Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has taken a lot of flak, even before it premiered. PJM’s own Scott Ott declared “no interest” in the series despite loving its source material. I confess to holding my own doubts regarding a superhero show without superheroes. However, unlike Ott, I was willing to give the series a chance. After watching the first season in its entirety, I’m glad I did. Here are 10 reasons to take a look at Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
10. Cinematic Action
Certain shows have come along in recent years to demonstrate that the small screen can nonetheless explode with cinematic action. Syfy’s Battlestar Galactica comes to mind, a genre show which looked better than many films from past years.
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. makes a similar case for the possibilities of televised entertainment. In essence, it’s an international spy thriller, much of which takes place in the enormous aircraft our heroes call home. The special effects, while lackluster here and there, largely do justice to their Marvel cinematic pedigree.
Now if we can just get a live-action Star Wars series, life will be good.
Can there ever be a more incendiary topic than asking who are the best super-heroes of all time? Bar fights have been started and wars have been fought over lesser topics! Nevertheless, this writer will attempt to answer the question and then immediately duck to avoid the inevitable brickbats.
First, how to pick from among the hundreds, nay perhaps thousands, of super-heroes that have paraded across the four color page since that fateful day when Superman first sent bad guys running on the cover of Action Comics #1? I say “since” because before the debut of Superman, comics had hosted many other heroes including such stalwarts as Speed Saunders and Slam Bradley. The difference was twofold (one which we shall use subsequently to help define what is meant by the term “super-hero”): Superman had super powers and a colorful costume that couldn’t be mistaken for street clothes.
Indeed, in retrospect, it seems that it was those two points, powers and costuming, that made all the difference; not only placing Superman at the top of the super-hero heap and initiating an avalanche of colorful imitators, but granting to the lowly comic book its raison d’etre. For better or worse, the super-hero would become synonymous with comics and by the 21st century, have eliminated all other genres for dominance of the industry.
That said, what to do with all those Superman imitators? How to sort the wheat from the chaff and pick out the very best of the lot? Aside from the basics of powers and costuming, something more is needed to differentiate the best from the rest. Metes and bounds need to be established to lend some legitimacy to those choice few that’ll make the cut (and cut down on the brickbats). For that, I suggest staying power, a hero who, decade after decade, comes on and off his own title, shows up steadily in other characters’ books and adventures, and continues to capture the imagination of readers over the years; originality, qualities in the creation of the super-hero that differentiate him from all others; and iconic status, a position captured over the years above and beyond the often insular world of comics readers.
With those parameters in mind, let the brawling begin!
Sure, there were other Thors in comics before Stan Lee and Jack Kirby came up with their own version in Journey Into Mystery #83, but none of those others had the sheer durability of Marvel’s own god of thunder. What set the character apart from those others? Like them, he had super strength, a magic hammer, and connections to Asgard. He was better looking too: gone were the traditional scraggly red hair and beard. But Marvel’s Thor had one thing more: personality. Making this otherworldly being with godlike powers the alter ego of a lame physician who couldn’t make it with his pretty office nurse granted him a sympathy to readers absent in other versions. Together, it all added up to staying power and blockbuster movie status!
What’s a superhero without a secret identity? A common sense question because they can’t be super-heroes all the time, right? Well, if you go by what you see at the local cineplex, you could be excused for thinking that super-heroing is the only thing super-heroes do. Granted, the possession of a secret ID seems to be divided along Marvel/DC lines with Superman and Batman upholding the tradition (flimsy as it seems to be what with any of the heroes’ girlfriends able to penetrate it at a the drop of a hat) and Marvel’s characters abstaining. (Although there too, if one of their characters has an alter ego, he’s more likely to give the secret away to a female admirer than not).
So with the vast number of people now familiar with these characters via the big and small screens now trained not to think of the necessity of a secret identity, it behooves us to revisit just why super-heroes needed secret identities to begin with. And beginning with means going back to the beginning, namely the golden age of pulp heroes, the prose universe of superheroes that preceded the four color comics page with characters like The Shadow, The Spider, and the Phantom Detective all of whom operated outside the law or feared for loved ones who might become targets of the super-villains and gangsters they warred against.
That tradition, like many others from the pulp era, was transferred lock, stock, and barrel to comics when Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster first introduced Superman to a waiting world and instantly created an archetype that endless numbers of similarly caped heroes would be patterned after. And although they would take from Supes the idea of a secret identity, ironically it was reversed for the Man of Steel whose real identity was that of Superman not the invented Clark Kent!
Be that as it may, secret identities became a staple of comics heroes if only as a springboard for endless complications involving its protection against discovery often with the seeming object of making any connection between the hero and the man as unlikely as possible. In addition, unlike the aforementioned pulp heroes whose occupations were simply being independently wealthy, our beleaguered comic book heroes usually had to earn a living when out of costume. Thus, our list of the top ten most interesting occupations/alter egos/private lives in the four color world (secret or otherwise)!
Consumer warning: The following list is based on traditional versions of the heroes, the versions that comics companies have returned to time and again and more often than not television and film have used as well. Editorial upheavals at Marvel (reboots and alternate versions of its continuity) and DC (the New 52) in recent years have made characters’ current back stories uncertain to say the least.
Over the course of the 70-plus year history of comics, there have been many hundreds of writers toiling in the four-color medium, with many who were just punching the clock waiting for that great American novel to hit the bestseller lists or for Hollywood to come calling. It wasn’t until fans began to replace professionals in the early 1970s that comics writing began to be considered as a career in itself.
Not that comics writing lacked craft. Before the revolution in comics scripting begun by Stan Lee, writing for comics was far more labor intensive than it later became. Before the dawn of the Marvel Age of Comics, the writer, generally speaking, was the guiding force in the creation of a typical comic book. Oh, sure, the editor had a big role to play in the early stages of a script, conferencing with the writer, working through a plot (if not coming up with the story idea himself), and approving the story. But outside the guiding role, the writer took over: putting words to paper (and before the Marvel Age, there were plenty of words… just take a look at any EC Comic to find out), orchestrating the action, describing to the artist exactly what he was to depict in every single panel of the story. Written in the style of a movie script, there was little left out of a comics script for an artist to exercise his own imagination.
That changed when Stan Lee, long time editor for Marvel Comics, found himself with little time to write all the books in his fledgeling line of super-hero titles. To do it, while also finding the time to fulfill his editorial and art director duties, he began giving his artists synopses of stories, leaving much of the decision making in how the stories unfolded to the artists. When the completed art was returned, Lee would write the dialogue. To be known ever afterward as the Marvel Method, the formula saved much time, divided creative responsibilities between the writer and artist, and made for a less intense work experience for the scripter.
That said, for much of comics history, the medium was considered kiddie fare, the bottom rung of the pop media ladder. For that reason, with few exceptions such as the aforementioned EC Comics, not much energy was expended by writers to create sophisticated fare, at least until the dawn of the Marvel Age. Some might argue that the establishment of the Comics Code was a setback to the acceptance of comics as entertainment for adults but that is a canard. With the end of the Comics Code in the 1990s, the medium has shown little improvement compared to what came before. In fact, an argument can be made that the medium has devolved in that time.
In any case, the foregoing is by way of helping to better tease out the greatest comic book writers of all time from the hundreds who have worked in the field. To make even finer distinctions, the best writers would have to possess longevity, have worked in a wide array of different genres, and display a high level of craft peculiar to the comics medium, not only in coming up with original story ideas but telling those stories in an understandable manner critical to clear and concise storytelling.
10) Alan Moore
A Johnny-come-lately compared to others on this list, Moore was recruited from the British comics scene by DC execs and made an immediate splash with his inventive take on the sluggish Swamp Thing feature. There, the writer immediately challenged Comics Code rules and regs writing entertaining stories with a touch of brilliance. Due to the uncompromising nature of much of his work, DC decided to create a new line of “mature” comics rather than tone down Moore’s work under the Code. Moore went on to many more off-Code projects including The Killing Joke and Watchmen before striking out on his own with such titles as League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and From Hell. Over a long career beginning in 1978, Moore’s popularity among fans grew but his own dark interests in pornography, violence, and paganism undercut his reputation as one of the best comics writers of later years.
As the new movie X-Men: Days of Future Past and its expanded cast of super-powered characters thunders through local cineplexes earning its way to summer blockbuster status, it behooves fans of the franchise to wonder if anybody is being left out.
Not that the producers of the various X-films have been lax in introducing as many new characters as they could without having scripts collapse under their own weight. Entries such as X-Men: Last Stand; First Class; and Days of Future Past have each featured a wide range of heroes and villains. Unfortunately, for all the delight fans have in spotting their obscure favorites, a few minutes of exposure is all they usually get. That’s because such characters as Prof. X, Magneto, Mystique, and especially Wolverine have been taking up most of the valuable screen time. For instance, as in the comics, Wolverine has so completely dominated the X-movie franchise that the X-movies have not been enough for him with two solo films having been released between main events. As a result, there has barely been enough oxygen left in the room to keep other characters on life support.
That, however, may change.
With the end of Days of Future Past, time has been reset with the events of the first three films in the X-franchise and with the newest being erased from reality, there is an opportunity for the studio to reboot the series. Of course, the dream reboot would be for a younger Prof. X to gather the comics’ original X-team; that’s a given. But what about the villains they’ll have to fight? A reboot could be an opportunity to introduce a whole line of new characters culled from 50 years of the comic’s history. Thus, purely as a public service, allow this writer to suggest the top 10 heroes and villains from the X-verse (in reverse order), as yet unseen on celluloid, who could really make things exciting for a rebooted franchise:
Peter Parker’s life hasn’t been easy and as everyone knows, it wasn’t made any easier after he received the proportionate strength of a spider in Amazing Adult Fantasy #15 (reprised in Amazing Spider-Man #1). When we first meet him on the opening splash page of his origin, Peter is in the process of being mocked by his peers including long time scourge Flash Thompson. Walking away in tears, Peter’s shoulders are slumped in dejection as he makes his way to the science hall for an exhibition that’s destined to change his fortunes forever. But being granted super powers does Peter no good as he soon discovers. They only complicate his life as he’s forced to hide his identity beneath a full face mask and becomes the object of fear and suspicion by the general public.
Thus is launched an exciting secret life as a super-hero but one that further alienates the lonely teenager from the rest of society. Unable to share his secret with anyone and fearful that if his identity as Spider-Man were ever revealed, it would be too much for his Aunt May’s weak heart, Peter lives a life apart, his powers at once cutting him off from others while granting him a kind of personal freedom that only anonymity can provide.
Created in 1962 for Marvel Comics by writer/editor Stan Lee and artist/co-plotter Steve Ditko, the Spider-Man character was imbued with fully human feelings and failings right from the start. Lee had begun the trend with the Fantastic Four the year before but really turned up the heat with Spider-Man as he and Ditko turned Peter Parker into a real hard luck charlie whose shoulders often seemed too narrow to bear up under the weight of the problems he was given.
But it was those problems that proved to be the key to the character’s popularity and one that has driven a string of recent films to huge monetary success. But those films have been a mixed blessing for fans of the comics. While managing to endear Spidey to general audiences, their jumbled continuity has only served to rob the original stories of the power of those special moments. So, as a special service to PJ Media visitors, here are the most significant, life altering events in Spider-Man/Peter Parker’s life, events that over the years have served to enrich the character while keeping his life from becoming too ordinary. Some have been featured in the movies while some still wait their chance at being adapted:
A graphic edition of the Amity Shlaes instant classic, The Forgotten Man, and it’s only 12 bucks? No brainer. I’ll have my boys reading it by age 10 or 12 — at the latest.
BONUS: Ed Driscoll interviewed Amity about the new edition. Lots of good stuff, so click on over.
In partnership with the new fiction publishing platform Liberty Island, PJ Lifestyle is going to begin promoting and co-hosting a series of debates and discussions about popular culture. The goal is to figure out what works and what doesn’t so that in the future we can promote and create better fiction and culture of our own. These are public brainstorming sessions for writers and culture advocates interested in developing a more vibrant popular culture. You’re invited to submit your answers to any of these questions — or a related one of your own! — that interests you:
A) in the comments
C) at your blog, then let us know in the comments or via email.
The most interesting answers may be linked, cross-posted, or published at PJ Lifestyle.
Also check out Monday’s question: “Which Science Fiction Novels Should Be Made into Films and TV Miniseries?,” Tuesday’s question:Lord of the Rings Vs. Harry Potter: Which Film Series Better Captured their Books’ Spirit? the previous weeks’ writing prompts and email in your thoughts on any questions that strike your fancy: 5 Questions So We Can Figure Out the Cream of the Crop In Popular Music Genres, 5 Geek Questions To Provoke Debates About the Future of Sci-Fi and Fantasy, 5 Controversial Questions To Inspire Spirited Debates About Music.
This week we’ll begin a discussion about the best — and worst — ways to adapt stories from one medium to another. Your ideas and suggestions are always appreciated.
This week we’ll begin a discussion about the best — and worst — ways to adapt stories from one medium to another. Your ideas and suggestions are always appreciated.
This week Walter Hudson joined the pop culture debate and expressed his concerns about DC’s attempt to catch up with Marvel on the movie front, concluding in “DC Vs. Marvel: Why This DC Fanboy Believes Marvel Already Won“:
After Man of Steel’s 143 minute run time, I’m left with little idea of who any of these people are or why I should care. The project rarely stops for breath, has scant humor, and takes itself far too seriously. The Nolan narrative style, skipping back and forth through time, works better when utilized by Nolan himself than by the frantic and unfocused Zack Snyder.
If that’s how we’re going to get introduced to all these characters, to Batman and Wonder Woman and Cyborg, than I fear a Justice League adventure will never be as fun as The Avengers. And that’s sad. Because it easily could be. DC has a rich history to draw from with decades of stories to mine and refresh. These characters deserve the same focused, nuanced, yet lighthearted treatment that Marvel Studios has given its mightiest heroes.
Hannah Sternberg also joined the discussion, declaring her allegiances in the pop culture debate to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly as superior franchises to Star Trek and Star Wars in her post “The Bible of Buffy“:
I’m going to bounce this one back to the committee. Dave, Walter, other PJ Lifestyle and Liberty Island writers, — did Joss Whedon change your life, or simply stunt it?
Perhaps this wasn’t the answer that Hannah was anticipating but Whedon’s impact on my life is very different from hers. I never “got into” Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, or Serenity. While recognizing their significance to geek culture and respecting the fact that Whedon operates at a level of sophistication well above most creators in the sci-fi/fantasy world, it was another of the writer-director’s works that resonated with me.
Back in January of 2013 I published “10 Secret Reasons Why The Avengers Is the Best Superhero Film.” In the piece — which I’ve decided to republish today — I argued that the movie’s success came from its ability to reinvent classic mythological themes and archetypes.
What do you think? Is The Avengers as good as I claim it is? Should it stand as a model for those aspiring to make big, bold, profitable, mainstream popular culture infused with good values? Would DC striving for a Justice League film end up just a pale imitation of what Whedon already mastered?
Will the Justice League film be able to compete with The Avengers? That was the tagline for this post, inviting readers and contributors to debate whether DC or Marvel has created the more compelling fictional universe. The formally proposed question was:
Who will ultimately triumph in the superhero battles to define the genre? Does Marvel with Spider-Man, the Avengers, and the X-Men set the standard? Or does DC with Batman and Superman provide a better model for aspiring comic and superhero creators?
As a lifelong rabid fan of both Superman and Batman, I want those properties to succeed. However, if I am going to be objective about it, I have to concede that Marvel not only will win the battle to define the comic book film genre – they already have.
Some say imitation is the highest form of flattery. If we make our assessment based upon who imitates who, then Marvel leads the day. DC seeks desperately to clone the achievements of Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe. It can be seen in the rush to cram as many characters as possible into the forthcoming Batman vs. Superman, ramping up quickly toward the debut of the Justice League. Would DC be so eager were it not for the massive success of The Avengers? In a business where there’s one Deep Impact for every Armageddon, probably not.
This modern relationship is ironic considering that DC predates Marvel and retains the oldest characters with some of the most tried and true narrative conventions. Spider-Man creator Stan Lee has confessed that he was inspired by Superman. But today, the Man of Steel seems to follow where Lee’s creations lead.
A decent popcorn flick, Man of Steel was certainly the most entertaining Superman film in decades. But that’s not saying much. Once the comic book king of the silver screen, Superman graces scant few films on any “best of” list. Batman has fared much better, but has remained largely sequestered from other heroes. Particularly in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, Batman works because he could be anybody.
Dave challenged us to debate which fandoms contribute the most, and least, to our spiritual well-being, as individuals and as a culture. His two examples were Star Wars and Star Trek, but I have to admit, despite being raised by a Trekkie, neither of those fandoms resonated with me the way the shows of Joss Whedon did, growing up. But did Whedon’s shows nurture my spiritual and intellectual growth? Or were they my form of “pop culture polytheism,” as Dave calls it, a form of escapism and adoration bordering on idolatry?
My adoration of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly definitely gets intense. But I’d argue, Dave, that there are two ways to participate in the fandom of franchises like Star Wars and Firefly – the idolatrous, and the perceptive. A lot of fandom definitely turns into a form of worship; but alongside that tendency is another way to fangirl shows and movies, which combines admiration and enthusiasm with a dose of skepticism and spiritual seeking.
Worshipful fandom is the sort we’re used to talking about. But perceptive fandom is a good description of the behavior of fans who may (or may not!) participate in the worshipful aspects of fandom, but who also see their favorite TV shows and movies as texts that can be studied like literature. That includes a healthy dose of skepticism toward the creators of those texts, too. Some fandoms are better set up for perceptive fandom than others. Star Wars practically exists to be worshipped — its larger than life figures and the hyperbolic distinctions between the bad guys and the good guys sets us up easily to adore one, and revile the other, almost unquestioningly. Buffy the Vampire Slayer and other Whedon creations are different because their good guys, and bad guys, are flawed and relatable without sliding the shows into moral relativism.
What is Gotham anyway? That’s been the question surrounding the upcoming FOX series set in Batman’s hometown.
Early reports indicated the show might be a police procedural centered on the exploits of police detective and future commissioner Jim Gordon. Then came news that producers had secured the rights to the entire rogues gallery of Batman villains, everyone from Catwoman to the Penguin. Those latter reports fueled concern that Gotham may be going for a Smallville vibe where all these characters somehow know each other as kids and attend the same high school.
Now we get an “extended” trailer for the show, our first look at what we will actually get come this fall. At first glance, the producers seem to be threading the needle between a hard-nosed cop drama and comic-flavored tween soap opera. Indeed, there will be an adolescent Bruce Wayne, a teenage Catwoman, and a young adult Penguin. The future Riddler and Poison Ivy also appear in a roll call. But the focus seems to remain on Jim Gordon and his introduction to the festering corruption of Gotham City.
One thing the trailer doesn’t make clear is whether or not all these characters will necessarily interact. It may prove better if most of them do not, and we get parallel narratives showing diverse experiences of the city. Given the age range of the rogues gallery, that at least seems plausible.
What say you? Will you give Gotham a chance? How will this series fit with the new DC cinematic universe?
More spandex. More stunts. More destruction. More incredible powers. More yawns. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 wouldn’t live up to its billing even if it were called The Adequate Spider-Man. Thanks to phoned-in, factory-produced efforts like this one, with each new superhero movie, super-fatigue threatens to become a super-serious problem. Here’s a look at the five most superfluous, extraneous, unnecessary superhero movies of the last five years.
1. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)
Andrew Garfield’s cockiness makes you long for the sweetness of Tobey Maguire, and the script doesn’t help him at all by having Spidey issue jocular, punny one-liners as he’s battling goofy villains like Rhino (Paul Giamatti, giving a Nicolas Cage-level tutorial in how to overact), Green Goblin (a completely unscary Dane DeHaan) and the soon-to-be-notorious Electro (Jamie Foxx), a shockingly low-voltage clown who fires electricity out his fingertips. The romance between Peter Park and Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone, who has the brisk cuteness of a stage brat without ever making the audience fall in love with her) seems forced, and the gigantic special-effects sequences are all bluster and boom, no genuine drama. You’ve seen everything in this movie before.
While growing up, I had the good fortune to live in two consecutive homes that were each a block away from their town’s respective libraries. From fourth grade through junior high, I had easy access to books, tapes, videos, and even video games available for check out. I spent a lot of time in the library, browsing and grazing, checking out volumes piled higher than I could ever read in the time allotted.
Among those many books were the Star Wars novels of Timothy Zahn. Now known as “the Thrawn trilogy,” they began with 1991′s Heir to the Empire. Set several years after Return of the Jedi, the Thrawn trilogy continued the adventures of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Han Solo as they fought the remnant of a collapsing Empire and confronted a new disturbance in the Force.
Zahn’s novels triggered an explosion of new Star Wars fiction spanning books, comics, video games, and more. In 1996, collaborators went so far as to develop a “movie without the movie” called Shadows of the Empire. The idea was to create merchandise around a story as if promoting a film. There was a Shadows novel, a video game, and even a fully orchestrated soundtrack for a film which was never actually produced. The story connected the events of The Empire Strikes Back with Return of the Jedi.
In later years, the timeline of this Expanded Universe became jam packed with stories detailing the fates of “the Big Three” along with their friends and offspring. Jacen and Jaina Solo, twin children of Han and Leia, joined their brother Anakin and their nephew Ben Skywalker on perilous and transformative adventures which spanned several stories across many mediums.
So when Disney acquired the Star Wars brand in 2012 and announced plans to produce Episodes VII, VIII, and IX set in a time period well covered by the Expanded Universe, obvious questions emerged. How would they work around the existing stories? How would they present the offspring of Luke, Han, and Leia? How would they tell consequential new stories without trampling upon established lore?
Lucasfilm has finally provided an answer, and it comes in the form of a soft-reboot. Precedent can be found (perhaps not coincidentally) in J.J. Abrams previous major sci-fi refurbish – Star Trek.
With Trek, Abrams and his writing team devised a way to have their cake and eat it too. They used the plot devices of time-travel and parallel universes to effectively reset the Star Trek universe, enabling future stories to take creative new directions without adhering religiously to established canon.
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of interviews and story excerpts spotlighting some of the most innovative fiction writers at the recently-launched new media publishing platform Liberty Island. Please check out this interview Sarah Hoyt conducted with CEO Adam Bellow here to learn more: “It also has a unique mission: to serve as the platform and gathering-place for the new right-of-center counterculture.”
Mike Baron is the creator of Nexus (with artist Steve Rude) and Badger two of the longest lasting independent superhero comics. Nexus, about a cosmic avenger 500 years in the future, appears monthly in Dark Horse Presents. There are twelve hardbound volumes from Dark Horse. Badger, about a multiple personality, one of whom is an animal rights champion, will appear in 2014 from a resurgent First Comics. Baron has written The Punisher, Flash, Deadman and Star Wars among many other titles. He also writes novels. You can find them on Amazon.
1. Who are some of your favorite writers, books, movies, and intellectual influences?
Uncle Scrooge, John D. MacDonald, Philip Jose Farmer. You cannot imagine the impact LAWRENCE OF ARABIA had on me when I first saw it at age fourteen. Today I admire and try to emulate, at least in so far as moral fiction, David Mamet and Andrew Klavan. My mind is a fever swamp of monster movies, comic books and rock and roll.
2. How do you describe yourself ideologically?
Conservative with libertarian leanings.
3. Which thinkers/commentators have influenced you?
Cicero, Epictetus, David Mamet, Thomas Sowell, Ayn Rand.
4. Where are you from/currently reside?
I am from the leftist sinkhole Madison, Wisconsin. I live in Colorado.
5. What are your writing goals?
“You make ‘em laugh a little bit, you make ‘em cry a little bit, you scare the hell out of them and that’s entertainment!”
6. Where can people find/follow you online?
7. What’s your craziest hobby/pastime/interest?
You now, it’s best I not discuss those.
Check out Mike Baron’s On the Trail of the Loathsome Swine
They got some big wild hogs in Beauchamp County. The one that ‘et my sister weighed 998 pounds. Lord strike me if I’m lyin’. Rose Marie weighed 95. She was twelve when that hog ‘et her. She was out behind the shed planting violets when that hog charged out the brush like a runaway truck and snapped her neck and dragged her off.
Ma and Pa had gone to Morrisonville for seed and victuals, and my older brothers Ned and Ethan were helping Uncle Lamar shingle his barn. I was in the kitchen oiling my catcher’s mitt when I heard Rose Marie yip once and then what sounded like a roto-rooter. It was a bad sound filled with pops and rips. I ran back behind the shed just in time to see that hog drag little Rose Marie into the brush.
I stood there shakin’ and cryin’ for awhile. Then I went in the house and called everyone I could think of. I called Ma and Pa. I called Uncle Lamar. I called Sheriff Dougherty. They all come back at the same time and the sheriff come with lights flashin’. Ned and Ethan drove their 150s. Uncle Lamar drove his Jeep. Ma and Pa were in the Magnum. There was a lot of dust. Everybody was screaming and crying.
“This is a public safety issue,” Sheriff said. “I’m going to round up some good ol’ boys and find thet hog and string it up.”
Pa sidled up to Sheriff and poured quiet strength down on him. “We’ll take care of this killer hog, Simon. We got thet right.”
Those boys played gin rummy with each other every Saturday for the past twenty years. Sheriff looked away first. “I reckon that’s your right, Joe Lee. But you’d better hop right on it before thet hog decides to eat somebody else’s little girl.”
Lamar pulled his thirty-ought-six from the cab rack and fed it some cartridges. Ned and Ethan ran up to the house and came back with an SKS and an AK-47. Pa got his Smith & Wesson .357. And I got my Desert Eagle .50. My grandpa Jeb Lee got me thet gun for my fourteenth birthday and I could think of no more fitting use for it than killing the hog thet ‘et my sister. …
Love it or hate it, The AMC channel hit series The Walking Dead is a mirror of our culture. The show is nominally an apocalyptic zombie series but it is really about how people deal with a total societal collapse.
The answer is: Badly. Usually very badly.
Episode #14 of season 4, “The Grove,” is a thoughtful and tragic examination of what a society should or can do with a psychopath. (Spoilers!) Set in the woodlands of the American south after a zombie apocalypse, in this episode a group of five refugees find a cabin to stop and rest for a few days. There, disturbed young Lizzie goes homicidal. She stabs another little girl to death. Her mother-figure, Carol, then asks her to “look at the flowers” while she prepares to execute her, the only solution possible in their terrible new world.
The clues were all there, laid out carefully in past episodes. The girl had an obsession with capturing and cutting up live rats. She had sudden outbreaks of violent rage and anger. She was fascinated with zombies and couldn’t distinguish between the living and the dead.
The clues are all here in the real world as well, and we are no better at preventing the slaughter when a mentally disturbed person decides to kill. The Sandy Hook killer, the Aurora theater killer, the murderer at Virginia Tech, the killers at Columbine High School, all exhibited distinct indicators of violence and psychosis. All of these killers were under psychiatric care and on medically prescribed drugs. Each of them showed signs like little Lizzie on The Walking Dead, and her path ended the same as theirs, in blood.
In “The Grove,” just as in America today, we wait until a disturbed person becomes a killer and only then do we do something about them. Only then do they receive the confines of a cell or a grave. We can do better than this. Unlike Carol on The Walking Dead, we have options.
In the heartbreaking and frightening essay “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother,” the mother of a mentally disturbed boy explains how she cannot find care for him. “With state-run treatment centers and hospitals shuttered, prison is now the last resort for the mentally ill.” This mother doesn’t want to put her innocent (but violent and disturbed) twelve-year-old boy in prison. Would you like to live in a world where people are jailed for crimes they might commit? Instead, we need to re-build our mental health care system in this country and that includes treatment centers and hospitals. If we don’t, we will continue to endure the slaughter of innocents at the hands of the mentally ill.
The Fantastic Four returns to theaters in 2015 with a new and controversial cast. The New York Daily News reports:
Within minutes of the bombshell reports that Fox has found its titular superheroes in the Fantastic Four reboot, naysayers flamed on social media to pick apart the reported selections of actors Miles Teller (Mr. Fantastic), Kate Mara (Invisible Woman), Michael B. Jordan (Human Torch) and Jamie Bell (The Thing) .
Complaints ranged from the good points (Teller’s track record of one-liner spewing parts is a poor fit for the super-serious Reed Richards) to the bad (Mara isn’t blonde) to the ugly (Jordan is not Caucasian like the character in the comics).
The author leaves unclear what makes that last compliant “ugly.”
Changing the racial identity of an established character in order to cast the best actor for the job works in many situations. The Avengers‘ Nick Fury was Irish in the comics long before Samuel L. Jackson portrayed him onscreen.
The offbeat casting choices in Zack Synder’s Man of Steel worked despite diverging wildly from past iterations. Laurence Fishburne starred as Perry White. Photographer Jimmy Olsen became a Latina intern named Jenny. And red-head Amy Adams portrayed the traditionally brunette Lois Lane.
However, there are times when a character’s physical characteristics or racial identity serve a narrative purpose. When Idris Elba, a black actor, was cast as the Norse god Heimdall in Marvel Studios’ Thor, it seemed like a gratuitous bit of multiculturalism. Then again, the Marvel version of Asgardians prove more alien than divine, so perhaps racial diversity makes sense in that context.
But casting a black man to play Human Torch makes no sense whatsoever. The character’s given name is Johnny Storm, biological full-brother to sister Sue, the Invisible Woman played by the decisively Caucasian Kate Mara. Unless this turns out to be some kind of artsy color-blind thing like you might see in a stage play, the relationship between these characters which has been integral to past narratives will have to be changed.
Will one of them be adopted? Will they be related at all? I suppose it could be handled in any number of ways which would not necessarily throw off the story, but for what purpose? Why do this? The only answer I can come up with is gratuitous multiculturalism, which this black author regards as an insulting bit of pandering.
Gay at a time when homosexuality was a felony and Jewish in an era of “polite” antisemitism, one Liverpool lad broke into entertainment management at a time when the Anglo Lords in London ruled the biz. 50 years later the music world is only beginning to acknowledge that there’d be no Beatles without their manager, Brian Epstein.
This past weekend, Vivek Tiwary, the Gen-X producer that brought Green Day’s American Idiot to Broadway, spoke to an enthusiastic crowd at The Fest for Beatles Fans about his mission to bring Epstein’s little known story to life via a critically acclaimed graphic novel, The Fifth Beatle, released by Dark Horse Comics.
What I unearthed after much difficult research (there is a paltry amount of information readily available on Brian, which is part of why I want to bring his story to the world) was not just an inspirational business story and a blueprint for what I wanted to accomplish with my career, but also a very human story, as summarized above. It’s a story I could relate to—and wanted to relate to—on so many levels. Brian became my “historical mentor”, if you will. A person from whose history I’ve tried to learn from—both what to do and what NOT to do. Brian was certainly a flawed and imperfect hero, but a hero all the same.
Tiwary has drawn inspiration from Epstein’s trailblazing ingenuity, citing that without Epstein’s persistence, Ed Sullivan never would have brought The Beatles to America. “People scoffed when I brought Sean Combs to Broadway in A Raisin in the Sun because they didn’t believe that Broadway attracted a black audience. I told them that was ridiculous; if we gave them a product they wanted, they would come.” Like Epstein decades before, Tiwary’s was a winning gamble.
America is celebrating The Beatles’ Jubilee. 50 years ago this year The Fab Four landed on this side of the Atlantic and the ’60s officially began. (At least, that is, according to PBS.) With the announcement that Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, the two surviving Beatles, will reunite at the Grammys on January 26 and perform a concert to air on February 9, 50 years to the day of their Ed Sullivan premiere, it would seem that Beatlemania (unlike much of organized religion) is making a resurgence in pop culture. Think the Fab Four are so yesterday? Think again:
A 2009 Pew Research Center survey placed the Beatles in the top four favorite music acts of Americans ages 16 to 64 — suggesting the band that helped create the 1960s Generation Gap ultimately helped us come together. Perhaps that’s the Beatles’ greatest gift: music that can be shared not only across the universe, but across generational lines.
Imagine a mathematician trying to quantify each Beatles’ album with Martha Stewart-like graphics. Wait, you don’t have to, just check out one Millennial’s 4 Simple Charts Visualizing The Beatles’ Major Albums and you’ll find out that The Beatles aren’t just for rock n’rollers, they’re for nerds, too. ”A new project on Kickstarter aims to tap into the passion of teenyboppers young and old withVisualising the Beatles, a book of infographics about each of the Fab Four’s major records.” Seriously: If that doesn’t make you want to start a Revolution, nothing will.
Huff Po details A Comprehensive Guide to The Beatles’ Invasion of Comic Culture for Millennial comic fans:
“Thanks to a book by Enzo Gentile and Fabio Schiavo, appropriately titled “The Beatles in Comic Strips,” we’ve been enlightened on the Fab Four’s history of comic book appearances. From subtle cameos to entire issues, the group managed to squeeze their iconic faces and psychedelic style into more than a few works of comic art.”
In March, Vans will release four pairs of Beatles-themed shoes for their Millennial audience:
“The most expensive of the bunch, the Sk8-Hi Reissue, features stylized portraits of all four Beatles running up the ankles apropos to cartoon portraits of each as they were animated for the film. The other shoes each feature psychedelic tableaus from the film. The Classic Slip-Ons play off the movie’s Sea of Monsters, showing trippy marine life swimming in an ocean of pink. The Era shoes depict all four band members, some wearing rainbow pants, hanging out in a yellow garden. And the final pair, a model called Authentic, is adorned with a pattern that reads “Allyouneedislove” running over and over again and into itself in purple, yellow and green.”
Like perpetually conflicted district attorney Harvey Dent, I find myself of two minds regarding the new Fox television show Gotham based in the years before Bruce Wayne donned the cape and cowl. Early indications proved more inspiring than recent news. Entertainment Weekly reports:
…The network’s licensing deal with Warner Bros. includes the rights to ALL the classic Batman characters — The Joker, The Riddler, Catwoman, Penguin and Batman himself. They will all be young versions of the characters and the show will tell how each became the psychologically damaged character we love today.
“This is all of the classic Batman characters,” [Fox chairman Kevin] Reilly said during the panel. “It follows the arc of how they all became what they were. I’ve read the script its really good. It’s going to be this operatic soap that has a slightly larger-than-life quality.”
Batman will be followed from the time he’s a child to “the final episode of the series when he puts on the cape.”
That formula should sound familiar to viewers of Smallville, the ten season exploration of Clark Kent’s journey from high school junior to Man of Steel. Around the time of Smallville’s debut, a young Bruce Wayne show was considered by Warner Brothers. It was reportedly scuttled by Christopher Nolan, who did not want to shift focus from The Dark Knight film franchise.
Nolan’s objection may factor into why we currently have Arrow, a series on the CW network following lesser known billionaire vigilante Oliver Queen as he battles many of the same villains who make up Batman’s rogues gallery – Deadshot, Ra’s al Ghul, and Deathstroke among them. In many ways, Arrow seems to beat around the Batman bush.
The announcement of Fox’s Gotham, timed as it was around the reveal of director Zach Snyder’s Man of Steel sequel in which Batman will headline, seemed likely to steer clear of Bruce Wayne and focus on police lieutenant and future commissioner James Gordon. That led many to believe that Gotham might be a police procedural set in a comic book world, much as Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a secret agent thriller set in a comic book world. These new revelations from Fox head Reilly indicate that Nolan’s lockout has been lifted, and the adventures of young Bruce Wayne are upon us.
The Muslim terrorist is a cliché. But only in real life. And in post-9/11 comic books, “Muslim superheroes” are becoming a cliché. As a cartoonist and as a recovered Muslim working on an anti-jihad graphic novel called The Infidel, featuring Pigman, I’ve identified certain truths that Marvel and DC Comics have to evade in order to shove their “Muslim superheroes” down the throats of their readers.
Before I move on to my list, I want to add that I put “Muslim superheroes” in quotes because Marvel and DC Comics want to promote “Muslim superheroes” without promoting Muslim superheroes. They want to promote their fantasy version of what they would like Muslim superheroes to be, not Islam’s version. As I’ve argued in my work, a good Muslim by our standards is a bad Muslim by Islamic standards. Therefore, a true Muslim superhero would be a Muslim supervillain.
1. We Are At War.
9/11/01 was 12 years ago, yet those behind the attack are still undefeated. The greatest state sponsors of terrorism on earth — Saudi Arabia and Iran — operate as if 9/11 never happened. And we’re still not ready to identify Islam as the enemy’s motivation. Can you imagine American comic book publishers during World World II publishing Italian, Japanese and German superhero comic books? That would have been unthinkable back then. Almost as unthinkable as it currently is to see Marvel and DC create anti-jihad superheroes. While Marvel and DC are presenting Islam to us in the most politically correct possible way through their comics, in the real world Muslims are on the warpath, killing non-Muslims Every. Single. Day. These “Muslim superheroes” are in the end a way for liberals to deny the reality that an entire part of the world is at war with us, while we do everything we can to focus on Muslims who are not at war with us, as if they’re the true representatives of a violent religion like Islam.
The victims of September 11, 2001.
The Most Controversial Voice Ever in in the History of Recorded Music, Steve Taylor, is Back. And He’d Better Behave. (UPDATE)
Since I gave up hope of ever expecting to hear from Steve Taylor again, I felt a lot better. Because I blame Steve Taylor for pretty much everything.
Sure, I could blame myself for picking up his Meltdown record back in 1984. That was a fateful choice. But I was a kid. How was I to know how damaging that record would turn out to be?
Steve Taylor was already controversial back then. He had debuted in 1983 with a mini-LP (that was a thing in the 1980s, Google it), I Want to be a Clone, that made an awful lot of people mad at him. They had every right to be. In “Bad Rap” he seethed “You save the whales/You save the seals/You save whatever’s cute and squeals/But you kill that thing that’s in the womb/Would not want no baby boom.” Green Peace denounced it, but they couldn’t deny it. In the title song, he mocked “Be a clone and kiss conviction good night/Clone-liness is next to Godliness, right?/I’m grateful that they show the way ’cause I could never know the way/To serve Him on my own?/I want to be a clone!”
Then he did it again, in “I Manipulate.” There was pretty much no one and no issue that Steve Taylor wouldn’t write about. He’s arrogant like that.
To a 14-year-old Christian, Taylor’s mix of art, humor, rebellion, truth and nasal vocals was just too much to resist. “We Don’t Need No Colour Code” beat up on Bob Jones before it was a mainstream thing. The haunting “Hero” took the nice-boy notion of being something more than another corporate type and turned it all on its head. “Meltdown” burned the rich and famous long before the Kardashians showed up to beg for every thinking person’s derision.
Then, there was this hideous cover photo on CCM. It set the magazine publishing industry back 10 years. The music industry almost never recovered.
Steve Taylor taught me that it was possible to be right with God and still have a healthy skepticism for those who claimed to speak for Him, and that it was possible to make a difference in one way or another. What a jerk. I’d probably be rich and own a Gulfstream if not for him.
Taylor’s entire career is littered with wickedness. He ripped amoral state-run education in “Lifeboat” decades before CSCOPE and Common Core showed up. He tore up celebrity cults in “Jim Morrison’s Grave.” Then he got lost in “Sock Heaven.” I followed him the whole time, and even saw him wear a bizarre confetti suit in concert once. But it’s all his fault.
The reason I started caring about issues more than just having a regular job? At least partly Steve Taylor’s fault. The reason I started wanting more from the artists I support than just a good back-beat I can badly dance to? Also partly Steve Taylor’s fault. My collection of Flannery O’ Connor books? His fault too. Have fun Googling that one. The two years I wasted in the Hindu Kush searching for the perfect backup band? Totally Steve Taylor’s fault. The money I blew on yodeling lessons because he made the Swiss mountain call rock star cool? Absolutely, 100% Steve Taylor’s fault. I’ll never forgive him. Neither will anyone who’s ever heard me yodel.
So now he’s at it again. After 20 years of producing hits like “Kiss Me” with Sixpence None the Richer, being the shadowy hand behind the Newsboys (yep, they’re both his fault) and making movies, Taylor is going to inflict himself on the music world again. And I’m ashamed to admit that I’ll be right there with him. I’m already backing his next album on Kickstarter. I can’t help myself. If you know what’s good for you, you won’t join in. But I’m living proof that people who like Steve Taylor never seem to know what’s good for them.
Update: I’m not sure yet who deserves the most blame, but they’ve made their goal. There WILL BE another Steve Taylor album.
We're all slightly in shock at the size and speed of your generosity. I'll send out a video update later today. http://t.co/Am5B7kGwgh
— Steve Taylor (@theperfectfoil) November 27, 2013
If you love movies, you owe it to yourself to subscribe to the AMC Theaters channel on YouTube. You will enjoy the thoughtful commentary offered by the crew at AMC Movie Talk.
Responding to a viewer question asking whether Hollywood will ever make an action hero or superhero film with a gay leading character, AMC’s John Campea offers several well-considered insights, none more so than this one:
The other thing I think is a little bit less nefarious than homophobia. And that’s simply the idea of cognitive identification. A lot of times, when we’re watching superhero films like – ridiculous guys like me. I watch Captain America and there’s a part of me that feels like I can be that guy. When I’m watching Iron Man, there’s a ridiculously disconnected [from reality] part of my brain that thinks, “I can be Tony Stark.” There’s an association with it… There’s very few things that are more strongly embedded within us, with our identity, than our sexuality.
The moment Captain America starts making out with another man, the ability of a heterosexual male to relate drops off substantially. Campea goes on to apply that observation beyond the context of sexual orientation to race, dialect, and other cultural differences.
Let’s say we see a guy, a character onscreen who is a small – speaks broken English – Asian gentleman. We have a hard time identifying with that. That’s not us. We can’t identify with him. And so we don’t really get attracted to those types of characters, those types of movies, and those types of projects.
It comes down to business and math. There just aren’t enough gay men in the world to justify catering a big budget action film to their particular tastes.