For the past few weeks I’ve been discussing the stories contained in the upcoming volume of Suicide Squad reprints (Volume 7, The Dragon’s Horde, out December 22). I’ve been running down the stories in order but this week I’m jumping to the last story in the collection.
This last story was a tie-in issue to the War of the Gods crossover event that DC was running at that time. I’m jumping to it not because it’s my favorite story in Vol. 7 but because it isn’t.
I’ve had mixed reactions to Big Company Wide Crossovers. They do interrupt the flow of what you have planned but, OTOH, that’s like what we laughingly refer to as Real Life: big events happen and toss our best laid plans out any convenient window. It is said the gods like when mortals make plans; it gives them something to shoot at.
There are all kinds of ways of doing a crossover issue; it can be a vital chapter in the overall story, it can show how the Big Event is affecting part of the world, it can be a Red Sky story. That happened during Crisis on Infinite Earths, the granddaddy of Big Events at DC. One of the hallmarks of the events was the red skies. An issue of an ongoing series could qualify as a “crossover issue” if it featured red skies and some person said, “Ooh! The skies are red!” Something less than a vital piece of the narrative; I was a fan and not a pro at the time and I resented it.
However, the red skies stunt underscored one of the major purposes of a crossover – to lure the reader into trying other (or all) of the books in the line. Hopefully, they’ll see a bump in sales. Most of the time, the increase doesn’t last. So – you do another crossover and so on, ad nauseam, until you get fan burn-out. And then marketing tells you to do another.
I’ve participated in all kinds of crossovers, from doing the Main Event (Legends) to tie-in issues (hopefully none of which are “red sky” issues). Some were easier than others; some were nearly impossible. One we had to co-ordinate with all the other books out that week and I wound up with that assignment since I had two or three of them.
In the story in this volume, the Squad ties into the War of the Gods event. To be honest, I don’t remember what that crossover was about. My problem with the result is that it resulted in a not very good story, let alone a good Squad story.
Captain Marvel’s… excuse me, Shazam’s… Bad, Black Adam, comes calling on the Squad. He needs some warm bodies for an attack he is planning on a temple on an island in a lake in South America guarded by were-beasts and an offshoot of Amazons who live in the Middle East. Where? Somewhere.
Waller feels they’ll need a lot of warm bodies so she recruits a fair amount. The reader at this point probably expects most of them to die and they’re not wrong. We do, however, take the opportunity to get most of the Squad back into uniform. Black Adam claims that, when you go to fight gods, ceremonial garb should be worn. (The hold-out is Deadshot who recently killed the guy wearing his costume, shooting him right between the eyes. You can understand Lawton’s reluctance; the dry-cleaning bill on that would probably be steep.)
Oh, Kim and I (well, mostly me) threw in a new character called The Writer and then killed him off. He was supposed to be a well-known DC writer who had written himself into continuity. It was strictly a gag and, frankly, a puerile one. Apologies all around.
There’s a lot of yelling and fighting and characters die; not the sort of stuff Kim and I usually did with the Squad. It’s also incomplete; at one point in the midst of the battle, Black Adam vanishes into the temple followed by a few Squad members. Shortly afterwards, the island and the temple blow up. Why? Who knows. What’s in the Temple? Doesn’t tell you here. What was Black Adam’s agenda (he definitely had one)? To be told somewhere else.
There’s a block of white space on the bottom of the last page of the story in which the reader was informed where to go for the next thrilling chapter. The reader of this volume doesn’t have that and so they are left with an incomplete story with big gaps in it. And it’s the last story in this volume as well and I think leaves a somewhat sour taste in the mouth.
However, it may be someone’s favorite story. Years ago, I was on a panel at a comic book convention and was asked what was the story I’d written that I wished I could unwrite. I named it and ridiculed it and some poor guy in the front row looked stricken and said “But that’s my favorite story!” If this story was one of your favorite’s, I apologize.
This week we’ll continue with my commentary on the latest collection of my run of Suicide Squad stories, # 7, The Dragon’s Horde. This one will be out just a few days before Christmas making it a perfect last-minute Christmas gift. Well, for some pretty strange people on your Christmas list, I’ll grant you. Once again, although I feel foolish in saying it, the Spoiler Flag is flying although the stories are about two decades old.
Last week we explored the first story in the volume which was the 50th issue celebration. That had everyone, living and dead, from the Squad in it. The next story, Fractured Image, focuses down to mainly just Deadshot. There are others in the story but the main plot centers on Floyd Lawton.
After a major storyline with lots of characters in it, Kim Yale (my wife and co-writer) and I liked to do stories complete in a single issue with a tighter focus to them. When you write an ongoing series, you need to think of the rhythm not only of a given story but of the series as a whole. You can fatigue the reader if you have too many Big Big Big stories with Action Action Action. It’s why we used to do Personal File stories in the Squad maybe once a year; focus on ongoing subplots and individual characterization. This issue isn’t quite a Personal File but it comes close.
Among other subplots, we advanced the connection between Eve Eden (Nightshade) and Tom Tresser (Nemesis). The two always had an attraction for each other but the time never seemed right; it gets right in this story. On a more significant note, Count Vertigo has a conversation with Deadshot that will linger for the rest of the series. Werner Vertigo is manic depressive and had recently been under the thrall of Poison Ivy in which his soul, as he puts it, no longer felt his own. He can’t live that way should it happen again. For reasons he doesn’t go into here, he can’t commit suicide so he wants to know if Lawton will put a bullet in Vertigo’s brain if Werner asks him. Lawton has no problem with that but warns Vertigo to be serious if he asks Deadshot to do it because he will.
The main story spins out of another subplot that we had been spinning for awhile. (Kim and I could nurse a subplot along for more than a year.) Lawton and Captain Boomerang had made a trip Down Under to Harkness’s old stomping grounds when they were summoned back to join the Squad on a mission. Because of Boomerbutt, the two missed their plane. As a result, their luggage got lost – including Lawton’s costume and wrist magnums.
Deadshot is not amused.
At the start of the issue, we discover the costume has been found and recovered – by a luggage handler in France named Marc Pilar who was described as a nothing working in the fringes of the mob. Lawton flies to Marseilles, France, to deal with the imposter and recover his property but there is a real question as to whether or not he can kill “himself.” Lawton had always been described as having a death wish but I never felt he was out to commit suicide. He just didn’t care if he lived or died. Now he is being hunted by “Deadshot”; will he let himself be killed by his alternate persona?
At this time in the run of Suicide Squad, I had decided it would be more realistic to take the Squad out of their costumes and code names. They were supposed to be a covert action group and, as such, should not be drawing undue attention to themselves. In theory.
I now look back at this decision as a mistake. These are comics and the costumes and codenames are a major part of the visuals. I think we started to hemorrhage readers at this point and it would help lead to the book’s cancellation about a year and a half later. Any book that’s more than five years old is going to start losing readership but this choice may have helped.
Nonetheless, I like this story a lot. It’s fair to say that Deadshot was one of the Squad “trinity” (along with Waller and Captain Boomerang) who were never going to get killed. Oh, they occasionally got shot just to make the readers think we might kill them but it was never going to happen. I just enjoyed playing with them too much.
It feels a little silly to be issuing a spoilerwarning for a story that’s more than twenty years old but it’s entirely possible that there are folks out there who have never read the story described below. I’ll need to discuss some plot points and twists so if you don’t want to know ‘em, avoid this week’s column. Spoiler warning issued.
December 22 will see the publication of the seventh volume in the reprint series of my Suicide Squad, just in time for last minute holiday giving. See? Sometimes it does pay to wait until the last minute to shop.
This will probably be the penultimate volume in this reprint series as there are only a few more issues to gather. Kim Yale was once again my co-writer. I’m taking this opportunity to re-read these stories myself and over the next few columns I’ll comment on them, as I’ve done with some previous volumes.
The title tale is the biggest one in the volume but, as not unusual, is not the only story. The first one reprints issue 50 which was extra-sized. I’m of two minds about anniversary issues. Certainly, you want to celebrate the longevity of the given title but sometimes setting it up can throw off the whole pacing of the series. That happened with GrimJack and maybe the Spectre; you can wind up treading narrative water trying to get to an anniversary issue.
However, the Squad 50th issue worked.
Kim’s and my goal was to take as many story points that we had in the early days, especially issue 1, and re-work them into a new narrative. That can be difficult when you’ve spent as much time killing off your characters as Kim and I did. Basic background on the Squad; the series was created by Robert Kanigher and Ross Andru and ran for five issues of the Brave and the Bold. The first Squad was a team of four: leader Captain Rick Flag, medic Karin Grace, and scientists Jess Bright and Hugh Evans. Rick and Karin had fallen in love but felt compelled to keep it a secret since the two scientists were also in love with Karin. It could’ve gotten kind of kinky but this was 1959.
The element that I took for the new Squad was that the old one fell apart on a disastrous mission to Tibet. Bright and Evans found out about Rick and Karin and were pissed at being played for chumps. They died falling into a chasm during an attack by a Yeti. Karin had a breakdown and wouldn’t see Rick anymore.
Rick and Karin were both part of the new series but by issue 49 both had died. Rick would get better and return but for issue 50’s purposes, he was still dead. However, we revealed that they had a son; Rick was never aware of it and Karin blocked the boy’s birth from her memory during her breakdown.
The incident triggering the plot is that the boy has been kidnapped by a zombie like character named Koschei the Deathless. During the story, it’s revealed that Koschei is actually Jess Bright who had survived the fall into the chasm but loss his nose, lips, toes and fingers to frostbite before being rescued by the Chinese. He later winds up with the Russians where he becomes Koschei.
Unaware that both are dead, Jess wants revenge on Rick and Karin and, having run afoul of the new Squad since becoming Koschei he also wants them dead. To this end he has resurrected members of the Squad who were killed on missions by using mechanical implants at the base of their skulls. Oh, and I should mention that Koschei has also died but, using the same technology, walks and talks and plans terrible revenge.
So we have the Suicide Squad up against the Zombie Squad which makes for some fun visuals and match ups. The climax takes place in a fake Quraci airport that figured into the first story.
Yeah, it all does sound convoluted, but I think it all works in context of the actual story.
One of the flaws in issue 50 is that it concludes rather quickly without a lot of space for visuals but that’s a flaw I sometimes have as a writer; I don’t always pace everything as well as I might. All things considered, however, I think it is a good story and covers the anniversary tropes pretty well. It even ends with a surprisingly tender moment for Amanda Waller. It also gets this reprint off to a good start, I think, although you folks are the ones who have the real say.
We’ll continue this next week as we look at the next story or two. Ciao for now.
It was a lifetime ago. It was just moments gone by.
Tuesday will mark twenty years since my wife, Kimberly Ann Yale, died.
I’ve been working on a column discussing the passage for some days but haven’t been satisfied with it. Sometimes you try to say something and can’t find the right things to say. I’ve come across an old column I wrote ten years ago. Just about everything I wanted to say I said back then so, if y’all don’t mind, I’ll just reprint it here.
Today is Thanksgiving and a hearty Happy Thanksgiving to you all. As it turns out, it’s also the birthday of my late wife, Kimberly Ann Yale, who would have been 54 today. This is a day for stopping and giving thanks for the good things in your life and so I’ll ask your indulgence while I remember one of the best things in mine, which was Kim.
For those who don’t know her, never met her, how do I describe her to you? My god, where do I begin? Physically – heart shaped face, megawatt smile, big blue eyes. Champagne blonde hair which, in her later years, she decided should be red. That decision was pure Kimmie. She looked good, too, but she also looked good bald. More on that in a few moments.
She was buxom and damn proud of it. Referred to her breasts as “the girls” and was fond of showing them off. She was about 5’8” so that when she was in heels we were about the same height. Basically had an hourglass figure although sometimes there were a few more seconds packed into that hourglass than maybe there should have been. We both fought weight problems and I still do.
All that, however, is merely a physical description. Photographs could tell you as much and more and still tell you so little about Kim. Not who she was. Kim was an extrovert to the point of being an exhibitionist. She was sometimes flamboyant; I have described her as the world’s most innocent narcissist. She loved the spotlight but with the delight of a child. Yet, she also loved nothing better than to be in the corner of a tea shoppe or coffee house, drinking her cuppa, writing in her journal, totally absorbed into herself and the moment.
She also genuinely loved people. Loved being around them, hearing their stories, telling her own. She had one of the world’s great infectious laughs. If you were in a comedy on stage, you wanted Kim in your audience. She got the jokes, too, including some the rest of the audience missed.
She loved music, all kinds of music, and could talk knowledgeably about it for hours. Hell, Kim could hold forth on almost anything for hours. She loved classical, the blues, rock and roll, soundtracks to movies – everything. She loved movies, she loved books, she loved TV. She adored Doctor Who; we, in fact, met at a Doctor Who Convention.
She loved comics and she loved the idea of women in comics. At many different Cons, she would chair the Women in Comics panel and, in Chicago especially where she did it for several years, people learned to come because it would often be one of the most interesting, thought-provoking panels at the Con. She was part of the early organizational meetings that resulted in Friends of Lulu and their annual award for the best new female comics creator is named for Kim. She would have been very proud of that.
How do I describe our relationship – what we gave to each other? One example – she brought cats into my life, I brought dogs back into hers. She made me more of a cat person; I brought out the dog lover in her.
Other things she brought to me – her love of Westerns and of the Civil War. I had dismissed Westerns as “oaters” and “horse opera” but Kim patiently took me through the best ones, showed me the difference from a John Ford western and a Budd Boetticher one. Without Kim, there never would have been The Kents or my Marvel westerns, Blaze of Glory and Apache Skies.
On our honeymoon, Kim wanted to go to Fredericksburg, Virginia, so we could walk some of the Civil War battlefields in the area. I was a little dubious at first but went along because it was important to her. My god, I learned so much walking those battlefields. I don’t know if you can understand those battles or the War without doing that. We would later add others like Shiloh and Gettysburg to the list. Amazing, bonding, illuminating moments.
Kim and I worked together as co-writers on several projects, notably Suicide Squad, some Munden’s Bar stories, and a tale of Young John Gaunt that ran in the back of GrimJack during its final year at First Comics. I think Kim was a finer writer than I am. I’m at heart a storyteller and I’m mostly about what happens next; I turn a good phrase and I know plot, character, theme and so on but Kim was also into the composition and the polish on the story. She would go over and over things while I’d push on. I wish she had written more on her own; at the end of her life, so did she.
Kim also introduced me to the fabled “Bucket of Suds,” a wonderful bar in Chicago that was the nearest earthly equivalent I know to Munden’s Bar and to which we, in turn, introduced many folks from the comic book community, especially during the Chicago Comiccon. The owner, Joe Danno, was a mixologist and could invent a new drink on the spot in addition to creating his own cordials. The Bucket not only served drinks but, for many years, served home made pizza, burgers, breadsticks.
Joe also created his own catsup, mustard, bar-b-que sauce, and hot sauce. Want to see our esteemed editor, Mike Gold, both drool and cry at the same time? Get him talking about the hot sauce and the bar-b-que sauce, neither of which is available any more. (Oh, the humanity!) I set a scene in an issue of Hawkworld at the Bucket and got photo reference for our penciler, Graham Nolan, which he used wonderfully well. I later obtained the pages and gave them to Joe who proudly had them framed up over the bar.
Joe got older and the bar’s opening hours became more erratic. Kim by that point, was also sick with the breast cancer that would kill her. Joe finally announced that the Bar was closing and said there would be a party the closing night. Kim desperately wanted to be there – it was right around her birthday, as I recall – but she was too sick by that point to make the trip. The bar closed and Kim herself died the following March.
Kimberly wore her heart on her sleeve, both politically and personally, and it was an open and generous heart. She identified so much with underdogs. She was a PK – a Preacher’s Kid – and her father was an Episcopal chaplain in the Navy as well, so she was also a “Navy Brat.” She would move every few years to another base somewhere else in the country. Sometimes it would be a great place and sometimes it was one where she was treated horribly but one thing she learned was not to form really close friends because, in a few years, she or they would move on to another base and would be gone.
Yet despite all that, her heart was not bitter or closed. She loved meeting people and she did make friends even though her heart did get hurt time and again. What people thought of her mattered to her and sometimes that could hurt. I tried to explain to her that, in fact, while everyone had a right to their own opinion, not everyone’s opinion mattered. Some people were just assholes. Some were nasty assholes. Some had agendas. Some were misinformed. Kim understood all that or at least her head did but it hurt nevertheless. It’s hard when you lead with your heart.
Kim died of breast cancer more than ten years ago. I won’t go through all the particulars of that time, other than to note that it was mercifully swift and that she fought with her customary determination, élan and brio which she documented in a brave series of columns that she wrote for the Comic Buyers Guide.
There are a few grace notes to tell in the space we have. As a result of her bouts with chemo, Kim’s hair did fall out so eventually she shaved her head. She considered using a wig but eventually opted for temporary tattoos at her temples. I remember the butterflies.
In her final weeks, she let go of more and more things that simply no longer mattered. She let go of old angers, she forgave, she reconciled. As her body failed, ultimately her spirit became more clear. I’ll not say she went quietly into that good night; she was very clear about wanting to die in her own home and when circumstances forced us to bring her back to the hospital for pain management, she rebelled. Drugged up, she still tried to take the tubes out of her arms. She wanted to go home and, finally, we brought her home.
Yet, all of these are also simply random facts about Kim and cannot capture her. There is only one way that I know to do that – through story. We had three memorial services for Kim after she died – one at our church, one in New York for those who knew her from the comics industry, one back in Chicago for family and friends there. Stories were told at all three and, for me, they were the centerpieces of the memorials. Mary and I still tell them, recalling Kim’s foibles as well as her virtues for, as I have said before, I prefer Kim’s foibles to many other people’s virtues. They make her human. They make her alive.
I think that’s important for anyone who has lost someone who was loved. Don’t just remember – tell the stories. So that’s what I’d like to do with the comments sections this week, if you have time – tell stories about the lives of people we are thankful we have known, those who are no longer here. If you have a Kim story to tell, that would be great – I’d love to read it. If it’s about someone else, that’s okay, too – Kim would have loved to hear it.
That’s who Kim was – a person of story.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.
A few additional thoughts.
Kim was a geek back when it was not cool to be a geek and the triumph of geek culture would have floored her. The Star Wars prequels and now the new sequels and stand alone stories; the whole Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies; the return of Doctor Who and the dawn of the superhero movie. She would have been in NYC with me for the premiere of the Suicide Squad movie; Kim would have seen the three-story tall Squad ad in Times Square, screamed and swooned and then laughed with utter delight. I can hear it in my mind’s ear.
She’s missed a lot. She is missed a lot.
I have a new life and a partner that I love and treasure – Mary Mitchell. Twenty years is a lifetime; twenty years was just a moment ago. Kim is still a part of my life and will be for the rest of my life and that’s as it should be.
This coming week, Marvel is issuing the second part of my work on Heroes For Hire and, as I did when the first volume came out, I thought I’d talk a little bit about it and why I made some choices that I did and what I was thinking when I created the stories.
Background info: my run on H4H began in 1997 and ran for 19 issues. The team was a corporate entity, hiring out groups of superheroes for various missions. Luke Cage and Iron Fist were the core, with the Original Human Torch, Jim Hammond, running the business. Lots of characters cycled in and out, the most constant being White Tiger, Ant-Man (Scott Lang), Black Knight and Thena of the Eternals. We also had lots of guest stars such as Hercules, Wolverine, Shang-Chi, She-Hulk and Deadpool who, not surprisingly, was featured on the cover.
Deadpool is probably one of the main reasons Marvel is gathering this collection right now, along with the fact that Luke Cage and Iron Fist both either have had or will have a series on Netflix that will lead into the Defenders miniseries. And, maybe, the fact that I wrote Suicide Squad and that movie is now out on DVD, Blu-Ray, and so on. Ah, name recognition!
Often the guest stars would appear depending on availability and also on with whom I wanted to play. That accounts a lot for Deadpool’s appearance. ‘Pool is a lot of fun to write; he has a deep streak of whacky and I like whacky.
In fact, the entire series has a deep streak of whacky as best exhibited by the narrator. The voice of the narrator started normally but rapidly developed into sort of a character of its own. I was influenced by Stan Lee’s way of talking to the reader, calling them “effendi” and promising to get them caught up when the story started in the middle of a fight scene (which is one of the best ways ever to start a comic). My narrator would complain about not being told what’s going on and once panicked when there was a crash and it appeared all the heroes were dead. She-Hulk, who was also a lawyer, later broke the fourth wall and fired the narrator. We had a new, normal narrator after that; even the font changed to establish this was not the “same” narrator.
I have no idea what readers thought but, hey, I was amusing myself.
Smack dab in the middle of this we had a five-part crossover with the Quicksilver book that I was writing along with Joe Edkin. That year, Marvel was doing “paired” Annuals and, since I was involved with both H4H and Quicksilver, they got paired. Joe and I had inherited a storyline involving the High Evolutionary, the Knights of Wundagore, Exodus and the Acolytes, and ultimately Man-Wolf. In retrospect, Joe and I probably should have wound up that storyline sooner than we did and gone on to our own ideas. We hoped that linking the Quicksilver book with H4H would create an event and would help increase the readership of Quicksilver.
It didn’t work out that way. Quicksilver actually got canceled and I think we hurt H4H in the process. There were just too many characters and plenty of switching sides. Maybe we should have had a scorecard.
The pencilers on the series were generally top notch. Pachalis (Pascual) Ferry was our regular penciler and he’s terrific. Very flowing artwork but with a sense of energy and excitement akin to Jack Kirby. Excellent storyteller, too.
My other favorite penciler remains Mary Mitchell for a lot of good reasons. I first encountered Mary at a Chicago Con; incredible storytelling skills, a great sense of architecture and place, and even minor characters seemed to have a real life. They all had their own stories and we could have followed those but we were following these other characters instead. I helped her get some of her first jobs and she eventually came to live with Kim Yale and me. She stayed during Kim’s fight with breast cancer and stayed after her death. Much later, she and I became a couple and still are but at the time of her doing the story in this volume, we were just good friends.
The story was a solo adventure of the Black Knight who was a favorite character of mine and who I had brought into the group.
Another favorite character that I brought into the comic was Mrs. Arbogast, the older and sometimes acerbic secretary who had worked for Tony Stark. She has a dry disdain similar to Alfred in the Batman movies.
We had lost some readership but it was growing again but this was the Ron Pearlman era when the company was owned and operated by bunch of people who clearly didn’t know what they were doing. One underling decided he would curry favor by saving money by canceling a bunch of books – including H4H. We didn’t really warrant it. Said underling then left the company a short time later. Such is life.
I’m proud of my work on H4H. My approach was consciously different from my work at DC; a bit looser, a bit more in what I considered to be “the Marvel manner.” A plot might not complete in one issue but end at the start of the next issue and we would then plunge into the next story. Sometimes the pace was a bit breathless and that was all by design. I wanted H4H to be fun and the best way to make that happen was to have fun myself. I did and I think it shows. If you take a look, I think you’ll have fun, too.
I may have told this story before but I’m at an age where you repeat yourself a lot. And it’s germane to this column.
Years ago, when I was still somewhat new to the industry, I was working the First Comics booth at a Chicago Con along with my lovely wife, Kim Yale. A group of pros walked past me that included Julie Schwartz, the legendary DC editor, and Roz and Jack Kirby.
My jaw dropped and I started hyperventilating. Kim gave me a strange look.
“Pssst! Julie!” I whispered. I knew Julie from DC, at least somewhat. Ever affable, Julie came to the table.
“Whatcha want, kid?”
“Introduce me to the King!” Julie gave me a strange look.
“Whattaya talking about? It‘s just Jack. Come over and say hello.”
“No no no no no! I can’t! Don’t you understand?! He’s the King! Help a guy out, wouldja?”
Julie looked at me like I was demented, which I probably was. He just shook his head and said, “C’mon, kid.” I was still young enough to be called a kid… comparatively speaking.
Julie took me over to the group and made the intro and Jack Kirby shook my hand and said “Hi. Howareya.” I made noises resembling words. I think my voice cracked. Kim would later tell me that she watched her husband turn into a 14-year old boy, complete with zits a-poppin’.
I freely admit it. Jack Kirby was the King and, despite making my living in comics, I was still the fan-nerd I had always been.
And still am.
Many of you out there will know all about Jack Kirby and will need no explanation, but some of you might.
Jack Kirby (1917-1994) was born in Brooklyn as Jacob Kurtzberg and got into the comics biz in the Thirties which was the dawn of comics. He took out time for World War II and then came back and worked for a number of different publishers.
What makes Jack Kirby the King? For me, it’s this.
Imagination – The word “prodigious” comes to mind. So many concepts, so many characters, bear his mark. So many styles of stories. From the spires of Asgard to the weird distortions of the Negative Zone to the brutal cityscapes of Apokolips, to Ego the Living Planet, no one could top his visuals.
Storytelling – His figures leaped off the page. The panels couldn’t contain the events on them. Even standing still, they vibrated with potential power. There was energy to burn on his pages. You felt them as much as you read them. You couldn’t read the story fast enough and when one issue was done you wanted the next one right now.
Artistry – Okay, his anatomy was not always perfect. And every woman’s face looked the same. He was still one of the best ARTISTS that ever drew a comic because comics are about storytelling and no one beat Kirby as a storyteller.
He and the other titans of his era invented comic books, for cryin’ out loud! Without the King, there is no Marvel Universe, let alone the Marvel Movie Universe! He created or co-created Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Ant-Man, Nick Fury, the Howling Commandos, S.H.I.E.L.D., the Avengers, Black Panther, the X-Men, the Inhumans, the Fantastic Four, Doctor Doom, Magneto, Loki, and the Hulk – among so many others… including Groot! At DC he created Darkseid, the whole New Gods, OMAC, Etrigan the Demon, Challengers of the Unknown (only one of the great titles in DC history), the Boy Commandos, The Guardian and gobs of others! And he did a whole posse of Westerns and co-created the genre of romance comics! He turned out three or more penciled books a month plus the occasional oversized Annual! My brain explodes!!!
(I don’t know if you can talk about Jack Kirby without using exclamation points!)
So here’s to the King! I did eventually wash the hand that you shook; Kim insisted. However, you were and are one of my comic book heroes and I’m glad I had the chance to meet you.
As I pointed out last week in this column, there is a plethora of John Ostrander related material out there this month for you to buy. You’d think it was Christmas or something.
In the previous column occupying this space, I talked about the first volume of my Heroes For Hire series put out by Marvel. This week we’ll look at Volume 5 of Suicide Squad from DC that is coming out December 27. This one is titled Apokolips Now and the major story arc in the volume takes the Squad to the home of the nastier set of New Gods, Apokolips.
Lots of stuff happens in this volume. Three members of the team die, some walk away, some long running subplots are put to rest – including the revelation that Barbara Gordon is Oracle. By the end the volume, the Squad’s existence has been exposed and so has Waller’s running of the team… and she winds up in prison. Lots of story is crammed into this one TPB.
I want to focus for the moment on the first story in Volume 5. It’s one of the Personal Files that my late wife and co-writer, Kim Yale, and I would do from time to time. Each Personal File would center on one character and through them we would see other members of the team. There was never a mission in the Personal Files; you could think of it as an “All Sub-Plot” issue but I think they were highly effective and, as I recall, very popular with the readers.
This time we focused on Father Richard Craemer who was the spiritual adviser to the Squad. That probably sounds odd but the Squad was secretly headquartered in Belle Reve prison that had an active convict population and Craemer was also prison chaplain. In addition, Craemer was also a qualified psychological therapist and served the Squad that way as well.
Craemer is one of my favorite characters and Kim and I had a very definite agenda in creating and using him. At the time, almost every time you would get a priest or minister or preacher of what have you in comics, they were hypocrites – venal, and frankly rather despicable characters. That simply wasn’t either my nor Kim’s experience. That’s not to say those types aren’t out there and the revelation of pederasts among the clergy is well documented and, frankly, sickening. But not every member of the clergy is like that. It became a cliché, a stereotype.
However, Kim and I both had near relatives who were in the clergy. Kim’s father, the Reverend Richard Yale, was an Episcopal minister, a Navy chaplain and a counselor. My mother’s sister, Sister Mary Craemer, was an administrator at Mundelein College in Chicago and later was very active on behalf of senior citizens. Both were very good people and we wanted a character who would reflect that. And as you may have noticed, we borrowed from the names of them both to create the name of our character.
Father Craemer has a lot of humility and a great sense of humor which he needs in dealing with Waller and the members of the Squad. He listens and he treats everyone with empathy. It’s a known fact of my background that I studied to be a priest (one year, in my freshman year in high school, and my so-called “vocation” came from an overdose of Going My Way). It’s possible that Craemer, to some extent, might be a projection of what I would have hoped I would be as a priest. Not entirely; Kim was a part of his make-up as well.
Craemer has sessions with several members of the Squad and its support staff; the session with Count Vertigo dealing with manic/depression comes to mind and I’ve heard from those in that community that it was a very accurate portrayal.
I so enjoyed Father Craemer that when he left the Squad I brought him over to The Spectre to be the spiritual advisor to the Wrath of God. Craemer never got the easy gigs.
All in all, I think Richard Craemer was a very successful character and there’s a reason for it. We thought the character through. Just don’t write the cliché. If that sounds obvious, well, a lot of basic writing rules are obvious.
So run out and get yourself a copy of the latest Suicide Squad collection. Get several. Give them out as gifts. People will thank you. And if they don’t, well… I do.
No one can deny Geek Culture has gotten bigger, broader and more mainstream. It’s cool to know about comics and comic characters’ history. It’s now cool to wear shirts with superhero images no matter what your age. And even mainstream retailer Bed Bath and Beyond is getting into the act, borrowing the soon-to-be unveiled Captain America statue for the grand opening of a new store before it makes a permanent home in Brooklyn.
Just a few short years ago, telling the world at large that you were planning to attend the San Diego Comic-Con was met with eye rolls and snickers. Now that very same travel announcement is invariably met with envy, excitement and the inevitable “You’re so lucky! Can you get me a Dr. Strange poster?”
This all leads us to the excitement and unique fan passion for the new Suicide Squad movie. I don’t think it’s all about that mainstream geek passion. It’s something different.
A Different Passion
Now, as a long time fan, I’ve dragged my family to many fan-focused movies. They’ve always been great sports, but my daughters never really caught the bug. They’d sit through a superhero movie, eat popcorn with dad, and then promptly move onto the next thing after the show was over. Oh, they’d always find cool superhero presents for old dad for birthdays and holidays, but that was just them being kind rather than being passionate fans.
So you can imagine my surprise when my middle daughter, Tessa (who just graduated from college a year ago and is working in New York City) said “Hey Dad, what’s this Suicide Squad about? Maybe we should go see that.” I wasn’t sitting down when she said that, but if I had been, I would’ve fallen off out of my chair.
Who They Are And How They Came To Be
The Suicide Squad was a DC comic series that debuted with a half-hearted tryout as spy-espionage series. It really took off in the mid-80s when it was rebooted as comics’ version of The Dirty Dozen. Some of my favorite comic creators were behind this incarnation: John Ostrander, Kim Yale, Mike Gold, Luke McDonnell, Karl Kesel, Robert Greenberger and more.
More recently, the Suicide Squad bolted on one of the most popular new comic characters, Harley Quinn. At the core of it, she’s the Joker’s insane girlfriend, but she’s grown to be so much more. She’s kind of like the comic version of Chelsea Handler mixed with the irreverent, bisexual Bugs Bunny. She’s fresh, effervescent and lot of fun.
And today’s Harley Quinn and the Suicide Squad seem to stand for something special, and passionate fans are embracing and protecting it all. As the ultimate “bad boys/girls” of the superhero world, the Suicide Squad members are edgy and frightening. They are poor role models for kids. But I think that in many ways, they represent a mindset that so many fans have.
These characters certainly aren’t super-characters like Captain America. They don’t make all the right choices and they don’t do heroic things. They’re grungy and disrespectful. Authority figures despise them, but they are very comfortable with who they are.
And they co-opted the prettiest girl in the class as one of their own. Margot Robbie, a stunning actress who gave us all a reason to sit through the failed caper movie, Focus, plays Harley Quinn. She’s scary and insane and riveting in every trailer. It’s as if America’s Sweetheart (Spoiler alert: She’s not really American) started hanging out with the bad kids in high school.
All of this was thrown into a Geek Culture pot and stirred until it became a fresh stew of validation, alienation, and a unique kind of anti-establishment celebration.
Don’t Stomp On Someone Else’s Validation
And that’s whey when early movie reviews started slamming the movie, faithful Suicide Squad fans rushed to the movie’s defense… before they could even see the movie. Some fans tried to turn the tables on Rotten Tomatoes as payback for dissing their movie, and by proxy, dissing what these fans hold dear and their opportunity for validation.
Not everyone gets it, of course. Slate, that mostly-political site, scratched their head in a story all about the authentic and creative Suicide Squad licensed merchandise on sale at Urban Outfitters. You could almost hear the (usually hip) Slate shaking an aged fist and grumbling “You damn kids, get offa my industry of licensed movie products!”
Geek Culture has grown big – and now the tent is so big that there are areas within it for so many different groups. The Suicide Squad represents another unique segment, and they are vociferously passionate about what’s important to them.
In the holiday classic Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, Yukon Cornelius famously tells his friends “Even among misfits, you’re misfits.” And as many comic nerds have become the cool kids, they’ve left behind many who feel disenfranchised. Or, more accurately, some who feel disenfranchised.
That’s why I believe Suicide Squad is making a connection. It’s telling those who aren’t sitting at the cool kids table that they have value. They are unique. They are special and here’s a movie for you. And many folks just don’t hear that much or certainly not enough.
This isn’t really “my 80s Suicide Squad” – and I don’t think it should be.
But I am excited that so many of the creators* can see what their ideas have become on the big screen.
And I’m really excited that folks who dig arm bands and shop at Hot Topic and may feel like misfits amongst society’s beautiful people have a summer superhero movie all their own. And that we can all enjoy.
And I hope it becomes a franchise.
*One aside: Kim Yale, a trailblazing comics writer who worked on so many Suicide Squad stories, passed away years ago. She gone but she’s far from forgotten. NPR just did a wonderful piece on her and you can give it a listen here.
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.
Tom 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.
They 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..
I’m comic book famous. I get invited to conventions and the convention organizers pay my expenses. While I’m at a con, I sit at a table and autograph comic books, maybe speak on a panel or two (where my opinion seems to matter) and chat with various fans who come up.
While I’m at the convention, I’m sorta famous. I leave the convention hall, take off my badge, and nobody outside really knows who I am or cares, which is cool. I can go to the store or a restaurant or, really, do most anything short of dancing naked in the street. No one cares. I’m not famous. I’m just another person and that’s great.
I won’t pretend that it’s not an ego-boost to be sorta famous. The attention is flattering and I’ve seen parts of the world as a result of being invited to a con that I might not otherwise ever visit. Mind you, unless I make arrangements to stay a day or so after the Con I don’t actually see much of the city I’m visiting. Cons are working weekends for me; I’m there to meet with the fans.
One thing that comes with the semi-famous territory are requests for interviews. They’re usually connected to some work I’ve done. Nobody is asking for my political opinion about the current presidential race. (Two words describe it: Trump. Yech.) Right now, with the Suicide Squad movie about to debut, there’s been a spate of interview requests regarding my work on the Squad.
Interviews can be funny critters. I want to answer honestly but I also want the answers to be entertaining. Certain questions, such as how it began, are part of every interview and if you’ve read my answer once, you’ve probably read it several times. I feel like the old codger who is telling his tales over and over again to an audiences whose eyes are increasingly glazed. Still, I’ve had nice experience doing interviews and I give good blather. Point me in a direction and I can talk for a long time.
The interviews I’ve been doing about the Squad have generally been fun. One or two are with people who have interviewed me before so there’s an easy rapport.
Two interviews in the batch stand out for me. On one, I video taped some answers that may be included as bonus supplemental material when the Squad movie eventually goes on blu-ray. The other was an audio tape interview for NPR and it focused mostly on the work that my late wife, Kimberly Yale, did with me on the Squad.
I will admit, the video tape interview was very cool and I’m excited about being part of the Squad blu-ray (if I am; you never know what they’ll decide when it comes to picking material). It was done in Detroit at an industrial setting. The electricity had gone out for the whole neighborhood (hey, it’s Detroit) so it was shot mostly in natural light. The guys were friendly and knew their stuff and it was a lot of fun.
The NPR interview focusing on Kim was very different and I was very gratified that it happened. It gave Kim her due and I can hear her delighted giggle in my mind’s ear. As I told the interviewer, if Kim had been there, I wouldn’t have gotten more than three words in. She would have been ecstatic about the Squad movie and would have wanted to be in it and to direct it. Mostly, I was just happy to remind people what a good writer she was and how important to the Squad. Kim wasn’t part of the book from the beginning but she was a big part of it as we went on.
All this attention will probably dissipate very soon. The movie will come out and do enormously well (I have really good feelings about this) and my semi-fame will go back into hibernation, as it should, at least for now.