Diversity amongst geeks has been a popular topic as of late. You would be hard pressed to find a comic convention without at least one diversity panel. Usually, though, there are panels about the diversity amongst fans, creators, cosplayers, actors, and fictional characters.
Usually, these panels focus on the heavy hitters of diversity: race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation. And yes, these are all very important issues that need to be discussed. I know. I’ve argued on these very points myself on numerous occasions. Still, these aren’t the only groups that should be discussed. One group intersects them all. The disabled.
I bring this up because over the weekend, comics writer & Mine! Contributor Tee Franklin announced she would be no longer attending Baltimore Comic Con(Full Disclosure: Various ComicMix staffhumans are guests at the Baltimore Comic Con). This is because, despite her notes about her needs, the convention placed her in a distant spot from the door and bathrooms. Because of Franklin’s disability, she would not be able to make the regular walk through the floor. When she asked for a table change, the con staff told her sorry but there is nothing we can do. So Tee made the decision to skip BCC, which has disappointed a number of her fans. And this isn’t a unique event. This is Franklin’s first year doing conventions, and three of the four shows failed to assist her.
At least one table swap was offered by another creator, but by that time Franklin had already decided to skip no matter what. As a popular creator, this is a serious blow to attendees but teaches valuable lessons that every convention needs to be aware of.
When we talk about diversity, we should mean everyone. Every single person has a unique experience and view of the world. And everyone wants to see people like themselves successful. That’s why characters like Oracle have always been so important to this community, and why writers like Jill Pantozzi were so disappointed when they changed her back to Batgirl. I find Faith from Valiant inspiring and I would be upset if they suddenly made her skinny.
Franklin has only been tabling at cons a short time, and it’s possible that the conventions aren’t equipped to deal with disabled exhibitors. However, I doubt she is the first or even the fiftieth to make these requests. BCC has announced changes to their exhibitor planning to alleviate this issue from happening again in the future, which is a step in the right direction but comes too late for 2017. As we continue on this journey of diversity, we must remain inclusive of everyone, not just the groups we remember.
As I pointed out last week in this column, there is a plethora of John Ostrander related material out there this month for you to buy. You’d think it was Christmas or something.
In the previous column occupying this space, I talked about the first volume of my Heroes For Hire series put out by Marvel. This week we’ll look at Volume 5 of Suicide Squad from DC that is coming out December 27. This one is titled Apokolips Now and the major story arc in the volume takes the Squad to the home of the nastier set of New Gods, Apokolips.
Lots of stuff happens in this volume. Three members of the team die, some walk away, some long running subplots are put to rest – including the revelation that Barbara Gordon is Oracle. By the end the volume, the Squad’s existence has been exposed and so has Waller’s running of the team… and she winds up in prison. Lots of story is crammed into this one TPB.
I want to focus for the moment on the first story in Volume 5. It’s one of the Personal Files that my late wife and co-writer, Kim Yale, and I would do from time to time. Each Personal File would center on one character and through them we would see other members of the team. There was never a mission in the Personal Files; you could think of it as an “All Sub-Plot” issue but I think they were highly effective and, as I recall, very popular with the readers.
This time we focused on Father Richard Craemer who was the spiritual adviser to the Squad. That probably sounds odd but the Squad was secretly headquartered in Belle Reve prison that had an active convict population and Craemer was also prison chaplain. In addition, Craemer was also a qualified psychological therapist and served the Squad that way as well.
Craemer is one of my favorite characters and Kim and I had a very definite agenda in creating and using him. At the time, almost every time you would get a priest or minister or preacher of what have you in comics, they were hypocrites – venal, and frankly rather despicable characters. That simply wasn’t either my nor Kim’s experience. That’s not to say those types aren’t out there and the revelation of pederasts among the clergy is well documented and, frankly, sickening. But not every member of the clergy is like that. It became a cliché, a stereotype.
However, Kim and I both had near relatives who were in the clergy. Kim’s father, the Reverend Richard Yale, was an Episcopal minister, a Navy chaplain and a counselor. My mother’s sister, Sister Mary Craemer, was an administrator at Mundelein College in Chicago and later was very active on behalf of senior citizens. Both were very good people and we wanted a character who would reflect that. And as you may have noticed, we borrowed from the names of them both to create the name of our character.
Father Craemer has a lot of humility and a great sense of humor which he needs in dealing with Waller and the members of the Squad. He listens and he treats everyone with empathy. It’s a known fact of my background that I studied to be a priest (one year, in my freshman year in high school, and my so-called “vocation” came from an overdose of Going My Way). It’s possible that Craemer, to some extent, might be a projection of what I would have hoped I would be as a priest. Not entirely; Kim was a part of his make-up as well.
Craemer has sessions with several members of the Squad and its support staff; the session with Count Vertigo dealing with manic/depression comes to mind and I’ve heard from those in that community that it was a very accurate portrayal.
I so enjoyed Father Craemer that when he left the Squad I brought him over to The Spectre to be the spiritual advisor to the Wrath of God. Craemer never got the easy gigs.
All in all, I think Richard Craemer was a very successful character and there’s a reason for it. We thought the character through. Just don’t write the cliché. If that sounds obvious, well, a lot of basic writing rules are obvious.
So run out and get yourself a copy of the latest Suicide Squad collection. Get several. Give them out as gifts. People will thank you. And if they don’t, well… I do.
Sorta Spoiler Notes: Today I’m discussing the latest Suicide Squad reprint, Rogues, and I’ll disclose some plot points. The stories were originally published in the late 80s so a spoiler shouldn’t be needed, but just in case you didn’t read them back then and are considering catching up now, you been warned!
One of the nice side-effects of the upcoming Suicide Squad movie is that DC is pushing into TPB print my original run. The latest volume comes out April 12 and is entitled Rogues and it’s maybe my favorite one so far. It reprints issues 17 through 25, including the Annual and a Bronze Tiger solo story by Larry Ganem and Peter Krause.
A quick rundown on the Squad. The Original Suicide Squad was created by Robert Kanigher and Ross Andru and debuted in 1959 in The Brave and the Bold #25. They were pretty much a version of Challengers of the Unknown and featured three guys and a gal. They appeared for five issues of B&B and then… nothing.
I revived the title in 1987 ands re-invented the group as a cross between the Dirty Dozen and the Secret Society of Super-Villains. Incarcerated bad guys were sent on covert missions for the U.S. and got time shaved off their prison terms – if they survived. Not all did.
In this latest TPB, we were getting into our second year and really hitting our stride. The book was constantly changing (I liked to try and keep things fresh) and one of the big changes was that my wife, Kim Yale, came on as co-writer. Kim had been itching to get into comics and I wanted to spread out my burgeoning workload. She loved the whole idea of the Squad and brought a lot of herself and her energy into the book.
Kim and I usually had different work/sleep schedules. I was a morning person and Kim always felt that there was nothing wrong with the morning that sleeping until noon couldn’t fix. We each had our own Mac but they weren’t connected. In those days, to share you had to put things on a floppy disc and then exchange them. (Millennials, go ask your parents or Wikipedia what floppy discs were. We’ll wait.) I was the senior writer; I had the most experience and I had guaranteed the quality of writing with our editor, Bob Greenberger. If Kim and I had story or script disagreements (and we did) that we couldn’t resolve, I had final say. Kim didn’t always like that but she agreed.
When scripting, we would divide up the issue, work different scenes, and then exchange them. Kim would do a re-write on mine, I did one on hers, and if we disagreed, we’d work to resolve it. Today I couldn’t tell you which part was Kim’s work and which part was mine and that’s as it should be.
Two key things happened in this group of stories. First, we introduced Oracle who, originally, was just a voice coming from a computer. At this point, Oracle was an outside hacker who got into the Squad’s computers. It would be a while before we revealed who it was to the readers. Spoiler: it turned out to be the former Batgirl, Barbara Gordon, after she had been crippled by the Joker in The Killing Joke. Yeah, they said it wasn’t really in continuity but all the fans thought it was and so did we.
We also introduced the running joke of the pie-in-the-face gag. Starting with Amanda Waller, every so often someone would get pied; the mystery of who was doing it wasn’t revealed for a long time. I can’t believe how long we pushed it. For a book so grim and gritty, we did classic slapstick every now and then. Keep things shaken up.
Also for humor, we added the characters of Punch and Jewelee. Kim and I never did use the Joker and/or Harley Quinn in our version of the Squad. Too many strings attached to really get to play with them as we would have wanted. Punch and Jewelee were fun loving sociopaths in a similar vein to the Joker and Harley. They were married and over-sexed as well as homicidal. “Now I’m going to make you eat this salami!” One of my favorite lines. I continue to deny that Punch and Jewelee were in any way based on Kim and me and our married life. Deny deny deny.
We also added Killer Shrike to the line-up. She had sonic abilities and “accidently” killed people but, as we wrote her, she had “found Jesus” and was working her way to the Lord by serving with the Suicide Squad. That girl just wasn’t quite right in the head but fun to write.
This series also had one of the best twists we ever did. Senator Cray and his political associate, Derec Tolliver, were trying to blackmail Amanda Waller into doing dirty work for them by threatening to publicly reveal the Squad. This is a case of two dopes thinking they are smarter than they are. Waller, of course, found a way to reverse the tables on them but she didn’t bother to tell the Squad’s leader, Rick Flag, who decided to take matters into his own hands and kill the two.
Waller finds out only after (Spoiler) Flag kills Tolliver. She then sends the rest of the Squad out to stop Flag from killing Cray “by any means necessary.” She would have cause to regret those words.
It was Deadshot, Floyd Lawton, who found Flag just as Flag was about to shoot the Senator. Deadshot had just returned to the Squad after the tragic events of his own miniseries and mentally was not very stable. He found a unique way to keep Flag from killing the Senator (Spoiler) – by killing Cray himself.
A lot of stuff happens in this volume – characters come, characters go, characters die. The usual unusual stuff with the Squad. We get a touch of the personal lives as well; we even get to see Waller deal with family and you get very much the sense she’s rather deal with the criminals and sociopaths that make up the Squad.
It’s interesting to me (at least) that, in the beginning, I wasn’t even sure I could write a team book. I found it to be terra incognita. By this point in the run, I felt a lot more secure. The blend of personalities really clicked for me and getting to work with Kim was just an additional pleasure. Most of the time.
DC is going to release another volume of our Squad stories in July, just before the movie comes out in August. That makes sense. Get ‘em out while the interest is there. I’m hoping that they’ll continue to collect the Squad afterwards as well; they’re almost half the way through the run now and it would be nice to have the whole thing gathered.
(SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! Spoiler spoiler spoil spoil spoilery spoilers.I’m chatting this week about the events on some of the superhero TV shows last week. If you recorded them and intend to watch them later, give this a pass. Here endeth the warning.)
It was an interesting week in superhero TVland – specifically, DC superhero TVland. At least for me. I had a personal connection to some of them.
Arrow had a few events, some minor, one major. The character Felicity who is their computer geek expert recently got shot and it appears she has nerve damage to the spine and now has resumed her place with the team in a wheelchair. Sound like anyone we know? Yup – Oracle, whom my late wife and writing partner Kim Yale and I created from the remains of Barbara Gordon. Oh, they’re not calling her that but that’s who she is, wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more.
They also had Felicity dealing with a hallucination of her younger self, perhaps brought on by pain medication or even an aftereffect of anesthesia. What’s interesting is that younger Felciity is the spitting image of Death from the Sandman series – pale skin, raven dark hair, dressed in black, with an ankh necklace. However, they don‘t reference Death at all. They just grab her look. Guess Felicity was really into the Goth scene back then.
The major event was – they killed off their version of Amanda Waller. Bad guy just suddenly shot her in the head without warning. That was startling, I will admit, as it was no doubt intended to be. Since I get a little bit of money every time Amanda shows up on Arrow (or anywhere), her death was not a terribly pleasant surprise.
OTOH, this was a young, pretty, skinny Waller which is not how I saw the character. When I created the Wall, I saw her as a certain age and a certain heft for a variety of reasons. The bulk made her more physically intimidating. Also, I wanted a character who was unlike other comic book characters. Being black, middle aged, and plus-sized did that. I understood that this was the CW and that’s what the CW does – young and gorgeous is the rule of the day, every day. I did nott and do not object to their interpretation. And we have Viola Davis playing Amanda in the upcoming Suicide Squad movie and I’m looking forward to that. (The second trailer came out for the Squad movie as well recently and it’s looking real hot, IMO.)
There was another unexpected death in DC superhero TV-land this week and it was in the second episode of the new DC’s Legends Of Tomorrow. On the team is the CW version of Hawkman and Hawkgirl (you couldn’t call her Hawkwoman, CW?) and, lo and behold, they offed Hawkman this week. Well, boy howdee, that was a stunner.
I didn’t create Hawkman but I’d written him for a while (although it was alien Katar Hol rather than Carter Hall) so I did have a personal attachment to him. I’ll continue watching for now just to see where they go with all this but I’m not sure of its longevity.
The last event happened for me on Supergirl over on CBS rather than the CW. The main character is alright but, for me, the real draw is the Martian Manhunter, J’onn J’onzz. Tom Mandrake and I did a series on JJ in which we explored more of his society and culture. For example, it had been long established that, on Mars, J’onn had a wife and daughter who died. No one, however, had ever given them names, so I did. The daughter I named K’ym as a tribute to my late wife. On last week’s Supergirl episode, J’onn went into some of his past. He mentioned two daughters, one of whom was named K’ym.
That pleased me a lot. It was just a small thing but I know Kim would have been very pleased. I can almost hear her giggling and see her bouncing up and down with glee. Most pleasant.
So that was my week in Superhero TVland. How was yours?