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Cold War Paranoia: Star Trek’s Legacy of Secret Klingons

Guest post by Mark Turetsky

Star Trek DIscovery

Star Trek: Discovery has broken new ground for diversity in the franchise, featuring Sonequa Martin-Green as the first woman of color to headline a Star Trek series, as well as Anthony Rapp as the first openly gay TV series regular. Despite this progress made in casting, however, Discovery has revived a harmful trope from Trek’s early history.

Discovery borrows a major plot point of its first season from 1967’s “The Trouble With Tribbles.” Tribbles is a perennial fan favorite episode, regarded as one of the best of the original series and beloved for its comedic tone. This tone, by the way, came courtesy of producer Gene L. Coon, according to The Fifty-Year Mission: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Star Trek. Gene Roddenberry, the executive producer and creator of Star Trek, considered broad comedy the domain of shows like Lost In Space. While Roddenberry was away writing a Robin Hood pilot, Coon took advantage of his absence and produced three comedic episodes back to back. The story goes that when Roddenberry returned to the set, he called a meeting with Coon, after which Coon quit the show.

Star Trek "Trouble with Tribbles"

The episode centers around a space station that’s loaded with a cargo of grain bound for a Federation colony on a disputed planet near the Klingon border. Kirk and company match wits with bureaucrats, Klingons, and fuzzy little balls of cute called Tribbles. Kirk and Spock discover that the grain has been poisoned, sabotaged by a Federation official name Arne Darvin. It turns out that Darvin is actually a Klingon spy, surgically altered to look human.

In the original series and the Kirk-era movies, the Klingons were an obvious allegory for the Soviet Union, with the Federation taking the role of The United States. The original Klingons were dark-skinned (literally white actors colored with shoe polish) with wispy facial hair, and speaking in not-quite-Russian accents. In his script for “Errand of Mercy,” the first episode to feature Klingons, Gene L. Coon describes their appearance  as “oriental.”

With this in mind, it’s hard not to see Darvin as an outer space version of a communist infiltrator, worming his way into the Federation government, committing sabotage for his evil masters.

Charlie Brill

Leonard Nimoy referred his friend Charlie Brill, a Brooklyn-born Jewish actor for the role. It’s a curious bit of casting, considering the pernicious association between communism and Judaism, from the Jewish Bolshevism canard that came out of the Russian Revolution, through the Hollywood blacklist of the 40s and 50s, all the way to the antisemitic dog whistle of “cultural marxism” that persists today. Notably, when Darvin returned to Star Trek in the 1996 Deep Space Nine episode “Trials and Tribble-ations,” he had assumed the identity of Waddle, a wandering gemstone merchant, which is, as far as occupations go, not entirely disassociated with Jewish people.

Also, the crime that Arne Darvin commits in “The Trouble With Tribbles” sounds a lot like a medieval libel against Jewish people: well poisoning. In the 14th century, during Black Plague times, there was a belief among Christians that the plague was caused by Jews poisoning wells. This led to the raiding of hundreds of Jewish communities throughout Europe, ending, as such things do, in mass slaughter. This wasn’t just a purely medieval one-off occurrence; the accusation of well poisoning, both literal and metaphorical, persisted through the 20th and 21st Centuries, tying in everything from Stalin purging Jewish doctors for supposedly poisoning Soviet leaders to conspiracy theorizing about Jews causing the AIDS epidemic.

Which brings us to Star Trek: Discovery. While the series is set roughly ten years before The Original Series, it very much reflects the culture and values of today. The cold-war Soviet Klingons of The Original Series have been replaced with hardline religious zealots, who in the first season waged a holy war against the Federation in the name of reclaiming its cultural purity for the glory of Kahless, a figure from Klingon history revered almost as a god.

Into this story comes Ash Tyler, played by Shazad Latif, an actor of mixed Pakistani and British heritage. Tyler is a Starfleet security officer from just outside Seattle, who escapes imprisonment and torture by the Klingons. The character at first appeared to offer a sober exploration of PTSD, dealing with the trauma of his ordeal, but instead he turned out to be a Klingon agent named Voq, surgically altered (just like good old like Arne Darvin) to appear human. Unlike Darvin, Voq isn’t aware that he’s a Klingon, and actually believes himself to be Tyler. He’s a sleeper agent, somewhat akin to Laurence Harvey’s character in The Manchurian Candidate, but with the sci-fi twist of radical gene-altering surgery and memory transplantation.

What started out as a positive, nuanced portrayal of a character of mixed-Pakistani descent got undercut by turning him into a religious sleeper terrorist. There are enough of those on TV already, in just about every season of 24, or the prestige Showtime drama Homeland. We could even look to an episode from Trek’s first season, “Balance of Terror,” for a better treatment of a similar subject: Spock faces suspicion and xenophobia from members of the Enterprise crew when they discover that Romulans are identical to Vulcans. Stiles, the navigator, accuses Spock outright of being a Romulan spy, only to have Kirk call out his bigotry for what it is, out in the open, right on the bridge of the Enterprise.

There does seem to be hope for Ash Tyler, though. The second season of Discovery has recast him as an intelligence agent for the shadowy Starfleet spy organization Section 31. He’s still a Klingon who thinks he’s human, but the writers seem to want to put that storyline behind them and have it just be another angle to the character’s traumatic past. Of course, it’s television, and I’m sure Tyler will be dealing with buried Klingon programming just as soon, and for as long, as plot demands.

The producers of Discovery don’t get nearly enough credit for the homages they make to the rest of Trek (cue the cries of “Discovery doesn’t care about canon!”), especially with this season’s loving and detailed treatment of TOS’s original, failed pilot “The Cage.” It’s disappointing, though, that they not only returned to this particular well, but poisoned it in their own contemporary way.


Mark Turetsky is a voice actor and audiobook narrator of more than 75 books living in Northern Louisiana. He writes the Star Trek comedy twitter account @RejectedDS9. His work can be found at www.markturetsky.com.

Messages from Midgard #1

Welcome to Messages from Midgard #1, the weekly “War of the Realms” column where I will break down every core issue and tie-in of Marvel’s blockbuster summer event. As a fan of both the superhero and fantasy genres (I was into Lord of the Rings almost a decade before I picked up my first comic.), I’m cautiously excited for this event. I mean, Punisher shooting Elves in one of those classic, sketchy New York City warehouse is pretty epic, and that’s only one of many things that happen in War of the Realms #1.

A couple reasons I’m intrigued by “War of the Realms” and wanted to this column is, first, I think that it flows organically out of Jason Aaron‘s seven year Thor story starring both Odinson and Jane Foster and surviving numerous new #1’s, additional adjectives, minis, and events. It was first mentioned way back in 2013’s heavy metal meditation on godhood that was Thor, God of Thunder. To be honest, I thought Malekith showing up was just a forced tie-in to the underwhelming Thor: The Dark World film, but Aaron definitely proved me wrong. In his work on Thor, he has crafted tremendous arcs for characters like Odin, Loki, Freyja, Volstagg, and even baddies like Laufey, Cul Borson, and the corrupt Roxxon CEO Dario Agger. And these get to be played out loud on Marvel’s biggest stage.

The other reason is that I’ve sat out the last couple Marvel events. I didn’t read anything connected to “Infinity Wars” or “Spidergeddon” and was only hate reading the main Secret Empire series in the end. (I have checked out some of the X-Men stuff like Extermination and “Age of X-Man“.) The break was nice, but I kind of want to give them another stab and checking out one connected to one of the better superhero runs of the 2010s could prove to be a good move.

In the future, most columns won’t have a 300 word introduction, but will have a one paragraph headline followed by analysis of each issue of War of the Realms and its tie-ins plus if you should buy, read, or pass each one. It will close with my general opinion of the event and tie-in’s so far and end on my favorite panel of the week. (I might even answer reader questions.) Without further ado, let the “War” begin!

War of the Realms #1

Don’t take out that second mortgage or pack a lunch instead of buying one today, War of the Realms #1 is the only “War of the Realms” related material out this week from Marvel. Writer Jason Aaron, artist Russell Dauterman, and colorist Matthew Wilson give the comic and series the full fantasy novel treatment with a double page spread map of the Ten Realms with Midgard in the center. There is a lot of exposition about previous events in the War of the Realms that have been told in different Thor comics, but I’m not super bad about because it’s the first issue. Also, Aaron tries to offset it with humor like Spider-Man swinging around in the Bronx and running into Freyja fighting off Dark Elf assassins on a brownstone roof top.

Aaron and Dauterman also hit some strong character beats in War of the Realms #1 beyond Malekith and his Dark Cabal attack Midgard and various superheroes. The first character that appears in this comic is Odin, who because of his unwillingness to change and estranged relationship with his wife and sons, has led him to sit in a ruined Asgard. He’s sad, alone, and a perfect target to be Julius Caesar’d by some Dark Elf assassins. This is just the first issue so he will probably come back, but even though he got help for his alcoholism in a previous issue of Thor and bonded with Robbie Reyes’ Ghost Rider in a previous issue of Avengers, it was too late. His failures have a cost, namely, death. Dauterman serves up some fantastic panel compositions for his last moments that look like a gleaming dagger before an overhead shot of the stabbing assassins. Wilson uses golden colors before muting them as Odin meets his end.

Another character that is written reasonably well in War of the Realms #1 is Loki whose motivation as far as I can tell is that he wants bring on the end of the all realms, not some Dark Elf played by Christopher Eccleston in heavy makeup. He understands Malekith’s plan to take out and isolate the big Asgardian players (Odin, Thor, Freyja) and even protects Freyja by cutting off his father, Laufey’s, hand. But then he gets taken off the board via cannibalism. This is definitely a fake-out for the Father of Lies, and hopefully, Aaron has a big plan up his sleeve a la Kieron Gillen in Journey into Mystery and not just a generic wild card he can use to spice up plots. In Loki’s “final” moments, Dauterman does an extreme close-up of his face to show his vulnerability around his biological father and beloved, adopted mother. His ability to tease out these moments and beats visually as well as draw epic battle sequences are why he is such a good fit for this book.

The rest of War of the Realms #1 is really just a slugfest starring the cast of Thor, the cast of Avengers, Spider-Man, Daredevil, Punisher, Wolverine, and Dr. Strange. Aaron uses quips to get down to the essence of each player and then turns them loose with Spider-Man playing the role of long time Marvel fan, who is new this whole of “War of the Realms” thing. He and the various Asgardians have a whole mismatched comedy vibe going, and Spidey as well as Aaron’s gift for humor keeps the story from being action figures moving around or overly melodramatic.

It’s nice to have the first issue of an event actually have an action set piece and not just focus on aftermath or talking heads, and Russell Dauterman’s art has an easy to follow, Mike Allred quality to it. Captain America’s shield has motion lines, and the double page spreads are more than just pin-ups. Even if War of the Realms is just a generic sub-fantasy creatures for aliens-invasion storyline, the book will be worth checking for his nuanced figure work, layouts, and Matthew Wilson’s colors alone that all come together in the final page that seems to be an homage to an underrated scene in Avengers Infinity War.

War of the Realms #1 doesn’t have any shocking, cliffhanger endings, but Jason Aaron does solid work with Loki, Thor, Odin, and Freyja’s arcs to show that this a family epic that happens to an epic epic now. Russell Dauterman and Matthew Wilson create interesting layouts and compositions even in the crowd scenes as Dauterman becomes the heir of George Perez in this way. It’s fun to go back and pore over different panels and find fun details like a Dark Elf killing a civilian with a Howard the Duck standee although it’s easy to find the focus of each panel in the early go-round.

The amount of exposition might piss off some of the Jason Aaron reading faithful, but fun battle scenes that don’t drown out all the character beats makes War of the Realms #1 a solid start to the event. I actually want to see what Loki is up to in Thor and see Punisher, Wolverine, and Daredevil’s interactions with various fantasy genre beings in War Scrolls. There are some real Hellboy: The Golden Army and Fellowship of the Ring prologue vibes, and it’s worth reading. Overall Verdict: Buy

Panel of the Week

In an issue full of loud action, it's the small panel of Cap knocking out yet another loud mouth totalitarian that has an impact. (Jason Aaron, Russell Dauterman, Matthew Wilson in War of the Realms #1
In an issue full of loud action, it’s the small panel of Cap knocking out yet another loud mouth totalitarian that has an impact. (Jason Aaron, Russell Dauterman, Matthew Wilson in War of the Realms #1)

The Blacksuperpower Universe Thrives Despite Entertainment’s White Privilege

Guest post by Kwanza Osayefo

There is an odd resistance to the concept of a world where only black people have superpowers. Yet, we’ve all accepted nearly 100 years of media in which only white men have superpowers.

Black representation in media hasn’t even reached levels that reflect actual demographics in the US – so opposition needs to chill out. There’s just one comic where only black people have superpowers.

****

It’s weird that people take for granted that blerds have accepted casts of entirely white comics for the history of the medium, but when the characters are mostly black, some of those same people start feeling a way.

I created BLACK because I was inspired by seeing my face and culture represent in Milestone comics. Their absences meant young black kids today wouldn’t have that same acknowledgment of themselves as I did.


The White Kickstarter campaign from Kwanza Osayefo, Tim Smith 3, Jamal Igle, and Khary Randolph ends Sunday, March 31 at 11:59pm EDT.

Below you can find the variant cover for White and first five pages of the series.

White #1 Kickstarter variant

New Rule: Bill Maher No Longer Gets to Talk About Topics He Knows Nothing About

stan spidey

Source: AP Photo/Matt Sayles

I’ve been thinking about this since I first read about that Bill Maher blog post within which he calls into question Stan Lee‘s legacy, the intelligence and maturity of comic book fans, and the continued relevance of comic books in today’s world. I’ve been thinking that I didn’t want to write about the comedian who makes a living pissing people off, who’s only relevant in controversy, and that I didn’t want to add another article pointing to his blog.

But then, in a quiet moment, I realized I was a little bit miffed at his words, and decided to try and find the blog post in question to see if he had been ever so slightly misrepresented. He hadn’t been. His words, which a vast majority of comicdom have taken umbrage at will be pasted at the end of this post should you want to read them without visiting his blog post.

Given that this was posted less than a week after Stan Lee’s passing, there have been numerous articles covering Maher’s November 16th blog post and the reaction to it. There has been a lot of vitriol and anger. People have called him callous, attention seeking and irrelevant, but that Maher made such tasteless comments shouldn’t really surprise anybody. In what I understand to be a standard case of saying dumb things to provoke people and get a reaction because he’s a “comedian,” Maher has stayed remarkably true to who he is.

He is, like all of us, entitled to his opinion. And if he thinks that the young adults of this world are basically over grown children because of comics, well, then fair enough. If he wants to casually dismiss the death of a man who many of us hold in extremely high regard (even if he had his faults), then that’s his right. To do so after cashing a paycheck for Iron Man 3 is a bit hypocritical. Possibly he’s still bitter over being fired by ABC, which is also owned by Marvel’s parent company Disney.

But to do so whilst getting some pretty key things wrong? That really makes me laugh. With anger. Within his first two sentences, he has some pretty large, but easily researched, errors – and this is what, I believe, is the source of the anger directed at him.

The guy who created Spider-Man and the Hulk has died, and America is in mourning. Deep, deep mourning for a man who inspired millions to, I don’t know, watch a movie, I guess.

Firstly, Stan Lee didn’t create Hulk or Spider-Man alone, and never claimed he did (though there are valid arguments as to how much he contributed, this is neither the time nor place for that). Claiming he did invalidates the contributions of Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, two men with legacies that should rival Lee’s, and who inspired just as many as Stan did. Stan Lee inspired millions of comics fans to do a lot more than just watch a movie. A half hour of research would have turned up so many examples of this – whether it be industry professionals or fans like you and I, Stan Lee (and Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko) touched the lives of millions across his decades in comics.

kirby ditko.jpg

Source: co2comics.com

But sure. Say he inspired us to, I don’t know, go see a movie. What has Bill Maher inspired anybody to do? His career high was DC Cab in 1983. That’s a genuine question by the way, because I’ve never really paid much attention to him before.

Which may also be part of the reason for his blog post. Maybe he’s angry at the outpouring of grief over of Lee’s death, or maybe he wanted to use Stan Lee’s death to further a political agenda against millennials making America dumber. That is, after all, what the majority of the blog post is about. Once he grabs our attention with his casual disregard of Stan Lee’s death, he hits us with a treatise about millennial stupidity, blaming it in part on comics. Because comics are the One Thing that millennials didn’t give up and consequently remained dumb.

And that, my friends, is also a little out of touch.

He also makes the leap that somehow a public that’s interested in comics and comic related entertainment is a factor in our current state of politics. This ignores the history of comics that have been regularly progressive and forward thinking, far ahead of society. From Superman’s fight against political corruption, to Captain America advocating for entry into World War II a year before the US did, to discussing issues like drug addiction, the AIDS crisis, advocacy for LGBTQ rights, and so much more. A society truly into comics wouldn’t result in the election of Donald Trump. Maher doesn’t seem to know that but that hasn’t stopped him from opening his mouth on the topic. But, that’s a regular thing for Maher, whether it’s vaccines, Islam, or his inability to challenge his alt-right guests who he provides a platform (when even tech platforms are deplatforming them). Again, Maher speaks on a topic he knows little about but seems to hold comics impact on a level they just aren’t.

Fewer people read comics than, say, watch sports. Or play videogames. The latter has also seen a surge in popularity over the past three decades, but isn’t mentioned in the blog post. Probably because nobody famous enough in videogames died the week Maher wrote his blog post. But Stan Lee did, and so comics became his target.

Fine. Whatever.

But I don’t need to tell you millennials aren’t dumb. Nor that comics are a form of literature. You know this. Maher doesn’t, or doesn’t care. He doesn’t care that he has the wrath of comicdom coming down on him because right now we’re all talking about him.

So screw you Bill Maher for using Stan Lee’s death as a launching pad for your inane tripe. Screw you for using the death of a legend to try to bring yourself to relevance.

Screw you.

stan lee middle finger.jpg

Source: reddit


The text below is directly from Maher’s blog post. A link to the original post, and the hundreds of angry comments is further down.

The guy who created Spider-Man and the Hulk has died, and America is in mourning. Deep, deep mourning for a man who inspired millions to, I don’t know, watch a movie, I guess. Someone on Reddit posted, “I’m so incredibly grateful I lived in a world that included Stan Lee.” Personally, I’m grateful I lived in a world that included oxygen and trees, but to each his own. Now, I have nothing against comic books – I read them now and then when I was a kid and I was all out of Hardy Boys. But the assumption everyone had back then, both the adults and the kids, was that comics were for kids, and when you grew up you moved on to big-boy books without the pictures.

But then twenty years or so ago, something happened – adults decided they didn’t have to give up kid stuff. And so they pretended comic books were actually sophisticated literature. And because America has over 4,500 colleges – which means we need more professors than we have smart people – some dumb people got to be professors by writing theses with titles like Otherness and Heterodoxy in the Silver Surfer. And now when adults are forced to do grown-up things like buy auto insurance, they call it “adulting,” and act like it’s some giant struggle.

I’m not saying we’ve necessarily gotten stupider. The average Joe is smarter in a lot of ways than he was in, say, the 1940s, when a big night out was a Three Stooges short and a Carmen Miranda musical. The problem is, we’re using our smarts on stupid stuff. I don’t think it’s a huge stretch to suggest that Donald Trump could only get elected in a country that thinks comic books are important.

Source: Adulting

With Great Power, There Must Also Come Great Responsibility: A Tribute To Stan Lee

Stan Lee

Source: sciencefiction.com

Stan Lee has passed away. Five words that comic fans knew would come, but hoped never to hear. But there they are.

TMZ reported that the legendary comic creator died in hospital in the early hours of Monday, November 12th. He was 95.  Upon hearing that news, like me, you’re in shock and your heart is probably broken. Stan Lee, a man who has had such a tremendous impact on the lives of so many people of all walks of life is no longer with us.

Stanley Martin Lieber never intended to have his birth name published in a comic because he always wanted to write the Great American Novel, so he would instead use Stan Lee to sign off his first Captain America story.  Stan Lee may have never written the Great American Novel, but he had an instrumental hand in creating and shaping something much more important; generations of comic and superhero fans.

stan spidey

AP Photo/Matt Sayles

For many of us, as kids we had no idea who created the comics or the cartoons they inspired. We had no idea that a lot of the colourful characters came from Stan Lee’s pen and Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko’s pencil. At least I didn’t. It wasn’t until much later that I discovered the man in the Soapbox was responsible for a lot of what I was reading and watching in my formative years. Whether it was X-Men: The Animated SeriesSpider-Man or the Marvel Power Hour my Saturday mornings were spent engrossed in superhero cartoons based upon characters from the comics Lee wrote in the 60’s.

Later I would find my way to the X-Men, and through comics I would be introduced to some of the best people I have ever known (including my wife), few of whom I’ve actually met in person. Because that is the magic of Stan Lee. His work connects people of all ages, all creeds and all nationalities. Through his work, my life has changed. I don’t know where I would be without comics, and  I don’t know who I would be. Uncle Ben’s often misquoted famous words came from Stan Lee, and with his great power he accepted the responsibility of his position – whether it was subverting the Comics Code to publish a story decrying drug use or giving every misfit or marginalized child a place at Xavier’s School For Gifted Youngsters, Stan Lee’s writing saved as many people as the characters he co-created.

I never knew Stan Lee, nor did I ever get the chance to meet him. But he has had an immense and unfathomable impact on my life. Comics have become such an integral part of my self identity over the years; they still make up the bulk of my reading materials, and have of late become the source of most of the movies I will see in the theater. Stan Lee has been synonymous with comics, despite his long association with Marvel Comics, and his passing marks the end of an era.

stanlee.jpg

thenewestrant.com

There will be hundreds, if not thousands of tributes to Stan Lee in the comings days and weeks. There will be people using this time to take issue with how much credit Stan Lee deserves with the  writing in those early X-Men, Fantastic Four and Spider-Man stories, among others. But this isn’t the time for those discussions. Not now. Now is the time for us to grieve for him in our own way; some will be feel the grief like a gamma radiated fist to the gut, and some won’t know what to do with themselves.

Stan Lee has passed away, and the world has lost a beacon of the comic book industry. A family has lost a father and grandfather; industry veterans have lost a mentor; and we have all lost a man who, through his stories and infectious energy, inspired us to be better than we were.

Stan Lee’s comics have influenced and permeated nearly every aspect of popular culture these days, and Stan Lee’s hand can be seen in many of the Marvel characters on screen. Characters he helped create have been part of some of the biggest movies in the 21st century, and have appeared on more pieces of merchandise than any of us can honestly fathom. His legacy will live on in the characters and stories he co-created. Stan Lee may be gone, but he will never be forgotten.

stanhulkspidey.jpg

Source: docnyc.net

‘Nuff Said.


Also published on Ramblings Of A Comics Fan

Amazon Isn’t Indie and Small Press’ Enemy, It’s Another Platform to Sell

If you read The Comics Journal, it might seem like one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse was descending on Small Press Expo which takes place in Bethesda, Maryland this weekend. In an article entitled “A Plague Comes to SPX” RJ Casey makes the case that Amazon and comiXology‘s involvement in the show is an “affront” to those who attend and exhibit at the show.

comiXology is a digital platform that acts as a storefront for digital comics and was purchased by Amazon some years ago. Since then, the company has expanded allowing individual creators to upload their comics to sell through comiXology Submit and more recently launched a line of original comics called comiXology Originals.

Amazon and comiXology are bringing one of those originals, Hit Reblog, to SPX along with some of the creative team behind it and giving away printed copies to attendees. They’re also sponsoring portions of the convention.

Some feared when comiXology was acquired Amazon they would flex their market dominance putting pressure on publishers and brick and mortar stores. In the years since the focus has been more on experimentation and slowly integrating the service into the Amazon family such as Amazon Prime and Kindle. Even before Amazon, comiXology was the 800lb gorilla in the digital comics market and at any time could have easily become a tyrant with their exclusive contracts and market dominance. Though there were alternatives earlier and after, they remain the gold standard service by which all others will be measured. None have come close to matching what comiXology delivers.

While it is understandable to be nervous about Amazon’s entrance into the comics market and apprehensive due to their questionable treatment of employees, reality is their store had already been in the comic market for years selling individual comics and graphic novels and accounting for an unknown, but vital, amount of sales. Well before comiXology, Amazon had a section dedicated to comics with regular promotion and since the acquisition, those promotions have become better focused and better curated running appropriate sales during events such as San Diego Comic-Con and Small Press Expo raising awareness. ComiXology Originals are free to read for Amazon Prime a service millions are already paying for.

While the TCJ article spends a decent amount of time advocating for the rights of Amazon employees, its actual focus on the comics aspect seems to fall short in both facts and conclusions.

The fear seems to be, Amazon sponsorship of Small Press Expo is a trojan horse to take over independent comics as if there is one publisher by which that can be accomplished. The article and those concerned supporting it make indie and small press comics out to be both on the edge of collapse, easily broken, and also so lucrative that Amazon of course would want to snatch it up. It’s Schroedinger’s business. Both fragile and also immensely successful as is.

What the article fails to mention is that Amazon is already in the small press comic game and has been for years as both a platform and a publisher. Not only can creators self publish through their many services but the company also has Jet City Comics launched in 2013. They were already in the original comics publishing game well before the comiXology acquisition and that included distribution through comic stores. For a behemoth that is portrayed as so focused on closing brick and mortar stores, it’s strange that in their business model of their own comic line would include brick and mortar stores.

The article claims that Amazon wants to be “your printer, distributor, and most likely, publisher and editor.” As stated by Bedside Press‘ founder Hope Nicholson, Hit Reblog is published and owned by Bedside Press, not comiXology and not Amazon. An attack on the comic is an attack on a small press comic company. Similarly, Savage Game, the first comiXology Original comic to be printed, is owned by Cryptozoic.

Amazon and comiXology are the distributor and printer at most, very different than other comic publishers and more akin to a combination of Diamond Comic Distributors, the monopoly that currently is the major comic distribution service, and a possible printing company. Honestly in a way they’re like Image, a brand that comes with some benefits but in the end are creator owned. comiXology Originals sound more like paid for exclusives, a value added for comiXology and Amazon Prime customers and subscribers. They’re also willing to sink money into promoting comic projects featuring varied subjects and different creative voices that we don’t normally hear from other publishers.

The article also mentions a hit on “artistic freedom and intent” with a focus on the paper on which the comics are printed. While different printings can create a different reading experience, the focus on this, much as the article as a whole, screams of elitist gatekeeping as if there is one way to print a comic. ComiXology is providing these creators, and all of those that participate in comiXology Submit, a creator owned platform and the ability to do as they please with a possible visibility that can’t be replicated by any current comic publisher or distribution system. Amazon for years has provided print on demand services and it’s only natural that this be incorporated into this latest experiment of theirs.

As C. Spike Trotman emphasized in the comiXology Originals San Diego Comic-Con announcement panel, the ability to work with comiXology and Amazon is a value added and provides an opportunity to open doors. These are opportunities that might not exist to her as an already successful independent comic publisher (one who has been a regular at SPX for years). This is a comic creator who has raised over $1 million on Kickstarter. Trotman pointed out despite that success some doors are still closed to her. Amazon and comiXology are partners to possibly help open some and explore others neither have ever imagined.

With those incorrect conclusions and facts, the TCJ article warns of dire times when Amazon will force indie creators to print through them and undercuts creators through their platform. As if there’s not other on demand printing options and also downplays the do-it-youself nature of indie comics.

The reality is, a sale on Amazon because an individual saw the comic at a convention is still a sale. Yes, the creator will make less, but they’re still making money that most likely will have never been made otherwise. Conventions like SPX are as much about visibility and advertising as they’re about direct sales to the consumer. Conventions are about raising awareness and getting on attendees’ radars. That fee for the table, that’s the advertising fee. What you make there is some of which you make back immediately from that advertising. And Amazon’s cut of the sales through their platform? That’s no different than selling through Diamond or to comic shops directly or through Kickstarter or Etsy or Indiegogo which all take their piece of the pie. Amazon and comiXology are the technology platform through which these individuals can sell their wares globally and if done right get their creations before an audience that might not otherwise see them. That’s something TCJ’s parent Fantagraphics should be well aware as they use both Amazon and comiXology as two of their sales channels. It’s not an either or, it’s an all of the above to sell comics.

But where the article absolutely fails is its advocacy for attendees to throw copies of Hit Reblog in the trash. As if that comic is less worthy to be at the show than any other. TCJ seems to forget that the beauty of small press and indie comics is that anyone can make them. The paper it’s printed on, the format it comes in, and the ability of the creators are varied. Indie comics and small press are all an experiment. None of it is right, none of it is wrong. No one can “own” small press and indie comics because anyone can create them. Walk up and down the aisles at Small Press Expo and you can see that from the high quality books published by the likes of Fantagraphics, Drawn & Quarterly, and Top Shelf, to the comics xeroxed, stapled, and folded by the attendees themselves. RJ Casey, TCJ, and Fantagraphics has seem to have forgotten this and are becoming the gatekeepers they themselves would have decried years ago.

Valiant Deluxe Editions: Are They Worth The Price?

VALIANT_LOGOValiant Entertainment will usually publish deluxe edition hardcover collections of their comics, usually with anywhere between 4 to 16 related issues inside (and I say related as in parts One through Three of a series of miniseries, or a chunk of an ongoing series or whatever. I’m sure you get the picture). The first of these wonderful collections I picked up was  Book Of Death from a friend who was selling his copy – he had never opened it, and seeing as how I had just reread the single issues not a week before buying the hardcover, I still haven’t opened it. But I love it.

In all honesty, they are a great way to read the equivalent of three of four trades worth of material in one sitting, but are they as cost effective as reading single issues or trade paper backs?

That’s the question I wanted to answer today, and to do so I am going to use the US cover prices (and not the sale prices that you may get from your LCS or from Amazon) sourced from the back of the hardcover or from Amazon if I don’t own that specific book. This is also strictly a comparison between print comics and the physical deluxe hardcover, and so will ignore any digital options as well. The additional content provided in the hardcovers won’t be counted here – only the comics themselves.

image1 (1).jpeg

In all honesty, they are a great way to read the equivalent of three of four trades worth of material in one sitting, but are they as cost effective as reading single issues or trade paper backs?

That’s the question I wanted to answer today, and to do so I am going to use the US cover prices (and not the sale prices that you may get from your LCS or from Amazon). This is also strictly a comparison between print comics and the physical deluxe hardcover, and so will ignore any digital options as well. The additional content provided in the hardcovers won’t be counted here – only the comics themselves.

HC Snip

This isn’t a comprehensive list of the hardcovers available, but rather a semi random selection.

For the most part, assuming you’re paying cover price for each, it would seem there’s a little savings to be had by only buying the hardcovers. Of course, if you can get them cheaper, say on an online discount, then you’re going to be saving a bit more than the few pennies you’ll save at cover price.

Does that make them worth waiting for? Well that’s entirely up to you. I have been using them to read the 2012 X-O Manowar  series because they seemed to be the most cost effective way of reading the series  in print, and the hardcovers were certainly more convenient to locate with each one containing around thirteen comics verses finding the individual issues in the wild. But there’s no guarantee that Valiant will actually publish everything in a hardcover format (Imperium, for example, is still waiting for a deluxe edition). One would also be remiss in mentioning the 20 odd pages of bonus extras in each deluxe edition that you also get with the hardcovers, though for the purposes of this comparison I was strictly focusing on the comics within the and not any bonuses. But those additional pages of bonus material do make for a lovely addition to the book.

But what about the trade paperbacks? How do they stack up with the deluxe hardcovers and single issues?

tpb snip

Well, let’s go back to the research board using the same series used with hardcovers above, once again only factoring in the comics themselves and not any additional value provided by any bonus material. Pricing information is again based on cover prices (sourced from Amazon). What I found interesting from the second chart is that unless you’re paying either $9.99 for a trade that collects four or more comics you’re really not saving anything significant based on cover prices. Which surprises me; I had always thought that the savings one would realize from buying trades from would be more significant than those shown in the chart here. What I see instead, is that patience may save you about $15 over the course of a two year comic run if you wait for trades or the deluxe hard covers. (Using Bloodshot Reborn as an example, trades verses hardcovers will save you just under $3).

Obviously this is a very specific data point from one publisher, and whether it’s indicative of the industry in general is a question that won’t be answered today in this post. However, one can see that although generally there are savings to be made from buying either the trades or deluxe hardcovers that Valiant offers, they’re not actually as significant as you would come to expect. Indeed, with the series I researched, I noticed that for the most part the savings were higher on the initial trade than any other book, with all but one showing a $9.96 savings verses single issues.

Interestingly, my initial question of whether the hardcovers are “worth it” depends entirely on what you want to get out of your purchase.

  • If you want to read the story as it comes out, then maybe you don’t want to wait for a potential hardcover release.
  • If you want to store your books on a shelf and don’t care for bonus content, maybe you’d be happier with a trade.
  • If you’re okay with waiting, you like the bonus content and you’re happy to wait then the hardcovers do look very nice.
  • Maybe you’re a collector and want them regardless of value, in which case you knew the answer to the question before you started reading this post (and if you’re still here, thank you).

However you choose to read your comics, ultimately only you can answer whether the deluxe hard covers are worth it to you. For me, they’re worth every penny (especially when you can get them for around half of cover price), but I’m also playing catch up with a lot of series and love the look of hardcovers on the shelf.

But at least now you have a little more information to help you make the decision.

When the Anti-Harassment Bodyguard is the Harasser

One of the most omnipresent images of this year’s San Diego Comic Con (SDCC) wasn’t a big comic book announcement or a still from a movie trailer. It was the fact that Eisner Award winning Batman writer Tom King needed a bodyguard because of death threats about his handling of the wedding between Batman and Catwoman in the recently published Batman #50. This bodyguard was David Wray, who has provided security for Stan Lee in the past. Wray became somewhat of an Internet darling during SDCC posing for pictures with King and other creators, and some fans even wanted his autograph or for him to have a cameo in Batman or another Tom King comic.

Wray has been a managing partner at the Cincinnati Comic Expo since 2013. According to Expo administrator, Matt Bredestege, he also has had the position of Comics Guest liaison and travels to conventions to personally invite guests to Cincinnati Comic Expo. This role gives him a good deal of authority in choosing guests for the Expo.

However, Wray has exhibited behavior towards women online that could be considered harassment and allegedly refused to invite a prominent female comic book creator to the Cincinnati Comic Expo because she was a “feminist.” He has also made a homophobic joke about Tom Hiddleston at an Expo executive committee meeting implying that he was gay because of the way he looked.

I spoke with Megan Goodier on the phone about David Wray’s actions and her interactions with him both online and offline. Goodier was a volunteer at Cincinnati Comic Expo from 2011-2015 and a member of its executive committee in 2015 until she stepped down because of health reasons. She has known Wray since 2013 and worked closely with him on the executive committee.

At an executive committee meeting, Goodier brought up the fact that the Expo had not invited many female comics creators as guests. Guests are paid an appearance fee and have their travel and lodging covered by the Expo whereas artist alley creators pay for their tables/exhibition space at the convention. She brought up writer Gail Simone (Batgirl, Wonder Woman) as a possible guest, but this was immediately shot down because she talked about being a feminist a lot. Goodier mentioned that she self-identified as a feminist, and Wray responded by saying, “I will never book her for my show.”

In response to the claim of not booking Gail Simone because she self-identifies as a feminist, Matt Bredestege stated that:

We have never disqualified any guest for their personal beliefs or ideals… No one’s thoughts and opinions on sexuality, religion, politics, science, or whatever has ever been a factor in having them appear or not appear at the Cincinnati Comic Expo.

He followed up by saying that Simone had been invited as a guest to the Expo on “several occasions” and that would he “would provide copies of the communications of the communications between (them).” However, when I asked for these emails, my request for comment was not returned. We followed up with Gail Simone’s agent, Ari Lubet, and asked if she had ever attended or been invited to Cincinnati Comic Expo, but did not get a response.

In 2016, the Cincinnati Comic Expo booked actor Adam Baldwin (Firefly, Chuck) as a media guest even after, in 2014, he helped popularize the phrase and Twitter hashtag “Gamergate” and participated in the harassment of female game developers Zoe Quinn and Brianna Wu and journalist Anita Sarkeesian. Baldwin’s actions and the mobilization of his large Twitter following to attack these women definitely went against the Cincinnati Comic Expo’s conduct policy of “providing a safe and harassment-free experience for everyone regardless of gender, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, age, or religion“.

According to Matt Bredestege, the Cincinnati Comic Expo organizers were “not aware” of Adam Baldwin’s connection to Gamergate and booked him in “late 2015/early 2016” because fans wanted actors from the popular 2002 science fiction show Firefly to attend the show. After the announcement, a fan did bring “the allegations to [the Expo organizers’] attention” online, but they “….already had a binding legal agreement with [Baldwin] and his agency” and kept him as a guest.

As well as booking a known enabler of online harassment towards women and saying he would not book a prominent comics creator because she was too feminist, David Wray has also made unwanted advances toward multiple women over Facebook Messenger. (See below image gallery.) In a 2015 Facebook conversation, Wray told Megan Goodier that he “would do everything I can” to get comics creators Matt Fraction (Hawkeye) and Chip Zdarsky (Jughead) to attend Cincinnati Comic Expo if she got him a date with a woman on her Facebook friends list that was much younger than him.

Goodier said that she had not contacted the woman in years and told Wray to back off, but he still messaged the woman even though he admitted that it made Goodier “uncomfortable.” He even mentioned Goodier to the woman although they hadn’t talked in a while. Along with admitting he messaged the woman after Goodier told him not to, Wray threw in some additional creepy comments about the “crazy/hot scale” and turning down strippers.

Following this up, Wray contacted another woman on Goodier’s friends list, who she had volunteered with at Free Comic Book Day and whose picture he had found on her Facebook profile. Again, Goodier told him to back off and even mentioned that “she is even more feminist than me”. This led to a rant a rant criticizing “radicals” and “shit stirrers”, including those who protested Rafael Albuquerque’s 2015 Batgirl variant cover, which was an homage to Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s The Killing Joke where Barbara Gordon was crippled and sexually assaulted by the Joker. Albuquerque later requested that the cover be cancelled because those protested it were getting “threats of violence and harassment”.

Even though Cincinnati Comic Expo has a strict anti-harassment policy, its own managing partner David Wray harasses women online. Megan Goodier also states:

There are other women in the area who have had bad experiences with him, who have chosen not to step forward or say anything. I don’t have receipts. These women don’t want to publicly step out  about what happened to them. I know of them, but I cannot prove it. You mention the name David Wray to women who have worked, especially in the convention industry or even in the comics shops in town, they know exactly who you mean. And he does not have a good reputation.

Matt Bredestege, an administrator at Cincinnati Comic Expo, responded to these accusations towards David Wray via email by saying:

We have no comment on these allegations at this time. The allegations are new to our attention. We have reached out to see the alleged messages and no copies have been provided to us.

However, Megan Goodier provided another Facebook Messenger conversation from July 26, 2018 where Cincinnati Comic Expo founder and director Andrew Satterfield and “marketing partner” Jackie Reau offered to talk with her either in person or over the phone about David Wray’s actions. Goodier said she was “not comfortable having any meeting that would create further my word against his situations…” and offered to send screenshots of her chats with Wray that are in this article. Both Satterfield and Reau read her message and didn’t respond.

Bad News for Geeks: The Oscar for Achievement in Popular Film

And the Award for the Worst Idea for Awards Shows 2018 goes to. . .  The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announcing an award for “outstanding achievement in popular film.”

It’s stupid, it’s pandering, it’s condescending, and also potentially racist.

On first glance, geeks might rejoice! “Finally, a category that will reward the movies I love — Star Wars, Marvel, DC, Harry Potter, Jurassic Park!”

Well yes. And no.

The Academy is correct in identifying that fewer and fewer people are watching The Oscars every year. But this won’t help with that– at all. Yes, please, add more categories and ones that will represent the best in pop geek cinema. In fact, I identified five such ideas earlier this year. I quote myself:

“Most of the Best Picture nominations have made less than $100 million. NONE of the top 10 grossing movies of 2017 are nominated for Best Picture or Best Director. While we should in no way conflate box office with artistic merit, … it’s no wonder the public tunes out– because the Oscars celebrate what Hollywood likes in its movies, but not necessarily the rest of the country. In fact, of the top twenty best performing films of 2017, you only have two that received Best Picture / Best Director nominations — Dunkirk (16th) and Get Out (18th).”

My personal favorites of 2017 included blockbusters and artsy movies. While I would never expect to see Atomic Blonde nominated for Best Picture (it was also only a minor box office success), I am surprised that amazing films like Coco and Your Name are not. (Note: I am talking about the time-travel-starcrossed lovers anime Your Name and not Call Me By Your Name). But why are they not nominated as Best Picture?

Because they are animated films, and animation has its own separate category. Films like Zootopia, Inside Out, and The Incredibles deserve Oscar buzz. But they will never get it because they are stuck in the same situation we are about to put “popular” films in. This is the same problem documentaries have– films like Man on Wire, The Act of Killing, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, or 13th should all be considered amongst the best films of their respective years. Ditto for foreign language films.

The Academy should be asking, “Is how we choose Best Picture, Director, Writer and Actor nominees maybe not considering a whole slew of great films because our voting population is mainly old, white men who are susceptible to lobbying/bribery/marketing from the major studios and bullies/abusers like the Weinsteins?” Instead they’re saying, “Maybe if we nominate one of these superhero movies it will get these rubes off their tractors and turnip trucks.”

In the wake of controversies like #OscarsSoWhite, they are trying to increase the diversity of what films they consider, but this will ultimately backfire. Let’s be 100% real — if this category had existed last year, Get Out would’ve been in it. How do we know this? Because at the Golden Globes, it was nominated in the “Musicals and Comedy” slate.

It’s not hard to posit that the following conversation took place:

A: “They’re going to call us racist if Black Panther isn’t nominated for Best Picture.”
B: “Well, what if we designed a new category it can be sure to win, so we don’t have to worry about it?”
C: “Yes! A separate, but equal, award for. . . best popular movie or something.”

Or maybe the answer is just make sure the people voting are given the option to, you know, vote for Black Panther. And maybe extend your voting to enough people to make sure it can happen. And you don’t have to pander. You don’t have to condescend. But that, of course, would require you to make Hollywood less of an old-boys-club run by suits looking at spreadsheets. The key is having a younger, more racially diverse, more equal in terms of gender ratios group of voters, which means having more of those people making the films we love. But nah, let’s just make a popularity award.

This is not at all to poo-poo “popular” movies. I will fight you why Captain America: Civil War was the best movie of 2016 (and Captain America: Winter Soldier the best of 2014). Of the 100+ films I’ve seen and reviewed this year here on Graphic Policy and elsewhere, Black Panther has so far received my highest score. It shouldn’t be nominated for an award because it’s “popular”– it should be nominated because it’s a damn fine movie. Again, I will fight anyone who says differently. I love nothing more than sit down and obsessively talk about the minutae of Ryan Coogler or Rian Johnson’s work.

Do I want The Last Jedi to be nominated for Best Picture? Sure! The original Star Wars was nominated for Best Picture and should’ve won against Annie Hall, and Rian Johnson’s masterpiece is in that same echelon of great Star Wars movies. (Yes, @ me if you must, because I will die on this hill and am happy to block tons of trolls on Twitter)

But what I don’t want is every year or so for a Star Wars film to get a participation trophy because it made so much money. It doesn’t need a popularity award– it just made a billion dollars! It’s @#$%ing Star Wars — one of the most culturally ubiquitous things on the planet. That’s enough. If you’re going to reward it for its cinematic achievement, then do so. But don’t do it because you think it will get more eyes on a tv broadcast. (SPOILER ALERT: It won’t.) That path leads to the Dark Side. . . and the Star Wars Holiday Special.

What it will do is ghettoize great films just because they are popular.

Let’s play this out. This year’s nominees will likely include Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, Incredibles 2, Mary Poppins Returns. . . yes, those are all Disney films. Add in Deadpool 2 as a soon-to-be-Disney property. Anyone see a problem with this? First, if you’re literally any other film, why even bother? Second, remember that the Oscars telecast is on ABC. If this category — even just for this year — is just an extended commercial for Disney’s corporate holdings, then, again, why even bother?

The biggest tragedy will be if groundbreaking genre films like Sorry to Bother You, Hereditary, or A Quiet Place get relegated to this category.  Again — 100%– Get Out would have been in this category last year. So would Logan and likely Wonder Woman. We shouldn’t be content with this, but instead demand that real artistic work be taken seriously and not dismissed out of hand as though “Best” and “Popular” are largely mutually exclusive categories. Both James Mangold and Patty Jenkins deserved to be nominated as Best Director and their films nominated for Best Picture. Instead, we get Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and Darkest Hour. 

It’s precisely that kind of bullshit that makes people not tune in. Another movie about Dunkirk? (and the absolute worst of the three released in 2017!) And a misguided discussion about forgiveness that completely misses the mark, especially when it comes to issues of race? Yeah, no. Ain’t nobody got time for that. Ghettoizing Get Out, Logan, The Last Jedi, and Wonder Woman into a “popular movies” category wouldn’t fix that.

Apologies for using the word ghettoize. I do not do so lightly. I do so in the literal sense of segregating people based on outward characteristics in order to provide them with substandard services.

While The Academy would like to be more diverse, this category will serve as a “runner up” category to keep films like Black Panther, Sorry to Bother You, A Wrinkle in Time, Crazy Rich Asians AND their filmmakers away from the podium.

That’s not fair, and it’s not ok. I made a joke earlier about a “separate, but equal, category.” That’s what this is. As long as it exists as a consolation prize while “real” art gets nominated for Best Picture, it will serve to “other” deserving filmmakers.

While this will be good news that early next year we can stop remembering that the only recent movie based on a comic book to win an Oscar is Suicide Squad (executive produced by supervillain Treasury Secretary and therefore fifth in line for the presidency Steve Mnuchin!) that is likely the only good thing about this situation. Sure, Ryan Coogler might get to accept an Oscar, but he deserves to be in the same category as Spielberg and Scorcese.

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