Tagged: J. K. Simmons

Dennis O’Neil: Commissioner Gordon, Here And There


The new television season has begun. (Goody goody gumdrops?) With only two superhero shows displaying their wares, it’s a bit early to comment on innovations, trends and outrages, whatever causes to hurl an anvil at the screen or curl up next to it and purr.

Of the two returnees, Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD seems to be serving more of the same. It’s kind of interesting that some comic book stuff is being repeated in the electronic media. A complaint I used to hear about Marvel’s comics is that the storylines were difficult to follow, especially for newcomers. I have a similar complaint about SHIELD, but maybe I’m just dumb. Well, maybe, but if that’s true I’m not the only one. Last week I was talking comics with an Ivy League professor and this certifiably intelligent and erudite intellectual admitted that he, too, had trouble following SHIELD’s plots.

Not a problem with the other early returnee, Gotham. Though the stories are reasonably dense, there’s never any difficulty knowing who’s doing what to whom and why, and I remain firm in my belief that clear storytelling is a virtue. The show has given us a plot alteration, however: James Gordon, heretofore known as the straightest officer in town, has quit the force and is working as a bounty hunter which, as far as I’m concerned, is the same thing as a private eye.

Gordon has done some impressive evolving since he first appeared 77 years ago in Detective Comics #27, He began as a softish, elderly functionary who was never seen doing any hands-on law enforcing; he had Batman for that. He was a bit of a blank slate, our Jim, with no private life, hobbies, quirks, just duties to perform, which he did perfunctorily. Not an impressive dude.

But, like flesh-and-blood people, he changed. Got himself a wife and kid (though not in the television version). Became somewhat bitter – for a cop in Gotham City, that was natural – and maybe got chummy with people he should have avoided. He has just acquired a new girlfriend but, uh oh, his ex is back in town and is probably heading his way and that can’t be good. (But we’re happy to see Lee Tompkins again.) He’s still a credit to his kind, but he’s no longer a Goody-Two Shoes; if the rules need breaking, he breaks them.

Gordon is, in short, the kind of hero who began to be popular after World War I. He knows that the system is broken and that no authority figure should be trusted, including police. So he lives by a personal code and brings justice to places even good cops might not care to reach. He’s brave and tough. Though he’s basically a loner, he often has a sidekick and here, too, TV’s Gordon fits the archetype; Sergeant Bullock, who was a slob in the comics, is a groomed and decent man who has Gordon’s back.

I wonder if there’s a John Watson somewhere in Bullock’s family tree.

Stay tuned for more excitement!

(Editor’s Note: We included the shot of J K Simmons in the art because he’s the next guy to play the role of Commissioner Gordon – in the upcoming Justice League movie – and because the editor likes J K Simmons and it’s his computer.)

Martha Thomases: Understanding Scott McCloud

If you haven’t read The Sculptor, stop reading this and go get yourself a copy immediately,

Need more persuasion? Okay, but you’re missing out on valuable time that could be spent reading this awesome book. I’ve been a fan of Scott’s since Zot because it was funny and human and had a villain named Art Deco. More people became fans when he published the brilliant Understanding Comics. There is no one who uses the graphic story medium to better effect than Scott McCloud.

The Sculptor showcases McCloud’s mastery of technique. His use of color is impeccable. The book is black and white with blue tones, giving the different scenes a variety of moods and weights. The way he uses overlapping word balloons reminds me of an Altman movie. The panel arrangements speed up time and slow it down, depending on the needs of the character.

All of this is in service to the story: David Smith is a frustrated artist trying to make it in New York. He makes a deal with Death (not the cute girl but an old Jewish man who reminds me of my mom’s Uncle Harry) to have 200 days when he create whatever art he wants, in exchange for dying at the end of the deal.

Then he falls in love.

Meg isn’t anyone’s dream girl. A struggling actress, she has serious emotional problems including, I think, a variation of bi-polar disorder (Note: I am not a doctor). Still, her energy and her compassion strike a chord with David. It’s not an easy relationship for either of them. Maybe that’s why it’s so easy to believe it.

I’ve seen people compare the story to Faust, and I guess I get that analogy, but it doesn’t really hold up. David doesn’t ask for fame or power – he just wants to make his art the way he wants to make his art. He doesn’t even negotiate for a gallery show where people can see his work.

It’s all about the art.

A major character in this book is New York City. Not the New York of Friends or Sex and the City or even Peter Parker, this is the New York of cheap rent, scummy landlords, tight money and brilliant, artistic friends. It’s the New York I wanted to live in when I came here nearly 40 years ago. So much so that I almost thought the story took place at that time, until I noticed everyone had cell phones.

I thought that New York was gone. Maybe I’m just too old for it. I’m grateful to The Sculptor for letting me live there again, for at least as long as it took to read.

And another thing! It’s bugged me lately that critics seem to think that superhero movies are the root of all evil. It’s a genre that gets sneers from everyone, even though it’s relatively new (I would say it started with Superman in 1978).

Okay, we can discuss whether or not Thor: The Dark World was as good a film as The Imitation Game. I don’t think it was. Still, it brought happiness to millions. I think that’s a good thing.

And it gives a lot of people a chance to make a living in a field they love. Or, as Marvel writer Gerry Duggan said on Twitter Sunday night after J. K. Simmons won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, “J Jonah Jameson beat two Hulks to win an Oscar, then Ra’s al Ghul said there are too many comic adaptations. #Oscars2015”