Tagged: John Ostrander

Mindy Newell: A Dear John Letter

Dr. Hibbert: Homer, I’m afraid you’ll have to undergo a coronary bypass operation.

Homer: Say it in English, Doc.

Dr. Hibbert: You’re going to need open heart surgery.

Homer: Spare me your medical mumbo jumbo.

Dr. Hibbert: We’re going to cut you open, and tinker with your ticker.

Homer: Could you dumb it down a shade?

– Homer’s Triple Bypass, The Simpsons, December 17, 1992

Well, John, you described the medical procedures you’ve had very well. In fact, I couldn’t have done better myself! I especially loved your description of the catheter bag; if you don’t mind, I’m gonna start calling it a “Gucci” at work – although maybe my women patients will prefer “Louis” for Louis Vuitton.

I do know why urologists just pull the stents out without anesthesia; because it is so quick – the five minutes or so that it has taken me to write the column is more than the procedure itself takes – (1) it’s felt that the exposure time to anesthetic agents isn’t worth the risk. Yes, there is a risk factor in anesthesia, even local anesthesia; (2) the time it would take to recover you in the Post Anesthesia Unit (PACU, or simply, Recovery Room) is longer than the time it takes to remove a stent; (3) if you have anesthesia you’d have to go either to the hospital or an ambulatory surgery center – probably the later; (4) the MD is actually saving you some money, as your bill would then include the anesthesiologist’s fee and the hospital/surgery center’s fee; and (5) it saves not only dollars, but time – a relatively short time in the MD’s office could become a whole morning spent in the hospital or surgical center.

Despite that, me personally? I would still opt for the anesthesia. Why? Because I’ve been in on those procedures and, believe me, I wince every time. Yeah, give me a couple a whiffs of nitrous oxide or a syringe full of pentothal (the stuff that I call “Jackson Juice” because…well, you can figure it out) every time, baby. No pain, so much gain!

So when I say I felt for you as I read your column, I really did.

As for your upcoming entry into the “Zipper Club”…

You know that my brother also had a “surprise” coronary bypass. Only he’s got you beat, John. All five of his arteries were blocked – to such a degree that the doctors didn’t know how he was alive. Yeah, basically Glenn was a “dead man walking.” But these days he’s playing tennis, working out and doing his biking thing. (I mean bicycles, not motorcycles.) Yep, he’s out there pedaling away, doing 70 miles easy. His latest trip with his cycling buds was in Virginia this weekend on the Blue Ridge (as in Mountains) Parkway, with elevations of 600 to 6,000 feet, and which winds it way for 469 miles through Virginia and northern North Carolina. And the weather is always changing, despite the season, which means that Glenn and his pals got caught in some serious rainstorms. Which just added to the fun.

So maybe one of these days Mary will buy you a bicycle and pretty soon you’ll be travelling the roads of Michigan and cursing out the cars that are passing you at 100 miles per hour and throwing mud and dust and pebbles into your face.

So hang tough, John.

And know that we’re all with you.

 

Marc Alan Fishman: But Why A Comic Book?

FreakanomicsLately, I’ve become a freak. That is to say, a fan of the Freakanomics Podcast. Stephen Dubner and Steve Levitt like to take a topic and ask the questions no one is asking. They also like to start from the opposing side of the common problem in order to find potential solutions. As such, I figured I would let their methodology bleed into my brainpan. I want to tackle a question I’ve had lately and approach it from a different perspective than I’m used to. The problem is simple: With all the more lucrative business ventures that exist for the largest publishers of marketing licenses (that’s DC and Marvel, kiddos), why produce comic books?

Because I’m not an economist and I don’t have the will power to sift through sales data, I’m going to opt to go out on a limb instead. I believe that it’s safe to say that the revenue that comes in for a blockbuster comic book movie – and all the associated merchandising and licensing revenue associated directly to said movie – outweighs the revenue generated from the parent comic book in levels of magnitude that’d astound even Lex Luthor. That in turn would make the common man scoff. Why would Marvel and DC, peddlers of the most recognizably licensable properties, waste any money chasing the paltry profits that stem from their publishing arms, and not just opt to make movies and television? It’s time to freak out.

If I were Mr. Dubner, I’d likely start with the history first. Obviously DC and Marvel have dabbled in non-comic book ventures nearly as long as they have been printing funny books. Look to the Superman serials, radio shows, TV series, et al. And Marvel, too, had their run of crappy movies, TV shows, and odd proto-motion-comic ventures to boot. In their time, perhaps these alternative media led new eyes to the products. More likely though, those models in the past never doled out the bankroll like todays modern day media. At the heart of all those aforementioned side projects though, one would argue that the real crux of content being produced was driven by the rags on the racks. And therein lies the answer to the original question.

Beyond the likely-break-even nature of comic book publishing, the actual process of producing the product establishes worth beyond simple dollars and cents. Because a great comic book story may give birth to an amazing storyline, a new character, or an inventive design. Where might Jon Favreau’s Iron Man franchise be if not for Adi Granov’s ubiquitous model? Would the pockets of the Warner Bros be as full without the library of reproducible stock art for any number of merchandising ventures? Would the House of Mouse’s motion picture business be as entrenched in the zeitgeist today if not for the decades of source material being produced on a weekly basis? And if we’re thinking to a brighter future… How much credit is owed to ComicMix’s John Ostrander if Amanda Waller ends up becoming the Phil Coulson of the new DC movie franchises? Suffice to say on all counts… the sunk costs of producing sequential fiction is a pithy particle when compared to the opportunity cost you’ll gain for making it.

Even if a comic doesn’t sell well – or even is a loss – the final product exists for eternity thereafter. If I as a fan pick up that long forgotten issue of Slingers and pitch it to Marvel in a new and fantastic light, and my relaunch of the title captures the attention of the niche masses of comic book fans, then the thru-line exists that the new book may lead to a new licensable property – like a new character on a cartoon, a subplot to be used in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., or its own Netflix spin-off. The simple math says the loss having to pay for even six issues worth of ink-and-paper (including the per-page costs of the creative team, the salaried cost of editors/administrators, as well as the actual material and distribution costs) may eventually balance out through the usage of the intellectual property that then sits in the archives of the parent publisher. A bad batch of Coke II will never mint Coca-Cola a fortune. And in a few weeks, D-List book will likely net Marvel hundreds of millions of dollars in repeating revenue.

When you think of it that way: why would you ever notproduce a comic book?

 

Mindy Newell: Truth, Justice, And The American Way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

John Ostrander’s 2014 TV Report Card

Agents of SHIELDWe’ve had our TV season (or series) finale blitz so I thought I’d give a report card on some of the series I’ve been watching. These are my current faves; they may not be your faves but – hey – it’s my column. Grades will be of different hues of satisfactory/unsatisfactory. Here there will be spoilers; you are so advised and warned.

Arrow: Satisfactory. The plots and subplots including the backstory all wound up in a satisfactory manner. Tracks were laid down for next season. Amanda Waller, even if I’m not nuts about how they interpret her, was there and appears that she will be there next season which means I get some money down the road. I don’t care for Oliver Queens’ younger sister Thea, who comes off as a self-righteous whiny spoiled brat. In theory, she could be written out if the show by her exit but somehow I doubt it. The show gets a little sudsy for me at times but, overall, I’ll probably watch it again next season.

Almost Human: Sadly satisfactory. This should almost qualify as an incomplete as I came in late on the series but I very much enjoyed what I saw. Unfortunately, the series has been cancelled which is a shame – good writing, good cast, good production values. They couldn’t have known when they did the final episode whether or not they were cancelled but they ended on a right note between the two main characters. While there were a few loose ends that could have been tied up, emotionally it ended well. I’ll miss it.

Castle: Unsatisfactory. This season was leading up to the nuptials between Castle and Kate Becket but the show is dedicated to keeping them apart. It took them a good long time to let the characters get together at all and now they’ve done a season cliffhanger where Castle, on his way to the wedding, is forced off the road and the last thing we see is his burning car. Ooooh! Maybe he’s dead! Nah, no one believes that. No, this is just another way of keeping the two characters apart because, as we all know, once two people get married, they become dull and uninteresting and boring. I mean, Hepburn and Tracy proved that. Gomez and Morticia. The Thin Man movies. Come on!

Justified: Unsatisfactory. I think I covered this elsewhere but the season simply treaded water, there were storylines about which I didn’t give a rat’s ass, the bad guys weren’t very compelling, and it’s marking time until next season, already announced as the last. It should have jettisoned one or two storylines and wound the show up strong this season. I don’t know if I care anymore.

Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D: Surprisingly satisfactory. Of course, they did bring in Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury so they had a lot going for them but this was a series I wasn’t keen on when it started. However, after the events in Captain America: The Winter Soldier (extremely satisfactory) tied into the series, it became compelling. Betrayals, twists, character development, and Agent Coulson gets a promotion at the end. I’m looking forward to next season. Well done.

Suits: Satisfactory. There’s an underlying premise to the series – that Mike Ross, assistant to ace lawyer Harvey Specter, has faked his law degree, faked going to Harvard, and so on and that Specter (and several others at the firm) know it. The series has toyed with Mike’s exposure as a fraud and did again at the finale this year. There’s a lie at the center of the show and I think it has to be dealt with. They found an out this year; Mike has an offer of a big paying job in a different field. If he leaves, the odds on his lie being exposed reasonably go down and they’ve left it that he intends to take the job. Whether he follows through is something we’ll see next season but at least the series is addressing the issue.

The Blacklist: Satisfactory. This is a twisted series but I like how the information must sometimes be inferred and may be misleading. Characters died in the finale, often very violently. Tom Keen, the asshole pretending to be series lead Elizabeth Keen’s husband, bit the big one. Is James Spader’s character, Raymond Reddington, Elizabeth’s father? It seems as if he is but, with this series, you can never quite tell. Some questions were answered and some plots tied off but there are more questions and places to go next season and I’m ready to go with them.

Overall, not bad. More things I liked than things I didn’t. Some new shows are coming up in the fall that look promising. Nothing terribly challenging, but that’s why God created Cosmos. Oh, wait! S/He didn’t. Not a lot of God in the show, which pisses Creationists off no end – and part of the reason I really like it.

 

Charles Stross on “The myth of heroism”

Running around doing too much today, but if you’ve been enjoying our columns from Dennis O’Neil, John Ostrander, and Mindy Newell on the topic of heroes and superheroes, you might want to look at what Charles Stross has to say about it:

Where do heroes come from?

I will confess that I find it difficult to write fictional heroes with a straight face. After all, we are all the heroes of our internal narrative (even those of us who others see as villains: nobody wakes up in the morning, twirls their moustache, and thinks, how can I most effectively act to further the cause of EVIL™ today?). And people who might consider themselves virtuous or heroic within their own framework, may be villains when seen from the outside: it’s a common vice of fascists (who seem addicted to heroic imagery—it’s a very romantic form of political poison, after all, the appeal to the clean and manly virtue of cold steel in subordination to the will of the State), and also of paternalist authoritarians.

But where does it come from?

via The myth of heroism – Charlie’s Diary.

A lot of “The Literature Of Ethics” here, and an unintentional connection between pre-monotheistic mythologies, Lois Lane and Lana Lang, and Betty and Veronica. Serioiusly.

Mindy Newell: The Name Of The Monster

“Must a name mean something?” Alice asked doubtfully. 



“Of course it must,” Humpty Dumpty said with a short laugh; “my name means the shape I am – and a good handsome shape it is, too. With a name like yours, you might be any shape, almost.”

Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll

There was a time in my life when it was my silent, constant partner. I didn’t know then what it was; this thing had no name, and no one had yet advised me to challenge it, to call it out from the shadows into the sunlight. It hid in the cold dark crevices of my psyche, curled around my thoughts and dreams like a boa constrictor, never letting go, an anonymous thing. I knew there was something wrong, but without a name to call it, I could not voice it. Without a name to call it, I could not control it. Without a name to call it, I could not reclaim my self.

Yesterday I went to a comic book store for the first time in a very, very long time.

What the hell does that have to do with my struggles with it? A good question. A legitimate question.

The first time I discovered a store dedicated to comics was way back in the early 80s, during the time when this anonymous thing lived with me day after day, week after week, month after month. I don’t remember purposely sniffing it out – IIRC I just happened to be stopped at a red light on Broadway in downtown Bayonne, New Jersey. The storefront caught my eye; the windows were full of comics and some other stuff, but then the light turned green and I continued along my way.

But for the few moments while I was waiting for the red to turn to green, the thing had let go of me, or, at least, had lessened its grip. It wasn’t an “uh-huh” moment…

But very soon afterwards I was in the store and I wasn’t feeling weird, or odd, or frightened or any of that remote, sad, heaviness of the thing-with-no name which I carried with me – well, not so much, anyhow…

Yeah, not to put it through too fine a sieve – and, yes, it’s 28 years later – I think what I was feeling was comfort.

I looked at all the covers of the comics and the colors and the artwork and all the heroes – Superman, Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Green Lantern, The Legion Of Super-Heroes, and all the rest – and I felt better. Okay, not kick-up-your-heels-and-do-a-dance better, but yeah, definitely better. Probably, as my therapist would say, it had to do with being suddenly face-to-face with the little-girl-who-was-me; she who was excited, who was curious, who read comics by flashlight after Taps underneath the covers of my bunk at camp.

I remembered her.

I was her.

I don’t remember what else I bought that day, but I do remember buying Camelot 3000, the groundbreaking maxi-series by Mike W. Barr and Brian Bolland, which imagines the prophesized return of King Arthur and his Round Table when the Earth is threatened by an alien invasion in the year 3000 A.D. I have always loved the story of the once and future king; it is the classic hero’s journey, told over and over again in many myths and in many cultures, the tale of the individual who is challenged to walk through the gauntlet, to vanquish the enemy, to achieve peace and knowledge even if cost is dear.

I read that first issue of Camelot 3000, and while I was reading it I escaped the hell of my life. And I kept going back to the comic book store and I kept reading C3000, and I bought and read other comics. I even wrote a “Letter to the Editor” that appeared in an issue of Green Lantern.

It was finally, and properly, diagnosed and named in 1990 as clinical depression.

And yes, naming the monster gave me power.

But I still hate it. Because it never really goes away, y’know? Even with medication and therapy, it’s always there, teasing me. “I’m still here. I had you once. I can have you again.” And sometimes it does, for a little while. The past month, for instance. But I have named it, and so its power is not what it was. And then, too, sometimes I think…

If the monster had not taken hold of me, if I had not had to struggle and walk through the gauntlet, I would have never walked into that comic book store in 1982 and started reading comics again. I would have never sat down on a rainy Sunday and written Jenesis, the story that led me to Karen Berger and New Talent Showcase and all the wonderful things that followed it. I would have never written Lois Lane: When It Rains, God Is Crying, and never would have been able to understand the pain of Chalk Drawings (Wonder Woman #46), which I co-wrote with George Pérez. I would have never gone to conventions and met so many wonderful people – this means you, Mike, John, Kim, and Mary. And you, Martha. And you, Bob Greenberger. And Karen and Len and Marv and Mike Grell and Tom Brevoort and Trina Robbins and Harvey Pekar and Joyce Brabner and Marie Javins. And so many others, some of who are no longer with us – Dick Giordano and Gray Morrow and Don Heck and Mark Gruenwald…

I hate you, depression.

I hate you with a passion that frightens me. You have fucked up my life in too many goddamn ways.

And yet…

I would not be here now without you.

I said once before, in a previous column, that nothing is wasted.

Even, and I hate to say it, clinical depression.

 

Marc Alan Fishman: I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends

When I made the leap to the other side of the aisle, I did so because I had my brothers from other mothers right next to me. And because of both of them I’ve continued to push myself to do things I honestly didn’t think I’d be capable of. Thanks to Kyle Gnepper, I write this column. (OK, it helps that Mike Gold lets me.) Because of Matt Wright, I’ve gone from gingerly tiptoeing around 12 pages of simple interior art to crashing my way through 18 pages of the most complicated, action-packed work I’ve ever done. It’s because of those friends I smiled at complete strangers and pitched my wares with a steely grin, confident that the product on our li’l eight footer could stand next to anything else on the convention floor, and be considering a quality book.

I made that leap, and figured that the world of independent comic bookery was a lone-wolf business. DC and Marvel, Image, Avatar, Boom, and others – places I’d kill to be a card-carrying employee of – but knowledgable enough to know that it takes them coming to me (and me being worthy of them) that would make that dream come true. And given how cutthroat the industry felt from the outside looking in, I always assumed that the introverted artists holed up in the Alleys were happy to sell you a book, and drown their sorrows at BeerCon when the show ended; alone. Now, after half a decade in the trenches? I know now how very wrong I was.

I started in this business alone with my logo-mates in tow. I type before you now, amongst a veritable community of cohorts – all of whom share in my successes, and console me in my failures. It’s only fitting I take time out to give them their due. My column this morning is an affirmation that the Artist Alley is not a dark and scary place. In fact, it’s the most inclusive and sobering reminder that my dreams are what crush the perception of loneliness I’d anticipated long ago.

(more…)

Mindy Newell: Columnist Columnizing

Newell Art 140421“Don’t you wish you had a job like mine? All you have to do is think up a certain number of words! Plus, you can repeat words! And they don’t even have to be true!” – Dave Barry

Some thoughts this week reflecting upon my fellow ComicMix columnists’ opinions…

Last week Martha Thomases felt compelled to once again write about the bullshit practice of attacking women who “o-pine” (as Bill O’Reilly says) and dare to speak “truthiness,” as Stephen Colbert puts it, in her column, Criticizing Criticism. Toward the end of the piece Martha wrote about a panel at Washington, D.C.’s Awesome Con (held just this past weekend) that she was planning on attending. The name of the panel was “Part-Time Writer, Full Time World.” All the panelists were women, and apparently they were going to “O-pine” and “speak truthiness” about balancing the demands of a full time job, of being a parent, of having a part-time job – with these women, the “part-time” job is writing – with having time for your personal life, all while keeping a sane thought in your head. She made an excellent point when she pointed out that there were no men on the panel.

Hmm…

To (mostly) quote myself in the “comments” section of Martha’s column:

“As far as the full-time job/parenting/writing/hobby balance thing, it’s not a question of whether or not men don’t do any parenting. I think a lot of men are extremely involved in their kids’ lives these days.

“But what I think what Martha is pointing out is the assumption by the con runners, or at least those who set up this particular panel, that it’s only women who are dealing with this conundrum. Or, to give them the benefit of the doubt, maybe they just wanted to do a “Women in Comics” panel and thought this would be an interesting twist on the subject. Either way, it does seem somewhat sexist–against both sexes for a change!

“The answer, btw – and I feel that I am qualified to answer this conundrum because I was a single parent, and also because I’m now watching Alix and Jeff juggle parenthood, work, and school – is, paraphrasing a certain global sports apparel company:

“‘You just do it’…

“While seeking plenty of help from family, friends, babysitters – and sometimes, if you’re really lucky, an understanding boss or editor.

“And then, when the kids are all grown up and have families of their own, you have the luxury of being a grandmother, and you can just love and spoil the kid and then hand him back when you’re tired or he get’s cranky or it’s just time for you to have some
“me-time.”

“And be proud of yourself, because you just ‘did’ it.”

Denny’s and Marc’s columns made me think once again of how Marvel is doing everything right, and how DC is doing everything wrong. As I indicated in last week’s column, Marvel’s creation of a “telefilmverse” has been just brilliant in its adaptation of its comic universe’s history, in its invigoration of old concepts and old heroes, and in the excitement and joy its inventiveness is creating in both old and new fans.

I grew up a total DC geek in its Silver Age. I loved The Legion Of Super-Heroes, Superboy, Green Lantern, Supergirl, and the “Imaginary Stories” of Julie Schwartz’s Superman. In the 80s and early 90s I was hooked on all things Vertigo (Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, Grant Morrison’s Animal Man, to name just a few), Marv Wolfman and George Perez’s New Teen Titans, George’s Wonder Woman (even before I co-wrote it), Paul Levitz and Keith Giffen’s Legion Of Super-Heroes (before I was involved), Dan Mishkin, Gary Cohn, and Ernie Colon’s Amethyst, Princess Of Gemworld (ditto), Mike W. Barr and Brian Bolland’s Camelot 3000 (ditto) and many more. Back then DC was a groundbreaker, an innovator, “Bold” and “Brave.”

Today when I think of DC I think of words like moribund, and mired, and morose.

Today, like Marc Alan Fishman, I say, “Make Mine Marvel!”

Paul Kupperberg’s review of  The King Of Comedy http://www.comicmix.com//reviews/2014/04/17/review-king-comedy/ is dead-on. If you haven’t seen this movie, see it.

John Ostrander: Happy, happy, happiest of birthdays! I left you a comment, but I don’t know where it went, because it’s not there now. Just know that I wish you everything you talk about in the column – to live even longer than your paternal grandfather and his continue to bang out comic series and a new novel on a regular basis. I can’t wait to read the new GrimJack series, and that brilliant novel that resides on the New York Times Bestseller list for longer than Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games ever did. I want to see Peter David green with envy (just teasing, Peter!) with your success. Hell, I want to see me turn green with envy and choleric with bitterness about your success! And I want you to remember, bro, in the words of that old poet-hipster, James Taylor…

You’ve got a friend.

 

John Ostrander: 65

So there I was, flailing around for this week’s topic. The clock was ticking and time was running out. And then it hit me like a wet sock on the end of my nose – it’s appearing on Sunday, which happens to be my birthday. Not only my birthday but my 65th birthday which is supposed to be one of those big hoohah numbers. A milestone (I hope Brother Michael Davis lets me use that word). It marks me officially as a Senior Citizen (as if my balding pattern and gray to white hair hadn’t already done that).

I’m doing all of those things you’re supposed to do at this age. Join AARP? Done that. Applied for Social Security and Medicare? Done and done. Gimme that governmental teat to suckle. Sorry, Junior, but I’m soaking up your financial future and destroying your freedoms. Ask various media.

Except, of course, they don’t give me all that much. Of course, there may not be Social Security by the time you reach my age but I didn’t think it would be there when I reached this age so who knows?

And, of course, I’m going to retire.

Not.

Even if I could afford to retire (which I can’t), why would I stop writing? I love this gig. It’s part of my bones at this point. This is what I do, this is what I am. Writing isn’t like playing sports; the knees may go but, with writers, so long as your mind isn’t completely shot (careful!), the probability is that you can just keep getting better and I think, I hope, I believe that I have.

Regrets, I have a few but then again too few too mention.

Crap. I’m quoting “My Way”. I’m not a fan of the song. Too self congratulatory for me. The only ones who can sing it and make it work are Frank Sinatra and John Cleese at the end of George of the Jungle.

Crap. Now I have it running through my head.

Crap. Now I have the disco version running through my head.

Yeah, now it’s going through yours too, right? You’re welcome.

Anyway, I can look back and see some things I do wish I had done differently. I wish I had done a few more creator-owned projects. Balancing those against the for-hire work is generally a better idea, I think. Folks like Peter David and Mark Waid have done a real good job of that, I think.

I also wish I had gotten into prose more, gotten some novels under my belt. Again, folks like Peter David have done a good job with that. Yes, there are times I wish I was Peter David. Most of the time I’m fine with being me but there are times. . .

But know what? I’m 65. I’m not dead. There’s time to make changes and start doing both prose and creator owned projects. My paternal grandfather lived to be 100 and his daughter lived to be 101. In this day of crowdfunding, it’s more possible than ever to get new work out there.

And I have new projects I’m working on with partners I’ve worked with before. There’s possibilities of a novel or two that I’m actively pursuing. One of the projects that I’m doing with Tom Mandrake, Kros, you may have seen mentioned on Facebook. Timothy Truman, Mike Gold and I are discussing more GrimJack. Lots of stuff I can’t discuss yet but I hope to tell folks soon.

And I’m on social media. I have my Facebook page, I have my Twitter account. Still learning how to use the latter but I’m out there pitching.

When you get right down to it, 65 is just another number. It doesn’t really mean anything in and of itself; the meaning is what we ascribe to it. Getting old? Naw. Pulling back? Hell no. Going to Tahiti? Well, I wouldn’t say no but not on a permanent basis.

I’m just getting started.

Photo by JD Hancock

Marc Alan Fishman: All New or All Now?

Fishman rt 140419Over the last few weeks I’ve made a concerted effort to balance my pull list between DC and Marvel. As I’d been gone from weekly books for a few months, I figured it’d behoove me to give a fighting chance to both of the big boys of comics to impress me. To prove to the self-proclaimed king of snark, that there exists good mainstream cape and cowl rags still on the racks. For those who follow my review column over at MichaelDavisWorld, you’ll probably recognize what I’m about to say. Let me not bury the lead, kiddos: Marvel good. DC bad. DC very, very bad.

Superior Spider-Man. Magneto. Ghost Rider. She Hulk. New Warriors. All books I picked up with half a snicker, save perhaps for Spidey. Launching a full-on series (as in, not a “1 of 6” mini-series like they did back in the day) with venerable B, C, and D listers is not a way to drive insane demand to the local comic retailer, I thought. Each in their own right are good characters, rich with backstory, and plenty of defining moments, don’t get me wrong. And yes, save perhaps for Magneto, all of the aforementioned titles had previously been a thing. Never though, have they been anything that you launch with guns blazing. Then I cracked them open, and gave them a read. And it all made sense. All New Marvel Now? Well, that’s synonymous with taking a risk, telling a good story, and letting characters be unto themselves. It’s a novel concept that was seemingly stamped into oblivion when Image Comics begat Spawn. But I digress.

This is not an object lesson on conceptual trends – mostly because my knowledge base would be bolstered not of first-hand knowledge so much as Wikipedia page entries. This is however, a reckoning with modern day storytelling. Marvel’s Now initiative, as I’ve noted before, seems to be about the slow burn off of older concepts and heavy continuity, and letting rise a phoenix (no, not that Phoenix…) from the ashes… born anew.

She-Hulk has been many a gal in her time. And in a single page splash on her March issue politely nodded to it. And with it, poof! The book continued to be about a bold new modern take on the character. A human (granted, a large, green, shapely human) who has intelligence, emotions, and exists in a world that doesn’t revolve around whatever team she’s seat-filling for her Hulkier cousin.

The New Warriors, reformed now after the last person forgot about their downfall a few epic-crossovers ago, set about finding their inner heroes once more. Largely (again) a team built of newbies, loose-ends, and forgotten morts (looking at you, Speedball…), the relaunch hits a small heart string of my own; harkening back to the innocent-fun of books like The Order, The Defenders (the Fraction-penned ones), and Slingers.

Magneto, yoked with just about the longest rap-sheet of who-could-recite-it-all mythology is given a chance to breathe in his own title. Now, without a Brotherhood, or X-Men yelling at him every panel… his book is a quiet, brooding, sharp bit of work. He’s weaker in his mutant abilities, and that makes him a deadlier man. And anytime a writer can write a Holocaust flashback scene that doesn’t make me feel like they’re shooting for the lowest common denominator? Well, it’s a sign something is being done right.

I could go on, but frankly, just read my individual reviews. The unifying factor that exists across all of these new books is clear to me. Mickey’s stopped cracking the pressure valve so hard. The fact that Marvel’s editors have the wherewithal to produce titles that care more about the individual truths that exist within the character(s) they’re reintroducing is beyond refreshing. Combining young and fresh talent to produce these books – each with an art style that is decidedly a step above house style only adds to the appeal. Ghost Rider’s slick magna-esque art helps feed the hellfire that churns through the LA backdrop. She-Hulk’s retro-chic flat art takes the Hawkeye approach to storytelling. And anyone around the shops in the last year or so, know that ain’t no one bad mouthing that book. The key to all of them being critically praised (by me at least) lies within the fact that each book touches in some way on the lengthy barriers to entry with each titular character, and then takes a nice ninety degree turn and goes it’s own way.

And by comparison, DC releases a book like Aquaman and the Others. A book that pulls a plot from any rote team origin you’ve already read, marries it to artwork that feels like any one of seven or eight other current DC titles, and then has the gall to double back on itself to do literally nothing to set itself apart from what has been done before it. I gave a synopsis of the book itself to my podcasting cohorts, and even they were floored at how unoriginal and awkward it all was. And here, in the New52, where there’s absolutely no chains to previous continuity, the best they could deliver was something that felt like Captain Planet (the bad United Colors of Benetton stuff) smashed with G.I. Joe (the whole evil henchmen and shrouded evil guys trying to unsuccessfully smash and grab artifacts stuff). Sad, really. Especially given the fact that a guy like John Ostrander exists, and would have done something amazing with the concept.

I could go for miles on the contrasts in presentation. I could labor all of you to churn through endless paragraphs going over the economics of it all; how Marvel and DC must keep the publishing alive less for huge profit, and more for idea incubation. I could make impassioned speeches as to how DC should consider the New52 a bust, and start All New Now’ing their way through their rich backlog of characters – letting young and fresh creative teams strip down to the bare-essentials, and enjoy telling singular stories that elevate and celebrate the essence of the characters. I’d probably spend another half page just finding quirky ways to insinuate that Bruce Timm become the EIC, and steer away from the sun. But why bother? If DC doesn’t care… for the while, neither should I.

For now… Make mine Marvel.