuit using stone knives and bear skins.”), Jim and Edith fall in love. And meanwhile, unknown to both men, Bones is being nursed back to health in Edith’s soup kitchen.

Spock discovers that Edith is a focal point in time. His machine shows two possible futures for her. Either Edith, a determined pacifist, leads a movement that delays America’s entry into World War II, which allows the Nazis time to perfect the atom bomb and win the war, or she dies in 1933 in a car accident. Kirk realizes that Edith Keeler, the woman he loves, must die.

Jim and Edith are on their way to a movie – “A Clark Gable movie. Don’t you know? You know, Dr. McCoy said…” – Jim tells Edith to “stay right there” and runs back across the street to the mission, calling for Spock. Spock comes out, and so does Bones. Edith, curious and watching this reunion, starts to cross the street; her eyes on the three men, she doesn’t see the truck. Kirk instinctively moves, but Spock stops him, and instead of saving Edith, Kirk restrains McCoy from acting as well. Edith is killed. “Do you know what you just did?” Bones says in disbelief. Spock answers for Kirk. “He knows, Doctor. He knows.

With Edith’s death, history is back on track, and the three men are returned to the Guardian’s planet. Uhura tells them that the Enterprise is there and awaiting instructions.

“Let’s get the hell out of here.”

Is time travel possible? Can history be changed?

The Novikov Self-Consistency Principle, theorized by Russian physicist Igor Dmitriyevich Novikov and American theoretical physicist Kip S. Thorne’s work on wormholes and other astronomical data – can the laws of physics actually permit space and time to be “multiply connected,” as Thorne put it, so that time travel through machines or via wormholes is actually possible? – both rely on the same hypothesis, i.e.,

there is no danger of temporal paradoxes because anything that a time traveler does in the past is (was?) an established and predetermined part of history.

In “Assignment: Earth,” a second season episode of Star Trek: TOS, Kirk and Spock discover that the Enterprise and its crew were actually part of the events of 1968 which led to the failed launch of a nuclear warhead platform into orbit by the United States. If they hadn’t travelled back in time, if they hadn’t interfered, then history (from the 23rd century perspective) would have been changed. But history couldn’t be changed, according to the Novikov Self-Consistency Principle and Thorne’s hypothesis; the Enterprise’s presence was an established and predetermined historical fact.

Can history be changed? Is time travel possible?

In 1937, physicist Willen Jacob Van Strickum proposed an idea he called the “Closed Timelike Curve.” He theorized that if time is linear, you should be able to fold it in on itself, making time travel possible between any points touching each other.

This was the basis of Quantum Leap, although Dr. Sam Beckett, the time traveler in the series, used the term “string theory.”

From the episode “Future Boy”:

Moe: Time is like a piece of string. One end of the string is birth, the other is death. If you can put them together, then your life is a loop.

Al: Hey! Sam, that’s your theory!

Moe: If I can travel fast enough along the loop, I will eventually end up back at the beginning of my life.

Al: He – He’s got it!

Sam: Well, let me ask you what would happen if you would ball the string, right? And then each day of your life would touch another day. And then, you could travel from one place on the string to another, thus enabling you to move back and forth within your own lifetime. Maybe.

Moe: That’s it! That’s it! Then I could actually…

Sam: Quantum leap.

So, according to Quantum Leap, you can time travel, at least within your own lifetime.

But can history be changed?

In Quantum Leap, the only way that Sam Beckett could move on and try to find his way home was to “put right what once went wrong.” Which of course he did. So Sam was changing history.

Or was he simply creating alternate histories?

Alternate histories that led to whole new universes.

Parallel universes.

Parallel universes within the multiverse.

To Be Continued…




John Ostrander: Broadchurch Secrets

Ostrander Art 130825Ordinarily, I wouldn’t “review” a TV miniseries or movie until it was completed. You should know the story before you comment on it. I know this is heresy these days but I feel you should know something about a topic before you drop an opinion bomb on it. I have no use for those who have decided they don’t like something without having bothered to experience it. That’s lazy and presumptive. I fully admit some things I have not sampled based on what I know of it, but I don’t render an verdict on it. If I hate something it’s because I tried it – like broccoli. Yuck. Broccoli.

However, I’m currently watching the BBC miniseries Broadchurch on BBC America. I’ve just seen the third episode of the eight part series and I think it’s incredible. I want to tell people about it. The series is set in a small coastal English town and follows the investigation into the murder of a ten-year old boy and the effects the murder and the investigation has on everyone – including the ones investigating.

The series was created, written, and executive produced by Chris Chibnall. ComicMix readers might know of his work on Doctor Who and Torchwood, among other things. Other Who influences include David Tennant (the Tenth Doctor) as the lead inspector and Arthur Darvill (Rory) as the local pastor. I’ll be honest, it was Tennant that first drew me to Broadchurch; I’ve been interested in seeing what else he could do as an actor although, being honest again, I was not crazy about his performance in another BBC miniseries, Spies of Warsaw. His performance there, to my mind, was very one note.

Not so here. This time, he plays Detective Inspector Alec Hardy, a haunted depressed man with secrets of his own; there are levels in his performance that show his talent and skill.

He is matched by Olivia Colman as Detective Sergeant Ellie Miller. (That’s another Who connection; in Matt Smith’s first outing as the Doctor, Ms. Colman plays “Mother” – one of the identities that the villain of the piece assumes.) DS Miller comes back from vacation expecting to be promoted to DI, only to find DI Hardy – an outsider – has gotten the job. And the best friend of her own son has been murdered.

For me, the biggest star is the writing. Everyone has secrets in this small town and they are gradually peeled back, revealing deeper and deeper levels of characterization. Grief is real and palpable. The mystery so far deepens with each episode and, at this writing, I have no idea who killed the boy or why.

There is a slight Twin Peaks vibe to the show – it’s deliberately paced and it has a slight undertone of supernatural in the person of a very odd man who claims he is getting messages from the dead boy. He seems sincere but – is he? Unlike Twin Peaks, however, I have the sense that the creator, Chris Chibnail, knows exactly where he’s going and how to wind it up. I trust him; OTOH, I also trusted the creators of The X-Files at the beginning. I thought they knew what they were doing; they fooled me.

The show isn’t simply about the murder, although that’s the engine that drives everything. It’s about secrets and that’s one of the most powerful narrative tools I know. Everyone has secrets and what gets revealed to whom, when, and how and is that a good idea really drives narrative and character. The revelation of secrets may answer some questions but may raise more.

It’s not only the secrets the characters reveal to one another, but the secrets that we learn as viewers, when do we learn them, what does that tell us. There’s more going on here than we initially know and it is only gradually unfolded to us.

The production values and the direction are all first rate. The acting is wonderful throughout. The show may not be to everyone’s taste – some might find it slow – and it demands that you pay attention but I’m riveted.

If you’re interested in the first three episodes (and I would not recommend you watch the show without seeing them), you can find them on BBC America On Demand, Amazon Instant Video and probably elsewhere. I’m certain it’ll also eventually be available on DVD and Blu-ray and such. I plan to own it when it does. It’s gotten excellent reviews both in the UK and the States. A second series of the show is reportedly in development and I’ve heard there are plans for an American adaptation.

For me, this is first class television and I can’t wait for the next episode. It’s not broccoli.




Mindy Newell: Morpheus Laughs

Newell Art 130819I had the weirdest dream last night. Like all – or most dreams – it was a jumbled mix. And some of the details are getting lost as the day goes on. But I do remember that I was in the midst of writing three books for DC, one of which was specifically for Karen Berger, although I couldn’t really classify the stories as strictly Vertigo. They were more along the lines of Elseworlds, or Marvel’s Ultimate titles.

All the books were graphic novels and very adult, but the only one I remember clearly now is the one about Supergirl, the original Supergirl, Kara Zor-El, and it was getting the full DC PR treatment – in fact, I think it was Martha Thomases, my friend and fellow columnist here at ComixMix, who was handling the publicity. Karen was very excited about it, and I knew I was writing at the tope of my game. Alex Ross was doing the art, painting it ala Marvels or Kingdom Come. Or if it wasn’t Alex, it was someone equally talented.

But my Kara wasn’t the sweet, prepubescent young lady who was Superman’s secret weapon. This Kara was one tough broad, and street-smart. In my dream she had escaped Krypton’s destruction by running away from home, hitching a ride on a space-trucker’s semi, who subsequently tried to rape her in his cab. This happened while the semi was passing by Earth’s solar system, so it turns out that, because of the influence of Earth’s yellow sun, Kara is the wrong babe for the space-trucker to mess with.

The (super) struggle causes the semi to crash on Earth. Kara is the “last man standing” after the crash, which is investigated, not by Superman, but by Wonder Woman and two other superwomen. (But even while I’m dreaming I’m feeling pissed off because I can’t identify the two other women clearly, though both could fly and were very powerful and I think one of them was a lot like Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Captain Marvel – or maybe it was Carol Danvers, I don’t remember.)

Anyway, Wonder Woman wants to take Kara to Themiscrya, but Kara refuses to go, telling Wonder Woman “I ain’t no dyke, and I ain’t going to an island full of dykes.” (Don’t ask me how she speaks English and knows nasty, sexist slang – dreams don’t work like that.) The “sorta” Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers pulls a full nelson on Kara, but Kara breaks her grip and the two fight. While they are fighting Wonder Woman uses her “lariat of truth” to rope Kara to try and calm her and make her tell the truth, i.e., who she is, how she got there, but Kara uses heat vision (inadvertently, the girl is still discovering her powers) and burns the rope, breaking free and flying off.

So this is the first chapter of the graphic novel, and like I said, Karen is very excited and happy with my work; me, too, plus I’m making so much money that I can quit nursing and become a full-time writer. Which is good because working full-time as a nurse would certainly interfere with my ability to make deadlines if I’m writing three graphic novels at the same time. And Joseph Campbell said to “follow your bliss” if you truly want to be happy, and nursing isn’t my bliss (though I’m good at it) and writing comics on a full-time basis is and I’m very happy, very satisfied, with my life.

But then I read in the New York Times and The Comic Buyer’s Guide that there has been a huge upheaval at DC, and it has been sold off to some conglomerate that is even bigger than Time-Warner – or maybe it’s that Time-Warner decides to dump DC because the company’s movies, even with Man Of Steel making gazillions, pretty much suck – or it had something to do with the CBS vs. Time-Warner Cable war…

I’m dreaming, remember?

So all my books are on hold, including the Supergirl graphic novel. It’s not going to see print.

I’m suddenly not enjoying this dream, and I want to wake up.

But I can’t.

Then I get a call from “somebody” that there is a big meeting regarding the reorganizing at DC after the sale and I’m invited. Only it’s the same day as a wedding I have to go to – or not. I remember that in the dream I dress up to go this meeting, waaaaay over-dress in an incredibly beautiful art deco-y type of gown – think Jean Harlow in Dinner At Eight – in a satiny deep, deep purple, and this stunning cloche with a peacock feather curling down and around my chin, and in the dream I guess I’m trying to justify why I’m dressed so formally because I’m thinking that I will catch a cab and get to the wedding/affair after the meeting.

But you know dreams. Even though I’m sleeping I know that something isn’t right.

So I get to the meeting and there are people there whom I know but can’t recognize. But everyone is very glad to see me. We are in this very corporate, and yet very classy, glass-enclosed boardroom. The ceiling lights are recessed and there are candles burning on glass coffee tables and we are lounging in big, slate-blue love seats. Everyone looks absolutely terrific, though I am the only one in a gown, everyone else is wearing very expensive, designer suits by the likes of Hugo Boss and Chanel and Stella McCartney and Dolce and Gabanna.

The new owners of DC (a few men and women) hand out prospectuses and folios that contain the new organization chart for the company. According to the chart I am going to be an executive editor. The “new Karen.”

But I don’t want to be the “new Karen.”

I want to be a writer.

I ask about my Supergirl graphic novel. I say that the first chapter is done and I’m working on the next. I want to know if I can finish it. I want to know if it’s going to be published.

Nobody hears me, or chooses not to answer.

Now the new owners pass out envelopes. We all open them. Inside are contracts, or “letters of agreement.” My letter tells me who will be in my “stable,” including editors, assistant editors, writers, and artists. I want to know if I have to use these people if I don’t want to; again, nobody hears me.

Boy, do I want to wake up now.

I turn to the woman sitting next to me. She kind of looks like Shelly Bond, but I’ve only met Shelly once or twice, so I can’t be sure, and, anyway, it’s not her.

She says, “Wow, Mindy, they’re paying you $70,000 a year. That’s great!”

“No, it’s not,” I say. “Not for the responsibilities they want me to have. And anyway, I make more than that as a nurse.”

“But that’s a lot of money.”

“No, it’s not. They just want you to think it’s a lot of money.”

Then I hear my name mentioned, and the new owners are telling me that they are pulling my Supergirl book. It’s dead in the water.

Everyone else is busy signing his or her contracts.

They are signing their lives away.

They’re all just happy to have jobs in the comics industry.

I get up and walk out.

I look spectacular

I am crying.

And then…

…even though it’s the worst way to end a story…

I woke up.




John Ostrander: Never Ending

Ostrander Art 130818 - LEFTOstrander Art 130818 - RIGHTIn the beginning, the Justice League of America on Earth-1 met the Justice Society of America on Earth-2 for an Annual Crisis and it was good. Usually it was really damn good. You waited for each yearly team-up eagerly.

And this begat Crisis on Infinite Earths and that was stupendous. A real game changer for DC. Continuity was never the same again. And this is turn begat Legends, a smaller miniseries that helped re-define the major DC characters and launched several books such as Suicide Squad, Justice League, and an all-new Flash. And it was good. Well, it was very good to me. It helped launch my career at DC and gave me two books, the aforementioned Suicide Squad and I would up taking over Firestorm. And those begat a lot more work for me and that was very, very good so far as I’m concerned.

These also begat a lot of sales and the lesson was not lost on Mighty Marvel and so begat Secret Wars, Secret Wars II, The Infinity Gauntlet, the Infinity Gauntlet Rides Again and so on. And all of these, both at DC and Marvel, begat tie-ins and spin-offs, selling books and making money but also increasingly disgruntling fans. And that’s not so good.

Okay, I’m not going to push the biblical phraseology thing any further because it stops being clever and just gets real annoying real fast. That’s my point – things get old quickly. These days, the “events” happen so much on the heels of one another that its gets hard to tell where one ends and another begins.

I can’t really complain – it’s getting me some work. I’m doing the Cheetah issue for Villains Month that’s part of Forever Evil and I was happy to get it (and – yes – to plug it). I also had some room to play with the character’s background and, I think/hope, the issue has wound up as a pretty good story. I don’t want to be a hypocrite – I can’t decry something in which I’m a participant.

I’d also like to suggest this – the main writer on a lot of DC’s events these days is Geoff Johns, just as Brian Michael Bendis has done on a lot of the Marvel Crossover Events. These are two top talents working at the top of their respective games. They both weave stories, working in plot threads that have appeared in other books leading up to the Event. It does give an epic quality to DC/Marvel’s respective canons.

However, I’m concerned that it could lead to Reader Burn-out. (Hm! The title for the next big crossover event – Burnout!) The books cost money and its not just the central core books of the event. True, most of the spin off books you don’t have to buy (except for the Cheetah one shot connected to Forever Evil; that one you really have to buy) but all the hype connected with any Event starts to numb the reader (IMO). I’m going to sound like a COF (Crusty Old Fart) but I really do think it was better in the old days when the JLA met the JSA just once a year. It was an event to which you could look forward instead of just lurching from one Can’t Miss story to another.

Maybe the point is sales and if the Events sell and garner a big chunk of overall sales that month, maybe that’s all they need to do. I have no objections to that.

Especially if it’s the Cheetah spin-off. Buy lots of copies of that. Buy spare copies to give to friends and family. Pre-order it now.

Hmmm. Maybe I understand Event programming better than I thought.




Mindy Newell: Historical Fiction

Newell Art 130812History is important. Understanding the history of a subject leads to the understanding and interpretation of current events. Knowing where you were can help you in comprehending where you are now. For instance, want to understand the current Mideast conundrum? Learn about World War I and the break-up of the Ottoman Empire by the British Empire and its allies because that’s where our modern Middle East troubles really started.

“But history is so boring!” you say?

Then pick up a good book. I don’t mean a “bustier and boudoir” romance novel – I mean a novel that explores, through its characters and situations, the mores and creeds and ethos of its time. War And Peace, To Kill A Mockingbird, Marjorie Morningstar, Tales Of The South Pacific – well, okay, James Michener’s book is a collection of short stories – The Grapes Of Wrath; even Gone With The Wind will help you understand the South of today.

I bring this up because I’m currently reading Watergate: A Novel by Thomas Mallon, a noted historical novelist who is also a frequent contributor to The New Yorker and The New York Times Book Review.

Yes, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post wrote a wonderful non-fiction book about the botched break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate complex, and All The President’s Men was a brilliant movie starring Robert Redford as Woodward and Dustin Hoffman as Bernstein and Jason Robards as Washington Post Editor-in-Chief Ben Bradlee. I thought the book and the movie were the last words on the scandal, too.

But Mallon does a brilliant job in imagining the emotions, thoughts, and personal ambitions of those involved in what Vanity Fair called, in its review of the book, “the operatic drama of Watergate.”  The scandal was truly a Greek tragedy, a tale of moral bankruptcy and the corruption of leadership that still echoes in the hall of the United States government today, and not to the good.  Unfortunately, in my opinion, the Tea Party, the obstructionists, the corporatists, the Mitch McConnells, the Eric Kantors, the John Boehners, the Koch Brothers, the Dick Cheneys and their ilk took away from the Watergate scandal the wrong lessons.

As in: Be cleverer as you undermine the Constitution of the United States.

On July 21st, John Boehner sat with Bob Schieffer of Face The Nation and actually said that Congress passes too many laws and that it “ought to be judged on how many laws it repeals.” And what laws would those be, Mr. Speaker of the House? You mean Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act?

As in: Lie until people believe it.


As in: Don’t fight the media. Use the media.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Fox News.

As in: The right to work without a union.

Yes. The right to work for less pay, worse benefits, more hours, and less environmental protection.

As in: Corporations are people.

Citizens United.

The Washington Post, home to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the paper that took down a President and his cabal of co-conspirators, was sold this past week to Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com. Bezos hasn’t said anything about his plans for the Graham-owned icon.

But we all know how great Amazon has been for Barnes and Noble and Borders and the great publishing houses like Random House and Penguin and Farrar, Straus & Giroux.


That was a great story, wasn’t it?




John Ostrander on… The Substitute!

Ostrander Art 130811On June 10th of this year, Jon Stewart took leave of his job hosting The Daily Show on Comedy Central to go direct his first film, handing the hosting duties over to John Oliver, one of the show’s top “reporters.” This was a big deal to me – I’m a huge fan of the show but Oliver has never been my favorite performer on it. He’s been a little too over-the-top manic, playing at a character rather than being the character as predecessors like Ed Helms, Rob Corddry, Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert have done. Or Samantha Bee who comes off as a genuine lunatic (and I mean that as the highest compliment). I thought he was trying too hard to be funny rather than being funny.

Someone I would have picked over Oliver was Larry Wilmore – the dry and droll “Senior Black Correspondent.” I saw him doing a documentary about African-Americans and the Mormon Church in a Showtime special titled Race, Religion and Sex. His interviews were first-rate. I was somewhat disappointed they didn’t pick him to sub for Stewart.

I was also concerned that The Daily Show itself would suffer. Stewart has been so identified with it, rarely taking a night off even when obviously physically ill. There was simply no one else to do the job. Until now.

So, the summer wanes and Labor Day approaches and with it Stewart’s return to the desk of The Daily Show. How’s it gone without him?

In my view, surprisingly well. Oh, no question that I will be glad to see Stewart’s return but John Oliver has, overall, done a very good job. I get a better sense of Oliver as a person in his work as anchor for the show. He’s also been willing to play the straight man for the gang of comedic lunatics that comprise the show’s “reporters.” He’s been an adept interviewer, which is important because the interview sessions comprise about a third of the show. Stewart is still the better interviewer but Oliver is better than David Letterman. And he’s getting better.

An early criticism I had for Oliver’s anchorman duties was that he appeared to be imitating Stewart’s intonations and gestures and even posture. Understandable – you go with what works and you don’t want to lose the audience (I’ll bet that is one of Oliver’s recurring nightmares; that he loses the audience for Stewart). It’s gotten less as the summer has gone on, however.

My larger concern was the show itself. Stewart’s not just the anchorman for the series; he’s a writer and co-executive-producer for the show. He has set the tone for The Daily Show, I think, and that’s important. It’s not only a satire of news programs in general but of the news itself and how it’s covered. There’s a sense of real moral outrage running through the show that gives it the edge it shows. There’s a point of view that is consistently presented.

The show is biased and that’s fine; those who say it should be more balanced forget that this is actually a comedy show and not an actual news show. They proudly proclaim themselves a “fake news” show. However, in 2009 the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press said that 21% of people between 18 and 29 said that The Daily Show was their primary source for news. Stewart and producers of the show have discounted that and suggested those who used the show as their only news source would wind up horribly misinformed.

My concern was, what would the show look and sound like without Stewart, no matter who was in the anchorman’s chair? I’m happy to say it still has the same voice, the same values, the same moral outrage underlying it.

That bodes well for the show’s future. I’m glad Stewart is coming back but, let’s face it, at some point he will leave and not come back. He may want to direct some more (depending on how this first film goes), he may get offered a gig on a broadcast network late night show, he may just get tired and want to do something else. This summer has proven The Daily Show can go on without him.

It will also give him a viable substitute on the nights when he’s too ill to perform or needs to be elsewhere. That’s a good thing; it will help keep Stewart from burning out. Will the sub/heir apparent be John Oliver? It depends; Oliver’s gotten a lot more visibility and credibility as a result of this summer’s experiment. I‘d be surprised if he doesn’t get more offers as well.

So let’s call the experiment a success – John Oliver showed he can do the job and welcome back Jon Stewart. Just don’t go away again too soon, okay, fellah?




Mindy Newell: Family, A Love Story

Newell Art 130805I must apologize for not being here last week. We had a family emergency, and the weekend was not fun.

No, not my dad. My mom. She was in the hospital.

I’ve talked about my dad here, but have rarely mentioned my mom.

She comes from a large family. Eleven kids. All of them, the girls as well as the boys, were raised to be independent, to be able to stand on their own two feet. My mom became a nurse, and down through the years, like Cherry Ames, she has worked in many areas of the field.

Laura Newell, Army Nurse. Laura Newell, Labor and Delivery Nurse. Laura Newell, Dialysis Nurse. Laura Newell, School Nurse. Laura Newell, Camp Nurse. Laura Newell, Public Health Nurse. Laura Newell, Emergency Room Nurse.

I thought a lot about my mom this past week. A professional woman before that was unremarkable. Able to sustain a marriage now 65 years in the making while raising two kids and continuing to work before there was daycare and flex-hours. Being in love, married to a man who was as proud of ability to help others heal as he was of her looks and housekeeping skills and never minded if she had to work an extra shift or stay overtime at the hospital? How had she done it? Where did she learn to how to do it?

And then I thought of my grandmother.

It was during the second wave of the East European Jewish immigration (which lasted from 1890 to 1924) that my grandmother, Anna Pecker, with her two young children – my Aunt Ida and my Uncle Phillip – crossed the ocean to America sometime in the early 1900’s. She was from a shtetl (Yiddish for “small town or village”) near Vilna, a city always known for its culture and book-learning, and which was sometimes part of Poland and sometimes part of Russia and is now a major city of Lithuania.

The thing is, no one knows what happened to her first husband. We don’t even know his name.

There are two theories. The first is that, like many young men of the times, he was conscripted into either the Polish or Russian Army and never returned. Her brother advised her by letter to come to America, saying that he could pay the steerage passage.

The second, and this is what makes it such an intriguing story, is that her husband was a miserable lout, always drunk, and always beating her and threatening the children. She hid her brother’s letters from the brute of a husband, as well as secreting money from him, as she saved for the journey from Vilna to Hamburg, Germany, where the ship would be docked. And then one day, young Anna had enough. She waited until her husband was asleep (or in a drunken stupor, or not home), took her kids, the money she had squirreled away, and left.

They mostly traveled by foot, saving money, and Anna would hire herself out as a maid or a cook to earn more, hiding the kids in a field or a forest. Supposedly they only travelled at night because it was safer, especially for a Jewess with two young children.  I don’t know how long it took, but it must have taken weeks, if not months, to get to Hamburg. Either she wrote her brother and sent it from one of her stops along the way, or, reaching the German port, she wrote her brother to wire her the passage money. (No one is sure about that.) At any rate, she paid for and received booking on a steamer to New York.

When they finally reached America and Ellis Island, my Aunt Ida, who was about five, was almost turned back because the immigration doctors said she had tuberculosis. But my grandmother refused to allow that, and my grandmother’s brother, who was waiting for them, must have greased a lot of palms. Ida was allowed to stay, although she had to be in quarantine for about three months. Think little Vito Corleone in Godfather II.

Anna and her children lived with her brother and his family in Bayonne, New Jersey, which had a large and thriving Jewish community. Jacob Yontef, a tall, handsome widower with seven children, and considered a “hot catch” by widows or mothers with marriage-age daughters, saw Anna at a dance, and fell instantly head-over-heels in love. I mean, he only had eyes for her, as the song says.

But Anna wasn’t interested. She literally scoffed at him, or so the story goes.

Was it because Jacob already had seven children? Of course, back then large families were the norm, but still, I think any woman would hesitate inheriting such a large brood. Unless her name is Carol Brady. Or…

Was it because she was still legally married? Was she worried that her husband would track her down? The mind boggles at the possibilities.

But Jacob never gave up.

Finally, at least three years later, though some in my family say it was more, Jacob won his woman.

And Anna Pecker became Anna Yontef.

And into this family was born my mother, Loretta Yontef, called Laura by everyone. Three years later, another girl, Anita, who would almost immediately be rechristened Augie – though that’s a tale for another time – was born.

Eleven kids.

And it wasn’t until I was 19, after my grandmother’s passing, that not only did I hear this story for the first time while we sat shiva (a period of mourning) but also learned that only my mom and my Aunt Augie shared parents.

Now my mom is 87, the matriarch of the family, the last surviving member of a true Yiddisher mischpacha (“family” in English, pronounced mish-PA-cha, the cha as in Chanukah – a sound that is like clearing your throat.)

Last month she fell, but thankfully did not break her hip. Still, for the last four weeks she has been in a great deal of pain and she was finding it hard to walk. Then last Friday I got a call. My mother was in the ER. There was a reason for her constant pain of the last month. No, she hadn’t broken her hip. (Thank God, for that would have been a horrible nightmare.) But the fall had caused a linear fracture of her lower pelvis, and of course walking around for the last four weeks had exacerbated it.

There really isn’t anything to do for a fractured pelvis (dependent on the severity, of course) but to rest it and allow it to heal, which means bed rest and wheelchair, with appropriate physical therapy.

So now my mom is in the same rehab/nursing home facility as my dad. We tried to get them into the same room, but weren’t able to, which, in fact, is a blessing in disguise, because knowing my dad, he would most certainly get up in the middle of the night to check on her and considering his fragile state – he is confined to a wheelchair these days and his cognitive state is not good, to say the least – well, I don’t even want to go there in terms of what that could lead to…But my mom is three doors down, and they spend their days together. I tease them about “wheelchair races.”

Yesterday, after a wonderful day partying and celebrating my niece Isabel’s 13th birthday, we brought my parents back to the nursing home/rehab center. They were both exhausted. The nurses said they would put them to bed for us.

But before they were wheeled off to their separate bedrooms (something that is hard for me to watch), they leaned towards each other, and kissed each other good night.

That’s 65 years of marriage.

That’s mishpacha.

That’s love.




John Ostrander: The Essence

Ostrander Art 130804A week or so ago I was talking about how in the Man of Steel movie they had Superman kill someone. No spoiler alert: if you haven’t seen the movie yet, it’s your own damn fault. It did violate one of the traditional tenets that marked Superman as Superman – he doesn’t kill. Lots of innocent bystanders must have also died during his battle with Kryptonians in Smallville and Metropolis but hey – collateral damage.

I did note, however, that characters that have been around a lot need an updating to keep them relevant to the times in which they are being read/watched. The question to me is – how much change is acceptable before you’ve altered the character so much that they are no longer really that character. What defines each character? What are the essentials?

I read in a recent Entertainment Weekly that Andrew Garfield, the current movie Peter Parker/Spider-Man, suggested that the next Mary Jane actually be a guy. Have Peter explore his sexuality with a guy. Even the director, Marc Webb, when asked if he had heard Garfield’s idea, seemed to do an eye roll.

That idea certainly isn’t traditional Peter Parker and got some discussion, but is it that far off? I’m not saying I endorse the idea but wouldn’t it make Peter more contemporary, something to which younger readers/viewers might relate? Would a bi-sexual Peter Parker be any less Spider-Man? Would a Peter Parker in a lip lock with a guy be more shocking than a Superman who kills?

The comics’ Spider-Man has taken it further. In the book, Spider-Man’s old foe Doctor Octopus has taken over Peter’s body and life and identity of Spider-Man with Peter looking real dead and gone. Otto Octavius is now Spider-Man. WTF?

The powers are the same, but the character sure isn’t. Is it the powers that define who Spider-Man is or is it the man behind the mask? If the latter, is this really Spider-Man?

This isn’t the only character to which this has happened. Iron Man has had people other than Tony Stark in the armor. Batman has had a couple of people under the cowl. And let’s not start on Robin. Or Batgirl.

The stories of Sherlock Holmes have also lent themselves to numerous interpretations. There are currently two TV series that put Holmes into modern day. I only really know the BBC series, Sherlock, but despite changing the era it feels so Holmesian to me. It feels like they got the essentials right.

I did it myself with my own character GrimJack. First I killed off the main character, John Gaunt, then I brought his soul back into a clone of himself and then, eventually, I had him reborn into another person, James Edgar Twilley, although again, it was the same soul. Munden’s Bar remained but the supporting cast was different and I had bounced the whole thing down the time line a hundred years or so and the setting of Cynosure was also changed.

I knew why I did it at the time. I felt my writing was getting stale and the character was as well. We hadn’t been around all that long but I felt we were getting tripped up on our own continuity. Sales were eroding. My editor asked me to come up with some way of making the book dangerous again.  That’s how I chose to do it.

Was it still GrimJack? Yes, I felt it was – in its essentials. An alienated and violent loner in a strange city living by his own code. Same soul, two lives. It still felt like GrimJack.

I’m willing to bet that most re-examinations of a given character or concept stems from that – to look at it all with fresh eyes, to make the reader/viewer do the same. To me, that’s trying to get to the essentials.

Maybe we aren’t all agreed as to what the essentials are in any given character or concept. That may vary from person o person, fan to fan. I think that’s why there are quibbles right now about Man of Steel; if Superman not killing is essential to the character, there’s a problem with the newest version. On the other hand, if “do not kill” rule is just like wearing red trunks, then it’s not essential. Is the Man of Steel Superman?

That comes down to you.




Mindy Newell: The Problem With Diana – Part Three

So this is the story told in the Florida courtroom.

George Zimmerman looks out his window. He sees Treyvon Martin walking down the block. Zimmerman picks up his gun, goes outside, gets in his car, and hunts Martin down. Zimmerman finds Martin and confronts him. Martin is carrying a dangerous bag of Skittles. The two men get into an altercation. Zimmerman shoots Martin dead. Zimmerman tells the police that Treyvon Martin started the altercation and that he, Zimmerman, was “standing his ground.”

Can you pick out what is wrong in the story?*

•     •     •     •     •

Newell Art 130722As I was saying…

I started to regret ever taking on the whole assignment. I felt I was turning out crap. I was embarrassed. I was sad. I worried about my future as a comics writer. And finally…

I got fed up.

I will never forget the day it happened. I was arguing with Alan. And something in me simply exploded…

Mt. St. Mindy blew.

“Fuck you!!!! I don’t need this shit! I quit!!!!”

I slammed the door as I left. I walked out to the elevator. I pushed the button. I was fuming. I couldn’t wait to get out of there.

I was done. But Marv (Wolfman) had followed me out to the lobby and there he talked me down, convincing me to keep going, not to quit. He walked me back to the office, and I apologized to editor Alan Gold, and he apologized to me. (And by the way, Alan is a terrific guy, and he and I got along beautifully when we weren’t discussing Wonder Woman.)

So I finished the run. If you can’t remember that far back, the series was ending to prepare the way for George Pérez’s relaunch, and I was responsible for only the last three or four issues. But to be honest, I don’t think I would have stayed on with Alan as the editor, despite our personal friendship, even if the series had continued. I think I would have been fired. Lesson here, boys and girls: never curse out your editor in a loud voice that can be heard everywhere and starts the office talking. Or simply, never curse out your boss. These days I would still want to yell and curse and scream, but I’m a little bit wiser and a whole lot older (not just chronologically) – meaning more mature (?) – and I would try to find a solution that worked for both my editor and myself. Or, if that didn’t work, take myself off the book.

So I was done with Diana.

Until November 1989, and Wonder Woman volume 2, number 36.

Wonder Woman had been rebooted in 1987. Not many people remember that Greg Potter was the original writer/scripter, by the way, with George co-plotting and penciling. But Greg dropped out after the release of Wonder Woman #2, and George became the plotter, with Len Wein writing the scripts until issue #18, when George took over the whole shebang.

This post-Crisis reboot was the one that did it for me. As I’ve stated previously, I have always loved Greek mythology, and my favorite stories about Diana were those involving the Amazons and their gods. Apparently, George and Greg appreciated the rich background, too. The inclusion of the Hellenic mythos and theology of gods and goddesses with supernatural powers but all too human personalities and foibles finally imbued Diana with her own raison d’être that brimmed with a new truthfulness for the character.

Responding to the heartache and prayers of Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons, who had led her followers to an island shielded in the mists from the patriarchal and brutal world in which they lived, (as the Isle of Avalon is in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists Of Avalon), the goddesses instructed Hippolyta to shape a baby girl out of the earth, and breathed the “gift of life” into the clay. (Hmm…in Jewish lore this makes Diana a golem. A golem is a figure made of clay upon whose forehead the Hebrew letters aleph, mem, and tav are written out to spell emet, which means “truth,” and doesn’t Diana have a golden lariat that forces those bound by it to speak truth? Boy, could I run with that one!)

The child was given the gift of beauty and compassion by Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love; the gift of wisdom from Athena; the power and strength of the earth from Demeter; the creativity, passion, authority, and energy of fire from Hestia, Goddess of the Hearth; and from Artemis, the Huntress, respect for all life and a mastery of weapons. Only Hermes, of all the male gods, bestowed a gift upon Diana – that of speed and the power of flight.

This Diana, though once grown a great warrior and unafraid to use force when necessary, was also a “stranger in a strange land” – not only an innocent in the ways of the world, but unable even to speak English when she first arrived here as an ambassador (or emissary) from Themiscrya.

Even the supporting characters made sense. Steve Trevor was still in the Air Force, but he was older and involved with Etta Candy, who was also more mature and with a realistic physique for her age. And Diana’s mentor in Patriarch’s World, a.k.a. Man’s World, was one Julia Kapatelis, an archaeologist and scholar of the ancient Greek world, who recognized Diana’s speech as a variant of early Greek, and who had a daughter, Vanessa, just about to enter her crazy ‘teens.

Working on this Wonder Woman with George and Karen was absolutely sublime. He was doing the plots, but it was definitely a partnership; and all the characters were so real, so defined – they were easy to write because I knew just what each one would say in whatever situation they found themselves.

The highlight of our work together, im-no-so-ho, was Wonder Woman #46, “Chalk Drawings.” It was ostensibly about Lucy’s suicide, but George and I decided to not focus on Lucy herself; instead, it was about the aftermath of Lucy’s final action. No one knew why Lucy had killed herself; everyone searched for an answer; everyone blamed him or herself. Even Diana, who went home to seek solace from her mother, only to learn from Hippolyta that even an Amazon is capable of committing suicide; even an Amazon cannot always find the answer or the way to help. And with the beautiful artwork of Jill Thompson and Romeo Tanghal, I believe it deserves to be a classic.

On a personal level, having had to deal with clinical depression throughout almost my entire adult life – it wasn’t properly diagnosed until my mid-30’s, btw, and don’t ever try to tell me antidepressants, especially the SSRI class, is more dangerous than the disease, because I will bite your face off – that issue was very special to me, and really emphasized what Wonder Woman, the hero made of clay, the golem, stands for…



* The truth about George Zimmerman is that he deliberately went out and hunted down and provoked, Treyvon Martin. The truth about Treyvon Martin is that he was the one who “stood his ground.”


TUESDAY AFTERNOON: Michael Davis, if he’s recovered from SDCC