Hey, we just got a new trailer for The Suicide Squad, which will be in theaters and streaming on HBOMax August 6th! Let’s see if you can spot the BIG Easter egg. Go watch it, then come back here…
All done? Fun, huh? But what Easter egg am I talking about? It’s this:
In the trailer, we see Savant, played by Michael Rooker, getting a bomb implanted in him so that Amanda Waller can keep him in line– do anything she doesn’t like, and BOOM!
But who’s doing the implanting? Dr. Fitzgibbon, that kindly old gent on the right who looks like he wouldn’t harm a fly?
Why, that’s John Ostrander, ComicMix columnist and creator of the Suicide Squad and Amanda Waller. He’s quite literally the guy who killed off at least 18 members of the Squad and maimed so many more. So it makes perfect sense that James Gunn would reach out and bring John (who’s a gifted actor in his own right) to inflict further damage onto these poor actors.
Come to think of it, it reminds us of the first issue of Suicide Squad where John killed off an entire airport full of actors.
As you, my gentle readers, peruse this article, my Unshaven cohort Matt Wright and I will be on the road for the last time in 2017. We’ll be showcasing our wares at the annual Kokomo Comic Con in Kokomo, Indiana. We’re pleased as punch that this year we lured ComicMixers Mike Gold and John Ostrander down with us. Denny did it a few years ago, and it appears he didn’t have anything but nice things to say – hence Mike and John agreeing to make the trek out. I’ll cover how that show goes next week. For now, I want to jump into the way back machine to last week when my full Unshaven Comics crew and I descended once again on New York City for the ReedPop colossus known as New York Comic Con.
New York Comic Con is an undulating mass of humanity crammed into the Javits Center for four full days of geekery. This year, rumor has it over 200,000 attendees amassed amidst hundreds (if not an actual thousand as one fan postulated) of exhibitors and artists. Unlike previous years, the Artist Alley was nearly one third its original size – as the Javits renovates the pavilion wherein said Alley assembled in previous iterations of the con. Unshaven Comics specifically popped up our booth in the small press area on the main floor. We were luckyish to have landed in the same spot as 2016.
Let’s start with the cons so that we may build to up to the pros. This is especially easy as we had a very good show, mind you. But nits should always be picked, my friends.
The biggest concern for Unshaven Comics remains our classification with ReedPop. While yes, Unshaven Comics is a small independent publisher of original comic books, graphic novels, and art, we don’t necessarily consider ourselves to be Small Press. There is a stigma that the label of Small Press carries with it an odd “chip on the shoulder” mentality. To be Small Press, as some fans see it, is to be defiantly not-one-of-the-big-boys. Unshaven Comics certainly isn’t Marvel, DC, or anything even reasonably close to it. We are three best friends putting out a single series of comics. We are, in our own minds, merely an Artist Alley table that couldn’t fit down in the Alley. But I digress. This classification simply led to times throughout the convention when the waves of fans washed past our booth as they made way from one exhibition hall to the next. We were displaced barnacles willfully ignored by schools of fish traveling to deeper waters. Nothing hurts more than being ignored.
But our fans – and yes, this year proved to us that we did in fact have them – made way to find us. Over the course of 4 days, we bearded brothers-from-other-mothers pitched The Samurnauts to 699 people. 321 of them purchased 540 books. In addition, Matt and I both took several commissions, and Kyle was able to sell plenty of copies of his book Toolbox. In terms of the raw numbers? Unshaven Comics is plenty happy. With our friendly neighbors – Unstoppable Comics (look them up!) and Publisher’s Weekly – when fans took the chance to stop and hear us out? Well, it worked out just fine for the lot of us.
The biggest takeaway for me personally came in the projections for our Unshaven future. As we’ll collect The Samurnauts: Curse of the Dreadnuts into our first graphic novel here at the tail end of this year, our numbers tell me that next year’s New York Comic Con will potentially see us move 75-100 of said graphic novels. And knowing the difference in profit between floppy copies and a trade (an article to come, I assure you)? Well, that makes me smile from ear to ear.
Beyond raw sales though, what will leave a lasting impression on me this year will be the subtle shifting of my l’il studio in the indie space. This year saw Unshaven Comics rubbing elbows with ComicMixers Joe Corallo and Molly Jackson. Our wonderful host Glenn Hauman whispered a few cryptic thoughts in our ears of future projects to consider. We broke bread once again with Mike Gold, Martha Thomases, and several other friends of the ‘Mix. More than any year prior, 2017’s New York Comic Con felt lived in for Unshaven Comics, in the best way possible. Gone were the nerves and that quivering question are we just faking it until we make it? Replaced; hardened by New Jersey Transit Tickets, Street Cart Chicken Kebobs, and Brooklyn Hipsters slapping our stickers to their poster tubes. All of it coalesced into a gestalt of limited-but-contented success.
While we didn’t beat any previous sales records (not being literally across from Marvel’s booth will do that to you…), we did prove that we’ve the mettle and drive to define our success in the comic industry. Tune in next week, when I contrast the sea-of-humanity to the most human show we table-up for. ‘Nuff said.
Life is about balance. After last week’s screed on my personal health journey, it’s only fair I balance things out with a very gluttonous listing of my most favorite meals whilst being an indie creator. You see, a life in comics — part time, at least — find folks assembled around a table to break bread more often than you’d think. When logging in considerable hours at a convention, creators often will nibble here and there, and then run out of the expo hall in a mad dash for food when the con floor closes. Great minds have met over bowls of pasta and pizzas, whilst inking deals on Batman or the X-Men. Here are, in no particular order, five meals that remain stuck in between my teeth:
Miller’s Pub with Mike Gold
The first time ComicMix honcho Mike Gold asked Unshaven Comics to meet him for a meal, he chose Miller’s Pub in downtown Chicago. Prior to the lunch we shared, Mr. Gold was a fleeting presence at the Wizard World Chicago where we made our debut. The lovely late Linda Gold had stumbled across we Unshaven Lads, dying a slow and panicked death in Artist Alley. She listened to our pitch and promised to bring Mike by. After briefly meeting us, Mike and I exchanged e-mails post-show. When the opportunity arose to find Mr. Gold back in the Chicagoland area, he proposed a meeting of the minds. Over hot sandwiches and the first round of name-dropping stories we would succumb to hear on a yearly basis, Mike looked us in the eyes (as we demanded Unshaven Comics pick up the check) and said the kindest thing we’d ever hear in our careers: “Boys, I will do whatever I can to see you doing well in this business.” And let me tell you, nothing has ever tasted sweeter.
Breakfast Buffet with John Ostrander
A few years back, John asked us to pick him up at his house and drive him down to the Detroit Fanfare comic convention. We were more than happy to oblige. The next morning, he asked us to join him for breakfast. Amidst pans of bacon, lukewarm pancakes, and runny scrambled eggs, John waxed poetic about all sorts of things. Star Wars, the Suicide Squad, playwriting in Chicago, and even the secret origin of Wasteland all came tumbling out from John’s timid timbre. Matt, Kyle, and I sat in awe of an industry legend as he treated us as friends… not the drooling fanboys we were. And not to be undone by Mike Gold, John heaped a bit of praise on us (as we picked up the check): “Seriously, I don’t know how you guys do it. You have everything planned out to the nines. I’m in awe of you.” Not bad for the cost of a few plates of breakfast meat.
The CowFish with The Samurnauts
Unshaven Comics got greedy in 2013. Figuring we could sell tons of books by splitting up and covering more ground, we sent Unshaven Salesman 2000 (Kyle Gnepper) off to a show in Cincinnati whilst Unshaven Matt and I covered the HeroesCon in North Carolina. Knowing that sans-Kyle we’d be without our real power, our blue and yellow Samurnauts (Cherise and Erik) joined our menagerie to bolster our abilities. While we learned that four of us couldn’t match a single Gnepper, we did find something redeeming about the lackluster show. Unshackled from Kyle’s more predictable palette, the Samurnauts, Matt and I found a burger/sushi restaurant in a neighboring town. I could spend literally an entire article simply remarking about what all we ordered… or I could simply say we loved the place so much, the manager gave us coupons if we’d consider coming back the next night. And we very much did.
Brandy Hauman’s Homecooking
When Unshaven Comics makes the 14-hour trek from Chicago to New York (or, in fact, Homewood to Weehawken), ComicMix’s Glenn Hauman is always the most gracious of hosts — opening his home to us for the price of a few bottles of hooch. As the New York Comic Con sits on the single piece of New York real estate devoid of decent food, we often wind up at la Casa del Hauman for some real New Jersey takeout. But last year, Glenn’s amazing (talented, beautiful, funny, and charming) wife demanded she make us a home-cooked meal. A nice roasted chicken and some sides — but it was served over a table filled with laughter, embarrassing stories, and friendship. With this past NYCC our fourth journey to the city that never sleeps, this single meal stands out as a testament to the best part of the tri-state area: the people who you make friends.
Some BBQ joint in Stamford, CT
I’ll end here on the most sincere memory I have in regards to comics and food. As mentioned above with the meal at Miller’s Pub, with this meal Mike Gold quickly morphed from a coveted mentor to both a mentor and a mensch. When my wife and I got married in November of 2009, we’d invited all of the ComicMixers we knew — knowing that the gesture was largely symbolic given the distance any of them would have had to travel just to see a then super-fat Marc stomp on a glass and yell L’chaim. As it would turn out, the newly minted Mrs. Fishman and I would take our honeymoon out along the East Coast (we didn’t quite google that Cape Cod is really a summer town). Mike was quick to demand that on our way home, we move our route to swing down his way. There, not far from the WWE headquarters, Kathy and I would be greeted by Glenn, Mike, Linda, and a smattering of other ComicMix friends for a BBQ lunch. As with much of this list: I don’t remember the food as much as the feeling that I’d made friends I’ve held on to ever since. That these oddballs would welcome me and mine into their family has cemented that my life in comics has been filled with some of the finest meals a man could dine on.
“I had a lovely brunch with Jesus Christ.
He said, “two words about inanity: fundamental Christianity,” yeah.
The food was very nice.
But then He had to go and die for my sins and stick my ass with the check.”
Just before 2016 died a fiery death, Unshaven Comics broke bread with ComicMix EIC Mike Gold and Living Legend John Ostrander. It wasn’t our first meal together, and assuredly it’s nowhere close to the last. We met for no better reason than to share a meal and a joyous time. Little did Mike know I was going to just go ahead and record the whole evening in my mind, and use it for this week’s article. I’m coy, don’t you know.
As with many interactions with Gold, barbecue was involved. We wound up at a north suburban Chicago joint with walls adorned in celebrity photos and the wafting aroma of wood-fired Q, as is often the case in the company of great and powerful comic book men.
What I love, perhaps more than anything else about these meals, is how quickly we nerd out. Barely a passing “Hello, how’s so and so” was muttered before the three Unshavens and the two greybeards (can I get away with that? I’ll try it) landed on the minutiae of our beloved pulp heroes and villains. Before we could even be seated we’d begun to ramble on about Supergirl, Suicide Squad, Arrow, Amanda Waller, Avengers: Infinity War, and the Smallville version of Martian Manhunter.
I bowed before the avatar.
He said, “the problem’s clear to me: you never got over Morrissey,” yeah.
I said “well, right you are!”
“It’s so much harder to be underfed than under-understood,” he said.
After we were seated, the conversation veered towards the political. Again, folks in-the-know of our trusted EIC wouldn’t be the least bit surprised. It’s likely not a surprise either, that nary a single point made was in favor of our soon-to-be Reality-Judge-In-Chief. We lamented on the state of the cabinet (“…akin to the Legion of Doom, but likely far more evil than the pulpy counterparts”). We chortled about the two party system (“…it doesn’t work, but then again, neither does anything else”). We commiserated on the power of social media (“…there’s no way in my day folks could assemble as fast”). In between bites of pulled pork, ribs, chicken, and brisket, John and Mike gave me the moment of the evening.
I’m not certain who originated the point, but someone on the Unshaven side of the table asked of our elders if they still had hope – that with enough spirited activism in place our country wouldn’t end up like the fire-pits of Apokolips. Mike and John each paused for a moment and delivered a Chicago-esque Siskel-Ebert take. I won’t tell you who said what (somethings are better left to be discovered), but Gold and Ostrander took different answers. Backed either by the eternal optimism stolen from the 60s that sparked their own original rebellious natures, or rebuked because of the sage wisdom of seeing the world rise and fall enough to believe that pessimism finally stole the day. It was sobering, prophetic, and amazing; and the moment fell as our last entrée plate was taken away.
I went to see KIP WINGER!
He said, “in my day we knew how to party; bands today, c’mon, not hardly.”
He had a back-up singer (doo doo doo doo).
He said, “the metal scene is a disgrace, but I ain’t got no dog in that race!”
When the moment passed, the conversation moved from the sobering to the cynical. The careers of Andy Dick, Rob Schneider, and David Spade were compared and picked over. And true to form, Mike Gold had a personal connection and a story about one of them — likely the other two as well, but by then the server was eyeing our booth for the still-unpaid-bill.
Unshaven picked up the tab (and was sure to extort our dinner guests for future favors, the true way of the comic book business), and the long Jewish Goodbyes began. Thirty minutes later, we parted ways, and the evening ended as brightly as it’d began.
Mike turned to John. “You know, I was just reading a list of the worst movies of 2016, and Suicide Squad was in the top five!” John snickered immediately. “Yeah, well, it made 750 million bucks, so I don’t give a damn.”
Damn straight, John.
Tip of the hat to Harvey Danger’s “Meetings with Remarkable Men (Show Me A Hero)” for the lyrical inspiration this week. If Mike ever lets me program my own guest set on “Weird Sounds Inside the Gold Mind”, that will be how I kick it off.
Let me be the last to wish you a happy new year. Actually you – and my Weird Scenes Inside The Gold Mind audience – are the first people upon whom I’m bestowing these tidings. I’m writing this on Boxing Day because I’m leaving town for a week. I think I’m going to Chicago, where I shall reflexively ask Barry Crain for Sonic Disruptors pages.
While in the Windy City, I will be meeting up with my ol’ pal and fellow ComicMix columnist John Ostrander, another expatriated Chicagoan. He will be in town along with Mary Mitchell to visit (or annoy, as the case may be) a gaggle of his relatives. We will be doing at least two things together, the first of which is having a profoundly fabulous dinner with also-fellow ComicMix columnist Marc Alan Fishman and the Unshaven Comics crew, and as many wives and children as possible that can tolerate a couple hours of seriously immature behavior.
The other reason John and I are getting together is that a couple months ago we started work on what may very well be the most important comics project of our lives… or, at least, mine. We’re working with a woman who is most certainly one of the most important people I’ve ever met, and I’ve met a lot of important people.
That’s why I’m in comics. The important people usually aren’t (but that’s changing), and variety is the spice of life. But this project combines the two; in fact, it combines just about all my Sybilistic professional personalities – comics, politics, media, and youth social services. Maybe it’ll be my one last parting shot; if so, it’ll be the one of which I’d be proudest.
As Eric Idle famously wrote and sang, “Life’s a laugh and death’s a joke, it’s true / You’ll see it’s all a show / Keep ’em laughing as you go / Just remember that the last laugh is on you!” Truer words were never sung, particularly from a cross on a movie set in Tunisia.
No, I’m not going to tell you what this one is all about. Not yet. Once everything is nailed down, contracts are signed, and moral non-disclosure agreements are no longer necessary, you bet I’ll babble on. I’ll bet John will, too. And others.
It’s a shame that the “famous Chinese curse” may you live in interesting times is apocryphal. For the record, the phrase “may you live in an interesting age” was first uttered by Frederic R. Coudert in 1939 at the Proceedings of the Academy of Political Science. He attributed it to his friend Sir Austen Chamberlain, brother of the infamous British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who claimed to have heard it from Chinese diplomats a few years earlier. However, Sir Austen didn’t speak Chinese and never went to China, so it is likely his sense of truthiness was as on-target as Sir Neville’s “there will be peace in our time…” uttered right after he gave the Sudetenland to Adolf Hitler a year before the start of World War II.
The “interesting times” version cannot be traced back further than the late 1940s and was brought to the attention of most by Robert Kennedy in 1966, in a speech the Senator made in Cape Town South Africa. Bobby said, “There is a Chinese curse which says ‘May he live in interesting times.’ Like it or not we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty; but they are also more open to the creative energy of men than any other time in history.” Of course, the Chinese curse quote was total bullshit, but we do not know if Bobby Kennedy knew that.
Nonetheless, the sentiment is accurate. May we live in interesting times can be quite a curse.
It is up to us to make certain it is not.
Happy New Year. Try not to fret too much. It scares the horses.
A tip of the hat to my friend Michael Sacco-Gibson this week for the topic.
It seems we’ve finally labeled the übernerds who choose to make it their lot in life to ostracize and criticize fans who enter our pulpy realm by ways and means different from their own. Gatekeeping against those fans who found a love of comic books (the books themselves, the characters therein, or any comic-related endeavor I assume) by way of TV, movies, or perhaps cosplay.
As Michael would explain to me (and no, not mansplain), Gatekeepers are often men, who often pick on not men over their comic book bonafides. Seems without an encyclopedic knowledge of issues, storylines, writers, artists, and editing mandates at the ready, a gatekeeper will scoff — and in some reported cases deny purchase of wares based on this inability. This also extends to those fans of properties who dare say they love the character… but have no interest in reading a comic. The horror!
That this is even a thing makes me sick as both a comic book creator and fan. It stings because I know that at my core, I’m not worthy by the aforementioned would-be gatekeepers.
The first comic book I ever bought was an X-Men Adventures rag that was a direct rip off the Saturday morning X-Men cartoon (which in turn was a rip off a Chris Claremont issue in the 80’s). The reason I bought it? I’d seen that actual episode the week prior and loved Colossus. I figured the comic would expound on the plot of the cartoon. It didn’t, but I was no less thrilled.
The next comic I would get would come years later, when Unshaven Comics’ Matt Wright delivered my birthday present: Strangers #1 and Ultraforce #1 from Malibu Comics. He’d gotten them in the discount box. I loved them. Why? Because I’d been an avid fan of the cartoon series.
Not even kidding. I was that lone fan.
Of course, later I would dive headfirst into back issue bins. I would demand the local comic shop clerks regale me with their opinions, and recommendations on good stories to pick up. I would debate long into the night with my friends about how Batman will always beat the Punisher. I earned my stripes eventually. But one thing that never struck me was the notion that people were only allowed into the sphere of comics by way of the arcane.
Do you mock someone for finding a love of Star Trek if their first series was Deep Space Nine? Do you click your tongue at a punker whose first album was Nimrod? Do you chide the bookworm who picks up Harry Potter before they even know of The Hobbit? If you do, please close my article. You’re no longer welcome here.
That any fan would deny another would-be devotee because of their path to the medium only feeds into the stereotype of the insular nerd. Thanks now to the wave of content platforms, and mainstream appeal specifically of comic books and comic book related brands? To check admission at the door based on your back issues is in hilariously bad taste. DC and Marvel have been trying to peddle their wares via TV, Movies, Radio, and any other medium that would have them in order to draw in new casual fans. To turn your nose away from someone because their first Superman was George Reeves is simply asinine. DC and Marvel don’t give a shit where you enter from. Just that you stay there. And they’re right to think that.
Michael would even go on to tell me that when he and his crew (from a local theater group) made a comic based on a play… about comics… that fans anda few creators openly scoffed at the notion. For the record: The book/play was “Badfic Love,” a play by Adam Pasen. The theater was the Strange Bedfellows Theatre (no longer open, sadly). That there would be gatekeepers maligning creators for their content and pedigree is angering on a Trumpian level. Perhaps those same fans might talk to John Ostrander about his literary roots?
To gatekeep comic books is to wholly miss the point of what being a fan truly is. It doesn’t matter where we come from. It only matters that we immerse ourselves in the content. That we evangelize to other would-be fans. That we celebrate achievements in media that personally connect us to the work, and to one another. To do anything to stymie the love of art is to miss the point of art in and of itself.
The only gatekeeper I allow in my life? Hedly Lemar and Taggert. Better get a shit load of dimes, kiddos. Merry Christmas.
While watching the baseball game Saturday night, it occurred to me that the difference between pop culture and geek culture is sports. Sports are part of our pop culture but not generally thought of as a component of geek culture.
Our cohort Martha Thomases might say (I haven’t asked, but this seems to follow her logic) this is because when we were in high school the cool kids were into sports and the uncool kids were into comic books and science-fiction stuff, and we, the latter, were the ones who were called geeks. In recent years that line has been blurred significantly.
For example, take the ComicMix crew. Adriane Nash and I are hockey fans. Adriane and Robert Greenberger are New York Mets fans. Mindy Newell is a fan of the New York Giants football team and she is tired of my proselytizing that since they play in the Meadowlands they really should be called the New Jersey Giants. Marc Alan Fishman is a WWE fan, as is Mike Raub. Arthur Tebbel is a Yankees fan, or at least he used to be the last time the subject came up – which was about 15 years ago. Bob Ingersoll is a Cleveland Indians fan. John Ostrander and I are Chicago Cubs fans.
Oh, oh. Well, it looks like Mr. Ingersoll, Mr. Ostrander and I will minimize our conversation for the next week or so… election notwithstanding. Then again, John and I were raised in an environment where politics and sports were indistinguishable.
John Ostrander and I are both Chicagoans, as is Marc Alan Fishman. John and I were raised on the north side, which means that being a Cubs fan is a matter of birthright as well as choice. And we both had a hell of a Saturday night, watching the Cubs win the National League pennant for the first time since, as Steve Goodman sang, “You know the law of averages says anything will happen that can… but the last time the Cubs won a National League pennant was the year we dropped the bomb on Japan.”
Not only did our beleaguered Cubbies win, but they won on a double-play and shut out the Los Angeles Dodgers with five runs. That’s the way to do it.
I’ve waited 71 years for this moment, which is five years longer than I’ve been alive. The only people who can readily appreciate that logic are comic book and Doctor Who fans (and John and I are both), scientists with degrees in theoretical physics, and Cubs fans.
As the game started the ninth inning, the cameras caught quite a number of people in the stands who were crying. Adriane later told me she was as well, and she’d only been to Wrigley Field two or three times – and one of them was to see a New Year’s Day hockey game (for which I shall remain forever grateful, but that’s an entirely different story). My own thoughts drifted over to my late aunt, Francis Goldberg.
Aunt Fran was born about a year after the Cubs had last won the world series; she lived 94 years. We were close, as everybody who knew her was close. She was smart, funny, and affable; the most worthy of role models. She was also the greatest Cubs fan I had ever met, and that says a lot. The last time I saw her was at a family function perhaps a year or so before her death. By this time she had succumbed to Alzheimer’s and she didn’t really recognize anybody in the room. However, she was no less intelligent, funny or affable
So I tried something. I asked her if she still followed the Cubbies. Aunt Fran took mock umbrage, as if I had asked her if she were still a woman. She began to rattle off how the Cubs did that season, proud that they had won the won the National League Central Division championship. And she went back through Cubs history, comparing contemporary events to earlier happenstance. I distinctly remember that if I had more time, she would probably take me back to the days of Albert Spalding, Cubs pitcher / manager / co-owner and sporting goods macher, circa 1876.
That, my friends, is a fan.
The story of the Chicago Cubs is the story of hope and promise. That’s always a vital story, that’s always a saga for our time, no matter when that time might be. I infuse that story with the spirit of my Aunt Francis Goldberg, who missed seeing the Cubs clench the pennant by a dozen years but never, ever had any doubt they would do just that.
It’s about that time of the year again for the annual Wizard World Chicago Comic Con. The show itself is very close to my heart. It’s the first comic con I ever attended as a fan. It’s where I went year in and year out to see DC and Marvel fight for comics supremacy. It’s where I went to grab bargains on lost toys and statues not found in my local comic shop. It’s where I’d attend numerous “How to Break Into Comics” panels every year and leave with my heart full of hope.
It’s also where my little studio, Unshaven Comics, would take the leap to the other side of the aisle and learn the fine art of the pitch. It’s where we’d learn that our future was with making books on our own terms and selling them to fans who appreciated the indie movement for what it was; where unpolished professionals honed their craft by presenting unbalanced final products with the hope of finding future success. This show has been, and will always be, our home show.
This is the first year since I can honestly remember where Unshaven Comics will not have a table. Let me make it known, of course, that my studio mate Matt Wright will be at the show, at the ComicMix table (Table 625! Come say hi!) to offer some commissions and maybe move a few books. But Unshaven Kyle will be visiting his mother in Ohio. And me… I’ll be at home. Working. OK. Maybe sulking a bit. Heh.
The reason? As a business, Unshaven Comics lives on the profits we earn at comic cons. But at this point our fourth installment of The Samurnauts: Curse of the Dreadnuts remains unfinished. With a hefty table cost and limited vacation days for the entirety of our threesome, there’s a commodity cost to doing said business. And with the dire threat of go big or go home, we need to have that final issue in hand by the time we make it to New York Comic Con this October. So, basic economics dictated our abandoning of the home show. Bigger risk begets bigger rewards. You dig?
Also… last year we were bitten by the DragonCon bug. The four-day excursion in Hotlanta netted us the second greatest showing at a convention ever, especially when compared to the table cost. Therefore, when we were granted a green light to return, it wasn’t a hard decision to make. Sure, Atlanta includes long car trips to and from, a potentially pricey hotel stay, as well as the general doldrums of being on the road. But with attendance that rivals NYCC, well… Bigger risk begets bigger rewards.
By abstaining from our home show this year, I’ll have time to plug away at the final pages of a soon-to-be-released comic. Without Kyle being available, we could never have seen the sales we would have needed to be profitable at a show the size of ole’ Wally World. As they like to say often on my beloved WWE… it’s what’s best for business.
But all that being said, it’s still a bitter pill to swallow. One that will go down easier knowing I’ll be able to break bread with EIC Mike Gold (and as John Ostrander notes, that means good BBQ) and the rest of the ComicMix crew that comes out. I know the show floor will be a little less bearded without me this year… but we all know the truth in comics:
Everything’s better when you relaunch the next year.
No one can deny Geek Culture has gotten bigger, broader and more mainstream. It’s cool to know about comics and comic characters’ history. It’s now cool to wear shirts with superhero images no matter what your age. And even mainstream retailer Bed Bath and Beyond is getting into the act, borrowing the soon-to-be unveiled Captain America statue for the grand opening of a new store before it makes a permanent home in Brooklyn.
Just a few short years ago, telling the world at large that you were planning to attend the San Diego Comic-Con was met with eye rolls and snickers. Now that very same travel announcement is invariably met with envy, excitement and the inevitable “You’re so lucky! Can you get me a Dr. Strange poster?”
This all leads us to the excitement and unique fan passion for the new Suicide Squad movie. I don’t think it’s all about that mainstream geek passion. It’s something different.
A Different Passion
Now, as a long time fan, I’ve dragged my family to many fan-focused movies. They’ve always been great sports, but my daughters never really caught the bug. They’d sit through a superhero movie, eat popcorn with dad, and then promptly move onto the next thing after the show was over. Oh, they’d always find cool superhero presents for old dad for birthdays and holidays, but that was just them being kind rather than being passionate fans.
So you can imagine my surprise when my middle daughter, Tessa (who just graduated from college a year ago and is working in New York City) said “Hey Dad, what’s this Suicide Squad about? Maybe we should go see that.” I wasn’t sitting down when she said that, but if I had been, I would’ve fallen off out of my chair.
Who They Are And How They Came To Be
The Suicide Squad was a DC comic series that debuted with a half-hearted tryout as spy-espionage series. It really took off in the mid-80s when it was rebooted as comics’ version of The Dirty Dozen. Some of my favorite comic creators were behind this incarnation: John Ostrander, Kim Yale, Mike Gold, Luke McDonnell, Karl Kesel, Robert Greenberger and more.
More recently, the Suicide Squad bolted on one of the most popular new comic characters, Harley Quinn. At the core of it, she’s the Joker’s insane girlfriend, but she’s grown to be so much more. She’s kind of like the comic version of Chelsea Handler mixed with the irreverent, bisexual Bugs Bunny. She’s fresh, effervescent and lot of fun.
And today’s Harley Quinn and the Suicide Squad seem to stand for something special, and passionate fans are embracing and protecting it all. As the ultimate “bad boys/girls” of the superhero world, the Suicide Squad members are edgy and frightening. They are poor role models for kids. But I think that in many ways, they represent a mindset that so many fans have.
These characters certainly aren’t super-characters like Captain America. They don’t make all the right choices and they don’t do heroic things. They’re grungy and disrespectful. Authority figures despise them, but they are very comfortable with who they are.
And they co-opted the prettiest girl in the class as one of their own. Margot Robbie, a stunning actress who gave us all a reason to sit through the failed caper movie, Focus, plays Harley Quinn. She’s scary and insane and riveting in every trailer. It’s as if America’s Sweetheart (Spoiler alert: She’s not really American) started hanging out with the bad kids in high school.
All of this was thrown into a Geek Culture pot and stirred until it became a fresh stew of validation, alienation, and a unique kind of anti-establishment celebration.
Don’t Stomp On Someone Else’s Validation
And that’s whey when early movie reviews started slamming the movie, faithful Suicide Squad fans rushed to the movie’s defense… before they could even see the movie. Some fans tried to turn the tables on Rotten Tomatoes as payback for dissing their movie, and by proxy, dissing what these fans hold dear and their opportunity for validation.
Not everyone gets it, of course. Slate, that mostly-political site, scratched their head in a story all about the authentic and creative Suicide Squad licensed merchandise on sale at Urban Outfitters. You could almost hear the (usually hip) Slate shaking an aged fist and grumbling “You damn kids, get offa my industry of licensed movie products!”
Geek Culture has grown big – and now the tent is so big that there are areas within it for so many different groups. The Suicide Squad represents another unique segment, and they are vociferously passionate about what’s important to them.
In the holiday classic Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, Yukon Cornelius famously tells his friends “Even among misfits, you’re misfits.” And as many comic nerds have become the cool kids, they’ve left behind many who feel disenfranchised. Or, more accurately, some who feel disenfranchised.
That’s why I believe Suicide Squad is making a connection. It’s telling those who aren’t sitting at the cool kids table that they have value. They are unique. They are special and here’s a movie for you. And many folks just don’t hear that much or certainly not enough.
This isn’t really “my 80s Suicide Squad” – and I don’t think it should be.
But I am excited that so many of the creators* can see what their ideas have become on the big screen.
And I’m really excited that folks who dig arm bands and shop at Hot Topic and may feel like misfits amongst society’s beautiful people have a summer superhero movie all their own. And that we can all enjoy.
And I hope it becomes a franchise.
*One aside: Kim Yale, a trailblazing comics writer who worked on so many Suicide Squad stories, passed away years ago. She gone but she’s far from forgotten. NPR just did a wonderful piece on her and you can give it a listen here.
Hello all. As I’m sure nearly everyone else here on ComicMix has given their two cents on the recent release of SuicideSquad (with the most important among us, John Ostrander, being the end-all-be-all in his review), I’d be remiss if I didn’t also drop a few opinionated pennies in the bucket.
My opinion of the flick, sadly, isn’t a high one. Had John – someone I admire so much as a writer, and cherish as a (dare I say it) personal friend – not been one of the sources by which David Ayer and his team built the Squad around? I’d really be inclined to say I left the theater unsurprisingly disgruntled. But I left at least with a snicker and some joy for the good things buried in the layers of bad.
Walking in, admittedly, my expectations were low. Given the bar to clear thanks to Batman v. Superman, all I really wanted was a film that could at least take a step back now and again to have a laugh and/or human moment. I didn’t need to see Deadshot and his dirty dozen eat gyros in Central City mind you, but I needed to be reminded now and again that the DC Movie Universe wasn’t all angsty rainstorms and mommy issues.
Walking out, I felt I’d been treated to – as my friend and comic shop owner Eric Garneau quipped — a two hour music video. Stuff exploded. One liners were dropped. A little depth and human emotion permeated a few of the Wall’s wicked wrongdoers. And I didn’t leave exhausted by most of the ham-fistedness of it all.
If I’m allowed to file some complaints… (And, duh, SPOILERS be ahead, matey)
Jared Leto may had thought going method was the way to really capture the Joker. But the inked and lovelorn desperate putz they paraded out during the film was hardly the clown prince of crime I personally love to loathe. As presented, he was a chalk white gangster without a soul. If it’s one thing every Joker before him has shown (and much of that comes with the script) is a depth beyond the forced smile and purple pants. In Suicide Squad, he served only one purpose: to grant us our Harley Quinn, the sexpot screwloose heart-of-the-team.
A secondary concern would pop up when it came to the obvious screen time of Will Smith’s Deadshot as well as the aforementioned Dr. Quinzelle. Clearly the studio loved how marketable each would be; Deadshot is basically a living action figure, and Harley is Hot Topic made flesh. But with each of them getting considerably longer stretches to dominate the film, the more interesting members of the team were left to fill fodder roles.
Had we not seen Captain Boomerang stuff the pink unicorn into his jacket several dozen times, would there even be much to the character as given to us? He was funny as he continually opted to try to half escape or drink beer, sure… But there’s far more to Digger than the movie opted to offer.
And what of Killer Croc or El Diablo? To me, Diablo stole the film, with his well-paced slow burn (natch) arc. It left me wanting to know far more about him. While Croc apparently was happy to be the muscle of the team who was always relegated to wide shots due to the budget clearly being spent on Enchantresses’ CGI maelstrom.
Which leads me to the last nit to pick. From the second she was introduced, Enchantress was truly used as nothing more than a deus ex machinsquad. Overpowered, over CGI’ed, and under-acted, I never believed for a second that the June Moon inside wanted our Not-Tom-Hardy Rick Flag. But the point is moot. She was there to give us a squad and produce yet-another-army of expendable computer monsters to bash. Meh.
For what it’s worth, I feel the need to end on an uplifting note. Much as John himself pointed out, so much of the success of this film would rest on Amanda Waller. As the Samuel L. Jackson Nick Fury of the DCU (who predates that actual character by several decades… thank you, John), Viola Davis was everything I wanted in the Wall and more. In fact, I hope we catch her rooting around every DC movie from here to the eventual Kingdom Come.
Ultimately, if someone were to ask me about Task Force X I’d pop in my DVD of Justice League Unlimited and show them how it was done as a masterstroke. Otherwise, I suggest switching your brain to mute, getting a large greasy bucket of popcorn, and just enjoy the madness. Suicide Squad is, to date, the best DC’s movie makers have yet to offer. Enough glints of hope exist for the casual fans to have a good time.
And hey, should the Squad return? Well, if it drops a few shekels of credit to John Ostrander… my next ticket will be bought in advance.