Saturday, January 22, 2011

I am going to need to brace myself for the fact that the Wonder Woman TV show is not going to be Wonder Woman

When I heard David E. Kelley, he of Ally McBeal, was tapped to write the upcoming Wonder Woman pilot, I think I understood what DC was thinking.  The last few superhero shows and movies featuring a female protagonist, those not about Buffy and vampires, have not set the world on fire.  The WB tried Birds of Prey (changing the premise so completely that they spent the first few episodes explaining what was going on), NBC's relaunch of The Bionic Woman failed (despite co-starring one of my personal faves, Miguel Ferrer), CW has Nikita, but I'm not sure anybody watched it after week 1...  And I'd certainly argue that Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles was a bit of a female-centric action show (and actually really pretty good).  And we can revisit the Halle Berry-starring Catwoman, but I would really rather not (But you need to see it some day, so that we can learn and save future generations from these mistakes).

A while back Joel Silver, producer king of 90's-style action, landed the rights and hired Buffy/ Serenity-meister Joss Whedon to write and direct a Wonder Woman movie.  I have no idea what happened, but after the fanboys quit drooling and the dust settled, Silver actually fired Whedon off the job.  Of course the Whedon-zombies gnashed their teeth and wept, but I was never convinced.  I'm not a Buffy fan (I just never stayed engaged by the show), and I think after 13 episodes and a movie, I was good with Firefly. And I never watched whatever his last show was that didn't make it.

I don't know why these shows don't take.  Some say women can't carry an action show or movie, but there aren't many straight-up action shows on TV these days, anyway (even Smallville usually has about two minutes out of every 44 that's anybody punching anybody else), and action movies don't hit all that often.  So whether its a lady or a guy doing the punching...  I dunno.

But hiring Mr. Ally McBeal tells you one thing:  NBC wants to try to get female viewers, and Wonder Woman is going to be pretty soapy in order to fulfill the needs of somebody's demographic research data.

From the article:
However, Wonder Woman fans still may have cause for concern. If Deadline’s information is correct, Kelley’s take on the nearly 70-year-old superheroine will differ dramatically from her portrayals in the comic books or the ’70s TV series: Here she’ll be Diana Prince, a vigilante crimefighter and successful corporate executive in Los Angeles who tries to “balance all of the elements of her extraordinary life.”
I am sure the notion of a superhero will be enough to draw in a certain demographic, and certainly the name "Wonder Woman" will draw seekers of camp and nostalgia.  Smallville has had valleys and mountains on the soapiness graph, and always skewed toward the sort of dopey teen-soap that actually kept me from watching a show about Superman for about three or four years (and a lot of other people, too, I might add).  It DID mean Smallville has a rabid fan base, but that fan base is also pretty small in the TV landscape.  So DC surely knew it needed to be smarter than that if they wanted to make it on NBC.

I am fairly certain we are never going to see this on Wondy McBeal

Yes, to me its a disappointment that if they're going to bring Wonder Woman to the screen, its going to be Not-Wonder Woman.  (In the comics, Diana is not an executive, she doesn't live in LA, and she isn't a vigilante).  It doesn't mean I won't watch to see what they do for a few episodes, but...  my enthusiasm is muted, at best.

Of course as a WW reading fanboy, I'm disappointed.  Its a pyrrhic victory at best if the show is a hit but the character you love is subsumed by a completely inconsistent version.

My guess is that Kelley's launchpad was that for the past 15-20 years, the idea of the modern woman calling herself Wonder Woman generally meant that the person is a wife, mother and accomplished in her career.  But, of course, you can't have a TV show where the love interest questions are all already settled, so...  career and heroing.  Its not a bad idea, per se.  It just isn't the Amazon Princess showing up out of nowhere with a magic lasso preaching peace through strength. 

Straight up, Wonder Woman can be an amazing character.  In the 21st Century, she's a walking dichotomy as diplomat and warrior, feminist figure and bondage icon.  Camp character and inspiration.  People see that as an issue, but I see it as a nuanced character with core conflicts that can be explored.  But I also like the part where she flies into a fight and hits people really, really hard or pops them with an axe.

My guess is we're not scrapping the Amazon background, but its going to wind up being a show about people who all dress in business suits until the last 15 minutes when they wear their hero and villain clothes and everybody has jobs at companies that don't care if they show up.  And, as its David E. Kelley, the high powered executives wear skirts that would, yes, still in 2011, ensure the wearer of said skirt would not be taken seriously, ie: nobody in any real office would ever wear.

So what would my pitch be?  Normally I don't play this game.  Its not useful to second guess, and its not really criticism if all you're doing is saying "I have a pitch!".  But my guess is that Kelley's pitch will be so far removed from Wonder Woman, that, heck...  why wouldn't I have my say?  I would have gone all George Perez/Phil Jiminez/ Greg Rucka on them.  Diana comes to America from the hidden amazon society with an astronaut whose capsule fell into Themyscirean waters (rather than a fighter pilot).  She is fascinated by the outside/ Man's world, stays longer than her leave was granted, learns of the state of the world via TV and her own exploration, and perhaps learns that the Olympians are now manipulating man by hiding in plain sight as politicians, etc...  After a battle with, say, Medusa in the middle of Redskins Stadium, she and her mother agree to open an Amazonian Embassy in DC or New York, and the show becomes about the embassy and the two opposing world views of the 21st Century and a few thousand years of Themyscirian tradition of peace through strength.  It would give writers a chance to examine a culture composed of women and provide an interesting counterbalance and deep mythology to the show.  Also: greek monsters.  and beheadings.  And she would totally wear "the costume" when she wasn't wearing business suits at the embassy.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Archie Comics now also moving away from CCA

So it looks like Archie Comics is now dropping the Seal of the Comics Code Authority.  After 57 years, the CCA is dead.  Totally amazing.

Yesterday DC Comics announced their change, and with Marvel having abandoned the CCA long ago (and indie publishers never using it), that placed Archie as the last remaining publisher using the CCA.

Well, not so much anymore.

Best of luck to the former employees of CCA.  "Comic Book Censor" has got to be a weird thing to have on your resume.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

DC Comics April solicitations are now available

Good lord, this is no way to run an industry. Anyway, here are items coming from DC Comics in April.

Here at Comic Book Resources, you can figure out how to blow your hard earned cash.

Items of note:

  • Action Comics #900!
  • Batman Inc. #6 - will feature Man-of-Bats!
  • Batwoman #1 - resolicited! Again! She only debuted in 2006! Way to go, DC!
  • Superman/ Batman #83 - By The Sixth Gun's Cullen Bunn! When did S/B become read-worthy? The last few months, its been pretty good with fresh talent.
  • Infinity Inc. is getting a Hard Cover collection?
  • Wonder Woman: The Odyssey - I can finally start to read all this Wonder Woman I'm behind on. I don't even care how bad it is or isn't. I haven't read Wonder Woman in FOREVER. Need a fix.
  • Joe Kubert Library arrives in paperback!
  • Tiny Titans: Field Trippin' collection!
  • We3 Deluxe Edition Hard Cover! - this will be worth every penny. One of my favorite comics ever.

I honestly thought the Comics Code Authority had died out in 2004

The tortuous story of how the Comics Code Authority came to be, and the mix of creative desolation and laboratory-results-generating amazingly-weird-stuff in the CCA hothouse that came afterward is chronicled very well in David Hajdu's The Ten-Cent Plague

Since the 1950's, the CCA has acted as a non-governmental censorship with an astonishing bit of clout, trying to make sure that comics that fell into the hands of kids were wholesome reading material.*  The development of the rules and the enforcement thereof was often stringent and nonsensical.  For example: no werewolfism or vampires.  Everybody has to love and respect authority figures.  Etc...

This had two separate effects:
1)  It killed off whole genres of comics whose genre continued to thrive in TV, movies, radio, magazines, etc...
2)  The rules were so strict, it led indirectly to how bizarre some comics became during the Silver Age.  Basically, you could no longer show Superman actually just beating people up, but you could show him in bizarre situations with red kryptonite and screwing with Lois Lane's perceptions of reality on a near daily basis in order to maintain his secret identity.

However, by the late 1970's the Direct Market (ie:  the newly invented comic shop) began to appear and the Direct Market was not the supermarket.  While magazine racks and supermarkets wouldn't carry comics lacking the CCA Seal of Approval, the direct market saw it as a growth opportunity, and an opportunity to draw in an older readership.  And this began the change to the market you see today.

By the 1980's when I figured out what a comic shop was, you could occasionally find a "For Mature Audiences" comic like Swamp Thing accidentally or intentionally tucked in with X-Men and Hawkman.  But the comic shops were full of all kinds of stuff across a whole range of non-kiddie faire.  (Circa 7th grade, I have very strong memories of wondering who would come up with an idea like Cherry Poptart.)  But it wasn't all "hey, this is fun!  What can we do now?"  Some of it was Watchmen and Elektra and Grendel.

Flashforward to the 00's, and honestly, I haven't noticed a CCA logo cluttering a comic cover in years, and I had kind of guessed that the CCA had folded long ago.  The idea that a room full of retired librarians and elementary school teachers were still looking at every panel didn't seem too likely.  After all, once grocery stores and comics mutually agreed the other wasn't profitable enough and broke up, DC and Marvel both started writing for an audience I would describe as no younger than 14, including in titles like Superman.  And, certainly the code had become so relaxed within the past 15 years that, short of a few choice items of profanity and full frontal nudity, its a grown-ups world in "mainstream" superhero comics these days.

However, today DC announced they were dropping the CCA, which elicited a "wha-?  The CCA is alive?" from me.  DC Comics is taking steps similar to those embraced by Marvel years ago, and adopting a ratings code, similar to that of the MPAA.

DC's Announcement

Pop Culture Safari ponders what it can mean

Comics Alliance responds to the change

From the DC site:

Appropriate for readers of all ages. May contain cartoon violence and/or some comic mischief.
Appropriate for readers age 12 and older. May contain mild violence, language and/or suggestive themes.
Appropriate for readers age 16 and older. May contain moderate violence, mild profanity, graphic imagery and/or suggestive themes.
Appropriate for readers age 18 and older. May contain intense violence, extensive profanity, nudity, sexual themes and other content suitable only for older readers.

 of course, this isn't what Marvel is using, so... good luck, parents!

As near as I can tell, the CCA doesn't have, and may never have had a website.  I can't even find a site for the Code's parent organization, Association of Comics Magazine Publishers.  That's just mind boggling.

It leads one to wonder if DC made this move because the CCA informed them they were going out of business, anyway.

In my opinion...

This may actually be a sign that DC is looking to diversify their offerings.  I suspect DC didn't worry about the ratings before as they knew who was walking into comic shops.  But I suspected that when a non-comics person like Diane Nelson took over DC, she was not going to settle for trying to just get a bigger piece of the Direct Market comics pie.

As DC moves into digital and seeks new markets and audiences, of COURSE they will be looking to kids and teens, in which case, you can't have Cry for Justice on the same shelf as Tiny Titans.  And I don't think its wrong that Superman writers should mostly stick to a "T" rating.  Batman can go be "T+".

I may be misreading it, and likely am, but time will tell.

That said, I got away with reading all KINDS of stuff because I was never dumb enough to let my parents flip through the pages of what I was actually reading, and my books didn't have an age-appropriateness rating.  Then again, I didn't have the internet and the wide world of eye-popping wonder that it contains, either.

*The one thing that Hajdu omits from his story is the recently unearthed and mostly forgotten mix of comic art and badly typed prose called Nights of Horror, which was, in fact, not at all for kids, but contained art by Superman creator Joe Shuster (this was basically just discovered within the past four years).  I am totally not kidding.  I recommend seeing if your local library has a copy of Yoe's book, Secret Identity: The Fetish Art of Superman Co-Creator Joe Shuster (mine did!  Look, I'm a Superman completionist.  And its not what you think.).

Anyway, it seems that much-vilified-by-comic-nerds psychologist Fredric Wertham, who led the crusade against comics in the 1950's, did so after a series of brutal killings in New York that the perpetrators blamed their inspiration on comics.  Those comics were not, by the way, Archie and Superman, but Nights of Horror.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

@laura_hudson of Comics Alliance accidentally drops a dime on lame ass "anarchist" comics guy

Oh, shiiiiiiiiiiiiit.

In a recent editorial, Comics Alliance editor, Laura Hudson, reposted comments by a comics retailer in the wake of the Giffords shooting.  The retailer basically said:  1 down, 534 to go.

Yeah.  Exactly.

If you feel that sense of utter rage boiling at the base of your skull and tensing up your shoulders and neck, don't ignore it.  Its called "righteous indignation", and its your body telling you that Travis Corcoran is a scum bag, and your body is correct.

I don't disagree with Hudson's editorial. I love me some democracy and sanctity of human life.  That said...

People, I am a fan of the first and second amendments, and I am not sure how I feel about getting the FBI on you for saying something dumb online* (I mean, if saying something dumb online was a crime, I'd have been in the electric chair long ago)...  but, anyway, it seems that the post at Comics Alliance drew the attention of folks in Law Enforcement (who we respect.  And, uh, we absolutely love and we really don't want any trouble).  Apparently they have taken all kinds of steps towards making Corcoran's life really uncomfortable.  And, uhm...  no guns for a while.

Anyway, here's the story. 

And here's Comics Alliance's quick attempt to catch up.

Here's Hudson's depiction of herself after learning of the story.

There's definitely some tricky territory here, and I'll let the curiously high number of lawyers I know ponder this one.  But its also kind of amazing that Hudson's very-pissed-off editorial, which was not likely to leave the comic geek-o-sphere, got this kind of attention.

If there's a lesson to be learned, its that you do not piss off a comics blogger, or we will bring the NSA down on you and everyone you love.

That said, you know Corcoran's internet "anarchist" buddies are going to be all crazy and "911 was an Inside Job" and maybe throw a brick at a Starbucks over this.

*I should point out, what Corcoran said could be construed as a threat.  I'm not going to get into the full extent of his post (its been deleted), but it was also one blip on a site that acted as a soapbox for his anti-government stances.  I suppose law enforcement is taking this sort of talk seriously lest we see a string of copy cats (after all, the AZ shooter's stuff was online, too).

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Blog Break

I have never read this, and I have no idea.
We're going to take a little time off from the blogging.  As always, I have no idea how long I shall take to charge my batteries.  But I think I need to spend some time with my own super doggies and Super Girl.  We'll be back soon enough.  And, of course if any news breaks that's relevant, we'll be back ASAP.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Susannah York Passes

Actress Susannah York has passed at the age of 72.  While York had a distinguished career, Signal Watch points to her in her brief but excellent portrayal of Lara, birth mother of Superman, in Superman: The Movie and the theatrical release of Superman II.

Godspeed to Ms. York.

Some Favorite Lois Lanes - Part 1

I don't even recall what I was doing, but I stumbled across this image and it got me thinking.

I didn't love the ending of Superman: Birthright, but when it came out, and then when you see it collected... man, I still really like both the look and emotional vibe of that comic. And I always liked Waid's characterization of Lois. Somehow, Yu's take also felt right as the "gangly girl who grew into a beautiful woman but doesn't know it".

This particular image of Lois from Birthright has such an odd sense of...  poetry to it.  (Yeah, I said poetry.  Shut up.) Its a cover, and it tells you what you need to know about the issue, too, I guess.

I think its important that artists remember who they're dealing with when they draw Lois Lane.  She's not deserving of respect just because she appeared with Superman in Action Comics #1, but because she's a great, tough, smart character.   So, you know, take care, fer goodness sake.

Anyway, looking at Lois here got me thinking about some of my favorite comic artists and how they handled Lois.  Over the the years, Lois has been drawn by, I'd guess, hundreds of artists in an official capacity.  Many don't seem to really know what to do when it comes to Lois, and draw "generic brunette woman" into the comic, just not even trying to give her any punch.  Its almost a hallmark of how invested the artist is in Superman how much they try to do something with Lois in the pages she appears.

It all started, of course, with Siegel and Shuster, two dudes who knew instinctively what kind of woman would catch the eye of their new hero.

This leads indirectly to the fellow freaking out on the cover of Action Comics #1
I LOVE Lois Lane in these early appearances.  She treats Clark like dirt for being a weasel, she takes no guff, and she's taking the world by storm.

Lois's foremost characteristic is, of course, fearlessness.  In most portrayals, she also has no idea that she's a very good looking woman (although John Byrne seemed to disagree on that point.  She seemed to know in Man of Steel.)   And she'll sell her child to the black market if it could get her a scoop, but that would be so she could expose the corruption of the Black Market Baby racket, ie:  she's a social crusader who uses the Daily Planet as her megaphone.

What every artist and writer has to strive to do is find a way a way to demonstrate that this person is the sort of person that would draw Superman's interest, and that's no small feat.  In comparison to Superman, fragile she may be, but she also has to be the kind of person who can go toe-to-toe with The Man of Steel, tell him when he's wrong without blinking, and all without writers sliding down the path of making her sound like an unpleasant person (which, some weaker writers have done from time to time).

In addition to Shuster, of the classics I'm a fan of the work of Wayne Boring and Curt Swan, the two primary artists on Superman back in the day.  Boring handled Superman in the 1940's and Swan came on in the 1950's, I think, and departed around 1986.

If Siegel and Shuster have a depressing cautionary tale to tell about Intellectual Property, then Wayne Boring is DC's answer to depressing stories about work-for-hire.  Boring drew Superman comics (hundreds of them) for years.  One day he showed up for work, and had been let go.  Because something was really, really wrong with editor Mort Weisinger.

His Lois is a little more fragile looking than most, but he was there for the post WWII Lois and took part in bringing Superman into the Silver Age.

This is pretty much the stylistic look I associate with Boring: a lot of WTF looks from Lois
He was first teamed with and later replaced by Curt Swan, who had been doing covers and backups and whatnot, and as much as I love Boring for his era, I'm amazed not just at Swan's prolific output, how he came to define a lot of what people think of when the concept of mid-century comics comes to mind. 

Swan would draw Lois for decades, and help bring her right into the 80's.  I actually quite liked some of his 70's-era updates as the "big city reporter" melded with an ERA-era Lois.

Kurt Schaffenberger's depiction, is actually a lot more fun than I think most comic readers know.  He really captured the bat-@#$% crazy mindset of Lois in the late 50's through the 60's and gave a lot of life to the character.  He was on Superman's Girlfriend, Lois Lane for a huge run of the series. Lois is, no doubt, out of her mind in practically every single issue of the first 80 or so issues of the series, and Shaffenberger displays an amazing ability to draw Lois's many states of crazy.  Below:  blind rage.

In this story, Lois is kind of the Betty Draper to Clark's Super-Don
But my favorite is Schaffenberger's "scheming Lois".

our hero, ladies and gentlemen
The fact that Lois was constantly plotting and petty during the crucial Silver Age era is seen as a big negative by some, especially as she was plotting and scheming to get married, but, you know...  times is times and I don't hold it against the creative teams any more than I would hold it against Lois if she were scheming to get a get stock tips or good seats at a basketball game today.  As much as I enjoy scheming Lois, I'm not sure what kind of comic that would be today.  But I would welcome it on the rack.

There's no doubt about my adoration of the much-more-recent All Star Superman, and as the series progressed, I really began to appreciate what Morrison had written for Lois, as well as how Quitely portrayed Lois.  At first I thought she was a little willowy, but I really grew to appreciate what he'd done in modernizing the look a bit (Lois is the Batmobile of the Superman universe, btw.  Every artist has their ideas.)

Man, this is a couple who has come to an understanding.

this picture is actually how I feel keeping up with Jamie, sometimes
Gary Frank took on Lois in Action Comics and Superman: Secret Origin, giving me a Lois I think I liked as much as Quitely and Yu's.  Frank's style lended itself to making Lois appear almost like someone you might know, and not an airbrushed image of a woman that comic artists do when they aren't allowed to hide behind superhero costumes (I'm looking at you, Ed Benes).

Tim Sale hasn't had extensive opportunity to draw Lois Lane, but I can't argue with the results.

And if you've never read Darwyn Cooke's New Frontier, for shame!  His Lois is a nice retroactive approach to the character, appropriate to the astronauts and trail blazers of the era.  And you never doubt the Superman/ Lois dynamic, not for a moment.

So there's a heaping, helping bunch of Lois Lane for you.  Next time we do this, I think we'll talk TV and film.