Jul 24, 2017

George Perez and the 1970s Romantic Revision of Inhumans

Recent Hall-of-Famer George Perez is more known, now, for Crisis on Infinite Earths and the Infinity War cycle, which will soon be a two-part Summer blockbuster for Marvel and Disney. But back in 1975, when just starting as a professional penciler, Perez quietly revolutionized how the Inhumans were portrayed.

Romancing the Inhumans
George Perez and the 1970s Romantic Revision of Inhumans
Travis Hedge Coke

Perez's elegant layouts, articulate line art, and constantly flowing visuals smoothed away the blocky, design-heavy patterns of Jack Kirby’s original portrayal. This was followed in kind by Gil Kane, and intentionally or not, ultimately has shown beautifully through in Jae Lee’s and other more recent takes.

With layouts more reminiscent of European albums than many of his superhero-drawing contemporaries, each page of Perez’s fives issues (1-4, then 8, our of a 12 issue series) looked like a complete experience. There were Steranko-esque triptychs of mobile figures walking or flying, stacks of motion that would ricochet your eyes to the right with a punch, then left as living hair flung someone away, only to settle, dead center, afterwards, with something directed straight at the reader. And, the panels would line up like glorious architecture, like fitted, purposeful mosaics.

Perez was not committing to the amazing scenes where a dozen or more characters would interact in novel yet sensible ways, but his work with individual characters, already had a sheen of brilliance. His mastery of body language led even to individual characters not falling or passing out in the same ways. Conscious and mobile, figures were individual, personality and accoutrements defined posture and gesture.

Even as almost every issue had a different inker, a different colorist, the underlying pencil-work gives a coherence and a sense of development to the changes wrought by other hands. Diane Buscema and Janice Cohen’s sense of balance and flowing contrasts seems to me to compliment Perez’s elegance and orderliness more than later colorists’ sometimes garish or monochromatic execution, but these were produced fast and without any expectation of reprint or permanence. The move from subtlety to directness almost carries a narrative arc to it, anchored by the solid tone of Perez’s art, and that of his replacements, Gil Kane, and then Keith Pollard.

Pollard and Kane are their own artists, their own selves, but on Inhumans, they seem straight in line, not so much with the Kirby version that preceded, but very much with the Perez new view. The Inhumans, as a book but moreso as a trademark, as a grouping, had become Perezed, had become Romantic, lush and living, almost languidly actioning, and any reductions, since, to a four panel, icon-heavy puncher or to more “realist” standing in a field versions (such as the otherwise great Paul Ryan did during his tenure on Fantastic Four) leave something missing, a vital aspect stolen away. You can’t take bricks out of the base of a building and hope it to stand and represent as well as it did when whole, and that’s what Perez’s art did. George Perez made the Inhumans whole, made every brick count and every brick hold its weight.

Jul 18, 2017

Some Are to Be Solved, Some Are to Be Mysteries

Some Are to Be Solved, Some Are to Be Mysteries
Travis Hedge Coke

A great point of contention, for many x-fans (that is, fans of X-Men-related entertainment) is that the original five students called the X-Men were brought to the present a few years ago, have been living lives that diverge radically from those experienced by their normally-aged, non-time-displaced selves, and yet no good argument has been put forth as to why there is no paradox, no retroactive erasure of incompatible history, and no attempt at all to put that genie back in its bottle. It is a huge mystery, seemingly without given clues or a recognizable structure of revelations. That rankles some fans as much as it does anti-fans or casual speculators.

This is not particular to comics. A quick survey of clickable lists or discussion boards for tv shows will reveal a plethora of complaints regarding unsolved mysteries. The most agitating of these tend to be those mysteries that no one responsible for the entertainment seems to have ever planned on explicitly solving.

The point, and the major draw of keeping those time-displaced X-Men around and neither resolving not explaining away the seeming impossibility of their situation is just that. They answer may be interesting, but it would, almost certainly, stop you wondering, stop you from getting excited. Agitation is good, in an audience. An audience that craves answers, stays aware. That audience pays attention. That audience pays for issues.

Brian Michael Bendis keeps writing characters saying time is not linear, or that contradictions in causality might not be, but then some other character he's also writing will worry about those seeking contradictions and feel all panicked. The characters can be certain of some things, but never all certain of the same things at the same point.

Not every mystery needs to be solved. Not every crisis needs to be resolved. A universal certainty would kill of our uncertainty as an audience. More than solely a hook for readers, that this particular situation worries characters motivates and drives whole stories, entire trajectories. But, it drives different characters in different ways. It can drive even one character, alone, in different ways.

Younger-Beast, for instance, is troubled as a scientist, but he's also a young man with a crush, and a teenager confronted with his own future, the tragedies of his friend's futures, and being gifted an escape from a present that, now made past, probably felt more real, and therefore more dangerous.

Kitty Pryde isn't a character with a time-displaced double, but as someone who has experienced mild, but upsetting May/December romances, she is — as a teacher and a human being — wary of connections between time-displaced and local-era individuals, who have had romantic feelings or relationships with some version of the other person.

As long as a mystery can engage an audience, even in distress, and can keep propelling characters along new or, at least, partially unexpected pathways, that mystery probably earns its continuance. To kill the mystery would provide temporary relief, but need to be quickly replaced with yet another mystery. Especially in serial fiction, the only perfect reason to kill a big question, is when enough of the audience get so bored they don't care. Hopefully the resolution arrives before that boredom sets in.

Beyond that boredom, there is really no professional reason to wrap things up. While contrary to the common fan-understanding illustrated by these frustrations at prolonged or externally -unresolved mysteries, it is the unanswered that resonates the strongest and, ultimately, the longest. Audiences will continue to speculate and argue, to worry out the unsolved, when all the answers and revelations, charts and explanations are so forgotten don't even mentally cache them as things to not be further worried over.

Jul 17, 2017

Why Grant Morrison Will Never Be the David Lynch of Comics

Why Grant Morrison Will Never Be the David Lynch of Comics
Travis Hedge Coke

David Lynch is the David Lynch of comics.

We forget that Lynch made comics. He was in and out, one strip proper. And, it wasn't for everybody.

Unlike Grant Morrison, David Lynch has, even in such an inglorious format as the newspaper comic strip, refused to give us immediate or traditionally-formatted satisfaction.

I love Morrison and his work, but the Lynch comparison is made because of certain direct appropriation of tropes and a tendency to namecheck Lynch. To reduce Lynch to these blood of visual weirdness or a red and black pattern on a floor, or to ignore Morrison's wonderful and dedicated commercialism, misunderstands both authors.

I love Morrison, and his work is for nearly everyone. Wants to be read and loved. Asks to be. Waits for it.

Morrison would never burn a general audience the way that Lynch has shown himself to be entirely comfortable with. This is identifiably true in their music and visual art, as well as, as is our focus, their comics.

Morrison is one of the biggest names in comics because he makes money. David Lynch is spoken of in reverence, despite his movies not making the big bucks. Exaggeration on both fronts, but a worthy truism.

So, why do we say it?

Lynch, with his nerdy style and his quaintness as a shield, is punk to bones. He is accepted as one of the cinema signposts of our lifetimes without fanfare or sell.

Morrison has to say he's punk, or no one would believe it. His press has to push him as a "spokesman of the counterculture" (which counterculture?) or it probably would not have occurred to us. To me, even, as an old Lither.

David Lynch's comics work is outside the comics mainstream, and outside of mainstream expectations, so much that it is easy to forget it exists. When reminded, it is still a simple matter to deny that it is genuine, that it is real comics.

Simultaneously, Grant Morrison is massively mainstream within the realm of comics readers. He is no more an outsider or non-pop comics author than Steven Spielberg is not a mainstream movie director. His mystique as an insider-outsider is engineered. He talks of when he left comics behind as a young man or when he temporarily out comics away, but an attentive person will notice that he never put all comics away, nor could even this temporary cessation of solid fandom have gone on long, as he launched into his comics-making career quite young.

Of course, Grant Morrison is not a shill or a revival tent litigation of words and pictures. David Lynch is and is not who he is sold as, and he is sold. He has a coffee beans and announced the weather as a novelty act. To make yourself an act of art and promotion is as necessary as making your art an act of promotion. Let’s not pretend there is no commerce of money and ideas, memory and love.

Both frequently have characters speak plainly and directly without cues or the hallmarks of exposition. Both Lynch and Morrison are gone of allusions and resonances that are narratively tangential, but which set the tone of a scene. They like resonances. It is important to stress that they are not dissimilar; certainly, Lynch is a genuine influence on Morrison.

Both embrace "equivocation and totality," as Jacques Derrida calls it, but Lynch 's totality is small, almost cramped into personal space, whereas Morrison's equivocation is rarely demanding. Without devaluing either, I don't think we would make the Lynch comparison of Morrison did not, so often, himself. But that citation and loud allusion is the purest Morrisonian to me. It would hardly be Morrison of there were not constant, shorthanded shoutouts and echoes reminding us of other things.

David Lynch seems to delight in presenting ineluctably unnavigable experience. Morrison wants his audience to navigate. While Lynch has shown distaste for chapter breaks, author annotations, fast forward and external distractions, Morrison most often encourages readers to hit search engines as they read, to flip back and forth between pages, between comics, and to ultimately map their own territory out of his street signs and storefront logos.

Jul 16, 2017

Seeing Yourself in Comics

Seeing Yourself in Comics
Travis Hedge Coke

A recent interview with Gengoroh Tagame opened with, “He drew what he wanted to see, but couldn’t find elsewhere.” And, because I bought his My Brother’s Husband in the same batch of comics as Nagata Kabi’s My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness, and the Hope Nicholson-edited, The Secret Loves of Geek Girls, the question, for me, becomes, “How can we see ourselves? our wants? ourselves in comics?” with immediacy.

I read a lot of comics. I know a good number of comics fans, the world round. And, many comics try to put you in the protagonist’s skin, to see with their eyes and know their experience. Which, is cool. I know many fans, many readers do see themselves, regularly, in Spider-Man, in Ranma Saotome, in Dennis the Menace. I don’t, and I’m used to not. Maybe I’m just being fussy, maybe I’m just a stick in the mud, but Peter Parker, when I was growing up, had a steady job, a movie and soap star wife, a flat in Manhattan with a skylight, and we lived on commods. Peter “hard luck” Parker once flew to Scotland because he inherited a castle. That was, then and now, way out of my realm.

I can enjoy Spidey comics. I often do. I cannot, though, really see myself in Peter Parker. I don’t really understand his financial life, much less his sexuality. Peter Parker’s sexuality befuddles the hell out of me. When Parker was briefly widowered (or so he thought), he roomed with Randy Robertson, and I greatly enjoy that era of Spider-Man comics, I liked their pairing, but during that, he reminds me never of myself and consistently of horrible, annoying roommates I’d suffered.

So, what would I do if I wanted to see myself? I can’t pick up Amazing Spider-Man. I can’t write or draw Spider-Man comics. My nephew sees himself in Spidey, in almost every iteration he’s ever come across. I fully believe that Dan Slott can see himself in Spider-Man comics, in that moral order and that psychological map, but I would not be able to. To do so, I would have to change so much, it would no longer be what it is. I would have to lose everyone who can see themselves in it.

I do not see myself in My Lesbian Experience, either, but it is closer. I know what depression looks like. This inability to reflect or to perceive is not particularly about race or sexuality or class or gender. I’m not a Japanese woman. I don’t feel gender significantly enough to really get homosexuality or heterosexuality. The fundamental break, there, is lost on me. But, I see my reactions in Nagata, and more importantly, I see Nagata Kabi in her comic. The same way I can enjoy Slott’s fan-self in his Spider-Man, yet more intimately and strengthened by its resonating with my own self-image and self-concerns, Nagata shows earnestly in her work.

She made a comic for herself. A comic in which we can see her, and even if the mirror is marred or tilted, I can see myself.

In her foreword to The Secret Loves of Geek Girls, Kelly Sue DeConnick admits to initially misunderstanding the premise of that anthology, referring to her state upon realizing it is a collection of love stories as panic. “Love stories, frankly, make me… uncomfortable.” But, when DeConnick wrote Captain Marvel, she wrote my favorite kiss in a Marvel book from that year. She wrote some of my favorite love stories from the publisher during that time. Stories I could see myself in, that I saw my wants in, and that, hopefully, did not make DeConnick too uncomfortable to write.

Everyone else, one year, went nuts over the kiss in Angela. Warrior princess angel and her buddy and scribe locking lips. Big deal. Whole page stuff.

The kiss, in Captain Marvel, was a small panel in a multi panel scene. And, though I couldn’t know it then, now I’ll always associate it with that Angela kiss and with something Ta-Nehisi Coates said about keeping a same-sex kiss in silhouette, early in his Black Panther, because it should be for them, not for us.

I get it, but at the same time, I think he’s presuming his audience too much, there. To me, that’s right up there with Frank Miller’s “gimme an ass-shot, Jim.” The big kiss scene in Angela felt like it was for everyone, and the scene in Captain Marvel felt like it was for me.

Earlier today, online, I got to witness someone blowing up over a decade-old Wolverine cover by Esad Ribic. It’s a beautiful cover. It’s Nightcrawler walking over to his fellow X-Man in a bar. It is a sexy cover. Bleeding Cool called it a “gay porn” cover. Again, though, it is just a cover. It’s indicative of the story within, but it is not the story. There’s no homoeroticism between Wolverine and Nightcrawler in the comic. Not really, and certainly not so blatant. But, this guy; it threatened him. Its existence, and the mirror it threw up, made the world bad for him. It showed him things he did not want.

My Brother’s Husband is not especially erotic. It’s an all-ages comic, family drama and slice of life pleasantness. And, I know there are, out there, many a fan of “gay comics” who were upset. They felt that Tagame was limiting himself, or censoring, because this was no porno. Others are bothered by the huskier bodies of the male main characters, or that there are no “traditional” aggressor and aggressed-on, no yaoi or boy’s love genre roles.

There is no appreciable difference, for the limitations of this essay, between the displeasurable reflection (or refraction) of the guy re the Ribic cover and yaoi fans and My Brother’s Husband. I'm not saying they’re wrong (I kinda am), but they are genuinely disappointed by what they are being faced with. That has to be acknowledged. What is more important than their displeasure, though, is that these comics are allowing so many others who don’t often get to see themselves in comics, to see their lives and their wants, to have their chance. Even if said, “guy” is a majority, or represents a majority, the entire world, both the Earth and the world of comics, cannot only be tailored to him.

Jul 13, 2017

The Hysterical Debate Over the Best Spider-Man

Following last weekend’s release of Spider-Man: Homecoming, social media has been flooded with memes and debates over the best depiction of Spider-Man, or the relative merits of his various love interests as depicted in the different film franchises. Lists and debates aren’t foreign to discussions of a comic book nature, but the ones revolving around Spider-Man always tend to involve a lot more hysteria and loaded bias than others.

The Hysterical Debate Over the Best Spider-Man
Ben Smith

When a website or fan asks fans who their favorite Batman actor was, it tends to be a calm matter-of-fact discussion of personal preferences. I’ve never seen it devolve into a cesspool of personal threats and declarations of racism quite like a Spider-Man debate almost always does. Every Batman movie has been equally as comic book inaccurate as any Spider-Man movie, if not more so, and yet it never seems to matter as much to Batman fans. I prefer Michael Keaton’s Batman, and that is entirely because I was 11 years old when I saw Batman ten times in the theater. I don’t claim those Burton movies are better films, in a vacuum, than the Nolan ones. They’re probably not. Yet, nostalgia and personal bias seem to be the dominant factors in any discussion about Spider-Man movies.

The enduring commitment to the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man films is made only more inexplicable due to the absolute garbage fire his performance in those films was. (Calm down, that's my subjective opinion. It happens to be 100% true, but still.) I challenge anyone that champions those movies, to prove they’ve watched them at any point in the past 10 years. I’m with you — at the time they were released, they were absolute revelations. Their influence on the (at the time) growing superhero revolution in movies cannot be measured, but just because it was one of the first, does not (absolutely does not) mean they are still enjoyable to watch. Tobey is whiney and unlikable. Some might say that’s an accurate adaptation of the character of Peter Parker, and they might be partially right, but it’s not the whole picture, and shouldn’t be.

More often than not, this dedication to the soiled diaper that is Tobey’s Peter Parker has a lot to do with the character of Mary Jane as his primary love interest in those three movies. There’s been a subset of Spider-Man comic book fans that remain obsessed with the marriage of Peter and Mary Jane in the comics, a status quo that lasted for almost 20 years before it was erased in 2007, give or take. Despite this long-standing marriage, Peter’s true love has been a subject of much fan interest for the entire publication history of the character. This is why you can have a supporting character like Rachel in the Dark Knight movies, one that never existed in the comics, and nobody cares. Batman has no “true love,” and shouldn’t, because he’s a long-running fictional protagonist. This subnarrative of Peter Parker and his true loves, is something that never should have existed, not considering the core foundation the character was created with. This is only exacerbated each time a new movie comes out, with a new cast, and the reveal of which of Peter’s important love interests has been picked to be the co-star of this new iteration.

Kirsten Dunst was never playing Mary Jane Watson, not the MJ we know from the comics. But she’s white and had (dyed) red hair, so that makes it okay. However, Zendaya plays a character named Michelle that just so happens to go by the initials MJ, and all the racists come out with their pitchforks. (Sorry, you can qualify it any way you want with source material accuracy and what-not, complaining about the color of her skin is the definition of racism.) My problem with Michelle has nothing to do with the color of her skin, or her unkept appearance. My main problem with Michelle is that they didn’t go far enough and name her Mary Jane. They tried to curtail the predictable racist complaints by giving themselves the excuse that “she’s not Mary Jane, she’s Michelle,” even though it’s clear which character using the initials MJ is supposed to invoke. Inspired by, but not. Either create a new character, use the already established Michelle we know from the Spider-Man comics, or make her Mary Jane. Not that any of this really, truly matters when it comes to if the movie is good or not. It’s easily the best Spider-Man movie ever made. Regardless, if you’re opposed to Zendaya as MJ, but loved the dumpster sandwich that was Kirsten Dunst, you’re a flat-out idiot. If you’ve ever said or typed the words “forced diversity” with sincerity and intent, please go away.

As influenced by nostalgia as I and other fans clearly are, then we can only hope the diverse cast offered up in Homecoming will one day mean as much to a new generation of fans as it does to the current crop of fans. That is the only hope we have as a society. That the generations after us learn from our mistakes and strive to be better. This may only be a discussion about the diversity of and overall quality of superhero movies, but it’s representative of a larger symptom in our society. One which needs to go away forever. One which values “tradition” and accuracy to a franchise created in 1962 over the betterment of all people, no matter the race, religion, or creed. I don’t care if you’re upset that Liz is black, or Ned Leeds is Asian. It’s dumb. It’s literally a dumb thing to be upset about. What I do care about is that they give a young fan a face they can recognize and be inspired by, and that they show all fans that it doesn’t matter what someone looks like, it matters how they treat you. Ultimately, that’s what matters the most in life.

Jul 10, 2017

Racial Diversity and Bending in Spider-Man: Homecoming

Spider-Man: Homecoming is the best Spider-Man movie ever, and it isn't even close. To be fair, I don't think Tom Holland was the best Spider-Man — that's Andrew Garfield, who is much closer to my preferred version of Spider-Man (the late, college-age Steve Ditko version) than anyone else (Holland wins the prize for being the closest version to Ultimate Spider-Man. That's the thing. Spider-Man is open to interpretation. They all got a piece of him right.).

Nor do I think that it's the most groundbreaking of the Spider-Man movies, since that still probably goes to the first one with Tobey Maguire, which was mind-blowing at the time of release, but is horribly dated now. With context as to what the superhero movie would later become, Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst look positively amateurish and incredibly underwhelming. (And whiny. Let's never forget whiny.)

Context matters, though. And in the larger scheme of things when the history books are written, Tobey Maguire's first foray as Spider-Man will be remembered as the character's coming out moment, for better or for worse.

Similarly, context matters when looking at creative choices made in a movie like this. And while I can't quite put into words why the movie fell short for me despite the fact that all the elements to make it successful were there, I can talk about something else regarding the movie, and that's the fact that it's one of the most racially diverse blockbuster movies in recent memory. So let's look at...

Racial Diversity and Bending in Spider-Man: Homecoming
by Duy


Spider-Man: Homecoming has a pretty damn diverse cast. Let's take a look at his main classmates Breakfast Club style.

So you've got Tom Holland in the middle playing Peter Parker. He's white. Over to his left is Zendaya, playing Michelle, is half-black, half-white, while in front of Tom is Laura Harrier, playing Liz, also half-black, half-white. Tony Revolori, to the right, plays Flash, and is of Guatemalan descent, while Jacob Batalon, who plays Ned, was born in Hawaii to Filipino parents.

It's diverse. It's a step forward in Hollywood. It's wonderful.

It also bugs me.


All of these characters are named after a longtime Spider-Man character. It could be argued that since their last names are never given (except for one), they could be anything from callbacks to tributes to trolling methods on the part of the filmmakers. And that's fair. All the same, I think there are missed opportunities here. Let's look at them one by one, in the order of the level of opportunity wastage.

Tony Revolori plays Flash, the school bully. This is named after Flash Thompson. Flash Thompson normally looks like this:

So now we've got a Guatemalan playing him who also doesn't play him as a jock. Instead, he's also another science nerd, who just happens to be the least smart out of all of them, and instead of threatening to beat Peter up or calling him "Puny Parker," he calls him "Penis Parker" instead.

I'm cool with that. Look, racebending a 1962 comic just makes sense. You know what schools in the US were like in 1962? Segregated. That means white people and non-white people couldn't really interact. You know what a New York high school is like in 2017? Not segregated. That means Peter Parker's gonna have classmates of all races and descents, and if you populate a cast with racially diverse characters, but the only ones he interacts with are all still white, that just calls attention to the whole issue to begin with. You can't diversify without empowering.

As for Flash being a nerd rather than a jock, that's cool too. The past decade and a half has seen a rise in the nerd bully, the type that torments you verbally rather than threatens you physically. See, for example, Gamergate, Kylo Ren, the villain in the last Ghostbusters movie, and the entirety of the internet. Are jocks vs. nerds still a thing? The nerds kinda crossed the line the moment Revenge of the Nerds happened, and that was in 1984 Are jocks still bullies? I dunno, I'm old. But from the looks of the internet, nerds certainly are.

Laura Harrier plays Liz, the girl Peter has a crush on. In the comics, this girl is Liz Allan.

Here's the thing: they've racebent Liz before, in the excellent Spectacular Spider-Man cartoon, which I still think is the best Spider-Man outside of the comics medium. She's Hispanic in the cartoon, I believe, and half-black in the movie. And that's fine — the character of Liz Allan works regardless of race.

I think it's a powerful message when young kids watching Spider-Man see a white guy having a crush on a girl who isn't white — and an interracial one at that. Seeing examples this early on in life can only have a positive effect.

Of course, in the movie, she isn't actually Liz Allan, so it was kinda brilliant because it built up that pivotal moment in the movie.

So we're fine with Flash and Liz. With that, let's go to Michelle.

Read More Below...

Zendaya plays Michelle. And at the end of the movie, Michelle says she prefers to be called MJ. I shouldn't have to remind readers, this is Mary Jane Watson:

Now, she isn't "Mary Jane," she's Michelle. But the role is still there. She's going to be Peter's main love interest moving forward (unless we get someone showing up as Gwen). And if that's the case, it was pretty smart in this movie to establish her as someone with her own agency and her own personality rather than someone who gets in trouble and motivates Peter. All the same, this bugs me, for two reasons.

The first reason is this: Zendaya's Michelle is nothing like Mary Jane Watson, party animal with a troubled soul... but she could be. We know this from what Zendaya's done before. She plays a socially conscious, withdrawn, isolated person when Mary Jane is usually the exact opposite of all of those things. She's basically another character altogether. The "MJ" reveal just feels tacked on and unnecessary, and without value past the first time you hear it. And it closes the door on a future MJ that may actually be like the MJ from the comics. (Kirsten Dunst was not the MJ from the comics. Kirsten Dunst played Kirsten Dunst.)

The second reason is that the character that Zendaya's "Michelle" is most like? A sarcastic woman who is both mean to Peter Parker and yet shows affection for him? That's actually a character named Michele. And she's awesome.

I'm always of the stance that racebending is fine if there is no counterpart that already exists. In this case though, there is. (Side note: Zendaya playing Michelle is still a racebend, since Michele is a Latina.) And what bugs me about this is more from a marketing perspective: Gwen Stacy and Mary Jane Watson became the big Spider-Man love interests by continued exposure. How can we possibly build more characters and the presence of those characters when we're still cycling back and forth between Gwen and Mary Jane? That's why fans get so resistant in the comics whenever Peter has a new love interest, the belief that it can only be one of those two. But we don't give chances to other love interests, partly because Marvel doesn't give them those chances either.

I have nothing against Zendaya playing Mary Jane Watson, because she clearly can, if she were actually playing Mary Jane Watson. But she isn't. Her character was named Michelle, who is closest to a character named Michele. And that's what bugs me.

Jacob Batalon plays Ned. Ostensibly, this is after Ned Leeds. And this is Ned Leeds:

Ned's a reporter who didn't even go to high school with Peter. In the movie, Ned is his best friend, who knows who he is, helps him with Spider-Man stuff, and looks like Ganke.

Ganke is the best friend of Miles Morales, the second Spider-Man.

Seriously, why didn't they just name him Ganke? He's right there.

Which brings us to Tom Holland, who plays Peter Parker. And he was great. He nailed high school/Ultimate Spider-Man, and got the right mix of humor and angst that that makes Spider-Man who he is. And that's fine. That's fair. But here's the thing. Peter Parker in high school classically is a loner, someone who makes sure no one knows he's Spider-Man, goes about things on a grassroots level, and doesn't let anyone — anyone — help him out. He's actually a bit of a jerk, honestly.

The thing is, there is a character named Spider-Man who grew up idolizing other superheroes, who has an overweight Asian best friend who helps him out as Spider-Man, and who is mentored by the Avengers, and that guy is Miles Morales.

This should have been a Miles Morales movie. By concept, premise, and execution, everything about the movie screamed "Miles Morales" to me more than it did "Peter Parker," to the point where it felt like it was, in fact, a Miles Morales movie, except they wrote out Miles and dumped Peter in his place.

And that's the rub about this whole diversity thing right now. Whenever we applaud a movie for being diverse, we mean one of two things. We could mean it, as we did for Captain America: Winter Soldier or Spider-Man: Homecoming, as "a racially diverse cast with a white male lead." Or we could mean it, as is happening and will continue to happen with Black Panther, as "a cast that is dominated by one race." Both are well and good and unheard of even ten years ago on the level that it is now. But there's still something missing, and that's having a non-white character headline a blockbuster movie with a racially diverse cast. I will consider the battle for diversity won when we can see that type of movie in spades and not have to remark about how noteworthy it is.

This would have been the perfect opportunity to do it. They could have written Peter as an older character to focus on later, one that's always been Spider-Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and just not heard of much, as he normally is in the comics where he isn't that well-known outside of New York City, while focusing on Miles. And it could have been done, since we literally just saw it two years ago in Ant-Man, where the movie focused on Scott Lang instead of Hank Pym, the original, classic bearer of that mantle.

And I get it, too. If this was the only time we're ever going to see Spider-Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I would want that Spider-Man to be Peter Parker. But if that's the case, I wish I could've seen a movie that felt more like Peter Parker than a Miles Morales movie where he's removed and replaced with Peter Parker. That this didn't feel like a Peter Parker movie to me is a cranky old fanboy nitpick. That this wasn't a Miles Morales movie, more than anything to me, feels like a true wasted opportunity.

The movie was still really good. I still really liked it. And I still absolutely appreciate the effort at diversity. But it could've been more for that. It could've done more for that. And maybe, at the end of the day, that's what I think was missing.

Jul 9, 2017

5 Reasons to Love Spider-Man: Homecoming

Spider-Man: Homecoming premiered in theaters this week. This is the first Spider-Man solo movie set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the sixth Spider-Man movie since 2002. At first I was skeptical with the idea of having another high school Peter Parker, thinking it was no longer necessary since this was already shown during Sam Raimi and Marc Webb’s Spider-Man movies. But I was wrong. This movie turned out to be really good, and right now, it's my favorite Spider-Man movie and together with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, I consider this as one of the best MCU movies ever.

So here are...

5 Reasons I Love Spider-man: Homecoming
by Migs Acabado


1. We now have the Peter Parker/Spider-man that we deserve.

When it was announced a couple of years ago that the role of Peter Parker would go to a kid named Tom Holland, I had no idea who he was. But after seeing him as Spider-man in last year’s Captain America: Civil War, I had my hopes that he’d do a terrific version of the web-swinger. And I was right! He is the perfect Peter Parker/Spider-man. Funny, talkative, witty, not too emo (yes, I’m looking at you, Tobey) and fit to look like a high school student (unlike you, Garfield).

2. The movie is basically a live action Ultimate Spider-Man.

From the way Spider-Man talks to his outfit in the final battle, this movie has an Ultimate Spider-Man feel. If you've read Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley’s Ultimate Spider-Man run, you’ll notice that there are story arcs where Spider-Man was hardly in his official costume during his battles . In the Geldoff story arc, he used a homemade version of his costume.

His movie best friend, Ned, is obviously based on Miles Morales’ (aka the 2nd Spider-Man) best friend Ganke. Aaron Davis is the Ultimate Prowler and is the uncle of Miles Morales. In the movie, he says he has a nephew living in the area. This movie incorporated a lot of concepts from the Ultimate series.

3. Aunt May is the bombshell.

If you grew up reading Spider-Man comics or watching the first three movies, you are accustomed to an Aunt May that’s already a senior citizen and has ailing health. In the movie, you have an Aunt May that’s played by the gorgeous Marissa Tomei. This isn’t your elderly Aunt May who makes wheatcakes for Peter. This Aunt May is younger and turns the head of every fanboy out there.

4. No Uncle Ben, No Problem.

In the past Spider-Man movies, Uncle Ben always played a big part. He is the one who taught Peter that with great power must come great responsibility. In Homecoming, Uncle Ben is absent and it worked! Marvel Studios decided to remove his origin story in the movie to great results proving not all superhero movies needed an origin story to get going. I know in the future Uncle Ben will be mentioned, appear in a flashback or a dream, but I am glad that they did not do an origin sequence in this movie.

5. The Vulture is Freakin’ Badass.

In the comics, I have never liked the Vulture. To me, he is just an old man who is already weak and one of the Spider-villains that’s never a real threat. However, Michael Keaton portrayed a very terrifying Adrian Toomes. This Vulture doesn’t just steal jewelry from a store. This Vulture steals high powered weapons and sells them to thugs to make a living for his family. For me, this is the first time that I saw a villain from the MCU that doesn’t have plans to destroy mankind, rule the world, or have revenge on a former ally. This villain does his business just to provide a living for his family.

Spider-Man: Homecoming really made me feel that the character is really home after being lost for a long time. I can say that the future is really bright for our friendly neighborhood movie franchise.

Jul 8, 2017

How Old Should Spider-Man Be?

Like many other things in life, entertainment is subjective. One person’s masterpiece can be another person’s Starman (garbage, to be clear). I know and recognize this, so I try to use unimpeachable methods as often as possible, whenever they can be applied. Math, as some would say, is completely objective. Number do not lie, except in the case of the box office success of the Transformers film series. That is subjectively and objectively inexplicable. So, when it comes to answering the age-old question of how old Peter Parker should be, I’ve decided to use cold, hard mathematics. Congratulations, today we will discover the definitive answer, without any subjectivity whatsoever (wink, wink) of...

How Old Should Spider-Man Be?
Ben Smith

When Stan Lee and Steve Ditko created Spider-Man, they had no idea how popular he would be. In a larger sense, they had no idea how popular Marvel Comics would become, and there was certainly no way they could have known that the characters would continue to be published nearly 60 years later. Therefore, they graduated Peter Parker from high school probably way too early. I’ve heard a quote, either by Stan, or other creators close to him, that he considered this a huge mistake in retrospect. It’s not hard to tell that Marvel agrees with him, because nearly every multimedia interpretation of Spider-Man in recent years has had him high school aged. I can see the appeal of this, I can how this fits in better with his outcast, screw-up motif a lot better than your mid-to-late ‘20s version of the character, but it’s not the version I prefer. I’ll let you know that right up front. Still, let’s try and break down as best we can, the peaks of the character during each milestone period of his life.

HIGH SCHOOL AGE (Amazing Fantasy #15, Amazing Spider-Man #1 - #28)

This era saw the creation of the character, via the greatest superhero origin ever devised. The debut of arguably the best supporting character ever in J. Jonah Jameson, and the best rogue’s gallery in comics (come at me, Batman fans).

Unquestionably this was the beginning of not only the ultimate blueprint for Marvel Comics, but all of comics in general going forward. A hero that thinks like us, and makes mistakes like we do. As impactful and influential as these comics are, and deservedly so, I don’t think they really represent the peak of what Stan and Steve would accomplish with the character. You had the high school bully in Flash Thompson, the love interests in Betty Brant and Liz Allen, but there was only so much mileage you could get out of Peter constantly holding back when he had enough power to destroy his longtime bully, or almost getting the girl but not quite.

(Ultimate Spider-Man probably should qualify as part of the high school era, but every six issues of that should probably count as one issue of this, and I’m not going to figure out that number, despite my lofty aspirations of objectivity and math.)

VERDICT: 29 great comics

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COLLEGE AGE (Amazing Spider-Man #29 - #185)

This era saw the debut of Gwen Stacy, Harry Osborn, and Mary Jane Watson. The Kingpin joined the ranks of the great Marvel villains. The Green Goblin became Spider-Man’s greatest foe by discovering his secret identity, and then eventually murdering Gwen. The Jackal debuted and kicked off the original Clone Saga. The Punisher made his first appearance in comics. Harry Osborn took over the mantle of the Green Goblin after the death of his father Norman Osborn.

This era started strong as Peter meets Harry and Gwen in college, and Stan and Steve reach the peak of their run with the Master Planner Saga. Following Ditko’s departure from the series, John Romita took over just in time to illustrate one of the best supporting character debuts in comics history with Mary Jane’s “tiger, you hit the jackpot,” scene. In a larger sense, Peter moving out on his own, trying to make his way as a young adult working at the Daily Bugle, and as a superhero against an ever-increasing group of villains that would come to have more and more personal ties to him, was the golden age of the character. His supporting cast was the best in comics history, with Harry, Gwen, MJ, Flash, Liz, Jameson, Betty, Aunt May, and Robbie Robertson. (This was before it was decimated by years and years of deaths and villainous turns.) Some of the greatest stories in the character’s history occurred in this time period, from the Master Planner Saga, to every Green Goblin appearance, to the death of Captain Stacy and Gwen, and finally the much underrated first Clone Saga. This era is unparalleled in terms of sustained quality.

VERDICT: 35 great comics (a highly conservative count)

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GRADUATE STUDENT AGE (Amazing Spider-Man #186 - #243)

The Black Cat makes her first appearance. Roger Stern takes over as writer of the series and produces one of the most beloved tenures in the character’s history. Mary Jane returns after a sustained absence. The mystery of the Hobgoblin begins.

Other than the early appearances of the Black Cat, this era owes everything to the excellent stewardship of Roger Stern. So much so, that I can’t really cut it off here because he so happened to have Peter quit school during his run.

POST-SCHOOL AGE (Amazing Spider-Man #244 - #292)

The Hobgoblin saga continues. The black costume makes its controversial debut. Spider-Man vs Wolverine creates the strangest secret identity reveal in the history of comics. Mary Jane accepts Peter’s second marriage proposal.

I have a particular soft spot for the Tom DeFalco run, as I’ve covered previously. The ongoing mystery of the Hobgoblin continues, and is resolved in most perplexing fashion. Personal favorites like The Rose and Silver Sable are important characters.

COMBINED VERDICT: 27 great comics (including Spider-Man vs Wolverine)

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MARRIAGE AGE (Amazing Spider-Man #293 – Amazing Spider-Man #545)

Nothing good happened while Peter and Mary Jane were married.

VERDICT: 0 great comics (I’m mostly joking, calm down)

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Since Brand New Day and the erasure of the marriage, I believe the character has enjoyed a sustained level of good to great comics, especially since Dan Slott took over as the primary writer. I’m not going to attempt to count those, because I’m tired and want to stop writing this now. I also know there were many other great comics in Spectacular Spider-Man and Web of Spider-Man that weren’t included in these counts, but I’m only going to do so much research for this.

That brings us to the end, and so the question has finally been answered, with completely objective mathematic proof. The best age for Peter Parker as the amazing Spider-Man, is college aged.

Obviously, this wasn’t really a completely objective solution to the dilemma of how old Peter Parker should be. If they had left him in high school longer, then there would have been more legendary stories created while he was that age. I simply wanted to highlight that, for me, the character will always be his best when he’s in his mid-‘20s. That is absolutely a grumpy old fan take, and is completely based on nostalgia, but I happen to think it’s true. Spider-Man’s initial appeal was as the teenager with real problems. Great power and great responsibility. I think greater power and greater responsibilities come after high school, and it’s a more exciting time in most lives. That’s 100 percent subjective, I know.

As we sit on the precipice of yet another movie reboot with Spider-Man: Homecoming, it looks like Marvel will continue to disagree with me. That’s fine, but personally, I don’t feel like moving backwards yet again. I’ll still go see it, because Spider-Man is my favorite character, but I don’t expect it to have the same impact on me. But if there’s a whole generation of kids it will impact, then that can’t be anything other than a great thing. If my kids, or any kid, is writing something like this 30 years from now, about how they think Peter works best as a high school kid, then that’s a win for everyone.

And one last set of books...

Jul 5, 2017

Three Times a Month: A Look Back on Brand New Day

It was one afternoon in January 2008. Miguel went to his local comic book shop to buy the newest issues of Ultimate Spider-man and Ultimates 3. Then he saw an iconic cover done by one of comics’ biggest artists, Steve Mcniven. It was for Amazing Spider-man #546.

Three Times a Month: A Lookback on Brand New Day
by Migs Acabado

The start of the Brand New Day storyline. A few weeks before that, I had just read the conclusion of the One More Day storyline, which ended the marriage of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson. It was also JMS’ final issue on Amazing Spider-man. I admit it: I was a JMS fan growing up. I started reading his Spider-man stories when I was 13 years old and I grew up with it. When his run ended, I had second thoughts on whether I should continue reading Amazing Spider-man or just focus on my favorite Spidey book, Ultimate Spider-man. I wasn’t able to resist the temptation and I quickly bought ASM #546 as well.

Beginning issue #546, Amazing Spider-man was on sale thrice monthly, meaning 3 issues of Amazing Spider-man in a single month. The other 616 titles like Friendly Neighborhood Spider-man and Sensational Spider-man were cancelled. Along with shipment schedules, Spider-man’s status quo was also changed drastically.

The Brand New Day era brought these notable changes to Spider-man’s world:

  • Peter was no longer married to Mary Jane.
  • His organic webshooters were gone. The mechanical ones returned.
  • Harry Osborn was resurrected. He was presumed dead but was secretly living in Europe.
  • J. Jonah Jameson had a heart attack and no longer owns the Daily Bugle.
  • Dexter Bennett bought the Daily Bugle and renamed it The DB.
  • Spider-man’s identity is secret once again.
  • The characters Carlie Cooper and Lily Hollister were introduced.
  • Peter is poor once again and no longer lives in Stark tower.
  • The character Jackpot was introduced, who I thought was MJ (but was not).

A rotating team of writers and artists were also introduced in the book. The writers were called the “Spidey Braintrust,” and the initial writers were Dan Slott, Marc Guggenheim, Bob Gale and Zeb Wells. I was not a fan of those writers but the artist lineup got me interested. The initial artists were Steve Mcniven, Salvador Larroca, and Chris Bachalo.

I gave the first storyarc a try and I liked it. I was not familiar with Dan Slott back then but I found his storyarc with Mister Negative appealing. Steve Mcniven’s art didn’t disappoint, as expected, and I wish he had stayed on the book longer.

The problem that I encountered with Brand New Day is that since it had a rotating creative team, the quality was up and down. I was excited with Bob Gale and Phil Jimenez’s initial storyarc but was disappointed after reading it, though Jimenez’s art was terrific. The story didn’t pass my expectations.  Later that year, however, other writers joined the creative team. Joe Kelly, Mark Waid and Fred Van Lente joined the braintrust. With the addition of those writers, I think that is where Brand New Day peaked. The team delivered exciting storylines and rocked the status quo even more by introducing J. Jonah Jameson’s father, J. Jonah Jameson Senior. They even got Aunt May and Jameson Sr. tied the knot. They also brought the classic villains back with a vengeance.

For me, Brand New Day brought back the word “fun” in Spider-man comics again. With JMS’ run being dark and controversial. Brand New Day went back to the ol’ Spidey stories that we love. Fun, accessible and relatable to readers. The restrictions of the Peter/MJ marriage were gone. Anything goes, and I loved it! It also broke my wallet, but despite that I had no regrets in getting all the issues for that storyline. Looking back on it nine years later, it felt like a homecoming.

Jul 3, 2017

Four Small Pet Peeves

Everyone has a set of pet peeves that, while consciously aware we are overreacting to them, just set us off. The sort of little thing that pulls you right out of a comic (or song, novel, etc). That just breaks the temporary illusion of a small world you were indulging in and reminds you this is a made thing, and this time, perhaps, poorly made.

Four Small Pet Peeves I Immediately Overreact To
Travis Hedge Coke

Shapeshifting as a Cheap Special Effect

The simplest, and most innocuous on my list annoys me enough to embarrass me: When someone draws a character shape-changing as a bad tv signal or form of digital static. This looks bad on video, but drawing it on a page, where there was no budgetary concern with something more plausible is lazy squared. Ditto, shapeshifting as an overlay of one image and another.

If the other form is a psychic illusion or a hologram or something, fine. An overlay makes sense. A wavering visual shift is acceptable. But, something physically transforming into another thing? Show it.

Counter-Tonal Eroticism

Nothing makes my skin crawl like, “Men sweat, but women glisten.” But, it bugs me in its subtler forms, too, such as when, in Grayson, Dick “original Robin” Grayson deliberately sexualizes encounters with his boss and students, while trying to sell us on his forthrightness and heroism. He, along with his superiors, conspires to disguise him as a gay gymnastics teacher, so that he can be perceived as sexually “safe” while engaging in close physical activity with a bunch of eighteen year olds he was only pages before inappropriately perving over. That’s his punishment.

That is some 80s sex comedy level stupid right there, and this was conceived and executed only a couple years ago and not in a dumb sex comedy, but supposedly a “smart” espionage adventure comic.

Or, to break it down using old Gen 13, this seems in-line with the scene and the point:

But, this

That doesn’t work for me at all. She’s reacquainting with her father and that’s the visual emphasis?

Humiliation is Endearing

Closely related to the last, I just can’t truck with a story once the author tries to make me care for someone more because they’ve been (usually sexually) humiliated. I already have a hard time with scenes where someone is going to be humiliated or emotionally destroyed, but you turn that into a shortcut to reader sympathy and my brain just throws the brakes on hard.

Any comic that’s pulled, “She’s fallen awkwardly and displayed her underwear for the boy she likes and/or a group of men she has to work with in a professional fashion; isn’t she so cute!?!” fails at making me like the character but succeeds and making me angry with it as a comic, and the author(s). And, that’s just between Kitty Pryde, Miaki Yuki, and and Caitlin Fairchild alone, that is a sad ton of comics.

The woe-is-me, sad sack, all-time loser trope presses my same annoyance button. Oh, poor Peter Parker/Archie Andrews/Beetle Bailey! He has everything going for him, but some scheme flops and he has less success than he’d like. And… I stop caring.

The Mentally Ill Have Super Perception

And, the big one. One, that some people whose work I adore have fallen back on too many times and it drives me batty.

Schizophrenics and OCD sufferers do not have magic perception super powers. It’s dumb if they do. Especially if it’s given no other justification. OCD and an amazing detective? Okeh. Magic eye that sees another dimension and schizophrenic? Cool. There’s probably a good story hook in there. My Left Eye Sees Ghosts and I’m Exceptionally and Specifically Paranoid and Can’t Help Reacting to It. But, when it’s just some crazy homeless person who can see Superman’s ghost dog or the patients in the mental hospital who speak the truth because the crazy see… that’s more than dumb, it’s worse than offensive, it’s dangerous. Dangerous and lazy.

Jul 2, 2017

Why Integrity Matters When We’re Talking Comics in Public

“Who built the highway to Baton Rouge?
Who put up the hospital and built your schools?
Who looks after shit-kickers like you?”
- Randy Newman, Kingfish

Who Built the Highway to Baton Rouge:
Why Integrity Matters When We’re Talking Comics in Public
Travis Hedge Coke

What we say matters, especially when it comes to comics, which is a small field in anglophone circles, and any one of us who cares enough to say anything at all, is likely to be treated as an expert by somebody. Journalism, criticism, explanatory writing need standards and conviction, earnest desire to communicate truths, sure, but shooting the breeze on message boards, tweeting after the Wednesday new issues have been read, busting out anecdotes at a party because you suddenly have a chance to talk comics in a public place, there, too, it behooves us to be honest, sensible, and fair. And, when we are deliberately not being fair, just say so. We can cop to. People understand hypocritical venting or excited hyperbole. Nobody will hang you for calling someone you’re angry with, “a son of a bitch,” without having papers to prove his pedigree.

If you are venting about Joe Kelly and you call him, “Joe Casey,” for Crom’s sake, say something when you notice! Don’t leave it out there. People will, in ignorance and through trust, believe it, and it then can grow, can attach to other rumors, other instances and statements, and become who knows what shitstorm or dirty, dank anecdote that mars a good guy’s reputation. (For the record, Joes Casey and Kelly could be Carlos Pacheco and two or three other Spanish comics luminaries who get weirdly conflated sometimes, or Carl Burgos and Carl Barks, Frank Miller and Alan Moore, Gail Simone and Louise Simonson. I’m not criticizing any pro with the example, but certainly, other people have and do.

I have gotten this and that talent confused, before, myself, while criticizing or lauding someone. I used Andy Kubert’s recent work to defend John Romita Jr in an argument, recently, and only realized a day or two later that, naturally, Kubert’s work is his and not JR Jr’s. I made a hasty retraction and amended my overall position, but I possibly embarrassed someone else, if they’d passed on that defense, before I could make good on my realization.

Be careful. Don’t be chicken, but take care. Make some effort.

Comics are worth it. Presumably, your conversations are. And, too, the folks you’re talking to or with.

I know better than to put stock in anything Nigel Mitchell writes, because he seems to think Magneto threatening the entire globe but deciding not to personally murder a thirteen year old girl makes him a good person, but also uses blatantly satiric artwork from Walt Simonson and posits it as a straight representation. He’s dishonest and he’s writing to a general audience who won’t know no better.

I would have a lot of time for the journalist, Michael Harriot, based on his general politics and his strong authorial voice, but he’s got a tendency to turn woman and woman with a funny name and waitress into the worst insults he can come up with. So, forget him. If you can write about a racist murderer and the worst thing you can say about them is that they have a funny “ethnic” name that sounds like a waffle house waitress, you’ve lost me. Because, I know better.

And, many of you would follow me in that, because you know better.

Comics are more specialized, though, far far more niche.

A casual audience lacks enough general, much less comprehensive awareness, to identify a stretched truth or an agreeable but untrue proposition.

There is truth out there, but even amongst the knowledgable it is choked out by obfuscating jokes, clickbait lies, misremembered factoids, and the field is too small for the truths to show big enough to shine through that muck.

It’s not all malicious or only about greed. We misremember. We misremember with conviction. Carol (the current Captain Marvel) Danvers had shorter hair twenty-five years ago, yet go to a message board right now, and where you find discussion of her, you find angry people, deeply enraged by how her “new” short hair is indicative of our lowering social standards and makes her look like a boy (because nobody says you have to be able to pass high school biology to talk about comics). There are so many self-proclaimed lifelong comics fans who are bewildered and distressed at a villain altering reality or brainwashing a hero into a villain, that it makes me wonder if a supervillain has altered our reality at some point.

The comics conversation cannot be left to lazy assertions and drab exaggerations. We can’t get witty beyond the spectators, because we aren’t enough without them. The comics conversation, to quote the Randy Newman song up above, is “gonna be run by little folks like me and you.” We do set the pace; we are the referees in this game. If the lies are agreeable in tone or sentiment, people will accept them, and they will be repeated and thereby strengthened. By playing to this, when we know better, we are doing the world a disservice and our own appreciation.

Walt Simonson knows how satire works. If he’s done something that smells, quacks, and lights its cigars like satire, it’s the safer bet to assume he was being satirical.

Steve Ditko seems like an odd guy, but his philosophy does not prohibit him from taking jobs. He’s not being hypocritical, choosing to not draw more Spider-Man, but accepting a Phantom gig or publishing his own, personally-owned comics.

Frank Miller has never written or drawn a comic where women were punished for having sex or sexual thoughts. The “whores whores whores” that gets tossed around is based in dialogue from a cannibal religious leader who is the villain of that particular comic.

We couldn’t do this, say, with James Cameron. Assert that something the Terminator did is indicative of Cameron’s personal and general philosophy, because nobody expects the Terminator to be the author’s voice, and we all know who the Terminator is. We all know what the Terminator is.

Comics is smaller. Frank Miller, big as he may appear inside the fishbowl, is small potatoes in the world. So, when this stuff, or the heroin abuse accusations of a few years ago, get bandied about in joke posts on Facebook or as spiteful venting in an article or its comments section, it transfigures from obvious untruth to something easily plausible or God’s own truth.

Even within comics, few of us are universal about the field. We keep to our small castle or pirate diorama inside the fishbowl. We publish articles and talk on message boards about firsts, and the firsts all end up being in manga, for manga fans, in horror comics for horror fans, in European albums or superhero books.

The first gay characters in comics were not in superhero comics. The first female main characters, were not in superhero comics. The first painted cover. The first 3-D. The first graphic sex. The first comic owned by the author and not the publisher. The first death in comics. None of these are in a superhero comic or involve superhero characters.

But, if you say the firsts all came from superhero comics, the vast majority of both general audience and comics fans will believe.

And, sometimes, it comes close. One of the first 3-D comics, for instance, is a superhero book. Captain 3-D, about a superhero who springs forth from a book, was Jack Kirby and Joe Simon’s contribution to the first anaglyph 3-D wave of comics, in 1953. It is, as far as I know, the only example in that wave, which is a superhero book of any stripe.

It’s easier to talk about Kirby, because of his in-house fame and because you can attach to the name a list of characters recognizable to outsiders. It’s probably even easier to remember Kirby doing a 3-D book than whoever handled the Three Stooges one or the absolutely insane adventure anthology that Harvey put out at the same time. (Adventures in 3-D for those keeping score.)

This isn’t Donald Trump talking manners or Don King working the hype machine, where we can all pretty much cotton which way the wind is blowing and see the bs clearly for what it is. Comics talk takes on that weird mysticism that news articles on physics or clickbait anecdotes about “old Hollywood” has. Everything seems real, and true, or at least possible, and if you’re a little bit outside it, or just not paying a great deal of attention, it’s hard to even separate possible and true. They just become one. They become acceptable. Then, they get repeated by us.

“Who built the highway to Baton Rouge?
Who put up the hospital and built your schools?”

Whoever we say enough times. That’s who.

And, that’s why we’ve got to be careful.

Jul 1, 2017

The Great Hanna-Barbera/DC Comics Freakout, 2016-17

For the last two years, DC Comics have been publishing various series based on Hanna-Barbera cartoons, and a variety of professional fear-mongers and clickbait publishers have been getting worked up about it without pause, ever since.

The Great Hanna-Barbera/DC Comics Freakout, 2016-17
Travis Hedge Coke

Did you hear that there’s a Scooby-Doo comic where they drive around in a van and solve mysteries, defeat monsters and criminals, and help people… but the world has gone to hell? Ooooh, scary. But, despite the fact that Scooby Apocalypse is almost bit for bit a standard Scooby experience with slightly different character designs, literally dozens of articles have tried to juice some “my childhood is ruined” by exaggerating and sometimes flat out lying about the comic. They play up the differences and not the much stronger and more consistent similarities between the comic and everything else Scooby-related you’ve ever seen.

There is a Flintstones comic with awesome Steve Pugh art, that is hilarious, and sad, smart and contrarian, wacky as anything, and talks about modern American society by transplanting it into a cartoon stone age. Now, again, several articles have tried to get everyone to freak because this is so so soooooo different than the classic Flintstones. But, is it?

If you think it is, I have to ask: Have you ever watched an episode of The Flintstones? That is the show! The humor skews adult while there’s still child-appropriate silliness? That is the show! And, it’s the comic.

Again, here, the biggest differences are the art style, which is still in-line with the take, but modernized, and that the references to modern-day technology, culture, and contemporary monster designs in movies are not the same as they were fifty years ago, because… the world doesn’t look like it did fifty years ago. If you’re just going to resurrect it and make the same unassumingly-sexist and erase-all-minorities jokes and plots from decades earlier… why even bother?

Some of the titles take the adaptation further from the source, others err on nostalgia hard, but what the panic ignores - or, more honestly, the media’s efforts to encourage a panic - is that even as DC publishes Scooby Apocalypse, they also publish two straight up, for kids, classic character designs Scooby comics. I know, “DC Publishes three Scooby-Doo comics, all pretty recognizable as Scooby-Doo, with two for all ages and one for older kids and teens!” isn’t going to get clicks the way, “DC ruins your life by making Scooby-Doo and his friends investigate monsters and they look mildly different!” But, simultaneously, let’s all admit that the first statement is both more honest and makes less people unnecessarily cranky.

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