Podcast of 7-1-11

I admit, I'm only about 30 minutes into the podcast, but the love-fest with Judd Winick is getting real old real fast. I get that you have to be nice to guests if you want them to come back, but you also have to do more than ask them questions that are in their wheelhouse or questions to which they can coyly say, "Wait and see!" Whatever is going on at that point is not an interview, it's marketing. Marketing being done by people who call themselves journalists.  
Also, Tony is constantly telling people to wait until September before voicing their opinions about the DCU post-Flashpoint. "You've got to wait, just wait." You know, screw that! I think comic book readers as a whole are manipulated by comic book writers and publishers to such an extent that they have a right to express opinions about what's going on Whenever. They. Damn. Well. Please. Their opinions don't have to be taken seriously, but they don't need Tony Guerrero telling them to shut up. that just makes Tony sound like he's carrying water for any comic he kind of likes. 
And as for Judd Winick, I really don't give a damn how hard everybody at DC is working. Just because you're killing yourselves doesn't mean you're producing something that isn't crap. You're totally biased and your opinion about the books is virtually worthless. And telling people to hold on to their opinions is condescending, which is ironic since he waxed so rhapsodic about how smart the readers are.  
And now for the disclaimers. I think Flashpoint is pretty cool so far. I'm interested to see where it goes. I've also never been that big a fan of the almighty continuity. Hopefully, DC can start telling stories without all the baggage. Finally, I KNOW I can just stop listening if I don't like the podcast. And you can stop reading if me criticizing Tony, et. al is so troubling to you.


finger in my eye

I knew it. I knew it was coming. The second I congratulated the podcast on the great guest James Robinson, I knew this day would come.  The last podcast, in addition to having the worst sound in the world, included a couple of political cheapshots. Babs, G-man, Norm, and James were discussing the percentage of older people who are regular comic readers and out of the blue James busts on Republicans. And Babs kind of piled on, but only a little.  
Man, 25% of comic book readers are over 65? What percentage overall do you think are conservative? Might not be 50/50, but I bet conservatives read Batman and Superman, too. And some of them have found Comic Vine and listen to the podcast. I can't be the only one. 
I'm not blogging to get into a flame war over liberal vs. conservative. That's never going to get resolved, and I hope it doesn't, because two parties slugging it out are better than one saying how it's going to be. I'm just disappointed, that's all. I totally understand; the arts attract a lot of people who aren't down with the Red States' ethos, and the podcast is made in San Francisco, with hosts from NYC and Chicago.  It's just that I have to deal with it from movies and TV, and I didn't think I'd have to deal with it from my favorite podcast. It makes me a little sad and it took some of the fun out of a podcast I'd really been looking forward to.
And before you fall all over yourselves to tell me I'm being oversensitive, I still think James is a great writer, I still think the podcast is terrific, and I still respect everyone's opinions. About comics.


Wonder Woman's perspective

I've read a few of Salman Rushdie's novels and some of his non-fiction. He is a truly great writer and the reason is this: he "gets" things. I was reading "The Ground Beneath Her Feet" as I was writing some fiction of my own. Halfway through the book, I set it down, knowing if I read any further, I'd never have the nerve to finish my own thing, because I could never approach what he was doing. Rushdie is a man born in India, educated by a British system, and he "gets" America better than most Americans I know. He is, on paper, a total outsider, but he has this perspective no American has. By looking in at us, he sees more of who we truly are. And, as a great writer, he reports that to us, shocking us with insights that are obvious to him but invisible to us. 
That said, Wonder Woman should be written to have that level of perspective. It is logical to think she would observe Americans and humanity with as sharp an eye as Salman Rushdie, not be utterly confused by us, which seems to be the standard way she's written. That seems to me to be a very Marvel way to write an intrinsically DC character. Wonder Woman is one of the strongest heroes on Earth; why is she never characterized as one of the most intelligent? She should be Holmesian in her perception. She should be finishing the Batman's sentences. But it seems that the currently accepted view of Wonder Woman, and a lot of female characters, is to erase the subtleties and intuitions that make them more feminine and turn them into badasses with hourglass figures, who kick ass and take names, and who when they aren't doing that, are standing around looking confused while a man uses deductive reasoning (or while Barbara Gordon taps at her machine).  
Enough. Creators should allow women to appear as ridiculously intelligent as their male counterparts, and as badasses, too. I would think that would be a writing challenge for them, to present female characters more as strong, smart, in-control people, rather than confused people with superpowers who can't manage their lives. 
So I guess my vote is for Salman Rushdie to immediately start writing Wonder Woman.


Superman for all Seasons

I don't care what anyone says, Jeph Loeb can tell a story and Tim Sale can draw a picture. I've had my eye on this book for a while, glancing at it at Barnes & Noble. Yesterday, though, after having The Long Halloween, Dark Victory, and Challengers of the Unknown (meh, by the way) in my possession for a while, seeing it was a Loeb/Sale joint sold me.  
And what a book. Sale's art makes his characters, obviously comic characters, seem more real with wrinkled clothes, seamed old faces, cluttered rooms filled with the detritus of a lifetime. And yet he is no stranger to straight lines or clean panels that portray the Metropolis skyline or a meadow outside of Smallville. As for Loeb, even though all these characters are so familiar to me, his spare writing uncovers more of their personality. We see Luthor as ruthless, but also because he feels a love for Metropolis. We see the Kents as stoic, simple farmers, but they are both wise, and they love their boy, Clark. We see Lois, keenly observing everything but of course missing the one thing that should be obvious to her. And finally we see Lana Lang as a noble, grown-up human being who has a great effect on the story. And her narration in part 4 is heart-breaking. She reminds me a lot of Jenny from Forrest Gump. 
I went through the book in about an hour. I'll go through it again. Then I'll read the Long Halloween and Dark Victory again. Strange, I may be turning into a Superman fan. After loving the Dark Knight for so long, this is a bit of a surprise to me.


Superman's walk

I picked up Superman 700,701, and 702. I liked the handoff from Robinson to JMS in 700, and the impetus for him to start walking rang true to me. Those stories are filled with genuine emotion and they are very mature. I like JMS as a writer. When he was doing Babylon 5, everyone was so distracted by spaceships and aliens, they missed the fact that he was creating a group of very layered characters. He also knew when to slow down and tell a story thoroughly. I think that's what he's doing with Superman. 
I've listened to the podcast and I can understand the criticism from Babs and G-man. The trouble is, when you say, "Superman wouldn't do that!" you are limiting the character. When you say, "Superman has to spend time with Lois before doing something like this," you are bringing him down to being just a man. He is not just a man. And God bless the writers, they actually write Lois like a grown-up, in a special situation. She's in love with Superman. If there's one person she can be sure of, who she can see when she wants, it's him. People need to relax, loosen their grip on their preconceived notions of who Superman is and how he fits into Almighty Continuity and ALLOW THE STORY TO BE TOLD. For once! Trust. Have faith. Recognize this is a story and enjoy it.


The James Robinson podcasts

My God, there's only four of them and they are straight-up podcast gold. First of all, I love James Robinson's voice. Before I saw a photo, I pictured him as an Englishman with some living behind him, with a lived-in, jolly face. What a surprise to see a clean-cut, slender man. Second, I love James Robinson's knowledge and attitude. He's an encyclopedia, first of all, tossing out factoids to the extent that G-man can barely stay with him. As for his attitude, it's nice to hear someone acknowledge the superior importance of telling a good story, as opposed to merely worshipping at the altar of almighty Continuity. Do we want our comic book heroes to be like soap opera stars? Is that why we read them? Or do we want to be inspired by heroes. I know where Robinson is on that question. 
As for the podcasts themselves, they talk about the real issues and the main characters. Listen to the anguish in Babs' voice when Robinson says he can't think of any really great Wonder Woman stories. She protests and then relents, sounding even sadder. Babs' dilemma over Wonder Woman breaks my heart because it breaks hers, and it makes me want to pick up the title. But Robinson doesn't say what he does to hurt her. He just expresses his opinion, and the conversations that follow are exactly why I listen to the podcast. I love his wistfulness over ending his Superman run and his hopes for the JLA, and his promises of great things. 
And he covers some ground with Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, Dick Grayson, too, all parts of great comic book conversations where he brings out the best in Tony and Sara. I listen to them over and over, for the voice and the subject matter. They should have Robinson at least monthly. Awesome guest. Simply awesome.


A long time coming

I read a comic book today that I've been waiting to read for 30 years. It was Men of War #11. 30 years ago, I was spending allowance money on DC war comics, like Sgt. Rock and G.I. Combat. I also managed to pick up a couple copies of Men of War. The book came out in '78 and lasted 26 issues until it ended. Anyway, I read the stories in these books. The feature was called Code Name: Gravedigger, about a black soldier who fights prejudice to become a commando in WW2. The other story was called Dateline: Frontline, about a war correspondent in 1940. The two issues I had, #9 and #10, described a story arc in North Africa. I never learned what happened to the character. Until today. 
I decided last week to try to find the entire set of Men of War. 26 issues, so it's not a daunting task, and let's say they're not exactly Action #1 or Detective #27, so it won't cost me an arm and a leg. Based on what I've spent, it'll be cheaper than buying 26 new comics. Still, I'm not sure all 26 have found their way to comics shops I frequent. So, a challenge. Today, I tracked down six or seven issues and can lay my hands on half a dozen more when payday arrives. The first book I read was MOW #11. It was weird, reading the Dateline: Frontline story. Looking at the interesting Jerry Grandenetti art. Knowing Bob Kanigher's been dead for 15 years. But I came to the end, and the story made sense, more sense than it made to the 10 year old who started the story.  
I'm glad I found Comic Vine. It's a good podcast, and it's brought me back to comics. But not to the stories being told today. I don't think I can buy today's comics. They're not about heroes anymore. Just violence and desperation. I prefer to look for more pieces of nostalgia, to link up with my past, like I did today.


Re-casting the Joker

I know it's a cliche, but Heath Ledger's Joker just astonished me. You can almost understand how Ledger got hooked on prescription drugs and OD'd by watching the portrayal. What a journey into the heart of darkness to come up with just a perfect portrayal of not just Batman's foil, but his mirror image, the negative to Batman's positive. It remains a real treat to watch the performance again and again and pick out the nuances that make it great. 
That said, is The Joker off limits in future Batman movies? I'd hate to think such a useful asset for defining the Dark Knight has to remain on the shelf merely because the actor who created him for this generation is gone. I'm not very well-versed on younger male actors, since Hollywood has been turning out such crap. Maybe there are actors out there good enough to take up Ledger's mantel. It would be a stretch, but I bet Simon Baker (The Mentalist) could get dark enough to re-create the Joker. If not him, maybe Rufus Sewell from canceled CBS drama The Eleventh Hour. 
Any ideas? Or is another turn for the Joker in movies out of the question?


Batman has strayed

  When the original Batman movie came out, I got very involved in collecting the available Batman titles: Batman, Detective, Legends of the Dark Knight, and whatever trades I could lay my hands on, which were Dark Knight Returns, Year One, A Death in the Family, etc. It was pre-interwebs, so all my knowledge about continuity I got from a compendium I got in the 70's, with Batman stories from four decades. The 40's were gritty, the 50's were clownish, the late 60's and early 70's were drifting back toward the original vibe, getting people ready for the Frank Miller Renaissance, which was amplified by the movie.
That heavy collecting phase lasted maybe 7 years and I quit collecting. Now I'm back, partly because of the podcast, and I'm kind of feeling like Batman is suffering from a combination of X-Men soap opera affliction and a resurgence of 50's craziness. All the Robins, all the Batgirls, Nightwing, getting killed, going back in time, blah, blah, blah.
I think Batman has lost his roots. Too many writers are trying to make their mark by telling sensational stories about Batman, but the basics are the things that attracted us in the first place. A man dresses up, goes out at night, patrols his city and beats the hell out of criminals. He has gadgets and tech, but it really comes down to putting his knuckles on people. I have dozens of 80's and 90's Batman comics where the story has exactly that backdrop. Batman warns kids away from drugs or gangs, Batman sets a person back on the straight and narrow, Batman delivers justice when the system can't, all in the context of being out at night beating the hell out of criminals.
G-Man once asked you if Batman could rid Gotham of crime, and you rightfully said of course not, and added that crime is worse because he's there. Maybe, maybe not, but it's valid. But the point is that Bruce Wayne, despite his parents' murder, had every advantage in life. He could have done anything he wanted, but he chose not to get over their deaths. He chose a life devoted to vengeance. All his work at WayneTech is designed to facilitate the Batman. He chose all this and his life is what it is, and that is the drama we want to read about. Would we do that? Could we throw our future away on a fruitless quest to fight crime, knowing from the outset we'd never succeed and probably along the way lose all faith in humanity. Bruce Wayne is our proxy for a question we hope we'll never have to answer.
And then there's the Joker, another proxy for the side of us that wants to embrace chaos. The duality of the Batman and the Joker keeps the series going and adds punch to graphic novels that are focused elsewhere.
Notice I have not mentioned Robin, Batgirl, any of the DC Crises or crossovers, the Justice League, or going back in time. Batman doesn't need any of those bells and whistles to be compelling. I think the stories should get smaller. Batman should get back to Gotham and start beating up criminals again. There are stories and spaces to explore in those dark corners where he belongs.    



With my wife out of town, I decided to drag in one of my bags of comics from the garage. First impressions? Why did i ever buy Starman #34? Did I flip through it and see Batman was such a good guest star he took over the book? I don't know; I was 21 at the time and the Twins were on their way to a second World Series title. 
After that, wow, I was really into Spider-Man for a while. Not so much now, but back then I was picking up every title. Who knows, maybe I was speculating. Nice timing, right? Investing in comics in the early 90's. 
Then there's all the Batman. Detective and Batman. My Legends of the Dark Knight are around here somewhere, too. I was always crazy about Jim Aparo's Batman and his ridiculously thin and crazy-looking Joker. Meh. And Norm Breyfogle seems a bit more cartoonish these days, too. 
A few old Charlton War comics. A long-forgotten title here and there, like Sleepwalker. DC had finished Crisis (the first) and was going crossover-crazy with Millenium and Armageddon 2001. 
I feel like I just saved some money. There's bound to be some wheat among all this chaff. I'll let you know.

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