Tagged: Mindy Newell

Marc Alan Fishman: Coming Soon…Gimmick Month!

Fishman Art 130608There’s a great website I stumbled on (thanks, Nick!)… hasdcdonesomethingstupidtoday.com. Strange, but a subsequent Google search did not turn up any similarly named sites for Marvel, Image, Boom!, Dynamite, Avatar, or Dark Horse. To be fair, I didn’t search that hard. But I think the point is fairly straight forward. DC can’t get a win to save their lives these days. The worst part? There’s no silver lining to the clouds. No distant light off towards the horizon. Just bleak, bleary, predictably banal gimmick after gimmick.

First up? This summer, DC unveils its first epic-mega-crossover since the New 52 was unleashed with Trinity War’! Now, I’ll be fair: It appears this crossover is contained only to Justice League, Justice League of America, and a handful of character-specific tie-ins and mini-series. So, hey, it can’t be that bad, right? Well, according to a hype piece from Newsaramal, I could probably lay waste to the remainder of this column picking it apart. But I digress. No need to get too assy too quickly. You know what, I completely forgot! It’s get assy fast month here at ComicMix. Sorry, kiddos. I have to!

Once again, the whole shebang will start off with a death of a major character. Straight out of the gate, Trinity War aims right for the most predictable plot point to churn up the drama. Even if it’s handled as beautifully as, say, Ted Kord’s demise a few major crossovers ago… it’s still old hat. Combine this will all the preview art throwing all Justice-level leagues into a fracas. I’m sorry, it may be “new” in the New 52, but I’m terribly sick of heroes fighting heroes. While the JLA was formed specifically for this, having it come to a head amidst what will likely be a by-the-books tete-a-tete just seems like brilliantly lazy plotting. Maybe I’m wrong. I want to be wrong. But nothing suggests I am.

And beyond that? Well, one gimmick deserves another. DC announced that following in the aftermath of the Trinity War, the world will largely go unprotected. While Marvel apparently has the same thing happening in their Infinity crossover… seems Luke Cage was smart enough to stick around and make himself a make-shift mini-series. I mean team. So, Trinity War will begat Villains Month. Just as DC went back to all issues 0s a year into the New 52 (yet another immensely successful artifice – successful in having me drop five series simultaneously…), so too will all of DC’s publications be taken over by villain-specific issues, and a glut of mini-series.

On paper (pun not intended, oddly enough), this actually sounds pretty interesting. I’ve long felt DC has trumped the House of Mouse when it came to the quality of their ne’er-do-wells. Giving them the spotlight could be an interesting move. But taken at the mass quantity of 52 one-shots, and three five-issue mini-series? It’s overkill. So much so, that as a reader? I outright can’t afford to enjoy the glut of the releases. Whatever market research DC did that proves its fanbase can purchase 55 issues in a single month (and likely forego all other comics in said month…) is as skewed as their also-announced 3D motion covers. Wait. What? Yeah.

In a bold move, DC will debut 3-D motion covers on their villainous volumes. I say bold because silly, a waste, novel-at-best, or dumb-dumb-dittay would be too mean. Feel free to peruse a few sneaky-peaks, and tell me how they come across to you. Just as I’d thought we moved past holofoil, gatefold, reverse-colored, and secret-message-hidden-between-the-lines-if-you-look-close-enough covers… the industry I love so much chooses to continue to deluge the marketplace with wastes of ink and paper. I’m all for a striking cover image – don’t get me wrong – but every aforementioned stunt does nothing for me as a fan. Never once in my fandom have I purchased a comic because of a special cover. While I know there’s a variant collectable market… when your entire line is being fitted with such an over-the-top Look At Me! construct? It reeks more of desperation than celebration.

As Marvel continues to dominate the sales charts and Image continues to win the hearts of all who seek originality, DC seems to be thrashing on the deck of the USS Fanboy. What hurts the most is that so much of it could be prevented. Long before the New 52, in between too-many crossovers and events, was a line of comics that knew that their strength came through solid runs and potent creative teams. At the end of the day, when we fans describe those “must read” moments of our favorite characters, it’s few and far between where you’ll find us reflecting on the machination of the month.

When DC can return to just telling great stories that depend on nothing more than the power of their brands… they’ll realize they don’t need anything else to be successful. And that my friends… is no gimmick.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

MONDAY: Mindy Newell


John Ostrander: Higher Concepts

Ostrander Art 130602I caught the movie musical version of Les Miserables recently (and I will thank my brain to stop playing snippets of the soundtrack over and over and over again) and was struck by a line sung by the hero, Jean Valjean, late in the story: “To love another person is to see the face of God.” That line has always pierced me (I’ve seen the stage version of the show several times).

I was raised Roman Catholic but I am now a Practicing Agnostic by which I mean that I don’t know that there is a god but I don’t know that there isn’t, either. Lately, I’ve come to accept the possibility of something like a god out there without subscribing to any of the versions that different religions put out as the One True Version. Even within Christianity, there’s no one vision of Jesus. There are wars over that vision; my Jesus can beat up your Jesus. Within the Moslem community, Sunni makes war on Shi’ites and vice versa. And so on.

In each case, the face of god reflects the belief of the believers and the society out of which that face was carved. Is one truer than another? Not for me. Look, I like the Bible (mostly). The stories in it are the tradition with which I was raised and that means something to me. Do I accept it as the literal truth? No, any more than I accept the Norse gods or Marvel’s version of them as “truths.” Walter Simonson’s depiction of Thor as the Frog of Thunder enchanted me, but I don’t worship it.

One of my proudest achievements in writing comics was the run that Tom Mandrake and I did on The Spectre over at DC. In it, I explored the issues of redemption, of divine punishment, of good and evil that were rattling around in my soul. Even though I was no longer a practicing Roman Catholic, my quibbles were more with the practices of the Church than the beliefs. I was able to explore theological questions I had about those beliefs.

I don’t think I could write The Spectre today as I did back then. I’m not the same person; I’ve changed. I don’t have the same beliefs as I did then so the theological questions and quibbles I had when I wrote the Spectre are no longer relevant to me.

How people see God tells me less about God than it does about those people. Stern, capricious, loving, aloof – these can all be faces of God. God is a reflection of that God’s worshippers and it changes over time. Take a look at all the portraits of Jesus over the years – he’s morphed from a Jewish rabbi into the blonde haired, blue eyed Jeffrey Hunter in the movie King of Kings. I’ve seen striking images of Jesus as a black man; strong and necessary images re-interpreting Jesus as part of the African-American community. Latino as well. Asian. Female. Why not?

I’m not trying to tell anyone that their version of God is wrong; I’ll leave that to Bill Mahr. My doubts are my doubts. However, I have issue when someone tries to tell me I have to think, act, or believe as they do because that’s the truth. That’s their truth and I accept it for that but it’s not my Truth and I don’t accept it as the universal Truth many of them claim it to be. One person’s religious beliefs do not trump another person’s rights. Your God is not my God.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ve just seen the Flying Spaghetti Monster drift by my window. I may have just become a Pastafarian.




Marc Alan Fishman: Star Wars Sucks – For Now

Marc Alan Fishman: Star Wars Sucks – For Now

Fishman Art 130601Yup. I said it. I’ll say it again. Star Wars? It sucks. Of course I should clarify: I respect the Intellectual Property. I admire George Lucas for spinning a billion dollar franchise out of a single movie – appropriated from so many better films, novels, and concepts. And hell, I own a fair share of Star Wars merchandise (a run of John Ostrander’s Way Better Than Anything On Film comics, a lightsaber, and a handful of vintage videogames). But this past weekend, whilst looking for something to keep on in the background of yet-another drawing marathon, my dial ended up on Episodes I, II, and III.

Given that I recall astutely not liking them in theater, on DVD, or rebroadcast in any incarnation, I’ll freely admit I let them play because I was jonesing for a one-sided fight. And you, my dear readers (who I can plainly see unlocking the safety on your blasters under the table, and preparing to force-pull the ceiling down on top of my head…) get to listen to me rant a wee-bit.

First off, let me parry the obvious incoming attack. Episodes I, II, and III are canon. One is simply not allowed to pretend they didn’t happen. Midichlorians? Happened. Anakin acting like a whiny bitch? Happened. Padme acting worse than a CGI droid? Happened. And no amount of jamming ones fingers in their ears and screaming will make them disappear. Therein lies why I am so adamant at being so blunt in my opinion. By their very nature, this new trilogy drags down the series for me. I think I might be safe to say for many others… this may also be the case.

No matter how good the Clone Wars cartoon may have been… when it ends, you still end up with Episode III. Yes, John Ostrander and a plethora of other amazing writers have contributed to beautifully written comics, novels, and other in-canon fiction. Either way? Episode I, and II are there in living-breathing-CGI. Jar Jar exists, and no comic, video game, or brilliant fanzine will remove him from my mind.

Let me also sidestep your obvious escalation attempt. What about The Matrix, Star Trek, or any number of other brilliant-at-one-point-but-obviously-tainted-by-my-asshat-logic franchises? Perhaps I’m just being a dick, but somehow? I forgive them both. For what it’s worth… the least successful jaunts in each of those large franchises had a given quality to them that still made their respective parent properties still feel valuable. Sure Neo is Jesus, but at least he’s a badass Jesus, right?

The key to my argument comes from Lucas’ own love of technology. In every aspect, those episodes embody what can be so wrong with modern movies and our culture. Lucas opted to slight the artisans who once took his black and white screenplay and made a visceral universe in lieu of videogame artists. Not to slight those who make pixel-art mind you… but even with all the advances of computer-aided movie-making, there’s nary a person I know who doesn’t look at the The Phantom Menace, The Clone Wars, or Revenge of the Sith and not make a fleeting comment on how “it looks like a video game” in a very negative way. Combine with with absolutely wooden performances (from Oscar nominated actors and actresses mind you!), and the new trilogy clearly chose spectacle over heart.

The best examples of Star Wars all share a commonality; they present the fantastic grounded in very human emotions. Lightsabers are cool. X-Wings are too. But find me one person (over the age of 13, to be fair) who prefers Yoda backflipping like a crack-addled spider-monkey to the soul-filled voice and puppet work of Frank Oz? I’ll gladly argue them into submission. The crapulence of I, II, and III degrade IV, V, and VI in ways I wish weren’t true. As I said: you can’t ‘unmake’ them, and therefore everything they set up feels tainted to me.

The fact that they were the product of Lucas, and his team of yes-man make it feel all the worse. It wasn’t as if he’d handed the reigns to a new writer and director, wiped his hands of it, and shrugged off three profitable but largely uncelebrated films. Here, he presented what set up an amazing series of adventures, and pulled back the veil of mystery to uncover a story so dull, it actually weakened existing canon! How I wish I could fear Darth Vader, but now all I see is a whiny douche who had sand in his boots.

Well, they say time heals all wounds. So now, we sit at the event horizon. J.J. Abrams has been given the keys to the castle. While some find his new take on Trek to be more boom-boom than think-bam… it may very well be what Star Wars needs to really move on. A mix of practical effects and CGI (perhaps light on the lens-flares, mmm kay?), blended with original and new casts that take time to put themselves into their roles, and a story that dares to challenge its audience with more than trade politics and council debates could very well be the blaster-shot in the pants the franchise needs to be back on top. For the sake of all who are presently seething at me? I sure hope so.

May the force be with you… ‘cause it certainly ain’t with me.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

MONDAY: Mindy Newell


Michael Davis: You Better Recognize

Davis Art 130528 copyI’m pissed.

So pissed that this article was first written for my website. My website is usually where I rant about goings on in the world of politics and such, I almost never talk about comics there. Well, I was so pissed over a Publisher’s Weekly article I couldn’t wait for Tuesday to vent my anger so I went ahead and wrote this piece for MDW.

Those of you familiar with my writings know I tend to use language not suited for everyone.

Translation: I swear a lot.

Chantal d’Aulnis is a dear friend who I’ve known for a long time. She is also the unofficial 6th founding member of Milestone, as it was Chantal who gave us invaluable advice when setting up the company. She pointed out to me that my swearing may take away from the importance of what I was trying to say in this article when I posted it on MDW.

It’s with that in mind that I’m going to edit the original piece for ComicMix. I will be substituting less offensive words in the place where I swore in the original piece. The words changed are in bold just in case you are wondering. This version will also have additional new content or not…

This one’s for you, Chantal…

The following from a recent Publisher’s Weekly article:

This year’s programming includes a spotlight panel discussion that recognized the 20th anniversary of Milestone Media, a pioneering comic book company founded by a group of black writers and artists that included the late Dwayne McDuffie, Denys Cowan and others.

The article was about The East Coast Black Age Of Comics Convention the Milestone panel was just one of many great things that went on at the convention over the weekend and it was nice the PW gave us a shout out.

Publisher’s Weekly is a big deal a mention there even a small one is never a bad thing, well unless that mention is a review and the reviewer thinks the book you wrote sucks booty. I’ve been mentioned and/or reviewed in PW a few times. The last time was a review they did on the book David Quinn and I wrote, The Littlest Bitch.

That review got us a call from a network looking to talk to us about an animated series of the book. It’s safe to say in entertainment all the major playa’s read PW.

So, when I see that PW has regulated Derek Dingle and I to “other” status regarding Milestone that’s a cause for concern and frankly PW should have done a better job with their background checking. Milestone Media changed the game so much that we are being celebrated at the San Diego Comic Con this year. Comic Con is the biggest pop culture event in the world. You don’t use “others” to describe founders of anything that important. It’s retarded reporting at best and pecker journalism at worst.

This year’s programming includes a spotlight panel discussion that recognized the 50th anniversary of The Beatles, the pioneering rock and roll band that included John Lennon, Ringo Starr and others.

I mean, come on.

Don’t get me wrong, the article was a wonderful piece, extremely well written but, “…and others?”

Come the booger on!

I could be wrong but here’s what I think happened, the reporter got his or her background information from those she or he interviewed at the convention. The reporter’s name is Bobbi Booker, I have no idea if that’s a girl or guy and yes I do know a guy that that spells his name that way so it could be a guy, smartbotty.

Like I said, I could be mistaken but I think whoever Bobbi spoke to gave the impression that Derek and I didn’t matter as much or we were junior partners.

There’s a myth a lot of people have taken as truth that persists about Milestone. The myth is that my dear departed friend and partner Dwayne McDuffie started Milestone and everyone came after.

That myth is so strong that a few years ago some clown went on Facebook and called me a liar when I stated at my annual Black Panel at Comic Con the following;

“Denys Cowan created Milestone, I co-signed but the creation of Milestone is ALL Denys. Anything else you hear is just scrotum basket!”

By “co-sign” I mean, I was with Denys the moment he came up with the idea and said it was a good one. That (white people) is called a co-sign.

Imagine my surprise and anger when this mouth stain went on Facebook and called me a liar during a major forum. He stuck to his “sources” until I bet him $10,000.00 that his information was simply sissy.

This guy was convinced that Dwayne put everything together then called Denys, Derek and me. On another black comic forum someone swore Robert Washington both created Static and wrote the Static bible.


Denys Cowan, Dwayne McDuffie, Derek Dingle, Christopher Priest and I created Static. Oh, and the Static bible? I wrote that. What Robert Washington did was take our good idea and make it darn great. Those books were some of the best comics to ever see the light of day and that was all Robert and John Paul Leon.

Speaking of John Paul, I read somewhere that Matt Wayne discovered him.

Nope. That was me.

On many on line forums people who have no darn clue about Milestone except what they have “heard” are holding court as if they wrote the business plan and pitched it to DC and Marvel.

Oh, you didn’t know Milestone almost ended up at Marvel? I guess Ray Ray didn’t get that from Huggy Bear who knows all. “Word on the street is that Milestone was started by John Lennon and Ringo Starr…”

This is not sour grapes on my part. I’m not bitching because I’m not getting the proper credit for my contribution to Milestone, but rumors and misinformation have a tendency to become fact that can affect everything that you do. I’ve seen news stories that mention no one but Dwayne when discussing Milestone.

Why is that important to correct?

It’s important because brand is important. How you manage or don’t manage your brand can be the reason the business world gives you respect and takes you seriously.

Don’t think so?

My Space is a butt joke, Paris Hilton is an afterthought, Blackberry is just another smartphone and Tim Tebow is feces unemployed.

Brand management or lack there of is why those above are no longer on any A-list.

Tiger Woods, Robert Downey Junior, Vanessa Williams and Bill Clinton are at the top of their game after each faced career ending scandals. That’s brand management.

For my money the single best example of great brand management is Tylenol. Years ago tainted Tylenol tablets were killing people. Tylenol managed to not only come back but are bigger than they have ever been.

The Milestone story is too important to let just anyone who heard some Doo Doo though the grapevine tell it. If the accepted narrative becomes just Dwayne created Milestone what happened to me at a meeting some time back will become commonplace. I was in talks with a mainstream publisher about an imprint deal I would have with them. During a meeting with eight people in the room including the publisher someone mentioned Milestone. I promptly interjected that I was a founder of Milestone and someone actually said; “No it was McDuffie who started Milestone with backing from Quincy Jones.”

Oh, no! Now, I’m put in the position where I have to address that. Having to deflect, correct, restate or clarify anything in a corporate setting is almost always bad.

Anytime you take the position that information you provided or spoke to is flawed, inaccurate or wrong puts your credibility in question. The perception that Dwayne is solely responsible for Milestone is problematic because Dwayne was such a massive talent future Milestone business could be at serious risk if a company decides they don’t want to be in business with Milestone because the guy who started it is gone. He’s not gone, his name is Denys and he’s even more talented than he was when he started Milestone 20 years ago.

Derek, Denys and I are truly blessed to have been partners and friends with Dwayne. Milestone was a great idea and Dwayne made it a greater idea of that there is no doubt. I’ll leave you with a bit of advice Dwayne gave me and no doubt countless others…

Get it right.




John Ostrander: Old Friends

Ostrander Art 130526There are so many books yet to read – classics, mysteries, SF, fantasy, history, biography, comics and so on. All unread, so many of them of such high quality and I really want to read them. There are, however, only so many hours to the day and so many things that need doing in those hours, including writing this column.

Yet I often find myself returning to books that I’ve read before. For several years, right around Memorial Day, we’d go to a mass out by where my father was buried and that would be a key for me to start re-reading Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. There was the return to Middle-Earth and all the locations, all the characters – good and bad – that inhabited it. I’ve often returned as well to A. Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories and Victorian/Edwardian England.

I watch a lot of movies over and over again, but I think books are different. There’s a greater investiture of time in re-reading a book, usually, and it demands a greater investiture of me. Don’t get me wrong; I love movies but it is a more passive activity. You have to use your imagination more with reading; you have to be actively engaged. You’re translating two-dimensional words on a page (or screen these days) into images in your mind, into a sensory experience. You control the pace of the storytelling to a degree; you read fast or you linger. You go back or maybe skip forward, sometimes to the end if you’re cheating and want to know that first. They’re very different experiences.

When I read something for a second time, it’s a different experience than the first. The first time, I want the story. I want to know What Happens Next, how is it all going to turn out. It’s fresh, it’s new, and (if the story is good) exciting.

On subsequent reads, unless I’ve forgotten the plot (which happens more and more as I grow older), I know all of that. I may discover a bit I had not gotten before or the story yields a new pleasure that I had missed in my rush to find out What Happens Next.

So why keep going back when I can keep reading something new, get that first time feeling over and over again? I think its because the story stays with me and it was well told. I’ve never gone back and read a book I disliked or even one to which I was simply indifferent. I had to love that story. I go back, not expecting the same pleasure I had the first time, but simply because it’s a friend. I had a good experience with that friend and I enjoy being in its company. For me, the fact that it’s a repeated pleasure simply deepens that pleasure for me.

I try to balance out the two; reading something new along with reading something familiar. It keeps me sane – or what passes for sane these days. I think I’ll go find an old friend this summer and renew my acquaintanceship. It’s a good time to do it.

On a different note: since this is Memorial Day Weekend, we should remember the reason why the holiday exists. It’s not simply the start of summer, it’s about remembering those who served their country, especially those who died. Our respect and our thanks.

And if you’re traveling, safe journey.




Marc Alan Fishman: Press Start – Or Just Turn It Off!

Marc Alan Fishman: Press Start – Or Just Turn It Off!

So Microsoft debuted the XBOX One this week and the video game fanboys dropped trou and prayed to Lord Gates. With it, the next generation of consoles are all spec’ed out, and being built by poor children of other countries. Err, I mean by robots. Yes. Souless, never-hungry robots. Perhaps it’s a sign of the times, or just the fact that I’m getting older and crankier by the day (something I may attribute to being in proximity of several fine folks on this very site), but I’m finding it harder and harder to care.

My generation was gleefully known as the ‘Nintendo Generation. When the original NES debuted, I was at the perfect age. With careful prodding, pleading, and sad-face-making, my parents dropped the $100 (a veritable fortune at the time for a lowly birthday / Chanukah gift) for the system. Elation, kiddos. Elation. Flash forward sometime later, and I was able to finagle the Super Nintendo when it debuted. I remember with near photographic memory the reflection of my beardless cherubic face in the glossy UV coating on the box… declaring all the amazing new games debuting with the console –none of which were included, save for Super Mario World.

This cycle continued all throughout high school: the SNES begat the Sega Saturn (don’t judge me). The Saturn begat the Dreamcast (continue to hold that tongue). The Dreamcast gave way to the original XBOX. And I remember it so well; plunking down my shiny new credit card for the $650 charge (the system, a game, and the extra controller, don’t-cha-know), and then holing up at a friend’s apartment for what would end up being one of very few all-night gaming sessions. See, even in my early twenties I was a budding old man. But I digress.

The newest line of video game consoles continue the trend to move away from entertainment add-on devices to full on hubs of all things do-and-watchable. Literal, visceral computers minus a keyboard and mouse. They’re WiFi-enabled, app-store-shoppable, and motion-sensitive. The XBOX One will apparently be ‘on’ all the time, and be able to take voice commands at will. XBOX, turn on. Bring up Netflix. Order me a pizza. Raise me my child. They’ve even showed a possible add-on that will project environmental graphics onto the walls and surfaces of your media room. I’ve seen the future folks… and I can’t wait to tell my son about how in my day our graphics were crappy and damn-it we liked it that way.

So why all the hatespew, you ask? All allusions to getting older aside, it’s frankly a matter of taste. The commitment of time a child (or teen, or adult for that matter) can sink into a video game is mind-numbing. Pun intended. Games today simply try too hard to be immersive. One simply doesn’t turn on the game, play a level or two, and call it a night. Suffice to say, that is what Angry Birds was designed to do. With the next generation of systems on their way, this is the trend that will continue. The phone will be my Nintendo. The XBOX will demand I plotz for 90 minutes if I intend to game.

The late Roger Ebert was adamant that even the best games were hardly art, I’ve never subscribed to that point of view. While Halo won’t sit on my shelf next to Inglorious Basterds, it certainly provided more smiles and provoked more thoughts than Kung Pow: Enter the Fist. But therein lies the blessing and the curse of modern gaming. The more video games mimic real life / real cinema / long-format stories, the more time and energy will be required of the player. Who here would watch The Godfather trilogy in 20-minute chunks?

And while yes, this doesn’t include Madden, fighting games, or arcade games… even there Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft are subtly demanding more and more of us as players – both in our time, and from our bank account). Madden may have that quick game, but the appeal (for those not online) is in the franchise mode-built for hours-long tweaking, prodding, and finessing. Fighting games demand the completest beat the game with every fighter to unlock a plethora of add-ons. And even the arcade games of my youth, repackaged and resold to me through countless app stores, stack themselves in such a manner that pleads I play it… remember how much I loved it… beat it… and buy the next one.

As it stands today I play only two games on my XBOX. Batman: Arkham City and WWE ‘13. Both provide me enough fun in what brief times I pull myself away from all my grown-up responsibilities. I assume in a year’s time, my stone facade will crack under the pressure of the pretty new graphics and promises of full-on entertainment media-center domination. But until that time, I’ll happily clutch my XBOX 360 like the old fart I’m becoming… and relish my memories of the simpler times. When up-up down-down left-right left-right B-A Start meant I could beat Contra, and head outside. When a round-robin tourney of Virtual On or Mario Kart meant bragging rights for the week to come. When the game manual delivered all the story I’d need in three paragraphs or less.

Those, my friends, were the days.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

MONDAY: Mindy Newell


John Ostrander: Improving On The Legends

39583There’s a constant desire these days, it appears, to try to improve on existing works. That’s not a bad idea except when it is a bad idea. A good character, a good concept, that’s been around for a while needs to have the barnacles taken off every so often to make it fresh and work better. Movies adapted from comics have to take a good look at the source material and then tweak and change it to make it work for the big/small screen.

For me, the problem comes when the concept is changed willy-nilly until you can no longer recognize it. When J.J. Abrams re-booted the Star Trek franchise a few years back, I was dubious but I genuinely enjoyed the result (as of this writing, I haven’t seen the sequel). I can understand many hardcore Trek fans not sharing my enthusiasm. For them, Abrams wandered too far from the zeitgeist of Star Trek. I think it was nephew Bill who said to me, “I love Star Wars. But if I wanted to watch Star Wars, I’d watch Star Wars. This is Star Trek.” (He’ll get his opportunity to see an Abrams Star Wars film in the future, if he’s so inclined.)

We see it all the time in comics. Characters are re-imagined on a constant basis. The only constant is change, it would seem. Change for the sake of change, however, is not always a good plan.

I’ve been as guilty of it as the next writer. Years ago, Marvel approached me with coming up with a new pitch for The Punisher. The fans had gotten burned out with the multitude of Punisher titles and the concept was moribund.

I’ll be honest; I wasn’t much of a Punisher fan. I felt he was one-dimensional and Frank Castle had wiped out enough Mafiosi over the years to populate a small city. I told them I’d try to come up with something and what I came up with was – Castle joins a Mafia family. I thought they’d never go for it, but they did.

Different? You bet. Wrong? Yup. Did the readers buy it? Nope. It wasn’t The Punisher. I had wandered off the essential concept.

I wasn’t on the book all that long (18 issues) and, late in the run, the concept of Castle switching sides was dropped and we played a different game – Castle, as a result of an explosion, had lost his memory. He didn’t know he was the Punisher, he couldn’t remember his family being killed, but he still had the same skills, the same instincts. Frank Castle was still The Punisher although he didn’t know it. This worked better but the series was cancelled before we could get too far; in fact, we wound it up in Heroes For Hire that I was scripting at the time. Perhaps if we had gone with the amnesia angle from the start, it might have worked better.

A revamp or a remake works if you can define what makes a given character to be that character. You want to get down to the basics, not ignore them. For example, we’ve seen in recent years three different versions of Sherlock Holmes, two set in modern times. They all work more or less because they all keep key elements of the concept.

Sometimes a revamp can be quite radical. Late in my run on GrimJack, I booted the character down his own timeline and into a new body, a new persona and a whole new supporting cast. His soul was the same but it gave me, and the reader, a chance to look at the character with fresh eyes. To my mind, it stayed true to the concept of the character and the location.

My rule of thumb: if you look at a character after a revamp and you could simply give the character another name, then you’ve wandered off the concept. So long as you remain true to the basic ideas that makes a given character unique until him/herself, then it doesn’t matter how radical their evolution. First, they have to be true to themselves.




Marc Alan Fishman: Vince McMahon – The Devil In Plain Sight

WrestleMania_19_-_Hulk_Hogan_Vs_Vince_McMahon_01It’s been a few weeks since my pro-pro-wrestling tirade. With another pay-per-view about to hit the airwaves in a day, I figured I’d check in on my on-and-off-now-on again male soap opera. And just as I remembered it, here I sit with a head full of opinions and 1062 words to blather out into the interwebs in hopes one Vincent Kennedy McMahon stumbles upon it and makes sweeping changes to his on-air product I know he never will. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

For those uninitiated (but still here, considering that I’ve mentioned pro-wrestling in the intro, and somehow you weren’t instantly turned away), the smart marks of wrestling have long known the biography of Vinnie Mac. The studious entrepreneurial son of a small regional promoter, Vince grew up in the biz but longed for more than just bingo halls and the occasional stadium show.

After his father’s passing, Vince soon acquired more and more territories. In time, his WWF had laid waste to the independent circuits, giving birth to what would end up becoming the largest ‘sports entertainment’ promotion in the world. Per his worked-shoot (or for the laymen, a pre-approved scripted performance that appears to be off the cuff, drenched in 4th wall breaking commentary), Paul Heyman put it best: “…your father shook the hand of every promoter in this country (and said) that he’d never compete against them, that his son would never compete against them. And when your father died, you competed! And with your ruthless, merciless, take-no-prisoners attitude, you drove everybody out of business, didn’t you, Vince? You ran all the competition into the ground and you stole all their ideas and you made yourself a billionaire out of it!”

In short, Vince McMahon built an empire the way we assume Lex Luthor might. On the backs of the broken men he stepped on. And we the people lap up his product like the faithful slaves we are. But what else are we to do? The only other promotion with national distribution is TNA. And their roster, for better or worse, is comprised mostly of people who used to work for the WWE (nee WWF; they lost a lawsuit). I know that I should appreciate their shows more, but when I watch it, it reeks of why I end up tuning into Raw or Smackdown instead: the best production values, larger than life personalities, and every now and again… an amazing in-ring performance that can’t be topped. In their heyday competitors like WCW and ECW were able to match Vince through sheer will power and creativity. But Vince like all great moguls found ways to literally steal the ideas of those who could bump his ratings a notch, and become all the stronger.

When ECW redefined hardcore, and WCW turned Hulk Hogan into a venomous heel, Vince gave birth to the Attitude Era. He poached ECW’s star pupil Steve Austin. He created the Hell in a Cell match to push his very best punching bag – Mick Foley – into the forefront of extreme entertainment. And in due time, both promotions collapsed in a heap under Vince’s checkbook. Their rosters were absorbed, bleached, processed, and what little was left remained a now redubbed WWE Superstar. So WCW and ECW can join Milestone and Wildstorm in the graveyard of the creative. Meanwhile, Vince boldly went where no promoter had in the past: he became his own greatest star. Casting himself as both the evil genius and fool, the McMahon/Austin feuds of the late 90’s are what helped eventually destroy McMahon’s competition. Don’t believe me? It’s the actual story mode of the WWE ’13 video game.

I entitled this article “The Devil In Plain Sight” because I’m truly tickled by the fact that Vince McMahon’s power only continues to rise and ooze out from his Stamford, CT offices. How so you ask? I’ll cite my two favorite examples. The first, C.M. Punk. The Chicago King of the Indies was brought into the WWE and was immediately shoved towards the mid-card. In spite of being an astounding in-ring performer and solid promo-talker, Punk epitomized everything Vince loathed. A natural and fit physique untouched by recreational steroids, a plethora of tattoos, and an attitude that was built to mock authority. Yet, over time, as the crowds continually reacted positively to Punk’s performances, he slowly rose the ranks. I’ll spare you the lengthy diatribe: Punk won the title, threatened to quit, did a Heyman-esque worked shoot, and ended up holding the World Title for over a calendar year. It was an unheard of achievement. But then, as the devil is prone to do, Vince called in his contract. Punk lost the title to the Rock (a far more commercially viable champion), and was forced to lose to the Undertaker at this past Wrestlemania. Given everything he ever wanted, and then tossed back out with the bathwater. When Punk returns, can we still believe he is ‘the voice of the voiceless’?

And sadder still, begets the souls of those never even given the offer. Colt Cabana, C.M. Punk’s friend and Chicago compatriot, grew up a WWE fanatic. He attended wrestling school, and developed his character. He rose the ranks of the independent circuit, all while showing his entrepreneurial spirit. And then, with literally dozens of WWE wrestlers vouching for him, McMahon yielded to give young Cabana a developmental deal. Much like being handed a property like Voodoo in the New52, Cabana was given an uphill battle from the start. A few “squash matches”, and pretty soon Colt was told creative has nothing for you, and with it so too went his dreams. In the wake of this, Cabana doubled down. He started up a podcast and hit the independents harder than he ever had before. And here he continues to exist, lamenting on the life he never truly got a shot at. And when the topic comes up week after week… does Cabana say one ill word of the man who could still yet make his dreams come true? Nay.

Because the Devil is always there, and there’s always a price to pay.

Shortly after writing this article, Marc was offered a staff writer position at WWE. He sent in his résumé, and was promptly smashed in the head with a steel chair.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

MONDAY: Mindy Newell


John Ostrander: Comics Writing Lessons from Shakespeare

Ostrander Art 130512When asked my influences, I invariably add William Shakespeare which may seem a bit pompous. Shakespeare? Really? (Aside: this column is not going to deal with the whole “Who Really Was Shakespeare?” debate. If you want to believe someone other than Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare’s play, you go ahead. It’s not germane and, frankly, I’ve read as much on the subject as I care to and so far as I’m concerned, Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare’s plays. End of discussion.) Please note I am not comparing myself to Shakespeare; simply that I’ve learned some things about writing from him.

Such as:

Theme is tied to plot. There are famous speeches and soliloquies in Shakespeare, where the character stops to speak his or her mind, none more famous than the “to Be Or Not Be” speech in Hamlet. The action, however, doesn’t just come to a stop while the player addresses the audience. They always advance the action of the moment, of the play. The action during the “To Be Or Not To Be” soliloquy is found in Hamlet trying to decide if he is going to kill himself because of the grief of his father’s death. It is appropriate for him to ask this question. To translate this to comics or movies – does the explosion advance the plot or is it there just to blow things up? All action sequences, all fight scenes, can be used to advance plot or explore character.

Explore all sides of the question. What did Shakespeare think on any given question? It’s hard to tell because he would give convincing arguments to both (or more) sides of a question. Example: in his play Measure For Measure, set in Vienna, the Duke feels that the city has gotten morally a little out of control. Pretending to leave town, he leaves Angelo – very upright, very moral, very strict – in charge. The Duke, however, disguises himself as a monk to see what happens. Angelo decides to close all the brothels and, under an ancient law, execute those who have gotten a woman pregnant without the bonds of marriage. A young man, Claudio, has fallen afoul of that and Angelo decides to make him an example. Claudio is clapped in jail and sentenced to die.

Claudio’s sister, Isabella, soon to be a nun, comes to plead for her brother. Angelo is taken with her beauty and, filled with desire for her, agrees to exchange Claudio’s life for a one night stand with Isabella. Virtuously, she refuses.

In the dungeon, the Count – disguised as a Monk – counsels Claudio, telling him, “Be absolute for death; either death or life / Shall thereby be the sweeter.” It’s a great speech about the acceptance of death and Claudio seems both comforted and made resolute by it.

Yet, shortly after in the same scene, after Isabella tells Claudio of Angelo’s offer, he begs her to do it. He expresses his fear of death with, “. . . to die, and go we know not where / To lie in cold obstruction and to rot. . .” Which attitude speaks Shakespeare’s true mind?

Both. Both are true, to the moment, to the character, to the author, and for the reader or audience. It comes down to which is truer for us and that was Shakespeare’s intent or what I learned from it. Shakespeare had a many faceted mind and he used it in his work.

Write for the now. In Shakespeare’s day, plays were popular entertainments. Poetry might be gathered in a book but plays were not. Theater was a low art form, just above bear baiting. Shakespeare himself never gathered his plays for publication; that was done after Shakespeare’s death by his friend Ben Jonson, himself a playwright of no small fame or self-esteem who felt that his own plays were worthy of publication and his friend Shakespeare was almost as good and so deserved the same respect.

Shakespeare was writing to please the crowd, but also to note and comment on the issues of the day. Queen Elizabeth I was aging and indeed would die in Shakespeare’s lifetime. Until the very last, she had no heir. Shakespeare’s War of the Roses documented what happened to the nation when King Henry V died without an heir, the wars and cruelties of both sides and that could happen again if no successor was named to Queen Elizabeth’s throne. He also explored what made a good, even great monarch.

As writers, we have to work with the time we have, today, and write things that will resonate with our readers today. Shakespeare did so brilliantly and wound up speaking to people of all time – but he wrote for his own time in a manner that was very entertaining.

That’s what I want to do when I grow up, as I grow up. Be entertaining; touch a chord. These are among the things I’ve taken away from Willie S.




Marc Alan Fishman: A Chink In The Armor

2011-04-29_133203_Iron_Man_demon-statueThis past weekend I immersed myself in all things Iron Man. I caught the new flick. I watched the first two on cable. I read the new issue of his book. I watched a few passing episodes of his 90s cartoon show as well as some The Avengers: Earth Mightiest Heroes. Throughout all the media Tony Stark has reigned over, it would seem his biggest defect shines though to his core: the man’s worst villain has always been himself. Is this necessarily a bad thing? No, but it certainly creates a struggle to find new ways to make Iron Man interesting.

Before we go further, let’s just assume you’ve seen the new movie. If you haven’t? Go do it. It’s absolutely amazing. Not better than IM1 per se, but leaps and bounds above IM2.

Since we’re on the subject, lets chat about the newest Iron Man flick. Here, Shane Black and his team concocted a very dark, very epic yarn in which they asked the big question at the center of Tony Stark. “Does the suit make the man, or does the man make the suit.” Black obviously chooses to answer just “yes” to that by the time the credits roll up. It’s a sufficient answer. But what it cements is that after three movies, Iron Man’s rogues gallery is woefully terrible.

In Iron Man 1, Obadiah Stane was snarling psuedo-father figure who tragically becomes a CG-piloted mess by Act Three. Because he’d rather start (and bankroll) World War III  than realize that Tony Stark came back from the desert with tech that would make them billionaires twice over. And to think that somehow he could plow his surrogate son onto the LA freeway, murder him, and somehow cover up the murder? A bitter pill to swallow.

In Iron Man 2, we start with a lunatic. This is an improvement over the megalomaniac Stane in that we don’t ever have to feel remorse for a heel turn. But where Stane could be menacing in a suit or super suit, Ivan Vanko, a.k.a. Whiplash (for the marketing tie-ins only), isn’t a threat at any point in the movie. He’s paired with a Sam Rockwell desperately trying to nibble on the scenery before being swept off the stage by the CG nightmare of Act 3. Once again, we’re faced with a fight in darkness between men in powerful suits. The day is won once again with firepower, and a little luck.

Iron Man 3 fires out of the gate with what might be his only namable villain – The Mandarin – only to wink and nod to us that such a racist concept need not be real. While I know this is a polarizing choice, I applauded it. Matt Fraction found a great way to handle the rogue in the confines of the page, but the Marvel Movieverse need not get bogged down in Fing Fang Foom-dom just yet. The bait and switch with Aldrich Killian here was a welcome choice. And for a good long while, I was on board. But again we end up at act three: A fight in the dark where luck, and firepower saves the day.

While it was sure neat to watch molten men fight an army of unmanned Iron Men (I’m not lying, I literally cheered in the theater when the drill Iron Man and black and gold suit showed up), it was all style over substance. Of course it’s the lesson that Tony takes with him as things end up. At the end of the day… all those who have opposed Tony, really only saw him as getting in the way. No man (on film at least) has found a way to be a bigger villain to Tony than Tony himself.

In the comics, it stays just as true. Matt Fraction’s brilliant run on Invincible Iron Man took cues from “Demon in a Bottle” in so much that the best way to create havoc in Tony’s life, is through himself. By using his past, and carefully crafted threats, Tony Stark of the 616 (prior to the Marvel Now initiative) was a man haunted by all the seeds of destruction he planted over the course of countless forgotten years.

By milking this, and enrobing it in new fancy techno-villains? We got a Tony like we’d never seen. And frankly, if you read almost any of my reviews of the book during that five-year run, you’d understand why I loved it so. But even amidst all the shiny bells and whistles of upgraded morts-in-suits, and a much more vicious Mandarin… the book still brought it back to the singular villain of the series: Tony Stark. And just as the movies have smartly ended on him reaching that catharsis… so too have the comics run into that very issue.

And because of it, Iron Man in the comics is suffering. With no Earthly villain left to wage war on, Tony has taken to the stars. And with almost a years’ worth of adventures under his space-belt I have been growing exponentially more bored. Why? Because much like his cinematic adventures… so too do we end up at act threes where firepower and luck prevail. No lessons to learn. Tony is a complete man. And thus far… it’s the chink in Iron Man’s otherwise impervious armor. I hope for all our sakes, someone finds a way to explore that further.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

MONDAY: Mindy Newell