Thursday, July 27, 2006

Because YOU Demanded It

Because apparently they didn't make a music video for his 2001 smash "Just Like Love", you get a golden oldie instead.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Where Soars the Silver Surfer . . . There Must He Soar Alone!
Part Three

Stan Lee is known for many things, but subtlety is not one of them. Of course, when it works, this is perhaps his greatest strengths as a scripter. The fact that his 60s Marvel work is so unabashedly over-the-top in terms of bombast and bravado actually works in its favor. By refusing to hide the strident tone of his political allegories and soap-opera dramatics, he sells a great many stories that would perhaps have been, with a lighter touch, insufferable. I'm hardly the first person to point out that Lee's self-deprecating showmanship enabled him to pull off some surprisingly potent effects, but it's worth repeating for the purposes of this article. Behind the semi-ironic, borderline-postmodern hucksterism of his public persona, he was a canny storyteller.

But, for the most part, he was far more comfortable working with broad strokes than subtle delineation. Nowhere is this preference better seen than in the character of the Silver Surfer. Although the term "Mary Sue" is a relatively recent invention, there is no doubt in my mind that the Surfer qualifies as such for Lee. Although his philosophy found an outlet in most Marvel features of the period, nowhere is the line between character and creator blurred more ambiguously than between the Surfer and Lee. In much the same way that Steve Ditko would use characters like the Question and especially Mr. A as blatant mouthpieces, and Jack Kirby would come to use the entirety of the Fourth World books as springboards for more ambivalent but no less distinctively personal tales, Lee used the Surfer to illustrate his own moral prerogatives.

As such, the fifth issue of the original Silver Surfer series stands as one of the character's best stories, not to mention one of Lee's finest hours as a scripter. Those who ascribe the strength of his sixties work to his talented collaborators have a great deal of supporting evidence in the fact that almost all of Lee's post-60s work is dire, but caught up in the spirit of the moment he was still able to achieve something significant without either Kirby or Ditko's support. The plot is simple enough: the Surfer, once again frustrated by his failure to breach Galactus' cosmic barrier, plummets to the earth. His unconscious form is found by the hermit Al Harper, a lonely scientist living in semi-exile, working as a researcher for an unnamed company in a nearby city. After the Surfer awakes, he and Harper become fast friends and Harper offers to aid the Surfer in his attempt to escape earth.

But a complication arises in the form of the enigmatic, extraterrestrial Stranger. Never one of Marvel's better villains, the Stranger has rarely been treated as more than a deus ex machina, showing up in random books and antagonizing the heroes for mysterious reasons. Here is little different: in his ongoing attempt to sterilize the planet, the Stranger shows up and hides a life-destroying bomb somewhere on the planet. The Surfer turns away from his attempt to free himself in order to battle the Stranger for Earth's survival -- and the Surfer's interference allows enough time for Harper to defuse the bomb, saving the planet at the cost of his own life.

So far, so good. But the most remarkable thing about the story is Al Harper himself: or rather, the fact that Harper is a black man. Not, mind you, some kind of exotic African potentate or stereotype street-wise hustler -- a scientist, which in Lee's Marvel was about as noble an occupation as can be imagined. (To further accentuate the connection, Harper is constantly seen sporting a pipe, which at 60s Marvel was an almost sure sign of heightened intelligence and inherent nobility.) But Lee chose to soft-pedal the racial elements of Harper's story. Considering how ideologically-charged the Surfer's adventures were, it is probably for the best that Lee resisted the temptation to make A Statement. By showing uncharacteristic restraint, the message is underscored without the kind of showmanship that could have seemed hectoring or, worse, patronizing. Given that at the time this issue was released -- early 1969 -- many American cities were still reeling from the riots that had followed the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., a light touch was probably the wisest choice considering the controversy that an injudiciously topical childrens' comic could have created.

When the Surfer awakes in Harper's cabin, he is puzzled as to why Harper has chosen to aid him: "Unlike others on this savage world . . ." the Surfer explains, "you have befriended me! Why? To which Harper answers, succinctly, "Mebbe it's 'cause I know how it feels to be pushed around" Later in the story, Harper muses on his kinship with the Surfer:
He's treated like an outcast wherever he goes . . . Just because of the way he looks! Just because he's . . . different! Maybe it takes a guy like me to really understand!*

Through the course of the story, that's it -- no heavy-handed speeches about the injustice of racism or anything like that, just the quiet implication of prejudice. For once Lee is content to allow his readers to pick up on his thematic clues without utilizing a neon sign to indicate Significance. Whether by conscious choice or simply a nod to expedience, the relative subtlety works. It's not as if anyone reading this story is likely to forget the historical circumstances surrounding the late 60s. Towards the end of the story when Harper is attacked by a mob of frightened citizens, (after having foolishly announced to all and sundry that he was looking for a space bomb), it's hard not to grasp the potent imagery of a black man being mobbed by a group of angry white males.

Of course, Harper himself dies deactivating the Stranger's bomb, and is buried in an unmarked pauper's grave. Only the Surfer is there to bear witness to his heroism -- not only has Harper given himself to save the lives of all those who had persecuted him (once again, the very Jewish Lee's odd fondness for Christian allegory rears its head), but in so doing the Surfer has been deprived of one of the few friends he had met on Earth up to that point, as well as further help in freeing himself from Galactus' prison. The Surfer sets an eternal flame to burn vigilantly over Harper's grave as a memorial.

The issue also features another strong sequence featuring a lengthy digression as the Surfer learns about money. Assigned to earn money to enable Harper's research into the Surfer's dilemma, he first attempts to find employment, but his strange looks and lack of employment history earn him little but contempt. In desperation he knocks over a bank -- a matter of the utmost ease for one who possesses the Power Cosmic -- and is bemused by the importance given to such meaningless paper currency:
Money! Most truly worthless of all Earth's bounty! And yet . . . what incalculable suffering . . . what immeasurable anguish has been endured for the lack of it!

Coming to his senses, the Surfer realizes the folly of his actions:
But, what has come over me? Am I so driven by despair that I would steal what is not mine? To escape the mad, unthinking humans . . . must I descend to their own lawless level?

Eventually the Surfer stumbles upon an illegal casino where he rigs the games to win the necessary money. After breakign the bank, the mob sends a group of toughs to rough him up, which has something less than the desired effect -- after casually zapping them, the Surfer gets up and flies away in disgust. The sequence is one of the series' strongest by virtue of Buscema's somewhat laconic urban landscape. The Surfer strolling down deserted city streets wrapped in a billowing trench coat is one of the series' most indelible images -- a perfect metaphoric encapsulation of the alienation and isolation the Surfer encounters wherever he goes.

The Silver Surfer is a difficult character to write. There's a delicate balance that needs to be drawn between the space opera adventure that the character most often finds himself associated with and the more thoughtful speculative fiction that has provided the backbone for his most memorable stories. The Surfer was a difficult enough character that even Lee, who has said time and again that he identified more strongly with the Surfer than any other Marvel character, was unable to properly continue with the series. After the initial burst of creativity that heralded the book's first year, the series slowly petered out, after which the Surfer was seen sparingly for many years. The Surfer remains an incredibly potent character, and has often been regarded as one of Marvel's most popular -- could still be one of Marvel's most popular, save for the fact that the quality of his solo stories has always been wildly inconsistent. I have little doubt that with the proper creative team the Surfer could easily be one of Marvel's most popular books: the character has an immediate appeal that has not been dimmed by years of mediocrity. But there's the rub: putting words in the Surfer's mouth is hard work. If even Stan Lee at the height of his powers could barely manage a years' worth of good stories, what hope does J. Michael Straczynski have?

While a new movie may raise his profile, the fact is that the character lives and dies on the imagination of his writers. That alone places him somewhat at odds with the majority of the spandex set. A symbol of the creative turmoil that marked the end of the Silver Age, the Surfer is in many ways as much of an enigma today as he was at his creation. His featureless design presents a blank slate for any creator to remake to his satisfaction: unfortunately, very few creators have proven themselves willing to rise to the challenge. Most of the great corporate characters possess a degree of malleability by virtue of their popularity, allowing them to change with tastes by allowing for multiple interpretations while rarely deviating from a central premise. The Surfer is unique because he is a corporate property that acts for all intents and purposes like a creator-owned character, inviting extremely individualistic interpretations that might, at first glance, seem starkly at odds with a commercial nature that would tend to steer towards the kind of conservative variations on a theme that have made dependable cash cows out of Spider-Man, Batman and the X-Men. That so few creators have successfully tapped into the character's true potential is regrettable, but probably not surprising.

*In preparing this essay I briefly toyed with the idea that Harper was also intended as a covertly gay character -- based on these statements as as the subtlety with which sexual identity was broached in mainstream media at the time. But after poring over the book again I could find little support for this thesis, other than the basic idea of a middle-aged bachelor living alone who befriends a strangely androgynous alien with glowing silver skin. Make of that what you will.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Nothing From Nothing Means Nothing

So the big news out of Nerd Prom is that there was no big news, apparently. I didn't post anything during the con because I figured any interesting blog posts would be drowned out in con babble, but apparently I need not have worried. IDW sort-of slipped out that they were going to start reprinting Dick Tracy in a similar format to the recent Complete Peanuts and Dennis the Menace series, but no information on any other aspect of the project was released. DC confirmed that Adam Hughes is going to be writing and drawing an All-Star Wonder Woman book, something which the rest of the world sussed out a long time ago. I like this because I am something of a sucker for Hughes' work: cheesecake or no, the man can draw like a house on fire, probably one of the best two or three draftsmen working in the industry. And for all the attention his pretty ladies get, it has always seemed to me that he takes equal care in illustrating the heroic proportions of the male figure - more people are lining up to pay him to draw scantily-clad super babes than super hunks, is all.

But yeah, a whole lot of nothing, unless you count the seemingly endless reports of how big, hot, crowded, suffocating, exhausting and just generally demoralizing the show was. The con is pretty much centrally located in the nerd culture as of this moment but you're already seeing major comic book companies like DC and especially Marvel backing away from making large announcements at the con, for the legitimate reason that news about Joe Schmoe getting to write Bat-X kinda pales as a "news announcement" when you're competing for attention with panels filled with Hollywood mega celebrities talking about international blockbuster filmmaking. How long before the incessant negative publicity takes a toll on the con's appeal? Seriously, it seems like the only thing you ever hear about from the people actually involved in the industry is how much of a damn hassle it is. I can easily see a situation where the major comic companies seriously scale back their involvement with the show, leaving it primary a conduit for Hollywood and other extraneous nerd institutions while parceling the comics content to other, smaller, and more specifically targeted shows, such as the regional Wizard cons, SPX, APE, Heroes' Con, Wonder Con, et al.

But then again, having never been to the show, I might be full of shit. If all goes well with my life I'll never have a reason to go - if you ever see me at San Diego you can surmise that something has gone seriously wrong and I am quietly praying for death.

The story of the moment, however, appears to be a disappearance right here in our own neck of the woods. Specifically, Mr. Milo George, proprietor of The Unofficial John Westmoreland Memorial Tribute Webring, appears to have fallen off the face of the planet, to judge by the fact that the last dated post in the epic Last Road Home cycle is dated June 27. Have the forces of Endemic Treponematosis finally silenced this brave warrior? Or did he fulfil his life-long dream by landing a job writing an upcoming Darkhawk revival for Marvel, in which case he would currently be squirreled away in a seedy motel somewhere in south Jersey popping trucker speed and reading early 90s Marvel by the boatload? Perhaps the world will never know.

Yes, I am planning on finishing up that last Silver Surfer post. I've been carrying around the first Silver Surfer Masterworks volume in my bag for weeks now, awaiting the time and inspiration. It's coming, but like a turgid bowel movement after a long cross-country flight, some things just can't be rushed.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Word Up To All My Homies

Courtesy of and Jeff Stephens

First, I'd like to give a big shout out to all my peeps who helped with the whole amphibian superhero thing. I don't know why I forgot Gorkko the Man-Frog or the Menacing Manphibian, but now that I have remembered them they shall once again live in my memory for another couple days before I forget them again.

And crocodiles are not amphibians.

A while back I put out an open call for questions that I would answer in this blog. Well, I held out as long as I could but - come on, people. Three questions? That's it? Sterling got, like, three dozen and a few assorted marriage proposals. I get three. Come on, am I that uninteresting?

Anyway, here are the answers for those brave souls who cared:

Any thoughts on the rumored appearance of the Silver Surfer (and Galactus, natch) in the next Fantastic Four flick?

Seeing as how I haven't even got around to seeing the first Fantastic Four movie (or more precisely, the most recent one not made by Roger Corman) in it's entirety, I can honestly say I could not care less. I love the Fantastic Four but I know full well the movie would invariably disappoint if I cared enough to bother. I imagine it would be just like the sensation of seeing someone you know fairly intimately acting out of character in such a manner as to become a total stranger - kind of weird and unpleasant. It's sort of an analog to that old axiom about the "uncanny valley" - only instead of a robot possessing near-human features and becoming repugnant to humans, it's a replica of a known fictional character possessing similar attributes to the original but being just off enough that it seems somehow totally wrong. Hence the Ralph Bakshi Fritz the Cat, the American Dr. Who, the August Derlieth Cthulhu stories. I believe Pulp put it best in their classic "Bad Cover Version":
The word's on the street: you've found someone new.
If he looks nothing like me I'm so happy for you.
I heard an old girlfriend has turned to the church -
she's trying to replace me, but it'll never work.
'Cos every touch reminds you of just how sweet it could have been
And every time he kisses you it leaves behind the bitter taste of saccharine.
A bad cover version of love is not the real thing.
Bikini-clad girl on the front who invited you in.
Such great disappointment when you got him home -
the original was so good; the one you no longer own.
And every touch reminds you of just how sweet it could have been
And every time he kisses you, you get the taste of saccharine.
It's not easy to forget me, it's so hard to disconnect
When it's electronically reprocessed to give a more life-like effect.

Aah, sing your song about all the sad imitations that got it so wrong
It's like a later "Tom & Jerry" when the two of them could talk
Like the Stones since the Eighties, like the last days of Southfork.
Like "Planet of the Apes" on TV, the second side of "'Til the Band Comes in"
Like an own-brand box of cornflakes: he's going to let you down my friend.

And for the record, I believe the only way to do a Silver Surfer movie "right" would be to give the property to Pixar and have them make a straight drama out of it - something they sort of did with Incredibles but obviously without the sitcom hijinks. Imagine the first five minutes of the movie devoted to the coming of Galactus to some ill-fated world, a la the opening sequence of Transformers The Movie, and I think you would see that this is not something that could easily be done on a live-action scale without spending a lot of money. But alas, we'll get some sort of hip young Silver Surfer vehicle that will probably feature the Surfer as played by Larry the Cable Guy and the musical stylings of 50 Cent featuring Nate Dogg
performing "Surf's Up, Bitch" at a cosmic clambake.

You may get tot his anyway, but I'd love to see your thoughts on the Steve Englehart and George Perez versions of the Silver Surfer, as well as the later revelation that Zenn-la was just a dream.
Martin Wisse

I remember loving the Englehart run, although I haven't read it in many years (as the bulk of my comics are three thousand miles away). Why has Marvel never produced a second Essential Silver Surfer volume? The Perez run started out great, and I was really into it because it promised to be significantly different from what had come before - not just more of the same old Galactus / Mephisto / Thanos Punch & Judy show. Unfortunately I recall the art becoming rather dire about halfway through the storyline, which derailed a lot of the momentum. And then they switched creative teams and brought on Ron Garney, who drew a totally bitchin' Surfer. But the stories from that era were somewhat less than memorable, to judge by the fact that although I bought and read them at the time I have no real memory of what actually happened, including that whole Zenn-La as a dream thing. I went onto Wikipedia and refreshed my memory and I guess I sort of remember that, but I must admit that the whole Zenn-La thing just seems like a bad idea. Way too elaborate a retcon for such a pitiful payoff. I imagine the next Surfer relaunch will probably ignore that story entirely.

Do you have any thoughts on Stan Lee's bitchin' Silver Surfer movie script?
Tom Spurgeon

It's Smilin' Stan in the Swingin' Seventies - what more needs be said?

And because you've all been good, here's a pair of New Pornographers music videos for your viewing enjoyment.

Thursday, July 13, 2006


Recent events (don't ask) have caused me to wonder at just why there are so few amphibian-themed superheroes. I mean, there's a supercharacter for probably every insect you can mention, most mammals, a large amount of birds, a couple marsupials and even many extinct species (mad props to my homey Stegron the Dinosaur Man). But as far as amphibians go, you've got the Terrible Toad and Frog Man -- and I think that may be it. Am I missing anyone?

Maybe I just smoke too much crack, but could it be that the time is ripe for an All New, All Different Frog-Man? Maybe all grim 'n' gritty so he can join the New Avengers? Or at least make a cameo appearance in NextWave or something?

(On a totally unrelated note, how could the people behind the next Spider-Man film have screwed up the black costume so badly? It's one of those ideas that is so ismple it is almost Platonic: solid black with a white spider emblem. On film, with computers, they could make it look even cooler, creating a solid black figure that absorbed all light and moved like a shadow, in a way they could never really do with static images. Instead, we've got the same Spider-costume with, um, silver piping and stuff. I long ago stopped caring about these things in any but the most disassociated manner, but seriously, if they can't communicate the inherent coolness of one of the coolest visual motifs in Spider-Man's long history, is it any wonder why they have so far failed to produce a Spider-Man movie that does not put me to sleep?)

(Also, if you were wondering why I didn't say anything about the Superman movie, there are two reasons: firstly, I spent way too much time chasing rabbits involved with the X-Men 3 experience, and I really don't want people to get the idea that I spend a lot of time thinking about these things when, really, I don't - they're just easy to talk about when you need a need a blog post at three in the morning. Secondly, it was a horribly boring piece of shit, and as someone who paid money to sit through The Lake House that is not a judgment I make lightly. Sorry.)

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

At The Movies

So the thought occurs to me that Snakes On A Plane mania will continue only until the film actually opens, at which point people will realize that regardless of Samuel L. Jackson's unquestioned charisma the film is still essentially something you'd expect to find on the Sci-Fi channel at two in the morning starring Mario van Peebles and Patrick Duffy. I mean, sure, the hipster cache is pretty strong at this point, but how many of the people championing the movie are actually going to like it when it comes out? I mean, seriously? Let's be honest here. The movie started life as a straight-forward action movie screenplay, so any self-aware irony will only have been added after the fact (i.e. the addition of Jackson's "motherfucking snakes off this motherfucking plane" line), so I am extremely doubtful that it will be the ironic yuk-fest the hipsteratti is expecting. Just a hunch.

For reasons which are still slightly mysterious even to me, I saw The Lake House in the theater last week. Sure enough, it was just as good as I was hoping: that is, not in the least. It was a horrible, horrible movie and it was good for little more than laughing uproariously throughout. The other patrons, most of whom seemed to be authentically interested in the action onscreen, thankfully did not sic an usher on us.

You have to wonder why someone like Christopher Plummer would do a movie like this. Sandra Bullock I can understand: she's been on a slow slide from the A-list for many years now. Keanu? Well, he's one of the biggest actors on the planet and he really doesn't have to do anything he doesn't want to, so you have to figure he lost a bar bet or something. Although he gets a lot of flack I think he's a pretty canny performer (when he's got good material), one of those rare actors who knows how to cede attention to the actors around him, which is one of the reasons he is at his best in ensemble films such as My Own Private Idaho. Sometimes he underplays a role to the point of absurdity, but he's a lot smarter than many give him credit for. Plus, he was in Johnny Mnemonic, so he is forever enshrined in the pantheon of cinema gods.

In any event, however, The Lake House was a great example of a weird phenomenon that you come across every so often and which never fails to bug me: a science-fiction / speculative fiction plot being handled by people who obviously have absolutely no familiarity with the genre. The concept of the movie -- a mailbox which sends letters two years into either the past or the future, depending on when you are -- is actually pretty decent. But the idea, such as it is, is stuck in a bad romantic movie, and the screenwriters have obviously given very little thought as to how such a device would actually work. This is extremely obvious in the fact that I was seriously confused at many points during the film about just what was happening, and when. I try to assume that I am not especially dim, but if I had trouble following the film, what about Mr. & Mrs. John Q. Public? Then again, I thought "Rock of Ages" was perfectly straightforward, and I was the only person in my college class who didn't have a problem with the narrative line in Eliot's "The Wasteland", so what do I know?

Time travel is tricky business, and even a moron knows that if you change the past you change the present as well. So if Sandra Bullock changes the past to ensure that Keanu Reeve's doesn't get hit by a bus, how is it that she still remembers he almost got hit by a bus? How is this paradox resolved? In later seasons of the various Star Trek spin-offs, I remember they established that every time someone messed with time, the time police from the 29th century had to show up to fix it. It was perhaps not the most elegant solution, but it at least kept people from scratching their heads overly much. At the end of The Lake House I was rooting for the time police to commit some serious brutality on Sandra Bullock, or at the very least for the Time Bandits to fall through the ceiling clutching their map of the universe. That, at least, would have made some sense.

But as it is I can't really be disappointed because I got exactly what I paid for: a horrible, horrible movie that was perfectly good fun for the duration of its running time. If it had actually been any good, then I would have been really upset.

The film did have one great line, however:

"What, did you have clowns for breakfast?"

Don't worry, it doesn't make any more sense in the context of the movie. Great line, however. It should be the next viral internet catchphrase. Go forth and make it so, my minions.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Youth Culture Killed My Dog

OK, no answers on the subject of my comments dilemma have been forthcoming. This is slightly disconcerting because comments which have been posted have apparently not been posting properly. No one else has had this problem? Anyone? I am hesitant to put up any substantial posts until the matter is cleared. Perhaps it was an isolated incident?

Perhaps the Dixie Chicks should change their name to Monkey-Faced Girl and Her Retinue.

It had to happen if I lived long enough - youth culture has finally surpassed my ability to comprehend. I have a long-standing fondness for weird music of all varieties, but I have met my match in the form of the Animal Collective.

if my family had a crest with heraldry and such, the motto would probable be "It's Not Weird Enough" (seriously, just ask my dad). But the evidence on display here leads me to believe that yes, it is finally weird enough. Thanks to the joys of YouTube I am including a fairly representative example (from what I have heard) of the group's music. I am not in any way endorsing or putting any kind of stamp of approval on this, it's probably not something to which you should subject yourself for long periods of time. But it is something you should probably be aware of, in the same way you need to know about the threat of juvenile delinquency:

Whatever happened to pounding on sheet metal and screaming in German or recording the sound of your laptop belching code? I mean, really, they're just listening to this because someone said it was cool, right? No one has the guts to say that it's just too weird to actually enjoy and they're just waiting for someone at Pitchfork to tell them it's OK to stop listening to it, right? Right?

When Youth Culture has finally made Aphex Twin seem shockingly conservative in comparison, then Youth Culture has gone too far.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Technical Difficulties

It has come to my attention that there may be a problem with the commenting system, quite possibly related to the recent template change. If you have experienced any technical snafus, please drop me a line so my crack technical team and I can get to the bottom of this mess.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

This Side of Paradise

There has been some controversy recently on the subject of remarks made by Joe Quesada during one of his recent Joe Friday Q&A sessions, specifically remarks aimed at explaining the lack of female creators drawing a Marvel paycheck or working at Marvel in an editorial capacity*. As is his wont, Quesada betrays a knack of almost George W. Bush-like proportions for turning seemingly innocuous questions -- the type of inquiries which any other corporate spokesperson in the history of the world would use as invitation to spout predictable and rabidly uncontroversial boilerplate on the subjects of diversity, tolerance and an equal-opportunity recruitment policy -- into minefields of (seemingly) unintentionally offensive rhetoric. He did it recently on the subject of gays in mainstream superhero books (as an example of the right hand not knowing what the left hand does, he apparently was unaware of a handful of prominent gay characters appearing in his own books at the time). In a comment that did not raise nearly as many hackles, he even managed to refer to divorce (in reference to the ongoing "problems" of a married Spider-Man) as an unthinkably harmful stigma** -- which struck me as more than a little incendiary, given my recent marital misadventures. Good job alienating your divorced readership, jackass.

I don't really believe, in any event, that Quesada is really an active bigot or a sexist. I believe he does hold a number of unfortunate and deeply held conservative biases, the kind of subconscious biases that are in no way unusual throughout all strata of society in this day and age. The worst problem is that most people firmly believe that these quiet prejudices do not contradict the ideas of tolerance and acceptance that we, as a society, pretend to hold dear. Most people, if you asked, would probably say something to the effect that they are not homophobic, and would consider themselves adequately tolerant for saying as much -- but would still balk at any consideration of homosexuality as it might impact their lives. This is often expressed in the traditional "I don't care what people do as long as they don't do it in front of me", a seemingly rational but quite insidious formulation that, regardless of the pretense of tolerance, manages to negatively objectify the persons in question for being different. If it really didn't matter it wouldn't make any difference whether a public display of affection were heterosexual or homosexual, since a kiss is a kiss -- but it does, so people retain the right to be indignant about what those damn homos are doing in front of the children! Won't somebody please think of the children? Why, I hear they even have movies where consenting adults have homosexual romances! Horror of horrors -- don't they have ghettos for that type of thing?

So, yes, Quesada's remarks are pretty inexcusable, and if I were a corporate officer I'd be pretty aghast that such a prominent figure in the company's hierarchy had somehow missed the mandatory course in unoffending corporate double-speak that manages to render any and all official pronouncement unspeakably dull, and therefore uninteresting. But the recent controversy over his comments in regard to women at Marvel open up another possibility, one which Quesada most certainly did not intend to infer, one I haven't seen touched upon, and which might not even be true, but is worth mentioning as a hypothetical possibility.

Quite simply, if there aren't many women working on the creative side in mainstream superhero comics, wouldn't the necessary question to ask be whether or not women creators actually wanted to work in superhero books? Sure, you've got a few -- a handful -- in prominent positions. And it cannot be ignored that sexism, of both the overt and insidiously subtle kinds, is alive and well in the comics industry. But -- there's another force at work here. The people who work in comics tend to be extremely vocal and enthusiastic about their aspirations. People who want to draw Spider-Man, if they have sufficient skill and tenacity, usually keep at it until they get to draw Spider-Man. There are many ways into the industry: working your way up from self-published, independent or foreign comics, moving laterally from another related field such as screenwriting or prose fiction, getting a position in a business or editorial department and making a slow transition to writing, or even getting picked in a portfolio review at a convention. People who really, really want to draw Spider-Man can usually make those dreams come true -- and as a result, the people in comics, with a few notable exceptions, are extremely passionate about what they do.

So, given that, is it possible that the female creators who would theoretically be represented at Marvel and DC just . . . don't really want to do so? I know there is a vocal (if still minority) percentage of female comics fans who have no qualms about voicing their love for superheroes and other mainstream genres. But are there many who really want to take the step from being fans to active participants in the creation of the stories? Before you answer "why yes, every comics fan across the universe would love to write Spider-Man", bear with me for another point.

Of the fans who read superhero comics, of either gender, only a relatively small proportion will ever actually have a strong enough desire to work in comics to make it a reality. It's the truth: getting a job in comics, as with any creative field, is pretty damn difficult. Even people who say they want it might not really want it enough to stick it out long enough to truly get the shit kicked out of them for years on end while waiting for a big break. Maybe, and this might indeed be a more controversial and possibly inaccurate idea, the amount of women who work in superhero comics now might actually be roughly proportionate to the amount of women who actually read and enjoy superhero comics, in comparison to the total audience?

Of course, that's not exactly something you can disprove or prove -- without extensive statistical evidence, I'd put the amount of men who read superhero comics at "a lot" and the amount of women who did so at "a few" -- a significant few, a vocal minority, but still a minority. Whether or not this is in any way an accurate observation is up to you to decide.

More importantly, however, is the fact that there is currently no shortage of female comic creators. Only, they're not working for Marvel or DC, they're producing OEL for Tokyopop, or original graphic novels Oni or Image, or drawing their own strips on the web. Again, there's no statistical data at my fingerprints, but there seem to be significantly more women working in non-mainstream superhero comics than there are in mainstream superhero comics. Could it be that potential comic creators, looking at the mainstream superhero world as the equivalent of a "No Gurlz Allowed" clubhouse, simply found a more copacetic outlet for their cartooning skills? Whether or not any of these women who are currently coming up through the ranks of indie / OEL creators will make the leap to working in Marvel or DC a la Bendis remains to be seen, and could be quite telling. Maybe getting to put words in Spider-Man's mouth just isn't that big a deal anymore -- in any event, not a big enough deal that the people who only kind of want it would feel compelled to fight the people who really, really want it for the honor?

*NRAMA: Noticeably absent (and for some time) is a female creator in that group. Big picture wise, why hasn't a women creator made it into the tight circle of Marvel creators?

JQ: Because currently there aren’t any female writers working on any of our major titles. That said there are female editors at the summit.

**JQ: In all frankness, it’s been really nice to see. So, divorcing them to me sends out completely the wrong message. Imagine you’re a mom and you’re buying little Bobby or little Betty Spidey Adventures or maybe Spidey Loves MJ and you’re watching the news one day and the broadcaster looks right at you and says, “Spider-Man is getting divorced, more on that after these messages.” Let’s just say that as a parent, I’d be upset by the sound bite, I could only imagine how the rest of the world would feel. And, once again, divorcing Peter would only serve to make him feel older.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

As I Lay Dying

Never let it be said that we here at The Hurting are above stealing good ideas when the notion strikes us. A week or so ago Mike over at Progressive Ruin posted a general request for readers to post questions in his comment section, which he then proceeded to answer in a series of subsequent posts. So since I'm a shameless copycat, I thought I'd do the same here - so, put your questions in the comments and we'll get started.

The reason for a "placeholder" post like this is basically because I have one more Silver Surfer-related post to write sometime in the near future but do not feel like writing it tonight. However, a few people in the comments have inquired as to whether or not the Silver Surfer stories I've been discussing, or more specifically the Essential Silver-Surfer in which they can be found, is still in print. The answer to this question is yes, and to show you how sorry I am for not presenting it earlier, I'm going to make it up to you by giving you the chance to give me money:

But I know what you're thinking: if these stories are so good, why settle for a cheap black & white reprint? Isn't there some sort of, I don't know, expensive hardcover reprint of all these great stories, the kind of book that would make a great conversation starter or an excellent focal point for your next Thanksgiving centerpiece? Well, you're in luck, because there just happens to be such a book - and it provides you, the reader, with yet another opportunity to give me your hard earned money:

Giving me money is the great American pasttime, and you should all spend more time doing it. On this wonderful Fourth of July, let us remember those things which make America the greatest country in the world: imperialism, torture, and shameless self-promotion. Who says this ain't the Marvel age of giving Tim money?