Tagged: Mindy Newell

John Ostrander: A Fair-to-Middling Earth

Ostrander Art 140126Different media have different demands, and adapting work done in one medium for another can be problematic. Comics, especially super-hero comics, used to be very difficult to make into films. We did not believe a man could fly; we believed he was lying belly down on a table with a fan blowing over him. However, CGI and other technology caught up with films and, today, some might say the superhero film is more faithful to the feel and spirit of the lead character than the comics are.

I think that’s the key, especially when adapting novels into films. Novels are too long to be strictly adapted into movies; Game of Thrones works fairly well, as does The Walking Dead, because they are TV series. The episodic nature allows for the kind of development that mirrors the length and structure of the source material.

It comes down to what do you keep in, what do you cut; what do you omit and what do you add; what plot elements are the most important, what are less important; what’s necessary to tell the story? What choices do you make? These are basic questions for any story but are even more vital when you’re adapting another person’s creation. How true must you be to the source material – to the letter or to the spirit? Who is the primary storyteller?

When it was first announced that The Lord of the Rings was going to be made into movies, I was hesitant, dubious, and worried. I love LotR and I just didn’t see how it could be done. However, director Peter Jackson made a believer out of me. His adaptation is not perfect, no, but the fact that it exists is damn near a miracle.

When The Hobbit was announced, initially I was very psyched. Originally, Peter Jackson was only going to produce, not direct, but due to delays he eventually wound up taking over the director’s reins again. J.R.R. Tolkien wrote The Hobbit initially as a children’s book and, while in the same setting of Middle-Earth as LotR, Tolkien only later amended the book to tie into the later work. Some characters appear in both works.

The Hobbit is a shorter book than LotR so I was only mildly concerned when it was announced it would be made into two films. It’s when Jackson announced it would become three films that I started to become apprehensive once again. Still, Jackson had earned my trust with LotR. I adopted a wait and see attitude.

Well, I’ve seen the first two parts of Jackson’s The Hobbit and I am somewhat less than thrilled. They’re not bad films per se but it’s been made very much into a prequel for Jackson’s LotR and not to the source material’s benefit.

Warning: spoilers of both the movies and the books follow.

The basic story is the same: the titular Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, is dragooned into a motley crew of dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield, to reclaim their kingdom. Coming along is the wizard Gandalf the Gray. Woven into the story is how Bilbo won/stole the One Ring from Gollum. This, combined with an appendix Tolkien wrote, is the story of how the Great Enemy, Sauron, regrouped at Dol Guldur as the Necromancer until he was driven out by the White Council, including Gandalf (who disappears from The Hobbit’s storyline for a while to do this).

Adding this to the film makes sense and fleshing out that part of the story is fine. I also don’t have a problem with adding Legolas to the story or a new character, Tauriel, or even her possible romance with one of the dwarves. What bothers me is padding and bloating in the storyline. There’s a protracted running, jumping, yelling, fighting scene in the underground kingdom of the Goblins that could have been right out of the Mines of Moria sequence in LotR. It goes on way too long. Richard Armitage, as dwarf leader Thorin, is simply too good looking and something of a stand-in for Aragon in LotR. There’s a battle between the dwarves and the dragon, Smaug, within the mountain kingdom that simply never happened in the book and, again, goes on way too long.

For me, this is now less J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and more Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit. It’s less about picking the elements to best tell the original story than what Jackson feels like doing. Some things he gets absolutely right, such as the aforementioned scene between Bilbo and Gollum. In that he keeps very close to the scene as written by Tolkien and it works wonderfully. A later scene, between Bilbo and Smaug, does not stick as closely to Tolkien and it suffers for it.

I will undoubtedly go to the third film when it comes out and I will have all three in DVD or Blu-Ray format as they become available, including the inevitable Director’s Cut versions which may be even more bloated. I understand this is Jackson’s vision of The Hobbit but it’s a lot darker than the book was. I’m very glad these films exist at all; I just would have liked it if they had been a little more Tolkien and a little less Jackson.

MONDAY: Mindy Newell

TUESDAY MORNING: Jen Krueger

TUESDAY AFTERNOON: Michael Davis

 

Marc Alan Fishman: A WONDERful Problem To Debate

Marc Alan Fishman: A WONDERful Problem To Debate

Don’t you love when a spoiler leaks to we, the misbegotten nerds, and suddenly the Internet is on fire? I sure do. And nothing has gotten our ragespew a flowin’ in recent memory like the potential spoiler (ahem… alert.) that Wonder Woman would be a descendant of the Kryptonian colonists of yesteryear in the Man of Steel movieverse. Funny enough, it didn’t phase me in the least. Whereas some of my close personal friends let loose a brilliantly recorded tirade railing against the very notion of it, I simply concluded that it made sense to me. Rao be damned!

So, Internet, why all the anger? Well, the knee-jerk reaction is to simply say the pitch is not in line with the true origins of the character in the source material. It’d be rude of me to then say completely straight-faced “Oh my gawd, you’re absolutely right! In fact, I concur that the only way to enjoy a character’s portrayal in a different medium is to ensure that his or her origin matches perfectly detail-for-detail their previously published debut!” Then you’d roll your eyes, and call me an ass.

Well, go on, call me an ass. Because you know what? I give a flying invisible jet’s patootie if Wonder Woman descends from ancient Kryptonians. Or that Superman killed Zod. Or that Batman will not be Bruce Wayne, but Dick Grayson.

Ha! Got you there for a sec, didn’t I? The simple fact is as a fan of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, what I care most about isn’t their backstory but how they are portrayed in the present of the film.

I understand the fear and outrage. We proud geeks – covetous keepers of our continuity – despise the idea that movies or TV shows depicting our wares must be muted, diluted, or otherwise repackaged to appease the lowest common denominator. But when it’s done with conviction, quality, and common sense, we tend not to get our underwear so wedged up our own asses.

Remember how much we all loved Tim Burton’s Batman? OK, remember how many of us loved it? Well, I don’t recall the masses going insane-in-the-bat-brain over the revelation that the Joker was one Jack Napier. And while I recall plenty of nit-picky problems over Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, nary a word of anger seemed to spewed over the organic webshooter after the film came out. Same could be said of the blackcasting of Michael Clark Duncan as the Kingpin, Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, or Idris Elba as Heimdall. Funny how that is, isn’t it?

And where is the utter outrage at the animated DCU? Or Marvel’s Hulk Agents of S.M.A.S.H? And what are we going to do with all the yutzes who like Arrow?! I mean, last time I checked, Oliver Queen had a god-damned goatee. Interesting enough, all I hear is good things about the show. Even the notion that a Flash spin-off might occur has seemingly traveled the Interwebs without igniting civil war. And this week when someone dropped that Donal Logue might play Harvey Bullock in a pilot revolving around a police procedural Gotham show? Somehow, we all woke up the next morning perhaps uttering that scariest of phrases… “I’ll see it when it comes out, and make up my mind then.

And therein lies my point. It’s not a factor of fear that Warner Brothers chooses to reimagine Batman in Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, or change gears with Superman twice within a 10 year period. It’s all a matter of business. The same could be said with Disney/Marvel. Consider cold and calculated business that allows characters like Gravitron and Blizzard to be reimagined on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in order to better suit the long-terms plans of their movies and television series. As I’ve come to find here in my waning youth, the all-mighty dollar drives all that we love in the world of content creation. While true passion for characters and story may drive we the few and proud creators… without the financial backing of crazy-mad corporations, what we build may exist only on our hard drives, our sketchbooks, and our minds.

If Wonder Woman in the polarizing Man of Steel DC movieverse ends up with a strain of Krypton flowing in her meaty non-clay veins… so be it. I’ll care far more that she is portrayed as regal, strong, and self-assured. If Themyscira’s statues tribute Rao over Zeus, big whoop-dee-doo. So long as it’s filled with overly tall, buxom, man-hating women (you know, who are all like… empowered and crap) then my prayers shall be answered. Or better yet? If the character, her background, and her portrayal all lend to the forward momentum of actually realizing a cross-picture universe for DC… then we’ll soon be living in a golden age. With powerful franchises from both the big two comic book publishers in place, those evil unwashed masses who dilute our precious universes may end up loving the same characters we love.

And when they do? They might just take that bold leap to a comic shop to see what they’ve been missing all along.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

MONDAY: Mindy Newell

TUESDAY MORNING: Jen Krueger

 

 

Martha Thomases: The Nerdification of America

Thomases Art 140124While most of us were going about our days, living our lives, the prevailing culture has become progressively nerdier. I don’t mean that there as been a renewed interest in science and math, because that would imply that we would exert ourselves mentally, and, as Americans, we don’t like to exert ourselves. What I mean is that there is more attention paid to comics, science fiction and fantasy, and that a lot of us know who Steven Moffat is.

In general, I think this is great. As more people celebrate their love of the more nerdy aspects of popular culture, more people might find out about them and find enjoyment as well. I’m all in favor of more pleasure in life. That applies to food and music and gardening as well as entertaining. In these specific case, I’m also pleased because a bigger audience means more job opportunities for me and for people I like.

However, it also means some of the less savory aspects of nerd culture are becoming commonplace. As this woman notes, women who express an opinion online are often insulted in ways that demean them sexually and violently. This is something that has been all too common in comics, where women had traditionally been treated as if we were a different species.

I’ve talked about this before, and yet, somehow, that didn’t seem to fix it. Maybe having stories like these publicized in The New York Times and other media will make a difference. Maybe having more women in all fields talk to each other will make a difference.

Why do some men think it is acceptable, when they disagree with a woman on some subject, to write comments that threaten her physically? Why do they think it’s acceptable to use her appearance to discredit her thoughts? Yes, I know that not all men make these comments, but they are so prevalent that one can only assume the perpetrators consider this to be reasonable discourse.

I mean, there are all kinds of men with whom I disagree, and I have never, not even in the heat of the moment, felt I could say, “You don’t know anything because you have a tiny tiny dick, and I’m coming to cut it off and shove it up your ass so you can see how little it really is.” Until I tried to imagine a parallel threat to those of the commentators, I never even thought of such a thing. And I have really sharp knives in my apartment.

Internet threats are mostly empty, but that doesn’t mean they are harmless. They have an inhibiting effect on discourse, which is a threat to our democracy. In many cases, such as those in which physical violence is threatened, they are actually illegal. I have a bigger problem, though, in that, as nerds and geeks, we should know how painful insults can be. We should be especially resistant to replicating these tactics precisely because we’ve felt it ourselves.

On Monday my pal Jason Scott Jones used his Facebook page to link to an incredible article about what it meant to be black before Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He describes a culture in which African Americans lived literally in fear for their lives every time they went out in public – and sometimes when they stayed home. I’m not kidding when I say that this made my head metaphorically explode. I mean, I knew it wasn’t easy, but I had never before thought about how it felt to walk around with that level of threat and dread.

I’m not comparing to being threatened on the Internet to living in constant fear of being lynched. Instead, I’m using my experience to get a feeling for what that felt like. I hope, if I had been in those communities, I would have stood up for those being threatened. I hope I would have rooted for the underdog.

That’s what nerds are supposed to do.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

MONDAY: Mindy Newell

 

John Ostrander: Bad Boys, Bad Boys

Ostrander Art 140119I was watching perhaps my favorite new TV show of the season, The Blacklist, last Monday. James Spader’s Raymond “Red” Reddington exacts a fierce revenge on those who wronged him. Reddington has done terrible things throughout the series and yet I find myself drawn to him, even rooting for him. I doubt that I’m the only one.

It’s not the first time for me. There was James Gandolfini in The Sopranos and, to an even greater extent, Michael Chiklis in The Shield. Who is the real center of The Dark Knight – Christian Bales’ Batman or Heath Ledger’s Joker? It’s a tradition that goes back a long way – the most interesting character in Shakespeare’s Othello isn’t the title character but Iago, the great and cunning villain of the play.

I really enjoy writing the bad guys as well. My favorite Star Wars creation? Probably the rogue and con man Vilmahr “Villie” Grahrk. Over at DC, I had a whole series centering on the villains – Suicide Squad. My faves among them – probably Amanda Waller, Captain Boomerang, and Deadshot. It’s not hard to spot. Hell, even John Gaunt, GrimJack, is not a hero except maybe by default.

So… what is the attraction? I am, by most accounts, a nice guy. So where does all this come from? The bad guys have to come from somewhere inside of me. Why are all of us attracted by the Joker, or Hannibal Lecter, or Raymond Reddington and the others?

Going back to my acting days, it was always fun to play a villain. First of all, they usually had the best lines. More important, I think the villains do things that you and I have atavistic urges to do, but our own conditioning, our own morality, keep us from acting on those urges. By identifying with the bad guys, by emotionally investing myself with them and their acts, I do the crime without having to worry about paying the price. I get the thrill without having to worry about the consequences.

I especially enjoy writing characters like Captain Boomerang. Boomerbutt (as others called him) was remarkably well-adjusted in a rather reprehensible way. He knew exactly who he was and he was happy with it. No angst, no desire to make himself better. Nobody liked Captain Boomerang more than Boomerang himself; it might be safe to say that he was the only one who liked Boomerang at all. He was fine with that as well.

Another secret of villains is that they don’t think of themselves, for the most part, as bad. They may think that the rules don’t apply to them but they feel they have the perfect right to do what they’re doing.

I don’t like every villain. Simple thugs and bullies – not very interesting. Same goes for the megalomaniac who wants to rule the world. Usually they’re pretty one note. No, give me the guy or gal with intelligence or at least a low cunning, a sense of humor, a worldview of some kind, a touch of theatricality and who has no compunction about doing what they do. Ah, that’s a villain I can sink my literary teeth into!

MONDAY: Mindy Newell

TUESDAY: Jen Krueger

WEDNESDAY: Mike Gold

 

Marc Alan Fishman: WWE and A Future For Comics

Fishman Art 140118Last Wednesday, Vince McMahon announced the launching of the WWE Network. Suffice to say it was well received by his hardcore fans just as he’d hoped. To use a bit of hyperbole – which all things considered, seems apropos – the self-made millionaire stands to become a billionaire with the launch.

It’s many things, but above all else, it’s a stroke of genius in the modern era of content delivery. Comic companies might want to take note… but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The WWE Network would appear to just be Netflix for hillbillies, but truly those who aren’t in-the-know, and quick-to-judge are missing out the insane deal the WWE is offering. For $9.95 a month (purchased in six month blocks, with a potential discount for year long subscriptions forthcoming), users get access to every pay-per-view since 1985 from the WWE, as well as rival companies WCW and ECW. They also get access to newly created content like countdown shows, reality shows, and plenty of documentaries and retrospectives.

Oh, there’s more. Users get every pay-per-view coming out. At present, purchasing a pay-per-view from VinnyMac sets you back 45-60 dollars, depending on the event, and the quality – SD or HD.

Do the math, kiddos. If the WWE just offered you the pay-per-views at ten bucks a pop, you’re saving anywhere between $440 – $620 a year. But if someone were to offer you an 83% discount, and you were even just a normal fan, certainly you’d find that to be worth considering. Add that insane discount to an increase in content, somewhere around 1900%, and now you’re starting perhaps to see why this is a big deal.

Obviously there are plenty of folks scoffing at the financials of all of this. With an 83% discount on a product, WWE’s PPV buy-rate profits will appear to tank. Vince and family are of course looking for volume profits to achieve the balance. In addition, newly minted subscribers will now be marketed to (in essence) exponentially more than they ever have in the past. This of course creates new advertising revenue streams. Imagine having an audience with decades of trend data sitting in wait, where your product can be hocked to them every single time they decide they want to indulge in their vice. This is internet ads the way companies dreamed they’d exist. Paint me impressed, at very least.

In covering the announcement, Gizmodo said “…[T]hink about what you’d rather pay for: Netflix and its vast but unpredictable movie library and unproven original series? Or the entirety of [thing you love]?” Truly, as I’d said: this may very well be the way to save our always-in-a-state-of-dying medium of comics.

Marvel and DC have set to revolutionize content delivery in the digital realm many times over. They’ve offered subscription services in the past (and may still do) and never once have I heard from fellow comic fans “this is how it’s done!” Instead, too many apps produce access to the same material, forcing fans to choose a vehicle, and then commit to it. Same as iTunes vs. Amazon MP3 vs. Rhapsody, etc. Vince McMahon chose instead to Spotify his industry-leading content library. Could any of you imagine a service that for the price of your books perhaps for a single week… granting you access to decades worth of content, as well as keeping you current on your favorite titles for the month? Could you fathom a service that could be easily accessed on your tablet, desktop, laptop, and/or phone? And dare I dream… what if that service gave you Marvel, DC, Image, IDW, Boom!, Avatar, the works…?

A boy can dream, but a man faces reality. Warner Bros. and Disney have no need or desire to combine their libraries of printed materials. Nor could they ever negotiate a way to create a subscriber base, and split profits. And they certainly wouldn’t give a rat’s patootie about any smaller publisher, even if say they made The Walking Dead. Instead, our comic books (both in print and digital) will continue to be a publisher-to-publisher game. ComicXology, Graphic.ly and other providers will continue to create proprietary filetypes that prevent the average user from controlling their ala carte purchases in a single easy-to-manage collection. The key of course falls back on the broad shoulders of you-know-who.

When Vince McMahon created Wrestlemania in 1985, he officially buried the original independent scene of professional wrestling. Over the next 20 years he slowly but surely eliminated his only competition. Over the next 10 years after that, he spent his profits slowly building and secretly digitizing the libraries of not only his content, but that of his antagonists. Nearly a decade after that, he’s set to launch a single product to unite every fan he’s gained and lost throughout those 30 years.

I, for one, can’t wait to sign to up. While my recent return to the comic shop has proven that industry still trips over itself with the sins of the past I can at least enjoy one publicly mocked genre in peace, and personal profitability.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

MONDAY: Mindy Newell

TUESDAY MORNING: Jen Krueger

 

John Ostrander: Wibbly-Wobbly Storytelling

Ostrander Art 140112As River Song is want to warn: Spoilers! There’s going to be a lot of talk in this column about what happened on this year’s Doctor Who Christmas Special, ”The Time of the Doctor.” There’s no way around critiquing the show without talking about what happened in it. If you haven’t seen it but intend to, you may want to avoid this column.There are plenty of other fine columns here at ComicMix so you can read them instead if you like.

The Doctor is dead; long live the Doctor. Matt Smith’s tenure as Doctor Who has given way to Peter Capaldi’s. It all happened in this year’s Christmas Special, The Time of the Doctor. I wish I could tell you it was wonderful but, in truth, I was underwhelmed.

Steven Moffat, the showrunner and the author of the episode, is a very clever writer. Sometimes he’s too clever and sometimes he’s not as clever as he thinks. For the Fiftieth Anniversary Special, The Day of the Doctor, he was wonderfully clever with deeply felt emotional moments, a thrilling climax, and a special appearance at the end which just knocked my socks off and dangled them from my ears. In this episode, Moffat was very clever and very good as he so often is. All of which made my dissatisfaction with the Christmas Special so much the greater.

The Time of the Doctor had two important issues to settle. It was to mark the regeneration, the transition, of the Doctor from Matt Smith to the new Doctor, now played by Peter Capaldi. Having now established that Matt Smith’s Doctor was the final one in the Doctor’s regeneration cycle, it had to establish how Capaldi’s Doctor was possible. Moffat decided also to bring together dangling threads from previous episodes. That makes it a very busy episode and one of its narrative problems.

One of the problems is a prophecy that occurs in an earlier episode, The Wedding of River Song, it says that on “the fields of Trenzalore, at the Fall of the Eleventh, when no creature can speak falsely or fail to answer, a question will be asked. A question that must never ever be answered: Doctor who?” Problem: Matt Smith’s Doctor is no longer the Eleventh Doctor.  “The Day of the Doctor” introduced John Hurt as the War Doctor, who was now the Ninth incarnation and that made Matt Smith the Twelfth Doctor. If he isn’t the Twelfth Doctor, then all the hoohah of this being his final incarnation is just blather. The plot hinges on it.

There are a lot of problems with this story. Early on, it has his companion, Clara, frantically asking the Doctor to come to her apartment and pretend to be her boyfriend for a Christmas dinner she’s cooking for her parents and grandmother. This makes no sense to me. Clara is gorgeous and she can’t get a local guy to do the part?

When the Doctor and Clara get to Trenzalore, there is a small farming community of humans and the town is named Christmas. I guess we’re in the future. Beaming down, they find some Weeping Angels buried in the snow. The Weeping Angels were really creepy the first time I saw them; now they’re just annoying. Their powers change to whatever Moffat wants them to be. One touch and you’re dead. Or tossed back in time for some reason. One grabs Clara’s boot so she should be dead or tossed back in time or something but she’s not. The Weeping Angels then do not figure into the rest of the story.

All of the Doctor’s foes are gathered around the planet (been there, seen that in The Pandorica Opens) and we have the Daleks who were made to forget all about the Doctor except now they don’t anymore.

There is a crack in the wall that is a crack in space and time and the Doctor supposedly closed all that off in The Big Bang but, no, there’s one conveniently left. On the other side are the Time Lords who were frozen into a single point of time in a pocket universe in order to save them in The Day of the Doctor, except they’re broadcasting a message to the Doctor to see if its safe for his home planet, Gallifrey, to come back. This would evidently re-ignite the Time War and destroy the Universe. Not to mention Trenzalore and the human colony. The last time Gallifrey appeared out of its usual spot, it was going to destroy and replace the Earth (The End of Time). What’s a little consistency among friends?

The Doctor spends 300 years on Trenzalore (Clara is sent home but comes back in what, for her, is the same day.). The Daleks want to kill him before he dies of old age. Defiant, the old boy goes out to meet them. Clara convinces the Time Lords on the other side of the time/space crack that they need to save him so the they send him a new batch of regeneration energy, enough for a whole new cycle of lives. Never mind that, the last time we saw them, the High Council of Time Lords were trying to kill the Doctor. The Doctor focuses the excess regeneration energy to wipe out the Daleks and regenerates, after a soulful monologue and a nice cameo from a much loved companion, into his new self. Yay.

I could go on at even greater length than I have but the episode was simply too busy by half. New characters and concepts are tossed in and there’s a lot of explaining away of what we previously thought and, along the way, invalidates an episode that occurred at the end of the previous season. Things are shoehorned in and continuity is changed or disregarded where it’s not convenient. That’s bad writing and that’s disappointing when it’s from someone as gifted as Moffat and who told such a wonderful story just one episode earlier. This Doctor Who Christmas Special was coal in the stocking and it’s a damn shame it came on the 800th episode and such an important moment in the history of Doctor Who.

MONDAY: Mindy Newell

TUESDAY MORNING: Jen Krueger

 

Marc Alan Fishman: Injustice and the Marvel Continuity Crisis

Fishman Art 140111Over the holidays I purchased for myself the Injustice: Gods Among Us video game. While I freely admit I have little to no real prowess with fighting games, I am invariably drawn to them. Compared to other types of video games, fighters allow users to enjoy a gaming session that’s like a great one-night stand; get in, get your business done, reap the rewards, and leave before it gets complicated.

The game is built on the Elseworlds principle wherein we explore the mighty DCU through the lens of yet-another alternative dimension where a slight change in the continuity results in a completely new world to explore. In Injustice, Superman is duped into killing Lois by the Joker, who adds a delightfully evil icing to his cake of cacophony by nuking Metropolis. Dead girlfriend (carrying his super scion to boot) plus nuked hometown equals Superman deciding he’s done being a reactionary hero. Cue the totalitarian state, and the necessary rebellion lead by Batman. Add in the needed Kryptonian Super Pill to balance the whole “how do you let Green Arrow fight Black Adam and not get pummeled into slime” problem and you have a damned enjoyable fracas.

I made my way through the story mode in a manner of a few nights. It was a fantastic little tale. As you may tell, it got me thinking. Why is it that DC always seems to flourish under the Elseworld concept where Marvel fails?

I assume some of you immediately get what I’m talking about. Others may be cackling at their screens “Show your work, nerdlinger!” Allow me to make my point as clearly as I can, as quickly as I can.

Here we go: At DC, Red Son. Kingdom Come. The Dark Knight Returns. The Nail. The Animated DC “Beyond” Universe.

At Marvel: 1602.

Wouldn’t it be awesome if I just stopped my article right there? Well, while I’d like to be that lazy, I shan’t be. DC seemingly lends itself to the remix better than Marvel by more than a handful of examples. To be honest, I’m not sure exactly why. It’s not like Marvel is devoid of DC analogs (and DC to Marvel, etc.). Both companies have employed more than a fair share of amazing talent to boot. But there must be something that makes DC more suited to a change of clothing more than the merry mouse-killers at Marvel.

My knee-jerk reaction is to equate DC characters as being more mythically malleable. Because they have clearly defined backstories, costuming, and personality traits, it’s much easier to simply pick one, change it and let the fun fly. Superman’s rocket lands in Russia? Boom, story changed, and a new universe is easily defined. Because the DCU is so easily reshaped while still being clearly itself, Elseworlds are amazingly easy to form, play in, and move on.

It helps that at the basic origin levels of the main players, DC is much freer to shift. Captain America will always be defined by World War II, the Punisher to Vietnam (though they’ve attempted and failed to retcon that a time or two). the X-men to civil rights. Batman, Superman, Green Lantern and their ilk are all tied only to mythologies. Bruce’s parents can get shot at any point from the industrial revolution on. Abin Sur could crash yesterday, if he needed to.

No better argument could be made than through the multitude of mediain which each have dabbled. Marvel has proven that through continuity, they will shine. Their movie-verse has bled into the teevee, and Mickey has never been stronger … or richer. In contrast, DC’s best movies and TV shows have all existed within their own confines, yet somehow continue to reap monetary rewards.

The animated DCU itself was a Bruce Timm / Paul Dini behemoth that somehow existed in one universe, but DC was able to create whole new strains of life in their Teen Titans, Legion of Super-Heroes, and Batman: The Brave and the Bold cartoons without missing a beat. While Marvel spawned a few gems in their own animated right, none hold a candle in comparison. Anyone here watching Hulk: Agents of S.M.A.S.H.? Didn’t think so.

At the end of the day (on our Earth, at least), DC summarily allows itself infinite worlds with which to create its identity. Because of this, jaunts like Injustice become instant classics by allowing creators to riff on a theme without being locked into the ramifications of exhaustive continuity. For whatever the reasons are, Marvel forever will have a harder time to match their doppelgänger with this ease. While they cry into their pile of movie money, I think they’ll land on their feet. In the mean time, I’ll enjoy the next Earth to splinter off… in hopes that it will be finally be the one that makes me forget the New52.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

MONDAY: Mindy Newell

TUESDAY MORNING: Jen Krueger

 

Martha Thomases: Turn  On The Fun Home!

Martha Thomases: Turn On The Fun Home!

It seems appropriate that I went to see Fun Home, the theatrical musical based on the brilliant graphic novel by Alison Bechdel, the same weekend that Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark closed.

The Spider-Man show goes down in history as one of the most overwrought, over-hyped failures in Broadway history, not to mention the biggest money loser in Broadway history. Meanwhile, Fun Home is one of the surprise hits of the Off-Broadway season.

There haven’t been many theatrical hits inspired by comic books. The Superman musical didn’t make any real money. There was talk of a Batman musical, but it never happened (unless you count this http://www.batmanlive.com/#/. The closest successful adaptation since World War II was Li’l Abner, from a newspaper strip. The movie remains a favorite of mine.

Why did Fun Home succeed when Spider-Man didn’t? I hadn’t seen Spider-Man. Tickets were really expensive, and the Broadway audience is frequently boorish, talking and taking photos throughout a performance. The reviews weren’t good, and it seemed that they took the story in a camp direction. That seemed lazy and predictable to me. Certainly not something I’d pay several hundred dollars to experience.

In contrast, Fun Home makes few references to the medium of its source material. The narrator, a grown-up Alison, will occasionally use the word “Caption” to set up a scene. At the end, a frame from the graphic novel is projected onto the stage.

The play is not the book. I guess that’s obvious, but the ways in which they differ are actually quite striking. The story on stage is much more linear. Lisa Kron and Jeanne Tersori, who wrote the book and music, focus almost entirely on the relationship between Alison and her father. Understandable, but I missed seeing a more fully rounded dramatization of her mother, her siblings, and Joan, her first lover. At one point, I wondered if the show could even pass the Bechdel Test. Then Alison had a conversation with Joan about the gay student union at Oberlin, so they got that out of the way. (And also, I was amused at how well they captured the tone of political groups at the time. God, we were insufferable.)

The most interesting aspect of the show, to me, was the way they used three different actresses to portray Alison as a child, a college student, and an adult. The kid, Sydney Lucas, who plays the young Alison is remarkably good. She conveys the delight of discovering those first hints of her sexuality with a knowing glee.

The music and choreography are terrific. I’m curious to see how this show will travel. The staging at the Public Theater was relatively simple, so that it’s easy to imagine local theater groups able to adapt it to their situations. The cast is only nine people, three of them children (Alison and her two brothers).

Will the success of the show bring a new audience to the graphic novel? I don’t know. Will it make the media consider comics as something other than superheroes? I don’t know that either. In the meantime, I wonder if anyone is working on a show based on Stuck Rubber Baby? Because I would see that in a heartbeat.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

MONDAY: Mindy Newell

 

John Ostrander: Star Wars – Moving On

Ostrander Art 140105The news came down publicly on Friday that, in 2015, the Star Wars comics license will move from Dark Horse, who has had it for more than two decades, to Marvel, which had it at the franchise’s inception. It’s not a big surprise; since creator George Lucas sold it all to Disney, and Disney owns Marvel, many saw the move as inevitable.

I have had the pleasure of playing in George Lucas’s sandbox for more than ten years, most often with my artistic partner in crime, Jan Duursema. At first it was only going to be a four issue story arc. My buddy and Brother by a Different Mother, Timothy Truman, was the regular writer on the book at the time and he was taking some time off to work on a special project. He recommended me for the fill-in, one of the many favors I owe Tim.

When I got the first assignment, I knew this might be the only chance I ever got to write Star Wars. I decided we should create our own characters; that way, we were less likely to trip over established continuity. I wanted an amnesiac Jedi – a Jedi who had sustained a head injury and didn’t know he was a Jedi.

Jan was brought on board as well and, I have to say, she was and is a larger SW geek than I was. What I didn’t know about that galaxy far far away, Jan did. She decided she wanted to create a look based on a character from the films, the current one at that time being Episode One: The Phantom Menace. She found a figure who was in the background of a cantina scene. Let me point out that the character appears for maybe three seconds and there was no DVD of the film yet; the only place to see it was on the screen. Jan not only spotted the character but memorized him in those three seconds. Yeah, she’s that good.

And so was born Quinlan Vos, our first Star Wars character. He was joined by Vilmahr “Villie” Grahrk, a devilish-looking Devaronian who spoke like a Russian and was a complete rogue. Man, I loved writing that character! Rounding it all out was Quinlan’s missing apprentice, a female Twi’lek named Aayla Secura. George Lucas would later like the look of her so much he put her in both Episode II and Episode III. I think that was perhaps the only time a character started in the comic and went to the movie instead of the other way around. She and Quin also wound up in the animated version of The Clone Wars.

When Tim decided not to return to the ongoing, I was invited back. At the time, the book would switch artists and writers with almost every arc. I suggested to DH that, whether it was me and Jan or not, there should be a regular team and the book should have its own cast of characters. My argument was that it was hard to build a reliable fan base for the book if it constantly changed identities. Having their own characters that could (mostly) only be found in the book would also be a selling point for readers. DH bought the idea and Jan and I wound up as the regular team.

When Episode III came out (they killed Aayla!), that era was essentially done and Jan and I had to look for another. One of my problems with the Prequel Trilogy is that it went backwards in time; when I like a story, I want to find out what happened next. So I suggested to Jan and Dark Horse that we dropkick the franchise down the timeline, past the movies, past the books, and tell that part of the story. Our protagonist, Cade Skywalker, would be a descendent of Luke but Cade was very different. He was a junkie, a rogue, and he wanted nothing to do with the Jedi. My pitch for the character was – what if Han Solo had a lightsaber?

We named the book Legacy and it was, perhaps, the most successful book Jan and I did in Star Wars. We had new Sith, a resurgent Empire, and Imperial Knights – Jedi-like Force users working for a more benign Empire. The cast was huge and we had a chance to tell all kinds of stories for more than five years.

After Legacy ended, we cast about what to do next. I suggested that, having gone forward in time, we now go back. How did the Jedi become the Jedi? I figured that was a story fans would find interesting. As a fan, I wanted to know. Out of all that came Dawn of the Jedi, the series that Jan and I are currently working on and which will be our last Star Wars story for Dark Horse. In addition, I’ve had the chance to do various Specials and one-shots, as well as Agent of the Empire, which was one part Star Wars and one part James Bond. I had a lot of fun on that one.

So – is that it? Have I written my last Star Wars comic? That’s up to Marvel now but I have hopes. Both Jan and I bring a lot to the table. First off, we know how to write Star Wars so that it feels like Star Wars, even when not dealing with the usual characters. Every story we do has to be approved by Lucas Film Publishing and Jan and I have never gotten a story rejected. We get notes, yes, but not rejections. That’s not easy to do, let me tell you. Jan and I are good at what we do. How do I know? Because we sold well and we have our own fans (and I deeply appreciate them).

Will all that be enough? I don’t know; I’ll certainly contact Marvel and pitch to do more stories. I love Star Wars and I think it shows. Marvel may not yet know what they want to do with the franchise. They don’t get control of it until 2015 which is when Episode VII comes out and that will probably help decide more than few things.

Whatever happens, I’ve had a good run and got a chance to tell some fun stories set in a galaxy I love a lot. I also have some other projects I’m developing and some of them are also SF so I won’t stray too far.

I want to thank Dark Horse, the editors – especially Randy Stradley – and all the very talented people I’ve worked with.

Live long and prosper.

Whoops. Wrong franchise.

MONDAY: Mindy Newell

TUESDAY MORNING: Jen Krueger

TUESDAY AFTERNOON: Michael Davis

 

Marc Alan Fishman’s Geek Year Resolutions

Fishman Art 140104While many of you were out toasting the New Year with friends and acquaintances – perhaps a bit tipsy from the festivities and calamity – I was spending my NYE at home with the wife and kiddo. Wifey and I recently came down with a crappy bug (of which I was the first recipient, on my birthday to boot), and did not feel it smart to venture outside the containment field of our suburban enclave. I was all set and ready to throw myself a pity party, but Michael Davis not only took that cake this week… bitch cooked it up from scratch, decorated it, and served it with ice cream.

I thought it might be nice for me to spare you all a post of malaise and doldrums, and opt instead to look to the coming new year, and make some resolutions for myself. But not the typical “I need to lose weight” (I do), or “I need to quit cigarettes” (I don’t). I’m going to use my column inches today to make some geek year resolutions; things I need to do or stop doing to be a better geek in 2014.

Become a Whovian. Well, as many read some time ago I gave in and watched “The Day of the Doctor.. I also recently have partaken of a few choice episodes, as well as the most recent Christmas Special. That allows me now to start fresh and new with whatever Capaldi’s Who will be. Now, I’ll be honest… a cursory Googling did not tell me when the new series will start, but I’m simply resolving in 2014 to watch more Who. Thanks largely to a DVR and BBC America, that shouldn’t be a problem. This will also mean at conventions I’ll be more apt to draw my patented Domos (note that they are NOT actually patented by me, nor should you think they are…) in the guise of all the various Doctors of yore. And maybe a Weeping Angel Domo. Ooh! And a Dalek Domo. That outta’ be a larf.

Start A Wrestling Podcast. One of my friends in the Indie Comic Industry (we don’t have an acronym yet, but who wouldn’t like the ICI?) recently posted on a random wrestling tweet I made that he and I should do a wrestling podcast. I’ll be honest. As soon as I saw that response, I was half-planning it already. I know there’s few wrestling fans here at the ‘Mix, but I can’t not let my freak-flag fly. In 2013, I became a full-fledged re-upped wrestling fan. I purchased a single pay-per-view (it was enough), and I’ve since relegated two evenings a week to watching the product. I spent at least some time every day reading the dirt sheets (online rumor mills), and formulating my ever-so-important opinions. Knowing that I have a great gaggle of pals on the internet (who live semi-local to me) means I can finally make that excuse to learn how to Skype in guests from my home computer, and launch my own wrestling podcast. All I’ll need? A catchy name. The front-runner for now… “Let’s Go Wrestling! Wrestling Sucks!”

Get Back to the Shop. I admit it, everyone. I gave up buying weekly comics. It wasn’t a logistic or financial decision either. It was one grown from malaise. Too many predictable beats from the big two… and too little knowledge about the “not big two” to know what to buy, and what not to try. In the end, I opted to read someone else’s books, and even then… not with any rhyme or reason. Over at MichaelDavisWorld, my review column enjoyed my new approach to “read anything,” but on a personal level, I lost the personal connection I had to my favorite characters. So, in 2014, I’m vowing to find my passion for the medium I create in to become a reader once again. And while I’m likely to continue to stray away from much of the Big Two’s offerings… I don’t think I’ll be missed. Instead, I’ll be making a more concerted effort to seek the stronger smaller-press books that are made by those I might dare to say work even harder than those who are enjoying tenure on prestigious titles.

Give Up Worthless Gaming. Candy Crush Saga and Tetris have a place. They belong on my phone, to be dusted off when I’m in those rare waiting rooms where I have no choice but to distract myself with said phone. I’ve lost perhaps whole days worth of my time to the crushing of digital candies… all for what? Unlocking the next level that frustrates me until I tell myself it’s OK to drop a buck to buy the cheat to win. I’ve only done it a handful of times, but frankly? That’s handful too many. Instead, I’ll resolve to fill my time with more creative endeavors. Just as I can “zone out” whilst swapping striped and wrapped tokens, I can do much the same flatting or inking my work. This leads me to the big one:

Publish Two New Issues and Start The Next Series for Unshaven Comics. In 2013, Unshaven Comics was able to produce only one new issue. Granted we still crushed our sales records, but it almost felt like a hollow victory. The key here is that we (Unshavens…) have only two issues left to produce for our first real mini-series. “The Curse of the Dreadnuts” when finished, will immediately be ready to pull together into our first real graphic novel. Pair that with a foreword by Mike Gold, and an afterward by John Ostrander (see how I’m beginning to beg already!) and a gallery of pin-ups from appropriate friends? We’ll have ourselves a real piece of work that we just might find a way to get into those aforementioned local comic shops. Dare we to dream of a world where the Samurnauts are a known name without our siren’s song of “Excuse me! Can I tell you about my comic book?”

A boy can dream. A boy can dream. Be well, my friends and fans (c’mon, I’ve got to have a few by now, right?). Cheers to a nerdy new year.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

MONDAY: Mindy Newell

TUESDAY MORNING: Jen Krueger