Issue #184

In the meantime, a friend wrote to complain of what he sees as the rising use of rape as a gimmick in mainstream comics. I don't know I'd say it was rising, since it's been in use since at least the mid-'70s, when Roy Thomas motivated Red Sonya's origin via a band of rampaging savages who left her pastoral village (not to mention her mother and sisters) dead and her brutally deflowered - though the latter was only strongly suggested and not shown so I suppose it's subject to interpretation - prompting some hitherto unknown (and, as far as I remember, never seen again) warrior goddess to offer her great fighting skills for her revenge and revirginize her if she promised not to give herself to any other man. Why it was necessary to revise Red Sonja from her fairly happy-go-lucky self as originally presented in CONAN #24, the swordswoman so sure of herself that she never let men have their way because, frankly, they just weren't up to her standards I couldn't figure out then, and time hasn't cleared it up for me. Whether cause and effect or just the zeitgeist, from that point on it became increasingly popular to use rape as a great motivator for heroines, apparently as a way to justify a turn toward masculine punch-'n'-strut. (The subtext was that there must be something wrong with women who engage in traditionally male behavior, a standard hidden message of superhero comics.) 1975-1995 can turn up countless examples of heroines either motivated by rape (their own or someone else's) or "upgraded" by it or some other personal violent humiliation (cf. the formerly capable Black Canary being captured, chained and tortured by some nobody serial killer who at least symbolically rapes and sterilizes her by slitting her throat and destroying her vocal chords, robbing her of her "sonic cry" powers), or of a hero being motivated by the rape of a loved one, but, really, the threat was there all along, as it is in all media: the villain's capture of the hero's girlfriend, even in the '40s, suggested all manner of degradations, usually symbolized by the girlfriend's torn clothing at rescue. In any case, it represented and perpetuated the myth of the woman's role as prize for the winner of the fight. (Suggesting a second humiliation, if Jules Feiffer's assessment of Superman and '40s superheroes in general is accurate: "In America, the opposite of the man who couldn't get women has never been the man who could, but the man who could if he wanted to but didn't want to.)


I guess, for my friend, the matter came to a head with last year's DC series IDENTITY CRISIS, which started with the murder of longtime superfrau Sue Dibny, leading to the revelation she had been raped by villain Dr. Light sometime in the not too recent not too distant past, leading to the further revelation that superheroes sometimes tampered with the minds of supervillains in Orwellian fashion. The latter (popularly presented as a form of rape in '80s comics, the refrain "He raped my mind!" repeated over and over for awhile there) really came as no great shock to those of us who grew up watching Green Lantern casually wipe the memories of heroes, villains, friends and bystanders alike with his power ring (and how about Reed Richards hypnotizing them Skrull invaders into thinking they're earth cows, huh?). The story goes that DC editorial felt Sue's rape was enough while writer Brad Meltzer pressed for her murder as well. Meltzer, in this instance, was right. In fiction, victims of murder are sympathetic, victims of rape merely pathetic - unless they take action of some sort to cope with their rape. The story wasn't about Sue Dibny coping with her rape, and putting her in that position would have changed the focus and direction of the series considerably. It almost certainly would have been a direction that rubbed against the superhero audience the book was intended for, but not showing her dealing with her trauma would have completely trivialized the rape. The real problem is that the murder makes the rape redundant - bad as rape is, it's hard to get more brutal and humiliating than murder - and the function of the rape in the story has nothing, essentially, to do with Sue Dibny at all. It occurs as a motivation for subsequent events, as a red herring to steer the heroes (at least temporarily) away from the true murderer, as an avenue for revelation of the heroes' previous unheroic behavior. It's a very strange story in that the rape is absolutely necessary to it and absolutely superfluous.


But rape, in comics stories, is almost always ultimately superfluous. It's used far too often simply as a motivating factor, and to paint an easy, lazy characterization for a female character - she becomes "the one who was raped" - that mostly male writers use to avoid any real characterization. What I don't get is: if rape is such a useful gimmick in stories, why aren't any male superheroes raped? (The only instance that leaps to mind is Johnny Bates' rape in MIRACLEMAN that triggers the return of the evil Kid Miracleman.) Villains capture them too, and come up with ridiculous deathtraps and other schemes intended to humiliate them and demonstrate power over them. Presumably most of these villains have spent time in maximum security prisons. If rape is so common for women in comics, why is it so rare for men? If we're talking about bringing "realism" in, which is usually the argument for rape scenes.


Way back when, in the halls of a major comic book company, I ran into a major comic book writer who was doing an imaginary story (it was never completed or published that I'm aware of) spinning off his major comic book where the book's major villain won, and conquered the world. As a demonstration of the villain's now ultimate power, the writer intended a scene where the strongest woman in the real book was now broken in spirit by the villain, controlled by him body and soul, and meekly committing completely submissive sex acts at his whim. (How he intended to get that into the company's book was beyond me, but hey...) This puzzled me. Rape is about power, not sex. Sex is a byproduct of rape, but in the psychology of rape it's not the important part. The important part is humiliation and dominance. While the woman was powerful, she was not the most powerful member of the team, nor even the villain's main enemy. That was the male leader of the team. So I wondered, aloud, why the writer didn't have the male leader reduced to an identical level of submissiveness, and performing the same acts at the villain's whim. If the villain wanted to really prove his total dominance (given we were talking about scenes the company in question would never publish) it was the logical way to go. Man, did I get a dirty look. His response: "That's disgusting." The villain, he carefully explained so I'd understand it, wasn't gay, so he'd never do that. But men who rape men in prison usually aren't gay. Rape is not about sex, and, besides, if you're king of the world you don't care what anyone else thinks because their lives are in your hands anyway.

Not that I want to see male rape become the hot new thing in comics, but it's clear that female rape in comics is acceptable while that's next to unthinkable. It's considered perfectly all right to humiliate heroines, taboo to humiliate heroes in the same way, and beyond the purely sexist paranoia reasons for that, there are commercial reasons as well, the main one being: a raped character becomes pathetic. The audience simply wouldn't look at them the same way after that, and either the character would be caught in a long and probably fairly depressing arc about dealing with the psychological consequences of such a thing, or it would have to be trivialized, dismissed and forgotten ASAP so the hero could get back to the serious business of beating up villains. It's generally allowable for heroines because women are considered minor characters in comics, window dressing, even when they're the lead characters. (Wonder Woman may be the main exception, but even she was regularly subject to the symbolic rape of losing her powers when her wristbands were bound together, back in the old days.) When a lead female does get raped, in body or mind, as in Brian Bendis' ALIAS, if her storyline of coping with the trauma of it goes on and on, well, that's just the sort of thing we'd expect from women, innit?

All in all, the better option is to knock it off. Screw "realism." If you can't come up with better storylines or characterizations for female characters, particularly heroines (or the hero's girlfriend) than that, something's wrong. At minimum, something's derivative, lazy and uninteresting. How about a voluntary ban on rape storylines for the foreseeable future? Even better, how about an end to women in comics as mainly victims or props? We've been doing this for around 75 years; you'd think women as genuine characters would be par for the course by now, instead of special events.

Anyone else got any interminable comics clichés they'd rather never see again? Time to start a cliché deathlist...

"You might be getting to something like this, and/or it might be taken from Robert McKee, but I learnt it from my University of Canberra (Australia) scriptwriting lecturer, the brilliant Felicity Packard (any Australians reading, she is one of the key writers on the currently missing ABC Australia show, MDA). What I'm talking about is The Big Five, a nice little tool to help you make sure your script is focused on what it should be.

I've framed it using STAR WARS, because it's well known and is a fairly straight Joseph Campbell story.

The Big Five:

- Whose story is it? Luke Skywalker

- What is the story about? Luke Skywalker learning to use the Force and taking on the Empire.

- What is the main dramatic question? Will Luke be able to use the Force and defeat the Empire?

- What is the prize/price? (What does the protagonist get if they succeed, what are the stakes of this prize or what do they lose?) The prize is adventure and the lives of the rebellion, the price is the loss of his mentor, Obi Wan, and possibly the loss of the rebellion.

- Why should we care? Luke is a normal kid (within the story's universe). He dreams of adventure and excitement and gets a chance to fulfill his dreams, a chance that we would also like to have.

Hope this helps, or hasn't spoilt any of your revelations. Thanks too, Steven, the column is a hell of a read and is fast becoming an inspiration."

Thanks. I don't put a lot of stock in McKee, really; like Syd Fields, he makes interesting points but the end result is to reduce fiction to a formula that will sell more easily to Hollywood studios. I've really never cared for the Joseph Campbell 12-step approach to screenwriting popularized in the wake of STAR WARS because it flies in the face of everything Campbell was about; Campbell himself said that while all myths followed a particular pattern (and he was rather overstating his case on that), it was an unconscious thing and consciously imposing elements of the myth patterns onto stories robs them of their energy. In other words, in Campbell's view, humans cannot consciously create myths with the idea of creating myths. True myths rise from the unconscious. (Of course, Campbell was a Jungian, so if you don't subscribe to Jung's theories on the unconscious Campbell's critique may not hold water for you.) As for McKee's five questions, they're good questions, but your answers only really tell us about the plot. For one thing, while Luke appears to be just a normal boy at the beginning of STAR WARS, he never really is. Luke is royalty from birth, The One who can both wield The Force effectively and redeem his father Anakin. He's the traditional Destiny's Hero who must grow up incognito for his own protection and only discovers his true nature and identity when his birthright asserts itself. That's the real hook of Luke Skywalker: not that he's a normal kid but that he isn't, which suggests the viewer himself may not really be just another schnook after all either. That's why people care about Luke Skywalker: like every other good boy's adventure character, he feeds the percipient's ego. Likewise, in terms of the prize and price, you forget the cost of Luke's hand - an exchange, like Odin's eye, for forbidden knowledge - and the important potential loss is neither the loss of Obi Wan (he never really goes away) or even the possible end of the rebellion, but the loss of Luke's soul to the Dark Side Of The Force. That's really what those three movies are about: the spiritual war for Luke's soul, since Luke is the knight with the potential to heal the wounded Fisher King and redeem the Wasteland. That's why the current crop of STAR WARS movies don't really have that much zing: they're sort of Lucas' SIMARILLION, a retelling of the Luke story as backstory where it's Anakin's soul at stake, and we already know how that turns out. And there's never a point where we believe that Anakin is just another kid.

Anyway, I thought STAR WARS was Han Solo's story. He's the one who gets the girl. And the film career...

"If there was some idea that was just too dangerous to write down, then writing in would be wrong, wouldn't it? (But then I think you knew that.)

I have been enjoying the treatise on writing, especially since the basic premise is one that I had as well. It has been very interesting not only seeing your choices and the reasons you make them, but also contrasting them to my own choices and reasons. (I went to a writing workshop with Emma Bull a few years back. Along with the refrain of "I have this great idea, I will split the money with you if you write it", she offered the caveat "A story about talking furniture would be very different if written by Singer or King." At the time it seemed obvious and glib. But having Isaac and Stephen in your living room, walking you through the process in parallel, it becomes a lot more insightful.)

(Speaking of Stephen King, in his "On Writing" columns-turned-book, he gave a one line description of a story, and then challenged his readers to write it. He also promised to read every one, which I thought was insane. But it might be interesting, especially because I know I am not the only one playing the "Beat the Grant" home game.)


And finally, I am struck not by the differences but by the similarities of your two baseball players. Of course, the story that equates a modern urban center with a post-apocalyptic hell where civilization has failed is itself a third way of dealing with the themes of Loss and Returning to your Roots.

So many ideas, so little time...

And even fewer publishers."

Few publishers aren't as big a problem as few readers. Beat the Grant?! Is that what they're calling it these days? And, as appealing as the idea of receiving hundreds of short stories written by aspiring authors sounds, no.

"What's a dangerous idea? Any we're not allowed to challenge."

Even then, the idea still isn't as dangerous as those stifling challenges to it, and may not be dangerous at all. The best definition of censorship I've heard is "an opinion enforced by an organization."

"I agree with your thoughts on [dangerous questions] for the most part. And you're right, it's difficult to talk about in the abstract, so here's an example. I was thinking of ideas for a terrorism story and I came up with the idea of a terrorist group taking ten people, scattering them throughout the country and getting them jobs at various fast food places. Then on the same day, they each poison 20 or so burgers. This scares people away from fast food places. They continue to do this to more and more places; bars, high class places, movie theaters, etc. Eventually America is afraid to eat out. While it's unlikely that anyone would do it if I wrote it in a story, if they did, it'd be really bad. Anyway, that's the sort of thing I'm talking about."

When I was living in the Seattle area, there was an e-coli outbreak at Jack In The Box. For months thereafter, people were afraid to eat at Jack In The Box, but, if you think about it, in the weeks following the outbreak, those were probably the safest places in the world to eat, because you can be damn sure that chain would do everything in its power to prevent another outbreak. Their stock wouldn't have stood it. Likewise, your scenario wouldn't work except in the short term; I have no doubt that within a week the entire thing would be shut down. You may not choose to give anyone that idea, but you can be pretty sure that sort of thing's circulating anyway; it's unlikely you're the first to think of it. Anyway, that would also be what's called a "cautionary" tale, and while on one hand it might prompt terrorists to set up poisoning cells, it might also prompt fast food restaurants, bars, movie theaters etc. to beef up (probably not the best choice of words) security to prevent such a thing from ever happening. The story could be a public service. But you'd never know until you wrote and published it.

"Its interesting you make an article based on a question I asked Joe at WWLA last weekend.

I agree with you and Joe on lot of statements... But here's where I think you fall flat:

1) Comics aren't cheap anymore... I miss the 65- 75 cent newsprint... I rarely see anyone under 21 at the shops now. I spend between 20 -40 a week on comics... But I have the disposable income... Many kids don't even buy games... You can rent a game at Blockbuster for 3 bucks a week...

Comics are being caught in the collectable trap... Publishers are too caught up in having an object in your hands and to save as a possible collector's item. This works for collectors such as myself, but we are still a small market... Kids can't spend 40 bucks a week on comics... 3 bucks for 27 pages for a decompressed story wont cut it for their low attention span... Comic publishers need to go back and figure out how to make it cheap and accessible.. I think an economic model is long overdue for web downloadable comics...

2) Harry Potter isn't a good enough excuse, since HP books come within every 2 years or so. Those books are 500 pages or so now... there are only a few books that catch the attention of kids now, so it's still a drop in the bucket of videogames...

3) Trade paperbacks... A lot of people do wait for the trades. However, the trade paperback print runs are usually less then the initial comic book runs... Trades are still 15- 25 bucks a pop... The smaller manga format is cheaper and is something to consider... But I still don't see the larger volumes the industry is looking for... There is also more risk in printing trades than comics as there are more return policies favorable to the retailer such as Barnes and Noble...

4) The characters are worth more than the paper they're printed on. Spiderman, Hulk, Batman etc. are worth more as licenses now as movies, toys and videogames.

I am of the belief that comics need to be affordable entertainment... The web is a perfect delivery system because its significantly cheaper, and you can download what you want... Imagine a story arc for 5- 6 bucks to download... Each issue a buck for download.. Marvel's back catalog can be searched and downloaded... Even subscriptions could be redone... I know this has been tried but I think it wasn't done right... Marvel and DC are big enough to start it...Right now, Paypal is a good system to pay for it... Parents can givetheir kids' Paypal accounts... Certain books could be restricted to adults... The website should have more games and info that kids and everyone else might like... The comics industry has to adapt to an entertainment industry that supplements other entertainment... Right now comics are still considered specialized and underground... I think this dialogue needs to be continued and explored, and more needs to be done for comics to get bigger, more successful, and more stable..."

We're really making the same argument, you're just making an assumption I'm not (though perhaps Joe is, you'd have to ask him): that comics as they currently are are the material that will be interesting enough to bring audiences back in. It isn't. I think most publishers would love to distribute their comics via the internet but the problem for most publishers is the control of distribution; a .pdf file of the latest AMAZING SPIDER-MAN could be duplicated ad infinitum, meaning, theoretically, they could sell one copy and 500,000 people could read it. That challenge must be met before publishers will feel comfortable about e-distribution, and even then there are plenty of people who don't like reading online. The only business model that would make sense unless that challenge is met is one where the company does not make its money from the material itself. (Sort of like websites that present all kinds of free content but are really selling viewer exposures to banner ads.) As for your other criticisms:

1) Nothing's cheap anymore, and the newsprint you're talking about isn't cheap enough to significantly affect the price of a comic book if companies switched back to it. The problem isn't to bring the price of comics down enough that the content will seem a decent value by comparison, but to improve the content enough that the price point will still represent value for money and be widely perceived that way. This will probably necessitate abandoning our old dogma and basically recreating the comic book from the ground up.

2) The renting of videogames may have less to do with disposable income and more to do with perceived value for money. Fact is, most videogames are pretty crappy and quickly get tedious. Some are easy to beat. A lot of kids and adults now prefer to rent rather than own videogames (a trend I suspect will only grow with videostores' new NetFlix-influenced return policies) because that's better value for money: buy the game, play the game, shelve the game at $50/pop, or rent the game, play the game, beat the game, return the game for $3.99/pop. The games they really like they then go buy. Interestingly, every library in my area is now loaded to the gills with new comic books - one restricts the borrower to two comics at a time - so the "rent" availability of comics may be radically growing, possibly with the same longterm effect: the ones they really like they go buy. If there are any they really like.

3) A lot of people do wait for the trade paperbacks, and companies have grudgingly acknowledged that often what sells worst in comics sells best in trade and vice versa. But I've been espousing for years that the post-1994 crash isn't so much a depression for comics as a transitional stage between a magazine economy and a book economy. I expect we'll end up with something of a Morlock/Eloi type split between comics designed for comics publication and comics designed for book publication, but we'll be in the transition for years yet.

4) The characters are worth more than the paper they're printed on. Comics companies depend on that. The day may come where Batman and Spider-Man exposure will be widespread enough that character interest can be maintained without regular publication or some other media exposure. But that day hasn't come yet. Even if it does, no more Spider-Man or Batman comics doesn't mean no more comics, it just means more new characters.

"When kids are not playing video games, they are on the internet in more ways then ever. A kid these days will most likely be in front of a computer screen then reading the pages of the comic. Sure, there are web-comics, but they are a poor replacement for holding a comic in your hands.

I'm sure Joe Q, is doing all he can to get more people and kids to read comics, but the current popular trend is to play video games, be on the internet, watch MTV, go to the toy store and get their parents to buy them more toys then ever. But a comic book does not seem to be the number one thing to do."

Obviously it isn't. That doesn't mean it couldn't be. Better content, man, better content.

"Something in your column struck me as very coherent: "In houses where parents read, children read. In houses where parents read comics, children read comics. That lost generation will feed us the next generation, if we can get them back." I think you're proven right by how many creators working nowadays were spawned out of their parent's obvious love and commitment to the artform. Look at John S. Romita or the Kuberts for example. They grew up surrounded by comics and I bet you by the age of 5 they already knew what they wanted to do for a living. Kids absorb information and learn as a result of imitation, so teach them to imitate your passion for funnybooks and you have an entire generation of new creators and fans brewing in your household.

On another subject, I was watching television the other day and I stumbled upon a commercial for some medical product. The commercial claims there's a -insert product name here- with your name on it, to you know, sell the point that there's one for every allergy or whatever. As I watched I kept thinking if this were an advertisement for a comic, the people behind it would've never approved of it because they'd seriously consider people being too stupid to understand the product doesn't actually have your name on it. The industry has become so insular that we think people outside the medium would never understand a distinct panel progression in a comic because they've never read one before or something. Maybe if we stop condescending the mainstream, movie-going public and selling them product for morons, they will find comics engaging enough to create a habit out of.

At the risk of contradicting what I just said, I think comics, as a medium, can be a hard place to get into. Not the actual comics, but the world of comics. Your average Joe can go to the cineplex and choose to see HOSTAGE because it stars Bruce Willis. And that's the kind of guy who would not choose a comic based on the words "Alan Moore" on the cover.

I read recently that Marvel has cut a deal with 7-11s to sell Marvel comics there. I think it's brilliant. Now let's take advantage of that position. I say, advertise comics like studios advertise movies. Most of the time when you see a movie flop, someone says the advertisement was either terrible or practically non-existent. I think that's why comics don't sell in the millions. Because people don't know about comics. Brian Vaughan is writing a comic about drama, politics, and gay marriage in EX MACHINA, which I bet a lot of people would be interested in, but you won't hear a reference to it on WILL & GRACE... because no one knows it exists. So I'm talking big time television commercials. Sure I have no idea how much it costs, but I'm willing to bet my left testicle that it would work.

Discover what the comic critics are calling "One of the best titles out there!" "Engaging, intelligent, exciting" "Joss Whedon's dialogue is genius" "The art on this book is amazing!"

"Joss Whedon, creator of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, writes ASTONISHING X-MEN and you've never seen anything like it." Available monthly at every 7 Eleven or comic book store. The collection is now available at your local bookstore. ASTONISHING X-MEN.

It may sound corny but it gets the product out there. You show the amazing art in a cool way and people will notice how well drawn it is. Show the action in it to get kids excited about it, but you also tell them that critics love it. Quote stuff that sounds intelligent like "Wonderous plotting, and genius pacing" so people understand there's a craft behind it. Lastly, tell them comics are everywhere. They don't have to go out of their way to get one. Go to your local 7 Eleven. But you're also putting retailers out there, by saying comic book stores exist. And you can also go to Borders and find comics. It's easy. All you need is the guy with the deep voice and it's a hit.

But this brings me back to the insular quality of the medium. Now you got your new reader reading ASTONISHING X-MEN, and he wants to get into comics because he digs it a lot. People should advertise Vertigo everywhere because I don't think there's a more mainstream-appealing place than Vertigo. I'd bet it's got more female readers than any other imprint. Anyway one of the coolest things about comics, to me, is how big the world of it is. You have all these cool sites with news, commentary, columns, gossip, interviews, previews. It's cool, I'm telling you. It doesn't happen with any other medium, the way it happens with comics. Cause it's more sophisticated. It's not E! You can visit any Newsarama you can find any day and there's at least one person saying something smart, you can bet your life on it.

What's the problem then? It's hard to get into if you're not familiar with it. Imagine someone who just discovered comics going to Newsarama and reading the words "Morrison talks SEAGUY". Sure you and I might be interested, but it sounds like gibberish to someone new. So how bout something like a COMICSFORBEGGINERS.COM or something of the like? Like an easy to understand guide to the world of comics. You could have sections focusing on new comics, creators, even news. Inform people of what the medium is all about in a fun way. So Morrison talks SEAGUY? Tell them who Morrison is, what he does instead of what he's done. No "Morrison, of THE INVISIBLES fame" crap. Tell them how Morrison writes, tell them how good he is. Show them how good he is. Then tell them about SEAGUY and Cameron Stewart's amazing art, and show them that too. If it's compelling enough they'll be interested and then you tell them to find it at Wal-Mart (whenever that's a possibility) and the next time they're there, they'll get it.

Is it hard to do?"

I'm willing to bet your left testicle that the cost of a TV ad - at least a national market one - would obliterate any increased profits generated by the ad, and more. I may be mistaken, but it seems to me at least some companies offer local market co-op TV ads with comics shops. And while I'm the first to say this business as a whole does a horrible job of educating casual and potential audiences about comics, I also think you're making a lot of assumptions based on facts not in evidence. While John Romita and the Kubert Brothers (not to mention Diego Baretto and a few others) have followed parents into the comics business, the vast majority of comics offspring haven't, so I'm not sure they provide us with anything other than colorful anecdotes and good artwork. I also suspect the vast majority of fans to whom Joss Whedon's name is a draw are rabid enough about him that they already know he writes ASTONISHING X-MEN and that built-in draw is certainly one of the things (but not the only thing) Marvel's banking on with its recent recruitment of screenwriters and novelists to write comics. Getting EX MACHINA mentioned on WILL & GRACE would take some work but is arguably doable, but THE O.C. mentions comics all the time? Have sales on X-MEN, LEGION OF SUPERHEROES, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN or Wildstorm comics risen as a result of mention on that show? Did it become hipper to read WONDER WOMAN after Summer dressed in a WW costume to seduce resident comics nerd Seth Cohen? None of which means I don't think much of what you're suggesting isn't worth trying, but it's a bit premature to expect dramatic results from it.

"It's an interesting coincidence that someone asked you about ideas that are "too dangerous" to see print, because a friend posed a similar question to me recently. I'm working on a couple stories based on some rather irreverent ideas about a certain messiah. My friend didn't chastise me for having these ideas, but for using them. My answer was that I had to use them. Especially since no one else is. They popped into my head and were just too good to pass up. Call me a Romanticist, but I think it's the obligation of artists to give people new ideas to digest, and if I withhold mine, I'm not doing my job. Of course the worst thing that can come from me putting these ideas into people's heads is that they'll go to Hell when they die. Which doesn't strike *me* as a danger, but to many people makes it the quintessential "dangerous idea". Which makes it all the more important that I express it."

Don't worry, I never call anyone a Romanticist. Pablo Picasso once said, "Good taste is the enemy of art." Unfortunately, "bad taste is the friend of art" is not a corollary. Basically, if you think it's worth saying, say it. The worst you could be is wrong, and if you are you'll find out soon enough.

"Where did you find the original story about the two-thumbed babies? I've been googling it for a week and nothing's coming up."

Every item in the "A Schematic Of The End Times" section is fiction. Except one. One item over the course of the series wasn't fiction. But I'm not saying which one.

"It seems IDW has shamelessly plagiarized the covers to the upcoming series SMOKE by Alex de Campi and Igor Korday. More upsetting that "art swipe" watchdog Rich Johnston has apparently given his friend de Campi a free pass on this at LITG, calling into question the column's integrity. This might make an interesting piece in an upcoming column. When is it "homage" and when is it "theft"? What obligation does a cover artist have toward living creators outside of the medium? Is IDW in the right on this (apparently de Campi obtained the original artist's permission after the books were solicited and the shit hit the fan on certain street art message boards)? Does Johnston have an obligation to out a personal friend as a swiper when he routinely does it to other creators?"

All homage is theft. I'm surprised I have to tell anyone this. "Sure, I'm stealing, but I'm doing it to honor who I'm stealing from, wink wink."

I don't know the particulars of this situation - this is the first I've heard of it - but you may be unfairly conflating IDW and the talent. If IDW requested the specific cover designs or in some other way imposed them on de Campi & Korday, or if they were told of the source material and thought the similarities were of no significance, I'd say, yes, they're at fault and should have known better. If deCampi & Korday presented the covers, and IDW accepted them in good faith without knowledge of the origins of the designs, they're not at fault. Publishers and editors can't be familiar with everything. As for Rich's responsibilities, he writes a gossip column. Don't you know that going in? If you're reading a gossip column and know it, it's a bit late to start worrying about ethical responsibility...

I keep hearing people suggest that supporting Democrats is the only way out of our current mess, and if that's the case we may as well throw in the towel right now. Throughout last year's election, when opposition to the war would have clearly separated Democratic candidates (and I'm talking about all the candidates from the first caucus on, not just Kerry) and maybe allowed a protest bloc to form (not that it would have won the Democrats the election, though, despite all the blue state/red state blather, there's enough antiwar sentiment among "leftists" (but not all of them) and conservatives (some of them) in America that it would at least have produced a genuine referendum on the issue), the uniform message from Democrats was "I wouldn't have lied like the President did to get us into war in Iraq but now that we're in Iraq we have to support the troops and win there to preserve America's dignity abroad!" Noble sentiments indeed. How did the Democrats in Congress choose to protest the war last year? By introducing bills to reintroduce a military draft, eliminating many of the traditional exemptions, with the spurious claim of wanting to create a truly egalitarian army, as if the children of the rich had ever been without ways to avoid war zone military service if they chose to. (Just ask most of the current administration.)

Since losing the election and seats in both the Senate and the House, the Democrats have been on the defensive, facing a Republican onslaught in Congress that threatens to render them superfluous. Aware of this, have the Democrats at least used their current position to register protest votes against Republican policies they claim to oppose, and use the opportunity to generate a new image for the party? Here are a few of their accomplishments during the current term:

  • Supported a bill written by the credit card industry to strip ordinary Americans of the right to file bankruptcy while leaving wealthy Americans loopholes and shelters to avoid debts, opening the possibility of many Americans currently able to manage their debt becoming the equivalent of indentured servants to the credit card companies should the dollar continue to bottom out overseas and interest rates rise rapidly, as has been predicted by many economists, to "offset and slow inflation"
  • Pledged support for any efforts to "stop Iran's nuclear weapons program," despite continued and growing evidence that no such program exists and administration claims of such are a repeat of the lies that took us into Iraq
  • Supported, after decades of thwarting, the opening of the Alaskan National Wildlife reserve to oil drilling
  • Supported a bill to shift class action lawsuits, currently tried in state courts, to federal jurisdiction where prosecutions are much tougher and awards generally much smaller - a present for American corporations and the crippling of a key protection for consumers
  • Supported the tort "reform" bill designed to effectively eliminate legal remedies to slipshod corporate behavior

Bear in mind that they weren't simply outgunned by Republicans on these. In each case, Democrats stepped up to the plate to throw their weight behind Republicans. While Democrats have found a pleasant contrarian issue in the Hand Puppet's spurious Social Security "reform" scheme, they are mounting no serious vocal challenge to his proposed budget that underfunds "reform" programs the Hand Puppet himself put into place, guts education spending and eliminates programs that have been of great practical benefit to many Americans, cuts food and health programs for children, slashes low-income aid programs, prevents almost half a million poor Americans previously eligible for food stamps from receiving them, guts environmental protection and industry quality control programs and agencies, cripples health care aid programs for poorer seniors - and phases out limitations on deductions and exemptions for the country's highest-income families, a gift that would over the space of a decade amount to around half a trillion dollars moving upward from the lowest income Americans to the highest. Add to that big jumps in revenues for military programs and homeland security, additional budget cuts to be determined (by the White House!) at a later date, and a separate black budget also to be determined later for funding the current Iraq morass and future military adventurism, and we're talking a bloody budget nightmare where most of the blood will come from those Americans least able to afford it (and, thus, least able to bribe politicians to act on their behalf).

Figure in the Democrats' continued self-muting or, worse, leaping into step on issues of "national security" - it's a sad, sorry state of affairs when conservatives are mounting a much fiercer fight against the erosion of Constitutional rights in America and against administration attempts to expand federal police powers than so-called liberals are - and it's hard to remember what the Democrats are for. Since LBJ got forced out of office by a public increasingly hostile to participation in the Vietnam War, which paved the way for the election of Richard Nixon (who, far from being a pro-war candidate, insisted he had a secret plan to end the war, only to end up prolonging it for a number of years; his secret plan, according to Kissinger, who talked him out of it, turned out to be nuking Southeast Asia), the Democrats have mostly survived off being the only practical alternative to the Republicans. That was the main rallying cry for Kerry last year: support for any alternative political parties instead of the Democrats would ensure the return of the Hand Puppet to the White House. It was a seductive bit of extortion, that's for sure. Didn't work though. Given that, and their performance since, supporting the Democrats no longer seems worth the effort. It's not that Democrats can't stand up to Republicans; as a group they seem more determined with each passing day to become Republicans. If we're waiting for the Democrats to be of some use, to even rally around their minority standing to mount a vocal and visible protest of administration policies that for the most part they seem to adore, it's starting to feel like it'll be a long, long time.

Yet there are enough disgruntled Democratic and Republican voters, and growing numbers of independents (as well as the collapse of the Greens and other progressive or activist parties) that a new political party, something that could crack through the endless unchanging tripe dualities of liberals and conservatives, reds and blues, Democrats and Republicans is vaguely conceivable. It'd be difficult - it would have to be a genuine grassroots movement, not like the short-lived political party built on Ross Perot's money and killed when he petulantly removed it - but an election year isn't the time to start one. Right now there's about three years, barely enough time to mount candidates for mid-term Congressional elections and just about enough of a comfort zone to field a 2008 candidate. I know it's a ludicrous pie in the sky pipe dream, you don't have to tell me, but wouldn't it be fun to watch the fear of God get put into both Democrats and Republicans if January 2007 saw the swearing in of a slew of third party first term Congressmen. I don't expect it to happen, but something's got to give. The "loyal opposition" is getting just too damn loyal.

In response to the growing number of states and municipalities passing resolutions condemning aspects of 2002's Patriot Act that infringe on Constitutionally guaranteed rights, as well as legal challenges to the act that have seen the unprecedented union of conservatives groups and the American Civil Liberties Union, Rep. Gordon Schmidt (R-MI) has introduced a bill in the House Of Representatives that would define such resolutions as domestic terrorism and declare any involved areas as "enemy camps" subject to martial law, with "instigators" risking penalties ranging anywhere from complete forfeiture of personal property to capital punishment. Schmidt explained, "These people are trying to undermine our freedoms and our way of life. They've put their own paranoia ahead of the defense of America. We can either deal with them now or try to put the horse back in the barn after someone's crashed an airplane into it." A House colleague, under promise of anonymity, commented, "Gordon's a little overenthusiastic, but his heart's in the right place, and with a little modification and some carefully selected riders, I think the bill stands a good chance of passing the house." Proposed riders range from environmental protections for Yellowstone National Park to the withholding of federal funds from states not banning all forms of euthanasia. Asked to comment on Schmidt, boyhood friend of the congressman Methodist minister Alvin Courtney, who presides over a church in Schmidt's hometown of Chatford, MI and during Schmidt's campaign publicly questioned his qualifications for public office, said, chuckling, "We prefer Gordo to be somewhere else. Washington seems like a good spot for him."

Pro wrester Rodney "Johnny Longbow" Fredrickson has become the first man in the world to receive an internal steroid pump in an operation last week in Indonesia. The pump, imbedded in Fredrickson's thigh, is controlled by a small computer chip and dispenses a metered amount of steroids into his system at fixed intervals, and allows him to maintain his physique and readiness at all times. The reservoir must be refilled ever 28 days. Due to American laws criminalizing steroid use, the former World Wrestling Federation performer, who stands 6'4" and weighs 278 lbs., intends to live overseas and work the Japanese, Southeast Asian, German, Australian and Mexican circuits.

The recent disappearances of five Christian and thirteen Muslim missionaries in Tanzania have some authorities there concerned about a possible revival of a local tribal religion dating back to the third century B.C. The religion, known as Kwaado, worships spirits thought to live under the earth and control crops, weather, insects and disease, and the spirits are appeased and fed by burying defeated enemies. While Tanzanian police know of no sect sites or practicing adherents to the religion, suspicions were aroused when ears of corn dipped in cow's blood, a traditional sacrament consecrating the dying to the underground spirits, were found hidden in the homes of three of the vanished missionaries. While Tanzania's president dismissed such speculations as detrimental to the nation's welfare, police inspector Toba Songea stated, "It is not credible that so many people would walk away from their lives without a word or a trace of their own will," and speculated that the religion embodied a rise of citizen resistance to outside interference in Tanzania's affairs, a claim the president's office also rejected. Songea's office later issued a travel advisory for all non-Tanzanians, only to see it pulled by the Tanzanian National Travel Board. He has since refused all interviews.

TOZZER 2 #2-3 by Rob Dunlop & Peter Lumby, 24 pg. b&w comics (Ablaze Media;$2.95@)

I still don't really get TOZZER 2 - a young stage magician in training (hunted by Michael Jackson and Bubbles the chimp for unspecified reasons that appear to be illegal) goes to a "school for magicians" that seems to be a cross between the school in HARRY POTTER (I'm sure that's the joke) and the worst English boys school ever, where George Lucas teaches special effects, headmaster Samuel Jackson from PULP FICTION wears a demented Yoda puppet on his hand, and a flood of pop culture references turn up in an indistinct mishmash (look for nods to Vin Diesel, Lara Croft, Eminem, Michael Moore and his shoddy documentary techniques, Leonardo DiCaprio in CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, Kiefer Sutherland in PHONE BOOTH, and the pizza guy allusion eludes me entirely) - but at least it's energetic. It sort of plays like a PG-13 version of BEANO, which specialized in presenting material that was just sort of baffling but you were expected to think it hilarious. Despite that, both the art and the writing (there are even some genuine jokes scattered about) kind of grows on you, but how funny you think it is will depend on how automatically you laugh at decontextualized pop culture.

SEVEN SOLDIERS OF VICTORY #1 by Grant Morrison & J.H. Williams III & SHINING KNIGHT #1 (of 4) by Grant Morrison & Simone Bianchi, 32 pg. color comics (DC Comics;$2.99@)

Wow. Good superhero comics. Loved Morrison's translation of Talbot Mundy's Nine Unknown Men (based on an Indian legend) into the Seven Unknown Men Of Slaughter Swamp. In SEVEN SOLDIERS Morrison deftly revamps/reconfigures parallel world lesser DC heroes (and creates a few of his own) into a new superteam, shows the evolution and bonding of that team, introduces more characterization in one issue than all the X-MEN books put together saw in all of the 1990s, throws in throwaways like news of superhero convention circuits, comes up with yet another classically creepy set of villains worthy of his DOOM PATROL and INVISIBLES work, then tops it all off with a perfectly set-up, perfectly logical shock ending. Williams' art is always good, and here it's top-notch, perfectly suited to the material, shifting moods and styles (particularly loved the "Lt. Blueberry" western work) as adeptly as Morrison does. You read this, you feel like you read something. SHINING KNIGHT's also terrific, a great take on Arthurian legend and the much debased heroic fantasy genre, obliquely expanding on the storyline and villains from SEVEN SOLDIERS and setting up threads to be played out in the other eight series or specials comprising the story over the coming year. It's an ambitious project, and if SHINING KNIGHT's an indicator, it's the real "can't miss" superhero adventure of 2005. Morrison's Sir Justin is credibly honest, pompous, determined and desperate, Bianchi on the art is a real find, and, again, the shock ending is a killer. Get them.

ECLIPSE & VEGA: THE BEDS WE MAKE by "Allan Smithee" & Bill Maus, 32 pg. b&w comic (SSS Comics;$2.95)

More vaguely smutty, vaguely comedic material, with the nominal heroines stopping superadversaries in their tracks by putting on impromptu sex shows for them, resulting in bad reputations all around. Uninspired, with the usual mediocre art, but vaguely readable in spite of that, which for ECLIPSE & VEGA is high praise. (And no, Saul, you cannot run "high praise" as a standalone quote.) SSSComics seem to be going with an odd format halfway between a standard comic and a manga paperback.

ODDLY NORMAL by Otis Frampton, 32 pg. color comic (Viper Comics; convention edition, no price given)

"Oddly Normal" is the heroine's name, a young demi-witch who only gets stung by water, not melted by it, an outcast at school and a misfit at home. Then she does something she's not supposed to be able to do (what exactly she does is a bit unclear, the one place where the art falls short). The art's more storybook art than comics art, and there's a reason for that: it's a kid's book. And not bad, but people have just got to start putting more story into their comics; it's creators who are supposed to work hard, not readers and particularly not kids.

RUULE: KISS & TELL #8, by Jeff Amano & Craig Rousseau, 32 pg. color comic (Beckett Comics;$1.99)

I generally liked this series, a '30s-ish crime comic take on the Biblical Samson story, but my first reaction on finishing this issue was "at last it's over." It was exhausting, with a good setup, mostly Brownian motion in the middle, and no particular surprises in the concluding chapter; if you know Samson, you've got it. Unfortunate, because it was an ambitious project ripe with Beckett's trademark stylish art and top-notch production. It was a natural six issue series that ran out of gas by the eighth issue is all.

FADE FROM GRACE #4 by Gabriel Benson & Jeff Amano, 32 pg. color comic (Beckett Comics;$1.99)

Decent superhero action and an inventive rescue scene that makes good display of the hero's powers, even if it does depend on the hoary old cliché of enemies striking back at a superhero by threatening his loved ones. Character development here is more elliptical than demonstrated, but at least there's the impression of it, with hero Fade in the aftermath of great victory finding his powers growing unpredictable. Story development is, as has been the case with this series, mostly a matter of foreshadowing, but there's enough action here, and a good enough ending, that it's easy to overlook that.

THE BALLAD OF SLEEPING BEAUTY #7 by Gabriel Benson & Mike Hawthorne, 32 pg. color comic (Beckett Comics;$1.99)

Another problematic Beckett comic, with the same class art and production and similar story flaws. Loosely connected to the fairy tale, SLEEPING BEAUTY keeps throwing in element after element, often without any explanation, that prolongs the story but, unless there's a whopper coming up in next issue's finale, gets no closer to the point. Like many other current comics, esp. from "alternative mainstream" titles in the action-adventure mode, there's neither enough story nor character in a single issue, which is really starting to cramp my enjoyment of otherwise decent comics. I'm glad someone's doing an attractive western, but whether this is any good or not will depend on next issue.

ZEN BOUNTY HUNTER #1 by Steve Stern & Bill Maus, 32 pg. b&w comic. (SSS Comics;$2.95)

A continuation of the old ZEN, INTERGALACTIC BOUNTY HUNTER, the story's mainly about a stunning development for the hero: he develops a nose and eyes. To combat this devastating change, he also develops a mask that covers them... making him look exactly the way he used to. Then, on an alien planet, he pursues an evildoer whose characterization consists of looking gruesome, threatening a woman in ripped up clothes, and fighting back. If that's not enough, it's a continued story. I'll say it one more time - more story per issue, okay? - and I really wish people would stop writing lots of captions of characters stating the bloody obvious. But when a book starts out with "This piece of excrement deserved to be deader than dead," you can pretty much figure out what you're getting yourself into. Eh.

  • Only time for a couple brief blurbs this week:

    Don't forget CSI: SECRET IDENTITY #1 & 2 are both available at your comics shop right now, from IDW.

    Don't forget to pick up my e-book TOTALLY OBVIOUS, collecting 300 pages of insightful essays on comics, culture and the creative life from my previous column, Master Of The Obvious, in two flavors of .pdf file. It's available now for a mere $5.95 at Paper Films.

    Sales have been good enough that over the next couple months I'll be introducing several other .pdf e-books on various topics, including a collection of my political essays from Master Of The Obvious and Permanent Damage, as soon as I get the time. Check back for more details, and we'll see you next week in a brand new show...

    Those wishing to comment should leave messages on the Permanent Damage Message Board. You can also e-mail me but the chances of a reply are next to nil these days, given my workload, though I do read all my e-mail as long as it's not trying to sell me something. IMPORTANT: Because a lot of people apparently list it in their e-address books, this account has gotten a slew of virus-laden messages lately. They're no real threat but dealing with them eats up time I don't really have, to the extent I can no longer accept unsolicited e-mail with attachments. If you want to send something via attachment (say, art samples) ask me first. If I say okay, then send. Unsolicited e-mail with attachments will be wiped from the server without being read. You can also leave messages for me and have discussions on other topics at my Delphi forum, GRAPHIC VIOLENCE. Please don't ask me how to break into the business, or who to submit work to. The answers to those questions are too mercurial for even me to keep up with.

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    I'm reviewing comics sent to me - I may not like them but certainly I'll mention them - at Steven Grant c/o Permanent Damage, 2657 Windmill Pkwy #194, Henderson NV 89074, so send 'em if you want 'em mentioned, since I can't review them unless I see them. Some people have been sending press releases and cover proofs and things like that, which I enjoy getting, but I really can't do anything with them, sorry. Full comics only, though they can be photocopies rather than the published version. Make sure you include contact information for readers who want to order your book.

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