Stephen J. Ditko, one of the most iconoclastic comic creators of all time and creator or co-creator of Spider-Man, Dr. Strange, the Question, the Creeper, Shade the Changing Man, Hawk and Dove, Starman, Stalker, the Odd Man, Squirrel Girl, and his most personal creation Mr. A, has died at his home at the age of 90.
Famously reclusive (there are less than five known photographs of him) and fiercely independent, Ditko was found unresponsive in his apartment in New York City on June 29. Police said he had died within the previous two days. He was pronounced dead at age 90, with the cause of death initially deemed as a result of a myocardial infarction, brought on by arteriosclerotic and hypertensive cardiovascular disease.
There may be no better way to get a flavor of his impact on the field than the 2007 BBC documentary In Search Of Steve Ditko, hosted by Jonathan Ross:
So there’s this ancient Greek named Theseus who builds a ship. Over time the ship needs repairs and pieces of it have to be replaced and finally everything has been replaced. Not a single splinter of the original craft remains. Which brings us to what is known in some circles as Theseus’s Paradox. We ask: Is the ship our man Theseus ends with the same one that he built years earlier? Please remember that nothing of the original remains.
Want to push this a bit further before we introduce comics characters into the discourse? Okay, I’m a ratty rival of Theseus and I take every piece of what Theseus has built and use it to build my own ship. I add nothing, I simply reuse Theseus’s materials. And now the question becomes: Whose ship is this anyway, mine or Theseus’s? (Never mind that Theseus might be a big, tough Greek able to beat me silly and take the damn ship and not bother with philosophical niceties.)
Marifran and I spent a chunk of the weekend catching up on episodes of Sherlock, the BBC’s excellent reworking of Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic Sherlock Holmes stories. In the earliest teleplays the title character is Doyle’s cold, eccentric thinking machine who has no real friends. He describes himself as a “high-functioning sociopath” and, yep, that just about says it.
Gradually, the plot emphasis shifts from Sherlock’s dazzling detective work to Sherlock himself and his private torments. The later stories are about him and not about the puzzles he solves. (Do some of you think I have completely changed the subject? Please – a little faith?) In the final chapter, he has come to admit a deep affection for his companion. Dr. John Watson, has apparently overcome his demons and seems to be a rather pleasant chap. (Full disclosure: a similar transformation occurs in Doyle’s work.)
There have been hundreds – thousands? – of interpretations of Doyle’s creation, including a teevee program, Elementary, the premise of which is virtually identical to that of Sherlock. Are any of them – the television shows, the movies, comics, novels, plays – any of these the real Sherlock? Or only those written by Doyle?
The venerated Steve Ditko created a comics character called The Question that ran as a backup feature in Charlton’s Blue Beetle title, vanished, and returned in his own DC comic that I wrote. Wrote, and completely changed the hero’s personality. It ran for several years – a lot more Question than Steve’s version. So who’s got the real Question, Steve Ditko or me?
Superman, Batman, Swamp Thing, our newly beloved Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the ones I’m forgetting – all underwent changes, sometimes pretty quick changes, and each version has its partisans.
And should we care?
(By the way, I regret any unhappiness I caused Steve by my rejigging his stuff. I don’t think he could have approved of what I did to it. Sorry. And is it good form to end a column with a parenthesis? Well, what kind of question is that?)
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.
Marvel recently announced a set of variant covers for its newly launching U.S. Avengersseries. As with most listicle-ized ideas in modern comic bookery, it wasn’t much of a shock to me as a stunt. It will provide local comic shops something cool to order to entice collectors with, and for the super serious collectors, there will be a future market to Pokemon Go! and just go ahead and collect ‘em all. It’s a novelty, sure, but there’s been worse ones.
What it really does, though, is cause fans to curiously align themselves to a particular hero — as jocks will take to their geographically-proximate sports-ball-teams. With that, comes that nearly indescribable urge to gain a soft-spot for a particular character… and of course then talk smack at other hero/state pairings in an effort to show one’s newfound super civic pride.
For my home-sweet-home in the south suburbs of Chicago, Illinois, comes Dr. Hank McCoy. Beast, if you’re naughty. The choice, for those in the know, isn’t too surprising. McCoy hails from the suburbs of Chicago himself (or so sayeth Wikipedia, Chicago’s Time Out edition, and countless other sources). Hence, the blue beast was chosen as the surrogate super son of Illinois.
I’ll be honest. Prior to seeing the cover and assignment, I wasn’t a fan of Beast. I don’t hate the fur ball, mind you… but even amongst various X teams and Avengers teams, he’d be nowhere close to a personal favorite. Funny enough though, seeing the cover with Hank leaping stoically off the Illinois map made me reconsider my personal feelings. Whereas California got the glitz and glamour choice of Iron Man and New York nabbed native son Luke Cage, Illinois got what I’d certainly say was a deep cut. We are home to the third largest city in the nation, and the best we muster is a guy who proclaims “Oh my stars and garters!”? In true Chicagoan spirit, my answer to that very question was a resounding “F*ck right he is!”
Beast is strong, fast, flexible, ambidextrous with four limbs, and a genius. He cured the legacy virus. He’s fluent in nine languages. He can hold up his end of the conversation with Reed Richards, Steven Strange, and Tony Stark… all while hanging upside down and teaching a class of X-babies. You see? And he’s my home state hero. It’s like we got Spider-Man and Mr. Fantastic all in one guy! And he’s the same color as our beloved Chicago Bears. Hell, he could play quarterback if he wanted!
See how quickly my opinion changed? The second they aligned my home to Hank, an affinity arose. Because he was offered as ours, suddenly there became an emotional edge to my opinion. Now when I open up my Marvel Contest of Champions mobile app, I’m more apt to hope I open up a crystal with the periwinkle protector to add to my cadre of combatants. And should people hold up their state-assigned hero as a better (“Indiana has the friggen’ Winter Solder, brah!”)? Well, I’ll be happy to scoff as I rattle off 17 ways my Dundee-native doctor can whup their candy ass twelve ways from Sunday. Curse you Marvel. What did you do to me?
It’s a cherry idea, I give them that. To turn a cash-grab novelty to in a buzzfeedesque game of proclivity is an instant hit in my book. Same way I felt when the Initiative post Civil War gave us the “Illinois Space Knights.” Same way I felt when I found out my broader home soil was home to such characters as Maria Hill, the Question (well, sort of… ask Mike Gold or Denny O’Neil), Ghost Rider, and Savage Dragon. To know that a fictional character shares the same air as you… may love a good Italian Beef — dipped, of course — and occasionally knock back an Old Style in a tallboy? Well, nothing makes me quicker to warm my icy Illinois heart.
So, it begs the question of you: What lilly-licking punk hero did your silly state get?
This past week has made me reflect on life and death. Some of it has been personal, some of it has been David Bowie related, and some of it has been comic book related.
Despite never having met David Bowie, he’d been a part of my life for a while with his music, movies, and other works. And a celebrity of his status is hard to not be reminded of, regardless of if you’d like to avoid him or not. From his music being in a many films, to just hearing his songs in played on the radio, bars, and grocery stores, Bowie is just so entrenched in our pop culture that he’ll live on for the rest of my life, even though he physically hasn’t.
Comic book story lives and deaths are a little different. I probably didn’t need to tell you that, but it sounded like a good segue so here we are. Character deaths in mainstream comics are becoming more and more a staple of the medium. The increase in character deaths is leading to an increase in characters coming back to life. Oddly enough, characters who would sell a lot of books with their deaths get killed off (see Superman, Batman, Phoenix, Wolverine and more!) or characters that no one seems to know what to do with (see Coagula, Kraven The Hunter, and more!). Just like real life!
When it comes to characters coming back to life, it’s a bit harder to suspend your disbelief. At least for me. And I’m not saying that to mean in these worlds with alien worlds, alternate dimensions and time travel (just to name a few) that someone coming back from life is where I draw the line. It’s more just sad how these fictional characters we know and love seem to put more effort into bringing back their pals that sell books than bringing back all of their good friends, relatives, and innocent bystanders they’ve watched die over the years. Always comes down to the bottom line with these superheroes. It’s a damn shame. I know I’ve plugged X-Statix before, but if you haven’t read it the book does touch on that point.
Anyway, the big two used to at least try to take a break between ending lives in their comics and starting up lives again. Currently Marvel is advertising that they have a character coming back to life and a major character death coming up soon. The line between life and death in mainstream comics has become so blurred, with brief lives and briefer deaths. All as the ultimate gimmick to keep you wanting more.
This hasn’t always gone off without a hitch. Alexandra DeWitt’s death in Green Lantern sparked enough outrage to create Women In Refrigerators which helped to launch Gail Simone’s career. More recently, Joshua Fialkov quit a gig writing Green Lantern because they planned on killing off prominent black superhero John Stewart.
These two instances do have similarities. Yes, they’re both controversies in the various Green Lantern comics, but that’s not what I was getting at. It’s that both instances involve killing off characters that are not straight cis white guys. In one they’re killing off a woman, and in the other they’re killing off a black man. In both, the idea was to kill off a character that would have motivated at least one straight cis white man to take action and do the right thing. In one, Kyle Raynor was pushed to stop Major Force at all cost, and in the other different Green Lanterns would have been motivated to solve the mystery of who killed John Stewart. The latter of which caused such an uproar that DC cancelled its plans to kill off John Stewart.
And all of this got me thinking about deaths in comics and how it’s linked to diversity. Death in comics can be a double edged sword when it comes to diversity. On the one hand, if you’re only killing straight cis white guys, isn’t that implying that the only characters worth killing off, the only characters that could elicit a strong emotional fan reaction straight cis white guys? On the other hand, if you kill off a woman or minority character, wouldn’t you just be depleting from the already small (albeit growing) pool of women and minority characters in comics, and possibly using it as a tool to push a straight cis white guy to action?
I’m sure we can all think of a lot of potential examples in our heads right now. What if Marvel killed off Steve Rogers (again)? Sure, that’s making room for Sam Wilson to really assert himself as Captain America even further, but in a way doesn’t it have the implication that Steve Rogers is more important? What if Marvel killed off Sam Wilson? Wouldn’t that lead to Steve Rogers somehow probably taking the role of Captain America back, taking a step back in diversity as the cast of characters gets just a little more white and a little less black? It’s something to think about. At least I’m thinking about it.
If they would just come back anyway, then that’s not great for diversity either. In DC Comics 52 series showcasing the aftermath of Infinite Crisis, we got characters like Batwoman stepping up, and The Question passing the torch from Vic Sage to Renee Montoya, as Batman and Superman and some others are out of the picture. It was a flirtation with diversity that ended with our beloved white heroes Superman and Batman coming back from obscurity as Batwoman and The Question fell back a bit. The Question has even went back to being Vic Sage after The New 52 reboot. Go figure.
DC has other examples of this, like bringing back Hal Jordan as a Green Lantern instead of maybe delving more into John Stewart, and more. Over at Marvel, they killed off Wolverine, and now X-23 has taken the reigns in her own book All New Wolverine. Speculation of Wolverine coming back (Not Old Man Logan, who is already back, but the real deal Wolverine) in 2016 has been high. If he comes back, isn’t that a step backwards for diversity? Even if they still try to push X-23 as Wolverine, won’t it eventually just move back to Logan? They must know that over at Marvel, and that makes it a little troubling to think that they would be willing to undermine their own progress. Maybe they won’t though, but it’s something that’s more than possible, it’s likely.
Often character deaths in mainstream comics lead to brief lives of those that take their place. The Death of Superman brought us Steel, but since Superman’s return he’s often been used very sparingly and rarely with much thought or creativity outside of his original creative team. These are all just some examples of life and death in comics, and how they can work against diversity or hold diversity back. If Marvel and DC are really going to take diversity seriously, they may need to let the dead rest in peace.
I understand it’s complicated, I know that no one wants to throw away an opportunity to make a few bucks, and work for hire contracts keep many creators from wanting to invest their hearts and souls into characters they don’t own. However, something needs to change. Some of the current ideas in mainstream comics need to be allowed to die, and new ones need to be born and thrive.
Could we have heard that name correctly? Sounded like the guy on the television said that a nasty killer was named “Szasz.” Well sir, I knew of only two Szaszes. One was an upstate New York psychiatrist with some controversial ideas, and the other was a comic book character. Since the television program I was watching when I heard the name (I did hear it, didn’t I?) was based on comic books, it seemed logical that the teevee folk were paying some sort of homage to our fictitious hero. But our Szasz wasn’t a killer; our “Szasz” was the birth name of the guy who later called himself “Vic Sage” and later still adopted the identity of a masked vigilante, The Question.
Why call him Szasz? Um… I liked the name. I’d seen it somewhere, probably in the New York Times, and when my man Vic needed (another) moniker, there it was.
Does any of this give anyone an insight into the creative process? Are you now able to establish a connection between character’s names and their essence? Is symbolism lurking there somewhere?
But speaking of names; we take a short hop past them and what do we find? Titles. (Names, titles…almost the same things, no?) So here’s a title: The Tao of Funny Books.
You might be familiar with the practice incorporating “tao” into book titles. The first, as far as I know, was The Tao of Physics: An Exploration of the Parallels Between Modern Physics and Eastern Mysticism, by Fritjof Capra. The subtitle tells you what the book is about.
I don’t know what the next ”tao” title was, but the next one I read (and reread) was The Tao of Pooh, by Benjamin Hoff. This takes A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh and friends and uses them to illustrate and dramatize elements of a much older work, The Tao Te Ching, written some time in the sixth century BCE by one Laozi who, by the way, might not have existed. What he (or it, or they) offer is wisdom and advice and, I think it’s fair to say, a world view in some 5000 words and I wish every politician in the world would read those words.
After Hoff’s addition to the Pooh mystique came the deluge: The Tao of Philosophy, The Tao of Dating, the Tao of Healing, The Tao of Law…even The Tao of Badass and, O Lordy, The Tao of Kim Kardashian. What those have to do with Laozi’s work, I don’t know.
Nor do I know what kind of book I’d append to The Tao of Funny Books. I don’t want to dishonor Laozi (or Benjamin Hoff) by slapping just anything between covers and I do believe that everything is interrelated so it seems that comics and Laozi’s taoism should be able to share a theme or two. But so far…nada.