Tagged: GrimJack

John Ostrander: The Essence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That comes down to you.




John Ostrander: Improving On The Legends

39583There’s a constant desire these days, it appears, to try to improve on existing works. That’s not a bad idea except when it is a bad idea. A good character, a good concept, that’s been around for a while needs to have the barnacles taken off every so often to make it fresh and work better. Movies adapted from comics have to take a good look at the source material and then tweak and change it to make it work for the big/small screen.

For me, the problem comes when the concept is changed willy-nilly until you can no longer recognize it. When J.J. Abrams re-booted the Star Trek franchise a few years back, I was dubious but I genuinely enjoyed the result (as of this writing, I haven’t seen the sequel). I can understand many hardcore Trek fans not sharing my enthusiasm. For them, Abrams wandered too far from the zeitgeist of Star Trek. I think it was nephew Bill who said to me, “I love Star Wars. But if I wanted to watch Star Wars, I’d watch Star Wars. This is Star Trek.” (He’ll get his opportunity to see an Abrams Star Wars film in the future, if he’s so inclined.)

We see it all the time in comics. Characters are re-imagined on a constant basis. The only constant is change, it would seem. Change for the sake of change, however, is not always a good plan.

I’ve been as guilty of it as the next writer. Years ago, Marvel approached me with coming up with a new pitch for The Punisher. The fans had gotten burned out with the multitude of Punisher titles and the concept was moribund.

I’ll be honest; I wasn’t much of a Punisher fan. I felt he was one-dimensional and Frank Castle had wiped out enough Mafiosi over the years to populate a small city. I told them I’d try to come up with something and what I came up with was – Castle joins a Mafia family. I thought they’d never go for it, but they did.

Different? You bet. Wrong? Yup. Did the readers buy it? Nope. It wasn’t The Punisher. I had wandered off the essential concept.

I wasn’t on the book all that long (18 issues) and, late in the run, the concept of Castle switching sides was dropped and we played a different game – Castle, as a result of an explosion, had lost his memory. He didn’t know he was the Punisher, he couldn’t remember his family being killed, but he still had the same skills, the same instincts. Frank Castle was still The Punisher although he didn’t know it. This worked better but the series was cancelled before we could get too far; in fact, we wound it up in Heroes For Hire that I was scripting at the time. Perhaps if we had gone with the amnesia angle from the start, it might have worked better.

A revamp or a remake works if you can define what makes a given character to be that character. You want to get down to the basics, not ignore them. For example, we’ve seen in recent years three different versions of Sherlock Holmes, two set in modern times. They all work more or less because they all keep key elements of the concept.

Sometimes a revamp can be quite radical. Late in my run on GrimJack, I booted the character down his own timeline and into a new body, a new persona and a whole new supporting cast. His soul was the same but it gave me, and the reader, a chance to look at the character with fresh eyes. To my mind, it stayed true to the concept of the character and the location.

My rule of thumb: if you look at a character after a revamp and you could simply give the character another name, then you’ve wandered off the concept. So long as you remain true to the basic ideas that makes a given character unique until him/herself, then it doesn’t matter how radical their evolution. First, they have to be true to themselves.




John Ostrander: Details, details, details…

OStrander Art 130407There’s a saying that goes “The devil is in the detailsl, but so is character, whether writing, drawing, or acting. I had the opportunity of teaching at the Joe Kubert School a few times (and the inestimable pleasure of getting to know not only the legendary Joe Kubert but so many others working at the school) and I had the maybe unenviable task of teaching writing to a bunch of art students. Some didn’t take to that right away; after all, they were there to learn how to draw. From talking to some of the graduates over the years, however, I think most found it worthwhile and I enjoyed it.

For me, everything in comics is about character and storytelling. Design to me means nothing unless it is tied to those two points. I’m not interested in a mask or costume whose design is simply “cool” or its what the artist wants to draw.  The character has chosen to make or wear a given mask, costume, or uniform. What does that tell us about him or her? Famously, Batman wants to invoke a bat because criminals are (supposedly) a cowardly and superstitious lot. He wants to invoke fear in them.

One exercise I gave the students was to create their own mask – not for a character but something that would express and freeze some aspect of themself. It would both reveal them and, because it was a mask, it would also conceal them. They were safe behind the mask. It was and was not them.

When the masks were completed, I asked them to wear them. Masks in many societies have power; often, they represent a god and the wearer (supposedly) channels the power of the god. I asked the students to let the mask act upon them; how did they act, how did they feel, how did they move? What – if anything – changed in them?

The purpose was to get them to understand the affects that the masks the characters they wore had upon the characters they were writing and/or drawing. Spider-Man, for example, certainly reacts differently than Peter Parker. Batman, on the other hand, becomes more of who he is when he wears the cowl; his true mask may be Bruce Wayne, as perceived by others.

We do the same thing with what we choose to wear. We say something about ourselves, about who we perceive ourselves to be, of how we want to be perceived by others. Even a careless choice – “whatever is clean” or “whatever I grab” says something. Even if the message being sent out, “I can’t be judged by my clothes; I’m deeper than that.” that is still making a statement. Maybe the message is – I don’t want to be noticed. That is also still a statement. That’s a choice being made and that tells us something about a person – or a character.

What kind of clothes does your character wear? Bruce Wayne may wear Armani; I asked my students if they knew what an Armani suit looked like. Peter Parker is going to shop off the rack. Which rack?

In movies and TV, they have a whole team of people deciding what the rooms look like. Bedrooms, offices, desks, kitchens – depending on the person and what room is most important to them, what are the telling details about them that personalize the space, that say something about the character?

As an actor, I needed to know what my character wore, how he walked, how he used his hands when talking (or did he?). What sort of shoes did he wear? I compared knowing this to an iceberg; the vast majority of the iceberg is under water and only the tip shows. However, for that tip to show, the bulk of the iceberg had to be there. (One of these days I’m probably going to have to explain what an iceberg was.) I have to know far, far more about a character than I’m actually going to use just to be able to pick the facts that I feel are salient to a given moment or story. When Tim Truman and I created GrimJack, we had a whole vast backstory figured out, some of which was revealed only much later; some of it may not have been revealed yet.

Generic backgrounds create generic characters. To be memorable, there have to be details. The more specific they are, the more memorable the character will be. That’s what we want to create; that’s what we want to read.

MONDAY: Mindy Newell



John Ostrander: Backwards or Forwards?

Ostrander Art 130324Bought and watched The Hobbit DVD when it came out. My Mary and I had watched the full IMAX version in the theater; it’s one of her favorite books. I’m pretty fond of it as well.

Enjoyed the movie again and look forward to the next installment. However, I had problems with it. Both the way that the story is being divided into three films and from some of the action sequences, it’s playing out as a prequel to the Lord Of The Rings films. The book The Hobbit is not a prequel; it’s a stand alone story that has some story elements in common with LOTR. In the film, however, it’s coming off very definitely as a prequel to the point, IMO, that the story is changed or even twisted a bit to make it fit that mold. Visuals such as the race through the Underground Kingdom of the Goblins was very reminiscent, visually, of the race through the Mines of Moria in LOTR. What was stunning and even surprising in the LOTR movies looks rehashed here.

Generally speaking, when I’m reading or watching a story, I want to know what happens next – if I want to know anything more at all. Some stories, like Casablanca, doesn’t need prequels or sequels (although a sequel was discussed early on for Casablanca and, fortunately, never worked out). With Star Wars, after the original trilogy was done, I was ready to see what happened next but George Lucas decided he wanted to tell what happened previously. I watched but it’s not what I wanted and a lot of the public was less than enthralled as well. It’s only now when Disney has assumed ownership of the whole shebang that Episode 7 – “and then what happened?” — is being prepared.

The prequel trilogy of Star Wars changes the thrust of the story. The original trilogy is about Luke Skywalker and his coming of age, learning who he is, and becoming the hero his father might have been. The prequel trilogy changes the arc of all six films; it becomes about Anakin Solo, his fall and his redemption. I liked it better when it was Luke’s story.

I don’t absolutely hate prequels; I’ve done them myself. The last two GrimJack arcs I’ve done have technically been prequels. I also did a four issue story on The Demon Wars in GJ and, in the back-up space, my late wife Kim Yale and I did a story of young John Gaunt which would also qualify as a prequel. In each case, however, it revealed aspects of Gaunt that helped in understanding who he was and which weren’t going to be told in any other way. Each was also a stand-alone story; you needn’t have read any other GJ story to understand these stories.

There can be problems with sequels as well. Does it add to the story or does it just water it down? Godfather II deepened and expanded on the first film; Godfather III – not so much. The original Rocky is a great film; none of the sequels improved on it and only tarnished the story. OTOH, Toy Story 2 was better than the first film and Toy Story 3 was better still.

I can understand the desire with the studios to go back to the same material; it has a proven track record. There’s more money to be made not only from the movie but from all the ancillary crap. Less risk (in theory) and more money (in theory).

Maybe what it comes down to is this for sequels and prequels – does this story need to be told? When you think about it, that’s the same criteria as every other story, isn’t it? Or should be. Is this story worth telling? Not – will this make more money? Sadly, the reason for too many sequels and prequels is the monetary one.





John Ostrander: My CBG

Ostrander Art 130113 “There are places I remember

All my life, though some have changed

Some forever not for better

Some have gone and some remain.”

– The Beatles, In My Life

As I grow older, I find some underlying conservative strains in me coming out –much as that will surprise many who know me as a flaming leftie. While not totally adverse, I find I’m resistant to change the older I get. I like things as they were. When I periodically go back to my hometown of Chicago, I find some things have changed and some things are just gone. My first reaction generally is “Who told them they could do that?” Even if I haven’t been back to a place in some time, I mildly resent it not being there. I see what is now there overlaid with my memory of what was there. A cognitive double vision, if you will.

I think part of the reason that young people may not have that same reaction is they don’t have the same amount of experience with that spot. They’re living in it now and maybe know it only from now. Current chronology doesn’t get mixed with past chronology as it does for those of us who are older.

All of which brings us to the news this week of the Comics Buyer’s Guide ending its long run in about two months. For those of you who don’t know, CBG was long one of the top comics related newspapers/magazines with news and reviews and opinion columns relating to the comics medium.

There are other places that have covered the history of the Comic Buyers Guide, including an excellent summation by Bob Greenberger here on ComicMix. What I want to talk about instead is my own personal connections and history with it.

Before I was a writer of comics, I was a fan and with the dawning of the direct sale shops came the discovery of periodicals such as The Comics Reader and CBG. For the first time, I got a peek into the backstage of the comics industry. I got an idea of what was coming out and when, who were the artists or writers on what books, I read reviews, letters from fans and pros, opinions and columns (notably Peter David) and, as a fan and someone who had aspirations for the field, I wanted not only to read CBG, I wanted to be in it, to be one of those who were talked about.

Eventually, I was. I had arrived. I was part of it. I got reviewed by Don Thompson (he and his wife, the ever charming Maggie, ran the paper). While he didn’t like everything I did, I felt he was fair and reasonable and he gave one of my favorite reviews of my character GrimJack. In one issue, Gordon the bartender tells a customer the “secret origin of John Gaunt.” It came down to “Mama Gaunt, Papa Gaunt, a bottle of hootch, wucka wucka, wucka – nine months later, Baby Gaunt.” Don said it was his second favorite origin in all of comics, eclipsed only by Superman. I loved that and still do. Thanks, Don.

The most important memory of CBG for me is that, for a time, they gave my late wife Kimberly Yale a literary home. Kim wrote a column for them and, as she learned she had cancer, she recounted her battle with it until close to her death. Kim was a finer writer than me; I’m a storyteller, not a Fine Writer. Oh, I know my way around structure and theme and character and syntax and so on but my primary focus was and is storytelling. For Kim, it was the shape of the sentence, the right word chosen, the proper use of grammar and syntax. I’ll split infinitives without a care but Kim didn’t like that. She was the better essayist than myself. CBG gave her the chance to make her mark that way.

I’ll freely admit I haven’t read CBG for a while. I’m more online these days. I liked, however, knowing it was there and now it won’t be. Life changes, I know, and some things die but life itself always goes on even if I don’t always approve.


MONDAY: Mindy Newell


Holiday Gifts For Comics and Pop Culture Fans

I don’t know why they call today Black Friday. It sounds like a superhero version of Gulliver’s Travels, as published by DC or Marvel in the 1970s. And that might be the quickest digression we’ve had on ComicMix to date.

A bunch of the ComicMix columnists contributed a list of gift suggestions, all with snappy convenient links to Amazon for your shopping pleasure. Well, Mindy ran her list in her column last Monday; you’ve probably already read that but if not, click through in awe and wonder. Please note: I asked each contributor to include one item that they were directly involved in, so don’t think they’re pandering. That’s not necessarily the case.

John Ostrander suggests:

GrimJack: Killer Instinct 

Star Wars: Agent of the Empire Vol. 1 Iron Eclipse

Timothy and Ben Truman’s Hawken

Max Allan Collins’ Chicago Lightning: The Collected Short Stories of Nate Heller

Storm Front: Book 1 of the Dresden Files

And, a musical interlude, The Blue Nile: Hats

Martha Thomases recommends:

Larry Hama’s The Stranger (that’s the first of a three-volume Vampire fun-packed thriller in e-book format; Amazon will lead you to the other two)

Knits for Nerds:  30 Projects: Science Fiction, Comic Books, Fantasy, by Toni Carr

My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf

Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland 

And a book Martha wrote with Fran Pelzman and Trina Robbins, Cute Guys:  All You Need To Know

Michael Davis recommends:

The Avengers movie in Blu-Ray, the two-disc set.


The Beatles Anthology

My Best Friend’s Wedding

And The Littlest Bitch, the not-children’s book the book Michael wrote with David Quinn and Devon Devereaux.

Emily S. Whitten suggests:

Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere

Warren Ellis’s Iron Man: Extremis

Bill Willingham’s Fables

Fabian Nicieza’s Cable & Deadpool

Terry Pratchett’s Dodger

Stuart Moore’s Marvel Civil War prose novel 

Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man 

The Philip K. Dick Reader 

The Firefly Jayne’s Fighting Elves women’s tee

Blue Sun shirt 

The Britishcomedy Black Books  

Marc Alan Fishman teamed up with his fellow Unshaven boys to offer:

Crumb (the movie) (that was Marc’s pick)

Courtney Crumrin Volume 1: The Night Things  (that was Kyle Gnepper’s pick)

Witch Doctor, Vol 1: Under the Knife (Matt Wright’s pick)

And the whole group picks Samurai Jack – Season 1 “We owe so much of what Samurnauts are to this amazing series by Gendy Tartakovsky. And the performance by Phil Lamarr is nuanced and brilliant.”

On behalf of our friend Dennis O’Neil, I would like to recommend each and every item he’s recommended in the Recommended Reading portion of his weekly ComicMix column… and I also suggest when you’re at Amazon you check out his own billion or so books – you can’t go wrong with any of them. But, of course, particularly the ones I recommend at the end of this column.

And, finally, I recommend:

The Manhattan Projects, Vol. 1: Science Bad by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra

Judge Dredd: The Complete Brian Bolland  by John Wagner and (go figure)Brian Bolland

Avengers 1959 by Howard Chaykin

And, finally, The Question trade paperbacks, written by Dennis O’Neil, drawn by Denys Cowan, and edited by Ye Olde Editor. I linked the first of the series; Amazon will guide you to the rest.

Have a great shopping season, drive carefully, don’t lose your cool and start gunning down your fellow shoppers, and unless you start shooting tell ’em ComicMix sent you!


John Ostrander: Pros At Cons

Once again I didn’t make it to the NYCC but I’ve been to umpty-bum comic book conventions over the years, both as a fan and a professional, and I’ve learned one or two things along the way. Being a pro (especially if you’re a guest at the con) and being a fan are two very different experiences. I always regard being a guest at a con as a working weekend and it can, in fact, be more tiring for me than going as a fan.

My first job is giving any fan that comes up to my table a good experience. These are people who buy my books and that fact keeps me employed. I may be tired, I may be stressed, there may be any number of things bothering me but none of that matters. The Con promoter has paid my way with the expectations that my name may help draw more paying customers and that the paying customers will enjoy themselves well enough at the Con to want to come again next year. I’m part of that equation. It’s part of my job as a professional.

I also want to create more fans. I greet people who pass by, try to engage them in conversation, try to interest them in what I do. If I have something to sell, I have a quick spiel to give passers-by an idea of what’s there. Folks at neighboring tables soon learn to tune me out because it can get repetitive. My Mary has noted that I have developed a “Con persona” – an aspect of myself that I trot out at Cons. I call upon my theater and acting background to “play” a version of myself. It’s an authentic version of me but it’s meant to give those I meet a good experience of me, no matter how I may be feeling. That’s important. They deserve it. It also creates positive word of mouth.

That’s not to say I’m above goofing around. At one Star Wars Convention, there were lots of people in costume, some playing characters I created. That’s always interesting – meeting real life versions of characters that had existed only in my head. I have to admit I pay closer attention to those cosplaying Darth Talon. For those who don’t know the character, suffice it to say that it’s sexy female in a brief costume and lots of body paint. One such young lady was posing in front of the Dark Horse booth and she sure could wear that body paint. I sidled up to her during a pause in the snapshots, smiled, and told her, “I’m your Daddy.”

She gave me a look and said, “Excuse me?” I then hastily explained that I was one of the two creators of the character she was cosplaying. Then she smiled and said, “Oh, you’re so cute!” Which, translated, means, “Look at you! Old enough to be my grandfather and you’re flirting with me! That’s so cute!”

Yeah. Cute. Swell.

On the other hand, I can’t complain too much. I met the two big loves of my life – Kimbery Yale and Mary Mitchell – at conventions. Kim was at a big combined Doctor Who/Comic Convention in Chicago during one sweltering summer. I was trying to get the rights to do a Doctor Who live action play and was talking with the show’s producer, John Nathan Turner, and Terry Nation, one of the legendary writers for the show and creator of the Daleks. This young woman accompanied Mr. Nation. She had a slight accent and I assumed she was his secretary or some such. Turns out she was working security for Mr. Nation, she was local, and her name was Kim Yale.

The other woman was, of course, My Mary – Mary Mitchell. I’ve told the story elsewhere of how we met; she came down to Chicago and the Con to show her portfolio and chose to show it to me. The reason she chose me was that she saw me playing with some young, shy kids at my table, trying to draw them out, and she thought if I was kind to them I might be kind to her. I wasn’t kind; I was enthusiastic. Before she knew it, this madman had her portfolio and was dragging her around to all sorts of people insisting she get work. The funny thing is that she didn’t really know who I was when she approached me; she just knew I was nice to children.

I was and I am. Those kids may be readers some day and they might become my readers. Also, the parents who are towing them around the Convention floor are appreciative if you’re nice to their kids. I even discouraged some children from reading some of my work, like GrimJack, if I feel they’re a little young for the material. I’d prefer to steer them towards good comics for their age group even if I had nothing to do with them. Parents appreciate that and some have even written me thank you letters. All part of that good Con experience.

I’ve also learned to be careful naming favorites or least faves of my work before fans. I once, on a panel, named my least fave book in a given series, going so far as to state that, if I could, I’d buy all the copies of it and destroy them. I thought I was being clever. One fan in the front row had a wounded expression and said, “But that was my favorite issue!” So I don’t do that anymore.

I also try to be open. At one Con I was having a quick lunch from the food at the venue. I was sitting at a table by myself when a fan approached me. She and some other fans were sitting at another table and recognized me and wondered if I would care to join them. While I don’t mind eating by myself, I said “yes” and we all had a very good time.

I do have fun at Conventions and it gives me a chance go see old friends – mostly pros – and make some new ones. For me, however, they are working weekends. Writing is solitary work but there is that social aspect, the selling of yourself and your work, and for me being a professional means making sure the fans are happy.

MONDAY: Mindy Newell

Mike Gold: Cold Ennui

Here’s a sucky way to spend one’s birthday: voiceless with a serious summer head cold. Bitch, bitch; moan, moan. Okay, I had a great day-before-my-birthday in Manhattan lunching with Danny Fingeroth and dinnering with fellow ComicMixer Martha Thomases. Nine hours of fantastic conversation in the best thing in life with your clothes on.

Sadly, as the overly-breaded but otherwise tasty General Tzu’s was being presented to me at our Greenwich Village dungeon of culinary delight, I was starting to sound like a frog in a blender. By the time I was on the subway back to Grand Central Terminal, I was grateful somebody bothered to invent texting. The gifted Miss Adriane picked me up and dragged me home. That was birthday-eve.

On birthday day, we first had to ransom my car back from the shop – I can’t complain; 100,000 miles on one battery is pretty damn good and I guess you really do need functioning breaks. After a quick stop at Walgreens to clean them out of toxic chemicals and chocolate Twizzlers, we returned home. As Miss Adriane procured the prerequisite chicken soup, I retired to celebrate the anniversary of my mother’s major inconvenience in a time-honored way: I picked up my stack of comic books (e-comics; I’m nothing if not hip and trendy in my dotage) and commenced to read.

As luck would have it, there wasn’t a winner in the bunch. Only one or two sucked; the rest were poignantly mediocre. This is not to say that I hadn’t read some worthy stuff while on the train to Manhattan – I consumed all the good stuff as a matter of fate and ill-planning. But you’d think that out of a dozen or so hand-picked titles, there’d be at least one that reaffirmed my fannish enthusiasm. Let us remember: I was under the weather, and my cockles needed to be warmed.

There were three New 52 titles in the electronic pile. All 12th issues. None motivated me to pick up the 13th, two months hence. There are a number of New 52ers I really enjoy: Batgirl, Batwoman, All-Star Western, and everything with the words “written by James Robinson” on the credits page. These weren’t them. The most enjoyable of the DC books was, oddly, the only Before Watchman mini I’m reading: Night Owl, and that’s because I’d read prescription warning labels if Joe Kubert drew them. Reading Kubert, for me, is a lot like drinking chicken soup. You might have to be Ashkenazi to fully grok that.

The Marvel titles were okay; slightly better in that none chased me away. But, damn, why is it that each and every good Marvel “event” series has four times as many issues as necessary? Okay, we know the answer to that one. Still, the Avengers Vs. X-Men series was established to put Marvel on a somewhat different course for a while and it’s doing its job. It’s not a reboot, it’s just your standard dramatic shuffling of the Marvel deck. But it should have been over by now.

The so-called indies were all over the map as they are supposed to be, so my luck of the draw was simply a bad hand. No, not bad. Just mediocre. Too many unnecessary middle-issues in overly long story arcs. I regret the day publishers decided to put six solid pages of story in each 24-page issue, and I look forward to our next GrimJack series to once again prove you can actually put 28 pages of story into a 24-page issue… without being Stan Freberg, and, yes, that was just to see if Mark Evanier’s paying attention.

Okay, all that sucked. On the other side of the scale, I got more than 200 emails and Facebook shout-outs from friends old and new. That’s great anytime, but after a speechless day of aches and not-breathing and a dozen mediocre comics, all that made be feel on top of the world. And not in the Cody Jarrett sense, either. To one and all, my deepest thanks.

Daughter Adriane and I finished the day watching Paul, a genuinely funny and essentially heartwarming movie written by and starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. I’m a sucker for anything with Jane Lynch that doesn’t involve high schoolers spontaneously combusting into song, and Pegg and Frost have never disappointed me.

Moral of the story: when you’re feeling low, reach for something positive and funny. Tomorrow is… another day.

Thursday: Dennis O’Neil… Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing?


John Ostrander: Redshirts

I love to read. I have ever since I was very small. I startled my parents when I started reading the milk cartons and cereal boxes aloud when I was in pre-school. I love it when a book sweeps me up and takes me wherever it is set. The genre doesn’t matter – fiction/nonfiction, history/memoir, sci-fi/fantasy, mystery/western – just tell me a good story and I’m yours. If I don’t have a good book to read somewhere around the house, I get a little hinky.

If the author wastes my time by not telling me a good story, I get a little irate.

Fortunately, John Scalzi tells a very good story with his new novel, Redshirts (Tor books, hardcover). Tells a very funny, engrossing and ultimately thoughtful story in a novel that includes three codas at the end. Tells a story that will strike very close to home for Star Trek fans, especially those of the original series.

SPOILER NOTE: I’ll give some things away about the plot as this review goes forward. Can’t discuss the story without talking about the story but I’ll try to give away as little as I can. This is as much warning as you’ll get.

The story is set in the Universal Union, mostly aboard its flagship, the Intrepid, and Ensign Andrew Dahl is happy to be posted to it – until he notes something odd. There are all these away missions and the command crew, the captain, the chief science officer, and the astrogator are assigned along with some low level member of the crew. Like ensigns. There’s just about always a fatality but not among the command crew although the astrogator can get hurt really bad but recovers within a week. Odd, to say the least.

These moments come and go but, when they come, it’s as if the crewmembers aren’t really in control of their actions. As it turns out, they’re not.

Turns out that, in an alternate universe/timeline, they’re all characters in a cheesy Star Trek knockoff TV show and their lives are being controlled by a bunch of hack writers. Dahl and an intrepid group of fellow Intrepid redshirts have to travel backwards/sideways/whatever in time/space/dimensions/whatever via a means familiar to Star Trek fans to somehow stop these writers (mainly the head writer) from probably killing them for cheesy dramatic reasons, usually just before the commercial break.

The story owes something of its concept to the wonderful movie Stranger Than Fiction (my favorite Will Ferrell movie and maybe my only fave Will Ferrell movie) and acknowledges that but also, to my mind, owes its tone to an equally wonderful movie, Galaxy Quest, which it doesn’t acknowledge. There are flaws: many of the characters are identified only by their last names and are more a collection of characters traits then characters. On the other hand, that may be deliberate since the book satirizes that way of creating support characters on TV and indeed elsewhere. Take a character trait from column A, column B, and column C and provide a name and – bingo! – instant character. To my mind, they also sounded quite a bit alike but what they said was often funny and entertaining. I just had trouble telling them apart sometimes.

The book is clever and light which makes it great for summer reading. It doesn’t get particularly deep until the three codas that follow the end of the story proper. They’re like three short stories using minor characters in the main book. Here Scalzi plays more with the concepts brought up in the main story. I can see why they are separate – the tones wouldn’t work in the primary narrative but they’re very worth reading and add a great deal to the overall book.

Recommended. It also makes me very sure that I never want John Gaunt to find a way to meet me. I’ve done too many nasty things to GrimJack all in the name of compelling narrative and I think he would hurt me bad. So – shhhh! Don’t tell him where I live.

MONDAY: Mindy Newell


Marc Alan Fishman: The Top 5 Comics I’d Like To See

In an effort anger the Internet – and save me the time of writing too much – I figured this week I’d take a trip into Fantasy Land. Here is a list, simple and to-the-point, of five books I’d love to see hit the stands. This probably won’t happen unless we’re on Earth 29.

The Avengers: Written by Geoff Johns, Art by Peter Krause.

With his ability to handle a multitude of characters (see his run on Justice Society, or to a lesser degree, Justice League) and draw from countless years of continuity to craft original tales, John’s would deftly deliver a truly epic arc for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Peter Krause (of Irredeemable fame) has an amazing ability to show emotion, and a wide range of your more traditional superheroes. Put together? I think the fans would assemble in droves for a chance to see the premier Marvel team run through the proverbial wringer. And with John’s latent ability to hone lesser villains (see Captain Cold, or his subtle shifting and deepening of Sinestro), no doubt this impossible title would be one for the ages.

Green Lantern: Written by Brian Michael Bendis, Art by Mike Norton.

Brian Michael Bendis could do perhaps what no other writer has done for Hal Jordan in the last 10 years of his comic booking career: he could make me give a damn about Hal. Bendis, master of the talking head page, could instill the much-needed pathos to what has basically been a cardboard cutout of a hero since his “rebirth.” Given his pedigree and ability to craft subtle, nuanced characters, I’ve little doubt his emerald knight would finally be a human being, akin to the Ultimate Peter Parker, with far more years under his power-ringed belt. And with Mike Norton’s clean, concise, and emotive style? Well, I think the book would look as sharp as it read. Norton’s often forgotten runs on Blue Beetle and Green Arrow proved to me long ago, he’s the go-to guy when you need stalwart presentation.

DC Kids Cavalcade: Written by Art Baltazar, Franco, and Keith Giffen, Art by Katie Cook, Art and Franco, Jill Thompson, and a Troop of Others.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know. “Anthologies don’t sell.” Well, maybe they would if the stories and art in them wasn’t always a crap shoot, maybe it’d have a chance. I’d kill to see a monthly rag where the funniest minds in comics met with an endless parade of the most kid-friendly artists. Give us a chance to see Katie Cook’s Batman saga or “Tails From The Litter Box: The Midadventures of Dex-Starr.” Pair Giffen’s sharp wit with Art’s never-not-cute style. What could be more perfect for young readers, than a never-ending series where each issue packs in a brand new kid-friendly (but with plenty of Easter eggs for adults) tale? Nothing that I can think of, darn-it.

Thunderbolts: Plotted by John Ostrander, Scripted by Gail Simone, Art by Ethan Van Sciver

No, I’m not just pandering for my close and personal friend John Ostrander. OK, maybe I am a little. But hear me out. Ostrander’s original run on the Suicide Squad is just an amazing piece of sequential fiction. His ability to mine realism in the face of the absurdity of comics is unparalleled. Match this with the wit and charm of Gail Simone? You get yourself one fancy-assed book about ne’er-do-wells. It stands to note I found Simone’s Secret Six to be the sleeper hit of DC in the mid-aughts. Certainly her pitch-perfect evil side would pair well with John’s, and together they could craft a story about Marvel villains trying to change the world. Since Marvel doesn’t really have an “evil only” book per say, I’d think this’d be an interesting one to see. Pair them with Gail’s buddy Ethan Van Details? And you have a gory and beautiful mess on your hands. Van Sciver’s meticulous style would be great to see, when there’s no forced lighting, constructs, or fire being forced into every panel. When its time for poop to hit the fan though? There’s no one better for the art duties.

Metal Men: Written by Matt Fraction, Art by Chris Burnham.

Last but not least, a title so impossible to exist, 14 editors just burst out laughing over how unsellable it’d be. This iteration of the Metal Men would be a mash-up of sorts. Fraction has proved he’s got the uncanny (natch) ability to build slow, methodical tales without boring his audience to tears. And based on his most current work on the Defenders, he’s proven he can be witty to boot. Pair him with the “in-the-prime-of-his-career” Burnham, whose carefully crafted dynamic figure work is second to none, and you have a book that’d look as sharp as the titular metallic men in question. Fraction could world-build around the odd duck Doc Magnus, but not lose the fun always associated with the franchise. Toss in some climactic battles with new versions of Chemo, Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man, or Monsieur Mallah and the Brain… and you have a perfectly unsellable train wreck – that I’d buy 10,000 copies of.

BONUS! GrimJack: Written and drawn by Unshaven Comics.

What? Boys are allowed to dream!

OK, Internet. Time to tell me how wrong I am! Or better yet? Pitch your impossible book below. We’ll take a vote, make a petition, and incite riots for the best idea. Now, go do that voodoo that you do so well.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander