Tagged: Suicide Squad

Review: BvS Is A Four-Letter Word

Batman v Superman

Did you ever endure some sort of traumatic injury knowing full well that a minute or two after the moment of disaster it was going to hurt a hell of a lot worse?

That’s how I felt after seeing Batman v Superman. Bright-eyed fanboy that I am, I walked into the theater with the highest of expectations. I had heard from a couple of friends who saw the Los Angeles screening that it was pretty good. Now I’m reconsidering my position on medical marijuana. Maybe the fault here is mine: I had been on OxyContin following some dental surgery earlier in the week and I guess I quit taking that shit too early. I wanted to like the movie – for one thing, it took two and one-half hours out of my life. For another, successful movies inure to the benefit of the comics medium and, arguably, my cash flow.

Here’s the good stuff. The camera really loves Gal Gadot, particularly when she’s in her Diana Prince guise. I enjoyed her work so much I even briefly considered watching her Fast and Furious movies, and I lamented the fact that I lacked the foresight to join the Israeli army when she was a part of it. Also, and I guess this is critical, Ben Affleck was fine as Old Man Bats. Granted, standing next to Henry Cavill would make Emo Phillips seem like Robert Redford, but Ben did just fine. Diane Lane is always a joy to behold and her talent exceeded her part. And Jeremy Irons seems to have found Michael Caine’s Miraclo stash and became Alfred the Butler for about an hour.

All that in the aggregate does not come close to balancing out Jesse Eisenberg’s turn as Lex Joker Junior. If you saw him in any of the trailers then let me assure you that what you saw is what you get. Spoiler alert: he channels Gene Hackman at the end. Somewhere Kevin Spacey is buying him a condolence card.

And, holy crap, why does everybody in the damn movie have serious mommy issues?

The story is irrelevant. And negligible. Clearly, director Zack Synder thought he wasn’t spending enough money so he finagled a nice big CG Doomsday for reasons so oblique they do not bear repeating. Lois Lane starts out as the awesome investigative reporter she’s supposed to be and then quickly devolves into perpetual rescue bait. Jimmy Olsen turns out to be something Jimmy Olsen would and could never, ever be. The Flash zipped through just long enough for the audience to realize the filmmakers are idiots. And Aquaman was portrayed as an angry deep-sea fur ball with a fork.

The blame for this fiasco is squarely on the director. Zack Synder should not be given a blank check. By the end of the movie I was hoping the after-credits scene (note: there is none) was of John Wayne Gacy returning from the dead to eat Zack’s brains. Gacy, of course, would have been played by Samuel L. Jackson.

I’ll see Suicide Squad because I was there at its conception and because Affleck was swell. I’ll see Wonder Woman because Gal Gadot is that impressive. But the Justice League movies? If I succumb to peer-group pressure (the comics world remains a small donut shop), I’ll be hoping for that Gacy scene.

The best part of Batman v Superman? The trailer for Civil War.

John Ostrander: Suicide Squad Rogues

suicide_squad_2

Sorta Spoiler Notes: Today I’m discussing the latest Suicide Squad reprint, Rogues, and I’ll disclose some plot points. The stories were originally published in the late 80s so a spoiler shouldn’t be needed, but just in case you didn’t read them back then and are considering catching up now, you been warned!

One of the nice side-effects of the upcoming Suicide Squad movie is that DC is pushing into TPB print my original run. The latest volume comes out April 12 and is entitled Rogues and it’s maybe my favorite one so far. It reprints issues 17 through 25, including the Annual and a Bronze Tiger solo story by Larry Ganem and Peter Krause.

A quick rundown on the Squad. The Original Suicide Squad was created by Robert Kanigher and Ross Andru and debuted in 1959 in The Brave and the Bold #25. They were pretty much a version of Challengers of the Unknown and featured three guys and a gal. They appeared for five issues of B&B and then… nothing.

I revived the title in 1987 ands re-invented the group as a cross between the Dirty Dozen and the Secret Society of Super-Villains. Incarcerated bad guys were sent on covert missions for the U.S. and got time shaved off their prison terms – if they survived. Not all did.

In this latest TPB, we were getting into our second year and really hitting our stride. The book was constantly changing (I liked to try and keep things fresh) and one of the big changes was that my wife, Kim Yale, came on as co-writer. Kim had been itching to get into comics and I wanted to spread out my burgeoning workload. She loved the whole idea of the Squad and brought a lot of herself and her energy into the book.

Kim and I usually had different work/sleep schedules. I was a morning person and Kim always felt that there was nothing wrong with the morning that sleeping until noon couldn’t fix. We each had our own Mac but they weren’t connected. In those days, to share you had to put things on a floppy disc and then exchange them. (Millennials, go ask your parents  or Wikipedia what floppy discs were. We’ll wait.) I was the senior writer; I had the most experience and I had guaranteed the quality of writing with our editor, Bob Greenberger. If Kim and I had story or script disagreements (and we did) that we couldn’t resolve, I had final say. Kim didn’t always like that but she agreed.

When scripting, we would divide up the issue, work different scenes, and then exchange them. Kim would do a re-write on mine, I did one on hers, and if we disagreed, we’d work to resolve it. Today I couldn’t tell you which part was Kim’s work and which part was mine and that’s as it should be.

Two key things happened in this group of stories. First, we introduced Oracle who, originally, was just a voice coming from a computer. At this point, Oracle was an outside hacker who got into the Squad’s computers. It would be a while before we revealed who it was to the readers. Spoiler: it turned out to be the former Batgirl, Barbara Gordon, after she had been crippled by the Joker in The Killing Joke. Yeah, they said it wasn’t really in continuity but all the fans thought it was and so did we.

We also introduced the running joke of the pie-in-the-face gag. Starting with Amanda Waller, every so often someone would get pied; the mystery of who was doing it wasn’t revealed for a long time. I can’t believe how long we pushed it. For a book so grim and gritty, we did classic slapstick every now and then. Keep things shaken up.

Also for humor, we added the characters of Punch and Jewelee. Kim and I never did use the Joker and/or Harley Quinn in our version of the Squad. Too many strings attached to really get to play with them as we would have wanted. Punch and Jewelee were fun loving sociopaths in a similar vein to the Joker and Harley. They were married and over-sexed as well as homicidal. “Now I’m going to make you eat this salami!” One of my favorite lines. I continue to deny that Punch and Jewelee were in any way based on Kim and me and our married life. Deny deny deny.

We also added Killer Shrike to the line-up. She had sonic abilities and “accidently” killed people but, as we wrote her, she had “found Jesus” and was working her way to the Lord by serving with the Suicide Squad. That girl just wasn’t quite right in the head but fun to write.

This series also had one of the best twists we ever did. Senator Cray and his political associate, Derec Tolliver, were trying to blackmail Amanda Waller into doing dirty work for them by threatening to publicly reveal the Squad. This is a case of two dopes thinking they are smarter than they are. Waller, of course, found a way to reverse the tables on them but she didn’t bother to tell the Squad’s leader, Rick Flag, who decided to take matters into his own hands and kill the two.

Waller finds out only after (Spoiler) Flag kills Tolliver. She then sends the rest of the Squad out to stop Flag from killing Cray “by any means necessary.” She would have cause to regret those words.

It was Deadshot, Floyd Lawton, who found Flag just as Flag was about to shoot the Senator. Deadshot had just returned to the Squad after the tragic events of his own miniseries and mentally was not very stable. He found a unique way to keep Flag from killing the Senator (Spoiler) – by killing Cray himself.

A lot of stuff happens in this volume – characters come, characters go, characters die. The usual unusual stuff with the Squad. We get a touch of the personal lives as well; we even get to see Waller deal with family and you get very much the sense she’s rather deal with the criminals and sociopaths that make up the Squad.

It’s interesting to me (at least) that, in the beginning, I wasn’t even sure I could write a team book. I found it to be terra incognita. By this point in the run, I felt a lot more secure. The blend of personalities really clicked for me and getting to work with Kim was just an additional pleasure. Most of the time.

DC is going to release another volume of our Squad stories in July, just before the movie comes out in August. That makes sense. Get ‘em out while the interest is there. I’m hoping that they’ll continue to collect the Squad afterwards as well; they’re almost half the way through the run now and it would be nice to have the whole thing gathered.

Now, if I can just get them to collect Wasteland…

John Ostrander’s Election Follies

Donald Trump The Joker

ComicMix comments upon pop culture and entertainment and, in this silly season of primaries, politics qualifies as entertainment. Sometimes perverse entertainment, I grant you. I’m from Chicago and I was raised during the reign of King Daley the First so I know from political entertainment. As Studs Terkel said many long years ago, “Chicago is not the most corrupt American city. It’s the most theatrically corrupt.” So that’s my standard.

I was raised Republican but, on reaching voting age, I became a Democrat because that was the only way to vote in a mayoral election that counted in that city – the Democratic mayoral primary. The last Republican mayor of Chicago was “Big Bill’ Thompson was booted out of office in 1931. There is no Republican Party to speak of in Chicago.

So I know from political entertainment, although currently it’s hard to decide to laugh, cry, or go screaming into the night.

Let’s start with the Democrats, the apparent adults in the room. In the New Hampshire primary this last week, Bernie Sanders got 60% of the vote and fifteen delegates to the Democratic National Convention. Hilary Clinton’s share got her nine. However, as Larry Wilmore pointed out on The Nightly Show, the Democrats also have something called superdelegates and all six of those went to Hilary. So, despite Sanders clearly winning the popular votes, they both left New Hampshire with fifteen delegates each. Now there’s Common Core math for ya!

The real entertainment, though, was over with the Republicans where an actual reality show star topped the field in the GOP version of the New Hampshire primary. Donald Trump’s numbers, as he himself might say, were huuuuge. He got 35% of the votes and that was more than twice the numbers posted by his nearest competitor, Gov. John Kasich of Ohio. (All together now – “Who?”) Even the GOP leaders don’t want Trump. His nearest competitor is Senator Ted Cruz and the GOP higher-ups don’t much care for him, either. I understand most of Cruz’s fellow senators are not fond of him.

In addition to Trump, there are two other Republican candidates seeking the Presidential nomination who have never served in public office – Dr. Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina, although Fiorina dropped out of the race after New Hampshire. Their main appeal to the voters seems to be that they have never been politicians. The distaste for Washington seems so deep that some voters will take someone who has zero experience in politics and give them the most difficult, most challenging job in politics.

Before this whole brouhaha started, the presumed nominee was going to be Jeb! Bush, brother of former President George W. and son of former president George H. W. Bush. That flamed out pretty fast. He now has his mother stumping for him as well as his brother, not known in most circles as the best Prez of the U.S.A., will also be on the election trail. One of the saddest things I’ve seen was Bush pleading with a sluggish audience to applaud. And then there was the moment in the Republican debate when Bush interrupted Trump only to be shushed by the real estate tycoon.

You have to say that Trump is the real star of the show. He gets the attention, the audience, and the best (or worst) lines, He reminds me of Captain Boomerang when I wrote him in Suicide Squad. Every time you thought he had gone as low as he could, he’d find a new level to which to sink.

Here’s a sample of Trump:

“What can be simpler or more accurately stated? The Mexican government is forcing their most unwanted people into the United States. They are, in many cases, criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc”

I will build a great wall – and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me – and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”

“If Obama resigns from office now, thereby doing a great service to the country, I will give him free lifetime golf at any one of my courses!”

“All of the women on The Apprentice flirted with me – consciously or unconsciously. That’s to be expected.”

“Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.

On unemployment numbers: “5.3 percent unemployment – that is the biggest joke there is in this country… The unemployment rate is probably 20 percent, but I will tell you, you have some great economists that will tell you it’s a 30, 32. And the highest I’ve heard so far is 42 percent.” (Note: during the Great Depression, unemployment peaked at 25%.)

About his daughter, Ivanka: “Yeah, she’s really something, and what a beauty, that one. If I weren’t happily married and, ya know, her father…”

EEEUUUUHHH!

Trump has been generous in providing fodder for Noah Trevor, Larry Wilmore, Bill Mahar, John Oliver, and now Samantha Bee (whose new show is great) as well as all the late night broadcast folks and comedians and satirists across this great country of ours. That’s added to the entertainment value. Still…

Can you seriously see Trump with the nuclear codes? Can you see Trump at an international conference and talking to our allies who might not be our allies afterwards? Can you see Trump nominating a Supreme Court Justice and maybe more than one? Can you see Trump “negotiating” with Congress and maybe telling them all that they’re fired? Some people can and that cheers them. Me? I don’t know if it’s a comedy or a horror story.

Hmmm. Sounds to me like a Wasteland story.

The Law Is A Ass

Bob Ingersoll: The Law Is A Ass #380

AMANDA WALLER LOSES TO A CONFESSIONAL PROFESSIONAL

There’s an old saying, “Confession is good for the soul.” But what if the confesser has no soul? Then that confession’s not good for much of anything; especially portrayals of the law.

New Suicide Squad #15 had a scene you’ve seen dozens of times. Well I’ve seen it dozens of times, but I’ve been reading comics and watching TV lots longer than most of you. In this particular case, the scene in question involved Amanda Waller, head of Task Force X, also called the Suicide Squad – the secret, and probably illegal, government black ops group made up of DC Universe super villains culled from Belle Reve Prison – and Miss Pesta, CEO of Calvary Corporation, a multinational corporate conglomerate that for the past several issues of New Suicide Squad had been trying to bring the Suicide Squad down, because the Task Force had disrupted several deals Calvary had in place in other countries. (Sorry about that last sentence, it had more clauses than a family reunion at the North Pole.) (And while we’re doing asides, Calvary Corporation? Seriously? Your evil corporation has the same name as the place where Jesus was crucified? Does no one appreciate subtly? What was Calvary’s business address? 666 Satan Place?)

Anyway, Amanda Waller – who is nowhere near as competent or as intimidating as she had been in her pre-New 52 carnation – decided to confront Miss Pesta head on. Toward that end, Waller broke into Pesta’s office and confronted Pesta head on. And armed, not with a gun but with Deadshot, a costumed super villain assassin in the DC Universe. He had the gun, which he pointed directly at Miss Pesta. Waller and Pesta talked of many things. Not shoes – and ships – and sealing wax; just what Pesta and Calvary was up to and why.

Pesta freely admitted that Calvary wanted to bring Task Force X down and had convinced Task Force X’s new supervisor, Vic Sage, to help them. It wasn’t hard, Sage hated Waller and wanted to destroy her. Sage leaked top secret information about Task Force X through one of the Belle Reve inmates under his supervision. The inmate would be blamed for the leak, so it would never be traced back to Sage or Calvary, and Task Force X and Amanda Waller would be shut down.

When Waller pointed out to Pesta that she had just confessed to conspiring to bring down a government program, Pesta almost literally laughed in Waller’s face. Did I mention that this New 52 version of Amanda Waller isn’t anywhere near as competent or as intimidating as the previous version of the character had been? If I didn’t, she isn’t. And if I did, that hasn’t changed.

Pesta’s actual answer was to say, in what I assume was a mocking tone – Pesta’s word balloon didn’t contain a convenient stage direction like mockingly – “So I deny it later or say you coerced me. You did break into my office and held me at gunpoint, after all.”

Seriously, how many times have we seen this scene played out? Bad guy confesses to cop then says, “but I’ll deny ever making this confession and it will be your word against mine,” Or says, “I’ll say you beat it out of me;” actually believing that a judge or a jury will actually believe the bad guy and not the cop. I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen the scene more times than I could count on all the fingers at a polydactyl convention.

Please, if for some reason you’re ever braced by the police and you freely confess to some crime, don’t think you’ll be able to convince a judge or jury that either a) you never made the confession or b) the police beat/coerced the confession out of you. In the immortal words of Rocket J. Squirrel to Bullwinkle J. Moose, “But that trick never works!”

Judges and juries don’t want to believe that policemen lie. They don’t want to believe that the police do anything wrong or that any arrest was carried out in any manner other than “by the book.” They especially don’t want to believe that the police beat, torture, or in any other way coerce confessions. Judges and juries want to believe confessions are on the up and up, so that they can convict the defendant with a clear conscience. Having a confession makes keeping that old conscience clear all the easier. In other words, unless you’re a southern belle, you should never begin any sentence to a police officer with the phrase, “I must confess.”

Okay, maybe things aren’t quite as bad as that cynical preceding paragraph made it seem. Except for the part where I said judges and juries don’t want to believe that a confession was anything other than valid. That part is true. I spent twenty-eight years trying to convince judges and juries to the contrary with very, very limited success.

No, let me rephrase that. With no success. From time to time, I did manage to get a judge to suppress physical evidence seized during an illegal search, but I can’t think of even one time where I convinced either a judge or a jury that a confession was coerced and should be disregarded. And don’t think I didn’t try.

Now I’m not saying that it wouldn’t have happened in Miss Pesta’s case. Pesta’s an attractive and rich corporate CEO who could honestly testify that a government operative broke into her office and had an underling point a gun at her head before she confessed. She and her story might have some jury appeal. Which is more than we can say about Amanda Waller. Waller is curt and abrasive and heads up a secret, illegal government operation that most Americans would not want to know existed and who brought a costumed hired gun for intimidation purposes. Under those circumstances, it is possible – possible mind you – that a judge or jury would believe Miss Pesta that she never made the confession or that it was coerced. But it happens so infrequently that, were I Miss Pesta, I certainly wouldn’t want to confess and then bank my freedom on the possibility that I could get someone to buy the into the coercion ploy. Unless, of course, I was planning on going to my bank and buying someone into buying the coercion ploy.

So maybe Miss Pesta could be successful in convincing others that her confession was coerced. Remember she is an evil corporate CEO in a comic book story. (Hey, aren’t they all?) In other words, Miss Pesta is a trained professional bad guy, so don’t try this at home.

Because there’s another old saying you should remember, “Your results may vary.”

John Ostrander: TV Superheroes Come and Go

Barbara Gordon Oracle(SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! Spoiler spoiler spoil spoil spoilery spoilers. I’m chatting this week about the events on some of the superhero TV shows last week. If you recorded them and intend to watch them later, give this a pass. Here endeth the warning.)

It was an interesting week in superhero TVland – specifically, DC superhero TVland. At least for me. I had a personal connection to some of them.

Arrow had a few events, some minor, one major. The character Felicity who is their computer geek expert recently got shot and it appears she has nerve damage to the spine and now has resumed her place with the team in a wheelchair. Sound like anyone we know? Yup – Oracle, whom my late wife and writing partner Kim Yale and I created from the remains of Barbara Gordon. Oh, they’re not calling her that but that’s who she is, wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more.

They also had Felicity dealing with a hallucination of her younger self, perhaps brought on by pain medication or even an aftereffect of anesthesia. What’s interesting is that younger Felciity is the spitting image of Death from the Sandman series – pale skin, raven dark hair, dressed in black, with an ankh necklace. However, they don‘t reference Death at all. They just grab her look. Guess Felicity was really into the Goth scene back then.

The major event was – they killed off their version of Amanda Waller. Bad guy just suddenly shot her in the head without warning. That was startling, I will admit, as it was no doubt intended to be. Since I get a little bit of money every time Amanda shows up on Arrow (or anywhere), her death was not a terribly pleasant surprise.

OTOH, this was a young, pretty, skinny Waller which is not how I saw the character. When I created the Wall, I saw her as a certain age and a certain heft for a variety of reasons. The bulk made her more physically intimidating. Also, I wanted a character who was unlike other comic book characters. Being black, middle aged, and plus-sized did that. I understood that this was the CW and that’s what the CW does – young and gorgeous is the rule of the day, every day. I did nott and do not object to their interpretation. And we have Viola Davis playing Amanda in the upcoming Suicide Squad movie and I’m looking forward to that. (The second trailer came out for the Squad movie as well recently and it’s looking real hot, IMO.)

There was another unexpected death in DC superhero TV-land this week and it was in the second episode of the new DC’s Legends Of Tomorrow. On the team is the CW version of Hawkman and Hawkgirl (you couldn’t call her Hawkwoman, CW?) and, lo and behold, they offed Hawkman this week. Well, boy howdee, that was a stunner.

I didn’t create Hawkman but I’d written him for a while (although it was alien Katar Hol rather than Carter Hall) so I did have a personal attachment to him. I’ll continue watching for now just to see where they go with all this but I’m not sure of its longevity.

The last event happened for me on Supergirl over on CBS rather than the CW. The main character is alright but, for me, the real draw is the Martian Manhunter, J’onn J’onzz. Tom Mandrake and I did a series on JJ in which we explored more of his society and culture. For example, it had been long established that, on Mars, J’onn had a wife and daughter who died. No one, however, had ever given them names, so I did. The daughter I named K’ym as a tribute to my late wife. On last week’s Supergirl episode, J’onn went into some of his past. He mentioned two daughters, one of whom was named K’ym.

That pleased me a lot. It was just a small thing but I know Kim would have been very pleased. I can almost hear her giggling and see her bouncing up and down with glee. Most pleasant.

So that was my week in Superhero TVland. How was yours?

John Ostrander: Back to the Beginning

Warp Play PosterWhen I get asked by earnest neophytes how to break into comics, my pat answer is “With a pick and a crowbar through the roof in the middle of a moonless night.”

Somewhat less than helpful, I know.

The truth is that I don’t know how to break into comics. I don’t think most of you can go the path I took. I had an old friend – Mike Gold, who you may have seen hereabouts – and he knew I loved comics and he had liked something I had written for the stage and offered me a chance. When Mike had first gone to NYC to work for DC Comics, I pressed on him a sample script I had written for Green Lantern. He dutifully did but the script didn’t go anywhere and it shouldn’t have. I was very keen but very raw in those days (although I did use elements of it eventually; writers are forever cannibalizing themselves).

Fast forward a few years. Mike left DC to return to Chicago and eventually co-found First Comics with Rick Obadiah. The first comic that First Comics was going to print was an adaptation of the play Warp!, produced by the legendary Organic Theater of Chicago. The play trilogy described itself as “the world’s first science fiction epic-adventure play in serial form”. The director and co-writer, Stuart Gordon, freely acknowledged that he was very influenced by Marvel Comics. (We’re talking late 60s, early 70s Marvel. The primo stuff.)

I was – and am – a huge fan of Warp! Heck, I was a huge comic book geek at the time as well. Peter B. Gillis was hired to adapt the play but I got a call one day from Mike (who was now supreme editor and High Poohbah of First Comics) asking me if I would like to try my hand at writing an eight page back-up story.

Of course, I said yes.

And so began the process of picking one of the characters from Warp!, figuring out a story, working out the plot, breaking it down into page and panels, doing it and re-doing it, learning the tricks of the trade as I went. I had written plays which are similar to comic-book scripts but comic book writing has its own practices and demands. I’d write it up, Mike would give me notes, I’d re-write it, I’d get more notes and so on until one day Mike finally called me and congratulated me – they were going to use my story as the back-up feature in the first issue of Warp! which was going to be the first comic published by First Comics.

“Oh,” I replied, “great. Uh … do I get paid for this?”

“Of course, you sap,” Mike replied and gave me the page rate.

As a side note, I’ll mention that at that point I hadn’t written anything for a year or more. I felt I had a bad case of writer’s block. I discovered that there’s nothing like getting a paycheck to dissolve a writer’s block.

I went on from there to write more back-ups. Then I got Mike Grell’s Starslayer as a regular assignment and from there I originated GrimJack thus creating my career or sealing my fate, whichever you prefer.

The fact that I have a career is largely Mike Gold’s doing. As my first editor, he taught me not only the tricks of the trade but how to be a good writer. When Mike returned to DC, he brought me with him. Thanks to Mike, I got the job plotting Legends which was the first big DC crossover following Crisis On Infinite Earths. It may not sound like so much in these days of constant company wide crossover events but it was big back then. (Len Wein did the dialoguing and John Byrne did the pencils.) At Mike’s suggestion, we debuted Suicide Squad in the pages of Legends.

Mike also famously drafted me into doing Wasteland (we brought Del Close along). It was Mike’s idea and I wasn’t sure about it or at least my doing it at first. However, Mike is persuasive and I’ve learned when Mike has an idea to just say yes; at the very least, it will be interesting and potentially it will be some of my best work (as with Wasteland).

Mike has also been a very old, very loyal, and very good friend.

It boils down to this – if you like what I’ve done with my career, hey it’s all due to me.

If you don’t like what I’ve done, blame Mike.

Joe Corallo: Moving… Pictures

Suicide Squad movie

First column of the new year. We’re already over 1% through the year. How’s it treating you so far?

Switching gears from last week where I was reflecting on 2015, I’ve been thinking about what we have in store for us in the year to come. Upon pondering what’s awaiting us over the course of the next twelve months, I realized that we may not be moving forward as fast as I was hoping. Particularly when it comes to the movies.

I’m starting with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, as it’s still making money and hasn’t even opened in China yet. This may be considered a minor spoiler, so if you haven’t seen the movie yet and any plot detail revealed may cause you to succumb to an unimaginable rage, then I suggest you skip to the next paragraph. Anyway, the opening scroll of the movie reveals that the major plot point is that our heroes need to find a straight cis white guy, Luke Skywalker, to save them all. Sound familiar? And while the new main characters are a more diverse crew, they’re still not only serving to find previously stated straight cis white guy, but the movie gets hijacked by another straight cis white guy, Han Solo, the moment he comes on screen. Not quite the kind of progress you’d hope to see in a movie that was billed as being diverse.

How about the superhero/geeky movies coming up? Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice is about a couple of straight cis white guys who are up against a straight cis white genius with a straight cis white woman tacked on as an afterthought. That’s not to say it won’t be a good movie or we shouldn’t give it a chance, but that doesn’t change those facts.

DC may be offering us more diversity with Suicide Squad. Will Smith as Deadshot, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Killer Croc, and Viola Davis as Amanda Waller do give me hope that we will be seeing a more diverse cast in a superhero movie, possibly the most diverse yet in the Marvel and DC universes big budget films. However, this could just as easily end up being primarily about The Joker and Harley Quinn. Will Smith did indicate that Deadshot and Joker would both be pursuing Harley Quinn, so Deadshot may have a significant role in the film. However, this may also indicate that we’ll have a straight Harley Quinn as opposed to her bi comic counterpart. Not to mention the heteronormative nature of a love triangle involving two men going after one woman who is only allowed to enjoy one of them intimately.

As for Marvel’s offerings, we’re looking at Captain America: Civil War and Doctor Strange from Disney and Deadpool and X-Men: Apocalypse from Fox. Starting with Captain America, we do have the introduction of Black Panther into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Falcon and War Machine will also have roles in the film, in addition to Black Widow and Scarlet Witch. That being said, the movie is being carried by Captain America, a straight cis white guy, protecting his friend Bucky, a straight cis white guy, primarily from Iron Man, a straight cis white guy. Noticing a pattern?

The Doctor Strange movie, from what we know of the casting and plot synopsis so far, is that it will be about a magical straight cis white guy that needs to stop another magical straight cis white guy.

Deadpool is about a cis white guy, but this one is supposedly pansexual. We’ll see what this ends up meaning. It could be an actual representation of a pansexual character. It could also easily be used to have Deadpool jokingly hit on guys while only having a more realistic interest in women. I’m hopeful, but I’ll believe he’s pansexual in the film when I see it.

X-Men: Apocalypse, while having some diversity in its cast, doesn’t mean it’ll be about diversity. These movies tend to revolve around Xavier and Magneto, two straight cis white guys. Cyclops and Jean have been recast and brought back into the fold of the X-Men movie franchise. A straight cis white heteronormative relationship is just what the X-Men franchise needs! It’s not like Storm could have ever had an interesting relationship in the comics that could translate to film. To be clear, she has, and I was being sarcastic. Also, casting Oscar Isaac, a Hispanic actor, to play the Egyptian villain Apocalypse is a bit troubling too.

As I was saying earlier, none of this means that these movies will be bad. This may very well be the best slew of superhero movies yet. However, they are lacking quite a bit in the diversity department. Having slightly more diversity in the cast of a movie while still having straight cis white guys moving the plot forward and taking up the majority of the screen time is really missing the point.

The point being that we need to be exposing ourselves to people of different backgrounds, points of views, and people who have had radically different life experiences than we commonly see depicted in media. We don’t get that by having them walk on screen or onto the pages of a comic. We get that by having them be an integral part of the plot, or better yet, the focus of the plot. A radical concept, I know.

The comics and the TV series are doing a bit of a better job this year. Shows like Supergirl and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., comics like Midnighter, the new Black Panther series written by Ta-Nehisi Coates starting this year, Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, and many other examples exist that show that we’re continuing to make some progress in both of those mediums. That said, out of the 11 oversized 50th issues DC has coming out in a couple of months, eight of them star straight cis white guys, two of them star straight cis white women, and one stars a bisexual white woman.

The movies really do need to step up their game in the diversity department. It may be too late for 2016 already. We do at least have the Wonder Woman movie coming out next year. Let’s hope for better luck in 2017.

Dennis O’Neil: Time Out Time

Superman Snowman

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow…

Please?

The weather oracles out here say that we can expect some sleet mixed with tonight’s rain and if that happens, if we’re blessed with the “wintry mix,” we should cherish it because we may not see it again, not this year. Mighty hot winter. I would like to snort a little fire and and decry global warming, but I’m no meteorologist (and neither is your friendly neighborhood politician) and so I can’t say with any authority that global warming is the sole cause of the soaring temperatures we here in the northeast have been liking/hating. But surely the climate change is in the mix somewhere.

After tonight’s sleet, if it comes to pass, nothing more of its kind is in the forecast.

A month or two ago, we bought me some heated gloves. They’re still in the wrapping.

Meanwhile… what we have here is a bardo week – an interval. All our favorite television superheroes are having winter rests and the new entries are yet to debut. There isn’t much I can add to the dialogue. We’ve been pleasantly surprised with Supergirl; the maid of might seems to have found a comfortable niche between fantasy/melodrama and old fashioned charm and every week she gives us a pleasant hour. The other costumed heroes are holding their own and that’s righteous enough for me.

And on the cinematic front, the big movie, the one we have been anticipating as though it is the Second Coming, set box office records from the get-go and is still setting them. Looks certain to earn more than a billion dollars very early in its run. Yay, I guess. I almost wish I didn’t know that and I could look at the movie, when I get around to it, as just a movie. As disclosed in last week’s column – and admit it, you were thrilled – I saw the first Star Wars before it opened, knowing almost nothing about it, and that’s a good way to experience entertainment. Though its true that for most of mankind’s involvement with storytelling, the listeners knew the ending of the story being told before they heard it, so novelty isn’t a requirement, just something that’s occasionally nice.

Next up, and at last: Superman v Batman. That probably won’t shake the Earth, but who knows?

Later: lots and lots and lots of superhero flicks, including Suicide Squad, based on comics by our own John Ostrander.

And about those comics: Yahoo’s news column recently listed all the comics that would be available in the coming week which, once again, demonstrates that our oft-maligned medium has gained full parity with all the other media. It’s also given me a venue in which to be damn lucky and that’s no bad thing to be grateful for as one year folds into another.

John Ostrander: Not Your Father’s Superman

Batman-2nd-Amendment

My friend Paul Guinan put an interesting post up on his Facebook page yesterday. It sparked an equally interesting discussion, and, evidently, you can have discussions on Facebook that are not all salvos of rants.

Paul wrote: “I grew up with Superman being a character of pure good. Every once in a while something like Red Kryptonite would cause him to do some bad things – nothing too bad – and he would be forgiven and once again beloved. He wasn’t a morose, frowning, reluctant hero, he enjoyed his life and mission.

Batman With Gun“Batman was a victim of gun violence. Bob Kane flirted with the idea of Batman carrying twin pistols for a very brief moment (a holdover from Batman’s inspiration, The Shadow), but seminal writers like Bill Finger solidified the code of Batman not carrying firearms. It made great thematic sense. Batman would sock a villain on the jaw, or throw his Batarang at a them – not beat them to a pulp and wind up with bloodied gloves. Batman is a scientist, detective, and martial arts expert. Such training develops character that’s in contradiction to being a rageaholic.

“Wonder Woman is the Princess of Peace, an ambassador for justice. Yes, she’s descended from Amazon warriors – but who had come to live a life of peace and tranquility on a secluded island. The Wonder Woman I grew up with wouldn’t carry a sword or shield, as that would be a sign of using men’s instruments of war to resolve conflicts. Her weapon? A Lasso of Truth! The villain would be socked on the jaw, tied up with the magic lasso, and be calmed.

“If the evolution over generations of an iconic character reflects society, then such indicators reveal we are becoming way too cynical and mean. Shouldn’t that be an opportunity to provide role models who inspire us to be greater, rather than reinforce our negative natures?

“I write this after seeing the second trailer for Batman v Superman, in which the DC trio is constantly angry –  even Clark Kent! The trailer climaxes in a shot of the DC trio. Superman is wearing a suit more dark and sinister than the outfit worn by “evil” Christopher Reeve in Superman III. Wonder Woman is dressed in a dark monochrome knockoff of the outfit worn by Xena, brandishing a sword. Batman looks as he should be is carrying a rifle. WTF? Sigh.”

I’m a founding member of the dark “grim ‘n’ gritty” hero (or anti-hero) club. GrimJack, Amanda Waller, my remaking of some established heroes – if I can find some tarnish to put on a hero’s armor, I’m known to apply it. However, I’m also not without sympathy for Paul’s point of view. The notion appears to be that if it’s darker, the story is more “realistic,” it’s more relatable to the reader/audience. That notion pervades not only comics but the movie and television adaptations of them.

And yet, what is my favorite superhero adaptation right now on TV? It’s not Gotham, it’s not Arrow – it’s The Flash. The main reason is that Barry Allen is presented as a hero, that he wants to be a hero, and that people respond to him as a hero. The show doesn‘t pretend it’s easy but that it is worthwhile. The show also really honors its roots and is often very funny. It’s well written and acted. It’s also very much in the tradition of the character as published by DC for the past few decades.

One of the issues raised is that many of the movies (Man of Steel was cited and, potentially, Suicide Squad might be another) are not meant to be for all ages. The attitude of some appears to be that superhero movies should be, at best, all ages or even kid centric, that superheroes are essentially a child’s fantasy, but this flies in the face of what movies are about commercially: studios want to put as many butts in the seats and eyes on the screens that they can. The movies that have been made so far have reaped tons of money and that tells the studios this is what the audiences want. If a little of this is good, more is better. Don’t fool yourself; plenty of kids went to see them as well and bought lots of the paraphernalia connected with it (and that’s where the real money is made).

Kids are not all that sheltered, either. Take a look at some of the video games that are popular. Kids know more than when I was a kid; take a look at the world around us. ISIL, climate change, the very real possibility the seas are dying (and with it all of life) – when I was growing up, we only had the specter of World War III to cope with. If movies are darker it’s because the world that the kids must cope with is also getting darker.

However, it’s not simply the dark and the grim that makes money. Guardians Of The Galaxy and Ant-Man were very successful at the box office and they were for a more general audience. They were brighter and more fun and more hopeful. Meaning what? That, as usual, it’s not all one thing or the other.

I believe that all characters and concepts cannot stay stuck in one time or era. To remain viable, they must be re-interpreted for the time in which they are in. They have to be part of the world that the reader/audience inhabits. That world, our world, has grown darker in the past few decades. The comics and the movies did not cause that; they reflect it.

That said, there also has to be hope. There desperately needs to be hope today. That also should be reflected in our movies and our superheroes.

If that sounds like I’m conflicted, I am. I see both sides’ views and sympathize with all of them. I’m looking forward to the Suicide Squad movie; the trailer suggests to me that they got what I was doing and it will be part of the movie. That said, I’d also like Superman to be a bit brighter than they seem to be making him, to represent the best in us. That was my Superman.

Oh, and he should wear red trunks. Definitely they should bring back the red trunks.

John Ostrander: Nero Wolfe Revisited

Nero Wolfe

My mother once told me that an odd pleasure she had in growing older was that she could go back to favorite books, particularly mysteries, and enjoy them all over again because she didn’t remember the ending. She knew she liked it but she could discover it anew.

That’s happening a bit to me these days. I’ve recently started re-reading Rex Stout’s mysteries featuring Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin (not to be confused with the late, great comics writer and editor with the same name, although that would have been an interesting pairing as well). I read quite a few of them a few decades back but not all of them; that would be a monumental task since Stout wrote 33 novels and about 40 novellas about Wolfe and Goodwin.

Rex Stout (December 1, 1886 – October 27, 1975) was born of Quaker parents in Indiana and was raised in Kansas. He served as a yeoman on Theodore Roosevelt’s presidential yacht. In 1916, he created a school banking system that paid him royalties and made quite a bit of money. He described himself in 1942 as a “pro-Labor, pro-New Deal, pro-Roosevelt left liberal”. A man after my own heart. He was denounced as a Communist during the McCarthy Era but denied it. He told House Committee on Un-American Activities chairman Martin Dies, “I hate Communists as much as you do, Martin, but there’s one difference between us. I know what a Communist is, and you don’t.” J. Edgar Hoover was not a fan and Stout wasn’t a fan of his or of the FBI and that figures prominently in Stout’s very famous Nero Wolfe mystery. The Doorbell Rang.

The Nero Wolfe stories are an ingenious pairing of a cerebral detective (Wolfe) and hard-boiled detective (Archie). I love narrative alloys like this; my GrimJack stories are a combination of hard-boiled detective and sword-and-sorcery. Suicide Squad melds The Dirty Dozen,  Mission: Impossible, and The Secret Society of Super-Villains.

Wolfe is fat. He is more than stout, he is obese. He’s been described as weighing a seventh of a ton, fluctuating between 310 and 390 lbs. He lives in a beautiful brownstone on West 35th Street in New York City that he owns; Archie lives there as well, having his own room. Wolfe takes on detective work only as a source of income to indulge his passions, which includes orchids, fine food, and beer. He keeps to a very strict daily schedule and does not even allow the investigations to meddle with it. He is brilliant, fastidious, idiosyncratic, arrogant, demanding, and filled with wonderful character tics.

Archie is Wolfe’s “legman”. He does the physical stuff, tracking down things and witnesses, bringing suspects to the office for Wolfe to question, acting as secretary as needed. He’s also a wise-guy, quick with a quip and good with his fists. One of his jobs is to needle Wolfe, keep him on the job, make him relatively human, and just be a pain in Wolfe’s sizable ass. He’s also the narrator of the stories; we know what we know through Archie and Wolfe sometimes deliberately doesn’t tell him everything, often just to annoy him.

The stories also have a stable of supporting characters, each with their own well defined personality tics and traits. One of the real pleasures of the series is the interaction between Wolfe and Archie; Stout tells a good story and can plot with the best of them but it’s the interplay between the two leads that drives the series. Like any serial fiction, including comics, it’s how you play the expected tropes that keeps the series fresh. Stout does endless and inventive variations of the expected notes; it feels a little like jazz to me. That’s a lesson I need to keep learning; how to take what is expected and make it surprising, fresh, and entertaining.

I don’t know if I’ll go through all of the Nero Wolfe cannon this time; I doubt it. There’s just too many other things to read. However, what’s nice is that I know I will enjoy what I’m reading. I did the last time even if I don’t exactly remember why. Such are the blessings of aging.