Category Archives: Politics

Doraville, Georgia SWAT Think They’re the Punisher

I was watching Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, and while he was discussing the militarization of police he showed a controversial training video for the Doraville, Georgia SWAT team. Oliver highlighted the video used heavy metal music, and started off with the Punisher logo…. what!?

Well I did some digging, and found out, according to this CBS 46 Atlanta news report, the video was modified adding heavy metal music and the logo by an individual…. which the Doraville police then posted on their Facebook page.

Tip for the police, when looking for comic characters to emulate, the Punisher is not one of them, and linking to videos like this isn’t the best of ideas. There’s that whole vigilante killing thing you’re supposed to be opposed to.

Check out the full video below.

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They Speak English in What?

storm“What country you from?”  “”What?”  “What ain’t no country I ever heard of. They speak English in what?” Samuel L. Jackson’s memorable phrase from Pulp Fiction is humorous but also highlights an interesting aspect of pop culture when it comes to our own perception of other places in the world, including through the medium of comics.

In the ongoing wake of All-New Marvel NOW! the first issue of Storm was recently released (the second issue is in stores this week), the first for the heroine in her own self-titled series. After surviving a brief encounter with a tidal wave, Storm finds herself in the small country of Santo Marco. Santo Marco has some history with the X-Men and by extension Storm, having been the small country which the Brotherhood of Mutants once overran and ruled before being driven out. Storm arrives to find herself welcomed by the locals, some of whom seem to worship her. Soon the army show up and engages in some subtle sabre-rattling against the heroine informing her that she cannot use her mutant name, as mutant names are not allowed, and then informs her that mutants aren’t Storm_1_Preview_2allowed either. This leads to her departure and inevitable return to stand up to the army brutes.

It is an interesting episode and one which digs a little deeper than most comics do for context. Instead of some supervillain having a plan to destroy a city (or the world) the threat here is not something which can be easily overcome. There is no power punch or melding into shadows which will help the island of Santo Marco, instead it requires a long-term approach, and to its credit that is part of what Storm returns to do. Before the army intervenes she is seen helping to clear the beach of the village from debris.

An interesting question though is where is Santo Marco? The medium of comics has a tendency to make up places as a necessity to replicate modern conflicts, but is there any benefit in that? Based on its name and the representation of its setting, Santo Marco would appear to be either in the Caribbean or in South America somewhere, but its name is generic enough, as is its setting, that it could really be anywhere in the region (or even potentially further away.)  DC Comics does a similar thing with some of its own countries – in the 1980s Kahndaq became a substitute for Iraq and later the home of Bane became an equally obscure and non-existent country known as Santa Prisca.

In current events right now, the world is seeing a fairly tumultuous period, with tensions running high in Gaza, Iraq and Ukraine, while in North America, usually considered benign by world standards, the race riots in Ferguson are igniting an underlying dialogue which is rarely spoken about the state of racial relations in the United States. Ferguson is an especially interesting case though, as many have heard of Ukraine, Iraq and Gaza, but how before last week had ever heard of Ferguson? Other than residents of Saint Louis, the name probably meant nothing and might have been mistaken for a number of other things than an actual place.

Comics is perhaps more than most mediums one of absolute escapism. There is very little basis for superheroes exhibiting super abilities as it relates to the modern world in most senses. Is the realm of escapism so entrenched though that it is unable to tackle current events in their actual setting? In a historical perspective of the medium, the answer would be no. One need not look farther than the first appearance of Captain America to see that heroes could and did attack real world problems (even if at the time that this was being used partially as a propaganda tool.)  There are two approaches to the problem of the non-places. The first is that they don’t exist and therefore they don’t actually represent real-world problems, and by extension that they are more easily disregarded as just more comic fluff. The evil dictators and army generals are just exaggerated versions of real life people, and the caricatures are so over-the-top as to be unbelievable. The second approach to this would be that the in being nowhere that these places could in fact be anywhere.  That Santo Marco could be Gaza or Crimea and that it forces people to think outside the box of what they perceive to be the ills of the world.

Of the two approaches, the end result probably comes down to the individual reader. Some readers look for pure escapism in comics and don’t want to face real world problems when trying to escape.  Others look for something deeper in their reading and look for more connections. Interestingly though, that both possibilities exist is an indication that the comic book companies are trying to play the middle ground, being neither too ignorant nor to divisive. Perhaps once again the bottom line determines the finished product, but I think in either case that it is time for the valuable medium to stop playing pretend and to get real.

Comic Pros Speak Out on Ferguson

With news locked down, reporters being arrested, air travel over the area blocked, and protests being met with guns and a militarized police, Ferguson, Missouri should be the center of national outrage and discussion after the police shooting of unarmed teen Michael Brown.

The discussion that’s lacking in national media is instead being held on social media being passed along from eye-witness accounts on the ground. While a city is in chaos numerous “comic professionals” took to Twitter to raise awareness, and vent their frustration at absent leadership, and heavy-handed military response police.

Below is a sampling of the stream that filled our feed. We want to thank everyone who is speaking up and standing up for justice. Many individuals don’t like to mix politics and business and as many use their Twitter feeds mostly for business, they are putting themselves out there.

There’s not many things that are clearly right and wrong, this is one of those few instances when things are pretty clear. If you’re unaware what’s going on, please just do some simple Googling, get educated, speak out, and get involved.

Ready 4 Vader 2016? The Sith Lord Polls Better than Potential 2016 Presidential Candidates

On Tuesday FiveThirtyEight released a poll on various Star Wars characters and how popular they are. Jar Jar Binks is the most reviled character in the series. That’s not surprising at all. But, with a net favorability of -8 that makes the least likeable character still more popular than the U.S. Congress, which currently has a net favorability rating of -65.

What’s fun though is The Washington Post decided to compare the favorability of all of the various Star Wars characters with that of potential 2016 Presidential candidates and other well-known politicians. Not shockingly, there’s a lot of Star Wars characters who might have a good chance getting elected.

Darth Vader has a net favorability higher than all of the candidates and he killed younglings! Emperor Palpatine also has a better result than the majority of the potential candidates. I base that on the fact he could efficiently get the Death Star built.

Check out the full results below and get ready for Ready 4 Vader, Darth Vader for President!

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PETA and Bluewater take on SeaWorld at SDCC

Tens of thousands of individuals head to San Diego this week for the geekfest that is San Diego Comic-Con. And while much of the show will revolve around fantasy entertainment, that doesn’t mean some real world messaging can’t be included too. As fans de-plane, the first thing that they’ll see won’t be a promo for The Avengers or The Walking Dead but a huge graphic cartoon of a captive orca with SeaWorld‘s CEO in his mouth. The provocative display, which urges convention-goers to steer clear of SeaWorld because of marine-mammal cruelty and confinement, is a joint project between Bluewater Productions and PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).

The installation cost $24,000, and greets passengers on their way to baggage claim at the center of Terminal 2 at the airport.

Bluewater designed the cartoon in the wake of last year’s hit documentary Blackfish. The film—viewed by 21 million on CNN alone—explored SeaWorld’s capture and confinement of orcas, which led the whale named Tilikum to kill three people.

The documentary isn’t without controversy, and ever since SeaWorld has been in damage control as attendance has dropped since.

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Marvel, “A Propaganda of a Cult of Violence”

406px-VanguardWhen it comes to censorship, Russia loves their crack downs. Russia’s federal media watchdog is investigating Marvel comics as a “propaganda of violence.” Part of the issue is the comics “denigrating Soviet symbols.” Via The Moscow Times, Roskomnadzor, Russia’s media watchdog is investigating the superheroes. All of this stems from a complaint from a distributor called Rospechat who cited “violence and cruelty” in the comics.

Part of this is over Avengers #1 from August 2014, which has Soviet symbols, likely involving the character Vanguard, who is affiliated with the Winter Guard, a group of heroes based in Russia. Vanguard sports a Russian hammer and sickle on his chest.

It’s likely Marvel will receive a warning. If it receives two in a year, they’ll have their license revoked. The publisher Egmont, operating under an agreement with Marvel’s parent company Walt Disney, still intends to release the comics next month, but most likely with the Soviet symbols removed.

 

ISIS Calls for the Killing of the Creator of The 99

Dr. Nayef Al-Mutawa has 99 problems and ISIS is one. The creator of the comic/cartoon series The 99 has been deemed “slanderous to Islam” by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria as well as Al-Qaeda. The terrorist group has taken to social media calling for the assassination of the creator. Al-Mutawa has defended the work, even going so far as receiving clearance from sharia scholars who said the comics do not insult Allah or Islam.

Al-Mutawa is taking the threats seriously, going as far as seeking legal action against those behind the Twitter account. The Kuwait Times even said:

The head of the Human Rights Basic Elements Society Dr Yousef Al-Sager stressed that such fatwas must be issued by courts because it is very dangerous to follow fatwas from such anonymous social media accounts.

The comic was created to present a positive portrayal of Muslims, and provide Muslim children positive role models with each character embodying a pillar of the religion.

In March, the series received a fatwa against it and in February the series was highlighted in a positive way by the United States’ State Department. When the series launched it was attacked by the right as a way to indoctrinate children into Islam among other claims.

We hope Al-Mutawa remains safe and sound.

What’s at Stake: Wonder Woman and the “F” Word

wwbestofrest13It’s been less than a week and the announcement that comics writer Meredith Finch and artist-husband David Finch are taking over as Wonder Woman‘s new creative team with issue #36 is still an open sore, the constant media reminder of which continue to drive me into a fury. On the one hand, because half of the commentators hardly care or don’t see any harm in the creative change; on the other hand, because savvy writers who do get it are just as outraged.

Some might think “outrage” and “fury” are harsh, maybe even over-reactive descriptors. But consider for a moment our collective comic book fandom outrage when Orson Scott Card, homophobe extraordinaire, was slated to write 2013’s Adventures of Superman. Comics fandom won a major battle with help of media coverage, the artist Chris Sprouse, a petition by AllOut.org, and comic shop owners who refused to stock a comic written by Card. (This was not unlike the response to Gail Simone’s firing from DC’s Batgirl that got her quickly rehired.)

Recalling these moments in recent comic book history (hmm, both having to do with DC’s creative choices…), imagine now that Orson Scott Card had been asked to write a well-known gay or lesbian character, and that he had stated in interviews his desire to make the character decidedly “not that gay” or generally uninterested in the narrative purposes put to the creation of an LGBTQ comic book hero. We’d be burning down DC’s boors and firing Dan DiDio! (We should anyway after this.)julyww32

So why aren’t we now? To put my and other commentator’s frustration into context, let’s consider the facts of the Wonder Woman creative team change. On June 30th USA Today announced that Meredith and David Finch, a wife-and-husband duo, would take over Wonder Woman, signaling the end of the three-year and 36-issue-long era of Brian Azzarello, Cliff Chiang, and to a lesser extent Goran Sužuka and Tony Akins. While this team defined an entirely new Wonder Woman steeped in the mythos of a redesigned Greek pantheon of hipster gods, badass goddesses, and an as yet unbeatable First Born, all good comic book runs must come to an end.

Alone, this announcement was a disappointment: Meredith Finch is an almost unheard of writer, unless of course you’ve read Zenescope Entertainment’s Grimm Fairy Tales Presents: Tales from Oz, a series of one-shots. Bleeding Cool, who wrote several articles based on “informed sources” starting in February 2014 about the potential for David Finch to take over drawing Wonder Woman and the suspicion that his wife, Meredith, would write, decided to take a look at one M. Finch’s oeuvre, reviewing it in view of the possibility that she might write the Amazon princess’ monthly. The reviewer, who badly needed a copyeditor, concluded that despite an abundance of sexist imagery, the comic displayed “a definite awareness of feminine stereotypes,” and, ultimately, was about warriors being warriors, “which is probably what you might want for Wonder Woman.”

oz10-600x922Zenescope Entertainment is essentially the Playboy of the comics industry, a company whose income is derived solely from comics based on public domain fairy tale and fantasy narratives that are populated with scantily-clad, huge breasted women and the warriorest of warrior men. Their “warrior women” usually look something like the image to the left, with dialogue by M. Finch. All of this said, it is exciting to see a new female creator come on board at DC, though her politics seem to accord generally with the “we’re not feminists” stance of DC’s creative heads.

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“Hey, there, stud. I’m not a man-hater, just a strong woman.”

Turning away from Meredith’s inexperience, her husband, David Finch, is not the greatest artist for female characters, and the art he supplied for the “big reveal” is atrocious, unrefined, and cookie-cutter. His is a Wonder Woman who looks like she works at a strip club in order to show how empowered women are by showing their skin. In other words, a “strong female character” made for men, like basically everything else. For a discussion of some of the problems with the strong female character trope, see Shana Mlawski’s poignant article.

These were just my thoughts from the night of June 30th. Then came July 1st and the Comic Book Resources interview with M. and D. Finch. Some highlights of the interview include David Finch’s curt “No.” to the question “Have the two of you collaborated on a creative project together, either in comics or outside of it?” and the quick follow-up by Meredith, in which she points out that, in fact, she’s helped him on plotting and layouts for years. Finch then came up with a brilliant save by pointing out that he probably ignored any advice she gave, complete with “[Laughter].” What a guy!

When asked what direction the team will take, either following Azzarello’s mythos or not, Meredith responds that, “we’re definitely going to steer the book a little more into a more mainstream — I guess I’d say there will be some superhero stuff in it. It really will still be a very character-driven book, though.” The desire not to tread on Azzarello’s heels in understandable, especially for a complete newcomer to superhero comics writing. But, for me and many other readers, Wonder Woman of the New 52 has been defined by Azzarello’s reluctance to bring the book into the larger DCU, especially his resistance to incorporating Superman as a love interest. As noted in their interview, M. and D. Finch fully intend to bring in Superman.

WonderWomanV5

“I’m not a feminist! Just strong! And sexy…”

Thus far in the interview we’ve seen variations on viewpoints regarding the type of character Wonder Woman is and should be, the genre of narratives she should be engaged in, and her level of involvement in the DCU. Azzarello’s reluctance to bring Wonder Woman into the DCU is, of course, a point of frustration for many readers, and though I highly admire his Wonder Woman run and would love to see it continue for a hundred issues, the character’s critical presence is lacking from the DCU in a major way that Superman and Batman, who have multiple books to themselves, are not. Eric Diaz at Nerdist has some solid thoughts about Wonder Woman and her current place in the New 52 line-up.

The interview ends with a question about what aspects of Wonder Woman the team hopes to play out in their opening issues of their run. M. Finch wants to write a Wonder Woman of the 1970s, a female icon of power and strength. D. Finch wants to draw “a strong — I don’t want to say feminist, but a strong character. Beautiful, but strong.” With these closing words, D. Finch articulates the central concern of this creative team change. With his final lines he highlights the greatest challenges for female characters across all media today:

  1. Strong women aren’t by default feminist because
  2. Feminist isn’t something we want to label female figures of authority
  3. There is an inherent and contradictory relationship between attractiveness and strength
  4. Superheroines must be overcome this contradictory relationship by being beautiful and strong, resulting all too often in hypersexualizations like Power Girl

I’m not the first to voice my objections: Susana Polo at The Mary Sue offers a summary of the issue, Janelle Asselin at Comics Alliance gives a short background to Wonder Woman’s entirely obvious feminist legacy, and Jenna McLaughlin at Mother Jones provides some insight from the director of the documentary Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines.

Whether commentators and Internet trolls like it or not, Wonder Woman has had obvious feminist deployments by comics writers and in the feminist movement in general, and her origin in William Moulton Marston’s bondage and male-dominance stories of the 1940s hearkens to a history of radical writers, mostly female, suggesting that the patriarchy get a taste of their own medicine. Wonder Woman’s Themyscira was an updated, superheroic version of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s feminist utopian Herland (1915). Utopian visions of female-only worlds abound in the history of science fiction and fantasy literature.

9780415966320_p0_v1_s260x420I do not mean to suggest that feminism advocates for a replacement of the patriarchy by a matriarchy, one in which women rule over and enslave men. Rather, these examples serve the point that, like it or not, Wonder Woman is a feminist icon. However, as Lillian S. Robinson warns in Wonder Women: Feminisms and Superheroes, we should not confuse her iconic status in the history of women’s rights and the feminist movement for feminism in general. As Shana Mlawski points out, strong female characters on their own, can harm the fight for equality for women by using scantily-clad, sexy, but strong kick-ass women to cover up the lack of social equality or justice outside of the comics, movies, and films populated by Xenas, Buffys, and Wonder Womans.

Moreover, “feminism” is a continuously evolving, often overlapping, and sometimes contradictory set of individualized, group-specific, and differently-theorized feminisms. Feminism is not a monolith, but a nexus of ideas about social justice and equality. Characters like Wonder Woman may stand as an icon, but they are far from descriptive of feminism as a whole; they describe particular feminisms. Janelle Asselin at Comics Alliance, for example, offers a critique of the current Azzarello and Chiang run, arguing that the retconning of Wonder Woman’s born-of-clay origin and the revelation that she has a father, namely Zeus, was a negative change for the character. Her biological attachment to Zeus undermined her self-made status.

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Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman #1

What’s at stake, then, in denying Wonder Woman the feminist title is not necessarily denying that she can be analyzed as a feminist character or, even, that she will cease to be used as a feminist icon in the ways that she has been for 74 years. It is instead a misogynist attempt to rein in positive social change in the mainstream comics industry, to deny readers’ desire for characters that bring about social and ideological change not just in the DCU or the Marvel Universe, but in our world as well. It’s also a slap in the face to common sense: there’s just no humane reason not to be feminist.

We want heroes who make change, and heroes cannot make change if they are denied identities that advocate for social justice. We want a Wonder Woman who’s not afraid of the “F” word and a creative team who understands that.

At the very least, come August we’ll have a new Wonder Woman comic to turn to: Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman.

Marvel Awaits Word on Two Cases Before the Supreme Court

Marvel ComicsWhile much of the talk about the Supreme Court is around their decision in the Hobby Lobby case, there’s actually two cases impacting the comic book industry. Marvel Comics has two cases that might be heard before the Supreme Court, but the decision of whether or not it’ll be heard has yet to be decided.

Lisa R. Kirby, et al., Petitioners v. Marvel Characters, Incorporated, et al. is a case many creators are waiting to see what happens. Much of it is around the idea of work for hire and who has the rights during those creations. This one revolves around the work Jack Kirby did while working for Marvel Comics. At stake is the fate of some of the most beloved comic book characters out there.

Supreme CourtWhile numerous amicus curiae have been submitted by those interested in the case, there likely won’t be any movement in the case until after July 14, 2014. In late May, the Supreme Court issued an “order extending time to file response to petition to and including July 14, 2014.” After July 14, a conference will be held by the Supreme Court, and at some point we’ll hear the fate of this case, whether it’ll be further argued before the court, or not heard at all.

What’s flown under the radar is another case, Stephen Kimble, et al., Petitioners v. Marvel Enterprises, Inc. This case involves toys and whether the petitioner is getting the correct royalties for the design concerning a webshooter toy. Law360 has an excellent break down of the case so far.

The last update for this case was on June 2, when the “Solicitor General is invited to file a brief in this case expressing the views of the United States.” So, the court is awaiting some more information before it decides what to do.

While this past session of the Supreme Court had a lot for all Americans, it’s possible the next session might have not just two cases surrounding the comic book world, but two cases involving Marvel.

We’ll keep you updated as to where everything stands.

President Obama Talks about The Witcher

In 2011, Polish prime minister Donald Tusk gave U.S. president Barack Obama a copy of the video game The Witcher. On his return trip the President mentioned the gift, and let us know where he’s at with the game. Video game diplomacy for the win!

The last time I was here, Donald gave me a gift, the video game developed here in Poland that’s won fans the world over, The Witcher. I confess, I’m not very good at video games, but I’ve been told that it is a great example of Poland’s place in the new global economy. And it’s a tribute to the talents and work ethic of the Polish people as well as the wise stewardship of Polish leaders like prime minister Tusk.

There’s also a comic for The Witcher published by Dark Horse.

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