This week I’m covering Scout Comics and Ben Kahn. Ben had self-published a comic titled Heavenly Blues which I had picked up a while back at Carmine Street Comics here in Manhattan. Since then, Scout Comics has picked up the series. I got the chance to talk with Ben about his comics career and having Heavenly Blues added to Scout Comics growing roster.
JC: Thank you for taking the time to chat with me about your new series at Scout Comics, Heavenly Blues! Before we get started, you’re a fairly new face to comics, at least in terms of being Diamond distributed. Can you tell us a bit about your writing career leading up to this?
BK: Of course. Heavenly Blues is my first series handled by Diamond, but my work in comics stretches back over twelve years. In high school, I worked on a webcomic that ran for around 700 strips between 2005 and 2012. It wasn’t much. I took video game sprites and used them to make comics in MSPaint and Photoshop. For a shock-comedy webcomic it was pretty successful, but that’s not exactly setting the bar very high. I loved working on the webcomic and making it taught me a lot about writing dialogue, but it eventually just kinda ran out of steam. A big part of that was I had started working on Shaman. Production on Shaman ran from 2011 to 2015, when it was released. Shaman was actually distributed by Diamond as a trade paperback. So Heavenly Blues is my first series in Diamond, but it’s not my first rodeo with them. While I was working on Shaman, I was also working as a writer and designer for a mobile game company. Don’t ask me what games I worked on, they were all terrible. But working on those games gave me the resources to make Shaman, so all’s well that ends well.
JC: I’d like to expand on what you were discussing regarding Shaman. As someone whose self-published before I understand how daunting of a feat that can be. How did you go about making that happen and what were the challenges and rewards for you?
BK: Making Shaman was one of the most difficult, and rewarding things I’ve ever done. It’s a five-chapter graphic novel that I worked on with Bruno Hidalgo (who is working with me again on Heavenly Blues) and was about a necromancer and his teenage daughter going on crazy adventures and bringing heroes and villains back to life. Think Hellblazer meets Rick & Morty. I was very lucky to work with Philly-based publisher, Locust Moon Press. They helped me put together a creative team, find artists for covers (including Farel Dalrymple, JG Jones, and Jim Rugg). Really, they taught me everything I know about making comics. To get the book actually printed and into stores, I had to do a Kickstarter campaign. The campaign was successful, but man was that the toughest month of my life. Kickstarter’s great. The stories and creative voices it’s empowered are truly something to behold. But man oh man am I happy that I don’t have to do another Kickstarter. I’m so proud of the work Bruno and I did on Shaman. It was my first real comic book, the first time I really got to see characters I imagined come to life. It was beyond rewarding, and not just because seeing your book in a store in between Saga and Spider-Man is the coolest thing ever.
JC: Okay, now onto Heavenly Blues! How did you come about thinking up this idea, and at what point did your collaborator Bruno Hidalgo join the project?
BK: The original kernel of an idea was an old Irish proverb “may you be in Heaven half an hour before the devil knows you’re dead.” It got me thinking of a heist on Heaven, where thieves had 30 minutes to break in and make the ultimate score. The story naturally moved away from that idea, but that’s where the idea of “heist in the afterlife” started. Rather than having present day, alive characters break into heaven, I realized that the characters could be much more varied and complex if they were already dead. Bruno came on board the very second there was a script done. He was the only artist I wanted to work with on this. There was almost no downtime between Shaman ending and Heavenly Blues beginning.
JC: Like Shaman, you went about self-publishing Heavenly Blues at first. Why did you decide on the self-publishing route for this series?
BK: Self-publishing was never the end goal. The idea was always to do a small print run to get the word out there while I pitched to publishers. Part of the reason I wanted to do a print run before pitching to publishers was to build up some early awareness and buzz. Judging by the existence of this interview, it worked! With Shaman, I wanted to have all five issues done before printing. But with Heavenly Blues, I decided to do a small print run of the individual issues. Part of this was wanting more content for conventions, and part was seeing just how easy it was when my life partner did it (Kathleen Kralowec of the wonder The Lion & The Roc webcomic).
JC: When did you decide to pitch the series around and why is Scout Comics the best home for Heavenly Blues?
BK: Pitching was always the plan. From day one, I wanted Heavenly Blues to have a real publisher. It was the same with Shaman. I pitched it to every comics publisher there was, but even though we got really close with some, it didn’t work out. But I pitched Shaman back in 2013 and 2014. And even though that feels like such a short time ago, the comic industry has really changed in just the last couple of years. There’s a whole new tier of publishers that just didn’t exist when I pitched Shaman. No Scout, no Black Mask Studios, no AfterShock Comics, no Vault Comics. Heavenly Blues simply entered a very different environment than Shaman did. I had a couple of publishers interested in Heavenly Blues, but Scout really impressed me from the get-go. Brendan Deneen and James Pruett have been fantastic to work with. Scout is young and hungry, and is putting out some really spectacular books like Solar Flare, Mindbender, InferNoct, and Girrion. It’s a library I’m very proud to be a part of.
JC: Some of the characters we see in Heavenly Blues are based somewhat on real people. What about those people and events in history inspired you to write this story?
BK: The nature of the story gives me access to all of history. I wanted to create the “ultimate” team of thieves and wanted to pull from the most iconic archetypes from around the world. I didn’t want to use real historical people though, I wanted more freedom in establishing their personalities and backstories. Some characters are based off more generic archetypes, like 16th-century ninja Hideki Iwata and ancient Egyptian grave robber Amunet. Others are inspired by more specific people. With the main character, Isaiah Jefferson, he’s a bank robber from the Great Depression. He very much follows in the John Dillinger model of the Criminal as Celebrity. Wild West outlaw, James ‘Coin Counter’ Turner, was based heavily on Doc Holliday with some notable differences (namely Coin Counter’s less than heroic morality and his queer sexuality). I think Erin Foley’s inspiration is the most interesting to me, as she doesn’t originate from a traditional ‘thief’ archetype. Instead, she comes from the character Pearl in Scarlet Letter. Scarlet Letter was one of my favorite books in high school, and I was excited at the opportunity to explore that kind of time period and culture.
JC: You tackle elements of Christianity in this story. Since that can be a sensitive subject for some people, how do you go about writing a story with a religious backdrop?
BK: Honestly, the religious aspect never really factored into it. I’m Jewish. Heaven and Hell were never presented to me in a religious context. The afterlife isn’t a big deal in Jewish culture. It’s almost never mentioned, and when it is there are very few details. When I was first told about Heaven and Hell, I had so many questions that there were no answers to. So Hell is just the torture dimension? Who decides who goes where? Does judgment change with modern morality, or is it fixed? Heaven and Hell never seemed like real places that people could exist in, so this is my attempt at answering those questions and creating an afterlife that feels, for lack of a better word, real. I think by now people have been exposed to dozens if not hundreds of depictions of Heaven and Hell that are relatively secular. And if someone is offended…*shrug*
JC: What comics and comic writers influence your work and made you want to get into comics in the first place?
BK: Oh man, I was just thinking about this today. Now I actually get to tell you my comics Mt. Rushmore: Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, Brian K Vaughn, and Geoff Johns. They each influenced me in major ways. Vaughn’s Runaways was the first comic I ever read, Johns’ Green Lantern was my first superhero series I followed month to month, Gaiman’s Sandman inspired me to become a writer, and Morrison’s everything turned my reality into a fragmented kaleidoscope of dream time. I think comics are greatest creative medium ever invented. I think it’s the perfect union of incredible writing and incredible art. I think every medium has its specialties and what it does best, but what comics do better than anything else is depict the impossible. An epic battle of the gods among the cosmos is just as easy to depict as two people talking in a diner, maybe easier. There’s absolutely nothing that can’t be done in comics, and that inspires me every day.
JC: What advice can you give to all the self-publishers that may be reading this?
BK: What advice can I give? Be obsessed. Like, crazy obsessed. Unhealthily obsessed. Be prepared to forgo social events and spend ludicrous amounts of money on a creative team. You want a professional book? Gotta pay people a professional rate. There’s no cheat or shortcut. I truly believe comics aren’t something you can do unless you’re willing to throw absolutely everything you’ve got at it. But if you’re obsessed enough, that’ll be a price you’ll pay without a second thought.
JC: Thanks again for taking the time to chat with me! Where can people pre-order Heavenly Blues and do you have anything else you’d like to plug?
BK: Heavenly Blues is out in stores on July 26th, and the Diamond order code is MAY171769. You can find Shaman on ComiXology or on my Etsy store. My next convention is Five Points Comics Festival, so catch me there in New York this weekend on May 20-21st. And make sure to check out all the other great books from Scout Comics!
Last week I gave a review of the Suicide Squad movie. This week, I’m talking about my trip to NYC for the premiere.
I got in to the East Coast on 7/31 and stayed with my friends Tam and Kev English over in New Jersey, near to where I used to live. Tom Mandrake and Jan Duursema, who also live in the area, were going to be in town Sunday night before going on a trip so we all got together for a nice meal. Hilarity ensued.
Tom and Jan also gave me a box full of Kros: Hallowed Ground booty. This is stuff that will be going out to our subscribers and it is killer cool.
I took the train into Manhattan on Monday to join my old bud and oft-time editor and my date for the evening, the lovely and effervescent Mike Gold. We were meeting for a pre-festivities lunch. Among many other projects, Mike edited Legends, which is where my version of the Suicide Squad first appeared. True to form, I screwed up both the time and the location but eventually wound up where I was supposed to be, a little hot, a lot sweaty, but there.
It was a nice meal at Virgil’s BBQ (when with Mike, you’re quite likely to wind up eating barbecue) and then it was time to head out to the pre-premiere party being hosted by Dan Didio and DC Entertainment. On our way to a taxi (Mike suggested the subway but I was already overheated), we went to the heart of Times Square and there – lo and behold – was a huge frickin’ ad for the movie up on a building. It was at least four stories tall and wrapped around the building on either side. I was staggered.
On to the DC pre-party up at Pappardella on the upper west side. We were met outside by Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Connor; seeing Jimmy always guarantees a good time and Amanda graces the company of wherever she is.
All sorts of DC stalwarts were inside including some old friends like Paul Levitz, Mike Barr, and Keith Giffen. Was also joined by Adam Glass and his wife at our table in the corner. Adam had written the initial issues of the New 52 edition of the Squad and we were able to chat Squad shop. Great guy, good writer, and a fun table companion.
I also got to meet Geoff Johns face-to-face for the first time. We’ve traded more than a few emails but have never been able to be in the same place at the same time. Geoff has recently been promoted to President as well as Chief Creative Officer of DC Entertainment and I had a chance to congratulate him. He sat down and we had just a really good chat. In addition to being a really good writer, Geoff is a hell of as nice guy.
They got some group photos of all of us at Pappardella and then it was time to walk over to the nearby Beacon Theater for the premiere. We got off the buses and it was amazing: there was major security, both private and city, and barriers and people behind barriers looking for stars and celebrities. I was dazzled and dazed. I started to follow the herd towards the theater until I heard someone calling my name. It was Dan Didio as well as my date gesturing me over to a large air conditioned tent right there on Amsterdam Avenue. I mean, the air conditioning units were huge. I was supposed to go in that way. I wasn’t sure why but I went there.
Inside there was a backdrop and lots of press and photographers. I was in a spotlight and, swear to God, they were calling “John, look over here.” “John. Over this way.” “John, look straight ahead.” Flashes flashed and I had on my best deer caught in the headlights look. It was weird.
My baptism by strobes completed, I was escorted out of the tent and to the theater and given my assigned seat. The Beacon is no small theater (albeit a beautiful one) and every seat was assigned. I sat in the middle of the DC row and settled in. Geoff Johns was two seats to my right but the one right next to me was vacant. I decided that seat belonged to my late wife and frequent Squad co-writer, Kim Yale. Knowing Kim, she was having a blast.
Pete Tomasi, my one-time editor on a lot of The Spectre, Martian Manhunter, and The Kents, came over for a chat. It was great to see him; it’s been far too long. Pete‘s also a freelance writer these days and a good one.
I’ll admit to being dazzled. A lot of fuss was being made over me and more than a few people came up and said that this was my night as well; that none of this would have been happening without me. I guess that’s technically true but it’s a little hard for me to wrap my brain around.
Anyway, it comes time for the movie and the director, David Ayer, comes out to say a few words and he brings out the entire cast of the movie. Loud cheers all around. The cast walks off and the movie begins.
I reviewed the movie last week and I’ll double down on it. I’ve seen it again since then, with My Mary (who couldn’t make it to the premiere) at IMAX and in 3-D and I liked it even more. I understand that there’s people who don’t agree with me and that’s fine; different tastes for different folks. For example, Mary likes broccoli and I can’t stand it, referring to it as “tiny trees”. But I loved the Squad movie and I’ll see it still again.
One note about it and it’s a very minor spoiler. I knew ahead of time that they had named a building used in the movie the John F. Ostrander Federal Building. I knew it was there, I knew it was coming up and yet, somehow, I missed seeing it. The DC row cheered but I didn’t see it until we went to the IMAX. Go figure.
There were cheers when the movie was over and then it was time to get onto the buses and go to the after-party. It was held in a huge hall with parts of it made up to look like Belle Reve (I’m told it was on display at SDCC and then moved east). There was food, there was drink, there was a DJ and loud music; DC had a private area off to one side. I understood the stars of the movie were in attendance and had their own area as well.
This may surprise some folks but not, I think, those who know me well. I sometimes get a case of the shys; I feel awkward where I feel somewhat out of place. I saw Kevin Smith there and wanted to go up and talk with him but he was talking to someone else so I wandered off. I didn’t want to bother him.
The one person I did want to meet was Viola Davis who played Amanda Waller. Amanda is special to me and Ms. Davis did a superb job, IMO, and I just wanted to tell her so. First, I had to deal with security. I walked up to a guy guarding the artist’s area; the Hulk is smaller than this guy. Real tall, shoulders the size of a football field – nobody was getting past him. Nobody.
I went straight to him, explained who I was and why I wanted to see Ms. Davis. He was polite, got a hold of someone who had to go check on me. While I waited, he deflected two or three others. The guy was good at his job.
Finally, someone came up to take me back the handful of steps to –. I introduced myself and then told her how much I enjoyed her performance. She was very gracious and lovely. I think, although I’m not certain, that I did not babble unduly.
And then I was done.
I might have liked to say hello to some of the other actors and especially the director but, plain and simple, I’d run out of nerve. My date had already left to catch a train and it was time for me to do the same. Penn Station was only a block or two away and that’s where I need to go to get back to Tam and Kev.
I’m reasonably certain in my heart that Kim was there at the party. She would have been in her element. She was an extrovert and she would have been dancing and drinking and chatting with the stars and flashing that megawatt smile. I’m also reasonably certain she’s still there; at many a Con, Kim would still be partying while I went to bed. I couldn’t keep up with her.
I said goodbye to Geoff Johns, got to Penn Station and went back to my friends in Jersey.
It was an experience totally unlike anything I’ve ever had. I don’t know if I’ll ever have another one like it. Even if I went to another movie premiere, this was my first one. As they say, you never forget your first.
I was a temporary celebrity. I’ve done lots of interviews connected with the event and I’ll probably do a few more, told the same stories or given the same answers a lot of times. I’ve been dipped in the waters of fame. There were faces on the other side of the barriers in front of the theater or the after party, looking at me, wondering who I was. I must have been Somebody. For the moment, maybe I was.
I’m home now. The dishes need washing, this column has to be finished, and one of the cats wants attention. That’s who I am and I’m happy with that. The rest will fade as it should. I’ll tell you this, though – it sure as hell was fun while it lasted! For that night, I was John Fucking Ostrander with my name of the side of a building in a big ass movie..
With a wavering hand, I cracked the seal on Green Lanterns: Rebirth #1 and Rebirth: Green Lanterns #1. That was not a typo. Just the crazy dumb way DC Comics wanted to release the first pair of issues concerning their emerald knights in this new and lovey-dovey DC Comics era. I read both books while my four-year-old bathed.
“What’s that dad?” He inquired. “Dat Gween Wanturn?”
“No, it’s not. Why there two? There not two Gween Wanterns…” Why indeed, Bennett.
Why indeed. Well, as Geoff Johns and new scribe Sam Humphries are rebirthing the GL universe, they start with two distinct directions. Stalwart GL Hal Jordan is called off-world to deal with yet another massive threat that threatens the Corps whilst Earth is defended by a pair of rookie ring slingers: the he’s-not-a-terrorist Simon Baz, and the shut-in-Marc-never-heard-of Jessica Cruz. BazCruz get the flagship Green Lantern book, whilst Jordan will get his own series. And never shall the two meet. Or maybe they will. Who knows?
Concerning myself only with the sans-Jordan book for now, yields a rocky – if promising – start. As I myself came into reading (and loving) DC books by way of Kyle Rayner, seeing rookie ring bearers makes me nostalgic. One of the tent-poles of DC has long been their ability to create legacy in their brands that feels fresh. As the generation that grew up with Rayner, Wally West, Conner Hawk, et al, seeing Baz and Cruz under the domino masks feels like a necessary breath of fresh air. With Jordan off-world, there’s a sense of the larger scale the Lanterns hold in the DCU. And it’s hard not to like the deeply rooted buddy-cop vibe within the new series.
Like all good buddy cop pieces, Baz and Cruz play well off of one another, in spite of the dual-narration script device that forces the reader into lonely territory. Both Baz and Cruz are still light in the loafers when it comes to their characterization. In spite of whatever past exists for them both, I myself here am basically a virgin reader. I read the very first arc of Baz as GL, and frankly forgot it all by the time I cracked the spine on Rebirth. In the broad strokes, he’s the brash, violent, potentially chauvinist ring-slinger prone to hurl a construct first and bark orders at his partner… than to assess criminal situations.
This pairs well then with Jessica, whose lone trait thus far is that she was a shut-in prior to receiving her ring. Normally I’d take pains to look her up on Wikipedia, but I consider this my test of Sam Humphries’ scripting abilities to win my eyes for subsequent issues. Cruz plays the role of good cop decently. She is seemingly more cautious and more curious than Baz. The interplay between them truly feels like a police partnership. When Cruz is shot in the chest with a shotgun by a Red Lantern human puppet (more on that in a second), Baz screams for his partner, but not in that rote Oh my! I loved you all along! way. It’s a scream of concern. No surprise the ring came in handy in ensuring Cruz wasn’t immediately construct fodder. It helps to show both of them being bad at their job.
And what of that job? The big bad of the issue(s) is the Red Lantern Corp leader, Atrocitus. Seems that the New52 wasn’t so kind to his legions, as we find him choking out lead lieutenant Bleez whilst he complains of the dwindling number of red recruits. Never mind the irony of nearly killing one of your own, mind you. Seems yet another prophecy (Red Lanterns love ‘em) about the “Red Dawn” is coming. Helpful then of course that Baz develops Emerald Sight. Apparently the Oans loved Thundercats. But I digress.
Atrocitus sets in motion the erection (natch) of a Hell Tower, as well random Red Lantern recruitments of normal Earth folks, turning them into angry bile spewing meat puppets consumed with random fits of rage. Useful I suppose, as it will provide ample opportunity for Baz and Cruz to decide between using maximum force on would-be rage monsters… or attempting to break the blood curses through less violent ways. And hey, worst case scenario? Baz carries a sidearm because he don’t trust whitey. Ugh.
Ultimately, Green Lanterns: Rebirth is a promising (if a bit slow / shallow) start to a new series. Rookie heroes make mistakes, which make for good drama. Having two obvious minorities filling the role of Earth’s Green Lanterns add a ton of potential for new perspectives on old problems. The potential here is enough to sign on for more. Whether Humphries can deliver on the police procedural structure while delivering originality and depth will remain to be seen… like so much of Rebirth thus far.
Fox’s Gotham TV series has been going strong for two seasons and is now renewed for a third. The show began with a focus on (future Commissioner) Jim Gordon’s early career in Gotham, but has quickly expanded to include the early days of many Batman villains as well. One of the most striking of these is The Penguin; a previously cartoonish character (in screen adaptations) who has been masterfully portrayed in Gotham by Robin Lord Taylor as a complex young man who rises from being a minor player in Fish Mooney’s entourage to becoming the self-proclaimed “King of Gotham.” Taylor’s nuanced portrayal of Oswald Cobblepot, The Penguin, has made him a compelling, horrifying, and yet somehow still sympathetic character – one I’m invested in even while I’m despising what he does.
After having had the opportunity to speak with Taylor by phone in the week leading up to Awesome Con in Washington, DC, and to meet him at the Con, I can see where The Penguin’s charm and disarming manner originate; but fortunately for us, and unlike The Penguin, Taylor himself strikes me as a delightful human being; and he has a lot to say about his role in Batman’s Rogues’ Gallery.
Read on below for a most enjoyable interview; or listen here for the audio version.
ESW: Robin, your current role on Gotham is a big part of your career, and The Penguin, as we all know by two seasons in, has been called a “breakout character.” I love the nuances that you bring to the Penguin, who is a mix of pathos and viciousness. Are there any parts of his character that come from you, or that you identify with?
RLT: Yeah; I mean, the thing that really got me into the human aspect of Oswald was, when I first got the job, I reached out to Geoff Johns, who’s the chief creative officer of DC Comics, and I was like, “Do you know any stories?” Because obviously I’d grown up with Batman, and Batman Returns was huge, and the Adam West series was also huge, but beyond that I really didn’t know very much about the character.
And he found some stories; he found one in particular which was Penguin: Pain and Prejudice; and in that story, they really went into detail about Oswald’s childhood, and how when he was young, he was horrifically bullied. Which is not something that I ever experienced, to that extent; but the fact that he had always felt like an outsider – you know, growing up in a small town in the Midwest, I definitely identified with that feeling. Like, just because you didn’t look like everybody else, or there was something different about you – like in my case, I was just not a “sporty” person, and I basically grew up in Friday Night Lights. So it’s just that feeling of outsider-ness, and also that feeling of being counted out just by things that are out of your control. So that was the first thing I really hooked in to. I was like, “Oh, I understand what this feels like,” and it just made him all the more human for me.
And on top of that, his ambition is something that – you know, obviously I don’t think I share quite the same amount of ambition, in the sense that I, you know, value human life! But out of all of the years of basically being rejected by everyone, and having that feed into his outsized ambition – that was another thing that I totally could identify with and understand.
ESW: I read somewhere that when you did the audition, they didn’t actually tell you it was the Penguin. Do you recall if there were any particular acting choices you made in that audition that still define the character or that rolled over into the actual on-screen character?
RLT: Yeah; the scene itself that they gave us to audition for was a fake scene – it was not in the pilot at all, and the names were all different. But the scene involved, I believe, the Penguin character was named Paul or something, and he’s having this meeting with a Mafia don, and trying to get this person to do some deal for him. Of course the don is not into it, and that’s when it’s revealed that Paul has had the Mafia don’s daughter kidnapped, and she’s about to be “taken care of” unless he does his bidding.
And in that scene, all of that is the epitome of Oswald, and that ability to sort of play – you know, in the first part of the scene before it’s revealed that he has the daughter kidnapped, he’s very obsequious, and kind of meek, and deferring to the Mafia don; being lower status. And then there’s that switch halfway through where it’s like, “Oh no no no, actually I’m driving the ship right now; I’m steering the ship.” You know, “You’re going to listen to me.” So going from that humble, almost meek, low status attitude that he had, and then immediately switching to be the guy on top; that was something that I think I definitely carried through to the show that we do now.
ESW: Generally, in previous characterizations of The Penguin on screen he’s portrayed in a more cartoonish style. Can you talk about what you did to make him more real in the Gotham show sense, and yet keep him defined as he is in the comics so that he’s still recognizable as the character?
RLT: First of all, I give so much, if not all credit, to Bruno Heller, and Danny Cannon, and our other producers and writers on the show. It started with Bruno and Danny, this vision and this treatment of the character. It starts with them, and then I step in and we collaborate. Again, going back to what I said before, learning how he was bullied – it was more about finding…you know this is a fantastic world. It’s being able to see this character as an actual person who could exist. Which is actually kind of the allure of Batman itself in the sense that of course it’s still a comic book, and crazy shit happens that would never happen in the real world, but it’s always rooted in the fact that Batman is not supernatural, that Batman is a human being.
And that even though it is this gothic, noir, colorful, crazy world that we inhabit in Gotham City, it’s still all rooted in reality, in the sense that, like, gravity exists, and these are human beings, and there is real pathos behind everyone.
And it’s about justifying every choice that this character makes so that every action he takes, there’s a reason behind it; it’s not just being evil for the sake of being evil. Also what I love about the character is that – at one point in the second season, Galavan is trying to get him to help him get some real estate deal going, and that would require tearing down a big chunk of Gotham City, and Oswald is not into it. He says, “Look, I’m a builder, I’m not a demolition person. I’m not interested in tearing everything down.” He’s interested in controlling everything, but also building alliances and making connections and using that to his advantage. So I guess it would be making sure that everything he does and says comes from a real place – a real desire for Oswald to be – I don’t know if it’s accepted, or feared, or both!
ESW: You mention that Oswald is a builder and has these particular goals. He’s a monster in many ways, but he seems to have his own moral code. How would you define his moral code?
RLT: I would say: Oswald is all about – do not come for him. If you do, you will pay. He remembers every single slight against him, every person who ever hurt him or tried to hurt him. All that, again, stemming from a childhood where he’s an outcast in so many ways, like being a first generation immigrant, for example, in our show. I guess his moral code is just: “Don’t tread on me.” But that’s the thing – with the exception of the poor fisherman in the pilot, and maybe the guy who delivered the flowers from Maroni – a couple of people who really didn’t deserve what they got – for the most part, everyone whom he attacks, it’s motivated by revenge, and it’s all strategy for Oswald. He is anti-chaos. Chaos is not interesting to him; that’s not a place where he can get the power that he needs to survive. He wants order.
ESW: Anti-chaos. It makes me think that perhaps we’re playing Dungeons & Dragons. He’s a lawful evil – not chaotic at all.
RLT: Yeah, totally!
ESW: Now in the second season, trying to rule Gotham, Penguin needs some worker-bee villains who will be loyal to him; and then we get Butch’s betrayal in that second season. It’s a very tricky proposition, getting those loyal worker-bees and knowing that he can rely on them. What traits about the character do you think would believably cement a henchman’s loyalty and how do you establish that?
RLT: In a way, I think even though, you know, he chopped off Butch’s hands, you know, big deal – but even those things have happened, I think that Penguin himself, and it goes back to his anti-chaos attitude, I think he is actually also interested in being loyal to people as well. I think he knows that if you treat people well, you get more from them. You get more loyalty; and ultimately, that can be exploited as well.
You see this very, very clearly in his relationship with Jim Gordon, in the sense that for all intents and purposes they should be arch-enemies. But for some reason, it’s this delicate dance and a push and a pull between the two of them that is important to Oswald. Because that keeps Jim in his world and again, that can be exploited in the future if need be. So I think he does reciprocate loyalty to the people that he is trusting and that’s ultimately how he can get people to join his side.
And also, this goes into – because his actions are justified, and because we understand why he does the things he does, there’s a sympathetic side to this character. And I think that comes through to the other characters as well; in the sense that there’s something enigmatic about him that draws people in.
If I had to root this in the character’s history, I would say that this is something he learned as a survival instinct, when he’s being bullied or when he was being basically tortured by his peers when he was younger. This is what you learn; you learn to ingratiate yourself to people. You make yourself seem more meek and sympathetic, and then eventually they come around, and that’s when you stick the knife in.
ESW: Speaking of that, he’s a pretty dark character, and you seem like a nice guy. Do you have difficulty getting into and out of that character?
RLT: I really don’t, actually! I know that sounds crazy, but… Look, I’ve never played a character that physically is so different from who I am in real life. And so with the hair, the makeup, the costume – all of those pieces coming together every day that I have to work, is – and this is generally how I work as an actor too – is I generally start from the outside and I go in. I let the physicality and the costuming help me get into character so I’m ready. And also, again, it goes to the sets that we shoot, and the locations that we use. With all of these things, it’s like I’m stepping into Oswald, I’m stepping into Gotham City. And at the end of the day, the nose comes off, and the hair is different, and I take these beautiful suits and I put them back in the closet and then I’m back to me. It’s great to have that physical transformation that gets you into character; and from that it’s generally pretty easy.
ESW: He does have some really cool suits!
RLT: God, they’re amazing. The sucky thing is they’re not quite my, Robin Lord Taylor’s, style, so it’s not like I could ever really wear them anywhere. But also – as you can probably tell, I’m one of the least confrontational people that ever lived. And so it’s actually therapeutic in a way. I know that sounds crazy, but it’s really fun to step onto the set and step into the character and then all of a sudden I’m the guy who’s pushing everybody’s buttons, and I’m the guy who’s messing with everybody and starting shit. And it’s liberating, and it’s fun in a way.
ESW: I can understand that. So Oswald has been through a huge journey in season 2 – he was on top; he lost his mother; he convinced Gordon to murder somebody; he was messed with by Hugo Strange; he met his father; fell back into murder; now he wants revenge and all of Strange’s monsters are out there, and Mooney is back… Can you talk about how you think season 2 changed him, or what you think he’ll be doing in season 3?
RLT: I think that in season 2 – it happened twice for him, with the loss of his mother and then the loss of his father – and there’s that lovely speech that Cory Michael Smith as Nygma gave Oswald. It was after his mother died, before he knew his father existed – Nygma says, “You’re free now.” The gist is – and this is a continuing theme throughout our entire show – to love is to be vulnerable. You see throughout the show, characters are falling in love, or they have love in their lives, and then they lose it; and then in a way they are liberated to do whatever the hell they want to do and not feel any pressure. Because what’s left to lose.
So I think that was hugely formative, and then that it happened twice – I think going into season 3, it’s all guns blazing. And also, he’s learned, having been at the top for the brief period. He learned now how much more difficult it is; and he severely overestimated his own abilities, and he didn’t take into account the fact that when you’re the “King of Gotham” you have a giant, giant target on your back in a way that you never did before. I think that’s the most valuable lesson that he learned this season; and then going forward, I think we’re watching his transformation from someone who’s finding their way in this world to someone who now has the wherewithal and the knowledge to basically, kick ass and take names. And not fear the repercussions because, again, having lost all the love in his life, going forward, he’s just going to be completely unhinged – which I’m really excited about!
ESW: So Gotham is obviously a very villain-heavy show, and we know many of Batman’s villains are way ahead of him in development – he’s still Bruce; he’s still young. How do you think this will affect the future seasons in the show, or how do you think you’d like to see that happen? Do you think it will shift to being a more heroic focus as Bruce matures?
RLT: I don’t know; I think our show is about how the city corrupts. Bruce Wayne – Batman – comes from one of the most corrupted acts that could ever happen, one of the most horrific acts; the execution of his parents in front of him. And I could see heroic moments coming through, because obviously you need a balance between the light and the dark, but at the same time, I just think it’s so much more interesting seeing even someone as virtuous and good-hearted as Bruce Wayne – seeing him get swept up into, or sucked down into, the morass of Gotham City and its questionable moral fiber as a city; I think that’s ultimately what’s really interesting to me. And I just think that the villains are where it’s at.
Also, going forward, what I find most interesting, as someone who is a fan of the Batman world, and what I think our show does very well, is show how all of these characters interact, and come in and out of each other’s lives. It’s like seeing how the Penguin’s and Gordon’s connection evolves over time, and also eventually, I’m sure, Bruce Wayne is going to come into Penguin’s life, and all of the other characters’ lives. I love that alliances are formed and then broken; and the re-formed with someone else; some other canon character. I just think that’s fascinating.
ESW: I’ve heard Gotham compared to a soap opera, and it’s not too far off!
RLT: Yeah, except we’ve got monsters and bazookas; it’s As The Gotham Turns.
ESW: So what experiences have you had working with the other Gotham actors? Do you have any fun stories, or any stories about having to work with actors that then the Penguin kills?
RLT: Yeah! Well we get along, as a cast, just smashingly. In fact, early on in the first season, Ben McKenzie had a barbeque; and all the cast members came, and we were all there having fun, dancing, and drinking, and at one point I said to Ben, because this is my first rodeo as it were, and he’s been doing this for longer than I have in a big way; I said to him, pointing at everyone having a ball, “Dude, is this normal? Do casts get along like this? Because I’ve guested on shows, and you can definitely feel the vibe, and it’s not this.” And he said immediately, “Nope. This is not normal. God willing, we can keep this going for the rest of our run,” because it just makes the environment more pleasant, and we all just truly have love for everyone, and it’s so nice. It’s all I’ve ever wanted in a job.
ESW: That seems to come through the social media where I’ve seen you and Cory and Ben and everyone interacting; seeing everyone talking to each other on Twitter and wherever else.
RLT: That’s so nice to hear. And the other thing too is that we’re from all over the place, and everyone’s had such different experiences growing up; and the fact that I can, you know, meet Sean Pertwee, who could not have been from a more different place than me, and have had a more different childhood than I did – and yet, he’s now one of my very best friends. And I just love it, that people can come together and find – in this show, we found a community, which is really great.
So then on the other hand, people have asked me, “What’s the hardest thing about Gotham?” and honestly, it is when a main character dies. And especially if I have to do it. It’s one thing if it’s a movie or a play, because that’s such a contained work. You know when someone’s going; you know the whole thing is going to be over in two-and-a-half hours anyway. It’s not as cathartic as when you’re on a television show. You really do feel that loss. Like when Carole Kane’s character is killed. It was honestly devastating for everybody. It was like, “Oh, God, she’s not going to be here.” Even though she wasn’t there all the time to begin with, it was the loss of that potential for her to be there. I can’t say enough amazing things about her.
And then of course also the same with Paul Reubens. With both of those characters, it really is devastating. You just keep thinking, “If they had written something different, we could have been working together for years now.” I think that’s the hardest part of the job.
ESW: So what’s been your experience with fans and conventions and this role; do fans ever blur the line and call you the Penguin; or what do you like and dislike about that? Have you had any crazy experiences?
RLT: I mean, the whole thing is generally pretty crazy. Even if you think just logically, what I do is, I’m an actor. So ideally I would just sort of disappear – Robin Lord Taylor would disappear – and the character would live in people’s imaginations and that would just be it. But you know that’s not how it works. You become public people; and that’s been probably one of the most challenging things about the job. Just going from relative obscurity to being in peoples’ minds and consciousness – that’s definitely been intense.
For the most part, everyone has been incredibly, incredibly nice, and kind. I’ve been doing conventions now for the last two years, and, like, I signed someone’s ankle, and she went and got a tattoo, and that’s kind of crazy. Honestly, the tattoos, I think, are the craziest thing! Someone also tweeted me a photo of their leg, and it’s my giant face on their leg. I find that so unsettling; I mean, compared to most other things. Like, “Oh God, you did that?” You defaced your body with my face.”
ESW: They will never forget you, ever ever!
RLT: I know. I know; that makes me really uncomfortable! But I will never be forgotten. There’s something to be said for that.
ESW: So are you looking forward to Awesome Con? And do you follow other comics? Do you have a favorite character or storyline, or something you want to see or pick up while you’re at the show?
RLT: I’m totally psyched. This is going to be super. I’ve never been to Washington for a con before; I’m really excited to see what the vibe is like at Awesome Con. From what I hear, it’s an amazing experience. For me it’s always very strange. Obviously I love all of the other DC Comics properties, especially the ones that are on television, in particular The Flash and Arrow, and Supergirl as well. Because we’re all the Warner Bros. family, and we run into each other at San Diego Comic Con and all these other things. So that’s always really exciting to see those folks.
But then at the same time, with the actors who played characters from my childhood – for example, I was at a convention and I was in the green room, and sitting across the table is Denise Crosby who played Tasha Yar on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and when I was a kid, that was my jam; and it’s always so fun to feel the way that people feel when they come to my line or when they come up to say hello. Everyone’s so sweet and so excited to be there, and then some people are really excited and they can’t speak, and that was me talking to Denise. And that’s someone I grew up watching, and that show was so important to me at the time. So experiences like that – just seeing anyone from something I grew up watching – that’s where I really fan out, for sure.
ESW: I know that you recently made a foray into voice acting in Dishonored 2, and you just wrapped a movie, The Long Home; anything you’d like to share about those or other projects?
RLT: Well – Dishonored 2 – when they told me that I was going to come in and be part of it, and read, especially, that character, the Outsider, that was amazing. An amazing experience, and also reading all about what the game is going to be like; I don’t think I’ve been this excited for a video game in a long time. The only thing I’m a little worried about is when I get it and I start playing it, I have to hear my own voice… But yeah, that was a brilliant experience. And then The Long Home, I would just encourage everyone to look for it on the festival circuit and show it some love. It’s an independent film, directed by and starring James Franco, with Josh Hutcherson, and Courtney Love, and there are just amazing, amazing people in it. It’s a low-budget, independent movie; so we’re really hoping to get some momentum behind it and I’m just really excited to see what the final product is.
• • • • •
So there you have it, folks. Thank you to Robin Lord Taylor for sharing his time and thoughts with us here at ComicMix!
So Mike Gold, our old and grumpy and sly editor, threw down the gauntlet last week, challenging the marvelous Marc Fishman and the grammatically incorrect me to read the same comic and opine on it. That comic was DC Rebirth #1, the umpteenth revision of the company’s four-color mythos. Marc had his turn on Saturday. Today is mine.
Unlike Marc, I didn’t have travel a long and hard road 45 minutes from my suburban home to another suburb “to make a transaction.” Unlike Marc, I live in a city and the nearest comics store is three blocks away. However, I’m not a particular fan of this four-color emporium – I used to have a fantastic shop six blocks away where I browsed and hung out and bought for many decades, but it closed because of the owner’s illness – so I downloaded and read the e-comic version.
First the positives:
The artwork, by Gary Frank, Phil Jimenez, Ivan Reis, Ethan Van Sciver, Brad Anderson, Jason Wright, Joe Prado, Matt Santorelli, Gabe Eltaeb, and Hi-Fi Colorists, is brilliant, breathtaking, and inspiring. It’s clean, it’s sharp, and it’s spectacular. The storytelling is so fantastically good that no writing is even necessary to follow the story, and every emotional nuance is there in the faces of every single character, from cameos to supporting characters to the “all-stars.”
That writing, by Geoff Johns, is no less than anyone would or could expect from a man who is a master of his craft. As Marc said, and as I concur, “Geoff [Johns] made hiscareer (in my humble opinion) – and also im-not-so-ho, and c’mon Marc, don’t be so modest or polite! – on harnessing emotion and sewing it into the rich tapestry of DC’s long-standing continuity.” Geoff also has the writer’s gift of building tension, that all-so-important command of plot that keeps the readers engaged and turning pages, while not forgetting those common-to-us-all integral and humane emotions that unite us with our fictional avatars, doppelgangers, and heroes.
And weaving through all of this is an understanding of the complexity of the DC universe since the hallowed days of Crisis on Infinite Earths collapsed it all into a ball of wax, and playing on his loom to bring it all back into one single tapestry.
The climatic and emotional moment in which Wally West reconnects with Barry Allen, his uncle, his idol, and his mentor, is so! right-on! bro! that even I, jaded and cynical and world-weary, felt a wee bit of the emotional lumping in throat. Barry Allen was the Flash I knew and loved, the symbol of the Silver Age of DC, that – if you’ll excuse the expression – golden era of my life in which I discovered and fell in love with comics and their universes of imagination and adventure.
His was the lynchpin that kept it all together, and when that lynchpin was pulled from its place, it all fell apart for me. Supergirl was gone, the Legion of Super-Heroes were strangers, and Superman and his family (Superboy, Krypto, Ma and Pa Kent, Lois, Perry, Jimmy, Lana, Lex Luthor, Lori Lemaris, Lyla Lerrol, Jor-el, Lara, Lex Luthor, Lena Thorul, everyone! – along with his hereditary planet of Krypton, were all just one disjointed mess of a fallen soufflé. It was, in too many ways, just one big funeral.
Okay, here come the negatives.
Though I realize for purposes of plot, for purposes of story, for emotional climatic wallop, and for purposes of cleaning up the mess of the fallen soufflé that the DC Universe has become, it was (and is) necessary for ReBirth #1 to wind its way through the many layers of said soufflé, giving acknowledgement to everything that has come since 1985 and Crisis – especially the “Dreary52.”
However, the almost biggest pitfall of the storyline is that Wally, struggling to survive in and escape from the Speed Force before he succumbs to death, isn’t immediately drawn to the man who gave him everything that he was and became, not only as a man, but as Kid Flash and then as the Flash. Given that it is this rich, undying love and bond between the two that saves both Wally and Barry from the Anonymous “what and who” that threatens on the nearing horizon, it just doesn’t make sense.
If the answer to the “Big Bad” is, as Marc said (and to paraphrase) “hope, optimism, love, friendship, kindness, and heroism,” then doesn’t it seem that all of Wally’s attempts to “reach out and touch someone” are useless fodder that merely stuffs 81 pages with folderol? As I read it, it is really Wally’s soul, not truly his physical body, his very being, that is being torn apart and filtered into the Speed Force (art not withstanding); and if that being does not want to go, fights for survival, would not it first and foremost search for that anchor which means the most to it, that gave it meaning to exist in the very, very, very, very first place?
But of course that would have been a different story.
My absolute B-I-G-G-E-S-T problem with the story is the inclusion of the Watchmen. Okay, okay, I know, all we see is the blood-dropped Smiley Face. But Watchmen was, and is, a singular novel, existing outside the DC Universe – in fact, it was Alan Moore’s adaptation of the old heroes of Charlton Comics which had been acquired by DC Comics. It had, and has, absolutely nothing at all to do with the mythos of the DC universe. It stood, and stands, on its own, and is considered by many critics as one of significant works of the 20th century. It was chosen by Time Magazine as one of the “All-Time Novels”published since the magazine’s founding in 1923. Here is what critic Lev Grossman wrote when the list was published in 2010:
“Watchmenis a graphic novel – a book-length comic book with ambitions above its station – starring a ragbag of bizarre, damaged, retired superheroes: the paunchy, melancholic Nite Owl; the raving doomsayer Rorschach; the blue, glowing, near-omnipotent, no-longer-human Doctor Manhattan. Though their heyday is past, these former crime-fighters are drawn back into action by the murder of a former teammate, The Comedian, which turns out to be the leading edge of a much wider, more disturbing conspiracy. Told with ruthless psychological realism, in fugal, overlapping plotlines and gorgeous, cinematic panels rich with repeating motifs, Watchmen is a heart-pounding, heartbreaking read and a watershed in the evolution of a young medium.”
And though, yes, Time Magazine is part and parcel of that “huuuuge” – I just had to get my Trump dig in – mammoth known as Time-Warner, of which DC Comics is also a flea in that mammoth’s wooly hide, it’s pick to be on that list was not influenced by its publishing house. There are many books on that list without “Warner Publishing” on their copyright pages.
It is crass and mercenary to me, not to mention oh-so unimaginative, that DC has the chutzpah to claim literary ownership (if not copyright rights) to a work that is included with such masterpieces and classics as Animal Farm; To Kill a Mockingbird; The Great Gatsby; The Grapes of Wrath; One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest; On the Road; Mrs. Dalloway; Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret; and Beloved.
Blood-spattered Smiley Face also telegraphs to me that the “Big Bad” will have something to do with the machinations of Adrian Veidt, a.k.a. Ozymandias, of whom Dave Gibbons, artist of Watchmen, said: “One of the worst of his sins [is] kind of looking down on the rest of humanity, scorning the rest of humanity.”
Hmm. If I may digress here for another moment of Trump-O-Rama: “Sounds familiar.”
Followers of this column are about to do a double take. They will question my sanity, my constitution, and whether I’m now a pod-person. But, heed my words, for they are true.
I traveled a long and hard road from my suburban home 45 minutes north to a different suburb so that I could make a transaction I’d honestly figured I wouldn’t make for years to come. After giving up mainstream comics (and weekly comic purchases) for two years, I handed over three bucks and picked up DC Universe Rebirth.
And I loved it.
Stop laughing at me.
In all the lead up to the big epic oh my Rao event I may have said a few … ahem…embittered words over the whole announcement. And to be fair, a lot of my points will remain valid in spite of my newfound like of Geoff Johns’ epic apology for the New52. It’s still a return to event-driven sales spikes, resetting books onceagain to #1, and making all of comic book fandom play a rousing game of WTF when it comes to figuring out what actually happened in continuity and what didn’t. But it doesn’t serve me anymore to deal in the macro. Let me crack open the book and figure out how Johns served me a plate of raw crow and I lapped it up like… oh, whatever eats a crow quickly.
Geoff Johns made his career (in my humble opinion) on harnessing emotion and sewing it into the rich tapestry of DC’s long-standing continuity. As he elevated the JSA, the Flash, Green Lantern, and other then-off-in-the-margin players through the DCU, Johns maintained a through-line of optimism… until Flashpoint. As the start of the New52 directive, Johns helped usher in the new era of DC Continuity, one meant to gel better with various other media properties, update languishing characters, and scrubbing off the dirt of one or two many crises. But in doing so, the New52 embraced the dour side of the DCU. Suddenly everything seemingly needed to carry a hipster-sheen and a splash of fuck you to it.
Rebirth acknowledges this and takes a smart step back. We’re reintroduced to the lost Wally West, and are given him as the anchor to whatever this new future holds. Across four chapters and the epilogue Wally searches for a single soul who can actually remember him. As the speed force (a penciling, inking, and coloring nightmare of a deus ex machina if ever there was one) threatens to tear Wally apart and disperse him to the next would-be speedster, we relive his complicated backstory in between scenes and snippets in the current continuity. And as Johns has relished in it before, again everything feels earned, and intelligently aligned.
Wally feels as if the world has simply forgotten emotions, states of being, and relationships. His attempt at anchoring to Batman (the clear progeny of analysis and logic) fails. A trip to visit the once-wielder of the Thunderbolt is met with confusion and fear, proving that legacy is no tether either. We’re even goaded into believing in the power of love, only to see Linda Park rebuke a waning Wally. It’s almost gut wrenching. Wally West, once a ward, then the hero… finally gives abandons hope.
And then Wally heads home for a final goodbye with the man who’d started it all. Barry Allen.
What follows between the two of them is a scene so potent I can’t do it justice in description. Johns and his cadre of astounding artists produced tears in my eyes over the bond between fictional characters I don’t even care that much about. While I do love (and own) Johns’ entire run on The Flash I’ve never claimed more than a passing fondness for the scarlet speedster(s). But here, across 60 sum pages, I’m now looking for the local chapter of the Speed Force Anonymous.
Hello, my name is Marc Alan Fishman, and I think I love the Flash. All of them.
But, even moreso, I love hope. Optimism. Love. Friendship. Kindness. Heroism. Everything I’d stopped seeing two years ago when I gave up comics. Here in Rebirth, I got it all back in spades, and I’ll be damned if I didn’t begrudgingly call the shop after finishing it to subscribe to a few books a month. More on that in future columns. Rebirth as a single stand-alone issue suffers only from the fact that it is meant as a one-and-done precursor, spinning off into 20+ books in the included checklist. This is where my review ends and the snark reemerges. Left to his own devices and narrative, Geoff Johns weaved a wonderful – dare I say masterful – tale. But in the context of the epic event, we’re still crushed under the weight of publishing profit mandates. The end of the issue is well earned, but truly to be continued. And ain’t no way I’m continuing it to the tune of that many new books.
But you see, fellow readers of Rebirth, you are likely asking… what of the 500-pound blue, naked elephant in the room – well, actually, Mars.
I’m going to leave you here, and politely toss the gauntlet of coverage to my ComicMix cohort, the magnificent Mindy Newell. Until next time, I’m your humbled and humiliated comic reader once again.
So, DC Comics is vowing – once again – to reset-ish their universe via the “Rebirth” event coming soon to a comics shoppe near you. And DC’s CCO Geoff Johns posted a heartfelt mission statement into the back of the current crop of DC comics to reannounce it, since Dan DiDio announcing it doesn’t count or something. Well, knowing that some of us snarky malcontents have long abandoned the ship, Newsarama was happy enough to reprint his plea. Let me paraphrase:
Dear Fans, remember when I wrote great books, and you loved DC? Well, pretend the New 52 never happened, and come back. We totally get that some of you got mad and left, but because of reasons… we’re making good books again. Because our creators have passion. And I wrote those ‘Rebirth’ books about Green Lantern and The Flash… so that name is synonymous with not sucking. You know, unlike ‘Crisis’ or ‘One Year Later’, or ‘Trinity’, or ‘Flashpoint’. So, come back. I swear it’s worth it this time, you cynical pricks. Love, Geoff Johns.
All my snark aside, Johns hits on some of the major cornerstones of what did make DC great for me as a fan not that long ago; legacy, a singular and understandable continuity, and solid stories that pit heroes against villains in new and interesting lights. The pre-New52 DCU was good. Maybe even great. The Flash had a veritable family. As did the Bats, and the Supes, and the multi-colored Lantern brigades. But as with all good things, the boardroom saw potential sales stagnation and slammed on the brakes. Then came “Flashpoint,” and a new universe was made. But you knew all this. And you knew/know that the entire purpose of the system shock was to place new #1s on the shelves; because that makes for temporary sales spikes. And new merch. And new opportunities for newness. Newness begets money. And so on.
Plus, Marvel kinda sorta did it too, and their movies are minting billions.
But forgive me Geoff. It’s all a bit “too little, too late”, isn’t it? Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times? Well, I don’t know how the saying goes anyways. I just can’t shake the feeling that we’re doing the same dance again, and somehow expecting different results. As I stated previously, with Rebirth comes the same damned shit in new packaging. It’s enough to make me declare – ahem (and please excuse this harsh-but-necessary-language) –fucking stop it.
Once again Johns, DiDio, Lee, and the lot of DC execs are cramming specials, new #1s, and semi-monthly comic drops on us under the guise of “the continuing pursuit of giving our fans what they love.” And, sure, they changed the price point (a dollar less per issue, for an undisclosed page count per book), but that won’t matter when fans of a character are asked once again to invest more money per month to enjoy the adventures of a given character! And DC knows this. Because if you are a true fan, you likely would give a chance to all the new creative teams surrounding a character you like; sort of what DC hoped fans would give nearly every New 52 title at least a starting arc to pique their interest.
Rebirth? Hardly. Consider it just another rebranding. And as always: it’s a game of Darwinian survival; those books that don’t sell X copies will fall by the wayside, lest they be an upcoming movie or animated feature.
And don’t paint me a complete malcontent here, folks. I loved DC comics from the moment I purchased my first back issue of Shadow of the Bat when I was 13. I followed the entirety of Kyle Rayner’s career until Hal Jordan rebirthed himself. I purchased coffee table books of Alex Ross art, and read the DC Encyclopedia until the spine broke. But a decade worth of decline beginning in my college years through my “spendy twenties” right up until I had a new mouth to feed and a mortgage to pay left me embittered to the cheap tactics of comics-by-committee.
A part of me doesn’t even blame a true fan like Geoff Johns for winding up in this place. He wrote (and still writes) amazing stories. His heart is seemingly pure. In his lament, he mentions terms like legacy, epic storytelling, and my favorite: honoring what’s come before while looking to what will come tomorrow. It’s everything I want to hear as a fan.
But, Mr. Johns, what comes tomorrow is more of the same: a litany of new series I’m supposed to drop coin for, full well knowing we’ll be right back to retcon city long before my son is practicing for his Bar Mitzvah. You know it. I know it.
Sorry, Geoff. Your words were hollow. And much like Rebirth to come? I’m not buying it.
Stay tuned next week, when I tell everyone what I am buying in place of “The Big Two.”
I’m sure many of you are aware of the upcoming DC Rebirth. I’ve been following it along since the first bits of news surfaced, and I almost wrote about it last week. Now I feel enough is out there where I can start forming some level of opinion on it. And try as I might, it’s not a particularly positive opinion. However, that’s strictly regarding Rebirth. I do think DC may have a couple of good ideas here. Just not with diversity in mind.
Hear me out on this one.
Rebirth shouldn’t shock anybody. As far back as last August, we heard that DC was going to “Stop Batgirling” and get back to “meat and potatoes.” Many people wrote about this and how problematic it was since “meat and potatoes” came off as “more straight cis white guy stories.” Back in August, that was just an opinion on what might happen. Granted, a well informed opinion, but still an opinion. Based on the titles being offered starting in June, it’s hard to argue that this isn’t now a fact. At least it took almost a year for this all to happen, which gave us time to enjoy comics like Doctor Fate and Midnighter. They will be sorely missed by me and quite a few people I know. Not enough people, apparently, but still quite a few.
In lieu of diversity, DC is doubling down on its core characters. It may come of as a sound conservative move to retreat back, reassess, and plan accordingly to expand after. Looking at the line-up DC has presented certainly shows that they are taking far fewer risks than they did back with the New 52. Outside of arguably Gotham Academy: Next Semester, every single title is a superhero one. At a time of where publishers like Image are encroaching on the big two with its wider variety of genres, this seems like more than just one step back for DC Comics.
Why would DC think this is such a good idea?
The short answer may very well be DC’s Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns. He’s a talented writer that has helped DC a great deal in the past. However, he’s also constantly looking backward when it comes to important aspects of the stories he’s telling. This is the guy that orchestrated the biggest reboot of Green Lantern which involved bringing back straight cis white Hal Jordan as its torchbearer. Similar strategies were used in his runs on comics like The Flash and Teen Titans. His comments that he made regarding Rebirth are troubling. A lot of looking backward and keeping the fan base small, isolated, and nearly impenetrable is what I and many others got out of it.
As a queer reader, canceling the only gay male superhero comic alone hits a bit hard, especially after a fairly short run. Cancelling Catwoman as well seems a bit excessive. In addition to Batwoman staying gone, Poison Ivy not continuing to have a series (I know it was just meant to be a mini-series, but still), that just leaves Harley Quinn and Hellblazer. The only queer characters worth having in their line are only the ones who have been in movies and TV shows I suppose. It’s rough enough that the queer representation lately has been almost exclusively cis and white (at least in headlining a book), but this step back makes it seem like it may be a long time before we can even move past that. It looks like it could be a long time before Alysia Yeoh becomes a kickass vigilante (if she ever does) and don’t even get me started on when we’ll see Rene Montoya as The Question or Kate Godwin as Coagula again.
At this point you may be curious as to what I was getting at before when I said that DC may have some good ideas here. They might. Not with Rebirth, but with Vertigo and their Hanna-Barbera titles. Not too long ago, DC’s New 52 did have quite a few risky books coming out. While doing that, they neglected the Vertigo line. Saying Vertigo as an imprint was anemic at the time would have been a nice way to put it. Part of that was DC bringing back characters like Animal Man, Swamp Thing, Constantine, and Doom Patrol into the main continuity. They also just weren’t pumping out the same number of titles, and books like Fables were coming to an end. Now, Vertigo appears to be thriving. It seems pretty clear to me that DC’s approach now is to keep it’s main line more conservative and less risky and using Vertigo to take chances and experiment again. When framed in this context, it doesn’t sound quite as bad. I haven’t really seen it framed this way yet, but maybe as the new Vertigo titles get further along and Rebirth begins, we’ll see commentators putting this all in a slightly different context.
With the Hanna-Barbera titles, DC can address the problem with the lack of comic offerings they have for kids. That’s a good thing. We need more kids reading comics if we’re going to keep expanding the readership. And the way Jim Lee is apparently looking into making Hanna-Barbera comics a shared universe, it allows the kind of story telling that’s used in most DC comics while having it for a younger audience. Hey, it works for Archie.
If your head is currently exploding because I haven’t taken the time to acknowledge how much I hate the new hipster looking Scooby Doo character designs, it’s because I don’t. If you have a non exploded head on your shoulders you’ll be able to find out why. It’s because the new Scooby Doo isn’t supposed to be for me. It’s supposed to be for kids. Some of which might not even be aware of Scooby Doo. This could be their first look at these characters. Maybe the kids will hate it. I don’t know. What I do know is hating character designs for kids’ comics clearly not made for me is a waste of my own time and energy. I have plenty of other things to get angry about. This is an election year after all.
My qualms with the Hanna-Barbera line of comics lie in diversity. They are white. Very very white. And straight. And cis. That’s the downside of going back to older properties like this. It’s a point I’ve brought up before, and this is just another example of the problems of resurrecting much older properties that didn’t have diversity in mind. I’m not angry that Scooby and the gang look like they’re living in Williamsburg or Bushwick now, but if you don’t mind updating the designs, why do they all still have to be straight cis white people? If it’s not at all important that Shaggy stays clean shaven and is allowed to be drawn with crazy facial hair, then why is it so important that he has to be portrayed as white?
The Vertigo line seems to have more stories involving women than the main DC line. That’s great. We definitely need more of that. However, Vertigo does seem very white. They have some great titles, but between DC’s main line, the Hanna-Barbera offerings, and Vertigo, I can’t help but feel we’ve taken a few steps back in queer and minority representation. Maybe this is temporary, since comics focusing on diversity seemed temporary at DC, but we’ll have to wait and see.
In other news, I’ve caught up on Image Comics’ The Wicked + The Divine. Now that is a greatinclusive comic.
That’s a line from the end of Man Of Steel, which I watched again last night. And the captain who says it is right. Henry Cavill is – im-not-so-ho – hot. Extremely so. Perhaps more importantly, the man can act. Given a script that does not serve Mr. Cavill, in its, let’s say, frugality of characterization, exploration, and screen time of Kal-El alias Clark Kent actually being Kal-El alias Clark Kent, Mr. Cavill does a helluva job in conveying the confusion, loneliness, guilt, anger, and prickly emptiness inside this alien immigrant from Krypton.
The first time I saw it, I thought it sucked. This time, I thought, well, it doesn’t so much suck as it does come up empty, running on fumes instead of a full tank. And, no, it’s not because *gasp* Superman Kills Zod! *gasp* – which is what got so many bowels, including mine, in an uproar. Given the (truncated) emotional journey that Kal-El alias Clark Kent is on in the film, it’s – im-no-so-ho – the right action at the right time, for not only is Kal-El alias Clark Kent killing the warlord, he is also killing Kal-El the Kryptonian (and by inference, finally laying to rest the planet of Krypton) inside of him, killing the “otherness” that has haunted him all of his life. In that moment of final brutality, he transforms into Clark Kent alias Superman, born and raised in Kansas, U.S.A., and citizen of the planet Earth. As Clark Kent he will love Lois Lane; as Superman he will love Earth.
The problem with the film as I watched it the second time was that I had trouble staying awake to watch the very, very, very protracted battle scenes. Frankly, it got B-O-R-I-N-G. Director Zack Snyder, like George Lucas before him, is not interested in “what makes people tick.” He’s the toddler who knocks down his building blocks because it makes a big noise. He’s the kid with the Erector set building a giant John Deere crane that can knock down his Legos Empire State Building. He’s the adult ultimate SFX and CGI geek that is given a zillion dollars to play with.
And so in Man Of Steel we got an eternity of destruction played out before our eyes. We got IHOP and SEARS demolished real good. We got shockwaves of roiling dust clouds rolling across the Kansas plains. We got tidal waves sweeping across the Indian Ocean. We got F-16s and alien ships crashing to the ground. We got skyscrapers collapsing. We got pummeling and we got blood-and-guts – only there was very little blood and there was absolutely no guts. We got death without bodies.
It’s not really Zack Snyder’s fault. Nor is it the fault of so many young adults, mostly men, who have said to me, “Man Of Steel was so cool! The best part was the fight between Superman and Zod, and when Superman killed him, that was the best!” For they are all part of a generation that, as kids, saw the real towers fall down on television. Too young to really understand what was happening, too young to think about the political implications, too young to grasp the murky history of the Middle East and how it led to that moment, 9/11 and its aftermath, the televised “Shock and Awe,” was the ultimate video game, with explosions and lights, full of sound and fury, and signifying nothing.
They did not know that it was a tale told by an idiot.
And now Superman has a new power. An incredibly destructive and unstable power, to quote writer Geoff Johns. Because heat vision and telescopic vision and super-duper strength and invulnerability and x-ray vision and the ability to fly at super-sonic speeds and across space and into suns and to cross the time barrier just isn’t enough anymore.
Because, you know, all that stuff can get so B-O-R-I-N-G.
Make no mistake – the box says Batman 3, but this is clearly the DC response to the Marvel Lego Super Heroes game from last year. With over 150 heroes and villains, an oncoming storm of DLC, and a sweeping plotline, this is the biggest look at the Lego DC Universe yet.
The title says “Beyond Gotham” and they follow up straight away – the opening video features the six Lantern Corps that aren’t green. Sinestro, Star Sapphire, Saint Walker and Larfleeze start off bickering but are quickly defeated and put under the thrall of the game’s Big Bad, Brainiac. In only the opening levels of the game the narrative moves from an underground battle against Killer Croc to a outer space where Batman and Robin team up with fellow Justice Leaguers Flash, Cyborg and the Martian Manhunter.
All the Lego games bear some common concepts – the characters fight and puzzle their way through various levels based on the narrative of the story the game is based on, a list so far including Star Wars, Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean. Everything is awesome destructible, the debris revealing “studs”, the common coin of the Lego realm, which can be used in between levels to purchase new playable characters. Various characters have different powers – some can fly, some can shoot fire – and each power will allow the player access to different parts of the levels. Since many characters and powers are not available at the start of the game, the replay value of the series is impressive, nearly exhausting for those insist on chasing the virtual dragon that is the elusive 100% completion rating.
One of the joys of each successive Lego game is to see what new gameplay is created, and what features are pulled from previous entries in the various series. The interchangeable specialty suits make a welcome return from previous Bat-games, not only for Batman and Robin, but other heroes like Cyborg. The score multiplier from the Marvel game has been added, and quite useful; too – the number of studs needed to fill the “True Hero” bar on most levels are painstakingly high. Where Marvel had Stan Lee hidden amongst the levels for you to save, Batman 3 fills that role with the finest Bat-Actor to ever draw breath, Adam West. Flying characters hake an appearance, including the first large-size mini-figs like the giant true form of the Martian Manhunter and Arkillo of the Yellow Lantern Corps.
The breadth and depth of characters in the game is truly staggering. From the A-list JLA members to the mid-carders like Blue Beetle and Booster Gold, even villains for the other heroes to fight, like The Cheetah and the Rainbow Raider. Guest stars from past the fourth wall are a new addition – DC creators Geoff Johns and Jim Lee get the mini-fig treatment, as do Conan O’Brien and Kevin Smith. In addition to his cameos as a hapless actor in distress, Adam West also voices the Batman from the classic 1966 TV series (now out on DVD) in a special level, complete with retro Batcave and minifig design, and the comic-booky sound effects that have so inextricably affixed themselves to any news media coverage of comics.
But they don’t stop there. This game ties into Batman’s 75th anniversary, and as such pulls in characters and suits from many media. In addition to the Batman suits from the movies, Batman Beyond is featured in the game, along with his villains like Inque. Batman The Animated Series gets a tp of the hat with The Gray Ghost, and of all people, Condiment King, and Brave and the Bold brings us the Music Meister.
In a first, the cast of the WB’s hit series Arrow appear in the game, with voice provided by Stephen Amell. Felicity Smoak, Malcolm Merlyn and the Huntress will be making an appearance in a DLC pack. But if I had to choose the single most WTF-y included character, it’d have to be The Green Loontern, AKA Daffy Duck, AKA Duck Dodgers from the episode of the TV series where Dodgers accidentally got Hal Jordan’s laundry by mistake. THAT’S what I call obscure.
In addition to the common design and base gameplay, surely the most beloved common feature of the Lego games is their wacky sense of humor, and this game does not disappoint. In addition to the wonderful and fun plot and dialogue, be on the lookout for endless throwaway gags in the background. As Hawkman (or is he?) enters the Hall of Justice, he passes various souvenir stands dedicated to the heroes, including an Aquaman booth choked
with unsold merchandise. Or as Princess Diana takes to the air, the classic Wonder Woman TV show theme starts to play.
It is not unreasonable to say that there are those who are playing each and every Lego game because of their love of the series, over and above the licensed property that the latest game based itself on. This game will satisfy both Bat-Fans and Legomaniacs alike.
Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham is available for all current Xbox, Playstation and Nintendo platforms and handhelds.