For Halloween, Try EXORCISMUS

Every year around Halloween I try to recommend a horror movie you might not have seen, something off the beaten path and all the better for it. You can read previous recommendations here and here. This year, I worried that I wouldn't find anything. Then I discovered the 2010 film, Exorcismus. No, I can't explain the title, either. Yes, it's an exorcism movie, Read more

The Great Rock and Roll Secret

Suppose the great rock single had flickered over the airways just once, on the night you had passed out in the back seat?  Probably not, but still...rock and roll has always had this sense of possibility.  --Dave Marsh, Born to Run: The Bruce Springsteen Story, page 93 I originally read the above quote in the 1980s, when the first edition of Read more

Review: The Making of Day of the Dead

When I heard there would be a book entirely about the making of George A. Romero's third zombie movie, Day of the Dead, I was surprised. The movie had not been a financial or critical success at the time, and while its reputation has risen since its 1985 release, it's still nowhere near as well-known as its predecessors, Night Read more

The Manic Pixie Pout-Pout

Since I now have another two-year-old, I'm back to reading the simplest books to her at bedtime. Most of these books are innocuous, if occasionally incompetent (i.e., Big Snowman, Little Snowman, a Frozen tie-in book that probably takes longer to read than it did to write). A few are brilliant, such as Room on the Broom. But I'm here to talk Read more

The Omai Gods: the story behind the story

One of my favorite and oft-quoted bits of writerly advice comes from novelist/filmmaker Nicholas Meyer: "Art thrives on restriction." Meaning that if you don't have enough of something--usually money and/or time--you're forced to compensate by being creative. Here's a story that shows how that works, at least for me. I've never written steampunk. I honestly don't even know if it's a Read more

The Return of Miracleman!

Posted on by Alex in comic books, heroes, writers | Leave a comment

I haven’t been a serious comic fan in a long time. It’s nothing against the form–graphic, visual storytelling is as valid as the novel, the short story or the TV series–but my own life changed in such a way that the tales being told in the medium stopped speaking to me somewhere in the 1990s.

But when I read that Miracleman was coming back, I felt a stirring of that old enthusiasm. Because Miracleman (or Marvelman as he was known in his native UK) was the best comic series I ever read.

miracleman-quesada

Brief history: In the 1980s, writer Alan Moore (Watchmen, Swamp Thing, V for Vendetta) resurrected the British version of Captain Marvel, a light kids’ hero comic, as a dark commentary on the Britain of his day. He also, because he’s brilliant, used it as a way to show what the then-real world would become if a character as omnipotent as Superman really did appear in our midst. He didn’t shy from depicting the horrible things men, and supermen, could do to each other, and to the rest of us. But through it all were rays of hope, and love, and a belief in the future.

One of the things that made Miracleman so noteworthy was that the company producing it, Eclipse, couldn’t seem to make it appear on a regular schedule. The gap between the cliffhanger at the end of issue 6 and its resolution in issue 7 was months. And this was all prior to the internet, so there was no reliable source of information for fans like me, attending college in Tennessee and dependent on the whims of the local shop owner (a teenage whiz kind indulged by his parents with a comic shop nestled inside their antiques store). We could only show up every week and hope for the best.

But it was all worthwhile for the story Moore was telling.

Okay, I'm showing off a little: here's my collection of Miracleman 1-16, along with the first issue of the UK comic Warrior, which ran the first episode of Miracleman.

Okay, I’m showing off a little: here’s my collection of Miracleman 1-16, along with the first issue of the UK comic Warrior, which ran the first episode of Miracleman.

When you mention Miracleman today, you often get blank looks: fans know the name, but few people younger than me have ever read it. The series, including the graphic novel issue collections, have been out of print for probably twenty years, due to a rights tangle than has only now been resolved (thanks to Neil Gaiman’s artistic and socio-economic muscle). Gaiman took over for Moore as the series writer, and had the thankless task of continuing a story that had effectively ended, much like Twin Peaks after they solved the murder of Laura Palmer. And as part of the new run, Gaiman will “conclude” the series, with new issues once the old ones have been reprinted.

Of course, all that is marketing, and that’s fine. You have to attract attention. But the true story of Miracleman finished with Alan Moore’s issue #16, and to have that story back in print after all this time is nothing but good news.

So if you don’t know what KIMOTA! means…soon, you will.

Guest Blog: Wonder Woman Redux

Posted on by Alex in comic books, writers, writing | Leave a comment

A few weeks ago, my friend Elizabeth Keathley wrote a guest blog here about the new run of the Wonder Woman comic. Recent issues have caused her to re-evaluate her original comments.

*****

Last month, I wrote a piece for this blog recommending the new run of Wonder Woman, based on the first four issues of the digital release. It is with a heavy heart that I return to rescind my recommendation, based on some rather strange story turns in issues five through seven. There’s not a lot I could write that hasn’t been written in detail, with page scans, by Colin Smith on his blog, but I felt I owed it to this audience to come back and explain that I don’t think the new comic is really so great anymore.

Image from the animated movie.

I’m not one of those people who would only be happy with an idea of Wonder Woman I have in my head. I thought the animated Wonder Woman movie was very good, despite it being far from the Wonder Woman I have in my mind. What I ask of WW writers is that they treat women, especially the title character, with respect. Wonder Woman is a feminist full of compassion – she’s a hero. Sadly the current DC misogyny creates an atmosphere of editorial bias that results in really crappy treatment of women. While never having the pleasure of meeting Dan Didio, his every response to questions regarding the current status of women in the DC universe can be justly characterized as hostile; see this response from last year’s Comicon as an example.

One gets the feeling that Didio is angry with women, or that he at the very least doesn’t think they should be allowed to play in his club house, which is weird since many women like myself were happily playing there before he came along and threw all our toys out the window and used the rest to make borderline porn. Sorry for the rant; I get passionate about Wonder Woman. My youngest daughter is named Diana.

David Willis also sums up how Didio’s approach to female characters is bad for business over here. Most frustratingly, it doesn’t matter how badly the current run of DC comics twists Wonder Woman or her Amazon sisters in the the marketplace of ideas. DC comics could publish a storyline so horrific that no one would ever buy Wonder Woman again, and the publishing run would continue. When William Moulton Marsten created Wonder Woman in the 1940′s, he signed a contract stating that if DC fails to publish a Wonder Woman title for 90 days, the rights to Wonder Woman revert to his heirs. DC almost dropped the ball once after Crisis on Infinite Earths (where Wonder Woman was actually killed off), and quickly ran a three issue filler storyline. That filler storyline, in which a classic Wonder Woman rescued a bratty little girl, was great. Afterwards she was rebooted again, and I wasn’t sorry; the new run by George Perez turned out to contain some of my favorite new Wonder Woman stories.

Gone are the days when I could maintain hope that one more reboot with a new writer might give me a good monthly Wonder Woman read. Alan Moore, who signed a similar deal for Watchmen, recently gave a sad interview about the current use of his Watchmen characters. It doesn’t matter how bad the new Watchmen comics are, DC will never go out of business because they own the liscensing rights to the originals. It doesn’t matter how bad the current Wonder Woman comics are, or if no one buys them, because DC makes loads of money from Wonder Woman lunchboxes, underwear, and toys.

Of course, those Wonder Woman products are bought by little girls who love their cartoon character, a hero who is strong and brave and kind, who hangs out with her friends in the Justice League and can be counted on to be a solid team player when the fate of the Earth is on the line. I wish I could say the same about the Wonder Woman in the current run of comics.

Guest blog: the resurrection of Wonder Woman

Posted on by Alex in comic books, writers, writing | 5 Comments

Ever since working on an essay for a subsequently-cancelled SmartPop collection, I’ve been fascinated with attitudes toward Wonder Woman.  My friend Elizabeth Keathley, a much more well-read and long-term fan, was kind enough to write about the character’s recent history.

*****

Adele Kirby as WW. Photo (c) 2012 by Sean O'Malley. Body paint by Natasha Bloom (links below)

I have two daughters, ages three and five. When I was around their ages, I wore through more than one set of Wonder Woman underoos, and I don’t just mean that I outgrew them. I was forbidden to play with string after cutting off one of my mom’s gold-tone window shade pulls for lasso action. I once got in a kindergarten shoving match on the bus because my neighbor Michael Garber tried to tell me The Dukes of Hazzard could beat Wonder Woman. When I was 26, I emailed another childhood friend, Virgil Pool, with a scan of a page from Wonder Woman 175, where she won a fight against Superman. The text of my email? “You owe me a billion dollars from a bet in 3rd grade”.

Virgil is now an executive with the South’s largest banking firm. I work in Digital Asset Management for a large multinational concern. We keep in touch, because once a love of comics really takes root with a child, it never fully disappears. When we do see each other, we catch up on comics gossip, and of course last year that meant talking about the digital re-launch of DC comics.

Periodically DC and Marvel – the two big superhero houses of American comics – “relaunch” their titles, starting the cover numbering over at 1, and changing things up. Teams get shuffled, costumes and hairstyles updated, personalities shift. These relaunches are ostensibly done to give new readers an entry point to the long and convoluted storylines of the comic book world. It is also true that any book with the number one on it tends to sell a little bit better than average, and that really counts today, when the number of regular comic book readers is estimated to be somewhere around just 250,000 individuals.

When there are more choices than DC and Marvel, the writing and art must be top-notch to keep up readership. Given this tough market, in the past decade Marvel decided to invest in great writers, and for the first time did things that made me want to read Daredevil and even take a peek back at the X-men. DC went a different route. They gave their head editor position to Dan Didio, and he decided that the problem with DC comics was that they weren’t catering enough to young men. He wanted to make DC edgier and sexier. He did, and women fans (including myself) fell away in droves, some going so far as to start up protest sites like Girl-Wonder.org. Why protest a shift in comic book editorial policy? You can read more about that over on Girl Wonder, but basically Didio decided that appealing to younger men meant a rape storyline, some art many consider to be torture porn, and the death or demotion of most of the main female heroines of the DC universe.

So another DC comics relaunch, this time with a digital component focused on the iPad market, excited me. At last, I thought, Time/Warner is going to lay down the profit law on DC comics. The animated TV series have audiences in the millions, and remain so popular that Cartoon Network plans to soon launch a new programming block around DC comics characters. I had hoped – as had many others with children, I like to think – that the digital relaunch would align the comic book Wonder Woman and Supergirl with the cartoon Wonder Woman and Supergirl.

Alas, under Dan Didio’s editorial vision, the new Supergirl comes with crotch snaps.

I would like for my daughters to learn to love reading comics. I have given them copies of Little Lit and reprints of Uncle Scrooge and copies of Asterix that my husband picked up in Europe as a child. My oldest picked up Mouse Guard from our shelf and read it on her own, along with a little of Bone. Until recently I had settled on the fact that while my daughters will learn to love comics, it won’t be the superhero comics that I read as a child. I was a little sad that Supergirl and Wonder Woman were destined to be second-string cartoon characters to them.

I was surprised when my friend Elle excitedly emailed a recommendation that I read the first four issues of the new run of Wonder Woman. The new run written by Brian Azzarello calls back to the work of Greg Rucka in 2003 by re-instituting a Greek Gods storyline. While Rucka’s quest-for-father storyline centered on Cassie – Wonder Girl – Azzarello puts Diana square in the middle of the Joseph Campbell cliché. The art by Cliff Chang gives us lots of close-ups, but thankfully gone is the cheesecake soft-core porn that sometimes made me embarrassed to buy the title in the past. There’s still plenty of comic-book violence, and even a make-out scene in issue three, but I wouldn’t have a problem handing these comics to a ten-year-old girl to read.

I will continue to borrow Wonder Woman issues from my friends for now, swapping them for volumes from the library of graphic novels I’ve built up since the fall of 2004. If Wonder Woman continues to be a readable, fun book, I might just go back to buying monthly issues again – this time on the iPad. If the story stays well written – and doesn’t echo much of the Jill Presto arc of Lucifer – maybe one day I’ll even share the files with my daughters. I still think that the cartoon versions of the DCU characters are better written and produced right now, but when you’re a Wonder Woman fan, you take what you can get – and just pray the artist remembers to cover Wonder Woman’s crotch.

*****

Elizabeth Ferguson Keathley has been reading comics since she could read, and engaging publicly about them since a fight in third grade. She has appeared as the feminist guest speaker on a couple of podcasts
over at Fortress of Baileytude, but mostly specializes in showing up at DragonCon panels and asking questions. In her professional life, Elizabeth works with Digital Asset Management (DAM) systems, and is chair of the DAM Foundation HR & Talent committee. Elizabeth swore off single-issue comics six years ago and instead has too many shelves of graphic novels.

*****

Adele Kirby: http://www.adelekirby.com/

Natasha Bloom: http://www.natashamakeup.com/

Interview: Tim Hall, writer of The Last Mortician

Posted on by Alex in comic books, Tim Hall, Uncategorized, writers, writing | 3 Comments

Cover: The Last Mortician

Recently Tor.com premiered The Last Mortician, a comic written by my friend Tim Hall (author of Half Empty; see my review here) and illustrated by Dean Haspiel.  You can learn more about its creation in this video, but I wanted to ask Tim some specific things about the story, which will involve spoilers.  So we’ll wait while you go read the comic and watch the video. Then come back here for the Q&A.

Done?  Okay.

Me: On page 5, the figure speaking against immortality is identified as a religious leader (and bears more than a passing physical resemblance to Billy Graham). He also comes out against immortality after he’s achieved it himself. Is he sincere?

Tim: I think he’s about as sincere as any of these Elmer Gantry-type religious grifters can be: i.e., “morality for thee but not for me.” Hypocrisy is an essential feature of such men, not a bug. You also have to realize that almost all such preachers really and truly believe that women are chattel, just reproductive slaves who are the property of their husbands because that’s what the bible tells them. So it’s perfectly keeping with his personality that he would believe he needs to stick around to “lead the flock,” while making sure enough mortal women are around to keep pumping out children…perhaps only men will be allowed the treatment eventually.

When I first read it, page 10 really jumped out at me. Conventional wisdom says that old people–politicians, dictators, war profiteers–start wars, yet here you have a character say, “It was always the younger generation starting wars.” Was that a deliberate inversion, and if so, what does it mean in context?

Tim Hall

It was deliberate. And I love that Dean drew a somewhat Rachel Maddow-esque newscritter giving the reply, spreading the hypocrisy around equally, as it deserves to be.

But really, that’s the kind of thing we’re always hearing, every day, from every major news network: when trillions are transferred to the wealthy through bailouts and tax cuts, it’s called “injecting liquidity”; when they take a tiny fraction of that money and save hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs, it’s called “socialism.” When financial crimes are paid for with draconian, monstrous assaults against the lower classes, it’s calmly called “austerity”. When those same lower classes get fed up and protest, like they are now, it’s “class warfare.” The Great Wise Men And Women always find some Other to blame; I suspect absolutely no difference would occur, were the situation of The Last Mortician to come true.

Why doesn’t the mortician kill himself–fear or courage?

I remember a great scene in a Charles Bukowski story. He and another man are talking about a mutual friend, who put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger but the gun jammed. Bukowski asks something like, “Why didn’t he try a second time?” and the other man says, “It takes guts just to try it once.” On page 11 the mortician thinks, “I said I never would…one more mistake won’t matter.” He’s referring to his decision to kill himself, which goes against all his principles and an implied promise he made to his wife to carry on the best he could. I personally believe that life is always the right choice, so I’m going to say it’s courage.

Thanks to Tim for taking time to answer my questions.  Again, check out The Last Mortician on Tor.com.

In defense of Superman Returns

Posted on by Alex in blended families, comic books, Dark Knight, io9, Iron Man, movies, Superman Returns | Leave a comment

Over at the science fiction blog io9, hardly a week passes that doesn’t involve a dig at Bryan Singer’s 2006 film Superman Returns. For example:

Warner Brothers Takes the Time to Make a Superman That Won’t Suck.

Next Superman Movie Will Have Actual Superheroics.

How to Make You Believe a Man Could Fly Again.

While some criticisms are valid (a too-slavish devotion to Richard Donner’s interpretation, an emphasis on “rescue-action” instead of a superheroic throwdown), I think the good folks at io9 do the film a disservice. And I have a different idea about why the film might not work for the average audience thrilled with Iron Man and The Dark Night. I think it’s because Superman Returns is the first superhero film to really deal with adult issues.

Consider the plot stripped of its super-ness. A well-intentioned but somewhat naive hero has a one-night stand with the girl of his dreams, then gets some news from home. He leaves without saying goodbye, and is gone for five years. When he returns, his dream girl has moved on to a long-standing relationship with another man with whom she now has a son. This new man is decent, loves her and the boy, and more importantly has stayed around when our hero skipped out. In a crisis, this new man proves every bit as courageous as our hero, so that when the boy’s true paternity is revealed (to only the mother and our hero), our hero faces his toughest choice yet. Should he reveal the truth and risk ruining everyone’s lives? Or should he suck it up, accept that the situation is entirely his own fault and keep his mouth shut to spare good people more pain?

That’s the core plot of Superman Returns, and it’s a very specific dilemma for our hero. It’s also a very specific dilemma faced by blended families throughout the world. As both a father and a step-father, it speaks to me with more emotional clarity than any of the so-called moral dilemmas in a film like The Dark Knight. In that film, Batman and the other characters have to choose between right and wrong; in Superman Returns, Superman has no “right” choice. That’s much more like the real world than any other recent comic-book film.

And I don’t think this sort of dilemma connects with the average vocal, blog-commenting super-hero fan, the ones who made The Dark Knight the second-biggest film in history. At the risk of being smacked for generalizing, most are young, most are probably not yet parents, and the majority of their toughest life choices are ahead of them.

I love Superman Returns, and I’m not ashamed to say so. Even if Bryan Singer, Brandon Routh and company are kicked off the next film and the entire series is rebooted to be more in line with the “dark” trend current among these movies, I’ll still think it’s awesome. And when little Jason runs back to give injured Superman a kiss, I’ll still choke up every time.