Donald Trump has been trying very hard to do a lot to this nation, thus far with pathetically little success. However, while he might not be making America great, he’s most certainly been making American comedy fantastic.
Take Stephen Colbert. After he took over The Late Show, he has been losing badly to The Tonight Show’s Jimmy Fallon. Then the Manchild from Hell won the election – thanks to a little help from his friends – and that very evening Colbert had something of a nervous breakdown, live on CBS. To his vast credit, he put all that energy into his job: making jokes at the expense of our Megalomaniac-In-Chief. Now, six months later, he’s leaped over Fallon in the ratings.
Certainly, there’s no shortage of material. Indeed, many other comics have made similar journeys on the Trump Turnpike (“what will that asshole think of next?”). Seth Myers, Samantha Bee, John Oliver, Bill Maher, Trevor Noah… let’s face it, if you’re a comedian who is disliked by the far-right minority, your career has had a great six months.
And so, amusingly, has Mad Magazine.
When it was founded 65 years ago – yup, it can file for Medicare but it should move fast – Mad became a major influence in the development of adolescent rebellion. It was the cutting edge of American humor at a time when professionals such as Ernie Kovacs, Lenny Bruce, and Lord Buckley were breaking down the barriers that had been surrounding stand-up comedy. Mad had a major impact upon at least two generations.
But, over time even the sharpest knife finds its edge going dull. Eventually, television shows such as The Simpsons, Beavis and Butt-Head and South Park became the rage (literally; parents raged against each of these shows) and Mad started to look positively geriatric. Sure, they struggled. They hired new talent, fussed with the format, and added interior color but, in my opinion, they remained trapped by that which always had been.
Last month, DC Comics hired a new showrunner for the vaunted magazine, and I don’t think they could have found a better person. Bill Morrison, who has been Matt Groening’s longtime collaborator and the first editor-in-chief of Bongo Comics (The Simpsons, Futurama…) was given the keys to the prop room.
But, as it turns out, it is Donald Trump who is holding those doors open.
During the past several months, Mad has been following the path of Colbert et al. They’ve been doing some great stuff, and much of that has been at the expense of the poster boy of the paranoia marathon. They haven’t turned their backs on their roots and Mad does not follow the path of the former Mad writer (and Yippie! co-founder) Paul Krassner when Paul invented The Realist. Pop culture references abound as always, and even the great Sergio Aragonés remains along for the ride.
Bill Morrison has one hell of a leg up. Whether he can restore Mad Magazine to its greatest glory remains to be seen, but now it’s The Simpsons and South Park that are beginning to show their age. I don’t see anybody else in the on-deck circle, so he’s got one hell of an opportunity to make lightning strike twice.
I am told there are people who are sick and tired of the massive, overwhelming, unending, incessant and redundant Deadpool promotion campaign.
Yeah, I get that.
I found myself in Manhattan’s Grand Central Terminal this past Monday, on the way to a little get-together with fellow ComicMix columnists Molly Jackson, Joe Corallo and Martha Thomases. I was in a great mood – Molly, Joe and Martha are wonderful people to hang out with, and walking through Grand Central Terminal is always a breathtaking and inspiring experience. I was going to the Times Square subway shuttle, and Grand Central and Times Square combine to become one of North America’s most advertising-congested venues. Just about every square inch of building space is covered in billboards and electronic signs. Even the very steps are decked out in promotional advertising. It’s a colorful, bright, shiny, noisy, and ceaseless experience that you either love, hate or have learned to ignore.
And, last Sunday, it seemed as though damned near all of it was pushing Deadpool.
Add to this the almost-daily release of new trailers, photos, interviews and commercials and you’ve got a promotion going that’s larger than about any four movies combined. It’s pretty easy to appreciate how some folks could experience Deadpool burnout prior to this Friday’s official opening.
Some folks. Not me.
That’s odd given my always-fleeting attention span and my basic anti-capitalist worldview, but, damn it, the whole Deadpool campaign has been very, very funny. Entertaining. Sometimes stupefying, particularly when you compare the theatrical trailers and broadcast commercials to their uncensored Internet equivalents.
Of course, given my vocation and my predilections I would have gone to the Deadpool movie even if the only promotion was a black-and-white leaflet mounted on the wall above a urinal in the back of a seedy bar. However, when it comes to fans and civilians alike, this colossal campaign has inculcated the movie with “issues.”
First of all, it has raised the bar of our expectations. If this isn’t the funniest, most action-filled and visually spectacular movie ever made, some will be disappointed… or, on the Internet, apoplectic. Experience already has taught the average movie-goer that sometimes all the worthy scenes in the film were revealed in the trailers and spots.
Second, it has presented some people with quite a dilemma. You can’t mass market something without (duh!) marketing to the masses. Deadpool is rated R. That means those under 17 (you know, what used to be perceived as the comic book audience) are supposed to be excluded from admission without an “accompanying parent or adult guardian.” That’s going to make it harder for a lot of adolescents to get in, and that’s going to make it harder on a lot of their parents or adult guardians who haven’t seen South Park Bigger, Longer and Uncut.
No matter how much Marvel might despise 20th Century Fox or how much the True Believers (like myself) despised their Fantastic Four movie last year, Fox has injected a lot of much-needed levity and energy into what clearly is an oversaturated superhero media market. They might have wound up extending Marvel’s movie longevity.
If the Deadpool movie is as good as their campaign.
It’s stating the obvious to say that the modern Marvel movie machine has managed both to churn out a slew of awesome, successful movies, and to not fall into the trap of assembly-line production – in other words, that the movies, while they’ve built on each other beautifully and gained momentum with each new release, are all pretty unique and true to the characters and storylines they draw from. But how does that translate when Marvel tries to move such epic stories, in both scope and character, to the small screen? Pretty well, it turns out, with Joss Whedon and co. running the show.
The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. pilot aired Tuesday the 24th, and proved that it is possible to tell small screen stories against the background of the current Marvel cinematic series. In fact, it gives the opportunity to tell larger stories with less – as in the pilot, where the plot builds on the fallout from The Avengers and the Battle of New York. Without showing the grand, epic event, the show is able to easily reference the new state of the world for both S.H.I.E.L.D. and ordinary citizens. Watchers who have seen the movie will instantly understand the world-building at work; and even those who somehow missed the movie will easily pick up on it and understand why as the series begins, S.H.I.E.L.D. is finding its place as “the line between the world and the weirder world.”
That weirder world could not be in better hands than those of Joss Whedon and his team. The pilot is an excellent blend of Whedon show elements that we know and love – witty banter, engaging characters (including women!) kicking ass and taking names, cameos of actors from previous Whedon projects (Ron Glass! J. August Richards!), and a mixture of action, adventure, wonder, mystery, and heart; and the Marvel canon and characterization that Marvel fans live for. The S.H.I.E.L.D. character we’ve come to love from the movies, Coulson, continues to be characterized as an endearingly geeky guy, and yet is now developing into a leader as well; and the new characters, like Skye, Ward, Fitz, Simmons, and May, are already, in one episode, fleshed out enough for viewers to care about what happens to them next.
We also get to see glimpses of the Marvel cinematic universe in elements such as Maria Hill’s appearance, and the involvement of the Extremis virus. There are little Easter eggs for Marvel fans (like the almost-but-subverted-at-the-last-second Spider-Man quote); and references to people cosplaying as their newly discovered in-world superheroes, the Avengers. And most interestingly, from the very first, we are introduced to a take on S.H.I.E.L.D. that’s not entirely heroic – a S.H.I.E.L.D. that exists in the gray area of trying to protect Earth’s inhabitants from danger, and running the risk of becoming the invasive danger that people may have to fear. There’s an obvious analogue to the real world’s decreasing respect for privacy, and it’s accompanied by a serious (and seriously depressing) take on the current real-world economy and our displaced, unanchored work force of unemployed or marginally employed adults. Despite those themes being pretty darned depressing, I was happy to see them tackled head-on, and will be interested to see where the writers go with that next.
Speaking of the writers, at SDCC this year I sat down to chat with the writers and cast of the show, and now, I get to share those chats with you! (And although sadly my battery died too soon, I can also share a couple of short video clips of Joss Whedon and Clark Gregg, along with newly-uploaded clips from the Psych press room, I Know That Voice panel, and more.) Enjoy!
Jeff Bell (executive producer, showrunner, and writer) and Jeph Loeb (head of Marvel Television and executive producer)
The characters feel like broad archetypes at this point – the loner who doesn’t play well with others; the badass woman; the geeky pair…how quickly will we see them be fleshed out, or see other sides of them?
Bell: That’s the whole point of the TV show. We can’t do what a Marvel movie does every week, because we don’t have 250 million dollars a week. We’ve got good chunks of money to tell stories, but most of the stories are going to be about the characters. And arcing those characters out; finding relationships – who likes who, who doesn’t like whom, and why; secrets between all of them. So…I think no one’s exactly who you think they are, and we’re building that, hopefully for a long period of time.
Loeb: I also think that one of the things that makes our show different from the movies but still within the Marvel universe is that it’s about the intimacy of the characters on a television show. Television once upon a time was ‘being invited into your living room.’ It’s gone to the next level. It’s now on your laptop, on your tablet; and guess what, now it’s on your phone, which is the most intimate thing; it’s touching your face. So let’s hope that those people, when they touch your face, actually are people that you love and are complex and have all the richness that you know from shows that Joss has done in the past, and that all the people who are involved with this have done in the past. It’s the fun of it.
With the movies and all, when did this show start coming into production? What was the process?
Loeb: We started Marvel Television three years ago, with our partnership with ABC Studios and ABC; we knew we wanted to have a show that would make a lot of noise; and obviously there were some things we hadn’t developed, because that’s a process – but it was really right after The Avengers that Marvel had a conversation with ABC, and we had this idea for a show about S.H.I.E.L.D.
Bell: Wait, whose idea was it?
Loeb: (pointing to Clark Gregg) It was that man’s idea.
Bell: He said, “You know what would be cool? If I’m not really dead.”
Loeb: True story – Clark and I were at a signing, because Clark actually appears in our animated series, Ultimate Spider-Man, as Agent Coulson, and he turned to me at one point and said, “I have a secret: Coulson lives.” And I said, “Yes.” And he goes, “On television.” And I said, “Yeah I know. But people don’t know you’re dead yet, so we need to do that part first; and then I think we can probably talk to the network about it afterwards.” And Clark said, “Okay, as long as that’s the plan.” But to give credit where credit’s due, none of this would have started without Joss, Jed, Maurissa, and Jeff, who came up with a spectacular pilot, and an arc out for literally about 100 episodes, that enabled everyone at Marvel to get incredibly excited about it, and produce a show that is worthy of the pedigree of the movies and everything else that we do at Marvel.
Since the rights to some Marvel characters like Spider-Man and the X-Men are with other studios, will we be seeing any of that on TV at all?
Loeb: Only in animation. Obviously the Marvel universe is a vast expanse of characters, but I think the fun of this show in particular is that Jeff and Jed and Maurissa and Joss have created, in Coulson and Ward and May and Fitz and Simmons and Skye, really memorable characters who will now join the Marvel universe in a very major way.
In the development, were there ever any elements that Marvel wanted that ABC was not excited about?
Loeb: This has been an incredible partnership. I know it always sounds like, “Ooh, silver clouds…” but Jeff, talk about that first day, when you guys came in and told the story to the network.
Bell: Well here’s what’s nice, because traditionally, Marvel skews to a lot of guys. And ABC kind of skews more female. And then there’s Joss, who’s like the perfect Venn diagram of what you want in a show. So it’s great to see Joss’s version of a Marvel series – because ABC’s interested in emotion, and Joss is interested in emotion, and so it’s really about keeping that as our bulls-eye, and then finding different stories around that. But ABC loves that part of our storytelling. And then if we can do that against the giant, epic scope of a Marvel canvas, with superheroes and things from other places, and cool gadgets from S.H.I.E.L.D. and stuff like that, it’s just a different way to tell emotional stories. And so it’s been a great fit.
How much of the first season is planned out? Are there overarching themes we should know about?
Loeb: We know where we’re going. When you go in to talk about a television show, your initial order is the pilot plus twelve episodes. So you always have to have a plan for that, and so we go in and talk about what we will do for that; and then if successful and there is a back nine, you should have ideas for that as well. So we went in with that, and also a sense of what a second season would be, and right now we’re shooting episode two, and prepping episodes three and four. That’s where we are in the cycle.
How much of a procedural is this going to be?
Loeb: The show is about investigating the weird, the unusual, the strange, and the phenomenal that are in the Marvel universe. It is about a team that assesses that threat. Sometimes that threat is something that they’re going to have to take care of; and sometimes that threat is something that needs to be protected from somebody else that wants to exploit that sort of thing. The show enables us to tell stories that are in straight-ahead procedurals; but also there are all different kinds of things that you’ve come to know from your Whedon shows.
In the movie, S.H.I.E.L.D. responds to several disembodied voices that happen to be a real menace; are you addressing that here?
Loeb: Our plane is a mobile command unit that Director Fury has sort of allowed Coulson to do; and so we tell those stories. There are times when we will connect with big S.H.I.E.L.D. I’m not saying that we will connect with Director Fury; but we will tell stories within the entire S.H.I.E.L.D. universe. They’ll be international, and go all over the planet. Sometimes it’s just us; sometimes it’s big. But going back to your procedural question – it’s not a body of the week story; but we are trying to do standalone episodes the way we did on Angel and Buffy, that had an emotional element to it, and you find metaphors within it that allow you to tell the stories that reflect who your characters are. Sometimes that’s procedural, yes, but the way we break them, really, is about the emotional lives and what kind of story we want to tell.
What’s really important about the show at the end of the day is that you have that feeling of epic adventure and at the same time, the human spirit. You want to be able to be invested in these people and the show. I think that what is so remarkable about the pilot, and then it’s carried over, is that there are moments of great humor, moments where you’ll get teary-eyed, and then there are moments of like, “Wow.” If you can capture that at 8:00 on a Tuesday night, you’re doing kinda okay!
Bell: Coming up with stories, the words we have up on the wall are: funny; sad; wondrous; beautiful – and if we can get all four of those into an episode? We’re really happy. But Marvel is very aspirational; it is optimistic – our characters are enthusiasts; they’re not cynics. They’re excited about science, about history, about the world – and so we try and show that.
Are you going to pull from the canon stories; for example, something like Civil Warwhere S.H.I.E.L.D. played a big part?
Loeb: The Marvel universe is the Marvel universe – and it’s like with everything else that we do, whether it’s publishing; games; the animation world; the cinematic universe; and now the television universe – it’s all one world. Sometimes certain things aren’t going to line up exactly along the way. This is obviously one that is tied in more to the cinematic universe. But there is nothing that would stop us from doing any kinds of stories, as long as it is something compelling, and emotional, and fun.
Maurissa Tancharoen & Jed Whedon (executive producers and writers)
It’s clear in the pilot that Agent Coulson is in charge of things, and a key character; is that something you’re going to explore more?
Tancharoen: Yes; we’re highlighting someone you’ve only seen glimpses of in the Marvel cinematic universe, so I think yes, we’re giving him some authority, some swagger. He already had that, naturally. Now we’re just able to display it.
Jed Whedon: We feel like he’s a great company man; he’s the face of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Now we get to reveal more about that character. In every film, Coulson was expanded on a little bit. In Avengers he got some real meat. So now we get to dig in even further. And Clark is the perfect person to do that with. We love him very much.
It was great to kind of see Cobie Smulders in it for a second; do you envision her appearing now and then?
Jed Whedon: There are certain rules that we have to obey; but we are open to anything.
Tancharoen: Right – I mean, it is a goal to be able to pull people from what’s already been established, and bob and weave them throughout our series.
What’s the split of new characters created in the show, and people we might have seen in the comics, either in passing or as main characters? How much will be canon versus new material?
Jed Whedon: It’s a little of both. Right now we’re working from story first, and then there’s so much in the comic world, that a lot of the ideas we come up with, we can say, “Is there a guy that does that?”
Tancharoen: And the answer is yes. Always. That’s a good and a bad thing.
Jed Whedon: It works both ways; that makes it easy and fun.
When you’re writing stories for the season, how mindful do you have to be about weaving in stuff from Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: Winter Soldier, and the cinematic universe?
Tancharoen: We’re always communicating with what’s happening in the feature universe; and our goal is to complement one another, and weave our storylines in there, or maybe there will just be a little kernel that you see over there and vice-versa.
Jed Whedon: There’s lots of fallout from the films that we can play with, and we can lead into them in a way. We want to make it so that it’s more rewarding to watch both, on both ends. So if you’re watching the TV show you’ll get something in the movie or be like, “I know what that means.”
Who from the Marvel universe would you most like to weave in to the story?
Jed Whedon: Every Avenger.
Tancharoen: If we could.
Jed Whedon: We’re open to all those people.
Tancharoen: We joke about having an episode where the whole thing is like, “Oh, you just missed Iron Man. Aw man, Thor was just here! He had his shirt off.”
Jed Whedon: But we don’t want the show to become that, where you feel like you’re missing something. We want to exist on our own.
Tancharoen: And we’re hoping that people will fall in love with our cast of characters, and maybe not even have that expectation.
Jed Whedon: And then if it does happen, it will be rewarding, and not disappointing if it doesn’t.
How familiar are you with the comics – have you been readers for years? Are you still doing research by reading back issues?
Jed Whedon: There’s so much reading that we have to do; when we’re not working on the show, we’re reading.
How unreliable an authority figure is Coulson going to be? Is he going to be lying a lot? Will we see people challenge his right to be in charge?
Jed Whedon: I think we’ll figure that out as we go along; at this point, we can’t say much. …It will be cool, and stuff will happen.
What are you most excited about for the pilot, and how would you describe if to someone who hasn’t seen it?
Jed Whedon: Fun is what we’re going for.
Tancharoen: I think something that exists in all the Marvel movies is their humor. There’s tons of action and humor. That’s something that’s existed in a lot of Joss’s work as well. It always comes back to the humor, or there’s a really poignant emotional moment. We’re trying to do that on our show. Our cast of characters are all real human people. We’re dealing with the world post-what happened in The Avengers, so the entire population is going through this transition period of realizing that there are aliens, there are gods, there are monsters, and so I think a big part of our team’s job is going to be helping those people through it.
What’s your experience writing Coulson and the newer characters?
Jed Whedon: Coulson is really fun to write for. Fitz / Simmons is great – when you write a Fitz / Simmons scene, it ends up being too long.
Tancharoen: Because you just want to go on forever; even though it’s all science talk. The way they bicker and banter is fun.
Jed Whedon: And one of the things that’s very fun about this process is discovering the characters as we go. We just started shooting the second episode. Seeing all the things we’ve been discussing for months come to life is very rewarding.
Tancharoen: And we have a fantastic cast. They all embody everything we picture so well. We’re really excited for everyone to get to see them.
What are the greatest challenges of introducing new characters?
Tancharoen: We feel the pressure.
Jed Whedon: And when we don’t feel the pressure, people say, “How are you doing with all that pressure?” We have a duty to a lot of fans. But our approach is always to try to have fun, and try to make something that we would enjoy. We want to make something for everyone; but also something that, if we sat down and watched it, we would have to watch the next one.
Tancharoen: I think our goal is much like what Joss accomplished in Buffy – it will have stand-alones, with the mythology woven throughout. And every week there was a monster of the week or challenge of the week that was a metaphor for the emotional journeys our characters were going on. So hopefully if we do that successfully, and there’s humor, and there’s action, and there’s Marvel in there; hopefully the Marvel fans will be satisfied.
How challenging was the casting process?
Tancharoen: Very. We swept the world. We had casting offices in Australia, the UK, Toronto, Vancouver, New York, and Los Angeles, going at the same time. And Brett Dalton, who plays Ward, he read in New York, on tape, and we saw him on the tape and brought him in for a screen test. Chloe is somebody who we brought back several times.
Jed Whedon: The other thing I’ll say that was great is, we didn’t compromise. And we got our first choices in every category. That’s rare and you’ll see it when you see the show.
Tancharoen: And Clark at the center of them really works.
How hands-on will Joss be moving forwards?
Jed Whedon: He’ll be involved a lot in shaping stories. We’re in constant contact. But he does have other things on his plate that people are excited about right now…
Does he read every script?
Jed Whedon: Oh yes, and every idea is run by him, and so I’m sure he’ll come in at some point and write some more…
Tancharoen: Everyone will definitely feel his presence, even when he’s not right there.
Chloe Bennet (Skye) & Brett Dalton (Grant Ward)
Skye starts out not trusting the people in S.H.I.E.L.D.; and it seems like by the end she’s on board. Do you think that’s it?
Bennet: No! I don’t think that’s it. I think one of Skye’s biggest assets is being able to…she has really good people skills. She can fool people; she hides stuff very well. She’s a people person, she can get her way and manipulate things. I’m not saying she’s doing that – but what you see is not all you’re going to get with Skye.
How would you introduce your characters?
Dalton: Agent Grant Ward is a specialist. He’s highly trained in espionage, hand-to-hand combat, tactical operations, weapons…I could go on. This is a looong list. But he’s a lone wolf. He doesn’t know what it’s like to be part of a team. He’s used to being the solution; the entire solution. So I think what you’ll see is him figuring out what to do now.
Bennet: Skye is a computer hacker. Very good with computers. But she’s that rare case of computer hacker where she’s not Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and kind of weird. She’s a people person; she’s outgoing and she knows how to work both computers and people. She kind of stumbles into the S.H.I.E.L.D. world and mixes things up a bit. I think she’s like the last piece of this puzzle that Coulson’s putting together as a team. Everyone complements each other in their own little way.
Dalton: You have skills that none of us do.
Bennet: And you have skills that Skye doesn’t have. Skye and Ward balance each other really well, I think. They’re polar opposites, yet both really talented. He’s a lone wolf; Skye is an activist. She’s about bringing the people together; people uprising against something that may not be fair or just. I think they’re going to learn from each other, maybe. …Maybe a little more than learn…? I dunno…
How much do you know about the Marvel universe? Do you recognize the references and Easter eggs?
Bennet: I’ve always been a fan of the movies. And then being cast, you’re like, “I gotta go read everything, now!” It’s really interesting. I’ve re-watched all the movies; and I get why fans are so loyal to the brand.
Dalton: And it’s an ongoing universe, too. The Battle of New York, that happens, doesn’t just disappear, like, “New York is just fine again!” in the next movie. It’s an ongoing, continuing universe, which is really interesting.
Bennet: With the movies and the show. The Battle of New York really does affect the pilot, and our characters in the show.
Dalton: There’s continuity between them.
Brett; in the show, you’re kind of the straight man. Do you hope you get to do more comedy?
Dalton: Well here’s the thing: I actually always thought Ward was hilarious. You know, he has little lines in there.
Bennet: And Ward thinks he’s hilarious.
Do you guys improv at all?
Bennet: You don’t have to with writing like this. Joss writes words; I speak them. You know, you improv the way you say things.
Dalton: The writing is just that good, honestly. And I’ve worked on other things where they give you that opportunity to riff, but they’ve just done such a good job with the writing.
Bennet: There’s a flow in what Joss writes, and the way the characters speak. It’s just easy, and it’s different, and it’s funny; and the timing – you can just read it when you see it. It makes it so enjoyable.
How much do your characters get to kick ass?
Bennet: Skye not so much, yet, uh…
Are you looking forward to that?
Bennet: Yes. I’m always saying, “You can let me do it! I’m fine; I’ve got six brothers! I won’t be worried about getting hurt!” I’m really looking forward to hopefully Skye being taught by Ward.
Dalton: Yeah, you know, I could see that happening.
Do you have a favorite Marvel character you’d like to see come into the show? Or a specific Marvel actor you’d like to work with?
Bennet: My favorite Marvel character is Jean Grey, and Jean as the Phoenix; I don’t know if that would be such a good thing if she came into S.H.I.E.L.D., unless it was as Jean Grey; but that won’t happen. But I think I wouldn’t mind Thor coming back. Not to do anything; just to come by and see me.
Dalton: I’m the hugest Robert Downey Jr. fan. He’s so good. Even if he was just on the intercom or something. Even if it was just his voice; anything. I’d love, love, love to work with him.
Bennet: If he was working, and I wasn’t working that day, I’d just come to set anyway.
Dalton: Yeah, it’d just be like, “Why is everyone on set today…?” And I’d say my favorite Marvel character is The Punisher. Good ol’ Frank Castle. Because he’s just a guy with a ton of skills; he doesn’t really have a superpower – he just has guns. And vengeance.
Iain De Caestecker (Leo Fitz) & Elizabeth Henstridge (Jemma Simmons)
The writers just said you are their favorite characters to write; do you think your characters have a long history together, and have you been told about that?
Henstridge: We know that we’ve come up together, and trained together. It’s wonderful to play with that dynamic, and know that your character has a relationship like that to explore. That’s really exciting and fun.
De Caestecker: They’ve kind of got that weird dynamic like a brother and sister, where they argue furiously about things, and at the same time, they really depend on each other; especially when they’re out of their comfort zones. I think they see each other as a source of security.
How were the characters described to you when you first got involved?
De Caestecker: Well, we were only given a scene to audition with at first.
Henstridge: And I think because the script was kind of written, but not locked, my audition was very much like, “Come to us with your version of what these lines mean to you, or what you envision for the character, and then play with them. And at my audition they got me to do the character, just to kind of see what that would be like; so it was wonderful to be in a process that was still so fluid and flexible.
Science nerds in Joss Whedon shows have a tendency to turn evil. Do you see that happening for you?
De Caestecker: I don’t know what’s going to happen there.
Would you want to play a villain?
Henstridge: There’s such a fine line between good and evil; and so, you can be one or the other with the same intentions, the same common motivation to do what you think is right. So I think that anyone could do good or evil.
What’s your impression of their relationship with Coulson?
De Caestecker: I think there’s probably a side of him that really scares them. I think they’d probably try to avoid him as much as possible; but, at the same time, I think they are very conscious of what they do and how good they are at it. So when they achieve something that they think is really great, they’re really quick to tell everyone, and they’d be very quick to let Coulson know.
Henstridge: Yeah; and I mean, he’s sort of the father to us all; they desperately want to impress him, but he keeps raising the bar. So it’s that kind of, “Oh, my gosh, I can’t get up there,” and then they work together, and they come back and are like, “We made it!” and he’ll go, “Okay, well now it’s here!” It’s that kind of back and forth.
I think the thing about the team that Coulson’s tried to pick is that on the surface they already specialize in what they do, but one of the main focal points is them overcoming things that scare them, and situations that they’ve never found themselves in, which is kind of the biggest challenge for them.
How would you describe the characters to those who don’t know them?
Henstridge: I would say that Simmons is a biochemist. She’s incredible at what she does, with lab work, and figuring out samples, and she’s come up very quickly at a very young age, and hasn’t really had much social interaction, other than with science.
De Caestecker: Fitz specializes in engineering. I suppose he’s responsible for all the gadgets and things you see in the show; the technology. But yeah, he’s similar. I think they’ve both found themselves being locked away too long in the lab, so when they’re actually put in these situations, a lot of their insecurities and fears come out.
Clark Gregg (Phil Coulson)
In the movies, especially Avengers, it felt like Coulson was the audience surrogate. And in the TV show, you’re the one who kind of controls the ball. Does that change how you see the character?
Gregg: Well, I was pretty sure I was dead. I was really sad. Because I really dug being this guy. Especially as every different writing and directing team came along and added to the chain letter of who this guy was, and I got to find out. And that’s been kind of the weird, funny acting game that goes with this guy, is, “Oh! Oh, I’m that.” And that was never more fully realized then when Joss kind of took what was clearly there, and of course he’s got the trading cards; of course he’s got a monstrous embarrassing man-crush on Captain America. It all makes sense – of course he does. And so I loved being the fan avatar there; because I love this stuff. I loved it when was a kid. I’m a huge sci-fi nerd. I was a bit of a Marvel nerd when I was young; and to get to be that guy meant everything to me. So I was really sad the day I had to go in there and get shanked by that Asgardian bastard!
So when I got a call saying, “Listen, you may not be 100% dead”? I was well and truly stoked. But I had to make sure that it didn’t undermine The Avengers, and once Joss explained to me where he thought he was going on that, and it was so ridiculously cool and dark, I was in. That said, I had to kind of take the writers out to dinner – although I made them pay – and say, this is the deal: when I’m playing this guy, I always have to sit down with whoever it is and go, “Who am I now? What am I doing here?” And to go from bleeding out on the floor of the Helicarrier to putting together a fast-response S.H.I.E.L.D. team in this pilot – that’s a different Phil Coulson.
To a certain extent, I think he’s pretty limber, in terms of his ability to do stuff; and Director Fury has tasked him to what I think is probably the most pressing concern. It’s an interesting choice by Director Fury. He’s going to take this guy who’s been the kind of diva-wrangler; the guy who is, like, managing the green room at Coachella for the Avengers, and put him in charge of this very fast-response team that he gets to pick himself, using really weird instincts of his own. To deal with a world after The Avengers, where we’ve gone from knowing about Tony Stark and his bitchin’ suits, and maybe a little Hulk and Abomination in New York, to wormholes and Chitauri invasions; and everybody wants a piece of that. So it makes perfect sense; you get to keep the spectacle of those movies but put it in a smaller human context, as represented by Coulson in the movies – the people who can bleed. And that’s a perfect recipe for a TV show.
When I got the second script, I thought it was going to be a bunch of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents trapped in an elevator, because there wouldn’t be any money left after the pilot. So when I got that, and it’s more spectacle – if I survive a season of this, it’s going to be really amazing to see.
How much are we going to see of Coulson’s personal versus professional life?
Gregg: He’s a wonderful dancer. We’re going to see a lot of his dancing. And if know Joss, there will be a musical episode. But I’ve seen the episode I’m shooting now; I’ve seen the pilot. Other than that, I don’t know. I’m so impressed by how Marvel takes what happens, and then exploits it right the way all the fans would want them to – Joss being a key part of that. The fans wanted Coulson back to life – it happened. As a fan, I saw The Avengers, and I thought, “Man, they’re going to be pissed that he’s still alive, and he’s going to be pissed about his cards!” We’re going to probably have to find out about this cellist; so I’d be shocked if we didn’t go down those roads. But I’m just speaking as a fan now.
Seeing your likeness in the Spider-Man cartoon, does that amuse you?
Gregg: It amuses me to no end. To see him in the comics; and the fact that they so politely make me fitter and better-looking in all of my comic appearances; it’s really nice of them. I can’t compete with a lot of people I know at the San Diego Comic-Con, but I was into comics. So to see myself get drawn by various people kind of kills me. If I could get Jim Starlin to draw me someday, I would die.
Is Coulson going to be a little bit evil, or compromised?
Gregg: Evil’s very relative. There are people who thought he was evil at times in the movies, and I never thought so. I thought it was pragmatism.
Do you think the situation makes Fury look more manipulative?
Gregg: Yes; Coulson being alive makes Nick Fury more manipulative; but I’m not sure we know the whole picture yet. I wouldn’t leap to judgment on Director Fury. A lot of people have gotten into trouble rushing to judgment on Director Fury’s motives. I know there’s an answer to what Coulson’s doing here, after we saw him in such bad shape in The Avengers. We certainly get one hit of information in the pilot, but I think it opens a whole different can of questions.
What can you tell us about the relationship between Coulson and the team? Does he have a favorite?
Gregg: All I know is what I know from the pilot – he picks them, and some of them make perfect sense; others are really surprising. And just as it’s up to you to guess which of the Avengers he liked most; I think he’s going to be like a good crazy uncle – you’ll never know which kid he likes the best.
It seems like Coulson’s relationship to authority is changing. How does that affect how you play the character?
Gregg: I think you can’t have happen to you what happens to him in The Avengers and not have it change you on a very deep if not cellular level. I think he’s in a state of flux. I think everything’s up for grabs at the moment.
Ming-Na Wen (Melinda May)
Did you read Marvel comics as a kid?
Wen: I read some; I read a lot of fluffy comics, and the newspaper; but for me it was later, as I matured, that I got really into it. Because all of the stories – you realize it’s fantastical, but at the same time, it always dealt with the human emotions – the vulnerabilities. Especially with Marvel characters. They’re always struggling with something; they’re always in pain. And weren’t we all in pain, growing up? We can identify.
What’s your favorite trait or characteristic of your character?
Wen: I just love how Melinda May is always kind of cool. It’s nice to be that. It’s nice to be able to walk and feel confident and strong and just feel like at any second, if anybody messes with her, she’ll be able to handle the situation. Me, in the meantime…no, no, I do the same! That’s right! …When I’m in my garden.
You obviously get to kick some ass in the pilot.
Wen: Well, you know, when they showed the trailer, and they showed my fight scene, I was like, “Oh, okay – I think the bar’s been raised quite a bit now.” I love it. It’s a great way to stay in shape, and it’s a great way to kind of flex the guns every so often. I see how guys like to do that.
Given that your character is such a badass, why does she not want to be in the field?
Wen: I think that’s what’s so mysterious about her. There’s some sort of history in her character that is making her reluctant; and it will slowly be revealed. I think she has a history that I can’t wait to have revealed, and I believe she has history with Coulson. You know, they’re both vets; they both worked hard to get to Level Seven, and I can’t imagine S.H.I.E.L.D. being such a huge, huge force, so I’m sure their paths crossed. I mean, there’s a reason why he’s recruited her, and I think it’s because he wants somebody there who’s got the experience.
What’s the coolest thing about playing a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent?
Wen: Wearing that badge! That’s pretty badass, just to walk around with that badge. And this whole experience has been amazing. Every day, I’m really thankful.
So which relationship that your character has are you most interested in seeing developed?
Wen: I think because it’s such a new team, her reaction to the young kids is going to be interesting. I think that’s probably very new for her; and what her role is. Because right now, I sense that her role is to sort of be a protector of them. But then again, not knowing what kind of missions they’re going into, it could just be that they’re really annoying to her. There might not be these life and death situations; so it’s going to be interesting to see. But for me – definitely her relationship with Coulson, and how that develops.
How aware were you of Joss’s previous work, and specifically his penchant for badass warrior women?
Wen: Don’t you love him for that? How can you not watch any Joss Whedon, as a woman, and as a geek girl? You know – the Buffys – he taps into that, and I don’t know why, but God bless him. He’s a geek god, and every day I went to work for the pilot, I was just like, “I’m speaking Joss’s words! He’s in the same room with me!” He’s like a rock star to me. So – yeah – I had to stay very professional.
What’s your favorite of his past shows or characters?
Wen: Buffy definitely is one of my top favorites. I grew up with that; and that was such an amazing ensemble of actors. And he always had the humor, mixed with everything. And how cool is it to have J. August Richards in the pilot?
This character is so mysterious that it’s a bit different than some of his other characters. I think over time, that will bleed in, where you start to really understand her, or warm up to her. She becomes more humanized, with the experience; that’s how I feel. I don’t know where it can go, because there are some other shows where if a character is this way, they stay that way for the duration; it’s expected of them. And I think with her, she starts off being really tough and not very talkative, and hopefully over time when she starts making connections with people, she’ll develop more.
Joss Whedon (executive producer, director, and writer)
These guys are a lot more like Wolfram & Hart than they are like Angel Investigations; how do you turn guys like that into the underdogs?
Joss Whedon: That’s something we’ve been joking about since the beginning – they’re a ragtag group of faceless bureaucrats who control your every move! And that’s honestly a conflict that we open with, by making Skye a member of the team. On some level, we’ll be having our cake and eating it too – which is a delightful phrase for hypocrisy! And on some level, hopefully we’ll be able to broach the issue in a way that’s not trivializing – but if we’re dealing with it as writers, and the audience is dealing with it, then the characters need to as well. You know, sometimes S.H.I.E.L.D. will be the thing that makes it better, and sometimes S.H.I.E.L.D. will be the thing that makes it worse. It’s a very gray area; and that’s part of what makes it exciting.
Who’s your favorite new character of the series?
Joss Whedon: Well, I love all my children equally! Honestly, I really do love all my children; it’s a great show. But Fitz / Simmons, because of my boarding school days, I have particular feeling about. We did not write them to be British – but they sure ended up being that way! I guess it’s okay to call them my favorites because there are two of them; so they have double power.
As you’re working on the show, how much does you helping on the show impact your work on Avengers II, or how much do you keep that separate?
Joss Whedon: When it’s movie time, it’s movie time, and everything else has to fall by the wayside. It will require enormous focus, and always does, to do both. The good news is sometimes when you’ve been thinking about one thing all day, the way I relax is to think about something else. “Oh, a different puzzle!” Sometimes you’re like, “Uhh, more work;” and sometimes you’re like, “Oh thank God! A completely different set of problems.” So I will do as much as I can, but I have surrounded myself with people who are extraordinary at doing it when I’m not around.
Will we see the Hulk?
Joss Whedon: Yeah, we will totally see the Hulk, because it’s super cheap. We could do that on a television budget; if you don’t mind that he’s South Park Hulk.
Speaking of the budget, how will you be able to sustain the level of spectacle?
Joss Whedon: We’re not really about the level of spectacle. Obviously we want to have some big episodes, and for me, it’s like you’re opening a comic book – “I want to see something cool!” But you’re opening it because you love the people who were in it last month. It’s about these six characters. One of the things that I loved about Avengers was that Marvel’s very dedicated to building spectacle from character. And they weren’t afraid to have two people sit around and talk; for a while. And for the show, I want there to be episodes that are very intimate, where very little happens; because the emotional consequences are ultimately the only thing that ever matter, no matter how much shit you blow up.
And on that note, hope you enjoyed these awesome interviews, and until next time, Servo Lectio!
Disney has released the first teaser trailer for November’s animated Frozen. The film features the usual impressive vocal cast and comes well pedigreed.
FROZEN (In 3D)
Genre: Animated Comedy/Adventure
U.S. Release Date: November 27, 2013
Voice Cast: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff
Directors: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee
Producer: Peter Del Vecho
Screenplay by: TBA
Walt Disney Animation Studios, the studio behind Tangled and Wreck-It Ralph, presents Frozen, a stunning big-screen comedy adventure. Fearlessoptimist Anna (voice of Kristen Bell) sets off on an epic journey—teaming up with rugged mountain man Kristoff (voice of Jonathan Groff) and his loyal reindeer Sven—to find her sister Elsa (voice of Idina Menzel), whose icy powers have trapped the kingdom of Arendelle in eternal winter. Encountering Everest-like conditions, mystical trolls and a hilarious snowman named Olaf, Anna and Kristoff battle the elements in a race to save the kingdom.
The film is directed by Chris Buck (Tarzan, Surf’s Up) and Jennifer Lee (screenwriter, Wreck-It Ralph), and produced by Peter Del Vecho (Winnie the Pooh, The Princess and the Frog). Featuring music from Tony® winner Robert Lopez (The Book of Mormon, Avenue Q) and Kristen Anderson-Lopez (In Transit), Frozen is in theaters in 3D on November 27, 2013.
In Frozen, fearless optimist Anna (voice of Kristen Bell) teams up with rugged mountain man Kristoff (voice of Jonathan Groff) and his loyal reindeer Sven in an epic journey, encountering Everest-like conditions, mystical trolls and a hilarious snowman named Olaf in a race to find Anna’s sister Elsa (voice of Idina Menzel), whose icy powers have trapped the kingdom of Arendelle in eternal winter.
Kristen Bell has starred in a variety of films, including the comedies Forgetting Sarah Marshall,Couples Retreat,Hit & Run, Some Girls and the Farrelly Brothers’ Movie 43. On the small screen, Bell is currently starring in the Showtime series House of Lies alongside Don Cheadle; she has also starred in Heroes”and Veronica Mars. Broadway credits include The Crucible and Tom Sawyer.
Idina Menzel, who won a Tony Award® as best actress in a musical for her role as Elphaba in Broadway’s Wicked (2004), landed her first role on Broadway in 1995 in the Tony Award-winning musical Rent. Film credits include Enchanted and the feature film Rent. She has appeared in a recurring role on TV’s Glee and recently released Idina Menzel Live: Barefoot at the Symphony, a live concert with an orchestra led by the latecomposer/conductor Marvin Hamlisch. Menzel is currently on a North American concert tour.
Jonathan Groff appears in C.O.G., which is part of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. Film credits include Taking Woodstock, Twelve Thirty and The Conspirator. TV credits include Fox’s Glee, the Starz series Boss and CBS’ The Good Wife. Groff received a Tony® nomination for his performance in the Tony Award®-winning musical Spring Awakening, and appeared in the Public Theater’s revival of Hair and off-Broadway plays Prayer for My Enemy and The Submission, among others. He made his West End debut in Ira Levin’s Deathtrap, and appeared in the 2010 Tony Award®-winning Red by John Logan at the Mark Taper Forum.
Robert Lopez is a three-time Tony Award®-winning writer of the Tony and Grammy® Award-winning musical The Book of Mormon, which was co-written with Trey Parker and Matt Stone (South Park), and the musical Avenue Q, which ran for six years on Broadway and four years in London’s West End. Lopez teamed with wife Kristen Anderson-Lopez, whose Drama Desk-winning show In Transit is Broadway-bound, to write original songs for 2011’s Winnie the Pooh, a stage version of Finding Nemo and a new musical called Up Here.
Director Chris Buck helmed the 1999 Disney classic Tarzan (with Kevin Lima) as well as the 2007 Oscar®-nominated Surf’s Up (with Ash Brannon). His animation credits also include 1989’s The Little Mermaid, The Rescuers Down Under (1990) and Pocahontas (1995).
Director/screenwriter Jennifer Lee is one of the screenplay writers of this year’s hit arcade-hopping comedy adventure Wreck-It Ralph. Her screen adaptation of John Steinbeck’s The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights is being produced by Troika Pictures. She has an original screenplay in development with Leonardo DiCaprio’s Appian Way, and her original script Lucid Dreams was optioned by Wolfgang Peterson’s Radiant Productions.
Peter Del Vecho’s credits as producer include 2011’s Winnie the Pooh and 2009’s The Princess and the Frog. He served as associate producer for Chicken Little and Treasure Planet.
Slowly but surely, intellectual property is flowing into larger lumps, eerily mimicking the actions of the country’s banks. The WWE owns the assets of its former major (only) competitor, WCW. Dreamworks owns Classic Media, which means it controls a massive library of classic animation and TV, including Jay Ward and Harveytoons. Disney now controls its own properties, the Muppets, Marvel Comics and now Lucasfilm. They also finally got back the rights of one of Walt’s earliest creations, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, which he had done for Walter Lantz. He’s now starring in their Epic Mickey video games, and now that they own him outright, I’m sure there are plans for using him as well.
If there’s one thing Disney is good at, it’s finding innovative ways to use and market its properties. In addition to the promised new Star Wars film in 2015 (get in line now!) I expect they already have a full list of plans to execute. Here are our predictions… (more…)
Step 1: Sue Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of South Park, for copyright violation.
Step 3: Profit!
Lollipops are meant to remain wholesome. This according to Exavier Wardlaw, creator of the children’s show “The Lollipop Forest,” who slapped Matt Stone and Trey Parker of “South Park” with a lawsuit claiming the show ripped off his lollipop character and defiled it.
TMZ obtained the details of the copyright infringement lawsuit against “South Park” filed by Wardlaw. The lawsuit alleges that the “South Park” character Lollipop King is a hack version of Wardlaw’s “Lollipop Forest” character Big Bad Lollipop. Wardlaw claims that his wholesome show was defiled when his character was exposed to “unwholesome language and sexual innuendo.”
Three episodes of “South Park” from 2007, entitled “Imaginationland,” featured Lollipop King and showed the candy being choked by a Storm Trooper, witnessing a suicide bombing and watching Kyle and Cartman engage in oral sex, TMZ notes. Still, “Imaginationland” scored an Emmy in 2008 for Outstanding Animated Program for a show one hour or more.
Mars Attacks • Abrams ComicArt • hardcover $19.95, also available in electronic format. Publication date: October 1, 2012
There’s a seminal moment in every weirdo’s life where we experience something so outrageous our worldview is altered severely and forever. For Ray Bradbury and Michael Moorcock, it was Edgar Rice Burroughs. For nascent NASA scientists, it was Ray Bradbury and Buck Rogers. EC Comics begat a generation of filmmakers, satirists, and cartoonists. I have no doubt we will be appreciating the influence of The Simpsons and South Park as its early adopters enter the creative workplaces.
For me, it was Mars Attacks.
I love to collect things. I suspect if comic books were unnumbered I wouldn’t have made it to the Marvel Age. So I would dutifully check out the counter-spaces at my local drug stores to see what the Bazooka Joe boys at Topps were offering in the realm of what we now call “non-sports cards.” Their Civil War News series was as informative as it was gutsy. Their Space Race and Funny Monsters cards brought great entertainment to my pre-pubescent little brain. But nothing – absolutely nothing, not Rocky and Bullwinkle, not Mad Magazine, neither Ernie Kovacs nor Steve Allen – prepared this 11 year-old proto-nerd for the glory and the horror of Mars Attacks.
Briefly for those who are not in the know, Mars Attacks was a set of 55 trading cards issued in 1962 that told the grisly story of an invasion from space by everybody’s favorite bug-eyed naked-brain Martians. On the front was a masterful painting by the great Norm Saunders based upon sketches by the great Bob Powell and the great Wally Wood. On the reverse was the next part of the invasion narrative. Cattle were torched, subway cars were eaten by giant ants, soldiers were slaughtered, dogs were vaporized in front of their youthful masters.
Spoiler Alert: We win.
The concept and story, created by Topps’ creative director (and, later, seminal comics fan publisher) Woody Gelman and staff writer Len Brown, later of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents fame, was breathtaking because it was over-the-line. Way over the line. So far over the line you couldn’t see the line in your rearview mirror if you stopped right after you crossed it. Simply put: in 1962 you did not torch dogs and soldiers and cattle and wrap it up in wax paper with a slice of bubble gum.
Were adults offended? Holy crap, yes! You’d think the Martians actually invaded and turned out to be Commies. Topps was inundated with complaints and boxes were removed from store counters. At first, the Bazooka-boys thought they’d simply tone down some of the more objectionable cards, but instead they squeezed the toothpaste back into the tube and withdrew their product… leaving nothing but the legend in its wake. A highlycollectible legend.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of this historic event, Abrams ComicArts has released a hardcover book surprisingly called Mars Attacks. Forwarded by Len Brown and backwarded by Norm Saunders’ gifted daughter Zina, all the cards are reprinted (both sides) in their full glory along with the surviving sketches as well as the 1994 sequel cards and other great stuff, including artwork from Zina Saunders, Jay Lynch, Timothy Truman, Frank Brunner, Sam Kieth, Keith Giffen and a whole lotta other swell folk.
In addition to the aforementioned 1994 sequel cards, there have been several attempts to revive Mars Attacks including at least three comics series and a grandiose Tim Burton movie (forgive my redundancy). These have succeeded to varying degrees, but I think the concept is truly a product of its times. The bar of outrageousness has pole vaulted in the past 50 years, and these cards would barely raise an eyebrow if issued today.
But for its time, in its time, Mars Attacks brought the energy of rock’n’roll to the B-movies of the drive-ins and put it all on the doorsteps of the nation’s 11 year-olds. Its quick removal trusted it into legendary status. Abrams’ new book is a very worthy tribute.
BURBANK, Calif. (June 11, 2012) – Walt Disney Animation Studios presents an epic tale of adventure and comedy in “Frozen,” a computer-animated feature film slated for the big screen in November 2013. Directed by Chris Buck (Tarzan, Surf’s Up) and produced by Peter Del Vecho (Winnie the Pooh, The Princess and the Frog), Frozen features the vocal talents of film/TV/stage star Kristen Bell as Anna, a young dreamer about to take the adventure of a lifetime, and Tony Award ®-winning actress Idina Menzel as Elsa the Snow Queen. The movie will feature original songs by Broadway greats Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez.
In Frozen, a prophecy traps a kingdom in eternal winter, so Anna (voice of Bell) must team up with Kristoff, a daring mountain man, on the grandest of journeys to find the Snow Queen (voice of Menzel) and put an end to the icy spell. Encountering Everest-like extremes, mystical creatures and magic at every turn, Anna and Kristoff battle the elements in a race to save the kingdom from destruction.
Bell has starred in a variety of films, including the comedies Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Couples Retreat, and the upcoming films Hit & Run, Some Girls and the Farrelly Brothers’ Movie 43. On the small screen, Bell is currently starring in the Showtime series House of Lies alongside Don Cheadle; she has also starred in Heroes and Veronica Mars. Broadway credits include The Crucible and Tom Sawyer.
Menzel, who won a Tony Award® as Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Elphaba in Broadway’s Wicked (2004), landed her first role on Broadway in 1995 in the Tony Award-winning musical Rent. Film credits include Enchanted and the feature film Rent. She has appeared in a recurring role on TV’s Glee and recently released Idina Menzel Live: Barefoot at the Symphony, a live concert with an orchestra led by composer/conductor Marvin Hamlisch. Menzel is currently on a North American concert tour.
Robert Lopez is a three-time Tony Award®-winning writer of the Tony and Grammy® Award-winning musical The Book of Mormon, which was co-written with Trey Parker and Matt Stone (South Park), and the musical Avenue Q, which ran for six years on Broadway and four years in London’s West End. Lopez teamed with wife Anderson-Lopez, whose Drama Desk-winning show In Transit is Broadway-bound, to write original songs for 2011’s Winnie the Pooh, a stage version of Finding Nemo and a new musical called Up Here.
Censorship can, sometimes, be a spur to the creative mind. It’s more often a pain in the ass but there are times when a creative mind finds ingenious ways of getting around the bans, whatever they may be.
For example, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, them crazy guys who created South Park (and, even more oddly, the Tony Award winning musical The Book of Mormon) originally wanted to call the South Park movie South Park: All Hell Breaks Loose. That got rejected by the MPAA for having the word “Hell” in the title. Parker and Stone re-named the film “Bigger, Longer, Uncut,” which is more salacious. Evidently, the MPAA were the only ones who didn’t get the penis reference. Creativity trumps censorship.
George Carlin in 1972 famously listed seven words you could never say on television. Not only can I say them here, but I think editor Mike Gold would insist. They are: “shit,” “piss,” “fuck,” “cunt,” “cocksucker,” “motherfucker,” and “tits.’’ These days I think you can get away with “shit,” “piss,” and “tits” on television sometimes) but the other ones are still right out. You definitely can’t say any of them in mainstream comics.
For example, Marvel’s Luke Cage is a streetwise badass motherfucker who swears like your granny. “Sweet Christmas!” is his most common swear word. When I wrote him in Heroes For Hire, I had a villain taunt him about it. Cage, as he beat the shit/poo (take your pick) out of the guy explained it was because his grandma didn’t approve of swearing and “she was tougher than you.”
On Battlestar Galactica, instead of saying “fuck,” the characters said “frak” but we all knew what they meant. The word has gone on to enter the vocabulary of the fans and some other sci/fi works. One of the things I enjoy about it is that the process of raping the earth and poisoning it to get at natural gas is called “frakking.’’ For me, it means they’re fucking us all to get at the natural gas and its profits.
George Carlin also famously noted that when we say “Fuck you” we’re actually wishing something nice on a person. Working from that, in some sci-fi stuff I tried replacing “fuck” with “nuke,” as in “Nuke you and the nuking horse you came in on.” Or calling someone a “mothernuker.’’ “Nuke” has the harsh “uk” sound as “fuck” and hoping that someone gets nuked is not wishing them a good time. However, the substitution seemed a little forced and drew too much attention to itself. It read like the author was trying to be clever, which I guess he was, so I dropped it. Sometimes you just can’t beat the fucking classics.
Worse than that is anything sexual. You can rip a guy’s arm off and beat another guy to death with it, all the while spurting gouts of blood but you show too much skin or a couple getting it on or (Christian Right Forbid!) any sort of same sex naughtiness going on and there will be a hue and cry far greater than any uproar over profanity. See the current Right Wing brouhaha over Alan Scott’s Green Lantern being gay or Northstar over at Marvel marrying his boyfriend.
For a long time, if a movie had a couple in bed together, at least one of them had to have one foot on the floor. On TV, I remember that on The Dick Van Dyke Show, whenever they went to the bedroom of Rob and Laura Petrie, they had separate beds. Who were they fooling? I was young at that time and even I, sheltered Roman Catholic boyo that I was, knew my folks slept in the same bed. I didn’t want to think whatever else they might be doing in that bed (still don’t – shudder!) but I knew sure as hell they didn’t have separate beds.
Still, there is a certain sexuality, a certain sensuality in suggestion rather than in statement. I remember when First Comics was doing Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg! everyone talked about the sex and the nudity and all except … there wasn’t. It was implied. Sexy, yes – and sensual. It was a great, classic series whose rep is dirtier than the book ever was.
Over at DC, on Wasteland, we did all sorts of crap. We tossed a baby out of a window in a story called R.Ab (which stood for retroactive abortion) and we managed to honk off both pro-lifers and pro-choicers (and, if memory serves, our publisher) at the same time. We eviscerated a biology teacher for laughs and tried to get the reader into the mind of a serial killer among other things. Without bad language and without sex. We got accused of bad taste, which we reveled in, but rarely bad language or blatant sex.
I’m not saying that the envelope shouldn’t be pushed or that censorship is a good thing. However, if you try to establish boundaries and tell creative folks not to go there, odds are the creative folks figure out a way around it, if they can. That’s why they’re called creative. They’re never more creative when trying to do something naughty. Or juvenile. Or naughty juvenile.
Whoaaaa! Sounds dirty, that! Wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more!
According to some recent news, the sun seems to be bouncing stuff off an invisible, planet-sized object near Mercury. Of course, the smarty-ass scientists have an explanation – don’t they always? – something about how the pictures are processed. Other, more sensible, people have speculated that the invisible thing is a spaceship hidden by a cloaking device, maybe spying on us from two planets away. (Really big binoculars?) I’m afraid that misses the mark, too. The obvious answer is…Santa’s sleigh! Think about it – a cloaking device. Of course. That explains why we’ve never seen it. And the size of a small planet (which is still pretty big)? Well, it can’t exactly be tiny, not when it carries all those toys for good girls and boys.
Now, it’s true that as I look about me I don’t see many good girls and boys. None, in fact. So maybe the invisible sleigh is full of lumps of coal to be put in the stockings hung by the chimney with care, assuming anyone hangs stockings anymore. This could be glad tidings. If the coal comes from Mercury – and surely it might – why, we might just have ourselves a source of clean energy.
Isn’t it grand when truth meets science?
About 15 years ago, give or take, a movie-involved bearer of my DNA put a video cassette into our VCR and showed us a short cartoon that was going around titled, just a bit sacrilegiously, Jesus vs Santa. The plot was simple: the Jolly Old Elf and Our Lord and Savior duke it out to determine who’s the king of the holiday. I forget who won and that isn’t really important (and herewith I resist the impulse to launch into a diatribe). What is important, or at least interesting, is that the two young guys who perpetrated the cartoon were (and are) named Trey Parker and Matt Stone and what played in our living room was the predecessor of Comedy Central’s champion half-hour, South Park.
The story probably doesn’t have a moral, or even a point, but if you really need one, you could try, You just never know, do you?
Jerry Robinson, a man I was proud to know, is gone. Others have celebrated his achievements and accomplishments, his generous spirit, his activism, and his art. I have nothing to add.
But, thinking of Jerry, I remembered a quotation from Raymond Chandler’s Simple Art of Murder: “He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world”
That was Jerry.
RECOMMENDED READING: Jerry Robinson, Ambassador of Comics. By N. Christopher Couch.