Tagged: Marc Alan Fishman

Dennis O’Neil: Touch Jake

He’s not faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, nor able to leap tall buildings at a single bound. He doesn’t wear tights and a cape and he has only one identity. But, I hereby submit, he is a superhero – indeed, the only superhero who currently appears in a weekly television series.

He’s a kid named Jake. The show is Touch. You can see it on Fox on Thursday nights.

Okay, so lacking everything mentioned above, what, exactly, qualifies young Jake for superherodom? Well, that’s hard to say. In fact, the continuing subplot has to do with Jake’s father and some other sympathetic adults, trying to figure out what it is that the boy does and how he manages to do it.

What they (and we) see is: Jake looks at seemingly unrelated numbers and geometric patterns, discerns connections and consequences and acting on the information/intuition, prods his father into action that averts unpleasant consequences for strangers.

So: Jake uses extraordinary powers for a common good. That alone qualifies him for a membership in the superhero club. He seems to have a Big Mission, though maybe he doesn’t and if he does, neither his old man nor we know what it is. Finally, the matter of the costume: well… Jake is either autistic or doing a darn fine job of faking it and, I suggest, the oddities of autistic behavior serve as a kind of costume – something that distinguishes Jake from the guy downstairs.

Take a bow, Jake. You’re the twenty first century superhero precisely because you don’t resemble the others of the tribe. I mean… lifting heavy stuff and shedding bullets and crashing through walls and flying and…all so last century, abilities conferred on heroes when we as a species really didn’t know much about how the universe works, when we tended to identify power with physical force and rugged – in Superman’s case, very rugged – individualism. We now know, those of us who care to know, that our world is more subtle and vastly more complicated than the world of the costumed do-gooders who popped up in the comic books of the 1930s. Their creators worked with the information they had. We have different information, and if you want to claim that ours is better, I won’t be the one to contradict you.

As the biologist J.B.S. Haldane said, “My own suspicion is that the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.”

What Touch gives us, in easily digested, plot driven melodrama, is a metaphor for a truth agreed on by Zen masters and quantum physicists alike: everything in existence – and especially everything on planet Earth – is interconnected. The collapse of an industry in Tokyo today will gobsmack Wall Street tomorrow and the most infinitesimal alteration in the components of subatomic particles would make human beings impossible.

Young Jake seems to know that and maybe we can learn from him. And if we can’t…well, what he does is still fun to watch.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman

 

MARTHA THOMASES: To Kill a Mockingbird, Mein Kampf, and Comic Books

It’s spring, that magical time of year when the flowers bloom, birds sing, and school libraries publish the list of books most frequently banned or attempted to be banned.

This year’s list is a mixture of new best sellers and timeless classics. You’ve got your Hunger Games, your To Kill a Mockingbird, your Brave New World and your Gossip Girl. There is a guide that explains to kids about what happens to mom when she is pregnant, and the reason it’s listed is because it is “sexually explicit.”

Look, I understand that most school libraries have limited budgets and limited shelf space. They can’t stock every book in the world. Someone has to make decisions about what gets purchased and where it gets shelved.

The problem is who gets to decide.

I’ve been the mother of a first-grader, and if there arose a ridiculously hypothetical situation wherein my six-year old came home with Brave New World, I probably would have a talk with his teacher. I think it is inappropriate (my kid would have just learned his ABCs, so I think Alpha and Beta might be a stretch), but rather than try to get it banned, I would hope to understand what the teacher was thinking. Maybe there is a new pedagogical theory that I don’t understand.

But no one is complaining about Aldous Huxley being taught to first graders.

The idea that someone is objecting to To Kill a Mockingbird because of “racism” is ludicrous. It’s a story about racism, how it affects people of all races in a community. It’s great novel, beautifully written and evocative. It’s also a great opportunity to start a conversation with students – most likely middle school or older – about how our country evolved and is still evolving.

A lot of the books on the list made their places because, according to their critics, they contain “sex,” “violence” or both. Some contain “nudity.” Some have “language.” I have trouble imagining books that don’t have at least a few of those elements. How can you describe human interactions without at least one? How can they teach the Bible (any version) or Shakespeare without them?

Some parents say things like, “I don’t want the schools teaching my child about sex/racism/war. I want to do it myself.” And that’s all well and good. However, one doesn’t teach a child by restricting information. If the school teaches something with which one doesn’t agree, one should use that as an opportunity to demonstrate one’s own position. As a Jewish parent in a predominantly Christian society, this was something I did regularly.

Some parents don’t want their children exposed to any ideas that might influence their kids to think independently. I have to wonder why these people had children. They would be happier with dogs.

Why does this matter to comics fans? Because the people who decide to ban books from school libraries are the same people who think comics are just for kids, and therefore should face the same restrictions they think are appropriate for school libraries. These people are why the American Civil Liberties Union has always included comics as part of their mission, because they remember that the attacks against comics in the 1940s and 1950s were attacks on all of us.

Our democracy can only succeed when all members have access to the marketplace of ideas. That includes Mein Kampf and Heather Has Two Mommies, Twilight and The Catcher in the Rye, Harry Potter and Captain Underpants. It also includes Superman and Spider-Man, Hellboy and Preacher, Fun Home and The Playboy.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman

 

MIKE GOLD: Fellowship and Censorship

This week I’ve been ruminating about the Internet and free speech over at Michael Davis World. Whereas I don’t want to discourage you from checking out my pearls of wisdom in its awesome glory let alone the interesting and edifying comments in response thereto, I do want to clue you in on what the whole thing’s about.

I said “Arizona House Bill 2549 states if you post an offensive annoying comment online, you are guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. What is offensive? What is annoying? The bill criminalizes behavior that is used “to terrify, intimidate, threaten, harass, annoy or offend (using) any electronic or digital device.” Of course, it also outlaws lewd or profane language. You could be fined $250,000, and you could be sentenced to six months in the clinker.

 “Do you think this un-American attack on liberty could not possibly pass? Well, you’re wrong. The folks in the Arizona house and the Arizona senate have already passed this bill and it presently awaits their governor’s signature.”

Given this nation’s fear-based cultural drift towards repression of our freedoms, the chilling affect of this law is as overwhelming as it is overwhelmingly depressing.

Then I looked at some of the comments we’ve received on our March Madness campaign here at ComicMix.

As I’ve stated repeatedly, I am a First Amendment absolutist. As long as it’s legal, there is no reason why advertising cigarettes should be illegal (and no, I do not smoke cigarettes). I don’t believe in the concept of “hate crimes.” Hate speech might be evidence of the motivation behind a crime and that’s fair – freedom of speech does not absolve you from the consequences of your actions. But speech is not in an of itself “action” and we have the right to express our opinions. And I certainly do not want to censor or limit in any way anything anybody might comment on here at ComicMix, even if the ox you’re goring happens to be mine.

However, given some of the comments I read recently here on ComicMix, I am making a request for a higher level of civility. There’s no enforcement behind this, and if you want to comment on this column with a “fuck you, you crawling piece of shit,” well, that’s your prerogative… you asshole.

One of the things I like most about ComicMix (and, for that matter, Michael Davis World where ComicMix columnists Martha Thomases, Marc Alan Fishman, Michael and myself also blog) is that, by and large, this is a pretty civil operation. We tend to respect one another’s opinions, or at least we’re usually polite. I realize this places a burden on impulsive wits, but I figure if I can usually rein it in, then anybody can.

ComicMix Sorcerer Supreme Glenn Hauman and I have been discussing all this, and Glenn summed it quite up nicely when he said “Welcome to the Internet.” I’m too much of a Tex Avery / Bob Clampett fan to ever be that cartoon bunny rabbit dancing in the sunshine, but I sometimes recognize being a jerk has its limits.

So, on one hand, I want to compliment us all on being such polite and considerate folks. On the other hand, I’d like to ask those who feel the phrase “flame on!” refers to something other than Johnny Storm to please play nice. We’ve all got enough trauma in our lives, and I hate the idea of chasing anybody out of the sandbox.

THURSDAY: Dennis O’Neil

 

MARTHA THOMASES: What Would Women Worldkillers Wear?

This is not the biggest problem in the world. It’s not the biggest problem in the world of entertainment. It’s not even the worst problem in comics.

But it bugs me. And I have this space every week, and I plan to use it to raise your ire as well.

The new issue of Supergirl out this week (#7) features a new team of adversaries for the Maid of Steel. They are the Worldkillers, four creatures taken as embryos from different worlds, then grown on Krypton, enhanced with terrible, world killing abilities.

They are shown to be four very different species. One is humans, one catlike, one like a dog or bear, and one that appears to be some kind of lizard. All are female.

Because they are all female, when they are grown and fight Supergirl they wear scanty little costumes. These costumes show off their breasts. Even the dog’s, who, rather refreshingly, doesn’t seem to have any.

The lizard, however, does. Her name is Perrilus (which confused me, since the -us ending in Latin means the noun is masculine) and she wears some kind of corset which pushes up her breasts.

Breasts are used by mammals to feed their young, who are born live. Lizards are reptiles, cold-blooded creatures who lay eggs and don’t nurse their offspring. There is no reason for Perrilus to have breasts.

I suppose that the Kryptonians could have given her breasts as part of her enhancements, along with her ability to “generate viruses,” but if that’s the case, we are never shown their use in combat.

And maybe she is flat-chested and, like so many high-fashion models and drag queens, has learned how to use the plastic pads, affectionately known as “chicken cutlets,” to push up the tissue in her chestal area to resemble breasts. Again, if this is the case, we are offered no explanation,

Perhaps these breasts are to distract the enemy. They certainly distracted the letterer, who, on page 10, twice refers to the gang as “Wordkillers.”

As Mindy Newell said a few weeks ago, a lot of women got into comics as girls because we enjoyed the Supergirl stories. She was powerful but not threatening, someone we could want to be like. Someone we could believe would like us. DC wastes a real opportunity when they don’t use a title like this to attract a new generation of young girls to superhero comics.

I’m not saying that tits on a lizard is a deal-killer for girl readers. I’m not sure anybody but me (and now, I hope, you) would notice. But in a week when Katniss Everdean flexes her smarts and her abilities with a bow and arrow in The Hunger Games, it seems like even DC Comics would realize they have to be a little bit smarter to attract that kind of audience.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman

 

MARTHA THOMASES: Doonesbury, Courage, and Limbaugh

This week, the nation’s pundits have focused on a controversy on the comics page. Garry Trudeau’s long-running strip, Doonesbury, has a storyline about a woman in Texas seeking an abortion after the passage of the state’s invasive and insulting new laws. A number of newspapers have declined to run the strip because of the subject matter and the language. A number of others decided to run the strip on their op-ed page rather than the comics pages.

You can find a decent sampling of editorial responses to the controversy here.

Since he started the strip for his college paper in the late 1960s, Trudeau has followed a group of characters, students at Walden College, their extended families and their friends. By 1970, it was a sensation, syndicated in newspapers around the country. From the beginning, it reveled in political arguments, whether among Trudeau’s characters or real political figures, including then-president Richard Nixon.

The Watergate scandal was the first political firestorm I remember being covered in the strips. They were fabulous. So fabulous, in fact, that he won a Pulitzer prize for them in 1974.

Over the years, a number of newspapers decided to move Doonesbury to their editorial pages. I’ve always thought it was a cowardly move, but then, I think most newspaper strips have some political content. It may not be as overt as Trudeau’s, but it’s there. Beetle Bailey? Political. Cathy? Political (which is why so many men hated it so much). Prince Valiant? More political now than at any time I can remember.

Still, there is a long tradition of editorial cartooning in this country, much of it exuberantly partisan and foul-mouthed. Most of them are single gag panels, with only a few extending to three or more. None of them include recurring fictional characters, nor do they have anything approaching a storyline. Doonesbury doesn’t really fit in that environment.

I was especially struck by the waffling tone of the Star-Telegram, a Fort Worth newspaper. To me, the key quote is this:  “On Wednesday we published an editorial taking to task radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh for his crass language about Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown law student who testified before Congress about health insurance coverage for contraceptives. Trudeau’s language, accompanied by graphic images, is equally crude.”

Except Trudeau was using the language of Limbaugh, and the Texas legislature. He was commenting on a discussion that was already in the marketplace of ideas. He didn’t make up new words to enflame the situation; he commented. And although it’s only Tuesday as I write this, I have seen no particularly graphic images in the strip.

I suppose there’s an argument to be made that children might see these strips on the comics page and ask their parents about abortion. I’d be more persuaded if one could find any actual children reading any actual newspapers.

Meanwhile, I look forward to Trudeau’s strips about this proposed law, which I hope passes with as much ease as those that apply to women.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman

 

MARTHA THOMASES: Out and Proud for Comics!

For the longest time I thought the ultimate act one could commit to drag comics out of its closet of nerdiness was to read them on the New York City subway. Unlike a bus or a train, because of the way the cars are configured, on the subway most riders face the other people. As a result, every other rider can see what you’re doing or reading – or pretending to be reading to avoid eye contact.

I loved to read comics on the subway. I especially loved to read DC’s Wednesday Comics, oversized and colorful as they were. Not only did I enjoy the stories, but I felt like I was making an ironic comment on those engrossed in their equally large New York Times or The Wall Street Journal.

Deciding what to read on the subway is a lot like deciding what to wear. New Yorkers judge each other on style, and one’s reading material is a key accessory. Several years ago, when Amazon’s Kindle was first breaking through, the Times did a feature about people who loved everything about the device except that other people couldn’t tell what they were reading.

That’s sure changed. Now, I’d guess, at least 60 percent of riders are using some kind of device, either to read or play games or listen to music. And half of the others are eating smelly food, talking loudly to their friends on the other side of the car, or applying nail polish, oblivious to any drips they get on my shoes.

Over the past several months, I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time in the waiting rooms of hospitals and doctors’ offices. If you want to be out and proud about your comics habit, read them there.

Admittedly, people in these situations are not concerned about showing off their highfalutin’ tastes. I’ve seen no one reading Proust. Still, with my gray hair and knitting bag, I’m not exactly the person you expect to see reading four-color pamphlets.

And yet, comics are the perfect thing to read. You can finish one in less than 20 minutes, which is handy if the doctors are running late and you don’t know how long you’ll be waiting. If you’re anxious (and you probably are), an inability to concentrate is not a problem. Going back to find that plot-point you missed is easy. There is something I find soothing about watching unrealistically drawn people beat each other up. You are unlikely to come across a story that reminds you of your personal situation, and therefore you are even less likely to have to consider the less attractive aspects of human mortality.

While I enjoy the fictional violence, and don’t care who knows it, I find myself oddly self-conscious about sexual content. I love The Boys, but there is a lot of (hilarious) nudity in that book. It’s not something I feel comfortable accidentally exposing to other people waiting. They might not share my sense of humor. They probably have other things on their minds.

In any case, it’s easy to fold back the cover and be discreet.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman

 

MARTHA THOMASES: Hunger Games, Buffy, and Goldie

My friend, Goldie, said, “I’m reading the best book. You would love it.”

I was skeptical. My friend, Goldie, usually likes different kinds of books than I do. She likes historical novels with a sense of place. She enjoys literary fiction, with Serious and Important themes. Still, she is my friend, and I was curious. “What is it?” I asked.

The Hunger Games,” she said. “I can’t put it down.”

“Isn’t that a young adult series?” I asked. Goldie is circling 60.

“It’s so good,” she said.

The next week, I found myself sitting around a lot and I managed to plow through the entire trilogy. At the same time, another friend (also older than me) and a woman whose job required extensive medical training both told me they were reading it.

Why are four reasonably sophisticated urban women, all but me with advanced degrees, reading a science fiction series aimed at tweens? Are there others like us? Are we statistically significant? Will the lines for the upcoming movie look like the Twilight audience, but now with more feminists?

Because The Hunger Games is definitely a work for those of us who have grown up with feminism. The heroine is brave, strong, skilled and smart. There is almost no mention of her beauty, or even if she is attractive. The two men vying for her affections never comment on her appearance. The challenges she faces throughout the books are about politics, the individual’s obligations to the larger society, and the repercussions of personal choices. She does not shop, talk about shoes, or even hang out with other girls. She doesn’t dislike other girls. She simply has no time for friends.

There is no comparison to serial science fiction in comics. Perhaps Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, but only because it’s based on a (deliberately) feminist television series, one in which the producer retains creative control.

The Hunger Games seemed to me most like the Philip Pullman series, [[[His Dark Materials]]], with the same mistrust of authority, the heroine with a mission whose scope is unknown to her when she begins, the complex and dystopian society. Pullman is a better writer, creating a richer world. There is no love triangle, but there are talking bears.

If you like your fictional worlds created for an adult audience, I highly recommend the books of [[[Elizabeth Hand]]]. The early ones especially are dense and humid, cheaper than a trip to Mexico and much longer-lasting.

Hand, along with Paul Witcover, created a series for DC in the 1990s. Anima was also big fun, mythic while also grungy and pulpy, a Rrriott Grrl for the DCU. Naturally, DC cancelled it before it could find its audience.

This is why there may be lines outside the theaters for the opening of The Hunger Games, but there won’t be lines outside the comic book store.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman

 

MARTHA THOMASES: Superman Family Values

As we gird our collective loins for another presidential election season, we become accustomed to another iteration of praise for “family values.” It is a phrase that has different meanings to people of different political persuasions. To Democrats, it means a living wage and a financial safety net for the poor, the old and the infirm. To Republicans, it means no gay marriage, no sex outside marriage, and no abortion.

For me, neither viewpoint is adequate. I strive for Superman Family values.

As a woman of a certain age, I remember a comic book series dedicated solely to the Superman family. It had stories about Superman, of course, but also Supergirl, my favorite character, and Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane and Krypto. At 60¢ (not the standard 15¢ or 20¢), this was a big, fat comic book, good for a whole afternoon.

I learned a lot about family from those books, and not just how to get some extra change from my parents.

Superman grew up with loving, principled parents in the Kents. He lived on a farm where everyone had chores that contributed to the family fortunes. He knew he was adopted, so he knew his parents really wanted him. However, since he was Kryptonian, he had powers and abilities far beyond those of his friends and classmates. His parents taught him to value his differences, but not use them to draw attention to himself for personal gain. His gifts were best appreciated when he used then to help his community.

Years later, Superman discovered he had a teenage cousin, Supergirl. He didn’t know anything about her, yet he immediately accepted her and loved her.

When he grew up and moved on to his adult life, Superman, like the rest of us, assembled a family of sorts, of people he chose. Most of this family came from the people with whom he worked, Perry White a surrogate father, Jimmy Olsen like a little brother. Bruce Wayne was his best friend, a peer who understood what it meant to live life with secrets.

I have to believe that Superman would favor the rights of immigrants, since he is one. I have to believe that a man who has roamed the various universes and seen thousands of different societies would develop respect for people with different beliefs than his, and different ways of defining family.

As a member of the Legion of Super-Heroes, Superman had good friends who were in romantic relationships that were not only not conventionally heterosexual, but often between two different species. If this bothered him, we never saw his discomfort in the comics. He accepted his friends as they presented themselves.

Is Superman political? I have always imagined him to be a New Deal Democrat, or what the GOP today calls a “socialist.” At the same time, I don’t see him as an activist, nor even all that partisan. As Clark Kent, he votes, he serves jury duty when summoned, and he pays his taxes.

To him, family is a joy and a refuge. It isn’t something for politicians to use to bludgeon each other and score points.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman

MARTHA THOMASES: The Death and Marriage of Superman

The Internets (by which I mean, mostly, Facebook) buzzed this week with a YouTube video, The Death and Return of Superman. It’s really funny, written, directed, and starring Max Landis, son of one of my favorites, John Landis, and also the writer of this week’s box-office champ, Chronicle.

If you haven’t seen it yet, take a look:

I like everything about this but the premise: that the powers-that-be at DC Comics decided to kill Superman because it was an easy way to draw attention to their flagship character and thereby increase his popularity.

Not true. If anything, in 1992, Superman was more popular than he had been since the John Byrne relaunch.

If DC was going to pull a stunt to make Superman more popular, they would have done it when I was first hired to be publicity manager at DC, in the summer of 1990. I remember going to a meeting about upcoming story lines, and being told that the big event for that fall was that the new Robin (Tim Drake) was going to get a new costume. Not just any costume, but one with a design actually approved by Tim Burton.

Oh, and Clark Kent was going to ask Lois Lane to marry him. And then she was going to say, “Yes.”

“That’s a much bigger story,” I said.

“No one cares about Superman,” I was told. “But the fans will want the first issue with the new costume. Push that story.”

I pushed them both, but, as instructed, I devoted more resources to Robin. I spent thousands of dollars having a costume made and finding an actor to wear the costume for a press conference. I got approvals up and down the Time Warner hierarchy.

For Superman, I sent out a simple press release. And that story exploded.

Over the next two years, Superman became more and more popular. The public followed the stories about Clark and Lois like they were Kardashians (only really in love). The wedding became such a hot story that Warner Bros. television wanted in, and created a series, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.

There’s more money in television than in comics. The wedding would have to wait.

Here’s the part I didn’t know about until years later. The powers-that-be at DC needed a reason to stop the wedding. To their credit, they turned the problem over to the editors, writers and artists who worked on the series. Why would the wedding be postponed? Could Clark and Lois fall out of love?

No, that wasn’t in character. Even though they hadn’t taken vows, they were going to be together until death did them part (or, as fate would have it, The New 52). The only way to stall a wedding would be for one of them to die. Whose death would be more dramatically interesting?

The Death of Superman was never about killing Superman. It was about setting up the next storyline, World Without a Superman. These stories showed how the world went on without the Man of Tomorrow, and how he continued to have an impact on our lives.

We know Superman came back, and Landis does a great job of pushing the more ridiculous aspects to their (il)logical extremes. It’s funny stuff, and it’s funny because he actually knows something about comics.

Still, twenty years later, we’re still talking about it. The stories remain in print. Whether or not you liked it, the fact remains that the stories resonated with readers.

We all remember where we were when we first heard that Superman died.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman

First Issue, Special: Announcing Bennett Reed Fishman

We would like to present Bennett Reed Fishman, scion of Marc Alan Fishman and Kathy Keller Fishman, weighing 7 lbs. and measuring 20″, and heir to the Emerald Throne of Lashanitogoo if he passes the trials– but no pressure.

Mom did absolutely amazing. Dad is no crazier than usual.

Congratulations to the entire family!