Tagged: Lois Lane

Martha Thomases: Wonder Woman, Goddess of What?

Hera help me, but I think I have to write about Wonder Woman again.

I know, I know. I already wrote about the new team of Marilyn and David Finch in which I said “She is supposed to be strong and independent and a peaceful warrior, not armored eye candy.”

The second issue wasn’t much better. It involved a rather convoluted effort to (re)create the original, Donna Troy Wonder Girl, but in a way that made her grim and gritty and probably the pawn of an evil, power-hungry crone. As a power-hungry crone who doesn’t like to think of herself as evil, I found this to be a personally distasteful plot development.

Still, I recognize that I don’t represent a significant part of the audience, so I thought I’d give it one more try. Open-minded… that’s what I am.

By the first page of issue #38 (current run), I knew this would be my last issue.

If you haven’t read the story, Diana is not only Wonder Woman but the new God of War as well, so there are lots and lots of battle scenes. The story opens on Themyscira, where the Amazon army fights a big, bad monster.

With bare midriffs.

Not the monster. It is, I presume, naked, but covered in scales and shadows. Most of the Amazons, however, leave their bare skin fully exposed. They might have metal bras, and possibly metal thongs to protect their sexy bits, but otherwise, they are naked. It also seems that the higher one’s military rank, the more clothing one is entitled to wear. No one, however, gets to have any protection on her thighs.

Am I supposed to believe that this is what a warrior society does when faced with danger?

It’s not even lazy. It would take nothing more than a different choice by the colorist (and/or whomever supervises the colorist) to make a bare torso look as if it were covered with armor. I have to believe that someone thought it was titillating for the Amazon cannon fodder to be semi-nude.

There are other ridiculous and incoherent parts to the story. Diana is haunted by nightmares and wakes up in a bed with bloody sheets. Every woman on this planet who is lucky enough to sleep on sheets has had this experience. I would imagine that writer Meredith Finch has had this experience. However, rather than being something normal, an event that requires nothing more than a trip to the bathroom for a tampon (or its Amazon equivalent), it’s presented as being a Portent of Things To Come. I find this almost as difficult to believe as bare-belly fighting.

Later in the story, a female television news reporter is doing a story from Peru. Her head is covered as it would be if she was a Muslim woman, or a Catholic woman in a church. She could be Muslim and this is an attempt to bring in more diversity to the landscape of the DC Universe. If that’s the case, it is haphazard. Perhaps I’m over-reacting, but it took me out of the story.

Especially since I thought the reporter was Lois Lane. And then I realized I thought that because she was a female reporter with dark hair, and other than that, looked like every other female character in the story. Why is Lois Lane there? If it isn’t Lois, what’s the news agency? How did they find out about the big, superhero emergency?

I don’t think I’ll ever find out, because I don’t intend to buy any more issues by this particular creative team. Please tell me if it ever gets any better.


Mindy Newell: Je Ne Suis Pa Charlie Hebdo

SoBigYesterday I had a thought – which I do have on occasion.

I have always considered myself a “socially conscious” comics writer. This means that, if you look over my body of work, you will notice that I have told stories that, in one way or another, reflect “real world” events and the consequences of those events on my characters. Notably, of course, in my 1986 Lois Lane mini-series about child abduction and abuse, “When It Rains, God is Crying” (coincidentally edited by ComicMix’s Robert Greenberger when we were both working for DC, he an editor and me a freelancer), but also as far back as “Moon River,” my first story in New Talent Showcase, an admittedly tyro effort to portray the outcome of a closed, dictatorial society on an individual. And of course there was “Chalk Drawings,” which I co-wrote with George Pérez for Wonder Woman, which was a story about suicide.

These efforts do not make me Edna Ferber (a member of the Algonquin Round Table, a group of renowned and influential New York City writers, critics, actors, and wits who gathered at the Algonquin Hotel every day for lunch from 1919 to 1929), whose “socially conscious” novels include, among others, So Big (1924), for which she won the Pulitzer Prize, Show Boat (1926), which was adapted into a musical by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein, and Giant (1952), which was made into a movie directed by George Stevens and starred Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, and James Dean – his third and last role before his death by car accident – who did admirable jobs in a no-way-was it-as-good-as-the-novel script adaptation. So Big was about the war between art and finance, Show Boat was about the racism between black and white and its price, while Giant dealt with the racism between brown and white, the antipathy between cattle ranchers and oilmen, and, as well, the clash between liberalism and conservatism. All are issues we face today.

Nor am I Laura Z. Hobson, whose 1947 Gentlemen’s Agreement attacked post-World War II anti-Semitism in the United States. It was made into a film produced by Darryl F. Zanuck, who, according to Wikipedia, was approached by Samuel Goldwyn and other Jewish filmmakers. They asked him not to make the film because it could “stir up trouble,” and feared that Hays Code enforcer Joseph Brown would not allow the film to get by the censors because of his openly known anti-Semitism. But Zanuck essentially said, “Fuck him,” and the film went on to be nominated for eight Oscars and to win three – Best Picture, Best Director (Elia Kazan, no stranger to controversy), Best Actor (Gregory Peck), and Best Supporting Actress (Celeste Holm). Just a brief aside here: in my not-so-humble opinion, John Garfield should have won a Best Supporting Actor for his role as Dave Goldman, a Jewish WW II vet and best friend to Gregory Peck’s main character, journalist Phil Schulyer. Oh, and young Dean Stockwell (Quantum Leap’s Admiral Al Calavicci and Battlestar Galactica’s Brother John Cavil) played Schulyer’s son.

But, getting back to my original sentence, in which I said I had a thought…

Am I still listed in the phone book?

Of course it sounds silly. I mean, who uses a phone book these days?

But the point is, how easy am I to find?

And the answer is: All too easy.

So what if I offended someone out there? Certainly in these past two and so years I have stated my opinions loudly and frequently. And I’ve done the same on my Facebook page.

Is it that inconceivable some one could decide to meet me in the parking lot at work, or in front of my apartment building, or even in my apartment? Some one with a pathological chip on his or her shoulder and a knife or a Luger or a Kalishnikov?

Or maybe while I’m shopping at the Jewish deli?

No, I’m not inflated with self-importance.

No, I am not Edna Ferber or Laura Z. Hobson. Neither am I Lawrence Wright or Bob Woodward or Carl Bernstein. I’m not Maureen O’Dowd. I’m not Rachel Maddow. I’m not Chris Matthews or Ed Schultz. I’m not Megan Kelley or Sean Hannity or Ann Coulter. I’m not Jon Stewart. I’m not Steven Colbert. I’m not Louis Black or John Oliver or Bill Maher.

I’m not Thomas Nast. I’m not Art Spielgman and I’m not Jules Feiffer. I’m not Nigar Nazar of Pakistan.

I’m not Alan Moore or Neil Gaiman or G. Willow Wilson.

I’m not Mike Gold or Denny O’Neil or John Ostrander or Marc Fishman or Martha Thomases or Michael Davis or Emily Whitten or Bob Ingersoll.

I am Mindy Newell.

Je ne suis pa Charlie Hebdo.

But I could be.

We all could be.

And so could you.


Mindy Newell: Truth, Justice, And The American Way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Charles Stross on “The myth of heroism”

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

Where do heroes come from?

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

But where does it come from?

via The myth of heroism – Charlie’s Diary.

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

Mindy Newell: The Name Of The Monster

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

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

Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I remembered her.

I was her.

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

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

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

And yes, naming the monster gave me power.

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

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

I hate you, depression.

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

And yet…

I would not be here now without you.

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

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


MINDY NEWELL: You Say You Want A Resolution…

Newell Art 140106Well, 2014 is six days old, and though I’m not too maudlin about it, I’m glad 2013 is over. It wasn’t my worst year ever – that was pretty much 2006, though 2009 does come close, for reasons that I’m not going into here because some things do have to stay off this page – but 2013 was the year I lost my father. No, he isn’t dead, but he is gone for good, and this is how I know.

We (Glenn, Alix, Jeff, and Meyer Manuel) were visiting my parents on New Year’s Day. I had brought my father up to an apartment from the nursing home division; my parents live in a continuous care adult community. We were having either a late lunch or an early dinner, and one thing about my dad, he hasn’t lost his appetite. He eats everything put in front of him, even eggs, which, in fact, he actively disliked. Anyway, my brother made a joke about how there’s nothing wrong with Daddy’s appetite and how, even when he was in a coma last year, somehow if we put food in his mouth he ate it. We all laughed (a sad, kinda bitter laugh, I think), and then all of a sudden my mom started coughing. She kept coughing. Hard. And all of a sudden I realized she wasn’t just coughing, she was choking.

I went to give her the Heimlich, but Glenn had realized what was going on the same time I did and got to her first. It took a couple of too many abdominal thrusts for comfort, but it worked, thank God. Mom sat down, cried just a little bit because she was really scared there for a moment (of course), drank some water… and I realized that my dad had just sat there during all this and continued to eat – no, wolf down – his french fries. He had been completely unaware of what was happening to his wife of nearly 66 years, of what had nearly happened. All he knew was his french fries. He was just staring at wherever it is that he stares at and eating his french fries. “That is not my father,” I thought. “My father is gone.”

So, so long, 2013. I hope the door hit you on the ass on the way out.

And hello, 2014.

What would I like to do this year?

Like Marc Alan Fishman, my fellow columnist here at ComixMix, I’d like to get back to the comics shop this year. Unlike Marc, I stopped going because of the financial blues I’ve been living with for the last couple of years, and I dream of the day I have real discretionary income in my checkbook register again. I’m making inroads, but sometimes the dream is overtaken by the nightmare, if you know what I mean.

I’d like to get off my procrastinating ass and talk to Editor Mike about a story idea that’s been floating in the back of my head for more than a couple of years. It could encompass all sorts of genres if I’m a good enough writer – a little bit of soap opera, a little bit of fantasy, a little bit of thriller, a little bit of romance, but not a little bit country or a little bit rock n’ roll. It can address a bunch of issues like racism and politics and evolution and love and hate and family and madness and sanity. That is, if I’m a good enough writer, which is the fear that keeps me procrastinating.

I’d like to stop thinking that my dreams are merely the flights of fancy of some crazy woman and act on them. Like, what the hell, why not work into a script the story of my father and his sharing a bottle of Scotch with Lord Mountbatten in Burma during World War II to Dreamworks and Steven Spielberg, whose father was a chief mechanic who was responsible for keeping those P-51 Mustangs flying the Hump in the C-B-I theatre during the war? The worse that could happen is that I hear nothing.

Or write it up as a short story and submit it to, oh, I don’t know, where do you submit a war story these days? The web is my best bet, but exactly what site? I’ll have to buy a current copy of Writer’s Digest.

Or maybe I can do in comic form after all, only then I have to find an artist. God, I wish I could draw and just do my own stuff; the toughest part of being a writer only (only a writer?) in a visual medium is seeing everything in your head so clearly but not being able to translate the whole picture onto the page.

Did I ever tell you that artists amaze me?

I’d like to go to San Diego this year. Yep, I’ve never been to the San Diego Comic-Con. I can hear all the groans now from those who have walked the floors of the convention center, hear all the complaints about how it’s not about comics anymore, that it’s now a marketing tool for Hollywood. But I don’t care. I’d like to experience it at least once. I’d like to go to some panels and I’d like to star gaze just a little bit (but not collect autographs because autographs have never interested me) and I’d like to see people I haven’t seen in too many years and I’d like to go to the beach and watch the sun set into the Pacific Ocean instead of rising up out of the Atlantic.

And I’d like to write Wonder Woman again, and do another Lois Lane book. I’d like to sit down over a cup of tea (I don’t drink coffee) or a glass of wine with Gail Simone and meet Kelley Sue DeConnick and hang out with Martha Thomases (I want to pick up knitting again, Martha!). I’d like to be on a panel about women in comics at a convention and talk about the harassment going on and challenge some of these jerks in person – you want me take me on, you’re welcome to try, assholes.

And I’d like to say thanks to everybody who read my column in 2013. Thanks to everybody who wrote in response here on ComicMix and on Facebook and the League of Women Bloggers. Thanks for all the different opinions and the discussions they engendered.

And thanks to Mike Gold and Glenn Hauman and Adriane Nash and everybody at ComicMix who continue to let me open my big mouth right here, every week, every Monday, for better or for worse.

Happy New Year!











Mindy Newell: Lois Lane – That’s All

Newell Art 131230God bless my friend Corinna Lawson.

Or maybe not.

Though she did nothing wrong, and she’s totally innocent in this.

I was sitting here tonight wracking my brain while absentmindedly watching The Devil Wears Prada for the zillionth time (Meryl Streep just completely rocks as Miranda Priestley, a thinly veiled “version” of Anna Wintour of Vogue magazine) and surfing the web for ideas when I decided to check out Corinna’s column, Cliffs of Insanity, over at GeekMom.com. (Yes, I can multi-task.) Her November 15th column caught my eye, dealing as it does with a woman also close to my heart, though this woman only exists as a trademark of DC Entertainment, nee Comics.

I’m talking about Lois Lane, of course.

Corinna’s column, Lois Lane and Comic Culture, is ostensibly a review of the recently released Lois Lane: A Celebration of 75 Years, and, although I haven’t read it (more on that in a bit), Corinna doesn’t hesitate to point out that Lois has and is a bellwether of the status of women in comics. Quoting Corinna:

When there was a great movement to more independent women, Lois was smart, strong, funny, tough, and worthy of admiration. When there was a backlash after World War II, she morphed into something less admirable. Later, she regained some of her original intelligence and focus on journalism. But recently, not so much.

As society moves forward, the comic industry seems to be going backward.

I cannot help thinking the stories I hear constantly about numerous, well-known comic pros basically running their own version of “casting couches” at conventions, about those employed by the big two companies who create a hostile environment for female characters and creators, and about the ever-present dismissive attitude by a very vocal group of male comic fans who are hostile to women even reading superhero comics, has something to do with Lois Lane’s devaluation of the last few years.

Lois was created at a time when women were starting to have careers. In every telling of Superman’s origin, Lois is there, not necessarily as a love interest, but always as a tough, professional woman…”

Especially in the Fleisher Studio theatrical Superman animated shorts of the mid-1940s, in which Lois was snarky, resourceful, sarcastic, brave, contemptuous of Clark Kent, and didn’t moon over Superman.”

Yet Lois’s history is loaded with stories that are somewhat cringe-worthy.”

Yeah, they were. Especially in the Silver Age: Lois Lane: Bearded Woman; Lois Lane: Conehead; Lois Lane: I Married A Monster From Mars And Superman Was The Best Man!! (*choke*sob*) But those stories, silly as they were, are understandable as part of an era (which Corinna points out in her column) in which it behooved the U. S. government to get Madison Avenue and American industries, including the publishing industry, to make a concerted effort to get Rosie the Riveter out of the factory and back to kinder and kuche.

But Corinna also makes mention of some good stories about Lois, which I remember reading and also enjoyed: Wonder Woman #170, written by Phil Jimenez, in which Lois spends a day with Diana, and they get to talking woman-to-woman; and Adventures of Superman #631, by Greg Rucka, which is “Lois Lane: War Correspondent.”

But here’s where I started seeing red and getting really pissed off.

And I asked myself…

Should I write a column about how pissed off I am that (a) I didn’t even know about this book because no one from DC approached me about it; and (b) apparently, from Corinna’s review and from the book’s Amazon page, there is no mention of my Lois Lane 1986 mini-series, When It Rains, God Is Crying.

I mean, it’s one thing to understand why the press didn’t want to hear that I “beat” Gail – from Gail herself, I must add – at being the first WW writer in the history of the character, because if she isn’t, there’s no story and the DC PR department would have egg on their faces…

But to ignore a “seminal” Lois Lane story, seminal in that it was her book, the first in many, many years, and that it didn’t feature her running googly-eyed after Superman to prove he was Clark Kent, but dealt with an important issue which hasn’t gone away, and if anything, has gotten worse – there’s a reason Law & Order: Special Victims Unit is on television 24 hours a day…

…To ignore a story with absolutely magnificent artwork by the late, great Gray Morrow, who told me he was honored to be part of it…

…To ignore a story that Robert Greenberger, as editor, sweated over as he encouraged and guided me and Gray to do our best work…

…To ignore a story I researched and spoke to the FBI and state children’s services and policemen and doctors and nurses…

…To ignore a story into which I poured my heart.

And I wasn’t going to write about this, because it certainly wouldn’t be a smart thing to do, burning bridges and not “politically” advantageous and all that, but then, well, I figured, hey, I like to think of myself as an honest writer, I’ve written about my struggles with depression, I’ve written about my dad and my mom, I’ve shared a lot of things here, so fuck it, I decided, I’m going to share this too.

Yeah, it really pisses me off, people. And it hurts.

As Miranda Priestly would say:

“That’s all.”





Mike Gold: Superman’s Real Family

Gold Art 131204There was a time when the world could not get enough of The Man of Steel. In the 1950s National Periodical Publications, the name DC Comics went under back then, published seven different Superman titles, five of them every six weeks and two every month. In those days, that was a lot.

Today, of course, Wolverine wouldn’t lift his head out of his own puke for such paltry exposure. But back then, that workload was astonishing – and it wasn’t uncommon to see sales figures on certain of these titles reaching seven figures. Action Comics was shipped at the end of the month and that very issue was re-shipped two weeks later.

Superman had more than just that going for him. In the 40s he had one of the most popular and long-lasting radio shows around. In the early 50s, a time when most cities were lucky to have two television stations and it was common for one of those channels to pick from the offerings of two of the three networks, Superman was offered up in first-run syndication and he captured the awe and wonder of the entire baby boomer generation. We were all glued to the boob tube; it was our crack. And there were a hell of a lot of us, too.

The Big Guy had something else going for him: he was in the newspapers daily and Sunday all across America, including Hearst’s New York Mirror, which sported the largest circulation of any U.S. newspaper at the time. His newspaper circulation made the comics work appear downright skinny.

All this exposure required the efforts of an astonishing amount of talent. By and large, there were three primary Superman artists: Wayne Boring and Curt Swan, who did the newspaper strip as well as Action Comics and Superman, and Al Plastino, who did… well… everything.

To be fair, there were other great talents in this group, legends all. Kurt Schaffenberger, whose work dominated the Lois Lane stories, Win Mortimer, George Papp and John Sikela, perhaps best known for their Superboy efforts (as was Curt Swan), and Dick Sprang on the Superman-Batman feature in World’s Finest.

Gee, no wonder Big Blue was so popular. And, yes, I’m leaving at least a half-dozen artists out.

Last week the last of these awesomely talented people died. Al Plastino, the medium’s best utility infielder, died at 91. He was an artist, a writer, an editor, a letterer and a colorist. He co-created the Legion of Super-Heroes, Supergirl and Brainiac. He drew the Batman newspaper strip in the 1960s, and he ghosted the Superman strip in its latter years.plastino-hap-hopper-2-02-44-150x167-5037260

Al was the go-to man at the United Feature Syndicate, creating a couple of minor features in the 1940s (Hap Hopper, from 1944, is pictured to the right) and doing Ferd’nand for its last 20 years, retiring in 1989. He also stepped in to do the Sunday Nancy page for a while after Ernie Bushmiller died. And there was some work on Peanuts, but there’s a whole story in that one that should be reserved for a later date.

Oh, and he inked Captain America in the early part of both their careers.

Al Plastino was an editor’s dream. A wonderful artist and a fine storyteller, he could do anything and do it on time. His legend as a comics creator alone makes him a permanent part of comics history.

Al, thank you for making my childhood all the more amazing.


THURSDAY AFTERNOON: The Return of The Tweaks

John Ostrander: Realistic Fantasy

Ostrander Art 130922I’ve often maintained that the best fantasies are ones that have one foot firmly set in reality. We need something to which we can relate. We are asked to enter into a “willing suspension of disbelief,” as coined by the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. However impossible or implausible in reality an event in literature is, we accept it. Quite simply, we’re being told a story and we concede reality to get on with the story – up to a point.

When Superman first appeared in 1938 he was a fantastic character but, in those early stories, he fought real-life villains and situations – slums, gangsters, crooked politicians, corrupt cops and so on. The United States, like most of the world, was still deep in the Great Depression. World War II was looming. For so many people, the reality was that the banks had failed them, the courts had failed them, the police failed them, the system had failed them. With Superman, the Little Guy had a hero who worked outside that corrupt and broken system, working for them, working to achieve justice. Superman was originally very anti-establishment and that may have been his greatest power.

Then came the War and Superman was co-opted, along with the other heroes, to fight the Axis, to bring down the Nazis. Reasons had to be given why he didn’t just fly to Berlin and take down Hitler. That was the reality of the situation and the fantasy was having a harder time fitting in.

After the War, Superman became fully co-opted by the Establishment. His biggest concern was his girl friend, Lois Lane, learning his secret identity.

Marvel came along in the 60s and introduced a psychological realism – the heroes had neuroses, psychological problems, issues that they needed to work out. Spider-Man was the poster boy for the neurotic new hero and it resonated. After all, to put on a mask and go out to fight crime, you had to be a bit crazy. Peter Parker had money troubles, work troubles, girl troubles; he was bullied in high school and it was all compounded by his choice to be Spider-Man. However, he couldn’t stop. He was driven by the death of his Uncle Ben for which he held himself partially responsible. Great fantasy, solid reality.

The reality became more of a soap opera as time went on. What was once fresh became cliché. Like Mickey Mouse (oddly enough, since The Mouse now owns Marvel), Spider-Man went from being a character to being a franchise to being a product and a corporate symbol.

Marvel’s New Universe wandered in at some point and one of its claims was a new realism. One of the boasts was that, when their heroes or villains lifted up a building, you could see broken plumbing underneath. I ask for a little more reality than that and the line eventually folded.

Milestone Comics came in and it had a solid dose of reality, setting their heroes in the African-American community and reflecting that truth. One of my favorite books was the Blood Syndicate; one of the tags for it was “They’re not a team. . . they’re a gang.” That was different and reflected a new reality. Sadly, Milestone didn’t last long enough to get old.

DC has re-launched itself with the New 52 and Marvel has Marvel Now but both, to my taste, veer still more towards fantasy and soap opera. The storylines have gotten more convoluted and event driven.

And then there’s Art Spiegelman’s Maus – the classic hat adroitly combines both fantasy and reality. By using mice as Jews in Germany during World War II, Spiegelman heightened the reality and made what might have been unbearable to look at very readable and very compelling.

After 9/11, the comics industry spoke to the tragedy. More than one person wished that Superman had been real that day. Then maybe he could have prevented the planes from crashing into the World Trade Center. None of the books that came out of that horror, to their credit, tried to do that but, at the same time, they were one shots. There was no lasting effect in the books unlike New York City and our national psyche. Failing to do that made them all a little impotent. The Punisher continued to hunt and kill gangsters; wouldn’t it have been more realistic to have him go after terrorists at home and abroad?

Take a look at the real world around you. How much of it is reflected in your comics? What drove Superman in his earliest incarnations – a hero outside the system, working for justice that the Little Man can’t get – is as or more prevalent today as it was 75 years ago. Look at the news – is any of that reflected in the comics you read? How would a hero deal with terrorists? What if a superhero was a member of al-Quaeda? How can we pit our angels against our demons in such a way as would, as Shakespeare put it, “hold a mirror up to nature”.

I enjoy comics; I enjoy reading them and I enjoy writing them. I do. They can be good entertainment. They could also be more. They could stand, I think, a little more reality.

Or maybe that’s just me.




REVIEW: Nichols

nichols-art-150x145-6738571Like most humans presently stalking the Earth, I’ve been watching teevee ever since my eyeballs could focus. Being a fanboy collector, I do my share of possessing odd and great stuff. Sadly, there were two teevee shows I absolutely worshipped that I could not find, even from collectors who obtain their DVDs through questionable means.

The first is T.H.E. Cat, Robert Loggia’s jazz-based New Orleans cat burglar private eye show. It only lasted one season, it was in black-and-white, and each episode only ran 30 minutes. So it’s half-life in syndication was roughly the same as Lawrencium. There are some truly awful bootlegs around, 12th generation dubs of a kinescope shot off of teevee set that desperately needed rabbit ears. I haven’t given up, but the challenge is undermining my otherwise natural sense of happy optimism.

The second is Nichols, the post-western western about a pacifist who was shanghaied into becoming the sheriff of a small Arizona town in 1914 that is being overrun by bicycles and its very first automobile. Pretty heady stuff for 1971. It, too, lasted only one season but at least it was an hour long and it was in color. But in those days, local teevee stations wouldn’t touch a show that only ran 24 episodes.

This week I received a package from Warner Archives containing the entire Nichols collection on six DVDs. I ordered it the minute it was announced.

First, a word about Warner Archives. They sell a couple thousand DVDs of hard-to-find stuff from Warner Bros., MGM, Sony (Columbia), Paramount, HBO, Cinemax, and Hanna-Barbara. Lots of obscure movies and teevee shows, lots of comics stuff (for example, the complete runs of both the Superboy and the Shazam series), and they add new titles roughly every minute. These DVDs are made-to-order: they’re professionally packaged and of high quality. Warners discovered something Frank Zappa learned 20 years ago: if you can’t stop people from bootlegging, boot ‘em yourself.

Nichols starred – no surprise here – James Garner and was produced by his Cherokee Productions company with many of the same people who later did The Rockford Files. The show starred Margot Kidder – yes, that Margot Kidder, seven years shy of Lois Lane. Veteran character actor Neva Patterson and Stuart Margolin (later “Angel” on Rockford) also starred. But in my fertile brainpan, the real star of this show was its creator/writer/producer and occasional director Frank R. Pierson.

Pierson had a pedigree to die for. He’d written Cat Ballou, Cool Hand Luke, The Anderson Tapes, Dog Day Afternoon, The Good Wife, and 11 episodes of Have Gun, Will Travel – one of the best written shows in history. Oh, and shortly before his death last year, he wrote an episode of Mad Men and was its consulting producer. And he directed The L Word and Citizen Cohn. This man defied stereotyping.

Nichols was clever, heartwarming, very funny, brilliantly acted, and it had a point. It was very much a product of its time, that time being the enlightened days of peace, love, and sideburns, but it’s so well produced and acted that shouldn’t annoy anybody today. It deserves to be seen, and if you’re a fan of any of the people involved, it needs to be seen.