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Issue #56

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
Issue #56

Letters, we got letters:

“Just a head’s up on this if you haven’t gotten one (or more) already. The SUPERMAN script does exist, it does read the way it was released on Ain’t-It-Cool and it is the direction the execs at Warners want to go. (I think they really want any direction at all as long as it is firm, because they are totally clueless as to why people like movies in the first place and what made SPIDER-MAN a success.)

“How do I know this? I have read the script and I work in the industry. From reading it, it is clear to me that thematically either the director attached to that script (McG) or the execs or both had a simple requirement: Make it the THE MATRIX with Superman. The Chosen One saving a lost city which battling technology for the existance of the race. The Wire-fu, the death but not really death as brought back by a loved one’s needs. THE MATRIX was Warner’s last big “super-hero” hit and it needs another. With the buzz around MATRIX 2 and 3 growing why not tap into that (which of course will bleed the interest dry, but what do suits know about that? As soon as wire-fu was in CHARLIE’S ANGELS it stopped being cool)

“Let me tell you this too. DAREDEVIL was the best comic script I have ever read and the trailer looks terrible. THE HULK is the worst script I have ever read and the trailer is terrible. Hopefully X-MEN 2 won’t suck, because if this is a trilogy of expensive super-hero flops all in a row, say goodbye to super-hero movies for a while.”

“I’m sure lots of people have pointed this out already, but that Office of Homeland Security logo is not an official logo. Rather, it was used by the US Patent and Trademark Office on its internal e-newsletter, THE PULSE. It’s pretty clearly tongue-in-cheek.”

By now, I’ve heard several different stories of what was behind that, though I was originally told it was real. And from an agency that thinks “color-coded” alert messages is a bang-up way of protecting the public, anything’s possible. At minimum, the logo, rather than “tongue-in-cheek,” suggests a level of contempt and distrust for the Office Of Homeland Security by other government agencies.

“As a redhead, I’ve paid attention to the facts on this matter.

“The gene for red hair is recessive, not just todark hair, but ALSO to blonde hair. so two parents, carrying the redhead gene, have a 1-in-4 shot of producing a redhead child, without involving the milkman.

“As someone who takes a reverse-delight in coughing loudly at the phrase ‘red-headed stepchild’ (should I be any less offended by that phrase than an African-American is by the n-word?), I wanted to share that with you. or maybe you have a genetics lesson for me…”

I guess it would depend on whether red hair runs in the families involved…

“I recently came across an article in a British marketing magazine (called, inventively, MARKETING) that was talking about Disney’s recent problems, and whether the brand is dying. Which is all very familiar to people following the comics industry.

“The statement, “‘In this age of computer games and extreme outdoor sports, you have to ask whether most children even want theme parks anymore?’, credited to ‘one youth marketer’, is also pretty familiar. So, it’s not just comics that are having problems. Of course, Disney’s woes are partly attributable to the September 11th attacks, while I don’t think comics have been hit as hard.

“But apparently one of the things Disney does well is promotion; more specifically, the company doesn’t market its brand, but rather all the individual products within the brand.

“Is this what comic companies ought to be doing? Instead of pushing the ‘Marvel’ brand or whatever, Joe Q and Bill J (to name an example picked at random) could be pushing X-MEN and Marvel Knights and SPIDER-MAN, etc., though one wonders how it would affect the drive to push books based on their creators.

“I just thought this might interest you.”

Disney markets the Disney brand where appropriate, but for the most part they keep it associated with children’s products. They don’t push the idea that Miramax and ABC and Buena Vista are branches of Disney because those don’t serve the “Disney” audience and they don’t want to fight charges that NYPD BLUE is corrupting children lured to it by Mickey Mouse. All of Marvel’s product pretty much serves an identical audience, so I doubt there’s any harm done to them one way or the other. Whether they push books based on creators rather than the characters varies depending on the creator. They don’t, for instance, seem to emphasize Mike Grell as the writer of IRON MAN. For the most part, where they do emphasize creators is on books like X-MAN and AMAZING SPIDER-MAN where the character brands are already popularly established. The emphasis on the “Marvel” brand has been company policy since Stan was in charge, and it’s not the worst policy in the world (from a corporate standpoint) to push the notion of thinking “Marvel” when you think “comics.” Disney (Walt, I mean) certainly put decades of effort into getting America to think “Disney” when they think “cartoons,” and the current megacorporation is predicated on that identification.

From the sound of it, AOL/Time-Warner, themselves having financial problems, thinks Disney is vulnerable. At one point this would’ve meant overtaking Disney in the hearts and minds of the public by strongly promoting their own brand and material, but now it means “hostile takeover.” It’s possible the world’s largest “information conglomerate” will soon be AOL-Time-Warner-Turner-Disney. In that respect, at least, it’s a cyberpunk world…

“I really enjoy those intros to your column wherein you postulate on America’s future. I like the dystopian feel they have and how they are very good at getting messages across which are not easily acknowledged when presented in a more straight-forward fashion. A simple image as a man looking at his former address on an envelope gives a tense feeling of losing one’s home. I have assumed that both of the ones I have seen so far have been directed at the political climate we’re experiencing lately. If not, they’re still very fun reads.

“As for the rest of the column… Media have a great balancing act to perform now. Character arcs keep longtime fans involved in the show, yet stand-alone stories keep things open for bringing in new fans. [This has also been a challenge for comics – SDG.] Some of my favorite writers in comics and TV have done well to balance their works. J. Michael Straczynski is one, I think. BABYLON 5 was great at getting ideas across and making the viewers think, but he also was true to his characters and let them evolve. Also, in reference to postulating on the future, MINORITY REPORT was a good example of having people who made educated guesses about our future, and I think that’s one of the few things it did right. I liked the movie, but I expected more. However, it did seem like a possible future, and BABYLON 5 seemed the same way. Also, I like HAUNTED so far. It’s not a great show, but I like the mood and the premise. I’m only giving it a shot because it’s after a show I already watch. BOOMTOWN does look interesting, but I’m very tired of seeing the promo and I don’t really watch that much television anymore. I’m still giving FIREFLY and HAUNTED a chance to make me really like them. JOHN DOE interests me, but I haven’t watched more than 10 minutes of it.”

I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch JOHN DOE either, maybe because I saw the ad for it 73 times every episode of AMERICAN IDOL last summer and ended up sick of the show before it began. Haven’t watched CSI: MIAMI either and probably won’t because CSI never particularly interested me. (Which doesn’t mean I think it’s a bad show – it seemed fine the couple times I saw it – it just doesn’t interest me, and I’ve no reason to think I’d fine CSI: MIAMI more appealing, and I have too much to do with my time already.) Never having seen the charm of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER or ANGEL (and I have plenty of friends who have, so I’m not questioning any Whedon fan’s taste, intelligence or character) I’ve no impetus to see FIREFLY either.

For those who keep writing to tell me how mistaken I am in suggesting we have ever provided significant aid and comfort to “the New Hitler,” Saddam Hussein, I pass along these words of U.S. Representative Dennis Kucinich, forwarded to my e-mail:

“During the Administration of Ronald Reagan, 60 helicopters were sold to Iraq. Later reports said Iraq used US helicopters to spray Kurds with chemical weapons. According to the Washington Post, Iraq used mustard gas against Iran with the help of intelligence from the CIA. Intelligence reports cited the use of nerve gas by Iraq against Iran. Iraq’s punishment? The US reestablished full diplomatic ties around Thanksgiving of 1984. Throughout 1989 and 1990, US companies, with the permission of the first Bush government, sent to the government of Saddam Hussein tons of mustard gas precursors, live cultures for bacteriological research, helped to build a chemical weapons factory, supplied West Nile virus, supplied fuel air explosive technology, computers for weapons technology, hydrogen cyanide precursors, computers for weapons research and development and vacuum pumps and bellows for nuclear weapons plants.”

West Nile virus? We had samples of West Nile virus 12-13 years ago? So the recent outbreak, which has now spread from Connecticut to California, needn’t necessarily have come in from outside the USA. Obviously, if it was supplied to Iraq in the early ’90s, the only conceivable use for it (aside from attempting to develop a vaccine, and did we have any reason to believe they were out to advance the cause of medicine?) was germ warfare, so, given the still-unsolved “anthrax terrorism,” is it possible the West Nile virus outbreak was likewise a germ attack… from inside the United States? (The Center For Disease Control already verified they gave Iraq the makings of bio-weapons over a decade ago, and now concedes that might not have been the soundest judgment. Oh well, innocent mistakes happen.)

If anyone knows what speech or report that’s from, please let me know.

Another politically-themed post sent an editorial from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on alleged real motives behind the push against Iraq. Friends in Georgia tell me the Atlanta Journal-Constitution is “ultra-liberal” (and they’re not exactly Newt Gingrich themselves) so put it in that context. The piece, nonetheless interesting, suggests the current saber-rattling in Washington “is not really about Iraq. It is not about weapons of mass destruction, or terrorism, or Saddam, or U.N. resolutions… This war, should it come, is intended to mark the official emergence of the United States as a full-fledged global empire, seizing sole responsibility and authority as planetary policeman. It would be the culmination of a plan 10 years or more in the making, carried out by those who believe the United States must seize the opportunity for global domination, even if it means becoming the ‘American imperialists’ that our enemies always claimed we were.” Other suggestions in the article:

  • The Hand Puppet administration has no exit plan for war in Iraq because it doesn’t intend to leave, preferring to keep bases there instead.

  • Containment and deterrence are not Administration options in Iraq because they don’t allow for the expansion of American power.

  • A number of people now in key positions in the Hand Puppet administration concocted this notion of a “Pax Americana” years ago and are now putting it into operation.

  • Much of this is laid out in the President’s National Security Strategy statement, including “aggressive military and foreign policy, embracing pre-emptive attack against perceived enemies,” dismissing deterrence as an option, ignoring world opinion and permanently protecting our military and economic interests by “a stark expansion of our global military presence.”

  • The NSS statement is not a “response to terrorism” because “much the same language [can be found] in a report issued in September 2000 by the Project for the New American Century, a group of conservative interventionists outraged by the thought that the United States might be forfeiting its chance at a global empire.”

The rest of the piece elaborates on those points. Paranoia or prescience? I guess we’ll see, but it strikes me such possibilities should be ruled out, not just dismissed out of hand, before the country starts down any paths that would result in a fundamental change in our national character. The interesting thing about the piece is that the writer doesn’t flat out reject a true ‘American empire,’ just suggests such a course should be subject to public debate instead of concocted in Washington back rooms.

If you want to read the whole article, click here. A chat on the subject may be read here.

But my favorite e-mail of the week is a bit of spam. Back in the late ’80s, disaster was being touted at every juncture and with every impending disaster came a book on how to profit from it. Total national financial collapse, nuclear war, whatever. I was tempted to write a parody called HOW TO PROFIT FROM THE COMING SECOND COMING.

Then, here, on the eve of war with Iraq, comes:

“ARE YOU PREPARED FOR THE COMING WAR?

“World Events are affecting the way we live.

“It’s time to fight back!

“Learn how investors can utilize option strategies to position themselves in the volatile oil market. We are a licensed professional commodity brokerage firm that specializes in options trading. Our firm is making a major recommendation in the oil market specifically Heating Oil Options!

“The farmer’s almanac has projected a much colder winter this year for the northern United States, while the department of energy [sic] has reported that supplies are decreasing.

“Fill out our form and get the Special Report on Heating Oil 2002. Futures and options investing involve substantial risk of loss and are not suitable for everyone. Buying options provides predetermined risk with unlimited profit potential.

“Don’t miss what we feel is a unique opportunity to position yourself in this exciting market. Fill out our form and receive your No Obligation Free Investor’s Package including the booklet on 26 Plain Language Answers on Buying Options On Futures Contracts.

“The information could be priceless!

$5000.00 minimum investment.

This offer void where prohibited.”

I’ll spare you the contact info. They don’t need your money. But it’s a classic technique: predict disaster, then reveal how you can turn the tables by giving your money to them. Comics ought to try it.

The TV season is already starting to shake out. CBS has the biggest successes so far, with CSI: MIAMI (Monday 10PM) and, inexplicably, HACK (Friday 9PM). ABC is walking the tightest rope, with THAT WAS THEN (Friday 9PM) and PUSH NEVADA (Thursday 9PM) almost certainly on the chopping block before November sweeps. The good news for PUSH NEVADA is that its numbers have stabilized. The bad news is they’ve stabilized in fifth place for that timeslot, after Fox and UPN. (This could change once baseball season ends and Fox returns to regular programming.) FIREFLY (Friday 8PM) is shaky on Fox, while JOHN DOE (Friday 9PM) marginally lifts the net’s numbers, possibly tempting Fox execs to think JOHN DOE might be stronger with a stronger lead-in.

Meanwhile, ROBBERY HOMICIDE DIVISION (CBS, Friday 10PM) has an almost 50% audience drop-off from HACK, as well as a plunge from first to third place, so consider that show borderline as well. Likewise, on Tuesdays, HAUNTED (UPN, 9PM) loses almost half the audience from BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (UPN, 8PM), which has shaky numbers this year to start with. While FAMILY AFFAIR (Thursday, 8PM), DO OVER (Thursday, 8:30 PM), JAMIE KENNEDY EXPERIMENT (Thursday, 9PM), OFF CENTRE (Thursday 9:30PM), CHARMED (Sunday 8PM) and ANGEL (Sunday 9PM) (the latest numbers on the WB’s Friday comedy bloc either haven’t come in or are too low to report) all perform piss poorly for the WB, it is the WB, so where their true cancellation threshold is nobody knows. The WB has some genuine hits these days – 7TH HEAVEN (Monday 8PM), EVERWOOD (Monday 9PM), GILMORE GIRLS (Tuesday 8PM) and SMALLVILLE (Tuesday 9PM) – making it possible the net’s less patient than previously. On NBC, the most threatened show is THE IN-LAWS (Tuesday 8PM), which probably won’t be killed off until it has the chance to take JUST SHOOT ME (Tuesday 8:30PM) with it – and if FRASIER (NBC, Tuesday 9PM) decides not to return next season, NBC’s Tuesday gets totally shot to hell.

Saturdays, Sundays, Mondays and Wednesdays seem to have already stabilized and nothing there seems imminent for the block. So new shows most at risk before the all-important November sweeps would appear to be ABC’s THAT WAS THEN and PUSH NEVADA, CBS’s ROBBERY HOMICIDE DIVISION and UPN’s HAUNTED. (I want to emphasize this is strictly a reading of numbers and no value judgments are involved). If you’re a big fan of any of these, the time to start those “save this show” campaigns is now.

Last week I caught WITHOUT A TRACE (Thursday 10PM), CBS’s latest spinoff from CSI (CBS, Thursday 9PM). Okay, it’s not a spinoff, but it’s from the same production company and uses basically the same motif: sketchily drawn heroes whose jobs seem to be their lives – in this case, missing persons trackers in the FBI – piece together crimes (disappearances, not murders) and reenactments change our perceptions as information changes. (NBC’s BOOMTOWN, in no way related to CSI except, perhaps, spiritually, shares these motifs.) WITHOUT A TRACE also uses a visually crude but effective timeline to keep us on track. All this may sound like I don’t like the show but it wasn’t bad. Anthony LaPaglia, in the William Peterson position as team head, was his usual entertaining self, and the show gives Eric Close (THE MAGNIFICENT 7, where he was great, and NOW AND AGAIN, where he wasn’t) another chance to shine, this time as a young investigator who’s possibly smarter and more capable than his boss, which gives the show a sort of Howard Hawksian frisson other shows lack. And the story was actually coherent, though this is the third “child abduction” story I’ve seen this season and I’m hoping to avoid any more of them. WITHOUT A TRACE isn’t a show I’ll rush to the TV set for every week, but it’ll do in a pinch.

The one show I do rush to the set for is AMAZING RACE (CBS, Wednesday 9PM), the best show on TV today. Twelve (well, eleven now) teams of two, somehow spiritually connected (a hardcore Baptist father and his gay son; brothers; sisters; college roommates; long-distance lovers; etc.), face challenges and race around the world in order to win The Big Prize. Every episode is a tale of ordinary people doing incredible things, and watching the bickering and strategizing as they work their way from exotic locale (and not the ones usually seen on TV) to exotic locale and interact with the locals and other teams – now that’s entertainment. Unlike other “reality game shows,” AMAZING RACE doesn’t do challenges or puzzles created to humiliate contestants or make them look patently ridiculous (not apparently, anyway); there’s a real sense of good fun to it. Every new season of a show like this threatens to disappoint with unlikable contestants, but this is the third season and the show has gotten it right every time. If you’re not watching this, you deserve what you’re getting on TV. It’s great.

By the way, tonight’s debut of BIRDS OF PREY (WB, 9PM), opposite AMAZING RACE, runs ten minutes long, so be sure to set your VCRs to cover it. (’cause you’re going to watch AMAZING RACE, right?)

Back to comics:

B.A.B.E. FORCE (Comics Conspiracy, 115-A East Fremont Ave, Sunnyvale CA 95117) is one of those comics that truly frightens me: stacked and truly stupid heroines try to unravel the schemes of a criminal mastermind who has gone into the fast food-collectible figurine business. Drawn in a nondescript mid-90s style. I realize it’s farce, but come on. That aside, there’s the odd moment of clever dialogue by Doug Myers and particularly nice production work for a black and white book, but it’s hard to imagine the slight story holding anyone’s attention for long.

From Texas comes the SHOOTING STAR COMICS ANTHOLOGY #1 ($5.95), a collection of 10 semi-professional stories and 1 pro story, a nice (if abrupt) western vignette by Chuck Dixon and Enrique Villagran, plus a cover by Steve Lieber and intro by Denny O’Neil. The work is variable, as with most anthologies, but there’s nothing outright bad, though the first story, written by Sarah Beach and drawn by Gordon Purcell, suffers from a way too convenient deus ex machine, and there’s a bit too much emphasis on superheroes to no particular purpose. In the day, this would’ve qualified for very good fanzine stuff. The standout work here is “Aym Geronimo and the Postmodern Pioneers,” a retro adventure strip (in two segments) written by J. Morgan Neal (with help from Eric Burnham) and drawn by Todd Fox, in a sort of Trina Robbins-by-way-of-Howard-Chaykin style. But they could all do with studying Chuck’s story for tips on tone and focus. Not bad, though.

Eric Shanower’s AGE OF BRONZE (Image Comics, 1071 N Batavia St Suite A, Orange CA 92867; $3.50) is always a pleasure, well drawn and written with meticulous attention to detail, and #14 is no exception. AGE OF BRONZE is Eric’s retelling of THE ILIAD, with a modern focus on character, expanding considerably from the source material. In terms of action, nothing much happens here, but characters explode all over the place: as the Greeks are driven back to Greece by storms, Paris goes half-mad with worry over his kidnapped wife Helen, Agamemnon feuds with Clytemnestra and conspires with Odysseus to eliminate a potential rival, Achilles goes home to his family only to be consumed by passion for Patroklus. This is myth made real, with love but without sentimentality. AGE OF BRONZE continues to be an enormous achievement. Seek it out and buy it, particularly if you love historical fiction.

Matthew Cashel and Jeremy Haun’s PARADIGM (Image Comics, 1071 N Batavia St Suite A, Orange CA 92867; $3.50) is a sort of crime fantasy that’s one part Neil Gaiman and one part Brian Azzarello. The black and white artwork is reminiscent of Chris Bachalo, and the dialogue, aside from a few cloying moments in the internal monologues, is fairly deftly handled. A couple kill a mugger, then a police detective starts the search for them as “strange things” start to happen. Where it’s going I couldn’t begin to guess, but it’s off to a pretty good start.

WHITE DEATH (AiT/PlanetLar Books, 2034 47th Ave, San Francisco CA 94116; $12.95) was originally published some time ago, but this collection is worth getting, not only for some great expressionistic art by my pal Charlie Adlard (soon to be drawing a GREEN LANTERN-GREEN ARROW mini-series from DC) but also for a really good war story by Rob Morrison, set in WWI. War stories are among the hardest to do, mainly because, like superhero comics, there aren’t that many different messages you can get out of them, but Morrison does a great job of capturing both the boredom and terror of war.

Everyone I know has been raving about BLACKHEART BILLY (AiT/PlanetLar Books, 2034 47th Ave, San Francisco CA 94116; $12.95), Rick Remenber, Keiron Dwyer and Harper Jaten’s violent skateboarding post-punk. (Specific talent functions vary from strip to strip.) Watch Billy beat up hippies with Jerry Garcia’s skull, scare Mormons with an elephant codpiece and Christ bondage, and kick yuppie ass. The “Hitler’s Brain” bit is getting a bit old, but other than that, pretty amusing.

In case you hadn’t heard, Neil Gaiman won his first court battle against Todd McFarlane last week, in my old home town of Madison WI. Must be the first interesting thing that has happened there in years. Can’t say I really have an opinion on it. I’m glad for Neil, and it’s something of a blow for creator rights (though Todd probably sees it differently, feeling Neil’s Medieval Spawn spun from the creator-owned Spawn, even if the jury didn’t agree). But I’m not sure it creates any precedents that would be of use to anyone else, and Todd, who will surely appeal the verdict (Neil took all), tends to do better in appeals, though Bob Ingersoll explained that the conditions which led to Todd’s ultimate triumph in the Tony Twist case (Todd had a “Tony Twist” in SPAWN, the hockey player of the same name took umbrage, successfully sued for a lot of money, and it got thrown out in appeals) don’t really apply in this case, so what will happen next is anyone’s guess. Neil hasn’t so far made any public effort to trade his ownership of Angela and Medieval Spawn (and his cut of the money their usage has brought to Todd’s company) for full title to the much-disputed Marvelman/Miracleman, which some originally predicted was the impetus behind the suit.

Maybe DC can turn the Tony Twist outcome to their favor in the renewed Winter Brothers lawsuit against the company…

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.

Those wanting to subscribe to the WHISPER e-mail newsletter should click here.

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.

If you want to know something about me, you can probably find the answer at Steven Grant’s Alleged Fictions. Be warned that this site is functionally dead – I’ve switched to a different server and am prepping a new page – but it’s still up and the backstory details are still germane even if the news is way dated.

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