Suppose you were a lawyer. (Don’t worry, this is just a thought experiment. I wouldn’t wish that fate on my worst enemy; only on myself.) Suppose also, that you told your significant other you wouldn’t get married until you had established yourself as a lawyer. Suppose further that you couldn’t establish yourself as a lawyer, because you kept losing all your trials. And, finally, suppose you continued losing trials until your significant other became a super hero and secretly helped you win them. What would you call yourself?
Self-centered would be a good start. Then you could move on to lucky your significant other was so understanding. Calling yourself a bad lawyer goes without saying, but you should probably say it, anyway. Finally, you could call yourself Jean Loring, because that was her character arc in 1961, when she was introduced in the comics.
Jean’s not like that in the comics anymore, but let’s not go there. (Aw, c’mon, if we go there, Amazon gives us a cut! –Ed.) Instead let’s go to the world of the TV series Arrow, where Jean Loring is just a bad lawyer and hasn’t become an insane murderer. Yet.
I’ve spent twocolumns so far writing about the Arrowepisode “Docket No. 11-19-41-73.” You know, the one where Oliver (Green Arrow) Queen was on trial for violating Star City’s anti-vigilante law and some assorted homicides and assaults. So far, I’ve only covered the prosecution’s case. Now, to have Jean paraphrase that Get Smart episode when Max was on trial for murder, “For the past two columns, I have sat idly by while my worthy opponent, the prosecuting attorney has stood up here and made a complete jackass out of herself. Now it’s my turn.”
Two state’s witnesses – John Diggle and Dinah Lance, both of whom are secretly costumed heroes who work with Ollie on Team Arrow – lied under oath. They testified that Ollie was not Green Arrow. If Jean were to get information that Ollie was the Green Arrow, she would be ethically required to report their perjury to the court. Moreover, Jean would also not be able to question Ollie or any other witness, if she believed they would lie under oath and testify he wasn’t Green Arrow. That would be suborning perjury.
So the last thing Jean would want to do is ask Ollie, “Are you the Green Arrow?”Naturally, it was the first thing Jean did. Did it before she even put on her first witness. And Ollie told her he was. Because he’s the hero, he wouldn’t lie. He wasn’t under oath yet.
Once Jean knew Ollie was Green Arrow, she suggested their best tactic was jury nullification; that is admit to the jury that Ollie was Green Arrow but argue that the jury should still find him not guilty, because of all the good he had done as the Green Arrow. Basically, you asking the jury to nullify the law by ignoring it and returning a verdict that is contrary to the evidence and the law.
There were a few minor problems with Jean’s jury nullification plan. First, lawyers aren’t supposed to do it. You can’t ask the juries to ignore the law, you’re supposed to ask them to obey it. Second, because jury nullification is not permitted, when judges see lawyers engaging in jury nullification, they put a stop to it. Third, Judge MacGarvey, the judge presiding over Ollie’s trial, was corrupt and under the control of Ricardo Diaz, the crime boss who ruled Star City and who wanted Ollie to be convicted and rot in prison.
Did I say minor problems? A bar serving under-aged drinkers has minor problems. This plan had major problems; more than the 4077th.
Jean was trying a case in front of a judge she suspected had a vested interest in making sure Ollie was convicted and her plan was to hope he’d allow her to assert an improper defense he had every reason – both ethical and financial – to stop. It’s a good thing the 2017 Cleveland Browns didn’t fire their head coach after that 0-16 season, because with those strategy skills, the Browns would have snatched Jean up in a second.
Ollie rejected jury nullification, so Jean went with a more conventional defense. Her first witness was Felicity Smoak; Ollie’s wife and Team Arrow’s resident computer hacker. You know one of those characters who’s constantly typing on a computer and are contractually obligated to say,“Hack into the Pentagon’s computer. They’ve got the most sophisticated security in the—”
Felicity testified as a computer expert that a photo of Ollie as the Green Arrow was a fake that had been digitally altered. Which it was. So Felicity was telling the truth. Had Jean stopped there, everything would have been fine.
She…. didn’t stop there.
The code of lawyer ethics has a protocol for lawyers who believe a witness is going to commit perjury. Ethically, the lawyer can’t ask the witness questions and elicit lies. That’s suborning perjury. But ethically, the lawyer can’t refuse to call witnesses the defendant wants called, either. It’s the client’s defense. Defense counsel is the defendant’s advocate and is supposed to do what the client wants. So when the defendant wants the lawyer to call a witness who will commit perjury, the lawyer is supposed to call the witness and then just say something like, “Tell us what happened in your own words,” and let the witness give a narrative account That way, the witness testifies but without the lawyer asking any questions that elicit any lies.
Yes, that solution splits more hairs than Floyd the Barber shortly before the big Mayberry Founder’s Day Parade. But it’s the compromise the profession set up to cover the problem.
Jean, being a bad lawyer, didn’t do that either. She asked Felicity, is Oliver Queen the Green Arrow and Felicity answered no. Jean was pig-headed and did things her way. Which raises the question, was that suborned perjury or stubborn perjury?
Jean compounded the subornation with her next witness, Oliver Queen. She asked him whether he was the Green Arrow knowing he’d say no under oath and he played along by saying no. So far we’ve had four witnesses who committed perjury, a defense attorney who openly suborns perjury, and a prosecutor who didn’t interview any of her witnesses before calling them. Could this trial get any more preposterous? Of course it could.
Right after Ollie’s testimony, the episode had an act break. It needed a hook to keep the audience from changing channels while the network hawked some new drugs whose side effects always seem to be lymphoma, heart failure, kidney infection, death, loss of life, and diarrhea.
So just before that act break, the episode decided to insult our intelligence by having a surprise witness drop into the courtroom through the courtroom’s shattering skylight. A surprise witness wearing a Green Arrow costume.
And what was this surprise witness’s testimony? Wouldn’t you like to know?
Actually, I presume you would like to know. So I’ll tell you. But I’ll tell you next time. Just as the show needed an act-break hook, I need a this-column’s-too-long-and-needs-to-break-until-next-column hook. And as hooks go, a mysterious, skylight-shattering surprise witness works better than a pirate’s prosthetic.
A wise man once said “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Usually in summer school.” No, it wasn’t George Santayana. It was me; I lied about the wise part. But whoever said it, the sentiment is true, so it would behoove Oliver Queen not to start planning that Disneyland vacation just yet. He has some summer schooling in his future.
First, I’m going to SPOILER WARNING you that I’m about to give away much of the plots of the Arrow episodes “Brothers in Arms” and “Fundamentals.” If you haven’t seen them, you might want to stop reading and go to Disneyland in Ollie’s stead.
Okay, now I’m about give you some needed background information by blitzing through about two-thirds of a season’s worth of Arrow episodes in just one paragraph. Pay attention.
Oliver Queen, who is both the Green Arrow and the mayor of Star City, is under investigation by both the FBI and Star City, for being the Green Arrow; which violates Star City’s anti-vigilante ordnance. Meanwhile, crime boss Ricardo Diaz, has taken control of Star City. So much so that in the Arrow episode, “Brothers in Arms,” Ollie could only find seven officers in the entire Star City Police Department who weren’t on the Diaz payroll. And in another episode which I’ll get to presently, police officers actually address Diaz as “Boss” right on a public street. That’s a level of corruption that would make Gotham City take notice, and Tammany Hall take notes.
Having brought you up to speed speedily, we go back to “Brothers in Arms.” Dinah Drake and the other six police officers who weren’t under Diaz’s thumb got intel that Diaz’s right-hand man, Anatoly Knyazev, was about to make a drug drop. They conducted surveillance and watched Anatoly make the delivery. So they arrested him on the scene and with the drugs.
Only to have Star City District Attorney Sam Armand immediately kick the case. Ostensibly he dismissed it because the police didn’t have a warrant when they arrested Anatoly. In reality, Armand was one of the many Star City officials on Diaz’s payroll. Like I said, Diaz’s corruption was more wide-spread than chlamydia in a whore house.
Now, I recognize that Armand would want to get the case against his boss’s right hand man dismissed. Still, it’s doubtful that he would have done so in such an obvious manner.
Dinah might not have had a warrant, but she did have reliable intel that Anatoly was making a drug delivery. They watched Anatoly go to the spot where the delivery was scheduled to take place and saw Anatoly give a briefcase to the man who met him at the delivery site. Anatoly’s actions corroborated Dinah’s reliable intel. The combination of observations and intel would have given Dinah probable cause to believe she had seen Anatoly commit a crime. When the police see a crime being committed, they can make an immediate arrest without having to obtain an arrest warrant first. Courts don’t actually require the police to tell the perp, “Wait right here while I go and get a warrant so I can come back and arrest you.”
Most district attorneys wouldn’t dismiss this case because of a lack of a warrant. They’d let it go before a judge who could hear the evidence and decide whether the arresting officer had sufficient probable cause to make a warrantless arrest.
Armand should have let one of Diaz’s corrupt judges dismiss the case. Or had one of the other corrupt cops steal the evidence, which would have necessitated the charges being dropped. Then no one would have suspected him. Instead, he chose to act in a way that was sure to make mayor Oliver Queen suspect that he was on the take and fire him.
After Ollie verified Armand was on the take, Ollie fired him. Along with police captain Kimberly Hill, who was also on the take. Like I said earlier, the corruption in Star City was so wide-spread, you could plot its growth on graft paper.
Which only created new problems for Ollie. When you’re the subject of criminal investigations, firing some civil servants might cause them to go to the TV news, claim you fired them to impede their investigation, and accuse you of obstruction of justice.
Can you guess what Armand and Hill did for the cliffhanger of “Brothers in Arms?”
In the next episode of Arrow, “Fundamentals,” the Star City City Council held a hearing to determine whether it should impeach Mayor Queen. At the end of the episode, the Council voted to impeach Oliver. At which point, Oliver, told Deputy Mayor Quentin Lance that he’d been impeached, so Quentin was the mayor now.
An impeachment is an indictment, not a conviction. Articles of impeachment are the formal charges brought against the official. They lay out what high crimes or misdemeanors the official has committed to warrant said official being impeached, but they don’t remove the official from office.
When the House of Representatives voted to impeach Andrew Johnson or Bill Clinton, neither president was removed from office. Both continued to serve as president, while the Senate conducted a trial on the House’s articles of impeachment. If either man had been convicted in the trial, then he would have been removed from office. History tells us that the Senate acquitted both presidents and both served out their full terms. Without any interruption in their being President.
So, even though Star City City Council voted to impeach Mayor Queen, he wouldn’t have been removed from office or turned power over to Deputy Mayor Lance. He would have continued as mayor while some other body conducted a trial. He would only have been removed from office if he was convicted of those articles of impeachment. At some later time.
Speaking of later times, I know that earlier I said I’d write about yet another episode of Arrow presently. Well, to pervert an old saying, there’s no time in the presently. I’ll have to write about that episode in future columns. But they’ll be goodies. Remember all the fun we had dealing with the Arrowverse episode about the trial of The Flash? Next time it’s the trial of Green Arrow.
Way back when, Green Arrow was sort of the “always a bridesmaid, never a bride” of the superhero set. For a long time, fans could enjoy a new Green Arrow adventure just about every month, but he didn’t enjoy the headliner popularity of his hero pals like Batman or even Wonder Woman.
That’s all almost forgotten now. Today, so many fans enjoy this modern-day Robin Hood in comics, on TV and with licensed merchandise.
For some, Green Arrow became “a thing” when he debuted on TV, first as one of Superboy’s pals in Smallville and then in his own series. (He was briefly on Saturday morning cartoons before that too.)
Comics fan, and local dad, Greg Parker started with the TV series and now reads the comics. “In today’s world of income imbalance and overall division, Oliver Queen represents someone willing to do the right thing, whatever that may be,” said Parker. “Green Arrow has no superpowers. He simply wants to help defend his city from criminals and corruption. This is why we read about superheroes, someone doing the right thing regardless of the consequences to his fortune or popularity.”
For some fans, certain points of Green Arrow’s long comics career was their jumping on point. Many readers started to embrace this character during the groundbreaking Green Lantern/Green Arrow series by Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams. Or it might have been when he finally headlined his own comic in a four-part mini-series by Mike W. Barr and Trevor Von Eeden. Other fans sat up and took notice during the 90s with The Longbow Hunters comic prestige series and the subsequent ongoing comic series by Mike Grell, Mike Gold, Ed Hannigan, Dick Giordano, Dan Jurgens and so many other talented folks. I should note that this iteration was shepherded by ComicMix’s own Mike Gold.
For me, Green Arrow was a “barbershop hero.” As a young boy, I distinguished the tattered comics I’d read in the barber shop from the new comics my dad would buy for me. For whatever reason, the local barber had a lot of old DC Comics with Green Arrow backup adventures. I never gave Green Arrow a lot of thought outside of getting my hair cut.
But one day I finally gained respect for Green Arrow. There was an adventure when a small child was confronted by a wild moose and Green Arrow saved the day with his “Antler Arrow.” I realized it takes a special kind of superhero to anticipate moose-related dangers, I realized.
I always liked the character after that. In my mind, it was years later, during the 90s Urban Hunter phase shepherded by Gold, Grell, Hannigan and others, when Green Arrow really grew up.
And It was during this Urban Hunter era that Green Arrow became a favorite of Australian writer Richard Gray. Those 90s comics were his starting point. Now he’s made himself something of a Green Arrow expert – searching out all the old stories and keeping up with the new comics, TV appearances and merchandise.
Gray wrote Moving Target: The History and Evolution of Green Arrow, which just debuted and is published by Sequart.
He revealed that as part of his podcast, he had wanted to create one article on Green Arrow. But then he found there was too much to fit into one post. One blog became seven blogs, and that eventually became a book.
Gray’s pal, Ryan K. Lindsay, had written a Daredevil book, referred him to Sequart and Moving Target happened.
As I started my interview with Gray, I first wanted to understand if his Australian POV was similar to that of standard US comic fan. I was familiar with Australian titles like Tip Top (reprinting DC titles in the 60s and 70s), but more recently I had heard about how wonderful the Australian Comic Shops are. And that always seemed to be during the Eisner Awards Spirit of Retailer discussions. Gray explained to me that Australians now get their comics about the same time as stateside fans do. So it’s easy to keep up with Geek Culture and characters like Green Arrow. The direct market made it happen, although he remembers when he started reading comics and every corner had a “card store” that sold comics.
It was really right about the time when Oliver Queen died, and Conner Hawke took over, that Gray became a big Green Arrow fan. His passion for the character was ratcheted up when Kevin Smith started writing the adventures of a “returned from the dead” Oliver Queen.
“I did miss Conner Hawke – he was underused,” recalls Gray. “The story I wanted to see was with the two Green Arrows. I wanted to see what the interaction would look like. I wanted to see two Green Arrows on a page.”
He’s less enamored with the recent changes to character in the New 52 and Rebirth, although he noted that the GA we know has seemed to return with the legacy elements.
But as the guy who wrote the book on Green Arrow, Gray asserts that for this character, all roads lead back to O’Neil and Adams era.
“It was during that period where they established he was a liberal and wasn’t afraid of standing up to the gods of the Justice League,” said Gray. “In the very first issue of that run – he’s holding up them up to task. But also proving, in the process, that he can be wrong too. Green Arrow’s single-mindedness can be a weakness for him.”Gray talks about how enjoyed seeing the character struggle as a regular guy. And he mentioned how a favorite Green Arrow story was from that Mike Barr and Trevor von Eeden series. I learned, in my recent research on the cult hit comic Thriller, a bit about this Green Arrow mini-series. Artist Von Eeden was assigned to his mini-series in order to slow him down and keep him from starting work on Thriller. In retrospect, the Green Arrow series certainly holds up and Von Eeden’s art is spectacular.
There’s so much to Gray’s Moving Target, including:
Speedy – Green Arrow’s sidekick was always a favorite of mine. Gray does not disappoint and provides a meaty section focusing on Speedy.
Kirby – Likewise, Gray has a long chapter on Jack Kirby’s contribution to the series. Although Kirby’s run on Green Arrow was painfully brief, and how it important it has been in defining the character.
Interviews – There’s plenty of in-depth interviews too. Gray chats with long-time creators like Neal Adams, Mike Grell, and Chuck Dixon as well as some of the modern era writers like Jeff Lemire and Brad Meltzer.
Foreward – And while not really an interview, Phil Hester kicks it all off with a humble and insightful forward.
Moving Target covers a lot of ground with care and detailed analysis. There’s something here for every Green Arrow fan.
In the 80s, DC comics woke up the comics industry with Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and The Watchmen by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons. Fans and retailers were anxiously awaiting the next big thing. Thriller, the comic that you couldn’t read fast enough, was supposed to be that next big thing. Management was excited about this fresh title. The DC marketing department got behind it and sent the writer on the road with a presentation. Distributors got behind the first issues. Comic shop retailers aggressively ordered the first issue.
And then…it wilted. Thriller wasn’t the next big thing. It doesn’t mean there weren’t a lot of great things about the series. There certainly were. In the recent issue of Back Issue magazine, I looked at Thriller and the tumultuous backstory. As a fan, I always liked the early issues of the series, and now, understanding the backstage drama, I love it, and respect it, even more.
Series co-creator and writer Robert Loren Fleming wasn’t able to fully participate in that article. Since it’s publication, there’s been a resurgence of interest in Thriller. And now, I’ve finally caught up with Robert Loren Fleming. So, as podcaster Karina Longworth always says: “Join us, won’t you?”… for an extended look from at the tragedy of DC Comic Lost Classic Thriller.
Breaking into Comics
Robert Loren Fleming loved comics and was determined to break into the industry with his secret plan. It was the early 80s and he had started at DC as a proofreader. He loved working for the company and being a part of the industry. But he was impatient to become a comics writer. He eventually did and scripted favorites like the Flash and Ambush Bug. But it wasn’t easy to crack the code at DC comics.
“I found out pretty quickly it was kind of a closed shop – pretty hard to break in as a writer,” said Fleming. “It was really difficult to get a story sold.”
The legendary Julie Schwartz even had some advice for Fleming when he was pitching Superman ideas. “Julie told me to go home and not to think about any ideas. He told me twice, in case I missed it,” recalls Fleming with a chuckle.
Upon reflection, Fleming realizes it was a kind of a hazing ritual. If you weren’t tough enough to get through it, you weren’t tough enough to be a writer at DC Comics.
At that time there was an unwritten career path for young writers at DC. And as a proofreader, he was, more or less, on that long track. Aspiring writers would work on the corporate side for a while. Eventually, they’d be given their start with short story assignments for anthology comics. Writing assignments for the company’s prestigious superhero comics wouldn’t be offered for quite some time. If you showed talent and professionalism, you’d be awarded bigger assignments.
His Sneaky Plan
Fleming reasoned that the only way to break into quickly was “to come up with my own personal story and a big idea that it would be so good they have to take it.”
An idea was percolating in Fleming’s head for a new series that would showcase some of the things he loved: pulp adventures, an ensemble cast and a science fiction adventure that would shift away from the traditional superhero stories, dominating the market at that time.
“When I finished it, I took it to four or five editors. They wouldn’t even look at it.” Clearly, Fleming hadn’t yet paid his dues by working on smaller projects first. Looking back, Fleming realizes his secret plan was fueled by the audacity and courage that comes with youth.
He presented his idea to the top guy. “So I took it into Dick Giordano. <This was> jumping the chain of command,” said Fleming. Editor-in-Chief Giordano had no problem with Fleming bringing it directly to him. “He read the thing and 15 minutes later he bought it. Paul Levitz read it a few days later – he signed off too.”
Partnership with TVE
Levitz suggested that a young artist named Trevor Von Eeden be assigned to the series. At that time, the Marvel series Master of Kung Fu, by Doug Moench and Paul Gulacy, was a big influence on Fleming. Fleming loved that series’ ensemble cast, the espionage themes and the casting of real people as comic characters. In fact, of the characters in his proposed Thriller series, Quo, was essentially Bruce Lee.
When Levitz showed Fleming the recent Batman Annual by Von Eeden, Fleming could see all of the elements he loved in Master of Kung Fu in the artist’s work. Fleming knew Von Eeden’s style would be perfect for Thriller.
Bucking the System
One of the things Fleming didn’t realize – no up-and-coming young buck ever does – is that you don’t gain a lot of allies internally by jumping over the established system. The editors at that time were not amused.
“It created a strong reaction against me,” said Fleming. “A very negative reaction. One of them (an editor) came out and said to Dick, ‘You’re not going to let Fleming write it, are you?’”
It got worse. The editors conspired to see Flemings non-traditional idea and audacious career tactic fail. They put a number of obstacles in the way of Thriller.
Off Target with The Green Arrow
One obstacle, in particular, was the Green Arrow. At that time, Green Arrow was one of the characters who was always a bridesmaid but never a bride. He was a supporting player in the Justice League of America, a co-star in the groundbreaking Green Lantern – Green Arrow series and a staple of backup stories. He was finally getting the go-ahead to headline a comic with a four issue mini-series, written by Mike W. Barr.
Fleming recalls that Trevor Von Eeden was assigned as the series artist, specifically to keep Von Eeden busy. He’s too busy working on this Green Arrow series. The idea was that he’d be so consumed with this miniseries, and it would take so long for him to draw, that the young artist would lose his passion for Thriller.
But that did not happen. This Green Arrow mini-series looked phenomenal. Von Eeden delivered work that was fresh and exciting. One would think that he spent an inordinate amount of time on it. In reality, Fleming explains, the opposite was true.
Unbelievably, Trevor Von Eden finished all four in an incredibly quick amount of time – something like six or eight weeks. And then both the writer and artist were ready for Thriller.
• • • • •
Next week we’ll explore more Robert Loren Fleming’s memories and observations about what happens when you actually, against all odds, arrive at the starting line!
Interested in the full article in Back Issue #98? You can snag it here.
Back then, when the universe was trying to create justice from whatever scraps of phantom it could find, I was working for one of the all-time excellent comic book editors, writing stories about a superheroic archer. I once gave this archer a line that conflated a politician with… I don’t remember the exact wording, but it had something to do with corruption or the like. The editor seldom asked me for rewrites. He was not the kind of fellow would impose his ego on the work of others by demanding unnecessary revisions But in this instance, he asked for a tiny couple of changes: he wanted me to make “politician” plural and add “some” to modify that same “politician.” So our hero said that only some politicians were corrupt and hence not all of them were.
Big deal? Huh uh. At least it shouldn’t be. In such a situation, the person being edited can a) quietly make the change(s) and go find something useful to do, or b) holler and smash the windows and cry that his First Amendment Rights are being shredded by some crass son of a bitch who picks his nose with a tuning fork, or c) mention the disagreement to the editor and make the changes. Preferably, mention it politely…
Let’s end the story, not that we must. I made the changes and kept my mouth shut and did not, as far as I can remember, feel persecuted. For the record, I did not agree with the editor. The editor was acting from the values of a generation that had recently survived a war and before that a protracted depression. Leave my own politics aside, and put the editor’s right beside them. This was a matter of courtesy – you did not insult people in public, even if they were drooling blackguards who you personally saw mug the vicar – and it was a matter of fairness. Innocent until proven guilty and all that. Maybe fear of being offensive played some part in this, too.
But the editor was (slightly) wrong because, in the honest opinion of the guy calling the fictional shots – me – the archer/hero would not have softened his opinion; he was not that kind of guy, at least not as he was then interpreted, and so we were committing the itsy-tiny offense of not being true to the character. This is seldom considered a cardinal sin and I would not expect to be lynched for it.
We are reminded of an occasional confusion that occurs when a reader believes that what a character says is what the author is saying. Sometimes that’s the case, but not always. So, hey, could we just relax and enjoy the prose?
Oh, and remember to always work for excellent editors.
Yes, I’m that kind of elitist. I prefer to admire (and, if possible, hang out with) people with imaginations, people who like to be challenged, people who appreciate the arts. All the evidence (this, for example) suggests that our newly installed Commander-in-Chief has no such interests.
We’ve already seen some public reactions, by artists and audiences, to the new administration. American Muslim comics can band together, in solidarity and support, to amuse and enlighten themselves and the rest of us.
And we’ve seen that Trump, whatever his intentions, seems to have aroused the curiosity of the public. After his recent attacks on Congressman John Lewis, bookstores around the country sold out of March, and it went to the top of Amazon’s best-seller lists. Since the book has been out for quite a long time, and it was already selling well, I assume that the new sales come from people who are curious about why so many people sprang to Lewis’ defense. In the process, they get to read an amazing book.
I don’t mean to imply that only art with a progressive point of view is worthwhile. I don’t think that culture has that kind of a litmus test, or it would get boring really quickly. I even like some pop culture that comes from a different point of view.
For example, I’m really enjoying binging on Blue Bloods, a show which seems to think all police departments (but especially New York’s) are fabulous, that all cops are great, and the ones that are not are dealt with swiftly because the good cops are so ashamed of the bad ones. At the same time, people who don’t like or who mistrust the police have something seriously wrong with them. That’s not how I see the NYPD, but I’m fascinated by this chance to understand those who do.
While I’m not looking forward to the next two years (longer, if we screw up the midterms), I am anticipating some exciting art. And I’m happy to be living in a time when comics are respected as part of the cultural landscape.
The big honkin’ four-part crossover on the CW is past and I guess we have no particularly interesting reactions to it. If I were in a mood to pick nits, I might raise an eyebrow, chuckle in the manner of one who knows he is not one of the little people, and observe that it was really only a three-part crossover. Oh sure, The Flash and his friend Cisco did pop into Supergirl’s turf at the very end of the first episode, but by then the Maid of Might and her crew had solved their difficulties and all was (temporarily) well. All The Flash and Cisco did was ask for help dealing with some of their problems.
This is a crossover? Maybe by your definition (I sneer, cocking an eyebrow). Anyway, it seems that some alien invaders were causing woe on the neighboring universe, where The Flash and company hang, and so Supergirl joins The Flash in a brief migration through – here we guess – some kind of rent in the space-time continuum and for the next three hours of programming good guys from The Flash, Arrow, and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow smite the baddies, who look like something Alberto Giacometti might have dashed off after a particularly bad night.
I’m oversimplifying the story, which I kind of enjoyed. But if I were inclined to further quibble, while not rising to the level of complaint, I might ask since when did Earth – our Earth in our dimension – become a way station for extraterrestrials? I gather, from recent Supergirl episodes, that our good old terra firma is teeming with ETs, Hordes of them: Hundreds? Thousands? Hundreds of thousands? And if this is the case, Supergirl’s reality sure as heck isn’t our reality, and if that’s the case, shouldn’t there be some sort of signifiers? At least something as simple as irising doors. I mean, a few aliens, sure, but armies of them?
And on a similar note: if we humans actually made contact with beings of another dimension, without wrecking the cosmos in the process, it would be the biggest of big deals – easily the most significant event in history. Questions would get answered and some of those answers would alter our reality and perhaps finally take us where we’ve never been able to go. This would be big. Maybe even bigger than the Kardashians. So would we treat it casually, even if we were superbeings? Sure, you might not want to reveal something that would risk your secret identity, but… to hell with your secret identity and excuse me, please!
At the end of the final scene in the crossover, someone gives Supergirl a gadget that would fit in her purse and that lets her travel between dimensions as casually as I travel to get the mail. Even though – yes! – we know it’s fiction, this kind of story might diminish, ever so slightly, our sense of awe and wonder and lessens our reverence for the universe and that would be a shame.
There you are, somewhen on the far side of one of these bedeviling time gaps, at least four days in the future from when I’m typing this and – I don’t really know – you just might be squirming with anticipation because in a few hours or less – your hours – you’ll be watching the final part of the season’s megaevent, the four-part television crossover featuring Supergirl, The Flash, Green Arrow and the members of DC’s Legends of Tomorrow.
Is your breath taken?
Me, I’m sitting here in Monday afternoon, not knowing what the crossover is even about. (Of course, it’ll be in some way about the heroes mentioned in the previous 81 word! paragraph.)
So, again, tv is following behind comic books. Not a knock on the video guys: comics got there first because high speed printing was invented before video transmission – the first steam driven press debuted way back in 1825 and there’s your trivia of the day – and although television technology and print technology are vastly different, they are both what Stephen King calls story delivery systems and in that capacity deal with some of the same problems.
Among those problems: making lots of money from fictional characters. One answer occurred to mass audience storytellers when very few people had ever seen a television set and comics were in their infancy: have characters from one popular publication appear in another publication. A publisher could hope that the crossover stunt would expose readers of one magazine to the other magazine and the newbies would become regulars. So went the hope.
The ancestors of today’s two biggest comics companies were the first publishers to do the big crossover thing. (I’ll call that a coincidence if you will.) What became DC comics gave us All-Star Comics, which featured the company’s most popular heroes, and some maybe not so popular, joining together to solve various humdingers of crises and what became Marvel Comics put their Submariner in the same adventure with their Human Torch. All this in 1940, just before World War Two.
And so crossovers joined comics publishing’s tool kit and they’ve been appearing ever since.
In 1927 – yeah, that early – television was presented to the world but it took another 20 years, give or take, for the tube to start being a household fixture. Television, like comics before it, had to deliver exciting entertainment every week using the same set of characters while being careful not to kill them. Like comics. I’d like to say that it was inevitable that screen drama would start crossing over, especially since a lot of the material began as comics stories. But what do I know from inevitable? It happened and thus it’s reality and reality always trumps everything else.
What’s the pothole situation in Starling City? And the re-zoning hassle – that still a headache? And the business with the access lanes to the bridge – was that ever settled?
Since Oliver Queen’s been elected mayor, it’s reasonable to think that this kind of mayoral busyness is the better part of his days. At night, of course, he puts on a mask and hood and grabs his bow and arrows and kicks (or maybe punctures) miscreant ass. Oh, and his also training a bunch of wannabe vigilantes to help with the kicking/puncturing – and not always being Mr. Nice Guy while he’s doing it. (Maybe he’s got some marine drill sergeant DNA?)
The question is, who is better for Starling City, the politician or the archer? If you’ve been paying attention to the news, you’d probably choose the archer because obviously anybody would be better than a politician.
But that can of worms will be left unopened. Tell you what: let’s reframe the question. Who’s more useful to a storyteller, archer or pol? I guess it depends on the kind of tale being told. A story by…oh, say, Aaron Sorkin or Robert Penn Warren or Allen Drury would perhaps fare best as political drama. The kind of fantasy/melodrama/action tale we’re considering here is better with an ass-kicker as its protagonist. Which leaves our man Ollie where?
A kind of hybrid, one who favors the arrow shooting part of his persona, is where. That’s pretty much how it has to be. Nobody with a taste for adventures – that is, nobody who’s Arrow’s natural audience – is going to tune in to watch a guy in a three-piece suit behind a desk reading policy papers. We want to see some arrows shot and some of that good martial arts action! Leave that other stuff to CNN.
Casting a superhero as a civic leader, it seems to me, strains the genre. Part of the appeal of costumed superdoers is that they can do what duly constituted authorities can’t. Where a mayor’s job ends, theirs begins. One explanation for adopting a second persona – and it’s not a bad one – is that the disguise keeps the bad guys from knowing who to wreak revenge on. The other reason for a civic leader hiding behind a costume and fighting crime is that he couldn’t do as mayor what he does as vigilante because the vigilante must break the law to do his deeds. But whoa! Don’t mayors swear to uphold the law? We got us some hypocrite mojo working here?
Another deep appeal of double-identited heroes might require some psyche excavation. The idea is, we all have more than one identity lurking within us – we behave differently in different situations – and we might feel that the real us is one of those unseen lurkers. Costumed heroes manifest this idea and also give us a hook into identifying with the good guy.
I think part pf the storyteller’s task is to make the two identities distinct and that’s often a failure. I tried and pretty much failed to convince my Batman writers that Bruce Wayne should present himself as a tough-as-nails businessman, but as a good-natured bumbler. And I never liked Clark Kent as the best reporter in town. (Didn’t he win a Pulitzer?)
Of course, as always, the secret is in the recipe, not the ingredients. If the story entertains, the creators have done their jobs and they’re free to go watch tv. Wonder what’s on the CW?
DC in the 80s is a Webzine for the DC Comics Fans with an affinity for 80s comics. It’s fun, upbeat and engaging. Justin Francoeur and Mark Belkin keep the fan fires burning with wit and a great degree of nostalgic professionalism. I’m fascinated by the their endeavor, so I reached out to discuss it with them.
Ed Catto: Can you tell me a little bit about the site and how it came about?
Justin Francoeur: My formative years of comic book reading were during the early 80s to the early-to-mid 90s. Roughly six years ago, there wasn’t much on the Internet about DC Comics from the 80s (or it was scattered all over the place and not easy to find) so I decided to make a tumblr blog specifically spotlighting the house ads of that era. There were a lot of ‘buried gems’ in that time period and my goal was to identify them and discuss the interesting history behind them. It just started as a review site, really.
You can thank our executive editor, Mark Belkin, for the evolution of this site. It was his suggestion that DC in the 80s could be something more. With his help, it went from a tumblr blog to a website with reviews, articles and interviews. We chose a ‘zine interface to emulate the DIY aesthetic of the 1980s ‘zine culture – where anyone with a typewriter, a passion for something, and access to a Xerox machine could distribute an 8-page booklet to anyone willing to read it. Despite our commitment to journalistic integrity, this is still just a fun project for us – and we hope the DIY aesthetic of our site reminds people of that.
Mark Belkin: Justin invented it and ran it for a long time before I came along. I joined in about 2014, and Justin asked if I would post a few things. I did for a bit, but I did not get involved until later – 2015. Justin started to kick around the idea of me interviewing people and being more involved, and I felt inspired to do more. Now I feel I am a great #2 to Justin, and am really happy being a “full time” contributor. We click when it comes to making the site grow, and seem to do well working off each other.
EC: Why do you think there is so much interest in DC Comics from the 80s?
JF: To be candid with you, I think it had a lot to do with the New 52 DC relaunch of 2011. I think the radical reboot of a lot of DC characters had readers – mainly millennials – who still wanted to read about their favorite DC characters, re-visit their favorite comics they read growing up and it brought back a renewed interest in the 80s (and by extension, the early 90s) material. DC fans don’t disappear, if they’re not happy with what’s currently being published, they just re-read their favorite comics from their back-issue bin.
Additionally, there’s a bit of a retro 80s craze run-off that has drawn people to our site. Prime examples include VH1‘s I Love The ’80s, National Geographic‘s The 80s: The Decade That Made Us, as well as numerous radio stations and websites that are fixated on 80s nostalgia. Enough time has elapsed that it’s cool to look back and celebrate the 80s in an un-ironic way. Part of the original goal of this ‘zine is to tie-in what was happening in then-current 80s culture with what was happening in DC Comics of the 80s and create some links between the two. I always like it when a reader leaves the site learning something new. I also like it when a reader leaves a comment along the lines of “I totally remember that comic series! I’m going to go out and hunt it down again! Thanks!”
MB: DC Comics in the 1980s was a revolution in creativity. Because of the late 70s implosion and the almost sale of DC to Marvel in the early 80s, I believe that they were willing to take more chances. Paul Levitz, Karen Berger, Jenette Kahn, Dick Giordano, they took so many risks creatively and brought in amazing creators. They gave people chances to experiment, to kill off tested characters, to change everything around. I would have killed to be in those Len Wein/Marv Wolfman editorial meetings when they were planning Crisis and Who’s Who. From everything I read, it evolved organically and grew from them just doing it… and later bringing in British talent like Brian Bolland, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, and Grant Morrison. These are the most creative comic books creators of all time. What they did was change the world.
They also gave other talent a chance to take some pretty incredible changes. Sure, putting Frank Miller on a Dark Knight series makes sense – he had such buzz coming off his Daredevil and Ronin work – but it’s still ballsey. Robin being dead? Old man Batman? Letting Frank turn their number one property, Superman, into a tool for the Government, and openly mocking him? These stories are still some of the best of all time, and editorial deserves respect for letting it happen.
They let Keith Giffen go nuts on Legion of Super Heroes art and nuts on the comedy with Ambush Bug, and then let Keith and JM Dematteis experiment with Justice League. They brought in John Byrne to do what he wanted with Superman, pushed George Pérez onto Teen Titans, Mike Grell on Green Arrow, Timothy Truman on Hawkman. These are some of the best comics ever made, and these stories stand until this day.
My dream has always been to be an editor for DC Comics, and everything about what happened in the 1980s is what I would be absolutely honored and privileged to be a part of. Sorry, that turned into a thesis and/or cover letter. But long story short, the comics were dope, and they remain dope today.
EC: Back in the 70s, I remember the nostalgia craze for the 50s. Is something similar going on here?
JF: I honestly believe it’s a ‘generational’ thing. Growing up in the 80s I was still in elementary school and thus didn’t have much money to my name – thankfully, I had a huge long-box of then-current comic books my dad had been collecting for me, so I had a pretty healthy knowledge of what was going on. I always swore that someday I’d go back and revisit all of those issues I wanted to read. I’m thirty years older and now I have disposable income to spend, so this is a great time to catch up. We’d like to think that we’re here to help you find the hidden gems of that era.
MB: I feel that everything goes in 20-year cycles. The 70s had the 50s craze, which ran into the early 80s. The 80s had a 60’s thing that ran into the early 90s. The 70s into the 90s. Especially in music, fashion, and in art. If you think about the Silver Age, it was the Golden Age but updated. 60s updating the 40s. The 80’s Bronze Age updated the 60’s Silver Age. In the 2000’s, you saw the emergence of Identity, Infinite, and Final Crisis. Its 20 year cycles. Right now we are into the 90s, which I can’t speak to because I didn’t collect comics in the 90s. But even though we are nostalgic for the 80s, DC in the 1980s transcended the decade. Everything they did affected the 90s. Crisis, bwa hahaEra Justice League, Watchmen, Dark Knight. All those affected the 90s and are still affecting comic books today.
Also, I think, we live in an age where the Library of Alexandria is at our fingertips, and people know which stories to scout out and buy. This makes it where people are always discovering the work, and people have such fond memories of it.
EC: How does the DC fan of the 80s differ from the DC fans of today? Or are they the same?
JF: The DC fan of today is multi-faceted; there’s lots of different ways to become a DC Comics fan. Of course there’s still the “physical” comic book, but now there’s also console/computer games [i.e. DC Universe Online, Batman: Arkham Knight], the films [i.e. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad], the live-action TV shows [i.e. Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, Gotham] and the cartoons [i.e. Batman: Brave and the Bold, Vixen, Young Justice]. It’s actually a really great time to be into DC Comics – there are lots of options available.
However, someone cosplaying as Stephen Amell’s Green Arrow will swear to you that they’re a major Green Arrow fan – and they’ll be absolutely correct – but will have never heard of Mike Grell’s The Longbow Hunters. This is one demographic of fans we’re trying to reach. They may never actually end up touching a comic book (being satisfied with the CW universe of the character), but if we can convert a few of them over to DC comic book fandom, that’s great.
On the other side, I’m finding that fans of the 80s material are generally not too keen on adapting to the more current media. They are less likely to be standing in line on opening night for Suicide Squad because “it’s not the Suicide Squad they grew up reading, but they’ll watch it when it inevitably comes to Netflix”. Coincidentally, these are also the really interesting fans to talk to – you can tell that DC Comics from that era really had a profound effect on them and they will happily tell you all about what it was like collecting the comics, playing the RPGs, watching the Superman films for the first time and their initial reactions to major DC comic moments like Crisis On Infinite Earths, John Byrne’s Superman relaunch, or Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s Batman: Year One.
MB: I remember going to comic book shops from ‘85 until the summer of ‘89, when I stopped collected. I think the Marvel movie success has brought back the kids to shops and conventions. For a while, you never saw kids going into comic book stories. When I was a kid, I saw a lot of adults, but they were considered “childish” or immature for liking comic books. I could feel their stigma. Nowadays there is still a stigma, but it’s different.
Another difference is there are a lot more ‘in the know’ fans then back then. I remember there was the guy who would read Amazing Heroes and/or The Comics Journal and knew so much more than we did. In fact, knowing too much is what killed comic book collecting for me in 1989. Someone told me about an interview with Rick Veitch, and how he was not allowed to do the Swamp Thing #88 the way he wanted, and was off the book. It killed everything for me. If I had never known that, and all I simply knew was that he was no longer doing the book for whatever reason, I may have stayed collecting. And maybe that’s something today? Too many people know too much about how the sausage is made and it translates into people dropping the hobby. Could be the price too. Comics seem to be doing ok now, so maybe people are coming back.
We review a lot of new material, because we want the fans of the 80s to know there’s a lot of great new stuff that DC is doing. I love the Rebirth stuff, and I’m excited for the new Doom Patrol. We try to break through the stereotype of “everything new sucks,” because I don’t believe that. There is always good new music, art, movies, and there are definitely good new comics. I just read All Star Batman #1, and was really excited to see where Snyder and Romita Jr would be taking the story. In my opinion, Tom King, Gail Simone, Jeff Lemire recently, and some others, have done some of my favorite comics books in decades.
EC: It seems like there’s a lot of 80s cosplayers and customizers out there. Why do you think that is?
JF: Mark is typically on the front lines at the comic conventions interviewing creators and taking photos of cosplayers. I tend to be more of the ‘Oracle’ to his ‘Batman’ (filling out the paperwork, researching for interviews, managing the e-mails and social media accounts), so I don’t get much opportunity to talk to cosplayers. The ones I have chatted with are doing it for the pure love of the character. I feel that anybody who’s willing to parade around wearing silver body-paint for the afternoon to look like Captain Atom is worthy of being called a DC fan.
I think the customizers (I’m assuming you’re referring to ‘action figure customizers’) are really just trying to fill a void – a lot of cult-favorite 80s DC characters were never immortalized as action figures [i.e. Infinity Inc., All-Star Squadron, L.E.G.I.O.N.] and this is their chance to rectify that. The Kenner Super Powers Collection were some of my favorite 80s toys growing up (I suspect that’s the case with a lot of our readers) and I could only imagine what would’ve opened up for me had the toy line lasted more than 3 waves.
MB: People like dressing up and making things their own. Not in a bad way, but we live in a very “Look at me” generation, where people are constantly one-upping themselves on social media. Not a bad thing at all. I also think it goes back to people knowing about more characters, and being able to get resources (‘How-to’ videos on YouTube, any materials you may need on Amazon) to make great costumes and action figures. I actually really enjoy collecting DC action figures, and would like to customize a few I’ve never found.
EC: Have you had any surprises from your fans? I’m curious how predictable or unpredictable 80’s DC fans are.
MB: Justin is much better to speak on this. He answers the emails and tweets. I’m too busy caring about myself.
JF: The fans I’ve encountered have always been polite, knowledgeable and eager to share memories with us. Something that always seems to catch me off guard, however, and I’m not sure if this is just limited to fans of comics from the 80s or all comic book fandom in general, is how much venom and vitriol is directed towards the whole “Marvel comics films vs. DC Comics films” debate. It’s not like you need to choose sides; this isn’t the Spanish Civil War. You can appreciate both companies for what they are. Calling ourselves “DC in the 80s” is a bit of a misnomer, since we’re not “DC or nothing” fanboys. A lot of great work came out of Marvel, DC, Eclipse, First, Pacific, Renegade Press, Fantagraphics, Kitchen Sink Press and Dark Horse during the 80s and we recognize and acknowledge that.
MB: I loved DC, but I also loved Grendel and Elementals in the 80s. Almost as much as anything. But DC is my favorite. I might be categorized under the “Make Mine DC” crowd, even if I own 200 issues of X-Men.
EC: What’s your favorite series from the 80s? What are your favorite series now?
JF: At the risk of sounding cliché, I’m still discovering new 80s favorites on a monthly basis as I’m re-reading older DC material for what seems like the first time. If I had to narrow it down to just one, I’d go with Grant Morrison’s run on 1988’s Animal Man ongoing series. Those 26 issues really changed the way I looked at comics. I actually discovered it a bit later in life – during my early college years. I remember reading the TPB off the rack at my local Chapters and I was so impressed by it that I returned the next day to purchase it (and the following two volumes). It’s been sitting on my bookshelf ever since.
Currently, the DC material I am most excited for is Gerard Way’s Young Animal imprint. I’ve flipped through the ashcan and am thoroughly impressed. I’m really hoping that a new batch of talent can re-spark that ol’ Vertigo magic that really made DC stand out over everything else on the market in the late 80s/early 90s. The first few issues have been released yesterday and as of this writing I’m actively trying to avoid comic book review sites (and spoilers) until I can pick up the issues myself and read them with a blank slate.
MB: Other than everything Alan Moore did, I have three special series:
The Rick Veitch run on Swamp Thing. So criminally underrated and I want nothing more than convince Dan Didio and Jim Lee to publish #88. It was so twisted, so dark yet funny, so smart. I loved Veitch, and I will have an interview with him that I got in Baltimore, probably in the next few weeks.
Doom Patrol with Grant Morrison, Richard Case, with lettering by John Workman. I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Case and Mr. Workman recently, and am working on a story based on that run. I think there is such an amazing artistic spiritual undertone to that run. Especially the Painting That Ate Paris with the Brotherhood of Dada. I feel I could teach a course on that run, and still not be able to convey how groundbreaking it was. As Justin said, that Animal Man run is up there, but Morrison’s Doom Patrol run was magical for me.
The Question by Dennis O Neil and Denys Cowan. Everything about this made Question my favorite all time character. It was surreal, intelligent, real and violent. It spoke to me as someone growing up in Brooklyn and discovering philosophy, and violence in the streets.