Tagged: Harry Potter

Box Office Democracy: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

It’s hard to tell either Warner Bros. or J.K. Rowling that they should refuse to make any more money off the Harry Potter franchise. If they can pack people in to theme parks and sell out a theater in London for over a year in advance, why shouldn’t they put out more movies? They didn’t stop making James Bond or Star Trek movies just because they ran out of books or the original cast members didn’t want to do it anymore. That said, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a good movie where I can sort of feel its hand in my pocket. This isn’t a labor of love and while I could lie to myself about that being true with other Harry Potter movies, I can’t convince myself quite as much this time.

The story in Fantastic Beasts is more or less Harry Potter with a twist. There’s a magical calamity, in this case Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) loses a bunch of magical creatures in New York City, and while a good-hearted but misguided authority figure, disgraced Auror Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) tries to punish our hero for this misunderstanding they discover a much larger plot involving an immensely powerful evil wizard, this time German pseudo-Nazi Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp). This outline vaguely describes the first five Harry Potter films if you substitute the names and add in a few scenes set in classrooms. I’m not knocking it, it’s an established formula because it works, but it never quite feels like we’re reinventing the wheel. The fun of the movie comes from Jacob Kowalski (Dan Folger) the Muggle (No-Maj in America apparently) baker who happens to switch briefcases with Newt early in the film and is drawn into the whole adventure. His point of view on the events of the film as a true outsider is what feels fresh and exciting and that it brings a bunch of good physical comedy along with it is a fun bonus. Similarly, Tina’s sister Queenie (Alison Sudol) is a sheltered functionary in the magical bureaucracy starting to realize a lot of what she’s been told is lies— a character I don’t remember seeing in the first seven Harry Potter films. Seeing prejudice against non-wizards confronted directly instead of through philosophical discussions is more affecting.

I found myself struggling to care about Newt or Tina. They aren’t particularly likeable or interesting beyond being the lead characters of a movie. Newt felt like a blank slate; unless he was in a scene with Jacob he just reflected the tone of the scene or gave some exposition about some beast or another. It doesn’t help that I find Eddie Redmayne sort of boring as a human being, he’s like the personification of bland England. Tina is a character who deeply cares about one thing (saving the children from the New Salem Society) that is pushed to the periphery of the movie until very late and the rest of the time she’s just the character who wants the main characters to have less fun. She’s like if they replaced Hermoine with Molly Weasley in the main Harry Potter films. By contrast, the supporting characters, Jacob and Queenie, are infinitely more interesting. Jacob has this ambition to escape his mundane life and then he’s offered this glimpse in to an immeasurably more interesting world. Queenie is a telepath who is falling for the first non-wizard she’s ever spent any time with. Their stories are so much more compelling, I would watch a TV show about the two of them running Jacob’s bakery every week.

Fantastic Beasts is supposed to be the first in a five movie series, and that fills me with apprehension. The second movie is supposed to take place in Paris and if the story is that Newt’s case full of magic animals gets broken open unleashing calamity there I’m going to be pretty bored with it. There seems to be less potential with Newt and Tina than there was with Harry, Ron, and Hermoine for continued adventures because instead of a lifelong vendetta and the turmoil of maturity, we have a box with a greedy platypus. I loved that platypus but it isn’t enough. I intend to give Rowling a chance because she hasn’t let me down yet, but I’m nervous about it. Fantastic Beasts is a load of fun but I hope it doesn’t get, please forgive this pun, too long of a leash.

Ed Catto: Fiction with Purpose


On the way to RocCon, the Rochester Comic Convention, my cousin John gave me a comics-related clipping that his mom, my Aunt Carolyn, asked him to pass along. It was from the Catholic Courier and it was a positive review of Darwyn Cooke’s graphic novel The New Frontier.

This week’s column was supposed to be about RocCon, but the clipping about The New Frontier sent me in another direction. So instead let’s focus on purpose, Geek Culture and the Catholic Courier clipping.

But first a little background on Darwyn Cooke’s The New Frontier. This graphic novel was originally released as a six-issue miniseries in 2004. The Catholic News Service review describes it this way:

rochester-catholic-courierSet in the 1950s and early 1960s, the novel…examines issues of racism, immigration, the blacklisting of accused subversives and the morality of the Vietnam War.

More important, in The New Frontier creator Darwyn Cooke firmly established the DC Universe as a place where focused individuals work hard to create positive change that benefit everyone.

Still, it was strange to reed about this graphic novel in a Catholic newspaper. Back in the day, I don’t recall a whole lot of support from the Catholic Church for comics. More recently, I’m always surprised when some organized religions protest against fiction like Harry Potter stories for promoting the devil or other rotten things.

This review was different. It was very positive. In fact, they awarded The New Frontier an A-III rating. I never would have imagined that the Catholic Church would formally approve of the Justice League. But you know what? They should have.

Maybe I should have seen the church’s embrace of heroic fiction coming. My Aunt Carolyn, a devout Catholic, has always been pro-comics. She’s retired now, but she enjoyed a long career as a middle school/high school English teacher.

In the 60s, my Aunt Carolyn famously took the initiative to purchase a stack of comics to share with her class. This was in Auburn, NY, a town that back in 1948 had one of those ridiculous comic book burnings to stamp out juvenile delinquency. Despite the fact that she used her own money to buy the comics, the school administration frowned on classroom distribution of “funny books.” They demanded she get those comics out of the school.

So I’m happy that “we” in general, and the Catholic News Service’s reviewer in particular, value positive stories about individuals who routinely engage in self-sacrifice and contribute to the greater good.

I contrast that with current political discussions. It’s astounding to me that so many conversations about the Presidential race don’t value a lifetime of public service.

I’m proud of the fact that often in Geek Culture, there tends to be a value assigned to characters that do positive things.

And taking it a step further, in Geek Culture the real heroes are the creators who got off the couch and created something positive.

None of our fictional heroes are perfect. Certainly few of Geek Culture’s real-life hero-creators are perfect. In fact, one Golden Age artist I constantly put on a pedestal struggled throughout his life. Consequently he was, at times, mean and cruel and disappointed many people.

But it’s not about perfection. It’s about trying to do something positive and succeeding once in a while.

I’m thrilled that the Catholic News Service embraces the message of hope and optimism in that the brilliant Darywn Cooke story, The New Frontier. It’s a fantastic read. However, at the core of that story and so many stories in Geek Culture, there are a lot of positive, hopeful messages. And even the Catholic Church can get behind that.

Oh, that review from the Catholic News Service is here http://catholicphilly.com/2016/07/us-world-news/culture/darwyn-cookes-final-frontier/ if you’d like to read it.

Martha Thomases: Fear And Loathing at Hydra


Over the last few weeks we’ve seen a vigorous discussion among people who create and/or love comics about the relationships and responsibilities of creators and fans. This is nothing new — fans have been demanding certain kinds of stories that authors don’t want to create at least since Conan Doyle was forced to bring Sherlock Holmes back from the dead — but the internet brings so many more people into the conversation.

And too many of these people on the internet don’t understand the difference between a discussion among people with different points of view and a unilateral demand for submission.

The specific irritant this time is the big reveal that Steve Rogers, our beloved Captain America, is and always has been an agent of Hydra.

Now, I don’t read Cap. Nothing against him, just not my jam. Still, when I read a commentary from the Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz declaring that Cap’s creators, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, wouldn’t have approved because of implied anti-Semitism, I found it interesting.

Interesting. Not canon. Not a papal edict. Interesting.

Apparently that story, while critical of Marvel’s editorial decisions, was an outlier. Many more fans took up keyboards to proclaim their displeasure and demand that things go back the way they used to be. Here and here you can read intelligent analyses of what happened.

I think it’s important here to draw a distinction between someone who says “I don’t like this,” and someone who says, “I don’t like this and you suck and I’m going to find out where you live and kill you.” There is also a difference between someone who says, “I don’t like the start of this story, and I’m not going to read it” and someone who says, “I don’t like the start of this story, but I’m going to read a few more issues and see if it gets better.”

Some stories, written by people I like, drawn by people I like, just don’t do it for me. Some stories, written and drawn by people I haven’t liked in the past, break through my previous assumptions and I enjoy them. Sometimes, because of specific things that have happened to me, a story will provoke an association in my mind that is different from what the authors intended.

That’s okay.

I can make connections that are interesting to me even if these ideas are different from what anyone else sees. Years ago, when I read Kingdom Come, I remember telling Mark Waid that the story seemed to be an allegory for the Democratic Party at the time, with the ideals of New Deal Democrats coming face-to-face with the new reality of Clinton’s New Democrats, which diluted and militarized FDR’s dreams.

Mark, of course, looked at me as if I was crazy. Maybe. Still, it was an entertaining conversation to have. At least for me.

Do I think Nick Spencer, the writer, and Marvel, the corporate entity, are deliberately trying to offend fans and insult Joe Simon and Jack Kirby? No, of course not. I think they are trying to tell stories that will entertain enough people to make a profit. At the same time, I think fans who buy comics and don’t like the story have every right to say what they don’t like.

Politely, and within the accepted parameters of comic book criticism (which I would define rather broadly). In other words, you can say the story sucks. You can say the writing/art/editing suck. You can say that corporate ownership of intellectual property inevitably decreases the value of that property. You can make an analogy to what has happened to Captain America since the Kirby/Simon days and what’s happened to Harlem since gentrification.

But you can’t make physical threats against people.

At the other end of this conversation, we have people who object when someone who created a beloved body of work continues that body of work. I’m talking about J. K. Rowling and her new Harry Potter stories. Apparently, there are fans who are upset that Rowling authorized and contributed ideas for a play about grown-up Harry and Ginny, their children and friends. To these fans, anything beyond the original books is heresy, and Rowling should do something else.

If Rowling somehow went back and erased all previous editions of her books and the movies based on them, maybe these fans would have a point. That isn’t happening. Those stories are still there. Fans can continue to read and re-read stories about Harry as a student at Hogwarts.

Just as they can continue to read and re-read the Simon/Kirby Cap, and any other issues they liked. In a few years, there will be a new creative team on the series, and I would bet money that this Hydra story will disappear.

At least, I hope so. I’m really hoping that this run of Wonder Woman will be forgotten as soon as possible.

Tweeks: LootCrate April 2016 Unboxing “Quest”

Watch as we unbox April’s Loot Crate. The theme was Quest and there were a bunch of super cool things inside like a David Bowie/Labyrinth shirt, a Viking horn cup you can wear, Harry Potter socks…and more.  The best thing?  Probably the box. Check it out and if you love it, go to lootcrate.com to get your own.  (But hurry, the deadline to get May’s box is May 19th at 9pm PT!)

Emily S. Whitten: Literary Lacquers

I have a thing for rainbows. Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve always liked rainbows. Not the upside-down-smiley-face, fluffy-clouds-on-the-ends drawings of rainbows (I kind of don’t like those), but real, elusive, illuminated water droplets in the sky and spectrums created by prisms rainbows. I have even been known to run out into the rain to get pictures of a really good (really big) rainbow.

I also have a thing for nail polishes – my collection of colors and varieties is embarrassingly large – and have been known to play around with sort of complicated designs for kicks, including Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle nails, Iron Man arc reactor nails, magnetic polish nails, and Union Jack nails. (And so many more, but I can’t find all the pictures, alas! You should have seen the Burberry nails.) I’m also always on the lookout for cool nail polish products, like for instance the Espionage Cosmetics geek nail wraps.

And of course (of course!) I love literature; and especially genre literature. So when I was browsing Etsy for some lilac jewelry to wear on April 28 in memory of Sir Terry Pratchett and stumbled upon a brand of a) holographic (rainbowy!) nail polishes b) inspired by literature, including a fair amount of genre literature, I was very excited. The pictures looked awesome, the descriptions were great (read them!), and the literary inspirations showed that the creator of these polishes is clearly a kindred spirit. I immediately wanted to try them all; so I contacted Literary Lacquers to see if I could get some samples to review, and the great gal behind the brand kindly obliged.

I was stoked to receive my samples a couple of days ago; a sentiment echoed by Catbug and Baby Groot. After much browsing of the many, many choices in the store, which included options from favorite literature like Discworld, The Dresden Files, Stardust, Lord of the Rings, Anne of Green Gables, The Chronicles of Narnia, A Wrinkle in Time, Harry Potter, Dandelion Wine, and so many more, I made my selections.

Based in part on what colors would actually look good with my skin (I craved Dandelion Wine but doubted it would work for me) I went with Phenomenal Woman, Strong Steady Hand, Avada Kedavra, The Mad Ones, Ether Binge, Swallowed Up In Blue, The Ultimate Outlaw, Marilla’s Amethyst Brooch, Laters, Baby, Sidewalk’s End, I’m Drinking Stars, and Goodnight Moon. I picked mostly holographics, given how much I love them, but threw in some other types for variety to see what the full line is like.

Right off the bat, I will say that they seem to be of a consistently good quality. They go on evenly, and with three coats (I do thin coats) they give me solid color coverage. (They could also be put over e.g. a light colored or silver or gold base coat for a light sheen on top.) They also seem to be fairly durable when it comes to chipping. I have only been wearing them for a couple of days; but in that time I’ve had no major chips and only a little bit of wearing off on the edges of a couple of nails (which happens with pretty much every polish I’ve ever tried).

Most importantly, the colors are great. Even though I have some difficulty in photographing holographic effects (they always look better in person!) here are photos of ten of the colors so you can see what they look like on and in comparison to each other. Also here are a couple of close-ups attempting to capture the holographic effect. And best of all for seeing the full effect, here’s a quick Vine video of Strong Steady Hand in action.

The pure holographics (Phenomenal Woman, The Mad Ones, Ether Binge, The Ultimate Outlaw, Sidewalk’s End, I’m Drinking Stars) all have a consistently high-quality holographic effect in bright light, and even in low light you can see a bit of a rainbow. The glitter holographics (Strong Stead Hand and Laters, Baby) have the same sheen, only outshone by the bigger glitter flecks. I really like these for the fact that the larger flecks of glitter add to the gradient rainbow effect of the holographic, and are of a brighter, more dimensional and holographic quality than glitter I’ve seen in other polishes. Swallowed Up In Blue, the holographic blue that also has a pink shimmer to it, is also particularly cool, because the holographic effect is as strong as the pure holos, but on top of it, even in low light, you can see the pink sheen over the blue.

Marilla’s Amethyst Brooch is one of the rare non-holos I chose; and although I always prefer rainbows, it has a good depth and rich purple glitter to it that is actually slightly more striking in low light than a pure holo. Goodnight Moon, another non-holo, is nice for its light purple sheen and tiny rainbow glitter, along with the bigger flecks, including moons. As with any of the larger glitter fleck polishes I’ve ever used, it needs to be applied with care to get the bigger flecks off of the brush and onto the nail, but it’s no harder to use than any similar polish I’ve used. Avada Kedavra, the only matte I chose (I like the look of mattes but have bad luck with them chipping) is very cool; without a top coat, three coats gives a nice slightly sheer black, with a much more evenly distributed coating of large glitter flecks than similar polishes I’ve tried; and chipping so far is no worse than for a regular polish. With a top coat, the mixed-in tiny rainbow glitter flecks are made brighter, which gives it a bit more pop.

Altogether, I am very impressed with this nail polish line (as well as with the cool themes and descriptions. You should read them! If you like any of the books that inspired them, the descriptions will make you feel happy and nostalgic for your favorites). I would not single out any color as a non-favorite; but I would say that my favorites of the pure holos by a small margin might be Phenomenal Woman, Ether Binge, and I’m Drinking Stars (the holos are particularly visible in them); and of the others, Strong Steady Hand (excellent bright rainbow effect!) Avada Kedavra (cool even glitter application, and can be worn two ways!), and Swallowed Up In Blue (good effects in both high and low lights!). In summary: I recommend!

So if you’re into literature, nail polish, rainbows, and the like, hop on over to Literary Lacquers and give some of these great colors a try. (And speaking of geek shopping, remember my recent column about it? Well I’ve just created a Pinterest board to show some of my favorite recent purchases. Check it out!)

And until next time, Servo Lectio!

Molly Jackson: Choosing Everything

Choosing EverythingI spend way too much time on social media. I’m often lurking in the background, checking out what weird Internet gems people have found or created. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve seen this fandom day meme pop up throughout my social media feeds.

Based on the date chosen, it is possibly meant as an early April Fools’ joke but it still brought something to light. In every posting I saw of this meme, I saw fans stating they apparently needed to wear a rainbow of fandoms. In some cases, it seemed like people were asking permission just to show support for multiple fandoms. (The other complaint being they left out a ton of groups.)

This just boggles my mind. Who needs to choose one fandom?! Most geeks can fit in more than one. I have attended Firefly meetups, where more often than not everyone is talking a variety of other fandoms rather than just the crew of Serenity. And the mashup genre has become a big hit. Facebook pages dedicated to a random grouping of interests rather than a singular one are running rampant.

Geekdom, in general, is its own fandom. Within the confines of our passions are our singular interests. Just like a historian or chef or doctor (yeah, I know I’m stretching boundaries) can specialize in a certain area, so can geeks. While I’m definitely weak in the Doctor Who and Supernatural areas, I can rock the Buffy and Harry Potter zones. I may choose Star Trek and DC Comics in the big fan debates, but that doesn’t stop me from rocking a Wookie hat and an Avengers t-shirt.

Maybe I am just making too much out of an Internet meme. It will eventually disappear and resurface, then disappear again. But just don’t ask me to choose between my Star Wars Wookie hat and my Star Trek Gorn t-shirt. Then we are going to have a problem.


Martha Thomases: Defending Peter Pan

Over the weekend, film critic A. O. Scott wrote a long essay in The New York Times Magazine that irked me, and I wanted to use my column to unpack some of my feelings about it. If you have opinions about the state of modern pop culture, you might want to join me.

(I’m now going to paraphrase and reduce his arguments to the bones. By all means, read the entire piece for more nuance.)

Scott seems to think that the modern American adult, by his and her refusal to grow up, has had a deleterious effect on the popular arts. He specifically mentions “bromance” movies, like those produced by Judd Apatow, superhero movies, and adults who read young adult (YA) books like the Harry Potter series and The Hunger Games. In his opinion, the success of these genres means that we, as grown-ups, are rejecting our responsibilities.

As a tax-paying citizen who serves on jury duty, votes in every election, raised a productive citizen and volunteers in my community, I think I qualify as an adult in attitude as well as age. And I like all the things that Scott decries.

For the purposes of this column, I’m just going to talk about the books Scott talks about. You may assume I have parallel arguments about the other categories, and we can talk about this in the comments, if you like.

First of all, unless we are talking about marketing categories (as determined by publishers, booksellers and librarians), the YA category doesn’t make a lot of sense. When I was in middle school and high school, I read all kinds of books that were not considered to be YA. I read To Kill a Mockingbird, The Catcher in the Rye and The Old Man and the Sea, books that are often read by people in those age groups. I also read Giles Goat Boy by John Barth. I read James Bond and Ray Bradbury and Philip Roth. We can argue about the varying qualities of these books, but none were racked on the children’s shelves.

Today, my reading includes some of these writers, and Neil Gaiman, William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, J.K. Rowling and others who some may perceive to write for non-adults. I enjoy some genre fiction.

And I enjoy comic books. Lots of comic books.

Scott seems to think that graphic novels are not as intellectually demanding as prose novels. Like many, I think he confuses the medium of graphic storytelling with the genre of superhero comics. There are certainly books appropriate for the average young adult, such as March. And there are books that are not easily understood by those who haven’t had a certain amount of real-world experience, such as V for Vendetta or Promethea, which require at least some knowledge of history, linguistics, and adult relationships.

Please note: By adult relationships I mean actual relationships between adults, and not just sex. Thinking the word “adult” only refers to sex is actually kind of adolescent.

Now, I don’t really care what Scott thinks about my personal entertainment preferences. While we know some of the same people, I’m not likely to ever meet him, nor would I begin a conversation by attacking this particular essay.

And I don’t think he’s entirely wrong. Baby Boomers in general don’t like growing up, and we have clung to the remnants of our youth with a death-grip. We can be really obnoxious in our attempts to stay relevant, to the detriment of our popular culture.

Still, that is no reason to dismiss examples of popular culture because they come dressed in the costumes of youth and fantasy. After all, for nearly two centuries grown-ups have taught us that you can’t judge a book by its cover.


Mindy Newell: Truth, Justice, And The American Way

Catwoman“How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!” – Maya Angelou

I read John Ostrander’s column yesterday with interest. (I always read John’s columns and love them.) Then I went to the Wall Street Journal’s website and read Chuck Dixon and Paul Rivoche’s essay.

Well, John, to a certain extent I have to agree with Chuck and Paul. It’s one thing for us, as adults, to read comics with an adult slant – meaning moral ambiguity in both our heroes and our villains. But I do think that for younger readers, the children and pre-teens (and, I suppose, depending on their maturity, some teenagers), it’s important that the heroes do act ethically and morally. They (Superman, the X-Men, Captain Marvel, Batman, Green Arrow, Wonder Woman, Daredevil, et.al.) are, not to put too fine a point on it, cultural icons…and besides, all kids need heroes to look up to – with a sense of wonder, with awe, with a desire to “be just like him/her when I grow up.”

And when their heroes fall, children are upset; they don’t understand adult haziness, they live in a black-and-white world.  I remember when Lawrence Taylor (of the New York Giants and considered the greatest linebacker in NFL history) was arrested for cocaine use. “L.T.” was one of Alixandra’s heroes, and when she heard the news – we were in the car listening to the radio – she said to me, “How could he do that, Mommy?” And in her voice there was confusion and hurt and the sound of her hero crumbling into dust.

And I was angry. At that moment I hated Lawrence Taylor. In one second he had destroyed a part of my daughter’s innocence. And I thought of all the other kids out there who had looked up to him and now, just like Alix, were asking their parents how and why and I bet those parents felt just like I did.

Now I am not one to hide the facts of life from children. I always tried to be as honest as I could be with my daughter when she asked any and all questions. And certainly, Alixandra, as a child of divorced parents, already knew that the world was not a bed of roses.

But I also believe that in a world that grows uglier by the minute – I just saw a statistic on MSNBC’s Up with Steve Koracki that there have been 74 school shootings since Newtown in 2012 – it’s more important than ever that kids have heroes.

It doesn’t matter if their heroes are fictional creations. Harry Potter, Buffy Summers, Katniss Everdeen, Percy Jackson, Matilda Wormwood, Lyra Belacqua and characters from the pages of books have captured the imagination of – and have served as inspirations to – children around the world. And it not as if their originators had fashioned perfect idols – all carry some resentment of being thrust into the hero’s role, but all also rise above their individual desires and accept the responsibility that fate has thrust upon them. Harry Potter realizes it is up to him alone to conquer Voldemort. Katniss Everdeen faces up to her leadership of the rebellion against Panem. And Buffy Summers comes to understand that “death is my gift” in her fight to save her sister and the world from the god known as Glory.

The writer has the responsibility to know his or her audience, to know for whom s/he is writing. As the cast of Buffy got older, and as the fans of the show aged along with them, Joss Whedon allowed the stories to become more complicated, to reflect the journey into adulthood that the characters, and the fans, were experiencing. Whedon also did this when he spun off Angel from Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Aiming for a more mature (read: adult) audience, the show nuanced both the main character and its perspective; there was less black-and-white, and a lot more grayness, especially as the show progressed through its five seasons. On Buffy having a soul equaled good, not having a soul equaled bad – but on Angel, having a soul didn’t necessarily make the vampire “good” – in fact, as the show progressed, Angel’s goodness became more and more a matter of degrees, became more “adultly” ambiguous. The support cast, Cordelia and Gunn and Wesley (especially Wesley!!) and the others also shifted from simple classifications to complex characterizations.

As a writer I have always been aware for whom I’m writing. I like to write for what the publishing industry calls “YA,” or the young adult market – teenagers and those in their early twenties. Certainly I have written my share of “dark” stories – in fact, that’s where my story inclinations tend to take me – but I’ve always tried to put something in there that indicates hope, even if it’s only a sliver of light, i.e., the characters have progressed to a better place. In what I think is my blackest tale (Lois Lane: When It Rains, God is Crying), a story of child abuse, abduction, and murder, and one in which there is no “happy ending,” Lois learned to let down the walls she had built around herself, learned to let her friends and family in.  And in Catwoman: My Sister’s Keeper, Selena’s “sister,” the child prostitute Holly, is taken off the streets and into in locos parentis custody by Selena’s real sister.

But I’ve also written stories for younger people in which heroes have no feet of clay.  One such story was “With Love, From Superman, a back-up in Action Comics Vol. 1, No. 566 (April, 1985).  In the story, preteen Molly Richards wants Superman’s autograph and dreams that she is Supergirl and Lois Lane – until the real Superman shows up to give her a surprise.

Of course I get that the world has changed drastically even in the short time since Alix was a child. Today’s kids are inundated with 24-hour news and factoids on the television and on the web; even when their parents do their best to shield them, their children will still hear about something at school or at their friends’ houses – it just seeps into the zeitgeist. I get that the parents have to talk to their children about things that are ugly and scary and way too “grown-up” for them…

I just believe that it’s incredibly important to keep “once upon a time,” along with “truth, justice, and the American way,” in the mix, for as long as possible.

There’s plenty of time for the corruption of their values.


Martha Thomases: Book… Fair?

When I went to my friendly neighborhood comic book store last Wednesday, they offered me a free copy of DC Entertainment Graphic Novel Essential and Chronology 2014.

“No,” I said. “It will just piss me off.”

They put in my bag anyway. And it did.

If you click on the link above you get a review of last year’s edition of this book. I was not aware that this was an on-going series. Thus, I have been spared years of rage.

The volume suffers from the kind of schizophrenia common to the comics industry: it doesn’t know its audience. Is it readers of comic books? That might explain the jumbled cover, which is otherwise incoherent to someone unfamiliar with members of the Bat crew other than Batman. Is it new readers that, somehow, get past the cover and look inside? Perhaps, but once these new readers page further in than the first chapter (which is “25 Essential Graphic Novels”), the book is a confusing listing of collections from the New 52.

By the time you get to the recommendations for “All Ages,” it’s collections of stories from series that have been cancelled. I’m sure the books hold up, which is more than one can say for the New 52.

If I had to guess, I would say that the book is aimed at booksellers, particularly those who plan to attend next week’s Book Expo America . The order information in the back is for booksellers. Graphic novels remain a growth area in the book business, and DC Entertainment would be foolish to ignore a growing revenue source.

However …

Back when I worked at DC, there weren’t many people who saw bookstores as a market for our wares. Comic book stores were our primary outlets, and some thought we shouldn’t do anything that competed with our best customers. I understood this perspective, but disagreed. Comic book stores are wonderful places, but comics, especially those with good, satisfying stories, are things that bring people joy. I thought we needed to expose our books to people who didn’t know about them, and the bookstore market was the most obvious place to do so.

The graphic novel was not a new product in the 1990s. Maus, The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen were all available and selling well. The challenge was to publish other books that would sell as well and yet still fit into the business patterns DC relied upon in terms of paying for work in advance. It was easier to publish the work serially first (as all three of the aforementioned books had been) than to spring for a fully-formed single volume.

Hence, the trade collection.

Here’s the thing: A trade collection is easy for the publisher. Just take four, or six, or eight sequential issues of a comic, put them together and bind them with a spine and – voila – it looks just like a graphic novel.

However, it doesn’t read like a novel, graphic or otherwise. There is not necessarily a beginning, a middle and an end. There is sometimes not even a clear protagonist, a person who has a character arc that leads him (or her) to a more developed character or personality. Quite often, there is so much backstory that the new reader is too confused to read past the first few pages.

Let’s compare a book like, say, The Flash volume 3: Gorilla Warfare, a book I like a great deal by a creative team I admire, and compare it to the third book in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Both books provide the reader with certain expected tropes (speed, quidditch, scary enemies) but one is much more inviting to a newbie. J. K. Rowling always alludes to the previous books in such a way that the reader can follow the characters without reading the other books in the series (although having read them makes the experience much richer). DC Entertainment? Not so much.

I can cite lots of other examples: James Bond, the 87th Precinct, even The Hardy Boys.

The point is not that books are better than comics. The point isn’t that the examples I cited are great literature. They may be (I doubt it, YMMV), but that’s not my point. My point (and I do have one) is that when a reader is looking for something to read for pleasure, to pass the time on a plane ride or on the beach or by the fire on a rainy day, that reader doesn’t necessarily want to do homework first. He or she wants to sit down and get swept away by a story.

I used to argue that, while great literature is a wonderful thing, and I was proud to be working for the company that published Sandman and Stuck Rubber Baby, we should be user-friendly. A person who walks into a bookstore, interested in this graphic novel phenomenon s/he’s heard so much about, is most likely to pick up a book that looks a little familiar. When I thought I might like mysteries, for example, I started with Chandler and Hammett, whose work I knew a bit about from the movies. Someone looking for graphic novels is likely to pick up Superman or Batman.

We should make the best damn Superman and Batman graphic novels we know how.

Most of the graphic novels in this DC Entertainment catalog fail this requirement. The Year One books are pretty good, but they are in the minority.

I’ll be curious to see how the DC reps work at Book Expo this year. Last year, I didn’t see any, subsumed as they were as part of Random House distribution. There was no signage I could see, except at the Diamond booth.

Which is all they’re going to get if they keep up this kind of marketing.


Jen Krueger: Apparently I’m Kermit

Krueger Art 140128Of the myriad of characters that exist in Westeros, apparently I’m most similar to Tyrion Lannister. When it comes to the cast at Hogwarts, I could stand in for Hermione. And in a galaxy far, far away, I’m interchangeable with R2-D2. All of these results were drawn from online quizzes, but I probably didn’t have to tell you that. Your Facebook feed is likely as full as mine of results to the same (or similar) questionnaires.

The first memory I have of a “where would you fit in the world of (insert pop culture reference here)” quiz is one featuring the Hogwarts Sorting Hat placing the user in one of the school’s four houses. I recall seeing it online shortly after Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone became a huge hit in theaters, and my reaction to it was, How cute, I bet little kids will get a kick out of doing that. Today though, this bite-size pop culture personalization is a daily occurrence amongst my adult friends. With so much of ourselves represented in social media, it’s natural to want our interests in entertainment reflected there, but lately I’ve been wondering why that expression now comes so commonly in this quiz form.

I’m sure some of the draw is in the unique style of fan service these quizzes offer. They encourage geeking out by breaking down shows and movies in a way only fans would understand, and do so in an interactive and personalized manner. Obviously anyone could take a quiz to learn which companion they’d be if they found themselves in the TARDIS, but only a Doctor Who fan would appreciate the difference between being told they’re a Donna or an Amy. This active invitation to the user to move beyond simply thinking about the property’s world and into thinking of themselves as part of the property’s world is hard to replicate in other things aimed at fans. And since fancying yourself similar to a character you love is obviously going to be flattering, it’s no surprise the bulk of these questionnaires are aimed at telling people which character they’re most like.

So the impetus to take the quizzes makes sense. But why post the results on Facebook? Sure, sharing our favorite entertainment with friends is nothing new, but proclaiming I love the BBC’s Sherlock is very different from posting that I got Sherlock Holmes in a “Which Sherlock Character Are You?” quiz. The former reveals one of my pop culture touchstones, but the latter takes things a step further by letting me define a bit of myself with that specific touchstone acting as a yardstick. And silly as it might be, I have to admit it’s actually possible to tell things about people based on their results.

This week, a questionnaire telling the user what Muppet they would be was particularly popular amongst my friends. Looking at which Henson creation everyone got, I saw a correlation between the traits of their designated Muppet and the traits those friends prize in real life.

Is this a shallow way to think about people? Yes. But, weirdly, it works, at least to a certain extent. It also explains something I hadn’t ever understood before: people answering the questions in a way they think will yield a particular result, or re-taking a quiz until they get their desired answer. If we put enough stock in the results to be pleased when aligned with a favorite character, and we find other people’s results to the same quiz to be generally accurate, then I suppose it stands to reason that receiving a result comparing ourselves to characters we don’t like would be undesirable.

At the end of the day though, the lifespan of the results of these quizzes is the same as that of the quizzes themselves: extremely short. Accurate or not, today’s Downton Abbey questionnaire will be replaced by one about The Hunger Games tomorrow, and both will be forgotten by next week. But maybe this actually contributes to the popularity of these quizzes in a way; they’re quick bursts of fandom made no less fun for their brevity. If movies and TV act as pop culture meals, then these questionnaires are pop culture amuse-bouches. And they fulfill that role well.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to see if I can get someone other than Lady Edith on this Downton quiz.