Not So Black & White: When Comics Explore Race Using Aliens as a Social Majority
By Stephanie Hoos
Upon leaving the theater after seeing Guardians of the Galaxy, only one thing struck me: I was seeing a movie where the aliens were the ones who held both the ethnic and social majority, but a white male still came out on top. How did this happen? How did this narrative come to be? And, most importantly, did I believe that this was truly about whiteness, or was it more about the construction of society and how we all perceive race? 
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Peter Quill, AKA Star Lord, is kidnapped from Earth and dehumanized (har har, dehumanized in an alien movie – no one else got that? No? Anyways…) by his captors only to work his way up the ranks and become a second-class citizen in an alien (both literally and figuratively speaking) society. Once Quill stumbles upon “the orb” and the orb-hunting Gamora, his plight changes and his purpose refuels him to realize his potential and become a leader of a group of justice-seeking individuals who have all experienced their individual traumas. Their mutual healing becomes the happy accident of the successful completion of their mission to deliver the orb’s contents to their proper authorities, etc. Shenanigans ensue. All is won. 
 
The part of the story that strikes me as most poignant is that Quill’s kidnapping from earth, where he would have grown up to be the quintessential example of authority (a white male) is cut off and redirected. He, by default, is no longer socially superior. His identification changes, his posture changes, and his goals change the moment he is given an overarching purpose that challenges his low-life status. 
 
The example of the outlier as hero is relevant across the entire comic spectrum from mutants to millionaires. It is difference that is always emphasized as the platform for plausible heroicness (and, yes, that’s totally a word). Once achieved, though, this heroicness gives the man in the suit permission to be considered one of the crowd, while standing head and shoulders above it. Superman is an alien who fights for humans. Bruce Wayne is a millionaire who fights for the everyman.  Professor X is a man in a wheelchair who can render the strongest man useless just by using his mind. The exceptions in comics become the rule. 
 
Quill, though, has an exception that we don’t usually see: he’s white at the beginning of the story and white at the end of the story, but his whiteness means something completely different at the beginning than it does at the end. His evolution from geek to chic is similar that of any white male colonist narrative. All of a sudden, we find ourselves right on the set of Dances With Wolves, Pocahontas, The Last Samurai, and – finally – Avatar. 
 
Side note: One huge problem I have in Avatar as well as this movie, in particular, is that actors of color always play the aliens. Why does that bother me? Well, it sets a precedent that, in our human world, actors of color are only fit to play aliens because they are alien to our white dominated society. It also enforces typecasting and general racism, but – most importantly – it tells each story as if it’s obvious that there are people in the world who aren’t white and those people are not the same as those who are white. They are different and not different in a positive way. They are meant to be colonized, changed, and uprooted from wherever and whoever they are until they become exactly like us. Or, alternatively, they can choose the depths to which they’d be willing to break their backs to make us accept them – only to have us isolate them even more from us and market their dehumanization and colonization for all to profit… 
 
We can break down the general white male as colonizer story into something simple: generally unlikeable white male feels lost and out of touch as a result of internal struggles or external trauma, white male stumbles upon “alien” lands with “alien” occupants only to feel lost and like an outsider, white male befriends local male and seduces local female, white male becomes integrated into alien society and begins to identify as one of them (rather than the original “us”), white male goes against his land and people of origin and fights his background as well as memories of trauma left behind, white male finds peace and a new home with his new people who now embrace and accept him as one of their own. 
 
Quill’s narrative is not all that different, and we even have all of the aliens played by people of color who prove that his acceptance into that community both externally and internally mirrors that of a white male growing into the community of minority inhabitants. However, the aliens are not an ethnic minority either socially or politically in Guardians of the Galaxy. The alien planets are societies of their own with political power and social capital. That said, Peter Quill’s acceptance doesn’t stem from distrust of whites or humans evolving into Quill’s embrace of their culture, but rather something unbelievable happens…
 
HUGE SPOILER HEADED YOUR WAY FOLKS!!!
 
We find out that Peter Quill IS an alien!?!?!?!? WHAT!?!?!? How did that happen???? Stop it!!! Really??? The white guy in a movie about aliens ends up not being totally white and human and huge and handsome and… WHAT!??!? 
 
Ok ok ok, we get it. This is supposed to put a wrench in it all. And it does. It proves something that comics have rarely touched upon and almost never come out and say: race is a social construct that we, as people, create from scratch and enforce over decades of systematic fallacy and political intervention. We create inequality from absolutely nothing real, just like Peter Quill’s narrative proves. You can still be white, you can still be a minority, you can be a failure as a junker, and you can be a success as a Star Lord. What you cannot help and what you cannot change is society’s perception of those things until you can prove you are worthy. You are just like them. You are somebody. 
 
And this white guy wasn’t a somebody until he proved he was just like every other nobody walking on this alien planet.  That’s possibly slightly reductive, but the point is there: whiteness as allegory proves that society deems who is worth more and who is worth less or worthless. That’s something determined over time with honed and systematic crafted dogma of the day. 
 
Peter Quill’s ascent into the position of white male authority only happened because we found out he wasn’t human at all. He was able, without anyone knowing, to pass as a human in a world full of aliens. Then, he was able to pass as alien in a world full of human haters. He was able to be a card-carrying member of the majority. He actually earned his alien club card. This is a societal narrative, and a constructive one regarding the character of characters we deem powerful and present in the story of human existence as told through comics. This human isn’t human. He is, though, telling a human story. He’s telling the story of someone who struggles with identity in a world that hates him because of something he cannot control and only embraces him based on that very same something he cannot control. Why aren’t we looking at each other or reading comics and wondering, who is the white guy in this story? The answer might surprise you. 

Not So Black & White: When Comics Explore Race Using Aliens as a Social Majority

By Stephanie Hoos

Upon leaving the theater after seeing Guardians of the Galaxy, only one thing struck me: I was seeing a movie where the aliens were the ones who held both the ethnic and social majority, but a white male still came out on top. How did this happen? How did this narrative come to be? And, most importantly, did I believe that this was truly about whiteness, or was it more about the construction of society and how we all perceive race? 

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SUPER-FOODS
By Mike Balderrama
Dear, BoomTube friends,
I’m writing today to make a formal pitch to you: I want BoomTube to also be a FOOD BLOG!
Let me explain:
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We’ve all had them: supermarket sheet cakes with a hastily piped-on S-shield of frosting; cupcakes with mounds of icing on which a lazy hand dropped a hokey plastic disc emblazoned with an Avengers (TM) logo. But we’ve also cracked open a can of Spaghetti-Os with special noodles shaped like your favorite characters from the cancelled-too-soon series The Batman. 
It’s a mix of good and bad, isn’t it? Chowing down on a fruit roll-up has a little more zazz if you’re eating Victor Zsasz (although, I’m pretty sure they only printed Two Face and The Joker on those Dark Knight tie-in boxes). Here are two of my picks for the worst Superhero tie-in foods that I had to endure during my childhood.
1) Spider-Man Cereal (1995)

Fact of the matter, this was already a disappointment because it couldn’t even claim to be an original cereal. Just the TMNT cereal with differently molded blobs of marshmallow. Don’t get me wrong, I love rice Chex, and I love the marshmallows you might find in Lucky Charms, but combining the two left an unsavory flavor in my mouth. Also, a cereal company like Ralston couldn’t live up to the promise of two power-house General Mills products.
Can we talk about the marshmallow shapes? I distinctly remember the TV commercial showing a mock-up of the intended iconography as it morphed into the actual marshmallow shapes: a red spider, an orange pumpkin bomb, a blue camera, and…Wilson Fisk/The Kingpin (??)—all transformed into red blob, orange blob, blue blob and white blob respectively.
I barely finished a box at age 11. You can now still find these awful things lingering on eBay for way too much money.
I will say this about it: from a packaging perspective, I much prefer it to newer versions linked to the Spider-Man film franchise. Here, at least Spider-Man is shaking his fist at the sheer ridiculousness before him. Today, we’re bombarded with an action-shot where the web-slinger is usually firing his web-shooters toward the bowl. Often times it comes off like his web fluid is the cereal milk? I dunno, the imagery is super confusing and unappetizing.
2) Superman Vitamins

I was a Flintstones kid. (Ten million strong and growing!) I actually liked eating them. I found them to have a nice citrus kick, sort of harder Smarties. Fred always tasted the best. But then I discovered comic books and superheroes as a little child. Dad would pop on the John Williams Superman score, and I’d run around the condo with my arms outstretched like I was whizzing through the sky. It made sense that a growing kid would need some vitamins befitting the Man of Steel, right?
Was. I. Wrong.
They were so chalky! And bulky! They always left a sour taste in my mouth that a glass of milk only made worse. They also felt bigger than Flintstones vitamins. Shaped like crest of the House of El, they were dense little health supplements. The only thing that made me get through them was pretending they were different forms of Kryptonite that would alter me in new and fantastic ways. Like that Silver Age story where Superman uses a bunch of different colored rocks to split into Superman Red and Superman Blue. Otherwise? Gross as hell.
The Final Scores:
Spider-Man Cereal: 2/5 “Kingpin ‘Shmallows”
Superman Vitamins: 1/5 “Not even humming “dunnn dunnn dunnnn DUN dunuuuuh” could get this bad taste out of my mouth.”
If you have Superhero food you want to review we’d love to publish your work! Hopefully we can make this a regular segment to supplement our usual BoomTube offerings. E-mail us at hello@theboomtube.com!

SUPER-FOODS

By Mike Balderrama

Dear, BoomTube friends,

I’m writing today to make a formal pitch to you: I want BoomTube to also be a FOOD BLOG!

Let me explain:

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JODOROWSKY’S DUNE
By Steven Miller
When I heard that the Dune documentary was finally being released, I hopped online to find where it was playing. Typically whenever there’s something out of the mainstream coming to theaters, it’s not coming anywhere near me. I usually end up waiting for the DVD or Netflix release, because typically I’m not going to drive 5 hours to see a movie. But I looked anyway…maybe it would be coming to Jacksonville? But to my surprise, it was screening right here in Savannah, Georgia. A local film group lobbied to bring Dune to our town, to the least popular of our seven theaters.
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So recently I wandered into a dark theater to view the legacy of one of the most amazing movies that never happened. Fortunately, I was not alone; there were three others there as well. I wasn’t sure what to be prepared for, but I was definitely not disappointed in what I got.

Jodorowsky’s Dune is a documentary about the story of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s attempt to make a film about Frank Herbert’s sci-fi classic, Dune. Dune tells the tale of two royal families vying for control of Arrakis, a desert planet home to the spice/hallucinogenic drug mélange.  It actually feels a lot like an allusion to the war in Iraq or Afghanistan, except that it was written in 1965. The young Paul Attreides eventually befriends the Fremen (the locals), and is revealed to be the messiah of the Fremen people. He also rides some giant sand worms. It’s a great book, one that would be tough to adapt to screen.
Jodorowsky saw this as a chance to bring a new experience to the world, to make audiences feel like they were on drugs, even if they weren’t. Jodorowsky sets out to find his “spiritual warriors” that would help bring his film to life. I was struck by the passion that Jodorowsky had for every step he was talking to make this film. His excitement was contagious, and I couldn’t imagine not wanting to be part of the project, based on how he explained it.
Character concepts by Moebius

The first Spiritual Warrior he found was Moebius (Jean Giraud). Moebius is easily one of the most incredible illustrators of the 20th century, working mostly with graphic novels such as The Incal, Airtight Garage, and Blueberry. Moebius was incredibly quick and had a vast vision, helping Jodorowsky develop character designs and a phone book-sized storyboard laying out the entire film, panel by panel. There are only two copies in existence today, one of which belonging to Jodorowsky himself. It’s value is likely priceless, because of the rarity and cult status. The most interesting thing about the storyboard and its completeness is that Jodorowsky never read the book! I assume he got some Cliff Notes, but the entire process mostly came from his own brain and how he thought things ought to be. It likely would have looked nothing like the original novel’s story, but maybe that’s not so important.  His next warrior was H.R. Giger, who, was extremely weird. You sort of expect that the guy who later went on to design the Alien franchise would be kind of creepy, but yikes. I’ll give you a moment to go Google him. He also has this gravel-y Swiss German accent that just…woof. Let’s not talk about it. Giger was charged with developing the villainous Harkonnen planet, with buildings and palaces that look skeletal and metallic.  Dan O’Bannon, a relative newbie working on John Carpenter movies, was hired as the warrior for visual effects. Chris Foss was hired to do concept art for the ships, based on his work on sci-fi novel covers.
Jodorowsky and Moebius’ GIANT storyboard book

It was a massively talented team. Jodorowsky recounts tales involving his recruitment of Pink Floyd to do music, of bribing Orson Welles with food from his favorite restaurant every day on set, and of agreeing to pay Salvador Dali $100 a minute for his portrayal of the Emperor.  There was a sort of fate attached to everything he did. He wanted to hire David Carradine and Mick Jagger, and then there they were in the same hotel or club as him! It was like everything was syncing up with this mystical energy and excitement.
Harkonnen palace by H.R. Giger. The mouth opens and ships land on the tongue.

But then the problems hit. Dune was maybe too wild, too long, and too expensive to make. Jodorowsky had managed to raise a good part of the money he was expecting to need, but no production companies would sign on for it. They loved everything they were seeing, but didn’t believe in Jodorowsky as a director, and they didn’t believe the film could actually happen.  And that was it. After painstaking pre-production, casting, and concepting, it was over before it began. This crushed Jodorowsky. And how could it not? To pour your entire life into a movie, to feel it as the biggest thing to change cinema, only for it to fall flat so close to being reality. I felt powerfully sad during this movie. Certainly, I already knew the outcome since Dune wasn’t a movie I could ever go see, but watching it felt like seeing a part of Jodorowsky and his team die. Jodorowsky didn’t make many movies after that, it stamped down his creativity for a long while. Yet, there was something still uplifting in Jodorowsky’s outward spirit. He turned the negative into a positive. Yes, he said, yes…we will not make the movie!
Jodorowsky tells a story about going to see David Lynch’s adaptation of Dune in the theater after his own version failed. He was so sick, he had to be dragged in. He looked up to Lynch and though he was an incredible film maker. But then the movie started and it was terrible! He was so happy that it was a flop, that someone else hadn’t succeeded where he had so painfully failed. He realized that this wasn’t maybe the best reaction, but a human reaction.
Ship concept by Chris Foss

Even though Dune didn’t ever happen, parts of it can be seen in other places, and one could argue that many sci-fi classics could not have happened without Dune. After the failure of Dune, O’Bannon wrote the screenplay for Alien and wrote Total Recall. He got fellow Dune-r H.R. Giger to design the aliens. Giger’s Dune work could be seen in the other films of that franchise and Prometheus. Foss also went on to work on Alien, as well as Superman. Story elements of Dune were eventually used in Jodorowsky’s Incal and Metabarons graphic novels.
Jodorowsky’s Dune is a sad, funny, sweet, and strange tribute to a man with incredible vision and new ideas about the viewer experience.  I left wondering what our movies today would be like had Dune been a reality…how might it have changed our perceptions of cinema? I guess we’ll probably never know, but maybe some day, in some way, Jodorowsky’s vision will finally come to life; he’s already done all of the hard work.
See this film. See this experience. See this work of art that almost was.

JODOROWSKY’S DUNE

By Steven Miller

When I heard that the Dune documentary was finally being released, I hopped online to find where it was playing. Typically whenever there’s something out of the mainstream coming to theaters, it’s not coming anywhere near me. I usually end up waiting for the DVD or Netflix release, because typically I’m not going to drive 5 hours to see a movie. But I looked anyway…maybe it would be coming to Jacksonville? But to my surprise, it was screening right here in Savannah, Georgia. A local film group lobbied to bring Dune to our town, to the least popular of our seven theaters.

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"BAD NEWS, EVERYONE!" OR WHAT’S TO BE DONE ABOUT UATU?
By Mike Balderrama
(Originally published after the release of Original Sin #1)
Laurie:Uh-huh. Ahuhuhuh… Jeez, y’know, that felt good. There don’t seem to be that many laughs around these days.Dan: Well, what do you expect? The Watcher is dead.

Okay, that’s not a real quote. That’s a wholesale theft from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ The Watchmen. I just finished Original Sin #1, and I don’t know what to feel about it.
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More specifically, I was left to gather *real important opinions* about a Marvel Universe figure we rarely see, (but when we do, we’re very much in trouble): Uatu the Watcher. He’s dead now, and for some reason a bunch of superheroes are left to track down the murderer.
Oh, and he’s been blinded. Sort of like Earth X, but not? Well, blinded for someone else to see, rather than blinding so Uatu can’t see.

I could have sworn he was immortal…wasn’t there something about him being chock full of Delta-rays—couldn’t he only die if he lost the will to live? I’m getting ahead of myself, but with all these tiny notions bubbling up in my mind, I found myself wanting to know more about this mystery figure who apparently isn’t mysterious enough that you can take Nick Fury’s flying car to go visit his home.

I think this seems to be the biggest beef I have with The Watcher: everyone knows about him. For a cosmic entity that has been charged with observing the solar system in order to pass on the record of the universe once our reality dies and is reborn, he gets pretty talkative.
I’m vaguely remembering a scene in the ‘96 Onslaught story arc of the X-Men, where a dormant Apocalypse wakes up and Uatu just pops up. He doesn’t say anything, he just knows he needs to show up to keep an eye on what’s about to happen. That’s the kind of thing a Watcher should do: create this instant unease and gravity to the situation.

Only problem is, when you use Uatu too much as a plot device to drive home the fact that *YOU NEED TO PAY ATTENTION, THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT* then you undermine any sense of subtlety and delicate tonal shifts in your story.

He’s become a bit of a joke in the Marvel Universe—a sort of galactic boogeyman. “Reed, don’t build that machine. Wouldn’t want The Watcher to show up…”

And yet, when he shows up, more often than not he helps out heroes in order to solve the unsolvable problems. His primary mission is non-intervention, but that rarely happens. Uatu is really bad at his job.
He’s the guy who told the Fantastic Four about the ultimate nullifier in order to push back the destruction of Galactus. The Dreaming Celestial even reported that Uatu has broken his oath well over 400 times.

Based on what we see in Original Sin #0, looks like this kind of behavior is hereditary. His father was the one who handed over nuclear technology to the Prosilians—the act that made the Watchers the rules-oriented curmudgeonly bunch in the first place. Uatu is portrayed as desperately exploring the multiverse in the hopes there’s a version of reality out there where his dad made the right call. Perhaps this is equally a self-reflection considering the sheer volume of intervening he exhibits on a regular basis.

Well, now that he’s dead, what do we do with him? What could have been done differently to make him a compelling enough character to keep around in the Marvel Universe?

I really liked reading All-New X-Men #25 where Hank McCoy is visited by a shadowy bald-headed figure forcing him to face his reality-compromising act of bringing the O5 into the future. You think through the whole thing that it’s Charles Xavier, only for Uatu to step out of the shadows. That’s a powerful scene.

This is an all-seeing, all-observing figure with limitless power on the scale of Galactus. Conceptually, I would think our megacephalic friend would be so beyond the average human’s comprehension, that no one should be able to see him except for a handful advanced level superheroes. It’d make him a bit more of a horrifying figure—maybe people can talk about him, but when you are trying to discuss something you’ve never seen or heard before, imagination can run wild.

He could serve much more as a threat or a warning when portrayed in a hazy shadow in the corner of a scene—the flash of his eyes or his silhouette the only thing readers can pick up at the back of a panel.
I admit, I love the idea of a duty-bound figure who leaves his post to help. [It’s also what makes the Silver Surfer so interesting. Similarly, Uatu and Norrin Radd freak people out when they show up to the party (which admittedly is really funny—most recently seen in the new Slott/Allred Surfer series)]. I want to see an Uatu casually guiding people when they’ve gone astray, or coaxing them to better things. Wouldn’t it be fun to read an Uatu series where he goes around helping the Marvel Universe? Each issue he has to solve some problems, all while making sure his fellow Watchers don’t find out? Maybe make it like Quantum Leap where Sam, Al and Ziggy are all rolled up together in a bald-headed entity with a taste for fashionable robes. How can you not make a regular series with a character that actually has a lunar base? It’s outright wasted potential.

It’s too bad a series like Original Sin was the reason I got thinking more about Uatu the Watcher, since he won’t actually be around anymore. Fingers crossed he comes back before Wolverine ultimately does.
Uatu is dead, y’all. Long live Uatu.

"BAD NEWS, EVERYONE!" OR WHAT’S TO BE DONE ABOUT UATU?

By Mike Balderrama

(Originally published after the release of Original Sin #1)

Laurie:Uh-huh. Ahuhuhuh… Jeez, y’know, that felt good. There don’t seem to be that many laughs around these days.
Dan: Well, what do you expect? The Watcher is dead.
Okay, that’s not a real quote. That’s a wholesale theft from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ The Watchmen. I just finished Original Sin #1, and I don’t know what to feel about it.

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WHO ARE THE REAL VILLAINS HERE?
By Stephanie Hoos
When I was small, my mother took me on our annual lunch-box shopping trip. I wish I could express the seriousness with which I approached this excursion, but I doubt even words could do it justice. I looked forward to it. I planned it. I utilized it as an opportunity for self-expression. Each year, I would contemplate the cartoon character or animal that defined me, the color of my name that would pulse off of the plastic, and – of course – the shape and color of the lunchbox itself. One year, I settled on a yellow rectangle that I brought to the front of the store. I said with confidence, “I want the beast.” And that’s when confusion ensued.
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“You want what?” my mother asked, clearly flabbergasted because the year earlier I had a bunny rabbit hopping across a pink synthetic square.

“I want the beast, Mommy. Belle’s beast.” I had recently become obsessed with Beauty & The Beast. The Beast and I were, in my mind, destined to be best friends.
“Are you sure you don’t want Belle?” My mother was clearly not only perturbed by my choice of lunch-box character, but she was also pretending not to hear me so that she could sway my decision. Finally, we agreed I could have the Beast on my lunchbox, as long as my name was in large pink capital letters just above the ascot and dinner-jacket wearing creature.
This particular incident highlights many things for me. From a feminist theory standpoint, it screams all sorts. However, that’s another topic and article entirely. It was mostly the question of the Beast’s validity as a “hero” that got me thinking. The undisputed villain of that particular Disney tale is Gaston, the burly if not somewhat self-obsessed pony-tailed lad who can’t seem to read a book without pictures. However, the Beast is not exactly nice. He’s got one thing, though, that separates all heroes from all villains: audience empathy. That’s right. We feel sorry for the Beast, so he can’t technically be a true villain. A villain, in our estimation, has no redeeming qualities or sordid backstory to force us to gaze inward at our own demons and reach for understanding. As such, the Beast is a permissible hero. He is cursed, ruined by circumstances beyond his control, and doomed unless he can fall in love and break the spell.
What, though, did I see in the Beast that made him lunch-box worthy? I believe, looking back, that I found the Beast vulnerable and not all that scary. The key word we all look for is “misunderstood.” Can a hero truly be a hero if he is not likeable or does not show positive moral fiber? Not usually. It’s only when we give ourselves permission to feel something for a hero that he or she is actually allowed to become one.
This, of course, is a layered commentary with many a twist and turn. The most recent Captain America movie is awash with this question of who or what is a true villain or hero when those who once inhabited one role immediately switch to the other, even without choice (no worries, friends… I will NOT post any spoilers, but Kira did last week in her article). I ask you, reader, to take some time during your next comic or graphic endeavor to ask yourself whom you see as a hero and why that is. It will bend your mind to extremes you never thought possible.

A hero is a hero is a hero… isn’t he?
Greek and Roman mythology, fairy tales, and even proverbs give us insight into heroism and hedonism through lessons. We are told what we can and should do in situations of doubt and distrust, and we follow the example of the individual who comes out clean on the other side of insurmountable odds, labeling him or her a hero. This dichotomous structure leaves very little room for empathy for the “bad guy,” which gives very little room for doubt as to who said bad guy is. Often villains are introduced through the horror of an initial crime. The hero swoops in and rescues the innocent, while the guilty villain faces justice. Then, the character’s backstory reveals something that we rarely consider when labeling heroes and villains: motive.

Victor Freeze (Mr. Freeze) was never motivated by pure selfishness, greed, or narcissism. His wife’s death is his one and only motivation to behave as he does. Though several series turns muddy the waters of Nora’s arrival in a cryogenic state as well as the illness that required her to enter said state, the motive remains very much the same. Each of Victor’s crimes against Gotham citizens, Bruce Wayne included, has roots in his original heartbreak. Do we judge Bruce Wayne for acting out of his desire to avenge the death of his parents? Then why would we similarly judge Victor Freeze for doing the exact same thing in the name of his wife? It’s only because we do not believe Bruce Wayne’s internal conflict motivates him to behave badly that we call his actions heroic. It motivates him to harm only villains. Were their positions switched, would we be so sure that Bruce was the hero?
Heroes must utilize the positive influences of a mission, true love, or even vengeance as a means of overcoming a tainted past, tragic flaw, or misconstrued origin story (this goes for every hero from Apollo to Captain America). That being said, many a comic book reader has gotten it wrong by pointing fingers and passing judgment at the wrong person. And, in doing so, we prove the greatest point of all: no one is a true hero and certainly no one is a true villain.
When considering reasoning and backstory, one can look at Catwoman as a representation of utilizing crime as a means to an end, rather than a vindictive sociopathic tendency (depending on which origin story you follow). Selina Kyle steals to survive, and she also protects the interests of those who society deems unsuitable to protect: thieves, prostitutes, and the generally derelict. She believes that justice is equal opportunity, as opposed to a right reserved for pristine individuals. Her burglary becomes the subject of much debate once Batman gets involved, but Catwoman never fights Batman as a way of hurting others. She’s only trying to support and express herself in the only way she’s learned how to do so.

Judgments Judgments
Real life can sometimes be the ultimate in complicated. How often have we pointed fingers at someone and said, “That’s wrong!” or “You shouldn’t do that!” when we would rarely put ourselves on pedestals of moral authority? If you are not prepared to call yourself perfect, then how can you judge the imperfection of others so harshly? (Anyone see any glass houses around here?) The same could be said for comic and graphic content. The greatest heroes/villains of all are the ones that do not show us clear-cut examples of purity or pornography. They straddle (no pun intended) the divide.

The most flawless example of this (other than my Beast analogy of days gone by) is Magneto. The beloved X-Men “villain” is Charles Xavier’s best friend and mutant colleague. He is anti-human because he sees humans as the enforcers of anti-mutant laws and dogma. He is, of course, at war with himself and the entire world regularly because he believes xenophobic action requires equal reaction. His hatred for the human race is also informed by his childhood experiences in a concentration camp during the Holocaust. He has seen evil firsthand, and he is therefore traumatized and fueled by it all at once.
I would argue that Magneto isn’t really a villain because every reader has empathy for him. That’s not to say that Magneto doesn’t show villainous behavior, but his behavior is informed by something traumatic that forces readers to show compassion for his cause. He displays the tattoo he received in Auschwitz as a symbol of what humans can do to other humans; let alone what humans can do to mutants (also known as the perceived other). It makes X-Men an allegory, a warning for the capacity humans have to harm one another in the name of eradicating difference. However, would a kid out there feel comfortable putting Magneto on his or her lunch-box? I think so. Why? Because Magneto is an individual who fights for a cause that a reader can champion: standing up for oneself after being beaten down by an oppressor.
The natural reaction to those who commit acts of violence is to shake a head or wag a finger. I think that’s reductive. Heroes commit acts of violence constantly in the name of a cause or belief, and we only label those individuals as heroes because of a perceived moral component of justice. Rarely do we apply that gaze to a perceived villain, mostly because we want to see the hero win. Never do we think about contextualizing and cross-examining the violence of every hero and villain (according to their overarching accepted labels) and actually consider the motives vs. causes of their actions as a means of re-perceiving their status. As such, it becomes not an exercise in morality but an exercise in enforcing an already determined morality that we’ve already subscribed to.
When agreeing with a friend over an argument that took place with a third party or choosing a side in a debate, take the stance that appeals most to you because you believe it to be the moral choice. We do that anyway. Then, ask yourself if you could take the opposite stance just as convincingly and with just as much conviction. If you can, then maybe you can similarly put yourself in the shoes of one of your “favorite” villains: the Joker, General Zod, Doctor Octopus, etc. and feel yourself see their motives, fears, informed pasts, and even feelings. Then ask yourself how much violence your hero has committed for the sake of defeating that villain. Is it justified? Maybe. But, the next time you’re in that moment of readership, with that responsibility of becoming an empathetic reader staring you down, ask yourself the most important question: Who is the real villain here?

WHO ARE THE REAL VILLAINS HERE?

By Stephanie Hoos

When I was small, my mother took me on our annual lunch-box shopping trip. I wish I could express the seriousness with which I approached this excursion, but I doubt even words could do it justice. I looked forward to it. I planned it. I utilized it as an opportunity for self-expression. Each year, I would contemplate the cartoon character or animal that defined me, the color of my name that would pulse off of the plastic, and – of course – the shape and color of the lunchbox itself. One year, I settled on a yellow rectangle that I brought to the front of the store. I said with confidence, “I want the beast.” And that’s when confusion ensued.

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THE ADVENTURES OF HELLBOY AS A BOY
By Ben Rawluk
It’s a bit different with, say, Superboy. Well, the Silver Age Superboy, who was a Superman as a boy. Because you knew that Clark would eventually grow up, move to Metropolis, meet Lois Lane. You were maybe sad that he would eventually stop travelling to the future to hang around the Legion of Super-Heroes (except once in a while, always with a funereal pall over the proceedings, the lingering whiff of nostalgia) and certainly that Lana Lang was probably never going to marry him in a “real” story (but do you want her stuck with her high school sweetheart, really?).
But Hellboy.
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Hellboy is the opposite of Superman.  If you show his adventures as a kid, you are foreshadowing. Because Hellboy has always been portentous—people are constantly implying the full extent of his future, constantly whispering to him from dark corners.  Hellboy is used to spirits calling out his birth name—Anung Un Rama, the Great Beast—while he’s in the middle of hunting some random vampire or something.  And what did little Hellboy have to look forward to, way back when?  The apocalypse, and death.  Having his heart ripped clean out.  Being dragged down into hell.
Near the end of 2013, Dark Horse released The Midnight Circus, a pretty hardcover pairing Hellboy’s creator Mike Mignola with his recent artist partner Duncan Fegredo.  Fegredo is a personal favourite of mine, which made me hotly anticipate its arrival.
The Midnight Circus is a story about Hellboy as a boy.  More specifically, it’s the first story of Hellboy as a boy since Hellboy as an adult died, and went to hell.
When Superman died, it was an event, a major shake-up of the status quo, nobody knew what it meant. When Hellboy died, it was a plot point, a moment to change the course of his story, but it wasn’t presented as if we’d never see Hellboy again.
But it did give us the opportunity—while ol’ HB fell through layers and layers of existence—to look back.
In 1948, Hellboy has been on Earth for approximately four years, though he’s already about six or seven years old, emotionally.  Everyone at the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defence treats him like he’s just a kid, almost a mascot, running around underfoot.  They have to stop themselves from talking about their latest romantic exploit in any detail because he’s just a kid, and his life is small and controlled, with regular education.  And his father…
Trevor Bruttenholm is an aging academic who suddenly finds himself with a research subject, a son, and a threatening harbinger, all in one.  He doesn’t have to deal with teachers asking for interviews because HB is a problem child (although he does get into trouble), he has other academics showing up in his office and forcing him to look at ancient prophecies talking about how HB is going to grow up to destroy the world.  And sometimes they leave the door open.


The Midnight Circus details one night out in the life of Hellboy.  Blocked from hearing salacious details about romance, catching the drifting remarks about the danger that lurks within him, HB pockets a lighter and a cigarette stolen from a Bureau agent, then heads out into the dark to smoke it like a big boy.  To rebel. To—something.  Something I love about Mignola’s approach to Hellboy as a kid is that he tends to do stuff without even knowing why, which feels very accurately portrayed.
He almost lights up, only to be distracted by drumming—the drumming of strange, nocturnal clowns, marching down the road.  Abandoning match and cigarette, HB runs off after them…off to join the circus…

The Midnight Circus, like so many things in Hellboy’s world, has a doubled existence.  I recently encountered an article celebrating the twentieth anniversary of Hellboy that talked about how Mignola avoids the pitfalls of presenting horror in comic book form—it’s hard to navigate and generate surprise, when your reader might glance across a page and see the “punchline” before you get to it—by focusing on the uncanny, the unsettling, and this is something that Fegredo excels at as well.  There is menace in the linework, in the shadows playing out behind the circus folk.  Hellboy is witness to a summoning as the circus sets up shop for the night, and competing demons-cum-carnies seek to coax him into temptation.  Knowledge of the self, of his destiny, is jangled in front of him.
In and around this, Mignola and Fegredo thread other ideas, notably picking up an early edition of Pinocchio and weaving that into the narrative, another story of a not-boy running off to the circus, of being transformed by the experience.  Fegredo is given three modes to work with—one, his standard linework; two, reproductions of Pinocchio’s story; and three, a sumptuously painted night with the circus, where HB is overcome with portents, drowning and swallowed by a metaphorical whale.

The key to The Midnight Circus is that it takes advantage of the “You know what happens.”  Hellboy doesn’t, not at first, but he grazes against foreknowledge on his night out.  He already knows that he isn’t human, but this is his first real glimmer at being a monster, and the tension that this creates. It also establishes something about him, something which has played out over twenty years of publications—that Hellboy always turns away from self-knowledge, tries to avoid it, believes that in turning away he can rewrite it.  He meets himself in the Hall of Mirrors and runs away, and continues to run from decades and decades.
 

THE ADVENTURES OF HELLBOY AS A BOY

By Ben Rawluk

It’s a bit different with, say, Superboy. Well, the Silver Age Superboy, who was a Superman as a boy. Because you knew that Clark would eventually grow up, move to Metropolis, meet Lois Lane. You were maybe sad that he would eventually stop travelling to the future to hang around the Legion of Super-Heroes (except once in a while, always with a funereal pall over the proceedings, the lingering whiff of nostalgia) and certainly that Lana Lang was probably never going to marry him in a “real” story (but do you want her stuck with her high school sweetheart, really?).

But Hellboy.

Read More

Hey gang, I wrote an article for the Savannah Art Informer about my experience with cosplay at Dragon Con.  Check it out!
Note: I am not this awesome Aquaman cosplayer. I’m the nerd in the Lannister jersey.
Savannah Art Informer

Hey gang, I wrote an article for the Savannah Art Informer about my experience with cosplay at Dragon Con.  Check it out!

Note: I am not this awesome Aquaman cosplayer. I’m the nerd in the Lannister jersey.

Savannah Art Informer

WHO DID IT BETTER? COMPARING KINGDOM COME TO ITS NOVELIZATION
By Mike Balderrama
I was given a gift on Friday night.
While celebrating a friend’s birthday party, we were all gathered in the reading room of a local bar/restaurant. Surrounded by bookshelves with a sort of “take a penny/leave a penny” policy, one can browse everything from trashy romance novels, to dusty tomes of presidential correspondences from the Jackson administration. There was even an Animorphs book. But on these very shelves, tucked away near the Thomas Harris, a book I didn’t even know existed was waiting just for me: Kingdom Come.
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Yeah, that Kingdom Come.
In an instant, I was transported back to 1993 when I kept, in a plastic sleeve, my young-adultified version of The Death (and Return) of Superman comics, entitled Doomsday & Beyond by Louise Simonson. Clearly this too must be some sort of watered down chapter book with the occasional toss-in of low-res comic book images, right?

We’d been subjected to a truncated oversimplification of the plot, a gloss of the major themes, all while keeping with the average sterility that came from an early 90s book geared at youths (that simpler time when the Scholastic bookmobile roamed the streets and way before the term “tween” was ever coined).
Welp, I was wrong. This thing definitely surprised me when I burned through it over the weekend. Novelized by Elliot S. Maggin, the book version of Kingdom Come takes the original text, and adds a completely new layer to Norman McCay bearing witness to an end-times battle amongst the superheroes: namely Norman McCay.
The Elseworlds comic had its focus more on the action of the scene, with the occasional check-in by Norman and the Spectre. For the novel, it’s 100% from Norman’s perspective. We are given full mediation through his eyes. Where the comic book panels often depicted Norman and the Spectre hovering over the scene, with the reader as primary witness, now the reader is privy to the conflicted priest as much as we get a first-hand account of the conversations among heroes and villains. This narrative integrity waffles a little bit, when we’re also given a peek into Superman’s thought process, so it doesn’t stay entirely pure to Norman’s eyes, but I admired the attempt at fleshing out the all-seeing observer.
One of the harder bits to digest while I read was my own self-awareness that I was reading a comic book book. Let me give an example:

"Beneath Gotham was a thick layer of solid bedrock. In the bedrock was a second city, a latticework of bubbly caverns already old when the last march of glaciers had laid down the surface above. A collection of bubbles of gas from when the Earth was young had jammed up together and gotten caught in the formation of the bedrock. Millennia later those gasses leached out or combined with other elements and left behind, under the suburbs of Gotham, the endlessly rambling cave that became the home of the first flying mammals who inspired Batman’s standard, and then of Batman himself.
Another mass of gaseous bubbles had collected and congealed and found a sinecure for some hundreds of thousands of years under the land that became Gotham’s Midtown. Eventually the gas had leached out of here as well and left behind a cavern and a narrow passageway to it. It was in a corner of this cavern that the Spectre and I found our non-corporeal selves.”

I caught myself a few times—getting drawn into a highly descriptive scene, only to be pulled out when matter-of-factly Maggin lists off DC comics characters. In a way, I get that from the comics as well: “this is serious business about superheroes and myth and religious text, and power.”
It was the kind of comic book book I would probably write myself. Melodramatic, overly descriptive, investing heavily into the inner workings of my favorite superheroes—a test and testament that declares “hey, guys, I getthese characters.” For all the sort of silliness I can associate with the novelization of a comic book, picking up Kingdom Comeoddly enough inspired me to open up a Word document to knock out one of those Rejected Pitches scenes we’ve always thrown your way. It was an invitation to look at the story in a new way, and one that probed me to temper my own assumptions of a Mark Waid script and an Alex Ross-drawn book.
I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t know who Elliot Maggin was before I did my usual Google snooping. Not only is he a fantasy and science fiction author, but he was a principal writer for Superman comics for over a decade between 1971 and 1986. A number of the books he wrote before Kingdom Come were Superman stories. It’s no wonder why he got this assignment, and he managed to world-build beautifully. Apparently he also keeps horses. Says so in his bio.
Is this a New York Times bestseller? No. Is it worthy of a Caldecott Medal? Definitely not. There are only 4 illustrations in it. Can you buy it for less than $1 and burn through it on a plane ride or at the beach? Absolutely. Why not pick it up and chase it with the original comic. May inspire you to write like it did for me.

WHO DID IT BETTER? COMPARING KINGDOM COME TO ITS NOVELIZATION

By Mike Balderrama

I was given a gift on Friday night.

While celebrating a friend’s birthday party, we were all gathered in the reading room of a local bar/restaurant. Surrounded by bookshelves with a sort of “take a penny/leave a penny” policy, one can browse everything from trashy romance novels, to dusty tomes of presidential correspondences from the Jackson administration. There was even an Animorphs book. But on these very shelves, tucked away near the Thomas Harris, a book I didn’t even know existed was waiting just for me: Kingdom Come.

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SILVER SURFER: PARABLE
By Steven Miller
“Why cannot they realize that the truest faith is faith in oneself? What has made them so desperate to have others show them the way?”
I have to admit, I’ve been on a Moebius kick lately; I’ve been trying to gobble up everything I can find to better understand his artistic genius, one which never quite penetrated American comics. But there was one fleeting glimpse of what could have been, an experiment in exploring the western style, and that was Marvel’s Silver Surfer: Parable.  Written by Stan Lee and illustrated and lettered by Moebius, we got to see an incredibly fine comic with very little action. Instead, Lee and Moebius sought to open the readers’ eyes to the harsh truths of our world, of the trap of following blindly. It’s always a timely message.
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Parable opens with a falling star, and then chaos. A man sits in an alley, talking to himself about his lack of purpose, his lost faith. Of course we know who this shrouded man is, but his story is left a mystery. And then Galactus comes. He is a great beast, an unbelievable mass of life. Moebius uses the opportunity to expand and contract the size of Galactus to make the reader feel the impossibleness of his being.

But of course, there’s always someone around the corner to exploit any tragedy, we see this daily in the news by religious leaders, by terrorists, and by the media itself. Colton Candell, a failed televangelist, decides to utilize this new religion of worship to Galactus as his spring board to power. He urges the world to bow down to Galactus, to listen to his words, as he has come to save us. Colton has no idea what Galactus has in store for Earth, and the great hunger that constantly consumes him. And so Colton marches humanity toward its death. He doesn’t listen to his sister and he doesn’t listen to the shrouded stranger, finally revealed to be a mission-renewed Silver Surfer. Surfer challenges Galactus; on his last visit to earth, he vowed to not attack Earth again. Galactus, in his cosmic wisdom explains that he has no plans of attack.  He has discovered the weak will of humans, and is exploiting their need to be lead. He will let the humans destroy themselves, thus not breaking his vow, but sating his hunger a little longer. It’s a pretty brilliant idea, one that we’ve seen play out in many ways in our history, from Salem to the Red Scare. When humans fear the unknown, they begin to turn on each other in some very ugly ways.

The story can’t end that way. Ultimately, Colton’s sister is the turning point for Colton’s greed. Angry about what Colton is letting happen, Elyna tries to stop the battle between Surfer and Galactus, and she is killed. Like waking from a dream, Colton, and all of humanity, realizes their error, and that things were never what they had hoped they were. They fight back, and Galactus leaves, vowing to come back when Earth has forgotten what it had just learned.

Silver Surfer is praised as a savior, as someone who is fit to rule over them. Surfer can’t believe they’d be so quick to blindly follow someone again, and so he turns the crowd against him. Only Colton, a lost voice in the crowd, realizes what Silver Surfer was doing for humanity, the freedom he was truly giving them.

I can’t help but be really impressed with the degree of storytelling involved in Parable. Stan Lee is a very polarizing personality, but it’s difficult to criticize the way in which he spins this tale, the voices he gives to the characters, the message he so clearly presses through. In this story he creates a strong mission statement, one that is often rare to find in American comics.  Moebius was apprehensive about doing this book, but took on the challenge, experiencing the “Marvel Method” for the first time. I believe that this is an example where that looseness paid off. Giving Moebius the freedom to draw what he wanted, I think it helped to ensure his voice was represented in the collaboration. Silver Surfer is Moebius as his most distilled; it’s one of the most un-Moebius books, but also clearly him.   It’s a real treat to be able to read this story and the included commentary to get a clear vision of one of the greatest artists of the 20th century.

SILVER SURFER: PARABLE

By Steven Miller

“Why cannot they realize that the truest faith is faith in oneself? What has made them so desperate to have others show them the way?”

I have to admit, I’ve been on a Moebius kick lately; I’ve been trying to gobble up everything I can find to better understand his artistic genius, one which never quite penetrated American comics. But there was one fleeting glimpse of what could have been, an experiment in exploring the western style, and that was Marvel’s Silver Surfer: Parable.  Written by Stan Lee and illustrated and lettered by Moebius, we got to see an incredibly fine comic with very little action. Instead, Lee and Moebius sought to open the readers’ eyes to the harsh truths of our world, of the trap of following blindly. It’s always a timely message.

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THE BATMAN BIBLE: PART FIVE
By Ben Rawluk
This is it, the final piece of Ben’s puzzle, celebrating the 75th Anniversary of Batman! We hope that you’ve enjoyed exploring some classic Batman stories and have reflected on your own experiences with the Bat.
Happy Birthday, Bruce!
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XXIII. THE BOOK OF REVELATIONS
It is important to note that “The Autobiography of Bruce Wayne” takes place in 1955, on a parallel world, in the “present day” of that parallel world—which goes unreferenced in the present day, beyond brief shots of aging dreamboat Bruce Wayne with his typewriter and pipe, though I know in retrospect that the “present day” Gotham of that parallel world would have been protected by a grown-up Dick Grayson in a terrible, terrible Robin costume alongside Helena Wayne, the Huntress.
This is the last story in the book, though, and it details an aging Bruce Wayne, and while I was first starting to understand the nature of DC’s multiverse—again, in retrospect, the multiverse already murdered by the Crisis before I had my hands on the book—in my mind, this was a story of the end of Batman, the retirement of Batman.  The fact that it took place on “Earth-Two” didn’t matter to me.  In the grand scheme of the book as a whole, it was the concluding chapter of a long, continuous history.
The Batman lands on the rooftop of police headquarters for the old song and dance: Jim Gordon’s fired up the Bat-Signal, there’s been a message, a “gift” left behind by the Scarecrow.  Batman takes it—having released some fumes—but has to shelve it in favour of attending the wedding of an old girlfriend, Linda. He bemoans his friends—the Flash, Superman—settling down into marriage.  He broods on the loss of Linda because of his life as Batman, his loss of Julie Madison way back when.  He broods but tries to look happy, the dapper Bruce Wayne, and greets his friends, Dick and Kathy Kane—I didn’t know who she was, but she would shortly reveal herself to be Batwoman.
And then the wedding breaks down because of the Scarecrow.  The Scarecrow induces a cavalcade of terrors on the wedding guests, narrating the entire time, facing off against Batman and Robin and Batwoman.
I nearly died when I saw Batwoman, way back.  Her strange, swooping mask.  The fact that her colour scheme made no sense with the themes of Gotham, like a grandiose bird of paradise with no interest in adhering to Bruce’s aesthetics.
The Scarecrow faces Batman, and triggers a fear.  More specifically, he seems to wipe away the people in Batman’s life—Robin, Batwoman, Linda, they all dissolve before Batman’s eyes, suddenly vanished.  Except they aren’t, of course, this is all a hallucination.
Batman takes off.  He needs help.  He finds himself turning to another old flame, a woman who fought with him but later retired, the Catwoman.  Selina Kyle.  Selina claims to have no memory of her time as a criminal, but agrees to help him anyway.  They face Scarecrow in Gotham University, succumbing to various phobias while the villain lectures.

What I like about the story, what I liked about it then but can focus on and articulate much better now is that it is about Bruce Wayne being forced to shed Batman.  He has to.  Batman is scar tissue, he’s a defense mechanism, he is representative of all Bruce’s trauma, and Scarecrow makes all this trauma toxic but amplifying his natural fear—a fear of abandonment—until Bruce has to let go of it.  He and Selina have to unmask for each other.  The two of them are forced to peel away the things that build their secret identities—Bruce’s childhood loss, Selina’s abusive marriage and lies about the “amnesia” that she claimed caused her to become a villain—in order to defeat the Scarecrow.  Because those things are so core to Batman, the whole story does read like the end, even if it’s on a parallel world.  It doesn’t matter, because it extrapolates from the very heart of the mythos.
Sometimes I feel strange about liking this one.  I mean, obviously that has to do with Batman receiving a happy ending, and Joe Staton’s artwork is outstanding.  The introduction of Batwoman to my nine-year-old self—resplendent as the harvest moon—burned brightly in my subconscious for decades.  But it’s still “and then they get married because that’s a happy ending.” But I can’t help it. Batman and Catwoman play a game of crime for decades before they finally peel away the posturing.  This is how Batman ends for me—it isn’t murdering the Joker like some awful webcomics might suggest.  It’s being given the opportunity to unmask, to finally process the trauma and let it go.
It’s very evocative.  I love the Scarecrow because he feeds into Man-Bat, that “who cares that magic isn’t real because we’ve reproduced it with science” atmosphere.  The gothic doesn’t care about its origins, only that you can feel it in your bones.  I love Scarecrow because he’s a consummate super-villain, narrating his attacks and delivering a scholarly article on why you are about to die.  Robin and Batwoman are teased only to disappear before our eyes, then squabble and struggle to get Bruce to see them again.  He has to turn to Catwoman because there’s no one left that he can really trust, their relationship safe because it has always existed at the arm’s length of escape.  That tension fills every panel between them.
And I like that it references and revels in the storybook Gotham of Once Upon a Time but doesn’t let them having their storybook protections.  She wasn’t Catwoman because of amnesia, she was Catwoman because of rage and trauma, just like him. The amnesia was a lie, and the story refuses to let them have their lies.  Their interactions aren’t arch and sexy in the same way because they’re older and working together and have no time to flirt, but consequently they get deeper into each other and start to connect in other ways.
This is how Batman must end for me: not dead in alley, crumpled atop of a broken clown.  Pulling his mask off, finally, because he knows that will stop someone who cares about from disappearing.

XXII. THE END
It doesn’t matter how old I get, how much more I know about the history of Batman and Gotham City. It doesn’t matter how many arguments I get into about whether or not there should be supernatural elements involved, or whether he could beat up Superman, how stupid Robin might be. The crises and reboots don’t matter.  I can’t get away from this book.  This book is woven into my soul, has become bedrock for me.  It doesn’t say: This is Batman.  It says: This is all Batman.  All of this is Batman. All of it.  I could argue forever about him, maybe, because there are so many angles. We’re all allowed our perspective on Batman, whether I agree with yours or not. It’s okay.  He has so many angles.  So many cowls.

THE BATMAN BIBLE: PART FIVE

By Ben Rawluk

This is it, the final piece of Ben’s puzzle, celebrating the 75th Anniversary of Batman! We hope that you’ve enjoyed exploring some classic Batman stories and have reflected on your own experiences with the Bat.

Happy Birthday, Bruce!

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EXPLORING THE CRITICISMS OF THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2
By Steven Miller
“You see, I’ve come to believe that things have to get really, really bad before they can get good. Not even really, really good, although I wouldn’t mind some of that. I guess when you look at the way my life turned out so far, it’s about the only way you can look at it. Good follows bad. Kind of amazing.” – Peter Parker, Spider-Man: Blue
SPOILERS TO FOLLOW.
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Stressful.
I think that’s the only way to describe The Amazing Spider-Man 2.  It’s certainly a rough ride from start to finish; the realities of how Gwen and Peter’s relationship must end hangs heavy over the film…will this be the one where the music stops? I was nervous to see the movie, the audience was making judgments about how good or bad it was going to be before anyone had seen it, and the jury had come back “guilty”. Yet leaving the theater yesterday evening, I couldn’t help but feel that many of those criticisms were unjust, out of context, or just a mess of words that didn’t actually mean anything. It seems as though reviewers were criticizing the genre, instead of the movie itself. They want to remind us that “this isn’t an art film…it’s one of those…big superhero CGI movies…”
Here are a few of the more nonsense-filled excerpts:
"About the best thing one can say about this fiasco is that Webb has taken only two films to reach the same exhausted, exhausting endpoint that Raimi required three to achieve. It’s progress, of a sort." - Christopher Orr, The Atlantic
"This is a movie that needs to remove a piece of jewelry." - Alonso Duralde
"I think I’ll pass on The Amazing Spider-Man 3." - David Edelstein, Vulture
"How bad is this one …? Amazingly so. Villainy abounds, but the villains are strident contrivances. Spider-Man flies, but does so dutifully, without joy." - Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal
"An unforgivably long assemblage that never coalesces into a compelling story." - Ann Hornaday, Wall Street Journal
"The small moments, the physical comedy, Spidey’s constant wisecracking; these things are all charming, but they’re counterbalanced by stock summer blockbuster elements that Webb never seems interested in." - Ian Buckwalter, NPR

I’ll be up front in that my bias for what you’re about to read is that I really enjoyed The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and in this review, I’ve chosen to address the top five criticisms of the film.

1.     The plot was overstuffed.
I keep seeing this as a criticism, yet I don’t really see anyone talking about why it’s overstuffed. Please give me some bullet points about what was too much about it. The plot was complex, but it all made sense to me when viewed as a franchise. I don’t know that anyone has been really thinking about this film as a franchise. There are hints and pieces and parts that all manage to interlock together by the final act, or just give us a hint of things to come. A lot of people don’t like the focus on Richard Parker, Peter’s absentee father. Richard Parker exists to ground Peter into the mythology of his villains. I’ve read that the complaint that this takes away any agency in the hero’s journey, but I cast that off. Did Hercules not have divine intervention that gave him the strength to be a hero? Yet he still had labors to complete, he still had to earn his title. The same goes for Peter. It doesn’t matter how he was given the power, it matters what he chose to do with it. Richard’s work indirectly creates Spider-Man, it gives us a familial connection, a legacy, that was missing from the original stories. It elevates his status as a hero above “a happy accident that didn’t just kill him”. In the comics, his parents were never so strongly connected, they were CIA agents. Peter being bitten was really just an accident, and his parents died in a forgettable way. In all my years of reading Spider-Man comics, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him mention the fact that his mom and dad are dead, just Uncle Ben. When laid out in the film, it makes you feel the weight of loss even more for Peter. He hasn’t just lost an uncle, he’s lost his parents, too. They’re finally given some dimensionality. Heck, even Aunt May has a story arc in this film for the first time ever in a Spider-Man adaptation.  So when people say the story is overstuffed, I disagree.

2.     There are too many villains.
This is sort of a continuation of the first point. People were ready to label this movie as bad because it just had too many villains! How will they ever juggle that many characters? It’s not like Spider-Man ever fought multiple people at the same time, right? The Winter Soldier actually had the same number of villains with comparable screen time, yet there wasn’t a peep about that (Alexander Pierce, The Winter Soldier, and Batroc the Leaper in case your memory is selective…and that doesn’t count the other countless HYDRA agents).
We open with Aleksei Mikhailovich, a seemingly one-off thug to remind us how awesome Spider-Man is at being Spider-Man. This is pretty standard fair. Most superhero stories open with the end of a battle with some D-List character. It also serves the dual purpose of giving us a reason for Spider-Man save and to know who Max Dillon is. Aleksei is off the board for the rest of the film at this point. Jamie Foxx’s performance is very organic as the bumbling and obsessive, then powerful and obsessive Oscorp employee. He was a credible, and sympathetic threat. Who doesn’t need to feel needed and important, how do you cope with strange abilities you don’t understand when you’ve been living in isolation? And then there’s Harry Osborn. It felt like a smart move to kill Norman Osborn early in the film. (Though is he really dead? We didn’t see him die…) Norman and Harry complicate things as a family. Who’s the Green Goblin? One of them? Both of them? Norman’s hatred of Spider-Man never felt as motivated as Harry’s, anyway. We’re given a real reason for Harry to become the Goblin, more so than “I hate you because you maybe sort of were involved in the death of my evil father that I really hated.” Harry’s story isn’t meant to wrap in this film, whereas we’re supposed to get more closure on Electro. Harry will be the driving force into the future of the franchise, and so we’re not supposed to get more than the origin and initial act to make everyone sit up and pay attention. And fortunately for us, we already have Aleksei Mikhailovich, the thug from the opening fight, to put in the Rhino armor when Harry decides to start assembling his Sinister Six. That throwaway character was meant for bigger things all along, and he didn’t muddle the movie at all. In fact, he serves in the role to get Peter out of his funk, because we know what happens when you make a movie about Spider-Man being sad all the time (See Spider-Man 3). It was a smart way to change the tone one last time. Of all heroes, Spider-Man is always one who is juggling many things at once; love, a job, and the many rogues in his gallery. Spider-Man very rarely has to deal with just one villain, so why must he in a movie?

3.     It was a CGI-fest.
This is maybe more of a criticism of modern movies, than this one in particular. For better or for worse, Electro’s look necessitates a lot of computer art. Electro’s look wasn’t my favorite comics to film design, but I appreciated that they made an effort. Electro’s original yellow and green was always so tacky (he must have noticed because he looks more similar to Jamie Foxx as Electro in recent years). The CGI came in controlled bursts, and particularly the scene at the power station, felt appropriately grand and imposing for a third-act battle. More often, the CGI was beautiful. It allowed for a fluidly spectacular movement that we’ve never really seen before for Spider-Man. He was acrobatic, grounded, and always pushing forward.

4.     The tone shifts too frequently.
This is a thing that many don’t really know how to grapple with Spider-Man. Everyone feels he’s either too serious, or too jokey. Why can’t he be both? I can guarantee he’s both. Spider-Man has always had impeccable comedic timing, it’s one of his hallmarks. But that humor hides his pain. Peter is pulled in so many million directions and constantly feels the weight of the world on his shoulders. I thought that ASM2 did a great job of making you feel that in the same way Peter would. There’s so much bad, but there’s so much good and it’s a constant back and forth. The last 15 minutes of the film are dark, but we can’t really end it that way, can we? We need that hope that Gwen spoke about in her speech, we need to experience the good and the bad, and come out victorious on top. This is why Rhino’s introduction worked so well for me.

5.     Another Spider-Man movie?
Look, I won’t sit here and have you tell me that you liked the first trilogy. I mean, go back and watch it. I’ll wait. Terrible. It’s a franchise that needed a reboot, and this time I think they’ve done it right. I know they filmed some scenes with Mary Jane Watson, but ultimately cut them. I think that was more or less the right decision, though I think it could have been powerful either way. She may have detracted from Peter and Gwen, who were shining stars in the film, and entirely compelling to watch.  Yet Gwen an MJ were friends. One of the things about Gwen Stacy was how she affected everyone around her, not just Peter. Without Gwen Stacy, Peter would have never ended up with Mary Jane. At this point, I’m not sure I could ever like Peter/MJ the way that I’ve adored Peter and Gwen.  And ultimately, Gwen is why we needed another Spider-Man movie.
It almost seems as though Gwen senses that she won’t have a long life, and that dying young will be a side effect of loving a man that attracts so much danger. Gwen never plays the victim; she always makes her own rules and does things on her terms. She uses her knowledge to save the day, being an impressive complement to a man like Peter Parker, even reminding him that she’s got an academic edge. She’s a hero through and through, and a character we need to see more of in media. She doesn’t wait for a hero, she chooses to be one. She only a victim when it’s destined to be, because unfortunately her story has to end sometime. I held my breath wondering if she’d make it until the next sequel, but I had a feeling she wouldn’t. I struggle to decide whether or not this is a case of “women in refrigerators”, where a female is killed or hurt just to create an emotional moment for the male lead. By definition, Gwen is a WIR, yet her death is one that changes Peter’s life forever. Most WIR cases are introduced to shock, but then forgotten about, yet Peter never forgets Gwen, he never stops thinking about her, what he taught her, and what her death means for him as a hero. It permanently changes the status quo for him. As much as I didn’t want to see her go, as much as I was hoping that she would continue in the franchise to continue one of the most entertaining relationships in superhero film, it’s a hard call modify the mythology that far, to choose to have Peter Parker continue a life as a superhero without consequence. Arguably the biggest flaw in Otto Octavius’ recent turn as Spider-Man is that in wiping away most of Peter’s memory, he forgot about a lot of that weight. Sure, those people were still there, but it was easy for him to push past Uncle Ben, Gwen, Captain Stacy, and Marla Jameson, to do what he thought was superior, but for Peter, they are always front and center. I debate it back and forth in my head, but I can’t decide what should happen to her. That debate aside, I’d seen her die so many times in so many different ways over the years, but when it happened, I still wasn’t prepared. It still got me. It still surprised me.
And that, to me, signals a success.
(Love or hate this film, you should pick up a copy of Spider-Man: Blue by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale.) 

EXPLORING THE CRITICISMS OF THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2

By Steven Miller

“You see, I’ve come to believe that things have to get really, really bad before they can get good. Not even really, really good, although I wouldn’t mind some of that. I guess when you look at the way my life turned out so far, it’s about the only way you can look at it. Good follows bad. Kind of amazing.” – Peter Parker, Spider-Man: Blue

SPOILERS TO FOLLOW.

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STEPHEN GREEN ON SEMIS, SATAN, AND MAKING COMICS WITH SEAN MURPHY
By Steven Miller
Stephen Green (stephengreencomics) is a really great guy, and a humble one. To know him, you wouldn’t necessarily know that he has worked with some of the top talent in the comic book industry or he’s about to be a household name among comic fans. Stephen just completed a two-week apprenticeship with sequential superstar Sean Murphy (Joe the Barbarian, Punk Rock Jesus, The Wake) and has three major projects in the pipeline. I sat down with Stephen over some beers at Foxy Loxy Café and Print Gallery in Savannah to talk with him about how he got into comics, what he’s working on, and how he got to spend two weeks with one of his idols.
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First off, what got you started doing comics? Was there something specific?
Yeah, when I was a kid, the X-Men cartoon and Batman the Animated Series got me into comics. The first comic I bought was X-Men Adventures #6.
Ooh, the based on the Animated Series! (Wolverine and Sabretooth were on the cover)
That’s right, and I threw it away because my mom made me think they were Satanic. But, that was my first comic. I’ve always drawn, but I didn’t decide to pursue comics as a career until I was 25…so, much later.  I didn’t know you could do comics when I was younger, I didn’t know people did it for a living. I knew who Jim Lee was and stuff, but I didn’t know he was a real guy that I could be. […] It was actually animation that got me into comics, not necessarily comics, but when I did it, I fell in love with it.

Now I know that you weren’t “classically” trained, so how did you learn to draw, what tools did you use?
I taught myself at first, by doing a lot of figure drawing. I bought a lot of figure drawing books. But eventually, I got my hands on Scott McCloud’s stuff. His books and the Will Eisner books— (laughs) which I’ve never read, but I know you like, gotta have ‘em to study comics. Scott McCloud’s Making Comics book was hugely effective and the Andrew Loomis stuff was really effective. [I did a] lot of copying other people. But teaching myself was really hard. If could go back and do it differently, I would, but you can’t do that. So, I just kind of begged, borrowed, and stole what I could. And I started going to shows, just like everybody else did. When I decided that I thought I was good enough to take my stuff, I put together some pages and went to a show.
Do you remember what show that was?
The first show I took a portfolio to was Dragon Con of either 2009 or 2010. That was the first show I took my work to. It was good and bad. No one told me to hang it up, no one wanted to hire me, but a handful of guys said, “you’ve really got something, keep working”.
I mean, that’s good feedback for your first time out.
Yeah, you gotta do it. You’ve gotta go to shows. You can’t be living in a bubble. You’ve gotta get it out there and let someone give it a thumbs up or down.
So you’re here in Savannah now, and you’re from Alabama. How did you find your way here?
I was at Auburn doing Industrial Design, and when I decided I didn’t want to do that, and I wanted to do comics, Kendra (my wife),mentioned going to SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design). I did not know you could go to school to do this shit.  I didn’t know you could go to art school to do something other than graphic design or something. I was completely ignorant of art…that’s what Alabama will do for you. (laughs) You can put that in the interview.
I didn’t end up going to school here, but I did love Savannah. I loved that all these artists lived in this small town.

Before we talk about CaféRacer, tell me about the anthology project you just finished working on, In The Dark.
Somehow or another, Rachel Deering saw my work and liked it. She asked me to do some work for it and I couldn’t. After I turned it down, I found out that Stephen King had backed the book, and then Scott Snyder (Batman, American Vampire, The Wake) was attached to it, and I thought “damn it, that was a mistake.” But fortunately, Justin Jordan (Luther Strode, New Guardians) sent me an email and said “are you sure you don’t want to do it?” and my schedule did clear up, so I took that gig…it was pretty much just getting cold called by Rachel. I took it, it’s a great way to get your foot in the door, in an anthology, because people might not give a crap who I am, but with Tim Seeley (Hack/Slash, Revival, The Occultist), Scott Snyder, and Tradd Moore (Luther Strode, All-New Ghost Rider), they’re gonna at least look at the book.  My work will be right there with those guys.  It comes out this month from IDW.
So Sean Murphy (who is also connected to Savannah in that he’s a SCAD alumni) developed an apprenticeship that would culminate in a book called CaféRacer. How did you come across it?
I discovered Sean Murphy’s art on DeviantArt, before he hit it really big…around the time of Joe the Barbarian.  Sean is definitely the person I’m most influenced by. […] When he announced the apprenticeship, I thought it was too good to be true. How awesome would it be, especially if you never went to school, to study under your hero, your idol, to hang out with this person and see how they work? I remember talking  about it over some beers and said ‘I’m gonna enter’. I know I won’t get picked, because everyone wants to draw with Sean Murphy, but I’d give it a shot. Fortunately I had some pages that were fresh from an Image pitch I did, so I sent ‘em and he got back to me. So you could imagine how excited I was.

Tell me a little about this apprenticeship and what was involved.
There were six chosen, one guy couldn’t make it, he was a really awesome animator. Something happened and he couldn’t make it, so there were 5 of us. We went to Portland, Maine, we stayed at Sean’s house for two weeks. We all stayed together, ate together, drew together, we drank beer together. It was one of the best times I’ve had in my life.
What did you do while you were there, did you work solely on the book, or did he run you through skill-building exercises?
At first, we did a couple of conceptual drawings. Every day, Sean would give a lecture and we would take some of the things we talked about in the lecture and put it to use in the artwork. Initially we were doing character sketches and environment sketches, and we did work on the pages there, as well. Sean was right there with us working on his book.  We did a lot of work on the book there, primarily.
How was the work divided for the project?
Sean and his wife, Katana Collins, co-wrote the book. Sean is doing maybe 10 pages of the book, Joe Dellagatta is doing some work on the book, too. He wasn’t at the school, but he’s a good friend of Sean’s (and mine, coincidentally). He’s doing the work that the guy who couldn’t make it was doing.  Sean picked all these artists that were completely different. I think the artist I am most similar to is Jorge. But he picked Clayton McCormack from Boston. He does a horror web comic. It’s great. Tana Ford from Boston as well, does a lot of self-published lesbian slice-of-life stuff, fantastic stuff. He picked Corin Howell, also from here in Savannah. Corin has a great webcomic. She was the youngest and really awesome. She has kind of like a Disney-animated style. And Jorge Coelho from Lisbon, Portugal. And Jorge has been a professional artist for 10 years. He’s done work at Marvel and Boom Studios. He’s a seasoned vet, but who wouldn’t want to study under Sean?
You had Skype sessions with Fiona Staples (Saga), Scott Snyder, and Becky Cloonan (Demo, Demeter). And I understand that you were joined by a special guest?
For one weekend, Sean brought in Klaus Janson, who really needs no introduction. He is most famous for being Frank Miller’s inker in the late 70s and 80s. He worked on his Daredevil run and Dark Knight Returns. He is one of the greatest inkers of all time.  So he’s just a hugely influential comics artist with a 30+ year career. He has inked some of the most important comics that Marvel and DC have ever made. So he came in to lecture and critique our portfolios, which was crazy. Just for the record, I did not gush at him. But I wanted to. Klaus looked at our work, gave us pointers, lectured on having a career in the industry. He took time with each student to ask questions “why did we do this, why did we do that?” Klaus is incredibly wise and just an incredible teacher and charming person. He was fantastic. To see Klaus Janson ink a Sean Murphy drawing was the most— you know, as an art aficionado and comics fan, —was just unbelievable to see.  Sean has never been inked by anybody really, I don’t think, and to have it inked by one of the grand masters— who is one of his influences— is kind of a circle of awesomeness.

What can you tell me about the story of CaféRacer?
Café racer was a style of British motorcycles in the 30s through the 70s. The racer culture, the rocker culture, was the biggest in the 60s. So the book is a historical fiction. Based in London, and café racers were these rebellious teams that would race from café to café, hence the name of the bike. They were reckless and it was just a really fascinating culture of motorcycles and rock n’ roll. Sean’s main character is Orchid. She’s half-Japanese, half-British. She’s kind of a…I don’t know if refugee is the right word.. She’s the beautiful girl you see on the cover. She has this amazing motor bike that has all the strengths of a Japanese speed bike and a British café racer, and everyone is wondering where this bike came from and why it’s so fast. So that’s what the story is about, her and her bike. It’s one story split into vignettes, which is why we each got do it, and each got to design a character in our vignette. My character I got to design was Rei, Orchid’s dad. He’s the guy that designed the super-bike. Orchid weaves all the stories together.
Who else contributed? Was it just you?
Sean, you know, knows everybody…he called in some favors. There’s a nice pinup gallery in the book featuring the who’s who of comics. You’ve got Dave Johnson (100 Bullets, Detective Comics), Fiona Staples, Dustin Nyugen (Lil’Gotham, Justice League Beyond), Andrew Robinson (The Fifth Beatle, also a SCAD alum), Matteo Scalera (Secret Avengers, Black Science), Tommy Lee Edwards (1985, Bullet Points)… A lot of big time people contributing to this.

What did you take away from the experience?
Sean is an incredible teacher; he knows so much and is so good at transferring information. It would be impossible to talk about everything I learned, but the biggest thing was what is important and what isn’t…just talking about art, specifically…what things matter, and what things don’t. Teaching yourself, you kind of develop your own sense of what is important…sometimes that’s good, sometimes it isn’t. Learning to prioritize things really helped me out a lot.
And probably with a group like that, you experienced that everyone has some shitty drawings sometimes…
That’s right! Well you know, there weren’t many with this group, I felt like the weakest link there— I don’t if any of the other artists would say that too— but yeah, we all failed on a couple of things, but we were there to support each other, too. So I definitely learned to be more confident.
My last question is, for those aspiring artists reading, what is your advice to them?
I would say…all the clichés are true. Practice a lot, go to shows. But I think the best thing is, a common thread among my favorite artists—Sean Murphy, James Herren— they all draw with conviction. Sometimes they don’t have the most realistic or beautiful drawings, sometimes they do, in fact. Just like a good punk rock band with a terrible singer, it’s just about conviction. Drawing with a real sense of authenticity I think, that’s what I would tell people to do. One thing that Sean preaches is if you’re just generic, you’ll be just another cog to be replaced, and that’s true. You can’t replace Sean because he draws in his own way and I draw in my own way— I’m trying to still figure out what that is—but you know, I would encourage people to do that. It’s good to draw with conviction and that’s the biggest thing.
Stephen Green is a sequential Artist working in Savannah, GA. In The Dark was released in April by IDW and might still be available at your local comic retailer. Café Racer will be available soon directly from Stephen (email), at conventions, or through Sean Murphy’s dealer, Essential Sequential. Stephen is currently working on some other top-secret projects, including one developed by Stan Lee. 
Image Credits: Cover - Cafe Racer by Stephen Green;  Samurai Hellboy by Stephen Green; In The Dark cover by Chris Wildgoose; Cafe Racer cover by Sean Murphy; Cafe Racer panels by Stephen Green; Cafe Racer page by Stephen Green

STEPHEN GREEN ON SEMIS, SATAN, AND MAKING COMICS WITH SEAN MURPHY

By Steven Miller

Stephen Green (stephengreencomics) is a really great guy, and a humble one. To know him, you wouldn’t necessarily know that he has worked with some of the top talent in the comic book industry or he’s about to be a household name among comic fans. Stephen just completed a two-week apprenticeship with sequential superstar Sean Murphy (Joe the Barbarian, Punk Rock Jesus, The Wake) and has three major projects in the pipeline. I sat down with Stephen over some beers at Foxy Loxy Café and Print Gallery in Savannah to talk with him about how he got into comics, what he’s working on, and how he got to spend two weeks with one of his idols.

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HEY…WHEN CAN I GET THAT BACK: THE TRUST IN LOANING COMICS
By Mike Balderrama
I just let a coworker borrow books 7-10 of Y: The Last Man, my out of print edition of We3, and a copy of the first Unwritten. My shelf has this giant space where these comics belong. I’m not nervous, believe me, you’d see what I’m like when I’m nervous. But it did make me reflect on how we hand over comics and trades to people and how that can sometimes be a sticky little transaction.
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It’s an act of trust—you’re hoping that the recipient doesn’t just pack up and leave the country after you’ve handed over that stack of minicomics you had accumulated since 2008. I know I’ve mentioned before that I’m on my 3rd copy of The Watchmen due to friends borrowing, moving, and forgetting where they placed it. Books one and two of Sandman aren’t the same edition as the rest of my set thanks to past relationships. (That’s why my next plan is go for Omnibus, and if you want to read the tomes, you come to the shrine I build for it).
Also, can I ask: how long is too long? How quickly do other people digest comics compared to me? Libraries usually circulate books for 3 weeks, right? But that gap in the bookshelf looks bigger and bigger by the day. Maybe I shouldn’t have handed out that many trades all at once! Leave my friend on a cliffhanger just like I experienced waiting between buying books nine and ten…
Beyond the initial trust issue, there’s also that pang of  ”Oh god, I hope they like it.” I want to snatch the books right out of their hands right after I’ve given it to them. You’re as much sharing a work you personally love as the work reflects back on you. “I dunno, Mike gave me Gotham Central to read. He likes it?” (Yeah, I do, and you should too. In effect, this also helps you weed out bad friends). This is especially flares up when you’re trying to encourage a new reader to enjoy comics. Yes, Dan, my best friend, I’m looking at you. Granted, I’m not loaning you my copy of Hawkeye, but the fact that I encouraged you to pick the trade up has me on the edge of my seat in anticipation of your ‘thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down.’ It’s that fear of the encounter when they finally return the books to you. “Oh…hey…here they are. Not too bad…” Ouch. Compare that to a real “wow. That last part? That last part had me in tears.” Me too! It’s so refreshing to hear that! I thought I was the only one! We always talk about comics connecting. Letting friends borrow your comics is a pure act of that connection.
For all my hang ups about people having my stuff and as much as I look forward to getting my comics back, I really can’t wait to talk all about it with my friend.
Maybe borrow some of their comics too…

HEY…WHEN CAN I GET THAT BACK: THE TRUST IN LOANING COMICS

By Mike Balderrama

I just let a coworker borrow books 7-10 of Y: The Last Man, my out of print edition of We3, and a copy of the first Unwritten. My shelf has this giant space where these comics belong. I’m not nervous, believe me, you’d see what I’m like when I’m nervous. But it did make me reflect on how we hand over comics and trades to people and how that can sometimes be a sticky little transaction.

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CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE CAUTIOUS OPTIMISM
By Kira Kristine
I was slightly conflicted coming out of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. I liked it, a whole lot, (even beyond the eye-candy aspect) and the problems I had with it mostly involved how it looked on-screen vs. how it would have looked in panels. I tried to shout SHUT UP, NERD at myself but it didn’t work and I started working on this instead.
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[SPOILERS AHEAD. STOP NOW IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER]
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[SERIOUSLY, BACK UP]
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I was definitely disappointed at the relatively small role Bucky played, considering how personal the narrative surrounding Steve Rogers was.  I feel like the title should have been something like Captain America and the Military-Industrial Complex, or Captain America vs. a Post-9/11 Political Climate.


And that’s what it really was; an extremely thinly-veiled critique of the U.S. Military-Industrial Complex. It’s probably one of the biggest distinctions a military guy like Steve Rogers would notice between WWII and now: back then, war stimulated the economy and recovered the U.S. from the Great Depression, while a 21st-century-economy stimulates war and causes recessions. It’s actually slightly surprising that Steve went to work for SHIELD after uncovering their study and use of the Tesseract/Cosmic Cube/Infinity Gem/Macguffin in Avengers, but I suppose some concessions must be made, especially since Cap insisted on SHIELD’s dismantling post Winter Soldier.



Fury’s line about Cap’s generation also taking ethically negative actions was particularly stirring, but the current status-quo is built on history, and the doctrine of pre-emptive strike did not appear from thin air. This rejection on Cap’s part of the dark side of American military and international conflict reminded me strongly of the recent Brubaker Captain America story arc involving a hyper-nationalist U.S. soldier who goes on a murderous rampage through Eastern Europe, though that narrative was much more heavy-handed. Captain America, the character, was created as a piece of propaganda and very little else, and that would not have worked for a 2014 live-action film audience. Marvel has done a reasonable job (both in comics and films) of moving him into a more cynical time when most people aren’t interested in unquestioningly following a flag around, but maintaining a sense of cautious optimism that keeps the emotional core of a superhero who is decidedly a good guy.


Of course, because we have to appeal to people who might be all about a neo-conservative foriegn policy, the anti-Military-Industrial-Complex theme was couched in The Big Twist: that SHIELD is and pretty much always has been a HYDRA-infested conspiracy organization bent on world domination. This completely came from left field, and I feel like with so many films there should have been some hints that everything wasn’t totally a-ok back at the ranch. I mean, maybe there was an episode of Agents of SHIELD that went into it but at this point nobody would have seen it anyway. The whole thing was really the only issue I had with the film, and it was an example of something that would have worked in a comic book but came off silly and strange in a live-action film. I really fail to see how only a handful of people caught on to the HYDRA-ness of it all, especially when there’s U.S. congressmen and SHIELD agents stage-whispering “hail HYDRA” at each other in public.

The re-introduction of Arnim Zola was well-done in spite of this. He’s a great villain, along the ridiculous/evil lines of Dr. Doom, and I did wonder what they were going to do with him after the first Captain America film. The aesthetic they went with for his character was wonderfully like his appearance in comic books while still maintaining a realism that bordered on spooky; in a story full of ghosts for Steve Rogers, this one was literal.

The absolute best parts of the film were the interpersonal relationships Steve engaged in. Considering that the subtitle of the film is the moniker of a person deeply close to him, it makes sense that his rapport/guarded friendship with Natasha Romanov and budding friendship with Sam Wilson definitely took center stage when it came to character development. It’s easy to see Cap as a patriotic, soldierly slab of beef at first glance, but it’s harder to keep that image when he’s close to tears with a dying Peggy Carter, or shattered and numb when the Winter Soldier is unmasked, or casually flirting with Sharon Carter. There’s been a trend lately that superheroes have to be dark, gritty anti-heroes; Nolan’s Batman, The Punisher, and NO SMILING. TRUST NO ONE, NO FRIENDS. GIRLFRIENDS ARE A LIABILITY. This is a pile of crap.  There’s a place for the grimdark, certainly, but there has to be room for emotions beyond anger and angst, too. Fury explicitly warns Cap not to trust anyone, but it’s only through the trust Steve places in others that the day is saved.



Which brings me to Sam Wilson, The Falcon. A lot of people have griped that Sam’s “power” is superfluous if you consider that Iron Man is a phone call away, but a) Tony Stark just wrecked all his suits, and b) shut up, nerds, Sam Wilson is more than a dude who can fly and fight crime. I could go full English Class and say that Sam represents the future for Steve, a bright, hopeful friendship as well as the type of soldier we, as an audience, recognize. And Bucky is the past: WWII and the Cold War, Steve’s childhood and years that were clearly hard on him. This is a pretty boring reading of the film, though.

A favorite part of mine was Sam’s involvement in Veteran’s counseling. It was a level of stark reality in a fantastical setting to include regular people coming back from a war that is really happening to deal with PTSD, and having Sam moderate a counseling group was deeply in concert with both his character from the comics as well as the character they are creating for the MCU. Every scene with Sam was solid, heartfelt and often amusing, giving Steve a chance at a somewhat normal friendship given that his other associates are all superheroes who have thier own stuff going on or are dead/dying. Even in the comics, Sam rarely gets the chance to come out of the side-kick shadow of Steve Rogers as Bucky does, but to dismiss his character as comic relief or just a supporting entity is to miss out on the emotional core of the film.

It’s this positivity and Steve’s insistence on the moral high ground that leads SHIELD technicians to defy their superior’s orders and instead obey Cap at the expense of their own lives. It’s this positivity and trust that earns the loyalty of Sam and Natasha and the hard-to-come-by trust of Nick Fury. And it’s this positivity that triggers something in Bucky’s wrecked memory so that he can save Steve’s life and run away from HYDRA’s service, even if he doesn’t fully understand why.




Photo credit: Captain America Vol 5 #8, Brubaker and Epting; Captain America Comics #1, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby; Marvel Studios; Marvel Studios

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE CAUTIOUS OPTIMISM

By Kira Kristine

I was slightly conflicted coming out of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. I liked it, a whole lot, (even beyond the eye-candy aspect) and the problems I had with it mostly involved how it looked on-screen vs. how it would have looked in panels. I tried to shout SHUT UP, NERD at myself but it didn’t work and I started working on this instead.

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