Scary news from Wilmington, NC’s local newspaper, where Swamp Thing was shooting:
The locally filmed television series “Swamp Thing” has found itself bogged down by some unexpected news.
The currently in-production project is being shut down earlier than expected as its producer, Warner Bros., evaluates the future of its DC Universe streaming service, on which the series was scheduled to premiere May 31, according to several sources within the local industry.
I’ve said many times no one was more Milestone than Dwayne McDuffie. Denys Cowan’s larger than life idea created the company. Dwayne showed up with the details for that idea.
Milestone has made an impact on the comics world to be sure. Most would say comics have had an impact on the world and I would agree.
Just as no one was more Milestone than Dwayne, there was no one more ‘comics’ than Len Wein. That may be my opinion, but I defy anyone who knew Len to prove me wrong. Comics at their best induce moments where you’re living within the world you’re reading about. As an adult, if you’re lucky that feeling will last a few minutes if you achieve it at all.
As a child, those moments lasted hours maybe even longer depending on your level of interest and in my case your level of pain. Some of my childhood memories are as vivid now as when I was eight years old. Some thankfully are faded one memory so horrid I repressed it only to have it surface in a series of dreams (nightmares) later confirmed by my mother as a memory.
Don’t get me wrong I had a wonderful childhood except for the times it wasn’t. Then it was bad, hence the repressed memory. But remembering any occasions reading comics was, as we say in the hood, All Good.
Len’s presence always made me think back to when I was a kid. For most kids in grade school, there was nothing more important than Saturday, Sunday and summer any time away from school.
Kids who loved comics were a wee bit different.
Yeah, we loved summer but where I grew up no two days were as important than Tuesday and Thursday. Those were the days the new comics came in. I lived on Beach 58st, Far Rockaway Queens. The store that sold comics was on Beach 67th street. I could walk there in about twelve minutes or bike there in about three.
Since it was in my ‘hood’ odds were I’d still have my bike and comics when I exited the store. That may not be the case with the comic store located at Beach 40th street-not my hood. We called it the 40. The 40 had a much better selection and a spinner rack! Until then I’d never seen one before, and yeah it was a big deal.
My grade school best friend Julian Butler and I were distraught one comic book Tuesday because Silver Surfer #1 was not in the new comics. We prayed for what must have been the longest two days of our young lives it would come on Thursday.
“I’m not going to the 40,” Julian told me. “You’re stupid if you do.”
Julian had been beaten up his bike stolen at the 40. My friend Earl and I were chased from there my mother told me never to go back.
Julian was so right.
Going there would be stupid, and I almost never disobeyed my mother.
I was stupid I went there and I did say ‘almost.’
What else could I do? Comics were magic and my first love. When in love people do stupid things. Yeah, it was stupid, but it felt like magic.
Each moment I spent with Len Wein I was blessed with the magic of time travel because it felt like I traveled back to that time when I’d risk a beat down for a comic book.
At his graveside service, Len wanted a joyful sendoff, and his family and friends didn’t disappoint he got one. Fantastic Len stories genuinely funny were plentiful. I’m a hilarious guy, but I couldn’t speak let alone tell a humorous tale I was so heartbroken over his passing.
Others were just as heartbroken they were stronger than I and I’m glad they were. Still I think Len would have liked me to tell an amusing tale or two.
I’ll try and do that now.
Len’s life force was pure love. If you were fortunate enough to know him, you felt that. Always positive upbeat joyful and there for you. Len never brought you problems, but few were better with solutions. His cool calm and enlightened manner made his advice damn near spiritual.
That manner also cost me a Hugo Boss jacket.
“I know who you are,” I said with deadpan seriousness.
We were having lunch at an Oakland restaurant during Wonder Con. Len stopped looking for a waiter to look at me… like I was crazy. “Brilliant, changing one word of your teachings and who would ever think Buddha was a Jew?” I said as I looked attentively into his eyes.
He laughed so quick and hard whatever diet soda he was drinking ended up all over my Hugo Boss. He got the joke before I finished telling it. During the con whenever I would see Len talking to fans I would greet him by bowing my head and asking him to honor me with an autograph on; Len and the art of motorcycle maintenance, the way of Len, etc., etc.
You get the idea, but it took you a second. Len was quicker on the upbeat than anyone I knew. Len insisted he pay for the dry cleaning of my jacket and I should have let him. I left Oakland forgetting my blazer was in the cleaners.
Any time spent with Len was memorable. Some so outrageous if others were not involved no one would believe me. There was the time I drove some of the biggest names in comics to a party along the way we encountered both police then a car full of gangbangers.
Both confrontations featured loud blasting music from my truck. Not the Hip Hop you’ll expect from an early 30ish Black man but show tunes.
Yeah, I like a good musical, surprised?
“Maria” from, the West Side Story soundtrack greeted the cops when I slammed to a stop alongside them. I was speeding and did not see the patrol car until last minute.
Len was riding shotgun he shot me a ‘be calm’ look. I calmly asked the cops for directions which they gladly gave no doubt Len’s broad smile putting them at ease.
The cops drove on, and the music resumed with ‘America.’ My car was full of white people who all started singing at the top of their lungs.
I like the island Manhattan.
Smoke on your pipe and put that in!
I stopped at a red light glanced to my right, and my heart stopped.
Right next to us was a car full of gangbangers.
I like to be in America!
O.K. by me in America!
All at once I turned off the music, and everyone stopped singing. I’m praying these guys were not fans of musical theater. Len rolled down his window smiled and said. “Know it?” The banger behind the wheel nodded slightly then said. “Everything free in America.”
There was a beat of utter disbelief before both vehicles broke into laughter. I threw up some look like gang signs and shouted “West Sideeeeeeeee!” Without missing a beat Len added; “Story.”
Yeah, that happened.
When I was around Len beautiful things like that happened all the time. His presence made me time travel to my younger self. I became the kid who couldn’t wait to buy new comics every month couldn’t wait to see what happened to Spiderman when he grew six arms. No way I could stay calm after Oliver Queen walked in on Speedy with a needle in his arm.
How could anyone be patient after seeing the ad for Swamp Thing # 7?
I felt I was in the fourth grade back to PS 105 when around Len.
That was always a good thing even if I’m too stubborn to see at times. The odds of a fourth grader no longer hating but becoming friends with a reformed bully are the stuff of After School Specials. That’s what happened after I almost killed Ronnie Williams. I hit him in the back of the head with a chair when he took my Fantastic Four #73.
I forgave Ronnie but kids forgive like they eat candy, they could care less how sick it makes them.
The odds of a now successful middle-aged black man from the hood with the chips stacked against him (on his shoulder) disregarding a history of conflict with the former (gone to his) head of a major comic book company?
The odds of A middle-aged successful black man with a chip on his shoulder from the hood crying like a little girl after reading the former’s gone to his head accounts of Len?
Trump becoming President of Mexico in a landslide win was a better bet.
Finishing each installment of Paul Levitz’s ‘week of Len’ on Facebook stabbed me with a razor blade of sadness. The narrative was written wonderfully, and for the briefest of moments, Len was alive. I almost made an “I never knew that…” call to him. After my mom passed, I dialed her number and began to leave a message on her answering service on three separate occasions.
To me in every way but blood Len was family and each tick of the clock believing he was still here was a gift. What Paul’s Facebook post gave me the comments took away by bringing me back to this damn reality.
He meant so much more to the world than what the press focused on. Yes, he was a fabulous writer, but he was an even better man. Len was the kind of person who cared about things that need to be cared about.
Sounds simple, but try naming five people you can truly say that about. Len didn’t need a hurricane to do the right thing.
This inadequately written offering has taken me weeks to write as I’m hurt and not seeing things clearly. I’ve been here many times. The Seven Stages of Grief are more like a ‘quick start’ guide to me these days.
I’ve lost many in the last few years just look at the tributes I’ve written then add eight.
Len’s death is different; it’s harder because Len while fighting his battle looked out for me while I was fighting mine. I tried to look out for him; I failed repeatedly.
When at rock bottom battling depression Len and his wife Christine insisted, I come to dinner with them one night. That was a night left alone I fear my inner demons may have won out.
The restaurant was six minutes away it took a Herculean effort and almost two hours to get there. They waited, called, waited, called and may have saved my life.
Whenever Len was in the hospital, I’d attempt to see him. The closest I’ve gotten was sitting in the hospital parking lot willing myself to move. I don’t see people in the hospital it’s something I just can’t do.
I spoke to Len about that he understood.
A week before Len died he called and asked me to come by his home. I called Christine to see when would be a good time.
I didn’t go.
I had every intention of going set a date took out the third row of seats in my SUV to fit Len’s wheelchair so that I could take him to lunch and then I moved our meeting date.
Len died the day before the new date.
Something in me died the moment I heard.
Len set the standard of integrity kindness fair play and honesty. He loved his fans like friends, loved his friends like family and loved his family above all. Knowing he would have understood not seeing him before he died gives me little relief.
I’ll try to be a good friend to Christine and Michael their support kept me from completely losing it when It should have been the other way around.
I loved that man; we, all of comics loved that man if you knew him or not you loved Len Wein.
I fear this is a pain I may never get over and fear my time traveling days are over.
So be it.
The time I spent with Len is well worth me staying put and trying to be a better man.
If you’re a regular reader of my work, you will notice there is no profanity in this piece out of my love and respect for Christine Michael and their family who may want to read this account.
Those new to my work who may seek out other articles by me be warned I swear and use hood slang often and I’m about to so again because Len loved this line:
Heaven, you smell that? That’s Len Wein; he’s the shit.
It is more than a little likely that, as you read this, I am getting a root canal.
Dentists terrify me. Not on purpose — they are not the stars of It — but, nonetheless, they fill me with dread.
I’m sure that most people who go into dentistry as a career are motivated by a desire to help others, and yet, when I go to the dentist, I can’t help thinking about this movie and this scene.
A lot (not all!) of horror fiction is about the fear and loathing of our bodies. As children, they frustrate us with their limitations. We can’t fly, and we are not tall enough to reach the cookies. As adults, they frustrate us because they no longer do the things they did when we were younger, like stay awake all night on purpose, or digest spicy food.
I’m not really a fan of horror fiction. My life as an informed citizen has enough horror non-fiction. However, I understand that fiction provides a way for humans to process our fears in a healthy way. And I enjoy Stephen King books, not because they are scary, but because he has a gift for creating characters he seems to really care about. If we didn’t care about them, we wouldn’t be frightened by the threats they face.
(A friend of mine was in arock band with King, and he says the conversations on the tour bus focused on body functions a lot.)
The horror and thriller genres are, to me, most effective in prose, when I can imagine the threats, or in movies, where a good director (and script) provide surprising jumps. Comics can’t do that, at least not in the same way. Comics can give the reader some vivid imagery, and there is no limit to the amount of blood and gore and mucus the artist renders on the page, but, in the end, it’s just a flat picture. We, the readers, come at these images at our own pace. We can rip them up or throw them across the room if we like.
For me, the primary exception is Alan Moore. From his first Swamp Thing stories, with Stephen Bissette and John Totleben, he made stories that haunted me long after I finished reading. It wasn’t just the insects (although they gave me the icks), but the way he treated the characters’ perceptions of their bodies. The stories inspired not only fear, but disgust and mistrust.
More recently, Moore has explored these issues and this imagery in Providence. I confess that I’m not a big Lovecraft fan, so these books are not my jam. Still, Moore, with Jacen Burrows, gets plenty creepy and ominous, and perhaps you will enjoy it.
There are scary stories about ax murderers and the like, but it is those with threats from within that freak me out the most. As a culture, we especially fear women’s bodies. In modern film, from Rosemary’s Baby to this week’s debut, Mother!, it seems that the men who make most movies are terrified about women’s ability to have babies. What if women decide they don’t want to? What if women want to have babies, but with somebody else? What uncontrollable forces inhabit the bodies of women that allow the creation of other beings?
There aren’t many horror movies from the perspective of the women who might have children, especially when they don’t want them. The closest I can think is Alien and, this day, I can’t watch those movies because I read the comics adaptation first. A monster who plants a fetus in my body against my will that bursts from my chest? No, thank you.
The lesson I learn from horror fiction is that I am responsible for myself, especially my own body and what happens within it. Nothing will make me immortal, alas, but the choices I made about food and exercise and how I go through life are my own. This is why it is so important to me to support Mine!. Without access to health care, people cannot make the choices necessary to live the lives we want. We need to get PAP tests and STD tests and mammograms and birth control. We need pre-natal and post-natal care. Today is the last day you can pledge, and I hope you will.
Any other being that grows in and comes out of my body should only do so with my permission. The alternatives are too frightening.
This past weekend a giant of entertainment left us. Chuck Berry was 90 years old, and I must admit I would from time to time wonder if Little Richard, Chubby Checker or Chuck were still with us.
I’ve not only had the pleasure of meeting each of these legends, I spent time with them. I worked in the music industry running the film and television arm of Motown Records for a click. Although a fantastic dancer and unbeatable in a lip-synch battle, I have no real musical talent, and at Motown I had almost zero to do with the core business.
Didn’t matter. Motown provided me access to anyone and everyone in the music industry. The music business can be very much like you see in TV and movies.
Sex drugs rock and roll complete with groupies’ wild parties and wilder people. What you see in the media does indeed happen, folks. Been there, done her, got video. I have, in my musical narrative, played many roles. What you may find hard to believe is this to some is commonplace and necessary to do their jobs.
I’ve seen a record company executive put coke on his expense account. I’ve done that as well, but my Coke came in a bottle. On occasion I’ve been cast as a witness-alibi-go between- victim-judge-jury-referee-bodyguard and bodyguarded. I’ve had some crazy days and nights.
None were crazy as when I met Chuck Berry.
I planned on telling that tale today, but as John Lennon kinda said, “life is what happens while you’re making up shit to stall so as not to write something that will tear your heart apart.”
This was to be the week I went back to running different articles on Bleeding Cool and ComicMix. I don’t like running the same article on both sites I tried running some articles part one here part two there and vice versa but neither Rich Johnston nor Mike Gold over at ComicMix said rather or not that was ok.
I like the idea of funneling readers between both sites. I think it’s a win-win, but I fixate on rather or not it’s OK and nobody wants to tell me it isn’t. Oh, I’m told who is not my bitch, but I’d better leave that be less I risk saying something that will not end well.
Yep. Still stalling.
If you’re wondering why I just don’t tell the Chuck Berry story, I don’t blame you.
That story is a perfect mix of real life craziness comics and return to the swagger that will inevitably invoke my haters on BC to chime in with why they hate me.
But as much as I like pushing people’s buttons to tell that story before I related this story would be inappropriate.
As you’ve no doubt heard by now, Bernie Wrightson died over the weekend. For my money, Bernie was just a big a star in comics as Chuck Berry was in music.
Swamp Thing #7 guest-starring Batman turned me on to Bernie’s work, and in turn, I took a significant leap in my education, and I do mean education when it needs it most in grade school.
I never wanted to draw like Jack Kirby even though I loved Kirby’s art. As a kid who loved to draw, I never thought I that I copied artists. When I would copy from comic books, I’d copy characters, not artists. It didn’t matter who drew it if the character was in an excellent pose that’s what my grade school mind was telling me I was copying.
When I discovered Bernie, all that changed and Batman swinging across the pages of Swamp Thing #7 changed it. I had to draw that way. I kept that book as part of my never trade and would kill you your mother sister father dog and cat if you even asked me.
When Ronnie Williams bullied me though 2nd and 3rd grade, I had finally had enough when he took my Fantastic Four # 73 in the 4th grade. I picked up a metal backed wooden chair and cracked him over the head with it.
If it had been Swamp Thing #7, he took from me my weapon of choice may have been the Saturday night special (a cheap handgun) my sister said I should use on Ronnie – jokingly. My mother acquired the gun to keep in the house after a series of robberies in our building.
She thought my sister Sharon and I didn’t know where she hid it. We knew, under the mattress along with the shells. Everything my mother hid we found.
Parents, that’s what kids do they find shit.Get a fucking gun safe.
I just want this fucking pain to go away, and anger may help, but I can’t get there from here so my apologies.
This article is as hard a thing for me to write as any tribute I’ve ever written.
Bernie’s artwork made me read comics that had no superheroes in it and by read, I mean read look at the words try to pronounce them and figure out what they meant. I was already becoming a decent reader from the horrible how the fuck do I spell ‘I’ student I was.
I was beginning to like reading, but all I liked to read were comics. Bernie’s work on House of Secrets which I sort out had no superhero in it.
Seeking out that book was dangerous and enlightening. I lived on Beach 58st in Far Rockaway Queens. I got my comics from a mom and pop store on Beach 51st.
There was another store on Beach 40th and one on Beach 77st. Yeah, that’s a lot of beaches. All stores were a quick bike ride away but only (B51) was in my hood. If I wanted to go to the others, I risked a beat down or worse my bike stolen.
So, I walked. Looking for more of Bernie’s art was well worth a black eye.
Nowadays you hop on the computer and you can find anything. Back in my day, I had no idea if there was even any other Bernie art out there. I had no clue what Swamp Thing was. I purchased the book because I saw Batman on the cover.
I mentioned Bernie’s art helped my education here’s how. My sister had a cheesy romance novel paperback which featured a cover font very similar as the title of the House of Secrets comic book.
I thought it was. Because there were no superheroes in the comic somehow my mind thought it was possible this featured some Bernie artwork.
When I discovered it didn’t and had no art at all, I did the unthinkable.
I read it anyhow. All I can tell you is my little mind was blown.
Who knew there could be that much adventure and excitement in a book where nobody was drawn? All I had to do was skip all the girly parts, and I had discovered a new love, paperbacks.
Then I found Conan in paperback no girly parts to skip over and Frank Frazetta on the covers. From there I began reading hardcover books and spent my entire first paycheck ($10 bucks working for my cousin) on a hardcover book, All in Color for a Dime.
Bernie started all that.
Denys Cowan and I were leaving DC Comics in 1988. We were going to grab a bite to eat. As we were departing in walks this guy. “Hi, Denys,” the man said. “Hey!” Denys said.
“Bernie, I want you to meet my friend, Michael Davis. Michael, this is, Bernie Wrightson.”
I lost what little mind I had.
Bernie was there for a meeting and was rushing. I did something I have only done three times in my life, and he was the first: I asked for an autograph.
I’ve met some of the most famous people in the world and only asked for an autograph three times. Each time I had something for them to sign. Jack Kirby signed a comic book, James Brown a CD cover.
I had nothing for Bernie to sign I didn’t care I just wanted something to remember the moment.
I didn’t get it.
Bernie apologized but was late for a meeting, so he ran in.
All though our meal Denys kept telling me what a great guy he was and not to worry I’d see him again yadda yada yadda. I was thinking; yeah… right.
I realized with a start while looking for something for Bernie to sign I’d left my portfolio upstairs at DC. I told Denys I’d be right back and hurried to get it. When I entered the office there by the statue of Clark Kent was my case and coming out of the door to the inner offices was Bernie.
There was a God!
“Hey Bernie!” The voice came from behind him calling him back.
And he hates me.
I grabbed my case left the reception area to wait for the elevator which quickly arrived with a ping!
“Hey hold it,” Someone said. I was in no mood to hold the elevator and make small talk with someone, and for a moment I considered being a dick but slapped the door to make it recede nevertheless.
“Here you go,” Bernie said with a smile. He reached in and handed me a sheet of DC stationary with his autograph and a quick ball point pen picture of Batman.
He then ran back into the offices. I never even got a chance to say thanks.
Bernie and I became friends over time and as such would grab a bite at a convention or a NY deli if we ran into each other in Manhattan.
As always, he would brush it off my gushing over him with sincere thanks but clearly didn’t think he was such a big deal.
Then I ended all of that and started to refer to him as simply Mr. Living Legend. I didn’t think he liked it, so I stopped.
The last time I saw Bernie was walking the SDCC convention floor with Wayne Brady. When we ran into Bernie, I introduced Wayne with a “Wayne, this is Bernie Wrightson.” Bernie put his hand on my shoulder gave me an affectionate squeeze and said “That’s Mister Living Legend, get it straight Michael.”
Wayne, who loves comic books said gleefully; “Yes sir, you are indeed a legend.”
A legend yes without a doubt.
Also an inspiration to a poor black kid the man he became and the one he hopes one day to be.
In the 1960s, the Black Panthers were the number one target of the FBI. They were viewed as terrorists and J. Edgar Hoover, the longtime leader of the most powerful police force in the world, was hell bent on getting rid of them by hook or by crook.
Yep, hook or crook.
It’s no secret the United States Government from time to time will ignore the law. It’s fair to say it goes on often and as far as we know it goes on all the time. When caught, those who swore to uphold the constitution offer apologies for actions that dismissed the law like Trump denies any negative press.
But it’s all bullshit.
If not caught these people may have stopped breaking the law, but it’s doubtful they would have been sorry. I gather few are sorry for wrongdoing that benefits them. How many people have you seen come forward to admit how sorry they are for gaming the system when they have no incentive to do so?
The FBI broke all sorts of laws to accomplish their Black Panther agenda. As always, don’t take my word for it. Google that bitch. Unless you’re blind to the truth backed up with a few court rulings the war on the Panthers was a one-sided American tragedy fueled by a lie and driven home by a liar by the name of J. Edgar do I look fat in this dress Hoover.
Yeah, I can talk a lot of shit from my cozy little home in suburban Los Angeles. I can talk smack because I’m secure in the knowledge I’m protected by:
First Amendment Right Freedom of Speech
What I wrote about the F.B.I is true.
I’m just not that important, and neither is ComicMix nor Bleeding Cool to anyone in power that may object to my point of view.
I’m not as naïve as the above list would suggest. I’m fully aware my rights are subject to the will of the arresting officer and temperament of the D.A. regardless of my innocence if arrested for a crime I didn’t commit.
Been there had that done to me. Twice.
My circumstances notwithstanding in 2017 there exists a reasonable chance that someone may be believed if they claim police brutally or unjust treatment.
In 1966 the odds of a black person being believed were slim. I would wager a Jewish person would face the same type of incredulity and, given what happened to the three Civil Rights workers in Mississippi June 1964, the same dangers.
In June 1964 in Neshoba County, Mississippi, three civil rights workers were abducted and murdered in an act of racial violence. The victims were Andrew Goodman and Michael “Mickey” Schwerner from New York City, and James Chaney from Meridian, Mississippi.
All three were associated with the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) and its member organization the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). They had been working with the “Freedom Summer” campaign by attempting to register African-Americans in the southern states to vote.
This registration effort was a part of contesting over 70 years of laws and practices that supported a systematic policy of disenfranchisement of potential black voters by several Southern states that began in 1890.
The three men had been arrested following a traffic stop in Meridian for speeding, escorted to the local jail and held for a number of hours. As the three left town in their car, they were followed by law enforcement and others. Before leaving Neshoba County their car was pulled over and all three were abducted, driven to another location, and shot at close range. The three men’s bodies were then transported to an earthen dam where they were buried.
Two of the three men killed for trying to do the right thing were Jewish.
In the 50s and 60s, certain parts of the deep south were deadly. Those who sided with black people were treated as if they were black people often that meant death. It’s one thing to risk your life for your rights; it’s another thing indeed to do so for somebody else’s.
In my mind, that’s the textbook definition of noble. That takes a whole other level of balls. It’s gangsta with a capital G.
In 1966 the F.B.I was on a mission to destroy the Black Panther Party and woe be on to those who got in their way.
Marvel Comics was all the rage on college campuses in the 60s. Stan The Man Lee was the captain of one of the hottest pop culture ships to set sail in the ever changing 60s sea. His first mate Jack King Kirby navigated just as much of the Marvel boat as Stan and together they ruled comics, campuses and cool.
Stan wasn’t content to just cruise. He continuously looked to change the comic book landscape he had already transformed. DC wasn’t without some cool stuff, Wein and Wrightson’s Swamp Thing, Adams and O’Neil’s Green Lantern / Green Arrow those books along with others were DC’s stellar addition to the cool that Stan ushered in. Alas, those came in the late 60s early 70s.
DC held its own in sales, but in the ‘cool’ department they were outclassed at just about every port. Seen by most as still just for kids DC may have sold as much or more, but Marvel was – to use 60s slang – where it’s at.
The age of sex, drugs and rock and roll embraced Marvel. although they featured none of the above. Neither did DC.
The difference was a bit like the shower scene in Psycho. People swore they saw the knife plunge into Janet Leigh. There was no sex drugs or rock and roll in Marvel books, but fans thought there was.
Over at DC you didn’t have to be in collage to know Lois Lane may have had the title “Superman’s girlfriend” but everyone knew Clark wasn’t hitting that.
Put another way… DC was the Good Ship Lollipop and Marvel was the ever lovin’ Starship Enterprise.
Like another ship, the Titanic, once people heard about Marvel they couldn’t wait to jump on board. Likewise, the Titanic, Stan and Jack faced an Iceberg.
Unlike the doomed ship they looked for that potential death dealer on purpose. Those two Jewish guys were about to take a stand and strike a blow for civil rights. Not for themselves – for African Americans and doing so, whether they knew it or not, chuck a serious fuck you to Hoover and his crew.
A Black Panther with a serious attitude showed up in New York and preceded to win over the masses with his message. If J. Edgar won’t wear white after Labor Day, Hoover wanted to do something he couldn’t just bum rush the place he knew the Panther would be.
That’s because this Black Panther wasn’t real. Stan and Jack made him up out of thin air. Or did they? In 2017 it’s hard to imagine meeting someone who had not heard of Donald Trump’s:
Take your pick.
The Black Panther Party was a regular item in print and broadcast news. The year was 1966 what you read in the newspaper or watched on TV was damn near (for many it was) gospel.
Ya think Lee and Kirby just happened to create a character with the same name as the most wanted radical group this side of the Weather Underground with no knowledge that group existed?
That’s as likely as a character called The Birther showing up out of thin air.
Name: The Birther!
Tag Line: He Came Out of Thin Not American Air!
Mission: Kill Grandma!
Stan was as tuned in to what American college kids were doing as anyone over 30 could be. He spoke at many universities, and Marvel’s mail was an endless stream of hip American youth feedback.
The question is, did Stan, and Jack create the Black Panther to make a buck or a difference? Did they risk aliening some fans becoming an FBI file and possible violence?
I’m sure a lot of you think you know the answers but I most certainly do. Mine came straight from the man himself.
DC in the 80s is a Webzine for the DC Comics Fans with an affinity for 80s comics. It’s fun, upbeat and engaging. Justin Francoeur and Mark Belkin keep the fan fires burning with wit and a great degree of nostalgic professionalism. I’m fascinated by the their endeavor, so I reached out to discuss it with them.
Ed Catto: Can you tell me a little bit about the site and how it came about?
Justin Francoeur: My formative years of comic book reading were during the early 80s to the early-to-mid 90s. Roughly six years ago, there wasn’t much on the Internet about DC Comics from the 80s (or it was scattered all over the place and not easy to find) so I decided to make a tumblr blog specifically spotlighting the house ads of that era. There were a lot of ‘buried gems’ in that time period and my goal was to identify them and discuss the interesting history behind them. It just started as a review site, really.
You can thank our executive editor, Mark Belkin, for the evolution of this site. It was his suggestion that DC in the 80s could be something more. With his help, it went from a tumblr blog to a website with reviews, articles and interviews. We chose a ‘zine interface to emulate the DIY aesthetic of the 1980s ‘zine culture – where anyone with a typewriter, a passion for something, and access to a Xerox machine could distribute an 8-page booklet to anyone willing to read it. Despite our commitment to journalistic integrity, this is still just a fun project for us – and we hope the DIY aesthetic of our site reminds people of that.
Mark Belkin: Justin invented it and ran it for a long time before I came along. I joined in about 2014, and Justin asked if I would post a few things. I did for a bit, but I did not get involved until later – 2015. Justin started to kick around the idea of me interviewing people and being more involved, and I felt inspired to do more. Now I feel I am a great #2 to Justin, and am really happy being a “full time” contributor. We click when it comes to making the site grow, and seem to do well working off each other.
EC: Why do you think there is so much interest in DC Comics from the 80s?
JF: To be candid with you, I think it had a lot to do with the New 52 DC relaunch of 2011. I think the radical reboot of a lot of DC characters had readers – mainly millennials – who still wanted to read about their favorite DC characters, re-visit their favorite comics they read growing up and it brought back a renewed interest in the 80s (and by extension, the early 90s) material. DC fans don’t disappear, if they’re not happy with what’s currently being published, they just re-read their favorite comics from their back-issue bin.
Additionally, there’s a bit of a retro 80s craze run-off that has drawn people to our site. Prime examples include VH1‘s I Love The ’80s, National Geographic‘s The 80s: The Decade That Made Us, as well as numerous radio stations and websites that are fixated on 80s nostalgia. Enough time has elapsed that it’s cool to look back and celebrate the 80s in an un-ironic way. Part of the original goal of this ‘zine is to tie-in what was happening in then-current 80s culture with what was happening in DC Comics of the 80s and create some links between the two. I always like it when a reader leaves the site learning something new. I also like it when a reader leaves a comment along the lines of “I totally remember that comic series! I’m going to go out and hunt it down again! Thanks!”
MB: DC Comics in the 1980s was a revolution in creativity. Because of the late 70s implosion and the almost sale of DC to Marvel in the early 80s, I believe that they were willing to take more chances. Paul Levitz, Karen Berger, Jenette Kahn, Dick Giordano, they took so many risks creatively and brought in amazing creators. They gave people chances to experiment, to kill off tested characters, to change everything around. I would have killed to be in those Len Wein/Marv Wolfman editorial meetings when they were planning Crisis and Who’s Who. From everything I read, it evolved organically and grew from them just doing it… and later bringing in British talent like Brian Bolland, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, and Grant Morrison. These are the most creative comic books creators of all time. What they did was change the world.
They also gave other talent a chance to take some pretty incredible changes. Sure, putting Frank Miller on a Dark Knight series makes sense – he had such buzz coming off his Daredevil and Ronin work – but it’s still ballsey. Robin being dead? Old man Batman? Letting Frank turn their number one property, Superman, into a tool for the Government, and openly mocking him? These stories are still some of the best of all time, and editorial deserves respect for letting it happen.
They let Keith Giffen go nuts on Legion of Super Heroes art and nuts on the comedy with Ambush Bug, and then let Keith and JM Dematteis experiment with Justice League. They brought in John Byrne to do what he wanted with Superman, pushed George Pérez onto Teen Titans, Mike Grell on Green Arrow, Timothy Truman on Hawkman. These are some of the best comics ever made, and these stories stand until this day.
My dream has always been to be an editor for DC Comics, and everything about what happened in the 1980s is what I would be absolutely honored and privileged to be a part of. Sorry, that turned into a thesis and/or cover letter. But long story short, the comics were dope, and they remain dope today.
EC: Back in the 70s, I remember the nostalgia craze for the 50s. Is something similar going on here?
JF: I honestly believe it’s a ‘generational’ thing. Growing up in the 80s I was still in elementary school and thus didn’t have much money to my name – thankfully, I had a huge long-box of then-current comic books my dad had been collecting for me, so I had a pretty healthy knowledge of what was going on. I always swore that someday I’d go back and revisit all of those issues I wanted to read. I’m thirty years older and now I have disposable income to spend, so this is a great time to catch up. We’d like to think that we’re here to help you find the hidden gems of that era.
MB: I feel that everything goes in 20-year cycles. The 70s had the 50s craze, which ran into the early 80s. The 80s had a 60’s thing that ran into the early 90s. The 70s into the 90s. Especially in music, fashion, and in art. If you think about the Silver Age, it was the Golden Age but updated. 60s updating the 40s. The 80’s Bronze Age updated the 60’s Silver Age. In the 2000’s, you saw the emergence of Identity, Infinite, and Final Crisis. Its 20 year cycles. Right now we are into the 90s, which I can’t speak to because I didn’t collect comics in the 90s. But even though we are nostalgic for the 80s, DC in the 1980s transcended the decade. Everything they did affected the 90s. Crisis, bwa hahaEra Justice League, Watchmen, Dark Knight. All those affected the 90s and are still affecting comic books today.
Also, I think, we live in an age where the Library of Alexandria is at our fingertips, and people know which stories to scout out and buy. This makes it where people are always discovering the work, and people have such fond memories of it.
EC: How does the DC fan of the 80s differ from the DC fans of today? Or are they the same?
JF: The DC fan of today is multi-faceted; there’s lots of different ways to become a DC Comics fan. Of course there’s still the “physical” comic book, but now there’s also console/computer games [i.e. DC Universe Online, Batman: Arkham Knight], the films [i.e. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad], the live-action TV shows [i.e. Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, Gotham] and the cartoons [i.e. Batman: Brave and the Bold, Vixen, Young Justice]. It’s actually a really great time to be into DC Comics – there are lots of options available.
However, someone cosplaying as Stephen Amell’s Green Arrow will swear to you that they’re a major Green Arrow fan – and they’ll be absolutely correct – but will have never heard of Mike Grell’s The Longbow Hunters. This is one demographic of fans we’re trying to reach. They may never actually end up touching a comic book (being satisfied with the CW universe of the character), but if we can convert a few of them over to DC comic book fandom, that’s great.
On the other side, I’m finding that fans of the 80s material are generally not too keen on adapting to the more current media. They are less likely to be standing in line on opening night for Suicide Squad because “it’s not the Suicide Squad they grew up reading, but they’ll watch it when it inevitably comes to Netflix”. Coincidentally, these are also the really interesting fans to talk to – you can tell that DC Comics from that era really had a profound effect on them and they will happily tell you all about what it was like collecting the comics, playing the RPGs, watching the Superman films for the first time and their initial reactions to major DC comic moments like Crisis On Infinite Earths, John Byrne’s Superman relaunch, or Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s Batman: Year One.
MB: I remember going to comic book shops from ‘85 until the summer of ‘89, when I stopped collected. I think the Marvel movie success has brought back the kids to shops and conventions. For a while, you never saw kids going into comic book stories. When I was a kid, I saw a lot of adults, but they were considered “childish” or immature for liking comic books. I could feel their stigma. Nowadays there is still a stigma, but it’s different.
Another difference is there are a lot more ‘in the know’ fans then back then. I remember there was the guy who would read Amazing Heroes and/or The Comics Journal and knew so much more than we did. In fact, knowing too much is what killed comic book collecting for me in 1989. Someone told me about an interview with Rick Veitch, and how he was not allowed to do the Swamp Thing #88 the way he wanted, and was off the book. It killed everything for me. If I had never known that, and all I simply knew was that he was no longer doing the book for whatever reason, I may have stayed collecting. And maybe that’s something today? Too many people know too much about how the sausage is made and it translates into people dropping the hobby. Could be the price too. Comics seem to be doing ok now, so maybe people are coming back.
We review a lot of new material, because we want the fans of the 80s to know there’s a lot of great new stuff that DC is doing. I love the Rebirth stuff, and I’m excited for the new Doom Patrol. We try to break through the stereotype of “everything new sucks,” because I don’t believe that. There is always good new music, art, movies, and there are definitely good new comics. I just read All Star Batman #1, and was really excited to see where Snyder and Romita Jr would be taking the story. In my opinion, Tom King, Gail Simone, Jeff Lemire recently, and some others, have done some of my favorite comics books in decades.
EC: It seems like there’s a lot of 80s cosplayers and customizers out there. Why do you think that is?
JF: Mark is typically on the front lines at the comic conventions interviewing creators and taking photos of cosplayers. I tend to be more of the ‘Oracle’ to his ‘Batman’ (filling out the paperwork, researching for interviews, managing the e-mails and social media accounts), so I don’t get much opportunity to talk to cosplayers. The ones I have chatted with are doing it for the pure love of the character. I feel that anybody who’s willing to parade around wearing silver body-paint for the afternoon to look like Captain Atom is worthy of being called a DC fan.
I think the customizers (I’m assuming you’re referring to ‘action figure customizers’) are really just trying to fill a void – a lot of cult-favorite 80s DC characters were never immortalized as action figures [i.e. Infinity Inc., All-Star Squadron, L.E.G.I.O.N.] and this is their chance to rectify that. The Kenner Super Powers Collection were some of my favorite 80s toys growing up (I suspect that’s the case with a lot of our readers) and I could only imagine what would’ve opened up for me had the toy line lasted more than 3 waves.
MB: People like dressing up and making things their own. Not in a bad way, but we live in a very “Look at me” generation, where people are constantly one-upping themselves on social media. Not a bad thing at all. I also think it goes back to people knowing about more characters, and being able to get resources (‘How-to’ videos on YouTube, any materials you may need on Amazon) to make great costumes and action figures. I actually really enjoy collecting DC action figures, and would like to customize a few I’ve never found.
EC: Have you had any surprises from your fans? I’m curious how predictable or unpredictable 80’s DC fans are.
MB: Justin is much better to speak on this. He answers the emails and tweets. I’m too busy caring about myself.
JF: The fans I’ve encountered have always been polite, knowledgeable and eager to share memories with us. Something that always seems to catch me off guard, however, and I’m not sure if this is just limited to fans of comics from the 80s or all comic book fandom in general, is how much venom and vitriol is directed towards the whole “Marvel comics films vs. DC Comics films” debate. It’s not like you need to choose sides; this isn’t the Spanish Civil War. You can appreciate both companies for what they are. Calling ourselves “DC in the 80s” is a bit of a misnomer, since we’re not “DC or nothing” fanboys. A lot of great work came out of Marvel, DC, Eclipse, First, Pacific, Renegade Press, Fantagraphics, Kitchen Sink Press and Dark Horse during the 80s and we recognize and acknowledge that.
MB: I loved DC, but I also loved Grendel and Elementals in the 80s. Almost as much as anything. But DC is my favorite. I might be categorized under the “Make Mine DC” crowd, even if I own 200 issues of X-Men.
EC: What’s your favorite series from the 80s? What are your favorite series now?
JF: At the risk of sounding cliché, I’m still discovering new 80s favorites on a monthly basis as I’m re-reading older DC material for what seems like the first time. If I had to narrow it down to just one, I’d go with Grant Morrison’s run on 1988’s Animal Man ongoing series. Those 26 issues really changed the way I looked at comics. I actually discovered it a bit later in life – during my early college years. I remember reading the TPB off the rack at my local Chapters and I was so impressed by it that I returned the next day to purchase it (and the following two volumes). It’s been sitting on my bookshelf ever since.
Currently, the DC material I am most excited for is Gerard Way’s Young Animal imprint. I’ve flipped through the ashcan and am thoroughly impressed. I’m really hoping that a new batch of talent can re-spark that ol’ Vertigo magic that really made DC stand out over everything else on the market in the late 80s/early 90s. The first few issues have been released yesterday and as of this writing I’m actively trying to avoid comic book review sites (and spoilers) until I can pick up the issues myself and read them with a blank slate.
MB: Other than everything Alan Moore did, I have three special series:
The Rick Veitch run on Swamp Thing. So criminally underrated and I want nothing more than convince Dan Didio and Jim Lee to publish #88. It was so twisted, so dark yet funny, so smart. I loved Veitch, and I will have an interview with him that I got in Baltimore, probably in the next few weeks.
Doom Patrol with Grant Morrison, Richard Case, with lettering by John Workman. I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Case and Mr. Workman recently, and am working on a story based on that run. I think there is such an amazing artistic spiritual undertone to that run. Especially the Painting That Ate Paris with the Brotherhood of Dada. I feel I could teach a course on that run, and still not be able to convey how groundbreaking it was. As Justin said, that Animal Man run is up there, but Morrison’s Doom Patrol run was magical for me.
The Question by Dennis O Neil and Denys Cowan. Everything about this made Question my favorite all time character. It was surreal, intelligent, real and violent. It spoke to me as someone growing up in Brooklyn and discovering philosophy, and violence in the streets.
It is harvest time. The Green Market is a riot of colors, and I can’t seem to eat fast enough to take advantage of the riches of the season. I spend far too much time worrying about what to cook so that I don’t have to throw away any of my beautiful produce.
This might seem like a stupid thing to obsess about — why don’t I just buy less? — but it’s far better than my other current obsession, which is to wonder if I should have kissed that guy I like, and, if so, would there have been tongues, and had I brushed my teeth recently enough for that to happen. Often, it’s no fun inside my head.
No matter. Too much good food is not a bad problem to have. It’s certainly better than the obsession with death that seems to be once again encroaching on American superhero comics, a genre I like because it’s often full of hopeful fantasy. Here and here and here, just to take three examples from various rumor mills around the ‘Net. (Beware! Those links contain spoilers.)
I know that heroism involves risks, and that death is a part of life. I’m just bored with killing off characters as a stunt to get attention. It makes story- and character-driven deaths less meaningful.
So let’s talk about vegetables. Superhero vegetables.
Alas, Captain Carrot is not, in fact, a vegetable. And Swamp Thing can be food, but he can also be poison, since he can be any plant he chooses to be.
With the growing concern about children’s health, it’s not a surprise that parents want to find ways to get their kids to make healthier food choices. And it’s not a surprise that these parents, thinking that superheroes are kid stuff, would try to co-opt the vocabulary and imagery of comics to tempt their children.
I don’t know what you might like to eat, or what variety of nutrients makes you feel your best. Because we are human and capable of infinite variety, you probably have a different list than I do. I find that whatever I want to eat, I want to add more vegetables to it (except for, maybe, ice cream). In the process, I suppose I am causing the death of these vegetables, or at least creating the demand that is the incentive for farmers to kill them.
It’s possible vegetables have feelings. Whether that is true or not, they have more life than a fictional character.
Honestly, it’s been hard for me this past week to think of something to talk about that isn’t the Pulse LGBTQ nightclub massacre that took place on Latin night in Orlando, FL in the early hours of June 12th which was a targeted attack against the queer and Hispanic communities using a Sig Sauer MCX assault rifle. This semi-automatic rifle has been the weapon of choice for many a mass shooter. That fact was not lost on the crowd of thousands that we attended the vigil at Stonewall Inn here in Manhattan’s West Village last week.
Despite this fact, no one really expected anything to be done about gun violence. After all, we’ve experienced so many mass shootings these last few years and our government has done next to nothing about it. Certainly on a federal level. And besides, it’s an election year. You know how politicians get during election years.
Then something unexpected happened. And it’s sad that it was unexpected. Democrats successfully launched a filibuster for gun control legislation. We’ll find out just how successful it was in the weeks and months ahead, but it’s a start.
All of this got me thinking about how this issue has been handled in comics. The comics medium hasn’t shied away from political topics or national tragedy in the past. Marvel Comics have tackled subjects like September 11th, 2001 in The Amazing Spider-Man, and the political climate in the United States for Marvel’s Civil War comic. Spider-Man teamed up with Planned Parenthood once to stop the villainous alien, Prodigy, who was trying to get as many teen women pregnant as he could so he could steal the babies back in the 1976. Hell, Captain America even took on the Tea Party at one point. However, you won’t find much, if any, commentary on gun violence being in and of itself an issue and an appeal for gun control with that.
DC Comics doesn’t fair much better. After the Aurora, CO shooting at a movie theater playing The Dark Knight Rises, quite a few outlets wrote about Batman being against using guns, like this piece in The New Yorker. Though it’s great that Batman and many other superheroes don’t use guns, and many situations involve them defeating villains with guns, that’s different than actually taking on our gun culture and the NRA.
The closest we may have gotten was in Alan Moore’s The Saga of Swamp Thing #45. In that issue, titled Ghost Dance, a small group of people find themselves in a house haunted by all those who have been killed by a Cambridge Repeater Rifle. It’s really wonderful commentary on the issue and if you haven’t read it you should, or at least read up more about it here.
Many smaller comics and graphic novel publishers have not addressed this issue. In fairness to many of them, this is a uniquely American issue and many smaller publishers are based outside the United States or at least publish books written outside the United States. One area of comics you do find gun violence and gun control commentary being addressed is in political cartoons. I know we don’t often think of them in the same way as we do comics, but they are part of this medium and have been around well before Marvel or DC were even being conceived. Even before The Yellow Kid.
There have been some great, some interesting, and some incredibly cynical political cartoons dealing with this topic recently. You can find some of them here. They range from liberal to conservative, from sensible to radical, and from welcoming to xenophobic. Whether you agree with the particular political cartoons you see or not, the important thing is that they are keeping the discussion going.
The comics medium needs to be a part of that discussion, just like every other communications medium. The real danger isn’t the conversation we don’t like to have, but not having that conversation at all.
Barely a week ago, WWE World Champion Seth Rollins turned his knee into goo after botching a routine move. The Internet Wrestling Community was set on fire with speculation to the immediate future of the flagship of professional wrestling. And a few days later, the fire was doused with the reality of predictable corporate future endeavors. A tournament to crown the new king of the ring was announced (no, not the King of the Ring™… I’m being poetic, damnit), and the brackets were filled to the brim with rehashed match-ups.
To any savvy fan, the winner is already clear-cut. Worse than that, the obvious feuds they were building to were pre-populated into the tourney. It was the worst possible outcome following the worst possible injury to happen to the roster at the worst time.
What sucks the most though is what brings me here to my personal rant this week: the missed opportunities.
Too often, we fans of Geek Culture can’t see the forest for the trees. It’s inherent in our very nature to forget to enjoy the journey, not simply skip to – and then quickly judge – the outcome. Typically, I would have reached that catharsis after lambasting you, my cherished fans, with several iterations on that theme. Like This American Life, but less maudlin. To take a bit of my own medicine though, I’m going to play devil’s advocate; I’ll argue in favor of screwing the well-worn journey in lieu of an unguessable ending. Someone cue some lighting or something.
I listened to Marc Maron’s WTF Podcast this week, wherein he was able to confront Lorne Michaels as to why he didn’t get hired on at SNL back in 1996. Rather than dance around the subject for an hour or so and reach the eventual bittersweet climax as I’d anticipated, Maron flipped his own typical script to change the predictable outcome. Within seconds Maron let slip his big finale, and covered his missed opportunity so many years ago. The answer, predictable perhaps more to his audience to then himself, was a complicated mélange of half-explanations. Somewhere between network notes, the right stuff, or the right timing, Maron simply wasn’t the proper fit. Michaels danced around it a few times more throughout their nearly two-hour talk, but the larger arc to their conversation held true. With the predictable ending out of the way, the two men connected on a much deeper level. As a listener, I wasn’t on the edge of my seat awaiting the answer. Instead, I was relaxed as they were, and I thoroughly enjoyed their banter in the moment. For the first time in listening to his podcast (which I’ve been a fan of for about four years now), I truly felt the connection brewing between Maron and his guest. It was riveting.
So it was disappointing to come home to Vince McMahon’s machine, chugging to the same destination it was headed in, when the universe handed him the ability to remove the predictability his product has been plagued with for the last five years – save only for the time when Seth Rollins himself turned heel. Missing the opportunity to even fill a tournament bracket with a few honest-to-Rao underdogs could have been the shot to the arm the wrestling community has sought after since the conception of Stone Cold Steve Austin. It’s been over nearly two decades since we’ve heard “Austin 3:16 just whipped your ass!” and we’ve not seen a better moment since.
And don’t think I’ve forgotten our dearly beloved comic books, my friends. You see, part of my longstanding feud with purchasing weekly books has been inherently tied to the continual delivery of the same beats over and over. The missed opportunities for originality. When Swamp Thing crossed over with its sister title Animal Man, we got yet-another-epic where nothing-would-be-the-same-again, when in fact it’d been beat-for-beat the same crap I’d read in a million other books.
To make it worse, it forced extra issues into my subscription box, under the auspices of being a completest. Call me – like so many others in our brood – a completest. Fearing forever that the one issue we’ll miss will end up being Wonder Woman #219. Don’t get the reference? Google it.
Suffice to say that in the information age it’s hard to put one over on an audience. When BitTorrents, Wikipedia, and a DVR exist, fast-forwarding to the end is easier than ever. The only way to fight it then, is to stop taking us from point A to B. Start instead at C, backtrack to A, and end somewhere on Q. So long as it makes sense for the characters to have ended up where they needed to be in a believable way – under whatever accepted rules exist in their respective universe – then everyone wins in the end. If not? Well, you’ll end up like so many Matrix sequels, and back issues of Countdown to Final Crisis.
At the bottom of the discount bin, along side an unending ocean of missed opportunity.
There is no shortage of comic properties on network TV this year, but one that may have escaped your attention is NBC’s CONSTANTINE. Executive Producers David S. Goyer and Daniel Cerrone talk about their plans for the future, where it all fits into DC’s New 52 Continuity and how they want to continue to make it the truest comic adaptation ever to hit the small screen.