Somewhere around the mid-point of one of the chaotic action sequences in Justice League, a thought echoed in my head. “Avengers was better. I know it was. But why?” Put a pin in that.
And while we’re at it, consider this the blanket SPOILER ALERT. I’m not going to be holding back on plot points and such.
Justice League was a solid effort to continue DC’s course correction. Full stop. The flick tries hard to shake itself of its sullen feeder-films – save for Wonder Woman, which wasn’t downtrodden at all – and ultimately sticks the landing by final credit roll. Over the course of two hours (and change), Zach Snyder, Joss Whedon, and Chris Terrio assemble their (kinda) Lanternless league efficiently. The threat is worthy of the big bangers of the DC(E)U. The quips and sardonic looks feel well-worn and dare I say earned.
So why did the entire movie leave me feeling an uneasy mélange of contentedness balanced equally with ennui? I mean, Rao-be-damned, the movie just made me use the word ennui!
When I noted the efficient assemblage of the titular superteam, it comes couched with a cacophony of caveats. Our introduction to Barry Allen / The Flash seems to speed through his origin in a manner sans-irony given his power set. While he’d been on the fringes of Batman v Superman, we’ve been granted no real anchor to his character by the time he’s donning his car-wreck of a costume. It’s all flashes of awkward Big Bang Theory Sheldonisms smashed on top of tearful angst over the incarceration of Henry Allen. Late in the film, he shares a moment (one of the better exchanges, I should add) with Victor Stone / Cyborg, declaring they are the accidents. But because it comes so late – during the predictable recuperation of the nearly-defeated team scene (that all superhero team movies need, I guess) – it just feels like a tacked-on bon mot, instead of a necessary moment of respite.
And what of the aforementioned Mr. Stone? He’s Deus Ex Machina – ironically, figuratively, and literally. He’s given what might best be described as the affirmative action gift of the longest origin of the group, but never are we invited in the mind of the part-man-part-machine. Stone is stone-faced essentially for the length of Justice League, removing every ounce of characterization Khary Payton has been investing into Cyborg since 2003. When Cyborg of Justice League mutters a soft-spoken Booyah, it comes with the tenacity of a wet fart – meant only as lip-service, not fan-service.
And then we have Aquaman by way of the Abercrombie shirtless collection. WWE’s Roman Reigns, err, Jason Momoa exists as multiverse variant of Arthur Curry so devoid of the traits I’d long associated with the character, I all but abandoned any known factoids of the comic book original minutes into his first scene opposite Bruce Wayne – who himself was enjoying his take on the Fall Hugo Boss collection. Their shared scene, the one you no doubt saw in the trailers and commercials, sets us up for the League’s water-based warrior. He’s a hard-drinking, hard-fighting, surfer-lone-wolf with a pitchfork and a chip on his shoulder. His origin isn’t really told so much as it is scribbled, child-like, on a bar wall, and then half-dialogue-vomited in an appropriately confusing underwater scene. Verily.
Reading through my last few paragraphs may make you believe I utterly loathed Justice League. But you’d be wrong. For every dour note I left the theater with, came an equal smirk of joy overseeing the goodness that Snyder actually captured. Superman, after two incredibly dark films finally is presented the way we want him to be. Full of hope, love, and swagger. Wonder Woman continues to be the best female protagonist in comic book films by several levels of magnitude. And Batman? He’s rich. He’s funny when he wants to be. Believably human. And hilariously voice-modulated. All that, and we didn’t get any meaningless self-sacrifices, or fighting a giant blue sky-beam. Heck, the stinger at the end of the film even got me to clap.
So, why then, did I inevitably wind up in an Avengers conundrum? It stands to note that there’s no way to ignore that Marvel assembled their uber-team successfully a full five-years ago. And by the time it made its way to the movieplex, had given the general teeming masses of newly minted fanboys (and girls) time to live with the main members of their cast (Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor primarily). Because the feeder films (Iron Man, Captain America: The First Avenger, and Thor) had all been well-received, there was a feeling of earned glee when the Avengers coalesced to punch mindless CGI aliens for forty minutes. In contrast, Justice League carries with it the weight of mismanaged and darkly derided prequels (minus Wonder Woman), and oozes desperation from its pores. It’s cut-to-shreds-by-committee, and feels as such. Avengers was lived in. Justice League came across like a wrongly-coined #MeToo.
But perhaps, there exists a silver lining amidst my kvetching. Justice League did leave me excited for what was to come. And it’s that feeling above any others that leaves my eyes on the horizon for the pantheon of DC superheroes… rather than the floor in collective shame.
I always love talking with creators about their process, and I’ve been a fan of Firefly for years now So it was a pleasure to sit down with Chris Roberson, writer of Serenity: No Power in the‘Verse, to chat with him about his experience creating this tale. Chris offered some cool insights into his writing process, and, of course, we both geeked out over the world of Firefly and our mutual fandom. Read on for the full interview below!
Emily: What is it like for you playing in the ‘Verse, when there is so much to it, and there’s such a great world that’s already been built?
Chris: It was incredibly intimidating. I was a fan from the day that “Train Job” aired. And they aired out of order. Kids; they don’t understand that not only did they not air all the episodes, but they were in the wrong order! So I was there the whole time in the audience. And I was a rabid fan. When the prospect of working on the book first came up a few years ago…the gestation of the book was fairly long. It was the better part of three years from when I was initially offered, “Hey, would you like to do this?” to it actually being done. I worked with four different editors over the course of that time.
So as a fan it was incredibly intimidating. Because it was super fun, and I was like, “Cool, I get to do all this stuff!” but at the same time, I didn’t want to disappoint the rabid fanbase.
I needed the blueprints just to figure out, like, “How do you get from this room to this room in the ship?” When you’re watching the show, it’s often hard to tell, because of the way it’s edited around. I’m like, “Wait a minute, how do you get from the cargo deck to that room?”
E: I know what you mean because sometimes in the show it’s hard to tell where they’re coming from. Like that one scene where Kaylee throws Mal the wrench so that he can get into the hatch, and I’m thinking, “Where is he going from and to?”
C: Yeah – and also where the interior of the ship maps to the exterior, was something that I had to spend some time figuring out.
E: And then of course there’s the mix of English with Chinese. Did you have any background in that?
C: Oh God no! If there was anything I had to justify more in every script, it was those. Those are sourced directly from the scripts. There are several-volume collections of all the scripts from the show and also from the film. I referenced those heavily. In the scripts I think they would be written out, but then I would have to reference something else to get it into the right characters. And luckily in the back of the most recent role-playing game there’s a thing in there of all of them transliterated, so I was able to drop those in. But in almost every case I would have to say, “Okay, that line was spoken by this character in this episode;” and then I had to send scans of the pages from the role-playing game to the editor to say, “Here’s where I’m getting this from.”
E: That’s very complicated.
C: Yeah. It’s the job.
E: Well, and writers enjoy that kind of stuff. Otherwise why would you be a writer?
C: I love research.
E: What, if any, input did Joss have, or what kind of guidance were you given about where to play or how to play in the ‘Verse?
C: It was more from the other direction. It was me suggesting things and asking questions and then being told what I could and couldn’t do. And in almost every instance – they said yes to, I think, pretty much everything I suggested. It was a strange experience, in that the comic is now the canon. Because normally when you’re doing licensed work – and I’ve done a lot of it – your job is like, to shake all the toys out of the box, play around, have a cool story, and then put them all back where they belong. So when you’re doing licensed stuff, you’re often slotting a story in between these two episodes, or this season and that season. But because the show ended and now this is the show, essentially, the pushback I kept getting was that I wasn’t changing things. I wasn’t making enough difference in the status quo. Because I kept basically getting everything back together again at the end. I had to mess some stuff up. And that was one of the things that was really intimidating. It was like – people are going to be mad at me. Because I’m screwing stuff up for these characters; but they made me. They forced me to.
E: I was going to ask you about fan reactions, and that plays right into this. Because, particularly I noticed (SPOILER ALERT!) that Mal and Inara have some back-and-forth that is worrying, especially at the end. And at this point, they’re a couple, which is also a different thing than in the show, so if people haven’t been reading the comics, they wouldn’t know. Fans might be happy, but…then there’s also that weird thing with Jayne and Zoe and – poor Jayne, is he ever going to be not lonely? So tell me about working on those relationships, and any fan reactions?
C: I was basically picking up threads that had been laid down in Leaves on the Wind, the previous series that Zach Whedon had done with Georges Jeanty. It was interesting to me to see the way that those relationships had developed. That River had kind of taken Wash’s place in a lot of ways; in that she was the pilot, but also that she had this kind of almost co-parenting thing? We didn’t see that there, but I could see that it was a possibility. She was definitely filling a hole that was left when Wash was gone. So beginning No Power in the ‘Verse, the crew is kind of broken down into these mini subsets, these pairs and trios. And yeah, Jayne is not in one. He’s him, so he’s just kind of bouncing around. So a lot of where the plot came from was: look at each of those little clusters of characters, and see where is an interesting place to put strain.
Because basically these people are locked in a building together always. So whatever friendship or relationship – romantic, platonic, whatever, they have – if you can’t leave, forever, there’s going to be strain.
E: It’s an interesting dynamic to work with.
C: Yeah – it’s like being stuck in a hotel forever. So those are the points where I thought, “Oh yeah. People are going to be mad.” But by and large, certainly I think Joss has trained a viewership and readership that expects bad things to happen to his characters, right? I love all those characters, but it couldn’t just be five issues of everybody having birthday cake, and having fun. That’s not a story. So that’s what the story turned into, was like, do those then re-form in certain ways, once those have been broken apart? Or do they change shape a little bit?
E: Of course, on top of that we’ve got the larger story of the Alliance and Calista and her group of creepy followers trying to get River back. Did that come out of – I don’t know if I want to spoil things – but it builds up into something that looks like in the next story, it’s going to be a really epic thing. Where did that come from?
C: There is a document – I’m not sure if I remember what the provenance of it was – but it’s included in several of the companions, and in the role-playing game. But Joss wrote it in the early days, I think to give the writers and the crew initially an idea of how this world worked. It’s a brief history of the ‘Verse, about 1,000 to 2,000 words long, written in the vernacular of the show; a history of what’s happened before now. It’s like a more elaborate version of that spoken-word intro that you got in the pilot. But in there, he talks a lot about the war, but there’s a line in there about soldiers who weren’t happy to lay down their arms – these Peacemakers. And it had actually been mentioned and visited in one of the earlier comics. But I felt like that was an interesting thread to pull, because Mal had broken in his own way, but there were a ton of other soldiers out there, and what are those guys up to? And maybe they still have axes to grind. Just looking at real examples from history, people have different agendas. We might agree that those are the Bad Guys, but how far are you willing to go? What are you willing to do? So that’s largely where those characters came from, was this offhand reference.
One of the other threads I found – I realized there was a story hidden in Inara’s backstory that had never been explored.
E: That was very interesting to me too. It kept being mentioned, and no one knew why she had left, and then you pulled that out.
C: I noticed that in reading through the scripts. It’s right there. It’s mentioned fairly early on – she left under a cloud; this was not her first choice, to go out and live in dirt, basically, this really classy lady. So that was a fannish question of mine – “Let’s see what’s back there? What’s interesting about that? What would cause her to have to do that?”
E: No Power in the ‘Verse is out in hardcover now. So what is coming next here? Are you working on something else with this?
C: I don’t know what their next plans are. I have been told that they are doing more stuff, but I don’t know what it is.
E: Okay, well I’ll keep hoping, because you set something up here that I want to know more about – what are Mal and the crew going to do next? But also, you had mentioned working with Georges Jeanty. I’ve known Georges and his work for a long time, and he has a history of working on this type of series, like Buffy, and Firefly, that have ended in the show, but then they’ve come into the comics world. So what’s that collaboration like?
C: Oh, it’s great! I mean, I really like when a collaboration is really collaborative. It sounds trite but it’s true. Like, I don’t feel like, “Here are your marching orders; go do this thing.” Because I always try as much as possible to solicit input and suggestions on the story side of things from the artist. And there is a gag, a long-running gag in the book, that was entirely Georges’ suggestion. The one with Jayne and the hats, the sweaters… That was him.
E: Well bless him for that one, because that did make me laugh.
C: And as soon as he said it, I was like, “Oh, yeah, that’s perfect!” It also helped give a much-needed lightness to it. Because it’s a really heavy story. You gotta get some jokes in there somewhere. So that basically was Jayne’s job in the book.
E: Well here’s the next question – how does his ma always know where he’s gonna be?
C: That was actually something I had to work out the logistics of, and I went back – in that episode where he gets the hat, it’s kind of set up that they check in to see if there’s mail for them. So somehow the way the ‘Verse works is they’re basically “Mailbox, Inc.,” but on different planets, and these guys are going from planet to planet but occasionally check in to see, “Is there anything here for us?”
E: That makes sense. I noticed in reading that there’s a great balance between the characters and the action. Do you, as a writer, have to consciously work on that? Because this is a story with a lot of characters – a Badass Crew! And on top of that, an action series. How do you deal with that as a writer?
C: I start with the visuals, so my scripts always begin with…the first things I write are the panel descriptions. Which are basically my suggestions to the artist, how I think they’re going to draw. Like, “In my head, this is how I think you and your style would do it; if you have a better idea, do that.” And only after I’ve written the entire issue’s-worth of those do I go back and figure out, “Okay, what has to be communicated verbally? What has to be spoken?” And then I put as little of that in as I can.
E: Very cool. I noticed in the back of the hardcover trade, we also have a little fairy tale, which is super cute. I assume that came out as an individual issue?
C: Well, the book hadn’t even been announced, but they asked me if I would do a Serenity piece for FCBD, and did I have any ideas. The art is by Stephen Byrne. And Stephen had done a bit of fan art a year or two before that that was like, Disney-Serenity. And so I was like, “Okay. How do we get to there?” And I ripped the plot off entirely from an early ’80s issue of Uncanny X-Men, where Kitty Pryde is telling Illyana Rasputin basically what the X-Men have been doing the last couple of years as a fairy tale. So in that way I was able to tackle some pretty heavy storylines. Like the death of Jean Grey was one of the things that was included in this fairy tale version of the story.
E: Yeah, and this of course tackles Wash, and that is a really interesting way to do that.
C: So I suggested Stephen. I said I would love to have him. I was assuming Joss would be cool with it because Joss already liked his fan art, and I think that was the only written feedback that I got from Joss. He just said, “Charming,” or “Utterly charming,” or something like that. And I was like, “All right, I’ll take that!” It also made people cry.
E: It did tug my heart strings a little bit there. So with Emma, the cute l’il baby, and also Bea and Iris, who we haven’t seen as much of, and obviously not in the show, what’s it like crafting new characters in this ‘Verse?
C: It’s an interesting challenge. Particularly with those two, taking a character who was basically what River would have been if she hadn’t been busted out, and is now being kind of deprogrammed, running around the galaxy having adventures. It was fun, to see, “What’s that like? What have they been doing?” We don’t get to spend as much time with them as I would like.
E: Anything else you’d like fans to know about this book? Or about your other work?
C: It’s out now, it’s gorgeous, it’s super good! Mostly what I do these days is set in the world of Hellboy, so they can check that out.
Thank you, Chris, for sitting down with me for this interview (and Dark Horse for setting it up). Check out Serenity: No Power in the ‘Verse, out in hardcover now.
I don’t carry a sign over my head announcing my feminism—I do it with a tote bag from Emily’s List, which I use to, uh, tote my lunch and papers and such back and forth from work. Said bag is inscribed with the following:
feminismnoun fem-i-nism ‘fe-ma-,ni-zam
The belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities
I’ve always thought of “equal rights and opportunities” in terms of work and salary, but I suppose it can also be applied to the prerogative of making a total ass of yourself in public, regardless of gender.
Struggling man succeeds, becomes rich and powerful and famous. Man cheats on wife while spewing words about feminism and publicly praising wife. Ex-wife chooses to feel herself empowered by publicly detailing events that happened while married to ex-husband. Ex-husband, through a spokesman, says that allegations are misrepresented.
Yes, I am saying that Ms. Cole made an ass of herself as much as Mr. Whedon (allegedly) did. And no, I won’t be surprised to be hit with outcry and insults from individual women and attacks from feminist websites. I get it, I do. What I think is definitely a very unfeminist thing to think.
But sometimes the best thing to do is to walk away and not look back; there’s a Wiccan belief (yeah, I tend to think of myself as a “Jewiccan”) that whatever harm or ill wish you inflict on another will come back to you three-fold. So allow the universe to take care of it. Karma, as they say, is a bitch.
John also mentioned his GrimJack episode in which Gaunt shot someone in the back. Which made me remember the two-part Magnum, P.I. story that opened Season 3 of that venerable and much-beloved series.
In Part One of “Did You See The Sun Rise?”, a compatriot from their days in Vietnam visits [Thomas] Magnum (Tom Selleck) and his friend TC (Roger E. Mosley), telling them that all three are being pursued by a man named Ivan, a Russian agent who caught and tortured them during the war. At first, neither believes Nuzo; they think he is suffering from PTSD. But it turns out that Nuzo is right; Ivan is somewhere in Hawaii. But the Navy wants to keep Ivan alive (for their own reasons) and assigns Lieutenant “Mac” MacReynolds, another friend of Magnum’s, to make sure that he does—they are afraid that Magnum and TC will kill Ivan; in other words, find Ivan, but make sure Magnum does “nothing stupid.” So Mac claims that he quit the Navy, and starts hanging around with the private eye, saying that he wants to “learn the biz” from Magnum. After a night oat a bar, Mac says, “Let’s drive up to the lookout point, and watch the sunrise,” rushing ahead of Magnum to get into the Ferrari. The car explodes.
In the second part, Magnum discovers that Nuzo is actually Ivan’s operative, and that TC was “brainwashed” while in captivity in Vietnam. Nuzo triggers the brainwashing, which will cause TC to kill a visiting Japanese prince. Magnum stops TC in time, but due to political immunity, Ivan is set free. But Magnum captures him, and while Magnum holds a gun on Ivan, they have this conversation:
Magnum: It was all planned, back at Duc Hue?
Ivan: Not specifics, not even target. Just trigger.
Magnum: How many others are out there like TC?
Ivan: You are still a schoolboy, Thomas, using schoolboy tricks.
Magnum: No tricks. Who’s next on your hit list? Begin? Thatcher? Reagan?
Ivan: I have a plane to catch. If you are going to shoot me, do it now… You won’t. You can’t. I know you, Thomas. I had you for three months at Doc Hue. I know you better than your mother. Your sense of… honor and fair play. Oh, you could shoot me—if I was armed and coming after you. But like this—Thomas…never. Goodbye, Thomas.
Ivan says Do svidaniya, turns, and walks away. Magnum stops him.
Ivan stops, turns to face Magnum, saying, Yes?
Magnum: Did you see the sun rise this morning?
Ivan: Yes. Why?
Magnum shoots him in cold blood.
One of the reasons this episode was so effective was that up to now, Thomas Magnum, P.I., was played as an extremely likable character. He’s endearing, he’s comic, he’s vulnerable, and often insecure. He’s faithful. He makes mistakes. He lives from hand-to-mouth. He can be incredibly lazy. So much like us, in fact, that we forget that he is a Navy SEAL, that he’s trained to kill, that he’s seen and done things that he would rather forget, that we would find horrific.
This episode is a slap in the face, a bucket of ice water sloshed over our bodies, a lightning bolt. “Holy Shit!” we collectively said. “I forgot that he’s a Navy SEAL, that he’s trained to kill, that he’s fought in and survived a brutal war, that he’s seen and done things that are really, really ugly, and can still do them.”
Only children’s heroes are perfect. As adults, we are bored by them. Think of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s first seasons. Be honest…it was pretty damn boring, wasn’t it? (Really, if it hadn’t been Star Trek, I’m convinced it would have quickly been cancelled.)
Gaunt and Magnum are the best kind of heroes.
Those with feet of clay.
And for those who worship Joss Whedon, think about that before sending him to the Hellmouth. And do the same for Kai Cole, okay?
I want to extend my sincerest condolences to ComicMix’s Mike Gold and Adriane Nash, whose beloved sister and aunt died on Saturday. May Hashem and the Goddess bring all of you peace.
“I am myself indifferent honest, but yet I could accuse me of such things that it were better my mother had not borne me.”
—Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1
Joss Whedon created Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and is credited with writing strong female roles and espousing feminist ideals – but not by his ex-wife, Kai Cole, who on the blog The Wrap accused him of being a serial cheater during their marriage and was a “hypocrite preaching feminist ideals.” This has led to a number of (now ex) fans venting their anger and feelings of betrayal.
Is it true? I dunno. I don’t know Whedon and Cole personally. Could she be lying? Possibly. Could he be an asshole? Possibly. It’s not the point of this column, however. The question I want to consider is – should Whedon, or any artist or celebrity, be considered a role model?
A role model is someone who is held up as an example to be emulated. They can come from any walk of life; indeed, they don’t have to be living or real. Isn’t Superman a role model? Sherlock Holmes? Wonder Woman?
Barack Obama is a role model to many, although probably not to those who think of Donald Trump as a role model (shudder).
Charles Barkley once famously said, “I’m not a role model… Just because I dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.” He caught a lot of flak for that at the time but I tend to agree. The work can and must exist apart from its creator. Edgar Allan Poe was a drug addict. Picasso had multiple mistresses. Wonder Woman’s creator, William Moulton Marston, lived with both his wife and a lover in the same house. Bill Cosby was a role model and look at how that turned out.
Who should be role models? Parents, siblings, family, teachers – anyone who has a direct and actual effect on the child’s life.
I once had my character GrimJack shoot a character in the back, an act that offended some fans including some that were my friends. My defense was that I never said Gaunt was a role model. He wasn’t; he was an anti-hero from the get-go.
Who the creator is goes into the work but, if it has substance, the work can and must stand apart from the creator. The two ultimately must be judged separately.
As Barkley’s quote above suggests, many who are called role models never sought that job. Perhaps it just comes with the territory. Barkley, like others, made his name into a “brand”; he made the Nike commercial where he gave that quote because it was perceived that he had influence with the buying public. Perhaps being a role model is part of the price for the individual.
Maybe the complaint with Whedon is that he sought to be seen as a feminist. He gave a speech to a women’s rights group, Equality Now, on receiving an award from them, and in it he noted that reporters would ask him why he insisted on writing “strong female characters”. He would reply, “Why aren’t you asking a hundred other guys why they don’t write strong women characters? I believe that what I’m doing should not be remarked upon, let alone honored.”
Given how he treated his wife, does that make him a hypocrite? Or could he be sincere in his feelings even while he is cheating? Isn’t what he said still true? Does it have to be all one thing or the other? In characters that I write, I look for opposites because that’s where I find true character lies.
As I said, I don’t know Whedon or Ms. Cole personally. Based on what she has said, will I stop going to see his films or enjoy Buffy or Firefly? No. The work is the work and stands on its own.
Variety reports that Zack Snyder is stepping away from Justice League in order to deal with the death of his daughter. Joss Whedon, director of Marvel’s The Avengers who recently announced to direct Batgirl, will oversee the remainder of the film.
Snyder’s daughter died of suicide in March and the director, along with his wife Deborah, who is also a producer on the film, have decided to take a break from the film in order to deal with the sudden tragedy.
Filming on “Justice League” had already finished, and Snyder was in the throes of post-production in order to meet the film’s Nov. 17 release date. Whedon will now oversee a handful of reshoots that had already been scheduled prior to Synder’s daughter’s death, as well as the post-production process.
There are no plans to push the release date at this time. The film stars Ben Affleck as Batman, Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, Ezra Miller as the Flash, Jason Momoa as Aquaman, and Ray Fisher as Cyborg.
Autumn Snyder died by suicide in March at age 20. Her death has been kept private, even as the movie was put on a two-week break for the Snyder family to deal with the tragedy.
Last week I read X-Men Gold #1 and, controversy aside which I won’t be getting into as you have gone above and beyond to address the issue properly and professionally, it really invoked a lot of strong feelings in me. Because of that, I’d like to talk about the X-Men and what they mean to me.
I first discovered X-Men on television when I was in elementary school. I remember watching the first episode and immediately being sucked in. To this day, the Sentinels are still menacing to me and I’ll always have a fondness for Jubilee, Rogue and Storm. I remember the time between Saturday morning after the episode finished to the next Saturday felt like an eternity. I was a shy kid who knew he was queer, but I didn’t understand it. I didn’t have a lot of friends, didn’t enjoy sports and couldn’t really connect to other kids on a lot of things, but one thing I could talk to the other kids at lunch in the cafeteria was about cartoons like X-Men. That meant a lot to me.
I was lucky to have parents that did well enough to get a lot of those action figures. It was very confusing to me, and I’m sure my parents as well, how they had action figures based on the cartoon as well as ones based on the comics. Why did my Storm action figure have a black costume when it was white on the show? I remember some of the times very clearly of being at Toys R Us in Levittown, NY with my parents specifically wanting X-Men action figures. It’s a DSW Shoes now. I really pushing hard for the yellow and blue costume Wolverine and how exciting that was for me to get it. Or how it took my mom more than one attempt to get a Phoenix action figure for me.
My parents also got me the VHS of the pilot that never took off, Pryde of the X-Men. I watched it over and over again. I once used all my quarters allotted to me to beat the X-Men video game based on that unsold pilot at the arcade in Bayville, NY. I’d got to beat it again in Walt Disney World a decade before Disney bought Marvel;the only character that worked was Dazzler. I’ve been obsessed with Dazzler ever since. I also had played that Sega Genesis X-Men game where it almost all takes place in the Danger Room – it was definitely harder than it needed to be. I was even in an AOL chatroom X-Men role playing game for a bit. I played Cyclops.
The first X-Men movie came out while I was in high school and watched some of the resulting X-Men Evolution cartoon. I saw that first X-Men movie opening weekend, and have seen each X-Men movie opening weekend ever since. College brought about a lot of nostalgia for the 90s animated series. Covered in scorpions was a running gag. A guy I met while in college, Jake, was the first openly gay X-Men fan I befriended. It was when Astonishing X-Men by Joss Whedon and John Cassiday was coming out. I’d pick him up and we’d go to Fourth World Comics, our local comic shop. We’d go back, read it in silence, then discuss. We also went together to pick up X-Men Legends 2 the day it came out and played it as late as we could into the night.
Since then I’ve befriended people in comics, other LGBT fans of the X-Men, and have had all sorts of long philosophical and meaningful conversations about these comics. I’ve waited on long lines to get signatures at cons from people like Chris Claremont, Louise and Walter Simonson, Mike and Laura Allred, Peter David, John Cassiday, and Frank Quitely because of the work they did in the world of X-Men and have gotten original comic pages, con sketches and commissions of the X-Men.
I’m telling you all of this not to brag or claim that I’m a bigger fan than anyone else because it’s honestly no astonishing feat. I’m saying this to let you know how much the X-Men has meant to me over the years, how it’s impacted my life for the better, made me more social, and is one of the biggest reasons I’m writing about comics at all. I’m also telling you this because I read X-Men Gold #1 and it left me so frustrated I that I had to write this.
I think it’s fair to say that as an X-Men comics reader I’m within your target demographic and would take that one step further and say I’m likely be perceived as low hanging fruit. I have to be completely honest and say that there is something wrong here with this book. It’s not the writing, and controversy aside it’s not the artwork. It’s not even the editing. Marvel put together an impressive team to work on this book, and it shows. The problem I’m talking about runs deeper and doesn’t necessarily have an easy fix.
The weight of the X-Men falls heavy on this book. Because of the decades and decades of continuity, this debut issue spends so much time trying to explain what happened before this started that it’s basically all we get. We get reference after reference, explanation after explanation, and we are left with little story. And despite all of the references and explanations we still get six full pages at the end of the comic to further explain everything leading up to this issue. If you need six pages at the end of your comic to explain your comic then we have a problem. A big problem.
Writer Marc Guggenheim talks in his letter at the end of the issue about how this is going to be more of a throwback to an older time in X-Men history when it was fresh and new. This is also a problem. Nostalgia has been driving these books for a long time and it has to stop. It needs to stop or you’re condemning the X brand to never grow its audience.
I’m 31 years old and the X-Men has been a part of my life for well over two decades. I for one am absolutely sick to death of nostalgia, and I’m not the only one. I fell in love with X-Men when I saw the animated episode Night of the Sentinels Part 1 because it was inviting, explained enough of what was happening so I could follow it, and told an engaging story. Had that cartoon been a bunch of characters making references to things they did 30 years previous and took so long to set everything up that the first episode ended a few seconds after something started to move the plot forward, I might not be the X-Men fan I am now. Nostalgia has its place, but it is not why we fall in love with stories and it is certainly not what will grow an audience.
I certainly do not mean to diminish the works of everyone at the company. Marc Guggenheim is a wonderful writer whom I’m embarrassingly not as familiar with as I should be and will be rectifying that in the coming weeks. Daniel Ketchum is a great editor who took the time to chat with me after a panel at NYCC a couple of years back encouraging me to keep giving the Iceman storyline a chance and it’s really paying off now as I’m most excited for Sina Grace’s Iceman #1. Jay Leisten is an incredible inker whose work I first got into with Peter David’s run on X-Factor that is one of my favorite chapters in mutant history. Cory Petit is great letterer and a friend. Axel Alonso with Peter Milligan and Mike Allred put together what is easily to me one of the best things that ever happened to the X franchise with their run on X-Force/X-Statix.
These are amazing people doing spectacular things, and I honestly believe they are doing the best they can with what they have to work with.
As a long time fan I want to tell you that I acknowledge that X-Men has become too old, too bloated, and is crippling itself under its own weight in continuity. As a long time fan I want to tell you that it’s okay to let it loose, cut it free from its continuity and start fresh. It’s unsustainable how it is right now. Let it have that new fresh start it needs to survive.
I felt a certain magic when I first picked up X-Force/X-Statix, Grant Morrison‘s New X-Men,Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men, Peter David’s X-Factor, and Rick Remender’s Uncanny X-Force. I want to feel that magic again in an X book, not because they’re going back to what works, but because they’re trying something new and daring and they aren’t getting caught in the current of continuity and dragged under. I didn’t feel that magic in X-Men Gold #1.
That’s not to say it won’t ever come. I’m picking up issue 2. I’m going to be picking up the rest of the X books coming out in this new wave and I’ll see what sticks. However, the flagship title of a franchise relaunch should be blowing a reader away, and that wasn’t the case here; at least for me. Maybe I’m wrong and I’m the odd man out in this situation. Maybe my love of the franchise has set the bar unreasonably high and that’s not fair of me.
I just want the X-Men to continue to succeed well into the future. I want the queer kids in school like me who maybe didn’t understand they are queer and what it is to have a team of heroes to look up to, because they need a team of them. They need to see a world where there are a lot of people like themselves and they can work together and be special no matter how the rest of the world perceives them. They need to see a world where these characters who sometimes have vastly different philosophies and strategies on how to keep themselves safe can come together to protect each other because taking care of each other is most important thing. They need Northstar, Iceman, Rictor, Shatterstar, Mystique, Destiny, Karma, and more.
I know this was long, yet I have so much more I could say. Please don’t let the X-Men crush themselves under their own weight. I’m still going to be a fan, and I’ll keep giving these books a shot over and over again, but I’d love to have some of that magic back.
“Buffy the Vampire Slayer showed the whole world, and an entire sprawling industry, that writing monsters and demons and end-of-the world is not hack-work, it can challenge the best. Joss Whedon raised the bar for every writer – not just genre/niche writers, but every single one of us.” – Russell T. Davies, producer, writer, showrunner, Doctor Who
…Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play.
Oops. Sorry. Got carried away there for a moment and started grooving to one of the most groundbreaking albums ever – and anyway, that album came out way more than twenty years (and 23 days) ago today. But it was twenty years (and 23 days) ago today, on March 10, 1997, that another groundbreaking event in pop culture occurred: the premiere of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on the fledgling WB network.
Although it wasn’t exactly a premiere. More like a reboot, as in Ronald D. Moore’s reboot of Battlestar Galactica from an incredibly corny “let’s cash in on the Star Wars phenomenon” series that deservedly failed into an incredibly intelligent series that deservedly succeeded. Then again, the televised BTVS wasn’t exactly a reboot, either. It was… more of a rebirth.
As most of you already know, Whedon’s original 1992 Buffy screenplay was hijacked by a dumb studio and a dumber director and totally bombed. And then something that only happens in storybooks and Disney movies happened. A fairy godmother by the name of Gail Berman, whose company, Sandollar Television, owned the rights to the movie, waved her magic wand, said bippidi-boppidi-boo, and granted the one thing that most of us wish for and never get – she gave Joss Whedon a “do-over,” a chance to start over with his original concept of “the ditzy blonde who walks into an alley and beats the crap out of the monster that attacks her” and do it right.
Did Joss do it right?
Did he ever!
Of course it wasn’t that easy. Life isn’t like that. It never is, or if sometimes it seems to be, there are always pitfalls and potholes to maneuver. But here’s the thing – all the crap that life throws at us was thrown at every single character who lived in the world of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Sometimes it was metaphoric crap, as in monsters and demons and werewolves and vampires, and sometimes it was just truly plain crap, as in dead mothers.
Twenty years (and 23 days) later, BTVS is still watched, still talked about, still written about, still studied, still reviewed. YouTube features hundreds of channels dedicated to the Slayer; I am an aficionado of one channel in particular, Ian Martin’s Passion of the Nerd and his “Buffy Episode Guide.” Ian is a video producer for LinkedIn, and his very first video, “Why You Should Watch Buffy” kicked off his series.
Ian and I were both at Denver ComicCon last June, though we didn’t get a chance to meet – his panel and mine coincided, unfortunately. But here’s a bit of his presentation:
“Now Joss Whedon created in Buffy a densely, densely layered series that all filters down from the primary metaphor in the show, the Slayer role being the symbol of adulthood or becoming an adult.
“From there, each season has a unique overarching theme, informed by that primary metaphor. And each episode in the season was informed by that season’s theme.
“And the entire structure was built on this very robust existential philosophy.”
Here’s a quote from “Becoming,” the Season Two finale:
“Bottom line is, even if you see ’em coming, you’re not ready for the big moments. No one asks for their life to change, not really. But it does. So what are we, helpless? Puppets? No. The big moments are gonna come. You can’t help that. It’s what you do afterwards that counts. That’s when you find out who you are.”
Today is A Day Without A Woman, a demonstration of solidarity to show the need for human rights for all. Throughout the country (and perhaps the world), you will see women wearing red, not spending money, and not working to protest gender inequality. I admit I was torn about having a column posted today. I respect today’s protest, and I am taking part in the ways that I can. Still, I wrote this column before today, and I felt very strongly about marking the 20th anniversary of a strong woman who inspired me, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Back in 1996, I remember the excitement when I saw the commercial for the new show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. My sister and I loved the original movie, in part for the camp, in part for the wit, and in part for the female hero in the title. The next time she called home from college, I remember grabbing the phone to tell her that Buffy was back. Little did I know that the Buffy and the WB were about to shape my entire generation.
When Buffy helped really launch that channel on March 10, 1997, it was the beginning of an era. When I was in high school, everyone watched the WB. That singing frog was on everyone’s TV, we all knew about the love triangle of Percy, Joey, and Dawson, and Buffy was an icon; at least, she was to me. I did have a single friend tease me about watching Buffy; by season 3 I had him hooked. I still don’t let him live that one down.
The best part of Buffy for me growing up was that she was a year older than me, in a critical time of my life: high school. She was getting ready for prom when I was just a junior. Buffy and her scoobies survived high school when I questioned if I could make it through junior year. Her first year of college coincided with me applying for schools. When she entered the working world, I was at the point of college to start thinking about my future employment. Buffy got through those hurdles and set the example that I could as well.
It never mattered that Buffy was the creation of Joss Whedon. He wrote a strong female role model when others only wrote set pieces that had lines. He was able to channel a teenage girl surprisingly well, and 20 years later, he is still celebrated for it. Whedon continues to fight for women’s rights through Equality Now.
I owe more to Buffy and Joss Whedon than most people even know. Truth is, without Buffy I wouldn’t be here on ComicMix. I was a casual comics reader as a kid (I would refuse to get on an airplane without an Archie digest in hand) but it was never a serious passion. When Buffy came to comics with Season 8, that was my true gateway into this world. Dark Horse made comics so inviting, that I simply stayed. I delved in with two hands and never looked back. In fact, the reason my site [insertgeekhere] was started was so my writing partner and I could defend Dawn, Buffy’s little sister, after we heard some truly horrible things shouted at her during a sing-a-long event. And writing about geek culture has helped me express myself in ways I never thought possible.
So on today, a Day Without a Woman, I can only reflect on the women that gave me some of the best pieces of who I am. A day without these women means a day without myself. In real life, my mother gave me my love of books; my grandmother gave me my snarky attitude. My rabbi showed me that striving to answer a question is its own reward. And in fiction, Captain Janeway gave me a role model of strength and grace (plus my love of coffee). And finally, Buffy gave me the very reason and drive to write and express myself.
So all I can do today is quote Buffy herself. As the slayer said, “Make your choice. Are you ready to be strong?”
I’m all about organizations with heart. Places that make you feel at home. And while the San Diego Comic Con is phenomenal and offers many amazing experiences, it can also be overwhelming and make you feel a bit like you’re just one of many ants in the ant farm, toiling slowly along towards your next goal.
That’s why I’ve said before and I’ll say again that Nerd HQ is a great alternative place to go and get your geek on when you’re feeling a little burnt out on the crowds of SDCC. Not only that, but the fact that its creators, Zachary Levi and Dave Coleman, built it from scratch and maintain a hands-on approach to running it as it grows(among other things, Zac hosts almost every Conversation and Dave keeps things running behind the scenes); and that all proceeds go to the charity of Operation Smile, give Nerd HQ a great cozy, almost familial vibe. And, of course, it’s a plain fact (that I can confirm, having had the pleasure of interviewing him on a couple of occasions) that Zac Levi is just a really solidly nice dude with a lot of heart. And I think that intangible quality can be felt in everything he’s built.
Last year, I was a big fan of the change in venue of Nerd HQ to The New Children’s Museum. The layout and fun backdrop complemented Nerd HQ’s offerings and all of the various interactive activities they provided, as well as the Conversations for a Cause. This year, with the addition, as Dave Coleman had noted in our Nerd HQ preview interview, of e.g. risers and extra air conditioning in the panel rooms, the venue was even better; and although there were many things to see, Nerd HQ still managed not to feel overcrowded.
Some of the cool things on offer this year were:
Gaming – Nerd HQ always offers the opportunity to hang out and play upcoming cool video games, which this year included Battlefield 1, Gears of War 4, and Titanfall 2. And although I didn’t have much time to spare for a session, every time I was over at the HQ, the consoles were all taken and the gaming crowd looked like they were having a blast.
On top of being able to play games, Nerd HQ provides cool gaming-related stuff to do. One of my favorites was the Xbox green-screen pictures you could take, which put you into scenes from games like Dead Rising, ReCore, and Titanfall 2. Another was the Xbox wall of custom controllers, with computers set up to allow you to design your own controllers right there. Sure, you can also do this from home; but it was weirdly addictively fun to design them while hanging out at HQ. (I personally designed a Deadpool and Bob set and a Little Prince and his rose set before I stopped.)
The photo booths! One fun part of these, of course, is that during the Smiles for Smiles sessions you could get your photo with celebrities by donating to Operation Smile (and I was very happy to get a picture with Joss Whedon. Yay!) But you could also just take pictures with your friends (or yourself and props) – and that was really fun as well. Plus, the tech-savvy setup automatically emailed you a photo if you scanned your RFID bracelet, as well as printing one on the spot. And this year, if you downloaded the Johnson & Johnson Donate a Photo app and used it to post a photo, not only does J&J give a dollar to Operation Smile (or whatever charity you choose from among those listed) for each day you post a photo; but at Nerd HQ you were also given a box of Avengers-themed Band-aids for posting. And boy, was I glad about that – because they saved my feet from some terrible, terrible blisters.
Free foooooood! This year, Kellogg’s was one of the sponsors for Nerd HQ, which was cool for two reasons. 1) They brought in comics artist Francis Manapul to do themed paintings with Kellogg’s Krave. They were all pretty rad and it was fun to watch them being created; and I got a picture of my favorite, this excellent warrior woman. 2) They also had a cereal bar set up with regular, double chocolate, and mixed Krave cereal and several different choices of milk. Let me tell you, that cereal is gooooood; and being able to easily sit down nearby and have a bowl saved me from fainting from hunger due to being generally too busy at cons to stop for food. (Nerd HQ saved me from a lot of things this year. Nerd HQ, you’re my heeeero!) And on top of all of that, they were giving away entire free boxes of cereal. Kellogg’s, I approve! (Note: at various times Nerd HQ was also passing out free lemonade and coconut water from different sponsors. Also awesome!)
Chill space. Sometimes, it’s nice just to have a place to sit and breathe. Along with the little outdoor area where I had a nice bowl of Krave cereal (and made a new table friend who let me share her table), Nerd HQ also has an indoor chill area and an outdoor patio; and nobody bothering you or telling you to move along. Sometimes when taking a break from all the madness, that’s just what we need.
The fan parties! Okay, so I actually missed the Nerd HQ parties this year, alas – but I heard from several friends that they rocked as hard as last year’s, which I did make it to. And as with last year, all you needed to get in was your HQ wristband. Rock on with your inclusive parties, Nerd HQ!
Of course, along with all of these excellent things, one of the best parts of Nerd HQ is the Conversations – smaller panels of about 200-250 which generally feature a chat between Zac Levi and the featured guest(s). They had a slew of fantastic guests this year, and I personally got to see some really neat panels.
The Con Man cast, who I saw first, were great, and shared funny stories about filming (particularly hilarious were the stories about working with Alan Tudyk, who wasn’t at the panel, and faces he makes while directing) and about what we can expect from the new season. On top of that, Nathan Fillion, as usual, had brought some weird, random, but ultimately still cool stuff to auction off for charity. My favorite was a small Swiss Army knife that his parents had given him for high school graduation (!). And how he kept emphasizing that it had a little loop so you could put it on your keychain, “or if you’re a girl, wear it around your neck!” Way to know your female fanbase, Nathan.
The Scott Bakula panel was pretty much My Favorite Thing Ever, because Scott Bakula and Quantum Leap have been, since childhood, among my Favorite Things Ever. I had not previously gotten to see him on a panel (although I did see him in Shenandoah at Ford’s Theatre ten years ago, which was amazing). So this was really cool; and even better was the fact that Zac Levi, hosting, is also good friends with Scott via their work together on Chuck, where Scott played Zac’s dad. The panel was hilarious, with Scott making running jokes at his own expense, but also heartfelt, with Zac talking about how Scott helped him through the stresses of playing a lead role in a TV show. In conclusion: Scott Bakula.
The Orphan Black panel was rad, and I especially enjoyed hearing about how Tatiana Maslany has dealt with playing so many different clones (and it was cool that her stunt double was featured on the panel, as well. An important job that most people probably don’t think about while watching the show). I also loved that an audience member gave Kristian Bruun a “Free Donnie” t-shirt, which he put on right there.
The Tom Hiddleston panel started with a hilarious little dance by Tom and Zac as Tom came onstage. This was a cool panel where Tom talked a good bit about his acting process. Meanwhile, I was trying to reconcile his friendly red-haired self with the sly and frequently evil Loki. It’s a credit to his acting ability that I was having a hard time of it!
The Joss Whedon panel was, as usual with a Joss Q&A, a thoughtful, insightful panel. He was up there by himself because Zac was having a much-needed rest (by Saturday Zac’s voice was fading, and I heard he was pretty exhausted by Sunday, although you couldn’t tell from his enthusiastic hosting). But Joss Whedon doesn’t really need a host to keep the conversation going, and pretty much the whole panel was quotable.
I’d quote some of it for you, but I don’t have to! Because along with livestreaming all of the Conversations for the people at home so they could feel like they were right there with us (very cool!) you can now watch all of them on YouTube as well; an experience I highly recommend.
Last week news broke that Marvel Entertainment has cast Finn Jones to play Iron Fist in their Netflix series slated for 2017. Jones is a blonde haired, blue eyed, straight cis white man and despite playing a character that in the comics would also match that description, this was also looked to as a chance for Marvel to cast differently as the character of Iron Fist appropriates heavily from Asian cultures. So, basically, this was a lose/lose casting situation for Marvel, and Marvel chose to lose.
To me the real question is not why they cast the way they did. My question is, why are they making an Iron Fist show at all? Sure, part of this is me being flip, but I’m also trying to make a valid point.
For those unfamiliar with Iron Fist, here’s a quick background. Iron Fist, a.k.a. Danny Rand, was created in 1974 by comic book legends Roy Thomas and Gil Kane. His primary ability is being a master of martial arts, but he also has some additional powers including an ability to concentrate his chi in his fist, which gives him his name. The character was heavily influenced by the early-mid 70s interest in martial arts in Western culture – even Jon Pertwee as The Doctor practiced a form of Aikido. Iron Fist started in the pages of Marvel Premiere, later getting his own title, then joining up with Luke Cage a.k.a. Power Man. After his “death” in Power Man and Iron Fist #125 in 1986, Iron Fist would fade in and out of the Marvel Universe, occasionally getting his own solo series again, most notably a run in the mid-2000s written by Matt Fraction. Oh, and like most other characters created at Marvel from 1974 and before, he’s a straight cis white man.
In hindsight, it’s easy to see how Iron Fist was problematic. Not only is this a character that appropriates Asian cultures, he’s been written and drawn almost exclusively by straight cis white men. Larry Hama has contributed to the character, but he’s one of the rare exceptions. Yes, I completely understand that Iron Fist is a white man, but maybe if you’re going to appropriate a culture you should have some input from people in that culture.
Iron Fist will be, if everything goes according to plan, the fourth solo Marvel Entertainment Netflix series. We’ll have had two seasons of Daredevil, a season of Jessica Jones, and a season of Luke Cage before Iron Fist has his own show. Maybe he’ll show up in Luke Cage. So why are people upset? Why does Iron Fist just seem like a bad idea now?
The primary reason for me, and maybe a lot of you out there who also aren’t thrilled by the prospect of an Iron Fist show, is the lack of diversity casting. Not because Iron Fist should have been cast different, but because he we don’t need an Iron Fist show. The TV shows have a much larger audience than the comics. And often a much different audience.
The people who have been enjoying the Marvel Netflix series, and even Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. have been watching Marvel move towards more diversity. Daredevil featured a straight cis white man, but Jessica Jones was about a straight cis white woman and Luke Cage a straight cis black man. Having them go back to a straight cis white man lead after this comes off as a step backwards to many in the audience, and rightfully so.
Fans of the comics can yell from the rooftops until they’re blue in the face. They can point out how Iron Fist/Danny Rand has always been a straight cis white guy. They can call out people for being casual fans and criticizing them for having never read an Iron Fist comic. All of that misses the point. Marvel Entertainment on TV has been giving off the impression to its viewers that they care about diversity, and to many viewers out there this is a move against the expectations that Marvel has set up and a betrayal to an audience that expects more.
Some people may be thinking to themselves who else could Marvel have even picked. Didn’t Marvel Entertainment have to make an Iron Fist show if they wanted to do The Defenders? The answer is a resounding no. In all of Marvel’s TV and movie adaptations they don’t always follow the comics that closely. Sometimes they don’t follow them at all. If they did, the first Avengers movie wouldn’t have had Captain America, Hawkeye, or Black Widow in it, the first X-Men movie would not have had Wolverine, Storm, Rogue, Mystique, and many others. Black Widow in particular was added to Avengers because of Joss Whedon’s instance to have more representation after all.
Marvel has many, many characters to consider instead of Iron Fist. In a conversation I had with fellow ComicMix columnist Molly Jackson, she suggested why not Moon Knight? What about Dakota North? Monica Rambeau? Squirrel Girl? Or the incredibly obvious choice of Kamala Khan as Ms. Marvel? It doesn’t matter if these characters were in The Defenders or not, they could still just as easily be in the team. Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man, Agent Carter, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage all show Marvel’s willingness to use lesser known properties in a different medium to give them new life and a larger audience. Why not also use that strategy to expand other characters profiles to expand representation rather than adding yet another straight cis white guy to the mix? Marvel could still even just add Iron Fist to Luke Cage, just as Luke Cage had a big role in Jessica Jones. Iron Fist doesn’t need his own series for that.
Some will write this off as overzealous social justice warriors that just don’t understand comic properties and are searching out the next trivial cause to latch themselves onto. That is not what’s happening. What we’re seeing, as far as I can tell, is backlash to a tone deaf company that’s expanding its audience reach and not following through with the unspoken promise of better representing the audience that people like Joss Whedon worked hard to cultivate for them.