Kingsman: The Secret Service was such a breath of fresh air when it came out. It was an action comedy that didn’t decide it could skip out on the action choreography part. Matthew Vaughn made a movie that was all the way both things. It was honestly a bit shocking to experience after so many Austin Powers movies where not giving a damn was basically part of the fabric of the movie. Obviously there’s no element of surprise with Kingsman: The Golden Circle but the formula is still solidly there. This is an action comedy that wants to have it both ways and while it’s perhaps a little worse on both ends there’s a solid movie in here anyway.
While Kingsman: The Secret Service was taking the piss out of the cliche British spy tropes, for Kingsman: The Golden Circle Vaughn decidesto invent some American ones to lampoon. Instead of being prim and proper buttoned-up bespoke suit salesman the Statesmen are rough and tumble cowboys who make whiskey (and bicker with their UK counterparts on whether that last e belongs there). It’s fun and more importantly I think it underlines for the American audience how absurd the characters are in the first movie. An audience raised on James Bond movies might think that’s actually what England is like so having that mirror held up can make all of the original jokes hit a bit harder. Is an electrified lasso that cuts through anything it touches completely ridiculous? Yes, but not that much more than the see-through umbrella nonsense from the first movie.
I’ve been sitting here for more than five minutes trying to figure out how I would end the sentence “Kingsman: The Golden Circle is about” without completely failing. On one hand it seems to be about how drug prohibition is ineffective as public policy but the people involved in the drug trade are universally unlikeable. It might be about how hypocritically we deal with illegal drugs versus legal ones like alcohol but there’s no actual condemnation of alcohol use and, in fact, even in the closing minutes we are asked to celebrate the liquor industry. Maybe it’s about the nihilism at the heart of political debate surrounding drugs but they don’t hit that very hard. I appreciate that I wasn’t beat over the head with a message (especially one about drugs) because I don’t need to be preached to but this movie kind of exists in a nebulous in the middle which feels more like a fear of committing or, perhaps, like a slew of studio notes.
The standout scene in the first Kingsman is the fight scene in the church set to an ever quickening version of “Freebird” and there’s no scene in this movie that’s better than that. I don’t understand why you would make a sequel if you weren’t prepared to do a heightened version of the signature scene from your first movie. There are two attempts to top it and they come close with a fight during a car chase in the beginning but the third act melee is obviously their main attempt and it’s flat. I’ve seen spies effortlessly deal with nameless mooks dozens of times before and it isn’t special like a church full of drug-fueled nobodies did. The sequences aren’t bad or anything and in a generic movie I would probably be gushing about them, but to be in a movie called Kingsman it needed to be better.
I’m cautiously optimistic on Kingsman as a franchise. There’s good bones here and as long as every spy movie has to constantly race to be the most serious it can be, having a release valve like this is essential. Serious action combined with a ludicrous backdrop makes for a winning combination and I can even accept a romcom-esque meeting (the parents scene) dropped in in the middle. The high body counts mean it’s easy to churn in new talent (and maybe eventually Channing Tatum will have time to actually be in one of these) and their willingness to hand wave any consequences with super-science means that they only have to be as macabre as they want. The franchise needs to push itself, Vaughn can’t rest on his laurels like he sort of did with the action sequences in this one, but as long as this is willing to be arch and wry while James Bond is stuck trying to out-grim himself every time out, Kingsman is going to continue to feel like a breath of fresh air.
One day in the early 80s, I was with my girlfriend in a shopping mall. Somehow I had been relegated to the role of sidekick while she shopped. I liked to do a lot of things with her, but shopping wasn’t high on that list. I was bored so I decided to buy a comic book to read while she shopped.
Back then I was enjoying a lot of comics and purchasing them every week at Kim’s Collectible Comics and Records. But one store in that mall had a spinner rack filled with comics, and I knew I could snag an issue that I had missed.
I evaluated the comics available on that rack and hoped that one would be my salvation from the dreariness of shopping. I reached out for Swamp Thing #21, and was surprised to find an unfamiliar writer wrote it. I decided to give it a try nonetheless.
Those initial low expectations quickly gave way to… my brain exploding! That issue masterfully took a fresh approach to a tired concept, and wrapped it in thoughtful, clever and creepy prose. It was a big deal. I was so excited, and at the same time so frustrated, as I couldn’t really discuss it with that girlfriend. She had no interest in comics.
I didn’t know it then, but comics were about to change.
Alan Moore, that writer, was just one of the creators who ushered in a new era of comics. Sequart’s newest book, The British Invasion – Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison and the Invention of the Modern Comic Book Writer discussed the important contributions of these writers. I was able to catch up with author Greg Carpenter and he shared some insights.
Ed Catto: Can you tell us a little bit about your new book, British Invasion, and what you set out to do with this book?
Greg Carpenter: I’d be happy to Ed, and thanks for having me here. The British Invasion is an in-depth analysis of the intertwined careers of Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, and Grant Morrison – three influential British comics writers who first began writing American comics in the 1980s. The book traces their work from the ‘80s through today (or as close to “today” as you can get in the book-publishing world), and it focuses in particular on how these three writers redefined our understanding of what it means to be a comic book writer.
At least, that’s the dry, academic-y answer. As for what I wanted to accomplish, on the simplest level I think it was to try to answer the question that students always ask me: “Why have comics become so popular lately?” Obviously that’s a loaded question with lots of presuppositions, but the gist of it – that comics culture has moved from the outskirts of society to the mainstream – seems fair. And for me, the answer to that question leads directly back to the work of people like Moore, Gaiman, and Morrison.
I remember back in 2004 when I was sitting in a theater watching The Incredibles. Here – in a Pixar movie that didn’t really have to be all that smart or insightful in order to be successful – was a full examination of the wonder and the absurdity of the superhero genre, viewed through a real-world prism with real world consequences. Even though there had already been several superhero movies by that time – some of them quite good – what struck me was that Brad Bird seemed like the first filmmaker who had really “gotten” writers like Moore, Gaiman, Morrison. The thrill for the viewer came, not from the style of the costumes, the nature of the superpowers, or the threat posed by the villain, but rather from the momentary suspension of disbelief that comes when you realize – this is what superheroes would really be like.
That thrill, that feeling, that … sensation is far more rare than you might think, and I knew then that at some point in the future I wanted to try to show everyone why that feeling is so powerful.
EC: What’s your personal fan experience, and did you enjoy these writers when they burst onto the scene?
GC: I came of age at the perfect time. As a kid, my comics reading was pretty random – a smattering of superhero books and a lot of commercial tie-ins like Marvel’s Star Wars and GI Joe. By the mid-‘80s I was pretty heavy into DC’s Star Trek, but I kept seeing all these in-house ads about a book called Swamp Thing that was winning all sorts of awards. This was pre-Internet and I lived in the rural American South, so a person wasn’t going to find much comics journalism in the local Wal-Mart. My education came from those in-house ads. And if a house ad said I oughtta pay attention to a particular title, well, that carried a lot of weight with me.
So I wound up buying Swamp Thing #56 – the blue issue. I didn’t really understand it, but I could tell it was different from all the other stuff I was reading. And once I started stepping out of my comfort zone, I found myself swept away with the energy of the times – The Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen, Maus, The Shadow, Byrne’s Superman, The Killing Joke, The Question, Black Orchid, Animal Man, Arkham Asylum, V for Vendetta … Sandman. It was an amazing period. And Moore, Gaiman, and Morrison were the ones shaping my worldview, my own personal mentors – priests, professors, and practical philosophers. They could do no wrong.
So when they drifted away from mainstream DC, I drifted away from comics. It’s hard to remember now, but in those days, in the part of the country where I lived, there wasn’t much access to books like From Hell, Sebastian O, or Signal to Noise. It was like loving music but only being able to listen to Top 40 Radio. So for me, it felt like my three favorite writers had largely left comics – even though they hadn’t. And I really didn’t care much for what had taken their place at DC, Image, and Marvel in the early ‘90s. So I stopped reading.
And then, as fate would have it, I was standing in a Wal-Mart and saw a comic book display. I paused for old times sake and was struck by a new title – JLA #1 – written by Grant Morrison. From then on it was like the Michael Corleone line – “just when I thought I was out, (Grant Morrison) pulled me back in.” And I’ve been reading ever since.
EC: You do such a great job of putting it all into context and telling a “big picture story.” As I’m reading your book, I’m thinking “Yeah, I vividly remember those stories from Supreme or Promethea.” I’m impressed by the way you are able to analyze those stories in the context of each writers’ career and within a particular historical timeframe. How much of a struggle was it to tell the tale that way and how did you go about it?
GC: You’re very kind to say so. I wish I could say that everything just fell together perfectly, but alas. I think the low point for me came when I was staring at dozens of little scraps of paper scattered across the floor, trying to figure out how in the world to make the overall structure for the book come together. I knew I wanted to do rotating chapters, but there were lots of organizational problems. While these three writers have always been active, their creative peaks often come at different times. So I was left with a floor full of jigsaw pieces that all came from different puzzles and all I had was an X-ACTO knife and some touch-up paint to try to make it all go together.
As for the rest, I learned to make a friend of the Grand Comic Book Database, tracing chronologies and sketching out long timelines. If I can’t see something visually, it’s never quite real.
EC: By focusing on these three British writers, are you leaving out other important creators that are important to the big picture?
GC: More than I could even begin to list. The beginning of the so-called British Invasion wasn’t even a writer movement – it was about artists. People like John Bolton, Brian Bolland, and Dave Gibbons had begun working for DC and Marvel and were doing great work before Alan Moore made a splash with Swamp Thing. And, of course, there were so many great writers in those early days – people like Alan Grant, John Wagner, Jamie Delano, Peter Milligan … and that doesn’t even begin to include the writers who came after these three – Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis, James Robinson, Mark Millar … you could go on and on.
And that’s just the British creators. The book focuses in particular on the impact of the Invasion on the notion of the modern comic book writer. If you want to really look at the development of the writer’s role, there are also plenty of non-British writers who helped pave the way for what these three were able to do. I’m thinking of Denny O’Neil, Chris Claremont, Steve Gerber, as well as writer-artists like Frank Miller and Howard Chaykin.
But ultimately in any book you have to focus. What is the problem you’re trying to solve? What’s the question you’re trying to answer? In my case, I knew I wasn’t writing an encyclopedia. I was looking specifically at the role of the writer, and these three writers’ work seemed so interwoven that it was impossible for me to talk about one without the other. But I still lose sleep over all the creators who frankly deserve their own book.
EC: I love the chapter titles. Can you tell me a little bit about how you chose them?
GC: I love that the titles worked for you. That was one of my earliest ideas for the book. Each chapter gets its title from the name of a song by either the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, or the Who. Some of those choices are hopefully pretty obvious – a Sandman-heavy chapter is “Golden Slumbers,” the chapter with Grant Morrison’s vision at Kathmandu is “I Can See for Miles,” and a chapter on Spawn is “Sympathy for the Devil.”
But beyond setting the mood or reinforcing the theme, the choices don’t follow any set pattern. I don’t think Moore, Gaiman, and Morrison correlate directly with the three bands – one of them isn’t the equivalent of the Beatles or the Stones, for instance – so I just drew liberally from all three to find the most appropriate title for each chapter.
EC: It’s a big book, but I’m sure you had to make decisions and choices about what to include. What do you regret leaving on the cutting room floor?
GC: When I started, I naively thought I’d be able to cover all the published work of each writer. It didn’t take long to figure out that was impossible. So there are lots of things I never got to write about. But of those things that I did draft and then take out, the most disappointing was probably a section I wrote on Alan Moore’s Neonomicon.
Any of your readers who’ve read that book know already that it’s a tough book to deal with – powerful, complex, and disturbing for a number of reasons. But when I was drafting the manuscript, I dove into it and wrote what I thought was a really nuanced, insightful analysis.
Well, have you ever had one of those moments of brilliance at 2 AM where you’ve just stumbled upon the plot to a novel that’s probably going to earn you the Nobel Prize for literature? You feverishly scribble the idea down so you don’t lose it, but then, the next day, when you pick it up to read it there’s nothing there besides the most banal idea imaginable. That’s basically the story of my Neonomicon analysis. When I found myself editing the manuscript a few months later and got to that chapter, I just scratched my head. What I thought was enlightening was utterly vapid. It was so nuanced that there wasn’t anything there. I thought about revising it, but the book was already overlong so I just dropped it. Maybe I’ll go back to it someday – just not at 2 in the morning.
EC: We shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but your cover is clever and to the point. How did the design come about?
GC: The cover is great, isn’t it? Kevin Colden, who has done some great work on The Crow among other projects, did the cover. In keeping with the theme of the British Invasion, it’s an homage to the album cover, Meet the Beatles.
But it didn’t start that way. Originally, I actually tried to sketch out an idea myself. It was an image of Mount Rushmore with Moore, Gaiman, and Morrison carved into the rocks. Trust me, it was even worse than it sounds. My wife took one look at it and said, “Seriously?”
So I went back to the proverbial drawing board and tried to draw an empty bandstand modeled after the Beatles, with a drum set, microphones, and three guitars. I sent this one to Mike Phillips at Sequart and he said something along the lines of, “Um … yeah. So, anyway … what would you think about something inspired by an album cover?” And with that, for the betterment of all humanity, I retired my drawing pencil.
Mike and I talked about several album covers, but we kept coming back to Meet the Beatles. For legal reasons, you can’t use a real person’s face on a cover, which is understandable, but (and I think this was Mike’s idea) we thought it might still work if we put them in Union Jack masks. And Kevin took it all from there.
EC: If you could go back in time and give any “Dutch Uncle” advice to Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman or Grant Morrison, what would it be?
GC: Oh, I don’t think they need my advice. They’ve each done pretty well on their own, don’t you think? So I dunno … I guess if I had to, I might tell them – especially Moore and Gaiman – to skip some of the work they did for Image Comics in the ‘90s.
But honestly, I don’t believe in second guessing the past like that. Let’s say, for example, you were able to help Alan Moore get a better Watchmen contract with DC, saving him from some of the nastier aspects of the profession. That would seem like a good thing. But would a happier, more content Alan Moore have gone on to write From Hell? I tend to doubt it. I don’t know about you, but given a choice between enjoying three years of Alan Moore writing something like Green Lantern – as enticing as that might be – or getting Moore and Eddie Campbell’s From Hell, I’m gonna take the Jack the Ripper story every time.
EC: There’s such a rich landscape of creative comics being produced today. What are you enjoying and what do you feel will be viewed as important in the years to come?
GC: It feels almost like a cliché to mention it, but I really love the March Trilogy. What’s special about it, I think, is that once you get beyond how amazing John Lewis is and how well he and Andrew Aydin have compiled his story, Nate Powell’s art is extraordinary. All too often, comics that are classified as “educational” tend to be stiff and lifeless – like your great-grandmother’s idea of what a “good” comic book might be. But Powell is the real deal. Great cartooning, imaginative layouts. The national media might make it sound like broccoli sometimes, but it’s really great comics storytelling. And because of its subject matter, it’s going to be part of the high school curriculum for a long, long time.
Among mainstream comics, I was a big fan of Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye. I always joked that it felt like I was watching some mythical Quentin Tarantino movie shot in the ‘70s and starring Steve McQueen circa 1963. I also think Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman is deceptively good. It’s one of those comic book runs that is easy to take for granted, but ten years from now we’ll still be thinking about it. And Eric Powell’s The Goon always makes me smile.
But the other area that makes comics exciting today is the changing demographics – particularly the infusion of more women creators and readers. Any time you can shake up the industry and change the aesthetics, good things can happen. I once got to interview the artist Janet Lee, best known for Return of the Dapper Men. She showed me some of her work in progress and, to be honest, I was dumbfounded. Instead of something conventional like rough pencil layouts, inks, or even watercolors, she was using a technique akin to decoupage, drawing and coloring images and then cutting them out and painstakingly layering them on a larger page. I can’t even imagine what it must take to do that, but once it’s published, her stuff looks unlike anything else out there. That’s what you get when you have greater diversity in the field – fresh voices, fresh perspectives, and new aesthetics.
In a lot of ways, that was the lesson of the British Invasion too, I think.
EC: What’s next?
GC: Well, my wife and I are both writers – her debut novel, Bohemian Gospel, was published last year by Pegasus Press (heavy-handed plug) – so we tend to alternate between projects around our house. That means that lately I’ve been doing a lot of copy editing and proofreading on her sequel, The Devil’s Bible.
That’s not to say I don’t have a couple of book ideas of my own brewing. I do. But I also remember what Hemingway said – the book you talk about is the one you never write.
Let me make some things clear. I bare no ill will towards Milestone 2.0. I’m doing what I need to do to deal with my bouts of depression and because my business requires I do so now.
What is it I need to do, exactly?
Telling what transpired so to destroy any and all doubts, there was something unprofessional about me that caused my former partners and friends to dismiss me with not a word before or since as to why.
Derek Dingle gave a hint (before he hung up on me) that when I left Milestone 20 plus years ago. It was my lawsuit that prompted it all. OK, that’s revisionist history if ever there was.
There was no lawsuit. And even if there had been, so fucking what?
Derek if you’re reading this I suggest you take a look at the memos from that time. If you lack some, don’t worry I have them all. Including the letter from DC and Milestone that Clarence Avant called me enraged over.
You know the one it involved my status at Milestone and DC. I was speaking to Clarence not too long ago about that very letter; he’s not too happy about it now either.
Like I said, I’m not looking to hurt Milestone; for almost two years I’ve written very supported articles. Yeah, some digs but much more positives. The only public statements attributed to them concerning me was I was not lead creator on Static I was ‘one of five guys in the room.”
Well, I can prove otherwise. Can they?
As I said I’m not trying to hurt them, I just want to help me.
I’m also not telling my side of the story. I’m saying what happened to me; there’s a difference. Everything I write I can prove with validation.
But not today.
This was to be another installment of my Milestone 2.0 narrative. I’d like to get what happened to me on the record before Rich Johnson goes live with his story but this is trivial shit compared to what’s crucial in Black America, chief among that the recent crop of unarmed Black men killed by police.
I thought I’d attempt to explain to those readers at ComicMix how it affects us as comic book creators but more importantly as black men.
Regardless if it’s a huge misunderstanding or horrible decision making the odds of Derek Dingle, Reggie Hudlin, Denys Cowan and Michael Davis coming together are slim to you must be out of your motherfucking mind.
That does not mean I don’t care about them. I do.
We may not be on the same page regarding Milestone but as black men, we are united because we are all seen as one in eyes of some in law-enforcement. If one of those men were felled by a policeman’s bullet, it would hurt me beyond measure.
And I would know, I would know without a shadow of a doubt they were wrongly targeted. Because they live the kind of life that defy that ending to theirs as do I.
It won’t matter, any black men is subject to capital punishment no matter if talking to friends, selling cigarettes or reaching for what an officer asked for.
Mothers of young inner-city black boys’ have one thought over all, how to keep their child alive. Poor parents of any race face the same problem. Black parents face the added danger of protecting their sons from those who are entrusted to protect them, the police.
Soon, very soon, I will be off probation. Why was I on probation? Two white people harassed me all night at a Karaoke bar. I ignored what they were saying. Their goal for was for me to engage them.
As I was leaving, I heard something along these lines: “Don’t forget to bring your grandmother and sister some crack.”
That’s not an exact quote (music was playing), however sister and grandmother I understood.
There was no way they could know both my sister and grandmother died horrible deaths at someone’s hand it was just another series of insults to them.
I didn’t give a fuck. They went there.
I waited for the music to stop and the applauds to die down before I went here:
“Fuck you and your families.”
They ran across the floor towards me punched me in my face a couple of times and wanted to hurt me badly that was clear.
The man currently residing in a tree lined lovely community left, and the guy from Far Rockaway, and South Jamaica Queens showed up.
That was the wrong nigger to fuck with as they found out.
Once they met that guy they pussied away. Just as quick the person from the tree lined block returned, saying goodbye to the bartender and my waitress who both asked me if I was alright telling me those guys are never coming back.
I was under the impression the bartender was going to call the cops. I told him if he needed a statement from me I’d be happy to oblige and the moment I said that I regretted it.
Rule # 1: If A Black Man, Never Talk To The Cops Unless You Absolutely Have To.
Then I thought, I had not done anything wrong, plus the whole thing was captured on tape. I went home secure in the knowledge I’d done nothing wrong and had ample proof to such.
A warm send-off from the staff?
I was the one attacked?
The deck was stacked extremely high in my favor. What possibly could go wrong? I thought of every conceivable way it could go south and came up with only one answer.
I was black. When I was asked to give a statement some days later I was accompanied by my lawyer. Witnesses, videotape, warm send off from the staff and a high priced attorney. Now that’s what I call stacked!
As it turned out, I had nothing to worry about, exactly what I thought would happen, happened.
I was arrested. Did I mention the whole thing captured on tape? The tape that showed they attacked me? I did say that right?
This incident is not unusual at all to black men. Those who had no doubt I was lying included the two who attacked me, the police and DA.
The only people on my side was everybody else in the bar. That includes a witness from Japan, and I’ll never forget her name: Sony Camera.
So, I looked forward to my day in court so I could quickly take a plea.
Why did I take a plea? When the D.A. refuses to look at the videotape but is ready to go to trial the two witness statements used to arrest me were written by the two people who ran across the room and attacked me and all other eyewitness accounts are ignored, if you’re a black man it’s time to take a plea.
I took a plea because I could afford what a good lawyer charges. I can’t afford what the criminal justice system may cost me. No black man has that kind of wealth. When a black man with the means to fight goes to court, he may be found innocent, but we’re suspects all our lives.
Michael Jackson was considered innocent in the eyes of the law, but every effort is being made to ensure he remains guilty in the eyes of history. Now they find kiddie porn? Ya think that would have been useful during the trial?
Name a famous black person once acquitted not still thought of as guilty.
They found kiddie porn now?
That’s some Tyrone Cash bullshit and by Tyrone Cash bullshit I mean stupid. Cash is a Mark Millar creation. In a nutshell, he’s a genius scientist who figures out the formula that gives him the powers of the Hulk.
When his brilliant mind becomes a simple one he no longer understands the complex theories of gamma radiation all he wants to do is smash, like the other Hulk Dr. Bruce Banner.
Sorry, I forgot Tyrone Cash is black.
He retains his intellect and uses his Hulk powers to become a drug dealer! Why? The same reason some police would shoot an incident hard working man reaching for his identification, it’s easy to believe all we are is thugs. That’s what FOX News tells everyone, we’re thugs on television, we’re criminals in the movies, and now the Republican Party Nominee is telling the world African Americans are thugs.
In other news, as soon as I’m officially off probation I’m suing some individuals over what they did to my life. In civil court they won’t refuse to look at the tape and all those witness reports will also come into play.
It’s a little thing but someone needs to answer this question, I was attacked, so why I was arrested? I’m going loud on this with a little help from some well-placed friends. I’m not Tyrone Cash I’m not a thug nor is most black men. So why must we fight and die to prove it?
Back in the days of “I am Curious Black,” a 1970 Lois Lane story about Lois using a machine to become a black woman; she does so to see what it was like to be black.
Back then the good folks at DC did not think twice about a black artist or writer. Now, if a story with a black character comes down the pipe, the net is in an uproar if black creators are not involved.
Me? I say the white boys have at it. A good story, like a good character, is colorblind. Trying or even wanting to ban white people from writing black characters is as horribly short sided, stupid, and as prejudiced as banning Muslims from America.
A white writer telling a story featuring a black character is one thing. Telling a story where they try and define the black experience on some level is quite another. To do that… well is not easy. However, it can and has been done. Stephen Gaghan pulled it off in the film Traffic. That is a textbook example of the black experience written wonderfully by a white person.
On the other hand, the English writer Mark Millar, one of the great comic book writers of his or any generation, gave us Tyrone Cash. Tyrone started out Dr. Leonard Williams, a renowned, brilliant African American scientist who figures out how to gain the powers of The Hulk while retaining his intellect.
What does Dr. Williams decide to do with his newfound power? Why, he does what any black brilliant scientist would do after figuring out how to gain the power of the Hulk yet retains his intellect.
He changes his name to Tyrone and becomes a drug dealer.
As a child, I was happy to see black people in a comic book. Happy even after my mother read the Lois Lane story and asked me, “Why didn’t they make Superman black?”
“Because it’s Lois Lane’s comic!” I said with pride, I mean duh.
If this was such an important story, then why indeed didn’t they make Superman black? That’s what she was saying that my eight-year old brain couldn’t grasp. Seeing such, she moved to the next best thing.
“Why don’t you make a black Superman, Michael?”
“Because DC Comics would commence a legal proceeding against me for copyright infringement. They have the means and the will to do so. My God, woman perhaps you should stop working seven days a week at those silly two jobs and get with the program.” I said.
I didn’t say that I was eight. To me copyright meant copy something right.
What I did say was “Because Superman is white.”
Turns out decades later I co-created Icon, a black Superman if ever there was one.
Icon, Static, Hardware and the Blood Syndicate were met with overwhelmingly positive reviews from most. I heard ‘its about time’ so often I was convinced people thought the books were about a black Doctor Who.
Many met these heroes with a deep anger and resentment. Nobody talks about the hate mail received but as always when black people make significant inroads into a category once denied then made difficult there’s always a “stay in your lane nigger” component when finally, people of color arrive at then enter the door.
Those letters were scary, but what was scarier was the attack those heroes took from other black creators, attacks that were brutal, horrible, and damaging. The company line was never to respond. I didn’t agree then, and I do not agree now. I feel you cannot let others define you.
That’s why I’ve spent the last 20 plus years setting the record straight.
I realized something the last time I spent part of my weekend in jail.
Yep, you read that right.
I was in a restaurant in a lovely neighborhood – mine. Two white guys ran across the floor and attacked me. Little known fact: although it’s called something different, California has a stand your ground law not unlike what they have in Florida.
I stood my ground, and I was arrested.
I realized something while I was unjustly locked up (again, yep again) I realized no matter why we were there, we united like brothers. Black or brown, it didn’t matter.
There was no beef between anyone; no one acted like they owned the place and no one pulled rank. A few hours later, a well-dressed white kid around 20 was let into the cell. It had taken around 12 minutes before he was beaten to a bloody pulp.
No. That did not happen.
The white kid was led to a private cell, we all stopped and looked as the guards walked him pass. “No handcuffs.” Someone noted. I said “They only make them in black or brown.” Even the black guard bringing us our grill cheese and diarrhea sandwich laughed then said; “Maybe if you used that quick wit for something you wouldn’t be here. Ya think?”
Or maybe the powers that be could look at the video and listen to eyewitness accounts instead of arresting the black guy who was defending himself.
No one got upset when the white guy was given a private cell, although nothing would have happened to him if placed in with us. Why would it? No one was upset the white guy received special treatment because we all knew this was the way it was.
Back in the days of Lois Lane’s “Black Like Me” moment DC and Marvel gave little if any thought to black creators when deciding to do a story about a character of color. They didn’t have to; they do now.
I am glad they do now if Marvel and DC would stop giving the general pubic the impression they are the kings of diversity that would be nice. The so-called black Avengers, black Captain America, black/Latino Spider-Man, black Batman, black Superman and the rest did not issue in the modern age of diversity.
Icon, Static, Hardware and the Blood Syndicate did that, 23 years ago and Brotherman did it 25 years ago.
Notwithstanding a full quarter century of remarkable black content, the perception among most black and white young fans is still, if Marvel and DC don’t do it, it matters little if at all.
That’s important; I’ll revisit that later.
There exists a serious movement among some in the black comic book community to bring black comics to black and mainstream audiences. Notable among those fighting the good fight, Mala Crown Williams and MECCA Con, the Black Age of Comics Convention, Ryn Ryonslaught Fraser and his wonderful World of Black Heroes website… and no one works harder than John Jennings. Still, there also exists an insufferable discord among some black creators.
Now is the time for that shit to stop.
Back in the day when successful black comics received hate mail black creators were in charge of their voice. If we responded or didn’t, we had a choice to do so or not. That was our right. That a right many of us take for granted
When DC Comics ran the Lois Lane story “I am curious Black,” that was a noble attempt to show people what life was all about in the community. DC Comics spoke for us because we had no voice to do so.
Yeah, we had a ‘right’ but no voice within comics to speak for ourselves.
I had little choice but to love seeing Lois Lane as a black woman. Love it or leave it was my only option there was nothing else out there for me.
Some choice exists now in comics for kids, and I’ve always had a choice rather or not I’ll be arrested again.
I can stay out of restaurants where I’d be one of a handful of people. I could avoid specific concerts, plays, sporting events or anywhere where being an African American man would be an issue.
I could just stay home.
That’s my choice and the choice of every man. But I have a right to live where I want, eat where I want and do what I want within the law. That sounds grand, but the reality is the ‘law’ hasn’t worked for me.
I love America and “truth, justice, and the American way” is a nice slogan, but the sad truth is I think twice about running for a bus. I expect no justice, and the American way is a myth to me.
The comic book industry, such as it needs to face some serious certainty. Yes, we can voice our opinions but even today those of us who create African American content for the mass market are taken less seriously unless it’s from Marvel or DC.
Bitch all you want. Them’s the facts.
Donald Trump has a real shot of becoming President. Once thought of as a joke that joke is no longer funny. However, it’s not Trump that scares me. What scares me is the massive support of a man who denounces the KKK only after days of defending reasons he didn’t denounce him.
He’s insulted Mexicans, Muslims, African-Americans, women and the physically challenged. He’s never once apologized for insisting President Obama show his birth certificate which is just another way to have a nigger show his papers.
Who supports that kind of person for President? An awful lot or people.
That guy may become President we may be well on the way to the days when Lois Lane and Superman have to speak for us again because what little voice we have now will be even less. What little power we have as comic book creators will be even less than that.
I was in jail six hours before my lawyer got me out. The guard first walking to the white guy’s cell assuming he was “Davis.” When he finally got to me I said “I’m mistaken for short blond white guys often.” No laughter this time.
Leaving the cell, I felt instantly less empowered. You would think I’d feel more empowered. Nope. Locked up, I was part of a group of people who regardless of why they were there were united. Out of jail, I can’t run for a bus if a white lady is ahead of me doing the same.
Regardless of our differences, the comics community would do well to consider what we have to lose if there are so many who want Trump to win.
One last word about Tyrone Cash. Millar should be forbidden to enter America until we figure out what’s going on.
When I applied to University of North Carolina (UNC) Graduate School of Business to earn my MBA, one of the application’s essay questions asked “If you were go back into time to the founding of this university, what three items would you bring with you?”
I imagine the purpose of this was to discern candidates’ true character based on which items were most important to them. I bet there were a lot of answers that listed items like family photos or the Bible. I took a different approach. Having grown up on a steady diet of time travel comics and stories (most notably Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court) I interpreted the question in a different way. I answered it by thinking about the three items that would have the greatest positive impact on history. One item I recall bringing back in time (in my essay) was the cotton gin. This would help me get the competitive edge on Eli Whitney, and revolutionize the labor market and possibly bring an earlier end to slavery.
Everyone loves time travel adventures. They are everywhere. One could argue that Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is a time travel story (I think it’s really an alternate reality story, but that’s another column). As a kid in the sixties, so many shows would have a time travel episode (Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Star Trek) and some used time travel for the entire premise of their series (Time Tunnel, It’s About Time). I grew up just knowing that I’d have an adventure with dinosaurs one day.
Today you can’t swing Shodringer’s cat without hitting a time travel adventure. Even the new iPhone6 ad ends with the admonition “Live Photos…transport you through space and time. I’m kidding, time travel is dangerous.”
But let’s be realistic – Geek Culture is leading the way, or at least is waving the battle flag of time travel adventures.
Superman and Batman always had a lot of reasons to journey through time. In fact as a teenager, Superman’s had to travel through time to visit his best friends. These vintage time travel stories were silly and fun and never really had any lasting affects or severe implications.
Rip Hunter, Time Master was one of those early sixties oddball DC comic series that never really fit in with the rest of the DC mythology. Instead of developing superpowers or fighting crime, Rip had developed a Time Sphere and adventured through the ages with his girlfriend, best buddy and his girlfriend’s pesky little brother. They’d embark on adventures ranging from solving historical conundrums to videotaping live dinosaurs for a contemporary museum exhibit!
Today, of course, Rip leads a ragtag team of trademarked DC heroes through time every week on a popular CW television show. I think it’s safe to say that even the most loyal, the most devoted, the most wildly optimistic Rip Hunter, Time Master fan from 1964 would never have imagined that Rip Hunter would one day be starring in his own TV Show. And be renewed for second season.
Lately two other comic chronological adventures have shown us how much fun this concept can be.
The Chrononauts by Mark Millar and Sean Murphy tell the tale of the world’s first time travel experiment, but it’s a cautionary caper story of cocky entrepreneur-like scientists who live in our Donald Trump dominated world, where major events all too easily slip and slide into reality shows. In this tale, the protagonists do in fact change and re-change history, and their motives aren’t exactly pure. There are ramifications for these characters, both in big and in (cleverly-written) small ways.
Murphy’s art is a joy to drink in. He’s got a rock solid understanding of anatomy and composition, but renders his pages with a brisk sense of urgency. And his powerful scenes reveal an imagination that would make a movie’s budget director weep like a baby.
The Rook, from Dark Horse, is also a recent four issue miniseries. Two masters of the genre, writer Steven Grant and artist Paul Gulacy are the creative team behind this rebooted time traveling hero.
(As an aside, Gulacy is no stranger to top-notch time-travel stories. His recent Time Bomb series from Radical Comics a few years ago was exceptional – kind of like a Rip Hunter on steroids.)
“One of the most intriguing and fun comic themes I have worked on have dealt with time travel,” said legendary artist Paul Gulacy. “Time Bomb and the current Rook series come to mind.”
In the late 70s, Bill Dubay created the Rook for Warren Magazines. As an alternative to the horror adventures and sexiness of Vampirella, the character was fresh, creative and a big hit for the publisher.
Grant and Gulacy have brought The Rook back in style, and clearly are having fun hopping through time. In fact, the Rook’s ancestor was a character in H.G. Well’s The Time Machine.
And I think that’s the most appropriate place to end a column on time travel stories, the place, or one of the places, where it all began.
It can be a pretty disappointing world out there. So often, our real word heroes stumble and reveal they are less than what they appeared to be. We see it all the time with politicians in whom we had once believed, celebrities we had once admired and even with high profile people who may have not even been on our radar until their fall from grace. “He really tweeted that?” “I can’t believe she said that to a parking attendant!” “Didn’t she know there was a camera recording it all?” These are just a few sentences we’ve recently uttered in exasperation around our household.
On the other hand, one of the cool things about fictional characters is that it’s unlikely that they’ll misbehave. It’s no secret in advertising that using a fictional spokesperson relieves a marketer of the fears of using a real-life spokesperson. When was the last time Tony the Tiger was caught in a compromising position by the paparazzi? I can’t imagine the Lone Ranger getting into drunken brawls. Of course, one of the actors who played him did. But another actor, Clayton Moore, took the role so seriously that in public he always made efforts to present his best self, understanding that he was representing the heroic ideals of honesty, kindness and selflessness exemplified by the Lone Ranger.
But I’m not going to simply go on about how most superheroes are depictions of good people and provide good role models. Like Geico always tells us, everyone knows that. Superman is a good fella and we should all strive to be honest like him. But there’s a bigger idea here.
Now that we’re in graduation season, when many of us will be listening to impressive graduation speeches (I just heard General Major Charles F. Bolden, Jr. of NASA speak at Gettysburg), a wry thought came to mind.
I’m realizing that one of the greatest strengths of 21st century heroic fiction found in so many comics and geek-focused movies is that not only do the heroes do the right things, but that they do things. They are doers. They are purposeful. I’m thinking of so many of protagonists (and antagonists) and realizing they have a baked-in entrepreneurial spirit and a clear sense of purpose. Nobody tells a superhero to create a brand, sew a costume and go on nightly patrol, but they do. There’s no corporation telling the Avengers they have to avenge, the Defenders they have to defend or the Teen Titans that they have to ..umm..Titan. But they do.
Looking beyond the traditional superhero formula from the big companies, we can see similar themes. Mark Millar’s Chrononauts are self-motivated and ambitious. Ed Brubaker and Steven Epting’s character Velvet is smart, canny and self-directed with an urgent sense of purpose. Valiant’s Kay McHenry is a courageous woman who’s ready to step into a bigger job.
And taking it a step further, what about the creative folks behind it all? Fast Company voted Kelly Sue DeConnick of Ms. Marvel and Bitch Planet as one of the most creative people in business. Mike Pellerito, the president of Archie Comics, seems to be always looing at the toys in his toy box and asking, “What if we did something different?” A guy like IDW’s Dirk Wood brings an off-the-chart level of personal passion and impish mischievousness to his publisher’s efforts and to the industry in general. CBLDF’s super-intelligent Alex Cox educates while fighting for the right of creative expression. Retailer Marc Hammond, of Skokie’s Aw Yeah Comics, puts it all on the line every day by creating an immensely enjoyable retail experience for hard-core fans, casual first timers and kids of all ages. And these folks are just the tip of the iceberg.
These great characters, both the real ones and the fictional ones, all have a personal passion. And more than that – they all share the very best qualities of entrepreneurship: persistence, adaptability, strong work ethic and the abilities to communicate and inspire. As I’m thinking about what kind of stuff to fill my head with, I’d argue that comic heroes and their creators’ messages are the healthiest “foods for your mind” in all of pop culture. Better than politicians. Better than celebrities. Better than movie stars. There’s innovative creativity to be sure, but it’s wrapped in the classic can-do attitude that’s at the heart of it and is at the heart of American business.
You know, the luminaries of geek culture can provide great ideas to next year’s graduation planners about the very best types of role models…and doers.
Kingsman: The Secret Service is, hopefully, a watershed moment for spy action movies. Much in the way The Bourne Identity did in 2002, Kingsman has such a fresh new take on the genre that it begs to be the new standard these films are compared to. Kingsman could have so easily been the lazy bit of satire I feared it would be in the run up to the movie and it avoided nearly all of the pitfalls that could have felled it. It did step in to one big pit and while it put a bit of a crimp in my enjoyment of the movie it was at least a spectacular and bold piece of failure and I suppose tasteless and vexing is always better than boring.
Matthew Vaughn directs action sequences in Kingsman that are nothing short of brilliant. He shoots action with wider angles and without cuts like they’re musical numbers from back in the era when Hollywood stars could actually dance. He does this without sacrificing the complexity we’ve come to expect from a modern fight scene, something from the post-Tarantino, post-Yuen Woo-Ping era. Kingsman makes 54 year-old Colin Firth look like the baddest man alive at 54 years old. He looks like he would pick Liam Neeson out of his teeth. The fight sequences are exhilarating to watch and should be the new standard for any director looking to make something visually interesting but not too proud to crib an existing style. (I’m looking at you, 98% of directors working today.)
The rule of thumb in screenwriting is never to directly reference, even whimsically, a film which you are attempting to tribute or homage, for fear the comparison will leave your film lacking. Kingsman: the Secret Service makes numerous references to Bond and classic-era spy films, and not only holds its own against them, but could inspire a resurgence of the bigger than life style of espionage films
Kingsman: The Secret Service Directed by Matthew Vaughan Script by Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughan, from the comic by Mark Millar, Matthew Vaughan and Dave Gibbons Starring Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, Samuel L. Jackson
Mark Millar is doing a damn fine job of creating brilliant little stand-alone comic mini-series that tell a coherent story, and are at the same time far from the standard fare of superhero titles. They are also almost tailor-made for adaptation into films for those very reasons. His high-action spy tale The Secret Service got a new main title and a solid cast when Millar’s co-plotter Matthew Vaughan (X-Men First Class) adapted it into Kingsman: The Secret Service. (more…)
IF I STAY is the latest best selling fiction to hit the big screen, and it stars 17 years old Chloe Moretz who talks to us about why she chooses roles like this, CARRIE and even Hit Girl. Plus IDIOTEST is a new competition show on the Game Show Network and host Ben Gleib proves to me that it isn’t all that easy to win there.
There have been so many titles featuring Wolverine and so many stories told about him that writers find themselves forced time and again to dip into parallel realities or alternate futures to find fresh sources of conflict. There was the well-received Old Man Logan by Mark Millar a little while back and before that, there was Jason Aaron’s Wolverine:” Weapon X storyline “Tomorrow Dies Today”. The latter has been adapted as part of the Marvel Knights line of motion comics, released on DVD this week from Shout! Factory.
The story is adapted from Wolverine: Weapon X #11-15 and predominantly features Captain America with cameos from a variety of X-Men. The primary antagonist is Deathlok, who has been around since 1974 and is only now become well-known thanks to his appearances on ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. With Wolverine in X-Men Days of Future Past next week and Agents having its season finale tomorrow, the release is incredibly well-timed.
A major fault in this particular adaptation is that it makes tons of references to previous events in the Marvel Universe comic book continuity without explanation to the non-comic fan. We open with Logan and Steve Rogers going out drinking to celebrate Cap’s return from the dead in the wake of the Civil War storyline. Cap talks about Logan’s role with the Avengers and so on but mass audiences expected to watch this have no clue what is being discussed. More context from the screenwriters would have been nice.
While they’re out drinking, a host of Deathloks has been sent back in time to eliminate targeted people who will either give birth to or grow up to become super-villains that will ruin life as we know it. Roxxon, the ever-present evil corporation whenever Oscorp isn’t available, has been responsible for this and one by one, Marvel’s mightiest heroes have fallen except Wolverine, who still wants to fight despite the loss of his hands. Linking the two eras is Miranda Bayer who has been receiving psychic warnings from her future self.
There’s a lot of fighting and things blow up. We see various heroes come to Wolverine’s aid and all sorts of Deathloks appear indestructible. And of course, the story reaches its climax, another potential future threat is resolved and life goes on as usual. A key problem with these stories is that we have seen so many alternate futures for the mutants, starting with Days and continuing for the last 30 years is that they have lost their sense of urgency. Solve this future and some other dark, deadly future will be presented whenever the writers get stuck for an idea.
Aaron does a fine job in the comics making this work and his pacing is fine. On the other hand, the 64-minute motion adaptation leaves out sub-text, characterization, and just feels written by the numbers. The story arc was illustrated by Ron Garney and was transformed into a motion story by Canada’s Atomic Cartoons. Maybe they were rushed or the budget was cut but the work here is choppier and more static than earlier offerings. Additionally, the same action is shown for several seconds as characters talk to one another, the worst sin even 2-D animation can commit.
The vocal cast is also limited meaning people have to perform multiple roles and it shows, further weakening the storytelling.
The story is accompanied by a bonus feature, 14 minutes of Ron Garney talking about his work on the storyline and seeing it adapted and opening his eyes to the possibilities of motion comics. Interestingly, he admits to talking 5-6 weeks to draw a story which finally explains his inability to remain on a monthly for long. His extolling the virtues of a motion comic also sounds like a testimonial and doesn’t sound entirely convincing.