Category Archives: Commentary

Thanks to Those Speaking Out. We Support You.

Many within the comics industry are taking a stand and speaking out against harassment and the continued protection of those who engage in it. One reason individuals don’t speak out is over fear that they will be blacklisted and not supported by publishers (and fans). So, along with our vocally supporting these creators we as a community need to also show we also have their back financially.

This isn’t a complete list so please add individuals missed in the comments below.

Sophie Campbell is quoted in the recent Buzzfeed article as have turned down Supergirl due to editor Eddie Berganza. That’s beyond stand-up and shows true conviction. Check out her work on Jem and the Holograms, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Wet Moon, and more.

Joshua Hale Fialkov is a writer who worked with DC on the series I, Vampire (among others). He reportedly left the company over a disagreement about killing Green Lantern John Stewart. He’s written awesome series like The Bunker, Tumor, The Life After, and most recently Jeff Steinberg: Champion of Earth.

Kwanza Osajyefo is one of the creators behind the recently released in trade paperback Black. Not only is he outspoken but also a target for degenerate comic “fans” who only want to take us backwards. That hasn’t stopped him down from speaking out.

Christopher Sebela is the writer behind the upcoming Cold War from AfterShock Comics, Heartthrob, We(l)come Back, High Crimes, and more.

Tony Isabella is one of the co-creators of Black Lightning for DC Comics. Maybe grab one of his classic trades to prepare for the new CW television show or the recent Black Lighting: Cold Dead Hands #1.

Jennifer de Guzman has been one of the most outspoken individuals when it comes to harassment in the comics industry. She’s written for numerous comics (like Womanthology: Space) and prose as well as a journalist. Buy her stuff and hire her!

Lilah Sturges is a writer of comics and fantasy novels having written Jack of Fables for Vertigo. You can also check out her work on Everafter.

Jonathan H. Gray is an artist who has done work on Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic Universe, Mega Man, as well as numerous work for Disney Comics.

Matthew Rosenberg is a comic writer who has published indie comics and also worked for Marvel and Archie. He was also part of the DC Writers Workshop Class of 2016. Go check out his 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank which was recently released as a trade paperback.

Kate Leth is a creator who has worked for Marvel, Dark Horse, BOOM!, Dynamite, IDW, and Image. Whatever you buy to support her, it’s going to be good.

Tamra Bonvillain is a colorist who has worked for DC, Marvel, Image and more on such titles as Doom Patrol, Wayward, Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, Uncanny Avengers, and more.

Colleen Doran spoke out, blew the whistle and was thrown under the bus. Lots of fantastic work including Sandman from DC Comics’ Vertigo written by…

Neil Gaiman who clearly has Doran’s back…

Tea Terry Blue is a digital project manager at King Features Syndicate, a co-editor of RAW Fanthology, and overall comic nerd. Go follow them since there’s tons of other folks speaking out too that Tea is spotlighting.

Ryan Ferrier has written comics such as D4ve, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, WWE, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, and more.

That’s a lot of folks to support and I’m sure I’ve missed tons. So, please add on in the comments below and go support those wonderful folks.

Eddie Berganza’s Years of Harassment Gets In-Depth Coverage

Harassment is rife in the comics community with known issues buzzed about and whispered with little repercussions for the harassers or those that protect them. Buzzfeed has released an extensive article covering the known issues with DC Comics‘ editor Eddie Berganza which has been covered extensively by Bleeding Cool for years (credit where credit is due). The article has numerous individuals on the record discussed not just Berganza but also DC “goodwill ambassador” Julius Schwartz.

Berganza’s career has been all over rising from group editor to executive editor and back again to group editor all the while women left the company due to the harassment and behavior. Berganza’s actions occurred years ago and no new allegations have arisen recently but with the numerous reckonings of people like Kevin Spacey and Harvey Weinstein the issue is back to the forefront again highlighting how men in power have kept their jobs and been protected in their careers while the individuals they abuse are left in their wake with careers at times ruined.

Berganza’s allegations involve groping and forcibly kissing female staff on more than one occasion with at least five individual having spoken to DC leadership. Three of those women spoke to Buzzfeed. None of the women who reported Berganza to human resources still work for the company.

The article paints the picture of a toxic environment full of “offensive jokes or line-crossing comments in the presence of or at the expense of women” including the statement that a character needed to be made “less dykey.” Despite that toxicity and multiple infractions and complaints Berganza is still employed by the company.

Berganza’s reputation was so known in the industry and out that women avoided working with the line of books he oversaw and women were discouraged from working with him in his department. Sophie Campbell is quoted as saying she turned down working on Supergirl because she’d have had to have worked with Berganza. It was an “open secret” though a “code of silence” prevented some from speaking out.

The most recent, and reportedly last, incident occurred in 2012 at WonderCon where Berganza again attempted to “make out” with an individual. Despite numerous issues Berganza kept his job but was “demoted” from executive editor to group editor. They still apparently valued him enough to keep him employed sending a signal to many.

In response to the article DC stated:

DC and WB are unequivocally committed to cultivating a work environment of dignity and respect, one that is safe and harassment free for all employees. We take all claims of harassment very seriously and investigate them promptly. Employees found in violation of the policies are dealt with swiftly and decisively, and subject to disciplinary actions and consequences.

It’s clear a toxic element still corrupts the industry with individuals protecting or encouraging this type of behavior for the sake of sales and actual impact to the instigator from behavior being minimal. Berganza is just one case but we’ve covered the issue more than once. We’ve gotten word of more that has yet to be revealed with other individuals at other publishers.

Hopefully with a renewed spotlight on toxicity in entertainment, and elsewhere, maybe changes can be made going forward within the comic industry but that won’t make up for the careers and individuals destroyed in the wake of what has already happened.

Thor: Ragnarok is About Colonialism Come Back to Haunt

*Warning Spoilers Below*

Thor: Ragnarok is exciting the box office with an impressive $121 million domestic debut and over $431 million already. While audiences are praising the humor, visuals, and fun nature of the film, it also has an impressively thought out theme underneath exploring colonialism through it’s two main adversaries.

Director Taika Waititi‘s Te-Whanau-a-Apanui (Maori) descent and the European colonization of his native New Zealand makes you wonder if these themes are on purpose and come from his own personal history.

The film features the return of Hela, Thor and Loki’s half sister and Odin’s daughter. Hela was banished by Odin because she became too out of control and destructive but Hela reveals it might also have been to hide Odin’s crimes as he built Asgard. Also in the film is the Grandmaster, an Elder of the Universe who rules over Sakaar pitting individuals against each other in gladiatorial contests for the people’s entertainment.

The Grandmaster, played by Jeff Goldblum, is the colonial conqueror. It’s clear this character is not from Sakaar based on his appearance and while we don’t know the specifics of his rise it’s obvious that he exploits the masses to live a life of opulence. In return he entertains through battles like the gladiators of old. While in the comics the character has blue skin, here he’s white and while there were other reasons for the change (the director has said he avoided blue to have the character not be prepared to a previous Goldblum role) it’s hard to not see the white conqueror in the character. Garbage falls from the sky to liter the world and beings are captured to do battle for entertainment. The Grandmaster’s exploitation is for his own power and amusement, not benefiting the people or his “nation.”

Thor: How did you end up here?
Korg: Well, I tried to start a revolution, but didn’t print enough pamphlets so hardly anyone turned up. Except for my mum and her boyfriend, who I hate. As punishment, I was forced to be in here and become a gladiator. Bit of a promotional disaster that one, but I’ m actually organizing another revolution. I don’t know if you’d be interested in something like that? Do you reckon you’d be interested?

While the movie doesn’t go deep into the history of the Grandmaster and its people, the kicker at the end of the film makes it obvious this was not one of the people’s choosing. After an uprising breaks out over the planet, we’re returned to the aftermath at the end of the film when the Grandmaster says:

I just, I gotta say. I’m proud of you all. This revolution has been a huge success. Yay us! Pat, pat on the back. Pat on the back. Come on. No? Me, too. ‘Cause I’ve been a big part of it. Can’t have a revolution without somebody to overthrow! So, ah, you’re welcome. And, uh, it’s a tie.

By his words and the reactions of those around him, it removes any doubt that this was a benevolent rule and this quick scene speaks to the relationship between ruler and its people.

Played by Cate Blanchett, Hela is the true villain of the film attacking and then overtaking Asgard as its new ruler. While she stamps out any resistance, it’s what’s revealed that makes it clear the wise Odin (her father and previous ruler) isn’t as benevolent as we have been led to believe the last two films. Asgard is a land of beauty with gold towers and flowing robes. But, how did it gain such extravagance? Hela reveals that Odin waged war against the other realms using Hela as his weapon of choice and then stripping those conquered of their raw materials. The revelation hearkens to the relationship that has plagued our real world for so long and continues to this day in the raw materials used to produce in our consumer drive lives.

We see the past literally being covered up when Hela walks into the Asgard throne room tearing down a mural on a ceiling revealing a far more sinister historical one underneath. At this moment she literally tears down the veiled lies.

Hela: [sees a mural of Odin’s work] Gardens and goblets? Peace offerings? All his deeds of peace… none of what he did to get it!
[tears down the mural to reveal a dark mural underneath]

For hundreds of years nations have waged war against each other conquering others and forcefully taking manual labor, raw materials, and leaving destruction in its wake. Hela reveals this fantasy world featured the same through Odin’s actions. While he might have claimed that Hela was banished due to her thirst for destruction, it was also his attempt to cover up the misdeeds of how he built his kingdom.

Hela’s return is a reminder of the atrocities and crimes committed by Odin’s rule. “Peace” relatively exists but only after his conquest.

Hela’s return is the past come back to haunt the Asgardians and consequence of their past actions. Up to this point the kingdom hasn’t paid for their crimes and Hela is that executioner for the guilty people.

The Asgardians by the end become refugees after their land is destroyed and they must flee for their survival. The former apex nation descends. Their reign has ended as the past has come back for its due. The imperial nation no more they are left to float in space with little direction to go and no “homeland” to call their own. They have paid for the sins of their past leadership refusing to accept their role in its actions and their gains as a people by the blood of others.

Why Star Trek: Discovery Matters for Representation

In various interviews about her “Star Trek” role, Whoopi Goldberg describes why she wanted to be on the show: Up until “Star Trek,” people of color weren’t included in any vision of the future. She grew up in an era of segregation, with high-profile murders of civil rights leaders and activists, and a renewed push to build Confederate monuments. In such a time representation in science fiction might seem unimportant, but for 9-year-old Whoopi, it meant the world. Over the years she’s been very clear about how much it meant to her to see Lt. Uhura—a black woman—on screen. But despite the progressive history of “Star Trek,” LGBTQ children have never had the opportunity to see themselves represented on the show until now. This week’s episode of “Star Trek: Discovery” takes us inside the bedroom of a gay couple, putting their relationship front and center for the first time in the 50-year history of “Star Trek.”

“Star Trek” was groundbreaking for its representations of people of color and women. In addition to Nichelle Nichols’ portrayal of Uhura, George Takei played Lt. Sulu, who eventually becomes a captain, and Walter Koenig’s Ensign Pavel Chekov—at the height of the Cold War—showed a future where the Soviet Union was not an enemy. “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry wanted to show women in command; the original pilot had a female first officer, but the studio nixed it. The show was also groundbreaking for having one of the first interracial kisses on TV. “Star Trek” offered a view of the future that was so fundamentally different and inclusive that it inspired people about their possibilities.

None of this is meant to negate some of the very real problems with sexism and racism that did creep through. Women wore skirts and, according to one episode, were not allowed to be captains. And in one episode, Uhura’s mind was erased and she suddenly spoke Swahili. Those are relics of the era and mistakes we shouldn’t repeat. But the grand mission of “Star Trek”—to show a future where humanity has overcome racism, hatred and greed, and has united to expand our understanding of the universe—is one that is as necessary today as it was in the 1960s.

While “Star Trek” was a pioneer in depicting people of color and women, it’s been sadly behind the curve in its representation of queer communities. Of course, in the original series there wouldn’t have been LGBTQ representation. It was the beginning of the LGBTQ movement. The Stonewall Riots happened the month the show was canceled, and it would be another decade before Harvey Milk would burst onto the scene in San Francisco.

But by the 90s and early 2000s, when “Star Trek” had the opportunity to continue with Roddenberry’s progressive vision of the future and include LGBTQ people, it did not. The producers flirted with it; Roddenberry himself was supportive of an AIDS metaphor episode, which would have been fitting since one of the actors from the film series died from AIDS related causes around the same time. But the network scrapped that idea. An episode of “The Next Generation” did feature an agender species, and “Deep Space Nine” had two women kiss. This kiss was a big deal; it came two years before Ellen DeGeneres came out, and it generated more hate mail than most episodes. But despite efforts over many years to have a LGBTQ character on “Star Trek,” our communities were mostly left behind by the franchise.

More recently, the film reboots have retconned Sulu to be gay, with the introduction of a husband and child, seen from a distance in 2016. Hopefully, we’ll get to see more of Sulu and his family in the fourth film, and while it was a very nice step for LGTBQ representation, it was also a very small aside.

Part of what got Whoopi Goldberg so excited about “Star Trek” was not only the existence of a black woman in that fictional world but the dignity with which she was treated:

“When I was 9 years old, ‘Star Trek’ came on. I looked at it and I went screaming through the house, ‘Come here, mom, everybody, come quick, come quick, there’s a black lady on television and she ain’t no maid!’ I knew right then and there I could be anything I wanted to be.”

Dignity is particularly important. LGBTQ people are often a punchline. Take a look at the recent remake of “Beauty and the Beast”; the gay character is a buffoon, someone to laugh at. Or producers will present a sexually charged scene with perfect bodies, meant more for eye candy than character development. And when it’s two women, it’s almost always directed for the male gaze. “Star Trek: Discovery,” however, takes us into the bedroom of a committed couple as they talk about their fears and their love for each other. It focuses specifically on an argument they have, centered on career and personal safety. This is a scene about them as people, whole and complete, struggling with what every other person struggles with. It affirms queer dignity, agency and love. It shows us that we make it to the 23rd century.

Before someone says “Of course you make it to the future,” just stop. The president of the United States made a joke about how the vice president would like to hang us all. He spoke at the conference of an actual real-life LGBTQ hate group this past weekend. Globally there are countries that still execute us. In the United States, poverty rates are higher for LGBTQ people, you can be fired in 28 states for being gay, and violence and hate crimes are on the rise. All of this is to say that we deserve to have a future to look forward to. We deserve to look at the TV and see ourselves portrayed with dignity—the way that Whoopi Goldberg and Martin Luther King Jr. did when they watched “Star Trek” in the 60s.

Growing up, I loved “Star Trek.” I discovered it when I was 6 or 7. It was the only show my mother allowed us to watch, because she too liked this vision for the future. My parents were going through a rather unpleasant divorce, and “Star Trek” offered a refuge, a stability in the future that I didn’t have in my daily life. I gravitated toward and saw myself most in the outsider characters—Spock, Data,  Odo and 7 of 9. I wasn’t quite represented; yes, there were white men, but none of them were quite like me. I recognize now that it was those characters’ struggle to fit in that I connected with. Ultimately, I felt alienated from the people and relationships portrayed in the media. Kids today who watch “Star Trek” don’t have to feel like outsiders; they get to be full people in the series.

Throughout the 80s, 90s and into the 21st century, television made huge strides in LGBTQ representation. “Designing Women,” “Will & Grace” and “Glee” saw LGBTQ storylines develop from one-off episodes to central plots of the series. Even science fiction, full of male bravado and, too often, toxic masculinity, managed to begin to include us before “Star Trek.” “Torchwood,” “True Blood,” “The Walking Dead” and others have had LGBTQ characters and storylines. The “Battlestar Galactica” web series outed a main character; the prequel series “Caprica” had a major gay relationship. And “Stargate” had a lesbian main character in 2009. Of course, there was no “Star Trek” during most of the era when sci-fi began including us.

This may seem small, but it’s affirming and it’s exciting. “Star Trek” has finally come into the modern era and made us a part of the future.

Asher Huey is a DC based progressive activist and organizer.

What is it to be a Fan in the 21st Century? Examining Fandom in Entertainment.

What is it to be a fan in the 21st century? That’s what a lot of people are asking not just of themselves but of their peers and the general culture at large. Right now our society is dominated on all sides by franchises of one stripe or another. Be they books, movies, TV shows, comics, etc…and all of those have thousands of permutations and subgroups within them. Take superheroes which are, for brevity, divided between Marvel and DC Comics which then divides again into the structures based around their universes that then divides all the way down to individual characters. The birth of “modern fandom” is usually given credit to George Lucas’ 1977 opus Star Wars. That was the birth of the block buster and merchandise driven marketing and franchising that has shaped the world in ways we are still comprehending today. The Marvel Cinematic Universe, begun in 2008 with the release of Iron Man, saw Marvel Comics become a global brand the world over in the last decade. Over these decades long franchises, several generations across numerous backgrounds have grown attached to these characters and stories. As a result, fandom has grown to be both a toxic force and a positive one. The question then becomes what do things that we love have to say on the subject of fandom and this push and pull between the toxic gate keeper side and the positive and sincere earnest side?

Stories about fandom are not all created equal. With the rise of social media, the creator and fan dynamic has changed drastically, especially in the world of comics. Fans can interact with the creators of their favorite stories in a way they never could previously. This has obviously led to positive feedback on both the fan side and creative side but it’s also become a doorway for the most toxic fans to vent their frustrations directly to the creative team. As a result, some stories have taken approaches to address or shoot down these fans directly. With targeted social media campaigns and general trouble makers on the web its left creators in a spot where they might not be able to tell the well-intentioned fan who has legitimate concerns about representation from the entitled fan who rages at them for changing the color of a mask or giving a character pants for their costume.

The stories discussed in this piece are meant as none of that. Both are very broad metaphors about actual positive fandom vs. different breeds of toxic fandom to the discussion of creators conflating well-meaning fans with legitimate concerns and toxic bigoted fans who feel entitled is a discussion worth having but it’s also a separate one. This is meant as an examination of two stories with similar metaphorical themes and not meant as a condemnation of people who raise legitimate concerns with creators or a discussion of how said creators respond to the concerns.

With that aside let’s talk about what is often cited as the birth of the modern pop culture fan, Star Wars.

When it exploded onto the scene in 1977 Star Wars left an immediate impact. An impact that was so big it reshaped the Hollywood business model practically overnight and left a permanent imprint on the psyche of generations of young kids. In 2015 after six movies and ten years out of the cinematic spotlight, Star Wars returned with Episode VII: The Force Awakens. Its reception was overwhelmingly positive and had everyone looking forward to more. However, one of its biggest criticisms was that the film was a modern remake of the original film. Despite this, people couldn’t wait to see more of the new characters Rey, Finn, Poe, and Kylo Ren. With the film being an homage to the original the big thematic hook for the new hero and villain is that of two separate stripes of fans.

The first is that of a star struck and super earnest fan. Rey is enamored by the exploits of Luke and the Rebels having a discarded rebel pilot helmet she wears for no other reason than to just wear it, a handmade doll that looks like a rebel pilot, reacting with shock and joy at meeting Han Solo and learning the ship she’s stolen is the Millennium Falcon, as well as referring to him as a smuggler when Finn calls him a general. She is symbolically the audience in this movie in this regard. A super eager fan finally living the dream and super excited about everything happening to her. On the other end of the spectrum though we have Kylo Ren.

While both storylines are incomplete since only one movie has been released with them we can glean enough information about Rey and Kylo to see what they are meant to be symbolically. In this respect Kylo Ren is set up as fan culture gone wrong. Someone who is unhealthily obsessed with the worse parts of what’s come before. He’s seen talking to Darth Vader’s helmet throughout the film and asking for strength to ignore the call to the light. He heads up a planet sized battle station similar to, though much larger, than the Death Star and vows to finish what Vader started. To top it off when things don’t go his way, instead of processing it like an adult, he lashes out with his lightsaber almost like a child throwing a tantrum for not getting his way. Kylo Ren is representative of a toxic side of fan culture that only looks back and has latched onto the unhealthier aspects. Now most people like Darth Vader because of the tragedy that is his story and we even dress up as him but we also keenly aware he is the bad guy and one that should not be emulated, either in ideology or action.

So then how does Marvel fit into this then? Starting in April of 2016 Marvel began publishing a comic titled “The Unbelievable Gwenpool.” Due to the popularity of a variant cover of the Deadpool comic and cosplay of the character, Gwenpool was given an ongoing series with the novel gimmick of her being from our real world. In the comics Gwendolyn “Gwen” Poole is a high school student transported to the Marvel universe via unknown means. Realizing this she dons a costume to avoid being an “extra” and becomes the superhero “Gwenpool,” the star of her own comic book. Gwen herself is a fan of comics and has read a vast collection of them, writes fan fiction, and has a sketchbook that she draws superheroes in. She even is knowledgeable of established tropes and rules of books such as knowing the hero won’t die and that she can’t reveal secret identities publicly because it’s her book and “they” wouldn’t allow that. Gwen, like Rey, is a positive representation of a fan. She reacts with various combinations of excitement, nervousness, awkwardness, and joy at the various superheroes she meets on her adventures. However, she is also her own worst enemy.

Gwen herself is caught in the middle of earnest fan culture and toxic fan culture. While she reacts with enthusiasm and excitement at the prospect of meeting the heroes she’s read so much about she also treats them with casual disregard. Namely, she knows she won’t die because it’s her book and she’s the star and that the people she’s meeting are indeed fictional and thus immune to being killed or hurt in any devastating way for very long. This gives rise to a future version of herself that has become a reality bending supervillain that messes around with the comics simply because she can. This is because Gwen discovers that being from our real world has granted her the ability to not just break the 4th wall but to literally escape between the pages of the books and interact with them as she sees fit.

Her future self had made life difficult in the Marvel Universe in the future because she would reveal secret identities and use her knowledge to essentially toy with the lives of the heroes. At one point she even reveals the secret identity of Miles Morales as Spider-man and results in his family being killed. Future Gwenpool is herself a commentary on the toxic route fan culture can go. Gwen treats the universe with casual disregard because she has power over it now instead of the starry-eyed admiration her younger self once had.

With the characters of Rey, Gwenpool, Kylo Ren, and future Gwenpool what you have is a push and pull of what fandom is and can become.

Future Gwen and Kylo Ren represent the toxic notions of fandom and how these toxic aspects can even dominate and overwhelm the good parts. Kylo Ren is in command of a legion dedicated to tearing down the world the heroes of the original trilogy created and rebuilding it in the image of Darth Vader to the point his only challengers seem to be a small group which are in part run by those old heroes. Future Gwenpool overwhelms the heroes of her time who are powerless to stop her. In the age of social media, toxic fandom can drown out and even overwhelm the positive aspects and these two characters are personifications of that very idea.

Gwenpool of the present and Rey on the other hand represent positive fandom and how those positive aspects can overcome the more toxic aspects. They are the uncorrupted fan. The dreamers that want to explore the universe before them and add their own names to it. Gwen is the pure enthusiasm of fan culture. As she often gets in over her head and on multiple occasions makes people’s lives harder but it is never done out of intentional malice. Rey is the more mature side of that coin having respect for the things around her. This love that is deep and sincere is also the reason that Rey and Gwen can overcome their counterparts in the end.

Both Rey and young Gwen are presented with a moment of temptation from their counterparts. Offers to either make them stronger and give them a life they could never imagine. Kylo offers to be Rey’s teacher and show her the power of the force. Future Gwen show’s her past self all the bad stuff she does with her powers has no real consequences so they should have fun while they can. In these moments, toxic fan culture is literally trying to corrupt earnest and sincere fans by saying the way they behave is the proper and better way to be a fan. In turn Rey’s respect and reverence and young Gwen’s sincere love and passion allow them to win the day. With Rey tapping into the Force herself and overcoming Kylo Ren, symbolically defeating toxic legacy obsessed fan culture. Young Gwen on the other hand is shown how she’s acting and how her earnestness has brought some real harm to people. Young Gwen in this moment literally self-examining her behavior, seeing what it leads too, and outright rejecting it because she deeply loves the world she’s gotten to know and has seen that her future self no longer loves it the way she does. Thus, Future Gwen is literally erased from existence, thereby erasing toxic dismissive fan culture.

With more fans becoming creators and getting to add their own spins and interpretations on beloved universes and characters. As such we must constantly be aware of ourselves and our behavior as fans. Looking at only the past and wanting the darker or more disturbing stuff to return will result in a culture mirrored in Kylo Ren while obsessing over fandom but treating it indifferently and with callous disregard will make us like Gwen’s future self. Rey and Gwenpool show us that fan culture can be a positive even life changing experience for us and that its ok to dream and like what we like. That these aren’t merely distractions or something we should discard. Rey and Gwen show that this can have a real positive impact on our lives. We must be aware and let it in. After all you might be the next one to add to the story.

Ryan Whorton is part of the UTD Graduating class of 2015. He has worked in the service industry for 6 while pursuing education. He writes about video games, comics, and movies in his spare time.

All Hail The King!: 100 Years Of Jack Kirby

On August 28th, 1917, in New York City’s rough-and tumble Lower East Side, the most visionary and significant artistic innovator of the 20th — and, so far, the 21st — century was born. I say that without a hint of hyperbole, exaggeration or, even more appallingly, irony, because the boy that  Rose and Benjamin Kurtzberg named Jacob (or, in their native Hebrew, Ya’akov) went on to shape modern popular culture — and, by extension, culture as a whole — more than anyone else you can name.

And speaking of names — he had many, in addition to the one written on his birth certificate. Some called him Jolly. Some called him The King Of Comics. Some shortened that to simply “King.” Early in his career he experimented with nom de plumes such as Fred Sande, Curt Davis, Jack Curtiss, and Ted Grey, among others. But the “handle” by which he is best known is the professional moniker that he stuck with, the one that would adorn all of his monumental works in the decades to come, the one that would eventually be engraved on his tombstone — Jack Kirby.

If you love it, odds are better than good Jack created it : Captain America. The Fantastic Four. The Hulk. Thor. Iron Man. Black Panther. The Avengers. The X-Men. The Silver Surfer. The Inhumans. Doctor Doom. Magneto. Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. Galactus. Darkseid and The New Gods. Kamandi. The Demon. The Newsboy Legion. The entire romance comics genre. And all this? It’s only the tip of the iceberg.

Jack Kirby created characters as effortlessly as most people concoct excuses. He was literally a non-stop idea generator. And his ideas stuck. The overwhelming majority of them have not only stood the test of time, they’ve gone on to earn billions. What is cynically called “intellectual property” these days? Most of it came from one man’s intellect.

Here’s the damndest part of all, though — he never slowed down. Never stopped. Innovation was in his blood. He may not have created the comic book. He may not have created the super-hero. But he re-created both so many times that they would be unrecognizable today, if not extinct altogether, were it not for him. And with each successive project he undertook, he went bigger. Bolder. Challenging himself to push beyond what he’d done before, and to re-shape not only his readers’ expectations, but their perceptions.

No less an authority than Grant Morrison has called Kirby “the William Blake of the 20th century.” The comparison is apt. Like Blake, Kirby seemed attuned to something beyond that he was able to translate into the immediately recognizable. He filtered complex thought-forms into visionary illustrations and stories that were both mythic in scope and human in scale. The universe of the imagination was his playground, and he not only went to worlds far beyond our own, he invented them. Time and time again.

Jack Kirby re-wrote the rules with explosive force. While his predecessors concentrated on making four-color action smooth-flowing and balletic, he set out to sock you in the jaw. While they went for something akin to formal grace and even elegance, he went for impact. Art that you’ll always remember is nice, but art that makes you remember how it feltto see it for the first time with each subsequent viewing? That’s something else altogether. That’s, as the kids say today, “next-level shit.”

Look beyond comics for a minute and consider films. Consider that Jack Kirby gave us “The Source” and Orion being Darkseid’s son before George Lucas gave us “The Force” and Luke Skywalker being the progeny of Darth Vader. Ask yourself if the concept of the “blockbuster” film as we’ve come to know it would exist if not for Kirby. The scale, the magnitude, the grandeur of the multi-million-dollar Hollywood production — Kirby did it all on the printed page first.

How about video games? Today’s “POV” and “multi-player/interactive” games all put the action right up “in your face.” Who was the first person to introduce that perspective? To put the consumer right in the middle of the action and “see” things from their vantage point before he put pencil to paper? You got it.

To drag things back to the medium that Kirby not only operated in and excelled at but flat-out owned, there are entire artistic tropes that he devised from whole-cloth and that remain entirely his as surely as the label “King Of Comics” does and always will : “Kirby Krackle.” “Kirby Tech.” “Kirby Collage.” All these are spoken of not only with awe, but with reverence. There’s nothing else like ’em. There never will be.

Let me add one more innovation to the list that The King never gets enough credit for — “Kirby Dialogue.” It was singular. It was, appropriately, mythic. It was as unconventional as his art — and every bit as effective. It contained, and communicated, entire universes of meaning. It was magnificent, in the strictest dictionary definition of that word.

What could motivate one man to do all this — to reach for the stars and bring them down to the rest of us day in, day out? How about love. Kirby was never too proud to admit that he was, at the end of the day, a worker. And he took pride in how hard he worked for the best and most noble reason of all — he was doing it to put food on the table. To provide a better future for his wife, Roz, and their four kids. Sure, he wanted to keep us glued to the page — but he did so in order to provide for them. Intentions don’t come any more pure than that.

Jack also served his country in the European Theater in WWII. Those experiences, as well as his hard-scrabble upbringing, frequently made their way on to the pages he wrote and drew, and that leads to yet another point I want to make : for much-larger-than-life modern mythology, the entire Kirby canon is, in all ways and at all times, a highly personal one. There’s more than virtuoso artistry and dynamic scripting in every Jack Kirby comic, there’s a hell of a lot of heart and soul. His work speaks to us all on a core level in a way no other comic-book creator has ever been able to duplicate — and trust me when I say, they’ve all tried.

In the coming years, we’ll be hearing more about Jack Kirby than ever. The power of his imagination, having been tapped by the Marvel/Disney bean-counters and suits for well over a decade at the box office, is about to bear lucrative financial fruit for DC/Warner, as well — Darkseid, and the rest of the Fourth World characters, are about to take center-stage in the so-called “DCEU” in a big way. Residuals, which hopefully his heirs won’t have to fight tooth-and-nail for as they spent decades doing with the so-called “House Of Ideas,” should be enough to help guarantee them all a comfortable retirement. Yup, even 23 years after his passing at the age of 76, The King is still providing for his family — and something tells me that if he’s looking down on this world, that fact makes him proudest of all.

As for everything else going on down here on the mortal plane? Kirby saw it coming. Streaming entertainment, consumerist gluttony, pointless war, clashes of ideals, global communication, even Donald effing Trump — all predicted, often with uncanny accuracy, in the pages of his books.  The King was a product of his times, without question — but he was also, and always, a few steps ahead of them. That depressingly-overused “genius” label that now gets applied to anyone who writes a half-decent novel or makes a watchable film? It’s actually too small in this instance.

And so the legacy of this great man is destined to continue on, for as long as there are ideals to aspire to and children (and grown-ups) to dream. For all the turmoil Kirby foresaw in the times ahead, his work always retained an essential and irreducible optimism — a belief that the human spirit would not only endure, but triumph. If you were to ask me to name a more aspirational, and inspirational, artist, I couldn’t do it. But Jack did a lot more than hope for the best from us — he was the best of us.

I have four heroes in this life : my mom, my dad, my wife, and Jack Kirby. The first two raised me, and continue to do so, because goddamnit, I’ll always have a lot of growing up to do. The third saved me. The fourth inspired me to dream and his work continues to keep those dreams alive. My existence wouldn’t be anywhere near as rich, as rewarding, as joyous without them. And they each, in their own way, show me the way forward every day. One could argue that I only personally know three of these remarkable, extraordinary individuals, sure —

but then I pick up any random issue of New Gods. Or Captain America. Or Kamandi. Or Machine Man. Or Black Panther. Or Silver Star. Or Challengers Of The Unknown. Or Mister Miracle. Or OMAC. Or The Sandman. Or The Forever People. Or my personal favorite, Captain Victory And The Galactic Rangers, and I realize — the fourth name on that list? I know him, too. And I know that, cliched as it may be to say, “He Will Always Be The King.”

(originally posted on Trash Film Guru)

Educator’s Perspective: “Sh*t My President Says”

It’s said that no work of literature is written in a vacuum.

One of the first things you learn to do as an undergrad in any course in literature is to unpack the political, cultural, and societal implication of whatever it is you’re reading, because whether the author intended it or not, he or she was assuredly influenced by the circumstances in which it was written.  Even as a high school student I learned that Shakespeare’s fascination with witchcraft in Macbeth is likely an influence of the King under which he was writing, who had an interest in the occult himself; The Lord of the Flies and Animal Farm both have their roots in a kind of British political anxiety, and the only way that On the Road can be more of a manifesto of the early counterculture movement is if copies of it are beaten by riot officers.

Yet I’ve always been more interested in the political, cultural, and social capital hidden away in the more obscure media, the stuff that, for whatever reason, has for so long escaped the notice of conventional scholarship. Though teachers have long adored the political cartoon there remains a strange, standoffish attitude toward the comic book, as though we’re all still in the 1950s and Dr. Wertham is sitting across from us making all sorts of uncomfortable eye contact over a stack of World’s Finest. Thankfully that attitude has receded significantly in recent years and I’m happy to see more and more that teachers like myself are having success in using the rife political and cultural content of comics as a springboard to discuss ideas as diverse and grandiose as race relations, diplomacy, and the importance of de-mystifying the “other”ness of foreign cultures, peoples, and ideologies.

The conversation about the political and sociocultural implications of comics – really, of all media – is always hobbled somewhat when it hits a K-12 classroom environment.  There begin conversations about correctness and age-appropriateness, and whether a book can or should be introduced to the student population for fear of indoctrination. Year after year mainstays like The Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird are called into question by school boards and parent groups across the country, and while their reasons are varied they general boil down to what we want our children to discover about who and what we are.  Works that are censored for classroom use have a common thread: they oftentimes highlight the worst of us, in an attempt to ensure that we avoid making the mistakes of our ancestry.

That being said, it seems highly unlike that Shannon Wheeler’s “Sh*t My President Says” will ever see regular use as a implement of classroom instruction, given that it is both a comic book, and therefore still a subject of academic uncertainty by some of my colleagues, and demonstrative of one of the most deranged, startling, and ultimately embarrassing garbage fires of the 21st century.  It is eye-opening in its candor, tragically funny, vitally informative, and ought to be required reading for anyone hoping to study the political machine of the early 21st century. It may very well be one of the most important historical artifacts of this decade.

All because of Twitter.

“Sh*t My President Says” is a perfect example of the historically-embedded nature of media. Even without Wheeler’s accompanying caricatures of Trump as a riotous toddler with a phone fetish, the collection of our mentally-errant President’s 140-character temper tantrums provides a sobering look at just how we got to where we are. Taken with Shannon Wheeler’s supplemental artwork, the Tweets take on a second life: their childishness is thrown into a stark relief with the inclusion of the author’s idealized boy king Trump, and indeed the whole work might read as a fiction were we not living it as we are now.

From a teachable standpoint, nothing beats a work that provides the subject’s words as they were uttered while simultaneously offering a responding critique of them. In this way Shannon Wheeler has submitted to his audience a kind of living primary source, an artifact that both serves to document history as well as record our collective reaction to the oftentimes unbelievable events of our current political climate – which, of course, is a form of history in and of itself.

Is it teachable? Absolutely, and pertinently so: in much the same way that we recognize the crassness of the language in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or the sexuality of “The Awakening” as indicative of the societies and cultures of the time in which they were written, Wheeler’s compilation of the fractured thoughts of our enfeebled Commander-in-Chief are likewise a reflection of the state of our society. Wheeler provides a means to process an pivotal event in American political history in a way that is accessible for its simplicity, honest for its presentation, and as painless  an experience as it could be possibly be for the author’s satirical approach to her bumbling, foolhardy subject matter.

Nevertheless, I give Mr. Wheeler a great deal of credit for his work in compiling this trainwreck of a timeline in recording the Trump tweets he has.  For the levity with which it is presented, there is something truly sinister about seeing these words become actions, and those actions engender other, more awful actions. Longtime exposure to those levels of ego-maniacal word vomit cannot be healthy for an individual, and I hope sincerely that Mr. Wheeler recovers quickly for his exposure.

While its unflinching revelation of the worst of our potential all but guarantees it never sees widespread classroom use, I fully expect that passages from “Sh*t My President Says” will find their way into political science and literature classrooms across the globe. This cutting work of comics journalism is a vibrant reminder of how we ended up in this mess, and I wager that there’s more than a few daring educators willing to make the case that, like Mockingbird and Rye, just because something is uncomfortable doesn’t mean that we turn a blind eye to its implications.

Literature isn’t written in a vacuum – but sometimes the stuff that inspires it sucks nonetheless.  It’s our job to learn from it, and works like Wheeler’s make that possible.

Defenseless: How The Defenders Fails and Augurs Poorly for the Future of the Netflix-Marvel Union

You know it’s a bad sign when in the middle of a superhero team miniseries you find yourself pining for the team members to work solo again. Yet this is precisely the thought I had watching Netflix and Marvel Television’s long awaited miniseries The Defenders.

Debuting last Friday, the miniseries was the culmination of a plan that goes back over three years. Laid out in the first quarter of 2014, The Defenders would serve as the fifth act to a cycle of Netflix series focusing on the “street-level” Marvel heroes. The plan sounded promising. Unlike their comic book counterparts, the Marvel Cinematic Universe films had acquired an unmistakable post-Avengers bloat. It became a running joke that all the (solo character) sequels after Avengers featured antagonists and earth-shattering stakes that really merited the team reforming. In the comics, the solo titles have the freedom to take a single Avenger and put him or her in decidedly intimate stories where the stakes weren’t so dire, but the blockbuster mentality of movies overruled that.

So the idea of focusing on heroes who fight in alleys rather than the roofs of skyscrapers held a lot of appeal as did the selections of characters who (with the exception of Iron Fist) were all fan favorites with staunch followings. The first show would be Daredevil, the scrappy blind brawler who plays like a working class Batman with Catholic angst. Then Jessica Jones, a recent creation from an innovative neo-noir title called Alias that explored gender politics, trauma, healing so well it earned the show a Peabody Award. Next came Luke Cage and finally Iron Fist (the latter show breaking the impressive streak of critical approbation).

But what we got on Friday wasn’t just a disappointment, it reflects a lack of vision at the top of Marvel Television that is stunning. The team behind The Defenders had over three years to make this show and yet every one of the 8 scripts feels like it was rushed on a Sunday evening for a Monday deadline.

The first catastrophic flaw is the utter lack of connection this series has to the comic books or the MCU. In truth this is really two flaws that have interwoven so tightly as to appear fused together.

The first half of this is seen in the total lack of excavation on the part of the storytellers of Defenders lore, plotlines, or iconography. When you watch the miniseries, you wonder if the writers and showrunner even know who the Defenders are or what makes them unique.

For the uninitiated: The Defenders first appeared in 1971 as the brainchild of Roy Thomas. The series began as a contingency plan for the cancellation of Doctor Strange. Thomas shrewdly figured out how to continue Strange’s story arc: by continuing it with a new team. He brought Strange together with the Hulk and Namor the Sub-Mariner to finish Strange’s plot line involving the planned invasion of Earth from beings from another dimension. And so the Defenders were born.

The Defenders had to establish its own identity quickly. All the major teams were already in place so The Defenders needed to claim its own corner of the Marvel Universe. They became Earth’s line of defense against mystical threats and in essence the team served as the as-needed backup for Doctor Strange, the Sorcerer Supreme of Earth.

The Defenders were branded a “non-team”: unlike the others they had no headquarters, no symbol, and their roster fluctuated wildly. The Defenders were a team of rugged individualists who could never be an Avenger (Joss Whedon beat them to the bunch by bringing some of that “band of misfits” energy to the Avengers films).

A major blow dealt to the series is the loss of Doctor Strange. Strange is more of a constant presence in the Defenders than any other single Marvel character has been to any other Marvel superhero team. If you’re asking why Strange isn’t in the Netflix series, the answer lies in the unsexy world of corporate structuring.

Marvel Studios and Marvel Television have for some time regarded one another as stepsisters despite the central conceit that the so-called Marvel Cinematic Universe would reflect the unity and continuity of plot in a way heretofore only seen in the comics. Lore has it that the split began when Marvel TV decided to resurrect Agent Phil Coulson (much to the consternation of the Marvel Studios), the everyman SHIELD agent whose death cemented the Avengers as a team. This seems to be largely accurate. Agent Coulson was a mainstay in the Marvel films before his “death” in Avengers. Since his small screen resurrection, he has not appeared in any of the films or even been mentioned (even in Age of Ultron when it would’ve made sense). As a result, the Marvel TV series became the bastard sons of the Marvel movies; the shows would pattern themselves after the storylines of the films, the films pretended the series didn’t exist. This has been frustrating to fans since it violates the whole idea we were promised when Iron Man was released 9 years ago.

And worse yet, the problem has gotten worse. Now the bastard sons, having grown tired of rejection, have walked away from the family.  In the Netflix series there has been a marked decline with every show of references to the big events of the MCU. Loki’s thwarted invasion of Manhattan is crucial to the first season of Daredevil and is mentioned many times in the first season of Luke Cage. But in both Iron Fist and The Defenders it is never mentioned once; nor are Ultron, the Sokovia Accords (which make it a crime to practice superheroing without government registration and oversight), or the fact that the Avengers dissolved spectacularly in a very public brawl.

Doctor Strange was claimed by Marvel Studios and denied to Marvel TV, which is a shame not just for The Defenders but also for Doctor Strange because I’m quite certain the character would’ve been better served in a Netflix series than on the big screen.

Finally, when Marvel Studios honcho Kevin Feige outmaneuvered his boss Marvel Entertainment Chairman Isaac Perlmutter (famously conservative, both politically and with the purse strings), he took Marvel Studios away from Marvel Entertainment and put the parent company Disney in charge. This was a shrewd move and will likely be beneficial as now Feige can operate without any input from the Marvel Chairman (Perlmutter appears to have been somewhat toxic: he famously drove Joss Whedon into the arms of the competition, sparked standoffs with talent over pay, and once blocked Rebecca Hall’s character in Iron Man 3 from being the villain simply because she was a woman). But Marvel TV wasn’t part of that deal. They stayed under Perlmutter. So the rift has widened.

All of this leads to a curious sense of disconnection from the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe, which is a shame. The timing of The Defenders is perfect since it coincides with the shift toward mysticism in the MCU. And the “non-team” element fits because the Defenders are in essence filling the void created by the implosion of the Avengers, an entity that is never once mentioned or referred to in the miniseries.

The idea that four loners are compelled to join forces to become a team because the team everyone relies on is MIA is the perfect comic book metaphor for life under Trump. The norms and oversight we’ve taken for granted became null and void on January 20, 2017 and many citizens have made the decision to become defenders as a result.

It would be easy to write another 10 pages about what The Defenders should have been, but let’s focus on what it is. For one, it is short. The Netflix solo series have all run 13 episodes and that is the most consistent complaint. By the 10th episode, these series, even at their best, begin treading water in order to fill out that episode count. The Defenders which one would assume could easily fill out 13 episodes, has a hard time filling out eight.

Plotting is often overrated in importance. But if you’re going to underplot a story, it better take up character development and/or rich, complex themes to fill the void and The Defenders does neither. Instead we get an endless procession of ‘what are YOU going to do” scenes, broken up by utterly uninspired fistfights.

Not one character in Defenders has anything approaching an arc either. The supporting characters that once brought so much to their respective solo shows, are relegated to waiting room small talk. Claire Temple, the fifth Defender in essence, who has been a vital presence in all four solo series is relegated to Love Interest. Claire’s payoff for entering this world appears to be the honor of getting to be Luke Cage’s lady (no small accomplishment, I grant you). It would have been great if she’d found a way to fulfill her own destiny in this culminating miniseries, like floating a proposal to Danny Rand to set up a clinic (perhaps with a hidden purpose of healing outlaw heroes), but this was beyond the imagination of the writing team.

And then there’s Alexandra, the putative nemesis. The miniseries reveals the casting of Sigourney Weaver to be nothing more than a stunt. Her character is a compendium of bad guy cliches and comes to naught. I hope she was paid well. Alexandra shores up one of the unspoken rules of comic book movies that showrunner Marco Ramirez and his staff foolishly flouted: do not make up villains. Draw from the source material.

The Hand returns and one hopes for the last time as the laughably generic sinister secret society (dripping with Yellow Peril Orientalism) is pushed past the point of absurdity. It’s objective is ill-defined, trite and nonsensical, the scenes between its immortal “fingers” is a crushing bore, and even their corporate cover (Midland Circle Financial) offers nothing of interest. Foolishly, I thought perhaps we’d learn that all of their origins- Matt Murdoch’s blinding, Jessica Jones’ car accident, Luke Cage’s experiment, and Danny Rand’s plane crash- are interconnected. We do not.

Again, with over three years to plan The Defenders, I am staggered by the poverty of ideas. We know they can’t fight the Chitauri in the way the Avengers did or travel to space but you can write interesting scenes as cheaply as you can write bad ones. Everything in Defenders is borrowed or a retread. The big bad guy twist from Luke Cage is employed again without any of the emotional impact that made the twist work in the earlier series. Daredevil has a climactic battle that is almost dialogue identical to the helicarrier fight between Captain America and the Winter Soldier.

Marvel's The Defenders

Worst of all, The Defenders doesn’t copy the good stuff from better films. The Defenders never have the “now we’re a team” moment one needs in this kind of story (e.g., using their skills in tandem to defeat something they’d be unable to stop alone). The creators seem to think having them stand shoulder to shoulder makes them a team.

The Defenders was always going to be tricky. Combining street-level action with the epic dimensions of a team story is contradictory at best. But after the stupefyingly poor Iron Fist series and what looks to be an ill-conceived Inhumans show over on ABC (word has it Perlmutter insisted the Inhumans become the X-Men of the MCU despite almost no significant fan interest in the show) it appears that Marvel TV is at a crossroads. Perlmutter’s parsimoniousness combined with Marvel TV honcho Jeph Loeb’s lackluster attempt to compete with Marvel Studios is ruining the entire endeavor which at one brief, shining point looked stronger and more interesting than the theatrical releases.

Next we’ll get a Punisher series, and in the next few years, new seasons of all four of the Defenders’ solo shows. Loeb has been vague about whether or not there will be a second season of The Defenders (I would prefer a Daughters of the Dragon miniseries that puts Misty Knight and Colleen Wing front and center). Loeb and company still have the characters they need to make TV series every bit as good as the best of the theatrical offerings. The Marvel films work best when they hire a storyteller who connects to the material in a deep way, and the Marvel TV series need to find showrunners with the same passion.


Brandon Wilson is a Los Angeles-based filmmaker and educator. He has directed numerous short films and two feature films, most recently “Sepulveda” which he co-directed with his wife Jena English. He writes essays on film and culture at He also tweets a lot.

“Comics” Need to Deal with their White Supremacist Issue Before Hashtags Mean Anything

With the country still in shock and the civilized part outraged by the events this past weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia many have wondered what they can do about the domestic terrorists that plague our nation. While they might hide behind labels such as “alt-right,” the triumvirate of White Supremacists/Nationalists, KKK, and Nazis are exactly that, domestic terrorists responsible for the murder of Heather Heyer and injury of 19 others.

The comic industry does what it does best in these situations, hashtag their way to involvement while ignoring their own numerous issues in their backyard that involves creators, fans, the press, and the publishers that enable it all.

Not even a month ago we ran a story about a comic about white “American nationalist” Kyle “Based Stick Man” Chapman being created with quite a few “mainstream” creators who publically haven’t seem to be condemned for their involvement. Mike Baron, Donald Jackson, Rick Miller, Brett R. Smith, and Mort Todd have escaped in their involvement mainstreaming through propaganda a comic an individual who sided with those domestic terrorists this weekend. These five individuals aren’t conservatives in the industry, these are five individuals who are working with a racist that’s on the radar of both the Anti-Defamation League and Southern Poverty Law Center. They are aiding and abetting a racist.

Brett R. Smith went so far to call it a “war”:

This is not only a culture war, this is war. The highest form of warfare is to subvert the culture because you don’t have to raise a standing army. We’re never going to change the culture from Washington. We’re going to do it from comics, from movies.

And, I’m sure Smith will suffer no consequences for his comments continuing to get work much like the other deplorables in the industry have been protected in the name of “free speech,” “art,” or whatever other excuse is in vogue for the week. I’m sure some creators will brush this entire post off as “mob justice” with an agenda (there is one, fuck Nazis).

But should we be surprised by the industry’s inaction? No. It’s the latest in a long string of instances where publically we’re told “diversity” and “inclusion” but those words ring hallow as behind the scenes reality is anything but. The industry still makes money off of material that called “art” and “challenging” (ex. Image’s Airboy and Divided States of Hysteria) but in reality is the same edginess that makes the Fryer’s Roast still a thing. It’s a bygone mindset that hasn’t been “in vogue” for decades now. They profit off of it catering to a dying breed of “cis het white males” that are the same cesspool that gave us things like GamerGate, Trump, and Charlottesville.

Beyond a few creators, the industry has been silent about the above comic and outright defends insensitive material not realizing you can defend it’s right to be published and condemn the content at the same time. Instead those (often marginalized groups and individuals) raising concerns are dismissed instead of being listened to with creators rallying the wagons around in defense in the name of “art.” But how many creators will refuse to work with the above? How many publishers? How many conventions will not invite them? When push comes to shove few creators really act on their convictions instead settling for a few Tweets of support.

But, one doesn’t have to look far to understand why this is the case. The industry still sees those cis het white males as their customers.

Marvel Comics made news when a quote by their Vice President of Sales David Gabriel was taken out of context:

What we heard was that people didn’t want any more diversity,” Gabriel told ICv2. “They didn’t want female characters out there. That’s what we heard, whether we believe that or not … We saw the sales of any character that was diverse, any character that was new, our female characters, anything that was not a core Marvel character, people were turning their nose up against. That was difficult for us because we had a lot of fresh, new, exciting ideas that we were trying to get out and nothing new really worked.

“What Marvel has heard” has led the publisher to rethink their sales slump and return to a “core” and “traditional” set of their characters, mainly “cis white and male.” What few seem to connect is this same narrative is the one that has plagued the video game industry for years now and gave rise to GamerGate. Video game companies were catering to “social justice warriors” by making their stories and characters more diverse. In reality one can easily argue those same companies are instead positioning their releases for a broader worldwide market. Where in video games there was a name for this neolithic and backwards movement, in comics it hasn’t revolved around a hashtag instead being push as a narrative by fans, stores, and even the a duped media who while discussing “sales” push the narrative that diversity doesn’t sell.

For months the narrative has been the same, the industry’s (re Marvel and DC) sales have been in a decline during the period they have attempted to diversufy their characters and much slower the creators. Though sales numbers are incomplete and often off by thousands (something I’ve confirmed directly with creators) a lack of deep dives into market trends, changing consumption rates, shifting business models, broken distribution systems, keeps the narrative focused on “numbers” and “diversity” playing into the regressive fan narrative. Further when pointing to sales years ago without further insight can only lead one to a conclusion that those backwards looking individuals must be right. There is no counterpoint only flawed numbers.

But beyond the sales, lack of condemnation, there’s a simmering acceptance of articles and discussions that don’t get called out for what they are.

The launch of Wonder Woman pivoted from the success of a female led superhero film to a discussion as to whether actress Gal Gadot was “white.” Numerous sites ran think pieces on the debate while little was dedicated to the anti-Semitic nature of the discussion as a whole and it playing into the Nazi/KKK/white supremicist narrative. In an industry founded be Jewish individuals, Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Joe Simon, Will Eisner, the cluelessness within the “comic community” over the discussion was astounding. Argue Gal Gadot isn’t white you’re reinforcing racists beliefs that Jews are “other.” Argue Gal Gadot is white and you’re reinforcing racists beliefs that Jews “blend in” and are “sneaky.” So maybe it’s best to not even have the discussion let alone have it run on (formaly) reputable sites? But, that’s rarely, if ever, brought up. Instead the discussion as a whole is treated as a valid one to have and it reinforces a belief of racists.

But should we be shocked by any of this? A publisher can’t even condemn the use of their character’s iconography by racists a simple act that even the Detroit Red Wings were able to do.

In an industry that was founded as a haven for individuals that couldn’t get work due to their gender, skin, or religion, and whose earliest works challenged the status quo championing a progressive outlook, we’ve slipped over its 100 years of existence.

It’s time to remember our roots and practice the lessons taught by the champions we love on the pages. We don’t need hashtags, we need real heroes who will stand up.

Cee Lo and Teen Titans Go!, a Musical Combination That Falls Flat

The Night Begins to Shine” by B.E.R. is some 80s-inspired electro-soul music that’s well know to Teen Titans Go!, the popular cartoon geared towards kids. The song, a favorite of Vic Stone aka Cyborg, is the heart of a four-part Teen Titans Go! special that kicked off on Cartoon Network this week.

To promote the episode, three new versions of the song along with two other B.E.R. songs heard in the special, are being released through WaterTower Music. One of those new recordings is by Cee Lo Green, a musical artist with a troubling past in actions and words, and one musician a show aimed at kids shouldn’t be embracing. The singer has had legal issues including drug charges, accusations of rape, and a defence of rape of which he had to walk back (and that was also to defend Bill Cosby).

In August 2014 the singer pleaded no contest to one felony count of “furnishing a controlled substance – a charge stemming from a July 2012 incident in which a woman accused the singer of slipping ecstasy into her drink.” He was ordered to complete 360 hours of community service.

But, that “controlled substance” charge was the tip of the iceberg as the woman he slipped the drug too also accused him of rape after waking up naked in the singer’s bed not remembering anything. The prosecutors said there was insufficient evidence to file rape charges of an intoxicated person (some reports say the prosecutors found it to be consensual).

Then the singer defended the action Tweeting:

If someone is passed out they’re not even WITH you consciously, so WITH implies consent. People who have really been raped REMEMBER!!!

The singer then apologized for the Tweet with:

I truly and deeply apologize for the comments attributed to me on Twitter. Those comments were idiotic, untrue and not what I believe.


I do realize in retrospect that it was highly sensitive, what I tweeted – highly irresponsible. It did stem from emotion causing some involuntary action, and I do believe that, maybe just possibly, we could all give each other a margin for human error.

The year of those charges Cee Lo quit the popular television show The Voice to avoid being fired, which rumors indicate all revolved around his legal troubles at the time. NBC called it a “mutual decision.” He was booted from at least two concerts and TBS cancelled his television show The Good Life over the charges.

Flash forward to 2017 and Green is on a rehabilitation tour attempting to deflect from past issues and rebuild his career and that apparently includes providing music for a kids show. There’s something chilling and nauseating about seeing an accused rapist rehabilitate his reputation and career and partially doing so through a venue aimed at kids is even more sickening. We shouldn’t be enabling this as consumers and shame on WaterTower Music for being complicit in it all and allowing a toxic personality to be involved in something that’s for kids.

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