Thursday, October 13, 2016

Record: Dave Sim

Now here's an interesting idea for a comics writer whose work we could scrutinize. It doesn't have to be just writers working for mainstream superhero books we could focus on, and the Canadian cartoonist Dave Sim, author of Cerebus, the would-be humor comic about an anthropomorphic aardvark swordfighter that ran during 1977-2004, is somebody whose work was discussed in the past, and having done a little research, I too realized that he's got some viewpoints that are pretty disturbing. So let's see if I can write up the best possible entry here.
  • Early in the Cerebus run, Sim came up with a character called Red Sophia, allegedly a parody of Red Sonja, whom Roy Thomas introduced in the Conan series he'd launched/written in the early 70s that drew on a minor guest character from Robert E. Howard's old stories. And the character Sim featured was depicted as easy to defeat and ditzy. Of all the characters from Howard's own stable he could've riffed on, I wonder why it had to be one based on Red Sonja and not Conan himself, or even Kull the Conqueror? Though the spinoffs from Conan at the time had engaging stories in hindsight, the first Red Sonja title didn't last much more than 3-4 years at best, and was cancelled by the end of the 1970s (Kull's didn't fare much better either), so I'm not sure why Sim considered Sonja a perfect target for whatever vision he set out to employ. In any case, what matters is that he was insulting an impressive idea Thomas had for a sword-and-sorcery heroine, and it's bewildering he'd want to make a girl that incompetent.
  • In the mid-90s, he indicated that he saw nothing wrong with a Vietnamese family disowning their daughter for getting pregnant. He said in that insanity, "I watched an interview the other night on CBC Prime Time with a nineteen-year-old girl from an old-fashioned (which is to say "principled") Vietnamese family. She had gotten pregnant during her last year of high school. She knew that she had brought "shame" to her father, to her family. "But this is a free country, isn't it?" she asks the camera. "That means you can do whatever you want, doesn't it?" The camera was indulgently mute on the subject. The girl moved on. She felt scared that she was going to be a mother. She felt unhappy that she had been disowned by her father, but she also, you know, felt happy when her mother called to tell her that she would answer any questions that she had about pregnancy. She felt most enthusiastically about her school guidance counsellor because he had, you know, just listened to her "spill her guts" and hadn't tried to, you know, make her feel bad." In other words, he wasn't disappointed that the girl's family was rejecting her when, here, she could be bearing them a grandchild, somebody to love and hopefully raise to do good in the world? How somebody can basically dismiss the positivity of life so cynically is galling.
  • He once wrote a crazy essay where he put in a disgusting paragraph that basically implied that it's okay in all instances to use "physical discipline" against women and children. He said, "To me, taking it as a given that reason cannot prevail in any argument with emotion, there must come a point – with women and children – where verbal discipline has to be asserted, and if verbal discipline proves insufficient, that physical discipline be introduced. Women and children have soft, cushy buttocks which are, nonetheless, shot through with reasonably sensitive nerve endings. I believe that those buttocks are there for a very specific purpose intended by their Creator." It's not often I see smut as sick as that happens to be. I can't even begin to describe how his justifications for thrashing make my skin crawl. UGH!
Here's also some video links discussing Sim's justifications of domestic violence. To think that the medium once embraced this man is horrific. On a somewhat related note, some people may know that a certain artist/cartoonist with the initials "C.D" once accused the late DC editor Julius Schwartz of supposedly attacking her sexually in a limousine in article published in The Comics Journal in April 2004. But her associations in the past with Sim are but one reason why I couldn't believe what she alleged, and certainly couldn't take it at face value. I'd written about this some time ago on my main comics blog, and I guess I'll have to add at least one more commentary here as well. How is it possible that all those years before when she was chummy with Sim, she never noticed any of the crap he was spewing out? Why, in fact, how is it possible nobody else in the medium did either? It just simply beggars belief. Are we really supposed to think nobody could've spotted anything of the creepy stuff he'd said from the late 70s to now? I can't buy that. And it goes without saying that the limousine part is just one more contrived-sounding part in this whole bizarre mess. But what really made C.D's allegations come unglued was the failure to present the letter of apology she claimed Schwartz sent to an agent of hers (something else that's ambiguous: unlike movie stars, do cartoonists usually have talent agents? Not that I know of). Ironically, it was Sim and a colleague of his who provided some of the hints just how flaccid her accusations against Schwartz were, even as they acted hypocritically simultaneously.

Another puzzler: when I took a look at an excerpt of the story C.D drew in Cerebus in 1986 that supposedly alluded to her allegation, the way it was set up made it look like it was little more than a case of an ugly quarrel she had with a guy who talked sleazy, but little else. What kind of person who supposedly went through a terrible experience waters it down into a joke? As if that weren't problematic enough, I vaguely recall finding and reading a message she wrote on the old Comicon site in 2001, where, although she admitted Sim once insulted a buddy of hers by bragging about how he thought women looked funny when they're mad, she did anything but condemn him, and as a result, I remain unconvinced she understood the really bad impact of his past commentaries (also, I think I once spotted her conversing with Dan Slott, if that's telling anything). Needless to say, if she really did make a false accusation against Schwartz, that was wrong, mainly because of the harm it can do to actual victims. It's regrettable she'd do that, because I honestly never considered her the worst the medium's got to offer. But, that's life; full of people who just aren't what they could be.

So in the end, it's not that I don't want to believe a man like Schwartz was capable of pulling an offensive act. It's that I can't. Because C.D provided nothing concrete to go by. I don't think Schwartz was a saint, and I'm sure there were still infuriarating things he could've done regardless. But without solid proof, even Sim has no business trying to besmirch the guy's name, and his own writings, in and out of Cerebus, weigh against him very heavily.

Sim's antics started gaining the notoriety they should've had by the late 1990s, and since then, he's been mostly shunned by a lot of other writers and artists. But it's still hard to swallow that nobody within the industry ever spotted any of his atrocious politics years before, and didn't think to distance themselves from him well before.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Special notes: letters I wrote to newspaper editors

I've only done it a few times to date (and I've certainly only got a handful available so far), but I've written some letters to editors of a few papers and a magazine or two to complain about articles I found offensive and misleading (and I'd already presented some of those propaganda pieces here), and I decided this could be the perfect time to post them here for everyone to see and ponder. I don't know if any of these letters were published, and that's one of the reasons I thought this could be the best time to offer a look. I'm going to start with a letter I wrote to a conservative magazine, the Weekly Standard, complaining about one of Jonathan V. Last's stealth promotions of Identity Crisis, this one published in 2013:
Dear editors,

Almost every time Jonathan Last brings up a subject like the history of Batman, or any other DC Comics stories for that matter, he seems to have a bizarre obsession with bringing up a very repellent miniseries called Identity Crisis, as seen in his July 24 article ("How to make nerds Rejoice"). And whenever he does, it destroys whatever point he's trying to make. Not everyone may be aware of this, but back in 2004, Identity Crisis was notorious in comics-related circles for bearing a misogynist slant that trivialized rape and had an almost resolutely male chauvinist viewpoint. The most disturbing thing besides the dehumanizing take on women in the book, however, was that the story structure concealed a metaphor for blame-America propaganda of the kind seen following 9-11.

Given how crudely structured Identity Crisis was, almost like a bad fanfiction tale, it's hard to understand why Last has long chosen to embrace the miniseries, even as he's claimed he detests anti-American conspiracy theories (additionally puzzling: I've never seen him actually describing the story in-depth either), and why he's sided with some of the same left-wing journalists who also supported the comic. Speaking as a right-wing "nerd", I've found Last an embarrassment to my belief system. He might want to consider that sooner or later, there are leftists out there who'll exploit his support of the miniseries for claiming there's a right-wing "war on women" the same way Obama waged propaganda on Mitt Romney in the last election.

Avi Green Jerusalem, Israel [July 24, 2013]
Let this serve as an example of how I am capable of taking on a faux-conservative who did his fellow brethren a disfavor. I have no idea if the editors ever published this letter, which I emailed them the very day the original article was posted on their website, but here's what's interesting: after this, Last did not seem to have anything to say in mainstream papers and magazines for at least a year. I only found one article he'd written about comic books - in late 2014 - and it was pretty generic, about his time collecting pamphlets. He certainly didn't seem to mention Identity Crisis again to date. It's my assumption the letter had some effect, and could've embarrassed him with the senior editorial staff at the Weekly Standard, so after several articles where he blatantly tried to recommend the miniseries in stealth format, he finally wised up and quit the dishonesty. So, who knows? Maybe my letter did have some effect.

Now, here's a few more written a least a year and a half later, to a handful of papers syndicating the columns of Andrew A. Smith (Nashua Telegraph, Sacramento Bee, Indiana Gazette, in example), where I brought up some of his own propaganda tactics:
Dear editors,

In the "Captain Comics" column published on December 28, 2014, Andrew Smith uncritically quotes Mike Madrid, author of Vixen, Vamps & Vipers: Lost Villainesses of the Golden Age of Comics, talking about how women in the 1940s could only find autonomy by "becoming evil". I see this as an insulting and downright exaggerated claim, since, while there was still sexism in society at the time, Madrid and Smith's claim does not hold up well in real life logic: if they turned to crime, it'd only figure that sooner or later, they'd be arrested, tried and jailed for criminal activity. What’s so “compelling” about that?

It’s also worth nothing that, while women’s status at the time still wasn’t all that great, there was some progress being made for what roles they could find, including jobs as aviators during WW2, and jobs as actresses, singers and fashion store owners were also pretty prominent.

I also find Mr. Smith's claim "at some level, you have to admire them" (the villainesses) insulting. I do not consider it admirable at all that a woman would turn to crime any more than a man; definitely not if it's a violent form of it. And I don’t like the near whimsical tone Mr. Smith is writing in either.

Avi Green Jerusalem, Israel [January 12, 2015]
Violent crime, whether committed by a man or a woman, is not an admirable act, and to suggest nothing is wrong with women committing crimes to gain "freedom" overlooks logic by galaxies. When crimes are committed, it only figures the culprits could end up in jail and become fugitives. These are but examples of the letters I've tried writing to date. To be sure, they may not be perfect, but what really counts is how sincere and dedicated I can be. I'll try to add more as times goes by, and write still more whenever I'm reading a mainstream paper.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Profile: Lionheart

Lionheart

Real name: Kelsey Leigh
First appearance: Avengers #77 vol. 3, March 2004

History: this character, created by Chuck Austen, a onetime hack writer for Marvel, and artist Oliver Copiel, debuted as a third Captain Britain. She was a divorced mother with 2 children from southern England whose house had been invaded by thieving gang rapists who left her scarred across the face with broken glass when she tried to fight back against them. Her husband Richard was too terrified to help, and this led to their divorce.

Later, she found herself stuck in the middle of a battle between the Avengers and the Wrecking Crew. After Captain America and the Wasp were downed, Kelsey came to their help by holding up Cap's shield to guard them from a blast, but suffered injuries that led to her temporary death. She was resurrected by Brian Braddock, the original Captain Britain, and given a choice between the Sword of Might or the Amulet of Right to become a replacement for Brian in the CB role. She chose the former artifact, and discovered that if she were ever to reveal to her children who she really was, it would lead to their deaths.

What's wrong with how this was done? Not only was Brian depicted failing to warn Leigh of the consequences coming from the wrong choice of artifacts/weapons, the story setup was unbearably cruel, separating a mother from her children, as though the gang-rape and cowardly husband premise weren't bad enough. Adding insult to injury was how all this practically made it seem as though Leigh was paying for resisting her rapists by getting slashed; as though it were wrong for her to fight back. It's practically an example of writers who hate their own creations.

And they added insult to injury by depicting Leigh joining forces with a villain called Albion because she was angry at Braddock for what happened to her.

Was there anything good to come out of this? Fortunately, I think Chris Claremont, still working for Marvel at the time, fixed everything in a short series he wrote called New Excalibur; sort of a sequel to the old 1988-98 series. After Albion tried to assault the UK with his own dark forces and Excalibur fights back, she finally recognizes the mistakes she made, turns back to good and helps Excalibur defeat Albion. Brian then decides to set things right by reuniting her with her children and mother, thus putting an end to a very misguided storyline.

So in a modern era where you have Marvel's modern staff turning out some of the worst ever tales you could find, there was a silver lining with this case.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Record: Devin Grayson

Grayson, who'd been a writer on several DC/Marvel titles from the late 1990s to the mid-2000s, is an interesting case, based on her writing for Nightwing and its 93rd issue circa 2004. It was noted at the time that the story involved Nightwing becoming a male victim of a rape by ways of a villainess called Tarantula (the character she featured may not even be the first character to bear that codename). The run was already notorious for getting rid of a few adversaries Chuck Dixon developed as regulars, but the whole Tarantula affair is where it really went overboard.

What made it dreadful and insulting was that the whole scene otherwise made light of a serious issue, much like Brad Meltzer did when he wrote Identity Crisis. And this time, it was a female-vs-male form of sexual assault, taking place on a rooftop where Dick Grayson was sitting in shock at the sight of Tarantula gunning down Blockbuster in issue 93, and then, she basically raped him. It may not have been as visually obnoxious and offensive as the anal rape of Sue Dibny seen in Identity Crisis, but it was still quite disgustingly terrible. It's a prime example of the bad influences of badly written fanfiction encroaching upon superhero comics.

But, most remarkably enough, a decade after the story was published, Grayson, who originally defended the scene as "non-consensual sex", gave an interview to the Bat Universe in 2014 where she turned around and admitted her approach was poor. She said:
I was wrong. I messed that one up and I apologize. My interview comments were uninformed and ignorant and I’m grateful for the chance to revisit the issue.

Rape culture and the mindboggling stupid and insensitive comments some comic creators have recently made about it have been in the news a lot lately and I reject the assertion—put forth in some of those interviews—that as creators we passively reflect society and have no actual influence over it. But I do admit that it can be difficult to filter through cultural currents with the sensitivity and thoughtfulness they deserve. Our work should never be inattentively influenced by our social prejudices, but we, as humans and creators, often are.

I used a literal rape as a metaphorical nadir, and I know better. Or, at least, I should have known better and certainly do now. I was concentrating so hard on other elements of that scene which felt so much more narratively significant to me (Blockbuster’s murder, primarily) that I totally lost sight of the power and non-symbolic consequence of the gesture I was using. By the time I realized the severity of the mistake and how harmful it might have been to actual survivors of sexual abuse and assault (myself included), I had run out of time to make it right. I’m not sure I could have made it right, mind you, but I did at least have the intention of bringing the story back around to it so that the act didn’t exist completely devoid of consequence or analysis. But it does, and I regret that more deeply than I can say. So many factors went into that debacle—including an avalanche of increasingly arbitrary and bizarre crossover demands from upper editorial and the company’s failure to honor previously approved story outlines—but the responsibility for the ineffectiveness and potential harmfulness of that scene lies solely with me.

I would not shy away from tackling the subject of rape again but I would work with it only if I could approach it head on. It’s too charged of an issue to be used to reflect something else. If I could do it over again, I would make very different choices.

While this was written years after she'd stopped working for DC, it's amazing to learn that there's a writer out there who made a mistake but was willing to own up for it. That's a very admirable show of courage to take responsibility for making light of serious issues.

It's also saying a lot more than can be said for Meltzer, who, unlike Grayson, has never admitted his approach in Identity Crisis was distasteful and belittling to victims of sexual abuse. It's had me wondering why a woman can admit to failure, but a man will not.

For now, it's certainly amazing that somebody in comicdom, mainstream or otherwise, is willing to show the courage to admit to error in storytelling development. Grayson's show of guts is something to appreciate.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Profile: Lucy Lane

Lucy Lane

First appearance: Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen, April 1959

History: the younger sister of Lois Lane, she began as an airline stewardess and occasional girlfriend of Jimmy Olsen's. When the DCU was reworked in 1986, she was reintroduced as more of an air traffic controller.

Was subjected to the following act of discrimination: in the early 1970s, she was seemingly killed in issue 120 of Superman's Girlfriend, Lois Lane after a boating accident in Latin America.

What's wrong with how this was done? Depending on your viewpoint, the story from SGFLL was handled far better than a lot of the nastiest storylines DC put out in the post-Crisis era. It did serve as a motivation for Lois in the remaining years of her own series, who quit her job at the Daily Planet at the time and became a freelancer.

Was there anything good to come out of this? A short time later, Lucy was found alive in the series where she'd first debuted, SPJO, towards the end of its own run in the early 70s (both series ended in 1974 and were replaced by the semi-anthological Superman Family, which ran for at least 8 years). She continued into the post-Crisis era and had some pretty good stories built around her.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Profile: Aquaman

Aquaman

First appearance: More Fun Comics #73, 1941

History: coming 2 years after Sub-Mariner's debut in early Marvel books, Aquaman was easily the second most famous seabound superhero, although it was in the Silver Age when Arthur Curry really became significant with the first solo series that ran during 1962-71. It was in this series where Mera was introduced and they married for many years. His creators were Mort Weisinger and Paul Norris.

Was subjected to the following act of discrimination: in the 2nd issue of the mid-90s series written by Peter David (from September 1994), Arthur lost his left hand after a verminous villain named Charybdis - who paralyzed his ability to communicate with sea life - forced it into a piranha-infested pool, where it was promptly turned into mincemeat. He later replaced it with a short harpoon-style blade, not unlike what Captain Hook's got in Peter Pan.

What's wrong with how this was done? Coming at a time when Kevin Dooley - who turned out to be one of DC's worst editors in the 90s - was at work, this was a pretty gratuitous attempt to make the Sea King more "badass". His personality was soon rendered more aggressive and unhinged, and it's apparent Dooley and company were going out of their way to make Aquaman not all that different from other superheroes at the time, who just had to have "drive" so people could supposedly identify with them.

Even today, with overrated writers like Geoff Johns in charge, this hasn't changed so much. Aquaman may have regained his left hand since, but the grisly tone Dooley started (and Johns amplified) still prevails.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Record: Dan Slott

Of all the unqualified writers Marvel/DC could hire as part of their closed-shop clique since the mid-2000s, Slott is one of the worst. He's been part of Joe Quesada's mandate to wipe out the Spider-Marriage, and there have been a few more lugubrious steps he's taken in the career he's had this century. I'll list at least 2 examples for now.
  • He wrote a story in 2014 where Peter Parker's body was taken over by Doctor Octopus, leading to a tacky series called "The Superior Spider-Man", and a storyline where Otto Octavious, in the body of Peter, makes "love" to Mary Jane. Which is basically rape in disguise, as a women's topics website put it.
  • Almost a year later at the Florida Supercon, he went along and justified Joe Quesada/Axel Alonso's opposition to the marriage by saying that Mary Jane is "anti-Marvel", by claiming, "Everyone Peter falls in love with is so classically beautiful, and to me that is anti-Marvel." In other words, he was saying that everything Stan Lee ever thought of conceiving was wrong, while at the same time he implies beautifully structured characters/people are bad ideas. (Next thing you know, he'll be saying Edgar Rice Burroughs and Will Eisner were wrong to make Dejah Thoris and Sheena the Jungle Queen beauties!) And, he completely obscures all the characteristics ever applied to Mary Jane in better days. His defense is superficial at worst, and super-cheap.
Slott is bound to go down in history as one of the worst, most self-important and self-justifying writers, a true embarrassment if there ever was one.