Category Archives: Commentary

Hold Fast: The Marauders and the Anti-Fascist Model

Pyro in the Marauders
Marauders #6, January 22, 2020, by Gerry Duggan, Matteo Lolli, Mario Del Pennino, & Erick Arciniega

Resistance, Reclamation, and the Red-Queen of Anti-fascism

What does it mean for marginalized communities to resist oppression and protect themselves and their kin when the governments of the world leave them behind? [A totally theoretical question, in no way relevant to the world we live in] Marauders asks this question, consistently expanding on the complexities of Krakoa’s role on the world’s political stage.

Having spent years working in multiple above and below ground anti-fascist/anti-racist organizations and affinity-groups, I love X-Books like Marauders, that acknowledge the complexities of revolutionary struggle, telling a story of an autonomous cell of mutants, using tactical violence and property damage, to carry out direct-action operations to defend their community. For this reason, Marauders can help readers approach the stigmatized political ethos of anti-fascism. I don’t expect you to walk away with a full understanding of the history and strategies of anti-fascism. For a more holistic account of the history and political validity of anti-fascism, I suggest Mark Bray’s, Antifa: The Anti-Fascist and Robert Paxton’s Anatomy of Fascism.

Anti-fascism or autonomous anti-fascism [as it’s known outside the US, where political discourse can sustain a multifaceted definition of anti-fascism] is an illiberal politics of cultural self-defense, necessitated by the inaction of a corrupt state-apparatus, utilizing historic & emergent methods of protest and direct-action. It’s a single aspect of larger strategies of resistance to white supremacy, not a discrete political ideology. Anti-fascists organize in autonomous cells, collectives, or affinity groups without traceable ties to larger organizations of the left. They reject the liberal formula for opposing fascism; debating fascists in the “marketplace of ideas” or trusting the police to counteract fascist violence. History shows that parliamentary government is not a barrier to fascism, in fact, it’s historically a red carpet. Police, who historically began as slave-patrollers, often share membership with white-supremacist groups and have given birth to reactionary movements like “Blue Lives Matter”. Not to mention they are constantly emboldened by our president’s calls for increased levels of violence.

The series/team’s title is a reference to a group of mercenaries, who Sinister hired to wipe out the Morlocks. Kate chose this name to distance what they’re doing from the X-Men but It’s also an act of reclamation, as Callisto herself notes in Marauders #7. They take a name tied to their own pain and use it in the fight against their oppressors. There are numerous leftist organizations whose names are reclamations, like Trigger Warning, Philly’s Dyke March, the SHARPs, and Redneck Revolt come to mind. This is also seen in revolutionary aesthetics like the pink/purple triangle, used by Nazis to identify queer people, which was reclaimed in the 1980s & 90s by many organizations working in AIDS & HIV advocacy and is used by queer anti-fascist affinity groups to this day. It’s worth noting, that there is a meta-complexity in “reclamation” in comic books. Because these characters are not autonomous and self-aware, they themselves can’t reclaim certain things in the way we in the real world can [ which is still an intense and complex path to navigate]. What I think works here, is that everything is textual. Kate isn’t reclaiming a slur from our world, like naming a non-binary character Snowflake and their twin Safe-Space. Kate is a character, within a constructed world, reclaiming a term specifically located within the confines and context of that constructed world.

X-Men #4, January 01, 2020, by Jonathan Hickman, Leinil Francis Yu, Gerry Alanguilan, & Sunny Gho

The Marauders play a vital role in the safety of mutants of the 616, providing an alternate model of resistance to anti-mutant oppression, a model of resistance that larger structures of mutant governance cannot engage in. In X-Men #4 we see what happens when the X-Men do participate in larger institutions of economic and political governance, specifically the Davos World Economic Forum; the theme, “Globalization for a New Age: How to Secure and Maintain a Cohesive & Sustainable World.” It’s important to remember that by this time, there’s already been one successful attempt on Xavier’s life. Although they toast to peace, yet another assassination attempt unfolds. It’s easily dealt with, but one of the first attempts Krakoa made to participate in global politics is still met with violence. It’s clear that Krakoa cannot trust human structures of governance to achieve justice and equity.

Marauders #1 establishes the team’s two objectives. The first, to bring Krakoan drugs to countries without “legitimate” trade agreements with Krakoa, prioritizing Nations who need it most. In Marauders #2 we see Kate liberating a shipment that Shaw diverted from a nation in Africa who can’t take Krakoa’s deal publicly as it may start a civil war. The second objective is to liberate mutants being held against their will.

To an extent, the Marauders travel by sea because Kate Pryde can’t use Krakoa’s gates, but as Emma Frost states in Marauders #1 this is “…an opportunity”. In House of X, it’s observed that Krakoa’s gates have a military capability to move forces any distance instantaneously. Humanity implicitly sees the gates as a threat. This is why in some places they’re policed, making it difficult to utilize them to support mutants refugees. That’s where the Marauders come in, operating within the gaps between larger Krakoa’s politics and the rest of the world, through which the most vulnerable of mutants will fall. Revolutionary struggle is complex; at times necessitating open conflict, such as the ongoing Hong Kong Protests, the Ferguson Riots, the J20 Protests, the Warsaw rebellion, the Battle of Cable Street. Revolutionary struggle can also be immensely complex though, requiring less overt forms of resistance. In the new paradigm, mutants have the upper hand, but only the mutants living there and on the world’s political stage, Krakoa can only do so much to help them.

Building Power in the Gaps

There’s certainly a complexity to the various political parallels to navigate on Krakoa. X-Force, a covert-ops/CIA analog, establishes its own surveillance state within Krakoa. We’re spoon-fed that reading by the text itself and marketing. In X-Force #7 we learn Beast is investigating methods of surveillance with Forge, using sound-absorbent stone and placing objects made of this substance around the globe. This is certainly one way to read their actions. Although it’s easy to pass judgment on some of Beast’s recent actions, I would politely challenge that interpretation along with anti-fascist framing. Sometimes resistance is ugly; sometimes when they go low and you go high, they take out your legs from beneath you. Beast’s actions throughout X-Force, have been in the grey, but that is much of what it feels like to be involved in anti-fascist organizing. Sometimes protecting your community isn’t squeaky clean. While this is not me condoning some of Beast’s more questionable choices, this is me saying it should take much more for us to condemn them.

onepeoplesproject.com

But surveillance doesn’t always just serve the state. Surveillance & data-collection can be used to protect marginalized communities. In my years of “organizing”, I’ve encountered and partnered with multiple organizations that did just that, dedicated to observation, surveillance, and consolidation of data regarding the personnel, operations, and whereabouts of known fascists, neo-nazis, and abusers. Sometimes organizations come along, like the One People’s Project, [ founded in 2000 ] by Daryl Lamont Jenkins, whose sole mission is to prove “ hate has consequences”. Through OPP’s “Community Watch” project, they’ve created regional databases of known fascist organizations and personalities, to ensure they cannot use anonymity or opacity as tools in their rampage against marginalized communities. Countless times the information provided by these groups is used to make split-second safety decisions regarding the presence of known instigators and agitators, violent abusers within the community, and to anticipate and intervene in potentially dangerous fascist actions.

Krakoa itself is a unique composite of various modes of social-governance. On the one hand, there’s a radicality of Krakoa that stretches beyond a socialist model, leaning into an almost anarcho-syndicalist model. I see this mostly in the way that Krakoa’s exports of various drugs become a foothold for further economic and political power. These drugs become economic leverage on the global scale, much in the way that anarcho-syndicalist models utilize the power of the worker. There are also parallels to the way that mutant identity itself, rooted in Krakoa, becomes surrogate for the role of the union as a sort of consolidation and point of focus for work-power. Krakoan also represents a semi-liberal state apparatus, though without even a symbolic democratic element given the nature of the Quiet Council’s structure and formation. Krakoa is best understood as a combination of Monarchy and Oligarchy. The Monarch [Charles] establishes a puppet Oligarchy [The Quiet Council], which he assumes a major role on. Charles often makes major choices unilaterally, without consulting the council. This council was not elected and contains members such as Sinister, responsible for the genocide of the Morlocks and Sebastian Shaw a serial abuser.

Marauders #1, October 23, 2020 by Gerry Duggan, Matteo Lolli, & Federico Blee

The Marauders embody the anti-fascist slogan “outside and within”; both a part of these larger structures of power and yet operating entirely outside of them at times, both with and without the blessing of Krakoa’s elites. Anti-fascism isn’t all about bandanas and brick-throwing, so I’d like to return to the first mission of The Marauders, to distribute Krakoan drugs to vulnerable communities. This idea of “outside and within” is not just how The Marauders engage in acts of resistance, it also impacts how they provide radical forms of aid to others.

When it comes to providing much-needed material aid to vulnerable communities, there many examples of such work within anti-fascist organizing for us to turn to. And this aspect of anti-fascist organizing is very similar to the first objective of the Marauders that we’ve discussed, and that is to provide Krakoan medications to vulnerable communities. An example that many on the left may already be familiar with is the “Food not Bombs” movement, popularized by many anarchist and anti-fascist communities. The goal of which is to consistently host soup kitchens, food drives, and community potlucks within under-resourced communities. While not all members of FnB also do anti-fascist work, there is a significant overlap between the two. There are many other organizations dedicated to this type of work. Much like the Marauders, anti-fascists serve as both swords and shields to the communities they place themselves within.

Marauders #6, January 22, 2020, by Gerry Duggan, Matteo Lolli, Mario Del Pennino, & Erick Arciniega

In issues #5, #6, & #7 it becomes clear that Sebastian Shaw has formed alliances with Verendi. Like many anti-fascist organizations, the Marauders deal with the never-ending struggle of sectarian in-fighting. While it never gets as heated as Democratic-Socialists drowning members of anarcho-communist affinity groups in the ocean, a sizeable amount of time and energy is spent vying for new footholds of power when the focus should be on fighting oppression. Shaw’s plot to kill Kate, his choices of who he appoints as Black Bishop and Black Knights, and his constant attempts to undermine Emma, are all very similar to how some organizations on the left squabble and feud over things like, membership, titles, and power.

From  Jackboots to Pinstripes

We’re introduced to a group named “Homines Verendi”. “Homines” translates from Latin into “ people/mankind”, in this context, it means human. “Verendi” is the masculine, vocative & nominative conjugation of the Latin, “verendum”, meaning “awe-inspiring”. The title alone paints Verendi as a human-supremacist organization, evocative of many “pinstripe fascist” white-supremacist groups, like the Proud Boys. The Proud Boys have over time made them the darlings of the established right, unlike many groups of the alt-right. In fact, the Proud Boys’ notable assault [2018] on counter-protestors in Manhattan, happened at all because of an invitation of members of the Metropolitan Republican Club, a mainstream Republican organization.

Marauders #6, January 22, 2020, by Gerry Duggan, Matteo Lolli, Mario Del Pennino, & Erick Arciniega

Verendi and Proud Boys share aesthetics of class, building a “legitimate” image that contrasts the “messy” aesthetics of the left. Like famously punchable Nazi, Richard Spencer they present themselves as well-groomed, and well-dressed “intellectuals”, endearing themselves to far-right elites. As Emily Gorcenski states in her profile on the fascist group,Compared to the white supremacists they march alongside, Proud Boys enjoy comfortable proximity to the Conservative Mainstream”. Even at protests, they appear in collared shirts, cufflinks, and styled hair. They fit right in, rubbing shoulders with politicians and billionaires, masking their continued reactionary violence. According to their own official publications, two of four spokes of membership to the group require acts of violence. Their founder Gavin McInnes has openly referred to his group as “gang” on multiple occasions, defending members’ senseless violence. In March 2017, Proud Boy Kyle Chapman was photographed beating a counter-protester over the head with a 2×4, earning him a role in the alt-right mythology, “Based Stickman”. He went on to form the “Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights”, which McInnes refers to as the “military wing” of the Proud Boys on his twitter.

Gavin McInnes and members of the Proud Boys, Photo Credit: Stephanie Keith, Getty Images

More recently, fascists like the Proud Boys, Richard Spencer, Baked Alaska, Gavin McInnes, Jason Kessler, and their ilk have attempted to rebrand referring to themselves as the “alt-right“. It’s a clever bit of branding for sure, “violence fringe fascists” doesn’t quite seem too palatable. The alt-right, on the other hand, sounds like a contingent of principled youngsters who land a little further to the right of most party republicans. It’s a name that washes over their hate, their violence, and the overtly fascist goals they hold.

A common misunderstanding of fascism, as Robert Paxton points out, is the neo-liberal Western interpretation of fascism as a form of extreme “evil”, forced onto societies by a single evil individual. Fascist power comes from their ability to co-opt, manipulate, and navigate established institutions of power, while still assaulting marginalized communities at the street-level. Respectability politics allows them to systematically acquire and consolidate power, through entirely “legitimate” means. Mussolini’s march on Rome was a mere spectacle legitimizing his prior invitation to form a government. Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch of 1923 failed miserably; it was only when President Hindenburg appointed him chancellor that he was able to seize and consolidate power, along with parliaments Enabling Act that granted him complete power. The US elected flavor-blasted garbage pile Donald Trump, and we may do it again.

“Wear a sheet get beat!”

Black Lives Matter Organizer in ” black bloc”, Photo Credit: It’s Going Down

The Marauders’ first mission is reactionary, much like a lot of anti-fascist organizing. This is not to say that anti-fascist politics are reactionary, but that they quite literally react to fascists. When a threat emerges, they rise to meet it, popularized in the Antifa slogan “ Anywhere they go, we go!”. In issue #1 Iceman discovers that on the other side of a less active gate, the Russian military has established a blockade around the gateway, which may be evocative of continued travel bans instated by the flavor-blasted bowl of bird shit, Donald Trump. Kate, Iceman, and Storm see vulnerable mutant refugees being policed and their rights denied, so they intervene. Their violence is never an escalation, but always proportionate. They fight to disarm and de-escalate. The Russian military is the one who escalates. The Marauders’ use of violence is tactical, measured, and defensive. We see a mission like this again in Marauders #4, when the team liberates a group of younger mutants trapped by their country’s naval forces. By issue #5, the Marauders have brought many dozens of mutants refugees home to Krakoa. Have real-world anti-fascists ever gone to bat for refugees?

The Syrian Civil War [2011] catalyzed the largest influx of refugees that Europe has seen since the displacement caused by WW II. In 2015, 1.3 million refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere fled to Europe, in 2016, another 350,000. At least 4,812 people died attempting to cross the Mediterranean in 2016 alone. With this influx came a rise in nationalism & xenophobia. Despite the fact that economic experts stated firmly that the refugees had not caused a notable increase in poverty or crime, nationalism fomented into violence. As Georg Pazderski of the far-right Alternative fur Deutschland himself admitted, “perception is reality,…our citizens feel unwell and insecure“. This is another way that fascism solidifies power, providing easy answers to the anxieties of the middle and lower classes, jettisoning their explicitly racist trappings for dog-whistles about “scarcity” and “security”. 

In the following October, nationalists attempted to burn down a refugee camp near Bostock. By July 2015, matters escalated further forcing anti-fascists mobilized to defend a refugee tent city from neo-nazi attacks in Dresden. One month later, the conflict reached a breaking point. On the evening of August 20, 2015, an attempt was made to burn down the refugee center. The next day, buses carrying 250 refugees into Heidenau (outside of Dresden ) were blocked by a thousand members of the neo-nazi National Democratic Party and anti-immigrant locals. Several hundred anti-fascists responded to a call to defend the refugees in what had quickly become a matter of life and death. Dressed in black and black bloc, they waited out in front of the tent city to defend the refugee populations from “nationalists” with bricks, bottles, firecrackers. A large number of refugees even join the black-bloc to defend the encampment.

In issues #5 & #6, a major clash plays out between Verendi and the Marauders, which reveals the synergy between various fascist organizations & mobilizations. Verendi has conspired to incite violence in the streets of Madripoor. Verendi has invaded “legitimate” political structures and demonstrated their flexibility to work outside of them. In issue #6, we learn that the Russian ambassador from House of X has a deal with Verendi, to exchange the intel gathered by the “yellowjacket” probe, for her supply of power-dampening technology, both in the suits that we saw in earlier issues and future generations of weapons. In issue #6, we also learn that they’ve made an arrangement made with the ambassador of Madripoor, Donald Pierce while simultaneously working outside of governmental structures, hiring fringe fascists like the Hate-Monger and the X-Cutioner to kill Kate and the Marauders, characters with long histories of ant-mutant violence. Their designs alone evoke explicitly fascist images like Klu Klux Klan hoods, which is even more vile when you consider the origin of Hate-Monger as a clone of Hitler himself. X-Cutioner, on the other hand, is a “former fed”, drawing on the familiar trend of ranking government officials having ties to the Klan and other white-supremacist organizations.

Marauders #6, January 22, 2020, by Gerry Duggan, Matteo Lolli, Mario Del Pennino, & Erick Arciniega

For a bisexual, Jewish woman to face these two is an intense challenge, one many anti-fascists and activists from marginalized groups face; putting your body on the line, in direct opposition with those who wish you harm. In the context of the comic, they’ve been hired to kill Kate. In real life, it gets much blurrier, but at times members of marginalized groups have been injured and killed during protests or actions where they stand against their oppressors. This is why even though Donald Pierce and Chen Zhao claim diplomatic immunity, Kate doesn’t get hung up on bureaucratic international diplomacy. Kate recognizes them as oppressors, intending to harm her and her community. She doesn’t take this to the floor of the UN or try to beat Hate-Monger in the “marketplace of ideas”. She fights them where they can’t hide behind the shield of civility politics, and that’s exactly what anti-fascists do.

On the night of February 1, 2017, former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopolous, was set to speak at UC Berkeley. He’d become a major celebrity of the `alt-right, using his identity as a gay immigrant to mitigate his racism, misogyny, Islamophobia, transphobia, and promotion of rape culture. Students demanded the lecture be canceled when Berkeley officials announced that Yiannopoulos planned to “publicly name undocumented students,” much as he outed trans students at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, who were then harassed and assaulted. Shortly before Yiannopoulos’s speech, anti-fascists arrived at the demonstration and launched a quick but intense escalation effort. What weeks of advocacy, petitions, and “reasoned debate” couldn’t accomplish was achieved in 15 minutes. The event was canceled. Undocumented students stated that lives had been saved, as far-right students had made threats on social media regarding the students to be exposed.

Clashes like this catapulted Antifa into the spotlight. Despite a complete lack of historical or theoretical knowledge or awareness, pundits incorrectly concluded that anti-fascism was a greater threat to free speech than fascism itself because they refuse to provide an unchallenged platform for hate-speech. Pinstripe fascists leverage “free speech” to appeal to a mainstream sense of decorum—which they capitalize on to spread their hate. That position incorrectly asserts that anti-fascism is the only threat to an otherwise pristine state of free speech, safe-guarded by the government. The government already restricts speech. It restricts false advertisements, libel, and advertisements for tobacco products and alcohol. The government prosecutes incitement of violence, protects copyrights, and limits where pornographic images can be shown.

Journalists are regularly arrested and assault by police at protests. Trump’s White House restricts access to oppositional reporters. This is why the US only ranked #43 on the World Press Freedom Ranking in 2017 and fell to #48 in 2019. It’s why witnesses in critical trials against the police end up dead, an improbable distance from their home for some weed. It’s why the man who filmed police murder Eric Garner was the one who ended up in jail, while the killer cops remained free. In the 1960-70s J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI created COINTELPRO (Counter Intelligence Program) to shut down social movements through the spread of disinformation, bad-jacketing, infiltration, and even killing prominent members of the Black Panther Party, such as Fred Hampton. Which you can read about in the appropriately titled Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther. 

How Can You Help Your LCS?

Comic Shop Locator

When I first started thinking of writing this article just before lunch, it was going to have a lot of different ideas. But as with all things related to the COVID-19 pandemic we’re all experiencing right now, things have changed quickly. The news about Diamond ceasing distribution will have been shocking for a lot of you. After this week there will be no new comics for an undetermined amount of time.

Which means now, more than ever, you need to think about your local comic shop. As with all small businesses, they’re going to be feeling the effects of the shutdown – especially now that Diamond, the sole distributor of comics, has ceased distributing comics to comic shops for the foreseeable future. We’re certainly experiencing something as a society that hasn’t happened in any of our lifetimes, and so the way we shop and support our local comic shops have to change.

(I know that there are far more businesses struggling than just our LCSs, but as a comic/nerd site I wanted to focus on comic shops).

All of the following suggestions are subject to the health rules in your area/state/province. If you’ve been told to shelter in place, or are in either quarantine or self-isolation, don’t go into your comic shop. Do what you’re told by your government (regardless of its level). However, if you can leave your house, then ask if you can pick up your comics from the side of the road, or if an employee can drop them in your trunk. If the shop can deliver or mail them to you, then do that. If you’re fiscally able to.

That said, how can you help your LCS?

Third Eye Bonds

Pick up your damn pull list. Look, I get that it’s hard to get in to your LCS every week. But if you’ve got months of comics to pick up, pick them the fuck up. Your shop has ordered them in for you. Letting the comics build up over months is bad form. Not picking them, especially now, is really uncool. If you’re on top of your list, and I hope most of you are, then try and stay that way this week. Your LCS is going to need your support, so the least you can do is pick up part or all of your pull list.

Fill your want list. After this week, new comics will be in short supply. But you what they will have? Potentially boxes and boxes of back issues. Send your shop a list of what you want. If you want to save them time and effort, send a priority list of the comics you want and a maximum budget that you’re able to spend. That way the staff aren’t finding your entire list for you to only buy two comics.

Buy that book you’ve been eyeing up. Most, if not all, comic shops stock soft and hardcover graphic novels of various sorts. Whether it’s the classic book you never got around to reading, or something entirely different, now is a good time to pick that up.

Bored? Games. My LCS also has a pretty robust selection of board games, which can be a great way to pass the time. Ever played Zombicide? Elder Scroll? Forbidden Island? Scotland Yard? Many carry Magic: The Gathering. This is probably going to be a good time to invest in a game you and your family can play multiple times.

Pay in advance. So you can’t go and get your books for a couple of weeks. If you can, consider paying for them anyway. Think of it like you’re buying yourself a post quarantine gift of comics, games, toys or whatever other goodies you think you’ll want when this is over.

Waive your discount. There are a lot of shops that offer a discount to certain customers. If you’re one, consider waiving part of, if not all of your discount. It could be a small gesture, but at this time every bit can help.

Don’t shop online. Unless your local shop has an online store, most of us tend to think of Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other online retailers. Yes, they stock comic book collections and board games. Yes, they’re probably a bit cheaper and are easier to get. But if you spend all your reading money there during the pandemic then that’s not helping your LCS.

Don’t read digital. It’s easy to say, but if you’re stuck for new comics, and publishers are still releasing them digitally… you know what I’m gonna say. Unless you’re the kind of person who will buy digital then buy the physical issues because you’re a collector, try and resist temptation. It will be hard.

This is an unprecedented time. You’ve heard that said a lot, and it’s true, and more than ever we need to find new ways to come together while also staying apart. I want my LCS to still be in operation in a year. I want yours to still be there. With all the months, years and decades of enjoyment, they’ve helped to give us, it’s time for us to help them.

What a Trans Sensitivity Reader Would Have Said to the Writers of New Warriors

New Warriors

When I saw that a non-binary character was being introduced by Marvel in the upcoming New Warriors  I was elated. When I saw that they were panderingly color-swapped with their sibling, playing on conservative gender coding between pink and blue, I was trepidatiously excited. Sure, they meant well. They didn’t realize that by engaging in the semiotics of gender and color; boy=blue and pink=girl that their subsequent inversion of these semiotics may implicitly unravel the work being done in representing a non-binary character. Then I got to their names and assumed that it was all some kind of fever dream.

I think it’s admirable that a cis white writer wanted to create a trans character, specifically a trans person of color. So much of our current comics status quo is cisnormative. Especially House of X, Powers of X, and Dawn of X; runs known for incorporating big status quo shifts and radical ideation. On that note, it’s admirable again to not consistently force writers like Leah Williams and Vita Ayala to become these monolithic creators, tasked with making up for the lack of trans representation that has gone on for over 30 years. Daniel Kibblesmith’s attempt to take on some of this responsibility is definitely commendable, though ultimately doesn’t deliver on the promise.

The characters’ names and their origin in New Warriors fails to hit the mark in so many ways. But it’s also important to recognize that they’re really the first to give us a character who is canonically trans at launch, rather than making it subtext or speculative, or read it post facto. Largely trans representation in comics has been within margins of magical transitions, post-facto applications, shapeshifters, fan theory, and subtext. It’s commendable for a writer to come out of the gate with a character who is unquestionably trans before the first issue even drops.

Snowflake and Safespace

To write characters with names like Snowflake and Safespace is being pitched to us as attempts at reclamation. That’s definitely ground to stand on, but more akin to a thin layer of ice, in early April; destabilizing by the second. The trouble here is that it’s not reclamation really. Reclamation is a matter of an autonomous and informed contingent or individual who sets about to take a slur used against them and to recontextualize it. A common use example is “queer”, which has risen to occlude terms like ” gay” “lesbian” and “bi”, for a variety of equally complex and valid reasons. But these characters [ Snowflake and Safespace] are not autonomous individuals. They are specifically constructed characters, that serve as an extension of the writer’s biases and ideas. They can’t reclaim anything, because they are not autonomous. They are in a sense puppets for the creative team. A puppet cannot reclaim a slur. Nor is that slur one that the creators own and hold. From the use of the two terms as names, in the context that they’re used, it’s also clear they don’t understand the terms and their impact. So the reclamation just falls apart on contact with any level of scrutiny. Constructed characters cannot make autonomous decisions, therefore they cannot reclaim anything.

In confluence with all of this, I put my sensitivity reader hat on and ask the litmus test question, 

If this was the first time a person heard of  “non-binary” as a gender experience, is this what you would want them to see. The reason that I ask this question of writers, is because in a drought of positive representation (specifically in a conservative proving grounds like marvel comics ) it very well may be. It takes so much contextualization for even Marvel insiders and long time fans to even give those name choices the benefit of the doubt, so imagine what outsiders will think about it.

There is something to be observed that nearly all the NB folks I know think this was a bad idea.

And then there’s the Comicsgate crew, who will absolutely use this as ammunition in their campaign of regressive and oppressive ideology through comics and comic adjacent spaces.

It ultimately could go wrong in thousands of ways, and really does not good. So with no benefits to the community, it really comes down to the writer thought it would be cool, and either didn’t hire a sensitivity reader or did, and ignored their feedback.

When taking these two names “ Snowflake” and “Safespace” on their own, it’s an incredibly insensitive and insulting decision. When you combine these names tertiary issues like their peer, Screentime’s power coming from “internet gas, it sounds as if Vox Day or EVS wrote the characters, not “a progressive” comics writer. Trans folks already are constantly having their immersion in social media and online communities by conservatives a way to “explain “ their trans identity. Gen Z and Millennials in particular face the invalidating and bigoted idea that “the internet made them trans”. So, what good does “ experimental internet gas” do for the trans community that Snowflake should represent?

And that’s the big question, what good does this do? As a sensitivity reader, a question I always ask of writers in this position; “What good does this do?” especially in contrast to potential harm. In this case, I see no potential for good, but plenty of potential for harm. 

For those watching, this not how you create positive and empowering representation. Creators who want to represent underserved communities should know better than to try to “reclaim” harmful terms that have been used against those very communities. I think it’s important to celebrate the attempt being made but to also have an honest conversation about the missteps. It does no good for us to excuse this by saying that since “Kibblesmith is a progressive and an ally” we should just appreciate the attempt. We have to recognize that future creators will follow the example set here, and this will continue to be used against trans and non-binary folks, rather than making us feel seen.

I wish I could feel optimistic. I wish that a new non-binary character in a Marvel book was something I was eagerly writing about in joy, rather than trying to channel my disappointment and rage.

Sometimes It Takes A Bad Idea For The Future To Be Bright…

If you missed the news, the new comic book company Bad Idea released the first press release identifying how they intend to release their comics. I’ll put a link to the Graphic Policy article here that’ll give you more detail if you haven’t read it, but effectively what we’re looking at is a company who intend to ignore the current distribution method in comics, so Diamond, and instead self-distribute to twenty hand-picked stores (with intention to increase that to fifty by the end of the year). There will be no digital comics, there will be no trade paperbacks. There will also be no variant covers, with each comic being limited to one per customer.

This news has been met with anger, disappointment, optimism, excitement and every other reaction you’re thinking right now that’s going to come from comic fans shocked that they probably won’t be able to get the comics at their regular stop with some stating that it’s a bad idea to go this route. I’ll admit to being disappointed by the news in the press release until I read this interview on Multiveristy Comics with Dinesh Shamdasani, Warren Simons and Hunter Gorinson. The three are all former Valiant employees who were forced out or left after the investment firm DMG purchased the company. After the quality of the Valiant books under their watch, I was intrigued and excited by what they may have up their sleeves with Bad Idea

The above interview with the three reminded me of one of the most exciting things in comics – the hunt for a certain issue. It isn’t a coincidence that I have been slowly building various runs of comics without using online retailers; because hunting in bins has an appeal for me that I can’t quantify.

Dinesh hinted during the interview that the comics will be available online, though perhaps not officially, and he danced around the sad truth that people pirate comics and unfortunately that is a reality these days. It shouldn’t be, but that’s a rant for another day.

By selecting just twenty shops (to start) to sell their comics, Bad Idea is encouraging those of us (yes us, because I know damn well I’ll be one of them) to find ways to get the issues. The list of shops won’t be a secret, which implies the shops must be willing to ship the comics to those outside of reasonable driving distance, which will, in turn, drive the business of certain shops. If Bad Idea becomes a phenomenon then this could, in turn, drive people into comic shops that otherwise wouldn’t step into our world.

I understand the anger and disappointment people are feeling, though. I understand that you want to be able to order these books as you would your normal pull list. But being free of Diamond’s rigid distribution system means the creative teams are free to tell a story in 27 pages or 33. It means they can be late if the book isn’t ready without rushing out a subpar issue that won’t satisfy the fans. It means more money in the pockets of the people putting out the books.

By circumventing the traditional methods of distribution Bad Idea has gotten themselves a lot of people talking about a company who has barely revealed a full page of comics. They’re a company with some of the very best writers and artists who have been given the freedom to create what I’m sure will be some of the best comics we’ll ever read. You may or may not agree – but I have faith in Dinesh Shamdasani, Warren Simons, Hunter Gorinson and the amazing talent that they have accrued around them. I will find a way to get these books because I have faith in the people putting them out, and I want to support them – and at the very least the fact I have to work to get them is strangely exciting for me.

If you just want to read the books, you’ll find a way. But if you want to be a part of what could be the next step in comics… it may just take a Bad Idea for the future to be bright in comics.


Also posted on Ramblings Of A Comics Fan

A Missouri Bill Could Land Public Librarians in Jail and Create Nanny State

Censorship

Missouri state Rep. Ben Baker (R) has introduced a bill meant to “protect children” who visit public libraries. In reality, that bill will lead to censorship and possibly land librarians in jail.

Any library that receives state funding would need to protect minors from “age-inappropriate sexual material.”

The bill would create “parental review boards” made up of five locally elected community members who would review and decide what content would be inappropriate. If that sounds familiar it’s the plot of numerous stories where it’s never worked.

Librarians who “willfully” violate the decisions could be fined $500 or face up to a year in jail.

The concept is censorship and an attack on free expression. It’s book banning and one step away from book burning.

Books with sexual themes, uplifting LGBTQIA+ characters, ones that address sensitive topics, even scientific knowledge, are potentially on the chopping block.

Baker has responded that the books would not be banned but keeps them out of the children’s section. An adult could check the book out for their child. In other words, Baker believes parents are incapable of doing that already and believes in a nanny state.

Watching the Watchmen. A Deep Dive Into “It’s Summer and We’re Running Out of Ice”

Watchmen

HBO‘s Watchmen has debuted and the first episode exceeded expectations. The show called for multiple viewings and deep examination of scenes, characters, scenery, and so much more.

Below is what stood out in the first episode… warning, spoilers!

Bass Reeves – The show opens with a silent film featuring Bass Reeves. Reeves was real and the first black deputy U.S. marshal west of the Mississippi. He mostly worked in Arkansas and Oklahoma. Reeves is rumored to be the inspiration for The Lone Ranger. The silent film features a masked Reeves with a rope around a white police officer’s neck bringing him to justice. It echoes the end of the episode where Don Johnson‘s Judd Crawford is hung by it looks like Louis Gossett, Jr.‘s Will Reeves.

Tulsa Race RiotWe’ve written about this real-world event. There’s a lot of solid details included like the soldier wearing a WWI uniform. Some of those who took up arms served in the war. The inclusion of the planes as well is a nice historical touch. This scene sets up the young boy at the end with the note and the baby he picks up. It’s likely that Louis Gossett, Jr.’s Will Reeves is this boy grown up as he has the note in his lap (he could be the baby instead). During the teaser, Reeves says he’s 105 years old which would make him about 7 years old during the riot. It also hints as to who Reeves might be.

Hooded Justice – Hooded Justice first appeared in 1938 in the Watchmen world as a vigilante. His identity is never revealed and there are enough contradictions it’s unclear as to who he might be. There’s a good chance that Reeves is indeed Hooded Justice. That’d make him 24 when he first became a hero so his character would be the right age to be a member of the Minutemen.

The show is one that also is about the details. Hooded Justice is seen on the side of the bus as Angela Abar heads to her business. Hooded Justice also is seen in the animated video playing behind Judd Crawford. There are strong hints that HJ plays a role in the show as he’s one of the few original heroes from the comic shown multiple times.

Hooded Justice also was a closeted gay man in the comics who faked dating Sally Jupiter. At one point Sally’s daughter Laurie believes HJ is her father. He was really in a relationship with Captain Metropolis. He’s the character who beats the Comedian for raping Sally. Laurie also is in the show as Laurie Blake, an FBI agent. Blake is the Comedian’s real-world last name.

Watchmen Smiley Face

Yellow bandanas on the police – The standard police officers cover their faces to protect their identity. The bandanas they use are yellow, like the iconic smiley face from Watchmen.

At the end of the episode we see blood dripping from Crawford’s body onto his badge. It’s similar to the blood drip on the Comedian’s smiley face pin in the original Watchmen.

The scene in the school – Angela Akbar is talking to a class about her cooking business. She initially makes eggs into a smiley face, a yellow one. Other things that are noticeable in this scene:

  • Vietnam is referred to as a state
  • Robert Redford is shown in a grouping of four important Presidents. Richard Nixon is next to him. In the trailer park, Nixon is a statue on the outside and a trailer says something negative about Redford. Later, Don Johnson’s Crawford is listening to talk radio where they’re talking negatively about Redford and a gun program.
  • A poster of a squid is shown in the back echoing the alien attack at the end of the Watchmen comic.
  • Reparations are mentioned which could be a reference to the Tulsa Race Riot which reparations were recommended for families impacted by it. It could also be a broader program involving slavery.

The squids – There’s the poster of the squid in the schoolroom and they fall from the sky like rain. It’s bad enough there’s a cleanup crew dedicated to them that we see working in a neighborhood. This is a reference to the “alien attack” that happened in the comic which looked like a giant squid. Later in an interrogation scene, there’s a mention of a government conspiracy about interdimensional attacks.

7th Cavalry – This was another nod to real-world history. The 7th Cavalry was lead by Custard and battled in Little Big Horn. This is why Angela Abar was texted that. There’s a lot of history with this military unit to unpack but they’re known for numerous battles against Native Americans.

Watchmen End is Nigh

Future is Bright – When Angela is going to her business a man is holding a sign that says “The Future is Bright.” This is the exact opposite of Rorschach’s “The End is Nigh” from the comics.

Jeremy Irons’ Adrian Veidt – Veidt is one of the few characters from the original comic. A newspaper article says Veidt is dead but he’s clearly not. He’s living in a castle with two servants who are most likely created by Veidt as part of whatever plan he has. Mr. Phillips, his butler, hands a horseshoe to cut a cake and Veidt’s look is one of confusion and disappointment as something is off. There’s rumors as to who these two characters might be but so far there’s no indication this is true.

Watch and clocks – The clock is an important motif of the original Watchmen. Veidt is given one as a present. In the next scene during a dinner between Crawford and Abar, the overhead shot looks like a clock. 7th Cavalry is after watch batteries. We hear tic-toc in numerous scenes.

Unanswered questions:

  • Why does everyone think Veidt is dead?
  • When Don Johnson’s Crawford is leaving from his home a picture is shown that we assume is him and his father. Whatever history is there might be why he’s killed.
  • Why was Oklahoma chosen for the musical other than the show takes place there? I just don’t know the musical much.
  • The police have an Owlship. Is this the new heavy armored vehicle like real-world police are buying from the military?

Visual standouts:

  • There’s the shift from Veidt and the watch to the dinner with the chandelier looking like a watch.
  • The overturned truck at the end of the Tulsa scene looks like the front windows of the Owlship.
  • When the kids at the end of the Tulsa scene are looking at the burning city you can see the title of the episode a bit above them as the viewer is situated behind the title.

So, that’s everything that stood out to me. What’d I miss? What stood out to you?

Graphic Novels Suck!

Miles Morales: Spider-Man #1

One benefit of transitioning from the corporate world to the library world is that I get to work with and handle comics (or graphic novels as they like to call them.) on a daily basis. I mean I literally got paid to order and enter the ordering information for the first volume of Saladin Ahmed and Javier Garron’s Miles Morales: Spider-Man comic today and then at my other job at a public library, I got to show a couple of kids (whose first library card I made.) where the Pokemon “comics” were. It’s pretty awesome, but there’s a bittersweet lining to it too.

And that lining is that in the minds of many of the people I interact with at work, whether that’s colleagues or patrons, comics are still solely for kids. Yes, I know it’s a cliche, but it was corroborated by Eric Reynolds, the co-publisher of Fantagraphics in an interview with Ed Piskor and Jim Rugg of the Cartoonist Kayfabe podcast where he talked about how well comics by Dav Pilkey or Raina Telgemaier were selling, but how those sales don’t translate to the adult or even the YA market. Kids comics (and manga) are booming, but unless you’re already into the world of comics, or it’s something evergreen like Watchmen, Maus, or Fun Home, it seems like comics are not a viable reading material for, say, post-college age adults.

And I hate that I don’t feel empowered to recommend comics and graphic novels to adults at my work unless they’re already checking one out. For example, I told a patron who checked out Manhattan Projects to check out Jonathan Hickman’s recent X-Men work and that we would probably be ordering the complete hardcover in the winter. However, if a patron likes spy novels, I probably won’t recommend Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting’s Velvet or Antony Johnston and Sam Hart’s The Coldest City. I think a lot of this is how the graphic novels are shelved. (In the teens and kids section at one job, and hidden away on the 2nd floor at another.) But it might be a personal thing too.

In my mind as a comics critic/fan and librarian-in-training, I have two wolves inside me. One is out here trying to champion comics as either serious literature or something that can appeal to everyone like young adult dystopian novels, airport novels, or Oprah’s Book Club nonfiction. (She makes some pretty great choices.) Then, there’s another, admittedly bad, wolf that relishes in comics’ history and reputation as the “bastard child of art and commerce” and doesn’t give a shit if the people around me look down on the medium or see it as only fit for children and people, who need help learning how to read. (This is hilariously reductive because comics require both verbal and visual literacy to be understood.) I also enjoy having a little fun and saying things like the latest issue of Batman has more literary value than anything James Patterson and Tom Clancy. (It’s true, especially when Scott Snyder and Grant Morrison were writing the book.)

Batman "Enough"

What both wolves really like to come to blows over is the term “graphic novel”. The good wolf likes to emphasize it when talking to patrons because it reminds them of a currently respected medium. (The novel, which used to be seen as trash once upon a time.) The bad wolf likes to say that it’s a meaningless term, especially for trade paperbacks of ongoing series with multiple writers and artists. Both wolves agree that graphic non-fiction, memoirs, and medicine belong with their respective subjects and not with “graphic novels” because that makes so sense. Would you shelve a non-fiction book about anxiety next to J.D. Robb’s latest vapid thriller?

If I had my way, I would call anything that told a sequential story in both words and images a comic, plain and simple. However, graphic novel does have some marketing value even though some of the ways it’s used and overused are utterly banal. But, hey, if leads to a comic being checked out, I’ll use the word.

I have high hopes that as film and television shows of different genres that are comic book adaptations continue to be released, members of Generation Z keep reading comics even after their teachers and other adults say “They’re below their reading level” (This adds to their punk rock value, to be honest.), and cartoonists like Gene Luen Yang and Ed Piskor speak at prestigious book events (Aka they mainly focus on prose.) that comics will end up being just another item on the reading menu. Maybe, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will get elected president in 2024 and invite Alan Moore (He’ll probably decline.) and Dave Gibbons to chat Watchmen.

But, for now, I need to dig a little deeper and get better at recommending comics to people who aren’t children, teenagers, “geeks”, or fans of science fiction and fantasy. (I got a librarian at my work, who read Mort Weisinger-edited Superman books and 1960s Marvel comics as a child, seriously hooked on Saga.) I need to be a little less precious about semantics and use the term “graphic novel” as a tool for promotion instead of something that numbs my brain and makes me throw up in my mouth a little bit. I need to understand that some people might not have the visual literacy levels to read and enjoy comics, which is okay.

And my final takeaway is that I need to read more manga. Seriously, I went to a Barnes and Noble in the Louisville, Kentucky suburbs and there were four full rows of manga. Because of the prevalence of public transportation and the lack of a Comics Code incident leading to one genre taking over the industry due to censorship, manga of all genres is easy to obtain in Japan, and maybe it’ll be like that the United States. But, for now, it’s time to crack open Uzumaki by Junji Ito. (Once I knock off all the others on my “to be read” list).

White Nationalism is the Issue. Video Games and Media Don’t Cause Violence

video games controller

With recent tragedies on everyone’s minds, some people are looking for a cause and culprit other than the shooters and perpetrators of the recent terrorist attacks in Dayton and El Paso. Unfortunately, some are blaming media, including video games, for violent behavior in individuals. We know this isn’t the case; banning or regulating media content, even more, won’t solve the issue.

Christopher J. Ferguson, the chair of the Texas A&M International University’s department of psychology and communication, among others including federally funded studies, have shown there’s no link between violent video games and real-world violence like mass shooting, bullying or youth aggression. There’s no need for more federal studies, when there’s been federal studies completed. Past research has been mixed, at best, and often weakened by substantial methodological flaws.

It’s clear that real-world statistics don’t back up the coordinated rhetoric championed by the Republican party and elected officials. It’s a coordinated deflection from the true cause of attacks, white nationalism, and loose gun laws. That’s the true threat to America, not video games.

The facts also back up no connection. While video game sales have increased, according to the FBI’s own statistics, violent crime has been steadily decreasing. In 2011, violent crimes nationwide decreased by 3.8% from 2010. Since 2002, it’s decreased by 15.5%. This is all during the time when games like Call of Duty and Halo have dominated sales. Other nations play the same video games and don’t see the violence and shooting that we see here in the United States.

While Trump also blames mental health, video games have been shown they can be used in therapy including for treating mental health issues.

The reality is President Trump’s own rhetoric fuels the violence and terrorist attacks. When an individual joked about shooting immigrants at a rally, Trump laughed. Counties that hosted a 2016 Trump rally saw a 226 percent increase in hate crimes. Both Trump and the El Paso White Nationalist used the term “invasion” when describing immigrants.

Hate crimes in the country increased by 17 percent from 2016 to 2017, marking the third straight year of a spike in hate crimes, according to an FBI report released last November.

At the same time, federal courts – including the Supreme Court – have routinely held that government regulation of media, including video games, is unconstitutional.  Funding more studies – or passing laws that then get fought out in courts – costs taxpayers millions of dollars. That’s money better spent on treating the mentally ill or shoring up and improving background checks for weapons purchases.

We’ve seen these same conversations before. In the 1950s comic books were blamed for truancy, violence, and homosexuality in youth. This lead to hearings in the United States Senate. We look back on this piece of history and laugh out how ludicrous this claim was then. It’s just as ludicrous today when the conversation turns to video games and their effects.

There’s no easy solution to prevent violence like these events. But focusing on the wrong things isn’t the answer. Make your voice heard today.

Stay Through the Credits of Avengers: Endgame, You Monsters

What the hell, people? I feel like I’ve been saying for a decade, “True fans stay through the credits.” Not just because we want to see The Avengers eating shawarma or watch “that Ayesha chick” talk about Adam Warlock, but because now that’s just something we do! And now someone said “There’s no extra scene at the end of Avengers: Endgame” and you’re like, “Welp, that’s it, then!”

No no no no no no no no no.

First of all, it’s totally misleading to say “There’s no extra scene at the end.” It’s also patently false to say (as numerous sites have reported), “There’s nothing at the end of the credits.”

There’s something. I won’t say what, but stick around for it.

Why? Because. . . True Fans Stay Through the Credits.

Think about it. 11 years. 22 movies. I know you have to pee because it’s been 3 hours of excitement and you ordered that giant movie-sized Dr. Pepper, so go and then come back. But stick around. Because True Fans Stay Through the Credits.

Not only is it a great way to pay respect to the literally thousands of people who worked on this movie, but you might learn something. Like, wow. . . lots of people have assistants. Or, oh, I didn’t know the name of that song that they used and now I do. Or ask, “What’s a key grip?”

And here’s the best part– you know where literally the only place in public where it’s ok for you to discuss what just happened in this movie is? In that theater. Right there. Not in a restaurant or coffee shop afterward. Not in the bathroom or on your walk out of the theater.

Keep your butt in that seat and use those credits to process what you just saw. You’re going to have feelings. People die. People don’t die. Torches get passed. Evil and good are in the balance. Things get blown up!

And? Think about this for one second, True Believers– this is the last Stan Lee cameo we have.

This movie leaves you with so much to process, so much to talk about– and talk you should and talk we must. So do it there in your theater seat!

Because you’re going to have to shut up about it until you get someplace private. It is literally the perfect place! Because you know with 100% surety that everyone in earshot of you just saw what you just saw.

And? Because True Fans Stay Through the Credits.

Stay through the credits and pay very close attention to the end. Then go speculate about what the heck that meant.

Nuff said.

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.

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