Tagged: Ta-Nehisi Coates

Martha Thomases: Comic Books – Adapt or Die!

We talk about diversity a lot here at ComicMix, partly because it is often in the news, but mostly because it’s an interesting topic. Comics, like most popular entertainment, have generally been most lucrative for straight cis white men, but changes in demographics and delivery have made that less true in recent years. There are now visibly queer, non-binary people of different colors who are also expressing themselves in our medium, sometimes in ways that earn them money.

So I’d like to talk about diversity this week, but not in terms of the politics or the morality. I’m in favor of discussing politics and morality, but that’s not what’s interesting to me right this second. At the moment, I’d like to talk about diversity in terms of capitalism.

Diversity makes money. Just ask Hollywood.

In other words, when we acknowledge that our society has many different facets and sub-cultures, we can fine-tune our marketing strategies to make even more money. In the process, we get more different choices in our entertainment. This “marketplace of ideas” is supposed to be the justification not only for capitalism but the First Amendment as well.

It’s not a perfect system. Hollywood, like so many others (myself included), will often find itself in such a rut of conventional thinking that they miss opportunities that would have enriched our imaginations and their bottom line. Still, the major studios move more quickly than their comic-book counterparts.

For example, in most cases, when an entertainment conglomerate was about to launch a superhero movie franchise in which they had invested hundreds of millions of dollars, they would do everything they could to arouse curiosity about the project. However, even though Marvel’s Black Panther film is coming out next February (Black History Month) and the trailer for it has been seen almost 100 million times online, the interest in the character has not been sufficient for the publishing side of the business. The World of Wakanda, written by the best-selling author Roxane Gay, was recently canceled, and it is not certain that a trade collection will be published.

Even if the single issues weren’t profitable, one would think the loss they caused would be just a small fraction of the total marketing budget for the character. And, in the meantime, people who were intrigued about the writer because she had just appeared on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah would be able to find something that might turn them into comic book readers.

Comics don’t market like that. Marvel and DC own characters, not writers. In general, they see no incentive to promote a writer, especially one who hasn’t been brought to the public’s attention by comic book publishers. There are exceptions (Ta-Nehisi Coates, for example), but they are few and far between.

Comic book marketing needs to change, along with comic book publishing and comic book retailing. I don’t know what it’s going to take for that to happen, but we must adapt or die. All retail businesses must do this.

If you read a link above, it’s about how Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods might change the retail experience beyond simply Amazon and Whole Foods. The kinds of trips to stores we make might change, and our experiences within those stores might change. In some cases, we might interact with humans and in some cases, we might not. Our interactions with other humans might be more personal than simply handing a cashier items to be scanned, and might require conversations about our mutual wants and needs. In the process, the kinds of goods and services offered in stores might change as well.

My pal, Mike Gold, frequently jokes about the impending demise of the bookstore at the hands of Amazon and other online retailers. I appreciate Amazon (no pants required), but I love bookstores of all kinds, and I hope he’s wrong. I like grocery stores, too, although I use them less and less for produce, preferring to shop at my local Green Market. If I’m going to go shopping in a store, I like to make my own choices based on what is in front of me and ask advice from someone whose expertise I believe. This is true whether I’m looking for sugar snap peas or something to read.

In my experience, which I sincerely hope is outdated, comic book publishers tend to think of their market as almost exclusively the direct market. When I worked at DC, if I would suggest a particular idea that would appeal to bookstores, for example, I was told that comic book stores would object to such an action. I understand that comic book stores are the largest customers for the product, but they are not the only customers. In fact, I thought that if I were part of the creative team who hoped to earn royalties, and I found out that a big chunk of potential customers for my work was being dismissed, I would be pretty angry.

Bookstores are bigger customers for comics than they used to be, but the business is still, for the most part, not designed for them. Too many publishers decide what to print solely based on single-issue sales, even though the way to grow the market is to provide products for readers in every format that might be appealing. If this means formats that are more appealing to new readers (like graphic novels instead of serialized fiction), give those a try. Certainly, DC, with its Earth-1 series, seems to be willing to take that tiny little chance.

For the most part, however, corporate entertainment companies, at least those that include comic book publishers, seem determined to not only focus on superhero comics … but only certain kinds of superhero comics. They still target that straight, cis white guy, and in a way that seems, to me, to be guaranteed to turn off anyone else. My FaceBook friend, writer and editor Mariah McCourt, recently posted this (I have edited her post for brevity):

The alt-right sees diversity at Marvel Comics as a betrayal by Jews of the “white race.”

“Possibly the most perennial… “debate” in comics is about the sexualized imagery of female characters. For many decades now the depiction of female comic book characters has relied on sexualized exaggeration through a (mostly) straight male creator lens.

“What I have just said is a fact. It’s not an interpretation or an opinion, it’s a fact. … It’s not just true of comics, although it’s definitely one of the more obvious examples. Fine art also has a history of this, which is why there is the entire method & school of art critique that revolves around the concept of the ‘male gaze.’…

“For years now my issue is not that sexualized art exists, or whether that’s inherently offensive or even sexist. It can be and often is, but art having a sexual nature doesn’t bother me.

“What bothers me is when that is the default state of female characters and people try to deny it, excuse it, or otherwise wriggle around that reality. When they argue that all comic characters are exaggerated, as if there isn’t a significant difference in how and why and by whom and for which audience.

“Comics are a medium, not a genre. You can have sexy sex comics, in which case sexualized characters and art make a lot of sense. That would be a pretty understandable context for them to exist in.

“It makes way less sense, when you think about it objectively, to constantly walk a very fine line between softcore art in what are supposedly “mainstream” comics that do not exist to depict sex. They may contain sex, but they aren’t sex comics. So it’s pretty weird for them to constantly default female characters, and almost exclusively female characters, to exaggerated depictions that are clearly sexualized.

“It is also intellectually dishonest and not even borderline insulting to suggest that comics art cannot be critiqued because it is “not supposed to be realistic”. That is not a valid argument. That is a crappy deflection.

“Plenty of non-comics art is not realistic or exaggerated and it is subject to criticism. Van Gogh, Munch, Picasso. No art is above that. … It exists within the framework of its time, its creator, its intention, its execution, and more. Art does not get a pass. Art is not neutral or stagnant or banal. Or it’s not really art.

“This is all maybe even more true of commercial art, of art that is part of a collective zeitgeist or cultural movements, times, places, and creations.”

Yes, let’s have sexy sex comics. Let’s have comics with stories about adorable puppies and kittens. Let’s have historical comics and science fiction comics and fantasy comics and non-fiction comics. Let’s have graphic memoirs and space operas and unicorns and fighting squadrons. Let’s have biblical comics, Hindu comics, Sharia comics and pagan comics. Let’s have military history and genderqueer confessions.

And then… let’s make those comics available where readers can find them.

Joe Corallo: Babes In Trumpland

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babesintrumpland1As many of you may know, this week is Thanksgiving. That magical time of year where you slave away on a big meal for family and friends or bum around watching The Wizard of Oz and Babes in Toyland on TV while everyone else works. At least those used to be on TV. Or you’re in retail and I apologize.

By now you may have started getting your place ready for guests, packing for a trip, or maybe you’ve already reached your destination. You may be really excited for the holiday. You may also be really stressed out.

After a grueling year-and-one-half the 2016 Presidential election has come and gone, and the outcome was shocking to many. Now many of us, particularly white people and those with white relatives, have to face conservative or Trump supporting relatives face to face for the first time at the dinner table since he won the election.

babesintrumpland2This will be the first time since 2004 that they’ll have Presidential election bragging rights. Let’s face it, twelve years is a long time and you’re probably out of practice. Maybe you laughed at them last Thanksgiving when you said Trump might surprise us all. Maybe you chimed in on Facebook to rain on their parade. You might have even gleefully gave them a call after the debates to let them know how woefully unprepared Trump was. Now you’re having to get ready to eat some bird on Thursday, and this year it’s crow.

babesintrumpland4What can be done to make this experience even slightly less miserable, you ask? Well, maybe steering away from politics would be a good call this year for your own well being. Plenty of fun and interesting things have been going on in comics and nerd culture, so let’s talk about that instead.

Doctor Strange is still in theaters. Myself and fellow ComicMix columnist Molly Jackson saw it back when the world was still young and innocent. You still have time to go see it before Thanksgiving and make conversation out of it. Personally, I thought it was middle of the road for Marvel movies. Not the best, and far from the worst. You could also talk about the dated and problematic nature of white man turns to the east to find enlightenment and be a better Asian than actual Asians story if you’re up for it. You could also mention how they couldn’t have the Ancient One be from Tibet because it could have affected the revenue in the Chinese market. Maybe you and your Trump friends and relatives at Thanksgiving can agree that’s nonsense.

babesintrumpland3Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them came out as well, but I’m not really a Harry Potter guy so you’re on your own there. I’ve seen the first three movies (yes, I know they’re books), and I only saw them because of a guy I was interested in back in college who I imagine probably doesn’t read these. If he does though, sorry John, but I wasn’t that into Harry Potter.

When it comes to comics, you may have to reiterate that yes you’re still into comics and no they aren’t just for kids. You could talk about some of the great moves in comics over the last year. Maybe talk about Tom King, the man with comic writing aspirations who put them all aside for over a decade when joining the CIA after the 9/11 attacks, who’s been knocking it out of the park lately on series like The Vision and Batman.

See? You like patriots too.

You could talk about rising star Mags Visaggio and how she’s gone from little known comic writer to creator of Black Mask Studios’ Kim and Kim and getting to write a backup for DC Young Animal’s Shade The Changing Girl #4. To my knowledge she will be the first trans writer to work on a DC comic since Caitlin R. Kiernan’s last issue of The Dreaming back in May of 2001. This is a positive step not only for diversity in the writers freelancing at DC, but also a victory for anyone that wants to see good writers being given a chance. It could also be an opportunity to discuss with relatives how the LGBTQ community and in particular the trans community are more than what conservative outlets might lead one to believe. They’re actually people, just like them.

We’re at a point now where openly queer writers, Steve Orlando and James Tynion IV, are tackling Supergirl in her new ongoing series and Batman in Detective Comics, respectively. And despite all that happening this year, hell has not opened up and engulfed the world.

Actually… scratch that last sentence.

Also talk to your family about Ta-Nehisi Coates, the national correspondent for The Atlantic and well respected social and political commentator turned comic book writer whose debut issue of Black Panther this year was one of the highest selling comics in over a decade. He perfectly blends politics into a superhero story. Maybe you can impress some of your relatives talking about the intricate, intelligent political thriller Ta-Nehisi Coates is telling in his comics. Maybe some of them, even the Trump supporters, will appreciate Coates’ musings on how corporations take advantage of people and how leaders need to put the needs of their citizens over their own needs. If those Trump supporters do agree with you on that, try to restrain yourself.

You could also talk about Demolition Man coming out as gay in Marvel Comics, but why would you? I can only care so much about retconning obscure characters as queer for some backdoor representation.

And we can all come together to complain about how Star Trek: Discovery got pushed back.

It might be stressful and it might be tough, but we can get through this. Try to open up some of their minds with what’s going on in comics and nerd culture. Try to humanize the world around them. It’s too late to change their votes, but it might not be too late to put their values in perspective.

Joe Corallo: Animals. Mostly Young.

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As much as I would like to spend this column and all of my writings for the foreseeable future on what happened this election and its consequences, I’ll be returning to comics this week as this is what I and everyone at ComicMix signed up for. If I feel it’s applicable down the line, you better believe I’ll be writing about it here.

Moving on.

stcg_cv1_fegredo_varI’ve dedicated more than a few of my columns to the new Doom Patrol and to DC’s Young Animal imprint. Everything I had written about prior to today has been speculative regarding Young Animal as a whole. Now that at least one issue of all four series under the Young Animal banner have been released, I’d like to discuss my thoughts on the imprint so far.

For those less familiar, DC’s Young Animal imprint is “curated” by musician and Eisner Award winning writer Gerard Way, those titles being Doom Patrol, Shade The Changing Girl, Cave Carson Has A Cybernetic Eye, and Mother Panic. Doom Patrol is the flagship title and what Gerard Way had originally pitched. Shade is an update of Peter Milligan’s Shade The Changing Man at Vertigo, which was an update of Steve Ditko’s original concept in the late 1970s. Cave Carson is an obscure DC side character who’s never had his own series before. Mother Panic is a new character created by Gerard Way, Jody Houser, and Tommy Lee Edwards.

After reading three issues of Doom Patrol, two issues of Shade, and one of both Cave Carson and Mother Panic a few things have become very clear. These comics are all character pieces. They’re very much driven by one character in each series, with Doom Patrol’s focus shifting somewhat while keeping Space Case in primary focus.

Some of this works. In a lot of ways this approach is also necessary. These are characters most comic readers aren’t as keenly aware of. Mother Panic is entirely new, though taking place firmly in Gotham.

doom-patrolMy problem with the stories so far is they lack strong antagonists. There is no singular villain that shakes me to my core. The stakes in a lot of what I’ve read so far haven’t really been fleshed out. Space Case has some vague danger and weirdness following her, but we don’t really know to what extent and what’s at stake. Shade had aliens that seem to kind of be looking for her, but we aren’t really all that sure yet how that’s going. Cave Carson’s eye is causing him problems, but, again, there is no clear antagonist. The closest we get to a clear antagonist is in Mother Panic, and even then little time is spent on her.

Now to be clear, I do really like strong character pieces where other elements of the story become secondary. This is only a problem for me as this is prevalent in all four titles. If I feel like I’m getting more of the same across four titles, it’s easier for me to be willing to drop one as time goes on.

We are also getting more of the same across all these titles in that they are all about straight cis white women – with the exception of Cave Carson, who is a straight cis white man. This by itself isn’t inherently bad. However, DC Comics has been trying to expand its readership and I’m not entirely sure I’m seeing how this will end up doing so in the long run. They’ve been doing a good job in terms of pumping out plenty of comics with straight cis white women or now some bi cis white women with Wonder Woman and Harley Quinn. I don’t see how creating another white hero in Gotham is a step forward or a tool to garner new readers.

I know it may sound like I can’t be enjoying these books if I’m being critical about them. That’s not the case; I have been enjoying these comics overall. If anything, I wish more of the main DC titles took up some elements of these books. They’re often weird and deal with alienation and other feelings that either aren’t tackled in other DC Comics. The art is expressive at best and different at worst. The characters do all stand out and were fleshed out well from their debut issues. I do plan on continuing to read them for the foreseeable future.

That being said, DC Comics and others need to be more considerate about the future. I know I said I wasn’t going to talk about the election and its aftermath, but this does feel applicable. Now more than ever comics are going to need to step up. We have elected a bigot to the highest office in the land who has already appointed a bigger bigot as his top adviser. We need imprints that aren’t as white. Imprints with more diverse characters and more diverse creators. Outside of Tamra Bonvillain, nearly everyone involved with Young Animal is straight cis and white. And while I do commend them on the amount of women working on the imprint and the amount of women that are leads in the comics they’re putting out, we need more than that. We need not just white women, but people of color, queer people, and non-Christians feeling welcome and accepted. Feeling they can be superheroes too.

catalyst-primeThere are plenty of places to start. DC Comics controls the characters and universe from Milestone Media and doesn’t seem to be doing anything with that. Now is the time to do something. Marvel Comics seems to be onto something having Ta-Nehisi Coates help to bring people in to expand their Black Panther universe. Joe Illidge has been working hard over at Lion Forge to start Catalyst Prime, a series of superhero titles with both diverse characters and creators set to debut next year. We can only hope other comic publishers will be able to learn a thing or two from what Catalyst Prime will be and I hope for their success.

I’d be more than happy for more pop up imprints like Young Animal. I do think Gerard Way is doing something good. We just need more and different things as well. We need comics important to other audiences.

Here’s an idea: give Grace Jones a pop up imprint. I don’t know what she’d do, but I can tell you right now I’d read it.

Joe Corallo: Black Comics Matter

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This past Wednesday I joined my fellow ComicMix columnist Martha Thomases at the signing for Scout Comics Solarman #1 at JHU in midtown Manhattan. Present from the creative team were co-writer and Milestone Comics alum Joseph Phillip Illidge as well as illustrator N. Steven Harris. Martha gave a big hug to Joseph Illidge, she introduced me, and they proceeded to catch up. Dakota North even got brought up by Joseph Illidge and not Martha!

On my way home I got a chance to read Solarman #1. For those of you unfamiliar with the character, he was created by Dave Oliphant with Deborah A. Kalman and starred in two issues of his own comic book series at Marvel in early 1989. In the time since then, Dave Oliphant eventually got the publishing rights back and has now found a new home at Scout Comics.

The original iteration of Solarman was a white guy with red hair donning an outfit he clearly nabbed from the Legion of Super-Heroes HQ during a skirmish with Dr. Regulus. Chances are you can probably guess his superpowers as well.

What makes this reboot of Solarman stand out is that the character is now black. Multiple people on the creative team are black as well. And although myself and presumably most comic book readers didn’t read the original two issue run of Solarman so I can’t compare the two, this reboot is a compelling story with a rich and well developed world in just one issue.

Solarman got me thinking a lot about representation in comics. In the past I’ve talked about how at the big two we’ll see a character a woman or minority character take over for a big name like Captain America, Thor, Green Lantern, and so forth. The problem that I and many others have with this is that it is often short lived with their original straight cis white counterparts taking back the reigns. Almost as if to say you’ve had your fun, but now let’s get back to the real story.

solar-social_1A character like Solarman is a bit different. With heavy hitters like Captain America and Thor, people already associate them so heavily with their long time comic and movie counterparts that are straight cis white men. Solarman is a character that is a virtual unknown in comics and never had the opportunity to gain much of a following. By updating Solarman to be a young black man, the vast majority of readers will associate this Solarman as being the default and makes it significantly easier to see this character as staying black for the long term and being a part of long term representation as opposed to being a footnote.

mosaicThis is going beyond Solarman as well. This year has been seeing an influx of black characters in comics written by black writers. Black Panther is being written by Ta-Nehisi Coates and was the highest selling comic of the year so far. Marvel is also introducing a new ongoing with a new black Inhuman hero, Mosaic, being written by Geoffrey Thorne and illustrated by Khary Randolph.

We will also be seeing DC Comics doing something closer to what Scout Comics is doing with Solarman. This fall, DC is rebooting Vigilante in a miniseries titled The Vigilante: Southland, the once problematic by our current standards golden age hero. Vigilante has popped up time and again since then, but arguably never in any significant way. He’s been reimagined as a failed NBA player getting by in life as a maintenance man until being dragged into a conspiracy.

One of the most intriguing sounding titles involving a black hero with a black creative team coming out this September is Black from Black Mask Studios. Written by Kwanza Osajyefo with co-creator and designer Tim Smith 3, art by Jamal Igle, and covers by Khary Randolph, Black is the story of Kareem Jenkins, a young black man gunned down by the police only to find that he’s one of many black people with superpowers.

A powerful concept tackling unfortunately divisive issues like police executing citizens is important for the comics industry to tackle and I’m proud of Black Mask Studios for putting a comic like this in its lineup. It’s certainly one of the comics I’m looking forward to reading most this year.

It seems like the comic industry is starting to make a bigger push at publishers both small and large to better represent the black community both on their pages and behind them. These efforts certainly seem to be more prevalent than they were over the last few years. Of course there is always more work to do to create a better, more inclusive environment in the industry as well as its readership, but these are certainly some positive developments and they should be noted.

These kinds of positive developments will only continue if we support these books though. So please, keep an eye out for comics like Black, The Vigilante: Southland, and Mosaic this fall, catch up on Black Panther if you’re not up to date, and pick up a copy of Solarman #1 if you haven’t yet.

Martha Thomases: Waiting For The Right Part

archangel gibson guice

I’ve had computer issues for the last day and a half. Nothing major, but I needed a part, thought I ordered it from a place that would deliver in two hours, and, after my order was processed, I found out it would be two days, not two hours.

So this is late to my editor. And also, I thought I had a “Get Out of Writing My Column Free” card since I couldn’t use my computer, so I haven’t been thinking much about comics or pop culture. At least, not any more than normal.

So, here’s some thoughts at random.

  • Maybe I’m not reading the right sites, but I don’t recall any fuss about a woman of color playing Tulip on the television series, Preacher, despite the comic book character being a blonde, blue-eyed white woman. Have we grown up, or have too few people read the original story?
  • Or perhaps all the trolls are so busy trying to sabotage the new Ghostbusters that they don’t have any time for cable television.
  • On a related note, let’s all make sure to see Ghostbusters on opening weekend so those misogynist assholes don’t think they have any power. You know, like we did with Star Wars.
  • What’s with all the two-hour season finales of television shows? If they’re not any good, I stay rooted to my seat, afraid that if I change the channel, I’ll miss the cliff-hanger at the end. And if they are good, I stay rooted to my seat, engrossed in the story but still unable to go to the bathroom. Thank you, DVR and pause buttons.
  • The best new comic I’ve read recently in the category of “I Had No Idea This Was Going to Be Published” is Archangel from IDW, written by William Gibson and Michael St. John Smith, with art by Butch Guice. I confess that I was nervous about whether or not Gibson could write for comics as well as he writes fiction (I love his fiction), but I think he pulls it off. Cool twist on time-travel, interesting and diverse characters, and, unlike so many new series, I think I’ll be able to follow this without getting too confused. Pay attention, Ta-Nehisi Coates!
  • This Monday is Memorial Day. Thank a veteran, and do what you can to stop any more of them from getting killed.

Martha Thomases: Black Panther Is Back And…

Black-Panther-1-Covers-by-Marvel-ComicsWhen I went to my local comic book shop on Wednesday morning, I did, as always, chat up my buddy on the other side of the counter. “Did you read Black Panther yet?” I asked him. “Is it any good?”

“Not yet,” he said.

“My editor wants me to write a review, and I’ve never read any other Black Panther comics,” I said.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “No one else has, either.”

Okay, I doubt that’s true. There have been comics with the Black Panther in them for five decades now. The character wouldn’t be used if he didn’t have a fan-base. That’s capitalism.

Speaking of, this new run of Black Panther has been getting tons of publicity. Marvel has done a terrific job, getting write-ups in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Wired, among others. That’s because the writer is Ta Nehisi Coates, the National Book Award winning author of Between the World and Me, a book that changed my life.

Black Panther 1v1Between the World and Me was not written for me. It was written for the author’s son and, more broadly, for other African-Americans. That was one element that I found so refreshing when I read it. I don’t think this new Black Panther series is written for me, either. The only white faces I saw were in ads for other Marvel comics.

The story opens as T’Challa, the Black Panther, returns to the country of Wakanda, where he is king. In his absence, the country has been attacked, invaded, upended. His sister, who ruled in his absence, has been killed. His own people attack him, no longer trusting him to take care of them.

I found this opening to be confusing, perhaps because I’m a new reader. In the letter page, Marvel offers a link to their website with more information but the link wouldn’t open for me, and I had to rely on the Wiki.

This issue sets up the elements for a complex story of family relationships, warring political factions, the burdens of leadership and the quest for freedom. So far, I’m not too sure who T’Challa is or why he can’t speak directly to his people. I don’t like his mother. I don’t like this guy named Tetu, who tells a woman that what she feels “… was the agony of labor, Zenzi. It had to be done. It was the agony of birthing a new nation.” Because really, we needed him to mansplain childbirth to us.

Black Panther 1v2I liked the two women who defy the law to be together and help people. I hope they have more to do in future issues, and that we see T’Challa interact with more characters who have names.

Brian Stelfreeze has done a glorious job with the artwork. He manages to create scenes that are moody and exuberant at the same time. Laura Martin’s color work amplifies and expands the atmosphere. Wakanda feels like its on another continent, maybe even another planet, a mix of ancient tribes and technological wonder.

Coates’ first script is remarkably solid. He doesn’t rely too much on captions or exposition, letting the artwork carry the story.

He might just have a future in this writing business.

Martha Thomases: Selling Death

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About 20 years ago, I asked Batman editor Denny O’Neil if I could attend DC’s annual editorial retreat. I was their Publicity Manager at the time and I thought that if I could sit down and watch how the creative teams worked I could better promote the various Batman titles.

Denny was cool with it, and my boss was cool with it, so I went up to Tarrytown NY with them. It was a really interesting experience… for about a day. Then, for some reason, the big boss found out I was there and demanded I return.

His fears, as I understand them, were that, as part of the marketing department, I might interfere with the creative and editorial decisions. That was certainly not my intention. And it was also pretty insulting to Denny, to Alan Grant and Jo Duffy and Chuck Dixon and the others who were there who were more than willing to tell me to shut up if I overstepped my bounds.

Things have certainly changed since then.

Earlier this week, the New York Daily News ran a story by Ethan Sacks about the Marvel editorial summit. In attendance were Joe Quesada, Axel Alonso, James Robinson, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Brian Michael Bendis, Emily Shaw, Sana Amanat, Nick Spencer, Sam Humphries, G. Willow Wilson, Dan Slott, Tom Brevoort, Dan Buckley, and probably a whole bunch more.

This is amazing. I can’t think of any other kinds of story meetings that involve the press. Did Matthew Weiner let reporters into the Mad Men writers’ room? Did Jann Wenner send someone to sit in with Lennon and McCartney?

The article did not say if any marketing people were there while they planned the next storylines which will, apparently, involve the death of a major character. According to the piece, this is something that Marvel plans to happen every quarter. Dan Buckley is quoted as saying “The death is a marketing hook,” although he goes on to say that the story has to pay off. Still, it seems pretty damning to me, and indicative of a thought process that seeks out the lowest common denominator.

To my mind, they did this backwards. They decide that some character has to die, and then try to figure out who it should be, and from there, what the story is. I think they should first have a story, see which characters make sense to be part of that story, then see if one of them dies in the course of events. I’m on record saying that I think death is over-used as a plot device. We know the character isn’t really dead. By going to that story-well four times a year, Marvel runs the risk of cheapening the death of heroes. It’s not special. It does not inspire awe for a hero’s self-sacrifice, or tears for the tragedy.

We know the character will come back to life in a few months or years. Hell, if there must be destruction, blow up an entire planet.

A wedding would be more engaging. A birth.

It’s encouraging to see that there were more kinds of people in the room than the usual white men. Some were even women. It is my hope that this is a trend that will continue and grow. That’s how you get new perspectives on the stories, and new ideas. Perhaps if Marvel invites a reporter to the next summit, they’ll permit the women to speak to the press, just like the boys do.

Joe Corallo: Moving… Pictures

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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.

Martha Thomases: Listen!

Black Panther

Happy New Year! Or, if you were lucky enough to be invited to a wild New Year’s Eve party… happy Saturday!

We have 366 bright and shiny new days in which we can save the world, love our families, party with our friends, go to the movies and read comics. Time and space are great that way.

In the past year, despite Gamergate, there has been a trend towards including female characters and female perspectives in video games. In other words, the misogynist jerks who screamed about “journalistic integrity” made no difference at all in the gaming industry. In this case, I suspect the appropriate comment is, “Money talks / Bullshit walks.”

On the tale end of 2015, I read two things that really changed my worldview. The first was Between the World and Me by incoming Black Panther writer Ta-nehisi Coates. It’s a short book, but it took me a long time to get through it because it is painful to read. A letter to his son in the wake of Ferguson, Baltimore, Charleston, Cleveland (the list goes on and on and on), it is a window into the African-American experience that I had never seen.

In the middle, I read this essay on The New York Times website about, essentially, the same subject. The writer was trying to express the parts of black lives that white people don’t understand.

Naturally, he was trashed in the comments.

I don’t entirely understand this. In both of these examples, black men are writing about their personal experiences as Americans of color. They don’t say that they know every other African-American, nor do they claim to know every white person. They describe what happened to them, and what it felt like, and how it shapes their perceptions.

No one likes to be called a racist. No one likes to be called a bigot of any kind. And yet, we are all of us guilty of at least a few prejudices. There isn’t any way around it. We live in a society that was built on slavery, on sexism and homophobia and anti-Semitism and xenophobia. As a white person, I benefit from this, even though I never consciously made that choice.

A few decades ago I attended a weekend seminar on “Dismantling Racism.” I was surprised when the first day and a half was spent asking each of us to talk about ways we felt outside the norm. We might have been fat or non-white or non-Christian or disabled or foreign-born. Then, by Sunday afternoon, we were shown how to each use our differences to understand racism.

That’s a tremendous oversimplification. Nevertheless, it changed my life.

I often mention my Jewish upbringing. Being Jewish at an Episcopal boarding school was one of the defining experiences of my life. I was called names. I was required to sit through Sunday morning religious services during which they read passages from the New Testament that I knew had been used to justify the torture and murder of Jews through the centuries. When I would mention this, I would be told I was “too sensitive” and to get over it.

My experience is not the same as that of African-Americans. I can “pass” as Gentile, and I’m white. Still, my experience gives me a window through which to understand.

Black Panther is not a character I’ve ever followed. When Coates’ run starts, I’ll make sure to pick it up.

Let’s try to spend at least part of 2016 listening to each other.

Martha Thomases: New and Diverse

Ta-Nehisi CoatesFirst off, and apropos of nothing, I am thrilled beyond words that James Frain is in the new season of Gotham. I have loved him in everything he’s been in.

Also, I think he and Stephen Colbert should play buddies in a movie about a magic spell that gives them powers while deforming their ears.

In other news, this has been an amazing week for diversity. Not that anything radical has happened. We are not, as a society, suddenly more just and fair and welcoming to people of all types. That said, there have been some really interesting discussions, and few steps in the right direction.

It was lovely to see Viola Davis win an Emmy for her role in How to Get Away with Murder (which I stopped watching about halfway through, because I didn’t care enough about the students, but maybe I should check it out again). I’m shocked that this is the first time an African-American woman has won that award in the 67 years of Emmy history, but then I consider how many television dramas have had female leads of color and it doesn’t seem so strange.

(One must also allow for the improbable conservatism of Hollywood, where everyone likes to think he is progressive, but only hangs out and hires people like himself.)

There is so much unconscious bias in our popular entertainment that we are — finally — becoming conscious about it. Straight cis white men might still be the heroes in most movies, but we are at least starting to take names (with the hope that we will soon start kicking ass).

I realize it can be difficult for people, like myself, who are privileged to notice the disproportionate amount of attention we get from the media. So, when I suggest you look at this research that demonstrates how few speaking parts there are for women in film, I’m not saying that women are the only people excluded. We are excluded, but some of us (straight cis white women like myself) get more opportunities to tell our stories than others.

More stories are better. Even DC Comics might have to accept that.

Speaking of more stories, here’s one last one, so we can end this column on a high note. The author Ta-Nehisi Coates is going to write Marvel’s Black Panther for the next year. His new book got fabulous reviews, and it’s on my Kindle, so I should have my own opinion pretty soon. Coates should bring a fresh and different approach to a character who will be in the spotlight because of his movie.

Maybe DC should ask  to write an on-going Vixen series.