The first time you ever ate a Yummy-Lump candy bar – second grade, wasn’t it? – you were sure you’d never tasted anything so good and you couldn’t wait to taste another. You didn’t have to wait long. Your aunt – the one who lived upstairs and always smelled like wet laundry – loved Yummy Lumps and when she learned that you, too, favored that sugary delight she took it upon herself to be certain that you were never without it. Nice aunty!
Day after day, year after year as soon as you passed through the front door your aunt hit you with the candy and, dutifully, you unwrapped and bit and chewed because aunty was nice and besides your mother seemed to be afraid of aunty and told you that you’d best not offend her sister and so you didn’t. The candy made you want to puke, but so what? You ate it and ate it and ate it…
All this has exactly what to do with the nominal subject of these comments, comic books?
A while back, in what has become a reliable supplier of comics news, and I refer to nothing less than the August New York Times, the paper ran a story headlined Don’t BlameThese Heroes for Slumping Sales. The adjacent story told the world that, as the headline proclaimed, Marvel Comics was off its game in the money-making department. That’s disconcerting, but far from catastrophic, but the situation got worse when a Marvel executive blamed the faltering sales on the company’s diversity.
Time was, not so long ago, that Marvel’s primary product was superhero stories featuring costumed good-guy vigilantes who went around having double identities and kicking heinous ass. These stalwarts were, with few exceptions, white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. (Okay, I’m not sure about the “Protestant” part. Matter of fact, these folk didn’t seem to have religions. Did this disqualify them from seeking elected office?)
Now, though superheroes come in diverse sizes, shapes, genders, ethnicities, orientations. (Of course, you know all this.) The Marvel exec apparently blamed limping sales on the diversity of revamps of familiar characters. The story mentions a female Thor, an Asian Hulk and a black Captain America.
But a respected comic shop owner in San Francisco, Brian Hibbs, disagreed. Mr. Hibbs blames Marvel’s woes on the plethora of series reboots with a Number 1 on the cover. (Number ones can be marketed as collectors’ items and so hobbyists may decide to buy extra copies; the flood of new series (more collectors’ items and the satisfaction of being there from the beginning) andt he promise of significant changes in storylines where, it turns out, there are none.
Questionable marketing tactics, unfulfilled promises and maybe just too much of the same stuff… In olden days these special issues were rare and maybe appeared when someone had a story idea that demanded special handling, and not one that existed just to sweeten profits.
There is, of course, no reason why a comic continuity can’t do both, but maybe it’s not a good idea to do them both every day.
Every college freshman learns about price elasticity in Economics 101. Price elasticity simply means that consumers will be more accepting of price changes for some products than for others. And as I’ve been watching the CW’s new Riverdale television series, I’m translating this economic concept to Geek Culture. Specifically, I’m mesmerized how some fans embrace changes to pop culture properties with a Geek Culture Elasticity and others just can’t embrace changes.
Long-time Archie fans – he is, after all, celebrating his 75th anniversary this year – are wrapping their heads around this latest television incarnation. The new Riverdale show is a steamy and creepy manifestation of beloved characters that ostensibly represent Americana. Unlike their traditional comic counterparts, these versions of the characters were driven by dark and base motivations that are a part of real people (albeit gorgeous and glamorous versions of real people).
I really liked the show. But then again – I like Gotham and that’s not really like the traditional Batman comic books, and I like the current Silver Surfer comics, and they aren’t like the traditional Silver Surfer comic books either.
We should be used to twisted versions of the Archie gang by now. Long ago, the publisher realized the characters had great elasticity and created Lil’ Archie, miniature versions of the teenagers. More recently, the various Archie comics have been boldly publishing non-traditional versions of their characters in series like Afterlife With Archie (the zombie version), The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (creepy Gaimen-esque witch stories) and Life with Archie (The Archie gang grows up and becomes thirtysomething).
The entire line of Archie comics was recently refreshed with Mark Waid’s new Archie series. Jughead, Adam Hughes’ Betty and Veronica and the new Josie and Pussycats soon followed. Long-time Archie writer (for former Marvel editor-in-chief) Tom DeFalco just started up Reggie and Me in the same universe.
There have always been twisted Archie versions percolating about. One of my favorite stories in recent years was Brubaker and Phillip’s The Last of the Innocent series from 2011. Doppelgangers of Archie and his gang were thrust into their very own crime noir story. It was deliciously wicked.
But taking a step back and looking at the entire Geek Culture landscape, it’s easy to see that while some fans welcome changes, others are furious.
Kelly Thompson is the writer of Marvel’s new Hawkeye series, and has some thoughts about fan outrage that illustrates some fans’ In-elasticity when it comes to beloved to icons. In the Marvel Comics mythology, the original Hawkeye, Clint Barton, has been very comfortable with sharing his heroic mantle with a young upstart, Kate Bishop. And this new series puts Kate center stage as Hawkeye.
Thompson recently told a story on Graphic Policy’s BlogTalkRadio about how one fan was outraged that “Hawkeye wasn’t a dude anymore.” And this fan claimed to be the greatest Hawkeye fan, which seems incongruous when you realize that Kate Bishop has been Hawkeye in the ongoing comics universe for over a decade.
It’s easy for some fans to shake their fists in rage when creators, or corporations, change or alter their characters. And it’s just as easy for other fans to embrace new takes on old characters, like a female Captain Marvel or a black Captain America.
It’s not just the lunkheads who have trouble with changes. That’s too simplistic an analysis.
The proof is in the sales numbers. Many retailers, as well as fans, feel that Marvel has pushed the pendulum of change too far, and these wide swings have resulted in softer sales. The Marvel heroes might not have the Geek Elasticity that senior management had planned on.
Longtime fans tend to take change in stride. They are confident that any character reboot will eventually bounce back. They don’t get upset when Captain America is revealed to be an evil double agent because they’d seen it before and they know that the status quo will eventually bounce back.
I am also impressed how Geek Culture can easily keep track of all the different versions of their favorite characters.
For example, Flash fans know the Flash’s pre-Crisis mythology, his post Crisis-mythology, his new 52 mythology, his television mythology and his Rebirth mythology. And if you don’t know what all those terms means – don’t worry. You may be better off.
A big character like Batman can support many versions.
Batman is dark and brooding and in the movies, while his television is young and growing while his comic book self, ostensibly his true self is… well, I guess that changes a lot too.
Pop Culture today gets more complicated than ever, some versions, like the video game mythologies offer another take on the characters. The popular Batman: Arkham video game series, by Rocksteady has created its own darker version of Batman and his villains. Developers Rock Steady and WB Games Montreal has cleverly invited longtime Batman contributors like Paul Dini and Kevin Conroy to lend their creative talents to these efforts, further blurring the lines.
You know, it’s always been this way. Back in the in the 30s and the 40s a big hero had two competing mythologies that were both tops in their respective media.
The Shadow of the pulp novels was a mysterious crime fighter, with dark mysterious history, many identities and an intricate organization full of nuanced operatives.
The radio adventures of the character featured a ubiquitous millionaire playboy, who was often quite bumbling and less-than-competent. And when he assumed the identity of the Shadow, he became invisible.
The Shadow Comics confused things even more. In those comics he looked like the pulp version of the Shadow, but became invisible like the radio version. And then the comics introduced new characters not in the pulps or the radio show. Most memorable was Valda Rune. She was an enthralling femme fatale. I hope either Dynamite Entertainment or pulpmaster Will Murray will revive her very soon!
But nobody seemed to have an issue with enjoying two, or three, versions of a top heroic character like the Shadow. Maybe fans were more comfortable with the Elasticity of Pop Culture Icons back then. Or maybe they were better at just keeping it all in perspective.
And when it comes to the Archie, Veronica and gang in Riverdale…hey, who really knows who they are in high school?
As the year winds down, it is common for wags to predict what is going to happen during the next twelve months. Quite frankly, I find these efforts to be almost always wrong and often ridiculous. However, that usually applies to politics and not to comic books, so this year I’m whipping out my crystal ball and I’m going to predict away.
Mind you, there is absolutely no effort behind this. Each of these are so predictable you wouldn’t be surprised to find them inside a stale fortune cookie. Which is my point. I thought I’d get that out of the way right quick.
I am going to restrict myself to Marvel Comics circa 2017. This is solely because DC Comics did the right thing and admitted The New 52 didn’t work, and Marvel has yet to own up to Civil War 2. Also, it’s about time ComicMix gave Dan DiDio a pass.
Even though they’re numbered, they are in no specific order. Ready?
Steve Rogers will be the back with his round shield and some close form of his historic costume.
Sorry, Sam Wilson, but you knew this would happen. Steve Rogers is Captain America, and that has nothing to do with race or age or even skill. Just as Dick Grayson will never be the permanent Batman, even though a couple hundred other people seem to be right now (sorry, Dan; old habits die hard).
Victor Von Doom will return to his tin can.
Action figures simply do not look good in Armani. I’m not saying Vic will return to his totally evil ways in 2017 – we might endure a Magneto-like moral ambivalence for a while. That’s kind of a shame as I’m enjoying the current storyline, such as it is. However, this will happen because…
Tony Stark will return to his tin can.
Of course he will. Maybe not until after the next Avengers movie, but Tony Stark is Iron Man and that’s that. The movies turned him into an A-list superhero, and swapping out the human inside the can won’t work. Besides, they already gave his teenaged replacement her own code name.
(A digression, common to ComicMix columns: why are they called “code names?” If you just said “Tony Stark” on an Avengerscom, both SHIELD and Vlad Putin would immediately know you’re talking about Iron Man.)
The Fantastic Four will get back together.
There are several reasons why this will happen. Marvel Master Ike Perlmutter can’t stay in his petulant frenzy forever, and his energy will be divided when the Republican Party finally decides his buddy Donald Trump is too much of a pain in the ass.
Also, The Thing is running out of super-groups to join. Everybody is in The Avengers, and everybody is in SHIELD. But only four people can be in the Fantastic Four (duh!) and The Thing always has been the most popular.
But… Ben Grimm just might move to Israel.
Doctor Strange will lose one of his monthlies.
Doctor Strange might just be my favorite Marvel character (Sub-Mariner gives him a run for his money in my fevered pantheon), but he has rarely been able to support one monthly title, let alone two. Or more; it’s so hard to tell these days. Yeah the movie was big (and great), but there’s no relationship between the number of titles a property can support and the long-term impact of a movie franchise.
Besides, there isn’t a Doctor Strange movie franchise per se. There is only the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise, which may or may not extend to their many teevee shows. This is why you will probably pay to see the next Spider-Man movie but you will think twice about the next X-Men team movie.
O.K. These are truly no-brainers, supported by the overwhelming weight of history and a bit more logic than is safe to apply to the comics field. But comics are now acceptable and are big business, so the role logic will play in future decisions just might increase. Eventually.
This week, we’re going to talk about identity politics and geek culture. One of the themes (or, perhaps, lessons learned) of this political season was about people who feel left out. These are the folks who aren’t really climate change deniers and certainly most aren’t bigots. But they are folks who feel like no one who is talking to them, listening to them or speaking up for them.
Clearly, some bristled when women and minorities jostled past them to assume positions of power and responsibility in their workplaces and communities. They might have big hearts and a welcoming mindset when they meet new people who don’t look like them or act like them… but they get a bit resentful and preoccupied with cultural differences. It’s the little things, like when they notice there are so many with kids “strange sounding” names in their grandson’s 2nd grade class.
Many of these folks tuned into the message from a candidate who promised to make them feel more comfortable in their own hometown.
That’s all clearly a generalization, but I see the same thing happening in Geek Culture. I hear many older fans lamenting that comics today miss the mark. They are uncomfortable with the new stuff and the changes to the old stuff.
I find this so hard to understand, as I do believe we are living in a Pop Culture Renaissance. There are so many innovative and brilliant comics being produced that just keeping up with the really excellent choices has become a Sisyphean task.
I hear fans, and some comic shop owners, complain that Marvel doesn’t get it. They are frustrated that new characters have taken on the mantles of their favorites like Thor, Captain America, Hawkeye, Iron Man, Hulk, Captain Marvel and even the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. Much like corporate America in the real world, these title roles used to be occupied by white males, but now they are held by women and minority characters.
Last week in The New York Times, Nicolas Kristof wrote about a Bernie Sanders’ identity politics quote. Basically, Sanders was saying that it’s less about the person’s background and more about the job they do.
I wish it was that easy, but it’s not. So many of us want to see a certain person in the job role and then want that person to do the job our way. Some of us want to see people just like themselves, while others, like me, celebrate the strides made and appreciate and applaud diversity.
I visited a comic shop last night. While there, the owner talked about how Marvel is still producing comics that his customers don’t want to read. The one recent win he mentioned was a new comic called The Unworthy Thor. In the Marvel Comics mythology, a woman has taken over the mantle of the Thor, and this new series puts the traditional Thor character (a white Asgardian or Norwegian – take your pick) back on center stage and in the title role.
It’s a tough balancing act. On the one hand, a publisher wants to appeal to our better angels and invite new people to the party, and on other hand, they need to appeal to what some of their original long-time consumers say they want.
There are no easy answers …not in the Geek Culture Club House nor on America’s political stage.
And folks on both sides might be talking about this upcoming issue of Sam Wilson: Captain America.
We’ve been obsessing over the wrong Captain America stuff.
Last month, both Geek Culture and the “world at large” (they aren’t as different anymore, are they?) were outraged that Captain America, in the debut issue of his latest series, was revealed to be an evil Hydra operative. Marvel, to their credit, played it all with a straight face. Some devotees seemed eager, unlike The Who, to “get fooled again.” Fists were clenched and keyboards were angrily pounded as indignant fans expressed their extreme displeasure at the “bad guy treatment” given to a favorite fictional hero.
The Hail Hydra shocker inspired a kazillion hilarious parodies, too.
But in the second issue of this new series, Marvel revealed it was all an insidious brainwashing trick. “Oh, never mind,” sighed most outraged fans. However, some outraged fans broke into a victory dance, assuming that Marvel caved to their wishes and changed the story based on their expressed outrage. These fans don’t quite realize how far in advance comics, a very collaborative effort, must be planned before the publication date.
There was also a hubbub about the new Captain America statue being erected in Brooklyn. Was it the “real” Captain America or just the cinematic version? Mike Gold explored this notion here when he talked about conflating the media version of a character with the original comic incarnation.
Others, like Teresa Jusino in this Mary Sue column, pointed out that in the original comics continuity, Steve Rogers, the everyman who would become the most popular Captain America, was born not in Brooklyn but in the lower East side.
Even with all that going on, the Captain America news we should be buzzing about is the story unfolding in Sam Wilson: Captain America #11. In this series, Captain America’s pal and partner, Sam Wilson, has graduated from his Falcon identity to become another Captain America. Hey it makes sense to me. Companies can have several Vice Presidents, why can’t our nation have more than one Captain America?
It’s a gorgeous looking comic with fantastic artwork by Daniel Acuna. This brilliant Spanish artist combines dynamic images with innovative composition and then he then wraps it all in a spectacular mastery of color.
I was astonished when I read this comic right after July 4th. To put it in perspective, this was the week our nation had been shocked and saddened by violence in Baton Rouge, Dallas and Minnesota.
Remember I mentioned comics must be planned and created months ahead of time in order to make the publication deadline? It seemed like Nick Spencer, the writer of Sam Wilson: Captain America #11, penned the story that very week. It had a “ripped from the headlines” feel, complete with a nuanced and balanced presentation.
In this story, the Americops, a sort of privately funded police force, are the villains. The creators didn’t waste the opportunity to show the difficult conflicts faced by several characters as they struggled, just like the rest of us, to make sense of the awful situation in this story unfolding in the comic as well as in the real world.
Kudos to all involved for adding texture, depth and hopefully a little more understanding to the national conversation.
Sorry I’ve been absent the past couple of weeks. Blame it on the taxing business of prepping for the taxing business. Now I’m back. Not back with a vengeance – I’m not the Punisher – back with a comic book to write about: Captain America: Sam Wilson #6 .
I’ve been writing about the adventures of Samtain America, the portmanteau of Sam Wilson and Captain America I created, quite a bit. There’s a good reason for that, Serpent Solutions. As it’s been a couple of weeks since I wrote my last column, let me recap. (Oh, and DC take note. This is what a recap looks like.)
Serpent Solutions is a “legitimate” business made up of the villainous snake-motifed artists formerly known as the Serpent Society. It hired itself out to major corporations to do the dirty work said corporations couldn’t do. Although said operations were well within the corporations’ budgets, they were, well, outside the law. So the corporations hired Serpent Solutions. Serpent Solutions did the dirty work, then sold the results of their illegal operations back to the corporations which needed those illegal things to be done.
Serpent Solutions’ shareholder reports were a little vague on the services it provided for its clients. Fortunately, Captain America: Sam Wilson was more forthcoming. Serpent Solutions developed new patents for major pharmaceutical companies by kidnaping undocumented Mexican immigrants and having Dr. Karlin Malus use those kidnap victims in illegal genetic cross-breeding experiments. Dr. Malus developed new, hybrid species that Serpent Solutions patented those species and sold the patents to big pharma for obscene profits. Big pharma, in turn, planned to turn the new patents into obscener profits.
As sinister schemes go, this one was straight out of The Island of Doctor Moreau. Unfortunately, it was the Marlon Brando version, because this scheme, like that Brando movie, was monumentally stupid. Before I explain why, let me digress into some more of that endangered species, the recap.
One Dr. Malus’s subjects was Joaquin Torres. Dr. Malus cross-bred Torres with Samtain America’s pet falcon, Redwing turning Torres into a winged avenger. (“Eee-urp!”) Torres escaped and scientists of the non-mad variety tried to undo the hybridizing. Unfortunately, back in All-New Captain America# 5, the Nazi vampire Baron Blood bit Redwing so Redwing had a vampiric healing factor, which got gene-spliced into Joaquin. Joaquin’s body healed all attempt to reverse the hybridizing, so his wings are permanent. (If it sounds like I’m making that up as I go along; I’m not. Cap’s writers are.)
The fact that Joaquin escaped and teamed up with Samtain America made Viper, head of Serpent Solutions, none too happy. It also made him quite loquacious. (Okay, the fact that Viper was a former Madison Avenue advertising agency executive turned super villain made him loquacious. Verbosity was in his both his job descriptions.)
In the big fight scene, Viper soliloquized more than if he’d been cross-bred with Hamlet, Macbeth, and Richard III. Viper monologued that Joaquin’s wings were Serpent Solutions’s property. The wings were the “result of [Serpent Solution’s] innovations and patents,” made for them under “a very strict work-for-hire” agreement. Which just proves super villains should be fight scened and not heard. Because nothing Viper said was even remotely correct.
See, kidnapping is illegal; even if the people being kidnapped are coming into the country illegally. Detaining them for the Border Patrol is fine. Kidnapping’s illegal.
Performing unauthorized gene splicing experiments on the people to turn them into people/animal hybrids is also illegal. As Dr. Malus’s medical manipulations happened in New York City, I’m going to go with NY Penal Law § 120.10, Assault in the First Degree. We have kidnapping and assault. There were probably more crimes, but these two are enough for our purposes. (Well, for my purposes, anyway, I’m too damned lazy to look up all the possible other crimes that may have been committed.)
Old court cases such as Riggs v. Palmer, have held that criminals can’t profit from their crimes. New cases do, too. For example, courts prevented convicted wife murderer Scott Peterson from receiving the proceeds of his wife’s life insurance policy. In addition, many states have some sort of Son of Sam law, which say that profits criminals earn from their criminal activities should be paid to the victims instead of the criminals. Under such laws, Joaquin, as the victim, could be entitled to the profits of Serpent Solutions’s crimes, his wings.
In addition, contract law says that a contract for an illegal purpose – such as kidnapping and criminal gene splicing – is not enforceable. So even if Dr. Malus was working under a strict work-for-hire contract, that contract wouldn’t be enforceable. Thus, the fruits of his experimentation would actually be his property, not Serpent Solutions’s. And as he conducted his experiments by way of kidnapping and assault, he wouldn’t be entitled to the profits of his experiments, either. (You were paying attention last paragraph, weren’t you?)
Ditto the big pharmas that hired Serpent Solutions. As aiders and abettors to the crimes, their claims to the patents are just as patently ridiculous, because their methods were patently illegal.
Any way you splice it, those wings belong to Joaquin. Which is a good thing because in Captain America: Sam Wilson #6, Joaquin became the New Falcon to Sam’s Cap. And a falcon without wings is just as bad as a criminal with profits.
Wait, I guess some of it happened before Captain America: Sam Wilson #4. So, Sherman, set the WABAC for wayer bac.
Once upon a time there was a team of super villains called theSerpent Squad. As its name implies, it was a team whose costumes and powers emulated snakes. Then in Captain America v1 #311, the Serpent Squad turned into a more formal organization. No, they didn’t start wearing scaly tuxes, they unionized. The Serpent Society members still committed crimes, but they gave the proceeds of those crimes to the Society. The Society funded itself from those proceeds and paid its members a regular wage and health benefits. (And this was years before Obamacare. Talk about forward thinking.)
Recently, Viper, the head of the Serpent Society, reorganized the organization yet again; into Serpent Solutions. Serpent Solutions wasn’t a union, it was a business. A well-funded job creator with offices in cities all across the United States and a headquarters in a luxurious Wall Street office tower it apparently owned. Serpent Solutions hired itself out to big businesses to do the illegal dirty work that the businesses needed done but couldn’t do itself. Then it sold the results of that dirty work back to the businesses for a profit.
Remember last week when I wrote about how the Sons of the Serpents were kidnapping undocumented immigrants in Arizona and selling them to Dr. Karlin Malus for genetic research? That was Serpent Solution’s latest business venture. Turns out Serpent Solutions were the people employing Malus. Serpent Solutions used him to create new genetic patents, which they then sold to the businesses that wanted these patents.
Why did Serpent Solutions do this? To make money. Why did the businesses hire Serpent Solutions to do this? For what they called plausible deniability.
Plausible deniability exists when senior officials in some organization intentionally keep themselves out of the loop of what’s going on in the organization below them. That way, if the organization does something illegal or wrong or illegal and wrong, the senior officials can say they didn’t know what their underlings were doing. The senior officials can claim they didn’t know what their underlings were doing, shift the blame to said underlings, and escape prosecution themselves. No one really believes the senior officials denials, but because no one can prove otherwise, those denials are plausible.
In the case of Serpent Solutions’s business clients, the plausible deniability came from the fact that the companies that hired Serpent Solutions could say, “Hey, all we did was buy some patents from those guys. We had no idea how they got those patents.”
See, plausible deniability. Except, I do not think the word means what the companies think it means. No not the word deniability. The word plausible.
The whole concept of plausible deniability relies on the fact that no one can find a connection linking the senior officials to the people hired to do the dirty work. No connection means no proof that the top brass really knew what was going on. The morons who hired Serpent Solutions had deniability that was about as plausible as a politician’s promise.
First, the companies were dealing with a group of super villains. How did those companies think the super villains were going to do that dirty work, if not by super villainy? The fact that your company’s hiring a bunch of “usual suspects” makes your deniability a little suspect.
Now let’s factor in the way Serpent Solutions conducted its business. It didn’t sneak around holding clandestine meetings with some lower-level official who could never be connected back to the higher ups. No, when Serpent Solutions was soliciting a company’s business, it held introductory meetings with the company’s board of directors. Public meetings in the company’s board room.
In the one board meeting we were shown, the Senior Vice President for Public Relations and Community Affairs – we’ll call him Greg, because that’s what the story called him – complained that Serpent Solutions’s methods included, “kidnapping! Illegal experiments! Torture and murder!” So it’s not like the Board didn’t know precisely what was going on. Then when Greg demurred and even quit his cushy job, Serpent Solutions killed him right there in the board room, while Viper monologued, “I’ve done a lot of these meetings over the past few months and there’s always one.”
Newsflash, if you want your deniability to be plausible, don’t have your entire board of directors meet the super villains you want to do your dirty work in your frelling board room. Like I said earlier, have some subordinate meet them in seclusion. Hey, I’m just a lowly former public defender from Cleveland not a highly paid and even more-highly bonused corporate CEO, and even I know how to commit corporate malfeasance better than that.
See, the minutes of board meetings are supposed to be recorded, which kind of leaves a paper trail disproving the whole deniability thing. If they aren’t, or are mysteriously destroyed, well that’s going to raise a red flag or two, too. And you’ll be needing that tutu when you try to dance around your own criminal culpability in the matter.
Yes, criminal culpability. Hire criminals to do your criminal dirty work for you and you’re an aider and abettor so just as guilty of their crimes as they are.
And here’s even flashier, newsflash: it helps the whole deniability thing of you don’t have the super villains you want doing your dirty work committing actual murders in your board room with your board of directors present.
Former President Richard Nixon denied involvement in the Watergate break in and cover up. People doubted his denials. But Nixon’s veracity has been suspect as far back as 1950, when he ran for the Senate and people named him “Tricky Dick,” because of alleged falsehoods in campaign ads. But those veracity problems paled next to Nixon’s Watergate denials. As more facts came out, Nixon’s Watergate denials were even less plausible. Finally, when all was said and done, so was President Nixon. Because he didn’t have plausible deniability.
But as much as “Tricky Dick’s” denials strained plausibility, he’d be a paragon of truth, justice, and the American way compared to any board of directors that hired Serpent Solutions to do its dirty work. Their denials would stretch plausibility like petite pantyhose on Honey Boo Boo’s “Mama June.”
CAPTAIN AMERICA DIDN’T TAKE A CONSERVATIVE APPROACH
Sometimes a banana is just a banana.
It was all over the news. Well, all over Fox News, anyway. Captain America was targeting conservatives.
Which he wasn’t.
What happened – as best I can fathom, as even Quentin Tarantino would have had a difficult time following the nonlinear storytelling in Captain America: Sam Wilson #1 – is this. Some weeks back, super villain theIron Nail neutralized the Super-Soldier Serum in body of Steve Rogers, the original Captain America. Without its effects, Steve Rogers, who was born in 1920, found his body rapidly aging to that of a 94-year-old man. (Question: did the story explain why Steve’s body rapidly aged to 94? Sure Steve was born on July 4, 1920, or 94 years ago, when he lost the Serum. But he spent all the time from early 1945 until The Avengers #4 in suspended animation. Marvel says Fantastic Four #1 didn’t happen in 1961, it happened 10 years ago. That’s Marvel Time. So in Marvel Time, The Avengers# 4 happened a little bit less than 10 years ago. Meaning from 1945 until a little less than 10 years ago, Cap’s body was in suspended animation and didn’t age. Cap went into the iceberg as 24-year-old and came out still 24 years old. Since then, 10 years have passed, Marvel time. So it doesn’t matter what year Cap was born, physiologically he should have the body of a 34-year-old man, not a 94-year-old man. How, then, did Cap’s body age to an age it had never been? Inquiring minds want to know. And even if they don’t I do.)
Because Steve couldn’t meet the physical demands of being Captain America any more, he turned his mantle and shield over to his partner Sam Wilson, formerly the Falcon and now Captain America. Sam promptly got a bunch of people mad at him by taking public stands on several partisan issues. What stands and what issues the comic never told us, but I think we can safely assume it wasn’t whether the President should be pardoning Thanksgiving turkeys.
Things got worse for Sam, as his actions caused a strain in his relationship with the super spy organization S.H.I.E.L.D. Suddenly Sam was on his own and without resources. So he set up a national hotline that people could use to tell him about injustices or wrongs that needed to be righted.
One of those hot line calls was from Mariana Torres. Her grandson Joaquin left water, medicine, and food out for people who were walking through the desert to cross the border from Mexico into America. Mariana also told Sam that Joaquin didn’t come back from his last mission. She claimed that he had been kidnapped by the Sons of the Serpent, who were patrolling the border to stop the undocumented from entering. (It should be noted that the Sons of the Serpent is a long-time white-supremacist and racist hate group in the Marvel Universe; basically Marvel’s version of the KKK.)
Sam-tain America promptly went down to Sonoita, Arizona and confronted the Sons of the Serpent, who were about to capture some border crossers. And that’s where we came in.
Came in with Fox News criticizing the new Captain Americaand his comic for vilifying, “an American who has misgivings about unlimited illegal immigration and the costs associated with it,” Fox’s commentators said that writers should “keep politics out of comic books” or should be telling positive stories about, “the people who are working the border to keep us safe.” Fox News went on to say that the Sons of the Serpent are only stopping people from coming over the border illegally and Captain America wanted to keep them from doing that.
Now I admit the people who were entering the country were doing so illegally and Joaquin was breaking the law by helping them. If all that was happening was that the Sons of the Serpent were apprehending people who were entering the country illegally then turning them over to the Border Patrol and Captain America wanted to prevent them from doing that, Fox would have had a legitimate story. Problem is that Fox’s interpretation of the comic was simplistic.
See what Fox News conveniently forgot to do was tell its viewers the real reason the Sons of the Serpent were apprehending border crossers. The Serpents weren’t patrolling the borders and turning undocumented aliens over to the Border Patrol. They were grabbing people and selling them for $5,000 a head to Dr. Karlin Malus, an evil scientist,so that he could use them in his genetic experimentation. The Sons of the Serpents were kidnapping people.
Kidnapping is a crime. Even Fox News’s Research Department should be able to confirm that fact. Assuming Fox News’s Research Department is capable of doing something more extensive than digging up talking points.
For all the furor Fox fomented, turns out that Captain America wasn’t targeting conservatives. He was going after kidnappers. You know, criminals. And that’s what Captain America is supposed to do, isn’t it? Go after lawbreakers. Because, you know, bananas are bananas and not cumquats.
I admit that Captain America: Sam Wilson # 1 could have done a better job of showing that the Sons of the Serpents were kidnappers. While that information was strongly implied in issue one, it wasn’t until Captain America: Sam Wilson #2 that the comic explicitly told us the Sons were selling the people they grabbed to Dr. Malus.
Might have been nice if that explicit kidnapping information had been in issue 1 so that even a simplistic reading of the comic would have shown Captain America was going after kidnappers not conservatives. Maybe then Fox News would have done a fair and balanced story.
This past weekend, myself and some of the other ComicMix columnists went to see Hail, Caesar!, the latest film from the Coen brothers. I don’t want to speak for everyone else, but the general consensus as we all exited the theater was one of enjoyment. Personally, I thought it was one of the better Coen brothers’ films.
That being said, the movie has some possible drawbacks. For those of you that don’t know, Hail, Caesar! is a period piece taking place in Hollywood in the late 1940s revolving around the choices a studio executive has to make. They do a great job with it all, and really suck the audience into the setting. Although the movie is certainly lacking heavily in the diversity department, you might have just given it a pass considering the combination of the time period and the subject matter.
I’d have been more likely to give the movie a pass as well if it weren’t for this interview the Coen brothers gave. In it, they use some poorly selected words to describe what they think about diversity in movies. They claim that writers do not think about diversity as they come up with stories.
Now look, this doesn’t make the Coen brothers bad film makers. It makes them presumptuous to think that other writers in the business don’t consider diversity when writing, and that demonstrates their values are not the same as mine, but that doesn’t mean that they are inherently bad. And they have the excuse this time of doing a period piece, so it’s okay that it’s all white.
Or is it?
Outside of even the #Oscarssowhite controversy, I understand the idea that the executives at the studio, the actors at the studio and many others would be white. Really, I get it. However, nearly everyone we see on screen of consequence or not is white. All of the random celebrities that make an appearance in this film even for a scene or two are white. I don’t want to get into any spoilers, but we do see groups of people that you would imagine would have some more diversity in them. Perhaps not showing that diversity was a commentary the film was making, but if it was that never came across in the film.
This is a multilayered problem. Of course we can point to the Coen brothers both being white, having their own life experiences from that, and drawing from those in their writings. Another problem is one they point out in the interview I linked to above about how it’s not fair to single out a particular movie and question the level of diversity in it. Though they answer this question poorly, they do have a point and that makes this all the more complicated and difficult.
The Coen brothers did not get into film making to preach diversity; they’re making films because they want to tell the stories they want to tell. The problem isn’t exactly with individual movies. Everyone who makes it that far in the business should be able to attempt to make the movies they want to make. The problem comes when most of those people are white, and want to tell stories about other people who are white. It’s a difficult situation to tackle without an easy solution as this is an institutional problem, not an individual problem.
I feel this problem is driven heavily by our obsession with nostalgia. The good old days! The “simpler” times. Hail, Caesar! harkens back to a “simpler” Hollywood with overtones of the complexity of the red scare. The movie still paints a very black and white picture of that time. It keeps it simple. It glosses over the oppression part. Now, going back to my point earlier, this movie should not be held to such a high standard as to accurately depict the complexity of the time period. The problem comes down to that we have too many individual examples of this and not enough examples of movies not in nostalgia’s lens.
Naturally, I started linking this movie I was watching to parallels with the comic book industry.
This is a problem that’s been affecting comic books for a long time as well, and more recently comic book movies. I’ve touched on this before in other columns, particularly this one about Captain America. Since I’ve written that, we’ve seen articles like this one come out about comics that are in danger of being cancelled. It’s interesting to note that five of the ten comics listed star either a woman, black, and/or queer character. On top of that, another one of the ten comics listed is written by Gail Simone, one of the highest profile women in comics, and another of them stars Hercules which caused controversy when it was announced that he would not be depicted as bisexual this time.
Alarms should be going off in your minds right now. The books on the chopping block are disproportionately underrepresented groups in comics, and by a rather large margin. And similar to what the Coen brothers brought up in their interview, it is not the individual creators’ faults. This isn’t an individual problem, it’s an institutional problem. Just like with movies where we have a disproportionate about of famous white actors that are a draw at the box office like George Clooney, Channing Tatum, and Scarlett Johansson, and directors like the Coen brothers, comics have a disproportionately high draw with white characters and creators from Batman, Superman, and Wolverine, to Geoff Johns, Brian Michael Bendis, and Neal Adams.
It is not the fault of any of the individuals involved that they’re white. It’s not their fault that they’re successful or that they draw an audience. However, decades of entrenchment in the comics medium has created a class of successful white, mostly male creators and white, mostly male creations. Just like with Hollywood, TV, literature, you name. And latching on to nostalgia only keeps the cycle going on and on.
For comics, trying to solve this problem seemed to backfire. Over at DC some months ago, the editors there told their creators to “stop Batgirling” and to go back to the “meat and potatoes.” My initial take away from that was one of disappointment. Watching Hail, Caesar! and reading what the Coen brothers had to say has changed my attitude on this.
I think it’s great that both Marvel and DC have put at least some effort into making their product line more diverse. The Coen brothers are also right to believe they don’t have to consider diversity in the movies they want to make (whether I agree with them or not). And it’s a reminder that many, many people out there really don’t care about diversity and they don’t want to care about it either.
In Hollywood at least, movies like Creed, Straight Outta Compton, and even Star Wars: The Force Awakens are shaking things up and have the positive reviews and profits to back up their success. At Marvel and DC, they’re still in the process of figuring out how to shake things up in an equivalent sort of way. DC’s approach, which was admirable, spread itself too thin. They put too many titles out that were doomed to failure. They were doomed because they were rushing to capture an audience that hasn’t been properly cultivated yet.
It took time before Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, The X-Men, and many others were solid franchises deeply entrenched in our culture. Too many Bat titles or Avengers titles compete with these younger characters and titles and prevent them from having an equal chance, as I discussed the other week with Sam Wilson as Captain America and his almost certain end not long after Steve Rogers comes back.
Perhaps a possible solution is to invest highly in a small number of newer characters, like Kamala Khan at Marvel, build them up, entrench them in our culture to allow them to gain some permanence rather than spread diversity too thin and watch books rise and fall fast. Or maybe the world has changed too much where characters like Batman, Superman, and Spider-Man would never be able to be created and become kind of franchise juggernauts in comic that they are today and entrenching a new character like Kamala Khan just wouldn’t work the same.
Nostalgia is a powerful force, and that’s a force that is not only unavailable to help characters like Kamala Khan and characters from other underrepresented groups, it’s a hindrance. Not only to cultivating these new characters, but it’s a hindrance to us and getting us out of our comfort zones.
Is there anything that can really be done about this in the short term? I’m not entirely sure. It’s something for me to think about. Maybe for you too.
Last week Marvel Comics announced that they’ll be bringing back the original Captain America, Steve Rogers. Currently, Sam Wilson is the acting Captain America. For many, it was a big deal that Sam Wilson became Captain America. He’s the first African American Captain America in the main continuity (though Bob Morales and Kyle Baker’s Truth explored Isaiah Bradley, a black man depicted as being an early product of the super-soldier program), which instantly made him one of Marvel’s highest profile, if not their highest profile, black superhero.
This, on top of Jane Foster taking over the role of Thor and some other recent choices, seemed to show that Marvel was moving towards broader representation and inclusion in their main titles to accommodate the rapidly changing demographics of comic book readers.
That is no longer the case.
Many have speculated that Marvel Comics would eventually go back to the original characters, the straight cis white male versions specifically, as they have done that time and time again over the years. As diversity in all entertainment mediums including comics has become an increasingly important topic as of late, we’ve been seeing more press roll outs of change ups at both Marvel and DC like when Sam Wilson took on the mantel of Captain America. Unfortunately, by bringing back Steve Rogers, the straight cis white male Captain America, they are undermining their own efforts.
However, they are only truly undermining their own efforts if diversity was the priority in the first place. They are not undermining their own efforts if short term sales are their first priority. Long term sales, now that’s a different story.
Sure, Marvel is stating that they’re going to keep Sam Wilson as Captain America. They’re just going to have two of them at the same time. This seems like a means to keep people from initially being upset by the move, whether they’re comic book readers themselves or outsiders reporting on it. Or it’s a way to keep people have much of an opinion on this at all. I mean, Marvel isn’t taking away something, they’re just giving us more, right?
That’s a mistake. In comics, we’ve all seen this before. A disruption in the status quo for a time that will inevitably go back to the norm. Spider-Man had a black suit for a while, Superman died and came back, even Steve Rogers as Captain America was Nomad for a time before becoming Captain America again. Also, Steve Rogers got killed, replaced by Winter Soldier, just to come back only a few years ago, but who’s counting? And yes, I know there are plenty more examples, but you probably know most of them anyway.
Beyond just being tired, gimmicky cash-grabs, these sort of things hurt diversity in comics. Sam Wilson as Captain America had his first issue debut in October, and we’re already getting ready to bring back Steve Rogers by the summer. Less than a year of a black Captain America in the main continuity before going right back to white. Even if they keep them both as Captain America, we all know the sales are going to be better for Steve Rogers’ comic. He has the built in fan base garnered through 75 years of existence on top of having Chris Evans star as Steve Rogers in one of the most successful movie franchises of all time. What chance does Sam Wilson have as Cap?
We know how this story ends before it starts. Steve Rogers’ book will sell well, and Sam Wilson’s will maybe sell for a bit before sales dwindle enough where they cancel it. Maybe Sam Wilson will appear in team books or as a guest in comics, but Steve will be back on top in no time. Especially since this will be coinciding with the release of the new Captain America movie. And with Sam Wilson still being depicted as Falcon in the movies, it’s very possible he’ll go back to using that name again. You know, because synergy. Funny how that works, huh?
Not that you don’t already know this, but Marvel is owned by Disney. Disney has the money, if they really were invested in diversity, to promote a black superhero like Sam Wilson in the comics, or any other number of minority heroes, and to help make them a household name that sells. They managed that with a talking raccoon and a tree that can only say its name over and over again. Yes, Sam Wilson appears as Falcon in the movies, but he’s a minor character that hasn’t really had too much of a chance to shine or garner a fan base in the same ways. And absolutely no one seems to be calling for him to have his own solo movie, unlike side characters like Black Widow.
Now here’s where it gets tricky. I don’t like the idea of a boycott. It’s not the fault of the creative team on the Steve Rogers’ Captain America book that it will likely bump the Sam Wilson one out in time. If it wasn’t Nick Spencer and Jesus Saiz on the book, Marvel would get another team on it. Easily. This is an editorial decision. Yes, they may have asked some creators to pitch them some ideas on what to do with Steve Rogers as Captain America again, but Steve Rogers was going to get a new title as Captain America either way.
If you’re interested in Captain America when the Steve Rogers’ comic hits the shelves this summer, buy both books. If you can only afford one, buy the Sam Wilson one. That’s the one that’s going to need the higher sales numbers to stick around as a monthly title. Let’s show the comic industry, and specifically Marvel Comics, that we care more about change, diversity, and representation than we care about defaulting back to straight cis white men for the sake of nostalgia.
Maybe they’ll even stop rehashing the same storylines over and over if we’re proving to Marvel that we’ll buy new stories. If we keep defaulting back, we’ll never move forward, and diversity will be nothing more than a nice thought we ponder about from time to time.