31 August 2014

Sam Hamm’s Plans for Robin in 1989

In Comics Alliance’s interview with Sam Hamm, first screenwriter of the 1989 Batman, he said:
The studio insisted on having Robin in the picture, and Tim and I couldn’t figure out how or where to squeeze him in. We spent a whole weekend pacing around in a sweat, but we couldn’t get anywhere, and we finally decided that we would have to call the WB brass and tell them there would be no Robin.

Then, moments away from picking up the phone, we started spitballing again, and miraculously, we came up with a really cool Robin sequence. So a couple of years later, when production is underway, and the picture is running over budget, what does the studio decide to cut? You guessed it – Robin! And in the end, nobody missed him.
Well, I did.

Here’s one version of the scene Hamm came up with, from an early version of the screenplay. This comes toward the end of the movie, after Batman and the Joker have already been tussling. The Flying Graysons are performing their trapeze act…suspended from helicopters. And Batman, for some reason, is on horseback.

GRAYSON has just completed a double somersault in midair, landing in the capable hands of his wife. Now they're swinging again, building momentum as he prepares to make the return leap back to his own trapeze.


In the bay of the helicopter stands a kid, fifteen, compact, tough, and wiry: DICK GRAYSON. Like his parents, he's wearing a red-and-green suit. From the copter, he's got a perfect bird's-eye view of the BATMAN-JOKER chase.

Ready to go, Dick?

What's all the ruckus down there?


The VAN bounces over rocks and bushes, narrowly avoiding trees, with BATMAN in hot pursuit.


At the foot of a hill, the JOKER spies a truck. On its side, in bright red letters, a WARNING: "DANGER - FIREWORKS. FLAMMABLE LOAD."

The JOKER reaches into the back for a HIGHWAY FLARE.

Head for the truck!


Hovering over the chase scene, DICK catches sight of the JOKER. He GASPS IN SHOCK as a LIT FLARE flies from the back of the VAN... directly into the FIREWORKS TRUCK.


THE BATMAN is thrown off his horse by the shock of a massive EXPLOSION. All at once, THE SKY IS FULL of BURSTING, INCANDESCENT COLORS!!

THE JOKER hangs out of the rear of the van, looking up, an expression of PURE DELIGHT on his face.

I love fireworks!


LURCHING AND SPINNING IN THE SKY as FIREWORKS rocket past. One of them takes a dead hit on the rotor. JOHN GRAYSON falls to his death instantly; a moment later, the COPTER plummets into the trees with a resounding, fiery CRASH.

MARY GRAYSON hangs from the second copter as it bobs and weaves out of control. ONLOOKERS SCREAM IN TERROR.


THE JOKER'S VAN bursts out of the park and speeds up a wide, cordoned-off avenue. Overhead, THE SECOND COPTER veers wildly, out of the park now, swinging dangerously close to the tall buildings along the avenue.


DICK GRAYSON at the mouth of the bay, hanging on by a canvas strap. He watches helplessly as his MOTHER swings into a POWER LINE and drops three stories to the pavement.


His face is contorted with rage and pain. The PILOT struggles desperately to right the copter, barely avoiding a collision with the nearest building. And then -- before THE PILOT can make a move to stop him -- DICK HAS JUMPED OUT OF THE COPTER.


With astonishing physical grace, he DIVES. GRABS A FLAGPOLE. Executes a perfect somersault. FLIPS onto a nearby fire escape. VAULTS to the next fire escape down. And LEAPS OUT OVER THE STREET --



THE JOKER hears a THUNK overhead. He casually lifts his gun and BLOWS A HOLE THROUGH THE ROOF OF THE VAN.


The blast just misses DICK. He sprawls flat, YANKS at the chrome luggage rack on the roof of the van, and BREAKS OFF A FOUR-FOOT SHAFT OF METAL.

ANOTHER SHOT through the roof. DICK rolls forward, hoists his chrome spear over the windshield.




The VAN careens wildly toward an OVERPASS. DICK rises up into a crouch just in time to see a sign which reads "DANGER -- LOW CLEARANCE." He's about to get his head taken off!



BATMAN AND DICK tumble to the pavement. THE VAN knocks over a fire hydrant and STOPS. DICK is already on his feet, ready to CHARGE THE VAN, when BATMAN throws a powerful arm around his waist.


THE JOKER steps casually out of the van. TWO GOONS with MACHINE GUNS emerge behind him. PEDESTRIANS SCREAM as the GOONS level their guns at the CROWD.

DICK (cont.)

DICK is kicking, screaming, clawing, biting. BATMAN has his hands full restraining the kid.

Like your boyfriend. He's kinda hot.
(glowering at BATMAN)
Hands off the belt.

Take me. Let the boy go.

Gosh, I could kill you, but then you'd miss my party. And I'd be real, real sad if you couldn't make it.

What are you talking about?

Batman! Don't you even recognize your old pal Jack? After all...
(cackling insanely)
You made me what I am today.

BATMAN cocks his head in puzzlement as DISTANT SIRENS BLARE. The JOKER and his HOODS -- guns still aimed at the crowd -- back away and race off on foot, vanishing into the night.

DICK BREAKS FREE and BOLTS AFTER THEM. BATMAN throws him to the street with a flying tackle. The boy is hysterical.


BATMAN flinches at the sound of the words. He reaches into his belt and -- mercifully -- breaks a KNOCKOUT CAPSULE under DICK's nose.
Yes, it goes on.

30 August 2014


An exchange from the New York Times Magazine earlier this month, in an interview with actor Aubrey Plaza:

Can your friends or family tell when you’re being genuine with them?

Sometimes. I think it’s just the tone of my voice that throws people off.

Zooey Deschanel recently told me, “Everything that you say to someone sounds like you’re mocking them.”

I was like, “But I’m not.”

And she was like, “Even when you just said that, it sounded like you were mocking me.”
Years ago I would not have believed in the existence of people named Zooey Deschanel and Aubrey Plaza.

29 August 2014

General’s Death Exploited by People with OIP Derangement Syndrome

On 14 August, Maj. Gen. Harold Greene was interred at Arlington National Cemetery, nine days after he had been shot and killed by an Afghan soldier. A military engineer who had never been deployed to a combat zone before, Greene was the highest-ranking US military officer killed by enemy action since the 2001 attack on the Pentagon, the highest-ranking US general killed since the Vietnam War.

Even before that funeral, right-wing critics of President Barack Obama started to complain that he’d show his disrespect for the military by not attending. Morris Davis, a retired US Air Force colonel now teaching at Howard University, saw a need to respond. As he explained to a contributor to the online Washington Examiner:
A couple of days ago I saw several people observe that President Obama was somewhere between disrespectful and treasonous for not attending the funeral of Major General Greene, which triggered the usual flood of anti-Obama hate that is prolific in some right-wing circles.

I knew from my 25 years of military service that it wasn’t common for Presidents to attend military funerals and I figured this fell into the same category as Obama is a communist because he was seen without an American flag pin on his jacket lapel or Obama hates the military because he didn’t go to Arlington Cemetery on Memorial Day; in other words, I knew he was getting bashed again for doing exactly the same thing most of his Republican predecessors had done in similar circumstances.

To note the hypocrisy of the Obama-haters, I used sarcasm and tweeted that he had broken with the tradition Presidents Nixon and Bush 43 set when they attended the funerals of the last General killed in the Vietnam War and the highest ranking officer killed in the 9/11 terrorist attack on the Pentagon, which, of course, neither of them had done.

And in the right-wing’s bash-Obama glee, my tweet has been retweeted a couple of hundred times without anyone taking two minutes to Google to see if it’s true. It’s similar to a Chinese news agency reprinting that Kim Jong-un had been named the sexiest man alive without checking and finding that The Onion is a satirical site. It’s also a sad commentary on how gullible people can be and how willing they are to latch onto “news” that supports the narrative they want.
In sum, Col. Davis laid a trap for people with OIP Derangement Syndrome.

Davis sent that clear explanation to one of the “journalists” who had based a dispatch on his tweet without confirming that they had interpreted it correctly. The contributor issued a retraction, albeit one that blamed the colonel instead of his own lack of fact-checking.

Of course, that correction and the precedents set by previous Presidents haven’t stopped complaints from right-wing media. After all, as Col. Davis noted, OIP Derangement Syndrome is based on double standards.

People with visceral dislike of President Obama are also complaining:
  • That the Secretary of Defense didn’t attend the funeral, either. I got to see that in my Facebook feed. Yet standard, easily found news sources, including the New York Times, National Public Radio, and Stars and Stripes, reported that Chuck Hagel and other Defense Department officials had been at the event. Hagel appears above in a photograph from the army’s homepage.
  • That the White House sent a more respectful delegation to the funeral of Michael Brown, the unarmed eighteen-year-old shot with his hands in the air outside St. Louis. In fact, the federal delegation to that event consisted of an “Assistant to the President and White House Cabinet Secretary,” a “Deputy Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement,” and “an advisor to the public engagement office.” In Washington protocol, none of those officials come close to Hagel, a Cabinet secretary.
  • That President Obama “hasn’t even ordered flags to be flown at half-staff, like he did for the death…of singer Whitney Houston.“ In fact, Gov. Chris Christie ordered flags to half-staff in New Jersey, Houston’s native state; the President took no such action.
Snopes called that last lie “a long-running piece of political misinformation.” In other words, it’s one of the ways people with OIP Derangement Syndrome try to justify their deep-seated prejudices.

28 August 2014


Last weekend the New York Times Book Review ran an interview with Malala Yousafzai, the Afghan teenager attacked by Taliban gunsels because she continued to attend school. Her answers included this surprise:
Were there particular books that helped you get through the recovery process after the attack on you by the Taliban?

“The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” was the first book I read in the hospital. I had been having headaches and couldn’t read or focus properly for a while. It is a lovely book, and it was given to me by [Prime Minister] Gordon Brown — he sent me 25 books, and this was my favorite.
I like to think that the simplicity of that book’s storytelling, and its indomitable heroine, were what Yousafzai needed at that time.

27 August 2014

Images of Oz Coming Through

Images of Oz is an eighty-page 6x9 paperback showcasing the Oz illustrations of S. P. Maldonado.

It includes an Oz comic that Shawn and I did together a few years back titled “The Ransom of Button-Bright.”

There’s also an Oz comic by Shawn and Jared Davis, as well as many standalone illustrations of Oz characters.

Images of Oz is available only through Lulu.com.

26 August 2014

A New Look at the Emerald City

Evan Dahm is more than halfway through illustrating L. Frank Baum’s Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

This Tumblr post shows Dahm’s process for this illustration. Follow his progress at Baum by Dahm.

25 August 2014

The Sheriff of Loving County

This New York Times article about radioactive waste and a very small county in west Texas included the photo shown above.

You might spot the detail that sent me on a research journey which ended at this Find-a-Grave page about Edna Reed Clayton Dewees, along with some Wikipedia entries. And that led to this set-up for a series of murder mysteries—

It’s January 1945 in a very small county in west Texas called Loving, tucked alongside the Pecos River. Twenty-three-year-old Edna Reed has been working at Pecos Army Air Field, having previously contributed to the war effort by operating a lathe in a Fort Worth aircraft plant. But before those jobs, Edna was Deputy District Clerk in another county, so she knows the levers of the local government.

When the position of Loving County sheriff becomes vacant and there aren’t enough young men around, the town fathers ask Edna to accept the post. Then she finds that she likes being sheriff. So, even though no woman has ever been elected sheriff in Texas, Edna Reed decides to run for the job.

For a wide-open place, Loving has a shady history. It was first incorporated by out-of-state businessmen who fled with all the official records when their fraud was exposed, then reincorporated in 1931 as its population was rising suddenly.

Now the war has ended and soldiers are coming back to Loving County. How will the local establishment deal with those men’s new ambitions, values, and troubles? Does any of them want to become sheriff, or become Edna’s husband? The place has very little reported crime, but what secrets lurk in its past? Can young Edna Reed keep the peace in Loving County without carrying a gun?

And so far, all that is nonfiction.

24 August 2014

Roy Harper, the Anti-Dick Grayson

Just as DC Comics had to separate Green Arrow from Batman, its storytellers had to figure out a way to make Green Arrow’s young sidekick Speedy different from Robin, the Boy Wonder.

For decades the two characters existed in parallel—helping their mentors in fighting crime, providing useful sounding boards, and expressing the emotions of young readers. Dick Grayson was a teen orphan living with Bruce Wayne. Roy Harper was a teen orphan living with Oliver Queen. And their paths never crossed.

In 1964 Robin began working with Aqualad, Kid Flash, and Wonder Girl as the Teen Titans. But Speedy was notably absent. Fans wrote in, asking why the line’s other long-time kid sidekick was being left out.

So Teen Titans, #4 and #11, featured guest appearances by Speedy. And in issue #19 he became an official member of the team—and also managed to score a date with Wonder Girl, thus distinguishing him from all the other teammates who had crushes on her. But not by much.

The real differentiation began in 1971 when Neal Adams and Dennis O’Neil used the character of Roy Harper to explore the issue of drug use—a breakthrough for DC. Green Arrow discovered that his sidekick had become addicted to heroin. Not so badly that he couldn’t kick the habit within two issues, but enough to suggest a new direction for Speedy.

The Teen Titans series, aimed at a younger audience, never mentioned Speedy’s heroin troubles through the 1970s. Its writers tried sought other ways to set him apart from Robin: he and Wonder Girl remained a casual couple, and he was a bit more hot-headed. There was enough space between the characters for the series’ last issue to retroactively establish Speedy as a founding member of the team.

In the early 1980s Marv Wolfman and George Pérez brought Roy Harper back for occasional appearances in the New Teen Titans magazine, this time referencing his troubled past. Now working for a government agency, he joined the Titans in attacks on drug dealers. Those issues also portrayed him as an incorrigible ladies’ man just as Dick Grayson was entering a serious (and sexual) relationship with Koriand’r.

Finally, after Crisis on Infinite Earths Wolfman and Pérez added another layer to Roy Harper’s character. New Teen Titans, vol. 2, #21, revealed that he’d gone undercover [!] and had an affair with an international assassin named Cheshire. They’d even had a child together. Dick (now Nightwing) and Kory were having sex, but Roy was having unprotected sex with a villain!

That provided such a distinction between Dick Grayson and Roy Harper that Wolfman could write a story in Action Comics Weekly of their adventures together looking for Roy’s daughter. Where once Robin and Speedy couldn’t be on the same team, now Nightwing and Speedy could play off each other for several issues on end.

Roy Harper had become DC Comics’s anti-Dick Grayson. Dick was charming, respectful, and monogamous. Roy hit on almost any woman he met, especially when he was on duty. Dick became the one member of the original Titans who never married or had kids. Roy did the kids part first and muddled through as a single dad.

Nightwing was the young hero who did everything more beautifully than anyone else, whom everyone trusted. Roy was the character who managed to screw up most of the time. He bounced among among crime-fighting identities: Speedy to Agent Harper to Arsenal to Red Arrow and back to Arsenal. He owed his co-workers money. He took over the Titans, and the team fell apart. He formed the Outsiders for Dick to lead, and made a stupid fundamental error from the start. Nonetheless, he kept going. The result was a far more compelling character, a favorite for some readers.

While not all of Roy Harper’s background gets transferred into other versions of the DC Universe, his definition as the anti-Dick Grayson does. When the Teen Titans television cartoon introduced Speedy in a later season, producer David Slack explained, “we were looking for someone to mirror Robin.” In the sillier Teen Titans Go, the producers even have actor Scott Menville provide both rival characters’ voices (and of course make in-jokes about that).

DC’s “New 52” universe wiped out the Titans’ past and left little time for Roy Harper to have worked with the new Oliver Queen. Nonetheless, it reintroduced Roy as “the worst former sidekick ever” in Red Hood and the Outlaws. That may not be the best treatment for him, but at least it’s better than the Cry for Justice/Rise of Arsenal miniseries of 2010, which were so poorly received they were quickly written out of continuity. And it does preserve Roy Harper’s distinct role in the DC Universe.

23 August 2014

Putting Distance between Green Arrow and Batman

As I described on Thursday, DC Comics’s syncretism meant the company sometimes ended up owning two quite similar characters/trademarks. That pushed its staffers to come up with creative ways to distinguish them, expanding the bounds of its superhero stories.

Thus, in 1986 the company put Superman and his most successful equivalent from another publisher, Captain Marvel, in the same universe. And the editors and writers started emphasizing what made them different.

The fact that Captain Marvel is really a kid named Billy Batson—i.e., even more of a naïf than Kansas farmboy Clark Kent—became the defining aspect of his character. Storytellers also found more significance in how Captain Marvel’s powers arose from some form of magic (rather than, like Superman’s, through science).

Wonder Woman didn’t present such problems because no other company had such a powerful female hero. Instead, DC had to struggle with America’s changing picture of the ideal woman—and that’s another story.

As for Batman’s equivalents, it’s important to note what defined that character for most of his 75-year history. It wasn’t being dark and brooding and driven by vengeance. In fact, from the early 1940s through the mid-1980s, Batman was a cheery special independent agent of the Gotham police who just happened to dress as a bat. What defined him was:
  • He had no special powers beyond being a very smart, very athletic man.
  • He wore a mask to preserve his real identity.
  • He was an immensely rich socialite.
  • He had a lot of cool bat-themed gadgets and vehicles to deploy in a fight.
  • He worked with a teen-aged assistant.
That formula proved so popular that in 1941 DC’s sibling company, All-American Publications, created its own version: Green Arrow. He, too, wore a mask to disguise his life as Oliver Queen, an immensely rich bachelor. He used trick arrows, an Arrow Car, an Arrow Plane, an Arrow Signal, and even an Arrow Cave. And of course Green Arrow had his own kid sidekick, Speedy.

For a long time, DC kept Batman and Green Arrow apart. While Batman was an occasional member of the Justice Society of America, Green Arrow was relegated to a lesser hero team, the Seven Soldiers of Victory. Stories about him and Speedy appeared in World’s Finest after Batman and Robin’s, but the heroes never met. Green Arrow survived in backup stories through the early-1950s crash of superhero comics, probably because DC editor Mort Weisinger had co-created him, but he never had his own magazine.

When DC launched the Justice League of America, first in The Brave and the Bold and then in its own title, Batman made brief appearances. But Green Arrow didn’t show up at all, prompting fans to ask why he was left out. The problem, I suspect, was that he seemed too similar to Batman—why would the team need them both?

After popular demand, Green Arrow finally joined that group in Justice League of America, #4. Batman then stopped appearing so often, and it wasn’t until issue #10 that both characters showed up on the same cover.

Eventually the proximity of two similar characters prompted a new generation of creative minds to come up with ways to distinguish them—and to take superhero comics in a new direction. In 1969 artist Neal Adams gave Green Arrow a new look with a Van Dyke beard (at a time when facial hair had a politic meaning). Writer Dennis O’Neil made radical changes in the character of Oliver Queen. He lost all his money—no longer a millionaire with an unending supply of gadgets. He started a romance with an independent crime-fighting colleague, Black Canary.

While Bruce Wayne was then showing a new sort of social conscience with the Wayne Foundation, O’Neil had Oliver Queen start speaking loudly for political justice and change. Now the character stood out in Justice League meetings—in fact, he came to alienate some members of the group. It wasn’t just his politics but his temper and attitude. Green Arrow thus became one of DC’s first examples of a superhero who wasn’t a paragon in every way.
As a result, Green Arrow became an interesting character, perhaps for the first time. O’Neil and Adams partnered him with Green Lantern in a series of stories exploring social issues in America. Those highly regarded tales didn’t sell well enough to keep the Green Lantern magazine from cancellation in 1972, but they did cement the new character of Oliver Queen for readers. As a result, it became possible for him to be a foil for Bruce Wayne/Batman in subsequent decades rather than a pale green copy.

A similar process occurred in the late 1980s after DC introduced the Charlton character of Ted Kord, the Blue Beetle, into its main line. He, too, was a masked man without powers but with a lot of gadgets and smarts. He ended up on the Justice League with Batman. But that was the start of the grim, antisocial Batman we know today, and the magazine’s creators moved that Blue Beetle in the opposite direction, toward comedy.

With the “New 52,” DC brought Wildstorm Comics’s Batman equivalent, Midnighter, into its standard universe. Already Midnighter had been established as gay and happily partnered with the Wildstorm equivalent of Superman, providing more distance from the Caped Crusader. Now Midnighter is showing up in Grayson, actually offering storytelling value in how the character is a version of Batman.

22 August 2014

Show Me OIP Derangement Syndrome

Back in 1984 the journalist Michael Kinsley wrote that a Washington “gaffe” occurs when a politician accidentally tells the truth. We had an example of that in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, this week.

KFVS in Missouri reported on a city councilman named Peter Tinsley posting “what some call racist photos” on his Facebook page last year. Those photos, as Talking Points Memo shows, include a doctored image of President Barack Obama as an African witch doctor and another referring to him as “a lyin’ African.” So yeah, they were racist.

Once exposed, Tinsley told a council session: “I apologize from the bottom of my heart. . . . At one time, I was a very active Republican, very opposed to Obama.”

Local Republicans led by an organizer named Eddy Justice quickly reacted to that by insisting that “Tinsley's posts are not representative of the party” even though he is, in fact, an elected representative of the party.

Tinsley then offered another apology for his Facebook habit: “I want people to know that I am very remorseful for it. It was inappropriate. I believe I got caught up in an emotional moment of sharing jokes.” Sharing jokes with whom? Tinsley didn’t say. But we can presume that the Facebook friends of “a very active Republican” include a lot of other local Republicans. Nonetheless, Tinsley insisted: “Anything that I have said, that I referred to the activity because I was a Republican, that is not true. It’s not an excuse.”

And yet it is a reason. Tinsley was caught up in social circles so infected with OIP Derangement Syndrome that he lost sight of the line between reasoned, face-based, respectful political debate and expressions of simple hostility.

As for Eddy Justice, I’m quite willing to accept that he rejects racist jokes. I suspect that in his years as a Tea Party and Republican organizer he’s seen and heard worse such comments, and I hope he’s always been as quick to object to them. I can’t help but note, however, that Justice’s own Facebook page displays:

  • complaints about President Obama taking vacations, even though he’s done so at a rate so far less than President George W. Bush (12 August).
  • insinuations about “Remember when First Ladies were actually ladies?” (25 July).
  • a claim about the cost of health coverage rising 150%—and Justice is himself an insurance agent who sells health policies, so he should know the truth (6 May).
Double standards, snobbish sneers, and lies are all also symptoms of OIP Derangement Syndrome.

21 August 2014

How Syncretism Made DC Stretch

In 1960 the DC Comics editor Julius Schwartz wanted to add a new superhero to his line of comics, a supporting character in the Flash magazine. Schwartz was four years into his project of reviving DC’s old trademarks, starting with the Flash himself and then moving on to Green Lantern, Hawkman, the Atom, and so on.

The company’s new character had to be distinct from those other heroes, to have some roots in science fiction, and to fit into crime-fighting stories but provide some comic relief.

Working with writer John Broome and artist Carmine Infantino, Schwartz came up with Ralph Dibny, the Elongated Man. His power was that he could stretch his body in superhuman ways, making himself tall, thin, bouncy, table-shaped, and so on.

That was also the power of Quality Comics’s leading superhero of the 1940s, Plastic Man, created and usually drawn by Jack Cole. Schwartz hadn’t realized that since 1956 DC had owned Quality’s comics trademarks, including Plastic Man. He later told colleagues that if he’d known that, he would simply have revived the Plastic Man name.

But it was too late: DC now owned two crime-fighting superheroes with stretching powers, both on the funny side. From the start, knowledgeable comics fans saw the similarities. When Schwartz took over the Batman line in 1964, he made the Elongated Man a backup feature in Detective Comics, raising his profile further. And two years later DC launched a new Plastic Man magazine. So what could make the two stretchy guys distinct?

Such overlaps were a drawback to how DC Comics grew through syncretism, as I described yesterday. Different companies created the same types of heroes to star in the same types of stories, but once those heroes were put into the same universe they lost their special qualities.

Fortunately, that need to distinguish characters opened the door for more creative storytelling. In the case of the Elongated Man, he ended up doing things that went against the typical superhero tropes. He married his girlfriend, Sue. He dropped the mask and secret identity. He announced himself as a professional detective for hire. Though he never had his own series, Ralph Dibny became a unique character in the DC Universe with his own following.

As for Plastic Man, DC’s creative teams recognized that Jack Cole had written his crime stories mostly for laughs, so they went further in that direction. Plas became the most wackadoodle hero of the whole line. He could be in the Justice League with Batman, and writers could play off their contrasts for laughs. Creators also made clear that Plastic Man was more topologically powerful and invulnerable than the Elongated Man.

None of that would have happened if Julius Schwartz had simply revived the Plastic Man trademark to create a supporting character for the Flash. Having two similar characters in the same universe forced him and his colleagues to think in new directions.

COMING UP: Syncretism and the Batman.

20 August 2014

The Syncretism of DC Comics

In religion, the term syncretism refers to the amalgamation of different religious traditions, or possibly the absorption of one faith’s traditions into another. It’s how, for example, the mythology of Greek gods expanded to incorporate other cultures’ deities, either as aspects of that established pantheon or as new members of it.

Some of the pagan traditions that early Christianity syncretically absorbed in its spread across Europe still define how we celebrate Easter and Christmas. Christian missionaries tended to build churches on ground that previous religions already considered sacred, which is why we have the French locale of Saint-Michel-Mont-Mercure (Saint Michael/Mount Mercury) and an English cathedral right beside the hot springs at Bath.

Of the two major US publishers of superhero comics, Marvel has resisted syncretism but DC has grown through it. In nearly every decade since it was founded, DC has absorbed a publishing competitor, not just taking over its past publications but eventually bringing its characters into the “DC Universe.”

Indeed, this pattern was built into the company’s operations soon after it introduced the first comics superhero, Superman. What we now call “Golden Age DC” consisted of three comics companies with overlapping ownership: National Allied Publications, Detective Comics, and and All-American Publications. The last operated out of separate offices, but in mid-1940 its heroes started appearing alongside some of the other companies’ in All Star Comics. In 1946 National/DC bought out All-American, obtaining complete ownership of the Flash, Wonder Woman, the Spectre, the Sandman, Hawkman, and other trademarks.

Superhero stories went into a decline in the following decade, but DC was able to maintain sales of Superman, Batman and Robin, Wonder Woman, and a few backup characters. Other companies stopped publishing in the genre, or publishing altogether. In some cases, DC stepped in to buy their trademarks.

Eventually, superhero stories became popular again, along with the idea that all of a company’s heroes operated in the same universe and could meet, fight, and then go after common foes. In 1961 editor Julius Schwartz and writer Gardner Fox created parallel universes, which gave DC room for all the heroes it had accumulated over the years.

At first DC editors confined each parent company’s legacy mostly to one version of Earth. Thus, Fawcett Comics’s Captain Marvel and his family and villains were on Earth-S or Earth-5; Quality Comics’s Freedom Fighters were on Earth-X. But then the Crisis on Infinite Earths miniseries of 1985-86 ended with all those different realities being amalgamated into one common history and reality—full syncretism at last!

Here’s DC’s acquisition timeline and how it incorporated its new intellectual properties:
  • Quality Comics acquired 1956, Blackhawk kept in publication, Plastic Man syncretized in 1966, Quality’s other superheroes syncretized in 1973.
  • Fawcett Comics’s Captain Marvel and family licensed and syncretized in 1972, acquired outright in 1991.
  • Charlton Comics’s “action heroes” acquired in 1983, syncretized in 1986.
  • Milestone Comics partnered from its start in 1993, Static and others syncretized starting in 2009.
  • Wildstorm Comics acquired in 1999, some characters syncretized in 2011.
In 2006 DC tried splitting up its heroes into separate universes again, with fifty-two realities promised (though not all explored). The “New 52” of 2011 cut back on that scheme, but there are at least a handful of alternate universes in the company’s comics today, and since characters can (with effort) cross over, it’s all one reality.

TOMORROW: The problems with superhero syncretism.

19 August 2014

J. A. Jance and the Oz Books

I’ve been hearing about the mystery writer J. A. Jance’s appearance at the Moravian Bookshop in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, so I decided to highlight how she became a writer.

She’s told this story in many brief ways, but this essay for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer seems to have the most detail:
I ended up in Mrs. Spangler’s [second-grade] class, and that, too, was a life-changing event. On a shelf under the window, Mrs. Spangler had a collection of books. If we finished our work early, we were allowed to go to the bookshelf and choose a book. I always finished my work early, and that’s where I discovered The Wizard of Oz–not the movie, but the book by Frank Baum. And not just that one book, either, the whole series, all of them. For me, it was love at first sight.

Some kids encountering The Wizard of Oz focus on the Wizard himself, the funny little guy hiding behind his green curtain. What I saw was Frank Baum hiding behind the words, and as soon as I realized someone had put those words on paper, that’s who I wanted to be and what I wanted to do. I wanted to write books; tell stories; put words on paper.
In another interview, Jance also highlighted John D. McDonald’s Travis McGee thrillers: “That was when I realized it was possible to write series books for grown-ups. There were of course other authors who wrote series books for grown-ups, but that was one that was readily accessible for me.”

I was struck by how the card page (i.e., the “Other Books by This Author” page) in Jance’s latest books, listing two hefty mystery series and a bunch of other titles, has the same sense of promise as the long list printed in some Oz books.

18 August 2014

Wisest Thing I’ve Read Today

Over the weekend the Boston Globe ran an interview with eleven-year-old actor Aidan Gemme. He’s currently starring as Peter Llewellyn in the unfathomable stage musical adaptation of Neverland, the unhistorical movie about J. M. Barrie writing Peter Pan.

One of Gemme’s earlier Broadway jobs was alternating in the role of the Boy in Waiting for Godot. Here’s how he described preparing to play that frustrating character:
The Boy doesn’t really have a personality, and you can’t get information on him. I didn’t step into him. I just stepped out of myself.

17 August 2014

One Family’s Robin Debate

This week Brad Guigar of the Evil, Inc. webcomic (sample above) posted a podcast debate among himself, his eight-year-old son Max, and his twelve-year-old son Alex on the vital question of who’s the best Robin.

Some observations about the discussion:
  • The gents are almost totally concerned with DC’s post-Crisis, pre-New 52 universe, with perhaps a bit of the animated cartoons thrown in. It’s no surprise to hear them skip Jason Todd’s pre-Crisis past as a trapeze artist since that goes against what made the character most meaningful, but the guys also don’t acknowledge the history of the second Tim Drake, appearing in comics now.
  • The panel amalgamates Carrie Kelley, the possible future female Robin from Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Rises, with Stephanie Brown, the short-lived female Robin from the regular continuity about a decade ago. (And of course they don’t bother with the current Stephanie Brown, who had a shorter history.) I think that mostly shows how girls remain an unfathomable mass to preteen boys.
  • The older son makes a sharp distinction between the Robin he likes most as a character (Jason) with the character he thinks is or was the best Robin. In fact, he ranks Jason low on the Robin scale.
  • Neither young panelist sees much to like in Damian Wayne. I believe young readers still want a Robin they can look up to or imagine as their own best selves. Damian’s popularity rests with older readers who get off on his brattiness or neediness.
Thanks to Eric Gjovaag for the pointer to this podcast.

16 August 2014

What Do Those Challenges to The Giver Mean?

Slate just ran Ben Blatt’s article with the incendiary headline “The Giver Banned” and the more temperate subtitle “Why Do So Many Parents Try to Remove Lois Lowry’s Book?”

Blatt wrote:
Since its release in 1993, The Giver has been one of the most controversial books in American schools. Between 1990 and 1999, The Giver ranked 11th on the list of the books most frequently requested for removal. In the 2000s it was 23rd, just two spots below To Kill a Mockingbird. This Friday marks the release of the first film adaptation of The Giver, which is likely to renew fandom, as well as opposition, to the dystopian young adult novel.
That analysis is lacking several crucial variables:
  • just how many schools and school libraries have The Giver as a standard title. The more schools use a book, especially as assigned reading for a whole class, the more likely it is to prompt challenges, but the rate of those challenges could still be much lower than for other titles.
  • how much difference there is between the top of the list and 23rd.
The article states that, in contrast to most other controversial titles, and especially the most challenged, “The most frequently cited reasons to challenge The Giver have been ‘Violence’ and claims that the book is ‘Unsuited to [the] Age Group’—or in other words that it’s too dark for children.” That point is accompanied by a chart showing how types of challenges to The Giver compared to the ALA’s total database. But the chart offers no “n value”—no statement of how many challenges were counted.

And that complaint brings up another missing variable: what grades the complaints were coming from. To a parent “Unsuited to Age Group” doesn’t mean too dark for all children but too dark for the particular children assigned to read it.

And let’s face it, The Giver is a dark book, regardless of what age its readers are. That’s kind of the point.

15 August 2014

Keith Ablow Lets His OIP Derangement Syndrome Hang Out

This week’s example of OIP Derangement Syndrome comes from Keith Ablow, a FOX television psychiatrist and writer of thrillers featuring a hairless psychiatrist who’s irresistible to women.

Ablow can be relied on to say ridiculous negative things about President Barack Obama, which is of course why he’s under contract to FOX.

He was presumably on the woman-hosted talk show Outnumbered because of his keen insight into feminine psychology, as shown by his claim in 2012 that Newt Gingrich’s pattern of marital infidelity and divorce proves he’s attractive to women.

The Outnumbered regulars brought up Michelle Obama’s campaign for better childhood nutrition, a cause that would ordinarily be so non-controversial that resentment of it is itself a strong sign of OIP Derangement Syndrome. Ablow’s contribution to the conversation was, in the words of Wonkette:
How well could she be eating? She needs to drop a few. [All the women gasp as if they didn’t already know Keith Ablow is terrible] We’re taking nutritional advice from who?
The next day he repeated his argument.

Which he had launched with his paunch hanging over his belt, as shown above.

14 August 2014

Wrapping Up the Winkie Convention, part 3

Here’s the final schedule for the final day of the 2014 Winkie Convention in San Diego—Sunday, 10 August.

Sunday, 8:30 am
Ozzy Tai Chi led by grandmaster Parker Linekin
Brunch at the Hotel Del Coronado, where L. Frank Baum wrote several books

Sunday, 10:00 am
“The Making of ‘The Wizard of Oz’” Documentary with movie historian Aljean Harmetz (reprise)
Baum’s Boys with authors Paul Dana, Jared Davis, J. L. Bell, and Michael Gessell

Sunday, 11:00 am
75 Years of the MGM Wizard of Oz with movie experts Aljean Harmetz, Priscilla Montgomery, Robert A. Welch, Steve Cox, and Anthony Tringali
A New Oz Series: A Look Back with The Emerald Wand of Oz and Trouble Under Oz author Sherwood Smith and illustrator William Stout, interviewed by J. L. Bell—the first time Smith and Stout had met
Walking Tour of Coronado with the Coronado Historical Association (reprise)

Sunday, 12:30 pm
The Adventures of Queen Ann in Oz with authors Eric Gjovaag and Karyl Carlson and illustrators Bill Campbell and Irwin Terry—the first time this creative team had met, on the occasion of their book’s republication

Sunday, 1:30 pm
The Tik-Tok Man of Oz Audience Talk-Back with producer Eric Shanower, lighting designer Christopher Boltz, set and costume co-designer David Maxine, and performers Eduard Cao, Taylor Hamilton, Taylor Schwartz, and Laura Bueno

Sunday, 2:30 pm
Upcoming Oz Events and Closing Ceremonies with convention organizers David Maxine, Freddy Fogarty, Eric Gjovaag, and Karyl Carlson

That programming could not have happened without the audiovisual equipment loaned by SanSFiS (more on that group later), the tireless work of SanSFiS volunteer Barney Evans, and the half-dozen presenters who made their laptops available for other sessions.

13 August 2014

Wrapping Up the Winkie Convention, part 2

The final, actual Winkie Con 2014 schedule continues with the official events of Saturday, 9 August. This was the biggest day of the convention with the highest attendance and the most events going on at once.

Saturday, 7:30 am
Army of Oogaboo Bootcamp led by the well-traveled Colin Ayres

Saturday, 9:00 am
Costume Contest hosted by Kurt Raymond and Lee Speth

Saturday, 10:00 am
The Winkie Con Quizzes administered by last year’s winners Jared Davis, Miriam Esther Goldman, and Susan Hall
Conversation with Movie Historian Aljean Harmetz with interviewer Anthony Tringali
Oz Collectibles with collectors Freddy Fogarty, Bill Campbell, and Kurt Raymond
Auction Preview
Dealers’ Room Reopens
Oz Research Table, Art Show, and Swap Table Reopen
Display of Judy Garland Movie Costumes Reopens with Michael Siewert

Saturday, 11:00 am
Friends of Dorothy: The LGBT Side of Oz with authors and artists Michael Cart, Dee Michel, Joe Phillips, Rachael Anderson, and Anthony Trujillo
The Oz Books for Beginners: Reading and Collecting with experts Eric Gjovaag and Paul Bienvenue
Mechanical Men and Dinosaurs in Oz with science-fiction fans William R. Lund, Susan Hall, Lee Speth, and Tim Tucker
Walking Tour of Coronado with the Coronado Historical Association (reprise)
Auction Session 1 with auctioneer Bill Thompson

Saturday, 12:00 noon
A. Arnold Gillespie: The Wizard of Special Effects with biographer Robert A. Welch (reprise)
Fictional Worlds and Fandoms: From Oz to Star Trek and Beyond with fandom veterans Bjo and John Trimble, Margaret Koontz, Michael Cart, and Tim Tucker
Soon As I Get Home: An Oz Lunch Concert with singer-songwriter Anthony Whitaker

Saturday, 1:00 pm
Oz and Tarot with publishers Anna Warren Cebrian and Mark Anthony Masterson and reader Gita Morena
Oz and the American Musical with musicologist Ryan Bunch
From Humbug to Hero: Getting to Know the Wizard of Oz with fans Stan Sieler, Atticus Gannaway, Carrie Hedges, John W. Kennedy, and J. L. Bell
Storytelling Workshop: From Character to Comic led by Anthony Nuñez
Auction Session 2 with auctioneer Bill Thompson

Saturday, 2:00 pm
Oz Tabletop Roleplaying Game led by Stephen Koontz
Toto of Oz, a Great and Powerful Film Career with Patricia Watson
Today’s Publishing Options with authors Henry Herz, Paul Dana, Edward Einhorn, and Kevin Gerard
Tarot Readings by Gita Morena

Saturday, 3:00 pm
Conversation with Bjo and John Trimble with interviewer Jack Plummer
Storytelling in Someone Else’s Sandbox with authors Melissa Wiley, Caroline Spector, Edward Einhorn, and Gina Wickwar

Saturday, 4:00 pm
Conversation with Priscilla Montgomery, an MGM Munchkin, with interviewer Anthony Tringali
Crafting Oz with artists Dave Kelleher, Karyl Carlson, and Bill Campbell
The Baum Bugle: Meet the Editors! with Craig Noble and Jared Davis

Saturday, 6:00 pm
The Grand Winkie Banquet and awards ceremony

Saturday, 8:00 pm
The Tik-Tok Man of Oz Musical Play directed by Chrissy Burns

Saturday, 11:00 pm
Tik-Tok’s Robotic Ragtime Revelry after-party with the Heliotrope Ragtime Ensemble

The image above is sheet music from The Tik-Tok Man of Oz, produced in 1913. That musical extravaganza was L. Frank Baum’s attempt to recreate the huge success he’d enjoyed with the 1902 stage version of The Wizard of Oz. What we saw on Saturday night was a game attempt to produce a coherent drama from the fragmentary surviving scripts and songs. Always lively, full of delights, and produced for just the right audience.

12 August 2014

Wrapping Up the Winkie Convention, part 1

I’ve rarely updated this blog over the past several weeks, though not because I didn’t find topics I wanted to write about. Rather, I didn’t have the time to gather and express my thoughts because I was helping to organize the daytime programming at this year’s Winkie Convention in San Diego. “Winkie” as in the western part of the land of Oz—this convention was originally organized for Oz fans in the western USA.

The 2014 Winkie Convention was the 50th annual, as well as falling during the 75th anniversary of MGM’s Wizard of Oz. Retiring chairman David Maxine was determined to make it one of the busiest Oz events ever. He also wanted to serve the local children’s-writing community with some publishing workshops and panels. And that’s how I first got drawn in from afar.

As the San Diego Union-Tribune reported, the convention took place this past weekend. And it feels like a rousing success: nearly 400 people attending, a delightfully sung performance of The Tik-Tok Man of Oz presented in the city for the first time in a century, and the first-ever meetings of the authors and illustrators of three Oz books. Most people were pleased, and some pleasantly surprised, by how lively the panel discussions were.

We were adjusting the convention schedule up to the last minutes, so for the historical record I decided to compile what actually happened and who was involved, starting with the convention events for Friday, 8 August.

Friday, 7:30 am
Trot & Cap’n Bill’s La Jolla Kayak Tour at La Jolla Kayak

Friday, 10:00 am
So This Is Your First Winkie Convention with volunteers Eric Shanower, J. L. Bell, and Lee Speth
What to See in Coronado with local arts officials Heidi Wilson and Kelly Purvis

Friday, 11:00 am
Golden Age of Hollywood Costumes with researchers and collectors Christian Esquevin, Michael Siewert, and Aljean Harmetz
Creating Oz Comics with creators and publishers Anna Warren Cebrian, Mark Anthony Masterson, and Eric Shanower
Walking Tour of Coronado with the Coronado Historical Association
Oz Research Table, Art Show, and Swap Table Opens

Friday, 12:00 noon
Oz Show-and-Tell moderated by collector Freddy Fogarty
A Career in Fantasy Illustration with artist William Stout
Display of Judy Garland’s Movie Costumes with Michael Siewert
Dealers’ Room Opens

Friday, 1:00 pm
A. Arnold Gillespie: The Wizard of Special Effects with biographer Robert A. Welch
Fashioning Nonfiction that Fascinates Kids with authors Kathleen Krull, Paul Brewer, Edward Einhorn, and Angelica Carpenter
The Wizard’s Workshop: Arts and Crafts Activities led by Margaret Koontz

Friday, 2:00 pm
Fifty Years of the Winkie Con with longtime attendees Peter Hanff, Edith Hollister, Nathan Hollister, Lee Speth, and Susan Hall
“The Making of ‘The Wizard of Oz’” Documentary with movie historian Aljean Harmetz—shown publicly for the first time since the early 1980s
Conversation with Author Sherwood Smith with interviewer J. L. Bell

Friday, 3:00 pm
Emerald City, Suffragette City with writers Caroline Spector, Angelica Carpenter, Rachael Anderson, Miriam Esther Goldman, and Gita Morena
Meet the Wicked Witch! with performer Kurt Raymond

Friday, 4:00 pm
Speedy’s Adventures in Masculinity with blogger J. L. Bell
Conversation with Author Edward Einhorn with interviewer Michael Cart

Friday, 5:00 pm
Professor Marvel’s Hot Dog & Burger Cook-out with dancing by Moreton Bay Fig Morris

Friday, 7:30 pm
Welcome from convention chairman David Maxine
Video Welcome from MGM Munchkin Jerry Maren
Conversation with the Wicked Witch of the West with performer Kurt Raymond and interviewer Batton Lash
The Making of The Making of “The Wizard of Oz” with movie historian Aljean Harmetz
L. Frank Baum and the San Diego Connections with scholar Atticus Gannaway

And then came the big day.