Tagged: Keith Giffen

Ed Catto: Thrill Ride with Robert Loren Fleming – Part 2

This is the final part of my conversation with comics writer Robert Loren Fleming on the tragic backstory and forgotten history of DC’s Thriller comic book series. As I explained last week, this is actually an addendum to my recent article on this 80s cult favorite in TwoMorrow’s Back Issue Magazine.

Thriller was poised to be the next big thing from DC, but it seemed like many forces conspired against it. Despite it all, Thriller achieved a certain status. How did so many things go off the rails? The behind the scenes stories are as fascinating as the story between the covers.

Hazing, Publishing Style

There were some difficult things going on backstage at DC in those days. One of the uglier things was the hazing. It included everything from ripping up freelancers checks to harassing a female worker to the point where she was ready to clobber a co-worker on her way out.

At the end of last week’s column, Thriller’s artist, Trevor Von Eeden had just finished the first Green Arrow mini-series. He was finally ready to start on Thriller. Management threw a curve ball and told him his next assignment would be a Batwoman special. However, Von Eeden firmly reminded them that the deal they had struck was he could start on Thriller once he finished the Green Arrow mini-series.

So for Thriller, Fleming would provide full scripts and write the dialog. Artist Von Eeden was given the authority to make changes in the scripts, but he seldom did.

Suspiciously enough, it went further than that. No editors had made any changes. “That’s not a good thing. That’s highly unusual,” remembers Fleming. That should have been a red warning light to the creative team back then. “They wanted to screw with us,” said Fleming. As the new kid on the block who had, in essence, jumped the line to land a prestigious job writing a comic he envisioned, Fleming had made many enemies within the organization.

Fleming would later learn that someone had taken the script from executive editor Dick Giordano’s office, and then made the case that it needed a total rewrite. “They were going to have me rewrite it until it wasn’t Thriller.”

A few days before Fleming was supposed to start the rewrite, he was surprised to learn that Trevor Von Eeden had dropped off the all the pages of the first issue.

Plans for the rewrite were scrapped and Fleming was instructed to merely adjust the dialog to match the pages.

Now, years later, Fleming can understand the frustrations of the established folks at DC. It’s clear, as a young writer, he (Fleming) just wasn’t ready for a full writing assignment yet. At the same time, he also now realizes that the readers just weren’t ready for it then either. If it had come out five years later, it would have been much better received.

It wasn’t all bad at DC Comics. Fleming did have some supporters – specifically, the marketing department’s Mike Flynn and Roger Slifer. They were two of Fleming’s friends. They took a paste-up of the penciled pages, with Fleming’s hand-written word balloons, to use as part of a press release. Even though these pages were not properly lettered, public reaction to these pages was strong.

DC’s Marketing Department promoted it as a comic you couldn’t read fast enough, a line that Fleming had supplied. Soon, Fleming found himself on the convention circuit with a presentation, created by the Marketing Department, to tease the comic to retailers and fans nationwide.

Launching Thriller at that time through one of the major publishers was a blessing and curse. From our current vantage point, it’s difficult to remember that publishing a series like Thriller didn’t really have the many options that would be available today at Image or one of the smaller publishers.

Help Wanted

“I was keenly aware (back then) that it would have been great to get help <creating the comic>

But it was ‘do it on my own or not do it’,” said Fleming. He recalls that Dick Giordano was too far up the management chain, and stretched too thin, to be a hands-on helper for the title. Thriller’s editor, Alan Gold, was also new to the comics industry, having recently switched careers from editing medical textbooks. “He didn’t have a clue what we were doing.”

There was a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel. Fleming did manage to get in the good graces of legendary editor Julie Schwartz. “By the time I did a few Ambush Bug <issues>, Julie was in my camp. Most people would acknowledge Julie was probably the best editor at that time,” remembers Fleming.

Fleming is able to recognize the shortcomings of Thriller. “I have absolutely less affection for Thriller than the fans. I see it as a mess,” said Fleming. But he heaps praise on his collaborator, artist Trevor Von Eeden. “If we had had a routine artist, no one would be talking about this.”

A Thrilling Prescience

So many story elements of Thriller, a series created in the 80s that takes place in the “near future”, seem to have predicted actual future events. Fleming talked about how much of what he created for the book was simply an extrapolation from the headlines of the day. The long list is impressive and canny and includes things like America’s escalated conflict with Islam, self-driving cars, and the grisly filming of political decapitations.

On the other hand, Fleming admits that Thriller’s “black president was just a cheesy cliché” meant to signal the future. “Of course, I tied him to one of my characters,” he added.

What Could Have Been

Fleming touched on what could have happened. “Trevor and I never had a falling out,” said Fleming. “In fact, a few years later, we did a pilot for a Salvo series.” Salvo was the unflinching marksman, and one of Thriller’s Seven Seconds, in the original series.

“I was always trying to revisit Thriller,” admits Fleming. This would have been a prequel revealing the backstory of the marksman, Salvo. It would also detail how he first met Janet Valentine, (White Satin), and her husband Quo. “Quo was basically Bruce Lee,’” chuckles Fleming.

An earlier incarnation of the evil Scabbard – named Sheath Largos – featured prominently in the prequel. If the original Thriller series had continued, Scabbard was slated to return from the dead. “He was War of the Worlds in reverse,” reveals Fleming. “Scabbard was actually a mechanical alien in the shape of a sword who grew a fleshy body around itself simply for transportation.”

“That’s why we did Scabbard in Ambush Bug,” said Fleming. “You see something bursting out. It’s flesh growing. Keith (Giffen, his collaborator on Ambush Bug) knew what I was going to do.”

The Thrill is Gone, Baby

Fleming admits that it would unlikely he’d ever return to the series.

“One reason is because it was science fiction, it makes it hard to contemplate going back. “Things have changed so much. The thing about science fiction is that it reflects what’s happening when it’s being written,” explained Fleming.

But there’s a lot of lessons he takes away from it all.

First and foremost is that not knowing the rules is a good thing. The exuberance of youth actually allowed Fleming and Von Eeden to courageously create a series that, in retrospect, is astounding that it even exists. “Thriller was world-building before it was in vogue for comics,” said Fleming.

There’s a sense of pride but also a sense of generous humility. “The best thing about it was Trevor’s artwork,” remembers Fleming. “His artwork took it to a new level.” Fleming also explained how he meets many fans who explain that this groundbreaking series inspired them to break into the industry.

“The reason for going into this – the generally accepted wisdom was that Thriller was a big failure,” reflects Fleming. “It wasn’t a failure. Thriller was created so I could become a writer. In that way, it was a success. I did become a writer… from zero to sixty. I became a comic book writer.”
And that sounds like a thrill to me.

Interested in the full article in Back Issue #98? You can snag it here.

Michael Davis: I Got Your Diversity Right Here

“What we heard was that people didn’t want any more diversity. They didn’t want female characters out there. That’s what we heard, whether we believe that or not.” Marvel VP of Sales David Gabriel, Marvel Retailer Summit, March 2017

“Let’s find a place they say, somewhere far away, With no blacks, no Jews and no gays” The Machine, Lyrics from There But For The Grace Of God, Go I, Dec 1979

“Now the big publishing guns are on this diversity thing, but for how long? Think it’s going to last? It won’t. It won’t because it’s a trend, a ploy. It’s a stunt. This, my friend, is nothing but business.” Michael Davis, Bleeding Cool, Feb 2015

Just as I predicted the fate of comic’s only true diversity architect, Milestone Media, I said the current diversity bug would go away. I did not think it would be with such a loud send-off. David Gabriel, who I have never met but people tell me is a good guy, tried to walk back his comments.

You can’t.

You can try, but after hearing “yes, i killed that bitch and i’m glad she’s dead” no matter how many times the judge says to disregard that statement the odds anyone does are slim to none.  The only thing that stops a scandal is a bigger scandal.

It would not surprise me if David Gabriel sent the CEO of United Airlines the following letter:

Thank you!

Don’t for a moment think this was not on its way to becoming a bigger national story. Marvel is a global entertainment power, and the story had plenty of legs.

In walked or more appropriately dragged United Airlines and Marvel is off the hook.

Pity.

I say that not because I’d like Mr. Gabriel (who simply told the truth) to be put under anymore duress but because a national debate would have served comics well.

Oh well the best-laid plans, year right. For the record, I’m convinced Axel Alonzo is committed to diversity, as are others at Marvel. Alas, diversity comes at a cost and right now that like the rent seems too damn high.

The following first appeared in Bleeding Cool over two years ago. I think it still rings true.

In 2001 I sent Karen Berger, at the time editor-in-chief at DC’s Vertigo, a proposal for a graphic novel called Miracle Town. The story was about a black super-powered being showing up in Mississippi in 1932, or to put it another way; it was Strange Fruit almost 15 years ago. Along with the pitch were eight pages of detailed pen and inked art. Karen passed, saying it was “all right, nothing special.”

Now Mark Waid and J.G Jones, two white boys (said with love), show up with the same idea and it becomes the talk of the industry. Three weeks earlier Milestone 2.0 was the talk of the industry. Before that, Miles Morales, Black Superman, Black Avengers, Female Thor, Muslim Ms. Marvel, Black Human Torch, Black Captain America, yadda, yadda, whatever.

Now the big publishing guns are on this diversity thing, but for how long? Think it’s going to last? It won’t. It won’t because it’s a trend, a ploy. It’s a stunt. This, my friend, is nothing but business.

Superman will stay black just about as long as he remained dead.

Last year Mike Gold took a project of mine to an established and well-known publisher. Keith Giffen called this project one of the greatest ideas he’d ever heard. Now called Black Reign, it started life almost 20 years ago as The Underground at DC Comics. In asked Dwayne McDuffie to write it he changed the title to Glory Scroll. That lasted for a bit, but DC gave us the runaround, so I took it to Dark Horse, where it became The Underground again.

Mike Richardson’s involvement and keen insight challenged me to rethink the story. I did, and it became an entirely new story. That story with that title is still at Dark Horse, no longer a superhero story. When I pitched it to Marvel, it was called Black Power.

I sent “Black Power” to Marvel and never heard back. That’s not a slight, Axel is up to his ass in projects, and I’m simply not one to hound people. I’m never in any hurry with a pitch although I pitch so seldom. Because I spend lots of time coming up with concepts while servicing my existing projects. I let things take the time they take. If greenlit today, I couldn’t get to it for at least a year or more.

As you can see this project has been around and has had a home at three major publishers, DC, Dark Horse and my imprint Level Next. Level Next is a co-venture with Karen Hunter and Simon & Schuster. I later decided the first project from Level Next shouldn’t be a graphic novel but a mainstream novel.

So, enter Mike Gold. Mike and I happen to talk the day I made the decision to save Black Reign for a later Level Next release. Mike pitched the original superhero story, and for a second the project was called The Movement.

Black Reign BC!

After Mike Gold had pitched it for a moment, it was to be the Milestone 2.0 Foundation universe. That’s no longer happening — if it is, Lucy got some ‘splaining to do. What, pray tell, happened when Gold pitched this “incredible” (Giffen’s words, not mine) idea, rife with Black superheroes’ and filled with diversity?

He was told “Hollywood will never buy this. Too many black superheroes.” The only reason I’m not outing the publisher is the risk some people will find what he said, racist. He wasn’t racist; he was just saying what everyone is thinking.

Which is bullshit. Two words: Hancock, Blade, Spawn. Yeah, that’s three words but I went to public school, and math is not my thing.

“Too many black superheroes.”

So much for diversity, way, way back in 2014.

In 2015, there’s a debate raging whether Mark and J.G. Jones should even be doing this kind of story. Some say no because white guys can’t tell a Black superhero comic book story. What do I think? Of course, they should — Mark’s a fantastic writer and Mr. Jones is a badass artist.

The very real fact about black superheroes is white guys have always told the black superhero story, and unless a white boy does, it doesn’t count or doesn’t count as much. For my money, Mark Waid can tell any story he wants — in my book; he’s that good.

Yes, a black writer adds the certain legitimacy to black fiction. That’s not to say white writers can’t write a good black story; of course, they can. The example I hear most often about white guys in working in black areas is Eminem.

Eminem is one of the greatest rappers ever. To some, he is the greatest. To dismiss him because white is injudicious at best, stupid as shit at worse. To deny Mark because he’s white is just as silly. Few writers are on his level in comics, and that’s just the truth.

On, the other hand, Eminem doesn’t rap about being bnlack.

Regardless of your feeling towards who should write what, the debate shouldn’t be whether Mark or any other writer can tell that story.

No, the debate should be “why is diversity not a topic until the white boys say it is?”

Google any combination featuring the keywords black and superhero — with very few exceptions, the vast (as in massive) majority were created by white creators. When there were no authors of color, I will be the first to tell just how good it felt to see The Black Panther, Luke Cage, and The Falcon. Shit, as a kid all I cared about was seeing black characters in my favorite comics.

Then the battle was just to see people of color in comics, as characters and creators.

Now, African Americans as well as Latino, Asian and other ethnic groups are represented in both. The representation is small, but it’s there.

What’s not there is the acceptance of these characters and creators as A-listers. When DC or Marvel creates a black superhero, it’s embracing diversity, so when David Walker writes for DC’s Cyborg, that’s real diversity because David Walker is a hotshot, talented black writer.

David is among many writers and artists of color who have been bringing diversity to comics for many, many years. He was a talented writer well before he was writing for DC. He was also black before working at DC, in case anyone asks.

DC and Marvel will exploit diversity as the current fashion until such time it decides not to. Then, back in the closet, it will go to make way for next season’s hot designer and trendy look.

Nothing wrong with that.

It’s my hope this current wave becomes so huge that Marvel and DC stay in it. Failing that, when they get out to remember Marvel and DC don’t suddenly bring diversity to comics, this I know.

I also know diversity in comics was here before this and will be here after they leave. All you must do is Google, independent black comic books, and you can do that right now.

Comics are a business, and right now diversity is good for business. Conversely, for creators of color, diversity is not the current fashion or latest look. As much as the media would have you believe it, Marvel and DC are not the end all and be all when it comes to diversity.

How can they be? They’re not diverse enough.

Next Week: Milestone Is Dead

John Ostrander, Temporary Celebrity!

DC Suicide Squad Pre Party

Last week I gave a review of the Suicide Squad movie. This week, I’m talking about my trip to NYC for the premiere.

I got in to the East Coast on 7/31 and stayed with my friends Tam and Kev English over in New Jersey, near to where I used to live. Tom Mandrake and Jan Duursema, who also live in the area, were going to be in town Sunday night before going on a trip so we all got together for a nice meal. Hilarity ensued.

Viola DavisTom and Jan also gave me a box full of Kros: Hallowed Ground booty. This is stuff that will be going out to our subscribers and it is killer cool.

I took the train into Manhattan on Monday to join my old bud and oft-time editor and my date for the evening, the lovely and effervescent Mike Gold.  We were meeting for a pre-festivities lunch. Among many other projects, Mike edited Legends, which is where my version of the Suicide Squad first appeared. True to form, I screwed up both the time and the location but eventually wound up where I was supposed to be, a little hot, a lot sweaty, but there.

It was a nice meal at Virgil’s BBQ (when with Mike, you’re quite likely to wind up eating barbecue) and then it was time to head out to the pre-premiere party being hosted by Dan Didio and DC Entertainment. On our way to a taxi (Mike suggested the subway but I was already overheated), we went to the heart of Times Square and there – lo and behold – was a huge frickin’ ad for the movie up on a building. It was at least four stories tall and wrapped around the building on either side. I was staggered.

On to the DC pre-party up at Pappardella on the upper west side. We were met outside by Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Connor; seeing Jimmy always guarantees a good time and Amanda graces the company of wherever she is.

All sorts of DC stalwarts were inside including some old friends like Paul Levitz, Mike Barr, and Keith Giffen. Was also joined by Adam Glass and his wife at our table in the corner. Adam had written the initial issues of the New 52 edition of the Squad and we were able to chat Squad shop. Great guy, good writer, and a fun table companion.

I also got to meet Geoff Johns face-to-face for the first time. We’ve traded more than a few emails but have never been able to be in the same place at the same time. Geoff has recently been promoted to President as well as Chief Creative Officer of DC Entertainment and I had a chance to congratulate him. He sat down and we had just a really good chat. In addition to being a really good writer, Geoff is a hell of as nice guy.

Ostrander DivaThey got some group photos of all of us at Pappardella and then it was time to walk over to the nearby Beacon Theater for the premiere. We got off the buses and it was amazing: there was major security, both private and city, and barriers and people behind barriers looking for stars and celebrities. I was dazzled and dazed. I started to follow the herd towards the theater until I heard someone calling my name. It was Dan Didio as well as my date gesturing me over to a large air conditioned tent right there on Amsterdam Avenue. I mean, the air conditioning units were huge. I was supposed to go in that way. I wasn’t sure why but I went there.

Inside there was a backdrop and lots of press and photographers. I was in a spotlight and, swear to God, they were calling “John, look over here.” “John. Over this way.” “John, look straight ahead.” Flashes flashed and I had on my best deer caught in the headlights look. It was weird.

My baptism by strobes completed, I was escorted out of the tent and to the theater and given my assigned seat. The Beacon is no small theater (albeit a beautiful one) and every seat was assigned. I sat in the middle of the DC row and settled in. Geoff Johns was two seats to my right but the one right next to me was vacant. I decided that seat belonged to my late wife and frequent Squad co-writer, Kim Yale. Knowing Kim, she was having a blast.

Pete Tomasi, my one-time editor on a lot of The Spectre, Martian Manhunter, and The Kents, came over for a chat. It was great to see him; it’s been far too long. Pete‘s also a freelance writer these days and a good one.

I’ll admit to being dazzled. A lot of fuss was being made over me and more than a few people came up and said that this was my night as well; that none of this would have been happening without me. I guess that’s technically true but it’s a little hard for me to wrap my brain around.

Anyway, it comes time for the movie and the director, David Ayer, comes out to say a few words and he brings out the entire cast of the movie. Loud cheers all around. The cast walks off and the movie begins.

I reviewed the movie last week and I’ll double down on it. I’ve seen it again since then, with My Mary (who couldn’t make it to the premiere) at IMAX and in 3-D and I liked it even more. I understand that there’s people who don’t agree with me and that’s fine; different tastes for different folks. For example, Mary likes broccoli and I can’t stand it, referring to it as “tiny trees”. But I loved the Squad movie and I’ll see it still again.

One note about it and it’s a very minor spoiler. I knew ahead of time that they had named a building used in the movie the John F. Ostrander Federal Building. I knew it was there, I knew it was coming up and yet, somehow, I missed seeing it. The DC row cheered but I didn’t see it until we went to the IMAX. Go figure.

There were cheers when the movie was over and then it was time to get onto the buses and go to the after-party. It was held in a huge hall with parts of it made up to look like Belle Reve (I’m told it was on display at SDCC and then moved east). There was food, there was drink, there was a DJ and loud music; DC had a private area off to one side. I understood the stars of the movie were in attendance and had their own area as well.

This may surprise some folks but not, I think, those who know me well. I sometimes get a case of the shys; I feel awkward where I feel somewhat out of place. I saw Kevin Smith there and wanted to go up and talk with him but he was talking to someone else so I wandered off. I didn’t want to bother him.

The one person I did want to meet was Viola Davis who played Amanda Waller. Amanda is special to me and Ms. Davis did a superb job, IMO, and I just wanted to tell her so. First, I had to deal with security. I walked up to a guy guarding the artist’s area; the Hulk is smaller than this guy. Real tall, shoulders the size of a football field – nobody was getting past him. Nobody.

I went straight to him, explained who I was and why I wanted to see Ms. Davis. He was polite, got a hold of someone who had to go check on me. While I waited, he deflected two or three others. The guy was good at his job.

Finally, someone came up to take me back the handful of steps to –. I introduced myself and then told her how much I enjoyed her performance. She was very gracious and lovely. I think, although I’m not certain, that I did not babble unduly.

And then I was done.

I might have liked to say hello to some of the other actors and especially the director but, plain and simple, I’d run out of nerve. My date had already left to catch a train and it was time for me to do the same. Penn Station was only a block or two away and that’s where I need to go to get back to Tam and Kev.

I’m reasonably certain in my heart that Kim was there at the party. She would have been in her element. She was an extrovert and she would have been dancing and drinking and chatting with the stars and flashing that megawatt smile. I’m also reasonably certain she’s still there; at many a Con, Kim would still be partying while I went to bed. I couldn’t keep up with her.

I said goodbye to Geoff Johns, got to Penn Station and went back to my friends in Jersey.

It was an experience totally unlike anything I’ve ever had. I don’t know if I’ll ever have another one like it. Even if I went to another movie premiere, this was my first one. As they say, you never forget your first.

I was a temporary celebrity. I’ve done lots of interviews connected with the event and I’ll probably do a few more, told the same stories or given the same answers a lot of times. I’ve been dipped in the waters of fame. There were faces on the other side of the barriers in front of the theater or the after party, looking at me, wondering who I was. I must have been Somebody. For the moment, maybe I was.

I’m home now. The dishes need washing, this column has to be finished, and one of the cats wants attention. That’s who I am and I’m happy with that. The rest will fade as it should. I’ll tell you this, though – it sure as hell was fun while it lasted! For that night, I was John Fucking Ostrander with my name of the side of a building in a big ass movie..

Yeah. That was cool.

Mike Gold: Dark Scooby & Freedom Fightin’ Fred

flintstones_1-Pugh-231x350Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue.

Just when I decided that maybe DC’s “Rebirth” might possibly be worthy – yes, I know, I had the same hopes for Batman v Superman – the other shoe dropped. Back in the 1990s I perceived DC as a centipede, with (obviously) 100 shoes to drop. Now, I’m thinking millipede.

In case you haven’t heard, DC decided to “reimagine” (lord how I hate that word) the classic Hanna-Barbera characters. Sort of like what Archie Comics just did with Archie but, in this case, totally needless.

I have little if any strong attachment to the H-B characters. Even as a kid I knew cheap, shitty animation and sub-standard writing. I loved Rocky and Bullwinkle, which employed even cheaper animation, but after mildly enjoying the first season of The Flintstones I decided life was too short – I was 10 years old – and there were so many Looney Tunes to watch and re-watch. I stuck around long enough to realize Betty was hotter than Wilma and how the hell that little wiener Barney landed her was beyond me. But I digress.

Scooby ApoclypseFlash forward to about 1994. I just got my DirecTV wired up and I was ready to rumble. Cartoon Network, Turner Classic Movies, Comedy Central – my local cable company had none of that stuff at the time. Sitting next to me was my daughter, who was about 19 at the time. We surfed around and landed on Cartoon Network. Adriane went nuts. “Scooby Doo! Scooby Doo!! Don’t change the channel!!!”

Like the other H-B stuff, Scooby-Doo held no attraction for me. In fact, I thought it was an insult to both dogs and to hippies. But Adriane was so enthusiastic and I was so enthralled by the digital broadcast that I stuck with it. It was one of those sort-of feature length crossover movies; I think the one with the Three Stooges. Or Batman and Robin. Same difference.

Fine. There’s nothing that says I have to like it, and those cartoons were more boring than they were rotten. Every generation gets to have its own without the so-called adults pissing on their pleasures and I enjoyed sharing Adriane’s youthful enthusiasm.

(However, Adriane’s all growed-up now and is an editor here at ComicMix. She has the privilege of editing my copy, among others. With great power comes great vengeance. Nonetheless, upon reviewing this column she said “Feel free to point out Adriane was disgusted by the art when it was released in January, worse than she was by Freddie Prinze Jr’s dyejob for the live action movie. Apparently being a grown up means Warner Bros. shits on your childhood in new ways every 15 years or so.”). Mike often wonders where Adriane got that third-person bit.)

But now, just as DC claims to have learned the folly of incessant reboots such as The New 52, comes this.

They’re redoing the H-B characters. Rebooting them. Modernizing them. Making them relevant to a young audience that, quite frankly, does not see the comic book medium as relevant.

Fred and Barney and Scooby and Shaggy aren’t your father’s Fred and Barney and Scooby and Shaggy. Or your grandfathers’. Or… anybody’s. You can see for yourself from the appropriated artwork above.

The idea that Keith Giffen, Marc DeMatteis, Howard Porter and Jim Lee are doing Scooby Apocalypse gives me hope for an entertaining comic book, and on its face it seems like a great idea for a parody. But as the newest incarnation of “the real thing?” It’s like dumping Superman’s red exo-trunks: they’re messing with the American flag.

I assume Jonny Quest will soon be revealed as a weed runner. Hey, Shaggy had to score from someone, and Top Cat really couldn’t be trusted.

Maybe we’ll get lucky and Scrappy-Doo will get hit by a runaway garbage truck.

Mike Gold: Sugar & Spike v Guido Crepax – Dawn of Decision

Sugar & Spike 1

Dichotomies. Every day brings hundreds if not thousands of choices. The red blouse vs. the blue blouse. Filet mignon vs. butt steak. Marvel vs. DC. Sugar and Spike vs. Guido Crepax. Which to pick?

Guido CrepaxRight now I’m struggling between writing about two totally different types of comics, and here “totally” is an understatement. Fantagraphics just released a beautiful reprint of Guido Crepax’s work, titled The Complete Crepax: Dracula, Frankenstein, And Other Horror Stories. It weighs in at over six pounds. Meanwhile, DC Comics has released the first issue of its new anthology series Legends of Tomorrow, taking the name but only one character from the CW teevee series. I’m thinking of discussing only one of the four features therein, Keith Giffen and Bilquis Evely’s Sugar and Spike.

Sugar & Spike 2That’s Crepax art on the left, and that’s Sugar and Spike art on the right. I’d like to think this is the first time somebody has used Guido Crepax and Keith Giffen together in on sentence, but I’m probably mistaken about that. Hmmmm… What to do? What to do?

Well, Keith wins. DC has endured a fair degree of public grief over its incessant rebooting and wandering storylines, some of that from ComicMix, and, well, gee, some of that from me. I don’t want to give the impression that I in any way dislike the company, at least not until I’ve seen Dawn of Justice. Besides, DC always has led the industry in experimenting with new formats and new packages. Dan DiDio and friends maintain my respect for Wednesday Comics.

Besides, of all the stuff released by the company during the past several years much of what I’ve truly enjoyed carries Keith Giffen’s byline – one sometimes shared with Publisher DiDio. So when it was announced that Shelly Meyer’s classic creation Sugar and Spike was going to be brought into contemporary times as young private detectives, I recoiled in fear of a Dark Sugar and Spikeseid. Then I noticed Keith’s name and decided that, at the very least, this should be at least as interesting as it is non-commercial.

I cannot state with authority that the Sugar and Spike in Legends of Tomorrow are in any way related to Shelly’s paramount creation. His name isn’t on it, and for all I know the young man / young woman duo with similar hair color and physical features with the exact same names is the latter-day version of Meyer’s toddlers. It could be just a remarkable coincidence. That’s why we produce lawyers, guns and money. But if it is, well, it’s not a reboot as it does not contradict anything from the original series. I suppose we shall see.

Here, Sugar and Spike are young detectives who hire themselves out to, let’s say, the super-powered community to do stuff that the Powers (heroes and villains alike) would be too embarrassed to do.

It’s a cute concept – not as “cute” as the original, but the original was about a couple of extremely young children who did not have P.I. licenses. And it’s executed in a highly enjoyable manner, with nifty dialog between our heroes and the bad guy and, later, our heroes and their client. Spoiler alert: beware of misdirection!

But for the aging comic book fan the real fun is in trying to figure out how those two darling toddlers became young adults who are enveloped within the rest of the DC universe. I hope this series lasts long enough for the creators to give us some clues.

Besides, I seriously doubt that I’ll be seeing that “Sugar and Spike Omnibus” any time soon. Such a tome would outweigh both Sugar and Spike.

 

Michael Davis: We Were Friends

Dwayne McDuffieDwayne McDuffie and I were friends, good friends.

When he first came to LA from New York, I was the one who drove him around for weeks. He didn’t drive. Who does in New York? I took him shopping to the barbershop, comic book stores, wherever. If he needed to go somewhere, I was his ride.

His first Christmas in California, Dwayne was my date for director Bill Duke’s Christmas party. He and Bill became the center of the evening engaging in a conversation so riveting everyone – everyone – who went into Bill’s huge ass kitchen stayed and listened. In the African American community the kitchen is always the center of a holiday dinner, regardless if you live in a small apartment or a mansion.

This was something else beyond the holiday tradition. Dwayne and Bill were engaged in conversation that made black Hollywood stop put down the chicken and listen.

Black Hollywood giving that kind of attention to some guy they never met? Rare.

Putting down the chicken? If I didn’t see it for myself…

Dwayne McDuffie and I were not just friends. We partnered on projects after Milestone. We had projects at Dark Horse and DC. Here’s a kicker. I created those projects, and I brought Dwayne on to write them.

I sold DC President Jenette Kahn a limited series Keith Giffen called the greatest idea since Watchmen. Keith wanted to write it and I wanted Keith to do it but the more I talked to Jenette about the project it became clear to us both this was a Dwayne project if ever there was one.

I told Jenette I was going to ask Dwayne, she was overjoyed, as was I when he said it was a great idea and would write it.

All was good in the hood until the DC editor assigned to the project said “Love this… just not with Michael Davis.” Yeah, I get that a lot. The editor suggested DC buy me out. Dwayne told the editor it was my project and he was not doing it without me.

I took it to Dark Horse and sold it there. Mike Richardson and Dwayne went back and forth as to what the direction the series should take until Mike realized the historical backstory was the story he wanted told. Dwayne didn’t want to tell that story, although I did.

The beauty of Mike Richardson’s insight was the original superhero story was still a doable project. A few years later Dwayne took it back to DC and for a while it was a go, until it wasn’t. This was the when Dwayne was retooling the Milestone and DC relationship and there was real talk and excitement of Milestone entering the DCU.

The project was at one point considered the initial starting point of the combined universes. That Milestone reboot didn’t happen and although there was some movement on the project even after Dwayne passed, the New 52 prevented any further talks. DC was all about the New 52 and this did not fit.

It’s important to me to get these events into the public record because of the narrative forming that erases my contribution from Milestone’s history and left unchallenged that narrative will become truth to most. It’s only a matter of time before Dwayne McDuffie’s problem with Michael Davis bullshit makes its way to a black comics forum. All it takes is someone pointing out I didn’t attend his funeral for a senseless rumor to become a certainty to the sheep who live for such trivialness. After a million sheep blog it so, it becomes so.

I didn’t not attend his funeral, not because there was an issue between Dwayne and I but because I decided to stay with a friend who was asked not to attend. I stood by my friend, I always did.

Those who spread poison about me should understand by now I can prove each and everything I say and just as easily disprove what they say. I see things clearly beforehand because I’m smarter than they are.

They will simply look at this preempted strike as just another stroke of luck on my part.

I’ve been betrayed, stabbed in the back, lied to and about, I’m depressed, alone and if not for the kindness and love of some friends most likely I would be dead. Thinking I’m lucky makes “stupid” too polite a word to use on them.

The truth can be bought. The truth can be killed. The truth can be jailed, silenced, controlled, and changed.

However, I can not be brought, I’ve been jailed, I won’t be silenced nor controlled. Unless you kill me the truth can be proven. I keep everything, forget nothing, and fear nobody.

The day before he died, Dwayne emailed me. He wanted me to see the prototype of the adult Static action figure. Keeping in touch with an enemy especially from your hospital bed isn’t something people do. They do that for friends.

Ain’t that the truth?

 

Mike Gold: Marvel Does The Right Thing – And More!

I cribbed the information contained herein from the piece written by our pal Rich Johnston over at his Bleeding Cool website which, for what it’s worth, I endorse for its honesty and professionalism. But instead of simply posting the link and letting it speak for itself, I shall wax poetic.

It’s easy to blame all sorts of bad, evil things on corporations and, damn, the Supreme Court recently made that a whole lot easier. But in the interest of fairness we should endeavor to embrace the whole enchilada.

No doubt you were one of the 160.1 million dollars worth of humans worldwide (and counting) who have seen the movie Guardians of the Galaxy. If you haven’t, there are no spoilers here: I thought it was great fun, as did the other minions of the Lower Connecticut Comics Mafia that occupied the theater last Thursday. The fact that we all seemed to be in agreement was, in and of itself, the highest praise I can heap upon any movie. But unless you don’t have a television set, a comic book habit, and/or friends, you are probably aware that the movie stars a small sentient rodent-like creature named Rocket Raccoon.

Rocket was created by Bill Mantlo and Keith Giffen. One of the true horrors of comics history is that in 1992 Bill was the victim of a hit-and-run driver while rollerblading, suffering irreparable brain damage and ending his career in both comics and in law as a public defender. After awakening from a coma, he has spent the ensuing 22 years in a health-care center.

When work on GOTG commenced, Marvel (part of Disney, which I might not refer to as “the evil empire” any longer) renegotiated Bill’s deal regarding Rocket Raccoon, providing some ongoing income to help offset his enormous ongoing medical expenses. This alone is, as we say on 47th Street, a mitsve. Last week, Marvel outdid themselves – big time.

As quoted by Rich, Bill’s brother Michael reported “Marvel hooked Bill up with a private viewing of Guardians of the Galaxy, and my wife Liz and my beloved cousin Jean assisted Bill throughout, enabling him to sit back, relax and relish in the awesomeness of what is going to be, in my humble opinion, Marvel’s greatest and most successful film ever! Bill thoroughly enjoyed it, giving it his highest compliment (the big “thumb’s up!”), and when the credits rolled, his face was locked into the hugest smile I have ever seen him wear (along with one or two tears of joy)! This was the greatest day of the last 22 years for me, our family, and most importantly, Bill Mantlo!” Marvel execs David Bogart and David Althoff arranged for the screening and joined Bill at the event.

Let me make one thing perfectly clear: Marvel did not have to do this. Their only obligation here was moral and, even then, arranging for all of this goes beyond even that high standard. I am impressed, and as a person who has toiled in the four-color fields for almost 40 years, I am proud of how Marvel’s consideration reflects on the creative industry we all enjoy.

As for Bill – who we miss, and whose work we miss – his legacy is now assured.

Marc Alan Fishman’s Snarky Synopsis: The New 52 – Futures End #7

Marc Alan Fishman’s Snarky Synopsis: The New 52 – Futures End #7

Futures EndWritten by Brian Azzarello, Jeff Lemire, Dan Jurgens, and Keith Giffen. Art by Aaron Lopresti, Art Thibert, and Hi-Fi.

I beg you, dear reader, to not skim over the author credits in this review. Azzarello. Lemire. Jurgens. Giffen. A master of noir, the macabre, cape and cowl, and team action. I want you to let those names and their respective bibliographies soak into your brainpan.

And now, I want you to forget it. All of it. Forget amazing runs on Batman, Animal Man, Justice League, Superman, and 100 Bullets. Why? Because Futures End doesn’t read like it even strolled adjacent to the parks where any of those celebrated authors lived. Instead, we get another chapter that advances banal plots that all lead towards the next editorial status quo to deal with in the next publishing quarter (or year, or what-have-you). If you don’t care to stick around to read the maple-syrup-thick snark I’m about to lay out on this waste of thought and talent, then take these words and call it a day: Futures End is a passionless money suck, and is yet-another-symptom in the ever-ailing world of big-comic event-driven fiction.

To sum up the issue itself is to merely check off the minor plot points that continue the threads of the litany of plots. In the Phantom Zone, Agent Frankenstein fights Black Adam. He wins, but loses a limb. I guess we should care about that, but the guy is literally sewn together bits already. Losing one bit doesn’t really lend itself to intense dramatic action, does it? Elsewhere, Deathstroke and Hit Girl (or whatever her name is – which doesn’t matter because she’s clearly being presented like Hit Girl) discuss adding Grifter to their team. Grifter is told this, and basically seems fine with it. Oh the melancholy! Then there’s Firestorm, who visits a memorial celebrating the loss of life he had a hand in creating. Joy! And we cap off the book with a skirmish in the park – Terry McGinness (Batman Beyond, don’t cha know) and Mr. Terrific fight while the Key and some ne’er-do-wells discuss being bad.

Time for a bit of a digression, kiddos. You see, not that long ago, there was this weekly book called 52. It was penned by a fantastic foursome of their day. To be fair, all four men are still incredible. Mark Waid, Grant Morrison, Geoff Johns, and Greg Rucka. Each man basically took a single story set inside the ever-shifting DCU, and over the course of 52 issues laid it out in tandem with the other three.

Over the course of that year-in-comics, there were certainly issues akin to Futures End where really there was more moving of chess pieces than there was definitive action and progress. But by and large, each issue was worth the read. Each issue contributed a very dissimilar set of heroes and villains that ultimately came together to showcase the richly detailed universe that houses half of the most recognizable licensed characters in all of creation… and then placed them dutifully on the shelf, and played with the want-nots, has-beens, and forgotten ones instead. It was the best of times.

Futures End #7 is the worst of times. As I alluded to above, the book just reads as passionless plot. I take that opinion to heart, as I myself am amidst the writing process on something of similar direction. In the era of writing for the trade, the middle chapters fall prey to only existing as means to the eventual end. Because they serve so many masters, they end up feeling hollow. Things happen. Stuff moves forward. But when you cram an issue with no fewer than five plot lines, and literally nothing gets resolved, or any twists are revealed… the trade becomes an end not worth waiting for. At least, not when the scripting and pacing do not take into account that every issue could stand to be a jumping on point. FE #7 not only craps on that concept, it revels in it.

Allow me to admit it straight up: I haven’t read a single panel of any previous issue of Futures End. Outside the pithy knowledge I have that this is some kind of epic that has to do with robotic evil duplicates from an alternate timeline or dimension, and at some point Luthor will run the Justice League… I know nothing. Picking up the seventh issue is of course complete reader-suicide. I don’t know why Frankenstein is in the Phantom Zone. I don’t know why Ronnie Raymond is to blame for whatever tragedy befell his kin. I don’t have the slightest clue what Terrifitech is, or why Batman Beyond is trying to blend in as a bum (who apparently drops fifty dollar bills because… the Internet?). But I digress. Simply put: I shouldn’t have to know any of those six-issue long backstories to enjoy a good comic.

If it’s the absolute I believe in now – having been a weekly reviewer for nearly three and a half years (and a fan and reader for two decades) – it’s that Erik Larsen was right. Every comic stands to be someone’s jumping on point. And it’s issues like this one that lend me to believe why comic books continue to ebb and flow but never seem to be more than a niche medium clinging to life in between the blockbuster movie adaptations. Stories like 52 actually attempted to prove that comic books still had sway – and that Alan Moore isn’t just a crazy loon in a castle. By making a book that used the continuity and novel-length girth of plots, DC proved that a comic book need not be a cartoon or mega-plex people pleaser. Futures End instead returns to the roots (and not that Jack Kirby / Steve Ditko / Stan Lee kind) of the industry; kitchy low-brow action stories that only target those who want a punch, kick, and an occasional tit. Sorry, we’re better than this.

When the credit-roll on your book reads like a who’s-who of modern top talent.. when your art team delivers admirable visuals to the script… when you have literally an entire universe of characters – including the top-shelf ones – at your disposal… when you have the carte blanche to create with compatriots that each in their own right could handle the book by themselves, you are not allowed to phone in an issue. Hell, you’re not allowed to phone in one panel. For fuck’s sake, you’re not even allowed to trip up over a single Rao-damned word balloon.

Future’s End is indicted on all counts. This was a lazy chapter in a lazy crossover that feels more by-the-numbers than seat-of-your-pants. It aspires to do nothing other than advance plot at a snails pace – sans style, sans grace. For shame, DC. For shame Brian Azzarello, Jeff Lemire, Dan Jurgens, and Keith Giffen.

 

 

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 https://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.

 

Mindy Newell: Feed ‘Em, Burp ‘Em, Diaper ‘Em

Newell Art 130923Ah, the joys of new parenthood.

Interrupted sleep. Desperately trying to figure out why the baby is crying. Shock and palpitations at the cost of Pampers (or Luvs or Huggies). Interfering grandparents.

Yeah, it’s tough being the parent of a baby. (Just wait until they are teenagers!)

At least you don’t have super-powers. At least you don’t have arch-nemeses and equally powered villains eager to use your darling as a weapon against you

Once upon a time I worked with Keith Giffen, Ernie Colon, and Karl Kesel on a mini-series for DC that we called Legionnaires Three. The story twists on the kidnapping of the infant Graym Ranzz by the infamous Time Trapper. Baby Graym is the son of Mr. and Mrs. Ranzz, a.k.a. Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl, a.k.a. Garth Ranzz and Imra Ardeen. Upon discovering their child is gone, both are stunned into superhero impotency as Imra breaks down in heart wrenching sobs, held by a seemingly stoic Garth.

I remember getting a lot of flak in the fan mail. (Remember fan mail?)

“Saturn Girl is the Iron Butterfly! She would never cry!”

“Garth is the weak one. Imra would kick ass!”

“You don’t know anything about the Legion! Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl would rally the troops, get on the case!”

Well, I do know about the Legion. But more important, I know about being a parent. And as I answered in the letters column (remember letters columns?), and I’m paraphrasing here, Garth and Imra may be superheroes, but they are also parents, and any parent, super-powered or not, would be sucked down into a mass of shocked, weeping, screaming, emotional protoplasm on discovering their child kidnapped. (Do I really have to reiterate that?)

Anyway, I got to thinking about babies and super-powers, superheroes and being a parent.

I talked about being the parent of a super-powered kid once before here on ComicMix, in May 2012. I called the column “My Kid’s a Superhero,” and it was in honor of Mother’s Day. It was about Martha Kent and it went like this:

A few months later Martha was vacuuming – Jonathan did the laundry, so it was a fair exchange – and went to move the couch, where all the dust bunnies lived. Baby Clark wanted to help him mommy, so he picked the couch up. Martha went to the liquor cabinet and poured herself a stiff one. When Jonathan came back from the lower 40 for lunch, he found an empty bottle of Johnny Walker Red and his wife in a drunken stupor. When she came to she had a hell of a headache and a hell of a story. Jonathan called Doc Newman who told him new mothers are under a lot of stress and to just take it easy with her. The doctor then hung up and called his wife and told her that Martha Kent was nuts.

Martha thought she had it rough?

Susan Storm Richards, a.k.a. the Invisible Woman, was pregnant with her first child when it was discovered that the irradiation from the cosmic rays that gave the Fantastic Four their powers would also prevent Sue from carrying the baby to term. Desperate to prevent this, her husband Reed (Mr. Fantastic), her brother Johnny Storm (the Human Torch) and their best friend ever Ben Grimm (the ever-lovin’ blue-eyed Thing) travelled to the Negative Zone and wrested the Cosmic Control Rod from the villain Annihilus. The Rod allowed Sue to carry her baby to term. The baby boy was named Franklin, after Sue’s father.

But it turned out that Franklin was a mutant, an immensely powerful mutant with psionic abilities. Reed, afraid that Franklin’s power could wipe out life on Earth, “shut down” Franklin’s mind, effectively reverting him to a normal kid.

Sue was furious with Reed because she had not been consulted before Reed took this drastic step, and she left him, taking the baby with her.

Yeah.

Parenthood.

It’s enough to make a superhero hang up his or her cape.

ComicMix Columnist Mindy Newell became a grandmother on September 20, 2013. She is ecstatic.

Call her Grandma. Call her Gran’maw. Call her Abuela. Call her Gamma.

Just don’t call her Bubbe.

TUESDAY MORNING: Emily S. Whitten

TUESDAY AFTERNOON: Michael Davis