“This is an EX-Catwoman!”

jjjDon’t Get Me Started #2

Well, this wasn’t even what I had planned to rant about this time.

But some things just present themselves and you have to either address them or let your brain explode.

(SPOILER ALERT: I will be talking about events that occur in JUSTICE LEAGUE #4 which goes on sale today.  I can’t imagine anyone who will read this blog will actually want to read that comic but, just in case, I’m going to bring up a pretty major plot point.  And, right here, in advance, I want to categorically state that I have not read this comic nor have any intention to do so, hence this rant.)

Ok, you’ve probably guessed by now that I don’t read a lot of new comics anymore and those that I DO read aren’t published by Marvel and DC.  There’s a lot of reasons for this but the subject of this post is a REALLY big one.

I’m sick of all the death.

Listen, this world is rough.  We get that.  We have wars and famine and tornados and nutbags shooting up schools.  But I don’t need to see that in my comic books.  Or, at least, I don’t need to see it done with the kind of school-yard glee that exists in modern comics.  It’s what I call a “culture of mega-violence” and, in terms of comics, I feel it started with the appearance of Wolverine and the Punisher.  These were characters who, a few scant years previously, were considered villains.  Suddenly, the culture changed and these characters were considered “bad-ass” while others like Cyclops and Spider-Man were “lame” because they didn’t want to go out and kill everything that moved.

But it really started to go to hell when DC published the moronic, insipid, insulting and misogynistic IDENTITY CRISIS in which it was revealed that Dr. Light had previously raped Sue Dibny (wife of the Elongated Man) and that Sue was later killed by Jean Loring (ex-wife and erstwhile love interest of the Silver Age Atom).  Things went downhill fast after that like Fat Albert, the Blob and John Candy riding an Olympic bobsled fast.

After that joyful read, we were treated to the murder of Blue Beetle (Ted Kord) by Maxwell Lord in COUNTDOWN TO INFINITE CRISIS which became a slaughterhouse smorgasbord.  This is how that murder looked:

blue_beetle_ted_kord_death

Yeh, because we needed to see that.  Never mind that Ted was a noble hero who struggled to do the right thing.  Let’s just blow his brains out and make way for a new ‘Blue Beetle’.  Yay, DC! That was in 2005.

Now, earlier this year, DC killed off Batman’s son, Damien, who had assumed the role of Robin.  Why?  I have no idea but it was probably to enjoy the little sales bump from all of the newer readers who don’t realize that death in comics is about as permanent as the Rolling Stones’ retirement.

And today, words reaches us that JUSTICE LEAGUE #4 features the death of Catwoman.  Let that sink in for a minute.  Catwoman.  A character that was created in 1940 (most likely by Bill Finger, unappreciated and generally uncredited creator of much of Batman’s mythology) and who has appeared in hundreds of comics and most likely every media version of Batman ever created.  Dead.  Kaput.  She “has joined the choir invisible” as John Cleese might say.  And this is the panel that showed it.

catwoman-dies

Look familiar?

Now, I’m not opposed to death in comics.  Some of the best stories have come from the deaths of certain characters (like Gwen Stacy in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN).  What I am opposed to is gratuitous, sensationalistic and generally unnecessary death.  A death that is really nothing more than some corporate fanboy’s masturbatory fantasy of “let’s kill off Catwoman!  That’ll really shake them up! Think of all the media coverage we’ll get out of this!”  And if you don’t believe they think like that then you really haven’t paid much attention to comic books in the last 15 years.

Comics today are an endless parade of death, rebirth, reboot and then death again.  These are the literal equivalents of when I used to play with my DC Mego Action Figures in the 70s.  “Bang!  Catwoman’s dead!  And here comes Batman!  And he saves her and she’s not dead after all!  Yay!  What’s for dinner, Mom?”

I can’t read DC or Marvel comics anymore and that saddens me.  I can’t read them because there is no joy in these comics.  There is no ‘sense of wonder’.  There is only death and grittiness and darkness.  If I want that, all I have to do is turn on my television and watch the news.

Way to go, DC.

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Don’t Get Me Started! #1

jjjI used to love comic books.

For a long time, they were really one of the most important parts of my life.  I practically LIVED for each week’s new shipment of comics.

I have two brothers who are older than me (10 and 9 years older, respectively) and they were into comics so, when annoying little brother came along, it was inevitable that I’d get into comics too.  And I was voracious!

I read everything!  I read Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, Thor, Flash, House of Mystery, Chamber of Chills even NIGHT NURSE!  If it was Marvel or DC, I read it.  And I read anything else I could get my hands on.  Comics from Charlton, Gold Key, Dell, Archie, Harvey, Tower, anything and everything.

Not only that, but I studied comics.  I wanted to know everything about them.  “Who was that character in Brave & the Bold last month?”  I could tell you.  Who created Superman and how and when?  I knew it.  I wanted to know everything about comics not just the stories and the characters but the people who created them.

That’s when, I think, things started to sour a bit.

For those who aren’t aware, comic books have an awful history.  I won’t even get into the allegations that the mob was behind much of the early days of comic books and their distribution.  Nor will I talk about the shady deals and the unfounded lawsuits.  I won’t even talk about the comic book censorship of the 1950s that essentially shut down EC comics and stripped comics of virtually all of their creativity and relevance.  But I could (and just might someday)!

In the 70s, there really wasn’t anything you could call a “comic news network”.  There were a few fanzines but nothing like it is today.  Most of what we did have was concentrated around the stories and characters with not a lot of creator background.

That began to change in the late 70s and really gained speed in the 80s.  The first time I remember really taking notice of the way comic companies treated their creators was during the Siegel & Shuster incident.  As Warner Brothers was making the first SUPERMAN movie in 1978 (with Chris Reeve) and preparing for a massive PR campaign, I started hearing little news items.  It seemed that the original creators of Superman (Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster) were living in virtual poverty as a movie that would make millions was preparing to come out.

I was only 15 at this time and didn’t really know a lot about the behind-the-scenes life at comic companies despite having a brother who, by that time, was actually working in comics.  Long story short, the fan community (led, in part, by Neal Adams who was then a creator with a lot of clout with fans) revolted against DC and eventually Siegel & Shuster were awarded lifetime pensions and credit for their creation. (You can read more about this case online and a brief overview here.)

That day made me proud to be a fan.

And when Marvel Comics tried to keep from returning Jack Kirby’s artwork and the fans were there to support Kirby, I was proud again.

We fans had the creators backs and they, and the comic companies, knew it.

I’m not proud to be a fan anymore.

The reason is because, when issues like Kirby and Shuster come up now, the fans take to the internet and social media to express their anger and outrage.  But not against the comic companies.  They’re angry at the heirs of Kirby and Shuster for daring to not only ask for credit or compensation but for daring to risk the end to their beloved comics.

The vitriol I have seen expressed online is truly depressing.  And it’s not even just against heirs of deceased creators either.  Example: Ken Penders recently filed suit against Archie Comics for rights to characters he created for the SONIC comic book.  (You can read about the newest update on that case here.) Many comments on this case again side with the publishers.

There are many other cases like this happening where many of the fans are not on the side of the creators.  They appear, for all intents and purposes, like junkies worried that someone might shut off their supply.  Somewhere, somehow, comic companies have managed to win fans over to their side and I just can’t figure out when that happened.

There are a couple of reasons why I don’t buy and/or read new comic books from Marvel & DC anymore.  This is one of them.  I’ll talk about the other one, and why I feel guilty looking at my bookcase of high quality hardcover reprints, next time.

(“Don’t Get Me Started” is an editorial by Sam Gafford.  All views expressed are simply my own and do not reflect any other staffers here at the L.O.D.G.E.)

Why I will NOT be going to see IRON MAN 3

iron-man-3-official-hd

IRON MAN 3 opened last Friday (May 3, 2013) and, by all reports, make a butt-wad of money.  Something like $175 million.

But my $12 wasn’t part of it.  Nor will it be part of the box office for THOR 2, AVENGERS 2, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, CAPTAIN AMERICA 2 or (just to show that I can cross company lines) the new SUPERMAN movie.  It’s very likely that I will never go to a comic-book based movie ever again.  Or, at least, not one based on Marvel or DC characters.

The reason is very simple: I do not wish to give either company any more of my money.

Let me explain.

I’m a comic book fan from way back.  I was born in 1962 and began reading comics just a few years after that.  (I’d say that my brothers put comics into my crib but I have no proof of that nor have they ever claimed to have done anything like that.)  So I grew up reading comics through the 70’s and 80’s and even kept reading during the 90’s although my taste for the genre was running thin.

Like many others, I watched the old Marvel cartoons in the 60’s and suffered through the painful Marvel movies of the 70s and 80s.  All that time we prayed for good movies to be made about our beloved characters.

Now, it seems, the movie companies are finally getting it right.  Big budgets.  Big stars.  Lots of special effects and characters we’ve been waiting decades to see.

And I can’t enjoy a bit of it.

Because in this orgy of big-time Hollywood excess of slick movies, there’s a group of people who have been forgotten.  You’d be hard pressed to find any articles or press releases about them and they’re certainly not benefiting financially from any of this.

That group is the creators.

The people whose imagination and creativity gave us characters like Spider-Man, Thor, Iron-Man, Captain America, Red Skull, Loki, S.H.I.E.L.D., Green Goblin and all the rest have been mistreated and defrauded by the very companies who reap MILLIONS every year from those creations.

If you are unfamiliar with how the comic book industry worked during the time most, if not all, of these characters were created, I will summarize it.  Comic books were created under a concept called “Work for Hire”.  This essentially means that the company is paying a creator (writer/artist/colorist/etc) a certain agreed-upon rate for their work.  After creation, the company now owns that work and can do with it as they see fit.

That’s pretty much it.  Work for Hire was the industry standard until the 80s when creator (and fan) outcry forced Marvel and DC to begin to offer different incentives to creators like royalties and percentages.  This was partly brought on because, in the 80s, other comic companies were enticing top talent by offering more lucrative contracts to creators.  Contracts that included (in some cases) profit sharing in copyrights.  Although modified, “Work for Hire” is still being used at the major comic companies.

So, what has that to do with IRON MAN 3?  Well, Marvel & DC not only have not financially compensated the creators for the many works that these movies are based on but, in many cases, do not even give them credit for their work.

Much has been written (and deservedly so) about the horrible treatment that Jack Kirby received from Marvel (a company that, by and large, he helped create) and which Superman’s creators, Siegel & Shuster, received from DC Comics.  Kirby went through a long, painfully protracted lawsuit with Marvel regarding the return of his original art (after other artists had received their art back) because, before they would return it, Marvel wanted Kirby to sign away all rights to his work.  Fans stood up and refused to accept this.

Siegel & Shuster were rewarded lifetime pensions in the late 70s by DC Comics.  Not because the folks at DC were such sweethearts (because they weren’t) but because a fan based campaign, begun by artist Neal Adams, shamed them into doing it.  This occurred right before the opening of the first Christopher Reeves SUPERMAN movie at a time when DC  wanted to avoid bad publicity.

These are the two most widely known cases and even these have not been resolved.  Kirby’s heirs continue to fight for credit and financial compensation while Siegel’s heirs have fought a long (and vicious) fight to regain parts of the Superman copyrights.  And there are still others happening right now.

Comic creator Bob Layton took to Facebook this weekend to state:

“I have no plans to see it [IRON MAN 3] anytime soon. Maybe when it comes to cable? I can’t, in all good conscience, shell out money for a movie ticket to the very company that keeps exploiting my work without compensation. It just seems wrong to me.”

There are many apologists for Marvel and DC out there right now.  They regurgitate the oft-heard responses of “they knew what they were signing” and “the companies took the risk, why shouldn’t they profit?”  Both arguments create a sadness within me.

In the first place, in many cases, they had no choice but to sign.  The comic industry in the 60s and 70s was much different than today in that creators did not have a wide choice of who to work for.  If you wanted to make a liveable wage in comics, you worked for Marvel or DC.  If you disagreed about their policies, there was a very good chance you’d never work for them again.  They were ‘closed shops’ where, if you dared to even mention the word ‘union’, you’d be blackballed.  Sure you could work for Charlton (widely known as the worst paying comic company around) but not everybody could work for different markets.  Can you imagine Jack Kirby writing/drawing HOT STUFF for Harvey comics?  You took the work not because you choose to but because you didn’t have any other choice.

Obviously, no one in the 60s ever dreamed that these characters would one day star in multi-million dollar movies.  If they had, they wouldn’t have agreed to those terms and would’ve protected their rights.  Hindsight is, after all, 20/20.  But, in order to protect future profits, Marvel & DC are still, for the most part, “Work for Hire” shops.

The point being that these companies exploited their workers then and exploit them now.  Do they legally owe these creators anything?  Probably not.  Legally, these companies are probably well within their rights not to pay anybody anything beyond the originally contracted amounts.

But ethically is a different story.

Marvel & DC have made fortunes for companies and many executives on the backs of stories about superheroes who did the “right thing”.  They were heroic and protected the little guy and stood up for ‘fair play’ and honesty and integrity.  How sad to find that the companies who published those stories don’t really know what any of those things mean and it makes me wonder if they’ve ever read their own comics.

Did these companies take a financial risk?  Sure, but early on.  They certainly aren’t taking any risks now but continue to reap benefits that they refuse to share in terms of compensation or even recognition.  Would it really hurt these mega-corporations in the long run if they turned around and said, “Thanks, we appreciate what you’ve done for us.  Let us show you how much.”  Think of all the good will that would generate and, more importantly to these companies, the level of talent that they would attract to work for them.

Many comic creators of the 70s and 80s cannot find work today.  They’re still good writers and artists but they’re not getting hired.  The companies will say that their work is “out of style” and not in demand today.  They took the work of these creators and, when no longer needed, shut the door in their face.  Ask Jerry Ordway.  Ask Herb Trimpe.  Men with decades of dependable work who can no longer find assignments.

Obviously, Marvel’s not going to care that they didn’t get my $12 this weekend or that I’m not buying their latest crossover crap or the advertising flyers that pass for Marvel Comics these days.  I don’t even expect anyone reading this to care all that much that Sam Gafford is not going to IRON MAN 3.  But it’s something that I can choose to do and the reason I choose to do it is because of all those lessons I learned while reading Superman comics and Spider-Man comics and Fantastic Four comics and all the others.  Comics that were created by PEOPLE and not a corporation.

I want to go and enjoy IRON MAN 3.  I want to go to the next CAPTAIN AMERICA movie.  But I can’t because Kirby will be sitting next to me along with all the other forgotten creators and so I will respect them and their works by staying home and reading my old comics.

I hope you will do the same.

Order! Order!

This was probably the most anticipation I’ve felt coming into a summer movie season ever. With Dark Night Rises, Marvel’s The Avengers, and The Amazing Spider-Man all hitting theaters within months of each other, it was a tough summer to wait for.  Now that I’ve seen them all, it’s time for judgment. SPOILER ALERT! If you have not seen any of these movies yet and still plan to, best not read on. I don’t plan on going into tremendous detail, but I am going to give stuff away.

But first, a word on how I watch movies. I see maybe six movies a year in theaters. Because of that, I only go to movies I’m pretty sure I’m going to like. I believe actors and directors have the right to re-imagine a character taken from somewhere else.  I have the right to hate it, but I’ll watch with an open mind. I am a very forgiving audience, for the most part, although advancing age has made me  easier to bore I am becoming a bit more discerning with experience. As a general rule, if I walk out of the theater feeling entertained, I’m happy. This summer, I have been consistently ecstatic.

It was tough for me to pick a favorite on this list. Competition was very, very strong. But at the end the day, my favorite was The Avengers, and for only one reason. Joss Whedon came closer to the comics with his movie than Christopher Nolan did with Dark Knight Rises. Joss captured so many of the little touches that made Marvel Comics new and different so long ago.  One of the best of those was the ancient Marvel axiom that says when superheroes meet for the first time, there’s a fight. And what a collection of fights we have! Thor and Iron Man square off. Captain America gets involved in that one,  to spectacular effect. Cap and Tony face off out of costume. Thor and Hulk go a few rounds.  Black Widow demonstrates what a sane person does when facing the Hulk, as only the Widow can.  Hawkeye gets to shoot at everybody.  And at no time do the fights feel contrived. They flow naturally from the story, logical outcomes for the situations.

Another thing that makes The Avengers shine is the fact that everyone mattered. There isn’t a single member of the team you win the final battle without. If Hawkeye isn’t on overwatch they get overwhelmed on the ground. Without Cap calling the shots the battle is lost, and there are huge civilian losses. Without the Black Widow you don’t close the gate, and without Iron Man, Thor  and Hulk on the front lines you’ve lost before the battle starts. And of course, it is Iron Man who strikes the decisive blow.

The Dark Knight Rises comes second for me. This is not to suggest it was a bad movie. On the contrary, Christopher Nolan can rightfully call this trilogy a masterpiece, with this movie a fitting final offering. The story is internally consistent and compelling. His characters are complex, well realized and well played. Anne Hathaway did a magnificent job with Catwoman. Tom Hardy was a compelling and frightening Bane. I think Michael Caine could have phoned in Alfred and still been good, but since he didn’t he is excellent. Bale’s Batman is convincing, and Bruce Wayne deepened as a character.

If  it had really been Batman, it would have been perfect. But it wasn’t. Why do I say this? The Batman out of the comics is flatly incapable of doing the things he does in this movie. Oh, not the fights or the gadgets or the escapes. That stuff was on target.

Bruce Wayne would never give up. There would never be an eight year hiatus. There certainly never would have been an arranged death, at least, not so he could retire. As a tactical move and part of a larger plan, absolutely. But not to retire. As long as it was possible for him to do so, Batman would continue. It’s the central fact of his character.

Finally, we come to The Amazing Spider-Man. I liked this movie. I will confess to a slight bias, here. Spider-Man is probably my favorite character in all of comics.  It is a major tribute to the other two films that I am putting this movie in third, because I think Marc Webb put together a good story. He even gave me the villain I wanted to see in the Lizard. We  get to see Spidey cracking some jokes, which I missed in Tobey Maguire’s performance. The story stays close to the Ultimate Spider-Man story and thus true to it’s source material. The action looked great. The scenes where he learns about his powers are priceless. I will never forget watching him accidentally tear the bathroom apart by trying to brush his teeth.

I’m torn on the issue of web-shooters. Part of me enjoys the nostalgia. But Peter didn’t invent webbing in this movie. Oscorp did. Did I miss the scene where Peter learned to make his own? I saw him build web-shooters, but I don’t remember seeing him make web fluid, or biofiber, in this case. So where’s it coming from? Simple. He steals it from Oscorp.

Wait! Peter Parker does what? He steals with hardly a second’s thought? This is a man who agonized for like six issues over whether it was okay to sell a gold notebook he . . .okay, acquired . . . from  a building  turned to solid gold by the Beyonder in Secret Wars II. (He finally did, only to get hosed by the fence he had to sell it to.)

Please, tell me I’m wrong. Call me a fool and tell me where you saw Peter make his own webbing. Give me a reason to go back to the theater. I’ll thank you, because otherwise he’s a thief, and that doesn’t work anywhere near as well for me.

Now that it’s over, (it is over, right?I haven’t forgotten anything?) I will look back at this summer movie season as a great one. I left a lot of theaters ( . . . okay, three theaters.) very happy. Feel differently or disagree with my rankings?Tell me why.

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