Tagged: Mindy Newell

Marc Alan Fishman: The Tabernacle of Technobabble

Fishman Art 130302I love psuedo-science. More than anything else, the “how” of super-heroes and science fiction is what initially draws me in. My first real memories of my impending nerd-dom stemmed from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; where I learned that radioactive interplanetary ooze, when liberally applied to animals, created anthropomorphic heroes and villains. And where most of my friends were just happy to have new action figures, I was always perplexed as to how a rhino and warthog, when exposed to said ooze, ended up a mutated state of similar weight and stature. But I digress.

When my attention made way towards comic books, the same curiosity drew me first towards the Marvel universe. Taken against the “crap fell outta the sky, and now you’re super-powered” methodology so many of the DC heroes, Marvel seemed to celebrate the polar opposite. Hulk, Spider-Man, Captain America, Iron Man… all products of science. And let us never forget those pesky mutants. Stan Lee, in the multitude of interviews he’s given over the years always laughed off his choices in the origins of his characters. I’d like to believe though, that there was a bit more to it than he’d let on. The majority of his heroes and villains share science as a passion, and profession. Their powers, results of experiments gone awry. Taken in context of the age in which they were born? It’s fairly easy to see the dots connecting; in the age of the atom, of course scientists would end up mutating themselves and the world at large!

After my recent converting toward Trekdom, I can now say without a shred of sarcasm that I hold Trek above Wars because of the technical bedrock beneath the naked green chicks. At their cores, both universes celebrate journeys. But only Trek dares to boldly go where no man has gone before. Not that Star Wars is without some awesome psuedo-science of its own… but in my mind, it came well after Lucas opened his universe to other collaborators. Men and women who sought to better the mythos with a little less Kurosawa, and a bit more Kelvin.

But what is it that appeals to me so? It’s that shred of plausibility that helps endear me towards creations that embrace it. In contrast, those worlds made of pure fantasy never caught my heart. Where my wife can’t wait for the next Hobbit or Harry Potter, I could honestly care less. Sure, I appreciate the characters themselves, and the plot and structure presented in their various forms. But at their core? They celebrate worlds without reason. Where a kid can ride a broom not because he’s found a way to displace gravity fields, but because his parents loved him a whole ton. Meh.

A cursory look at my bookshelf shows a plethora of writers whose work encompasses these similar feelings. Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Jonathan Hickman, Warren Ellis, and the like all celebrate the art of technobabble. Their stories, as grand as they may become, still root themselves in panes of logic and reason. Their heroes and villains operate less on threads of sheer will, hope, or love. While their ultimate deus ex machinas may very well encompass those indefinable qualities in order to reach catharsis or conclusion… the worlds built around them all contain some form of believability that allows me to enjoy the work just a bit more than those who simply “wish hard”.

Remember when [[[The Matrix]]] first came about? Long before Neo was wearing his digital crown of thorns, the Wachowski brothers first tried to provide a foundation with which to build upon. And by the end of their first flick, I could enjoy Neo’s triumph over the machines not because of his amazing will to win the day, but because of his understanding of the laws of the program he was an avatar of. His triumph was one of science, not faith.

In Geoff Johns’s expansion of the Green Lantern universe, I celebrated the psuedo-science of the emotional spectrum. Certainly if we could believe that will was somehow a measurable source of energy, so too could be anger, avarice, love, compassion, hope, and fear.

But when Kronos, back with a vengeance, waged war on the Guardians who banished him so very long ago… what defeated him? A big Photoshopped beam from Hal Jordan. Sheer will. Used against a guy who had the weight of the entire emotional spectrum behind him. The scientist inside me screamed with righteous indignation. Based on even small amounts of actual logic, I was left aghast. One emotion, no matter how large (and Photoshoppy), should trump seven. Especially when the shooter of said super beam is merely a mortal man, and his opponent a crazy-assed demi-god. Johns failed to follow the laws of science he himself previously designed (so-to-speak). Simply put? Geoff wrote himself into a corner, and asked for a pass out of it. He flunked the exam. Of course given his captain of the football team status at DC, he slid right past the failing grade. Psuedo-science be damned.

In the universes we fictioneers build, there is an understanding between our words and our audience. To each creation comes a set of laws we play in and around. Those who do it best, gain my attention, respect, and money. Those who disregard it get my furrowed eyebrow and shaking fist. Consider this experiment open-ended. Where there is plausibility, there’s potential. And where there is potential… there’s the possibility of endless wonder. And where there is no need for that? Well, fuck it. Let it fall out of the sky. I mean, why not?

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

MONDAY: Mindy Newell


John Ostrander: That Shiny Nude Dude With The Sword!

Ostrander Art 130224Sometime tonight, in about the second hour of what will seem like a three day Oscar broadcast, my butt will go numb and I will ask myself, “Why am I watching this?” It happens every year and then the following year, I do it again. Am I a masochist? Do I just forget? Why do I care who wins what? I haven’t seen most of the films or performances nominated.

I’m not alone in this. Umpty-bum millions of people will tune in to the broadcast worldwide. It’s not the only movie awards show on anymore, either. You have the Director’s Guild, the Screen Actor’s Guild, the Independent Spirit Awards, the Golden Globes and more all handing out awards. That’s not even mentioning the Tony Awards or all of the different music awards or the People’s Choice Awards, The Emmy Awards or what have you. I’m surprised they don’t yet have the Awards Channel on cable; all awards, all the time. And the Red Carpet shows that precede them.

I understand why it’s a big deal to those nominated for the Awards (whichever Award it is) or to the Industry (whichever Industry it is) but why should it matter to anyone else? Why does it matter to me? Why do I watch? Why do any of us?

Let’s face it, fellow nerds – we aren’t represented. The films we mostly watched aren’t up for awards. Where’s the Oscar for the best actor in a superhero movie? Nominees would have to include Christian Bale in The Dark Knight Rises, probably Andrew Garfield in The Amazing Spider-Man, and then there’s The Avengers which could be a category all by itself. Who do you not include? Certainly Robert Downey Jr.’s turn as Tony Stark/Iron Man is amazing but how could you not include Mark Ruffalo who made a Bruce Banner/Hulk really work on celluloid for the first time ever.

And the support actors! Again, in The Avengers – Samuel L. Jackson (who should get an Oscar just for being Samuel L. Jackson) or Tom Hiddleston as Loki who almost steals the movie. Clark Gregg as Agent Phil Coulson who provides the heart and the reason to call the group The Avengers – where’s his nomination?

You can make the same argument for The Dark Knight Rises with Michael Caine’s Alfred who is heart wrenching, or Gary Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon who is really the moral center of all three Batman movies. Daniel Day Lewis was amazing in Lincoln but he only had a beard to cope with. Let’s see him put on Bane’s mask and do any where near as good as Tom Hardy did. C’mon – let’s handicap these races for degree of difficulty!

Anne Hathaway got a nomination (and will probably get the Oscar) for her role in Les Miserables but did you see that, my fellow nerds, or did you see her as Catwoman? Sally Field was great as Mrs. Lincoln but why isn’t she recognized as Aunt May?

And best director? Okay, okay – Ang Lee did a knockout job (or so I’m told; I haven’ seen it) of getting a boy and a tiger on a lifeboat in Life of Pi. Stephen Spielberg did an outstanding job in Lincoln, not only creating the characters of the Civil War but the setting, making you feel like You Were There. And there’s all kinds of talk about how The Academy snubbed Ben (Daredevil) Affleck on Argo.

I got two words for you. Joss Whedon. The third act of The Avengers with the attack on Manhattan by the alien hordes, balancing and making all the superheroes – the lead characters in their own movies – work well together. ‘Nuff said.

Why don’t these movies get Academy Award consideration? They made money. Gobs and gobs of it. So far as Hollywood is concerned, that’s their award except maybe for the grudging technical awards. Maybe it is. The folks doing those may have longer careers than those who get an Oscar tonight – because if there’s one thing Hollywood respects more than Awards, it’s cash.

So, yeah, I’ll watch the Academy Awards tonight. Force of habit, maybe. Maybe we’ll have to have an alternative award for folks like us – the Nerdies.

As a great man once said – Excelsior!




Marc Alan Fishman: Pulp Fishman

Fishman Art 130223I’m gonna take a slight detour off my normal path this week, kiddos. Mike Gold and I like to e-mail one another every now and again. It just so happened that today Mike name dropped the Djesus sketch from SNL from last week. I told him I’d not seen it, as I was waiting to see Django first. Turns out having a toddler makes for a pretty house-bound social calendar. In his retort, Mike lamented “Django is great, unless you don’t like Tarantino. Then it’s ‘Tarantino.’” Oh ho! Sweet Mikey G. Me and QT go way back.

Long before we were Unshaven Comics, Matt Wright, Kyle Gnepper and I were just bros. And prior to making amazing comics, we just read ‘em. Amidst the angst, part time jobs at local retail establishments and foodatoriums, we wasted our ample free time with movies, anime, video games, and comics all to help us find our way through the world. Nothing spoke to me in these tumultuous times more than the films of one Quentin Tarantino.

Somehow, his pop-culture drenched films permeated my mind in a wash of “too cool for school” attitude, and “fuck the system” structure. I wholly thank Kyle for introducing me first to Reservoir Dogs, QT’s take on a heist film. Here, I was left dumbstruck over the simplicity to it all. Over 99 minutes, we stay largely in a single location. There’s no massive chases, or hyperbolic action sequences. And best of all? No chicks getting in the way. OK, so it’s not a perfect flick. However, to a 16 year-old it’s practically soft-core porn. Everyone swears. Everyone has a gun. No one backs down. And Harvey Keitel suggests tacos. And it does it all with a wit and charm that required nothing more than snappy dialogue and expressive eyes.

I did not get to see Pulp Fiction in the theater. Knowing what I did about Dogs was enough; I promptly traded in some shekels for a VHS copy the second I could. In some weird way, I’d like to think this was exactly how Quentin would have wanted me to partake of his (then) magnum opus. I freely admit that I literally wore the tape out from watching and re-watching it. More-so than Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction was visceral style etched on to magnetic tape. Strictly speaking of the story alone, a teenage me got ruthless mobsters, ass watches, defeated boxers, sexy women, Mr. Pink as Buddy Holly, and most important, a dose of story by way of character, not plot device.

To a point, yes, much of the film is a meandering tale of cause and effect. But better than the action-and-gangster driven drivel my young mind was accustomed to, Pulp Fiction (Jackie Brown and Dogs as well) was a universe unto itself. As Roger Ebert noted in his reviews “A lot of movies these days use flat, functional speech: The characters say only enough to advance the plot. But the people in Pulp Fiction are in love with words for their own sake.” In short? The characters of the film were me and my kind. And better than my other deity-of-the-day, Kevin Smith, each person in QT’s films were individuals with individual drives. And don’t worry, I’ll talk about my love affair with ole’ Kev soon enough. As Alton Brown might say, “That’s for another show.”

If there is a point here in my one man circle jerk session, it’d come right down to Ebert’s aforementioned point. Beyond anything I’d seen or read up unto that time (comics included), characters in my fiction were always essentially empty vessels I could place myself into. In comparison to those heroes of my childhood, He-Man, G.I. Joe, and even the animated Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were merely placeholders and plot movers. Tarantino’s films showed me a world where there was no room for me on screen. Vincent Vega was a cool, mysterious mob hit man who had come back from a vacation into a world of troubles. Mr. White was a hardened, loyal criminal with a past so chock full of vitriol, a lesser director would still be presenting us with prequels. And if you could find an inch of room to move inside the mind of Beatrix Kiddo? Well then you’re a better man than I.

In the post-modern world, I freely admit to the rafters that my own modern fiction was inspired first by Quentin Tarantino. And while masters like Waid, Morrison, Busiek, and Moore would soon lay claim to the rest of my influence CV, it was QT who started the big ball a rollin’ down the hill. His ability to fill worlds, to allow those worlds to breathe, and to realize that A lead to B, but not because the hand of God requires it… remains a breath of fresh air amidst rotting garbage. While I no longer need to proclaim him a lord of creation anymore, I can admit true admiration for a new-era genius of modern fiction. Tarantino mastered the art of homage, and proved that the stories that molded us can give birth to new creations unto themselves. Surely anyone looking at my own Samurnauts will see nothing more than a bearded QT-phile playing in the sandbox built by years broiling away under the heat of after-school cartoons.

Now I’m hungry. Let’s go get a taco.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

MONDAY: Mindy Newell


John Ostrander: Telling Secrets

Ostrander Art 130217Everyone has secrets. The thing is, secrets want to be told. The level of intimacy we have with another person is reflected by the number of secrets we share with them.

There are many different levels of secrets. Some would seem mundane – your name, for example. Unless you’re wearing a name tag, a stranger won’t know it. You have to choose to share it and there are occasions when you wouldn’t or would only give your first name or maybe even a name that isn’t your own. In the latest Star Trek film, Uhura doesn’t give James T. Kirk her full name. In the same movie, a young and defiant James Tiberius Kirk gives a police officer (policebot?) his full name. Both are choices that say something of the character.

There are other levels of secrets, some mundane, some deeper. Boy meets girl. Boy wants girl’s phone number (or vice versa). At the moment the question is asked, the answer is a secret. A decision is made to share it or not. I have known many ladies not always eager to share that phone number with me and some with whom I did not want to share mine. Sometimes you can tell crazy pretty quick.

There are deeper levels of secrets. Your address, are you in a relationship, your social security number, your password on different sites. There are secrets you share with your friends but maybe not your family and vice versa. There are secrets you share only with your best friends or with that one special person. There are secrets you share with no one, keeping them to yourself. There are secrets, truths about you, that you keep even from yourself.

In writing, secrets can be powerful tools for creating and understanding a character. There are all kinds of secrets, great and small, that will help you define the character for yourself and your readers.

Secrets can also define the plot. Who does a character choose to tell what secret and when? Most important, was it as good idea? We have all chosen to share something with someone and it turned out to be a bad idea. If that’s true for you, it’s true for your character. Ever hear something that you labeled TMI – Too Much Information? The character being told the secret may have the same reaction. How do you feel when you’ve told a secret and turned out to be TMI for the person hearing it? Awkward? Embarrassed? Or were you oblivious to it?

The reverse can be true as well. Should a secret have been told at a given moment and wasn’t? What effect does that have on the characters and the plot? What opportunities may have been missed? We all know moments like that in our own lives; what is true for us should also be true for our characters.

Why was the secret told or not told? Why was that moment chosen to tell or not tell? What was the character trying to get or achieve by telling it? Why did they not choose to tell a secret at the right moment? Fear? Fear of what? These all define a character.

Was telling the secret to a given person/character a good idea? Again, think of your own life. Did you ever share something with someone and later wished you hadn’t? When reading a story or watching a movie or TV show or a play, did you even hear a character tell a secret to another character and wince, knowing it was a bad idea even if the character didn’t yet know it?

There’s also telling someone else’s secret. Sometimes it’s a betrayal; sometimes it’s necessity. Which is it and, again, why did the character choose to share that secret at that moment and with whom? Why would you?

In writing, in life, secrets tell us a lot about someone. Knowing them is powerful. We never, however, can or should know all the secrets of a person or a character. As writer, I often know more about the character than I share with a reader. There should always be a bit of mystery, a secret not yet shared hiding within us, within the character.

It comes down to trust. You have to trust in order to share. Sometimes that trust is misplaced and sometimes it’s not. All that drives story – our own or in the stories we create.




Marc Alan Fishman: Tough Act To Follow

The other week on my podcastFishman Art 130216 (to which you’re all listening, right? Right?) I lamented on a bold move I’d have to make after reading the incredibly terrible “Rise of the Third Army” event in the Green Lantern comics. I decided after following the book for nearly 15 years I would drop it. And I placed the blame squarely on Geoff Johns’ mighty shoulders. As if the lords of comic bookery heard my cry of exhaustion… Johns announced his stepping down from his emerald perch. And I looked up into the sky, and swear I saw a hawk wink at me.

And while I could spend the entirety of this column discussing why Geoff Johns’ name no longer comes with the reverence and respect it once did from me, I choose to digress to a more optimistic topic. With Johns and his entire GL crew stepping away, it will soon be time for new creative teams to grab the reigns of DC’s biggest B-lister and his C and D-list cohorts. And with that comes major cosmic boots to fill. Consider this my open letter to those new teams: reportedly, Peter Tomasi on the lead Green Lantern title, Joshua Hale Fialkov on Green Lantern Corps and Red Lanterns, possibly Robert Venditti or Justin Jordan on New Guardians, and Keith Giffen on Threshold. Please note: I write on Tuesdays for my column on Saturday, but all of this unsolicited advice still applies to those who actually land the jobs.

Before you new people even open up a blank word document to scribble down thoughts and ideas, go pick up Mark Waid’s Daredevil run over at Marvel. Now read it. Now read it again. Waid, in his own right, may be one of the most prolific and amazing writers in contemporary comicsdom. I asked that you pick up his DD run not only because it’s amazing but because it followed Brian Michael Bendis’ run, which lasted about a decade if I’m not mistaken. Waid proved that even with that much narrative weight attached to a character, he could find a fresh perspective and new legs. And he did it in spades.

Now that you’ve seen that it can be done, it’s time for you to do it yourself. Realize above all else that the issues and events before your run must inspire you, not weigh you down. Bendis drug Matt Murdoch to hell several times over. Waid took that and found a way to flip it. So too, will you have to do the same with the entirety of DC’s cosmic comics. But to be fair? If nothing else, Geoff Johns built you an entire universe to play in.

Over nine years Johns took a single Green Lantern – Kyle Rayner – forgot him, and in his place built an entire emotional spectrum of warring aliens. He reignited the Green Lantern Corps. He created depth with villains (who have since had a slight change of heart) like Sinestro and Atrocitus. He created mystery with Larfleeze, and the Indigo Tribe. He created the Blue Lanterns, who up ‘til this point were essentially hero support from D&D. He granted Krona his own epic end. He retconned in an entirely new origin for the Guardians. He even made another new Earth Lantern (who I’ll mention is totally not a terrorist). It’s easy to see how anyone walking into all of this might be overwrought by this newfound continuity. Where does one even begin?

If it’s not already clear to you: consider working a year (or more, Rao willing) without an event. Is it even possible? I beg of you to look to the past. Comics, albeit serialized soaps for teens and wish-they-were-still-teens, were born in an era where complete thoughts could be told in a single floppy issue. And while I’ve explored both the good and the bad of today’s modern “write for the trade” era writing styles, suffice to say after nine years of nothing but event-driven drama for my favorite sect of mainstream comic books? My white flag has been flying since the new 52 graced my longboxes.

At the core of every great run on comic books these days, comes a commonality of concept. I cite Grant Morrison or Scott Snyder’s runs on Batman, Jonathan Hickman’s run on Fantastic Four and FF, Bendis’ run on Ultimate Spider-Man, or Matt Fraction’s run on Invincible Iron Man or his current run on Hawkeye. With each of these books (and a few other fine examples I’m missing), the creators all present a singular vision of the hero and their world. They start from a seed, and grow their own microverses within their respective issues. And in each of these cases, they take into account the continuity that occurred before them, but choose to move past it. Our past informs who we are, but it doesn’t need to be what keeps up from moving forward. So too, are our heroes of pulp and paper.

A lesser set of writers would take the last scenes of however Johns and company ends their books and emulate where they thought they were going. But you, new creative teams… will do better. You will find the essence of your respective lanterns, and will build your own bold direction. You will celebrate nine years of new ideas with years of your own. You will refrain from creating more secrets hidden in lost continuity. You will refrain from crossing over the books because one of you had a great idea that needs everyone else in the pool. You will find ways to use heroes and villains that already exist, or create new ones that help elevate your stories. You will not feel the need to end every major arc with Hal (or John, or Guy, or Kyle, or Not Terrorist) reciting the oath and blasting something to oblivion. You will not give Kyle Rayner another new costume. You will not make John Stewart blow up another planet. You will not play emotional footsie between Hal and Carol.

You will go boldly where no one has gone before. And if you’re worth your salt, you’ll earn my subscription back.

Sunday: John Ostrander

Monday: Mindy Newell


John Ostrander: Boldly Go

Ostrander Art 130210Like every other geek, I’ve seen the trailers for the next Star Trek movie, Star Trek Into Darkness. I even saw the extended preview when Mary and I went to see The Hobbit. I’ve seen J.J. Abrams relaunch of the Star Trek franchise and really enjoyed it. I’m a long time Star Trek fan although not to the degree many others are. For example, I have a nephew who groused that if he wanted to see Star WARS he would have watched Star Wars. And, of course, in about two years, he’ll be able to see J.J. Abrams actually directing a Star Wars film.

I’ve also read all the speculation about who the villain, played by Benedict Cumberbatch (memorably Sherlock Holmes in Stephen Moffat’s TV version), will be. The top contender is that he is a new version of Khan Noonien Singh played by Ricardo Montalbán in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That’s the movie that saved the Star Trek franchise after Star Trek: The Motionless Picture nearly ended it. Recently, Entertainment Weekly added to the fan frenzy by seeming to “leak” that Cumberbatch’s character is, indeed, Khan. Even that is disputed; Abrams has this thing about secrecy and is known to disseminate misinformation, leading the fans in one direction while he does something else.

The thing is – I hope it is misinformation. I don’t want or need a remake of ST:TWoK. Been there, saw that, thank you. I liked the first version just fine. Still works, as far as I’m concerned.

What I want is something new. The opening incantation of the original Star Trek series went as follows:

Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.

Strange new worlds. New life. New civilizations. To boldly go where no man (now no one) has gone before. Key operative words: New. Boldly. That’s what I’m looking for from Star Trek. Not a rehash. Not a remake. Not another re-imagining. Something new. Abrams’ first Star Trek movie did a fine job, so far as I’m concerned, of re-inventing and re-imagining the characters and the franchise. It’s an alternate timeline where things may not be as they once were. That made it fresh and exciting for me. They destroyed Vulcan. Uhura and Spock have a romantic relationship. They need to boldly go with things like that.

Other things in the trailers that I saw also bothered me. The most recent one had a shot of the Enterprise holed, smoking and (apparently) starting to crash. Been there, seen that. The franchise has blown up so many versions of the Enterprise over the years that it has no more shock value. One of the pleasures of the last film was a spanking new original Enterprise. The shock value at this point would be if it survives.

Another shot seems to replicate the famous climax of ST:TWoK. Spock has sacrificed himself for the ship and the crew; he is dying. He and Kirk both have their hands up to the transparent barrier that separates them, a gesture that defines their friendship and creates a real moment of pathos. Spock dies. He is brought back in the next film and restored to himself in the film after that but I don’t see how that will be possible in this version. Again, been there, seen that.

I may be falling for J.J. Abrams’ misdirection and I hope I am. I think there’s a better than even chance of it. What I want is for him to give me something new. No retreads, please. Boldly go where no fan has gone before, Mr. Abrams. Live long and… ah, you know.

MONDAY: Mindy Newell


John Ostrander: My Friend, MEMcG

Ostrander Art 130203I’m going to exercise a point of personal privilege this week and write about a friend. Her name was Mary Ellen McGarry and I just received word that she died. Mary Ellen was a great soul, a giant heart, a wonderful talent, and a large personality. She filled a room three times over.

Out of all the people I’ve ever known, only my late wife, Kim Yale, had as outgoing and, at times, boisterous a personality. One of my nicknames for her was “Boom-boom” because her laughter and her voice could boom across a room and, indeed, across Lake Michigan.

And, lord, she could laugh. Loud, infectious, and riotous. I loved to make her laugh. I would get her going so hard that she would start hitting me to make me stop which, of course, only made me try harder.

In the summer of 1971 we worked as apprentices together at a summer theater, which meant we worked like dogs for very little money. It was a strange summer. The theater was located at a college so we all lived in dorms on campus. For Mary Ellen I made up a musical comedy, Tritzing to Tibet, based on the climbing of Mount Everest by Edmund Hilary. I should explain that it has less to do with historical fact than the central conceit of the movie, The Producers, in that any show that bad has to be a hit. I took all the events that happened in 1953 and, in an absurd breach of artistic license, moved them to 1937 so I could have an opposing chorus of Nazi mountain climbers.

Every night, just before curtain went up on whatever show we were doing, I got over to her in the wings and, sotto voce, sang her a new song from the show. I should also mention that in addition to not writing music I don’t even read music. The only purpose of the whole exercise was to see if I could reduce Mary Ellen to tears with laughter. Okay, so there’s a slightly sadistic side to me.

The thing is – over the years, any time we would get together, Mary Ellen insisted on hearing some or all of those godforsaken tunes. The last time was at a reunion last year for alums of the Loyola University Theater Department (where we first met). Mary Ellen had lung problems and at that point was in a wheel chair and had to constantly have oxygen. It didn’t slow her down an inch. And she wanted me to sing some of the songs from Tritzing to Tibet.

I demurred. To be honest, I was afraid that if I got her laughing too hard I might literally kill her. Boom-boom would have none of that. She knew her own limits and she knew what she wanted and, by god, I would sing. I did and she was right.

She was also incredibly brave. Her lungs were giving up on her but she was told that, with a lung transplant, she might live longer. However, she was also teaching kids at that point. She loved it but, if she got a lung transplant, she would have had to give it up. We all know kids are Petri dished for diseases and she would likely have caught those germs and her new lungs could not have taken it.

Mary Ellen and I had a long talk about it on the phone and she was clear and firm. She would not give up what she loved so much. I had to respect that. I still do.

So many people loved you, Mary Ellen. I hope you knew that.

There’s so much more to you than I can begin to recount here. I will carry your voice and your laughter and your spirit in my memory and my heart all my days. I will grieve the loss of you and that’s alright. Those we love who have died are worth the tears we shed for them. I will celebrate your life because you were so filled with it.

Thanks, Boom-Boom, for being my friend. Love you.

MONDAY: Mindy Newell


John Ostrander’s Crossing Realities

Ostrander Art 130127There’s a plethora of “reality” shows on the tube and some fit into the niche of what I call “redneck reality” – shows like “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,” “Redneck Vacation,” “Alligator Wrestlers” and so on. There’s also a niche of “supernatural reality” shows such as Ghost Hunters, Finding Bigfoot, and other “investigative” shows. Of course there is also fictional horror shows that are real big like “The Walking Dead” and “American Asylum.” At least, these are shows that intend to be fictional.

I’m not loathe to hop on a bandwagon and I love combining genres or niches so I’ve come up with an idea for a supernatural redneck reality show I’m calling “Zombie Wranglers”.

Cue theme music and opening credits: Zombie Wranglers with Joe Bob Briggs, Ellie Mae Clampett and Simon Pegg.

Narrator: Zombie encounters depicted in this show are handled by self-proclaimed experts in the field. Do not attempt these at home. If you see a zombie, run like hell.

Opening visuals: The team walking through bayou country with Joe Bob in the lead. And he talks to the camera. Ellie Mae, in a tied off red plaid shirt opened to the third button and cut offs cut way up high, is on one side, Simon, carrying all the equipment, brings up the rear.

JOE BOB: This week me and the Zombie Wranglers team are in Bayou Country of Loosiana. Lots o’ Zombie sighting out this way. A few running wild. Hopefully, we can hook up with a local bokor, or voodoo priest, who can give us the lay o’ the land.

Now, your average bokor, he may raise himself up some zombies but mostly it’s just to work around the hut or run errands and such. Very rarely do you come across a bokor trying to create a zombie army and I myself personally have never come across one trying to create a zombie apocalypse. Stands to reason – if zombies take over the whole world, where’s the bokor gonna live, I ask you.

Sometimes you might get a hybrid, like a zombie loupy garou or werewolf. Those are nasty. I’ve heard some talk ‘bout bigfoot zombies but, personally, I’ve never believed in sasquatches myself. That’s a little too out there for me.

Some ignorant types said they don’t find zombies all that scary because you can just outrun ’em. That’s not always true. An older zombie, one that’s come back to life a while ago and whose grave is old, yeah, okay. Their joints are stiff and they just creak along. A newly raised zombie or one created by a zombie bite? That’s a different story. They can move pretty fast and you may not know which is which just to look at ‘em.

Hey, Simon – we seem to be getting’ nowhere in a hurry. How ‘bout you send up a zombie call?

Visual: cut to Simon, muttering.

SIMON: How ‘bout yew carry yer own weight on this show, yew bloody gobshite.

JOE BOB: What was that?

SIMON: I’m doin it!

Visual: Simon cups his hands around his mouth and calls.

SIMON: Urgh! Aargh!

Visual: All three heads turn as a cry comes back from close by.

VOICE (off) Urgh! Aargh!

Visual: Camera turns to catch a pretty fresh zombie lurching out of the brush.

ZOMBIE: Urgh! Aargh!

Visual: Joe Bob keeps his eyes on the off camera zombie as he gives direction. Middle background – Ellie Mae unbuttons another button on her shirt. Simon starts sneaking off in the background.

JOE BOB: Okay, Ellie Mae, prepare to lure him on. Not too fast now. And undo another button on that shirt; that’s pure ratings gold right there. Simon, start circling ‘round now behind him.

ELLIE MAE: Right you are, Joe Bob.

Visual: Ellie Mae, glancing behind her with wide eyes, faking being scared, prances on in front of the zombie, her breasts heaving, The zombie, distracted, follows her, reaching for her.

ZOMBIE: Hurrr?


Visual: Joe Bob talks to the camera in a calm, professional manner.

JOE BOB: It’s a little known fact that zombies are easily distracted by a purty woman running just out of reach and screaming, especially if she has large hooters on display.

Visual: Joe Bob calling to Ellie Mae.

JOE BOB: Ellie Mae? You want to run a little faster than that, girl. This is a speedy critter.

Visual: The zombie grabs Ellie Mae by her hair, yanks her back, and bites her on the side of her throat. Ellie Mae no longer fakes being terrified; her screams are for real.

ZOMBIE: Hurrr! Aargh!

ELLIE MAE: Gaaaaaah!

Visual: Simon, coming up from behind, furiously plants a machete in the top of the zombie’s head. The zombie releases Ellie Mae but her eyes roll up in her head.

SIMON: Let go of her, ya bloody beastie!

Visual: The zombie, the machete still in its head, turns around and bites Simon in the arm. His eyes start to roll up in his head as he grimaces in pain.

ZOMBIE: Urgh! Aargh!

JOE BOB: (off camera) See now, this is a classic mistake in combating zombies. You want to strike crossways across the neck and take off their head. Top wise like Simon did does no damn good a’tall. Tell ya the truth, I’m a little surprised at Simon for bein’ so unprofessional.

Visual: Back to Joe Bob as he keeps a wary eye out off camera.

JOE BOB: Now yew folks are gonna get a little extra treat here. You’ll see how someone bit turns into a zombie like Ellie Mae and Simon are about to do.

Visual: Simon and Ellie Mae, their faces going white and their eyes sinking back in their sockets, stand jerkily and raise their arms in classic zombie fashion.

JOE BOB: (off camera) There now. Skins getting’ all pasty white and stuff. See that? Sure sign of them turnin’ into zombies, you bet.

ELLIE MAE: Braaains. . .

SIMON: Braaaains. . .

Visual: Joe Bob seeing that their coming for him and turning to run.

JOE BOB: Well, that’s about all the time we got for this week. I’ll be back next week with a new Zombie Wrangler crew. In the meantime, don’t let em’ grab you! Bye all!

Visual: long shot of the zombies chasing Joe Bob through the bayou as ending credits and theme run.

The Author Concludes: Discovery Channel, TLC – I’m waiting for your call.

The Editor annoyingly adds: Illustrating Mr. Ostrander’s column today is a Wasteland piece by the gifted artist and energetic entrepreneur Michael Davis, best known for his long-running ComicMix column published every Tuesday afternoon… when we can find him.

MONDAY: Mindy Newell

John Ostrander: Batman and The Gun, Revisited

Ostrander Art 130120In February 2002, almost twenty-one years ago, DC published a Batman graphic novel that I had written called Batman: Seduction of the Gun. It had its genesis two years earlier when John Reisenbach, the son of an executive of Warner Bros., was shot dead while using a pay phone. DC execs, themselves struck by the senseless act of violence, decided to address the issue of gun and gun-related violence in a special book. Batman was selected as the character best suited for such a story as he has witnessed his own parents shot to death when he was just a boy as part of his mythology.

Our own Dennis O’Neil was the editor of the Batman titles at the time and he approached me as the writer. I had worked with an anti-gun lobby at one point so he knew I was already conversant with the issue. Neither of us wanted to create just a screed against guns. Denny was clear: it first and foremost had to be a good story. What we wanted to say could be layered in but the story itself came first.

I agreed wholeheartedly. As I’ve said elsewhere, I prefer to write questions rather than answers. I believe in having a point of view, especially when writing on an important issue, but I prefer to lay the matter out (as I see it) to the reader and let them come to their own conclusion.

I also did research and found out that, at the time, government statistics suggested that one of four guns used in criminal acts in New York City (where the weapon was recovered) were bought in Virginia. It was one in three for Washington, D.C. Gangs from along the Atlantic Coast came into Virginia to buy guns by the dozens as Virginia had the loosest gun regulations perhaps in the nation. I worked all that into the story.

At the time, Virginia’s governor, Douglas Wilder, was trying to get a very mild gun control measure passed. It would limit gun owners to purchasing one gun a month. You could have belonged to the gun of the month club and still been legal. He heard about Batman: Seduction of the Gun and bought a bunch of them. He placed an issue at every legislators desk and issued press releases how even Batman was talking about the Virginia gun laws. The measure, against all odds, passed.

So – what has happened in the almost twenty-one years since Batman: Seduction of the Gun was published? Guns are more prolific, there have been more shooting in schools (as was depicted in the story), and Virginia repealed the One-Gun-A-Month law last year. The book could be published again today and, aside from a few continuity changes, be as relevant as when it was published.

All this has come to mind not only in the wake of the shooting of the children and teachers at Sandy Hook, CT, but in President Obama’s recommendations this week on gun violence and the NRA’s and the Right’s somewhat hysterical over-reaction to it. Comparing Obama to Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot because of these recommendations? Saying that Martin Luther King, Jr, would have sided with the gun nuts? How do you even start to have a reasonable conversation about guns and gun violence when it begins at that level?

The book was and is controversial. Friends and relatives who are gun enthusiasts hate it and have told me so. However, it is not, in my view, anti-gun. It does not, as I do not, call for outlawing guns. Aside from the Second Amendment debate, I think a prohibition on firearms would be about as effective as the prohibition on alcohol was or the prohibition or marijuana is now. It would just create a new revenue stream for the mobs.

Allowing military style assault weapons and 100 bullet clips, however, makes no sense to me, either. There are those who claim that the real intention of the Second Amendment was to fend off the Federal government. They are delusional. That was written when the gun was a musket. Today? Anyone who thinks their horde of guns is going to deter a government with guns, planes, ships, and drones is having a Red Dawn wet dream. No Amendment is absolute; you cannot libel someone, or shout “fire” in a crowded theater with the intent of starting a riot, no matter what the First Amendment says.

In the story Batman says, “No law passed can change the human heart or open up a mind that is closed. We must give up the guns in our hearts and minds first.” Art is one of the ways you reach hearts and minds. Story can do that, I believe. I look at things twenty plus years since the book was published and I have to wonder.

My hope is that someday Batman: Seduction of the Gun will be regarded as a quaint curiosity; my fear is that it won’t.

MONDAY: Mindy Newell


John Ostrander: My CBG

Ostrander Art 130113 “There are places I remember

All my life, though some have changed

Some forever not for better

Some have gone and some remain.”

– The Beatles, In My Life

As I grow older, I find some underlying conservative strains in me coming out –much as that will surprise many who know me as a flaming leftie. While not totally adverse, I find I’m resistant to change the older I get. I like things as they were. When I periodically go back to my hometown of Chicago, I find some things have changed and some things are just gone. My first reaction generally is “Who told them they could do that?” Even if I haven’t been back to a place in some time, I mildly resent it not being there. I see what is now there overlaid with my memory of what was there. A cognitive double vision, if you will.

I think part of the reason that young people may not have that same reaction is they don’t have the same amount of experience with that spot. They’re living in it now and maybe know it only from now. Current chronology doesn’t get mixed with past chronology as it does for those of us who are older.

All of which brings us to the news this week of the Comics Buyer’s Guide ending its long run in about two months. For those of you who don’t know, CBG was long one of the top comics related newspapers/magazines with news and reviews and opinion columns relating to the comics medium.

There are other places that have covered the history of the Comic Buyers Guide, including an excellent summation by Bob Greenberger here on ComicMix. What I want to talk about instead is my own personal connections and history with it.

Before I was a writer of comics, I was a fan and with the dawning of the direct sale shops came the discovery of periodicals such as The Comics Reader and CBG. For the first time, I got a peek into the backstage of the comics industry. I got an idea of what was coming out and when, who were the artists or writers on what books, I read reviews, letters from fans and pros, opinions and columns (notably Peter David) and, as a fan and someone who had aspirations for the field, I wanted not only to read CBG, I wanted to be in it, to be one of those who were talked about.

Eventually, I was. I had arrived. I was part of it. I got reviewed by Don Thompson (he and his wife, the ever charming Maggie, ran the paper). While he didn’t like everything I did, I felt he was fair and reasonable and he gave one of my favorite reviews of my character GrimJack. In one issue, Gordon the bartender tells a customer the “secret origin of John Gaunt.” It came down to “Mama Gaunt, Papa Gaunt, a bottle of hootch, wucka wucka, wucka – nine months later, Baby Gaunt.” Don said it was his second favorite origin in all of comics, eclipsed only by Superman. I loved that and still do. Thanks, Don.

The most important memory of CBG for me is that, for a time, they gave my late wife Kimberly Yale a literary home. Kim wrote a column for them and, as she learned she had cancer, she recounted her battle with it until close to her death. Kim was a finer writer than me; I’m a storyteller, not a Fine Writer. Oh, I know my way around structure and theme and character and syntax and so on but my primary focus was and is storytelling. For Kim, it was the shape of the sentence, the right word chosen, the proper use of grammar and syntax. I’ll split infinitives without a care but Kim didn’t like that. She was the better essayist than myself. CBG gave her the chance to make her mark that way.

I’ll freely admit I haven’t read CBG for a while. I’m more online these days. I liked, however, knowing it was there and now it won’t be. Life changes, I know, and some things die but life itself always goes on even if I don’t always approve.


MONDAY: Mindy Newell