Last week, Rich Johnston over at Bleeding Cool wrote one of his typically brilliant pieces about how Marvel Studios’ Kevin Feige aced out Marvel CEO Isaac Perlmutter and put to death the Marvel Creative Committee – Alan Fine, Brian Michael Bendis, Dan Buckley, Joe Quesada and others from time to time such as Jeph Loeb and Axel Alonso.
That last bit makes my head hurt. Consciously turning your back on such a gifted, knowledgeable and successful group of people because you think you know how to do it better is not the act of a good businessperson, it’s the act of a megalomaniac.
Rich asks the question “how did Feige manage to strong-arm Disney into this decision?” That’s a fascinating question, as historical inquiries go. I’d like to toss out some comments about the future of Feige Island (Rich’s term; I only steal from the best). To paraphrase the most over-paraphrased phrase in comics, “with great power comes great exposure.”
This is not a prediction, it’s an analysis. Lots of shit will come down the pike. However, this is one of those rare occasions where logic is useful. Sooner or later, Marvel Studios is going to drop a turd. No slight against Marvel; it’s the second law of thermodynamics, although I phrased it somewhat differently. It’s going to happen sooner or later.
The highest dictum of business is “cover your ass.” Once again I shall quote the great Mel Brooks in Blazing Saddles, where he played Governor William J. Le Petomane at his conference table. “We’ve got to protect our phony baloney jobs, gentlemen!”
This is the principle by which business, government, and Hollywood lives and is bound to live. So, when Marvel Studios finally lays that egg, who is going to get the blame? If the buck stops at Kevin Feige’s wallet, who else is there to blame? Ike Perlmutter? Nope; he’s been banished from Feige Island. If Kevin doesn’t get himself a fall guy… then he is the fall guy.
Why the hell would a creative manager void himself of input from the likes of Bendis, Buckley, Quesada, Loeb, Fine and Alonso? Did Feige actually see any of the Marvel Studios product?
How about the balance sheets?
(For a swell time, Google Mel Brooks’ muse Le Pétomane, the stage name of the French flatulist Joseph Pujol. Seriously. You’ll be amazed and delighted… and, probably, a bit disgusted.)
Two of last year’s TV hits are headed back for a sophomore season that promises big things. BROOKLYN 99 dives into Fox Sunday nights and star Melissa Fumero talks about how the cast is more than ready to grab another Golden Globe, plus what might (or might not) be happening between her character and Andy Samberg. Meanwhile, fresh off CAPTAIN AMERICA WINTER SOLDIER, MARVEL’S AGENTS OF SHIELD starts out another season that will lead not only to next year’s AVENGERS, but to a spin off as well and in spite of all that pressure, Clark Gregg says he’s still having a ball.
Are they father and son? Brothers? Clones? It all depends on which incarnation of Wolverine and Sabertooth you are reading or watching. Their battles have been so frequent that it takes a lot these days to get you to pay attention to the banter and slashing.
Don’t let the title fool you since this is not the Ultimate Universe version of Wolverine but the Marvel Universe incarnation and the story is taken from Wolverine #50-55, one of the first stories written by Jeph Loeb when he returned to Marvel. Set at a time when there were just under 200 mutants on Earth, Sabertooth had been taken in by the X-Men but as one would expect, the Xavier Mansion is not big enough for the two bruisers. So they fight. And fight. And flashback to other fights through the years. And they fight. And they fight Black Panther and get lectured by Storm. And in the end, Sabertooth dies. For a little while anyway.
Loeb and artist Simone Bianchi crafted a fine fight for the duo that fans adored and inspired Marvel to turn into a Motion Comic. Now that conflict is being collected on Blu-ray by Shout! Factory, being released on Tuesday. The resurrection of Sabertooth took place some five years later, pretty long for a dead villain.
As with the other motion comics that have come from Marvel, they have been as dependent on the motion technology as they are with the artwork used as source material. Jae Lee’s fine work didn’t translate well in Origin and Bianchi’s similar work made me question how successful this could be. Thankfully, his dark, painterly style works far better – not great, but better.
The 66 minute slug fest faithfully adapts the story although once more, the vocal casting leaves something to be desired. The score helps a lot.
The disc also comes with a 24:00 retrospective as Loeb and Bianchi recount how they partnered up and struggled to find a fresh way to have these two engines of destruction fight one another without boring the reader. Both speak well and it’s a well-done piece that relies too heavily on clips and has Loeb practically begging you to take Motion Comics seriously.
After a tremendous start to the season, Marvel’s AGENTS OF SHIELD has faced a few challenges, mainly in growing an audience that keeps waiting for familiar super heroes to show up. We talk to Joss Whedon, Marvel TV head Jeph Loeb and EP Jeffrey Bell about just why they isn’t likely to happen. Meanwhile, X-MEN:APOCALYPSE starts to build a cast, and what TV are you tweeting about?
It’s stating the obvious to say that the modern Marvel movie machine has managed both to churn out a slew of awesome, successful movies, and to not fall into the trap of assembly-line production – in other words, that the movies, while they’ve built on each other beautifully and gained momentum with each new release, are all pretty unique and true to the characters and storylines they draw from. But how does that translate when Marvel tries to move such epic stories, in both scope and character, to the small screen? Pretty well, it turns out, with Joss Whedon and co. running the show.
The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. pilot aired Tuesday the 24th, and proved that it is possible to tell small screen stories against the background of the current Marvel cinematic series. In fact, it gives the opportunity to tell larger stories with less – as in the pilot, where the plot builds on the fallout from The Avengers and the Battle of New York. Without showing the grand, epic event, the show is able to easily reference the new state of the world for both S.H.I.E.L.D. and ordinary citizens. Watchers who have seen the movie will instantly understand the world-building at work; and even those who somehow missed the movie will easily pick up on it and understand why as the series begins, S.H.I.E.L.D. is finding its place as “the line between the world and the weirder world.”
That weirder world could not be in better hands than those of Joss Whedon and his team. The pilot is an excellent blend of Whedon show elements that we know and love – witty banter, engaging characters (including women!) kicking ass and taking names, cameos of actors from previous Whedon projects (Ron Glass! J. August Richards!), and a mixture of action, adventure, wonder, mystery, and heart; and the Marvel canon and characterization that Marvel fans live for. The S.H.I.E.L.D. character we’ve come to love from the movies, Coulson, continues to be characterized as an endearingly geeky guy, and yet is now developing into a leader as well; and the new characters, like Skye, Ward, Fitz, Simmons, and May, are already, in one episode, fleshed out enough for viewers to care about what happens to them next.
We also get to see glimpses of the Marvel cinematic universe in elements such as Maria Hill’s appearance, and the involvement of the Extremis virus. There are little Easter eggs for Marvel fans (like the almost-but-subverted-at-the-last-second Spider-Man quote); and references to people cosplaying as their newly discovered in-world superheroes, the Avengers. And most interestingly, from the very first, we are introduced to a take on S.H.I.E.L.D. that’s not entirely heroic – a S.H.I.E.L.D. that exists in the gray area of trying to protect Earth’s inhabitants from danger, and running the risk of becoming the invasive danger that people may have to fear. There’s an obvious analogue to the real world’s decreasing respect for privacy, and it’s accompanied by a serious (and seriously depressing) take on the current real-world economy and our displaced, unanchored work force of unemployed or marginally employed adults. Despite those themes being pretty darned depressing, I was happy to see them tackled head-on, and will be interested to see where the writers go with that next.
Speaking of the writers, at SDCC this year I sat down to chat with the writers and cast of the show, and now, I get to share those chats with you! (And although sadly my battery died too soon, I can also share a couple of short video clips of Joss Whedon and Clark Gregg, along with newly-uploaded clips from the Psych press room, I Know That Voice panel, and more.) Enjoy!
Jeff Bell (executive producer, showrunner, and writer) and Jeph Loeb (head of Marvel Television and executive producer)
The characters feel like broad archetypes at this point – the loner who doesn’t play well with others; the badass woman; the geeky pair…how quickly will we see them be fleshed out, or see other sides of them?
Bell: That’s the whole point of the TV show. We can’t do what a Marvel movie does every week, because we don’t have 250 million dollars a week. We’ve got good chunks of money to tell stories, but most of the stories are going to be about the characters. And arcing those characters out; finding relationships – who likes who, who doesn’t like whom, and why; secrets between all of them. So…I think no one’s exactly who you think they are, and we’re building that, hopefully for a long period of time.
Loeb: I also think that one of the things that makes our show different from the movies but still within the Marvel universe is that it’s about the intimacy of the characters on a television show. Television once upon a time was ‘being invited into your living room.’ It’s gone to the next level. It’s now on your laptop, on your tablet; and guess what, now it’s on your phone, which is the most intimate thing; it’s touching your face. So let’s hope that those people, when they touch your face, actually are people that you love and are complex and have all the richness that you know from shows that Joss has done in the past, and that all the people who are involved with this have done in the past. It’s the fun of it.
With the movies and all, when did this show start coming into production? What was the process?
Loeb: We started Marvel Television three years ago, with our partnership with ABC Studios and ABC; we knew we wanted to have a show that would make a lot of noise; and obviously there were some things we hadn’t developed, because that’s a process – but it was really right after The Avengers that Marvel had a conversation with ABC, and we had this idea for a show about S.H.I.E.L.D.
Bell: Wait, whose idea was it?
Loeb: (pointing to Clark Gregg) It was that man’s idea.
Bell: He said, “You know what would be cool? If I’m not really dead.”
Loeb: True story – Clark and I were at a signing, because Clark actually appears in our animated series, Ultimate Spider-Man, as Agent Coulson, and he turned to me at one point and said, “I have a secret: Coulson lives.” And I said, “Yes.” And he goes, “On television.” And I said, “Yeah I know. But people don’t know you’re dead yet, so we need to do that part first; and then I think we can probably talk to the network about it afterwards.” And Clark said, “Okay, as long as that’s the plan.” But to give credit where credit’s due, none of this would have started without Joss, Jed, Maurissa, and Jeff, who came up with a spectacular pilot, and an arc out for literally about 100 episodes, that enabled everyone at Marvel to get incredibly excited about it, and produce a show that is worthy of the pedigree of the movies and everything else that we do at Marvel.
Since the rights to some Marvel characters like Spider-Man and the X-Men are with other studios, will we be seeing any of that on TV at all?
Loeb: Only in animation. Obviously the Marvel universe is a vast expanse of characters, but I think the fun of this show in particular is that Jeff and Jed and Maurissa and Joss have created, in Coulson and Ward and May and Fitz and Simmons and Skye, really memorable characters who will now join the Marvel universe in a very major way.
In the development, were there ever any elements that Marvel wanted that ABC was not excited about?
Loeb: This has been an incredible partnership. I know it always sounds like, “Ooh, silver clouds…” but Jeff, talk about that first day, when you guys came in and told the story to the network.
Bell: Well here’s what’s nice, because traditionally, Marvel skews to a lot of guys. And ABC kind of skews more female. And then there’s Joss, who’s like the perfect Venn diagram of what you want in a show. So it’s great to see Joss’s version of a Marvel series – because ABC’s interested in emotion, and Joss is interested in emotion, and so it’s really about keeping that as our bulls-eye, and then finding different stories around that. But ABC loves that part of our storytelling. And then if we can do that against the giant, epic scope of a Marvel canvas, with superheroes and things from other places, and cool gadgets from S.H.I.E.L.D. and stuff like that, it’s just a different way to tell emotional stories. And so it’s been a great fit.
How much of the first season is planned out? Are there overarching themes we should know about?
Loeb: We know where we’re going. When you go in to talk about a television show, your initial order is the pilot plus twelve episodes. So you always have to have a plan for that, and so we go in and talk about what we will do for that; and then if successful and there is a back nine, you should have ideas for that as well. So we went in with that, and also a sense of what a second season would be, and right now we’re shooting episode two, and prepping episodes three and four. That’s where we are in the cycle.
How much of a procedural is this going to be?
Loeb: The show is about investigating the weird, the unusual, the strange, and the phenomenal that are in the Marvel universe. It is about a team that assesses that threat. Sometimes that threat is something that they’re going to have to take care of; and sometimes that threat is something that needs to be protected from somebody else that wants to exploit that sort of thing. The show enables us to tell stories that are in straight-ahead procedurals; but also there are all different kinds of things that you’ve come to know from your Whedon shows.
In the movie, S.H.I.E.L.D. responds to several disembodied voices that happen to be a real menace; are you addressing that here?
Loeb: Our plane is a mobile command unit that Director Fury has sort of allowed Coulson to do; and so we tell those stories. There are times when we will connect with big S.H.I.E.L.D. I’m not saying that we will connect with Director Fury; but we will tell stories within the entire S.H.I.E.L.D. universe. They’ll be international, and go all over the planet. Sometimes it’s just us; sometimes it’s big. But going back to your procedural question – it’s not a body of the week story; but we are trying to do standalone episodes the way we did on Angel and Buffy, that had an emotional element to it, and you find metaphors within it that allow you to tell the stories that reflect who your characters are. Sometimes that’s procedural, yes, but the way we break them, really, is about the emotional lives and what kind of story we want to tell.
What’s really important about the show at the end of the day is that you have that feeling of epic adventure and at the same time, the human spirit. You want to be able to be invested in these people and the show. I think that what is so remarkable about the pilot, and then it’s carried over, is that there are moments of great humor, moments where you’ll get teary-eyed, and then there are moments of like, “Wow.” If you can capture that at 8:00 on a Tuesday night, you’re doing kinda okay!
Bell: Coming up with stories, the words we have up on the wall are: funny; sad; wondrous; beautiful – and if we can get all four of those into an episode? We’re really happy. But Marvel is very aspirational; it is optimistic – our characters are enthusiasts; they’re not cynics. They’re excited about science, about history, about the world – and so we try and show that.
Are you going to pull from the canon stories; for example, something like Civil Warwhere S.H.I.E.L.D. played a big part?
Loeb: The Marvel universe is the Marvel universe – and it’s like with everything else that we do, whether it’s publishing; games; the animation world; the cinematic universe; and now the television universe – it’s all one world. Sometimes certain things aren’t going to line up exactly along the way. This is obviously one that is tied in more to the cinematic universe. But there is nothing that would stop us from doing any kinds of stories, as long as it is something compelling, and emotional, and fun.
Maurissa Tancharoen & Jed Whedon (executive producers and writers)
It’s clear in the pilot that Agent Coulson is in charge of things, and a key character; is that something you’re going to explore more?
Tancharoen: Yes; we’re highlighting someone you’ve only seen glimpses of in the Marvel cinematic universe, so I think yes, we’re giving him some authority, some swagger. He already had that, naturally. Now we’re just able to display it.
Jed Whedon: We feel like he’s a great company man; he’s the face of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Now we get to reveal more about that character. In every film, Coulson was expanded on a little bit. In Avengers he got some real meat. So now we get to dig in even further. And Clark is the perfect person to do that with. We love him very much.
It was great to kind of see Cobie Smulders in it for a second; do you envision her appearing now and then?
Jed Whedon: There are certain rules that we have to obey; but we are open to anything.
Tancharoen: Right – I mean, it is a goal to be able to pull people from what’s already been established, and bob and weave them throughout our series.
What’s the split of new characters created in the show, and people we might have seen in the comics, either in passing or as main characters? How much will be canon versus new material?
Jed Whedon: It’s a little of both. Right now we’re working from story first, and then there’s so much in the comic world, that a lot of the ideas we come up with, we can say, “Is there a guy that does that?”
Tancharoen: And the answer is yes. Always. That’s a good and a bad thing.
Jed Whedon: It works both ways; that makes it easy and fun.
When you’re writing stories for the season, how mindful do you have to be about weaving in stuff from Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: Winter Soldier, and the cinematic universe?
Tancharoen: We’re always communicating with what’s happening in the feature universe; and our goal is to complement one another, and weave our storylines in there, or maybe there will just be a little kernel that you see over there and vice-versa.
Jed Whedon: There’s lots of fallout from the films that we can play with, and we can lead into them in a way. We want to make it so that it’s more rewarding to watch both, on both ends. So if you’re watching the TV show you’ll get something in the movie or be like, “I know what that means.”
Who from the Marvel universe would you most like to weave in to the story?
Jed Whedon: Every Avenger.
Tancharoen: If we could.
Jed Whedon: We’re open to all those people.
Tancharoen: We joke about having an episode where the whole thing is like, “Oh, you just missed Iron Man. Aw man, Thor was just here! He had his shirt off.”
Jed Whedon: But we don’t want the show to become that, where you feel like you’re missing something. We want to exist on our own.
Tancharoen: And we’re hoping that people will fall in love with our cast of characters, and maybe not even have that expectation.
Jed Whedon: And then if it does happen, it will be rewarding, and not disappointing if it doesn’t.
How familiar are you with the comics – have you been readers for years? Are you still doing research by reading back issues?
Jed Whedon: There’s so much reading that we have to do; when we’re not working on the show, we’re reading.
How unreliable an authority figure is Coulson going to be? Is he going to be lying a lot? Will we see people challenge his right to be in charge?
Jed Whedon: I think we’ll figure that out as we go along; at this point, we can’t say much. …It will be cool, and stuff will happen.
What are you most excited about for the pilot, and how would you describe if to someone who hasn’t seen it?
Jed Whedon: Fun is what we’re going for.
Tancharoen: I think something that exists in all the Marvel movies is their humor. There’s tons of action and humor. That’s something that’s existed in a lot of Joss’s work as well. It always comes back to the humor, or there’s a really poignant emotional moment. We’re trying to do that on our show. Our cast of characters are all real human people. We’re dealing with the world post-what happened in The Avengers, so the entire population is going through this transition period of realizing that there are aliens, there are gods, there are monsters, and so I think a big part of our team’s job is going to be helping those people through it.
What’s your experience writing Coulson and the newer characters?
Jed Whedon: Coulson is really fun to write for. Fitz / Simmons is great – when you write a Fitz / Simmons scene, it ends up being too long.
Tancharoen: Because you just want to go on forever; even though it’s all science talk. The way they bicker and banter is fun.
Jed Whedon: And one of the things that’s very fun about this process is discovering the characters as we go. We just started shooting the second episode. Seeing all the things we’ve been discussing for months come to life is very rewarding.
Tancharoen: And we have a fantastic cast. They all embody everything we picture so well. We’re really excited for everyone to get to see them.
What are the greatest challenges of introducing new characters?
Tancharoen: We feel the pressure.
Jed Whedon: And when we don’t feel the pressure, people say, “How are you doing with all that pressure?” We have a duty to a lot of fans. But our approach is always to try to have fun, and try to make something that we would enjoy. We want to make something for everyone; but also something that, if we sat down and watched it, we would have to watch the next one.
Tancharoen: I think our goal is much like what Joss accomplished in Buffy – it will have stand-alones, with the mythology woven throughout. And every week there was a monster of the week or challenge of the week that was a metaphor for the emotional journeys our characters were going on. So hopefully if we do that successfully, and there’s humor, and there’s action, and there’s Marvel in there; hopefully the Marvel fans will be satisfied.
How challenging was the casting process?
Tancharoen: Very. We swept the world. We had casting offices in Australia, the UK, Toronto, Vancouver, New York, and Los Angeles, going at the same time. And Brett Dalton, who plays Ward, he read in New York, on tape, and we saw him on the tape and brought him in for a screen test. Chloe is somebody who we brought back several times.
Jed Whedon: The other thing I’ll say that was great is, we didn’t compromise. And we got our first choices in every category. That’s rare and you’ll see it when you see the show.
Tancharoen: And Clark at the center of them really works.
How hands-on will Joss be moving forwards?
Jed Whedon: He’ll be involved a lot in shaping stories. We’re in constant contact. But he does have other things on his plate that people are excited about right now…
Does he read every script?
Jed Whedon: Oh yes, and every idea is run by him, and so I’m sure he’ll come in at some point and write some more…
Tancharoen: Everyone will definitely feel his presence, even when he’s not right there.
Chloe Bennet (Skye) & Brett Dalton (Grant Ward)
Skye starts out not trusting the people in S.H.I.E.L.D.; and it seems like by the end she’s on board. Do you think that’s it?
Bennet: No! I don’t think that’s it. I think one of Skye’s biggest assets is being able to…she has really good people skills. She can fool people; she hides stuff very well. She’s a people person, she can get her way and manipulate things. I’m not saying she’s doing that – but what you see is not all you’re going to get with Skye.
How would you introduce your characters?
Dalton: Agent Grant Ward is a specialist. He’s highly trained in espionage, hand-to-hand combat, tactical operations, weapons…I could go on. This is a looong list. But he’s a lone wolf. He doesn’t know what it’s like to be part of a team. He’s used to being the solution; the entire solution. So I think what you’ll see is him figuring out what to do now.
Bennet: Skye is a computer hacker. Very good with computers. But she’s that rare case of computer hacker where she’s not Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and kind of weird. She’s a people person; she’s outgoing and she knows how to work both computers and people. She kind of stumbles into the S.H.I.E.L.D. world and mixes things up a bit. I think she’s like the last piece of this puzzle that Coulson’s putting together as a team. Everyone complements each other in their own little way.
Dalton: You have skills that none of us do.
Bennet: And you have skills that Skye doesn’t have. Skye and Ward balance each other really well, I think. They’re polar opposites, yet both really talented. He’s a lone wolf; Skye is an activist. She’s about bringing the people together; people uprising against something that may not be fair or just. I think they’re going to learn from each other, maybe. …Maybe a little more than learn…? I dunno…
How much do you know about the Marvel universe? Do you recognize the references and Easter eggs?
Bennet: I’ve always been a fan of the movies. And then being cast, you’re like, “I gotta go read everything, now!” It’s really interesting. I’ve re-watched all the movies; and I get why fans are so loyal to the brand.
Dalton: And it’s an ongoing universe, too. The Battle of New York, that happens, doesn’t just disappear, like, “New York is just fine again!” in the next movie. It’s an ongoing, continuing universe, which is really interesting.
Bennet: With the movies and the show. The Battle of New York really does affect the pilot, and our characters in the show.
Dalton: There’s continuity between them.
Brett; in the show, you’re kind of the straight man. Do you hope you get to do more comedy?
Dalton: Well here’s the thing: I actually always thought Ward was hilarious. You know, he has little lines in there.
Bennet: And Ward thinks he’s hilarious.
Do you guys improv at all?
Bennet: You don’t have to with writing like this. Joss writes words; I speak them. You know, you improv the way you say things.
Dalton: The writing is just that good, honestly. And I’ve worked on other things where they give you that opportunity to riff, but they’ve just done such a good job with the writing.
Bennet: There’s a flow in what Joss writes, and the way the characters speak. It’s just easy, and it’s different, and it’s funny; and the timing – you can just read it when you see it. It makes it so enjoyable.
How much do your characters get to kick ass?
Bennet: Skye not so much, yet, uh…
Are you looking forward to that?
Bennet: Yes. I’m always saying, “You can let me do it! I’m fine; I’ve got six brothers! I won’t be worried about getting hurt!” I’m really looking forward to hopefully Skye being taught by Ward.
Dalton: Yeah, you know, I could see that happening.
Do you have a favorite Marvel character you’d like to see come into the show? Or a specific Marvel actor you’d like to work with?
Bennet: My favorite Marvel character is Jean Grey, and Jean as the Phoenix; I don’t know if that would be such a good thing if she came into S.H.I.E.L.D., unless it was as Jean Grey; but that won’t happen. But I think I wouldn’t mind Thor coming back. Not to do anything; just to come by and see me.
Dalton: I’m the hugest Robert Downey Jr. fan. He’s so good. Even if he was just on the intercom or something. Even if it was just his voice; anything. I’d love, love, love to work with him.
Bennet: If he was working, and I wasn’t working that day, I’d just come to set anyway.
Dalton: Yeah, it’d just be like, “Why is everyone on set today…?” And I’d say my favorite Marvel character is The Punisher. Good ol’ Frank Castle. Because he’s just a guy with a ton of skills; he doesn’t really have a superpower – he just has guns. And vengeance.
Iain De Caestecker (Leo Fitz) & Elizabeth Henstridge (Jemma Simmons)
The writers just said you are their favorite characters to write; do you think your characters have a long history together, and have you been told about that?
Henstridge: We know that we’ve come up together, and trained together. It’s wonderful to play with that dynamic, and know that your character has a relationship like that to explore. That’s really exciting and fun.
De Caestecker: They’ve kind of got that weird dynamic like a brother and sister, where they argue furiously about things, and at the same time, they really depend on each other; especially when they’re out of their comfort zones. I think they see each other as a source of security.
How were the characters described to you when you first got involved?
De Caestecker: Well, we were only given a scene to audition with at first.
Henstridge: And I think because the script was kind of written, but not locked, my audition was very much like, “Come to us with your version of what these lines mean to you, or what you envision for the character, and then play with them. And at my audition they got me to do the character, just to kind of see what that would be like; so it was wonderful to be in a process that was still so fluid and flexible.
Science nerds in Joss Whedon shows have a tendency to turn evil. Do you see that happening for you?
De Caestecker: I don’t know what’s going to happen there.
Would you want to play a villain?
Henstridge: There’s such a fine line between good and evil; and so, you can be one or the other with the same intentions, the same common motivation to do what you think is right. So I think that anyone could do good or evil.
What’s your impression of their relationship with Coulson?
De Caestecker: I think there’s probably a side of him that really scares them. I think they’d probably try to avoid him as much as possible; but, at the same time, I think they are very conscious of what they do and how good they are at it. So when they achieve something that they think is really great, they’re really quick to tell everyone, and they’d be very quick to let Coulson know.
Henstridge: Yeah; and I mean, he’s sort of the father to us all; they desperately want to impress him, but he keeps raising the bar. So it’s that kind of, “Oh, my gosh, I can’t get up there,” and then they work together, and they come back and are like, “We made it!” and he’ll go, “Okay, well now it’s here!” It’s that kind of back and forth.
I think the thing about the team that Coulson’s tried to pick is that on the surface they already specialize in what they do, but one of the main focal points is them overcoming things that scare them, and situations that they’ve never found themselves in, which is kind of the biggest challenge for them.
How would you describe the characters to those who don’t know them?
Henstridge: I would say that Simmons is a biochemist. She’s incredible at what she does, with lab work, and figuring out samples, and she’s come up very quickly at a very young age, and hasn’t really had much social interaction, other than with science.
De Caestecker: Fitz specializes in engineering. I suppose he’s responsible for all the gadgets and things you see in the show; the technology. But yeah, he’s similar. I think they’ve both found themselves being locked away too long in the lab, so when they’re actually put in these situations, a lot of their insecurities and fears come out.
Clark Gregg (Phil Coulson)
In the movies, especially Avengers, it felt like Coulson was the audience surrogate. And in the TV show, you’re the one who kind of controls the ball. Does that change how you see the character?
Gregg: Well, I was pretty sure I was dead. I was really sad. Because I really dug being this guy. Especially as every different writing and directing team came along and added to the chain letter of who this guy was, and I got to find out. And that’s been kind of the weird, funny acting game that goes with this guy, is, “Oh! Oh, I’m that.” And that was never more fully realized then when Joss kind of took what was clearly there, and of course he’s got the trading cards; of course he’s got a monstrous embarrassing man-crush on Captain America. It all makes sense – of course he does. And so I loved being the fan avatar there; because I love this stuff. I loved it when was a kid. I’m a huge sci-fi nerd. I was a bit of a Marvel nerd when I was young; and to get to be that guy meant everything to me. So I was really sad the day I had to go in there and get shanked by that Asgardian bastard!
So when I got a call saying, “Listen, you may not be 100% dead”? I was well and truly stoked. But I had to make sure that it didn’t undermine The Avengers, and once Joss explained to me where he thought he was going on that, and it was so ridiculously cool and dark, I was in. That said, I had to kind of take the writers out to dinner – although I made them pay – and say, this is the deal: when I’m playing this guy, I always have to sit down with whoever it is and go, “Who am I now? What am I doing here?” And to go from bleeding out on the floor of the Helicarrier to putting together a fast-response S.H.I.E.L.D. team in this pilot – that’s a different Phil Coulson.
To a certain extent, I think he’s pretty limber, in terms of his ability to do stuff; and Director Fury has tasked him to what I think is probably the most pressing concern. It’s an interesting choice by Director Fury. He’s going to take this guy who’s been the kind of diva-wrangler; the guy who is, like, managing the green room at Coachella for the Avengers, and put him in charge of this very fast-response team that he gets to pick himself, using really weird instincts of his own. To deal with a world after The Avengers, where we’ve gone from knowing about Tony Stark and his bitchin’ suits, and maybe a little Hulk and Abomination in New York, to wormholes and Chitauri invasions; and everybody wants a piece of that. So it makes perfect sense; you get to keep the spectacle of those movies but put it in a smaller human context, as represented by Coulson in the movies – the people who can bleed. And that’s a perfect recipe for a TV show.
When I got the second script, I thought it was going to be a bunch of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents trapped in an elevator, because there wouldn’t be any money left after the pilot. So when I got that, and it’s more spectacle – if I survive a season of this, it’s going to be really amazing to see.
How much are we going to see of Coulson’s personal versus professional life?
Gregg: He’s a wonderful dancer. We’re going to see a lot of his dancing. And if know Joss, there will be a musical episode. But I’ve seen the episode I’m shooting now; I’ve seen the pilot. Other than that, I don’t know. I’m so impressed by how Marvel takes what happens, and then exploits it right the way all the fans would want them to – Joss being a key part of that. The fans wanted Coulson back to life – it happened. As a fan, I saw The Avengers, and I thought, “Man, they’re going to be pissed that he’s still alive, and he’s going to be pissed about his cards!” We’re going to probably have to find out about this cellist; so I’d be shocked if we didn’t go down those roads. But I’m just speaking as a fan now.
Seeing your likeness in the Spider-Man cartoon, does that amuse you?
Gregg: It amuses me to no end. To see him in the comics; and the fact that they so politely make me fitter and better-looking in all of my comic appearances; it’s really nice of them. I can’t compete with a lot of people I know at the San Diego Comic-Con, but I was into comics. So to see myself get drawn by various people kind of kills me. If I could get Jim Starlin to draw me someday, I would die.
Is Coulson going to be a little bit evil, or compromised?
Gregg: Evil’s very relative. There are people who thought he was evil at times in the movies, and I never thought so. I thought it was pragmatism.
Do you think the situation makes Fury look more manipulative?
Gregg: Yes; Coulson being alive makes Nick Fury more manipulative; but I’m not sure we know the whole picture yet. I wouldn’t leap to judgment on Director Fury. A lot of people have gotten into trouble rushing to judgment on Director Fury’s motives. I know there’s an answer to what Coulson’s doing here, after we saw him in such bad shape in The Avengers. We certainly get one hit of information in the pilot, but I think it opens a whole different can of questions.
What can you tell us about the relationship between Coulson and the team? Does he have a favorite?
Gregg: All I know is what I know from the pilot – he picks them, and some of them make perfect sense; others are really surprising. And just as it’s up to you to guess which of the Avengers he liked most; I think he’s going to be like a good crazy uncle – you’ll never know which kid he likes the best.
It seems like Coulson’s relationship to authority is changing. How does that affect how you play the character?
Gregg: I think you can’t have happen to you what happens to him in The Avengers and not have it change you on a very deep if not cellular level. I think he’s in a state of flux. I think everything’s up for grabs at the moment.
Ming-Na Wen (Melinda May)
Did you read Marvel comics as a kid?
Wen: I read some; I read a lot of fluffy comics, and the newspaper; but for me it was later, as I matured, that I got really into it. Because all of the stories – you realize it’s fantastical, but at the same time, it always dealt with the human emotions – the vulnerabilities. Especially with Marvel characters. They’re always struggling with something; they’re always in pain. And weren’t we all in pain, growing up? We can identify.
What’s your favorite trait or characteristic of your character?
Wen: I just love how Melinda May is always kind of cool. It’s nice to be that. It’s nice to be able to walk and feel confident and strong and just feel like at any second, if anybody messes with her, she’ll be able to handle the situation. Me, in the meantime…no, no, I do the same! That’s right! …When I’m in my garden.
You obviously get to kick some ass in the pilot.
Wen: Well, you know, when they showed the trailer, and they showed my fight scene, I was like, “Oh, okay – I think the bar’s been raised quite a bit now.” I love it. It’s a great way to stay in shape, and it’s a great way to kind of flex the guns every so often. I see how guys like to do that.
Given that your character is such a badass, why does she not want to be in the field?
Wen: I think that’s what’s so mysterious about her. There’s some sort of history in her character that is making her reluctant; and it will slowly be revealed. I think she has a history that I can’t wait to have revealed, and I believe she has history with Coulson. You know, they’re both vets; they both worked hard to get to Level Seven, and I can’t imagine S.H.I.E.L.D. being such a huge, huge force, so I’m sure their paths crossed. I mean, there’s a reason why he’s recruited her, and I think it’s because he wants somebody there who’s got the experience.
What’s the coolest thing about playing a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent?
Wen: Wearing that badge! That’s pretty badass, just to walk around with that badge. And this whole experience has been amazing. Every day, I’m really thankful.
So which relationship that your character has are you most interested in seeing developed?
Wen: I think because it’s such a new team, her reaction to the young kids is going to be interesting. I think that’s probably very new for her; and what her role is. Because right now, I sense that her role is to sort of be a protector of them. But then again, not knowing what kind of missions they’re going into, it could just be that they’re really annoying to her. There might not be these life and death situations; so it’s going to be interesting to see. But for me – definitely her relationship with Coulson, and how that develops.
How aware were you of Joss’s previous work, and specifically his penchant for badass warrior women?
Wen: Don’t you love him for that? How can you not watch any Joss Whedon, as a woman, and as a geek girl? You know – the Buffys – he taps into that, and I don’t know why, but God bless him. He’s a geek god, and every day I went to work for the pilot, I was just like, “I’m speaking Joss’s words! He’s in the same room with me!” He’s like a rock star to me. So – yeah – I had to stay very professional.
What’s your favorite of his past shows or characters?
Wen: Buffy definitely is one of my top favorites. I grew up with that; and that was such an amazing ensemble of actors. And he always had the humor, mixed with everything. And how cool is it to have J. August Richards in the pilot?
This character is so mysterious that it’s a bit different than some of his other characters. I think over time, that will bleed in, where you start to really understand her, or warm up to her. She becomes more humanized, with the experience; that’s how I feel. I don’t know where it can go, because there are some other shows where if a character is this way, they stay that way for the duration; it’s expected of them. And I think with her, she starts off being really tough and not very talkative, and hopefully over time when she starts making connections with people, she’ll develop more.
Joss Whedon (executive producer, director, and writer)
These guys are a lot more like Wolfram & Hart than they are like Angel Investigations; how do you turn guys like that into the underdogs?
Joss Whedon: That’s something we’ve been joking about since the beginning – they’re a ragtag group of faceless bureaucrats who control your every move! And that’s honestly a conflict that we open with, by making Skye a member of the team. On some level, we’ll be having our cake and eating it too – which is a delightful phrase for hypocrisy! And on some level, hopefully we’ll be able to broach the issue in a way that’s not trivializing – but if we’re dealing with it as writers, and the audience is dealing with it, then the characters need to as well. You know, sometimes S.H.I.E.L.D. will be the thing that makes it better, and sometimes S.H.I.E.L.D. will be the thing that makes it worse. It’s a very gray area; and that’s part of what makes it exciting.
Who’s your favorite new character of the series?
Joss Whedon: Well, I love all my children equally! Honestly, I really do love all my children; it’s a great show. But Fitz / Simmons, because of my boarding school days, I have particular feeling about. We did not write them to be British – but they sure ended up being that way! I guess it’s okay to call them my favorites because there are two of them; so they have double power.
As you’re working on the show, how much does you helping on the show impact your work on Avengers II, or how much do you keep that separate?
Joss Whedon: When it’s movie time, it’s movie time, and everything else has to fall by the wayside. It will require enormous focus, and always does, to do both. The good news is sometimes when you’ve been thinking about one thing all day, the way I relax is to think about something else. “Oh, a different puzzle!” Sometimes you’re like, “Uhh, more work;” and sometimes you’re like, “Oh thank God! A completely different set of problems.” So I will do as much as I can, but I have surrounded myself with people who are extraordinary at doing it when I’m not around.
Will we see the Hulk?
Joss Whedon: Yeah, we will totally see the Hulk, because it’s super cheap. We could do that on a television budget; if you don’t mind that he’s South Park Hulk.
Speaking of the budget, how will you be able to sustain the level of spectacle?
Joss Whedon: We’re not really about the level of spectacle. Obviously we want to have some big episodes, and for me, it’s like you’re opening a comic book – “I want to see something cool!” But you’re opening it because you love the people who were in it last month. It’s about these six characters. One of the things that I loved about Avengers was that Marvel’s very dedicated to building spectacle from character. And they weren’t afraid to have two people sit around and talk; for a while. And for the show, I want there to be episodes that are very intimate, where very little happens; because the emotional consequences are ultimately the only thing that ever matter, no matter how much shit you blow up.
And on that note, hope you enjoyed these awesome interviews, and until next time, Servo Lectio!
Is it a dirty word, especially when it comes to writing? Well, it depends. Simply put, there must be no embellishment when writing for a professional journal. The truth must be told.
There is a big difference between writing for a professional journal and writing fiction, or even this column. Writing for a professional journal must follow a proscribed style set by peer-reviewed organizations whose rules on grammatical usage, word choice, elimination of bias in language, the proper citation of quotes and references and the inclusion of charts and tables have become the authoritative source for all intellectual writing. This means that for me, as an RN, BSN, CNOR, I must adhere to the styles and standards set by the Publication Manual Of The American Psychologoical Assocociation (APA), which is “consulted not only by psychologists but also by students and researchers in education, social work, nursing, business, and many other behavioral and social sciences” (VanderBros, 2010) if I submit a paper or article to the Journal of the Association of Operating Room Nurses (AORN) for publication.
Does this mean that when I write fiction, or this column, I am allowed to freely embellish my stories? Does it mean that I am allowed to not to tell the truth?
Fiction writers do not really have one easily referenced professional publication in which the governance of grammar and punctuation are laid out in indisputable terms, in which the standards of style are set – though this does not mean I can sit down in front of my computer screen and write just one continuous sentence that goes on and on for pages and pages – well, perhaps I could if I was James Joyce. But all writers do need to start somewhere, and for anyone who has ever taken a creative writing course, or even tried to stay awake in their English high school class, the classic Elements Of Style, first written in 1918 by Professor William Strunk, Jr., is a good place to start. Strunk said something in that first edition that, 95 years later, has withstood the test of time and which, I believe, every writer, aspiring or published must integrate into his or her understanding of the art of writing:
“Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.”
Elements was first revised in 1957 by New Yorker writer E. B. White (the author of the children’s classic Charlotte’s Web), and by 1979s third edition, listed 11 rules for grammar, 11 principles of writing, 11 standards for form, and 21 recommendations for style. (A search on Amazon revealed that Chris Hong updated The Elements Of Style for Kindle readers in 2011.) But there’s a lot more advice out there. A little while ago I entered “standards for fiction writing” on Google, and got 15,400,000 hits in 0.23 seconds.
On my bookshelf I have not only Elements of Style, but also Zen in the Art of Writing – Essays on Creativity by Ray Bradbury, Write for Yourself – The Book About The Seminar and Telling Lies for Fun and Profit, both by Lawrence Block, Write in Style – Using Your Word Processor and Other Techniques to Improve Your Writing by Bobbie Christmas, How I Write – Secrets of a Bestselling Author by Janet Evanovich with Ina Yalof, Inventing the Truth – the Art and Craft of Memoir edited by William Zinsser and which includes essays by such notables as Russell Baker, Annie Dillard, Toni Morrison, and Frank McCourt, Is Life Like This? – A Guide to Writing Your First Novel in Six Months by John Dufresne, The Weekend Novelist Rewrites the Novel by Robert J. Ray, Writing Fiction from the Gotham Writers’ Workshop, and Writers on Comics Scriptwriting which includes interviews with such illustrious authors as Peter David, Kurt Busiek, Garth Ennis, Neil Gaiman, Frank Miller, Jeph Loeb and Grant Morrison.
I also have Eisner/Miller – Interview Conducted by Charles Brownstein, which is wonderful not only for its historical perspective, but for a peep into two great creative minds, and “Casablanca – Script and Legend” by Howard Koch,” which is incredibly instructive in detailing how magic sometimes happens despite ornery studio heads, battling co-writers, and an inability to decide how the story ends. I also have Stephen King’s “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft” on my to-buy list.
And to tell the truth, I sometimes think that all this advice is still not enough.
Reference: Vandehaus, Gary R. (2010). Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. (6th ed., pp. xiii – xiv). Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.
Sorry for my absence last week, loyal readers. It would seem something had to break in my fragile world, and this was the first thing closest to the exit ramp. Luckily for me you all had more important things to do on a Saturday morning than read my rants and raves. Right? You didn’t? You mean to tell me you’ve been sitting there, at your desk, for a whole week… awaiting my article? Jeez. I’m sorry. Let me make it up to you. Let’s start off with something really inflammatory to get back into the thick of it, shall we?
Marvel Now is what I’d wished DC would have done with their New 52.
Marvel comes right out of the gate with the smartest roll-out plan I’ve seen in a while: A sensible one or two new books out every week, over the course of a few months. DC’s “throw everything at the fan, and watch the sales spike and recede” did exactly that. Marvel Now (boy, that’s gonna get annoying) sidesteps the idea that fans are willing to try everything all at once, in lieu of a doing it a few at a time. I’m a marketing man by trade. This screams of “listening to the target audience” and “lowering the barrier to entry” for those less willing to hop aboard. In human-speak? Someone at Marvel realized fans aren’t made of money. They are more willing to start a new series at #1, and toss it into their weekly rotation a little at a time, rather than dump their entire paychecks out for the opportunity to “catch up” to a continuity that wasn’t quite rebooted, wasn’t quite reset, and wasn’t quite defined in the slightest.
Marvel also has taken it upon themselves to shake up some major players on major books, after successful long-term runs had been accomplished. Where DC has been quick to play musical chairs before some writers grew their sea-legs for a particular title, the House of Mouse once again played it cool. Let Bendis play in the Avengers sandbox until he’s run out of awesome things to do. Then let Fraction do the same with Iron Man. Then put Waid (who is still rocket hot after relaunching Daredevil back into our hearts) onto a book, The “Insert-Adjective-Here” Hulk, that frankly I’m sure no one has cared about since Jeph Loeb murdered it in the early aughts.
In the art department, fan favorite John Cassaday gets to give The Avengers a nod, which I hope is as good or better than his work on the Astonishing X-Men. The always tried-and-true Mark Bagely will lend his hand at Fantastic Four, which should loosen the book up from its present look and feel. And over in the Four’s sister (or really… daughter?) book, FF, none other than Mike Alred is slated to put pencil to page. The last time I believe he was around MarvelLand, we got X-Statics, which was X-cellent. Sorry, had to go there.
And how about the overall plan? Axel “Not Danny D” Alonso made it pretty clear that the books that are working well now will have no plan for resets. This means fans of Daredevil, the Punisher, X-Factor and the like won’t have to fear an immediate exit strategy and creative retreat from their favorite books. This is of course (to me, at least) a direct wink and a butt slap to the boys with the new oddly shaped logo.
DC was glad to let its entire line of books stink up the joint for the last three months they were around prior to the New 52 debut. Never in my 20+ years reading comics had I felt more books “phoning it in” then at that time. As a 20+ DC book subscriber? It rubbed me the wrong way. Hard. Here, Marvel seems to realize the old adage holds true; if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
Generally we know this is the point where I play devil’s advocate. And I see by the folding chair in your outstretched arms, ready to strike me where I type, I’d better get on with the “Howevers…” or else. Now, Marvel Now is just an on-paper-plan at this point. Even with that said, it’s hard not to notice a few things that reek of desperation. I love Brian Posehn. I do. But does anyone here honestly wish to place a wager on how long his run on Deadpool will last?
And just how many Avengers titles are they releasing? 20? 30? We get it, the movie made a kajillion-billion Disney dollars… but someone somewhere had to wave a white flag. As it stands I still contend that the over saturation of books with the popular characters just clutters up racks with an ultimately less-than-the-best product. All this, and somehow, the X-books still all sound ludicrously horrendous, Bendis or not. The idea that “silver age” X-kids land in the present, and get to play the “Oooh-how-the-world-changed-card” to me is choking hard on the gimmick bone. Be sure to take a shot every time NewOld Jean Grey asks “what’s an iPod?”
See? I’m not just shilling for Marvel, unless they wanna send me a check. In that case, I’ll make myself “AR” compatible in a heartbeat. In the mean time, my opinion stands: Marvel Now appears to be better thought-out, with a smarter release schedule, and an ideology that holds on to the notion that quality beats quantity every single time. Mark my words, kiddos. Marvel Now is gonna pants DC, and in the scramble expect DC to fire back with 17 epic all-title consuming crossovers.
Welcome back to the ranting and raving, kiddos. Be forewarned, some time has passed since my last article – one week to be exact – but I’m still angry as all get-out. For those just joining us: Tim Marchman’s review of “Leaping Tall Buildings” in the Wall Street Journal was an incendiary piece of trash. The review meant to blame the lack of universal love (and sales) of comic books due (in part) to the “clumsily drawn” and “poorly written” books themselves. Last week, I argued on the side of the artists. This week, I mean to tackle this asshat’s jab at the scribes of our pulpy tomes.
To say that, on the whole, modern comics are “poorly written” is just about the silliest opinion I’ve heard since my buddy told me “Ranch dressing tastes bad on chicken.” First off, ranch is delicious on chicken. More to the point, modern comics are writing rings around previous generations. We’re in a renaissance of story structure, characterization, and depth. Writing, much like art, is largely subjective when it comes to collective opinion. That being said, certainly anyone with minimal brain power might be able to tell good writing from bad. Easy enough for us all to agree that the Avengers was better written than the Twilight movies. OK, maybe that’s a bit unfair. Axe Cop is better written than Twilight… and it’s penned by a six year old. Either way, I’d like to think we the people (of Comic Landia) might defend the quality of today’s comics as being leaps and bounds better than books of yesteryear.
I know this might be daring (and insane) of me to say… but for those old farts and fogies that proclaim comics “aren’t what they used ta’ be!” – and imply the scripts are worse now than they were in the 60s or 70s – should go back to the nursing home, and yell at the TV until dinner. Call it a sweeping declaration. Call it mean-spirited. But I call it as I see it: Modern books are simply written better. Today’s comics – when they are good – embrace pacing, motif, and intelligent payoffs by and large far more than ever previously. I assume Marchman, while researching for his article, was only reading Jeph Loeb books. And if that’s the case? He’s probably right. But I digress.
Open a book today. You’ll see things that previous generations simply failed to execute properly. A modern comic is unafraid to let the art speak for itself. Not every panel needs an explanatory caption box anymore. Gone are lengthy thought balloons that explain away every ounce of subtlety. Writers allow their characters time to emotionally deal with their actions, and end books on a down note when needed. And as much as terrible crime against nature it is, modern writers are even willing to ret-con, reboot, or reexamine the past of a character to better flesh out their drive or motive. It’s been done before, I know, but never as good as it’s being done now.
Comic writers today (again, “by and large”) embrace risk like no other generation before them. Guys like Kurt Busiek and Robert Kirkman channel their love and admiration of tropes and stereotypes, and drill down to new and unique concepts that spin old ideas into fresh ones. Dudes like Grant Morrison and Jonathan Hickman layer super-psuedo science and lofty concepts within their stories to transform the truly implausible to the sublimely believable… a metamorphosis of story that a Stan Lee would not have ever delivered to the true believers. And what of our own ComicMix brethren, whose bibliographies aren’t complete… Would John Ostrander or Dennis O’Neil say that the scripts they write today aren’t leaps and bounds better than their earlier work? As artists (be it with brush or word), we always strive to evolve. That equates to the present always being better than the past.
Simply put, Marchman’s postulation that the scripting of current comics is to blame for the lack of sales in comparison to alternative media (like movies or TV) is hilariously wrong. While he’s quick to back his point with the cop-out “continuity” argument, he lacks the niche-knowledge necessary to know how idiotic he sounds. With the advent of Wikipedia, friendly comic ship owners, digital publication of archive materials, as well as countless other online resources… the barrier to entry for someone truly interested in buying a comic is the commitment to seek out the backstory. To blame the lack of sales on an arbitrary assessment of the quality of the stories, was made without considering the avalanche of amazing material being published today.
If I can use a trope from the bag of Seth MacFarlane, I’d like to end on hyperbole. You see, Mr. Marchman, if you want me to believe that comics today are poorly written? I’d like you to read current issues of Action Comics, Batman, Animal Man, Swamp Thing, Invincible Iron Man, Fantastic Four, The Boys, Dial H, Saga, Irredeemable, Star Wars: Dawn of the Jedi, Justice League, Green Lantern, Powers, Monocyte, The New Deadwardians, Batman Incorporated, Courtney Crumrin, Saucer County, Fatale, and Batwoman. Then get back to me. Until that time? Suck-a-duck.
SUNDAY: The Aforementioned Geriatric John Ostrander
This past weekend I decided to place my vote (that’s “Dollar Bills” to DC’s Bob Wayne) for The Avengers for a second time. I did it first and foremost to teach Liam Neeson a lesson: If you don’t know the movie adaptation of a board game is a bad idea, maybe you need a new agent. Second to that, I personally wanted to see the film again to revel in Mark Ruffalo’s performance as the Hulk. If there were to be a single break-out star (pun intended) of the film, Bruce Banner certainly was it. For many who saw The Avengers, this is a shared sentiment. So, this begs us to ask the dudes at the House of Mouse… What’s next for the spinach-hued smasher?
If we are to believe the internet (and when has that ever led us down the wrong path?), The Hulk will next appear on the small screen via ABC. The network is pursuing a reboot of the once powerful series starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferigno. If this is to be true… I throw myself on the mercy of Mickey. Don’t do it.
Simply put? The Hulk begs for bigger and better treatment. The old series did last five seasons, and featured a few TV movies (co-starring Daredevil and Thor no less!), but this was long before the days of CGI. Long before the Hulk decimated Harlem. Or flew into the upper atmosphere on the nose of a fighter jet. Not that the recent movie Hulks have been perfect mind you, but they put poor old Lou out to pasture pretty quickly when it comes to conveying the size and power of the Incredible Hulk.
If Marvel/ABC ponies up enough dough to downsize the Hulk to the boob tube, it would certainly provide the interest of advertisers and the public at large to watch. But even with an HBO budget for a series, could today’s special effect houses handle the behemoth? In a word… no.
The fluidity of the Hulk within the Avengers was, as many fans agree, the first time the character didn’t feel entirely too fake to enjoy. Ang Lee’s monstrosity lumbered around the fabricated sets like a big baby throwing a tantrum. Louis Leterrier’s Hulk (who obviously did way more cardio than Ruffalo’s) fared better, but was more Max Headroom than Golum by comparison to the most recent iteration. While CGI and effect houses have certainly improved their efforts on TV, do yourself a favor: Watch the best episode of Heroes, Smallville, or Sharktopus Vs. Crocasaurus. Then go back and watch the Avengers. I’ll wait for you. Go on. Done? Now tell me that the scene-eating Hulk would be done any justice on a fraction of the budget that went into creating him on the big screen.
Don’t get me wrong, kiddos. For the chance to see Mark Ruffalo take the character on in a weekly serial, I’d be DVR’ing that series faster than Jeph Loeb could crap out a comic book. And while a TV show would obviously focus on Banner more than the titular titan, when it would come time to Hulk out, we’d get only a poor representation of what we know the character could be. And if they were to regress back to hiring a bodybuilder to smash cardboard walls? Well, who amongst us would not scoff as we wrote anonymous hatespew across the message boards?
If we can agree that Ruffalo’s Banner is following the Incredible Hulk movie of 2008, then we must know that there was an amazing set-up left for the sequel. Samuel Sterns was shown at the end of the film getting dosed by Banner’s blood/chemical sludge. His head began to throb and pulsate, and a creepy smile crawls across his face. Obviously meant as a wink and a nudge to the Leader, one of the Hulk’s better villains. With Ruffalo’s Banner perfectly balancing the line of intelligence and pent-up rage, only the movie screen can truly do the character justice in a battle with another gamma irradiated foe. Relegated to a lesser medium (in terms of only the effect work mind you), the Incredible Hulk might only come across the Credible Hulk.
I say make S.H.I.E.L.D. the TV show, and let Hulk continue to smash the box office.
* OK, here’s the deal. You can’t. You can’t succeed in comics without blood, sweat, and tears. Or, better to say, if you can, I don’t know how. I know that once you break into comics and have enough dirt on editors and top brass… you can rest on those laurels for years. Ask Jeph Loeb. I also know if you can meet deadlines, even if no one would ever say your work did more than move things from point A to point B, you can still get a steady paycheck. Ask Scott McDaniel.
I was torn here on where to go. From that lead paragraph, I had two genuine directions. One would be an uplifting tale of how Unshaven Comics is succeeding in our goals through the triumph of hard work, and slow but substantial growth via winning over one fan at a time. The other article I could write is a shallow, mean, absurdly hateful piece directed at Scott McDaniel over something he posted on his website. Given that I’ve had a pretty brutal day, I’m inclined to get petty and stupid.
Since my M.O. in these columns is to provide a little Wikipedia’ing, allow me do as such. Scott McDaniel has been a working comic book artist for many years now. Titles include Daredevil, Nightwing, Batman, The Outsiders, and most recently Static Shock. A cursory glance over those titles should tell you that no matter how much I rant and rave here, Scott has the high ground; He’s worked at DC and Marvel. I’m still years away from getting my denial letters from either of them. That being said, I have a bone to pick with the good God-fearing fellow.
For those not following along, Milestone creator John Rozum was given the reigns of Static when it debuted in DC’s big reboot. After much ballyhoo, he was shown the door (or showed himself to it, in a sense), and McDaniel took the writing gig over. John let people know (here) (and here) (and here) his thoughts on it. Scott then issued a response of his own on his site, to clarify his take on the whole issue. His response was a 41-page letter issued to the interwebs detailing literally every conversation and his opinion on the matter. 4-pages. Single spaced. 12 point font. 20,000 words. To respond to John, and the industry in general on why he still worked on the now-canceled book. And as God as my witness? It makes me want to rub my feet on the carpet for a solid day, and then give Scott a static shock to the man-globes.
The basic argument came down to editorial. Rozum’s script was obviously not the direction DC wanted Static to go in. I would think many comic creators have been in this situation too. Hell, in Unshaven Comics we’ve had knock-out fights over single panels. What it comes down to though is what line a creator is willing to cross to make ends meet. The best comics being published today (many by DC, I would attest) work well only when all parties involved are on the same page (pun intended). Even four pages into McDaniel’s magnum dope-us I could figure out where all the hullabaloo was. Rozum wanted a grim and gritty take on Static that balanced the hero stuff with real-kid problem stuff. DC wanted a family-friendly-ish romp that went “all out” to draw attention to itself. Faced with an editor asking for something he really didn’t want… he all but “phoned-it-in” to make a few paychecks, before deciding to leave the title.
Some of the best comics work on a slow-burn concept. Where it takes five or six issues to really hit home. And truth be told, I tend to love those comics. Scott Snyder employs this process immeasurably well. But is Static right for such a treatment? In a perfect world, maybe. But let’s be honest. Static is most well known to be a “fun” character. His animated show was amazingly well done (until Shaq made a guest appearance, and they made Ritchie have super-powers). I have no doubt in my mind DC wanted to tap into that energy (pun doubly intended) for the relaunch. But I digress, no need to rehash all the details. I’ll let you read through them if you want. Suffice to say, Rozum zigged when he was asked to zag. His editor (a.k.a. The Boss), pulled McDaniel into the conversation early to swing things away from Rozum’s treatment. At the end of the day, no one saw eye-to-eye, and the book was sloppy because of it.
I forced myself to read through all 41-pages of Scott’s manifesto. I simply find it to be so amazingly crass that I couldn’t help but be bothered by it. At the end of the day, McDaniel didn’t do anything wrong. He followed orders, made his editor happy, and when it was obvious DC was gonna flush the series down the toilet with the rest of the poop, they saved a few dollars by letting Scott write it. Granted, I didn’t read Static, but if McDaniel writes as well as he draws… I’ll safely assume Static got into a ton of fights, stuff blew up, and then the moved on to the next plot point. I’ve read (and own) a few books by Scott. I’ve never loved any of them. I find his work to “feel” rushed. Whether it takes him any more or less time to complete than any other working artist today… simply put, I’m not a fan. And seeing him with more credits to his name on a book exponentially makes me steer clear. Remember when I wrote about the double-edged sword of artist-writers?
But, I digress once more. The point is simple. Scott McDaniel’s retort was unneeded, uncalled for, and ultimately a waste of pixels and bandwidth. Rozum had a reason to let the world know why he left the book, and what issues he faced at DC. Scott was (and perhaps still is?) drawing a paycheck from DC. To write 20,000 words on how Rozum made it hard to make the book successful (and reading Rozum’s own words, he all but admits his heart wasn’t in it in the first place)… is needlessly rubbing salt on a self-inflicted wound. I started this piece out discussing how one can succeed in comics. I can assure you one way not to do that, is spend 41-pages lambasting a fellow creator. If you read Michael Davis’ article this week, no doubt you know why it’s things like this, that make people think we’re all backstabbers and petty grudge-holders. Scott should have taken his paycheck to the bank, cashed it, and let people think whatever they wanted to think.
As Jesus would say: Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.