Tagged: Emily S. Whitten

John Ostrander: Man of Steel, Man of the Hour

Ostrander Art 130721The new Superman movie has been out for some time now and most folks who want to see it probably have and those who want to comment on it probably have. I shied away from Man of Steel as a topic simply because everyone has had their opinion but the questions I want to pose here are at somewhat an odd angle. If you know me, you’re not surprised. Still, there will be spoilers so, if you haven’t seen the film and don’t want to be spoiled, avoid the rest of the column.

I’ve written here and there that the character of Superman needs to be re-examined and re-invented every so often if it is to remain relevant to it time. I think I read the director (Zack Snyder) and/or its writer (David S. Goyer) and/or its producer (Christopher Nolan) say something to the effect that this was their intention. This wasn’t going to be a “comic book” Superman but examine him as if the character was new. Actually, I’m fine with that as an idea. I think any version of Superman still needs to be recognizable as Superman. I would have preferred they kept the red trunks but that’s not necessary to be true to the character.

If Superman is being invented for this time, what does this version of the Man of Steel say about our time?

It is, by design, a dark film. Superman’s costume itself runs dark – the blue could almost be black, the red “S” in his chest shield is more of a crimson. Not only does Superman not have red trunks, there is nothing yellow or gold in the costume. Nothing bright. And yet Superman claims that the sigil on his chest actually means “hope” in Kryptonian. Is this a hopeful film?

Pa Kent, as played by Kevin Costner, is morally ambivalent. He’s afraid that if normal humans know what Clark can do, they’ll reject him. When a young Clark saves a bus full of fellow students from drowning after the bus goes off a bridge, Pa Kent reprimands Clark who asks, “Was I just supposed to let them die?” Pa Kent’s reply is “Maybe.”

Pa later dies, not of a heart attack, but in a twister. Clark could have saved him but that would have meant revealing his true nature. Pa silently and sternly forbids it. And dies. The difference from previous versions is that then Pa dies of a heart attack; there’s nothing Clark could have done. In the Richard Donner film he says, “I have all this power and I couldn’t save him.” In Man of Steel, Clark could have and didn’t. I think that’s significant. The Donner version brings out the humanity in the superhuman and shows his limitations. In MoS, the fact that Clark obeys his father and lets him die when he could have saved him says to me that he has accepted his father’s paranoia. Ultimately, Jonathan Kent is wrong; Superman is accepted by humans, but only after killing a fellow Kryptonian.

That’s perhaps the most controversial element of the new movie. Superman winds up killing General Zod. Snaps his neck. Zod had said he wouldn’t stop killing humans and was in fact about to incinerate a small group of them with his heat vision. Superman begs him to stop but he won’t. So Kal-El kills Zod.

Are we supposed to view this as a no-win situation, to say Superman had no other choice? Does that make it acceptable? Superman immediately feels horrible but was there really no other way? Are meant to agree, to empathize, in this era of “acceptable collateral damage”? Or should Superman be better than that? He was in the past; does this make Superman more realistic? Is that what we want? Is that what we need? Is that who we are?

I was talking recently with Mary’s friend Sherry (a lovely person) and her ten year old grandson, Gavin Simpson. He had seen Man of Steel and I was curious about his reaction; ten years old is the prime time for becoming a Superman fan.

Gavin has seen the other Superman films and knows about the comics but this would be his Superman – the one he sees on the big screen when it first comes out. He liked it but he didn’t love it; he said that the fight scenes at the end went on too long (I agree). He also felt that Henry Cavill, the guy playing Kal-El, didn’t project enough of Superman’s essential goodness. That’s an interesting point.

Most tellingly, when I asked Gavin about Superman killing Zod, he didn’t care for it. When I asked him why, he was clear and firm: “Superheroes don’t kill.”

These days, evidently they do, including the first, brightest, and the most iconic. It makes everything more realistic. It makes Man of Steel the Superman for our time, according to those who made the film.

Does it?




Mike Gold: San Diego Be Damned!

Gold Art 130717Way back on August 26, 2010, Futurama gave us a look at the San Diego Comic-Con that will be held one thousand years later. Of course, everything about San Diego grew during the ensuing millennium – except for the San Diego Convention center. Oh, and the number of comics-related guests was reduced… to one.

Fittingly, that one was Sergio Aragones. I have no doubt that somebody will still be uncovering unpublished Aragones art in 3010.

More than a quarter of a million people pay to attend the annual SDCC. Yes, they have a registered trademark on the word “Comic-Con,” but since that term had been in common usage long before they applied for the mark, and is still being used by other shows across America, in my opinion this is theft. As a former promoter of a “Comicon” – the Chicago Comicon, from 1976 through 1985 – I will gladly testify on behalf of anybody who chooses to challenge this mark.

The show is supposed to be about comic books. It is a non-profit show, and it is a tax-deductible 501(c)(3) organization. Its mission statement is: “Comic-Con International: San Diego is a nonprofit educational corporation dedicated to creating awareness of, and appreciation for, comics and related popular artforms, primarily through the presentation of conventions and events that celebrate the historic and ongoing contribution of comics to art and culture.”

This is a boldfaced lie. SDCC – I refuse to call it Comic-Con – has very, very little to do with comics. “Related popular artforms,” maybe, but that’s so nondescript it could cover flip books and porn. SDCC is about Hollywood. It’s about movies and movie producers. It’s about television and cable television networks. It’s about DVDs and Blu-Rays and phony mass-produced Hollywood collectibles and aging former celebrities desperately and sadly trying to be remembered. It is barely about “the historic and ongoing contribution of comics to art and culture.”

All those people, along with the press, the guests, the celebrities, and the exhibitors, occupy a building built to safely house a fraction their number. How the fire department certifies them is beyond me. Sardines would feel crowded on that convention floor, and if you suffer a heart attack or a stroke while there you had better have filed a will.

It comes as no surprise that I do not go to SDCC any longer. It’s not just because the hotels and the restaurants massively jack up their prices during the show, it’s not because of the crowds, it’s not because of the lack of sufficient plumbing and it’s not even because the San Diego Comic Con has precious little to do with comic books.

It’s because the next time some clown slaps me in the face with his backpack, I am going to take said backpack and shove it up his ass while loudly singing the Super Chicken theme song.

Not that we won’t be well-represented at the convention. ComicMixers in attendance will include Michael Davis (who will hate me for writing this column), Glenn Hauman, Adriane Nash, Marty Pasko, Sara Raasch, and Emily S. Whitten. I’m not certain about Denny O’Neil and Bob Greenberger. The rest of us are staying put… although Martha Thomases will be travelling over 6,000 miles in order to stay put. That’s a neat trick.

So feel free to approach any of these folks – most of us don’t bite, unless you’re wearing a backpack – and tell ‘em what you like about ComicMix and what you don’t like and what you’d like to see. Ask about ComicMix Pro Services, but do your homework: click on that big ol’ button up there at the top of this page.

But there’s another reason I’m staying out east this week. Those of us staying behind in New York City?

We’re changing the locks!





Mindy Newell: The Problem With Diana – Part Two

Newell Art 130715As I was saying …

And as for Diana …

I hated her.

Well, perhaps “hate” is too strong a word. I didn’t hate her, exactly. She made me, um, “uncomfortable.” Even as a kid reading her adventures. Not being old enough at the time to put it into words, to analyze my reaction, I figured it out as I got older.

I loved the stories that took place on Themiscrya, aka Paradise Island. It wasn’t just that I was a mythology geek – I read Edith Hamilton’s Mythology: Timeless Tales Of Gods And Heroes when I was eight years old – but that in these stories Diana was in her true element. Unapologetically independent, intelligent, strong, and self-assured, Diana was a hero who inspired. She lit up my imagination, and along with her fellow Amazons, became a role model, an icon for a little girl who thought she might become a veterinarian, a neurosurgeon, an astronaut when she grew up.

But when Diana was in “Man’s World,” she wasn’t such a, well, Wonder Woman. She had to hide her independence, her intelligence, her strength, and self-assurance in the guise of a meek Air Force secretary. She was the only powerful woman in the DC universe whose nom-de-guerre wasn’t borrowed from a male counterpart, and all she did was whine about Steve Trevor.

No, she was definitely not an icon for women in the later part of the 20th century.

An aside here, along with an apology to those regular readers of this column who already know this. When I was a prepubescent girl, it was Kara Zor-El, a.k.a. Supergirl, who really did it for me. Think about it. A twelve-year-old girl was Superman’s secret weapon? (How many times did she pull his Kryptonian ass of the glowing green fire?) Now she was a role model for a young girl growing up during the Silver Age.

Back to my writing gig as the first woman to be the ongoing writer of Wonder Woman:

I was unable to write Diana the way I really wanted to – as an interesting dichotomy. Here was a supremely intelligent, superbly physical young woman who didn’t know shit about life in the “real” world. A royal princess who was waited on hand-and-foot while growing up who now found herself in a nation that had rejected royalty at its birth. The only baby “born” in a civilization of women who had isolated themselves from the rest of humanity 2000 years ago, so of course she would be “pro-life” and “anti-abortion.”* How would she react to a world where women were just starting to break the glass ceiling, where they made 70 cents to every dollar a man earned? (Still do.) How would she understand a country that went nuts just because Hillary Clinton didn’t want to just stay home and bake cookies?

And as for men? How many men had she known? Besides Zeus and Ares and Apollo and Hermes, I mean. She had no experience with them. Had she ever actually seen a penis outside of an anatomy lesson?

And would she even be interested in men? Frankly, I thought (and think) her background would lead her to be a lesbian, if only because that was her template. And that could also bring up lots of different things: nature vs. nurture, genetic disposition vs. environment. (I hear that Grant Morrison’s Wonder Woman opus is going to explore this, which makes me Extremely Jealous And Pissed Off That I Never Got The Chance To Do This.)  And if she realized that she was heterosexual? Could make for some interesting situations as she started meeting more men of the mortal variety. As I said, until she came to New York, the only men she had ever had any kind of relationship with were her gods. (Okay, there was Steve – what a jewel.)

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 editor Alan Gold. 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.**

And then Marv Wolfman came out to the elevator lobby and talked me down. (Should I bless him or curse him? sigh) He must have thought that I had talent and/or a future as a writer; he convinced me to keep going, not to quit, and he got me to go back into the office. He even got me to apologize to his friend, Alan. A miracle, I must say.

So I finished the run.

And my reputation as a “difficult bitch” began.

*This has nothing to do with my own feelings. For the record, I am firmly pro-choice.

**Little did I know that I was not done with Wonder Woman!




John Ostrander: Late To The Party

OStrander Art 130714I’m not often the firstest with the mostest. Ask Mike Gold. I was resistant to getting a computer despite his urging until, of course, I got a computer. Then I was gung-ho (and remain so). Friends back in the day told me that I had to read Lord of the Rings. My reaction was – no, I don’t. Until, of course, I did read The Lord of the Rings and became a huge fan.

There’s a couple of movies that were like that for me. For whatever reason, I resisted looking at them while they were in the movies theaters. Later, I caught them (or part of them) on TV and then discovered I really liked them. I now own DVDs of these films (yes, I’m resistant also to Blu-Ray so far; we all know how that will end but I remain stubborn at the moment).

The first of these is Disney/Pixar’s Cars. You’d think I’d be first in line because I was (and largely still am) a big Pixar fan. Part of me still prefers 2D animation but Pixar absolutely won me over with its stories and characters and the wit of their scripts. But Cars just struck me as pandering to NASCAR (another cultural phenomenon to which I remain resistant) and I passed . . .until I saw it on TV.

D’oh! (Did I mention I was also resistant to The Simpsons for a long time?)

Cars is every bit as good as any other Pixar film and has a great cast. It has Paul Newman in his last performance, for crying out loud! Owen Wilson, Bonnie Hunt, Tony Shaloub, Cheech Marin, and George Freakin’ Carlin all contribute. It even has Tom and Ray Magliozzi from NPR’s Car Talk (highly appropriate but such a nice touch). The animation is first rate with some absolutely stunning backgrounds and a story that involves and tugs at the heart. Love the film and would have loved seeing it on the big screen )if I hadn’t been so danged snobbish and stubborn. That’ll teach me.

No, it won’t.

There’s also The Adjustment Bureau, adapted from the short story “Adjustment Team” by Phillip K. Dick, who has had a stellar record providing grist for Hollywood’s mill – Bladerunner, Minority Report, and Total Recall (twice) among others. It stars Matt Damon and Emily Blunt and features Terrence Stamp (a favorite of mine). It’s odd that I missed it – I really like Matt Damon and would usually watch anything with him in it but this got mediocre to tepid reviews for the most part.

I can see why. There’s a cosmic plan involved and guys in dark suits and fedoras who may or may not be working for someone who may or may not be God. Possessing a fedora allows you to travel through certain doors and wind up in a different part of the city. Damon and Bloom play very star-crossed lovers whom the cosmic forces are trying to keep at bay. It all gets a little arcane and hard to swallon.


Damon and Blunt are terrific together. They have such a natural chemistry that, for me, it sells the film. I want these two people to be together no matter what cosmic forces decree they should not. So I bought the DVD.

Which leads me to another Matt Damon film, We Bought A Zoo, directed and co-written by Cameron Crowe. The film also stars Scarlett Johansson, Thomas Haden Church, and a lovely supporting cast. It’s the story of a widower with two kids who ups and buys a struggling zoo and tries to renovate and re-open it. It sounded a little Hallmark Channel to me, especially the title.

My bad. I’ve gone through the grieving process for a spouse (albeit without children) and the film feels true to me, as does Damon’s performance. Again, great chemistry with his co-star, Scarlett Johansson. I’m leery of films that focus on kids and animals –they can come off cloying and/or annoying – but the children and the beasties come off very well. Again, I think the reviews were tepid and the title probably kept some viewers away (it kept me away). That’s unfortunate; I think many folks – like me – have discovered it since its initial release and enjoyed it.

There are other films that I ignored in their first release – Amelie comes to mind – that I discovered later. Thanks the powers hat be for DVD.

Or Blu-Ray. Which I’ll get around to owning.





Emily S. Whitten: A Missive from Discworld

Whitten Art 130709My dearest ComicMix readers;

It is with much happiness and a dash of haste that I write to you near the close of the festivities and frivolities of The North American Discworld Convention of 2013. Although alas, several days before this gathering of Discworldian folk, word arrived from the highly esteemed Sir Terry Pratchett that he would be unable to attend (due to a desire to put the next novel of the Discworld, Raising Steam, into all of our hands as quickly as he might possibly do, and who can be too unhappy about that?) I am having a marvelous time, and wished to share the entertainment with you via this letter.

On the Thursday evening of this week, my good friend Erica and I hosted a cozy gala in celebration of the Glorious Revolution (of Treacle Mine Road, of course. And yes, dear readers, I do realize that we are a bit delayed from the traditional celebrations on the 25th May, but we thought it would be appropriate due to hearing that there would be fireworks on the evening of 4th July, for some other celebration of the day). It was a smashing sensation, full of good company and sprigs of lilac, and yes, even a hard-boiled egg or two. We served scumble, a most appealing drink brewed from a recipe handed down through my family for many generations, and made of apples (well, mostly apples). It is very nutritious, and was extremely popular amongst the guests; many of whom did not even begin tripping over the furniture or falling down until their second servings.

On the Friday I was most fortunate to hear several learned scholars, including that incomparable novelist of stories for young adults, Esther M. Friesner, and the wise reviewer of books for The Washington Post, Mr. Michael Dirda, discuss their choices and recommendations for literature that fans of the good knight’s writings might also like to peruse. It was most educational. I believe that Mr. Christopher Moore and Mr. Jasper Fforde may have been mentioned. We were also privileged on Friday to hear from Sir Terry himself, in a message sent from across the ocean via the mechanism of moving pictures in combination with some sort of modern technological wonder. Later, via that same wonder, the manager of Sir Terry’s affairs, a Mr. Robert Wilkins, did read to us the beginning chapter of the current work in progress, Raising Steam. It was most diverting! However, I have been informed that if I share any details more than that with you, my good readers, I may soon suffer the proverbial ‘fate worse than death.’ Which I do believe involves mimes. I shudder to think, and will therefore keep my countenance on this matter.

On the Saturday I was privileged to be a panelist, along with the aforementioned Esther M. Friesner and other knowledgeable ladies, on a panel entitled ‘Dress to Express,’ in which we discussed methods of costuming ourselves with both effect and economy. Tips shared by the good ladies and myself included the advice to repurpose items located in various thrifty shops or originally masquerading as bedclothes, curtains, or other large rectangular bolts of fabric (I believe a woman named Maria once utilized this technique to great effect); to look to hardware stores and to shops available through the wonders of technology, such as eBay, Etsy, TrulyVictorian.com, Laughing Moon Mercantile, Corset Story, American Apparel and more for supplies, items of clothing, patterns, and custom-made items; and to examine text references, references from moving pictures and moving gaming, and other similar places for inspiration and information about costuming details. It was also suggested that one might call upon friends with knowledge and skills at variance with one’s own to give advice, aid, and occasionally custom-made items, perhaps in trade for an item made for the friend.

On the Sunday, yours truly was honored to be inducted into that well-established Ankh-Morporkian institution, the Thieves’ Guild, by the head of the Guild himself, Sir Josiah Boggis; and to receive the traditional bowler hat, as well as a new guild name. Those meeting me on the street in future while I am engaged in the Guild’s business may now call me “Snake Eyes Burke” if they wish, and I will happily respond. I was also delighted to hear a wise discussion of what it is like to work with Sir Terry on his writings, in a panel featuring his esteemed UK agent, Colin Smythe, and his US editors, Jennifer Brehl and Anne Hoppe. Most enlightening! Sunday also hosted a technologically assisted long-distance discussion with Sir Terry, in which he answered questions regarding his wonderful creations. The day ended with a most marvelous gala banquet and entertainment from all over the Disc, including a quite remarkable aerial and acrobatic display by the usually quite sedate Miss Tiffany Aching.

Monday, alas, was our last day of festivities, but it did allow me the time to attend a quite amusing discourse on the world of map-making for the Disc and Ankh-Morpork. An alternately rapt and rowdy audience was informed that not only will there soon be a new map of the Disc coming to us from that historic establishment, The Discworld Emporium, but also that at some time in the near future, we will be able to purchase deeds for real estate in the great city of Ankh-Morpork; complete with a bill of sale and detailed description of each property being sold. I have already informed the proprietors of my desire for a choice and historical piece of property in the most exclusive environs, and expect to soon be able to direct everyone to the new address of Ms. Snake Eyes Burke, Esq.

That concludes my news of Discworldian festivities to this point. I hope you have been at least slightly diverted by my report.

With all sincerity and fond wishes,

Ms. Emily S. Whitten, Esq.

a.k.a. Snake Eyes Burke

Postscript: As per our continuing correspondence, please Servo Lectio!




Mindy Newell: The Problem With Diana

Newell Art 130708Over at www.geekmom.com, Corinna Lawson’s June 21st Cliffs of Insanity column once again wondered why Wonder Woman doesn’t get any respect; this was instigated by the news that DC is producing a new comic, Superman’s Girlfriend Wonder Woman – the title is mine – which will “focus on the relationship between the characters.” (Apparently a DC editor considers Lois Lane nothing but a “trophy wife.”) This is occurring, as Corinna rightly points out, “in an environment where women are still fighting for some basic rights, even to the point of having to listen to politicians talk about ‘legitimate rape.’” And, may I add, in which Texas, North Carolina, and ten other states, along with the House of Representatives, have ignored Roe vs. Wade and declared abortion illegal past 20 weeks and making the procedure not only incredibly difficult to obtain, but incredibly denigrating to the individual woman who seeks it.

On June 28th, Shoshana Kessock of www.Tor.com focused on “The Problem with Wonder Woman” in Hollywood, while noting that the Themiscrya Tigress “has recently been dubbed the 20th greatest comic book character by Empire Magazine, and ranked fifth in IGN’s 2011 Top 100 Comic Book Heroes of All Time…[standing] as one of the icons of the comic book world, and has been featured in dozens of comic titles since her debut in 1941. The character has also found success in other media, appearing in a popular live-action television series in the 70s, as well as several animated series (including Super Friends and Justice League).”

Why does Diana not getting her due bother me so much? I guess it’s because I have a personal history with her. Not only was Wonder Woman my first assignment as sole writer, but also I had no clue at the time that I was the first woman to be asked to write her – the only female cornerstone hero of the DC universe.

As I told Gail Simone when she interviewed me for her Five Questions webpage:

“I first worked on Wonder Woman in 1984 or thereabouts – back in the day, I was one of Karen Berger’s ‘fillies’ in her stable of writers in the New Talent Program. I honestly don’t know who suggested it – it sure wasn’t me. I think it was Karen, or perhaps it was Paul Levitz. Maybe it was Marv Wolfman or Len Wein. Anyway, it was about this time when plans were hatching for the [superb, imho] relaunch of Wonder Woman by the absolutely wonderful, nobody-can-touch-his-talent, charming and amazing George Pérez. So the then-current Wonder Woman series was running down – I think there were only about three or four issues le”ft – and I got a call from the editor, Alan Gold, asking me to come in and talk about finishing up the book.

Wonder Woman? Me? Frankly, I was amazed. Also very excited. And flattered.

I didn’t know it was going to turn into such a downer. You see, I didn’t really get a chance to write what I wanted to write. Alan told me – no, decided – what I was to write. He was big into Mayan civilization, theology and myths, and that’s the story he wanted to tell. I think he liked the idea of two great “pagan” civilizations clashing, as Wonder Woman represented the Hellenic Period. But I had no interest in Mayan culture at the time – or was it Aztec? (I still don’t have much of an interest in either of them, except that I know about the Mayan calendar, which ended in November 2012, so we’re all dead – or didn’t you know that?)

But this was my first chance at writing a regular series, plus I was a “nice Jewish girl” who hadn’t grown up yet, so I tried to go along with him – after all, he was the editor, right? But it was a disaster. I was trying, but my heart wasn’t in it, and when a writer’s heart isn’t in, then craft is supposed to take over. Only I was still learning my craft. And I couldn’t spell the goddamn name of the god who was the antagonist, and back then I wrote on a manual typewriter which meant a lot of erasing and White-Out and a lot of putting a fresh piece of paper into the typewriter when the original became too smudgy and too thick with the White-Out stuff.

It got to the point where I not only didn’t give a fuck about spelling the name of the god who was the antagonist of the story, but where I didn’t give a god damn about the whole story. I hated writing Steve Trevor because he lacked the right stuff: he was a nebbish, the perfect pisher, a humiliation in uniform, and a disgrace to the Air Force. I hated writing Etta Candy because she was a stupid fat girl who let men push her around and drowned her inner strength in chocolate.

And as for Diana…

I hated her.




John Ostrander: Story Teller

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

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

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

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

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

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

What the hell? How’s that fair?

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

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

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

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




Mindy Newell: Trojan Horse

Newell Art 130701I didn’t know that writer blockitis was catching, but it must be, because just like my buddy and fellow columnist John Ostrander, I seem to be suffering from the same ailment today.

Signs and symptoms include sluggishness, an inability to form ideas, a lack of imagination, a desire to smash the computer, great interest in infomercials, and reading the Sunday New York Times.

Oh. Wait. Here’s something.

It’s an article by Brooke Barnes in the Arts & Leisure section, and it’s called “Save My Blockbuster!” Considering all the words and thoughts that have gone into discussing Man Of Steel by the columnists (including me) here at ComicMix since its opening on June 14, as well as the other comics, science fiction, and pop culture cinematic adventures that have already hit the screen (Iron Man 3, Star Trek: Into Darkness, World War Z) or are still to come (The Lone Ranger, Pacific Rim, R.I.P.D., The Wolverine, Percy Jackson: Sea Of Monsters, Elysium, and The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bones) this summer of 2013 – all involved studios praying that their production will be The Blockbuster of the season – Mr. (or is it Ms?) Barnes’s article is not only interesting, but also relevant.

But just when did the summer become the season of the adventure/science fiction/fantasy/comics/pop culture Blockbuster?

The summer of 1975. Jaws.

In 1973, Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown were producers at Universal. David Brown’s wife was Helen Gurley Brown, editor of Cosmopolitan. He found a pre-publication copy Peter Benchley’s Jaws in the fiction department of the magazine. Cosmo’s book editor had written a detailed synopsis of the plot, which concluded with the comment “might make a good movie.” Zanuck and Brown both read the book overnight, decided that it was “the most exciting thing they had ever read,” and purchased the movie rights They hired the still chancy Steven Spielberg, although the 26 year-old director was starting to make a name for himself for directing Joan Crawford in the pilot of Night Gallery (“Eyes”), defining “road rage” in his adaptation of Richard Matheson’s Duel for an ABC Movie Of The Week – I clearly remember watching Duel perched on the arm of a sofa in my dorm’s packed-to-the-walls common room, every single one of us with eyes glued to the small 19” television set – and The Sugarland Express, his first theatrical film.

Jaws hit the movie screens of America in 1975. It became the archetype of the summer movie for Hollywood. It had a wide national release (“saturation booking”) and massive media buys, i.e., lots and lots and lots of television, radio, and magazine advertising. It made money, and now every studio wanted a Jaws. According to Lester D. Friedman’s book on Spielberg, Jaws “defined the Hollywood hit as a marketable commodity and cultural phenomenon.” Before Jaws, summer was the seasonal dumping ground for Hollywood studios, the home of films they were sorry they made. After Jaws, summer became “the prime season for the release of the…biggest box-office contenders, [studios’s] intended blockbusters.”

1975 was, let’s see, how many years ago?


This summer Hollywood will have released, as the New York Times relates, “13 movies costing $100 million and up (sometimes way up), 44 percent more than in the same period last year. And because these pictures need to attract the global audience possible” to see any kind of profit, “they are increasingly manufactured by committees who tug this way and pull that way: marketing needs this, international distribution need that” and “the all-too-common result is a Frankenfilm” – I love that description! – “a lumbering behemoth composed of misfit parts.”

To test this assertion, Brooks Barnes conceived a movie titled “Red, White, & Blood” with the tagline “The only thing faster than her car was his heart.” The opening of the pitch reads “Think Fast & Furious meets Nicholas Sparks meets Die Hard.” He (she?) then presented it to a producer, a marketer, a studio executive, a researcher, a global marketer, and a writer.

This is what they said:

The Producer: “We need hotter weapons. Huge, big battle weapons – maybe an end-of-the-world device.

The Marketer: “There needs to be a wisecracking set of man candy here, and those actors are shirtless at least once in a TV campaign.”

The Studio Executive: “I’m a huge believer in a good tragic ending – it worked for Titanic.”

The Researcher: “If you try to appeal to everyone, you will end up appealing to no one.”

The Global Marketer: “Just be smarter then making a nationality or a culture the bad guys.”

The Writer: “Consider adding time-traveling aliens, or if that’s unrealistic, a regular alien and a time-traveling human.”

Jaws is a great movie. I have seen it at least a hundred times.

But it was a Trojan horse.


TUESDAY AFTERNOON: Partly Cloudy, with a Chance of Davis


John Ostrander’s Got Nothin’

This is what a deadline looks like on writer’s block.

Ostrander Art 130630

Nothin’. I got nothin’. Lots of stuff has happened this week, lots of stuff happened in the pop arts, there are sure to be lots of topics from which to choose, something must interest me enough to blather about for the length of a column aaaaaaand

. . .nope. Brain’s not interested in any of them.

I finally went to see Man of Steel. There’s sure to be a column in that. What I thought of it, good bad or indifferent. Except that everyone has commented on it. Martha Thomases has commented twice and done it well both times. I’ve been lapped in Superman commentary by Martha Thomases. The film dropped 60% in attendees between the first and second weekends. Everyone who wants to see it already has and have their own opinions. A review on Man of Steel at this point is lame. Superman is dead. Even my brain doesn’t want to go there.

I got nothin’.

Hey, I’m a professional writer. I’ve encountered brain freeze and deadlines before. I know tricks and ways around writer’s block. One is to stop staring at the blank screen and go do something else.

Okay. Did something else. Aaaaaand. . .more nothing.

Distract yourself, John. Go on Facebook. Read what other people are saying, doing with their lives. Share funny things on your wall. Go do that.

Did that. FB bores me. It’s fifteen minutes later and I still have plenty of nothin’. And I’m slipping past deadline now.

I’m tired. That’s what it is. Go take a nap. That’ll do it.

No, it didn’t. A half hour shot and . . .

AAAAARGH! I can’t write I never could write why did I decide to be a writer?! The screen is still blank. Hungry. Demanding. Intimidating. Whatever made me think I could be a writer?

Oh, that’s right. Mike Gold offered me money. Curse you, money, you evil temptress! Why couldn’t I have remained as I was – an unemployed professional actor working part-time straight jobs to cover the rent? I was happier then.

No, I wasn’t. I’ve obviously gone around the bend. I’m hallucinating about the “good ol’ days” that were never really that good.

I’ll distract myself. Go play with the cats. Here, kitty kitty kitty.

Two minutes later. They’re bored and abandon me to my deadlines. Wretched felines. Can cats smell loser on you?

Play a game online. I often do that to cleanse my mental palate, get my concentration up and the brain cells energized. At least, that’s always been my justification. Yeah, that’s the ticket. Go play a game.

Did that, just came back,  and. . .I got nothin’. It’s just later in the day.

I went and washed dishes. That’s how desperate I am. It might work. Put my mind in zen mode and something will come out.

It didn’t work.

Stupid Computer! You know how I write! Why can’t I bring up an app or something and you write my column?!

Wait. There’s an idea. When musicians reach a certain age and don’t have anything new to do, they put out a Greatest Hits collection. Maybe I could do that. Just go back over some of my past columns and pull out random lines and string them together and see what happens.

Godfather II deepened and expanded on the first film; Godfather III – not so much. Any list of faves, yours, mine, or the guy down the street, says something about us. What I want is something new. As I said, Pamela Lee Anderson starred in the movie and I lingered, waiting to see if she would take off her clothes which is the main reason for any guy to watch a Pamela Lee Anderson movie. Mitt Romney wants to deep fry Big Bird.

Okay, that’s not going to work, either. Maybe interesting as a paragraph but a whole column of that? I don’t think so.

Maaaaybe I could write a column on what it’s like having to write a column when you have writer’s block and the deadline is upon you.

I wonder if I could get away with that?





Mindy Newell: Man Of $teel

In 1978, we were enticed to go see Superman this way:

  • You will believe a man could fly.

In 2013, we have been enticed to go see Man Of Steel like this:

  • He can walk through fire.
  • He can melt glaciers with his eyes.
  • He can rip through metal with his bare hands.
  • So, how does the Man of Steel shave?
  • Apparently with a Gillette razor.


  • Fly in for Sears Memorial Day Mattress Spectacular and get up to 60% off plus an extra 10% off mattresses over $999.
  • Plus special financing.
  • Plus free delivery and haul-away.
  • This is something super.
  • This is Sears.

Newell Art 130624Does Superman prefer Sealy, Simmons, Serta, Stearns & Foster, Tempur-Pedic, or Sears’s own Sears-O-Pedic? And what size mattress – twin, full, queen, king, or California king?

According to a June 3rd article in Advertising Age by Maureen Morrison, Man Of Steel had already made $160 million even before it even opened in cinemas around the world. The British newspaper The Independent upped that ante, reporting on June 10th that Man Of Steel had snared $170 million in product placement and advertising before it opened on June 14th.

Product placement isn’t new. In the “director’s cut” of Superman, there is a scene just before Martha Kent sees Clark out in the wheat field of the farm that didn’t make it into the theatrical version – and by the way, any theories on just how long it was between Jonathan’s death and Clark getting the call from the green crystal? At the funeral Martha’s hair is grey, but on the day Clark leaves for the “North,” her hair, as Clark later describes it to Lois, is “silver-white.” Anyway, in the aforementioned scene we watch as Martha does her morning routing, yelling at Clark to “get up, breakfast!” and placing a box of Cheerios on the kitchen table. And later in the film, Superman hurdles Zod into the Coca-Cola sign in Times Square – well, Metropolis’s version of Times Square – and while attempting to save the passengers on a bus thrown by the super-villains, Superman crushes a Marlboro delivery truck (Cigarette advertising? How retro!)

But these placements were subtle, and actually added to the reality – the first voice we hear in the 1978 Superman is Marlon Brando’s “This is no fantasy.” – of the film, aiding our suspension of disbelief.

But the amount of “product” associated with the newest film is really stunning. According to Morrison’s article, “there are more than 100 global promotional partners” attached to Man Of Steel. Some of them, in addition to the Sears Roebuck Company and Gillette, are:

  • Warby-Parker Shades, where you can buy a pair of Clark Kent eyeglasses
  • Hershey’s
  • Chrysler, which is offering two different “Superman” S-class cars
  • Kellogg’s
  • Walmart
  • Nokia
  • Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr, where you can eat a “Super Bacon Cheeseburger”
  • United States Army National Guard, which is using Man Of Steel as an enlistment tool
  • Under Armor
  • Mattel
  • Budweiser
  • Toshiba

To borrow from another DC iconic hero:

Holy marketing, Batman!!!!!

•     •     •     •     •

A confession. I did go to Gillette’s YouTube site to watch four videos entitled “How Does the Man of Steel Shave?” Bill Nye the Science Guy, Kevin Smith, Mayim Bialik – a PhD. in neuroscience? Really? – and Mythbusters’ Andy and Jamie offer their theories on how Kal-el goes from heavily bearded in the beginning of the film to smooth-shaven by the time he’s fighting Zod. And I must also confess that the vids are fun and entertaining. The four hypotheses are: (1) LHC Worm Hole Theory; (2) Materials Science Theory; (3) Follicle Denaturation Theory; and (4) Baby Rocket Theory.

I leave it to you to match up the theories with their progenitors.